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Post Info TOPIC: Who the ‘EL was God? (Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel, 2)


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Who the ‘EL was God? (Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel, 2)
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Who the ‘EL was God? (Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel, 2)

Okay, bad juvenile pun, I’m sure.

But I’m having trouble outlining Margaret Barker’s Israel’s Second God here. Firstly because work commitments have made it difficult for me to take the time to synthesize and then restructure the contents adequately, and secondly  because Barker refers to many studies and theses that really require much unpacking for the uninitiated. (The following has taken weeks and weeks of broken bits of ten or twenty minutes to write, which makes for a very disjointed piece!) I’d find more enjoyment in taking time to explore some of those studies she refers to instead of her “grand thesis” that builds on them. I do have years-old notes from some of those studies filed away, and I would enjoy more digging those out and editing them to place here. But unfortunately I am currently working in “the most isolated city in the world” – Perth, Western Australia – over 4,000 k’s from my home and where my library is stored. I’d need my library to cross-check my old notes. And my next job and residence (only a few weeks from now) is to be even more distant from my library (Singapore!). Blogging here and on Metalogger will become a series of snatched ad hoc moments.

But to finish off chapter 2 of Margaret Barker’s Great Angel/Israel’s Second God . . . .

Continuing from Israel’s Second God, ch. 2 contd . . . .

It has widely been accepted among scholars that El was the most ancient name for God and that this name was later replaced by Yahweh. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew God as El, but from the time of Moses and the Exodus he was known as Yahweh.

Exodus 3:15

Yahweh, the God [El] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you; this is my name for ever, and thus [as Yahweh] I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

Exodus 6:2-3

I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.

Names for god such as El Shaddai appear in “early stories” in Genesis and Exodus, and in ancient poetry such as found in the Balaam oracles in Numbers 24.

But Margaret Barker points to a problem with this idea:

The name of EL is used more often in texts from later periods, especially from the time of the Babylonian exile, such as in – – –

Second Isaiah

Job

Later Psalms

Daniel

Apocalyptic writings

Hellenistic Jewish literature

If it were the more ancient name that had been replaced by Yahweh, then why does it not eventually disappear? Why is it used more often at a later period in the texts listed above?

Explanations (or ad hoc rationalizations?) proposed hitherto to explain this “anomaly” include:

a cultural interest in reviving old liturgical forms

vicissitudes of fashion

influence of the Hellenistic Zeus Hypsistos

Barker suggests another explanation:

Maybe El never fell out of use at all.

Maybe there were many who resisted the attempted reforms of the Yahwists and Deuteronomists when they attempted to displace (or merge) El with Yahweh.

Maybe those who maintained their independence from the Deuteronomists continued to think of the god El and the god Yahweh as a separate deities all along, perhaps even as Father and Son gods

Some reasons to think this may have been the case:

1. The Old Testament contains polemics against a number of Canaanite deities, especially Baal, but no polemic at all against the head Canaanite deity, El. (Here Margaret Barker is drawing heavily on O. Eissfeldt’s article, “El and Yahweh”, published in the Journal of Semitic Studies (1956), pp.25-37.) Is this because El was never viewed as a threat to Yahweh? Baal and Yahweh were very similar deities. Both were storm gods. Both loved roaring around in clouds and making thunderous noises and terrorizing mortals with their flashes of lightning. And if both were sons of El  (see previous post notes for details) one can understand the need for one to displace the other.

But Yahweh also takes on some of the characteristics of El in some passages. He takes on El’s role as king presiding over a heavenly court. Why was there no apparent conflict with El as there was between Yahweh and Baal?

2. The patriarchs in Genesis did things forbidden by the author of Deuteronomy — such as setting up local altars throughout Canaan and having their sacred trees or groves and pillars. But if Deuteronomy is a sixth century text or later, then such practices must have been practiced as late as that time. Otherwise the author would have had no need to condemn them.

Margaret Barker draws on studies that have argued that El worship was practiced throughout Canaan at local altars, and that various of these altars and pillars were given special significance as a part of the Genesis narratives about the travels and adventures of the patriarchs of Israel.

Just as the Canaanite barley festival came to be associated with the Exodus, and as the Canaanite wheat harvest was linked with the law being given at Sinai, and the grape harvest with the enthronement of the king, so also were the Canaanite customs of local altars and pillars given special meanings from narrative associations with the patriarchs.

Would this explain the El epithets associated with these altars and places of groves and pillars? (e.g. Bethel, Penuel)

This worship of El, at local altars, may indeed have continued right through in exilic times, despite efforts or hopes of the Deuteronomists to replace it with a centralized worship of Yahweh.

Other advocates of Yahweh (not necessarily hostile Deuteronomists) may have merged the stories referring to El into their accounts of Yahweh. El and Yahweh may have been merged by these authors without thoughts of tension or conflict existing between the two, as was the case with Yahweh and Baal.

J and E (the documentary hypothesis) are hypothetical, not facts

John Van Seters (Abraham in History and TraditionIn Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History) has pioneered significant challenges to the documentary hypothesis that proposes that much of the Old Testament was composed by combining two “national epics” labelled by scholars as J and E. And as Margaret Barker stresses, J and E are only hypotheses. They are not “facts”. Repetition and ongoing references to J and E have led to them becoming “facts” in the minds of many, but they are still hypotheses.

Comparing the Pentateuch with the Histories by Herodotus

Van Seters and other scholars have compared the Pentateuch with the work of Greek historian, Herodotus. Its author, who was a Yahwist, was collecting and compiling materials in a way similar to the way Herodotus worked to compose his Histories. Both use a

“mixture of myths, legends and genealogies to demonstrate the origin of Athenian society, its customs and institutions”

The Greek historian, not unlike the author or compiler of the Pentateuch, used several sources:

“some were written, some were tales he heard on his travels, and sometimes he used ‘to fabricate stories and anecdotes using little or no traditional material, only popular motifs or themes from other literary works.”

Both wrote with the same purpose: to give their audiences “a sense of identity and national pride”. This would have been particularly necessary for Jews who had been dispossessed by the exile.

