What is the proper relationship of the literature (texts) of the
Ancient Near East (hereafter, ANE) with the Old Testament? Many
attempts have been made, and although much data and some admirable
insights have been applied to the problem, we are not satisfied
that we yet have the proper correlations.
The Usual Way
Tremendous scholarship has been invested in the study of the Old
Testament text itself. But during the last few decades three presuppositions
have controlled the thinking of scholars of theologically liberal leaning.
|The Babylonian Creation Story
- That the Bible contains much "myth" and legend,
- That the Israelites developed their religion using the
- That the Old Testament and, especially the Pentateuch, was written
during the time of the kingdom and had spurious authors.
Recent near eastern research has been burdened with these
presuppositions. Unfortunately, the modern approach often deprecates the
historicity of the Old Testament, submerging both it and the epics and myths
of the now-translated texts in a fog of unrealism, thus precluding a proper
historical understanding. When attempts at correlations are made, some
scholars still try to compare what they feel are "myths" of Scripture
with the myths of the extra-biblical texts.
A Better Way
Proper correlations will only be found when scholars:
- Stop treating the Bible as "myth."
- Recognize extra-biblical ancient texts for what they are: written
authority for divine kingship.
They should not be considered as "beautiful literature" of the ancient
near east. Many of the ancient texts, especially the epics and religious
texts, are full of sex, gore, competition for power, deification
of man, and many other activities inherent in a divine
king absolutism. Their true intent must be discerned before attempting
to relate them to the Old Testament.
Furthermore, many scholars still hold to an evolutionary concept
of religion, a sort of revised Wellhausenism. Their premise is that
Israel's religion evolved, or is a revision (improvement) of the religious
systems of their neighbors to suit the purposes of the biblical
writers. This is a presupposition which has hindered Old Testament
research for well over a hundred years. Just as biological evolution
has not been validated with real evidence; neither has religious
evolution. Because of this misconception, much talent has dribbled
off into insignificant detail and a large number of works have been
written demonstrating theories for which there is little or no supporting
evidence. The biblical system and the ancient near eastern religious
systems run parallel from the beginning, with supporting documents
We will not examine the documentary hypothesis which has dominated
so much of biblical studies. The theory has been shown by so many
scholars to be deficient and unsupported, that it is not worth using
Which Came First?
|Part of Babylonian Creation Story
In comparing the Bible with other literature of the ancient near east we
are dealing with historical facts in the Bible, and a contrived
religio-politico system in the extra-biblical texts WHICH ARE IN CONSTANT
OPPOSITION. Neither grew out of the other. These two systems existed side by
side, beginning with Genesis on one hand and documents like the Sumerian
King List on the other. How can we assert this? Simply because of the
indications of written records from the beginning as we find in Genesis 5:1
and 26:5, along with the phenomenal accuracy of the Table of Nations in
Some scholars have tried, and done well, in defending the Old Testament
against critics who tried to show it unhistorical. However, the tendency has
been to use archaeological data to "prove" the Bible and explain the
details, rather than developing a comprehensive system which brings together
the Bible with the external data to better understand both. We NEED to
synthesize the Bible with the cultures in which it was written. We are not
satisfied with attempts made thus far.
New Premises Needed
|The Sumerian King List
We are suggesting that a new set of premises be used to solve some major
problems of correlations. Many biblical scholars believe the Bible is a
human book; that it was not Spirit given. Therefore, we should not consider
it as a book of Truth.
Why not, on the other hand, begin with the premise that the Bible is
divine, and therefore completely true, and see what the evidence shows? One
must begin with some basic presuppositions, or hypotheses, in presenting any
new development of thought. George Mendenhall says what any sound researcher
knows, "Hypotheses are basic to sound research and are eminently practical;
they are constructed, not as a substitute for facts, but to suggest
possibilities and to guide further investigation. They should not dictate
conclusions" (Mendenhall 1965: 35).
One has to support these presuppositions with facts, of course. Thus,
they should be held somewhat lightly. If the facts disprove the hypothesis,
it should be altered to accomodate the new facts which disagree with it, and
occasionally it will have to be discarded as being completely out of line.
The real problem comes when a person distorts the facts to fit his
hypothesis. On the other hand, if the hypothesis is true, then the more
thoroughly one investigates, the more detailed becomes the support for that
hypothesis until almost nothing can refute it.
Here are some hypotheses which we feel the facts will support:
- The source material
for the Bible is NOT the ancient near eastern texts we know today.
- The Bible is historical fact, not
a collection of myths and epics.
