Jehovah's Witnesses worship a pagan god derived from the ancient Canaanite civilization

by Finkelstein 35 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • cobweb

    Earnest, I can't begin to argue with you on the details of the subject. I haven't read the book you mention. I notice though that you say that Lawson Younger is an authority on the Aramaeans. I wonder why you particularly mention him on this matter when there are scholars who have more specialisation in the study of very early Canaanite civilization and the traces of Canaanite belief in biblical texts.

    I saw that Lawson Younger for example has edited a book called Ugarit at Seventy Five and while specialists in this area such as Mark Smith discuss Uragitic texts and links to the bible head on and make a case consistent with Finklestein's OP, Younger's chapter in this book is called The Late Bronze Age / Iron Age Transition and the Origins of the Arameans. This suggests to me that he is not a specialist in this area. I am sure he is a smart guy but scholars tend to have very narrow and deep niches.

    I would rather read a scholar who specialises in the niche at hand and is widely regarded as the goto person on a subject than someone who is more tangentially linked to it.

    I openly admit that I cannot understand a lot of the detail of the scholarly argumentation. Much of it is above my head. These people have made it their life's work to look into it and they are very smart. But there is always a range of opinion in every area of study - people making cases using different lenses and they often disagree. There tends to be an overall consensus where scholars understanding centres, and then there are also people who hold minority theories out of line with the consensus. When I have no expertise in the field, I think it is safer - I feel I will be closer to the truth of a matter, if I go by the understanding of the people that most know what they are talking about - the majority consensus view - and read books by the scholars who are most respected in their niche.

    You say

    The view that the God of the Hebrews, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is related to the Canaanite god Elsimply because he is referred to as el or elohim is not accepted by all scholars. El is both a name and a description, but the Hebrew scriptures make clear that the name of the God (elohim) of the Hebrews is Jehovah.

    I'm sure you are right that not all scholars accept this. But it is the consensus view by the people who have made it their most particular area of study and I'd rather go with that.

  • Earnest

    cobweb, thank you for your comments. The reason I particularly mention Lawson Younger is because I went to a couple of lectures which he gave last year, and I had the opportunity to speak to him personally about the relationship of the Canaanite god El to the el/elohim used to refer to the God of the Hebrews.

    I also do not understand a lot of the detail of scholarly argumentation but I found the research he presented to be convincing. I try to read widely but I am more convinced when I have the opportunity to question the scholars in detail as to the reasons for their conclusions.

    I take your point that you would rather go with the consensus of other scholars. As I personally found his arguments convincing that is what I shared with the board.

  • Finkelstein

    Lets make it perfectly clear that name Jehovah to mean the god of the ancient Hebrews was not used by the ancient Hebrews, which in fact was created centuries later.

    Some more information relating to the gradual infusion of Canaanite culture to the evolving established Hebrew culture and how they eventually became distinctively unique.

    Hebrew Bible

    The Hebrew form (אל) appears in Latin letters in Standard Hebrew transcription as El and in Tiberian Hebrew transcription as ʾĒl. El is a generic word for god that could be used for any god, including Hadad, Moloch,[26] or Yahweh.

    In the Tanakh, ’elōhîm is the normal word for a god or the great god (or gods, given that the 'im' suffix makes a word plural in Hebrew). But the form ’El also appears, mostly in poetic passages and in the patriarchal narratives attributed to the Priestly source of the documentary hypothesis. It occurs 217 times in the Masoretic Text: seventy-three times in the Psalms and fifty-five times in the Book of Job, and otherwise mostly in poetic passages or passages written in elevated prose. It occasionally appears with the definite article as hā’Ēl 'the god' (for example in 2 Samuel 22:31,33–48).

