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Israel, Religion of

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

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I. Introduction: Historical Consideration of the Religion of Israel

II. Historical Outline

1. Pre-Mosaic Religion of the Ancestors of Israel

(1) The Traditional View

(2) The Modern View

(3) A H igher Conception of the Deity; 'ilu, 'el

(4) Totemism, Animism, etc.

(5) Conception of God

(6) Cult

2. The Mosaic Covenant with Yahweh

(1) The Covenant-Idea

(2) The Covenant-God, Yahweh

(3) Monotheism of Moses

(4) Impossibility of Representing Yahweh by an Image

(5) Ethical Character of the God of Moses

(6) The Theocracy

(7) The Mosaic Cult

3. The Religion of Israel before the 8th Century bc

(1) Decay of Religion in Canaan

(2) The Theocratic Kingdom

(3) Religious Ideals of the Psalms from the Time of David

(4) Wisdom Literature from the Time of Solomon

(5) The Sanctuary on Mt. Zion

(6) The Religion of the Kingdom of Ephraim

(7) Elijah and Elisha

4. Development of the Religion of Israel from the 8th Century bc to the Exile

(1) The Writing Prophets

(2) Their Opposition to the Cult

(3) Their Preaching of the Judgment

(4) Their Messianic Promises

(5) Reformations

(6) Destruction of Jerusalem

5. The Babylonian Exile

(1) Spiritual Purification through the Exile

(2) Relations to the Gentile World

6. Religion of the Post-exilic Period

(1) Life under the Law

(2) Hellenism

(3) Pharisees and Sadducees

(4) Essenes

(5) Positive Connections between Judaism and Hellenism

(6) Apocalyptic Literature

III. Conclusion: Characteristic Features of the Religion of Israel

1. The Living God

2. The Relation of Man to This God

Literature

I. Introduction: Historical Consideration of the Religion of Israel

In former times it was the rule to draw out of the Old Testament its religious contents only for dogmatic purposes, without making any distinction between the different books. These writings were all regarded as the documents of the Divine revelation which had been given to this people alone and not to others. At the present time the first inquiry in the study of these books deals historically with the religious development of the Israelites. This religion was not of a strictly uniform nature, but is characterized by a development and a growth, and in the centuries which are covered by the Old Testament books it has passed through many changes. Then, too, in the different periods of this development there were various religious trends among the people and very different degrees in the extent of their religious knowledge. The common people were at times still entangled in crude heathen ideas, while the bearers of a higher Divine light ranked vastly above them. And even in those times, when these enlightened teachers secured full recognition, there occurred relapses into lower forms of religion on the part of the masses, especially because the influence of the nations surrounding Israel at all times made itself felt in the religious life and thoughts of the latter. And even when the correct teachings were accepted by the people, a malformation of the entire religion could readily occur through a petrifaction of the religious life. It is the business of the science of the history of religion to furnish a correct picture of this development, which in this article can be done only in the form of a sketch.

One of the recent results of the science of the history of religion is the knowledge that the religion of Israel itself, and not merely the corruptions of this religion, stood in a much closer connection with other religions than had in former times been supposed. The wealth of new data from the history of oriental nations lately secured has shown that it is not correct to regard the religion of Israel as an isolated phenomenon, but that considerable light is thrown upon it from analogous facts from surrounding regions. Of especial importance in this respect is the study of Assyrian and Bah antiquities, with their rich and illustrative monuments, and, by the side of these, also those of Egypt; and, further, although these are indeed much smaller in number, the inscriptions and monuments of a number of peoples situated much nearer to Israel and ethnologically more closely connected with them, such as the Moabites, Arameans, Arabians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and others. For later times, Parsiism is an especially important factor.

These antiquities have shown that between the religion of Israel and the religions of these nations there existed such close connections that a relationship between them cannot be denied. It is indeed true that these similarities are mostly of a formal nature, but they nevertheless point to similar conceptions of the Divine Being and of the relation of man to this Being. We find such connecting links in the cult, in the traditions concerning the creation of the world, concerning the earliest history of man kind, etc.; further, in the conception of what is legally right and of the customs of life; in the ideas concerning death and the world beyond; concerning the souls of men and the supernatural spiritual world, and elsewhere. These analogies and related connections have appeared so pronounced to some savants, especially Assyriologists, that they are willing to find in the religion of the Israelites and Jews only a reflection of the Babylonian, or of what they call the "religion of the ancient Orient." But over against this claim, a closer and deeper investigation shows that a higher world of thought and ideals at all times permeates the Israelite religion and gives to it a unique character and a Divine truth, which is lacking in all other religions and which made Israel's religion capable of becoming the basis of that highest Divine revelation which through Christ came forth from it. We will here briefly sketch the progress of the development of this religion, and then formulate a summary of those characteristics which distinguish it from the other religions.

II. Historical Outline

1. Pre-Mosaic Religion of the Ancestors of Israel

(1) The Traditional View

The sources for this period are meager. Yet what has been reported concerning the religion of the period of the Patriarchs is enough to give us a picture of their conception of the Deity. And this picture is more deserving of acceptance than is the representation of the matter by the traditional dogmatics of the church and also that of those modern scholars who are under the spell of the evolutionary idea, and who undertake to prove in the Biblical history of Israel the complete development from the lowest type of fetishism and animism to the heights of ethical monotheism. The views of the old church teachers were to the effect that the doctrine concerning the one true God had been communicated by God to Adam in its purity and perfection, and by him had been handed through an unbroken chain of true confessors of the faith (Seth, Noah, etc.), down to Abraham. But this view does not find confirmation in the Biblical record. On the contrary, in Joshua 24:2 , Joshua 24:15 , it is even expressly stated of the ancestors of Abraham that they had worshipped strange gods in Chaldea. And the ancestors of the people, Abraham, Jacob, and others, do not appear on the stage of history with teachable creed, but themselves first learn to know gradually, in the school of life, the God whom they serve, after He has made Himself known to them in extraordinary manifestations. Abraham does not yet know that Yahweh does not demand any human sacrifices. Jacob still has the narrow view, that the place where he has slept is the entrance portal to heaven (Genesis 28:16 , Genesis 28:17 ). Omnipresence and omniscience are not yet attributes which they associate with their idea of the Divinity. They still stand on a simple-minded and primitive stage, as far as their knowledge of the living God is concerned.

