Bethel - the house of the canaanite god El

by mP 73 Replies latest watchtower scandals

  • mP

    How ironic, that in Hebrew the word for GOd is actually the name of a canaanite god El. Ive recently been facinated by the etymology of word, particularly those in the Bible. Anyone can change the meanings or definition of words like we have witnessed with the generation, but the word itself cannot be changed. This is particularly useful when the word is a name. The fact the word for God in Hebrew honors a pagan god, is well pathetic. This word is basically saying Jehovah is an El.

    We see the same references to El, all over Jehovahs organisation, just examine some other terms such as EL der, beth EL, beth EL ite. I cant think of any more its enuff. After all shouldnt Bethel really be called Bethyah or similar. I guess who ever selected the name was in the on the joke all that time ago.

  • Rob Crompton
    Rob Crompton

    " This word is basically saying Jehovah is an El."

    I suspect another possibility is that what are assumed to be different names for the same god in the Old Testament, originally were the names of different gods. So that the early stories which were incorporated into the OT documents were stories of different gods.

    Try reading the story of Abraham and Isaac on this assumption. What seems to emerge is a story in which Yahweh (Jehovah) promises a son to Abraham and Sarah and then another god, Elohim, demands that they boy be sacrificed. Then Yahweh steps in and prevents the sacrifice. That seems to me to make much more sense of the story - but it makes nonsense of a lot of theologising!

    Rob Crompton

  • breakfast of champions
    breakfast of champions

    Try reading the story of Abraham and Isaac on this assumption. What seems to emerge is a story in which Yahweh (Jehovah) promises a son to Abraham and Sarah and then another god, Elohim, demands that they boy be sacrificed. Then Yahweh steps in and prevents the sacrifice. That seems to me to make much more sense of the story - but it makes nonsense of a lot of theologising!
    I'm going to try this. Sounds interesting. . . Thanks
  • Cadellin

    El was the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon; YHWH emerges as a son/challenger in Hebrew mythology of the Late Bronze Age so, yes, originally they were separate gods entirely. Remnants of these roles can still be identified in certain parts of the OT, and I should be able to point you to a few verses but I don't have a Bible with me at the moment.

    Much of the storm god imagery used of El was gradually subsumed into the image of YHWH as Israelite monoltry progressed until finally the two entities were absorbed into YHWH alone, around the time of the monarchy (though I may be off on the timing there). Richard Friedman in The Hidden Book in the Bible aptly demonstrates the two separate lines of OT narration, complete with parallel creation, flood and Abrahamic stories, one of which used the name of YHWH ("J") and one that used simply El or Adonai ("P"). In the "P" version, YHWH does not emerge as a fully-recognized entity until his name is revealed to Moses at the occasion of the burning bush and only then and thereafter is it uttered by Biblical characters.

  • Scott77


  • Leolaia

    Bethel was also the name of an Aramaean god, probably syncretized to El.

    I should point out that Baal, not El, was associated with storm imagery. El was chiefly a passive creator god while Baal (and the other younger deities) were more actively involved in divine and mundane affairs. Yahweh was syncretized to El as well as Baal. Yahweh, Baal, and El were all represented via bovine iconism. And in the OT texts that use El as a DN, there are often other archaic motifs drawn from pre-Yahwistic West Semitic mythology.

    I'll repost an older post I did on this subject below.

