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Yahweh[Notes 1] was the national god of the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel (Samaria)
and Judah.[3] His exact origins are disputed, although they reach back to the early
Iron Age and even the Late Bronze:[4][5] his name may have begun as an epithet of
El, head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon,[6] but the earliest plausible
mentions of Yahweh are in Egyptian texts that refer to a similar-sounding place
name associated with theShasu nomads of the southernTransjordan.[7]

In the oldest biblical literature, Yahweh is a typical ancient Near Eastern "divine
warrior", who leads the heavenly army against Israel's enemies;[8] he later became
the main god of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and of Judah,[9] and over time the
royal court and temple promoted Yahweh as the god of the entire cosmos, possessing
all the positive qualities previously attributed to the other gods and A 4th century BCE drachm (quarter
goddesses.[10][11] By the end of the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), the very shekel) coin from the Persian
province of Yehud Medinata, possibly
existence of foreign gods was denied, and Yahweh was proclaimed as the creator of
representing Yahweh seated on a
the cosmos and the true god of all the world.[11]
winged and wheeled sun-throne.[1][2]

Bronze Age origins
Iron Age I (1200–930 BCE): El, Yahweh, and the origins of Israel
Iron Age II (1000–586 BCE): Yahweh as God of Israel
Yahweh and the rise of monotheism
Second Temple Judaism
Graeco-Roman syncretism
See also

Bronze Age origins

There is almost no agreement on the origins and meaning of Yahweh's name;[12] it is not attested other than among the Israelites, and
seems not to have any reasonable etymology (Ehyeh ašer ehyeh, or "I Am that I Am", the explanation presented in Exodus 3:14,
appears to be a late theological gloss invented to explain Y [13][14]
ahweh's name at a time when the meaning had been lost).

The Israelites were originally Canaanites, but Yahweh does not appear to have been a Canaanite god.[15][16][Notes 2] The head of the
Canaanite pantheon was El, and one theory holds that the word Yahweh is based on the Hebrew root HYH/HWH, meaning "cause to
exist," as a shortened form of the phrase ˀel ḏū yahwī ṣabaˀôt, (Phoenician: ) "El who creates the hosts", meaning
the heavenly host accompanying El as he marched beside the earthly armies of Israel.[17][12] The argument has numerous
weaknesses, including, among others, the dissimilar characters of the two gods, and the fact that el dū yahwī ṣaba’ôt is nowhere
attested either inside or outside the Bible.[18][Notes 3]
The oldest plausible recorded occurrence of Yahweh is as a place-name, "land of Shasu of yhw", in an Egyptian inscription from the
time of Amenhotep III (1402–1363 BCE),[19][20] the Shasu being nomads from Midian and Edom in northern Arabia.[21] In this case
a plausible etymology for the name could be from the root HWY, which would yield the meaning "he blows", appropriate to a
weather divinity.[22][23] There is considerable but not universal support for this view
,[24] but it raises the question of how he made his
way to the north.[25] The widely accepted Kenite hypothesis holds that traders brought Yahweh to Israel along the caravan routes
between Egypt and Canaan.[26] The strength of the Kenite hypothesis is that it 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.[25] However, while it is entirely plausible that the Kenites and others may have introduced Yahweh to Israel, it is unlikely that
they did so outside the borders of Israel or under the aegis of Moses, as the Exodus story has [27][28]

Iron Age I (1200–930 BCE): El, Yahweh, and the origins of Israel
Israel emerges into the historical record in the last decades of the 13th century BCE, at the very end of the Late Bronze Age when the
Canaanite city-state system was ending.[29] The milieu from which Israelite religion emerged was accordingly Canaanite.[30] El, "the
kind, the compassionate," "the creator of creatures," was the chief of the Canaanite gods,[31] and he, not Yahweh, was the original
"God of Israel"—the word "Israel" is based on the name El rather than Yahweh.[32] He lived in a tent on a mountain from whose base
originated all the fresh waters of the world, with the goddess Asherah as his consort.[31][33] This pair made up the top tier of the
Canaanite pantheon;[31] the second tier was made up of their children, the "seventy sons of Athirat" (a variant of the name
Asherah).[34] Prominent in this group was Baal, who had his home on Mount Zaphon; over time Baal became the dominant
Canaanite deity, so that El became the executive power and Baal the military power in the cosmos.[35] Baal's sphere was the
thunderstorm with its life-giving rains, so that he was also a fertility god, although not quite the fertility god.[36] Below the seventy
second-tier gods was a third tier made up of comparatively minor craftsman and trader deities, with a fourth and final tier of divine
messengers and the like.[34] El and his sons made up the Assembly of the Gods, each member of which had a human nation under his
care, and a textual variant of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 describes El dividing the nations of the world among his sons, with Yahweh
receiving Israel:[32]

