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Book Summary: Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament John H. Walton

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Baker Academic, 2006
ISBN 978-0-8010-2750-5


Chapter One – History and Methods

Early on when many of the writings and tablets were found, the studies seem to coincide with the Bible. It wasn’t until Delitzsch’s lectures that the Assyriologists were being highly criticized for their findings, as they were people of faith defending the Bible. Over time the Assyriologists become more of a secular group as well as the scholars and became less concerned with the Bible and embraced critical scholarship.

There are many factors that make for a comparative study of historical text. Comparative studies 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 understand of another.

Confessional scholars felt that comparative studies modeled a potential risk to the biblical text, as it would cause questions and threaten skepticism. Whereas critical scholars felt comparative studies would prove the veracity of the Bible.

What is important to keep in mind when doing comparative studies, is that the place in time, the culture, the environment and the grounds that something was written, needs to be thoroughly understood and researched. What we take for meaning today, is not what was taken for meaning 2000 years ago or even 50 years ago.
A method of choice in helping to determine reliably in ancient text, is to compare not only the similarities, but the remarkable uniqueness. Where there are differences it is important to understand the ancient Near Eastern genres because significant points in the biblical text may be made by means of contrast. One other aspect of importance is to note the distinctiveness in the religious aspect of the iconology. Although the Bible itself is aniconic, one must understand the iconology of a previous text. This all plays a role in the deeper understanding and evaluation of ancient text.

The main focus of comparative studies was founded on the interest of individual features or details of an event. Scholars are now interested in the interpretation as well as the cultural aspects, which give more of a cultural dynamic of the worldview.

Walton offers a listing of ten important principles while working within comparative studies as well as four goals. The four goals are : Study history as a means of recovering knowledge of the events that shaped the lives of people in the ancient world; study archaeology as a means of recovering the life style reflected in the material culture of the ancient world; study literature as a means of penetrating the heart and soul of the people who inhabited the ancient world that Israel shared; study language as a means of gaining additional insight into eh semantics, lexicography, idioms and metaphors used in Hebrew.

Chapter Two – Comparative Studies, Scholarship, and Theology

Comparative study is used in two different realms of need and both pose their own challenges. There is scientific study, whereas the historical and the literary are examined and confessional study, whereas the literary is taken on the face of the text.

Critical scholars challenge other scholars on their interpretations and findings, thus leaving room for debate. Polemical comparative study is thought to be the dominating field in comparative study. Polemic arguments are intended to find the truth.

Confessional scholarship defends against critical and comparative interpretations and faces challenges, as the comparative studies head in a different direction of the implications. The categories within the Bible hold some common ground among those studying comparisons. One common denominator was that the Old Testament was not unique. Interesting enough, the Old Testament went through a few stages, after it was deemed “not unique”, it was viewed as “derivative or barrowed” to “human, not divine” to “fictitious or unreliable”. The confessional scholars feel that the similarities diminish the distinctiveness of the Bible; however the polemical findings assist them in showing the truth though the dissimilarities found.

The roles of comparative study can be found in three facets: critical analysis, defense of the biblical text and the exegesis of the biblical text.

Critical analysis serves to provide a wide range of information and the conclusions are reassessed relentlessly to avoid bias. Defense of the biblical text is carried out by the confessional scholars and deflects the negative criticisms that are brought on by the critical analysis. Exegesis of the biblical text is accepted by the lay as no further explanation is needed and all the analysis and defense is not looked-for as God’s Word is all that is essential.


Chapter Three – Summary of the Literature of the Ancient Near East

When reading the literature of the Ancient Near East, the term myth and its many understandings of the term should not be a factor when trying to analyze, comprehend and appreciate the literature. As one must realize that it is not our reality that we are analyzing, it was their reality in that time and space.

