Tag Archives: SBL

SBL Proposal #1

I’m preparing the following proposal to submit to the SBL annual meeting’s Israelite Religion in Its West Asian Environment program unit:

“My Name is In Him”: The Messenger of YHWH and Distributed Agency in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East

This paper examines the nature and function of the Hebrew Bible’s “messenger of YHWH,” focusing particularly on the blending of the messenger’s identity with that of YHWH. It will argue that the earliest appearances of the messenger in the biblical narratives arise from the textual interpolation of the word malak in the interest of obscuring YHWH’s physical presence and activity among the Israelites. These interpolations will be shown to have predated other narrative traditions within the Hebrew Bible, but as a result of cognitive mechanisms related to the conceptualization of divine agency and its communicability that had long been in place within Israelite and Assyro-Babylonian cult practices, later authors were equipped to seamlessly adopt the notion of the mediation of a semi-autonomous divine agent who could speak and act in the very name of the God of Israel. This distributable divine agency would become conceptualized in one influential iteration as YHWH’s “name,” which could indwell architecture as well as anthropomorphic agents,  extending the deity’s presence well beyond the conceptual confines of earlier tradition and cult. The implications of this understanding of the Israelite conceptualization of divine agency are far reaching.

Finkelstein’s 2013 The Forgotten Kingdom Available Online

Israel Finkelstein’s 2013 contribution to the SBL series Ancient Near East Monographs, The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel, is available in PDF format on SBL’s website. It’s definitely worth a close reading.

SBL Paper Proposals

I just submitted two proposals for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Here they are:

מלאך יהוה: The Textual Origins of God’s Divine Agent

Two theories are current regarding the earliest appearances of the mâlaḵ YHWH, in which his identity is not clearly distinguished from that of God. The more prominent theory is that the messenger is an aspect of God, a hypostasis, or some other extension of his identity. Alternatively, some scholars view the word mâlaḵ as a textual interpolation meant to obscure theologically problematic passages. There are later appearances of the mâlaḵ YHWH that are demonstrably original to their literary context, however, and even if the interpolation theory is correct, these appearances reflect the theological accommodation of the messenger as in some way identifiable with the God of Israel.

The present study will examine text-critical considerations that demonstrate the priority of the interpolation theory. It will then go on to examine the later biblical conceptualization of the relationship of the messenger to YHWH, emphasizing the concept of divine agency over and against that of divine identity. Textual, linguistic, and literary evidence will contribute to the conclusion that the messenger of YHWH was a secondary divine agent authorized to represent God and speak on his behalf in virtue of the indwelling of his name. The implications of this notion of communicable divine agency extend into Greco-Roman period Judaism and early Christianity.


YHWH and El: The Conceptual Blending of Their Divine Profiles

The point of departure for this paper is the theory that the patriarchal and exodus traditions represent originally independent traditions of Israel’s ethnogenesis. The most explicit—and perhaps original—attempt to link the two traditions and their concepts of God (Exod 6:3) acknowledges distinct divine names associated with the two traditions, namely YHWH and El Shaddai. Quite different theological profiles emerge from the disentangling of the traditions most closely connected with those names, but by the time of the composition of Exod 6:3, those profiles were fusing. Within the resulting composite view of Israel’s God, certain concepts associated with the earlier profiles were emphasized while others were marginalized. New concepts also developed out of the process and the socio-religious exigencies of the authors and editors. The complex and tensile conceptualization of YHWH found in the Hebrew Bible’s final form represents several centuries of conceptual blending and innovation against the backdrop of Israel’s scriptural heritage.

Scholars of early Israelite religion have dedicated a great deal of attention to the socio-religious impetuses for and results of the conflation of YHWH and El, but there is little that examines the cognitive processes that may have attended and influenced that conflation. This study seeks to fill that need. It will first isolate and schematize each tradition’s conceptualizations of its central deity, paying close attention to the centrality of the imagery to that deity’s representation. It will then evaluate the conceptual blending of the two schemas, highlighting the analogous and complementary concepts that facilitated that blending, as well as the conditions that contributed to the development of new divine conceptualizations. The fundamental goal is insight into why God was represented in the texts the way he was.

