Book Reviews

Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible

A Guide to the Background Literature

Kenton L. Sparks Peabody, MA 2005-06-01

For years those interested in correlating ancient Near Eastern backgrounds with the Hebrew Bible have needed a reference work like this. Sparks, associate professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, has provided a volume that will be a mainstay in the field for years to come and hopefully will be revised periodically to keep up with new material.

In two preliminary chapters Sparks outlines his method, which he labels “the analytical generic approach,” and discusses ancient Near Eastern archives and libraries in survey fashion. Fourteen chapters then follow in which he surveys ancient Near Eastern literature under the following rubrics: wisdom literature; hymns, prayers, and laments; love poetry; rituals and incantations; intermediary texts, omens, and prophecies; apocalyptic texts; tales and novellas; epics and legends; myth; genealogies and king lists; historiography and royal inscriptions; law codes; treaty and covenant; and epigraphic sources from Syria-Palestine and its environs. Sparks gives useful summaries of all major texts and includes extensive bibliographies that include texts and translations, as well as abundant secondary literature. Translations of texts are not provided; so the book is best utilized in conjunction with James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 1969) and/or W. W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger Jr., eds., The Context of Scripture, 3 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 2003). Each chapter includes a section entitled “Concluding Observations,” in which Sparks synthesizes the ancient Near Eastern material and correlates it with the Old Testament. In addition to the bibliographies on specific individual texts each chapter concludes with a general bibliography on the genre under study.

Reviewers have called the volume a “staggering work in its scope that will be immensely useful to students of the Bible” and “an indispensable companion to the volumes of translations that are already available.” This reviewer heartily concurs and recommends it as an ideal textbook for courses on ancient Near Eastern literature and Old Testament backgrounds.

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