When the Most High (’elyôn) gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated humanity,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of divine beings.
For Yahweh's portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.[Notes 4]

The Israelites initially worshipped Yahweh alongside a variety of Canaanite gods and goddesses, including El, Asherah and Baal.[37]
In the period of the Judges and the first half of the monarchy, El and Yahweh became conflated in a process of religious
syncretism.[38] As a result, ’el (Hebrew: ‫ )אל‬became a generic term meaning "god", as opposed to the name of a worshipped deity,
and epithets such as El Shaddai came to be applied to Yahweh alone, diminishing the worship of El and strengthening the position of
Yahweh.[39] Features of Baal, El and Asherah were absorbed into the Yahweh religion, Asherah possibly becoming embodied in the
feminine aspects of the Shekinah or divine presence, and Baal's nature as a storm and weather god becoming assimilated into
Yahweh's own identification with the storm.[40] In the next stage the Yahweh religion separated itself from its Canaanite heritage,
first by rejecting Baal-worship in the 9th century, then through the 8th to 6th centuries with prophetic condemnation of Baal, the
asherim, sun-worship, worship on the "high places", practices pertaining to the dead, and other matters.

In the earliest literature such as the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1–18, celebrating Yahweh's victory over Egypt at the exodus),
Yahweh is a warrior for his people, 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.[42] Israel's battles are Yahweh's battles, Israel's
victories are his victories, and while other peoples have other gods, Israel's god is ahweh,
Y who will procure a fertile resting-place for
There is none like God, O Jeshurun (i.e., Israel)
who rides through the heavens to your help ...
he subdues the ancient gods, shatters the forces of old ...
so Israel lives in safety, untroubled is Jacob's abode ...
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
and you shall tread on their backs. (Deuteronomy 33:26–29)

Iron Age II (1000–586 BCE): Yahweh as God of Israel

Iron Age Yahweh was the national god of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah,[3]
and appears to have been worshipped only in these two kingdoms;[44] this was
unusual in the Ancient Near East but not unknown—the god Ashur, for
example, was worshipped only by theAssyrians.[45]

After the 9th century BCE the tribes and chiefdoms of Iron Age I were
replaced by ethnic nation states, Israel, Judah, Moab, Ammon and others, each
with its national god, and all more or less equal.[46][47] 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).[48][49] In each kingdom the king was also the head of
the national religion and thus the viceroy on Earth of the national god;[50] in
Jerusalem this was reflected each year when the king presided over a
ceremony at which Yahweh was enthroned in theTemple.[51]

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.[52] These probably Solomon dedicates the Temple at
pre-dated the arrival of the Yahweh religion,[52] but they became linked to Jerusalem (painting byJames Tissot or
events in the national mythos of Israel: Passover with the exodus from Egypt, follower, c. 1896–1902)
Shavuot with the law-giving at Sinai, and Sukkot with the wilderness
wanderings.[49] 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.[53] His worship presumably involved
sacrifice, but many scholars have concluded that the rituals detailed inLeviticus 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.[54] (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 ofKing Josiah in the late 7th century BCE).[55] Sacrifice
was presumably complemented by the singing or recital of psalms, but again the details are scant.[56] Prayer played little role in
official worship.[57]

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:[49] the earliest known Israelite place of worship is a 12th-century 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.[58] 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.[59]

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.[60] 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).[61]

