John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament:

Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

Submitted to Dr. David Maas

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

OBST 510 – DO2 Old Testament Introduction

by Joyce Gerald April 10th, 2016


Chapter 1

Walton commenced the discourse in chapter one by presenting the early history and methodology of comparative studies as well as the contributions of the early Assyriologists. Walton also noted the impact of a specific anti-Christian anti-Semitic Assyriologists Delitzsch who presented a series of lectures that questioned the veracity of the Bible (15-17). Walton prefaced that Delitzsch’s work changed the tenor of the study of Assyriology and how critical scholarship used of Assyriology to refute the Bible. Next Walton defined the methodology of comparative studies as an area of cultural studies that “attempts to draw data from different segments of the broader culture in time and or space, into juxtaposition with one another to assess what might be learned from one to enhance the understand of another” (18). Walton continued by presenting confessional scholars’ opposition toward the construct and its potential of opening skepticism and questioning the validity of the Bible compared with acceptance of comparative studies by critical scholars as a means of proving the “veracity” of the Bible (19). Walton pointed out the importance of place in time, the culture, the milieu and purpose of a document when conducting comparative studies (20-21).

Walton stressed that the meaning of phrases or words change over time and will lead to misinterpretation of the text (20). Walton clarified that the method of choice when determining the reliability of ANE text, involved comparisons of similarities, differences, uniqueness, distinctiveness, and iconology to foster a deeper understanding of the text and proffer a valid evaluation (22-24). Walton posited that the foundations of comparative studies were an interest in particular attributes of an event; however, scholars are now interested in the interpretation as well as the cultural facets of the events (25). Walton listed ten important principles as well as four goals that students must initiate while conducting comparative studies (27-28).

Chapter 2

Walton continued the presentation of comparative studies by revealing the impact of comparative studies on scholarship and theology and the two methods used to engage in comparative studies (29). The scientific study that conducted an inspection of historical and literary particulars and the confessional study that viewed and accepted literary text as presented (29). Walton explained that use of comparative studies by critical scholars resulted in scholars challenging the interpretations and findings of their colleagues thus opening new theories and hypotheses such as Gunkel’s “Sitz im Leben” and Wellhausen’ hypothesis (30-32). Walton expressed that the most prevalent form of comparative study applied to the Bible was polemical.

Next Walton conveyed how confessional scholarship related to the construct of comparative studies. Walton submitted that confessional scholars tend to avoid comparative studies and defended traditional ideologies against critical and comparative interpretations (34). Thus, comparative studies presented multiple challenges to confessional scholars. As an example of the challenges faced by critical scholars, Walton highlighted narratives found in ANE texts that were similar to biblical narratives (34-35). Walton posited that the interpretation of the discoveries led critical scholars to ascertain that the Bible was not original, and it was contrived; therefore, it went from the designation of the divine to human and was, in fact, fictional (35).

Walton cited Assyriologists and Egyptologists who refuted the finding using comparative studies and explained how the integration of comparative studies through three facets provided data for assimilation and accommodation of biblical facts (36). The three areas were a critical analysis, defense of the biblical text and the exegesis of the biblical text. Walton submitted that the critical analysis process would offer a broad range of data points that lead to conclusions that avoided bias (38). The defense of the biblical text is carried out by confessional and non-confessional scholars to “deflect negative criticism” against the reliability of the Bible (39). Lastly, exegesis of biblical text utilizing comparative studies provided a deeper understanding of biblical test and prevents misinterpretation (39-40). Walton concluded part one of the text and began Part 2 Literature of the ANE by summarizing the literature.