  • Leolaia

    El was the highest god of the Canaanite pantheon, the aged "father" of the other gods and creator of the world. He led the heavenly divine assembly from the tops of Mount Hermon (cf. Mount Olympus in Greek mythology), and resided in a tent or tabernacle at the source of the Tigris and Euphrates where the watery deeps meet. All the other gods were "sons of El" and one of them, Baal (who was actually a son of Dagan but who was adopted by El as his son after Baal vanquished Yam), was the god who directly ruled the land, rode the thunderclouds as his chariot and brought rain and storm to the land, and who gave kingship of Canaan's rulers. Baal ruled from the tops of his own mountain Zaphon (known to the Greeks as Cassius, where Zeus defeated the dragon.....Zeus was the Greek equivalent of Baal), which lay in the north in Phoenicia. Baal demonstrated his might by proving his supremacy over the sea, by killing the dragon god (Yam, meaning "sea", who is related to the seven-headed sea dragon Lotan, who had earlier been defeated by the goddess Anat) who controlled the sea. Baal ruled at the permission of El and the kings of the Canaanite city-states claimed that they ruled at the permission of Baal. Other gods included Asherah/Athirat as the wife of El, the mother of the gods, Dagan as a god of agriculture, Ashtoreth/Athtart as a goddess of irrigation and fertility who became the wife of Baal when Athtar was vanquished by Baal, Anat as a goddess of hunting and war who was an erstwhile partner of both El and Baal, Shapsh as a goddess of the sun who was sometimes depicted as a mare (equivalent to the male Aramean deity Shamash), and Horon as a god of the underworld with healing powers. Most of these gods had temples and shrines throughout the land of Canaan and Israel: Beth-El (Genesis 28:19), Beth-Dagon (Joshua 15:41), Beth-Horon (Joshua 10:10), Beth-Anath (Joshua 19:38, Judges 1:33), Beth-Shemesh (Judges 1:33), and Ashtoreth-Karnaim and other "shrines for Ashtoreth" (Genesis 14:5, 2 Kings 23:13). Asherah was venerated in the Jerusalem temple itself (2 Kings 23:4-7). The toponym Baal-Zephon in Exodus 14:2, 9 and Numbers 33:7 is also thought to refer to a shrine for Baal-Hadad (i.e. Baal who was enthroned on Zaphon) who was worshipped by Semites in Egypt.

    El appears throughout the OT as one of the names of God, often in passages that preserve other bits of ancient Canaanite tradition, or in traditions associated with the early patriarchs, e.g. as the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. See, for instance, names like 'l-`lywn "El-Elyon" (Genesis 14:18, 19, 20, 22, which has the associated title qnh-shmym-w-'rts "creator of heaven and earth" that frequently was used of El in shortened form in Canaanite tradition; cf. also Psalm 78:35), 'l-r'y "El-Roi" (Genesis 16:13), 'l-shdy "El-Shaddai" (Genesis 17:1, 28:2, 35:11, 43:14, 48:3, 49:25, Exodus 6:2, etc.), 'l-`wlm "El-Olam" (Genesis 21:33), and other examples in Genesis 33:20, 35:7, 46:3, and 49:25. See also the temple of El-berith in Judges 9:46. It is El and not Yahweh that occurs as a theophoric element in names in Genesis like Ishmael, Eliezer, Eldaah, Israel, Bethel, Peniel, Reuel, etc. (Genesis 15:2, 16:11, 25:4, 28:19, 32:28, 30, 36:4). Yahweh on the other hand does not occur as a theophoric element until Exodus 6:20 which names Jochebed ("Yah is glory") as the mother of Moses. But interestingly, she is unnamed in ch. 2; it is only in ch. 6, AFTER the relevation of the name at the burning bush in ch. 3-4 that the narrative names her as Jochebed. This onomatological evidence fits well with the Priestly version of the burning bush story, which presents the name Yahweh as revealed subsequent to the time of the early partriarchs (the Yahwist version, on the other hand, retrojects the name Yahweh all the way into the antediluvian period); it also presumes the conflation between Yahweh and El that occurred fairly early in Israel's history. That there was a time when El and Yahweh were separate gods can be seen in the divine lawsuit in Deuteronomy 32 (the Song of Moses) which construes Yahweh as one of the "sons of God" who receives from Elyon (an epithet of El in Genesis 14:18-22) the nation of Israel as his own inheritance. It is also worth pointing out that there is some (ambiguous) evidence suggesting that Elyon (Elioun in the Phoenician creation myth of Philo of Byblos) was originally a distinct god who came to be identified with El).

    It is telling that the polythesitic overtones of the Song of Moses (the only text in the OT which clearly portrays Yahweh as distinct from the supreme god, although there is an echo of the old scheme in Daniel 7, in which the "Ancient of Days" is described with language evocative of El and the "one like a son of man" is described with language evocative of Yahweh) were systematically obliterated in later scribal activity. This was likely due to the embarassing theological implications of the passage, as the revisions obscure its polytheistic implications:

    4QDeut j : "When Elyon gave the nations as an inheritance (b e hanchel goyim), when he separated the sons of man, he set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God (b e nê 'elo[hîm]). For Yahweh's portion (cheleq Yhwh) was his people; Jacob was the lot of his inheritance (chebel nach a lathô)".
    LXX: "When the Most High divided the nations (diemerizen ethnè), when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God (aggelòn theou). And his people Jacob became the portion of the Lord (meris kuriou), Israel was the line of his inheritance (skhoinisma klèronomias autou)".
    MT: "When Elyon gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all the sons of man, he set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel (b e nê Yisra'el). For Yahweh's portion was his people, Jacob was the lot of his inheritance".

