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Reviewed by:
  • From Ancient Writings to Sacred Texts: The Old Testament and Apocrypha
  • Eileen Schuller (bio)
S.A. Nigosian . From Ancient Writings to Sacred Texts: The Old Testament and ApocryphaJohn Hopkins University Press. xvi, 270. $45.00, $18.95

Over his long career at the University of Toronto, S.A. Nigosian taught courses and wrote books which introduced both undergraduate university students and the general public to world religions in general and to Zoroastrianism and Islam in particular. In this book, he has provided a similiar introduction to the literature of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. In the preface, Nigosian explains that the book grew out of a lecture presented to a class in the Department of Classics when he saw the need for 'a single-volume text for those in related disciplines.'

Given this specific audience and goal, Nigosian has focused on 'the formation and contents of a substantial and sometimes inaccessible corpus of literature.' One of the strengths of the book is Nigosian's ability to summarize in a judicious and appealing way, usually in his own words but occasionally with well-chosen extended quotations, the content of each book of the Old Testament for an audience which has probably not read the text itself. With regard to issues of the formation of this literature, his treatment is much less developed. He emphasizes that there was a process of compilation and development over an extended period of time, but we [End Page 218] do not know most of the precise details of when and how and by whom these books were put together. A short summary is given of each biblical book, but certain sections are treated at greater length (Joshua, Samuel); surprisingly, almost nothing is said about some of the key narratives of Exodus and Numbers, and the book of Leviticus is given very little attention.

The second particular focus and strength of Nigosian's book is to show parallels, similarities, and borrowings between specific passages in the Old Testament and the literature of the ancient Near Eastern civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Asia Minor. Given that the latter texts are not likely to be readily accessible, Nigosian helpfully sets out in columns the key biblical passages and ancient Near Eastern parallels, though he is often less than clear about what he understands to be the precise relationship, whether direct literary borrowing, general similiarities of theme, or a reworking of an earlier text.

In the course of the book, Nigosian supplies considerable information about other topics, including a survey of the ancient Near Eastern world (though this might have been more helpful at the beginning rather than at the end), an interesting description of writing methods and materials in antiquity, and a brief introduction to the ancient translations (versions). He concludes by taking up (very briefly) the complex question of the 'Dating of Biblical Texts' and basically outlines the views of those he calls 'earlier biblical critics,' especially W.F. Albright and F.M. Cross. Here, as in many other places, he gives hints of recent scholarly debates and controversies, but not in enough detail that the reader can really understand either the fundamental problems or the newer solutions proposed. He does supply key references in footnotes so that the reader can follow up the discussion.

One of the distinctive features of this book is the inclusion of the Apocrypha, including a summary of the contents of some of the main books. In this section it is clear that Nigosian is working implicitly from a Protestant Christian (as opposed to Catholic or Orthodox) perspective even in how he sets up the category. His understanding of the formation of canon does not really seem to take into account the results of recent scholarship, especially on the diversity within Judaism both before and after the destruction of the temple and the questions raised by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This is not a standard general textbook of the Bible per se, or an introduction to the most recent methods and developments in biblical studies. But for the non-expert who has probably not read much of the biblical text and wants some introduction to its content...


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pp. 218-219
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