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The Study of Man:
The New Old Testament

- Abstract

In Recent years the study of the Old Testament has for many of us suddenly become alive and relevant to an unexpected degree. This access of vitality to what had been a more or less rigid discipline is the result in large measure of archaeological findings that for the first time enable us to see the religion of Israel against the background of its ancient Near Eastern environment.

With the help of this material we can test and appraise reconstructions of Biblical history and theology which otherwise tend to be at the mercy of presuppositions handed down by the Biblical criticism of past years. To take one example: the patriarchal narratives have frequently been held to reflect less the society and ideas of the age with which they claim to deal than those of a later one—if, indeed, they are not, as some have thought, pure invention. Yet the contemporary evidence from Nuzu in Assyria has shown that these stories faithfully preserve customs typical of the 2nd millennium and not of the 1st. When Sarah, for instance, being childless herself, gave her handmaid to her husband to bear him children, we now know that she was merely following a custom of the time. There is thus a greater disposition today to accept the substantial historicity of the patriarchal narratives and to take at face value what they have to tell us of Hebrew culture in that period. Again, in the last twenty years we have been in the possession of a considerable body of texts from Ras Shamra which allow us to reconstruct with a hitherto unhoped for exactness the culture and religion of Canaan, and which illuminate the Old Testament at many points.

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