Who and what are the "other Gods"?

"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" is familiar enough, but what is the nature of these gods? The Bible has lots of references to other tribes following their own particular god but were these gods simply other gods or were they something altogether different to the God of the Israelites?

I've read that there are traces in the Bible of a pre-Abrahamic polytheistic belief and would guess that the "other gods" referred to in the text are part of that, but does anyone have more information? Did the polytheistic belief fragment among different groups of people so that each group ended up with one particular god? Or is there a suggestion that different gods coalesced into one God?
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Comments

  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    'Other gods' were the false idols worshipped and sacrificed (even their children!) to by the tribes who infiltrated the Israelites afaik, e.g. Baal and Asherah.

    I believe that there is, and only ever has been or can be, one living God, one Creator of the universe.
  • Raptor Eye wrote: »
    'Other gods' were the false idols worshipped and sacrificed (even their children!) to by the tribes who infiltrated the Israelites afaik, e.g. Baal and Asherah.

    I believe that there is, and only ever has been or can be, one living God, one Creator of the universe.

    Well, that's your belief and I will respect it. But it's not mine and it's not my reading of the Bible text I have. The text mentions idols and such, but it also speaks of other gods.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Not a criticism but I wonder if Kerygmania may be a better fit for this question? Other people can perhaps distinguish between 'idol' and 'god' in the text for instance.

    There is certainly an acknowledgement of other deities in the OT. This is something called henotheism - it means acknowledging other deities while choosing to only worship one. You do find this nowadays mostly as a variant of polytheistic religions, eg Hindus who believe in many deities but choose to particularly worship Vishnu (by the way this is why different Hindus have different forehead markings, to indicate particular devotions to a specific deity). You get this too within theistic Paganism where someone may be devoted to a particular deity or family of deities.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    There's a great deal of scholarship in this field, and I think it has been developing fast over the last 50 years. Its a fascinating area that I am not at all across.

    Other gods can include idols like the sacred cows the Israelites made for themselves at the foot of Mount Siani. Whether they were symbols of the gods of other peoples, such as the Egyptians from where the Israelites fled, as the story goes, or came to be worshipped in some other way is moot as far as I know. Then there's gods like Baal, of Phoenician fame, who were really worship for sure by real people. And good old Cheating Eli, who vanquished the evil priests of Baal with a trick and a prayer, he was fighting real and present evil, as he saw it. Eli is late enough to be historical, I believe.

    Another thing I want to mention is the idea, traces of which are in the oldest parts of the Bible, that Yahweh was married and part of a whole constellation of gods worshipped by the Israelites on and off from the time before we can even start to see them. If you don't mind Umpire!!

    Oh man, I just love this stuff. I wish I knew hebrew. I did a year of it, but I have no affinity for language. In my view, you can't be more than an interested amatuer about this stuff if you don't know your biblical languages. I can't really grasp the detail of texual analysis without it, or have any hope of coming to a reasoned view as to the legitimacy of scholarly ideas in the field. I can't see the footprints of the ancients on the text.

    One thing is for sure, in my mind, the OT ain't anything like history until you get to the Babylonian conquest and exile. Even then, I don't reckon the point of those books was to record what happened. They were about preaching a political message to the Israelites returning and in exile, I think. There's evidence for David mind, but I don't think there's any for Jonathan, or Bathsheeba, or Nathan, or Uriah outside the OT.

    But I'm happy to be in dialogue with all attempts to engage honestly with the text.
  • Pomona wrote: »
    Not a criticism but I wonder if Kerygmania may be a better fit for this question? Other people can perhaps distinguish between 'idol' and 'god' in the text for instance.

    God point about Kergymania. I suppose my own ignorance f the Bible made me aim for a 'safer' category!

    Thank you for henotheism. I shall look that up.
  • Simon Toad wrote: »
    There's a great deal of scholarship in this field, and I think it has been developing fast over the last 50 years. Its a fascinating area that I am not at all across.

    Other gods can include idols like the sacred cows the Israelites made for themselves at the foot of Mount Siani. Whether they were symbols of the gods of other peoples, such as the Egyptians from where the Israelites fled, as the story goes, or came to be worshipped in some other way is moot as far as I know. Then there's gods like Baal, of Phoenician fame, who were really worship for sure by real people. And good old Cheating Eli, who vanquished the evil priests of Baal with a trick and a prayer, he was fighting real and present evil, as he saw it. Eli is late enough to be historical, I believe.

    Another thing I want to mention is the idea, traces of which are in the oldest parts of the Bible, that Yahweh was married and part of a whole constellation of gods worshipped by the Israelites on and off from the time before we can even start to see them. If you don't mind Umpire!!

    Oh man, I just love this stuff. I wish I knew hebrew. I did a year of it, but I have no affinity for language. In my view, you can't be more than an interested amatuer about this stuff if you don't know your biblical languages. I can't really grasp the detail of texual analysis without it, or have any hope of coming to a reasoned view as to the legitimacy of scholarly ideas in the field. I can't see the footprints of the ancients on the text.

