Biblical history

Origins of the Judeo-Christian Monotheism.

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I am reading a book called Monotheism and Yahweh’s Appropriation of Baal. It is a fascinating little study adding more details to some theories about the origins of monotheism. Those familiar with the Bible might know that Baal is one of the gods that the Biblical writers are incredibly critical of. However, this book points out the little ways in which the Bible references to Yahweh having the powers of Baal. For example, in 2 Kings 7.2 there is a reference to making windows in the sky. Many Bibles translate this as opening the storm gates of heaven, making a flood, but one of the Baal myths specifically speaks of Baal having a window put in his palace so he can water the crops. The reference to a musician in 2 Kings 3:15 could be a reference to a staying about Baal. The god Baal was a younger one that was becoming more powerful than the older god El. He was associated with rain and with dew, with chariots of fire and he was known to have died and be reborn, bringing back to life many of the honoured dead as he did so. Daniel 7:14 may well have been a description of Baal acquiring power from El long before it was seen as Jesus and God.

Baal, God of Fertility and Storms, Megiddo, Strata IX-VII, Late Bronze Age, 1550-1200 BC, bronze - Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago - DSC07738

The origins of the Judeo-Christian monotheism might have been a struggle between the followers of the father god and the younger storm god. (Similar in some ways to the later struggle between Odin and Thor in Norse mythology.) Yahweh was at times portrayed as another son of El, like Baal, but he became merged with El, supporting the older God.

The Bible talks of Baal and his Asherah. However, other evidence suggests that Asherah was associated more with El and Yahweh. (Asherah is sometimes portrayed as Baal’s mother, with Baal as one of the sons of El and Asherah.) Those wishing to cut down on the pantheon and proclaim Yahweh/El alone as god found it useful to push Yahweh/El’s consort off on the rejected younger god Baal.

Whenever I study history, I’m fascinated with transitions. How do we move from period to period? How does one thing replace another? This theory of the origins of monotheism helps provide that link between the world of polytheism and the Biblical concept of monotheism. It is only part, though. There’s still the progression from Yahweh/El as the one god worth worship to being the only god in existence with less physical manifestation and more transcendence. That seems to have taken place in the Persian and post-Persian Biblical period. Some of it shows up in the disagreements between the Pharisees and Sadducees, because while both would have recognized he existence of only one God, they disagreed on how active that one god is in the world.

The fiery chariot of Elijah might be one more co-option of Baal’s power.
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