    The oldest form of the text in the Dead Sea Scrolls posits Yahweh as one of the "sons of God" who received Israel from Elyon (= El-Elyon elsewhere in the OT) as his own "inheritance". This accords with the Canaanite belief in Ugaritic texts that El fathered seventy sons through Asherah, and the number of the nations in Genesis 10 which add up to seventy. This henotheistic conceptualization of the tutelary gods of the nations can also be detected in such passages as Judges 11:24, 1 Kings 11:33, and Jeremiah 48:7, and in the scenario in Daniel 10 (in which each nation has its own angelic "prince") which has been assimilated to monotheism. These are also angels in the LXX, which reflects the original wording of b e nê 'elohîm (as this is how this phrase is usually rendered in the LXX), and yet the reference to angels instead of "sons of God" similarly assimilates the scenario to monotheism. Moreover, the implication that Yahweh (= "the Lord" in the LXX) is himself a "son" or "angel of God" is softened by the removal of a reference to inheritance allotment in the first clause in the LXX. Finally, the latest form of the text in the MT displays further modifications that mitigate a polytheistic or henotheistic reading. Most conspicuously "sons of Israel" occurs in place of "sons of God" which obscures the relationship being Yahweh inheriting his people and the apportioning out of the nations as "inheritances" to the sons of God. The replacement of 'elohîm "God" with "Israel" was facilitated by the tradition that Jacob had seventy sons, and it precludes the interpretation of Yahweh as a son of God since it no longer construes Elyon apportioning out the nations to the sons of God. Thus b e hanchel in the first clause is taken to read that the inheritance is something received by the nations, rather than that the inheritance constitutes the nations themselves.

    Nor is this an isolated example. In v. 43 we find another example of polytheism or henotheism being airbrushed from the text:

    4QDeut j : "Rejoice, O heavens, together with him, and bow down to him all you gods ('lym), for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and will render vengeance to his enemies, and will recompense those who hate him, and will atone for the land of his people".
    LXX: "O heavens, rejoice with him, bow to him, all sons of God. O nations, rejoice with his people and let all the angels of God strengthen themselves in him. For he will avenge the blood of his sons. Be vengeful and render vengeance and recompense justice on his enemies, and recompense those who hate him, and the Lord will cleanse the land of his people".
    MT: "Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his enemies, and will atone for the land of his people".

    The MT text is poetically defective in terms of parallelism, with a complete bicolon in the second and third clauses (avenge / render vengeance), without an accompanying clause in the first and fourth clauses to complete the two other bicolons (rejoice / ???, ??? / atone). The older form of the text in the Dead Sea Scrolls, on the other hand, has three well-balanced bicolons (rejoice / bow down, avenge / render vengeance, recompense / atone), and thus is probably closer to the original. The MT text replaces the personified or divinized "heavens" with "nations" and omits the "bow down" clause that makes reference to heavenly gods (i.e. "gods" in parallelism with "heavens"). The alteration of "heavens" to "nations" was apparently fairly early, for the LXX harmonizes the two readings by inserting an extra bicolon in the text that makes reference to "nations". It is also possible that this extra bicolon is original but the longer text is poetically less balanced.

