• The Problem with Yahweh #3 (Reply to Jayman)

    Jayman, occasional Christian commenter here has replied to my post, The Problem with Yahweh #2. That itself was a second part to the series started here. As a result of Jayman’s comments, I have critiqued his criticisms.

    In Deut 32:7-9 we have evidence that Yahweh was one of many gods. . . . The god most high gives the 70 nations (as they believed) to his divine sons, or council, of which Yahweh is a member.

    The Bible equates Yahweh with El Elyon (Gen. 14:22; 2 Sam. 22:14; Pss. 21:7; 83:18; 91:9; 92:1) so it is not possible to maintain that the deity El Elyon gives a separate deity, Yahweh, a nation. The divine council consists of heavenly beings but they are not equals with Yahweh (e.g., Ps. 29:1; 89:6-7).

    Well, this is pretty much the point of the original post. The question is this: What would you expect to see if you saw a religion evolve and assimilate rival religions around it? Exactly what we see in my posts about Yahweh. This is not what we would expect to see if the Judeo-Christian understanding of the Old Testament, as set out in the Bible, were true in the sense understood by biblical literalists or maximalists. After all, Yahweh does not appear until Exodus and, strangely, the god Baal is entirely absent in Genesis (which must raise questions as to why these issues arise in different books and at different times, confusingly).  The two have much in common since, as with Yahweh’s name, the real name of the Canaanite Baal (Hadad) must not be spoken. Prof. Herzog of Tel Aviv University reaches the conclusion that ISH.KUR = Hadad = El Shaddai = Baal = Yahweh – the evolution is evident within the Bible itself, as well as piecing together actual evidence from archaeology.

    As one commentator states in analysing the work of Prof. Herzog:

    This indicates, as does Herzog’s work, that the Jewish people evolved from polytheism to monotheism with the promotion of a god who had been known by a variety of names, into one supreme God, Yahweh (whose real name must not be spoken), and that they adopted for this purpose, not the supreme God of the Pantheons, El, but his son – ISH.KUR, Baal, Hadad, El-Shaddai, an entity who was in open revolt against his father El, and ultimately aided in this revolt by his mother and consort, Asherah, (also known as Baalat, Ashteroth, Elat).

    This female entity was later merged by Greek and Roman traditions into Aphrodite and Venus, and known earlier to the Egyptians as Isis.

    Once we understand this, the etymology of the name Israel – Is (either Isis or tomb) Ra (Head of the Egyptian Pantheon) El (Lord – Baal) – makes far more obvious sense than the convoluted “Yisrael” yarn from the Hebrew faith.

     The idea is that Yahweh had co-opted for him Ba’al stories. Daniel Sarlo in his essay “The Storm God versus the Sea” states:

    In a number of biblical passages, Yahweh is described as a typical ANE storm deity. The most notable comparisons have been drawn to the Canaanite god Baal known from the texts at Ugarit. Like Baal, Yahweh is a warrior who descends from his mountain-home riding a chariot of clouds. His voice is thunder and his weapon is lightning; the earth quakes and the skies release rain at his command. In primeval times he asserted his authority by defeating the sea, becoming the ruler of the skies.

    These parallels are certainly no accident;however they are unlikely to be the result of literary borrowing. Rather, they are due to the emendation of ancient texts to reflect later Israelite reforms. In short, Yahweh became the hero in certain myths that were not originally written about him. There is sufficient evidence that in the early history of Israel, Yahweh and Baal were worshipped simultaneously. Prior to the first millennium BCE there was no distinct ‘Israelite’ religion – it originated as one of many local variants of the Canaanite religion,2 a polytheistic model with Yahweh as a minor deity. Around the time of the Monarchy, the Israelites began to develop their own unique religious identity, 3 but it was not until the ninth century BCE that Baal worship became a concern to the cult of  Yahweh and kings actively sought to suppress it. This marked the beginning of the Israelite trend of rejecting their heritage, and led to the fabricated notion that their religion was the antithesis of the Canaanite religion.4 Some biblical authors like Jeremiah linked the worship of Baal to the fall of the Northern Kingdom in order to gain exclusive support for Yahwism. The cult of Baal was eventually eradicated, but not until 621 BCE with King  Josiah’s reform.5

    Jayman continues in looking at part of my last post by saying:

    Eventually, these two gods get combined, and Yahweh ‘consumes’ El Elyon’.

    Since you already admit that Yahweh is El Elyon in some passages of the Bible, how do you know Yahweh is not El Elyon in all passages of the Bible? None of your examples require that Yahweh and El Elyon are different deities. It sounds like you came up with an hypothesis to explain away the problems with your interpretation of Deut. 32.

