SV: SV: SV: Two Questions
Thomas L. Thompson
tlt at teol.ku.dk
Tue Feb 23 04:31:55 EST 1999
> I simply mean, do you believe that gods are real, especially Yahweh who
> for many learned people somehow become a real, animated being living most
> of the time in the invisible realm.
Your question is a sound theological one. To answer you in the way that I
think the redactor of Exodus, the Book of Psalms as a whole and Qohelet
(Ecclesiastes) would have, I would say no. Yahweh and the other characters
of stories and tradition people call gods isn't himself real but is one of
the ways humans (old Israel) used to talk about God. With Job, we have known
him only from hearsay. The real God is unknown.
> As I have been pondering Early Israel, my question was directed at what
> Palestinian groups worshipped these two gods. Obviously, Israel regarded
> El as their high god, and as you know the Menerptah stele puts them in
> Palestine around 1230 BCE. Will you summarize for me what you know about
> this people? Naturally, I have the same question with regard to the
> Yahwists of the same period who were also in Palestine. Any thoughts
> about them?
I am not so sure that Israel is a name of an historical people in the
Merneptah stele. He is portrayed as the eponym and husband of his wife
Canaan and his children (the three towns listed) have been destroyed by the
Egyptians, but I think this is a mythical way or representing the occupants
of the region of Kinahhi as a whole, rather than any specific people. The
question whether the "Israel" of the stele might be originally a
geographical name (that is, Jezreel) is still open. As it is, this is the
first reference we have and so very difficult to read. For your question: El
and some allegiance to El is indicated here by the name alone. IN an
analogous way Yah/Ya/Yahu occurs much in personal names. Yet, I am still
doubtful that one should assume separate communities, for -- as Yahu seems
to play more the role of a patron deity while El has transcendent
qualities--qualities which Yahweh seems fully to acquire only in (late?)
> > Where do you find evidence for a fusion of "Elism" and Yahwism, either
> > historical events or within tradition?
> We have a king of Hama in Syria who is called Elubidi and Yaubidi in the
> same letter.
> Sounds like Ebla. Do you have a date for Hama?
Yahweh, I think, is too young to have been at Ebla. This is 8th. cent. Hama.
You might also look to H. Niehr, Der höchste Gott (De Gruyter, Berlin, 1993)
for similar developments.
> .I have thought much about Deut 32:7-9. The sons of Elyon appear also in
> Psalm 82 where they are clearly the gods of Elyon's pantheon. The LXX and
> a DSS manuscript certainly has preserved the original reading in Deut 32:8
> as bene 'el[im/ohim]. This mythology has each son of Elyon assigned to an
> individual nation. From this I deduce that the sons of Elyon not only
> included Yahweh, but also Chemosh, Dagon, Milcom, Hadad--indeed all the
> high gods of every nation, all subordinate sons who execute the father's
> decrees that Psalm 82 indicates was the adminstration of justice.
> Therefore, I do not think that they can be regarded as messengers.
Here, I am only following the LXX version of Dt.32:8. the translation
"angel" is not to be excluded as the function of this Yhwh in Exodus seems
to be a god who is identified as the representation of the divine with a
people (cf. Ex 3/6/23; especially 3:12).
> As Yahweh is to Jacob so the others are to other peoples. An
> international pantheon! I am astonished by this. Do you know of any
> comparable religion?
I don't think this is so much a religious perspective as a theological
interpretation of a religious tradition. This is not the kind of religion
one would expect to be a function within a society, It is rather
philosophical speculation about the divine realm and about a tradition
viewed as past.
> The bene elim also appear in Psalm 29. Here however, the conception is
> throughly Canaanite in which the sons of El are members of a local
> pantheon with a local "jurisdiction." The pantheon is structured
> similarly, but the focus is upon the preeminence of Yahweh among his
> brothers and sisters just as Baal is portrayed. Further, the fundamental
> concern is not the adminstration of justice but upon fertility. I am
> inclined to find the former manifestation of El worship as descending from
> Aram which in turn was influenced by bureaucratic Mesopotamian religion.
> What do you think? Am I moving within established parameters?
Very much so. See especially Lundager Jensen listed below.
> My work with Yahweh convinces me that he was conceived of as a fierce
> bedouin god of war whom early biblical traditions locate in Edom. His
> formal name, Yahweh Sabaoth makes him the commander of armies and Ex 15:3
> place his name in parallel with "man of war." His ark served as his dias
> as he led his warrior into battle, and Deborah's description of him is one
> of the march of a divine warrior. Whatever previous concepts were
> attached to Yahweh, here he is essentially defined by his name to be a god
> of war. That he dwelt in a tent also shows that he was a bedouin god. As
> for Sinai, my theory is that it was a pilgramage shrine that served many
> Yahwistic communities that lived and traveled the Sinai Peninsula and
> beyond. Here I look for support from Kuntillet 'ajrud and the tradition
> that Elijah made such a pilgramage.
While I can certainly follow your argument here, I think of Yahweh Seba'ot
not so much as relating to Yahweh's origins as to the kind of transcendent
mythical conflict one glimpses in Psalm 8. That the Bible draws an origin
story of Yahweh from Se'ir etc. can not be argued with. That that picture is
historical , however, is quite a different issue.
> book recommendations
There are four new books which I would recommend highly besides my Cape book
The Bible in History which is just out in London and the Niehr book I
D. Edelman, The Triumph of Elohim (1993)
P.R. Davies, Scribes and Schools (Louisville, 1998)-
N.P. Lemche, The Israelites in History and Tradition (Louisville, 1998)
and (if you can manage Danish) H.J. Lundager Jensen, Gammel testamentlig
Religion (Frederiksberg, 1998: to appear in English in Sheffield in about a
Thomas L. Thompson
Professor, University of Copenhagen
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