Chapter 3

            Walton summarized the literature of the ANE in chapter three, pointed out the type of literature prevalent in the ANE and affirmed the meaning of each type of literature. For example, the term myth connotes numerous meanings in the current century (43). Walton apprised readers that understanding the term within the confines of the time and space of the ANE culture fostered a clearer understanding of the text in question (44). Walton moved forward by explaining the contents of literature unearthed from archeological sites of numerous ANE cultures. Sumerian and Akkadian literary titles, a collection of cosmology texts that chronicles civilization, cities, and people before the flood and Enki and the Ordering of the World were samples of myths discussed by Walton (44-47). Walton presented myths from Egyptian, Hurrian and Ugarit cultures as well as others. Similarities and differences were duly noted. Walton implied that the point of the discussion was not a detailed analysis of the genre juxtaposed with similar stories from the Bible. It was simply a summary of the genre from the ANE. The summary also provided the reader with a clear picture of the religious practices of the area. Walton described the religious or superstitious rites embedded into the culture of the ANE such as divinations, incantations, rites of purification, magical spells, dream omens and celestial omens (44-61). Other types of written texts discussed included letters that represented local and international correspondence between kings and or their subjects and provided details of the culture both domestic and international (62). Royal inscriptions, written on stones, plates, steles, annals, chronicles, treatises, legal documents and legal collections, criminal or civil, provided insight into other written genre from the ANE. Walton also shared the archeological finds of hymns, prayers, prophecy, wisdom literature, archives, fictional autobiographies, and apocalyptic texts (63-83).

Chapter 4

Chapter four explained the concept of gods as perceived by the people of the ANE. Walton contented that the cultures of the ANE did not include a word that meant religion: therefore, everything in the culture was intertwined there was no difference between supernatural and natural (86). Walton revealed that the only matching bifurcation existed between spiritual and physical also the culture was not compartmentalized (87). Walton purported that the mythology of Egypt and Mesopotamia offered finite not infinite, imperfect not perfect, good not morally holy gods like Jehovah and they procreated from previous generations (88). Walton proposed that understanding the theogony, ontology, and cosmogony of the ANE was crucial to understanding the culture and it polytheistic nature compared with the monotheistic culture of Israel (88-97).

Walton ensured that the reader comprehended the vast difference between the Old Testament depiction of Yahweh and the ANE by presenting the divine council that decreed destinies compared with the biblical concept of the unique existence and relational oneness of Yahweh (92-95). Walton also mentioned the salient divine attributes corresponding with the gods. Those attributes were the anthropomorphic features of nature, character, personality these are all basic human traits that solidified the concept that the gods were not better than humans (103). Geographical, geopolitical, cosmically bound, procreative, fallible, emotional, engaged in daily routines and activities and being members of the community continued the thread of the humanness of the gods as presented by Walton (104-105). Walton purported that gods displayed divine attributes of justice [though not competent], wisdom, faithfulness, mercy, and compassion, (105-110). Walton concluded this section with the ANE thought of gods by stating that the ANE considered that all gods were real, and none was fallacious, and all beliefs were acceptable when compared to Israel’s one true Yahweh and one belief system (102-112).

Chapter 5

Chapter five chronicled the purpose of temples as the place of residence marked with the image of the god and represented the gods’ heavenly domain, but were not a place of worship (113). Walton postulated that rituals were performed to acquire the gods’ approval of the icons that adjourned the walls of the temples and connected the spiritual world to the physical world (113-114). Walton compared the iconism with the Christian concept of the inspiration of Scripture (114). Walton purported that the mouth-washing ritual was the most important ritual in the temple because it allowed the icon to eat, drink, what it received on behalf of the gods (115). Walton indicated that the Egyptian icons were produced by the soul of the god and revealed the icon as an embodiment of the god moreover Walton further iterated that this is an example of habitation (116-117). Walton proposed that the oracle declared the space as sacred and that determination led to the location of the temple and prevented the approach of anything profane (118). The ANE temples and the rituals conducted within them were not for the purpose of meeting the needs of the people but for the maintenance of order in the cosmos. The characteristics of the temple embodied several chambers, a garden, and a ziggurat/elevated resting place for the god as the temple was “the center of power, control, and order from which deity brings order to the human world” (119). Furthermore, Walton compared the designation of the ANE temple to the temple of Israel and the role of Yahweh in the appointment of the temple’s sacred space (129). All ordinances, the functions of personnel associated with the temple, Yahweh’s relationship with the people about the temple, its use, and what constituted holiness came by divine revelation from Yahweh (129). The dedication of Solomon’s temple was a comparative example of the difference in temple dedication and the relationship of the temple to the people of Israel versus the ANE (130-134).

