Ancient Fictionality: The emergence of ideologies: How Israel was Created and YHWH was Manufactured2.
People of Canaan. ‘Origins are the favoured hobby horse of the romantic, the demagogue and the fanatic: in their misguided minds, the most ancient is also the best, the most pure, the essential; it established the ideal that should be normative for all future generations.’ Ernst Axel Knauf. The Impact of the Late Bronze III Period on the Origins of Israel.
This section presents the view that Egyptian presence within Canaan was crucial to the creation of the political units that later thrived there, including Israel. And, that concepts of Universalist gods, in the 11th century BCE, common to the Middle East and Egypt, affected religious identity combined with nationalist tropes based on the need for protection in an environment of competitive groups.
Ernst Axel Knaufholds that whenever a bipolar political system prevailed in Canaan large, powerful tribes appeared within territory not controlled by states. In essence, this is an attempt to place the Israelites within a tribal context to fit in with Biblical text of Abraham and his descendants. The normative nature of Israelite origins, noted above, conforms to Biblical accounts of mobility and military violence, which here will be largely contested.
Although Knauf holds that under Roman rule, the rule of one powerful political entity, tribes fragmented (127) this was not always the case, as intrusive forces can prove a rallying point in many instances and enable the rise of confederacies, which occasionally become people (large unit speaking similar languages) and organised states. The evidence we have, is that this occurred amongst German tribes as a result of Roman military pressure. It is possible that Egyptian rule provided such a coming together for regions on the periphery of Egyptian rule, although such coming together may have been short lived. The inconclusive conflicts with Hittite armies, which in fact led to loss of Egyptian influence in Syria (Knauf: 127-8), may have moved Ramesses III to increase Egyptian control of Canaan territories. More so because of the looming threats posed by Sea Peoples settled along the coast, besides their intrusion into Palestine. They were, according to the Egyptians, stopped at Djahy in present day Lebanon and Galilee.
Knauf refers to the proto-Israelites, a poor term for those occupying the Palestinian hill country, as the Shasu, tent-dwelling nomads. This was probably therefore a non-specific term, used by Egyptians, that did not denote group identity as such but life-patterns of behaviour. Knauf states that this group: ‘furnished the centres of gravitation, which attracted some people from the non-sedentary population around them, trying another way of life.’ This in fact is where we should be looking for ‘Israel’, not in probably made-up narratives of origins. Is it possible that over time, the search for a new way of living, accelerated by the urban collapse of the last embers of the Bronze Age, developed into religious identification already common amongst Mesopotamians? Are we wrongly constantly searching for a ‘people’ when we should be looking at changes in worship of related groups?
Knauf demonstrates (129) that Merenptah’s line of military highland fortresses provided protection for the tribes there, provided the minimum of a market, and limes Germanicus initiated the building of villages and presumably towns. We have here profound political, economic and social change. Knauf believes that at some stage towards urbanisation, tribal legacies were renewed, but again he is perhaps reflecting on the matter from Biblical text-the 12 tribes of Israel. A suspicious number, and equally suspicious complement to events. Elsewhere, Knauf has shown that the 12 tribes possess regional names, with therefore geographic regions’ of origin although he brings this observation into the observation above. Although, they may indeed have had regional origins, it may not have been within any political concept of Israel, nor yet a religious one.
Knauf holds that Israelite and Judean state formation occurred in response to the growth of small, powerful kingdoms around the hilly country (131). The emergence of chiefdoms in the Benjamin-Jerusalem region was, he believes, due to the area controlling the southern passes from the Rift valley to the Philistine controlled coastal plain. In accordance with all historians of this period and people, Knauf goes on to speculate holding that Saul named his new kingdom Israel and took on as its (possibly ‘national’) god YHWH, a martial deity, gleaned from Egyptian prisoners of war who had escaped from Egypt-thereby drawing the Exodus into the mixture. Knauf believes Saul’s preference for YHWH, established only in the Bible but not accepted by this author, was also connected to the idea that the god defeated the Egyptians-although why the Exodus narrative should have existed then is perhaps uncertain. The inclusion of the ark of the Covenant in the David story may be simply a much later priestly insertion, or the ark itself initially was a totem of nationalism that brought disparate groups together. While this conclusion has at least connections to known events, as with the Biblical stories it requires single events to explain change. Where there seems truth in the greater involvement of Egypt in setting up the Israelite peoples is the habit of circumcision, and this may also account for the angst traditionally felt by Hebrews for Egypt, an expression of anger at its earlier dependence and its birthing. Surely, the triumphalism of the Moses story is simply a way of putting Egypt in its place, and if it has a basis it is in this Late Bronze Age Period, but not necessarily as a Hebrew story, as it could have originated from other, possibly nomadic, groups in the region-such as the Shasu. It may even have been a response to the story of Sinuhe, where a Hebrew, Moses, enters Egypt, achieving great things and then returns to his beloved homeland. If the story began as a folktale and was not simply the work of much later epic poets, it could have emanated from any group buzzing around the periphery of Egyptian rule. If there is a genesis to the story, it could have originated in a number of different cultures: if for example it first began amongst the Shasu in South Palestine it belonged to the Edomites and Midianites. Why not? Grabbe (2016: 182) places the legend of Moses at the 8th century, or even earlier, so it would be wise to place its first extensive composition, reviewing Gilgamesh and the Iliad, some two centuries later.
