Reason for a New Age

Posts Tagged ‘yahweh’

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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A History of God – Part 1

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/04/28

Religion is, essentially, outside of the scope of this blog — which is intended to focus on politics and economics — but at the same time much of my purpose is simply to find areas where the knowledge and ideas of the experts hasn’t made it to the general public. And so in that vein, I present to you a history of God as the Christian public understands him.


Big ‘G’ God was historically known as the god Yahweh or YHWH in ancient Hebrew, which writing system chose to eschew the writing of vowel sounds, only consonants. In part 1 of this series, we are going to look at the archaeological record of this deity. Specifically, we will be looking at the time period between 2500 BC and 500 BC.

The nation of Canaan during this time period existed boundaried by the Mediterranean Sea on the West, the Dead Sea at its lower right edge, and Lake Tiberias on its upper right. One can also consider Canaan to have included the regions marked as “Nomads” in the map below, as the tribes who inhabited this region most likely spoke a Canaanite dialect and appear to have worshiped a similar pantheon of Gods as the people of upper Canaan. As they were a roaming people with either no writing system or who simply did not feel the need to learn to write, most likely they were not particularly under the influence of the Canaanite political system. Overall, these nomadic tribes appear to have been spread all of the way from the edge of Egypt in the Southwest to the edges of Syria, Akkad, and Sumer in the East.

Middle East - Approximation 2500 to 500 BC

A note on the above image is that Akkad and Sumer were combined into Babylonia and existed as a single empire until approximately 500 BC. The location of Assyria varied widely, being shuffled about by the MittaniAramaeans, Hittites, and probably any other number of groups. Most importantly, though, is that these groups left behind records of their dealings with other local groups, providing a record of the contemporary state of the world, as opposed to the Bible which records myths, legends, and (possibly) manufactured fictional stories of times past. Genesis and Exodus of the Old Testament were likely not written until after 900 BC and would not be entirely settled until around 450 BC, though the time period they chronicle is presumed to be around 1200 BC giving much time for information to be lost, distorted, and created.

The Semitic Pantheon

The Canaanite people are a subgroup of the Semitic, in modern understanding. The Hebrew people are a subgroup of the Canaanite. Thus, before examining the Canaanite pantheon of gods, we will look at the Semitic Pantheon which spawned them.

Ilu (El) – Leader of the pantheon. Creator of Earth and humankind.
Atiratu (Asherah, Athirat) – Consort of Il.
Attaru (Astarte, Ishtar) – Fertility goddess. (Often composited with Atiratu.)
Haddu (Hadad, Baal) – Storm and warrior god.

The Canaanite religion carried this on, adding further new gods like Resheph, Kotharat, etc. but outside of some name changes (a few variations already listed above) these deities remained.

The Nomads South and East of Canaan

The various nomadic peoples South and East of Canaan appear to have largely held to this same pantheon with El at the top, Asherah his consort, and then various other gods below them. But it also seems to be that each tribe had its own “tribal” god. That is to say, they had a god whom they focussed a disproportionate amount of attention to given that he was not the supreme god. Often this is Baal/Hadad. Point in fact, though Baal and Hadad are almost certainly the same deity, whether the tribe who worshiped Baal would accept that the tribe who worshiped Hadad was worshiping the same deity or not probably rested a bit on politics and acceptingness. Besides Baal and Hadad, we know of tribes who worshiped Chemosh as their favorite deity and those who worshiped Moloch (possibly both the same deity).

Now, there are ancient writings referring to nomadic tribes in the region South and East of Canaan between 2000 BC and 1200 BC called the Shasu, the Shutu, and the Habiru people. Respectively, these references come from Egypt, Syria, and the rest from the Hitties, Syrians, Akkadians, Sumerians, and Egyptians. One group of the Shasu (nomads) are referred to as having a relationship with YHW. Since it’s known that the Shutu do refer to a nomadic tribe Southwest of Syria, and the name is similar to Shasu, many scholars presume that the Syrian word for them comes from the Egyptian word Shasu. The “Habiru” may or may not be an ethnic group of any particular sort. The term may mean little more than “nomad”, “bandit”, or “migrant”.

