- b) Order out of Chaos – Baal and Yahm (the Sea a son of El)
- c) Fertility for the Land – Baal and Mot
- d) A House for Baal
A. Some Functions and Characteristics of Canaanite and Israelite Religions and Gods
Many approaches have been taken to the understanding religion as a pan-human phenomenon of which one of the most interesting is evolutionary psychology. However, narrowing the consideration to what is known of Canaanite and early Israelite religion we could make the following observations:
- Religion as a phenomenon was unknown and would be incomprehensible to the Canaanites and Israelites. What happened happened because the divine powers either willed it or did not oppose it. In pre-Hellenistic times there was no concept of an order of nature governed by immutable natural laws. Hence Biblical Hebrew has no word for “religion”.
- In Syria-Palestine survival depended on the annual rains and rain fall varies widely from year to year. It was clear to Canaanites and Israelites that rainfall was sent by the divine powers and the god who could provide rain, as well as the god or gods who assured human and animal fecundity would be the key object(s) of worship in the subsistence farming communities where almost all Israelites and Canaanites lived.
- Physical security was, of course, also important so divine help in war was a necessity. This might be given by one of the gods or goddesses covering off weather and fecundity or by a specialized war god, national god or god of the place.
- As is probably the case in most religions it underwrote the existing social structure. The most basic of these structures is that of the nuclear family – father, mother, child. For the king the national god, who would preferably also be a war god would be particularly important to assure ethnic cohesion and military success.
- The gods, on whom all depended, must be accessible (i.e. exhibit imminence and be worshiped at local shrines) yet also clearly be transcendent celestial powers.
I will not write a note on methodology as this issue is covered well in Zevit’s first chapter Surveying Paths: An Essay about Humanities, Religion, History and Israelite Religions. Of particular interest is Zevit’s discussion of the evolution of the concept of history. I would also light to highlight the following quotes from his essay –
a) What Are Israelite Religions? (Quoted from Zevit pp. 14-15)
1. Within the worldviews of ancient Israel and her surrounding cultural milieus… deities – the major ones usually being transcendental – conceived as having names, personalities, functions, egos and histories…. In addition, different ancient Near Eastern worldviews recognized the existence of various ill-defined, lesser, often localized, attendant or indwelling powers both malignant and benign.
2. The term “Israelite religion” does not correspond to any well-defined historical reality and is, like “religion,” “Christianity,” and “Judaism,” also a product of the scholar’s study. It is a technical term enveloping the religions of groups with different but overlapping worldviews, patterns of ritual acts, and other activities and expressions that we identify as “religious.” The common denominator of “Israelite religion” is found in the adjective and not the noun: the majority of its practitioners considered themselves a people descendant from an ancestor named Jacob/Israel. But the noun is troublesome also.
(In Ancient Israel) … there was no commonly accepted cultic norm and praxis, cf. the Jerusalem temple cultic calandar and clergy versus those in the temples at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-33). Therefore, rather than consider the idealized, Jerusalem perspective of what ought to have been a cultic and behavioral norm for all Israelites “proper Israelite religion,” and deviations from this norm “corruptions,” – an approach prejudging conflicting truth claims – I prefer the more concrete and historically defensible term, “Israelite religions.”
… Accordingly, this work employs the following definition:
Israelite religions are the varied, symbolic expressions of, and appropriate responses to the deities and powers that groups or communities deliberately affirmed as being of unrestricted value to them within their world view.
b) Objectivity and Phenomenology (Quoted from Zevit pp. 24-27)
The requirement for objectivity that traditionally characterizes (or is supposed to characterize) academic research necessitates that observers or researchers be apart from the religious matters that interest them…. As outsiders, students of ancient religions (or of religions not their own) come from cultures with their own worldviews and mappings of reality, so the conclusions of their research will be delimited by a priori methodological considerations and translated into a language whose conceptional and semantic fields differ from that of their subject….
The phenomenological approach recommends tactics for bridging the gap between the paradigm-laden outside observer striving for objectivity and basic signifying meanings of religious constructions maintained within a participant insider’s worldview.
Phenomenology is an approach to observing, describing and arranging phenomena so that they may be studied either synchronically or diachronically by other methodologies. It understands a phenomenon to be something perceived in consciousness but not originating in consciousness. Thus, a phenomenon may be something physical or not physical … such as a sacred ark, the temple purification rituals of the first month, even the contents of the heavenly vision of Isaiah. Phenomenology’s specific objective is to penetrate through the observed and reported phenomena in order to discern the meanings of symbols, myths, and rituals within a religious culture. Its a priori assumption is that these meanings are available intuitively to those within the culture but not regularly to outsiders. If, however, outsiders are able to gain access first to the concrete surface world of phenomena, their Lebenswelt, through a form of disciplined observation called “reduction” intended to eliminate anachronistic conceptualizing, they may also succeed in accessing the world of meaning underlying the Lebenswelt.
Reduction consists initially of observing carefully, without prejudging, because initially the observer may not know what he or she is observing and therefore what is or is not significant
Reduction, in the phenomenological context, involves bracketing out the observer’s preconceived, culturally bound, explanatory paradigms and all prejudices incompatible with and foreign to the observed culture. This is hardly an easy task. It involves concentrated thinking, conscientious self-criticism and self-analysis, as well as the active criticism of others. For example, in observing the culture of ancient Israel it is first of all necessary to bracket out all (theological) notions of deity that are post-Kantian, or that are derived even indirectly from Neo-Platonism and Neo-Aristotelianism. Ancient Israelite thinking was pre-scholastic and pre-Aquinas and pre-Christian and pre-Jewish. As a consequence, certain distinctions between categories of being and of thought shared by most contemporary scholars, heirs of Western philosophic developments since the thirteenth century CE, distinctions that fill this chapter, cannot be ascribed to Israelite thought. They were foreign to that culture and not part of Israelite consciousness; consequently, evaluative distinctions made nowadays between knowledge of observable nature, knowledge of things passed down in oral tradition, and knowledge of intuited or of revealed matters, were not made then. Contemporary scholars have no reason to suppose, then, that Israelites considered faith and reason separate categories of thinking and experience or that they conferred different kinds of validity on their subject matter.
Phenomenological reduction must bracket out contemporary understandings of monotheism; post-Enlightenment notions of evolution, progress and development; all post-geocentric concepts of astronomy; almost all geographicalknowledge about the shape of the planet and the global distribution of populations and natural resources; information about microbes and contemporary understandings of pathogenesis and mental illness, weather patterns, economics, gender roles, women, children, slavery, war, kingship, animal sacrifice, early death, astrology, and magic. The bracketing process, if not thought through, may cause one to miss the mark entirely….
Researchers or observers have to bracket in, keep in mind, what is known about sacrifice in Israel, in Jerusalem c. 950-600 BCE. They cannot exclude some form of Israelite awareness, reflected in various biblical sources, of whatIsraelites may have thought such acts were intended to accomplish and of what individuals experienced when participating in them. If not included, the exercise might lead observers to view Israelite sacrifice as if it took place under isolated conditions in an unreflective, preliterate culture, like those of pre-missionary Polynesia or New Guinea or those of the Chalcolithic period. Reduction, therefore, includes disciplined and controlled bracketing in, and in the case of Israel requires anthropological sensitivities linked to historical controls. This bracketing process enables observers to reduce phenomena to a level of meaning foreign to their own sensibilities, but appropriate to Israel c. 950-600 BCE.
If the observers/researchers have mastered the relevant primary sources, and if the observing and describing have been done properly, the phenomenological approach should enable them to consider phenomena from the subject’s perspective. Then, the observers/researchers should be able to intuit the meanings of the phenomena of interest to them, experiencing them almost as insiders…. Unlike insiders, however, observers/researchers have only bracketed their beliefs and disbeliefs, held them in suspension. Having obtained data, observers are prepared to re-engage their own critical faculties and to analyze them according to chosen critical methodologies in order to answer questions of their posing.
Phenomenology provides a propaedeutic approach for describing and analyzing the religious component of world views in ancient Israel. Its exercise, when separated from the considerations that make it appropriate for the study of religion, is employed with greater or lesser self-consciousness in many of the humanities, in most social sciences, and to a much lesser degree even in some physical sciences as well. The process described above is recognizable, therefore, to historians using other terminology. Rather than “phenomenon,” historians employ “datum, text, event” and “example;” rather than “bracketing,” they prefer expressions such as “thinking historically” or “critically” or “objectively,” and rather than “intuiting,” words such as “imagining, inducting, inferring, reconstructing,” and “concluding. ”
1. Canaan before the Israelites
1.1 The Nature of the Country and its Pre-Israelite Ethnic Makeup
It is useful to bear in mind two constants about the Palestinian area that held true throughout the Middle and Late Bronze Ages and beyond:
- The country was always open to immigration though broken up within itself (see Dever 2005 pp. 12-15). In the Bronze Age, it had no unified government or army and had, in the Late Bronze Age, large areas of hill country, which had been periodically settled in earlier periods, were almost unoccupied. This was the case in spite of the fact that the technology, in the form of plastered cisterns, metal tools and terracing , necessary to clear and settle the land were available. In the event, Israel emerged in the form of settlers on this largely unoccupied hill country.
- From the north, the country was open to Lebanon, Syria and via Syria to Mesopotamia and Anatolia. The south was open to infiltration by nomads and to military invasion by Egypt. The east was open to infiltration by nomads from the Syrian Desert and Arabia. The western border was the Mediterranean which was the greatest highway of all. In fact, during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages Egyptian armies frequently invaded from the south; the Bible states that the Israelites tried, and failed to enter Canaan from the south and then entered successfully from the east; and, the Philistines and other Sea People successfully invaded from the sea and took over the coastal plain. Later, both Israelite kingdoms were destroyed by Mesopotamian powers coming from the north in response to rebellions supported by Egypt from the south.
- While, according to biblical tradition, there were many ethnic groups in Canaan (Amorites, Hittites, Hivites, Horites, Kenites, Perizites etc.), and even though some of these would appear to be non-Semitic in origin (e.g. Horites (= Hurrians?) and Hittites) they seem to have become assimilated into the Canaanite culture speaking Canaanite and having West Semitic names.
- There was, from the earliest times, strong Egyptian cultural influence along the coast and strong Mesopotamian influence in north Syria. Egyptian cultural influence was boosted by Egyptian rule in the centuries preceding the emergence of Ancient Israel.
The great professor Albright has put it, perhaps overstating it, as follows –
There has been much misunderstanding of the nature of Canaanite-Phoenician culture. It must be emphasized that this was a relatively homogeneous civilization from the Middle Bronze Age down to the beginning of the Achaemenian period, after which it was swallowed up in large part by much more extensive cultures. Chronologically speaking, it is certain that “Phoenician” is simply the Iron-Age equivalent of Bronze-Age “Canaanite”…. Phoenician culture did not finally expire until the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century. From the geographical standpoint, there was a homogeneous civilization which extended in the Bronze Age from Mount Casius, north of Ugarit, to the Negeb of Palestine, and in the Iron Age from north of Arvad (at least) to the extreme south of Palestine. This civilization shared a common material culture (including architecture, pottery, etc.) through the entire period, and we now know that language, literature, art, and religion were substantially the same in the Bronze Age. From the twelfth century on we find increasing divergence in higher culture, but material culture remained practically the same in all parts of the area. The differences (except in the case of Israelite religion) were no greater than they were in different parts of the Mesopotamian area of culture, which was geographically much more extensive. The situation in Canaan is in a number of ways comparable to that in Egypt, where the distance down the Nile is just about twice the distance along the coast from Gaza to Ugarit and yet the civilization of Egypt was much more homogeneous than even I would maintain with respect to Canaanite culture.
Since Israel emerged from the same Northwest-Semitic background as the Phoenicians and other Canaanite groups which continued to exist down into the Iron Age, one would expect to find extremely close relationships in both material and higher culture. It is true that Israelite ties with Egypt were very strong, both historically and geographically, but it is doubtful whether Canaanite and Phoenician bonds with Egypt were any less close. Quite aside from the close ties of reciprocal trade, it must never be forgotten that Palestine, Phoenicia, and Egypt were as a rule part of the same political organization, in which Egypt generally played the controlling part. So far as we know, the only exceptions, during the period which interests us particularly, were during the 18th century B.C., again at the end of the 13th, and from the middle of the 12th to the late tenth. After the early ninth century B.C. Egyptian political influence in Asia decreased greatly, but was compensated by the steady development of reciprocal trade relations.
1.2 Canaanite Religion
|Near Eastern Religion and Morality
If we study the literature of the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians, we can no longer believe the description of “pagan” religion that has long been part of Western tradition and is still often found in modern religious writing. Instead of capricious gods acting only in pursuit of their own desires, we meet deities concerned with the proper ordering of the universe and the regulation of history. Instead of divine cruelty and arrogance, we find deliberation and understanding. Instead of lawlessness and violence, we see a developed legal system and a long tradition of reflective jurisprudence. Instead of immoral attitudes and behavior, we find moral deliberation, philosophical speculation, and penitential prayer. Instead of wild orgiastic rites, we read of hymns, processions, sacrifices, and prayers. Instead of the benighted paganism of the Western imagination, cuneiform literature reveals to us an ethical polytheism that commands serious attention and respect.
But this new valuation of paganism creates its own dilemmas and awakens new questions. If the Bible is not the first dawn of enlightenment in a world of total darkness, then what is it? If polytheism was not the dark disaster that our cultural tradition has imagined it to be, why was it abandoned in Israel and replaced by biblical monotheism? If the old religions swept away by our own monotheist tradition were not grossly deficient, how can we find the precise significance of one God as opposed to the many? How does a monotheistic religion develop? Did the god of Israel simply absorb all the functions and attributes of the pagan gods, essentially changing nothing? Or did monotheism represent a radical break with the past after all, a break not as simply defined and immediately apparent as has been believed, but no less revolutionary?
The discovery of advanced polytheism poses a central theological issue: if polytheism can have such positive attributes, what is the purpose of monotheism? Did the Bible simply substitute another system, one that represented no advance towards a better understanding of the universe and a more equitable way of living? Indeed, were there some aspects of paganism lost in the transition that present, in fact, a more positive way of living in the world? The immediacy of these issues makes imperative an analysis of the nature of paganism and the precise nuances and essential messages of the monotheist revolution of the Bible. We cannot build our spiritual quest on prejudiced assumptions and polemical attributions. We must attain a profound knowledge of ancient polytheism and a sophisticated reading of the biblical texts informed by this knowledge. Thanks to the discovery of ancient Near Eastern literature, we have the ability to study these questions, understand our own past religious development, and make informed contributions to our future.
From In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
Our only real view into the world of Middle to Late Bronze Age Canaanite culture is via Ugaritic literature (see my Ugarit and the Bible: Ugaritic Literature as an Aid to Understanding the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
Ugaritic literature reflects a society of independent city-states sharing a common culture; a stratified aristocratic society based on agriculture.
Some of the characteristics of Canaanite Religion were (see Table 8 for more details):
§ It was polytheistic and iconic (i.e. worshiped idols which served as focuses of the presence of cosmic /nature gods).
§ It was tied to nature and the seasons; a religion of renewal of life and fertility. Not surprisingly, its predominant sense of time was cyclical not linear i.e. it did not provide a good cultural background for the writing of history which presumes real linear change.
1.2.2 The Gods
Best general source is van der Toorn
The Canaanite religion, from which the Religion of Israel emerged had priests, priestesses and prophets. At Ugarit, like later Israelite religion, it viewed the universe as having three levels. The highest celestial realm was the realm of El, the earth was the realm of Baal and other gods; and the depth was the realm of Mot (death), Resheph (pestilence) and Horon (perhaps meaning “depth).
Canaanite religion concentrated on the middle realm. In Bronze Age Ugarit many gods were worshiped. However, the pattern in Iron Age Phoenicia, and probably in the territories of Israel and Judah, usually was composed of a triad consisting of a protective god of the place, a goddess, often his wife or companion who symbolizes the fertile earth; and a young god somehow connected with the goddess whose resurrection expresses the annual cycle of vegetation” (see Dever on Popular Religion and Canaanite Religion Compared to Israelite Official Religion As Reflected in the Torah on the confusion of divine names see). In Carthage the triad was Baal Hammon (may be Ugaritic El or Baal-Haddad with some El features attached), Tanit (his spouse who may be Ugaritic Asherah or an African goddess with similar characteristics) and Melkart (may be derived from Baal-Haddad)
- In Ugaritic el (‘il) is both the common noun “god” and the name of the head of the Ugaritic pantheon – El. Similarly, in the Hebrew Bible, ‘el both means god and the Israelite God. The probable root meaning of ‘el is “power”.
- Ugaritic El is the patriarchal father. The creator, old, wise, compassionate, the supreme judge, and, in the last resort, all-powerful symbolized by the bull. Cross writes, that at Ugarit;
‘EI a strong but not absolute ruler…. ‘El also appears as the divine warrior: ‘El Gibbor…. … ‘El reflects the patriarchal structures of society in many of the myths and the organized institutions of kingship in other titles and functions. He may be a state god or a “god of the father.”
We see ‘El as the figure of the divine father. ‘El cannot be described as a sky god like Anu, a storm god like Enlil or Zeus, a chthonic god like Nergal, or a grain god like Dagon. The one image of ‘El that seems to tie all of his myths together is that of the patriarch. Unlike the great gods who represent the powers behind the phenomena of nature, ‘El is in the first instance a social god. He is the primordial father of gods and men, sometimes stern, often compassionate, always wise in judgment…. He is a tent-dweller in many of his myths. (In other texts) he appears to live in a palace, hekal, and live like a king. ‘El is creator …. In Akkadian and Amorite religion as also in Canaanite, ‘El frequently plays the role of “god of the father,” the social deity who governs the tribe or league, often bound to league or king with kinship or covenant ties.
His characteristic mode of manifestation appears to be the vision or audition, often in dreams. This mode stands in strong contrast to the theophany of the storm god (Baal) whose voice is the thunder and who goes out to battle riding the cloud chariot, shaking the mountains with stormy blasts of his nostrils, striking the enemy with fiery bolts. Baal comes near in his shining storm cloud. ‘El is the transcendent one.
- In the Ugaritic literature El:
Is the greatest of all the gods with full ultimate authority though he tends to sit back and let other gods, especially Baal, take the spotlight;
is the creator of all things;
Sexually fathered the other gods who participate, under El’s headship in the Divine Assembly;
El’s epithets or descriptions include: Bull, Father of Men, Holy, Ancient, Merciful, Supreme Judge, guardian of the cosmic order, Kindly One and Compassionate. Ugaritic El can be drunken and, though he copulates freely with numerous females, his consort is Asherah.
He is represented as an aged man. El wore bull’s horns, the symbol of strength, and was usually depicted as seated.
- “Our own view is that, so far from all other deities in the Ugaritic pantheon being expressions of provinces of the activity of the one original deity, EI, there is a fundamental diversity of nature and interest in the case of EI, the paramount authority in social affairs, and of Baal and the others, whose province was nature. The family relationship of EI and the nature-deities in the Baal-mythology strikes one as artificial, and the comparative superfluity of EI in those texts is an indication of this. The titular supremacy of EI in the Baal-mythology may be an acknowledgement of the supremacy of some invading tribal element to whom the worship of EI was proper, but the fact remains that EI expresses the omnipotence of God above the menace of evil, while Baal expresses the dynamic power of God in the struggle to preserve order in Nature.”
- In Carthage, a Phoenician-Canaanite colony near present-day Tunis, In Carthage Baal Hammon (may be Ugaritic El or Baal-Haddad with some El features attached) and his consort Tanit were the main or only gods to which child sacrifices, which took place on a massive scale, were dedicated.
“The common identity shared by El and Yahweh is impressive…. In the various texts El and Yahweh were both portrayed as 1) father figures, 2) judges, 3) compassionate and merciful, 4) revealing themselves through dreams, 5) capable of healing those who are sick, 6) dwelling in a cosmic tent. 7) dwelling over the great cosmic waters or at the source of the primordial rivers, which is also on top of a mountain, 8) favourable to the widow 9) kings in the heavenly realm exercising authority over the other gods, who may be called ‘sons of gods’, 10) warrior deities who led the other gods in battle, 11) creator deities, 12) aged and venerable in appearance, and most significantly, 13) capable of guiding the destinies of people in the social arena.”
- In the climate of Syria-Palestine where survival depends on rain, the weather god cult will always predominate and the weather god will tend to displace any god above him in the divine hierarchy. This was clearly happening in Ugarit and, judging by the dominance of Baal-Hadad and Baal Shamem in the first millennium, a similar process was probably occurring throughout the region.
“Certain conclusions may thus be drawn from the Ugaritic myths … concerning the relationship between El and Baal…. In Ugarit Baal and Anat were the strong, young gods…. That does not mean that they swept away the old gods completely, but what it actually meant can be observed in the texts. The old gods remained, even in their previous positions, but their power was only nominal. The young gods were placed in the foreground, a fact which the texts announce clearly.
“El is still present, in no changed position nominally, as father and apparent leader of the gods. But actually he is only a shadow, receding slowly into the background. In front of the picture Baal and Anat are fighting, struggling with enemies of many kinds, building up a position in close contact with life in nature, in men, women, beasts and vegetation…. when Baal and Anat are in the foreground in the mythical texts, it means that they were also the dominating figures in the religious cult….
“Our conclusion, then, is that there was a silent struggle going on between Baal and El, a struggle that Baal was on the verge of winning, but had not yet won. The Ras Shamra texts emphasize the importance of the role of Baal and indicate that he was a leading figure in the religious cult.
El is slowly receding into the background…. In his house on the mountain from which the rivers flowed, he tries to reign, but the events show that he no longer has any power. Baal is the powerful god….
Quoted from THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EL AND BAAL IN THE RAS SHAMRA TEXTS by ARVID S. KAPELRUD
B. Ela/Elat-Asherah – Divine Mother
|Goddess as Role Model
(In the figure of goddesses) women could see divine modeling for their own roles in life. The goddesses provided a way for society to discuss the roles and nature of women. Furthermore, the fact that goddesses play the roles of women in the divine realm reinforces cultural stereotypes about women and makes these stereotypes sacred.
When the goddesses portray and represent women in society, they are women writ large, with the same positions in the god-world that women have in the human world. They appear in well-known familial relationships to men and are the archetypes of woman-in-the family….
By the end of the second millennium, the religious thinkers of Mesopotamia saw the cosmos as controlled and regulated by male gods, with only Ishtar maintaining a position of power. When we see such a pattern of theological change, we must ask whether the religious imagery is leading society, or whether it is following socioeconomic development? Was the supplanting of goddesses in Sumerian religious texts an inner theological development that resulted purely from the tendency to view the world of the gods on the model of an imperial state in which women paid no real political role? Or does it follow in the wake of sociological change, of the development of what might be called “patriarchy”? And if the latter is true, is the change in the world of the gods contemporary to the changes in human society, or does it lag behind it by hundreds of years? To these questions we really have no answer.
The eclipse of the goddesses was undoubtedly part of the same process that witnessed a decline in the public role of women, with both reflective of fundamental changes in society that we cannot yet specify. The existence and power of a goddess, particularly of Ishtar, is no indication or guarantee of a high status for human women. In Assyria, where Ishtar was so prominent, women were not…. Ishtar, the female with the fundamental attributes of manhood, does not enable women to transcend their femaleness. In her being and her cult (where she changes men into women and women into men), she provides an outlet for strong feelings about gender, but in the final analysis, she is the supporter and maintainer of the gender order. The world by the end of the second millennium was a male’s world, above and below; and the ancient goddesses have all but disappeared.
From In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
§ She is the universal mother. As such, she is wise, nurturing, symbolizing and supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops.
§ Asherah is symbolized by the Tree of Life which, in turn, may be symbolized by a pole. On a thriteent century BCE ewer found near a temple, a female, probably goddess, figure has its pubic triangle replaced by a tree.
§ Her title Ela (Hebrew) or Elat (Phoenician) is the feminine form of El and hence means “goddess”. “Another name of ´Asherah in the first milleneum BCE is Chawat, which is Hawah in Hebrew and Eve in English. “Her full title is Rabat Chawat ´Elat, Great Lady Eve the Goddess, and is associated with the serpent.”
§ El’s consort and as such clearly subordinate to El. She provides an avenue of approach to the august El.
“Asherah succeeds in convincing El to give his permission for the building of a palace for Baal. Apparently she has a decisive influence on major decisions of her husband, the king of the gods. Later on in the myth of Baal Asherah determines El’s choice of a successor for Baal, in the same way as the biblical Bathsheba does for her son Solomon (1 Kgs 1). It is likely that this too reflects the situation on earth where queens, especially queen-mothers, often influenced the political choices of their royal husbands and in many cases decided who would be the next on the throne…. (However, in addition) in the myth, Asherah is depicted as a power-greedy woman who manipulates the heavenly court.” (Korpel p. 131, 137)
“As in ancient Egypt, the processes of creation and procreation were not sharply distinguished in ancient Ugarit. El could create by word alone, or by modelling a creature from clay, like a potter, or by sexual , as he deemed fit. What is especially significant is the fact that when creating a new human being ‘adm) El and Asherah were thought to act not by physical interaction, but by way of a mental process in which the god and the goddess both participated.” (Korpel p. 130)
- Asherah is the divine model of the wife
“Asherah is depicted as a respectable old lady, with typical features of a mother…. The goddess is wearing a long robe, covering almost her entire body …. The equally old god EI usually also wears such a long robe, and it seems that this special type of clothing was worn by aged people of high standing…. The Ugaritic goddess Asherah has to be seen as a kind of matriarch….
Despite her high position in the divine hierarchy of Ugarit, the Baal Myth tells us how the goddess was busy with maternal, domestic affairs,
She took her spindle in her hand,
(and) the spindle fell from her right hand.”
She carried her clothing into the sea,”
her skirts, the covering of her body,
her two skirts into the river.
She placed a cauldron on the fire,
a washing-copper on the coals.
(In this way) she wanted to charm the Bull EI, the good-natured,
she wanted to please the Creator of creatures. (KTU 1.4:II.3-11)
It is remarkable that Asherah by washing her clothes wants to charm her husband. Obviously fine and clean clothes were essential for a harmonious marriage.” (Korpel p. 131)
In contrast Anat, associated with Baal is shown in the Ugaritic literature to be a ferocious, bloodthirsty, lustful, “virgin”. She shares many characteristics with the Mesopotamian Inanna-Ishtar of whom Tikva Frymer-Kensky states
As an unencumbered woman, she could not easily be relegated to the domestic sphere. Her role as representative of sexual attraction could not be taken over by a male god …. As goddess of warfare, she maintained and even increased…. On the one hand, she was glorified and exalted as preeminent among gods and men. But she was, to put it mildly, intimidating and frightening. Even her very sexual attractiveness inspired fear, and men expressed their dread that such lust might lead to their doom. Alongside hymns to Ishtar’s glory and preeminence, we also find negative portrayals and ultimately a demonization of her image…. which portrays Ishtar as so indiscriminately wild and ferocious that the gods cannot control her….
§ Women would have been prominent among the devotees of Asherah and, to the extent that the cult of Asherah had a priesthood, probably Asherah would have had priests of both sexes. Asherah could be counted on to understand the women’s problems such as pregnancy, child rearing and managing family disputes.
C. Baal-Hadad – Divine Son
§ Baal means ”lord”. Elsewhere he is called Adon (=”lord”) and Recammin (=”thunderer).
§ Baal is also identified as Hadad (Ugaritic haddu), an Akkadian and Babylonian god of the sky, clouds, and rain, both creative, gentle showers and destructive, devastating storms and floods. In Ugaritic literature he is frequently referred to as “Cloud Rider” (rkb rpt) a title that was later used to describe El-YHWH in Psalms 68:5.
|Yea, also Baal will make fertile with His rain,
with water He will indeed make fertile harrowed land;
and He will put His voice in the clouds,
He will flash His lightning to the earth.
§ Baal is the vigorous, young god of the triad, not a creator, but basically the executive member of the triad. He is the executive of the divine assembly. Baal is the champion of divine order against chaos. Lightening is his weapon, and he can be found in storms and thunder. However, though he embodies royal power, Baal is vulnerable. He is repeatedly threatened yet triumphant, as in the struggle to maintain order against the chaos represented by the god Yam and to sustain life and agricultural fertility against Mot (Mawet/Mavet in Hebrew), the god of drought, blight, sterility, and decay. When Baal falls into the hands of Mot, the god of death, there is drought and sterility, growth ceases. With his rescue, by his consort, rains return and vegetation is returned to the earth. In the beginning of all things, Baal-Haddad warred with and conquered Yamm (Sea), and so brought the unruly waters of Chaos under divine authority and control.
§ Baal is always paired with a female consort whose name varied with place and time – Anat (at Ugarit), Ashtart (paired with the vowels of boshet=shame to make the artificial name Ashtoreth in the Bible).
§ Baal’s consort, whatever her name, had 3 characteristics:
o Sexual lust;
o Fecundity; and,
o Being a bloody goddess of war e.g. Anat, at Ugarit, wading up to her thighs in the blood of her enemies.
“Rituals were performed either outdoors on hills or in groves, or inside temples. Outdoor cult places are called bamah, which can be translated with “high place”. On these places, pillars were erected, one in stone for the male god, and one in wood for the female goddess. Bamahs could be built on hill tops…. When temples were built, bamahs were sometimes built in front of the entrance — still under open sky. The reason of erecting temples, were that the gods… needed a house, in order to exercise his power over humans and the earth. The house was also believed to be a place where gods could dwell….
“Central to the rituals were offerings that were consummated by the gods. Offerings were both vegetable and animals. We also see that human sacrifice was fairly common in some areas, even though some scientists believe that the frequency of this has been exaggerated by outside sources, like what we read in the Old Testament. But at least in the North-African colony of Carthage we know that children were thrown into a fire in front of a statue of a god. But from Ugarit there are no indications on child sacrifice.
“The myth of Baal’s death and resurrection is believed to have been the source of some of the main religious festivals. Other festivals appear to have involved eating and drinking (alcohol) by the partakers. A third group of rituals involve that statues of gods were carried down to the sea, rituals that could involve either a sacred marriage or the blessing of the sea and the ships. A fourth group of rituals were the very central festival where sacrifice were hung from trees, and then put on fire.
“Priests in Ugarit were called khnm (there must have been vowels in the pronunciation, but these were not written, and cannot be reconstructed). Under the priest … (there may have been) qdshm, sacred prostitutes, performing their sexual rituals in the temples to promote fertility. There was also room for oracle priests or prophets that received messages from the gods during states of ecstasy.”
“The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new twists to old ideas.“
”From the sources we have, texts from Ugarit and indirect recounts by contemporary writers, creation myths dominate. There are several of these, but they resemble one another. The main theme of the creation myths is that basic elements of nature mix, and from them gods are created, and then heaven and earth.
“A central element of the creation myths is the egg — a symbol that is found in many other religions as well. Within the egg, the potentials of the complex world is found, and then this is carried out.
“The primary gods of creation are not important to the religious rituals, and neither El nor Baal are among these. Most of the primary gods, or rather qualities and powers of nature, seem to disappear from the mythology after that the creation of the world is accomplished….”
- b) Order out of Chaos – Baal and Yahm (the Sea a son of El)
“Foremost of the non-creation myths is the death and resurrection of Baal. Then, from the Ugarit myths we hear about an important battle, where Baal defeats Yam, the god of the sea, resulting in Baal’s total domination of the world. Yahm “… may embody wild, chaotic earth-encircling ocean waters and winter floods and sea storms. When in conflict with Ba`al, he is identified as a seven-headed sea serpent or dragon. His other names – or perhaps the names of his henchmen – include Tannin, the Primeval Serpent, Lotan, the Crooked Serpent, the Sea Monster, the Close-coiling One, the Tyrant of Seven Heads. He is eventually defeated and subjugated by Ba`al. Their battle is told in altered form in the Bible as the story of the sea monster Leviathan and Behemoth, the gigantic bull-monster. Although he is Ba`al’s adversary in part of the myth, he regularly received offerings in the temples of Ugarit, featured in peoples’ theophoric names, and was otherwise honored, so he is a god to be revered. He was not an evil or villainous deity, merely powerful and potentially dangerous… The Sea in the West Semitic tale Astarte and the Tribute of the Sea is called Tiamat. Yam’s name is linguistically cognate with Tiamat, the Akkadian primordial ocean goddess, who is ta- (serpent) + yam- (ocean) + -at (fem. ending). She was the personification of salt water, counterpart of Abzu, who was fresh water. Originally creatrix of the world … (Tiamat) was demoted and considered the primary force of chaos and evil, eventually slain by Marduk, who created heaven and earth from Her body.”
- c) Fertility for the Land – Baal and Mot
Mot, a son of El, is the god of senility and death. Mot brings Baal into the netherworld (i.e. kill him), which causes the vegetation to die which is a metaphor for the rainless summer of Syria-Palestine. With the help of his sister Anat, Baal returns to life, and with this nature returns to fertility (fall, winter, spring) .
This myth that must have been central to the rituals of building temples cf. Solomon’s building of a temple in Jerusalem.
|Near Eastern Primordial Myths in the Hebrew Bible
“A number of apparent myths and mythical subjects which found their way into the Bible, have been collected and compared with extra-biblical parallels. In the prophetic and poetic books, references are made to the Lord’s struggle with the primeval dragon, variously named Tannin (“Dragon,” Isa. 27:1, 51:9; Ps. 74:13; Job 7:12), Yam (“Sea,” Isa. 51:10; Hab. 3:8; Ps. 74:13; Job 7:12), Nahar (“River,” Hab. 3:8; Ps. 93?), Leviathan (Isa. 27:1; Ps. 74:14), and Rahab (Isa. 30:7; 51:9; Ps. 89:11; Job 9:13; 26:12–13). A special parallel to this theme is found in the Ugaritic myth of Baal and his struggle against Yam, in which mention is made of Leviathan (ltn; C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965), 67, 1:1) and Tannin (tnn; nt, ibid., 3:37) as well as of Nahar (nhr). In this myth the dragon is called, as in Isaiah 27:1, bari’ah (“fleeing serpent”) and aqallaton (“twisting serpent”; cf. Gordon, ibid., 67, 1:2–3). The same theme is found in the Babylonian creation epic Enuma elish (Marduk’s fight with Tiamat, “Sea”) and in the Hittite myth of the storm-god and the dragon Illuyankas (Pritchard, Texts, 125–6), and with variations in Sumerian, Egyptian, Phoenician, and other literatures.” Encyclopedia Judaica
Leviathan (Hebrew liwyatan), in the Bible, one of the names of the primeval dragon subdued by Yahweh at the outset of creation: “You crushed Leviathan’s heads, gave him as food to the wild animals” (Psalm 74:14; see also Isaiah 27:1; Job 3:8). In ; Amos 9:3 it is probably the that is called the “serpant (Hebrew naHash the same word as is used for the serpant in the Eden story). Biblical writers also refer to the dragon as Rahab (Job 9:13; Psalm 89:10) or simply as the Abyss (Hebrew tehom) (Habakkuk 3:10).
