Fortress Press has published Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John J. Collins, the Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism & Interpretation at Yale Divinity School. The book comes with a CD-ROM.
In order to introduce the book to a larger audience, Fortress has provided a free PDF pf copy of the Contents, the Preface, the Introduction, and the First Chapter. Below is a brief excerpt from the First Chapter, a section that introduces the Sumerian civilization:
In southern Mesopotamia, around the junction and mouth of the two rivers, the
Sumerians are credited with the earliest known writing system, around 3200 B.C.E. The
documents were written with reeds on clay tablets, which were then baked. The Sumerians developed the system of wedge-shaped signs called cuneiform that was later used in Akkadian writing; but unlike Akkadian, Sumerian was not a Semitic language. The origin of the Sumerians is unknown. They developed city-states (Uruk, Lagash, Umma) that were diverse among themselves. Shortly before 2300 B.C.E. the Sumerians were conquered by Sargon of Akkad, which was slightly further north in Mesopotamia but still south of Babylon. Akkad gave its name to the Semitic language that remained the main medium of Mesopotamian literature for two thousand years (Akkadian). Sargon and his successors ruled the fi rst Mesopotamian territorial state for almost two centuries. Then Akkad fell and never rose again. Even the location of the city has been lost. After this, the Third Dynasty of Ur united most of Sumer for about a century around the end of the third millennium. Thereafter the Sumerians faded from history, but they bequeathed to the ancient Near East a rich legacy of art and literature.
The Introduction provides an excellent in overview of the Hebrew Bible while the First Chapter provides a good introduction to the Near Eastern context for the history of the people of Israel.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary