New Testament scholar Ben Witherington reports on the discovery of an 11,500 year old temple complex being excavated in Eastern Turkey. The complex predates the pyramids by 7,000 years and Stonehenge by 6,000 years. In addition,
This temple lies west of the Biblical plain called Haran and is only 20 miles from the Syrian border. . . . This is the world not only of Genesis, but of the great Anatolian civilization of the Hittites (yes those Hittites as in Uriah the Hittite — husband of Bathsheba). In short, if you are wondering if this is important to understand the OT, wonder no longer. It is.
Klaus Schmidt is heading up the dig, and Newsweek describes his views on the site:
Schmidt’s thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.
Witherington describes the relevance of the findings for both Christian theology and ancient history.
The importance of this find for Biblical thinking is this — the Bible says that from the outset, human beings were created in God’s image. Human beings were religious creatures from Day One. Archaeologists and sociologists have long dismissed this theory saying organized religion comes much later in the game than the beginning of civilization and city building. As Ian Holder director of Stanford’s prestigious archaeology program says — this is a game changer. Indeed, it changes everything experts in the Neolithic era have been thinking. Schmidt is saying that religion is the cause of civilization, not the result of it. Towns were built to be near the Temple complex. Agriculture was undertaken to feed those living there and supply the temple complex, and so on. The first instincts of humans were to put religion first. Maybe there is more to that Genesis story than some have been willing to think or admit. Maybe human beings are inherently homo religiosis.
Christians in Context reviews John Oswalt’s book The Bible Among the Myths.
Old Testament Israelite religion, as all fair-minded, non-fundies know, was just another ancient near eastern Semitic religion. Don’t let the fact that it caught on and stuck around fool you: OT Israel borrowed her creation myth, her ritual system, her tripartite temples, and even some of her Scriptures themselves from Egypt and Canaan. This silly idea of a uniquely revealed religion is for those folks who have naively left their brains back in the days before we did real science and history. Biblical religion is myth, just like the rest of ’em.
So says most of the scholarship on the OT and the Ancient Near Eastern world from the last fifty or so years. Which makes John Oswalt wonder: since for a long time even liberal scholars agreed that Israelite religion was mostly unique (even if it was wrong about God and the world), why this recent shift? And more importantly, is this newer wave of scholarly consensus correct? Does or does not the Bible present a religion that is essentially similar to or different than other ANE religions? (Continue)