OT Seminar Presentation 19 January 2009 Thomas J Whitley

 "Yahweh came into existence as a worshiped deity out

of a world of the gods with discernable antecedents, so we may speak of Yahweh as coming out of the gods and the divine world of Canaan. It is also the case, however, that the divine world, that is, characteristic central features of other deities, seem to be a part of Yahweh's profile as a deity; so we may also recognize that the gods are present in Yahweh." (Miller)

 Similarities with El
 Compassion and Wisdom  Being divine judge and head of the divine council  Creator and Father  Kingship  Tent  Cherubim throne

 Psalm 82
 Miller: “It is, in effect, a story of the radical integration

of deity in one god."

 Yahweh Against the gods
 Opposition to other gods  Polemic against other gods, such as in 1 Kings 18-19 in

the story of Elijah at Horeb with the prophets of Baal

 “Yahweh and his Asherah”  Feminine characteristics of YHWH  Giving birth to the earth
 Ps. 90:2 - "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the

earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

 And to Israel  Deut. 32:18 - "You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.“  The comparison of the deity to a nursing mother  Isa. 49:15 - "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you."  A comforting mother  Isa. 66:13 - "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."

 Extra-biblical references to YHWH  Theophoric names

<A Psalm of Asaph.> God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I say, "You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince." 8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
 What does this say about "the radical integration of deity in one

god"? Monotheism?

 Even when you look at the Shema, the claim is not one

of monotheism, but of the unity of YHWH. Notice the further admonishment:

Deuteronomy 6:13-15 The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. 14 Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, 15 because the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the LORD your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.

 Inscription at Kuntillet Ajrûd

Inscription I I bless you by the Yahweh of Samaria and by his Asherah
Inscription II I bless you by the Yahweh of Teman, and by his Aherah, may he bless you and keep you and be with [you], my lord.
 Inscription at Kirbhet el-Qom

(For) Uriyahu the rich: his inscription (Or: has written it) Blessed is Uriyahu by Yahweh; Yea from his adversaries by his asherah he has saved him. (Written) by Oniyahu (...?) and by his asherah.

Occurs most often with the definite article, "the asherah," but also in an indefinite singular as well as a number of times in the plural.  Several times it occurs alongside other cult objects

    

high place (bāmâ) pillar (massēbâ) altar (mizbēah) incense altar (hammān) image (pesel)

In several instances a clear distinction is made between "making" an asherah or asherahs and "bowing down to" or "worshiping" and "serving“ Baal and the host of heaven.  2 Kings 23:4 - "And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the threshold, to bring forth out of the temple of Jehovah all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven, and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Beth-el.“  "In short, the many references to the asherah associate it frequently with nondivinized cult objects and dissociate it from verbs of worship and service applied customarily to deities while also associating it with deities in a way that was not true of any other cult object." (Miller, 35)

 Biblical and extra-biblical evidence seem to indicate

that the asherah was not a living tree, but rather a stylized tree (probably a date palm) or perhaps a pole in some cases.  There seem to be 2 main questions surrounding the discussion of Asherah:
 Can Asherah really be associated with the prophets of

Baal?  Did Asherah in the Hebrew Bible refer to the goddess Asherah or was it simply a cultic image that was acceptable in the cult of Yahweh?

 Anti-asherah polemic present in the Deuteronomistic

History and in materials which were influenced by the Deuteronomists.  Lack of concern for the asherah even in other Israelite circles that were opposed to the worship of Baal.  Not considered illegitimate or non-Yahwistic  Deuteronomists' opposition to asherah/Asherah was in an effort to move toward monotheism
 Deut. 4:19; 29:25

And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
Then people will say, “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them.

 Anti-asherah polemic present in the Deuteronomistic

History and in materials which were influenced by the Deuteronomists.  Lack of concern for the asherah even in other Israelite circles that were opposed to the worship of Baal.  Not considered illegitimate or non-Yahwistic  Deuteronomists' opposition to asherah/Asherah was in an effort to move toward monotheism
 Deut. 4:19; 29:25

 2 Kings 9-10

 Dever: Argues that it is the goddess Asherah that is being referred to,

but many of scholars are quite reluctant to accept this.  Ta’anach Stand
 Dever: Clearly Asherah  Keel and Uehlinger: "mistress of animals"  Beck: "fertility goddess “

 SBL Monograph:  "Asherah and her cult symbol were legitimate not only in popular

Yahwism, but in the official cult as well ... The prohibitions and polemics against Ahserah and her cult symbol attest to their popularity in the cult of Yahweh in Iron Age Israel."

 Binger:  Clearly sees Asherah as referring to the goddess, noting that many of

the times it is mentioned it is coupled with the definite article.  Connection with Baal

1. Miller identifies that present in pre-Yahwistic patriarchal religion "was the worship of the high god El as indicated in the divine names in Genesis, such as El Olam and El Shaddai." Does this or should this cast doubt onto the claim that Israel was monotheistic? 2. "It is not simply a matter of a few similarities between Yahweh and these other divine figures. Virtually all of the characteristics of the God of Israel are present in the early stages of Yahwism, and most of them reach back beyond Israel's earliest stage, wherever that is placed, to pre-Israelite religious development." What are the implications of such a statement? 3. "If Yahweh was in origin a split-off from El, El features were part of the character of Yahweh - El's compassion and wisdom, being divine judge and head of the divine council as well as creator and father, El's kingship, his tent and cherubim throne, to name some of the major shared elements." There are obviously many similarities between YHWH and El. Do these similarities, then necessitate that YHWH was a split-off from El or could there be another explanation? 4. There is a "quasi-mythological text, Psalm 82, whose point is precisely Yahweh's claim to rule as judge over the divine world. In that psalm, Yahweh condemns all the gods to death for their failure to maintain justice on earth and takes over the total rule of the divine world. It is, in effect, a story of the radical integration of deity in one god - Yahweh." Is this really what this psalm is saying?

5. "Here it is proposed that the extreme integration of divine characteristics, roles, and powers in Yahweh carried with it an absorption of the feminine dimension in deity represented in ancient Near Eastern religions by the worship of a goddess." Was the "feminine dimension" absorbed into YHWH? Did YHWH actually have a female consort that was being referred to in the inscriptions that said "YHWH and his asherah"? Was, then, this feminine counterpart later done away with due to the patriarchy of Israelite society? If this is your claim, then how do you justify it when juxtaposed with other ancient Near Eastern cultures that were just as patriarchal, yet still worshiped one or more goddesses? 6. Miller identifies some "specifically feminine characteristics and images" that "were applied to Yahweh on occasion, for example, the imagery of Yahweh giving birth to the earth (Ps. 90:2) and to Israel (Deut. 32:18), or the comparison of the deity to a nursing mother (Isa. 49:15; cf. Num. 11:12) and a comforting mother (Isa. 66:13)." Upon seeing feminine characteristics being applied to YHWH how is our understanding of YHWH changed, regardless of how these images and characteristics came to be associated with YHWH in the first place? 7. "Out of the 600 theophoric names found on inscriptions from the ninth century on, six percent or less are not Yahwistic." What does this tell us about the popularity of YHWH, if anything?

 See handout.

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