Chapter 6

Chapter six discussed the construct of state and family religion. Walton posited that much of the information known by scholars today came from the palaces and temples; thus concluding that the data pointed to a concept of a state religion rather than a family religion (135). Walton revealed that the average person did not participate in religious activities outside of special festivals (135). Walton further suggested that the state religion expressed the needs of the gods and the people’s responsibility to fulfill those needs by treating the gods in the same manner that they would treat a king (137). The people of the ANE were never clear if they met the burden of proof for their gods even though they carried out the jobs and whims of their gods (138-139).

Walton posited that the main difference between state religion and family religion was the role of the priests and kings who stood in the place of the gods and carried out any required tasks that they have tried throughout the years without direction their gods (138). Walton advanced that the state religion in Israel expressed that Yahweh had no needs that religion was required to meet (140). Furthermore, Walton pointed out that Yahweh had no jobs, nor whims that the people were required to carry out for Him; however, the covenant between Yahweh and His people maintained order and justice. (141-142). As a point of comparison, Walton juxtaposed the procedures of the Pentateuch developed through divine revelation to seal the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and His people who knew the expectations of YHWH (141-142). Walton also discussed ethics and morality and declared concerning Ten Commandments that “No contrasts between the religious beliefs of Israel concerning Yahweh, and those of the ANE can be clearer than those emerged from the first four commandments” (155). Adherence to the Ten Commandments showed the relationship between Yahweh and His people compared with the population of the ANE, who relied on their gods for protection and assistance, not a relationship (150-161). 

Chapter 7

Chapter seven focused on cosmic geography. Walton explained it as, “Cosmic geography concerns how people envision the shape and structure of the world around them” (165). Walton posited that the culture’s understanding of the cosmos determined their place in the cosmos; however, people of the ANE did not have the scientific process nor the benefit of science to understand the cosmos (166). Consequently, the people used observations of their environment and life experiences to answer questions about the layers of heavens where the deity lived or the netherworld/Duat the place where many gods lived under their feet; therefore, their cosmic geography was primarily metaphysical and secondarily tangible (167). At the same time, Walton reiterated that the physical environment of the cosmos were tools at the disposal of the gods who represented the physical environment (168). Walton purported that the elements of the physical world evidenced by iconographic images displayed the sky and how it remained in the atmosphere without falling and also how the waters from above stayed above to prevent the earth from flooding (169-170). Walton declared that the cultures of the ANE viewed celestial bodies with the same status of heavenly placement as the sky as depicted on the icons, on the other hand, the sun was a considered a source of heat and the moon regulated the lunar calendar (170-171). Walton submitted that the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures tendered the flat earth concept as evidenced on the maps and sarcophagi, but these depictions did not correlate to specific terrestrial features denoting a theological construct (171-172). Whereas, Walton proposed that revelation from Yahweh to the nation of Israel show a cosmic geography to match the cultural background of the biblical canon; hence, Israel’s theological construct of a cosmic geography rests in the ANE world rather than the modern world (175).

Chapter 8

Cosmology and cosmogony: the people of the ANE were more interested in the metaphysical world because function was more important than substance (179). Walton pointed out that ontology stressed that function was more important than substance and emphasized the importance of understanding ANE views about “cosmic existence (creation cosmology) and how the ANE defined existence “creation ontology” (180). The Egyptians described creation within the parameters of how the cosmos functioned not that it existed in time and space (181). Walton iterated that readers of ANE text must recognize that the creation of anything is attached to its functional character.

