The Old Testament and Comparative Religion
The present is an era of comparative study. We no longer study subjects by themselves, but compare them with correlated experiences and phenomena. "In the sphere of language study we have the science of comparative philology. Language is compared with language. By means of this comparison we have found that there are groups of languages closely related to one another; and, comparing these groups with one another, we have discovered certain universal laws of language. Comparing further the languages within each group, we ascertain the laws common to that group. By such comparison a flood of light has been thrown on language. We know Greek and Latin and Hebrew to-day as our predecessors did not know them."[1] The same principle of comparison is now applied to the study of history, of literature, of philosophy, of ethics, and of religion, including the literature and religion of the Hebrews. Men are laying to-day the entire Hebrew literature, history, and religion alongside of the literatures, histories, and religions of other {161} nations, testing them by the same methods and applying to them the same rules.

What should be the attitude of the Christian toward this method of study? When the science of comparative philology first asserted itself many good Christians set themselves against it, because one of its claims was that Hebrew is not the original language given by God to men. Comparative philology has won its way, and Bible students are truly grateful for the light it has shed upon sacred scripture. When the comparative study of the Scriptures was first advocated there were many timid souls who felt that this method of study was an attack upon the Bible, which could only issue in such an overturning of belief that the Church would remain helpless with a worthless Bible. Hence they set themselves with all their might against the new study as an enemy of Christianity. Is this the proper attitude? In the first place, it is well to remember that the Bible has withstood all attacks for thousands of years. Its great river of truth has flowed serenely on, watering the whole earth with its life-giving streams, and refusing to be dammed up by any foe. Surely, history teaches that there need be no fear that any new method of study will bring about an end of the Bible's reign. On the other hand, history teaches the folly of resisting the progress of science along any line of investigation. {162} True science will win its way just as surely as the teaching of the Bible will win its way into the hearts of men. Hence it would seem the part of wisdom to encourage rather than to discourage the efforts of the comparative student of the Old Testament.

As a matter of fact, we cannot do anything else unless we would stultify ourselves. We have said to the adherents of every other religion: "You say your sacred books are divine, prove it; lay your books open before the jury of the world, let the critics scrutinize them, analyze them, criticize them, according to the canons of modern criticism by which they criticize all books." And can we refuse to open our Bible before the jury of the world and bid it scrutinize, analyze, and criticize it according to the same canons which it applies to the Veda, the Koran, and other so-called holy books? Would such an attitude be fair? If we believe that the Bible is different from the sacred books of other nations, that it stands on a far higher plane, unique, needing no concealment and no bolstering up with traditions and doctrines -- if that is our faith, then let us lay it down open before the world and challenge men to read it, study it, and compare it with all the sacred literatures of the world. The man who really believes in the inspiration of the Bible ought not to be afraid of such a test. He may rest assured {163} that the comparative study of biblical literature and biblical religion will prove one of the things that work together for good to all those who have a living faith in God.

An exhaustive discussion of the subject of this chapter would involve a study of all the great historical religions, known better to-day than ever before, and a comparison of them with the religion of the Old Testament. This, however, could not be done satisfactorily within the limits of a single chapter. It seems, therefore, advisable to confine the investigation to the religious beliefs, practices, and institutions of the nations with whom the Hebrews came into more or less close contact, such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Egyptians. Political contact, which was common between these nations and the Hebrews, might furnish occasions for exerting influence in the realms of religion, law, and other elements of civilization. "When alien races and diverse faiths confronted each other it might not always be the cause of war, but it was always the occasion of psychical conflict."[2] Since the knowledge of the religions of the nations named has been supplied very largely through archaeological labors, this inquiry is simply one phase of the broader question as to the bearing of archaeology upon the Old Testament; more especially, the bearing of the archaeological material of a religious and ethical nature {164} upon the uniqueness and permanent significance of the Old Testament religion.

The importance of this study is suggested in the following quotation from a prominent Assyriologist, Hugo Winckler: "We come in the end to this, that we can distinguish only two views of the world which the human race has known in its historical development: the old Babylonian, and the modern empirical naturalistic, which is still in process of development and is yet struggling with the old one in many departments of life."[3] To avoid misunderstanding respecting the extent of the Babylonian influence, he adds, "The view of the world and religion are one for the ancient Oriental."[3] In this statement Winckler robs the Old Testament religion of all originality; he considers it simply a natural development of the Babylonian religion. Friedrich Delitzsch, in his lectures on "Babel and Bible,"[4] expresses the same idea in a slightly modified form and attempts to show the predominance of Babylonian thought in the Hebrew conception of the origin of the world, the Fall, the Flood, life after death, angels, demons, the devil, the Sabbath, a large part of the sacrificial cult, the directions concerning the priesthood, the name and worship of Jehovah, and even in the monotheistic conception of Deity. How much truth is there in these claims? Or, to put the question in another form, If the religious {165} ideas expressed in the Old Testament have parallels among nations commonly called heathen, and if these extra-biblical ideas cannot be explained as dependent on the Bible, does it follow that the ideas of the Bible are appropriated from these nations, and if so, what becomes of the uniqueness, the sacredness, the inspiration of the Old Testament? In order to answer the question adequately it is necessary to consider in detail the most important phases of the religious ideas of the Hebrews on the one hand, and of the nations with whom the Hebrews came in contact on the other.

Fundamental to all religious thinking is the conception of Deity. The origin of the Babylonian conception of Deity, which shows more striking similarities to the ideas of the Old Testament than do the conceptions of the other nations above mentioned, belongs to a period of which little or nothing is known. But there are indications that a fundamental aspect of the earliest religion of the country was animism, that is, the belief that every object was possessed and animated by a spirit. "Life was the only force known to man which explained motion, and, conversely, motion was the sign and manifestation of life. The arrow which sped through the air, or the rock which fell from the cliff, did so in virtue of their possessing life, or because the motive force of {166} life lay in some way or other behind them. The stars, which slowly moved through the sky, and the sun, which rose and set day by day, were living beings. It was life which gave them the power of movement as it gave the power of movement to man himself, and the animals by whom he was surrounded."[5] Besides this belief in animism, the Babylonian religion shows evidences of a belief in ghosts that were related to the world of the dead. These ghosts were thought to exercise an evil influence upon men and could be cast out only by the use of incantations.

But, while these elements belonged to the early religion, Babylonian religion as it actually meets us even in the earliest inscriptions has reached a higher stage of development. There appear many local deities; every center of human habitation had its special patron deity; for example, Babylon was the city of Marduk; Nippur, of Enlil; Ur, of Sin; Sippara, of Shamash; Cuthah, of Nergal; Asshur, of Ashur; etc. These deities are usually associated with natural phenomena; foremost among them stand the sun and the moon; but by the side of these many other natural objects or forces were personified and deified.

It is probable that in the beginning, as the result of limited observation and speculation, the number of gods in the Babylonian pantheon was relatively small. However, in the course of time, {167} they became greatly multiplied as the result of a wider observation of the phenomena of nature, political changes, and theological speculation. Over against this tendency to multiply deities there shows itself, in the course of the centuries, a tendency to diminish the number of gods, and in the end comparatively few remain, until in the late Babylonian period the worship seems to have been confined chiefly to Marduk, Nabu, Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar. Some of the great thinkers of Babylonia seem to have gone even so far as to consider the various deities manifestation of the one god Marduk. There is in existence a tablet of the Neo-Babylonian period which states that Marduk is called Ninib as the possessor of power, Nergal as lord of battle, Bel as possessor of dominion, Nabu as lord of business, Sin as the illuminator of the night, Shamash as the lord of right, Addu as the lord of rain, etc.[6] It is seen, then, that monotheistic tendencies are not absent from the Babylonian religion. But they never go beyond the realm of speculation. "The Babylonians, with all their wonderful gifts, were never able to conceive of one god, of one god alone, of one god whose very existence makes logically impossible the existence of any other deity. Monotheism transcends the spiritual grasp of the Babylonian mind."[7] In the words of Delitzsch, "Notwithstanding all this, however, and despite {168} the fact that many liberal and enlightened minds openly advocated the doctrine that Nergal and Nebo, that the moon-god and the sun-god, the god of thunder, Ramman, and all the rest of the Babylonian pantheon, were one in Marduk, the god of light, still polytheism, gross polytheism, remained for three thousand years the Babylonian state religion -- a sad and significant warning against the indolence of men and races in matters of religion, and against the colossal power which may be acquired by a strongly organized priesthood based upon it."[8]

Even the most spiritual expressions of the Babylonian religion, the so-called penitential psalms, bear witness to the fact that the writers continued to worship many deities. In one of the most spiritual of these psalms, the psalmist prays:

That the heart anger of my lord be appeased,
A god unknown to me be appeased,
A goddess unknown to me be appeased,
A known and unknown god be appeased,
A known and unknown goddess be appeased,
That the heart of my god be appeased,
The heart of my goddess be appeased,
God and goddess, known and unknown, be appeased.[9]

Some of the hymns and prayers addressed to certain deities read almost as if the authors were monotheists. But this is due simply to the fact that just at the time they are interested in the power or {169} splendor or favor of a specific deity. Again and again the fact that they believe in the existence of other deities, and in their duty to pay homage to different deities, crops out. At no period of the religious history of Babylonia is there any indication of a clear and well-defined monotheism.

