Beneath The Surface, An Editorial Comment -- By: Todd S. Beall
Beneath The Surface, An Editorial Comment
Archaeological discoveries in the ancient Near East (ANE) in the past 200 years have had a significant impact on our understanding of Scripture. Thanks to these discoveries, cultures such as the Hittites, mentioned in the Bible but decried by critics as pure fiction, are now recognized as a strong and powerful people. Certain customs mentioned in the OT have now gained added significance as a result of various ANE finds (for example, at Nuzi). The discovery of ancient languages such as Ugaritic and Eblaite have enhanced our understanding of various Hebrew words used in the OT. And certain ANE texts, including prophetic literature, law codes and treaties, and cosmology myths contain intriguing parallels with portions of the OT. The original response from many critical scholars was to state that the OT texts were simply derived from the corresponding ANE texts. But nearly all scholars today agree that this view is greatly oversimplified. As Alexander Heidel astutely observed concerning the alleged parallels, while the “skeleton” has some similarities, “the flesh and blood and, above all, the animating spirit are different.”1
While a study of the ANE is very helpful in the areas outlined above, sadly some evangelical scholars today vastly overstate the importance of ANE literature in interpreting the OT. For example, Peter Enns states that Abraham
shared the worldview of those whose world he shared and not a modern, scientific one. The reason the opening chapters of Genesis look so much like the literature of ancient Mesopotamia is that the worldview categories of the ancient Near East were ubiquitous and normative at the time.…God adopted Abraham as the forefather of a new people, and in doing so he also adopted the mythic categories within which Abraham—and everyone else—thought.…It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance.2
Similarly, John Walton states that “the theological message of the Bible was communicated to people who lived in the ancient Near Eastern world. If we desire to understand the theological message of the text, we will benefit by positioning it within the worldview of the ancient world rather than simply applying our own cultural perspectives.”3
But to use an ANE worldview as the controlling interpreter of OT texts is highly problematic. Since the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, He superintended and directed what was to ...
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