Category Archives: Barker: The Great Angel


2010-12-02

The Second God among ancient Jewish philosophers and commoners

by Neil Godfrey
Angel of the Revelation

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The Jewish philosopher Philo lived in Alexandria, Egypt, around the time of Jesus and Paul were said to have lived, and wrote many works arguing that the Bible stories were allegories of higher truths that had counterparts in Greek philosophy. One of the more striking features of Philo’s work is his concept of the Logos (or “Word”) of God. His discussions of the Logos find parallels in Gospel of John that begins with the Logos or Word of God existing with God, but also as God, and it was this Logos that created everything on God’s behalf. Philo’s discussion of the Logos or Word of God shares the same understanding as we find in John’s Gospel. Philo even calls the Logos “a Second God”.

Philo’s views are often considered esoteric and probably alien to the normal beliefs of the common Jews in Palestine and elsewhere (e.g. Casey). Some scholars (e.g. McGrath) go to great lengths to argue that when Philo spoke of a “second God” he was not really deviating from Jewish monotheism, and that modern readers simply need to adjust their definition of “monotheism” as it existed in early Judaism in order not to compromise the conventional wisdom about Judaism.

Margaret Barker, on the other hand, in The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, has tackled these beliefs of Philo and compared them popular Aramaic translations of the Hebrew scriptures that in some cases date back to pre-Christian times. read more »


2010-07-30

Did a Davidic Messiah have to be a descendant of David?

by Neil Godfrey
Rabbi Akiba (illustration from the 1568 Mantua...
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No. At least not in the time of Bar Kochba‘s revolt against Rome, 132-136 ce.

That’s if we can trust the later rabbinic evidence that attributed certain beliefs to famous Rabbi Akiba who supported Bar Kochba’s claim to be the messiah.

(The relevance of this discussion to Christian origins lies in the context of arguments that Jesus being said, at various places, to have been of the seed of David or of Davidic descent. For starters, given modern scholarly (archaeological) understanding of the reality of “King David”, and even the “Davidic dynasty”, there was evidently no such thing as a “family of David” existing in Palestine at the time of Jesus, before and later, anyway.)

Bar Kochba’s original name was Simeon ben Kosiba. It was subsequently changed to Bar Kochba, which was Aramaic for “Son of a Star”, an allusion to the prophecy of Numbers 24:17. (This sort of name change based on a pun on the original name in order to fit a biblical prophecy is worth keeping in mind when one compares other apparent puns in names found within the gospels.)

The rabbinic passage is discussing this bible’s reference to the plural “thrones” in heaven, one for the Ancient of Days, and another, presumably, for the Son of Man (Daniel 7:9, 13-14). The passage follows on from references to a biblical contradiction where God is described as an old man (with white hair) in Daniel 7, but as a young black-headed man according to their interpretation of Song of Solomon 5:11.

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames; and another Passage says: Till thrones were placed, and One that was ancient of days did sit!

— There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; this is the view of R. Akiba.

Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long wilt thou treat the Divine Presence as profane! Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace.

Did he accept [this explanation from him, or did he not accept it?

— Come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. (Hagigah, 14a) read more »


2010-07-28

How Philo might have understood Christ in the NT epistles

by Neil Godfrey

Philo was a Jewish philosopher in Egypt who died around 50 ce. Much of his literary work was an attempt to explain Jewish beliefs in the language of Greek (or Hellenistic) philosophers.

Curiously (for us at least) he spoke of “a second God” who was a manifestation of “the High God”. This second God was the Logos.

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? (Genesis 9:6). Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word [Logos] of the supreme Being (Questions on Genesis II.62)

On the face of it, this suggests that at least a significant number of Jews at the time Christianity was apparently emerging believed in “a second deity” — and if so, this would throw interesting light on the origins of Christianity with its belief in God the Father and his Son, also a deity, Jesus Christ.

The Christian belief, ever since rabbinic Judaism (after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 ce), has stood in stark contrast to a supposedly monolithic monotheism of Jewish belief that permits no other God being apart from the One God. Jewish beliefs before 70 ce, on the contrary, are not so clear cut. Some scholars have gone to great pains to define what precisely was meant by “monotheism” when ancient Jews appeared to simultaneously recognize companion deities or at least very high angelic powers of some sort.