Yahweh and the rise of monotheism

Pre-exilic Israel, like its neighbours, was polytheistic,[64] and
Israelite monotheism was the result of unique historical
circumstances.[65] The original god of Israel was El, as the name
demonstrates—its probable meaning is "may El rule" or some other
sentence-form involving the name of El.[66] In the early tribal period,
each tribe would have had its own patron god; when kingship
emerged, the state promoted Yahweh as the national god of Israel,
supreme over the other gods, and gradually Yahweh absorbed all the
positive traits of the other gods and goddesses.[11] Yahweh and El
merged at religious centres such as Shechem, Shiloh and
Jerusalem,[67] with El's name becoming a generic term for "god" and
Yahweh, the national god, appropriating many of the older supreme
god's titles such as El Shaddai (Almighty) and Elyon (Most

Asherah, formerly the wife of El, was worshipped as Yahweh's

Image on a pithos sherd found at Kuntillet Ajrud
consort[69] or mother;[70] potsherds discovered at Khirbet el-Kôm
below the inscription "Yahweh and his
and Kuntillet Ajrûd make reference to "Yahweh and his
Asherah".[62] The two standing figures are
Asherah",[71][72] and various biblical passages indicate that her sometimes seen as a representation of the divine
statues were kept in his temples in Jerusalem, Bethel, and couple, while the seated lyre-player behind them is
Samaria.[73][74] Yahweh may also have appropriated Anat, the wife an entertainer.[63] Alternatively, many art historians
of Baal, as his consort, as Anat-Yahu ("Anat of Yahu," i.e., Yahweh) identify the standing figures as representations of
is mentioned in 5th century BCE records from the Jewish colony at the Egyptian dwarf-godBes, on account of their
distinctively bovine faces.[63] Ziony Zevit has
Elephantine in Egypt.[75] A goddess called the Queen of Heaven was
argued that Yahweh was represented as a Bes-
also worshipped, probably a fusion of Astarte and the Mesopotamian
figure, though there is little evidence for this.[63] It
goddess Ishtar,[73] possibly a title of Asherah.[76] Worship of Baal is also possible that the images on the pot have
and Yahweh coexisted in the early period of Israel's history, but they nothing to do with the inscription at all.[63]
were considered irreconcilable after the 9th century BCE, following
the efforts of King Ahab and his queen Jezebel to elevate Baal to the
status of national god,[77] although the cult of Baal did continue for some time.

The worship of Yahweh alone began at the earliest with 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 exilic and early post-exilic period.[64] The
early supporters of this faction are widely regarded as being monolatrists rather than true monotheists;[79] they did not believe that
Yahweh was the only god in existence, but instead believed that he was the only god the people of Israel should worship.[80] 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 transitionfrom monolatrism to true monotheism.[11]

Second Temple Judaism

In 539 BCE Babylon itself fell to the Persian conqueror Cyrus, and in 538 BCE the exiles were permitted to return to Yehud
medinata, as the Persian province of Judah was known.[81] The Temple is commonly said to have been rebuilt in the period 520–515
BCE, but it seems probable that this is an artificial date chosen so that 70 years could be said to have passed between the destruction
and the rebuilding, fulfilling a prophecy ofJeremiah.[82][81][83]
In recent decades, it has become increasingly common among scholars
to assume that much of the Hebrew bible was assembled, revised and
edited in the 5th century BCE to reflect the realities and challenges of
the Persian era.[84][85] The returnees had a particular interest in the
history of Israel: the written Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), for example, may have existed
in various forms during the Monarchy (the period of the kingdoms of
Israel and Judah), but it was in the Second Temple that it was edited
and revised into something like its current form, and the Chronicles, a
new history written at this time, reflects the concerns of the Persian
Yehud in its almost-exclusive focus onJudah and the Temple.[84] Modern reconstruction of what theSecond
Temple of Yahweh would have looked like after
Prophetic works were also of particular interest to the Persian-era its renovation during the reign ofHerod I
authors, with some works being composed at this time (the last ten
chapters of Isaiah and the books of Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and
perhaps Joel) and the older prophets edited and reinterpreted. The corpus of Wisdom books saw the composition of Job, parts of
Proverbs, and possibly Ecclesiastes, while the book of Psalms was possibly given its modern shape and division into five parts at this
time (although the collection continued to be revised and expanded well into Hellenistic and even Roman times).