Sumerian literature included such titles as Eridu Genesis which is a collection of cosmology texts that tells of civilized cities and creation of people and animals. Enki and the Ordering of the World mention the gods and their various roles that are directed to the purpose of the land. Although there are many stories, a creation story is evident in the Sumerian Creation dating back to 100 BC in the Middle Assyrain period. Many similarities, yet unique differences are presented in this piece of literature as compared to Genesis.

Akkadian literature is also not without our current reality of myth. The Enuma Elish is a “hymn commemorating the elevation of Marduk to the head of the pantheon.” It references actions of disobeying, threatening the gods and negotiating with the gods.

Some ANET can also be credited to Egyptian, Hurrian and Ugarit cultures, with such given titles as Memphis Creation Account, Heliopolis Creation Account, Kumarbi Cycle, Illuyanka and the Baal Cycle.

In the Early Dynastic period (2900-2400) literary epics and tales about Sumerian Kings are documented. Stories of Enmerkar the king of Uruk, Lugalbanda a military officer, and the wondering of Gilgameshare are all Sumerian tales. In the culture of Akkadian you have the epic of Atrahasis and the most widely copied piece of literature, Gilgamesh.
Other sets of text from the ancient Near East contain divination and incantation references. These themes include rites of purification, magical spells and celestial omens. Various letters that represent domestic internal memos or international correspondence between kings can also be found within ANET. The correspondence tells much about the life and conditions of the times during those periods.

Other forms of ANET include royal inscriptions in the forms of historiographical findings on stones, plates, steles, etc. Annals and chronicles, treaties, legal documents and law collections make up yet another category of ANET that gives insight the cultures of the times. A few other categories can be very valuable sampling of understanding the culture of the time period are wisdom literature, hymns and prayers, prophecy, archives and fictional autobiography.


Chapter Four – The Gods

The ancient Near East did not have religion or sacred/secular or even supernatural and natural. The best description of what our English lexis can provide us is spiritual and physical, as well as the heavenly realm and earthly realm. The latter at times were intertwined and at times parallel. “Life was religion and religion could not be compartmentalized within life.”

The mythology of both Mesoptamia and Egypt makes clear that the gods had origins. Within Egyptian literature it is very common to get the idea that the gods came to be through bodily fluids, such as spiting or sneezing, however the later deities simply came to be from a previous generation of deity. The theogony, ontology and cosmogony are important attributes in understanding the ANET. To understand why something exists, we need to ask ourselves: where, how and why; however many references only offer to provide a procreative theogony and no onology.
When reading Egyptian literature we must keep in mind that the “birth of the gods does not relate to their physical or material existence, it relates to their functions and roles because their birth is connected to the origins of a natural phenomenon.”

Ontology and theogony differences within the Old Testament and the ANET depict that the biblical text offers no indication that Israel considered Yahweh as having an origin, and there are no other gods to bring into existence with by procreation or separation. Christian and Jewish theology considers God eternally existing. With great importance, the comparisons of many gods compared to the one and only god is Yahweh with the biblical text. The biblical text stands out in the difference that all other cultures surrounding Israel were polytheistic, whereas the biblical text depicts one God, a monotheistic culture.

The divine culture assembled amongst the ANET depicts multiple gods on a parallel level with each other, although their existence may be for different reasons. Within the biblical content there is nothing on the same level as Yahweh and the assembly is made of lessor beings.

Within the ANET everything was connected to the cosmos, nothing was natural and everything was supernatural. This is in direct contrast to Yahweh, as Yahweh is on the outside realm of space and time within the system of the world.
Some of the divine features associated with the gods are the anthropomorphic features: the nature, character and the personality. One must also look at the geographical and geopolitical aspects along with the cosmology, procreativity, fallibility, daily routines, and emotional features of the gods to be able to identify the full connection and possible correlation to other gods.