One scholar, Alan F. Segal, in a famous work, Two Powers in Heaven, attempts to explain Philo’s passage by suggesting he his following the Greek philosophers who found it inconceivable that a highest and purest deity could directly interact with the mundane creatures of this world, and so required some sort of mediating manifestation of himself to do this “dirty work”.

Another scholar, Margaret Barker (The Great Angel) is not persuaded by Segal’s explanation. She believes it is far more likely that Philo took the ideas of a mediating divinity from existing Jewish beliefs and adapted or described them in terms of Greek philosophy. That is, he did not attempt to play with the facts of Jewish beliefs to make them sound palatable to Greek philosophers. He merely used philosophical language to describe Jewish beliefs.

Barker cites H. Wolfson’s 1948 two volume study on Philo as one of her supports: read more »


2008-09-16

Who the ‘EL was God? (Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel, 2)

by Neil Godfrey

Okay, bad juvenile pun, I’m sure.

But I’m having trouble outlining Margaret Barker’s Israel’s Second God here. Firstly because work commitments have made it difficult for me to take the time to synthesize and then restructure the contents adequately, and secondly  because Barker refers to many studies and theses that really require much unpacking for the uninitiated. (The following has taken weeks and weeks of broken bits of ten or twenty minutes to write, which makes for a very disjointed piece!) I’d find more enjoyment in taking time to explore some of those studies she refers to instead of her “grand thesis” that builds on them. I do have years-old notes from some of those studies filed away, and I would enjoy more digging those out and editing them to place here. But unfortunately I am currently working in “the most isolated city in the world” – Perth, Western Australia – over 4,000 k’s from my home and where my library is stored. I’d need my library to cross-check my old notes. And my next job and residence (only a few weeks from now) is to be even more distant from my library (Singapore!). Blogging here and on Metalogger will become a series of snatched ad hoc moments.

But to finish off chapter 2 of Margaret Barker’s Great Angel/Israel’s Second God . . . .

Continuing from Israel’s Second God, ch. 2 contd . . . .

It has widely been accepted among scholars that El was the most ancient name for God and that this name was later replaced by Yahweh. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as El, but from the time of Moses and the Exodus he was known as Yahweh.

Exodus 3:15

Yahweh, the God [El] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you; this is my name for ever, and thus [as Yahweh] I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

Exodus 6:2-3

I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.

Names for god such as El Shaddai appear in “early stories” in Genesis and Exodus, and in ancient poetry such as found in the Balaam oracles in Numbers 24.

But Margaret Barker points to a problem with this idea:

The name of EL is used more often in texts from later periods, especially from the time of the Babylonian exile, such as in – – –

Second Isaiah

Job

Later Psalms

Daniel

Apocalyptic writings

Hellenistic Jewish literature

If it were the more ancient name that had been replaced by Yahweh, then why does it not eventually disappear? Why is it used more often at a later period in the texts listed above?

Explanations (or ad hoc rationalizations?) proposed hitherto to explain this “anomaly” include:

a cultural interest in reviving old liturgical forms

vicissitudes of fashion

influence of the Hellenistic Zeus Hypsistos

Barker suggests another explanation:

Maybe El never fell out of use at all.

Maybe there were many who resisted the attempted reforms of the Yahwists and Deuteronomists when they attempted to displace (or merge) El with Yahweh.

Maybe those who maintained their independence from the Deuteronomists continued to think of the god El and the god Yahweh as a separate deities all along, perhaps even as Father and Son gods

Some reasons to think this may have been the case:

1. The Old Testament contains polemics against a number of Canaanite deities, especially Baal, but no polemic at all against the head Canaanite deity, El. (Here Margaret Barker is drawing heavily on O. Eissfeldt’s article, “El and Yahweh”, published in the Journal of Semitic Studies (1956), pp.25-37.) Is this because El was never viewed as a threat to Yahweh? Baal and Yahweh were very similar deities. Both were storm gods. Both loved roaring around in clouds and making thunderous noises and terrorizing mortals with their flashes of lightning. And if both were sons of El  (see previous post notes for details) one can understand the need for one to displace the other.

But Yahweh also takes on some of the characteristics of El in some passages. He takes on El’s role as king presiding over a heavenly court. Why was there no apparent conflict with El as there was between Yahweh and Baal?

