Whose God Is It?
In the biblical stories, God is often referred to as YHWH, sometime spoken Yahweh, by the ancient Hebrews. Much later, Yahweh would be given the name Jehovah which is a name that is still in use today. Among other things, Yahweh was said to have created Adam and Eve and later would enter into a covenant with Abraham which would eventually lead to the creation of the nation of Israel. Such was the basis for Judaism and their worship of one god, and the beginning of monotheism as a form of worship.
Yes, others might argue that monotheism actually began with the Egyptians and their Pharaoh Akhenaten or even with Zoroastrianism, but Judaism is where monotheism took root and eventually spread to other religions. Christianity, a later monotheistic religion, would adopt the Jewish Bible (essentially the Old Testament) as part of their own Bible. In so doing, they also took on the mantle of Yahweh/Jehovah, the supposedly one and only god. Little did they know, however, exactly what that entailed and even today most Christians don’t realize who Jehovah was, or wasn’t.
Let’s rewind, back to the beginning. If we assume for the purpose of this discussion that the chronology in the Bible is accurate, then the following can be gleaned about the god(s) that the Hebrews/Israelites worshipped. According to the Jewish Calendar, Adam and Eve were created circa 3700 BC. So let’s count it down. Based on the biblical genealogies, Abraham lived around 2000 BC, or 1,700 years after Adam and Eve. During that period, the Hebrews worshipped many gods (the Old Testament is replete with references to multiple gods, especially in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy). This is why Yahweh admonished the Hebrews, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
It’s also why a covenant might have been required between Yahweh and the Hebrews, since they actually had a choice of who to follow. Obviously, if Yahweh was the prime creator (the first cause) or the one and only god, there would be no choice and no covenant would have been required. There would have been no reason for Yahweh to have said, “And I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God” (Exodus 6:7). It would not have been necessary for the prime creator to enter into such a covenant to be their god (because it would have been true ipso facto), and neither would he have referred to himself as “a God” (one of many); rather, he would have referred to himself simply as “God”.
Yet for the 1,700 years up to the time of Abraham, the Hebrews worshipped many gods instead of Yahweh; according to the Bible, even Abraham’s father did (Joshua 24:2). But if they truly believed that Yahweh was the creator and helped Noah save mankind, how could they possibly have worshiped other gods?
Now, Moses was said to have lived around 1500 BC. So roughly 500 years after Abraham, the Israelites still weren’t worshipping Yahweh as the one true god. This was one of the reasons supposedly for the Ten Commandments. Yet despite Moses and notwithstanding the Ten Commandments, it would still be another 1,000 years or so before the Torah would be written and accepted as the religious belief system of the Jewish people (for example, see 2 Kings 22:8-13). In the end, it took 3,000 years before the Israelites would officially pay homage to Yahweh.
How is it then that Yahweh was not worshipped by the Israelites over that incredible period of time even though the Jewish people feared him and recognized his status and his power? How come, indeed. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the original Septuagint and another recently discovered ancient manuscript shed new light on an important biblical passage, Deuteronomy 32:8-9. The acceptable translation of this passage should be either “sons of God” or “the number of the gods”. These sons of god were also made reference to in other biblical passages, for example Genesis 6:2, Job 1:6, and Job 38:7. These passages relate to the fact that the early Canaanite religions believed in a pantheon of gods called the Elohim, or children of El (the sons of God). The Elohim is the Hebrew term which is generally used for, and translated into, the word “God” in the Bible. As for Yahweh, he would have been simply one of the Elohim, one of the creative spirits who fashioned the universe (Note: none of which were actually God, the prime creator). Each member (Elohim) of the divine assembly were given a nation to rule over (see the Table of Nations in Genesis 10-11); and Yahweh, he was given Israel.
It was therefore difficult for the writers of the Torah to have taken the old stories, which related to a worship of many deities, and woven them together into a coherent story about the one and only god. For example, in Psalm 82:1, “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the gods”. It’s tough to go from that to the concept of only one god. So what exactly then is one to make of the Old Testament? In truth, it’s simply a history of Jewish religious thought and how it evolved over thousands of years, from the creation to the actual writing of the Torah; how it changed from the worship of many deities to the worship of the one and only Yahweh.
So why is any of this important? Well, down through the ages man has made a habit of using the name “God” to describe the deity of their own personal belief system. All one can say, at best, is that such a deity is in reality only “a god”, or the God Below God as I like to refer to him. I have endeavored to write about the biblical god story, not because I necessarily believe it, but because I feel that the story in the Bible, as written, is deserving of further explanation. So tell me, in your opinion, whose god is it anyway?