Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 47:1 (March 2004) p. 137
The Context of Scripture. Edited by William W. Hallo. 3 vols. Leiden: Brill, 1997–2002. Vol. 1: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, 28 + 599 pp., $129.00; Vol. 2: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World, 26 + 438 pp., $131.00; Vol. 3: Archival Documents from the Biblical World, 54 + 406 pp., $129.00.
William Hallo’s monumental work, The Context of Scripture (COS), is the logical successor to James Pritchard’s equally ambitious (for its time) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET), which has served as the standard for English readers since 1950 (3rd ed., 1969). Their aims are very similar. ANETs goal was “to make available to students of the ancient Near East—serious students of the Old Testament, we believe, are necessarily such—the most important extrabiblical texts in translations which represent the best understanding which present-day scholarship has achieved” (p. 19). COS’s purpose is “to assemble the existing renderings [of ancient Near Eastern texts], update them where necessary, and indicate their relevance for biblical scholarship” (1:25).
Beyond this, COS’s aims are more ambitious and nuanced, even if a bit confused in their expression. They are to bring together a “combination of an intertextual and a contextual approach to biblical literature [that] holds out the promise that this millennial corpus will continue to yield new meanings on all levels: the meaning that it holds for ourselves in our contemporary context[; ] the meanings it has held for readers, worshippers, artists and others in the two millennia and more since the close of the canon; the meaning that it held for its own authors and the audiences of their times; and finally the meanings that it held when it was part of an earlier literary corpus. It is to the clarification of that oldest level of meaning that The Context of Scripture is dedicated” (1:28). (The ambiguity in this statement lies in the antecedent for “it” in the first sentence: grammatically, it most naturally should be “this millennial corpus,” but in the context of the statement, it appears to be “biblical literature.”)
COS’s expanded goals reflect a half-century’s worth of discussion on the place of ancient Near Eastern texts in the study of the Bible (and also the reverse question). No longer are biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts simply to be lined up and “compared,” on a one-to-one basis, as many did in the first part of the 20th century. Now, scholars of a “contextual” approach—of whom Hallo is the leading spokesman—speak of understanding the Bible’s context in both a vertical and a horizontal dimension, and Hallo highlights th...
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