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Elements of animism in the Jewish Bible

 
Andrew
 
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Andrew
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29 December 2009 15:51
 
hannahfriend - 28 December 2009 08:32 PM

So maybe we need to distinguish between core Jewish tenets and actions of the Hebrew people.

(Andrew):  The idea is that there are demonstrable remnants of animism to be found in what has become Jewish scripture—not that Jews engaged in animism.
Polytheism means belief in the existence of more than one god. The Hebrews certainly believed in the existence of other gods—that’s why they continually strayed and had to be jerked back to Yahwism by the prophets.  There were long periods of time when the supremacy of Yahweh was touch and go.

[ Edited: 29 December 2009 17:37 by Andrew]
 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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29 December 2009 17:25
 
Andrew - 29 December 2009 02:51 PM

(Andrew):  The idea is that there are demonstrable remnants of animism to be found in what has become Jewish scripture—not that Jews engaged in animism.

An idea that was indeed popular in the beginning of the 20th century, but has been rejected for decades.

Andrew - 29 December 2009 02:51 PM

Monotheism means belief in the existence of more than one god. The Hebrews certainly believed in the existence of other gods—that’s why they continually strayed and had to be jerked back to Yahwism by the prophets.  There were long periods of time when the supremacy of Yahweh was touch and go.

Monolatry is the worship of one God and the belief in the existence of others. Monotheism is technically the belief in one deity alone, although the word was invented to describe Christianity and technically no Judeo-Christian theology is strictly monotheistic. The Israelites and Jews believed in other deities in a variety of ways, but Yahwism was never threatened by this belief. Belief in other deities is found in many of the most Yahwistic passages in the Hebrew Bible. What threatened Yahwism was pluralistic Yahwism (several cult sites each dedicated to a local Yahweh - thus Deut 6:4) and veneration of Asherah, Baal, and the Assyro-Babylonian astral deities. Some texts from Kuntillet Ajrud contains blessings with “Yahweh of Teman and his asherah” and “Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah” in them. This was the real danger that the Deuteronomic authors saw, although it was largely normative before the seventh century. Once worship of other gods takes place, it’s no longer monolatry, but polytheism. Once Yahweh and El were conflated their supremacy was never really questioned for extended periods. It was only after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and again at the destruction of Jerusalem that a universalizing influence was appealed to to fight off the notion that Yahweh had been beaten by foreign gods. The same propaganda is found in the 9th century Mesha Stele, where the defeat of Moab at the hands of Israel is attributed to Kemosh’s anger with his land, rather than Yahweh defeating Kemosh. There’s no indication these appeals were not immediately successful in Israel.

 
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29 December 2009 17:39
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 04:25 PM

Monolatry is the worship of one God and the belief in the existence of others.

(Andrew):  Pardon me…I corrected my post to say that polytheism “means belief in the existence of more than one god”.  The early Hebrews were polytheists.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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29 December 2009 18:08
 
Andrew - 29 December 2009 04:39 PM
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 04:25 PM

Monolatry is the worship of one God and the belief in the existence of others.

(Andrew):  Pardon me…I corrected my post to say that polytheism “means belief in the existence of more than one god”.  The early Hebrews were polytheists.

In the academy the word “polytheism” is differentiated from “monolatry” and so is only used to describe the actual worship of more than one god. The worship of one god without the denial of the existence of other gods is referred to as monolatry, not polytheism. See Klaus Kock, “Ugaritic Polytheism and Hebrew Monotheism in Isaiah 40-55,” in The God of Israel (ed., Robert P. Gordon; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007): “In scholarly discussions polytheism refers to a system of religious belief and practice in which a multiplicity of gods and goddesses are venerated.”

 
hannahtoo
 
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29 December 2009 18:37
 
GAD - 29 December 2009 01:12 AM
hannahfriend - 28 December 2009 11:13 PM

No, the Jewish religion started out as monotheistic in a polytheistic world.  The whole OT revolves around the one god.  It is the first of the 10 commandments.  The most holy prayer of the faith is the Sh’ma which states:  “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  That’s the prayer that is inside the little decorative mezuzahs that are nailed to the doorposts of Jewish homes (“Thou shalt inscribe them upon thy gates.”)

The idea of one invisible god beyond our understanding, with his multitude of laws for living a righteous life, was very difficult to hold to through thick and thin.  The OT has story after story of the failure of the Jews to follow what God wanted them to do, the calamity that followed, and then the Jews’ return to proper worship. 

I don’t see how you can say that Judaism is polytheistic, unless you’re just saying that some people who lived in the Jewish community disobeyed the guidelines of their holy book.

Basically every definition of Judaism includes one god:

From Answers.com:  Judaism:  The monotheistic religion of the Jews…

From Miriam Webster:  Judaism:  1 : a religion developed among the ancient Hebrews and characterized by belief in one transcendent God who has revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets

From Yourdictionary.com:  Judaism:  the Jewish religion, a monotheistic religion based on the laws and teachings of the Holy Scripture and the Talmud

That’s what it is today, but the Jewish god was just one of the gods in the beginning.

