The Spiritual Ancestors of the West

            As we shall see, the contributions of the Hebrews to the Western tradition will not be war, diplomacy, inventions or art (though the Bible would have profound a influence on the art and literature of Western civilization), but religion and ethics.  The Hebrews' conception of God will break with the outlook of the Near East and their ethical teaching will help fashion the Western idea of the dignity of the individual.  "The spiritual perspective of the Hebrews evolved over time.  Early Israelites probably worshiped many gods, including nature spirits dwelling in trees and rocks.  For some Israelites, Yahweh was the chief god of Israel, but many, including kings of Israel and Judah, worshiped other gods as well.  It was among the Babylonian exiles in the sixth century B.C. that Yahweh—the God of Israel—came to be seen as the only God.  After the return of these exiles to Judah, their point of view eventually became dominant, and pure monotheism, or the belief that there is only one God for all peoples, came to be the major tenet of Judaism” (Spiel.7th 36-7).  It is that revolution that we will address in this lecture, which is based on the latest archaeological data as reported in Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman’s The Bible Unearthed:  Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and The Origin of Its Sacred Texts (referred to henceforth as BU).  Another good source of early Israelite history is Who were the early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? by William G. Dever.

           (NOTE: Christianity & Islam will derive from Judaism)  

  I. Stage of the Early Years   

            A.  ABRAHAM:  According to the Bible, the history of the Jews begins c. 1800 BC when Abraham leads his people out of "Ur of the Chaldees" in Sumer (where they had wandered) and reached Canaan (Palestine).      

THE FACTS:  "Many scholars today doubt that the early books of the Hebrew Bible reflect the true history of the early Israelites.  They argue that the early books of the Bible, written centuries after the events described, preserve only what the Israelites came to believe about themselves and that recently discovered archaeological evidence often contradicts the details of the biblical account" (Spiel.7th 36-7).  In fact, there is no evidence that the "patriarchs" Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob  ever existed, were ever more than legendary characters of myth.  Major problems with these early stories include the following anachronisms: 
     1. Ur was long gone before the Chaldees, so Ur of the Chaldees is an anachronism.

     2. The repeated references to camels (though we know through archaeology that camels were not domesticated as  
beasts of burden earlier than the late second millennium and were not widely used in that capacity in the ancient Near  
East until well after 1000 BC).

     3. Isaac’s supposed encounter with “Abimelech, king of the Philistines,” at the city of Gerar (though the Philistines had not
     established their settlements along the coastal plain of Canaan until sometime after 1200 BC) (BU 36f.).

     In addition, rather than being original to them, the early Hebrews clearly absorbed some features of Mesopotamian  

       1. parallels between biblical law and the Mesopotamian legal tradition

 2. the obvious derivation of several biblical stories from the earlier Mesopotamian tradition (the Creation, the Flood, the Garden of Eden)  

B.      JOSEPH & MOSES:  c.1600-1250 BCE (according to the biblical story) as a result of famine some Hebrews followed Joseph (son of Israel/Jacob, great-grandson of Abraham) into Egypt.  Joseph's high position in Egypt and the hospitality to the Hebrews is attributed by biblical scholars to the fact that the Hyksos were in power in Egypt (conquered Egypt c.1720 BC).  Supposedly, after the Hyksos were expelled by the Egyptians (18th Dynasty), the Hebrews were enslaved.   Later a great hero Moses would lead these people out of bondage in the famous Exodus from Egypt.


            THE FACTS:  there is no archaeological or historical evidence for the story of Joseph or the Hebrews’ enslavement in Egypt!  Remember, "The destruction of the Hittite kingdom and the weakening of Egypt around 1200 B.C. temporarily left a power vacuum in the Near East, allowing a patchwork of petty kingdoms and city-states to emerge, especially in Syria and Palestine" (Spiel. 6th Ed. 32).  Shortly after 1300 BC (during the reign of pharaoh Ramses II, 1279-1213), as biblical scholars have reckoned according to details in the biblical story, Moses supposedly led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the wilderness of Sinai where they wandered for years. In the Sinai Covenant (Moses’ supposed "contract" with God) they agreed to worship Yahweh before all other gods and obey his law.  Therefore Yahweh made them his chosen people (protected them and gave them Canaan).  According to the Israelites, then, they were united into a nation by their belief in YHWH, the one God. 

A major problem with the whole story is that “the Israelites emerged only gradually as a distinct group in Canaan, beginning at the end of the thirteenth century BCE” (BU 57).

