The Invention of God 9780674915732

Who invented God? When, why, and where? Thomas Römer seeks to answer these enigmatic questions about the deity of the gr

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Table of contents :
Translator’s Note
System of Hebrew Transcription
1. The God of Israel and His Name
2. The Geographic Origin of Yhwh
3. Moses and the Midianites
4. How Did Yhwh Become the God of Israel?
5. The Entrance of Yhwh into Jerusalem
6. The Cult of Yhwh in Israel
7. The Cult of Yhwh in Judah
8. The Statue of Yhwh in Judah
9. Yhwh and His Asherah
10. The Fall of Samaria and the Rise of Judah
11. The Reform of Josiah
12. From One God to the Only God
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Copyright © 2015 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America First printing Originally published in French as L'Invention de Dieu by Thomas Römer, illustrations by Fabian Pfitzmann, copyright © Éditions du Seuil, 2014. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Römer, Thomas, 1955– [Invention de Dieu. English] The invention of God / Thomas Römer ; translated by Raymond Geuss. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-674-50497-4 (alk. paper) 1. Bible. 2. Monotheism. 3. God (Judaism) 4. Gods in the Bible. I. Title. BS680.G57R6613 2015 296.3'11—dc23



Translator’s Note vii System of Hebrew Transcription


Introduction 1 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

The God of Israel and His Name 24 The Geographic Origin of Yhwh 35 Moses and the Midianites 51 How Did Yhwh Become the God of Israel? 71 The Entrance of Yhwh into Jerusalem 86 The Cult of Yhwh in Israel 104 The Cult of Yhwh in Judah 124 The Statue of Yhwh in Judah 141 Yhwh and His Asherah 160 The Fall of Samaria and the Rise of Judah 173 The Reform of Josiah 191 From One God to the Only God 210 Conclusion Notes






Names of persons and places have been standardized to those used in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. For those that do not occur in the NRSV, the relevant volume of Cambridge History has been used. All dates are BC (or BCE) except where otherwise specified. Given that Thomas Römer often wishes to make substantive points that depend on particular readings, translations are always of Römer’s French versions of biblical texts, although I have usually consulted the King James version and the NRSV for phrasing.









silent or glottal stop




/b/ or /v/




/g/ (gourd)



















/ḥ/ (German Bach)











/k/ or /kh/ (kh like Bach)


























voiced guttural (no English equivalent)




/p/ or /f/
















‫שׂ‬ ‫ת‬

śin taw

ś t

/s/ /t/








/a/ (father)


ḥatef pataḥ


/a/ (father)




/a/ (father)


qameṣ ḥatuf


/o/ (off )


ḥatef qameṣ


/o/ (off )




/e/ (end)


ḥatef segol


/e/ (end)


segol yod


/e/ (end)




/a/ (fate)


ṣere yod


/a/ (fate)




/ee/ (meet)




/o/ (zone)




/oo/ (boot)


full ḥolem


/o/ (zone)

‫וּ‬ 0

šureq vocal shewa

û ĕ

/oo/ (boot) /a/ (about)



In the religious landscape of humanity, Judaism figures as the most ancient monotheistic religion: it proclaims that there is only one God, who is at the same time the par ticu lar god of the people of Israel and also the God of the whole universe. This idea of a single, unique God was then taken over and propagated throughout the world by Christianity and Islam, each of which slightly inflects the original conception in its own way. When we read the Jewish and Christian Bibles1 or the Koran, we have the impression that this God was unique since the very beginning; after all, he is the creator of heaven and earth. Looking more closely, though, we find texts in the Bible that admit the existence of other gods: for instance, in the story of the conflict between a man named Jephthah, a military leader of one of the tribes of Israel, and Sihon, the king of one of the neighbors of Israel to the east, which is recounted in the book of Judges. Jephthah uses a theological argument to resolve a territorial dispute: “Do you not possess that which Chemosh, your god, has given into your possession? And shall we not possess that which our God has given into our possession?” (Judg. 11:24). Here the god of Jephthah is considered to be the tutelary deity of a tribe or people, in the same way in which Chemosh is the tutelary god of Sihon. If we read on in the



Hebrew Bible,2 we discover further curious texts. The audience for which the book of Deuteronomy was originally written and to which it is addressed, for instance, is often exhorted not to follow after other gods, without it ever being asserted that these gods did not exist or were not real. So the Bible itself retains traces of the fact that a plurality of gods existed in the Levant, which means also in Israel, and that the god of Israel, whose name was pronounced Yahweh or Yahu—we shall discuss this issue in Chapter 1—was far from being the only god worshipped by the Israelites. The biblical narrative, however, contains other surprises. When Yahweh reveals himself to Moses in Egypt, he appears as a previously unknown god. After all, he himself tells Moses that this is the first time he has manifested himself under his real name. Is this a trace of the historical fact that this god was not always the god of Israel? Why, after all, does he reveal himself in Egypt or in the wilderness? Does he have some special connection to these places, and if so, what connection? On all these points the information provided by the Bible must be supplemented from other sources: archaeological discoveries, inscriptions, iconographic documents, Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian chronicles, and so on. An examination of this documentation allows us to retrace the path of a god who probably had his origin somewhere in the “South,” between the Negev and Egypt. Originally he was a god of the wilderness, of war and storms, but gradually through a series of small steps he became the god of Israel and Jerusalem. Then eventually, after a major catastrophe—the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah—he established himself as the one god, creator of heaven and earth, invisible and transcendent, who nevertheless loudly proclaimed his special relationship with Judaism. How did one god among others become God? This is the basic, and theologically fundamental, enigma that this book attempts to illuminate. Despite what certain theologians continue to assert, it is now beyond doubt that the god of the Bible was not always “unique,” the one-and-only God. Our investigation will attempt to determine the origins and successive transformations of the god of Israel. To be sure, the results of our investigation cannot be more than hypothetical, because we have at our disposal only a handful of indirect pieces of evidence in the biblical texts



themselves. Relying exclusively on this evidence can constitute a trap that we must be careful to avoid, because the authors of the various books of the Bible are obviously not impartial witnesses, but rather are very keen to impose on readers their vision of history and of the god of Israel. The Bible, then, must be analyzed historically without preconception, just like any other document from antiquity. Furthermore, the results of our analysis of biblical texts must be compared with the archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic facts. This is the only way to trace the career of a desert god who was originally venerated by groups of nomads and eventually became the god with the unpronounceable name of the Hebrew Bible. This investigation will also break a taboo that has dominated recent biblical studies. Since the 1970s, at least in Europe, the texts of the Pentateuch, some of which had traditionally been thought to be extremely ancient and to date back to the beginning of the first millennium, have come to be assigned a much more recent time. For this reason we have seen the advent of a perfectly understandable and healthy skepticism about the historical value of these texts; they have come to be seen as theological or ideological constructions rather than historical records. Many parts of the Pentateuch presuppose the annihilation of the kingdom of Judah, the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the Babylonian exile in 587, and this has often been taken as a good reason to consider it illegitimate to use these texts to trace the origins of Israel and its god. To take this tack, however, is to ignore the fact that the narratives contained in the Pentateuch are not inventions proceeding simply from the minds of intellectuals seated in their comfortable chairs. Biblical literature is a literature of tradition: those who put these traditional accounts into writing received them from others, and they had all the freedom they needed to transform or interpret them, or to rewrite them modifying older versions, sometimes in a very drastic way. In most cases, however, the process of revision operated in a manner that rested on certain archaic kernels of fact, which might perhaps have received their definitive formulation only at a relatively late stage, but which could still preserve “traces of memory” of events of the distant past.3 The books of the Hebrew Bible do not bear the signature of specific authors; the anonymity and the lack of any signature of the texts



themselves confirms this. The author disappears behind the text, which he transmits, revises, and edits. In other words, although it is probably impossible to consider the biblical narratives as objective sources, they nevertheless may conceal within themselves references to historical facts that a historian may to some extent be able to reconstruct. To do this, however, one must subject the texts to a critical analysis so as to extract the facts from the surrounding mythological and ideological dross in which they are encased. It seems to me, then, perfectly legitimate to reconnect to the older tradition of historical interpretation of the Bible, which was still widely cultivated at the start of the twentieth century whenever the question of the origins of the god of Israel arose, but which has been relatively neglected since the 1970s. Today we have better maps to guide us in our quest because of the large number archaeological discoveries that have greatly enriched our epigraphic and iconographic knowledge. When we speak, then, of “the invention of God,” we should not imagine either that a group of Bedouins met one day and huddled around an oasis to create a god for themselves, or that some scribes, much later, invented Yahweh out of whole cloth, so to speak, as their tutelary god. Rather this “invention” should be understood as a progressive construction arising out of a particular tradition. Think of this tradition as a series of sedimentary strata gradually laid down over the course of time, which is then sometimes disrupted by historical events that disturb the orderly sequence of layers, allowing something new and unexpected to emerge. If we try, then, to understand how the discourse about this god developed and how he eventually became the “one God,” we can observe a kind of “collective invention,” a process in which the conception was continually revised in the light of particular, changing social and historical contexts. Before beginning our inquiry with a discussion of the mystery of the unpronounceable name of the god of Israel, let us briefly present the structure and content of the Hebrew Bible, and also the way in which it is assimilated, in different forms, by Christians as “The Old Testament.”




The Hebrew Bible is composed of three major parts: the Torah or Pentateuch (the Greek word for this collection of five books), the Prophets (Nevi’im in Hebrew), and the Writings (Ketuvim).4 We can distinguish two large complexes in the Torah. The first complex, the book of Genesis, poses the question of origins: in this part God creates the world and the humans (Gen. 1–3), but he is also at the origin of violence (Cain and Abel, the Flood: Gen. 4–9) and of the diversity of languages and cultures (Gen. 10–11). Then we have the stories of the patriarchs: Abraham (Gen. 12–25), Isaac (Gen. 26), and Jacob and his son Joseph (Gen. 27–50). These figures are the ancestors of Israel, but not only of Israel: Abraham and Isaac are also the forefathers of most of Israel’s neighbors. The second major part of the Pentateuch tells the story of Moses, the liberation of Israel from its servitude in Egypt and its sojourn in the desert on the way to the Promised Land. Th is second part begins with the birth of Moses and ends with his death. It comprises the whole of the four books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Moses has a special status that is emphasized from the very beginning of the narrative: he is a man who twice receives divine revelations about, among other things, the name of the god who calls him and the meaning of this name. The story of the patriarchs and the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt give the reader two different models of Jewish identity. According to the narrative in Genesis, Jewish identity is transmitted by biological descent: Jews are those who descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; this is why these texts are so full of genealogies. Turning to the story of Moses, it will be noticed that the genealogies disappear. The identity of the people of Yahweh is constituted not by their common descent, but by their adherence to the Covenant between God and Israel, of which Moses is the intermediary. This Covenant is concluded after the liberation from bondage in Egypt, and is founded on divine stipulations. The terms of these can be found in the various codes of law that are sprinkled throughout the narratives of the sojourn of the Hebrews in the wilderness. The difference between Genesis and the following books is also visible in the differing way in which the deity is presented. In the first part of Genesis several texts depict a “universal”



deity, creator of the world, who later, in the story of Joseph, also appears as the god of the Hebrews and Egyptians. In the narratives of the Patriarchs, on the other hand, the god who appears seems often to be the god of a clan, called the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also the god of Ishmael, of Esau, and of their descendants. In the story of Moses and of the Covenant at Mount Sinai, a warrior god who manifests himself in storm, fire, and thunder concludes a contract with his people and promises to help them conquer a land. The actual conquest of the Promised Land under the aegis of this violent god is recounted in the book of Joshua. When Yahweh commissions Moses in the book of Exodus, he promises him that he would lead the people into a land “where milk and honey flows.” Nevertheless, at the end of the Pentateuch Moses dies outside the Promised Land. The Pentateuch thus ends with the nonfulfillment of the promise. The second part of the Hebrew Bible, called “The Prophets,” takes up again the narrative thread and recounts—in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—the story of Israel, starting with the military conquest of the land under the divinely ordained war chief, Joshua, proceeding, after a time of charismatic leaders (related in the book of Judges), to the establishment of the unified kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon, and concluding with the fall of the kingdom of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 (related in the books of Samuel and Kings). These books, which end with the sudden and complete destruction of the kingdom of Judah and all its political institutions, are followed by the collection of prophetic books, in the proper sense of the word;5 they are intended to allow the reader to understand better the reasons for the catastrophe, which, according to the prophets, came about because the people and its leaders rejected God’s demands for justice in the land and exclusive worship of him. So it is the god of Israel himself who is the cause of the military defeats of his people, on whom he imposes sanctions, just as he imposes them on their leaders, when they fail to respect his commandments. At the same time these books also contain promises of renewal, either of a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom or of some more general, if unspecified, salvation to come. The “Writings,” which make up the third part of the Hebrew Bible, are a collection of books in a variety of different literary genres, particularly



texts containing reflections on the human condition and on man’s often difficult relation to god. The book of Psalms, which comes first in the collection in most manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, contains hymns of praise, but also what are essentially individual and collective lamentations, like those in the book entitled “Lamentations,” which specifically recalls and mourns the destruction of Jerusalem. The “Song of Songs,” a collection of erotic poems, also has its place in this third part of the Hebrew Bible. Two further books have women as heroes. The book of Ruth tells the story of a foreign woman from the land of Moab who marries one of the ancestors of King David. The book of Esther recounts how a young Judean woman intervened successfully with the Persian King to save her uncle and her people from false accusations. The book of Job tells of how a rich landowner revolted against a god whom he found incomprehensible and draws the conclusion that the doctrine of retribution that figures in some passages of the book of Proverbs—”the wicked man shall be punished; the just man, however, will have a happy life”—is at any rate not valuable as a description of what happens in our world. Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth), the first Jewish philosopher, comes to the same conclusion. He insists that God is inaccessible to us, and he calls on man to recognize and accept his limits. One also finds among the “Writings” the book of Daniel, which paints a picture of the final judgment of the world by God at the end of time. The books of Chronicles propose a new version of the history of the monarchy that was already recounted in the books of Samuel and Kings. This narrative is continued in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which tell the story of the return of the exiles in the Persian period and the promulgation of the law of god in Jerusalem. In most manuscripts this chronological order is violated and the books of Chronicles are placed at the very end. Thus, the Hebrew Bible ends with the appeal of the Persian king to all the exiles from Judea to return to Jerusalem and construct the “New Jerusalem.”6 It is often said that the Bible is a “library” in itself, because the word “bible” derives from what is in effect a Greek plural “biblia,” books. The original process in which the texts were written down, the redaction and revision of those texts, and the collection of the different books in the three parts constitute a process that extends over more than 500 years. The various biblical texts emerged into the light of day in different



historical contexts; each text or revision of a text attempts to respond to its own context while maintaining the memory of older traditions. It is not possible here to enter into the exceedingly complex and complicated question of the dating of each of the components of the Bible. Suffice it to say that, along with most European scholars, we think it is no longer possible to accept the “documentary theory,” which explained the genesis of the Pentateuch by reference to the purported integration into one narrative of four successive and parallel documents, the earliest of which was thought to date from the period of King Solomon and the latest from the Persian era.7 This view, unfortunately, continues to flourish, especially in works addressed to a nonscholarly audience. The model for the formation of the Pentateuch that we use retains from the old theory of documents the date of the first version of Deuteronomy, approximately 620, and also the assumption that there existed a priestly narrative and ritual texts. It is possible that the oldest traditions in the Pentateuch (about Jacob, Moses, and later Abraham) had been written down sometime around the eighth century. Recall that no book, or more exactly no scroll, of the Bible was definitively formulated in one fell swoop. Papyrus and vellum are not durable materials, and scrolls or sheets were therefore easily legible only for a limited time. Their content, therefore, had to be recopied every few decades on new scrolls or sheets. Each time recopying took place, it was possible to add or suppress material, or to introduce modifications in the text. The scroll containing Deuteronomy, for instance, went through numerous editions from the end of the seventh to the fift h century. The prophetic books also have a complex history of redaction, and many of the texts we now find in these books derive not from the “historical” prophet in question but from more recent editors. They received their present form only in the Hellenistic period. The same observation applies to the Psalms and other texts. This investigation will take account of recent scholarship on the date and formation of the different parts of the Bible texts, without entering into the details of this discussion. However, the reader should find in this work all the information necessary to understand how these texts were used to reconstruct the different historical situations that had such an important influence on the career of the god Yahweh.



To facilitate understanding of what follows, it is perhaps useful to give the reader some explanation of the terms that will be used and also to outline the main events in the history of the Levant from the end of the second millennium to the Hellenistic era.8


The term “Israel” has a number of different meanings. About 1210 it appears in an Egyptian inscription referring to a relatively important group (or tribe?) living in the mountains of Ephraim. Between the tenth century and 722 it designates a kingdom whose capital is Samaria and that includes neither Jerusalem nor any other territory in southern Palestine. This Israel is also mentioned in Assyrian and other texts. Scholars also call this kingdom “the kingdom of the north.” After the Assyrians had eradicated this kingdom, the name Israel came to be a theological term designating all those who venerated the god of Israel. The name “Judah” is first applied to a region (also called “Judea”) and to a tribe, then later to the “kingdom of the south” with its capital at Jerusalem, ruled until 587 by kings claiming descent from the line of David. After the destruction of this kingdom by the Babylonians and its disappearance as an independent political entity, “Judah” or “Yehud” becomes the name of a province that is part of the Persian Empire, and then of various Hellenistic kingdoms. We cannot speak of “Jews” or “Judaism” before the end of the Persian era, or even before the Hellenistic period, because it is only toward the end of the fourth century that we find a religious system in place that is at all like what one designates today as “Judaism.” So it is better to avoid using the terms “Jew” and “Judaism” for the earlier periods, but instead to speak of “Israelite” or “Judean.” The name “Canaan” occurs in texts from Egypt and Mari and then is often used in the Bible in a rather vague way to speak of the territory that encompasses most of Syria-Palestine west of the Jordan. In the Bible this name appears sometimes in a neutral way as a geographic term, but sometimes, as when speaking of the “Canaanites,” meaning the indigenous population of the Promised Land, with a distinct pejorative connotation.



The term “Hebrew” appears in the Bible as an archaic name for the Israelites or Judahites, then for the Jews. The relation of this word to the term ̒ apiru, a sociological term used in various Egyptian, Hittite, and other texts of the second millennium to refer to marginal populations, has been subject to much debate.9 In most of the biblical texts in which the term “Hebrew” occurs—in the books of Exodus and Samuel—it is applied by other populations to describe the Israelites. When it becomes current in the last centuries before the Christian era, it is used as an archaizing name for the Jews, and this is the way it is employed in the rabbinical literature and the New Testament.


The history of Israel and Judah unfolds in the geographic context of the Levant, corresponding to the present-day countries of Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Throughout its history this region was much coveted by the surrounding empires and was often controlled by them, first by the Egyptians in the second millennium, then by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans in the first millennium. Geographically and politically the history of the Levant is intrinsically tied to that of the “Fertile Crescent,” an expression referring to the fertile territory with ample rainfall that stretches from Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and Iran) to Egypt, including the areas around the Tigris and Euphrates. It is interesting to note that from the very beginning the biblical narrative tells of the travels of the patriarch Abraham throughout the whole of the Fertile Crescent. His family originally leaves from the city of Ur and then settles in Harran in Syria; from there Abraham wanders through the land of Canaan, stopping at strategic places such as Schechem and Bethel, then going down into the Negev to the south, and from there finally to Egypt (Gen. 11–12). Geographically this covers the whole of the Fertile Crescent; historically the territories Abraham visits are places where in the Persian era (fift h and fourth centuries) there were existing populations of Judean exiles or émigrés. This example shows








Nineveh Assur

Mari AKKAD Damascus




Gaza Memphis Tayma

EGYPT El Amarna


The ancient Near East

that it would be wrong to read the texts of the Pentateuch as historical records; they were written much later than the time they purport to depict. Books on the history of ancient Israel that are addressed to an academic audience or even simply to educated general readers almost all follow the biblical chronology: the Patriarchs, Moses, and the exodus, the conquest of the Promised Land, the era of the Judges, the unified kingdom of David and Solomon, the two Kingdoms of Israel and Judah up to the fall of Samaria in 722, the kingdom of Judah up to its destruction in 587, and finally the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah in the Persian era. Nowadays we know with certainty that the stories of the Patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, and the conquest of the Promised Land, and also the stories from the era of the Judges, do not reflect successive, datable periods. They are rather legends or myths of origin that were arranged in a chronological order after the fact. To reconstruct the



history of Israel and Judah, we need to start from the facts, all the facts at our disposal, and that means starting from the findings of archaeology. The archaeology of the Levant has made enormous progress during the past fift y years. In particular, it has emancipated itself from the yoke of a “biblical archaeology” that was dominant for a long time, especially in certain very conservative “Bible-oriented” circles where it was conducted with the explicit aim of proving that whatever the Bible said was true. The archaeology of Israel/Palestine, such as that practiced by the new generation of scholars—Israel Finkelstein, Oded Lipschits, Aren Maeir, and many others—insists on the autonomy of archaeology.10 It cannot be simply an auxiliary discipline that is mobilized when needed to legitimize one or another religious or political opinion. Thanks to the work of archaeologists, we now have available a large number of inscriptions and other written documents and also a significant amount of iconographic material (seals, statuettes, ostraca, and so on) that are of great importance for the historian. As far as the use of biblical material in the reconstruction of the history of Israel and Judah is concerned, there have been polemic exchanges for a number of years now between “maximalists,” who take the Bible to be right until proven irrefutably wrong, and “minimalists,” for whom the Biblical narrative has no cognitive standing as a source for reconstructing the history of the period embracing the end of the second and the first half of the first millennia. The most the “minimalists” will grant is that the Bible gives us access to the ideological positions of certain currents of Judaism as they evolved at the end of the Persian era and the beginning of Hellenistic times. Each of these two positions is difficult to maintain. The maximalist violates basic methodological principles of historical research; the minimalist neglects the fact that no matter how ideological the biblical texts are, they might nevertheless contain traces of historical events and of earlier traditions.11 Putting things in archaeological context, the beginnings of the history of Israel in the thirteenth century fall into the time of transition from the Late Bronze to the Iron Age.12 In the middle of the second millennium the Levant was controlled by Egypt. It was orga nized politically into city-states whose minor kings were vassals of the pharaoh. There also existed some groups with minimal integration, notably the



̒ apiru, who lived on the margins of the political system, in conflict with one or the other of the minor Canaanite kings or chiefs or serving as potential forced laborers for the Egyptians. Egyptian texts also mention “shasu” (šзśw) nomads, and they sometimes use the term Yhw(з) to characterize them. Scholars have often tried to connect this term— probably a toponym—with the name Yahweh (Yahua?), which was to become the name of the god of Israel. The end of the thirteenth century was marked by upheavals during which the city-states collapsed. New populations, “people of the sea” arriving from the Aegean Sea or from Anatolia, the Philistines as the Bible and we call them, established themselves on the southern coast of Canaan in cities like Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. Their material culture was markedly different from that of the other inhabitants of the land, but they assimilated themselves quickly.13 Whereas most of the cities of the Late Bronze Age suffered depopulation, the mountainous zone of Ephraim and Judah experienced a notable increase in its population. This is the context within which we fi nd the first traces of the genesis of the “Israel” that is mentioned in about 1210 on the victory stele of Pharaoh Merneptah. This “Israel” must have been a quite powerful grouping, because the Egyptian king thinks it worth mentioning among the people he boasts of having conquered. Although he proclaims that he has put an end to Israel, in fact that entity was about to embark on a course of growth and development. Its origins do not lie, as the book of Joshua claims, in the military conquest of a territory by a population invading from somewhere else; rather “Israel” resulted from a slow process that took place gradually within the framework of the global upheavals of the Late Bronze Age—that is, it had its origin in indigenous populations. The opposition we find in the Bible between “Israelites” and “Canaanites” was in no way based on an existing ethnic difference, but is a much later theoretical construction in the ser vice of a segregationist ideology. “Israel” is in the fi rst instance a kind of clan or tribal confederation, joining together groups that probably thought they already belonged to the same ethnic grouping. This is suggested, for instance, by the virtual absence of the raising of pork for consumption, and by a distinct material culture. However, the idea that Israel before the monarchy was composed of twelve tribes is an invention of the biblical authors of the Persian and



Hellenistic periods, when this idea came to play an important role in attempts to affirm the religious unity of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. At the beginning of the first millennium in the whole of the Levant there gradually came into being an exchange economy that replaced the previously existing subsistence economy. This transformation was accompanied by a parallel development in the forms of political organization, which tended in the direction of monarchy. One can observe this phenomenon, for instance, not only west of the Jordan but also to the east in the creation of the kingdoms of Moab and Ammon. The biblical narrative in the books of Samuel centers the story of the origins of the monarchy around three exemplary figures: Saul, David, and Solomon. This is mostly legendary material, but the narrative does contain some traces of historical events. Saul, who is presented as the first king of Israel, was able to resist Philistine domination and to create in the territory of Benjamin and the mountains of Ephraim a kind of state structure of which he was the head. David, who is represented as having been in conflict with Saul, seems to have been a vassal of the Philistines, who perhaps supported him in his conflict with Saul. In any event, the Philistines tolerated the creation of a kingdom under David located in Judah, first in Hebron, then in Jerusalem, and in competition with that of Saul. According to the narratives of the books of Samuel and Kings, which are partly taken up again in Chronicles, David and his son Solomon were said to have reigned over a “united kingdom” with a huge territory extending “from Egypt to the Euphrates.” This claim is the result of an ideological choice made by the editors of the Bible, who wished to show that Israel (the north) and Judah (the south) had in the beginning been united in a single kingdom. The large building works at Megiddo, Hazor, and elsewhere that have been attributed to King Solomon, probably date to a period a century later than his death and are the work of King Omri. It is in the north that we find the development of something like a significant “state,” which under Omri made the town of Samaria its capital. In the south, in contrast, the political entity was much more modest; estimates of the population of the south put it at about 10 percent of that of the north. Jerusalem at this period was a small agglomeration that Pharaoh Sheshonq does not even deign to mention in the



list of his military exploits after his campaign of ca. 930 in the region. For more than two centuries Judah lived in the shadow of Israel, and was probably often its vassal. The historiography of the Bible, however, particularly in the books of Samuel and Kings, has been edited from the perspective of the south and presents the north and its kings in a negative light, accusing them of worshipping gods other than the god of Israel and of establishing sanctuaries that competed with Jerusalem. In the ninth century under the Omrides,14 Israel became a powerful presence among the kingdoms of the Levant, as is shown by the numerous building projects these kings undertook, especially the construction of the city of Samaria. The power of the Omrides extended all the way to Transjordan and brought about conflicts with the kingdom of Moab, as is attested by the stele of Mesha, which reports a quarrel between Israel and Moab from the perspective of the king of Moab. Omri and his successors pursued a policy of rapprochement with Phoenicia. Th is is why the editors of the books of Kings accuse them of worshipping a god named “Baal.” The editors of the biblical text hold this transgression to have been the cause of the end of the Omrid dynasty. According to a stele with an inscription in Aramaic found in Tel Dan at the sources of the Jordan, Hazael, the king of Damascus, who ordered the stele to be inscribed, is said to have triumphed over a coalition of Israel and Judah and to have defeated Israel and the “House of David.”15 The books of Kings present the end of the Omrid dynasty as the result of a coup led by of one of its generals, Jehu, to whom the editors attribute a religious motivation: he is presented as being a fervent worshipper of the god of Israel and an opponent of the cult of Baal. Historically speaking, Jehu was a weak king and the defeats he suffered at the hands of the Aramaeans are attributed by the editors to his predecessor, the Omrid Joram. Jehu became in fact a vassal of the Assyrians, who, starting in the second half of the ninth century, were beginning to try to control the Levant. In 853 a coalition between Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus succeeded in pushing back the Assyrian king Salmanasar III at the battle of Qarqar, but the following decades and the whole of the eighth century are definitively marked by the hegemony








Samaria Shechem ISRAEL



AMMON Ashdod

Jerusalem Lachish Hebron




N 0


20 km

The kingdoms of Israel and of Judah

of Assyria, which leaves numerous traces in the text of the Bible. An obelisk of the Assyrian king Salmanasar III shows a king prostrate before Salmanasar with the legend “the tribute of Jehu, son of Omri.”16 The kingdom of Israel had another period of prosperity under the reign of Jeroboam II (about 787–747),17 who accepted Assyrian hegemony and acted as a loyal vassal. The well-off became even more prosperous thanks to the increasing production of olive oil, but this kind of protocapitalism also brought with it a pauperization of those who were less well off. Prophets such as Hosea and Amos denounced this turn of events. In addition, Hosea conducted a polemic against the “calves” of Samaria and Bethel, which strongly suggests that the titular deity of



