"Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel"


#1

Yes, another article. Ultimately old news, but still well worth a read methinks.

The Bible imagines the religion of ancient Israel as purely monotheistic. And doubtless there were Israelites, particularly those associated with the Jerusalem Temple, who were strict monotheists. But the archaeological evidence (and the Bible, too, if you read it closely enough) suggests that the monotheism of many Israelites was far from pure. For them, Yahweh (the name of the Israelite god) was not the only divinity. Some Israelites believed that Yahweh had a female consort. And many Israelites invoked the divinity with the help of images, particularly figurines. I call this Israelite religion pagan Yahwism.

The archaeological evidence we will look at comes mostly from Judah in what is known in archaeological terms as the Assyrian period, the span from 721 B.C.E., when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, until 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and brought an end to the Davidic dynasty in Judah. This period, to put it into perspective, is several centuries after King Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple in about 950 B.C.E. So the archaeological evidence we are about to discuss documents a level of Israelite paganism long after Solomon built an exclusive home for Israel’s god.


#2

[quote="patrick457, post:1, topic:311205"]
Yes, another article. Ultimately old news, but still well worth a read methinks.

The Bible imagines the religion of ancient Israel as purely monotheistic. And doubtless there were Israelites, particularly those associated with the Jerusalem Temple, who were strict monotheists. But the archaeological evidence (and the Bible, too, if you read it closely enough) suggests that the monotheism of many Israelites was far from pure. For them, Yahweh (the name of the Israelite god) was not the only divinity. Some Israelites believed that Yahweh had a female consort. And many Israelites invoked the divinity with the help of images, particularly figurines. I call this Israelite religion pagan Yahwism.

The archaeological evidence we will look at comes mostly from Judah in what is known in archaeological terms as the Assyrian period, the span from 721 B.C.E., when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, until 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and brought an end to the Davidic dynasty in Judah. This period, to put it into perspective, is several centuries after King Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple in about 950 B.C.E. So the archaeological evidence we are about to discuss documents a level of Israelite paganism long after Solomon built an exclusive home for Israel’s god.

[/quote]

In addition to the major sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., I read there were about 25 Judaisms vying for dominance. I don't recall whether this was only after the pagan period of Judaism or whether it included the era of Israelite paganism.


#3

I question the author’s knowledge of Scripture.

The Bible imagines the religion of ancient Israel as purely monotheistic.

Scripture contradicts this statement, documentig well how many Israelites adopted worship of foreign Gods right along with worship of Yahweh. Not the least of these was Solomon himself who personally built temples and erected shrines to many foreign Gods in plain sight of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to follow other gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of David his father had been. olomon followed Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and he did not follow the LORD unreservedly as David his father had done. Solomon then built a high place to Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and to Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain opposite Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:4-8)

Can the author of the article have possibly missed this?

The references to Bethel, Shilo and Sechem as centers of Yaweh worship in the article are disturbing as well. Does the author, a professor of archeology, not realize that the ten northern tribes secceeded from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, becoming what was known as “Israel”, and that subsequent to the split into Israel in the north and Judah in the south, Israel set up their own centers of worship in places like Bethel, Dan and Shiloh?

I don’t think the Bible imagines anything, but rather people imagine that is says things which it does not, or prhaps that it doesn’t say things which it does.

-Tim-


#4

True, Scripture does relate the coexistence of pagan practices beside Yahwist Judaism, but it uniformly condemns those practices.

There is no suggestion in it that "pagan Yahwism" was ever an acceptable permutation.

ICXC NIKA


#5

Speaking of “Judaism” in the context of Yahwism is slightly anachronistic, but we’ll let that pass from the moment. This so-called ‘pagan Yahwism’ is I think really what is meant when the OT speaks of the Israelites falling into pagan practices.

I feel I’m obligated to ask this, but you’re all clicking the link instead of just basing yourselves on that little snippet over there, right?


#6

…Just quoting the conclusion.

We are thus led to the inevitable conclusion that between the foreign pagan practices and the pure monotheism of Yahwism there existed a cult that may be called pagan Yahwism or perhaps more accurately, Yahwistic paganism. Of course in the background was the central monotheistic cult practiced in the Jerusalem Temple by its priests and preached by the Biblical prophets. And some of the kings of Judah—especially Hezekiah and Josiah—made efforts to centralize the monotheistic cult in Jerusalem. But looking at the archaeological evidence, we must conclude that they were less than 100 percent successful. Indeed, until the Babylonian destruction of Judah and the end of the Israelite monarchy in 586 B.C.E., pagan Yahwism was common even in Jerusalem, to say nothing of the rest of Judah.

