Written for class (HS105) at Boyce college, edited for this blog.
A knowledge of Ancient Near Eastern History is essential for evangelical Christians to have so that they will have a better understanding and grasp of the ancient cultures, environments, and religions/folklore. By studying Ancient Near Eastern History, an individual can look back in time and see a culture radically different from today’s, while simultaneously witnessing the similarities in human nature across the ages. The history of the world and Scripture are in the study of the Ancient Near East.
As Christians, this history should be relevant to us as this is the history of the Old covenant. All too often, we brush aside and ignore the Old Testament and the history of this period. However, this is the time when humanity received covenant law from God. Many of the requirements of our time have their origins founded in the God-given ordinances seen in the Old Testament.
By understanding the Ancient Near East, we can better grasp the ideology and customs which were relevant at the time, such as seen in Genesis 24:9, where one reads about an inner thigh covenant that occurs between Abraham and his servant. While researching the Ancient Near East, an individual can better understand why certain rituals, what they stood for, and the unique role they play. For example, the researcher could learn what an inner thigh covenant was and what it signified to Abraham. With this knowledge, a person would have a better understanding of how this is relevant to believers today.
As we research ancient sources, we must be mindful of the environment that the people group was in because it will have a direct impact on the terms used and their mindset of different rituals. If a person is from a fishing village, he will likely use an adage or saying that relates to life on the water and about fishing. Likewise, a person who is in a desert plain will use terms understood by him and the surrounding people, like speaking of the struggles of a sandstorm or finding an oasis. Either way, it is crucial to know the geography of the particular culture you are researching and from which you are deciphering a text.
Many Christians are confused about what to believe when they are researching ancient times. It is the different approaches of historiography that can lead to this confusion. The dictionary says historiography is “the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources.” Historians do not always begin with the same beliefs when they start researching and therefore place a different value upon the various sources. Insufficient knowledge about ancient texts, not just Biblical books but those of other religions and cultures, can often confuse historians and create a perplexing challenge to knowing what is right. Archaeological discoveries can also affect how history is written or rewritten.
The first thing we must do when researching sources as Christians is to compare them to Scripture; this will not check if they are correct. Instead, they show if they are wrong. As evangelical Christians, we affirm the Bible is the inerrant word of God, which means it has no flaws. Thus, if something contradicts Scripture, we would know it had to be faulty. Next, we must accumulate information about the region, cultures, and environment to fully understand the correlations between their lifestyle and the modern archaeologist. We should, however, believe if a source does not disagree with the Bible, that we can assume it to be valid until proven false.