Tuesday, April 11, 2017

No gods before YHWH?

MONOTHEISM: Have we been misinterpreting the Second Commandment all along? 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me' can be taken in different ways, one being, Me first, the godlets next (By Elizabeth Sloane, Haaretz).
The Second Commandment is generally interpreted as meaning that the Jewish people should worship only one god, YHWH, and that there is no other god. However, the qualification “before me” have led some scholars to debate whether that was the original meaning of the commandment ostensibly handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai, in around 1400 BCE.

Far from forcing people to give up the worship of other deities, some scholars theorize, the commandment actually laid down a heavenly hierarchy, with YHWH at the top. YHWH was to be worshipped and sacrificed to first, before any other gods. Then they could get theirs.

That is a possible reading of the second commandment, although Deuteronomy and the Priestly writer make it pretty clear that no god but YHWH is to be worshipped at all. There are a number of questions here to which we don't have good answers. One is the meaning of the second commandment. Another is to what degree any strict monotheism was the standard of a particular group in ancient Israel rather than the mainstream standard. And even if, say, the Judean royal cult tied to the Jerusalem Temple held to strict monotheism (which does not seem implausible), that doesn't tell us what people out in the rural areas were doing. You don't have laws against something unless it happens often enough to be a problem.

And there is also the question of what was going on in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Certainly, the practices of worshipping a divine pantheon arose from deep antiquity: It can be traced archaeologically from the Iron Age (10th – 6th centuries B.C.E.) through to the Babylonian Exile.

Inscriptions from around Israel from the Iron Age bear the name of “Ashera”.  An 8th century tomb in Khirbet el Qom, between Hebron and Lachish, in the territory of the Biblical kingdom of Judah, has a prayer inscribed in it invoking YHWH and Ashera. The location of this site in Judah strongly suggests that the inscription is Judahic.

Also, numerous Inscriptions in Kuntillet Arjud, in the Northeast part of the Sinai Peninsula, are dedicated to “YHWH and his Ashera.” While this site was not in Judah itself, the inscriptions were written in Hebrew, making it clear the site was Judahic.
The Kuntillet Arjud inscriptions refer to "Samaria" and thus at least some of them are probably associated with the Northern Kingdom.

Good article. Read it all.