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Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 24.4 (2006) 192-194

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Ancient Near Eastern Literature and the Hebrew Scriptures about the Fatherhood of God, by David R. Tasker. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. 230 pp. $65.95.

Dissatisfied with what he calls anthropocentric approaches to the study of God as Father by feminists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists, Tasker proposes a linguistic, literary, and historical approach to "provide sound exegetical input from the Hebrew Scriptures themselves, and . . . allow this ancient source of wisdom to speak for itself on its own terms" (p. 1). He proposes that conceptions of divine fatherhood among ancient Near Eastern peoples serve as a cultural backdrop against which the "canonical biblical perspective" (p. 5) of God as Israel's Father can be compared.

Tasker begins by discussing ways in which ancient Sumerian-Akkadian, Egyptian, and Ugaritic texts speak of pagan deities as Father (Part I). He then identifies fifteen texts from the Hebrew Scripture where God is explicitly referred to as Father (Part II). He arranges them in what he calls canonical order—Song of Moses (Deuteronomy), the Vision of Nathan (2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles), Hymnic and Wisdom Literature (Psalms and Proverbs), and the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi)—to reflect "an approximate chronological sequence rather than the order found in the Hebrew Scriptures" (p. 6). Part III is entitled "A Biblical Theology of the Fatherhood of God," in which [End Page 192] he draws on the findings in Part II to suggest what the fatherhood of God teaches about God and humanity.

For Tasker, the Hebrew Scriptures present a positive view of God as universal Father, Creator, Judge, and King. He parts ways with modern interpreters who propound a negative view of God's fatherhood using "anthropocentric approaches" that are influenced by Greek philosophy, mythology, and traditional male dominance of the church. As Israel's Father, God demonstrates covenantal faithfulness toward his children through care, discipline, and love. He is distinct from pagan deities as he does not father his children through sexual procreation.

Although this work helpfully gathers in one place texts on God as Father from both the ancient Near East and the Hebrew Scriptures, several methodological and organizational concerns can be raised. Tasker's selection of ancient Near Eastern texts as a foil for the biblical picture of God as Father is both understandable and questionable. On the one hand, Sumerian-Akkadian, Egyptian, and Ugaritic texts are readily available; thus he goes where the data is. On the other hand, he dates these sources back to 1500–2500 B.C.e., but places the biblical passages under discussion between 1000 and 400 B.C.E. Given a gap of anywhere from 500 to 2100 years, how might one evaluate the results of the comparisons between the two? As a whole, this reviewer finds the conclusions drawn from the study of pagan father-deities in Part I somewhat disconnected from the analysis of God as Father in Parts II and III. For example, Tasker draws no line of connection between Malachi (1:6 and 2:10) and the ancient Near Eastern texts in Part I; and when he does make a reference to the Egyptians in his discussion of Jeremiah, it is not about what the Pyramid Texts say about Egyptian father-gods, but about Judah being caught between Egypt and Babylon at the time of Jeremiah (p.158).

By limiting the biblical data to passages in which God is explicitly called Father, a few key texts have been overlooked. Tasker gives Exod 4:22–23 and Ps 2:7–8 only a cursory mention, and completely omits Hos 11:2–4. Since fatherhood is a relational metaphor, passages that speak of Israel's sonship and the promised land as inheritance might prove instructive. Israel's understanding of its sonship says volumes about its understanding of God as Father.

This brings us to Tasker's repeated contention that God is viewed as universal Father in the Hebrew Scriptures (pp. 86, 105–6...


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