Did Monotheism come from the Canaanites?


#1

I was recently led to the video:

youtube.com/watch?v=MlnnWbkMlbg

It is an Atheist stating the “history” that caused his deconversion. He makes the point that the Monotheistic God was an idea that evolved from the polytheistic Canaanite religion.

In the video we see that YHWH was a God of Soldiers/War worshiped by Canaanites. Apparently, over the course of several hundred years we see that the people that settled Israel began only worshipping YHWH and abandoned the idea of polytheism.

Doesn’t this give footing to the idea that YHWH was originally polytheistic?

Read this Wikipedia article:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahweh

It has really been bugging me for the last couple of days. I would like some clarity on this.


#2

Hmmm Abraham used to live in Canaan you know? perhaps they have it a little backwards, just perhaps :wink:


#3

Bobby,
Almost everything in that video is a theory or speculation and not crystallized fact. I didn’t watch the entire presentation because after about two minutes in its clear he is just piling speculation on top of speculation.
From a paleosociological pov, maybe, and I emphasize ‘maybe’, humans did predominantly have a polytheistic outlook from which God called them. Maybe God let humans arrive at what they could on their own before fine tuning their understanding. Maybe. But, who could ever prove that as a true historical fact? Many other POVs could be paraded and we would end up with the same problem of establishing any of them as incontestable fact.
So we have to approach the scripture with faith and humility. Faith realized by your personal “trust” that the Holy Spirit has guided the history of these texts — whatever that history may be — to arrive at the body of scripture we now possess. Humility realized by your personal admission that you will not fully understand everything these scriptures contain for various reasons not all have to do with your intelligence. Some answers to some questions have been buried in time and are forever unavailable barring some new archeological discovery.
You’ll notice the sharp contrast between this approach of faith and humility and the video’s approach which trusts in no one but themselves and professes to understand everything completely.
I have a hard time trusting people who don’t trust anyone else and profess to know all the answers. The honest person will admit they are limited in their understanding and that some things in essence will always remain a mystery to some degree.
Just remember, no matter how slick the production, the atheist POV is just that, a POV.
Move on to more fruitful avenues of learning.

Peterk


#4

I appreciate the answer. Thank you.

One point I want to make about your post:

If humans started with a polytheistic view on God, wouldn’t that negate the creation story?
We knew Adam and Eve had knowledge of God’s presence; Why would they deviate from that?


#5

Bobby,

It is fact that most of the cultures prior to Christ were polytheistic, the earth religions. When the first monotheistic system developed I really couldn’t say, but the Adam story was never taught as literal to me. It was an attempt by an early culture to explain their existence and somehow explain their relationship with a creator.

History and study of scripture also took me away from the faith I was raised in (Catholic). You will have to make your own choice and decisions.


#6

Here’s a good article that I think helps answer the question:

catholic.com/tracts/is-catholicism-pagan

Peace,
Ed


#7

First, let’s consider the Canaanite Pantheon:
Anat, Athirat, Athtart, Attar, Baalat or Baalit, Ba’al Hadad, Baal Hammon, Dagon, El Elyon, Eshmun, Ishat, Kotharat,
Kothar-wa-Khasis, Lotan, Marqod, Melqart, Molech or Moloch, Mot or Mawat, Nikkal, Qadeshtu, Resheph, Shachar
and Shalim, Shamayim, Shapash, Shapshu, Yaw, Sydyk, Yahweh (the only Canaanite mention of Yahweh, found on
the Mesha Stele, refers to the god of Israel contrasted with Chemosh), and Yarikh, **
So no, monotheism did not come from the Canaanites.**

I know that video, watched it a lot during my Pagan years, but it so misrepresents the
actual history of God. It should not be seen as unreasonable nor incriminating to sug–
gest that the Only God YHWH was assimilated to a Pagan pantheon or even the other
way around, a Pagan pantheon built around YHWH.

We can’t collect evidence of all things, there are many blind-spots in history, but don’t
be fooled by the absence of proof and what atheists infer and present in regards to the
evidence left behind by ancient civilization. This atheist had an agenda, an already set
biased view in which to fit all the evidence, so out came his very well done, admittingly,
presentation on what he calls the History of God, but it isn’t true.


#8

Bobby Ray,
I used to be troubled by reading such things. Hopefully, I can help you.

When we read scripture, we need to first and foremost read it through the lens of Jesus, our Lord. In that sense, we start with the Gospels and the Epistles. Our Lord walked this earth only 2,000 years ago! Literally, our Lord cut history in two. His Church sprung up out of nowhere to transform the entire world. The New Testament contains writings from within 70 years after our Lord’s death. We have the writings of many other early Christians as well.

