Tag Archives: Yahweh

All the Gods of the Nations are Idols

Both 1 Chr 16:26 and Ps 96:5 state that “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but YHWH made the heavens” (כי כל-אלהי העמים אלילים ויהוה שמים עשה). This has long been appealed to in scholarship addressing monotheism in the Hebrew Bible as an example of the text’s denial of the existence of the gods of the nations. They are idols, not gods. I recently ran across this reading in James Anderson’s new book, Monotheism and Yahweh’s Appropriation of Baal:

It is to Psalm 96 that one must turn to find a more pointed affirmation of Yahweh’s uniqueness: ‘For great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but Yahweh made the heavens.’ (Ps. 96.4–5) There, the onslaught against idols is complete with a clear statement that the other gods are no gods. The claim that Yahweh is the only god has to be backed up by the claim that he created the heavens. This massive theological claim was a novelty.

The problem is that “idols” is a terrible translation that completely obscures the rhetorical force of the verse and facilitates the incorrect interpretation of these verses as denying the existence of other gods. The word translated “idols” is אלילים, but that word does not mean “idols,” it means “worthless things.” It is a play on words that works because if looks and sounds so similar to the Hebrew word אלהים. It would become a lexical substitute for “idol” similar to the way “abomination” (שקוץ) functions as a substitute for “god” in places like Exod 8:26; 1 Kgs 11:7; and 2 Kgs 23:13. The text is not saying the other gods are not gods, it’s saying they’re worthless and powerless—and here comes the rhetorical hook—but YHWH made the freakin’ heavens! That’s how much more he is to be revered over all those puny gods. This is the rhetorical force this text was supposed to have, but too many scholars are too concerned about finding monotheism in the Bible to pay close attention to that.

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YHWH is King: The Development of Divine Kingship in Ancient Israel

On the first day of the book exhibit at SBL I swung by the Brill booth quite early to gather up the complimentary journals and to look at new releases. I was exited to see Shawn Flynn’s new book, YHWH is King: The Development of Divine Kingship in Ancient Israel, was available a few months early, and then was annoyed to see someone had already reserved the one copy. The book is an edition of Flynn’s 2012 University of Toronto doctoral dissertation, When on High Yahweh Reigned: Translating Yahweh’s Kingship in Ancient Israel (PDF available at the link; the dissertation abstract is below). The book approaches the development of divine kingship in part through the lens of cultural translation (cf. Smith and Assmann), which sounds promising to me. Check it out, and if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

This dissertation identifies two distinct stages of YHWH’s kingship in ancient Israel: an earlier warrior king with a limited sphere of geographic influence, and a later, Judahite creator king with universal power and absolute rule. After identifying these stages, this dissertation proposes the historical context in which the change to YHWH’s kingship occurred. Articulating this change is informed by the anthropological method of cultural translation and studied via a suitable historical analogue: the change in Marduk’s kingship and the external pressures that lead to the expression of his universal kingship in the Enuma Elish. The Babylonian changes to Marduk’s kingship form a suitable analogy to articulate the changes to YHWH’s kingship in the Levant. Therefore Judahite scribes suppressed the early warrior vision of YHWH’s kingship and promoted a more sustainable vision of a creator and universal king in order to combat the increasing threat of Neo-Assyrian imperialism begun under the reign of Tiglath-pileser III.


Footnote on Yhwh’s Origins

I’m reading through Alberto R. W. Green’s book The Storm-God in the Ancient Near East, and I came across a rather lengthy footnote that brings together representative publications addressing the question of the origin and meaning of the name Yhwh, and the emergence of Yahwism. Anyone interested in the topics might find something helpful in the footnote, even though many of them are pretty early (obviously some of the items have already been cited in Green’s book, so their shorter citations appear):