“Not Really the Study of Religion At All, But the Practice of It”

Jim Linville has some thoughts to share about SBL and its “unhealthy (and too ‘damn’ ‘holy) dalliances” with Bible thumpin’ organizations. See ‘em here. Plenty to chew on, especially the questions at the end regarding what biblical studies brings to the table as a discipline. Most people working in humanities have had to defend their craft multiple times in their lives, but biblical studies has the added benefit of piggybacking into cultural relevance on the back of religious conviction. Does it still have anything to offer if we take that away? Watch Fox News tonight or you’ll never know, and it could kill your family!

SBL Book Haul

I didn’t buy a lot of books this year.

I got Pongratz-Leisten’s edited volume the first day, even though I already have two of the articles and two others are early versions of books I own. The other articles looked interesting, and I’ve really enjoyed the volume so far. I hope to review it once I get on the other side of Christmas. Peppard’s book, The Son of God in the Roman World, is a great find, and I got it on the last day for 50% off. I bought the book primarily because I’m interested in the “Son of God” epithet in early Christianity, but it also has discussion in it that is helpful to my thesis, which is a bonus. Miller’s book, Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel, is one I picked up from Wipf & Stock. Having read Ong and a few other articles on orality and literacy, I was interested in seeing what contemporary scholarship had to say on the topic as it bore on early Israel. I haven’t cracked the book yet, but it looks promising. Lastly, I’ve always wanted a JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, and these were $15 at the little JPS booth.

Psalm 82 in the Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition

I’m making my paper from the LDS and the Bible section available a bit early. It is entitled “Psalm 82 in the Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition.” You can access the PDF here. The paper is in my own presentation format, which means there are minimal references and the paper is written in a less formal voice (contractions, etc.). I’m interested in your thoughts.

SBL Paper Handout – LDS and the Bible

This is an extended bibliography with links to complement the handout distributed during my SBL paper, Psalm 82 in the Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition (which will be available later).

Ackerman, James S. “An Exegetical Study of Psalm 82.” Th.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1966.

————-. “The Rabbinic Interpretation of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John.” Harvard Theological Review 59.2 (1966): 186–91.

Alexander, Philip. “The Targumim and Early Exegesis of ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6.” Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (1972): 60–71.

Barlow, Philip. “Unorthodox Orthodoxy: The Idea of Deification in Christian History.” Sunstone 8.5 (1983): 13–19.

Bokovoy, David. “‘Ye Really Are Gods’: A Response to Michael Heiser concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John.” FARMS Review 19.1 (2007): 267–313. (link)

————-. “שמעו והעידו בבית יעקב: Invoking the Council as Witnesses in Amos 3:13.” Journal of Biblical Literature 127.1 (2008): 37–51.

Budde, Karl. “Ps. 82,6f.” Journal of Biblical Literature 40 (1921): 39–42.

Burnett, Joel S. A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 183; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.

Chalmers, R. Scott. “Who is the Real El? A Reconstruction of the Prophet’s Polemic in Hosea 12:5a.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68.4 (2006): 611–30.

Cho, Sang Youl. Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Study of Their Nature and Roles. Deities and Angels of the Ancient World 2; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007.

Cole, Robert L. The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalm 73–89). JSOTSup 307; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Collins, John J. “Jewish Monotheism and Christian Theology.” Pages 81–96 in Aspects of Monotheism: How God is One. Edited by Hershel Shanks and Jack Meinhardt; Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1997.

————-. “Powers in Heaven: God, Gods, and Angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Pages 9–28 in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2000.

Collins, John J., and Adela Yarbro. King and Messiah as Son of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008.

Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Diez, Sebastian. “‘Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit den Göttern?’ Eine Forschungsgeschichte zu Ps 82.” Ph.D. dissertation, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, 2009. (link)

Dunn, James D. G. Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence. London: SPCK, 2010.

Eissfeldt, Otto. “El and Yahweh.” Journal of Semitic Studies 1.1 (1956): 1–30.

