Introduction - Gordon College Faculty

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Study Guide for
Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from The Ancient Near East
V.H. Matthews and D.C. Benjamin. Paulist Press, 1997, revised edition.
Introduction
The Importance of Parallels Between Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Old
Testament
The Bible is God's Word; it is inspired by Him and thus bears divine authority. The Bible,
however, is also a human, literary document. By his Spirit God guided human agents in their
writing of Scripture, allowing them to draw upon their historical and cultural backgrounds. The
Bible thus reflects the world of its day as God spoke "in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1). God
directed the authors of Scripture by utilizing their memories, research, environment and life's
experiences in bringing together the historically-centered teachings he wanted his people to live
by. It should not surprise us, therefore, that scholars have discovered many parallels between the
Bible and other ancient Near Eastern writings.
Though the ancient Hebrews were called to live distinct lives apart from the rest of the world, as
a people they were very much part of the world. They were joint partakers of the human
experience. As such, the Hebrews shared many of the institutions, cultural practices, and
practical everyday patterns of life and wisdom that were common to other ancient peoples. In
short, the Hebrews lived, moved about, and participated in the same East Mediterranean cultural
continuum as their neighbors. Virtually every page of the Old Testament reflects this fact.
In the ancient world sometimes the Hebrews borrowed concepts and literary devices from their
neighbors. And sometimes their neighbors borrowed from them. On other occasions, parallels
between two peoples may be explained by the fact each has independently drawn upon a
common source rather than each other. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the
discovery of literary parallels between two peoples need not always point to a common origin.
In short, similar material may be explained b a common genre or theme whereby each people
gives expression to that theme independently. For example, the common theme of ancient Near
Eastern love poetry may result in similar—yet independently derived—forms of expression.
Parallels found in the Old Testament remind us the Bible is a product of the real world. It did
not come out of heaven on a parachute to earth. The Hebrews rubbed shoulders with
neighboring nations and people groups. Yet, it is important we remember that dependence upon
or borrowing from another people did not necessarily mean agreement; the intention behind the
borrowing or use of material from another people was crucial. There is a profound difference
between the use of Aaron's golden calf—an idea borrowed from the Egyptians which led to a
horrendous occasion of idolatry judged severely by the Lord—and the use of certain months on
the Hebrew calendar—an obvious borrowing from the Babylonians.
It must be kept in mind—even with borrowing—that the origin of Hebrew religion was rooted in
divine revelation rather than pagan sources. The Hebrews' borrowing was not a kind of
acculturation or syncretism which derived from some indiscriminate cross-fertilization of ideas.
Rather, when they did engage in cross-cultural interchange, the practices and concepts which
they borrowed were characteristically cast in a different mold. This mold brought all thought
and every aspect of life, wherever derived, in and under the full theistic context of covenant
responsibility baptized, as it were, into Yahwistic faith. Though their larger environment was
often pagan, the Hebrews, as bearers of God's Torah to the world, were to stand in distinct
contrast to their neighbors. As a community of faith, responsible to their Redeemer who had
summoned them to a life of holiness set apart unto him, their lifestyle was expected to be
different from the polytheistic culture around them.
Enuma Elish Stories (pp. 9-18)
1. Note that "BCE" refers to "Before the Common Era" and implies the period of time "Before
Christ" or BC.
2. In Babylon, at the time of King Hammurabi (18th cent. BCE), who was the patron god and
head of the Divine Assembly?
3. What Hebrew name for God means "The One Who Causes Things to Be"?
4. What single theological word best describes the theme of the Enuma Elish narrative, a classic
story of ancient Mesopotamia?
5. Identify Apsu and Tiamat.
6. Who killed Apsu and then created Marduk?
7. What were the characteristics of Marduk?
8. Why did Tiamat create hideous monsters?
9. Tiamat taunted Marduk before going to battle against him. He then gave retort to her taunt,
saying, "…come forward alone. I dare you to duel with me, one on one!" Between what two
biblical characters do we find a parallel taunt-retort in 1 Samuel 17:8-10, 41-47?
