Wednesday, January 13, 2016

God's Coconspirators

The last post described a single verse in the Torah in which I offered an interpretation where, Asherah, the consort of God, appears at his right side. This week we'll look at three other places in the Tanach where there appears to be other divine beings, who are either at the same level or slightly subservient to God. One example is known by everyone, one is known by all religious Jews, and one I would never have ever discovered without academic insights.

What Shall We Do?

One of the more bizarre but well known stories in the Torah is that of Migdal Bavel (The Tower of Babel). Along with the general strangeness of the story itself, there is some weird descriptions of God's actions which are almost entirely confined to this one brief narrative. Specifically, God appears to talk to other being to discuss the actions. Specifically Gen 11:7 says:
Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.'
This language is obviously meant to mimic the speech of the people previously (Gen 11:3-4):
 3 And they said one to another: 'Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' 
But still one wonders who exactly is God talking to? Tradition offers several answers, which are actually plausible in my view because of the strangeness of this particular story. Nevertheless, one can maintain the possibility that God is speaking to other divine beings who may or may not have agreed with this course of action.

Edit: zdub rightly points out in the comment that there is another salient example of the plural "we" which appears near the creation of man. Gen 1:26 reads:
And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'

The Divine Council

One of the traditional options for "who is God talking to" in the Migdal Bavel story is that he's talking to a "divine council." In traditional Judaism, this council is made up of entirely subservient beings, angels and the like. The actions of the council are merely a formality. However, perhaps at a point in time this type of council meant something different, with God acting more or less as one of the group of equals. We previously saw one instance that hinted at this type of arrangement, but there might even be a better example. We turn to Psalm 82. Verses 1 and 6 are specifically salient. Here is verse 1 in Hebrew:
אֱלֹהִים, נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת-אֵל; בְּקֶרֶב אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁפֹּט.
And my translation:
Elohim stands in the council of El, in the midst of the gods he delivers a judgment.
The translation is complicated because of the two different uses of the word Elohim, the first instance is coupled with a singular noun, so it's clearly meant to mean God. The second use doesn't make much sense to translate it the same way, so I use it to refer to other gods. Traditional Judaism would translate this as "angels" or something similar. The next four verses describe the various things that God is judging, specifically for this psalm, God appears to be angry at the other gods for allowing various social ills. Then we get to verse 6-7, where God appears to call out the other members of the divine council. Again here they are in Hebrew first:
ו אֲנִי-אָמַרְתִּי, אֱלֹהִים אַתֶּם; וּבְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כֻּלְּכֶם.ז אָכֵן, כְּאָדָם תְּמוּתוּן; וּכְאַחַד הַשָּׂרִים תִּפֹּלוּ.
and here is my translation:
 I (God) said you are gods, all of you are the sons of Elyon. But you will die like a man, like one of the (mortal) rulers, you will fall.
After accusing the rest of the Gods for not behaving properly towards the oppressed, he specifically calls out the other gods, and mentions that they are also children of Elyon. And then he pronounces his judgment on them, that those gods will all die and lose their spheres of command. The verse ends with the psalm author encourage Elohim (God) to arise and make his judgment.

Before we go on, we'll note that this Psalm uses the uncommon form of God's name, Elyon. This name of God always seems to pop up in places where it seems to imply some deity other than the God of the Hebrews, someone higher up, older, possibly even aloof. We've seen two other instances of this in the blog of this, which I'll link here and here.

Lesser Gods

One of the common themes of academic study versus religious study is that academic study puts a lot more emphasis on the writing of the Nevi'im (prophets) than traditional Judaism. And for this third example, we'll look at the relatively obscure prophet Habakuk. This prophet is pretty much at the bottom of the pile of obscure biblical prophets. He doesn't describe anything about who he is, where he's from, when he's writing etc. The name could just as well be a pseudonym; it doesn't appear to have any clear meaning, and isn't a well known name in any prior period.

We can put together some information about Habakuk. He writes about the Chaldeans, so that implies that he's writing in the late 9th century or later, which is the earliest that anyone would be referencing them. Another piece of information is that the chapters do seem structured so that it appears to be the work of a single individual. The book isn't very long (only three chapters) so this isn't surprising, but some short books even have multiple author hypotheses.  These don't tell us very much, but it's at least something.

