Conversations with Angie: Do parallels between the Bible and other cultures invalidate the Bible?
This is the last thing I wanted to respond to:
"Second, I began reading up on ancient cultures of the Middle East, and found
that many biblical stories have equivalents (or parallels, or just very
similar stories) in other ancient near eastern cultures. Along with this, I learned that most of the names for God in the bible were the names of gods in several of the cultures that were present in that part of the world. Adonai, for example, was the name of a Sumerian god, and was adopted into the Hebrew language/culture. El Shaddai was the name of a Canaanite god. Now, I know a Christian would argue that this is true only because God was revealing Himself to humanity throughout history, but I don't buy that. I also saw the many similarities that the biblical God had with these other gods..."
My impression is that this was your biggest reason for rejecting Christianity. I saved the best for last. :-)
I've got several things to say about this. I'm going to take it in two parts--first the parallel stories, and second the terms used to refer to God.
I know a lot more about parallels between Jesus' life and other ancient stories (especially in the mystery religions) than I know about parallels in old testament stories, so my comments are going to have to be general.
Depending on how old some of these stories are, it shouldn't surprise us that there would be parallels. After all, most of the middle eastern people's share a common ancestery, and therefore a common past. Take the flood story for example. That story exists in various forms among several different peoples. It seems to me the best explanation is that a flood actually happened, not that a flood DIDN'T happen. The same would apply to creation stories. In fact, any story about events that took place before the founding of the nation of Israel should be found among different people, because they share a common past.
I don't know about the old testament parallels, but many of the supposed new testament parallels are contrived. This is especially true with regard to mystery religions. By explaining the myths of the mystery religions in Christian terminology (e.g. dying and rising savior gods), the parallels can be made to appear more striking than they really are. Since I have seen this happen so much, I'm skeptical of supposed parallels people draw between different cultures and religions. It seems that with a little creativity, anybody can "find" parallels.
Parallels don't necessarily indicate that one religion has borrows from another. There are some striking parallels between Christianity and some native American cultures. Everybody is familiar with the paralles between Christians and Aztecs, but do some reading about the Iroquois sometime. Personally, I think those parallels are even MORE striking than with the Aztecs. These parallels are so striking that some have speculated that maybe a very early missionary somehow made it to North America, but I think this is just a mistake in reasoning. Similarities in stories, myths, beliefs, etc., do not necessarily indicate a causal connection. You have to demonstrate that such a connection exist; pointing to similarities isn't enough.
Suppose you have a situation where there are two stories that are strikingly similar--one early, and one late. Suppose further that these two stories appear in two cultures who have had a lot of contact with each other. If it could be found that the earlier story was just a made up myth, it still wouldn't follow that the later story is also made up. If you read something in the news paper that sounded a lot like a made up story you had heard years before, it wouldn't follow that the news paper story was made up, too. It could be that it actually happened. Likewise, it could be that there's an old made up story, and that there's a recent actual event that is very similar to the made up story.
Let me give a recent case example of why I don't think parallels prove anything. Have you ever considered the striking similarities between the story of Lincoln and Kennedy? You can just type in "lincoln and kennedy" in google, and you are sure to find a list of these similarities. When you read over them, it's creepy. I suppose two thousand years from now, if historians reason the same way they do today, they might conclude that the Kennedy story is made up since it obviously borrows from the Lincoln story. But we know that isn't the case. It turns out in the case of Lincoln and Kennedy that BOTH stories are true.
to be continued...
Conversations with Angie: If Jews borrowed terms for God from other cultures, does it follow that Judaism derived from those other cultures?