|Deities of the ancient Near East|
|Religions of the ancient Near East|
Yahwehwas the national god of Ancient Israel. His origins reach at least to the early Iron Age and likely to the Late Bronze Age. In the oldest biblical literature he is a storm-and-warrior deity who leads the heavenly army against Israel's enemies; at that time the Israelites worshipped him alongside a variety of Canaanite gods and goddesses, including El, Asherah and Baal, but in later centuries El and Yahweh became conflated and El-linked epithets such as El Shaddai came to be applied to Yahweh alone, and other gods and goddesses such as Baal and Asherah were absorbed into the Yahwistic religion.
Towards the end of the Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE), the very existence of foreign gods was denied, and Yahweh was proclaimed as the creator of the cosmos and the one true God of all the world.During the Second Temple period, speaking the name of Yahweh in public became regarded as taboo. Jews began to substitute the divine name with the word adonai (אֲדֹנָי), meaning "Lord", and after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE the original pronunciation was forgotten. Outside Judaism, Yahweh was frequently invoked in Graeco-Roman magical texts from the 2nd century BCE to the 5th century CE under the names Iao, Adonai, Sabaoth, and Eloai.
In the earliest Biblical literature Yahweh is a storm-god typical of ancient Near Eastern myths, marching out from a region to the south or south-east of Israel with the heavenly host of stars and planets that make up his army to do battle with the enemies of his people Israel:
There is none like God, O Jeshurun [a name for Israel]
who rides through the heavens to your help and the clouds in His majesty.
“The eternal God is a hiding place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He drove out the enemy from you, and said, ‘Destroy!’
so Israel lives in safety, untroubled is Jacob's abode ...
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
and you shall tread on their backs".
There is almost no agreement on the origins of this god.His name is not attested other than among the Israelites and seems not to have any plausible etymology, ehyeh ašer ehyeh ("I Am that I Am"), the explanation presented in Exodus 3:14, appearing to be a late theological gloss invented at a time when the original meaning had been forgotten. One scholarly theory is that 'Yahweh' is a shortened form of the phrase ˀel ḏū yahwī ṣabaˀôt, "El who creates the hosts", but the argument has numerous weaknesses, including, among others, the dissimilar characters of the two gods El and Yahweh, Yahweh's association with the storm (an association never made for El), and the fact that el dū yahwī ṣaba'ôt is nowhere attested either inside or outside the Bible. The oldest plausible occurrence of his name is in the phrase "Shasu of yhw" in an Egyptian inscription from the time of Amenhotep III (1402–1363 BCE), the Shasu being nomads from Midian and Edom in northern Arabia. The current consensus is therefore that Yahweh was a "divine warrior from the southern region associated with Seir, Edom, Paran and Teman". There is considerable although not universal support for this view, but it raises the question of how Yahweh made his way to the north.
An answer many scholars consider plausible is the Kenite hypothesis, which holds that traders brought Yahweh to Israel along the caravan routes between Egypt and Canaan.This ties together various points of data, such as the absence of Yahweh from Canaan, his links with Edom and Midian in the biblical stories, and the Kenite or Midianite ties of Moses, but its major weaknesses are that the majority of Israelites were firmly rooted in Palestine, and the fact that the historical role of Moses is highly problematic. It follows that if the Kenite hypothesis is to be maintained then it must be assumed that the Israelites encountered Yahweh (and the Midianites/Kenites) inside Israel and through their association with the earliest political leaders of Israel.
Contrary to the traditional picture of the Israelites entering Palestine from outside its borders, the current model is that they developed from the native Canaanite population, and that Israelite religion was accordingly much closer to that of the Canaanites than the Bible suggests.The Israelites initially worshiped Yahweh alongside a variety of Canaanite gods and goddesses, including El, head of the Canaanite pantheon, (he, not Yahweh, was the original "God of Israel"—the word "Israel" is based on the name El rather than Yahweh), Asherah, who was El's consort, and major Canaanite deities such as Baal. El and his seventy sons, who included Baal and Yahweh, made up the Assembly of the Gods, each member of which had a human nation under his care; a textual variant of Deuteronomy describes Yahweh received Israel when El divided the nations of the world among his sons, and incidentally suggests that El and Yahweh were not identified as the same god in this early period:
Between the Judges and the first half of the monarchy El and Yahweh and other gods merged in a process of religious syncretism; 'el (Hebrew : אל) became a generic term meaning "god", as opposed to the name of a specific god, and epithets such as El Shaddai came to be applied to Yahweh alone, diminishing the position of El and strengthening the position of Yahweh, while features of Baal, El, and Asherah were absorbed into Yahweh. In the next stage the Yahwistic religion separated itself from its Canaanite heritage, first by rejecting Baal-worship in the 9th century, then with prophetic condemnation of Baal, the asherim, sun-worship, worship on the "high places", practices pertaining to the dead, and other matters.