Regarding the Old Testament, I used to think that, “Well, Abraham must have grabbed a pen and started writing things down.” The Old Testament (especially the Torah) is an ancient book. It’s writings were much, much more complicated. The Jews had oral tradition. Most biblical scholars think that the Torah developed over a long time, in several editions. This doesn’t make the Torah uninspired. Nothing is in the Bible that God doesn’t want in there. Truly, the Old Testament is so mysterious because it foreshadows the coming of Christ in so, so many ways yet was written by many authors over thousands of years.

The final verison of the Torah is a continuing narrative beginning with creation. I believe this throws people off a little. We know that things were more complicated than that, but we’ve known things were more complicated than that for a long time. Just read the works of St. Augustine (354-430 AM). That doesn’t make Christianity untrue or the stories of Abraham, Moses, etc untrue. It just means that their stories were most likely fully developed under the inspiration of God over a long period of time.

If you don’t believe in inspiration, just look at the complexity of the story of Original Sin and compare it to other creation accounts of other cultures. While our first parents might not have eaten a literal apple, the depth of truth of sin and man’s fall from grace in that story is incredible.

Hope that is a help.

-JMR


#9

Bobby,
I hope my reply helped and I hope you’ve noticed the others who empathize with your question and have generously responded. This forum truly is a good resource for getting well-informed opinions from people who are sincere in the faith they profess. The overwhelming majority of consistent forum contributors here are truly Christ centered individuals who practice what they preach. This is a good place.
Regarding my one paleosociological POV I offered as an example earlier, just know that I don’t hold to that theory and only wanted to use it to illustrate the point that there are many theories available.
I personally don’t have a problem with a first single set of parents for the origins of the human race. It doesn’t answer all the questions that may come to mind about the topic of human origins, but neither do any of the other explanations I’ve heard. In general then, this Biblical theory is as good if not better than the other non-biblical theories for understanding our human origins.
We could talk in tomes about polytheism leading to monotheism or vice versa, and might even agree on some things, but it would be pure speculation in the end. There is no way to retrieve the oral tradition out of which all the ancient records grew. We can only speculate that some of it is captured in the ancient records which are themselves, given the populations and time periods they cover, a very sparse collection of records.

PeterK


#10

I dislike listening to “informational” videos, since I can get the information much faster through reading and feel as if I’m being manipulated by a video. But since it seems to be bothering you I’ll listen to some of it at least and jot down some comments as I do so:

  1. Contrast between the Bible and “the evidence” assumes that the Bible is not part of the evidence. In fact most of our relevant evidence comes from the Bible. There are sound methodological reasons why historians generally trust archaeological over literary sources, especially literary sources (like the OT) whose date is very hard to pin down. But still, the Bible is an important part of the evidence–he’s setting the whole thing up in a biased and unfair way.

  2. The claim that “the evidence” shows that “God” evolved rather than predating human beings is just silly. It’s a rhetorical conflation of “God” with “the idea of God.” Obviously for an atheist there is to reality behind the idea. But the fact that people’s idea of God developed doesn’t prove that there was no reality behind the idea. Would he apply this same rhetorical trick to science? Our ideas about the physical world have evolved too. Does this refute the notion that there was a physical world before we came along? (Actually, C. S. Lewis’ friend Owen Barfield, who was an anthroposophist, would say something like that. I don’t think I agree with him, but I’m open to his ideas–at least he was consistent, unlike this dude.)

  3. Ideas originating 14,000 years ago? How on earth do we know what people’s idea of the divine was 14,000 years ago?

  4. He presents the fact that Babylonians were polytheistic as if it is something surprising which should shake Judeo-Christian belief. Why? It’s exactly what the Bible says.

  5. He presents the idea that Genesis 1 was written during the Babylonian exile as if it were certain. It’s not. I think it’s the most plausible hypothesis, but there certainly have been others. Much more to the point, why does he think this is a point against the Bible? It seems to me that he’s arguing with a straw man.

  6. Again, he presents J and E, and the idea that they were written around the ninth century BCE (actually a fairly conservative view in terms of contemporary scholarship, and one with which I would tend to agree), as if these were all settled facts instead of interesting and plausible speculations.

  7. Wait a minute! He just said that the fact that Genesis 2 doesn’t agree with Babylonian and Canaanite myths proves that it must be mythical. But didn’t he imply earlier that the fact that Genesis 1 does have similarities with Babylonian myths somehow counts against it? Doesn’t it start to look as if he’s formed his conclusion already and is reading that conclusion into the evidence?

  8. His claims about the Hebrew term “El Elyon” are seriously inaccurate. The term actually only occurs in Genesis in chap. 14, referring to Melchizedek as the priest of “El Elyon.” Other than that, it’s a term mostly used in poetry (in Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, and the Psalms). It is not a term used in Genesis 12 to describe the God worshiped by Abraham, nor is it the term used in chap 28. In fact, both passages use the term YHWH. Of course, he can argue that this term is being read back into the story by later authors, but his claim to be appealing to the Hebrew text falls flat here.

