Polytheism in Genesis: Baal and Ashtoreth vs. Yahweh
Polytheism in Genesis: Baal and Ashtoreth vs. Yahweh
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_.
[ref002]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 [ref003]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 [ref004]Chapter 19
, but even if these angels did exist, they would have been
acting upon orders of the god-pair of [ref005]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 ideological 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 Babylonian captivity.
During these times, Baal and his consort Ashtoreth were worshiped
by many Israelites 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 [ref006]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 origins of
Using archaeological evidence on one hand and biblical between-the-line
implications 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. [ref007]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 ([ref008]Ex. 17:8-13
) in contradiction to the later editor's estimate of an army
of 600,000 men ([ref009]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 ([ref010]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 ([ref011]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 pagan polytheisism.
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 Deuteronomy. 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.
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