The arrival of a group called Israelite must sensibly be allocated to the 10th century BCE as this is when there is a degree of evidence for their presence in the hill country. More wisely, Binger (1997: 21) places it to the 9th century from where we have the first genuine evidence. If the name was used previously it could, as I will demonstrate, have indicated acolytes of El, the West Semitic god. It certainly does not need to reference later users of the name, those we also know as Hebrews and followers of YHWH. There appears nothing to link the name and the YHWH cult. The employment of Israel, although said to arise from the patriarch of that name, would be more likely to have other, perhaps unrelated roots. Certainly, Israel was a West Semitic personal name but with a nod to El.
The problem here lies in attempts by scholars still to fit the Biblical stories in with the facts, whereas with the older tales of Gilgamesh, and the younger stories of King Arthur, the need is not there or now considerably weaker. We accept the literary history of their composition in a way we refuse to accept with the Bible.
Scholarship, according to Grabbe (2016: 184) demonstrates that Israel came out of the indigenous population of the hilly regions, probably made up of the various groups residing there. The Israelite nation therefore came out of political, economic events there, not in a far away country. Attempts to trace Israel from the Merneptah stela is probably fruitless, as the political group we know as Israel, as reasoned, emerged centuries later.
The political environment:
Grabbe (2016) suggests that apart from the above ideas on Israelite genesis, its roots may also have been in Transjordan and its close neighbours. Meindert Dijkstra demonstrates how political events may have squeezed the people of the hill country by the end of the Late Bronze Age into a defensive position in the hill country between the Sea Peoples states, the Phoenicians and Moab (page 73)-a group to which they may have been closely related. According to Dijkstra (page 75), Egyptian scribes position Israel in Transjordan. He also suggests that the Shasu were inhabitants of Edom. By Iron Age IIA Phoenicia was encroaching on later Israelite territory.
The name Moab, in the Bible in present day Jordan, appears in several Late Bronze Age Egyptian topographical lists. It has been discovered on the base of a Ramesses II statue in Luxor, referring to a town taken in ‘the land of Moab’. At the entrance to the great Amun temple in Karnak is a topographical list of Ramesses II that mentions Moab towns. Hamath, in Moab, is mentioned on an Egyptian stele during the reign of Seti I at Beth Shean, as attacking Beth Shean, and that Egyptian troops had been sent to Hamath, Beth Shean and Yanoam in Bashan (Van Der Steen: 2004: page 24). The Balu’a stela has been dated to the 12th and 13th centuries BCE and appears to indicate that the Shasu had a state in the area, probably in Moab. It is also suggestive of Egyptian presence the area, controlling a passage through the Wadi Mujib (Van Der Steen: page 24). The Sihan Warrior Stela from Rujim el-Abd has avoided agreed dating but appears to show a possible Neo-Hittite/Syrian warrior or god wearing a short kilt, indicating an infusion of northern peoples into the region and the likelihood of an organised society. If so, it predates, by many centuries, the possible organised habitation of Israel by Biblical Israelites, equally possibly represented by the Merneptah stela
In the end, most historians return to the Bible when discussing Israel as there is little genuine evidence apart from that source. Van der Steen holds that the Bible, which he regards as an exilic or post-exilic work, nevertheless frames aspects of early Israelite history, indicating a semi-nomadic background assumed from the patriarchs, as well as historic tensions between Israelites and Canaanites, the formulation of parts of the law code (unlikely I think), and of origins to the East in the Aramaean homeland. He does not consider poetic licence by the scribes, who included knowledge of nomadic practices to spice up a tale, or possible allegiance to oral stories brought in by separate nomadic groups after the first instances of political organisation. True Israelites were urbanised, not nomadic, and probably had been for many centuries.
Other traditions he believes reference Canaanite backgrounds suggesting agriculture, etiological narratives for sanctuaries, and different literary formulae. He describes the YHWH cult as originating in Midian or Edom, the Kenite hypothesis, and suggests that the Israelite indeed emerged from the Shasu population of Canaan, whom he describes as themselves emerging, patriarch stories in tow, from the northern Negev. He points to the number of Canaanite slaves in Egypt and the similarity of several Bible stories to Egyptian stories (not simply a case of borrowing?) to give credence to the Exodus-cycle. Van Der Steen notes the tribalism that pervades the Bible, believing it must have been based upon historical tribal structural basis, which had always existed, not it seems realising it could simply have been a common way of understanding national origins and a part of nationalistic discourse. While all of this looks fine, if I suggest inaccurate, its evidence remains Biblical, not based on archaeology or any other kind of visible evidence. It could just be a fantasy. While many Canaanites were enslaved, this was, as usual with Egypt, the result of conflict and usually such slaves served in privileged positions. In Canaan many of the local people worked as serfs for their Egyptian masters,therefore the Moses narrative might have been an inversion of real events, the Egyptians leaving not the Israelites, and the resulting oral stories taken-up by later inhabitants of the hilly country.