Emerton, James A. “The Interpretation of Ps lxxxii in John x.” Journal of Theological Studies 11 (1960): 329–32.

Frankel, David. “El as the Speaking Voice in Psalm 82:6–8.” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (2010): 2–24. (link)

Gieschen, Charles A. Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

Goulder, Michael D. The Psalms of Asaph and the Pentateuch. Studies in the Psalter, III. JSOTSup 233; Sheffield,: Sheffield Academic Press,1996.

————–. “Asaph’s History of Israel (Elohist Press, 725 BCE).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 65.1 (1995): 71–81.

Hanson, Anthony. “John’s Citation of Psalm LXXXII Reconsidered.” New Testament Studies 13 (1966): 363–67.

Hadley, Judith M. “The De-deification of Deities in Deuteronomy.” Pages 157–74 in The God of Israel. Robert P. Gordon, ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Handy, Lowell K. “Sounds, Words and Meanings in Psalm 82.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 47.1 (1990): 47–56.

Hannah, Darrell D. “Guardian Angels and Angelic National Patrons in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity.” Pages 413–35 in Angels: The Concept of Celestial Beings—Origins, Development and Reception. Edited by Friedrich V. Reiterer, Tobias Niklas, Karin Shöpflin; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007.

Heiser, Michael S. “Deuteronomy 32 and the Sons of God.” Bibliotheca Sacra 158.1 (2001): 52–74. (link)

————-. “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2004. (link)

————-. “Are Yahweh and El Distinct Deities in Deut. 32:8–9 and Psalm 82?” Hiphil 3 (2006): 3–9. (link)

————-. “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All: A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82.” FARMS Review 19.1 (2007): 221–66. (link)

————-. “Israel’s Divine Council, Mormonism, and Evangelicalism: Clarifying the Issues and Directions for Future Study.” FARMS Review 19.1 (2007): 315–23. (link)

————-. “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible.” Bulletin of Biblical Research 18.1 (2008): 1–30. (link)

————-. “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy.” Paper presented at the Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 13 May 2011, Spokane, WA. (link)

Himbaza, Innocent. “Dt 32,8, une correction tardive des scribes Essai d‘interprétation et de datation.” Biblica 83.4 (2002): 527–48. (link)

Hossfeld, Frank-Lothar, and Erich Zenger. “The So-Called Elohistic Psalter: A New Solution for an Old Problem.” Pages 35–51 in A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller. Edited by Brent A. Strawn and Nancy R. Bowen; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2003.

————-. Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51–100. Hermeneia Commentary Series; Minneapolis, Min.: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.

Hurtado, Larry. “New Testament Christology: A Critique of Bousset‘s Influence.” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 306–17.

————-. One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Second Edition. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2003.

————-. “Monotheism, Principal Angels, and the Background of Christology.” In the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2010.

Hwang, Won-Ha and J. G. van der Watt, “The Identity of the Recipients of the Fourth Gospel in the Light of the Purpose of the Gospel.” HTS Theological Studies/Teologiese Studies 63.2 (2007): 683–98. (link)

Jones, Christine. “The Psalms of Asaph: A Study of the Function of a Psalm Collection” (Ph.D. dissertation, Baylor University, 2009).

Joosten, Jan. “Une théologie de la septante? Réflexions méthodologiques sur l‘interpétation de la version grecque.” Revue de théologie et de philosophie 132.1 (2000): 31–46.

————-. “A Note on the Text of Deuteronomy xxxii 8.” Vetus Testamentum 57.4 (2007): 548–55.

Jüngling, Hans-Winfried. Der Tod der Götter: Eine Untersuchung zu Psalm 82. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1969.

Kaminsky, Joel, and Anne Stewart. “God of All the World: Universalism and Developing Monotheism in Isaiah 40–66.” Harvard Theological Review 99.2 (2006): 139–63.

Kee, Min Suc. “The Heavenly Council and Its Type-Scene.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31.3 (2007): 259–73.

Kharlamov, Vladimir. “Theosis in Patristic Thought.” Theology Today 65 (2008): 158–68. (link)

Kirk, Alan. “Social and Cultural Memory.” Pages 1–24 in Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity. Semeia 52; Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher, eds.; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.

