The url does not seem to be extant. Fortunately, I have copied the text. Dr X, who was quite brilliant and appeared here at one time wrote on the history of the gods as followsPart I
Doctor X http://www.freethought-forum.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-19920.html
05-06-2009, 04:24 PM
The Hebrew Bible [HB—Ed.] is predominantly a polytheistic and, more specifically, a henotheistic text. “Polytheism” refers to the belief in many gods, while “henotheism” refers to the belief in one god as greater or ruling over other gods. The HB reflects specific religions at the time of the composition of its texts, and each text is really a combination of sources with individual religious views, (Friedman, WWtB; TBwSR). As Dever cautions, they do not represent the religions practices by the people (Dever); indeed, writers condemn popular practices and rival views. In some cases, the writers wrote against the prevailing opinion. The evidence for the polytheism of the religion of the people that produced the texts of the Hebrew Bible exists in extra-biblical inscriptions, iconography, and in the texts themselves (Cross, Handy, Keel, Schmidt). While potentially offensive to the beliefs of modern adherents, understanding the texts and the religions they represent requires an honest reading of them. The texts themselves preserve a fascinating history of religious development.
With regards to the specific texts and inscriptions examined, I preserve the renderings and transliterations offered by the scholars in my quotations of them [Correcting if necessary.--Ed.]. Otherwise, I prefer the consonantal Biblical Hebrew since it avoids confusion and controversy regarding the vowels. For transliteration, I follow the Masoretic choices in this essay for ease of reading.
Exodus preserves unmistakable textual evidence for henotheism. The independent poem “the Song of the Sea,” possibly the oldest composition in the Hebrew Bible (Cross; Friedman, TBwSR), preserved in Exod 15:2-18, asks in verse 11, “Who among the gods is like you, YHWH?” This verse assumes the existence of other gods and considers YHWH greater than them. Similarly, in a verse from a different source (Friedman, TBwSR) Jethro states,“Now I know that YHWH is greater than all other gods,” (Exod 18:11). The following five passages from Exodus and from different authors, reiterate the prohibition of the worship of other gods. These commandments should not be confused with the mere proscription of the worship of idols or statues; it is acknowledge that other gods exist, but they must not be worshipped:
Exodus 20:3 “You shall not have other gods before my face.”
Exodus 22:19 “One who sacrifices to gods shall be completely destroyed--except to YHWH alone.”
Exodus 23:24 “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.”
Exodus 23:32 “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods.”
Exodus 34:14 “Do not worship any other god, for YHWH, whose name is Jealous, and is a jealous god.”
The prohibition against the worship of other gods is anything but infrequent in the HB, to the point that YHWH declares his own jealously on the issue. Exodus 20:4 specifically prohibits the creation and worship idols: “You shall not make a statue or any form that is in the skies above or that is in the earth below or that is in the water below the earth.” Compare the later Deuteronomistic version of the passage, Deut 5:7-10:
You shall not have other gods before my face.
You shall not make a statue, and form that is in the skies above or that is in the earth below or that is in the water below the earth.
You shall not bow to them, and you shall not serve them. Because I, YHWH, your god, am a jealous god, . . . .
Deut 5:7-10 neither unequivocally denies the existence of other gods nor does it address the making of YHWH images. Instead, it assumes the existence of other gods . . . while warning against the total abandonment of YHWH or the diminishing of his importance relative to that of other gods. In other words, if one refrains from reading a monotheistic or an aniconic perspective into these verses, one does not find it present in them (Schmidt).
One version of the Decalogue, Exod 20:2-17, possibly a source independent to the main authors of the text (Friedman, TBwSR), is dependent upon Hosea (Cohn):
Hos 13:4 I am YHWH your god since your days in Egypt, you know no god(s) [Elohim—Ed.] but me, and besides me there is no saviour.
Cohn explains that Hosea is, “. . . the oldest document of the Yahweh-alone movement,” and, “. . . what the Book of Hosea portrays is an official religion that is polytheistic, and which is therefore abomination by Yahweh, . . .” (Cohn).
The existence of multiple gods is assumed throughout the Psalms (Handy). Psalm 82 describes a great assembly of gods, who are all “sons of the Most High”:
Ps 82: 1-7: God [Elohim—Ed.] presides in the great assembly [‘adat ‘el, “the assembly of El,” see below.—Ed.]; he gives judgment among the gods [Elohim—Ed.]:
“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods [Elohim—Ed.]; you are all sons of the Most High.