Redford advocates the Shasu as proto-Israelites, but since Van Der Steen has placed them in Moab threatening Beth Shean and Egyptian communication systems in the region, it requires considerable extrapolation to then place them in Israel, in opposition to Moab. If Dijkstra is correct, they originated in Edom, which by itself might complete the circle of how YHWH became Israel’s god. Also, although Van Der Steen believes that Moab was an organised society in the Late Bronze Age, there is no evidence of kingship until ‘well into the first millennium BC’ (Reford: 1992: 277). Is it not more likely that organised societies in Moab and the Palestinian hill countries were the direct result of Egyptian incursions, with small tribal groups gathering together in confederacies to fight the Egyptian’s greater military power? Is it not equally likely that when not in conflict or praying on richer and stronger groups the populations of Israel and Moab returned to more sedate agricultural existences?
Again, are historian’s minds too inflated by Biblical narratives not the evidence? There is a tendency to view Hebrew history through the dynamics of conflict when in fact its origins may have been through religious or political evolution, not military-as may have been the case in Moab and Edom. As can be seen by the previous paper, any written national narrative conforms as much to literary tropes as to historical ones.
With the decline of Egypt and the disappearance of the Hittites (although some may have moved into Palestine), the main problems faced by the inhabitants of Israel were likely to have been the Sea Peoples-Mycenaean groups on the coast north of Gaza and in modern day Lebanon, as seen above. A confederation of tribes under the name Israel, reflecting the land they occupied not a religious identity, seems likely as a consequence of political pressure. The Peleset or Philistines who occupied the Palestinian coast, giving the area its name, provided in their competitive conflict with the forces of Israel the last piece in the jigsaw of YHWH’s evolution.
2: The Ideological Nature of Ancient Religion:
Religion seems rarely considered as the essential drive in the creation of the small Canaan state of Israel. I will here consider religious motivation for the beginnings of the Israelite ethnic(?) group.
Firstly, I will look at what is known of the earlier Palestinian religions before the advent of royal and urban cults. Stanley A. Cooksees the original deity of Palestine to have been a goddess, and there to have been human, including child sacrifice. There is evidence of child sacrifice in the Bible not only in the tale of Abraham and Isaac, but possibly in 2 Kings 2.22-23 where 42 children are torn apart by bears. He views the goddess as a long-standing presence in Palestine, but these may have been worshipped outside of the large city-centres or states where other gods such as El and Ba’al ruled. In such environments, although once dominant, goddesses became wives, daughters, concubines. In ‘Not Sparing the Child. Human Sacrifice in the Ancient World’ presents the numerous stories of child sacrifice in the Bible, including the first born of Egypt, as ‘a real possibility in the past’ according to the writers of Genesis.
As this paper suggests a Phoenician involvement in the creation of Israel, it is interesting to note the deep involvement of Byblos with Egypt, the possibility that the city was colonised by Egypt in the 3rd millennium or was a colonyand that the chief deity, the goddess Baalat Gebal was associated with Hathor. Since the middle of the 3rd millennium Aubet (263) claims Egyptian personnel were active in Byblos.
Local to Palestine, Bronze Age religions were represented by Marduk, Ishtar, El, Ba’al and other deities. These were often dominant, to some degree or another in present day Syria, in Canaan, understood in the ancient world to be Palestine and Lebanon, from Gaza to Byblos, bordered by Egypt, Amurru, and to the east by the province of Upe and the Dead Sea.Niehr (page 25) suggests that the Israel referred to in King Merneptah’s stela indicates the populated hilly country, therefore a region not a people (see above). According to Niehr, the Merneptah stela indicates that Canaan and Israel were seen as subdivisions of Palestine, therefore both were viewed as Canaanites although this may only mean they shared similar languages and cultural behaviour. Niehr insists, as the evidence strongly suggests, that the Israelites of the Bible, who presumably took their name from the area they lived in, did not immigrate into the region but were there all along. Canaan, according to Tess Dawson, may come from a Semitic root (k-n-) meaning ‘to be subdued’ or from the Hurrian word kinahhu, blue cloth, which she then connects to Phoenicia-from the Greek word for purple-red. The Ugaritic word for Canaan is kina’nu and the word for Canaanite is Kina’niyu. Dawson (29) describes Canaanite religion as consisting of powerful, individual gods that under ‘Ilu (il or El) and ‘Atiratu, co-creators, compete with each other. These papers will propose that aspects of Canaanite religion continued into Arabia until the 7th century BCE.