    Firstly, this doesn’t explain the plurality of gods mentioned: the council and Elohim, a grammatically plural noun (for example, Elohim states, “Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness). Let us continue to look to the Bible itself for further evidence.  The Dead Sea Scrolls fragment of Deutoronomy 32.8-9, agreeing with the Septuagint, reads as follows:

    When the Most High (‘Elyon) allotted peoples for inheritance,
    When He divided up the sons of man,
    He fixed the boundaries for peoples,
    According to the number of the sons of El
    But Yahweh’s portion is his people,
    Jacob His own inheritance.

    What is fascinating here is that any normal grammatical reading of this piece will clearly show that El and Yahweh are separate entities. The use of “but” separates the two entities out here. The problem is that if one has to forego the rectitude of these claims in some way; if one says that the language is metaphorical or that they do have hints of cultural context, but that this does not invalid

    The interaction of Yahweh and his followers in the context of Ba’al is complex, and detective work is required to piece together all of the information. Tim Callahan’s voluminous The Secret Origins of the Bible is a superb critical analysis of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. He states:

    Let us now apply the evidences found in the Bible, along with preserved documents and archaeological finds, to get an overview of the religion of ancient Israel. As a result of the conquest of Judah by the Chaldeans, culminating in the sack of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, many Jews fled to Egypt. Eventually, during the Persian period, some of the Jews of the Egyptian Diaspora were settled in a military colony at Elephantine, south of Thebes near the first cataract of the Nile. There they built a temple where they worshiped Yahweh— along with the goddess Anath and two other deities called Eshem and Herem. That the worship of Yahweh was not separated from that of other Canaanite deities in some cases even after the Exile is significant but hardly surprising given evidence from the Bible itself…

    The reference to the “bull-calf Yah” at Samaria is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. First let us consider the name. Since Semitic alphabets did not originally have vowels, the name Yahweh was written, if transliterated into Roman characters, as YHWH. This is the Tetragrammaton, the unspeakable name of God. In fact, the name as it usually appears in Judah is YHW, or Yahu, and this is how the community at Elephantine wrote it. In Israel it is found as YH, read either as Yo or Yah. In other words, the golden calves (or more properly young bulls) set up by Jeroboam I—the act so excoriated by the Deuteronomist historian in 1 Kgs. 12:26-33—were representations of an aspect of Yahweh. It was common to add “Yah” or “Yahu” to the end of proper names in ancient Israel and Judah. The fairly common name Abdi, recently found on a seal identifying its owner as the “servant of Hoshea,” the last king of Israel (see Lemaire, 1995) would have been in full “Abdiyo” or “Abadyahu,” which is rendered in Protestant Bibles as Obadiah (“servant of Yahweh”), the name of both a courtier of King Ahab and one of the minor prophets.

    That Yah was not only represented as a bull-calf but that the god was not solely the god of Israel is attested to by a number of ancient artifacts and records. Among these is the inscription by Sargon II of Assyria dating from 720 BCE that he had captured Ya-ubi’di, king of Hammafh, an Aramean city north of Damascus. Ya-u-bi’di means ” [God] Yah is my help.” Thus Yah was being worshiped outside of Israel and Judah. Since we know from both the Bible and history that one of King Ahab’s contemporaries was the Aramean king of Damascus, Ben-Hadad3 whose name means “son of Hadad” and that Hadad was a storm god of the western Semitic pantheon, it is obvious that Yah was one of many gods worshiped by the Arameans and part of the pantheon worshiped by the Arameans and possibly Canaanites. In fact in 2 Kgs. 8:7-15 the Yahwist prophet Elisha is consulted in Damascus by Hazael on behalf of Ben-Hadad to see if he will recover from an illness. Elisha instead tells Hazael that Yahweh has shown him that Ben-Hadad will die and that Hazael will be king in his place. Hazael acts to help fulfill the prophecy by smothering Ben-Hadad with a damp blanket. The Amorite city of Mari on the Euphrates also has inscriptions of such personal names as Yahu-Ili and Yahwi-Haddu. These names probably do not have anything to do with the worship of Yahweh, however, since his name means roughly “he who brings into existence.” Thus Yahwi-Haddu could mean “the god Haddad causes (this child) to be.” But the same cannot be said of place names, and an Egyptian list of place names in Edom south of ancient Israel, dating from the reign of Amenhotep III (1417-1379 BCE), includes the name YHW, which would probably read out as Ya-h-wi. In fact the worship of Yahweh seems to have originated in areas south of Israel, whence it was brought by whichever tribes actually did take part in the Exodus (and these were far fewer than the 12 tribes of the initial confederation). Perhaps the most striking evidence of Yahweh being worshiped by others than the Jews and being part of a pagan pantheon is an artifact which, like the temple at Elephantine, demonstrates a late survival of the way in which Yahweh was viewed before the Exile. It is a coin from fourth century BCE Gaza which depicts Yahweh, with the inscription YHW, as a bearded man holding a hawk and sitting on a winged wheel, much the way Sumerian and Babylonian deities were portrayed (see fig. 1). These gods were essentially exalted humans much like the Olympians of ancient Greece. Further, the Sumerians had a rather technological view of how the gods could do miraculous things. How did the gods fly? Unless they were specifically represented as having wings—and most of them were not—they could not do this by themselves. Instead they had winged chariots. The graphic short-hand for a winged chariot was a winged wheel on which the god sat. The Canaanite gods were themselves often variants of Sumerian and Babylonian deities. Ashtart (Astarte) is the western version of Ishtar, and Baal is the western version of Bel. Again, this coin is a late survival of the way the Jews had viewed their god before the Exile. We must remember that Gaza was a Philistine city and that the Philistines had, even during the period of the Judges, accepted the Canaanite pantheon. Since they were not exposed to the pressures of the Exile, which forced the Jews to transform their view of God, the Philistines depicted Yahweh as he was originally viewed by the Canaanites, although the way in which the figure was dressed indicates a Greek influence. This is not surprising, since there was both kinship and political interaction between the Philistines and the Ionian Greeks. Some scholars say mat the Hebrew characters on the coin have been blurred with age and that it actually  transliterates as YHD or Yehud, the Persian province of Judah, rather than YHW. However, the posture of the figure is that of a Greek god, and the winged wheel remains a graphic shorthand for a flying chariot. Thus, even if the inscription reads “Yehud” rather than “Yaw” what is clearly represented on the coin is a deity, and the most likely identity of that deity is Yahweh, the god of the Jews. (Callahan, pp.18-20)

