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Yahweh - the inconvenient truth: Part 2

Updated on November 22, 2016

El - The original God of Israel

Israel means, “May El persevere”. El was seen as the chief god in the formative years of Israel’s religious practices. The narratives describe El as a deity to whom early patriarchal shrines and altars were built. There are many instances in the Bible that prove this. Genesis 14:17-19 is one example.

After Abram had defeated Kedorlaomer and rescued his nephew, Lot, he returned to meet the King of Sodom and King of Salem, Melchizedek, in the Valley of Shaveh. Verse 18-22:

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

20 And praise be to God Most High,

who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth,

We see here that King Melchizedek is acknowledging Abram’s god as his own. They are worshiping the same god. I have previously mentioned that El is referred to as the Most High. Genesis does not give us any explanation how Melchizedek, also a Canaanite priest of El Elyon, would know about Abram’s god living in Canaan if one believes they are referring to two different gods. Abram gave his first recorded title to Melchizedek’s god, El. It would seem strange that Abram would honour a god but his own.

Another example is Genesis 33:20

“There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.”

"Jacob bought a piece of land that he had bought from one of the sons of Hamor and called the altar erected as El Elohe Israel in Shechem, a Canaanite city. El was the deity worshipped in Shechem (Judges 9:46).

On hearing this, the citizens in the tower of Shechem went into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith."

This El Berith, meaning “God of the Covenant” was the deity worshiped by the people of Shechem in Bethel, which was a border city in the Hebrew Bible as being located between Benjamin and Ephraim named by Jacob. Bethel means “House of God”.

El Berith of Bethel is the same god of the Canaanites shared by the Hebrews. Genesis 21:13 says:

"I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'"

Finally, the temple of Bethel was considered one of the official sanctuaries of the state of Israel.

Yahweh the epithet of El

Christians, and Jews alike, believe that Yahweh and El are one and the same. However, there is evidence to suggest that they were two different gods (Deuteronomy 32:7) and that Yahweh eventually absorbed the characteristics of El and replaced El as the God of Israel. He usurped the imagery and the cultic centres of the god El. The assimilation even changed the linguistic meanings of the name El, now making it just a generic god instead of a title. This would make it easier to see Yahweh and El as interchangeable. The etymology of the word Yahweh, yhwh, is debatable but it is seen to be a causative imperfect of the Canaanite Proto-Hebrew hwy meaning “to be”.

It is not unanimous where Yahweh actually came from. Some scholars believed he was a member of the Levantine pantheon of deities. Some confuse him with Yam, who is god of the sea, but in actually is just one of El’s sons. Yahweh is not listed as one of the Canaanite deities in the Ugarit text. Others believed he was a deity worshipped in and in vicinity of Edom in the far south-east of Levant. What does not seem to be in contention is that he was a storm god, which I will discuss further below.

The list of similarities between Yahweh and El

Both Yahweh and El are called El Shaddai

Genesis 35:11

“11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty[ El Shaddai]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.”

Like El, Yahweh resided in a tent.

1 Chronicles 17:1

3 But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying:

4 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in. 5 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up out of Egypt to this day. I have moved from one tent site to another, from one dwelling place to another.

El on his cherubim throne

The Canaanite El is seen as sitting on a cherubim among the divine assembly. Compare this to the Lord on the cherubim:

Psalm 99:1

The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.

The Old Testament makes it quite clear that Yahweh is represented as a bull. He is represented as a golden calf, which we have been made to treat with horror as an abomination to God.

1 Kings 12:28-29

28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.

And indication of Yahweh usurping El is that El was a bull god worshiped in Bethel.

These golden images of Yahweh were set up in the two rival temples of the ten northern tribes of Israel. And while the Judeans did not approve of molten images of Yahweh, they did share the same bull concept.

Exodus 32:3-5

Aaron, Moses’ brother, realized that the bull represented Yahweh. The bull was not representing any other bull god because it was a feast of Yahweh.

…3Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." 5Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD."…

. (cf. Vol.12, p.36, figure 22. Louis Herbert Gray. The Mythology of All Races, Egyptian and Indo-Chinese. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1918)

Either an Asherah tree or pillar was erected by the altar. Several passages attest to this:

"Do not set up any wooden Asherah beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates."—Deuteronomy 16:21-22

"Take your father's bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it."—Judges 6:25

"For they also built for themselves high places and sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and beneath every luxuriant tree."—1 Kings 14:23

He broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones."—2 Kings 23:14

Who is Asherah? She is a pagan deity whose images and pillars were to be regarded with impunity and destroyed. However, evidence suggests that earlier the Israelites regarded her as not only the consort of El, and Yahweh’s mother, but oddly the wife of Yahweh as well.

In 1975, there was an excavation at Kuntillet 'Ajrud (Horvat Teman) in the Sinai Desert. There a piece of pottery ostracon had the words "Berakhti et’khem l’YHVH Shomron ul’Asherato" ("I have blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and [his] Asherah") engraved. This was corroborated by the same inscription on a building wall. Another reference has been found at Khirbet el-Qom, near Hebron where the inscription states, "Blessed be Uriyahu by Yahweh and by his Asherah; from his enemies he saved him!"

Asherah trees were not reserved for gods such as Baal only. In the Temple of Jerusalem, asherah sacred pillars were erected by great Hebrew patriarchs and prophets including Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:18), Moses (Exodus 24:4) and Joshua at Shechem (Josh: 24:26) for Yahweh himself.

2 Kings 21:7

He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, "In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever.

This is all exceptionally confusing. Yahweh worship resembled pagan worship to such an extent that the lines are blurred between Yahweh and other bull gods such as Baal and Molech. Much of the OT has been revised over the centuries. Things that were considered acceptable no longer were later. What God led the Israelites out of Egypt? It was Yahweh, however, Moses and the Lord were angry (Exodus 32:7) that the Israelites were worshiping this golden calf which the Israelites knew represented Yahweh. If the Israelites were worshiping another god, why say that God led them out of Egypt?

About Egypt, we know that Moses, according to the Bible, grew up in an Egyptian household and thus must have been influenced with Egyptian religions and cultures. Are there links with trees and bulls and the sun associated with Yahweh that mirror images with Egypt?

The above Sun-boat/bark with Horus seated with hawk head, and sun disk. Before him is a star, a bull calf, and two scyamore trees.

The Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts called the Pharoahs, “the Golden Calf” and a star that rides the solar boat which carries the sun across the skies daily. This motif occurs in in the OT testament as well.

Habakkuk 3:2-4

2LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy. 3God comes from Teman, And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His splendor covers the heavens, And the earth is full of His praise. 4His radiance is like the sunlight; He has rays flashing from His hand, And there is the hiding of His power.…

Deuteronomy 33:2

The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shown forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them

This shows likely that the Canaanites assimilated Egyptian solar beliefs and imagery to the worship of Yahweh.

To be continued...

Go to part 1:

Go to part 3


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