From the Bible and other sources, we can accurately identify a few of the various semi-nomadic tribes that existed in this region. They are often distinguished from the Habiru, as a group who is being traded with, allied with, or otherwise displaying some sort of organization and rulership.

Firstly, we have the Amorites. Mentioned by the Sumerians in inscriptions dating from as early as the 25th century BC they appear to have existed just West of Akkad and in fact the city of Mari appears to have been Amoritic at one point in its history (18th century BC) and inscriptions from that time are in the Akkadian script. On the other hand, an Amorite principality (Amurr) appears to have been established in the Northern section of  Canaan by at least 1600 BC. Though the Amorites are conflated with the Canaanites by the Syrians, their preferred deity was named Amurru, described as a storm god. A common epithet for Amurru is Bel Sade, Lord of the Mountain, the same as the Hebrew epithet for Yahweh, El Shaddai. Amurru also had a consort, who appears to be Asherah, indicating that “Amurru” was possibly the Amorite’s name for El.

After this, we have the Ammonites. Being mentioned almost solely by the Bible and the Syrians, this group appears to have always been just East of Canaan perhaps forming there around 1000 to 900 BC. The first provable mention of them is in 853 BC when their king fought alongside the Syrians. To the Ammonites, their premiere deity may have been Moloch, but what sort of deity this is, appears to be largely unknown. It is likely that one of the ceremonies practiced by the Ammonites in the name of Moloch involved children and fire, but this could refer to anything from ritual sacrifice to quickly passing a child over flames (causing no damage) as a sort of purification ritual. There also appears to be some evidence that they worshiped both Yahweh and the Edomite god, Kaus.

The Aramaeans were somewhere South of Assyria and Northeast of Canaan starting around the time of 2250 BC. As time moved on, the Aramaeans moved Northward until being fully absorbed by the Syrians by around 800 BC. Their beliefs seem to have mixed Sumerian and Canaanite pantheons, but El seems to have been their principal deity.

The Moabites existed just Southeast of Canaan. They are referred to by the Egyptians around 1250 BC, and evidence seems to indicate that they stayed in this same approximate location from that time period until roughly 600 BC. They worshiped principally Chemosh. Evidence from both the Bible and the Mesha Stele give some evidence that Chemosh and Moloch are references to the same deity. Chemosh has a consort referred to as Ashtar — likely the Moabite equivalent to Asherah. They also worshiped Nabu, a deity shared with the Amorites. It is also worth noting that the Moabites worshiped one of their deities at Mount Pe’or and that this fact is of some importance to the Bible (given that our knowledge of this fact comes from it.)

The Edomites were, then, just South of the Moabites. Archaeological evidence shows that this region began to be settled perhaps between 1000 and 900 BC. The Assyrians first mention their king in 745 BC, so we can presume that they had stabilized into a nation by that time. One of their deities appears to have been named Kaus, the names of two of their kings being Kaus-malaka (Kaus is lord) and Kaus-gabri (Kaus is mighty), for example, and Josephus (a Roman, writing around 90 AD) remarked that the Edomite people worshiped a god of similar name. The Wikipedia mentions him as being a mountain deity, but this tidbit is uncited and I have been unable to find any other references to it.

Confirmable Peoples

The Israelites – Noah through Abraham

Tracking the Israelites is a difficult task as outside of the one reference to the “Shasu of Yhw” by the Egyptians — which can’t be verified to refer to the Israelites at all — none of the local civilizations left any definite mention of the Israelite people until after 900 BC. Before we get to the archaeological history of the Israelites, however, let’s look at the Biblical information.

