Category Archives: God and Other Deities


2009-08-28

Hungry Ghosts and Holy Ghost : cultural perspectives

by Neil Godfrey

Lately I have seen many Chinese here in Singapore offering food and joss sticks and burning “ghost money” for hungry ghosts. It’s the time of the Hungry Ghost Festival — there are other specific Singapore explanations here and here. The ghosts come out every seventh lunar month. One Chinese colleague explained to me that it is believed there are more accidents than usual in this month. That would explain why so many offerings and joss sticks are placed at road intersections and stairways. When I mentioned this to some relatives back in Australia they thought they whole idea was “crazy” or “a bit peculiar”. And so it seems to westerners. But I could not help thinking of Christian Pentecost and western celebrations commemorating the descent of the Holy Ghost and how churches also mark this day with fruit and candles, and some with babbling tongues.

So a Hungry Ghost is weird but a Holy Ghost is normal? One is superstition but the other is religious faith?

There has also been an unfortunate story of a Moslem woman in Malaysia being sentenced to caning for imbibing a drug (alcohol) in public. Another work colleague made the interesting observation that in some western countries individuals can suffer degrading treatment and even ruin through their legal systems for being caught with a different brand of drug.

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Table of food for ghosts at a food court

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Encouraging ghosts to be kind to people traversing the stairway

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Making ghosts happy where the pedestrian pathway meets the road

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Burning (offering) lots of ghost money

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Time for quiet reflection

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2009-08-18

7 predictors of belief in God; and the different reasons why “I” and “They” believe

by Neil Godfrey

Why Darwin Matters contains several sharable nuggets of dot-points findings and here’s one more. In 1998 Frank Sulloway and Michael Shermer surveyed 10,000 Americans about their beliefs in God. Here are the summaries (pp. 34-37):

The seven strongest predictors of belief in God are:

1. being raised in a religious manner
2. parent’s religiosity
3. lower levels of education
4. being female
5. a large family
6. lack of conflict with parents
7. being younger

They also asked respondents whey they believed in God and the top 5 reasons were as follows:

1. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (28.6%)
2. The experience of God in everyday life (20.6%)
3. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (10.3%)
4. The Bible says so (9.8%)
5. Just because / faith / the need to believe something (8.2%)

But an interesting thing happened when they were asked why they thought others believed in God. What had been the mainly rational reasons for each respondent believing (concluding design required a designer, thinking about life experiences) were dropped to last and third places when asked why they thought others believed in God. Others — not themselves — were mainly thought to believe for emotional (nonrational) reasons.  Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (26.3%)

  1. Religious people have been raised to believe in God (22.4%)
  2. The experience of God in everyday life (16.2%)
  3. Just because / faith / the need to believe something (13.0%)
  4. Fear death and the unknown (9.1%)
  5. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (6.0%)

Related post — Why people do not accept evolution

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2009-05-09

Happy Vesak Day

by Neil Godfrey

Today in Singapore is a public holiday, Vesak Day. It’s a Buddhist festival. One positive about Singapore is that public holidays are officially sanctioned for each of the faiths in this multicultural city state: Buddhist (+Taoist), Christian, Moslem, Hindu (+Sikh).

I’m not a Buddhist and I shy away from its sermonizing about mind-control/thought stopping or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to “remove one’s mind from what might cause suffering”. Not that I’m against CBT. I’m sure it’s a great benefit to many people.

I’m not a fan of the Dalai Lama, either. I don’t like his politics and I especially don’t like his giggly way of justifying a report of poor villagers raising money for a local temple or statue when their health and lives remain at risk from a lack of basic sanitation. Nor do I keep my patience when monks pretend to be striking up a welcoming conversation only to lead the conversation to where they can try to bite me for money. But at least they do provide an alternative floor to sleep on for those who would rather not opt for the subway, so I believe.

But for all that, I do find all the colour and paraphernalia that comes with special Buddhist festivals (and even some of their less ostentatious temples) to convey a happy peacefulness and tranquility.

Sure there are the devotees who are there handing out literature. Maybe it’s my bias, but it does seem to me that they have a more laid-back attitude to their task than their Christian counterparts. These latter have generally come across to me as more intense in their desire to get you to take and read their tracts. (I cannot forget one extreme case of a Jehovah’s Witness looking frantic and fearful and crying out that God holds him accountable for my hearing his message — as I was closing the door on him. First time I ever had the guilt trip put on me in reverse in order to win me over.)

