Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Fri Jan 25 11:12:35 EST 2002

Dear Jonathan,

 From this post of yours and from earlier posts I realize that you 
engage in a sound critical scholarship in an intelligent way. I try 
to do the same. However, that is not allways easy because several 
dilemmas arise. The most pressing one, as I see it, is that in 
scientific research "God" as a *factor* must a priori be excluded. We 
cannot seek recourse in something metaphysical ("God") if we are 
doing scientific research. The problem, however, is that we research 
documents that not only speak about God, but where several authors 
explicitly say that they were inspired by God. So how can we do an 
intelligent research on documents that are claimed to be rooted in 
something that we a priori exclude?

Next year I will publish a thesis based on an analysis of the 80.000 
finite and infinite verbs in the Tanach and the DSS, where I propose 
a completely new understanding of the verbal system of Classical 
Hebrew. In this research I have completely avoided the problem 
mentioned above, but it becomes acute when the question of monotheism 
is at stake.

After pondering on the situation for a long time I have taken the 
position that I strictly have to follow critical scientific 
methodology, but that I, at the same time must take a critical stand 
towards critical scholarship. This does not necessarily mean that I 
sneak God in through the backdoor, but rather that I do not exclude 
the possibility that some, or all the documents of the Tanach are 
different from other earlier and contemporaneous documents. Thus God 
is not a factor that is a variable in the scientific research, but at 
the same time the claims that the documents are a result of work of a 
"God" in a way is held open. Even though the position that the 
documents of the Tanach are just like other documents is strictly 
scientific, it is just as dogmatic (and religious) as the opposite 
viewpoint of God's inspiration.

What has lead me to take this position is my own hermeneutical circle 
that has been at work in my study over many years of ancient 
documents. For instance, I contiually work with Accadian documents, 
and have translated the Atrahasis into Norwegiean in a series of 
acncient Holy writings. In this book I listed 24 different passages 
in the Gilgamesh/Atrahasis which are almost completely parallel to 
bassages in Genesis. The laws of probability definitely speaks 
against the documents having originated independently. But what is 
the relationship? Most scholars would say that Genesis has adopted 
thoughts from an Accadian original; and this is a fine example of 
scholarship that is too critical, or even unbalanced, Because, how 
can they know? The fact that cuneiform tablets, that are easily 
preserved, are older than Hebrew documents of a more vulnerable 
material, say very little. However, for me, after a study of many 
years, it is clear that there is an enormeous quality difference 
between the Accadian accounts of the creation/flood  and the Genesis 
account.The Babylonian gods are clearly the invention of men, having 
all the degraded characteristics of men ##., while my judgement is 
that the God in the Genesis account is  of a completely different 
nature. Therefore, I see no reason to postulate that Genesis has 
adopted Accadian material; it is more logical to me that that both 
accounts stem from a common source, but with different final products 
as a result.

Some years ago we read the laws of Hammurapi in class and it bacame 
evident for the students how different these are from the laws in the 
Pentateuch, even though there are similarities as well. So it seems 
to me that there generally is a clear quality difference between the 
Hebrew documents of the Tanach and other documents of antiquity. 
Therefore I, at the outset, do not a priori deny the claims of the 
Hebrew writers as to when their accounts where written and the origin 
of their information. But these should rather be scrutinized without 
a priori judgements.

It seems to me that something like a dogmatic religion has been built 
up around modern critical scholarship. Noth's theory of a 
deuteronomistic history etc and many other speculative hypotheses 
have almost been elevated to data, while the truth is that hard facts 
regarding when the different books were written and who were the 
writers are completely lacking. For instance,in my linguistic 
analysis of the participles of the Tanach I found a use which was 
uniform throughout the book of Isaiah but almost non-existent in 
other books. I will not say that this proves that there was one 
author of the books, but the evidence for two or three authors is 
very weak indeed. The great problem of modern critical scholarship 
are not all the unfounded assumptions on which it builds, but rather 
that many researchers are not aware of the fact that the very 
foundation is lacking. I fully respect your methodology and your 
position, but with all respect I propose alternatives.

As to my position, I am very positive to the text of the Hebrew 
documents, because of all the single data I have found to be of a 
higher quality that that of contemporaneous documents. It is my 
impression that the concept of God in the Tanach is sublime and 
elevated, in stark contrast to that of other nations around. Your 
interpretations regarding the divine suzerain and polytheism are 
possible but hardly the only alternative. I see no conflict between 
Isaiah 41-- and Exodus 20 because the subject is addressed from 
different angles. Isaiah does not deny the existence of the $EDIM, 
but he points out to those who think that carved images have 
intrinsic life and power that this is a false view. And similarly, 
the writer of Exodus does not say that the carved images have life 
and power. In view of the sublime descriptions of the one Creator I 
take the implication of the writer of Exodus of other living gods to 
refer to the $EDIM.