Gods also have divine attributes. The gods could be responsible for justice, although their judgments could be imperfect. The gods have wisdom that provides for a source of information which is also associated with power. Goodness is another attribute, however in a very abstract meaning, as it was rare for any of the gods in the ancient Near East to be described as good. “Theologians tend to think of God’s goodness as the aggregate of his moral qualities and affirming that God could do no evil.” Faithfulness, mercy, compassion and holiness are also additional attributes.

The final comparison in this section is that within the ANET all gods are real, there are no false gods, and therefore there are no false beliefs; whereas Yahweh, being the only god leaves all other gods and all other beliefs to be false.

Chapter Five – Temples ad Rituals

The temple primary design was for the residence for deities, not for places of worship. The temples represented a “shadow of a heavenly residence, therefore it served as a link or portal to the heavens or cosmos.” The temples were marked with an image of the deity. Many rituals were performed to assure that eh deity approved of the icon being placed on the temple walls. This was a way that one could bring the spiritual world into the physical world.
The most significant ritual was called mouth-washing. This was done so the image could eat, drink and smell incense as well as receive worship. It purified the image from the human contamination that was used in the manufacturing process.

The Egyptian images were created by the soul of the deity and allowed the image to manifest itself revealing the deity. Thus it was not a picture of the deity, but a characterization of the divine nature of the deity. The term for this process is called “habitation”.

Sacred space was a requirement for where the temple was placed and was designated by the oracle so that the god could pick the site. The temple was built in such a way that it limited anything profane to enter to include limited sight lines. All temples had three main characteristics – several chambers, a garden and a ziggurat ( a elevated resting place for the deity).

The ziggurat was a sacred space and was not used and could not be inhibited by anything profane. Although the temple adjoined the ziggurat, this was solely a sacred spot for the deity to portal through and rest.
The temple was considered “the center of power, control and order from which deity brings order to the human world.”

The functions of the temple in Israel were introduced by God. These included judging, delivering, ending negative environmental concerns, responding and bring victory or deliverance in warfare. Zechariah offered some addition functions to include deliverance from enemies, protection of the people even without city walls, calling oath breakers to account and base of divine operations throughout the world.

These temples were not a place for the people’s needs to be cared for, but for the order that needed to be maintained within the cosmos. This kept the chaos at bay. One way, other than providing the ziggurats, was to feed the gods. This was done through sacrifice and offerings. The sacrifices could be bulls, birds, rats, pigs and dogs. Food offerings included, grain, dairy, baked goods, fruit, eggs and various liquids from milk to beer. These sacrifices and offerings were done in a ritualistic manner.

Chapter Six – State and Family Religion

Most of the information that is known today has come from the palaces and the temples, which is called “state religion”. This does not reflect how the common Near Eastern practiced religion. From archeological finds from private homes, it appears the religion was not an individual practice, but a family practice, thus called family religion.
Families felt they had very little to do with state religion as they did not have access to the gods, in the same way as the kings and priest did. The felt the gods were not concerned with them, nor did they ever hear their requests. They felt the ancestral gods cared and would be more likely to hear and assist them. These family gods could be considered person gods as only the family had access to them. The gods were tasked with providing abundance, good health, good crops, etc. However when things got bad the only recourse to either make apologies to the gods or try and make them happy. But there were no guidelines on how to proceed, as the gods did not communicate with the humans. With no revelation, there was no way to know what pleased the gods or what made them angry.
The difference with state religion is that the humans do meet the needs of the gods. The kings and priest took care of these tasks. They gods were taken care of in the same manner as a king, as this was common sense at the time. This was not done because of revelation; this was done over a tried and tested tradition or at least they thought this way was best. However the gods did seem to be offended often.

“No contrasts between the religious beliefs of Israel concerning Yahweh and those of the ancient Near East can be clearer than those that emerge from the first four commandments.”

