Thoughts on John Walton's book "Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament"

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Posts 199
Roy | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Aug 4 2019 8:31 PM

As per the title I would like some thoughts on John Walton's book "Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament".

I see that he has two versions of this book now and that both are included in this months Author Spotlight sale.

I own neither one. In your opinion is one edition better than the other? If so which one and why?

Is there enough differences between the two to make it worth having both?

Main reason for me to buy the book is reference and just plain reading.

Thanks in advance!

First Edition: https://www.logos.com/product/6046/ancient-near-eastern-thought-and-the-old-testament 

Second Edition: https://www.logos.com/product/166361/ancient-near-eastern-thought-and-the-old-testament-introducing-the-conceptual-world-of-the-hebrew-bible-second-edition 

Posts 2058
GaoLu | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Aug 4 2019 8:56 PM

For a buck-forty more you get a volume that is 12 years newer.

Posts 1975
Joseph Turner | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Aug 5 2019 5:14 AM

It is a wonderful book in my opinion.  It helped me to interpret the Hebrew Bible by helping me to think in terms of how the original hearers thought.  He uses a lot of comparative literature to help to map out the way the ancients saw their world.

Disclaimer:  I hate using messaging, texting, and email for real communication.  If anything that I type to you seems like anything other than humble and respectful, then I have not done a good job typing my thoughts.

Posts 10177
Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Aug 5 2019 5:59 AM

Just keep in mind, it's literati battling literati. There's little known how extensive YHWH was, or the surrounding gods. But Logos does offer several 'letters' resources, which get out into the 'real' world (not cheap).


Posts 1975
Joseph Turner | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Aug 5 2019 12:06 PM

How about an excerpt:

Excursus: Ziggurats

What do we know about ziggurats? First we need to clarify that though they may resemble pyramids in appearance, they are nothing like them in function. There is no inside of a ziggurat. The structure was framed in mudbrick, then the core was packed with fill dirt. The façade was then completed with kiln-fired brick. Second, ziggurats were dedicated to particular deities. Any given deity might have several ziggurats dedicated to him or her in different cities. Furthermore, a given city may have several ziggurats, though the main one was associated with the patron deity of the city. Third, archaeologists have discovered nearly thirty ziggurats in the general region of Mesopotamia, and texts mention several others. The main architectural feature is the stairways or ramps that lead to the top. Texts indicate that there was a small room at the top where a bed was made and a table set for the deity.28 Ziggurats range in size at the base from sixty feet per side to almost two hundred feet per side.
Most important is the function of the ziggurat. The first puzzle to note in this regard is that the ziggurat does not play a part in any of the rituals that are known to us from Mesopotamia. If known literature were our only guide we would have to conclude that common people did not use the ziggurat for anything. The ziggurat was sacred space and would have been strictly off limits to profane use. Though the structure at the top was designed to accommodate the god, it was not a temple where people would go to worship. There was no image or any other representation of the deity there. The deity would at times be taken up to the shrine at the top for some downtime and privacy. The ziggurat was typically accompanied by an adjoining temple near its base where the image was housed and where worship took place.


