- Series: The Biblical Resource Series
- Paperback: 289 pages
- Publisher: Eerdmans; 2nd edition (August 3, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080283972X
- ISBN-13: 978-0802839725
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (The Biblical Resource Series) Paperback – August 3, 2002
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"Review of the first editon ? Smith deserves a very careful and appreciative hearing. . . This book provides a feast for the attentive reader and concerned scholar."
The Christian Century
"Review of the first editon ? Smith assembles and analyzes a tremendous array of archaeological and textual evidence to challenge the notion of Israel's religious distinctiveness. . . The implications of this insight for theological reflection on Judaism are incalculable."
Catholic Biblical Quarterly
"Review of the first editon ? It is rare to find a book so steeped in the primary evidence of texts and history and so thoroughly conversant with the nuances of recent scholarly discussion. . . Smith's admirable erudition and discerning judgment will make this book required reading for present and future generations of biblical scholars and students."
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"Review of the first editon ? The notes are a treasury of information and resources for scholars, yet the treatment is one that an informed reader can follow. . . One is left with both respect for Smith's contribution and also a clear awareness of how it cuts against the basic grain of the biblical text itself."
From the Back Cover
In this remarkable, acclaimed history of the development of monotheism, Mark S. Smith explains how Israel's religion evolved from a cult of Yahweh as a primary deity among many to a fully defined monotheistic faith with Yahweh as sole god. Repudiating the traditional view that Israel was fundamentally different in culture and religion from its Canaanite neighbors, this provocative book argues that Israelite religion developed, at least in part, from the religion of Canaan. Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological sources, Smith cogently demonstrates that Israelite religion was not an outright rejection of foreign, pagan gods but, rather, was the result of the progressive establishment of a distinctly separate Israelite identity. This thoroughly revised second edition of "The Early History of God includes a substantial new preface by the author and a foreword by Patrick D. Miller.
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This is obviously not the history that the average person gets taught on Sunday, nor is it what the Bible teaches. In the Bible, of course, the Monotheistic Revolution happens with Moses, who learns that there is one God. God enlists Moses to free the people of Israel from Egypt. Thereafter, although there is a creeping temptation of kings and the people to worship strange gods, there is no question that the moral force is against them and in favor of monotheism, as prophets condemn backsliding kings and judges deal harshly with idolatrous foreigners.
So, how does Smith turn the Bible on its head? Basically, he assumes that Israel was a Canaanite culture. By knowing what the norms were for Canaanite culture - largely from the texts preserved at Ugarit - he then gleans the Bible for clues and indications of normal Canaanite culture. Then, by reading the text, and the inferences in the text, he finds that Canaanite culture was being practiced in Israel. Thus, for example, condemnations of "high places" and statements about taking the Asherah out of the Temple are indications that Israelites were following Canaanite norms by worshipping at high places and that Yahweh was associated with the symbols of a goddess, the "asherah" - a pole sacred to the goddess Asherah - which then implies that Yahweh may have had a consort, namely Asherah. Smith notes:
>>>>Biblical texts provide a few indications for the cultic context of the asherah. According to two passages it was a wooden item erected next to the altar of a god. In Judges 6:25-26, Gideon is commanded to “pull down the altar of Baal which your father has, and cut down the asherah that is beside it.” Deuteronomy 16:21 forbids the “planting” of “any tree — an asherah — besides the altar of the Lord your God which you shall make.”463 The asherah was a religious symbol within Yahwistic cult in both northern and southern capitals. It is indicated in 2 Kings 13:6 that the asherah belonged to the cult of Samaria. The Jerusalem temple was expunged of cultic objects considered unacceptable according to 2 Kings 23. The list includes the asherah, but there is no indication that the asherah was related to a cult of Baal.
