Admitting I am a geek about certain things is a necessity up front. When given the opportunity, I thoroughly enjoy pouring over varying ancient religions, looking for comparisons with Christianity and deviations as well. So while the title may be off putting, excitement bubbled up in me like the waters of the deep when Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology arrived on my doorstep. The chance to expand my understanding of the Ancient Near East, particularly in light of religious texts and concepts? What is not to love?
I wasn’t overly familiar with Jeffrey Niehaus before this book, doing most of my exploring under the guides John Walton and Alexander Heidel. But I had encountered his name in a few articles and looked forward to his two cents on the matter. His book is laid out in a particular fashion, that I sometimes found distracting, unfortunately. His premise, however, I think is sound. Niehaus essentially asserts that most ANE religious texts follow a particular outline, as seen below (30):
His primary argument is that this process occurs in numerous ANE texts, including the Bible. In fact, he suggests that this is inherent in the entire Biblical narrative, and that the ANE texts illustrate a fallen example of how this concept played out in the pagan world (32, 177-181). With this in mind, Niehaus structures each chapter around a single concept (Chapter 2, “God and the Royal Shepherd”), and then unpacks how each of the major cultures explored this idea. Throughout, he maintains his thesis, and constantly reminds the reader how God was the real fulfillment of each part of the ANE process.
Undoubtedly, the material he covers is vast and informative, and I would recommend this book at every college student or pastor who is likely to encounter this material. Universities are filled with people who choose to focus on the similarities of the Bible with its ANE parallels, and consequently ignore the drastic ways in which the texts differ. Niehaus brings this concept to the forefront in an expert way. I do wonder if the text would be better suited to be broken out by culture, with a concluding chapter drawing everything together. Boyd Seevers’s Warfare in the Old Testament is put in such a format, and I found it easier to follow.
Despite this complaint, this book is worth the time. It is a short introduction to some of the major themes that scholars debate, and is handled in a gracious way. The book has earned a permanent spot on my shelf, and I suggest any interested readers do the same.