Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations eBook

Archibald Sayce
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 247 pages of information about Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations.

That Egypt must have exercised an influence upon Israel has long been known.  The Israelites were born as a nation in the land of Goshen, and the Exodus from Egypt is the starting-point of their national history.  But it is only since the decipherment of the Egyptian inscriptions that it has been possible to determine how far this influence extended, and to what extent it prevailed.  And the result is to show that it was negative rather than positive; that the regulations of the Mosaic Code were directed to preventing the people from returning to Egypt and its idolatries by suppressing all reference to Egyptian beliefs and customs, and silently contradicting its ideas and practices.  Even the doctrine of the future life, and the resurrection of the body, which plays so prominent a part in Egyptian religion, is carefully avoided, and the Ten Commandments have little in common with the ethical code of Egypt.

But while the influence of Egypt has thus been shown to be negative rather than positive, the influence of Babylonia has proved to be overwhelming.  Perhaps this is one of the greatest surprises of modern research, though it might have been expected had we remembered that Abraham was a native of Babylonia, and that Israelites and Semitic Babylonians belonged to the same race.  We have seen that the early culture of western Asia was wholly Babylonian, and that Babylonian influence continued undiminished there down to the days of the Exodus.  The very mode of writing and the language of literature were Babylonian; the whole method of thought had been modelled after a Babylonian pattern for unnumbered generations.  Israel in Goshen was no more exempt from these influences than were the patriarchs in Canaan.

Babylonian influence is deeply imprinted on the Mosaic laws.  The institution of the Sabbath went back to the Sumerian days of Chaldaea; the name itself was of Babylonian origin.  The great festivals of Israel find their counterparts on the banks of the Euphrates.  Even the year of Jubilee was a Babylonian institution, and Gudea, the priest-king of Lagas, tells us that when he kept it the slave became “for seven days the equal of his master.”  It was only the form and application of the old institutions that were changed in the Levitical legislation.  They were adapted to the needs of Israel, and associated with the events of its history.  But in themselves they were all of Babylonian descent.

There is yet one more lesson to be learnt from the revelations of the monuments.  They have made it clear that civilisation in the East is immensely old.  As far back as we can go we find there all the elements of culture; man has already invented a system of writing, and has made some progress in art.  It is true that by the side of all this civilisation there were still races living in the lowest barbarism of the Stone Age, just as there were Tasmanians who employed stone weapons of palaeolithic shape less than sixty years ago; but between the civilised man

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Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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