But a happy smiling Buddha, and lots of lotus flowers and tranquil pools of water and graceful statuettes is undeniably a far more positive, relaxing and happy image than the suffering figure of a crucified man. One focuses one’s thoughts on peace and wellbeing for “all sentient beings”, and the other on guilt, pain, suffering, horror, desolation, especially guilt and sin.

Is it surprising that Buddhists I know or know of seem so much more tolerant and at peace with difference, than so many Christians who, speaking generally certainly, at best, struggle with difference and “the other”?

A couple of pics from the opening night of Vesak right in the Aljunied area of Singapore — all recently set up for the coming weekend:

A few more, for what they’re worth, on flickr.


2009-04-11

Good Friday and Thaipusam, and the common DNA of religions

by Neil Godfrey

What does it say about the nature of religion when we observe that, just as human culture and language are at the same time the same thing yet richly diverse, so the world’s diverse religions share so many of the same themes, metaphors and motifs? This post looks at rituals from two religions by way of convenient illustration.

(Caveat etc: Scholarship has rightly moved on beyond Sir James Frazer, but Jonathan Z. Smith has missed the forest while studying the trees.)

A month or so ago I stumbled across the Hindu Thaipusam procession. Last night I went to see the famous Good Friday procession at St Joseph’s cathedral in Singapore. The sameness of its motifs with the Christian and other religions reinforced my view that religions all share a common mindset, a common consciousness, a common set of motifs. They are all part of a singular cross-cultural psychological family in the same way. The concepts they share, and which vary only in their ritual and mythological details, are like the biological similarities that point to a common genetic base that unites the animal kingdom.

Both the Hindu and Christian processions dramatize

  • suffering,
  • symbolic or momentary ego or literal death,
  • and glory and victory of spirit through both suffering and death,
  • including sharing the glory of the divinity — some form of identity with the deity.
  • a special place of the mourners, especially the women and family, of those who follow or otherwise accompany their loved one through his burdens or ‘suffering-passion’.

Common motifs of that suffering include

  • Physical torment, piercing of the flesh,
  • Emphasis on the role of blood — whether the value of it being shed or the value of it not being shed,
  • Fasting, a denial of food for relief in the midst of suffering, special foods and drinks.
  • And of course, not forgetting a solemn attention to the forsaking of sin and the embrace of righteousness through this suffering.

Devotees in the Thaipusam festival bear the pain themselves for their god:

Pierced penitent bearing cross-shaped kavadi and the glory of the god, followed by family women

Pierced penitent bearing cross-shaped kavadi and the glory of the god, followed by family women

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Christian devotees prefer to vicariously suffer through their god:

The body of Jesus, followed by Mary, after being taken down from the cross.

The body of Jesus, followed by Mary, after being taken down from the cross.

Good Friday procession at St Joseph’s cathedral, Singapore, 2009.
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It is all about suffering, death, and overcoming these in body, spirit or both. And I wonder if it all has common roots in the evolution of religion and human consciousness, and if the same motifs can be found in our earliest art still found in “cave-cathedrals” — See Mind in the Cave for earlier discussion.

Inside St Joseph's Singapore, Good Friday 2009

Inside St Joseph's Singapore, Good Friday 2009

The image of a tortured body, no less gruesome than the Hindu  flagellents, likewise glorified by devotees. This same effigy was lowered from the cross and placed in the bier captured in the photo above that also shows Mary following.

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A Christian does not need much imagination to understand the essential meaning underlying one of the rituals caught on this video

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Our languages differ, but they are all the one thing, language. Maybe it’s the same with our religions. Yes?

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2009-02-26

Miracles 2: another misrepresentation of David Hume’s sceptical argument

by Neil Godfrey

This post should be Part 2 of my ‘reviews’ or notes re “God, Actually” by Roy Williams (1).

The subtitle of Roy Williams’ book is “Why God probably exists, Why Jesus was probably divine, and Why the ‘rational’ objections to religion are unconvincing”.

Roy Williams wishes to define a miracle in terms that do not presuppose a god, so embraces English philosopher Brian Davies’ definition of a miracle as

an event that cannot be explained in terms intelligible to the natural scientist or observer of the regular processes of Nature. (p.163)

That’s hardly a very good definition. It would mean that any event that is not currently understood by science is miraculous. It would mean that if Einstein had not been born or no-one had postulated the theory of relativity at the time that a star’s light was seen to actually bend around the sun at the time of an eclipse, then that bending of starlight would have to be defined as even more miraculous than the bending of Uri Geller’s spoon. Did lightning only cease to be a miracle after the discovery of electricity? The role of science has been to uncover natural explanations for things that once could not be explained naturally. Still a wee way to go too.

