[b-hebrew] Yahwism (was: their altar)

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Mar 8 14:13:16 EST 2005

Peter Kirk wrote:
> On 08/03/2005 08:48, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> I accept that the KKK was perhaps too extreme a scenario. 
> But the point was the simple one, that it is very dangerous 
> to assume that any single example, chosen effectively at 
> random, is typical of a whole society. And all the more so 
> when the example comes from the geographical fringes.
> For a real parallel, consider Aramaic of the 5th century BC, 
> the Persian period. It is well known that this language was 
> widely written. But the only extensive surviving materials are 
> the Elephantine letters, written by Jews living in Aswan, on 
> the very fringes of the Persian empire (and presumably 
> preserved because of the exceptionally dry climate of Upper
> Egypt). If we were to take these letters as typical of Persian 
> religion (and if we rejected all accounts of Persian religion 
> not proven to be contemporary e.g. in the Bible and 
> Herodotus), we would conclude that the Persians practised 
> a form of Judaism. I doubt if anyone accepts this logic. But 
> it seems to be the same logic as you are using concerning 
> the fringe settlement of Kuntillet Ajrud.

Even this case is problematic.  Aramaic inscriptions are also
known from Persepolis and are currently published as 
"Ritual Texts."  Non-Aramaic inscriptions, such as the
Behistun Inscription, provide further evidence of the religion
of the Persian empire.  These may be the only remnants left
on papyrus, but there is enough non-papyrus evidence to be
able to construct a picture of Persian religion that has
nothing in common with the Bible.  Furthermore, in this case,
it is clear from the petitions to Jerusalem, that these people
were not exactly in favor by the Jerusalem establishment, so
we even have internal evidence that this site cannot be

> >... In that case, yes, we may suggest
> >that Kuntillet Ajrud was a pilgrim site for non-Israelites. ...
> I didn't suggest a pilgrim site. What I had in mind was a 
> trading centre where trade routes met, and where a non-
> typical group of international travellers may have set up 
> shrines nominally to their home deities but also have 
> mixed in elements from the different religions they had 
> come across during their travels. In other words, classic
>  syncretism.

What evidence do you have that it was a trading center? 
What evidence is there of international trade routes crossing
this point?  Why would only relics consistent with Yahweh 
worship be preserved?  That is, you are presenting a case
for which I can see no evidence that supports it.

> >... It may even be the most likely scenario, given your goals. ...
> >
> What do you mean? What goals do you think that I have? 
> My only goals here are to find the truth, and to oppose 
> hypotheses for which there is insufficient evidence, 
> especially when they are presented as unqualified
> assertions and so inevitably confuse some, especially any 
> beginners who may be on this list.

I view myself as a beginner :-)

Well, given the examples that you brought up, being
unlikely and apparently concocted to fit the evidence in
such a way that preserves a traditional (Deuteronomistic?)
view of Yahweh, I felt the purpose was perhaps not the 

Given that we are agreed on the goals, then, I proceed
as follows (taking no position on what Asherah means):

I ask, "Is there evidence that Yahweh worship included
Asherah in the late 9th century?"  The answer is yes,
and Kuntillet Ajrud is the example.

Now I ask, "Is there evidence that Yahweh worship did
not include Asherah in the late 9th century?"  The
answer is no.  But I don't like to proceed from silence,
so I ask, "Is there evidence that Yahweh worship which
included Asherah was widespread in the late 9th 
century?"  This answer can be answered with some
hesitation as "yes", because not only Kuntillet Ajrud,
but also Khirbet el-Qom and many denounciations of
Asherah by the Deuteronomist seem to support that
Yahweh worship with Asherah was more than just an
isolated border type activity.  Furthermore, we must
remember we have no evidence for non Asherah
worship at this early time.

Now I ask, "Is there evidence that this was done as
opposed to the establishment view?"  Well, I know
the establishment view in the Deuteronomist time.
That could be dated anywhere from Hezekiah to
Josiah to later.  But in any of these cases it tells
me nothing of the establishment view during the 
late 9th century BCE.  Again, silence, which I don't
like.  So I try to rephrase the opposing question
to build some positive evidence for the contrary case.

I ask, "Is there evidence that Yahweh worship as
represented in Kuntillet Ajrud was done in line with
the establishment view?"  This is where the
comparison to J becomes useful.  J is an
independently identified document for which various
arguments have been given that convinced scholars
for many years it was written during the early
Monarchic period in the South.  There is also some
reason to believe that the Deuteronomist viewed J
as authoritative, because he probably quotes him.  
This would mean that the establishment of 
Deuteronomist time was a heir to the establishment 
view of J's time.   So the comparison to J provides
some reason to believe that Kuntillet Ajrud was not
simply an apostate border site.  Even if Kuntillet
Ajrud is not the home of J, the fact that J may not
disapprove of things that were done at Kuntillet
Ajrud suggests that perhaps they come from the
same theological mindset regarding Yahweh.

Arguing that Kuntillet Ajrud was not representative
of "real" Yahweh worship is just as much a claim as
arguing that Kuntillet Ajrud was representative of
"real" Yahweh worship.  The difference is, that an
historical analysis that pays attention to the differences
in time periods, apparently shows no reason to
accept the first proposition while bringing up a little
reason to accept the second.  This is where I ask,
"Is there any reason at all to believe that Kuntillet
Ajrud is 'apostate'?"  Just pointing to lack of
evidence is not enough, since there is some
evidence to the contrary.  And simply accepting
the Deuteronomistic claims (that "real" Yahweh 
worship was Asherah-less from King David 
onwards) is not very realistic.

> >Peter Kirk wrote:
> >
> >>Not necessarily, only that very little written material
> >>has survived.
> >
> >For what it's worth, that is what I meant by "writing at all
> >is very rare."  Nevertheless, do you have some way to
> >explain why very little survived prior to this period and
> >quite a lot (relatively) survives afterwards? ...
> Yes. Writing at this period was mostly on perishable materials. 

It's not so simple.  How come we also have so few bullae and
seals from this period, then?  If we argue that writing was not
as widespread, hence a lesser need of authentication, we
still conclude that writing was not as widespread in the 10th-
9th centuries than in the 8th-7th.

> OK, I understand that you don't need other documents for 
> the limited aim of comparing Kuntillet Ajrud with J, although
> you do for determining whether this is typical. But this 
> comparison does require that J is a meaningful document. 
> At least, if J is in fact a random selection from the Torah, a 
> comparison with Kuntillet Ajrud (itself a random survivor
> from Israelite religion of the period) is meaningless. And if, 
> as I in fact hold, J is a selection from the Torah which is 
> not random but selected for its religious outlook, then any 
> parallel with Kuntillet Ajrud tells us more about Wellhausen 
> and co's presuppositions than about ancient religion.

What does such a parallel show? In my opinion, if a site
selected at random appears to match the beliefs of the
independently conceived "J", it should give you a hard
time explaining why the independently conceived "J"
has no basis in reality.  "Just a coincidence" is not very
convincing, since logical arguments were used to
separate J from amongst the verses of the Torah.

Yitzhak Sapir

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