Smith, Mark S. (2010-04-12). The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) (Kindle Locations 2015-2022). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition. <<<<
It seems that the view that Yahweh was "married" is the majority opinion of scholars:
>>>>The question of Asherah as an Israelite goddess constitutes a major issue in understanding Israelite religion. Does the biblical and extrabiblical evidence support the view that Asherah was a goddess in pre-exilic Israel and that she was the consort of Yahweh? Or, alternatively, does the data point to the asherah as a symbol within the cult of Yahweh without signifying a goddess? The first position constitutes a majority view, represented by the older works of H. Ringgren, G. Fohrer, and G. W. Ahlström, and the studies in the 1980s by W. G. Dever, D. N. Freedman, R. Hestrin, A. Lemaire, and S. Olyan and more recent works by J. M. Hadley, J. Day, M. Dijkstra, O. Keel, and Z. Zevit.500 A minority position, held earlier by B. Lang, P. D. Miller, J. Tigay, and U. Winter and recently by C. Frevel and M. C. A. Korpel, maintains on the paucity of evidence that ’ăšērāh neither referred to a goddess nor symbolized the goddess in Israel.
Smith, Mark S. (2010-04-12). The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) (Kindle Locations 2130-2137). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.
Sometimes, the indication is a little more direct, such as the case with child sacrifice. Smith observes:
>>>>Ezekiel 20:25-26 provides a different type of explanation for the otherwise forbidden practice of child sacrifice. In this passage Yahweh describes child sacrifice as divine punishment: “Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am Yahweh.” Similarly, Jeremiah 7:21-22 dismisses the divine authority for child sacrifice by denying that Yahweh ever commanded it.<<<<
Smith, Mark S. (2010-04-12). The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) (Kindle Locations 3221-3225). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.
By the way, it appears that "Moloch" was not a god, so much as a particular kind of sacrifice - the mlk sacrifice - which included the kinds of child sacrifice associated with Ba'al.
Sometimes, these insights are illuminating. I got the sense of the historical experience that informed the Bible. Thus, it makes sense that Israel would have been influenced by its neighbors and been tempted toward syncretism. King Ahab, for example, needed to make political alliances like any other king. HIs marriage to Jezebel - read Jeze-ba'al for the "theophoric" reference to her culture's primary deity, i.e., "Ba'al" - makes political sense. (By the way, one thing I picked up on was the importance of theophoric markers as "tells" of what god was worshiped by what people. Hence, all the "el" markers, e.g., Daniel, Michael, Ezekiel, point to Israel.) But when you invite the princess, you also invite her "ministers" and that brings in the Ba'al worshipers so much opposed by the prophets. As Smith observes:
>>>The biblical and extrabiblical sources provide a wide array of information pertaining to the cult of Baal in Israel and Phoenicia during this period. The biblical record dramatically presents the spread of the cult of Phoenician Baal in Samaria. Jezebel, daughter of Ittobaal, king of Tyre, and wife of Ahab, king of the northern kingdom, strongly sponsored the worship of Baal (1 Kings 16:31). First, Ahab built a temple to Baal, which is said to have been in Samaria (1 Kings 16:32). From 2 Kings 13:6, it is clear that Baal had his own temple in the environs of Samaria, apart from the cult of the national god, Yahweh (cf. 1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 10:21-27).291 Ahab also erected an asherah, whose location and relationship to Baal are not specified. Elijah, the enemy of Ahab, and the measures that Ahab and Jezebel took to support the worship of Baal in the capital are presented in 1 Kings 17-19. Jezebel persecuted the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:3), but provided income to the prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:19).292 Later, in a speech to Yahweh, Elijah says that he is the only prophet of Yahweh to have escaped Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 19:10).
Smith, Mark S. (2010-04-12). The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) (Kindle Locations 1421-1430). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.
