Although YHWH clearly was perceived by biblical authors in anthropomorphic terms, YHWH’s body was still different from regular human bodies. For YHWH, like many other deities of the ancient Near East, possessed massive size. Continue reading “My God Is Bigger Than Your God–Literally. Part VI”
Of course, much of this [i.e., that Israel worshiped El and Asherah alongside YHWH] is really to be expected given that recent syntheses of the archaeological, cultural, and literary data pertaining to the emergence of the nation of Israel in the Levant show that most of the people who would eventually compose this group were originally Canaanite. Continue reading “Polytheism and Ancient Israel’s Canaanite Heritage. Part V”
One of the most important deities that many, if not most, ancient Israelites worshiped was YHWH’s heavenly spouse or consort, the goddess Asherah (the Hebrew linguistic equivalent of Ugaritic Athirat, the wife of El). Continue reading “Asherah, God’s Wife in Ancient Israel. Part IV”
This historical reconstruction [that El was originally Israel’s chief deity, and YHWH was originally his son and the patron deity of Israel], in turn, helps to make sense of certain biblical texts which seem to indicate most naturally that El was originally the chief god of Israel and that YHWH was the patron deity of Israel. For example, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 reads:
|When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the sons of Israel. For YHWH’s portion, his people; Jacob, his allotted share.||בְּהַנְחֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹיִם בְּהַפְרִידוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם יַצֵּב גְּבֻלֹת עַמִּים לְמִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ כִּי חֵלֶק יְהֹוָה עַמּוֹ יַעֲקֹב חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתֽוֹ|
As the very name Israel might indicate on account of its theophoric element el (אל), it appears that the chief god worshiped in earliest Israel was El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon in the Late Bronze Age. The god El has been revealed most clearly to the modern inquirer through the discovery of the Ugaritic texts at Tel Ras Shamra in 1929, a flourishing kingdom-city-state on the Syrian coast during the second half of the second millennium B.C.E. As biblical tradition affirms as represented by the E and P sources (probably to be dated to the eighth and seventh/ sixth centuries B.C.E., respectively), throughout the book of Genesis the ancient forbears of Israel worshiped the god El. For example, Exodus 6:2-3 (P), recounting the divine theophany of YHWH to Moses at Sinai, states: Continue reading “When Jehovah Was Not the God of the Old Testament. Part II”
Introduction: Was Ancient Israel Monotheistic?
Western Society is perhaps more indebted to the Hebrew Bible than to any other book, and arguably the most famous teaching associated with the Hebrew Bible is that of absolute monotheism. This position famously affirms that there is only one god in existence and no other(s). For example, Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, has often been cited since antiquity as supporting this understanding of monotheism. It declares, “Listen, O Israel, YHWH is our god, YHWH alone [lit. YHWH (is) one]” (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד). This understanding of ancient Israelite faith, found in both popular and scholarly circles, purportedly traces itself in the biblical narrative to at least the time when YHWH revealed himself at Sinai to Moses and Israel, if not all the way back to the creation of the world in Genesis 1 when God alone created the world by his word. Naturally, this view has been held to be in direct opposition to the Mesopotamian theogonic and cosmogonic myths, such as the infamous Enuma Elish, which recounts the creation of the gods and the world through fierce battles and rivalries between the personified primal elements of nature and the many gods who eventually tame them. Continue reading “Does the Old Testament Teach Absolute Monotheism? Part I”
God [‘elohim] has taken his place in the divine council [‘adat ‘el];
in the midst of the gods [‘elohim] he holds judgement.
Ps. 82.1 (NRSV)
References to a divine council or heavenly assembly are found frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible . Simply, the divine council is the heavenly royal court over which Yahweh, the God of Israel, presides as heavenly king. The members of this heavenly court or assembly are referred to in the Hebrew Bible by such terms as: bene (ha)’elohim “sons of God” (Gen. 6.2, 4; Deut. 32.8-9; Job 1.6, 2.2, 38.7), ‘elohim “gods” (Ps. 82.1, 6), bene elim “sons of gods” (Ps. 29.1, 89.7), and bene ‘elyon “sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82.6). Moreover, the council itself is referred to by such appellations as the adat ‘el “council/assembly/congregation of ‘El/God” (Ps. 82.1), sod qedoshim rabbah “great council of the holy ones” (Ps. 89.8), sod YHWH “the council of Yahweh” (Jer. 23.18), and sod eloah “council of God” (Job 15.8). Continue reading “Wait, that’s in the Bible?! Israelite Polytheism or Monotheism?”
This important title, often found in connection with name ‘El, is found in several biblical passages in reference to Israel’s God (e.g., Gen.17.1; 28.3; 35.11;49.25; Ex. 6.3; Num. 24.4, 16; Ps. 68.15; Job 8.3,5, etc.).  ‘El-Shaddai is P’s favored title for God before the revelation of the divine name to Moses. But what is its meaning, and what is its historical derivation? Traditionally, following the LXX (i.e., the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), which uses pantokrator, and the Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible by St. Jerome), which uses omnipotens, the term has often been rendered in English translation as “Almighty,” but it is now generally considered that this interpretation is fallacious, and possibly stems from a similar sounding Hebrew root $-d-d, meaning “to destroy.” Some modern scholars have suggested several other possibilities, such as connecting it with the Hebrew word $ad, meaning breast. However, since ‘El-Shaddai was a male diety, this seems somewhat unlikely. Another suggestion is that it is related to the Hebrew word sadeh, meaning “field.” However, this root uses a different sibilant (sin) in its root than does Shaddai (shin).
Deuteronomy 6.4-9, also known as the Shema because the first word of the passage in Hebrew is the imperative shĕma‘, meaning “Listen,” is probably one of the most well known passages in all of biblical literature. In Jewish tradition this passage is frequently recited as a prayer, a practice that goes back at least to the early rabbinic period . The broader Judeo-Christian tradition, moreover, has often taken the first verse of this passage as a statement of Israel’s (and its own) radical monotheistic faith. This verse reads: “Listen, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.” However, this common Judeo-Christian interpretation which claims that Israel maintained a radical monotheistic stance, or a belief that there is only one G/god in existence (in this case, Yahweh, the God of Israel), has been subject to severe criticism by modern biblical scholars.