The origins of EL and Yahweh

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child sacrifice to Canaanite gods

The Stoic philosophers debated the nature of God without the “authority” of a scared book, so for them the idea of God was just that–an idea (or evolutionary meme) that was ever-changing and open … [keep reading]

unspy‘s insight:

I have attached a video to the end of this post, I think you find it very informative. But like I always say, FAITH is real, even if the object of faith most people imagine is false, in error, or incomplete. Questions and doubt don’t destroy faith, actually they make real faith living and active.

The Biblical word for God is “EL” and that word is not Jewish in origin, but rather it traces back to older Levant (Canaanite) religion. The patriarch Abraham is known as the father of the world’s three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For centuries his faithfulness to one god (at a time when people worshiped many deities) has been regarded as a monumental break with the society around him. However, an archaeological discovery known as the Ugaritic texts is opening a window onto a different cultural context for Abraham’s story and it is turning most assumptions about “god” on their head.

According to the Hebrew scripture, Abraham first encounters EL (or rather a priest of EL Elyon) in the city of Jerusalem, which was known in antiquity as Salem. In the Book of Genesis, Abraham rescues his kidnapped nephew, Lot, from the Mesopotamians, and on returning from battle he meets Melchizedek, king of Salem, who gives him bread and wine and blesses him in the name of El Elyon (“God Most High”). Until the Ugaritic texts were decoded, it was just assumed this was the same God to whom Christian pray–but was it? Or was this EL the Canaanite ”Father of gods” and YHWH one of his many sons who the Jews would later claim as their own nationalistic deity?

Question: Why did Abraham worship EL? Was it because Melchizedek sold him on the idea that this was the “God Most High” that he was seeking? It turns out that that while EL was called the “creator god” it was believed this “father of all gods” had as many 52 sons, Baal and Dagon being chief among them. Then were were the lesser gods, Mot, Ashtar, Astarte, Lotan, Melqart, Resheph, and others. Most shocking of all is the name Yahweh. This son of El does more than make an appearance in the Hebrew scriptures, he become the central character. However, 100 years before Abraham was born EL and Yahweh were written about by pantheist and preserved in clay at Ugarit.

My Basic Premise: The idea of God is an evolutionary idea–the supreme meme. One which has had a cultural progression from polytheism to monolarity in various places throughout human history, from Kemet (Egypt) to Levant (Canaan). The religion of ancient Israel is a product of this same process. They borrowed not only their neighbor’s architecture but the name of their god as well, then the nature of this tribal deity changed over time.

All this was mere speculation on the part of a few “conspiracy theorists” until eighty years ago. Before that, and even to this day, the vast majority of Christians look to the Hebrew scripture as their authority and thus their single source of faith. Even those who uphold the authoritativeness of “Holy Writ” will admit polytheism in Israelite history had a long run until under Hezekiah and then later Josiah destroyed the temples, idols and altars of other gods. Josiah’s reign is one of monolarity pushing towards monotheism which doesn’t fully take root until after the Jewish exile.

To summarize: There is much evidence that the Israelites were originally polytheistic and Yahweh was only one of the gods in their pantheon, but being their national god he became the prominent figure and eventually the only one to survive the God meme developed. There is much to talk about here, and I welcome discussion. Again, please post a reply and bring in some of your own sources as well to enrich the topic.

 

Learn more:
Understanding the Hebrew word most often translated as “God” 

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