The biblical references to the battle between Yahweh and Leviathan reflect the Syro-Palestinian version of a myth found throughout the ancient Near East. In this myth, creation is represented as the victory of the creator-god over a monster of chaos. The closest parallel to the biblical versions of the story appears in the Canaanite texts from Ra’s Shamrah (14th century BC), in which Baal defeats a dragonlike monster: “You will crush Leviathan the fleeing serpent, you will consume the twisting serpent, the mighty one with seven heads.” (The wording of Isaiah 27:1 draws directly on this text.)
A more ancient version of the myth occurs in the Babylonian Creation Epic, in which the storm god Marduk defeats the sea monster Tiamat and creates the earth and sky by cleaving her corpse in two (Assyro-Babylonian Literature). The latter motif is reflected in a few biblical passages that extol Yahweh’s military valor: “Was it not you who split Rahab in half, who pierced the dragon through?” (Isaiah 51:9; see also Job 26:12; Psalm 74:13, 89:10).
Amos 9:3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them; and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the sea-serpent (Hebrew nāHāš the same word as is used for the serpant in the Eden story), and it shall bite them.
Psalm 74:13-15 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Isaiah 27:1 On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.
Job 9:13 (600-300 BCE) “God will not turn back his anger; the helpers of Rahab bowed beneath him.
Psalm 89:10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
Habakkuk 3:5-10 (very end of 7th century BCE) Before Him went Pestilence/pestilence (Hebrew reshef), and plague followed close behind. He stopped and shook the earth; he looked and made the nations tremble. The eternal mountains were shattered; along his ancient pathways the everlasting hills sank low. I saw the tents of Cushan under affliction; the tent-curtains of the land of Midian trembled. Was your wrath against the River Yam/rivers (Hebrew neharim), O LORD? Or your anger against the River Yam/rivers, or your rage against the Sea/sea (Hebrew yam), when you drove your horses, your chariots to victory? You brandished your naked bow, sated were the arrows (Reshef bore the title of Lord of the Arrow) at your command. Selah You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you, and writhed; a torrent of water swept by; the Abyss/depths (Hebrew tehom), gave forth its voice.
See also Annex 5 – Phoenician Religion
2. Alternative Views on the Emergence of Israel and Israelite Religion
2.1 The Fundamental Problem – the Nature of the Evidence
The reason for serious scholars coming up with very different ideas about Israelite history and religion is rooted in the paucity, illusive nature, ambiguity and of the ambivalence of the relevant data. Short of major discoveries of contemporaneous religious and historical texts of the kind we have for Pre-Hellenistic Mesopotamia, Egypt and Ugarit, this situation is not likely to change. This results in the field of Ancient Israelite History and Religion being extremely open to academic faddism.
In fact, we have almost no certain knowledge of anything in Israelite history before the time of King David (c.1010-970 BCE) at the earliest and almost no reliable biblical evidence regarding what religious beliefs and behaviour were before that reflected in the Torah. Since the Torah was only finalized in the early Persian period (late 6th– 5th centuries BCE) the evidence of the Torah is most relevant to early Second Temple Judaism. The Judaism reflected in the Torah would seem to be generally similar to that later practiced by the Sadducees and Samaritans.
2.1.1 Sources for the Cultural History of Syria-Palestine (1200 BCE-600CE)
Since, at least, 1200 BCE, the peoples of Syria-Palestine – Canaanites, Phoenicians, Israelites, Aramaeans and Hellenistic Greeks wrote using alphabetic scripts on papyrus or wood etc. For non-permanent records they used broken pieces of pottery (called ostraca) writing on them using water-soluble ink. These materials usually do not long survive in the climate of the region.
As N H. Niehr wrote –
“With regard to the sources, the distinction between primary and secondary evidence is paramount for working out a religious history or aspects of this history of Judah and Israel. Due to the Judean censorship of the texts of the Hebrew Bible during the Second Temple period, the evidence contained in the texts for reconstructing the religious history of Judah and Israel is of secondary or tertiary value. This evidence has to be corroborated, corrected or refuted by primary evidence provided by inscriptions and archaeological findings.”
18.104.22.168 Primary Sources
- Rare fragments of writing that have survived against all the odds – e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls, Arad and Lachish ostraca;
- Equally rare inscriptions and graffiti; and,
- Other archaeological evidence.
22.214.171.124 Secondary Sources
These are documents prized by groups having direct cultural descendants (Jews, Christian cultural tradition etc.) Since it was very laborious to copy books, normally only a small selection could be copied and these would be the items that the community, at the time of copying, considered important. The community valuation of what is worth preserving varies with period. E.g. In Hellenistic times Sappho’s poetrywas considered a classic and was produced in a standard collection in Alexandria. However, only one complete poem has come down to us.
- Copies of copies, often many times removed, of documents, originally contemporaneous with the events or situations described but may have been subject to editing during the history of transmission;
- Histories in the Greek or biblical traditions (see)
Of course, the most important of the documents are those contained in the Hebrew Bible. Though, it can be argued that we have a reasonable idea of the political history of Israel from, say the late 10thcentury to 586 BCE, and we have, from Ugaritic literature, a fair idea of Canaanite religion of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, it is unclear how much we know of Israelite religion before the Babylonian exile. Odd remarks preserved in the stories, not the framework, of the books of Judges and Samuel probably provide some information. However, the overt information provided in the Torah-Deuteronomic History is anachronistic and tendentious.
“In the Deuteronomistic History, from Joshua to Kings, there was clear evidence of Israel’s polytheistic roots, but readers often viewed the material as evidence of backsliding from original monotheism, because they followed the intimations provided by the final editors of these books. The editors were trying to promulgate monotheism in their own exilic age by projecting their religious values in idealized fashion back into the past. Some scholars went beyond the idealized portrait of the Deuteronomistic and Priestly editors and envisioned a religion more ideal and ethical than even those biblical editors suggested; Yehezkiel Kaufmann’s work would be a good example.
“The Deuteronomistic Historians …. Viewed their past through a Yahwistic lens and saw their history not only as it was but very much as it should have been. The guidelines by which they measured their past included strict allegiance to Yahweh, rejection of other deities, rejection of native cultic activities (such as golden calves, asherim and the bronze serpent), centralized worship in the Temple, and a great deal of egalitarianism and social justice in society. Their criteria for evaluating the past are laid out in their great manifesto the book of Deuteronomy. They evaluated the past as though their spiritual ancestors, the prophetic minority, were the true leaders meant to define the religious life of Israelites from the time of Moses onward when in reality they were but a progressive minority within society. Therefore, beguiled by the rhetoric of the redactors of the biblical text, readers sometimes missed the truly dramatic story in the Deuteronomistic History; the great struggle of the progressive thinkers in the ‘Yahweh-alone’ movement who gave birth to a new value system over the years and helped an entire people evolve toward monotheism.
“The Deuteronomistic Historians were not liars; they did not deceive more than historians of any age. All historians seek to craft a narrative of the past by selecting those aspects which they consciously or unconsciously consider most valuable in order to communicate a meaningful message to the present so as to shape the direction of the future…. The Deuteronomistic Historians were theologians and preachers who wished to achieve significant religious goals with their interpretation of history; they were above all preachers, and the Deuteronomistic History is primarily a sermon.”
“The task of reconstructing the cult of Yahweh includes biblical claims and sets them within a wider framework that accounts for the available information. The data in the attested sources indicate a pluralism of religious practice in ancient Israel that led sometimes to conflict about the nature of correct Yahwistic practice. It is precisely this conflict that produced the differentiation of Israelite religion from its Canaanite heritage during the second half of the monarchy.”
The approach of the Deuteronomistic Historians is not at all dissimilar to the retrospective definition of Normative Judaism in the rabbinic tradition.
126.96.36.199 The Voiceless People
The only Middle-Late Bronze Age (1950-1250 BCE) group in Syria-Palestine to leave us an extensive literature was the ruling class of Ugarit. No group did so in the Iron Age (1250-587 BCE). The only Iron Age groups in the region to have survived to the present are the Jews and Samaritans. The Jews, and the Christian church, have preserved important documents relating to Israelite-Jewish history 1200 BCE-600 CE.
The many other groups of the region, together with the illiterate, women, slaves, children, minority groups etc. remain voiceless. Who knows what they might have told us had there been records and had they survived.
First Temple and Second Temple Jewish society was fairly literate. However, due to the scarcity of stone inscriptions, and the use of perishable writing materials, all the written remains could be printed on a few pages.
This contrasts sharply with the situation in Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Egypt papyrus lasts for thousands of years and there were many inscriptions on stone. The papyri include personal letters, legal documents, tax receipts, literature of all kinds. In Mesopotamia the clay tablets, inscribed in cuneiform, last for ever.
Sumerian (third to early second millennium BCE), has left us copious records and a cultural heritage –
“The Sumerians were prolific writers, scratching their cuneiform script with a stylus on moist clay tablets…. They recorded stories and poems, songs and technical data, laws, receipts, medical prescriptions. They recorded, it seems, everything of interest in their world and to their imaginations, and much of what they recorded has survived, an enormous body of documentation that surpasses that of the Romans and Chinese. ‘We have more from the Sumerians than from any culture in history before the invention of the printing press,’ …. We know the names of their gods and the list of their kings; we know their epics – including the world’s first tales of creation and of the flood, and the oldest written tale of paradise – and … we know their legacy; the legal and religious tradition the Sumerians bequeathed to Israel, and of the magical, astronomical and mathematical lore bequeathed to Greece. We know it because it became part of our legacy too.”
This plentitude of documentation continued in the post-Sumerian period when the Semitic Akkadian became the main written language of Mesopotamia.
“Akkadian is first attested to in proper names in Sumerian texts (ca. 2800 BCE). From ca. 2500 BCE one finds texts fully written in Akkadian. Hundreds of thousands of texts and text fragments have been excavated, covering many subjects, e.g.
-economy (business, administrative records, purchase and rentals),
-law (witnessed and sealed contracts of marriage, divorce; codes of law),
-history (chronological text, census reports),
-letters (personal, business and state letters),
-religion (prayers, hymns, omens, divination reports),
-scholarly texts (language, word lists, history, technology, mathematics, astronomy) and
-literature (narrative poetry, recounting myths, epics).
The last texts date from the first century A.D. By then Akkadian was already an extinct language, replaced as a spoken language by Aramaic.”
Many Mesopotamian tablets were private records recording contemporary issues and concerns meant only for the eyes of the recipient. Thus we have a better idea of what life was like and what people thought in Mesopotamia, under Ur III in 2100 BCE that we have for almost any period of pre-modern Jewish history!
2.2 The Origin of Ancient Israel
The best review of current and past theories of Israel’s origin and the archaeological background is presented in Dever 2003.
There are basically three alternative hypotheses (see Table 1 ) about the origin of Ancient Israel. Only one of these, in my view, seems a reasonable enough hypothesis to merit serious consideration, i.e. that ancient Israel, and its constituent tribes, emerged after the settlement in the almost unoccupied hill country of central Palestine by diverse groups originating from outside and within Canaan. Most reconstructions assume that the worship of Yahweh and the traditions of Aramean-Mesopotamian origin, Sinai Experience and Egyptian were brought in, not necessarily by the same groups, from outside Canaan at, or before, the end of the Late Bronze Age (approximately 1200 BCE).
Hypotheses Regarding the Origin of Ancient Israel
|Alternatives for Emergence of Israel (Probable meaning of Israel (Heb. yisra’el) is God or El Rules)||How Well Does it fit Known Archaeological, Environmental and Historic Facts|
|1. Pan-Israelite Exodus and Invasion as per Book of Joshua. Israel exists as a people before entering Canaan.||Not supported by archaeology. Fits with descriptions in Torah and Book of Joshua.Extremely unlikely to be historically accurate.|
|2. Independent migrations & Settlement by separate extended family (Hebrew bet ‘av), Clan (Hebrew mishpaḥa) etc., in unoccupied hill country as per Alt, Noth, Aharoni. Israel, and its constituent tribes, form after settlement in the hill country on the basis of geography.||Fits reasonably with archaeology record and with descriptions in Book of Judges.|
|3. “Conquest” as Internal Revolt -Canaanite peasants moving into hills to escape oppressive conditions under city-state aristocracies where they join up with small groups from outside Canaan as per Mendenhall, Gottwald.”Israel, and its constituent tribes, form after settlement in the hill country on the basis of geography.||Fits reasonably with archaeology record but contradicts what the Israelites themselves said about their past in Hebrew Bible.|
|4. Independent Migrations & Settlement by separate extended family (Hebrew bet ‘av), Clan (Hebrew mishpaḥa) etc., in unoccupied hill country where they merged with Canaanites leaving the city-state ruled low lands as per Finkelstein and many others. Israel, and its constituent tribes, form after settlement in the hill country on the basis of geography.||Fits well with archaeology record and with descriptions in Book of Judges. In my view most likely to be correct.|
On the Origin of the Israelites
Archaeological data enable us to discern the significant, basic discontinuity between the Late Bronze and the Iron Age populations in the type and pattern of settlements, the zones of settlements, their use of terracing for agricultural purposes, their employment of plastered cisterns for water storage, their architecture, their demography, and by implication their social and political organization. Study of pottery allows the discernment of an important – not a basic – discontinuity in their ceramic traditions. These discontinuities reflect innovations in the contents and distribution of the material culture of the Iron Age population. The confluence and overlapping of elements from the concrete, material culture along with first-order inferences derived about the people who created it within well-defined geographical areas suggest that they constituted an ethnic group.
Literary evidence, that is, traditions reflected in biblical narratives and historiographic observations, in combination with the above-mentioned congeries of archaeological data considered in their spatial and chronological distribution, indicates that Iron Age Israelites of the central mountains did not originate or derive from the preceding Late Bronze population of the local Canaanite city-states and, therefore, were not traditionists bearing and passing on some form of the antecedent, local Canaanite culture. Although it is assumed reasonably that they had prolonged contact with some ideational and technical aspects of this culture during its latest stages through some Iron Age Canaanite descendants, … and although they were aware of some evolved developments of Late Bronze Canaanite culture among some of their Iron Age neighbors to their north and north-east, no direct continuity may be posited between the technical and ideational culture of the tribes and that of the prior inhabitants of the territories occupied by the Israelites. The data do not support an inference that local Canaanites became Israelites in the way that Gauls became the French and Romans the Italians.
A. Kempinski notes that at the end of the twelfth century BCE, Merneptah referred to an exurban ethnic group living in the central mountains as “Israel,” whereas in an eleventh century Hebrew poem about events in the twelfth century, Judges 5, an Israelite poet referred to those living in the same area by the same term. Both outsiders and insiders employed the same ethnicon. These independent but mutually-corroborating data indicate that such a self-identified people did live there and that connectedness and continuity between them is posited reasonably….
People can work together, trade together, live adjacent to each other for generations, and have no inkling of what makes the “other” tick. Jews lived in Christian Europe for over 1,600 years. Nowhere did Christians as a community have anything other than a superficial notion of what Judaism was about; despite patterns of acculturation and social accommodation necessary for their existence in Europe, nowhere did Jews as a community have any deep understanding of Christianity….
A line can be drawn distinguishing between the local Canaanite culture, whatever it was, and that of the later Israelites. This line should be a broken one since I do assume some admixture of population as well as regular, ongoing cultural contact. Furthermore, I assume that some of these contacts may have stimulated responses in ideational components of Israelite culture that may be construed from available textual and archaeological data. But a broken, permeable line is a line, nevertheless….
As stated above, this position does not deny that non-Israelite peoples and cultures influenced the thought-content and ritual practices of Israelite religion. At different points in the history of the Israelite kingdoms there were contacts between Jerusalem and Ammon, Moab, Egypt, Tyre, Assyria, Babylon and Egypt, and contacts between Samaria and Tyre, Damascus, Assyria and Babylon, all of which may have had cultic consequences and some of which definitely did, e.g., the reforms of Ahaz. Many are mentioned in historiographical or prophetic texts. In addition, historiographical sources mention that a few Canaanite cities persisted among the weaker tribes of the north, along the periphery of the central hill country…. The only indigenous groups recognized explicitly as non-Israelite in the heartland area were four Hivvite cities whose residents were subjugated into a caste of wood cutters and drawers of water for some Israelite group and for the cult Josh. 9:17, 27; 11:19)….
… I posit and attempt to demonstrate that various cultic practices were performed by Israelites functioning within overlapping but not completely congruent kin, guild, residential, mantic, and cultic groups with the first being considered the most concrete and meaningful. These not only defined a person but also, to some extent, influenced his destiny. Moving from the smallest to the largest organization considered consanguineous, family, father’s house, clan, tribe, fraternity of tribes, fraternity of tribes supporting a king, data presented above indicates that all the Passover, and others ad hoc, e.g., any zebaḥ šelamiym offered by an Israelite; some “traditional,” e.g., the zebaḥ mišpaḥa, and others “innovative,” e.g., the dedicatory sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple.
I have suggested that by the end of the united monarchy c. 930-920 BCE, if not earlier, at least three common threads united many of these celebrations throughout the tribes of the central mountains: (1) a shared sense of a common past; (2) a common recognition that YHWH was the chief patron but not the only deity; (3) acceptance of the guild-clans of Levites as cultic experts and, through them, of a shared repertoire of sacrificial rituals and lore. As a consequence they shared cultic familiarity…. They would have been attuned to the mood of the ritual and understood what was and what was not appropriate for the occasion….
2.3 Origin and Nature of Ancient Israelite Religion
A good and extensive review of current and past theories of Israel’s religious development origin is presented in Gnuse chapter 2 Recent Scholarship on the Development of Monotheism in Ancient Israel (pp. 62-128).
There are basically three alternative hypotheses (see Table 2) about the origin of ancient Israelite religion.
Hypotheses Regarding the Origin of Israelite Religion
|Alternatives for Emergence of Israelite Religion||How Well Does it fit Known Historic Facts|
|1. Israelite religion was originally a local variety of the pattern in Iron Age Phoenicia in which there was a triad of deities: a protective god of the city (often El), a goddess, often his wife or companion (in Ugarit and Israel Asherah) who symbolizes the fertile earth; and a young god (in Ugarit and Israel Baal) usually her or their son), whose resurrection expresses the annual cycle of vegetation. Through the processes of convergence and differentiation this developed into Biblical Monotheism. At an early stage a new god Yahweh was brought in from outside urban Canaan, identified with the Canaanite High God El, and accepted as the main object of worship by the emerging Israelite confederacy i.e. association of clans and tribes.||Appears to fit very well|
|2. It developed from early Semitic religion which was a “practical monotheism” in which only El was worshiped.||Unlikely since the biblical evidence is that Israelite religion was preceded by polytheism.|
|3. It came into being as a sui generis innovation unrelated to the Semitic polytheism which preceded it. This hypothesis is further divided into 3 subcategories:|
|3.1 Verbal Revelation i.e. the Pentateuch was Virtually Dictated by God
3.1.1 Traditional Jewish Divine Revelation – God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai the written Pentateuch that we have today together with the Oral Law i.e. the tools for developing the laws of the Pentateuch to meet all future needs. This Oral Law was later embodied in the Talmuds and other Rabbinic literature;
3.1.2 Traditional Karaite and Samaritan Divine Revelation – God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai the written Pentateuch that we have today as an immutable, all-encompassing, law.
|The results of Higher Criticism of the Bible make this extremely unlikely.
In fact, the only way to intellectually maintain these positions would be to reason:
Higher Criticism of the Bible deduces that the Torah was written and edited by people, over a long period, by comparing the Torah to other documents, showing similar characteristics, that can be shown to have been written and edited by people, over a long period;
For this to be valid one must compare like to like;
The Torah is the only divinely written document that has ever existed so comparisons with other documents are fundamentally invalid.
|3.2 Various Modern Jewish Thinkers e.g. non-Orthodox Jewish theologians and, perhaps Kaufmann* – God intervened, perhaps progressively, to reveal his totally new religious teaching**||Given the evidence available, it is almost impossible to prove or disprove these sorts of hypothesis though, by what is known, they seem to me improbable.|
|3.3 A teacher, say Moses or one of the Isaiahs, got a brilliant intellectual insight or revelation from God, depending on your beliefs, instantly grasping the concept of ethical monotheism which was totally alien to his, and the people’s, early polytheistic beliefs and practices.*** Of course, the founder/prophet would need to express the ethical monotheism through the linguistic semantics, images and at least some of the accustomed religious practices, of the time (eg. Sacrifices) provided that these did not fundamentally contradict the ethical monotheism.|
* Yehezkel Kaufmann was a distinguished Israeli scholar of the first half of the 20th century. Many of Kaufmann’s ideas are interesting but his overall thesis does not seem to me, or to most modern scholars, to be supported by what is known.
** we could use the image of Beethoven’s sketch books where a rough idea, which may or may not have been crystal clear in Beethoven’s head from the beginning, is extensively changed until the composer recognized that it was perfect.
*** we could use the image of Mozart’s manuscript which were perfect as initially written down.
2.3.1 That Israelite monotheism came into being as a sui generis innovation unrelated to the Semitic polytheism which preceded it.
2.3.2 That Israelite monotheism developed progressively out of Canaanite religion.
On the Emergence of Israelite Religion
“Israel does not leap full-formed into history like Athena from the head of Zeus. The study of origins is always difficult but has a unique fascination. The possibility of such a study in concrete detail is recent….
“Two dynamic societies, Israel and Greece, rose from the ruins of the ancient Near Eastern world. The first societies of the ancient Near East blossomed and grew old and moribund in the course of the third and second millennia B.C.E.. The cataclysms that began about 1200 B.C.E. were symptoms of the end of essentially static and hierarchical societies.
Israel as a nation was born in an era of extraordinary chaos and social turmoil. Egypt’s empire had collapsed and the Hittite kingdom had fallen, the Middle Assyrian Empire was in decline and invasions brought the destruction of the great Canaanite city states of Syria and Palestine, most notably at the hand of Greek Sea Peoples (which included the Philistines).
…. We are interested in the emergence of certain characteristic features of Israelite religion: (l) the shift from pure myth, stories of the gods, the central focus of Canaanite religion and cult, to the centrality of epic memory in Israelite religion; (2) the shift from hierarchical notions of equity to Israelite conceptions of justice as redemptive; and (3) the change from sacral or divine conceptions of state and church, king and priest, to the desacralizing of state and the critical, provisional view of temple and priesthood.
In sum we are interested in tracing the progressive secularization of religion in ancient Israel.
188.8.131.52 Practical Monotheism?
Most scholars would argue that the earliest unambiguously monotheistic texts in the Bible date to the Exile.
“The study of Israelite religion often involves studying practices more than creedal beliefs because the Bible more frequently stresses correct practices than correct beliefs or internal attitudes. Christian scholars, however, tend to focus more on beliefs or internal attitudes because Christian theology has often emphasized this aspect of religion. The study of Israelite monotheism is complicated by this factor, as monotheism has usually been defined as a matter of belief in one deity whereas monolatry has been understood as a matter of practice, specifically, the worship of only one deity, sometimes coupled with a tolerance for other peoples’ worship of their deities. However, if ancient Israelite religion is to be viewed primarily as a matter of practice, then the modern distinction between monotheism and monolatry is problematic.”
184.108.40.206 The Process – Convergence and Differentiation
a. Dynamics of the Process
“The great gods of the Canaanite pantheon were cosmic deities. There is, indeed, a double movement clearly discernible in Syro-Palestinian religion. A great god such as ‘El or ‘Asherah appears in local manifestations in the cult places and gains special titles, attributes, hypostases. In the process, one cult or title may split apart and a new god emerge to take his place beside ‘El or ‘Asherah in the pantheon. On the other hand, there is a basic syncretistic impulse in Near Eastern polytheism which tends to merge gods with similar traits and functions. A minor deity, worshipped by a small group of adherents, may become popular and merge with a great deity; major deities in a single culture’s pantheon may fuse; or deities holding similar positions in separate pantheons may be identified.” Cross p.49
Hypotheses Regarding the Original Nature of YHWH
|Alternatives for the Original Nature of YHWH||Specifics||Path to Monotheism|
|1. YHWH as manifestation of the El known from Ugaritic||Under this hypothesis, YHWH starts out as a local manifestation of Canaanite El who is accepted as the national god of the early Israelites. The only Baal type characteristic he might have at this stage would be that as warrior hero.
“Our evidence also points strongly to the conclusion that yahwe is a shortened form of a sentence name taken from a cultic formula…. Yahwe şba’ot …. On the basis of the mythological parallels, şba’ot in this context probably means “the hosts of heaven,” the banii ‘ilima, “sons of ‘EI” or “holy ones.” In this case Yahweh is described as du yahwi şba’ot “He who creates the (heavenly) armies,” a title of the divine warrior and creator. It is thus not greatly different from ‘El’s epithets, “Father of the gods,” “creator of creatures.” Moreover, such an epithet lent itself to use not merely as a creation formula, but as an appropriate name of the god who called together the tribes to form the militia of the League, who led Israel in her historical wars. In the holy war ideology Yahweh led the cosmic forces of heaven alongside the armies of Israel. At the beginning of the conquest proper, Joshua was confronted by the śar haş-şaba’ yahwe, “the general of the (heavenly) army of Yahweh,” Joshua’s cosmic counterpart. In the victory song in Judges 5 we are told that “the stars fought from heaven, “and at Gibeon even the sun and moon support Yahweh’s host “. . . the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had taken vengeance on their enemies.”
“In order top meet the needs of farmers Yahwism also owes a debt to the myths of Ba’al. In the earliest poetic sources the language depicting Yahweh as divine warrior manifest is borrowed almost directly from Canaanite descriptions of the theophany of Ba’al as storm god.”
|1. The Israel group of El worshipers, of assorted origins, is formed in the hill country (later tribal territories of Ephraim and Cis-Jordan Manasseh) at the end of the Late Bronze age. El’s consort Asherah probably features in the family religion and Baal-Hadad is worshiped as the giver of the all-important rain. This is the Israel mentioned in the Merneptah Stele.
2. The YHWH worshipers enter Canaan and develop relationship with this Israel.
3. YHWH is reidentified with El gaining a consort, Asherah
4. In the crisis of the imposition by Ahab of Tyrean Baal (probably Melkart likely with his consort Tyrean Ashtart) – in the mid-9th century BCE – the prophetic movement demanded the rejection of the native weather deity Baal-Hadad (likely with his consort the native Ashtart/Ashtoreth) as un-Israelite and disloyal to YHWH. Baal’s characteristics are appropriated by YHWH. (see Elijah on Carmel).
5. Perhaps spurred on by the establishment of Astarte-Ishtar-Queen of Heaven worship in the 8th– 7th centuries; the Deuteronomic movement of the late 7th century BCE demanded the rejection of the native Asherah as un-Israelite and disloyal to YHWH. By this time Asherah may just have been seen as a manifestation of the nurturing side of YHWH. As far as feasible, given YHWH’s male language, Ashera’s characteristics are appropriated by YHWH.
|2. A YHWH as Baal-Haddad type storm-warrior god.||See Box 4||1. The Israel group of El worshipers, of assorted origins, formed in the hill country at the end of the Late Bronze age. El’s consort Asherah probably features in the family religion and Baal-Hadad is worshiped as the giver of the all-important rain. This is the Israel mentioned in the Merneptah Stele.
2. Baal replaces El as main god of worship – El becomes a figurehead-folk memory.
3. YHWH worshipers enter Canaan and develop relationship with this Israel.
4. YHWH absorbs El characteristics and possibly gains consort, Asherah. YHWH and Baal-Hadad each lay claim to control of the vital ability to control rain.
5. In the crisis of the imposition by Ahab of Tyrian Baal (probably Melkart likely with his consort Ashtart)- in the mid-9th century BCE – the prophetic movement demanded the rejection of the native weather deity Baal-Hadad (likely with his consort the native Ashtart/Ashtoreth) as un-Israelite and disloyal to YHWH. Baal’s characteristics are appropriated by YHWH. (see Elijah on Carmel).
6 Perhaps spurred on by the establishment of Astarte-Ishtar-Queen of Heaven worship in the 8th– 7th centuries; the Deuteronomic movement of the late 7th century BCE demanded the rejection of the native Asherah as un-Israelite and disloyal to YHWH. By this time Asherah may just have been seen as a manifestation of the nurturing side of YHWH. As far as feasible, given YHWH’s male language, Ashera’s characteristics are appropriated by YHWH.
|3. Sui-generis self-revealing God||This is the biblical view. There is nothing that can be said about it from a secular-critical point of view.|
|Yahweh – God of Israel
The cult of Yahweh is not originally at home in Palestine. Outside Israel, Yahweh was not worshipped in the West-Semitic world…. The absence of references to a Syrian or Palestinian cult of Yahweh outside Israel suggests that the god does not belong to the traditional circle of West Semitic deities.
The origins of his veneration must be sought for elsewhere. A number of texts suggest that Yahweh was worshipped in southern Edom and Midian before his cult spread to Palestine…. If Yahweh was at home in the south, then, how did he make his way to the north? According to a widely accepted theory, the Kenites were the mediators of the Yahwistic cult….
A … plausibility attaches to those interpretations of the name Yahweh which identify him as a storm god. Thus the name has been connected with the meaning ‘to fall’ (also attested in Syriac) …. Another suggestion is to link the name with the meaning ‘to blow’, said of the wind (cf. Syr hawwe, ‘wind’)….
The interpretation of the name of Yahweh is not entirely devoid of meaning, then, when it comes to establishing his character. If yhwh does indeed mean ‘He blows’, Yahweh is originally a storm god. Since Baal (originally an epitheton of –+Hadad) is of the same type, the relationship between Yahweh and Baal deserves to be analyzed more closely. In the Monarchic Era, Baal (i.e. the Baal cult) was a serious rival of Yahweh. The competition between the two gods (that is, between their respective priesthoods and prophets) was especially fierce since the promotion of the cult of the Tyrian Baal by the Omrides. Because there was no entente between Yahweh and Baal, Yahweh could hardly have inherited traits of a storm god from Baal. Inheritance is too peaceful a process. Yahweh’s ‘Baalistic’ traits have a dual origin: some are his of old because he is himself a storm god, whereas others have been appropriated-or should we say confiscated-by him. Examples of the latter include the designation of Mount –+Zion as ‘the recesses of –+Zaphon’ (Ps 48:3), the motif of Yahweh’s victory over Yam … and the Baal epithet of –+’Rider upon the Clouds’.
Owing to the emphasis on the conflict between Yahweh and Baal, it is insufficiently realized that Yahweh himself, too, is “a deity who is originally conceived in the categories of the Hadad type”…. Like Baal, Yahweh is perceived as ‘a god of the mountains’ (1 Kgs 20:23), a characterization presumably triggered by the association of the weather-god with clouds hovering above the mountain tops.
Though few scholars would contest the fact that Yahweh has certain traits normally ascribed to Baal, it is often argued that originally he was much more like EI than like Baal. In the patriarchal narratives of Genesis, EI names such as –+EI Olam and –+EI Elyon are frequently used as epithets of Yahweh. Various scholars have drawn the conclusion that EI and Yahweh were identified at a rather early stage. This identification is sometimes explained by assuming that Yahweh is originally an EI figure…. Cross has argued that Yahweh is originally a hypocoristicon of a liturgical title of El Yahweh Zabaoth, allegedly meaning ‘He who calls the heavenly armies into being’….
Speculations about the original identity of Yahweh with EI need to be critically examined, however. There are problems concerning both the nature of the identification, and the divine type to which Yahweh belongs…. By the beginning of the Iron Age, the cult of EI survived in some border zones of the Near East. In most regions, however, including Palestine, EI’s career as a living god (i.e. as a cultic reality and an object of actual devotion) had ended; he survived in such expressions as cdt-‘l (‘the council of El’) and bny-‘l (‘sons of EI’, i.e. gods), but this was a survival only in name. This fact explains why there are no traces of polemics against EI in the Hebrew Bible. It can therefore be argued that the smooth identification of EI as Yahweh was based, not on an identity of character, but on El’s decay. His name was increasingly used either as a generic noun meaning ‘god’ or, more specifically, as a designation of the personal god. In both cases, Yahweh could be called ‘el….
Along with the name, Yahweh inherited various traits of El. One of them is divine eternity. Ugaritic texts call EI the ‘father of years’ (ab snm) and depict him as a bearded patriarch; Yahweh, on the other hand, is called the ‘Ancient of days’, and also is wearing a beard (Dan 7:9-14.22). Like EI, Yahweh presides over the council of the gods. Compassion is another common trait: EI is said to be compassionate (dpid), whereas Yahweh is called “merciful and gracious”….
An aspect of Yahweh that may be traced back to EI, though only with great caution, is his solar appearance….
Since Asherah is traditionally the consort of El in the Ugaritic texts, the pairing of Yahweh and Asherah suggests that Yahweh had taken the place of El….
The practical monolatry of Yahweh should not be taken for a strict monotheism. Not only did the Israelites continue to recognize the existence of deities besides Yahweh, they also knew more than one Yahweh. Though at the mythological level there is only one, the cultic reality reflected a plurality of Yahweh gods…. Extra-biblical evidence from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud mentions a ‘Yahweh of Samaria’ and a ‘Yahweh of Teman’; it is possible that the two names designate one god, viz. the official god of the northern kingdom (‘Samaria’, after its capital). Yet the recognition of a northern Yahweh is mirrored by the worship of a Yahweh of Hebron and a Yahweh of Zion…. The religious situation in early Israel, therefore, was not merely one of polytheism, but also of poly-Yahwism. The Deuteronomic emphasis on the unity of Yahweh must be understood against this background.
|Edelman on the Ugaritic and Judean Pantheon
At Ugarit … El and Asherah …together constituted a divine ruling pair…. Asherah was neither a “fertility goddess” nor a “mother goddess” but the divine Queen Mother, with both authority and power …. Second, under the level of the highest authority, were the major active deities…. Baal … Anat … Mot and many others. These deities are the functional rulers of the universe, since El and Asherah have placed them in their respective positions to take care of the cosmos…. The gods of the second level are like extremely powerful rulers on the human level: filled with their self-importance and assured that they can get away with anything…. The level of highest authority puts up with a lot of selfishness and misrule on the part of these divinities since they are thought to be needed to keep the world functioning properly. They basically have free dominion in their rules, which allows them to fight among themselves, argue with their superiors, abuse their power to thwart others (both divine and human), and even kill each other (not to mention humans). In all of this, however, they remain answerable for their behaviour and can be called up in judgement before El if their infractions are too severe. In such a situation their thrones may be taken away from them if it pleases El so to do…. It is precisely the fact that they can and do display all that is best and worst … that makes them the center of the mythological narratives; they are the most exciting of the divinities in the hierarchy.
