Bibliotheca Sacra 104 (July 1947): 290-97.
Copyright © 1947 by
Semitics and Old Testament
PARALLELS TO THE PSALMS IN NEAR
BY CHARLES LEE FEINBERG, TH.D., PH.D.
Many good examples of parallels to the Psalter in the
hymns and songs of Babylonia and
in G. A. Barton's Archaeology and the Bible (1937 edition),
in R. W. Rogers' Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament,
and in the essays of G. R. Driver on the Psalms in the light
of Babylonian research and of A. M. Blackman on the
Psalms in the light of Egyptian research in The Psalmists,
edited by D. C. Simpson. The temptation is to give repre-
sentative ones from each group, but we shall choose but two
examples to illustrate the close resemblance between these
hymns and songs and the Psalms of the Old Testament. In
the matter of parallels we do well to heed the warning of
of Babylonia and
esteemed, because they have so often been judged by ex-
tracts alone, by too short passages, which sometimes leave
out qualifying contexts that set the examples in an altogether
different light. Resemblances are at times misleading, and
scholars, as we shall see later, differ widely in their adjudi-
cations of these products of the ancient Near East. One of
the most famous of all the parallels is the hymn of Ikhnaton
to the Sun-god.
Thou appearest in beauty on the horizon of heaven
Thou living Sun, the first to live.
Thou risest on the eastern horizon,
Suffusing all lands with thy beauty.
Glorious art thou, and mighty,
Parallels to Psalms in Near Eastern Literature 291
Shining on high o'er the lands;
Thy rays encircle the countries.
To the farthest limit of all thy creation;
Thou are Re reaching out to their uttermost border,
Subduing them for thy beloved son.
Far off art thou, yet thy beams touch the earth;
Thou art seen of man, but thy pathway they know not.
Thou settest in the western horizon,
And the earth becomes dark as death.
Men rest in their chambers,
With head enveloped, no eye sees aught.
Should their goods be taken that lie under their heads,
They would fail to perceive it.
The lion comes forth from his lair,
And the serpents bite.
Darkness rules, and the earth is still,
For he that made all rests in the horizon.
When the earth becomes light, thou risest on the horizon,
And, as the sun, dost illumine the day;
The darkness flees when thy rays thou dost spread;
The two lands rejoice,
They awake, stand up on their feet,
When thou hast raised them up;
They cleanse their bodies and clothe themselves,
Their arms give praise, for thou hast appeared.
The whole earth goeth forth to labour.
The cattle are satisfied with grass;
The trees and the herbs grow green,
The birds from their nests fly forth,
With their wings they offer thee praise.
The beasts spring up on their feet,
The birds and every flying thing
Live, when thou art risen.
There go the ships, down-stream, up-stream,
All paths are free, since thou are arisen.
The fish in the sea leap up before thee,
For thy rays penetrate to the ocean's depths.1
The resemblances between this hymn and Psalm 104 are
striking indeed. The references to the light, heaven, and the
foundation of the earth are similar to the first verses of the
Psalm. The allusions to the beasts of the field, the birds of
the heaven, man, the lions, the darkness of night at the
setting of the sun, the sea, the ships, and the ocean fish, all
mentioned in the Psalm, closely approximate what is found
in Ikhnaton's Hymn to the Sun-god. But there are also
similarities in prayers for help from God. The cuneiform
prayer is in keeping with its polytheistic background. One
such prayer is pointed out as resembling Psalm 13, where
the psalmist cries out to God that He forget the suppliant
no longer. God has turned away His favor and the psalmist
is filled with sorrow all the day. Enemies on every hand
surround the praying one, and he must have the help of God
if they are not to triumph over him. He closes with the
expression of his faith in the loving-kindness of God, whom
he will yet have cause to praise for His bountiful dealing
with the needy. The parallel to this Psalm from the cunei-
form is addressed to a goddess.
How long, my goddess, wilt thou be angry with me, wilt
thou hide thy face from me?
How long, my goddess, wilt thou be offended, and thy
heart be full of wrath?