  9. I am not aware of any evidence that “elohim” was used in Canaanite religion as a term for a personal god, though certainly the practice of having personal gods was widespread in Mesopotamian and Canaanite culture. The word is in fact originally plural, and the Hebrew Bible is to my knowledge unique in using it with a singular meaning (there’s no doubt that much of the time, in the OT, it does have a singular meaning–it often takes singular verbs, for one thing, though of course in sentences where it’s not the subject the meaning may sometimes be more in doubt, as in “a little lower than Elohim” in Psalm 8). It is used in the plural in Canaanite literature for the children of the supreme deity El, at least according to Wikipedia:D

  10. I don’t know what his sources are for his claims about ancient Egypt, but I don’t think it’s true that we know all the laborers on all the major public buildings to have been “well-paid Egyptian citizens” (a hugely sweeping claim, anyway). We know that in the New Kingdom (the time of the Exodus) there were a lot of foreign slaves captured in war. And we know that the Egyptian government could conscript anyone to work on building projects.

  11. Note that he claims that when the Hebrews got to Canaan they “again” worshiped Ba’al and Asherah. But he hasn’t, in fact, provided any evidence that they worshiped them earlier! He also claims that YHWH was the “war god” of the Hebrews, because he’s described as a warrior. Sloppy.

I am not going to go further tonight.


#11

To sum up a few points:

It’s certainly true that there are points of continuity between ancient Israelite religion and the religion of the surrounding cultures, and that contemporary scholarship emphasizes this continuity. The prevailing view these days among historians is that the Israelites were originally just another Canaanite people, probably hill-dwelling peasants who rebelled against their overlords. (Ironically, the video is quite conservative in tacitly accepting the Exodus story as historical.) Biblical claims that the Israelites worshiped only YHWH (if only briefly!) early on and then “fell” into polytheism are indeed contested by many scholars, who would argue that this is a late, idealized picture.

However, the fact is that much of this is hard to prove or disprove. After all, the Bible says over and over again that Israel was idolatrous for most of its history. If there were brief periods (the Bible itself makes it clear that they were brief–during the lifetime of Joshua, for instance) when Israel worshiped only YHWH, would that show up in the record? And how would it show up?

Clearly what happened under Josiah in the 7th century BCE (I didn’t watch the video that far, but I’m sure he makes a lot out of this) was new in many ways, if only in its scale. But how would you actually disprove the Biblical claim that Josiah was restoring something ancient?

What we can say for sure, based on the Bible itself, is that the Israelites identified their god YHWH with the supreme god “El” of the Canaanites, although the Bible more often uses the term “elohim,” which seems to be a way of making the word more generic and majestic. The Hebrews who wrote the Bible uniformly reject the worship of Ba’al and treat Ba’al as a rival to YHWH. It is plausible that the northern kingdom may have favored the term El/Elohim and the southern kingdom the term YHWH. (It’s also interesting that the Genesis 1 narrative, which uses Elohim, has strong parallels with other creation stories, while the Genesis 2 narrative, which uses YHWH Elohim together, has much fewer.)

A final point for now: the part of the video I watched never mentioned the distinction between monotheism and “monolatry” or “henotheism.” These latter terms refer to the practice of worshiping only one god, while acknowledging the existence of others. In fact, even early Christians did not deny the existence of pagan gods–but they “demoted” these “gods” to the status of demons! The idea that to be a monotheist means that you must hold other gods to be purely imaginary is mostly a modern one (though admittedly parts of Isaiah seem to point in that direction). After all, Christians and Jews have long believed in hosts of angels and demons. A “god” is really just a superhuman being. (One of the huge mistakes atheists make is to assume that there is no difference between “God” and “a god,” and also that Christians necessarily are “atheists” with respect to other religions “gods.”)


#12

there has always been only one life one Love one truth in holy God.

God Has revealed some of His perfect love, His Truth and life in creation thus far and all of his truth is the Catholic church.

God bless


#13

Contarini, killer post. I wanted to add a few thoughts to my earlier post.

First, complete Old Testament literalism is more of a fundamentalist protestant view. My Mother, for example, will not believe anything except that the world is 6,000 years old. Well, that’s ok to believe, but I would say that only a very small minority of Catholics believe that.