If we understand the separation in development between urban Canaan and rural Israel, this can provide a clue to the evolution of Israelite religion. The original inhabitants of Israel appear to have been farmerswho may have returned to rural life on the partial fall of Canaanite city states at the end of the Bronze Age. Increases in population within the hill country created urban sites. The kingdom of Israel inherited a number of city-states such as Dan (possibly originally Mycenaean), Hazor, Lachish, and Megiddo probably after the invasion of the Egyptian King Sheshonq in the late 10th century.
The effects of Canaanite Religion on Israel:
Although many (in fact most) books on the development of monotheism within the area called Israel concentrate on social and political developments, these papers suggest that religious developments influenced by Canaanite societies and societies neighbouring Israel (those of the plains and seaboard), helped construct the subsequent religious ideologies of Israel/Judah. This work will therefore continue the discussion of local goddesses, of ‘ilu or El, possibly the template for Allah, and Ba’al (a god of the sea coast).
I will employ here some of my research into the nature of Israelite religion contained within El, YHWH, Allah-an investigation into West Semitic monotheism. With this material will be additional research material obtained recently. As with previous authors such as Frank Moore Cross,I will present El as the original Israelite god and explain YHWH as a result of the old god’s sudden disappearance from Canaanite worship by 1000 BCE. As Ulf Oldenburg writes, everywhere in Canaan El was recognised as the same god until a mythical war with Hadad. Oldenburg put this down to the arrival of Amorites in Canaan, whom, although West Semitic came from the Middle-Euphrates and, he believes, had a different god.
It seems likely that El rather than Ba’al was the original creator god, and all indications suggest that Ba’al originated on the coast. El, like Ptah, Amun and the later YHWH, was the creator of all things. Many descriptions of YHWH as a creator god appear to be older references to El, indicating that morphing of gods common to this part of the ancient world. El was used as both personal and nominative, used generically for all or many gods, Akkadian ‘ilu and possibly Enkil. It can be found in Allah. In texts from the 12th and early 11th century (Holland: 203), at about the time many claim YHWH was the Israelite god, which I consider highly unlikely, he appears as a benevolent deity, more like the deity of Jesus than the ferocious god of the Hebrews and Islam. El’s home was in the northern mountains from where the waters of the cosmos originated. El was frequently known, according to Holland (203) as ‘Bull El’, indicating his power and potency. Holland suggests he resembles a patriarch, and I will later explore the possibility that these older Canaanite gods were in fact represented in the Pentateuch as the patriarchs, thereby both claiming and taming them. El, I suggest, strongly resembles Abraham.
Cross demonstrates the presence of El in Daniel 7, and the use of ‘nny smy’ of ‘one like a man’, which he suggests belongs to the Ba’al tradition. The deity pictured in Daniel as very old resembles El not YHWH who was not normally considered that way. In the story of El, his bride, Asherah, is also the bride of YHWH. There have been many El sites found in south-western Palestine, and in Sinai where ‘the cult of El was widespread (Cross: 1997:20), but with an Egyptian divine consort.
Dijkstra (61) shows that Kharu/Khuru mentioned in Merenptah’s stela was the Palestinian lowlands, with Israel the highlands connected to Ashkelon, Gezer and Yanoam-Israel sandwiched between Canaan and Kharu.
IL/EL: this section is from my paper El, YHWH, Allah connecting the three gods).
Il was employed as both a proper name, although not necessarily identifying one specific god, and an appellation. Here, this paper has made the reasonable step of assuming that Il/El represented aspects of a creator god but with local alterations to character and behaviour. According to Frank Moore Cross, El was the creator god of the Canaanites and nomadic groups in Syria and Northern Iraq. He can be found within the Ugaritic texts first discovered in 1929, the investigation of which has continued into the present. In the Canaanite pantheon ‘Il is the head. In East Semitic ‘ll is normally a proper name and appears in earliest Old Akkadian sources as distinctively a divine name and not an appellative. It may be that ‘ll, in later Semitic ‘El, was the chief divinity of the Mesopotamian Semites in the Pre-Sargonic era. Cross further demonstrates ‘ll’s appearance in the Amorite onomasticon in the 18th century BCE. Cross concludes that ‘ll appears as a proper name in Old South Arabic, East Semitic, Northwest Semitic, and South Semitic leading justifiably to the conclusion that ‘ll belongs to Proto-Semitic. In the Ugaritic pantheon, all the major gods begin with ‘ll.
The gods mentioned in Ugaritic ‘literature’ consist of 8 principal gods and a further 6 gods who are less visible occurring in minor epic narratives and myths. There are another group of approximately 24, merely mentioned or very occasionally active operating as supernumeraries or helpers. According to del Olmos Lete (2014) they are not related to one another in a generational model. The gods arise from the first generation of gods and no other god-creation occurs. Ilu or ll is consequently a primordial deity who has many offspring. There are three principal offspring: Ba’lu/Ba’al-corresponding to the Sky: Yammu-corresponding to the sea: Motu-corresponding to the underworld. The most important deity after Ilu, Ba’al’s connection to rain may account for his pre-dominance. The three deities engage in constant battle for supremacy, joisting through time for the right to be called ‘King of the gods and of men/the earth’, or deputy of the ‘supreme god.’