Israel was worshipped there in bovine form. It is possible that certain traditions reported in the Bible, such as the story of Jacob (who was later to become the ancestor of Israel) and the story of the exodus, were first put in a written form in the sanctuary of Bethel during the reign of Jeroboam II.18 After the reign of Jeroboam, the decline of the kingdom of Israel set in. Around 734 a coalition of Levantine kingdoms led by Damascus and Israel tried to force the king of Judah, Ahaz, to join a revolt against the Assyrians. There are traces of this in various biblical texts. Ahaz, however, on the advice of the prophet Isaiah, sought protection from the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, whose vassal he became. Tiglath-Pileser III was easily able to defeat the Aramaeans and Israelites and truncated both their kingdoms drastically. In 727 the last king of Israel, Hosea, sought an alliance with Egypt, thereby provoking a military expedition by Salmanaser V against Israel and the fall of Samaria in 722. The kingdom of Israel was divided up into four Assyrian provinces, and up to 20 percent of the total population was deported, with other populations being settled in the territory of the former kingdom. This “mixed” population is the distant ancestor of the Samaritans. We know almost nothing about the situation in this region until the Persian era, except that the cult of the god of Israel continued.19 For the kingdom of Judah, which continued to exist as a vassal of the Assyrians, the fall of Samaria meant a rise in its status and especially in the development of Jerusalem, which up to that time had been a rather modest settlement. Its urban space increased significantly toward the end of the eighth century and it became a genuine capital. This growth was at least partly due to the influx of refugees from the former kingdom of Israel. It was also during this period that traditions from the north (Jacob, Exodus, Hosea, the narratives about the prophets Elijah and Elisha and others) arrived in Judah, where they were revised from a Judean perspective. The rise of Jerusalem began under King Hezekiah, to whom the Bible attributes a number of public works that are attested by archaeology, such as the famous tunnel at Shiloh, which contains the first known monumental Judean inscription.20 We must assume that the beginnings of systematic literary activity are also to be dated to this period.21 Hezekiah’s policies toward the Assyrians were so reckless that



the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, eventually launched a military expedition against the kingdom of Judah, took Lachish, its second city, and reduced its territory massively. In 701, however, the Assyrians interrupted their siege of Jerusalem and withdrew, for reasons that are unclear. This event gave rise to the idea of the inviolability of Zion, the mountain on which the Temple of Jerusalem is located. The inhabitants of Jerusalem saw in it the proof that their god would protect his city against his enemies. Under Manasseh, a loyal vassal of the Assyrians, Judah became prosperous again and recovered parts of its lost territory. Although Manasseh’s reign lasted more than fift y years (ca. 698–642), the editors of the books of Kings devote only a few lines to him, in which they particularly deplore his impiety. However, he seems to have governed wisely and to have allowed Judah to enjoy its last period of stable life. When King Josiah (640–609) acceded to the throne, according to the biblical narrative at eight years of age, the Assyrian empire had begun to grow weaker because of the resurgence of Babylon. During the second half of Josiah’s reign, the king and his counselors took advantage of this power vacuum to put in place a policy of centralization in accord with the new status of Jerusalem. The Temple of Jerusalem was proclaimed the sole legitimate sanctuary of the god of Israel. The historicity of the narrative found in 2 Kings 22–23 cannot be immediately confirmed, but it asserts that Josiah removed all the Assyrian religious objects from the Temple of Jerusalem and also destroyed the symbols of Asherah, a goddess associated with the titular god of Judah, and that he annexed a part of the former kingdom of Israel. The books of Kings claim that Josiah’s innovations in the spheres of religion and politics were undertaken because of the discovery of a book in the Temple. This story is probably a traditional literary conceit; however, it is highly likely that Deuteronomy, which is what this book found in the Temple has always been assumed to have been, was in fact composed in its original form in order to legitimize the policy of centralization and of monolatry, the exclusive worship of the god of Judah/ Israel. The idea of centralization prepares the way for establishing one of the main pillars of what was later to become Judaism: the centrality of Jerusalem and its temple. It is to the reign of Josiah that we must



also look for the literary origins of some other texts, such as the narratives of the conquest of Canaan that make up the first part of the book of Joshua; these are probably intended to legitimize Josiah’s expansionist policies. The scribes of Josiah also wrote a history of the two kingdoms to show that Josiah was a kind of new David. No doubt they also composed a written “biography” of Moses and set down other traditions in writing, too. The origin of a large part of that literature, which was later to become the Bible, lies, that is, in the Assyrian period. The significance of much of this writing is restricted to a milieu of “intellectuals”—to the palace and the temple. In the Judean countryside at the sanctuary of Hebron, they will also have told stories about episodes from the life of the patriarch Abraham in a religious context that differed significantly from that which was dominant in the palace of Jerusalem. The story of Abraham, after all, is not an appropriate vehicle for a segregationist ideology, because it insists on the fact that the patriarch was also related to Lot, the ancestor of the Moabites and the Ammonites, and was the father of Ishmael, the ancestor of the semi-nomadic peoples of the desert southeast of Judah. Josiah died in 609 while preparing for a confrontation with Egypt, and this is the beginning of the decline of the kingdom of Judah. It eventually fell to the Babylonians, who from 605 on were beginning to make themselves masters of the Near East. Numerous revolts by the kings of Judah were the cause of the first fall of Jerusalem in 597: King Jehoiachin avoided the destruction of the city only by opening its gates. He and his court were deported to Babylon together with his high officials and artisans. A Babylonian document mentions the rations provided for King Jehoiachin, prisoner of the king of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar II then installed Zedekiah as Jehoiachin’s successor, but he too eventually joined an anti-Babylonian coalition. The book of Jeremiah contains narratives and oracles that reflect the chaotic situation in Jerusalem in the years immediately preceding its second fall. In 587 the Babylonians took Jerusalem, destroyed the city and temple, and decided to initiate a second wave of deportations. They installed Gedaliah as governor at Mizpah in the territory of Benjamin. Archaeology shows traces of severe destruction at this time in the territory of



Judah and a significant reduction in its population. In contrast, the territory of Benjamin seems to have suffered much less in this period. In 582 Gedaliah was assassinated by a group bent on reestablishing independence, and according to the book of Jeremiah this event set off a third wave of deportations and the flight of some of the inhabitants of Judah to Egypt around 582. So toward the end of the sixth century there are three centers with a significant Judean presence: Benjamin and Judah, Babylonia, and Egypt (especially the Delta and Elephantine). In contrast to the Assyrians, the Babylonians allowed the exiles to live together in colonies and to form recognizable groups. These various groups of exiles composed of members of the Judean elite were to play an important role in the production of a certain number of scrolls, which were in turn the ancestors of what would become the Pentateuch and the prophetic books. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 provoked an ideological crisis for these intellectuals. The pillars on which the identity of any ancient Near Eastern people would have rested—the king, the temple, the national god, and the land itself—had been destroyed. So it was necessary to find new foundations for the identity of a population deprived of its traditional institutions. It is in this context that we should view the various responses to this crisis that are contained in the “Deuteronomistic history,” the books of the Bible starting from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. The intention in this history was to show that the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of part of its population were not due to the weakness of the god of Israel compared with the gods of Babylon. On the contrary, it was the god of Israel himself who was making use of the Babylonians to chastise his people and their kings for not having upheld the terms of his “covenant” with them, terms formulated explicitly in Deuteronomy itself. Some author or authors from the entourage of a group of priests eventually composed a “history of origins” (often called the “priestly document”), which is to be found especially in the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus and which insists that all the characteristic national rituals and institutions were revealed before the entry into Canaan and before the monarchy, so that the monarchy is not really indispensable. For the priestly authors, all the rituals that will come to define Judaism in the Persian and Hellenistic periods (circumcision, Passover, the alimentary



rituals and laws) were given by Moses in the desert even before there was an established form of political organization. These two literary complexes, the Deuteronomistic and the priestly narratives, prepare in a certain sense the way for monotheism, because they both affirm—each in its own different way—the unity of the god of Israel. In 539 the Persian king Cyrus took the city of Babylon, putting an end to the Babylonian Empire. His religious policy was “liberal” in that he permitted the reconstruction of destroyed temples and allowed deported populations to return to their respective countries. Cyrus is celebrated as the “Messiah” sent by the god of Israel in texts that are appended to the scroll of the oracles of the prophet Isaiah, which are often called “Deutero-Isaiah.”22 The Persians granted the Judean community the same cultural and religious autonomy they accorded to other peoples who were integrated into the empire. The Temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the fift h century, and it is under the influence of the Golah, the Judean exiles in Babylon who returned to Judea, that a quasi-theocratic temple-centered organization of political and religious life was put in place. Many of the Judean exiles preferred to remain in Babylon, and various documents found there indicate that these Judeans belonged to the comfortable strata of that city and were fully integrated into its life. Until the arrival of Islam, Babylon was to remain an intellectual center of Judaism, as is indicated by the Babylonian Talmud. In the same way the strong Judean presence in Egypt was in no way diminished. Thus Judaism from its very birth was a religion of the diaspora, and was to continue to develop as such during the Hellenistic era around the whole of the Mediterranean basin. Between 400 and 350 a compilation was made of different writings into a proto-Pentateuch, which became the founding document of nascent Judaism, but also for the Samaritans, whose central sanctuary was located after the fift h century on Mount Gerizim. The biblical narrative that reflects the consolidation of these diverse documents can be found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which present in an artificially exaggerated way the hostility between Judeans and Samaritans and which also insist on the positive and benevolent attitude of the Persians toward the promulgation of the Law in Jerusalem.



In 332 Palestine was conquered by Alexander, who put an end to the Persian Empire. After his death, war broke out between his successors, and Palestine fell first under the control of the Ptolemies (or Lagides) who governed Egypt, then under that of the Seleucids who ruled Syria. This change, however, at first hardly affected the Jews. During the third century, Judea experienced an economic upswing which benefited the aristocrats in Jerusalem and the already well-off urban class. This was also the time of frequent contacts between Greeks and Jews, and the Jews living in Egypt adopted the Greek language as their own. About 270, or somewhat later, the Pentateuch was translated into Greek, and during the third century an abundant literature was produced. Some of these texts, such as the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and so on, later entered the canon, but others, such as the book of Enoch, did not.


Our inquiry about the god of Israel will cover about a thousand years of history, from the end of the second millennium before the Christian era up until the Hellenistic era. Initially we shall try to clarify the question of the meaning of his name, which we shall cite in its transcribed form using consonants alone as Yhwh. We will proceed by looking at the attested forms of this name outside the Bible and by considering the question of the geographic origin of the name. There are a number of signs that point “to the south”—in the fi rst instance toward Egypt, where there were nomads who apparently worshipped a deity by the name of “Yahwa,” which is perhaps the name of a deified mountain. Then we shall examine the curious tradition about a sojourn by Moses among the Midianites, during which Yhwh presents himself to Moses. But how did this god become the god “of Israel”? When did he acquire the status of divine protector of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah? Was he worshipped in those two places in the same way? How did he come to establish himself in the Temple of Jerusalem? Was he there alone, or did he coexist there with other gods? Was he invisible from the start, as the editors of the Bible assert, or were there representations of Yhwh? Did



he have a wife? A mono-idolatrous cult came progressively to be devoted to him, but through what process and in reaction to which events was this cult established, and how did it become dominant? By responding to these questions we shall try to come to an understanding of how monotheism came to be invented, and in what way it was able to integrate the polytheistic roots out of which it arose and of which it preserves the legacy.



If we look at translations of the Bible in English and other languages, we find various expressions used for the god of Israel, such as “the LORD,” “The Eternal One,” or, in certain Catholic Bibles, “Yahweh.” Does God then have a name? And why is there a prohibition in Judaism about pronouncing his name? In order to clarify this question and explain why, in what follows, we use the transliteration Yhwh to designate the god of Israel, we must start our story at its end, at the point in time when the Hebrew Bible did already exist as a collection of “holy” books. This anticipation will allow us to answer a question that might appear to be merely technical but is actually also extremely important, the question of the name of God, a question that has left a profound mark on Judaism, and subsequently on Christianity and Islam.


“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Both the Hebrew and the Christian Bibles open with this well-known statement. In the first chapter of Genesis, “god” has no proper name. This might seem completely unsurprising if we assume that the Bible is a monotheistic book. If there is only one god, why would he need a proper name?



Upon closer inspection, however, we encounter our first surprise. The Hebrew word that is translated as “god”—ʾĕlōhîm—has a plural ending and could also be translated as “(the) gods.” One god or several gods? The same word may express both the singular and the plural, and only the form of the verb indicates which is intended. This ambiguity may perhaps be intended to prevent us from making a firm decision on one of these possibilities to the exclusion of the other. Could the author perhaps be suggesting that the one god subsumes in himself a diversity of gods? If we move on to the second narrative in Genesis, which relates only the creation of the first human couple and of animals, the translators propose various further ways of designating god. In most Catholic Bibles and also in some Protestant ones, the narrative relates what “the LORD” did. In other Bibles this becomes a narrative about what “The Eternal One” did, and still others speak about a god called “Jehova.” Although this is not at all evident from the translations themselves, these terms are in fact renderings of the same proper name, the precise pronunciation of which is a mystery to us. Why? When scribes began to write down the texts that, much later, were to be put together to form the Bible, they wrote only consonants, just as is the case today in modern Hebrew or Arabic, languages with purely consonantal alphabets. In versions consisting only of consonants, the proper name of the god who appears in Genesis 2 and then very frequently in subsequent passages is written “Y-H-W-H,” and these four letters are the origin of the term “tetragrammaton,” which is used to refer to the name of the god of Israel. Only much later, between the third and tenth centuries of the Christian era, did learned Jews called the “Masoretes” (an Aramaic word meaning “guardians”) elaborate systems of vocalization to ensure the correct pronunciation of the sacred texts. Finally one of these systems—that developed by the family Ben Asher— succeeded in establishing itself as the standard one. This is how scribes came into possession of a system with sufficient sophistication to allow them to add appropriate vowels to the words in a given text, of which only the consonants had initially been written down.1 To illustrate this procedure, imagine an English word written gllws. We would easily recognize that this word was “gallows,” and so we could represent what the Masoretes did as adding vowels like this:



ga llows. A written expression like fclt could be vocalized in at least two different ways: facult y or facilit y. In certain cases like this, therefore, the Masoretes had to make a decision about the meaning they wished to attribute to the word or phrase. For the proper name of the god of Israel they encountered a problem: starting in the third century, Judaism had begun to prescribe that the name was no longer to be pronounced. This prohibition is already attested in the translation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) into Greek, where one finds in place of the tetragrammaton Yhwh either the word theós (“god”) or in most cases kúrios (“lord”). There are several reasons for this prohibition. Within the framework of a monotheistic view it is inappropriate for the one god to have a proper name, because if he had one, this might suggest that there was some need to distinguish him from other gods. Of course, it was also thought important to discourage magical practices in which the name of God might be used. One of the Ten Commandments in fact demands, “Thou shalt not take the name of thy god in vain,” which can be interpreted as placing an interdict on the magical invocation of God. It seems clear that this prohibition of pronouncing God’s name was imposed gradually but progressively. In the Mishna, the collection of rabbinical interpretative texts from the first and second centuries of the Christian era, we find the idea that the high priest may pronounce the divine name on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Temple (Treatise Yoma 6:2). This was perhaps a practice current in the last decades before the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in ad 70. A Samaritan tradition states that the high priest transmits the pronunciation secretly to his successor.2 Thus the Masoretes found themselves confronted with a huge problem when it came to writing the divine name. They could not change the consonants Yhwh because the consonantal text was considered sacred and invariable. At the same time they could not introduce the vowels that would have permitted a pronunciation of the divine name because that would have been contrary to the developing theology of Judaism. In order to have the possibility of correcting the consonantal text, they invented a distinction between Kĕtîv (“what is written”) and Qĕrê (“what is to be read”). Having done that, they then applied to the tetragram-



maton the vowels of ʾădōnāy, “my Lord” (which is in fact probably a plural form), in order to indicate that one was to pronounce the word ʾădōnāy when the text contained the name of God, Yhwh. This resulted in the forms found in biblical manuscripts: YěHWaH or YěHoWaH,3 depending on which manuscript one consults. This substitution corresponds to the replacement of Yhwh with kúrios (“Lord”) in the Greek Bible. It was, then, a mistake to try to pronounce Yhwh by using the replacement vowels of ʾădōnāy, which had been introduced into the text by the Masoretes, and inserting these vowels between the consonants of the tetragrammaton. This error resulted from a failure to understand this scribal practice. It produced the pronunciation that the Dominican friar Raimundus Mari in the thirteenth century rendered as Yěh(o)wāh. This form was then reproduced extensively in translations of the Bible and persists especially among Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Judaism one also fi nds another replacement used in addition to ʾădōnāy, namely haš-šem (“the Name”), and this is used also by the Samaritans. For this reason some scholars have suggested that vowels used to create the substitute for Yhwh are actually those of the Aramaean šĕmā (“the name”), but for various reasons this is not plausible.4 So the most probable view is that the first form of vocalization used the vowels of ʾădōnāy, but that certain Jewish scholars who had come to mistrust the Septuagint (the Greek translation), especially in view of the Christian appropriation of kúrios in the New Testament to refer to Jesus, decided to use “The Name” in place of Yhwh. Recall, too, that certain Greek manuscripts use theós (“god”) in place of kúrios (“lord”). This might also indicate that there was some desire to substitute ʾĕlōhîm for the tetragrammaton. In the beginning, therefore, there will have existed a number of different ways of indicating that the tetragrammaton was not to be pronounced.


Curiously, and despite the prohibition, the biblical texts retain some traces of a pronunciation of the divine name. In addition to the tetragrammaton Yhwh, the Masoretic vocalization of which goes back to the



substitute “Lord,” there are numerous attestations of a short form Yhw, which is found particularly in theophoric proper names—that is, names constructed with an element derived from the name of the god of Israel, such as Yirmĕyāhû (Jeremiah), Yĕša῾yāhû (Isaiah), Yĕhônātān (Jonathan), and so forth. This suggests that the short form of the divine name was pronounced “Yahu/Yaho.”5 To these two forms Yhwh and Yhw, should be added a third, Yh (Yāh), which is found primarily in the liturgical exclamation hallĕlû-yāh (“Praise Yāh”), but also in such biblical texts as Exodus 15:2 (“Yāh is my strength and my song”), Isaiah 12:2 (“Yāh, Yhwh is my strength”), Psalms 68:19 (“You have mounted up the heights . . . to make there your dwellingplace, Yāh, Elōhîm”), and so on. We can also find this combination of Yhwh and Yh outside the Bible, in an inscription probably dating from the end of the eighth century that was discovered at Khirbet Beit Ley,6 a place about 35 kilometers southeast of Jerusalem. Although the beginning of the inscription is difficult to decipher, it is possible to make out the following prayer: “Intervene on our behalf merciful Yhwh; acquit us, Yāh, Yhwh.”7 Both in the Bible and outside it, then, the short form “Yāh” appears, particularly in prayers and hymns. This indicates that Yāh is a liturgical variant of the tetragrammaton that can in certain cases appear together with Yhwh, no doubt because it creates a pleasant alliteration. The two short forms Yahû and Yāh agree in that the vocalization of the first syllable is an “a,” and this makes it likely that this was equally the case for the tetragrammaton Yhwh. There remains then the question of the vocalization of the second syllable in the long form Yhwh and of its relation to the short form Yhw. To answer these questions we must start from the only biblical text that gives a kind of explanation of the divine name. This is the episode of the calling of Moses in Exodus 3. According to this text Moses was called by Yhwh while he was pasturing the herd of his Midianite fatherin-law, who was a priest. Yhwh appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells him to return to Egypt, from where he had fled, and to announce to the Hebrews their liberation and their imminent departure for a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses first objects that he is not in a position to carry out this task, but Yhwh promises him his help (“I am/I will be with you”).8 Then Moses asks about the identity of the god who is speaking to him:



(11) Moses said to God (ʾĕlōhîm): “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (12) He said: “Truly I shall be with you/I am with you (ʾehyeh ῾immāk), and this will be a sign for you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt you will serve God on this mountain.” (13) And Moses said to God: “I shall, then, go to the sons of Israel and shall say to them: the god of your fathers has sent me, and they shall say to me: What is his name? What shall I say to them?” (14) God said to Moses: “I shall be who I shall be/ I am who I am (ʾehyeh ʾašer ʾehyeh). And he said: “You shall speak thus to the sons of Israel: ‘I shall be’ has sent me to you.” (15) God spoke again to Moses: “You shall speak thus to the sons of Israel; the god 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 forever and this is the way one shall invoke me from generation to generation.” (16) “Go assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: Yhwh, the god of your fathers, has appeared to me, the god of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob and he has said: Truly I have been observing you carefully and what has been done to you in Egypt.”

One might wish to follow Martin Buber and understand this “explanation” of the name as a refusal of revelation: “I am who I am” and what that is is none of your business. Nevertheless, in the following verses this explanation seems to be explicitly put into a relation to the name Yhwh. The expression ʾehyeh ʾašer ʾehyeh contains two wordplays. The form ʾehyeh echoes fi rst of all the promise of assistance of verse 12, ʾehyeh ῾immāk. “I shall be” or “I am” refers in the first instance to the god who “is with [Moses]” and promises Moses help. In addition, ʾehyeh almost certainly also refers to the pronunciation of the name Yhwh, which, following up on our observations about the first syllable of this name, will have been pronounced by the author of Exodus 3 as “Yahweh.”




This traditional reconstruction can be found in some Christian Bibles, but also in the scholarly discussion of the god of Israel, and has its foundation primarily in the testimony of certain Fathers of the Church. Clement of Alexandria (vv. 150–220) in referring to the narrative in Exodus 3 writes: “The mystic name of four letters that was unchangeably imposed only on those who had access to the adytum [sanctuary] is called Iaoue, which can be translated as ‘he who is and who will be.’ ”9 In the fourth century Epiphanius of Salamina speaks of Iá and Iabé.10 In the fifth century Theodoret of Cyr, a small village near Antioch, states that the Samaritans call god Iabé and the Jews call him Aiá, which is an allusion to the ʾehyeh of Exodus 3:14.11 Photios, the Patriarch of Constantinople in the ninth century, also attests the pronunciation “Yabe” or “Yahweh.”12 Origen of Alexandria (185–253) in his commentary on Psalm 2 discusses the prohibition on pronouncing the divine name among the Jews, and refers to the name simply as the “tetragrammaton” or sometimes as Iaḗ, which seems to correspond to “Yahweh.”13 Nevertheless, he also knows that in the case of theophoric proper names ending in –yhw, the pronunciation of the divine name was –iaṓ. In his Contra Celsum Origen cites the form Iaṓ as the pronunciation of the Gnostics. Almost all of these testimonia about the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton come from the Christian era. Apart from Exodus 3, the most ancient testimony is probably to be found in the transliterations into Babylonian of theophoric names of Judeans living in Babylon at the end of the sixth century bce.14 These use either ia-a-ḫu-ú, which would correspond to /yahu/, or ia-a-wa, which must indicate a pronunciation of the divine name like “Yahwa,” a form that could become, via the weakening of the a into an é, “Yahweh.” Thus there exist some testimonia that suggest a pronunciation of the tetragrammaton like “Yahweh,” but the majority of sources speak rather in favor of a form like “Yahû” or “Yahô.” The Israelites and Judeans who had been settled since the end of the seventh century or the beginning of the sixth century on the island of Elephantine in Upper Egypt, called their god Yhw, vocalized in proper names as “Yahô.”15 A



text discovered at Qumrân (4QpapLXXLevb) that contains a fragment of the book of Leviticus in Greek (4:26–28) renders the tetragrammaton as Iaṓ: “If anyone transgresses even one of the commandments of Iaṓ and does not follow it . . .” (4:27). In Greek, Iaṓ contains two syllables and is pronounced ia-o, which would correspond to the Hebrew or Aramaic Ya-hô. This shows that at the time when the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek was undertaken, this pronunciation was current and well known. One might equally cite Diodorus of Sicily (first century), who in his Bibliotheke (I.94.2) writes: “They say that . . . among the Jews Moses said he had received laws from the god named Iaṓ.”16 In the same way the pronunciation Yaō is frequently found in magic papyri, documents reflecting a syncretism between the Greek, Egyptian, and Jewish religions, and also in texts of Gnostic forms of Christianity.17 This investigation leads to the conclusion that the ancient pronunciation of the name of the god of Israel was “Yahô,” which amounts to saying that the tetragrammaton was originally a trigrammaton.18 The w in “Yhwh” was not a consonant, but a mater lectionis indicating the sound “o.” The letter h at the end of the tetragrammaton Yhwh should be understood as indicating a lengthening of the preceding o. We shall return to the question of the testimony about the name of Yhwh outside the Bible. For the moment we shall note that the texts from the fifth century stemming from Egypt (Elephantine) mention a god Yahô, thus documenting this short form, the equivalent of Yhw. The most ancient documentation of the long form that we have at the present time is found on the stele of Mesha, a stele of black basalt discovered in 1868 and now in the Louvre. It contains an inscription in the Moabite language dating back to the ninth century and describing the victory of the Moabite king Mesha and his god Chemosh over Omri, the king of Israel, and his god Yhwh. The inscriptions discovered at Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai desert, dating from the eighth century, exhibit both the short form Yhw and also the long form Yhwh, and from the seventh century onward the tetragrammaton is widely attested in extrabiblical inscriptions.19 It seems, then, that the two variants of the name coexisted and that the short form was widely used in theophoric names. Moreover, theophoric



proper names attested in extrabiblical inscriptions show other variations, depending on their geographic origin. The majority of recorded names ending in –yw (transliterated “Yau” in neo-Assyrian documents) come from the north; those ending in –yh (Yāh or Yahû/ô) are mostly from the south.20 Was the divine name pronounced differently in the north and the south? This is possible, but we do not at the moment have sufficient evidence to decide this question. On the other hand, it does seem clear that the original pronunciation of Yhwh was “Yahô” or “Yahû.” Where then does the pronunciation “Yahweh,” which is particularly strongly represented in the texts of the Fathers of the Church, come from? Is it simply a learned speculation that arose from a study of the way god presents himself in Exodus 3:14 (ʾehyeh ʾašer ʾehyeh)? Or, as the learned Jew Theodotion (fi rst or second century) claimed, is this simply the pronunciation current among the Samaritans? Or should we imagine some kind of gradual evolution from “Yahô” toward “Yahweh”? This evolution might be explained by a theological hypothesis that seems to form part of the foundation of the narrative of Exodus 3; this is the attempt to give an account of the meaning of the name Yhwh by reference to the Hebrew root h-y-h, “to be.” The pronunciation “Yahweh” in fact corresponds to the vocalization of a causative form of the third-person singular (masculine) of the root “to be.” “Yahweh,” then, would be “he who causes to be,” that is, he who creates. This speculation may have led some scholars toward the pronunciation “Yahweh.” Nevertheless, this pronunciation is probably of more recent origin than “Yahô” or “Yahû.”


The question of the meaning of the name Yahô/Yahû raises issues that have been the subject of passionate debate. However, it should perhaps be put in perspective.21 Is it really so important, if one wishes to name or invoke a god, to know the etymology of his name? The etymology might have been forgotten, it might be unclear, it might play no important role in the cult worship offered to him, and secondary etymologies might well have been invented. In any case, the name does not neces-



sarily define the “nature” of a divinity. From the point of view of history of religions it is much more important to know what functions people assign to some particular deity than it is to know his name. Whatever the meaning of “Yhwh,” the question has raised any number of hypotheses but there is no single answer that satisfies everyone. We have just seen that the text of Exodus 3 presupposes a link between the divine name and the root h-y-h. Pursuing this observation further, many scholars have tried to explore a possible path from the root “to be” to the name “Yahweh.” In fact we do find names like “Yaḫwi-ilum” (“El is, manifests himself ”),22 “Yaḫwi-Adad (“Adad manifests himself ”),23 and so forth, in Amorite proper names found at Mari, a town on the Euphrates in present-day Syria that was important in the second millennium. Some scholars infer from this that the verbal form “Yaḫwi” must be the origin of the name Yhwh. The fact that in the case of Yhwh (“[He] exists”) the name of the divinity who is claimed to exist is missing, is then taken to prove that from the very beginning the Israelites had a more abstract conception of their god than any of their neighbors did, because they invoked him without giving him a proper name. Th is idea depends heavily on theological considerations and is historically very implausible. Other scholars have started from the “a” in the prefi x of the word “Yahweh,” which indicates, according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, a causative form:24 “he who causes to be,” “he who creates.” So the word would presumably originally have described a certain manifestation of the god El, whose complete name would have been ʾēl yāhweh yiśrā ʾēl: “El gives life to/creates Israel.” There are two problems with this theory: there is no causative form for the verb “to be” (h-y-h) attested in Hebrew, and it is highly implausible that Yhwh was originally the name of a creator-god. Another solution starts from the short form Yāh. The Scandinavian scholar Sigmund Mowinckel thought that the original form of Yhwh would have been “Ya huwa”: “Behold! It is him.” Yāh would thus originally have been a cult exclamation that gradually became a substantive to designate the god invoked.25 However, there are no parallels for this kind of origin of a divine name.



The hypothesis that the name Yhwh comes from a verbal form that is conjugated with a causative prefix remains perfectly plausible. Several suggestions have been made about what root might be behind Yhwh. Some scholars have postulated a link with the Semitic root ḥ-w-y (“destroy”): “he destroys”—Yhwh would then be the god of destruction. Another possible line of argument might be based on the idea—alluded to earlier—that Yhwh originally came from the south, from an Edomite or Arab context. Axel Knauf has made the observation that pre-Islamic Arabs knew of deities whose name was construed as the third-person form of a verb in a prefi x conjugation, such as Yaǵūt (“He helps”) and Ya῾ūq (“He protects”).26 So the tetragrammaton might be connected to the southern Semitic root h-w-y, which has three possible meanings: “to desire,” “to fall,” and “to blow.” The two meanings “desire” and “fall” are found in biblical Hebrew, but “blow” is not documented. It is conceivable that the reason for this is precisely a desire to avoid a form that would be too close to the divine name. As the great biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen noted as early as the end of the nineteenth century, the meaning “blow” would be especially appropriate for a storm god: “Er fährt durch die Lüfte, er weht” (He flies through the air; he blows).27 Given our current state of knowledge, this explanation is probably the most satisfactory, even though it is not totally without difficulties.28 Yhwh, then, would be “he who blows,” he who brings the wind, a god of storms, who might also have certain characteristics of a warrior and a desert god. Th is would accord rather well, as we shall see, with the primitive functions of Yhwh.



What is the origin of the god Yhwh? According to the biblical account, Yhwh appeared to Moses while Moses was leading his father-inlaw’s flocks to pasture, lost his way, and arrived at a “mountain of god” called “Horeb” (Exod. 3), or alternatively, when Moses found himself again in Egypt (Exod. 6). Both of these narratives assert, then, that the relation between Yhwh and Israel had not existed from the beginning, but was instead the result of a certain encounter. The two different biblical accounts of the commissioning of Moses by the god Yhwh both locate this event outside the land of Israel, either in Egypt or in a region located between Egypt and Judea, which we shall have to try to specify more clearly in what follows. The idea that the god Yhwh has a non-Israelite origin has become the established consensus in scholarly circles, and archaeological discoveries in the Levant and Mesopotamia in the nineteenth century and especially in the twentieth century have suggested a variety of hypotheses about this origin. Many of these hypotheses are based on texts containing names that some have thought could be linked to that of Yhwh. The various envisaged parallels would lead us particularly to Ebla, Ugarit, Mari, Egypt, the region of the Sinai, and the south of the Negev as possible places of origin of Yhwh.




