The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The bible seems like a mish-mash of different customs, religions and practices to me

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I’ve wondered about the same thing.

But one cannot logically invalidate a biblical concept simply by showing how we came to hold it. To do so is to commit the genetic fallacy.

That is, the claim that biblical concepts had their origins in other religions does not necessarily mean that those concepts are invalid.

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FormerUR - I do feel your pain on this subject. My way out of it was not to just leave the OT in pieces, though, but to read the smartest people I could find that had faced up to those challenges and come through them with faith intact, but changed.
A few titles that helped me:
Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns
An Introduction to the Old Testament by Walter Bruegemann
An Introduction to the Old Testament by Dillard and Longman

Good luck! The Bible is not easy…

Even better is to understand the OT as enlightened by the NT - the NT shows what was important from the OT. I suggest NT Wright’s commentary on Romans.

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First, a question relevant to the primacy of Scriptural truth, in relation to certain parallel beliefs found elsewhere in the Ancient Near East (ANE):

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” BIBLICAL answer: the chicken. Gen. 1:20.

The Bible doesn’t claim to have a monopoly on the truth. But I would argue that it does, through divine inspiration, order, examine, and sometimes emphatically highlight truth for us.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads,
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

…Of course, the Scriptures can be deadly in the wrong hands:

2 Corinthians 3:6 says,
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the SPIRIT gives life.”

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There are similarities, but it’s a gross exaggeration to say there’s really no difference between Judaism and other ANE religions. Significant details and rationale vary widely.

Passover- Even if it is the case that the passover ritual predates the exodus account (which would provide a distinct grounding of the ritual in the Israelite escape from Egypt), the ceremonial apotropaic rite to ward off evil spirits is a far cry from the ceremonial atonement of sin.

The literal actions of ritual animal sacrifice may be similar to Canaanite practices, but the religious framework is quite different–the Jewish understanding posits a world devoid of the plenteous, immanent activity of demons that might be addressed through magic, and rather ultimately under the power of a sovereign God alone worthy of worship, who reckons punishment upon the guilt and holds people to account, offering atonement for those who faithfully offer their firstfruits in service.

Law of Moses- Key differences with Hammurabi Code (HC) include 1) the religious nature of its contents, including religious rituals and a grounding in the character and commands of god, while the HC was a secular, civil code for a multicultural society. 2) more egalitarian treatment of offenders compared to HC’s harsher treatment of the poor, women, slaves, etc. 3) the Law of Moses applies to all of Israel, even Moses, while Hammurabi and close associates may be immune from the code.

Resurrection/Messiah- The death and resurrection of a divine co-equal within time is unmatched in ANE literature, not to mention the messiah’s eminently non-violent interaction with evil (in Christ’s first coming) and sacrificial death on behalf of mankind. In the Christian telling, messiahship is the most unique of all. That said, Jewish antecedents are vaguer and might be more closely associated with versions of Zoroastrianism (after all, Zoroastrianism is a heterodox religion with many valid theological formulations–you’re bound to run into somebody telling a similar story as you).

More broadly, the Bible’s remarkable nature does not come in an absence of broadly similar cultural or religious rites or ideas, but rather in its framing of these rites or ideas within a distinct theological structure presupposing a different nature of god, humanity, the world, and the relationship among and between the three. This is where the rubber meets the road, and elicits the true fundamental distinctions between worldviews. I don’t see why this makes the Bible any less “special”, given that the items you list are very broad cultural or religious concepts found throughout the world, throughout time. There’s a reason, after all, why these religions remained distinct and did not collapse into one another under the gravity of their similarity.

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Ian - that is excellent material, thanks. What was your source for that info?

Thanks @DaveB2.0! The Ancient History Encyclopedia (ancient.eu) has substantive articles on Passover and Hammurabi, as does the Fordham History Sourcebook (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/hamcode.asp) and Michael Coogan’s Old Testament History. I too have I&I by Peter Enns in my head (I studied under him in college). Mary Boyce’s Zoroastrianism: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices is a standard work on that topic.

That said, I am mostly drawing the theological implications of various biblical motifs: the prohibition of witchcraft, divination, mediums; and the uniform interest in Israel’s sovereign god change the focus of cultic sacrifice from pleasing spiritual forces immanent in the world to the nation’s divine suzerain (as opposed to a king in other nations, who unique represents god and shares in his authority over a nation [https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/7773/the-ten-commandments-were-based-on-the-code-of-hammurabi]). Admittedly atonement is not a direct consideration in Passover, but animal sacrifice generally entails atonement in Jewish theology, and the Passover, in its final moment before the freeing of the Israelites unto their own nation, consecrates the people for divine service.

The HC posits a more stratified society, with slave, commoner, and elite, with varying degrees of punishment based on class of the offender and offended. There is no automatic manumission in the HC, (as in Exo 21:2), special social provisions for the poor (Exo 23:10-11).

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