Ancient Near Eastern Thought

1 January 2017

Using contemporary studies as the foundation of his research John Walton reviews the ancient and Near Eastern and Israelite cognitive context. He provides guidance for students and general public to have a wider understanding and expand their knowledge of today’s culture, and historical culture interacts with the ancient world culture.

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In doing so, he tries to balance all audiences though examining artifacts to assist the individual’s understanding through these artifacts about both the historical prospective and culture and the parallel with the Bible. Summary of Book The book is divided into five parts. Part 1, “Comparative Studies,” consists of two chapters that introduce readers to the history and methods of comparative study and to the relationship between comparative study, scholarship, and theology. Part 2 consists of a single chapter in which Walton provides a summary of the literature of the ancient Near East.

Parts 3, 4, and 5, Walton then draws on the aforementioned source material to explore comparatively understandings of religion (Part 3), the cosmos (Part 4), and people (Part 5). Part 1 – Comparative Studies Chapter 1 – History and Methods Walton details that comparative study “constitutes a branch of cultural studies in that it attempts to draw data from different segments of the broader culture (in time and/ or space) into juxtaposition with one another in order to assess what might be learned from one to enhance the understanding of another” (p. 8). His reasoning is that Bible students need comparative study because the literary genres, religious practices, and cultural dimensions of ancient Israelite theology are all rooted in ancient Near Eastern culture, and “without the guidance of background studies, we are bound to misinterpret the text at some points” (p. 25).

In addition, he states (p. 23) that a comparative study is helpful both for understanding and the background religious practice to which the biblical ideal is contrasted …. comparative study will eveal many areas of continuity alongside the noted discontinuity. ” However, Walton cautions against “parallelomania” and concludes the first chapter with some suggested principles for comparative study. What he is referring to is the comparison of the Egypt and Mesptomamia artifacts and the decipherment of the ancient languages that show some validity to the old testaments claims of culture and religion. He refers to the Babel and Bibel lectures by Delizsch and the impact of Assyriologist.

Walton suggests that the comparative study is used in two contexts or environments. 1. Cirtical scholars in the scientific study of the text (historical and literature reviews) 2. Comparative studies is a tool used in confessional contexts Comparative Studies The idea of comparative studies in both scholarly and confessional environments will seek to work out a connectedness of the comparative study. He examines the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859). Most of the time, religious theorist such as Christians denounces Darwin’s theory.

However, Walton suggests that much of biblical scholarship conformed to evolutionary theory. However, Walton contends, “These evolutionary theories had been birthed in an environment where theorizing led to models and hypotheses – but one in which those ideas could not be tested against empirical data” (p. 30). With the “discovery” of the ancient Near East, the decipherment of its languages, and the publication of many of its texts, “the spate of primary source material allowed for the reigning theories to be placed under the microscope” (p. 30).

On page 31, Walton suggests that theorist have been pinned against each other. However, these theorist’s challenges and conflicts, Walton suggests that Genesis 1-11 follow the same pattern as Atrahasis Epic. However, they could find consistence there was much resistance to comparative studies. What follows is a discussion about the types and characteristics of religious practices. In particular, the discussion hinges on establishing the point that there are reflections of wisdom in all knowledge. In these and other ways, comparative studies both challenged and enhanced biblical scholarship.

Walton also discusses the reaction to comparative studies in confessional scholarship, which has not always been positive due to its implication “that the Old Testament is not unique” (p. 35). Walton concludes by envisioning an integrated role for comparative studies in which it assists in critical analysis, defense of the biblical text, and exegesis of the biblical text (pp. 38-40). In conclusion, Part 1 of Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament serve as an excellent introduction to comparative studies. Part 2 – Literature of the Ancient Near East Chapter 3 – Summary of Literature of Ancient Near East

Chapter 3 is divided up into 4 sections. These are: 1) myths, 2) literary texts and epics, 3) ritual texts, and 4) divination/incantation texts 5) letters, 6)Royal Inscrriptions 7) Annals/Chronicles, 8) Treaties, 9) Law Collections, 10) Legal Documents, Hymns and Prayers, 11) Wisdom Literature, 12) Prophecy, 13) Fictional Autobiography/Apocalyptic 14) Archives and 15) Miscellaneous. Under each of those sections there are examples of writings on that topic from various ancient Near Eastern cultures. The areas these writings come from are: 1) Sumerian, 2) Akkadian, 3) Egyptian, 4) Hittite/Hurrian, and 5) Ugaritic.

