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Many other gods are mentioned by name in the Bible and Yahweh refers to them. He does not say that they do not exist, nor does he say they have no powers. Rather He says they should not be worshipped. The episode of Moses and Aaron and 72 others climbing Mount Sinai shows that prior to this, the Children of Israel worshipped Baal Haddad. Yahweh makes his move in Jeremiah through King Jehoram command. Here Yahweh says not to worship other gods. Ashure/Astarte is particularly singled out - a goddess imported from Babylon and once associated with Yahweh as His wife.

The most interesting example in the Bible of another god is that of Chemosh: a human sacrifice to Chemosh ensure the retreat of the Israelite army under the command of God.

Anyway, for what it is worth, there is this. Yahweh was one of many gods:

There is a clear overlap between the ancient Ugaritic religion and the Judaism (and by implication, Christianity and Islam as well). However it seems that such information is hardly known to the average adherents of those religions implicated.

It should be made clear that the information presented is not some minority view or "heretical"/"atheist" propaganda. The data here can be found in archeology books pertaining to ancient middle east religions or, more specifically, the canaanite religion. In fact, some of the sources I'll be citing or quoting from are religious sources.

I first stumbled across this topic when watching the Atheist Experience TV show podcast. Tracie Harris co-hosted 3 episodes (Episodes #464, #466, #483) where the topic was discussed. And here is the relevant blog post on the Atheist Experience blog: Ugarit and the Bible.*

If you do a Google search on "Ugarit and the Bible", this webpage by the Quartz Hill School of Theology comes up on top: Ugarit and the Bible. This also one of the sources cited by Tracie Harris at the AETV blog. As far as I can tell, the information on the page is accurate and is comparable to those found in the books at libraries. So this shouldn't strike anyone as being non-mainstream.

I'll let them speak for themselves why Ugaritic text pertains to the bible:
Why should people interested in the Old Testament want to know about this city [Ugarit] and its inhabitants? Simply because when we listen to their voices we hear echoes of the Old Testament itself. Several of the Psalms were simply adapted from Ugaritic sources; the story of the flood has a near mirror image in Ugaritic literature; and the language of the Bible is greatly illuminated by the language of Ugarit.

Let's begin with the word "El". Correction, the name "El". While "El" is translated as a generic word for "god" in the hebrew bible, this was not the case before. According to the ugarit religion, El is a proper name for the supreme deity of the ugaritic pantheon. He is identified as the creator of "the heavens and the earth", the father of 70 gods as well as the father of man.

Elohim is plural. Not singular as advocated by translators of the bible. Elohim refers to El's pantheon of gods, his council.

And Yahweh? He was one of the 70 sons of El. Here's the relevant quote from Wikipedia regarding the development in ancient Israel:
In the earliest stage Yahweh was one of the seventy children of El, each of whom was the patron deity of one of the seventy nations. This is illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint texts of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, in which El, as the head of the divine assembly, gives each member of the divine family a nation of his own, "according to the number of the divine sons": Israel is the portion of Yahweh. The later Masoretic text, evidently uncomfortable with the polytheism expressed by the phrase, altered it to "according to the number of the children of Israel"

I know I am quoting Wikipedia, which is not exactly scholarly material, but I'm only doing so because the content agrees with the books I read in the libraries as well as other online sources.

Notice the parallels between El and Yahweh and it becomes obvious the worshipers of Yahweh assimilated the characteristics of El into Yahweh at some point in history. And it seems that theologians know this:
Other deities worshipped at Ugarit were El Shaddai, El Elyon, and El Berith. All of these names are applied to Yahweh by the writers of the Old Testament. What this means is that the Hebrew theologians adopted the titles of the Canaanite gods and attributed them to Yahweh in an effort to eliminate them. If Yahweh is all of these there is no need for the Canaanite gods to exist! This process is known as assimilation.