    The theological position of the Tanakh is that the names Ēl and ’Ĕlōhîm, when used in the singular to mean the supreme god, refer to Yahweh, beside whom other gods are supposed to be either nonexistent or insignificant. Whether this was a long-standing belief or a relatively new one has long been the subject of inconclusive scholarly debate about the prehistory of the sources of the Tanakh and about the prehistory of Israelite religion. In the P strand, YHWH says in Exodus 6:2–3:

    I revealed myself to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as Ēl Shaddāi, but was not known to them by my name, YHVH.

    Before El's revelation with the name of Yahweh, it is said in Genesis 14:18–20 that Abraham accepted the blessing of El, when Melchizedek, the king of Salem and high priest of its deity El Elyon blessed him.[27] One scholarly position is that the identification of Yahweh with Ēl is late, that Yahweh was earlier thought of as only one of many gods, and not normally identified with Ēl. Another is that in much of the Hebrew Bible the name El is an alternate name for Yahweh, but in the Elohist and Priestly traditions it is conceived as an earlier name than Yahweh.[28] Mark Smith has argued that Yahweh and El were originally separate, but were considered synonymous from very early on.[29] The name Yahweh is used in the Bible Tanakh in the first book of Genesis 2:4; and Genesis 4:26 says that at that time, people began to "call upon the name of the LORD".[30][31]

    The Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré (1865)

    In some places, especially in Psalm 29, Yahweh is clearly envisioned as a storm god, something not true of Ēl so far as we know (although true of his son, Ba'al Hadad). It is Yahweh who is prophesied to one day battle Leviathan the serpent, and slay the dragon in the sea in Isaiah 27:1. The slaying of the serpent in myth is a deed attributed to both Ba’al Hadad and ‘Anat in the Ugaritic texts, but not to Ēl.

    Such mythological motifs are variously seen as late survivals from a period when Yahweh held a place in theology comparable to that of Hadad at Ugarit; or as late henotheistic/monotheistic applications to Yahweh of deeds more commonly attributed to Hadad; or simply as examples of eclectic application of the same motifs and imagery to various different gods. Similarly, it is argued inconclusively whether Ēl Shaddāi, Ēl ‘Ôlām, Ēl ‘Elyôn, and so forth, were originally understood as separate divinities. Albrecht Alt presented his theories on the original differences of such gods in Der Gott der Väter in 1929.[32] But others have argued that from patriarchal times, these different names were in fact generally understood to refer to the same single great god, Ēl. This is the position of Frank Moore Cross (1973).[33] What is certain is that the form ’El does appear in Israelite names from every period including the name Yiśrā’ēl ("Israel"), meaning "El strives" or "struggled with El".

    According to The Oxford Companion to World Mythology,

    It seems almost certain that the God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El, who was in all likelihood the "God of Abraham"... If El was the high God of Abraham—Elohim, the prototype of Yahveh—Asherah was his wife, and there are archaeological indications that she was perceived as such before she was in effect "divorced" in the context of emerging Judaism of the 7th century BCE. (See 2 Kings 23:15.)[34]

    The apparent plural form ’Ēlîm or ’Ēlim "gods" occurs only four times in the Tanakh. Psalm 29, understood as an enthronement psalm, begins:

    A Psalm of David.

    Ascribe to Yahweh, sons of Gods (bênê ’Ēlîm),
    Ascribe to Yahweh, glory and strength

    Psalm 89:6 (verse 7 in Hebrew) has:

    For who in the skies compares to Yahweh,
    who can be likened to Yahweh among the sons of Gods (bênê ’Ēlîm).

    Traditionally bênê ’ēlîm has been interpreted as 'sons of the mighty', 'mighty ones', for ’El can mean 'mighty', though such use may be metaphorical (compare the English expression [by] God awful). It is possible also that the expression ’ēlîm in both places descends from an archaic stock phrase in which ’lm was a singular form with the m-enclitic and therefore to be translated as 'sons of Ēl'. The m-enclitic appears elsewhere in the Tanakh and in other Semitic languages. Its meaning is unknown, possibly simply emphasis. It appears in similar contexts in Ugaritic texts where the expression bn ’il alternates with bn ’ilm, but both must mean 'sons of Ēl'. That phrase with m-enclitic also appears in Phoenician inscriptions as late as the fifth century BCE.

