ANE worldview as a source of understanding

I am reading some books that tell about the worldview of the ancient Near East (ANE) cultures – am reading because my bad habit is to start new books before finishing reading the previous ones. These books have changed my attitude towards the topic. In my thinking, ANE worldview has been something that acts as a negative barrier to understanding and undermines seemingly rational interpretations of the OT scriptures. Much of the creation debate seems to be a battle between interpretations that reflect modern vs. ANE worldview. Nothing good coming from the alien ANE worldview for us.

The books that I am reading have opened my eyes to the increased understanding about scriptures that opens through understanding the ANE worldview. It is like opening a new dimension to the scriptures, not only to OT but also to NT. The dive to the ANE world has been really inspiring.

Maybe we could all learn together by sharing some teachings in the scriptures where the knowledge of ANE worldview opens up new insights. I will send an example in my next message. Do you have other examples?


Given human sacrifices were used in ancient ANE cultures, how is this a negative against Christianity?

Jesus made some miraculous wonders at the Sea of Galilee. Walking on water (Matthew 14:24-33), commanding the winds and sea to calm (Matthew 8:23-27). Cool. Maybe if we had enough of faith we could also walk on water?

When looking through the ANE worldview, the greatness of the acts becomes more evident. They were not just miracles, they were signs that revealed the nature of Jesus.

Although the Sea of Galilee is just a lake, it was counted as sea in the ANE worldview. Sea was the chaotic and dangerous realm from which everything ordered had emerged. Humans could not control the chaotic waters. In the creation stories of the other cultures, a god hero fought against the chaos god or monster, defeating it. The consequences of this victory lead to the formation of the realm that finally hosted humans.

The creation story in the Genesis was strikingly different. There is still the deep (chaotic, dark sea) in the beginning of the story (Genesis 1:2) but there is no fight. God does not fight because He controls everything, even the chaotic waters. God just commands and the chaotic waters obey. Not even the gods of the other ANE cultures could do that, only the God of Israel, JHVH, could do it. This ANE worldview can be seen especially in the books of Job and Psalms.

When Jesus commanded the sea, he acted from the position of JHVH. Anyone could try that but the sea would not have obeyed. When Jesus commanded, the sea obeyed.
Jesus did not just walk on water, he walked on sea, the chaotic realm. That is something done by God, as Job 9:8 tells ”… tramples down the waves of the sea”. As in commanding the sea to calm, here Jesus acts from the position of God. No wonder that the disciples were utterly astounded (Mark 6:51), terrified (Matthew 14:26) and worshiped him (Matthew 14:33).
The feeding and healing miracles did not cause such reactions because feeding and healing miracles could have happened through the greatest prophets, Moses and Eliah.


I did not mean that the ANE worldview was negative against Christianity, I meant that it makes understanding the messages in the scriptures more difficult to grasp. If we did not need to learn something about the almost alien ANE worldview to better understand what the OT scriptures were telling, we could just ‘read and believe as it is written’. The latter principle (‘believe as it is written’) makes the error that it forgets that we always interpret the scriptures through some worldview. If we do not try to understand the message as the receivers (ANE people) understood it, we filter and interpret the text through the modern worldview. There is a great difference between the ANE and modern worldviews.


Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is a good read.I think @Christy first recommended it. I think some leaps are made here and there but it was really eye-opening in a lot of places. Revelation 3:15-16 has been misunderstood by so many Christians:

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

So many sermons about how Jesus would rather have a completely dead faith than a so-so faith. Whether that is true or not, this verse say nothing of the sort. Cold doesn’t mean lacking faith. It means the same as hot: a good faith. After all, why on earth would Jesus wish people were spiritually dead as opposed to somewhat spiritual?

Wrong Interpretation

“My religious leaders generally interpreted the words hot, cold and lukewarm as designations of spiritual commitment. Eugene Peterson calls this the “Laodicean spectrum of spirituality.” This interpre- tation suggests that Jesus wants us to be hot with spiritual zeal but that unfortunately many of us, like the Laodiceans, are lukewarm. We believe in Jesus, but we fail to take our faith seriously enough. This will not do, since Jesus would prefer that we were altogether cold—lost—than lukewarm in the faith. “

Correct interpretation:

“the adjectives “hot,” “cold,” and “lukewarm” are not to be taken as describing the spiritual fervor (or lack of it) of people. The contrast is between the hot medicinal waters of Hierapolis and the cold, pure waters of Colossae. Thus the church in Laodicea “was providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick. It was totally ineffective, and thus distasteful to its Lord.“ On this interpretation the church is not being called to task for its spiritual temperature but for the barrenness
of its works. . . . It should be noted that although the Lord was about to spit them out of his mouth, there was yet opportunity to repent (vv. 18-20).