- The myths and epics of the
ancient near east are fabricated religio-politico
documents with a calculated purpose. They did not "evolve"as bards sang
them around campfires.
- The Bible is antithetic to ancient
near eastern religions.
- The purpose of the author of Genesis
was to show the rise of the worship of YHVH
- Finally, the basic issue of both
the Bible and the ancient near eastern
texts is the question, "Who will control men and the world?"
1. Looking at these in more detail,
probably the most serious misjudgment (in our opinion) made by many
biblical scholars is that the Bible is derived from other ancient
near eastern sources. Well-known W.F. Albright says, "Enough,
however, has been said to accentuate the significance of Israel's
borrowings from Canaanite religion"(Albright 1946: 94). Mesopotamian
scholar, Samuel Noah Kramer, who mastered Sumerian, says. ".
. . its (the Old Testament) roots reach deep into the distant past
and spread wide across the surrounding lands" (Kramer 1959:
143-44). Some scholars suggest they may be cognates. That is, that
they both come from a common source. This is possible. But it is
only to say that there was, then, really just one source - that
one originally composed and preserved by the worshippers of YHVH.
For our purposes, however, we assume that the Old Testament is an
ANTITHESIS to the religions of the ancient near east. If we consider
that the Scripture accounts derived from other literature, this
throws the understanding of both the sources and the Bible into
According to Genesis 5: 1, the texts utilized to compose Genesis
preceded Moses. The Hebrew word "sefer," or "book,"
is a written record, along with the rest of the "toledots"
or "generations." (See "From
What Did Moses Compose Genesis" for more information
on "toledots," early manuscripts, early written
records, and possible sources for Genesis.) Since the worshippers
of YHVH existed independently of other religions, they must have
had their own documents to follow (for instance, Genesis 26:5 speaks
of four kinds of written records). The fact that we cannot find
copies is not unusual. We do not even have very ancient Old Testament
manuscripts. Furthermore, since no temples were built until the
time of the kingdom (temples are the place where religious literature
is found), this is another reason the earliest literature of YHVH
followers has perished.
2. To say that the early chapters of Genesis
are shadowy myths, containing only germs of historical truth, is
becoming increasingly untenable. The old custom of mythologizing
the early chapters of Genesis created a fog about it making it impossible
to discover its true purpose. Certainly, there may be aetiological
(explaining the origin of things) accounts. But they are not fictional.
They are factual. Much valuable work has been produced by scholars
which, when only slightly differently interpreted, can shine a floodlight
on God's Word. What is needed are simple rules of interpretation
different from those used previously.
||"I am Cyrus, king of the world, . . .All the kings of the
entire world from the Upper to Lower Sea, . . . all the kings of the West . . . brought
their heavy tributes and kissed my feet in Babylon. So says Cyrus the
Great on . . . ."
3. Documents, or texts, found on clay tablets of the ancient near east
reveal an effort by power-hungry men to control as many people and as much
property as possible. The myths and epics contained in them are mythical in
that they are deliberately untrue. Historical elements there may be. But
these are only pegs on which to hang the fables. They are fabricated
religio-politico documents, almost always discovered in the palace-temple of
ancient cities (Roux 1964: 87-101). The underlying purpose of these
fabrications was to give the commoner the illusion that the king-high priest
consorted with the gods and that he was a "son of the god " (op. cit.:
|The ruins of Khattushash, the ancient Hittite capital,
guarded by two stone lions on either side of the city's western gate. Located
near the center of the Hittite empire (present-day Baghazk in Turkey). Khattushash
flourished from 1600 BC to 1200 BC through its military might and control
over the richest silver and iron mines in all of Asia Minor.
Being the "son of the god" (a different god in each city), he owned
everything, along with the priesthood. Thus he could take anything he wished
from the people.
Just as Ezra and Nehemiah read aloud and explained the Torah to a huge crowd
(Neh 8:1 - 9:3), likewise the pagans did the same with their literature.
Documents contrived by scribes and priests were intended to be read
aloud to all the people at various festivals (op. cit.: 96, 100-01,
191-92). After the religious brainwashing, they may have given anything
the king wished. When men have forsaken Absolute Truth (or never
have known Him), all that is left is fantasy -- a dream world. Rousas
Rushdonny makes the point,
The myth reveals a hatred of history . . . The purpose man then sets for himself
in his myths is to end history, to make man the absolute governor by decreeing
an end to the movement that is history. Where his myths acknowledge man's lot
in history, man ascribes his sorry role, not to his depravity, but to the jealousy
of the gods. The goal of the myth, progressively more clearly enunciated in
time, has become the destruction of history and the enthronement of man as the
new governor of the universe (1967: 1).