2. The patriarchs in Genesis did things forbidden by the author of Deuteronomy — such as setting up local altars throughout Canaan and having their sacred trees or groves and pillars. But if Deuteronomy is a sixth century text or later, then such practices must have been practiced as late as that time. Otherwise the author would have had no need to condemn them.

Margaret Barker draws on studies that have argued that El worship was practiced throughout Canaan at local altars, and that various of these altars and pillars were given special significance as a part of the Genesis narratives about the travels and adventures of the patriarchs of Israel.

Just as the Canaanite barley festival came to be associated with the Exodus, and as the Canaanite wheat harvest was linked with the law being given at Sinai, and the grape harvest with the enthronement of the king, so also were the Canaanite customs of local altars and pillars given special meanings from narrative associations with the patriarchs.

Would this explain the El epithets associated with these altars and places of groves and pillars? (e.g. Bethel, Penuel)

This worship of El, at local altars, may indeed have continued right through in exilic times, despite efforts or hopes of the Deuteronomists to replace it with a centralized worship of Yahweh.

Other advocates of Yahweh (not necessarily hostile Deuteronomists) may have merged the stories referring to El into their accounts of Yahweh. El and Yahweh may have been merged by these authors without thoughts of tension or conflict existing between the two, as was the case with Yahweh and Baal.

J and E (the documentary hypothesis) are hypothetical, not facts

John Van Seters (Abraham in History and Tradition; In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History) has pioneered significant challenges to the documentary hypothesis that proposes that much of the Old Testament was composed by combining two “national epics” labelled by scholars as J and E. And as Margaret Barker stresses, J and E are only hypotheses. They are not “facts”. Repetition and ongoing references to J and E have led to them becoming “facts” in the minds of many, but they are still hypotheses.

Comparing the Pentateuch with the Histories by Herodotus

Van Seters and other scholars have compared the Pentateuch with the work of Greek historian, Herodotus. Its author, who was a Yahwist, was collecting and compiling materials in a way similar to the way Herodotus worked to compose his Histories. Both use a

“mixture of myths, legends and genealogies to demonstrate the origin of Athenian society, its customs and institutions”

The Greek historian, not unlike the author or compiler of the Pentateuch, used several sources:

“some were written, some were tales he heard on his travels, and sometimes he used ‘to fabricate stories and anecdotes using little or no traditional material, only popular motifs or themes from other literary works.”

Both wrote with the same purpose: to give their audiences “a sense of identity and national pride”. This would have been particularly necessary for Jews who had been dispossessed by the exile.

If this is how the Pentateuch was compiled, then we cannot expect to find in it evidence for anything but the concerns of the exiles, and one of these seems to have been to relate the El practices to those of Yahweh’s cult. (p.22)

The mutating transmission of oral traditions

Barker refers to R. N. Whybray (The Making of the Pentateuch) to dismiss the old idea that oral traditions of Israel’s history were handed down rigidly without change throughout generations before being written down. Tellers of tales were more likely to adapt stories to the needs of their audiences.Thus the history in the Pentateuch more likely reflects the needs and interests of the later audience for whom it was written than any accurate ancient history of Israel. If so, then the references to El in the Pentateuch were not archaic relics from yesteryear, but were part of the religious interest and life of audiences as late as the sixth century b.c.e.

Scissors and paste or a single Mastermind?

The Pentateuch very likely represents but one religious point of view in ancient Israel. And this is perhaps easier to grasp if we concur with modern studies that argue that the Pentateuch’s complex patterns are evidence for a literary artistry that must have come from the creative mind of a single author. The old idea that the Pentateuch is a higgledy piggledy clumsy pasting of various traditions and sources together no longer stands scrutiny.

And if the Pentateuch does represent but one author’s viewpoint, and that of his sect or group, then what other viewpoints existed beside it? The prophets have long been recognized as religious innovators, and it is quite possible that the author of the Pentateuch was another.

The gods El, Baal and Yahweh merge

The Canaanite deity El was an “ancient of days” father god, creator/procreator of heaven and earth, merciful, presiding over the heavenly council of lesser divinities.

The Canaanite Baal was a god of storm and thunder. He appeared in clouds with terrifying displays of lightning and thunder. He was a king and judge. But he was also subordinate to (and a son of) El.