(2) The Modern View

Over against this, modern scholars describe pre-Mosaic Israel as yet entirely entangled in Semitic heathen ideas, and even regard the religion of the people in general, in the post-Mosaic period down to the 8th century bc, as little better than this, since in their opinion the Yahweh-religion had not thoroughly permeated the ranks of the common people, and had practically remained the possession of the men, while the women had continued to cultivate the ancient customs and views. W. R. Smith and Wellhausen have pointed to customs and ideas of the pre-Islamic Arabs, and S.I. Curtiss to such in the modern life of oriental tribes, which are claimed to have been the property of the most ancient Semitic heathen tribes, and these scholars use these as the key for the ancient Israelite rites and customs. But even if much light is thrown from these sources on the forms of life and cult as depicted by the Scriptures, much caution must be exercised in the use made of this material. In the first place, neither those Arabs of the 6th century ad, nor their successors of today, can be regarded as "primitive Semites." In the second place, it is a question, even if in the earliest period of Israel such customs are actually found, what they really signified for the tribe of Abraham. We are here not speaking of a prehistoric religion, but of the religion of that tribe that came originally from Ur of the Chaldees, and migrated first by way of Haran to Canaan, and then to Egypt. In this tribe such primitive customs, perhaps, had long been spiritualized. For these Hebrews cannot be regarded as being as uncivilized as are the New Zealanders, or the Indians of North America, or those Bedouins who have never left the desert; for they had lived in Babylonia for a long period, even if, while there, they had withdrawn themselves as much as possible from the more cultured life of the cities. The patriarchs were in touch with the civilization of the Babylonians. We do not, indeed, want to lay special stress on the fact that they lived in Ur and in Haran, two cities of the moon-god, the worship of which divinity shows monotheistic tendencies. But the history of the family of Abraham, e.g. his relation to Sarah and Hagar, shows indisputable influence of Babylonian legal ideas. Probably, too, the traditions concerning the beginnings of history, such as the Creation, the Deluge, and the like, were brought from Babylon to Canaan by the tribe of Abraham.

(3) A H igher Conception of the Deity; 'ilu , 'ēl

But this tribe had come to Babylonia from Northern Arabia. It is a very important fact that the oldest Arabian inscriptions, namely the Minaean and the Sabean, lead us to conclude that these tribes entertained a relatively high conception of the Deity, as has been shown by Professor Fritz Hommel. The oldest Arabian proper names are not found combined with names of all kinds of gods, but with the simple 'ilu , 'ēl , or God, or with 'ilı̄ , "my God." Then, too, God is often circumscribed by the nouns expressing relationship, such as 'ābhı̄ , "my father," or 'āḥı̄ , "my brother," or 'ammı̄ , "my uncle," and others, which express an intimate relationship between man and his God. Corresponding to these are also the old Semitic proper names in Canaan, as also the name Abraham, i.e. 'Ābhı̄rām , "my father is exalted," or Ishmael, and many others. We accordingly must believe that the ancestors of Abraham immigrated into Babylon with a comparatively highly developed religion and with a uniform conception of God. Here their faith may have been unfavorably influenced, and it is not impossible that the religious disagreement between the patriarch and his neighbors may have been a reason for his migration. Abraham himself is regarded by the Canaanites as a "friend of God," who stands in an intimate relationship with his God, and he is accordingly to be regarded, not merely as a secular, but also as a religious tribal head, an Imâm , a prophetical personality.

(4) Totemism; Animism, Etc

Still less is it correct to ascribe to this tribe the lowest religious stage possible, namely that of fetishism or of totemism (worship of demons or worship of animals) and the like. Some think they find evidences of the worship of animals in Israel. The fact that some Israelites were regarded as descendants of Leah ("wild cow"(?)), others of Rachel ("mother sheep"), is claimed to refer to the fact that these animals were totems of the tribe, i.e. were worshipped as ancestors. But for this claim there is no scintilla of proof. These names of women, especially in the case of a nomadic tribe, can be explained in a much more simple way. The calves that appear in later times as images of Yahweh are just as little a proof for the claim that calves were worshipped by the ancestors of Israel as divinities. We read nothing of such an image before the sojourn in Egypt, and after that time this image was always regarded symbolically. The fact, again, that from the days of Moses, and without a doubt earlier than this, certain animals were not allowed to be eaten, does not justify the conclusion which Professor B. Stade and others have drawn from it, namely, that these animals were in olden times regarded as divine ( tabu ), and for that reason were not permitted to be eaten, and only afterward were avoided as "unclean." The list of unclean animals in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 speaks for an altogether different reason for regarding them as unclean. It is not at all thinkable that these many, and as a rule unclean and low class of animals, were at one time accorded divine honor, while the higher and cleaner class had been excluded from this distinction. We have accordingly no reason for finding animal worship here. On the other hand, it is self-evident, in the case of such an old nomadic tribe, that man stood in a more familiar relationship to his animals, and for this reason the slaughter of these was a more significant matter than was afterward the case. This was done only on extraordinary occasions, and it readily was accorded a religious consecration. See also TOTEMISM .