    One of the other two occurrences in the Tanakh is in the "Song of Moses", Exodus 15:11a:

    Who is like you among the Gods (’ēlim), Yahweh?

    The final occurrence is in Daniel 11:36:

    And the king will do according to his pleasure; and he will exalt himself and magnify himself over every god (’ēl), and against the God of Gods (’El ’Elîm) he will speak outrageous things, and will prosper until the indignation is accomplished: for that which is decided will be done.

    There are a few cases in the Tanakh where some think ’El referring to the great god Ēl is not equated with Yahweh. One is in Ezekiel 28:2, in the taunt against a man who claims to be divine, in this instance, the leader of Tyre:

    Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre: "Thus says the Lord Yahweh: 'Because your heart is proud and you have said: "I am ’ēl (god), in the seat of ’elōhîm (gods), I am enthroned in the middle of the seas." Yet you are man and not ’El even though you have made your heart like the heart of ’elōhîm ('gods').'"

    Here ’ēl might refer to a generic god, or to a highest god, Ēl. When viewed as applying to the King of Tyre specifically, the king was probably not thinking of Yahweh. When viewed as a general taunt against anyone making divine claims, it may or may not refer to Yahweh depending on the context.

    In Judges 9:46 we find ’Ēl Bêrît 'God of the Covenant', seemingly the same as the Ba‘al Bêrît 'Lord of the Covenant' whose worship has been condemned a few verses earlier. See Baal for a discussion of this passage.

    Psalm 82:1 says:

    ’elōhîm ("god") stands in the council of ’ēl
    he judges among the gods (Elohim).

    This could mean that Yahweh judges along with many other gods as one of the council of the high god Ēl. However it can also mean that Yahweh stands in the Divine Council (generally known as the Council of Ēl), as Ēl judging among the other members of the Council. The following verses in which the god condemns those whom he says were previously named gods (Elohim) and sons of the Most High suggest the god here is in fact Ēl judging the lesser gods.

    An archaic phrase appears in Isaiah 14:13, kôkkêbê ’ēl 'stars of God', referring to the circumpolar stars that never set, possibly especially to the seven stars of Ursa Major. The phrase also occurs in the Pyrgi Inscription as hkkbm ’l (preceded by the definite article h and followed by the m-enclitic). Two other apparent fossilized expressions are arzê-’ēl 'cedars of God' (generally translated something like 'mighty cedars', 'goodly cedars') in Psalm 80:10 (in Hebrew verse 11) and kêharrê-’ēl 'mountains of God' (generally translated something like 'great mountains', 'mighty mountains') in Psalm 36:7 (in Hebrew verse 6).

    For the reference in some texts of Deuteronomy 32:8 to seventy sons of God corresponding to the seventy sons of Ēl in the Ugaritic texts, see ’Elyôn.

  • cobweb

    Thanks for your reply Earnest

    I understand that when you talk to someone personally it can have a greater impact. That isn't always of best way of ascertaining the truth of things when you are not equipped to judge the correctness of what they say. This is often how people get roped into being witnesses.

    Here is my question and I won't answer it, as I am not sure of the answer:

    When I look up the website of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School of which Lawson Younger belongs it says under the heading Statement of Faith, the following:

    Trinity International University holds to the statement of faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America. The EFCA is an association of autonomous churches united around the following theological convictions:
    We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.
    The Bible
    We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.
    The Human Condition
    We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.
    Jesus Christ
    We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus—Israel’s promised Messiah—was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.
    The Work of Christ
    We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.
    The Holy Spirit
    We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.
    The Church
    We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.
    Christian Living
    We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.
    Christ’s Return
    We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
    Response and Eternal Destiny
    We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.

    Do you think it is necessary for Lawson Younger to accept all of that? Would knowing that he had that basis on faith make you worried about his conclusions on the issue of the origin of God. Personally I would worry that if he had these points of faith as it starting point, they would influence his conclusions.

