Speaking Out for Balaam’s Ass

A book about donkeys in the biblical world is about to be published by Eisenbrauns in its new History, Archaeology, and Culture of the Levant series. Its called Donkeys in the Biblical World: Ceremony and Symbol. It’s a serious academic work by Kenneth C. Way (Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) and it will certainly be a worthwhile contribution to our knowledge of the use of an animal that was integral to ancient society. In the book, Way examines donkeys in ancient Near Eastern texts, the archaeological record, and the Old Testament, exploring how donkeys were used as symbols and in ceremonies. And yes, Balaam’s ass (or ‘jenny’)¹ receives specific attention (pp. 202–208).

The book is still in press and will be released later this month, so I haven’t actually thumbed through its pages. However, going by the contents, it seems odd that one rather important donkey is missing in action: the donkey that the liberated king rides into Jerusalem (Zech 9.9). It could be that this is dealt with under a broader section, but I find it unusual, given the exegetical significance of this passage, that it’s missing a specific treatment.

Yes, this book is a serious academic monograph. But at the same time, you have to laugh about some of the things we academics manage to study.

I can think of lots of smart comments to make, but I’m resisting big time!

¹No, this was not the name of Balaam’s ass. It’s a noun denoting a female donkey.

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7 thoughts on “Speaking Out for Balaam’s Ass

  1. Jokes aside, books like this on the physical world of the biblical era are really helpful. Since much of the Bible’s message appeals to the imagination of the hearer/reader (think, metaphor), an accurate *picture* of the ancient world is essential to interpretation and translation. Of course, archaeological remains help as well.

    • Yes, that’s absolutely right, Kirk. The concept seems funny, but when you think about what the book is aiming to do, it’s actually seems like a valuable study. Hence, my comment about the seeming lack of attention to Zech 9.9 (though I need to read the book to see if that’s actually the case).

  2. If one were to read the title as referring to the world of Biblical studies, then one could refer to you as a smart … Athas.

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