If this is how the Pentateuch was compiled, then we cannot expect to find in it evidence for anything but the concerns of the exiles, and one of these seems to have been to relate the El practices to those of Yahweh’s cult. (p.22)

The mutating transmission of oral traditions

Barker refers to R. N. Whybray (The Making of the Pentateuch) to dismiss the old idea that oral traditions of Israel’s history were handed down rigidly without change throughout generations before being written down. Tellers of tales were more likely to adapt stories to the needs of their audiences.Thus the history in the Pentateuch more likely reflects the needs and interests of the later audience for whom it was written than any accurate ancient history of Israel. If so, then the references to El in the Pentateuch were not archaic relics from yesteryear, but were part of the religious interest and life of audiences as late as the sixth century b.c.e.

Scissors and paste or a single Mastermind?

The Pentateuch very likely represents but one religious point of view in ancient Israel. And this is perhaps easier to grasp if we concur with modern studies that argue that the Pentateuch’s complex patterns are evidence for a literary artistry that must have come from the creative mind of a single author. The old idea that the Pentateuch is a higgledy piggledy clumsy pasting of various traditions and sources together no longer stands scrutiny.

And if the Pentateuch does represent but one author’s viewpoint, and that of his sect or group, then what other viewpoints existed beside it? The prophets have long been recognized as religious innovators, and it is quite possible that the author of the Pentateuch was another.

The gods El, Baal and Yahweh merge

The Canaanite deity El was an “ancient of days” father god, creator/procreator of heaven and earth, merciful, presiding over the heavenly council of lesser divinities.

The Canaanite Baal was a god of storm and thunder. He appeared in clouds with terrifying displays of lightning and thunder. He was a king and judge. But he was also subordinate to (and a son of) El.

The Bible portrays deadly conflicts between Baal and Yahweh. Witness Elijah’s slaying of the prophets of Baal. But there is no similar conflict between Yahweh and the Canaanite god El. Yet there was no similar tension with El.

Barker’s explanation is that the religion of Israel long acknowledged two gods, El and (like Baal, his son) Yahweh. The biblical storm and cloud imagery attached to Yawheh (from Exodus to Ezekiel) marked Yahweh as an alternative to Baal. But biblical literature also refers to El throughout the history of Israelite literature, and not just in the earliest periods. El is used throughout the late Second Isaiah, for example. Barker believes that this points to Israelite religion in many quarters acknowledging both El and Yahweh as distinct deities.

The Deuteronomist (and Yahwist) did attempt to fuse El and Yahweh, but their re-writings and beliefs did not change the thinking and writings of all. Some authors, particularly those of Jewish texts that did not become part of the later orthodox Jewish canon, continued to think of El and Yahweh as separate deities, even as father and son deities, just as El and Baal had been in Canaanite mythology.

The biblical Yahweh appears to have taken on the attributes of both El and Baal.

If, as the evidence testifies, the early name for the god of Israel was El, one question to ask is when Yahweh replaced (or took on the attributes of) El. And at what point were the earlier stories of Israel overwritten so that El was replaced with Yahweh? The prevailing documentary hypothesis (J and E) has indicated that this fusion occurred early in the kingdom of Israel. But this is not a fact, as Barker is at pains to point out, but only one of several hypotheses. The fusion may well have been as late as the exilic period.

But more significantly, Margaret Barker argues that these questions are not just about the different names.

Compare Psalms and Ugaritic poems

Psalms, for example, that address both El and Yahweh have traditionally been interpreted as using two names for the one god:

Psalm 18:13

Yahweh thundered in the heavens, and Elyon uttered his voice

But compare a Canaanite religious poem from Ugarit:

Lift up your hands to heaven;
Sacrifice to Bull, your father El.
Minister to Ba’l with your sacrifice,
The son of Dagan with your provision.

Does the Canaanite poem inform us how we should be reading the Psalm — not seeing the different names as poetic synonyms for the one person, but in fact different names for different deities?

Compare the image of Matthew’s parable of sheep and goats

Matthew 25:31-46 depicts the king sitting in judgment, but the king also acknowledges a higher authority than himself — his Father.

Compare Baal, who also was a king who sat in judgment, yet was himself subordinate to his father, El.

Barker asks us to question the survival of an ancient Canaanite image of gods appearing in a Christian text. She proposes that it makes sense to think of those ancient images in fact being maintained throughout Israel’s history, and this despite the impression we easily pick up by assuming that the Pentateuch and re-written biblical texts are representative of ancient Israel’s religion. These texts should, rather, be seen within the context of nonbiblical literature as well, and we should also consider more critically the implications of the biblical texts having been edited by later Yahwists or Deuteronomists.

Compare Daniel and the Son of Man imagery

The same parable in Matthew 25 also refers to the King as the Son of Man.

And the Son of Man kingly image is clearly pulled from Daniel 7.

J. A. Emerton (The Origin of the Son of Man Imagery, JTS New Series ix (1958), pp 225-42) cited by Barker discusses this more fully. Too fully to summarize here. Daniel 7:13-14, he notes, speaks of the Son of Man “coming in clouds” and “like” or “in appearance as” a son of man. The same latter description coheres with the description of Yahweh in Ezekiel 1:27. Yahweh is also regularly associated with appearing and traveling in the clouds.

If the Son of Man, then, is Yahweh, who is The Ancient of Days?

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. Heapproached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

How to explain the presence in this passage in Daniel of TWO divine figures?

How could Daniel, a second century text, and one that was written in a context of pagan efforts (Antiochus of the Seleucid Empire) to subdue that form of Jewish religion that opposed all efforts to impose certain pagan uniformities (banning circumcision, sacrificing unclean animals on the temple altar) toy with the supposedly pagan imagery of El (the ‘ancient of days’ and high god in Canaanite mythology) and Baal (the son of El and one given kingly authority and who rode in clouds)?

Is the simplest explanation that Yahweh replaced Baal among Israelites, but that for many he long continued to maintain his subordinate and clearly separate identity from the high god El? And this situation — one school following the Deuteronomist view that identified El and Yahweh, another that maintained their separate identities — continued through the first century c.e.?

Does Christianity represent one branch of ancient Israelite religion, the branch that maintained the distinction between El and Yahweh, while rabbinism represents another, that which was advanced by the Deuteronomist and Yahwist scribes?



