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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent translations marred by apologetics in the commentary, December 28, 2005
This review is from: The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation (Paperback)
On the one hand, this book contains readable, scholarly translations of various Mesopotamian myths- "Enuma Elish", "Adapa and the South Wind", "The Slaying of the Lion", and several others. While I don't know Akkadian, the translations appear to be very thorough. In places where the text is missing, this is indicated by a gap, rather than simply ignored or even "filled in" as it is in many of the more popular (read: for the layman) translations of these myths.

On the other hand, as the author himself writes in his introduction, the purpose of this book is not primarily for those interested in Assyriology, but for the use of "the Old Testament scholar and the Christian minister." This dissapointed me, as this is not mentioned at all on the back cover, and I was expecting a book that would be accessible to an amateur Assyriology enthusiast like myself; what I got was essentially a translation followed by a Christian apologetic. As someone who also happens to be interested in the Near Eastern background of Hebrew thought, I was well aware of the biblical myth of the Leviathan and its connection to the Marduk-Tiamat combat motif found throughout Ancient Near Eastern literature. In his commentary to the Enuma Elish however, the author often goes to ridiculous lengths in order to remove this story from the Bible- the various biblical passages that refer to Yahweh slaying the Leviathan in the context of Creation are not to be taken at face value, he says; rather, they are mere metaphors for the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. The evidence used to support this point is typical apologetic wordplay and hocus-pocus: the author posits that because Egypt is identified poetically with the Leviathan in one instance, we should extend this poetic interpretation to ALL mentions of the Leviathan. In the instances where the Leviathan's status as a large animal cannot be denied even by the most acrobatic apologetics (as in Job 41), the author claims that it is a description of a crocodile, apparently interpreting the reference to it breathing fire as another "metaphor." The author refers to the opening chapters of Genesis as "free from all mythological references", and takes theological statements from the New Testament and retroactively assumes that the authors of the Old Testament shared the same theology. Sympathetic references to the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy are found throughout the commentary, and the Babylonians' "crude" polytheism is constantly contrasted with the Bible's "philosophical" monotheism. In one instance where the author dares to suggest that the Bible is referencing a common superstition of the time (Job 3), he is quick to point out that this is Job (a non-Israelite) talking, not the Bible. He is apparently unable to entertain the idea that the Bible is a product of the world it was written in. Maybe this was considered a respectable academic position in the '40s, but not now.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 6, 2008 12:33:14 PM PST
This is actually a very good assessment of this book in my opinion. It is valuable as a resource for those interested in accessing the ancient Babylonian creation myths, but is marred by its clearly biased pro-Christian element. Heidle has written several interesting books analyzing Biblical and Mesopotamian mythology, but his conclusions are too biased and unobjective to be considered authoritative today.

Posted on Aug 24, 2011 9:56:34 AM PDT
Dear Rob, thank you very much for your very helpful review. I'm glad to hear (or, read) that the translation is good, but it's precisely a good comparative commentary with the Hebrew story I'm looking for. My "small Hebrew" is pretty rusty and I only recently learned of the Tehom/Tiamat connection (whether they're actual cognates or not I can't say, but it's enough if they are in the writer's mind).

Can you (or anyone here) recommend a good naturalist commentary, scholarly but approachable by the non-specialist? Perhaps in Stephanie Dalley's collection? (ISBN 0199538360: for some reason it won't insert product link.) I've put _Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2_ (ISBN 0567475522) on my wish-list. Any other suggestions?

Again, thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 6, 2012 1:10:51 PM PST
R. W. Dooley says:
Dear Cinna,

I don't know if you've acquired Tsumura's book yet, but just for a heads-up: it was rewritten, and the new edition goes by the title, Creation And Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'naturalist' commentary, nor if your interest was specifically related to the Babylonian Accounts strictly, but I can think of several books that deal *comparatively* with the various 'Genesis' accounts (most especially "I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood": Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11 (Sources for Biblical and Theological Study, Vol. 4), edited by same Tsumura); or perhaps of the variety of this one with overlapping topical themes: Two Strange Beasts: Leviathan and Behemoth in the Second Temple, revisionally penned by a man who had to spend a considerable part of his life recovering from an automobile accident which occurred just after the research for this Harvard PhD. Diss. had been completed....

From the academic journal New Testament Abstracts, 50 (3,06):
"The revised version of a doctoral dissertation directed by F. M. Cross and presented to Harvard Divinity School in 1992, this volume traces the development of the ancient myth of the battle between the divine warrior and the primordial monster in Second Temple and rabbinic literatures. After discussing the Chaoskampf in modern scholarship, it considers Leviathan and Behemoth in Second Temple Judaism with particular attention to the combat banquet and the axis mundi traditions. Then it discusses Leviathan and Behemoth in Rabbinic Judaism (especially in their role as food for the eschatological banquet), and explores the roots of the Leviathan and Behemoth traditions. Whitney concludes that as the combat with the dragon came to be depicted as a divine hunt, the motif of the consumption of Leviathan and Behemoth at the banquet entered the tradition under the influences of an idealized view of the hunt current in Hellenistic culture."

I know this doesn't relate to the book at hand, but like I said, I wasn't sure if your interest was confined specifically to the Babylonian Accounts and their immediate contextual world, or not. But it does deal with some religious mythos from a more 'naturalistic' (as opposed to 'fundamentalist') perspective, if that means anything to you?
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