Thursday, November 01, 2018

Was Jeroboam a pagan or a Yahwist?

WERE THE "IDOLS" JUST AN ARTISTIC STATEMENT? Israelites in Biblical Dan Worshipped Idols – and Yahweh Too, Archaeologists Discover. Finds in the northern biblical city of Dan suggest that even if King Jeroboam pushed worship of golden calves and goat demons to spite Jerusalem, there was a big YHWH temple (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz premium).
The Ten Tribes living in the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century B.C.E. practiced a mixed religion, but contrary to the conventional wisdom among biblical scholars, their main deity was Yahweh after all, not the Canaanite god El and his envoys, golden calves and goat-shaped demons.

New excavations headed by Dr. David Ilan and Dr. Yifat Thareani of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem discovered that Dan also housed Arameans and Phoenicians as well as Israelites. But the gigantic sanctuary, originally found over four decades ago, has the hallmarks of Yahwistic practice, not pagan ritual.

This article gives what looks like a thorough overview of the archaeology of the sanctuary excavated at Tel Dan. And note those cool inscriptions.

It also has a pretty good discussion of the state of the question concerning the religion of Jeroboam I in the context of that sanctuary, but it leaves out something quite important.

Frank Moore Cross argued that Jeroboam set out to differentiate his YHWH cult from the southern (Jerusalemite) YHWH cult in various ways, including iconography. Cross thought that there were two iconographic representations of the seat of YHWH: in one (Jeroboam's at Bethel and Dan) he sat on bulls; in the other (the Jerusalem Temple) he sat on cherub — winged human-headed lions. Both are attested as ancient Canaanite iconographies.

So by his interpretation, Jeroboam was a Yahwist, he just represented the celestial mythology of YHWH in a different way from in the south. The golden calves were mythological art, but art associated with a YHWH cult, not a pagan one.

The Hebrew Bible, in both the Deuteronomistic History and in the Book of Chronicles, represents Jeroboam's cult as a pagan one in which the golden calves were idols to be worshipped. But these texts were written by Jerusalemites who has every reason to misunderstand (or, less charitably, misrepresent) the memory of what their northern rival was up to.

These new archaeological indications that the sanctuary in Dan was Yahwistic offer at least some confirmation for Cross's hypothesis. Watch this space ...

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