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Old Testament and Middle East Scriptures’ Similarities

The Hebrew Bible is similar to and unlike other ancient Near Eastern writings. Scribes compiled the manuscripts that constituted the Hebrew Bible. They have educated members of society, and many of them worked in the big institutions of society, such as palaces and temples. More essential subjects, like cosmology, rituals, and prayers, were also frequently dealt with by them (Rogerson, 2018). The Hebrew Bible makes a lot more sense when understanding the ancient Near Eastern traditions and concepts.

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People have utilized formal agreements for brokerage and allocation of liabilities between two parties throughout ancient Middle Eastern history. To witness the stipulations and pledges of the parties to abide by them, the treaties invoked heavenly powers (Rogerson, 2018). And the actual documents were frequently stored in the temple as a reminder to the gods that they needed to be followed. The Hebrew Bible differs from the rest of the Bible in that God, rather than the monarch, forms a deal or agreement with his people (Rogerson, 2018). Similarly to the Near East traditions, Yahweh, allies with Israel, the subordinate people: “I am making this covenant, sworn by an oath, not only with you who stand here with us today before the Lord our God but also with those who are not here with us today” (Deut 29: 14-15) (Alter, 2018). When Moses tells the Israelites that they must love Jehovah with all of their heart, soul, mind, and might, we know that this valued love is an act of allegiance and obedience, not a subjective, emotional emotion: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6: 5) (Alter, 2018). Here the parallels to the obedience to Egyptian and Syrian kings of the Near East can be seen.

Yahweh is frequently depicted in the Bible as having anthropomorphic features, i.e., a human shape and personality. Thus, the authors of the Bible wanted to distinguish him from the other gods, mentioned in the Neat East traditions. God should be envisioned by the readers as he can see, hear, and walk, and he possesses human emotions: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet, there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank” (Exod 24: 9-11) (Alter, 2018). Yahweh also had a big temple to reside in, with slaves (priests) to look after his needs (sacrifices). All of this is consistent with most of the Near East.

Throughout certain circumstances in the Near East, the interaction between gods and humans, particularly the monarch, is quite similar to what we find in Israel. One of the most common parallels is that, like Yahweh, the deity of Zakkur (the ancient Syrian ruler), grants the king victory over his foes (Peled, 2019). “Whenever Moses raised his hands, Israel was victorious” (Exod 17.8-13) (Alter, 2018). Israelites believe in God as a fighter and that he intervenes on behalf of their ruler.

Another issue is that God picked the ritual practice and imbued it with a specific significance that was not implied previously. He used existing knowledge structures to mediate new information. The Babylonian religion, for example, contaminated the temples not with sin or uncleanliness of the people but with demons (Peled, 2019). These demons represented a menace to God and were required to be expelled from the temple once a year. The temple in Israel was cleaned from the people’s sin and uncleanness, not from the menacing presence of demons (Peled, 2019). In all situations, still, the evil is defeated and restored to its source.

The Old Testament and ancient Middle Eastern social organizations, and religious and cultural activities have many common topics. Some similarities between Israel and ancient Middle Eastern rituals and beliefs imply that they may have shared a common ancestor (Rogerson, 2018). However, they also differ in theological discourse. The Old Testaments’ religion articulated what was once a single-core practice or belief, adding considerable variances while maintaining certain commonalities in its way (Peled, 2019). The major theological differences appear to be in the dimension of God’s sovereignty and traditions. The importance of the adaption of different values, concepts, and traditions should not be overlooked.

There was a cultural adaption of Near Eastern social customs. In the Hebrew Bible, God did not reject all the cultures and took a religious or legal practice and reorganized it (Peled, 2019). The notion of a monarch was inherited from ancient Middle Eastern cultures, but it was modified to fit the Israelite beliefs. The major themes of the Old Testament became such important topics as revelation, sovereignty, and covenant. For instance, the special sovereignty covenant implied by Yahweh on the Israelis. These themes are important to understand in the context of the Old Testament since they are serving as a bridge between old traditions of the Near East and further developments in other Biblical texts.

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Alter, R. (2018). The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (Vol. Three-Volume Set) (Vol. 3). WW Norton & Company.

Peled, I. (2019). Law and Gender in the Ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible. Routledge.

Rogerson, J. W. (2018). The Old Testament versus Mythopoeic Thought. In Myth in old testament interpretation (pp. 85-100). De Gruyter.

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