Klink, Edward W., III, The Sheep of the Fold: The Audience and Origin of the Gospel of John. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 141; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Larson, Stan. “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text.” BYU Studies 18.2 (1978): 193–208.

MacDonald, Nathan. “Aniconism in the Old Testament.” Pages 20–37 in The God of Israel. Robert P. Gordon, ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., 2007.

————-. Deuteronomy and the Meaning of ‘Monotheism.’ Forschungen Zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Machinist, Peter. “How Gods Die, Biblically and Otherwise: A Problem of Cosmic Restructuring.” Pages 189–240 in Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism. Edited by Beate Pongratz-Leisten; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011.

McClellan, Daniel O. “What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 22 November 2010, Atlanta, GA. (link)

————-. “Monotheism—Still a Misused Word in Jewish Studies?” Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, 29 May 2011, Fredericton, New Brunswick. (link)

Meier, Samuel A. “Angel I מלאך.” Pages 81–90 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second Edition, Extensively Revised. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds.; Leiden: Brill, 1999.

————-. “Angel of Yahweh מלאך יהוה.” Pages 96–108 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second Edition, Extensively Revised. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds.; Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Mosser, Carl. “The Earliest Patristic Interpretations of Psalm 82, Jewish Antecedents, and the Origin of Christian Deification.” Journal of Theological Studies 56 (2005): 30–74.

Neusner, Jacob. “Conversation in Nauvoo about the Corporeality of God.” BYU Studies 36.1 (1996–97): 7–31. (link)

Neyrey, Jerome H. “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108.4 (1989): 647–63.

Nasuti, Harry P. Tradition History and the Psalms of Asaph. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1988.

Niehr, Herbert. “Götter oder Menschen—eine falsche Alternative. Bemerkungen zu Ps 82.” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 99.1 (1987): 94–98.

Nispel, Mark D. “Christian Deification and the Early Testimonia.” Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999): 289–304.

Oosting, Reinoud. “The Counsellors of the Lord in Isaiah 40–55: A Proposal to Understand their Role in the Literary Composition.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32.3 (2008): 353–82.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Parker, Simon B. “The Beginning of the Reign of God—Psalm 82 as Myth and Liturgy.” Revue Biblique 102.4 (1995): 532–59.

Paulsen, David L. “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses.” Harvard Theological Review 83.2 (1990): 105­–16.

Peterson, Daniel C. “‘Ye are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind.” Pages 516–53 in The Disciple as Scholar. Edited by Stephen D. Ricks, et al.; Provo: FARMS, 2000. (link)

Porter, Larry C. and Milton V. Backman, Jr. “Doctrine and the Temple in Nauvoo.” BYU Studies 32.1 (1992): 41–56. (link)

Prinsloo, W. S. “Psalm 82: Once Again, Gods or Men?” Biblica 76 (1995): 222–28.

Reimer, Andy M. “Rescuing the Fallen Angels: The Case of the Disappearing Angels at Qumran.” Dead Sea Discoveries 7.3 (2000): 334–53.

Rösel, Martin. “Theologie der Griechischen Bible zur Wiedergabe der Gottesaussagen im LXX-Pentateuch.” Vetus Testamentum 48.1 (1998): 49–62.

———–. “Towards a ‘Theology of the Septuagint.’” Pages 239–52 in Septuagint Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures. Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden, eds.; Septuagint and Cognate Studies 53; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.

Sanders, Paul. Provenance of Deuteronomy 32. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Schneider, Thomas. “The First Documented Occurrence of the God Yahweh? (Book of the Dead Princeton ‘Roll 5’).” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7.2 (2008): 113–20.

Scott, James M. Adoption as Sons of God. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992.

Segal, Alan F. Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Smith, Mark S. The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel‘s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

————-. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities of Early Israel. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002.

————-. God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

Strawn, Brent A. “The Poetics of Psalm 82: Three Notes (and a Plea for the Poetic).” Unpublished manuscript.

