Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. 240 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8010-2292-4. $21.99.
It has been more than forty years since we have had a handy, one-volume compilation of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts illustrative of the context and genres of the Biblical world. D. Winton Thomas published Documents from Old Testament Times (DOTT) in 1958 (paperback edition, 1961). It was the coveted, if affordable, standard for those who could not justify the "bible" of ANE texts, James B. Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET) (3rd edition, 1969; first published in 1950).
Much has changed in forty years, not the least of which is the 1993/94 discovery of the Tell Dan inscriptioncontaining the only extant extra-biblical mention of "David." It is that inscription which appears on the cover of Arnold and Beyer's new handy, one-volume compilation of ANE texts illustrative of the context and genres of the Biblical world (cf. p. 165 for a translation).
Yet more than the Tell Dan inscription has come to light since DOTT. Fresh editions of Hittite texts (influential in comparative covenant/treaty studies from the 2nd millenium B.C.); the Balaam text from Deir Alla (discovered in 1967); new editions of Assyrian and Babylonian chronicles (from the indefatigable A. K. Grayson); and Syrian Semitic compilations have also appeared. (Interestingly, Arnold and Beyer provide no texts or material from Ebla and only one Ugaritic text.)
The volume contains excerpts from creation and flood myths (Sumerian and Babylonian). Here the editors are perhaps too concessive with respect to the parallels with Biblical creation and flood narratives (cf. the works of A. R. Millard and K. A. Kitchen for some essential and necessary distinctions between Biblical and pagan creation and flood narratives).
The genres we find in Scripture are represented here: covenant formularies; law codes; cultic texts; letters; hymns; laments; love lyrics; etc. In this reviewer's opinion, the sublime and historical nature of the Biblical narrative stands in antithesis to that of the surrounding cultures, formal similarities notwithstanding. As supernatural revelation, Scripture's unique position in its world is evident as one reads through these (often) bizarre texts.
The editors have provided few, brief notes (if they provide notes at all). Nor has the publisher provided a Scripture index for ease of reference. In this respect, DOTT is far superior: the notes were extensive; and the Scripture index was complete. While no one-volume compilation of ANE materials is perfect, the present contribution is better than nothing (DOTT being out-of-print and dated). Until the next edition of ANET (if any! and if we can afford it), Arnold and Beyer will help.
My last sentence should not be regarded as overlooking William M. Hallo's monumental The Context of Scripture. Volume one (subtitled "Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World") of this massive compilation (599 pages) of ANE texts appeared in 1997 at the hefty (Brill titles always are! more's the pity!!) price of $129. The complete set consists of two more volumes each priced at $129: "Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World" (v. 2, 438 pages, published in 2000); "Archival Documents from the Biblical World" (v. 3, 406 pages, published in 2002). Hallo may well supplant Pritchard as the standard anthology.
James T. Dennison, Jr.