H. O. Thompson, “Yahweh (Deity),” ABD 6.1011-13; de Moor, The Rise of Yahwism, esp. pp. 108-36; T.N.D. Mettinger, In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988); M. S. Smith, The Early History of God; G. W. Ahlström, Who Where the Israelites? (Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 1986), 59-60; E. A. Knauf, “Yahwe,” VT 34 (1984): 467-72; Z. Zevit, “A Chapter in the History of Israelite Personal Names,” BASOR 250 (1983): 1-16; Cooper and Pope, “Divine Name and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts,” 337-42; C. E. L’Heureuz, “Searching for the Origins of God,” in Traditions and Transformations: Turning Points in Biblical Faith (Frank Moore Cross Festschrift, ed. B. Halpern and J. D. Levenson; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1981), 33-44; idem. Rank among the Canaanite Gods, 49-70; M. Görg, “Jahwe: Ein Toponym? BN 1 (1976): 7-14; Cross, CMHE, 44-75 ;R de Vaux, “El et Baal, le Dieu des peres et Yahweh,” Ugaritica IV, 501-17; Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, 168-72; J. P. Hyatt, “Was Yahweh Originally a Creator Deity?” JBL 86 (1967): 369-77; W von Soden, “Yahwe, er ist, er erweist sich,” WO 3 (1944-66): 177-87; A. Finet, “Iawi-ila, roi de Talkayun,” Syria 41 (1964): 117-24; Hyatt, “The Origin of Mosaic Yahwism,” in The Teacher’s Yoke (Waco, Tx.: Baylor University Press, 1964), 85-93; J. Lindblom, “Noch einmal die Deutung des Jahhwe-Names in Ex. 3:14,” ASTI 3 (1964): 4-14; H. Kosmala, “The Name of God (YHWH and HU’),” ASTI 2 (1963): 103-20; O. Eissfeldt, “Jahwe der Gott der Väter,” TLZ 88 (1963): cols. 481-90; idem. “‘aheyah ‘asar ‘aheyah und ‘El ‘Olam,” KS 4.193-98; Cross, “Yahweh and the God of the Patriarchs,” HTR 55 (1962): 250-59; S. Mowinckel, “The Name of the God of Moses,” HUCA 32 (1961): 121-33; R. Abba, “The Divine Name Yahweh,” JBL 80 (1961): 320-28; D. N. Freedman, “The Name of the God of Moses,” JBL 79 (1960): 151-56; R. Meyer, “Der Gottesname Jahwe im Lichte der neuesten Forschung,” BZ 2 (1958): 26-53; M. Reisel, The Mysterious Name of Y.H.W.H. (assen: Van Gorcum, 1957); M. H. Segal, “El, Elohim, and Yahweh in the Bible,” JQE 46 (1955): 98-115; A. Murtonen, A Philological and Literary Treatise on the Old Testament Divine Names ‘l, ‘lwh, ‘lhym, and yhwh (StudOr 18; Helsinki: Sociatas orienstalis Fennica, 1952).


Yhwh, God of Edom

Goddess from Horvat Qitmit

I’m working on a portion of my thesis that discusses the earliest history of the Israelite deity Yhwh, and I think some of the material merits sharing. A lot of people may not be aware of the evidence that exists that Yhwh was originally a deity from the southwestern territory of Edom, on the west of the Arabah, a large valley running south from the Dead Sea down to the gulf of Aqabah. The evidence begins in the Hebrew Bible with a small number of early biblical texts that suggest Yhwh originated in that area:

Deut 33:2: Yhwh came from Sinai, and rose up unto us from Seir; he shined forth from mount Paran.

Judg 5:4–5: Yhwh, when you went out of Seir, when you marched forth from the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped; yea, the clouds dropped water. The mountains quaked before the presence of Yhwh, the one of Sinai; from before Yhwh, the God of Israel.

Hab 3:3: God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran.

Seir is understood to have been located on the east side of the Arabah, where the Edomites were originally settled. They would later expand into the west, displacing the Horites. Mount Paran is likely to be located near the wilderness of Paran, located west of the Arabah. No one knows the exact location of Mount Sinai, but guesses range from the south of the Sinai peninsula up and over the gulf of Aqabah into the east, Midianite territory. Given Moses stumbles upon the mountain while tending to his Midianite father-in-law’s sheep, it’s probably not too far from the eastern side of the Arabah. Teman is on the western edge of the Arabah.

