Reason for a New Age

A History of God – Part 2

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/04/30


In part 1, I showed some of the evidence that leads to the current consensus among non-religiously motivated researchers of the archaeology of the Middle East and its religions that Yahweh started as part of a pantheon of gods and evolved over time, not revealed to mankind in a fell swoop. Accepting that he evolved into “creator of everything” over time then, the question becomes what this mythical entity originally was.

The Amorites

In part 1, when tracing the movement of the Israelites, I largely accepted their account of Abraham and his movements.  Doing this, we ended up with the Israelites having entered lower Canaan no later than around 1200 BC. However, there are several reasons to think that they came much earlier than this.

1) Presuming that the Moabites were an offshoot of the Israelites, as the Old Testament attests, the people must have arrived sometime before Moab had already become settled enough to be noticed by the Egyptians in 1250 BC.
2) The tale of the deluge in Biblical myth ends in the Ararat Mountains, a region in Armenia where the Amorites are also believed to have come from.
3) The tale of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is believed to refer to the Hyksos expulsion.

In the time period of roughly 1750 to 1650 BC two important things both happened at roughly the same time in the Middle East. In the East, the Babylonian empire had suffered the loss of one of its greatest leaders, Hammurabi, and his successors were proving less effective, the region coming under attack by the Hittites and Kassites, and unrest rose through the recently conquered peoples of the empire. At the same time, within Egypt, the centralized power of the Pharaoh was weakening, and the individual vassal states of local princes throughout all of Egypt’s territory began to act as their own small nations. It appears to be these two forces that caused the Amorite people to move into the region of Canaan, settling there more-or-less peacefully during this time period.

Now, in the tale of Abraham, he is said to have come with “Terah”, who stayed in the North near Assyria. Presuming this to be historically meaningful, we might suppose that this indicates that the Israelites came with or were in fact Amorites, but are a group who continued South while, perhaps, the more civilized groups stayed in the Northeast.

This intrusion of Canaanitic peoples from the Mesopotamian region is believed to be synonymous with the Egyptian’s record of the Hyksos (“foreign kings”) invading their territory. Their names appear to be Canaanic and, sometimes, even Amoritic. Overall, this expansion does not appear to have been massively complicated, with the Canaanite people moving into the power vacuum more than they conquered it. By at least 1600, they had even moved into the edge of Egypt proper, establishing a local capital at Avaris. Starting sometimes between perhaps 1550-1500 BC, the Eygptian pharaoh Ahmose I was able to drive the Hyksos out of Avaris and by the mid-1400s, Egypt had re-established much control over Canaan.

Assuming that there was a “real” Moses, a best guess as to his identity would be some tribal leader who managed extracting his people from the wave of Egyptian conquest as it moved back into Northeastern Egypt and Southern Canaan, dating his life to the time period of 1550-1450. Later conquest of Canaan by Moses or his descendants, however, is fictional. Canaan was never conquered by the Israelites and certainly not during the time period of the 1400s. As mentioned in the previous post, the Israelites don’t leave any archaeological evidence of something identifiably “Israelite” until the 9th century.

Ultimately, the Israelites may not have been properly Amoritic, but the best guess is that they were closely related. As such, the best guess for what Yahweh was originally like is that he was Amurru or a close equivalent.

As you will note, according to the Bible, the Moabites split off and established their own deity Chemosh; from the Moabites the Ammonites and the Edomites both split off and established their own deities Moloch and Kaus, respectively. A habit of renaming the central deity after a group has split off and formed its own kingdom appears to be a recurring theme in the Bible. If it accepts such behavior as commonplace, I see no reason to naysay them.

Proto-Indo-European Religion

Now, just as I mentioned that Yahweh, Chemosh, Moloch, and Kaus may all be renamed copies of Amurru, it seems likely that Amurru himself may be little more than the Canaanite god Hadad, storm god. As a major god of all of the Canaanite religions, however, he seems to have largely persisted even as regional tribes made their own versions of him.

Worshiped from Sumer to Canaan, Hadad was considered to be equivalent to the gods Zeus, Set, and Teshub in the surrounding regions. Interestingly, the Hyksos ruler of Avaris, Apepi, appears to have worshiped Set.

Now, while you may think that Zeus is the leader of the pantheon of the Greeks, in fact he was the son of Cronus and ruler of the gods, eventually overthrown by Zeus. When the Greeks encountered the Canaanites, they determined that El and Cronus were the same deity (and, one presumes, that the Canaanites hadn’t been keeping up on the gods’ doings). Given that we only know of Grecian mythology starting from around the 9th century, it’s quite likely that originally the Greeks worshiped Cronus as their primary god.

While it’s impossible to say and perhaps unlikely even that all religions are descended from a single religion, there is certainly a good amount of overlap. This may be because as groups migrated and established local variants, the details changed while the broad strokes remained the same. Or it may be that different groups each started with their own religions, but as they came into contact with one another, the conflict of mutually exclusive ideas of the shape of the world caused people to try and resolve these differences, gradually leading to any shared traits being amplified, and differences being minimized. Most likely, there is some amount of truth to both of these theories for the development of religion.

What it means to us, though, is that when a deity is obscured by a lack of information, just as often as not you can fill in information by looking at what the deities of bordering regions looked like during the same time period. Even in modern day, if you were compare the religious views of South America, the Southern US, West Coast US, Northeast US, and Europe, you’ll find certain shared traits of how they view Christianity within their region, that seem to trail off at boundaries. People are victim to the need to conform and so you find regional synchronization towards a shared view. Without a written opus that attempts to lock things in stasis, centralizing on a single belief let alone maintaining that belief through centuries or millenia is impossible. The ideas will evolve regionally and slowly take on prevailing ideas from combatant beliefs that intrude along the borders.

Thus, if we know that Amurru or Yahweh to be a storm god who is in a position to take over as the lead deity of the pantheon, we can look at storm gods surrounding our region of interest and if any of those seem to be working their way towards the top or to have achieved it, it’s highly likely that Amurru and Yahweh will be some composite of these beliefs.

The Storm God in the Ancient Near East

Now, fortunately for me, there is a book on precisely this subject that is also (mostly) viewable via Google Books: The Storm God in the Ancient Near East

A related book is: Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan

I’ll note that neither of these books claim the Israelites were related to the Amorites nor that their god was related to Yahweh. Rather, they mostly just noticed that certain tales, poems, and epithets listed in the Bible seemed to match those of the region. That two attempts to discern the history of Yahweh, using principally different methods (tracking tribal movement versus literary criticism) should both converge on the same answer seems to be decently conclusive.

Since the literary criticism — drawing out shared traits from remaining data — requires looking at lots of fiddly details like the etymology of words and line-by-line comparisons of poetry, I won’t deal with it here.

I will also link to a discussion of the gods of the Amorites: The Empire of the Amorites (Chapter 17)

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