I’m moving to a new website under a different web hosting service. I hope you will join me there!
I’m moving to a new website under a different web hosting service. I hope you will join me there!
I have put up a draft of my study on plaster wall inscription 4.2 from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, which offers a revised transcription, translation, and commentary. If you are less interested in epigraphic analysis, then you are welcome to skip to the exegetical commentary further below. There I present the argument that in the context of Israel-Judah the name Baal referred to El, the head of the Israelite pantheon.
According to the biblical narrative, the worship of Baal or “Lord” was the primary threat to the exclusive worship of YHWH during Israel’s life in the land of Canaan. From their first contact with Canaanite peoples, the Israelites are portrayed as irresistibly drawn to this polytheistic and iconolatrous cult. At Peor in the Transjordan they intermix with the local inhabitants and begin to worship the Baal of Peor. Hosea describes their change in cultic loyalties as almost instantaneous, “But they came to Baal of Peor and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame” (Hos 9:10). Similarly, soon after having settled in the promised land, a new generation arises after the generation of the conquest had passed on, and they, the Dtr author alleges, “did what was evil in the sight of YHWH and worshiped the Baals; they abandoned YHWH, the god of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them” (Jdgs 2:12).
Throughout the rest of the Dtr narrative the conflict between the non-native YHWH worship and the indigenous Baal cult is played out, with the Baal cult always seeming to have the upper hand. Aside from a few notable attempts to ensure rigorous aniconic (i.e. without cult statues) and/or exclusive worship of YHWH, the worship of Baal is presented as pervasive and deeply entrenched in popular practice. In pre-monarchic times the Israelites repeatedly lapse into worshiping the Baals, the anti-normative functioning for all practical purposes as if it were the normative. Then during the era of the divided monarchies the Baal cult is alternately promoted and opposed by royal and prophetic/priestly figures (cf. 1 Kgs 16:31; 22:53; 2 Kgs 10:26-28; 11:18; 21:3; 23:4-5). Although this historiographic construction may give the impression that Baal worship was confined to certain periods or merely sponsored by certain royal individuals or families, some passages in the Dtr history and especially the anti-Baal rhetoric in the prophetic books of Hosea and Jeremiah indicate that it was far more well-established and widespread. They describe Baal worship as though it were endemic to the northern and southern kingdoms, something engaged in by Israelite cultures as a whole from the earliest of times (2 Kgs 21:15; Hosea 11:2; 13:1; Jer 2:20). The Dtr author speaks in generalizing, all-inclusive terms of “Israel” having followed the Baalistic practices that the “kings of Israel” had introduced and of “Judah” having followed the practices that “Israel” had introduced (2 Kgs 17:8, 19). The author of Jeremiah specifies that the Baal cult was practiced by kings, officials, priests, and prophets (2:26), as well as the people as a whole (7:9; 11:13, 17), and further implies that it was a long-held intergenerational tradition, since those who worshiped the Baals were doing “as their ancestors have taught them” (9:14). He even admits that “from our youth,” or in other words from the beginning of Israel’s life in the land, “the shameful thing has devoured all for which our ancestors have labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters” (Jer 3:24), which can only be a reference to Baal as the object of cult sacrifice.
Ultimately, rampant Baal worship is credited as the primary cause of Israel and Judah’s destruction and exile (2 Kgs 17:7-20; 21:10-15). Hosea states that Ephraim “became guilty through Baal and died” (13:1), while the Dtr author claims that Israel and Judah’s iconolatrous worship of Baal provoked YHWH to such extreme anger that he banished them from his presence (2 Kgs 17:20). Based on the Dtr author’s assessment that all Judean kings subsequent to Josiah “did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, just as all [their] ancestors had done,” the effects of Josiah’s efforts to eradicate Baal worship seem to have been short-lived. The Judean cult quickly returned to the status quo ante, which continued uninterrupted until the final days of Judah’s independent national existence. The author of Jeremiah dramatically depicts the prophet prophesying just prior to the capture of Jerusalem that when the Babylonians come and set fire to the city, they will burn “the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal” (Jer 32:29).
So what was this ancestral Baal cult that both Israel and Judah are said to have engaged in throughout their history in the land? When the biblical authors speak of Baal worship, what cultic reality do they have in mind? Are they referring to the cult of a specific deity, perhaps a deity that we would recognize by another name?
The biblical authors have left few clues that would help us understand the Baal worship they fulminate against. Their rhetoric is spare and elusive, often obscuring more than it reveals. Only rarely do they provide specific information about the cult, preferring instead to speak of it obliquely and pejoratively in the stereotyped and highly symbolic language of apostasy (e.g. prostitution). Furthermore, their usage of the name Baal to designate the deity or deities they condemn is highly ambiguous. As used by the biblical authors, the name is not actually a proper name, but an appellative. When used in the singular and prefixed by the article, the term refers to a particular Baal (i.e. “the Baal”). However, when used in the plural, the term appears to function as a generic reference to certain categories of deities (i.e. the Baals, the Baals and the Asherot, the Baals and the Astartes). The implication of this usage is that the identity of Baal is not explicit, but can only be determined from context.
