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Hebrew Bible (Mid Term)

Hebrew Bible (Mid Term)

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Published by Florine Cleary

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Published by: Florine Cleary on Apr 01, 2007
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Florine ClearyPart I.Was biblical religion monotheistic? (Please note that the question is focused on biblicalreligion, that is, the religion that is sketched, presented, and assumed by the texts of the HebrewBible). Do the authors of the biblical texts acknowledge the existence of other gods and heavenlybeings? Does the prohibition of worship imply the denial of existence?The Tanakh does not present a clear consistent monotheism as we define the term today(the existence of one unified divine being, the only divinity existent). The conception ofmonotheism does find its foundation in the same logic expressed in the monolatry of postcovenantal Judaism, that there is one and only one who holds power and force over “us” and withwhom we have a significant relationship. The possibility of lesser gods is left open in somepassages, but that the god of Gen. is God (who chooses His people) and is the superior power iscoherently maintained. After the covenants it is natural that the question of other gods loses itsrelevance except insofar as the monolatrus relationship may be strengthened or weakened. Thetheory that (whether there are other gods or not) there is only one god “for us” and He istherefore God, and the only one “we” ought to be concerning ourselves with, is what is mostevident in the Tanakh. Another possibility is that it would be unreasonable to hope to find aconsistently complete version of monotheism by today’s standards in the Bible given the care thatwas given that nothing be lost and all be included; this is not to say that nothing was lost or
 
altered along the way but rather that a stronger emphasis seems to be on inclusion than editingfor readability. Yet another possibility is that the language, conventions and jargon of the daymake it difficult for us to understand the reference to other gods as was intended and theIsraelites and patriarchs really were from the beginning talking about strict monotheism, thoughthis seems to be more of a leap.This question becomes frustrating when trying to understand the prohibitions on worshipof other gods and on idolatry. Are we meant to think that the worship of other gods and idols is just based on the faulty belief in their existence or is it because God is simply a “jealous god” anddue to the covenant others have no force for “us”? If it is that the belief in them or in them havingany power at all is a false belief then the references to other gods for other nations could signifythat by virtue of being His chosen people, the Israelites are being let in on a great truth.
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Thechosen have been shown the reality of divinity in the world, other peoples “having” other godscould simply mean that this is the way they are given to understand God’s divinity. Again theimportance of the special relationship is key but also obscures the distinction between one Godonly and one God only for you. If God were simply the most superlatively godly of multiple godsit would not be illogical to say “the Lord alone is God; there is none beside Him” (Deut 4.35), thegreatest god is God and He is the only about whom that may be said and so He is alone and Lordand if you are lucky enough to know this you are profaning his identity as such to worship lesser
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This would go along with the interpretation of Shabbat being a gift of divine knowledge to the Israelites.This is God’s day of rest since the beginning of all and to you he lets it be known that you may observe and have it bea sign of your special stature among peoples.
 
gods.
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 The derogatory and subjugated way we see the other gods depicted in the passages wherethey are mentioned supports the thought that their followers are in some way ignorant orunfortunate. It would be ungrateful for Israelites to backslide then into worship of others onceGod’s superiority and concern for them is shown. Passages stating that “it has been clearlydemonstrated” or “know therefore this day, and keep in mind that the Lord alone is God inheaven above and on earth below” may not truly be meant to support the absence of otherdivinities, but rather just the absence of other divinities on par with God and in this casepertaining to the Israelites. Alternatively these “other gods” could be synonymous with idols – interms of constructing (in thought) something that one believes has force but is empty. If there areother gods one should not worship/believe (put faith) in them for you ought to know “that theLord is great, that our Lord is greater than all goods” (psalm135.5) so “praise the God of gods”.
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God is “most high” and “much acclaimed …held in awe by all divine beings” and “among thedivine beings He pronounces judgment”. While this is definitely not monotheism it is not far from
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Deut. 4.19 And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the wholeheavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These the Lord your God allotted toother peoples everywhere under heaven, but you the Lord took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, tobe His very own people, as is now the case.” The worship need not be of the sun and moon but is a generalization forthose natural phenomena that are attributed divinities (“god of grain”, “god of the river”, “god of death”) God eitheris the originator of all of these phenomena as he is the only one of such power or God has delegated these tasks tosubordinates.
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Exodus 15.11-12 “who is like you, O Lord among the celestials, who is like You, majestic in holiness,awesome in splendor working wonders!” Psalm 86.8 “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, and there areno deeds like yours. All the nations you have made will come to bow down before You, O Lord, and they will payhonor to your name. For You are great and perform wonders; You alone are God.”

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