Next, Walton provided readers with an understanding of terms that meant create in two cultures. The Akkadian words banu and basamu which could mean synonyms for build or construct; whereas, bara the Hebrew verb for create denoted functional objects such as people, gender roles; however, it does not refer to the construction an object like a building (182). Furthermore, Walton posited that language nuances lead to confusion. The term chaos in the English language means a state of disorder, on the other hand, the same word in Greek meant “the primal state refers to the personified state in which the earth, sky, and sea were all merged” and denoted the opposite of cosmos which meant order (184). Walton suggested using the term the precosmic state of the universe be it the primordial sea, the dead body of a god, or a disordered existence of functionless material (185-186). Walton declared that the tohu wabohu of Genesis 1:2 meant without form and void and described the precosmic world; thus implying that the cosmos lacked function and order (187). Walton continued by explaining that the naming, separation, and role involved in creation showed functional aspect of the process and defined the control attributes and destinies brought about by the gods who created the cosmos and maintained its order through the cycle of renewal in the microcosmic picture of the cosmos namely the temple (188-191). Walton proffered that Genesis 1 does not depict the ordering of the cosmos and the rest of deity as a time of respite for conflict resolution between the gods because the concept of theogony indicated that the gods had a beginning whereas YHWH existed outside of the cosmos and had no beginning (198-199). 

Chapter 9

Walton presented a comparative study of ten ANE texts about the origins of man from Egypt, Sumeria, and Akkadia (203-204). Walton propounded that the ANE conceived the origins of humans collectively/polygenesis and provided no evidence that humans originated from progenitors/monogenesis, but literature indicated how the ANE perceived the creation of people (205). Sumerian accounts reported that the formation of individuals involved breaking out of the ground whereas the Egyptians used clay or product from the living deity and Atrahasis used flesh and blood; Atrahasis, as well as Genesis, show a deity as part of the creation process (204-206). ANE literature illustrated four common characteristics “humans to deity, male to female, humans to the created world, humans to previous and future generations” (207). Walton reported that each account of human origins focused on functionality while flesh and blood demonstrated a connection to the deity and clay or dust illuminated a link with the land (210-211). Walton compared the Hebrew human origins with the ANE and ascertained that the differences were significant. Genesis revealed that the human origins involved two ingredients dirt and breath (213). Walton also reviewed the conceptualization of body, soul, and spirit in the ANE as well as Israel and posited that Ka, Ba, and Ank do not equate with the Hebrew terms of basar, nephesh, or ruah (213-215). The differences accented the beliefs of what happened to a man when he died. Walton conveyed that, the Egyptian construct of the soul based on the afterlife and the Mesopotamian’s intertwined with the understanding of human origins, on the other hand, the Israelite view consisted of the covenantal relationship with Yahweh (210-214). The differences in the concept of the totality of man correlated to the decreed destiny of man (214). Egyptian theology had no concept of why creation included people but the Sumerians and Akkadians believed that humans were created to work as slaves for the gods and Egyptian theology had no explanation for the creation of individuals, but the Hebrews believed the cosmos exists as a function for people not for God (215).

 Chapter 10

Walton discussed the genres, the deity’s role in historiography, the perception of time and history and the histography of narratives and poetics in chapter ten. Walton pointed out that the historiographical genre of Mesopotamian literature fell within two categories; commemorative records (annuals, building accounts, and royal inscriptions) and chronographic records (records of past empires, lists, narratives and similar genres) and they demonstrated the work done for the deity (219). Walton also posited that the supernatural bias of modern historians skewered the data presented in the study of histography further iterated that the   ANE were more interested in the role of the divinity in history rather than the natural causes for events (219). Walton declared that to dismiss that correlation rejected the purpose of ANE literature (219-220). Walton posited that the study of the historiography of the ANE culture required historians to recognize and accept, the cognitive environment and cognitive integrity of the history of the ANE (221). Walton recalled that the historiography of the ANE included their view of time which was something from the past and future (222). Walton conveyed that Western societies perceived time in a linear manner; however, the ANE understood time to be recurrent, endurant and cohesive in that the stories had a divine purpose, with some linear aspects and history was a part of their present (222-226). Walton delivered the categories of historical literature such as epic, didactic, legitimation, and theological as tools that the authors used to convey values and truth (231). Unlike the genre of the ANE that lends credence to the rulers’ needs as conveyed to the gods, the historiographical genre of Israel conveyed Yahweh’s revelation to His people as conveyed through the Bible the central tool that provided cohesion of theological thought (232). Walton also pointed out that the genre found in the ANE literature was also used by the writers of inspired Scripture as directed by Yahweh (233-236).