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2008-07-27

Israel’s second God. 1: The Son of God

Margaret Barker wrote an interesting book, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, a few years back, in which she argued that prior to the rabbinic Judaism that emerged after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. the Jewish concept of God was not so monolithic as understood today. A bit of serendipitous googling shows that Barker’s research has a certain popularity among Mormons today, but I know of no reason to think that Barker herself is associated with Mormonism or supports the uses they make of her work. I have other reasons to be interested in her work that have more to do with searching for explanations for the development of Christianity, and am finally getting around to editing and posting up here some notes I took from The Great Angel some years back. Will just look at chapter one here: The Son of God chapter. Barker comments on previous discussion about the Son of God:

It is customary to list the occurrences of “son of God” in the Old Testament, and to conclude from that list that the term could be used to mean either a heavenly being of some sort, or the King of Israel, or the people of Israel in their special relationship with God. (p.4)

But Barker remarks that these studies have ignored the distinction between two different words for God in the Jewish Scriptures, and have consequently ignored “a crucial distinction”. According to Barker (and I am taking her word for it here, and her citations as complete and accurate, not having taken the time to date to check the details for myself):

All the texts in the Hebrew Bible distinguish clearly between the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and those human beings who are called sons of Yahweh. (p.10 – Barker’s italics)

(Someone has posted a link on an IIDB discussion thread that may help others check this for themselves.)

Yahweh and Jesus, two sons of El Elyon (God Most High)

Yahweh was one of the sons of El Elyon; and Jesus was also in the Gospels described as a Son of El Elyon, God Most High (p.4). According to Barker this descriptor designates Jesus as a heavenly being. Note:

Luke 1:32 calls Jesus the “Son of the Most High”

Mark 5:7 narrates a demon calling Jesus “Son of the Most High God”

In the New Testament, the word Yahweh was translated by Kyrios, Lord. Example:

Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love Yahweh your God . . .”

is translated in

Luke 10:27 “You shall love the Lord [Kyrios] your God . . .”

And in the NT Jesus is not called the son of Yahweh nor the son of the Lord, but he is called Lord. (p.4-5)

Barker concludes:

This suggests that the Gospel writers, in using the terms ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God Most High’, saw Jesus as an angel figure, and gave him their version of the sacred name Yahweh. (p.5)

Heavenly Sons of God

Genesis 6:2, 4

that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. . . . The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Either this is an abridgment of 1 Enoch or 1 Enoch builds on the Genesis passage. Enoch lists the names of these angelic sons of God.

1 Enoch 6:7-8

And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokabiel, Tamiel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Barakiel, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel.

Note that most end in -el, meaning god. Kokabiel = star of God; Tameil = perfection of God; Barakiel = lightning of God, etc. (Barker asks: “Were these angels, then, envisaged as aspects of God, manifestations of God, rather than as separate divinities?”)

The only such son of God with a name compounded with Yahweh is found in the Apocalypse of Abraham. That is the great angel called Yahwehel.

Deuteronomy 32:8

When the Most High [Elyon] gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the sons of men,
he fixed the bounds of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God [‘el].

The “Sons of El” is found in the Qumran Hebrew, and the LXX also speaks of “sons of God”. The much later (and post 70 c.e.) MT text, however, appears to have replaced “Sons of God” with “Sons of Israel”.

The sons of God in the earlier text are here described as the patron deities of the nations. Elyon the High God has allocated the nations to the various sons of God, one of whom was Yahweh. Elyon gave Yahweh the nation of Israel:

Deuteronomy 32:9

For the LORD’s [Yahweh’s] portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

Job 1:6

Now there was a day when the sons of God [El] came to present themselves before the LORD [Yahweh], and Satan came also among them.

The image we generally take from this passage is that Yahweh is superior to the sons of El, the angels, who are presenting themselves before him. But Barker notes that the same verb translated to mean “present themselves” here is used in Psalm 2:2 to mean “set themselves against” Yahweh!

Psalm 2:2

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD [Yahweh], and against his anointed, saying . . . .

With this meaning, the Job passage actually depicts a heaven where Yahweh is one among many, and is challenged to test his servant. This is a world of heavenly rivalries, and suffering is a test of loyalty to one’s one god, not a punishment for wrongdoing. “It is almost a pre-moral polytheism, and Yahweh, one of the sons of God, is a part of this world.” (p.6)

Job 38:7

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Compare Jubilees 2:2, 4

For on the first day He created the heavens which are above and the earth and the waters and all the spirits which serve before him -the angels of the presence, . . . . And on the second day He created the firmament

Job and Jubilees thus appear to know of a creation of a heavenly world before the creation of the material earth. Angels from the first world were present at the creation of the second. (Genesis speaks of a serpent without explaining his origin, suggesting the Genesis author was bypassing his knowledge of a prior creation here.)

Psalm 29:1

Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty, ascribe to the LORD [Yahweh] glory and strength.

Psalm 58:1

Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods [‘elim]?

Psalm 82:1, 6

Elohim has taken his place on the council of El, in the midst of Elohim he gives judgement

You are Elohim, sons of Elyon all of you

Psalm 89:6

For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD ?
Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD,

Daniel 3:25

He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

2 Esdras 13:22-26

He that shall endure the peril in that time hath kept himself: they that be fallen into danger are such as have works, and faith toward the Almighty. Know this therefore, that they which be left behind are more blessed than they that be dead. This is the meaning of the vision: Whereas thou sawest a man coming up from the midst of the sea: The same is he whom God the Highest hath kept a great season, which by his own self shall deliver his creature: and he shall order them that are left behind.

Compare 2 Esdras 2:42-8

Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.

An angel figure, the Son of God Most High, crowns the martyrs in heaven. The same Son of the Most High has been kept hidden and is to be revealed as the Man coming from the sea. This Son of Elyon has human form, but is the same as the angelic figure crowning the martyrs in the earlier chapter.

Qumran 4Q Son of God:

He shall be hailed as the son of El and they shall call him the son of Elyon.

This person is identified only as one who is to rule the earth and be a conqueror, and is found at an apocalyptic time with comets falling and the people of God triumphing.

The above sons of God Most High are angel figures manifested in human form. Even though described as men or like men or as a son of man, this is clearly apocalyptic language for angel-like beings.

Earthly Sons of Yahweh

The Son of Yahweh is never directly called a “son of Yahweh”. This status is always only implied.

The King

Psalm 2:7

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, `You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.'”

Compare the last words of David in 2 Samuel 23:2

“The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.”