    One thing is for sure, in my mind, the OT ain't anything like history until you get to the Babylonian conquest and exile. Even then, I don't reckon the point of those books was to record what happened. They were about preaching a political message to the Israelites returning and in exile, I think. There's evidence for David mind, but I don't think there's any for Jonathan, or Bathsheeba, or Nathan, or Uriah outside the OT.

    But I'm happy to be in dialogue with all attempts to engage honestly with the text.

    Fascinating. Particularly the idea that Yahweh was married! My main interest is comparative mythology and that the early texts perhaps describe a belief system that was in the process of change is intriguing. And thanks for confirming the distinction between idols and gods.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    I've read that there are traces in the Bible of a pre-Abrahamic polytheistic belief and would guess that the "other gods" referred to in the text are part of that, but does anyone have more information?

    Another interesting reference to "other gods" comes from Psalm 82, where the God of Israel sits in a council of gods and basically berates the other gods for being terrible at their jobs. Note that the God of Israel doesn't say that the other gods are false gods or imaginary or merely unliving idols, he just says that they suck.

    Fred Clark has an interesting idea about using this psalm as the basis of a Sunday school pageant. I'm not sure it would fly at most churches, but it would be interesting to see.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Another interesting reference to "other gods" comes from Psalm 82, where the God of Israel sits in a council of gods and basically berates the other gods for being terrible at their jobs. Note that the God of Israel doesn't say that the other gods are false gods or imaginary or merely unliving idols, he just says that they suck.

    Fred Clark has an interesting idea about using this psalm as the basis of a Sunday school pageant. I'm not sure it would fly at most churches, but it would be interesting to see.

    Ooh. Thank you for that. It sounds similar to the sort of things the Greek and Norse gods got up to.
  • The Valentininan gnostics would have pointed out that the god of the Hebrews (the Ialdabaoth in their lexicon) was most likely peripherally aware of the Human Being as being a member of the Pleroma, a level of creation above him, and beyond that, the One in Whom everything has its being, and so was insecure in its own position.

    AFF


  • The Valentininan gnostics would have pointed out that the god of the Hebrews (the Ialdabaoth in their lexicon) was most likely peripherally aware of the Human Being as being a member of the Pleroma, a level of creation above him, and beyond that, the One in Whom everything has its being, and so was insecure in its own position.

    AFF


    So, does that imply they believed Ialdabaoth became the God of the Hebrews in order to further His own standing among the other G(g)ods?
  • A Feminine ForceA Feminine Force Shipmate
    edited April 13
    The Valentininan gnostics would have pointed out that the god of the Hebrews (the Ialdabaoth in their lexicon) was most likely peripherally aware of the Human Being as being a member of the Pleroma, a level of creation above him, and beyond that, the One in Whom everything has its being, and so was insecure in its own position.

    AFF


    So, does that imply they believed Ialdabaoth became the God of the Hebrews in order to further His own standing among the other G(g)ods?

    Well, if you read the Valentinian creation story, the Garden of Eden comes in about halfway. In their view, the Ialdabaoth IS the Hebrew god.

    There's a whole backstory to the Garden that starts with the Oneness of Being giving birth to pairs of Ideas in masculine/feminine polarities, and those Ideas giving birth to other beings (the Human) and things in perfect harmony and divinity. One of those pairs of Ideas is Wisdom (Sophia) and Christ.

    The Ialdabaoth is the half-baked offspring of Sophia who wanted to conceive with her consort Christ who was like "Not right now, baby, I'm not quite ready to be a parent" and so she hared off into the void by herself chasing the image of her father, the One, like the reflection in a dark mirror. Ialdabaoth was the child of her pain and confusion and suffering when she found herself engulfed in darkness and nothing and couldn't find her way back

    Ialdabaoth (who is also known as Ignorance) stole Sophia's power and with it created the solar system within the void, and trapped her in it. So Ialdabaoth occasionally catches glimpses of the Human in its power and divinity in the far distance like a troubling dream, is disturbed by the idea that there would be anything other than it with more power and glory.

    So he creates the Garden as a trap and lure for the divinity that is the Human.

    Cue Adam and Eve ... and the rest of the story.

    And so the Valentinians would say that the god of the Hebrews is just confirming that it understands there are divinities that are higher and more worthy of appreciation than it, and that it is just expressing its own insecurity on the matter.

    AFF





  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited April 13
    The Valentininan gnostics would have pointed out that the god of the Hebrews (the Ialdabaoth in their lexicon) was most likely peripherally aware of the Human Being as being a member of the Pleroma, a level of creation above him, and beyond that, the One in Whom everything has its being, and so was insecure in its own position.

