Review: Against the Gods by John Currid @CrosswayBooks

Official Description:

Did the Old Testament writers borrow ideas from their pagan neighbors? And if they did, was it done uncritically? A respected Old Testament scholar and archaeologist engages with this controversial question by carefully comparing the biblical text to other ancient Near Eastern documents. Well-researched and thoughtfully nuanced, Currid aims to outline the precise relationship between the biblical worldview and that of Israel’s neighbors.

Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Crossway (August 31, 2013)


Endorsements

“A clearly written account of a centrally important issue—the influence (or not) of ancient Near Eastern thought upon Old Testament writers. John Currid’s books and commentaries have proven invaluable, and in this additional volume, his thorough research, theological acumen, and nuanced argumentation makes it an essential requirement for ministers, theological students, and serious students of Scripture. This is an invaluable aid in furthering our understanding of the Old Testament and a loud affirmation of the Bible’s utter trustworthiness and inerrancy. A marvelous book.”
—Derek Thomas, Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina; Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta

“This is a splendid introduction to the use that the Old Testament makes of the religious ideas of Israel’s ancient neighbors. Currid compares the biblical accounts of creation and the flood with the versions from neighboring cultures and shows how the Bible puts down and rejects the theological ideas of Babylon, Egypt, the Hittites, and the Canaanites. This process, which Currid terms ‘polemical theology’, serves to demonstrate the unique sovereignty of the God of Israel. This is a very positive approach to the issues raised by the extrabiblical parallels and is greatly preferable to seeing the parallels as showing the Bible as simply borrowed pagan ideas and myths.”
—Gordon Wenham, Adjunct Professor, Old Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, England

“In this vital work John Currid presents an enormously useful approach to understanding the relationship of the Old Testament to the literature and thought of Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors. This book is certainly a must read for any Old Testament scholar, yet it also provides a relevant and readable introduction for every student of Scripture.”
—David W. Chapman, Professor of New Testament and Archaeology, Covenant Theological Seminary; author, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion

“A rising influential voice in Old Testament studies is asserting that the biblical worldview, while monotheistic, often parallels and at times pirates with minimal discrimination the pre-enlightened religious ideas and rituals of ancient Israel’s neighbors. In contrast, John Currid persuasively demonstrates in Against the Gods that the Bible’s tendency is not to appropriate but to dispute and repudiate pagan myths, ideas, identities, and customs. This important introduction to Old Testament polemical theology provides a balanced corrective to many current comparative studies.”
—Jason S. DeRouchie, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Bethlehem College and Seminary

“If you’re like me, you need to know a lot more about biblical backgrounds and how to think about them. John Currid’s Against the Gods is a great place to start.”
—James M. Hamilton Jr., Associate Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

About the Author
JOHN D. CURRID is the Carl McMurray Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the author of several books and Old Testament commentaries. A PhD graduate in Syro-Palestinian archaeology (University of Chicago), he has extensive archaeological field experience from projects throughout Israel and Tunisia.

Summary

Currid provides a very short book that introduces the most popular of Biblical texts that have “obvious” ancient Near East parallels. Though 160 pages, I say very short because there has been a number of longer books, written most likely for a different audience, on the same topic. Allow me to walk through a quick summary of the book itself:

Prologue – Currid lays out the purpose for writing this text. What may he say the purpose of AGAINST THE GODS is? He seeks to provide insight into the largely debated question, “What precisely is the relationship of the Old Testament to ancient Near Eastern literature?” (p. 9) It is in the prologue that the question is asked but it is throughout the entire short book that the question is answered.

Brief History of Ancient Near Eastern Studies – The title of this chapter says it all. The scholars devoted to this expertise, the study of ancient Near Eastern cultures and their relationship to the Old Testament Scriptures, is not as dated as many may think. Currid walks readers down the path of the last century or so of the fields’ development (starting as early as the 18th century with Herodotus).

The Nature of Polemical Thought and Writing – Before digging too deeply into the relationship between the different ancient people-groups and their stories, Currid finds it especially important to dedicate a portion of his book to the subject of polemical writing. “Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radically new meaning.” (p. 25) Currid unpacks this concept before leading his readers through numerous incredible stories.

The chapters that follow Currid’s introduction to ancient Near Eastern studies and polemical theology each approach a specific story alongside that of its Old Testament counterpart. Rather than unpacking each chapter (and spoiling the fun of his work and your reading), I will list them for you now:

Genesis 1 and Other Ancient Near Eastern Creation Accounts

Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts and the Noahic Deluge of Genesis 6-9

Joseph, the Tale of the Two Brothers, and the “Spurned Seductress” Motif

The Birth of the Deliverer

The Flights of Sinuhe and Moses

Who is “I AM THAT I AM”? Exodus 3 and the Egyptian Book of the Heavenly Cow

The Rod of Moses

The Parting of the Waters of the Red Sea

The final chapter is entitled Canaanite Motifs and, because of the great number of parallels, Currid goes into great detail concerning this hot topic. “The question is, of course,does this evolutionary, syncretistic understanding of the origin of Yahweh truly fit the evidence? Is Yahweh really a mere mutation of the Canaanite gods El and Baal? Are there not other ways to explain the many parallels?”

Review

In closing, Currid admits that polemical theology is not the home run answer to all of the “borrowing” issues that we find in the Old Testament. Polemical theology is merely a lens of many that we mustn’t forget when considering the “true meaning” of a passage (particularly alongside great stories of old, like the Gilgamesh Epic).

After spending a great deal of time in the Biblical Exegesis program alongside Dr. John Walton (Wheaton College Graduate School), I cannot commend this book enough to anybody who wants to better understand the Old Testament. Though I do not fully agree with every stance that Currid takes, I would say that this book is of incredible assistance to the Bible reading community as whole (if you are an “academic” but most importantly if you are a “layperson”). Bottom line is, the Old Testament was not written in a vacuum. God’s people did not scribe our Bible without the worldviews of its neighbors, in some form or fashion (or both), influencing their (our) literature. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book.

**Provided free from Crossway Books with my promise to share an unbiased review.