Ebla was an important site in Syria from the third millennium onward, and occupied a position of some geostrategic significance because it lay on a pass over a hill controlling access to the Mediterranean. Excavations conducted by Italian archaeologists have revealed archives comprising more than 17,000 clay tablets written in Sumerian and also in Eblaite, the local dialect, which was written in the cuneiform script. These documents concern especially the fi fteenth and fourteenth centuries, and texts contain a number of personal names ending in –ya, which Giovanni Pettinato, one of the leading experts on Eblaite, construed as a short form of the name Yhwh.1 This interpretation, however, has not found much favor with other scholars because the syllable –ya is either a hypocoristic ending (that is, a diminutive) or it is a way of making a name general, as in ili (“my god”).2 No god Yhwh, moreover, appears in any of the lists of gods to whom sacrifice is offered. So there was no god Yhwh at Ebla.


Ugarit is located in present-day Syria near the town of Lattaque; it was a prosperous city-state during the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries. Systematic excavations since the 1930s have brought to light an impressive number of documents relating to administration, religious practice, and myths. Some of these are in Ugaritic, a Semitic language written in an alphabet derived from cuneiform characters. In one of the mythological texts there is a passage that seems to describe a banquet given by the god El.3 Only fragments of the original text exist, but one phrase seems to mean something like: “the name of my son, YW—goddess/god(s).” Some have interpreted this as a shortened form of the name of the god of Israel. On this reading, the god El would be saying: “The name of my son (is) Yhwh.” If this were correct, there could be a connection between this fragment and the original version of a verse from Deuteronomy where Yhwh seems to be conceived as being the son of one of the Canaanite gods, El. The Masoretic Hebrew text (Deut. 32:8), on which most modern



Bibles are based, reads: “When the Most High gave to the nations their patrimony, he fi xed the territory of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel. The hereditary portion of Yhwh is his people; Jacob is the portion that falls to him.” In contrast, the original text, which can be reconstructed on the basis of the Greek version and a fragment from Qumran, reads: “When Elyon (the Most High) portioned out the nations as a legacy, when he divided mankind, he fi xed the territories of the peoples according to the number of the sons of god (El). And the portion of Yhwh is his people, Jacob is the part which falls to him.” According to this text Yhwh is understood as the son of El, and this might also be the case in the fragment from Ugarit. We cannot therefore defi nitively exclude a link between Yw in the Ugaritic text and Yhwh, which would suggest that in the thirteenth or twelfth centuries Yhwh might have been known in Ugarit and (marginally) integrated into the Ugaritic pantheon. However, this passage is too fragmentary and unclear to support the thesis that there was worship of a god Yhwh in Ugarit or even that Yhwh’s origins were in Ugarit. André Caquot, who prepared the French edition of the text, has suggested a link between this Yh and the god Ieuô, who, according to Porphyry of Tyre (234–ca. 305 of the Christian Era), had been an archaic god worshipped in Beirut. Eusebius (ca. 265–339 of the Christian Era), bishop of Caesarea, cites Porphyry in his Praeparatio evangelica (I.9): “Sanchoniaton of Beirut composed a history of the Jews that has all the hallmarks of veracity and gets all their names and localities right. On these topics he had received memoranda from Hierombale, priest of the god Ieuô.” The same passage (I.10) states that the city of Beirut belonged to Poseidon. From this Caquot concludes that YW is an allographic form, that is, a variant, designating Yam, god of the Sea in the Levantine pantheon. The fact that Ym is mentioned in the Ugaritic text one line later seems to add some support to this hypothesis.4 If this is correct, one might go further and say that the passage KTU 1.1.iv describes a banquet presided over by El during which he proclaims his son Yam king, giving him the name YW. Perhaps, however, there is an even simpler solution, which is that what we have here is just a scribal error, Yw instead of Ym. Those errors occur as frequently in the copying of Ugaritic texts as in other cases.




Mari (Tell Hariri) was an important city in the third and especially the second millennium. Located on the Euphrates near the present border between Syria and Iraq, it has revealed to archaeologists a magnificent palace and an abundance of documents. Because the discovered documents contain references to proper names like “Yaḫwi-ilum,” some scholars have come to believe that the god Yhwh was worshipped at Mari.5 However, these names, derived from a root signifying “to manifest oneself,” cannot be linked with Yhwh, because they contain no name of a divinity, merely a verbal form signifying “He manifests himself.”


In an Egyptian papyrus dating from 1330–1230 there is a proper name that might be thought to contain an abbreviated form of Yhwh, namely Yah.6 This name could be a transcription of a Canaanite proper name ʾadōnī-rō῾ē-yāh (“My lord is the shepherd of Yah”). Th is theophoric name, however, is composed of three elements, contrary to the norm of only two elements. One could therefore think of another interpretation: that “Yah” is being used as a toponym. This would perhaps make it possible to link this name with the famous Shasu nomads, who are mentioned in Egyptian texts and are sometimes brought into connection with the term Yhw. The word šзsw may derive from an Egyptian word for “wander,” “to go, pass by.” In an inscription of Amenophis III of Soleb in the Sudan (ca. 1370) there is a list containing various mentions of these nomads with a specification of their territory; among these appears “The country—of the Shasu—Yhw(h)” or “Yhw(h) in the country of the Shasu.” The same designation occurs in another place in Soleb, and also in a list inscribed in the hall of the temple of Ramses II at West Amara (also in the Sudan).7 In these texts Yhwʒ seems to be a geographic term (referring to a mountain?) and perhaps also a divine name. The explanation of this duality might be that the god of a certain place could come to be identified with that place and thus take its name from that place. In the lists



mentioned above, the territories of the Shasu are located particularly in the Negev, that is, in the south, but according to other inscriptions there were also Shasu further north in the Levant, as far as Qatna in the territory that is now Syria. Following Manfred Weippert, we might take the first place-name in the list “Seir” to be a name referring in general to all the territory in which the specific places mentioned later in the list are located.8 This would add further weight to the fact that the oldest attested occurrences of Yhwh are from the south of Palestine, the territory of Edom and Araba. The papyrus Anastasi VI, which mentions the Shasu of Edom, whom the pharaoh Merneptah authorized to sojourn in Egypt with their herds, confirms this localization: “We have finished letting the Shasu tribes of Edom pass the Fortress of Merneptah . . . which is in Tjeku, reaching as far as the pools of Pitom of Merneptah . . . which are in Tjeku to keep them alive and to keep their cattle alive through the great ka of Pharaoh.”9 To this we can add the Papyrus Harris  I (from the era of Ramses IV, about 1150) in which the pharaoh boasts: “I destroyed the people of Seir among the Shasu tribes. I razed their tents: their people, their property, and their cattle as well, without number; they were pinioned and carried away in captivity, as the tribute of Egypt.”10 An iconographic attestation of the Shasu can be found in a damaged relief in the temple of Amon at Karnak that represents the Palestinian campaigns of Seti I (1290–1280). The Shasu are recognizable by their goatees and their hair held back by a hairband. Th is military excursion of the Egyptian king against the Shasu confirms their importance. They seem to have been involved in the mining of copper in the area around Araba, which had become the center of this industry as a result of Egyptian expeditions into the area. Full excavations and surveys in the valley of Timna, about thirty kilometers north of Eilat, have revealed evidence of the extraction and smelting of copper in furnaces. Th is mining activity in the valley of Timna was at its apogee in the fourteenth to twelft h centuries. Another place, Punon (Feinan in Jordan), which is mentioned in the book of Numbers (33:26) and has been linked with the Shasu in the list of West Amara, is also located in this area. So the archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic evidence all place the Shasu in the territory of Edom or Seir, and in Araba at the time of



the transition from the Late Bronze to the Iron Age. And among these Shasu there might have been a group whose tutelary god was called “Yhw.” One can combine all this evidence with a biblical tradition that represents Yhwh as a god coming “from the south.”


There are four poetical texts in the Hebrew Bible that ascribe to Yhwh a “southern” origin. First in Deuteronomy in a psalm attributed to Moses: He said: “Yhwh came from Sinai, for them11 he shone forth from Seir, he was resplendent from Mount Parān; he arrived at Meribat of Qadesh;12 from his south toward the slopes,13 for them. (Deut. 33:2)

Then in the book of Judges in a song celebrating a military victory of the tribes of Yhwh: (4) Yhwh, when you came forth out of Seir, when you advanced from the land of Edom, the earth trembled, the sky quaked, the clouds poured down water; (5) the mountains fled before Yhwh—this Sinai, before Yhwh, the god of Israel. (Judg. 5:4–5)

A very similar affirmation is to be found in Psalm 68 (vv. 8–9 and 18): (8) Oh God, when you came forth at the head of your people, when you advanced over the arid land—pause—(9) the earth trembled, yes, the sky quaked before God—this Sinai—before God, the god of Israel. (18) The chariots of God are counted by twenties of thousands, by thousands and by thousands; Yhwh is with them, the (= he who is?) Sinai14 is in the sanctuary.

Finally, chapter 3 of the book attributed to Habakkuk (3:3 and 3:10a) contains a poetic text that takes up similar ideas:



(3) God comes from Teman, the Holy One comes from mount Pārān. Pause. His splendor covers the sky, his praise fills the earth. (10a) The mountains see you and tremble.

These four texts are linked by the presence of the same themes and the same affirmation that the god Yhwh comes “from the south,” even if they differ slightly in details. All of these passages are to be found in poetic contexts: Judges 5:4–5 is the opening of the canticle of Deborah, a song of war or victory; Deuteronomy 33:2 is part of a psalm that records the blessings of Moses on the tribes of Israel before his death; Psalm 68 is a hymn celebrating divine intervention in a war; and Habakkuk 3 is also a psalm about war. The texts of Judges 5 and of Psalm 68 are especially close to each other, as one can see from this synopsis: Judg. 5:4–5

Ps. 68:8–9

Yhwh, when you came out of Seir, when you advanced from the land of Edom, the earth trembled, the sky quaked, the clouds poured down water; the mountains fled before Yhwh—this Sinai—before Yhwh, the god of Israel

O God, when you came forth at the head of your people, when you advanced over the arid land— pause—the earth trembled, yes, the sky quaked before God—this Sinai—before God, the god of Israel.

The most obvious difference between the two passages lies in the fact that the tetragrammaton Yhwh does not appear in Psalm 68. The reason for this is that Psalm 68 is a part of a larger literary context, which is called “the Elohistic Psalter” (Pss. 42–83). At some point in the course of a series of reworkings of these psalms, the editors gradually began replacing the name Yhwh with ʾĕlōhîm (God), either in the interests of universalism or to avoid having to pronounce the tetragrammaton during the recitation of these psalms.15 Psalm 68 still retains traces of this replacement at the end of verse 9, where the Hebrew text as we have it repeats “Elohim, Elohim of Israel,” which makes no sense. It is clear that this originally read: “Yhwh, the god of Israel.”



If we put the name Yhwh back into Psalm 68 in place of “Elohim,” the two texts are in large part identical. Moreover, the tetragrammaton has in fact been retained in other places in the psalm. In both texts Yhwh “comes out” to engage in battle with his enemies. In both of them the author first addresses Yhwh in the second person, then speaks about him in the third person. We fi nd in both texts the same upheaval of the heavens and the earth brought about by his manifestation as a war god. There is also the same way of referring to Yhwh by putting his name in apposition to the strange phrase zeh sînay. We shall return later to the meaning of this expression. The most important difference between the two passages is that the text of the book of Judges describes Yhwh as coming out of Seir/Edom, whereas Psalm 68 refers to a location described as yĕšîmôn, which is a quite rare word meaning something like “arid place.” Is this an allusion to the tradition of a sojourn of Israel in the desert, as one of the commentators on the book of Judges, Walter Gross, suggests?16 If this were the case, it is still not clear why the author did not choose the more common word for desert, midbār, which immediately evokes that tradition. Perhaps he wanted to put the emphasis rather on the function of this advent of the god, who crosses the desert and in doing so brings rain and fertility. Or perhaps it is simply a reference to a specific region that we cannot identify. How can we explain these parallels? Do the two texts depend on a common source, or does one follow and rework the other? In fact, it is not necessary to postulate a common source. Both the similarities and the differences can easily be explained by the hypothesis that the passage at Judges 5 contains the older version of the text, which is taken over and reworked by the author of Psalm 68. The latter adds at various places some allusions to other passages from the Song of Deborah. Thus Psalm 68:13–14 (“Would you linger in the camp?”) refers to Judges 5:16 (“Why did you remain with the baggage?”). The celestial army mentioned in Psalm 68:12 evokes the combat of the stars in Judges 5:20. Judges 5, in any case, is at least in its primitive form often considered to be one of the oldest texts in the Hebrew Bible.




The Song of Deborah celebrates the murder of the Canaanite general Sisera by Yael, the wife of one of his allies. Sisera had taken refuge with this ally after having been defeated by the armies of Israel led by Barak and was then killed by Yael. Many experts today consider this text to be particularly archaic, with origins in the period even before the institution of the Israelite monarchy. Others, however, claim that it is a late text, composed on the basis of the narration of this episode in the previous chapter (Judg. 4) in order to give that narration a poetic conclusion. So the current dating of the song in Judges 5 varies from the twelfth century to the Hellenistic era.17 It is extremely difficult to know whether the text refers to a real historical event or whether, as some have suggested, it is rather a mythological text.18 In Hebrew “Deborah” means “bee,” “Barak” means “thunderbolt,” and “Yael” means “goat.” This suggests parallels with Greek mythology, in which Melissa (the bee) nourishes the young Zeus and Amalthea (the goat) gives him milk. In Judges 5 Yael gives milk to the Canaanite general Sisera, in order to lull him to sleep and kill him. These similarities are certainly interesting, but they do not really provide a guide to interpreting the text of Judges 5. The Hebrew of this text presents many difficulties; it is either archaic or consciously archaizing. It contains verbal forms that do not correspond at all to standard Hebrew. It also contains terms that seem to be of Aramaic origin and can be interpreted in two completely different ways. The grammatical differences between certain passages of the poem and other passages indicate that there were several stages in its composition and its final revision. For instance, it is easy to see that verses 2 and 9–11 are interpolations, because verses 6–8 and 12–14 form a natural sequence connected by the reference to the distress of Israel and the call to arms. Similarly, in the description of the different tribes that are involved in the war, verses 15–18 seem to be interpolated, because the phrase about Zebulon in verse 14 finds its natural successor in verse 18.19 It is also possible that the hymn about the theophany in Judges 5:4–6 was originally an independent text, as it plainly interrupts the



exhortation to praise god in verse 3 and the description of the difficult situation in verse 6. This hymn might represent an older tradition that an editor has tried retrospectively to integrate into this song after it had been composed. One can compare the text of Judges 5 to a patchwork composed of different elements.


In Judges 5:4 Yhwh comes from the territory of Edom, which is put in parallel to Seir. The Hebrew word śēʿir means “hairy,” and when it is used as a geographic term it refers to the interior of the territory of Edom, which was forested. More particularly, Seir refers to the mountain that extends from Wadi el Ḥesa (the Zered of the Bible), marking the border with Moab, down to the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat), whereas “Edom” itself may designate a much larger territory covering a large part of the area south of the Negev. However, in the Bible the names “Edom” and “Seir” are often used as synonyms. According to Judges 5, Sinai is also considered part of this territory, because Yhwh, as we have seen in Psalm 68, is put in apposition to zeh sînay. A literal translation of this formula would be: “Yhwh, that is Sinai.” Sinai would be another name for Yhwh. It is conceivable that Yhwh originally was a place-name, the name of a mountain, and by extension, then, the name of the god that lives there. But the word Sinai, the significance of which remains obscure, has no etymological connection to Yhwh, so one would have to imagine two different mountains that came to be identified at some point. This, however, would make matters very complicated, and so speaks against this suggestion. A better proposal is to take zeh here on analogy with the determinative pronoun ḏ in Ugaritic and the Arab languages. Then we could translate zeh sînai as “he of Sinai.” Yhwh would be the divinity of Sinai in parallel to the Nabatean god Ḏū eš-Šarā (Dushara): “he of (Mount) Shara [one of the mountains near Petra].” This is the principal deity of the Nabateans who was worshipped first in the form of a betyle, a holy stone, and then, under Hellenistic influence, represented as a young god



with long hair (like Dionysus) or as an aged and bearded god—who was sometimes identified as Zeus-Adad, but sometimes also as a solar deity or as Dionysus. This identification shows his different functions: when he is conceived as the tutelary god of the Nabateans, Dushara is Zeus or a solar god; when he is invoked as the guarantor of fertility, he is Hadad (god of storms in ancient Mesopotamia and Syria); when he is patron of thiases (revels associated with the drinking of wine), he is Dionysus. Taking the parallel seriously, then, the expression “he of Sinai” would be a epithet used of Yhwh, who, as we shall see, just like Dushara, could have a number of different names over the centuries and also a number of different functions. The original location of Mount Sinai remains a mystery. One has the impression that the authors of the Bible themselves did not have a very clear idea about this. The hymn in Judges 5:4–5 seems to imagine it as located somewhere in Edom, not in the Sinai Peninsula, where later tradition places the mountain on which Yhwh revealed himself. The text of Deuteronomy 33:2 also places Mount Parân in parallel with Seir: “he shone forth from Seir, he was resplendent from Mount Parān; he arrived at Meribat of Qadesh, from his south toward the slopes, for them.” The word Parān is used in the Hebrew Bible in different contexts, and its precise localization is impossible. Today there is a Naḥal Parān in Araba. It is an “oued” (a riverbed, generally dry). The modern name comes from the biblical name Parān, which in most texts refers to a desert, but in the two texts in Deuteronomy and in Habakkuk it designates a mountain. According to Genesis 21:21, Ishmael went to live in the desert of Parān, which, in the geographic context of the narrative, must lie somewhere in the direction of Egypt, because his mother Hagar has him marry an Egyptian woman. In Numbers 13 the desert of Parān seems to be located near the oasis of Qadesh. In other biblical texts, it seems to apply to a very large territory encompassing the whole of the Negev. In 1 Kings 11:18 we find an account of the fl ight into Egypt of Hadad, an Edomite adversary of King Solomon (“Leaving Midian, they went to Parân, took with them men of Parān and arrived in Egypt at the court of the Pharaoh”). Parān here designates a stopping place on the way from Midian to Egypt. Th is place might be



the oasis Wadi Feran, which is on the way from Seir in the direction of Egypt. However, the odd expression Mount Parān, which is nowhere attested in the Bible except in the two parallel texts of Deuteronomy 33 and Habakkuk 3, indicates that what we have here is probably a learned speculation about the location of Sinai and not a trace of an ancient tradition. The mention of Qadesh shows that the description in Deuteronomy 33:2 can be dated to the period of the monarchy, because Qadesh can be identified with the oasis En el-qederat, a fortified site that was occupied during three phases extending from the tenth century to the sixth. If this is right, then perhaps the author of Deuteronomy 33 reworked the passages in Judges 5 and Psalm 68, reinterpreting them in light of the idea that the mountain of Yhwh must be located somewhere on the Sinai Peninsula between Egypt and the Negev. The text of Habakkuk 3:3 locates the origin of Yhwh in Parān, but without mentioning Sinai. “God comes from Temān, the Holy One comes from mount Parān. Pause. His radiance covers the sky, his praise fills the earth.”20 Here mount Parān is placed in parallel to Temān. The word “Temān” is attested in Genesis 36 as the name of a person or a clan in the genealogy of Edom. In other biblical texts it seems to designate a locality or territory in Edom or is even used as a parallel expression for Edom (Jer. 49:7, 20; Ezek. 25:13; Amos 11:11–12; Obad. 8–9). Outside the Bible an inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud (to which we shall return) mentions in addition to the Yhwh of Samaria a Yhwh of Temān, which might simply mean “the South.” The word temān (from the root y-m-n) in the first instance simply means “south” in general, then “the South” as the designation of a particular geographic area (“the land of the south”). In Habakkuk 3, “Temān” may refer to the south in general, or to the Negev, or—compare Judges 5, Genesis 36, and other texts—to the territory of the Edomites.21 Because the localization of Parân is not clear either, there seems no choice but simply to accept the view that Yhwh is represented as coming from the “south.” We can summarize the conclusions to be drawn from these four texts about the provenance of Yhwh as follows: with the possible exception of Deuteronomy 33 (“possible” because this text is itself unclear), Yhwh



is taken to be “located” in the south, in the territory of the Edomites, or, more generally, in a territory situated southeast of Judah. It is very possible that these four poetic passages reflect an old tradition according to which Yhwh is a divinity associated with a mountain in the desert, to the east or to the west of Araba. Th is theory has been strongly contested by Henrik Pfeiffer, who holds that the four passages under discussion all date to a later period and that they presuppose the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 587.22 He claims that these texts were created in order to soften the blow of the loss of the sanctuary of Yhwh in Jerusalem by transferring him outside the land of Judah, into the desert in “enemy” territory. However, the idea that these poetic texts, which are also grammatically exceedingly difficult, are a deliberate theological invention by editors in the Babylonian or Persian era seems anachronistic. It is more probable that they retain the ancient memory trace of a Yhwh localized in the “south.”23


In Judges 5, Psalm 68, and also to some extent in Habakkuk 3 (which prophesies a universal judgment of all the inhabitants of the earth), the theophany is integrated into a context of war. Yhwh appears in the first instance as a warrior god who intervenes in favor of his people. At the same time, these texts deploy a vocabulary that evokes the activities of a storm god or a god of fertility, like the Syrian god Hadad. Habakkuk 3 seems, among other things, to allude to a combat between the storm god, on the one hand, and the sea and its acolytes, on the other, the kind of battle attested in Ugaritic texts describing the combat of Baal and Yam, personification of the sea: “Is Yhwh angry with the rivers? Your wrath is it against the rivers, your fury is it against the sea, when you mount on your horses, on your victorious chariots?” (Hab. 3:8). In Judges 5, Psalm 68, and Habakkuk 3:10, the coming of Yhwh is accompanied by tremors of the earth and the collapse of mountains, phenomena typical of the theophany of a storm god: “The earth shook, even the sky quaked, the clouds dripped with water; the mountains fled before Yhwh” (Judg. 5:4–6); “The earth trembled, yes the sky quaked before



God” (Ps. 68:8); “The mountains see you and tremble” (Hab. 3:10a). In a hymn to Hadad (from about 1780) the sky trembles and the mountains collapse: “Hadad, the heroic son of Anum, to whom the great gods have granted preeminently the exercise of force: a powerful roaring that makes the sky and the earth tremble; with his head held high; and the intensity of his frightening lightning flashes causes violent rain.”24 The idea of the divinity appearing in splendor is also expressed using the same root (z-r-ḥ) as Deuteronomy 33:2 does, found in an inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud, which was perhaps a former fortress of the kingdom of Judah or more likely a caravansary. This inscription seems to describe a theophany in a context of war and with an accompanying collapse of mountains. Causing rain to drop down from clouds (Judg. 5 and Ps. 68) on to the arid land (Ps. 68) is a major attribute of a storm god. From this discussion we can deduce that these texts emphasize two aspects of Yhwh: he is a warrior god and a storm god. So it is understandable that such a god would be worshipped by groups living in arid regions and finding themselves frequently in military conflict with other groups or with the power of Egypt.


If Yhwh is a god of the south, it is possible that he also had the characteristics of a god of the steppes. Some seals in the form of scarabs found in the Negev and in Judea show variants of the iconographic motif of the “Master of the Animals.” There is little doubt that they are to be linked with such a god of the steppes. Dating for the most part from the eleventh and tenth centuries, they depict a person, probably a deity, who is taming or in some way controlling ostriches.25 Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger suggest that this might be Yhwh.26 If this identification were to be proved correct, that would indicate that Yhwh was worshipped also as a god of the steppes and arid regions. Can we then go further and link Yhwh with the Egyptian god Seth? During the second millennium the worship of this god spread from Egypt toward the south of the Levant. He had always been a god of limits and boundaries, dwelling in the mountains, deserts, and oases. Seth was



an aggressive god, a god of war, and particularly the enemy of Osiris and his son Horus. He thus symbolizes disorder, chaos, the state opposed to the condition of mзʿt (the ordered society and an ordered world), but he was also the companion and protector of the sun god. A widespread iconographic motif shows Seth opposing the serpent Apophis and allowing the bark of the sun god to take its course. In this role he bears the name “the beloved of Rē.” A link between the sun god and Seth also appears in the narrative of Wenamun, a legend from the beginning of the first millennium telling the story of the voyage of a high functionary to Byblos. Upon his arrival the Prince of Byblos says to him: “Amon thunders in heaven, after installing Seth at his side.”27 This close association between the sun god and a god of war and of storms is also to be found, as we shall see later, in Jerusalem when Yhwh makes his entry to take up residence there. Seth, like Yhwh, is a god who has no children,28 although he is associated with the goddess Nephtys (goddess of the dead). Nevertheless Seth is praised and invoked for his great sexual prowess; later he is linked with foreign goddesses such as Anat and Astarte. Seth then became for the Egyptians the god of the world outside Egypt and the tutelary god of Egyptians who found themselves abroad. The Egyptians also identified with Seth certain gods of the peoples of the Levant (Baal, Teshoub), and one can also easily imagine an identification of Seth with Yhwh. Th is is attested in some late anti-Jewish texts from the Hellenistic period.29 A careful analysis of an Egyptian document that has not yet been published points to an even older rapprochement between Seth and Yhwh. The papyrus in question—Louvre E 32847, which is a medical text—mentions a foreign god who dwells on “Mount Laban” in a region called Oûan (“the country of the juniper of Lebanon or the red juniper”), which one can identify as Edom because that is the only place in Palestine where this plant grows.30 An Egyptian text from the eighteenth dynasty that lists the places occupied by the Shasu nomads (who have already been discussed) mentions a “country of the Shasu and of Laban.” So there seems to be a connection between these nomads and “Laban,” which in this context functions as a geographic term. Is it, then, possible to connect Yhwh and this foreign god? This deity is represented in



the papyrus as particularly violent and is identified using the terms Egyptians used for designating the god Babi/Baba (an ape god). Babi, however, was a form of Seth and then finally of the god Thot. It is hard to decide whether this violent deity without a name might possibly be Yhwh, but it is interesting to note the connection made in this document between Laban and Edom, a connection that is also made in the biblical story of Jacob (Israel), who is the brother of Esau (Edom) and the nephew of Laban. These possible links between Seth and Yhwh31 all converge in a way that underlines the “southern” origin of Yhwh, his status as a warrior god, and his provenance from the steppes.



According to the narrative in Exodus 3, Moses first encounters Yhwh during a sojourn among the Midianites, with whom he has taken refuge to escape the wrath of the pharaoh after killing an Egyptian overseer. Yhwh reveals himself to Moses while Moses is working as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro (who appears elsewhere in the Bible under other names), and according to Exodus 18 this same Jethro visits Moses just before the great manifestation of Yhwh on Mount Sinai. It is unlikely that this link between Moses and the Midianites is the complete invention of a later age. It is hard to see how at a time when “mixed” marriages between Jews and non-Jews had become problematic, someone would have invented a Midianite wife for Moses. This wife is even said to have saved him from a murderous attack by Yhwh, a story that is extremely obscure and is placed in the text after the call of Moses (Exod. 4:24–26). Nevertheless, this Midianite wife clearly made the editors of the biblical text uncomfortable. Exodus 18 suggests that she did not go with Moses into Egypt, but stayed in Midian (contrary to what is assumed in the narrative of Exodus 4). According to Exodus 18:2 she was sent back (“Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, took Zipporah, the wife of Moses who had been sent back to him”), and after the visit of Jethro she disappears with him. Then Numbers 12 mentions another



(a new) wife of Moses, a Cushite woman. To have any chance of clarifying these paradoxes, we need first of all to ask who Moses was.


According to the biblical narrative, Moses has a dual identity: raised at the court of Egypt, he nevertheless feels solidarity with his Hebrew brothers. We shall not discuss in detail the thorny question of the historicity of Moses. As the Egyptologist Jan Assmann has correctly emphasized: “Moses is a figure of tradition, of whom, however, there are no historical traces.”1 Outside the Bible we have no explicit mention of the man Moses in any ancient Egyptian or other texts, which is what has given rise to the donnish witticism that the only thing we know about the historical Moses is that he died. What we do have is his name, which is of Egyptian origin. It is a transcription into Hebrew of the Egyptian root msj (“to engender, to beget”), which one fi nds, for instance, in the name Ramses (“Ra has begot him” or “child of Ra”). During the second millennium and the first half of the first millennium, Egyptian names were as popular in SyriaPalestine as first names deriving from U.S. pop stars are now. Nevertheless, a philological detail might indicate that the name of the biblical Moses is older than the texts in which he figures. The Egyptian consonant “s” in the name “Moses” is rendered in Hebrew with the letter šin, whereas in texts of the fi rst millennium this sound is normally expressed by the Hebrew letter sāmek. The name Moses thus takes us perhaps back to the second millennium. In the biblical tale Moses appears as a Hebrew occupying a high social status at the Egyptian court. This corresponds to the fact that Egyptian texts mention several cases of “Asiatics” (ʿзmw) who had successful careers in Egypt, often attaining high office.2 Toward the end of the nineteenth dynasty a Canaanite instigated a revolt of Asiatics in the town of Pi-Ramses. He was a high bureaucrat who had a double name: the Semitic name “Beya” and the Egyptian name Ra-mses-khe-emneterow (“Ramses is the manifestation of the gods”?). Note that the element “moses” (m-s-s) is a constituent of this name. This Beya makes



his first appearance in the documents in the reign of Sethi  II (1203– 1197). After the death of this king, with the consent of the queen mother Taoseret, who was also a Canaanite, Beya proclaimed the child Siptah, pharaoh, but reigned himself in the infant’s place. The close relation between Moses and the Egyptian court described in Exodus 2  may well be a reflection of this situation. In a papyrus dating to the reign of Ramses  III (1188–1157), this period of the prominence of Beya is described as anarchic and decadent: “Egypt belonged to princes and magistrates. People killed each other, the highly placed and the low . . . A Syrian, a parvenu (?),3 had become prince and wanted to subject the whole country to himself . . . They despoiled the inhabitants and treated the gods as if they were human beings.”4 When the infant Siptah died (recall that in the biblical narrative of the exodus the tenth plague causes the death of the firstborn son of the pharaoh), Beya tried to invest Taoseret as reigning queen and a civil war broke out. It seems that Beya was supported by some Asiatics, members of the military, and by people doing forced labor in the delta of the Nile. According to an inscription of Pharaoh Sethnakth that was found at Elephantine, Beya hired Canaanite and Egyptian mercenaries (which the Egyptian texts call ̒ apiru, a term that might be related to the word “Hebrew”). He is said to have taken control of Egyptian silver and gold to finance his revolt (in Exodus 11:2 and two other texts there is mention of the silver and gold the Israelites take with them when they leave Egypt). Apparently Sethnakth succeeded in driving out Beya and his troops, without, however, being able to take them into custody. However, according to a newly published document, it seems that Chancellor Beya was executed in Egypt, which would make any identification with Moses arbitrary, despite a certain number of common motifs in the stories.5 Another possible candidate makes his appearance under Ramses II: a Semite originally from Transjordan who held the important post of “Carver Esquire” (who cut up the royal meat), and whose name was BenOzen. He also had an Egyptian name containing the component “m-s-s.” He intervened as a mediator in a confl ict between some groups of Shasu who were performing forced labor and their Egyptian overseers. This might bring to mind the episode in Exodus 2 where Moses comes to the defense of the Hebrew slave.



