"poly-Yahwist" religion of early Israel and Judah

by Doug Mason 1 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    The following is from “Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah”, pages 497-499, by William Dever,


    Religion played an important role in all early societies, and cultic practices (if not beliefs) are often reflected in material culture remains. In Israel and Judah of the ninth–eighth century [BCE] we have a number of both public and private cultic installations. …. From Iron [Age] IIB at Dan on the northern border there is a “high place” that features a raised platform 60 by 60 feet, with steps leading up to it and remains of a large four-horned altar in the forecourt. An adjoining tripartite structure (perhaps later) had a small stone altar and three iron shovels in one room. Also in the sacred precinct was a large olive-pressing installation, a house with domestic pottery and an oxhead figurine, a bronze scepter head, a painted offering stand, both male and female figurines of Phoenician style, and a faience die. A much smaller bāmâ with five standing stones (maṣṣēbôt) was found in the outer plaza of the city gate.

    The only other full-fledged Iron [Age] II sanctuary we have is the tripartite temple at Arad in the northwest corner of the fortress. The temple was constructed in Stratum X of the ninth–eighth century [BCE] and was then altered in Stratum VIII in what may have been attempts at religious reforms that included abandoning the altar in the outer court and burying the two or three maṣṣēbôt of the inner sanctum. In the outer courtyard there was an altar of undressed stones, at the foot of which was found a bronze lion weight and two shallow bowls with the letters qoph and kaph, probably an abbreviation for qôdeš kôhănîm, “holy for the priests.” Two stylized horned altars flanked the entrance to the inner sanctum. … The Stratum X temple went out of use in the late eighth century. … Among the Arad ostraca was one (no. 15) that refers to the “temple [bêt] of Yahweh,” which probably refers to this temple [at Arad] rather than the one in Jerusalem. Other ostraca mention the names of known priestly families. The temple is out of use by Stratum VII, perhaps as a result of cult reforms.

    In addition to these monumental remains, we have a number of household shrines of the ninth–eighth century. … They feature various combinations of small stone altars, cult stands, kernoi and other libation vessels, rattles, censers, both zoomorphic and female figurines, miniature furniture and vessels, pots for cooking and feasting, seals, and amulets.

    All these vessels are appropriate for the family and household cults that we have taken to be characteristic of the varieties of “Yahwism” that characterized Israelite and Judahite religion in the Iron II period (and earlier). The precise theological concepts cannot always be inferred from the archaeological remains, even when extensive.

    In practice, however, the focus is clearly seen, and it requires no sophisticated theory to comprehend it. It all has to do with survival—the ultimate concern of virtually all religions. This entails seeking the favor of the gods by prayers, invocations, and appropriate rituals, placating them by sacrifice, returning their gifts and rendering thanks, invoking their continued blessings by the use of sympathetic magic and feasting, and, of course, aligning oneself with them so as to participate in the “good life,” life in accord with nature as the creation of the gods and the arena of their activity.

    It is now clear from the archaeological evidence that it was not the orthodox Yahwism of the late literary tradition, sometimes regarded imprecisely as “official” or “state” religion, that prevailed in the Iron II era. It was rather what Albertz has called “poly-Yahwism,” the “internal religious pluralism” that is so obvious in the typical family and household cults.

    Now it is becoming clear that a cult of [the goddess] Asherah flourished, in both domestic and wider contexts, even to the extent of regarding her as Yahweh’s consort in some circles. Thus the veneration of Asherah can be understood not as “idolatry” but as one aspect of multifaceted Yahwistic practices.

    An increasing number of both biblicists and archaeologists identify the Judean pillar-base figurines that begin in the late eighth century (after the 732–721 destructions in the north) as representations of the old Canaanite mother goddess Asherah. That is, these terra-cotta female figurines, of which we have hundreds of examples, are not simply votives or human figurines. They are evidence of a widespread, popular cult of Asherah, no doubt persistent until the end of the monarchy.

  • JWdeepthinker

    Interesting. But the big elephant in the room is whether YHWH was just an invented god or is he the creator of the universe who chose the Israelites as the ultimate savior of the world? Is YHWH a real god?

    Well it is clear the Israelites were not faithful to their covenant with YHWH. Problem is, YHWH said that if they were not faithful he would punish them. Zech 13:8 indicates that just before the final restoration of the Jews to their homeland, which would celebrate the final 70th jubilee (49 years to the end of the covenant), there would be a great tribulation. Daniel says it would be a time of distress like "never happened before nor would happen again." But it is linked to specific chronology. To make a long story short, two-thirds of the Jews in exile were to be exterminated between 1940-1947 per the Bible. That happened. That tribulation was thus fulfilled by WWII and the Holocaust. So that suggests not only is YHWH a living god but he doesn't play around.

    Zech 13:8 "In the whole land, declares the Lord,

    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive." (ESV)

    Wikipedia: "The Holocaust, also referred to as the Shoah, was a genocide during World War II in which Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered some six million European Jews, around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe."

    The one-third that would survive would then come out of exile to celebrate the final 49 years of the covenant. A horrible punishment. However, the scriptures say just as much as YHWH's anger would blaze against the Jews during this 7-year period that was "cut short" (Matthew 24), he would bless the new Jewish nation. The State of Israel seems fairly well off at this point, so that part of the prophecy was fulfilled as well.

    Archaeology confirms how idolatrous the Israelites were. In particular, the Jewish women became prostitutes and burned children alive in the fire. They would seduce men from the nations, get them addicted and then get them to sacrifice their children. The children would be stuffed into pottery kilns that were on the roofs of the houses and packed with limestone and burned alive. The dark smoke would rise up from the kilns representing the death and destruction of another innocent life. Thus the Holocaust would reflect that same pagan practice. The transports would come into the death camps at Dachau, Treblinka, Chelmo and others and soon after would come the black smoke, representing the death of more Jews. So the very nature of the Holocaust reflected what the ancient idolatrous Israelites did. That's why Jesus told the women weeping for him to weep for themselves because there would be a time they wished they had no children. So the women and the death of children are a central theme to the Holocaust.

    Scholars have their doubts and their theories. But it would seem such a specifically dated fulfillment of this prophecy tends to confirm that the creator of the universe, known as YHWH to the Israelites did have a covenant with them and that, ultimately, he restored them to their "promised land" to fulfill that covenant with Abraham. Unfortunately, that included the severe complication of that covenant, which is to bring the punishment of the fathers upon the children. But that was always part of it -- the good as well as the bad would come upon the children of the promise, the children of Abraham.

    So what the Israelites were actually up to during those early years is confirmed by archaeology, but the orthodox doctrine was always the same, strictly monotheistic doctrine of the monotheistic god, YHWH. Some things are up for grabs as far as ancient history as told by archaeology, but not the existence of a living god who had a covenant with the israelites -- of course, through which came Jesus Christ, also a living god.

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