Some Aspects of the Origin of Jewish Religion

Nov 2016
The name "Israel" appears for the first time in history on a victory column of Pharaoh Merenptah (1213-1203), which lists cities he defeated in Canaan in 1208: Askalon, Gezer and Inuam. Then it says: "Israel is devastated, it has no seed". Finally Charu is called, the land of the Churriter. The three city names are marked with the hieroglyphic sign for "foreign land", "Israel" however with the sign for "people", thus a group of people. Whether the expression "seed" stands for seed or progeny cannot be clarified, not even who this group is. It was probably composed of Shasu and Habiru, who - according to most religious historians - gradually united in the 13th century BCE to cope with the pressure exerted by the Egyptians. Prisoners of war were usually transferred to slavery, which could explain the myth of the captivity of the "people of Israel" in Egypt. That Habiru, but also Shasu could get into Egyptian slavery, is certain. An "exodus" of the kind and magnitude described in the Tanach is, however, neither proven by sources nor archaeologically.

Only four centuries later is the name "Israel" historically documented again, namely on the Mesha stele in the 9th century BCE, i.e. in the context of Yahveh worship. The name "Israel" used by the Hebrews seems to have originated from a pre-Jahwist worship of the ugaritic-Canaanite god El. This follows from the mention on the Merenptah stele and the theophore element "-el". Some scholars argue that originally El was the God of the Israelites and that Yahveh, imported by a Shasu tribe from southwest Jordan, later took his place. If the "Israel" of the Merenptah stele was Shasu/Habiru, which is likely, the Habiru (and Shasu) would be the ancestors of the Hebrews.

To the religious-cult situation in the Egyptian occupied Canaan of the Late Bronze Age (thus until 1200):

Besides the local cults there were also Egyptian cults with manifold syncretisms: Canaanite gods assimilated Egyptian features and Egyptian gods assimilated Canaanite gods. This could lead to the fusion of gods from both realms, especially Baal and Seth (see below). The Egyptian goddess Hathor, for example, coined the iconography of her Canaanite colleagues with her hairstyle, her headdress, her horns and the sun disk symbol. Iconographic changes also mean changes in the religious character of the respective deity, since the idea of a god was essentially determined by his visual representation. Especially due to their private cult use, the stamp seal amulets, whose design transported Egyptian religiosity into the consciousness of the Canaanites.

While in the middle of the 2nd century BCE nature and eroticism dominated the Canaanite iconography, towards the end of the 13th century warlike motifs came to the fore, which is not surprising in view of the many wars. This is particularly striking in Baal, the regional equivalent of the Mesopotamian weather god Hadad. He assimilated attributes of the god Seth, who appears in Egyptian mythology not only as an enemy of the king god Horus, but above all as a fighter for the sun god Re. Every night he defeats the monster snake Apophis on the journey of the sun barque through the underworld and thus secures the existence of the world, since otherwise the life-giving sun god Re would perish. Seth is a warlike god, but one who conquers chaos (the serpent) and maintains the cycle of life.

The fusion of Baal and Seth is iconographic in the transfer of features of the Egyptian God to the Canaanite God. Baal, for example, is depicted with wings typical of Seth images on scarabs. Alternatively, Baal can be seen as a walking warrior with a raised weapon, which is in clear contrast to Baal's original character as a god of weather and fertility.

The vegetation god Baal, mediated by Seth, has assumed the additional function of a warrior against evil.

The word "Baal" (pronounced: Ba´al) was used ambiguously in the ancient Orient. It means "lord" or "owner" and was the title of the weather god Hadad ("thunderer") who was widespread throughout the Near East. In Phoenicia it mutated into the proper name of the weather god. Because of this two-track use, it is not always easy to determine whether "Baal" as part of a person or place name is to be assigned to the weather god (and thus refers to his worship) or functions as an appellative ("Lord"), which could also be related to Yahveh.

Baal's original function is that of a weather god with necessarily warlike potential: to increase the fertility of arable land, to increase the fertility of the land, to increase the fertility of the land.