    AFF


    So, does that imply they believed Ialdabaoth became the God of the Hebrews in order to further His own standing among the other G(g)ods?

    Well, if you read the Valentinian creation story, the Garden of Eden comes in about halfway. In their view, the Ialdabaoth IS the Hebrew god.

    There's a whole backstory to the Garden that starts with the Oneness of Being giving birth to pairs of Ideas in masculine/feminine polarities, and those Ideas giving birth to other beings (the Human) and things in perfect harmony and divinity. One of those pairs of Ideas is Wisdom (Sophia) and Christ.

    The Ialdabaoth is the half-baked offspring of Sophia who wanted to conceive with her consort Christ who was like "Not right now, baby, I'm not quite ready to be a parent" and so she hared off into the void by herself chasing the image of her father, the One, like the reflection in a dark mirror. Ialdabaoth was the child of her pain and confusion and suffering when she found herself engulfed in darkness and nothing and couldn't find her way back

    Ialdabaoth (who is also known as Ignorance) stole Sophia's power and with it created the solar system within the void, and trapped her in it. So Ialdabaoth occasionally catches glimpses of the Human in its power and divinity in the far distance like a troubling dream, is disturbed by the idea that there would be anything other than it with more power and glory.

    So he creates the Garden as a trap and lure for the divinity that is the Human.

    Cue Adam and Eve ... and the rest of the story.

    And so the Valentinians would say that the god of the Hebrews is just confirming that it understands there are divinities that are higher and more worthy of appreciation than it, and that it is just expressing its own insecurity on the matter.

    AFF





    WoW :open_mouth: Thank you immensely. I have some homework to do. I can see parallels with what I remember of the Ancient Egyptian Creation Story.
  • Is it allowed to take this out of a European-centric context? Let me try Cree / Saulteax.

    That the Great Spirit is the foundation of that is living. The spirits of living beings are part of that. That there are two genders: things which are alive and things which are not. That the living spirit inside everyone is part of God. God frequently speaks to us via the spirits of other living creatures. A river may be alive, also a mountain. We respectfully listen to these spirits.

    People have mistaken manifestations of God / Great Spirit as God. Hence the belief in other Gods. When we believe in other gods we inject them with our own ideas and distort God.

    I wonder how far away this might be from tribal middle easteners. We seem to be progressively disconnecting Christianity from culture bound European ideas. The most glaring one being the idea that humans are one category of being, other living things a second, and everything else being dead. That's cultural not true.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Luther responded that with which you cannot live without, that is your other god. Thus, alcoholics cannot live without alcohol. Some people cannot live without their money, etc.

    It does not have to be an idol.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    When this was made up in the C6th BCE the writers were strict, fanatical monotheists. They'd come a long way from Akhenatan's monotheistic monolatry 800 years before. There is nothing in Judaism to diminish The Shema. The one and only. It is an absolute, exclusive, commandment. You couldn't have lesser gods - lying demons - after Him.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Whatever the position before the exile, from then on and definitely by the time you get to the New Testament era and later, worship of other gods is quite literally that, whether Zeus, Diana of the Ephesians, Mars, Thor, or whoever or whatever. That includes, in the modern world Vishnu, Kali, 'the goddess', Baron Samedi etc etc etc.

    St Paul also makes it clear that it includes anything else, other than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that a person places their hopes and aspirations in, or gives themselves over to serving - like the love of money. In the modern era, I'd definitely place political ideologies, nationalism and most other sorts of 'isms' in that category.

    In the classic sense, an idol is a physical object that represents such a deity, but I think it's also possible to create mental idols. Though they may not physically exist, they can be just as bad.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    I always assumed this was a henotheistic thing. The OT starts kinda henotheistic but as it goes along the other gods become demons (i.e. that's how they are reinterpreted) and the prophets insist there was only ever one.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    Oh yeah, wot Gramps, Martin and Enoch said, and where inconsistent, enoch. A like button of sorts, if you like (prepares spiritually for inevitable planking).
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    I always assumed this was a henotheistic thing. The OT starts kinda henotheistic but as it goes along the other gods become demons (i.e. that's how they are reinterpreted) and the prophets insist there was only ever one.

    Who was it who said(quoting from memory) "The development of religion involves the killing of gods", ie. the better a religion gets, the fewer gods it has? I'm thinking Alfred North Whitehead?

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    @stetson - not familiar.
  • Is it allowed to take this out of a European-centric context? Let me try Cree / Saulteax.

    That the Great Spirit is the foundation of that is living. The spirits of living beings are part of that. That there are two genders: things which are alive and things which are not. That the living spirit inside everyone is part of God. God frequently speaks to us via the spirits of other living creatures. A river may be alive, also a mountain. We respectfully listen to these spirits.

    People have mistaken manifestations of God / Great Spirit as God. Hence the belief in other Gods. When we believe in other gods we inject them with our own ideas and distort God.