    Even though El has been conflated with Yahweh in most of the OT, we still see an especial relationship between the divine council and El in the language that is used; hence, the bny 'lhym "sons of God" are kwkby bqr "morning stars" in Job 38:7, which corresponds to the kwkby 'l "stars of El" in Isaiah 14:12, and the hr mw'd "mountain of assembly" in the same verse evokes the 'dt 'l "assembly of El" in Psalm 82:1 and the hr 'lhym "mountain of the gods" of Ezekiel 28:16. All of this has a Canaanite foundation, as the bn 'il "sons of El" are referred to as the 'dt bn 'ilm "assembly of the sons of El", the 'dt 'ilm "assembly of the gods", the pchr m'd "council of the assembly", and the pchr kkbm "council of the stars" in Ugaritic texts (cf. KTU 1.4.III.14, 1.2.I.14-16, 1.15.II.7, 11, etc.), and the council is convened by El at the gr 'il "mountain of El" (KTU 1.2.I.14). Of course, this is related to the broader ANE belief that the gods are gathered in a council on a cosmic mountain (cf. Mount Olympus in the case of Greek mythology, Mount Hermon in Ugaritic mythology, and also cf. 1 Enoch 6:6, which depicts the fallen angels as gathered together on Mount Hermon, and the reference to the Shaddai-gods forming a mw`d "council" in the 8th century BC Book of Balaam son of Beor). The use of 'lhym as a distinct Israelite term for God probably dates after the merger of El and Yahweh, tho it has its origins as a term for the divine assembly (cf. the Eloim of Philo of Byblos, who are described as the allies of El/Kronos), although 'lym is more common in this sense (cf. Ugaritic 'lm "gods" and 'lym in Exodus 15:11, Deuteronomy 32:43, Job 41:25, 1QM 1:11, 1QH 7:28, etc.) and bny 'lym and bny (h)-'lhym even more so (cf. Genesis 6:2-3, Job 1:6, 2:1, Psalm 29:1, 89:6, etc.). Despite the general identification of El and Yahweh, there are still some fragments of specific El tradition in the OT. The very early Blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49 (dating to the tenth century BC or earlier) presents a series of traditional epithets and qualities pertaining to El which laconically associate him with Breasts and Womb: "His hands were made strong by the Bull of Jacob ('byr y`qb), by the strength of the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, by El your Father ('l 'byk) who helps you, by Shaddai (shdy) who blesses you, with also the blessings of the Heavens from above, the blessings of the Deep crouching below (thwm rbtst tcht), and the blessings of Breasts and Womb (shdym-w-rchm)" (v. 24-25). The pair of Heaven and the Deep occurs in another archaic text (Deuteronomy 33:13) and "Breasts and Womb" recalls the Ugaritic Myth of the Birth of the Gracious and Beautiful Gods which refers to Asherah (whose breasts feed the sons of El) and "Womb" (= Anat, who is referred to elsewhere in Ugaritic texts as "Womb") as the two consorts of El who give birth to Dawn and Dusk (cf. the obscure reference to the "womb of dawn" in Psalm 110, a psalm that links itself to the pre-Israelite El-Elyon cult of Genesis 14 via its reference to the priesthood of Melchizedek). The reference to El as the "Bull of Jacob" reflects the bovine iconography of El (specifically at his shrine in Bethel) which lent itself to later bovine depictions of Yahweh (see below). The other major passage in the OT preserving early El tradition can be found in the oracles of Balaam in Numbers 24. In v. 16, Balaam uses Elyon and Shaddai as epithets of El in poetic parallelism: "The oracle of one who hears the word of El, who has knowledge from Elyon, who sees a vision from Shaddai". The Aramaic 8th-century BC Book of Balaam son of Beor from Deir 'Alla (which was in the land of Gilead at the time) similarly is non-Yahwistic and presents Balaam as a prophet of El and who received a vision regarding the Shaddai-gods from El: "The gods came to him at night and he beheld a vision in accordance with El's utterance ... the Shaddai-gods have established a council ... El satisfied himself and then El fashioned himself an eternal house" (Combination I, lines 1-3, 7-8, Combination II, lines 6-7).