The Bible portrays deadly conflicts between Baal and Yahweh. Witness Elijah’s slaying of the prophets of Baal. But there is no similar conflict between Yahweh and the Canaanite god El. Yet there was no similar tension with El.

Barker’s explanation is that the religion of Israel long acknowledged two gods, El and (like Baal, his son) Yahweh. The biblical storm and cloud imagery attached to Yawheh (from Exodus to Ezekiel) marked Yahweh as an alternative to Baal. But biblical literature also refers to El throughout the history of Israelite literature, and not just in the earliest periods. El is used throughout the late Second Isaiah, for example. Barker believes that this points to Israelite religion in many quarters acknowledging both El and Yahweh as distinct deities.

The Deuteronomist (and Yahwist) did attempt to fuse El and Yahweh, but their re-writings and beliefs did not change the thinking and writings of all. Some authors, particularly those of Jewish texts that did not become part of the later orthodox Jewish canon, continued to think of El and Yahweh as separate deities, even as father and son deities, just as El and Baal had been in Canaanite mythology.

The biblical Yahweh appears to have taken on the attributes of both El and Baal.

If, as the evidence testifies, the early name for the god of Israel was El, one question to ask is when Yahweh replaced (or took on the attributes of) El. And at what point were the earlier stories of Israel overwritten so that El was replaced with Yahweh? The prevailing documentary hypothesis (J and E) has indicated that this fusion occurred early in the kingdom of Israel. But this is not a fact, as Barker is at pains to point out, but only one of several hypotheses. The fusion may well have been as late as the exilic period.

But more significantly, Margaret Barker argues that these questions are not just about the different names.

Compare Psalms and Ugaritic poems

Psalms, for example, that address both El and Yahweh have traditionally been interpreted as using two names for the one god:

Psalm 18:13

Yahweh thundered in the heavens, and Elyon uttered his voice

But compare a Canaanite religious poem from Ugarit:

Lift up your hands to heaven;
Sacrifice to Bull, your father El.
Minister to Ba’l with your sacrifice,
The son of Dagan with your provision.

Does the Canaanite poem inform us how we should be reading the Psalm — not seeing the different names as poetic synonyms for the one person, but in fact different names for different deities?

Compare the image of Matthew’s parable of sheep and goats

Matthew 25:31-46 depicts the king sitting in judgment, but the king also acknowledges a higher authority than himself — his Father.

Compare Baal, who also was a king who sat in judgment, yet was himself subordinate to his father, El.

Barker asks us to question the survival of an ancient Canaanite image of gods appearing in a Christian text. She proposes that it makes sense to think of those ancient images in fact being maintained throughout Israel’s history, and this despite the impression we easily pick up by assuming that the Pentateuch and re-written biblical texts are representative of ancient Israel’s religion. These texts should, rather, be seen within the context of nonbiblical literature as well, and we should also consider more critically the implications of the biblical texts having been edited by later Yahwists or Deuteronomists.

Compare Daniel and the Son of Man imagery

The same parable in Matthew 25 also refers to the King as the Son of Man.

And the Son of Man kingly image is clearly pulled from Daniel 7.

J. A. Emerton (The Origin of the Son of Man Imagery, JTS New Series ix (1958), pp 225-42) cited by Barker discusses this more fully. Too fully to summarize here. Daniel 7:13-14, he notes, speaks of the Son of Man “coming in clouds” and “like” or “in appearance as” a son of man. The same latter description coheres with the description of Yahweh in Ezekiel 1:27. Yahweh is also regularly associated with appearing and traveling in the clouds.

If the Son of Man, then, is Yahweh, who is The Ancient of Days?

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

How to explain the presence in this passage in Daniel of TWO divine figures?

How could Daniel, a second century text, and one that was written in a context of pagan efforts (Antiochus of the Seleucid Empire) to subdue that form of Jewish religion that opposed all efforts to impose certain pagan uniformities (banning circumcision, sacrificing unclean animals on the temple altar) toy with the supposedly pagan imagery of El (the ‘ancient of days’ and high god in Canaanite mythology) and Baal (the son of El and one given kingly authority and who rode in clouds)?

Is the simplest explanation that Yahweh replaced Baal among Israelites, but that for many he long continued to maintain his subordinate and clearly separate identity from the high god El? And this situation — one school following the Deuteronomist view that identified El and Yahweh, another that maintained their separate identities — continued through the first century c.e.?