10. Who won in the conflict between Tiamat and her monsters against Marduk?
11. What did Marduk use to create the Sky and the Earth?
12. "Aborigines" are the earliest inhabitants of an area. According to Enuma Elish, from whose
blood were human beings (aborigines) created?
13. The artwork found in OTP 9e.g. pp. 15-16), drawn from cylinder seals, sheds considerable
archaeological light on the life and customs of the ancient Near East. What is a cylinder seal
and how was it used? (To find the answer to this question, check "Seal/Seals" in a multivolume Bible dictionary such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the International Standard
Bible Encyclopedia (revised) or the Interpreter's Bible Dictionary on the Reference Shelf of
the library).
14. Looking at the Enuma Elish story as a whole, how were the Babylonian gods related to the
material universe? By contrast, in the Genesis account of creation, what is the relation of the
God of Israel to the material world?
15. How do the emotions and behavior of the various gods in Enuma Elish contrast with the
description of Elohim?
16. For thought and discussion: What may we conclude about the similarities and differences
between the Babylonian and Hebrew (biblical) accounts of creation? What sets the biblical
account apart and witnesses to its divine inspiration?
The Stories of Gilgamesh (pp. 19-30)
1. Who was Gilgamesh?
2. Why was he in search of immortality?
3. How does the flood episode fit into the larger epic?
4. Who was the "Babylonian Noah" who became immortal after surviving the flood on a giant
barge?
5. Who decided to exterminate humanity by flooding the earth? How did Utnapishtim find out
about it? What is the biblical parallel (Gen. 6:7)?
6. How does the size (design of the Babylonian barge differ from that of Noah's ark (Gen. 6:
14-16)?
7. Describe what Utnapishtim loaded onto the barge? Compare this with the biblical account
(Gen. 7: 2, 3, 7, 8).
8. In the Gilgamesh story, who became frightened, acted like stray dogs, wept, and swarmed
like flies around the sacrifice? Is there anything comparable to these actions in the biblical
account (Gen 6-8)? Compare with the Stories of Atrahasis (OTP 38-40). Why were the gods
distressed? What motivated these gods and stirred their emotions?
9. What is the biblical counterpart of Mount Nisir (cf. Genesis 8:4)?
10. What parallels do you find regarding birds and smelling in both accounts (Gen. 8:6-12, 21)?
11. Ishtar wore a necklace of lapis-lazuli, a word frequently found in ancient texts. Check a good
English dictionary to find the meaning of this word.
12. The practice of laying on of hands in the ancient world often betokened the transference of
something from one person to another. In the flood account, what did the god Enlil bequeath
by this act? When Moses laid his hands on Joshua, what did this symbolize (Numbers 27:18-
23)?
13. For discussion: what role did the gods play in the story? Theologically, how is the biblical
account set apart from the Stories of Gilgamesh?
Nuzi Archives (pp. 46-51)
1. Which patriarchal narratives are enhanced by our study of the Nuzi adoption texts?
2. What happened to the family inheritance if the head of the family had only daughters? To
what biblical material does this correspond?
3. From reading all of these documents, what have you learned about the social units and
economic basis of the ancient near east community(ies) represented in these texts?
Annals of Hatshepsut (pp. 52-57)
1. Why was Hatshepsut such a significant ruler of Egypt?
2. What do we learn about religious beliefs in Egypt from reading these inscriptions?
3. Who were the Hyksos and who was the dynasty of which Hatshepsut was a member related
to them?
Annals of Sargon I (pp. 84-85)
1. Why did Sargon's mother hide him as a baby? Where did she hide him?
2. What role did Akki have in the life or Sargon? Does his "profession" have significance?
How do you suppose Ishtar was helpful?
