The bottom line: A pricey, sometimes hard-to-read anthology of Ancient Near East texts with a Biblical slant.
James Pritchard’s Ancient Near East introduces readers to classic works (e.g. legal texts, hymns, myths, treaties, poetry and letters) of the region—such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Enuma elish, and the Epic of Gilgamesh—and in turn provides a clearer understanding of the cultures that existed in the ancient era.
The problem is that many of the translations come from incomplete, damaged, or un-translatable sources, so many of the “translations” read as choppy, discontinuous stories making it extremely hard to follow.
Also, if reading this book by yourself, it will be difficult to locate the texts in history without a scholar guiding you. That is, the selections may have a few sentences describing what you are about to read and why it was written, but it still remains difficult to discern the sociohistorical contexts.
The book is very Bible-oriented in that it uses the writings from the Ancient Near East in order to draw Biblical parallels. Throughout the entire book, scriptural footnotes in the margins point to where the writings either have a word-for-word or similar parallel in the Old Testament.
I read this book as part of a graduate level seminary course and certainly would not have picked it up any other way. The value this book has for Biblical students is to reveal the similarities between many of the Old Testament narratives and other Ancient Near East sources. For example, the lex talonis, or the concept of “an eye for an eye” is found in the Code of Hammurabi, and there are striking similarities between the Book of Genesis and The Memphite Theology of Creation.
As of December 2014, both versions have a somewhat hefty asking price: the paperback version is just under $30 and the hardcover is just over $120 (both on Amazon).
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal