“God is a concept by which we measure our pain” – John Lennon

Through the ages mankind has defined and redefined its concept of God. Mine has its roots in western Christianity, and through this site I'd like to examine it and other world religions - past and present. By studying the history and roots of religious beliefs I hope to gain a better understanding of their place in my world today – and what life and the concept of God means to me.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Origins of Yahweh

In the Old Testament of the Bible, Yahweh is the one God of the Israelites. From the time (around 1900 BCE) Abraham left Ur for Canaan, the nomadic Hebrew tribes are described as a monotheistic people. And when Moses made a covenant with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt in the 13th century BCE, the tribes became united under their one God and the laws he gave to them. Historical evidence, however, suggests the Israelites didn’t completely adopt their monotheistic religion until 538-515 BCE - when they returned to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylonia.

Ugaritic texts, discovered in the ruins of the ancient city of Ugarit in 1928, have shed new light on the origins and development of the early Jewish religion. The chief god was El, and his wife was Asherah. They had seventy divine children, characterized as the stars of El. Among them was Baal, Astarte, Anat, the sun-goddess Shapshu, the moon god Yerak, and Yahweh. The servants of the divine household of the gods were messenger-gods. These appear to be what the Old Testament later refer to as angels.

In this early stage of the Israelite religion El divided the nations of the Earth among his divine family and they became the patron deities of the seventy nations. Yahweh was given Israel. After some time the god El became identified with Yahweh, and the result was that Yahweh-El was the husband of Asherah. In this form Yahweh was the Divine King ruling over all the other gods. Between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE the other gods were relegated as mere expressions of the power of Yahweh, and his divine messengers became minor divine beings subservient to him.

Why did these changes take place? It has been suggested that the Israelites original view of the world was that each patron god was as powerful as its nation. This sat well when Israel was on a par with its neighbors. The rise of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, however, implied that the Hebrew god was not as powerful as had been traditionally thought. This forced the Israelites to alter the religious way they looked at the world, and the new thinking separated heavenly power from earthly kingdoms. Although Israel was weak, its god was not. Yahweh came to be divine power, and the Mesopotamian gods were nothing. Israel had been conquered not by Assyrian and Babylonian power or the power of their divine patrons, but because Yahweh, the one true God, was guiding all the events of the one nation he had chosen. They were being punished and purified.

2 comments:

  1. That is a most interesting analysis. A lot of people think that belief is the dominant factor in shaping society, but, I believe, Marx countered that society is the dominant factor in shaping beliefs. If Marx is correct (personally, I think he is), then this provides a strong explanation for the morphing of many Gods into one.

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  2. It would be most intresting to see your sources on this artical. There may be some connection with the god called Yav or Yo. In a book called, Semetic Mythology on page 41, The Author states that there are proof that Yahweh was not the god of the Israelites. The god Yeuo was worshiped in Babylon. Also the god Yo appears in the Ras Shamra writing. It appears that in retaliation to the Canaanite religion, Into a monotheistic god with a mix of functions borrowed from the other gods. There is no reason to believe that Yahweh was a messenger of El or that Yahweh –El was the Husband of Asherah. El the bull or Thor-El or “The Bull” and his characteristics were combined with Baal the “rider of the Clouds” or the “Storm god”. The Yahweh religion was in constant competition with the Canaanite pantheon.

    Some intresting Books and ARticals include

    Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978

    Habel, Norman C. Yahweh verses Baal: A Conflict of Religious Cultures. Bookman Associates. New York, New York 1964.

    Jack, J.W. The Ras Shamra Tablets: Their Bearing on the Old Testament. T. T Clark. George Street, Edinburgh 1935.

    Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

    Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

    Cross, Frank. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997.

    To name a few.

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