3. In what respects does the life of Moses reflect the "humble-beginnings" motif of Sargon?
4. Locate Akkad. Sargon conquered all the way west to the port of Dor on the Mediterranean.
Locate the port of Dor on a map of ancient Israel. Is the port north or south of Mount
Carmel? What does this say about Sargon's empire? What other empire was probably
actively trying to control this area?
The Treaty of Ramses II and Hattusilis III (pp. 86-90)
1. Hatti is the land of the Hittites, modern day Turkey. During the 13th century BCE, what
language of international diplomacy was used by the Hittites?
2. Hittite suzerainty treaties were made between a suzerain (a superior such as a king) and a
vassal (subjugated) people. What are the six main components of standard Hittite treaties?
3. Identify various of the above components in Exodus 20. a) v. 2a b) v. 2b c) vv. 3-17
4. Identify the various components of Hittite treaties in the book of Deuteronomy, a covenant
treaty-renewal document. a) Deut. 1:1-5 b) 1:6-4:43 c) 4:44-26:29 d) 27-30
5. What were the laws of "Extradition" which Ramses II and Hattusilis III worked out?
Annals of Merneptah (pp. 91-93)
1. Pharaoh Merneptah's campaign in Palestine in the late 13th century BCE is commemorated on
the stele depicted on p. 92. The account, however, seems largely figurative and is highly
exaggerated in its claims. The stele was found in Thebes at the mortuary temple of
Merneptah and is presently on display at the Cairo Museum in Egypt.
2. Why is the stele important in the study of the history of Israel? Think through the
chronology of the Pharaohs possible associated with the Exodus. Does the acknowledgment
of the presence of Israel in the Land by 1220 BCE affect how we date the Exodus?
3. What term does this Egyptian stele use for the land in which the cities of Ashkelon, Gezer
and Yanoam are found?
4. Does the inscription on the stele refer to Israel as a nation or a people? Does this language
suggest they were regarded as a settled political unit or an unsettled group of tribes seeking to
lay hold of their allotted territories?
Code of Hammurabi (pp. 101-109)
1. When did Hammurabi serve as emperor of Babylon? Was this before or after Moses?
2. Study the drawing on p. 107. Notice that Hammurabi receives the laws from enthroned
Shamash, the sun god and deity of justice, before whom he stands. Shamash is depicted with
rays of light or fire coming from his shoulders. He carries a ring and scepter in his hand,
symbols of authority. The laws are written on a stele. In what language are the 282 laws on
this stele inscribed?
3. Exodus 21 and 22 is largely made up of "case laws." The Code of Hammurabi provides an
excellent parallel example of various "case laws" in the ancient Near East. Each case law has
two distinct parts. What are they?
4. What penalty was imposed for kidnapping in the Code (article 14) and in the Bible (Exodus
21:16)?
5. What was the penalty for unproven murder charges made against another person (article 1)?
6. What was the maximum length of time a creditor could exact service from a person who had
sold himself in to slavery to pay a debt (article 117)? By contrast, how long could a slave be
held in Hebrew society (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12)?
7. Both the code of Hammurabi (article 129) and the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:22) call
for the death penalty for a man and woman caught in adultery. According to Hammurabi,
what unusual ordeal must the adulterous couple subject themselves to?
8. If a man was found guilty of incest with his daughter, what penalty did Hammurabi specify
(article 154)? Does the Bible specify the same punishment (see Lev. 18:6-18; 20:10-21;
Deut. 27:20; 22-23)?
9. How does the Code of Hammurabi (article 195) and the Law of Moses (Exodus 21:15)
compare in terms of the penalty imposed for a child striking or attacking one's father?
10. The law of retaliation (lex talionis) is found in articles 195-197. Read Exodus 21:24-25.
Does Moses teach the same? This law was given as a deterrent to wrong and also to set
limits on punishment for wrong i.e. the punishment must fit the crime, not exceed it. What
does Jesus teach on the law of retaliation in Matthew 5:38-42?
11. Did an unborn human fetus carry any value if a pregnant woman miscarried as a result of
being hit or beaten (compare 209 and Exodus 21:22)? Discussion question: Ought the above
carry any weight in the abortion debate as it is engaged by Christians today?
12. Compare and contrast the Code and the Bible in terms of a) the status of non-Israelites/nonnatives, slaves and women; and b) the appropriateness of the punishment for the crime.
The Hittite Code (pp. 110-113)
1. What sub-categories of civil torah are addressed in these excerpts?
2. Levirate or "brother-in-law" marriage (levir is the Latin term for "brother-in-law") was
widely practiced in the ancient world. Read Deut 25:5-10 so that you understand why this
unusual type of marriage is termed "levirate." The Hittite Code (Article 193) states that three
possible types might qualify (given the circumstances) as a potential husband for the widow,
thus extending the law beyond that specified in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Who are these three?
3. The book of Ruth centers upon a variation of "levirate" marriage where Boaz, a distant
relative of the deceased, marries the widow Ruth (Ruth 4). We shall return to this theme of
"levirate" marriage when we take up the book of Ruth. Matthew 22:23-28 concerns
"Levirate Marriage." Summarize the problem posed here to Jesus.
The Middle Assyrian Code (pp. 114-123)
1. What are the historical circumstances behind the composition of this code?
2. Note that sexual offenses receive a high profile in this code. What treatment are women
accorded in general? Are they viewed as "second-class citizens?"?
3. Article 8 deals with a woman involved in a fight with a man. In the course of this altercation
he receives a ruptured testicle. What is the penalty imposed on her for the rupturing of one
or both testicles?
4. Immediately after discussing "levirate" marriage (the problem of not being able to father
children) in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Deuteronomy discusses a potentially problematic
situation of a woman breaking up a fight between two men. From the perspective of the
Mosaic Code, though it is admirable to stop a fight, how it is stopped is crucial. In Israelite
society, a woman who grasped the private parts of her husband's assailant would not only be
viewed as doing an immodest thing, but she would run the risk of permanently injuring him
so that he would not be able to father children. In a patriarchal society where inheritance
rights were of the essence, such activity was frowned upon. Because this law revolves
around a female's impropriety in regard to a male's anatomy, the law of retaliation cannot be
literally applied. It was not strictly an "eye for an eye" matter for a woman's anatomy differs
from that of a man. Accordingly, given these unusual circumstances, what substitute penalty
does the Mosaic Law Code impose on a woman who violates this law (Deuteronomy 25:12)?
5. How were homosexual relations viewed in Middle Assyrian Law (Article 20)? How does the
Mosaic Law compare (Leviticus 20:13)?
6. What other categories of offenses are treated in these excerpts?
7. How does Assyrian law (see article 47) and Hebrew torah (see Exodus 22:28; Lev. 20:27;
Deut. 18:9-13) compare in regard to the world of magic, witchcraft and the occult? In 1692
in Salem, Massachusetts, nineteen alleged witches were hanged through the collaboration of
religious and civil authorities. Discussion question: Given that the whole Bible is inspired
and authoritative (cf. II Timothy 3:16-17), how should the above Old Testament texts dealing
with witchcraft be applied by today's church?
El Amarna Letters (pp. 137-140)
1. Where is El Amarna? What is the approximate date (century) for these letters? Who wrote
the letters and to whom were they addressed?
2. In what language were the El Amarna Letters written?
3. The El Amarna Letters reflect the unsettled and rather chaotic times so often referred to in
the books of Joshua and Judges. The letters represent the viewpoint of rulers and officials
living in Canaan, greatly disturbed by 'apiru invaders (nomadic immigrants plundering the
area). The rulers also appealed to Pharaoh for help regarding threats directed against them by
other local governors. In Letter 244, what two local governors were in conflict? Locate
these places on a map. What specific problems did the governor of Megiddo face? What
specific request did he make of Pharaoh in his letter?