    In relation more precisely to what Jayman was claiming, Callahan continues:

    That Yahweh’s worship had its orgiastic aspects is not its only tie to Canaanite paganism. Yahweh is also referred to in the Bible as El, or its plural Elohim. The name El can merely mean a “god,” or can mean the specific deity. Along with being called Elohim, God is also referred to in Genesis as El Shaddai (“God Almighty” or “El the almighty” or “the god Shaddai”) and El Elyon (“God most high” or “El the most high” or “the god Elyori”). It was this latter name that was used by Melchizedek, the Canaanite priest-king of Salem who sacrificed to him on Abraham’s behalf. El was a sky god, creator and the gray-bearded patriarch of the Canaanite gods. However El was also sometimes referred to as “Bull El” in Canaanite texts. Thus we see another tie to Canaanite religion, since “Bull-calf Yah” could be equated with “Bull El” and both could be considered variants of Baal, who was also associated with bulls. Baal’s sister/lover was Anath, one of the deities associated with Yahweh at Elephantine. She is represented in Ugaritic texts as slaughtering the enemies of Baal and wading in their blood. She was also called Astarte or Ashtart in her role as a fertility goddess who was associated with Baal. Given that Anath was worshiped with Yahweh at Elephantine, and that Tammuz was the lover of Astarte, it is not surprising that women were weeping for Tammuz at the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem.

    The myth of Ishtar and Tammuz was transferred to Greek mythology as the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis. The Greek name Adonis was actually a variant of another name for Tammuz, Adon or Adonai, which simply means “My Lord.” In fact, when Abraham and other biblical personages refer to God as “Lord” the word often used in Hebrew is Adonai.4 The Adonai version of Tammuz, meaning Lord, is not the only name of a Canaanite god that has a general meaning that could be appropriated by any deity. Just as El could mean simply “god,” the name Baal could also be variously interpreted as “master,” “husband,” “lord,” or “prince.” In 2 Kgs. 1:2 the Israelite king Ahaziah sends a messenger to inquire of Baal-zebub (or Beelzebub, literally “lord of the flies”), the god of Ekron, whether or not he will recover from an accident. The name is most likely an insulting distortion of the god’s actual name, which would have been Baal-zebul, either “Lord of the divine abode” or “Princely Lord.” Thus it is more accurate to refer to the Baals or Baalim than to one god called Baal, and though the term is used in biblical texts to refer to foreign gods, the generality of the term could as easily encompass the god of the Jews. This is illustrated in the name of Saul’s youngest son, Ishbaal. This can be translated as “man of Baal,” but, considering that Saul was a worshiper of Yahweh, it probably means “man of the Lord,” referring to that deity and not to Baal.

