Principles of Comparative Studies

[The following excerpt is taken from John H. Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2006), Chapter 1]

“Ten important principles must be kept in mind when doing comparative
studies:

1. Both similarities and differences must be considered.

2. Similarities may suggest a common cultural heritage or cognitive
environment rather than borrowing.

3. It is not uncommon to find similarities at the surface but differences at the
conceptual level and vice versa.

4. All elements must be understood in their own context as accurately as
possible before cross-cultural comparisons are made (i.e., careful background study must precede comparative study).

5. Proximity in time, geography, and spheres of cultural contact all increase the possibility of interaction leading to influence.

6. A case for literary borrowing requires identification of likely channels of
transmission.

7. The significance of differences between two pieces of literature is
minimized if the works are not the same genre.

8. Similar functions may be performed by different genres in different
cultures.

9. When literary or cultural elements are borrowed they may in turn be
transformed into something quite different by those who borrowed them.

10. A single culture will rarely be monolithic, either in a contemporary cross-
section or in consideration of a passage of time.[16]”

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