The Early History Of God: Yahweh And The Other ...
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The discovery of Amenhotep III's mention of the Shasu of Yahweh placed the god much earlier in history than had been accepted previously but also suggested that Yahweh was perhaps not native to Canaan. This fit with the theory that Yahweh was a desert god whom the Hebrews adopted in their exodus from Egypt to Canaan. The descriptions of Yahweh appearing as a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day as well as the other fire-imagery from the Book of Exodus were interpreted by some scholars as suggesting a storm god or weather-deity and, particularly, a desert god since Yahweh is able to direct Moses to water sources (Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20). It is generally accepted in the modern day, however, that Yahweh originated in southern Canaan as a lesser god in the Canaanite pantheon and the Shasu, as nomads, most likely acquired their worship of him during their time in the Levant.
Yahweh-as-warrior is evident throughout the Hebrew scriptures which became the Christian Old Testament and warrior imagery is also apparent in passages in the New Testament which drew on the earlier works (ex: Ephesians 6:11, Philippians 2:25, II Timothy 2:3-4, I Corinthians 9:7, among others). By the time these works were written, the worship of Yahweh had undergone a dramatic transformation from what it had been in the early days of the Israelites in Canaan.
The Assyrian Empire fell to an invading force of Babylonians, Medes, and others in 612 BCE and the Babylonians claimed the region of Canaan. In 598 BCE they invaded Judah and sacked Jerusalem, destroying the temple of Solomon and taking the leading citizens back to Babylon. This is the time in Jewish history known as the Babylonian Captivity (c. 598-538 BCE). Babylon was conquered by Cyrus the Great (d. 530 BCE) of the Persians who allowed the Jewish leaders to return to their homeland in 538 BCE.
We want to make the Bible history. Many people think it has to be history or nothing. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That's a modern discipline. They were telling stories. They wanted you to know what these purported events mean.
If one wishes to understand the origin of belief in Satan in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, one has to study the history of Israel's religion. The information presented in the following sections is not based on original research into the two religions but on recent research conducted by other biblical scholars. However, none of the latter focused exclusively on the introduction of Satan into the religion of Israel. This article is an attempt to dovetail their research with research into apocalypticism, Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity in order to gauge when Satan became an important character and why.3 Moreover, this article would like to engage with Braaten's statement that Christianity cannot do without this character.
Various prophets and scribes tried to make sense of the events. Among them were the so-called Deuteronomists, a group of scribes who stood behind King Josiah's Deuteronomic Reformation. According to their interpretation, Yahweh was punishing the Judeans for breaking the stipulations of the covenant he had made with them when he promised to be their god and to bless them. The first stipulation stated explicitly that they should serve only Yahweh (Deut 5:6-7). The Deuteronomists compiled a history reflecting their perspective: the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through Kings). According to their interpretation of the history, time and again the Israelites turned their backs on Yahweh and worshipped other gods. However, what became evident to scholars is that the Deuteronomists read their perspective into the earlier history of Israel, creating the impression that Israel's religion was monotheistic from the start.11 A critical study of the Old Testament books and archaeological excavations in Israel revealed that Jahwism was not monotheistic from the start (Smith 2004; Dijkstra 2001:17-44). In a sense, the Deuteronomists imposed a two-tiered pantheon onto the history of Israel, creating the impression in their rendering of the history that the ancestors of Israel were true monotheists. One may also argue that the four-tiered pantheon of the First Temple period "imploded" during the exile and what remained was a two-tiered pantheon consisting of only Yahweh and the angels (Smith 2004:114-119).
The Persian period in Jewish history (539-333 BCE) was one of the most peaceful they ever experienced. As Horsley (2011:65) points out, "The Persian takeover of the Middle East had not involved a destructive conquest of Judea". However, with the arrival of Alexander the Great and his armies (333 BCE), this changed. In the space of a decade he had conquered the Persian Empire and, for the first time in history, a Western Empire had taken control of the Near East. The Jews, like all other Near Eastern nations, became subjects of the Greek-Macedonian Empire and its subsequent mini-empires. The empire was divided among his generals after Alexander's death in 323 BCE. Two of these mini-empires impacted on the history of the Jews: The Seleucid kingdom in the north and the Ptolemaic kingdom in the south. The Jews were once again trapped between two political forces (Haag 2003:33-62). Although things did not change drastically during the first century following Alexander's conquest, the Jews realised that their hopes of becoming independent had been dashed. Along with this realisation came the vexing question of whether evil forces did exist and whether they were able to prevent Yahweh from establishing his kingdom.