The idea is also emphatically to be rejected, that in the pre-Mosaic period mere animism prevailed in Israel - the worship of spirits and of demons. It has been tried in vain to show that in the most primitive period of Israel's religion the worship of ancestors occupied a prominent place. As Professor Emil Kautzsch has emphasized, the arguments which have been drawn from the mourning customs of the Israelites in favor of this claim (as this is done by F. Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode , nach den Vorstellungen des alten Israel und des Judentums , Giessen, 1892) are altogether inadequate, as is also the appeal to the marriage with a deceased wife's sister, as though the purpose of the institution was to secure for the deceased who had died without issue somebody who would attend to his worship. Because of the strongly developed mundane character of the religious life in Israel, it is natural that it was regarded as a calamity if there was no issue who kept alive the memory of the departed in the tribe. But even if the argument from the mourning customs of Israel were more convincing than is actually the case, and that gifts, such as food, oil, and the like, were placed in the tomb of the departed, as was often done by the Canaanites, yet this would be in the ancient Israelite religion a matter of subordinate importance, which could readily be explained on the ground of natural feelings. It could never be made to appear plausible that all religions had grown out of such a cult. If the teraphim are to be regarded as having been originally images of ancestors, which is quite plausible, then they would indeed represent a continuous ancestral cult, as the people evidently kept these images in their houses in order to attract to themselves blessings, to avert misfortunes and to secure oracles. But these dolls, modeled after the form of human beings, already in the period of the Patriarchs were regarded as a foreign element and in contradiction to the more earnest religious sentiments (compare Genesis 31:19; Genesis 35:2 , Genesis 35:4 ).

That Israel, like all ancient peoples, did at one time pass through an "animistic" stage of religious development could best be proved, if at all, from their conception of the soul. Among the purifications those are especially necessary which are demanded by the presence of a dead body in the same room with the living, as the living are defiled by the soul of the deceased in leaving the body (Numbers 19:14 ). Even the uncovered vessels are defiled by his soul-substance (Numbers 19:15 ). This, however, is a biological conception, which has nothing to do with the conception of the Deity.

Or are those perhaps right, who think that the primitive Israelites had accepted animism in this sense, that they did not as yet worship any actual divinities, but only a multitude of spirits or demons, be these ghosts of departed human beings or the spirits of Nature, local numina ? In favor of this last-mentioned view, appeal is made to this fact, that in the ancient Semitic world local divinities with very circumscribed spheres of power are very often to be met with, especially at springs, trees, oases, at which a demon or divinity is regarded as having his abode, who is described as the ba‛al or master in this place; compare such local names as Baal-tamar, Baal-hermon, and others. Such local spirits would then be the 'ĕlōhı̄m , out of which would grow more mighty divinities of whole cities and countries. To these it would be necessary yet to add those spirits which were worshipped by individual tribes, partly spirits of ancestors, who also could have grown into higher divinities, while the rest of the mass of deities, good and bad, had to content themselves with a lower rank.

As against this, we must above all consider the fact that in ancient Israel the demons played a very subordinate role. The contrast in this regard with Babylonia is phenomenal. It is probably the case that at all periods in Israel there existed a belief in unclean spirits, who perhaps lived in the desert (compare the שׂעירים , se‛ı̄rı̄m ), or in the demoniacs, and could otherwise, too, do much harm. But they are not described as having much influence on man's life. How few indications of such a view can be found and how little most of these indications prove we can see in the work of H. Duhm, Die bösen Geister im Altes Testament , Tübingen, 1906. After the Babylonian exile, and still more after the longer sojourn of the Israelites in Babylon, their imagination was to a much greater degree than before saturated by the faith in spirits. Then the closer study of such Semitic be‛ālı̄m teaches us that they were not originally conceived in such a narrow sense. They are very often of a solar nature, celestial powers who have their abode at a particular place, and there produce fertility, but in this special function represent a general power of Nature. The same is the case with the tribal divinities. These are by no means merely the personifications of the small power of a particular tribe, but claim to be absolute beings, which shows that they are regarded as higher divinities which the tribe has appropriated and adapted to its own political ideas. We accordingly have no right to think that such a divinity was to be regarded as really confined to a particular hill, or even to a certain stone or tree where it was worshipped. The rock or stone or tree divinities of the ancient Arabs are celestial powers, who have only taken their abode at these places, even if popular superstition did actually identify them with such stones or trees.

It is therefore a misconception of the actual state of affairs when the conclusion is drawn that stone-worship is meant when Jacob erects a stone monument, the maccēbhāh at Bethel, and anoints it with oil, and when this is understood to be a low type of fetishism. Stones are to the present day, for the wandering tribes, the signs by which important localities, especially sacred places, are designated. The symbolical significance of such stones may be quite different, as also the relation which a divinity is thought to sustain to such a stone monument. For this reason, too, the judgment of the Bible concerning such objects is quite different. Only then, when they are symbols of idolatry, as the ḥammānı̄m , i.e representations of the sun-god, ba‛al ḥammān , are they everywhere rejected in the Old Testament. In the same way a mighty tree, especially if it is found near a spring of water, is in the Orient, by its very nature, a proof of the life-producing God. Such a tree naturally suggests that it is a place where divine life can be felt. Trees that have been made sacred by manifestations of the divinities or have been consecrated by the memory of a great personality, especially the oak, the terebinth, the palm, were regarded as favorite places beneath which the divinity was sought. Only in that case, as was indeed common in Canaan, when the unhallowed powers of Nature were here adored, was this custom reprehensible in the eyes of the prophets. The 'ăshērı̄m , too, are of a decidedly heathen character, as these trunks of trees were symbols of the goddess Ashera. Further, it was a favorite custom to worship the divinities on the high places, for the reason that they were regarded as in or attached to the heavens. Only because of the heathen worship which was practiced on these bāmōth were they, in later times, so hateful to the prophets.

