There Are Two Yahweh's in the OT: Three Interpretations of the Evidence

Old Testament scholar Michael Heiser discussed the Biblical evidence for this in the fascinating video below. He argues against the rabbinic view that Yahweh appears in two modes, a younger one and an older one. He sees the evidence as supporting a Christological interpretation that the second Yahweh refers to Jesus. This, he claims, is why the early church could see no discrepancy in claiming Jesus was part of the Godhead. But there is a third interpretation. These people were polytheistic to the core for much of their history, my view. See what you think:




All deities in the Ancient Near East existed in pantheons or families of gods. We find God saying "Let us..." do this and "Let us..." do that. We read where Yahweh is the "God of gods," and there is archaeological evidence that Yahweh had a wife, Asherah. We have other names for the Hebrew deity, like Elohim (which is plural) and Adoni. We also have the problem of that these texts were edited by several different later authors. The last author tried to rid the final product of inconsistencies based on the latest theological conclusions about the deity the Hebrews came to believe. And we have the problem of the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. Where did he come from?

Now Dr. Heiser may not disagree with my interpretation, I don't know. He may affirm some sort of progressive revelation for all I know. It's just that such a notion seems to be better interpreted as the evolution of theistic thinking among ancient people through a thousand years or so. Unless Heiser can show that his progressive revelation notion better explains the evidence, then I have better reasons for thinking that such a notion of progressive revelation is merely the musings of ancient people that evolved just like all human thought does through the years. And even if he succeeds then he has a different problem: what took God so long?

HT: James McGrath

18 comments:

busterggi said...

The evolution of theistic thinking agrees with you.

Of course believers who say evolution is a fraud will say their religion has always been exactly the way it is now. And they'll ignore their own writings that contradict that.

Brad Haggard said...

I think progressive revelation is the standard of the Bible. The marvel of the biblical text is that it moves away from polytheism rather than toward it, like all of its neighbors.

I'm not sure how Dever's notion of an Israeli "folk religion" even has any bearing on the doctrine of inspiration.

And this is small, but technically, "elim" is plural. The "oh" in "elohim" sets it apart. And elohim is found all over P, so if someone was trying to "cover up" the polytheism, (especially if Genesis 1 is P), then they weren't trying that hard.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

There are many projections and interpretations, understandings and misunderstandings of divinity or non-divinity - all of which seem to have a common thread of ego, but there is one God Whose love is not corrupted by all our attempts to conform Him to our small standards of care and that is Jesus. He said to love even our enemies because He cares for all, even the ppl we ourselves do not understand or like too much. Take care, 3M

anon123 said...

I think this "elohim" business is leading us down a black hole.

The "elohim" is called majestic plurality- it does not refer to a plurality of beings necessarily, or even a god. Moses in Ex. 7:1 is called elohim, but the bible never ascribes diety to him, nor was he ever worshipped. Scholarship appears to recognize this.

As for progressive revelation: The OT is extremely clear that there is only one god, a complete unity. I think the hundreds of places the OT says god is one absolutely (from the early pentateuch right up to 2 Chron), would seem to overwhelm any suggested ambiguousness claimed in the bible.

So on one hand we have a word that is claimed to mean something, compared with hundreds of verses which say clearly, concisely and directly the exact opposite.

Let's not make the mistake of mixing the theory that Israelite tribes went from polytheism to monotheism, with what is written in the hebrew scriptures themselves.

According to Gesenius, "That the language has entirely rejected the idea of numerical plurality in Elohim (whenever it denotes one God) is proved especially by its being almost invariably joined with a singular attribute."

caligula said...

I think there are two gods, as per Gnostic tradition. God and Lord God, Lord God created on the sixth day. For this explanation to hold the original Greek texts need to be examined.

www.whycallmegod.com

anon123 said...

Just a small note regarding the "let us make man" from Gen. 1:26.

This comes from prof. Gordon Wenham (an evangelical himself).

"Christians have traditionally seen [Genesis 1:26] as adumbrating the Trinity. It is now *universally* admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author."

mchang said...

The presentation was an interesting take on Alan Segals work. I would say a big mistake he makes is jumping on ambiguities, as was pointed out above. As Segal notes in his book about the "proof text" for God's different identities used by the rabbis: "Not only does Daniel 7:9 allow the interpretation that God changes aspect, it may easily be describing two separate, divine figures."

This presenter jumps on this possibility. It COULD be referring to 2 aspects of the same God as easily as it COULD be referring to 2 Gods. Well, if this is the only passage we have, we wouldn't know what the text is saying, and so we would be unable to decide whose interpretation is correct. But of course when taken into account with the manifold explicitly monotheistic passages, it becomes clear. In other words, the Old Testament says YHVH is the only God many many times, but in a handful of places, a passage can be interpreted either way.

Professor William Denver (you linked to his book about God's wife) says that it was many of the peasant stock of Hebrews who believed the polytheistic aspects, but the priestly class who wrote the Old Testament were monotheists. ie. they would not be writing Daniel with the interpretation marshaled by this particular presentation.

Chris Jones said...

The polytheistic Hebrews case is made very well by scholars such as Mark Smith, Frank Moore Cross Jr., Raphael Patai, Ziony Zevit, William Dever, and an assortment of others.

J. Quinton said...

Deuteronomy 32:8-9

32:8 When the Most High (Elyon) gave to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of god ("b'nei El" in Dead Sea Scrolls, "uioi theou" in the LXX, but "children of Israel" in the Masoretic/current bibles).

32:9 For YHWH's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance

This is clearly poytheistic.

diablotc said...

1) If YHWH’s wife was Asherah then he seems to truly hate her worship as he repeatedly brings the Israelites to judgment for worshiping her.
2) Elohim is the generic name for god—it was the same name the Canaanites used to refer to their gods. It’s the modern equivalent of lowercase god.
3) Adonai is the word for “lord.” It was a substitute for the name of God once the tradition of not pronouncing God’s name came into vogue.
4) The JDEP hypothesis (redaction by several later editors) is water under the bridge. There are too many conclusive arguments against it—it is merely a hypothesis without data.
5) The Holy Spirit is throughout the OT—remember Moses and the elders of Israel being filled with the Spirit?
6) The “let us” is typically interpreted to be a reference to the divine council (1 Kings 22 is another example).

J. Quinton said...

Adonai literally means "my lords", as is used in Gen 19:2. YHWH is given the vowel points of adonai to let readers know to pronounce YHWH as "adonai". Later in tradition, "adonai" came to be equivocated with YHWH, as in Isa. 7:14.

The authors (or more like compilers) of what ended up as our Hebrew bible were elite priest attempting to stomp out the "people of the land's" polytheism after the exile. Thus all of the Asharah hatred. Of course, none of this makes sense if you think that basic human politics and sociology didn't apply to the ancient Hebrews and the bible just fell down from the sky fully intact (and written in King James English).

Ps 82
1 'Elohim' stands in the council of 'El' and judges the 'Elohim'

[...]

6 I said, you are 'Elohim', and all of you sons of 'Elyon'.

The author of this psalm thought that YHWH was one of the sons of Elyon. In other words, the author was a polytheist.

Chris Jones said...

diablotc:

"1) If YHWH’s wife was Asherah then he seems to truly hate her worship as he repeatedly brings the Israelites to judgment for worshiping her."

You and many conservatives tend to look at the religious practices and beliefs in ancient Israel/Judah as if it were a homogenous thing. Your point doesn't square with the archaeological and textual evidence for a diversity of religious practice in the two kingdoms. The Deuteronomist and many of the prophets (both major and minor) very certainly didn't approve of this pluralism, which is why so much of the Deuteronomist's writings condemned "high places" and non-temple sacrifice, and the prophets were attributing every conceivable hardship to these things. Archaeology shows that at least some segment of Israelite population did hold Asherah to have been a consort of Yahweh, and Asherah was somewhat widely worshiped along with a host of other deities.

"4) The JDEP hypothesis (redaction by several later editors) is water under the bridge. There are too many conclusive arguments against it—it is merely a hypothesis without data."

Conclusive arguments such as...????? The Documentary Hypothesis (the correct name -- not "JDEP hypothesis") is to this day the de facto view among Hebrew bible scholars. Richard Friedman makes quite a case in "The Hidden Book in the Bible" where shows that contrary to other views, DH isn't just "dividing it up on the basis of names" -- There are too many textual pieces that divide cleanly to deny multiple sources, and when these are divided, numerous features fall more or less cleanly within the divisions to the point where there just isn't a better explanation than multiple sources. I refer you to the last chapter of his book. I also use the flood tale as an example, where it can be cleanly separated into two complete stories that totally resolve all of the internal contradictions and also retain the other features consistently attributable to the different sources.

"6) The “let us” is typically interpreted to be a reference to the divine council (1 Kings 22 is another example)."

Why does YHWH need a divine counsel? What are these other beings? How and why did they come to be? What are their purposes? Why in 1 Kings 22 is there an actual tangible throne on which this supposedly incorporeal being physically sits? In 1 Kings 22, this has always been amusing to me:

"Then a spirit stepped forward and stood before the Lord. He said, ‘I will deceive him.’ The Lord asked him, ‘How?’"

In every tale in which YHWH is seen interacting with others, he never seems to know much. Nor do the others in his presence ever seem to believe that he's omniscient and/or omnipotent.

Pastor Tom said...

(this is diablotc). For whatever reason it's not letting me sign into that moniker.

I'm going to briefly address a few comments and then I'm done with this post. It is not my job to teach biblical criticism here; I am merely pointing out how superficial these critiques are and pointing the way for those who actually want to study this topic.