Yahweh is present in the King and speaks through the King. Other contemporary nations believed the king was divine, and it may be the case here, too. The same Psalm says the king has been set on a holy hill and has received an oracle. Psalm 2:7-8:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, `You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

Psalm 110:1-3

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You [LXX: “I have begotten you“] as the dew.

Again, as with the passage in Deuteronomy 32:8 discussed above, the LXX has “I have begotten you” but this appears to have been changed in the later MT to “youth”.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace
.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

The LXX has one title, not four as above:

The Angel of Great Counsel

And this angel was to be the ruler of Israel.

These names may have been throne names given at the Kingmaking ceremony, or some have suggested they were given by a heavenly host rejoicing at the birth of the king. The earlier passage in Isaiah 7:14-17 suggests that this child was a sign of God’s presence from the moment of his birth. There he is to be called Immanuel — “God with us”.

Psalm 89:26-27

“He will cry to Me, `You are my Father,
My God, and the rock of my salvation.’
I also shall make him My firstborn,
The highest of the kings of the earth.

The king is “made” the firstborn. He is to be supreme among kings as Yahweh is supreme among the gods.

2 Samuel 7:14

I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me

This descriptor of the king excludes the possibility of a literal sonship.

1 Chronicles 28:6

He said to me, `Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him.’

The People of Israel

Hosea 1:10

Yet the number of the sons of Israel
Will be like the sand of the sea,
Which cannot be measured or numbered;
And in the place
Where it is said to them,
“You are not My people,”
It will be said to them,
“You are the sons of the living God.”

Hosea 11:1, 9

When Israel was a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son. . . . For I am . . . the Holy One in your midst

Israel is the Son of the Holy One here.

Exodus 4:22

Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn

Jeremiah 31:9

For I am a father to Israel,
And Ephraim is My firstborn.

Isaiah 43:6

Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth

Deuteronomy 14:1

You are the sons of the LORD [Yahweh] your God

Isaiah 63:16

For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us
And Israel does not recognize us.
You, O LORD, are our Father,
Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.

Wisdom 9:7

Thou hast chosen me to be a king of thy people, and a judge of thy sons and daughters:

Wisdom 18:13

For whereas they would not believe any thing by reason of the enchantments; upon the destruction of the firstborn, they acknowledged this people to be the sons of God.

A Righteous One

Wisdom 2:12-20 and 5:5

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, andmaketh his boast that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected.

How is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!

Barker writes: “These passages are based on the Servant poems of Isaiah, especially Isa. 52-3, and the suffering of Yahweh’s servant has been used to explain the sufferings of the righteous man. This later text associates the triumph of the persecuted one with his recognition as a son of God, thus increasing the possibility that the poems originally described the Davidic kings in their relationship with Yahweh. The Psalms of Solomon compare the suffering of the righteous to the disciplining of a firstborn son (Ps. Solomon 13:8; 18:4), and the expected Davidic king would reign over the sons of God (Ps. Solomon 17:30).” (p.10)

Psalm of Solomon 13:8

For He correcteth the righteous as a beloved son, And his chastisement is as that of a firstborn.

Psalm of Solomon 18:4

Thy chastisement is upon us as (upon) a first-born, only-begotten son

Psalm of Solomon 17:30

For he shall know them, that they are all sons of their God.

Sirach gives 3 different examples of the use of the term:

Sirach 4:10 — the righteous is exhorted to be like a son of Elyon, the Most High

Be as a father unto the fatherless, and instead of an husband unto their mother: so shalt thou be as the son of the most High, and he shall love thee more than thy mother doth.

Sirach 23:1 — he prays to the Lord, Father and Ruler of his life

O Lord, Father and Governor of all my whole life, leave me not to their counsels, and let me not fall by them.

Sirach 51:10 — he prays to the Lord, the father of his Lord, using kyrios each time.

I called upon the Lord, the Father of my Lord, that he would not leave me in the days of my trouble, and in the time of the proud, when there was no help.

“The ‘two Lords’ will prove to be a very important piece of evidence.” (p.10)

The Two Gods

Thus there is a clear distinction between the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and the human sons of Yahweh.

The conclusion from the above that Barker draws is that the terms must have originated at a time when the god Yahweh was distinct from whatever was meant by the god El/Elohim/Elyon.



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 Israel’s Second God (2 . . .) (notes from Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel) . . . .

What was the religion of Israel that the Deuteronomists (from the time of King Josiah and after) were attempting to reform?

One way Margaret Barker believes we can catch a glimpse of this religion is by examining the ways El (god) is used, and comparing it with uses of Yahweh.

Texts where El simply means “god”

Psalm 104:1 Bless the LORD (Yawheh), O my soul. O LORD (Yawheh) my God (El), thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD (Yawheh) thy God (El), he is God (El), the faithful God (El), which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

Joshua 22:22 The LORD (Yawheh) God (El) of gods, the LORD (Yawheh) God (El) of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD (Yawheh), . . .

Texts where El is the name or title of Yahweh

Isaiah 43:12-13 I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD (Yahweh), that I am God (El).  Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?

Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God (El), and there is none else.

The Titles and tasks of El become the titles and tasks of Yahweh

Genesis 14:19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God (El Elyon), possessor of heaven and earth:

Isaiah 44:24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself

Isaiah 51:13 And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?

El the procreator becomes Yahweh the maker

Isaiah 44:24 and Isaiah 51:13 interestingly appear to modify the title used of El, Procreator or Generator of the earth etc by calling Yahweh the Maker or creator. The sexual or procreative functions of El have been replaced by a Maker god.

Isaiah appears to have removed the idea that god was a procreator of gods and men, and recast him as a creator. Margaret Barker (p.19):

the idea of a procreator God with sons seems to have fallen out of favour among those who equated Yahweh and El. (Those who retained a belief in the sons of God, e.g. the Christians, . . . were those who continued to distinguish between El and Yahweh, Father and Son. This cannot be coincidence.)

Examples where Yahweh has been cast as the Maker, not the Procreator, of heaven and earth.

Psalm 115:15 Ye are blessed of the LORD which made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121 2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134:3 The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

Psalm 146:5-6 Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:

Yahweh the Maker of Heaven and Earth becomes Yahweh the Maker of History

Isaiah 42:5, 9 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: . . . . Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.

