Sunday, April 8, 2012

Old Testament In Its Cultural, Historical and Religious Context

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Book Title Old Testament In Its Cultural,

Historical and Religious Context

Author Dane R. Gordon

Many people who study this book or any other books related to Old Testament documents would be astonished to discover the simple truth, that there are both religious and historical development throughout the Old Testament. And they are not merely a collection of religious fragments. They are collections of irrefutable data that ancient Israel actually existed in a historical and cultural context, that is, it was not just an isolated phenomenon in a mythical past. Though not all the Old Testament is discussed here, author’s attempt to trace the historical development of Israel by reflecting both historical context and personalities has well gained my attention. Now, it is my attempt to analyze and put forth opinion and thoughts, though I would not cover all of the historical elements myself, I believe this report will benefit me, solidify my faith in the Bible and promise of God.

Cheap University Papers on Old Testament In Its Cultural, Historical and Religious Context

To begin, Abram was a man of faith, to whom God delivered His great blessings that carry on into the Old and New Testaments. But the author begins with this question about Abraham, “What did Abraham believe before he was called by God??(1) It is known that Abraham’s homeland was in Mesopotamia, where they worshipped the gods of their homeland. The reference to the gods of Mesopotamia reminds us of the origins of the people in Egypt, which took place in later days. They worshipped the gods of their homeland and it is possible that among those who worshipped these gods was Abraham. There is a great deal of evidence of this Mesopotamian religion the excavated remains of ancient cities, large collections of clay tablets inscribed with prayers, incantations, and the details of temple business. These appear to be religious sagas comparable to those in our own Bible, reflections upon the nature of life, accounts of dreams, the names of gods and goddesses. Yet, according to the scriptural record, Abraham was an old man when he received his call from God, who is claimed to be God above all gods. According to the reference in Genesis 11-, his first encounter with God was what changed Abraham’s course of life. Calling from God in his old age must have been different from the old religious beliefs, which he remembered. He was told to leave his homeland and travel in unknown places. His prompt response to God’s call and faith in God’s promise became an example of how one should trust God. To have faith like Abraham was to have great faith.

The story of Israel seems to look like series of large-scale movements. It begins with Abraham’s call and his journey south to Canaan. The next movement is Joseph’s involuntary journey to Egypt, where he is sold or captured and becomes a slave. Eventually Joseph’s father and brothers follow him, and the Israelites settle in Egypt where once again different gods are worshipped. The next movement begins with Moses, the Exodus that concludes with the Israelites under Solomon in possession of the land, which had been promised to them through Abraham. Moses, like Abraham lived under different religious traditions, which in this case is Egypt; but we see that God calls him out into the desert for forty years. Moses then encounters God for the first time in the burning bush with these words, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?(Exodus 6). Moses’experience after that must have been very similar to Abraham’s since they both grew up with religious traditions that believe in many gods. Egyptians religion, like Mesopotamian, was polytheistic. “In a picture of Egyptian cosmology in the Book of the Dead Nut, the sky godess, is shown supported by Shu, the air god, who stands on Geb, the earth god.?() Many gods were represented as animals and often as composite creatures, partly human and partly animal. It’s still a puzzle to me that God would present himself through a burning bush, but we see that it drew Moses?attention that led him to ask for God’s name. God’s reply was, “I AM WHO I AM.?And said, “Say this to the people in Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 14). God differed himself from other gods that men created. His statement is both of what he is and what he does, self-sustaining, unchanging in himself and in his attitude to his creation. Word “I AM”is the exact duplicate of what Jesus Christ said about himself. “In that respect he was like the Egyptian gods who were also unchanging, but I AM was taking the initiative to talk directly to a man about a human problem, and that set him apart from all other gods of the time.?) Israel was set apart from such God and called to be free from slavery. And events took place through Moses and Aaron, which displayed His power and ironically hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And the rest is history.

The central event in Exodus after the Passover is the Covenant ceremony, the making of an agreement between God and the people. And the giving of the law. The Old Testament is divided into three major parts the Law, the Prophets, and the Writing. Although the law the shortest, it is very highly regarded that the whole Old Testament has been described as law. Most well-known laws in the Old Testament are those found in Exodus, Deuteronomy (discovered during the reign of Josiah in 61 B.C.), Leviticus (almost the entire book consists of laws)

These laws were written at different times and include a wide variety of content. But they seem to appear as unity since they have been traced back to Moses various times. “But more than appearance and despite all its inner divisions, they law in the Old Testament can and must be treated as one.?(4) This have been supported by canonical tradition, which regards the law as a distinct and cohesive entity.

