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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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Editorial Reviews

Review

Journal of Biblical Literature
"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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Product Details

  • 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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Wyote VINE VOICE on December 19, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not an introduction to ancient Israel's religion or history, or to the Hebrew Bible. It shouldn't be your first book on the topic. (For your first book, try Who Wrote the Bible? by Friedman. In this book Smith will not review or attempt to prove source theory, Israel's Canaanite origins, and so on.) But it is about the evolution of Yahweh through his encounters with Canaanite deities on his way to becoming the "One God" of post-exhilic Judaism.

Smith's thesis is that the development of monolatry (which preceeded monotheism) in Israel began with a process of convergence and differentiation. "Covergence," he writes, "involved the coalescence of various deities and/or some of their features into the figure of Yahweh" (7). And differentiation was the process of Israel rejecting its Caananite heritage, creating a separate identity (8).

So, he writes, "The issue is not one of identifying the earliest instances of monolatry; rather, the old question of explaining monotheism becomes a new issue of accounting for the phenomenon of convergence, a stage in Israelite religion older than the appearance of monolatry" (197).

The deity Yahweh apparently came to Israel from Edom or another southern location (Smith discusses this in another book, "The Origins of Biblical Monotheism"). He was incorporated into Israel's pantheon, which was Canaanite: it featured the deities El, Baal, Anat and Asherah prominently. Smith has a lot of experience with the Ugaritic texts, which record Canaanite religion similar to what Israel must have inherited, so he has the ability to find ways that Yahweh has taken over the features of Canaanite gods.
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Format: Paperback
This is one book on ancient Israel that actually delivers what its title promises. In "The Early History of God" Mark Smith systematically sifts through archaelogical and literary data from Bronze and Iron Age Palestine, the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia to find the earliest evidence for YHWH, his cult, and his context. Chapters include discussions of YHWH and El, YHWH and Baal, Asherah and asherahs, cultic practices, such as communication with the dead and child sacrifice, at the sites where YHWH was worshiped, as well as a brief discussion of the beginnings of monotheism during the late monarchy. Refreshingly for me, Smith frames his argument on available evidence, not on wishful thinking, and the result is provocative and stimulating. The long introduction to this new edition covers the debate that has gone on since the book was originally published over ten years ago, and the extensive footnotes are a wealth of information on every side of the discussion. This is the kind of book that helps keep scholarship in good repute. Don't wait to read it!
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This is a fantastic synthesis of 20th Century scholarship on the religion of Israel in the period of the Judges and early monarchy. The Smith surveys the literature and provides his own theory of the the relationship between Israelite religion and that of other Canaanites. (One thing you will learn is that contrary to the way the situation is portrayed in the Bible, there is little to distinguish between the Israelites and Canaanites.) It deals with the issue of monolatry versus monotheism, did God have a wife?, are there various names of God in the Bible because originally they stories were about different gods?, and what of the ritual and cult in early Israelite religion.

Smith definitely draws heavily on the scholarship of Frank Moore Cross, Jr. and Marvin H. Pope, and their students, such as John Day (e.g., Molech: a god of human sacrifice in the Old Testament) and W.R. Garr (e.g., Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine: 1100-586BC).

The book is extremely well footnoted, making it valuable even if you don't buy all his arguments.
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_The Early History of God_ by Mark S. Smith traces the origins of the cult of Yahweh (YHWH) in ancient Israel based on archeological and textual material. Mark S. Smith focuses upon the rise of Yahweh and Israelite monotheism (monolatry) in ancient Israel. The cult of Yahweh is opposed to that of the cults of other Canaanite and Mesopotamian deities including El, Baal, and Asherah. Separate chapters are devoted to Yahweh and Baal and Yahweh and Asherah (an early Canaanite goddess, contrasted with YHWH). The origins of Yahweh are revealed in cultic practices as related to solar worship, family worship and cultic veneration of the dead ("feeding the dead" and "communing with the dead"), as well as with the asherah (symbolized by the sacred tree) and the moloch (MLK) sacrifice (a sacrifice of the children to appease the deity). The development of the Yahweh cult through the monarchic period and as mentioned in the prophets and exilic period is fully worked out. The book comes to reveal how Yahweh gained supremacy so as to be before all other deities (indeed, supreme deity and One as the Godhead of the entire universe). Whether the conclusions that are reached in this book can be trusted in the light of Holy Tradition is of course a different matter entirely. Nevertheless, the book is a useful look at the origins of Yahweh-supremacy within the religious millieu of ancient Israel (the ancient Near East) based on evidence from Stone Age and Iron Age material as well as from early textual (biblical) sources.
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