On the other hand, at times I wondered if the extrapolation was a bridge too far. There seems to be only so much that the odd reference can tell us, even when coupled with the assumption that Israel was a typical Canaanite culture. One reason is that the Israel that was not a typical Canaanite culture stands between us and this hypothesized pre-Exilic culture. The Yahweh of our knowledge - in the Bible - is not Ba'al, and apart from some Ba'al-like titles and "roles," the essence of Yahweh is not Ba'al. Thus, as Smith also notes:
>>>Other divine roles known from the Ugaritic literature are conspicuously absent from both the biblical record and extrabiblical Jewish literature. Yahweh does not appear like El, the drunken carouser (KTU 1.114) and sexual partner of goddesses (KTU 1.23.30-51; cf. 1.4 V 38-39), or Baal, the dying god (KTU 1.5 V-1.6 V) and voracious sexual partner of animals (KTU 1.5 V 18-22) and perhaps of his sister, Anat (KTU 1.11.1-5). Yahweh is unlike Anat, who feasts on the flesh of her military victims (KTU 1.3 II), or the sun-goddess in her netherworldly role (KTU 1.6 110-18, VI 42-53; cf. 1.161.8f.).750 Of these images, only the language of feasting on the enemies is attested in biblical literature, and even this imagery appears indirectly with respect to Yahweh. Moreover, the feature of divine feasting in biblical tradition hardly conveys the rich and vivid character of divine imagery expressed in the Ugaritic narratives.
Smith, Mark S. (2010-04-12). The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series) (Kindle Locations 3247-3253). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.
That seems like a whole lot of editing for someone in Babylon to pull off, particularly since it would have required that the Jews who remained in Israel and throughout the ancient world had to agree to the radical re-imagining of their religion.(Although to be fair, Smith does explain some of the re-imagining as being motivated by the priest class's ritual opposition to death and sex.)
I would love to see evidence and/or an argument for the mechanism that permitted this new version of Judaism to so take the field that the memory of the prior religion was completely suppressed, apart from the odd reference here and there, which somehow was missed by the censor. Perhaps it can happen. The various versions of the Koran were replaced by a single authorized version, and the English Reformation was able to convince the English people that Catholicism had always been foreign, even though they had been Catholic themselves one hundred years before. On the other hand, we have also seen many cases where "reform" generates a response: Akhenaten's reforms died with him, and it was his memory that was chiseled out of history.
On reflection this is a fascinating book. It is not light or easy reading. It is extremely text-bookish, but for someone with a background in history - or a solid grounding in the Old Testament - it undoubtedly provides a new prism for looking at biblical material.
Smith's primary thesis is that worship of Yahweh went from polytheism in the 12th century (Yahweh was already the most important God, but one of several acknowledged gods) through monolatry during the later monarchy (Yahweh was the only god to be worshipped, but other gods existed -- after about 800, all of them bad) to monotheism after the Babylonian exile (Yahweh was the only god that existed). His secondary thesis is that the characteristics of many of the gods of the pantheistic early Israelites -- El, Baal, Asherah, perhaps Astarte -- became incorporated into the person of Yahweh. He believes that much of this was due to the policy of the early ("Davidic") monarchy, which wanted a strong national god to compete with the national gods of Israel's troublesome neighbors. HIs tertiary thesis is that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) is a redaction of older sources complied during the pre-exile Southern kingdom period, and which hides the polytheistic elements in earlier Jewish worship, as it was compiled in large measure to support the Yahwist ideology of its monarchy. Smith does not have much to say about how the still-monolatrous Jews of Josiah's time became the post-exilic monotheists of Ezra's, because that promises to be the subject of a subsequent book.
Smith says almost nothing about the origin of Yahweh or Yahwist worship, largely I suspect because it arose before the 12th century and we have virtually no evidence of anything concerning Israelite worship before that date. He does accept that the early Israelites were essentially West Semitic peoples who inhabited the high country of what is now Israel (Canaanite hillbillies, as it were), and that their early practices contained disturbing elements -- such as child sacrifice -- which were later repudiated by the Hebrew people. He also accepts what is now majority scholarly opinion that Israelite penetration of the rest of Canaan was less a conquest than an integration. He offers no opinion on how this happened -- probably because we do not have the foggiest idea of how it did.
Smith has an irritating, but ultimately sound, policy of refusing to speculate much beyond the evidence. Of what little we know, we are reasonably sure. Of what we don't, Smith prefers to pass over in silence.