Now, the exodus tradition has Yhwh first reveal himself in this territory to a man who just married into a Midianite priest’s family. That priest, Jethro/Reuel, calls upon Yhwh’s name and even presides over sacrifices offered to him (Exod 18:10–12). Could the Midianites and Edomites have worshipped Yhwh? The Bible warns the Israelites not to hate the Edomites, since “they are your brothers,” and there is no mention of an Edomite deity anywhere in the Hebrew Bible (nor can I find a reference to a uniquely Midianite deity). This stands in contrast to the polemic leveled against the patron deities of the other nations surrounding Israel, including to the south. It also stands in contrast to the approbation of violence perpetrated against the Edomites and Midianites elsewhere in the Bible. Phineas, for example, was championed for slaughtering an Israelite who brought a Midianite woman into the camp (Num 25:1–9), but Moses, who commanded the Israelites not mix with Midianites, was married to the daughter of a Midianite priest! This suggests the larger exodus tradition dates to a much later period than the tradition associated with Moses’ early family life, when the Midianites and Edomites were enemy peoples.

We also have non-biblical references to Yhwh’s location in Edomite territory. At Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, a way station west of the Arabah, an inscription was discovered that calls the Israelite deity “Yhwh of Teman.” Some Egyptian sources also link Yhwh with the territory. Two texts, one from the fourteenth century BCE and another from the thirteenth century BCE, mention “the land of the Shasu, namely Yhw’.” This casts the Tetragrammaton as a toponym associated with the Shasu, who were nomads (the meaning of “Shasu”) located in the region of Edom, according to other Egyptian texts. Scholars generally agree that the Shasu contributed stock, if not the primary line, to the subsequent Israelite ethnos. That ethnos is first attested at the end of the thirteenth century BCE in a victory stela erected by the Egyptian Merneptah. That stela describes “Israel” as a people, and likely locates them in the central hill country of northern Israel.

This may all help explain why no other culture of Canaan worshipped Yhwh. Baal, El, and Asherah seem to be deities acknowledged and revered by multiple ethnicities in Canaan, but Yhwh is Israel’s alone. They were indigenous, he was imported. The conflict that is constantly highlighted in the Bible between Yhwh and Baal is intriguing in light of the complete absence of any such conflict between Yhwh and the Canaanite patriarchal deity El. Judg 5:4–5 gives us clues. Yhwh’s power is described with imagery associated with the storm deity motif. The same can be said of numerous other texts. Psalm 29, for instance, refers repeatedly to thunder and lightning as expressions of Yhwh’s glory. Baal was also a storm deity, and while deities performing the same function within the pantheon could be tolerated across national borders (see chapter 1 here), in the same region, there would be room enough only for one. Baal and Yhwh were thus in constant competition for devotees of the local storm deity. Yhwh did not bring imagery associated with the patriarchal deity to Canaan, but rather he appropriated that imagery, along with the station, from the local Canaanite patriarchal deity. There was no need to combat his influence.

Thus, an Edomite deity from around the Arabah was brought north to the central highlands around the end of the thirteenth century. At some point a federation or coalition of tribes dedicated to this deity coalesced, perhaps as described in the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, and developed into a state.

Here are some scholarly articles for further reading, if you’re interested in the topic:

N. Amzallag, “Yahweh, the Canaanite God of Metallurgy?JSOT 33.4 (2009): 387-404.

J. Blenkinsopp, “The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis Revisited and the Origins of Judah,” JSOT 33.2 (2008): 131-53.

J. Kelley, “Toward a new synthesis of the god of Edom and Yahweh,” Antiguo Oriente: Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios de Historia del Antiguo Oriente 7 (2009).

T. Schneider, “The First Documented Occurrence of the God Yahweh? (Book of the Dead Princeton ‘Roll 5’),” JANER 7.2 (2007): 113-20.

N. Shupak, “The God from Teman and the Egyptian Sun God: A Reconsideration of Habakkuk 3:3-7,” JANES 28 (2001): 97-116.


UPenn Dissertation: The Splintered Divine

In gathering some recent research related to my thesis and some book reviews I’m doing, I just came across a thesis that looks fascinating. It’s from UPenn and was defended this year. The author is Spencer L. Allen and the title is “The Splintered Divine: A Study of Ištar, Baal, and Yahweh Divine Names and Divine Multiplicity in the Ancient Near East.” Here is the abstract:

