The Ancient Near East “101”

Map-Ancient-Near-EastMost people have probably never heard the phrase “Ancient Near East” and if they have it was almost certainly not in the context of reading our Bibles.  What is the Ancient Near East (ANE)?  The ANE is comprised of the modern nations of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf States and Turkey. 1  This is the area where people lived during Biblical times, from Adam all the way to Y’shua and his disciples and beyond.

The reason why the ANE is so important is that studying its history gives us a glimpse into what life was like 2000, 4000 years ago.  Understanding history gives us contextual clues about what was going on during the time the Bible was written.  If you are one of those people who believes that all you need is the Bible, then not only are you going to miss out on a lot when it comes to cultural context, but you also risk reading the Bible with a 21st-century Western mindset.  Let’s kill a sacred cow now before we continue.  The Bible was written “for” you, but it wasn’t written “to” you.  It was written to people who viewed the world very differently from how we do today.  The way we do things today compared to the way they did things back then is a night and day difference.

Here’s an example.  If someone told you, they were going to ‘grab some lunch’ you would automatically assume all the things that go along with grabbing lunch today.  That would most likely include getting in their car, driving to a restaurant, ordering the food, paying for the food, tipping the server, driving back, etc.  Along with those actions, we would also understand that the rules of the road would have to be followed, paying for the food would most likely take place with a credit/debit card, which we understand involves electricity and the use of a phone line to transmit our card information.  See how something as simple as going to ‘grab some lunch’ has so much more cultural context to it that we typically don’t even consider?  Do you think “going to grab some lunch” means the same thing to everyone in the world today?  How about people in third world countries, how would they view the phrase?   Ideas about this phrase even vary from location to location in the same country.  In the Southern US, it’s not uncommon to hear, “We havin’ grits for breakfast?”  However, ask that question in the Northern US and the response you’ll likely receive is, “What is a grit?”

If you were to tell someone living in the ANE during Biblical times that you were going to ‘grab some lunch,’ what they envision and what we do 4000+ years later would have little in common. Even between the time of Moses and Y’shua, this idea of ‘grabbing some lunch’ would have changed.  The point is; we understand things that we know and live in our everyday lives.  When we read something written in the Bible, we need to know how the people it was written “to” understood it instead of applying our own modern day understanding.

Today, if someone sends us a text that says, “Let’s go grab some lunch,” first of all, we know what a text is.  Secondly, they don’t have to go into detail and explain every step required because we can assume certain things based on our cultural norms.  The same applies to the Bible.  When Paul wrote to the churches in Corinth, he didn’t have to go into detail about every little thing, because the people he was writing his letter to understood things based on the social norms of their time.  When Paul makes the statement that a man shouldn’t pray with his head covered and a woman shouldn’t pray with her head uncovered 21 Corinthians 11:4,5 they knew exactly what he meant.  They didn’t assume Paul was adding to the Torah because they understood the social context of head coverings, a topic that we will be addressing in an upcoming resource.

Brad Scott 3 uses an analogy about rivers and oceans that we are going to borrow.  The water in the ocean is not pure like it is at its source.  By the time it flows through the rivers and empties into the ocean it has picked up all sorts of things and is not good to drink anymore.  If we want to drink, we have to go back upstream where the water is purer.  The closer to the source we get the more pure the water is.  That is why studying the ANE is so important.  Because if we want to understand the Bible the way the people it was written to did, we have to go back to the source.  We have to read scripture with their cultural norms in mind and not read and interpret it with a 21st-century mindset.

This is the reason we have to go beyond the Bible itself to learn how to rightly interpret it.  And for those who claim that the Holy Spirit teaches them what they need to know, and they need nothing other than the Bible.  Well, tell that to the other people who also received divine direction from the Holy Spirit and created their own denominations, a number that is so high it’s hard to fathom.  To quote our friend, Tyler, when people do this, we end up with “A Body of Believers who often attributed every flash of “inspiration” to be Holy Spirit inspired – resulting in doctrines based on nothing more than opinion and often flying directly in the face of what is written.” 4

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References   [ + ]

2. 1 Corinthians 11:4,5

Posted on July 30, 2015 in Ancient Near East, Foundational Teachings

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Our Ministry is based on 1 Peter 2:2. We want to provide the 'milk' that people new to Torah need by offering easy to read and understand teachings that the Torah "Babies" struggle with most. Please don't be offended by being called "Babies," that includes us as well. If we're being honest with each other and ourselves, we are all Torah Babies and will be until Y'shua returns to teach us. Shalom!

Response (1)

  1. Jeanette Zook
    February 20, 2016 at 10:53 am · Reply

    These are some very excellent thoughts and hopefully they will help people open their minds and hearts to help them grow. In the beginning of this article, you compared our cultural mindset to those of other countries in the world, i.e., the Middle East and third world countries. Here in America, try as we might, we cannot seem to be able to motivate people to even read the Bible, much less educate themselves regarding world history and its cultures. I can only deduce from my experience as an avid reader and also a writer of Biblical subjects that the sheeple are asleep and cannot hear.

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