Stuckenbruck, Loren T. “‘Angels’ and ‘God’: Exploring the Limits of Early Jewish Monotheism.” Pages 45–70 in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism. Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E. S. North, eds.; London: T&T Clark, 2004.

Tsevat, Matitiahu. “God and the Gods in Assembly, an Interpretation of Psalm 82.” Hebrew Union College Annual 40/41 (1969–70): 123–37.

Tuschling, R. M. M. Angels and Orthodoxy: A Study in their Development in Syria and Palestine from the Qumran Texts to Ephram the Syrian. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 40; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.

Van Winkle, D. W. “The Relationship of the Nations to YHWH and to Israel in Isaiah 40–55.” Vetus Testamentum 35 (1985): 446–58.

Wernick, Nissim. “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings.” Ph.D. dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1968. (link)

Widtsoe, John A. A Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1915.

Zakovitch, Yair. “Psalm 82 and Biblical Exegesis.” Pages 213–28 in Sefer Moshe. The Moshe Weinfeld Jubilee Volume: Studies in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Qumran, and Post-Biblical Judaism. Edited by Chaim Cohen, Avi Hurvitz, and Shalom M. Paul; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004.

Zenger, Erich. “Psalm 82 im Kontext der Asaf-Sammlung: Religionsgeschichtliche Implikationen.” Pages 272–92 in Religionsgeschichte Israels. Gütersloh; Gütersloh: Kaiser, 1999.

Eine Forschungsgeschichte zu Ps 82

I recently ran across a very helpful resource while gathering research for my two SBL papers on Psalm 82. The text is a condensed version of a 2009 Würzburg PhD dissertation by Sebastian Diez entitled “‘Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit den Göttern’: Eine Forschungsgeschichte zu Ps 82.” It briefly summarizes over 170 years of the academic interpretation of Psalm 82. There is also a helpful chart at the end that breaks down the way each scholar has dated the psalm. Check it out!

Where Will Bibliobloggers Meet in San Francisco??

Bob Cargill has taken the reigns and wants to know when and where bibliobloggers would like to meet to consume mass quantities. He’s offered some possibilities here. Go check it out and let him know your thoughts.

On the International SBL

I will not be able to attend the international SBL this July, although I would really like to be there. At first it was just to have the opportunity to get back to England, see some more of London, and go see a bunch of people at Oxford. Then I found out about a program unit there called “The Concept of Monotheism: Should it Have a Future in Biblical Studies?” The masters thesis I’m currently writing is about the development of monotheism. Specifically, I’m going to argue that scholarship has too long used the 17th century term “monotheism” prescriptively in analyzing ancient Judaism and Christianity. Although I think its original meaning has little value today, I do think the term can have heuristic value. I propose a descriptive understanding of the term based on modern notions of what it means and then I identify the rise of the key elements of that understanding in antiquity. You can imagine how annoyed I am, then, about missing the opportunity to attend the following papers and speak with their authors:

Rüdiger Schmitt, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Monotheism and Polytheism in Nineteeth and Early Twentieth Century Scholarship and Its Impact on Modern Research

The concepts of monotheism and polytheism as utilized in modern research are deeply rooted in the evolutionist paradigm of late 19th and early 20th century scholarship, which postulated a more or less linear development of religion from “savagery through barbarism to civilization” (Lewis Henry Morgan), or from polytheism to (Christian) monotheism. The paper examines the theoretical foundations of the concepts of monotheism and polytheism, in particular in the Deutsche Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, and its still strong impact on modern scholarship. It will be demonstrated that the universalistic theories of the evolutionist paradigm with its dogmatically biased views and artificial oppositions (polytheism vs. monotheism, magic vs. religion, Naturreligion vs. Offenbarungsreligion, etc.) cannot meaningfully be applied by contemporary scholarship to ancient Israelite and ancient Near Eastern religions.

