Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Ken Smith kens at 180solutions.com
Mon Jan 28 12:04:19 EST 2002


I won't express an opinion about whether Jephthah sacrificed his
daughter or not, but I do have one with respect to the question that
prompted this discussion, namely, are there real differences between
Israel's understanding of Yahweh and other nations' understandings of
their gods?

 

Part of what has left us talking past each other on this debate, I
think, is that as far as I can recall, nobody has explicitly
acknowledged that there were undoubtedly a variety of understandings of
Yahweh throughout Israel's history.  I'm quite confident that (a) nobody
understood Yahweh and his ethical requirements the same way that, say,
the rabbis of Jamnia did; and (b) there were in fact those who thought
Yahweh condoned or required human sacrifice.  That this latter was the
case can be concluded not only from the natural (first blush) reading of
stories like Jephthah, but from explicit statements about the actions of
various individuals, i.e., King Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3).  To acknowledge
this is hardly, I think, to deny that there are dramatic differences
between what I will still be provincial enough to call the true worship
of Yahweh, and the worship of gods like Baal or Molech.  Undoubtedly
some understood Yahweh primarily through the lens of other ANE
religions, and without a doubt these religions influenced, to one degree
or another, every expression of Yahwism.  But at its heart, as Von Rad
says, "This coefficient of intense intolerance was a characteristic of
Jahwism from the beginning (OTT I.204).  And at a very early date,
perhaps as early as our sources go, Yahweh's exclusivity was tied to
Yahweh's character as merciful, caring, compassionate, faithful and
forgiving.

 

I'll confess that I'm not terribly up on other ANE cultures and
religions, so I'm willing to stand corrected on this next point from
those of you on the list who are undoubtedly more informed than I am.
But do we ever find anything in other cultures which express the sort of
joy and excitement over Yahweh that the songs of ascent in the last part
of the Psalter?  "He who watches over you will not slumber, indeed, he
who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep."  "I rejoiced
with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD.'" "If
you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? But with
you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared."  (And unless
there's some sort of conscious anachronism taking place, which seems
unlikely to me, I think these psalms have to be understood as relatively
early, i.e., at least pre-exilic, pace Ian.)

 

I certainly don't mean to deny any influence from other ANE religions,
or all similarities between Yahwism and Baalism (they are numerous and
well documented).  But I agree with Rolf that there are numerous
differences as well - which we must acknowledge if only to understand
the soil in which the undisputed "high ethical monotheism" of the exilic
and post-exilic prophets sprouted.  There's a reason why Deutero-Isaiah
arose from Israel and not from Moab or Phoenicia.

 

Ken Smith

 

-----Original Message-----
From: Awohili at aol.com [mailto:Awohili at aol.com] 
Sent: Sunday, January 27, 2002 4:47 PM
To: Biblical Hebrew
Cc: Awohili at aol.com
Subject: Re: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

 

Dear Rolf, 

Concerning Jephthah, my examination of the Hebrew text and several
commentators, classical and modern,  which was published in my article,
"Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?"  (Bible Review magazine, August 1991),
led me to the same conclusions that you express. Deuteronomy 12:30, 31
declares YHWH's abhorrence of the child-sacrificing practices of the
neighbors of the Hebrews.  Important clues in the Hebrew text of the
book of Judges point to a different resolution of the matter than child
sacrifice. 

Solomon Landers 

In a message dated 01/27/2002 12:53:53 PM Pacific Standard Time,
furuli at online.no writes: 


The acceptance of human sacrifices neither accords with the 
personality of YHWH as it is described in the Tanach, nor with the 
laws therein. Even a criminal who were hanged on a tree as a curse 
was first killed. I agree that there is no condemnation of human 
sacrifice in the account of Jephrah's daughter, but that is because 
such a sacrifice was not at stake - as I understand the account. 


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