The Prestige of the Pagan Prophet Balaam in Judaism, Early Christianity and Islam


This volume deals with the pagan prophet Balaam who figures in the book of Numbers. By the very nature of his stature as a non-Israelite, pagan prophet, the figure of Balaam raises important questions with regard to the nature of prophecy and the relation between the Israelite God and the pagan nations. The conflicting stories and potent oracles of Balaam in Numbers 22-24 and other parts of the Jewish Scriptures prompted extensive reflection on this ambiguous figure. Thus the leading perspective developed in this volume is the often simultaneous praise and criticism of Balaam as a prestigious pagan prophet throughout ancient Judaism, early Christianity and the early Koranic commentaries.
The papers are clustered in four sections which deal with (1) Balaam in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East, and comparable figures in Ancient Greece; (2) Balaam in Ancient Judaism; (3) Balaam in the New Testament & Early Christianity; and (4) Balaam in the Koran and early Koranic commentaries. The reception of this enigmatic figure can be characterized as the simultaneous praise and criticism of a pagan prophet.
The book is particularly useful as it also contains Émile Puech’s newly reconstructed text, translation and commentary of the first combination of the Deir ‘Alla inscriptions which contain an excerpt of the book of the historical Balaam. Combined with the other papers, the volume pictures a fascinating continuum between paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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George H. van Kooten (PhD 2001) studied Theology and Graeco-Roman Judaism at Leiden, Durham and Oxford, and is Professor of New Testament & Early Christianity at the University of Groningen. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Series ‘Themes in Biblical Narrative’ and has edited The Creation of Heaven and Earth (TBN 8; Brill 2005) and The Revelation of the Name (TBN 9; Brill 2006). He is involved in continuing research on the Graeco-Roman setting of the New Testament.

Jacques van Ruiten (PhD 1990) studied Theology and Jewish Studies at Amsterdam and Londen, and is Senior Lecturer in Old Testament and Early Jewish Studies at the University of Groningen. He is the author of Primaeval History Interpreted: The Rewriting of Genesis 1-11 in the Book of Jubilees (JSJS, 66; Brill 2000) and editor of The Journal for the Study of Judaism. He is involved in continuing recearch on the reception and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, especially in early Jewish literature.
...the volume is an important contribution to the history of interpretation
of the Balaam narratives. The essays were written by eminent scholars, and are
essential readings for serious—and advanced—students of the Balaam texts. This volume
provides a rich resource for specialists in the history of biblical interpretation.

Carolyn Pressler
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, USA

All those interested in the earliest history of reception of Biblical narratives in the Old Testament, Early Judaism, the Graeco-Roman world, the New Testament and Early Christianity
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