p 80 COMPARATIVE EXPLORATION 5.2: The Tower of Babel
In Genesis 11:1–9 a group settles in Shinar, which most interpreters rightly connect to the area called Sumer in southern Mesopotamia and associated in the Old Testament with Babylon. Their Mesopotamian building materials differ greatly from what was known in Egypt and Israel, so the author explains them in verse 3. The ready availability of stone in the Levant meant that it could be used by even common folks for building. Still, houses in Israel would typically use stone for the foundation and mudbrick for the superstructure. Fired-brick technology was never developed because it was unnecessary. In contrast, the alluvial plains of southern Mesopotamia had no stone available. It would have to be transported many miles and was therefore expensive. As a result, as early as the Late Uruk period at the end of the fourth millennium BC we see the development of kiln-fired brick. Furthermore, as the text indicates, the usual mortar used with kiln-fired brick is a bitumen-based mastic. This combination of baked brick and bitumen mastic made for waterproof buildings as sturdy as stone. The time required to fire the bricks and to procure the bitumen made this an expensive procedure. As a result, only the most important buildings were constructed with these materials. That leads us to a consideration of what precisely was being built.
The text refers to a “city” and a “tower.” If the setting is the end of the fourth millennium (to coincide with the technological developments), the events occur right at the beginning of urbanization in Mesopotamia. In the early stages of urbanization, the city was not designed to house the private sector. Common people did not live in the city. Instead it was comprised of the public buildings. The public buildings of this time (administrative buildings, granaries, etc.) were mostly congregated around the temple. Consequently, the city is, in effect, a temple complex. A number of these buildings would have used at least some kiln-fired brick. Such structures were known throughout the biblical period and were still visible in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.
This brings us to the “tower.” The word used in the Hebrew text is generic and can be used for any sort of tower. In the Old Testament the towers most frequently referred to are defense towers or watchtowers. But the text is not describing an Israelite city; it is describing a Mesopotamian city. The most prominent building in the temple complex from earliest times was the ziggurat. Most interpreters have identified the tower of Babel as a ziggurat, and with good cause. Not only is it sociologically right for the context but even the terminology supports it. Throughout Mesopotamian literature, almost every occurrence of the expression describing a building “with its head in the heavens” refers to a temple with a ziggurat.d For example, here is the description by Warad-Sin, king of Larsa, who built the temple É-eš-ki-te: “He made it as high as a mountain and made its head p 81 touch heaven. On account of this deed the gods Nanna and Ningal rejoiced. May they grant to him a destiny of life, a long reign, and a firm foundation.”
The ziggurat was the most dominant building of the temple complex, so it is no surprise that it draws the attention of the author of Genesis. In summary, the project is a temple complex featuring a ziggurat, which was designed to make it convenient for the god to come down to his temple, bless his people, and receive their worship. This understanding of ziggurats makes an important point drawn from the ancient Near Eastern context to clarify the biblical text: the tower of Babel was not built for people to go up, but for the god to come down. So with Dostoevsky we can affirm that the tower was not to mount from heaven to earth, but to set up heaven on earth.
Finally we note that in the reign of Amar-Suen in the twenty-first century BC, he desired to build a temple and ziggurat, but the gods did not approve of his building project. Furthermore, he explicitly wanted to undertake the project “to make his name everlasting.” This is not to suggest that Genesis 11 is in any way connected to Amar-Suen. More generally, we can see that an account like the tower of Babel is at home in the ancient world.


The best indication of the function of the ziggurats comes from the names that are given to them. For instance, the name of the ziggurat at Babylon, Etemenanki, means “temple of the foundation of heaven and earth.” One at Larsa is called “temple that links heaven and earth.” Most significant is the name of the ziggurat at Sippar, “temple of the stairway to pure heaven.” The word translated “stairway” in this last example is used in the mythology as p 82 the means by which the messenger of the gods moved between heaven, earth, and the netherworld. As a result of these data, we would conclude that the ziggurat was a structure that was built to support the stairway. This stairway was a visual representation of that which was believed to be used by the gods to travel from one realm to another. It was solely for the convenience of the gods and was maintained in order to provide the deity with amenities. At the top of the ziggurat was the gate of the gods, the entrance into their heavenly abode. At the bottom was the temple, where the people hoped the god would descend to receive the gifts and worship of his or her people.

Photo 5.2. Façade of Inanna’s temple in Uruk showing it as the source of fertile waters
©Baker Publishing Group. Courtesy of Vorderasiatisches Museum.

Temple complexes also sometimes featured gardens that symbolized the fertility provided by the deity. The produce of these temple gardens was used in offerings to the deity, just as the temple flocks and herds were used for sacrificial purposes. The gardens were watered from the fertile waters that flowed from temples.32 The idea of four streams flowing from the temple or palace to p 83 water the four corners of the earth is represented graphically in a couple of places. In the eighteenth-century BC palace of Zimri-Lim at Mari there is an investiture scene fresco on the walls. In one of the panels two goddesses hold jars, and out of each flows four streams of water going off in different directions. The artifactual and archaeological evidence offers more information about palace gardens than about temple gardens. Archaeologists have discovered a temple near Ashur with many rows of tree pits in the courtyard.34 In Egypt a divine grove at times was associated with a temple. Artificial pools, exotic trees and plants, fish and water fowl, and produce grown for the provision of the gods were all features of these temple gardens. Their fertility and ordered arrangement symbolized order in the cosmos. “The temple is often associated with the waters of life which flow forth from a spring within the building itself—or rather the temple is viewed as incorporating within itself or as having been built upon such a spring. The reason such springs exist in temples is that they are perceived as the primeval waters of creation, Nun in Egypt, Abzu in Mesopotamia. The temple is thus founded on and stands in contact with the primeval waters.”36
In the Bible, Ezekiel’s vision of a temple also features fertile waters flowing out from the threshold of the sanctuary (Ezek. 47:1–12). Eden is also portrayed as having a garden accompanying sacred space watered by fertile streams and featuring animals and exotic plants.


John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2018), 79–83.

Disclaimer:  I hate using messaging, texting, and email for real communication.  If anything that I type to you seems like anything other than humble and respectful, then I have not done a good job typing my thoughts.

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