I appreciated John Currid’s commentaries on Exodus (vol. 1 & vol. 2) when I preached through it a few years ago. He has others that I intend to purchase. I appreciated the dimension he adds with regard to archeology. A friend of mine went on a dig and tour of the Holy Land with him back in the late 90’s. He is not an ivy tower academic. He has gotten his hands dirty as an archeologist and a pastor (an ARP church in the Charlotte area).
His latest book, Against the Gods, is a good addition to a pastor and teacher’s library. In this book he examines the relationship between biblical texts and similar texts and stories from neighboring people. The main focus is on Egypt, but he includes a chapter on Canaanite mythology.
This is a big issue in academia. The issue is who influences whom? Many assume that the biblical writers borrow the stories from other cultures and “cut” the names of the other gods and “paste” in YHWH. As Currid notes, that is a way to look it. But he proposes a better way to understand what is going on: polemical theology. The idea is not that the biblical authors, usually Moses (though he seems reluctant to say that), stole their stories. The point is that God works in such a way as to reveal their gods are nothing and He is the real God they need to know.
“While Thompson may be considered radical in his views, the reality is that modern scholarship commonly views biblical history as invention and propaganda. In other words, it was written by post-exilic authors who had limited access to true historical resources.”
Modern scholars often see much of the Bible as myth. Currid doesn’t, and often explains why he thinks particular biblical texts are not myth but a part of the clear monothesitic world view of Israel that was so different from their polytheistic neighbors.
“Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radically new meaning.”
Polemical theology is designed to set Israel apart from the other nations, and their God from the gods of the other nations. In many ways, it calls those nations to turn from their gods to embrace YHWH as the reality they hoped for in their myths and stories.
Currid does not want to overstate his case. At the end of the book he writes:
“Polemical theology certainly does not answer every question about the relationship of the Old Testament to the ancient Near Eastern literature and life. … At times, however, polemical theology can serve as a solid and reliable interpretive lens by which one can properly see the significance of a parallel. … In this day and age, when a considerable number of scholars seek to diminish the originality and uniqueness of the Old Testament, this is no small thing.”
You can see that he gets some push back. For instance, in the product reviews for his book Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (which I have not read yet but seems to be a longer and more exhaustive and academic book on the similar subject). A double standard exists in which it is wrong for his world view to influence his understanding of the evidence, but not wrong for those who disagree. They apparently think they don’t have presuppositions but they do.
Against the Gods is not written for the academic audience. It is written for pastors and lay people. This is a good thing so as pastors and teachers handle some of these passages they can add this insight. I would recommend this to anyone teaching through the Old Testament.
Some of the passages Currid handles include the creation account of Genesis 1, the Noahic flood (Genesis 6-9), the birth and flight of Moses, the account at the burning bush and the rod of Moses. As I mentioned, many of the ANE parallels are clearly mythological in nature. In the Scriptures they are not mythological, but carry marks that indicate them to be historical in nature. These parallels were understood by the original audience, and therefore our understanding is enriched when we recognize the use of polemical theology. I think John Currid does us a great service again. I just wish the book was longer.