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How Yahweh of the Israelites Became God of All: Guest Post by Dan Kohanski

As you may know, members who join the blog at the Platinum level are allowed to write posts for Platinum members, and the members periodically vote on one of the submissions to go on the blog at large -- and on all my social media.  It's a great way to get your views widely disseminated.   Are you interested?  Check out the perks of the Platinum level (click on Join and see the various tiers and what each entails). Our most recent winner in this endeavor was Platinum member Dan Kohanski, who has written on an intriguing and, well, rather world-shattering/history-changing topic!  Please feel free to make comments! **************************** The early Israelites were polytheists — worshipers of many gods — just as all the nations of the Ancient Near East were, though their pantheon may have been smaller than some. We know of El, Yahweh, Astarte (Asherah), and Baal for certain. Possibly the oldest god in the Israelite pantheon was El — the very name "Israel" can be translated as "he who strives with (the god) [...]

2021-10-15T11:47:20-04:00October 26th, 2021|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Why these Caricatures of the Old Testament God? Guest post by Amy-Jill Levine

We earlier had a guest post by Marc Zvi Brettler, an internationally renowned scholar of ancient Judaism, as related to his book The Bible With and Without Jesus (HarperOne, 2020), co-authored with New Testament scholar (and my long-time friend) Amy-Jill Levine.   Many of you will know of Amy-Jill: she is an extremely popular lecturer, full of energy, humor and wit,  author of numerous important books on Jesus and the New Testament.  Here now is her follow-up post, a complement to Marc's. ******************************* My friend and frequent co-author, Marc Zvi Brettler, just posted on this blogsite, “Marcion is Alive and Well – and What to do About It.” Marcion, back in the second-century C.E., distinguished between what he perceived to be the angry and inept Old Testament God and the wise and loving God of the New Testament. Although Christian authorities proclaimed this view heretical, it still has traction.  When we hear the contrast between the “Old Testament God of wrath” and the “New Testament God of love,” or other such comparisons that throw the Old [...]

Christian Stereotypes of “the God of the Old Testament.” Marcion is Alive and Well and Well and What To Do About It. Guest Post by Marc Zvi Brettler

An important book on understanding the Bible recently appeared: The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christian Read the Same Stories Differently, by Marc Zvi Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine.  I have asked both authors to provide a guest post or two, and here is the first.  Marc Brettler has long been a prominent scholar of ancient Judaism.  Since 2015 he has been the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University. ******************** Marcion, an early church theologian active in the first part of the second century, taught that the God of the Old Testament, typified by wrath, was distinct from the loving God of the New.  His biblical canon excluded the entirety of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament.  (His NT canon was also different than the one the Church ultimately settled on, but that story needs to wait for another day.)  His views were rejected by the nascent church, and he was ultimately excommunicated in about 140. As a professor of biblical studies, I know that his legacy continues.  This [...]

Does God Really Care How He Is Worshiped? The Book of Hosea.

I have been discussing the wrath of God in the Old Testament and have mentioned a point that here that I want to reemphasize, a point rarely observed by Bible readers (in fact I think I didn’t take much notice of it until recently).  In the Bible God sometimes punishes people because they misbehave toward others – kill, exploit, oppress, and so on; other times he punishes them because they do not worship him properly or at all. This is a difference worth considering, because it goes to the heart of a fundamental matter: is God more worried about how people treat one another or about what they believe and do in relationship to him?   Is it all about him, or is all about our fellow humans? Most Christians, I suppose, would say “both”!  But it’s interesting that different parts of the Bible tend to focus on one or the other, sometimes exclusively. I have talked, e.g., about the prophet Amos, who predicted the coming destruction of Israel because the elite among them had mistreated [...]

2021-08-15T13:32:24-04:00August 29th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Sin and Divine Punishment As a Dominant Theme of Scripture

In this discussion of God’s wrath, I want to emphasize that it is not an isolated view of this or that biblical author in the Hebrew Bible.  It is a highly pervasive view.  God punishes those who disobey him, and he destroys anyone who might lead his people astray into disobedience. Here is how I talk about God’s active role in suffering in my book’s God’s Problem (Harper One, 2008)   ******************************   The thematic idea that God punishes disobedience drives the narrative of all five books of the Pentateuch.  In some ways it comes to a climax in the final book, Deuteronomy.  The title of this book literally means “Second Law”; in fact it is not a second law that is given in the book – instead, the book describes the second time the Law was given to the children of Israel by the prophet Moses.  The way the narrative sequence works is this.  In the book of Exodus God saved Israel from its slavery in Egypt and miraculously allowed it to escape the [...]

