About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


How many gods made up God?

Many Deities of the Bible 
Parade of biblical divinities 

While biblical testimony postulates discontinuity between the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, material culture clearly demonstrates continuity of religious culture in Palestine. These two slides look particularly at depictions of female deities in religious artifacts unearthed in Palestine. Similar continuity could be observed with other deities and their physical representations. Certain artistic trends and diverse influences can be observed but continuity is overwhelming.
In the Biblical tradition the Semitic god Baal is presented as YHWH’s main antagonist.
The god Baal is a well known West Semitic Deity. Like many other gods, Baal’s name has two linguistic (semantic) functions; it is both the name of a deity and a common (secular) noun. In the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text) both semantic meanings are represented with the same frequency. Baal’s titles (divine epithets) as well as Baal’s depiction portray him as a primarily meteorological deity. Baal ruled over thunder, lightning and traveled on the chariot of clouds.

Even in the biblical texts we can discover clear signs that originally Baal and YHWH coexisted peacefully. Some old biblical theomorfic names confirm this original peaceful coexistence. Only later were these names re-punctuated (vowels were changed) in order to hide the high profile of god Baal. This is also confirmed in datable artifacts of Samaria Ostraca. It is possible that in the 9th and 8th centuries devotees of YHWH used the name Baal/baal to refer to YHWH.

These two slides list two textual examples where god YHWH took over main attributes which were originally associated with the god Baal:  god of storm, rider on clouds, a god victorious over the powers of chaos, preserver (almost creator) of the Cosmos. One can easily imagine Late Bronze Semites singing both these hymns in celebration of the god Baal. In the Biblical religion YHWH took the place of Baal and Baal’s attributes and characteristics. The god Baal was suppressed and antagonized , and the name of the god Baal was eliminated and censored out as much as possible.

Another Semitic god El (Illu) was treated differently. The name of the god El has again two mutually interdependent semantic functions. El is a name of a deity, but it is also a common noun “god” or “divine”. This word “el” appears many times in the Hebrew bible (Masoretic Text) and it is proverbially difficult to decide whether and where it is a name of a deity and where it is just simple appelative.
From extra-biblical sources we know El’s function and characteristics.

These two slides list some of the most common Biblical manifestations of El with different atributes and forms. Most common is ELOHIM which is generally understood as the plural of majesty. (Although occasionally the same word can simply describe a plurality of other gods).
Gods YHWH and El (most commonly in the form as Elohim) were completely merged until el/elohim became just another way of talking about YHWH. YHWH took over all the major function and attributes of the god El. As we saw in the first lecture, in this full asimilation process YHWH also took over El’s consort, the goddess Asherah and for some period of time was worshiped together with her.

West Semitic Venus deities are also present in the Bible. Shahar is often translated as dawn/Dawn and in some places Shahar functions as a mythical character.
Shalem is represented in several high profile theomorfic names. Although Shalem can be again translated as both appellative (peace) and the proper name (a name of a deity) in such a situations theomorfic names are almost certainly the originals.

These two slides outline the Biblical presence of a well-known Semitic deity of disasters/war and plague, the god Resheph. The existence of this deity is hidden by presenting him as a simple appellative (disease/plague). Resheph often appears with his retinue of demons and other malevolent gods. Almost ironical is an impressive appearance  of these divine “nasties” malevolent deities and demons in the curse in Deuteronomy (while Deuteronomy is normally considered to be a guardian of biblical orthodoxy :-)
(Comment from September 2018) Recently I also wrote about this god appearing in the Hebrew love poetry (Song of Songs) in the article "Ferocious love"

YHWH was also assimilated with the main god of the night skies. Worship of Jarich - god Moon was officially forbidden, but YHWH took over the control, functions and main attributes of the moon god. It is a repetition of a strategy which was used with the god Baal.
    In this lecture we could observe these three main strategies of monotheization
1) full assimilation (as used with El) 2) assimilation of functions and attributes while rejecting the original deity or name of the deity (Baal, Jarich...) 3) attempted elimination of the memory of deities by their re-interpretation as secular appellatives or concepts (Resheph, Shalem).

And finally an religious/philosophical apothegm - the development of monotheism did not come without serious cost.
    Polytheism, for instance, has neater and simpler way of explaining the presence of evil and suffering in the world (malevolent deities, conflicts between gods, siding with the wrong deities), while dogmatic monotheism always struggles with a quandary of theodicy.
    Monotheism also brought a new secular epistemology. Ancient polytheistic deities shared what I would call metaphoric attributions. We can observe it in our constant difficulties distinguishing between appellative names and proper divine names. The original speakers/thinkers almost certainly did not see it as a problem. For them it was the main feature and the main advantage of their language and thinking about the world. The very reality of their world was divine by the semantic definition of their own words. They were immersed in the divine. They clearly did not want to distinguish, for instance, between Shalem as an evening star, the divinity Shalem, and the idea of divine peace and harmony. For them it was just one reality. They cherished this possibility of speaking about all these concepts while using just one undivided word. They lived out a completely different gnoseological(epistemological) paradigm.
    As soon as Shalem became a spectrum (divinity-planet-peace) the paradigm got more and more dislocated. When these individual aspects got fully separated with some aspects carved out for God, some suppressed and some secularized, the whole epistemological paradigm got irreparably broken. Mythical epistemology was on its way out. For centuries and millennia the divine and the world became separated.


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January said...

This is helpful! Thank you!