Turn thee unto me again, him whom thou didst cast off,
Incline thy countenance to a word of pity;
Let thy heart be assuaged, like the soft-flowing waters of
Suffer me to tread upon mine enemies, as I tread down
upon the dust;
Them that hate me cast down, and let them grovel at my
1Oesterley, W. O. E., A Fresh Approach to the Psalms, pp. 16, 17.
My prayer and my supplication, let them come before thee,
Thine abundant mercy, let it be granted unto me.
They that meet me in the way shall extol thy name,
I myself will praise thee before the adversaries, thy god-
head and power will I glorify.2
The similarities between this prayer and Psalm 13 are clear.
Not all examples from the cuneiform parallels are so marked
in their resemblances to the Psalms. For instance, the Hymn
to Ramman, the Weather God, dated about the third millen-
nium B.C. (according to
Psalm 29 on the voice of the Lord in the storm. The first
ten lines of this cuneiform hymn, repetitious to the point of
pain, give no impression of a storm ; they are a praise to
the god Ramman for his exalted character. Twice in these
lines it is said that he rides the storm. The remaining verses
of the hymn do depict a storm, but quite differently from
Psalm 29, as even the most superficial perusal will reveal.
What conclusions are we to draw from these parallels
and others? First, no one will be so foolhardy as to deny
the definite resemblances. Second, he will be quick to note
the many differences also. Third, the matter of date will be
given prominence. Hymns that can be dated to the third
millennium B.C. or to the fourteenth century B.C. (the date
for the Egyptian hymn of praise to the Sun-god, composed
by Pharaoh Amenophis IV, called Ikhnaton) surely bespeak
for psalmody early origins. Fourth, the superior beauty and
power of the Hebrew hymns will be recognized.3
finds the Babylonian and other parallels marked by a same-
ness of phrase and deficient in individual character.4 Peters
notes by a comparison of the rituals that the Hebrew
psalmody reveals no such use of incantation or sorcery as is
found in the religious liturgies of the other Semitic nations
of the time. He calls it astonishing. In contrasting the He-
2Oesterley, W. 0. E., op. cit., pp. 19, 20.
3Oesterley, W. 0. E., op. cit., pp. 11-15. See also his The Psalms, Vol. I,
4Rogers, R. W., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, p. 141.
294 Bibliotheca Sacra
brew and the Babylonian psalms he concludes that the former
are monotheistic, spiritual, and pure, while the latter are
full of polytheism, superstition, and sensuality.5 Gunkel
saw that the chief difference between the hymn of Ikhnaton
and Psalm 104 was this: the Egyptian god is the Sun and
is bound up with nature, whereas the Hebrew God created
the sun and is above nature. So much and more can be said
of the diversities between the two, but there are similarities
which must be explained. With regard to the parallel to
Psalm 104, Albright suggests two explanations which he
deems most plausible: (1) the Psalm has been adapted from
a Canaanite hymn which had been influenced by the Egyp-
tian; or (2) the Egyptian composition was familiar to the
tine. He prefers the first position as the more probable.6
Obermann, in comparing the psalm literature from Ras
Shamra to that of the Old Testament, points out that the
former have all the characteristics of form present in the
Biblical Psalms as to liturgical features: the three-fold divi-
sion of contents into ritual, supplicatory, and hymnal, the
antiphonal rendition, the parallelism of speech, and the metri-
cal rhythm.7 With Oesterley, Barton, Albright, and others
we understand the similarities to arise, not from borrowing
but from the same background of world thought. There were
a common geographical environment, a common material
culture, and a common language.8 Adaptation rather than
imitation may better explain the resemblances. Yet this does
not answer all the questions. Though the Hebrew psalmody
will be seen as a part of a world literature, yet it must be
5The Psalms as Liturgies, p. 26.
6"'Recent Developments in Bible Lands," in supplement to Young's Analyti-
cal Concordance, 1936, p. 6.
7"An Antiphonal Psalm from Ras Shamra," Journal of Biblical Literature,
8"Barton, G. A.,
E. ed., The Haverford Symposium on Archaeology and the Bible, p. 67;
Albright, W. F., "Recent Progress in North-Canaanite Research,"
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 70, p. 24.