    Although the origin of Yahweh is controversial, the evidence best seems to indicate that Yahweh started out as a local Midianite or north Arabian god. The traditions in Exodus present the Midianites as worshippers of Yahweh, locate Yahweh's revelation to Moses in the land of Midian, and identify Sinai or Horeb (in the Elohist source) as Yahweh's mountainous abode. In his original guise, Yahweh was a Divine Warrior deity similar to Baal and Anat in the Canaanite pantheon. This is evident in the name itself. The name is probably a shortening of the longer sentence name yhwh-tsb'wt or Yahweh-Sabaoth (cf. 1 Samuel 1:3, Isaiah 6:1-3, etc.), which the NWT mistranslates as "Jehovah of armies". This rendering is not grammatically correct as it puts a proper name in a construct state; instead yhwh supplies the verb that takes tsb'wt as its object, i.e. "He makes the (divine) armies exist". Yahweh was originally construed as the divine king who musters the starry host as his troops and who marshals them into battle. It is most significant that the most elaborate form of this sentence name is embedded in the name of the ark of the covenant in 1 Samuel 4:4 and 2 Samuel 6:2: yhwh tsb'wt yshb h-krbym "Yahweh-Sabaoth enthroned upon the cherubim" (cf. 1 Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, 99:1, Isaiah 37:16). In the military traditions in the Deuteronomistic History, the ark of the covenant represented the presence of Yahweh and was carried by the priests into battle (Joshua 6:6-13, 1 Samuel 4:1-22, etc.). The gilded cherubim decorating the cover of the ark signified that Yahweh was present in battle, enthroned upon the cherubim. This imagery is explained by the early poem in Psalm 18 (= 2 Samuel 22):

    "He parted the heavens and came down, dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. Yahweh thundered from heaven; the voice of Elyon resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies, great bolts of lightning and he routed them" (Psalm 18:9-14).

    Most of this language (aside from the reference to Elyon) specifically relates to Canaanite conceptions of Baal-Hadad, who rode upon the clouds as his chariot (cf. his epithet "Cloud Rider", and cf. the pre-exilic hymn in Psalm 104:3 which refers to Yahweh as riding the clouds), whose voice was the thunder and whose arrows were lightnings (compare Greek conceptions of Zeus, and cf. Psalm 29 which portrays Yahweh in exactly the same language as Baal), who provided the rain that gave life to the desert (cf. also Isaiah 19:1, 30:23-25, Jeremiah 3:3, 5:24, 10:13, 14:4, 51:16, Zechariah 14:16-17, Amos 4:7, Malachi 3:10). Yahweh also closely parallels Baal via the mythological references to Yahweh fighting with the sea dragons of Rahab, Yam, and Leviathan (= Lotan) in Job 26:12-13, Psalm 74:12-15, 89:9-10, Isaiah 19:1, 27:1, 44:27, 51:9-10, and Israel's kings viewed themselves as ruling at the consent of Yahweh (cf. 2 Samuel 7:13-14, Psalm 2:6-7), just as the kings of Ugarit believed that they were co-rulers with Baal. It is also important to recognize that the earliest strata of Hebrew poetry construes of Yahweh as a Divine Warrior analoguous to Baal, marching forth with his hosts from his abode in the land of Midian. The very archaic Song of Deborah (dated by some as early as the twelfth century BC) begins: "O Yahweh, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook and the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before Yahweh, the One of Sinai, before Yahweh the god of Israel" (Judges 5:4-5). And it makes reference to the heavenly hosts mustered by Yahweh into battle: "From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera" (v. 20). The tenth-century BC Blessing of Moses similarly says: "Yahweh from Sinai came, he beamed forth from Seir upon us, he shown forth from Mount Paran. With him were myriads of holy ones, at his right hand marched the gods (mymn 'shr 'lm, corrupted in the MT but reflected in the LXX)" (Deuteronomy 33:2). The tenth-century BC enthronement hymn in Psalm 24 similarly portrays Yahweh as the warrior king: "Lift up, O Gates, your heads, lift yourselves up, ancient doors. The king of glory shall enter, who is this king of glory? Yahweh mighty and valient, Yahweh the warrior.... Yahweh-Sabaoth, he is the king of glory" (v. 7-10). Other slightly later pre-exilic passages referring to Yahweh as the Divine Warrior from Sinai (from the ninth and eighth centuries BC):

    "When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance...Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where Yahweh himself will dwell forever? The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary....Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides the ancient heavens above, who thunders with mighty voice" (Psalm 68:7-9, 18, 32-33).
    "God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps...Were you angry with the rivers, O Yahweh? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against Yam when you rode with your horses and your victorious chariots? You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows... Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear" (Habakkuk 3:3-6, 9, 11).