Israel /ANET

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

• One God / A community of gods
• He works alone /Hierarchy of gods
• God holds all the power /Power divided among gods
• Monotheism /Polytheism
• No distribution of authority/

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image

• The temple housed the presence of God without mediation /The temple housed the presences of the gods, but only through mediation
• No images /The priest cared for the image
• Cannot be represented by material things /Is represented by material things
• No iconographic mediator of his presence

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

• Cannot control or misuse /Name is equal to the Deity and the essence
• Can use the name to command/
• Used for one’s self interest/

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy

• On the seventh day of creation God rested/Rest only after chaos
• Rest after rebellion, conflict/
• People work for their own benefit and rest on the seventh day/People worked for the gods benefit

In ANET, people relied on their gods solely for protection and assistance, not for a relationship. They did not like or love their gods, they feared them and bowed to them, unlike with the biblical God, he is loved and he loves back.


Chapter Seven – Cosmic Geography

“Cosmic geography concerns how people envision the shape and structure of the world around them.” Our current understanding of the cosmos puts us at a relatively insignificance in the vastness, we understand weather and time; it is physical and material and works of physical properties and the laws of motion.

It has taken many centuries to understand this through science, however in the ancient world they hadn’t developed the understanding we have today of our world around us. Therefore they worked off of what they saw and coincidence for form an opinion of how things worked. This left their surroundings in the hands of the gods.
The heavens were where the gods lived, and many levels of heavens existed based on the hierarchical position within the pantheon. The sky is what separated the earth and the heavens. The mountains helped hold the sky up. The water from above was protected with the sky, so when the sky opened up, it flooded. The sun, moon, stars and planets were all a part of the air. These were engraved into the sky. The sun was also considered more a source of heat than a source of light. The moon played an important role, as the Near East saw the cycles and developed the lunar calendar.

Both the Mesopotamia and Egyptian peoples considered the earth to be a flat disk. This was evident from the Babylonian world map and the Egyptian sarcophagus. However both saw their area as the center of the earth. Both saw the “cosmic waters as disk shaped surrounding a single disk shaped land mass.”

The Netherworld was the place the sun went to when it was not providing heat during daylight hours. In Egypt that place of the dead, Duat, was subterranean and was entered from the western horizon. The Duat was inhabited by numerous gods. In the Book of Nut “Every place void of sky and void of land, that is the entire Duat” What this is signifying is the voyage of the deceased began in the west as one crossed the threshold into the netherworld with the sun god as he set. In Mesopotamia had a different belief of how one was to enter the netherworld. They believed that one entered through a grave, thus making burial so important. In Gilgamesh, it was said that seven gates had to be passed through.

Chapter Eight – Cosmology and Cosmogony

In the ancient world the people were less interested in the physical makeup of the world and were more concerned with the metaphysical. Function was more important than substance.

In Genesis 1:3-5 the scripture tells us of the first day’s light. This was written more about function than substance. God called the light ‘or, he called day: yom and the darkness was called night. However it was not the element of light it’s self that God called yom, but the period of light. This is a semantic phenomenon that can be observed in the biblical text, as two words are inter-exchanged due to association. This further gives the translation to state “Let there be a period of light”, which in turn gives us something even more significant and functional – On day one, God created time.

Since the ontology in the ancient world is functional, than we have to think that when something was created, it must have a functional character in relation to the methodical cosmos. There are a few terms that mean “create”, although the main Assyro-Babylonian verbs used are banu and basamu. The Hebrew verb for “create” is bara. The Hebrew term is only used to create something that is functional like people, gender roles, male and female. It is not used to create something that is material like a table. The data of the language for creation tells us that the term is used for functional orientation and not on anything of a material nature. Therefore “to create” meant to assign roles and functions rather than to give substance to the material objects that make up the universe.

One thing we need to remember is that some words in the English language have a certain nuance, which may cause some confusion. The term “chaos” as an example simply means in English a state of disorder or confusion. However the term comes from the Greek language which is the opposite of the cosmos. Which in the “primal state refers to the personified state in which the earth, sky and sea were all merged.”

