The Human Need For Continuity Some ANE and OT Perspectives -- By: Deryck C. T. Sheriffs

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 055:1 (NA 2004)
Article: The Human Need For Continuity Some ANE and OT Perspectives
Author: Deryck C. T. Sheriffs

The Human Need For Continuity
Some ANE and OT Perspectives

Deryck Sheriffs


This paper presents a selection of evidence for the importance of a sense of continuity to individuals and their families by drawing on a variety of sources, including story, wisdom reflection, grave marker, inscribed memorial stone with portrait, ghost ritual, adoption document and will. The new covenant demonstrates God’s response to this deep-seated human need for continuity.

I. Introduction

This paper deliberately selects continuity as a transposable concept that reaches into our contemporary life from its ancient roots. I shall argue that continuity is not simply a Mesopotamian or Hebrew concern but a human concern, cross-cultural, endemic and existential. This said, Yahwistic, and then Christian, faith each offer their own distinctive perspectives on how God responds to this deep-seated human need for continuity. In Israel and in the Ancient Near East, the concern for continuity operated at various scales. It extends from the continuity of the individual in the family to that of humanity as whole, with tribe, dynasty and nation occupying intermediate scaling positions.1 Given the role of the palace and its scribes, a great deal of the written material that we have recovered has its focus in the continuity of the dynasty,2

but we will set aside this deeply ideological dynastic material for the purposes of this paper.

The appropriate base point from which to start a discussion of both individual continuity and human species continuity would be the human genome and the somewhat controversial genes-eye view of the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins expressed in his best-seller, The Selfish Gene.3 Space precludes as wide-ranging a discussion as this here, but we should never detach our theology from our biology, as the Incarnation itself reminds us. We simply note that the meta-narrative, started in Genesis and ending with Revelation, quickly introduces us, if not to genes, then to their expression in genealogies. Whatever the various forms of biblical genealogies legitimate, we find significant samples of genealogies at the beginning of both Testaments. They bear witness to the biological basis of the sense of continuity.

II. A Monument and a Name

If the human need for continuity expresses itself at primary level through biological reproduction, then no era has been so successful as our own. But when we look back at Judah and the Ancient Near East we find that the...

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