.Chapter 11

Walton focused on utilization and interpretation of divinations and omens in chapter eleven. Walton posited that there was no separation between the secular and the sacred in the ANE consequently divinations and omens were crucial to the daily lives of the people (239). Walton discussed two categories of divination, inspired and deductive. Inspired divination involved official and informal prophecy that focused on the king and dreams, which occurred during daily living and led the people to consult dream experts whose consultation guided the decisions of the citizens (240-242). Walton compared dreams, the purpose and the interpreters of dreams in the culture of Israel with the ANE the stark difference was the interpretation of dreams in the OT came from Yahweh (243). Walton posited that dreams represented futuristic events and were categorized into plans, predictions of the future, a forecast of the probability of an event or a prognosis to ascertain an outcome as well as a simple picture of what the future may present for the dreamer (244). Walton explained that deductive divination was demonstrable and observed in the physical realm and required interpretation utilizing signs connected to events (249). Walton submitted that extispicy, the process of examining the organs of animals to verify omens, was one of the most reliable forms of divination and lastly casting lots to ascertain certain events. (243-260). Events such as lunar eclipses, signs in the weather, terrestrial omens, and physiognomic that operate from mystical speculations all fall within the realm of passive and unprovoked events (259-262). Walton submitted that cognitive understanding of why Israel was forbidden to participate in deductive divination required answers to four elements. (1) How the Israel perceived the world around them, (2) semiotics or what did the omen portend, (3) the perception and reception of the divine communication (hermeneutics) epistemology and how Israel’s perception of Yahweh as well as theological constructs that govern divination (272-273).

Chapter 12

            Life within cities and kingship was the focus of this chapter. Walton offered three distinct aspects of the concept of ANE cities. The primordial city in relationship to the state, the cosmos, the sacred relationship between the people, the gods, and sacred places or the temples and shrines (275-277). Walton proffered the kingship as the central institution of the ANE society that mediated between the dwellers of the city and deity thus providing the god with the ability to maintain order in the kingdom or the part of the cosmos over which he had control (278). Walton further proposed that four features pertain to kingship. First the origin of the king: in Mesopotamia, the king was a gift from the gods, on the other hand, Israel received a king because they demanded one from Yahweh and godly, cautious and negative depictions of kingship permeate biblical literature when compared with the ANE literature about kings (280). Second, the kings were expected to discern the divine will of the gods; Walton called it a covenant between the gods, and the king maintained that covenant (281). Third, the kings ruled through divine sponsorship even though they were not gods; Walton posited that some kings claimed divine sonship (282-283). Fourth the responsibility for justice fell within the king’s domain and required the king to take care of the vulnerable within the kingdom as assigned by the gods, the stele of Hammurapi demonstrated that requirement (283). Walton pointed to the similarities between Israelite kingship and the ANE; however, Israel’s kings served at the will of Yahweh, the kings instituted Yahweh’s plans, were concerned with Yahweh’s divine will and represented Yahweh’s divine authority (284). Israel’s kings had no divine existence in a mythical sense (285-286). Lastly, the kingship covenant of Israel was a dynastic covenant that extended beyond that period, for instance, the Davidic covenant, and extended into “the ideal future” (286).

Chapter 13

Walton continued the discussion of life in cities and rulership with a chapter on the guidelines for life, law, and wisdom as depicted in legal treaties and the legal ontology of the ANE that involved the understanding and application of the treaties.  Walton also discussed wisdom literature and the cognitive environment governing these pieces of literature. Walton proffered that the term code was an ineffective word to discuss the law literature and chose the term treatise instead (28-288). Walton mentioned that archaeologists unearthed six known treaties; three have prologues and epilogues, and three do not (289). Walton noted that the distinctions in the treaties impacted how the discussion of the literary content (Ur-Nammu, Lipit-Ishtar, Eshnunna, Hammurabi, Middle Assyrian, and Hittite) (287-288). Walton cited Botero’s explanation of the medical treaties as a teaching tool for diagnosis with an “if” clause that determined treatment (289). Walton purported that the divinatory treatises taught diviners how to use omens to predict scenarios and the legal treatises covered financial affairs, punishments, penalties, restitution, ordeals, oaths, and or judicial decisions that were not necessarily laws but were “verdicts” that served a didactic function (290). Walton’s comparative study of the ANE law treaties with the covenantal laws of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus demonstrated that the instruction from the biblical text rendered direct revelation from Yahweh and suffering correlated with a violation of the covenant; however and the suffering not a surprise to the sufferer (291-301). Walton discussed the wisdom literature of the ANE and concluded that the literature offered guiding principles for living even though there appeared to be some dependency on ANE literature in Proverbs the ideas in Proverbs coincided with the covenant between Yahweh and his people (302-311).    