    Another common appellation of a god was “king,” a word represented in the Semitic alphabet by letters equivalent to M- L-K, M-L- Ch or M- L-C. It is part of many western Semitic names such as Elimelech, Abimelech, and, of course, Molech (also spelled Moloch), that dread god to whom the Phoenicians supposedly sacrificed their children. In other variants of the name vowels were not always inserted between the L and the Ch (C), as in Melchizedek and Milcom. The latter was the god of the Ammonites. If Friedman is right, and the P document dates from Hezekiah’s reign (715-687 BCE) rather than the Exile, we must assume that sacrifices of children to Molech were common enough at that time that the author of Leviticus had to specifically condemn the act (Lev. 18:21, 20:1-5). The admonition in Deut. 18:10 that “There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or daughter as an offering” shows that the practice was still a problem in the time of Josiah (640-609 BCE). That child sacrifice was not something clandestine and effectively outlawed in pre-exilic Judah is further attested to in 2 Kgs. 16:3, where we are told that King Ahaz (735-715 BCE) burned his son as an offering. Hezekiah’s son and successor Manasseh (687-642 BCE) not only erected altars to Baal, made an Asherah and worshiped the “host of heaven,” i.e. the stars and planets (2 Kgs. 21:3), probably as the result of Assyrian influences), but burned his son as an offering as well (2 Kgs. 21:6). Another possibility, however, is that the sacrifices were not for Molech as a foreign god. According to Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian from Sicily who lived in the first century BCE, human sacrifice in the eastern Mediterranean was limited to Kronos, the Greek equivalent of El. Thus, the god Molech, meaning “king,” could be an epithet for El, and neither Ahaz nor Manasseh would have seen anything wrong with the practice of sacrificing their sons to him. The condemnation of the practice by both the prophetic party and the Aaronic priesthood can be seen as a civilizing movement in the nation’s religion, a doctrine stating that human sacrifice did not honor God. Indeed, Lev. 18:21 says:

    You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD [or “I am Yahweh”].

    It’s not altogether clear how worshiping Molech, a separate god, would profane the name of either Yahweh or El. If, however, Molech (King) is just another name for God, men committing an outrage in his name would indeed profane it. The same sense of outrage at a previously acceptable rite is embedded in the Greek myth of Tantalus, who boiled his own son and tried to serve the meat to the gods. They drew away from it in horror and sentenced him to eternal torment. Yet there is graphic evidence of human sacrifice from Minoan Crete ca. 1700 BCE (see Wilson, 1985, pp. 126-127). The Minoans seem to have been part of the same culture as that of the city of Ugarit, both sharing a Canaanite pantheon out of which were derived both the Greek pantheon and the worship of the God known as El, with whom the southern deity Yahweh became identified. (Callahan, pp. 21-22)

    OK, so that’s an extensive set of quotes from Callahan, but it is important to give more than just a flavour of the complexity of teasing apart integrated mythologies. Because that is what Yahweh is to those who do not buy into the idea that one can special plead one particular parochial god over a pantheon of others, just because, anthropologically speaking, he won out in the battle of culture and ideas. The Bible, at least to me, clearly indicates this, and to plead, as I think Jayman does here, is to take the possible over the probable; possibiliter ergo probabiliter.

    Jayman continues:

    These texts only make sense on the assumption that they (in contrast to other texts) assume there are other gods. To take the first example, Exodus 12:12, the judgment on the gods of Egypt consists of Yahweh having his way with Egypt. In other words, the gods of Egypt are no gods at all. Yahweh is God.

    It is also strange that Daniel 11:39 is supposed to be an example of polytheism. Even on a traditional dating this is an exilic writing. Skeptics are likely to date it to the second century BC. Such an interpretation undercuts the earlier claim that polytheism evolved into monotheism, for here we have an allegedly polytheistic text being revered by monotheistic Jews.

    I do understand and broadly agree with his point on Exodus 12:12, but one point is missed I feel. Here, for Gericke to some degree, it is the use of the biblical translation of “Lord” as opposed to “Yahweh”. If one uses “Yahweh” here, there is a sense that it is a personal affront to this Warrior Storm god that there are others who need stamping out.  It may only be very nuanced and subtle, but the point is about the language used to represent God/Yahweh which is often lost in translation into the English. This was a large part of Gericke’s point: readers simply do not realise the equivocation and word games going on in front of them, which is evident from the source texts but not so evident in the English translations.

