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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Religion

This is certainly a key topic, which could occupy a big book, so little more than a few hints can be given here. Plenty of Sumerian, Babylonian, and Hittite hymns and prayers survive, in which phraseology and sentiments similar to those of the biblical psalms can be found. Hebrew sacrificial terminology was also employed by the Phoenicians, and the Classical Greeks had a similar regimen. The biblical proverbs are often similar to those of other ancient Near Eastern cultures. What is different is the conception of the divine. The polytheism of most of the ancient Near East expressed very well their conception of the physical universe as controlled by a host of independent superhuman powers. Israelite monotheism is distinct. Claims for Egyptian monotheism under Akhnaton, also a kind of Babylonian monotheism in some first-milliennium BCE theological texts have been taken into account, also the fairly common view that Israelite monotheism arose only in the Babylonian captivity; before then, it was rather a henotheism. There may be some truth in these points, save for Akhnaton; but Israelite religion had the advantages in the concept of one all-powerful God. There was no longer a whole pantheon of often divided and squabbling gods in control of the universe. Thus moral standards in Israel have an intensity not found in Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh, as quoted above, is urged to a pure hedonism. Ecclesiastes advises to enjoy the pleasures of life without forgetting God. The Israelite God works in history with consistency to a predetermined goal. Sumerian and Babylonian gods intervene in human affairs only ad hoc and often whimsically.

The recovery of knowledge of the ancient Near East during the last 150 years has made possible a realistic assessment of the relative character of ancient Israel.

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