Beneath them in importance were the craft-deities, who formed the third level. The most famous of these was Kothar-wa-Hasis…. These deities were specialists whose expertise was appreciated by those above them but who had to take orders, often from deities who did not really know what they were doing…. Since they are so skilled, they are allowed to talk back to their superiors… They are, however, never given as much leeway as those of the divine level above them and they obey orders even when they know them to be ill-advised….
At the bottom of the heavenly hierarchy were the slaves of the divine realm, the messengers. These deities (and the Ugaritic texts call them deities: ilm were not allowed any personal volition; they simply took orders, delivered messages, and behaved themselves. Indeed, in the Ugaritic narratives they are written about in terms of being living letters, with the same epistle vocabulary as a missive. Thus, the hierarchy decreased in personal volition as it descended from highest authority to the messengers, a parallel to the theoretical digression in power from king to slave in the human world. The cosmos was seen to have been governed by a hierarchy that extended upward from human rulers into the divine realm, the human king being the point at which divine and human levels of administration met. This explains why rulers had so many divine qualities attributed to them and could be called the children of the gods….
That Solomon founded a polytheistic cult for Judah has been noted, since it is hard to miss the passage in I Kings 11:1-10….”
During the period when Judah existed as a state, from ca. 960-586 BCE, it seemed to have a national pantheon headed by the divine couple, Yahweh and Asherah. As the title Yahweh Sebaot would suggest, Yahweh was king of a whole heavenly host that included lesser deities who did his bidding, having various degrees of autonomy depending on their status within the larger hierarchy…. First, at the top, was the royal couple, what I call “highest authority.”
The Bible reflects a knowledge of .. (the Ugaritic) four-tiered system and even provides examples of the divine hierarchy itself. At the lowest end of the pantheon, there is the notion of the king as a child of the divine world, a bridge between the heavenly and the human realms (Psalm 2, 89, and 110 provide examples of this relationship)…. two of the four (Ugaritic) levels are … retained even in the biblical record. The lowest level of deities is presented, not only in certain restricted passages that might have slipped past an editor, but throughout the biblical texts and into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The “angels” of the Bible are the same characters as the messengers of the Ugaritic texts. They are the low level deities who have no volition, but who merely take orders from above. The word of the angel is understood to be the word of God; indeed, the presence of the angel is the presence of God. That is because the angel cannot do anything but what it is ordered….
As for the other two levels of divine populace, they also can be discerned in the biblical texts… The prophetic admonitions against priests, prophets, and rulers who preferred these deities to Yahweh, particularly those by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Isaiah of Jerusalem, though there are others, also demonstrate that these deities were established in the official religion as it was practiced at the time and not some bizarre aberration easily discounted as irrelevant to the cult. Those who are mentioned in the texts include Baal, Shemesh, Yareah, Mot, and, perhaps, Astarte Shemesh and Yareah, who are deities commonly found in the second level in the west Semitic world, are directly addressed in the poetic fragment quoted from the so-called Sepher hayashar in Josh. 10:12. The cult of the sun god (or goddess) finds representation in the temple in Jerusalem in Ezekiel 8 as well. The deity of death, Mot, appears to make his appearance in the prophecies of both Hosea and Jeremiah as an actual deity to whom Yahweh could and would turn over the land of Judah as punishment for the populace’s believing in, or, more accurately, worshipping, other deities.
The notion that these gods controlled sections of the cosmos under the jurisdiction of Yahweh is clearly spelled out in the prologue to Job and the Psalms…. The lesser gods are answerable to the highest authority in the pantheon…. There is … a third-level deity that can be identified within the pantheon of Judah. The name of this god of snake-bite-cure is unknown because the text provides only a pun playing on its shape and the metal from which it was constructed, not the actual name. The level of specialist deities is, however, certainly represented by the god of snake-bite-cure, called by Hezekiah, we are told, Nehushtan. According to the story told in Num 21:8-9, Moses was ordered to make the symbol of this deity to cure people of venomous serpent bites that Yahweh himself had imposed upon them. This character has a number of parallels to the Ugaritic goddess Shatiqatu and needs to be understood as the same type of deity: highly specialized, created by the higher levels of the divine realm (in both of these cases the highest authority) for a particular emergency as a healing deity. This god was revered in the Judahite cult, where sacrifices were made to it until, according to the text, Hezekiah, for reasons unknown, removed it from the official pantheon. Nonetheless, Nehushtan provides an example of the third and final level of the west Semitic pantheon hierarchy. The religious vision of the state of Judah was of a piece with that of her neighbors and must be understood as having had a hierarchical, bureaucratic vision of the divine realm….
I think we can say that the universe was understood to be under the control of a hierarchy ranging from the human realm upward into a divine ultimate authority. Like the human realm, the gods behaved in ways that reflected rulers on the human level with respective amounts of power and self-aggrandizement. This belief would explain a universe seemingly at odds with itself and the occurrence of events clearly at odds with the theology of the devotee of any single divinity. It is unlikely that the ancient Judahites ever sat around and contemplated the meaning of having myriads of deities as opposed to having one. That they would have contemplated what it meant to have a myriad of deities with individual volition under the control of an even higher divine authority is clear from the biblical narratives themselves. The postexilic world was a different matter, for then the pantheon was reduced to only two levels: that of the one highest authority and that of the totally subservient messengers, leaving only one power actively running the universe…. Chances for variance with the desires of the proper rule of the universe, as embodied in the notion of the will of Yahweh, disappear, and with it an entire complicated theology disappears from the cult of Judea.
Pp.19-20, 33, 36-43
|Ackerman on the Judean Pantheon
Ackerman concludes that Asherah worship, fertility rites, child sacrifice, the cult of the dead and the worship of several gods were practiced commonly as a normal part of Yahweh religion, and furthermore that necromancy, child sacrifice and fertility rites survived Josiah’s reform and endured into the post-exilic period.
|Zevit on the Israelite Pantheon
The evidence from toponyms bearing on Israite religion indicates that some sites, founded and settled by Israelites during Iron Age I period, were named after bcl, bclwt/bclt/bclh, was second. In accord with my understanding of Israelite social structure, these names attest that large extended families within some clans and perhaps some clans, as a whole, worshipped these deities during this period. These names do not necessarily attest to any exclusive monaltristic loyalty to a particular deity, but rather to or that deity as the favorite or as the patron of a certain place. These toponyms, therefore, reflect religion of the ciyr, the city, settlement.
Furthermore, bcl toponyms appear to be paired with bclwt/bclt/bclh within the tribal ter,ties of Simeon, Judah, and Ephraim. In Benjamin, bcl was possibly paired with cnt; in Asher, dgn paired with bclwt. with ‘nt; in Asher. These pairings, if not accidental … could be taken to indicate a design of sorts within very large clans where each deity of a patron couple, one male and one female, was worshipped at separate places within a designated territory….
The significance of the personal names is that many with non-Yahwistic names were named by parents with Yahwistic ones and vice versa. Assuming that each naming constituted a testament, such names indicate that, within Israelite society of the Iron Age, identification with a non-Yahwistic patron was a random, personal choice that an individual who may have been raised as a Yahwist was capable of making. It indicates easy access to a fund of lore about such deities, their mythologies and cults, and very likely attests to the general lack of censure associated with these names. Most important, however, it indicates that the cultic choices of children did not necessarily have to be those of their parents. In this area of life there was leeway that could lead to problems within the father’s house (cf. Zech. 13:2-6). Theoretically, a person named Malkiyahu (My King Is Yahui YHWH) residing in a town whose patron deity was Mot(= Death, god of the underworld) could name his son Mepibaal (= from the mouth of Baal, god of fresh water and fertility).
The overwhelming majority of Israelite theophoric names from the Iron II are Yahwistic….
The inscription in the burial cave at El-QÔm, c. 725 BCE, indicates that YHWH, linked somehow to Asherah/Asheratah, had been asked to save an individual named Uryahu from his enemies for the sake of the goddess. The situation presupposed by the inscription was that Uryahu, a devotee of the goddess, had been in straits. Abiyahu commended Uryahu to YHWH, suggesting that he save Uryahu not because of Uryahu but for the sake of the goddess. The divine pecking order, as comprehended by Abiyahu the author of the inscription, viewed YHWH as more powerful than Asherah/Asheratah, but allowed that the two deities were so related that YHWH might be inclined to do something that would accrue to the benefit of the goddess or that would please her. This presupposes that Asherah was worthy of a boon from YHWH and that in advancing his suggestion Abiyahu had a sense that it would be adopted. The mythology underlying all of this can only have indicated that both deities were powerful, known to each other, and operated in the same sphere. YHWH, however, was top god.
The El-QÔm inscription reflecting on the religion of individuals within the same community whose special relationship is with different, yet related, deities is illustrated in the cultic gallery from the contemporary inscribed cave at Beit Lei from c. 701 BCE. There, two petitioning figures were drawn In a context containing a petition to YHWH and an image interpreted as the goddess Asherah. This evidence for the pairing of YHWH and Asherah is circumstantial, but if the conclusion is correct the image of Asherah playing before YHWH is indicative of the relationship between them. Better data come from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, c. 800 BCE.
There, fragments of one wall inscription Iinked Baal and EI; those of a second inscription linked YHWH and Asherat (= Asherah). An inscription on a stone basin referred only to YHWH. Inscriptions on the two decorated pithoi linked YHWH and Asheratah (= Asherah). One inscription on pithos A referred to YHWH as YHWH of Shomron; two on pithos B as YHWH of Teiman. This terminology attests to a common term as well as to unique manifestations of YHWH in Israel and in Judah. The geographical terminology, Shomron and Teiman, remain somewhat enigmatic. I suggest that perhaps these refer to the northernmost and southernmost areas of his perceived territories. Teiman included the area of ‘Ajrud itself. “Shomron” could only refer to the territories around Samaria and they were “northernmost” in Israel only after the Aramean Hazael took control of territories north of Jezreel valley, c. 810 BCE, a date sufficiently close to that determined for ‘Ajrud on other grounds (cf. 2 Kings 8:12; 10:32-33; 13:3).
The drawing on pithos A of a lyre player before the Bes figures is interpreted as Asherah lying before YHWH on the strength of the inscription linking these deities;. that on pithos B of the six petitioning figures is interpreted as people coming to ‘Ajrud to pray to deities associated with the shrine. The ‘Ajrud data affirm that the link between YHWH and Asherah was part of Israelite mythology. They indicate that the goddess played a role in Israelite orisons, but that she was not an independent force. Furthermore, the drawing of Asherah playing before YHWH represented by a conventional Bes icon and that of the six praying figures parallel the iconography of the Beit Lei gallery dated almost a century later. The names of Baal and El on a wall inscription at ‘Ajrud indicate that these two were worshipped at ‘Ajrud, and were also part of an Israelite pantheon.
I interpret the presence of Baal and El names in Israelite toponymy and the general absence of YHWH and Asherah names as indicating that the names of the latter two, as head of the pantheon, were by common and widespread convention not used for such designations. Names used were of the lesser beings, gods of the second and lower tiers of specialized powers, gods less august and hence more approachable. The constant running together of Baal and Asherah in Deuteronomistic polemics was not an attack on those two as a divine pair. Rather it targeted Asherah, the female consort of YHWH who was associated with the first tier and was perceived as having influence there – cf. the El-QÔm inscription … but belonged on the second, and Baal, the most notable of the deities from the second tier, whose consort was most likely Baalat, a goddess with whose name some Israelites graced their settlements. Note that when Ahab reportedly constructed a Baal temple in Samaria he also set up an ‘aserah, but not in the temple of Baal (cf. 1 Kings 16:32-33), Jehu’s destruction of the Baal temple left the ‘asherah unaffected (ef. 2 Kings 13:6). After all, Jehu was acting as a Yahwist.
This conclusion, based on onomastic evidence, is congruent with the evidence of the female figurines with hands folded over the breast…. I interpret the relevant artifactual data presented there as indicating that during the ninth to seventh centuries BCE, Israelites adored certainly one, but most likely a few – not many – goddesses….
Any description of the religions of Israel must therefore take into account that most Israelites, Yahwists in the main, knew their patron to whom they called by name, knew his consort Asherah, and knew other deities as well to whom they referred by the general idioms, bny ‘lym, “sons of gods” (Pss. 29:1; 89:7; Job 1:8; 2:1; 38:7), and ‘lhym ‘ḥrym, “other gods” (Exod. 20:3; 23:13; Deut. 5:7; 6:14 and often in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic literature)….
Although in some cases different deities may have been worshipped through radically different rites, I hypothesize that different deities were worshipped through similar yet different rites at different types of installations. To complicate matters, I hypothesize also that under certain circumstances the same deity might be worshipped at different places for different reasons using different types of rituals. These two speculative hypotheses are intended to clarify the lack of architectural uniformity at Israelite cult places as well as the bewildering array of similar artifacts differentiated by small details found in excavations.
… Evidence for the worship of more than one deity, usually in the form of redundant or paired appurtenances such as altars, stands, and ste!es, is indicated at the temple of Arad XI (ninth century) … Dan (eighth century) … Hazor XI (tenth century) … Lachish (end of tenth century) … Megiddo (end of tenth century)…. My own interpretational preference for the phenomenon of “twoness” … is to consider it a reflection of the worship of YHWH and Asherah, lord and lady of the Israelite pantheon. ….
The cosmos, as represented in Israelite liturgical and wisdom literature had three levels. The highest was called šamayim, the heavens; the middle ‘areṣ, the earth; and the lowest tehom,the depth (Pss. 33:6-8; 104:2-6; 135:6; 148:1-7; Provo 3:19-20; 8:26-31). Other terms used for the lowest level are yam, sea (Pss. 33:7; 135:6; Provo 8:29); dumah, silence (Ps. 115:16-17); and še’ol, the underworld (1 Sam. 2:6-10; Job 26:6-13). The lowest level, entered through the šacarey mawet, gates of Mot/death (Pss. 9:14; 107:18; Job 38:17…), was the distant, cut-off, watery abode of the dead (Num. 16:30; Isa. 5:14; 7:11; 29:4; 38:10; 57:9; Jon. 2:3-6; Hab. 2:5; Pss. 69:2-3, 15-16; 88:3-4). It was the realm of death/Mot (Isa. 28:15, 18; Hos. 13:14; Hab. 2:5; Pss. 49:15; 141:7). It was a level from which YHWH was absent and from where he could usually not be addressed. According to some Yahwistic sources uncomfortable with the notion that the lowest level was beyond YHWH’s control, he could reach into it if he wished (cf. Isa. 38:10, 18; Amos 9:2; Pss. 6:6; 9:18). Death was the grey border between the middle and lowest level, and some Yahwists demonstrated grave discomfort with most conventional after-death rites performed by the living: tearing garments (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 1:11; 13:19); wearing crude tunics (Gen. 37:34; Isa. 22:12; Amos 8:10); shaving hair (Deut. 14:1; Isa. 22:12; Mic. 1:16); self-laceration (Deut. 14: 1); making a particular gesture covering the face (2 Sam. 19:5); covering heads with a mixture of dust and ashes as an act of self-abasement (2 Sam. 13:19), making offerings either to or on behalf of the dead (Deut. 26:14). In general, Yahwism as presented in extant biblical texts conceived of YHWH as lord of the living. Death was the ultimate contaminant of all that was particularly sacred to him. In Israelite speculation, the lowest realm of the cosmos was the place of death, the realm of Mot. It existed with its own mythology and practical lore apart from Yahwism, with its own rituals and concerns.
Within the three-level cosmos, Yahwism and its rituals, as known from descriptive and prescriptive texts in the Bible, was concerned primarily with the middle level; Baalism, at least in part of its conceptual conflict over the head of the pantheon, was also concerned with the middle level. Magic and prognosticatory rituals were concerned with manipulating gods and cosmic forces at the uppermost level so as to discern what would happen on the middle level, and if possible to determine or change the outcome of prescripted events…. Chthonic rituals were focused on achieving accommodation with and succor from gods on the lower level, achieving a modus vivendi with Mot, and with securing a comfortable afterlife for ancestors. Many of the rituals and activities … were concerned with powers on the upper (lsa. 2:6a; Mic. 5:9-14; Hab. 2:18-20; Jer. 7:17-18; 44:15-19; Ezek. 14:3-8; Zeph. 1:5) and lower (Isa. 8:19-20a; 28:15-18; 30:29-33; 57:6; 64:4; 66:3, 17; Jer. 7:31-32; 19:4-6, 12-13; 32:35; Ezek. 20:25-26, 31) levels that were not the focus of Yahwism and beyond its interest. Within each level, I assume that the deities were conceived in some sort of pecking order, but, aside from the discernible tiers in the middle level of the cosmos discussed above, data are lacking for reconstructing such an order.
In addition to the explicit references of circumstances that elicited a cultic response, there was a plethora of life events that may or may not have been attended by cultic rituals: birth, circumcision, and weaning, adoption, betrothal, marriage, pregnancy, menarche, the onset of male puberty, ploughing a new field, launching a boat, signing a contract, laying the foundation for a house, or completing one, and death….
The full complexity of Israelite religions is realized by mapping them along two axes: the social centers of their practice and the cosmic level to which their various concerns were addressed.
Not all blanks on this chart can be filled on the basis of available textual or archaeological evidence; and even were such complete evidence available, I guess that whereas the blanks under the middle-level deities, YHWH, Baal, Asherah and others in the pantheon would filled in down the chart, there would be much skewing in the outer columns depending on where other deities were assigned according to the perception of their role in the cosmic order. At the non-chthonic level, Yahwism competed with Israelite religions that considered Baal the head of the Israelite pantheon and each produced zealots of the Baal-alone and YHWH-alone stripe. A third type of Israelite religion concerned with achieving technical mastery in prognostication concentrated on discerning the future through any and all known means, not only those sanctioned by Yahwists of the YHWH-alone mentality.
Even the literary mantics who described, prescribed, proscribed, and polemicized did not usually challenge the efficacy or reality of other religions and cults, only their legitimacy from the perspective of a YHWH-alone covenant. Practically speaking, different mantics addressed different problems and harped on different themes. What may have been tolerable or acceptable within a Yahwistic rubric to one was unacceptable to another.
Triad to Monolatry
Convergence and Differentiation
“Baal and Asherah were part of Israel’s Canaanite heritage, and the process of the emergence of Israelite monolatry was an issue of Israel’s breaking with its own Canaanite past and not simply one of avoiding Canaanite neighbors. Although the Bible witness accurately represented the existence of Israelite worship of Baal and perhaps of Asherah as well, this worship was not so much a case of Israelite syncretism with the religious practices of its Canaanite neighbors, as some biblical passages depict it, as it was an instance of old Israelite religion. If syncretism may be said to have been involved at all, it was a syncretism of various traditions and practices of Israelites. In short, any syncretism was largely a phenomenon within Israelite culture…. Israelite religion apparently included the worship of Yahweh, El, Asherah, and Baal. The shape of this religious spectrum in early Israel changed, due in large measure to two major developments; the first was convergence, and the second was differentiation. Convergence involved the coalescence of various deities and/or some of their features into the figure of Yahweh. This development began in the period of the Judges and continued during the first half of the monarchy. At this point, El and Yahweh were identified, and Asherah no longer continued as an identifiable separate deity. Features belonging to deities such as El, Asherah and Baal were absorbed into the Yahwistic religion of Israel…. In … poetic compositions, titles and characteristics originally belonging to various deities secondarily accrue to Yahweh…. Israelite monolatry developed through conflict and compromise between the cults of Yahweh and other deities. Israelite literature incorporated some of the characteristics of other deities into the divine personage of Yahweh. Polemic against deities other than Yahweh even contributed to this process. For although polemic rejected other deities, Yahwistic polemic assumed that Yahweh embodies the positive characteristics of the very deities it was condemning.
“The second major process involved differentiation of Israelite cult from its Canaanite heritage. Numerous features of early Israelite cult were later rejected as Canaanite and non-Yahwistic. This development began first with the rejection of Baal worship in the ninth century continued in the eighth to sixth centuries with legal and prophetic condemnations of Baal worship, the Asherah, solar worship, the high places, practices pertaining to the dead, and other religious features. The two major developments of convergence and differentiation shaped the contours of the distinct monotheism that Israel practiced and defined in the Exile (ca. 587-538) following the final days of the Judean monarchy.” …
“Though the reasons for Israelite ‘convergence’ are not clear, the complex paths from convergence to monolatry and monotheism can be followed…. (and) involved both an ‘evolution’ and a ‘revolution’ in religious conceptionalization…. While evolutionary in character, Israelite monolatry was also ‘revolutionary’ in a number of respects. The process of differentiation and the eventual displacement of Baal from Israel’s national cult distinguished Israel’s religion from the religions of its neighbors…. Israelite insistence on a single deity eventually distinguished Israel from the surrounding cultures….’”
From Smith, Mark S, and Miller, Patrick D, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel , San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1990.
For the importance of external factors see The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts
Tikva Frymer-Kensky wrote:
“… YHWH is supreme, occupying the same place in cosmological thinking that Marduk had in Babylon. But this is only the first stage in the rise of YHWH: the star actor has changed, but the cosmic play remains the same. Israel adds another factor: because of what God has done for Israel, Israel owes God exclusive allegiance…. This demand for exclusive allegiance ultimately led to the disappearance of all other gods…. The development of monotheism is not simply a form of subtraction. Eliminating other gods and jettisoning old religious practices changes fundamental ideas about the workings of the cosmos. The image of God must expand to include all the functions previously encompassed by an entire pantheon. The religious and philosophical systems must adapt to form a coherent picture of the universe that no longer includes multiple divine powers. The biblical system had to replace both goddesses and gods, and as it did so, it transformed its thinking about nature, culture, gender, and humanity.
“In ancient religion, “Nature” reflects an interplay of divine forces and personages. Gods may battle each other, as when the Canaanite goddess Anat defeats Mot …. Or they cooperate in bestowing blessings on humanity or the king. The relationships between these gods are not static…. On an individual level, the powers and persona of one god can be absorbed by another…. On a macro level, there are clear patterns of development in ancient Near Eastern religion: new gods like Marduk and Nabu took over, fathers were displaced by younger males (the Canaanite El by Ba’al…), male gods took over functions and powers once held by goddesses, the universe was increasingly portrayed as a state headed by a divine king. Nevertheless, despite the fluidity of the individual elements in the apparently ever-changing pagan picture of the universe, the conceptualization of nature does not really change…. Throughout the history of polytheism, the universe was always understood as a balance of interactive forces. Nature is an arena of powers and forces in interaction, and the drama “out there” among those various forces determines the condition of the world. Human myths and rituals enable people to operate in this many-directional system, so that they can collaborate with first one god, then another; so that they can help the gods come together and celebrate this union; or so that they can play one god off against another.
“No such stratagems could operate in biblical Israel. Israel could not pit one god against another, or ask one god to intercede with another…. According to the Bible’s understanding, Israel owes all its loyalty and worship to the god who brought the people out of Egypt. Until the eighth or seventh century B.C.E., biblical writers did not categorically deny the existence of other gods. But these deities belonged to other nations: for Israel, there is only YHWH. As we would expect, YHWH, Israel’s God, took the supreme position…. Moreover, in the monotheist leap, “He” also absorbed all the character and functions of the female goddesses. As a result, the dynamic interactions between the polytheistic gods disappeared into the unity of One. Relations between gods can no longer control the world, and nature, no less than culture and humanity, has to be rethought.
“The Bible mandates the exclusive worship of only one God and describes the relationship between Israel and God in terms of a “covenant” between Israel and God. Such covenants were well-known in the diplomacy of the ancient Near East, and Israel utilizes the structure and terminology of these ancient treaties to express its special politicolegal relationship to God. Israel believed that it had been redeemed from Egypt and “saved” by God. As a result, it forever owed God exclusive loyalty. God, moreover, demanded this exclusivity …. to serve other gods is to be unfaithful to the all-embracing bond between YHWH and Israel. YHWH alone matters.
“There is a promise along with this obligation: in turn for their exclusive loyalty, God will protect and bring blessings upon the people….
“(Exodus 23:25-27) declares that the one God who is to be worshiped can meet all human needs. This is a radically new idea-though worshiping only one god is not in itself new…. The expectation of appropriate reward is … the same (as in paganism); and Israel cannot commit to worshiping only one God unless that God-all alone-can control the environment so that Israel can thrive in the land. This does not have to imply complete philosophical monotheism, but it leads inexorably to monotheist thinking. The needs of people that used to be met by a whole pantheon of deities still have to be met…. God promises to grant the people military victory, agricultural abundance, health, and procreation…. When the Bible understands YHWH as mastering not only most but all of the powers of the universe, the picture of the universe changes dramatically. There is a quantum leap, a fundamental change in paradigm. Interaction among the gods is replaced by solo mastery, and humanity, divinity, and cosmos have to be realigned. The aggregation of these powers leads inexorably to monotheism, to solo mastery and sole presence in the divine order.
“In order to serve the purposes and functions of an entire pantheon, the one God of Israel absorbs many types of powers. Each power comes from a different source, and may have had its own unique history in pagan thought. Ultimately, in the Bible, they all end up in the same place, as part of God’s bounty. The blessings that God promises in the convenantal statement of Exodus 23:25-26 illustrate the various paths by which YHWH became sole master. Together, these provide the essential blessings of physical well-being: water and food, healing and procreation. Individually, they each have a different polytheistic ancestry. Rain is always considered a male power within Near Eastern polytheism; agricultural fertility is thought to result from the collective activity of male and female deities acting in concert (or consort); healing, once female, becomes associated with male gods during the second millennium, and procreation remains essentially female. As YHWH appropriates each of these powers, the image of divine mastery emerges, with all its consequences for the conceptualization of nature and humanity….
“In the texts known from Ugarit, the Canaanite Ba’al is said to appoint wet and snowy seasons, and to send thunder and lightning. The earliest biblical texts also describe YHWH as rain god. Ba’al is called rkb crpt, “rider of the clouds”, the same phrase used for Yah in Psalm 68. The accounts of God’s victory over Israel’s foes are often described in imagery befitting a warrior storm-god, for in these mythologically based poems, the storm is the weapon with which the god gains victory. The storm-god, moreover, has a role beyond that of divine warrior, for he is also master of the beneficial rains. Both Ba’al and YHWH are praised for their role as rainmaker, and God’s mastery over the rain is one of the fundamental precepts of biblical religion…. when Samuel delivers his farewell addressat Saul’s coronation, he invites God to prove God’s kingship by producing a thunderstorm during the time of the wheat harvest (in June, after the end of the rainy season). When the people see this rain, they acclaim God as sovereign king. The celebrated contest between Elijah and the priests of Ba’al also revolves around mastery over the rain. In response to Elijah, God sends a thunderbolt to burn up the sacrifice and then brings rain to the drought-filled land.
“The emphasis on God’s power over rain arises for two reasons. First, Israel cannot ignore a central claim of Canaanite religion, that Ba’al is master of rain and thunderstorm. YHWHism had to match the claims of Ba’alism in order to rival and supplant it. Beyond this, there is a significant ecological reason that both Canaan and Israel portray their chief god as master of the fertilizing rains. Unlike the riverine cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt (with their large irrigation systems), fertility in Israel and Canaan depends directly on rainfall. The hills of Israel cannot be watered from the Jordan river. The people cannot control the bringing of water to the fields and must rely on rainfall. This creates a sense of continual vulnerability, for the Bible believes that God is directly and continually involved in the giving of rainfall…. Israel’s vulnerability was intensified by recurrent drought…. The attribution of rain to God did not require a revolutionary change in the conceptualization of rain. Dominion over weather and storm belonged …. In Canaan … to Baal; in Israel, it is claimed by YHWH. The takeover by YHWH is a simple shift of allegiance.
“A more significant reorientation accompanies the assertion that YHWH can provide the second blessing of Exodus 23: 24 26, the blessing of agricultural abundance (blessing the bread)…. The ancient pagan religions also provided a cult of fertility in which people sang, danced, and performed other rituals in order to experience and aid the perpetuation of nature…. Pagan prayers and rituals reflect the idea that fertile abundance is the result of harmonious interaction among various powers in the cosmos. Cultic acts and liturgy may propitiate the various divine powers and facilitate their joining together….
“Like the other Near Eastern peoples, Israel was concerned with fertility. In order to feel secure on the land, the people must be assured of God’s power to ensure fertility. However, the biblical understanding of fertility is radically different from that of ancient Near Eastern polytheism. Israelite prayer and ritual cannot facilitate the union of the forces of the cosmos; only the worship of one God is allowed. Therefore, God alone must unite all the forces that produce fertility. God must be the only power who brings fertility, and God alone must be enough.
“To the Bible, God’s fertility-bringing power lies in God’s power over the rain. The natural state of the earty is fertile: it needs only the rain to activate this natural potential. The creation account in Genesis 1, Placed at the opening of the Bible, incorporates this biblical view of the earth’s fertility…. On the very same day that the earth is created, God also creates the plants and the trees. This double creation on the third day emphasizes the significance of the fact that on the very same day that God creates the earth, God makes the earth fertile. There never was, not even for one day, a time that the earth was barren. Furthermore, the vegetation that God creates on this third day is self-propagating, each bearing seed after its own kind. The earth is made fertile in such a way as to insure that it will remain so.
“There is a serious religious message … there is no need for humans to focus concern on the creation or continuation of fertility…. Human beings do not have to worry about perpetuating and continuing any of the elements that God creates. As master of creation, God has the power to keep creation going. God’s mastery over the physical universe, epitomized in the creative word, is so powerful that we can assume that this universe will continue without our active efforts towards this end….
“While biblical texts do not direct human attention to invoking fertility, they do caution that this pristine state of the earth can be disrupted. The world can become polluted, and a contaminated world is less fertile. Three cardinal misdeeds physically pollute the land: murder, improper sexual activity, and idolatry…. There is no ritual to purify the earth, no way to beg God to ignore or remove the pollution. Instead, the pollution builds up until it reaches a critical mass, when the earth explodes or the land of Israel vomits out its inhabitants. In the absence of such disastrous pollution, the earth is an inherently fertile constant. The variable is the rain. The addition of rain potentiates the inherently fertile nature of the earth and determines whether there is actual fertility. In this way, God’s fructifying rain makes God the master of all agricultural abundance.
“These two interrelated blessings of water and food add up to God’s mastery over the natural environment. The next two blessings of Exodus 23:25-27, healing and procreation, constitute the power of God over the human body. There is nothing startling about YHWH’s control over healing…. God can bring illness to punish people or to demonstrate power, prophets can announce whether sick people will die or live, and can intercede and pray for the sick…. illness is part of God’s armament with which God directs and punishes. The collective health of Israel depends on its own behavior.
“… Similar to health in that it also relates to the workings of the human body, reproduction has a different polytheistic background from healing. Because the art of healing was known as the province of male gods … it required no major change in philosophy to attribute this power to YHWH. Procreation, however, had remained the domain of the mother goddesses…. the mother-goddess never loses her prominence in creating and assuring childbirth until YHWH asserts control over this area of divine activity. YHWH’s prominence in this area is not simply a matter of one (male) god replacing another, and “His” activity in this area must be consciously and explicitly stated and added to the inventory of YHWH’s powers. The emphasis that the Bible places on divine control over all aspects of pregnancy and childbirth is an indication of the radical nature of this idea.
“… the small size of the houses in ancient Israel indicates that the families were very small. The encouragement of childbirth was vital to Israel’s survival, and Israel’s philosophy of reproduction corresponds to her survival needs. Israel believes that God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” was given to the first humans ….
“The creation passages in Genesis, the curses and promises of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the depiction of drought in the historical books, the allusions to creation in Biblical poetry and the prophecies of upheaval on the “Day of the Lord”-all assume and declare God’s ability to create and to destroy nature, to sustain the earth and to cause it to tremble, to create the world from chaos and return it to chaos again. In these passages, God plays all the roles, for God is creator and sustainer, provider and destroyer. All the jobs previously performed by the pantheon, all the forces exemplified by the many nature deities, now have to be performed by the One God of Israel.”
|Canaanite God||Characteristics||Absorbed into YHWH?|
|El||Creator, wise, judge, kindly, guardian of cosmic order, healing, giving children and accepting their sacrifice||Yes except that child sacrifice was rejected at the end of the First Temple period.
|Asherah||Universal mother – human fertility||Mainly|
|Baal Haddad||Controls rain, and hence agricultural fertility, and war god||Yes|
|Ashtart–Anat||Violent sexuality, manly woman||no|
|Healing and health||Yes|
|Reshef||God of plague and mass death||Plague is a standard punishment sent by YHWH and is completely under his control|
|Mot (name= “death”)||God of death and senility||Death and senility are by the will of YHWH|
|Yamm (name= “ocean”)||Represents forces of chaos||Chaos can only come by the will of YHWH|
Impact of Crisis
|Philistines and Associated Groups Press from the West (12th-11th centuries BCE)||Development of Israelite consciousness and possibly formation of a league of El and YHWH worshipers identifying the two gods
|Imposition by Ahab of Tyrian Baal (probably Melkart likely with his consort Ashtart)- in the mid-9th century BCE||The prophetic movement demanded the rejection of the native weather deity Baal-Hadad (likely with his consort the native Ashtart/Ashtoreth) as un-Israelite and disloyal to YHWH. Baal’s characteristics are appropriated by YHWH. (see Elijah on Carmel).|
|Assyrian Pressure 8th-mid-7th centuries BCE||Crisis of confidence in YHWH – was He weaker than the gods of Assyria? This may have led to the wide-spread worship of Astarte-Ishtar-Queen of Heaven and perhaps astral deities.|
|Decline of Assyria late 7th century BCE||The Deuteronomic reformers demanded the exclusive worship of YHWH – all other deities were rejected as un-Israelite. To ensure uniformity of practice and concentration of resources all sacrifice was to be centralized in Jerusalem. Outside of Jerusalem, prayer starts to replace sacrifice in popular worship.|
Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, exile and temporary cessation of sacrifice
|YHWH could not be said to have been defeated by the gods of Babylon. Instead, it was claimed that He was lord of the world and the author of the just destruction of Jerusalem. Prayer replaces sacrifice in popular worship.|
b. Phases of the Process – – Triad to Monolatry
Israelite popular, and to a large extent official, religion would seem to have gone through 3 phases prior to the finalization of the Torah:
i. Phase 1 Triad of Gods (c. 13th-9th centuries BCE)
Major Development – foundation of the Israelite League in the 11th-12th century BCE. Nb. the probable meaning of Israel (Heb. yisra’el) is “El Rules”
At this stage, the major distinction of official Israelite religion, within the cluster of Canaanite city/state cults is that YHWH, the patron God of Israel, its war leader and divine kinsman has become identified with the Canaanite high god El. This results in Baal Hadad losing his function as war god.