In the precreation form within the ANET nothing is nonfigurative or personalized, except for the primordial sea which is the primary element of the precreation condition. A more accurate term would be precosmic, than precreation. One thing that was agreed upon by all ANET is that the precosmic form included the water and the darkness.
The Hebrew term in Gensis 1:2 tohu wabohu which means formless and empty is how the precosmic world is described. This is not saying that nothing existed; it is only implying that the cosmos were lacking in purpose, meaning and function, a place that had no order or intelligibility. “D. Tsumura concludes that the term tohu seems to refer to a situation which lacks something abstract that should be there such as worth, purpose, truth, profit and integrity.” As an example to function, the moon and sun provided a way to articulate time as well as a way to establish the seasons which gave reason for the festivals. Function is intended and designed for the people and provided order. This also gave function to names and roles and how things were separated.

As an overview, the cognitive environment from the ANET is reflected in Genesis with the following: Ontology – Israel thinks of existence in terms of role and function in an orderly cosmos and that is the level of existence that creation initiates; Cosmic geography – Israel continues to imagine a three tiered cosmos and creation is described against that backdrop; Centrality of control attributes and destinies – Israel considers God’s creative activity in terms of establishing significant control attributes and decreeing destinies for the inhabitants of the cosmos; Rest and its temple implications – Israel sees the cosmos in temple terms and God’s rest as a result of having established order in the cosmos; Theomachy (warfare among the gods) – contrary to what we often find in the ancient Near East, Genesis 1 does not portrait the ordering of the cosmos and the rest of deity as the result of resolved conflict in the divine realm; Theogony – there is no origin of Yahweh nor does cosmogony depend on theogony; and God’s relationship to the control attributes – since Yahweh is perceived as being outside of the cosmos, the control attributes cannot exist independent of him. So creation involves not only the decreeing of destinies, but the actual initiation of the control attributes.


Chapter Nine – Understanding the Past, Human Origins and Role

In order to understand the present, we must have an understanding of the past. However to understand the past, you have to understand how people thought and understand the environment that they lived in.

Although no indication of the progenitor of human beings is accounted for like in the biblical text, there is mention of how human beings were made. In two Sumerian accounts, people are formed from breaking out from the ground, clay is used in an Egyptian text, in Atrahasis both flesh and blood are used, in the Enuma Elish and the KAR 4 only blood is mentioned. Only in the Atrahasis is there a combination of a divine creation as the mother goddess giving birth to humans and or by the divine breath. Only in the biblical text are both material and divine interaction given to show creation – dust and divine breath. Four characteristics are common within the ANET, humans to deity, male to female, humans to created world and humans to previous and future generations.

Every account of human origins focuses on the functionality, whereas the blood and flesh show a connection to the deity and the clay or dust shows the connection to the land.

Even in today’s time similar to ancient times, theologians argue whether a human is best understood by trichomy (body, soul, spirit), dichotomy (body, spirit) or unity. In Egyptian thought the body was composed of the akh, ba and ka. The ka was a reflection of the internal aspect such as the character, temperament and or disposition. It could also be used as “destiny” or providence”. The external ka was like an invisible twin born with the person and associated with the placenta. The ka continued to live into the afterlife and receive offerings on the individual’s behalf. The ba is often translated as the “soul” and is related to the mental capacities of the human. The ba leaves the body at death and continues to exist after death. The akh is translated to the word “spirit”, as it also survives after death like a ghost. One must keep in mind that terminology does not always translate as smooth and or accurate into other languages. Hebrew, Egyptian and Mesopotamian terminology have a hard time translating with each other, let alone English. Therefore even on the most basic level when contrasting the biblical text to ANET, it must be done with a link to theology not proctology or teleology.