    The point about Daniel is an interesting one and I will concede that, on critical (and accurate, I would posit) grounds, Daniel would have been written much later. Whether every element of polytheism had been lost by then, or not, is open to debate. As wiki states:

    The oldest writings of Judaism that survive directly date from the Hellenistic period. This includes Hebrew and Aramaic papyri with biblical fragments such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Greek documents such as the Septuagint. Scholars contend that the development of a strict monotheism was the result of cultural diffusion between Persians and Hebrews, or as a result of the contact of Israelite and Greek cultures…

    …the re-interpretation of the gods of the earliest recalled period as the national god of the monolatrism as it emerged in the 7th to 6th century BCE in the Kingdom of Judah and during the Babylonian captivity, and further in terms of monotheism by the emergence of Rabbinical Judaism in the 2nd century CE.[35]

    The process emerged before, but it is not an immediate one by any means.

    That whilst these facts and claims seem to point to an obvious evolution of the Yahwistic notion of God, it doesn’t invalidate it per se.

    We need to distinguish between the teachings of the Bible and the practices of the ancient Israelites. The Bible itself makes it clear that the ancient Israelites engaged in idolatry. This does not mean the authors of the Bible endorsed polytheism at any point in time.

    Yes, granted. But given understanding of the Documentary Hypothesis, in some form or another, we know that the Bible, as an eclectic collection of disparate texts, evolved in conjunction with an evolving culture. As such, this evolution from polytheism to monolatrism (the worship of one god out of many without excluding the reality of the others) to monotheism is exactly what we would expect. The Bible and its confused claim is exactly what we would expect given naturalism. The Christian understanding of the Bible, with all its issues and contradictions, takes some good deal of mental gerrymandering to retain its meaning in its ‘intended’ form. Ockham’s Razor and all that.

    Notes

    Callahan, Tim. The Secret Origins of the Bible, Altadena, California: Millenium Press (2002)

    Ze’ev Herzog, Professor of Archaelogy, University of Tel Aviv – http://archaeology.tau.ac.il/?page_id=1106

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • kraut2

      the only problem with the myth: that people do take it as divine revelation and not as a construct of the human mind to make sense of the world when confronted with powerful natural forces.

      The evolution of the gods stories and their cross connections between Mediterranean cultures support the hypothesis that the gods of the area all have common ancestors.

      • There is a remarkable similarity between this evolution of ideas and biological evolution by natural selection. I think memetics does a really goo djob of showing this, though some people like to slam it.

    • I will start at the end because that is my most important point: we need to distinguish between the teachings of the Bible and the practices of the ancient Israelites. You grant this point. All my claim requires is that the biblical text, when properly interpreted, teaches that there is no equal to Yahweh. Much of your post is irrelevant to this and you avoid, for the most part, arguing for the superiority of your interpretation of the biblical texts.

      The problem with your argument is that your interpretation of the Bible is based upon an hypothesis (the evolution from polytheism to monotheism in Israel) which is itself based upon an hypothesis (the Documentary Hypothesis). This is a house built on sand.

      Yahweh does not appear until Exodus and, strangely, the god Baal is entirely absent in Genesis (which must raise questions as to why these issues arise in different books and at different times, confusingly).

      I cited Genesis 14:22 as an example where Yahweh is equated with El Elyon, in the very quote you were responding to, so clearly Yahweh does appear before Exodus. The deity Baal does not appear in Genesis because there is no need to mention him, but he is part of the name Baal-Hanan mentioned in Genesis 36:38-39. This is not an issue for my position.

      Per the Documentary Hypothesis, both Genesis and Exodus are the result of multiple sources being combined. Sources that are present in Genesis are also present in Exodus. So, according to the hypothesis you hold to, Genesis was not necessarily written before Exodus and thus can’t be used to show evolution from polytheism to monotheism.

      The two have much in common since, as with Yahweh’s name, the real name of the Canaanite Baal (Hadad) must not be spoken.

      The divine name seems to be spoken regularly throughout the Bible. I’m not going to bother responding to Rumor Mill News (seriously?).

      I don’t deny that Yahweh is sometimes described in terms similar to other ANE deities. I deny that the Bible teaches polytheism.

      this doesn’t explain the plurality of gods mentioned: the council and Elohim, a grammatically plural noun (for example, Elohim states, “Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness).

      Elohim is also equated with Yahweh so it isn’t a problem for me. And I already noted in my earlier comment that the members of the divine council are heavenly beings that are not equal to Yahweh.

      What is fascinating here is that any normal grammatical reading of this piece will clearly show that El and Yahweh are separate entities. The use of “but” separates the two entities out here.

      Not even the translation “but” requires such a thing (which is not the only translation). Michael Heiser deals with the issues here. And isn’t Deuteronomy part of the Deuteronomistic History which was finished near the end of the Southern Kingdom when, according to an earlier quotation from you, the cult of Baal had been eradicated? Are you keeping your story straight?

      The interaction of Yahweh and his followers in the context of Ba’al is complex, and detective work is required to piece together all of the information.

