OT Background

Ancient Near Eastern Religion and the Old Testament (Part 2)

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Morality, Forgiveness, and the Afterlife

Though ancient Near Eastern religions carefully defined cultic requirements, they did not always give the same attention and emphasis to moral requirements. Both the Mesopotamians and also the Egyptians believed in the concepts of justice and truth. But tradition rather than revelation largely defined these concepts, and they were usually defined more in terms of social virtue than in terms of personal holiness.24 Indeed, the gods themselves were often guilty of gross vice and immorality.25 Consequently, people’s view of morality was distorted, and they would determine their standing with the gods primarily on the basis of cultic performance,26 divination,27 or enlightenment.28 In light of their inadequate view of the nature and necessity of holiness, their confessions of sin never rose to the level of contrition found in King David’s fifty-first psalm.29

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Ancient Near Eastern Religion and the Old Testament (Part 1)

Twelve Hittite gods of the underworld

The discovery and publication of ancient Near Eastern literature has shed much light upon the religious beliefs and practices of earliest civilization. It has also generated much discussion about the relationship of Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion to that of the Old Testament. In fact, many scholars view the similarities in cosmogonies, flood accounts, cultic ritual, legal texts, wisdom literature, and belief in the afterlife as proof that the Old Testament writers borrowed from or adapted the literary corpus of Israel’s neighbors. As a result, Old Testament religion is treated as essentially one more primitive religion among many, although slightly more advanced in the evolutionary stage of development.1 But there are also substantial and significant differences between Israel’s religion and that of her neighbors. Furthermore, the genuine similarities do not require literary dependence or borrowing. This article will summarize the primary features of ancient Near Eastern religion, contrast them with the Old Testament, and offer another explanation for the similarities between the biblical and non-biblical religions.2

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