As many would debate that Old Testament law is indebted to the context of ancient Near Eastern law, it was not an adaptation. The content of the laws are indeed distinctive. It has become a widely accepted view that the command to worship one God, the prohibition against images, and the sense of personal concern between God and his people are unlike anything to be found in the ancient Near East. Only in Israel do we find so clearly that concept of God, and of men and women’s relationship to him. These were the writings expressed by the prophets even in later centuries.

Entry into the promise land through Moses was passed down to Joshua because of Israelites?disbelief. History in the Old Testament moves forward into the next generation. “Joshua was written or edited in its final form for a purpose, only part of which was that of recording history.?(5) Much more, it was a record of God at work in fulfillment of his promise. However, construction of the book is criticized as “fictional construction? I see this quite deliberate from the writer, as it was so with the parable of the New Testament. The Deuteronomic history as a whole, of which Joshua is a part, “sets out to show to a community which was ready to listen, the actions which God had carried out through the history of mankind,?in particular through the history of his chosen people. (6) It is history written with a theological purpose ?God’s love and faithfulness, and jealousy and wrath. God proves to be faithful and yet people prove to be disloyal and rebellious.

And we move on to the next part of history ?Judges. The picture given in the book of Judges seems to be one of fairly easygoing relationship between the Israelites and the Canaanites. We read that “The people in Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jubusites; and they took their daughters to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons; and they served their gods.?(Judges 5-6) The worship of Baal became so normal among the Israelites that Gideon’s father worshipped at a Baal altar, and when Gideon destroyed it his parent’s neighbors were outraged and tried to kill him (Judges 65-0).

To the editor of the book of Joshua, this was just another example of the degenerated condition in which the Israelites could fall when they allowed themselves to be seduced by the religion of the country they had conquered. A formula is introduced in Judges 7-1 which reveals the strongly theological purpose of the book. It emphasizes a cardinal aspect of Jewish religion that God is the Lord of history. The people sin and God punishes them through an oppressor. The people cry to God and repent and God hears their cry. He raises a deliverer to save them. But when the deliverer dies the people sin once more. God punishes them through another oppressor. No matter what happens He is in control.

The story of Samson (Judges 1-16) is one of the notable events of the Old Testament. Where again Israel is faced with a powerful enemy, God uses a weak vessel Samson to declare His power and message. This story is historically important, not only because of its drama or its message but because of what it tells us about the people whom Samson fought, the Philistines. These were the Sea People who in the late thirteen century and early twelfth century B.C. came from the aegean area, in particular Crete as part of a huge migratory wave. They moved into the countries that bordered the eastern Mediterranean and destroyed the Mycenean civilization and the Hittite Empire, which only a hundred years before had been too powerful for the Egyptians to conquer, and attacked Egypt itself. The Israelites by this time were relatively settled. The Philistine having established themselves in a limited area, began to extend their control. Animosity grew between Israelites and Philistine. Yet there was intermarriage, as in the case of Samson, and the Israelites worshipped the Philistine gods, (Judges 106). “The Philistines possessed great advantages. They were well-disciplined warriors, as compared with the informal levies of the Israelites during the period of the Judges, and they knew the secret of iron and so had superior weapons and armor.?(7)

The Israelites were scattered, their leader (Saul) killed, much of their territory occupied by the Philistines. The outlook was very bleak. Yet within forty years this weak nation had defeated the Philistines so that they were never again a serious threat. It conquered the smaller states of Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Amalek and extended its control through Zobah, north of Damascus. From being marginal, Israel had become prosperous and secure. All of this was possible because of one man who had passion to please God, David. His personality and accomplishments have been of major importance in Jewish thought ever since. “The city of Jerusalem, which he captured and made Israel’s capital and the center of her worship, was known as the city of David, the earthly prototype of the heavenly city.?(8) David’s life of obedience and in some case disobedience in God is a dramatic and emotional part of Old Testament history. He was genuine and probably cared more than any king of Judah and Israel for the reality of his faith. God was very real to him though he’d never encountered God as Abraham and Moses did. David’s character with his religious enthusiasm gave him willingness to forgive, devote to friends, admit wrong and confess and plea for forgives without reserve. This was his personal accomplishments, which have made him one of the best loved personalities in the Old Testament. “For almost three thousand years he has been an ideal of ardent, faulty, human devotion to God, combining more virtues than faults in his multifaceted life, the ‘anointed of the God of Jacob?who was also, with his poetic and musical nature, ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel? Samuel 1)?()

