In the first article which appeared under the above title, it was pointed out that the religion of the Bible is pervasively supernatural. A second and no less important feature of biblical religion is its claim to uniqueness. In fact, the two go together. If the religion of the Bible is truly supernatural and heavenly, then it is unique. There are, B. B. Warfield has reminded us, three general types of religion which men have made for themselves, according as the intellect, sensibility, or will predominates in them. But there is “an even more fundamental division among religions than that which is supplied by these varieties. This is the division between man-made and God-made religions. Besides the religions which man has made for himself, God has made a religion for man. We call this revealed religion; and the most fundamental division which separates between religions is that which divides revealed religion from unrevealed religions” (Biblical and Theological Studies, 1952, p. 445). In saying this, Dr. Warfield was in a sense simply expounding the words of John who said of Jesus: “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly and speaketh of the earth. He that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth” (John 3:31 f.).

This is a most important distinction. We are living in an age which makes much of comparative study. Comparison figures more or less prominently in every field of scientific research, especially in that of religion. Archaeology has been widening our perspective of the past. We are no longer dependent on the classical writers for our knowledge of ancient peoples, their beliefs, and their practices. We have much firsthand information regarding the religions of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, and Persians. It is natural and proper to compare them with the religion of the Bible. This comparison can be helpful and illuminating, provided only it does full justice to the differences and does not stress resemblances to the neglect or at the expense of that which is distinctive and unique.

Since we have discussed Dr. Albright’s attitude toward the supernaturalism of the Bible, we shall now consider his attitude toward the question of the uniqueness of the religion which it sets forth.

In his Introduction to the latest edition of From the Stone Age to Christianity, Dr. Albright severely criticizes Toynbee for his “repeated onslaughts on the alleged intolerance of ancient Israel, to which he traces the intolerance sometimes found in subsequent Christianity and Judaism.” He tells us: “Actually nearly all peoples, both primitive and sophisticated, claim uniqueness, while intolerance—which is only one facet of the basic human drive for power—is universally human” (p. 6).

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As a result of the new knowledge of ancient religions which the archaeologists have supplied, there has been a growing tendency not only to compare these religions but to construct a pattern which will fit all of them more or less fully. This has been done in recent years by the British Myth and Religion school and by the Scandinavian (Uppsala) Traditio-historical school. That all of these ancient religions should have much in common is only to be expected. But the significant thing is that a vigorous attempt is being made to fit the religion of Israel into this pattern, to find for it a common origin with them, and to regard the unique ethical monotheism of the Bible as the product of the genius of the Jew for religion.

The Faith And Other Faiths

What, we may ask, is Dr. Albright’s attitude toward the question of the relation of biblical religion to the ethnic faiths? In speaking of the world which the archaeologist has been making known to us, he states: “But though the Bible arose in that world, it was not of that world; its spiritual values are far richer and deeper, irradiating a history which would otherwise resemble that of the surrounding peoples.” Again, he writes: “Since Israel was not only a rarely endowed people, but was also affiliated by blood and by cultural ties with all surrounding nations, it was able to select the most vital elements in their religious literatures, and to combine them into a new and richer synthesis” (p. 65). Speaking of “The Bible and Recent Discovery,” he tells us: “Climaxing and transcending all ancient religious literatures, it represents God’s culminating revelation to man at the latter’s coming to the age of maturity” (p. 132).

On the one hand, Dr. Albright speaks of the rich endowment of Israel and her ability to adapt and improve the best in the ethnic faiths. On the other hand, he speaks of Christianity as “God’s culminating revelation to man.” Is there any real difference in Dr. Albright’s thinking between what we may call the genius of Israel for religion and the special and unique revelation made by God to Israel through those “men of God” by whom he “spoke” a message which was unheeded by the people as a whole?

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The Psalms And Pagan Poems

A few examples will help us to find the answer. One of the most remarkable discoveries of the present century was the finding of the city of Ugarit (Ras Shamra). This ancient Syrian city occupied a strategic position on the Orontes river on the route between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. It early developed a relatively high culture; and it was discovered that an alphabetic system of writing was in use there at least as early as the time of Moses. Much of the material written in this script is of a mythological nature; and portions of three elaborate poems have been published. They throw light on the nature of the language spoken not far from Palestine in the days of Moses, and on the character of its religious poetry.

This discovery has led to an extensive comparison of the biblical Psalms with these “Canaanite” poems. According to Dr. Albright, “We find that early Psalms contain so much Canaanite material that they may safely be treated as Israelite adaptations of pre-Israelite hymns and lyric poems, apparently all composed between the thirteenth and the tenth centuries and swarming with archaic expressions only recently explained by Canaanite parallels” (Religion in Life, 1952, p. 544). Consequently Dr. Albright and others are now arguing for the early date of many Old Testament psalms. But surely it is a heavy price to pay for their early date if we are to regard them as adaptations from the Canaanite, a religion which the Israelites were commanded utterly to abhor!

