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Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

Israel and the Nations

Adrian Curtis

The Cradle of Civilization

The story of Israel and of Judah and of the beginnings of Christianity, as recounted in the Bible, is set in the ancient Near East, an area to which later civilizations owe an immense debt. Here were the beginnings of agriculture and village life, and of literature, law, and science. This was the area from which three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, were to develop and spread, and where the sacred texts of those religions emerged.

All this was due in no small measure to the emergence in the ancient Near East of systems of writing (see on ‘Writing Systems’). Thanks to the Sumerians' development of the cuneiform script to record their language, it is possible to know something of their stories of creation and flood which seem to have provided the pattern for other later accounts from widely scattered areas of the ancient Near East. Tablets from Erech, probably dating from the latter half of the 4th millennium BCE, seem to give groupings of birds, fish, animals, plants, personal names, etc. These can with some justification be thought of as scientific records; it is possible that they were intended to be a teachers' handbook. Among the Sumerians and their successors, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, are to be found the beginnings of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, geology, and metallurgy. To them is to be credited the sexagesimal system (counting by sixties, or multiples or fractions of 60) reflected in the division of the hour into 60 minutes and the circle into 360 degrees.

The development of the alphabetic system of writing can also be traced to the ancient Near East. The importance of this cannot be overstated, not least because it simplified considerably the process of writing. The Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Arabic alphabets among others can be traced back to this development.

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

High levels of cultural achievement were reached not only in the field of literature but in crafts, such as pottery manufacture and metal working, in art, architecture, and music. Sumerian musical instruments have been found, dating from the 3rd millennium BCE. From Ugarit comes evidence of musical activity, including a text which is thought to record musical notation. Canaanite musicians seem to have been popular in Egypt, and the Hebrews may owe part of their musical heritage to the Canaanites.

In what follows, brief consideration will be given to the great civilizations of the ancient Near East which form the backdrop to the stories preserved in the Bible. Further information will also be given in appropriate sections later in this atlas.

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Juergen Liepe

Sonia Halliday Photographs (Prue Grice)

The Trustees of the British Museum

The Trustees of the British Museum

www.bridgeman.co.uk (Bildarchiv Steffens)

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Sonia Halliday Photographs (Jane Taylor)

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

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