This anthology brought together crucial historical, legal, mythological, liturgical, and secular texts of the ancient Near East, with the purpose of providing a wealthy contextual base for understanding the people, cultures, and literature of the Old Testament. A scholar of religious thought and biblical archaeology, James Pritchard recruited the foremost linguists, historians, and archaeologists to choose and translate the texts. The goal, in his words, was once “a better understanding of the likenesses and differences which existed between Israel and the surrounding cultures.” Before the publication of these volumes, students of the Old Testament found themselves having to search out scattered books and journals in more than a few languages. This anthology brought these invaluable documents together, in one place and in one language, thereby expanding the meaning and significance of the Bible for generations of students and readers. As one reviewer put it, “This great volume is likely one of the most notable to have seemed within the field of Old Testament scholarship this century.”
Princeton published a follow-up companion volume, The Ancient Near East in Pictures In the case of the Old Testament (1954), and later a one-volume abridgment of the two, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (1958). The continued popularity of this work in its more than a few forms demonstrates that anthologies have a vital role to play in education–and within the mission of a university press.