2021-08-12T12:38:35-04:00August 26th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Israel’s Conquest of the Promised Land: Did Any of That Happen?

I have been discussing the book of Joshua and its descriptions of violence inflicted on others on orders of the God of Israel -- massive military campaigns and massacres (is there any reason NOT to call it a genocide of the inhabitants of Canaan?).  I have wanted to cover this material as background to the New Testament book of Revelation, where the slaughter is even more full scale.  One of my points is that the contrast between the “God of wrath” in the OT and the “God of love” in the NT does not really hold up, especially in view of the New Testament’s final book; another will be that the devastation of Revelation is indeed consistent with a common motif of Scripture.  I will be getting to that later, and emphasizing it, since at the same time it is inconsistent  with another motif of Scripture. But first I want to address a question lots of people typically have about these stories of the Conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua.   Did any of [...]

2021-08-09T20:24:05-04:00August 25th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Destroy More Others! The Israelites’ Conquest of the City Ai

In my previous post on the narratives of the Old Testament, I talked about God’s complete intolerance with the “other” – the non-Israelite who might influence his people to worship other gods and not obey his laws.  The other had to be destroyed in order to preserve the purity of his people.  It did not matter if some, many, or most of these others were decent, loving human beings who cared for their children and did acts of kindness, doing the best to help others and be good people.  They were to be destroyed.  Every one of them in the city of Jericho: man, woman, child, and, well, the animals for good measure. The taking of Jericho is the first major battle of the book, and others follow suit.  To illustrate, here is the one that comes next, less known to Bible readers today but equally instructive (and gruesome) (and with an interesting military tactic). Again, this come from my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press).   ******************************   The [...]

2021-08-20T16:34:25-04:00August 24th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

God’s Destruction of the “Other”: Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

  In this thread I have been discussing the wrath of God as manifest in the writings of the Old Testament, in preparation for a later discussion of the divine judgments meted out in the New Testament book of Revelation. In a number of Old Testament narratives God asserts his raw divine power not because he is angry at the disobedience of his people but because he does not want them to be corrupted by outsiders, the “Others” who will lead them astray.  In one sense I suppose God could be said to be angry with these outsiders, but it is a little difficult to see why, since he has not revealed himself to them and they are simply worshiping the gods they and their ancestors have worshiped from time immemorial. But in any event, the outsiders need to be destroyed to prevent them from badly affecting the Israelites.  Nowhere is this theme played out more consistently and graphically than in the book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Hebrew Bible (right after the [...]

2021-08-08T18:21:14-04:00August 22nd, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Is This a God You Want to Worship? Some Horrors of Scripture.

Parts of the Hebrew Bible insist on the absolute purity of the Israelites – they are to have no contact with outside influences that might compromise their devotion to Yahweh, the God of Israel, in any way whatsoever.  If they do come to be influenced by outsiders, God punishes them severely; and sometimes, as a further response, he orders the slaughter of the outsiders.  This is the wrath of God in its most severe and unbending form, evidently against people who didn’t even know he existed. Nowhere is this theme shown more graphically than in the case of Moses and the Midianites, as found in Numbers 25 and 31, passages that I would venture to say very few people on the blog or otherwise have ever read or at least paid much attention to.  But they are among the most horrifying narratives of the entire Hebrew Bible. The account begins with a group of outsiders, the Moabites (inhabitants of the land of Moab).  While Israel is still in the wilderness during their 40 year wandering, [...]

Why God Had to Destroy the Outsiders…

As I pointed out in my previous post, the “purity” of Israel was seen as massively important to most of the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, including the various sources that eventually came to make up the Pentateuch and the other books (Joshua – 2 Kings) that describe the history of ancient Israel.  Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in narratives about the children of Israel as they journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, after God delivered them from their slavery at the Exodus under their leader Moses. Once Israel escapes (Exodus 1-15), Moses leads them to Mount Sinai, where he is given the Law -- starting with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 all the way through Leviticus).  Much of this law is about how Israel is to worship and live, now that they have been chosen by God to be his people.  Once they receive the law, the Israelites journey to the promised land, but they sin en route, and God judges them by forcing them to remain in the wilderness [...]

