Mesopotamia and the Bible: Comparative Explorations

By Mark W. chavalas and K. Lawson Younger, Jr., eds.
Grand Rapids : Baker (2002). 395 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
13.2 (Fall 2002) : 270-271

 This book is the collection of a series of papers presented at the annual meeting of the Near East Archaeological Society in 1995. The subject that year was “Syro-Mesopotamia and the Bible.” The Near East Archaeological Society is an association of evangelicals whose members must affirm the twofold doctrinal statement:

  • I believe that the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.
  • I believe in the unique Divine inspiration, integrity, and authority of the Bible.

The society is primarily concerned with the archaeological exploration and study of the lands of the Bible and holds its annual meeting in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society.

The book consists of 14 essays on themes of ancient Mesopotamian history and archaeology. The articles are not designed to be introductory, but require a level of familiarity with introductory literature and issues involved. The work contains an introduction in which the purpose of the work is detailed as “a description of certain aspects of that [Mesopotamian] civilization that may (or may not) help the reader place the Bible in its greater ancient Near Eastern context” (8). The editors anticipate questions as to the inclusion of material related to Ugarit, Alalakh, and Elba with the notation that, “in this book we will take a very loose definition of Mesopotamia as encompassing some regions of Syria immediately west of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley that were obviously connected culturally to traditional Mesopotamia” (ibid.). A helpful nine-page listing of abbreviations as well as a Scripture and name index are included. Each article contains a significant bibliography at the end. Two minor criticisms are the lack of a subject index and the lack of maps, charts, or other illustrations. The latter would have been very helpful in several of the articles in which even those with a good working knowledge of the people and places would have been well served by a visual anchor.

In terms of content, two significant articles deal with the identity and rule of several Assyrian kings, particularly Sargon, Pul, and Tiglath-Pileser by Steven W. Holloway (68-87) and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (288-329). One article, by Edwin Yamauchi on the “Eastern Jewish Diaspora” (356-77), is especially significant, as it relates to the issue of the continuation of the Jewish racial identity in the face of forced exile and often forced assimilation. Another significant article is that of an editor, Mark W. Chavalas, on the subject of “Assyriology and Biblical Studies: A Century of Tension” (21-67), in which he details the care that must be taken in seeing (or creating) parallels between biblical texts and various texts discovered in Syro-Mesopotamia (e.g., Mari, Nuzi, Ebla). David C. Deuel, former associate professor of OT at The Master’s Seminary, contributed an article on his area of expertise related to the role and status of royal messengers in the Ancient Near East. Another article, that of Richard E. Averbeck on Sumer and the Bible (88-125), is significant, particularly as it relates to the parallels between the construction of the Solomonic Temple and temples in the Summerian culture.

All of the articles represent the best in evangelical scholarship in archaeology, Ancient Near East history and civilization, and their proper relationship to biblical studies. This work is highly recommended.