03 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day 3
World Civilization Tour, Day Three
The Hebrews and Their Neighbors
What new concepts did the Hebrew prophets bring to Hebrew religion? What was unique about Jewish belief?
The primary distinction of Judaism versus Mesopotamian religion is monotheism. The Hebrews believed in one, omnipotent, predictable, creator God, who could know, and be known by, individuals in a personal manner. This contrasted with the pantheon of pagan gods, who were capricious, unpredictable, moody, aloof, demanding, and limited in both authority and geography.
While requiring obedience, the Hebrew God promised blessings, and forgiveness of transgressions for the penitent. The Hebrew scriptures reveal the story of creation, the fall of man from an initial state of perfection and paradise, an explanation for the existence of evil, a special relationship with God (covenant) for both individual believers and the Hebrew race, a civil, moral, and religious code of behavior and ethics, and, as time went on, a written history of the world and their race.
They also introduced the concept of a “Messiah,” or savior, who will bring justice and peace to the righteous and punish evildoers. Personal responsibility, to God and one’s fellow man, was a key concept in Hebrew society. Believing that man was created in God’s image and for His purposes gave unique value to human life. Capital punishment was employed, but only for crimes against people, not property.
What do you believe were the most important aspects of the Mesopotamian world view?
I believe the most important aspects of the Mesopotamian worldview were their belief in honest and ethical dealings with others, and the interdependence necessary to create a robust agricultural society. The dynamics of living in a confined area with thousands of other people differ greatly from that of a small, independent, nomadic band of a few dozen related individuals. Greater interaction with larger numbers of individuals created more opportunities for conflict, and the accumulation of wealth made oppression of the “have-nots” by the “haves” inevitable.
As populations grew and fewer hands were required for farming, the brightest minds turned to the study of astronomy and mathematics, enhancing their understanding and measurement of time and seasons, resulting in a better knowledge of the best times for planting and harvesting, and making advanced building techniques possible. While my modern (and Christian) worldview often finds their polytheistic beliefs to be superstitious nonsense (modern man can be quite judgmental), it gave them a sense of accountability to something outside themselves in their lives and conduct.
Religion has often been a strong catalyst for advancements in art, communication, ethics, and the desire to keep a durable, sharable record of history, culture, and ritual, so in a sense, their religious beliefs helped make this class possible. Archaeology can provide a great deal of information about what an ancient society was doing, but a written record can reveal what they were thinking, providing a much deeper insight into who these people were and how they viewed themselves, others, and the world in which they lived.