Does Christianity represent one branch of ancient Israelite religion, the branch that maintained the distinction between El and Yahweh, while rabbinism represents another, that which was advanced by the Deuteronomist and Yahwist scribes?


2008-08-27

Israel’s Second God. ch. 2 contd

by Neil Godfrey

Continued from Israel’s Second God (2 . . .) (notes from Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel) . . . .

What was the religion of Israel that the Deuteronomists (from the time of King Josiah and after) were attempting to reform?

One way Margaret Barker believes we can catch a glimpse of this religion is by examining the ways El (god) is used, and comparing it with uses of Yahweh.

Texts where El simply means “god”

Psalm 104:1 Bless the LORD (Yawheh), O my soul. O LORD (Yawheh) my God (El), thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD (Yawheh) thy God (El), he is God (El), the faithful God (El), which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

Joshua 22:22 The LORD (Yawheh) God (El) of gods, the LORD (Yawheh) God (El) of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD (Yawheh), . . .

Texts where El is the name or title of Yahweh

Isaiah 43:12-13 I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD (Yahweh), that I am God (El).  Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?

Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God (El), and there is none else.

The Titles and tasks of El become the titles and tasks of Yahweh

Genesis 14:19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God (El Elyon), possessor of heaven and earth:

Isaiah 44:24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself

Isaiah 51:13 And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?

El the procreator becomes Yahweh the maker

Isaiah 44:24 and Isaiah 51:13 interestingly appear to modify the title used of El, Procreator or Generator of the earth etc by calling Yahweh the Maker or creator. The sexual or procreative functions of El have been replaced by a Maker god.

Isaiah appears to have removed the idea that god was a procreator of gods and men, and recast him as a creator. Margaret Barker (p.19):

the idea of a procreator God with sons seems to have fallen out of favour among those who equated Yahweh and El. (Those who retained a belief in the sons of God, e.g. the Christians, . . . were those who continued to distinguish between El and Yahweh, Father and Son. This cannot be coincidence.)

Examples where Yahweh has been cast as the Maker, not the Procreator, of heaven and earth.

Psalm 115:15 Ye are blessed of the LORD which made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121 2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134:3 The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

Psalm 146:5-6 Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:

Yahweh the Maker of Heaven and Earth becomes Yahweh the Maker of History

Isaiah 42:5, 9 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: . . . . Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.

Compare Isaiah 43:1-2, 15-21 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.  When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. . . . . . . . I am the LORD, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King.  Thus saith the LORD, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters;  Which bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power; they shall lie down together, they shall not rise: they are extinct, they are quenched as tow.  Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.  This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.

Jeremiah 32:17, 21 Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: . . . . . And hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror;

Psalm 136

Yahweh as creator of heaven and earth:

1 Give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

2 Give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.

5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.

6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.

7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:

8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:

9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.

And Yahweh as creator of Israel’s history:

10 To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever:

11 And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever:

12 With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.

13 To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever:

14 And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever:

15 But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.

16 To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.

17 To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:

18 And slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:

19 Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever:

20 And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endureth for ever:

21 And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever:

22 Even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever.

23 Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever:

24 And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.

25 Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever.

26 O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Next post

Next post on this topic will look at the question of whether El, the more ancient name for god according to the Pentateuch — Exodus 3:15, Exodus 6:2-3; Deuteronomy 32:8) waned over time. If not, how strong are the hypotheses proposed to explain its continuing usage?


2008-08-11

Israel’s Second God. 2 and a bit . . .

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Evidence of the Exile . . . .

Because the Bible uses different words and names for “god” scholars have generally since the 19th century believed that this variation is evidence for the bible being cobbled together from different sources. Each source would have had its respective preferred term for the deity. An editor, sometimes suspected of being Ezra in the 5th century b.c.e, wove these various sources together into the first five books of our Bible, The Pentateuch.

Four main sources are usually identified, but for our purposes in discussing Barker’s hypothesis that early Israel did not practice monotheism in the sense we understand the term, we look at just 2. J and E.