    He has a book about the books of Judges and Ruth with the heading 'from biblical text to contemporary life'. The synopsis on google says:

    The concept of judgment is at odds with today’s culture, which considers it a sin to suggest there is such a thing as sin. Perhaps that is partly because we have seen all too clearly the fallibility of those who judge. What many of us long for is not judgment but righteousness and deliverance from oppression. That is why the books of Judges and Ruth are so relevant today: Judges, because it reveals a God who employs very human deliverers but refuses to gloss over their sins and the consequences of those sins; and Ruth, because it demonstrates the far-reaching impact of a righteous character. Exploring the links between the Bible and our own times, Dr. K. Lawson Younger Jr. shares literary perspectives on the books of Judges and Ruth that reveal ageless truths for our twenty-first-century lives. Most Bible commentaries take us on a one-way trip from our world to the world of the Bible. But they leave us there, assuming that we can somehow make the return journey on our own. They focus on the original meaning of the passage but don’t discuss its contemporary application. The information they offer is valuable--but the job is only half done! The NIV Application Commentary Series helps bring both halves of the interpretive task together. This unique, award-winning series shows readers how to bring an ancient message into our postmodern context. It explains not only what the Bible meant but also how it speaks powerfully today.

    This again seems to identify his underlying perspective of the inspired nature of the bible. In which case I do not know how he could even consider the possibility that YHWH developed out of Canaanite gods. Accepting his reliability on this issue might be like also accepting his authority on evolution when it is unlikely he will be unbiased about that. But, I am just guessing about his beliefs and how they might be affecting his conclusions. Its something to think about when gauging how much weight to place on his views.

  • Crazyguy

    Jehovah has a wife too.

  • Earnest

    Finkelstein : Lets make it perfectly clear that name Jehovah to mean the god of the ancient Hebrews was not used by the ancient Hebrews,

    Of course it wasn't. The alphabet they used was not Latin and it did not contain vowels or the letter 'J'. In fact, when the Bible was first translated into English by William Tyndale the letter 'J' was not in common usage and so his English equivalent of the tetragrammaton was Iehouah. When the Authorised Version was printed in 1611 this became Iehovah, and later Jehovah.

    So if I write in English for an English audience I use the English equivalent of the tetragrammaton. There is not consensus as to how it would have been pronounced in the original Hebrew but some maintain it was pronounced Yehovah. For example, Nehemia Gordon discusses this here.

    He does ramble a bit but it is worth a listen if you are interested.

    As far as your cut and paste from Wikipedia is concerned, I would note that it says :

    The theological position of the Tanakh is that the names Ēl and ’Ĕlōhîm, when used in the singular to mean the supreme god, refer to Yahweh, beside whom other gods are supposed to be either nonexistent or insignificant. Whether this was a long-standing belief or a relatively new one has long been the subject of inconclusive scholarly debate about the prehistory of the sources of the Tanakh and about the prehistory of Israelite religion.

    The scholarly debate about the prehistory of the Israelite religion is inconclusive. Not all scholars have concluded that the God of the Jews is derived from the ancient Canaanite civilization. Since last posting I have borrowed "Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan" by John Day, "The Early History of God" by Mark Smith, and "A Rift in the Clouds - Ugaritic and Hebrew Descriptions of the Divine" by M.C.A. Korpel which I will read in the next few weeks. My initial review confirms that Jehovah did not originate with the Canaanites but I will share the reasons for my conclusions once I have had opportunity to consider it further.

  • Finkelstein

    Something that cant be debated is that the emerging Hebrew nation wanted to construct a monotheist theology around their own select civilization and claim to be the chosen nation by the Almighty god Yahweh.

  • cobweb

    Those books you've borrowed are good.

    From what i have read, I agree with you that Yahweh did not originate with the Canaanites. There is no evidence for a God called Yahweh is Canaanite religion.