4. Each of the three letters found in OTP open by stating the writer bows before pharaoh "seven
times seven times." To fall at the feet of another was a typical ancient Near Eastern sign of
submission of obeisance (cf. Gen. 33:3; I Samuel 25:24; II Kings 4:37). In these letters, the
number seven implies full or complete submission. Although people sometimes actually did
bow seven times (note Jacob before Esau in Gen. 33:3), in the Amarna correspondence the
expression is used metaphorically.
5. In Letter 254, give at least four expressions (ways or lines of argument) by which the
Governor of Shechem tried to convince the pharaoh that his loyalty and allegiance to him
remained firm. Discuss whether you think some of these expressions are only dramatic ways
of getting attention or are they to be taken at face value. Is there a parallel today in certain
cults which command a type of loyalty such as that reflected in this Letter? Might we also
see a parallel in modern day diplomacy, playing super-power treatment of one local squabble
off against another?
6. In Letters 244 and 254 the pharaoh is addressed as "My Sun." The sun-god Re or Amon was
the chief god of Egypt. Egyptian pharaohs claimed to be divine and sons of the sun-god.
Pharaoh Akhenaton (1369-1353 BCE) was responsible for introducing solar monotheism.
Aton was the name of the solar disk. The name Akhenaton means "He Who Is Beneficial to
Aton."
7. With regard to Letter 254, find Gezer on a map. Why was it so significant?
The Gezer Calendar (pp. 145-146)
1. The Gezer Calendar comes from the 10th century BCE and is one of the earliest extra-biblical
Hebrew documents. Notice the importance of seasonal issues that appear in this brief
calendar. The agricultural year began in the fall. Today, in Judaism the civil year also
begins in the fall. Rosh Hashanah (New Year) occurs on the 1st day of the month Tishri
(Tishri comes from and Akkadian word meaning "beginning"). In Old Testament times the
New Year was known as the Feast of Trumpets (cf. Numbers 29:1-6). Today, the ram's horn
is sounded one hundred times to announce the start of the year and opening of the fall holy
days.
August-September was the time for olive-harvest. It also marked the final period for storing
grain and wine.
October-November was the start of the rainy season which lasted into April. This allowed
for the sowing of barley and other crops as the surface of the soil was baked hard from the
months of summer heat.
December-January was the time for the sowing of wheat, dependent upon the winter rains for
growth.
February brought the season of harvesting flax for the making of linen. How does Joshua 2:6
(cf. Joshua 3:15; 5:10) shed light on indicating the time of year when the conquest of Canaan
took place?
March-April was the season for barley harvest. What Old Testament book describing life
during the period of the Judges centers upon reaping and gleaning the barley fields?
April was the time for the harvest of wheat.
May-June brought the pruning of the grapevines. For the extensive work involved in
viticulture, see Isaiah 5:1-7, the so-called "Song of the Vineyard."
July was the time for reaping summer fruit such as figs. Figs and dates were the two main
agricultural sources of sugar in the Hebrews' diet.
2. According to the Torah, what were the three staple agricultural products of ancient Israel (see
Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14)?
Annals of Mesha (pp. 157-159)
1. Who was Mesha? Why is this stele important in the study of Israel’s history?
2. What are the prominent characteristics of Chemosh?
Tell Dan Annals of Hazael (pp. 160-161)
1. What was the geo-political significance of Dan?
2. Which biblical figures are mentioned in this inscription? What might that indicate about the
historicity of the biblical accounts?
Annals of Shalmaneser III (pp. 166-171)
1. About 75 years after Solomon’s kingdom split, King Shalmaneser III of Assyria set out in a
campaign into Syro-Palestine. A great battle at Qarqar on the Orontes River brought
Shalmaneser III a victory over King Ahab of Israel and his allies. On a map, locate the
Orontes River which flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Why would Ahab have ventured this
far north? Who was the apparent leader of the coalition? Why would Israel join forces with
a former enemy (Aran)?
