Mayfield (Coming Clean from Abilene, 2013) offers an investigation into various influences on the text of the Bible.
This highly readable, entertaining work looks at the “cultural evolution of ancient traditions which contributed to the Old Testament books of the Bible.” The author examines topics ranging from the epic of Gilgamesh (“somewhat the prototype of the young king David: physically attractive, but self-centered”) to the afterlife beliefs of ancient Egypt (“Osiris would let you be ferried across the River of the Dead to the happy Field of Food”), and it specifically focuses on its topics’ relation to the Bible. Did the authors of the book of Genesis invent the idea of resting on the seventh day of the week, or was this concept influenced by the Sumerians? One of the Sumerians’ creation stories, for example, had a rest day so that “ox could recuperate from plowing the fields.” What of the presence of angels and demons in Zoroastrian beliefs, long before the time of Christianity, who also had names such as Gabriel, Michael and Raphael? Although the information here may be old hat for readers familiar with prebiblical times, those new to the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia will find this book a genuine, clear introduction. Occasional items, such as the etymology of the word “amen,” can appear oversimplified: “Biblical scholars…have gone to great lengths to dig up root words in Hebrew as the possible basis for Amen. They are not particularly convincing.” However, the book will be consistently thought-provoking for anyone who’s interested in its historical and religious subject matter. The book’s overall feel is swift and inviting, and it maintains a tone of soft-spoken enthusiasm throughout; for example, the author jokes that Gilgamesh came back home at the end of his adventure, in part, with the hope that “[h]e could become the central figure of the world’s first epic poem!”
A concise, accessible and easy-to-follow primer on biblical precursors.