But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler,” (Handy, with reference to the Hebrew)
Handy notes, “Psalm 82 deals solely with the deities of the higher orders and conforms to the understanding of those deities; . . .” (Handy). It refers specifically to “gods,” elohim, and not “angels” or other figures (Handy). Cross notes that YHWH judges in the ‘adat ‘el, “the assembly of El” and condemns the gods of this council to death (Cross), though “YHWH” is not actually attested in the Hebrew.
This henotheism is underscored in the following four excerpts from Psalms:
Ps 86:8 “Among the gods there is none like
you, YHWH, abounding in love to all who call to you.”
Ps 95:3 “For YHWH is the great god, the great king above all gods.”
Ps 97:7 “For you, YHWH, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”
Ps 135:5 “I know that YHWH is great, that YHWH is greater than all gods.”
Handy concludes: “. . , the Psalms also convey a belief in the existence of other deities in the divine realm and, if these poems did indeed derive from the cult, then it would have to be argued that the Judahite cult recognized several deities. This seems the most reasonable conclusion from the biblical texts,” (Handy). As in Exodus, these Psalms acknowledge the existence of other deities, while subordinating all of them to their god. This contributes to the idea of competition between gods, as in Exodus where YHWH competes and defeats the Egyptian gods where both sides exhibit feats of power and divinity.
However YHWH does not always win. In a curious passage, a foreign king’s sacrifice of his son to his god results in the defeat of the attacking Israelites:
2 Kgs 3:26-27 Seeing that the battle was going against him, the king of Moab led an attempt of seven hundred swordsmen to break a way through to the king of Edom; but they failed. So he took his first-born son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to their own land.
Levenson notes, “More serious is the great “wrath” (qesep) that falls on Israel . . , for the implication is clear: Mesha’s sacrifice worked. . . . . . . the term qesep indicates a force external to the people involved. . . . the author saw Mesha’s sacrifice of his first-born son as having a profound effect upon the deity to whom it was offered, in this case presumably the Moabite national deity Chemosh. . . . (Levenson). This is a reasonable presumption since the historical Mesha sacrifices Israelites to Chemosh as described in his Stela:
And Chemosh said to me, “Go, take Nebo from Israel!” (15) So I went up by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, taking it and slaying all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls and maid-servants, for I have devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh. And I took from there the [ . . . ] of Yahweh, dragging them before Chemosh. And the king of Israel had built Jahaz, and he dwelt there while he was fighting against me, but Chemosh drove him out before me (Albright).
Extra-Biblical evidence of polytheism places the texts in context. Edelman notes:
During the period when Judah existed as a state, from ca. 960-586 BCE, it seems to have had 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 upon their status within the larger hierarchy (Edelman).
Excavations of a caravanserai at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud dated to the first half of the eighth century, revealed paintings and inscriptions on two large storage jars or pithoi (Keel). Controversy persists on whether or not the depictions represent YHWH and the goddess Asherah (Keel, Laughlin, Schmidt), however the inscription on pithos A reads: “brkt ’tkm lyhwh šmron wl’šrth,” translated: “I bless you/have blessed you to/before Yahweh of Samaria and his a/Asherah,” (Keel, Laughlin, Schmidt). Pithos B read: “brktk l[y]hwh tmn wl’šrth,” (Keel) translated: “I bless you/have blessed you to/before Yahweh of Teman and his a/Asherah,” (Day, Keel, Smith, OBM). Laughlin notes that while debate continues as to whether or not the inscription intends a cultic symbol, “asherah,” or a consort goddess akin to the Canaanite Asherah, consort of the god and probable equivalent to YHWH, Baal (Cross), “. . . these inscriptions and other material remains . . . all point to the fact that in popular religion, at least, many Israelites associated Yahweh with a female consort,” (Laughlin). Schmidt notes the controversy of having the terminal “h” at the end of “asherah” in that many claim this indicates it is not a personal name but only a cultic object: “I . . . reiterate the point that such suffixes occur on personal names in other Semitic languages (Akkadian, Ugaritic[?], Ethiopic, and Arabic) . . . and that the limited data of biblical Hebrew hardly suffices as an adequate base for dismissing the possibility that such might show up in preexilic epigraphic Hebrew,” and notes Wellhausen’s reconstruction of Hos 14:9: “‘I am his Anat and his Asherah,’ ?????? ???? ??? . (YHWH here lays claim to the powers of fertility attributed to these deities),” (Schmidt). Dever, a firm proponent for the identification of "asherah" with "Asherah"--see further--admits the point that, "in biblical Hebrew, a proper name like 'Asherah' does not usually take a possessive suffix like 'his,' but reaffirms, ". . . there are some occurrences of such a construction in the parent Canaanite language, and also in late Hebrew and Aramaic," (Dever).
