book response: Against the Gods by John D. Currid (2013)

When it comes to understanding the Bible, context is extremely important. Dr. Currid has provided a very distilled, but excellent introduction to the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world that the Jewish scriptures emerged from in his book Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. Archaeologists have done tremendous work and translators, who cannot keep up with all the discoveries, are making the context better and better. Dr. Currid focuses the book on a few key stories from Genesis and Exodus. He has a chapter on the creation account, Noah's flood, Joseph and the false rape accusation, Moses and his infant escape, Moses's escape from Egypt, God's name "I am that I am", Moses's miracle rod, the parting of the Red Sea and seemingly plagiarism of Canaanite Psalms.

The book description on the back of the book is enlightening for what leading question it does not answer. "Did the Old Testament writers borrow ideas from their pagan neighbors? And if they did, was it done uncritically?" The abundant examples Currid notes from the ANE show that these Bible stories listed above did not arise de novo. This reality does not have to threaten one's faith, but it should challenge extra-Biblical presuppositions. Dr. Currid's summarizes his proposal for the borrowing of stories at the end of the book,
Polemical theology certainly does not answer every question about he relationship of the Old Testament to the ancient Near Eastern literature and life... the truth that the biblical writers often employed polemical theology as an instrument to underscore the uniqueness of the Hebrew worldview in contrast to other ancient Near Eastern conceptions of the universe and how it operates. p. 141
In other words, the polemically theological Bible story composer refashions popular stories, stripping them of polytheism and refocusing them on the one, true God, Yahweh. This is something the church has done for centuries. The New Testament writers, following Jesus Christ's own examples, took the Jewish scriptures and found in them prophecies of Jesus. The church around the world has taken popular music and changed the lyrics to worship the one, true God. Missionaries have used cultural motifs to explain the work of Jesus on their behalf. I recommend the classic book, Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson, for a multitude of examples of this missionary practice.

Proverbs 27:6a says "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." Dr. Currid is a friend to evangelicals. Dr. Currid is an evangelical, a Presbyterian senior minister and Professor of Old Testament at RTS in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nevertheless, for those of us who have not taken seminary classes on the Bible's ANE milieu Dr. Currid's brief book can be shocking and potentially devastating to certain versions of evangelical faith. This book is not about simple answers. It provokes the reader to think with and like the scholars. Certainly 140 pages is not enough, but the extensive footnotes offer plenty of options to further educate oneself in the formation of the Bible. (Dr. Currid does not mention it in this book, but many proverbs have parallels in Egyptian literature as well.)

I'm extremely grateful to Crossway for providing a complimentary review copy.
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