Second, 99% of historians approach the Old Testament with a view to disprove it. Well, when you are pulling 4,000 year old evidence from the ground, you can probably come to just about any conclusion. History is linear. It happens and then it is over. We don’t know for sure everything that happened in American history at anytime. Are there secrets out there about White House meetings that no historian knows about? Of course! When I worked on Capitol Hill, I would laugh at journalist trying to tell the real story of what happened when I knew the true story. :slight_smile: If history isn’t recorded, it is lost and all we can do is try to reconstruct it. Think what would happen if the world was destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. If aliens 4,000 years later tried to figure out what Americans were like, would they be able to tell for 100% sure? No.

Many scholars did not believe in King David until the “Tel Dan Stele” was discovered which mentions him by name and was written only about 100 years after King David’s death. This brings us to the importance of written records. We give written texts outside of the Bible great historical weight in ancient times. Many historians take all kinds of written works from ancient Rome as fact with no archeological evidence. Historians, on the other hand, start with the premise that the Old Testament is wrong. As someone who believes, I fundamentally reject this premise.

Third, the Old Testament is not a “history textbook” under modern standards. The Jews most likely embellished their stories in the different editions. So what. They weren’t writing a textbook and they knew it. They were writing a book explaining the nature of God.

Finally, I would note that I consider myself to be a an Old Testament “maximalist.” I believe in the fundamental historicity of the Old Testament but recognize the style of writing and the limitations of the work. For example, while I believe in the Exodus, I believe the the dates given in the bible are most likely wrong and that the number of Jews was far smaller than 40,000. I also don’t believe that the Exodus was probably a literal 40 year period. These are perfect numbers probably added later to symbolize God.

All that to say, when I read the Old Testament, I recognize it is inspired by God and everything written down contains what He wants us to know about Him to better understand Jesus. I read it to better understand why the Sacrifice on the Cross was necessary and why nothing less would work. I read it to understand fundamental human nature, a chosen people rejecting the Almighty.

If you were raised a fundamentalist, these attacks on the Old Testament might be troubling, but, as a Catholic, don’t let them bother you. :slight_smile: If you want more, I hear the book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K. A. Kitchen is very good but I haven’t personally read it.


#14

Sorry, I didn’t see your reply. The creation story is symbolic BUT contains real prehistoric truth. It shows that God is all good and powerful, that man is different than all other creation, and that man’s “fallen nature” is the result of man’s own actions. The apple, the snake, the garden, etc. , those are all symbolic. It is truth through symbolism. As C.S. Lewis said, Original Sin must have been heinous, beyond our comprehension.

Original Sin means that man, at first, was in perfect union with God. He was the height of God’s creation. As the Saint’s have shown, once we turn away from sin and towards God, restoration of spiritual union is possible through Christ. How this play’s into evolution and prehistoric times, we do not know. God spoke to Abram thousands and thousands of years later to begin the human restoration process.


#15

I totally agree with your point of view on the old testament. But when the writers gave those numbers, would not they have to be true? I thought all writings in the bible were free from error?


#16

I really like your points on the video. It opened my eyes a little.Thanks for taking the time to write about it.


#17

Bobby Ray,
I highly suggest you read “Dei Verbum,” the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” It’s an absolutely brilliant document out of the Second Vatican Council. It discusses the Church’s official teaching on the interpretation of sacred scripture.

[quote= Dei Verbum]Since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to “literary forms.” For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.
[/quote]

It’s important that we judge scripture based upon the literary form of the writer at the time of the writing. In this example, the author is most likely using perfect numbers to portray the perfect nature of God, which would have been in line with a Jewish Priest’s take on the events of the Exodus. This would still make the text “free from error” in the sense that the church teaches.

Hope that is helpful.

JMR


#18

It really does help. That explanation makes perfect sense. Thanks!


#19

Also, the majority interpretation of Dei Verbum is that it teaches inerrancy only on matters that concern our salvation. There’s a dispute about how to construe the Latin, and conservative Catholics argue that DV still teaches that Scripture is inerrant on all matters intended by the original author. What is clear is that all Scripture is inspired and is thus inerrant in the sense intended by God. I would argue that this simply doesn’t apply to things the original human author may have intended but which don’t pertain to the saving purpose for which God inspired the text.

If you do take a “strict” view of inerrancy, then another explanation of the numbers is that they are scribal errors and weren’t in the original manuscript. To my mind, this doesn’t do us much good, because the inspiration/inerrancy that matters is the kind that applies to the texts we actually have. However, if the concern is that God can’t inspire error in the first place, then this may be a helpful approach. I cant disparage it entirely, since Augustine uses it!:o

Edwin


#20

Even the more conservative interpretation only holds that what the authors actually assert as true must be true, and that’s where the whole literary form/genre thing comes in.

Jesus, whom we must presume could not lie, often started parables with “There was a certain man/woman…” Yet neither His audience nor we today insist that He must have been talking about actual people. If God Incarnate can make points by telling fictional stories, the Holy Spirit can certainly inspire human authors to do the same.

Usagi


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