Canaanite-Ugaritic mythology is different from the rest of the Near East, having conflict at its core. Although Canaanite-Ugarit religion concerns an ancient primordial deity and his consort with a gradually more active dominating offspring perhaps reflected the Later Bronze Age political situation where smaller cities were dominated by larger cities, which were themselves dominated by even larger states. The greatest kings would always be specifically remote and battles for supremacy over Canaan were conducted by up to three powerful states. While the worship of El appears to reflect nomadic groups centred around a productive father, Sandersasserts that the West Semitic theology, first evidenced in 18th century texts from Mari, reflects the politics of the time and area. There, a ruler’s power is provisional, earned through repeated acts of loyalty to more powerful kings or Divine Protectors. He examples the 13th century epic of Ba’l who struggles to defeat any of his enemies, doing so only with the help of others. Sanders notes Ba’al’s inadequacy compared to the Mesopotamian god Marduk. He notes also (page 53) how differently the gods speak to Mesopotamian kings, talking with deference, whereas in West Semitic culture the gods order the rulers, telling them what to do.
This theogony resembles Mesopotamian religion in being based upon the family, at least in the Ugarit texts. It reflects a patrimonial household and in the Epics of Keret and Aqhat concern for the preservation of the patrilineage.Although this shows evidence of the Near Eastern joint family (Ba’al’s father is said to be Dagan) with the eldest sons squabbling for the main inheritance, it can be seen also in the families of the patriarchs, for example Jacob and Esau. In the Ba’al Cycle a major theme is Ba’al’s desire for his own house, gaining thereby some autonomy from El.
A number of epithets portray ‘El as father and creator. At times, he is recognised as Ba’al’s father rather than Dagan. Invariably, ‘El is described as ancient and bearded. He is also referenced to kingship, ‘olam-eternal king, and El the warrior, eternal father, as well as the Ancient of Days. Such identification is also found in the Bible. His designations and descriptions are specific. He is described as hale, lusty and ancient able to satisfy two women simultaneously-perhaps connecting him to Abraham, who I suggest connects El to YHWH in a later, subordinate guise. His most significant characteristics, evident from earlier periods, is his benevolence and magnanimity. He is described as kind, merciful and wise. While other gods used human beings as servants or playthings, El developed a relationship with his creations, feeling empathy towards them and expressing both care and concern. By contrast, An was a remote god who rarely interfered with human kind, Marduk was interested only in his rule over the supernatural, Ptah was interested only in the act of creation. El has been linked to Kronos, but although the latter might have been derived from El, they have few, if any, shared characteristics. Kronos after all devours his offspring. Although one characteristic they do share is the association with time, in El’s case his extreme age.
Of greater consequence perhaps in El’s apparently conflicted relationship with Ba’al concerns the association of El with villages, the countryside and nomadism, and, as already said, Ba’al the monarchical institutions of the cities. El has tribal-patriarchal features (L’Heureux: 1979:105) such as living in a tent, his authority and leadership is based upon age and wisdom, accepted by the younger gods even though he has no executive power. In this, he resembled Abraham and Jacob. Ba’al lives in a palace, is warlike and imposes his will by force of arms, resembling in all aspects a king. In the Old Testament, this can be viewed, for example, as the ongoing conflict between kings and prophets or as that in reality of El and YHWH-with monarchical gods winning up to the present day. The Jesus figure, as will be seen, represents El as Jesus’s career was spent avoiding cities until the end, and Mohammad’s career shifts the emphasis back to cities and to a kingly, authoritarian god. Although L’Heureux suggests that El could have been of more recent development than Ba’al, something denied by Cross, the sociological background El represents, and his ubiquity from the distant past until the present, suggests differently. Although Ba’al may have also been a very old god, he represented a more recent sociological phenomenon.Certainly, stories in the Old Testament that reflect the city/nomad dichotomy, such as for example Sodom and Gomorrah, may indeed reflect the conflicts between Ba’al and El, indicating perhaps El’s more ancient origins. Although it is possible that Ba’al as a storm god may be older, it does not alter the claims of this paper on the enduring nature of El but indicates that Ba’al was completely subsumed in YHWH and Satan, while El vigorously continues as the god of the New Testament and within elements of Allah.
El, or at least the Ugaritic El, shows a god of an exalted position, far above all the other gods in their pantheon. As can be seen above, his age is emphasised, indicating perhaps his long existence in the Levant. An inscription found at Boghaz-koy, written in Hittite, refers to el-ku-ni-ir-sa , a divine name given as Asertu, i.e. Asherah (Oldenburg:16), referencing El’s wife. Of perhaps greater importance is the blessing the Canaanite priest-king gives to Abram (Gen.14: 19,22) in the name of El ‘Elyon, creator of heavens and earth’, indicating that at one point that was how El was seen. Like YHWH, El was also the father of mankind (Oldenburg: 19) as in ‘ab ‘adm , the provider of children, as with all good fertility gods.
