While the 夏 Xià Dynasty roughly corresponds with Abraham and the patriarchs of Isarel, the 商 Shāng Dynasty roughly corresponds with Moses, running up to the time of David.
According to Laszlo Montgomery of The China History Podcast, this dynasty was known for 4 accomplishments: Writing, social organization, bronze casting, and use of bronze weaponry. These make for nice “hooks” to link with biblical events.
[Note: Before continuing, be sure to check out the introductory post, “Chinese History at Your Fingertips.” ]
Rise and Fall of the 商 Shāng
桀 Jié, the evil last ruler of the 夏 Xià Dynasty, got his comeuppance at the hands of 成汤 Chéng Tāng, the ruler of a subordinate kingdom, known as 商 Shāng. 桀 Jié had been so awful that it didn’t take much for 成汤 Chéng Tāng to convince many to side with him against such an unjust ruler. By 1600, the 商 Shāng had taken over.
This actually began what could possibly be considered the most important motif in all of Chinese history: 天命 tiānmìng, known in English as “The Mandate of Heaven.” Basically, if you’re a bad ruler, you’ll lose “heaven’s mandate,” and your overthrow is thereby justified. The idea was developed and refined in later dynasties.
How to Remember
In my Bible, I have 商朝 (Shāng Dynasty) written above Exodus 1. Since 成汤 Chéng Tāng, founder of the 商 Shāng Dynasty, probably lived not too long before Moses, I have his name written next to Exodus 1:7.
The greatest archaeological discovery from this period is the 妇好墓 Fù Hǎo Mù, the tomb of 妇好 Fù Hǎo, a celebrated queen and military hero of the era. This tomb was built during the time of the judges in Israel.
In my Bible between Judges 16 and 17, I’ve written 妇好墓.
In the spirit of his predecessor 桀 Jié, the evil king 帝辛 Dì Xīn brought his kingdom crashing down around the same time that King Saul was showing his true colors in Israel. I have 帝辛 Dì Xīn written between chapters 3 and 4 of 1 Samuel. (Again, for biblical events, I’m generally following the dates given in the New Inductive Study Bible.)
Accomplishment 1: Writing
During this time around the world, writing was becoming a thing. Two civilizations that left writing behind were the Egyptians and the Hebrews. When oracle bone writing was discovered in 1899, it became indisputable that the 商 Shāng in China were also routinely putting thoughts on paper. Or on bone, as was the case. It will be a few more dynasties before actual paper appears.
A fitting place to remember the oracle bones is next to Exodus 24:4 “And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD.”
While Moses was writing the Pentateuch, Chinese diviners were beginning to carve questions into bones regarding the future. They would heat the bone and try to interpret the resulting cracks in an attempt to predict the future.
While these diviners certainly didn’t find a way to see tomorrow, by writing down both failure and success they seemed to be making an honest attempt. This was completely unlike the Babylonian quacks that Nebuchadnezzar wanted wiped out several centuries later. The only thing that saved these hucksters’ lives was the fact that there is an omnipotent God who actually does know the future, and on a very rare occasion chose to tell Daniel.
Accomplishment 2: Social Stratification
The 商 Shāng Dynasty divided up and organized society into a complex hierarchy, with the king at the top, down through nobles, priests and officials to the commoners. This rigid social structure would last for millennia.
In my Bible, I’ve noted this down at the beginning of Numbers, a book that carefully catalogs the stratification of Hebrew society in the wilderness.
Accomplishment 3: Bronze Casting
The 商 Shāng Dynasty left behind some beautiful bronze work. Many of these items were used in worship.
At the same time, the Hebrews were crafting the tabernacle according to the Lord’s instructions, including instruments made of bronze.
The ESV uses the term “bronze” 36 times in Exodus, with a peak in chapter 38. So, above chapter 38 I’ve written “Shang Dynasty Bronze.”
Accomplishment 4: Bronze Weaponry
In an era of primitive weapons, bronze weaponry was a major advantage the Shang enjoyed. Meanwhile in Israel, Goliath terrified Saul’s army, not just with his size and strength, but also his bronze helmet, coat of mail, armor and javelin. Next to 1 Samuel 17:5 I’ve written, “Shang Bronze Weapons.”
Additional Accomplishment: Religion
Other sources often point to 商 Shāng religion as a major characteristic of the era. Although certainly not strictly monotheistic, worship during this period focused on 上帝, the supreme “Heavenly Emperor.” Features of this worship mirror in striking ways the Hebrew worship of Jehovah.
Some of these similarities are outlined in this video on the Temple of Heaven that’s available on both YouTube and YouKu. Although both Bejing and the Temple of Heaven came on the stage long after the Shang Dynasty, the video covers the worship of “天” all the way back to the Shang.
Unfortunately, unlike my DVD copy, neither of those versions have English subtitles.
Featured Image: Elijah Wilcott, 2007