In seminary I was introduced to the writings of Israel’s cultural neighbors, often referred to as the ancient Near East (ANE for short). In several Old Testament classes, we spend hours discussing and debating over the similarities and differences between the biblical accounts of creation, Noah’s flood, and the Exodus with those found in ANE myths and literature. Most agree that these similarities are more than coincidental; but determining how the Old Testament relates to other cultures is a great matter of debate.
In Against the Gods, author John D. Currid provides one such explanation on how the OT and ANE writings are related. He views the similarities as polemical: the biblical authors intentionally used imagery from local cultures to highlight the greatness and power of Yahweh. According to Currid:
I would argue that many of the parallels between ancient Near Eastern literature and the Old Testament, from creation accounts to flood stories, may be properly and fully understood only through the right use of polemical theology. (Kindle loc. 392)
In the book, Currid walks readers through several of the important parallels between the OT and ANE writings. He covers ANE parallels to creation account, the flood narrative, and the Exodus. Some—like the similarities between Gilgamesh and Noah’s flood—are well known; others—like the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers and its similarities to the stories of Joseph and Judah—were new to me. Currid draws from several ANE cultures: Egyptian and Mesopotamian mainly, but also Ugaritic, Canaanite, and Babylonian, among others.
In each chapter, Currid spends time laying out the biblical passage, then the related ANE literature. He highlights the similarities before he notes the substantial differences, always noting the differences through a polemical lens.
For the most part, Currid’s work is accessible and easy to read. He quotes and distills the 200 years of ANE scholarship in an easy to understand manner. His experience with the ANE literature is evident throughout the book. Currid also writes with a pastoral heart; he wants Christians to see and understand how* and why* the ANE literature differs from the Old Testament.
In the churches where I have worshipped, the relationship between the Old Testament and ANE cultures is rarely mentioned. For some Christians, this book might be the first time they hear how similar the Old Testament is to other cultural writings. Currid seems sensitive to this, and does a fine job explaining polemical theology to a popular audience.
After the first two chapters, when he starts getting into the actual work of contrasting OT and ANE literature, each chapter seems disjoined. While he does end each chapter by explaining how the biblical text is supremely different than the ANE text, these conclusions are never connected to one another. A concluding chapter summarizing the arguments and defending the uniqueness and supremacy of the Bible would have strengthened the book.
Against the Gods does not answer all the questions surrounding the parallels between the Old Testament and ANE literature, but it is a fine introduction. Currid’s thoughts on polemical theology will be helpful to pastors and teachers as they study and teach on the narratives in Genesis and Exodus. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an introduction into the study of ANE cultures. This book will help readers see that Christians can engage in ANE studies while still maintaining the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible.
- Title: Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament
- Author: John D. Currid
- Publisher: Crossway, 2013
- Format: Kindle eBook
- My Rating: 4/5