Can anyone help me with this? Most scholars believe that YHWH was apart of an ancient hebrew pantheon and that He then became the monotheistic jewish God around 600 BC (at the writing and collection of the Pentateuch). How can we rationalize this and show that God (YHWH) is not a pagan made or still has the authority even if he came form a pantheon?
One thought I really can’t seem to shake goes something like this:
- Gradually over time, in the Bible, a clearer revelation of who God is and what his plan is for mankind emerges
- New Testament authors wrestle with what this new covenant is like and how much of the old one they should follow
- Church fathers after that wrestle with the theology of Christ and the idea of the New Testament
Regarding the first subpoint, it is not surprising that Yahwism first arose from a people group that believed in multiple gods. There are plenty of OT references to such a pantheon. He starts revealing more truth to them over time and they get a clearer picture of who this God is and what he is like. Interestingly, none of the other gods are worshipped today yet Yahweh still is.
The biggest challenge–or certainly one of the biggest–is that it’s hard to find “a scholar” who has encountered Yahweh face to face and lived to tell about that encounter.
Good luck with that. Personally, I’m reduced to babbling unless and until I can find “a safe place” and babble to Him.
I often speak of the many Christian notions of God I don’t believe in (e.g. meglomaniac, purist, hard hearted, jealous, controlling, wrathful, sadistic). Does that constitute a pantheon? When some of the Israelites strayed to worshipping other gods does that constitute a pantheon? Do the different descriptions of God by different denominations constitute a pantheon? LOL I am reminded of the TV show “Lucifer” which portrays the elements of Christian belief including angels, devil, and such as a family pantheon much like the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Norse. Perhaps any religion can be forced into such a mold when you want look at things that way.
It’s also of note that the Jewish people and the political nation of Israel have been and still are major factors on the world stage. And if I understand correctly, Orthodox Jews are not Zionists because they believe the diaspora was just.
That is true. They reject the modern state of Israel because only the messiah can restore the nation of Israel. (And that would only be the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews support the state of Israel.)
Many, many Israelites were functionally polytheists, with Yahweh being the chief god. Both archaeology and the Bible confirm this. Many idols of Asherah (the divine consort of Yahweh) and other gods have been found in Israel dating from before the Babylonian captivity. But after the captivity and the return to Israel, the Israelites finally put away their idol worship and became fully monotheistic.
I guess I have always just presumed that Yahweh is not literally our God’s name. Who would have imagined before humankind and language existed a supernatural being had a name that just happen to fit into something we can pronounce.
So for me I presume it’s accommodation. God picked a name and revealed himself as a specific deity becsuse it was one they were most familiar with.
I hope this reflection on Christianity and Science might trigger some responses.
SOUL OF THE UNIVERSE.
On more and more contemporary online pages
Humanity refashions the unassuming story,
Known across myriad expansive ages,
Intuitively by indigenous people, mystics, sages;
The existence in eternally repeated history
Of natural communities galore,
forest, flora, fauna, beast, bird and more,
ocean families, scudding clouds, all suffused
with endless in-spirited energy freely educed
from the vast creative cosmic, earth-specific,
urging of universal love-terrific.
We know so little of creation’s in-souled universe,
An integral kith and kinship of one and all.
‘O my God’, yes, but universally, ‘Good God of all’!
Stirred by CAC and Political Theology both of 5/10/21
Peter Challen UK
Many (not all) of said scholars are basing that assertion (of the exact progression and dates) on simplistic schemes of religious and social progression (analogous to Marxism) that completely ignore evidence. Things like “all cultures with monotheistic religions obviously had to progress from polytheism to monolatry to monotheism” as a blanket assertion with nothing to back it up.
We have good evidence that Akhenaten was monolatric, bordering on monotheistic c. 1350 BC. I am also highly skeptical of claims that the Hebrews borrowed the idea from him, as such claims often ignore the significant differences in what was worshipped.
Also, all of those other deities were very much what was around nearby, and readily borrowable, be they Hadad, Molech, Melquart, Astarte, or Asherah.
I was thinking about how to be sure something is actually a pantheon and how to make a definitive difference between this and the examples I gave before, and I thought to make the following suggestion. It is when the different gods are spoken (stories told) of as having types of relationships between them such as speech, combat, family, or division of labor/responsibilities. In other words, a pantheon is a community of gods and not just different ideas of what could in fact be one God.