Baal's original function is that of a weather god with necessarily warlike potential: to ensure the fertility of arable land, he must fight and overcome their threats, the sea god Jam and the desert god Mot. In the 13th century BCE, he penetrated the Egyptian imagination as a thunder god hurling lightning bolts and changed some of Seth's characteristics, but in return, as already described, took over some of Seth's typical characteristics in the Canaanite iconography. The fertility aspect of Baal remains in the Canaanite connection, but not in the Egyptian one.

Through the synthesis with Seth, Baal takes over an aspect unfamiliar in Canaanite theology - the integration into a higher order in the service of the sun god. In addition to the fertility of the land, the preservation of the world order now also falls within his competence. The iconography proves that Baal-Seth was venerated in Canaan until the 10th century BCE as a fighter for the sun god and for the royalty, which was understood as the earthly governorship of the sun god.

Against this background the origin of the Israelite Yahveh idea can be better understood, because Yahveh does not only take over characteristics of the Baal-Seth, but is prepared thereby for the later assumption of Sun God competences, to which the guarantee of justice belongs. Even the Mesopotamian sun god Shamas has this function. It is interesting to note that shamas was probably originally a goddess and that he is sometimes referred to as a "mother".
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Nov 2016
Two steps have to be distinguished:

1) Yahveh, at first a weather god, assimilates the warlike features of Baal-Seth.

2) Due to Baal-Seth's connection with the (Egyptian) sun god, the modified Yahveh figure can be integrated into the Sun God cult of Jerusalem after the capture of Jerusalem, whereby the function of the local god is gradually transferred to Yahveh. The Egyptian sun-god association of Baal shifted in the direction of a Near Eastern sun-god, which contributed decisively to the monotheistic career of Yahveh that began centuries later. As an example, Ps 97 can be quoted, which illustrates Yahveh's character composed of Baal seths and the Sun God's properties:

Clouds and cloud darkness are around him,
Justice and justice are the pillars of his throne.

V. 1 presents a theophany of Yahveh in the style of Baal.
V. 2 presents Yahveh as the guardian of justice in the style of a sun god.

Yahveh's integration into the Jerusalem Sun God cult is described in more detail below under point 2.

As for 1)

In the judge's book and in the reports about David Yahveh stands as a guarantor for victories, as it is typical for Seth. In Ps 16 and 2Sam 22, Yahveh is attributed Theophania, similar to Ps 97 above, as they are typical of Baal: Thunder, water floods, gloomy clouds, snorting wrath, etc. What neither Baal nor Seth have in common is added to Yahveh as an individual characteristic, namely his saving intervention in situations such as Ps 16. Thus the complex Baal-Seth is extended to Yahveh-Baal-Seth. However, Yahveh's warlike character is well known enough and does not need to be further documented here.

As for 2)

On the religious situation in Jerusalem of the pre-Israelite period:

Jerusalem has been influenced by Egypt since the Middle Bronze Age and dominated by Egypt since the late Bronze Age. The Egyptian Sun God cult can therefore gain a foothold in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine. Many pre-Israelite villages have names with a solar context. The name "Jerusalem" also has a theophoric element: "Schalem" = dusk or name of the god of dusk. Like "Shakhar", the god of dawn, Shalem is a member of the Ugar pantheon. Both gods represent the rising and setting of the sun and thus the ordered cycle of time.

One can assume for the pre-state period that the Israelites (Habiru/Schasu?) formed a tribal association which practiced a great cult with a common main god and also paid homage to other gods on the level of smaller units (clans, families). Whether El was the main god at first and when there was a change of power from El to Yahveh can only be speculated about.
Shamash is worshipped in the Akkadian and Babylonian religions under two aspects: as giver of the vital light and as guardian of justice. Law and jurisdiction are attributes typically associated with ancient Oriental sun gods. The Egyptian right deviates from this typification, but is also associated with justice in a few places.

About the light aspect of shamash it says in the great shamash anthem:

Shamash, enlightener of the universe, of the whole sky,
Enlighteners of darkness for the people above and below,
Your radiance is spread over the earth like a net.

Shamash's function as judge is explained by his ability to fully see through things by the power of his light. The Hammurabi Law Stele from the 18th century BCE shows how Shamash hands over the symbols of power to the king. In a traditional sacrificial prayer it says:

You (= Shamash) judge in the case of the great gods, in the case of the wild animals, in the case of humans,
judge today NN, son of NN, put the truth on the left and right side of this lamb.