Now, the story of Noah is predominantly that of a Great Flood. This tale is shared by the Sumerians, dating to at least 1700 BC. Noah‘s son Shem is recorded as having 5 sons who founded Elam (in Sumer), Assyria, Syria (in Assyria), Chaldea (in Sumer), and Lydia (north of Assyria). Of these, Arpachshad (founder of Chaldea in Southwest Sumer) is the ancestor of Abraham. His son Eber refused to help construct the Tower of Babel, located in the city of Babylon (central Sumer). The Tower of Babel is also duplicated in a Sumerian tale from around 2100 BC. Eber’s grandson Reu married the daughter of Ur Kesed. “Ur” is a region of Sumer. His grandson married a woman from “Ur of the Chaldeas”. And his son was Terah of Ur, father of Abraham. Together, Abraham, Terah, and the rest of the family began a journey to Canaan. On this trip, Terah dropped out midway at Harran, a city located in Assyria. Terah is also accused of making idols and worshiping a pantheon of deities.

Now, the term “Chaldea” was a reference to a group of people who ruled a section of Southwest Babylonia after ~600 BC. Previous to that, there is no such people, indicating that when the Bible described the history of its people as coming from Chaldea, they were using the name that was current at the time, indicating that this section was not written until after 600 BC. But, the inclusion of the stories of the Deluge and the Tower of Babel and their own oral tradition of having come from the region of Sumer, does make it highly likely that their tribe lived in that region previous to 1700 BC. The Bible also indicates that they traveled counter-clockwise about our Nomadic region, passing by Assyria, on their journey. Given that this would allow them to stay near to the rivers and oases of Babylonia and Assyria, this seems plausible. Point in fact, we know that the Amorites may have been making a similar journey at the same time. Knowing that the term “El Shaddai” seems to have historically referred to a range of divine mountains in Mesopotamia according to the Amorites, it seems plausible that the Israelites may have been part of this movement.

Abraham is recorded as having arrived in Canaan, but then continuing South from there and settled. While living in the general area of South-central Canaan, he had dealing with the people to the West, a Pharaoh (Egyptian monarch) and a Philistine Monarch named after Moloch. The Philistines were a group of people who occupied the Southwest shoreline of Canaan.

Canaan was, essentially, a province of Egypt until the mid 1600s BC until internal strife caused them to lose focus on the region. This control was reasserted and held during the 1400s and 1300s. An influx of nomads (Habiru) starting around 1350 BC began a period of turbulence with towns being overtaken, but eventually these people seem to have been conquered by around 1290 BC. However, this was followed by a challenge to take over the region by the Hittites (an empire started North of Assyria that drove South along the Canaanite coast) as well as an attack by the Sea Peoples. While the Egyptians seem to have been able to keep hold of Southern Canaan up until around 1190 BC, the region seems to have been largely independent after that point.

A personal best guess, then, would be that Abraham’s people had some dealing with a local leader in Southwest Canaan while the nation was still under Egyptian control either before the 1600s or sometime between 1400 and 1200 BC. It’s unlikely that they actually went all of the way into Egypt, there was simply some confusion between two versions of the story, one recalling the location, and the other recalling where the source of power was coming from.

Now, Abraham’s people are recorded as having been conquered by a group of Mesopotamians. The two best possible identifications for this are an attack around 1800 BC on the city of Mari, then controlled by the Amorites, or it may be a reference to the Hittite attacks on Canaan around 1220 BC. Giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume it to be this latter option.

Finally, Abraham retired to live in Gerar, which appears to be a town that was in fact settled around 1200 BC.

Plausible Movement of the Israelites

Israelites – Archaeology

The first possible reference to the Israelite people is as the Shasu of Yhw, written upon a statue in Egypt under the reign of Amenhotep III sometime around 1350 BC. But it is not until about 850 BC, with the Mesha Stele, that the existence of an Israelite people is confirmed. Within a century of that is the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, a waypoint and prayer spot in Northeast Sinai apparently created by the Israelite kingdom.

9th Century Canaan and Sinai

From this map it seems plausible that the Israelites were headquartered somewhere around the Southern border of the region of Canaan, where they could directly fight with Moab, while still stretching South far enough to extend outside of Canaan as well.

Now, an important thing to note is that the Kuntillet ‘Arjut is a place for worship of El, Baal, Yahweh, and (possibly) Asherah. Given that the Amorites worshiped Amurru alongside El, Baal, and Asherah; the Moabites worshiped Chemosh alongside Baal, and Asherah; and the Edomites worshiped Kaus alongside El, Baal, and Asherah, it does not seem particularly strange that another nomadic Canaanite tribe would be worshiping their personal deity plus a shared Canaanite pantheon. Nor would it seem strange that, this one deity having become ascendant — like Chemosh and Amurru — that Asherah was his consort rather than El’s.