Dever pays particular attention to the seated figure in Pithos A: "I proposed in 1982 to identify her with the goddess Asherah, who is of course mentioned specifically in the Hebrew texts at the top of the scene," (Dever). Dever notes first that ". . . this semi-nude, bare-breasted female was not likely to be an ordinary Judean housewife or a worshipper," (Dever). He places particular importance on the chair which he describes as a "lion throne,":
This is not a familiar side chair. Note the splayed, claw-like feet; the "panelled" sides; the slightly tilted back; and the fact that figure's feet are dangling in the air, suggesting a missing footstool, (Dever).
I will grant criticism with this identification; perhaps Dever reads into the depiction a bit of detail and meaning. However, his rationale for this remains trenchant to understanding the position of Asherah as a goddess in general. As he notes, these "lion thrones," ". . . are very common in Ancient Near Eastern art and iconography, stretching back hundreds of years before Kuntillet ?Ajrûd. And as I discovered, 'lion thrones' are always associated with deities or kings--never with ordinary human beings," (Dever). Thus, if this is indeed a "lion throne," Dever is perhaps correct to identify the figure with a goddess. However, he further notes that, ". . . we have a mass of inscriptional evidence from the Levantine Iron Age showing that a frequent epithet of the goddess Asherah was 'the Lion Lady,'" (Dever). For those who find Dever's conclusion highly speculative and problematic, I will merely note that there have been scholars who initially wondered if the one of the paired Bes figures with breasts represented Asherah, which then required them to explain that "tail" between "her" legs. On that point, Dever notes:
. . . Bes is an androgynous deity and can appear as either male or female. In any case, Bes is an apotropaic deity, one who "turns away" bad luck, associated particularly with music, dancing, and celebrations in the cult. He was very popular, both in Egypt and throughout the Levant (even in Mesopotamia). Small faience Bes amulets are quite common in 8th-7th century B.C. Judean tombs, so his presence in cultic art at Kuntillet ?Ajrûd is not at all suprising, (Dever)
In compiling this essay, I initially noted that while a number of scholars refer to these pithoi for the references to YHWH, particularly in connection to Temen, only Keel and Uelinger mention inscriptions to other deities such as El and Ba’al recorded in ink in ancient Phoenician script on the plaster walls (Keel). This may be due to the fact that, “. . . we still wait publication of these inscriptions,” (Keel); nevertheless, there exists blessings to El, Ba’al, and YHWH (Keel). This has happily changed with the publication of Zevit's translations--"based on firsthand examination in the Israel Museum," (Dever, citing Zevit)--and Dever refers to them specifically and provides an example:
To bless Ba ?al on the day of w[ar
To the name of El on the day of w[ar (Dever).
Added to the findings at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud are inscriptions scratched into the bedrock in a at Khirbet el-Qom dated from the second half of the eighth century (Keel). The inscription reads: ’ryhw h‘šr ktbh brk ’ryhw lyhwh wm?ryh l’šrth hwš‘ lh l’nyhw l’šrth wl’[š]rth, translated: “Uriyahu, the honorable, has written [this] (or: “this is his inscription”): Blessed is/be Uriyahu by YHWH and from his oppressors, by his a/Asherah, he has saved him [written?] by Oniyahu.” “. . . by his asherah . . . and by his asherah. . . ” (Keel). Note that Keel and Uelinger feel ’šrth in this and in the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud refer to a cult object that YHWH acts through rather than the actual goddess (Keel). I do not intend to solve the dispute between two theories: whether these inscriptions specifically refer to Asherah or an asherah; however, Asherah certainly seems to have been intentionally diminished to a cult object in the biblical texts. 2 Kgs 21:7 has the condemnation of Manasseh for placing a graven image of Asherah in the Temple; Day argues for this understanding of a graven image of a goddess rather than a cult object based on the Hebrew (Day). 2 Kgs 23:4-7 refer to the Asherah multiple times. I agree with Day that verse 4: “the king commanded . . . to bring out of the temple of YHWH all the vessels made for Ba’al, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven,” refers to the goddess rather than a mere cult object (Day). As Day notes, Smith disagrees with this (Smith, EHG), suggesting that this may be polemic on the part of the Deuteronomistic Historian rather than actual historical observation, (Smith,EHG). I do not find that a convincing argument, particularly in light of 2 Kgs 21:7 While the texts preserve references to her as well as other deities, by the time of their compilation and probable individual composition, there was at least the intent to diminish her as an actual goddess. However, Wyatt notes in his essay on Asherah, the problem with the meaning of "the asherah"--h? ’?š?r?h--?????--". . . not only is the attitude of the biblical writers not entirely consistent but neither is the usage, the article being absent, or not presupposed by suffixes, . . . . . . Furthermore, the matter of reference of a given passage, to cultic object or goddess, is independent of the use of the article. This is clear from the fact that in every instance where 'Baal" is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, the article is used," (Wyatt). That last part is critical, since claims that the texts merely refer to a cult object and not the goddess to the point of separating the object from the goddess entirely, tend to be based on the fact the definite article is use. Wyatt feels the use of the definite article removes, ". . . the proper name status of the noun, making it into a general term for a deity, though the use of the article with ’?l?hîm in its designation of the god of Israel suggests that the mechanical application of grammatical rules may be premature," (Wyatt). Indeed it does.