1) Who cares what the Israelite people actually believed? That's not "official" Jewish or Christian Theology. I'm sure you can find 5 atheists that also believe in UFOs but that's not "official" atheist doctrine. You can't critique systems of thought based on the views of its adherents. Not to mention you've got a nice "just so" story about "elitist priests" and such but that is merely conjecture. If you want to critique Christianity you have to start with what the thought system actually proposes--and there is no room for polytheism in Hebrew Scripture. Scripture itself attests to the polytheism of the Israelites--you don't need archaeology for that.


4) Thanks for your condescending correction by pointing out that it is called Documentary Hypothesis. I assumed most people here know very little about textual criticism so I addressed it as it was introduced--rather than the academic label used amongst other academics. T. Desmond Alexander's "Paradise to the Promised Land" contains a scathing critique of the Documentary Hypothesis--about the first 100 pages of the book is devoted to it. I find his arguments entirely compelling in that they expose that the DH is merely a rhetorical worldview that actually conflicts with biblical data. As a worldview it is thus an interpretation of data rather than supported by data--although data can undermine or support it--think the "kernel" of worldviews ala Thomas Kuhn, etc. DH fails as an explanation because it does not adequately explain the data. Again, it is far from the accepted view of Hebrew Scholars. I don't know how recently you've been in the field but I've been out of it for 2-3 years and in my studies the Documentary Hypothesis was basically given a passing glance and dismissed as yesterday's (failed) news.


"6) If you want answers to these questions you're responsible for doing the exegetical work. And enough exegetical work has been done on it to occupy your time for a while. Quit posing questions and acting like they actually do anything. Your bringing up questions means nothing--there are answers for them if you just do the work.

Concerning YHWH's omnipotence/omniscience--I don't see how derive anything of interest from such passages. The purpose of these passages is to show what's going on in the decision-making process so that we can understand it (think Isa 53--to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed, to him can we go, etc.; Isa 6--whom will go? etc.). This is YHWH posing the problem and allowing for a solution to come forth. If you believe he's omniscient then you realize that he knows what is going on and is merely opening up the situation. If you have doubts about his omniscience then you point this out as an example. But there's no reason to doubt his omniscience based on these passages unless you've already got an axe to grind. Grind it somewhere else--with a passage that actually purports to teach on omniscience.

Again, this is my last post (probably) on this blog page. I am not here to be a private tutor for biblical exegesis--you've got to do your own work. I'm merely pointing out that there are resources on both sides of the issues and you can choose to either hold dogamtically to your worldview or actually investigate the opposing one.

Pastor Tom said...

By the way, I conflated your post the the guy above about the "elite priest" thing. You didn't actually state that although your picture painted is identical--those who compiled the sources held to a different religion than the normal Israelites.

PrisonerOfChrist4Life said...

John

First of all, I don't agree there are two YHWH's because that will contradict hundreds of verses in the Bible teaching there is one God.

God doesn't contradict himself or lies like man does.

In Genesis 1:1 we read Jehovah is the creator of the heaven and the earth with everything in them.

In Exodus 3:14, we read one "I AM" not two.

In Isaiah 43:10, we read there was no God before or will be after Him.

In Matthew 6:9 we read "Our Father" which is YHWH.

In Ephesians 4:6, we read about One God not two Gods.

With that said its reasonable there isn't two YHWH's but one in the Tri-unity of God.

Secondly, there are places in the Bible about Jesus pre-incarnattion before coming to earth as the incarnate God.

For example, he appeared to Jacob and wrestled from evening to morning with him.

Another one is when he appeared to Gideon as the angel of the LORD in Judges 6:17-23.

Jesus is God!

I do agree YHWH has about 200 names/titles through out the Bible but its the same Elohim from Genesis.

Thirdly, its true there were pagans during the time of Genesis. The Sumerians and Babylonians worshiped everything and made it into their idols.

Forth and finally, the two YHWH's will conflict with the Shema every Jewish proclaims from Deut 6:4.

Therefore, there is one YHWH who is Jesus Christ or "Immanuel" God with us.

I know none of this will change your mind I'm not trying to but come here to discuss many issues whether this or from your books.

Ross said...

Brad, I agree with you. For example, read the Book of Job in isolation from the whole of Scripture, and you're left with a pretty bleak concept of theodicy.

This isn't my personal view, but some interpreters argue that passages like Genesis 1:26 are equivalent to the "royal we," where a singular person speaks using a plural pronoun.

Lvka said...

Both the Ancient of Days and the Young Man are Christ. (Revelation 1:13-14). Ancient as regards His divinity; young as regards His humanity. -- God the Father was at no point seen by anyone (John 1:18)


Therefore, there is one YHWH who is Jesus Christ or "Immanuel" God with us.

No. The distinction between Father and Son are too clear to be set aside, rendering an enormous amount of Jesus' sayings absurd. The One God refers to the one One God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Epistles repeatedly call Him.

unused said...

Did you ever read that people might misuse and blaspheme G-D's name? (Logically: anyone can claim this name to call their 'god')

http://www.revelations.org.za/

Here, a rebuttal to so called Yahweh as pagan god.
Accept it or reject it. Whatever!

http://www.revelations.org.za/Elohim.htm