In Egypt also a tendency toward monotheism manifested itself, especially during the reign of Amenophis IV, soon after B.C.1400,[10] that is, during the period when the Hebrews were in Egypt. He tried to do away with the worship of many deities and to establish as the one supreme deity the orb of the sun; but after the death of Amenophis, who was considered a heretic, the new cult disappeared without exerting any noticeable influence on Egyptian religion. There certainly is no evidence that either the Babylonian or the Egyptian monotheistic tendencies influenced in any direct way the development of Israel's religion.

Turning now to the religion of the Old Testament, we soon discover that Hebrew religion, including the conception of Deity, passed through various stages of development, the earliest of these belonging to the period before Moses. The first thing to be noted about this period is that, in spite of the close relation of the ancient Hebrews with Babylon, the early Hebrew conception of Deity does not seem to have been influenced in any marked manner by that of Babylonia; nor {170} is there any indication of Egyptian influence. On the other hand, the oldest Hebrew conceptions show marked similarities with the religion of their nomadic neighbors, as reflected, for example, in the oldest traditions of the Arab tribes. This does not mean that an indirect influence may not have been exerted by Babylon; indeed, the absence of such influence would be very strange in view of the fact that, according to Hebrew tradition, the truth of which cannot be doubted, the ancestors of the Hebrews came from Babylonia, from the city of Ur, the principal center of the worship of the Babylonian moon-god, Sin.

The results of modern investigations into the nature of early Hebrew religion may be briefly stated as follows: Like the early Babylonian religion, the religion of Israel passed through a stage of animism. In one form this is the belief in the activity of the spirits of recently deceased relatives. But this becomes a religion only when it leads to the worship of the departed, that is, ancestor worship, of which there is no definite indication in the biblical material at our command. But there is a form of animism of which there are traces in Israel as in Babylonia, namely, the worship of spirits that were believed to be the inhabitants and possessors of certain objects and places, like trees, stones, springs, which thereby assumed a sacred character. To this form of {171} religion the name "polydemonism," which means the worship of many demons, is ordinarily given. Demon, however, is to be understood here, not in the sense of evil spirit, but simply a divine being of an inferior order. As illustrations of this belief, attention may be called to the sacred stone, Bethel, which gave the locality its name, "House of God" (Gen.28.19), or to the sacred oracular tree at Shechem (Gen.12.6; Deut.11.30), or to the sacred wells at Kadesh (Gen.14.7) and Beersheba (Gen.21.28-33). In general, it may be said that during the pre-Mosaic period the religion of Israel, whatever may have been true of isolated individuals, was not essentially different from the religious conceptions of the people with which we have become better acquainted through modern exploration and excavation.[11]

Another and very different conception appears from the time of the exodus on. The most striking feature of this new conception is that the Israelites now worship one God, whom they consider their own peculiar Deity, while they look upon themselves as his own peculiar people. True, the earlier conceptions did not disappear entirely or immediately; but for the religious leaders there was but one God who had a right to demand Israel's loyalty. Jehovah, or Yahweh, was the name of this God, and the religious watchword was, "Jehovah, the God of Israel; Israel the people {172} of Jehovah." Now archeology has shown the name "Yahweh" to have been used as a divine name long before the time of the exodus; but archaeology has also shown that the conception of the nature and character of Yahweh held by the religious leaders of the Hebrews from the time of Moses on is peculiar to them. Says R. W. Rogers, "There can, therefore, be no escape from the conclusion that the divine name 'Yahweh' is not a peculiar possession of the Hebrews."[12] Then he continues: "At first sight this may seem like a startling robbery of Israel, this taking away from her the divine name 'Yahweh' as an exclusive possession, but it is not so. Yahweh himself is not taken away: he remains the priceless possession, the chief glory of Israel. It is only the name that is shown to be widespread. And the name matters little. The great question is, What does this name convey? What is its theological content? The name came to Israel from the outside; but into that vessel a long line of prophets from Moses onward poured such a flood of attributes as never a priest in all western Asia from Babylonia to the sea ever dreamed of in his highest moments of spiritual insight. In this name and through Israel's history God chose to reveal himself to Israel, and by Israel to the world. Therein lies the supreme and lonesome superiority of Israel over Babylonia."[13]


Archaeology has revealed the pantheon of Babylonia and Assyria; the inscriptions have also set in a clear light the nature and character of the gods as conceived by their worshipers. For example, the gods are looked upon as a part of the process of creation, as may be seen from the opening lines of the story of Creation:[14]

When no one of the gods had been called into being, And none bore a name, and no destinies were fixed.
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven.

An idea of the character of these deities may be gathered from the description of a heavenly banquet scene in the same poem:

They made ready the feast, at the banquet [they sat], They ate bread, they mingled the wine.
The sweet drink made them drunken ...
By drinking they were drunken, their bodies were filled. They shouted aloud, their heart was exalted,
Then for Marduk, their avenger, did they decree destiny.

Certainly, not all the religious thinkers of Babylonia held these low conceptions. In some of their prayers and hymns they rise to lofty spiritual and ethical conceptions which compare quite favorably with expressions found in the Old Testament. In a hymn addressed to Shamash, the sun-god, are found these lines:

Who plans evil -- his horn thou dost destroy,
Whoever in fixing boundaries annuls rights.
The unjust judge thou restrainest with force.


Whoever accepts a bribe, who does not judge justly -- on him thou imposest sin.
But he who does not accept a bribe, who has a care for the oppressed,
To him Shamash is gracious, his life he prolongs.
The judge who renders a just decision
Shall end in a palace, the place of princes shall be his dwelling. * * * * *
The seed of those who act unjustly shall not flourish. What their mouth declares in thy presence
Thou shalt burn it up, what they purpose wilt thou annul. Thou knowest their transgressions; the declaration of the wicked thou dost cast aside.
Every one wherever he may be is in thy care.
Thou directest their judgments, the imprisoned dost thou liberate.
Thou hearest, O Shamash, petition, prayer, and appeal, Humility, prostration, petitioning, and reverence.
With loud voice the unfortunate one cries to thee.
The weak, the exhausted, the oppressed, the lowly,
Mother, wife, maid appeal to thee,
He who is removed from his family, he that dwelleth far from his city.[15]

Far be it from the writer to rob the religion of Babylonia of any of its glory. Nevertheless, he ventures to assert without any fear of contradiction that we may search the pantheon of Babylon, from one end to the other, and we shall not find one god who in nature and character can compare with the Jehovah of Israel as proclaimed by the great prophets and glorified by the sweet singers of the nation, a God "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth." We may well speak of a "great gulf, {175} which is fixed between primitive Semitic conceptions of God and the noble spiritual views of him set forth under divine illumination by Isaiah."[16] It is due to this fundamental difference in the conception of the nature and character of Deity that the religion of Israel became "a living and ethical power, growing and increasing until Jesus, greatest of the prophets, completed the message of his predecessors," and Christianity was born.

From the conception of Deity we may pass to a brief consideration of religious institutions and beliefs. One of the most important results of recent archaeological discoveries has been to show that many of the religious rites, customs, and institutions of Babylonia and Assyria, as also of Egypt, resemble closely those assigned in the Old Testament to the Hebrews. This cannot appear strange when we remember that Israel was a branch of the great Semitic race, which was, at the time of its separation from the common stock, in possession of many of the common Semitic notions and practices. It would have been impossible to rid the Israelite consciousness of all of these; therefore the religious leaders of the Hebrews took the better way of retaining the familiar forms and pouring into them a new, higher, and more spiritual significance.

One of the earliest religious institutions recognized in the Old Testament is the Sabbath. The {176} very fact that it is mentioned in the story of creation shows that, whatever the reason for its observance among the Hebrews, it was recognized as a very ancient institution. Has archaeology thrown any light on the origin of the Sabbath day?[17] In his first lecture on "Babel and Bible," Delitzsch answers the question in these words: "There can therefore be scarcely the shadow of a doubt that in the last resort we are indebted to this ancient nation on the banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris for the plenitude of blessings that flows from our day of Sabbath, or Sunday, rest."[18] This statement was soon criticized, because it seemed to give too much credit to the Babylonians, and Delitzsch later modified the statement and claimed, simply, that the Hebrew Sabbath ultimately is rooted in a Babylonian institution.[19] No exception can be taken to this putting of the claim.

