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

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Mar 11 00:25:54 EST 2005

Uri Hurwitz wrote:
> "... There is no reason to suppose Egyptian 
> gods are involved rather than Baal or Yahweh, especially
> in light of the text. [in K. 'ajrud]"
>   The Egyptian god Bes is illustrated there. According to 
> P. Beck  three different illustrators are involved..

I don't think the paintings can be definitely attributed to
Bes.  I think guessing at what the paintings may be
is more speculative, especially in light of lack of
evidence of specific mentioned names of deities.  The
only dieties mentioned in writing are Baal, Asherah,
and Yahweh.  These could very well have been all
part of a single act of worship - Yahweh worship, as
suggested by the statements in Kings regarding 
Ahab, matched up against the statements in K.
Ajrud.  I will point out that another view besides Bes
is mentioned in the website Peter brought up: that
it represents Yahweh.  While I agree it seems that
Bes may have been an important diety in this time
in the region, I think concluding based on the
imagery alone that syncretism (except the Yahweh-
Baal-Asherah kind that was perhaps sanctioned by
the establishment) was involved here is too much. 
Anyway, could you cite Beck please so I can look
it up?

I agree I did not provide evidence to doubt Yahweh
as god of the Temple.  I think such evidence can be
adduced, however, but I do not want to get into that
on the list.  (And It would make this post probably 
longer still).

> " ...On the other hand, since starting with the
> Mt. Carmel episode we see a stark contrast between
> use of Yahwistic names and non-Yahwistic names"
>  Truly a peculiar statement, since foreign gods were
> never more than a remarkably small proportion of 
> Israelites theophoric names. As I suggested before, 
> J. Tigay wrote a fascinating study on this very subject.

I do intend to read it.  I even asked if you had more 
references on this subject.  However, I think you are 
reading my claim the wrong way.  I say, "We read that
Elijah performed some ceremony on Mt. Carmel to
prove Yahweh was the 'real' god.  We may suggest that
this points to some type of mass conversion to
Yahweh at this time.  Is there reason to believe that
there was such a mass conversion?"  And the
answer relies on the Yahwistic names of the royalty
starting at this time and totally absent (from royalty)
previously.  Whether or not there was Yahweh
worship beforehand, we may conclude that afterwards
there was much greater "peer pressure" towards 
Yahweh worship.  This claim has nothing to do
with previous beliefs but only about a suggestion
for mass conversion at this time to Yahweh, and the
use of a different but probably very dependable facet 
of the book of Kings (royal names) to show 
consistency with this claim.

> "...The Mesha stele is ambiguous. Viewed in light
> of the book of Kings, one may suggest worship of
> Yahweh alone. "    
>     On can state the above not 'in the lightof the book 
> of Kings', but simply on what the stele states.

No.  The Mesha stele references utensils/vessels of
Yahweh.  It does not say anything about other gods.
Just as an example, if Asherah was a cult object 
associated with Yahweh, then "utensils of Yahweh" 
may include Asherah.

> "..Viewed in light of contemporaneous inscriptions, one
> may suggest that the Temple [mentioned in Mesha stele]
> was to Yahweh, but Baal and Asherah may have 
> been present there as well."
>   Another highly speculative statement without any 
> grounding in fact, since ANE temples tended to be 
> dedicated to single deities.

Again, Asherah may very well have been a cult object
of Yahweh.  Baal may have been an epithet of Yahweh.
That does not mean that the later religion approved of
such cult objects/epithets.  Such an interpretation
(Baal = epithet, Asherah = cult object) would match
the references to them in K. Ajrud and yet is entirely
consistent with this being officially sanctioned by
the establishment at this early time.  Besides, the
Mesha stele does not refer to a Temple, but does 
suggest the god to be asscoiated with Israel in Ahab's
time is Yahweh, unlike the book of Kings would have
us believe.  Because Peter apparently assumed I was
referring to the Jerusalem Temple, I was not; I was
referring to the apparent temple in Nebo, although the
stele does not actually mention a temple there.

Peter Kirk wrote:

> >The identification of the site as a trading center seems
> >to me odd because I do not know what merchants or
> >an innkeeper or any type of person who would operate
> >such a trading center would have had to do with such
> >writing. ...
> >
> This seems to be based on some presuppositions about 
> who was likely to have been literate, in a society for which 
> we have no other evidence of literacy. But (from my limited 
> understanding) literacy in Mesopotamia was very much an 
> activity of traders, and a high proportion of surviving
> tablets are records of trading transactions. 