(5) Conception of God

In answer to the question, what ideas the patriarchs, the pre-Mosaic leaders of the people of Israel, entertained concerning God, attention must first of all be drawn to the fact that God spoke to some of these personally, be this in one form of manifestation or in another. These men heard the word of God with their own ears, and that, too, in the most important moments of their lives. In the case of Abraham, these revelations are fundamental for him and for his people. The prophetic factor, which goes through the entire history of Israel and constitutes the life-principle that fills its religion and causes its further development, is at the very first beginnings the source whence the knowledge of God is taken. This presupposes a personal God; and, as a matter of fact, a fixed personality is demanded by the character of such a God. His "I" impresses itself upon man with absolute power and demands his service entirely. This "I" constantly remains the same, and everywhere evinces the same power, be this in Haran or in Canaan or in Egypt, and whether it manifests itself to Abraham or to Isaac or to Jacob. This oneness is not formulated as a didactic proposition, but as a living reality: only this God existed for His adherents. These appeal to Him at all times with equal success. The manifestations of this God may be of a different kind at different times. He is even entertained, on one occasion, as a personal guest by His friend Abraham, together with two companions (Genesis 18:1 ). On another occasion (Genesis 15:17 ) Abraham beholds Him in symbolical form as a burning and fiery furnace (probably to be regarded as similar to the movable altar discovered by Sellin in Taanach). But these are to be regarded as special favors shown by God. In general it was the rule that God could not be seen without the beholder suffering death. Then, too, the conviction is very old, that what man sees in the case of such theophanies cannot have been God Himself, but that He had manifested Himself through a subordinate agent, an angel (this is particularly the case in the document E in Genesis). This angel, however, has no significance in himself, but is only the creature-veil, out of which God Himself speaks in the first person. In the most elementary manner this formal limitation of God appears in Genesis 11:5 , where He goes to the trouble of descending from heaven in order to look at something on earth; and in Genesis 18:21 , when He desires to go to Sodom personally, in order to convince Himself that what He has intended to send upon this city is also the right thing. It is indeed possible to find in the first instance some traits of irony, and possibly in the second case the epic details may have added something. However, God is no longer spoken of in such a human way in the post-Mosaic times. This shows that the document J (Jahwist) at this place contains material that is very old. All the more is it to be noted what exalted conceptions of God prevail already in these narratives. He dwells in heaven (Genesis 11:5; Genesis 19:24 ), something that has without reason been claimed not to have been the idea entertained in the older period. He is the God of the world, who exercises supremacy over all the nations. He rules with justice, checks pride, avenges injustice, and that, too, not only in a summary manner on whole countries, but also in such a way that He takes into consideration every individual and saves the one just man out of the midst of the mass of sinners (Genesis 18:25; 19). In short, He is already the true God, although yet incompletely and primitively grasped in His attributes.

This God, ruling with omnipotent power in Nature and history, has entered into a special relationship with the tribe of Abraham. He has become the Covenant-God of the patriarch, according to the testimony of the old document J in Genesis 15 . We accordingly find here already the consciousness that that God who rules over the world has entered into a special relationship with one small nation or tribe. This fact appears also in this, that Abram (Genesis 14 ) acknowledges the highest God of the priest-king Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20 ) as his God, as the founder of heaven and of earth, and identifies Him with his own Covenant-God Yahweh.

(6) Cult

As far as the cult is concerned, it can be stated that at this period it was still of simple, but solemn and dignified character. The people preferred to worship their God at such places where He had manifested Himself, usually on high place, on which an altar had been erected. There were no images of the Divinity extant. As the word מזבּח , mizbēaḥ , "altar," shows, the sacrifices were usually bloody. Human sacrifice had already in the days of Abraham been overcome by the substitution of an animal, although in olden times it may have been practiced, perhaps, as the sacrifice of the firstborn; and in later times, too, through the influence of the example of heathen nations, it may have found its way into Israel now and then. Both larger and smaller animals were sacrificed, as also fowls. The idea that prevailed in this connection was that God, too, enjoyed the food which served man as his sustenance, although God, in a finer way, experienced as a pleasure only the scent of the sacrifices, as this ascended in the flame and the smoke ( Genesis 8:21 ). But the main thing was the blood as the substratum of the soul. The fruits of the field, especially the first-fruits, were also offered. Of liquid offerings, it is probable that in primitive times water was often brought, as this was often a costly possession; and in Canaan, oil, which the inhabitants of this country employed extensively in their sacrifices (Judges 9:9 , something that is confirmed also by recent excavations); also wine (Judges 9:13 ). As the ancient burnt or whole sacrifices (Genesis 8:20 ) give expression to reverence, thankfulness, the prayer for protection or the granting of certain favors, the people from the very beginning also instituted sacrificial feasts, which gave expression to the covenant with God, the communion with the Covenant-God. In this act the sacrifice was divided between God and those who sacrificed. The latter ate and drank joyously before God after the parts dedicated to Him had been sacrificed, and especially after the blood had been poured around the altar. The idea that this was the original form of the sacrifice and that gift-sacrifices were introduced only at a later period when agriculture had been introduced is not confirmed by historical evidences. That man felt himself impelled, by bringing to his God gifts of the best things he possessed, to express his dependence and gratitude, is too natural not to have been from the beginning a favorite expression of religious feeling. In connection with the sacrifices the name of God was solemnly called upon. J even says that this was the name Yahweh (Genesis 4:25 ), while E (Elohist) and P (Priestly Code) tell us that this name came into use only through Moses.

According to P (Genesis 17:10 ), circumcision was already introduced by Abraham in his tribe as the sign of the covenant. There are good reasons why the introduction of this custom is not like that of so many other ceremonies attributed to Moses. The custom was without doubt of an older origin. From whatever source it may have been derived in its earlier ethnological stage, for the Israelites circumcision is an act of purification and of consecration for connection with the congregation of Yahweh. A special priesthood, however, did not yet exist in this period, as the head of the family and of the tribe exercised the priestly functions and rights (compare Genesis 35:1 ), although the peoples inhabiting Canaan at that time had priests (Genesis 14:18 ).