This dissertation examines ancient conceptions of Near Eastern deities whose names consistently included geographic epithets, which functioned like last names. In Neo-Assyrian (ca. 900-630 B.C.E.) texts, Ištar-of-Nineveh and Ištar-of-Arbela are often included as divine witnesses or enforcers of curses along with several other deities whose names lack any geographic epithets. Similarly, in second-millennium Ugaritic texts, Baal-of-Ugarit and Baal-of-Aleppo received separate offerings in cultic rituals along with several other deities whose names lack geographic epithets, and in first-millennium Aramaic, Phoenician, and Punic texts, Baal-of-Ṣapān, Baal-of-Šamêm, and several other Baal-named deities are contrasted with each other in the same way that they are contrasted with other deities. The exploration of these Ištar and Baal divine names as first names suggests that the scribes of the ancient Near East considered each Ištar and Baal who was explicitly associated with a unique geographic last name to be a unique deity. In fact, the geographic epithets that follow the divine names should be viewed as an essential part of these deities’ names. Neo-Assyrian scribes thought of Ištar-of-Nineveh as distinct from Ištar-of-Arbela just as they thought of her as distinct from any other deity whose name was not Ištar. Likewise Ugaritic, Aramaic, Phoenician, and Punic scribes thought of Baal-of-Ṣapān as distinct from Baal-of-Aleppo and any other Baal-named deity just as they thought of him as distinct from any other deity whose name was not Baal. These analyses are pertinent to biblical studies because inscriptions from the eastern Sinai (ca. 800 B.C.E.) invoke a Yahweh-of-Samaria and a Yahweh-of-Teman in blessings. Unlike, the Ištar and Baal divine names that are contrasted with each other in the same texts, however, these two Yahweh divine names do not appear together in the same texts and were not necessarily contrasted with each other. For this reason, it could not be determined whether or not Israelites who encountered the Yahweh-named deities recognized them as distinct and independent deities. They might have known the names Yahweh-of-Samaria and Yahweh-of-Teman, but there is nothing in the inscriptional or biblical evidence to suggest that they necessarily thought of these as different Yahwehs.

The question of the relationship of local manifestations of Yahweh to the Shema is definitely an important one to my thesis, but I’m also interested in the way ideas about the transference of divine agency played out in Mesopotamian and Syro-Palestinian thought. This thesis looks to address both issues at length.


Hywel Clifford and Monotheism in Deutero-Isaiah

Since the middle of the twentieth century there have been a number of scholars who have argued against reading strict monotheism in the statements of exclusivity and incomparability in Deutero-Isaiah. Here’s a brief list for those interested:

P. de Boer, Second Isaiah’s Message (Leiden: Brill, 1956), 47.
James Barr, “The Problem of Israelite Monotheism,” Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society 17 (1957–58): 52–62.
Ulrich Mauser, “One God Alone: A Pillar of Biblical Theology,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 12.3 (1991), 259.
R.W.L. Moberly, “How Appropriate is ‘Monotheism’ as a Category for Biblical Interpretation?” in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E.S. North, eds.; London: T&T Clark, 2004), 229–31.
Michael Heiser, “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible,” Bulletin of Biblical Research 18.1 (2008): 9–15.

In the recently published proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar (here) an article by Hywel Clifford entitled “Deutero-Isaiah and Monotheism,” among other discussions, argues against these scholars. He divides this section of his article into two parts, one discussing Deutero-Isaiah’s rhetoric of incomparability (“there is no one like me”) and another discussing his rhetoric of exclusivity (“there is no one besides me”). In the first he points out what has been pointed out by many others, namely that this same rhetoric is found in numerous other ancient Near Eastern texts. The Great Cairo Hymn of Praise to Amun-Re, for instance, refers to Amun-Re as “Unique One, like whom among the gods?” “Chief of all the gods,” and “Sole One, who made all that exists” (COS 1.25.i and iii). Clifford recognizes this, but goes on to argue that the rhetoric is likely different in Deutero-Isaiah. He spends most of his time explaining what it means if the rhetoric is different, and his only real argument for this difference is an appeal to Rechenmacher, who argues that incomparability in Deutero-Isaiah must be equated with exclusivity. Clifford states, “there is a semantic equivalence between incomparability and exclusivity: the former, liturgical and emotional, serves the cognitive and theological assertions of the latter, so that Yahweh is utterly incomparable outright.” Essentially, Clifford is arguing that Deutero-Isaiah is appealing to traditional vernacular to say something entirely different from the traditional vernacular. He knows this is the case not because the author qualifies his use of the vernacular, but because the statements occur in the same chapters as statements of exlusivity, which he will later conclude are also to be read absolutely.

