I. Identify the Ancient Hebrew people and their religious belief system II. Brief Overview of Ancient Near Eastern Religion. III. Consequences of Ancient Near Eastern influence on the Hebrew people. IV. Conclusion.? I. Identify the Ancient Hebrews and their religious belief system: The Ancient Hebrew people had their origins in Mesopotamia and Egypt. As a result they were strongly influenced by these not so foreign religious practices. It is because of this influence that we find God’s judgment and wrath being poured out on His chosen people time and time again.
We will discuss some of the specifics later. First I would like to identify who the Ancient Hebrews were in the Ancient Near East, and what their belief system consisted of. As I began the initial research of this paper I first encountered an obstacle. This obstacle was identifying the Hebrew people among the different people groups located in and around Mesopotamia and Egypt. After much fruitless searching and many different theories and hypothesis, I have come to the conclusion that we simply have no way of knowing anything about the Hebrew people until we are introduced to Abraham in the Bible.
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The sole evidence for the existence of Abraham comes from the Hebrew narrative, but many Old Testament scholars now recognize him for his place in the beginnings of Hebrew History. It was interesting to discover that not all Semitic speaking people are of Hebrew descent. The Semitic speaking peoples of the ancient near east were descendants of Shem. The other people groups were descendants of Noah through his other two sons Ham and Japheth. How and why all the different cultures and languages of Mesopotamia and the world derive from one man Noah, requires exhaustive research that is not afforded in this research paper.
However I do find it necessary to mention that through the research of this paper I have a new perspective on race. This new perspective is there is no such thing as different races. There are many different cultures, languages, and skin colors found throughout the world, but all humans descend from one source. Anyway, back to Abraham and the ancient Hebrew people. Here is a brief overview of what I have learned from the Biblical account. We learn that God called Abraham and promised that He would make a great nation out of His seed.
He also tells Abraham to go to the land of Canaan which God had promised to Him and His descendants. He has a son named Isaac, who in turn has a son named Jacob. Jacob has 12 sons and one of these is named Joseph. Joseph is sold by His brothers into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. In his captivity in Egypt God shows him favor and causes Him to be appointed to positions of high authority over Egypt. There is a great famine in the land and his father Jacob and eleven brothers are forced to come to Egypt for food. They remain in Egypt and multiply and prosper greatly.
After Joseph dies and a Pharaoh who was not familiar with Joseph comes to power, the Hebrew people are taken as captives. For this paper the important facts about this is to understand that while in Egyptian bondage(approx. 400-430 years), the Hebrew people adopted many of the Egyptians religious practices. The belief system and religious practices of Mesopotamia and Egypt were polytheistic in nature and will be discussed in more detail later. The difference in the Hebrew religion was that of One all Powerful Sovereign Creator God.
Abraham and the Hebrew descendants were the first people group in Mesopotamia to claim a Monotheistic God. However because they originate from Mesopotamia and were influenced so heavily by polytheistic beliefs of the Ancient Near East, we find that Gods chosen people struggle with their faith and loyalty to Him and their attraction to other gods. To what extent and how far reaching this influence goes into the future History of Gods people will be discussed in more detail later. First I would like to give a brief overview of Ancient Near Eastern religion and the various gods of their polytheistic belief system.
Following is a good summation of the Hebrew monotheistic religion. Yahweh as Israel’s God is without partner or competitor. He is not merely the head of a pantheon of gods; He is God alone. Yahweh tolerates no other god at His side. He has no partner. He is a Jealous God. It is absolutely intolerable to not recognize Him as absolutely unique. The difference is clearly seen when one considers that Polytheism is by its very nature tolerant, relativist, and syncretistic. II. Brief Overview of Ancient Near Eastern Religion: The Ancient Near Eastern Religion was polytheistic in nature.
There pantheon of gods were anthropomorphic and many of them were represented by forces of nature. Their pantheon of gods was thought to be both wise and foolish. The people of Mesopotamia were pessimistic in their religious beliefs because of harsh environmental conditions. They believed that the gods (sky god, earth god, water god, moon god, sun god etc….. were angry with them and they lived in a constant state of attempting to appease the gods. They also worshiped gods with human passions such as the goddess of love and war.