I will note that by the time of the 9th century and beyond, it isn’t 100% clear as yet that Asherah remained as a female deity and consort, rather than a symbolic icon placed next to icons of the principal god of the people. Much of the early worship of Yahweh that can be seen via references in the Bible and in archaeological discoveries seem to support the idea that the symbolism and terminology was co-opted from Canaanite ceremony. As such, if El always had an Asherah Pole with him, Yahweh should too. If El was Lord of the Mountain, Yahweh should be as well — and hence a mountain was picked.

To be certain, at least some of this occurred. Take for example, the word “Elohim“, which traditionally meant “the gods”, a plural term. In the Old Testament, Yahweh is often called Elohim because quite likely the word was in ancient poetry about the Canaanite pantheon and the people who wrote the Bible in the 400s BC hadn’t realized that the ancient term was a plural, they just knew it had something to do with “El”, which was probably just the same as Yahweh.

The Bible admits as much as that the early Israelites were polytheistic and the transfer to monotheism required stamping out polytheistic practices. But in the Bible tradition, Yahweh declared himself the only deity from day one, but the Israelite people didn’t follow this perfectly at first. So even though we can show that Yahweh was worshiped alongside El and Baal, the Bible doesn’t necessarily contradict that.

Arguments for Early Polytheism

It is, however, far more likely that the idea that Yahweh was “officially” meant to be worshiped the sole and supreme deity was an idea added at a later period. Borrowing liberally from Mark S. Smith’s work “The Origins of Biblical Monotheism”, I will present a few of them.

1) A simple argument is the question of why Yahweh has a name? “El” essentially just means “God” as evidenced by the fact that “Elohim” means “gods” and that text used for El was incorporated without modification into text for Yahweh (God). If Yahweh was always the only deity worth worshiping, why did he have a name that differentiated him from El and other deities?

2) The name “Israel” contains the word “El” not Yahweh. While the use of the word “Yahweh” was later condemned (possibly as a realization that a name was superfluous), it was accepted in early Israel and used in inscriptions. From this, one would presume that his people would name themselves after him, not the god of the Canaanites.

3) A section in Deuteronomy read as such:

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

This seems to indicate that the Most High (Elyon) is giving his inheritance to his children. For Yahweh, his child, goes the people of Jacob. That is to say, Yahweh is listed as the son of El in the Bible — most likely due to a poor job of proof reading. Later editions corrected the fourth line to say “sons of Israel” rather than “sons of El”. Even then it still reads rather oddly if you think about it: When Yahweh alloted people for inheritance, for Yahweh’s portion is his people? Obviously there was a second entity giving to Yahweh.

4) The Old Testament seems to accept that other deities exist. Take for example Moses’ song to Yahweh’s greatness, Exodus 15:11:

Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?

5) Yahweh admits, in Exodus 6:2-3, that the ancestors of the Israelites (during the time of Abraham) called him a different name.

God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.”

6) Baal and other deities are demonized in the OT, but El is not. Demonization is the process of turning any deities who have been superseded in a religion into evil figures, the term coming from the common historic practice throughout the world. “Beelzebub”, for example, is a reference to a version of Baal worshiped by the Philistines, but is presented in the Bible as evil. The idea that children were sacrificed to Moloch is also, most likely, a fabrication to make him appear horrible. For example, in Judges 11:29-31, Jepthath offers the children of Ammon to Yahweh as a burnt offering.

Then the Spirit of Yahweh came on Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over to the children of Ammon. Jephthah vowed a vow to Yahweh, and said, “If you will indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be, that whatever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be Yahweh’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

This indicates either that Yahweh accepts human sacrifices by burning, or that this fire ceremony — presumably the same as the one practiced for Moloch — isn’t all that dangerous. Either way, this need to portray Moloch as worse than Yahweh most likely comes from a battle between supremacy in the minds of the populace, which was won by Yahweh. This sort of battling and belittling wouldn’t really be necessary if acceptance of Moloch as an equal to Yahweh hadn’t been decently prevalent, and it certainly wouldn’t be necessary if Yahweh was using miracles to prove his power and honesty before the people. You wouldn’t need a battle of words and ideas with real proof displaying itself before you.