The J source stands for the Jehovah (or Yahweh) source, thought to have been written somewhere in the southern kingdom of Judah during the tenth century. This name, Jehovah/Yahweh, is linked to the Moses narratives in the Bible. Easy to remember: think of J and Jehovah and Judah, and that J is the 10th letter of the alphabet (10th century) and there are 10 commandments (J is linked with the Moses traditions, eg. the Ten commandments).

The E source stands for El, Elohim, or the Elohist source. Recall in previous posts that El was the Canaanite name for the chief god who was father of all other gods, including Baal, and according to that famous passage in the earliest texts of Deuteronomy, also father of Jehovah/Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 32:8

When the Most High [Elyon] gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the sons of men,
he fixed the bounds of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God [‘el].

The El traditions are mostly associated with the stories before the Moses narrative, that is, with the Patriarchs Abraham and co. The E source is thought to have been written in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the ninth century. Even easier to remember: just work on remembering J and E falls into place.

If you want more detailed background for starters then check out the Documentary Hypothesis on Wikipedia.

In the passages Exodus 3:15 and 6:2-3 Yahweh is quoted as saying his new name, Yahweh, is, well, “new” — unlike the old name by which he was known to the Patriarchs, El:

Exodus 3:15

Yahweh, the God [El] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you; this is my name for ever, and thus [as Yahweh] I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

Exodus 6:2-3

I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.

Traditionally these passages have been explained as the original biblical editors doctoring the story somewhat in order to explain to readers why the two names for god appeared in the narrative.

Margaret Barker, however, notes that “Recent scholarship has offered a different explanation.” This explanation suggests that the fusion of the two names was the result of the certain later religious reformers, after the exile, working to fuse the different religious practices found in pre-exilic Israel into one monotheistic like religion. That is, before the exile, Israel practiced the worship of both Yahweh AND El as separate deities, and later reformers, e.g. the Deuteronomists, attempted to fuse these gods into one when they edited the Pentateuch and later narrative of Israel’s history.

The reason for the Pentateuch assuming such importance in this debate is because it is in these first five books that the greatest concentration of name variations for “god” is found. It is felt that it is in these books that the key to the origin of monotheism is to be found.

Barker notes, however, following Whybray, that such traditional Pentateuchal studies through the paradigm of the Documentary Hypothesis is “unduly dependent on a particular view of the history of the religion of Israel.” That is, it assumes the view of history which it claims the evidence supports. There is a circularity of argument here. The PREsupposition is a particular view of the history of Israel’s religion. And that was the framework in which the evidence was examined and discussed.

The 2 sources, J and E, are said to have been early epic narratives of certain aspects of Israel’s history. And the later biblical editors drew on these sources to create a single narrative.

Barker asks, however,

“if the great epics J and E really had formed the basis of the Pentateuch, how is it that the authors of Israel’s earlier literature had virtually no knowledge of them? The fact that the authors of the pre-exilic literature of the Old Testament outside the Pentateuch appear to know virtually nothing of the patriarchal and Mosaic traditions of the Pentateuch raises serious doubts about the existence of an early J or E.” (pp.16-17)

Scholarship has traditionally assumed that J and E represented early narratives about Israel’s god, and that these could be reconciled into a single narrative. But if J and E did not exist, what was Israel thinking about God during the period of the biblical Kingdoms of Israel and Judah — the tenth and ninth centuries b.c.e.?

And if they did not exist, what period of religious thought is represented by the Pentateuch with its various names for the deity? Increasingly, there is more scholarship that sees the Pentateuch the product of the post-exilic Deuteronomist. That is, that school of religion who attempted to assert their authority in Palestine some time during the Persian period.

Look again at those passages from Exodus cited above. They are asserting that before the Yahweh traditions and narratives (of Moses?), there was another name for god with stories attached, El. Those Exodus passages are informing readers that El was replaced by Yahweh as not only the new name for God, but as the only name allowed for God from henceforth.

“Presumably this means that any non-Yahweh traditions were either dropped, or rewritten of Yahweh.”

How many, and which ones, we can never know.

How to see behind the reform of the Deuteronomists? Barker suggests that one way is to examine the remaining uses of El, and to see if there is a significant distinction between El and Yahweh. There was such a distinction between the Sons of El and the Sons of Yahweh, as discussed in the first post of this series. Any similar distinction between the uses of the 2 names in other respects will be crucial for Barker’s hypothesis that El and Yahweh were originally two separate deities worshipped in ancient Israel.