Parallels to Psalms in Near Eastern Literature 295
regarded as sui generis. It has the inspiration of the Spirit
of God and a boundless power of its own.
The cogent arguments of G. R. Driver against those who
would derive much of the Hebrew Psalms from the Baby-
lonian and other parallels of previous centuries are note-
worthy and must be considered. In many instances the com-
parisons drawn are clearly unfair. An example in point is
taken from Psalm 2:7:
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, Thou art my son;
This day have I begotten thee.
This verse is said to echo the law of adoption in the Code
of Hammurabi, by which a man may acknowledge sons born
to him by a handmaid with the words, "[They are] my sons."
Driver argues that Babylonian influence could not have
weighed largely with Hebrew psalmody, because the age
when Sargon gave the West a unified medium of expression
was followed by a time of turmoil not conducive to the
sharing of cultural influences. During a period of uninter-
rupted wars the trader will scarcely bring much culture
with him across an expanse of several hundred miles of
scorching desert. Furthermore, that which is allowed even
the least cultured peoples to invent by way of form cannot
be denied a race like the Hebrews. Driver denies that subject
matter and its arrangement reveal dependence of the Hebrew
upon the Babylonian or the Egyptian, because no definite
underlying principle of arrangement can be discerned in
either case. Even in the case of the hymn of Amenophis IV
the order is different, an instance where both may have been
expected to follow the natural order. Such themes have been
the subject of meditation and poetry the world over. The
common Semitic ancestry of these peoples explains the simi-
larities. It is a truism that figures drawn from everyday life
arise independently in the minds of many different peoples.
Even more, why should the Hebrews, who were far more
296 Bibliotheca Sacra
advanced spiritually than the Babylonians, borrow from their
less gifted neighbors? He concludes, therefore, that the
Babylonian hymns exercised no real influence on the work
of the Hebrew poets. Most of the Babylonian poems are on
a lower level of thought; any apparent monotheism in them
is but the enthusiasm of a devotee trying to raise his god
above the others; these poems lack that great emphasis on
ethics which is so important a feature of Hebrew monothe-
ism. The resemblances are superficial, while the differences
are most significant. How does Driver, then, explain the
similarities? He holds, "I am convinced that many, if not
the majority, of them are the result of independent reflec-
tion; for it is possible to shew that not only a number of
figures of speech but also certain definitely theological ideas
recur in the religions and mythologies of other peoples who,
as far as it is possible now to say, owe nothing
Due allowance must therefore be made for the common
instincts of mankind."9
Other resemblances are laid to the common origin in the
prehistoric period before the Semites expanded and formed
separate nations. Driver does not deny, and this he inserts
by way of a conclusion, the possibility of indirect influence
tions. Blackman, in his
discussion of the influence of
on the Psalms in the same series of essays, feels there was
direct or indirect influence of
through the medium of
asserts that the outlook of both peoples was so close that it
may almost be said that the Songs of Zion were sung in a
strange land before they were sung in
Our position is this: the resemblances, which are far
fewer than the differences, are to be explained by the com-
mon experiences of man and the common heritage and back-
ground of all the Semitic peoples. To essay an evaluation on
the basis of direct or indirect borrowing is both precarious
9Driver, G. R., op. cit., p. 173. For the entire discussion see pp. 109-175.
Parallels to Psalms in Near Eastern Literature 297
and difficult of substantiation. Agreement is lacking and
positions of scholars differ too widely for any confidence in
such attempts. The differences, which are great in extent,
are to be interpreted by the superior genius of the Hebrew
psalmists and ultimately to the personal activity of the
inditing Spirit of God. Sellin has stated it somewhat as fol-
lows: "The literatures of Ancient Egypt and of
show us that in respect of religious lyric, as of prophecy,
the people of the Revelation reached a height absolutely
unique among the nations of the Ancient East. In spite of
all the formal affinities of style, imagery, etc., it is here
alone that the ethical is set free from the bondage of the
natural; it is here alone that a consciousness of salvation is
attained which in places already bears an almost New Testa-
ment character; it is here alone that the keynote is the hope
with the heavens and the earth a kingdom where ‘mercy and
truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have
kissed one another.’"10
to the Old Testament
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