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 Part 1 Part 2

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24 Parallels between Old Japan and Ancient Israel:

Based on the work of Oyabe Zenichirou

by Mark A. Riddle 

The purpose of this essay is to review twenty-four parallels, points of similarity, between ancient Japan and ancient Israel.

From Oyabe Zenichirou, Nihon oyobi Nihon Kokumin no Kigen: Kodai Nihonjin wa Heburaijin Nari (Tokyo: Honoo Shobou, reprint, 1982; first published by Kouseikaku in 1929) [i] 

Part 3

20. Firstfruits

Japanfs Niiname-sai is the official first-fruits festival of the imperial court, now held annually on November 23. Together with the local, folk equivalent, O-hatsuho, these are the ancient ways of expressing thanks to the gods for the harvest by offerings to them the first grain, vegetables and fruits harvested.   

Israel was instructed to bring to the house of the Lord the first fruits of the harvest (Ex 34:26; compare the post-exilic Nehemiah 10:35). 

21. Bowing in Worship

Shinto priests bow before the gods, as do worshippers at Shino shrines.  Bowing in worship might be a universal.  Whatfs unique in Japan is that bowing has been extended from the religious and political realms into everyday life—in Japan, even old friends and neighbors bow to each other.  Oyabe points to Exodus 34:8 (where Moses bows in worship), Psalms 95:6 (where David invites us to bow in worship) and II Chron 7:3 (where the congregation of Israel bows in worship at the dedication of Solomonfs temple) as parallel to the practice of Shinto priests.  And Oyabe cites Genesis 43:28 (where Josephfs brothers bow before the viceroy of Egypt) as evidence of an OT culture of bowing, but the merit of this parallel is judged uncertain on the grounds that bowing in worship may be universal.

22. Festivals and the Mikoshi

Of all the parallels between contemporary Japan and ancient Israel, by far the most striking is that between the parading of the portable shrine, the mikoshi, in Japanese festivals seen everywhere in Japan today, and Old Testament accounts of the Ark of the Covenant.  Oyabe cites the account in I Chronicles 15:15 of the Levites carrying the Ark on their shoulders, with poles. (The Law of Moses specified this method of carrying the Ark—see Numbers 7:9.)  Besides the obvious similarities in the way the Ark was carried and the way the mikoshi is carried today, other elements of the Japanese festival remind one of the account in Chronicles—the chanting and the gloud sounds of joy...shouting...loud musich (I Chron 15:16, 28). Oyabe points to shrine distribution of mochi cakes and confections as the equivalent of Davidfs reward to his people (I Chron 16:3).

23. Kagura: Music and Dance in the Worship of God

Kagura (lit. egod-musicf) is the oldest music and dance art form in Japan.  The old kagura of the Ise Grand Shrine is also called koseki-kamiasobi (eancient gods visitf) and dates from well before the historical period.  Kagura is always performed at night, to the accompaniment of the Japanese harp (an ancient koto), flute, hichikiri (a reed flute) and wooden clapper.  The legendary accounts of the dance performances of Uzume-no-mikoto and Emperor Jimmu, and of the harp music of Empress Jinguu show that the genre was developed long before the historical period.

Oyabe compares this ancient Japanese music and dance tradition with the tambourine dance of Miriam and the Israelite women described in Exodus 15, and with David and his men who gdanced before the Lord with all their might,h to musical accompaniment (II Sam 6:5). Oyabe points out one very interesting parallel: just as Solomonfs musicians took their place to the east of the altar of the temple (II Chron 5:12), so too the musicians providing the musical accompaniment for kagura performances always sit to the east of the stage.

24.  Sun Worship

These twenty-three parallels between Shinto and Old Testament practice combine to suggest a common origin for Shinto and Judaism.  A final point of comparison will enable us to date propose a chronology for the divergence of  Shinto and Judaism. 

