John Walton Ancient Near Eastern Thought Short Summary

Table of Content


The textbook is broken down in fourteen chapters and begins with a definition of terms. Those fourteen chapters consist of each having five sections with over twenty historical images. The author provides the audience an appendix of images used in this published work as well as gives his acknowledgements accompanied by a list of abbreviations. The author uses several contemporary studies as a big part of his research as well as reviews the ancient and Near Eastern and Israelite cognitive context. This section provides a general guidance for students and the audience to have a better understanding by expanding their knowledge of today’s culture, and historical culture and the way it interacts with the ancient world culture. This section also provides a nice balance of the different audiences in examining all the research and artifacts in order to assist the individual for understanding both the historical prospective and culture in relation to the Bible.

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Part 1- Comparative studies

The first section of the book is titled ‘comparative studies’. This section is composed of the first two chapters of the book. Chapter one is history and methods. Chapter is comparative studies, scholarship, and theology. This section deals with the continuously growing division between scholars of a secular nature and those of a religious nature. The purpose of this part of the book is setting the Bible apart from comparative studies that focused its work in a negatively manner in which the historicity, canonicity, and divine revelation of Gods’ Word is depicted.

Chapter 1 – History and Methods

In chapter 1, the author describes the comparative study as “a branch of cultural studies in that it attempts to draw data from different segments of the broader culture (in time and/ or space) into juxtaposition with one another in order to assess what might be learned from one to enhance the understanding of another” (page 18). The author’s reasoning for this is that
comparative study is greatly needed because the literary genres, religious practices, and cultural dimensions of ancient Israelite theology are all rooted in ancient Near Eastern culture, and that without any guidance of background studies, we as theology students will be bound to misinterpret the text. In addition, the author points out that a comparative study is helpful both for understanding and the background religious practice to which the biblical ideal is contrasted. “Both similarities and differences must be observed, documented, and evaluated, not for the sake of critiquing, for the sake of understanding. Though some use comparative studies to contradict claims made in the biblical text, the date need to be so employed.” (P.24)

Chapter 2- Comparative studies, scholarship, and theology

The introduction of chapter 2 is paved way from the conclusion of chapter 1. Chapter 2 is titled Comparative Studies, Scholarship, and Theology. In his introduction the author explains how the science of comparative studies has taken on two completely different roles. Once again we (the audience) are exposed to the division mentioned earlier in regards to that of a scholarly study into a secular sect and a religious one. Critical scholarship generally pulls in the secular direction. The author then goes into discussing confessional scholarship. In most cases, confessional scholarship supports the theological side of the battle. Walton again goes back to the beginning of this great division, by describing how The Darwinian Theory was a primary factor for this great scholarly divide. This chapter then goes on to discuss key differences between critical scholarship and confessional scholarship in length. “These evolutionary theories had been birthed in an environment where theorizing led to models and hypotheses-but one in which those ideas could not be tested against empirical data.” (p.30) One of the specific debates touched on is that of the flood account. The Bibles flood account has shown many parallels to the Gilgamesh flood account and the account in the Atrahasis Epic, however the validity of this claim is found within the accurate dating of the Book of Genesis. Those on the secular side of this debate give Genesis a much later debate than those on the theological side leaving scholars on both sides pondering and debating what
came first, the Bibles’ account of the flood or different accounts of the flood? For several pages afterward, comparative study is spoken of in a slightly different context. This time it is explained how comparative study operates in both critical scholarship and confessional scholarship. The author spends a large portion of this idea dedicated to explaining the difficulties that confessional scholarship has to deal with. “As more and more literature became available from the Near East, scholars learned more and more about the growth of literary traditions and the composition of texts in the ancient world” (p.30) In order for a comparative study to be scientifically accurate, one has to discard all presuppositions. This study ultimately leads to looking at multiple implications that has created a series of difficulties on both sides of the debate. It is difficult to gain information in support of or disproving a theory when the conclusion is based upon dating something that cannot be traced. Primarily for these reasons, confessional scholars tend to avoid the use of comparative study. This logic is greatly flawed. These scholars are pretty much retracting from a great spiritual battlefield in order to be peace keepers. All the while, more and more opinions are being swayed to the secular side of the argument. Critical scholarship is gaining more and more steam, and with no opposition, their theories will eventually be accepted as fact without finite proof, much like the theory of evolution has been accepted in modern culture. Chapter 2 concludes by giving a Biblical example of how words can be misconstrued or misinterpreted. The author uses the biblical quote of 2 Kings 18:17 to help with his explanation.

