While current Biblical scholarship accepts the idea that the early Israelites were henotheistic, and of course this has no effect on my faith since we know from Scripture they were prone to syncretism and idolatry, but one major issue I have is whether or not Yahweh and El are the same god or different ones.
This article, albeit from a bias source and inept at theology (I mean this guy claims Christianity today is not at all what Jesus preached or believed), has me in a crisis of faith as well as a few other articles.
Yahweh and El are different names at different times for one and the same Being just as Beijing and Peking are different names at different times for the one and the same city.
The Old Testament is a compilation of stories woven together by the final divinely inspired editors. We identify these nameless writers only by groups as the Yahwists, Elohists, Deuteronomist, and Preistly Editors based on style, vocabulary and their predominate messages. Strictly speaking, church teaching claims “inspiration” only for the final edition of the work in which these four sources appear (Dogmatic Constitution 11).
The inspired writers wrote at particular times. Exegetes believe the Yahwist epic was compiled during the reign of Solomon or shortly thereafter (950-900 BC) and fixed in writing during the Babylonian Exile (586-539 BC). Scholars place the Elohists epic composition around 800 BC during the Divided Monarchies. Many years later, around 400 BC, scholars believe the priests and scribes brought these epics together in literary form that they call the Priestly tradition.
What is being claimed is that the Yahwist source are writing to show that YHWH is the god of Israel, whereas the Elohist source is trying to show that El is. It seems like the two camps are pitting two gods against each other, until later when the Priestly source makes it a strict monotheism.
Was it God who gave revelation, but the Israelites went astray and misconstrued it? Or is it just writings that were originally about two different gods, and put together to talk about one?
I don’t think there is a “Catholic” opinion on the matter; this belongs to the realm of religious anthropology rather than theology.
It appears that El and YHWH were at one point two distinct gods in the Canaanite pantheon, a religion that would influence Israelite Yahwism in the pre-exilic period. El was the supreme god, and Yhwh was the national god of the Israelites, who, in a way, was a “rival” of the gods of neighbouring nations (e.g. Chemosh of Moab, Baal of Phoenecia). In later years, Israel would conflate their national god with the supreme god, eventually recognizing El and Yhwh as the same god (without necessarily yet excluding the existence of other gods). With the firm entrenchment of monotheistic Judaism in the Exilic period, this eventually grew into and was cemented into the understanding of Yhwh/El as The One and Only True God, to the exclusion of all others.
I have no problem with the hypothesis or theory; it in fact makes a lot of sense. From a Christian theological standpoint, if this is in fact how it went, it simply means God gradually revealed even his singular nature gradually to Israel, especially if they started out as insufficiently mature to grasp the concept of one Almighty God.
One of the major issues I found is that we could be worshiping a syncretic God, but gradual revelation sounds more probable. Since the OT is comprised of hundreds of separate texts, I wouldn’t be surprised of the writers had their own agenda, even if divinely inspires since they are still human.
It makes sense now. The two separate gods eventually became one through revelation and the punishment of the Exile, with added help of the Prophets to steer the scribes the right way.
For those inspired by God, actor or redactor, theology preceded story. God’s plan, made present to the sacred editors’ minds through the Holy Spirit, moved them to select, write and re-write the stories of Israel in words and ways that revealed God’s plan for the people of their times. While infallibly divine in their inspirations, the authors remained imperfectly human in their interpretations. This fusion of infinite Truth into finite minds gives the sacred scriptures at once its Divine authority and its human ambiguity.
Alfred North Whitehead in Religion in the Making argues that “religion is world-loyalty.” The scribes put God’s inspiration into the reality known to them. Not to do so would make understanding God a completely otherworldly affair. Making God immanent as well as transcendent, the scribes wrote for a people at a time in which the scriptures explained Yahweh or Elohim working in the world. The scribes’ message, though, was primarily theology and secondarily history. This important distinction separates the work of the sacred scribes from that of secular historians.
Ancient historians, like their modern counterparts, used inductive reasoning. They produced their myths after examining the natural phenomena. If the myth stood the test of coherence and gave meaning to the phenomena, it endured passing from generation to generation. But the sacred writers, unlike their contemporary and our modern historians, used deductive reasoning. Through divine inspiration, the sacred writers had definite knowledge of God’s plan. This knowledge was a priori and independent of Israel’s many traditions, oral or written. From this certainty, using their human faculties, the sacred writers enlisted the available stories, selecting and manipulating them to write the Truth for the people of their times.
There is some evidence to suggest that Yahweh and El are the same god or have some close connections. El’s wife is known as Asherah. We see her name appear several times in the bible.
But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim
Now on the same night the LORD said to him, "Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it;
El is just a generic word which does not apply specifically to God. It is not a personally assigned name as Yahweh is. El can even be used to describe mighty men. I believe it to be a mistake to try to narrow the application of the word El to the God of Israel. It will just lead to unusual propositions.
As mentioned earlier, El was also likely a specific name for a god, specifically. the supreme god (a la Zeus for the Greeks) of the Canaanite pantheon. Yhwh was another god who became the national god of Israel, distinct from El. The theory is that in the earliest days of henotheistic Semitic religion (including Canaan, Moab, Ammon, and Israel), each nation had a national god, with El at the top of the pantheon. It could be theorized that Melchizedek was a priest of El, not Yhwh.
The Israelite understanding would have evolved over time, first conflating El and Yhwh, then eventually rejecting the belief in the existence of all other Gods.
As I said earlier, I have no issue with it, as the One True God could have used this evolution of understanding as his means of gradually revealing is nature to man.
That’s right. “Baal” is also the same word that means “lord”, a synonym for adonai. It was also the proper name for the Phoenecian rain god. Much like “el” is the generic word for “god”, while at the same time, is a proper name “El” for the supreme Semitic god.
I did not read the article… but consider this factor: Yahweh God is also known as El Roi:
The translation of El Roi is commonly “The God Who Sees”. El Roi is a descriptive epithet for God using the word “El” (God) and a modifier indicating a quality of God. It was first mentioned in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 16:13), by Hagar, mother of Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Roi
…and El Shaddai:
El Shaddai (Hebrew: אֵל שַׁדַּי, IPA: [el ʃaˈdːaj]) or just Shaddai is one of the names of the God of Israel. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as God Almighty but the construction of the phrase fits the pattern of the divine appellations in the Ancient Near East and as such can convey various types of semantic relations between these two words: El of a place known as Shaddai, El possessing the quality of shaddai or El who is also known as Shaddai – exactly as is the case with the names like “’El Olam”, “’El Elyon” or “’El Betel”. Moreover, while the translation of El as “god” or “lord” in the Ugarit/Canaanite language is straightforward, the literal meaning of Shaddai is the subject of debate.
The name appears 48 times in the Bible, seven times as “El Shaddai” (five times in Genesis, once in Exodus, and once in Ezekiel). (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Shaddai
…don’t forget that those who have a gripe with the Church/Christianity must for ever use eisegesis instead of exegesis.
…so discovering the Name “El” is sort of a gold mind, at least in their eyes, that they can use as a claim to discredit that which has forever been held by Judeo-Christian theology.
…also, it is nothing new as the culture continually attempts to mesh in their principles to conflict/contradict the Christian thought (check out the various claims done through movies and programs where everything is attributed to the opposite of Judeo-Christian thought).
The Revelation has always been that Yahweh God Alone is God; so the Hebrew people may have divided over how they use the name of God (even today you will find Jewish people spelling God as G_d as they view it as disrespect to use the Name of God.
It is not that the Hebrews had two different Gods but that there were different Revelations of God’s Name. (We can find a few in Isaiah 9:6; 7:14.)