However, none of the possible candidates could really provide a model for all aspects of the biblical Moses, who must rather be understood as a “construct” in which memory traces of various different historical events and figures are combined. In Exodus 2, the flight of Moses from Egypt begins with the episode in which he kills the Egyptian overseer; this reverses the common Egyptian iconographic motif, which presents the pharaoh or a high Egyptian officer as striking down an enemy. The author of the biblical tale certainly knew this convention and reversed it; by doing so he affirmed the authority of Moses vis-à-vis the power of Egypt. The narrative of the flight and the reception among the Midianites is fashioned with great artifice in the manner of a romance, and it is very difficult to reconstruct any historical event that might lie behind this treatment. It is perhaps based on a historical recollection of the importance of the Midianites and of some kind of close contact between them and Moses.


Before taking up again the narrative of Exodus about Moses and the Midianites, it makes sense to look at the archaeological and geographic information we have about these latter. To start with, we know very little about them apart from what is presented in the Bible. The meaning of the name “Midian” is not clear. Wolfram von Sodem, followed by Ernst Axel Knauf, suggests that it is a substantive form of the root m-d-y, “extend,”6 so that “Midian” would be “the extended (territory)” and the name would allude to the fact that this territory is composed of extended valleys. In the Hebrew Bible, 1 Kings 11 mentions a country of Midian: (17) Thus it was that Hadad took flight with the Edomite servants of his father in order to get to Egypt. Hadad was still a young man. When they left Midian, they went to Paran; they took men of Paran with them and arrived in Egypt at the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who gave him a house, ensured his maintenance, and gave him land.



According to this text, the land of Midian was south of Edom on the way that leads from Edom to Egypt passing through Wadi Feran. GrecoRoman and Arab geographers knew a town named “Midama Madyan” to the east of the Gulf of Aqaba, which can be identified with al-Bad in the Wadi A ̒ fal. The land of Midian, then, could have been the region centered on this town. This region was traversed in antiquity by two important commercial routes. The first starts at Aqaba, passes through the oasis of Wadi A ̒ fal (al-Bad) and runs along the coast. Along the whole course of this route there are archaeological remains dating from the thirteenth century up to the Nabatean period (that is, the Roman era). The second route crosses the Ḥismā following two tracks, one farther west and the other farther east via Tabuk. The use of these routes across the Ḥismā presupposes the domestication of the camel. Wadi Sadr probably marks the southern frontier of the land of Midian. In addition to al-Bad, Wadi Šarma constitutes a second center where Midianites were present in great numbers; this can be deduced from the pottery found there. Midianite pottery has also been discovered at al- Qurayya in the Ḥismā. The Midianites were “nomadic peasants” who also succeeded in domesticating the camel; they combined agriculture and stock raising. They seem to have lived in a confederation or a series of confederations, where subgroups who were more nomadic coexisted with subgroups who were more sedentary. It seems that the camel was first domesticated in southeast Arabia in the third millennium. It was an animal especially suited to carrying heavy burdens, which made long journeys with it possible, and it also furnished meat, milk, and camel hair. In the second millennium the know-how needed for successful camel raising spread as far as Babylon and into western Arabia; toward the end of the second millennium it even gradually reached the Levant. In the first millennium the region of Midian was known for its camel raising. This characteristic is mentioned in one of the latest parts of the book of Isaiah, where we find this message of salvation: “You shall be covered with great herds of camels and dromedaries of Midian and of Ephah” (Isa. 60:6). Job, according to the narrator of the biblical book with the same name, lived not far from Midian and practiced both agriculture and camel raising.






Shechem Amman

Gezer Gaza Hebron Beersheba Pi-Ramesses

Arad Fenan




Kuntillet Ajrud Geziret-Faraun


Tabuk Al-Bad


The Midianites and the Negev

At the end of the second millennium the Midianites already had a commercialized form of ceramics production, traces of which have been found as far afield as the Levant. There is a particular type of pottery that can be distinguished from Edomite-style ceramics and that is found primarily, although not exclusively, in “Midian.” This type of pottery, which can be dated to the period of the thirteenth through the eleventh century, included pieces decorated with representations of camels, human figures, and ostriches. Camels and ostriches shared with nomads a harsh and difficult life; the ostrich was highly esteemed because of its speed, its highly useful feathers, and its much-prized meat. The Midianites, like the Shasu (among whom the Midianites were probably counted by the Egyptians), were perhaps also involved in mining (gold and copper) at Timna (el-Mene̒ iye) under Egyptian control. What may have been a “Midianite” holy place has been discovered on the site of what was an Egyptian sanctuary dedicated to Hathor, the celestial cow who each day gives birth to the god of the sky and his son, Horus. The later occupants of this site seem to have tried to erase the



Egyptian hieroglyphs and to have turned the sanctuary into a kind of tent, because traces of colored textiles, folded around the east and west walls of the sanctuary, have been found. The later occupants also put maṣṣebôt (cultic stones) inside the sanctuary as well as a basin for water— a form of furnishing that recalls the “tent of meeting” in the book of Exodus, which Moses enters to receive oracular responses from God. In the inner chamber the excavators found a small serpent (12 centimeters long) with a gilded head and an ithyphallic figure. This would have been an offering placed before a statue or stele that has disappeared. Their advanced skill in domesticating camels suggests that the Midianites were involved in commerce, and the wide area within which Midianite ceramic wares have been found also supports this conclusion. In the Hebrew Bible we can fi nd a reference to the Midianites as traders in the story of Joseph (Gen. 37), where they are mentioned in parallel to the Ishmaelites: (26) So Judah said to his brothers: “What profit would there be in killing our brother and hiding his blood? (27) Come, let us rather sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lift a hand against him, for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. (28) Some Midianite merchants were passing and they drew Joseph up and brought him out of the cistern. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and the Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt . . . (36) So the Midianites had sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, a high official of the Pharaoh, commander of the guard.

According to verse 28 the Midianites sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites and it is the Ishmaelites who in turn sell him in Egypt, whereas according to verse 36 it is the Midianites themselves who turn over the young Hebrew to a high Egyptian official. This confusion results from the fact that in verse 28 the arrival of the Midianites ironically deprives the brothers of their profit because it is the Midianites who draw Joseph out of the cistern and sell him to the Ishmaelites, whereas verse 36 summarizes the story elliptically when it emphasizes that it is because of an initiative of the Midianites that Joseph arrives in Egypt. Apparently the author of this text, who already knew the Midianites as traders in incense



(something not attested, to be sure, before the eighth century), tried to conflate Ishmaelite caravans and Midianite caravans, which were for him just two variants of Arab commerce. It is, however, also possible that the parallel mention of Midianites and Ishmaelites results from two different authors or redactors. In summary, the Midianites were organized as a tribal society that had only a very weakly hierarchized structure (although certain biblical texts speak anachronistically of Midianite “kings”). According to Exodus 2, they raised cattle (see also Jth. 2:26), and certain clans were nomadic or semi-nomadic (Hab. 3:7). Other clans, however, were settled and engaged in agriculture around oases. They were also involved in gold and copper mining and in some commercial activities.


Biblical “ethnography” reflects in a number of ways a connection between “Israel” and Midian. The most important texts for the question of the origin of Yhwh and his links with the Midianites are Exodus 2–4 and 8. Before embarking on a detailed analysis of these passages, let us review other mentions of Midian and the Midianites. The biblical sources draw an ambiguous picture. There are some neutral or even positive texts, but also others that present the Midianites as among the very worst enemies of Yhwh.

The Negative Texts

Chapter 25 of the book of Numbers deals with sexual irregularities on the part of the Israelites and with worship offered to other gods. The Israelites are seduced by the daughters of Moab and by a Midian woman, who is then killed by the priest Pinhas. Numbers 25 has a complex history of composition: the story of the Midianite woman was inserted into it after the final large-scale redaction of the text at the end of the Persian era; even later, a further editor added verses 14–18 to explain the names of the protagonists.7 The story ends with an appeal to prepare for war against the Midianites, a war that is related in Numbers 31: all the men, including five kings, are killed (the names of these kings mentioned in verse 8 are taken



up again in Joshua 13:21), and all the women are made prisoner. Moses criticizes the decision to allow the Midianite women to live because they incite the Israelites to infidelity and debauchery (31:13–14). Because Moses orders that all the men be killed, one must conclude that they were supposed to have been exterminated, but this contradicts the text of Judges 6–8, which recounts a victory of Gideon over the Midianites. In parallel to the above history of transmission, a glossator on Numbers 31:16 mentioned the matter of Balaam. In the biblical narrative about Balaam (Num. 22), there is no mention of Midianite women, but there is mention of the Elders of Midian, who consult with the Elders of Moab and demand that Balaam curse the Israelites (22:4 and 7).8 These three texts are certainly interlinked and they all date from the Persian era, although the history of Balaam is originally older; the addition of the Midianites to the story of Balaam is due to the influence of Numbers 25 and 31. In these texts the term “Midianite,” like “Amalekite,” designates not so much a particular group, but the paradigmatic enemy, and in this case the enemy who is a nomad. The second narrative complex in which the Midianites appear as the enemies of Israel is in the story of Gideon in Judges 6–8. This passage, too, has a complicated editorial history. Its oldest version, which recounts the exploits of Gideon against the Midianites, is probably based on real conflicts between Israelites and Arab tribes. A later version of the story, which is ascribed to the so-called Deuteronomistic editors, transforms the Midianites into “instruments” of Yhwh sent to punish the Israelites for having done what is evil in his eyes.9 In Judges 6:3 and 7:17 the Midianites are associated with the Amalekites and the “sons of the East.” When the Israelites cry out to Yhwh, he calls up Gideon to deliver them from the hands of the Midianites. The authors of verses 7:12 and 8:26 know that the Midianites use camels. Gideon, with the help of a small group of Israelite tribesmen, defeats the Midianites and their chiefs Orev and Zeev, who figure again in Psalms 83:12 (both of them) and in Isaiah 10:26 (only Orev). “Orev” either means “the crow” or is a personification of “the Arab” (in Hebrew the two words have the same root). The first sense of Orev is more plausible here because Zeev means the wolf, and “wolf and crow” is apparently a well-attested pairing in Arab poetry.10 Verses 5 and 12 of Judges 8, on the other hand, mention as kings of Midian Zevah (“sacrifice” or



“sacrificer”?) and Ṣalmunna (“the shadow—protection—has failed”; if this is not a totally invented name, one might connect it with the god Ṣalm, worshipped at Tayma in Arabia from the sixth century onward). Even though the reference to Midianite kings is anachronistic, the narrative of Judges 6–8 may have retained traces of some conflicts between Midianite tribes and Israel. Finally, the text of Isaiah 9:3, which evokes a “day of Midian,” seems to be referring to a victory against Midian, perhaps the same one described in Judges 6–8.11

Positive or Neutral Texts

Apart from the traditions about Moses and Sinai, the text of Habakkuk 3, which has already been analyzed in Chapter 2, mentions Midian in the context of a theophany of Yhwh who comes from Temān; so it confirms the link between Yhwh and Midian. In Genesis 25:2 (which has a parallel in 1 Chron. 1:33) Midian appears as one of the sons whom Qetura gives to Abraham, and verse 4 (= 1 Chron. 1:33) contains a list of the four sons of Midian. Chapter 25 of Genesis is part of the priestly version of the story of Abraham, which was perhaps intended to rehabilitate the Midianites, in view of the negative traditions about them in Israel, by showing that there were kinship relations between Midian and “Israel”; both, after all, had a common ancestor in Abraham. This would immediately make the marriage of Moses with a Midianite woman (in Genesis 25) permissible, because in the priestly milieu from which Genesis 25 emerged, intermarriages between descendants of Abraham would have been accepted. According to Knauf, the names given to the sons of Midian in this text have parallels in north and south Arabic languages and thus they may go back to an older tradition, or may even go back to tribes who were still in existence at the time when this text was written down.12

Moses’ Arrival in Midian

According to the story told in Exodus, Moses had close ties with the Midianites. The narratives of Exodus 2–4 and 18 are the result of another



complex editorial history, the details of which are difficult to trace. Let us recall the various episodes recounted in chapters 2–4. Moses was born in Egypt in the context of the oppression of the Hebrews by the Egyptians. Hidden in a basket by his mother, he was adopted by the daughter of the pharaoh and became an Egyptian prince (2:1–10). When he came of age, he struck down an Egyptian and took flight because the pharaoh threatened to kill him (2:11–15a). He settled in the land of Midian and married Zipporah, daughter of a Midianite priest (2:15–24). While tending the herds of his father-in-law, he came to “the mountain of God,” where Yhwh revealed himself to him, called him to his ser vice, and gave him the order to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of servitude (3:1–4:18). On the road back to Egypt, Yhwh, strangely enough, tried to kill Moses, who was saved by his wife (4:19–26). After surviving this attack, he was joined by his brother, Aaron, and both of them arrived in Egypt (4:27–31). The story of Moses’s call in Exodus 3:1–4:18 is not part of the original narrative. First of all, it is noticeable that Moses in 4:18 says to his father-in-law that he must return to Egypt and the latter gives him his blessing, although the following verse contains another order from Yhwh to Moses, instructing him to return to Egypt. The best explanation of this doublet is that the episode narrated in Exodus 3:1–4:18 was a later insertion into an older text. In fact one could move straight from 2:23 to 4:19:13 “During this long period the king of Egypt died” (2:23a). “Yhwh said to Moses in Midian: Go, return to Egypt because those who sought to kill you are dead. Moses took his wife and his sons, mounted them upon asses, and returned to Egypt. He took the staff of God (with him).” (4:19–20). The first version of the story of Moses in Midian would then have contained 2:11–23a, followed by 4:19–20. The departure of Moses from Egypt toward the Levant has parallels— for instance, in the story of Sinuhe (ca. 1900), which recounts the flight of this high Egyptian official, describing how he passed the fortified frontier in the direction of the Sinai Peninsula. He hid from the frontier guards and eventually came into the region of the bitter lakes: “I was dying of thirst and my throat was parched. I said to myself, ‘This is the taste of death.’ I heard the sound of lowing of cattle and sighted Setyu (semi-nomads) . . . Their leader who had been to Egypt recognized me.



Then he gave me water, and after I had gone with him to his tribe, he had them cook me some milk. They treated me well.”14 Like Sinuhe, Moses, who is also identified by Midianite girls as an Egyptian (Exod. 2:19), meets some semi-nomads beyond the Egyptian border. A meeting at a well is a literary motif that is repeatedly used in the Bible and also outside it, often as a prelude to marriage, so we might wonder whether this episode (2:15b–20) has been added to an earlier story to add more color to the narrative. Exodus 2:15 might in fact suggest this: “Moses escaped from Pharaoh; he settled (wayyēšeḇ) in the Land of Midian and he sat down (wayyēšeḇ) beside the well.” The same verb is used here twice. The first suggests that Moses had already settled in Midian,15 whereas seating himself beside a well would seem to be a preparation for a process of gradually being integrated into the family of the Midianite priest and marrying his daughter, as described in verses 16–20. The story shows us a Moses who, in contrast to how he acted in Egypt, does not take flight, but defends the seven daughters of the Midianite priest against hostile shepherds. The fact that the text speaks of seven daughters, that is, a “round” number of daughters, is no doubt intended to suggest that the priest has no sons and so Moses can easily become his son-in-law.


Exodus 2:16 speaks only of a priest of Midian, and verse 21 only of “the man.” However, this figure appears under a variety of names in the Bible: Reuel (Exod. 2:18); Jethro, priest of Midian (Exod. 3:1 and 18:1–2), and the variant Jether (Exod. 4:18—other manuscripts and textual witnesses have “Jethro” here); Hobab, son of Reuel, the Midianite, father-in-law of Moses (Num. 10:29); Keni, father-in-law of Moses (Judg. 1:16—some manuscripts of the Septuagint have Hobab here); Hobab, father-in-law of Moses, apparently belonging to the tribe of the Kenites (Judg. 4:11). This diversity shows that an attempt was made to identify this Midianite in different ways. Reuel appears several times in Genesis 36 (= 1 Chron. 1:35, 37) as the name of one of the sons of Esau/Edom and means “friend of El.” The



name is attested in different linguistic regions of the Semitic-speaking world. Jethro (with its variant Jether attested in Judg. 8:20 for a son of Gideon; 1 Kings 2:5, 32; and 1 Chron. 2:17, 32; 4:17, and 7:38 for one of the descendants of Judah) means “rest, his rest” (used for a baby that survives a difficult birth) and is a western Semitic name. Another variant of the name, “Jithran,” appears as the name of a clan of Seir (Gen. 36:26 = 1 Chron. 1:41), and Jithra or Jether is attested as an Ishmaelite name (2 Sam. 17:25; 1 Chron. 2:17). Hobab (“friend”) is a south Semitic name. Keni/Kenite refers to a tribe that knows how to work with iron. None of these names is typically “Midianite.” Still we might note the connection made with the Kenites and the fact that the name Reuel is also known to be Edomite, which directs our attention again toward the south. It is impossible, however, to recover any historical person from behind the different names. What is important in the biblical narrative is the link between Moses and some Midianite priest. Thus, according to the story told in Exodus 3:1–4:18, which was inserted later between 2:23 and 4:19, the revelation of Yhwh took place while Moses was working as a shepherd in the ser vice of this priest of Midian. According to Exodus 3 the mountain of god, where Yhwh dwells, is therefore to be found in Midianite territory. The episode narrated in Exodus 4:24–26, a late addition to the text that tells of Yhwh’s attempt to murder Moses, remains an enigma. For our inquiry it is significant that this attack takes place on the road from Midian to Egypt and that it is his Midianite wife who saves Moses by circumcising his son and smearing her husband’s penis with the blood. Does this episode reflect the fact that the Midianites practiced circumcision? Yhwh is presented in this text as a dangerous god, against whom one must know how to protect oneself. But how can one explain this hostility? A comparison with Genesis 32:23–32, where the patriarch Jacob is attacked by a mysterious entity who later is identified as God, emphasizes the fact that this encounter should be seen as a kind of initiation. But whereas Jacob survives and emerges from the encounter relying only on his own resources, Moses has need of help and support from his Midianite wife. Exodus 4:24–26 draws special attention to the role of the



Midianite wife in the practice of circumcision, which is here seen as a protection against an extremely dangerous Yhwh.

The Cult of Yhwh Founded by a Midianite Priest

The close association of Yhwh and the Midianite priest is brought to the fore again in Exodus 18, which is placed immediately before the great revelation at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19–24: (1) Jethro, priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moses, learned all that God16 had done for Moses and for Israel his people . . . (2) Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, took Zipporah, the wife of Moses, who had been sent back to him, (3) also their two sons: the name of the one was Gershom because he said: “I am an immigrant living in a foreign land”; (4) the name of the other was Eliezer because “The god of my father has come to my aid and delivered me from the sword of the Pharaoh.” (5) Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, with his sons and his wife came to Moses in the desert, to the place where he was camping at the mountain of god. (6) He said to Moses: “I, your father-in-law, come to you with your wife and your two sons.” (7) Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed to him17 and embraced him. They asked each other how things were with each of them, then.18 (8) Moses told his father-in-law all that Yhwh had done to the Pharaoh and to Egypt for the sake of Israel, all the tribulations they suffered on the road, from which Yhwh delivered them. (9) Jethro rejoiced at all the good Yhwh had done to Israel, which he had delivered from the hands of the Egyptians. (10) Jethro said: “Blessed be Yhwh, who has delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and the hands of the Pharaoh *and who has delivered the people from the hands of Egypt.*19 (11) And now I know that Yhwh is greater than all the gods. The evil that they did has fallen back on them. (12) Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, made20 a holocaust and sacrifices for god. Aaron and all21 the elders come to eat a meal with the father-in-law of Moses before the god . . . (27) Moses sent his father on his way and he went to his own country.



Exodus 18 is composed of two large segments that are linked by the figure of the father-in-law of Moses: verses 1–12 (and 27), which we have just translated, tell of the visit Jethro made to Moses and of a sacrifice offered to Yhwh, whereas verses 13–26 deal with the establishment of judges on the advice of Jethro, who realizes that Moses cannot by himself settle all the disputes that arise among the people. This last part was added later to Exodus 18 and is based on a text from Deuteronomy, which also recounts the establishment of judges, although it does not mention Jethro (Deut. 1:9–18). Exodus 18:1–12 has always astonished and puzzled commentators. Already in the Middle Ages the Jewish scholar Abraham ibn Ezra noted that there were serious problems here. In the passage, Israel is already at the mountain of god, whereas it is only in the following chapter that we are told about its arrival at Mount Sinai; also, verse 12 of chapter 18 presupposes the existence of an altar for sacrifices to Yhwh, but this altar is not set up until Exodus 24:4. This is why attempts have sometimes been made to locate this story later in the narrative of the divine revelation at Mount Sinai. But if this was its original position, why would later editors have inserted it in such an awkward place? A better explanation would be to suppose that there was some memory of a Midianite contribution to the cult of Yhwh that it was impossible simply to ignore; so the only way it was possible to include it was by placing it before the “true” revelation of Yhwh at Sinai. If we read the story in its present form, we see immediately that it presupposes Exodus 2–4, as well as the narrative of the flight from Egypt. However, it also contains some elements that do not converge with the account of Exodus 2–4, in particular the fact that Moses’s wife did not accompany him to Egypt (contrary to what is asserted in 4:20) and that Moses had sent her back to her father, which looks like a form of divorce. This surprisingly detailed information was perhaps added by a later editor to prepare for Numbers 12, where there is a mention of a (further) marriage of Moses with a Kushite woman. The text of Exodus 18 mentions two sons of Moses by name, but Exodus 2 speaks only of one son (Gershom), Exodus 4:20 mentions sons (without naming them), and 4:25 once again refers to a single son. Verses 18:2–4 are perhaps an addition to the original story made in order to harmonize the various



different references to the sons of Moses while insisting that the Midianite family of Moses stayed with his father-in-law and were not with Moses at the moment of the decisive revelation at Mount Sinai. The comparison between Exodus 18:5 and Exodus 3:1 suggests that the mountain of god was located in Midianite territory and that Jethro was there to greet Moses when he arrived. It is striking that Jethro knows the name of Yhwh, although it is nowhere stated that Moses had communicated this name to his father-in-law. The “confession of faith” of Jethro in Exodus 18:10–11 is, in its present form, certainly a later addition that has similarities with the confession of Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho who appears in chapter 2 of the book of Joshua. These texts from the Persian period put forward the idea that foreign peoples recognize the superiority and unicity of the god of Israel. Exod. 18:10–11

Josh. 2:9–11

Blessed be Yhwh who has delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of the Pharaoh and who has delivered the people from the hand of Egypt. And now I know that Yhwh is greater than all the gods.

I know that Yhwh has given the land to you . . . for we have heard it said that Yhwh dried the waters of the sea of reeds before you, when you came out of Egypt . . . the breath of each of us is taken away before you, for Yhwh, your god, is God the highest in the heavens and down here on earth.

The episode of Exodus 18:1–12 ends with a sacrifice to Yhwh before the construction of the sanctuary described in chapters 35–40 and before the revelation of the different types of sacrifice and the official installation of the priests in Leviticus 1–9. The presence of Aaron and the elders at the scene of sacrifice can be explained as an attempt on the part of the editor to harmonize this text with Exodus 24. This text tries to emphasize the privilege of Aaron and the elders, who in this chapter have an immediate access to the god of Israel. Nevertheless, even in this much revised text the priest of Midian plays a decisive role in the sacrifice: “Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, took (wayyiqqaḥ; in the sense of “made”) a holocaust and sacrifices for god.”



Commentators have conducted lengthy discussions about the question of who was the “chief celebrant” of this sacrifice. Some translations have “he participated in the sacrifice” rather than “he took/made the sacrifice,” which betrays a certain embarrassment. There seems no possible alternative to taking the Hebrew text to mean that it was Jethro who took the initiative in this sacrifice. Even the editors who inserted Aaron did not give him the initiative. The original version of the story of this meeting between Moses and Jethro must be taken to culminate, then, in a sacrifice made by the priest of Midian to Yhwh. Starting from this observation, the next step would be to assume that the priest of Midian was a priest of Yhwh. Putting all the observations together, we can reconstruct the most ancient tradition behind Exodus 18 grosso modo in this way: (1) Jethro, priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, learned all that god had done for Moses and Israel, his people. (5) Jethro went to find Moses in the desert, where he was camped. (7) Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed to him and embraced him. Each asked the other how things were going, then they entered the tent. (8) Moses told his father-in-law all that Yhwh had done to the Pharaoh and to Egypt. (19) Jethro said: “Blessed be Yhwh, who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and the hand of the Pharaoh.” (12) Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, made a holocaust and sacrifices to god.22

The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis

In the nineteenth century the observation of how important the Midianites were for the origin of the worship of Yhwh gave rise to what is called the “Midianite-Kenite hypothesis.”23 Th is hypothesis was fi rst formulated by the historian and publicist Friedrich Wilhelm Ghillany, who published the first volume of his Theologische Briefe an die Gebildeten der deutschen Nation (Theological letters addressed to the educated members of the German nation) under the pseudonym of Richard von der Alm in 1862. Following its original formulation, this hypothesis was developed in several variants by different specialists of the Old



Testament, but the basic idea remained unchanged, namely that Moses and the Israelites came to know of the cult of Yhwh through the mediation of the Midianites. Because in certain biblical texts the father-in-law of Moses is identified as a Kenite, some scholars have postulated a connection between the traditional stories about Midian and the story about Cain (q-y-n), whose name exhibits some similarities with the name “Kenite.” At the end of the story of Cain, who kills his brother and thereby becomes the founder of civilization, the author of the text reports that at that time Yhwh began to be venerated by all mankind: “From that time on people began to invoke the name of Yhwh” (Gen. 4:26). However, any relation there might be between this story and the narratives about Moses and the Midianites/Kenites is very weak. Another link with the Kenites is perhaps more interesting. In Numbers 24:21 the Kenites are contrasted with the Amalekites: the latter are cursed by Balaam, whereas the former are assured of a secure dwelling place (v. 21). Similarly, in 1 Samuel 15:6 Saul calls upon the Kenites to dissociate themselves from the Amalekites because when the Israelites came up from Egypt, the Kenites are said to have acted toward them with ḥesed, “loyally.” Yael, who in Judges 4 and 5 kills Sisera, army commander of the enemies of Israel, was the wife of a Kenite (Judg. 4:17, 5:24), and according to 1 Chronicles 2:55 the Rekhabites, a group of Yahwists who pursued a nomadic ideal, were of Kenite origin. Caleb, according to Numbers 32:13, was a Kenizzite, the member of a clan that might be connected to the Kenites.24 Caleb is, in addition, presented as someone who serves Yhwh faithfully (Num. 13:13); this is why he receives the territory of Hebron (Josh. 14:14). So it appears that the Calebites, like the Kenizzites, are a clan linked with Judah. Perhaps Judah itself (or parts of it) was originally one of those Arab tribes installed in the south and with connection to the Midianites, the Kenites, and the Edomites.


We saw that the papyrus Anastai VI mentions the Shasu of Edom during the reign of Sethi II. Here the Shasu are linked with Edom, and in Genesis and other texts (for instance, Deut. 2:2–8) there is an insistence that



Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom) are brothers. These texts give the impression of a privileged connection between Israel and Edom compared with their relations with their other neighbors. Deuteronomy 2:5 states that it is Yhwh who has given Seir to the sons of Esau, and there is a similar remark in Joshua 24:4. In Deuteronomy 23 the Edomites are considered as a people to be “brothers” of the Israelites: “You shall not consider the Edomite to be abominable because he is your brother” (23:8). The Bible repeatedly condemns the national gods of the Moabites and Ammonites, Chemosh and Milkom, but never the god of Edom. The author of the text of 1 Kings 11:11–19 criticizes King Solomon for his numerous wives who draw him toward the cults of their national gods. Curiously, despite the presence of Edomite women among his wives, the text mentions only the names of the gods of the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Sidonians, and not that of the god of Edom. Following this line of argument, it seems that, in contrast to what is the case for Moab and Ammon, the Bible makes a point of not mentioning the national god of Edom, whose name was Qaus or Qos. This name is not attested directly before the sixth or fifth century, but he was probably already worshipped during the Assyrian period, as is indicated by the fact that we find in the records the names of kings like Qosmalak and Qosgabri during this period. The importance of this god can be seen in Egyptian lists that deal with, roughly, the region of Edom: qśrʿ (“Qos is my shepherd”), qśrbn (“Qos is brilliant”), and so forth.25 His popularity reached its zenith in the Idumean or Nabatean period (from the fourth century on). The name “Qaus” or “Qos” has “Arab” connotations and signifies “bow.” Either he is a deified bow or he is simply a god of war. The discovery of an Edomite sanctuary near Arad (in the north of the Negev) has provided us with inscriptions mentioning Qos and some statuettes that one can identify with this god or its parhedros (associated female deity). We have observed that there was a close link between Israel and Edom and that Qos was a rather late arrival on the scene. We might then speculate that Yhwh was also worshipped in Edom and that Qos stepped in only when Yhwh became the national god of Israel and Judah. Or is it possible that Yhwh and Qos were two names for the same divinity? Any such speculation, however, would need further argument to support it. In sum, what we know about Moses and Midian confirms the evidence provided by the biblical texts that suggest a provenance of Yhwh



from the south, and possibly a connection with the Shasu, the group of semi-nomadic tribes that may include the Midianites and the Kenites. We have seen that Judges 5 has Yhwh come from Seir. A link between Yhwh and Edom can also be found in a late text from the final part of the book of Isaiah: “Who is he who comes from Edom, from Bozrah, with scarlet on his vestments, stretching out his torso under his garments, arching it with the intensity of his energy?——It is me who speaks of justice, who unleashes strife in order to save” (Isa. 63:1). It is more difficult to know what degree of historical plausibility we should attribute to the narratives about Moses and Midian. Moses was perhaps the leader of a group of ̒ apiru who, when they had left Egypt, encountered Yhwh in Midian and passed on the knowledge of him to other tribes in the south. We shall take up this question again later.




