LIGHT FROM OTHER FORMS OF CULTURAL BEHAVIOUR
ON DOMR INCIDENTS IN SCRIPTURE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1. The Rationale of Cultural Patterns
Chapter 2. Illustrations From Other Cultures
Chapter 3. Illustrations From Scripture
1971 Doorway paper No. 19, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1975 Part VII in Genesis and Early Man, vol.2 in The Doorway Papers Series, published by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997 Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001 2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)
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AT LEAST ONE book and quite a few papers have been written exploring the light which the customs of other cultures throw upon many passages of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. But almost all of these have concerned themselves primarily with peoples from the Middle East area, both ancient and modern.
For example, H. B. Tristram in 1894 published a volume entitled, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands. (1) It can still be obtained in secondhand bookstores and is a thoroughly worthwhile book to read, shedding a great deal of light on both the Old and New Testaments, and on the beliefs of the Jewish people particularly in the time of our Lord. In 1896, a very well-known Oriental scholar of that day, Hormuzd Rassam, presented a paper before the Victoria Institute in London. (2) This, too, is full of interesting observations. Much more recently, Ernest Gordon in 1945 contributed an article in The Sunday School Times entitled, “Light on the Old Testament from Primitive Society.” (3)
All of these have this in common, that they deal with people who in one way or another have shared in the historical stream of events which form the immediate background of the biblical record. To my knowledge there has been no serious attempt to show how primitive and advanced cultures which have not shared this common background have nevertheless developed patterns of cultural behaviour which shed unexpected light on many parts of Scripture. Now and then one will run across casual comments in a work such as
1. Tristram, H. S., Eastern Customs in Bible Lands, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1894.
2. Rassam, Hormuzd, “On Biblical Lands, Their Topography, Races, Regions, Languages, and Customs, Ancient and Modern,” Transactions of the Victoria Institute, London, vol.30, 1896-97, p. 29-85.
3. Gordon, Ernest, “Light on the Old Testament from Primitive Society,” The Sunday School Times, Nov. 3, 1945, p.851.
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Livingstone’s Travels in Africa, (4) or Lubbock’s Origin of Civilization, (5) but nobody has thought to pull together this kind of incidental commentary on the Scriptures into a single essay.
The only exception to this is a volume such as Barton’s Archaeology and the Bible, (6) which gives numerous references to cultural parallelisms in the Middle Eastern literary texts such as legal codes, collections of stories, poems, and prayers, and religious documents of various kinds, both in Cuneiform and hieroglyphics. For this reason we have not included any illustrations from such contiguous sources. The material of this Doorway Paper has been derived almost entirely from records of cultural behaviour which owe little or nothing directly to Middle East tradition.
This is not a Paper which one would ordinarily read straight through as a continuing text, but rather a source of reference. A few of the comments do not deal strictly with cultural parallels but were felt to be intriguing enough to justify their inclusion — and it is not too likely that the average reader would discover them otherwise.
This collection of comments has simply grown by accretion from a fairly wide range of studies which have taken me into the highways and byways of biblically and non-biblically oriented literature over the past 35 years or so. Hence the reader should understand that this material did not result, strictly speaking, from a study of Scripture itself, though by investigating some particular passage listed in the Index, he will often find a great deal of information on Scripture. This kind of material was rather extracted from studies of primitive people made in depth by anthropologists who lived with them for a time. In many instances the writer was not aware of the fact that he was shedding interesting light on Scripture. In a few cases the parallelisms are not precise but reflect the underlying philosophy of the biblical pattern and to this extent help one to understand better. Some things that people did in the Old Testament seem, if not unforgivable, at least somewhat cruel, and yet when the underlying philosophy is illuminated by reference to some other culture, the situation often appears in a much less unfavourable light.
4. Livingstone, David, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, Harper, New York, 1858, xxiv and 732 pages.
5. Lubbock, Sir John, The Origin of Civilization, Appleton, New York, 1882.
6. Barton; George A., Archaeology and the Bible, The American Sunday School Union, Philadelphia, 1916.
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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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