The Ancient Near East: A History, 2nd ed.

By William W. Hallo and William Kelly Simpson
Fort Worth : Harcourt Brace (1998). xi + 324 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 233-234

Since the appearance of the first edition of The Ancient Near East: A History in 1971, the work of Hallo and Simpson has become a standard introduction to the fields of Assyriology and Egyptology. Both William Hallo and William Simpson serve as professors at Yale University. Twenty-seven years ago, when both were younger scholars, they collaborated on a work that would survey the political and cultural development of preclassical antiquity. Now, as older scholars, they have revised their text, taking into account the material that has appeared in the interim. The second edition retains the basic structure and content of the first edition. However, the maps and charts have been revised and the footnotes and bibliographies updated. The authors have sought as much as possible to base their history on textual sources, and, to a lesser extent, on art and artifacts. As Hallo explains, “ In an age of increasing skepticism, we hold fast to a middle position that treats the ancient sources critically, but respectfully” (vii). This critical respect is also extended to the OT (28-29, 69-71, 125).

The book is in two parts. In Part One, Hallo surveys the history of Mesopotamia and the Asiatic Near East to 333 B.C. (1-181). In Part Two, Simpson concentrates on the political history of Egypt to 332 B.C. (183-296). A helpful appendix lists the rulers of Egypt chronologically to the Roman conquest in 30 B.C. (297-300). The authors have included an extensive bibliography, annotated in places, that directs the student to further resources for investigation of the Ancient Near East (301-14). A detailed index completes the book and is a helpful tool in directing the reader to the location of specific topics (315-24).

Hallo begins his contribution by defining history “as temporal analysis of causality applied to the texts and other documentary remains of the past” (4). Thus, the period of time to 3100 B.C. is prehistory, which is rapidly surveyed using the contemporary evolutionary perspective (5-23). With the invention of writing, the study of history commences. Hallo takes his readers through Mesopotamian history from 3100-333 B.C. in four chapters (25-149). At strategic points, he references the OT into this historical survey, but not always with a conservative understanding. For example, Hallo correlates the flood of Genesis 6–8 with other accounts and concludes, “[T]he great deluge of the Mesopotamian sources was somewhat more localized then the texts picture it but it was nonetheless a historical event associated with a specific point in time” (33). The final chapter on Mesopotamia is a helpful survey on culture, including literature, religion, and government (151-81).

Simpson has an important section on the determining of Egyptian dating in his opening chapter (189-95). It is difficult to reconstruct the chronology on which to base a historical survey. Simpson describes the evidence and procedure used, but concludes, “Dating is a complex matter still under study” (195). The dates given in this text for the New Kingdom Pharoahs are substantially different from those used by most conservative biblical scholars, e.g., Thutmose III (1495-1425 B.C.), Rameses II (1279-1212 B.C.). A short introduction to Egyptian culture concludes the chapter (195-97). Simpson devotes five chapters to a historical survey of Egypt from 3100-322 B.C. (199-296).

For the student of the OT, this is an essential work to read and master. The Ancient Near East: A History lays the foundation for the student upon which works on OT archaeology, history, peoples, and culture can build.