According to the biblical narrative contained in Exodus 19–24, Yhwh became the god of Israel following his revelation on Mount Sinai through the conclusion of a contract or “covenant.” During this theophany the Hebrews heard the voice of Yhwh in the midst of thunder, and he communicated to them the Ten Commandments. Then, because the people could not tolerate this proximity to the divine, they asked Moses to become the mediator between Yhwh and Israel. Yhwh, in this narrative, presents himself as the god who conquered Egypt: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, how I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to me” (19:4). He then announces his name to all the people, the name that up to that point he had revealed only to Moses: “I am Yhwh, your god, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves” (20:2). The new relation between Yhwh and Israel is ratified by a ritual in which Moses sprinkles the people and the altar with blood. This story of the theophany at Mount Sinai, like the narratives of the calling of Moses, retains the memory of the fact that Yhwh had not always been the god of Israel; this relation is the result of a particular encounter.



The encounter between Yhwh and Israel is described in the biblical texts in different ways. In the book attributed to the prophet Hosea, we find the simple claim that Yhwh “found” Israel in the desert: “I found Israel like grapes in the desert. I looked upon your fathers as on early figs, the first fruits of a fig tree” (9:10). According to Ezekiel 20, the story of Yhwh and Israel began in Egypt with a choice by Yhwh: “You shall tell them: Thus spoke the Lord Yhwh: ‘The day I chose Israel, I raised up my hand to swear an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob and I made myself known to them in Egypt; I raised my hand to swear an oath: I am Yhwh, your god.’ ” Although these texts do not agree on the place where this link was first formed, they do agree that Yhwh chose Israel at a particular point in history and that this people had not been his people from all time. This leads us to think carefully about the name Israel and its meaning. What can we say about this name? When and under what historical circumstances can we imagine this meeting to have taken place?


“Israel” contains the theophoric element ʾēl. This can be understood as the proper name of a god, El, who is known in Ugarit as the creator god or the head of a pantheon, but it could also in certain cases be used as a generic term for “god.” The name “Israel” is composed of the same elements as “Ishmael” (Yišmāʿ-ʾēl), which means “May El hear.” This is a verb in the third-person singular of the preformative conjugation in the jussive form (expressing an injunction), combined with the name of the deity. The etymology of the name Yiśrā-ʾēl is a subject of controversy. In the book of Genesis the author of the story about Jacob’s struggle with a mysterious entity who eventually reveals himself as God proposes a folk etymology: “He said: They will no longer call you Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God (kî śārîtā ̒ im ʾĕlōhîm)” (32:29). The same explanation is given in Hosea 12:4: “In his prime he strove with god” (ûbʾônô śārāh ʾēt ʾĕlōhîm). This etymology construes the name from the root ś-r-h (“hit,” “combat”). In this case the primary sense



would be “May El/God combat,” because in theophoric names the name of the god is the subject, not the direct object. However, this root is attested in the Bible only in the two texts just cited, and there are few occurrences in any other Semitic languages. Apparently the name iś-ra-il is attested in Ebla (with a possible meaning connected to a root meaning “combat”).1 Other suggestions have been made. The name can be construed from the root y-š-r (“to be just”). This would be a construction in the afformative conjugation: “El is just.” This root is found again in two poetic texts in Deuteronomy, which affirm: “None is like El of Yeshouroun (ʾên kā-ʾēl Yĕšūrûn)” (32:15; 33:5, 26). The name Yeshurun is used as a poetic name for Israel2 and seems to have been constructed from the root y-š-r (“to be just”). An explanation in terms of this root is also supported by a fragmentary tablet from Ugarit, which gives a list containing the names of a corporation of military charioteers. One of these soldiers is named y-š-r- ʾi-l.3 This tablet was still in the oven at the moment when Ugarit was destroyed and can thus be dated to the end of the thirteenth century, so it is contemporary with the first attestation of Israel in Egypt. However, a name on a list in Ugarit need not necessarily be in any way connected with the biblical Israel,4 and the vocalization of the name Israel in the biblical texts speaks rather in favor of a name constructed in the preformative conjugation. This line of thought, however, opens up another possibility, namely the explanation of the name by reference to the root ś-r-r (“rule, govern, command, impose oneself as master”). The name then would mean: “May El impose himself as master, let him reign.” The Hebrew Bible has perhaps preserved a trace of this meaning. The Masoretic text of Hosea 12:5 (“He struggled with an angel and he had the upper hand [wayyāśar ʾel-malʾāḵ wayyūḵāl]” is the result of a dogmatic revision. The Masoretes wished to avoid too great a closeness between Jacob and God, and so they inserted the word malʾāḵ (“angel”), thereby transforming the sense of the consonants ʾl, which in the original text meant the god El (ʾēl), and by a small change in vocalization they made it into the preposition ʾel (“toward, in the direction of”).5 So we can reconstruct the original text as “El imposed himself and gained the upper hand” (wayyāśar ʾēl wayyūḵāl).



The Bible does attest some other proper names from the root ś-r-r, such as Śĕrāyāh or, in its long form, Śĕrāyāhû—“Yhwh reigns”—which is the name of a priest in 2 Kings 25:18 and also of an official of King Zedekiah in Jeremiah 36:26. The folk etymology using the root ś-r-h (“combat”) in the texts of Genesis 32 and Hosea 12 was able to supplant the original etymology at the moment when Yhwh, a warrior god, became the tutelary god of the group “Israel.” The root “reign,” “impose himself as master,” would otherwise have been appropriate for El, the chief god of the pantheon and king of the gods.


The first clearly attested occurrence of the name “Israel” outside the Bible that refers to the “biblical” Israel is to be found on the stele of Pharaoh Merneptah, which can be dated to between 1210 and 1205. This granite stele, which is 3.18 meters high, 1.6 meters wide, and 31 centimeters thick, tells of the victories of the king of Egypt in a campaign in the Levant. Part of the text reads:6 A great joy came to Egypt and the jubilation increased in the towns of the well-beloved land. The women speak of the victories won by Merneptah over the Tjehenu [Libyans]7 . . . The leaders fall, saying: Peace (š-l-m)! Not a single one raises up his head among the Nine Bows.8 Defeated is the country of the Tjehenu. Hatti9 is peaceable. Canaan is deprived of all the evil it had. Askalon is taken. Gerer is seized, as if it had never existed. Yenoam10 has become as if it had never existed. Israel is destroyed, its seed is no longer. Syria (Ḫurru) has become widows for Egypt. All the countries are united; they are in peace. Those who once wandered around are now bound by the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Beanre, the son of Re, Merneptah, endowed with life, like Re every day.



A recent publication claims that the name Israel has been found, in a very different transliteration from that on the stele of Merneptah, on this pedestal, now in Berlin, of a statue that might be older than the stele, possibly from the era of Ramses II. Ashkelon and Canaan are clearly named on this pedestal, as they are on the stele of Merneptah; the third cartouche might possibly contain the name Israel,11 in the suggested reconstruction: Ia-cha-ri, that is, Ia-cha-l. This toponym does seem rather different from the Isrial of the Merneptah stele. The same is true of the proposed reading of Manfred Görg: a-chi-ru. The fact that in all these reconstructions the divine name “El” is missing is explained by the hypothesis that it is presupposed in this name, which designates a group devoted to the ser vice of this god. Görg holds that the Egyptian text is a transliteration of a word from the root š-y-r, “to sing,” and that the initial “a” corresponds to the first person, so a-chi-ru would mean “I will sing (for El).” This would fit with the biblical story where, after crossing the Sea of Reeds, the people begin to sing for Yhwh (in Exod. 15:2 the same root occurs in the first-person plural).12 This construction is rather speculative, primarily because it depends on the idea that a proper name could be formed from a verb in the first-person singular. Note furthermore that on the Berlin pedestal the toponym is written inside a sign that looks like a stylized bastion, which usually indicates that it is the name of a defeated country, city, or fortress. On the stele of Merneptah the name Israel is written as an ethnonym using the determinative for “ethnic group,” an image of a man and woman. At best, in the inscription on the pedestal in Berlin, we might have a quasi-contemporary variant; at the worst it is a completely different toponym.13 The stele of Merneptah is notable for the elegance and the witty wordplay of the inscription, both of which are typical of the royal rhetorical style. First of all, the name “Israel” is given a determinative consisting of a man and woman, then three vertical strokes indicating that it is plural. This does not mean that it is a group of nomads, but rather that it is the name of a definite group rather than of a region or locality. The inscription states that this “Israel” no longer has pr.t, which is a term with two meanings: seed/semen or wheat. The Egyptians had the habit, as did many other peoples, of destroying the wheat fields in conquered territories. The statement that Israel no longer has seed may also refer to the Egyptian practice of cutting off the penises of the dead bodies of



(?) Yenoam


Gezer Ashkelon


50 km

Places mentioned on the stele of Merneptah

its enemies. The text is perhaps deliberately ambiguous, because the scribe could have clarified what was meant by adding the sign consisting of three kernels of grain if “wheat” was intended, or a phallus if what was meant was “sperm.”14 Th is passage is marked by alliteration and the personification of “Syria” (the land in which Israel is located) as a collection of widows (plural) in mourning. Israel appears as a “man” (seed/sperm) and “Syria” as a “woman.” At different levels this verse claims that Israel (a group) and Syria (a country) have collapsed because of Egypt. The precise identity of Israel in this inscription is an open question, so what should we take “Syria” to be? Is it a synonym for Canaan or for only a part of Canaan? The inscription seems to locate Israel between Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yenoam (Yanoam). If, in this geographic enumeration, Ashkelon and Gezer designate the extreme south and Yanoam the extreme north, then Israel is located in the mountains of Ephraim,



that is, in the region where Saul will found his “kingdom.” “Israel” at any rate seems to have been a group that was known by name to the Egyptians and was considered by them to be a potential factor of disorder, but also an enemy sufficiently important for it to be necessary that it be quickly defeated. The mention of the name “Israel” on this stele in no way presupposes an “exodus” or any kind of emigration of this group from the land of Egypt. Nothing at all is said about the possible provenance of this group from outside Palestine. One question remains: This group’s name indicates that its members worshipped the god El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, but did they also already worship Yhwh?


André Lemaire has claimed that the origin of Israel lies in the name of a clan “Asriel,” which lived in the mountains of Ephraim. The name “Asriel” is mentioned in Numbers 26:31 as the name of one of the clans of Galaad, and in Joshua 17:12 and 1 Chronicles 7:14 as the name of a son of Manasse. It also occurs on two ostraca from Samaria, 42 and 48. This clan, so the argument goes, became so important that it gave its name to a coalition of clans, just as the Franks gave their name to France and the tiny region of Schwyz gave its name to Switzerland.15 Th is thesis, which is certainly interesting, is, however, also very fragile. The biblical texts that mention this clan are not very numerous, and without exception they date at the earliest from the Persian period. The change of the letter alef into yod is also a rather late linguistic phenomenon. Finally, it is unclear how such a marginal clan could have been the origin of the name Israel. As far as the “Israel” mentioned on the stele of Merneptah is concerned, it may well have been a coalition of clans or tribes that worshipped as tutelary deity the god “El” and that had its own identity, or even ethnicity, that distinguished it from the city-states of the plains of Palestine.16 It might have been a “segmentary society,” to use the term coined by the sociologist Émile Durkheim and then used by the anthropologist Edward Evans-Pritchard.17 Segmentary societies are composed



of groups of about the same size and power, which tends to limit conflicts between them and to encourage negotiations. The name of Israel— “May El reign” or “May El be master”—might then be thought to express the ideals of this type of society. Certain biblical traditions about the resistance to the establishment of a monarchy in Israel could also be thought to preserve the memory of these ideals of an egalitarian society without a permanent chief.18


The worship of a deity like El, which preceded the worship of Yhwh, is partially reflected in the stories of the patriarchs, especially that of Jacob, who, by struggling with “god” and changing his name, became “Israel.” The name of “El” is used very often in the narrative about the patriarchs in Genesis 12–50: about 1.06 times per 1,000 words of text,19 which is the highest frequency for all the books from Genesis to the books of Kings.20 Thus, according to chapter 33 of Genesis, Jacob erected an altar for El, god of Israel, near Shechem, apparently to mark out his territory: “He erected there an altar and called it ‘El, god of Israel’ ” ( ʾēl ʾĕlōhê yiśrāʾēl) (33:20). If any historical recollections from the clans of the era at the end of the second millennium actually lie behind this story about Jacob, we should assume that these “sons of Jacob” worshipped one or several of the manifestations of the god El. The expression “El, god of Israel” might be founded on an ancient tradition. Most of the passages from Genesis and the other biblical books that mention various manifestations of El are to be found in rather recent texts, and presuppose that the reader understands “El” as the equivalent of “God,” that is, “Yhwh.” This does not exclude the possibility that these texts preserve the traces of worship of the great god El. Genesis contains various epithets of this deity.

El Elyon (Genesis 14:18–22)

Genesis 14, which has Abraham play a part in a kind of world war, is one of the very last sections to be added to the story of this patriarch.



The episode of the encounter with Melchizedek is probably even more recent than the first version of Genesis 14. The text tells how Melchizedek, king of Salem21 and priest of El Elyon, blesses Abram22 in the name of El Elyon. Abraham then swears an oath by this god: “I raise my hand toward (Yhwh)23 El Elyon, creator of the heavens and of earth” ( ʾēl ̒ elyôn qōnēh šāmayim wāʾāreṣ) (14:22). Commentators have often wondered whether “Elyon” was really a god who was distinct from El, given that the name is also attested without “El.”24 In fact there is mention of a god Elioun, called Hypsistos (“the most high”) in Greek, who appears in the “Phoenician history” composed by Sanchuniaton, extracts from which have reached us via the Church father Eusebius, who cites them in his Praeparatio Evangelica 1.10.15–29. Of interest is an eighth-century treaty concluded between Bar Ga’al and Mati’el, king of Arpad. An inscription of this treaty in Aramaic has been found on a stele discovered at Sfire, 25 kilometers southeast of Aleppo;25 the list of the gods who are called to witness includes “(before) El and Elyon.” Either these are two different gods or the conjunction waw is used in its explicative sense: “El, that is to say Elyon.”26 “Elyon,” then, is probably an epithet that later developed into an independent name. This title (“Elyon” = “The most high”) is not limited to El; at Ugarit it was also used for Baal.27 In the Hebrew Bible it can also be associated with Yhwh: “For you, Yhwh, you are Elyon on all the earth, you are raised like a sovereign above all the gods” (Ps. 97:7). However, other texts, notably Deuteronomy 32:8 and Genesis 14:22, show clearly that El Elyon was originally a god distinct from Yhwh. In the book of Numbers, the foreign seer Balaam uses two epithets for El in parallel: “The declaration of him who hears the words of El, of him who has knowledge of Elyon and of him who sees the vision of Shadday” (24:16). In Psalms 107:11 we find, also in parallel, “the words of El” and the “counsels of Elyon.” These texts furnish a number of pieces of evidence of the popularity of El Elyon in Israel and Judah, although the title “El Elyon” was eventually claimed by and transferred to Yhwh.



El Roi

The name “El Roi” (which can be translated “El of the vision” or “El sees me”) is attested only in Genesis 16. Hagar, servant of Sarah, has encountered the emissary of Yhwh in the desert and she thereupon gives this name to the god who revealed himself to her via the angel. She takes this god to be a manifestation of the god El. The title El Roi is not attested anywhere else. It might be an invention of the author of the text who knew that El could be worshipped by Arab tribes, who are Hagar’s descendants, under any number of diverse appellations. The author might wish to show that this El is identical to Yhwh, because the name Hagar gives to her son, Ishmael (a name that means “May El hear, listen”), is explained in the narrative as meaning “Yhwh has heard (the cries of) your suffering.”

El Olam

In Genesis 21 we find the story of an alliance between the Philistine king Abimelek and Abraham. At the end of the narrative we are told: “He planted a tamarisk at Beer-Sheba and in that place he called upon the name of Yhwh El Olam.” In the Hebrew text, the subject is not clear; some versions add “Abraham,” which is the most logical suggestion because the text is trying to connect the sanctuary “in the open air” with the patriarch. Just as in the story of Jacob—Jacob invoked Yhwh at BethEl (“house of El”)—so Abraham also with this invocation identifies Yhwh with “El Olam” (“El of all time,” “El of Eternity”). The same title is found at Ugarit, where it is applied not to El but to Shapsu, a sun goddess (KTU 2.42). This is also the case in an Aramaic inscription from Karatepe that mentions šmš ̒ lm (Shamash Olam). So outside the Bible this seems to be a title for a sun deity. Its application to El, and then to Yhwh, is linked to the “solarization” of the cult of Yhwh, which we will discuss later.

El Shadday

The title “El Shadday” is found several times in Genesis (28:3; 35:11; 48:3), in Ezekiel (10:5), and very frequently in the book of Job in the form



“Shadday” (without “El”). Its etymology remains unclear. Generally, scholars take Shadday to be related to the Akkadian šadū (“mountain”), so the title would mean “he of the mountain.” Another possibility is that the term comes from the Hebrew śādeh, the “field” (which one cannot cultivate). It is even possible that these words have the same origin and designate a place where man can live only with great difficulty.28 Allusions to this deity may be present in some proper names attested at Ugarit, such as B̒ lšdy—“Baʿalshadday.”29 Another text reads: “El Shadday hunts.”30 So El Shadday would seem to have a privileged connection with desert regions, and this would put him in proximity to the kind of divinity who is depicted as a “master of the animals,” a frequent iconographic theme. This connection with regions that are sparsely inhabited is also confirmed by two further testimonies: an inscription from Deir A ̒ lla that contains a reference to šdyn (apparently some minor or subordinate gods), and an inscription in Thamudian (a north Arabic language) from the neighborhood of Teima, containing ʾl śdy, which seems to have been produced by Bedouins who had become sedentary, dating from the fift h to third centuries. The rabbinic etymology of El Shadday—“he who is sufficient unto himself ”—probably also already underlies the Masoretic vocalization and is a theological speculation. The Greek version of the Old Testament, which often renders El Shadday as pantokratōr, has inspired many of the modern translations that render “El Shadday” as “God Almighty.” In Genesis the title El Shadday seems to be used exclusively in the priestly texts from the early part of the Persian era, and it is used as an epithet of Yhwh. The priestly authors used this archaic name, which in their time still had a reference to a god worshipped in Arabia, in order to construct a history of revelation. They did this by trying to show that in the period before Yhwh’s appearance to Moses (Exod. 6), the patriarchs and their various offspring worshipped different manifestations of the god El. These offspring included the Arab tribes who were descended from Ishmael and also from the union between Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25), but also the Edomite tribes who were descendants of Esau. The importance of the references to El31 in the stories about the patriarchs and the different attempts to identify El with Yhwh may preserve memories of the worship of the god El under different forms by



the ancestors of Israel. And if the traditions about Jacob do go back to this memory of a group who worshipped El but who later adopted Yhwh, then that might explain in the same way the close link between Jacob and Edom, although this is speculation. For scholars who are interested in the way, and in the historical contexts in which, the traditions of the Patriarchs, and notably of Jacob, came to be written down, the relation of Jacob to Esau (Edom) has always posed a special problem. If we date the story of Jacob to the period of the Israelite (Northern) kingdom, it is difficult to explain how the authors of the biblical text came to posit a close relation between Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom). For this reason many scholars have begun to point out that the tense but close relations between the two brothers make sense if the story arose in the Babylonian or Persian period, when Jacob had in a theological sense become the ancestor of “all Israel” (including Judah). Should we then trace to that epoch the origin of these stories about the hostility of the two brothers?32 Our own investigation might be thought to point in another direction: if Yhwh was localized as dwelling among the “Edomites,” the link between Jacob and Esau might be intended to signal that the “sons of Jacob” had adopted Yhwh, a god with connections to “Esau.” This speculation receives a certain degree of support from inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud, the final report on the excavations of which are now published.33 Here one finds references to a “Yhwh of Samaria” (that is, of Israel) and a “Yhwh of Teman” (that is, of the south).

H O W W A S Y H W H I N T R O D U C E D I N T O “ I S R A E L” ?

Let us start with the assumption that a god Yhwh, conceived as dwelling on a mountain in the territory of Edom or Midian, was adopted by one of those groups whom the Egyptians call “Shasu” or “Hapiru.” In Hittite treaties from the second millennium we fi nd, among long lists of gods, the expression “the gods of the Hapiru”; this corresponds to the phrase ʾĕlōhē ̒ iḇrîm (“god[s] of the Hebrews”), which is also found in biblical texts such as the narrative of the Exodus. For instance, in Exodus 5:3: “They [the Israelites in Egypt] said: ‘The god of the Hebrews



has presented himself to us. We must go for three days’ march into the desert to sacrifice to Yhwh, our god, otherwise he will attack us with pestilence or the sword.’ ” This text presupposes the identification of Yhwh, conceived as a violent god, with the god of the Hebrews, but it is possible that the expression “god of the Hebrews” at first simply designated one or more gods who had no precise name. This might explain Moses’s question at the moment when Yhwh gave him the injunction to go to the Israelites in Egypt. Moses says: “I shall go to the sons of Israel and shall say to them: the god of your fathers has sent me. But they will ask me: what is his name? What shall I say to them?” (Exod. 3:13). This god of the Hebrews apparently had a sanctuary in the desert and was a fierce god of war. The request made of the pharaoh at Exodus 5:3 is not to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt for good, but rather to grant them a kind of leave of absence to sacrifice to this god. Is this a memory of the fact that a group of Shasu/Hapiru came to know of Yhwh during a sojourn in the territory of Midian/Edom? The meeting between this group and Yhwh might also be part of the background to the story of the revelation at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew text we have of Exodus 19–24 is a very late formulation, but it states that it was at the time of this encounter at Mount Sinai that the Hebrews who had come out of Egypt became the ̒ am Yhwh, “the people of Yhwh.” The Hebrew word ̒ am, which is translated “people,” expresses a very strong kinship relation: it can be used to designate a clan or, in a military context, have the connotation “troop or platoon.” It is surprising that in the narratives of the encounter between Yhwh and Israel in chapter 19 and also in the stories of the making of the covenant between Yhwh and Israel in chapter 24, the word used to designate those to whom Yhwh reveals himself and with whom he concludes a treaty is usually ̒ am and only infrequently “Israel.” Exodus 19: (7) Moses went and called the elders of the people . . . (8) All the people replied: We shall do all that Yhwh has said. Moses recounted what the people had said to Yhwh. (9) And Yhwh said to Moses: “I shall come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people hear when I speak to you . . .” Moses reported these words of the



people to Yhwh. (10) And Yhwh said to Moses “Go to the people; sanctify them today . . . (11) for on the third day Yhwh shall descend before the eyes of all the people on Mount Sinai. (12) You must fi x boundaries for the people all around . . .” (14) Moses descended from the mountain to the people; he sanctified the people . . . (15) And he said to the people: “Be ready in three days; do not go near a woman.” (16) On the third day in the morning, there were peals of thunder, lightning, and a dense cloud on the mountain; the sound of the trumpet resounded loudly, and all the people who were in the camp were seized with terror. (17) Moses led the people out of the camp to meet god . . . (21) Yhwh said to Moses: “Go down and strictly forbid the people to approach Yhwh to look at him, lest a great number of them perish.” . . . (23) Moses said to Yhwh: “The people will not be able to climb up Mount Sinai . . .” (24) . . . Yhwh said to him: “Prevent the priests and the people from rushing forward to mount up to Yhwh, lest I strike them dead.” (25) Moses went down to the people and told them these things. Exodus 24: (2) . . . and the people shall not climb up with him. (3) Moses went and told the people all the words of Yhwh and all the laws. The whole people responded with one voice: “We shall do all that Yhwh has said.” . . . (7) He took the book of the covenant and read it in the presence of the people . . . (8) Moses took blood, and sprinkled the people saying: “This is the blood of the covenant which Yhwh has concluded with you upon [= on condition that you conform to] all these words.”

This redundancy in the use of the term ̒ am, which one finds even in passages attributed to very different “sources,” or “strata,” might go back to a preliterary tradition.34 We might deduce from this that the group who worshipped the god Yhwh called itself ̒ am Yhwh. It seems that this ̒ am Yhwh is constituted by a covenant, a pact, and a ritual of blood that is virtually unique in the Hebrew Bible.35 This ritual serves to create a blood relation between “the people” and Yhwh. Rituals like this are common enough in pre-Islamic Arabia, as William Robertson Smith has emphasized: “In ancient Arabic literature there are many references to the blood covenant, but instead of human blood that of a victim slain in



the sanctuary is employed. The ritual is in this case that all who share in the compact must dip their hands into the gore, which at the same time is applied to the sacred stone that symbolizes the deity, or is poured forth at its base.”36 These texts from the book of Exodus may preserve the memory traces of a ritual by which a group of Shasu/Hapiru constituted itself via a mediator as ̒ am Yhwh, the people of a warrior god to whom they attributed their victory over Egypt. This group then introduced the deity Yhwh into the territory of Benjamin and Ephraim, where Israel was located. An allusion to this encounter can perhaps be found in the poem of Deuteronomy 33:2–5: “Yhwh came from Sinai; he shone forth from Seir, he was resplendent from Mount of Paran . . . Indeed, he loves37 his people (̒ am)38 . . . He became king in Yeshurun39 when the chiefs of the people assembled together with the tribes of Israel.” This last verse seems to indicate a kind of union between the chiefs of the ̒ am Yhwh and the tribes grouped together under the name “Israel.” The chiefs of the ̒ am Yhwh meet with the tribes of Israel and Yhwh thus becomes the god of Israel. Can we detect in this passage a trace of the installation of Yhwh as the premier god of Israel? This ascendency seems to have occurred at the beginning of the Israelite monarchy—at the turn from the second to the first millennium— and this is how Yhwh became the tutelary god of Saul and David, who introduced him into Jerusalem.



Judean and Israelite toponyms, most of which date from the second millennium, appear to confirm that Yhwh did not become the god of Israel until the turn from the second to the first millennium, because these toponyms are not constructed using the element “Yhwh.” These place names do testify to the existence of other gods, such as Anat (Anatoth, Jer. 1:1–2, the place of origin of the prophet Jeremiah), Baal (Baal-perazim, 2 Sam. 5, the place where David defeats the Philistines), Dagon (Beth-Dagon, Josh. 15:41, a place in the territory of Judah), El (Beth-El, one of the major sanctuaries of Israel), Yariḥu (Jericho, Josh. 6, a city conquered by Joshua; its name derives from that of a moon god), Shalimu (Jerusalem), and Shamash (Beth-Shemesh, 1 Sam. 6, a place dedicated to the sun god, near Jerusalem, that served as a resting place for the Ark of the Covenant). These names also indicate the worship of a whole series of gods who are linked with fertility, the time of reaping and the harvest.


The sanctuary of Shiloh appears for the first time in the book of Joshua,1 which gives a purely legendary account of the conquest of the land of



Canaan by the Israelites.2 According to Joshua 18:1, after taking possession of the land the Israelites erected there the first sanctuary, the ʾōhel mô ̒ēd, the “tent of meeting.” This verse belongs to a late stratum of the text and presupposes the priestly idea of a mobile sanctuary constructed in the desert, which is also a place of meeting between Moses and Yhwh. The same idea is presupposed by Joshua 22:29, where the tribes beyond the Jordan give up the idea of constructing an altar and admit that the only legitimate altar is in front of the miškān, the sanctuary. The sanctuary here is probably an allusion to Shiloh.3 It appears again in the final chapters of Judges (18–21), which are often considered an appendix to the book. Judges 18:31 evokes the era when the house of god (ʾĕlōhîm) was at Shiloh. These texts seem to have retained the memory of a Yahwistic sanctuary in this part of the territory of Ephraim, and archaeology confirms that there was an important cult site there in the period of transition from the Late Bronze to the Iron Age. Shiloh is located on a site that had been occupied in the second millennium, and that became very important again in the mid-twelfth to mid-eleventh centuries. It was then destroyed about 1050, apparently by fire, possibly by the Philistines. The site was then repopulated, though very sparsely, in about the eighth and seventh centuries.4 The authors of the Bible seem to have been concerned to emphasize the importance of this site and of its destruction; they were also haunted by the memory that Shiloh had been once the home of a sanctuary of Yhwh. Later the editors came to interpret the destruction of Shiloh as having been caused by Yhwh himself (Jer. 7 and 26).5 When these texts were written down in the sixth century, the memory of Shiloh as a sanctuary of Yhwh was still very much alive. In the Bible Shiloh plays a very important role in connection with the prophet Samuel, who, according to the first chapters of the 1 Samuel, was charged by Yhwh to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. The first chapters of this narrative tell us that Samuel had been offered by his mother to the sanctuary at Shiloh, which is described not as a tent but as a temple built with proper walls,6 a Yahwistic sanctuary to which people made a pilgrimage and where Yhwh revealed himself to Samuel. This neutral or even positive view of the temple at Shiloh in the Bible can be explained as a revival of an ancient tradition containing some strong historical



memories. Shiloh seems to have been an important Yahwist sanctuary, perhaps even containing a statue of Yhwh, and it is possible that it is because of this holy place (or because of the prophet Samuel) that Yhwh then became the god of Saul.