Furthermore, the fact is that there is no recognizable archaeological evidence of Israelite presence in Egypt for this period.  The border between Canaan and Egypt was so closely controlled that “If a great mass of fleeing Israelites had passed through the border fortifications of the pharaonic regime, a record should exist.  Yet in the abundant Egyptian sources describing the time of the New Kingdom in general and the thirteenth century in particular, there is no reference to the Israelites, not even a single clue….we have no clue, not even a single word, about early Israelites in Egypt:  neither in monumental inscriptions on walls of temples, nor in tomb inscriptions, nor in papyri.  Israel is absent—as a possible foe of Egypt, as a friend, or as an enslaved nation” (BU 59-60).  In addition, the Egyptians controlled Canaan at this time and had strongholds built in various places in the country, and Egyptian officials administered the affairs of the region! (BU 60).

Neither is there evidence for the myth of Israelite wandering in the wilderness:  “Repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the peninsula, including the mountainous area around the traditional site of Mount Sinai…have yielded only negative evidence:  not even a single sherd [sic], no structure, not a single house, no trace of ancient encampment.  One may argue that a relatively small band of wandering Israelites cannot be expected to leave material remains behind.  But modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing even the meager remains of hunter-gathers and pastoral nomads all over the world….The conclusion—that the Exodus did not happen at the time and in the manner described in the Bible—seems irrefutable when we examine the evidence” (BU 63).

According to the biblical authors, the Israelites arrived in Palestine around 1220 B.C. and were joined by other Hebrews already in Palestine, and the Israelites formed a confederacy of twelve tribes.  They became an agricultural nation and eventually, after several generations, conquered the Canaanites (who had a material culture superior to the Hebrews).  They were led by "judges" (war leaders), who were distinguished by their courage and empowered by the "spirit of Yahweh."    The problem is that this story again contradicts the archaeological evidence. 

For instance,

1. cities that the Bible says were conquered by Joshua, such as Jericho and Ai, were uninhabited at the time of Joshua (BU 82)! 

2. Another major discrepancy in the Biblical story is the fact that “Canaan was an Egyptian province, closely controlled by Egyptian administration” (BU 77).  

3. It appears that the Israelites were actually originally Canaanites themselves.  These highland villagers eventually began to distinguish themselves from other Canaanites by dietary practice:  a ban on pork.  “As we now know…the Bible’s stirring picture of righteous Israelite judges—however powerful and compelling—has very little to do with what really happened in the hill country of Canaan in the Early Iron Age (BU 118-122)!  

  II. Stage of the Monarchy            

A.     David (1000-971):  By c.1000 the Philistines who had arrived from Asia Minor with iron weapons had become such a threat that the Israelites decided they needed a king to survive.  Saul (1020-1000) became the 1st king of Israel but committed suicide after a defeat by the Philistines (Palestine = “Philistine country”).  After a brief period of anarchy, David supposedly reunited the Hebrews and pushed the Philistines back to become the ruler of the largest states in this area.  


THE FACTS:  The truth is that “As far as we can see on the basis of the archaeological surveys, Judah remained relatively empty of permanent population, quite isolated, and very marginal right up to and past the presumed time of David and Solomon, with no major urban centers and with no pronounced hierarchy of hamlets, villages, and towns….tenth century Jerusalem was rather limited in extent, perhaps not more than a typical hill country village (BU 133).  In fact, though he did exist, David was no more than a tribal chief and there was NEVER a united monarchy!


B.     Solomon (971-931)  

            1. According to the Bible, it was under Solomon that Israel reached its peak of power and splendor.  He supposedly built a palace complex, a temple at Jerusalem, had a standing army (including 1400 chariots and 12,000 horses), and enjoyed a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines.

        THE FACTS:  “A close reading of the biblical description of the days of Solomon clearly suggests that this was a portrayal of an idealized past, a glorious Golden Age.  The reports of Solomon’s fabulous wealth (making ‘silver as common in Jerusalem as stone,’ according to I Kings 10:27) and his legendary harem (housing seven hundred wives and princesses and three-hundred concubines, according to I Kings 11:3) are details too exaggerated to be true.  Moreover, for all their reported wealth and power neither David nor Solomon is mentioned in a single known Egyptian or Mesopotamian text.  And the archaeological evidence in Jerusalem for the famous building projects of Solomon are non-existent” (BU 128). “[N]o trace of the Solomonic Temple and palace in Jerusalem has ever been identified” (BU 135).  So Solomon, David’s son, was also in actuality no more than a tribal chief!  