Addressing the second part, Clifford further divides his discussion into two main arguments against absolute exclusivity (he misses a third, in which MacDonald responds to Rechenmacher’s analysis of the particles of negation, showing that absolute negation is not in view): First, the rhetoric of exclusivity is also found in Isa 47:8, 10, where it is put in the mouth of personified Babylon. Obviously Babylon does not imagine herself to be the only city in existence. Second, we would expect ‘ên ’aḥer or ‘ên ‘ĕlōhîm ’ăḥērîm if this rhetoric were answering the question, “Do any other gods exist?” That wording is never used here, though. The question that seems to be answered is more along the lines of, “Who else can save us?”

On Babylon’s appeal to rhetoric of exclusivity in Isa 47:8, 10, Clifford argues, “the rhetoric attributed to Babylon is a tradition-bound parody of Yahweh’s words: she aspires to a god-like status when in reality she is as vulnerable to civic misfortune as any other. Babylon’s hubristic claims are thus no analogy for the gods as idols.” Babylon’s comments are not an “analogy for the gods as idols,” though, they are an analogy for Yhwh’s claims of exclusivity. Additionally, Deutero-Isaiah does not present the “daughter Chaldea” as an aspiring deity, or as the city’s divine patroness, he presents her as “the mistress of kingdoms” who hopes to “be mistress forever” (47:5‒7). Lastly, were this a “tradition-bound parody” rather than simply another manifestation of a literary convention, we would expect the same words to be used rather than merely similar words (‘epeś is not used by the author in Yhwh’s rhetoric of exclusivity).

In responding to arguments regarding the degree of exclusivity expressed by ‘ên ‘ôd, Clifford provides two arguments. First, he seems to claim that it would be “undesirable” to assume Deutero-Isaiah was unaware of concepts of ontological existence/non-existence, and so we must assume he was aware of the concepts. Since the notion was developed within Greek philosophical circles, I see no reason to avoid the conclusion that the ancient Hebrews had not formulated a rejection of the ontological existence of other deities. Second, he asserts that ’aḥer is indeed employed in reference to idols vis-à-vis Yhwh, pointing to Isa 42:8 and 48:11. In both scriptures, however, the statement is “my glory I give to no other.” In the former, this is followed by “nor my praise to idols,” and so Clifford must be asserting the formal equivalence of the parallelism in 42:8 and reading that parallel into 48:11. Even if this tenuous identification is allowed, there is no rejection of the existence of that “other,” since that would also require that “gods” and “idols” be absoltuely formal equivalents.

I’m not convinced by Clifford’s argument. I think it still make much more sense to read the statements of incomparability and exclusivity in Deutero-Isaiah as assertions of the impotence and irrelevance of the gods rather than there non-existence. Indeed, later literature made frequent and often complementary reference to the existence of other gods. Even if one doesn’t like the word “gods,” there are and always have been innumerable divine beings inhabiting the Judeo-Christian heavens. If Deutero-Isaiah does indeed reject the existence of all other divine beings, that position was immediately abandoned. This undermines the definition of monotheism that Clifford teases from Deutero-Isaiah: “The contrast in Isaiah 40-48 of the creator God versus gods as idols, which employs a spiritual/material polarity, encourage the inference that divinity is a class of being with Yahweh as its only member.”

Thoughts?


Storm God and Sun God

In the study of ancient Near Eastern religion, it’s widely recognized that deities which rule over other deities tend to assimilate the attributes and responsibilities of their subordinates. In early Israel Yhwh likely had a consort named Asherah, who was a mother goddess and fertility deity of some kind (the boundaries of these deities are blurry and overlap). By the end of the exile she seems to have been scrubbed clean from Judaism’s theological landscape, and Yhwh seems to have absorbed her attributes. There are a few different metaphorical references to Yhwh as a mother and even a midwife in exilic literature, for instance. This process likely began as far back as the monarchic period, though. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the asherim which were ostensibly taken from the temple and destroyed during Josiah’s reforms may have had no connection to Asherah by that time period, but rather may have been residual cultic representations of divine power over fertility and childbirth, now attributed to Yhwh.