The problem of the historicity of the fi rst three kings of Israel and of Judah is complex and would require longer treatment than can be given here.7 The following remarks will have to suffice in this context. Outside the Bible there is no direct attestation of these kings. The only exception is the famous stele of Tel Dan from the eighth century, of which three important fragments have been found. The inscription in Aramaic most likely celebrates the victory of Hazael,8 king of Damascus, over an Israelite-Judean coalition. Here we can read: “. . . king of Israel and I killed [ʾAḥaz]yahou son of [Joram k]ing (of) btdwd. And I placed . . .”9 The phrase btdwd is interpreted by most scholars as meaning “house of David,”10 which, to be sure, tells us nothing about the historical figure of David but does show that the Aramaeans in the eighth century called the kingdom of Judah “house of David,”11 just as the Assyrians called the kingdom of Israel “house of Omri.” It is very difficult to discern the concrete historical facts behind the biblical narratives of the origins of the monarchy. The three kings Saul, David, and Solomon have been constructed by the editors of the Bible as paradigmatic types: Saul, the rejected king, who prefigures the vision of the northern kingdom presented by the editors of the books of Kings; David, the warrior king, the chosen of Yhwh and founder of the united kingdom and the Davidic dynasty; and Solomon, the king who is a builder and a sage. Nevertheless, there are several traits in the narrative of the books of Samuel and of Kings that cannot be pure invention. The passage from Iron Age I to Iron Age II (about 1000) coincides with the origin of kingdoms in the Levant (Moab, Ammon, the Aramaean kingdoms). The fact that an Israelite “kingdom” arose in an area under strong influence from the Philistines is certainly an element of the stories that has some historical basis. The books of Samuel themselves show that the



territories of Saul and of David were located in the sphere of influence of the Philistines, and David is represented as having been one of their vassals, even though the biblical texts try to give an apologetic interpretation of this fact. The Bible constructs the origins of the monarchy around the two figures of Saul and David. Closely related to Saul is the figure of Samuel, who is both a prophet, as we have seen, with his links to the sanctuary at Shiloh, and at the same time a “judge”—that is, a charismatic military figure waging war against the Philistines. Even though the Bible contains very divergent accounts of the rise of Saul (1 Samuel 8–12), Samuel is, in different ways in the different accounts, always connected to the installation of Saul as “king.” Although the etymology of Samuel’s name (“El is exalted” or “His name is El”) is not very clear, it contains a theophoric element referring to El, whereas that of Saul (“he who is asked for,” a name also attested in neo-Assyrian: Sa ʾuli and in Phoenician: š ʾl) has no theophoric constituent. It is striking that the places mentioned in the story of Saul refer to a very limited territory. There is a note in 2 Samuel that belongs to one of the older strata of the text and that contradicts the official version according to which David was said to have “succeeded” Saul directly: “Then Avner, son of Ner, chief of the army of Saul, took Ish-baal,12 son of Saul and conducted him across to Mahanaim. He established him king ‘[in the regions] toward’ (ʾel ) Galaad, and the Asherites,13 and over (̒ al ) Ephraim, over Benjamin, that is, over all Israel” (2 Sam. 2:8–9). The shift of preposition (from ʾel to ̒ al ) may indicate an important difference: ̒ al would designate the territory under the direct sovereignty of Saul, and ʾel those territories that recognized his sovereignty without being directly integrated into Saul’s kingdom.14 The territory of Saul may correspond to the “Israel” presupposed by the stele of Merneptah.15 The names of the sons of Saul show, in any case, that he worshipped Yhwh: Jonathan (meaning “Yhwh has given”) has a Yahwistic name, whereas Ish-baal (“Man of Baal”) contains the theophoric element baʿal, and one of Jonathan’s sons is named Mephi-baal (“Well-beloved of Baal”). Is this “Baal” a different god from Yhwh, or was baʿal (“Master, lord”) one of Yhwh’s titles? We shall take up this question again later.




In the biblical account Yhwh is linked, before his arrival in Jerusalem, to the “ark” (the Hebrew word ʾărôn simply means “box” or “chest”). In later revisions this ark became the “Ark of the Covenant” (ʾărôn habberît), but the original older name was perhaps “Ark of Yhwh.” Authors from priestly circles took the ark to have been built at Mount Sinai at the time of the construction of the mobile sanctuary. The book of Joshua reports that the ark was carried by the priests during the conquest: it disappears completely from the book of Judges, but figures again frequently in two sections of each of the books of Samuel (1 Sam. 4–6 and 2 Sam. 6). These chapters form a separate unit in themselves, called “the ark narrative.” Did this story originate as an independent tradition? This is perfectly possible, although it is difficult to date these narratives.16 According to this history, the ark played an important role in the military conflicts of Israel with the Philistines. It seems to have served to manifest the presence of Yhwh in these wars. When the Philistines captured it and placed it in the sanctuary of their god Dagon,17 Dagon’s statue broke to pieces; the ark was then transferred from Ashdod to Ekron, where the inhabitants were struck down with tumors, which was an indication of the power of Yhwh, who seems to have been thought to dwell in the ark or whose presence materialized in the ark. This is why the Philistines decide to send the ark back to the Israelites: The Philistines asked the priests and soothsayers: “What shall we do with the ark of Yhwh? Tell us how we can send it back where it was.” They replied: “If you send the ark of the god of Israel back, do not send it back with nothing. On the contrary, take care to add to it something in reparation. Then you shall be healed and you will know why he did not stay his hand from you.” (1 Sam. 6:2–3)

The dangerous and sacred character of the ark may also turn against the Israelites, as is shown in the story of its return to them: Yhwh struck the people of Beth-Shemesh because they had looked at the ark of Yhwh. Among the people he struck seventy men—fifty



thousand men.18 The people went into mourning because Yhwh had struck thus so grievously. The people of Beth-Shemesh said: “Who can maintain himself in the presence of Yhwh, that holy god?” (1 Sam. 6:19–20)

The ark was thus sent to Kiriath-jearim and placed in the house of a certain Abinadab, whose son was consecrated as a priest to take care of it. This shows that one needed special qualities to be able to approach with safety the place where the god was present. The ark was originally a transportable war sanctuary, and the fact that it was so dangerous confirms the idea that it represented the god of Israel. The ark has often been connected with the portable sanctuaries of nomads, but its presence in the sanctuary at Shiloh does not require us to accept that any special connection exists here. Rather, there is perhaps a link to the sacred chests attested in Egyptian iconography or to the war standards of the Assyrians, or to other kinds of objects representing a deity. The standards of Luristan (in Iran in the territory of Mount Zagros), dating from the ninth to the sixth century, represent in a stylized manner a deity in the form of the “master of animals,”19 and a chest mounted upon a chariot seems also to be attested among the Phoenicians. Philo of Byblos (ca. 65–140) in his Phoenician History relates that two gods named “Fields” (agrós, corresponding perhaps to šaddāy) and “Rustic” (agrótēs) are associated with a chest (naós) pulled by two beasts. We also have numismatic documentation of an image or statue of a god in a portable sanctuary on a coin from Hieropolis, a Greek settlement around a hot springs in Turkey from the second century.


According to 1 Samuel 6, the ark was placed on a chariot drawn by cows, which is a further sign that it was an object of some importance. A priestly text from Exodus (25:10) states that the ark measured about 112 by 67 by 67 centimeters, but this is a very late text, as is that of Deuteronomy 10:1–5, which states that the ark was the box within which were kept the two tablets of the law. In a similar way, the first book of Kings



comes to the same conclusion in an apologetic manner: “There is nothing in the ark apart from the two tables of stone deposited by Moses at Horeb” (1 Kings 8:9). These texts show clearly that the tablets of the law are a substitute for something else. Perhaps they took the place of two sacred stones, of the kind found in the chests of pre-Islamic Bedouins. Among certain Arab tribes these were the two goddesses ʾal-Lat and ʾal-Ouzza, who were also replaced later by copies of the Koran. There were also chests for just one deity. So it is possible that the ark transported two betyles (sacred stones), or two statues symbolizing Yhwh and his female companion Ashera20 or a statue representing Yhwh alone.


David, the rival of Saul, initially settled in Hebron in the territory of Judah. He must have taken control of the city of Jerusalem, which would have been a relatively modest settlement. For the sake of comparison, at that time Ashkelon covered 50 or 60 hectares, Ekron 20 hectares, Jerusalem 4 to 6 hectares, and the recently excavated site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, 2.3 hectares, but the city at this later site was fortified with a double wall. If David really did definitively vanquish the Philistines, why did he not make Ashkelon his capital? The answer is that he probably remained their vassal during his reign as king.21 The town of Jerusalem has existed from the eighteenth century,22 and its name probably means “foundation of Shalem.” Shalimu is attested in Ugaritic texts as a god of the dusk. From the Amarna correspondence (diplomatic tablets exchanged by the kings of Egypt with various foreign sovereigns in the Levant), we learn that in the fourteenth century the town was governed by the kinglet Abdi-Cheba, who was a vassal of Egypt and complained to the pharaoh about attacks mounted by the Hapiru. This Canaanite town went into decline in the second half of the second millennium. This would explain why it was possible for David to take it so easily. If David did choose Jerusalem as his capital—“city of David”—it will have been for strategic reasons. Because it was a Canaanite town, Jerusalem was a “neutral” territory and did not belong



to any of the various tribes or clans who accepted David as king. So he was probably able to make the city his own by allying himself with the “local aristocracy.” At the time of David and Solomon, the town would have consisted only of a small settlement around the east hill, facing the Mount of Olives. The second book of Samuel describes how David transferred the ark of Yhwh from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem, a distance of about 10 kilometers (2 Sam. 6). This move is presented in the text as a festival with erotic and sexual overtones. When David’s wife Michal criticizes him for dancing naked, clothed only in a priestly ephod,23 she is punished for this by being made sterile, which may be a way of underlining the importance of this ritual for fertility. If the transfer of the ark signifies the entrance of Yhwh into Jerusalem, these themes of fertility and sexuality would not be at all surprising, especially if Yhwh here is conceived of as a god of storms on the model of “Baal.” David’s nakedness is the counterpart to Saul’s. Thus 1 Samuel 19 tells us that Saul, while pursuing his enemy David, met a group of prophets, fell into an ecstatic trance, took off all his clothing, and remained naked all day and all night: (20) Saul sent out men to take David. They saw a company of prophets who were prophesying and Samuel stood at their head. The spirit of god took control of the men sent by Saul and they entered into a trance themselves (21). This was reported to Saul who sent out other men; they, too, fell into a trance . . . (23) The spirit of god took control of him too and he continued to march in a state of trance until he reached Nayoth of Rama. (24) He too took off his clothes and went into a trance, dancing in front of Samuel. Then, still naked, he collapsed and stayed that way for a whole day and a whole night. This is why one says: “Is Saul, too, among the prophets?”

It seems very clear that the redactors are suggesting a parallel here between the nakedness of Saul and that of David before Yhwh. Read in the light of 1 Samuel 19, the dance of David in 2 Samuel 6 can be also understood as a sign of ecstasy, and this state may have the function of legitimizing him as king, because the king as mediator between the



people and the tutelary god would have needed to show that he had access to the “divine sphere.” 1 Samuel 19 assimilates Saul to the bearers of a kind of prophetic mediation; 2 Samuel 6 attributes to David a sort of priestly mediation via the ephod. David is also “seized” by Yhwh when he approaches the ark, but in contrast to what happens to the Philistines and the people of Beth-Shemash, he does not die. Some more recent priestly texts prohibit priests from showing their sexual organs,24 even inadvertently, but traditionally nakedness in the face of the divine25 poses no problem.


According to the biblical account, David, the founder of the dynasty, did not build the official sanctuary of Jerusalem. The books of Samuel state that the ark was first sheltered in a kind of tent because the temple had not yet been built. The fact that the founder of a royal dynasty did not construct a sanctuary for his tutelary god is very surprising, and the biblical texts try out various explanations for this anomaly. 2 Samuel 7 reports that when Yhwh promised to David that his dynasty would endure forever, the god himself told him that he wanted to dwell, not in a temple, but in a tent. The dynastic promise is constructed around a wordplay: it is not David who will built a house for Yhwh, but Yhwh who will build a house, that is, give David descendants and establish a dynasty for him. Thus, only David’s son will build Yhwh a sanctuary. In the books of Chronicles, written about 200 years later, there is a different explanation. First of all, David is said to have sketched out, like an architect, the plan for the temple, which he transmitted to his son Solomon, and then he is said not to have been able to build the sanctuary because, as a man of war, he had shed too much blood.26 The historical explanation for why David did not build a temple may perhaps be very simple, namely, that when he annexed Jerusalem there was already a large sanctuary there, but it was occupied by another god. The text of 2 Samuel 12 seems to presuppose the existence of a temple in Jerusalem at the time of David. Thus, after David’s adultery with Bathsheba, Yhwh causes the first son of this union to die. On learning of the death of the child, “David rose up, washed himself, anointed himself,



changed his clothes, then went to the house of Yhwh and fell down upon his face” (12:20). Either this is an anachronistic addition, or it transmits a memory that David actually did frequent an existing sanctuary. The biblical tradition, though, has it that it is Solomon who built the temple.


Anyone who reads the story of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible will be struck by the ambiguity of the picture that emerges. Solomon is the wise king par excellence who gives exemplary judgments (1 Kings 3:16–28) and who is keen to acquire all forms of knowledge (1 Kings 5:9–11). He is also exceedingly rich and reigns over a world empire (1 Kings 5:1), and is admired by monarchs from the farthest corners of the world (1 Kings 10). In building the Temple of Jerusalem he accomplished faithfully what his father David intended but was not able to achieve, and established at Jerusalem a splendid sanctuary for the god of Israel (1 Kings 6–8). He was thus “the greatest of all the kings of the earth in wealth and wisdom” (1 Kings 10:23). No other king of Israel or Judah is given such praise. However, at the same time, in 1 Kings 1–11 one can note a number of reported traits that darken the picture. Solomon comes to power as a result of intrigues and murders (1 Kings 1–2), not to mention his own rather shocking origins (2  Sam. 11–12). Th is exemplary king contravenes the prescriptions of Deuteronomy by taking a number of foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1–6), and by establishing cult places outside Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7–10). He also imposes a harsh regime of forced labor on his people (1 Kings 5:27, contradicted by 9:22), and he is responsible for the collapse of the “United Kingdom of Israel and Judah” (1 Kings 11:11–13). One may of course argue that one biblical author wished to give a sophisticated and differentiated picture of the greatest king of Israel and to make him an image of all the ambiguities in the history of the Judean kingdom.27 However, it is more plausible to connect these differing perspectives to different moments in the formation of the history of Solomon. Even though some scholars still try to reconstruct a history of Solomon dating from the tenth century, this is an impossible project. It is



now clear that the idea of a “Solomonic Empire” is a pure fiction, and that 1 Kings 3–11 projects the realities of the neo-Assyrian Empire back on to an imaginary “Israel” in order to endow it with a glorious past.28 The great buildings at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, which were often taken to be “archaeological proof” of the existence of an empire under Solomon, most probably date to the ninth rather than the tenth century.29 And though the debate about a “low chronology” has not yet been definitively settled,30 it is undeniable that the context for the biblical narrative is the Assyrian era rather than the tenth century. In the tenth century Jerusalem was simply not large enough to be the capital of an empire. Solomon, it is claimed, had relations with the Phoenicians, who are said to have furnished him with wood for his building works, and he also had numerous contacts with Egypt. These links are all compatible with what we know of for the neo-Assyrian period.31 A Hyram of Tyre is mentioned in 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, but the only personage with a comparable name and origin who is historically attested is Hirammu, who appears in the annals of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser in about 730.32 Parallels to several elements of the narrative of the construction of the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6–8) can be found in numerous Mesopotamian documents. The story itself is “particularly similar to Assyrian building accounts,”33 in that it is structured around a subdivision of the process into the following sequence of stages: the decision to build (1 Kings 5:15–19), the acquisition of construction materials (5:20– 26), the description of the building process itself (5:27–32), the description of the temple and its furnishings (1 Kings 6–7), and the dedication of the sanctuary (1 Kings 8). Parallels such as these strongly suggest that the first version of the story of Solomon can be dated to the neo-Assyrian period, and it is highly likely that it was redacted in the seventh century.34 It is perfectly possible that the scribes had some older documents at their disposal, but not a history of Solomon in a fully constituted form. The reconstruction of any such ancient documents is a difficult task. Annals of Solomon, like those mentioned in 1 Kings 11:41, may indeed have existed in the palace or the Temple of Jerusalem, and some ancient traditions about Solomon may perhaps exist in some of the lists in 1 Kings 4.35 The story



of the construction of the sanctuary, which culminates in its consecration (1 Kings 6–8), is, at any rate, largely the work of the so-called Deuteronomistic editors. It may, however, contain some traces of older material. We shall not enter here into the debate about the historicity of Solomon, who, in contrast to David, is not mentioned anywhere outside the Bible. There are, to be sure, some arguments in favor of thinking that he existed, notably the scandalous story of his birth. It is possible, as Timo Veijola and Ernst Axel Knauf have argued, that he was a usurper and that the story about David’s adultery with Bathsheba was invented to show that he actually did descend from David, even if it was not through the “official” wives of the king.36 If Solomon was not the biological son of David, the whole dynasty would be a mythic construct, but that does not actually make much difference.


The center of the biblical account of King Solomon is the long narrative of the construction and inauguration of the temple (1 Kings 6–8). This narrative is highly detailed but not always comprehensible. In addition, the Greek text differs in important ways from the Masoretic, which might suggest that the Greek translators did not understand the Hebrew text very well either, or that they were working from a Hebrew text that was different from the one we now find in the Hebrew Bible. First of all we might wonder whether this account of a “construction” in 1 Kings 6–7 does not really refer to a renovation or rearrangement of an existing sanctuary.37 Konrad Rupprecht has shown that, apart from the very beginning of the narrative (1 Kings 6:2–3), which gives the dimensions of the temple, the rest of the text speaks rather of the construction of an annex: “He built on to the wall annexes of the House, all around the walls, all around the walls, all around the temple and the dĕḇîr38 and also made lateral pieces all around” (v. 5). Verse 7 also makes no sense unless we envisage that there was a building already in existence: “When they built the House, they used rough stone, prepared in quarries; one did not hear a hammer, an axe, or any iron tool in the



House, when they were building it.” It is likely, then, that Solomon’s edifice was built onto an existing sanctuary—and that would also have been the case for the “construction” of most other sanctuaries in the ancient Near East. It is also possible that Solomon transformed a sanctuary in the open air into a temple. The narrative of 1 Kings 6–7 contains, however, more evidence in support of the first of these hypotheses. The ancient kernel of the story about the inauguration of the temple in 1 Kings 8 is to be found in verses 1–13, 39 which perhaps read like this:40 “(2*)41 All the men of Israel assembled around King Solomon in the month of Ethanim for a festival—this is the seventh month. (3*) All the elders of Israel arrived; they brought up the ark of Yhwh. (6*) They put the ark of Yhwh in its place, in the dĕḇîr under the wings of the cherubim.” This ancient version would have ended with the dedication of the temple pronounced by the king. In the Masoretic text this dedication is described in verses 12–13; however, in the Greek text it is in a completely different place, at verse 53 (3  Kingdoms 8:53a), after the long prayer of Solomon. It is highly probable that the Greek text is based on a Hebrew version that is very different from the Masoretic text, and older.42 This Greek text can be translated as follow At that time Solomon said about the house, when he had finished building it: “[It is] the Sun [which] the Lord has made known in the heavens, he said he wanted to dwell in the darkness. Build my house, a magnificent house [or, house of governance] for you, to dwell therein always anew.” Behold, is this not written in the Book of songs?

The Masoretic text in the present Hebrew Bible seems slightly clearer: Thus Solomon said: “Yhwh has said that he will dwell in thick darkness! Therefore to build, I have built a house of governance, a place for you, so that you may dwell in it forever.”

The Greek text is so convoluted that it is questionable whether the translator understood correctly what he was translating. The first phrase after the introduction (beginning with “[It is] the Sun [which] the Lord



has made known¨) is abstruse. If the Greek is actually following the sequence of words in the Hebrew Vorlage,43 then one might wonder whether the word for Yhwh, “the Lord,” did not actually belong in the next line down, which is how the Masoretic text takes it. In that case “sun” would not be the grammatical direct object in the sentence (in the accusative case in the Greek text) as the translator thought, but it would be the grammatical subject, and the Hebrew text would then originally have been: The Sun (Shamash) has made it known from the heavens: “Yhwh has said that he wishes to dwell in darkness.”

From this reconstruction we can conclude that the house that Solomon built—that is, renovated—was first of all a house for Shamash, which would accord with the east–west orientation of the Temple of Jerusalem as is indicated by 1 Kings 6:8, also 7:39: “He put five supports on

Plan of a traditional temple (on the left) and a palace (on the right) in the Levant.



the right [= south] side of the house and five on the left [= north] side of the house.” And in this temple there was to be a kind of lateral chapel, a second dĕḇîr, reserved for Yhwh. So the whole sanctuary would shelter not one god, but two. What is perhaps a further piece of evidence for the cohabitation of two gods in the temple at Jerusalem comes from the Greek text describing the construction. The Masoretic text has it that the temple was built in a thoroughly traditional way,44 divided into three parts: an entrance (covered or not), a main chamber (hêḵāl), and the final room (dĕḇîr) or the Holy of Holies (qōdeš ha-qŏdāšîm). This conception is presupposed in the priestly text about the sanctuary at Mount Sinai in the second part of Exodus, and in Ezekiel 40–48. Let us compare these two texts, Hebrew (1 Kings 6) and Greek (3 Kingdoms 6): Masoretic text 1 Kings 6:16–19

Septuagint, original text45 3 Kingdoms 6:16–19

(16) He built, over 20 cubits, the foundation of the house in planks of cedar, from the floor up to the top of the walls, and in the same way he built the interior to make within it the sacred chamber (dĕḇîr), the Holy of Holies. (17) The 40 cubits in the front formed the House, that is to say, the Temple. (18) The cedar wood inside the house had sculptures of gourds and open flowers; it was all of cedar, one saw no stone. (19) He made the sacred chamber inside the House, to place there the ark of Yhwh.

He built 20 cubits from the top of the walls the side (tò pleurón), one [side] from the floor up to the rafters; and he built from the dabir to the Holy of Holies. The sanctuary (naós) was 40 cubits in front of the dabir in midst of the house within, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord.

This quite complicated description suggests that Yhwh (or his statue?) would originally have been placed in a lateral chapel of the temple, but it has to be said that the Greek text is rather confused. A parallel for this text exists in Mesopotamia, where Marduk issues the command to build a sanctuary for a lunar deity. Thus, on the cylinder from Sippar (i.8–ii.25) the king Nabonidus of Babylon (556–539)



describes the restoration of three temples as follows: “Marduk spoke to me: . . . rebuild Ehulhul and cause Sin, the great lord, to establish his residence in its midst.”46 According to 3 Kingdoms 8:53a, the solar god tells Solomon that Yhwh wishes to dwell in “thick clouds,” in the darkness (in Greek: gnó!hōi; in Hebrew ʿărā!el), which is the proper domain of Yhwh as god of storms and war, as is attested, for instance, by Psalms 18:10: “He cleft apart the skies and descended, a thick cloud under his feet.” Moving now to the second part of this dedication, who or what is the subject of the expression “to dwell therein always anew”47—the solar god, or Yhwh, or the king? Conceivably the ambiguity was deliberate. The temple is also a royal sanctuary, the sacred central point of the kingdom. If the king is considered to be the son of god, the house of god is also in some sense his house. The idea of “living there forever anew” may also refer to the succession of kings and express the idea of a never-ending dynasty. The Masoretes corrected this assimilation of king and deity by adding the clarification that really only Yhwh could dwell in the temple at Jerusalem.48 Of course, they also deleted any reference to a solar deity: the desire to dwell in darkness comes from Yhwh himself. The expression of the Masoretic text “so that you shall dwell in it forever” takes up a psalm found in Exodus: “You will lead them and will plant them in the mountain of their patrimony, in the place which you have prepared to dwell there, Yhwh; to the sanctuary, Lord, which your hands have established” (15:17). Here it is obviously a question of a house for the throne of Yhwh, not of the king. In short, it seems rather clear that the Greek translation was made from a different and probably older Hebrew version of the dedication of the temple; in this older dedication it was clear that the sanctuary was first of all that of a sun god and that Yhwh was added as an associate god. Cults of the sun existed everywhere in Mesopotamia and Egypt in different variants: the sun is the creator and guarantor of life, but also the judge of the good and bad deeds of men. A seal found at Jerusalem in a tomb of the seventh century shows a solar god flanked by two minor gods: “Righteousness” and “Justice.”49 The conception of a solar god of justice is found in the Bible in a certain number of psalms and also in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah,



Stele from the north of Syria (Til Barsip/Tell Ahmar) from the first centuries of the first millennium, showing a storm god holding in his hand a lightning bolt and thunder (or a weapon); above him, the symbol of the sun god.

where the divine punishment is meted out at the moment when the sun rises. It is even possible that the two messengers and the deity in the story of Genesis 19 represent the sun god and his two acolytes. In the first chapter of Isaiah (1:21, see also v. 26), Jerusalem appears as the city where righteousness and justice dwell. “How the faithful city has come to be a prostitute! She was filled with righteousness (mišpāṭ) and justice (ṣedeq) spent the night there.” These texts may preserve traces of the presence in Jerusalem of a sun god, who however was quickly assimilated to Yhwh.



The idea of conjoint worship of a sun god and a storm god finds further support in iconography, not only in the south but also in several steles from the north of Syria and Anatolia, which depict the storm god with his attributes and above him the solar disk. To summarize, when Yhwh entered Jerusalem and took his place in the temple, he was not immediately the principal god there. Rather, he only became the chief god during the following centuries, when two kingdoms laid claim to him.



The history of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah is related by the biblical authors of the books of Kings and (somewhat differently) in the books of Chronicles from a fundamentally “southern” perspective, that is, from the point of view of Judah. Consequently it is difficult to form a conception of the original form of the traditions and the religion of the north. There is, however, evidence that the worship of Yhwh in the north was actually quite different from what is said about it by the editors of the books of Kings, whose reaction from the first was to consider the cult of Yhwh in the north to be idolatrous and contrary to the divine will. This is why the fall of the kingdom of Israel in 7221 is explained as a divine punishment for the “sin of Jeroboam,” that is, the cult of Yhwh in the form of a bull. King Jeroboam, according to the Judean authors of 1 Kings 12, was responsible for bringing about the deviation from the correct form of the cult of Yhwh in the north when he built sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan in competition with the Temple of Jerusalem. These southern authors were convinced of the superiority of Judah, although it also finally succumbed to the attacks of the Babylonians. That Yhwh was better disposed toward Judah is explained by the fact that he had chosen David and his dynasty, even promising in 2 Samuel



7 that their reign would last “forever.”2 Nevertheless, given that Jerusalem was also destroyed in 578, it was necessary to explain this defeat in a similar way by reference to a deviation for which certain kings had been responsible and that made them guilty in Yhwh’s eyes. According to the authors of the books of Kings, the true worship of Yhwh had two properties: Yhwh had to be worshipped exclusively, and the sacrificial cult was limited to and centralized in Jerusalem. Certain kings, notably David but also Solomon and some other Judean kings (especially Hezekiah and Josiah), are asserted to have respected this “cultural purity,” but still their behavior and actions did not succeed in averting catastrophe. This biblical vision is largely the creation of the Deuteronomistic editors who revised the scrolls of Samuel and Kings during and after the period of the Exile in the sixth century. It does not correspond to historical reality, for a number of reasons. First of all, the idea that Yhwh was the sole god to be worshipped and Jerusalem the only legitimate sanctuary is not a very old idea, but—as we shall see in more detail in what follows—one that arises at the earliest in the seventh century. In addition, the books devoted to the kings present them in a way that takes no account of their political successes or their failures. To take just two examples, Manasseh is presented as the worst of all the kings of Judah, but he reigned for fifty-five years and during his reign Judah was both at peace and prosperous. The editors of the books of Kings devoted a short passage to these fifty-five years and were at pains to enumerate in a stereotypical way the horrors that this king, who was a faithful vassal of the Assyrians, is said to have committed. His predecessor Hezekiah, highly praised by the Deuteronomistic redactors, pursued a policy of resistance to the Assyrians. Although this policy was suicidal and led to an occupation and a drastic reduction in the territory of the tiny kingdom of Judah, it is precisely because of this anti-Assyrian policy that he is presented so positively. During the two centuries when the two kingdoms coexisted, Israel was the geopolitically dominant one, while Judah was a tiny monarchy that seems to have often been in the position of a vassal to its “big brother” in the north. Israel contained fertile land where it was easy to cultivate both wheat, in the valley of Jisreel, and olives and wine in the mountains of Galilee. It very quickly established trade relations with the



Aramaean kingdoms and with Phoenicia, whereas the Judean economy was much more fragile. Finally, as we have seen, the idea of a great kingdom, united under David and Solomon, comes more from the imagination of the authors of these books of the Bible than from any historical reality. If this is the case, we must ask why the same national god was worshipped in both kingdoms. It seems that during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, parts of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim found themselves united around a king and a tutelary god. But “shared gods” existed elsewhere in the Levant. This was particularly the case for the god “El,” but also for Yhwh himself, who had also been worshipped outside the territory of Israel and Judah. The cults of Yhwh in their various local forms were highly diverse, as can be seen from inscriptions3 and from the biblical texts themselves: the texts of Kuntillet Ajrud mention a Yhwh of Samaria and a Yhwh of Teman, that is, of the south outside Israel and Judah; the inscription of Khirbet Beit Lei speaks of a Yhwh, god of Jerusalem; 2 Samuel 15:7 mentions a “Yhwh at Hebron,” Psalms 99:2 tells of a “Yhwh in Zion”; and Genesis 28:10–22 explains the veneration of Yhwh at Bethel. To grasp the complexity of ancient religiosity, we must distinguish three levels of analysis. First of all, at the level of the individual, the family, or the clan, one turned to divine protectors, personal gods, and deified ancestors, and others. There is no need for a sanctuary or temple here: the pater familias takes care of the ritual acts. The grouping together of several clans brings forth a new level of religious activity that is practiced on a local level. There are local sanctuaries; these are generally not very important and are often in the open air. It is these local sanctuaries against which certain biblical texts conduct a fierce polemic, calling them cults “on every hill” and “under every green tree.” Religion on a national level is expressed in a set of cult ceremonies of which the king is the mediator, and it is organized around the national god and other deities who are associated with him in one way or another. Regarding the third level, an important question is whether the official royal cult was the same in Israel and Judah. Some specialists in biblical studies think that the cult of Yhwh in Judah was in effect very different from that of Israel: the Yhwh of Israel was worshipped rather on the model of Baal, that is, as a god of storms and fertility, whereas in



the south, he had incorporated the traits of the old sun god who was the tutelary deity of Jerusalem. This picture needs qualification—rather than strict opposition, it is more likely that there were differences in relative emphasis between the cult in the north and in the south. Let us look first at the cult of Yhwh in the kingdom of Israel between 930 and 722.