    So the deity of Yahweh was probably introduced into early Israel by a group of settlers from the south (who probably also introduced the traditions of an exodus from Egypt and a sojourn in the southern wilderness) and subsequently identified with the older Canaanite gods of Baal and El. There may be some merit to the Kenite hypothesis of the origin of Yahwism (see In any case, we have a transition from the Late Bronze Age when there is no trace of Yahwism in the Levant to the Iron Age when Israel's leading deity was Yahweh, whose cult drew on older mythological motifs of both Baal and El. The primacy of the identification with Baal is suggested by the Divine Warrior motifs (latent in the name of Yahweh itself and found in the earliest Yahwist poetry, cf. the polemic in Hosea 2:16 which indicates that "Baal" or "Lord" was used as a title for Yahweh), and the data from Deuteronomy 32:8-9 reflects a stage when (at least for some) Yahweh had not yet been identified with El-Elyon. Possibly there was local variation in Israel; in some places where a strong El cult existed in the pre-Israelite period, Yahweh was regarded as El, whereas in other places where the Baal-Hadad cult was predominant, Yahweh was regarded as Baal. The notion of Yahweh as the creator of the heavens and earth, and as having Asherah as his consort, presuppose the identification of Yahweh with El. The merger between Yahweh, Baal, and El probably paved the way for the rise of later exilic monotheism but we also find a henotheistic scheme in most of the OT which accepts the existence of other gods but which claims that only Yahweh ought to be worshipped in Israel and/or Judah (monolatrous Yahwism). It is striking that Yahweh's tuletary function is exactly equivalent to that of the gods of the nations, who were regarded as real. The notion of the different gods establishing the borders between the nations is latent in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 but it is also found in Judges 11:23-24 where Jephthah tells the Moabites: "Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise whatever Yahweh our god has given us, we will possess". Thus, when Moab is defeated in war, the prophet may declare: "Chemosh goes into exile" (Jeremiah 48:7). The same perspective was shared by the Moabites themselves. King Mesha of Moab wrote: "Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Chemosh was angry with his own land ... And Chemosh said to me, 'Go take Nebo from Israel!' And I went in the night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, and I took it, and I killed its own population, and from there I took the vessels of Yahweh and hauled them before the face of Chemosh" (Mesha Stele, COS 2.23). Even the notion of Chemosh being angry with his own people has clear parallels in Yahweh's anger towards Israel in the OT. When Israel "serves gods that were no part of their heritage" (Deuteronomy 29:24-27), Yahweh becomes jealous that "they have forsaken me and worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites" (1 Kings 11:33), instead of following the god allotted to their nation. That is also why Ezekiel and the other prophets explain Israel's destruction by the Assyrians and Judah's destruction by the Babylonians as the result of their religious "apostasy" -- by turning to the gods of other nations, Yahweh abandoned his political support and left them defenseless to the forces of the Assyrians and Babylonians, just as Chemosh let the Moabites lose to the Israelites in the Mesha Stele because he "was angry with his own land".