The 9th century BCE saw the emergence of nation-states in Syria-Palestine, including Israel, Judah, Philistia, Moab and Ammon, each with its national god.Thus Chemosh was the god of the Moabites, Milcom the god of the Ammonites, Qaus the god of the Edomites, and Yahweh the "God of Israel" (no "God of Judah" is mentioned anywhere in the Bible). This development occurred first in the kingdom of Israel (Samaria), and then in Judah, the southern kingdom, where king Jehoshephat was a strong ally of the Omride dynasty of the northern kingdom. In each kingdom the king was also the head of the national religion and thus the viceroy on Earth of the national god, and when Judah became an Assyrian vassal-state after the destruction of Israel, the relationship between the king and dynastic god Yahweh came to be thought of in terms of Assyrian vassal treaties.
The Bible retains traces of this worship of multiple gods both in the region and in Israel.In this atmosphere a struggle emerged between those who believed that Yahweh alone should be worshiped, and those who worshiped him within a larger group of gods. The Yahweh-alone party, the party of the prophets and Deuteronomists, ultimately triumphed, and their victory lies behind the biblical narrative of an Israel vacillating between periods of "following other gods" and periods of fidelity to Yahweh.
In 587/6 Jerusalem fell to the Neo-Babylonians, the Temple was destroyed, and the leadership of the community were deported.The next 50 years, the Babylonian exile, were of pivotal importance to the history of Israelite religion, but in 539 BCE Babylon in turn fell to the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great, the exiles were given permission to return (although only a minority did so), and by about 500 BCE the Temple was rebuilt. The period between the destruction of the Temple and Cyrus's edict permitting the return is called the Exilic period, and the subsequent period the post-Exilic period (divided between Persian and Hellenistic eras).
Towards the end of the Second Temple period, speaking the name of Yahweh in public became regarded as taboo.When reading from the scriptures, Jews began to substitute the divine name with the word adonai (אֲדֹנָי), meaning "Lord". The High Priest of Israel was permitted to speak the name once in the Temple during the Day of Atonement, but at no other time and in no other place. During the Hellenistic period, the scriptures were translated into Greek by the Jews of the Egyptian diaspora. Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures render both the tetragrammaton and adonai as kyrios (κύριος), meaning "the Lord". After the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, some say the original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was forgotten.
The period of Persian rule saw the development of expectation in a future human king who would rule purified Israel as Yahweh's representative at the end of time—a messiah. The first to mention this were Haggai and Zechariah, both prophets of the early Persian period. They saw the messiah in Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David who seemed, briefly, to be about to re-establish the ancient royal line, or in Zerubbabel and the first High Priest, Joshua (Zechariah writes of two messiahs, one royal and the other priestly). These early hopes were dashed (Zerubabbel disappeared from the historical record, although the High Priests continued to be descended from Joshua), and thereafter there are merely general references to a Messiah of David (i.e. a descendant).From these ideas, Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Islam would later emerge.
Yahweh's role as the national god was reflected each year in Jerusalem when the king presided over a ceremony at which Yahweh was enthroned in the Temple.
The centre of Yahweh's worship lay in three great annual festivals coinciding with major events in rural life: Passover with the birthing of lambs, Shavuot with the cereal harvest, and Sukkot with the fruit harvest.These probably pre-dated the arrival of the Yahweh religion, but they became linked to events in the national mythos of Israel: Passover with the exodus from Egypt, Shavuot with the law-giving at Biblical Mount Sinai, and Sukkot with the wilderness wanderings. The festivals thus celebrated Yahweh's salvation of Israel and Israel's status as his holy people, although the earlier agricultural meaning was not entirely lost. His worship presumably involved sacrifice, but many scholars have concluded that the rituals detailed in Leviticus 1–16, with their stress on purity and atonement, were introduced only after the Babylonian exile, and that in reality any head of a family was able to offer sacrifice as occasion demanded. A number of scholars have also drawn the conclusion that infant sacrifice, whether to the underworld deity Molech or to Yahweh himself, was a part of Israelite/Judahite religion until the reforms of King Josiah in the late 7th century BCE. Sacrifice was presumably complemented by the singing or recital of psalms, but again the details are scant. Prayer played little role in official worship.