El-YHWH– El-YHWH is the patriarchal father. The patron God of Israel, its war leader and divine kinsman. He is the creator, old, wise, compassionate, the supreme judge, and, in the last resort, all powerful. El-YHWH might have been seen as the national God, perhaps without much relevance to the woes of women and peasant farmers. El-YHWH is symbolized by the bull;
|Canaanite El to Israelite El
According to the Canaanite tradition El is “the One”, the “Creator of all Created Things.” This, however, must be seen in the context of El himself, according to Sanchuniathon, being the son of Sky (father) and Earth. In this regard, the Israelite El is quite different from the Canaanite El. The Bible pointed starts with the phrase – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” i.e. the first objects God (elohim=el) created in the biblical tradition were El’s parents in the Canaanite tradition! The verb translated “created” (Hebrew br’) as used in the Hebrew Bible, unlike the verb qnh used in the following quote from Genesis chapter 14, is a specifically theological term, the subject of which is invariably God.
We can notice the, perhaps intended ambivalence in Genesis chapter 14
18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God/El Most High (‘el celyon). 19 He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, creator/maker/purchaser/possessor of heaven and earth (qoneh shamaim wa’areŞ); 20 and blessed be God/El Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him one tenth of everything…. Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the YHWH, God/El Most High, (YHWH ‘el celyon qoneh shamaim wa’areŞ) creator/maker/purchaser/possessor of heaven and earth….
Abram clearly accepted the Canaanite King Melchizedek as a legitimate priest of God since he sacrificed with him and paid him a priestly tithe. However note the ambiguity of the Hebrew word qoneh which can mean either maker/creator OR purchaser/possessor/owner. I.e. Abram could interpret the expression as meaning that El was the creator of heaven and earth while Melchizedek could interpret the same words as meaning that El had won control of heaven and earth.
Ela/Elat-Asherah (re. Ashtoret see re. Queen of Heaven see Ackerman chapt. 1; Annex 2 – Asherah Goddess of Israel?) – Ela/Elat-Asherah is El’s consort and as such clearly subordinate to him. Her title Ela (Hebrew) or Elat (Phoenician) is the feminine form of El and hence means “goddess”. Asherah’s predominant symbol is the Tree of Life. She is the universal mother, wise, nurturing, supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops. She provides an avenue of approach to the august El. El-YHWH’s consort and as such clearly subordinate to El. The universal mother, wise, nurturing, supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops. Providing an avenue of approach to the august El. “Another name of ´Asherah in the first milleneum BCE is Chawat, which is Hawah in Hebrew and Eve in English. “Her full title is Rabat Chawat ´Elat, Great Lady Eve the Goddess, and is associated with the serpent. Thus, Chawa/ Eve is possably a form of ´Asherah as a Serpent Goddess. As a snake goddess, She was also represented by bronze serpent forms, examples of which have been found in archaeological excavations in the Levant. In fact the Nehush-tan, literally the Bronze Serpent which in traditional Jewish myth is associated with Moses, is much more likely an emblem of ´Asherah. It too was removed from the Jerusalem temple the same time as the ´asherah objects…. While Hosea criticized the bull icons of Bethel, which were associated with El-YHWH, the bamot (High Places), the matstsebot (the sacred standing stones), it is only in Deuteronomy, which was written in the exilic and post-exilic periods, that the symbol of ´Asherah attacked.” Women would have been prominent among the devotees of Asherah and, to the extent that the cult of Asherah had a priesthood, probably Asherah would have had priests of both sexes. Asherah could be counted on to understand the women’s problems such as pregnancy, child rearing and managing family disputes.
Baal – Baal is a vigorous, young god of the triad, not a creator, but basically the executive member of the triad. Baal was the source of the winter rain storms, spring mist and summer dew which nourished the crops and, indeed, represents vegetation. There would have been priests (2 Kings, chapter 10:19), prophets (1 Kings, chapter 18:19) and probably priestesses of Baal. Baal was the farmers’ god par excellence. He could see to the desperate need for rain on which the peasant family’s lives depended. (Note the anti-Baal polemic in 1 Kings, chapter 18).
We may note that in the Phoenician cities there was also a tendency to move to a god-goddess triad.
Major Development – the absorption of Baal’s charecteristics into El-YHWH and Baal worship declared un-Israelite. This resulted in the popular worship of two gods –
El-YHWH.. El-YHWH is the patriarchal father. The patron God of Israel, its war leader and divine kinsman. He is the creator, old, wise, compassionate, the supreme judge, and, in the last resort, all powerful. He is now also the executor god and the god of weather and fertility;
Asherah (See Annex 2 – Asherah Goddess of Israel?) – El-YHWH’s consort and as such clearly subordinate to El. The universal mother, wise, nurturing, supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops. Probably still providing an avenue of approach to the august El. Women would have been prominent among the devotees of Asherah and, to the extent that the cult of Asherah had a priesthood, probably Asherah would have had priests of both sexes. Asherah could be counted on to understand the women’s problems such as pregnancy, child rearing and managing family disputes.
Major Development – The absorption of Asherah’s characteristics into El-YHWH and the Deuteronomistic reform, of the 7th century BCE firmly proscribed any hint of Asherah worship and removed the concept of sexuality from the (abstract) understanding of God. This resulted, on the official level, in the exclusive worship of El–YHWH.
Pagan religions saw sexuality as part of the natural order, part of the same generative force that ultimately resulted in fertility. Erotic attraction had an integral place in the workings of the cosmos. Sexuality could be sacred, part of the continuation of the cosmos….
Ancient pagan religion also portrayed the sexual impulse as a goddess of sexual attraction. Male gods, figures of potency, can express sexual activity…. All of this religious dimension of sexuality disappears in biblical monotheism. There is no sexual dimension of divine experience. Instead of gods and goddesses interrelating with each other, there is only the one God of Israel. YHWH, moreover, is a predominantly male god, referred to by the masculine pronoun (never by the feminine), and often conceived of in such quintessentially masculine images as warrior and king…. But these masculine qualities of God are social male-gender characteristics. The monotheist God is not sexually a male. He is not at all phallic, and does not represent male virility. Biblical anthropomorphic language uses corporeal images of the arm of God, the right hand of God, God’s back, and God’s tears. God is not imagined below the waist. In Moses’ vision at Mount Sinai, God covered Moses with his hand until he had passed by, and Moses saw only his back. In Elijah’s vision, there was nothing to be seen, only a “small still voice.” In Isaiah’s vision (chapter 6), two seraphim hide God’s “feet” (normally taken as a euphemism), and in Ezekiel’s vision (chapters 1-3), there is only fire below the loins. God is asexual, or transsexual, or metasexual (depending on how we view this phenomenon), but “he” is never sexed.
God does not behave in sexual ways. In the powerful marital metaphor, God is the “husband” of Israel. But this husband-God does not kiss, embrace, fondle, or otherwise express physical affection for Israel, even within the poetic license of the metaphor. Such reticence is not demanded by rhetorical usage, for in the other erotic metaphor, that describing the attachment of men to Lady Wisdom, there is no hesitation to use a physical image, “hug her to you and she will exult you, she will bring you honor if you embrace her.”? Wisdom is clearly a woman-figure, and can be metaphorically embraced as a woman. But God is not a sexual male, and therefore even the erotic metaphor of passion reveals a lack of physicality….
God is not sexed, God does not model sexuality, and God does not bestow sexual power. God, who is the giver of fertility, procreation, abundance, health, does not explicitly give potency. God does not promise the men of Israel that they will be sexually active or competent. Biblical thought does not see sexuality as a gift of God. To the Bible, the sexual and divine realms have nothing to do with each other. Indeed, the Bible is concerned to maintain their separation, to demarcate the sexual and sacred experiences and to interpose space and time between them. God would not reveal godself or God’s purpose on Mount Sinai until Israel abstained from sexual activity for three days. This temporal separation between the sexual and the sacred also underlies the story of David’s request for food during his days of fleeing from King Saul. David assured the priest Ahimelech that his men were eligible to eat hallowed bread by asserting that they had been away from women for three days. Sexual activity brings people into a real of experience which is unlike God; conversely, in order to approach God one has to leave the sexual realm.
The impurity provisions of the sacral laws also provide for time to elapse between engaging in sexual activity and coming into the domain of the sacred. Under these regulations, any man who has had a sexual emission, or anybody who has engaged in sexual intercourse, must wash and then remain ritually “impure” until that evening. The overall purpose of Israel’s impurity rules was to keep intact the essential divisions of human existence: holy and profane, life and death. Even virtuous and socially necessary acts, like tending the dying and burying the dead, could threaten to cross over and blur these categories. They therefore made the person who performed these acts “impure.” “Impure” people were isolated ritually: they could not come to the temple or participate in sacred rites for the duration of their impurity….
This desacralization of sexualjty meant that sexuality was treated as a completely sociological, human phenomenon. Israel discusses sexuality in the language of law; the concerns that it expresses are those of social behavior and social control. In its discussions of sexuality, Israel acts to ensure that sexuality serves the purpose of the polis; that it be a force for the preservation of the social order, and that it be prevented from disturbing social relationships. In the biblical view, sexuality had a prime position in the social realm, for it formed part of the ideal human social pattern, the husband-wife marriage. Israel considered the monogamous nuclear family the first social relationship, established by God at the very beginning of human existence…. Within this marital structure, sexuality is encouraged….
Sexual attraction might even threaten the categories of being “human.” One of the themes of Israel’s primeval history is the definition of humanity and the division of humanity from the divine realm, on the one hand, and the animal realm on the other. During the development of humanity, sexual attraction threatened to erase the category of “human” as the lesser divine beings, the bene Elohim, mated with them. To preserve the difference between humans and divine, God ensured their separation through a reinforcement of human mortality, a limitation on the human life-span….
The Bible treats sexuality as a question of social control and behavior; who with whom and when. But matters are not so easily controlled…. The capacity of free uncontrolled sexual behavior to destroy all of civilization implies that there is more to sexuality than human mores. The force of sexual attraction goes beyond human invention. But the Bible does not explicitly discuss this dimension of sexuality. The one exception is the Song of Songs, which presents an idyll of romantic love unconstrained by societal considerations, and recognizes the great force of love…. There is no vocabulary in the Bible in which to discuss such matters, no divine image or symbolic system by which to mediate it. YHWH cannot model sex. Moreover, YHWH is not the patron of sexual behavior, and is not even recorded as the guarantor of potency; and there is no other divine figure who can serve to control or mediate this volatile, creative, and potentially chaotic force. The power of love and attraction serves as the basis for the powerful metaphor of Israel and God as wife and husband. But the Bible’s lack of discussion of the dynamics and implications of sex creates a tension within the biblical system. There is a vacuum in an essential area of human concern. This vacuum was ultimately filled (in Hellenistic times) by the complex of antiwoman, anticarnal ideas that had such a large impact on the development of Western religion and civilization….
The lack of emphasis on eros in biblical thought creates a vacuum that has been fiIIed by some modern biblical scholars, who describe a “sex cult” that the people practiced in Hosea’s time. According to these scholars, Israel knew a “sexual orgiasticism,” which included sacred prostitutes, festive orgies, and a peculiar initiation rite in which every young girl offered herself to the divinity by having sex with a stranger inside the holy area, in return for which she expected fertility. Scholars have claimed that this was a Canaanite rite that Canaanite religion was basically orgiastic, that the Israelites were being seduced by this foreign sexual worship into a syncretistic religion, and that syncretism was the cause of the prophetic denunciation. According to many scholars, this sexual activity was a result of goddess worship. Often, scholars seem either to condemn Israel for this cult or praise it for its closeness with nature. Recently, certain fundamental questions have begun to be asked: Did Canaan have any religiosexual rites? Is there any evidence for initiation rites or any nonprofessional sexual activity? Is there any evidence for professional sexual activity such as cultic prostitution? Is there evidence for any type of sexual service?
When these questions are asked, it becomes clear that the whole idea of a sex cult-in Israel or in Canaan-is a chimera, the product of ancient and modern sexual fantasies. Ever since the beginnings of modern biblical scholarship, it has been assumed that Semitic religion was very sexy, that the temples “thronged with sacred prostitutes,” and that there was a widespread worship of a great mother-goddess in which sexual union at the sanctuary ensured fruitfulness. No real evidence for this has been unearthed…. There is no reason to believe that the people of ancient Israel-or even of.Canaan – had religious cultic activities which involved or celebrated sexual activity.
The same conclusion is inescapable when we examine the question of professional cultic prostitution. All the evidence for the existence of cultic prostitutes in Israel rests on the translation qedeshah (qedeša), 14 literally “holy woman” or “tabooed woman.” This word has long been translated “sacred prostitute.” The qedeshot (feminine plural) have been explained as female prostitutes, and the qedeshim (masculine plural) as male prostitutes, i.e., catamites. Qedeshim and qedeshot were clearly prohibited in the biblical tradition. As Deuteronomy states, “let there be no qedeshah from among the Israelite women and let there be no qadesh from among the Israelite men.” Successive reforms by Israelite kings periodically got rid of the qedeshim. The qedeshim are often mentioned together with the local shrines, pillars, altars, and asherahs and seem to have been part of the folk worship identified as foreign and improper by the emerging biblical monotheist tradition.
The term qadesh is known from the Ugaritic texts, where he was a type of priest. The qadesh could be married, and could be raised to the rank of nobleman. In lists of cultic functionaries from Ugarit, the qedeshim are ranked right behind the kohanim (major priests). They are not mentioned in sexual contexts, and don’t seem to have had anything to do with sex. The earliest translations of the Bible do not understand the term to mean a male prostitute. Moreover, if the qadesh was not a male prostitute, why should we assume that the qedeshah was a female prostitute?… There is one case where the same woman is called a zona (harlot) and a qedeshah: in the story of Tamar, who disguised herself as a harlot so that Judah would sleep with her. When his emissary went looking for on the road way where Judah had found her, he asked “Where is the qedeshah?” and was told that no such a one had been there. The zonah and the qedeshah clearly shared one important attribute: they were women outside the family structure, with no male to protect them. As such, the qedeshah was vulnerable to sexual approach, and, for all we know, may have been permitted sexual freedom, as was the harlot. But why believe that this sexual activity was the essential part of her role? Clearly, the qadesh and the qedeshah were involved in some form of worship, either Canaanite or native in origin, that was discarded by the evolving tradition of Israel.
But the only real depiction of what the qedeshot did is that they were weaving garments for Asherah. They could have been vestal-type virgins who spent their days weaving garments for the goddess!
… Not talking about sex does not make it go away, and the lack of discourse about sexuality is not a stable situation. Sex has a way of reminding people about itself. Biblical law’s concern with regulating sexual behavior indicates that Israel was as aware as we are of the power of human attraction. In the Song of Songs, this awareness finds expression in the phrase “for love is stronger than death.” This awareness also underlies all the uses of the erotic metaphor, for they rely on our experience of the sexual bond as a bond of connectedness. The Bible is aware of the strength of sexual attraction and the sensations of communion, but it offers no vision to help understand and integrate this experience of human sexuality. Biblical monotheism’s lack of a clear and compelling vision on sex and gender was tantamount to an unfinished revolution. But no culture can exist without some ideas about an experience as compelling as sexuality. When powerful emotions cannot be integrated into our vision of humanity, society, and divinity, then they are feared. This fear of eros can lead to a desire to avoid the occasions of temptation, thus rigidly reinforcing gender lines and making society ever more conscious of gender divisions. This weakness in the fabric of biblical monotheism begins to emerge ill die stresses of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile, and the difficult restoration period. Then, when Israel becomes exposed to Greek ideas in the Hellenistic period, Greek concepts of sex and gender fill the vacuum in decidedly antiwoman, anticarnal ways that have long influenced the Western religious tradition.From In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
With the suppression of El’s consort Asherah (See Annex 2 – Asherah Goddess of Israel?) women become marginalized and no longer have any role in public religion. The delegitimation of Asherah would psychologically support a total concentration of authority in the patriarchal figure in heaven and in Israelite society. However, it is easier to suppress the public worship of the Goddess than to remove the psychological need for a divine, nurturing mother figure and a divine figure with whom women can relate. Asherah-like divine beings keep reemerging under different names – such as Ashtoret/Ashtart/Ishtar/Queen of Heaven during the Deuteronomistic reform period (see Jeremiah, chapter 7), divine wisdom in the biblical Book of Proverbs, the Madonna and the Kabalistic Shechinah. The Tree of Life remained in the biblical tradition as a metaphor. The menorah may be a stylized tree of life (see).
|It’s in Our Hands
Most commonly, the Bible explains disasters in nature and history as God’s reaction to human deeds. Sometimes, the reaction is in the form of “chastisement”: God acts to”chasten” Israel as a parent chastises a son. The hard times that Israel experiences can remind the people where their true attention should be placed. More often, the Bible portrays God acting as a judge upon Israel’s behavior: God’s powers over history are the armaments by which God enforces the behavior of the people of Israel. All the blessings which God promises in Exodus 23 :24-27 are threat as well as promise. God’s control is not rivaled or mitigated by any other divine power: God’s actions are dependent upon Israel’s fidelity and good behavior.
Nowhere is the threat of divine reward and punishment as explicit as in Israel’s thinking about droughts. The droughts to which Israel is prone may be a chastisement to induce Israel to return to God. More commonly, these droughts are seen as God’s punishments…. paradoxically, the solo power of god over rain and fertility means that in the final analysis it is Israelthat determines, by its actions, whether there is rain. God has promised rain if Israel obeys, and God’s covenantal faithfulness can be relied upon. The fertile character of the earth is constant, God’s ability to bring rain is undoubted, the tie between Israel’s behavior and the rain is constant. The only variable is Israel’s behavior, which determines, in its fluctuations, the outcome of nature.
In biblical monotheist thought, there are no conflicting powers in the divine world, no harmonizing forces in heaven, no divine-divine interaction. Nevertheless, there is a point-counterpoint interaction in the universe that determines the course of events. This cosmic interplay no longer takes place within the divine world. Instead, the counterbalancing of forces embraces the relationship of human and divine. Divine dominance means divine conditionality, as humankind becomes the reason for-and instigator of-divine action.
The relationship between human action and its results is not mechanistic. In the final analysis, it is God’s power over nature that makes this causality of action-reaction possible. God can also interrupt this causality. In response to drought and other indications of God’s disfavor, Israel can seek God’s favor through prayer…. But the prophets maintain clearly that prayer and worship are not sufficient…. such prayer and supplication, in the absence of proper behavior, cannot move God. Drought or disaster is the time for the people to search out the possible cause and to pray for compassion with a repentant heart…. the very existence of the cosmos is imperiled because of human misdeeds: not only will Israel be destroyed, but creation itself be reversed and ended. The statement in Genesis that God created humanity to rule the earth has often been taken as a license for human beings to do whatever they want with nature. In the Bible, it clearly does not mean that. On the contrary, all of nature is seen as dependent upon the actions of humankind…. In effect, humans determine what God does, not by prayers and manipulation, but by their behavior. In this way, humanity mediates between God and nature….
This concept of fertility and natural survival puts enormous responsibility in human hands, for the whole world depends on human behavior. The “monotheist myth” in Psalm 82 relates that it was not always so: God had a council of divine beings who were charged with upholding social justice. When they did not do so, the whole world began to totter. As a result, God made these gods mortal. Since then, God has reigned alone over all the nations. There are no longer any gods-and it is up to humanity to ensure that the foundations of the earth do not totter. The way to do this is right behavior and social justice. This is an enormous task, but the way to accomplish it has been revealed: God has instructed and continues to instruct the people as to how they are to behave. The laws and instructions of Israel have a cosmic significance.
From In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky pp. 102-106
Sh’mac Yisrael (Deut. 6:1)
Transvaluation of a Credal Formula
|Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is one||Local manifestations of YHWH e.g. YHWH of Samaria, YHWH of Teman, YHWH of Jerusalem, with different characteristics would have been a constant problem until the centralization of the cult under Josiah (shortly after 622 BCE)|
|Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH alone (to be worshiped i.e. through animal sacrifices)||This was implicit in the covenantal theology and the key point of the YHWH-alone movement. The Deuteronomic reform finally decided this issue|
|Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is unique and uniquely powerful||Part of the platform of the Deuteronomic reform and clearly implicit in the Exodus story|
|Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is the one (true god)||Clearly apparent in the Second Isaiah|
|Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is the one (in spite of the apparently different experiences we have of the numinous)||God in history, God in our experience of the numinous and the God of the philosophers are one. This sort of conception was probably a result of contact with Greek philosophical thought. (cf. the Jewish hymn Shir ha-Kabod, also called Anim Zemirot)|
220.127.116.11.1 The Fundamental and Pervasive Paradigm of Family and its Manifestation as the Covenant (Brit/Brith)
In Ancient Israel the paradigm of the family was pervasive. Judging by the stories of the Ugaritic gods, the same was true of Canaanite society. Both God (e.g. Exodus 4:22; Deut. 14:1) and the king were considered fathers of the people of Israel.
“In the past, the question of Israelite polytheism has been approached by looking for evidence of specific deities worshipped by Israelites in addition to Yahweh. These would include biblical criticisms of the worship of other deities, such as the goddess Asherah in 2 Kings 21 and 23, as well as apparent references to this goddess or at least her symbol in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom in the eighth century. In the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions, the symbol is treated respectfully as part of the worship of Yahweh. The gods Resheph and Deber appear in Habakkuk 3:5 as part of the military retinue of Yahweh. Other deities who gain some mention in the Bible include the “hosts of heaven” criticized in 2 Kings 21:5, but mentioned without such criticism in 1 Kings 22:19 and Zephaniah 1:5. Scholars have also noted that the god El is identified with Yahweh in the Bible, again with no criticism. The criticisms of Yahweh’s archenemy, the storm god, Baal, also seem to reflect Israelite worship of this god. While many of these deities are not well known from the Bible, they are described sometimes at considerable length in the Ugaritic texts, discovered first in 1928 at the site of Ras Shamra (located on the coast of Syria about 100 miles north of Beirut). As a result of comparing biblical and inscriptional evidence with the Ugaritic texts, we can see how the worship of other deities lasted for quite a long time in Israel down to the Exile in ca. 586.
“This approach to the study of specific deities in ancient Israel was summarized in Smith’s earlier book, The Early History of God … On the whole, Smith’s book — following a number of other scholars– shows how Israelite polytheism was a feature of Israelite religion down through the end of the Iron Age and how monotheism emerged in the seventh and sixth centuries. It is in this period when the clearest monotheistic statements can be seen in the Bible, for example, in the apparently seventh-century works of Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, 1 Samuel 2:2 (earlier?), 2 Samuel 7:22, 2 Kings 19:15, 19 (= Isaiah 37:16, 20), and Jeremiah 16:19, 20 and the sixth-century portion of Isaiah 43:10-11, 44:6, 8, 45:5-7, 14, 18, 21, and 46:9. Because many of the passages involved appear in biblical works associated with either Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through Kings) or in Jeremiah (with its similar language and ideas as these other works), most scholarly treatments until recently have suggested that a deuteronomistic movement of this period developed the idea of monotheism as a response to the religious issues of the time. The question has remained: why in the seventh and sixth centuries?
“In his newest book, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, Smith tries to address this question, but from a different angle in regards to monotheism and polytheism. Beginning with the Ugaritic texts, Smith asks what is monistic about polytheism and how the answer to this question might help make the emergence of Israelite monotheism more intelligible. Ugaritic polytheism is expressed as a monism through the concepts of the divine council or assembly and in the divine family. The two structures are essentially understood as a single entity with four levels: the chief god and his wife (El and Asherah); the seventy divine children (including Baal, Astarte, Anat, probably Resheph as well as the sun-goddess Shapshu and the moon-god Yerak) evidently characterized as the stars of El; the head helper of the divine household, Kothar wa-Hasis; and the servants of the divine household, who include what the Bible understands to be “angels” (in other words, messenger-gods).
“This four-tiered model of the divine family and council apparently went through a number of changes in early Israel. In the earliest stage, it would appear that Yahweh was one of these seventy children, each of whom was the patron deity of the seventy nations. This idea appears behind the Dead Sea Scrolls reading and the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 32:8-9. In this passage, El is the head of the divine family, and each member of the divine family receives a nation of his own: Israel is the portion of Yahweh. The Masoretic Text, evidently uncomfortable with the polytheism expressed in the phrase “according to the number of the divine sons,” altered the reading to “according to the number of the children of Israel” (also thought to be seventy). Psalm 82 also presents the god El presiding in a divine assembly at which Yahweh stands up and makes his accusation against the other gods. Here the text shows the older religious worldview which the passage is denouncing.
“By some point in the late monarchy, it is evident that the god El was identified with Yahweh, and as a result, Yahweh-El is the husband of the goddess, Asherah. This is the situation represented by biblical condemnations of her cult symbol in the Jerusalem temple (evidently) and in the inscriptions mentioned above. In this form, the religious devotion to Yahweh casts him in the role of the Divine King ruling over all the other deities. This religious outlook appears, for example, in Psalm 29:2, where the “sons of God” or really divine sons or children are called upon to worship Yahweh, the Divine King. The Temple, with its various expressions of polytheism, also assumed that this place was Yahweh’s palace which was populated by those under his power. The tour given by Ezekiel 8-10 suggests such a picture.” 
The concept of covenant (brit in Hebrew) as a joining together of parties with mutual, not necessarily identical, responsibilities in a hierarchical relationship would seem to grow naturally out of the paradigm of the family.
Some time between the ninth and seventh centuries BCE some minority groups within Israel started advocating the exclusive worship of Yahweh (henotheism) within the context of a covenant (brit) between Yahweh and Israel. The originally understood brit would have gone something like this – Yahweh would give Israel the Land of Canaan, protect Israel and ensure prosperity and Israel would worship Yahweh and no other god and would keep Yahweh’s laws however that would have been understood at the time.
2.3.3 The High Places (bamah (sing.) bamot (pl.))
When the original Yahweh-worshiping group(s) entered Canaan either Yahweh, unlike the gods of the agricultural Canaanites, did not appear at fixed places but to particular men or Yahweh’s cult places were in their earlier home territory. The early Israelites identified Yahweh with the ancient Semitic high god El (see below). By taking over cult legends of the local bamot, the early Israelites could give a basis for their claims to a particular area in which the bamah was located.
Every village, or group of villages, had its bamah where sacrifice could be offered and sacred meals take place (e.g. 1 Samuel 9:12 ff.) It seems likely that pre-Deuteronomic Israelite tradition seems to have required that all slaughter for food be in the form of a sacrifice.
Many bamot had priests (Hebrew kohen plural kohanim) who claimed Aaronic, Mosaic (at Dan see Judges 18:30), Levitical or other lineage. It is likely that traditions of Israel’s relationship to God, Israelite origins, and the etiology of the bamah itself would have been maintained by the kohanim or singers of the bamah. During the Deuteronomic Reform (see below) the kohanim of the bamot of Judah were put on the staff of the Jerusalem temple. It is probably through this means that some of the traditions preserved at the bamot entered the Torah (mainly Genesis e.g.. the stories in Genesis associating Abraham with locations in the south of Judah such as Beer Sheba) and the Deuteronomic History (Joshua-2 Kings). Traditions from the former Kingdom of Israel (e.g. associating Jacob with Beth-El and Shechem in the territory of the Joseph tribes or with Mahanaim in Gilead) may well have entered the Torah via the E and D traditions which are considered to have originated there;
Some bamot were of particular renown or of more than local significance. The Bible, in various contexts, mentions a number including the following:
Beersheba (associated with Abraham)
Bethel (associated with Jacob)
Dan (associated with Mica)
Gilgal – probably a different place from above (associated with Elisha and Elijah)
Gilgal (associated with Joshua and Samuel)
Hebron (associated with Abraham)
Mahanaim (associated with Jacob)
Ophra (associated with Gideon)
Penuel (associated with Jacob)
Shechem – later the Samaritan holy city (associated with Abraham and Jacob)
Shiloh (associated with Joshua)
There were tribal shrines as well as the royal shrines at Jerusalem, Bethel and Dan. These did not, and were not meant to, substitute for local shrines. This created difficulties for the Deuteronomic historian(s) who wrote or edited the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy-2 Kings) since a key part of his platform was, as we shall see, the destruction of the bamot. Thus the Deuteronomic historian was forced to give anachronistic “split decisions” to a number of kings who he wrote acted against idolatry but did not remove the bamot. (Of course, these kings had no way of knowing that there would be a demand to close down the bamot in the 8th-7th centuries BCE.) These included Asa, Jehoshefat, Jehoash, Amazia and Azariah. I’ll quote, as an example of this treatment, the report on Asa –
“In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel Asa began to reign over Judah, and he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done. He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had an abominable image made for Asherah; and Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron. But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly true to the LORD all his days. And he brought into the house of the LORD the votive gifts of his father and his own votive gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels.”
1 Kings, chapter 15:9-15
In contrast, the Deuteronomic historian says of Rehoboam’s reign –
“Now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. … And Judah did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they committed, more than all that their fathers had done. For they also built for themselves high places, and pillars, and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree; and there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.”
1 Kings, chapter 14:21-24
3. What Does Syncretism Mean in Context?
How we conceive of syncretism in Pre-Exilic Israel is highly dependant on how we conceive of the origin and development of Israel and its religion.
If we picture Israelite monotheism developing out of Canaanite religion, syncretism becomes an internal, and largely retrospective issue as portrayed by Smith;
If we accept Israelite monotheism as some sort of sui generis monotheism then we get a more traditional picture of Canaanite-Israelite syncretism as outlined in Annex 2.
4. The Transmutation of Israelite Religion into Judaism
4.1 The Deuteronomic Reform (c. 620-609 BCE)  see 2 Kings Chapters 22-23; 2 Chronicles chapters 34-35
The Deuteronomic reform was an official program of the Judean king Josiah (reigned 639-609 BCE) to reform the cult and effectively to profoundly reform the theological, and probably also fiscal, underpinnings of the Kingdom of Judah. It was based on a scroll said to have been found in the Jerusalem Temple which probably contained the core of the canonical Book of Deuteronomy. It is likely that this scroll was authored in Jerusalem, sometime in the 7th century BCE, drawing partly on materials originating in the former Kingdom of Israel. The newly found, and perhaps newly authored, scroll, like the canonical Book of Deuteronomy, had 3 notable characteristics which made it the bedrock of both Judaism and Samaritanism:
§ It was theocentric, leaving no room for a concept of secularity;
§ It was absolutely unbending in demanding justice and monotheism and promised that God, who is just, would reward or punish his people based on how they kept God’s Torah; and,
§ It demanded a single cultic site for sacrifices.
This last demand is found nowhere else in the Torah. The demand for a single cultic site, with concomitant need to destroy all other cultic sites in the land, was a feature of Hezekiah’s (727-698 BCE) reform (2 Kings chap.18) a century before. However: (a) Hezekiah’s reforms were reversed probably after his death; and (b) no written Torah/Book of the Law was involved. In fact, there is no mention of any such Book of the Law anywhere in the Bible before Josiah’s reforms at the end of the 7th century BCE.
As P. K. McCarter comments on these two Davidic kings (Hezekiah and Josiah), ‘their policies, by unifying the worship of Yahweh, had the effect of unifying the way in which he was conceived by his worshipers, thus eliminating the earlier theology of local manifestations.’”
4.2 The Destruction of the Local Bamot Throughout Judah and the Neighboring Areas of the Former Kingdom of Israel.
During the years 734-732 BCE, the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser captured Galilee and Gilead, exiled the leading elements of their Israelite populations and organized the areas as Assyrian provinces. It was probably at that time that most Galilean and Gileadite Israelite cultic and historical traditions, oral and written were lost for ever. A much reduced Kingdom of Israel, consisting of the former tribal territories of northern Benjamin, Ephriam and Cisjordan Manasseh, continued to exist for a few years as an Assyrian client state. However the king of Israel rebelled and in 722 BCE the rump of the Kingdom of Israel was destroyed and many of its inhabitants were carried off into Mesopotamia. However, many Israelites fled south to escape the Assyrians. Excavations have revealed that at precisely this time Jerusalem expanded from about 32 acres (corresponding to a population of about 5,000) to about 125 acres (corresponding to a population of about 25,000) and that there was massive and intensive development of terraced agriculture around Jerusalem to feed the expanded population. It is likely at this time that many Northern traditions were carried south and that a northern levitical text, calling for the centralization of sacrifice, which was later expanded into the book of Deuteronomy, was carried to Jerusalem.
As noted above, the Judean king Hezekiah (727-698 BCE) had tried, but ultimately failed, to destroy the bamot where sacrifices were carried out by the local priesthood. A century later, it was tried again by his descendant king Josiah, as part of the Deuteronomic Reform. Given general developments in Judah, it seems possible that the bamot were reestablished after Josiah’s death. in any case, the goal was accomplished finally, or rendered irreversible, by the Babylonian destruction of Judah and exile of the great majority of its inhabitants.
Of course, during the 20 to 30 years between Josiah’s destruction of the bamot and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the exile of the Judeans, the population outside Jerusalem people must have continued to experience the need to worship and to feel in contact with, and in favor with, the divine. However, poverty and distances would ensure that the vast majority would be unable to visit the temple in Jerusalem on more than a few occasions in a lifetime. Sacrifice, probably until that time a central element in the cultic life of the people, became marginal, a concern of the kohanim as it was to be in the Second Temple period. The removal of the local bamot included the removal of the local kohanim who may have been both the major source of religious teaching outside Jerusalem and a powerful force resisting religious innovation. The upshot would have been a situation highly conducive to prayer becoming the central act in the cultic life of the people. This form of worship was no longer tied to the local shrine; in fact, it could be as easily done in Babylonia as in Judah.
The depopulation of Judah both ensured that that bamot would not be rebuilt and destroyed local loyalties while strengthening national ones. The survivors from all over Judah, settled in Babylonia, felt themselvesprimarily to be Jews, and only secondarily, to be Ephratites, Benjaminites, Gezerites etc. The way was fully open to the development of new national traditions divorced from the multifold ancient local ways. This would have encouraged the substitution of prayer for sacrifice.
4.3 The Finalization, Promulgation and Acceptance of the Torah as THE word of God and Basis of Israel‘s Relationship with God
This occurred around 400 BCE, plus or minus a couple of decades; perhaps at the ceremony described in Nehemiah, chapter 8. It was the seminal event of Jewish history. The religion was transformed, over time, from an Israelite religion based on sacrifice and prophecy to a Jewish religion based on a written Torah with sacrifice playing an important, though isolated, role throughout the Second Temple period. Before the change there was no written Torah, literacy was religiously irrelevant, and, to learn the will of God the community might cast lots (e.g.. 2 Samuel 10:20) or used the Urim and Thumim or the community or individual consulted a prophet who was effectively the intermediary between God and man. After the change knowledge of the Torah was all important. This led to a number of developments:
- The Torah, and the prophetic literature, totally banned any sort of polytheism and established Judaism as clearly monotheistic.
- The key function was now performed by the scholar of the law. As the Jewish saying goes (Avot 5 mishnah 24) “study it (the Torah) again and again for everything is contained in it. Scrutinize it, grow old and grey in it, do not depart from it. There is no better portion of life than this.”