The Egyptians pantheon also was derived from forces of nature and human emotions, however their view of religion and afterlife were of a more positive nature. They prospered in a more stable environment due to the regularity of the Nile River. Also the Egyptians believed that the Pharaohs (Egyptian leaders) was of divine origin or at least attained the favor of the gods. We will see in the next section of this paper the effects that the influence of the Ancient Near East had on the Hebrew people. We will also get a glimpse of how far reaching and dramatically it impacted the future of the Hebrew people.
III. Consequences of Ancient Near Eastern influence on the Hebrew people. The religion of the Israel was originally not monotheistic in the sense of denying the existence of other gods. It would be more proper to call it monolatry or henotheism. Henotheism is the characteristic position taken by a national religion: in practice, only the gods of ones own nation is significant . Many scholars believe that it is not until the Babylonian Exile that God’s chosen people developed a strict monotheistic belief system.
Invasion by foreign armies and captivity is a recurrent occurrence for the people of Hebrew descent. As we will see later this was a direct consequence of their worship of other gods. According to Biblical history, God raised up a man named Moses who was to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage. Through a series of miraculous events performed by God through Moses, the descendants of Abraham were freed and were on their way back to the Promised Land (the land of Canaan). They wander in the desert for 40 yrs and it is during this period that God addresses the worship of other gods and idols.
It is also in the wilderness, at the base of Mount Sinai, that the first glimpse of how deeply rooted ancient near eastern influence was in the Hebrew people (who are now known as Israelites through Abraham’s grandson Jacob: (see Genesis 32:27-28). The fact that the first two commandments from God, (1. ) “You shall have no other gods before Me. ” and (2. ) “Do not make an image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them”(see Exodus 20:3-5) is evidence of the influence Egyptian religion had on the Israelites.
The Israelites had witnessed marvelous signs and wonders all through their wilderness journey and yet they still reverted to the worshiping of a golden calf. The first consequence is also seen in the killing of 3,000 Israelites for breaking the covenant that they had made just 40 days earlier. Another clear consequence is seen after the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. It is in Canaan, which was under Egyptian domain, that the Israelites were influenced again by foreign religious beliefs and practices.
Many of the Israelites accepted the worship of the Canaanite god Baal rather than Yahweh and this led to six successive foreign oppressions (see The Book of Judges). Eventually the Israelites divide into the Northern Kingdom (10 tribes of Israel) and Southern Kingdom (2 tribes). And again as the result of Baal worship we see the ultimate consequence of allowing Ancient Near Eastern influence, the humiliation of an Assyrian conquest and the end of Israel as a nation. The Southern Kingdom of Judah suffered consequences also in the form of being a vassal nation of Assyria.
Babylon eventually rose to power and inherited Judah as a vassal nation. The Babylonians eventually took the Jews (Israelites have now come to be known as Jews as a result of losing their identity as a nation), into Exile. Eventually they are freed from Babylonian Exile following Persia conquering Babylon. The Jews do return to Judah and rebuild the city and temple under Nehemiah. Old Testament History stops after Nehemiah’s time and remains silent for 400 years until the New Testament Era. IV. Conclusion: Before beginning research on this paper I had no idea how much I did not know and understand about the Old Testament.
I was aware that idol worship was a problem and that God frequently had to judge His people, however I did not realize how big of a problem it was. Pretty much the entire Old Testament account is about God reaching out to His chosen people and wanting them to repent of their sins. These sins consisted mostly of them breaking the first two commandments by worshiping other gods. I had no idea just how great the impact of Ancient Near Eastern Religion was on God’s chosen people. I tried to summarize this topic as best as I could.
I found this very difficult as I came to realize that my research was leading me to the entire Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. I discovered that this was a major issue from the time of the Hebrew origins until the close of Old Testament History (approx 1700 years). I now have new questions that I intend to research in the future. What happens during those “400 silent years”? And did Ancient Near Eastern Religion have any effect on Christianity? Bibliography Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: Fifth Edition (HarperCollins Publisher, NY), 30. Vriezen, TH. C.
The Religion of Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1967), 12, 13. Ringgren, Helmer. Israelite Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 67 Wood, Leon. A Survey of Israel’s History (Michigan, Zondervan Publishing), 411 Lods, Adolphe The Prophets And The Rise Of Judaism (London: Routledge & Kegan) Albright, William F. YAHWEH AND THE GODS OF CANAAN (NY Doubleday & Company, 1965) Meek, Theophile J. Hebrew Origins (NY, Harper & Brothers, 1960) Renckens, Henry THE RELIGION OF ISRAEL (NY Sheed & Ward, 1965) New American Standard Bible, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG publishers, 1995)