The Hebrew Bible gives the impression that the Jerusalem temple was always meant to be the central or even sole temple of Yahweh, but this was not the case:the earliest known Israelite place of worship is a 12th century BCE open-air altar in the hills of Samaria featuring a bronze bull reminiscent of Canaanite "Bull-El" (El in the form of a bull), and the archaeological remains of further temples have been found at Dan on Israel's northern border and at Arad in the Negev and Beersheba, both in the territory of Judah. Shiloh, Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, Ramah and Dan were also major sites for festivals, sacrifices, the making of vows, private rituals, and the adjudication of legal disputes.
Yahweh-worship was famously aniconic, meaning that the god was not depicted by a statue or other image. This is not to say that he was not represented in some symbolic form, and early Israelite worship probably focused on standing stones, but according to the Biblical texts the temple in Jerusalem featured Yahweh's throne in the form of two cherubim, their inner wings forming the seat and a box (the Ark of the Covenant) as a footstool, while the throne itself was empty.No satisfactory explanation of Israelite aniconism has been advanced, and a number of recent scholars have argued that Yahweh was in fact represented prior to the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah late in the monarchic period: to quote one recent study, "[a]n early aniconism, de facto or otherwise, is purely a projection of the post-exilic imagination" (MacDonald, 2007).
The worship of Yahweh alone began at the earliest with the prophet Elijah in the 9th century BCE, but more likely with the prophet Hosea in the 8th; even then it remained the concern of a small party before gaining ascendancy in the Babylonian exile and early post-exilic period.The early supporters of this faction are widely regarded as being monolatrists rather than true monotheists; they did not believe Yahweh was the only god in existence, but instead believed he was the only god the people of Israel should worship. Finally, in the national crisis of the exile, the followers of Yahweh went a step further and outright denied that the other deities aside from Yahweh even existed, thus marking the transition from monolatrism to true monotheism.
Yahweh is frequently invoked in Graeco-Roman magical texts dating from the 2nd century BCE to the 5th century CE, most notably in the Greek Magical Papyri,under the names Iao, Adonai, Sabaoth, and Eloai. In these texts, he is often mentioned alongside traditional Graeco-Roman deities and Egyptian deities. The archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Ouriel and Jewish cultural heroes such as Abraham, Jacob, and Moses are also invoked frequently. The frequent occurrence of Yahweh's name was likely due to Greek and Roman folk magicians seeking to make their spells more powerful through the invocation of a prestigious foreign deity.
A coin issued by Pompey to celebrate his successful conquest of Judaea showed a kneeling, bearded figure grasping an olive branch (a common Roman symbol of submission) subtitled BACCHIVS IVDAEVS, which may be translated as either "The Jewish Bacchus" or "Bacchius the Jew", which in the case of the former has been interpreted as depicting Yahweh as a local variety of Dionysus.However, coins minted with such iconography ordinarily depicted subjected persons, and not the gods of a subjected people, leading some to assume the coin simply depicts the surrender of a Judean who was called "Bacchius", sometimes identified as the Hasmonean king Aristobulus II, who was overthrown by Pompey's campaign. In any event, Tacitus, John the Lydian, Cornelius Labeo, and Marcus Terentius Varro similarly identify Yahweh with Dionysus (i.e., Bacchus). Jews themselves frequently used symbols that were also associated with Dionysus such as kylixes, amphorae, leaves of ivy, and clusters of grapes, a similarity Plutarch used to argue that Jews worshipped a hypostasized form of Bacchus-Dionysus. In his Quaestiones Convivales , Plutarch further notes that the Jews hail their god with cries of "Euoi" and "Sabi", phrases associated with the worship of Dionysus. According to Sean M. McDonough, Greek speakers may have confused Aramaic words such as Sabbath, Alleluia, or even possibly some variant of the name Yahweh itself for more familiar terms associated with Dionysus.
The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, and is the first book of the Deuteronomistic history, the story of Israel from the conquest of Canaan to the Babylonian exile. It tells of the campaigns of the Israelites in central, southern and northern Canaan, the destruction of their enemies, and the division of the land among the Twelve Tribes, framed by two set-piece speeches, the first by God commanding the conquest of the land, and, at the end, the second by Joshua warning of the need for faithful observance of the Law (torah) revealed to Moses.
The Book of Kings is a book in the Hebrew Bible and two books in the Christian Old Testament. It concludes the Deuteronomistic history, a history of Israel also including the books of Joshua and Judges and the Books of Samuel.
The Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah were two related Israelite kingdoms from the Iron Age period of the ancient Southern Levant. After an emergent and large polity was suddenly formed based on the Gibeon-Gibeah plateau and destroyed by Shoshenq I in the first half of 10th century BCE, a return to small city-states was prevalent in the Southern Levant, but between 950 and 900 BCE another large polity emerged in the northern highlands with its capital eventually at Tirzah, that can be considered the precursor of the Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom was consolidated as an important regional power by the first half of the 9th century BCE, before falling to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE.
Henotheism is the worship of a single, supreme god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other lower deities. Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854) coined the word, and Friedrich Welcker (1784–1868) used it to depict primitive monotheism among ancient Greeks.
The Israelites were a confederation of Iron Age Semitic-speaking tribes of the ancient Near East, who inhabited a part of Canaan during the tribal and monarchic periods.
Baal, or Ba'al, was a title and honorific meaning "owner", "lord" in the Northwest Semitic languages spoken in the Levant during antiquity. From its use among people, it came to be applied to gods. Scholars previously associated the theonym with solar cults and with a variety of unrelated patron deities but inscriptions have shown that the name Ba'al was particularly associated with the storm and fertility god Hadad and his local manifestations.
ʼĒl is a Northwest Semitic word meaning "god" or "deity", or referring to any one of multiple major ancient Near Eastern deities. A rarer form, ʼila, represents the predicate form in Old Akkadian and in Amorite. The word is derived from the Proto-Semitic *ʔil-, meaning "god".
Monolatry is belief in the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity. The term "monolatry" was perhaps first used by Julius Wellhausen.
Asherah in ancient Semitic religion, is a mother goddess who appears in a number of ancient sources. She appears in Akkadian writings by the name of Ašratu(m), and in Hittite writings as Aserdu(s) or Asertu(s). Asherah is generally considered identical with the Ugaritic goddess ʾAṯiratu.
In the Hebrew Bible, elohim usually refers to a single deity, particularly the God of Israel. At other times it refers to deities in the plural.
Anat, Anatu, classically Anath is a major northwest Semitic goddess. Her attributes vary widely among different cultures and over time, and even within particular myths. She likely heavily influenced the character of the Greek goddess Athena.
Idolatry in Judaism is prohibited. Judaism holds that idolatry is not limited to the worship of an idol itself, but also worship involving any artistic representations of God. In addition, it is forbidden to derive benefit (hana'ah) from anything dedicated to idolatry.
Ancient Semitic religion encompasses the polytheistic religions of the Semitic peoples from the ancient Near East and Northeast Africa. Since the term Semitic itself represents a rough category when referring to cultures, as opposed to languages, the definitive bounds of the term "ancient Semitic religion" are only approximate.
An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother goddess Asherah, consort of El. The relation of the literary references to an asherah and archaeological finds of Judaean pillar-figurines has engendered a literature of debate.
Canaanite religion refers to the group of ancient Semitic religions practiced by the Canaanites living in the ancient Levant from at least the early Bronze Age through the first centuries AD. Canaanite religion was polytheistic and, in some cases, monolatristic.
The concept of God in Abrahamic religions is centred on the dedicated worship of a singular supreme deity. The three major monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, alongside the Baháʼí Faith, Samaritanism, Druze, and Rastafari, are all regarded as Abrahamic religions due to their shared worship of the God that these traditions say revealed himself to Abraham. Abrahamic religions share the same distinguishing features:
Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel,, is a book by Syro-Palestinian archaeologist William G. Dever, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Did God Have a Wife? was intended as a popular work making available to the general public the evidence long known to archaeologists regarding ancient Israelite religion: namely that the Israelite god of antiquity, Yahweh, had a consort, that her name was Asherah, and that she was part of the Canaanite pantheon.
The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel is a book on the history of ancient Israelite religion by Mark S. Smith, Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University. The revised 2002 edition contains revisions to the original 1990 edition in light of intervening archaeological finds and studies.
The origins of Judaism according to the traditions of the Jews and the teachings of Judaism are described and explained in the Torah that regards Abraham the Hebrew as the first "Jew", and hence of Judaism as a monotheistic religion, and then through his descendants, namely Jacob and the Children of Israel, as the originators of the Jewish people following the Exodus and of their religion as given in the Torah, traditionally based on the 613 commandments, that the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews were commanded by God to believe in, observe and practice as instructed in the Torah. See the main article about Judaism for the origins of the term and meaning.
Yahwism was the religion of ancient Israel centered around a god named Yahweh. Yahweh was one of many gods and goddesses of the pantheon of gods of the Land of Canaan, the southern portion of which would later come to be called the Land of Israel. Yahwism existed parallel to Canaanite polytheism, and in turn it was the monolatristic, primitive predecessor stage of modern-day Judaism and Samaritanism, in its evolution into monotheistic religions.