Anyway, let's get to the verse in question. It appears in the third chapter. First we look at Hab 3:3
God cometh from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah His glory covereth the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise.
If you read the previous post, this kind of idea should look familiar to you. God is arriving from locations in the south. God is here referred to by the Hebrew Eloha, a somewhat rare form, although in the previous verse, you have the more common tetragrammaton. Verse 5 though is the interesting one. Here it is in Hebrew:
לְפָנָיו, יֵלֶךְ דָּבֶר; וְיֵצֵא רֶשֶׁף, לְרַגְלָיו
If you look at traditional translations for this verse, you'll get something like the JPS translation:
Before him goeth the pestilence (dever), and fiery bolts (reshef) go forth at His feet.
The word dever translated as pestilence is not obscure, it is the same verse used for the cattle plague in Egypt. Reshef is considerably more obscure. It is often translated as some kind of fever, although here it is translated as "fiery bolts." However, the insight here is that both dever and reshef are actually the names of other deities. Dever is a bit obscure, but Reshef is not. From tablets of Ebla, we learn about various deities, this includes Dever but more specifically we learn that Reshef was the patron saint of Shechem an important city of the northern kingdom of Israel.

So we have something very similar to the verse in Deuteronomy from last week, although this time instead of God having along with him his consort Asherah, possibly included by her devotees, here God has in tow the patron deity of the northern city in a clearly subservient role.

Reinforcing the Polytheistic Roots

This post is just one in many ideas that support the hypothesis that Judaism started out as polytheistic and then gradually moved to a religion where their God was the chief god and the only one worth worshipping, until finally ending up in the theological ideas we know today where God is the only god, period. In this last stage those roles previously filled by other gods were now filled by subservient angels and messengers, as well as natural processes without their own agency. 

29 comments:

  1. I still am unable to grasp why atheists bother blogging. According to your beliefs, there is no God, therefore there is no soul, therefore there is no free will. We humans are merely automatic meat machines who believe whatever our brain chemistry programs us to believe. So blogging makes as much sense as debating with a Hello Barbie doll.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/magazine/barbie-wants-to-get-to-know-your-child.html
    
I know that you have explained

    
"there would still be a very useful purpose in that people may line up on one side or the other based on the information that they currently have available. Additional information may sway the outcome, even if brains were entirely deterministic."
    

http://kefirahoftheweek.blogspot.com/2015/10/why-i-dont-believe-in-judaism-part-3.html?showComment=1447969325678#c7476544959667803412
    

The mystery is: useful to whom? What's the point of putting two Hello Barbie next to each other and letting them babble whatever they are programmed to say in response to what each one is saying?

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    1. I explained to this before, even though you didn't grasp it in. Even assuming that the human minds are entirely deterministic (not proven) there is still a use to providing new information. In a deterministic system, any future state can be calculated based off of the current state, plus any additional external stimuli. Providing information is an example of an external stimulus that can impact the state of a deterministic system.

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    2. According to your beliefs, human behavior is surely deterministic.


      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/books/review/free-will-by-sam-harris.html


      And yes, if you connect two machines to each other you can change the way those two machines function. But why bother? Are you going to buy a few Hello Barbie dolls and set them up them talk to each?


      Logically, atheism leads to existential nihilism


      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existential_nihilism


      Logically, a devout and thoughtful atheist should only be interested in gaining the maximum enjoyment from his fleeting life and then ending it, for example by injecting oneself with methamphetamine and after developing a tolerance, shooting oneself.


      I think you're a hypocrite, preaching one thing (atheism) but practicing another (humanism).

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    3. Humanism and atheism are not incompatible.

      If there is ever a time where you don't express pride in your own ignorance, I might be willing to engage more in conversation with you. But since all you seem to be able to do is make troll comments, or, if you prefer, comments that betray the inability to do the slightest amount of critical thinking, it's a complete waste of my time.

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    4. Do you understand what "deterministic" means? If people don't have free will, then everything we do is the result of prior causes. Whether or not it makes sense has nothing to do with anything.

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    5. "Humanism and atheism are not incompatible."

      Sure they are.

      "The belief in human exceptionalism, so strongly rooted in the Judeo-Christian view of the world, flies in the face of all evidence for the structural and behavioral continuity between animals and people."

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christof-koch/consciousness-is-everywhere_b_1784047.html

      Like many people, you actually know very little about your own religion. Apparently you've been duped by a few kefirah clowns like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, however you haven't explored the very dark and even insane underside of atheism.

      "Whether or not it makes sense has nothing to do with anything."

      I certainly agree that atheism is nonsense.

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    6. @ Jacob Stein - Your comments are relevant to this Kefirah post. This why you are a troll.

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    7. I mean not relevant.

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    8. They are relevant to all the posts.

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    9. No Mr. Stein. Your comments are most often off topic, and rarely do you address the topic of the post. Your comments only very indirectly have anything to do with the topic of the post. You know it.

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    10. I think it's rather amusing how A Kefirah, whoever this idiot is, feels quite comfortable criticizing other peoples religion with the most ridiculous arguments, however when someone has the audacity to criticize his beliefs he becomes abusive and pretends that he is far too intelligent to be bothered with such nonsense.

      He is not intelligent at all. He has no answers. He doesn't have the will power to be a Jew. He's looking for excuses so that he needn't feel guilty for the horrific things he's doing and he's writing these articles in the hopes of being validated by other similar moronic weaklings.