This is about the liver show after a lamb sacrifice. "NN" is a placeholder for concrete names that are used in the respective ritual.
Shamash has, as shown, as Assyrian sun god the function to bring justice into the world. His light penetrates the darkness and makes every evil visible. Psalm 72 (Psalm = hymn of praise) shows - among many other examples - how much this concept shaped the idea of God in the Israelite 7th century BCE. I quote his first 7 verses:

1 The Solomon. God, give your judgment to the king and your righteousness to the king's son, 2 that he may judge your people with righteousness and save your afflictions. 3 Let the mountains bring peace among the people, and the hills bring righteousness. 4 He will keep the wretched people by right, and help the poor, and crush the blasphemers. 5 They will fear you as long as the sun and the moon endure, from child to child. 6 He shall come down as the rain upon the floodplain, as the drops that wet the land. 7 In his days the righteous shall blossom, and peace shall be great, till the moon be never.

These verses form the original base layer of the Psalm. The remaining 10 verses are the product of editorial revision in the exile of the 6th century. The Psalm (in its basic layer) probably originated at the time of the royal coronation of 8-year-old Josia in 639, which is supported by the mention of the king's son (V. 1). The singular "he" in the next verse most probably refers to the king's son. The dating is supported by the similar theme of the text Isa 9:1-6 (reference to the coronation of Josiah), which is dated to the Josiah period. So the Psalm may have served as a coronation hymn for little Josiah.

The immediate model for this hymn was, and this is almost certain, the coronation hymn SAA III 11 for the Assyrian king Assurbanipal, who was still in office at the time of the coronation of Josiah. His father Asarhaddon established the succession of his son by an oath of allegiance in 672. In 669 Assurbanipal took the throne. In contrast to earlier coronation rituals the sun god Shamash appears for the first time in the hymn beside the imperial god Assur as guarantor for "right and justice", namely in priority to Assur. The enforcement of this order, which the sun god entrusted to the king, consists above all in the elimination of social injustice.

The similarities of SAA III,1 and Ps 72 are obvious: Shamash's Sungod function of the keeper of justice and helper of the weak, which was transferred to the king, is found in the Psalm text using the same terms: "justice" and "peace". The astral element "sun" is an additional indication of the solar context. In the already mentioned text Isa 9,1-6 related to Josiah Yahveh appears, similar to Shamash, in the context of "light" and "darkness". V. 5f. marks the king as guarantor of "right and justice".
Nov 2016
Since I do not have the Assyrian coronation anthem as a full text, I quote a passage from the Assyrian song KAR III 105 to sun god Shamash, which served as an oracle for King Assurbanipal. These passages can also illustrate the solar theological model relationship of the Assyrian religion to the Israelite religion, as expressed in Ps 72.

2 Sublime Judge, Lord of the Superior and Lower
3 ... You spy with your light the totality of the countries
4 Those who are not tired of the show of sacrifice, every day you make decisions about heaven and earth.

Shamash appears as usual as a giver of light and righteousness. While in Psalm 72 his function of righteousness has been fully transferred to Yahveh, the aspect of light in the Psalm remains an external one, namely in the form of the "sun", which as an indicator of the duration of reign for the Lord is the "sun".

Shamash appears as usual as donor of light and justice. While his function of justice in Ps 72 has been fully transferred to Yahveh, the aspect of light in the Psalm remains an external one, namely in the form of the "sun", which functions as an indicator of the duration of reign:

5 You will be feared as long as the sun and the moon endure, ...

Here the disunity of the Israelite priestly authors on the question of how far the transfer of solar ideas should go to Yahveh becomes apparent. Israelite theology borrows from the Assyrian religion (= syncretism), but at the same time tries to maintain its own profile. This leads to conceptual divergences. In some texts Yahveh appears explicitly as light deity, in others, like Ps 72, he is superior to light or the sun, which also means: Yahveh stands above shamash. This has mainly political reasons, because the power of a state god determines the power of the king, who represents this god, even if only in the imagination of the believers. In this way the Israelite king is positioned above the Assyrian king (and all others) - again, of course, only in the minds of the believers. This can be seen in the editorially added verses in Ps 72:

9 Before him those in the desert will bow down, and his enemies will lick dust. 10 The kings of Tharsis and the islands will bring gifts; the kings of Reicharabien and Seba will bring gifts. 11 All kings will worship him; all nations will serve him.