Part 2 – Literature of the Ancient Near East
Chapter 3 – Summary of Literature of Ancient Near East

Chapter 3 is divided up into 4 sections. These are: myths, literary texts and epics, ritual texts, and divination/incantation texts, letters, Royal Inscriptions, Annals/Chronicles, Treaties, Law Collections, Legal Documents, Hymns and Prayers, Wisdom Literature, Prophecy, Fictional Autobiography/Apocalyptic, Archives and Miscellaneous. Under each of those sections there are examples of writings on that topic from various ancient Near Eastern cultures. The areas these writings come from are: Sumerian,
Akkadian, Egyptian, Hittite/Hurrian, and Ugaritic. Each of these cultural texts is summarized, ranging from the Eridu Genesis to Nineteenth Dynasty Egyptian love poetry. The selections are all annotated so that the audience can find the translations and copies of the texts under discussion. In conclusion, Part 2 is a great survey of ancient Near Eastern literature.

Part 3- religion
Chapter 4- the Gods

The author presents to us in this chapter the importance of religion as an important component to culture and civilization. The religions of these Ancient Near East societies are discussed in the third part of the book. The author will takes upon several aspects of religion from the gods, to temples, as well as the different family religions. By the end of chapter 4 and part 3 of the book, the audience get a real sense of information in understanding the actual religions of these civilizations.

The fourth chapter of the book addresses the gods, the lengthiest portion of this chapter relating to the gods of Egypt. Egyptian religious theology contains more gods than most other religions in the world. Chapter four also gives a list and a brief synopsis of each God, what they represented, and who and why they worshipped them. The information presented in this chapter in regards to the different gods from the Ancient Near East is scholarly knowledge of topics that defends the Old Testament theology to both a non-believer and a believer.

Chapter 5 – Temples and Rituals

Chapter 5 starts out with the description of ancient use of temples for worship. “He calls it the bond from Heaven to Earth.” (p. 113). The author then describes the Excursus: Polytheistic Iconism it is in this section he discusses rituals such as the mouthwash ritual. This concept is seen in Egyptian literature too followed by the next section on sacred space. The ‘Excursus: Zigguartes’ is a pyramid structure. These were made of dirt with no insides to it. The author Walton explains the Zigguarte played no part in
rituals but that it was simply a sacred space. Walton also goes into more depth of these topics in relation to the “common cognitive environment” they shared in the ancient Near East. There are also shaded text boxes throughout the chapter that are known as “comparative explorations” that focus on specific points of contact between ancient Near Eastern concepts, their appearance in the Hebrew Bible, and similarities and differences in their conception in the two venues. The Temple is considered to be the center of the cosmos, therefore a deity. Because of the importance of the temple, the temple took a special place in the human world. This chapter provides examples from the Old Testament of these very actions within the temple.

Chapter 6- State and family religion
This chapter begins with the discussion of the twelve tribes. These tribes were comprised of families that grew to great numbers over a great period of time. The twelve tribes shared the same religion and worldview, overtime they developed many of their own traditions. Similarities to this can be seen in parts of Asia. Many people of China, Japan, and other Asian countries not only pray to their ancestors, but they also worship their ancestors as well. This was also common practice of cultures in the Ancient Near East. This chapter focuses on the idea of state and family religions and cites examples of each one. A very interesting chapter but also a rather complex one to read.

Part 4- Cosmos
The cosmos are defined as the heavens. It’s the stars, the moon, the sun, and everything out there in the universe that is not on the planet earth.. In this fourth part of the book, Walton takes two chapters to talk about the importance of the cosmos to the civilizations of the Ancient Near Eastern worldview.

Part 4 also shows us how to view the Cosmos. This is pretty much broken into two chapters-Cosmic Geography and Cosmology and Cosmogony. Cosmic Geography is regarded as how individuals see and shape the world around them.

Chapter 7 Cosmic Geography
This was one of my favorite chapters in the book because it covers a topic I’m highly passionate about which is our galaxy. There is a sun, moon, planets and earth. The solar system is part of a galaxy which makes up the universe. This in all makes us realize just how small humanity is in comparison to the universe. There is a physical system that must be present for understanding which the author points out. Walton shows how the Ancient World looked at all these processes and shows us how the structure was viewed. The Heavens where were the gods dwelt and there were heavenly gods set to keep the waters from flooding the earth. The sun, moon, and planets were of the gods. Although expressed in different ways such as the zodiac signs. The earth was considered to be flat and the mountains were considered to intersect the sky.

Chapter 8- Cosmology and cosmogony

Cosmology and cosmogony are terminology that are synonymous with cosmic geography. Cosmic geology studies the mapping of the heavens. Cosmogony studies the start of the universe or creation accounts. Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole. Also known as the “big bang theory”. This is referenced as it has big implications to the secular worldview on both cosmology and cosmography. Ancient civilizations all had their own ideas on creation and the universe as a whole as well. This chapter explains the worldviews of the civilizations of the Ancient Near East in reference to these two themes.

