[b-hebrew] Fwd: Re: YHWH

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Jul 28 22:50:09 EDT 2005

Sujata wrote:
> Yigal, Yitzhak and others,

> Gen 35:4
> So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and
> the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under
> the oak at Shechem.
> ----It is obvious these gods were physical things that
> can be given - i.e., idols

Looking at each group of verses separately, I will point 
out that these verses do refer to something that can be
given and buried, but do not necessarily assume that
because they are physical, they are any less divine.
Rather, the idea of "burial" is generally a religous rite
that is applied to things that are very real.  Also, it does
not say oak [ )allon ] but terebinth [ )elah ].  Note that
terebinth (and perhaps also oak) appears to be related to 
the root )-L-H, ie, divine.  The root used for burial here is
+mn as opposed to qbr.  This is used in Exodus 2:12 to
refer to a human being buried (the Egyptian) but there it
is probably used in the negative sense.  That may simply
be because +mn is generally used for objects and so,
when used for a human, it is negative.  In any case, the
idea that idols were buried under a sacred tree appears to
be a religious rite more than anything else, and seems to
suggest the story does view other gods as real and not
fake entities.  Also, it does not mean that all ")elohei
nekar" were physical.  The verse said "And they gave
to Jacob all the foreign gods that they held in their 
hands".  There could very well be other ")elohei nekar"
that they did not hold because they were not physical.

> Ex 20:23

You mean, Exodus 20:2 - 3?

> Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make
> for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
> ---these gods are handmade, of metals

That is a poor translation.  A more accurate translation (of 2-3)
is: "You shall have no other gods alongside me.  Do not make
a pesel, or any tmunah, of the heavens above and of the earth
below and of the waters below the earth, don't bow to them nor
serve them for I, Yahweh your God, is a Jealous God."

Note that there is no "make" in the first sentence nor "silver" or
"gold" in the second.  This would appear to imply that the
prohibition of having other gods is one thing, and refers to 
personal beliefs, while the prohibition of making idols is
another and refers to making representations.  One could
have other gods and not have idols and still transgress.  And no
matter how the verse is taken, there is no statement here that
those other gods are any less real.  In fact, the word "jealous"
appears to suggest that those gods are real entities comparable
to God, himself.

> Ex 23:24
> Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or
> follow their practices. You must demolish them and
> break their sacred stones to pieces.
> ---these gods could be broken to pieces

First, it is the sacred stones that could be broken into
pieces.  However, "demolish" is used in reference to
"their gods" and this is a strong indication that this
verse (of the three you have cited) that the "foreign 
gods" are physical.  It still does not mean, however,
that the verse views them as fake being or non-existent
beings.  Perhaps representations of other gods must
be demolished to lessen the control those other gods
had over the land and give the land from the power of
those gods to the power of Yahweh.  Here, since there
are no special prior feelings towards those other gods
they could destroy them and had no need to perform a
religious rite like burial.

> It is obvious then that these other gods referred to
> in Gen and Ex are idols and man-made stuff.

Like I said, these are mostly explanations of how to
act upon man-made objects, and in some cases appears
to allow for "elohei nekar" to include other non-man
made objects. It takes additional work to argue that
these objects represent fake beings, and just because,
say, Psalm 115 says it, does not mean other verses in
the Bible necessarily were written with the same idea in

Be well,
Yitzhak Sapir

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