This assimilation seems to be demonstrated by the association of El's consort (ie, a goddess), Asherah, with Yahweh.
From Bible.org
Athirat, or as she is referred to sometimes, Ilat (i.e., goddess of the god El), is the most prominent goddess in the Ugaritic pantheon, though her origin appears to go back well before Ugarit (1200-1400 B.C.E.) to the time of the Ebla tablets. In the Ugaritic pantheon she is the consort of El. She is referred to as the "mother of the gods" or "procreatress of the gods." She thus shares in El's creative work. She is also referred to as "Lady Athirat of the sea" and by the Semitic word qd (i.e., holy). She figures prominently in the Ugaritic texts in which Baal and Anat are requesting from El a palace for Baal to live in (CTA 4), texts concerning Shahar and Shalim (CTA 23) and in another wherein she is said to receive a sheep offered in sacrifice. The name Asherah is the designation often given this goddess in the Old Testament.

From Wikipedia
Between the eighth to the sixth centuries El became identified with Yahweh, Yahweh-El became the husband of the goddess Asherah, and the other gods and the divine messengers gradually became mere expressions of Yahweh's power.

From the Quartz Hill School of Theology
One of the most interesting of these lesser deities, Asherah, plays a very important role in the Old Testament. There she is called the wife of Baal; but she is also known as the consort of Yahweh! That is, among some Yahwists, Ahserah is Yahweh’s female counterpart! “Lord” or “Master” is the translation of Baal and can be used for high ranking officials as well as deities. To identify a Baal, you need a following name, e.g. Baal-Hadad

Wiki: "Ba?al" can refer to any god and even to human officials; in some texts it is used as a substitute for Hadad, a god of the rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture, and the lord of Heaven. Since only priests were allowed to utter his divine name, Hadad, Ba?al was commonly used. Nevertheless, few if any Biblical uses of "Ba?al" refer to Hadad, the lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven, but rather refer to any number of local spirit-deities worshipped as cult images, each called ba?al and regarded in the Hebrew Bible in that context as a false god.

Apparently it seems that there is also evidence for the assimilation of Baal Hadad into Yahweh. Baal Hadad is a storm god and the only one in the Ugaritic pantheon that is identified by the title "rider of the clouds". This title is later attributed to Yahweh in the bible. For those who wouldn't mind reading longer articles, check out this article on Bible.org: Baalism in Canaanite Religion and Its Relation to Selected Old Testament Texts [Google Cache version].

For those want to read more, check out Wikipedia on these topic as well. See "Canaanite religion" and "Early history of Yahweh worship".

The relationship between Yahweh of the Abrahamic religions and the gods of the Ugaritic pantheon (in particular, El) is obvious.

Why isn't this information more widely known?

More unusually, why don't such knowledge pose a problem to adherents of those faiths? I would think this would make it more than obvious that religions are made up (ie, fiction).

What's your excuse?

* Ugarit and the Bible
Posted by: tracieh
On a few past episodes we looked at some of the gods mentioned in the Old Testament. Among them, Asherah, Nehushtan, Ba’al, Yahweh, and El.

Many people are familiar with the texts found at Qumran, commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the 1940s.
[Someone pointed out an error in my post, so I'm making a correction here. Where I mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, I had confused it with The Nag Hammadi texts found in Egypt during the same time period (the 1940s). The Dead Sea Scrolls focused mainly on the OT, while Nag Hammadi included texts written by early Christian authors.]

But fewer people have heard of the Ugarit findings, which began to be unearthed in the late 1920s. Both discoveries greatly increased our knowledge and understanding of Biblical texts and also of the history surrounding the evolution of Judaism and Christianity.

The Dead Sea Scrolls impacted both the Old and New Testament interpretations, while the findings at Ugarit impacted only the Old Testament. These texts and architectural inscriptions predate the Hebrew settlement at Canaan, but interestingly, they mention some of the same gods that appear in the Hebrew religious writings, produced after the Hebrew contact with the Ugarit region. The most significant god mentioned is El. In one temple inscription he is said to be the father of Ba’al. In other mentions, he is even the father of Yaweh.

