Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology

Jeffrey Niehaus (PhD, Harvard; Professor of OT at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) has written a new book (due out at the end of May from Kregel) that may be of interest. It's entitled Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology. I have not yet read the book, but it seems to me that it might be particularly relevant in light of the controversy on Peter Enns's book. (Enns is not cited in the book's index.)

Niehuas's colleague at Gordon-Conwell writes:

Jeffrey Niehaus’s book is wonderfully helpful in explaining the connections between the thought patterns and religious practices of the ancient biblical world and the way these patterns and practices were used by God to prepare the way for his special revelation to Israel. Even though the concepts shared by ancient pagan peoples only imperfectly and dimly reflected the truth, Niehaus shows how the written expressions of these concepts provide us with a backdrop from which to better understand the Bible itself. This is a book that any student or pastor ought to read as a prolegomenon to doing biblical theology.
Todd Wood has posted a few excerpts from the book:<blockquote> “First, the Old Testament preserves true and accurate accounts of major events (Creation, the Flood). Extrabiblical sources around the world also preserve the memory of such events in distorted forms.”

“Second, the Old Testament uses literary and legal forms long current in the ancient Near East as vehicles of God’s special revelation. Poetic parallelism and the use of stock word pairs in poetry are examples of the former. Use of the second millennium international treaty form in the Pentateuch, and especially Deuteronomy, and of the ancient Near Eastern covenant lawsuit form in the Prophets are examples of the latter.”

“Third, parallels between the supposed acts of pagan gods and the acts of God appear in the Old Testament and ancient Near East because God allowed concepts that are true of him and his ways to appear in the realm of common grace. The parallel between the temple-pattern revelation to Gudea of Lagash and the similar revelation to Moses, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter is an example.” (29).

“A use of the comparative method that places the biblical narratives among the mythical or legendary donations of the world is flawed, because it assumes that biblical data are capable of such classification. It ignores (or rejects) the Bible’s claims about its own historicity. Once we accept those claims, however, the same comparative method can be turned around and produce valuable results. We can then understand legends and myths by comparison with what God and people actually did according to the biblical account” (15).