    I wonder how far away this might be from tribal middle easteners. We seem to be progressively disconnecting Christianity from culture bound European ideas. The most glaring one being the idea that humans are one category of being, other living things a second, and everything else being dead. That's cultural not true.

    certainly it's allowed. :smile:
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    When this was made up in the C6th BCE the writers were strict, fanatical monotheists. They'd come a long way from Akhenatan's monotheistic monolatry 800 years before. There is nothing in Judaism to diminish The Shema. The one and only. It is an absolute, exclusive, commandment. You couldn't have lesser gods - lying demons - after Him.

    I understand the commandment. However, the text doesn't seem to refer to other gods as "lesser" and certainly not as lying demons. There are mentions of lying demons but there are also mentions of other gods and they don't appear to be the same thing. But I understand why many Christians would interpret it that way. All the text appears to do is demand that one particular group of people follow one particular god/God.
  • stetson wrote: »

    Who was it who said(quoting from memory) "The development of religion involves the killing of gods", ie. the better a religion gets, the fewer gods it has? I'm thinking Alfred North Whitehead?

    I came across a refutation of that last night while researching offline. The idea that monotheism is inherently better than henotheism or polytheism or animism seems to be more of a cultural idea than a fact. It's probably inevitable that adherents of any one system of belief (or anything) will regard it as inherently superior to other systems.

    Max Müller (1823–1900), a German philologist and orientalist, brought the term [henotheism] into wider usage in his scholarship on the Indian religions,[4][5] particularly Hinduism whose scriptures mention and praise numerous deities as if they are one ultimate unitary divine essence.[2] Müller made the term central to his criticism of Western theological and religious exceptionalism (relative to Eastern religions), focusing on a cultural dogma which held "monotheism" to be both fundamentally well-defined and inherently superior to differing conceptions of God. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henotheism
  • Enoch wrote: »
    Whatever the position before the exile, from then on and definitely by the time you get to the New Testament era and later, worship of other gods is quite literally that, whether Zeus, Diana of the Ephesians, Mars, Thor, or whoever or whatever. That includes, in the modern world Vishnu, Kali, 'the goddess', Baron Samedi etc etc etc.

    I'm not sure what that refers to in your comment "worship of other gods is quite literally that". Do you mean that they are other gods but lesser than God, or something other than gods?
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    The idea that monotheism is inherently better than henotheism or polytheism or animism seems to be more of a cultural idea than a fact.
    It may not be a fact, but it certainly is an example of Occam's Razor. Of course, atheists would want to take it one more step, but for people of faith that simply denies part of their experience. If one feels compelled to worship, one God is the minimum that will do.
    OTOH, I increasingly find Christianity to have three Gods. The homoousios stuff just isn't enough to conflate them to my mind.
  • tclune wrote: »
    The idea that monotheism is inherently better than henotheism or polytheism or animism seems to be more of a cultural idea than a fact.
    It may not be a fact, but it certainly is an example of Occam's Razor. Of course, atheists would want to take it one more step, but for people of faith that simply denies part of their experience. If one feels compelled to worship, one God is the minimum that will do.
    OTOH, I increasingly find Christianity to have three Gods. The homoousios stuff just isn't enough to conflate them to my mind.

    Certainly, the dominance of monotheistic religions might suggest they are better at providing for people's needs but I'm wary of using popularity as a measure of quality.

    Some atheists want to take it a step further, but not this one.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Judges 11:24 does appear to be henotheistic: 'Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the Lord our God has conquered for our benefit?'

    But a lot of other bits of the Old Testament go out of their way to refute the idea that Yahweh is just a tribal god. Most obviously, he created the world and the other gods didn't. And at the end of time, the whole world will be worshipping Yahweh in Zion, not their own tribal gods.

    And then there are more subtle passages, like 1 Samuel 5, where the Philistines steal the Ark of the Covenant, and it's still able to wreak havoc despite being outside of Yahweh's territory. And there is a bit in 1 Kings 20 where the Arameans argue that Yahweh is the god of the mountains but not of the plains, and are proved wrong.

    Psalm 80 is a weird one because the natural reading, as Croesus says, is quite blatantly henotheistic, but I would have thought that, if that's what it really meant, surely it would have been edited out at the point when the Psalms were compiled? I don't know anything at all about the compilation of the Psalms, but even if some of the raw material is old, the process of drawing them into a single collection must have happened at a relatively late stage.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited April 14
    Ricardus wrote: »
    Judges 11:24 does appear to be henotheistic: 'Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the Lord our God has conquered for our benefit?'

    But a lot of other bits of the Old Testament go out of their way to refute the idea that Yahweh is just a tribal god. Most obviously, he created the world and the other gods didn't. And at the end of time, the whole world will be worshipping Yahweh in Zion, not their own tribal gods.