Were you taught that god created everything?

Not in the bible. One only need to read Genesis 1:1 - 1:10 to see that there was a water universe of chaos preexisting that god created the heaven and earth within.

The cosmogony written is Genesis (and else where) is clearly taken from the older Enuma elish and mixed with other myths of the time..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enuma_elish
http://www.infidelguy.com/heaven_sky.htm

As is the “Firmament” which science has long since proven to be false, which is backed up by the Father religion (Jews) as well as it’s bastard child Christianity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firmament
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=807&letter=C
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06079b.htm

Thank you for the references.  I have no argument with your premise that Jewish teachings are not completely original, and the creation story certainly borrows from others that came before.

I do disagree with you however, on what Genesis 1 was trying to say.  I’m not competent to discuss from the original Hebrew what was firmament and whether the authors thought anything was existing before God was said to create the heavens and the earth.  The ancient people had a very different notion of the earth and space than we do, as your references explain.  So I don’t think we can get too nitpicky on whether what they wrote exactly covers the creation of everything as we define it.

However, it’s the overall picture I’m looking at.  Genesis 1 means to say that God (THE god) created the universe.  There is never any mention of other gods helping as there is in many religious traditions.  I’m not arguing truth here—I fully accept the idea of the big bang billions of years ago—I’m just arguing that Genesis always talks about one god, and so is monotheistic.

Maybe you are saying that the earliest Jews might have seen their God as the most powerful among many.  For example, Abraham met Melchizedek who was called the “priest of the most high god.”  And I appreciate your drawing this idea to my attention.  I think it is clear in any case that the Jewish understanding evolved to view their God as the only one.  And this is certainly the predominant view that comes out of the OT.  Over and over the OT stories record the Jewish conviction that their god was the one true god—not the strongest god, but the only real god.  This is why, across the board, Judaism is classed as monotheistic.

 
hannahtoo
 
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29 December 2009 18:44
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 04:25 PM
Andrew - 29 December 2009 02:51 PM

(Andrew):  The idea is that there are demonstrable remnants of animism to be found in what has become Jewish scripture—not that Jews engaged in animism.

An idea that was indeed popular in the beginning of the 20th century, but has been rejected for decades.

Andrew - 29 December 2009 02:51 PM

Monotheism means belief in the existence of more than one god. The Hebrews certainly believed in the existence of other gods—that’s why they continually strayed and had to be jerked back to Yahwism by the prophets.  There were long periods of time when the supremacy of Yahweh was touch and go.

Monolatry is the worship of one God and the belief in the existence of others. Monotheism is technically the belief in one deity alone, although the word was invented to describe Christianity and technically no Judeo-Christian theology is strictly monotheistic. The Israelites and Jews believed in other deities in a variety of ways, but Yahwism was never threatened by this belief. Belief in other deities is found in many of the most Yahwistic passages in the Hebrew Bible. What threatened Yahwism was pluralistic Yahwism (several cult sites each dedicated to a local Yahweh - thus Deut 6:4) and veneration of Asherah, Baal, and the Assyro-Babylonian astral deities. Some texts from Kuntillet Ajrud contains blessings with “Yahweh of Teman and his asherah” and “Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah” in them. This was the real danger that the Deuteronomic authors saw, although it was largely normative before the seventh century. Once worship of other gods takes place, it’s no longer monolatry, but polytheism. Once Yahweh and El were conflated their supremacy was never really questioned for extended periods. It was only after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and again at the destruction of Jerusalem that a universalizing influence was appealed to to fight off the notion that Yahweh had been beaten by foreign gods. The same propaganda is found in the 9th century Mesha Stele, where the defeat of Moab at the hands of Israel is attributed to Kemosh’s anger with his land, rather than Yahweh defeating Kemosh. There’s no indication these appeals were not immediately successful in Israel.

Wow, this all got posted while I was writing my post.  Are your dates of 7th and 9th century BCE?

 
Andrew
 
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29 December 2009 18:50
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 05:08 PM

In the academy the word “polytheism” is differentiated from “monolatry” and so is only used to describe the actual worship of more than one god.

(Andrew):  In the dictionary, “polytheism” is defined as the the worship or belief in the existence of more than one god.  The early Jews believed in the existence of (and occasionally worshipped…i.e., went “whoring after”) other gods than Yahweh, so they were polytheists.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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29 December 2009 19:14
 
Andrew - 29 December 2009 05:50 PM

(Andrew):  In the dictionary, “polytheism” is defined as the the worship or belief in the existence of more than one god.  The early Jews believed in the existence of (and occasionally worshipped…i.e., went “whoring after”) other gods than Yahweh, so they were polytheists.

