What Role Does ANE Literature Have on Interpreting Genesis?

In Reading Genesis 1-2 Todd Beall argues for a literal interpretation of these first two chapters. In his discussion of the role of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) thought he asks this question: “Why would God have used ANE myths to reveal his truth to Moses concerning this unique event?” (52) The “unique event” he refers to is creation. John Walton, a prominent advocate of reading the Bible in light of ANE literature, offers the following as a response to Beall’s question:

“I do not claim that God used ANE myths to reveal truth, and I do not know many who would make such a claim. My position is that all ANE literature (not just myths) gives us access to the way that people typically thought in the ancient world and that Israel often would have thought the same way. God does not use myths to reveal himself; he reveals himself in terms of the ancient cognitive environment of which Israel is a part.

Of course, in the process God shows himself to be different from the gods of the nations around Israel, and he offers many revisions about the ways they should think. As a result there are both similarities and differences, but God’s effective communication is going to be rooted in the similarities even when he is providing alternative ways of thinking. I would there consider it an extreme reaction to suggest that the uniqueness of the Bible somehow demands total isolation from an ancient worldview, as Beall does when he says, ‘To argue that Moses or whoever wrote Gen 1-11 was so immersed in the ANE world that it caused him to write in the way of other ANE literature is to deny the uniqueness of the biblical record.’ The uniqueness of the Bible is in the God of the Bible, not in the world of Israel or the literary genres of the Bible.” (71)

Reading Genesis

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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