Revelation was given gradually. God didn’t come from a pantheon even though He was thought be be part of one at one time. It’s not a problem for faith.
@massam Sam B, we have become so obsessed with monotheism, that we act as if it were the only way of worshipping God.
So not forget that t6he 10 Commandments say, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
YHWH/God called Abram and promised that He would make Abram the Father of a great nation if they would make Him their God. There is an implied monotheism here that eventually became real monotheism.
This is what the Bible says, and I think that it is believable even if many do not. For one thing it does not have anything to prove.
The covenant is basic and unique to Judaism and Christianity. Sadly it is misunderstood and neglected as people try to put faith on a philosophical foundation, even if it does not belong there.
Our faith is the working out of the OT and NT covenants with God, the last one being based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The least defensible religions are those originating through a single person’s experience as in Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Islam, or those that are cultural myths as in the classical Greek and Roman pantheons. Biblical religion records divine revelation in a historical context occurring over a period of more than a thousand years. What is revealed in the Bible is based upon a historical context. As such, biblical divine revelation is progressive because history is progressive.
The divine revelation occurs over time as the chosen people become ready to understand the next revelation. Divine revelation’s plan is finalized in Christ. However, even at the ascension of the Lord Jesus the apostles are not ready to receive the next divine revelation.
Acts 1:5-8 ESV
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
To receive the answer to the apostles question they would have to first “receive the power of the Holy Spirit” and to be shown via visions and experience (Acts 10-11).
The Apostle Peter’s understanding was progressive rather than complete and factual all at once. In fact, the question posed in Acts 1:6 demonstrated the apostles’ erroneous understanding.
The earliest known use of the word monotheism is by Henry More, ca. 1660, in explicit juxtaposition with both atheism and polytheism. The western, contemporary modern vernacular meaning of monotheism is the idea that there exists only one God with certain necessary characteristics. In other words, as a philosophical idea, monotheism was not part of the worldview of the Hebrews.
The ancient Hebrews were either henotheism or monolatry depending upon the text.
Henotheism - Believing in the existence of many deities, worshiping only one of them usually considered the deity of one’s family, clan or nation, but allowing others to worship other deities.
Monolatry - Believing in the existence of many deities, worshiping only one of them, and not approving of the worship other deities.
Deuteronomy 6:4; “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” is not about a monotheistic YHWH but monolatry for Israel.
The first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3), “You shall have no other gods before me,” only makes sense if there is the possibility of other gods. The commandment is not to worship false gods but other spiritual beings the Hebrews thought of as gods (elohim). Here is Exodus 20:1-4 using the Hebrew word for God, LORD, and gods.
Then Elohim spoke all these words:
2 “I am Yahweh your Elohim , who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.
3 “Never have any other elohim . 4 Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. 5 Never worship them or serve them, because I, Yahweh your Elohim , am El Kanna . I punish children for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
And Elohim spoke all these words:
2 “I am Yahweh your Elohim , who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other elohim before me.
The Bible forbids worshipping idols which are false gods and spiritual beings or in Hebrew the other elohim which is often translated in English versions as gods.
It is unfortunate that English Bible versions are inadequate translations for any serious Bible student. Using the Hebrew or Greek alliteration rather than attempting a translation would help. Also, editors and translators have agendas which are both social and theological. They also don’t know what they do not know, and that is a lot.
The Bible reveals the YHWH created a group of spiritual beings called the sons of Elohim or the holy ones to form a divine council and to rule over the nations. Some of these spiritual beings revolted against YHWH. See Job 38:7; Deuteronomy 32:8; Psalm 82:1 & 6; Psalm 89:6-7; 1 Kings 22:19-23. The Apostle Paul refers to these rebellious spiritual beings in Ephesians 6:12 ESV.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Please, don’t fret! There is only one God. That is made clear in the Lord Jesus. Our problem is that we read the Bible with modern ideas rather than ancient Hebrew ideas. The divine revelation in the Bible was recorded by people who understood the world differently from us. Because we are modern, sometimes we don’t notice things in the Bible that are contrary to our modern ideas. This is even true for the translators. An example: The modern word “earth” meaning planet is not in the Hebrew or Greek texts of the Bible. Most often it should be translated as “land.” Back in 1611 when the KJV was published the word "earth’ did not mean planet but meant only land or territory or soil. Ever since, English translators have followed the KJV by using the English word “earth.” This error has had tremendous consequences on how modern Christian understand the last days.