    And then there are more subtle passages, like 1 Samuel 5, where the Philistines steal the Ark of the Covenant, and it's still able to wreak havoc despite being outside of Yahweh's territory. And there is a bit in 1 Kings 20 where the Arameans argue that Yahweh is the god of the mountains but not of the plains, and are proved wrong.

    Psalm 80 is a weird one because the natural reading, as Croesus says, is quite blatantly henotheistic, but I would have thought that, if that's what it really meant, surely it would have been edited out at the point when the Psalms were compiled? I don't know anything at all about the compilation of the Psalms, but even if some of the raw material is old, the process of drawing them into a single collection must have happened at a relatively late stage.

    From my viewpoint, it's a reasonable supposition that as the text was refined by later scribes the earlier henotheistic conceptions of God/god were removed or cleaned up to convey a purely monotheistic conception of God. And regarding Genesis and the Creation, it's pretty clear that it's based on an earlier Zoroastrian Creation Account so, having been rewritten at least once, a revision to ascribe Creation solely to Yahweh isn't implausible.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    When this was made up in the C6th BCE the writers were strict, fanatical monotheists. They'd come a long way from Akhenatan's monotheistic monolatry 800 years before. There is nothing in Judaism to diminish The Shema. The one and only. It is an absolute, exclusive, commandment. You couldn't have lesser gods - lying demons - after Him.

    I understand the commandment. However, the text doesn't seem to refer to other gods as "lesser" and certainly not as lying demons. There are mentions of lying demons but there are also mentions of other gods and they don't appear to be the same thing. But I understand why many Christians would interpret it that way. All the text appears to do is demand that one particular group of people follow one particular god/God.

    I can't abide Christian interpretations. We're both right. Strict monotheism came out of the Exile. Prior to that the evolution of polytheism, henotheism, monolatry took a good thousand years. In my ignorance was the Abraham of the text monolatrous or monotheist? The latter seems unlikely.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    @stetson - not familiar.

    No probs. The question was more or less rhetorical anyway.

  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    Whatever the position before the exile, from then on and definitely by the time you get to the New Testament era and later, worship of other gods is quite literally that, whether Zeus, Diana of the Ephesians, Mars, Thor, or whoever or whatever. That includes, in the modern world Vishnu, Kali, 'the goddess', Baron Samedi etc etc etc.


    I'm not sure what that refers to in your comment "worship of other gods is quite literally that". Do you mean that they are other gods but lesser than God, or something other than gods?
    @Colin Smith I think I either haven't understood your question, or that you are misunderstanding what I said.

    "That" is quite literally, and simply, the worship of another god or gods apart from other than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is what has been forbidden, first to Jews from the era of the great prophets under the two monarchies and then to Christians. It is what the commandment is about.

    That makes it more or less irrelevant what theology, cosmology or whatever those who follow the other god or gods are advocating.

    There is, traditionally, an area of debate, clearly traceable as far back as the two monarchies and also in church history as to whether the other gods don't exist, are simply nothings, self delusions, or whether demons use them to lead people astray. Is it this that your question is inviting speculation about?

    I suspect the classic answer would be that the important thing is to obey the commandment, not just because it is what God has said, but also for your soul's good, not speculate as to what exactly you're engaging with if you don't.
  • Enoch wrote: »
    @Colin Smith I think I either haven't understood your question, or that you are misunderstanding what I said.

    "That" is quite literally, and simply, the worship of another god or gods apart from other than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is what has been forbidden, first to Jews from the era of the great prophets under the two monarchies and then to Christians. It is what the commandment is about.

    That makes it more or less irrelevant what theology, cosmology or whatever those who follow the other god or gods are advocating.

    There is, traditionally, an area of debate, clearly traceable as far back as the two monarchies and also in church history as to whether the other gods don't exist, are simply nothings, self delusions, or whether demons use them to lead people astray. Is it this that your question is inviting speculation about?

    I suspect the classic answer would be that the important thing is to obey the commandment, not just because it is what God has said, but also for your soul's good, not speculate as to what exactly you're engaging with if you don't.

    I think you haven't understood my question. I was looking at the text from the standpoint of comparative religion/comparative mythology. Therefore the commandment isn't of interest to me, other than that it refers to other gods. My suspicion that the worship of God/Yahweh has evolved from an earlier polytheist or henotheist belief has been confirmed by many who replied to my question.

    As an atheist, I don't believe in any god but I am intrigued by the characterisations and connections between different pantheons of gods and find it a fertile area for my imagination to roam.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    My understanding is that gods originally had defined territories; Mog might be all-powerful in one district, but Gog ran the county across the river. (Both might have close analogues in other areas.) The sensible traveler, upon landing in a new spot, became educated in the whims and requirements of the local deities and made the appropriate sacrifices.

    The Hebrew exiles, however, discovered that they could in fact sing the Lord's song in a strange land. Gradually, YHWH was accepted by them as all-powerful and universal. Our understanding of Deity has accordingly evolved over millennia.