Other ways this kind of assimilation seeps into Israelite literature is in Yhwh’s nature as both storm god and sun god. A fascinating article by Paul E. Dion (“YHWH as Storm-God and Sun-God: The Double Legacy of Egypt and Canaan as Reflected in Psalm 104,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 103.1 (1991): 43–71) points out elements of both storm-god imagery and sun-god imagery in Psalm 104. This psalm is famous for its relationship to the much older Hymn to Aten, but Dion argues there is a great deal of storm-god imagery as well. We know Yhwh was viewed as a storm deity very early in Israelite history. Yhwh is said to make the “clouds his chariot” (עבים רכובו – Ps 104:3) echoing Baal’s title as “Rider of the Clouds” (rkb ‘rpt – KTU 1.2 iv 8).  Psalm 29 shares very close affinities with praise given to Baal for his storm-god status.

Later in Israelite history Yhwh seems to be associated with solar imagery. Hezekiah’s seals on a number of jar handles discovered in and around Jerusalem have a scarab with a sun disk or a bird with a sun disc. This is closely related to Egyptian iconography, which makes sense given his relationship with Egypt at the time. It goes back further than this, though. In the 10th century Taanach cult stand Yhwh appears to be represented as a horse below a sun disc (I discuss these issue here). The popularity of these two divine attributes goes back even further in the wider ancient Near East. In the Amarna letters the pharaoh is sometimes addressed as “My Sun” (EA 45, 49, 60, 61), but is also addressed at least once as “My Storm-God” (EA 52). At Ugarit the king as addressed as “the Sun” as well (KTU 2.81.19, 30). Mark Smith suggests Byblos and Tyre represent the points of contacts for the ideologies of Egypt and Iron Age Syria-Palestine (p. 72 here). It seems Yhwh’s assimilation of these roles is not just a result of his perceived kingship over the gods, but may also be part of a campaign to make sure Yhwh is represented with all the popular imagery.


Cosmic Kingship and Political Kingship

In a paper I recently wrote on Psalm 82’s form and function, I very briefly touched upon a distinction between a deity’s political kingship and their cosmic kingship. I haven’t seen this discussed much, but it seems to me an important distinction to make. Yhwh, for instance, is understood exclusively as the deity of Israel well into the exile (Ps 79:1, 6; Amos 3:2; etc.), but he is asserted to be the High God and king well before (Ps 18:13; 29:10). Even the name יהוה אלהים suggests his creation of the gods (according to some).

Many scholars equate kingship over the gods and heaven/earth with political universalization (see, for instance, Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” 77), but I think this is a mistake. When Baal and Marduk accede to their divine kingships in the Baal Epic and Enuma Elish, respectively, there is no indication they do not remain national deities. Kemosh remained the national deity of Moab, and Yhwh the deity of Israel, even in the Mesha inscription, where Yhwh’s temple vessels are dragged before Kemosh. I would point out, too, that in the ancient Near Eastern pantheons there was nothing problematic about multiple “kings.” Baal’s accession to his “eternal kingship” (KTU 1.2.4.10) did not undue El’s sovereignty.

For this reason I see nothing in the Hebrew Bible that undermines the conclusion that Yhwh was politically universalized during the Exile as a means of rationalizing Israel’s deportation and protecting Israel’s relationship with Yhwh and her national identity. Yhwh’s kingship over the gods in pre-exilic periods does not complicate that theory.


The Historicity of Josiah’s Reforms

In reading through scholarship on early Israelite religion, it seems to be taken for granted that the biblical account of Josiah’s reforms is accurate. From the priests to the high places to the polytheistic idolatry, there seems to be little thought given to the rhetorical nature of the biblical records. One of the papers I wrote for an archaeology class at Oxford dealt with the archaeological support for Josiah’s Reforms. It responded to the following essay question:

THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF JOSIAH‘S REFORMS IN 2 KINGS 22–23 LISTS SEVERAL ELEMENTS OF FOLK RELIGION PREVALENT IN JUDAH AND ISRAEL IN THE PERIOD OF THE MONARCHY (C. 1000 TO 586 BCE). DISCUSS THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR RELIGION IN THIS TIME AND CONSIDER HOW THIS EVIDENCE AFFECTS THE TRADITIONAL VIEW OF THE CENTRALISATION OF THE OFFICIAL CULT IN THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM.

A conclusion I reached is that the account in 2 Kings 22–23 is more rhetorical than historical. I try to approach questions of early Israelite religion, insofar as they bear on Josiah’s reforms, with that in mind, and I’d like to see more of that in scholarship. The paper can be found here. As always, I am looking for ways to improve my work. Any feedback is appreciated.