2. The Mosaic Covenant with Yahweh

(1) The Covenant-Idea

Israel claims that its existence as a nation and its special relation to Yahweh begins with its exodus from Egypt and with the conclusion of the covenant at Mt. Sinai (compare Amos 3:2; Amos 9:7 ). As the preparation for this relation goes back to one individual, namely, Abraham, thus it is Moses through whom God delivered His people from bondage and received them into His covenant (see concerning Moses as a prophet and mediator of the covenant, ISRAEL , HISTORY OF ). It is a matter of the highest significance for the religion of Israel that the relation of this people to Yahweh was not one which existed by the nature of things, as was the case with the other oriental tribal and national religions, but that it was the outgrowth of a historical event, in which their God had united Himself with them. The conception of a covenant, upon which Yahweh entered as a matter of free choice and will, and to which the people voluntarily gave their assent, is not an idea of later date in the religious history of Israel, which grew out of the prophetic thoughts of the 8th and 7th centuries bc, as has been claimed, but is found, as has been made prominent by Professor French Giesebrext ( Die Geschichtlichkeit des Sinaibundes , 1900), already in the oldest accounts of the conclusion of the covenant (E, J), and must be ascribed to the Mosaic age. This includes the fact, too, that this covenant, which unites Yahweh with Israel, could not be of an indissoluble character, but that the covenant was based on certain conditions. The superficial opinion of the people might often cause them to forget this. But the prophets could, in later times, base their proclamations on this fact. Further, the thought is made very prominent that this covenant imposed ethical duties. While the divinities of other nations, Egyptian Babylonian, Phoenician, demanded primarily that their devotees should erect temples in their honor and should bring them an abundance of sacrifices, in Israel the exalted and ethical commandment is found in the forefront. The covenant relation to the God of Israel can legitimately be found only where the relation to one's fellow-man is normal and God-pleasing (Decalogue).

(2) The Covenant-God, Yahweh

The special revelation which Moses received is characterized by the word Yahweh (Jehovah) as a name for God. This name, according to the well-authenticated report of Exodus 6:3 (P), which is supported also by E, had not been "known" to the fathers. This does not necessarily mean that nothing had been known of this name. Babylonian prayers often speak of an "unknown god," and in doing this refer to a god with whom those who prayed had not stood in personal relation. The God of the fathers appeared to Moses, but under a name which was not familiar to the fathers nor was recognized by them. In agreement with this is the fact that only from the time of Moses proper names compounded with some abbreviation of Yahweh, such as Yah, Yahu, Yeho, are found, but soon after this they became very common. Accordingly, it would be possible that such names were in scattered cases found also before the days of Moses among the tribes of Israel, and it is not impossible that this name was familiar to other nations. The Midianites especially, who lived originally at Mt. Sinai, have been mentioned in this connection, and also the Kenites (Stade, Budde), some scholars appealing for this claim to the influence which, according to Ex 18, Jethro had on the institutions of Moses. However, the matters mentioned here refer only to legal procedure (compare Exodus 18:14 ). We nowhere hear that Moses took over the Yahweh-worship from this tribe. On the contrary, Jethro begins only at this time (Exodus 18:11 ) to worship Yahweh, the God of Moses, and the common sacrificial meal, according to Exodus 18:12 , did not take place in the presence of Yahweh, but, accommodating it to the guest, in the presence of Elohim. Then we nowhere hear that the Kenites, who lived together with the Israelites, ever had any special prominence in the service of Yahweh, as was the case, e.g., with the Median Magi, who had charge of the priesthood among the Persians, or with the Etruscans among the Romans, who examined the entrails. Yet the Kenites would necessarily have enjoyed special authority in the Yahweh-cultus, if their tribal God had become the national God of Israel. The only thing that can be cited in favor of an Arabian origin of the name of Yahweh is the Arabic word-form, הוה , hāwāh , for היה , hāyāh ̌ . On the other hand, a number of facts indicate that Ja or Jau as a name for God was common in Syria, Philistia and Babylonia; compare Joram, son of the king of Hamath (2 Samuel 8:10 ), and Jaubidi, the king of this city, who was removed by Sargon. In these cases, however, Israelite influences may have been felt. Friedrich Delitzsch claims to have discovered the names Jahve-ilu and Jahum-ilu on inscriptions as early as the times of H̬ammurabi . But his readings are sharply attacked. However this may be, the name God as proclaimed by Moses was not only something new for Israel, but was also announced by him (possibly also with a new pronunciation, Yahweh instead of Yahu ) with a new signification. At any rate, the explanation in Exodus 3:14 (E), "I Am That I A m," for doubting which we have no valid reasons, indicates a depth in the conception of God which far surpasses the current conceptions of the Syrian and the Babylonian pantheon. It would, perhaps, be easier to find analogous thoughts in Egyptian speculations. But this absolute God of Moses is not the idea of speculative priests, but is a popular God who claims to control all public as well as private life.