In the Old Testament, Ba’al is associated with the Canaanites. And he is described as the focus of their religious worship in those stories—while El is described as being another name for Yahweh, the Hebrew patron god. In reality, however, based on the discoveries at Ugarit (the land called Canaan in the Bible), El is clearly the father of the gods in much the same way that Zeus is the head of the gods on Olympus in Greek mythology. And Yaweh is not another name for El, but a separate deity. Like Zeus, El headed a pantheon. He was not only the father of mankind, but the leader of the Ugarit gods. His pantheon, in Ugarit, is called the Elohim (literally, the plural of El).

Using the book of Genesis as an example, the best scholarly estimates date it back to somewhere between 950 and 500 BC. It appears that the writings were composed in two styles, one style preferring to refer to god as El and the other using YHWH (or Yahweh). Eventually these texts came together into the form we have today, sometime around 450 BC. Just to give some perspective, the best documented time in the Ugarit history was between 1450 and 1200 BC.

According to many modern apologists, El is simply another name for god, or even a generic word for “god” used by the Hebrews; and Elohim is simply another form of El. However, Bible translators do translate Elohim as plural in some instances and do translate El to be a proper noun in some instances. Some apologists defend a wholly singular usage of Elohim by pointing to the inconsistency with which Elohim is used with singular verb forms; however, this does not rule out the very real (and likely) potential that as monotheism evolved out of polytheism, the Hebrew texts were adjusted to correct for this problem (as we discussed the evolution of the book of Genesis in the above paragraph). However, it does seem oddly coincidental—and difficult to overlook—that the Hebrews had significant contact with Canaan and then, some years afterward, wrote out a Hebrew religious mythology using a name for god that parallels the Ugarit mythology’s chief deity. It is also odd that Elohim appears in Ugarit texts as a clearly plural form of El, and then later in a sometimes confused singular/plural fashion in the Hebrew texts.

The important question becomes, then: Is there any reason beyond the contact with Canaan to view the Hebrew deity as being synonymous with the Canaanite god El? The answer is “yes.” There are parallels between the two gods. For example, if we look at more of the attributes of El in the Ugarit texts, we find that El had a consort, Asherah (who was also, occasionally, recorded as the consort to Yahweh). This would appear to distance the Hebrew El from the Ugarit El then, if there is no mention of the Hebrews combining El with Asherah. However, there is mention in the Hebrew texts that illustrates that Asherah was connected with El in the minds of the Hebrews as well as in their worship. Twice in Jeremiah (chapter 7 and chapter 44), she is referred to as the Queen of Heaven, and it is clearly indicated that the Hebrews were worshipping her in those instances. Also, in 2 Kings 18, it is noted that her objects of worship (the Asherah poles) were removed from the “high places” of worship to El/Yahweh.

There is no doubt that as the Hebrews moved from polytheism, into henotheism, and ultimately into monotheism, that they adjusted their religious practices accordingly. It is not surprising that the worship of Asherah was ultimately condemned, discouraged, and forbidden. But what can’t be ignored is the fact that the Hebrews did acknowledge Asherah. They did worship her. And they did associate her with El by placing her symbols in the same temples of worship. If Hebrews did not adopt the older Ugarit El, with which they were surely familiar, then it is very odd that Asherah also appears in their religious texts and worship.

I would never underestimate the apologist’s ability to find a perspective that can reinterpret this data to make it less problematic. However, the clear and simply explanation is this: The Hebrews interacted with Ugarit, adopted their pantheon, and their religion evolved, as all religions do through time, to become a uniquely Hebrew monotheism.

Further Reading:
[General information about Ugarit]

[Describes similarities and parallels between Biblical texts and Ugarit texts]

[Describes the production of Genesis]

[Presents an apologetic case for the singular form of Elohim]

[Another apologetic case for the singular form of Elohim]

[Identifies Asherah as El’s consort]

[Information about Asherah]

[Asherah as the Queen of Heaven]
Labels: AE TV show, Biblical history
at 8/27/2007 12:50:00 PM
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