- The interpreters of the law could be kohanim (as in the Samaritans to this day) or non-priests like the majority of Jewish rabbis
§ Prophecy becomes irrelevant and slowly withers and dies;
§ The priestly sacrificial function continues. However, it becomes a sort of public service which must be done right, as a necessary but not sufficient condition to keep the people in God’s favor, but does not otherwise impact on the people or the development of religion and law; and,
§ Literacy is a fundamental requirement to understanding the law.
|Zevit on the Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah
Hezekiah’s “reform” is known through two sources: first, a summarizing comment of the Deuteronomistic historian in 2 Kings 18:4: “he removed the bamot, shattered the maṣṣsebot,hewed down the ‘aserah, and smashed the bronze serpent;” and second, a report of the speech delivered by a high Assyrian officer, the Rabshaqeh, in 2 Kings 18:22: “And when you say to me, ‘We trusted in YHWH our god,’ -Is it not he whose bamot and altars Hezekiah removed and said ‘To Judah and to Jerusalem – Before this altar you will bow, in Jerusalem.'” As the reported speech makes clear, the “meaning” of Hezekiah’s actions have to be sought in the context of his preparations between 705 and 701 BCE….
Rabshaqeh’s logic was that in the absence of the many altars and places of worship eliminated by Hezekiah, Judah was actually weaker than before and that restricting YHWH worship to the single Jerusalem altar was an act of disrespect to the national deity. That is why YHWH had commanded the king of Assyria to go up against the city and the land to destroy it….
The actual conceptualizing for the centralization may have been inspired by a mix of pre-Deuteronomic YHWH-alone ideology and a Priestly image of the tabernacle-temple in the center of the Israelite-Judahite wilderness camp on a warlike alert, but practically, it reflected a streamlining of logistics in anticipation of the Assyrian response to his revolt.…
Josiah’s “reform,” almost three generations later, was different in all matters. It occurred when internal affairs in the Assyrian heartland had forced a strategic withdrawal from western Asia, creating a power vacuum of sorts. Josiah, reigning from 628 to 609, established a Judahite presence, though not necessarily control, in the former heartland of the Israelian kingdom, deep in the former Assyrian provinces of Samaria and Megiddo (cf. 2 Chron. 34:6-7). … Josiah’s reform may be viewed … as part of his aggressive irredentist policies. In turn, these policies can be considered a concrete manifestation of Deuteronomic ideology driven by an internalized map of the land of the tribes of Israel. This map emerged as a refraction of a historiosophy armed by traditions of Israel’s past ….
Levitical priests from bamot between Geba and Beer Sheba, i.e., the borders of Judah, were brought to Jerusalem but not allowed to serve at the YHWH altar (2 Kings 23:8-9). However, the bamot priests in the cities of Samaria were killed (verses 19-20). These may have been singled out because they were descendants of Israelite, non-Levitical, priests who continued to function in the area serving as cultic-specialists for a mix of Israelites and non-Israelites exiled there by Assyria…. Non-Israelite cultic specialists, kemariym, who functioned in the temple were dismissed, but apparently not killed (verse 5).
The Deuteronomistic narrative does not indicate that Josiah’s undertakings had popular support. No crowds surged through the temple burning implements, smashing images, and trashing chapels. This silence contrasts with Dtr’s descriptions of the complicity of crowds in the slaughter of the Baal prophet-priests at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:40), of the urban clans at Samaria in the slaughter of the princes (2 Kings 9:5-7), or of the folk or their leaders in the execution of Athaliah and the destruction of the Baal temple (2 Kings 9:15-18). In the case of Josiah, all was done by a coterie of priests and soldiers under the king’s direction, perhaps even against popular sentiment.
The temple was supported in the main by public donation and not by the royal purse…. Thus, the presence or absence of certain deities in the temple had a bearing on temple income. Unpopular deities would have been a “poor investment” for temple leadership, a poor use of temple space. The flip side of this formulation is that deities worshipped in the temple not supported by the palace, either as a matter of traditional obligation or largesse, were most likely maintained on a “pay as you pray” basis. The temple reflected, by and large, the deities of concern to Judahites, particularly to Jerusalemites in the main, including royal patrons. Josiah’s reform, therefore, was an imposition. It was the revolution of a minority at the expense of a (discretely silent) majority (cf. 2 Kings 23:3)…. His program in Judah itself and in Jerusalem is explicable as reflecting a newly-constructed archaic “traditionalism” expressed through the purging of all perceived as being shared or common with non-Israelites. The temple under his control would be dedicated to the national god YHWH alone. (And in this context, it is irrelevant whether or not Assyria influenced or coerced its vassals to adopt certain cultic patterns.)
This cultic expression of his successful irredentism with its innate monism indicated that a king who conquers and re-establishes the traditional borders of the Israelite tribes, and lords it over other peoples, has no reason to tolerate worship such as theirs in his provinces. His activities reflect historiosophy translated into ideology and the conversion of a historiographical patterning of the past into a pragmatic paradigm for the future…. Josiah’s policies were set aside within months of his death.
Asherah, Anath, Ashtart – Three Canaanite Goddess
As reflected in the Ugaritic texts, there were three leading goddesses –
Her name is altered to Ashtoreth in the Hebrew Bible through the deliberate the insertion of the vowels from the Hebrew word “boset” meaning “shame” thus forming “ashtoret” from the original “ashtart“. This method of insult is also used for some personal names, specifically Eshbaal of 1 Chronicles 8:33 and 9:39 who is called Ish-bosheth in 2 Samuel 2:10 and 2:12.
As She of the Womb, she is the generally benevolent goddess of sexuality, passion, creativity, and of the fertility of women and nature. She symbolized the female principle, as Baal symbolized maleness. She was the sister and co-consort of Baal, sharing this role with their sister Anath. She assists Ba`al, at times restraining his wrath. Her Mesopotamian counterpart was Ishtar.
Ashtarte is the sister of BAAL, equivalent to the Akkadian ISHTAR. She is a goddess of war, love, storms, the evening star, and of the storehouse. She is also called the queen of heaven
Goddess of fertility, sexual love, hunting and war. Sister/wife of Baal. Anat often aids Baal in his battles and takes his part in defeat. See http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/anat.html
Asherah Goddess of Israel?
Asherah – Wikipedia
1. I cannot review the evidence of Ashera’s role, nature and role as a Goddess in ancient Israel here. The best general survey is Hadley from which the following is quoted –
I provided an overview of the different opinions concerning Asherah and her cultic symbol…. Chapter 2 examined the Ugaritic material in which Athirat appears. She is identified as the consort of the chief god El; the creatress of the gods; and the nursemaid of the gods. Her epithets include ‘ilt ‘goddess’, and qdsh ‘holy’….Additionally, many other ancient Near Eastern goddesses show similar attributes and bear like epithets, and may be related to Asherah…. The pantheons of the ancient Near East were not rigidly fixed, and appear to have a certain fluidity of identification. It is therefore difficult to determine exactly which goddesses sprang from which. Perhaps it is not necessary to pin them down too closely, since each local cult would stress those attributes which they needed most. The important factor is that there was a distinct continuity of the idea of a mother/fertility goddess, despite the fact that her exact attributes and epithets could (and did) change.
Chapter 3 was concerned with the biblical material pertaining to asherah. From the verbs used in connection with asherah, it has been noted that asherah usually denotes some sort of wooden object, which is humanly made. This may be a wooden image of the goddess Asherah, or it may be a stylized tree. However, some verses appear to indicate the goddess. After a close examination of the use of the definite article with asherah, I have come to the conclusion that the wooden object gradually lost its previous association with the goddess. If Israel therefore ‘lost’ its fertility deity, then some sort of compensation must have been made. It may be that Yahweh personally was forced to take on some of Asherah’s fertility attributes, In that case, the asherah may have become a hypostasis or symbol of Yahweh’s fertility aspects, if so, the object could still have been in the form of the goddess or else a stylized tree, By the time of the Chronicler, the term ‘asherah’ had ceased to have any remembrance of the goddess, and the later versions also consider it to be merely a tree, This is the opposite interpretation to some scholars. such as Dearman (1992, p, 84) and Miller (1986, p, 246), who believe that the asherah began as a Yahwistic cult object, and then developed into being understood as the consort of Yahweh,
Furthermore, there is no substantial evidence in the Hebrew Bible (and, indeed, in the Ugaritic literature) that Asherah was intimately connected with Baal. It is of course possible that altars dedicated to Baal sometimes had an asherah next to them as a female fertility symbol, but it is not likely that they represented the goddess per se, The pairing of Asherah and Baal in the Old Testament is best explained as part of the attempt of the Deuteronimists to discredit her cult and worship, which held a legitimate place in the official Yahwistic cult.
Chapter 4 examined Khirbet el-Qom inscription…. This eighth-century inscription mentions Yahweh and ‘his Asherah and is similar to the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions, Since the possessive suffix is not attested on a personal name in Hebrew, it is unlikely that ‘asherah’ in this case refers directly to the goddess …. However, it shows that this cultic symbol was part of Yahwistic worship, It may be that at this time Yahweh was absorbing this symbol into his cult, and so the object would represent his nurturing, protective aspects. This would be a possible interpretation, given the text which we have, Alternatively, it is possible that the goddess was still known and worshipped at this time, and so the inscription would then indicate a blessing by Yahweh and the representation of his consort which stood in the temple….
Chapter 7 turned to the question of the identification of certain female figurines which have been discovered at numerous Palestinian sites. Tadmor’s excellent study has revealed that the Middle and Late Bronze Age plaque figurines were of two types: those representing human beings, and those depicting goddesses. In the Iron Age, a different type of figurine emerged, which was pillar-shaped. It may be that these pillar figurines continue the intention of the earlier plaque figurines to portray the goddess. They may be smaller copies of the asherah statue which stood in the local temple, or they may be a part of a separate form of domestic worship of the goddess. They are unlikely to be children’s toys, but they may be aids to childbirth or nurturing,
We therefore have from these finds much information concerning the worship of Asherah…. Her cult may have spread to the region of ancient Israel quite early …. From the tenth century BCE in Israel comes the first clear picture of Israelite worship of the goddess, which continued in some form until at least the eighth century BCE, when the cultic pole is mentioned in the Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions …. Finally, in the biblical record, we can begin to trace how her name ‘Asherah’ gradually evolved into a designation of merely her cultic pole, as the editors of the text attempted to eliminate the evidence of her former worship among the Israelites.
The biblical field has generally embraced the view that the inscriptions from Kuntilet ‘Ajrud, Khirbet el-Qom, and Tel Miqne and some biblical passages attest to a goddess …. Those Judeans who opposed the symbol in the Jerusalem Temple in 2 Kings 23:4 and elsewhere seemed to have regarded it as a symbol for the goddess, but it is not clear whether those Judeans who supported it viewed in it similarly. Complicating matters, the deuteronomistic detractors of the symbol may have engaged in guilt by association, with the god Baal who, as S. M. Olyan has argued, had no primary relationship to Asherah. The symbol as it appeared in the Jerusalem Temple may not have represented a goddess as such. Yet the matter is hardly so simple, for 2 Kings 21:7 also refers to an image of the asherah (pesel ha’ašera), and normally an image would point to a deity. If one suspects that the pesel is a representation of the symbol of the asherah, one might agree that no goddess is involved. In the past I adopted this view. Other scholars have also since expressed doubt about Asherah as a goddess in the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions. Currently, however, most scholars believe that Asherah was a goddess in ancient Israel, possibly even Yahweh’s consort. In short, the jury seems still to be out on the issues, which are undeniably complex.
3. From Olyan’s Conclusion
Scholars have long pondered the removal of the bronze serpent Nehushtan from the Jerusalem temple by Hezekiah. It seems quite evident that Hezekiah’s reform followed guidelines set up by the deuteronomistic school, who approved of his actions regarding Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:4). This cult object, the creation of which was traditionally ascribed to Moses in the wilderness period, did not lack respectable lineage. In fact the tradition of Mosaic provenance must have been very strong, for even the deuteronomistic narrators confirm it, but provide a justification for its removal from the temple (the people worshiped the object). It is noteworthy that the bronze serpent is removed at the same time as the Asherah.
Was there a relationship between the two cult objects destroyed by Hezekiah and opposed by the Deuteronomistic school? There is a good chance that there was. In Canaanite religion of the Bronze and Iron Ages, the goddess Asherah appears to have had associations with the serpent. If we accept the likely identification of Tannit as Asherah and the etymology of *tannit proposed by Cross (feminine of tannin which would mean “the one of the serpent”), we would have evidence of this association….. One suspects that an early myth associating the serpent/sea dragon and Asherah has been lost. Perhaps a reflex of this myth is preserved in the Eden story in Genesis. After all, Hawwa (Eve) is an attested epithet of Tannit/ Asherah in the first millennium BCE. The frequent appearance of the serpent in representations of Qudsu (Asherah) from Bronze Age Egypt must also be taken into account here.The cumulative evidence associating the serpent and the goddess Asherah suggests in our view that the bronze serpent Nehushtan of the Jerusalem temple may have been an Asherah cult symbol, and was therefore removed by Hezekiah along with the asherah itself. The symbol had been perfectly legitimate up to that time. It even had a prestigious pedigree.
… the bronze serpent, the asherah, and the pillar were opposed by the deuteronomistic school, though they were apparently legitimate outside such circles …. Why were the members of the deuteronomistic school so concerned that these symbols be removed from Yahweh’s cult? Nascent monotheism is unfortunately no solution, Deut 4:19-20 and 29:25 make this clear. There is no denial of the existence of other gods here, but rather the assertion that the worship of other deities was allotted to other nations, not Israel. Israel is Yahweh’s ‘am naḥala….
… A thorough analysis of the evidence suggests (that) Otherwise legitimate Yahwistic symbols and practices (the bull icons of Dan and Bethel, the bamat, the asherah, Nehushtan, the massevot) are judged illegitimate by the deuteronomistic school, who make use of polemical distortion as a technique to eliminate these practices and remove these symbols from the cultus….
A place for Asherah and her cult symbol in Israelite religion seems assured by recent discoveries and research on other extant texts. We believe that in the future more scholars will adopt the view that Asherah had some role in the cult of Yahweh. Asherah and her cult symbol were legitimate not only in popular Yahwism, but in the official cult as well. The evidence of the Hebrew Bible alone suggests strongly that Asherah and the asherah were considered legitimate in the state cult, both of the north and the south, in Jerusalem, Samaria and Bethel, and probably in very conservative circles. The prohibitions and polemics against Asherah and her cult symbol attest to their popularity in the cult of Yahweh in Iron Age Israel; the evidence from Kuntillet Ajrud (and probably Khirbet el-Qom) confirms this. An examination of Canaanite sources adds comparative depth and weight to any analysis of this data. Since Asherah remains El’s consort and is not associated with Baal in Iron Age Canaanite religion, we can assert more confidently that Asherah’s association with Baal in the Deuteronomistic History is polemical rather than a reflection of historical developments in West Semitic religion. Such polemic is to be compared to the deuteronomistic attack on the bulls of the northern sanctuaries and on the cult of human sacrifice. The stamp of Yahwistic illegitimacy is accorded to Asherah and her cult symbol when they are associated with Baal and his cultus.
4. From Pettey’s Conclusion
The goddess described in the Ugaritic texts … was the consort of El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, and as such held the highest rank among the female deities of Canaan. Being the consort of El inevitably led to Asherah’s receiving the title “progenetrix of the gods.” It was because of this title that Asherah was viewed as a nurturing goddess.
Her role as mother-goddess dominates Ugarit’s understanding of her divine character, as is reflected in the Keret epic in which Yasab, the offspring of the King of Ugarit, is suckled by Asherah. This is a clear indication that the Asherah was viewed as the mother of the kings of Ugarit….
The fact that there were deities outside of Ugarit who shared similarities of name and/or characteristics with Asherah, e.g., Ishtar of Assyria and Ashratu of the Amorites, suggests that in the ancient near east the role of such a goddess and even the name tended to be transported from one ancient nation to another, from one pantheon to another…. (n.b.) Abram, for example, visited the Canaanite sacred places at Shechem and Bethel (Genesis 12:6-8). …
A last question lingers. Was Asherah a goddess of the Israelites? One might answer, “No.” She was heartily condemned by the deuteronomistic histories. Every passage of the Hebrew Bible which refers to her or to her cult object is an explicit condemnation of Asherah worship. The biblical authors were unanimous in their abhorrence of Asherah worship, which they considered an aberration of the highest order and a serious threat to the Yahwism they espoused.
One might also answer “Yes” to the question. While the biblical authors, especially the deuteronomistic school, were strongly opposed to Asherah worship, these authors did not themselves constitute the whole of ancient Israel. On the contrary, the abuses they condemned imply, by the fact that they were widespread and irrepressible, that the biblical authors were actually a rather small minority. The majority of the people, from state officials to peasants, worshiped Asherah. This is substantiated by the biblical texts, which show that, in spite of attempts by several of the kings of Israel and Judah to purge Asherah worship from the land, the people held steadfast to their devotion to Asherah. This devotion included an official cult with sanctuaries, cult personnel, and offerings. Moreover, the Asherah cult operated in, among other places, the Jerusalem Temple, where the image of Asherah stood for many years beside the altar of Yahweh, and where sexual rituals were performed in the name of Asherah. The people considered Asherah the divine consort of Yahweh, just as in the Canaanite pantheon she had been the consort of El, the chief Canaanite god. Asherah was, without a doubt, popularly accepted as the goddess of Israel.
One might speculate further that the image of the divine Wisdom, which is depicted as female in the wisdom books, is in some way related, if not directly to the goddess Asherah, at least to a basic need within the Hebrew community to find the female dimension of the divine. Mark Smith describes the female Wisdom as an extension of the goddess Asherah in the religion of Israel. The God of Israel was depicted as predominantly male. To their worship of Yahweh, then, the Israelites added the worship of a female deity, Asherah. Moreover, in this modern age, many in the Judeo-Christian tradition, those who have been taught about God with predominantly male images, are now pursuing female images of God. Some even worship Mary, whose role as mother is similar in a few ways to that of Asherah. It seems that humanity, in its most primal elements of religiosity, demands a deity who affirms the wholeness of humanity, that is, both male and female. One learns from Asherah and the Israelites that any religion which overemphasizes either the maleness of femaleness of its deity should expect to be “corrected” by popular practice to the contrary.
5. From van der Toorn’s Conclusion
The evidence for the early Israelite cult of goddesses, biblical, epigraphic, and archaeological, is strong. When this cult is set in the broader framework of ancient Near Eastern religions, three points deserve to be noted.
Firstly, unlike in other Near Eastern religions, there is virtually no evidence from Israel for a goddess who stood on an equal footing with Yahweh or any other male colleagues…. Ugaritic religion knows Astarte and Anat as goddesses that are by no means inferior to the other gods. None of these was worshipped initially as the consort of a male deity. They were goddesses in their own right … (… Anat) combining traits of the alluring young woman and the warrior, to the point where they unite conventionally female and male characteristics in their personality. … Such goddesses are not in need of a divine spouse … they are independently worshipped. There does not seem to have been a goddess of a similar stature in Israel.
The second point is intimately related to the first one. The goddesses of Israel were consorts of Yahweh (or, initially, of El and perhaps Baal). We know Anat from the Ugaritic texts …. The Anat worshipped by the Jews at Elephantine (whose cult we have argued to be a continuation of the cult of the Queen of Heaven) is Anat-Yahu, i.e. Anat of Yahweh. She is defined by her relationship with her divine spouse. The same holds true for Asherah. She is ‘the Asherah of Yahweh’. Such, at least, is her official position which reflects dependence on, and submission to, the male God. The name Anat proves to be no guarantee that the goddess has kept the characteristics she is described with in the Ugaritic texts. As for Astarte, after whom the ‘Astarte plaques’ have been named, she does not even occur once in the inscriptional evidence from Israel.
Thirdly, it is striking that in spite of their subordinate position to their male consorts, goddesses (more narrowly defined as Asherah and Anat) figure prominently in the popular devotion, a standing which is reflected in the biblical references to the family cult of the Queen of Heaven, on the one hand, and the many ‘Astarte figurines’, on the other. This does not mean that the worship of goddesses was established only in the popular religion. Asherah had a place in the official cult as consort of Yahweh. But in the day-to-day devotion of ordinary people, goddesses seem to have played a role inversely proportional to their official importance. This is best explained by saying that the cult of the goddess was popular, not in spite of, but because of her subordinate position.
Because she was closer to humans than her divine spouse, the goddess could act as a mediator. She could intercede with Yahweh, as Asherah is described in Ugaritic texts making intercession with El. Consequently, we can suggest that she was perceived as the human face of God by her worshippers.
6. From Tikva Frymer-Kensky (pp. 155-161)
The asherah was a cultic installation that appeared at Israel’s shrines (bamot) together with a cultic stele … and an altar.? The asherah … standing next to the altar was not a statue. The verbs used for its erection show us that it was made out of wood, that it was a stylized tree-image, a pole, or an actual tree. These asherahs (along with the stele and altars) were part of the local worship that was found in Israel “on every lofty hill and under every leafy tree.” These local altars and their cult paraphernalia were part of Israel’s own native tradition of worship until the eighth century. According to the historian who wrote the Book of Kings (known as the Deuteronomist), the North continued with such worship until its destruction. The Deuteronomist, probably from the time of Josiah, was a radical monotheist; to him this worship was idolatrous, and he considered the continuation of such worship to be the reason that the Assyrians were able to capture the Northern Kingdom. Nevertheless, this worship with asherah, altar, and stele was not a northern aberration. Judah also had a long tradition of asherahs: David’s son King Rehoboam planted an asherah in Jerusalem, where it remained until the eighth-century Hezekian reform, when the local shrines were also abolished. Hezekiah got rid of much of the ancient tradition along with the local altars, removing both the bronze serpent and the asherah. The local altars and the asherah reappeared under King Manasseh, who brought the asherah into the temple. By the time of Deuteronomy in the seventh century, the local altars and steles had been labeled “Canaanite” and destroyed, and the Israelites were commanded not to plant an asherah next to an altar or erect a stele.The asherah was finally eradicated during the reform of Josiah.
Asherah is also the name of a Canaanite goddess…. There are no capital letters in Hebrew, and it is often hard to tell whether any given occurrence of the letters ‘šrh represents the cultic tree “asherah” or Asherah, the Canaanite goddess.
Asherah has been the subject of much attention since the discovery of Kuntillet Ajrud, a small installation not far from the main highway from Gaza to Eilat on the border of the Sinai…. Most interesting are the blessings on large storage jars (pithoi); “I bless you lyhwh smrn wl’šrth,” “by YHWH of Samaria and w’šrth”; “I bless you by YHWH of Ternan w’šrth.” Here is a blessing by the God of Israel (localized as Northern and Southern) and by ‘šrh.
But how should this be translated: is this YHWH and the Canaanite goddess Asherah? Is this YHWH and an Israelite goddess Asherah, conceived as YHWH’s consort (“his Asherah”), or is this the well-known Israelite cult-image (“his/her asherah”), and if so, what does the blessing mean? The question of how to translate w’šrth has been hotly disputed….
Israelite thought did not pursue or condemn the cult-object asherah, or the goddess Asherah, with the same vehemence as it fought the worship of Ba’al. King Ahab built an altar to Ba’al in Samaria as well as making an asherah there. It does not seem to have been in Ba’al’s temple: an asherah stood in the sanctuary at Bethel, and the Samaria asherah probably stood in the sanctuary of YHWH of Samaria. It is noteworthy that when Jehu overthrew Ahab’s dynasty, he assembled the worshipers of Ba’al in Ba’al’s temple in Samaria and destroyed them and the temple. No mention is made of the asherah, and indeed, an asherah still stood in Samaria until the time of Jehu’s son Jehoahaz. It was probably this asherah which is referred to in the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions.
The lack of major opposition to the asherah is an indication of the thrust of Israelite polemic. Asherah was not YHWH’s rival. There was no great kulturkampf against the goddesses of ancient Canaan: they were largely irrelevant. The early struggle of Israel was against the gods of Canaan-Ba’al and El, who controlled the pantheon and the universe in Canaanite thought. These images of deity were part of Israel’s ancient heritage, and the religious thinkers of Israel understood their religion against the backdrop of this Ba’al- and El-centered conceptualization of the universe. Ba’al was the dominant deity of the Canaanite religions contemporary with Israel, and Israel had to confront the issue of the contest between Ba’al and YHWH. Biblical religion did not pit a sole god against “goddess-worship”; on the contrary, its struggle was to win and keep the allegiance of the people for YHWH vis-a.-vis the male Canaanite gods. Asherahs next to altars did not pose the same type ofthreat to the worship of YHWH as did Ba’al.
All the evidence in both the Bible and the inscriptions indicates that “asherah” was associated with the cult of YHWH rather than any cult of Ba’al. Perhaps this “asherah” is to be seen as a native Israelite goddess. In truth, it actually does not matter whether the goddess came from Canaan or not. The question is: once she was ensconced in Samaria, what did she do? If she was a consort, then we would have to say that in the nonpreserved traditions of Israel, YHWH was really male, fully sexed, and modeled appropriate sexual behavior. This we cannot say with any degree of probability, for the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions do not indicate this, nor, assuredly, does the biblical record. Even at Kuntillet Ajrud, the asherah does not appear as an active independent figure. The blessing formula is by “YHWH and his/its (Samaria’s) asherah,” but the asherah doesn’t really do anything. A third inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud mentions lyhwh htmn w’šrth, “by YHWH of the South and his/its asherah,” but continues with only YHWH as active, “may YHWH give him what his heart desires.”
All these scholarly disputes indicate how difficult it is to be sure about any point in ancient religion. What we do know is that the Asherah was real, she existed, and she was tolerated officially until the eighth century. She is not portrayed as doing anything: she simply is. The biblical texts do not speak of Asherah as a consort. The connection of Asherah to trees and groves and her location at altars hint that she represented, in some way, the natural world and its powers of regeneration. The height and majesty of a tree may also be a metaphor for earth-as-it-reaches-towards-heaven. Early Israelite religion could understand Asherah as part of God’s divine system. Later, as biblical thinking began to concentrate on human responsibility for natural regeneration, asherah no longer fit. The official cult attacked and destroyed Asherah and the altars. Nevertheless, the people persisted in worshiping in this old style, drawing assurance of the divine input in nature even as they were being told to be mindful of the human. In this way, the difficult concepts of covenant and human responsibility were supplemented by the very worship that the monotheistic thinkers condemned.
The most dramatic indication of this fact are the many figurines that have been discovered in Israel from the biblical period (the Iron Age). These are figurines of females; male figurines are practically nonexistent. They are not “Canaanite” figurines: images of upright female figures with divine symbols which were very common in the Late bronze Age (Canaanite occupation) disappear in Israelite times. Even the earliest Israelite figurines, which date from the time of the Judges (the Early Iron Age) are markedly different from those of Canaan. These Israelite figurines are plaques that represent women lying on beds. The style shows considerable continuity with Late Bronze Age styles. But the Israelite difference is clear: the females in the Israelite figurines have no divine headdress or any other symbols of divinity. Even in this early period, the time of the settlement of Canaan, Israel is modifying earlier traditions to eliminate rival deities.
The plaque figurines disappeared from Judah by the time of the monarchy … A new type of figurine becomes quite prominent in the eighth century, a solid figure in the round, with a “pillar” base, breasts, and molded head, sometimes with no arms, sometimes with arms holding breasts, and sometimes with arms raised. These figurines are found in … areas appear cultic in some respect; neither has a sacrificial or incense altar; and both show evidence that food preparation, eating, and drinking took place there. This activity was clearly not part of the official sacrificial cult, but may have been a tolerated nonconformist worship. These pillar figurines are also found in domestic settings-interestingly, from the last years of settlement.
… these pillars hold no divine insignia, wear no crowns, and carry no symbols of their power. The pillars arise, moreover, long after the Canaanite plaques have disappeared. They are not Canaanite goddess figurines. There is also no reason to suspect that these figurines represent the development of an Israelite goddess. They may not be personalized goddesses at all. Instead, they are a visual metaphor, which show in seeable and touchable form that which is most desired. In other words, they are a kind of tangible prayer for fertility and nourishment.
… Could it be possible that the figurine is a kind of tree with breasts? Such a tree of nourishment is known from an Egyptian painting … Here the tree is identified with Isis; elsewhere such a tree is an attribute of Hathor. There is an inscribed cult stand discovered in Ta’anach, dated from the late tenth century B.C.E. which has a naked goddess flanked by two lions and, on another register, a tree flanked by two lions…. It is significant that there are no trappings of divinity on these figurines. Moreover, the same people who had these figurines in their house did not name their children with a name that called for Asherah’s blessings or protections. Just as the asherah associated with the stele and altars at the local shrines was not seen by the people to be in conflict with the worship of YHWH, so too it would seem that these figurines were not idolatrous in their eyes. There is no evidence at all to suppose that the people imagined the figurines to represent God’s consort. They have no pubic triangle, nothing to suggest erotic attachment, and they appear alone, not as part of a male-female couple. The figurines-and the altar asherah to which they may be analogous-may represent a divine power, not fully articulated or personified, not “worshiped” as some sort of a goddess that could rival YHWH.
The dating of these figurines is significant, for they come into being in the eighth century, precisely the period in which the official royal cult has removed the asherah from Samaria. The asherah with its tree associations had brought the divine and natural worlds closer together. These tree-based breast-figurines may do the same. The breasts, and possibly the tree trunk, address a desire for-and anxiety about-fertility. Through these figurines, the people could be reminded that the divine blessings of fertility are in their midst, that the divine is indeed a beneficent bestower of abundance. A religion that states that fertility depends entirely upon people’s behavior creates enormous strain: it places a great responsibility on the people to behave well and, at the same time, requires them to understand the difficult abstract idea that fertility is indeed automatically attendant upon such good behavior. The asherah-tree at the altars and the tree-based figurines at cult sites and in houses are a way of ensuring and demonstrating the fact that there really is a power of fertility, which can be seen and touched, which guarantees the rewards of right relationship with God. In Israel, where YHWH is the one who grants “the blessings of breast and womb”, the force for fertility represented by the figurines may not have been seen as a separate deity. Quite possibly, it was not consciously personalized at all. In this way, the people were able to add a reminder of divinity to their homes, and a visualization of abundance (the lactating tree) while they continued to maintain devotion to the one invisible transcendent God.
7. From Long
The association of Asherah with trees in the Hebrew bible is very strong. For example, she is found under trees (1K14:23; 2K 17:10)), is made of wood by human beings (1K 14:15, 2K16:3-4) and is erected by human beings (2K17:1). The Asherah often occurs in conjunction with shrines on high places, which may also be to other gods such as Baal, and frequently is mentioned in association with the host of heaven. Richard Pettey (1990:153-4) has catalogued each reference and produced tables showing all combinations of Asherah with images, pillars, high places and altars. Using these he argued that Asherah, always associated with the worship of a deity whether JHWH or Baal, is a cultic object used along with the altars, high places and pillars in the service of such deities which included Jahweh ( this is also the position of widely quoted biblical exegete Saul Olyan. 1988). It is rather surprising considering the numerous references to trees in connection with Asherah that Pettey does not include them in his formula. To the question was Asherah a Goddess of the Israelites? he answers both no and yes.( Pettey 1990: 210) Certainly no, he says, the biblical authors were unanimous in their abhorrence of Asherah worship, but, yes, she was without doubt popularly accepted as the goddess of Israel. One thing is certain: that the Asherah with attendant asherim has many forms but is never far from trees or the wood of trees….
… The Mishnah’s definition of an Asherah is any tree worshipped by a heathen, or any tree which is worshipped.. The great rabbi Akibah said “wherever thou findest a high mountain or a lofty hill and a green tree know that an idol is there”.(Danby: 1933:441). Trees described by the rabbis as being an asherah or part of an asherah include grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtles and willows (Danby:1933:90,176). From this it will be seen that these early lawmakers denied Asherah as part of the Hebrew religion but recognised her as a divinity worshipped by the “heathen”, and treated her as a living tree or living part of a tree.
John Day’s third category is that Asherah is both a sacred object and a goddess, and this reading he believes is now mostly accepted and most consistent with the evidence (1983: 398). Ruth Hestrin, of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has gone further and built this into an extremely satisfactory solution to the conundrum.(Hestrin 1991:50-59 ). She states that the goddess Asherah is represented in the bible by three of her manifestations – as an image representing the goddess herself, as a green tree, and as the asherim, tree trunks . She points out that this interpretation fits well with the that of the rabbis statement in the Mishnah. (It is of interest that the question “Is She One or Many?” is one of the most pressing questions now being addressed by the present-day goddess movement (see Long: Feminist Theology, May 1997), and although it cannot be pursued here, it seems as if a study of biblical Asherah may provide some pointers to answers.)
To try and gather the threads together: it has only been possible to touch upon some of the themes that underlie a concept of the religion of the Hebrew people that is entirely new and surprising to most of us. Although the American scholar Morton Smith, (1971), some twenty-five years ago, opened up ideas concerning the worship of a Hebrew goddess in some circles of the ancient Hebrew religion, it is only recently that it has become accepted as a legitimate study and is attracting more and more interest. Its implications reach far outside traditional scholarship and impinge on our inner beliefs and our conduct derived from them.
I have suggested tonight that the Hebrew religion contains a female divine figure, Asherah, who may have been the consort of God, YHWH, and also was interchangeable with the Tree of Life. This latter is represented by the Menorah, the seven-branched candlestick, a religious symbol in Judaism whose connection with the female aspect of divinity has been lost. Until the archaeological finds of this century it was generally supposed that the forty texts in the Hebrew bible concerning Asherah, referred to wooden cult objects connected with earlier near eastern goddesses, associated with trees. To perceive in the biblical texts, any reference to the figure of Asherah as a Goddess in her own right, and certainly as a goddess of the Hebrews was condemned.
Re-assessment of this judgment is gaining ground among scholars of different disciplines because of archaeological discoveries. First Canaanite texts gave accounts of a powerful mother goddess named Goddess Asherah; then illustrations and inscriptions linked YHWH and Asherah together in biblical times in a manner which could be construed to support the idea of a divine couple. This is entirely contrary to the accepted view of divine monotheism expressed solely in the masculine gender.
It was clear that the original description of Asherah as alien to the Hebrews religion could not be sustained; she had certainly been a Canaanite goddess; and it was possible that she was a Hebrew goddess. Further it had been observed that a sacred or cosmic tree attended by animals was a constant theme in Ancient Near Eastern iconography. The cult stand of Taanach gave major indications that the tree could be replaced by and was interchangeable with a female figure conjectured to be a goddess, with some evidence that she might be Asherah. The Tree of Life was generally considered to be dwelling place of the divine, source of fruitfulness, and nourished not only life here in this world, but held the hope of immortality. This background to the Eden story has led to scholarly enquiries concerning its polemic origin. Could the texts have been written as rhetoric against worship of a goddess, who was likely to be Asherah?