The first section of the Book of Daniel (Dan 1-6) reflects a reworking by an apocalyptic author who wrote the stories about Daniel and his visions (Dan 7-12). He believed, as many other apocalyptic authors did, that world history could be divided into four eras, to which specific empires were assigned. This can be gleaned from the dream of king Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2) and Daniel's own vision (Dan 7). The different empires/kingdoms mentioned in the two chapters can be presented as follows (Koch 1980:182-213; Koch 1997:11-29):
When the Romans conquered the Seleucid kingdom in 63 BCE, and Palestine became de facto part of their empire, the conviction that the Devil and his angels/demons were expelled from heaven and were creating havoc on earth was well-established among Jews. Some Jews believed that there were evil forces behind the Roman Empire, as had been the case with the Seleucids during the time of Daniel. "Explaining imperial violence as the result of rebel heavenly forces enabled them not simply to blame themselves as hopeless sinners" (Horsley 2011:71). However, the different factions and groups constituting early Judaism commenced with the practice of demonising others in order to present themselves as the only group of true believers. With this, we reach another stage in the development of the belief in the Satan/Devil. The Qumran community may serve as an example. Severing their ties with the rest of the Jewish community they proclaimed that they represented "true Israel". The others, they claimed, were colluding with the Devil and his entourage (Pagels 1996:56-61).
The brief history of the development of the belief in the Devil and fallen angels presented here should serve as proof that this belief cannot be classified as a pure "biblical belief". In one sense, it could even be argued that "[d]evils, hell and the end of the world are New Testament rather than Old Testament realities" (Barr 1966:149). It is only during the Second Temple period (more specifically the Hellenistic period) that belief in Satan and the fallen angels developed. The events on the political scene contributed to this development. Furthermore, the historical overview may serve as an argument to counter the claim that belief in the Devil is a prerequisite for being a Christian. Jesus shared the convictions of his contemporaries that evil forces were behind the Roman Empire, but we do not have to make similar claims. Christians could, in fact, do without this character. To discard the belief in the Devil may even contribute to peace-initiatives on earth. Christians and Muslims too easily claim to be on the side of the good and point fingers at others as being on the side of evil and the Devil. Concerning this, Messadie makes the following observation:
When we turn away from the "orthodox" view of Yahweh presented in the Old Testament as a deity completely separate and distinct not only from the gods of Canaan but, as Second Isaiah would argue, any other god worshipped throughout the world, we see that Yahweh's relation to non-Israelite deities and religions is not nearly as black and white as the biblical authors make it seem. On the contrary, archaeology as well as ancient written sources suggest far greater congruence between Yahweh and these other deities. This article examines one example of such congruence as seen in the parallels between the biblical Yahweh and the Greek god Dionysus (Latin: Bacchus).
But now we must ask in what ways Israel conceived of YHWH, if on the one hand He was acclaimed as their God and, on the other hand, He was clearly distinguished from all the mythological beings who had been referred to as gods hitherto. When we put the Old Testament material in its chronological order and make a comparative study of the way in which YHWH was understood and talked about, we get a fairly clear impression that Israel was steadily shedding the mythological elements from her thinking. In the earliest material God was pictured in human form, and described as if he made personal appearances in the human scene from time to time. The material from the next stage avoided these theophanies, as we now call them, and spoke of an angel or messenger (the one Hebrew word has both meanings) as the means by which YHWH communicated with men. Later again, even angel-talk was avoided, and it was thought sufficient for YHWH to speak His word, and man heard it through the voice of a prophet, or in his own inner ear. 781b155fdc