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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue Mar 8 18:47:40 EST 2005

On 08/03/2005 19:13, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

> ...
>>>... 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? ...

See for example the map of trade routes in 
http://nabataea.net/eborder.html, showing KA close to a junction of 
trade routes, and 

>... Why would only relics consistent with Yahweh 
>worship be preserved? ...

Not true. The latter article above shows representations of Egyptian 

>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.

Agreed - if we don't dispute the date.

>Now I ask, "Is there evidence that Yahweh worship did
>not include Asherah in the late 9th century?"  The
>answer is no. ...

The answer here is in fact yes (at least if we take this as "...not 
always and everywhere include..."), because we have historical records 
in the books of Kings, as well as the Mesha stela. The evidence from 
Kings needs to be examined critically, but it is nevertheless evidence.


>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. ...

Not necessarily nothing. The evidence it gives cannot be relied on in 
detail, but it is evidence. Your reference to J as a coherent document 
shows that you accept that in principle information about earlier times 
may be included in a document heavily redacted at a later time. So why 
not apply this same principle to Kings and accept that it includes 
historical information, even if there is no way that we can be sure now 
of what is historical and what is not?

>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. ...

I accept that J was identified independently of the discoveries at KA. 
But I do not accept that it was correctly identified - my mind is open 
on this point. Those who identified J did so on the basis of their own 
hypotheses of the development of Israelite religion, according to which 
they for example assigned material to J/E or to P (or D) depending on 
whether it fitted with their picture of religious devlopment. This tends 
to imply that the picture of religion reflected in the supposed J tells 
us more about their hypotheses than about anything in the real world. 
While one might argue that the KA finds support some aspects of those 
hypotheses, other aspects of them have been thoroughly discredited.

>... 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. ...

Hypothesis (D quoting J implies that D was heir to J) on hypothesis (D 
quotes J) on hypothesis (the existence of J), none of which have any 
secure basis.

>...  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.

Or rather than Wellhausen et all had 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. ...

I don't make any definite negative claims, only that we cannot safely 
assume that KA was representative. We just don't know. The best you have 
come up with is a trace of evidence that it might not have been totally 

>...  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.

The D claims are not certain, I agree, but nevertheless they are 
admissible evidence in favour of the hypothesis, and at least as strong 
as the very weak evidence you present the other way. So, sorry to repeat 
myself, but we have to accept that we just don't know how KA relates to 
the rest of Israelite religion, and so we cannot treat it as representative.

> ...
>>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.

Perhaps they used seals etc made of some perishable material e.g. wood? 
Or just signatures? Who knows?

> ...
>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.

I accept that you would have a point if there was a clearly demonstrable 
parallel between J and KA. But the parallel is so weak and general as to 
be meaningless. As far as I can tell it is limited to the failure of J 
to condemn Asherah worship (an incredibly weak argument from silence 
when we remember that only fragments of J have survived) and the links 
of both of them (but highly speculatively in the case of J) to both the 
far south and to the northern kingdom. Such links are quite general 
enough to be coincidental.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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