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God in Translation


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Mark S. Smith charts the many cases in which deities were recognized outside of their own culture in the Late Bronze Age, ancient Israel, and early Judaism and the New Testament. This cross-cultural recognition took place in identifications or equations of deities of different cultures (in lists of deities), and in representations of different deities of various cultures acting together. (Deities of different cultures serving as guarantors of, and witnesses to, international treaties.)

The context of “translatability of deities” in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Israel supported international political relations. In the Iron Age, the worldview of regional deities on par with one another lost its intelligibility in the face of Neo-Assyrian empire ideology. In turn, Israel expressed its worldview of a single god, powerful over all. As a result, biblical writers and scribes engaged in a sophisticated hermeneutics to mediate between the new worldview and older expressions of translatability embedded within its emergent monotheistic expressions. The Greco-Roman period witnessed an explosion in the types and genres of cross-cultural discourse about deities, and as a result, Jewish authors and some New Testament sources responded to this sort of discourse, sometimes negatively and at other times quite positively. Engagement with other cultures helped Israel come to understand its god.

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  • Explores intercultural contact over three major periods
  • Discusses how deities of various cultures were identified
  • Includes a timeline of periods, events, and writings
  • Empires and Their Deities: Translatability in the Late Bronze Age
    • Introduction to Late Bronze Age Translatability
    • Treaties and Letters
    • Concepts of Divine Translatability: Family, Shared Resources, Oneness
    • Myths, Ritual and Prayer
  • Translatability and National Gods in Ancient Israel
    • Claims for the Absence of Biblical Translatability
    • Evidence of Translatability in the Hebrew Bible
    • Translatability and National Gods
  • The Rejection of Translatability in Israel and the Impact of Mesopotamian Empires on Divinity
    • Rejecting Translatability in Ancient Israel
    • “One-God” Worldviews in Mesopotamia and Israel and Their Lack of Translatability
    • Ugarit and Israel: Case Studies of Local Responses to Empires
  • “Protecting God” Against Translatability: Biblical Censorship in Post-Exilic Israel
    • Censorship Now and Then
    • Censorship in and for Israel: The Cases of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and Genesis 14:22
    • The Cultural Context of Biblical Censorship in the Post-Exilic Period
  • “The Beautiful Essence of All the Gods”: Translatability in the Greco-Roman World
    • Jan Assmann on Translatability in the Greco-Roman Period
    • Genres of Greco-Roman Translatability
    • The Cultural Contours of Greco-Roman Translatability
  • The Biblical God in the World: Jewish and Christian Translatability and Its Limits
    • Translations of God from Jewish to Non-Jewish Sources
    • Jewish Horizontal Translatability
    • The Christian Message: Lost in Translation?
  • Title: God in Translation
  • Author: Mark S. Smith
  • Publisher: Mohr Siebeck
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Pages: 382

Mark S. Smith is Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University. He is the author of 10 books on the religion of ancient Israel and Ugarit, as well as many articles on the literature, religion, and grammar in Ugaritic, the Hebrew Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.


4 ratings

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  1. Ken Gilmore

    Ken Gilmore


  2. Raymond Sevilla
  3. Ehud Ben Zvi

    Ehud Ben Zvi


  4. Bobby Terhune

    Bobby Terhune


  5. Kevin Penner

    Kevin Penner


    This book is $30.79 on This is a little different than the $172 given (above) as the "Print" cost. This practice of looking for the most expensive print cost and implying that this is somehow comparable to the digital version really irks me.


Digital list price: $79.99
Save $16.00 (20%)