What are the facts in the case? (1) The Babylonians observed in a peculiar way the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of the month, that is, the days on which the moon entered a new phase. They also observed the nineteenth day of the month, which was the forty-ninth day from the beginning of the preceding month. These days were considered unlucky days, on which certain actions had to be avoided, at least by important personages, like the king, {177} priest, and physician. The prohibition reads: "The shepherd (king) of the great nations shall not eat roasted nor smoked meat, not change his garment, not put on white raiment, not offer sacrifice; the king shall not mount his chariot, as ruler not pronounce judgment; the priest shall not give oracles in the secret place; the physician shall not lay his hand on the sick, the day being inauspicious for any affair whatever." The Babylonians evidently observed these days by at least partial cessation of work, because nothing would prosper anyway on those days. In contrast, it may be well to notice that in the Sabbath observance among the early Hebrews the humanitarian element played a prominent part. (2) The name Sha-bat-tu has been found in the inscriptions as an interpretation of the phrase, um nuh libbi, which means, a day for appeasing the heart (of the deity). It would seem, therefore, that the Babylonian Sabbath was intended to be a day of atonement or supplication, which might imply cessation of ordinary labor, especially since the word Sha-bat-tu may be identical in meaning with gamaru, to complete or finish, which leads naturally to the idea of rest, because the work is completed. (3) There is no definite evidence that the five days mentioned were called Sha-bat-tu; the name is given rather to the fifteenth day of the month, which is the day of the full moon.


In the light of these facts it is not improbable that there is some connection between the Hebrew Sabbath and certain special days among the Babylonians; but, as in other cases, the Hebrews have given to the adopted institution a new significance. Some of the changes introduced by the Hebrews are: (a) The Hebrews observed every seventh day without regard for the month or the year. The Babylonians observed the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of each month, (b) The motive underlying the observance among the two people differs. The earliest Hebrew legislation (Exod.23.12) would seem to indicate that humanitarian considerations are responsible for Sabbath observance, not religious superstition, (c) The Sabbath law of the Hebrews was binding on all. According to our present knowledge, among the Babylonians only the leaders appear to have been affected.

The Babylonians, Egyptians, and other ancient peoples had in addition to the Sabbath numerous other festivals, and it is not improbable that some of the Hebrew festivals are connected with these, though the exact relation is not yet determined.

Archaeology has thrown much light on the complicated ceremonial system of the Old Testament, though it is an exaggeration to say that, "if we want to trace the origin of the late Jewish ceremonial of the Priest Code, we must look for {179} it in the cuneiform ritual texts of the Babylonians."[20] Attention may be called here to a few of the more marked similarities between the Hebrew and Babylonian systems.[21] (1) The Babylonian temple closely resembled the temple of Solomon. Both had two courts, chambers for the priests, the sanctuary, and the Holy of holies. Externally, both were mere rectangular boxes, without much architectural beauty or variety of design. It was only in the possession of a tower that the Babylonian temple differed from the Hebrew, a difference due to a difference in the conception of Deity. The temples agreed even in the details of their furniture: the two altars of the Babylonian sanctuary are found again in the temple of Jerusalem; so also the mercy seat and the table of showbread. The bronze sea of Solomon was modeled after a Babylonian original. The twin pillars, which Solomon erected in the porch of the temple, have their counterparts in Babylonian sanctuaries. Even the sacred ark seems to have had a Babylonian origin, though some would trace it to Egypt. (2) Every great sanctuary had its chief priest. Under him was a large number of subordinate priests and temple ministers, such as sacrificers, pourers of libations, anointers with oil, bakers, chanters, wailers, etc. Connected with the sanctuaries were also the prophets, augurs, soothsayers, necromancers, etc. {180} Though not all these classes of religious workers are found in connection with the Jewish sanctuaries, the chief priest and his subordinates are found there as well as in Babylon. (3) Similarities in the details of the sacrificial system may be noted. Libations were poured out before the deities, consisting originally, probably, of pure water, to which was subsequently added wine, made either from the palm or the vine. All the first-fruits of the cultivated land were offered to the god; milk and butter and oil, dates and vegetables were given in abundance. So too were spices and incense, brought from the southern coast of Arabia, the corn that was grown in the fields, garlic and other herbs from the garden, and honey from the hive. Annual sacrifices were not forgotten. Oxen and calves, sheep and lambs, goats and kids, fish and certain kinds of birds, were slain upon the altar. There are traces of human sacrifice, but, as among the Hebrews, the practice disappeared at an early date. "Babylonia," says Sayce, "was the inventor of the tithe,"[22] which was paid by all classes, even the king. One of the last acts recorded of the crown prince, Belshazzar, is the payment of a tithe, forty-seven shekels in amount, due from his sister to the temple of the sun-god at Sippara. The daily sacrifice was a fixed custom. Several of the technical terms of the Old Testament are {181} found also in Assyrian. For example: torah, law, has its counterpart in the Assyrian tertu; the biblical kipper, atonement, is the Assyrian kuppuru; korban, gift or offering, is the Assyrian kurbannu. The names for animal sacrifice, zibu, for meal offering, manitu, and for freewill offering, nidbu, all are found in their Hebrew forms in the Old Testament. As in the Hebrew legislation, a distinction is made between the offerings of the rich and the poor, and the sacrificial animal was to be without blemish. The Babylonian priest retained certain parts for himself, which was also the custom among the Hebrews (Deut.18.3), though the parts retained are not the same in the two cases. A ritual tablet shows that Babylonians sprinkled the blood of the lamb that was killed at the gate of the palace on the lintels, on the figures flanking the entrances, and on the doorposts to the right and the left, which has its parallel in the Hebrew passover ceremony.

These illustrations, which by no means exhaust the list, reveal close similarities between the Hebrew ceremonial and that of the inhabitants of the Euphrates-Tigris valley, and the more we know of the Babylonian ritual, the more extensive and striking these resemblances become. They both start from the same principles and agree in many of their details. Between them, however, lies that deep gulf which separates the religion of {182} Israel from that of Babylonia as a whole. The one is monotheistic, the other polytheistic. Upon the basis of this fundamental difference the religious leaders of Israel gave to the similar forms adopted from other nations a new and deeper meaning and significance.

Like the Hebrew religion, the religion of Babylonia has its guardian angels.[23] The Babylonian rulers stood in need of hosts of messengers to bear their behests into all quarters of their dominions. In a similar manner, it was thought, the gods needed their heavenly hosts to carry out their commissions. These angels are represented under various forms, but all of them are equipped with wings, so as to be able to carry upon the winds of heaven the commands of the gods to the children of men. Sometimes they are represented with eagles' heads, perhaps to indicate that they possess the keenness of vision and the rapidity of flight of an eagle; sometimes they have human countenances to denote their human intelligence. Frequently they appear as hybrid figures, with the body of a lion or bull, the wings of an eagle, and the head of a man, symbolizing strength, swiftness, and intelligence.

The duties of these angels are manifold. Those placed at the entrances of palaces or temples are to guard those entrances. The peculiar relations of angels to men are suggested, for example, by {183} a letter of a Babylonian officer to the queen mother. He writes: "Mother of the king, my lady, be comforted. Bel's and Nabu's angel of mercy attends on the king of the land, my lord." A letter addressed to Esarhaddon contains these words: "May the great gods send a guardian of salvation and life to stand by the king my lord." And Nabopolassar, the founder of the Chaldean empire, and father of Nebuchadrezzar, writes: "To lordship over land and people, Marduk called me. He sent a cherub of mercy to attend on me, and everything I undertook he aided."

Alongside of these guardian angels there appear evil spirits and demons. "These demons were everywhere: they lurked in every corner, watching for their prey. The city streets knew their malevolent presence, the rivers, the seas, the tops of the mountains. They appeared sometimes as serpents gliding noiselessly upon their victims; as birds, horrid of mien, flying resistlessly to destroy or afflict; as beings in human form, grotesque, malformed, awe-inspiring through their hideousness. To these demons all sorts of misfortunes were ascribed: toothache, headache, broken bones, raging fever, outbursts of anger, of jealousy. Did a man lie wasting of disease and torn of pain, a demon was thought to be within him, the disease being but a manifestation of his malevolence. There could be no return of the precious boon of {184} good health until the demon was exorcised, and it was to the exorcising of demons that so large, so disproportionate a part of the religious literature of Babylon and Nineveh was devoted."[24] Sometimes demons are referred to in a manner which shows that the conception in Job 1.6ff., Zech.3.1ff., of the Adversary, or the Satan, is closely related to the Babylonian conception of a demon as accuser, persecutor, or oppressor.

The vision of the Old Testament is largely confined to this world. There is little hope for a man after he passes away from this earth. Indeed, there are some passages which would seem to imply the thought that with death existence came entirely to an end. Compare, for example, Psa.39.13:

Oh, spare me, that I may recover strength
Before I go hence, and be no more;

or Job 14.7-12:

For there is hope of a tree,
If it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
And that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
Though the root thereof wax old in the earth,
And the stock thereof die in the ground;
Yet through the scent of water it will bud,
And put forth boughs like a plant.
But man dieth, and is laid low;
Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
As the waters fail from the sea,
And the river wasteth and drieth up;
So man lieth down and riseth not:
Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake,
Nor be roused out of their sleep.