(3) Monotheism of Moses

Attempts have been made to deny the monotheistic character of this God, and some have thought that the term "monolatry" would suffice to express this stage in man's knowledge of God, since the existence of other gods was not denied, but rather was presupposed (compare passages like Exodus 15:11 ), and it was only forbidden to worship any god in addition to Yahweh (Exodus 20:3 ). However, this distinction is fundamental, and separates, in kind, the religion of Moses from that of the surrounding nations. For among these latter, the worship of more than one divine being at the same time was the rule. The gods of the Phoeniclans, the Arameans, and the Babylonians are, like those of the Egyptians, beings that spontaneously increase in number. They are divided into male and female groups of two, while in Hebrew there is not even a word extant for goddess, and the idea of a female companion-being to Yahweh is an impossibility. Then, too, it is characteristic of the ethnic god that he is multiplied into many be‛ālı̄m , and does not feel it as a limitation or restriction when kindred divinities are associated with him. However, the Yahweh of Moses does not suffer another being at His side, for the very reason that He claims to be the absolute God. Passages like Exodus 15:11 , too, purpose chiefly only to express His unique character; but if He is without any equals among the gods, then He is the only one who can claim to be God; and it is in the end only the logical dogmatic formulation of the faces in the case when we are told in Deuteronomy, "Yahweh he is God; there is none else besides him" (Deuteronomy 4:35 , Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 6:4; compare Psalm 18:32 ). This does not exclude the fact that also in later times, when monotheism had been intelligently accepted, mention is still made of the gods of the heathen as of real powers (compare, e.g. Jeremiah 49:1 ). This was rather the empirical method of expression, which found its objective basis in the fact that the heathen world was still in possession of some real spiritual power. Most of all, the popular faith or the superstition of the people could often regard the gods of the other nations as ruling in the same way as Yahweh did in Israel (compare, e.g. 2 Chronicles 28:23 ). But the idea that the faithful worshippers of Yahweh after the days of Moses ever recognized as equal and of the same rank with their own God the gods of the heathen must be most emphatically denied, as also the claim that these Israelites assigned to Yahweh only restricted powers over a small territory. This surely would have been in flat contradiction to the well-known history of the Mosaic period, in which Yahweh had demonstrated His superiority over the famous gods of Egypt in so glorious a manner. Compare on this point James Robertson, Early Religion , 4th edition, 297ff (against Stade).

(4) Impossibility of Representing Yahweh by an Image

The 2nd principle which the Mosaic Decalogue establishes is that Yahweh cannot be represented by any image. In this doctrine, too, there is a conscious contrast to the nations round about Israel (in addition to Exodus 20:4 , compare Deuteronomy 5:8; also Exodus 24:17 ). That in the last-mentioned passage only molten images are forbidden, while those hewn of stone or made of wood might be permitted, is an arbitrary claim, which is already refuted by the fact that the Mosaic sanctuary did not contain any image of Yahweh. The Ark of the Covenant was indeed a visible symbol of the presence of God, but it is a kind of throne of Him who sits enthroned invisibly above the cherubim, as has been shown above, and accordingly does not admit of any representation of God by means of an image. This continued to be the case in connection with the central sanctuary, with the exception of such aberrations as are already found in Ex 32 and which are regarded as a violation of the Covenant, also at the time when the sanctuary was stationed at Shiloh. The fact that at certain local cults Yahweh-images were worshipped is to be attributed to the influence of heathen surroundings (compare on this point J. Robertson, loc. cit., 215ff).

(5) Ethical Character of the God of Moses

A further attribute of the God of Moses, which exalts Him far above the ethnic divinities of the surrounding peoples, is His ethical character. This appears in the fact that His principles inculcate fundamental ethical duties and His agents are chiefly occupied with the administration of legal justice. Moses himself became the lawgiver of Israel. The spirit of this legislation is deeply ethical. Only we must not forget that Moses cannot have originated these ordinances and laws and created them as something absolutely new, but that he was compelled to build on the basis of the accepted legal customs of the people. But he purified these legal usages, which he found in use among the people, through the spirit of his knowledge of God, protected as much as possible the poor, the weak, the enslaved, and elevated the female sex, as is shown by a comparison with related Babylonian laws ( Code of H̬ammurabi ). Then, too, we must not forget that the people were comparatively uneducated, and especially that a number of crude classes had joined themselves to the people at that time, who had to be stringently handled if their corrupt customs were not to infect the whole nation. The humane and philanthropic spirit of the Mosaic legislation appears particularly pronounced in Deuteronomy, which, however, represents a later reproduction of the Mosaic system, but is entirely the outcome of Mosaic principles. Most embarrassing for our Christian feeling is the hardness of the Mosaic ordinances in reference to the heathen Canaanites, who were mercilessly to be rooted out ( Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 20:16 f). Here there prevails a conception of God, which is found also among the Moabites, whose King Mesha, on his famous monument, boasts that he had slain all the inhabitants of the city of Kiriath-jearim as "a spectacle to Chemosh, the god of Moab." According to Deuteronomy 7:2 , the explanation of this hardness is to be found in the fact that such a treatment was regarded as a Divine judgment upon the worshippers of idols, and served at the same time as a preventive against the infection of idolatry.

(6) The Theocracy

The vital principle of the organization which Moses gave to his people, Josephus ( Apion , II, 16) has aptly called a theocracy, because the lawgiver has subordinated all relations of life to the government of his God. It is entirely incorrect when Wellhausen denies that there is a difference between theocracy and hierarchy. Not the priesthood, but Yahweh alone, is to rule all things in Israel, and Yahweh had many other organs or agents besides the priests, especially the prophets, who not rarely, as the representatives of the sovereign God, sharply opposed themselves to the priests. The theocratical principle, however, finds its expression in this, that public and private life, civil and criminal law, military and political matters were all controlled by religious principles.

(7) The Mosaic Cult

As a matter of course, Moses also arranged the cult. He created a holy shrine, the tabernacle, which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and in its general arrangements became the model of the sanctuary or temple built in later times. He appointed sacred seasons, in doing which he connected these with previously customary festival days, but he gave sharper directions concerning the Sabbath and gave to the old festival of spring a new historical significance as the Passover. Moses further appointed for this sanctuary a priestly family, and at the same time ordained that the tribe to which this family belonged should assume the guardianship of the sanctuary. The lines separating the rights of the priests and of the Levites have often been changed since his time, but the fundamental distinctions in this respect go back to Moses. In the same way Moses has also, as a matter of course, put the sacred rites, the celebrations of the sacrifices, the religious institutions and ceremonies, into forms suitable to that God whom he proclaimed. This does not mean that all the priestly laws, as they are now found recorded in the Pentateuch, were word for word dictated by him. The priests were empowered to pronounce Tōrāh , i.e. Divine instruction, on this subject, and did this in accordance with the directions received through Moses. Most of these instructions were at first handed down orally, until they were put into written form in a large collection. But in the priestly ordinances, too, there is no lack of traces to show that these date from the period of Moses and must at an early time have been put into written form.