7) The use of Asherah Poles continued all the way until the 500s BC, i.e. the time of the compilation of the Old Testament itself. Worship of Canaanite deities in Israel proper, by the Israelite kings, continued until at least 640 BC. If Yahweh had forbade the use of icons or the worship of other deities from day 1, as the Bible tells us he did in the 10 Commandments, then this seems a very late date for these practice to finally die out. From 2 Kings 21:5-9:

He [King Manasseh] built altars for all the army of the sky in the two courts of the house of Yahweh. He made his son to pass through the fire, and practiced sorcery, and used enchantments, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits, and with wizards: he worked much evil in the sight of Yahweh, to provoke him to anger. He set the engraved image of Asherah, that he had made, in the house of which Yahweh said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name forever; neither will I cause the feet of Israel to wander any more out of the land which I gave their fathers, if only they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they didn’t listen: and Manasseh seduced them to do that which is evil more than did the nations whom Yahweh destroyed before the children of Israel.

Bad yes? Except that he’s doing nothing different than was done 200 years earlier by King Ahab, 1 Kings 16:29-33:

In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. Ahab the son of Omri did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh above all that were before him. It happened, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. He reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. Ahab made the Asherah; and Ahab did yet more to provoke Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

And note that King Ahab was ruling, according to the Old Testament, 800 years after the Exodus when Yahweh first revealed himself, indicating 1000 years of failure to create monotheism among the Israelites. That seems to me to be excessive presuming that Yahweh’s tenet as the supreme and only god was orthodox from the start.

8) The Israelites list many of the surrounding tribes as being their own kin. The Edomites are listed as being related to Esau, great-grandson of Abraham. Moses seems to have originated from the region of the Midianites and took one of them as his wife. The Amelekites are listed as related to the Edomites, Midianites, and Israelites. The Moabites were descended from Lot, nephew of Abraham, and the Ammonites from the Moabites. And of course, all of these groups, as best we can tell, believed in a variant of the Canaanite pantheon. As pointed out in item #5, if Yahweh was known by a different name among the people of Abraham’s time, and those people appear to have been Polytheistic — as evidenced by the beliefs of their off-splits — then Yahweh came out of that Polytheistic tradition.

9) God has a mountain. Mt. Sinai is listed in the Bible as the “mountain of the Elohim” — i.e. the mountain of the gods — some indication that Sinai was originally viewed similarly to Mount Olympus, home of the gods. And of course, this is a shared trait with the Amorites, a group whose past seems to closely match that of the Israelites — only starting and ending slightly further North.


I could give further evidence but I believe that this has been sufficient to demonstrate the point.

It is fairly certain that Yahweh was originally a tribal deity who was considered to be a child of El and existed concurrently with El, Baal, and any other number of gods, all worshiped by the Israelite people at the same time. Not until probably the 650s BC at the earliest was the decision made to toss aside all other deities but Yahweh and rewrite history to indicate that this had always been the intention. Archaeologically speaking, there is no evidence to support any other view, and the Bible’s account doesn’t seem to counter this, it just offers a bluff about how the people were just really bad at practicing monotheism.

Ultimately, a deity is a deity. Yahweh may be an inferior of El — and presumably son of he and Asherah — but you can worship him just the same as one could worship Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto. However, that should be with the awareness that in the original religion, it was El who was king of the gods and creator of the world. You are worshiping his son, who overtook his name and title when an upstart group of Canaanite nomads decided that a single, ethnic religion would help to unify the Israelite people and a single deity helped to bolster the position of the king. But if it is the creator of the world that you intend to worship and you believe that it is these nomads from Canaan who had the right answer for who that was at the time of Moses (probably living between 1550-1450 BC), that answer would almost certainly have been El, and it would have included a whole slew of other deities for you to worship.

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