{185} These are expressions of deepest despondency and despair over a life soon ended, never to be lived again here upon earth.

However, by far the greatest number of Old Testament passages dealing with the subject express a belief in a continuous existence after death in Sheol. Sheol is the place of departed personalities; the generations of one's forefathers are there: he who dies is gathered unto his fathers; the tribal divisions of one's race are there: the dead is gathered unto his people; and if his descendants have died before him, they are there, and he goes down to them, as Jacob to his son (Gen.37.35: "For I will go down to Sheol to my son mourning"), and David to his child (2 Sam.12.23: "I shall go to him, and he shall not return to me").

There are only a few passages which go beyond this, expressing a hope of immortality or a resurrection. There is, for example, the hope expressed in Psa.16.8-11:

I have set Jehovah always before me:
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: My flesh also shall dwell in safety.
For thou will not leave my soul to Sheol;
Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life:
In thy presence is fullness of joy;
In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

The hope expressed here is not a hope of a resurrection, but, rather, a hope that the psalmist will {186} be delivered from death and live in fellowship with God forevermore. There are other passages which recognize the impossibility of escaping death, but express a hope that there will be a resurrection from death. The most definite Old Testament teaching of a resurrection is in Dan.12.2, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."

These lofty hopes are peculiar to Israel. But Israel's conception of Sheol shows very striking resemblances with the Babylonian conception. The descriptions found in Job, in the Psalms, in Isaiah, in Ezekiel and elsewhere, are hardly to be distinguished from those found in Babylonian literature. The opening lines of Ishtar's descent into Sheol read:

To the land from which there is no return, the home of darkness, Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, turned her mind,
Yea, the daughter of Sin set her mind to go;
To the house of gloom, the dwelling of Irkalla,
To the house from which those who enter depart not, The road from whose path there is no return;
To the house where they who enter are deprived of light; A place where dust is their nourishment, clay their food; The light they behold not, in thick darkness they dwell; They are clad like bats in a garb of wings;
On door and bolt the dust is laid.

Compare with this Job 10.21, 22:

Before I go, whence I shall not return,
To the land of darkness, yea deepest darkness,


The land dark as midnight,
Of deepest darkness without any order,
And where the light is as midnight;

or Job 7.9, 10:

He that goeth down to Sheol shall come up no more,
He shall return no more to his house,
Neither shall his place know him any more.

Other similarities may be noted: the Hebrew Sheol, like the Babylonian, was deep down in the earth; it is pictured as a cavern; silence reigns supreme, etc. There is but one explanation for these similarities: When the ancestors of the Hebrews left their homes in the Euphrates valley they carried with them the traditions, beliefs, and customs current in that district. Under new surroundings, and especially under the influence of their higher religion, new features were added and old conceptions were transformed. But these changes were not able to obscure entirely the character impressed upon the older beliefs by contact with Babylon.

Striking similarities are found also between the legal systems of Babylonia and Israel. In the light of recent discoveries the study of ancient law begins to-day, not with the legal systems of Rome, or of Greece, or of Israel, but with the laws of early Babylonia. Of the beginning of the Babylonian legal system we know nothing except a few popular traditions, which trace it back to some deity. It is clear, however, that long {188} centuries before the time of Moses or Minos or Romulus the people living in the lower Euphrates-Tigris valley developed legal codes of a high and complex order. In the legal phrase books of the later scribes there have been preserved seven so-called Sumerian family laws, written in the language of the people occupying the southern part of the Euphrates-Tigris valley before it came under the sway of the Semites. These laws, in theme and literary form resembling later Babylonian and early Hebrew laws, were probably in existence in the fourth millennium B.C.; some of them may go even farther back.

By far the most important Babylonian legal code now known is the so-called Code of Hammurabi.[25] Hammurabi was known to Assyriologists long before the finding of his legal code. He reigned in Babylon about B.C.2000, was the sixth king of the first Babylonian dynasty, and the first permanently to unite the numerous small city states under one ruler. He may, therefore, be called the founder of the Babylonian empire. From his numerous letters and inscriptions, as also from other documents coming from the same period, he was known as a great conqueror and statesman, interested in the highest welfare of his people, and persistently laboring for the improvement of their conditions. The Bible student has a special interest in Hammurabi, however, because in all {189} probability he is no other than the Amraphel of Gen.14.1.

The monument on which the code is engraved was found during the winter 1901-1902 by a French excavator in the acropolis of Susa, the scene of the book of Esther. It is a block of black diorite, about eight feet in height. When found it was in three pieces, which, however, were easily joined. On the obverse is a bas relief representing the king as receiving the ruler's staff and ring from the sun-god Shamash, "the judge of heaven and earth." Then follow on the obverse sixteen columns of writing, containing 1,114 lines. There were five more columns on this side, but they were erased and the stone repolished, probably by the Elamite conqueror who carried the monument to Susa. On the reverse are twenty-eight columns with more than 2,500 lines of inscription. The English Assyriologist, C. H. W. Johns, estimates that originally the inscription contained forty-nine columns, 4,000 lines, and about 8,000 words. About 800 lines are taken up by the prologue and epilogue, setting forth the king's titles, his glory, the extent of his rule, his care for his subjects, and devotion to his gods. The inscription opens with a statement of his call by the gods to be the ruler of Babylon: "When the lofty Anu, king of the Anunaki, and Bel, lord of heaven and earth, he who determines the destiny {190} of the land, committed the rule of all mankind to Marduk, the chief son of Ea; when they made him great among the Igigi; when they pronounced the lofty name of Babylon, when they made it famous among the quarters of the world, and in its midst established an everlasting kingdom, whose foundations were firm as heaven and earth -- at that time, Ami and Bel called me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, the worshiper of the gods, to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, to go forth like the sun over the blackhead race, to enlighten the land and to further the welfare of the people."

According to the closing statement of the prologue he faithfully executed this commission: "When Marduk sent me to rule the people and to bring help to the country, I established law and justice in the land and promoted the welfare of the people" (V.14-21). To better care for the welfare of the people he set up the code of laws. In column XLI, a part of the epilogue, he says: "Let any oppressed man, who has a cause, come before my image as king of righteousness! Let him read the inscription on my monument! Let him give heed to my weighty words! And may my monument enlighten him as to his cause and may he understand his case! May he set his heart at ease!" (1-19.) He recognizes the value {191} of his law code and advises his successors on the throne to make good use of it: "In the days that are yet to come, for all future time, may the king who is in the land observe the words of righteousness which I have written upon my monument! May he not alter the judgments of the land which I have pronounced, or the decisions of the country which I have rendered! May he not efface my statues! If that man have wisdom, if he wish to give his land good government, let him give attention to the words which I have written upon my monument! And may this monument enlighten him as to procedure and administration, the judgments which I have pronounced, and the judgments which I have rendered for the land! And let him rightly rule his blackhead people; let him pronounce judgments for them and render for them decisions! Let him root out the wicked and evildoer from the land! Let him promote the welfare of his people!" (59-94.)

The epilogue closes with a blessing upon the king who will observe the laws, and curses upon him who will disregard or alter them (XLII-XLIV). The pronouncement of blessings is very brief; the curses are reiterated in various forms, and numerous gods and goddesses are appealed to by name to destroy the evildoer and his reign. The section begins (XLII, 2-49): "If that man pay attention to my words which I have written {192} upon my monument, do not efface my judgments, do not overrule my words, and do not alter my statues, then will Shamash prolong that man's reign, as he has mine, who am king of righteousness, that he may rule his people in righteousness." It continues: "If that man do not pay attention to my words which I have written upon my monument; if he forget my curses and do not fear the curse of god; if he abolish the judgments which I have formulated, overrule my words, alter my statues, efface my name written thereon and write his own name; on account of these curses commission another to do so -- as for that man, be he king or lord, or priestking or commoner, whoever he may be, may the great god, the father of the gods, who has ordained my reign, take from him the glory of his sovereignty, may he break his scepter and curse his fate!"