As I understand the NT, the Christian writers had this view as well. 
Regarding idols Paul wrote:

1Cor. 8:4 -6 (NIB)  So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: 
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is 
no God but one.
5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth 
(as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"),
6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things 
came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Paul denies that an idol is anything, and the same he does in verse 
19 below, but then he continues in verse 20 and tells that behind the 
lifless images are the $EDIM the false gods. These views, therefore, 
are not mutually exclusive.

1Cor. 10:19-20 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is 
anything, or that an idol is anything?
20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to 
God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.

My understanding, therefore, is that the Tanach and the NT both 
promote monotheism and nothing but monotheism. There is one supreme 
God, YHWH, and he has a heavenly family of Sons who are called 
"angels" and who occationally are called "gods". However, the 
designation "gods" does not make this group a "pantheon" of gods in 
the henotheistic sense, but they are viewed as YHWH's heavenly 
family, just as men who worship YHWH are his earthly family. So while 
I fully endorse the scientific methodology of critical scholarship, I 
argue in favor of being critical to critical scholarship as well, and 
for alternative understandings.

## After the destruction of mankind the goddess Nintu wept because 
she was hungry for lack of sacrifices from manking, and she thirsted 
for beer, because no human any longer supplied her with that drink. 
(Atrahasis tablet 3).



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

>Dear Rolf,
>Your monotheistic interpretation of the "Shema" is one I can subscribe to.
>Note also the monotheistic statements in Deut. 4 "You have been shown to
>know that YHWH is God..there is no other but Him" , "And you shall know
>today, and you shall put it into your heart, that YHWH our God...there is
>none besides him".
>Note the similar statements in Is. 44. In both passages, there is a clear
>denial of the existence of other gods, thus leading to the definition of
>monotheism as the worship of one God, denying the existence of other gods.
>Henotheism, on the other hand, is the worship of one God, without denying
>the existence of other gods. This  is evident in the Ten Commandments, both
>in Exodus 20 and Deut. 5: "I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt
>from the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides me." Here
>there is no nullification of the existence of other gods, but a prohibition
>of worshipping them.
>In the past, much was made of Akhenaton's religion and its possible
>influence on the Israelites.But the religion of Akhenaton was lacking the
>idea of the divine suzerain, who makes a treaty - i.e., covenant - with his
>human vassals.One of the major stipulations of every ANE suzerainty treaty,
>after the self-presentation of the suzerain with all his titles, and the
>history of his relationship with the vassal, is the demand for absolute
>loyality to him, the suzerain. Does any other ANE religion involve such a
>The only possibility I can see for the origins of such an idea, if it is not
>purely Israelite, is the worship of Baal Berith in Shechem, where, according
>to Josh. 24, the Israelites made a covenant with YHWH.
>Jonathan D. Safren
>Dept. of Biblical Studies
>Beit Berl College
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Rolf Furuli" <r.j.furuli at>
>To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
>Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2002 12:40 PM
>Subject: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..
>>  Dear Jonathan,
>>  As to the concept "monotheism" it depends on what you mean. In 2.
>>  Corinthians 4:4 (New Testament) we read about "the god (QEOS) of this age"
>  > who is identified as Satan. The writer and his audience believed in the
>  > *existence* of many  gods, but they did not worship them; so these
>  > Christians neither advocated polytheism or henotheism. To abandon
>>  monotheism one must, as I understand the concept, both believe in and
>>  worship more than one god.
>>  I find exactly the same situation in the Pentateuch. The commandment
>>  against )E:LOHIM )A:XERIM in Exodus 20:2 implies that other (living) gods
>>  existed, but it need not necessarily imply polytheism. In Deutronomy 32:17
>  > and Psalm 106:36,37 the writers tell that behind the carved images were
>  > living gods, the $EDIM. We find exactly the same thought in 1 Corinthians
>>  8:5,6 and 10:20 where the Greek equivalent DAIMONIOIS is found.
>>  I am not aware of a single passage in the Pentateuch where the writer
>>  writes in favor of polytheism or henotheism (even though angels are called
>>  "gods" both in the Tanach and in the NT (Psalm 8:6- Hebrews 2:7, Psalm
>>  97:7; 138:1), or where he himself implies that he has abandoned monotheism
>>  and in reality is a polytheist.
>  >
>>  I believe that one of the most important sides of the Shema of Deuteronomy
>>  6:4 is that it is directed against polytheism , because the most natural
>>  translation of YHWH )E:LOHENU YHWH )EXFD is not. "YHWH our God is one."
>>  rather "YHWH our God is one YHWH:" The expression "one YHWH" can be
>>  directed against Ba`al Peor, Ba`al Berit, YHWH Shomron, YHWH Tema etc. So
>>  the writer wants to stress: There is just one YHWH for us.
>>  Regards
>>  Rolf
>>  Rolf Furuli
>>  University of Oslo
>>  >In view of all the studies on ANE suzerainty treaties, does anyone still
>>  >seriously claim that the Ten Commandments are monotheistic?
>>  >Jonathan D. Safren
>  > >Dept. of Biblical Studies
>>  >Beit Berl College
>  > >
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