I’m pleased to post another article from my friend, Dana Tuttle. Poor thing, when I recommend books to her now, I also expect a blog post in return. So here are some thoughts from a fellow housewife theologian:
A reflection from Against the Gods, The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament by John D. Currid
The truth is a lot like an onion. To find it, you have to peel it away one layer at a time and it might make you cry in the process. Aimee knows that I can’t resist the temptation to learn more, especially about the areas that make me nervous. She knows that I struggle with the similarities between Christianity and Pagan myths. We have talked about it on several occasions and I have even written an article for her blog about the word Easter and its association with Pagan myth.
That is why it is no surprise that Aimee asked me to review this book before adding it to our church library. As I reached for the book with sweaty palms, I thought, “Do I really want to know more about this subject? Do I want to learn more about the truth?” I took the bait! You should have seen the evil librarian look with the devilish grin.
I knew I was in trouble when I had to look up words from the subtitle and the prologue. It is a tiny book after all…how much damage can it really do in less than 150 pages? It sat on my table for a few days with the pagan idol on the cover staring at me. The prologue was a little intimidating even with Currid’s plea that “the work is introductory and, therefore, is designed for those who know little about the topic of polemical theology” (10).
The first chapter begins with a brief history of ancient Near Eastern studies. Currid reviews many of myths and how similar they are to our Old Testament stories. As I peeled away the layers of the onion, the sulfuric gases hit me in the face and I began to tear up. I kept waiting and wanting him to get to the part where he explains his point, but he didn’t. The chapter just ended and I had to set the book down while it festered in my brain.
When I was able to pick the book back up again, the second chapter introduced the theology of polemical thought. “Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radically new meaning. The biblical authors take well known expressions and motifs from the ancient Near Eastern milieu and apply them to the person and work of Yahweh, and not to the other gods of the ancient world…The primary purpose of polemical theology is to demonstrate…the distinctions between the worldview of the Hebrews and the beliefs and practices of the rest of the ancient Near East”(25). He goes on to say, “In one sense, the Hebrew writers are ‘guilty’ of borrowing expressions and concepts from the surrounding cultures…yet the biblical writers employ such borrowing for the purpose of taunting. The Hebrew authors use polemic to call into question the power of Pharaoh, and to underscore the true might of Yahweh!”(26-27).
Currid draws our attention to an expert in this area, “Bruce Waltke describes the process of how the writer…refuted the pagan myths by identifying the holy Lord as the true Creator and Ruler of the cosmos and of history”(34). Then throughout the rest of the book, he uses examples of the creation account, the flood, the birth of a deliverer hidden in a basket of reeds, the significance of the rod, the parting of a body of water (among other ancient Near Eastern legends) and compares them to the Old Testament Scriptures. He parallels them alongside each other and points out their similarities and also their differences. The reader will see contrasts such as polytheist vs. monotheist, mythical legend vs. historical narrative, gods with human characteristics and limited in power vs. the one true God who is all powerful, as well as conditional gods vs. a covenant keeping God.
It has always been my understanding of the entire scope of Scripture that the one true God called Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, out of pagan worship. He slowly but surely revealed himself and his power to the people he chose to do so with. Currid takes it further and shows how God deliberately revealed himself as each and every pagan god. “I am that I am. I am El (the creator), I am more powerful than any earthly king, I ride on the clouds, I control the elements, I am the only one true God.” He takes pagan gods and knocks them out of the park, one myth at a time.
The fact that there are many similar stories in history gives credibility to the stories themselves. “If the biblical stories are true, one would be surprised not to find some references to these truths in extra-biblical literature” (61). “What was mere myth and legend in the ancient Near Eastern literature was true history in Israel…Myth became fact” (85).
I love how Currid says that the way the biblical writers wrote is “a masterful, skillful, and profound way to argue! It truly stands as a monument to the literary genius of the Exodus author” (119). The biblical writers left no stone unturned in debunking all of the false myths and pointing to the one true God.
Currid’s desire was to “invigorate people to do further study in the Old Testament…” (10). Instead, it compelled me to dive into the word’s of Christ. I was reminded of how Christ, both fully God and fully man, gave us a face and a voice to rule out any and all confusion. Christ knew all of the Old Testament Scripture to be true. He talked about it often. He never said, “If it is true, then believe it.” He said, “It is true” (John 17:17). He spoke of Moses (John 3:14, Matt. 8:4, 19:8, Mark 7:10), Abraham (John 8:58,59), Isaac, Jacob (Matt. 22:31,32), Jonah (Matt. 12:40) and Noah (Matt. 24:37,38) as particular individual people, not myth. He also credited Moses as the writer (Mark 12:26 and Luke 24:27) and even went as far as to say, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words” (John 5:46,47).
But my most favorite lesson learned from Currid’s teaching on polemical theology is how easily I was able to spot Christ’s use of this in the presence of the high priest during his trial when he asked him, “Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garment…” (Mark 14:16). Now, that was a polemical home run! Or how about this doozie, when Christ tells Nicodemus…”as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up” (John3:14). The story of Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness is bold polemical theology. It is a very Egyptian mythical-like story. Jesus not only knew it to be true, but explains how it illustrates himself on the cross. He took an Egyptian sacred royal symbol and slapped the gospel right on it!
In the end, when someone cries out, “Will the one true God please stand?”, it is Christ who I will stand behind as my advocate to the truth of all of Scripture. I am thankful that instead of tearing down the walls of my faith, these truths found in Currid’s book strengthened my faith greatly!
Dana Tuttle is a housewife theologian who is obsessed with headless queens. She is the mother of 7-year-old twin boys, and the wife of King Henry, ahem, she meant to say Troy. She daydreams about owning a pub, but is happy with her role as the crazy theme mom and scrapbooking fool. Dana is an over-achiever in Book Review Club, and can often be found hiding in her closet reading books written by dead theologians while eating the latest leftover holiday candy.