Each of these cultural texts is summarized, ranging from the Eridu Genesis to Nineteenth Dynasty Egyptian love poetry. The selections are all annotated so readers can easily find copies of the texts under discussion. In summary, Part 2 is also a fine survey of ancient Near Eastern literature, but it could have benefited from having excerpts from each of the examples of literature listed. Since the summary of literature only includes a precis of each selection, readers will still need to have access either to original sources or to other works. Part 3 – Religion

Chapter 4 –The Gods John Walton wrote: It would be difficult to discuss with ancients the concept of divine intervention, because in their worldview deity was too integrated into the cosmos to intervene in it. For the most part deity is on the inside not the outside. All experience was (is) religious experience. All law was spiritual in nature, all duties were duties to gods; all events had deity as their cause. Life was “religion” & “religion” could not be compartmentalized within life. Pg 87 On pages 94-95, Walton details Yahweh? s council, i. e. the references in the Old Testament to a “court” of heavenly beings (Pss 29, 82, 89; 1 Kings 22; Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7).

He does a very nice job in laying out succinctly the data and the general issues. Several ideas, concepts and comments parked some interest to me as a student, for example: “From the Old Testament itself, it would be clear that the Israelites thought in terms of a divine council (at least 1 Kings 22 is clear). ” The ANE evidence actually helps us understand something of these Old Testament passages that had been “previously opaque.

It also helps guard us against a common Christian tendency to read these Old Testament plurals (e. g. , “let us make man”) as references to the Trinity. My main question is what are we to make of these councils and how do they fit. Walton suggests, “members of the council are sometimes referred to as ? the sons of God,? similar to the Ugaritic designation of the council as ? the sons of El.? ” If this is true how do we explain the similarities? Walton does provide an explanation. He states “Confessional scholars would not think in terms of God revealing the concept of a divine council to Israel.

It is just there in the background, not necessarily borrowed from the broader culture, but simply part of how people thought in the ancient world. Nevertheless, the thinking about it is adjusted in the BIble so that it is in line with revelation about the nature of God. ” Let me point out some major points. (1) How is it easier theologically if the concept of a divine council is only assumed rather than revealed? (2) Is there actually a divine council? (3) What in the world is it doing in the Bible?

The divine council appears numerous times in the Old Testament, is God showing us something? 5) I agree that the concept is not borrowed but simply forms part of the ANE conceptual landscape, but again, this does not ease the theological problems of Scripture raised by a depiction of a world that is, well, not “real” but simply an accommodation to an ANE mythic worldview. (6) Why does our Bible act this way? (7) It is not at all clear how this background material is “adjusted” in the Bible to be “more in line with revelation about the nature of God. ” In other words, what do we, as contemporary readers of Scripture, “take away” from the presence of a divine council in the Old Testament?

Walton gives a purely defensive posture that has positive overtures. In summary, the theological and doctrinal implications are in fact that Yahweh has a divine council. Chapter 5 – Temples and Rituals Chapter 5 begins looking at the ancient use of temples for worship. “He calls it the bond from Heaven to Earth. ” (p. 113). On page 114, he describes the Excursus: Polytheistic Iconism it is in this section he discusses rituals such as the mouthwash ritual. This concept is seen in Egyptian literature too. The next section is about sacred space. We see this in the Bible and many other major documentation of Ancient religion.

The Excursus: Zigguartes is a pyramid structure. These were made of packed dirt with no inside to it. Walton explains the Zigguarte played no part in rituals. It was a sacred space. In this chapter, Walton explores each of these topics in relation to the “common cognitive environment” (pp. 21, 331) they shared in the ancient Near East. Interspersed throughout these chapters in shaded text boxes are “comparative explorations” that focus on specific points of contact between ancient Near Eastern concepts, their appearance in the Hebrew Bible, and similarities and differences in their conception in the two venues.

Three excursuses are interspersed throughout the text as well, treating the topics of polytheistic iconism (pp. 114–18), ziggurats (pp. 119–23), The Temple is considered to be the center of the cosmos. This means that the temple within itself is a diety. Because of the importance of the temple, the temple took a special place in the human world. Therefore, the temple becomes not only a cosmic center but an economic center. This chapter provides examples from the Old Testament of these very actions in the temple. Chapter 6 – State and Family Religion According to Walton, most documents or religion were from palace to temple.

