Two poles of a false binary continue to play an inordinate role in the study of the history of ancient Israel and of Syria-Palestine. One pole attempts to explain the cultural (for example, the religious and political) history of a specific polity - for example, ancient Israel - with as little reference as possible to the impact of traits and trends that washed down the cultural slopes of contiguous societies over a same temporal frame; e.g., Iron Age Egypt, Philistia, Phoenicia, Damascus, Assyria, and Babylonia. Another pole attempts to explain the same history without remainder in terms of the features held in common with coeval contiguous polities. Nothing distinctive to see in a distinctive culture: move along. Parallelomania wins out by virtue of squatter's rights.
A better though very partial formulation of the question: how do contiguous cultures in conflict acquire and assimilate into their own frameworks elements of another framework they dearly wish to oppose? How does that work? What if such assimilative processes are of paramount importance? Here is Liverani:
When we leave behind the level of static analysis and attain the level of dynamic and causal analysis, the role of external factors in the cultural development of a delimited region has been the subject of conscious and explicit debate. On the one hand, it is argued that culture evolves through internal mechanisms;1 that contributions from the “outside” are inefficacious until they are assimilated to an “inside” and adapted and contextualized within a local system; furthermore, that a quantitative comparison between the few imported pieces and the mass of local materials, between the small number of episodes of cross-cultural contact and the seamless web of parochial quotidian life, reveals a crushing imbalance. The alternative, no longer an appeal to a simplistic version of diffusionism, retorts that important cultural innovations develop in contiguous time and space locations, according to a domino theory that refuses to postulate windowless monads; furthermore, that a cultural “region” is an abstraction of our own making; that even within the confines of a mental map of our own making it is not clear that centers are to be assigned more value than peripheries; finally, while it is no accident that it is possible to study the characteristics of a cultural area through time (its internal development), it is also possible to identify common traits within a limited time frame (by “centuries”) over ample spaces: in short, the study of culture occurs over the horizontal and vertical axes, with connections across space as well as time. Given that one acquires culture through nurture, and given that one undoubtedly acquires it at an early age from one’s parents and from the community in which one is raised, it stands to reason that one may also acquire culture at an adult age, from one’s friends and, perhaps with even more significant effects, from one’s enemies.
1 Explicit anti-Childean positions relative to the ancient Aegean on the part of C. Renfrew and his school would be of obvious and equal value relative to ancient Syria-Palestine. The awareness of the advantages of tracing internal development and of focusing attention on quantitative, objective data is a definitive acquisition of a long-established and rock-solid historiographical tradition. At the same time, mental reserve is warranted in the face of elements of drastic simplification of problems in the scholarship of this school, in reaction perhaps to even more simplistic theories of diffusion.
The above is a translation of an excerpt from Mario Liverani, “Dall’acculturazione alla deculturazione. Considerazioni sul ruolo dei contatti politici e commerciali nella storia siro-palestinese pre-ellenistica.” In Forme di contatto e processi di trasformazione delle società antiche (Giuseppe Nenci, ed.; Atti del convegno di Cortona, 24-30 maggio 1981; Collection de l’École française de Rome 67; Rome: École française de Rome, 1983) 503-520; 505.