And as I stated, in the modern academic discussion, a distinction is made between polytheism and monolatry. You’re trying to participate in an academic discussion. There is no rational reason to reject this academic distinction, especially considering your attempts to sound academic (to the point of plagiarizing a book). The only reason to do so is to maintain the term “polytheism” as some kind of polemical club with which you can beat others over the head. If you have no qualms with making your prejudices that transparent, then continue to use the term.

 
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29 December 2009 19:46
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 06:14 PM

The only reason to do so is to maintain the term “polytheism” as some kind of polemical club with which you can beat others over the head.

(Andrew):  I don’t understand that.  I’m not trying to beat anyone over the head or change a definition to suit my argument.  Polytheism is what it is.
The early Israelites were polytheistic.  By definition.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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29 December 2009 19:55
 
Andrew - 29 December 2009 06:46 PM

(Andrew):  I don’t understand that.  I’m not trying to beat anyone over the head or change a definition to suit my argument.  Polytheism is what it is.
The early Israelites were polytheistic.  By definition.

I very clearly explained what vernacular is used in academic discussions of Israelite theology and provided a citation with a quote. You did not even acknowledge it. If you don’t believe me or you’d like to take issue with the definition then address it, but the above completely ignores what I’ve said and seems to be nothing more than patronizing.

 
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29 December 2009 20:02
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 06:55 PM

I very clearly explained what vernacular is used in academic discussions of Israelite theology and provided a citation with a quote. You did not even acknowledge it. If you don’t believe me or you’d like to take issue with the definition then address it, but the above completely ignores what I’ve said and seems to be nothing more than patronizing.

(Andrew):  Take it any way you want to, but I’m not patronizing you.  You’re projecting.
The early Israelites believed in the existence of more than one god—-even worshipped others from time to time.  That makes them polytheists.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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29 December 2009 20:09
 
Andrew - 29 December 2009 07:02 PM

(Andrew):  Take it any way you want to, but I’m not patronizing you.  You’re projecting.

I can’t be projecting if I entirely disagree with the paradigm that I’m pointing out. I make sure to be inclusive and precise with my language. I’m correcting you for being deliberately imprecise with language because it satisfies an emotional need to antagonize. Projection is quite out of the question. 

Andrew - 29 December 2009 07:02 PM

The early Israelites believed in the existence of more than one god—-even worshipped others from time to time.  That makes them polytheists.

And what I quite clearly pointed out, with academic citation, is that it’s not nearly as simple as that. Again you have refused to even acknowledge what the academy has to say about this. Why the reticence?

 
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29 December 2009 20:26
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 07:09 PM

I can’t be projecting if I entirely disagree with the paradigm that I’m pointing out.

(Andrew):  You’re patronizing me…and accusing me of patronizing you.

Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 07:09 PM

I make sure to be inclusive and precise with my language.

(Andrew):  I try to do the same.

Daniel O. McClellan - 29 December 2009 07:09 PM

I’m correcting you for being deliberately imprecise with language because it satisfies an emotional need to antagonize.

(Andrew):  That sentence is patronizing.  And incorrect.  I’m not being deliberately imprecise with language at all…far less to satisfy any emotional need that you may think I have.  If you feel that I’m being antagonistic, I’m sorry…but I have no control over that.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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29 December 2009 20:33
 
Andrew - 29 December 2009 07:26 PM

(Andrew):  You’re patronizing me…and accusing me of patronizing you.

I’m doing nothing of the sort. I’m being perfectly open and honest and nothing more.

Andrew - 29 December 2009 07:26 PM

(Andrew):  I try to do the same.

Evidenced by you plagiarism of an 80 year old book (which you’ve refused to address) and your refusal to even acknowledge an academic citation which entirely undermines your assertion? Forgive my incredulity.

Andrew - 29 December 2009 07:26 PM

(Andrew):  That sentence is patronizing.  And incorrect.  I’m not being deliberately imprecise with language at all…far less to satisfy any emotional need that you may think I have.  If you feel that I’m being antagonistic, I’m sorry…but I have no control over that.

More patronizing. Please respond to the citation I provided or I’ll look for engaging debate elsewhere. I’m not interested in being completely ignored while having fallacious and antagonistic naivety hurled in my direction.

 
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29 December 2009 21:13
 

Wouldn’t it be more precise to say that some early Israelites were polytheistic, because they did worship more than one god.  But it appears that others, while believing in the existence of multiple gods, were jealous for Yahweh and worshiped him alone.  They would not be polytheistic.

Of interest is Jesus’ understanding of Psalm 82:6, which he quotes and interprets in John 10:34-36.  He understood even men to qualify as “god” in a sense.  Certainly the angels were referred to as “gods.” Jews generally believed in angels (excluding the Sadducees of Jesus’ day). But only Yahweh was worshiped by the orthodox Jew.

 
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