Israel in, among, or against Its Neighbors? A Singular Israel in a Pluralistic World

The late 1800s dropped a stunning realization on readers of the Bible – Israel was not alone in the ancient world. Suddenly, we became aware of other peoples besides the Israelites in antiquity. Lots of others: Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Phoenicians, Moabites, Hurrians, Edomites, Moabites, and on and on. Interpreters of the Bible went through a period in which they thought the Israelites borrowed everything, as though they had no original thoughts and made no contributions to the history of human thought. Then the pendulum swung in the opposite direction so that some argued Israel was completely distinctive, with almost no contact points in the ancient world. This presentation will consider ways in which Israel was indeed at home in the ancient world, and very much like its neighbors. At the same time, their differences make comparisons with the ancient Near East worthwhile, and reveal just how much ancient Israel contributed to the history of human ideas.