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Stephanie West

Stephanie West is a fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. Her books include A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey, Books I-VIII, with J.B. Hainsworth.

Re-reading the Bible

Stephanie West, 12 March 1992

Though the Bible continues to retain its supremacy as a best-seller (see the Guinness Book of Records for 1992), it is hard to avoid the impression that its contents are increasingly unfamiliar, and while the issues raised (or apparently raised) by the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Turin Shroud generate extensive discussion, the text which gives these objects more than a narrow specialist interest goes largely unread. No doubt this neglect is partly to be explained by the increasing secularisation of society and by the widespread replacement of divinity in the school timetable by a pick-’n’-mix survey of comparative religion. But we must also reckon with the deterrent effects of a general awareness that, one way and another, science and scholarship have shown that much of the Bible is not what it was long thought to be, that demythologisation and source criticism, archaeology and stylometrics, have produced results of which we ought to take account. From this springs a want of confidence in our capacity to read the text intelligently, while those who are readiest to offer guidance too often appear to lack objectivity. Anyone who has felt disheartened by what sometimes looks like a complacent collusion in ignoring difficulties will welcome The Unauthorised Version, which makes accessible a complex mass of modern Biblical scholarship and addresses incisively a wide range of questions which occur (or should have occurred) to any intelligent reader.

Assurbanipal’s Classic

Stephanie West, 8 November 1990

Cuneiform studies have come far since 1872, when George Smith, assistant keeper in the Oriental Department of the British Museum, engrossed the December meeting of the Society of Biblical Archaeology with a paper on ‘The Chaldean Account of the Deluge’. Among the tablets recovered from Assurbanipal’s library at Nineveh he had found an account of a world-wide flood which resembled the narrative of Genesis not only in its main outline but even in detail. His revelations created such a sensation that the Daily Telegraph promptly offered one thousand guineas to support further excavation under his direction, and the British Museum thus acquired not only further portions of the Deluge narrative but also the text which Smith styled ‘The Chaldean Account of Genesis’, the Creation Epic commonly known from its opening words as Enuma Elish (‘When on high’).

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