Let us look at one of these adaptations. Dr. Albright is especially insistent that Psalm 29 is “adapted from the Canaanite.” In this psalm the name of Jehovah (Yahweh) occurs 18 times. The adapting must then have involved the changing of 18 occurrences of Baal to 18 occurrences of Yahweh. The alleged adaptation is particularly noteworthy because it is admitted that no such poem has actually been found in Ugaritic. So the changing back of the psalm to its “original” form results in a new type of Canaanite poem.

Why, we ask, if the Hebrews had such superior religious ideas, should they have been obliged to borrow from the Canaanites a psalm which is assigned by its heading to David? Elsewhere Dr. Albright has told us: “The sedentary culture which they [Israel] encountered in the thirteenth century seems to have reflected the lowest religious level in all Canaanite history, just as it represented the lowest point in the history of Canaanite art. Against this religion the Israelites reacted with such vigor that we find only the scantiest traces of it surviving in Yahwism—many of these traces belonging, moreover, to later waves of Canaanite (Phoenician) influence” (Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, p. 94).

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There is of necessity a certain similarity between Hebrew and pagan psalmody. They both speak the language of religious devotion. We do not have to go to Ugarit to find religious poems which somewhat resemble those in the Hebrew Psalter. We can find them among the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Babylonians. But the similarities are all external and superficial. These hymns are all the expression of natural religion. They are addressed to gods who could not save and who have long since passed into forgottenness.

Prohibition Of Idolatry

The religion of the Old Testament is a spiritual religion. Idolatry of every kind is emphatically prohibited. But the tendency of Israel to fall away into idolatry is referred to again and again. One of the most notable examples is the case of Jeroboam and his golden calves. That this was idolatry pure and simple is indicated as plainly as language can express it. We read that Jeroboam “made two calves of gold” and said to the people who had made him king, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28). We are told further that “this thing became a sin”; and nearly every king of the Northern Kingdom is judged and condemned because, whatever else he did or left undone, he followed in the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, “who made Israel to sin.”

In the great arraignment of 2 Kings 17, the people of the Northern Kingdom are accused of both idolatry and polytheism. “And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal” (v. 16). Dr. Albright is largely responsible for the now popular attempt to “whitewash” Jeroboam. He tells us that Jeroboam did not intend these calves to be representative of Deity, but to be merely the animals upon which the invisible Yahweh stood or sat enthroned, like the cherubim of the mercy seat. He tells us that “Among Canaanite, Aramaeans, and Hittites we find the gods nearly always represented as standing on the back of an animal or as seated on a throne borne by animals—but never themselves in animal form” (p. 299). So he argues that Jeroboam was merely attempting to reproduce as far as possible the cultus of the Temple at Jerusalem.

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There are several things to be noted regarding this novel theory. There is not the slightest intimation in the biblical narrative that Jeroboam did not intend the calves to be themselves objects of worship. If Jeroboam really intended to introduce a spiritual worship corresponding to the worship described in the Pentateuch, he is one of the most misjudged and maligned men in history. It is to be noted especially that Jeroboam fled to Egypt from the wrath of Solomon. In Egypt many of the gods had animal heads; and the cult of the bull (Apis) goes back to ancient times. It is highly probable that Jeroboam conceived the idea of the calf worship in Egypt; and he may have heard of the calf which Aaron made and have forgotten the severe rebuke which Aaron received for making it. That Jeroboam should set up an idolatrous cult in Northern Israel is not to be wondered at when we read of Solomon’s idolatries in 1 Kings 11. Both are described and condemned as grievous departures from the true religion of Israel. Finally, Dr. Albright’s explanation completely stultifies the prophets in their protest against this most reprehensible worship. When Hosea denounced the calf worship with the words: “the workman made it; therefore it is not God; but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces” (8:6), it is clear that he regarded the calf worship as idolatry. Were Dr. Albright’s theory correct, we might expect Hosea to have received the devastating answer: “You are a fool. We don’t worship the calf, but the invisible Jehovah who stands on the calf. You don’t understand that our worship is spiritual.” But where is there the slightest evidence in Scripture that such an answer was made or could be made? There is a vast gulf between the true religion of Israel and the idolatrous worship of the calves.

Dr. Albright tells us that a “return to Biblical Theology” is imperatively needed. What we are concerned to know is whether, according to Albright, this return involves the acceptance of Peter’s declaration regarding Jesus: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), or whether he regards Peter’s words as representative of that “intolerance” which he tells us is “only one facet of the basic human drive for power” and which he describes as “universally human.”


Oswald T. Allis, Ph.D., D.D., author of a number of volumes and articles in the Old Testament field, was formerly professor at both the Princeton and Westminster Theological seminaries.

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