      In other words, the evidence is insufficient to support firm conclusions. It’s certainly too weak to support the idea that the Bible teaches polytheism. Remember, I’m not denying that idolatry existed in ancient Israel, nor am I denying that people outside of Israel knew of Yahweh.

      Because that is what Yahweh is [a myth] to those who do not buy into the idea that one can special plead one particular parochial god over a pantheon of others, just because, anthropologically speaking, he won out in the battle of culture and ideas. The Bible, at least to me, clearly indicates this, and to plead, as I think Jayman does here, is to take the possible over the probable; possibiliter ergo probabiliter.

      I think my interpretations of the biblical passages are not merely possible, but the best interpretations of the texts. You can accept my position and still think Yahweh is a myth.

      But given understanding of the Documentary Hypothesis, in some form or another, we know that the Bible, as an eclectic collection of disparate texts, evolved in conjunction with an evolving culture.

      The different forms of the Documentary Hypothesis are all over the board (because the evidence is not sufficient to do the work certain scholars would like it to do). I could counter that Genesis 14 is an ancient source and, since it equates El Elyon with Yahweh, it is clear that El Elyon and Yahweh should be equated in the later text Deuteronomy 32.

      The Bible and its confused claim is exactly what we would expect given naturalism. The Christian understanding of the Bible, with all its issues and contradictions, takes some good deal of mental gerrymandering to retain its meaning in its ‘intended’ form. Ockham’s Razor and all that.

      You haven’t pointed out any actual confusions, issues, or contradictions. Any issues that arise occur because you hold to two weakly supported hypotheses and try to shoehorn the biblical passages into those hypotheses. Ocham’s Razor is of little use in proper interpretation.

      • Hey, there, will respond at length later. But in the meantime:

        “I don’t deny that Yahweh is sometimes described in terms similar to other ANE deities. I deny that the Bible teaches polytheism.”

        I do not claim it teaches it. I claim there is evidence of it (no one surely denies that there was a move from polytheism to monotheism, the question is whether there are elements left over, and what best explains both this residue and the archaeological fact that the ANE went on this journey.

      • josh

        “All my claim requires is that the biblical text, when properly interpreted, teaches that there is no equal to Yahweh.”

        Jayman, you have misunderstood the basic question. You assume that there is a single ‘proper’ interpretation which gives the ‘real’ message of the entire Bible. (And consequently you argue circularly from the assumption that the Bible is a coherent whole.) The question being discussed is the history of how the Bible, as you are familiar with it, came to be. A modern Christian or Jew of course reads the Bible as though it refers to a monotheistic picture and of course many throughout recent history have done so. Many parts of the Bible were composed by people with similar beliefs. But, there is strong evidence that the people who became the Jews

        had pre-monotheistic beliefs which left some traces in the early traditions and scriptures. The Jewish monotheism evolved gradually from that earlier polytheism, so, e.g. Genesis as we know it is not the original version of the stories it contains. Most of the Bible paints a monotheistic picture of Yahweh the ultimate king, but because they preserve pieces of the earlier tradition we can figure out that Yahweh wasn’t always thought of in that way.

        The idea of who and what Yahweh is has changed over time. So, while you may think the proper interpretation is your current monotheism, the proper interpretation to the ancient composers of some of the early stories, i.e. what they meant when they first told them, was very different.

        • You assume that there is a single ‘proper’ interpretation which gives the ‘real’ message of the entire Bible. (And consequently you argue circularly from the assumption that the Bible is a coherent whole.)

          I assume there is a correct interpretation of any single passage in the Bible. I make the same assumption for any piece of literature. It’s possible for my claim about monotheism to be correct and for one part of the Bible to contradict another part of the Bible, so I am not assuming the Bible is a coherent whole.

          The question being discussed is the history of how the Bible, as you are familiar with it, came to be.

          It’s more than that. Allegedly this history is a problem. But if the Bible does not teach polytheism, as Jonathan now seems to grant (?), there is no problem. And note the OP was a respond to my position.

          The idea of who and what Yahweh is has changed over time. So, while you may think the proper interpretation is your current monotheism, the proper interpretation to the ancient composers of some of the early stories, i.e. what they meant when they first told them, was very different.

          You actually have to produce interpretations of the biblical passages in question to support this assertion. Jonathan has only really attempted this in the case of Deut. 32 and his case falls apart after minimal inspection.

          • Nerdsamwich

            “But if the Bible does not teach polytheism, as Jonathan now seems to grant (?)…” The parts he’s referencing don’t *teach* anything, they chronicle. It’s telling a story of “this is what happened”, not setting out “this is what you should do”. Only a few parts of the many books teach, the rest just retell.

