Syncretism in the Old Testament

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The present worldwide emergence of syncretism is nothing other than the violent resurgence of that basic menace which has confronted the biblical faith in successive ways ever since God revealed himself for the first time to the people of Israel. The word “syncretism” does not occur in the Bible. But the fact of syncretism has been present throughout the history of Israel and Christianity.

I would define syncretism as the unconscious tendency or the conscious attempt to undermine the uniqueness of a religion by equating its elements with those of other belief systems. In this understanding, syncretism is not just the simultaneous practice of two unrelated religions, which might be motivated either by external pressure or by inner anxiety. Neither should it be confused with the adoption of formal elements of other religions into Christianity for missionary reasons. Syncretism equates heterogeneous religious elements and thereby changes their original meaning without admitting such a change.

The whole history of Israel as described in the Old Testament is a gigantic fight for the validity of the First Commandment. The attacks against the Jehovah (YHWH) faith came from two directions, from inside and from outside.

The first threatening of Israel’s belief started as soon as the people had settled in the country of Canaan. The Israelites had received their revelation during their nomadic existence in the desert. Now they were met by the Phoenician-Canaanite fertility cult, which was persuasively fitted to the needs of an agricultural society. In the Old Testament we find a threefold answer to this challenge: segregaticr, eradication, and adaptation.

None of these methods was entirely successful. The danger to the faith of Israel ...

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