Between the prologue and the epilogue is the law code proper. Originally there appear to have been 282 separate enactments (this is the estimate of the French Assyriologist, Father Scheil, who first edited the code, and is commonly accepted as correct); of these 66-99 are now missing as a result of the erasure to which reference has been made. The code covers a variety of topics. Laws dealing with the same subject are ordinarily grouped together; sometimes the principle of arrangement is the class or profession concerned. {193} A brief outline will give at least a general notion of its contents: 1, 2, False accusation of a crime; 3, 4, False witness and bribery; 5, Alteration of judgment by a judge; 6-8, Theft; 9-13, Concealing of stolen property; 14, Kidnapping; 15-20, Assisting in the escape of slaves; 21-25, Burglary and brigandage; 26-41, Rights and duties of officers, constables, and taxgatherers; 42-52, Renting of fields for cultivation; 53-56, Care of dykes and canals; 57, 58, Shepherds allowing their sheep to pasture on the fields of another; 59, Unlawful cutting down of trees; 60-65, Duties of gardeners; 66-99, (lost); 100-107, Relation of merchants to their agents; 108-111, Regulations concerning wine-sellers, always women. It may be interesting to note that with them the law was very severe. Of the three crimes condemned -- minor crimes at that -- one is to be punished by throwing the wine-seller into the water, the second by putting her to death, the third by burning her. 112, Loss of goods intrusted for transportation; 113-119, Securing settlement for debts; 120-126, Liability for deposits; 127, Slander; 128, Marriage contract; 129-132, Adultery, rape, and suspected unchastity; 133-143, Separation and divorce; 144-149, Concubines; 150-152, Marriage dowry; 153, Murder of husband for the sake of another; 154-158, Illegitimate sexual intercourse; 159-161, Breach of promise; 162-164, Disposition of dowry after the {194} death of the wife; 165-177, Inheritance of sons in polygamous relations; 178-182, Inheritance of priestesses; 183, 184, Inheritance of daughters of concubines; 185-194, Treatment of adopted children; 195-214, Offenses against limb and life; 215-225, Operations by doctors and veterinary surgeons. For example, "If a physician cause a man a severe wound with a bronze lancet and cause the man's death, or, in opening an abscess of a man with a bronze lancet, destroy the man's eye, they shall cut off his fingers" (218). 226, 227, Unlawful branding of slaves; 228-233, Liability of negligent builders. For example, "If a builder build a house for a man, and do not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapse and cause the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death" (229). 234-252, Hired animals -- the injuries they cause or suffer; 253-277, Rights and duties of workmen; 278-282, Selling and treatment of slaves. In addition to this very complete code there is a vast amount of information from both early and late periods concerning legal practices, to be gathered from the thousands of tablets recording business and legal transactions of various sorts: Marriage and dowry contracts, partnership agreements, records of debts and promissory notes, leases of land, houses, or slaves; records of sales of all kinds of property, mortgages, documents {195} granting the power of attorney; concerning adoption, divorce, bankruptcy, inheritance -- in short, almost every imaginable kind of contract.

Over against this complex legal system of Babylonia we may place the legal literature of the Hebrews.[26] Anyone who approaches the study of Hebrew laws is met by two difficulties. In the first place, the legal portions do not form separate books, but are embodied in writings belonging to other kinds of literature; in the second place, there is a lack of system in the arrangement of the laws. The abrupt transitions from one subject to another are almost as marked as they are in the book of Proverbs. "Civil and ceremonial, criminal and humane, secular and religious, ancient and late laws and precedents are all mingled together, with little trace of systematic arrangement."

The legal literature is found mainly in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; outside the Pentateuch the most important piece of legislation is Ezek.40-48. This legal material may be separated from its surroundings and arranged by itself. Indeed, this has been done, and modern scholars are quite generally agreed that the Pentateuch contains several distinct legal codes belonging to different periods in the history of Israel and reflecting different stages of political, social, and religious development: (1) The Decalogue; (2) the Book of the Covenant; (3) the {196} Deuteronomic Code; (4) the Code of Holiness; (5) the Priestly Code. Of these five codes the last two are almost entirely religious and ceremonial, and as the similarities between the Babylonian and Hebrew ceremonial have already been pointed out, they need not be considered in this connection. The other three contain much legislation concerning social, civil, and criminal relations, just like the Babylonian legal provisions, and therefore may be considered somewhat more in detail. In connection with the Deuteronomic Code, however, it may be noted that three fourths of the laws in the earlier codes are reproduced in some form in Deuteronomy; so that for purposes of comparison, the Deuteronomic Code does not furnish many new elements. It is seen, therefore, that for a comparative study, the Code of Hammurabi on the one hand, and the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant on the other, furnish the most important material; and since the Code of Hammurabi contains no religious and ceremonial provisions, the material of that nature in the Hebrew codes may be omitted in this connection.

That there exist similarities between the legislations of the two nations even a superficial reading will show. One is immediately struck, for example, by the similarity in the application of the lex talionis: Ham.196, "If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye"; 197, "If one {197} break a man's bone, they shall break his bone"; 200, "If a man knock out the tooth of a man of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth." With this compare Exod.21.23-25, "Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe"; or Deut.19.21, "Thine eyes shall not pity; life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." Compare also Lev.24.19, 20, "If a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him: breach for breach; eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be rendered to him." This principle is applied very extensively in both codes in providing restitution for damage done.

The use of "the oath of innocence" is also enjoined in both codes: Ham.249, "If a man hire an ox and a god strike it and it die, the man who hired the ox shall swear before god and shall go free." With this may be compared Exod.22.10, 11, "If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast to keep, and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it, the oath of Jehovah shall be between them both, whether he hath not put his hand unto his neighbor's goods, and the owner thereof shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution." The illustrations might be multiplied manifold. {198} Jeremias points out twenty-four similarities between the Code of Hammurabi and the Book of the Covenant alone;[27] which number is greatly increased if the comparison is extended so as to include the entire Pentateuch.

The spirit permeating the two systems is one of humaneness and kindness. Hammurabi describes himself as a shepherd chosen by the gods to care for his people, to lead them into safe pastures and to make them dwell in peace and security. He compiled the code, "that the great should not oppress the weak; to counsel the widow and orphan, to render judgment and to decide the decisions of the land, and to succor the injured." This is the same spirit that permeates the Pentateuchal legislation.

The picture at the head of the code, representing Hammurabi standing before the sun-god Shamash, "the supreme judge of heaven and earth," is very suggestive, for it reminds one of the narrative in Exodus which represents Moses as receiving the Hebrew laws directly from Jehovah.

Certainly, there are also differences between the two systems; and this is only what we should expect, since the civilization of Babylon was far in advance of and much more complex than that of the Israelites, even during the period of the latter's highest development. Besides, the lower religious conceptions would inevitably influence the legislation.


Attention may be called also to some similarities between the Decalogue and certain requirements in Babylonia, the existence of which is implied in an incantation[28] in which these questions are asked: Has he broken into the house of his neighbor? Has he approached the wife of his neighbor? Has he spilled the blood of his neighbor? Has he grasped the garment of his neighbor? These questions would seem to imply the existence of laws like these: Thou shalt not break into the house of thy neighbor; Thou shalt not approach the wife of thy neighbor; Thou shalt not spill the blood of thy neighbor; Thou shalt not grasp the garment of thy neighbor.

In view of all these similarities, the question naturally arises whether the Babylonian legal system exerted any influence upon the lawmakers of the Hebrews, for the resemblances are too close to be explained entirely on the basis of coincidence. Those who admit some relation between the two legislations are not in agreement as to the nature of the connection. Some hold that there is direct dependence; that the author or authors of the laws of the Pentateuch was or were acquainted with the laws of Hammurabi, and made these laws the basis of the Hebrew legislative system. The possibility of such dependence cannot be denied. Surely, an acquaintance with the Code of Hammurabi in the Arabian {200} desert or in Palestine at the time of the exodus or later cannot appear strange in view of the evidence of the Tel-el-Amarna tablets, showing that some time before the exodus intercourse between Babylon and the West was frequent; that religious, political, and literary influence was widespread, and that the language of Babylon was the lingua franca throughout Canaan. On the other hand, there are those who believe that the parallels and analogies between the two codes are due to the common Semitic origin of the two systems. The Babylonians and the Hebrews were Semites, originally dwelling in a common home. When they left this home they carried with them their common traditions, laws, customs, and practices. In their new homes they developed them and impressed upon them their own individuality. The result among the Hebrews, determined in a large measure by their peculiar religion, is seen in the legislation of the Pentateuch, while the outcome in Babylon is best represented by the Code of Hammurabi.

Which of these two explanations is correct it may be impossible to say with absolute certainty. To me it seems that both contain elements of truth. Sometimes the one, sometimes the other may be correct, while in other cases the similarities may be due to coincidence. In any case, the value of the Pentateuchal legislation remains {201} unaffected, for it depends, not upon its origin or process of growth, but, rather, upon its inherent spirit and character.

Attention may further be called to the existence in Babylonia of stories showing almost startling resemblances to the accounts of the creation of the world, of the origin of man and of sin, of a Deluge, and other narratives contained in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. Several distinct creation stories, originating in different religious centers, have been handed down. The most remarkable of these, called Enuma elish (when above), from its opening words, has been deciphered from tablets found in the library of Ashurbanipal in the ruins of Nineveh. These tablets represent a copy made in the seventh century B.C. The time of the composition, or compilation of the story, is not known. However, pictorial representations of some of the scenes in the epic, and allusions in other literary productions whose dates can be fixed, make it certain that the story, or at least the most important component elements of the story, existed before B.C.2000. In its present form it belongs to a period later than the elevation of Babylon to be the national center, which took place under Hammurabi, about B.C.2000, for the chief place is assigned to Marduk, the god of Babylon.[29]

Echoes of this story are found in several Old {202} Testament passages, especially in the poetic and prophetic writings. In these Jehovah is represented as having contended with a great primeval monster, called in some passages Rahab, in others Leviathan, or Dragon. This being seems to symbolize chaos, or to personify the primeval ocean, which existed when the process of creation began. In the conflict between Jehovah and this monster the hostile creature and its helpers were overthrown, after which the heavens and the earth were created. A few of these passages may be quoted:

O Jehovah God of hosts,
Who is a mighty one, like unto thee, O Jehovah?
And thy faithfulness is round about thee.
Thou rulest the pride of the sea:
When the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; Thou hast scattered thine enemies with the arm of thy strength. The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine:
The world and the fullness thereof, thou hast founded them, The north and the south, thou hast created them (Psa.89.8-12).

