Book Review: Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology

Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology by Jeffrey J. Niehaus is not a book that most people are going to just pick up and flip through.  However, despite the fact that it is filled with quotations from ancient original resources and it deals with highly technical issues, it is quite an interesting book.

In this title Neihaus essentially accomplishes two purposes.  First, he points out the common elements that ancient near eastern (ANE) pagan religions have with biblical religion.  In my opinion, this was the most valuable aspect of the book.  Neihaus copiously details a number of examples of ancient pagan religions paralleling biblical concepts.  Neihaus does an excellent job of interacting with original sources, and yet making it accessible to guys like myself who are not Egyptologists.

The second aspect of this book, that was interesting but less helpful, was Neihaus’ explanation for why there are so many parallels between the pagan religions of the ANE and the bible.  Neihaus’ explanation can be summarized in two parts:

  1. Men were created in God’s image, thus the pagan religions reflect a distortion of the truth in which some elements of truth can still be found.
  2. The activity of deceiving spirits (i.e. Demons) were responsible for taking elements of true religion and twisting them so that, at lest in part, they would get praise for themselves.

As I attempted to interact with Neihaus’  theories a number of holes seemed to arise.  Most of these holes are pointed out in a detailed manner in a recent edition of Themelios (HERE). But to summarize it myself, Neihaus seems to push his point too far.  At times he uses some examples that stretch the imagination to prove the existence of parallel structures.  Additionally, he seems to jump from the OT to the NT without hesitation.  Which is strange because he never deals with the pagan religions of the NT times.

With all of this in mind, Neihaus’ work, even if his conclusions seem to be “off”, is helpful for two reaons:

  1. He points out some parallels that clearly exist between the OT and pagan religions of the ANE.
  2. He attempts to deal with these parallels in a way that upholds the authority and value of scripture.  Too many scholars will demean the integrity of Scripture when dealing with issues like this.  Then on the other side too many evangelicals will ignore that the parallels even exists.  I appreciated Neihaus dealing with the issue the way that he did–even though I did not agree with all of his conclusions.