Compare Isaiah 43:1-2, 15-21 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.  When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. . . . . . . . I am the LORD, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King.  Thus saith the LORD, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters;  Which bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power; they shall lie down together, they shall not rise: they are extinct, they are quenched as tow.  Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.  This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.

Jeremiah 32:17, 21 Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: . . . . . And hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror;

Psalm 136

Yahweh as creator of heaven and earth:

1 Give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

2 Give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.

5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.

6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.

7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:

8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:

9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.

And Yahweh as creator of Israel’s history:

10 To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever:

11 And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever:

12 With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.

13 To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever:

14 And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever:

15 But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.

16 To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.

17 To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:

18 And slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:

19 Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever:

20 And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endureth for ever:

21 And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever:

22 Even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever.

23 Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever:

24 And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.

25 Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever.

26 O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Next post

Next post on this topic will look at the question of whether El, the more ancient name for god according to the Pentateuch — Exodus 3:15, Exodus 6:2-3; Deuteronomy 32:8) waned over time. If not, how strong are the hypotheses proposed to explain its continuing usage?



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2008-08-05

Israel’s second God. 2: Evidence of the Exile

1992, a year with two pivotal publications

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker was published 1992, the same year as Philip Davies’ publication of In Search of Ancient Israel. Each proposes a different model for the interpretation of biblical texts and their historical matrix. Davies argues that the realities of ancient deportations make any notion of uprooted captives having the luxury to ponder and creatively build on their literary and cultural heritage as romantic (pious) nonsense. See, for example, my notes on his discussion of the Babylonian Captivity.

Margaret Barker, on the other hand, proposes an alternative hypothesis that is rooted in a fresh analysis of the biblical and extra-biblical Jewish texts. She works within the framework of the orthodox hypothesis of the Babylonian Captivity being the turning point in Jewish literature and history, and explains the difficulties with the evidence in terms of the massive destruction and unsettled political and cultural developments of the period. Davies, rather, sees the problems arising from scholars attempting to explain the literature through a historical reconstruction that was a literary and theological fiction. In the following discussion of Margaret Barker’s second chapter of The Great Angel I am tempted to suggest alternative explanations and leads for followup thoughts by commenting on Barker’s explanations through Davies views, but then I would be doing an injustice to my primary reason for these posts. That is to do what I can to help publicize a wee bit more the biblical scholarship — in this case Barker’s The Great Angel — that too often tends to slip by the radars of most lay readers. I will try to keep any notes that relate to Davies’ viewpoint to a minimum, and clearly mark them as distinct from Barker’s thoughts.

What’s left when the ashes settle?

Barker explains that her hypothesis is “exploratory”. The destruction of the Jewish state and Babylonian captivity, the mass deportations, and the religious-political turmoil that preceded all this (the Josiah reforms) leave evidence so patchy and confusing that certainty is impossible in any attempted reconstruction of  Israel’s religion up to this time.

[T]he customary descriptions of ancient Israel’s religion are themselves no more than supposition. What I shall propose in this chapter is not an impossibility, but only one possibility to set alongside other possibilities, none of which has any claim to being an absolutely accurate account of what happened. Hypotheses do not become fact simply by frequent repetition, or even by detailed elaboration. What I am suggesting does, however, make considerable sense of the evidence from later periods, as I shall show in subsequent chapters. (p.12)

(Davies and others who have broadly followed in his wake have do not see the necessary social, economic and cultural conditions that must have been required to produce the biblical literature existing in Palestine before the Persian period. Another possibility Davies would propose is that the biblical literature was the product of different scribal schools, many of them engaging in debate or dialogue with one another, and this dialogue can be seen in a comparative reading of the texts.)

The religious practices the Deuteronomist purged (or wished were purged?)

Margaret Barker (MB) refers to 2 Kings 22-23 describing in detail the abominations that Josiah purged from Israel and adds a brief mention of a great Passover. I’ve listed them from that passage here, along with some notes from readings outside Barker.

  1. Note the opposition to altars and pillars on high places throughout the land (as opposed to the one sanctioned place for worship, Jerusalem’s Temple, as commanded in Deuteronomy), and compare these references with the Patriarches setting up altars and pillars in various places marking their travels throughout Canaan.
  2. Note also the opposition to angels and heavenly hosts, and compare role of these in stories of Patriarchs, visions of prophets (e.g. Isaiah seeing angels in the Temple) and the title “Lord of Hosts”. Deuteronomy abhored veneration of the hosts of heaven, declaring this to be a practice becoming non-Israelites only (Deut. 4:19-20). The title “Lord God of Hosts” or Yahweh of Hosts was never used by the Deuteronomist. MB: “What happened to the hosts, the angels?” (p.13)
  3. Also compare Baal, meaning Lord, with Yahweh, both sons of El, and both storm gods;
  4. and Asherah, being symbols of Wisdom, and the role of “wise men” in ancient Israel.
  5. Not MB: In other works Levinson shows that the laws in Deuteronomy stripped religious trappings from the city gates, places of court hearings and judgements;
  6. Not MB: and Levenson discusses the possibility of human sacrifice in early Israelite religion, and how commuting the practice to an animal or monetary substitute was arguably a later development.

The list:

  • the vessels that were made for Baal,
  • the vessels made for Asherah, [MB elsewhere: this was the symbol of Wisdom, the Queen of Heaven].
  • and for all the host of heaven
  • the burning of incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem,
  • the burning of incense to Baal,
  • burning of incense to the sun and to the moon
  • and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven.
  • He brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD
  • He also broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes [elsewhere MB notes of the term “cult prostitutes”, that exactly the same Hebrew letters can be read as ‘holy ones’, angels] which were in the house of the LORD,
  • the house of the LORD, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah.
  • Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba;
  • and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the city gate

“Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. . . ” (Levinson‘s study of Deuteronomy suggests that the Deuteronomist drastically changed the customary Passover, that was kept locally in villages and houses, by commanding the Passover sacrifice be performed at Jerusalem only, but the eating of unleavened bread continue to be observed in the residences of the people.)

  • He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech
  • He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD,
  • and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire
  • The altars which were on the roof, . . . and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, the king broke down
  • The high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right of the mount of destruction which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled
  • He broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones
  • Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah
  • Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD; and he did to them just as he had done in Bethel
  • All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars

“Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.” Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD in Jerusalem.” (Compare the notes on from Levinson above.)

  • Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists
  • and the teraphim and the idols

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might,according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.

That’s quite a list of bad things the author of 2 Kings 23 (sometimes called “the Deuteronomist”) complained out. They are made to sound all very pagan, but Margaret Barker draws attention to the similarity of many of them to the religion of the Patriarchs, and the pre-exilic prophets.

  1. Isaiah, for example, has a vision of angels in the Temple, but the above list appears to suggest that angels had no place in the Temple.
  2. The patriarchs were described as regularly establishing altars and pillars throughout the land in worship of their god, El. And later we read in a passage in Exodus that they never knew a god by the name of Yahweh (Exodus 6:2-3).
  3. Wisdom was a noble concept in its own right in Jewish literature, something to be found in older or pious citizens and judges at the city gates, Deuteronomy 4:6 appears to imply that the only wisdom recognized by God was his Law. How did the teachings of the wise men of Israel relate to the teachings of the Deuteronomist?
  4. Moses appears to be unknown to the authors of the pre-exilic prophets like Isaiah, so it is interesting to compare the emphasis here to the reforms of Josiah being “according to all the law of Moses”.

Another account of the same?

2 Chronicles contains another account of Josiah’s reforms but there the author opted to omit the list of practices the Deuteronomist said were purged from Israel, and chooses instead to elaborate in much more detail the Great Passover.

Why? Is this difference a clue that the purges listed in 2 Kings were more propaganda, a “wish it had happened that way” narrative, than historical fact? Were Josiah’s reforms really a radical purging of all undesirable customs as the Deuteronomist implies? Or is the narrative a propaganda claim for a later generation?

(Not in MB: 2 Chronicles appears to me to offer a viewpoint that does not fit into either side of the contest that MB appears to be hypothesizing. It is pro-Josiah, which would seem to imply it being pro on whatever the Deuteronomist was standing, but it does not appear to be so anti what the Deuteronomist was against. Is this evidence of an attempt by one school of scribes to synthesize competing religious practices?)

Other viewpoints of Israel’s pre-exilic religion?

The pre-exilic prophets such as Isaiah were not focussed on the same issues of concern as the Deuteronomist above. Why?

And why is Moses such a foundational figure to the Deuteronomist but not mentioned at all by the pre-exilic prophets? (Some suggest that there is no certain evidence that Moses is mentioned in any definitely pre-exilic literature.)

While the Deuteronomist saw his world through his sacred history, the pivotal role of the Exodus and the saving acts of Yahweh to the exclusion of all other gods, we have little evidence that others in Israel had the same preoccupations or views of their religion.

(Not MB: It has been argued that the narratives of the Patriarchs migrating from Mesopotamia to Canaan are etiological myths to rationalize the claims of Persian deportees from Babylonia to settle Canaan. [Ditto for migrations from Egypt to Canaan in relation to the Exodus tale.] There is evidence that the practice of mass deportations could involve inculcating a new identity among those deported and resettled, and this would involve claims that the deportees were returning to a land of “their fathers” to reestablish their rightful place and true religion.)

The Formless Voice

MB draws attention to specifics in Israel’s existing religion that the Deuteronomist opposed, in particular the condemnation of the veneration of angels, and the discrediting of Wisdom by displacing it with an alternative Wisdom that was the Law itself. She also comments particularly on the formless voice of God delivering the Law from the fiery mountain top (Dt. 19:12). The fact that there was no appearance or vision of God is most heavily stressed, yet this stands in contrast to the visions of God experienced by the prophets like Isaiah and others.

What WAS the religion before Deuteronomy?

If Deuteronomy really was the product of Josiah’s time, and the school that produced it also wrote or re-wrote and edited the history of Israel to reflect their religious ideals, and accordingly removed references to the earlier religious practices they disliked, or misrepresented them, then how can we know what the older religion of Israel was? Did the Deuteronomist school destroy or distort most of the evidence we need?

Were the Deuteronomists writing what actually happened in 2 Kings 22-23, and calling on a return to true ancient ways?

Or were they inventing a past golden age to justify their innovation? Does the uniformity of much of the Old Testament literature really reflect the hands of later editors?

MB sees evidence for the latter option in the extra-biblical texts.

The evidence of 1 Enoch

According to 1 Enoch, the period of Babylonian exile and second Temple restoration was:

  1. a time of apostasy
  2. a time when wisdom was despised
  3. a time when impurity was installed in the temple

To MB, this sounds very much like a reference to the Deuteronomist’s agenda.

Also according to 1 Enoch, the original religion of pre-exilic Israel was preserved by its authors and those who produced similar works:

  1. they kept a role for Wisdom
  2. they kept a tradition of heavenly ascent and vision of God (denied by the Deuteronomists)
  3. they were astronomers with a complex theology of heavenly hosts and angels

1 Enoch versus the Deuteronomists

Whom do we believe?

The Deuteronomists who claimed to be reforming a paganized religion and restoring original purity?

Or the Enochians who claimed to represent an original religion that was being stamped out by the Deuteronomists who were introducing something new?

And what are the implications for the development of monotheism?

The evidence of the rabbis

Rabbinic writings belong many centuries later, but according to MB they “remembered that there had been drastic changes i the cult at this time, not all of them for the better.” (pp.14-15)

Josiah had “hidden away” the following,

  • the ark (representing the presence of Yahweh — Exod.25:22)
  • the anointing oil (that consecrated the high priest who bore Yahweh’s name and was his anointed/messiah)
  • the jar of manna
  • Aaron’s rod
  • the coffer sent by the Philistines as a gift when they returned the ark

b. Horayoth 12a; also b. Kerithoth 5b

MB prompts readers to ask if the reasons given by the rabbis for Josiah removing these items from the Temple really was “as a precaution against the exile prophesied in Deut. 28:36”.

Along with the objects associated with Baal and Asherah that were removed from the Temple, did Josiah also remove those trappings associated with the cult of Yahweh?

Rabbinic literature further spoke of different roles of high priests in the pre-exilic and post exilic eras. Before the Babylonian captivity the high priest was “the anointed”. Afterwards he was said to have been dedicated with “many garments”, a reference to the eight garments he wore at Atonement/Yom Kippur. The anointed high priest, (messiah), it was believed, would be restored to Israel in the last days.