            2.    According to the biblical account, after Solomon's death there were two kingdoms:  Israel in the north (10 tribes) with a capital at Damascus, Judah in the south (2 tribes) with a capital at Jerusalem.  

       THE FACTS:  The truth is that “there were always two distinct highland entities, of which the southern was always the poorer, weaker, more rural, and less influential—until it rose to sudden, spectacular prominence after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel” (BU 150).  

                 “As far as we can see on the basis of the archaeological surveys, Judah remained relatively empty of permanent population, quite isolated, and very marginal right up to and past the presumed time of David and Solomon, with no major urban centers and with no pronounced hierarchy of hamlets, villages, and towns” (BU 132).  “The land was overwhelmingly rural—with no trace of written documents, inscriptions, or even signs of the kind of widespread literacy that would be necessary for the functioning of a proper monarchy….it is hard to see any evidence of a unified culture or centrally administered state.  The area from Jerusalem to the north was quite densely settled, while the area from Jerusalem to the south—the hub of the future kingdom of Judah—was still very sparsely settled.  Jerusalem itself was, at best, no more than a typical highland village.  We can say no more than that” (BU 142).  “Archaeologically we can say no more about David and Solomon except that they existed—and that their legend endured” (BU 143).     


C. characteristics of early Israelite religion:

  “The existence of high places and other forms of ancestral and household god worship was not—as the books of Kings imply—apostasy from an earlier, purer faith.  It was part of the timeless tradition of the hill country settlers of Judah, who worshiped YHWH along with a variety of gods and goddesses known or adapted from the cults of neighboring peoples.  YHWH, in short, was worshiped in a wide variety of ways—and sometimes pictured as having a heavenly entourage….

“...So the clearest archaeological evidence of the popularity of this type of worship throughout the kingdom is the discovery of hundreds of figurines of naked fertility goddesses at every late monarchic site in Judah….

“…The condemnations of various Judahite prophets make it abundantly clear that YHWH was worshiped in Jerusalem together with other deities, such as Baal, Asherah, the hosts of heaven, and even the national deities of the neighboring lands” (BU 241-2). 

III. Stage of Prophetic Revolution (750-538 BC)

            The worship of local fertility deities led to the rise of prophets ("speak for") who condemned the growth of idolatry, social injustice, and greed.

“The intensive archaeological surveys in the central hill country in the 1980s opened new vistas for understanding the character and origins of the two highland states of Judah and Israel.  The new perspectives differed dramatically from the biblical accounts.  The surveys showed that the emergence of the Israelites in the highlands of Canaan was not a unique event, but actually just one in a series of demographic oscillations that could be traced back for millennia…the surveys (and the fragmentary historical information) indicated that in each wave of highland settlement, there always seemed to have been two distinct societies in the highlands—northern and southern—roughly occupying the areas of the later kingdoms of Judah and Israel” (BU 153).  Israel (northern kingdom) was booming (thanks to Omri, not David and Solomon, cf. BU 169ff.) and reached its peak under Jeroboam II (BU 212) while Judah (southern kingdom) was still economically marginal and backward. 

Between 750 and 550 BC prophets began writing down their messages:

1. Micah 6:8:  "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" 

       2. They interpreted the victories of Assyrians and Chaldeans as punishment from Yahweh. 

 3. They began to speak of a Messiah

“The oracles of the prophets Amos and Hosea are the earliest preserved prophetic books, containing material that reflects the heyday of Jeroboam II.  Their scathing denunciations of the corrupt and impious aristocracy of the north serve both to document the opulence of this era and to express for the first time ideas that would exert a profound effect on the crystallization of the Deuteronomistic ideology” (BU 212). 

After destroying Damascus in 802 and thereby threatening the kingdom of Israel, in 722 BC the Assyrians took the northern (Israel) capital of Samaria ("10 lost tribes"--27,290 Israelites were taken captive and foreign peoples settle there:  Samaritans= 1/2 breeds.  Judah was still too poor and backward for the Assyrians to bother with:  “Israel was destroyed and Judah survived because in the grand scheme of Assyria’s imperial designs, Israel—with its rich resources and productive population—was an incomparably more attractive target than poor and inaccessible Judah” (BU 224).   Indeed, it is only after the destruction of Israel that a southern kingdom of Judah begins to emerge:   “But beginning in the late eighth century BCE, something extraordinary happened.  A series of epoch-making changes, beginning with Israel’s fall, suddenly altered the political and religious landscape.  Judah’s population swelled to unprecedented levels.  Its capital city became a national religious center and a bustling metropolis for the first time.  Intensive trade began with surrounding nations.  Finally, a major religious reform movement—focused on the exclusive worship of YHWH in the Jerusalem Temple—started cultivating a revolutionary new understanding of the God of Israel” (BU 230).  