Roy Williams distils David Hume’s argument against the possibility of a true miracle being honestly reported into four points (p.165):

  1. no such testimony has ever been given by enough people of adequate learning and intelligence;
  2. people are naturally gullible and untrustworthy;
  3. reports of miracles tend to emanate from ‘ignorant and barbarous nations’;
  4. and different religions report different miracles, and this invalidates all such reports.

Of the first three points Williams writes:

they amount to saying that no human observer can ever be completely trusted. This seems to me a cynical generalisation, a prime example of reductionism.

With this dismissal, Roy Williams’ dismisses David Hume from the remainder of his discussion of miracles, apart from a later section where he treats point 4 separately.

Williams depicts David Hume’s scepticism as extremist and even unnatural in its relationship to the rest of humanity. My own scepticism has been accompanied by a deeper sense of affinity with the rest of human kind, and David Hume’s argument never struck me as so cynical. Compare Roy Williams’ rationalization for dismissing David Hume with what Hume actually wrote in his famous section on miracles:

. . . we may observe, that there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that which is derived from the testimony of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators. . . . It will be sufficient to observe that our assurance in any argument of this kind is derived from no other principle than our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the reports of witnesses.

Far from coming within two miles of even suggesting that “no human observer can ever be completely trusted”, Hume flatly states from the start that acceptance of eye-witness testimony is the most common, useful and even necessary of “species of reasoning” we all have.

Were not the memory tenacious to a certain degree; had not men commonly an inclination to truth and a principle of probity; were they not sensible to shame, when detected in a falsehood: were not these, I say, discovered by experience to be qualities, inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony. A man delirious, or noted for falsehood and villainy, has no manner of authority with us.

There is no room in the passage from David Hume for Roy Williams to dismiss his writing as a “cynical generalization” against the normal course of eyewitness testimony of fellow human beings. On the contrary, Hume begins with “the charitable” position that most people are generally inclined to tell the truth about what they witness throughout life. Most people, Hume asserts, have no wish to be disgraced by being found out to be liars.

This passage from David Hume pulls the rug from beneath Roy Williams’ reasons for dismissing Hume’s arguments, and obliges Williams to seriously return to engage with the detail of Hume’s actual argument.

So if Hume asserts that it is natural and necessary to rely on eyewitness testimony as a general rule, under what circumstances does Hume then open the way to doubting others? He explains:

We entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact, when the witnesses contradict each other; when they are but few, or of a doubtful character; when they have an interest in what they affirm; when they deliver their testimony with hesitation, or on the contrary, with too violent asseverations. There are many other particulars of the same kind, which may diminish or destroy the force of any argument, derived from human testimony.

So how does Hume treat accounts of miracles in books that have a reputation of being authored by historians, or even just from any person with a reputation for being of good character?

The reason why we place any credit in witnesses and historians, is not derived from any connexion, which we perceive a priori, between testimony and reality, but because we are accustomed to find a conformity between them.

Hume argues that the reason we tend to believe historians and others is because our experiences have conditioned us to expecting them to tell the facts.

But when the fact attested is such a one as has seldom fallen under our observation, here is a contest of two opposite experiences; of which the one destroys the other, as far as its force goes, and the superior can only operate on the mind by the force, which remains.

But if an historian or otherwise honourable person proclaims a miracle, then our experience that miracles do not happen is enough to alert us that in this case the otherwise trustworthy person is mistaken. Hence most readers of Josephus today may take many of his details of the history of the Jewish war as factual, but will not treat his reports of miracles as having the same level of credibility. Similarly ancient historians like Herodotus and Livy pass on many historical details that we are at liberty to assume as factual, but no-one embraces their tales of miracles with the same certainty.

Hume argues for consistency:

The very same principle of experience, which gives us a certain degree of assurance in the testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in this case, another degree of assurance against the fact, which they endeavour to establish; from which contradiction there necessarily arises a counterpoize, and mutual destruction of belief and authority.

The reason we generally accept certain information from historians as factual is the same reason we dismiss their reports of miracles.

Many fundamentalists and other Christians who dismiss the miracles in pagan histories yet believe in the Bible’s miracles are being inconsistent. They treat the “facts” in pagan histories as historical for the same reason most people do — readers are accustomed to finding correlations between the writings of historians and true facts. And they find it as easy as any sceptic to dismiss as untrue any event (a miracle) that goes against their experience of nature and the world. But they treat the Bible differently (as a book whose words are permitted to assume greater authority than our own personal experiences) and therefore the miracles of the Bible must be accepted.