I have long suspected the reticence of scholars to accept the references to Asherah--particularly the Kuntillet 'Arjud and Khirbet el-Qom inscriptions--arise more from theological than evidentiary concerns. While I accept the existence of the grammatical issues with both inscriptions, I wondered, frankly, at the blessing to YHWH and his tree! I further wondered about it happening twice! Fortunately, Dever puts this quite bluntly:
In any case, some scholars read the consonant ?a-sh-r here not as "Asherah" but as "asherah," the tree-like symbol of the goddess. They read my Kh. el-Qôm inscription . . . the same way, thus "may X be blessed by Yahweh and his 'tree.'" I find that rather desperate, and I suspect that it reflects the reluctance of many biblical scholars even to consider the possibility that Yahweh may have had a female consort. Yet many scholars increasingly acknowledge that the Hebrew word ??sh?r?h sometimes must be read "Asherah," and that this goddess was venerated throughout much of the monarchy. So why not as Yahweh's consort? How can we continue to insist that ancient Israel was "unique?" (Dever)
I do not think it is merely the squeamishness with respect to a consort, but with the obvious polytheism implied. Even though some of the scholars referenced in this essay--and named specifically by Dever--do appear to admit the polytheism of "early" religions, they do seem to want to assume that monotheism became the norm--even if it was really a henotheism! In a way, they buy into the intent of the P author that earlier deities and, even in some myths a superior deity, were "really just YHWH all along!" However, as Dever argues most persuasively, the "biblically sanctioned, monolithic form of Israelite religion," was never "normative," and certainly not in some way enforced, (Dever). As wiser men have noted, that which is condemned in text is that which was widely practiced.
I will then take it a bit further: while many scholars accept the polytheism and then henotheism, they still wish to pretend that underneath their personal beliefs lies a "certainty" preserved in the texts that reflected a "religion," and all of the other considerations such as the religions practiced by actual people are just off-shoots or ultimately minority departures from this "norm."
Given all of that, one must consider the passage which shows YHWH as subordinate to El. Deut 32:8-9 describes how when Elyon--?????--the "Most High,"--an El title--see Psalm 82: "El Elyon"-- parcelled out the nations between his sons, YHWH received Israel as his portion. This should not be surprising given that "Israel" is an El theophoric rather than a YHWH theophoric.
Similarly, Jerusalem is a theophoric of the Canaanite god Shalem, or dusk, "the foundation of Shalem," (Day). Shahar is dawn and is part of the famous Isaiah 14:12-14 taunt against the king of Babylon discussed more completely here (http://www.freethought-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19921
The text refers specifically states "the stars of El,"--?????? ??--l??ô???ê ’?l--which Herrmann notes represents an attempt by the tyrant, ". . . to exercise dominion over the universe, something traditionally reserved for El, the divine lord," (Herrmann). Smith notes that “Shahar and Shalim seem to continue into Israelite religion,” with both appearing in proper names (Smith, OBM). Shalem, in particular, appears in the biblical texts, “including in the form of proper names such as ’?bîš?l?m,” and proper names with šlm appearing as a theophoric element in inscriptions found in Arad, Ein Gedi, and Lachish, (Smith, OBM). Smith concludes, “Given their earlier and later attestation as deities, the sun and moon likely continued as deities at this stage as well, (Smith, OBM).
