The line of distinction between study of the religion of Israel and study of the theology of the Old Testament is not always clear. The former focuses on a description of the ideas and actions (both good and bad) that were representative of any given period in Israel’s relationship to the divine. The latter, by contrast, seeks to establish what was normative for Hebrew religion, and its context is that of revelation as described in the Old Testament rather than religion per se. Such a definition presumes, of course, a particular understanding of biblical theology that is not always shared by writers on the subject; in actual fact, some of the books described as Old Testament theologies are actually histories of Israel’s religion, and vice versa.
The Religion Of Israel
Religious history (sometimes indistinguishable from what is called Old Testament theology) is amply covered at all levels. Basic to such a discussion is still the classic work of W. Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (Black, 1907; reprinted with supplements by KTAV, 1969). Smith leans heavily on comparative Semitic materials, drawing much material from primitive Arab cult practices; although his method is inadequate to explain the uniqueness of biblical religion, it does throw much light on externals. For a more theological treatment emphasizing the distinctive element of Israel’s faith in Yahweh as its liberator, Th. C. Vriezen’s The Religion of Ancient Israel (Westminster, translation, 1967) may be recommended. A somewhat more specialized study from the pen of H. H. Rowley, Worship in Ancient Israel (Fortress, 1967), discusses ways in which the worship of Yahweh came into Israel and various aspects of this worship in the temple and the ...1
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