David Hume does not write cynically or with sweeping generalization against the trustworthiness of people. I have quoted his writings on how he approaches normal eyewitness testimony to show that he is hardly a reductionist (as Williams suggests).

In the first part of his essay on miracles Hume presented the rational argument against believing in them. In the second part of his essay he discusses four reasons for disbelieving the testimony that does exist for miracles. Williams dot-pointed these 4 (above) and Hume’s discussion of each of them can be found in part 2 of his essay.

Disappointingly, after dismissing David Hume’s scepticism as cynical and reductionist, Williams discusses the miracles of Jesus as if they are known to us all from multitudes of eyewitnesses. Of course, we only have four gospels, with at least two and very likely three all largely mutations from the original one (GMark) — not multitudes of eyewitnesses at all.  The fact that one author wrote a story about multitudes of witnesses, and that that story was modified by others, and that it was not testified till the second century c.e., is scarcely credible evidence for miracles being performed a century earlier. We have more reason to believe the historian Tacitus who “reported” miracles by the emperor Vespasian within a decade or two of his lifetime.

But I will leave the last word to Roy Williams here and leave it to readers to ask the obvious follow up questions it leaves hanging. Roy Williams argues against Hume’s fourth point as follows:

My own view is that the consistency of such reports through human history is suggestive that miracles do — rarely — occur. Has the Catholic Church always been wrong when, as a precondition to conferring sainthoods, it has accepted reports of miracles? I doubt it. (p.293)


2009-02-22

the glory of suffering for god — hindu and christian styles

by Neil Godfrey

thaipusam3A couple of weeks ago, by chance I stumbled across a crowded street scene in Little India (part of Singapore) and had to have a look to see what the interest was. Hundreds of onlookers were staring at a half-naked man stoically carrying a heavy metal structure decorated with peacock feathers and other Hindu decorations. From a distance it was easy to dismiss it as little more than a decorative show for some worship ceremony, but a closer look raised questions. Were those really metal hooks laced by the dozens through his skin? Were both his cheeks really pierced through with a single dagger?

There was no blood, however. But yes, looking at more of these men following one another along the street, it was clear they were walking with some form of self-sacrificial burdens. Daggers pierced both cheeks; other exquisitely decorated long blades pierced tongues; hooks through their skin in dozens of places carried what must surely have been a substantial weight of chains; and most bore on their shoulders an obviously weighty structure displaying the glory of what I took to be some Hindu god. A smaller number instead hauled heavy religious statues along the road by chains hooked through the skin on their backs.

All were surrounded by close bands of supporters. Presumably relatives and friends. Women, elderly, children. Regularly they all broke out into chants and songs, beating drums, clashing cymbals. They would keep a close eye on the one carrying the burdens of some sort of penance and regularly check to see that he was coping. Sometimes this “help” consisted of refastening a hook on the end of a chain that had fallen out of  his skin on his back, or his nose or cheek. Sometimes a little water was poured down the mouth of a man who looked up helplessly with his cheeks parted by a single dagger lodged through them both, and another upright through his tongue.

Astonishingly, on some occasions one of these flagellants would begin skipping, jumping, and whirling around in a lively dance with the sound of the drums and cymbals. Crowds would cheer him on. Ocassionally after one who exerted himself like this for a few minutes supporters would offer him a stool for a moment’ sit-down.

I know very little about Hinduism, but I afterwards learned from some Hindu friends here in Singapore that this is the Thaipusam festival, and that it is only found today in Malaysia, Singapore, and pockets of southern India. Not even all Hindus would have heard of it, I was told.

I have a full set of photographs, including video clips (which will not load here) at my Thaipusam collection on Flickr.

I was also told that that preceding this journey the men would undergo a special fast that was supposed to contribute to the absence of blood when pierced by hooks and daggers.

The large weights of magnificant decorations are called kavadi. This was a cross shaped base superimposed by a dome.

Some of the women carried food — milk and flour and fruit. At one stage the suffering of one of the devotees was ritually enhanced by one of his attendants stop before him, take a piece of fruit from a tray held by a woman nearby, and then with a knife cut it in two — and tossing each piece far out into the crowd. The sufferer was not to eat, but had to see food tossed away from before him. (I think this is captured in the second half of my IMG1919 clip.)