To be continued etc etc. . . . .


2008-08-05

Israel’s second God. 2: Evidence of the Exile

by Neil Godfrey

1992, a year with two pivotal publications

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker was published 1992, the same year as Philip Davies’ publication of In Search of Ancient Israel. Each proposes a different model for the interpretation of biblical texts and their historical matrix. Davies argues that the realities of ancient deportations make any notion of uprooted captives having the luxury to ponder and creatively build on their literary and cultural heritage as romantic (pious) nonsense. See, for example, my notes on his discussion of the Babylonian Captivity.

Margaret Barker, on the other hand, proposes an alternative hypothesis that is rooted in a fresh analysis of the biblical and extra-biblical Jewish texts. She works within the framework of the orthodox hypothesis of the Babylonian Captivity being the turning point in Jewish literature and history, and explains the difficulties with the evidence in terms of the massive destruction and unsettled political and cultural developments of the period. Davies, rather, sees the problems arising from scholars attempting to explain the literature through a historical reconstruction that was a literary and theological fiction. In the following discussion of Margaret Barker’s second chapter of The Great Angel I am tempted to suggest alternative explanations and leads for followup thoughts by commenting on Barker’s explanations through Davies views, but then I would be doing an injustice to my primary reason for these posts. That is to do what I can to help publicize a wee bit more the biblical scholarship — in this case Barker’s The Great Angel — that too often tends to slip by the radars of most lay readers. I will try to keep any notes that relate to Davies’ viewpoint to a minimum, and clearly mark them as distinct from Barker’s thoughts.

What’s left when the ashes settle?

Barker explains that her hypothesis is “exploratory”. The destruction of the Jewish state and Babylonian captivity, the mass deportations, and the religious-political turmoil that preceded all this (the Josiah reforms) leave evidence so patchy and confusing that certainty is impossible in any attempted reconstruction of  Israel’s religion up to this time.

[T]he customary descriptions of ancient Israel’s religion are themselves no more than supposition. What I shall propose in this chapter is not an impossibility, but only one possibility to set alongside other possibilities, none of which has any claim to being an absolutely accurate account of what happened. Hypotheses do not become fact simply by frequent repetition, or even by detailed elaboration. What I am suggesting does, however, make considerable sense of the evidence from later periods, as I shall show in subsequent chapters. (p.12)

(Davies and others who have broadly followed in his wake have do not see the necessary social, economic and cultural conditions that must have been required to produce the biblical literature existing in Palestine before the Persian period. Another possibility Davies would propose is that the biblical literature was the product of different scribal schools, many of them engaging in debate or dialogue with one another, and this dialogue can be seen in a comparative reading of the texts.)

The religious practices the Deuteronomist purged (or wished were purged?)

Margaret Barker (MB) refers to 2 Kings 22-23 describing in detail the abominations that Josiah purged from Israel and adds a brief mention of a great Passover. I’ve listed them from that passage here, along with some notes from readings outside Barker. read more »


2008-07-27

Israel’s second God. 1: The Son of God

by Neil Godfrey

Margaret Barker wrote an interesting book, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, a few years back, in which she argued that prior to the rabbinic Judaism that emerged after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. the Jewish concept of God was not so monolithic as understood today. A bit of serendipitous googling shows that Barker’s research has a certain popularity among Mormons today, but I know of no reason to think that Barker herself is associated with Mormonism or supports the uses they make of her work. I have other reasons to be interested in her work that have more to do with searching for explanations for the development of Christianity, and am finally getting around to editing and posting up here some notes I took from The Great Angel some years back. Will just look at chapter one here: The Son of God chapter. Barker comments on previous discussion about the Son of God:

It is customary to list the occurrences of “son of God” in the Old Testament, and to conclude from that list that the term could be used to mean either a heavenly being of some sort, or the King of Israel, or the people of Israel in their special relationship with God. (p.4)

But Barker remarks that these studies have ignored the distinction between two different words for God in the Jewish Scriptures, and have consequently ignored “a crucial distinction”. According to Barker (and I am taking her word for it here, and her citations as complete and accurate, not having taken the time to date to check the details for myself):

All the texts in the Hebrew Bible distinguish clearly between the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and those human beings who are called sons of Yahweh. (p.10 – Barker’s italics) read more »