Alongside this theme there runs a parallel concept where a stylised version of the Tree of Life is created in the form the seven-branched candlestick the Menorah described in the Book of Exodus. This stood in the first Jerusalem temple and a similar model was placed in the second. Eventually models abounded and came to be a symbol of the Hebrew people. At a later date such replicas were connected with the Maccabean struggles, and continue to hold that identity, as well as that of the Tree of Life.
As time went on, the idea of a divine female figure at the core of Judaism was totally forgotten except within the Kabbalah, a secret mystical form of the religion. Central to this system is the Tree of Life concept, where the ten emanations are enveloped in the glory of the divine female Shekinah. Praxis within the Kabbalah included identification of the Tree of Life with the Menorah. I have suggested that we may reasonably perceive resonances between the Menorah and the biblical figure of Asherah, herself very possibly connected with the Tree of Life.
Reference has also been made to the Eden story and scholarly commentators who believe that it was composed as a polemic against the worship of Asherah. Referring back to my original question: Was the story of the denial of the Tree of Life to humans in Gen 3:24 a prohibition of worship of the goddess Asherah? It is suggested that an affirmative answer may respectably be given.
7. From Wilson
In our case, archaeology does bear out what the texts so strongly suggest. With the discovery of the inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud, Khirbet el-Qom and, most recently, Tel Miqne-Ekron, we can demonstrate that:
I. There did exist a consort for YHWH in the cult of early Israel whose name was (Asherah- ‘šrh).
2. (Asherah- ‘šrh). had a significant serpentine … (ptn) and … (nḥš) association.
3. Several serpentine … (nḥš) traditions had became intertwined in Palestine by the late 8th century BCE.
4. These serpentine … (nḥš) traditions originated from as far away as South India and involved:
. The great cosmic battles
. Death (including human sacrifice)
5. These serpentine serpentine … (nḥš) traditions became the symbol of all things evil and abhorrent to YHWH the god of the Israelites at a time during or just after the period of King Josiah and the Deuteronomist reporter(s).
When we consider the occurrences of human sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible, it is necessary to bear in mind that we are not dealing with a homogeneous ritual. While it is always humans who are being killed, they are not necessarily being offered to the same deity for the same purpose. In fact, we can differentiate between human sacrifice rituals to YHWH and other human sacrifice rituals of which mlk is the best known and most extensively treated. What is important here is the isolation of an evolutionary process that began with a completely permissive attitude towards human sacrifice, became mutated with the introduction of permitted substitutes, and, only in its maturity, became legislated into a taboo….
The … (nḥš) of the Garden of Eden represented the ultimate of both good and evil in ancient Israel. As the goddess of fertility… (Asherah- ‘šrh) the serpent stood for the promise of both sexual and agricultural fertility. The … (nḥš) was the symbol of … (Asherah- ‘šrh), the ritual human sacrifice, that assured the good graces of the deity, but also represented that which was most abhorrent in Israel by the late eighth century BCE. It was … (Asherah- ‘šrh)-worship in the form of “fiery snakes” and its human-sacrifice component that caused many of the people of Israel to die. The abolition and prohibition of human sacrifice were among the crucial social and ethical events that separated Israelite religion from its Canaanite neighbors and predecessors… (Asherah- ‘šrh) was represented by human sacrifice, and … (Asherah- ‘šrh) was depicted by the serpent, nudity, and date palm. The direct and inferential evidence that … (nḥš) refers to … (Asherah- ‘šrh), indicates that the two were inextricably linked. It is the human-sacrifice. aspect of … (Asherah- ‘šrh) worship that constitutes the backsliding of post-Mosaic Israel and the target of the warnings and diatribes in Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah among the Hebrew prophets.
Triads of divine beings appear quite frequently in human history. I have gathered a few which I have classified under three headings.
Divine Triads Primarily Reflective of the Nuclear Family
|Role||Egyptian||Canaanite – Early Israelite*
|Christianity (some varieties)|
The god representative of goodness, who ruled the underworld after being killed by Set. The pharaohs were believed to be his incarnation.
|El – Patriarchal divine father||God the Father|
Personification of the throne of her brother-husband Osiris. She searched for the body of Osiris after he was murdered by his brother,
|Ela/Elat- Divine motherAsherah||Virgin Mary|
The falcon-headed sky god whose eyes were the Sun and the Moon; son of Isis or Hathor(otherwise his wife), whom she magically conceived by the dead Osiris, ruler of the underworld. He injured his eye while avenging his father’s murder by Set, the good eye being the Sun and the bad representing the Moon. Every pharaoh was believed to be his incarnation, becoming Osiris on death and ruling the Underworld. The next pharaoh was then thought to be a new incarnation of Horus.
|Baal-Hadad – God of weather and vegetation||Jesus|
Divine Triads Primarily Reflective of Theological Speculation
|Hindu Trimurti||Olympian Greek Religion||Roman Capitoline Triad||Sumerian||Babylonian||Christianian Trinity||Jewish Medieval Kabbalah
Symbolic Tree of Life (Sefirot) with three branches (supernals)
|Brahma – the Creator||Zeus
The chief god best known as a sky god. He controlled the sky, winds, clouds, rain, thunder, and lightning.
|Jupiter||Anu was the ruler of all gods and regarded as a sky god.||Shamash
The sun god who exercised the power of light over darkness and evil. He became known as the god of justice and equity and was the judge of both gods and men.
|God the Father||Chohmah – Father right pillar is masculine, and its title is the Pillar of Mercy. It is the White Pillar, the Pillar of Life|
|Vishnu – the Maintainer||Athena
Goddess of war, peace, compassion, architects, sculptors, horses, oxen, olives, prudence, and wise counsel. She was also the patron of the arts, crafts, spinning, weaving, and Athens.
God of wisdom, waters, crafts, writing, building, farming, magic, and men’s work. He ruled over Apsu, the great water.
Goddess of fertility, sexual love, wedlock, maternity, and war. She was the equivalent of the Canaanite and Syrian Astarte.
|Jesus||Binah – Mother – left pillar Pillar of Judgment. It is the Black Pillar, the Pillar of death.|
|Shiva – the Destroyer||Apollo
God of poetry, music, archery, prophecy, justice, law, order and the art of healing. He also happened to be associated with the care of different herds and crops. Ironically his main function is known as that of a sun-god.
|Minerva||Enlil was the god of air, land, earth, and men’s fates||Tammuz
Mesopotamian equivalent of the Canaanite Baal. The god representing the decay and growth of natural life; he died at midsummer and was rescued from the underworld the following spring by his lover Ishtar. His cult spread over Babylonia, Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine. He was possibly identified with the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Adonis.
|Holy Spirit||Tiphereth Pillar of Mysticism. the middle pillar, which balances the feminine and masculine characteristics from the male and female sides, is identified in the Zohar as “the Son of Yah”|
According to Thorkild Jacobsen (The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion) the key Third Millennium BCE gods were An (the original top god and sky god)=Authority; Enlil (weather god)=Force; Ninhursag (goddess – form giver, birth giver, midwife)=Productivity and Enki=Cunning. Only Enki seems not to be paralleled in the Phoenician trinity.
C. Other Divine Triads
a. Norse Religion
Odin, the All-Father – Odin was best known as holding a place similar to Zeus in the Greek pantheon; he was known as the leader of all the Norse gods and goddesses. He was also often considered the god of war, poetry, wisdom, magic, inspiration and death. He was not the god of the common man. Odin was the god of warrior’s and kings.
Thor was the mighty god of thunder, strength, agriculture, farmers, free men, rain, and fertility. He was known to crash giants and gods with his mighty hammer which would return to his hand after being thrown, and was symbolic of lightning. He was best known as being an extremely powerful god, with an extremely violent temper.
Freya was the goddess of sex, fertility, love, prosperity, wealth, cats, seeresses and war. She was a beautiful woman who was also called upon to be the patron goddess of births and the crops.
b. Pre-Islamic North Arabian
Excepts from Encyclopedia Britannica, Arabian Religions:
Among the peoples around the northern perimeter of Arabia, “god,” in the most generic sense, was El, or in a longer form of the same name, Ilah. His veneration at a very early stage is attested by his appearance in theophoric names, that is, personal names of which one element is a divine name (the biblical name Gabriel is an example). Among nomadic tribes in particular, a residual sense of El as being the god par excellence remained until the time of Islam.
Astral or local deities, however, tended to displace El…. in Palmyra a more central place in the cult went to Bel (Baal, “Lord”), and in both Petra and Palmyra to Belshamin (“Lord of the Heavens”). With Bel, sometimes in a triad, the Palmyrenes associated Yarhibol, a solar deity, and Aglibol, a lunar deity; while Belshamin stood in a triadic relationship with the gods Malakbel, also a solar deity, and Aglibol.
AI-Lat, AI-‘Uzza, and Manat. Among the Qur’an’s references to its 7 th-century pagan milieu are three goddesses, called daughters of Allah: AI-Lat, AI-‘Uzza, and Manat; … Al-Lat (“the Goddess”) may have had a role subordinate to that of El (Ilah), as “daughter” rather than consort…. As for her two partners in the Qur’anic triad, the goddess al-‘Uzza (“Strong”) was known among the Nabataeans, while Mandt (“Fate”) was associated at Palmyra with the Greek Nemesis….
What Syncretism Might Mean in the Context of the Theory of Early Israelite Sui Generis Monotheism
Territoriality – i.e. they now felt themselves to be in Baal’s territory
Fertility – they were now farmers with a life-and-death dependence on rain. Baal was the god of the weather who could provide or withhold rain whereas, YHWH was looked on as a war god more suitable for nomads than farmers. The competition between Elijah and the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel is quite instructive in this regard.
As settlement proceeded the Israelites took over many Canaanite shrines which Israelites and Canaanites would have continued to use together. Over time, the Israelites would have appropriated many cultic laws, traditions and practices.
2 Synthesis and Syncretism – Israel’s Response to Canaanite Culture
Since the Israelites had little experience in governing and lacked a higher culture, in a literary and artistic sense, they borrowed.
The united Israelite kingdom under Solomon borrowed its administrative system and the Wisdom tradition of education administrators from the Egyptians. A “smoking gun” is found in the biblical Book of Proverbs which probably started out as a Wisdom textbook for trainee scribes and young Judean gentlemen. Proverbs 22:17-24:22 “…is modeled on an Egyptian work, The Instructions of Amen-em-ope. This may have been composed as early as the thirteenth century B.C., but was still being copied centuries later and may well have been studied during his training by an Israelite scribe of the prophetic period.”
The Israelites appropriated their literary and artistic higher culture from the Canaanites (see below). The channel was either the scribes, architects and artists of local cities such as Jerusalem, whose Jebusite-Canaanite population remained in the city after it became the Israelite capital, or from the Phoenician cities of present-day Lebanon whose Canaanite culture flourished unbroken from the Middle Bronze age until Hellenistic times.
The adoption of the Egyptian administrative system, and its cultural values, may have led to greater stratification in Israelite society, a deliberate distancing of the rulers from the ruled, the splitting of the kingdom after the death of Solomon and exacerbated the social problems denounced by some of the prophets. However, some of these processes were simply intrinsic to the institutionalization of a state.
The cultural interaction with the Canaanites was even more problematic. For one thing, the Israelites lived cheek-by-jowl with the Canaanites for centuries. They spoke the same language and, indeed, much of the Israelite population may have been Canaanite by origin. Overall, there were two broad approaches to the absorption of elements of Canaanite religion-related culture:
2.1 Harmless Borrowing – Synthesis
I am defining synthesis as being an attempted union or reconciliation of diverse, but ultimately reconcilable tenets, institutions or practices producing a religion or culture that is viable.
§ Canaanite language i.e. Hebrew would have replaced their earlier West Semitic language;
§ Accepting Canaanite cultic nomenclature – e.g. words for priest, the sacrifices;
§ Acceptance of agricultural festivals e.g. hag hamatsot, shavuot, sukkot. These were later historicized i.e. became edot i.e. memorials to important historic experiences of Israel.
2.2 More Substantial Borrowing Eventually Absorbed into Israelite Normative Tradition – Synthesis
Literary Tradition – The psalms and other biblical poetry are clearly in the fully developed literary tradition of Bronze Age Canaan as we know it from Ugaritic literature. These ancient techniques include chiasmus, alternating tense forms, fixed word pairs in parallel constructions, imagery etc.
The Israelites borrowed literary images from the Canaanite tradition. Two examples are:
§ The Canaanites, at times, referred to Baal, the weather god, as Rider of Clouds. This term was used in Psalm 68:5 as a poetic image for God. However, this did not imply attributing to God the nature of Baal. To the Canaanite Baal was a timeless weather god annually fighting with the forces of chaos and death (the god Mot) which threaten him and the world. However, for the Israelites, YHWH, totally and effortlessly, controlled the weather and everything else without rival or opposition. God transcends natural phenomena; is above and outside of nature. The Israelite God acts in linear time rather than being in an endless succession of seasons.
§ The use in Hebrew poetry of the assembly of God is clearly descended from the assembly of the gods in Ugaritic literature. A clear example is:
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” Psalm 82:1
The accepting of the Canaanite literary tradition and poetic images paved the way for Israelites to accept El rituals, places of worship and hymns.
2.3 Border Line Between Synthesis and Syncretism
I am defining syncretism as being an attempted union or reconciliation of diverse, ultimately irreconcilable tenets, institutions or practices producing a religion or culture that is “artificial”, “synthetic” or derivative rather than one which is sui generis. Such religions are usually doomed by the ultimate irreconcilability of their constituents.
§ Identifying YHWH with El the Canaanite High God El. El was formally, though not actively, head of the Canaanite pantheon. In the story of Abram and Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20), the approval of the biblical author or editor, makes it quite clear that Melchizedek’s El Elyon is to be equated with Abram’s God. Some of the El titles in the Torah are known to have been used by the Canaanites, while many of the rest probably were though we do not have the records to prove it. El titles include – ‘El Bet’ el (Gen. 31:13; 35:7); ‘El ‘Olam (Gen. 21:33); and ‘El Ro’i (Gen. 16:13); ‘El ‘Elyon (Gen. 14:18); and ‘El Saddai (Gen. 17:1) — as titles for YHWH. The identification of El with YHWH enabled the early Israelites to take over High Places (Hebrew bamah; plural bamot) dedicated to El=YHWH probably together with their traditional etiological legends and myths, cultic personnel and aspects of their ritual. Obviously, in the end, these elements were successfully accepted into the Torah. However, this could, and probably often did, lead to syncretism (see below)
§ Adopting Canaanite Bamot. This could, and probably often did, lead to syncretism (see below). However, in the transition from seeing YHWH as a tribal god for a wandering people, to a god for a settled peasant population, occupying the land that God had given them as part of the brit, it would have been necessary to establish fixed shrines. Undoubtedly, Jerusalem started out as a Jebusite bama.
2.4 True Syncretism
- Worship in every type of shrine, including the royal shrines at Jerusalem, Beth-El and Dan (see for Jerusalem – 2 Kings 23:4-7; Bethel and Dan – 1 Kings 12:26-33; Beth-El – Hosea 10:15, Amos 7:12-13), of Canaanite fertility gods, especially Baal (e.g. Judges, chapter 6:25 ff.), with or without worship of his consort Asherah (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 21:7, 23:4) supplementary to the worship of YHWH. This could be a division of labor with YHWH continuing to be worshiped as the national god and god of war, Baal as the giver of fertility to the crops and Asherah-Ashtart as the giver of fertility to women. This is similar to the Canaanite pantheon where El was the creator god, Baal the bringer of fertility to the land and Baal’s consort (variously Anat, Asherah or Ashtart) was Virgin, yet Progenitor of People.
- Worship of the national god YHWH but attributing to him sexuality and pairing him with a consort (Asherah who was El’s consort at Ugarit). This may have been widespread, including in the Jerusalem temple (2 Kings 23:4-7). We have interesting knowledge of this type of syncretism from the inscriptions of Kuntilet Ajrud; and the letters found in Elephantine (525-400 BCE);
- Worship, probably child sacrifice to Molech –
“And he (king Josiah) defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” 2 Kings 23:10
“This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built to this day, so that I will remove it from my sight … They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” Jeremiah 32:31, 35
- Of popular beliefs and private worship we have very little knowledge. However, the numerous figurines of pregnant women found in every pre-Exilic Israelite site probably represent Ashtart (Ashtoreth in the Hebrew Bible) or Asherah In addition, the Bible makes repeated reference to terephim which were statues or figurines representing household gods (Genesis 31:19; Judges 17:5, 18:4-20; 1 Samuel 15:23, 19:13-16; 2 Kings 23:23; Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2). A recent, brief, but good treatment of this subject is found in What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel by William G. Dever 2001 pp. 173-174, 180, 194-198, 270.
Canaanite Religion Compared to Israelite Religion (as reflected in the Torah)
Syncretism would be the Bridging of the Distinctions Between the two Columns
|Canaanite Religion||Israelite Religion as Reflected in the Torah|
|Many gods but the pattern in Iron Age Phoenicia, and probably in the territories of Israel and Judah, “… was composed of a triad of deities: a protective god of the city, a goddess, often his wife or companion who symbolizes the fertile earth; and a young god somehow connected with the goddess (usually her son), whose resurrection expresses the annual cycle of vegetation”||Only YHWH may be worshiped by Israel and he is unique and without rival. Other gods may exist but they cannot be compared with YHWH.|
|Images||No images, massavahs (pillars) or asheras (sacred poles)|
|Many local shrines, ritual, organized priesthood, nature festivals||Before settlement earthen alters at encampments.|
|Priesthood probably hereditary||Priesthood hereditary by time of the Torah but earlier sacrificial functions carried out by family or clan heads.|
|Ugarit – El creates and procreates sexually. For Iron Age Phoenicia see||YHWH is creator of everything and has complete control. He is the god of war.|
|Ugarit – Baal controls the weather and hence fertility of land. Baal and consort are deities of fertility, sex and war. For Iron Age Phoenicia see|
|Pattern is cycle of nature.||God acts and the people live in meaningful history with direction. Covenant is part of this|
|Destruction on earth is due to conflict between the gods i.e. Baal and consort vs. gods of death, chaos and the sea.||Destruction due to human sin.|
|Child sacrifices and cult prostitution.||Forbidden|
There is no doubt that Phoenician religion is the main linear continuation of the Canaanite religion of the Late Bronze Age. The following is quoted from The World of the Phoenicians (pp. 85-105) by A. Massa, Minerva, 1977
Phoenician religion had kept many of the attitudes characteristic of primitive societies …. The mountains had their gods, or, more precisely, they were worshipped as gods…. In the same spirit, sacrifices and prayers were offered to the rocks, caves, springs and rivers…. Here also we must seek the origin of the worship of the betyl, which is found throughout the part of the world influenced by Phoenicia. The word itself comes to us from the Greeks, who in turn had taken it, virtually without alteration, from the Semitic Beth- El, or “house of god”. This was a sacred term which was used generically to denote all sacred stones, that is, all stones which were felt to be impregnated with and animated by a special power, or which were regarded by the populace as the residence of a god….
The spread of the ideas and arts of Greece did not cause the worship of betyls to fall into decline. Under the Roman emperors it became more popular and more widespread than ever throughout the eastern provinces….
The dominant trait was the worship of stars and the great forces of nature, each of which was viewed as the manifestation of the energies and the will of a powerful and mysterious being, a god who was every day responsible for a wide range of phenomena.
This kind of polytheism seems even more abstract and more advanced than that of Chaldaea, and more remote from the phase known today as polydemonism. In it, the divine personages are less numerous and have a more concrete existence. It is quite possible that, at this early stage, the notion of a supreme god might have been in the process of formation-a god situated above the concept of multiple and distinct gods, as it were hidden behind them, and choosing to express throughthem the ineffable and endless fertility of his life.
Some scholars detect this supreme god in the Baal-Šamaim, or “Baal of the heavens” …. Next door to Phoenicia, the Jews were moving closer and closer to the notion of monotheism, until eventually, as a result of the preaching of the prophets, it reached its logical fulfillment, about the time of the Assyrian triumphs. The Phoenicians and the Jews, particularly those of the kingdom of Israel, lived side by side, and enjoyed close relations; in fact, they spoke virtually the same language, to the point where a man from Byblos would have had little difficulty in understanding the eloquent speeches and the impassioned invective of Elijah, Elisha and Isaiah. Yet, there is no sign that the powerful oratory of these prophets and or that Phoenicia became associated in any way with the great religious movement which was under way. … Their indifference must be attributed in large part to the example and influence of Hellenic polytheism…. Being mariners and merchants…. It must have seemed to them a poor policy to espouse the worship of the jealous god of the Jewish prophets-a god who would have nothing to do with any other, who would not share his powers, and who even refused to allow any representation of him in sculptural form…. Greek thought and perception gave rise to gods who, by virtue of their generality and the moral values they expressed, far transcended the role of special protectors of a given city or tribe…. This was because Greece, despite its political divisions, proved able to give itself a spiritual unity which was unknown in Phoenicia…. To a far greater extent than those of Greece, therefore, the gods of Phoenicia remained municipal in nature, attached to one fixed point in space….
Among certain peoples, such as the Greeks, a plurality of gods was due above all to the variety of divine attributes conceived by the mind; in Hellenic polytheism one already has, in a poetic and naive form, a profound analysis of the qualities ofbeing and the laws of life-the brand of theology one would expect to find in a people which later went on to create philosophy. The secondary gods of the Phoenicians, on the other hand, were not the result of such a methodical and felicitous effortof the intelligence, and correspond much more to geographical and political divisions….
Despite all the hard work done by scholars, it is still difficult to define the concept underlying vague terms such as Baal, Melek, Adon and others like them. An examination of certain epithets and rituals has led some authors to see these gods as gods of nature, worshipped in its most spectacular manifestation, the sun. All the Baalim had this feature….
Just like Egypt and Chaldaea, Phoenicia also applied the notion of sexual reproduction which they saw in the natural world to the world of their gods, so that goddesses existed side by side with the gods, in couples. Each Baal had a Baalat, or”mistress”…. As a counterpart of the male god, Astarte was the goddess of the moon-a pale reflection of the sun; at the same time she was the goddess of the planet Venus, and it must have been in this capacity that she was alluded to by the Jewish prophets when they spoke of the worship of the “Queen of the skies” … which must have corresponded to the Baal-Šamaim or “King of the skies”, being venerated as his immortal spouse.
Like nature itself, whose energies were all personified and expressed in her name, Astarte, the true sovereign of the world, in her tireless activity, was constantly destroying and creating, creating and destroying. Through war and scourges of allsorts she eliminated the old and the useless, those who had performed their role in life, while at the same time presiding over the perpetual renewal of life by means of love and regeneration. To strive, under her aegis, to keep alive the flame of eternal desire whereby the species was continued was a meritorious act and a tribute to her….
Following the pattern whereby the celestial world is modelled on the natural world, the divine couples then had a son, who is often represented as his mother’s lover. Like Egypt and Chaldaea, Phoenicia also had its triads, but these groups do not seem to have been formed with such firmness and constancy as in the two nations previously mentioned.
At Sidon, it seems that a bond of this sort united the three prime deities, Baal-Sidon, Astarte and Esmoun, a god later assimilated by the Greeks to Asculapios. Virtually everywhere, at least among the eastern Phoenicians, the feminine element in these divine families was represented by Astarte. Her name was generally prefixed by the term Rabbat, or “Great Lady”, which was also applied to other goddesses. Anat or Anahit, the Analtis of the Greeks, was certainly part of the same conception….
Below these great gods, Phoenicia had others, most of which are only poorly understood to this day. Reshep, Resef or Resef-Mikal was the Phoenician Apollo….
Esmoun was the third person of the triad which occurs, in different forms, in all the cities of Phoenicia. Esmoun was the supreme manifestation of the divinity, the one which embodied all the other manifestations of creative energy, just as the world embraces the seven planetary heavens.
…There is a substantial amount of evidence of the influence exerted by the great Assyrian and Chaldaean empires at the time when Phoenicia paid tribute to Niniveh and then to Babylon…. But it was above all neighboring Egypt, with which Syria had such close and prolonged relations, which influenced the Phoenician pantheon the most profoundly. Osiris, Horus, Bast, Harpocrat were worshipped in the coastal cities, not as foreign divinities revered merely by a few individuals. This can be shown by the place occupied in proper names by the names of some of these gods, and by the parallels between them and the purely Phoenician gods; on the model of Melek-Baal, one could say Melek-Osir. Osiris certainly figured in the Phoenician pantheon, but in a borrowed capacity, as he must have entered it at a fairly recent date, through the natural effect of the close and sustained relations….
Carthage came into being too late, and had preserved too strong a bond with its metropolis for its religion to be markedly different from that of the eastern Phoenicians, from which it differed in only minor ways. The couple of the two principalBaalim which were thought to be specially concerned with the protection of the city, consisted of Baal-Hammon and Tanit, while the addition of Esmoun completed the triad.
Baal-Hammon, or “Baal the burning” was, as his name suggests, a fire or sun god. Baal-Hammon was represented as being in the flower of manhood, with ram’s horns, with the ram leaning against the throne on which the god was seated. As forTanit, she was the Astarte of Carthage, a goddess of nature, only under another name, and with a slightly more pronounced sidereal and lunar character. The Greeks identified her with Artemis and the Romans with Juno. Classical authorssometimes referred to her as the “celestial Virgin” or the “genius of Carthage”; Melqart, whom the Greeks assimilated to their Hercules, as a wandering god, the conqueror of Barbary, also had his temple near the harbor, as was the case in all the Phoenician colonies.
Besides these major divinities, the Carthaginians adored others which were less famous, and of which we only know the names …. For … (the Carthaginians), as for all the other peoples of the ancient world, the sacrifice was the religious act par excellence, the act which brought man into contact with the gods and compelled them to repay their worshippers.
It is easy to understand why, among the most primitive peoples, it was felt that the best way to honor a god was human sacrifice…. Among the Phoenicians, particularly those of Africa, these holocausts persisted (until the fall of Carthage)….
Ugaritic Canaanite Religion
Athanassiadi, Polymnia and Frede, Michael editors, Pagan monotheism in late antiquity, Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Cassuto, U.,The Goddess Anath; Canaanite Epics of the Patriarchal Age. Texts, Hebrew translation, commentary and introd. by . Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem : Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 
Gray, John, The Legacy of Canaan: The Ras Shamra Texts and Their Relevance to the Old Testament, second, revised edition, Leiden : E. J. Brill 1965
Halpern, Baruch, THE BAAL (AND THE ASHERAH?) IN SEVENTH-CENTURY JUDAH
Herrick, Greg, Baalism in Canaanite Religion and Its Relation to Selected Old Testament Texts
Korpel, Marjo C. A. Asherah outside Israel in Becking
Marsman, Hennie J. Women in Ugarit and Israel : their social and religious position in the context of the ancient Near East, Leiden : Brill, 2003.
Oldenburg, Ulf, The conflict between El and Ba’al in Canaanite religion, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969.
Pfeiffer, Charles F, Ras Shamra and the Bible, Baker Studies in Biblical Archaeology, Baker Book House, 1962
Pope, Marvin H., El in the Ugaritic Texts, Leiden: E. J. Brill 1955
Smith, Mark S. ed. The Ugaritic Baal cycle, Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1994-
Canaanite/Ugaritic Mythology FAQ, ver. 1.2
Canaanite/Ugaritic Mythology FAQ, ver. 1.1
Phoenician Religion — Pagan
HEBREW HENOTHEISM http://www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/henotheism.htm
Ackerman, Susan, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth Century Judah, Harvard Semitic Monographs – HSM 46
Aharoni, Y and Avi-Yonah, M, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, third edition revised by A F Rainey and Z Safrai, MacMillan 1993
Albertz, Rainer, A history of Israelite religion in the Old Testament period [translated by John Bowden], Louisville, Ky. : Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994-
Albright, William Foxwell, Yahweh and the gods of Canaan; a historical analysis of two contrasting faiths. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1968.
Assmann, Jan, Moses the Egyptian : the memory of Egypt in western monotheism, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1997.
Avishur, Yitzhak, Studies in Hebrew and Ugaritic psalms; [translated from the Hebrew] Magnes Press, Hebrew University, c1994.
Becking, Bob; Dijkstra, Meindert; Korpel, Marjo C. A.; Vriezen, Karel J. H., Only One God?: Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah (Biblical Seminar (Paperback))
Binger, Tilde Asherah: Godesses in Ugarit, Israel & the Old Testament (JSOT Supplement)
Bright, J, A History of Israel, 2nd edition, Westminster, 1972
Bronner, Leah, The stories of Elijah and Elisha as polemics against baal worship, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1968.
Cohen and Troeltsch : ethical monotheistic religion and theory of culture / by Wendell S. Dietrich, Scholars Press, c1986.
Cornfeld, Gaaiyah. Archaeology of the Bible: Book by Book, Adam & Charles Black, 1977
Craigie, Peter C., Ugarit and the Old Testament, Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, c1983.
Cross, Frank Moore, Canaanite myth and Hebrew epic; essays in the history of the religion of Israel, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1973.
Cross, Frank Moore, From epic to canon : history and literature in ancient Israel, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University press, c1998.
Day, John, Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan, Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.
Dever, William G., Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Israel, Eerdmans, 2005
Dever, William G., What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel, Eerdmans, 2001
Dever, William G., Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From, Eerdmans, 2003
Edelman, Diana Vikander (ed.), The triumph of Elohim : from Yahwisms to Judaisms, Kampen : Pharos, 1995
– “Proving Yahweh killed his wife (Zechariah 5:5-11)”. Biblical interpretation [0927-2569] Edelman yr:2003 vol:11 iss:3-4 pg:335
Finkelstein, I. and Na’aman, N., From nomadism to monarchy : archaeological and historical aspects of early Israel, Jerusalem : Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi : Israel Exploration Society ; Washington : Biblical Archaeology Society, c1994.
Fisher, Loren R. Fisher, editor, Ras Shamra parallels : The texts from Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible. Pontificium institutum biblicum, 1972
Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, The Free Press, MacMillan 1992
Friedman, Richard Elliott, Who Wrote the Bible, Harper & Row, 1987
Fohrer, Georg, History of Israelite religion, translated by David E. Green, Nashville, Abingdon Press 
Gaster, Theodor H., Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament: A comparative study with chapters from Sir James G. Frazer’s Folklore in the Old Testament, HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK AND EVANSTON, 1969
Gnuse, Robert Karl, No other gods : emergent monotheism in Israel, Sheffield, Eng. : Sheffield Academic Press, c1997.
Hadley, J. M., The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah, Cambridge University Press 2000
Hayes, J H and Miller, J M, Israelite and Judaean History, Westminster 1977
Halpern, Baruch, THE BAAL (AND THE ASHERAH?) IN SEVENTH-CENTURY JUDAH
Halpern, Baruch, The First Historians: The Hebrew Bible and History (Paperback – August 1996)
Hess, Richard S., Early Israel in Canaan: A Survey of Recent Evidence and Interpretations, originally published in Palestinian Exploration Quarterly 125 (1993) 125-42.
Hoffmeier, James K., Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition, OUP 1996
Kaufmann, Yehezkel, Uniform title Toldot ha-emunah ha-Yisre’elit. English Title The religion of Israel, from its beginnings to the Babylonian exile. Translated and abridged by Moshe Greenberg, [Chicago] University of Chicago Press 
King, P. J. and Stager, L. E., Life in Biblical Israel, Westminster 2001
Kletter, Raz The Judean pillar-figurines and the archaeology of Asherah (BAR international series) Lewis, Theodore J, Cults of the dead in ancient Israel and Ugarit, Scholars Press, c1989.
Nakhai B. A., Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel, ASOR 2001
Susan Niditch, Douglas A. Knight (Editor) Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature (Library of Ancient Israel) 1996
Noth, M, The History of Israel, 2nd edition, A&C Black, 1960
Schmidt, Werner H, The faith of the Old Testament : a history, translated by John Sturdy, Philadelphia : Westminster Press, c1983
Shanks, H, and Meinhardt, J (editors) Aspects of Monotheism: How God is One, Biblical Archaeological Society 1997
Shanks, H, The Biblical Minimalists: Expurging Ancient Israel’s Past in Bible Review vol. XIII no. 3 June 1997.
Silberman, Neil Asher and Finkelstein, Israel The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, Free Press, 2002
Smith, Mark S, and Miller, Patrick D, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel , San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1990.
Smith, Mark S., The origins of biblical monotheism : Israel‘s polytheistic background and the Ugaritic texts, New York : Oxford University Press, 2001 online review
Smith, Mark S, Untold stories: the Bible and Ugaritic studies in the twentieth century ,Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.
Smith, Mark S., “The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah” (review article), Journal of the American Oriental Society [0003-0279] 2002 vol:122 iss:1 pg:99
Stern, E., Archaeology of the Land of the Bible Volume II: The Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Periods 732-332 BCE, Doubleday 2001
Soggin, J A, A History of Ancient Israel, Westminster, 1984
Taylor, Glen, Yahweh and the sun: biblical and archaeological evidence for sun worship in ancient Israel, publisher : Sheffield, England : JSOT, 1993.
Taylor, Joan E., The Asherah, The Menorah and the Sacred Tree, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 66.01 Pp. 29-54, 2004
van der Toorn, Karel, Goddesses in Early Israelite Religion in Ancient Goddesses: the Myths and the Evidence editors Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris, University of Wisconsin Press 1998
Vaux, R de, The History of Early Israel, Westminster, 1978
Vogel, M. H., article on Monotheism in cols. 260-263, vol. 12, Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter 1972.
van der Toorn, Karel (editor), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 1999
Vriezen, Theodorus Christiaan, The religion of ancient Israel, Lutterworth Press [1969, c1967]
Weber, Max, Ancient Judaism; translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale, Free Press ; London : Collier-Macmillan, 
Wilson, Leslie S. – THE SERPENT SYMBOL IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST: Nahash and Asherah:Death, Life, and Healing, Studies in Judaism, University Press of America, 2001
Zevit, Ziony, The religions of ancient Israel : a synthesis of parallactic approaches, London ; New York : Continuum, 2001.
Child Sacrifice in Canaan and Israel http://www.indopedia.org/Moloch.html
 ALBRIGHT, W. F., Some Canaanite-Phoenician Sources of Hebrew Wisdom in WISDOM IN ISRAEL AND IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST EDITED BY M. NOTH AND D. WINTON THOMAS, LEIDEN, E. J. BRILL, 1969
 “The institution of priesthood in its typical crystallization as a social class is encountered in many different religions, both primitive and advanced, in the Ancient Near East and elsewhere—but not in all religions. Thus, priesthood, at least in its cultic manifestations, did not exist among the early Arabs or among other nomadic-tribal religions. At the same time, any given priesthood with its procedures and customs tends to be shaped by the specific style and religious attitudes characterizing the particular culture. Even the Canaanite priesthood differed from that of the Israelites, although the Canaanite term for priest is identical with the biblical one. For example, among the Canaanites one finds a priestess and even a female “high priestess” (rb khnt) paralleling the male “high priest” (rb khnm). In Israel, in contrast, the priesthood is restricted to males; there are no priestesses in their own right (i.e., other than the female members of a priest’s family, such as his wife or daughter).” Encyclopedia Judaica.