Therefore, they are called state documents. The main interaction of the individual was through festivals. There was no daily walk. Therefore, it was family religion. The importance of the needs of the gods was to be provided and met by humans. Even public worship was for the glory of god. Therefore, there was much uncertainty of what god wanted. The gods were easily offended and did not hold their anger. The rituals were to give them a victim to take this vengeance out on. An example of this is on page 144. Every day worship your god, Sacrifice and Benediction are the proper accompaniment of incense.

Present your free-will offering to your god. For this is proper toward the gods. Prayer, supplication, and prostration. Offer him daily, and you will get your reward. Then you will have full communion with your god. In your wisdom study the tablet. Reverence begets favor. Sacrifice prolongs life, Prayer atones for guilt, (p144). In summary, the literature shows no set guidelines for the human to follow. Instead, the individual had to follow what they knew. The rituals they were taught and the outcomes of such pleas for mercy from the gods. Part 4 – Cosmos Part 4 tells us how to view the Cosmos.

It is broken into two chapters, Cosmic Geography and Cosmology and Cosmogony. Cosmic Geography is how individuals see and shape the world around them. Chapter 7 Cosmic Geography Today, we see the world as part of a solar system. There is a sun, moon, planets and earth. All of these entities revolve in some fashion around the sun. The solar system is part of a galaxy which makes up the universe. These make us realize just how small the human is in comparison to the universe. There is a physical system that must be present for understanding. This understanding is accomplished through observation.

Although our thoughts and knowledge has changed through time, Walton shows how the Ancient World looked at these processes. Here is what the structure was viewed. The Heavens where were the gods dwelt. There were heavenly gods set to keep the waters from flooding the earth. Heavenly waters come from the sky. Therefore, there must be water in heaven. The sun, moon, and planets were of the gods. Although expressed in different ways such as the zodiac signs. The earth was considered to be flat. Mountains were considered intersecting to the sky. Chapter 8 – Cosmology and Cosmogony This chapter deals with what it means to create something.

In the ancient world it meant give order to the world. We find that in this section cosmological texts provide accounts to order and security. Walton suggests that order can only come through conflict. Part 5 – People Chapter 9 – Understanding the Past (Human Origins and Role) This chapter is broken down into two topics. The first is the origin of the human race. The second is ancient history (For example, the concept of dust or clay). He moves for this concept to the idea of archetypal analysis of what was believed about nature. In Mesoptamian test there are two ways of identification.

This symbolizes connectivity and relationship. There is word play for god, man, Adam and woman. The areas of the archetypal relationship are detailed. They are: a) human to deity, b) male to female, c) humans to created world, and 4) humans to previous and future generations. In summary, this section looks at the differences and similarities in archetypal. The similarities were a) the growing of food prinicipal, b) mortality is an important concern, c) made in the image of God. The section of Body, Soul, and Spirit, a discussion of the King being in the image of god is set forth.

However, Walton explains there is one exception and that is the Egyptian Instruction. Chapter 10 – Understanding the Past (Historiography) Walton first seeks to understand the nature of historiography itself. He notes that “at some point, if a record of events is to be preserved, it must be incorporated into a written form,” and that “such an undertaking requires the compiler to work under a set of guiding principles, conscious and subconscious” (pp. 217–18). This collection of principal values then characterizes one’s historiography.

Walton briefly discusses the different genres of Mesopotamian historiography, including commemorative records, chronographic texts, narrative works, and historical epics and legends. Following the establishment of definitions and the exploration of genres, Walton spends the remainder of the chapter attempting to “understand the cognitive environment of the ancient world with regard to history and historiography” (p. 220). Walton then moves on to an exploration of the role of deity in historiography, the view of time and history in historiography, how historiography signifies, and what values motivated the historical enterprise.

In the midst of this discussion, a shaded textbox contains a comparative exploration of Israelite historiography, and explores the ways in which Israelite historiography compares and contrasts with historiography in its ancient Near Eastern environment. Chapter 11 – Encountering the Present (Guidance for Life-Divination and Omens) This section describes how they lived their lives. In the first half of the book Walton describes how they feel about religion, and the past. The undertones of how the ancient world blended the supernatural with their own lives. Walton breaks divination into two categories.