Jesus “wished his people were hot (like the salubrious waters of Hierapolis) or cold (like the refreshing waters of Colossae). Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable.”

Sometimes knowing a lot of background information brings Scripture alive.

The book had a couple of personal anecdotes I found enlightening:

Does my American pragmatism trump Christian honesty when I, as a teacher, tell my students to just guess on the ones they don’t know? Seems practical but this hit me hard as a teacher.

The other story I found illuminating was this one:

We all seem to stress what we already believe when reading scripture. But I’d guess we are all post-Enlightenment Westerners and we filter scripture through that lens.


Great topic. I have had my understanding of the Bible opened by learning more of ANE as well. Mostly by Walton’s books, but also by understanding how the “science” of ancients differed from what we now know through Denis Lamoureux’s writings. Also, just looking at ancient Egypt and seeing that what we see as strange and foreign, was the cultural context of Moses and the patriarchs.


The prodigal son is one of those interesting stories that actually speaks to us about calamity and suffering. The following is part of a lesson I gave from Reading the Bible through Western Eyes:

The Prodigal Son:

  1. Read Luke 15:11-32

  2. Close your Bible.

  3. Summarize the story (pen and paper) as you would retell it.

  4. Did you mention the famine?

  5. NT Prof and minister Mark Allen Powell had:

  6. 12 seminary students pair off and do what you did.

  7. Not even one mentioned the famine.

  8. He decided to test 100 people across different ages, race, gender and religious affiliations.

  9. 6 of 100 recalled it, the rest were “famine forgettors.”

  10. All 100 had one thing in common: Americans.

  11. He repeated this test in Russia.

  12. 42 out of 50 people in Russia mentioned the famine.

  13. Why is the famine so unimportant to Americans?

No one in my small Bible study group mentioned the famine.

Why did Russia notice the famine?

“People don’t forget a famine that kills a quarter of their city’s inhabitants. I would suspect ancient people who lived through droughts, famines, wars, and plagues had similar mindsets. They didn’t have to imagine what these things were like. And I would further suspect that they, like the Russians Powell talked to, would focus less on the younger son’s profligate spending than the famine that came afterward.”

Asking the Russians: “Aren’t we supposed to think that the boy did something wrong?” Of course, they told me. But the boy’s mistake was not how he spent his money—or how he lost it. His mistake was leaving his father’s house in the first place. His sin was placing a price tag on the value of his family, thinking that money was all he needed from them. . .

This boy’s sin was that he wanted to make it in the world on his own. He trusted in his finances and in his own sense of rugged individualism, and he figured that would be enough to get by. And, who knows, he might have made it if not for the famine. But that’s what happens, Jesus says. Famines do come—and in a world where there are famines (and factory closings and automobile accidents and medical emergencies), only a fool would want to be alone. (Powell, 2007, p. 23, emphasis mine).

Other cultures are also mortified no one helps him (Lk 15:16). They don’t say, “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”

This was another eye opening story from the book and if you ever lead small group discussions on the Bible, try it. See how many people mention the famine in retelling the story.


There is also another interpretation, but the conclusion is the same:

In fact, visitors praised the quality of Laodicean water: “Laodicea’s water was of good quality. A donor named Hedychrous gave his name to part of the first-century water system of the city. Since his name meant ‘sweet complexioned,’ he created a wordplay that emphasized the pleasing quality of the ‘sweet-complexioned’ water being brought to the city. . . . A fourth- or fifth-century inscription refers to a Laodicean fountain house that supplied ‘sweet clear water ’. . . Revelation’s imagery focuses on what was used for drinking—taken into the mouth—yet the hot water at Hierapolis was not valued for drinking but for bathing and dying fabric. Strabo said that the rivers near Laodicea were similar to those of Hierapolis in that they had a high mineral content, ‘although their water is drinkable.’ . . . In other words, Strabo thought that Laodicea’s water was drinkable, whereas the water from Hierapolis was not. A Jewish apocalyptic writer referred to ‘Laodicea . . . by the wonderful water of the Lycus’” (337). (For what it’s worth, Koester doesn’t think the “eye salve” Jesus offers is a local reference either. Eye salves were produced all over the Roman empire, and other cities had reputations for medicine at least equal to that of Laodicea [339]).

What then? What does Jesus mean by rejecting the “lukewarm” Laodiceans and wishing for hot or cold? Koester suggests that the imagery has to do with hospitality. Chilled and warm wine were both popular drinks. When a guest arrived, his host might offer him wine chilled with snow, or wine mixed with warmed water. To be offered lukewarm wine was an insult to the guest and a mark against the host. In short, “The Laodiceans are unlike the hot or cold drink that a banqueter might desire. They are tepid, objectionable, and something to be vomited out of the mouth” (344). That fits with the overall imagery of the message to Laodicea, which ends with an explicit reference to a banquet.