Second Temple Judaism was centered not on synagogues, which began to appear only in the 3rd century BCE, and the reading and
study of scripture, but on the Temple itself, and on a cycle of continual blood sacrifice (meaning the sacrifice of live animals). Torah,
or ritual law, was also important, and the Temple priests were responsible for teaching it, but the concept of scripture developed only
slowly. While the written Torah (the Pentateuch) and the Prophets were accepted as authoritative by the 1st century CE, beyond this
core the different Jewish groups continued to accept different groups of books as authoritative.[86]

During the Second Temple period, speaking the name of Yahweh in public became regarded as taboo.[87] When reading from the
ֲ ), meaning "Lord".[88] The High Priest was permitted
scriptures, Jews began to substitute the divine name with the word adonai (‫אדֹנ ָי‬
to speak the name once in the Temple during the Day of Atonement, but at no other time and in no other place.[88] During the
Hellenistic period, the scriptures were translated into Greek by the Jews of the Egyptian diaspora.[89] Greek translations of the
Hebrew scriptures render both the tetragrammaton and adonai as kyrios (κύριος), meaning "the Lord".[88] After the Temple was
destroyed in 70 CE, the original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was for

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–that is, 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 (meaning descended
from) David.[90][91] From these ideas, Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Islam would later emerge.

Graeco-Roman syncretism
Yahweh is frequently invoked in Graeco-Roman magical texts dating from the second century BCE to the fifth century CE, most
notably in the Greek Magical Papyri,[92] under the names Iao, Adonai, Sabaoth, and Eloai.[93] In these texts, he is often mentioned
alongside traditional Graeco-Roman deities and also Egyptian deities.[93] The archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Ouriel and
Jewish cultural heroes such as Abraham, Jacob, and Moses are also invoked frequently as well.[94] The frequent occurrence of
Yahweh's name is probably due to Greek and Roman folk magicians seeking to make their spells more powerful through the
invocation of a prestigious foreign deity.[95]
Tacitus, John the Lydian, and Cornelius Labeo all identify Yahweh with the Greek god Dionysus.[96] Jews themselves frequently
used symbols that were also associated with Dionysus such as kylixes, amphorae, leaves of ivy, and clusters of grapes.[97] In his
Quaestiones Convivales, the Greek writer Plutarch of Chaeronea writes that the Jews hail their god with cries of "Euoi" and "Sabi",
phrases associated with the worship of Dionysus.[98][99][100] According to Sean M. McDonough, Greek-speakers may have confused
Aramaic words such as Sabbath, Alleluia, or even possibly some variant of the name Y
ahweh itself for more familiar terms associated
with Dionysus.[101]

See also
Ancient Semitic religion Jehovah
Enlil Marduk, national god of Babylon
God in Abrahamic religions Names of God in Judaism
Historicity of the Bible Qos, national god of Edom
History of ancient Israel and Judah Sacred Name Movement
Jah, a short form of the name Tutelary deity

1. /ˈjɑːhweɪ/, or often /ˈjɑːweɪ/ in English; Hebrew: ‫ַהוֶה‬
ְ ‫[ י‬jahˈwe], in Paleo-Hebrew
2. "Canaanites" in this article means the indigenous Bronze Age and early Iron Age inhabitants of southern Syria, the
coast of Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan – see Dever, 2002, p. 219
3. For the full list of reasons, see Day, 2002, p. 13-14
4. For the varying texts of this verse, see Smith, 2010, pp.139–140 and also chapter 4.