The first was “inspired”. The second was “deductive”. Inspired – this means there is an intermediary. It can be an official prophecy, informal prophecy, or dream. Dream interpretation is throughout all the literature. Deductive – comes from the events or phenomena not the divine realm of the world. In this section you will find a detailed table of the Israelite Prophetic Oracles. It shows the time period, prophet, indictment, judgment, instruction, and aftermath. Chapter 12 – Encountering the Present – Context of life – Cities and Kingship Chapter 12 details the thoughts of what the history and meaning of cities were.

For example in Mesopotamia and Egypt it said that cities existed before humans (Walton, 2006 p. 276). Cosmic identity of cities is explained as city= state=cosmos. What this means is that king is divine and placed in the city and the rule is moved from city to city. The section on kinship shows a universal thought of the ancient world that civilization revolves around the king and royalty. Because of this link to the gods and kingship, there is a deep rooted fear of the gods. In the comparison, we find that the ancient literature of Hebrew, Mesopotamian, and Neo-Assyrian details the same future ideal king and kingdom.

Chapter 13 – Encountering the Present – Guidelines for Life – Law and Wisdom Chapter 13 deals with the legal aspects of life. Although there is not a full account of the legal system, there is six major treaties detailed. Walton suggests that when you review the treaties, there are similarities. The medical treaties teach practitioners about diagnosis, the divinatory treatises teach the practitioners about prognostication and legal teach about the future of the king and court. In the comparative part of the exploration, there are a lot of similarities between all the literature.

The courts operate under wisdom and fairness. It offers a sense of how one should act in society. The main points in the literature are: a) know your proper place in the clan, b) conform your behavior to the expectations, c) fufill scrupulously your cultic duty before the gods, d) honor god and king as those responsible for the administering justice, e) when life becomes miserable examine individual before, asked the gods for the name of offense. Live a life of obedience. Chapter 14 – Pondering the Future on Earth and after Death This section although sums it up.

It seems like it is all pushed together in a mess of information. The first section deals with the view that the personal level, is hope for the future earth being tied to making a name for yourself. On the national level, it is status quo. The future after death is detailed in the pyramid text, coffin texts, book of the dead, and the books of the Netherworld. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing … John Walton provides here a thoughtful introduction to the conceptual world of the afterlife of the beliefs about the future of the earth and what happens after death.

Death and Burial is presented as clay, or mummification to achieve this end. Cult of the Dead and Communication with the Dead is significant in the Hebrew Bible. It details how the Israelites thought about the afterlife. Fundamentally, they say the afterlife conditions as a terrible place or a restful place. Postscript The book concludes with an appendix that includes an annotated list of thirty of the most important gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East, followed by a bibliography, and indexes for Scripture, foreign words, modern authors, ancient literature, and subjects.

Conclusion Walton explores each of these topics in relation to the “common cognitive environment” (pp. 21, 331) they shared in the ancient Near East. Interspersed throughout these chapters in shaded text boxes are “comparative explorations” that focus on specific points of contact between ancient Near Eastern concepts, their appearance in the Hebrew Bible, and similarities and differences in their conception in the two venues. Three excursuses are interspersed throughout the text as well, treating the topics of polytheistic iconism (pp. 14-18), ziggurats (pp. 119-23), and Deut 18:20-22 (pp. 270-74). As an example of how the chapters explore their subjects, in chapter 10, on historiography, Walton first seeks to understand the nature of historiography itself. He notes that “at some point, if a record of events is to be preserved, it must be incorporated into a written form,” and that “such an undertaking requires the compiler to work under a set of guiding principles, conscious and subconscious” (pp. 217-18).

This collection of principal values then characterizes one’s historiography. Walton briefly discusses the different genres of Mesopotamian historiography, including commemorative records, Chronographie texts, narrative works, and historical epics and legends. Following the establishment of definitions and the exploration of genres, Walton spends the remainder of the chapter attempting to “understand the cognitive environment of the ancient world with regard to history and historiography” (p. 20).

Walton then moves on to an exploration of the role of deity in historiography, the view of time and history in historiography, how historiography signifies, and what values motivated the historical enterprise. In the midst of this discussion, a shaded textbox contains a comparative exploration of Israelite historiography, and explores the ways in which Israelite historiography compares and contrasts with historiography in its ancient Near Eastern environment.

The book concludes with an appendix that includes an annotated list of thirty of the most important gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East, followed by a bibliography, and indexes for Scripture, foreign words, modern authors, ancient literature, and subjects.

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