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When the writer first proposed the thesis which is here restated under very different conditions, the prevailing understanding as regards the antiquity of the history, culture, and religion of Syria, including Palestine and Mesopotamia, which lands the ancients called Amurru, was as follows:
Arabia was the home of the Semites. The Arabs first entered Babylonia about 2800 B. C. and gave that land its first Semitic inhabitants, who under the leadership of Sargon created a great empire. About 2500 B. C., a wave of Arabs entered Canaan, and furnished it with Semites. A little later another wave poured out of Arabia and overflowed Syria. These were called Amorites; and they established the Hammurabi dynasty. About 1400 B. C., Arabia again “spat out," and a wave of Arabs called the Aramaean, under Joshua, furnished Palestine with its Hebrews. It was not thought possible that a civilization and culture existed in Aram in what had been known as the patriarchal period, for the people in that land, at this early time, were still in the state of barbarism. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, therefore, were considered by some to be Babylonian gods; and by others as the personification of Arab tribes, clans, or ethnological groups that came into Canaan under Joshua; Israel's sojourn in Egypt was generally regarded as a myth.
With such conclusions concerning the early history and civilization of this part of Western Asia, it naturally became comparatively easy for the Biblical student to accept the idea that Israel had borrowed its culture from the Babylonians, the people who had repeatedly invaded Syria and Palestine. It really only required a small additional step to accept the idea that Israel's religion had
been extensively influenced by the Babylonian, and that they had borrowed their traditions and their institutions from that land; even that they had Hebraized Babylonian mythological kings or gods into patriarchs, in order to create an ancestry for their people.
Naturally this background, painted by Assyriologists for the Israelite religion and culture, was unfavorable to the idea that their traditions and religions were rooted in their own past history. Besides, the intelligence of the people who lived in Syria and Palestine, it was held, was not much above that of the “brute beast." Beyond the confines of Egypt and Babylonia were barbarism; the Hebrews were really semi-civilized Arabs from the deserts, who had adopted as their deity Yahweh, the god of the Kenites. The beginning of their history was when these Arab hordes were brought into Palestine under the leadership of Joshua.
When such leading Assyriologists as the late Professors Delitzsch and Winckler of Berlin, Professor Zimmern of Leipzig, Professor Jensen of Marburg, and others, had reached such results; and when such Old Testament scholars as Professor Gunkel of Berlin, wrote that “as long as the Israelite religion was in its vigor, it assimilated actively this foreign material (referring to Babylonian myths); in later times when the religion had become relaxed in strength, it swallowed foreign elements, feathers and all,” Biblical scholars everywhere, it seems, were influenced to accept these conclusions. In England, where the original seeds of this movement had been sown, scholars and students readily followed the lead. In America, the position was conceded as correct by almost every scholar, and the theories were made palatable for the student, who was taught that the Hebrew priests, knowing this Babylonian mythological material, deliberately or unconsciously appropriated it for their religious literature.
This has been the prevailing understanding for years; and these views are thoroughly rooted everywhere; in nearly every