Fertility cults in Early Israeli Religion:
Fertility cults were common in Canaan, as elsewhere. Rupert Davies(page 111) itemises the Ugarit rain/storm god Ba’al, describing how he, in preserved texts, battles Mot (death) who personifies dryness. His other enemy is Yamm, representing sea-faring trade. Davies also sees the Israel/Judah deities within an original fertility context and the feminine/masculine context he holds is common to these deities. In fact, in Palestine the most common religious artefact found is a female figurine. In addition, inscriptions found in the Sinai desert (‘Ajrud) and near Hebron (Khirbet el-Qom) associates YHWH with a consort, Asherah, originally connected to El, the West Semitic god. Davies further locates the symbol of Asherah in 1 Kings 15.13: 2 Kings 21.7;23.4-7. According to Jeremiah 44 the cult of Queen of Heaven had been there from the beginning in Judah’s cities and towns. She had residence with YHWH in Jerusalem. As Davies suggests (111) this male/female alliance naturally fits early fertility religions.
There appears a connection between Asherah and Maryam in the Qur’an, who too operates as a fertility symbol seen from her stressed connection to the fig tree where she rests. Asherah seems to have been a very popular cult-figure in early Israel, described as YHWH’s consort, notably at Kuntillet ‘Ajurud in the northeastern Sinai. With this was a tree flanked by a pair of ibexes with the inscription: ‘YHWH of Samaria and his Asherah’. This again may indicate a varied beginning for the god. Ikeda (page 73) shows that Asherah was associated with green trees, noticeable again in the text dealing with Maryam and in the much earlier text of Abraham planting a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba.
There may have been syncretised confusion between Ba’al and YHWH, with each other’s roles being assumed and discarded. In fact the progress of the Ba’al cult, a huge matter in Biblical text, probably came into contact with the Jerusalem based, Royal cult of YHWH or, as likely, the cults then in Israel.
We may here find some connections to the later Islam in that it is possible that the Amorites emerged from Arabia and acquired fertility gods via a move into the Fertile Crescent (Oldenburg: 158), insisting on an Amorite invasion from the desert. They brought with them, according to Oldenburg, their gods Dagan and Hadad. Amorites became the dominant power in Syria, with Harranu (Biblical Haran), for example, becoming an Amorite city.
Oldenburg (1969: 149) references a fierce split in the Ugaritic pantheon that created the duality of Ba’al and the older god El. This he proposes was the result of cultural conflict, with Ba’al classed as an adopted son consequent to separate West Semitic waves into Canaan-the second wave being Amorites from further east. According to Oldenburg (152), Hadad (or really a syncretised Ba’al/Hadad) replaced El as chief god in Ugarit.
While Oldenburg believes (164) that El was the proper name for the greatest god in the Canaanite pantheon; his name used for the word ‘god’ and applied to others, becoming the general name for god. The Ugarit pantheon was routinely referred to as the family of El. Around him were gathered all the other gods, the Elohim. Oldenburg (164) judges that in both Israel and Canaan, he was originally the creator god. Referencing I. J. Gelb (1961), he believes also that El was the original chief god of Mesopotamia, based on il being occasionally employed for gods, especially for En-lil. He believes that the gods of the Akkadian Mesopotamians were pushed out by Sumerian gods. He further asserts that Abram worshipped El. As this work cannot see any possible reason to accept the real existence of Abram, at this point the theory fails.
Nevertheless, the notion that Biblical stories cover up more complex beginnings has to be sustained, with YHWH’s late emergence and perhaps considerably older oral texts, based perhaps on Ugarit poetry (which predates 1200 BCE). Oldenburg’s notion (168) that Shaddai in the Bible references Sadidos in Sanchuniathon’s Phoenician History, seems sustainable. Oldenburg (169) notes that many shrines in the early parts of the Bible were known shrines to El. He points particularly to Beth’el, where coincidentally Jacob’s name was reconfirmed to be Israel. He adds to this the place where Jacob wrestled with god Peni’el, and where Abraham (who elsewhere I have discussed as representative of El-perhaps in final Biblical versions there to demonstrate El’s subservience to YHWH) dug a well, calling on El ‘Olam (El of Eternity). Correctly, Oldenburg considers the patriarchal age in Israel as a period of El worship-although of a more bloodthirsty example than usual.
Although El was subject to displacement by Ba’al Hadad, this may have been largely in Syria, Lebanon and northern Palestine, as (see above) there is considerable evidence of some kind of El worship near Sinai. Oldenburg believes that El continued as the main god in desert regions where fertility gods such as Ba’al would play no part. He references Jethro, a priest of Midian who’s proper name was Re’u’el, and suggests he was a worshipper of El.