2021-08-02T07:06:47-04:00August 12th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

God is Holy and You Better Worship Him!

There are, of course, good reasons for people thinking that the God of the Old Testament was a “God of Wrath.”  God does indeed engage in wrathful acts of punitive justice throughout the Hebrew Bible, and he requires his chosen people to execute his wrath as well. As one would expect, often this wrath is directed against people who break his commandments.  But less expected, probably, for many modern readers, is that these commandments do not involve merely what we would call “ethical” rules involving personal and communal behavior per se – e.g. murder, adultery, robbery, etc..  At least as, or even more often they involve situations in which the “Chosen People” have begun to act like “outsiders” who are not among the people of Israel, and against those outsiders who try to “seduce” Israelites into worshiping and behaving like everyone else. In these cases God’ vengeful wrath is about “purity.”  The terms “purity,” “holiness,” and “sanctity” all have the same root idea.  They involve an object, activity, or person that is “set apart” from [...]

2021-08-02T10:30:51-04:00August 11th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The God of Wrath According to the Prophet Amos

  In my previous post I began to explain the book of the prophet Amos, the earliest named author of the Bible, in particular his portrayal of the coming “wrath of God.”  My ultimate reason for dealing with Amos is to set up a later discussion of the book of Revelation, where the portrayal of God’s wrath is even more stunning.  But Amos’s message was certainly stunning enough for his original readers, the Israelites living in the northern kingdom of Israel.  Amos was telling them in rather direct and uncomfortable terms that God was soon going to wipe them out in an act of judgment. Prophets were rarely the bearers of good news.  But their condemnations were always brought against people precisely because they had sinned and God was soon to do something about it.  Here is more of how I describe Amos in my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2017). ****************************** Amos stresses that the coming suffering for the nation will derive not from the accidents [...]

2021-08-02T05:37:58-04:00August 8th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The God of Wrath in Both Old and New Testament

It is a very big mistake to think that the "God of the Old Testament" is a different God from the "God of the New Testament" -- even though that is a common view among Christians who want to insist that unlike the OT God of wrath, their God is a God of love.  Not only does that smack of rather unsubtle anti-Judaism (that "harsh religion of a vengeful God" as opposed to "our God who loves each and every one of us and is merciful instead of judgmental"), it simply is not at all the view of the authors of the New Testament, let alone Jesus himself. Jesus understood himself as a teacher of the Jewish Scriptures.  He didn't have another God.  Moreover throughout the entire NT the OT is quoted, up and down the line, all over the place, in complete affirmation of its message.  Jesus and his followers may have had their own interpretations of the OT (they had different interpretations even among themselves), but they would have been shocked and offended [...]

2021-08-02T05:37:21-04:00August 7th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Revelation of John|

Prophecies and Saints in the Book of Daniel. Platinum Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

I am very pleased to post this interesting and informed post by Platinum member Daniel Kohanski, on one of the most intriguing books of the entire Bible -- and as he points out, one of the most frequently misunderstood, especially today.  This post is for Platinum Members Only.  Feel free to comment and query! ****************************** The book of Daniel is one of the most influential, probably the most controversial, and certainly the most incomprehensible book of the Hebrew Bible. It is particularly famous for two things. It culminates in the only explicit expectation of personal resurrection in Scripture, and it uses a combination of mystical passages and obscure calculations to make that expectation credible. The intention was to convince the reader that Daniel (or an angel telling Daniel) had accurately predicted events hundreds of years in advance. In fact, all of them but the death of Antiochus and the promised resurrection had already happened by the time the author sat down to finish this book--because he was using a technique known to scholarship as vaticinium [...]

2021-07-16T16:11:20-04:00July 13th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Coming of the Spirit at the End of Time

Even though the Spirit of God shows up here and there throughout the Old Testament, starting of course already in Genesis 1:2, continuing on occasion through the narratives and in the prophets, it is not really a central narrational or theological theme.  That contrasts with the New Testament.  Here the Spirit of God is enormously important, on every level. The historical reason for that is that the earliest Christians believed that with the death and resurrection of Jesus they had entered into the End of the Ages.  They were living at the end times.  As we have seen, the resurrection of the dead – when God raised bodies back to live, some to face judgment and others to be given an eternal reward – was to transpire at the end of this age; in the Bible this future resurrection was first spoken of explicitly in Daniel 12:1-3, the last chapter of the final book of the Hebrew Bible to be written.  But the idea of a future resurrection became a widely accepted theological notion in [...]

