Introducing . . . This Week in The Context of Scripture

For those of you who have not seen, Charles Halton over at has developed a reading schedule for those interested in working their way through the three volumes of The Context of Scripture in a year. Thus far, the readings have proved to be very manageable. If you haven’t started yet, it would be very easy to catch  up!

I am aiming each week to blog something regarding the content of the week’s reading. This week, there are a couple of things I would like to point out. First are some quotes from William Hallo’s introductory article, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts and their Relevance for Biblical Exegesis.” The article begins with an incredibly succinct summary of the history of the study of the “context” of Scripture.

Classical and Near Eastern parallels have been used to illuminate the biblical text for as long as there have been biblical studies. Already according to Philo Judaeus, writing in Greek and living in the shadow of the great Greek library of Alexandria in the first half century of the Common Era, Abraham “becomes a speculative philosopher,” a role-model for the sect of Jewish ascetics that he described as Therapeutae. Nine centuries later, Saadiah Gaon, likewise born in Egypt but living in the equally stimulating atmosphere of Abbasid Baghdad, freely employed his knowledge of Arabic to solve cruces of Biblical Hebrew. But it again took almost another millennium before biblical names, words, and themes, were to be juxtaposed, not just to those of the contemorary world, bot to those long lost to sight and mind in the buried cities of the past.

The nineteenth century of our era opened Egypt and the Asiatic Near East to large-scale excavations, and witnessed the decipherments of the hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts. The results revolutionized what can best be described as “the first half of history” — that 2500-year stretch between the invention of these earliest forms of writing and their replacement by the simpler “alphabetic” scripts of the Hebrew and Greek Traditions, and their derivations. The period 3000-500 BCE (more or less), ostensibly the context of the biblical record, was thrown into wholly new relief. The inevitable transformation of biblical studies was not long in ensuing. (1:xxiii)

Hallo’s article sets the stage for how the content of The Context of Scripture functions within the field of biblical studies. One gem occurs at the very end of the article. Hallo remarks, “The assessment of a biblical text, so far from ending with the identification of an extra-biblical parallel, begins there” (1:xxvii). Though it is an utterly simple statement, it has truly profound significance. Many people, when I introduce them to extra-biblical parallels, tend to think I am presenting data that is in some way in conflict with a view of Scripture as divine revelation. (No wonder Peter Enns wrote his book Incarnation and Inspiration, particularly the second chapter.) Such people fail to see the true function this data should have for our investigation of the meaning and the significance of the biblical text.

Readings from volume 1, Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, consisted of Egyptian cosmologies. In one text (1.3) heaven and earth (Shu and Tefnut) are products of divine masturbation.

Readings from volume 3, Archival Documents from the Biblical World, consisted of Egyptian letters. The one that I was particularly intrigued by was “The Craft of the Scribe” (3.2). The introduction of the letter describes it in this way “The letter takes the form of one scribe’s patronizing reply to his addressee’s unwarranted claims of scribal learning and experience” (3:9). I was struck by the similarity between this text and God’s speech to Job. Compare Job 38:1ff with this excerpt:

Your letter is rife with cuts and loaded with bigs words. Look, I will reward you with what they deserve; a load is loaded on you greater than you wished. “I am a scribe and mahir,” you said again. If there is truth in what you said, come out that you may be examined. A horse has been harnessed for you, swift as a leopard, with red ear, like a gust of wind when he goes forth. You should let loose of the reins and take the bow, so that we can see what your hand can do. I will explain to you the manner of a mahir, and let you see what he has done. (3:12)

If there is any connection to be made beyond the one my own mind made in reading this text, I am as yet uncertain.

Next Week’s Reading Schedule:

9. 1.8; 3.6
10. 2.1; 3.7A
11. 2.2A; 3.7B
12. 2.2B; 3.7C
13. 2.2C; 3.8
14. 2.3; 3.9
15. 3.10


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