Michael Coogan: The Israelites Didn’t Exist in a Vacuum

Michael D. Coogan, “In the Beginning: The Earliest History,” in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, Michael D. Coogan, editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 20.

The ancient Israelites did not live in a cultural vacuum. From prehistoric times on Palestine was linked by trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia, and one or the other politically dominated it for much of the period from the mid-third millennium to the late first millennium BCE. Biblical traditions also relate how some of Israel’s ancestors, and later some of Israel itself, spent considerable time in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Thus, while Israelite literature and religion as preserved in the Bible and as uncovered by archaeologists have many distinctive features, in their lives and in their writings the Israelites inevitably shared perspectives with their ancient Near Eastern contemporaries. They were family with other cultural expressions and freely adopted them in articulating their own specific formulations.

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