How Did Early Israel Differ From Her Neighbors? -- By: G. Ernest Wright

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 03:4 (Autumn 1974)
Article: How Did Early Israel Differ From Her Neighbors?
Author: G. Ernest Wright

How Did Early Israel Differ From Her Neighbors?

G. Ernest Wright

With the accumulated mass of evidence at our disposal today what can we say about early Israel’s debt to the Canaanites on the one hand, and about the distinctiveness of her contribution to history on the other? How, did the religion of Isræl in the time of David and Solomon, Elijah

and Elisha (that is, between about 1000 and 800 B.C.), resemble and yet differ from that of Canaan?

These are difficult questions to which there is no simple answer. It has not been easy to evaluate the relation of the literature of Israel to its environment owing to the fact that the civilization of the Phœnicians, or Canaanites as they called themselves, has been so little known. Excavations in the area of Tyre and Sidon, the center of Phœnician civilization, have been few; and until a few years ago it was believed that the literature of Canaan had been irretrievably lost. To be sure, many parallels between biblical writing and that of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian spheres have been pointed out, but these areas are, after all, considerably more distant from Palestine. So long as little was known of the inner life of Canaan, where the Hebrews settled and developed their political and religious life, it was impossible to make more than limited progress toward the understanding of their distinctive contribution to the world.

Today, we are in a position to progress far beyond the studies of the last generation, because the fog in this area is beginning to lift. The excavations in Palestine and in northern Syria, important suburbs of Phœnicia proper, have been contributing, little by little, a store of information. The greatest single discovery has been that of a portion of the long lost religious literature of the Canaanites—the Ras Shamra tablets, which were described in Volume II, Number 1, of the Biblical Archaeologist. Convenient and more detailed summaries of the contents of these tablets are now available in W. F. Albright, Archaeology and The Religion of Isræl (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1942), Chapter III, and in C. H. Gordon, The Living Past (New York, The John Day Co., 1941), Chapter VII. Various articles have been and are being written about the connections between the Old Testament and this literature. What can we now say about our problem?

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