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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Literature

For the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century CE, Old Testament scholarship was much occupied with the Graf–Well-hausen analysis of the Pentateuch. These two scholars claimed that it was compiled from four main pre-existing sources, three of which had been put together by a ‘scissors and paste’ method into a single account. That the principle was legitimate did not need justification, since a comparison of Samuel–Kings in the current Hebrew Bible with Chronicles proves that ancient authors did often compile from pre-existing sources in this way. But having only the final form of the text, one may justifiably ask whether such conclusions can be sure, except in very clear cases. Recovery of ancient Near Eastern literature has further confirmed this conclusion. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic is based on a free retelling of two surviving Sumerian Gilgamesh epics combined with other, no longer surviving material, into a dramatic literary whole c.1700 BCE. This composite epic was then passed down the centuries in substantially variant forms until in the first millennium BCE one edition became standard and mostly ousted all other recensions. Unlike the Pentateuch, this Gilgamesh tradition can be tapped at various stages in its development, and the two Sumerian epics are preserved, one in two very different recensions. Comparison of different copies of Sumerian incantations and Babylonian translations of them also reveals modifications creeping into the wording in a manner quite like the hair-splitting analyses of even single sentences in the Hebrew Bible proposed by scholars in the wake of Wellhausen. But often the changes in the incantations could never be guessed without the existence of the variant copies.

Items of wording as well as literary techniques are also shared by the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern literature. In 1 Sam. 9: 8 and 16: 9 men in addressing King David refer to themselves as ‘a dead dog’. Exactly the same self-deprecatory expression is used in neo-Babylonian and neo-Assyrian letters to the Assyrian king. One could dismiss this as a common phrase on everyone's lips, but there was of course much oral literature in circulation too. An example of a whole topos shared occurs in the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (c.1700 BCE) and Ecclesiastes (a post-exilic composition):

The similarities here are too great to be explained as coincidence, and the vast priority in time on the Babylonian side means that Ecclesiastes has depended on a tradition, written or oral, of long standing in the ancient Near East.

Still another literary matter is Hebrew composition in styles previously known elsewhere in the ancient Near East. The best example is Daniel 11, which presents a mass of detailed history in the form of predictions with names of people and places omitted or obscured. Previous Hebrew prophets also predicted the future, but never in such detailed annalistic form. There was, however, a Babylonian genre of this kind that was still being produced at the end of the Persian empire, and most probably the author of Daniel knew of it and took it over for his own purposes.

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