By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


When I lived in Europe and Asia, I experienced people coming up to me and telling me that their relative lived in the United States, and asked how close I lived to them, and sometimes even asked if I knew them. It did not take long for me to realize they did not fathom the immense land size of the United States. Not only that, but I discovered when living in Germany, that the dress, dialect and cuisine in north Germany proved much different than that down in Bavaria to the south. Likewise in the USA. Texans do not sound like people from Boston, who do not converse like those from California.

So, do we not all stand guilty of being shortsighted to believe that the Syrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Moabites and Egyptians all shared the exact same culture, philosophies and religions. Furthermore, the Babylon of Noah’s day differed from what it became in Abram’s day, and what it developed into during the time of Hammurabi and later under Nebuchadnezzar. As a matter of fact, when the King of Babylon took Daniel and his three friends along with the other wise and talented young men from Jerusalem back to Babylon with him, I wonder how many of them actually knew that they now lived close to the very spot where Abraham lived at one time before God instructed his father Terah to move everybody to Canaan.

Nevertheless, through archeological discoveries and ancient forms of writing and record keeping, we discover that many of the kingdoms and empires of those days did adhere to certain mutual cultural and religious norms. And since civilization did not exist as vast and developed as today, these descendants of Noah held common views on many things that gave them a certain sense of understanding for each other’s worldview.

Two ways exist to examine these factors in order to discover specifics about what they thought and what they taught and how they lived in an orderly society. One involved doing a background examination of what they wrote in order to gain a meaningful understanding of their religion, culture, beliefs, virtues and ethics. This can be called Cultural Studies. Not to be done as a way to find fault nor critique their effectiveness, but merely understand what made them tick, as we say. Another option involves taking what we can learn from all these cultures and lay them side by side to take note of any similarities or mirror images of thought and teaching among them. Scholars call this Comparative Studies. They did not designed this study to find out who copied who and who borrowed what from whom. Rather, to answer if they learned from each other and when they compared their worldviews, did it result in any changes, additions or morphing of ideas?

This can be done by examining their writings, art, tools, artifacts, as well as their rules, codes, behavior, forms of government, and social norms. The area of literature often proves to be the most fruitful in that their ways of expression, the idioms they used, and the colloquialisms they employed when telling their stories, myths, parables, allegories and metaphors come to light. Again, this must not lend itself to finding fault with them or form the opinion that they stood somehow uninformed and closed-minded. Rather, they arrived at these conclusions by skillfully employing what information and facts they possessed at the time. Even though many of them lived great distances apart and never interacted with each other, it surprises scholars to find out that although they provide their own version of certain events such as the existence of God, creation, the flood, and religion, worship and morals, a common thread runs through all of them. In so doing, did a higher power hereby shows His influence on the thinking and reasoning of mankind?

Unfortunately, people like Friedrich Delitzsch and his fellow Assyriologists became distracted from such high and lofty goals due to their ulterior motives of destroying one thing in order to superimpose another thing in its place. Whether they defended the validity of Biblical accounts or critiqued them, or if they did the same to these discoveries of Near East writings in pursuit of Cultural Studies or Comparative Studies, their findings became distorted and sunk into a raging polemics. This becomes an important word to understand in such efforts to find the origins of certain practices and beliefs. The word “polemic” means a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something in order to destroy its credibility through condemnation and ridicule. In other words, we see no effort to understand the other side or the opposing point of view. Instead, it must be done away with in the most embarrassing way so as to shame them for even considering it valid in the first place.

So when it came to Judaism and Christianity, some chose to take that being learned from the Near East writings to show that the Bible consists of a fuller and more complete revelation of God, arrived at through the unction and guidance of divine wisdom, while on the other hand others concluded that these two great religions and their holy scriptures existed as products of copycats and plagiarist who did not possess the courage or ethics to confess where their ideas really came from, wanting rather to take credit for it themselves.

It took years for this polemic to play out, and for those on both sides to chose between widening the divide rather than narrowing the debate. Some remained unapologetic and even more adamant in their views to accept no compromise or accommodation of taking a second look. However, we see that others did come together to develop a cooperative method of examination through comparison studies to develop a more definitive picture of what actually took place in the cross-transmission of these concepts.

It becomes important for both sides to understand the Bible and appreciate what these writings of the Near East brought us in the way of new information on the thoughts of men during those ancient periods of enlightenment. Bible scholars must accept that Assyriology, Egyptology and like cultures did develop valid linguistic, academic and cultural disciplines and sciences that they taught and practiced to better themselves in a law abiding society with high goals to excel in ethics and virtues. A comparative study helps Christian scholars appreciate what these civilizations had, so as to better appreciate what their Judaic-Christian ethics delivered to them down through the centuries.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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