Yahweh's Evolution: A Look at the Israelite Pantheon and the Journey from Polytheism to Monotheism



Yahweh's Evolution: A Look at the Israelite Pantheon and the Journey from Polytheism to Monotheism (From Chapter 20: The Vacuity of Christian Faith of The Swedish Fish)


20



THE VACUITY OF CHRISTIAN FAITH



We begin chapter twenty “Would a Most Perfect Being Have a Most Imperfect Church?” with the continued comparison of the Christian concept of God with the Greek concept of Zeus.

While Zeus was created by other gods, Christians and Jews always taught that Yahweh is the creator of all things … The difference between various concepts of God is important for eliminating certain descriptions of the most perfect being.

Remember my earlier objection to the method of assigning templates to your chosen God concept as a way to reject competing definitions as not compatible with your template? Holding up dissimilar God-concepts to your randomly selected template, and then saying this definition fits but that other one doesn’t, is easy. But in essence, all one has done is show that some definitions fit arbitrary religious templates better than others. This is to be expected. But one hasn’t proved anything yet.
As for Randal’s point about Christians and Jews always teaching that Yahweh was the creator of all things, as if the Christian concept of God and the Jewish concept of God were identical, I feel obligated to mention that Israel and its people were still a polytheistic peoples before the exile, roughly between the 10th century BCE and 586 BCE.[1]
It’s no secret that the Israelites worshipped a pantheon of gods including El, Asherah, Baal, Moloch, Kaus, and Yahweh, just to name a few.[2] Most scholars consider El and Yahweh separate gods even though it would appear that Yahweh later got hypostatized with El into one and the same deity by the time the Torah was composed.[3]
Furthermore, an archeological find at Kuntillet Ajrud in the northern Sinai desert in 1978 uncovered three anthropomorphic figures dating back to 800 BCE at the end of the Iron age which referred separately to Yahweh, El, and Baal, implying they were three distinct but equally revered gods.[4]
Despite everything, I think it’s worth noting that the god Baal was one of the sons of El, and represented the direct rival to Yahweh, which is why the Old Testament god admonishes his followers not to worship the other gods, such as Baal. By the ninth century BCE we see telltale signs of a gradual turn toward monotheism where the old gods of the Israelites were supplanted and/or rejected in favor of a single, supreme god—i.e., Yahweh.[5]
The new god Yahweh was a warrior god from the northern region of Edom and Midian, near Judah, who grew in popularity until he eventually usurped El, the original God of Israel, and took himself a consort, Asherah (originally El’s wife) who is also referred to as the “Queen of Heaven” and who was worshipped alongside both El and Yahweh by early Israelites from roughly the seventh to ninth centuries BCE.[6]
With Yahweh’s rise to fame, however, Asherah became the new Hebrew god’s consort (Yahweh isn’t an adulterer so much as the Hebrews liked to pair Asherah with their preferred god and the Canaanites liked to pair her with theirs, in this case the god El). Meanwhile, Yahweh, the warrior god of the Hebrews, and Baal (son of El), [7] the preferred god of the Canaanites, co-existed together for a time, but around the tenth century BCE a shift occurred when Yahweh worship eventually became the popular religion and fully usurped Baal worship, thus leading to what would become the world’s major monotheistic religion.[8]
Evidently, history teaches us a different story from the one Christian apologists want us to hear. As it turns out, Yahweh didn’t create the other gods of the Israelite pantheon as Yahweh was a rather late addition, only solidifying into a monotheistic deity during the period of the United Monarchy (circa 1020 and 930 BCE). It was during this period that Yahweh assimilated the traits of all the other gods in the Israelite pantheon and, ultimately, became the final representation of the Israelite god.
Present day monotheism, and so too the Jewish belief that Yahweh is the one true god (a belief adopted by early Christians), however, is the end result of a long process of religious evolution from an earlier, more robust Israelite polytheism. A serious scholar, such as Randal claims to be, who writes on the history of the Jews and the Israelites and their God should probably know all this if he intends to be taken seriously as a scholar.
But instead, he seems to reject all of this, if he even knows about it, as is the way with apologists and inerrantists.
Concerns of ancient history aside, we find that Sheridan has a new bother, mainly the fact that Christianity frequently seems to sponsor rather imperfect if not completely immoral behavior in its followers.
Sheridan gives us an anecdote of a girl with liver cancer from Australia whose parents fled to El Salvador to avoid having to give her the mandatory medical treatment required by the Australian Law and so that they can, instead, pray for her recovery in accordance with God’s will.
The fact that God didn’t do anything to ease the young girl’s suffering is essentially a version of the Problem of evil, and it is a strong argument against the Christian God, but Randal doesn’t seem to think so. Randal counters Sheridan’s example by asking, “But how exactly does that work against Yahweh’s claim to be God?”
I don’t know what happened here, but if I recall correctly I thought we were talking about God being a so-called Perfect being of classical Christian theology. Not God’s claim to be divine. This is a dirty little trick apologists like to use whenever they have been bested and have no good or ready answer for the hardened skeptic. They quickly change topics, or raise other tangents (look over there, it’s a red herring!), so as to bog down the conversation in a quagmire of confusing and unrelated counterpoints, hoping to throw off the exacting scrutiny of the skeptic.



[1] See The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, pp. 241-42.
[2] The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses by Michael Jordan, pp. 31-32; 41-42; 88-89; 218; & 278.
[3] See The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel, location 375 and 1167-1269; 1302 Kindle, ff. part 4. Asherah/asherah Revisitedby Mark Smith (2002), Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan by John Day, p. 32, and Archeology and fertility cult in the ancient Mediterranean, pp. 237-38, edited by Anthony Bonanno.
[4] Ze’ev Meshel, Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: An Israelite Religious Center in Northern Sinai, Expedition 20 (Summer 1978), pp. 50-55.
[5] Smith, The Early History of God, location 3098 Kindle.
[6]Ibid, location 985-1096, and 1302 Kindle.
[7] To learn more about Baal and the numerous reference to him found in the Old Testament please see “The Worship of Baal” available online at:
    http://www.bible-history.com/resource/ff_baal.htm
[8] See the PBS interview with William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. See: “Archeology of the Hebrew Bible,” and can be read online at:
   http://pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/archeology-hebrew-bible.html

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist