George E. Mendenhall★
W. Lambert has observed that we know next to nothing about the submerged 80 percent of the population of ancient Assyria and Babylonia. To that we can certainly add ancient Egypt and Canaan. One of my colleagues in the classics department years ago announced to my surprise a graduate seminar on Roman popular religion. When I asked him why he didn't offer it as an undergraduate course his response was, "I don't know enough about the subject."
These observations drawn from recent cultural phenomena certainly justify the conclusion that we are dealing with a polarization that is a constant in complex societies, but little attention has been paid to the historical constancy, probably because scholars unconsciously identify with the ancient population groups who produced the written materials that constitute their metier, and have never had firsthand experience of village life; or if they had, they have been eager to forget it as soon as possible. Except for the thousands of pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions, virtually all of our excavated written sources stem from the elites of political, business, and priestly specializations. We can easily see from the condescending dismissal of the prophet Amos by the priest of Bethel that such elites had little regard for the country-bumpkin upstarts who presumed to preach to them. Indeed, such preaching was doubtless received with the same attitude illustrated in one dictionary definition of preaching: "the giving of unwanted advice in an offensive manner."
The Bible seems so strange and foreign to most of the modern political and educated elites in part simply because much of it, and the mainstream____________________