2. In Old Testament times goat skins were used for tent curtains, clothing, and as vessels for
carrying liquids such as water and wine. What additional use of goat skins was employed by
the armies of Shalmaneser III (see p. 168)?
3. From the Annals of Shalmaneser III, what form of tribute did kings typically collect from
their subjects in Old Testament times?
4. According to these Assyrian Annals, how large a force did King Ahab or Israel contribute to
the allied forces at Qarqar?
5. The Old Testament is sometimes described as “a battle of the gods.” To which Assyrian
gods or “divine patrons” does Shalmaneser III attribute his victory?
6. What does the black obelisk celebrate?
7. The obelisk contains the only contemporary picture of an Israelite king yet discovered by
archaeologists. Who was this king?
8. Summarize in several sentences the incident recorded in II Kings 10:18-28. For discussion:
How tolerant should we be today of the pagan practices in our own society? Is a different
approach called for today? Why? Is it alright to lie to defeat the forces of evil? What place
does deceit have in activities of the governing powers?
9. How does the “internal” picture of Jehu in II Kings fit with his submission to the
superpower?
The Annals of Sargon II (pp. 174-176)
1. The fall of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria) was a three-year operation (II Kings 17:5). It
began under Shalmaneser V (727-732 BCE). The king died in the final stages of the
overthrow. His successor was Sargon II (722-705 BCE) who immediately seized the throne
and completed the mopping up operations. Sargon II, in his Annals, lays claim to the capture
of Samaria. The Bible says that at the time of Samaria’s fall, the king of Assyria deported
the Israelites to Assyria. According to the Annals of Sargon II, approximately how many
prisoners of war were deported from Israel?
2. Sargon II says he repopulated the area of Samaria. This would become the origin of the
“Samaritan problem: long before New Testament times (cf. John 4:9). Where did these
people who repopulated the land of Samaria come from? Read II Kings 17 and Ezra 4. Why
was the religion of the people suspect?
3. How does the introductory piece (OTP pp 174-175) help us understand the events narrated in
II Kings 17?
The Annals of Sennacherib (pp. 177-179)
1. What is the historical context for the Annals of Sennacherib and to what biblical texts do they
correspond?
2. According to Sennacherib, how many fortified cities of Judah did he take?
3. Sennacherib says he conquered these cities by using earth ramps and battering rams. In
ancient Near East warfare, battering rams were run up to the weaker sections of the city
walls. Siege-ramps or siege-mounds were constructed next to the walls. In addition to large
stones and earth, what else was used as a foundation for this sloping ramp (see Jeremiah
6:6)?
4. Whom did Sennacherib shut up in the city of Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage”?
5. How many talents of gold does Sennacherib say he exacted from Hezekiah? How many does
the Bible say (II Kings 18:14)? A talent equals approximately 75 pounds in weight.
Roughly, how much gold does this amount to?
6. How many talents of silver does Sennacherib say he exacted from Hezekiah? How many
does the Bible say (II Kings 18:14)? What possible explanations can you offer for the
discrepancy in numbers here? Discuss: What procedure should a student of the Bible follow
when the Scriptural record appears to conflict with the extra-biblical historical data?
7. How does the emphasis in II Chronicles 29:25-30 parallel a particular group of people taken
as booty by Sennacherib (see the next to last line on p. 179)? Note II Kings 18:15-16. The
Temple was “ransacked” to pay off Sennacherib. Compare with the material listed in the
inscription.
Siloam Annals (p. 180-181)
1. Who commissioned the construction of the water tunnel which resulted in the writing of “The
Siloam Inscription”?
2. In what city was it built? From what spring did the tunnel begin? At what reservoir pool did
it end? How long was the tunnel? Where else in Israel today can one view water tunnels
from Bible times?
3. What impending threat to the nation of Judah resulted in the construction of this water
tunnel?
The Cylinder of Cyrus (pp. 193-195)
1. Describe the policy of the Persian government concerning conquered people as set forth in
“The Cylinder of Cyrus.”