Rahab is a reflection of the Babylonian Tiamat; Jehovah takes the place of the Babylonian god, Marduk, the conqueror of Tiamat; the enemies are the helpers of Tiamat mentioned in the Babylonian poem. The order of events is the same in the two accounts: first the conflict, then creation.

He stirreth up the sea with his power,
And by his understanding he smiteth through Rahab.


By his Spirit the heavens are garnished;
His hand hath pierced the swift serpent (Job 26.12, 13).

God will not withdraw his anger;
The helpers of Rahab do stoop under him (Job 9.13).

Yet God is my King of old,
Working salvation in the midst of the earth.
Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength:
Thou brakest the heads of the sea-monsters in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces;
Thou gavest him to be food to the people inhabiting the wilderness. Thou didst cleave fountain and flood:
Thou driedst up mighty rivers.
The day is thine, the night also is thine:
Thou hast prepared the light and the sun.
Thou hast set all the borders of the earth:
Thou hast made summer and winter (Psa.74.12-17).

The similarities between the Babylonian story called Enuma elish and the narrative of creation in Gen.1 are especially pronounced: (1) Both accounts recognize a time when all was chaos. In the Babylonian conception this chaos is personified in Tiamat; in Gen.1.2 occurs the word tehom, translated "deep," which is the same as Tiamat, changed but slightly in passing from one language to the other. (2) In Genesis light dispels darkness and order follows; in the Babylonian account, Marduk, the god of light, overcomes the demon of chaos and darkness. (3) The second act of creation is the making of the firmament, which "divided the waters which were under the {204} firmament from the waters which were above the firmament" (Gen.1.6-8); in the Babylonian poem the body of Tiamat is divided and one half becomes the firmament to keep the heavenly waters in place. (4) The third and fourth acts of creation in the Hebrew story are the creation of earth and the beginning of vegetation (Gen.1.9-13); the corresponding Babylonian story has been lost, but it seems quite probable that these acts were described in the same order on the fifth tablet. Berosus, in his summary of the Babylonian account, says that Bel formed the earth out of one half of Omorka's body -- Omorka is probably a corruption of Ummu-Khubur, a title of Tiamat -- and as in every instance where the narrative of Berosus has been tested it has proved to be correct, we may assume that in this also he gives a correct reproduction of the Babylonian tradition. Moreover, at the beginning of the seventh tablet Marduk is hailed as "bestower of fruitfulness," "founder of agriculture," "creator of grain and plants," he "who caused the green herb to spring up." (5) The fifth act of creation is the making of the heavenly bodies (Gen.1.14-19). With this the Babylonian parallel shows close similarities, for it states that Marduk

Made the stations for the great gods,
The stars, their images, as the constellations he fixed, He ordained the year, marked off its divisions.[30]


(6) The sixth and seventh acts of creation were the creation of fishes and birds and of land animals (Gen.1.20-25): the Babylonian parallels in Enuma elish are wanting at present; but Berosus hints that they were created at the same time as man, so that it is probable that the account of these acts of creation appeared somewhere in the lost portions of the fifth or sixth tablet. From allusions in other writings we learn that Marduk was looked upon as the creator of the animals and other living creatures of the field. (7) The eighth act of creation, that of man (Gen.1.26-31), finds its parallel upon the sixth tablet:

When Marduk heard the word of the gods
His heart moved him and he devised a cunning plan.
He opened his mouth and unto Ea he spoke,
That which he had conceived in his heart he made known unto him. "My blood will I take and bone will I fashion,
I shall make man that man may ...
I shall create man, who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established and that their shrines may be built."[31]

In order to estimate rightly the relations between the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts the differences between the two must also be noted. To begin with, the order of the separate acts of creation is not quite the same. For example, in the Babylonian account, the creation of the heavenly bodies follows immediately upon the {206} making of the firmament, while in the Hebrew story it follows the making of the earth and the springing up of vegetation. Certainly, this difference is of no special significance, and the change may easily be explained as due to the desire of the Hebrew writer to crowd the creative acts into the six working days of the week. The real difference is more fundamental and appears especially in the conception of the nature and character of Deity. The Babylonian story opens with these words:

When above the heaven was not named
And beneath the earth bore no name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And Mummu-Tiamat, the mother of them all --
Their waters were mingled together,
And no reed was formed, no marsh seen,
When no one of the gods had been called into being, [And] none bore a name, and no destinies [were fixed], Then were created the gods in the midst of [heaven].

Compare with this the simple, yet majestic, conception, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In one case many gods, in the other one God almighty; in one case the gods are a part of the process of creation, in the other the uncreated God is in the beginning. Genesis presents God as almighty, but also as kind, beneficent, loving; Marduk, the Babylonian creator, is represented as a great hero, but exceedingly selfish. He undertakes the mighty task of {207} overcoming Tiamat only after making arrangements for a suitable reward. The description of the heavenly banquet scene, to which reference has been made earlier in the chapter, implies a conception of the character of the gods which is separated by an impassable gulf from the Old Testament ideal.

No one can read with an unbiased mind the two accounts without realizing the great differences between the mythological, polytheistic account of the Babylonians and the simple, solemn, sublime, monotheistic picture in Genesis. The soberness, the dignity, the simplicity of the Hebrew account lift it far above its Babylonian counterpart. From it the crude nature myths have all been stripped away. No drunken gods hold revels in its solemn lines. Above and behind and in all is one righteous and beneficent God. In this sublime ethical monotheism the Hebrew story rises infinitely above the story that originated in the Euphrates-Tigris valley.

Another Babylonian tradition, the close relation of which to the biblical account has long been recognized, is the story of the Deluge. In its cuneiform text it was first discovered on fragments of tablets brought from the library of Ashurbanipal. But that the Babylonians possessed a story of the Flood was known before from an outline preserved by Berosus. The tradition brought to {208} light by archaeology forms an episode in an epic which narrates the exploits of Gilgamesh and occupies the eleventh of the twelve parts into which the epic is divided. Gilgamesh sprang from a city, Shurippak, which afterward completely disappeared. He became king of Erech, where he ruled as a tyrant until the gods created Ea-bani to destroy him. The two, however, became bosom friends. Together they delivered Erech from the Elamite oppressor, Khumbaba. Ishtar, the goddess of love, then offered her hand to Gilgamesh in marriage, which he spurned with scorn. Out of revenge, she sent a scorpion, whose sting proved fatal to Ea-bani. Gilgamesh himself she smote with an incurable disease. To find relief, the latter set out for the dwelling place of his great-grandfather, Ut-napishtim, far away on the isles of the blessed. When he finally reaches him the latter tells him all about the great Flood from which he escaped to enjoy eternal life.[32]

The most striking resemblances between the Babylonian and Hebrew stories of the Flood may now be noted: (1) Compare the instruction given by God to Noah (Gen.6.13-22) with the words addressed by the god Ea to Ut-napishtim:

O man of Shurippak, son of Ubaratutu,
Pull down thy house, build a ship,
Leave thy possessions, take thought for thy life,


Thy property abandon, save thy life,
Bring living seed of every kind into the ship.
The ship that thou shalt build,
So shall be the measure of its dimensions,
Thus shall correspond its breadth and height,
Into the ocean let it fare.[33]

(2) In both accounts the destruction is due to sin. This is definitely stated in Gen.6.5-7. For the Babylonian story it is implied in the rebuke given to Bel by Ea:

On the sinner lay his sin,
On the transgressor lay his transgression.
Forbear, let not all be destroyed.[34]

(3) In both accounts, only a seed of life sufficient to replenish the earth is saved. Compare Gen.6.19, 20 with the command, "Bring living seed of every kind into the ship," or with the statement:

I brought into the ship my family and household;
The cattle of the field, the beasts of the field, craftsmen, all of them I brought in.[35]

(4) Both stories tell of a great storm and deluge of water. Gen.7.11 reads, "The fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights." Compare with this:

The dawning of that day I feared,
I feared to behold that day.
I entered the ship and closed the door.
When the first flush of dawn appeared
There came up from the horizon a black cloud.