Konrad Schmid, Universität Zürich
The Monotheism of the Priestly Code 

“Monotheism” is not a biblical, but a deistic category from the 17th century CE and therefore may appear problematic for various reasons. Nevertheless, academic analysis of ancient texts allows and sometimes even forces scholars to use concepts that are originally alien to the objects of study (Dilthey, Gadamer, Danto). Therefore, it is not a priori illegitimate to use anachronistic terms like “monotheism” in biblical studies (the same is true for “religion”, “cult”, “history”, etc.). However, there is certainly a need for explanation, differentiation, and critical reflection. This paper seeks to carry out such an investigation of some of the major monotheistic arguments developed by the Priestly texts in the Pentateuch, aiming to understand their theological focus in their specific historical and sociological setting.

Saul M. Olyan, Brown University
Is Isaiah 40-55 Really “Monotheistic?”

Isaiah 40-55 is often understood as a work bearing witness clearly and unambiguously to an incipient monotheism, the monotheistic biblical work par excellence. Yet this paper will reconsider this particular understanding of Second Isaiah’s work in light of texts such as Isa 40:1-8; 40:25-26; and 51:9-11. If the evidence of Isaiah 40-55 is better explained without recourse to the concept of monotheism, why retain the concept to describe the ideology of Second Isaiah?

Thomas Römer, Université de Lausanne and Collège de France
Yhwh, the Goddess and Evil: Is “Monotheism” an Adequate Concept to Describe the Hebrew Bible’s Discourses About the God of Israel? 

During the Persian period traditional Judahite religion underwent important changes. Influential priestly and lay groups in the Babylonian Golah and in the province of Yehud wanted to transform the former national deity into the only god of Israel and of all nations. In order to do so, they had to address the problem caused by the disappearance of a female deity traditionally associated with Yhwh and if and how the only god, Israel’s savior, could be held responsible for the existence of evil forces. The Hebrew Bible contains different attempts to resolve these problems. Interestingly in both cases some “solutions” give rise to divine figures such as the personification Hokhma and the figure of Satan. In this respect it appears difficult to apply a philosophical concept of monotheism to the Hebrew Bible.

Diana Edelman, University of Sheffield
The Hebrew Bible and Emerging Monotheism

While texts that assert monotheism are very rare in the Hebrew Bible, they exist, and the collection as a whole can be characterized as a dialogue about emerging monotheism. The texts reflect a time of transition within the religious community that calls itself Israel, situated in various locations in the Persian and Hellenistic empires. A range of religious beliefs and understandings about the divine realm are included in the various books, which logically reflect the attitudes of the community members. Yet various strategies are used to instruct the audience about what should be considered “the norm” and to wean people away from Iron Age beliefs and practices to a system that ideally is monotheistic, with adapted rituals and practices that reinforce this view.

André Lemaire, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
Monotheism in Biblical Studies? In Favor of a Diachronic and Nuanced Approach 

That there are biblical texts that claim that there is only one god is obvious. Though one is tempted to interpret these “One-God” texts as monotheistic, they may also suggest monolatry. This last interpretation is particularly obvious in sentences containing the phrase “Yahweh the God of Israel”. There are therefore at least two concepts of divinity in biblical texts and, moreover, some “One-God” phrases apparently meant first monolatry but were read again later on as monotheism. To understand this diversity and the problem of the use of monotheism in biblical studies, a diachronic approach to the Bible and to Israelite religion is necessary.

Christian Frevel, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Beyond Monotheism: Implicit Exclusion, Exclusivity and Explicit Uniqueness

On the one hand, the concept of monotheism is burdened with trouble because of (a) its rootedness in the early modern era; (b) the implicit claim of systematization and the connection to a teleological development perspective; (c) an implicit apologetic truth claim; (d) diametrical opposition to polytheism; (e) the apparent unavoidable confusion of philosophical and historical approaches; and (f) the often reductionist shortcomings in the violence discourse. Thus, the concept seems inappropriate to be applied to the history of Israelite/Judahite religion. On the other hand, the term is essential in biblical studies, is most significant in the modern Western World, and has had an undisputed heuristic quality as a useful category of description for a long time. Thus, it also seems inappropriate to abandon it completely. Does this biased concept have a useful legacy or a unique explanatory potential with respect to the heterogeneous biblical evidence or the tension-filled relatedness of the biblical and historical record? This paper will opt for a reflected and differentiated use of the meta-language term “monotheism” by defining its boundaries, scope and direction of reference. Monotheism is understood as a relational concept which remains ambiguous without defining the frame of reference.