The kingdom of Israel came into existence on a territory corresponding more or less to the realm of a chief called Labayu or Labaya of Shechem, who is mentioned in the Amarna Letters. Some have tried to identify him with such biblical figures as Abimelek in the book of Judges, who tried, according to chapter 9 of that book, to rule over Israel but failed. Or he is even taken to be Saul. But these identifications are not convincing, because the letters of El-Amarna, three of which were actually written by this Labayu,4 are very much older than the beginning of the Israelite kingship. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note the correspondence grosso modo between the “state” of Labayu and the regions integrated into the kingdom of Israel. The Bible designates a man named Jeroboam as the “founder” of the kingdom of the north. This Jeroboam, according to 1 Kings 12, first revolted against Solomon and then had to flee to Egypt. At the death of Solomon he returned and negotiated as the spokesman of the tribes of the north with Roboam, the son and successor of Solomon, and when these negotiations failed, he became king of Israel. He lived fi rst at Shechem before fortifying Penuel and adopting it as his residence. The same narrative then recounts that Jeroboam, after having founded his own kingdom among the tribes of the north, constructed two sanctuaries, at Bethel and at Dan, where he set up boviform statues representing the god who had led the Israelites out of Egypt. (28) The king Jeroboam took counsel and had made two calves of gold and said to the people: “You have gone up too often to Jerusalem; these are your gods, Israel, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (29) He set up one in Bethel and one in



Dan (30)—this was his sin. The people marched in procession before one [of the calves] as far as Dan.

Here the national god of Israel is identified with the god of the exodus. The installation of the statues at Bethel and Dan means at the extreme northern and extreme southern boundaries of the kingdom. For archaeologists, the mention of Dan as the place where a sanctuary was supposedly set up at the end of the tenth century is problematic because Dan probably did not become Israelite until the eighth century.5 If that is right, the story about the founding of a sanctuary at Dan is probably a retrojection from the era of Jeroboam  II, who, during his reign in the eighth century, may well have been able to annex Dan and establish a Yahwistic sanctuary there. The editors of the books of Kings simply attributed this event to the “first” Jeroboam, who may altogether be an invention. The exact chronology is not important, but what is significant is that the biblical authors suggest that Yhwh was considered to be the god of the exodus in both sanctuaries, the one at Bethel and the one at Dan. The plural in Jeroboam’s exclamation (“here are your gods”) is surprising, but this motif is taken up again in the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32, which transfers the “sin of Jeroboam” to Mount Sinai and presents it as the “original sin” of the north. The plural presumably refers to the fact that there were two cult statues, one for each of the two sanctuaries. Exodus 32 would then take up, or perhaps “quote,” the words of Jeroboam and put them into the mouths of the Israelites at Mount Sinai, who wished to have a visible god: 1 Kings 12:28

Exod. 32:4

hinnēh ʾĕlōhêḵā yiśrā ʾēl ʾăšer he ̒ ĕlûḵā mēʾereṣ miṣrāyim ‘Here are your gods Israel who brought you up from the land of Egypt”

ʾēlleh ʾĕlōhêḵā yiśrā ʾēl ʾăšer he ̒ ĕlûḵā mēʾereṣ miṣrāyim “These are your gods Israel who brought you up from the land of Egypt”

However, the narrative of 1 Kings 12 seems to imply that it is the same god Yhwh at Bethel and Dan. Another hypothesis would be that this is a divine couple whose two members were enthroned on zoomor-



phic pedestals.6 The other member of the couple might be the parhedros of Yhwh, a goddess who, like Asherah, is associated with him. Th is, however, is mere speculation, and there is no reason to postulate an association of Yhwh with Asherah or another goddess in regard to the exodus. Perhaps the simplest explanation would be that the original text read: “Behold your god who brought you out of Egypt.” And in fact the Hebrew form ʾĕlōhêḵā can mean either “your gods” or “your god.” It is only the causative form of the verb (“bring up”) that is slightly different for singular and plural. It is possible that the Masoretes retouched an original singular and made it into a plural in order to accuse the Israelites of the north not only of using a graven image, that is, of idolatry, but also of worshipping many gods. The worship of a bull in the capital of Israel, Samaria, is attested in the book of Hosea. So, did the narrative in 1 Kings 12 simply transfer the bull of Samaria to Bethel, or was there also a bull in the sanctuary there? The statue of a bull may either play the role of a pedestal for Yhwh or it may represent Yhwh himself. At Ugarit Baal is represented either anthropomorphically, as one can see on a stele in the Louvre where he holds his weapons, thunder and lightning, in his hands, or in the form of a bull; he is thus sometimes called “Bull,” and in the epic “Baal and Death” he copulates with a cow before descending to surrender himself to the god of death, Motu. The god of the exodus and a bull are also linked in an oracle of the prophet Balaam cited in Numbers: “El brings them out of Egypt; he has the horns of a wild ox.”7 An ostracon from Samaria (no. 41) contains the proper name ̒ glyw, which means “calf of Yhwh” or “Yhwh is a calf.” The iconography allows for these two possible ways of understanding the boviform statues: either the bull is a pedestal for Yhwh, or it represents Yhwh himself. On a seal from Ebla we find a bull seated on a throne, flanked on the left by a person in an attitude of prayer and on the right by a storm god. This means that man encounters the storm god or god of war via the bull. The book of Hosea, which we have just cited, often alludes polemically to a bull, as in this oracle: “He has rejected your calf, Samaria! I am angry with them. For how long still shall they remain incapable of attaining purity? (6) For it comes from Israel, an artisan has made it, it is not a god. Yes, the calf of Samaria shall be shattered” (8:5–6).



Seal from Ebla showing the worship of a bull on an altar.

Philological and diachronic analysis of this oracle shows that it is composite. The underlined part is the original oracle. It is in the third person, contains a criticism of a statue in the form of a calf, and announces that it will soon be destroyed, probably by the Assyrians. This text was then augmented by adding a speech by god in the first person, which attributes the destruction of the statue expressly to the wrath of god. Finally the passage was worked over again (with the parts in italics added) and turned into the polemic against images that we find in the second part of the book of Isaiah, dating from the Persian period. Another text contained in the book of Hosea seems to refer to the production of small statuettes of young bulls for use in the family as objects of devotion. “But they continue to sin, they make themselves an



image of molten metal with their silver, they make idols of their own invention, all are the work of artisans. They say about these people: ‘Those who engage in human sacrifice may as well also embrace young bulls’ ” (13:2). This text suggests a connection between the worship of the bull and human sacrifice; such sacrifices, as we shall see, were not completely unknown in the cult of Yhwh. To summarize, it seems incontrovertible that in Israel at Bethel and later also at Dan, Yhwh was worshipped in the shape of a bull, just as Baal was in Ugarit. The exodus from Egypt, which seems in the first instance to have been a tradition of the northern kingdom, was ascribed to this god. In the eighth century Bethel was the most important sanctuary of Israel, as is attested by the references in the scroll attributed to the prophet Amos. Amos was a Judean smallholder who came into the sanctuary of Bethel, announcing the death of the king and the end of the kingdom of Israel. The priest of Bethel wished to get rid of this Judean, and thus forbade him to enter the sanctuary, which he says was the most important in Israel: “Do not continue to prophesy in Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal temple” (7:13). Nevertheless, there must also have been a temple in Samaria; this is shown by the inscription of the Assyrian king Sargon, who speaks of deporting the statues of Samaria, and also the inscription of Kuntillet Ajrud, which mentions a “Yhwh of Samaria.” 1 Kings also attests a sanctuary in Samaria when it reports that King Ahab “raised an altar to Baal in the house of Baal which he had built in Samaria” (1 Kings 16:32). The double reference to Baal is slightly curious; why specify that the king has installed an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal? It seems that we have a case in which the text, which spoke of the “house of God” (bêt ʾĕlōhîm)8 or the “house of Yhwh” (bêt Yhwh), has been altered. So the original text would have read: “He raised an altar to Baal in the house of Yhwh which he had built.” The subject at the end of the phrase is probably Ahab’s father, Omri—a king whom the editors abhor—who had made Samaria the capital of Israel. In his new capital he would have constructed a temple for Baal, inside which he would have provided space for the worship of other gods. Omri and Ahab, then, would have favored the cult of Phoenician Baal, but would also have included within the structure a place for sacrifices to Yhwh, whose principal temple was at Bethel. Later



the books of Kings describe the destruction of the temple of Baal at Samaria by Jehu, who put an end to the dynasty of Omri and became king of Israel himself (2 Kings 10:21–27). Archaeologists have not discovered any clear evidence of the existence of a sanctuary, but excavations have not been undertaken on the whole of the territory. It is possible that excavations being undertaken on an area about 650 meters to the east of the acropolis, which was occupied during the Iron Age, will find evidence for the existence of a sanctuary there.9 Whatever the results of these excavations, though, the capital of a kingdom must have had an important sanctuary.


The stele of Mesha is made of black basalt and is over one meter high. It was discovered in 1868 at Dhiban in Jordan by an Alsatian missionary by the name of Frederick A. Klein. Before this stele was smashed by Bedouins who thought it contained a treasure, Charles Simon ClermontGanneau was able to make a papier-mâché impression of the text, which served as the basis for reconstructing it. Nowadays the authenticity of the stele is no longer subject to serious doubt, although that was not always the case.10 The stone has an inscription purportedly dictated by the Moabite king Mesha (tenth century). The text is 34 lines long, which makes it the longest inscription yet discovered in the Levant. It is an address of thanksgiving addressed by the king to his tutelary god Chemosh. The inscription describes the victories of Mesha during the course of his rebellion against the kingdom of Israel after the death of King Ahab:11 I am Mesha, son of Chemosh, king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father ruled for thirty years over Moab and I have ruled after my father. And I have built this sanctuary for Chemosh at Qerihoh, a sanctuary of salvation for he has saved me from all aggressors and made me rejoice over my enemies. Omri was the king of Israel and oppressed Moab for a long time, because Chemosh was angry with his land. His son succeeded him


and he too said: “I will oppress Moab.” In my days, he said so. But I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has been defeated; it has been defeated forever! Omri had taken over the land of Madaba and dwelled there12 during his reign and the reign of his son, for forty years, but Chemosh restored it in my days. And I built Baal-Meon and I built the water reservoir there and I built Kiriathaim. The men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Chemosh and Moab. I took away from there the hearth of the altar (ʾrʾl) of his Well-Beloved (dwdh) and I dragged it in front of Chemosh at Kerioth where I made the man of Sharon and the man of Maharot to dwell. And Chemosh said to me: “Go take Nebo from Israel.” And I went in the night and fought against it from daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls because I had dedicated (ḥ-r-m) them to the Ashtar of Chemosh. I took from there the vessels of Yhwh and I dragged them in front of Chemosh. The king of Israel had built Yahaz, and he stayed there throughout his campaign against me; and Chemosh drove him away before my face. And I took two hundred Moabite men, its entire division, and I led it up to Yahaz. And I have taken it in order to add it to Dibhan. I built Qeriho, the wall of the park and the wall of the citadel. I have built its gates; and I have built its towers; and I have built the king’s house; and I have made the double reservoir for the spring in the innermost part of the city. There was no cistern inside the town of Qerihoh and I said to all the people: “Make each of you a cistern within your house.” And I cut the moat for Qerihoh by using Israelite prisoners. I have built Aroer, and I constructed the road in Arnon. I built Bet-Bamot, because it had been destroyed. I built Bezer because it was in ruins, with fift y men from Dibhan because all Dibhan were in subjection. I have reigned . . . hundred with the towns which I have added to the country. I built . . . Madaba, BethDiblaten and Bet-Baal-Meon. I raised up there . . . herds of the country. And Hauranen where there dwelled . . . Chemosh said to




me, “Go down, fight against Hauranen!” I went down . . . and Chemosh restored it in my days.

This inscription is dated to between 850 and 810 and is informed by a theology very much like that of the books of Kings and other texts in the Bible: victory over an enemy is the work of the national god, whereas defeat or occupation by another people is the wrath of the national god who has turned away from his people. Chemosh plays for Moab a role like that of Yhwh for Israel. The inscription also tells us that Israel and Moab were in dispute about a territory east of the Jordan. This is the territory attributed to Gad between A ̒ tarot and Nebo, which in the ninth century had a fate like that of Alsace, changing hands several times between Israel and Moab. Mesha’s inscription claims that he had retaken the town occupied by Israel. He boasts about the town of Nebo: “I took from there the vessels of Yhwh and I dragged them before Chemosh.” The word translated as “vessels” (kly) is sufficiently indeterminate that it can designate all kinds of cult objects, including perhaps statues. What is relevant is that this remark presupposes that there was a sanctuary of Yhwh at Nebo that Mesha destroyed, and whose ritual objects or statues he moved, as was the custom, to the temple of Chemosh. As the book of Joshua also claims about the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, the booty was dedicated to Ashtar-Chemosh and banned from all profane use by destruction (ḥerem). A god Ashtar is known from Ugarit,13 but in this stele the connection with Chemosh suggests rather a goddess. Ashtar is attested as a goddess in the Shumu’il confederation of Arab tribes; she appears as Ashtar-Shamaim in the oasis of Duma, where she has her place at the top of the pantheon.14 So we should understand the expression “Ashtar of Chemosh” on analogy to Asherah of Yhwh, as the parhedros of the god Chemosh. As far as the taking of the city of A ̒ tarot is concerned, Mesha specifies that he carried off the altar ( ʾrʾl) of dwhd and dragged it in front of Chemosh at Qeriyot. The term ʾari ʾel designates the top part of an altar for holocausts;15 the meaning of d-w-d is, on the other hand, much less clear. It might be a title for Yhwh (the “well-beloved”), who would therefore also have had a sanctuary in Atarot. However, it would be sur-



Bezer KiriathaimNebo Madaba BaalDiblataim Meon Atharot Yaha[ (?)

KeriotI Aroer MOAB


20 km

Places mentioned in the inscription of Mesha

prising if Mesha used that title when he had not yet even mentioned Yhwh. If this was just another way of calling on Yhwh, his proper name ought to have preceded the title. So it is possible that d-w-d (Dôd) actually designated another god, perhaps the local god of A ̒ tarot worshipped by the Israelites. Such a god is attested in the original text of Amos 8:14. The Masoretic text states: “They swear by the sin of Samaria and they say: ‘Long live your god, Dan! Long live the path (d-r-k) of BeerSheba!” However, the word d-r-k (path, trail) makes no sense in this context. The Greek version reads theós (god) instead of “path,” and so we can deduce that the original text had d-d-k (dôdeka) meaning “your Dôd” or “Your well-beloved” in place of d-r-k: “Long live your god, Dan! Long live your Well-Beloved (dwd), Beer-Sheba.” So the stele of Mesha attests to an official royal sanctuary for Yhwh at Nebo in the ninth century, and a local cult of Dôd at A ̒ tarot. It confirms that there was a diversity of cult places in Israel under the dynasty of the Omrides.




Yhwh, then, was worshipped in the kingdom of the north in the form of a bull or anthropomorphically as a storm god. Yahwist sanctuaries existed in Samaria, Bethel, Dan, Shechem, and Transjordan, as we have seen. It is also certain that Yhwh was not the only god worshipped in the north; this is attested in the books of Kings and in various of the prophetic books that criticize the kings of the north for worshipping other gods in addition to Yhwh. In an inscription from Tell Deir A ̒ lla on the Jordan (a place that is now part of the kingdom of Jordan), which was put up when this area was part of Israel, there are the names of the following gods: El, the goddesses Ashtar, Shagar, and possibly also Shamash. There is also an occurrence of the plural šdyn, which can be translated as “those who belong to Shadday,” which is either another independent god or a title for El. At a sanctuary in Dan it seems there was worship of “the god of Dan” (ʾĕlōhê dan), and this cult is still attested in the second century in a bilingual inscription in Greek and Aramaic that reads in Greek: Theōî tōî en Dánois. Ostraca from Samaria, bits of pottery used for writing, show a number of proper names containing the element b̒ l (Baʿal).16 It is hard to say whether in these proper names the term b̒ l is used as a title for Yhwh or whether it designates another deity. Kings asserts that Mount Carmel had an important sanctuary of Baal. This was the place where in the story of Elijah there was a competition between Baal and Yhwh.


Let us accept, then, that in the kingdom of Israel, Yhwh was worshipped as a “baal” and a storm god like “Hadad.” In certain psalms and other poetical texts that were perhaps composed in the kingdom of the north, Yhwh looks indeed very much like the “baal” of Ugarit. Like Baal, who in Ugaritic has the epithet rkb ̒ rpt, “cloud rider,”17 Yhwh uses the clouds to ride through the skies: “clouds are his chariot” (Ps. 104:3).18 Psalm 29, which probably originated in the north and was then subject to a southern



revision, clearly describes Yhwh as a storm god who tames the waters as the Baal of Ugarit had: (3) The voice of Yhwh resounds over the waters . . . Yhwh is upon the great waters. (4) The voice of Yhwh with magnificence, (5) the voice of Yhwh breaks the cedars; Yhwh breaks the cedars of Lebanon (6) He makes them jump like a young steer, he makes Lebanon and Sirion jump like a young bull. (7) The voice of Yhwh makes flaming fi res burst out. (8) The voice of Yhwh makes the desert tremble; Yhwh makes the sacred steppe tremble.19 (9) The voice of Yhwh makes hinds give birth; it strips the leaves off the forests. And in his temple everyone shouts: “Glory.”

This psalm affirms the power of Yhwh, who is compared to a young bull, over water and over nature in general. At Ugarit a hymn like this could have unproblematically been used for Baal. This worship of Yhwh in terms that could also apply to Baal is also accompanied, according to the account given in the books of Kings, by a determined struggle of Yhwh against Baal. The biblical authors locate this struggle in the era of Ahab, son and successor of King Omri, who is considered by the Assyrians to be the true founder of the dynasty of the north. Archaeology reveals an impressive amount of building work that can be attributed to this king. As we have already seen, it was Omri who founded the capital of Samaria and constructed a palace and also probably a temple there. Omri tried to create a modern state and formed an alliance with the Phoenicians by marrying his son Ahab to Jezebel, who appears in the Bible as the daughter of the king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31). According to other sources, Ethbaal, her father, was king of Tyre. Without giving details on the question of which of these two reports is correct, it is clear that the marriage of Ahab symbolized an opening of Israel toward Phoenicia. So one can reasonably ask whether the worship of Baal, which is the reproach made against Ahab in the Bible, was not in fact worship of the Phoenician god Melqart. In a treaty the Assyrian king Asarhaddon concluded with Baal, king of Tyre, a variety of Phoenician gods are mentioned as guarantors of the treaty: Baal Shamen, Baal Malagê, Baal Saphon, Melqart, and Eshmun.20 Melqart



seems to have been the tutelary god of Tyre par excellence. This Melqart had the title bʿl Ṣr, “Lord of Tyre.” It is, then, perfectly plausible to suppose that this is the god that became the tutelary god of the dynasty of the Omrides and also became popular with the army and other members of the court of Samaria. However, this identification of the baal of the Omrides with Melqart has been contested21 because the name of Melqart is never mentioned in the Bible. Nevertheless, the well-documented links between the Omrides and Phoenicia lend a certain plausibility to the identification. There is also the fact that Melqart appears, accompanied by Astarte, in an inscription of the Phoenician king Eshmun’azar II (about 475): “We have built houses for the gods of Sidon in Sidon-by-the Sea, a house for the Lord (baal) of Sidon and a house for Ashtarte in the name of Baal.22 This kind of association of Baal and Astarte can also be found in certain biblical texts.23 The biblical sources claim that the introduction of the worship of the Phoenician Baal as the god of Samaria provoked a revolt by groups attached to the worship of the baal Yhwh. Th is revolt is presented in the books of Kings as epitomized by the actions of the prophet Elijah and then of Jehu, who put an end to the dynasty of the Omrides. It seems that the stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha were inserted later into the books of Kings. This is compatible with the fact that they were written down for the first time and formulated independently in the kingdom of the north after the fall of the Omrides, as a kind of “black book of Baal,” a book that was constituted in large part by the stories about Elijah.24 Elijah’s activity is situated under the reigns of Kings Ahab (875–853) and Akharias (853–852), respectively son and grandson of Omri. Elijah, who is called “the Tishbite,”25 appears as the protagonist in the struggle of Yhwh against Baal. 1 Kings 17 reports a divine command sending Elijah to the Phoenician city of Sidon, to the house of a widow. There Yhwh, through the mediation of his prophet Elijah, procures for her oil and flour, something the Baal of Sidon was not able to do. This text is intended as a counterweight to the idea, expressed in the treaty between Asarhaddon and the king of Tyre, that Baal Melqart is a god who provides nourishment and clothing.



In Phoenicia Elijah also resuscitates the son of the widow to whom he has been sent. This story is intended to show that Yhwh has power over death. This is in contrast to the Baal of Ugarit (and of Phoenicia?),26 who, according to the cycle “Baal and Death,” must descend for part of the year into the kingdom of Mot, god of death. The superiority of Yhwh over Baal is confi rmed defi nitively in chapter 18 with a description of a contest between Yhwh and Baal, which is played out in the form of a competition between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Despite the ecstatic rites of the prophets of Baal, their god does not intervene. In contrast, Yhwh sends fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices that are destined for him. Elijah mocks the god of his adversaries by wondering if he is perhaps asleep and needs to be woken up. Scholars have sometimes tried to connect this polemic with a ritual in which Melqart is awakened, although the sources that reveal the existence of such a ritual are quite late.27 In any case the intention of the story is to show that Yhwh is “the real Baal,” he who commands the two elements most often associated with Baal: water and fire. Th is story, which is particularly brutal,28 ends with a massacre of the prophets of Baal as a prelude to the Yahwistic revolt under Jehu. This text exhibits the same ideology as a text of Exodus that stipulates: “Anyone sacrificing to any gods, except Yhwh and Yhwh alone, shall be placed under interdict”29 (22:19). Similarly the law of Deuteronomy requires that the prophets of any other gods be put to death (13:2–6). The final scene of 1 Kings 18 (verses 41–46) relates an encounter between Elijah and King Ahab which emphasizes once again the baal-like powers of Yhwh. It is Yhwh who has caused a long famine in the land and Ahab has to recognize that it is Yhwh who has the power to put an end to the drought and make the rain come. This again is in contrast to Baal, who, according to the Ugaritic myth, needs the help of his parhedros Anat and of the sun god Shapash in order to assert himself as the master of rain. The prophetic stories inserted into the books of Kings claim that Elijah and especially his successor Elisha were implicated in the Yahwistic putsch against the dynasty of Omri. This putsch was led by Jehu, who made Yhwh the national baal of the kingdom of Israel after killing the members of the house of Omri and the adepts of the Phoenician baal.



Like Elijah, Jehu begins by assembling all the prophets of Baal (2 Kings 10:19)30 and, as in 1 Kings 18, the sacrificial assembly ends with the massacre of the priests of Baal. Certain stories about Elijah and Jehu thus reflect the birth of an intransigent Yahwism, which will find its apogee in the book of Deuteronomy and that attributed to the prophet Hosea. The question remains whether it was only as a result of the revolt of Jehu that Yhwh first became the tutelary god of the kings of Israel. For many scholars, the answer to this question depends on the way one interprets the biblical account of the alleged division of the unitary kingdom in 1 Kings 12, which we have already commented on. Is it correct that we must actually attribute to Jeroboam II (787–748) what the biblical narrative ascribes to Jeroboam I, or is there a kernel of historical truth in the claim that Jeroboam I established a Yahwist cult at Bethel in about 930? We might also imagine that there was a rivalry in the kingdom of Israel between Bethel (Yhwh) and Samaria (Melqart or a “Phoenician Baal”), up until the putsch by Jehu, which definitively imposed Yhwh as the national god and the titular deity of the kings. Despite the fact that he was a fervent Yahwist, Jehu had to submit to the Assyrians, and that meant also recognizing the supremacy of their gods. An inscription of Salmanasar (841) numbers Jehu among those who must pay a tribute to the great Assyrian king. For the Assyrians this struggle between Yhwh and Baal, or between a Yahwist faction and the dynasty of the Omrides, was not thought to be of the slightest importance, because Salmanasar calls Jehu the “son” of Omri, that is, his successor”: “Tribute from Jehu [Ia-ú-a] son of Omri [Ḫu-um-ri]; I received from him silver, gold, a golden saplu-bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom,31 golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king.”32 Within the kingdom of Israel the struggle between the baal Yhwh and the Phoenician baal must have provoked discussion about how to worship Yhwh. Was he to be considered merely as a cousin of the numerous storm gods of the Levant? The polemics against Baal that find expression in the book of Hosea are probably actually directed against certain cults of Yhwh. This was a Yhwh, to be sure, who was worshipped as “Baal” and in a bovine form, and the fact that these cults became intolerable to some must be taken to be a sign of a change in mentality. In addition, during the eighth century we can observe a change in the ico-



nography with significant modifications of the way in which gods are represented in the territory of the kingdom of Israel. A carved piece of bone from this period, found at Hazor, shows a young god with a pair of wings. Images like this, which betray a strong Phoenician influence, are also to be found in a number of seals. The use of objects like these seems to have been limited to the north, and for the moment, at any rate, there is no evidence of anything like this being found in Judah. The god is holding some vegetables, which represent the means by which he sustains the life of nature. The two wings are characteristic of a god of the “Uranus” type, a god of the heavens, perhaps a solar god. This image illustrates the evolution of Baal toward “Baal Shamem,” the Baal of the heavens, a deity well attested in Phoenicia.33 The images could represent either Baal or Yhwh. In proper names found on seals with such images we find several with Yahwist roots, such as Yoab (“Yhwh is father”)34 or Padah,35 which is an abbreviated form of Padayahu (“Yhwh saves”). It is possible, then, that the owners of these seals saw in the images representations of Yhwh as their tutelary deity. This kind of “solarization” of Yhwh in the north can also be found in a number of poetic texts in the Bible—for instance, Psalm 104, where Yhwh appears as a “Baal Shamem,” a combination of a storm god and a sun god surrounded by winged servants: “(2) He covers himself in light as with a mantle; he spreads out the heavens like a canvas. (3) He has founded on the waters his upper chambers, he takes the clouds as his chariot, he advances on the wings of the wind. (4) He makes the winds his messengers, the flaming fire is at his ser vice.” Similarly, in the book of Hosea, which criticizes the worship of the bull and of Yhwh as a baal, Yhwh is compared in chapter 6 to the rising of the sun: “(3) Let us know, let us seek to know Yhwh; his coming is established like that of the dawn.” And the original text of verse 5 compares the divine judgments of Yhwh to light itself.36 So we have in place a conception of Yhwh that combines the traits of a storm god with the attributes of a solar deity. This brings us back to the topic of the forms of representation of Yhwh in the kingdom of Israel.




In contrast to the keen and partisan interest of scholars in the modes of worship of Yhwh in Jerusalem and in the kingdom of Judah, the question of the existence of representations of Yhwh (statues, images on seals, and so forth) in the north arouses fewer polemics and less passion. Many experts consciously or unconsciously simply follow the lead of the editors of the Bible, who considered the cult of Yhwh in the north to be simply idolatrous and “deviant.” We have already mentioned at various stages of our account that there were numerous images of Yhwh in the sanctuaries of the north, so it will suffice to mention some of these again. An inscription of Sargon II, the “prism of Nimrud,” which was redacted in 706 and refers to the destruction of Samaria, mentions among the booty brought back “the gods in which they had put their trust.” This inscription should be juxtaposed with two neo-Assyrian bas-reliefs on which can be seen soldiers of Sargon and of Sennacherib, respectively, transporting statues of gods among their booty.37 Although the town from which the statues have been taken has not been securely identified for the first relief,38 we might try to connect it with the inscription of the prism of Nimrud and see in it a representation of statues of gods like those of Samaria. In these reliefs the statues are anthropomorphic, but other texts, some of which have already been mentioned,39 seem to attest the worship of Yhwh in the form of young bull, which perhaps explains also the statue of a bull found in Israel near the site of Dothan and dating to about 1200–1000.40 The story of the calling of the young Samuel as prophet of Yhwh in the sanctuary of Shiloh, as related in 1 Samuel 2, furnishes indirect evidence for the existence of an anthropomorphic statue of Yhwh. As we have seen, Shiloh was the home of the ark, which symbolized or materialized the presence of Yhwh. The author of this ancient narrative of the commissioning of Samuel describes with great precision the cultic activities associated with this sanctuary, both before and after the birth of Samuel. The remark, repeated at 1 Samuel 2:11 and 28 and also at 3:1, that Samuel was “in the ser vice of Yhwh” is of particular interest. The Masoretic text of 2:11 is grammatically particularly difficult. Literally it reads: “the boy served Yhwh, the face of Eli, the priest.” It is highly



likely that the Hebrew text was deliberately altered, and that we should reconstruct it on the basis of the Greek version, which reads: “the boy served the face of Yhwh before Eli, the priest” (which would correspond to the remark in 2:18).41 It would seem that the Masoretes wished to avoid any possible allusion to a divine statue.42 In fact the primary meaning of the root š-r-t is “take care of,” “serve,” in a very concrete sense.43 As Claus Westerman has remarked, “this ser vice of Yhwh is directed at a concrete object . . . If one ‘serves,’ this means taking care of his statue, as is the case in Egypt.”44 Samuel’s job, then, would have been the “maintenance” of the statue of Yhwh in the sanctuary of Shiloh. Starting from this, we might then ask whether the expression “to stand before the face of Yhwh to serve him,” which is used in Deuteronomy (10:8) to explain the function of the Levites, did not also have this meaning, namely that they were to take care of his statue.45 In sum, then, with the putsch of Jehu Yhwh definitively became the most important god in Israel. At first he was worshipped in the north as a “Baal,” a storm god who in certain respects resembled the god Baal of Ugarit. He was not the only god worshipped in Israel; probably he was at first subordinated to El (especially in the sanctuary of Bethel). Under the Omrides two baʿalim were in competition with each other: the Phoenician Baal (perhaps Melqart) and the Baal Yhwh. Later Yhwh seems to have integrated the attributes of El and also some features of a solar deity. He became baʿal shamem, a “Lord of the heavens.” Up until the fall of Samaria in 722, the cult of Yhwh was not exclusive. This is shown by the prism of Nimrud in which Sargon II recounts his sacking of the capital of the kingdom of the north: “I counted as prisoners 27,280 persons, also their chariots and the gods in which they had put their trust.”