3. The Religion of Israel Before the 8th Century bc

(1) Decay of Religion in Canaan

Upon the intense religious feeling produced by the exodus from Egypt and the events at Mt. Sinai, there followed a relapse, in connection with which it appears that in this Mosaic generation the cruder tendencies were still too pronounced to endure the great trial of faith demanded by the conquest of the land of Canaan. In the same way, the heroic struggles of Joshua, carried on under the directions of Yahweh and resulting in the conquest of the country, were followed by a reaction. The zeal for battle weakened; the work of conquest was left unfinished; the people arranged to make themselves at home in the land before it had really been won; peace was concluded with the inhabitants. This decay of theocratic zeal and the occupation of the land by the side of and among the Canaanites had a direful influence on the Yahweh-religion as it had been taught the people by Moses. The people adopted the sanctuaries of the country as their own, instead of rooting them out entirely. They took part in the festivals of their neighbors and adopted their customs of worship, including those that were baneful. The local Baals, in whose honor harvest and autumn festivals were celebrated as thanksgiving for their having given the products of the earth, were in many places worshipped by the Israelites. The possibility of interpreting the name Baal in both a good and bad sense favored the excuse that in doing this the people were honoring Yahweh, whom in olden times they also unhesitatingly called their Baal, as their Lord and the master of the land and of the people. By the side of the Yahweh-altars they placed the Asherah, the sacred tree, really as a symbol of the goddess of this name; and the stone pillars ( ḥammānı̄m ), which the original inhabitants had erected near their sanctuaries, were also held in honor, while the heathen ideas associated with them thereby found their way into the religious consciousness of the people. Sorcery, necromancy, and similar superstitions crept in. And since, even as it was, a good deal of superstition had continued to survive among the people, there came into existence, in the period of the Judges, a type of popular religion that was tinged by a pronounced heathenism and had but little in common with theocratical principles of Moses, although the people had no intention of discarding the God of Moses. Characteristic of this religious syncretism during the time of the Judges was the rise of the worship of images dedicated to Yahweh in Dan ( Judges 17:1-13 and 18) and probably also at Ophrah ( Judges 8:27 ), as also human sacrifices (Jdg 11).

(2) The Theocratic Kingdom

But during this period pronounced reactions to the true worship of Yahweh were not lacking. The heroes who appeared on the arena as liberators from the yoke of the oppressors recalled the people to Yahweh, as was done likewise by the prophets and prophetesses. Samuel, the greatest among this class, was at the same time a prophet and reformer. He again brought the people together and tried to free them from the contamination of heathenism, in accordance with the Mosaic ordinances, and at the same time prepared for a new future by the establishment of colonies of prophets and by the establishment of the kingdom. This latter innovation seemed to be at variance with the principles of a strict theocracy. It is the merit of Samuel that he created theocratic kingdom, by which the anointed of Yahweh himself was to become an important agent of the supreme rule of Yahweh. It is indeed true that the first king, Saul, did not realize this ideal, but his successor, David, appreciated it all the more. And even if David was far from realizing the ideal of a theocratic king, he nevertheless continued to be the model which prophecy tried to attain, namely, a king who was personally and most intimately connected with Yahweh, and who, as the servant of Yahweh, was to realize entirely in his own person the mission of the people to become the servants of Yahweh, and was thus to furnish the guaranty for the harmony between Israel and their God, and bring rich and unalloyed blessings upon the land.

(3) Religious Ideals of the Psalms from the Time of David

In this way the covenant-relation became a personal one through "the anointed one of Yahweh." In general, religion in Israel became more personal in character in the days of the earlier kings. Before this time the collective relation to God prevailed. Only as a member of the tribe or of the nation was the individual connected with Yahweh, which fact does not exclude the idea that this God, for the very reason that He rules according to ethical principles, also regards the individual and grants him His special protection and requites to him good or evil according to his deeds. The Hebrew hymns or "psalms," which David originated, give evidence of a more intimate association of the individual with his God.

The very oldest of these psalms, a number of which point to David as their author, are not liturgical congregational hymns, but were originally individual prayer-songs, which emanated from personal experiences, but were, in later times, employed for congregational use. The prejudice, that only in later times such expressions of personal piety could be expected, is refuted by analogous cases among other nations, especially by the much more ancient penitential and petitionary prayers of the Babylonians, in which, as a rule, the wants of the individual and not those of the nation constitute the contents. These Babylonian penitential prayers show that among this people, too, the feeling of guilt as the cause of misfortune was very vivid, and that they regarded repentance and confession as necessary in order to secure the forgiveness of the gods. However, the more exalted character of the Israelite conception of God appears in a most pronounced way in this comparison, since the Babylonian feels his way in an uncertain manner in order to discover what god or goddess he may have offended, and not rarely tries to draw out the sympathy of the one divinity over against the wrath of another. But much more can this difference be seen in this, that the heathen singer is concerned only to get rid of the evil or the misfortune that oppresses him. The communion with his god whose favor he seeks to regain is in itself of no value for him. In David's case the matter is altogether different, as he knows that he is bound to Yahweh by a covenant of love (Psalm 18:2 ), and his heart delights in this communion, more than it does in all earthly possessions (Psalm 4:8 ); and this is even more so in the case of the author of Psalm 73:25-26 . Such words would, for good reasons, be unthinkable in the case of a Babylonian psalmist.