This rhetorical pattern was also borrowed from the Assyrian hymn SAA III 11 and rewritten to the Israelite perspective.

There are no concrete indications for a solarization of Yahveh before the 2nd half of the 8th century BCE. One can conclude from the solar place names in the Jerusalem region including "Jerusalem" itself (Shalem=God of Dusk) only indirectly a Jerusalem sun cult. Only after the 2nd half of the 8th century clear evidence for solarization accumulates. One found 1200 stamp seals of royal officials from this time with motives, which connect symbolically sun and royalty (king Hezekiah). Since the king was governor of the state god, this also means a connection of Yahveh with the sun. Of course, the iconography does not permit precise conclusions about the nature of this relationship. Presumably, the Jerusalem Temple was built during this time, which, if the biblical description permits its reconstruction, was aligned with the course of the sun.

Psalm 72 is one of the first text documents for a sun-theological formation of the Yahveh faith. The formation of its basic layer around 639 (Josiah's coronation) is considered very probable. Thus it belongs, beside few other psalms like e.g. Ps 2 and 110, to the secured preexilic stock of the Psalter. From the other far more than 100 psalms one assumes an exilic or post-exilic origin. From the same century (7th) the Deuteronomy with the Tora book is said to originate, which was later editorially improved. In this Deuteronomy, light-related verbs such as "radiate" and "shine" (Dtn 33,2) are found in theophany texts, which suggest an influence of Assyrian shamash theology.

There are also many passages in Tanach which show Yahveh as a light phenomenon or accompanied by light phenomena. One calls alleged appearances of Yahveh in a sensually experiencable form, e.g. fire, storm or clouds, "Theophania" (appearances of God). Those theophanies, which connect Yahveh with storm and clouds, reflect his origin from the Baal Weathergod tradition and probably go back to the archaic belief in divine forces of nature, so they are probably misinterpretations of physical phenomena. But those theophanies that connect Yahveh with fire and light spring from visionary experiences. Here is a well-known example (Ez 1), a vision of the prophet Ezekiel during the Babylonian exile (Luther translation):

4 And I looked, and behold, there came an impetuous wind from midnight, with a great cloud of fire, shining all around; and in the midst of the fire it was bright. (...) 26 And above heaven, as it was above them, it was like a sapphire, like a chair; and on the chair sat one like a man. 27 And I looked, and it was bright, and inside it was like a fire round about and about. 28 As the rainbow looks in the clouds when it hath rained, so it shined round and round. This was the glory of the glory of the LORD. And when I had seen it, I fell upon my face, and heard one speak.

In religious studies one is asking oneself whether the visual descriptions in Ez 1 are metaphorical or visionary.
Nov 2016
As to an Egyptian aspect of Yahveh, connected with his most important feature of creating the world by "the word":

The so-called Memphitic Theology (13th century BCE) places the god Ptah, originally a chthonic god of the Osiris type and worshipped as the city god of Memphis, at the top of the Egyptian Pantheon and lets him create all other gods and the human and animal world by virtue of his spirit (i.e. his tongue and his heart), i.e. first the ´objects´ are thought through the heart of Ptah and then, by his tongue expressing the thoughts, are called into existence. Moreover economic trade is ´created´ in this way:

(Memphitic Theology 58) were all the works performed and the crafts, the doing of the hands and the walking of the feet and the movement of all the limbs according to this directive which is devised by the heart and comes forth through the tongue...

The Pharaoh Shabaka (shortly before 700 BCE) claimed to have found the text on a worm-eaten papyrus in the Ptah Temple of Memphis. He had the text carved on a black stone (Shabaka stone). The most interesting thing about god Ptah is his creative power through the "word", because until then the idea prevailed that the creation of the gods (especially the god Schu and the goddess Tefnut) had taken place from the masturbatorically ejaculated seed of the male primal god Atum, i.e. without the sexual participation of a mother goddess.

