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63 of 65 found the following review helpful:
Excellent Book: Delivers What It Promises And Then SomeNov 29, 2007
By David A. Bielby
First off I want to say that I audited a course by the author of this book, and read through the book throughout the semester. It is part of the core curriculum for an M.A. in New Testament or Old Testament Exegesis at Wheaton. I am a pastor who preaches regularly. This book has impacted my entire understanding of the Old Testament in a powerful way.
The logical format of this book gives the reader a simple and effective way to slowly enter into the worldview of ancient people. The author is very good at giving readers hinge concepts to help understand the distinctions between our worldview and their worldview.
The book categorizes ancient near eastern thought into topics that are actually enjoyable to read. Each topic could easily overlap with other topics, and Dr. Walton does a great job of separating the topics without distorting them (in my opinion).
This book tackles thorny issues that separate Evangelicals from Liberals in the land of scholars, without alienating either side of the issue. Walton's premise is that we should abandon the old approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Thought and simply understand what they believed, and how it was different from or the same as Old Testament thought.
One concept that emerges as the book develops is the idea that some Israelite prophets argued for the support of the covenant with God rather than for the reinforcement of the Kings authority (as the prophets of other cultures and sometimes Israeli culture did). This sets Israeli prophets who held to the covenant with God at odds with everyone else who prophecied in Israel and around Israel. Coupled with the exclusiveness of the Jewish religion, and the people soon became alienated from those around them and sometimes from their own religion or people.
Probably the most helpful aspect of this book is his excellent approach to comparative studies without labeling certain parts of the bible as extensions of other cultures or vice versa. His approach, when properly understood, is actually what both sides of the historical divide on this topic ought to be doing. I find it not only full of wisdom, but extremely helpful in preparing sermons from the Old Testament.
A nice companion to this volume is The Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament. I think that this book shows you how to use the Bible Background Commentaries.
One criticism that I would like to mention is that some of the charts in this book are a bit difficult for me to understand. That's an area that the next edition may have to improve on. However, there are only a few pages like that and the rest of the book is really a very very good summary and introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.
Some of the topics he covers include but are by no means limited to:
The Ancient View of the World.
The Ancient view of the heavens.
The Ancient view of Temples
The Ancient view of Omens and Magic.
I think he has around 13 topics in all. This book is well worth reading and if you plan to teach from the Old Testament over the years, you might want to pick up a copy for your personal library. It's packed with helpful references also.
30 of 30 found the following review helpful:
Excellent resource to understand the cognitive context of the OTApr 30, 2007
By Harold McFarland
Divided into five distinctive sections, this book provides an introductory look at the conceptual world surrounding the Hebrew Bible. The five sections are Comparative Studies, Literature of the Ancient Near East, Religion, Cosmos, and People.
The section on Literature of the Ancient Near East is is a good, although very brief, survey of the literature of the ancient near east including Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite. The author has included a good cross section of ritual texts, letters, chronicles, legal collections, hymns, wisdom literature, and prophecy.
The section on Religion is subdivided into The Gods, Temples and Rituals, and State and Family Religion. Here the reader is exposed to ancient thought on these subjects with the intent that they come to understand the common beliefs and practices well as beliefs and practices that differentiated them from each other.
The section on the Cosmos examines both the geography of the cosmos and the beliefs surrounding them. The section on the geography of the cosmos is excellent and includes an examination of the structure of heaven, the earth and the netherworld. I found this section to be particularly interesting and very informative with an excellent exposition on the Hebrew word "bara" and the functional aspects of naming.
The final section on People provides an excellent examination of the various concepts of creation of the human race as well as what it means to be human. It also includes a very good explanation of the interaction between the people and their religion including prophecy, oracles, and their perception of history as a nation. This section ends with a discussion of the beliefs about the future of the earth and what happens after death.
Throughout the book the author has included excellent side-bar sections offset in shaded boxes that further illuminate related ideas and concepts. These often contain some of the best and most interesting observations of the material if you are already somewhat familiar with the subject.
Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament provides a solid comparative study of the various literature from the ancient near east showing both commonalities and differences with the beliefs of the nation of Israel. The book clearly sets the culture of Israel in the Old Testament times alongside those of its neighbors and allows the reader to better understand the mindset of the time. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament is highly recommended.
47 of 50 found the following review helpful:
Excellent Survey of the MaterialDec 07, 2006
By J. F. McCord
Walton provides the reader with an excellent synthesis of the broad reaches of ANE study and the biblical text through the presentation of essential documents from the ANE (including Egypt). His aim is not to prove or disprove any aspects of biblical truth (polemics) or to establish the ANE as the father for the Old Testament's text and traditions (borrowing). Rather, he succeeds in laying out a framework of thought ("cognitive environment") that existed in the ancient world and seeing how these elements are shared by the people of Israel (contextualizing their culture and community). He interacts with leading scholars for each respective field (Assman for Egyptology, for example), but keeps the work from scholarly minutae, opting instead for a readable, well-documented and defended work on the way in which people of the ancient world percieved themselves (anthropology), their community (sociology), their god(s) (theology) and other key topics. An excellent work and a must read for anyone who desires to teach, preach or learn about Mesopotamia and/or the Old Testament.
7 of 7 found the following review helpful:
Essential for Understanding the Old TestamentMar 19, 2011
By David Kilpatrick
Despite having taken 8 seminary courses in Old Testament (OT), I found Walton's book allowed me to make a quantum leap forward in my understanding of the OT. It is like all these years I've been "watching" the OT on a 13 inch black-and-white TV and since reading Walton's book, I'm now I'm watching it on a 40 inch high definition color TV! It has really helped that much!
You can see from the other reviews how great this book is. I only want to reinforce two points.
First, in addition to the general understanding you will get from this book, there are two specific things that may happen to you as you read. If you take the Bible reverently, you may initially feel uncomfortable to learn about how much similarity there is in thought, behavior, belief, and even religious customs between the OT and its Ancient Near Eastern neighbors. However, by contrast, you will be delighted and amazed to see many of the most important, distinctive aspects of OT teaching stand out from that ancient background in a way you could have never before imagined. Both types of information, by the way, increase our understanding of the meaning of the biblical texts - that is, both types of information will provide you with many, many "Aha" moments.
The second point is this. As I write, this is the 12th posted review, and 11 of the 12 are 5 star reviews. The only 4 star review complained that the book seemed much like a college textbook (which I believe it is!). If, like that reviewer, you find it a bit tough going, I encourage you to stick with it! There's a lot to digest. But aside from some strange sounding names of "gods" and names of ancient practices, Walton writes in a clear style which the general reader can enjoy.
If you read the OT, or ever plan on doing so, get this or you are destining yourself to understand much less of it than you otherwise could.
7 of 8 found the following review helpful:
Essential Reading for Serious Students of the OTAug 06, 2009
By S. J. Young
Walton's book is an invaluable resource for reading the Old Testament in its context. Bible students clearly recognize the importance of context - but often ignore the cultural, historical and theological contexts in which the Scriptures were written. Conservatives tend to err toward docetism in their view of scriptures (it's all Divine so what do we care about the human side?) while liberals tend to err in the opposite extreme (it's all human). The reality is, the scriptures do contain cultural terminology that must be understood in its original cultural, historical and religious context.
Walton's book does just this. He opens the ancient mindset to the modern reader. This is critical for reading the OT in its true context - particularly the creation accounts in Genesis, the Exodus stories, the interactions of Israel with the nations, et al.
Bible believers of all stripes owe a great debt to the research of conservative scholars like Walton, Matthews, and others who do not simply take a knee-jerk polemic stance against the scholarly world simply because some conclusions do not jive with conservative presuppositions & assumptions (many of which are equally modern presuppositions). This is not to say Walton is a 'liberal.' He is a scholar in the best sense of the term: He seeks to explore what the Bible really is and how it came to us.
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