1. Van Der Toorn 1999, p. 766. 18. Day 2002, p. 13-14.
2. Edelman 1995, p. 190. 19. Freedman, O'Connor & Ringgren 1986, p. 520.
3. Miller 1986, p. 110. 20. Anderson 2015, p. 510.
4. Smith 2010, p. 96-98. 21. Grabbe 2007, p. 151.
5. Miller 2000, p. 1. 22. Dicou 1994, pp. 167–81, 177.
6. Dijkstra 2001, p. 92. 23. Anderson 2015, p. 101.
7. Dever 2003b, p. 128. 24. Grabbe 2007, p. 153.
8. Hackett 2001, pp. 158–59. 25. Van der Toorn 1999, p. 912.
9. Smith 2002, p. 72. 26. Van der Toorn 1999, pp. 912–13.
10. Wyatt 2010, pp. 69–70. 27. Van der Toorn 1999, pp. 912–913.
11. Betz 2000, p. 917. 28. Van der Toorn 1995, pp. 247–48.
12. Kaiser 2017, p. unpaginated. 29. Noll 2001, p. 124–126.
13. Hoffman 2004, p. 326. 30. Cook 2004, p. 7.
14. Parke-Taylor 1975, p. 51"The view adopted by this 31. Coogan & Smith 2012, p. 8.
study is as follows. Theehyeh aser ehyeh clause in 32. Smith 2002, p. 32.
Exodus 3:14 is a relatively late attempt to explain the
33. Smith 2002, p. 33.
divine name by appeal to the roothayah the verb "to
be."" 34. Hess 2007, p. 103.

15. Day 2002, p. 15. 35. Coogan & Smith 2012, p. 7–8.

16. Dever 2003b, p. 125. 36. Handy 1994, p. 101.

17. Miller 2000, p. 2. 37. Smith 2002, p. 7.

38. Smith 2002, p. 8. 71. Vriezen & van der Woude 2005, pp. 17–18.
39. Smith 2002, p. 33-34. 72. Barker 2012, p. 32.
40. Smith 2002, p. 8,135. 73. Ackerman 2003, p. 395.
41. Smith 2002, p. 9. 74. Barker 2012, pp. 154–157.
42. Hackett 2001, p. 158–159. 75. Day 2002, p. 143.
43. Hackett 2001, p. 160. 76. Barker 2012, p. 41.
44. Grabbe 2010, p. 184. 77. Smith 2002, p. 47.
45. Noll 2001, p. 251. 78. Smith 2002, p. 74.
46. Schniedewind 2013, p. 93. 79. Eakin 1971, pp. 70 and 263.
47. Smith 2010, p. 119. 80. McKenzie 1990, p. 1287.
48. Hackett 2001, p. 156. 81. Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxii.
49. Davies 2010, p. 112. 82. Grabbe 2010, p. 2–3.
50. Miller 2000, p. 90. 83. Davies & Rogerson 2005, p. 89.
51. Petersen 1998, p. 23. 84. Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxiii.
52. Albertz 1994, p. 89. 85. Berquist 2007, p. 3–4.
53. Gorman 2000, p. 458. 86. Grabbe 2010, p. 40–42.
54. Davies & Rogerson 2005, pp. 151–52. 87. Leech 2002, pp. 59–60.
55. Gnuse 1997, p. 118. 88. Leech 2002, p. 60.
56. Davies & Rogerson 2005, pp. 158–65. 89. Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxvi.
57. Cohen 1999, p. 302. 90. Wanke 1984, p. 182-183.
58. Dever 2003a, p. 388. 91. Albertz 2003, p. 130.
59. Bennett 2002, p. 83. 92. Betz 1996.
60. Mettinger 2006, pp. 288–90. 93. Smith & Cohen 1996b, pp. 242–56.
61. MacDonald 2007, pp. 21, 26–27. 94. Arnold 1996.
62. Vriezen & van der Woude 2005, p. 18. 95. Smith & Cohen 1996b, pp. 242–256.
63. Hess 2012, p. 472. 96. McDonough 1999, p. 88.
64. Albertz 1994, p. 61. 97. Smith & Cohen 1996a, p. 233.
65. Gnuse 1997, p. 214. 98. Plutarch, Quaestiones Convivales, Question VI (http://
66. Romer 2014, p. unpaginated.
67. Smith 2001, p. 140.
68. Smith 2002, pp. 33, 47.
99. McDonough 1999, p. 89.
69. Niehr 1995, pp. 54, 57.
100. Smith & Cohen 1996a, pp. 232–233.
70. Barker 2012, pp. 80–86.
101. McDonough 1999, pp. 89–90.

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