Thus, one should see the myths and epics for what they are -- a deliberate
attempt by ambitious and evil men (under the leadership of evil
spiritual influences) to subjugate the populace and extort from
them, along with the supporting priest-nobles, all that is needed
for the most voluptuous lifestyle. When man becomes completely degenerate,
he will develop a system to support his degeneracy. Occasionally
a ruler might be more lenient with the people. But, none ever relinquishes
These religio-politico texts can only be recognized
for what they are by comparing them with the Bible. Not to do so,
makes them basically incomprehensible in their "sitz im
leben" (historical context).
4. The Bible is an absolutely unique book. It actually
establishes a positive
system of YHVH worship, not simply an antithesis. Other religious literature
can be compared and similarities found. But, the Bible can only be understood
apart from them, yet reflecting them in its opposition. If we grant that the
Bible is an antithesis to ancient near eastern religion, this will explain the
apparent, but strained, similarities.
Even though they are separate systems of thought, there will be
similarities when they oppose over basic issues. Being opposites,
they may react against each other. The clash between them may mount
to the point where they go beyond polemics, and attempts are made
at the destruction of the other's system and adherents. Yeheskel
Kauffman said, "Against this religion (Canaanite) the Israelites
reacted with such vigor that we find only the scantest traces of
it in Yahwehism . . . " (Albright 1946: 94). The strange actions,
for instance, of the Israelites before the fall
of Jericho may well have been a travesty of the pageantry of
the Canaanite Keret Epic which had very similar pageantry. But one
is a reaction against the other, not a copy of it!
To say that the
Bible was derived from those religions and literature, distorts
the Bible and does no credit to those religions, either (i.e., we
misunderstand them, too). Whereas there is sometimes almost a complete
syncretism in pagan religions (e.g., the pantheons of Egypt, Mesopotamia,
Greece, and Rome), it is forbidden among the followers of YHVH.
The Bible is the revelation of God in history. Since the culture
was similar to that of the other lands of the ancient near east,
there will be similarities for that reason. Similarities will be
- One mocks or derides the other.
- One counterfeits the true.
- There are common cultural traits.
Used in both are pageantry and drama. Documents of both systems were
written to be read aloud. So there will be similarities in the
manner of presentation also.
There must be a very close correlation between the Bible and
extra-biblical texts. If we grant the Bible is completely reliable
historically, we should eventually be able to make complete correlations.
5. The purpose of Moses in compiling Genesis was to
show the beginning of YHVH
worship with its ultimate blessing to all mankind. Over against it is also laid
out the rise and growth of anti-YHVH systems which cause the continual ruination
Yahwehism did not originate with Moses; it began with Adam and
Eve and the first reflexes of it in worship were shown by Abel.
Note the word "Elohim" in Genesis, chapter one,
is used of the Creator. In chapters two and three, Elohim
is Equated with "YHVH." Double names for God
thus do not support the Wellhausen theory, but are traditional in
most of the ancient near eastern religions. Then, in chapter four,
the designation is simply YHVH alone, with Cain worshipping YHVH
wrongly, and Abel doing it rightly. Here too, we have the first
example of defiant anti-Yahwehism.
Yahwehism was carried on in the open air by Cain and Abel. Noah built an altar.
So did Abraham. No early worshipper of YHVH built a temple. This explains why
no trace of YHVH worship has ever been uncovered by archaeologists during this
early period. No temples were needed, because the followers of YHVH were not
grasping for power and control over people.
6. One must not impose his preconceptions on
Scripture. We should seek to determine
what it actually says. It claims to be the Word of the Living God. If this is
so, then it is not a disjointed set of humanly fabricated volumes. It should
have a continuous theme running all through it, from Genesis to Revelation.
The theme is something like: "YHVH is the Creator, King and Redeemer of
all creation." The uniting factor of both testaments is the basic question,
"Who will control men and the world now and forever?" There is a continual
contest throughout Scripture between Satan and God to control men. On the world
scene, the contest is often seen between the emissaries of Satan and those of
Albright, W. F.,
1946 Archaeology and the Religion of Israel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
1939 The Sumerian Kinglist. Chicago: University Press.
Kramer, S. N.,
1959 History Begins at Sumer. Garden City NY: Doubleday & Co.
1965 "Biblical History in Transition," The Bible and the Ancient
New York: Doubleday & Co.
1955 Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Old Testament. Princeton: University Press.
1966 Ancient Iraq. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books.
1967 The Mythology of Science. Nutley, NJ: Craig Press.