Rainer Albertz, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Developed and Underdeveloped Polytheism: The Evidence from the Levantine Onomastica

A close study of the theophoric elements in the Levantine onomastica of the first millennium B.C.E. reveals no opposition between monotheism and polytheism, but rather a distinction between different kinds of polytheism. The Hebrew, Ammonite and Moabite personal names show a restricted number of deities or divine epithets and seem to belong to an underdeveloped kind of polytheism, while the Aramean and Phoenician onomastica contain a considerably higher number. They obviously represent a more developed kind of polytheism. The difference seems to have to do less with beliefs of the individual family religions – they are very similar throughout the Levant – and more with the stage of development of the societies in question, and the extent of their integration in international commercial and political relations.

Philip Davies, University of Sheffield

There are two aspects to this question. One is whether there is such a concept as ‘monotheism’ in the Bible. Should we try for a more precise description of the various conceptions of deity? The other is whether our discipline should operate within a monotheistic paradigm and continue to talk about ‘God’ rather than the various divine names and identities that the text presents us with. In both cases I am inclined to answer that the concept should not have a future within Biblical Studies, though the matter is complicated by the fact that so many scholars operate within the institutional climate of a seminary in which the existence of ‘God’ is a cultural assumption. So the whole issue of whether we can as scholars talk about ‘God’ (or even worse, ‘G*d’ ) will be contested. At the moment, however, there is not much of a contest: we all easily slip into ‘God’-talk, and perhaps it is time some of us made an issue of it. Even atheists often talk about ‘not believing in God’ when they really mean they don’t believe that gods exist!

Nathan MacDonald, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
The End of the Monotheism Debate?

 The debate about monotheism amongst Old Testament scholars has operated within a particular intellectual paradigm where questions of the origins of monotheism are primary. Monographs devoted to the subject have a particular form. They begin with Yahwism’s origins in late Bronze Age polytheism, and make their way to the exilic breakthrough of “monotheism” by way of a faded Moses, a lionized YHWH-alone movement found particularly in Elijah and classical prophecy, and the Josianic reformation. Usually with Deutero-Isaiah the triumphal procession is brought to an apparently satisfactory end. It appears that monotheism is only important in its conception and gestation. This paper will draw on recent work to question assumptions about where the monotheism debate should end.

Bob Becking, Universiteit Utrecht
An Obsolete Anachronism: A Plea for Avoiding the Concept of Monotheism 

The concept ‘monotheism’ is a mere anachronism when it comes to describing the period in the history of religion in Ancient Israel when only one God was supposed to be venerated. The idea was coined first, as far as I can see, by the British Platonist Henry More around 1660. It had been part of the theistic discourse in systematic theology. This discourse alienates the image of God from the lived religion in Ancient Israel. In my opinion we should therefore abandon this term. I would propose to use the concept of monolatry for the period mentioned above.

Mark S. Smith, New York University
‘Terms Limits’: Should the Term ‘Monotheism’ be Retired?

Any question involving “should,” as in the title of this session, may suggest an intellectual issue (intellectually, is the term worth keeping?) and perhaps a moral problem as well (ethically, is it right to keep it?). Given the term’s relatively modern development and role in assertions of western cultural superiority, not to mention its tendency to distort the ancient data, it might seem best to drop the term. On the other hand, its familiarity outside of academic settings suggests keeping it as part of a larger academic effort to communicate to the wider society in a critical manner about religion. The term’s familiarity as well as its problems arguably provide a teaching moment about religion that should not be abandoned prematurely. Many terms in the study of religion, such as “religion,” are problematic, but the field continues to use them. Such terms help people enter into the discussion, but the discussion then provides an opportunity for analyzing the prejudices embedded in them and to go past the terms and their difficulties and into the cultural and religious history that informed them in the first place. This paper will explore these problems as well as the merits that the use of the term, monotheism, may arguably provide.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 246 other followers