2. Who is the only non-Jew in the Bible to be given the title “Anointed” or “Messiah”? Why
was he given this title? Why is that significant in the wider context of Isaiah’s prophecies
about the Servant? Read Isaiah 40-45. What is the main point? How does Cyrus fit in to
this picture?
3. Who is the chief God of Babylon mentioned in this document? Note that Cyrus appears to
by his “anointed,” too!
4. What famous city does the Cylinder say was entered and taken “without a battle”?
5. In what way is the edict of Cyrus in Ezra 1:2-4 paralleled bay the last two paragraphs of the
Cylinder (see p. 195)
A Sufferer and a Friend in Babylon (pp. 223-228)
1. What ancient country produced this document? Discussion: Why is Wisdom Literature as a
genre at home among all peoples?
2. How is the form of “The Sufferer and the Friend” similar to the book of Job?
3. Like the Book of Job, this document is a theodicy. What is a theodicy (check a dictionary)?
4. Who are the two main speakers in this dialogue? Who are the main speakers in the Book of
Job? What new speaker is introduced into Job 38-41? How do these concluding chapters of
Job provide a perspective on suffering not found in the other document?
5. What human tragedy befell the Sufferer (p. 224)?
6. The typical “piety equals prosperity” formula common in the world of the Old Testament
occurs on p. 224 in the words, “The one who is faithful to his divine patron will be protected,
The one who humble fears his goddess will prosper.” Discussion question: How has this
formula been taken by the advocates of the “Gospel of Health and Wealth” in today’s
church? In short, why is this theology of health and wealth dangerous?
7. The text on the top of p. 226 clearly sets forth the issue of theodicy. The same question is
raised in Scripture in Jeremiah 12:1; Malachi 3:15 and Job 21:7-16. Summarize the issue set
forth in these Scriptures.
8. The Sufferer says on p. 226, “What good has it done me to bow down to the divine
assembly?” For discussion: How would you reply to a hurting Christian friend who came to
you with a terminal illness and asked, “What good has it done me to become a Christian?
I’ve only gotten kicked around and seen one personal tragedy after another. The more I
serve God, the more problems I seem to have”?
9. How do the final lines on p. 228 spoken by the Sufferer point to the problem and at the same
time hint at the direction from which a solution must be sought?
Stories of Baal and Anat (pp. 244-256)
1. Baal is the Canaanite god of fertility and nature; Anat is the goddess of war and sex. The
stories of Baal and Anat come from Ugarit (modern day Ras Shamra) on the Syrian coast.
Many of these Ugaritic texts (Ugarite is a Semitic language employing an alphabetic script)
shed light on Canaanite mythology. Canaanite religious was closely tied to nature worship.
Given the identification of Baal with fertility and nature and given what you know about
weather patterns in the Middle East, why was it "logical" for the Canaanites to develop a
theology of death and resurrection?
2. The bull symbolized fertility and strength in the ancient world. What god was head of the
pantheon, father and progenitor of gods, bearer of the epithet "bull" (pp. 246, 248, 149)?
3. What god bore the epithet "The Cloud Rider" (p. 250)? According to Psalm 68:4 and 104:3,
who rides on the clouds? Explain the importance of this parallel from Ugarite literature here
incorporated into Hebrew hymnology. In short, show how this is a splendid example of the
Hebrews' attempt to demythologize (i.e. to break, destroy or invalidate) a pagan belief.
4. Who were Yam and Mot?
5. In Canaanite mythology, upon what mountain did Baal and the other gods reside?
6. Discussion question: what features of Canaanite religion made it a very appealing alternative
or religious magnet to the people of Israel?