The Laodiceans have not welcomed Jesus as an honored guest. Even when they don’t leave Him outside the door knocking to get in, they haven’t been good hosts.


This reminds me of this article:

Our study uses the portrayal of the idealized Davidic king in Ps 88:26 as one whose “hand is set to the sea” to call this specifc argument into question. In the psalm, the human king participates in God’s rule over the sea without being represented as God. Ancillary support for the plausibility of a human ruling the waters comes from (1) other Judean stories of people exercising control over waters, (2) the coherence of Psalm 88 with the manner in which Jesus is depicted more broadly in Mark, and (3) evidence that other early readers of Judean (“Jewish”) Scripture interpreted Psalm 88’s language about the Davidic king eschatologically.

I Will Set His Hand to the Sea’: Psalm 88:26 LXX and Christology in Mark

Just one example to show that Second Temple literature is also very helpful in understanding the New Testament.


I saw some talk about aqueducts as well in some sources that seemed to be incorrect. Someone actually went and looked at the height profile of the land and ruled part of this out I think.

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On a somewhat related note, I have always loved researching common idioms because understanding their history adds a lot of richness to everyday conversations. For example, being hoisted by your own petard. For a long time I had pictured someone being lifted up in the air by a pole attached to something like their pants or underwear. After I learned what a petard was, and what hoisting actually meant, it gave me a whole new insight into what that idiom really means.

I have found the same thing applies to ancient writings. Very often I have come away with one meaning from a first reading, but after digging into the history of the period it becomes obvious I had it wrong. Even modern literature can be greatly enhanced by understanding its connection to modern culture, such as the connections between the Communist Revoution in Russia and the book “Animal Farm”. It would be a crime to read “Candide” without understanding a bit of the history.


Made me look! I always assumed it was the little clip that holds on a flag when it is raised.


My devious plan comes to fruition [/moustache twirl]. I thought about explaining it, but thought it better to pique peoples’ interest.


One thing that I have thought a lot about is how the ANE culture relates to the imagery around brides and bridegrooms. Couples became a bride and bridegroom when they got betrothed, which was a formal ceremony in which the groom (or his family) paid a bride price to guarantee that the bride stayed pure until a future wedding day when the groom would come, usually as a surprise to the bride, declare the wedding, her guardian would present her to the groom, there would be a ceremonial washing, she would be declared pure and blameless and worthy of the price paid, and everyone dropped what they were doing to come celebrate. The wedding took place in a great feast, the marriage was consummated, and they transition from bride and bridegroom to husband and wife. I think we misinterpret alot of the metaphors in the New Testament that have to do with the church being the bride of Christ because we conflate bride and wife, and because we have a whole different idea about relationships and weddings. But passages like Ephesians 25:26-27 have whole layers of meaning if Christ paid the bride price with his own life, one that was exorbitantly high and did not correlate with her purity. And then instead of demanding a guardian keep her pure until he comes, he MAKES HER PURE and presents her to himself blameless. I think that is beautiful, but I missed all of it untill I understood the context better.


Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well probably triggered the ANE imagination for a man seeking his bride much like a tumble weed blowing down a dusty old street tells us that there is going to be a showdown

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What now? Why?

The man and woman at a well or the Western imagery?

Sometimes a well is just a well and thirsty is just thirsty. I have never heard a respectable Bible scholar suggest there was any implicit sexual subtext in the woman at the well account. I have heard that from randos on Twitter, but never someone with actual expertise.

That is an interesting episode. It was Jacob’s well, and wells are known to be places wives where found in the OT, Jacob and Rachel, Abraham’ s servant meeting Rebecca for Isaac, Moses and Zi[pporah.
So perhaps some symbolism for Jesus and ultimately the church. It is also interesting how our culture has cast the woman as immoral, when the text does nothing of the kind. She was probably older after 5 marriages, and not there at noon out of shame, just because she did not fit with young teenagers fetching water in the morning. The man she was with was not her husband, but perhaps was not a sexual partner but a guardian or relative. She was used and abused, widowed and divorced by multiple men. Jesus did not call her to repentance, and she did not repent, as that was not the point of the conversation, but rather that Jesus was Messiah and a prophet.


Interesting observation. I will keep it in mind.

In case you are interested, I looked up the passage in Keener’s Bible Background Commentary, and he notices her statement “I have no husband” could mean “I am available” which ties into Jesus asking her for water, which according to Keener, “ancient accounts show that even asking for water of a woman could be interpreted as flirting with her.”