In the times of those earliest kings of Israel, which, externally, constituted the most flourishing period in their history, unless tradition is entirely at fault, the spiritual world of thought also was enriched by the Wisdom literature of the Proverbs, the earliest examples of which date back to Solomon.

(4) Wisdom Literature from the Time of Solomon

This ḥokhmāh , or Wisdom literature, is marked by the peculiarity that it ignores the special providential guidance of Israel and their extraordinary relation to their God, and confines itself more to the general revelation of God in Nature and in the history of mankind, but in doing this regards the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom, and at all times has the practical purpose of exhorting to a moral and God-pleasing life. The idea that this cosmopolitan tendency is to be attributed to Greek influences, and accordingly betrays a later period as the time of its origin, is to be rejected, as far as Proverbs and Job are concerned. The many passages in Prov that speak of conduct over against the king show a pre-exilic origin. The universalistic character of this literature must be explained on other grounds. It resulted from this, that this proverb-wisdom is not the sole, exclusive property of Israel and was not first cultivated among them, but was derived from abroad. The Edomites were especially conspicuous in this respect, as the Book of Job shows, in which the Israelite author introduces as speakers masters of this art from this tribe and others adjoining it. We can also compare the superscriptions in Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1 , in which groups of proverbs from Arabian principalities are introduced. Accordingly, this wisdom was regarded as a common possession of Israel and of their neighbors. This is probably the reason why the authors of this class of literature refrain from national reference and reminiscences. That the liberal-minded Solomon was the one to introduce this proverb-wisdom, or at any rate cultivated it with special favor, is in itself probable, and is confirmed by the fact that the Queen of Sheba (South Arabia) came to Jerusalem in order to listen to his wisdom. But this also presupposes that in her country a similar class of wisdom was cultivated. This was also the case in Egypt in very early antiquity, and in Egyptian literature we have collections of proverbs that remind us of the proverbs of Solomon (compare Transactions of the Third International Congress of the History of Religions , Oxford, 1908, I, 284ff; see WISDOM ).

(5) The Sanctuary on Mt. Zion

The kingdom of David and of Solomon not only externally marks the highest development of the history of Israel, but intellectually, too, prepared the soil out of which henceforth the religious life of the nation drew its sustenance. It was especially under David a significant matter, that at this time the higher spiritual powers were in harmony with the political. This found its expression in the Divine election of David and his seed, which was confirmed by prophetical testament (2 Samuel 7 ). Hand in hand with this went the selection of Mt. Zion as the dwelling-place of Yahweh. David, from the beginning, was desirous of establishing here theocratical center of the people, as he had shown by transferring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. In the same way Solomon, by the erection of the Temple, sought to strengthen and suitably equip this central seat. As a matter of course, the sacred shrines throughout the land did not thereby at once lose their significance. But the erection of the sanctuary in Jerusalem was not at all intended to establish a "royal chapel" for the king, as Wellhausen has termed this structure, but it claimed the inheritance of the tabernacle in Shiloh, and the prophets sanctioned this claim.

(6) The Religion of the Kingdom of Ephraim

The division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon which, as it was, had not been too large, proved politically disastrous. It also entailed a retrogression in religious matters. The centralizing tendencies of the preceding reigns were thwarted. Jeroboam erected other sacred shrines; especially did he make Bethel a "king's sanctuary" (Amos 7:13 ). At the same time he encouraged religious syncretism. It is true that the gold-covered images of heifers (by the prophets, in derision, called "calves") were intended only to represent the Covenant-God Yahweh. However, this representation in the form of images, an idea which the king no doubt had brought back with him from his sojourn in Egypt, was a concession to the corrupt religious instincts in the nation, and gave to the Ephraimitic worship an inferior character in comparison with the service in the Temple in Jerusalem, where no images were to be found. But in other respects, too, the arbitrary conduct of the king in the arrangement of the cults proved to be a potent factor in the Northern Kingdom from the beginning. The opposition of independent prophets was suppressed with all power. Nevertheless, the prophetic agitation continued to be a potent spiritual factor, which the kings themselves could not afford to ignore.

This proved to be the case particularly when the dynasty of Omri, who established a new capital city, Samaria, openly favored the introduction of Phoenician idolatry. Ahab's wife, Jezebel, even succeeded in having a magnificent temple erected in the new capital to her native Baal, and in crushing the opposition of the prophets who were faithful to Yahweh. It now became a question of life and death, so far as the religion of Yahweh was concerned. The struggle involved not only certain old heathen customs in the religion of the masses, dating back to the occupation of Canaan, but it was the case of an invasion of a foreign and heathen god, with a clearly defined purpose. His voluptuous worship was not at all in harmony with the serious character of the Mosaic religion, and it seriously menaced, in a people naturally inclined to sensuality, the rule of the stringent and holy God of Mt. Sinai. The tricky and energetic queen was already certain that she had attained her purpose, when an opponent arose in the person of Elijah, who put all her efforts to naught.

(7) Elijah and Elisha

In his struggle with the priests of Baal, who deported themselves after the manner of modern dervishes, we notice particularly the exalted and dignified conception of God in 1 Kings 18 . When in this chapter Yahweh and Baal are contrasted, the idea of Elijah is by no means that these gods have in their own territory the same rights as Yahweh in Canaan and Israel. Elijah mocks this Baal because he is no God at all (1 Kings 18:21 ), and the whole worship of the priests convinces him that they are not serving a real and true God, but only the product of their imagination (1 Kings 18:27 ). This is monotheism, and certainly not of a kind that has only recently been acquired and been first set up by Elijah, but

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Israel, Religion of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​i/israel-religion-of.html. 1915.
 
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