Nephesh is a term with a traditional translation that means “soul”, however this is not to be taken as a meaning as the soul continues after death, this is meant to be used as the nephesh departs when one dies. H. W. Wollf states that “man does not have nephesh, he is nephesh, he lives as nephesh.” Another term that is important to understand is ruah. As the nephesh feels and senses the ruah acts. Ruah is related to the consciousness and vitality. The ruah of all creatures returns to God because it is his. What continues to exist i

n the Sheol after death is neither the nephesh nor the ruah.
Why is a question for the purpose of humans – why were we created? The Egyptian sources offer no explanation, the Sumerian and Akkadian claim it is to do the work of the gods and Israel believed that they had been created to serve God, but not in a slave matter of speaking.  

Chapter Ten – Understanding the Past, Historiography

When history is written a certain perspective is brought to light. His is dependent on the person recording the event and how they want it to be remembered. Numerous genres are used in Mesopotamian historiography. The two largest categories are commemorative records and chronographic texts.

The commemorative records focus on annals, building accounts and royal inscriptions, as where the chronographic texts include treatment of kings and is more of a literary nature style of writing.

“The denial of supernatural causation b many of today’s historians means that any ancient document used in reconstructing a history that conforms to present standards needs to be adjusted by the modern historian to delete its non-empirical data and eliminate its super naturalistic bias.”

“When we study the historiography of a pre Enlightenment culture it is important to recognize the cognitive environment that drives that historiography and to respect the integrity of it. Historical records in the ANET do not claim to be revelation from deity, but they do show great interest in discerning the activities of the gods.”

In the Near East the concept of time was different compared to how Western societies perceive the concept of time. The Near East viewed time as past and future, whereas the West views time as linear. This is an important concept in understanding ANET, as time was recurrence and endurance, although some linear aspects were present.
Not all cultures think about history the same way. As in ANET, history was part of their present, therefore history didn’t exist as it does with a society that views time as linear.

The values of historiographical literature can be identified in terms of the sponsor, what or whom the literature promotes and the intended audience. Some of the types of historiographical literature include: epic history, didactic history, legitimation history, theological history, polemical history, journalistic history and academic history. These categories represent how the authors got what they considered the most important values and truths.

Chapter Eleven – Encountering the Present;
Guidance for Life – Divination and Omens

Religion and religious ideas dominate the lives of the ancient Near East and there was no divide between secular and sacred. Divination and omens played an important role in the present lives of the ancient. Divination is divided into two categories, inspired and deductive.

“Inspired divination is initiated in the divine realm and uses a human intermediary; the message may come by means of a human messenger like a prophet or in the form of a dream.” Official prophecy, informal prophecy and dreams were not to make the god known nor to make the future known, though either of those demands could result incidentally. Dreams led people to consult experts, as dreams gave the person a sense of direction in an area that they needed to pay attention to. The information that they received from the experts played a role in their decision responses.
In Israel Joseph and Daniel were both prominent dream interpreters; however Daniel was an official expert as he had training in the language and literature of the Babylonians and Joseph’s skill was more informal. Both offered “interpretations that were given from God.” Dreams represented the future and could be categorized into what someone intends to do in the future such as a plan, or a prediction of what the future may hold, or forecasting with a high level of probability, or a prognosis to determine an outcome or simply a vision that shows an ideal picture of what the future could or should look like.

Deductive divination is something that can be seen and interpreted. One would have to know how to read symbols and signs. This could be a series of things or a single thing that would be interpreted as an omen. Omens were more speculative than empirical; however techniques were developed to categorize the phenomena and codes.

“Extispicy was considered one of the most reliable forms of divination and was often used to verify omens from other sources.” This process was done by examining the organs of animal sacrifices, specifically the liver. “In the casting of lots, markers with designated meaning were put together in a container. The container was shaken up and down until one of the markers came out, providing a sign of what was to be. Other several contrivances were used such as pouring oil on water or drawing arrows from a quiver.