Later scribes tried to change this meaning. Day, Schmidt, and Smith note the textual evidence establishes the preferred reading of "sons of God"--more properly "gods": bene elohim--??? ?????--rather than the Masoretic text's "sons of Israel"--bene yisra' el--??? ?????, (Day, Schmidt, Smith, EHG). Tov gives a detailed analysis of this passage and concludes, “It appears, however, that the scribe of an early text, now reflected in [Sigla for Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch, Targumin, Syriac Peshitta, Vulgate—Ed], did not feel at ease with this possibly polytheistic picture and replaced ‘sons of El’ [Tov appears to equate "elohim" with "El." There is no textual basis for this. It is "elohim," or "gods."--Ed.] with ??? ?????, ‘the sons of Israel,’ (Tov). Tov also notes that this compares well with the earlier reading of Ps 29:1 “Ascribe to YHWH, sons of gods----ascribe to YHWH glory and strength, (Tov), “. . . which also in other details reflects situations and phrases known from Ugaritic [Canaanite—Ed.] texts, does, in this detail, provide a polytheistic picture of the assembly of gods (Tov, citing Cross, BASOR). Curiously, Friedman tries to preserve the now discredited reading, (Friedman, TBwSR). Thus:
When Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
When he separated humanity,
He fixed the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of sons of gods.
For YHWH's portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
As, Schmidt notes:
The relevant Septuagint and Qumran readings of Deut 32:8-9 describe how the Most High or the Canaanite high god, El . . . had allotted to each of the nations one of the members of his pantheon or "sons of El" (la ynb). . . . Deut 32:9 also reveals that YHWH was once viewed as an independent, but subordinate, deity to El and was assigned by El to Jacob/Israel. In other words, the tradition suggests that YHWH was once viewed as a deity possessing equal or lower rank and power to that of the astral gods, (Schmidt).
Did YHWH create the divine pantheon, or, particularly El to whom he was subordinate? No biblical, or extra-biblical, source supports such a belief. A sherd found in excavations of the Jewish Quarter dated in the 7th century BCE demonstrates the importance of an El deity in Jerusalem: l qn 'rs "El, creator of the earth," (Keel). This compares to other inscriptions in Phoenician and neo-Punic: ’l qn ‘rs “El creator of the earth,” (Day). Finally, Day notes that, “. . . the Old Testament never refers to the heavenly court as ‘the sons of Yahweh,’” it is always some form of “sons of El” (Day, YHWH).
Gen 14 is a curious narrative source without the characteristics of J, E, or P (Friedman, TBwSR) which provides further evidence that Elyon was an El title, and El was the deity of the "patriarchal period." Finkelstein notes that it provides information only relevant to the 7th century BCE (Finkelstein). While not remarking on the possible implication that El was the patriarchal deity, Tov discusses a probable theological interpolation in Gen 14:22: "But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I swear to YHWH, El Elyon, creator of heaven and earth.'" As Tov notes, the verse uses the same construct for "creator"--??? (Tov)--qnh--of the Earth--'rs--???--as seen in the Ugaritic texts. Recall the the inscriptions cited by Day in the previous paragraph. Tov notes that the addition of "YHWH" occurred in the Masoretic text, as well as the Targum or Aramaic translations and Vulgate, but is missing in the LXX, Syriac, and Qumran text known as 1QapGen or "The Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran, cave 1," (Tov). Interestingly, the Samaritan version "the elohim," (Tov). As Tov notes, "[the] presumably original text of this verse, reflected by the shorter version of [Symbols for LXX, Syriac--Ed.], and 1QapGen, referred to God as ?????, "Most High," (Tov). He further notes Gen 14:19 where the same construct occurs without any addition of "YHWH," (Tov). Gen 14:19 reads, "'Blessed is Abram to El the Highest [El Elyon---Ed.], creator of skies/heaven and earth.'" Clearly, at a later point, the attempt to equate YHWH with El drove the addition in verse 22. However, given Finkelstein's analysis, and the even later witness of the LXX, this would have occurred after the collection of the various texts into the version extant. In other words, El was seen as the deity of the patriarchs, and it was only much later, after the formation of the texts, that attempts were made to equate YHWH with El. Even Elnes & Miller in their essay on the term "Elyon," who unpersuasively try to assert that in the Hebrew Bible the epithet may apply to YHWH, even in Deut 32:8, have to concede that Gen 14 provides evidence of a link of the cult of El-Elyon with Jerusalem (Elnes & Miller).