Coda: We have almost no evidence of cultic practices of any kind from the period between the Babylonian destruction and the return of the exiles under Cyrus, king of Persia, in the late sixth century B.C.E. This situation changes in the Persian period with the return of the exiles. Once again figurines are found in the area of what was Judah, but now the area was divided among the Idumeans (descendants of the Edomites) and the Judeans or Jews (descendants of the Judahites). The Galilee was inhabited mostly by the Phoenicians. In the post-Exilic period the figurines are found only in areas inhabited by Idumeans and Phoenicians. In the areas of the country occupied by Jews, not a single cultic figurine has ever been found despite intensive excavations and archaeological surveys of these areas.

The situation is much the same with respect to post-Exilic sanctuaries: Many have been found in non-Jewish areas, but none in Jewish areas. The only exceptions are the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritan temple on their holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. Upon the return from exile, the Jews purified their worship. Jewish monotheism was at last consolidated.


#7

Not really an anachronism during the so-called Assyrian times. Once the faith was centered in Judah (as distinct from Israel), it can be described as Judaism (the religion of Judah).

I feel I’m obligated to ask this, but you’re all clicking the link instead of just basing yourselves on that little snippet over there, right?

am in the process of reading it now

ICXC NIKA


#8

Something to complement that article:

http://www.lebtahor.com/Archaeology/inscriptions/khirbet%20el%20qom%20tomb%20inscription_files/el%20qom.jpg
Khirbet el-Qom inscription

Uriyahu the prosperous wrote:

‘Blessed be Uriyahu by Yhwh,
for from his enemies by his asherah (l’šrth) he has saved him.’

By Oniyahu.

[To Yhwh?] ...and to his asherah.

http://www.jpost.com/HttpHandlers/ShowImage.ashx?id=204932
Drawing on pottery from Kuntillet 'Ajrud (Sinai Peninsula).

Says h…k: “Say to Yhl... (Yehal[e’el]?) and to Yw’šh (Yoasah?) and to …
I bless you by Yhwh-of-Samaria and by his asherah (l’yhwh wl’šmrn wl’ šrth).”

http://members.bib-arch.org/bswb_graphics/BSBA/27/03/BSBA270302710L.jpg
Inscription on pottery from Kuntillet 'Ajrud.
’Amaryaw (’mryw) says: “Say to my lord: Is it well with you? I bless you by Yhwh-of-Teman and by his asherah (l’yhwh tmn wl’šrth). May he bless you and keep you and be with my lord.”

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4034/4396834222_2c463d5d2b.jpg
Inner sanctum of the sanctuary of Arad.

From the Mesha Stele:

And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh. And from there I took Yhwh's vessels, and I presented them before Kemosh's face.
The Lachish Ostraca (Letter 03):

Thy servant Hoshaiah hath sent me to inform my lord Yaosh: May Yhwh cause my lord to hear tidings of peace! And now thou hast sent a letter, but my lord did not enlighten thy servant concerning the letter which thou didst send to thy servant yesterday evening, though the heart of they servant hath been sick since thou didst write to thy servant. And as for what my lord said, “Dost thou not understand? – call a scribe!”, as Yhwh liveth no one hath ever undertaken to call a scribe for me; and as for any scribe who might have come to me, truly I did not call him nor would I give anything at all for him!

And it hath been reported to thy servant, saying, “The commander of the host, Coniah son of Elnathan, hath come down in order to go into Egypt; and unto Hodaviah son of Ahijah and his men hath he sent to obtain…from him.”

And as for the letter of Tobiah, servant of the king, which came to Shallum son of Jaddua through the prophet, saying, “Beware!”, thy servant hath sent it to my lord.

http://www.uned.es/geo-1-historia-antigua-universal/ISRAEL/RELIGION/beersheba-hezekiah-altar.jpg
Altar at Beersheba

To my lord Eliashib, may Yhwh seek your welfare and now: Give to Shemaryahu a lethech and to the Kerosi give a homer (probably volume measurements), and as to the matter which you commanded me—it is well; he is in the House of Yhwh.”