I was also told that at the end of their several kilometer “pilgrimage” they fire-walk. But I know how that works so that didn’t impress me so much. (The heat from coals is slow to generate and as long as one keeps one’s feet moving quickly enough there will not be time for them to be burned across a short sprint.)

Given my Christian background and the strangeness of this ceremony to me, I could not help but make comparisons:

  1. In both religions there is the concept of a person being required, for salvific purposes, to undergo extreme physical suffering
  2. This physical suffering is something to be overcome. In the ceremony I saw there were no tears from any of the participants, only the reverse — an occasional burst of dance and song to apparently demonstrate that the sufferer was “not of this body” but was infused with a higher existence.
  3. There is an important role for blood: either it is to be liberally shed or not shed at all.
  4. The suffering and giving up of the flesh of each man is also his glory. Presumably he does this to attain to some higher spiritual life or relationship. And as Christian literature speaks of the cross as a glory, so it was clear that each of these participants bore in their suffering the weight of the glory of their gods.

Interesing — the myths vary, the roles of the actors vary, but they all point to a common action-theme. Of course some Christians today in Latin America, Philippines and southern Europe imitate the sufferings of Christ in a similar way. Again, this may be another pointer to the origins of myths — they originated long ago to explain the customs, not the other way around.

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My video clips and more pics available here.


2008-11-12

Casting legions of demons into the sea — an original version?

by Neil Godfrey

This is one of a number of surviving Ugaritic incantations for exorcisms:

I will recite an incantation against the suspect ones;
alone I will overpower . . . .
And may the Sons of Disease turn around,
may the Sons of Disease fly away . . . .
may they beat themselves like the ill of mind!
Go back . . .
The Legion to the Legions,
The Flies to the Flies,
those of the Flood to the Flood

From Incantations I lines 20-30 (p. 179 of An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit by Johannes de Moor, 1987)

Now I don’t know the original word translated as Legions, and I do not have access to my copy of the companion cuneiform and dictionary volume of this anthology. But though I have not included the scholarly marks indicating gaps and guesses in the above, it is a scholarly translation and the Legion translation is cross referenced to Mark 5:9

And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

It seems superfluous to compare the incantation’s order that the demons beat themselves like the ill of mind with Mark 5:5

Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.

And to compare the demons of the flood turning back to the flood with Mark 5:13

And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

The same text notes that Baal was the preferred god for exorcism because of his mastery over the sea and the monsters therein:

Baal is the champion of exorcists because he had defeated Sea and Death with their monsters. (p.183)


2008-10-29

Other gods who healed the blind and raised the dead

by Neil Godfrey

Marduk

You take by the hand and raise the injured from his bed

Ishtar

The sick man who sees your face revives; his bondage is released; he gets up instantly.

At your command, O Ishtar, the blind man sees the light,

the unhealthy one who sees your face, becomes healthy.

O deity of men, goddess of women, whose delights no one can conceive, where you look one who is dead lives; one who is sick rises up.

Nabu

Let the dead man revive by your breeze; let his squandered life become gain.

It’s reassuring to know Jesus has company. Like Ishtar, he did not need to rely on hocus pocus rituals to heal. A mere word or command, or simply taking one’s hand, is clearly enough to heal when a deity is directly involved. Maybe the last line relating to Nabu speaks of a metaphoric raising from the dead. Maybe that was the original meaning of the miracles of Jesus in the first gospel, too.

(Extracts from B. R. Foster, Before the Muses, vol.2, cited in Thomas L. Thompson’s The Messiah Myth, p. 329)


2008-10-28

A Pagan endorsement for the devout Jew, Christian, Moslem

by Neil Godfrey

An ancient Akkadian wisdom text goes to the heart of the ideal relationship between a mortal and a deity. It makes no difference who one’s deity is. It is all the same. The text is clear evidence to me that there is no difference between pagan polytheistic religions and modern monotheistic ones in respect to a sense of pious devotion towards a deity.

Pay homage daily to your god

With sacrifice, prayer, and appropriate incense-offering.

Towards your god you should feel solicitude of heart:

That is what is appropriate to the deity.

Prayer, supplication, and prostration to the ground

Shall you offer in the morning: then your might will be great,

And in abundance, through god’s help, you will prosper.

In your learning examine the tablet.

Reverence (for the deity) produces well-being,

Sacrifice prolongs life,

And prayer atones for sin.

A god-fearing man is not despised by [his god];

Akkadian Proverbs and Counsels, p.427, ANET.

Does anyone else feel some loss that so few devotees of today’s one-and-only-gods evidence the same “live and let live” approach to religious diversity?


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 »