 “Mot(-and-Shar) ‘Death and Prince/Dissolution/Evil’ ‘the beloved one’- Mot is the god of sterility, death, and the underworld. In one hand he holds the scepter of bereavement, and in the other the scepter of widowhood. His jaws and throat are described in cosmic proportions and serve as a euphamism for death. When he has influence over Shapash, it is unusually hot and dry. He sits on a pit for a throne in the city of Miry in the underworld. Prior to the conception of the gracious gods, he is pruned and felled like a vine by the vine dressers. He is favored by El following Baal’s defeat of Yam and Baal refuses him tribute. When Baal’s messengers deliver him an invitation to feast at Baal’s new palace, he is insulted that he is offered bread and wine and not the flesh he hungers for. In fact, he threatens to defeat Baal as Baal did Leviathan, causing the sky to wilt and then eat Baal himself. Baal would then visit his palace in the underworld. He is pleased that Baal submits to him. Baal goes to the underworld and either he or his substitute is eaten by Mot. Presumably the sons of Athirat had some part in his death. After seven years of famine, Anat seizes Mot, splits, winnows, sows and grinds him like corn. Baal eventually returns and defeats Mot’s allies.” From http://www.faqs.org/faqs/mythology/canaanite-faq/ . See also article Mot by Healey in van der Toorn
 “Resheph is very frequently mentioned in the Ugaritic ritual texts in the capacity of a chthonic deity, gatekeeper of the Netherworld. He is the lord of battle and of diseases, which he spreads through his bow and arrows…. The original divine nature of Resheph is detectable in the OT. Like various other ancient Semitic deities, he is generally considered as a sort of decayed demon at the service of Yahweh…. The tradition of Resheph as a god of pestilence is attested in Deut 32:24 and Ps 78:48. The first text, a passage of the Song of Moses, deals with those who provoked God to anger and were unfaithful: they are punished with hunger and destroyed by Resheph and Qeteb (“I will heap (?) evils upon them, my arrows I will spend on them; wasted with hunger, devoured by Resheph and Qeteb the poisonous one“, Deut 32:23-24a). There is no doubt that we have to do here with two ancient Canaanite gods (perhaps conceived as flying demons), personifications of the scourges that they spread. In Ps 78:48 we have an allusion to the seventh plague of Egypt: God has given up the … herds to the Reshephs…. In Hab 3:5 we have the description of a theophany and the attendant natural phenomena. God is described as a divine warrior, Lord of light; … while Resheph (Pestilence) follows on God’s heels…. In Cant 8:6 we have another echo of the “fiery” character of Resheph. The ‘flames’ (resheph, plural) of love are characterized as a ‘fire of Yahweh’ in a context dealing with love, death, and the Netherworld.
“To sum up, in the OT Resheph is a demonized version of an ancient Canaanite god, now submitted to Yahweh. He appears as a cosmic force, whose powers are great and terrible: ‘he is particularly conceived of as bringing epidemics and death. The Hebrew Bible shows different levels of demythologization: sometimes it describes Resheph as a personalized figure, more or less faded, sometimes the name is used as a pure metaphor. At any rate it is possible to perceive aspects of the personality of an ancient chthonic god, which fits the image of Resheph found in the other Semitic cultures.” P. XELLA in van der Toorn
 “In Ugaritic incantations, Horon is invoked against snakes. against snakes…. The text shows that his dominion lies in the netherworId, referred to as mṣd ‘fortress’ …. In the incantation KTU 1.82, the ‘creatures of Horan … are (evil) ancestral spirits from the netherworld…. He is viewed in a negative sense, as the chief of harmful demons. In this role, Horan is ambivalent; he can also be invoked against demons…. In a Greek inscription from Delos, Horon is mentioned together with Heracles as a god venerated by the people of Jamnia (in Palestine).” From U. RUTERSWORDEN in van der Toorn
 “The Phoenicians worshipped a triad of deities, each having different names and attributes depending upon the city in which they were worshipped, although their basic nature remained the same. The primary god was El, protector of the universe, but often called Baal. The son, Baal or Melqart, symbolized the annual cycle of vegetation and was associated with the female deity Astarte in her role as the maternal goddess. She was called Asherat-yam, our lady of the sea, and in Byblos she was Baalat, our dear lady. Astarte was linked with mother goddesses of neighboring cultures, in her role as combined heavenly mother and earth mother. Cult statues of Astarte in many different forms were left as votive offerings in shrines and sanctuaries as prayers for good harvest, for children, and for protection and tranquillity in the home. The Phoenician triad was incorporated in varying degrees by their neighbors and Baal and Astarte eventually took on the look of Greek deities.” http://www.phoenicia.org/pagan.html
 The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, likely correctly,:
“…El, (was) the ancestral deity of the Semites. (“El” appears also (in Arabia) under the augmentative form “Ilah,” who’s plural of majesty is the Hebrew “Elohim”)…. The names ending in ‘ēl and in ‘ilah are more numerous in the various proto-Arabic dialects than those in honor of any other deity. Taken as a whole, they are to be considered as survivals, for it has been proved that they were preponderant in ancient Akkadian and in proto-Aramaic. Since the word ‘ēl corresponds to the word god, it has been rightly concluded that the proto-Semites invoked only El. In fact, if the word god had applied to various deities, the personal names in ‘ēl would have had an equivocal meaning. It is legitimate to translate El as god but this practical monotheism does not imply a clear awareness that the gods adored by neighbouring peoples did not exist.”
Cross wrote, in Canaanite myth and Hebrew epic p. 43 “In Akkadian and Amorite religion as also in Canaanite, El frequently plays the role of “god of the father,” the social deity who governs the tribe or league, often bound to the league with kinship or covenant ties.”
El seems to have been pushed into the background, in most areas, by other deities: thorough most of Canaan by Baal-Haddad the god of the weather, fertility and war; in northern Arabia by astral deities (e.g. Şalam (moon god) Ilat (feminine form of ‘ilahi.e. El the goddess Venus), Athar (Morning Star); and in Mesopotamia the Sumerian religion largely displaced earlier Semitic forms leading to a pantheon peopled by nature and astral deities with an increasing role being played by national gods such as Ashur and Marduk.
Twice, at least, El was lifted out of the dust of obscurity to be used as the name of the eternal, exclusive, unique, all-powerful God of monotheistic religions. This required that El be shorn of his consorts, children, peers, sexuality and many unedifying characteristics. The first occasion, was when the Israelites identified him with their God YHWH, appropriating a number of Canaanite El’s titles or epithets, as part of the process of developing the monotheism of the Torah. Then, much later, under Jewish and Christian influence, Muhammad declared El, under his Arabic designation, Allah, to be the one true God thus founding Islam.
 for El in Ancient Israel see pp. 252-253 of Harper’s Bible Dictionary, P. J Achtemeir (ed.) Harper & Row 1985
 See El, The Creator by Johannes C. de Moor
 See Child Sacrifice at Carthage – Religious Rite or Population Control? By L. E. Stager, S. R. Wolff Biblical Archaeological Review X:1, Jan./Feb. 1984
 “It is highly noticeable that Ilimilku often depicts women as kingmakers: Athiratu in 1.l:IV (Yammu) and 1.6:1 (‘Athtaru), ‘Anatu
and ‘Athtartu in 1.2:1.40 (Yammu),126 Shapshu in 1.2:111by rebuking ‘Athtaru for disputing Yammu’s newly won kingship, Shapshu again in 1.6:VI by arbitrarily ending the fight between Motu and Ba’lu in favour of the latter, and finally Kirtu’s wife Hariya in 1.15:V, standing up for her eldest son Yassubu. In this connection it may also be observed that ‘Anatu and Athiratu enthusiastically support Ba’lu’s claim for exclusive kingship.127 Strangely enough both the Legend of Kirtu and the Legend of Aqhatu seem to end with a girl remaining as the only heir left to ascend the throne. It is as if Ilimilku wants to bring home the message that ultimate political power rests with women and that they may well assume royal power themselves if there is no other possibility. It is likely that in a patriarchal society like that of Ugarit this was a fairly revolutionary point of view. It seems likely that in this respect Ilimilku was re-interpreting the tradition as it had been handed down to him. There must have been some political need for defending the capability of women to rule.” Exegesis in the Work of Ilimilku of Ugarit by M.C.A. KORPEL in INTERTEXTUALITY IN UGARIT AND ISRAEL PAPERS READ AT THE TENTH JOINT MEETING OF THE SOCIETY FOR OLD TESTAMENT STUDY AND HET OUDTESTAMENTISCH WERKGEZELSCHAP IN NEDERLAND EN BELGIE, HELD AT OXFORD, 1997 EDITED BY JOHANNES C. DE MOOR, Brill 1998, p. 107
 W.G. Lambert, “A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis,” , in Richard S. Hess & David T. Tsumra, Editors, I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood. Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1994) p.107
 Mot(-and-Shar) ‘Death and Prince/Dissolution/Evil’
‘the beloved one’- Mot is the god of sterility, death, and the underworld. In one hand he holds the scepter of bereavement, and in the other the scepter of widowhood. His jaws and throat are described in cosmic proportions and serve as a euphemism for death.
Prior to the conception of the gracious gods, he is pruned and felled like a vine by the vine dressers.
He is favored by El following Baal’s defeat of Yam and Baal refuses him tribute. When Baal’s messengers deliver him an invitation to feast at Baal’s new palace, he is insulted that he is offered bread and wine and not the flesh he hungers for. In fact, he threatens to defeat Baal as Baal did Leviathan, causing the sky to wilt and then eat Baal himself. Baal would then visit his palace in the underworld. He is pleased that Baal submits to him. Baal goes to the underworld and either he or his substitute is eaten by Mot. Presumably the sons of Athirat had some part in his death. After seven years of famine, Anat seizes Mot, splits, winnows, sows and grinds him like corn. Baal eventually returns and defeats Mot’s allies. After seven years Mot returns and demands Baal’s brother, lest he wipe out humanity. Baal rebuffs him and the two have a mighty battle, but are separated by Shapshu who declares Baal to have El’s favor.
‘The yellow ones of Mot’
 “LEVIATHAN (Heb…. livyatan, Ugaritic ltn, presumably pronounced lotan). In the Bible and talmudic literature the leviathan denotes various marine animals, some real, others legendary, and others again both real and legendary. The word leviathan seems to derive from the root lwy, “to coil,” which is further confirmation of its serpentine form. In the Bible it is used interchangeably with several other sea monsters—tannin (“dragon”), rahav, and yam (“sea”; of which the last-named alternates with neharim (“flood”) in Hab. 3:8)—all of whom are represented as supernatural enemies of God. This hostility directly reflects a myth widely known in pre-biblical sources of a primordial combat between the creator deity and the forces of the sea, personifying chaos, which the former must overcome to create and control the universe (see Creation). The Hittites knew it as the struggle between the dragon Illuyankas and the mortal Hupasiyas (Pritchard, Texts, 125–6). In Mesopotamia it appears in several forms, of which the most famous is the battle of Marduk and Tiamat in the creation epic (ibid.). More relevant is a cylinder seal from Tell Asmar of the 24th century B.C.E., which pictures two men fighting a seven-headed serpent. And recently, the leviathan itself may have been found in a Mesopotamian incantation designed “to revive a serpent” (see van Dijk in bibliography). The closest Near Eastern parallel to the biblical materials, however, and probably their actual source, is the Ugaritic myth(s) of Baal and Anat pitted against various sea monsters, one of which is named Lotan (Pritchard, op. cit.). Not only is this merely another form of the name leviathan, but the same epithets used of leviathan are here prefigured of Lotan, e.g., btn brh and btn ‘qltn as compared with nahash bariah and nahash ‘aqallaton of Isaiah 27:1.Encyclopedia Judaica
 “Outside Genesis there are a number of allusions to the vanquishing by YHWH of a great sea monster and his minions, with some traces of a belief that this was connected with the creation of the world. In the biblical version of this combat, known from Mesopotamia (Marduk-Tiamat) and Ugarit (Baal-Yamm), the forces of the watery chaos, called Yam, Nahar, Leviathan, Rahab, or Tannin, are either destroyed or put under restraint by God (cf. Isa. 27:1; 51:9–10; Jer. 5:22; Hab. 3:8; Ps. 74:13–14; 89:10–11; 104:6–9; Prov. 8:27–29; Job 7:12; 9:13; 26:10–13; 38:8–11). Recently it has been suggested (see Jacobsen) that this epic account, whose source was thought to be in Mesopotamia, may actually have originated in the West (though where in particular is not clear), and subsequently influenced both biblical and Mesopotamian literature. It is noteworthy, however, that the stories of Genesis meticulously avoid the use of such legendary material, even eschewing metaphorical figures of speech based on this mythological conflict.
Another poetic version of creation is reflected in Proverbs 8:1–31, where Wisdom relates that she attended God during the creation.
Weinfeld has drawn attention to the fact that four mythological motifs of Genesis 1—the existence of primordial material (1:2); God’s working and His rest; the council of God (1:26); and the creation of man in God’s image (1:26–27)—are repudiated in the cosmogonic doxologies of Second Isaiah. “ Shalom M. Paul, Encyclopedia Judaica
 Taking Heb. yom as equivalent of yam; compare the combination of sea with Leviathan in Ps. 74.13, 14 and with Dragon in Job 7-12; if also Isa. 27-1.
 Emendation as proposed BDB
 “Tehom DEEP, THE. The ancient Hebrews believed that the earth lay across an all-encompassing ocean, which they called tehom. The term is used in the Bible either for the primordial waters in toto (Gen. 1:2) or for the upper or lower portion alone (cf. Ps. 42:8). Most frequently it denotes the latter, and it is then conventionally rendered “the deep.” The Canaanite myths from Ras Shamra (Ugarit) speak similarly of “the two oceans” (thmtm), i.e., the supernal and the infernal, the dwelling of the supreme god El being located at their confluence, i.e., on the horizon. In the Babylonian Epic of Creation the primordial ocean is personified as the monstrous Tiamat, who launches battle against the supreme god Anu, but is eventually subdued by Marduk and slit lengthwise “like an oyster,” the two parts of her body forming, respectively, the vault of heaven and the bedrock of the earth. This myth is echoed in several passages of the Bible (Isa. 51:9–10; Hab. 3:8; Ps. 74:13–14; 89:9–10) which speak of a primeval combat between God and a monster variously styled Leviathan, Rahab (“Blusterer”), Tannin (“Dragon”), Yam (“Sea”), and Nahar (“Stream”). In the wake of Isaiah 27:1, post-biblical legend asserts that at the end of the world this monster will again break loose, and again be defeated—a notion which recurs in Iranian lore (Yashts 19:38–44; Bundahi2n 29:9), and which also leaves traces both in the New Testament (Rev. 20:1–3) and in the Talmud (BB 75a). The personification of the primordial ocean as a monster is further echoed in Genesis 49:25, where Tehom is described as “crouching below,” like a beast. Rivers and springs were believed to emanate from the nether tehom (Targ., Eccles., 1:7; cf. Weinsinck in bibl., p. 42), and the upsurging of it was partly responsible for the Deluge (Gen. 7:11). Ecclesiastes 1:7, as interpreted by Targum and Rashi, believes that after surging up from this nether tehom and flowing through streams into the sea, the water finds its way back to the tehom through tunnels and then surges up again to the springs and repeats the cycle. The rock on which the Temple was built at Jerusalem is said in later legend (Targ. Jon., Ex. 28:30) to have covered the mouth of the deep, and the stairs connecting the two courts of the Temple were called popularly “the stairs of Tehom” (Targ., Ps. 120). Similarly, the temple of Marduk at Babylon and that of E-ninu at Lagash rested reputedly on the nether ocean. Related to this is the belief that the supreme god sits enthroned over the waters of the nether flood. Thus, in a Hittite myth the god who conquers the dragon Illuyankas is subsequently installed “above the well,” while in the second century C.E. Lucian was shown a spot in the temple at Hierapolis into which the waters of the Deluge were said to have gathered. This belief is, possibly, reflected in the words of Psalms 29:10: “the Lord sat enthroned over the flood” (see Gaster in bibl., pp. 750–1, 843–54, nos. 25–31). It is related in the Talmud (Ta’an. 25b) that the angel Rdy, who is in charge of rain, stands midway between the upper and lower oceans, bidding the waters of the former to pour down, and of the latter to rise. In Ecclesiasticus 24:8 Wisdom is said to have walked primordially “in the depth of the abyss,” and in Babylonian glossaries the name Apsu, by which the freshwater abyss is called, is fancifully etymologized as ab-zu, “abode of wisdom” (E. Dhorme, Religion assyro-babylonienne (1910), 73). Comparable is the classical notion that Proteus, the old man of the sea, is omniscient, while in ancient Mesopotamian folklore the seven sages (apkallK) who introduced civilization, emerge from the deep (Gaster, 324, no. 31). Job 28:12, 14 seems, however, to protest against this idea, while in Proverbs 8:24, Wisdom exists prior to the creation of the deep.” Theodor H. Gaster, Encyclopedia Judaica
 See The Biblical Minimalists: Expurging Ancient Israel’s Past by H. Shanks in Bible Review vol. XIII no. 3 June 1997; Mattanyah Zohar’s letter to the editor of the Biblical Archaeological Review, entitled The Real Basis for the Exodus that appeared in vol. XIV no. 2 March/April 1988 pp. 13 and 58.
 See: Dever; The Biblical Minimalists: Expurging Ancient Israel’s Past by H. Shanks in Bible Review vol. XIII no. 3 June 1997; Hoffmeier; see also; Mattanyah Zohar’s letter to the editor of the Biblical Archaeological Review, entitled The Real Basis for the Exodus that appeared in vol. XIV no. 2 March/april 1988 pp. 13 and 58.
 Strangely, and sadly, rabbinic Judaism did not consider historical works such as those of Josephus and the books of Maccabees as worth preserving. We owe their preservation to the Christian church.
 The best example of the biblical historical tradition is the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy- 2 Kings). This is not history, as we would understand it, and was not meant to be. Rather it was salvation-history designed to illustrate a paradigm (when Israel obeyed the Torah it prospered and visa versa). What did not fit was dropped or changed to fit the paradigm. It is very instructive to examine, in 1 and 2 Chronicles how Samuel and Kings are adapted to a modified paradigm in the late fifth or early fourth centuries BCE.
 “The structure of the Book of Judges is primitive by modern literary standards; blocks of successive editorial remodeling are piled around the edges of the nuclear stories. The result is that old Israel’s narrative art survives in its purest form in the Book of Judges, where theological updating across the centuries was confined almost exclusively to the connectives between the units; rarely did it invade their essential contents.” P. 29 Anchor Bible Judges by R. Boling, Doubleday 1975
 From the article The New Sumerian Dictionary by William McPherson in the Biblical Archaeology Review Sept./Oct. 1984 (vol. X no. 5) which was reprinted from the Washington Post.
 We find scattered recognition in the Hebrew Bible of the Canaanite origin of Israel – most notable in Ezekiel, chapter 16:3 “and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite.”
 “Earlier in this century Alt (1989) proposed a new interpretation of the evidence. He suggested that Israel’s origin is to be found in wandering semi-nomadic clans who peacefully entered the [] land and settled in the hilly country which was unoccupied. Brought together into a loosely knit association by a group of Yahweh worshippers from the desert, and perhaps ultimately from Egypt, this group populated the hill country and eventually grew strong enough to band together and to gain dominance in the rest of the land, during the period of the Monarchy” from Early Israel in Canaan :A Survey of Recent Evidence and Interpretations by RICHARD S. HESS
 See Hayes and Miller p. 277 ff. and Early Israel in Canaan A Survey of Recent Evidence and interpretations by Richard S. Hess “Various theories of the social sciences have attempted to come to terms with the archaeological, biblical, and historical data. A significant representative of these theories is that which posits a peasant revolt which took place against the oppressive Canaanite aristocracy which maintained its cities at the cost of sizeable expenditures for defense in the forms of city walls, large buildings, and weapons, and for paying tribute to Pharaoh, who was maintaining an empire in this land. Such expenditures would come from the labor of the lower classes who may have been gradually dispossessed and turned into serfs and then into virtual slaves.
Whether the revolt was a more dramatic assault on the upper classes (Gottwald 1979), or whether it simply involved the gradual movement of individuals and groups of dissatisfied people into the hills (Mendenhall 1983, who emphatically denies the peasant revolt hypothesis), there was a change and it brought about a change in living. In the hill country, where the chariots and other weapons of the city-state armies could not reach (Josh 17:14-18), it was possible to have simpler defenses and to live in smaller communities without costly walls, palaces, and other large buildings. The impression created in the excavation of these villages is one of an egalitarian society, certainly more so than one finds in the socially stratified larger towns located in the lowlands…. However, the reasons for the evidence of the society as egalitarian may be due as much to the scarcity of food and natural resources as to any ideology.
 “For Gottwald…this will be a conversion in the more or less modern sense of the term: the rebel rural masses will have accepted belief in YHWH, the liberator God brought to them by groups coming out of the eastern desert” Soggin, J A, A History of Ancient Israel, Westminster, 1984 p. 105
 See: Silberman and Finkelstein pp. 97-122 Searching for Israelite Origins by I. Finkelstein, Biblical Archaeology Review vol. XIV no. 5 Sept./Oct. 1988 p. 34 ff. and the review article of Finkelstein’s book The Archaeology of Israelite Settlement on p. 6. ff. of the same issue.
 pp. 113-120; 663
 A good and extensive review of current and past theories of Israel’s religious development origin is presented in Gnuse, Robert Karl, No other gods : emergent monotheism in Israel, Sheffield, Eng. : Sheffield Academic Press, c1997chapter 2 Recent Scholarship on the Development of Monotheism in Ancient Israel (pp. 62-128).
 Stern, E., Archaeology of the Land of the Bible Volume II: The Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Periods 732-332 BCE, Doubleday 2001 p. 75
 See Cross, Canaanite myth and Hebrew epic p. 43 “In Akkadian and Amorite religion as also in Canaanite, El frequently plays the role of “god of the father,” the social deity who governs the tribe or league, often bound to the league with kinship or covenant ties.”
 “…El, (was) the ancestral deity of the Semites. (“El” appears also (in Arabia) under the augmentative form “Ilah,” who’s plural of majesty is the Hebrew “Elohim”)…. The names ending in ‘ēl and in ‘ilah are more numerous in the various proto-Arabic dialects than those in honor of any other deity. Taken as a whole, they are to be considered as survivals, for it has been proved that they were preponderant in ancient Akkadian and in proto-Aramaic. Since the word ‘ēl corresponds to the word god, it has been rightly concluded that the proto-Semites invoked only El. In fact, if the word god had applied to various deities, the personal names in ‘ēl would have had an equivocal meaning. It is legitimate to translate El as god but this practical monotheism does not imply a clear awareness that the gods adored by neighbouring peoples did not exist.” New Catholic Encyclopedia 2nd edition, Detroit: Thomson/Gale in association with the Catholic University of America, c2003. volume 1 pp. 613-620
 see Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith “… we believe that the entire Torah which is found in our hands today is the Torah which was given through Moses, and that it is all of divine origin. This means that it all reached him from God in a manner that we metaphorically call “speech”. The exact quality of that communication is only known to Moses … to whom it came, and that he acted as a scribe to whom one dictates….” Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin trans. Fred Rosner 1981, p. 155. The Muslim view of the Koran is very similar.
 From Rabbi Norman Lamm in The Condition of Jewish Belief
“I believe the Torah is divine revelation in two ways: in that it is God-given and in that it is godly. By “God-given,” I mean that He willed that man abide by his commandments and that will was communicated in discrete words and letters. Man apprehends in many ways: by intuition, inspiration, experience, deduction and by direct instruction. The divine will, if it is to be made known, is sufficiently important for it to be revealed in as direct, unequivocal, and unambiguous a manner as possible, so that it will be understood by the largest number of the people to whom this will is addressed. Language, though so faulty an instrument, is still the best means of communication to most human beings.
“Hence, I accept unapologetically the idea of the verbal revelation of the Torah. I do not take seriously the caricature of this idea which reduces Moses to a secretary taking dictation. Any competing notion of revelation, such as the various “inspiration” theories, can similarly be made to sound absurd by anthropomorphic parallels. Exactly how this communication took place no one can say; it is no less mysterious than the nature of the One who spoke. The divine-human encounter is not a meeting of equals, and the herygma that ensures from this event must therefore be articulated in human terms without reflecting on the mode and form of the divine logos. How God spoke is a mystery; how Moses received this message is an irrelevancy. That God spoke is of the utmost significance, and what he said must therefore be intelligible to humans in a human context, even if one insists upon an endlessly profound mystical overplus of meaning in the text. To deny that God can make his will clearly known is to impose upon Him a limitation of dumbness that would insult the least of His human creatures.
“Literary criticism of the Bible is a problem, but not a crucial one. Judaism has successfully met greater challenges in the past. Higher Criticism is far indeed from an exact science. The startling lack of agreement among scholars on any one critical view; the radical changes in general orientation in more recent years; the many revisions that archaeology has forced upon literary critics; and the unfortunate neglect even by Bible scholars of much first-rate scholarship in modern Hebrew supporting the traditional claim of Mosaic authorship — all these reduce the question of Higher Criticism from the massive proportions it has often assumed to a relatively minor and manageable problem that is chiefly a nuisance but not a threat to the enlightened believer.
“Torah is not only God-given; it is also godly. The divine word is not only uttered by God, it is also an aspect of God Himself. All of the Torah — its ideas, its laws, its narratives, its inspirations for the human community — lives and breathes godliness. Hillel Zeitlin described the Hasidic interpretation of revelation (actually it was even more true of their opponents, the Misnagdim, and ultimately derived from a common Kabbalistic source) as not only Torah min ha- shameyim (Torah from Heaven) but Torah she-hi shemayim (Torah that is Heaven). It is in Torah that God is most immediately immanent and accessible, and the study of Torah is therefore not only a religious commandment per se, but the most exquisite and the most characteristically Jewish form of religious experience and communion. For the same reason, Torah is not only legislation, halakha, but in its broadest meaning, Torah — teaching, a term that includes the full spectrum of spiritual edification: theological and ethical, mystical and rhapsodic.
“Given the above, it is clear that I regard all of the Torah as binding on the Jew. To submit the mitzvot to any extraneous test — whether rational or ethical or nationalistic — is to reject the supremacy of God, and hence in effect to deny Him as God.
The classification of the mitzvot into rational and revelational, or ethical and ritual, has descriptive-methodological but not substantive religious significance. Saadia Gaon, who a thousand years ago proposed the dichotomy between rational and
nonrational commandments as the cornerstone of his philosophy of law, maintained that even the apparently pure revelational laws were fundamentally rational, although man might not, now or ever, be able to grasp their inner rationality. At the same time, far greater and more genuine spirituality inheres in the acceptance of those laws that apparently lack ethical, rational, or doctrinal content. It is only these performances, according to R. Hai Gaon, that are prefaced by the blessing, “Blessed art Thou… who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to …” Holiness, the supreme religious category, contains an essential nonrational core; and this state of the “numinous” can be attained only when man bows his head and submits the totality of his existence to the will of God by performing His mitzvah for no reason other than that this is the will of the Creator. R. Nachman of Bratzlav recommended to his followers that they observe the “ethical” laws as thought they were “ritual” commandments. In this manner, the ethical performance is transformed from a pale humanistic act into a profound spiritual gesture. I do not, therefore, by any means accord to ceremonial laws any lesser status than the others. On the contrary, while confident that these mitzvot shimiyot are more than divine whim in that they are ultimately of benefit to man and society, I prefer to accept even the sikhliyot, the rational and ethical, as “ritual” in an effort to attain holiness, the ultimate desideratum of religious life.”
 In his autobiography Helping With Inquiries, Louis Jacobs recounts “He (Dayan Grunfeld) tried to convince us that the problems raided by Biblical Criticism could be solved on the basis of the Kantian distinction between the phenomena and the noumena, i.e. that Biblical Criticism operated on the level of that which is perceived and could not therefore, be applied to the torah which was not a human production but a divine communication. I pointed out that if this distinction makes any sense when applied to the Torah, it would follow that no one has ever understood or can understand the torah, hardly a position a devout Jew can hold.
 see Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew by Neil Gillman
 Maimonides recognized this “For a sudden transition from one opposite to another is impossible…. And as at that time the way of life generally accepted and customary in the whole world… consisted in offering various species of living things in the temples in which images were set up, in worshiping the latter, and in burning incense before them …His wisdom … did not require that He give us a Law prescribing the rejection, abandonment, and abolition of all these kinds of worship. Therefore He … suffered the above-mentioned kinds of worship to remain, but transferred them from created or imaginary and unreal things to His own name… He (thus) commanded us to build a temple for Him …. Through this divine ruse it came about that the memory of idolatry was effaced and that the grandest and true foundation of our belief – namely, the existence and oneness of the deity – was firmly established, while at the same time the souls had no feeling of repugnance … because of the abolition of modes of worship to which they were accustomed….” Moses Maimonides The Guide of the Perplexed trans. S. Pines 1963 vol. 2 Pp. 526-527
 quote from A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE JEWS Tzvi Howard Adelman, Jerusalem
 In his magisterial work The religion of Israel, from its beginnings to the Babylonian exile he wrote –
“Biblical scholars, and the historians of antiquity in general, tend to interpret Israelite religion as an organic outgrowth of the ancient Orient. Some scholars discover the origin of biblical faith in monotheistic tendencies of the religion of the ancient Near East, others point our pagan elements in the religion of Israel. All assume that an organic connection exists, that even the unique elements of Israelite faith must be understood in the light of the surrounding religions…. Israel’s monotheism was, in this view, not a popular creation, but the doctrine of a priestly or prophetic elite…. On the popular level, then, there was no essential difference between the pre-exilic Israelite and the pagan; both were children of the same culture
“This view is here rejected in toto. We shall see that Israelite religion was an original creation of the people of Israel…. Its monotheistic world view had no antecedents in paganism. Nor was its theological doctrine conceived and nurtured in limited circles…. It was the fundamental idea of a national culture, and informed every aspect of that culture from the very beginning. It received, of course, a legacy from the pagan age which preceded it, but the birth of Israelite religion was the death of paganism in Israel. Despite appearances, Israel was not a polytheistic people…. Israel’s world was its own creation, notwithstanding its utilization of ancient pagan materials.”
In Kaufmann’s opinion the way of thinking of Israelites, at all levels of the society, was so different from paganism that they could not understand the meaning, and interior life, of paganism. “… (the Bible’s) sole polemical argument that idolatry is the senseless deification of wood and stone images. We may, perhaps, say that the bible sees in paganism only its lowest level, the level of mana-beliefs…. The prophets ignore what we know to be authentic paganism. Their whole condemnation revolves around the taunt of ism.”
 Quoted from The History of Israelite Religion by Frank Moore Cross, BAR May/June 2005
 “Lady Wisdom is very prominent in Jewish literature; we encounter her in Proverbs 1-9, Job 28, Ben Sira 24 and the Wisdom of Solomon…. Except in Gnosticism, the hypostatization of Lady Wisdom in Judaism and Christianity probably never reached the point where she was fully personified as a goddess. This is not true, however, in other ancient cases of hypostasis. In the fourth-century B.C.E. Jewish colony on Elephantine Island in Upper Egypt, for example, Yahweh-or Yahu, as they called him-was worshiped under the surrogate name Bethel, or “House of God.” Offerings were made, however, not only to Yahu or Bethel but also to at least three other deities whose names originally denoted aspects of the cultic presence of Yahu: Herem-Bethel (“the Sacredness of Bethel,” that is, “the Sacredness of Yahu”), Eshem-Bethel (“the Name of Bethel”) and Anath-Bethel, also called Anath-Yahu. The last name probably means “the Sign of Yahu,” that is, the visible sign of the cultic presence
Of Yahu. In Elephantine Judaism, then, at least three aspects of Yahweh-his Sacredness, his Name and his Active Sign-were hypostatized, personified and worshiped as deities…. But who is Asherah, for whom the image was hewn? We know Asherah from many sources as the name of a Canaanite and Syrian goddess: the Ugaritic Asherah … figures prominently in Ugaritic myth. Accordingly, we might assume with past generations of scholarship that the Asherah worshiped in Judah was a foreign goddess and that the cult of eighth century B.C.E. Jerusalem was syncretistic.
“But that assumption is probably wrong, given the monolatrous character of pre-reform Yahwism. A more likely explanation is suggested by the inscriptions and graffiti discovered at Kuntillet Ajrud. A number of these texts contain divine blessings invoked “by Yahweh … and his asherah” …. Note especially that asherah, whoever or whatever she or it is, is described as Yahweh’s asherah. In the Bible, the term asherah refers not only to a goddess, Asherah, but also to a wooden cult object, an asherah, and some evidence suggests that the term might also mean “shrine.” Thus the expression “Yahweh’s asherah” might refer to a cult object or shrine associated with the worship of Yahweh. Even if this is the case, however, the structure of the blessing formula shows that the Asherah whatever it refers to primarily-had a kind of personality, which is invoked for blessing alongside Yahweh.
“So we return to the idea of hypostasis, in which abstract aspects of a god are attributed concrete substance and worshiped as partly or entirely independent deities. As is common among the religions of ancient Syria and Canaan, some abstract aspect of a god might be attributed substantial form and personified as female. Thus there was a group of female deitieswho seem to have arisen as hypostatic forms of leading male deities. Each of these goddesses was given an epithet that identified her as the Face or Name of the god, that is, as his cultic presence…. The male deity is the community’s chief god, whose favor and sustenance are essential to its welfare. The female deity is the male deity’s consort, but she arises as a hypostatic form of his Face or Name, that is, of his cultic presence. The religious issue is that of cultic presence and availability, an issue classically expressed in the study of religion as the theological problem of divine transcendence and immanence. How can a great god, who transcends the ordinary world, be said to be immanent in an earthly temple?…
“We do not know how far the hypostatization, personification and deification of the divine presence went in ancient Israel. In the Bible, the Name and Presence of God are given hypostatic form, but they are not personified except, notably, in the form of … “messengers” or “angels.” In post-biblical Judaism, the Presence of God was hypostatized as the Shekinah …, the indwelling or attentive cultic presence of God. According to Sifre Numbers 94, God placed his Shekinah in the midst of the Israelites, so that, according to Baba Bathra 25a, “to whatever place they were exiled, the Shekinah went with them.” According to other Talmudic pronouncements, the Shekinah was everywhere (Rosh Hasana)…. In the Midrash misleh on Proverbs 22:8, the personification ofthe Shekinah has proceeded far enough that she is presented as speaking to God. And in the Sefer ha-Bahir,the earliest Kabbalistic work, she is called Daughter, Princess, Malkut. In Kabbalistic philosophy, the Shekinah is the feminine principle in the world of the divine sephirot: the ten primordial or ideal “numbers,” … which emanated from God and created the world-creation and revelation proceed through her.