The Teachings of Amen-em-ope (pp. 274-282)
1. When and in what country did Amen-em-ope teach?
2. What Old Testament book parallels the teachings of Amen-em-ope most closely?
3. How is "thirty sayings" (Proverbs 22:20) linked to this document?
4. Read pp. 275-282 and answer the following questions from this section:
a) What "holds like an anchor"?
b) What command is given concerning the elderly or aged?
c) Give at least three parallel expressions between Chapter Four (p. 276) and Psalm 1.
d) What main substance among the Egyptians was used for the making of beer (Chapter
Nine)?
e) What instruction is given "if a poor neighbor owes you a great debt" (Chapter Thirteen)?
f) What is called "the rudder" of a person's boat (Chapter Eighteen)? What does James
3:4,5 say on this topic?
g) What instructions are given concerning the blind, dwarfs, the lame and insane (Chapter
Twenty-five)?
h) For discussion: What socio-political and cultural factors present during Solomon's
kingship may have contributed to the Teachings of Amen-em-ope influencing Hebrew
wisdom literature in general and Proverbs in particular?
Egyptian Love Songs (pp. 297-301)
1. During which time period was Egyptian cultural, political, and economic influence in Canaan
at its peak?
2. Consult a good Bible dictionary of Bible encyclopedia to find the meaning of "mandrake."
Why is this term appropriate in the context of a "Love Song"?
3. How does Song of Songs 7:1-7 parallel "His Song" (the last eight lines of p. 298)?
4. How are the expressions of the man and the woman different in this text? Are these same
differences evident in the Song of Songs?
5. What season of the year does the Song of Songs associate with the season for love (Song of
Songs 2:10-13)? Because of the association of Song of Songs with the above season of the
year, what annual Jewish festival celebrated at this time requires that this book be read in the
synagogue (see "Song of Songs" in a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia)?
6. For discussion: The Song of Songs is nowhere quoted in the New Testament. Yet, passages
from this book are frequently Christologized or spiritualized and are interpreted to refer to
Christ's love for his bride, the church. For example, "his banner over me is love" (Song of
Songs 2:4) and "he is altogether lovely" (Song of Songs 2:16) are two texts frequently
interpreted this way. How should we interpret the Song of Songs? Do these Egyptian Love
Songs in OTP shed any light on how today's Christian can correctly interpret the Song of
Songs?
The Mari Prophecies (pp. 318-322)
1. Zimiri-Lim, the last king of Mari, ruled until Mari fell in the 18th cent. BCE to Hammurabi.
The archives of the palace at Mari contained over 20,000 clay tablets. Many of these
mention prophets from the area of Mesopotamia during the Old Babylonian period (18941595 BCE).
2. Read the four prophecies. What are the names of the gods said to give messages to these
various prophets? What are the three categories of prophets? Does each title have a
counterpart in the biblical text?
3. What major theme of the biblical prophets (see Amos 5:15, 24) is stressed by the apilum
prophet in Mari document A. 2925?
4. Habakkuk 1:14-17 focuses upon Babylon. What figure of speech is used in this passage by
Habakkuk which parallels a similar figure by the apilum prophet in ARM 13:23:1-15?
5. A survey of these and other texts dealing with non-Israelite prophets reveals that both
Israelite and non-Israelite prophets 1) claimed to receive their message from a deity (the
prophet often uses the first person of the verb as he speaks the deity's words); 2) used similar
terminology and sometimes similar actions such as ecstatic behavior and; 3) addressed social
and political problems of the times. On the other hand, there are profound differences
between the prophets of Israel and those of the pagan nations surrounding her. The Bible
warns about false prophets (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:21-22; Micah 2:6-11; 3:5-8; I John 4:1,4). In
contrast to prophets of Israel who were called by and spoke for God, pagan prophets 1)
engaged in divination (attempting to predict the future by occultic means); 2) often were
members of the temple personnel and supported the cult there and; 3) lacked an
understanding of the awe-inspiring holiness of God in the context of covenant community
necessary to uniquely qualify them to serve as heralds of moral righteousness and agents of
the kingdom of God.
© 1997, Marvin R. Wilson, Ph.D.and Elaine A. Phillips, Ph.D.—Biblical Studies Dept. Gordon College
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