The Bible And The “Universal” Ancient World: A Critique Of John Walton -- By: Noel K. Weeks

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 78:1 (Spring 2016)
Article: The Bible And The “Universal” Ancient World: A Critique Of John Walton
Author: Noel K. Weeks


The Bible And The “Universal” Ancient World:
A Critique Of John Walton

Noel K. Weeks

Noel K. Weeks is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney in Australia.

What distinguishes John Walton’s approach from those of others who attempt to explicate the Bible from outside contemporary sources is that rather than comparing specific items attested in some external text or object with a claimed biblical parallel, he sees the biblical text as a product of, and hence explicable in terms of, a mentality that the biblical authors shared with their contemporaries, irrespective of religious differences. In an earlier article1 I considered the assumptions frequent in comparative endeavors, but Walton’s approach raises additional questions.

He earlier applied this method to the creation narrative in Gen 1.2 More recently he has teamed with D. Brent Sandy to apply a related methodology to the whole of the Scriptures, NT as well as OT.3

I. Methodological Issues

Their4 methodology involves setting the ancient world over against the modern world, with the biblical authors necessarily part of the ancient world. By recognizing the universal modes and habits of that ancient world we can recognize what has come into the Bible from that background. Since Walton and Sandy do not want to dismiss the biblical text as without relevance to us, what is needed is a process of translation. What is the text saying in the language

of its time and what does that translate to in the language of our time? In the more recent work, The Lost World of Scripture, that translation process is explicated in terms of a theory of human communication.

The moment one claims that the Bible reflects a common something, which can be set over against the modern equivalent, questions arise. Has the modern been given some normative function so that whatever the Bible says that does not correspond to the modern can be discounted? If so, are we talking just about Amish buggies or something more important?

How do we establish the uniform view of antiquity or even just of the ancient Near East (hereafter ANE)? Suppose we have two proof texts coming from one ancient society; can we make generalizations about all other ancient societies? If we are dealing not with concrete physical things such as motorcars or atom bombs, b...

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