 Now with Judah no doubt cooperating with Assyria and prospering, a new “YHWH-alone” movement takes shape and will be read back into the history of the Israelites, as the Deuteronomists will now write it.  “Yet there is no question that by the reign of King Hezekiah, a profound change had come over the land of Judah.  Judah was now the center of the people of Israel.  Jerusalem was the center of the worship of YHWH.  And members of the Davidic dynasty were the only legitimate representatives and agents of YHWH’s rule on earth” (BU 250).  This would falter at one time but during the reign of Josiah, “the ‘YHWH-alone’ camp would once more come into power” (BU 273).  “Josiah’s messianic role arose from the theology of a new religious movement that dramatically changed what it meant to be an Israelite and laid the foundations for future Judaism and for Christianity.  That movement ultimately produced the core documents of the Bible—chief among them, a book of the Law, discovered during the renovations to the Jerusalem Temple in 622 BCE, the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign (BU 276). That book was probably Deuteronomy.  “The very fact that a written law code suddenly appeared at this time meshes well with the archaeological record of the spread of literacy in Judah” (BU 280).  “Embellishing and elaborating the stories contained in the first four books of the Torah, they wove together regional variations of the stories of the patriarchs, placing the adventures of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob in a world strangely reminiscent of the seventh century BCE and emphasizing the dominance of Judah over all Israel.  They fashioned a great national epic of liberation for all the tribes of Israel, against a great and dominating pharaoh….It is impossible to know if earlier versions of the history of Israel were composed in the time of Hezekiah or by dissident factions during the long reign of Manasseh, or if the great epic was composed entirely during Josiah’s reign” (BU 283-4). 

            "The Chaldeans first demolished Assyria and then, under King Nebuchadnezzar II, conquered Judah and completely destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  Many upper-class people from Judah were sent to Babylonia in exile..." (Spiel.5th Ed. 32

              The greatest prophets were probably Jeremiah & second Isaiah:  

       A. Jeremiah  
NOTE:  Beginning with the time of Jeremiah, Israel's faith seems to have become more self-consciously monotheistic.  The great confession of Judaism, the Shema ("Hear, O Israel"; Deut. 6:4-9), probably dates from about the time of Josiah's reform (621 BC), although it surely rests on a much older religious tradition.
Interpreter's Bible, E-J (God, OT view of), p. 428  

            1. He saw events that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and to the Babylonian Captivity.

            2. He prophesied that Yahweh would forgive their sins & restore a "remnant" with a "new covenant":  the Old Covenant was with a nation that no longer existed.

            3. INDIVIDUALISM:  Religion had become ritualized and centered in the Temple, but Jeremiah proclaimed that religion was a matter of one's own heart and conscience (i.e., the nation and Temple were superfluous).  This promotes the belief in the worth and dignity of the individual out of the concept of human moral autonomy.  This religious individualism of Jeremiah will under gird the intellectual individualism and political freedom of Greece!

         B. Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55 were clearly written by a second author, as the Anchor Bible Dictionary states, "The historical context of chaps. 40-55 differs entirely from that of chaps 1-39.") 

NOTE:  Israelite monotheism comes to its finest expression in the prophecy of Second Isaiah.  The downfall of the Israelite nation, far from spelling the death of Israel's God, brought the opportunity for faith to perceive Yahweh's sovereignty in the widest possible dimensions. Yahweh is God alone, unique and incomparable in wisdom, majesty, and power, the Lord of all human history and the Creator of heaven and earth (Isa. 41:28-29; 42:17; 43:10-11; 44:7-8; 45:5-6, 14-17, 21-22; 46:1-2, 8-11, etc.).  Interpreter's Bible, E-J, "God, OT view of," p.428.

            1. He lived at the end of the Babylonian Captivity.

           2. UNIVERSALISM:  He proclaimed Israel to be Yahweh's "righteous servant," purified and enlightened by suffering--ready to lead the world to the one true God, i.e., all people are equally precious to God.  This is a significant break from their former parochialism to a new universalism.

           3. Therefore, the Jews returning from the Exile are provided with (1) renewed faith in their destiny and (2) a new comprehension of their religion that would sustain them through the centuries.  