  • The Psalm 82 passage might look henotheistic on the surface of it, but there is a problem with that viewpoint that I can't get over. Jesus himself quotes it (see John 10) and refers to the "gods" as being "those to whom the word of God came"--which seems from the context to be pretty plainly human beings. If the incarnate God himself gives it this reading, I'm not inclined to argue with him.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    Judges 11:24 does appear to be henotheistic: 'Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the Lord our God has conquered for our benefit?'

    But a lot of other bits of the Old Testament go out of their way to refute the idea that Yahweh is just a tribal god. Most obviously, he created the world and the other gods didn't. And at the end of time, the whole world will be worshipping Yahweh in Zion, not their own tribal gods.

    And then there are more subtle passages, like 1 Samuel 5, where the Philistines steal the Ark of the Covenant, and it's still able to wreak havoc despite being outside of Yahweh's territory. And there is a bit in 1 Kings 20 where the Arameans argue that Yahweh is the god of the mountains but not of the plains, and are proved wrong.

    Psalm 80 is a weird one because the natural reading, as Croesus says, is quite blatantly henotheistic, but I would have thought that, if that's what it really meant, surely it would have been edited out at the point when the Psalms were compiled? I don't know anything at all about the compilation of the Psalms, but even if some of the raw material is old, the process of drawing them into a single collection must have happened at a relatively late stage.

    From my viewpoint, it's a reasonable supposition that as the text was refined by later scribes the earlier henotheistic conceptions of God/god were removed or cleaned up to convey a purely monotheistic conception of God. And regarding Genesis and the Creation, it's pretty clear that it's based on an earlier Zoroastrian Creation Account so, having been rewritten at least once, a revision to ascribe Creation solely to Yahweh isn't implausible.

    I understand this is a widespread scholarly view, and it may well be correct - however, it also seems to me that the hypothetical redactors did a pretty good job of cleaning up the henotheism from the text, meaning that, if you want to find evidence of earlier henotheism, that evidence doesn't come from the text itself but from somewhere else.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    I've read that there are traces in the Bible of a pre-Abrahamic polytheistic belief and would guess that the "other gods" referred to in the text are part of that, but does anyone have more information?

    Another interesting reference to "other gods" comes from Psalm 82, where the God of Israel sits in a council of gods and basically berates the other gods for being terrible at their jobs. Note that the God of Israel doesn't say that the other gods are false gods or imaginary or merely unliving idols, he just says that they suck.

    Fred Clark has an interesting idea about using this psalm as the basis of a Sunday school pageant. I'm not sure it would fly at most churches, but it would be interesting to see.

    As LambChopped points out, these 'gods' - elohim - are human magistrates - one of the explicit meanings. There is allusion to evolved henotheistic fallen angels in Psalm 82 perhaps. David, Asaph, Solomon are all full on monolatrists if not strict monotheists, as was Abraham I now feel and the major prophets and Moses.

    There might have been superstitious side bets on minor deities between angels and God from the oldest characters - Job, Moses, Noah, Abraham (the two guys with God at Mamre) - but it's far from unequivocal. Most other references to gods seem to be to objects of demonic idol worship involving disgusting, degrading and infanticidal and cannibalistic (significant by its tabooed absence of reference) rites. The reversion to such idolatry plagued the Hebrews for a thousand years. This must have influenced the culture to such an extent that competing gods must have influenced more than just language but belief even in the priestly class.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited April 16
    Ricardus wrote: »
    I understand this is a widespread scholarly view, and it may well be correct - however, it also seems to me that the hypothetical redactors did a pretty good job of cleaning up the henotheism from the text, meaning that, if you want to find evidence of earlier henotheism, that evidence doesn't come from the text itself but from somewhere else.

    That is entirely possible. It does feel a lot like chasing shadows.
  • Rossweisse wrote: »
    My understanding is that gods originally had defined territories; Mog might be all-powerful in one district, but Gog ran the county across the river. (Both might have close analogues in other areas.) The sensible traveler, upon landing in a new spot, became educated in the whims and requirements of the local deities and made the appropriate sacrifices.

    The Hebrew exiles, however, discovered that they could in fact sing the Lord's song in a strange land. Gradually, YHWH was accepted by them as all-powerful and universal. Our understanding of Deity has accordingly evolved over millennia.

    From other research I'm doing that seems to be very much the case. Even to the point where gods from the Roman, Greek, and Norse traditions are effectively the same, or at least perform the same function.

    I have now found a connection between Yahweh and the Ancient Egyptian god Aten, but I don't know how tenuous the link is. What I'm hoping to do is find Yahweh's place in the polytheistic/henotheist pantheon that pre-dated monotheism.

    Or, since this is all background research for a piece of fiction, I could resort to making stuff up!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    It's not tenuous at all. It's part of the same cultural evolution.
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    It's not tenuous at all. It's part of the same cultural evolution.