First, it seems to me some of these transactions were
handled by separate officials from the merchants.  In
other words, there would be a merchant, and there
would be an accountant as well.  I have very very
limited exposure to such transactions, but as an
example, consider a persepolis tablet: "20 sheep,
entrusted to Harbezza, Parnaka received for rations,
for a period of 10 days, in the tenth month, 18th year,
Karkis wrote. Mannunda communicated the message."
(PF 654), of which there are several others like it, with
a very similar statement at the end.  This would seem
to imply that for the purposes of accounting, there was
an accountant, and a messenger.  In general, I find
the idea of an accountant very illuminating, since I
think the Hebrew word "sopher" (scribe) might be
more accurately translated as "accountant."  This
would place the official at the task of counting (root
s-p-r) and writing accounts (numeric reports) but
also of possibly handling accounts of history.  These
two hats of the sopher are seen nicely in 2 Ki 12:7-17,
22:1-11.  In the second example, specifically, Shaphan
is sent for accounting purposes (22:3-4) but ends up
taking up the task of a scribe (22:10).  The earlier
account provides further evidence that the role of
the "scribe" was one that involved accounting.  So
while merchants' transactions may have been
recorded, it was not necessarily their role to do
the accounting and recording.  Even given that, though,
my intent above was not that merchants couldn't
read or write, because I believe even if they did not
do the accounting, they still had limited knowledge
of literacy.  Rather, "such writing", that is, religious
one, is unlikely to have been useful or interesting
to them to the point that it would decorate their
"trading center."  Why not a map of important
trade cities instead?  Perhaps it is possible to
compare mosaics in various buildings in the first
centuries CE.  Do we have mosaics of religious
nature in non-religious buildings (that is, outside
of synagogues or churches)?  In any case, I can
accept that writing was used by military leaders,
certain priests, and certain officials of government,
as well as certain merchants who would have used
it for their activities, although being merchants
does not mean they weren't connected with the
royal establishment.  They probably were intimately
involved with that establishment in their role as
merchants.  So a trading center for merchants does
not mean this was an apostate site opposed to the
royal establishment and perhaps even points to the
royal establishment's influence on the site.

> I would hold that small inconsistencies in Kings suggest 
> that the author was faithfully (although maybe selectively) 
> reproducing sources and putting a theological spin on 
> them

How can he be reproducing faithfully if the reproduction is
selective and also twisted to match the author's theological
aim.  Such inconsistencies may be useful because they
may show the author is working with sources that did not
match his outlook and yet is including details from these
sources because he thinks he can make them match his
outlook while perhaps adding more realism.  But they
are not "faithful" reproductions  (I give an example of
what I mean by "twisted" in the Asherah example below)

My problem is (to take David as an example), that we
cannot trust the book of Kings when it tells us that King
David worshipped Yahweh.  This is because obviously,
a major goal of the book of Kings, a theological aim, is
to show how because David worshipped Yahweh
perfectly, his royal line was preserved.  Therefore, if
the book of Kings tells us that David worshipped
Yahweh, it is overlapping his theological aim.  We
cannot distinguish between "editorial comment" and
"historical fact."  So, any information the book of
Kings may give to the manner of perfection of
Yahweh worship by King David or Yahweh worship
at all is useless as historical information.  If we strip
the verses you suggest from 1 Ki 15:9-16, then it
seems that the only historical information left as to
the religion of Asa is that "the house of Yahweh" is
mentioned in 1 Ki 15, and yet this could be an
anachronism, or worse, if the name of a different
diety was mentioned as the Temple diety in the
supposed source, the author of Kings may have
modified it as it clearly conlicts with his theological

Specifically, if we compare 1 Ki 15:13 with 2 Ki 23:6
we find we cannot be sure that any claim is made
about Asa except that Josiah was doing exactly
what his perfect forefathers did.  We may conclude
that there was an Asherah in the Temple in Josiah's
time and perhaps also in Asa's time.  But if so, we 
don't know what Asa did with the Asherah, because 
if he did anything else, it is quite possible the author
of Kings removed the original actions attributed to 
Asa by his apparent source and replaced them with
a copy of Josiah's actions to suit his own theological
agenda (as stated in 2 Ki 23:25, in this case).

> >...  My final conclusion is not: J
> >lived at Kuntillet Ajrud, but rather:  There is
> >no reason that Kuntillet Ajrud should be
> >viewed in opposition to the established
> >religion of the time.
> >
> OK, but I would also say that the opposite, that there
> is no reason that Kuntillet Ajrud should be assumed to 
> represent the established religion of the time. There is
>  simply insufficient evidence either way.

No.  I think there is some evidence.  The fact that the
earliest inscriptions referring to Yahweh include a 
reference to Asherah, and the fact that apparently early 
sources (possibly J, possibly the sources for the book of
Kings) do seem to imply royal sanction of Asherah
worship with Yahweh, suggests there is some evidence
that Yahweh worship with Asherah was sanctioned by
the establishment in earlier times such as the 9th
century BCE.  I consider this a little evidence, but
still some evidence, as opposed to no evidence for
the contrary claim.

Yitzhak Sapir

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