          • josh

            I assume there is a correct interpretation of any single passage in the Bible. I make the same assumption for any piece of literature. It’s possible for my claim about monotheism to be correct and for one part of the Bible to contradict another part of the Bible, so I am not assuming the Bible is a coherent whole.

            You argued that one passage has to be interpreted monotheistically because another passage, from a different book, appears monotheistic.

            It’s more than that. Allegedly this history is a problem. But if the Bible does not teach polytheism, as Jonathan now seems to grant (?)

            First we should figure out the history, then we can decide if it is a problem for your views. But look, here you are again talking about what ‘the Bible’ teaches as though that is necessarily a coherent, singular thing. It’s a naive view. If you want to argue that your current monotheism isn’t affected by the polytheism of early Israelites, that is a different matter.

            You actually have to produce interpretations of the biblical passages in question to support this assertion. Jonathan has only really attempted this in the case of Deut. 32 and his case falls apart after minimal inspection.

            Again, we are not just discussing interpretation, we are talking about the history of the story and how those passages came to be. Jonathan has pointed out several pieces of evidence in understanding how the names in the Bible connect to the earlier religions of the area, not just Deut. 32, which certainly has not ‘fallen apart on inspection’ since your only argument is the fallacious one that some other part of the Bible is monotheistic, ergo the grammar of Deut. 32 must be mangled to mean what you want it to mean. I’m not here to give you a detailed history lesson. If you are really curious then go read the scholarly work Jonathan is referencing.

            • Precisely. And what annoys me is that when we look, Christians and non alike, at other ancient texts, we don’t assume that charitable status. We assess texts within a cultural and historical milieu. We take the Epic of Gilgamesh and assess it in the context of the Ugaritic/Babylonian/Mesopotamian/Sumerian/ANE knowledge and setting.

            • I try to be charitable to other authors. If a text by an author appears at first glance to contradict another text by the same author then I re-examine my initial interpretation. Perhaps I will have to conclude the author contradicted himself, but I don’t force it.

              And I’m not objecting to interpreting the Bible within its ANE context. I’m noting the particular historical context your are trying to construct is based on insufficient evidence. It’s foolish to interpret a text in light of an hypothesis that is not well supported.

            • You argued that one passage has to be interpreted monotheistically because another passage, from a different book, appears monotheistic.

              That’s an oversimplification. My reasons for taking Deut. 32 as monotheistic are:

              1) In isolation, the text of Deut. 32 is, at the very least, compatible with monotheism.

              2) Whether one holds to the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) or to a more traditional view, the Torah is a unified whole put together, in the end, by one author-redactor. It is fair to assume this person would not want to contradict himself.

              3) On the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH), Deuteronomy is connected to the historical books that succeed it (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings). Even Jonathan admits monotheism is evident at the end of this history. So, again, it is fair to assume the author-redactor would not want to contradict himself.

              First we should figure out the history, then we can decide if it is a problem for your views.

              Part of my point is that we don’t have sufficient evidence to construct a history of the evolution from polytheism to monotheism in ancient Israel. On top of that, a general history of ancient Israel does not determine what specific Israelites were saying when we read their words in the Bible. Biblical authors often argued against the culture of their day.

              But look, here you are again talking about what ‘the Bible’ teaches as though that is necessarily a coherent, singular thing. It’s a naive view.

              I’m merely pointing out that, after reading the Bible from cover to cover, it is evident it does not teach polytheism. This didn’t necessarily have to be the case.

              Again, we are not just discussing interpretation, we are talking about the history of the story and how those passages came to be.

              But we don’t have sufficient evidence to know how the passages came to be. What we do know is what the text now says.

              Jonathan has pointed out several pieces of evidence in understanding how the names in the Bible connect to the earlier religions of the area, not just Deut. 32, which certainly has not ‘fallen apart on inspection’ since your only argument is the fallacious one that some other part of the Bible is monotheistic, ergo the grammar of Deut. 32 must be mangled to mean what you want it to mean.

              How names are used by some people does not tell us how the names are used by the authors of the Bible.

              Not even Jonathan’s translation of Deut. 32 indicates polytheism. I also pointed to a link by a biblical scholar who agrees with my position (since I’m no expert in Hebrew). Jonathan comes to Deut. 32 with his hypothesis and then reads it out again.

              I’m not here to give you a detailed history lesson. If you are really curious then go read the scholarly work Jonathan is referencing.

              What Jonathan omits is that there is not a scholarly consensus on the matter. Jonathan needs to be able to very accurately date the biblical texts to show the progression he wants, but he can’t do this. For example, some scholars date Gen. 14, where El Elyon is identified as Yahweh, quite early (others date it late). If that text is early then it throws a wrench into Jonathan’s hypothesis.