Another mechanism for divination and omens was passive and unprovoked. This included observation of celestial elements such as eclipses, colors, moon and start behavior. Terrestrial elements also falls into the passive and unprovoked category, such as actions of the king, behavior in fields, gardens, rivers, personal behavior, strange lights, family relations, etc. Physiognomic is a category that operates from mystical speculation. Some examples of physiognomic would be facial features, physical attributes, etc, such as an anomaly has two heads but only one neck or a right shoulder raise.

In order to understand why deductive divination was proscribed in Israel we need to look at four elements: how they perceive the world around them, semiotics (do the omens signify?); how the divine communication was interpreted, hermeneutics; what they believed they could know and how they could know it, epistemology and how they perceived God, theology.

Chapter Twelve – Encountering the Present;
Context of Life – Cities and Kingship

Mesopotamia and Egypt believed that cities existed before humans and that cities were the creations of the gods and were made for the gods. The divine origin of the cities resulted in them being considered sacred territory to some degree.
Kingship was the central institution of civilization and society. In the ancient world the king stood between the divine and human realms mediating the power of the deity in his city and beyond. It was common throughout the ANE to share in this profile of the king and the gods, however the extent to which the king shared the divine nature varied. Kings were expected to discern the divine will and facilitate the execution.
The foremost responsibility of the king was to maintain order in the part of the cosmos that he could affect – his kingdom. In Mesopotamia the chief god was king of the gods and ruled over the cosmos run by the gods.
In Mesopotamia the chief god was king of the gods and ruled over the cosmos run by the gods. He was a king whom the human king represented and therefore through the human king, he was king over the people. In Israel all of the same held true except that Yahweh was the only god, not king of the gods. Cautious and negative assessment of present kingship is much more common in the biblical literature than in the ANET, no divine origin for human kingship in the mythical realm is conveyed and the king has less obvious responsibility for the people living outside the city.

Chapter Thirteen – Encountering the Present;
Guidelines for Life – Law and Wisdom

What is generally known as “codes”, is considered comprehensive and prescriptive, however the anthologies that he ANET provided were actually a “treatise.” There are six major treatises currently existing with a number of other fragments. Of the six major treatises, three have prologues and epilogues and three do not. The reason this is mentioned is that they cannot be treated in the same way.

Each treatise offers a set of practical and didactic principles. The medical, legal and divinatory all serve as manuals that were compiled to teach. The medical treatises teaches practitioners about diagnosis, the divinatory treatises teach practitioners about prognostication through omens and the legal treatises teach practitioners about judicial wisdom, all though multiplying examples in patterns.

One other commonality that the three treatises share is the subordinate clause “if”, as it introduces a situation that stands in contrast to order and normality. “Therefore, medical conditions need to be recognized and treated, omens need to be responded to and crimes need to be punished as well as social wrongs need to be righted.”

“Bottero concludes that the “Code” of Hammurabi ‘Is clearly centered upon the establishment, not of a strict and literal justice, but of equity that inspires justice but also surpasses it. These archetypal verdicts are in some circumstances then combined with prologue and epilogue in royal inscriptions as a means of legitimating the king, whose decisions inspire such justice and so admirable reflect this wisdom.’”

It is significant to note that very little in biblical law mirrors the treatise from the ANET. Some can be identified within Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is worth the mention once again that a main contrast between the ANET and the biblical text shows that the sufferer in the ancient Near East who is lacking in revelation of the nature of the deity would not have any way to know what his or her offense might have been. The treatise give some instruction, however this is not instruction from the gods, in biblical text instruction is given by Yahweh.

Chapter Fourteen – Pondering the Future of Earth and after Death

Unlike the current through it the West and the Israel thought, the ANET seemed rather content with the way of life. They did not envision a better tomorrow. They didn’t look into the further for a better world for the long term. They could only hope for more comfortable living conditions. Israel knew something better was coming and this thought was integrated into the covenant as well as derived.

