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The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts Paperback – November 6, 2003


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The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts + The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) + Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195167686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195167689
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is an important work which will alter the perspectives of many."--The Bible Today

"Not only is the text wide-ranging and insightful at every turn, but it is greatly complemented by the endnotes, which resume arguments, develop tangential aspects, and offer a massive bibliography for further exploration."--Journal of Near Eastern Studies

"Brilliant, well-documented, well-organized, and very discomforting. Biblical scholars now recognize that in the pre-exilic era Asherah worship, infant sacrifice, solar veneration, and other religious practices attacked by biblical authors represented normal Israelite worship, while monotheism was a late development in the Babylonian Exile and subsequent years. Smith and others led the charge in this new scholarly perception of Israelite religion. But with this volume Smith has thrown down a gauntlet to challenge our understandings even more. Smith has produced a seminal work with which scholars must come to grips for years."--Journal of Hebrew Scriptures

About the Author

Mark S. Smith is Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University. His publications include The Pilgrimage Pattern in Exodus (1997), The Ugaritic Baal Cycle (1994), The Early History of God (1990), as well as several other books on the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and West Semitic mythology and literature.

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Customer Reviews

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This is a very fascinating book.
Peter S. Bradley
I highly recommend this book for those with an interest in tanach in particular or West Asian religions in general.
G. Goldwater
This book examines the the Ugaritic pantheon and how it relates to pre-exilic Hebrew religion.
Eric Gray

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

124 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Dougal on May 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you have read Smith's "Early History of God" and been intrigued by his conception of the development of our notion of God during the Biblical period, "The Origins Of Monotheism" delivers a significantly more detailed analysis of the ancient Bronze Age texts from Ugarit and their influence on the culture of ancient Palestine in general, and Biblical texts in particular. Mr. Smith examines conceptions of the divine family and council of the gods, more general notions of ancient aspects of divinity, and the roles of various divinity. Especially insightful is his critique of James Frazier's category of "dying and rising" gods in the Near East. In his analysis of Isaiah, he gives considerable background into Mesopotamian views on the divinity of statues of gods, whithout prejudice. There is a lot more than I can list here in this book, but if you're interested in how the idea of one, all-powerful god came about, this is really essential reading.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Daniel A. Walter on December 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an impressive piece of scholarship to contribute to the study of the emergence of monotheism. What sets Smith apart is a sociological study on how Israel developed from a henotheistic society to monotheism during the period just prior to the exile. What I appreciate about Smith is that he defines his terms very carefully. He shows how scholars in the past have had different definitions of monotheism, and he strives for precision. What is a little confusing about his work is that some of it is very speculative. The vestiges of (orthodox) henotheistic belief in ancient Israel are very sparse (Ps 82, Deut 32:8, 9 LXX and DSS). And Israelite religion did not be come monotheistic for all Israelites everywhere at the same time. As he says, the prophets record the existence of polytheistic and ditheistic Israelite worship by their critique of it. Another thing I appreciate about it is the annotation. THis book is 200 pages of text and 100 pages of footnotes. If you are looking to dive into a topic (such as, YHWH and his asherah), this is a great place to start because he talks about it briefly, then cites about 20-30 source on the topic. The footnote are a goldmine. What is annoying about this book is the lack of editing and the print. First the print is not necessarily Smith's fault, but it is very poor. I would think Oxford University Press could do better, but maybe this is their way of punishing people for not buying their expensive hardbacks. The other problem is the editing. SMith's theory about Ps 82 and Deut 32 come up about 4 times in the book. There are grammatical mistakes and paragraphs that just go on....and on....and on. This book needs some serious editing. All in all it's a good work. I don't necessarily agree with all his theories, but I learn a lot from his work, and what fun is it if you agree with everything you read?
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By G. Goldwater on August 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
Mark Smith has arranged his materials such that his critiques are easy to follow with the aid of a tanach [I don't have an Ugaritic text]. Thought provoking and thorough. Smith tells you the relative probabilities of different critical hypothesis' & it is apparent when he is positing his own opinions.

I especially like the way Smith's approach opens up tanach as a text with a context familiar to contemporaneous West Asians.

This is not a quick read. The citations in the manuscript as well as the footnotes are worth following up if possible.

It is especially helpful if one knows hebrew language. The hebrew letters are transliterated into a roman alphabet which means you've got to retranslate from the roman letters into the hebrew letters in order to realize the shoreshim [roots of the word meanings]...a minor irritant.

I highly recommend this book for those with an interest in tanach in particular or West Asian religions in general.
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45 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Eric Gray on January 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an excellently documented book, written by a true scholar. All assertions are documented, and when the author makes an assertion, any contrary evidence is disclosed as well.

This book examines the the Ugaritic pantheon and how it relates to pre-exilic Hebrew religion.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sol Invictus on November 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
Smith documents an emerging trend in Biblical Studies in a clear, concise and readable fashion. His notes and bibliography are also invaluable to anyone seriously interested in either Assyriology or the emergence of Biblical monotheism.

Ignore the intellectual dishonesty of the apologist reviewers, this is a solid work of scholarship.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Doug on November 18, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well done essay on the origins of Yahwism in the HB and subsequent development monotheism. However, the author gave me the impression that he was attempting to write for the novice, or at least lay readers with an interest in the field but not much knowledge about the basics of biblical scholarship. It is not for the novice or basic level scholars! At times Smith delves into arcane technicalities of Ancient Near Eastern texts, while at others he gives very basic definitions and descriptions of terms etc. In my opinion, the actual target audience for this book is those individuals with more than an introductory knowledge of the history and development of HB studies and the historical, literary, and theological issues surrounding the Documentary Hypothesis. For those readers, this volume is worthy of careful attention. Smith's focus is to utilize the Ugaritic texts as a primary case study, calling upon other ANE texts through late Iron Age to develop a more nuanced and sensitive depiction of West Semitic (a term he argues for in contrast to the more ambiguous "Canaanite") polytheism than has been heretofore assumed in Western culture, including academe. Within that picture Smith then makes a case for the West Semitic polytheistic character of Yahwism and argues that Yahwist monotheism per se (i.e., Yahweh alone is god, and there is NO other god) is a post-exilic development. In the process Smith also smashes icons in his own right, such as dispensing with the notion that the death-resurreciton of a god can be traced to Baal myths. The reader with more than rudimentary knowledge of the field will find this a stimulating read and source of reflection.
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