NOTE:  Therefore, the prophets caused belief in social justice, universalism and individualism (worth of individual), i.e., religion is now not based on fear but on commitment!

         C. characteristics:

            1. Progressive:  the prophets did not demand a return to some age of simplicity in the past but taught that the religion should be infused with a new philosophy and a new conception of the ends it was supposed to serve

            2. Three basic doctrines summarize their teaching:        

(1) rudimentary monotheism--YHWH was Lord of the universe; the gods of other peoples were false.

(2)YHWH was a God of righteousness exclusively--evil comes from man, not God)
(3) purposes of religion are chiefly ethical--YHWH cares nothing for ritual & sacrifice.

            3. These doctrines, therefore, are a repudiation of everything the older religion had stood for!  BUT the Hebrew religion still contained little spiritual character or the mystical, i.e., it was not otherworldly, but oriented toward this life (social and ethical purposes).   

 IV. Stage of Persian Influence (538-331 BC)

       A. Cyrus

            1. 586 BC Nebachadnezzar (Chaldean ruler of Babylon) destroyed Jerusalem (Judah) & took 10,000 captives which resulted in what is called the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews.


2. 538 BC Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and let them return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  “Events that took place when the successive waves of exiles returned to Jerusalem are reported in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.  This is also the moment in our story when we must change our terminology: the kingdom of Judah becomes Yehud—the Aramaic name of the province in the Persian empire—and the people of Judah, the Judahites, will henceforth be know as Yehudim, or Jews” (BU 297). 


       B. Zoroaster (660-583 BC) (this name by which the Europeans refer to him is a Greek corruption of the old Iranian word Zarathustra).  He supposedly had a vision in which a figure "nine times a large as a man" appeared before Zoroaster, the archangel Vohu Manah (Good Thought) who bade him to lay aside his material body and, as a disembodied soul, mount to the presence of Ahura Mazda.  

            1. Zoroaster attempted to replace the polytheistic, idol-worshiping, ritualistic religion of the Persians with its temples and Magi priests with the worship of Ahura-Mazda, the god of justice, wisdom, goodness and immortality.

2. After some reverses through the influence of the Magi priests after Zoroaster's death there were some distinctive characteristics of Zoroastrianism that greatly influenced the Hebrew understanding of God and the universe.  The Zoroastrian beliefs that influence the Hebrews were:

a) dualism:  "Here, for the first time in the history of religion, we encounter this view of one being, Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), who is the source of all evil" (McCasland, Cairns & Yu Religions of the World, p. 133).  Satan (Ahriman or Angra Mainyu) becomes the great adversary of God & the author of evil in a great battle between light and darkness as respectively good and evil.  The world is divided into two kingdoms, the kingdom of the good against the kingdom of evil; a good God reigns over one, an evil God rules the other.  

b) messiah (a spiritual savior):  resurrection from the dead & a divine judgment and the making of a new purified earth when a messiah, Sayoshoant, comes.

c) otherworldly:  the concept of paradise (a Persian word), an ideal heavenly realm with a divine court and abode of the blessed.  In turn, these ideas have impelled religion in Persia and elsewhere toward monotheism, ethics, and a sense of the religious meaning of history.  These Iranian contributions have done much to move Western religion away from mystical identification with the forces of nature or states of consciousness and toward "ethical monotheism."      


NOTE:  The fullest statement of eschatology in the OT is Daniel, probably written in the 2nd c. B.C. (125 B.C.) under the pseudonym.

"Zoroastrians said that on the fourth day after death, a deceased person had to cross the bridge called Chinvat [a bridge which spans the awful abyss of Hell] which connects humanity with the unseen world.  The righteous will find it broad as a highway, and they will take it to enter the House of Song where they will await the Last Day. Yet to the wicked the bridge will seem narrow as a razor, and they will fall off it into hell.

    But on the Last Day, Ahura Mazda will defeat evil.  He will purify the entire world and reign over it.  All persons will be raised in a general resurrection; the souls of the wicked, having been purified along with the earth, will be brought out of hell with their sentences terminated.  All together will enter a new age in a new world free from all evil, ever young and rejoicing. 

    Just before the Last Day, it was said, Zoroaster would return in the form of a prophet conceived of a virgin by his own seed, stored in a mountain lake.  A prophet would in fact appear in this way at thousand-year intervals during the three thousand years between Zoroaster and the renovation of the world.