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    11. Jacob Stein writes "I think it's rather amusing how A Kefirah, whoever this idiot is, feels quite comfortable criticizing other peoples religion with the most ridiculous arguments, however when someone has the audacity to criticize his beliefs he becomes abusive and pretends that he is far too intelligent to be bothered with such nonsense.

      He is not intelligent at all. He has no answers. He doesn't have the will power to be a Jew. He's looking for excuses so that he needn't feel guilty for the horrific things he's doing and he's writing these articles in the hopes of being validated by other similar moronic weaklings."

      And you claim not to be a Troll. How amusing.

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    12. @ Jacob Stein I am glad you have not called me an Idiot yet and will take it as a compliment. That I do have answers and valid arguments and that I have engaged with you. Thank You.

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    13. The use of the word "Troll" with a capital letter clearly implies a belief in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore and suggests possibly a devotee of a god named Troll.

      Alter Cocker is most probably of Icelandic origin, where recently excavated inscriptions indicate the particularly strong presence of a Troll cult. Pockets of this cult may persist even today.

      (This is intended sarcastically, as a parody of the silly Biblical interpretations which A Kefirah has delusional beliefs in.)

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    14. @ Jacob Stein - a little humor. Besides doing all those mitzvahs and avoiding all those averahs we all need to improve our humor as well. Study up some of the great Jewish comedians. There are so many, I wonder why no one has come up with a Proof of Judaism from Jewish Humor. Maybe because thei other proofs are laughable they have no need to.

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    15. It's a mitzvah to ridicule idolatry and heresy and so easy too!

      All you ex-orthodox bloggers bitterly denounce Judaism while at the same time clinging to fundamental Jewish concepts such as human exceptionalism and free will, because if you didn't you would lose your sanity.

      How funny is that? Talk about cognitive dissonance.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

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    16. So, explain to me this. Who cares....

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    17. So, explain to me this. Who cares....

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  2. What happened to the FIRST instance in Gen 1:26 - "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."?

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    1. Good point, I probably should have mentioned that. I'll make an edit.

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  3. Solid work Kefira, glad you're back! I started looking through the weekly parshiyos paying special attention to yahwe's consorts and cohorts. I noticed last week on the pasuk 'ehye asher ehye' that the targum doesn't translate the word 'asher', he keeps it as 'asher'. Some meforshim pick up on this and say that the name that God is revealing to moshe is actually named 'ehye asher'. I wonder if it was meant to imply (or originally said) "yahwe, Asheira, yahwe".

    I've also started to pay attention to tehillim and noticed numerous descriptions of elohim or yahwe chastising and or conquering El, baal, shadday etc. The easiest way to tell that a passuk may be of polytheistic origin, I've found, is when Rashi and other meforshim start doing backflips and tripping over themselves twisting the words and squeezing definitions that aren't there. I've said this before: I don't think Rashi and others (besides Ibn Ezra) were trying to cover up multiple authorship and polytheism. They were just working with a very limited understanding of the torah. For example, in last week's parsha (vaeira) when the doublet of yahwe sending moshe to pharaoh appears, Rashi notices a repetitive passuk, and says "it is to remind the reader what we were discussing earlier..".

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  5. This article as I understand is based on the prior assumption that the Torah is bogus and like all manmade religions it was influenced preceding and contemporary religions.

    If we believe however that the Torah is authentic, then all these verses can easily and plausibly be interpreted in that light.

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  6. Resheph is an Egyptian, a Canaanite god, a Hebrew word and a personal name.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resheph

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  7. Kefira, I've also noticed that yahwe seems to emerge often from the south, Sinai, Edom.. while other deities come from the north, Lebanon etc. Do you have resources for a more comprehensive study of the deities and their locations in the ANE?

    P.s. The comment system on the blog is strange because it's difficult to know when to comment and when to reply. Any recommendations?

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  8. As a side but relevant point. When G-d says " Let us make man" everyone knows the Rashi that He is talking to angels and assumes that is the basic pshat but if u read the Chumash straight it seems that G-d is talking to the animals from the previous passuk. In other words G-d is telling the animals let us make man in our form. A clear unaltered support for evolution in the Torah.

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    1. @ Anonymous -Gen1:26 And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'

      Per you animals were already in the image of G-d. But there are so many animals that seems hardly likely. You must be joking right ?

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    2. The Torah is not at all compatible with evolution. Please see these posts:
      http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2013/08/proof-of-god-through-design.html
      http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2013/09/genesis-and-evolution.html

      And all my Schroeder posts http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-science-of-god-schroeder-part-1.html and http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-science-of-god-schroeder-chapter-1.html

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  9. It has been explained as the royal we, as in we are not amused.

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