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_5yij2R1J91c/SPVPfWQuf_I/AAAAAAAAAPg/H6g3mpJjwSY/s400/1-45.JPG
Standing stones (Gezer)

http://www.nationalgeographicstock.com/comp/04/402/1002469.jpg
Cult stand from Taanach, five miles southeast of Megiddo (Northern Kingdom)


#9

I’m curious as to how the ancient israelites “married” Yhwh to Aserah, maybe that’s something we will not find out for sure so soon… although some would say aserah there might not be a proper name (but this hypothesis seems to be very unlikely)…


#10

[quote="farpinho, post:9, topic:311205"]
I'm curious as to how the ancient israelites "married" Yhwh to Aserah, maybe that's something we will not find out for sure so soon... although some would say aserah there might not be a proper name (but this hypothesis seems to be very unlikely)...

[/quote]

Asherah is pretty much the stock consort of different national deities, so it isn't a very huge leap. From the article:

While Yahweh was the god of the Israelites, other nations had their own national gods. The chief god of the Phoenicians was Ba‘al. For the Philistines, the chief god was at first Dagon and later also Ba‘al (Judges 16:23; 2 Kings 1:2). For the Ammonites it was Milkom. For the Moabites, Chemosh. For the Edomites, Qos. And for the Israelites and Judahites—Yahweh. Except for the Edomite god Qos, who appears only in the archaeological record, all of these gods are mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33).

Interestingly, while each nation’s chief god had a distinctive name, his consort, the chief female deity, had the same name in all these cultures: Asherah or its variants Ashtoreth or Astarte. (As we shall see, this was even true of Yahweh’s consort.)

Not only was the female consort the same, the various nations used the same cult objects, the same types of incense altars made of stone and clay, the same bronze and clay censers, cult stands and incense burners, the same chalices and goblets and the same bronze and ivory rods adorned with pomegranates. It was easy to take cult vessels of one deity and place them in the service of another one—and this was commonly done. For example, in the ninth-century B.C.E. stela erected by Mesha, the king of Moab, he describes himself as the “son of Chemosh,” and tells how he defeated the Israelites (see also 2 Kings 3:4–27). He then brags, “* took t[he ves]sels of Yahweh, and I hauled them before the face of Chemosh.”*


#11

[quote="meltzerboy, post:2, topic:311205"]
In addition to the major sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., I read there were about 25 Judaisms vying for dominance. I don't recall whether this was only after the pagan period of Judaism or whether it included the era of Israelite paganism.

[/quote]

The Ashera was worshipped alongside Yahweh for a period.....just look for the references of the poles set up in the Temple....these "poles" or "colums" were Asherah symbols.


#12

Once upon a time we were all monotheistic. Then there were heavenly disturbances and we deified them off and on: Venus bad; then Venus good... Then there was the Great Flood and we deified the last long-lived generation as immortal, not the least being the highly-honored Mrs. Noah who became Dia-Nuh/Diana etc. The "asherah" cult based on the twin ringed bundles, the curly stem and stern post of Noah's Ark, which morphed into the twin pillars of Solomon's Temple as well as the twin pillars of the Temple of Dagon/Great Noah that Sampson crashed, was originally a symbol of orthodoxy. All originally derived from an orthodox veneration of the ancestors who were the eight ark-o-nauts and the salvific ark.

And the Woman & Seed cultus based on Genesis 3:15 or like revelation was an adamantly stable element in monotheist culture even after assailed by the bad guys. This led to a little overbalancing of the female element in some quarters with figurines of the local Woman of Grace/EN used as land titles because land came through her. But after all it's just Noah's wife as seen by the animal pairs in the cult object dedicated to YHWH--which is a "code" for "lord" and who was culturally elided into Noah; and his asherah, i.e., Noah & Wife. Noah & Wife & Kids were wildly popular and this insigated ancestor worship as people traced their lineage to the "eight immortals" the "ogdoad" of Egypt.

Monotheism was revived by Akhenaton in Egypt and he buddied up to the Jews, giving them a valuable trade concession for no obvious reason. While this article is a little snarky, the coda is brilliant in observing that once monotheism was brought more clearly into focus without the Ark-ites muddying the waters, this stuck.

I thought it was interesting that these YHWH & asherah indications came from garrisons, like a guard house guarded by the couple whose overbalanced import seemed to block out the original import of their monotheist God, THE Lord. Wonder if these soldiers were mercenaries? Scary place to be...Rent a big gorilla guard. "The gates of Hell will not prevail against [Christ's Church built on Peter the Rock]." The guard rooms around the entries were for S.W.A.T.-type teams. Sounds like they hung on to the old school identity mixing of Noah/Lord and Mrs. Noah/asherah. God, enlighten the eyes of our hearts.


#13

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