Adad thundered within it,
While Nabu and Marduk went before.
They go as messengers over mountain and valley.
Nergal bore away the anchor.
Ninib advances, the storm he makes to descend.
The Anunaki lifted up their torches,
With their brightness they light up the land.
Adad's storm reached unto heaven,
All light was turned into darkness,
It [flooded] the land like ...
........ the storm
Raged high, [the water climbed over] the mountains, Like a besom of destruction they brought it upon men.[36]

(5) In both instances the structure rests upon a mountain in the north. Gen.8.4 reads, "And the ark rested ... upon the mountains of Ararat," that is, Armenia. The Babylonian story reads:

To the land of Nisir the ship made its way,
The mount of Nisir held it fast that it moved not.[37]

Mount Nisir is east of the upper Tigris. (6) In both cases birds are sent out to ascertain the condition of the land. Compare Gen.8.6-12 with these lines:

When the seventh day approached
I sent forth a dove and let her go.
The dove flew to and fro,
But there was no resting place and she returned.
I sent forth a swallow and let her go;
The swallow flew to and fro,
But there was no resting place, and she returned.
I sent forth a raven and let her go;
The raven flew away, she saw the abatement of the waters,


She drew near, she waded (?), she croaked, and came not back. Then I sent everything forth to the four quarters of heaven.[38]

(7) Sacrifice is offered by Noah and Ut-napishtim, acceptable to the God of Noah and to the gods of the Babylonian hero, in both cases resulting in a promise not to repeat the Flood. Compare Gen.8.20-22 with:

I offered sacrifice,
I made a libation upon the mountain's peak.
By sevens I set out the sacrificial vessels,
Beneath them I heaped up reed and cedar wood and myrtle. The gods smelt the savor,
The gods smelt the sweet savor,
The gods gathered like flies over the sacrificer.[39]

Other similarities might be noted, such as the use of bitumen, the arrangement of the ship in stories, and, what seems more striking, the fact that the hero of the Babylonian story is the tenth antediluvian king, while Noah is the tenth antediluvian patriarch.

As in the stories of creation, marked differences may also be noted between the two representations of the Flood; and these differences appear where they are most significant, namely, in the spirit and purity of conception permeating the entire Hebrew account. For example, the book of Genesis introduces the divine displeasure with sin, the ethical element, as a fundamental note; then, {212} when the divine mercy is aroused, the Flood ceases; according to the Babylonian story, the Flood is caused by the capricious anger of Bel, the idea of punishment for sin cropping out only as an incident in the conversation between Ea and Bel at the end of the story. The Flood ceases because the other gods are terrified, and Ishtar intercedes for her own creation. Moreover, the whole Hebrew conception of the Divine differs from the Babylonian. In the Hebrew account we find ourselves in an atmosphere of ethical monotheism that is unknown apart from the chosen people. Disappeared have all the gods who war with one another, who rejoice in successful intrigues, who do not hesitate to tell untruths or instruct their favorites to do so; the gods unstable in all their ways, now seeking to destroy, now flattering their creatures; the gods who, terrified by the storm, "cower like dogs" at the edge of heaven, and who "gathered like flies" around the sacrifice of the saved hero. All these characteristic features of the Babylonian account are absent from the Bible. Surely, there is no connection between these deities and the one sublime and gracious God of Genesis.

Lack of space will not permit us to institute detailed comparisons between other narratives in the early chapters of Genesis and Babylonian literature. It may be sufficient to say that the {213} resemblances are not confined to the stories of creation and of the Flood. True, no complete Babylonian story of paradise and of the fall is at present known; nevertheless, there are certain features in the biblical narrative which strongly point to Babylonia, and in the light of the known fact that elements in the two important narratives of creation and of the Flood are derived from Babylonia, it may be safe to infer that in this case also echoes of Babylonian beliefs supplied, at least in part, the framework of the Hebrew representation. The antediluvian patriarchs also seem to have their counterparts in Babylonian tradition, and the story of the Tower of Babel, though it does not seem to be of Babylonian origin, presupposes a knowledge of Babylonia, and it is not impossible that some Babylonian legend served as the basis of it.

In closing this discussion, attention may be called to a few general considerations that must be borne in mind in any attempt to answer the question whether the religious and ethical ideas of the Hebrews which show similarities with the ideas of other nations were borrowed bodily from these nations, or, after all, contain elements that were original with the Hebrews.

In the first place, it must be remembered that similarities between the customs or beliefs of two peoples do not necessarily imply the dependence {214} of one upon the other; much less do they indicate which is the original. Where similarities are found at least four possibilities should be recognized: A may depend upon B; B may depend upon A; both A and B may have been derived from a common original; or A and B may have developed independently, the similarities being merely coincidence. Which interpretation is the right one in a given case does not lie on the surface; it is only by careful, patient, unbiased study that one may arrive at a proper understanding. Take as an illustration the Decalogue. The Buddhists have "ten prohibitory laws," sometimes called the "Buddhist Decalogue." The first five read, "Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not lie; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not get drunk." Three of these correspond exactly to three of the demands in the Jewish Decalogue. Does it necessarily follow that the Decalogue was borrowed from Buddha? The Egyptians also had a sacred law. The law itself has not yet come to light, but the Book of the Dead indicates its existence. In the one hundred and twenty-fifth chapter of this book we read the justifications offered by the dead: "I have not acted with deceit or done evil to men; I have not oppressed the poor; I have not judged unjustly," etc. These negations seem to imply the existence of a law, either oral or written, {215} forbidding these things. From the negations, "I have not acted with deceit; I have not committed murder; I have not been unchaste," etc., one may infer that the Egyptians had precepts corresponding substantially to some of the requirements in the Decalogue. Does logic demand, therefore, the conclusion that the Decalogue owes its existence to the sacred law of the Egyptians? Among the Babylonians also we find evidence of the existence of, at least, some of the requirements of the Hebrew Decalogue: "Thou shalt not break into the house of thy neighbor; Thou shalt not approach the wife of thy neighbor; Thou shalt not spill the blood of thy neighbor; Thou shalt not grasp the garment of thy neighbor." Do these similarities prove beyond question the dependence of the one upon the other?

There are, then, marked resemblances between the Hebrew Decalogue, certain requirements among the Babylonians, among the Egyptians, and among the Buddhists. I know of no one who claims that the Decalogue was borrowed from Buddha; some, however, seem to think, that in part at least, it was dependent upon Babylon; others, that Moses is indebted for it to Egypt. True, in the minds of most scholars the dependence is not direct; there would be room, according to their theory, for the work of the Spirit in the selection of these fundamental, ethical conceptions {216} from the great mass of requirements, the majority of which are far inferior to the Decalogue. Such dependence, even if it could be proved, would not rob the Decalogue of inspiration or permanent value; but it seems to me that the similarities do not warrant the claim of even such dependence. Is it not more likely that these similarities are due to the instinct implanted in man by the Creator, which recognizes the sanctity of life, of family relations, and of property rights? But this instinct does not account for the obvious differences between the Hebrew Decalogue as a whole and the legislations of other peoples. These must be traced to the special activity of a Spirit who produced among the Hebrews a collection of commandments such as natural instinct, if left to itself, could not have produced.

It is different, perhaps, when we consider the relation of the more comprehensive civil legislation of the Pentateuch to the Code of Hammurabi. There the resemblances are numerous and striking enough to justify the inference that there exists some relation of dependence, and yet by no means that the legislation of the Pentateuch is borrowed directly from the other, or even that there is a literary dependence. How extensive this dependence is only careful examination can show; but, however complete, it will not destroy the fact that the laws of Israel are permeated by a Divine {217} Spirit. The important question is not, Where do we find the natural basis upon which the system is built up by men under divine guidance? but, Does the spirit and character of the system indicate such guidance?

In the second place, in seeking the truth about this relationship assumption must not be confused with knowledge. Modern archaeologists seem to be in peculiar danger of taking things for granted. It is not without reason that a prominent Old Testament scholar proposes to change the title of the third edition of a book entitled The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament into The Cuneiform Scholar and the Old Testament. It is stated, for example, without qualification by Delitzsch that the name "Yahweh" has been discovered on inscriptions belonging to the period of Hammurabi. No hint is given that the reading is questioned by many Assyriologists. There is, at least, a possibility, no matter how small, of a different rendering, with, of course, a vastly different conclusion. But admitting, as I believe we must do, that the name does occur, the inference drawn from this occurrence by Delitzsch, and expressed in the following words, is an assumption and misleading, unless it is materially modified: "Yahweh, the abiding one, the permanent one, who, unlike man, is not to-morrow a thing of the past, but one that endures forever, that {218} lives and labors for all eternity above the broad, resplendent, law-bound canopy of the stars -- it was this Yahweh that constituted the primordial patrimony of those Canaanite tribes from which centuries afterward the twelve tribes of Israel sprang."[40] The fact is that you may search the Babylonian pantheon from one end to the other and you will not find one god who in nature and character can compare with the Jehovah of Israel, "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth."