The text of the Shabaka stone refers to this older myth:

It was the ennead of Atum that came into being through his seed and his fingers...

but interprets the "seed" and "fingers" of Atum as the "teeth" and "lips" of Ptah.

Thus, in the patriarchal endeavour to remove not only the feminine (as accomplished in the Atum myth), but also the sexual from the original modalities of creation, the Ptah priests thus conceived of a primordial God, the Ptah, creating through the mind (heart) and the word (tongue), and thus a concept which most probably was the inspiration for the world creation by Yahveh through "the word".

Whether the author of the priestly scripture (including Gen 1) knew the Memphitic theology is not certain, but very likely, not only because of the common mode of creation, but also because of the similarity of the Sabbath of Genesis (Resting Elohim after Creation) with the resting of Ptah after completed creation:

Thus rested Ptah after he had made all things and all divine words. (MT 59).


As to Yahveh´s features as assimilated from the Assyrian state god Ashur:

The development towards monotheism ran parallel to the development of the idea of the Great Empire, as it was promoted by the kings of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian kings, like all ancient Oriental kings, stood in the function of mediators between the gods and the human world, more precisely: they were regarded as governors of the state god Ashur, who was increasingly understood in the sense of an inclusive monotheism, i.e. all other gods, including the foreign states, functioned only as executive organs of Ashur.

This dynamic was taken up by some influential Israelite Yahveh worshippers and gradually transferred to their god.

At the end of this process, Deutero-Isaiah´s version of Yahveh stood as the only god with authority over the whole world. This theological step contradicted the political impotence of the Israelite people, who were even stateless at the time of the Babylonian exile. The trick was to no longer interpret Yahveh as God of the state, but as a patron and war god of the ´people of Israel´ exclusively chosen by him. However, the monolatric process leading up to that time took place over several centuries and against the resistance of the people, who stubbornly wanted to hold on to the multiplicity of gods, above all to the worship of the goddess of love Ashera (a Syrian-Canaanite variant of Inanna/Ischtar).

But it didn't take long until, under the influence of Hellenistic philosophy and the Egyptian religion, the old polytheistic longing for a goddess stirred up again, encapsulated in the figure of the Jewish ´Lady Wisdom´, the personified Chokmah as female partner and messenger of Yahveh, based among others on the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Ma´at. The origin of this figure is usually dated to the post-exilic period, but is possibly already of preexilic origin. A sample from the OT:

(Proverbs 8)

22 The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth...

(and so on)

Of course the Jewish angels also have unconscious polytheistic roots, mediated by Mazdaism, whose ideas, including those of angels, influenced Israelite theology during the Babylonian exile. Originally, the Mazda angels were degraded gods from polytheistic systems, monotheistically revolutionized by Mazdaism.

It did not take long until polytheistic tendencies gained the upper hand in the form of the Trinity, the veneration of saints and the veneration of Mary. The implicit polytheism of the idea of the Trinity is passionately denied by theology, but is openly revealed because of the obvious illogicality of the construct - insofar as it makes a monotheistic claim. Marian worship is undisguisedly polytheistic, since the Marian figure is ascribed miraculous healing abilities, which in former times were characteristic of some goddesses, e.g. the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Artemis. And the fact that the so-called saints have the intercessory function with God for the praying corresponds one-to-one to the task of the ancient Near East personal patron deities to say a good word for their human protégés with the upper gods. Mary is thus in the succession of the ancient Near East mother goddess and the saints in the succession of the ancient Near East personal patron deities.
Oct 2018
Adelaide south Australia
Fascinating stuff, thanks so much .

I think I'd better have another look at "Did God have a wife?"

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
Interesting, but I don't think the analysis is correct.

When you read the Mesha stele, where a Moabite king desrcibes an incident that was reported in the Old Testament from the Moabite viewpoint, one can't help but be struck how similar the language is the kind of things the OT said about Yaweh. Chemosh, the god of the Moabitdes, seems to be the national.god of the Moabites the same way Yaweh was the national god of the Jews.

It seems to me that the nation's of the region each had their own national god, one that particularly looked after the interest of the people of than nation. In Israel's case, it was Yahweh, and Moab, it was Chemosh. The Moabites were very similar to the Jews in language and writing script.

Mesha Stele - Wikipedia