The Christianity connection

MB summarizes what the above sources seem to tell us about the reforms of Josiah/the Deuteronomists:

In addition to the removal of certain pagan accretions,

  1. Wisdom was removed (though never forgotten)
  2. The hosts of heaven, the angels, were declared unfit for the chosen people
  3. The ark (and the presence of Yahweh which it represented) was removed
  4. The role of the high priest was changed so that he was no longer anointed (messiah)

“All these features of the older cult were to appear in Christianity.” (p.15)



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1992, a year with two pivotal publications

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker was published 1992, the same year as Philip Davies’ publication of In Search of Ancient Israel. Each proposes a different model for the interpretation of biblical texts and their historical matrix. Davies argues that the realities of ancient deportations make any notion of uprooted captives having the luxury to ponder and creatively build on their literary and cultural heritage as romantic (pious) nonsense. See, for example, my notes on his discussion of the Babylonian Captivity.

Margaret Barker, on the other hand, proposes an alternative hypothesis that is rooted in a fresh analysis of the biblical and extra-biblical Jewish texts. She works within the framework of the orthodox hypothesis of the Babylonian Captivity being the turning point in Jewish literature and history, and explains the difficulties with the evidence in terms of the massive destruction and unsettled political and cultural developments of the period. Davies, rather, sees the problems arising from scholars attempting to explain the literature through a historical reconstruction that was a literary and theological fiction. In the following discussion of Margaret Barker’s second chapter of The Great Angel I am tempted to suggest alternative explanations and leads for followup thoughts by commenting on Barker’s explanations through Davies views, but then I would be doing an injustice to my primary reason for these posts. That is to do what I can to help publicize a wee bit more the biblical scholarship — in this case Barker’s The Great Angel — that too often tends to slip by the radars of most lay readers. I will try to keep any notes that relate to Davies’ viewpoint to a minimum, and clearly mark them as distinct from Barker’s thoughts.

What’s left when the ashes settle?

Barker explains that her hypothesis is “exploratory”. The destruction of the Jewish state and Babylonian captivity, the mass deportations, and the religious-political turmoil that preceded all this (the Josiah reforms) leave evidence so patchy and confusing that certainty is impossible in any attempted reconstruction of  Israel’s religion up to this time.

[T]he customary descriptions of ancient Israel’s religion are themselves no more than supposition. What I shall propose in this chapter is not an impossibility, but only one possibility to set alongside other possibilities, none of which has any claim to being an absolutely accurate account of what happened. Hypotheses do not become fact simply by frequent repetition, or even by detailed elaboration. What I am suggesting does, however, make considerable sense of the evidence from later periods, as I shall show in subsequent chapters. (p.12)

(Davies and others who have broadly followed in his wake have do not see the necessary social, economic and cultural conditions that must have been required to produce the biblical literature existing in Palestine before the Persian period. Another possibility Davies would propose is that the biblical literature was the product of different scribal schools, many of them engaging in debate or dialogue with one another, and this dialogue can be seen in a comparative reading of the texts.)

The religious practices the Deuteronomist purged (or wished were purged?)

Margaret Barker (MB) refers to 2 Kings 22-23 describing in detail the abominations that Josiah purged from Israel and adds a brief mention of a great Passover. I’ve listed them from that passage here, along with some notes from readings outside Barker.

  1. Note the opposition to altars and pillars on high places throughout the land (as opposed to the one sanctioned place for worship, Jerusalem’s Temple, as commanded in Deuteronomy), and compare these references with the Patriarches setting up altars and pillars in various places marking their travels throughout Canaan.
  2. Note also the opposition to angels and heavenly hosts, and compare role of these in stories of Patriarchs, visions of prophets (e.g. Isaiah seeing angels in the Temple) and the title “Lord of Hosts”. Deuteronomy abhored veneration of the hosts of heaven, declaring this to be a practice becoming non-Israelites only (Deut. 4:19-20). The title “Lord God of Hosts” or Yahweh of Hosts was never used by the Deuteronomist. MB: “What happened to the hosts, the angels?” (p.13)
  3. Also compare Baal, meaning Lord, with Yahweh, both sons of El, and both storm gods;
  4. and Asherah, being symbols of Wisdom, and the role of “wise men” in ancient Israel.
  5. Not MB: In other works Levinson shows that the laws in Deuteronomy stripped religious trappings from the city gates, places of court hearings and judgements;
  6. Not MB: and Levenson discusses the possibility of human sacrifice in early Israelite religion, and how commuting the practice to an animal or monetary substitute was arguably a later development.

The list:

  • the vessels that were made for Baal,
  • the vessels made for Asherah, [MB elsewhere: this was the symbol of Wisdom, the Queen of Heaven].
  • and for all the host of heaven
  • the burning of incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem,
  • the burning of incense to Baal,
  • burning of incense to the sun and to the moon
  • and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven.
  • He brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD
  • He also broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes [elsewhere MB notes of the term “cult prostitutes”, that exactly the same Hebrew letters can be read as ‘holy ones’, angels] which were in the house of the LORD,
  • the house of the LORD, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah.
  • Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba;
  • and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the city gate

“Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. . . ” (Levinson‘s study of Deuteronomy suggests that the Deuteronomist drastically changed the customary Passover, that was kept locally in villages and houses, by commanding the Passover sacrifice be performed at Jerusalem only, but the eating of unleavened bread continue to be observed in the residences of the people.)

  • He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech
  • He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD,
  • and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire
  • The altars which were on the roof, . . . and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, the king broke down
  • The high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right of the mount of destruction which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled
  • He broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones
  • Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah
  • Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD; and he did to them just as he had done in Bethel
  • All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars

“Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.” Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD in Jerusalem.” (Compare the notes on from Levinson above.)

  • Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists
  • and the teraphim and the idols

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might,according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.

That’s quite a list of bad things the author of 2 Kings 23 (sometimes called “the Deuteronomist”) complained out. They are made to sound all very pagan, but Margaret Barker draws attention to the similarity of many of them to the religion of the Patriarchs, and the pre-exilic prophets.