Another instance of the same character is the story of the fall. One thing we know, namely, that a story of the fall of man, similar to that in Genesis, has not as yet been found among the fragments of Babylonian libraries. Certainly, such story may have existed, and probably did exist; it may even be, as has been asserted, that some connection exists between the scriptural story of the fall and the picture on an old Babylonian seal cylinder having in the center a tree with fruits hanging down, on each side a figure, and behind the figure at the left a mark which may represent a serpent. But the interpretation is by no means certain. The fact that an assertion is made by an expert favors the presumption, but does not prove, that the statement is true.

Some archaeologists claim that the monotheism of Israel was derived from outside of Israel, {219} either from Arabia[41] or from Babylonia[42]. Among the arguments in favor of this claim is the occurrence of proper names which are alleged to imply the existence of monotheism; for example, Yasma-ilu, which may be translated "God hears," implying the existence of but one God. However, it might mean also "a god hears," or "god" -- referring to one of many -- "hears," the giver of the name singling out the one for special consideration. And as there are clear indications of polytheism in southern Arabia, where the name is found, the name, in all probability, means the latter, thus implying polytheism. The same may be said of the names found in Babylonia. Whatever the primary meaning of ilu, these names do not in themselves prove the existence of monotheism. They may be translated in perfect accord with logic and grammar as admitting the existence of more than one god. Indeed, the historical facts demand such interpretation. If we find, for example, "Sin-muballit" ("the moon-god brings to life") as the name of the father of Hammurabi, and "Shamshu-iluna" (in all probability, "the sun-god is our god") as that of his son, the facts surely indicate that the monotheism of the period was not very distinct. The testimony of the Code of Hammurabi points in the same direction, as also the most spiritual utterances of religion in the Euphrates valley, the penitential psalms.


It is seen, then, that facts do not warrant the claim, made by some, that that upon which rests the significance of the Bible in the world's history, namely, monotheism, was taken over by the Hebrews from the Babylonians. Josh.24.2 remains uncontradicted: "Your fathers dwelt of old time beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods." It is only in Israel that we find a clearly developed monotheism. Assumption and facts are not quite the same.

Another important point, to which attention has already been called, is the marked difference which obtains between the literature of the Old Testament and that uncovered by archaeology. True, there are points of contact; indeed, strange it would be if there were none; for, like the Babylonians, the Hebrews were Semites. Surely, it is not strange that nations of the same race, originally in the same home, should possess similar traditions, customs, beliefs, and practices. When they left their common home they carried with them their common traditions, customs, and beliefs; in their new homes they developed them and impressed upon them their own individualities. We are nowhere informed in the Old Testament, and it would seem contrary to reason to suppose, that at the time of Abraham, Moses, or at any other period, God emptied the Hebrew mind and {221} consciousness of all the things which had been the possession of the Semitic race from the beginning. Is it not more likely that the inspired teachers and writers employed for their loftier purposes the ancient traditions and beliefs familiar to their contemporaries? In doing so they took that which was, in some cases, common and unclean, and, purifying it under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, made it the medium by which to impart the sublimest truths ever presented to man. Obviously, the special religious value of the Old Testament literature does not lie in what is common to it and Babylon, but in the elements in which they differ.

The points of contact must not blind the eye to the points of contrast. These points of contrast are in the spirit and atmosphere pervading the Hebrew Scriptures, which are quite distinct, not simply from Babylonian, but from all other literatures. These essential differences occur, as we have seen, throughout the entire religious and ethical literature. In many cases is agreement in form, but how far superior the spirit and substance of the Hebrew! Think of the different conceptions of the nature and character of God, of God's relation to man, of the divine government of the world, and many other truths precious to Christians in all ages. There is, indeed, in the Hebrew record "an intensity of spiritual {222} conception, a sublimity of spiritual tone, an insight into the unseen, a reliance upon an invisible yet all-controlling Power, that create the gap between the Hebrew and his brother Semite beyond the River."

How are we to account for these differences? Professor Sayce has suggested an answer in these words: "I can find only one explanation, unfashionable and antiquated though it be. In the language of a former generation, it marks the dividing line between revelation and unrevealed religion. It is like that something hard to define which separates man from the ape, even though on the physiological side the ape may be the ancestor of man."[43] Though the language of this statement may be unfortunate, especially where it implies that there is no revelation in the ancient religions outside of the Old Testament, it does call attention to the secret of the fundamental difference between the Old Testament sacred literature and that of the surrounding nations. There is in the former abundant evidence of the activity of a Spirit whose presence is less manifest in the sacred literatures of other ancient nations.

True, the monuments have not spoken their last word; but if we have the right to draw inferences from the known, we may safely affirm that though the monuments may swell into infinity, they will offer nothing to equal, much less to supersede, in substance and spirit, our {223} Old Testament. We may receive gratefully every ray of light, but the time has not yet come, nor ever will come, when we may lay aside the Old Testament and accept as a substitute the legends and myths of heathen lands to give to us the bread of life which the Saviour found in the pages of the Old Book. Let us welcome the light and knowledge God has bestowed upon us; let us rejoice in them with perfect assurance that they are for good and not for evil; let us learn to use them wisely and honestly, and let us still be ever alert listening for other words, uttered ages ago, but not yet audible to modern ears. "It is for us to catch these messages, and to understand them, that we may fit them into the great fabric of apprehended truth to the enrichment of ourselves, and to the glory of our common Lord."


[1] J. P. Peters, The Old Testament and the New Scholarship, p.92.

[2] S. G. Smith, Religion in the Making, p.20.

[3] Hugo Winckler, Himmels- und Weltenbild der Babylonier, p.9.

[4] Professor Friedrich Delitzsch, of the University of Berlin, delivered three lectures on the relation of Babylonian religion to the religion of the Old Testament, under the title, "Babel und Bibel."

[5] A. H. Sayce, The Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, pp.276, 277.

[6] A. Jeremias, The Old Testament in the Light of the Ancient East, I, p.86.


[7] R. W. Rogers, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p.88. Practically all the cuneiform inscriptions quoted or referred to in this chapter are translated in R. W. Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament.

[8] Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel and Bible, Two Lectures, published by Open Court Co., p.65.

[9] A translation of the entire psalm is found in Sayce, The Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, pp.419-421; also in Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp.182-184; R. F. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp.436-439.

[10] Sayce, Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, pp.35, 93, 195. A translation of a hymn composed by this king to his supreme god is found in J. H. Breasted, A History of Egypt, pp.371ff.

[11] An excellent brief survey of the religious conceptions of the pre-Mosaic period is given in the article on "Religion of Israel," by E. Kautzsch, in James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, Extra Vol., pp.613ff.

[12] The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p.95.

[13] Ibid., p.97.

[14] The most recent and most satisfactory edition and translation of the entire Babylonian story of creation is by L. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation. The two quotations given are Tablet I, lines 7-9, and Tablet III, lines 133-138.

[15] Additional portions of this hymn are found in R. W. Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp.170ff.

[16] S. I. Curtiss, Primitive Semitic Religions To-day, p.14.

[17] A. T. Clay, Light on the Old Testament from Babel, p.15; A. H. Sayce, Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, pp.476ff.; M. Jastrow, in American Journal of Theology, 1898, pp.315-352; A. Jeremias, The Old Testament in the Light of the Ancient East, I, pp.198ff.


[18] Babel and Bible, Two Lectures, p.38.

[19] Ibid., p.101.

[20] Paul Haupt, Babylonian Elements in the Levitical Ritual, Journal of Biblical Literature, 1900, p.61.

[21] The details of this question have been discussed very extensively. Admirable discussions of the entire subject are found in Sayce, Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, pp.448-478; Jeremias, Old Testament in the Light of the Ancient East, II, pp.112ff.

[22] Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, p.469.

[23] Delitzsch, Babel and Bible, Two Lectures, pp.53ff.

[24] R. W. Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p.145.

[25] R. F. Harper, The Code of Hammurabi; art. on the same subject in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, Extra Vol., pp.584ff.; W. W. Davies, The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses.

[26] The best and most complete recent treatment of the legal literature of the Old Testament is found in C. F. Kent, Israel's Laws and Legal Precedents, which is Vol. IV in The Student's Old Testament.

[27] Johannes Jeremias, Moses and Hammurabi, pp.31ff.

[28] R. W. Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p.158.

[29] L. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, Two Vols.; a translation is also found in R. F. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp.282ff. R. W. Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp.107ff.

[30] Tablet V, lines 1-3.

[31] Lines 1-8.

[32] An English translation of the entire epic is found in R. F. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp.324ff.; the Deluge story is given by R. W. Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp.199ff.


[33] Lines 23-31.

[34] Lines 184-186.

[35] Lines 27, 85, 86.

[36] Lines 92-111.

[37] Lines 141, 142.

[38] Lines 146-156.

[39] Lines 156-162.

[40] Babel and Bible, Two Lectures, p.62.

[41] F. Hommel, The Ancient Hebrew Tradition, pp.75ff.

[42] P. Delitzsch, Babel and Bible, pp.58ff.

[43] Preface to Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia.

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