More Inconsistencies in the Pentateuch

A few posts ago I more or less backed into a new thread on literary discrepancies found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament; these discrepancies are key to understanding why the books were almost certainly not written by a single person -- Moses, for example -- but are a combination of sources put together centuries after the stories were first placed in circulation. I talk about this in my textbook: The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.  Here is how I discuss the matter there: ****************************** The literary inconsistencies of Genesis are not unique to these two chapters.  On the contrary, there are such problems scattered throughout the book.  You can see this for yourself simply by reading the text very carefully.  Read, for example, the story of the flood in Genesis 6-9, and you will find comparable differences.  One of the most glaring is this: according to Gen. 6:19 God told Noah to take two animals “of every kind” with him into the ark; but according to Gen. 7:2 God [...]

2021-05-14T18:16:31-04:00May 12th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Two (Contradictory?) Accounts of Creation in Genesis?

In my previous post I began to explain why scholars have thought that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), were not written by Moses, but later, and that they represent not a single work by a single author, but a compilation of sources, each of them written at different times.  The evidence for this view is quite overwhelming, but in the context of my textbook on the Bible, as in the context here, I didn’t really think it appropriate or useful to dig deeply into all the nuances and ins and outs.  Instead, I gave some of the prominent data.   Here is how I started to do that. ****************************** The internal tensions in the Pentateuch came to be seen as particularly significant.  Nowhere were these tensions more evident than in the opening accounts of the very first book, in the creation stories of Genesis chapters 1 and 2.  Scholars came to recognize that what is said in Genesis 1 cannot be easily (or at all) reconciled [...]

2021-05-01T11:45:46-04:00May 11th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Who Wrote the Pentateuch Anyway?

A couple of posts ago I talked about the account of creation in Genesis 1 (with respect to the first two verses, the creation of the "heavens and the earth" and the "Spirit of God" hovering over the water).  One question I repeatedly get asked by blog readers is what we can say about the author of that creation account and of the Pentateuch (or the "Torah"; the first five books of the Old Testament -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).   It's been years since I've talked about it on the blog. Historically, it was always said (as it is still often said by avid Bible readers today) that these books were written by Moses, the great leader of the Israelites in the 13th century BCE, and main figure of all the books of the Pentateuch, except Genesis (the story of his birth is given at the opening of Exodus, and much of the rest of the Pentateuch is about him).   But scholars came to doubt it.  That’s what these posts will be about.   [...]

2021-05-01T11:41:13-04:00May 9th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

The Spirit of God in the Old Testament

I will not be giving a full account of the presence of the Spirit of God throughout the Old Testament (or the New) – just enough to give a sense of how the Spirit seems to have been widely understood in a range of authors.  The short story: biblical authors seemed to understand that one way God manifested himself and provided his power to specially chosen people was to send his Spirit upon them. In this understanding, the spirit is simply the divine force that God sends.  It is not seen as a separate “person” from God.  In an undefined sense (that probably the authors didn’t think about much), the spirit is both part of God (as your breath is part of you) and yet is separate from God (remember: spirit and breath and wind are all the same word in Hebrew). As an analogy: when you blow out a candle it is your breath doing it, and that act, the tool used to achieve it (the breath itself), and that which is actually achieved [...]

2021-05-01T11:36:49-04:00May 6th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Did the Holy Spirit Get Into the Trinity? In the Beginning….

Since I started this thread on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, I have received the same question over and over again:  What about the Holy Spirit?  As I’ve repeatedly answered, I can’t really deal with that question until I finish explaining how the “orthodox” view of the relationship of the Father and Son came to be settled. In fact, that view never was really settled.  There were debates for a very long time.  But I’ve taken us up through the major issues, up to the council of Nicea, where it was decided that Christ was not a subordinate divine being from eternity past who at some point long, long before the creation of the universe had been brought into being by God, but that he had always existed, along with the Father and was not subordinate to him but was equal to him in every way, “of the very same substance” as the Father. And so, we have two persons, completely equal, both fully God, distinct from one another, but in some [...]

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