    That's useful. Both Aten and Yahweh are creator gods, as is the Canaanite El, so one can start to see a pattern (or at least recognise a pattern which isn't the same thing!). There's also an interesting triumvirate of gods in the Elohim; Yam, Baal Hadad, and Mot; who have care of the sea, storms/rain, and death and that pattern seems to recur right across Greek and Norse mythology.

    The eventual aim is to find a cognate of the Norse god, Freyr (who was, among other things King of the Faeries/Elves and equivalent to the Teutonic Alberich) in the Ancient Greek pantheon and the pre-monotheistic pantheon of the Israelites. Freyr/Alberich, in the form of Oberon King of the Fairies, is a character in my novel.

    Alberich, portrayed as a sorcerer and elven king, is in one account, the brother or Merovech, the semi-legendary founder of the Merovingian dynasty.

    Both Freyr/Alberich and Merovech are supposedly fathered by a sea god, though of different mothers.

    My story has Oberon/Alberich attempting to return magic to mankind and being opposed by Merovech and I'm hoping to find parallels of that story in myth.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    ... I think you haven't understood my question. I was looking at the text from the standpoint of comparative religion/comparative mythology. Therefore the commandment isn't of interest to me, other than that it refers to other gods. My suspicion that the worship of God/Yahweh has evolved from an earlier polytheist or henotheist belief has been confirmed by many who replied to my question.

    As an atheist, I don't believe in any god but I am intrigued by the characterisations and connections between different pantheons of gods and find it a fertile area for my imagination to roam.
    It may not be 'of interest' but my comment is still relevant as a matter of comparative religion, but comparative as between what faiths are saying and require now, rather than conjecture as to what people might have believed sometime around the transition from the bronze to the iron age. You're an atheist and therefore believe that all gods are mere non-existent illusions. I'm a Christian and therefore believe that Jesus is the incarnate son of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's those beliefs that inform how you, @Colin Smith , and me @Enoch respectively live our lives. So, for both of us, the question I've been answering, is not only more relevant, but to me, much more interesting, than whether ancient Israel got the idea from other notions floating around in the Very Ancient Near East.

    There are some speculative notions that are mildly intriguing. There's one that derives from conjectures about Latin pronunciation, and another, as to what deity Jethro priest of Midian was a priest of. I'm not sure, though, that they are much more than a self-justification for spending time in amiable chat rather than loving one's neighbour as oneself.
  • Enoch wrote: »
    It may not be 'of interest' but my comment is still relevant as a matter of comparative religion, but comparative as between what faiths are saying and require now, rather than conjecture as to what people might have believed sometime around the transition from the bronze to the iron age. You're an atheist and therefore believe that all gods are mere non-existent illusions. I'm a Christian and therefore believe that Jesus is the incarnate son of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's those beliefs that inform how you, @Colin Smith , and me @Enoch respectively live our lives. So, for both of us, the question I've been answering, is not only more relevant, but to me, much more interesting, than whether ancient Israel got the idea from other notions floating around in the Very Ancient Near East.

    There are some speculative notions that are mildly intriguing. There's one that derives from conjectures about Latin pronunciation, and another, as to what deity Jethro priest of Midian was a priest of. I'm not sure, though, that they are much more than a self-justification for spending time in amiable chat rather than loving one's neighbour as oneself.

    I think you are interpreting my question in such a way that you can give me the answer you think I ought to have.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited April 16
    Enoch wrote: »
    ... I think you haven't understood my question. I was looking at the text from the standpoint of comparative religion/comparative mythology. Therefore the commandment isn't of interest to me, other than that it refers to other gods. My suspicion that the worship of God/Yahweh has evolved from an earlier polytheist or henotheist belief has been confirmed by many who replied to my question.

    As an atheist, I don't believe in any god but I am intrigued by the characterisations and connections between different pantheons of gods and find it a fertile area for my imagination to roam.
    It may not be 'of interest' but my comment is still relevant as a matter of comparative religion, but comparative as between what faiths are saying and require now, rather than conjecture as to what people might have believed sometime around the transition from the bronze to the iron age. You're an atheist and therefore believe that all gods are mere non-existent illusions. I'm a Christian and therefore believe that Jesus is the incarnate son of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's those beliefs that inform how you, @Colin Smith , and me @Enoch respectively live our lives. So, for both of us, the question I've been answering, is not only more relevant, but to me, much more interesting, than whether ancient Israel got the idea from other notions floating around in the Very Ancient Near East.

    There are some speculative notions that are mildly intriguing. There's one that derives from conjectures about Latin pronunciation, and another, as to what deity Jethro priest of Midian was a priest of. I'm not sure, though, that they are much more than a self-justification for spending time in amiable chat rather than loving one's neighbour as oneself.