Japan is the land of the sun goddess Amaterasu, head of all the gods, ancestor of the Emperor, and founder of the nation.  She is worshipped at the Grand Shrine of Ise, the highest-ranking Shinto shrine. In the official, nationalistic Shinto of the pre-war period the emperor was considered by some to actually embody the divine presence of Amaterasu.  It is this gdivinityh which the Emperor is said to have renounced after the war.

The connection of solar worship with the Old Testament is not as well known.  For our account of solar Yahwism, we turn to J. Glenn Taylor, whose Yahweh and the Sun (1993)[i] provides abundant evidence of the existence in pre-exilic Israel, Israelite practice before the reforms of Josiah, a cult of the sun and of its connection with the king.

Taylor argues that the entire constellation of elements familiar in Japan—the notion of the king as the son of the sun deity, or even as the deity himself—is found in ancient Israel and in Judah prior to Josiah.

Before the time of Solomon, the center of the solar cult was the bamah at Gibeon, directed by the Zadokite priests (I Chron 16:39-40, 21:29).  There was ga high degree of continuity between the high place at Gibeon and the temple of Jerusalemh (Taylor, p.128).  Taylor links symbols important also in Japan—the pillars and griffins at the temple entrance (see e2. Toriif and e4. Lionsf above) with the sun cult (op. cit. p.34) and asserts that gsolar Yahwism was a feature of royal religionh (pp.257ff., emphasis added), just as the cult of the sun in Japan is primarily an imperial, as opposed to popular, cult.

An assumption of a relationship between the royal sun cult of Israel and the imperial sun worship of Japan implies a divergence of the lineage which influenced Shinto from Israel before the reforms of Josiah (ca. 628 BC; see II Chron 34), when solar Yahwism was purged from the Kingdom of Judah.

Conclusion: the Authorfs View

Even considered separately, three of the parallels between Japan and Israel cited in this paper—the resemblances of (1) the mikoshi to the Ark of the Covenant and (2) the Japanese mamori-fuda to the mezuzah; and (3) the similarities between Japanfs imperial sun cult and the solar Yahwism of the kings of Israel and Judah—would demand immediate attention as possible evidence for an historical connection. (1) and (2) are features unique to each tradition but showing remarkable similarities.  Solar cults are widespread, but the importance of the royal connection demands attention here.  Other suggested parallels—ritual ablutions, the use of stones for worship, temple structures—could be considered to be nearly universal patterns evidencing a possible common origin but not a direct connection.  Still others might be dismissed as coincidence.  But, taken together they constitute a persuasive argument.[ii]


[i] J. Glenn Taylor, Yahweh and the Sun: Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1993)  J. Glen Taylor is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Dean of Students at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.  This 24th point of comparison was not suggested by Oyabe.  However, a connection between Japanese and Israelite sun worship was asserted by another Japanese scholar, Okino Iwasaburou (1876-1956); see pp.126-9 of his Nihon Jinja Kou: Nihon Shuukyoushi no Yomikata (1952), photocopy in possession of the author. 

 

[ii] A list of persons so persuaded would include Japanese Christian scholars, Western missionaries who have lived and served in Japan, Jewish rabbis and scholars, and a host of Japanese authors who yearly produce more books to fuel popular interest in this topic in Japan.  Ch. 8 of Oyabefs work was serialized in the Japanese LDS publication Seito no Michi by long-time Japanese LDS translator and patriarch Watabe Masao, Aug-Dec 1961.  The late LDS comparative religionist Dr. Spencer Palmer, of Brigham Young University, was another who was persuaded by much, if not all, of this evidence.

 

It is important to remember that (1) there are many other parallels between Japan and Israel not mentioned in this paper; for example, the parallels between the Japanese yamabushi and the gcompanies of prophetsh of Israelfs high places (see, e.g., I Samuel 10:10).  And (2) in addition to the kind of evidence provided here, there are other kinds of evidence linking ancient Japan and ancient Israel, for which see my gShinto and the Number 8,h a paper presented at the Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Claremont CA (October 1994) and cited by other scholars, and my gThe Hata Clan: Israelites and Christians in Old Japanh (2009), both available from the author.