Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, eds., Readings from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old Testament Study.
(Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2002), 240 pp. Paperback. ISBN 0-8010-2292-4. $21.99
Reviewed by Hector Avalos
Iowa State University

Anyone who has taught Hebrew Bible courses knows the problem of introducing students to the vast corpus of Near Eastern literature that illuminates the Bible. On the one hand, one can recommend James Pritchard’s ANET (Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament; 3rd edition, 1969), but only at one’s peril. It is much too large and expensive for students. On the other hand, Pritchard’s smaller two-volume work (The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures [Princeton, 1958]) is still unwieldy, and needs much updating, especially in light of inscriptions discovered in the last thirty years. It is in this context that Arnold and Beyer provide a welcome anthology (hereafter, RANE) in a single volume that is useful for beginning students of the Hebrew Bible.

The basic organization of RANE follows the Protestant biblical canon. Thus, Part 1 relates to the Pentateuch, and includes creation stories (e.g., Eridu Genesis; a portion of the Enuma elish), epic literature (e.g., Gilgamesh), covenants and treaties, and law codes (e.g., Lipit Ishtar, Code of Hammurabi, Middle Assyrian Laws). Part 2 covers the Historical Books, and includes the Kuntillet `Ajrud and Tel Dan inscriptions. Part 3 centers on the Poetic Books, and contains Ludlul bel nemeqi (an Akkadian theodicy), The Instruction of Amenenope, and the Hittite Plague Prayers of Mursilis II. Finally, Part 4 covers the Prophetic Books, and includes Mesopotamian prophecies, the Balaam text from Deir `Alla, and the Akkadian Shurpu and Maqlu incantations.

One strength of the book is the use of previous translations by some of our most competent scholars. Thus, the Baal Cycle and the Tale of Aqhat derive from Michael Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan (1978). Extracts from the Enuma elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh reproduce those in Pritchard’s ANET. The Egyptian selections are drawn from Miriam Lichtheim’s Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings (3 volumes; 1973–1980). We also have Joseph Naveh’s translation of the Tel Dan inscription. The Shurpu and Maqlu incantations actually represent English translations of German translations. Such dependence is understandable, as few scholars command the language of every ancient Near Eastern corpus.

However, some of the previous translations are now archaic and less understandable for students. For example, in Tablet 11:94 of The Epic of Gilgamesh, ANET has: “To batten down the whole ship. ” A. R. George’s The Epic of Gilgamesh (translated by M. G. Kovacs; Stanford University Press, 1989) has: “For the caulking of the boat.” Among other things, today’s students will probably be more familiar with the meaning of “for the caulking” than with the meaning of “to batten down.”

The Mesha inscription derives from J. C. L. Gibson’s Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions (Oxford, 1971–82), which is outdated, especially in light of the new readings suggested by André Lemaire (Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 1994, p. 33), cited by RANE in an endnote. Although, Arnold and Beyer warn readers that they have modified spellings and translations to make them uniform and more understandable, it is sometimes unclear whether there is an amelioration or just on oversight in relation to the original. Thus, in line 31 of the Mesha inscription, Lemaire reads: “And the house [of Da]vid dwelt in Horonên.” But RANE directly quotes Lemaire as reading: “Now as for Horonaim, there dwelt therein the House of [Da]vid … ” (p. 230, n. 4).

One of the useful updated translations provided is that of Brian Lewis’ The Sargon Legend: A Study of the Akkadian Text and the Tale of the Hero who was Exposed at Birth (Cambridge: ASOR, 1980). For example, in line 2, ANET translates: “My mother was a changeling,” the latter term being somewhat puzzling for many of my students. Lewis’ version has a more comprehensible reading, “My mother was a high priestess.” In line 5, Lewis’ “a reed basket” is better understood today than Pritchard’s “a basket of rushes.”

Another welcome updating entails the use of William L. Moran’s masterful edition of the Amarna letters (The Amarna Letters [Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992]), although RANE reproduces only letters 286, 287, and 288, all dealing with `Abdi-Heba, the ruler of Jerusalem. In the case of Moran and other translators/editors, RANE often brackets whole words (indicating reconstruction) that the source translation/edition brackets only in part.

But all that said, Arnold and Beyer provide a handy teaching supplement for the Hebrew Bible. The anthology contains some of the best selections of well-known Near Eastern literature and includes new material from, among other places, Kuntillet `Ajrud and Tel Dan. My main quibble is that some older and outdated versions were used in some cases where the editors could have at least offered updated translations or even their own translations. For the foreseeable future, I will assign Arnold and Beyer’s RANE as the preferred supplemental anthology in my introductory courses in the Hebrew Bible.