    It is unclear exactly when and where Yahweh was identified with El and when and where this identification was generally accepted. Some argue that this identification goes back to the original worship of Yahweh in the Seir and Midian, as El appears prominently in early Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions; others regard the identification as later within the land of Israel during the period of the judges (i.e. the twelfth and eleventh centuries BC) when the Yahweh cult was introduced to the older El cultic sites of Shiloh (with its tabernacle shrine) and Bethel. The ark of the covenant (which symbolized Yahweh's presence in the land) was housed at different cultic sites during this period, sometimes at Shiloh (Joshua 18:8-10, 21:1-2) and sometimes at Bethel (Judges 20:27-28). As mentioned above, Bethel was originally an altar site for El and this is reflected in the prominent tradition of bull and calf icognography at Bethel. In Canaanite tradition, El was known as "Bull El" (e.g. KTU 1.6 iv 10-11) and this is paralleled in the archaic Blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49 which refers to El as the "Bull of Jacob". The much later Psalm 132:2, 5 applies the title "Bull of Jacob" to Yahweh, and Yahweh was also described with bovine imagery in Numbers 24:8. Bethel was the primary cult site in Samaria and the identification of Yahweh with El can be seen in the application of bovine iconography to Yahweh at Bethel. The Aaronid priesthood in Bethel received a golden bull from King Jeroboam I in the tenth century BC (1 Kings 12:25-33), which was worshipped as the god "who brought you out of Egypt", i.e. Yahweh. This bovine iconism was retrojected in Exodus 32 back to Aaron himself (the plural in v. 4 reflecting the two statues erected in Bethel and Dan), who implicitly regards the golden calf as a representation of Yahweh in v. 5. Bulls and calves are common in tenth and ninth century BC cult objects from the northern kingdom, such as the Tanaach cult stand. One Samaria ostracon has an inscription that reads "Young bull is Yaw". The Kuntillet Arjud pithos from the early 8th century BC has a benediction attributed to King Joash of Israel that gives a blessing by "Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah", and next to the inscription is a large figure with bull's head, hooved feet and tail and a similar smaller female figure with breasts, and a realistic drawing of a bull and a calf appears below the inscription. The eighth century BC book of Hosea condemns Bethel for its idolatry (10:15), and the reference to the "young bull of Samaria" in 8:6 evokes the mention of "Yahweh of Samaria" in the Kuntillet Arjud inscription. The Bethel bull-cult is explicitly mentioned in Hosea 13:2 which mentions that the people of Ephraim where Bethel was located "kiss the calf-idols" (cf. Psalm 2:11-12 which uses the motif of kissing in reference to Yahweh worship). The most fascinating evidence relating to the worship of Yahweh as a calf in Bethel is the Amherst Papyrus from the third century BC which contains the traditions of Israelites from Samaria who settled in Egypt after the dispersion of the northern tribes. This text contains a lot of information about the Bethel bovine cult. It refers to "Yaho our bull" as the "lord of Bethel" (XI.17), and it mentions the practice of kissing the calves of Bethel: "Let them kiss your bulls, let them desire your calves, Exalted One, the calves of your ??? [lacuna]" (V.12-22). The passage of XI.11-19 is thought to be a descendent of the actual prayer used in the Bethel bull cult (as it is echoed in 2 Chronicles 13 in Abijah's condemnation of Jeroboam's golden bulls) and it is closely paralleled by Psalm 20:

    Amherst XI.11-19: "May Horus [= Yaho in Egyptian syncretism] answer us in our troubles; may Adonai answer us in our troubles. O bow in heaven, Shahar shine forth; send your emissary from the temple of Arash, and from Zephon may Horus help us. May Horus grant us what is in our hearts; may the Lord grant us what is in our hearts. All our plans may Horus fulfill. May Horus fulfill -- may Adonai not fall short in satisfying every request of our hearts. Some [live] with the bow, some with the spear, but as for us, the Lord is our god. Horus-Yaho our bull is with us [cf. 2 Chronicles 13:8-10, "You have with you the golden bulls that Jeroboam made to be your gods ... but as for us, Yahweh is our god"]. May the lord of Bethel answer us on the morrow".
    Psalm 20:1-9: "May Yahweh answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you support from the temple and grant you help from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and fulfill all your plans. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May Yahweh grant all your requests. Now I know that Yahweh saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our god. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. O Yahweh, save the king and answer us when we call".

    The aniconic impulse in the OT (e.g. the condemning of making images resembling creatures on the earth in Exodus 20:4) was not simply aimed at forbidding the worship of other gods. As the golden calf story in Exodus shows, it also specifically forbade the worship of Yahweh via images of calves and bulls. Aniconism of course was another stepping stone to monotheism, as it allowed for a more abstract and transcendent view of God that exceeded what images of creatures could depict.

  • james_woods

    Very interesting - once again, we see that there is more interaction between these ancient religions than the strict Bible-enthusiasm would like to think.

  • frankiespeakin

    Religious ideas come from the collective unconscious of the species of mankind and are a projection just as the the color red is a projection of light waves of a certain frequency spectrum. To understand the deeper workings of the psyche we must examine mythology with this in mind. Materialistic rationalism will only leave us with neurosis as the unconscious operates at a different level and needs to be taken into account, and understood for it to have it psychically balancing factors work in our favor. We are in the information age which has a promising future, but only if we understanding what is happening at a deeper level. Gods are a projection just as color, sound, feeling, touch, and basically all things related to the senses are a projection created by the psyche are. The only reality is psychic,, "I think therefore I am"

    " Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists because he thinks. But in what form? He perceives his body through the use of the senses; however, these have previously been unreliable. So Descartes determines that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is what he does, and his power must come from his essence. Descartes defines "thought" (cogitatio) as "what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it". Thinking is thus every activity of a person of which he is immediately conscious.[21]"

  • james_woods

    frankiespeakin, I am left confused.

    What in the world does Descartes have to do with this historical discussion?

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