  1. Isaiah, for example, has a vision of angels in the Temple, but the above list appears to suggest that angels had no place in the Temple.
  2. The patriarchs were described as regularly establishing altars and pillars throughout the land in worship of their god, El. And later we read in a passage in Exodus that they never knew a god by the name of Yahweh (Exodus 6:2-3).
  3. Wisdom was a noble concept in its own right in Jewish literature, something to be found in older or pious citizens and judges at the city gates, Deuteronomy 4:6 appears to imply that the only wisdom recognized by God was his Law. How did the teachings of the wise men of Israel relate to the teachings of the Deuteronomist?
  4. Moses appears to be unknown to the authors of the pre-exilic prophets like Isaiah, so it is interesting to compare the emphasis here to the reforms of Josiah being “according to all the law of Moses”.

Another account of the same?

2 Chronicles contains another account of Josiah’s reforms but there the author opted to omit the list of practices the Deuteronomist said were purged from Israel, and chooses instead to elaborate in much more detail the Great Passover.

Why? Is this difference a clue that the purges listed in 2 Kings were more propaganda, a “wish it had happened that way” narrative, than historical fact? Were Josiah’s reforms really a radical purging of all undesirable customs as the Deuteronomist implies? Or is the narrative a propaganda claim for a later generation?

(Not in MB: 2 Chronicles appears to me to offer a viewpoint that does not fit into either side of the contest that MB appears to be hypothesizing. It is pro-Josiah, which would seem to imply it being pro on whatever the Deuteronomist was standing, but it does not appear to be so anti what the Deuteronomist was against. Is this evidence of an attempt by one school of scribes to synthesize competing religious practices?)

Other viewpoints of Israel’s pre-exilic religion?

The pre-exilic prophets such as Isaiah were not focussed on the same issues of concern as the Deuteronomist above. Why?

And why is Moses such a foundational figure to the Deuteronomist but not mentioned at all by the pre-exilic prophets? (Some suggest that there is no certain evidence that Moses is mentioned in any definitely pre-exilic literature.)

While the Deuteronomist saw his world through his sacred history, the pivotal role of the Exodus and the saving acts of Yahweh to the exclusion of all other gods, we have little evidence that others in Israel had the same preoccupations or views of their religion.

(Not MB: It has been argued that the narratives of the Patriarchs migrating from Mesopotamia to Canaan are etiological myths to rationalize the claims of Persian deportees from Babylonia to settle Canaan. [Ditto for migrations from Egypt to Canaan in relation to the Exodus tale.] There is evidence that the practice of mass deportations could involve inculcating a new identity among those deported and resettled, and this would involve claims that the deportees were returning to a land of “their fathers” to reestablish their rightful place and true religion.)

The Formless Voice

MB draws attention to specifics in Israel’s existing religion that the Deuteronomist opposed, in particular the condemnation of the veneration of angels, and the discrediting of Wisdom by displacing it with an alternative Wisdom that was the Law itself. She also comments particularly on the formless voice of God delivering the Law from the fiery mountain top (Dt. 19:12). The fact that there was no appearance or vision of God is most heavily stressed, yet this stands in contrast to the visions of God experienced by the prophets like Isaiah and others.

What WAS the religion before Deuteronomy?

If Deuteronomy really was the product of Josiah’s time, and the school that produced it also wrote or re-wrote and edited the history of Israel to reflect their religious ideals, and accordingly removed references to the earlier religious practices they disliked, or misrepresented them, then how can we know what the older religion of Israel was? Did the Deuteronomist school destroy or distort most of the evidence we need?

Were the Deuteronomists writing what actually happened in 2 Kings 22-23, and calling on a return to true ancient ways?

Or were they inventing a past golden age to justify their innovation? Does the uniformity of much of the Old Testament literature really reflect the hands of later editors?

MB sees evidence for the latter option in the extra-biblical texts.

The evidence of 1 Enoch

According to 1 Enoch, the period of Babylonian exile and second Temple restoration was:

  1. a time of apostasy
  2. a time when wisdom was despised
  3. a time when impurity was installed in the temple

To MB, this sounds very much like a reference to the Deuteronomist’s agenda.

Also according to 1 Enoch, the original religion of pre-exilic Israel was preserved by its authors and those who produced similar works:

  1. they kept a role for Wisdom
  2. they kept a tradition of heavenly ascent and vision of God (denied by the Deuteronomists)
  3. they were astronomers with a complex theology of heavenly hosts and angels

1 Enoch versus the Deuteronomists

Whom do we believe?

The Deuteronomists who claimed to be reforming a paganized religion and restoring original purity?

Or the Enochians who claimed to represent an original religion that was being stamped out by the Deuteronomists who were introducing something new?

And what are the implications for the development of monotheism?

The evidence of the rabbis

Rabbinic writings belong many centuries later, but according to MB they “remembered that there had been drastic changes i the cult at this time, not all of them for the better.” (pp.14-15)

Josiah had “hidden away” the following,

  • the ark (representing the presence of Yahweh — Exod.25:22)
  • the anointing oil (that consecrated the high priest who bore Yahweh’s name and was his anointed/messiah)
  • the jar of manna
  • Aaron’s rod
  • the coffer sent by the Philistines as a gift when they returned the ark

b. Horayoth 12a; also b. Kerithoth 5b

MB prompts readers to ask if the reasons given by the rabbis for Josiah removing these items from the Temple really was “as a precaution against the exile prophesied in Deut. 28:36”.

Along with the objects associated with Baal and Asherah that were removed from the Temple, did Josiah also remove those trappings associated with the cult of Yahweh?

Rabbinic literature further spoke of different roles of high priests in the pre-exilic and post exilic eras. Before the Babylonian captivity the high priest was “the anointed”. Afterwards he was said to have been dedicated with “many garments”, a reference to the eight garments he wore at Atonement/Yom Kippur. The anointed high priest, (messiah), it was believed, would be restored to Israel in the last days.

The Christianity connection

MB summarizes what the above sources seem to tell us about the reforms of Josiah/the Deuteronomists:

In addition to the removal of certain pagan accretions,

  1. Wisdom was removed (though never forgotten)
  2. The hosts of heaven, the angels, were declared unfit for the chosen people
  3. The ark (and the presence of Yahweh which it represented) was removed
  4. The role of the high priest was changed so that he was no longer anointed (messiah)

“All these features of the older cult were to appear in Christianity.” (p.15)



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