I have been Verified! That is not to indicate that I had previously been an un-verified individual. In this case it refers to a Certificate of Achievement from Bar-Ilan University for “successfully having completed and received a passing grade” in an online course conducted by Dr. Nili Samet.

The course was an intensive study of “The Bible in Light of the Ancient Near East,” an in-depth course dealing with ancient Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian sources which have close parallels in the Hebrew Bible.

The Babylonian Enuma Elish compares to the Story of Creation. The Gilgamesh Epic is akin to the flood story in the tale of Noah and his ark. Hammurabi’s code of law has similarities to the laws of Moses.

In short, our neighbors were not influenced by us. On the contrary, it is we who were influenced by ancient neighbors who crossed deserts and mountains, telling their stories about ancient gods and goddesses to those who would listen. Many of these ancient myths and tales can be found in the Book of Genesis.

We borrowed from our neighbors and re-wrote and re-worked themes to fit into the Hebrew ideologies.

Stories in our Torah were originally written by a Ugaritic-speaking people whose language was close to Hebrew. Archaeological evidence unearthed in Ugarit in the 20th century verifies the origin of these tales.

Of all the neighboring nations in the ancient Near East, Israel was most highly influenced by Babylonian sources. After the conquest of the ten northern tribes by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, the tribes of the south who eventually formed the kingdom of Judah commissioned scribes to write books of secular and religious laws as a guide for the Hebrews.

During the years of exile in Babylonia it was scribes such as Ezra and Nehemiah and prophets like Ezekiel who kept the laws alive and taught the people how to observe the festivals, how to offer sacrifice by prayers in place of offering animals to be burnt on altars. Ezra has rightly been called the “Father of Judaism”. Prior to our exile we had been Hebrews and Israelites. In Babylonia we became Jews.

Stories written by Babylonian scholars had been amended by the Jewish scribes to conform to Jewish religious law. And it has been those laws which have preserved us as a people and nation throughout two thousand long, dark and often bitter years of suffering and persecution.

It has been said that “more than Israel preserved the laws, the laws preserved Israel”.

We are the only nation on the face of the earth which speaks our original Hebrew language, the tongue of the prophets. We are the only people who have preserved and kept the ancient dietary laws, the Sabbath as a universal day of rest, and the festivals, in particular the Passover seder, which recounts our long history from liberty to slavery and to ultimate redemption. We tell and re-tell the ancient stories year after year for the past two thousand years. It is the re-telling which has preserved us as a people.

Having taught biblical history with an emphasis on the history of Israel for the past 60 years, it was a pleasure for me to be enrolled in Dr. Nili  Samet’s classes on The Bible in Light of the Ancient Near East.

Through her magnificent explanations, accompanied by online tours of the British Museum, home to tens of thousands of documents from pre-Biblical times, I was refreshed by new ideas and modern biblical scholarship supported by biblical archaeologists.

So now, Bar-IIan University, has presented me with a Certificate of Achievement. And now, after many decades, I have been declared Verified.

Sof sof. Higiya zman. Finally…it’s about time!