The origin of Yahweh

I’m glad today isn’t Sunday. And this is not because Sunday was actually two days ago, but because I had yesterday off work (so it felt a bit like a Saturday) and one of the things I was researching in Wikipedia was the history of the Jewish God(s). Because one thing that is apparant in reading the extra-Biblical history is that there was a Jewish pantheon in the centuries before the Exile. Yes, multiple gods.

Church-going Christians don’t usually like to hear this. This is one of the problems when you keep your study within the canonical scriptures. Most of the scripture we have of the Old Testament has been edited multiple times down through the ages. And one of the most recent sets of editors were the Returning Exiles of Ezra and Nehamiah’s times. However, what I think seems to be overlooked is that whilst they were in Exile, the Jews were exposed to a strongly monotheistic religion: Zoroastrianism. That’s not say this hadn’t occurred to them before the Exile, as the defeat by the Babylonians would have severely shaken up the Jew‘s faith in Yahweh and they would have been susceptible to shifting from henotheism to monotheism (thank you Wikipedia for that theory). But when they come back to Jerusalem, they would have brought back a Judaism with a single god. In addition, the priests and scribes of the time would have needed the older scriptures to teach the people and they were full of references of not just Yahweh, but also Asherah, the Baalim and El. So that had to be fixed.

I’ve been raised as Christian and have never not regularly gone to church. So it’s easy to forget that the Biblical accounts are not unbiased. Dreadfully easy, in fact. The archaeological evidence is coming out pretty clear that the Jews were actually Canaanites – just like all the other peoples living around them in the Levant. And rather despite the constant anti-Canaanite rhetoric in the Bible.

Now you might have a good idea why I’m glad today wasn’t Sunday. Trying to go to church with fresh thinking about the origin of the Hebrew people isn’t that good an idea.

Meanwhile, I’m learning what archaeology has been learning about the origin of one of the world’s oldest still extant religions. And the prevailing theory seems to be that Yahweh wasn’t even Canaanite: but was imported first by Moses (whoever he really was) from his father-in-law, and then confirmed by King Saul a few generations later.

I’m not going to try to summarize the extensive Wikipedia articles about the merging of Yahweh and El, the place of Asherah in Canaan and Israel, the uncertainty about where the Baalim fit in, etc etc.

And I haven’t even really explored the rest of the stories that lead up to that! Ah well. There’s still nearly a week until next Sunday…

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One Response to The origin of Yahweh

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