    How?
  • Ricardus wrote: »
    I understand this is a widespread scholarly view, and it may well be correct - however, it also seems to me that the hypothetical redactors did a pretty good job of cleaning up the henotheism from the text, meaning that, if you want to find evidence of earlier henotheism, that evidence doesn't come from the text itself but from somewhere else.

    I'm not entirely sure that that this is true. There are a number of references to a council of gods in the Psalms, and it's at least alluded to in various places in the Pentateuch - Genesis 3, Deut 32 - and its equally clear that there is some hold over of these beliefs in the chronicles (2 Kings 3 etc). So I don't think its a frame that is entirely alien to the Bible at all - and there is evidence there that doesn't have to be imported in, even if some translations obscure it.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited April 16
    The Psalm 82 passage might look henotheistic on the surface of it, but there is a problem with that viewpoint that I can't get over. Jesus himself quotes it (see John 10) and refers to the "gods" as being "those to whom the word of God came"--which seems from the context to be pretty plainly human beings.

    Jesus was pretty shameless about revising and retconning previous scriptures to suit his needs. I'm not sure I see a need to favor a fairly oblique reference (that also moves the Psalms from Writings (Ketuvim) to the Law (Torah)) on what the author of Psalm 82 was really saying if you had the right decoder ring over the fairly straightforward text itself.
    If the incarnate God himself gives it this reading, I'm not inclined to argue with him.

    And yes, I realize that just because I don't see that need doesn't mean others don't. Just as long as the motivated reasoning of authoritarianism is acknowledged, as above.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited April 16
    Crœsos wrote: »

    Jesus was pretty shameless about revising and retconning previous scriptures to suit his needs. I'm not sure I see a need to favor a fairly oblique reference (that also moves the Psalms from Writings (Ketuvim) to the Law (Torah)) on what the author of Psalm 82 was really saying if you had the right decoder ring over the fairly straightforward text itself.
    If the incarnate God himself gives it this reading, I'm not inclined to argue with him.

    And yes, I realize that just because I don't see that need doesn't mean others don't. Just as long as the motivated reasoning of authoritarianism is acknowledged, as above.

    It also assumes that the words spoken by Jesus have not themselves been subject to subsequent editing and tidying up.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    The Psalm 82 passage might look henotheistic on the surface of it, but there is a problem with that viewpoint that I can't get over. Jesus himself quotes it (see John 10) and refers to the "gods" as being "those to whom the word of God came"--which seems from the context to be pretty plainly human beings.

    Jesus was pretty shameless about revising and retconning previous scriptures to suit his needs. I'm not sure I see a need to favor a fairly oblique reference (that also moves the Psalms from Writings (Ketuvim) to the Law (Torah)) on what the author of Psalm 82 was really saying if you had the right decoder ring over the fairly straightforward text itself.
    If the incarnate God himself gives it this reading, I'm not inclined to argue with him.

    And yes, I realize that just because I don't see that need doesn't mean others don't. Just as long as the motivated reasoning of authoritarianism is acknowledged, as above.

    ::killingme:: Yes, of course he is shameless. I tend to be shameless when I comment on my own work, too! :blush: Dang, I miss that laughing smiley.

    But I don't get what you mean when you speak of "motivated reasoning of authoritarianism is acknowledged, as above". You've got at least two passive constructions here. Whose reasoning are we talking about--mine, Jesus', or somebody else's? motivated by what? acknowledged by whom, why? And authoritarianism--I'm totally confused here. Can you put it in words of one syllable for this hard-of-understanding person?
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    But I don't get what you mean when you speak of "motivated reasoning of authoritarianism is acknowledged, as above". You've got at least two passive constructions here. Whose reasoning are we talking about--mine, Jesus', or somebody else's? motivated by what? acknowledged by whom, why? And authoritarianism--I'm totally confused here. Can you put it in words of one syllable for this hard-of-understanding person?

    Motivated reasoning is where the desired conclusion influences the premises accepted and the reasoning used. You've plainly stated that you're "not inclined to argue" with any pronouncement attributed to Jesus, which is an appeal to authority or authoritarianism. Thus if Jesus says the author of Psalm 82 really meant something other than what a straightforward reading of the text would lead us to conclude then the Psalm must be wrong because Napoleon Jesus is always right.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Thus if Jesus says the author of Psalm 82 really meant something other than what a straightforward reading of the text would lead us to conclude then the Psalm must be wrong because Napoleon Jesus is always right.
    Is it that the psalm itself must be wrong, or is it that a straightforward reading of the psalm is wrong?

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Thus if Jesus says the author of Psalm 82 really meant something other than what a straightforward reading of the text would lead us to conclude then the Psalm must be wrong because Napoleon Jesus is always right.
    Is it that the psalm itself must be wrong, or is it that a straightforward reading of the psalm is wrong?

    Or is Jesus misquoting/misrepresenting it for some reason? Or has someone subsequently altered Jesus's words?
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