Then came another king from David’s seed, whose wisdom everyone admires, Solomon. God appeared to him one night in a dream, asking him to name a gift that God might give him. His reply was, literally, “Give to your servant a listening heart to judge your people, to distinguish good from evil.? God gave Solomon not only a listening heart, but all the benefits of peace and prosperity which most monarchs would have chosen first. It is claimed that Solomon uttered three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He talked about trees and beasts and birds and animals. People came from all parts of the earth to hear him (1 Kings 4-4). But when he was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods. Solomon’s heart was not wholly true to the Lord, as his father David. As a consequence he was told that all but one tribe would be torn from his son and that would be left only because of David “and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen?(1 Kings 114-1). It’s rather a sad story Solomon left behind. There doesn’t seem to be any record of his act of confession and plea of God forgiveness; although this silent record cannot be a basis to judge last days of Solomon’s life, the consequence of his disobedience changed the political structure of Israel for decades to come.

Though it is true that leaders (kings) of Israel were responsible in its history course, we see that people and religious leaders were missing what God had required even in the midst of their performance of formal religious obligations the burning of thank offerings, the bringing of tithes. So God sent prophets to declare his messages as He had always done in the Old Testament. One of them was Amos, who cried out for God’s terms. Amos, wrote, “thou art near in their mouth and far from their heart?Jeremiah 1). Prophets and kings were major part of political and religious movement in the Old Testament. Inevitably, Israel’s disobedience and hypocrisy led them to judgment by God, not only for what the people had done, but for the love that the people had ignored. The prophet reminded the people of their great history. “Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 1-)

Ultimately, Jerusalem would fall. We move from Isaiah to Jeremiah where again we see a formula that circulates The people sin and God punishes them through an oppressor. The people cry to God and repent and God hears their cry. He raises a deliverer to save them. But when the deliverer dies the people sin once more. God punishes them through another oppressor. Had these prophets?advice been taken, Jerusalem would not have fallen. There is a vivid account of the suffering of Jerusalem in Lamentation, written shortly after the event where Jeremiah was a prophet. There was desecration, the humiliation, of the children fainting in the streets crying for their mothers, of mothers eating their children, of priest, prophets, young men and women lying slaughtered in all parts of the city. In Ezekiel there is an even more painfully drawn picture “The sward is without, pestilence and famine are within?If any survivors escape, they will be on the mountains, like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, every one over his iniquity?Ezekiel 715-17). Despite the savage judgments, Ezekiel’s prophecy includes an element of hope, that a sinner would be forgiven if he changed. So he calls to the Israelites Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so, turn, and live (Ezekiel 180-). God spoke to Ezekiel in visions as he did with Daniel. They were visions of what was to come and matters which God was concerned, which in short is his promise to Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s true prophets were all committed to the importance of the Temple, a place where we are called to be true to God and ourselves. It was God’s plan to reveal such significance of the temple because He was to come to dwell in it. It was a preview/forecast of what would happen through Jesus Christ, that temple would no longer be subject to certain place, but only through faith. Abraham was credited righteous due to his faith and it was this seed of faith God had promised.

Christ’s ministry began with a reference as the fulfillment of one of the prophecies, Daniel. His death and resurrection were explained as part of God’s plan fore told in the Scripture. The faithful observance of Jewish tradition today is regarded as God’s requirement of his chosen people. But to the Christians, it is that the light of his salvation should illuminate the whole world. It is grace and love that triggers Christian’s devotion to missionary where as obligation that keep the Jews from keeping their tradition ?old wine vs. new wine.


1. Dane R. Gordon, Old Testament In Its Cultural, Historical and Religious Context, p.8

. p. 5 - Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures, figures 567,57

. p.40 ?Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, D.M.G. Stalker trans. (NY Harper and Row, 16), p.180

4. p.57 ?(Ibit., p)

5. p.80

6. Soggin, Joshua, p.4

7. p.8

8. p.115

. p.1

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