How could any culture possibly do otherwise?
The way that dozens have changed from polytheism to monotheism directly (many of those did have outside influence, but that is also ignored by some of the schemes of history). Or ones that changed from polytheism to dualism to monotheism, or polytheism to a non-theistic religion to monotheism.
Examples? Islam. ? & ? It’s still a one way street though isn’t it.
You have my sympathy @massam. The key to it all is Jesus for me. Was He God incarnate or not? Strangely it doesn’t matter much. He saw Himself not only as the Second Temple Jews’ Messiah, but as YHWH. A fictional entity. If He was God incarnate, then He was wrong for the right reason.
I agree that changing from polytheism to monotheism is the most common (be it Islam or Christianity), close behind that are polytheism to non-theism (Buddhism, most often), polytheism to syncretistic monolatry (many colonial areas), and monotheism to syncretistic monolatry (that would include Israel as described in the Old Testament, and, with a rather broad definition of “deity”, much of the West over the past few centuries).
The problem is “everything proceeds according to my scheme for how history works, never mind the facts” sort of claims.
Pax Christi Sam!
Certified moron here, but I’ve been looking into this issue for a bit, so I feel like I could contribute at least a little to the conversation.
The best place to start is at the beginning: where did Yahweh come from? Obviously The Prime Mover has no beginning, but if we can call Him by name, He would have introduced Himself at some point in history in a way we could understand. According to The Bible and the sources from which it was written, God was known by different names; Elohim (God) and Ba’al (Lord) are some of these, but they are not nearly as intriguing as El and Yahweh, for the name El was what the faithful called God before The Exodus. Why was this? From what archaeology and closer study of Scripture tell us, the majority of Israelites were overwhelmingly Canaanite (though so were The Phoenicians; it’s a bit of an umbrella term), and their high god was called El (which also means god, and is a part of the Israelites’ name), who ruled as the head of a pantheon with the goddess Asherah at his side; this will be important later. Let’s travel West to Egypt and Midian, because now I’ll be getting into some relevant Exodus theories. We know that a heavily Semitic population made up the work force and dwelt in the cities The Bible described as the place the Israelites (who were not yet Israelites) lived. Evidence suggests that they worshipped gods and goddesses like Ba’al Hadad (the storm guy everybody hates) and Hathor; those with a more traditional view should not find this shocking, because The Bible describes all kinds of Semitic peoples and even Egyptians fleeing Egypt anyway. Even more significantly, we have two inscriptions (the oldest from the 14th century) describing a people of Yhw3 from, you guessed it, Midian! And guess where the priest (of God) Jethro lived? Correct, Midian, the very same Moses received his revelation! So then how did the Israelites come to identify their high god as a blurred revelation of Yahweh? Well, have you ever noticed that the Levites had Egyptian names, and things associated with them (The Ark, for instance) have an extremely Egyptian flavor? This is likely because The Exodus was carried out by a small group of Yahwists in the reign of Rameses II, lead by a Moses figure out of Egypt and into Canaan, who wanted to spread their monotheistic/monolatrous faith.
So how’s about those other gods? We shouldn’t be surprised to find so much evidence of polytheism; Israel was described as having struggled to stay loyal to Yahweh, and if many of them were native Canaanites, of course they would try to do things like “remarry” their god or sacrifice children to Yahweh or chase after Ba’al! Also, it is important to remember that you cannot worship something you do not believe in; with the exception of Zarathustra, some Prophets of Yahweh, and technically Akhenaten and Marduk worshippers, all Ancient Near Eastern people believed in multiple gods. It was out of the question. The question for the faithful Israelite for a while was “who is in charge of these gods?”, and they (Biblical authors included) believed this was Yahweh. This view is a kind of monolatry,where God was the head of a Divine Council, though it is perhaps possible that the term “gods (elohim)” refers to spiritual beings like angels. Now of course we now know that there is only one God and he has subordinate spiritual beings, but before God revealed this through his Prophets and of course by coming down to Earth as Christus, this was not obvious. When you begin to feel discouraged, always remember that this stuff can be gleaned from The Bible and The Resurrection is the foundation of our faith!
I hope that was helpful!