          • A good point from another commenter elsewhere:

            “Another great verse to support this argument is, “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD (Yahweh). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the LORD (Yahweh) I did not make myself fully known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3 NIV). Here you can tell that an ancient writer is trying to explain all these references to the Canaanite god El in the earlier tradition by making them the same guy (maybe one was a nickname?). To me, this is the most direct statement in the Bible of the Yahweh cult absorbing traditional Canaanite religion.”

            • Here you can tell that an ancient writer is trying to explain all these references to the Canaanite god El in the earlier tradition by making them the same guy (maybe one was a nickname?).

              First, it needs to be established on independent grounds that Exodus 6 is a later tradition and the El passages are earlier traditions.

              Second, this appears to be an example, once again, of reading the hypothesis into the text. Where in the biblical text is it implied that the author of Exodus 6 is trying to explain references to El?

              Third, I suspect the proposed interpretation is based on the incorrect belief that in Exodus 6 a new name for God is being revealed. Douglas K. Stuart explains (Exodus, p. 177):.

              Were this statement to mean that a previously unknown divine Name – YHVH – is now to be revealed for the first time, the effect of the “I am” formula would be vitiated. The credibility of a promise is undermined, not enhanced, if it is issued by one whose name is unfamiliar. Furthermore, the phrase “I am YHVH” appears scores of times in the Bible and is widespread in corresponding form in Northwest Semitic royal inscriptions, such as “I am Mesha,” “I am Shalmaneser,” “I am Esarhaddon.” It cannot, therefore, reflect the introduction of a new name. On the contrary, precisely because the bearer of the name is well known, and its mention evokes such emotions as awe, reverence, honor, and fear, its use as the source and sanction of a law or edict reinforces its authority and encourages compliance. In the present context the invocation of a hitherto unknown divine name would hardly serve to counteract the widespread demoralization – which is, after all, the very function of God’s declaration.

              In light of these considerations, the meaning of this verse needs to be reexamined. In the ancient Near Eastern world names in general, and the name of a god in particular, possessed a dynamic quality and were expressive of character, or attributes, and potency. The names of gods were immediately identified with their nature, status, and function, so that to say, “I did not make myself known to them by My name YHVH,” is to state that the patriarchs did not experience the essential power associated with the name YHVH. The promises made to them belonged to the distant future. The present reiteration of those promises exclusively in the name of YHVH means that their fulfillment is imminent. This, indeed, is how Rashi, Rashbam, Bekhor Shor, and others construed verses 2-3.

              Support for the understanding that “knowing the name of YHVH” means witnessing or being made to experience the display of divine might is found in several biblical passages. The two most illuminating are Isaiah 52:6 and Jeremiah 16:21. The first reads: “Assuredly, My people shall learn [Heb. Yeda’] My name, / Assuredly [they shall learn] on that day / That I, the One who promised, / Am now at hand.” The second passage states: “Assuredly, I will teach them [Heb. Modiam], / Once and for all I will teach them [Heb. ‘odiem] / My power and My might. / And they shall learn [Heb. Ve-yade’u] that My name is the LORD [YHVH].”

              So this “later tradition” is aware that “earlier traditions” knew of the divine name Yahweh.

              To me, this is the most direct statement in the Bible of the Yahweh cult absorbing traditional Canaanite religion.

              In light of my above comments, this is an admission of how weak the argument is.

      • Nerdsamwich

        If his house is built on sand, yours is built on air.

      • Dick Wozinya

        “I cited Genesis 14:22 as an example where Yahweh is equated with El Elyon”

        You must not be familiar with textual criticism and the early editing/censorship of the Bible.

        There are three variations in the textual witnesses:

        1. Yahweh, El Elyon, creator of heaven and earth (Masoretic Text, Targums, Vulgate)

        2. El Elyon, creator of heaven and earth (Septuagint, Peshitta; cf. 1QapGen, ar, col. XXII, line 21)

        3. God (ha’elohim), El Elyon, creator of heaven and earth (Samaritan Pentateuch)

        Scholars have concluded the name Yahweh was a late editorial addition. Emanuel Tov suggests that the original form of the divine name in the verse is simply El Elyon, as found not only among the list of textual witnesses (#2 above), but also in Melchizedek’s words in verse 19. See here pg. 282, https://books.google.com/books?id=U1UfMyO-RiEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=tov+textual+criticism&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Lga2VM2EDOLLsAT5joCwBQ&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

        Read more about the verse here pages 213-216 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yvWlC0kUlkYC&lpg=PA149&pg=PA213#v=onepage&q&f=false