Oldenburg holds (175) that El and Yahweh were originally the same, not two different gods. This appears feasible going by El appearing so often in the earlier parts of the Bible. This paper will offer another conclusion; that YHWH’s prominence may have been the result of conflict between the cult of El and that of Ba’al/Hadad moving up from the lowlands. The above conflict probably involved differences in lifestyle, as Ba’al appears to have been the cult for cities, kingship and agriculture, while El was the god for freer nomadic and cattle-based lifestyles (Cross: 48). In many parts of the Pentateuch this tension is evident, but has YHWH as the protagonist in the place of El. Cross (48) takes up suggestions that El may have represented early monotheistic tendencies, his position before the rise of the Ba’al cult was as a supreme deity, and there is a possibility that he held or could have developed into a Ra-Amun figure. Nevertheless, he did not.
Within the number of early religious influences within Israel, a ‘cult of the dead’, prominent in Syria, can be detected through worship of the sun, seen in Ezek 8:14 and 16, also in 1 Samuel 28. According to Tsumara (1993: 55) in ancient Israel, bring up the ghosts may have been performed by a solar goddess, ba’alat ‘ob, the Lady of the Spirits of the Dead.
EL and YHWH:
Although at first a proper name, El became over time an appellation. According to Oldenburg, El is the god of Genesis, creating the world itself. The ‘elohim are an assembly of deities subject to El. The early cult locations ascribed later to YHWH were originally for El. By the end of the Bronze Age, beginning of the Iron Age, El had it seems been displaced by Hadad and Ba’al, the characters of which were different from El and much closer to YHWH. It is possible that the Moses’ story is justification for the changes in religious loyalties and the journey/flight across water (Nile) and cleansing in the desert concerns the process of conversion.
Cross (58-59) theorises that El Sadday, mentioned by Ezekiel, may be the god Amurru, another Amorite deity (called DINGIR.DINGIR.MAR.TU) associated with mountains like El but with many of Ba’al’s characteristics may have been El reintroduced into Mesopotamia as a divine warrior, which El was for some Canaanite tribes. Cross seems to believe (59) this figure morphed into YHWH. He (59) points out how often Sadday and El appear in archaic poetry
It was common in the ancient world for syncretism to take place, with the gods of a powerful state assuming the qualities and characteristics of other state’s gods, and vice versa. If there was a quality another political entity emphasised, it is understandable for a weaker or less sophisticated state to assume their gods in another form. While that is one method, another method was to worship two powerful gods exhibiting protective traits (warrior, Storm God) as appears to have been the case in Moab. Added to this, perhaps reflecting competitive military activity amongst smaller states, was the appearance of ‘holy warfare’, which may have had its genesis in Mesopotamia where warrior gods emerged exemplified by Marduk. Cross (58) rightly alludes to the motif of a storm god overcoming the powers of chaos, related to the war god who establishes cosmic and temporal order.
Like Israel YHWH may have originally been a place name, found first as yhw’, read according to Cross (62) as ya-h-wi, in Edom. Cross (62) claims the name can be found in Mari texts during the 2nd millennium, but as personal names. These are shown as Ya-ah-wi-AN, Ya-wi-Dagan, Ya-wi-IM, and Ya-wi-AN in Amorite, although whether these come from the root hwy (to be) or hyw (to live) is uncertain but may not make as much difference as some commentators imagine, as both may have referenced the later deity. There is evidence of the name in Syria during the 8th century BCE but whether as YHWH being worshiped there or as a personal name is unclear. It has been assumed from this that YHWH was not an exclusively Israeli deity, but it could, if worshiped, be a different god bearing the same name. Although there is evidence of the name in Elba, among tablets of Tell Mardikh from the 3rd millennium, this may in fact be references to El, and at best may be a rendition of ‘Michael’-he is like El. Nevertheless it does appear also to be the causative imperfect of the Canaanite-Proto-Hebrew verb hwy, to be. This fulfils the activities of a creator god bringing into existence other gods or material phenomenon, rather than referencing its own nature. Therefore, the name YHWH refers to a place, a personal name and references a creator god that I suggest has its provenance in El. The group in the Palestinian highlands that evolved into Hebrews constructed YHWH from a number of sources perhaps in response to the pressure of the foreign Ba’al cult, representative of a superior culture to the north.
Cross (71) suggests that YHWH was originally a cultic name for El, the patron of the Midianite League to the south, and its possible again that the early Hebrews claimed the god, a widely held viewpoint in lieu of his warlike characteristics, a protective totem in effect. Similar processes may have occurred with the Babylonian chief god Marduk. He was originally a minor god in a local pantheon. His ferocious appearance alone might have commended him to the ambitious city. In the ancient world, with cultural and social change came alteration in the nature of state gods or in their name.
If the Hebrew priesthood and rulers, perhaps at first one and the same, were threatened with the Ba’al cult, as the god a people worshipped formed their identity and so the early Israelite confederacy risked loss of personnel and land, a new state possibly forming on the periphery. In order to forestall the god’s attractions, the priests, or religious authorities may have given Ba’al’s characteristics to El, as surmised above, who then, as a consequence became YHWH. Those characteristics belong to a storm god, ferocious, implacable enemy of chaos.