NOTE:  "Indeed, while the ancient Hebrews believed in one God who judged and punished those with whom he was angry in this life, it was not until after they had had some contact with Persia that such ideas as resurrection of the dead at the end of the world, a final judgment, the making of a new earth, and heaven and hell, became important in the Old Testament.  These ideas, all part and parcel of Zoroastrianism, entered the biblical tradition after the exile of the Hebrews to Babylon, from which they were rescued by the great Persian king Cyrus; thereafter, contact between Jew and Zoroastrian was frequent.  Today ideas like final judgment and heaven and hell are important to traditional Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  (The exact nature and extent of Iranian influence on Judeo-Christian eschatology is a matter of scholarly dispute, and other factors such as Greek and Egyptian influence and indigenous development play a part too.  But nowhere in the ancient world, prior to late Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is there an eschatological scenario with the grandeur of the Persian; one cannot doubt its vision would strongly stimulate those who came to know it.)


       A. Hebrew View of God

It began as a very primitive view with God having a body.  He got tired and had to rest: Gen. 2.2, "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made."  He walks: "Gen. 3.8, "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden."  More evidence of the anthropomorphic concept of the divine being: Exodus 33.18-23, ""Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.' And the Lord said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and you will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.  But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.'  Then the Lord said, 'There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."
    Over time the Hebrew view of God will become much more sophisticated until they conceive of God as a transcendent omnipotent, omniscient spirit.

  Hebrew v. Near EasternView of God  


Near Eastern:  
1) eternal (not from prior realm)   1) not eternal (born or created from a prior realm) 
2) all-powerful   2) not omnipotent  
3) a spirit without bodily needs  3) subject to biological needs (food, drink, sex, sleep)  

4) Yahweh determines what happens,    not fate.  

4) subject to Fate  

  In other words, they basically invented transcendent theology Yahweh is sovereign (Hebrew v. NE gods), transcendent (not localized, not a part of nature), good (a God that makes ethical demands on his people.  This removal of divine from nature is a prerequisite for scientific thought.  The Hebrew concept of a transcendent God and an orderly universe would, through Christianity, provide support for Greek philosophy and science in Western civilization.  Although the Hebrews were geniuses at law, literature, philosophy, NOT a single important discovery in any scientific field has ever been traced to the ancient Hebrews.  Furthermore, they are almost totally devoid of artistic skill.  The Hebrews were too interested in religion and morality to create theoretical science, in feelings of the heart not power of the mind.  Nature, for them, involved worship of god instead of scientific curiosity:  God controlled nature, not impersonal natural law.  Epistemology for them was revelation and feeling NOT reason.  But this concept of transcendent theology will have a major impact on future Western concepts of God.


 B. Hebrew view of history

     The Hebrews viewed history as a divine drama filled with sacred meaning and moral significance.  They interpreted events accordingly (cf. Spaniards and English; American pioneers).  The Exodus was God's salvation from slavery; the Babylonian Captivity was interpreted as retribution for violating the law of God and as punishments for their stubbornness, sinfulness and rebelliousness.  God's purpose is known through events in history.


C. Hebrew view of man

     The Hebrew belief that human beings were created in the image of God was changed from an anthropomorphic vision to mean that they were morally free agents able to choose between right and wrong.  This moral autonomy paved the way for belief in human dignity and the worth of the individual.  This will develop after the breakdown of Hebrew society and communal existence when the prophets begin to emphasize individual responsibility and a new understanding of God's law as a command to conscience (an appeal to the inner person); i.e., not ritual but inner commitment is of supreme importance.


 D.  The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)

     "The Hebrew Scriptures represent Jewish oral and written tradition dating from about 1250 to 150 B.C.  Compiled by religious devotees, not research historians, they understandably contain factual errors, imprecisions, and discrepancies.  However, there are also passages that offer reliable history, and historians find the Old Testament an indispensable source for studying the ancient Near East.

     "The Old Testament is the record of more than a thousand years of ancient Jewish history.  Containing Jewish laws, wisdom, hopes, legends, and literary expressions, it describes an ancient people's efforts to comprehend the ways of God" (Perry,5th 37).

NOTE:  Torah is the Hebrew word "law" or "teaching" denoting the first five books of Hebrew Bible (Gk.=Pentateuch).


E. Hebrew influence on the West: 
The Hebrews are our spiritual ancestors (through Christianity), and “These proclamations by Israel’s prophets became a source for Western ideals of social justice, even if they have never been very perfectly realized”  (Spiel.7th Ed. 39).



Send comments and questions to Dr. Richard Baldwin, Gulf Coast State College.
This page last updated 3/17/12