Nonetheless, when we examine the various references to Baal in the HB as a whole, it becomes clear that there are basically two categories of Baal. The first is foreign Baal worship, which is attested mainly for the premonarchical period and sporadically elsewhere. This includes:
The second category an indigenous Israelite Baal worship (Jdgs 3:7; 6:25-32; 8:33; 1 Kgs 16:31-32; 22:53; 2 Kgs 3:2; 10:18-28; 11:18; 17:16; 21:3; 23:4-5; Jer 2:8; 2:23; 7:9; 9:14; 11:13, 17; 12:16; 19:5; 23:13, 27; 32:29, 35; Hos 2:8-17; 11:2; 13:1; Zep 1:4). This Baal, which can be referenced both in the singular and the plural, is shown to have been continually worshipped by Israelites, is never ascribed an explicit foreign origin, and is generally associated with Asherah and other Israelite cultic features. From a religious-historical perspective, this Baal should be differentiated from the foreign Baals described above. Although the biblical authors have tried to conflate the different Baal forms and obscure the distinction between them, most of the references to Baal worship in the biblical text seem to have in view a native Israelite Baal cult.
I have added parts 2 and 3 to the paper on YHWH’s asherah, which you can access here or through the pull down menu. The new additions start after the subheading ʾšrth= Asheratah/Ashirtah about two thirds of the way through the paper. For convenience I have also included an abstract of the finished article below.
The meaning of asherah in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom has been a focus of persistent discussion and debate, and still today the divergence in scholarly views is wide-ranging. The present paper aims to critically assess previous scholarship by examining each of the major proposals that have been made for elucidating the term and in the process advance a new understanding that is not only less problematic than current alternatives but historically more plausible given our present knowledge of the cultural and historical context of ancient Israel-Judah. Because asherah likely refers to a female deity and yet the designation is declined with a pronominal suffix, I propose that the term is a hitherto unattested common noun denoting YHWH’s female partner and that the goddess is to be distinguished from the goddess Asherah.
In the Invention of God, Thomas Römer tackles the perennial question of the origins and evolution of the god of Israel. Incorporating a wealth of archaeological and biblical data, Römer traces the complex and multi-layered history of the deity, showing how an obscure desert war god YHWH eventually became the singular God of monotheistic religions. Although the topic has received extensive treatment in recent decades, Römer’s discussion is fresh, accessible, and state of the art, demonstrating a broad knowledge of various disciplines and fields of study and especially critical analysis of the biblical texts.
To summarize the main points of Römer’s reconstruction of Israelite-Judahite religion:
Although Römer acknowledges the provisional nature of his account of the god of Israel’s evolution, much of the general outline of his argument is convincing and there can be little doubt that his synthesis of the biblical, archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic evidence has advanced the scholarly discussion beyond previous analyses and will influence the parameters of research and debate for some time to come. In particular, Römer locates the context in which monolatrous (one god) AND aniconic (without representative symbols) cult developed in tandem with biblical tradition in a post-monarchic setting, or rather the Persian period.
In a project of this scope and which relies to a great degree on biblical texts to fill out the history of Israelite-Judahite religion, it is virtually inevitable that scholars will differ about the interpretation of many details, including the literary history of various biblical traditions or how to integrate archaeology with material from the Bible. No reconstruction is ever definitive and must remain open to testing and examination.
So for the sake of discussion I thought I would point out some areas or lines of argument in the Invention of God I felt were not as strong as others or are deserving of further inquiry:
I hope to deal with many of the above issues in greater detail later, but for now I want to congratulate Thomas on producing a very stimulating and important book that I hope gets a wide reading!
Josef Tropper, “Der Gottesname YAHWA,” VT 51 (2001): 81-106.
Marc Brettler, “Method in the Application of Biblical Source Material to Historical Writing (with Particular Reference to the Ninth Century BCE),” Understanding the History of Ancient Israel (ed. Hugh Williamson; Oxford, 2007), 305-336.
“The Date of the Earliest Edition of Deuteronomy,” ZAW 121 (2009): 388–401; “The Dating of Deuteronomy: A Response to Nathan MacDonald,” ZAW 123 (2011): 431–436; cf. Nathan MacDonald, “Issues and Questions In the Dating of Deuteronomy: A Response to Juha Pakkala,” ZAW 122 (2010): 431–435.
I have added part 1 of a longer article on the meaning and identity of YHWH’s asherah in the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom, where I critically examine the various scholarly approaches that are currently available and offer my own solution. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted shortly.
I have now posted my article on the standing figures on Pithos A from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud here.
The question of the identity of the two standing figures at the center of pithos A continues to be a subject of vigorous debate, with the scholarly community divided over whether they should be explained in light of the inscription invoking Yahweh and his asherah that is situated above them. In this article, I review the main iconographic arguments for identifying the figures as Yahweh and his female partner and in the process respond to some of the common objections that have been raised against the hypothesis. These include the figures’ sexual dualism, overlapping pose as male and female partners, their Bes-like and bovine features, the evidence for a shared mythological compatibility between Bes and Yahweh, and the larger iconographic context of the pithos.