“Yahweh’s asherah, as known from the inscriptions “to Yahweh and his Asherah” on pithoi from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, should be understood in the same way as the Anath-Yahu of Elephantine Judaism or the Name and Face of Ba’al goddesses of the Phoenician and Punic world. The verb from which the Hebrew word ‘asherah is derived … means “pass along; leave a trace, leave a mark,” and the basic meaning of ‘asera was probably something like “track, trace, sign, mark, vestige,” or perhaps “effect, influence”…. Yahweh’s ‘asera, then, was a palpable mark of his effective influence. The term is often used in the Bible, as noted earlier, to refer to a wooden cult object, probably a simple wooden pole but possibly even a sacred tree, which served as part of a shrine and concretely represented Yahweh’s availability for worship. When this mark of Yahweh’s presence was hypostatized and attributed a feminine personality, it came to be thought of as a deity, a goddess.
“On one pithos from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, two figures are depicted in the foreground…. the figures in fact represent Yahweh and his Asherah, as the blessing written over the depiction suggests. This is the Samarian Yahweh, depicted in human form with a bull-head, hooves and a tail-the “young bull of Samaria” condemned in Hosea 8:5-6 and elsewhere. His Asherah, who also has bovine horns, hooves and a crown, stands alongside him in the conventional position of the consort in, for example, Egyptian art. She is a goddess, but she is a Yahwistic goddess, not a Canaanite goddess.
“She represents Yahweh’s presence, just as the wooden pole that she personifies represents it in his shrine. It was this iconography that the Deuteronomic reforms deplored and attempted to eradicate: the representation of Yahweh as a bull, the representation of his available presence as a goddess and the cultic representation of both by masseboth and ‘aserim.
These changes, together with the eradication of local places of worship and the revival of Israel’s ancient distrust of foreign gods, led to an aniconic and nonlocalized form of Yahwism. In turn, this form of Yahwism led, in the years of the Exile and thereafter, to the development of a more abstract and rigidly aniconic form of monotheism than the Israelites had known in the pre-reform period.” Quoted from The Religious Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah by P. Kyle McCarter Jr. in Shanks and Meinhardt.
 The quote reads: “Shemesh, in Gibeon do not move, and, Yareah, in the Valley of Aijalon!” The source of the quotation is given in 10:13; as it now appears, however, the quotation is supposed to have been related to Yahweh, even though the sun and moon are clearly the addressees.
 Hos 13:14 appears to be a reference to the deity Mot, from which Yahweh could save one, while Jer 9:20 presents a quite anthropomorphic Mot seeking out those to slay despite attempts to stay his progress.
 Pp. 648-54; 664-67
 In the absence of well-developed mythologies about these deities from Israelite sources, it is not possible to rank the gods below the second tier. M. S. Smith cleverly discerned a four-tiered system in Ugaritic mythology on the basis of who sends messengers to whom and who does obeisance to whom (1984). Accordingly, El is a first-tier deity, Athirat his consort, along with Baal and Anat are in the second tier – neither Baal nor Anat make obeisance to her, indicating their equality. Other deities of this tier may have been Mot and Yam, worthy opponents of Baal On the third tier was Kothar, the craft god; and below him messengers. L. K. Handy demurs from Smith with regard to the status of Athirat. He considers her a deity of the first tier (1995: 32-6). I deem Handy’s attempt to isolate a similar four-tiered pantheon in Israel unsuccessful. Although the hypothesis itself is reasonable, its validity is not demonstrable on the basis of available texts.
 The ordering of the two names may be explained as reflecting a linguistic preference to have the shorter word followed by a longer one, or it may reflect a social convention that placed male before female Judg. 3:7; 6:25, 28, 30; 1 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 21:3; 23:4; 2 Chron. 33:3).
 I have reformatted this table DS
 “The Hebrew Scriptures reflect speculations about God over a period encompassing nearly two thousand years of human history. The many priestly writers who contributed to these texts drew on oral and written traditions about many different gods with a wide array of names, characteristics, and functions. Rather late in the Jewish tradition, priestly writers imposed a monotheistic outlook (belief in one God) on materials that for many centuries had reflected life and faith in a polytheistic setting (belief in many gods).
“As Judaism’s one-God tradition took shape, it embraced a powerful deity. As I described in Jesus Against Christianity, Yahweh absorbed powers associated previously with other gods:
It took many centuries for Judaism’s one God to emerge as a powerful, composite deity with many characteristics of neighboring gods and religions. As Jewish monotheism evolved and took shape, there was no longer a need for a human fertility goddess such as Anat because Yahweh opened and closed wombs and promised more children than the stars to those who were chosen and faithful. If your worship of God or the gods was prompted by concern or gratitude for agricultural abundance, then you need not worship Baal because Yahweh was at the head of the council of gods and Yahweh was the one who delivered or withheld harvests. If you worshiped wind or thunder, then you might find an acceptable alternative in Yahweh, who created and controlled these and other powerful forces of nature. If you longed for divine intimacy and therefore worshiped EI or other personal Gods of Egypt or Canaan, then Yahweh could be your God. Just as EI wrestled with Jacob and told the patriarchs where to go and whom to marry, Yahweh walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, made them clothes, grieved over their sin, and involved himself in daily life and human history. If, on the other hand, divine intimacy offended your religious sensibilities because it made God seem too close or too human-like, then you need not dismiss or abandon Yahweh worship because there were priests who grafted opposite characteristics onto Yahweh, including Elohim’s cosmic otherness and transcendence. If you needed a militarily powerful God …. Yahweh’s violence was impressively displayed through … floods, plagues, and military triumphs. Yahweh’s violence was powerful, operated within history, and could be appropriated by the faithful against their enemies. Much later in the tradition, under Persian influence, faith was linked to life after death. You need not worship Ahura Mazda, however, because Yahweh held the keys to both life and life after death.
“These ideas and views were those of late priestly writers, but they would not have been widely shared by people in Israel throughout much of biblical history.”
Quoted from Is Religion Killing Us?: Violence in the Bible and the Quran — by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Trinity Press International 2003
 This reminds me of the the famous saying of the late Walt Kelley’s cartoon character Pogo, “We Met The Enemy and They Are Us.”
 See David Noel Freedman, “Who Is Like Thee Among the Gods: The Religion of Early Israel,” in Ancient Israelite Religion, P. Miller et al, eds., 315-335; and Frank Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 147-184.
 “Another cultic activity which may have been chiefly the prerogative of kings was human sacrifice, particularly that of first-born children. Previously scholars assumed that child sacrifice was a Canaanite custom, but increasingly they suspect that it, too, was a natural part of the Yahwistic religion practiced by kings in times of crisis. Exod. 22:29-30 states, ‘The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and your sheep’. The passage implies that sacrifice of the child should be undertaken as surely as the sacrifice of the animals. However, Exod. 13.13 and 34.19 provide for the replacement or ‘redemption’ of the child with an animal sacrifice. The omission of any reference to redemption in Exod. 22:29-30 leads scholars to suspect that some Yahweh devotees indeed sacrificed their children as burnt offerings to Yahweh, and this may be the earliest legislation on the custom…. Jephthah, whose sacrifice of his daughter appears to have been honorable, though tragic, according to the narrative (Judg. 11.34-40); Hiel of Bethel who built Jericho at the cost of his youngest son (Josh. 6.26; 1 Kgs 16.34); the king of Moab, who sacrificed his son and heir to the throne and by this act forced the kings of Israel, Judah and Edom to retreat, thus implying that they viewed this as a meaningful and terrifying religious act (2 Kgs 3.27); Ahaz (2 Kgs 16.3); and Manasseh (2 Kgs 21.6). It is not until Josiah’s reform that the Topheth in the valley of Hinnom, where sacrifice occurred, was destroyed (2 Kgs 23.1 0)…. The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 is clearly an aetiology to explain why Israelites should not sacrifice their children. Yet Alberto Green and Jon Levenson caution us to recognize that Abraham indeed is blessed by Yahweh for his willingness to offer such a sacrifice, and the permission to sacrifice an animal instead of Isaac does not necessarily vitiate the principle of human sacrifice… It is not until the classical prophets that condemnation of infant sacrifice begins to surface…. Remarkably, Ezekiel implies that Yahweh had commanded this practice in Israel’s history to punish the people…. ,It would seem that only with the Deuteronomic and Priestly legislation was the custom truly condemned…. The deity most likely to be associated with human sacrifice is the god Molech. For years scholars debated whether this word refers to a sacrifice or the actual deity, and opinion has swung predominantly in favor of the latter option…. Scholars suspect Molech was a real deity to whom children were sacrificed directly, not Yahweh…. Molech may have been the god of the underworld, like the Ugaritic deity Mot, and sacrifice to him may have insured fertility for the land and a special place in the divine realm for the sacrificial victims. The cult was practiced under the nose, literally, of the Judean kings and the Temple priests in Jerusalem. Increasingly, scholars believe that the cult, though dedicated to Molech. was seen as part of the greater Yahwistic cult, because Molech was part of Yahweh’s entourage. Only late did prophets and reforming kings really attack it, especially Josiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.… Only when the emergent monotheistic movement was entering its revolutionary stage during the chaos of national revival under Josiah and subsequent national collapse did reformers seek to purge the religion of the old traditional elements.
“Furthermore, these observations could lead one to conclude that the so-called Canaanite religion was not really a separate religion from Yahwism and in dialectical opposition to it. Rather, as noted earlier in this chapter, these observations imply that Yahwism was the common religion of Palestinians in the pre-exilic period, it merely encompassed a wide range of activity which would be condemned in later years. One could reinforce this argument by pointing to the great commonalities shared by the so-called Canaanite religion and Yahweh religion. When one senses that the above mentioned customs are perhaps natively Yahwistic, then the cultic phenomena traditionally attributed to Canaanite religion in order to distinguish it from Yahwism suddenly disappears; then those things held in common by Canaanite and Yahwistic devotees suddenly become more significant.
“With that in mind it is worth observing some of the truly significant similarities shared by the entire religious population of Palestine. In the very important area of cultic sacrifice Canaanite texts and the Hebrew Bible have the following common vocabulary: 1) slaughtered offering, zebah; 2) annual slaughtered offering, zebah hayyamim; 3) tribute offering, selamim; 4) vow, neder; 5) gift offering, minhah; 6) holocaust offering, but this was possible only because the perception of EI and Yahweh was so similar originally. Yahweh’s personality may have changed and thus became capable of absorbing EI only because Yahwists were part of the Canaanite scene. In the various texts EI and Yahweh are both portrayed as: 1) father figures, 2) judges, 3) compassionate and merciful. 4) revealing themselves through dreams, 5) capable of healing those who were sick, 6) dwelling in a cosmic tent, 7) dwelling over the great cosmic waters or at the source of the primordial rivers, which is also on the top of a mountain, 8) favorable to the widow, orphan and the poor, 9) kings in the heavenly realm exercising authority over other gods, who may be called the ‘sons of the gods’, 10) warrior deities who led the other gods in battle, 11) creator deities, 12) aged and venerable in appearance. And most significantly 13) capable of guiding the destinies of people in the social arena. The gradual synthesis of EI and Yahweh was made possible also by particular religious crises in the land, including the entrance of a handful of zealous Yahweh devotees in the thirteenth or twelfth century BCE who merged with some El worshippers when they took for themselves the name Israel, and the later intrusion of the Phoenician or Tyrian Baal cult in the ninth century BCE which brought devotees of the local EI cult and Yahweh devotees together in alliance. But ultimately the synthesis was possible only because of so many shared common beliefs.” Gnuse pp. 188-193
“ The original divine nature of Resheph is detectable in the OT. Like various other ancient Semitic deities, he is generally considered as a sort of decayed demon at the service of Yahweh…. The tradition of Resheph as a god of pestilence is attested in Deut 32:24 and Ps 78:48. The first text, a passage of the Song of Moses, deals with those who provoked God to anger and were unfaithful: they are punished with hunger and destroyed by Resheph and Qeteb (“I will heap (?) evils upon them, my arrows I will spend on them; wasted with hunger, devoured by Resheph and Qeteb the poisonous one”, Deut 32:23-24a). There is no doubt that we have to do here with two ancient Canaanite gods (perhaps conceived as flying demons), personifications of the scourges that they spread. In Ps 78:48 we have an allusion to the seventh plague of Egypt: God has given up the cattle to Barad (Hail) and the herds to the Reshephs…. Barad//Resheph(s), depicted as malevolent spirits which accompany God in his destructive action.
“In Hab 3:5 we have the description of a theophany and the attendant natural phenomena. God is described as a divine warrior, Lord of light; before Him goes Deber (master of epidemics, cf. Exod 9:3 and Jer 21:6), while Resheph (Pestilence) follows on God’s heels. Deber and Resheph must be seen, here too, as two personalized natural powers, submitted to Yahweh. Ps 76:4 mentions … an expression which could be interpreted as “the Reshephs of the bow” and be related to the imagery of the god armed with bow and arrows…. In Cant 8:6 we have another echo of the “fiery” character of Resheph. The ‘flames’ (rešep, plural) of love are characterized as a ‘fire of Yahweh’ in a context dealing with love, death, and the Netherworld.
“To sum up, in the OT Resheph is a demonized version of an ancient Canaanite god, now submitted to Yahweh. He appears as a cosmic force, whose powers are great and terrible: he is particularly conceived of as bringing epidemics and death. The Hebrew Bible shows different levels of demythologization: sometimes it describes Resheph as a personalized figure, more or less faded, sometimes the name is used as a pure metaphor. At any rate it is possible to perceive aspects of the personality of an ancient chthonic god, whichs fits the image of Resheph found in the other Semitic cultures.” P. Xella in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 1999
 GOD, NAMES OF. Various Hebrew terms are used for God in the Bible. Some of these are employed in both the generic and specific sense; others are used only as the personal name of the God of Israel. Most of these terms were employed also by the Canaanites, to designate their pagan gods…. It must be noted, however, that in the Bible these various terms, when used by the Israelites to designate their own Deity, refer to one and the same god, the sole God of Israel. …. The God who identified Himself to Moses as YHWH said He was “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). Therefore, the terms “the Fear of Isaac” (perhaps rather, “the Kinsman of Isaac,” Gen. 31:42, 53) and “the Mighty One of Jacob” (Gen. 49:24; Isa. 49:26), are synonymous with YHWH, even though these terms may have been specific titles by which the God of these partriarchs was known as their individual tutelary deity.
 Creator of Heaven and Earth- This divine epithet occurs several times in the Book of Psalms. There, however, the Hebrew verb is always (coseh,whereas here, uniquely, qoneh appears. Generally the root q-n-h means “to acquire, to purchase.” The sense of koneh as “create” became obsolete and, in later biblical texts, was replaced by coseh. The divine title employed by the priest Melchizedek and echoed by Abram (v. 22) is of particular interest because the formula ‘el qn ‘rŞ,“El creator of earth,” has turned up in an eighth-century B.C.E. Phoenician…. This god’s consort was Asherah, just as in Ugarit this latter was the wife of El…. It is clear that the Hebrew title of Genesis 14-:19,22 belongs to a widespread liturgical tradition of the ancient Near East, which Israel adopted and modified to its own peculiar monotheism. What is exceptional is the full form of the Hebrew “Creator of heaven and earth”; the “heaven” is never included in any of the extrabiblical examples of the formula so far unearthed. Most likely, the original, widely used divine epithet has been disengaged from its polytheistic connections and has been expanded in a way that comprehends the Israelite conception of God as the cosmic Creator
 “As in the Greek and Hittite theogonies, Sanchuniathon’s Elus/Cronus overthrows his father Sky or Uranus and castrates him. However Zeus Demarûs, that is Hadad Ramman, purported son of Dagon but actually son of Uranus, eventually joins with Uranus and wars against Cronus. To El/Cronus is attributed the practice of circumcision. Twice we are told that El/Cronus sacrificed his own son. At some point peace is made and Zeus Adados (Hadad) and Astarte reign over the land with Cronus’ permission “– see http://www.e-paranoids.com/s/sa/sanchuniathon.html
 The authorship and editing of Genesis is a complex problem. Consider the conclusions of Radday
Yehuda T. Radday, et al “Genesis, Wellhausen and the Computer,” ZAW 94 (1982): 467-81. The authors used computer analysis on the book of Genesis and they found several things:
1) There is no “statistically significant difference” “in any analysis between the Jahwist and the Elohis” (i.e. those who claim that they can tell a difference are using a personal and subjective judgment–there is no objective difference “between the two” so it probably means that they were written by one author not two.)
2) “A wide gap divides P from J+E, but it is accounted for by differences in genre and content and hence not reason enough to regard P as a separate source.” page 480.
On page 481 they conclude that: “the Documentary Hypothesis in Genesis should either be rejected or at least thoroughly revised.”
 From PEOPLES OF THE PAST: PHOENICIANS by Glenn E Markoe, U. Ca Press, 2000
“The Late Bronze Age religious tradition within Phoenicia … shares much in common with that of the later Iron Age. Such evidence for continuity notwithstanding, the city cults of the Phoenician Iron Age reveal a strong autonomous development. During this time, the gods Melqart, Eshmun, and Astarte, in particular, assume new and increased importance and emphasis…. The cults of all three divinities enjoyed enormous growth and diffusion at this time. At the start of the first millennium, Baal Shamem, too, re-emerged as a vital, independent deity. The cultic development of these divinities in the Iron Age may be understood as a reflection of the growing autonomy of the various independent city centres which promoted their worship.
“Scholarship in recent years has led to a reinterpretation of the nature of the Phoenician Iron Age religious pantheon. As was formerly maintained, each city was governed by a family triad, consisting of a mother- and father-deity and their male offspring, a young god of vegetation, whose death and rebirth marked the annual agricultural cycle. This notion has now been dispelled in favour of the model of a dual city hierarchy composed of a supreme male and female deity – a Baal and Baalat. This divine coupling is attested at each of the three major Phoenician centres: Melqart and Astarte at Tyre; Eshmun and Astarte at Sidon; and Baal and Baalat at Byblos. In each instance, the chief male deity is associated with the notion of death and rebirth.”
 He did not go without a fight. Under the Mesopotamian name Tammuz, and possibly under Assyro-Babylonian influence, he reappears – see “Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD; and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.” (Ezekiel 8:14).
 “The Elephantine Jews brought with them to Egypt the popular religion combated by the early prophets and by Jeremiah shortly before the destruction of the First Temple. It is true that this religion placed the God of Judah, Yahu (a name which occurs in several variants in the papyri), in the center of the faith and worship, just as the popular religion in Judah did not repudiate Him. The Elephantine Jews were conscious, too, of the unique nature of their religion in comparison with those of the other peoples living in Elephantine and Egypt. This is revealed by the fact that those who ministered in the Elephantine Jews’ temple are referred to in the papyri as kohanim (“priests”), while the gentile cults are said to have kemarim (“idolatrous priests”)—exactly as in the Bible. Yet it cannot be denied that alongside Yahu there were other gods, the “strange gods” which were such a source of grief to the prophets of Israel. A notable fact that emerges is that the Elephantine Jews saw nothing wrong in having their own temple even though a Temple to the God of Israel existed in Jerusalem. They appealed to the high priest Jehohanan to take steps to rebuild their temple, destroyed by the priests of Khnub, without any misgivings that he might regard the very existence of the temple at Elephantine as a grave sin. It is evident from papyrus Cowley 30, which tells of the incident, that the writers of the letter to the governor Bigvai were surprised that the high priest in Jerusalem did not see fit to answer them….
There is no escaping the conclusion that two goddesses dwelt alongside Yahu, and were worshipped with Him in the Elephantine temple. The element Asham in Ashambethel is to be identified with the Ashmat of Samaria mentioned in Amos (8:14), while Bethel as an element in a compound proper noun current in Judah in the days of Darius I is mentioned in Zechariah 7:2. The same applies to Anathbethel: Anath, an ancient eastern goddess of war, was well known in Erez Israel, as is indicated by place-names such as Anathoth and Beth-Anath.” Encyclopedia Judaica
 “The theme of Creation serves merely as an introduction to the central motif: God’s role in history. The opening chapters serve as a prologue to the historical drama that commences in chapter 12. They serve to set forth the worldviews and values of the civilization of the Bible, the pillars on which the religion of Israel rests. The God of Genesis is the wholly self-sufficient one, absolutely independent of nature. He is the unchallenged sovereign of the world, who is providentially involved in human affairs, the God of history. The human being in Genesis is the pinnacle of Creation, a creature of infinite preciousness who enjoys a unique relationship with God. Humankind is endowed with free will and, consequently, is also charged with moral responsibility and inescapable accountability. Moreover, the entire human race constitutes a single family, which becomes fractured after the perverse exercise of freedom of will.” N. Sarna in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary by David L. Lieber (Editor), Jules Harlow (Editor), Rabbinical Assembly/USCJ, 2001 p. 2
I should point out that some scholars deny that monotheism was the general norm in Persian period Judaism eg. H. NIEHR Religio-Historical Aspects of the ‘Early Post-Exilic’ Period in THE CRISIS OF ISRAELITE RELIGION edited by BOB BECKING AND MARJO C.A. KARPEL, Brill 1999
 “The poems in 1:20–33, 8:1–36, and 9:1–6 not only conceptualize Wisdom but personify her in striking fashion. Chapter 8, arranged in three strophes and an epilogue, is one of the most remarkable passages in the wisd
om literature, picturing Wisdom as YHWH’s associate in the creation of the world.” Encyclopedia Judaica.
 There is some evidence that originally grain and incence offerings to other deities were tolerated.
 See Encyclopedia Judaica article ANIM ZEMIROT
 See King pp. 4-5 and 36-38. Although many stories in the Bible (e.g. Samson, Levite’s Concubine) show that the nuclear family was important, there curiously is no word for the concept in Biblical Hebrew (see Zevit p. 646). The family hierarchy was –
2. nuclear family – father has main authority
3. extended family bet av in Hebrew
4. clan mishpaHa in Hebrew
6. in pre-monarchal times `am Yahweh translated as the ‘kindred of Yahwe’ (see below) i.e. Israel as a whole. Later this role was taken by the king.
From the Bible it is difficult to determine:
· how the bet av functioned. However, we can assume that it did so and was probably the most important unit in Israelite society; and,
· whether the tribe and/or clan were really effective decision making and action taking units and, if so, how decisions were made. Perhaps it varied by situation, time and place. In particular, the tribe might have disappeared, or lost its effectiveness, under the monarchies.
 see Cross, Canaanite myth and Hebrew epic pp. 39-43.
 In God as Divine Kinsman: What Covenant Meant in Ancient Israel, (In Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 25 no. 4 July/August 1999). Frank Moore Cross is quoted as writing –
“The social organization of West Semitic tribal groups was grounded in kinship..(which) defined the rights and obligations, the duties, status, and privileges of tribal members…. In the religious sphere, the intimate relationship with the family god, the ‘God of the Fathers,’ was expressed in the only language available to members of a tribal society. Their god was the Divine Kinsman…
“The Divine Kinsman fulfills the mutual obligations and receives the privileges of kinship. He leads in battle, redeems from slavery, loves his family, shares the land of his heritage (naHalah) provides and protects. He blesses those who bless his kindred and curses those who curse his kindred [see Genesis 12:3]. The family of the deity rallies to his call to holy war, ‘the wars of Yahweh,’ keeps his cultus, obeys his patriarchal commands, maintains family loyalty (Hesed), loves him with all their soul, calls on his name…
“Early Israel was a somewhat fragile tribal league, or confederation. This league, says Cross was ‘a kinship organizations, a covenant of families and tribes organized by the creation or identification of a common ancestor and related by segmented genealogies.’ it was also a religious organization. The league was called the `am Yahweh (see Judges 5:11; 1 Samuel 2:24; 2 Samuel 1:12 et al.). This phrase is usually translated ‘people of Yahwe,’ but it would be more accurately translated ‘kindred of Yahwe.’ According to Cross, ‘Yahwe is the god of Israel, the divine Kinsman, the god of the covenant.’ Each has obligations to the other”
 See Bamberger’s comments on Leviticus 17 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, W G Plaut Union of American Hebrew Congregations 1981 pp 872-74
 See Hayes, J H and Miller, J M, Israelite and Judaean History, Westminster 1977 pp. 458-469; Albertz, Rainer, A history of Israelite religion in the Old Testament period [translated by John Bowden], Louisville, Ky. : Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994 p. 195 ff.
“The evidence from the history of religions suggests … that polytheism and monotheism are not ideal, exclusive religious patterns, and that the development of one into the other cannot be predicted, though it can be observed and described…. at the beginning of the Iron Age (around 1200 B.C.E.), a … religious pattern appeared among the new and larger nation-states that emerged in Syria-Palestine…. In the religions of the new Iron Age nation-states… the preeminent city god was replaced by a supreme national god” who, as far as our evidence permits us to say, was almost the sole object of worship in the community.
“We know the names of these national gods from the Bible and from epigraphic materials found in Israel, Jordan and Syria. They included, among others, Milcom the god of Ammon, Chemosh the god of Moab, Qos the god of Edom and Yahweh the god of Israel. A theological rationale for the division of the land into nation-states worshiping national gods is recorded in Deuteronomy 32:8 -9, the original form of which is preserved in the Greek Bible and a manuscript from Qumran:
When the Most High apportioned the nations,
when he divided up the sons of man,
He established the boundaries of the peoples,
according to the number of the sons of God.
The allotment of Yahweh was his people,
Jacob was his portion of the estate.
“And we can add that the Ammonites were the allotment of Milcom, the Moabites the allotment of Chemosh and so on.
“As Israelite religion developed at the close of the Iron Age, and then passed through the extraordinary period of religious creativity that transformed it from pre-Exilic Yahwism into early Judaism, the Most High God of Deuteronomy 32:8 was exclusively identified with Yahweh. And with the emergence of Jewish monotheism, the power of the other gods, and eventually their very existence, was denied.” Quoted from The Religious Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah by P. Kyle McCarter Jr. in Shanks and Meinhardt
 See Hayes, J H and Miller, J M, Israelite and Judaean History, Westminster 1977 pp. 442-444
 See The Babylonian Gap by E. Stern in the November/December 2000 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review and the following two articles in the May/June 2002 issue: There Was No Gap by J. Blenkinsopp; Yes There Was by E. Stern
 Fohrer p. 115 “At cultic sites sacrifices were offered, which from this time (after the “conquest” but before the monarchy) steadily increased in importance, the more so because, until the centralization of the cult at Jerusalem introduced by the Deuteronomic reform, all animal slaughter was sacrificial.”
 Local loyalties did continue for a few generation. This is evident from the insistence of returnees from Babylon on settling in their ancestral home.
 Torah here refers to Genesis-Deuteronomy also called the Five Books of Moses and, in Hebrew Humash/Chumash. For the history of the development of the Torah and the Deuteronomic Reform see Friedman, Richard Elliott, Who Wrote the Bible, Harper & Row, 1987
 This is clear from the fact that no one is ever recorded, in the historical books of the Hebrew Bible, as looking in a book for divine guidance before the Deuteronomic Reform (c. 620-609 BCE).
 See Encyclopaedia Judaica vol. 3 col. 908 under heading Authority in deciding the halakhah for this in a Jewish context.
 Compare this to Greece and Rome where the priests conducted sacrificial auguries to determine practical military and political questions
 Pp. 659-662
 The explicit map of Ezek 47:13-48:29 with its implicit territorial claims is congruent with the borders of the Late Bronze Egyptian province of Canaan
(cf. Num. 34:1-12), but its strange distribution of the tribes stacked in east-west strips is drawn from Someother tradition of the distribution of the tribes in the land. The outer perimeter of Joisah’s map may, however, have been similar.
 For a discussion of this material with particular attention to the gradual shift from Asherah the goddess to asherah the cultic pole. ee Hadley 1994. For a discussion of later compensations for the eradication of the worship of Asherah (and other goddesses) see Hadley 1995 b. For an opposing interpretation, see Miller 1986, who states: ‘Either the feminine deity was implicitly absorbed in Yahweh from the beginning along with all other divine powers and so had no independent existence or character, or the radical integration of divine powers in the male deity Yahweh effectively excluded the goddess(es)… In Israelite religion, of course. This was not a slow process that can be traced. The feminine dimension of deity is absorbed or absent from the beginning’ (p. 245).
 Archaeology and the Religion of Israel 77-78;Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan 105.106; Albright has been followed by Pope, ” ,” 247 and Cross, Canaanite Myth 31.
 See KAI 89.1, rbt Hwt ‘it, *rabbat Hawwat ‘ilat, “The Lady Hawwah, Elat,” who is likely Asherah/Elat/Tannit. Elat is a well known epithet of Asherah both in the Bronze and Iron Ages. “The Lady” (rbt) is used frequently of Tannit in the Punic world. For another Punic attestation of Hwt, see M. Lidzbarski, Ephemeris Fur semitische Epigraphik (Gissen: Topelmann, 1915) 3:285. For the epithet Elat in the Iron Age, see n.48, chapter 3. On the possibility of an old Asherah myth behind the Genesis Eden story, see H. Wallace, The Eden Narrative (HSM 32; Atlanta: Scholars, 1985) …. Wallace does not remark on the possible relationship of Nehushtan to Asherah’s cultus.
 ANEP 471, 472(?), 474. Stela 473 shows Qudsu, El (Ptah) and Resep, where Qudsu appears naked on a lion with lotus and serpents. This evidence is decisive. We know from Ugarit that Qudsu is an epithet of Canaanite Asherah. See Cross, Canaanite Myth 33-35.
 “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind, dying, came to a transmigrated life in the theology and liturgy of the Church; the Greek language, having reigned for centuries over philosophy, became the vehicle of Christian literature and ritual; the Greek mysteries passed down into the impressive mystery of the Mass. Other pagan cultures contributed to the syncretist result. From Egypt came the ideas of a divine trinity, the Last Judgment, and a personal immortality of reward and punishment; from Egypt the adoration of the Mother and Child, and the mystic theosophy that made Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, and obscured the Christian creed; there, too, Christian monasticism would find its exemplars and its source. From Phrygia came the worship of the Great Mother; from Syria the resurrection drama of Adonis; from Thrace, perhaps, the cult of Dionysus, the dying and saving god. From Persia came millennarianism, the “ages of the world,” the “final conflagration,” the dualism of Satan and God, of Darkness and Light; already in the Fourth Gospel Christ is the “Light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” The Mithraic ritual so closely resembled the eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass that Christian fathers charged the Devil with inventing these similarities to mislead frail minds. Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world.” CAESAR AND CHRIST: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to A.D. 325 – THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION: PART III By Will Durant, SIMON AND SCHUSTER, NEW YORK 1944
 “The eclipse of the goddesses (in Mesopotamia) can be seen dramatically by the fortunes of mother-figures. The primordial first-mothers disappear early…. Texts from the southern city of Lagash … recite as the triad of the greatest gods An, Enlil, and Ninhursag (goddess). Ninhursag, too, starts to decline in later Sumerian texts. By the time of the Isin and Larsa dynasties (1900-1800 B.C.E.), the supreme divine triad has become An, Enlil, and Enki, with Ninhursag listed as fourth in rank.
“Even the role of the mother-goddess in the creation of the first humans is not unchallenged in Sumerian texts. One myth … (relates that the god) Enlil had created the pickaxe, he used it to dig a hole in the earth, and laid into the hole a brick-mold that had the seed of humanity. After he did this, people sprouted up from the ground like grass.? In this text, Enlil is clearly the motivating power, and humans are born from the seed that he created. Earth is the womb, but it is an earth devoid of “earth-mother”; it is inanimate and without volition.”
From In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
 Some in Israel accepted that agriculture was not the way of God but then rejected agriculture not God (see Jer. 35 re. the Rechabites)
 See Solomonic State Officials by Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, Gleerup 1971; Solomon’s New Men by E. W. Heaton, Pica Press 1974; and, p xxxiii Anchor Bible Proverbs and Ecclesiastes by R. B. Y. Scott, Doubleday 1965.
 Anchor Bible Proverbs and Ecclesiastes by R. B. Y. Scott, Doubleday 1965.
 “The Phoenicians worshipped a triad of deities, each having different names and attributes depending upon the city in which they were worshipped, although their basic nature remained the same. The primary god was El, protector of the universe, but often called Baal. The son, Baal or Melqart, symbolized the annual cycle of vegetation and was associated with the female deity Astarte in her role as the maternal goddess. She was called Asherar-yam, our lady of the sea, and in Byblos she was Baalat, our dear lady. Astarte was linked with mother goddesses of neighboring cultures, in her role as combined heavenly mother and earth mother. Cult statues of Astarte in many different forms were left as votive offerings in shrines and sanctuaries as prayers for good harvest, for children, and for protection and tranquillity in the home. The Phoenician triad was incorporated in varying degrees by their neighbors and Baal and Astarte eventually took on the look of Greek deities.” http://phoenicia.org/pagan.html
 From (from Ha’aretz Magazine, Friday, October 29, 1999)
YHWH and his Consort
How many gods, exactly, did Israel have? Together with the historical and political aspects, there are also doubts as to the credibility of the information about belief and worship. The question about the date at which monotheism was adopted by the kingdoms of Israel and Judea arose with the discovery of inscriptions in ancient Hebrew that mention a pair of gods: YHWH and his Asherath. At two sites, Kuntilet Ajrud in the southwestern part of the Negev hill region, and Khirbet el-Kom in the Judea piedmont, Hebrew inscriptions have been found that mention ‘YHWH and his Asherah’, ‘YHWH Shomron and his Asherah’, ‘YHWH Teman and his Asherah’. The authors were familiar with a pair of gods, YHWH and his consort Asherah, and send blessings in the couple’s name. These inscriptions, from the 8th century BCE, raise the possibility that monotheism, as a state religion, is actually an innovation of the period of the Kingdom of Judea, following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. Ze’ev Herzog.
 Stern, E., Archaeology of the Land of the Bible Volume II: The Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Periods 732-332 BCE, Doubleday 2001 p. 75. According to Thorkild Jacobsen (The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion) the key Third Millennium BCE gods were An (the original top god and sky god)=Authority; Enlil (weather god)=Force; Ninhursag (goddess – form giver, birth giver, midwife)=Productivity and Enki=Cunning. Only Enki seems not to be paralleled in the Phoenician trinity.
 “Phoenician priesthoods were hereditary, like the Jerusalem priesthood, and they also habitually wore white, as the Jerusalem priesthood did except for special occasions when a celestially decorated garment was worn.” http://essenes.crosswinds.net/m91.htm. See Gray p. 190
 This sort of generalization must be used with caution see Gnuse, Robert Karl, No other gods : emergent monotheism in Israel, Sheffield, Eng. : Sheffield Academic Press, c1997. p. 229