A unique empire….

If only we had such a wealth of information for every kingdom in the ancient world that we have in the Hebrew Scriptures! Tantalizingly circumspect as they sometimes are, as linguistically obscure as they indubitably have become, as debatedly historical, religious, idealistic, ideological or irrelevant as we may find them, these Hebrew writings are still a singular treasure trove of information from an ancient culture, a collection of literary works which is completely and inarguably, indeed unquestionably unique in the world: a body of writing originating in an act of conscious self-selection in time out of mind, yet preserved in a living tradition of respect and belief from ancient times down to the present, transmitted, and regarded as canonical texts, with or without additional works alongside, and thus normative to one extent or the other, by two religions descendant from that ancient culture, the adherents of which comprise approximately one-third of the world’s current population. This is absolutely astounding! Especially so considering that no such coherent, self-selected set of writings exists for any of the many small kingdoms of the region, indeed, for even the larger civilizations typically associated with the majestic term “empires,” whose creativity has never been in doubt. The Sumerian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Achaemenid Persian, Hellenistic Greek, and pagan Roman civilizations have not left us any such coherent collection as an expression of their self-identity, of their intimately personal worldview, despite the few whole and many more fragmentary of their various works, however multiply-copied and obviously popular they may have been, which we have found as solely incidental detritus in each of the regions which they spanned in their greatness and in their own home cities, now crumbled into ruins. No living tradition preserved and transmitted those collections never made. No descendant religions continue to praise the might of the Son of Enki, the Daughter of Asshur, the Chosen One of Almighty Marduk. The holy temples of the cities of Eridu, Larsa, Mennufer, Seleucia are no longer thronged by pilgrims from distant lands, the cities themselves being level with the earth. Yet we find that it is a small library of Hebrew writings, put together in some manner at some time, both of which we wonder at and dispute over, a self-selection from within that living tradition, from that tiny little remnant of a kingdom, after a time supplemented by some Greek texts also springing from that vibrantly living source, that has persisted for these more than two thousand years, and can in a real way be said to have created a kind of empire greater than any other that has ever been, an empire in which a Shepherd King’s songs are still sung!

1 Comment

  1. Very eloquently put! Thanks! Also unquestionably unique is the uniquely non-mythological faith of ancient Israel (no stories of YHWH’s “private life”, etc., but only of his interventions in history, in this world; YHWH a transcendent God, over & not part of the cosmos, as the pagan deities ultimately were), called by one scholar a “mutation” in the ancient Near East. To me the uniqueness of this faith is piece of evidence that YHWH really exists, since a unique faith must have a unique origin – I believe in a real encounter with the Living God.

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