A regular feature on this site is a series called “Ancient Parallels”. Each article in this series will entail an examination of some text or tradition from the Ancient World which happens to be similar, or parallel, in certain respects to an area of early Christian thought and belief. Here we will look at a wide range of cultural and religious traditions, from ancient Sumer and Mesopotamia in the early Bronze Age to those of the Roman Empire in the 1st century A.D.—and everything in-between!
Comparative religious study such as this can be sensitive (even controversial) for Christians today, in light of the pluralistic ideals generally held in modern (Western) society. There is the underlying fear, perhaps, that recognition of similarities or parallels in other traditions will somehow negate the uniqueness and divinely-inspired character of the Christian faith. While such fear is understandable, in my view, it is both unnecessary and unwarranted. The revelation recorded in Scripture took place within a definite thought-world—a matrix of language, vocabulary, images, and ideas—which, in many ways, was shared by the peoples of the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world, etc. It should come as no surprise that these extra-Biblical cultural and religious traditions would occasionally express a hope or belief which is similar to those which we find recorded in Scripture.
We will thus proceed without fear, in the expectation that an honest and objective study of the ancient texts will only demonstrate anew the remarkable character of the Christian faith preserved in the Scriptures, shared by all true believers today, and will give us a deeper awareness of the way in which God has spoken to us through (and within) the language and thought of the time.