If we then perceive the YHWH cult as forming gradually within the Palestinian highlands, we can perhaps see Israel as a land of several beliefs connected to YHWH and distinct from YHWH. By approximately the 7th century BCE, Asherah can be found connected to YHWH, presumably as his consort (Binger: 1997: 100). Binger (109) considers Asherah to have played a significant role in the YHWH cult (108), as she did in El’s, compounding the similarities between the deities, with clear functions. She might be found in Rachel or Deborah, but certainly can be found in Mary, Jesus’ mother in both the Gospels and Qur’an.
Binger notes (111) the apparent appearance of Asherah in 1 Kings 15.13 and 2 Chronicles 15.16 suggesting powerful women may have worshipped her, and, in the person of a princess of the Davidic dynasty, even held public office in her cult. Binger notes that in Deuteronomy (116) the scribes attempt to present Asherah worship as recent, within or around the reign of Manasseh, whereas in fact she must have been worshiped for many centuries linking her with Ba’al worship, 6.1.4. Kings 23.4,7, within a cult reform in Jerusalem. Binger describes Jerusalem at this time as involved in an acceptable multi-god cult and suggests that qedesim associated with prostitution were in fact Canaanites or Israelites acting in cults different from the YHWH cult.
Elsewhere I have suggested that Abraham and El have shared characteristics and that El’s presence in the YHWH religion was retained by placing his doppelganger at the birth of the YHWH cult. The migration of the Abram family to Harran placed them at the Syrian centre of the moon god Sin. According to Oldenburg (167), Sin’s centre was Ur, from where the family originated, but that Abram gave up Sin worship when he entered Canaan, choosing to worship El as did Melchisedeq, the Canaanite king of Jerusalem, the king of Sodom and of Gerar. Jacob (167) built an alter at Shechem for El, god of Israel. Beth’el became an important place of worship for Israel’s god. Although I believe that Abraham was, also contradictorily, an invention and not necessarily an ancient oral tale regurgitated for scribes and their priestly audience, tales of El were probably told until late.
Abraham’s nomadic lifestyle reflects El, not the later Israel, with his journey’s reflecting El’s reach throughout Palestine, into Egypt, with origins to the north. His advanced age and the name of his first son, Ishmael, reflects his El origins, as his descendents may reflect other Palestinian gods.
This paper concludes therefore that YHWH was, as with the Israelites, native to Israel and/or surrounding areas, and was constructed from the political and social ferment of the time. The Israelites were, from the start, a mixed group representing a number of religions and ideologies, and consisted of a changing population not a fixed cultural or ethnic group. As with the name Israel, the very name YHWH was taken from other sources unrelated to contemporary religions and affixed to a composite deity that evolved from El representing royal and priestly power motives created to thwart the growing Ba’al cults. From a minor cult, as an El syncretism, it grew in accordance with the growth of influential elements in Hebrew society. As noted, YHWH was or possibly could be a personal name during the 12th and 11th centuries BCE without necessarily being attached to deities.
The principally urban culture of Phoenicia, its influence spreading south from Byblos, may have grown through its priesthood creating thereby a similar response in the emerging Hebrews, with a less marked urban bias. Of greater ideological bias may instead have been the religious conflict of El and YHWH, later expressed, in the localised and confusing exchange of divine appellations, as between Ba’al and YHWH.
Hebrews and Israelite nominatives are viable only through the composition of the Bible, particularly the Pentateuch and have no genuine historical basis up to that point. Where either Israelite or Judah terms were employed prior to that it possibly reflected the ruling priestly and political elite. The Hebrews themselves saw their identity, expressed through YHWH, as ongoing, an uncompleted discourse, and that position probably reflected an even more uncertain reality. The present concept of the Israelites and the nature of being Jewish, often assumes ethnic longevity, but this needs to be seen as a construct, not indicating real events. The ongoing papers in this project will seek to undermine this belief as well as analyse and understand Hebrew culture and religion.
 Ed. Lester L. Grabbe. 2016. The Land of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age. Library of Hebrew bible/Old Testament Studies. Bloomsbury.
 The Impact of the Late Bronze III Period on the Origins of Israel. Ed. Lester L. Grabbe. 2016. The Land of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age. Library of Hebrew bible/Old Testament Studies. Bloomsbury.
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 Ba’l’s father elsewhere is said to be Dagan. This may be an example of families from connected clans or groups exchanging children.
 Seth. L. The Invention of Hebrew. University of Illinois Press. 2009: page 52-53.
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 There was no direct evolution between nomadism/tent dwellings to cities as the very different lifestyles came and went in the Near East.
 Urban Religion and Rural Religion. Stavrakopoulou, Francesca/Barton, John. 2010. T&T Clark International.
Ikeda, Yutaka. Because their shade is Good-Asherah in the Early Israelite Religion. Oficial Cult and Popular Religion in the Ancient Near East. Universitatsverlag, C. Winter, Heidelberg. 1993. Page 72.
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 Grabbe, Lester L. ‘Many Nations will be joined to YHWH in That Day’. 180-181. Stavrakopoulo/ Barton eds. Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah. T & T Clark International. 2010.