Polytheism in Genesis: Baal and Ashtoreth vs. Yahweh
Genesis 1:26-27 says, "And God said, `Let us make man in our likeness and let them
have dominion over the fish of the sea....' And God created man in his own image in the
image of God created he him, male and female he created them."
The word man in this text includes male and female. This is confirmed by the word
them whose antecedent is man. So he and his in this sense are both male and female. In
fact, the word him is superfluous, and we could omit the superfluity by stating the passage
like this: "In the image of God, he created them male and female." This means that male
and female were created in the image of God. In other words, man [male and female or
mankind] was created in the image of God.
Since man [male and female] was created in the image of God, it logically follows
that this god was both male and female. The word our implies more than one, so, in effect,
what we have is a god-pair consisting of a male god and a female god.
Chapter one of Genesis is from the Elohist source that used Elohim [gods plural] in
referring to "God." Originally, the male god was Baal, and the female god was his consort
Ashtoreth. Orthodox clergymen will argue that the us and our in the creation passage are
simply examples of the "royal we" used by emperors, but this rationalization is false. The
book of Genesis was written before the "royal we" originated. It began with the first
Roman emperor, Augustus, and included the emperor and his loyal civil administrators.
Afterwards, it was sometimes used in pagan religious ceremonies in the pre-Christian
Roman Empire, which at that time was polytheistic.
In Genesis 3:22, there is further evidence of polytheism as the Hebrew gods are
depicted as saying, "Behold the man has become as one of us to know good and evil, and
now lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever...."
Here again the orthodox clergy will claim that the us is really the LORD God and the
angels that were with him, but this cannot be for a number of reasons. First, there is no
mention of angels in Genesis until Chapter 19, but even if these angels did exist, they would
have been acting upon orders of the god-pair of 1:26-27. So the us here was again referring
to that god-pair. To further show that the our and us in these Genesis passages referred to
the god-pair of early Hebrew polytheism, we have only to review the history of the ideolog-
ical clashes between the proponents of Baal and those of Yahweh that went on in the
Caananite-Israelite lands from the time of the judges until the fall of Judah and the Baby-
During these times, Baal and his consort Ashtoreth were worshiped by many Israe-
lites both in Samaria (Israel) and Judah even after the captivity, mainly by those who
remained in the conquered lands. Yahwists like Ezra finally purged the Israelites (by then
known as Jews) of all Baal residuals and even forced them to give up their Baalish wives
and families (see Ezra 9-10). Ezra's purging of Baal appeared to be complete. It was his
wish to erase Baal completely from the Israelite past; however, the residuals in Genesis 1
and 3 continue to remind us not only of Israel's polytheistic past but of the Canaanite ori-
gins of Judaism.
Using archaeological evidence on one hand and biblical between-the-line implica-
tions on the other, the following conclusions support the premises stated above:
(1) Most of the Israelites at the time of the exodus (about 1250 B.C.) were already
located in the Canaanite area, which, incidentally, was at that time a part of Greater Egypt.
A relatively small number, probably only one tribe (Levi), were in Egypt. Exodus 1:15, for
example, says that only two midwives were needed to attend the births of Hebrew children.
Furthermore, the Israelites needed divine help to defeat a small seminomadic tribe (Ex.
17:8-13) in contradiction to the later editor's estimate of an army of 600,000 men (12:37)
besides children (and women?).
(2) This relatively small group of Israelites from the outside (Egypt proper) formed
some type of symbiotic relationship with the much larger inside group (which consisted of
Israelites and Canaanites, the so-called mixed multitude) to form the "12 tribes" (when they
were not fighting each other).
(3) The outside group was the Yahwist cult, the inside group the Baal cult. The
struggle between the two groups went on for well over 500 years.
(4) Apparently it was not until the reign of Josiah that the Yahwist group was able
to achieve dominance. The "lost book" of Deuteronomy was discovered in the house of the
LORD (2 Kings 22:8), and the Passover was reinstituted after a lapse of 500 years (if
indeed it even existed before then). The golden calf (symbol of the Kings of Israel) from
the reign of Jeroboam was suppressed (2 Kings 23:15).
(5) Biblical scholars agree on how the Pentateuch was put together. The sources
were (E) Elohist, (J) Yahwist, (P) Priestly, (D) Deuteronomist, and (R) Redactor. The last
two were written to dovetail with the first two, and the writers tried to do two things: (1)
eliminate all contradictions, and (2) eliminate all vestiges of the Israelite primitive past of
Richard Elliott Friedman noted in Who Wrote the Bible? that after the destruction of
the temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B. C., some Jews
fled to Egypt and formed a colony at Elephantine at the first cataract of the Nile (p. 153).
They built a temple there, which was clearly against the law of centralization in Deuteron-
omy. The extraordinary thing about the Elephantine temple, however, was that this group
of expatriated Jews worshiped Yahweh and two other gods, one male and one female. This
god-pair apparently was Baal and Ashtoreth. The Yahwist Jews living elsewhere were not
happy with this development, for when the Elephantine temple was destroyed in the 5th
century, B.C.E., they would not help to rebuild it (p. 154).
The scholarly piecing together of information from archaeological discoveries and
overlooked textual implications of a polytheistic past indicate that the editors failed in both
endeavors listed above. As a result, we know today that monotheism came to Judaism not
by divine revelation but by a process of theistic evolution.
(Sol Abrams' address is 132 Easthampton F, West Palm Beach, FL 33417.)
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