    But lets say, if Yahweh starts off as a very regionally located secondary warrior god and then over time takes on the attributes of El and Baal so that by the time the majority of the bible is written or finalised in post exilic times, he has become an all powerful monotheistic amalgam of Canaanite Gods, called Yahweh, surely we can then say that Yahweh has been derived from Canaanite Gods?

  • Earnest

    Finkelstein : The main point to this thread is explaining and showing that the ancient Hebrew civilization were a off shoot sect from the ancient Canaanite civilization and that they took the main pantheon god El from the Canaanite civilization into a singular monotheistic style of worship creating eventually Yahweh.

    In my previous post I said I would consider further scholarly material and then share the reasons for my conclusion that Jehovah did not originate with the Canaanite pantheon.

    There are some aspects of personality which both Jehovah and the Ugaritic pantheon share, and these concern strength, honour, dignity and compassion.

    Mark Smith (The Early History of God, 2002) has argued that Jehovah and El were originally separate, but were considered synonymous from very early on. But he says (p.59) :

    Canaanite religious traditions exhibit substantial modifications in their Israelite forms. By and large, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the specific socio-political forces behind the process of convergence.

    In other words, we don't know how it happened but it happened. Despite the fact that the Canaanites had no tradition of a southern sanctuary (Sinai, Param, Edom, Teiman) or anything relating to the exodus from Egypt. In addition, the earliest evidence associates Jehovah with storm, with which the El of Ugarit was not connected at all.

    In contrast to the gods of Ugarit, Jehovah does not lie or forget, he does not crouch, drag, become unsteady, knuckle down, sink down, fall, seek someone's favour, pray, collapse, fail, prostrate or uncover himself. He does not grow faint or weary, neither does he sleep. He is never a child or a youth. He never becomes dirty. He is never ill, as the Ugaritic El and Baal were occasionally. Unlike the Ugaritic Baal, he does not die, because he is stronger than Death. He is never defeated and does not need protection. He never flees and is never taken captive.

    In Ugarit deities could be compared to sheep, lambs, asses, dogs or does. None of these metaphors is applied to Jehovah but only those indicating strength or courage like the bull and the lion.

    Common verbs like "to see" and "to dream" are never used for Jehovah because it would imply that like the Ugaritic El he would need visions and dreams to know the future.

    Lavish banquets and the consumption of large quantities of wine occupy an important place in the life of the gods of Ugarit. After Genesis 18 (which likely refers to an angelic representative of Jehovah) he never eats or drinks anything in a literal sense. Because Jehovah does not eat or drink, he has no taste, no hunger or thirst, no herds of cattle, no cooking pots or tables in heaven, no cups, beakers or bowls for quenching his thirst as the Ugaritic gods do.

    Jehovah does not appear, like the Ugaritic El, as the drunken carouser. and sexual partner of goddesses, or like Baal, the dying god, and voracious sexual partner of animals, and perhaps of his sister Anat. Sexual pleasure was quite normal in the world of the Ugaritic gods, but had no place in the Israelite concept of God. Desire and greed were freely ascribed to the Ugaritic deities, but not to Jehovah. Indeed, the word goddess (Heb. 'ilt) is not used at all.

    The gods of Ugarit defecate, have menial tasks to do, produce objects and utensils in the manner of a smith. This anthropomorphism was deliberately avoided in Israel.

    There are many references to the Israelites worshipping false gods after they had moved into the land of Canaan. There is no doubt this was a problem. So I can quite accept that the best attributes of the Canaanite gods were also associated with Jehovah so that they would not be tempted to false worship. cobweb asks whether we can say he has been derived from Canaanite gods on this basis. My inclination is not that he has been derived, as if he didn't previously exist, but I will not argue so fine a point if others wish to use that terminology.
  • EverApostate

    If there is an Almighty god, why can’t he write his name in the space out there, by any means and irrefutably prove that he exists and has a name too.

    Why all this commotion

    Also, I see people here mentioning about "False Gods", as if a true god has been undeniably proven to Exist.

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