Egyptian and Mesopotamia concepts of the afterlife were rather different from each other. The Egyptians had four large sources of writings in regard to the afterlife. The Pyramid Texts, which included spells that would available to the deceased trying to make their way to the afterlife. Second was the Coffin Texts, which superseded the Pyramid Texts and these writings, showed that the afterlife was now available to the common folk. The text conceptualized the afterlife more concretely and portrayed the dangers with more drama. The Book of the Dead supersedes the Coffin Texts in the 17th Dynasty and it includes spells to teach a person how to pass the guardians and gain entrance to Duat. It also provides important information concerning how to avoid all the serpents that traveled the road to the netherworld. Finally we have the Books fo the Netherworld (Amduat), and they were arranged around and focuses on the nightly journey of the sun god’s barque.

“People in the Levant and Mesopotamia did not profess near as much knowledge of the afterlife as did the Egyptians and their hopes are much vague.”

The Egyptians believe that each person has a ba and ka which does not easily translate to a soul or spirit, but rather mind/self and essence/personality/vital force. This is an important concept to understand as the Egyptians believed that the ba and ka separated upon death.

In Mesopotamia the dead ancestors were given some status of divinity; keep the person within the community of the family.

The netherworld according to the Egyptians was referred to in terms of the sky, Imhet (the west) and Duat (the east). Early Sumerian thought placed the netherworld to the west in their horizontal perception of the cosmos. In Mesopotamia the netherworld was ruled by the gods and one had to pass through seven gates which were demon infested. The description of the gates may coincide with the grave and the corpse stages of decay. . “The sun when passing though the netherworld after it sets in the land of the living as it moves back to eh east to rise again the next morning, suggests that the darkness of the netherworld is therefore dispelled – if only briefly in regular intervals. The barely tolerable conditions could be mitigated by continued attention from these who remained in than of the living. This premise was the foundation of the cult of the dead.”

Communication with the dead included a monthly ritual meal that all the dead relatives were invited. Scraps of nourishment were offered to the departed to help ease their existence in the netherworld.

Israel’s reality was different in many ways, however the most prominent is the fact that very little is actually known. Sheol is the Hebrew term used to designate the place where the dead go, and it is briefly mentioned in the biblical text. This appears not to be a very nice place as well as not everyone goes there. A few theological observations are; the Sheol is viewed as being separate from God, although God has access to the Sheol. The Sheol is a place that not everyone enters into. The Sheol is a place of negation, no possessions, memory, knowledge or joy. The Sheol is not a place where one is judged or punished is not an area that would be deemed “hell” and finally there is no indication that different levels of Sheol exist. Unlike the biblical text there was no question within ANET that an afterlife did exist.


“Many of the specialists in the field of ANET studies have steadfastly eschewed the sort of synthesis that has been presented in this book, preferring instead the safe and reliable harbors of description. Their caution is to be commended and the integrity they bring to their discipline has made their work a tremendous resource.
Although the book has touched upon the foundations a significant amount of homogeneity exists.
Some of the main points that were learned throughout the text that should be reiterated include: Ontology, Epistemology, Anthropology, Historiography, Sociology and Theology.

“Theology in Israel expresses several major distinctive from the rest of the ancient world; God was one, God had made a covenant with a select people, God worked from outside the cosmos, God had no needs and God had spoken in ways and to an extent not evident in other cultures.”

“Sociology, at least in terms of major forces in society that dictated how life was lived, found its common ground in the way that very similar traditions and customs shaped daily life.”

“Historiography in Israel was driven by covenant, not by the king. In the rest of the ANE, historiography had the function of promoting and legitimating the king. Divine sponsorship of the king was revealed in the activities of the gods in the human world, and historiography gave voice to that reality.”

“Anthropology in Israel as everywhere else, understood that humanity derives from divine actions and that human dignity was the product of the relationship to deity.”

“Epistemology in Israel was heavily influenced by the conviction that God had spoken.”
“Ontology in Israel differed little from that of the rest of the ANE.”



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