Part 5 – People
Chapter 9 – Understanding the Past (Human Origins and Role)

This chapter is broken down into two topics. The first topic is the origin of the human race. The second is ancient history. The author moves from this concept to the idea of archetypal analysis of what was believed about nature. In Mesoptamian times there are two ways of identification. This symbolizes connectivity and relationship. There is key terminology for god, man, Adam and woman. The areas of the archetypal relationship are detailed. They are: human to deity, male to female, humans to created world, and
humans to previous and future generations. In summary, this section looks at the differences and similarities in archetypal. The similarities were the growing of food principal, mortality is an important concern, made in the image of God. The section of Body, Soul, and Spirit, a discussion of the King being in the image of god is set forth. However, Walton explains there is one exception and that is the Egyptian Instruction.

Chapter 10- Understanding the past: historiography

Historiography refers to the study of the development and methodology of a civilization. Historical inaccuracies is what is most found in their theological texts. Examples of these are seen in the other ANE civilizations. Study of the Old Testament has always shown itself to be historically accurate. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the historiography built by the Israelites in the Old Testament is completely true and accurate. The author spends the majority of this chapter defending his stance on the historiography of the Old Testament, as an accurate account of the development of civilization.

Chapter 11 – Encountering the Present (Guidance for Life-Divination and Omens)

This section describes how they lived their lives. In the first half of the book Walton describes how they feel about religion, and the past. The undertones of how the ancient world blended the supernatural with their own lives. The author breaks down the divination into two categories. The first was “inspired”. The second was “deductive”. Inspired – as defined by the textbook is: this means there is an intermediary. It can be an official prophecy, informal prophecy, or dream. Dream interpretation is throughout all the literature. Deductive being: comes from the events or phenomena not the divine realm of the world. In this section you will find a detailed table of the Israelite Prophetic Oracles. It shows the time period, prophet, indictment, judgment, instruction, and aftermath

Chapter 12 – Encountering the Present – Context of life – Cities and Kingship

Chapter 12 deals with the different thoughts of what the history and meaning of the cities were. For example in Mesopotamia and Egypt it said that cities existed before humanity ever set foot. The section on kinship shows a universal thought of the ancient world that civilization revolves around royalty. There is a link to the gods and kingship, where there is also a deep-rooted fear of the gods. In the comparison, we find that the ancient literature of Hebrew, Mesopotamian, and Neo-Assyrian details the same future ideal king and kingdom.

Chapter 13- Encountering the present: Guidelines for life— law and wisdom

Ancient Egypt contains the earliest known code of laws or ethics is in Ancient Mesopotamia. Once kingship is established and a city is formed, it then becomes necessary to form a code of ethics or a set of guidelines on how to live and how to behave within that society. These laws are heavily influenced by the theology of the law maker. The Israelites had their own set of written laws, the Ten Commandments and the Laws of Moses. If they could ever be found, it is likely that the Ten Commandments would be the earliest set of laws known to man. The Ten Commandments are a perfect code of ethics in which they are still relevant to modern society.

Chapter 14 – Pondering the Future on Earth and after Death

The first section deals with the view that the personal level is hope for the future earth. On the national level, it is simply a status quo. The future after death is detailed in the pyramid text, coffin texts, book of the dead, and the books of the Netherworld. John Walton provides a great introduction to the conceptual world of the afterlife of the beliefs about the future of the earth and what happens after we leave this earth. Death and Burial is presented as clay, or mummification to achieve this end. Cult of the Dead and Communication with the Dead is significant in the Hebrew Bible. It explains how the Israelites thought about the after-life. Postscript

The book concludes with an appendix that includes an annotated list of thirty
of the most important gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East, followed by a bibliography, and indexes for Scripture, foreign words, modern authors, ancient literature, and subjects.


In the post script, Walton provides readers with a well analyzed and summarized conclusion. In this post-script he first speaks on the notion of generalizations in many different forms. In modern society, people cannot be generalized however the author offers us a glimpse of what civilization and religion were like in the Ancient Near East. After this short discussion about the many levels of generalization, Walton proceeds to discuss what it means to have a “common cognitive environment”. This concept better explains many of the concepts of the religions of the Ancient Near East, even better than any of the notions discussed within this book. In my opinion, there are all ideas that are passed on from person to person, and a similar pool of thought is shared between groups of a similar geographical area. The book draws to a close with one paragraph long last recap of how literature influences culture and how that literature is studied. Great book as it prepared me to grasp everything about the Old Testament.

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