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Tag: The Babylonian Exile

Tracing Religious Ideas from Babylon to Judaism

“But it was not only through the Babylonian exile that the religious ideas of the Babylonian and the Jew came into contact with each other. It was then, indeed, that the ideas of the conquering race–the actual masters of the captives, who had long been accustomed to regard Babylonia as the home of a venerable learning and culture–were likely to make their deepest and most enduring impression; it was then, too, that the Jew for the first time found the libraries and ancient literature of Chaldea open to his study and use.

But old tradition had already pointed to the valley of the Euphrates as the primeval cradle of his race. We all remember how Abraham, it is said, was born in Ur of the Chaldees, and how the earlier chapters of Genesis make the Euphrates and Tigris two of the rivers of Paradise, and describe the building of the Tower of Babylon as the cause of the dispersion of mankind.

Now the Hebrew language was the language not only of the Israelites, but also of those earlier inhabitants of the country whom the Jews called Canaanites and the Greeks Phoenicians. Like the Israelites, the Phoenicians held that their ancestors had come from the Persian Gulf and the alluvial plain of Babylonia.

The tradition is confirmed by the researches of comparative philology. Many of the words which the Semites have in common seem to point to the neighbourhood of Babylonia as the district from which those who used them originally came, and where they called the fauna and flora of the country by common names.

Their first home appears to have been in the low-lying desert which stretches eastward of Chaldea–on the on the very side of the Euphrates, in fact, on which stood the great city of Ur, the modern Mugheir.

Here they led a nomad life, overawed by the higher culture of the settled Accadian race, until a time came when they began to absorb it themselves, and eventually, as we have seen, to dispossess and supersede their teachers.

The tribes which travelled northward and westward must, we should think, have carried with them some of the elements of the culture they had learnt from their Accadian neighbors. And such, indeed, we find to be the case.

The names of Babylonian deities meet us again in Palestine and the adjoining Semitic lands. Nebo, the Babylonian god of prophecy and literature, has given his name to towns that stood within the territories of Reuben and Judah, as well as to the Moabite mountain on which Moses breathed his last; Anu, the Babylonian god of heaven, and his female consort Anatu, re-appear in Beth-Anath, “the temple of Anatu,” and Anathoth, the birth-place of Jeremiah; and Sinai itself is but the mountain of Sin, the Babylonian Moon-god.

We may thus assume that there were two periods in the history of the Jewish people in which they came under the influence of the religious conceptions of Babylonia. There was the later period of the Babylonish exile, when the influence was strong and direct; there was also the earlier period, when the amount of influence is more hard to determine.

Much will depend upon the view we take of the age of the Pentateuch, and of the traditions or histories embodied therein. Some will be disposed to see in Abraham the conveyer of Babylonian ideas to the west; others will consider that the Israelites made their first acquaintance with the gods and legends of Babylonia through the Canaanites and other earlier inhabitants of Palestine.

Those who incline to the latter belief may doubt whether the fathers of the Canaanitish tribes brought the elements of their Babylonian beliefs with them from Chaldea, or whether these beliefs were of later importation, due to the western conquests of Sargon and his successors.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 41-3.

The Influence of Babylonian Religion on Judaism

“But, it will be asked, what interest can the religions of Babylonia and Assyria have for us, much more an inquiry into their nature and origin? They have long since perished, like the people who professed them, and have left no apparent traces of their influence upon the nations about whom we know and care most.

The Greeks and Romans concerned themselves so little with these Eastern barbarians as neither to read nor to preserve the only Greek history of Chaldaea (ed. note: referring to Berossus) which was written by a native and professed to be derived from native accounts; we owe the fragments we have of it to the apologetic zeal of Christian controversialists.

Still less would it appear that these old people of Babylonia and Assyria can have had any influence upon the world of to-day, or have served to mould the ideas and the society of modern Europe. Such questions may be asked, and until lately it would have been hard to answer them.

And yet a moment’s consideration might have shown that there was one nation at all events which has exercised, and still exercises, a considerable intluence upon our own thought and life, and which had been brought into close contact with the religion and culture of Babylonia at a critical epoch in its history.

The influence of Jewish religion upon Christianity, and consequently upon the races that have been moulded by Christianity, has been lasting and profound. Now Jewish religion was intimately bound up with Jewish history, more intimately perhaps than has been the case with any other great religion of the world.

It took its colouring from the events that marked the political life of the Hebrew people; it developed in unison with their struggles and successes, their trials and disappointments. Its great devotional utterance, the Book of Psalms, is national, not individual; the individual in it has merged his own aspirations and sufferings into those of the whole community.

The course of Jewish prophecy is equally stamped with the impress of the national fortunes. It grows clearer and more catholic as the intercourse of the Jewish people with those around them becomes wider; and the lesson is taught at last that the God of the Jews is the God also of the whole world.

Now the chosen instruments for enforcing this lesson, as we are expressly told, were the Assyrian and the Babylonian. The Assyrian was the rod of God’s anger, while the Babylonish exile was the bitter punishment meted out to Judah for its sins.

The captives who returned again to their own land came back with changed hearts and purified minds; from henceforward Jerusalem was to be the unrivalled dwelling-place of “the righteous nation which keepeth the truth.”

Apart, therefore, from any influence which the old religious beliefs of Babylonia may have had upon the Greeks, and which, as we shall see, was not so wholly wanting as was formerly imagined, their contact with the religious conceptions of the Jewish exiles must, to say the least, have produced an effect which it is well worth our while to study.

Hitherto, the traditional view has been that this effect exhibited itself wholly on the antagonistic side; the Jews carried nothing away from the land of their captivity except an intense hatred of idolatry, more especially Babylonian, as well as of the beliefs and practices associated therewith.

Now and then, it is true, some bold spirit, like Bishop Warburton, may have ventured to propound the paradox that the doctrine of the resurrection was first learnt by the Jews in Babylonia, but it was treated generally as a paradox, and of late years, if admitted at all, was considered a proof of the influence not of the Babylonians but of their Persian conquerors.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 38-40.

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