Chapter 14

Walton concluded his discussion on ANE and the OT with the current future of man as well as what happened to a person when death occurs. Walton expressed that nationally the ANE focused on the now, and the future represented the current reality; however, Israel envisioned a better tomorrow as exhibited by the Davidic covenant (314). The Egyptian and Mesopotamian constructs of the afterlife were different. The Egyptians had four significant texts that addressed the afterlife. First, The Pyramid Texts (PT)-provided spells that supported the journey to the afterlife exclusively for the Pharaohs whereas the second document The Coffin Texts (CT) superseded (PT) showed the availability of the afterlife to non-royalty and showed the afterlife and its dangers in a more dramatic manner (315). Third, the Book of the Dead (BOD)superseded the CT and included spells to aid the deceased in their navigation pass the guardians and enter Duat. The BOD aided the deceased in how to avoid the pitfalls on the road to the netherworld and lastly the Books of the Netherworld (Amduat) “these were arranged and focused on the nightly journey of the sun god’s bark” (315). Walton declared that the literature of the people of the Levant and Mesopotamia did not indicate an interest in the afterlife. About the concept of a soul, the Egyptians conceptualized this through the ba and ka. Ba and ka equated to the person’s essence being and both the ba and ka separated from the body of the individual at death and the Mesopotamians gave the dead ancestors a status of divinity which kept the individual within the community after death (316). However, Israel described Sheol the place of the dead differently. It is a place of separation from Yahweh. It is not the resting place of the wicked, everyone does not enter Sheol. It is a place of without memory, knowledge, or storage for personal belongings. Neither judgment nor punishment takes place there and finally, there are no levels of Sheol (320-321). Walton concluded that Israel’s concept of the afterlife is a minute circle within the scope of the ANE construct (321). 


Walton proffered that scholars in the field of ANE studies have avoided the level of synthesis in the book thus choosing to approach the topic from a safe standpoint; furthermore, Walton stated that this stance is commendable (331). Walton declared that his intention was to present foundational constructs that demonstrated a revealing amount homogeneity. Walton portrayed that the documented differences were due to geological environments, sociopolitical currents or developments, and significant forces the shape the essence of culture (332). Walton summated that regardless of the similarities and differences between Israel and the ANE the cognitive environment was “not borrowed from one culture to another” (332). Walton mentioned that this point is crucial to understanding the literature of both cultures because the literature of each culture is a mirror of the culture’s cognitive environment (332). Walton reviewed the six levels of the cognitive environment discussed in the book; ontology, epistemology, anthropology, historiography, and sociology (332). The six levels discussed theology and historiography demonstrated a marked difference. The direction of  Israel’s theology and historiography came from the one covenantal Yahweh. Yahweh worked outside of the cosmos, had no needs that the people had to meet, Yahweh chose the king, and epistemologically conveyed His expectations to His people through patriarchs such as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets (333). Whereas historiography in the ANE functioned to promote and legitimize the king while divine sponsorship of the king was evident in the activities of the gods in the human world (333). The sociological level contained both similarities and differences between both cultures; the anthropological level acknowledged the divine beginnings of humanity through either a polygenetic/monogenetic sense (333). Walton reiterated that an understanding of the similarities and differences in the cognitive level of both cultures played a significant role in the interpretation of the Bible and interpreting critical scholarship of biblical content.


Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought, and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.




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