The essays which follow are preliminary studies directed toward anew synthesis of the history of the religion of Israel. Each study isaddressed to a special and, in my view, unsolved problem in the des-cription of Israel’s religious development. The barriers in the way of progress toward a new synthesis are many.
While the burgeoningarchaeological enterprise has increasingly uncovered materials which
can be used to reconstruct the ancient environment of Israel, at thesame time its discoveries have thrown the field into chaos. Great strideshave been taken in the endeavor to interpret the new data from thecenturies contemporary with ancient Israel and to view the history of Israelite religion whole in its ancient context; still, the sheer mass of new or unassimilated lore hinders synthetic treatment.Another obstacle in the way of attempts to rewrite the history of Israelite religion has been the obstinate survival of remnants of older syntheses, especially the idealistic synthesis initiated by WilhelmVatke and given classic statement by Julius Wellhausen. It is true thatthe idealistic and romantic presuppositions which informed the earlydevelopment of literary-critical and form-critical methods have largely been discarded when brought fully to consciousness. Few today wouldfollow
in presuming that the primitive Israelite was incapable of retaining more than a line or two ofpoetry. Not a few, however, continueto date short poems or poetic fragments earlier than longer poems. Inthis fashion the results and models based on the idealistic synthesisoften persist unrecognized and unexamined. Particularly difficult andtroublesome, for example, is the task of disentangling and removingantinomian tendencies of idealistic or existentialist origin from theanalysis of law and covenant and their role in the religion of Israel.
evaluation of Israelite law might as easily have been written by a contemporary scholar: “The liberator [Moses] of his nation wasalso its lawgiver; this could mean only that the man who had freedit from one yoke had laid on it another.” Unhappily, such a view isalso wholly in tune with an older Christian polemic against Judaism.Yet another hindrance has been the tendency of scholars to overlook or suppress continuities between the early religion of Israel and theCanaanite (or Northwest Semitic) culture from which it emerged. Therehas been a preoccupation with the novelty of Israel’s religious