Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
FM 24:4 (2008) p. 76
Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to Background Literature, by Kenton L. Sparks. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2nd printing, 2006. Pp. xxix+514.
Kenton L. Sparks puts within reach a significant volume on the comparative literature to the Hebrew Bible. While important books concerning comparative literature to the Old Testament do exist, (I have in mind here Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament and Context of Scripture) Sparks has accomplished a fairly comprehensive, theoretically sound introduction to ancient texts which can be analyzed with respect to texts in the Hebrew Bible. Sparks writes in order to alert the reader of the Hebrew Bible to the various genres in the milieu of the Ancient Near East.
In the Preface, Sparks gives several important caveats plus some important instructions to the reader. He advises the reader against the conclusion that this book contains all or even a majority of the exemplars available. Second, he cautions the reader against the impression that reading a single chapter is sufficient to properly understand a particular genre. Third, in an important instruction to the reader for understanding not only the layout of the book but also for understanding the possibilities of composition in the Ancient Near East, Sparks notes that the chapter order is important for comprehending certain genres in light of more basic conceptual features.
In this respect, Chapter 1 addresses archives, libraries, and issues of literacy and scribal practices. This chapter familiarizes the reader with such matters that pertain to subsequent chapter topics. In contrast with that logical flow, later chapters dealing with material which may constitute historiography precede the chapter entitled “Historiography and Royal Inscriptions.” This explanation in the preface alerts the reader of the progression within the book and prepares them to better understand the material.
Perhaps the most helpful chapter in the book is the Introduction. In it, Sparks informs the reader of the importance of comparing biblical texts with documents which arose from the surrounding cultures in the Ancient Near East. Furthermore, he relates the notion of comparison to Form Criticism and Generic Theory (theory relating to genre). This discussion proves to be insightful as Sparks leads us through a maze of writer/reader theories dealing with genre in communication, such as generic assimilation and extension, heuristic genre and intrinsic genre. Building an analytical generic model, the author attempts to define an analytical generic category with such traits as content and theme, language, context, function, form and structure, material attributes, mode of composition and reception, and genr...
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