In contrast to the north (Israel), Yhwh does not seem to have been worshipped in the form of a bull in Jerusalem. In the capital of the kingdom of Judah, he appeared particularly as a royal figure, sitting in state on a throne, rather like the god El. He seems gradually to have taken the place of an existing solar deity, and to have become the supreme god not just of Jerusalem, but also more generally of the whole territory of Judah. A graffito that was found on the inside of a tomb from Khirbet Beit Lei, a site 8 kilometers to the east of Lachish, shows the final state of this evolution. The dating of this text, which was discovered during excavations for roadworks, is unclear, but it must fall somewhere in the eighth to sixth centuries. It is also not easy to read, probably because it was written in darkness inside the tomb, but the meaning seems to be: “Yhwh is the god of the whole country (of all the earth); the mountains of Judah belong to the god of Jerusalem.” So, although Yhwh still carries the title “god of Jerusalem,” this inscription shows that some people, including the anonymous author of this inscription, are beginning to make claims to a much larger territory for him. This might be taken to confirm the theory that in Judah Yhwh was first the god of Jerusalem, and inherently linked to the Davidic dynasty. This link would also explain the royal images of Yhwh that seem to dominate in the south.




In Judah, Yhwh was not worshipped only at a single site any more than he was in the north. There were other important sanctuaries outside Jerusalem, even if censorship prevented them from being mentioned directly in the Hebrew Bible. The Bible mentions bāmôt, “high places,” in the north, but even more frequently in the south. These bāmôt appear particularly in the books of Samuel and of Kings (and in parallel texts in the books of Chronicles). They were local sanctuaries, not under the supervision of the king, often constructed on hills or small rises. The text of 2 Kings 23:8 mentions “bāmôt of the gates,” which might refer to sanctuaries built inside fortified parts of the city wall. Most of the time, however, these were sanctuaries in the open air in which one might find one or more steles (maṣṣēbôt) and an ʾăšêrāh (a tree or sacred pole). A passage from the first book of Kings describes one of these sanctuaries: “They, too, construct high places with statues and sacred poles on every raised hill and under every green tree” (14:23). In some of these sanctuaries there were also covered places for taking meals.1 These high places were in most cases Yahwistic sanctuaries. Only one text criticizes Solomon for having constructed “on the mountain which faces Jerusalem a high place for Chemosh, the abominable god of Moab” (1 Kings 11:7). The editors of the books of Kings confirm that the bāmôt were Yahwistic sanctuaries; while commenting favorably on a certain number of kings of Judah, they remark: “And yet the high places did not disappear; the people still offered sacrifices and perfumes there” (2 Kings 12:14). Two kings, Ezekiel and Josiah, are credited with a desire to destroy these sanctuaries. The situation illustrates the irony of history: these high places were probably typically “Israelite” or “Judean,” but they had finally to cede their places to the Temple of Jerusalem. Other Yahwistic temples were probably to be found in the south at Arad, a sanctuary with one or two maṣṣēbôt (representing perhaps Yhwh and his parhedros Asherah). The interpretation of the archaeological finds at this site is still difficult,2 because the steles had been thrown down outside the Holy of Holies. When it was originally discovered, scholars thought that this was the result of a destruction of the sanctuary by Josiah,



or by the Assyrians, but it now seems that it was part of a strategy to camouflage the sanctuary in order to save it from devastation by the Assyrian army. During the period of the Judean monarchy, Arad was a royal garrison, so it would be natural for it to have a Yahwistic sanctuary. There was probably also a temple in the city of Lachish, the royal administrative center of Shephelah. On an Assyrian relief depicting the sacking of Lachish, Assyrian soldiers carry away an extremely large incense burner, one much too big for private use, which probably came from a place where there was a cult, most likely of Yhwh. Finally, at Beer-Sheeba, there are the remains of an impressive altar with four horns, which also indicates that it was probably a Yahwistic sanctuary.


As we have repeatedly emphasized, even in Jerusalem Yhwh was not the only god worshipped. He at first occupied the temple together with a solar god, to whom he was perhaps even subordinated. When did Yhwh become the national god of Judah? In comparably sized kingdoms to the east of the Jordan, such as Moab,3 and possibly also Ammon, the members of the Canaanite pantheon (which was certainly less developed than the great pantheons of the Assyrians) began to some extent to fade away behind the dynastic god who took up more and more space, and a similar development will also have taken place in Jerusalem. The royal cult must gradually have established the superiority of Yhwh over the sun god. Evidence for this evolution can perhaps be found in an episode from the book of Joshua: chapter 10 describes a battle between the Israelites, led by Joshua, against a certain Adoni-Zedek (“My lord is Zedek”),4 king of Jerusalem, and a coalition of Amorite kings. Yhwh intervenes in this war by throwing stones from the sky: Then Joshua . . . said before the eyes of Israel: “Sun (Šemeš), stand still over Gabaon, Moon (Yārēaḥ) stand still over the valley of Aijalon!” And the Sun stood still and the Moon held himself (immobile) until the people had taken vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of the Just? (Josh. 10:12–13a)



One can interpret this episode in two different ways. Either this is a text from the seventh century that insists on the superiority of Yhwh over solar and lunar gods, both of which were very popu lar with the Assyrians, or it is an older text that still shows traces of the competition between Yhwh, god of the army of Israel, and the tutelary deities of Jerusalem. It is difficult to decide which view is more plausible. If the “Book of the Just” actually did exist, it probably contained a collection of poetic texts. These texts might have included the one we have already cited about the dedication of the temple,5 which also contains a reference to the Sun. These, then, would be fragments of an older collection that attempted to define the relation between Yhwh and the other gods of Jerusalem.


We have already seen that the episode in Genesis 14 describes an encounter between Abraham and the priest of El Elyon at Salem, which is unmistakably Jerusalem. In the Masoretic text El Elyon is identified with Yhwh, but it seems that this identification had not yet been made in the Hebrew text from which the Greek version is derived, so it is possible that this passage, which is actually rather late, preserves a memory of the fact that a god named El Elyon was worshipped in Jerusalem in the way in which El had been worshipped at Ugarit, and that only later Yhwh came to be identified with this god, El. The book of Psalms also retains some traces of this progressive identification. Thus Psalm 82 opens with a description of an assembly of gods presided over by El: “Elohim is gathered in the assembly of El, he gives judgment among the gods.” Who is this Elohim? Because this text occurs in the “Elohist psalter,”6 it is possible that we should construe this as referring to a primitive version of Yhwh. If that is the case, then this scene indicates the growing ascendency of Yhwh within the assembly of the gods. It is not clear whether verses 2–5 are addressed to authorities on earth or to gods; in any case, the psalmist reproaches them for failing to respect the law and do what is right. After these verses, verse 6 states that all the gods are sons of Elyon: “I have said: ‘You are all gods, you are all sons of Elyon.’ ” If all the gods of the Levant are sons of El Elyon,7 then



Yhwh, too, is one of his sons. If it is Yhwh who is speaking this verse, he is now placing himself above all the other gods, and he announces to them that they will die: “Indeed, like humans you will die, and like one of the princes you will fall.” There is a Mesopotamian parallel for this in the ascent of the god Marduk, originally the tutelary god of the city of Babylon, who eventually became the most important god in the Babylonian pantheon.8 Psalm 82 ends with a commentary on the assembly (v.  7): “Arise Elohim, judge the earth, for it is you who have all the nations as your patrimony.” If in this psalm Elohim is identified with Yhwh, this last verse claims for Yhwh the powers of El Elyon. Although the original version of the poem at Deuteronomy 32:8 has it that Yhwh receives Israel as his patrimony (naḥălāh) from Elyon, verse 7 of Psalm 82 states that all the nations are the naḥălāh of Elohim/Yhwh, which reflects his claim to superiority. Traces of an identification of Yhwh with El Elyon also occur in Psalm 89, which treats the great exploits of Yhwh and also calls him the dynastic god of the house of David. Verse 7 once again praises Yhwh as a god to whom no other can compare: “Who, then, among the clouds can measure himself against Yhwh? Who is comparable to Yhwh among the sons of the gods?” In this verse Yhwh is still one of the sons of the gods, but he is the greatest. The next verse, to be sure, speaks of El: “El is terrible in the counsels of the holy ones, feared by those who stand about him.” Is Yhwh here being identified with El or is El still the supreme god despite the increasing importance of Yhwh? It is difficult to decide, but perhaps it also does not much matter. These two examples drawn from the psalms retain the traces of the process by which Yhwh grew in importance within the assembly of the sons of El.


As Yhwh grew in importance, he took over traits and functions of the sun god with whom up to that time he had shared the Temple of Jerusalem. Probably the influence of Egyptian religious conceptions, among other factors, explains the importance of the cult of a sun god at Jeru-



salem. The transfer of solar traits to Yhwh is visible in theophoric proper names in use during this period, in the iconography, and in the descriptions of manifestations of Yhwh. A certain number of proper names are constructed from the root ʾ-w-r (“shine, gleam, light”)—for instance, Ûriyyāh (“Yhwh is my light”), the name of one of David’s generals, but also of a priest in the Persian era, or Nēriyyāhû (“Yhwh is my lamp”), the name of the father of the scribe Baruch, or finally Yizraḥyāh (“Yhwh gleams”), a musician in the Persian era. Some seals of the eighth century show a sun god in the form of a winged scarab.9 We also find the name Yw’r (“Yhwh is [my] light”) on a seal with unknown provenance (Hebron?). This seal shows a scarab carrying the solar disk (an image of Yhwh?). The link between the name of the owner and the iconographic motif is clear. Of particular interest is a seal without any iconographic motif and with unknown provenance, but which is inscribed “Of Yizrayah [‘Yhwh gleams’] son of Hilqiyahu, minister of Hezekiah.” These examples show that the characteristics of a sun god are beginning to be attributed to Yhwh. This evolution can also be found in stamped storage jars inscribed l-mlk (“for the king”) together with the name of a locality (particularly Socho, Hebron, Lachish, Sif, Mmšt—a place that can perhaps be identified as Ramat Rahel).10 The seals “l-mlk” originating from Lachish at the time of Hezekiah have an image of the sun. This shows that the tutelary god of Jerusalem and Judah could be presented as a sun god with the aid of an Egyptian-style iconography. Psalm 19 also attests that images of a sun god who watches over respect for the law and for justice are beginning to be used of Yhwh: (6) He is a young husband coming out of the bed chamber, a champion joyous to run the race. (7) At one end of heaven he arises, he sweeps around to the other and nothing escapes his warmth. (8) The law of Yhwh is perfect, it gives life; the charter of Yhwh is sure; it makes the simple man wise.

Verse 12 of Psalm 84 calls Yhwh a sun: “For Yhwh Elohim is a sun and a shield. Yhwh gives grace and glory, he does not refuse any good thing to those who follow the path of integrity.” In verse 14 of Psalm 85



(“Justice shall walk in front of Yhwh and mark out his steps on the path”), Ṣedeq (Justice) walks in front of Yhwh as the Egyptian goddess Ma’at walked in front of the Egyptian sun god. The book bearing the name of the prophet Zephaniah also illustrates this same transfer to Yhwh of the function of a sun god who guarantees justice: “In the midst of [the city] Yhwh is just, he does not act unjustly, morning after morning he causes his judgment to appear in the light, without ever failing” (3:5).


The book attributed to the prophet Jeremiah contains a liturgical exclamation that expresses theological conceptions dominant in Jerusalem during the era of the monarchy: “A throne of glory, placed on a height from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary!” (Jer. 17:12). This identifies the throne of Yhwh with the divine mountain, or the original hill (a “height from the beginning”) on which the sanctuary was located. The mountain of Yhwh at Jerusalem is often called “Zion,” and the etymology of this term has been explained in a variety of ways. Some scholars have claimed that it is derived from a Hurrite word meaning “water,” but others have suggested that it is related to the root ṣ-y-y, “to be dry, dried out,” which would make Zion “the dry place.” However, a more plausible root would be ṣ-w/y-n; a comparison with the identical root in Arabic suggests that this would mean “protect,”11 so Zion would be “the fortress.” In the Hebrew Bible the term “Zion” does not appear at all in the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, or 1 Samuel.12 In 2 Samuel and the books of Kings the word occurs only rarely, but it then becomes frequent in the Psalms and Isaiah. In these texts Zion often appears in parallel to Jerusalem. Originally the word designated the hill at the northeast of the town (Ophel), and only in the Christian era was the name transferred to the hill in the southwest, where what is now called Mount Zion is located. Jerusalemite theology states that Yhwh reigns over Zion, where his sanctuary is located, and that the king, his representative, has his place at Yhwh’s right hand, to the south in the city of David. Attributing a



mountain to Yhwh keeps alive the memory of his original mythic place of origin.


In contrast to what was the case in the kingdom of the north, the Yhwh of Jerusalem was frequently represented as seated on a throne, flanked by cherubim or surrounded by seraphim. In many texts Yhwh is even called “he who is seated (y-š-b) on the cherubim.”13 Who are the cherubim? The Hebrew word kĕrub is related to the Accadian kuribu (“protecting spirit,” “divine spirit”) and karibu (“greet with respect”). These terms designate the subordinate gods and statues set up at the entrance of a sanctuary for protection. Assyrian iconography shows that they were hybrid entities like sphinxes, with a human head and the body of an animal, often a lion. Assyrian spirits of the kind seen in the British museum and elsewhere are called Lamassu and Shedu, and the received scholarly view would have it that these hybrids combined intelligence (human head), power (body of a lion), and mobility (wings), but this is a perhaps too modern and anachronistic a way of seeing them. In the ancient Near East the intellectual and spiritual capacities of man were thought to reside in the heart (as in Aristotle), not in the head. In neo-Assyrian iconography the cherub is a dangerous creature, a threat to plants and animals. It is important to emphasize the terrifying aspect of these hybrid creatures; that is the reason they are placed as guardians at the entrance of palaces and temples.14 If they are used as pedestals for thrones, their function is either to protect the person seated on the throne or to show the power of him who, by seating himself above them, demonstrates that he has tamed them. In the second of these cases the cherubim can also represent the confusion, disorder, or chaos that a god or the king must combat and dominate. In the Levant, thrones with cherubim are attested on a thirteenthcentury ivory carving from Megiddo, which shows the king of the city, and also on the sarcophagus of the Phoenician king Ahiram, which is dated to the ninth to seventh centuries. A Phoenician seal found in



Sardinia shows the god Baal-Melqart enthroned on cherubim with a solar disk above his head. A piece of terracotta from Cyprus (about 700) shows a female figure, perhaps a goddess, seated on a throne carried by cherubim. The story of the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem mentions the existence of cherubim in the sanctuary (1 Kings 6). (23) In the sacred chamber he made two cherubim of olive wood; their height was ten cubits. (24) One wing of the first cherubim: five cubits, the other wing: five cubits; ten cubits from the end of one wing to that of the other. (25) Ten cubits for the second cherubim; the same dimensions and the same form for both cherubim. (26) The height of the first cherubim was ten cubits; the same height for the second. (27) He placed the cherubim in the middle of the House, in the inside. The cherubim had their wings unfolded, the wing of the fi rst touched the wall. And the wing of the other touched the other wall; their two wings, those toward the center of the House, touched each other, one wing against the other. (28) And he coated the cherubim with gold.

Chapter 6 states that these cherubim serve as protectors of the ark, but originally they were probably components of a throne. They are, in any case, part of the royal image of Yhwh, which is visible in other titles that were given to him in Jerusalem.

Y H W H Ṣ Ĕ Ḇ Ā ʾÔ T

Th is title is very frequently used in the Hebrew Bible—a total of 285 times, in fact—especially in Jeremiah (82 times), Isaiah 1–39 (56 times), Zachariah (56 times), Malachi (24 times), the Psalms (15 times), Haggai (14 times), and the books of Samuel (11 times). On the other hand, it is totally absent from the Pentateuch and the book of Ezekiel. This statistical overview strongly suggests that the title has its origin in the Temple of Jerusalem, because the books that use it most frequently were those that were composed in Jerusalem, or were most deeply concerned to integrate traditions from Jerusalem into the text.



The plural ṣĕḇā’ôt comes from the word ṣāḇā, “army.” This explanation is more or less universally accepted. The only dissenter is Manfred Görg,15 who suggests that the term originates in the Egyptian word ḏbзty, “he who sits on the throne.” This hypothesis, however, is far-fetched and does not take account of the fact that the word is most often used in a military context. Some scholars consider the received translation “Yhwh of the armies” (“Yhwh of the heavenly hosts”) to be problematic, because in Hebrew a proper name cannot be used with a genitive in this way. This is why some have suggested that the title originally was “Yhwh ʾĕlōhê ṣĕḇāʾôt” [“Yhwh, (the god of) armies”]. Another possibility is that the plural is part of a nominal proposition, “Yhwh, he is the armies,” or an abstract plural, “Yhwh the powerful; Yhwh the all-powerful.” There is some support for this hypothesis in the translation of the Septuagint, which usually renders the word as pantokrátōr but in some cases simply transliterates it as sabaoth. However, the translation “Yhwh of the armies” is not impossible. The texts of Kuntillet Ajrud, which have already been mentioned, show that constructions with a dependent genitive (Yhwh of Temān, Yhwh of Samaria) are possible. To be sure, this does not answer the question which armies are intended. If the armies in question are supposed to be terrestrial armies, the title would take us back to the function of Yhwh as god of war (as in 1 Sam. 17:45: “David said to the Philistine: ‘You come at me with sword, lance, and javelin; I come at you in the name of Yhwh of the Armies, god of the troops of Israel, whom you have defied.’ ”) Because the title sometimes appears in conjunction with the sanctuary at Shiloh, it has been conjectured that it was originally connected to this sanctuary, where Yhwh was worshipped as a war god in conjunction with the ark.16 Perhaps the title originally referred to a Yhwh associated with war, like the title ṣbʾi for Resheph at Ugarit, which we can translate as “Resheph the warrior” or “Resheph (lord) of the army.” It is possible, then, that the title originally applied to the conventional armies of the “people of Yhwh” and was later transferred to the heavenly realm, to which most of Yhwh’s other titles refer. Statistically, the term ṣĕḇāʾôt is used most frequently of Yhwh as chief of the celestial armies. In addition, the word ṣāḇā is often used to describe the divine council, which is the context presupposed in Psalm 89:



“God is terrible in the secret council of the holy ones, feared by all those around him. (9) Yhwh, god of Armies, who is as powerful as you are, Yah? Your constancy is all around you. (10) It is you who masters the pride of the sea, when its waves rise up, it is you who calms them.” In this Psalm the title Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt is also connected with the idea of a god who creates through struggling with monstrous natural forces, an idea to which we shall return later. The question of the origin of the title, then, does not need to be resolved definitively. As war god, Yhwh has under his command a heavenly army, but he also commands and leads the earthly army of those who worship him. The divine council is also in the background of the vision of Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, which one finds in the book of Isaiah (6:1–8; the “we” in verse 8 presupposes a divine assembly): The year of the death of king Ozias, I saw the Lord seated on a high throne, the lower part of his garment fi lled the temple. (2) Seraphim17 hovered above him; each one had six wings; with two of them they covered their faces; with two of them they covered their legs, and two of them they used to fly. (3) They called out to each other saying “Holy, holy, holy is Yhwh of the Armies. All the earth is filled with his glory!” (4) The foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out and the house [Temple] was fi lled with smoke. (5) I said, “Woe is me, I am lost for I am a human being with impure lips and I dwell In the midst of a people with impure lips, and my eyes have seen the King, Yhwh of the Armies.” (6) But one of the seraphim flew to me holding in its hand a burning ember which it has taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. (7) It touched my mouth and said: “This has touched your lips. Your failings are taken away; your sin is expiated.” (8) I heard the Lord who said: “Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?” I replied: “Here I am, send me.”

In this scene the prophet sees Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt seated on a throne in the Temple of Jerusalem. The link with the temple is reinforced by other texts that speak of Yhwh of the Armies as of him who dwells on Mount Zion (as Isa. 8:18). The title also appears frequently in the “Psalms of Zion,”



which describe Yhwh as dwelling in and protecting his holy mountains. Often Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt occurs in texts that project a royal image of Yhwh.


A certain number of Psalms take as their theme the kingship of Yhwh,18 and all of them contain the acclamation Yhwh malak, “Yhwh is [or, has become] king.” The Scandinavian scholar Sigmund Mowinkel saw in this a link to the festival of the New Year in Babylon; these psalms, too, had their origin in a ritual in which, on New Year’s Day, there was a celebration as the tutelary deity assumed the kingship of the city.19 However, the existence of such a festival in Israel or Judah has never been demonstrated. On the other hand, these “Psalms of the Kingship of Yhwh” may well have a connection with the myth of Baal at Ugarit, who accedes to the throne after his victory over Yam (the Sea) and also Mot (Death). At Ugarit, the affirmation that Baal is king expresses the alternation between two seasons (a dry season and a wet season). Certain psalms that have clearly been repeatedly reworked still contain traces of the motif of Yhwh’s ascent to the kingship. In the original version of Psalm 47,20 this is described as follows: “Clap your hands, all of you [peoples]! Acclaim god with shouts of joy. God has ascended amidst acclamations! Yhwh to the sound of the trumpets. God is king [over the nations]. God is seated on his sacred throne” (verses 1*, 6*, 9*). Th is link between the roots ascend, sit down, and be/become king in the psalms about the kingship of Yhwh is also found in poems about Baal—for instance, “Baal and the heifer”:21 “Ball ascended the moun[tain . . . ] the son of Dagan to the [heavens?], Baal is seated on the throne [as king], the son of Dagan on the seat [of his sovereignty].” After his victory over Yam, Baal becomes king: “Yam is dead and Baal shall be [king].”22 In the Hebrew Bible this theme of the victory of Yhwh over the sea is connected with the kingship of the god of Israel. References to it occur in Psalms 89, 93, and especially 74: (12) Still, God, you are my king since the beginning, author of victories in the middle of the land. (13) It is you who broke the



Sea (yam) with your strength, you smashed the head of the Dragon (tannîn)23 on the waters. (14) It is you who shattered the heads of Leviathan (liwyātān), you have given it to the people of wild beasts to eat. (15) It is you who have broken open the springs and torrents, you who dried up rivers (nahărōt) that never fail. (16) The day is yours, the night is yours. You have established moon and sun. (17) It is you who have fi xed all the frontiers of the earth, the summer and winter, it is you who have formed them.

In its present form the Psalm presupposes the destruction of Jerusalem, which is described in its introduction; however, it takes up and restates the older tradition of a combat in which the chief god defeats the Sea. At Ugarit, the title m-l-k is applied to Baal because of his domination of Yam and Mot, and something similar is the case in the Bible. Psalm 74 clearly comes from Jerusalem and is intended as a reworking of the Canaanite idea that the storm god is king.


Although we really do not have an enormous amount of information about the north, in Judah, as elsewhere, the king is considered as the representative of Yhwh, whose rule he “incarnates.” According to Psalm 2, the king is held to be the son of Yhwh: (6) “It is I who have invested my king on Zion, my sacred mountain.” (7) I shall proclaim the decree of Yhwh. He said to me: You are my son. It is I who have begot you today.” When this psalm says that Yhwh “begets” the king, it means that Yhwh adopts him at the moment of his ascent to the throne; there is no implication that any biological process of engendering was involved. The king sits at the right hand of Yhwh: “Declaration of Yhwh to my lord [the king]: ‘Sit down at my right side until I have made of your enemies your footstool.’ Yhwh shall hold from Zion the scepter of your power: ‘Dominate in the midst of your enemies’ ” (Ps. 110:1–2). The Davidic kingship, which, according to the promise of 2 Samuel 7, is destined to last forever, is the visible sign of the kingship of Yhwh. Psalm 132 states that Yhwh chose Zion and the Davidic dynasty at the same time, and will protect both of them.



(13) For Yhwh has chosen Zion, he has desired to make his dwelling place there. (14) “This is my place of rest forever; I shall dwell here for I desire it . . . (17) There I shall make a horn grow for David, I shall place a lamp for the man who has received my anointing. (18) I shall clothe his enemies in shame and his diadem shall shine radiantly.”


Four biblical texts mention the word Molek in connection with the sacrifice of children.24 Traditionally the view was that Molek was a bloodthirsty god, eager for human sacrifices. Otto Eissfeldt took molek to be etymologically connected with the Punic word molk, which, in his view, simply designates a particular type of “sacrifice,” not necessarily a human sacrifice.25 The biblical texts, however, do not really support such a view, because they are clearly intended to refer to sacrifice to a particular god, and so scholars have tried to identify Molek with one of the gods already known from other sources. A god Maliku seems to have existed at Ugarit, but there are very few references to him, and there is no special reason to connect his cult with human sacrifices. The identification of Molek with the Ammonite god Milkom is not plausible either.26 Jeremiah 32:35 evokes Baal and Molek in the same context, but they seem to be two distinct gods. The simplest solution, although it is only very rarely proposed, would be to assume that molek was originally pronounced melek (king), one of Yhwh’s titles. As we have seen, the word melek is used in the Hebrew Bible more than fift y times as a description of Yhwh. So it is possible that human sacrifices of children were made to him as Yhwh-Melek.27 Certain texts place the passing of children through the fire in a royal context. There is further confirmation of this in the Greek translation of molek in the book of Leviticus. The translator read not molek but melek in verses 18:21 and 20:2–5 and interpreted it as a title for Yhwh. Prophetic and priestly critics from the Persian era also confirm that the “sacrifices of Molek” were offered to Yhwh: “You shall not give one of your children to make him pass to Molek [Melek] and you shall not profane the name of your god” (Lev. 18:21). In this interdiction Molek appears in



parallel to Yhwh. The sacrifice of children to Molek is here denounced as a profanation of the name of Yhwh; this, however, makes sense only if melek can be construed as a title of the god of Israel. The text of Jeremiah 7:31 points in the same direction: “They build high places of Taphet28 . . . for burning their sons and daughters with fire, something I have never commanded and which never even occurred to me.” The author of this passage states that Yhwh never ordered any sacrifices of children, which means that for the opponents, against whom he is arguing, that is exactly what they think Yhwh did. Human sacrifice by immolation occurs in a story from the books of Kings, where it is attributed to the Moabite king Mesha: “When King Mesha saw that the battle was lost for him . . . he took his first-born son who was to rule after him, and offered him as a holocaust on the walls. There was a great anger against Israel. They broke camp and returned to their own country” (2 Kings 3:26–27). In the context of a military crisis, Mesha saw no other solution than to offer up what was most dear to him: his son, the successor to the throne. The text does not say to which god this holocaust was dedicated: whether to Chemosh or Yhwh. This brief story, which survived censorship by the editors,29 provides the explanation of the practice of passing children through the fire: it is a sacrifice of last resort in situations of grave crisis. In contrast to the offering of fi rst fruits, which was (theoretically) a regular practice, sacrifices involving “passage through the fire” were rituals intended to invoke the intervention of a god on occasions of great danger. Those who dedicated these sacrifices to Yhwh-Melek, in so doing emphasized his sovereignty and expressed a hope that he would intervene as savior in a situation of crisis. In the Persian era, human sacrifice became taboo, and the editors tried to dissociated it from the cult of Yhwh. As part of the same project, the Masoretes later changed Melek to Molek.


At Ugarit, Sea (Yammu) and Death (Motu) are the two great enemies of Baal, and some texts in the Bible indicate that something similar was the case with Yhwh. We have already mentioned several texts that al-



lude to a combat between Yhwh and the Sea, and Death was also considered an enemy of Yhwh. In the oldest texts Yhwh does not have control over the realm of Death, where the dead continue to exist in a kind of merely vegetative state in a place called “sheol.” The etymology of this word is not clear: outside the Bible it occurs only once during the first millennium, in a text from Elephantine.30 One frequently suggested possibility is that the word is connected with the root šʾl (“ask”), and thus that “sheol” is the place where one can question the dead. Another possible origin would be a Semitic root expressing the idea of the desert. In the Bible, “sheol” is used as a proper name (never with a definite article), and so it might perhaps designate a god or the personification of the nether world. Life in sheol is conceived as if the corpse had gone to live underground, as it were, in the family’s subterranean vault, a cold, wet, dark place. The descent of the dead person to sheol means first of all a total separation from Yhwh. The author of Psalm 30 appeals to the idea that Yhwh cannot intervene in the realm of the Dead in order to implore Yhwh to cure him of sickness: sickness is presented as the antechamber of death, and if he is dead, he will not be able to praise Yhwh. The author of Psalm 6 uses a similar argument: “For in death one will not invoke your name; in the dwelling of the dead who will celebrate you?” In these texts, then, sheol is an autonomous realm, not created by Yhwh; rather, it escapes his power. A passage from Isaiah 28 claims that some representatives of the aristocracy of Jerusalem were tempted to enter into an alliance with Sheol, a god whom they took to be more powerful than Yhwh:31 “We have made a pact with Sheol, the unleashed scourge when it passes shall not touch us” (v. 14). More recent texts that perhaps reflect religious transformations that took place in the eighth and seventh centuries claim that Yhwh is stronger than death, and also express the hope that he will be able to bring the dead back from the realm of Sheol: “God will buy back my soul from the hand of Sheol” (Psalm 49:16). The graffito of Khirbet el-Qom, which can be dated to the end of the eighth century, contains a wish that Yhwh and his Asherah might give their blessing: “May Yhwh bless Uriyahu; Yhwh, through his Asherah, has saved him from his enemies.” This blessing, found at the entrance



to the tomb, shows that Yhwh was thought to have the power to bless even after death, as he had in life. In the same way, the silver amulets found in the tombs of Ketef Hinom,32 which had been buried with the dead, were intended to protect them in the kingdom of the Dead. On these amulets is inscribed a blessing of Yhwh on the dead, a blessing that was later transferred to the living in the form of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:20–24: “May Yhwh bless you and keep you, may Yhwh shine his face upon you and give you peace.” In summary, we find that in Judah Yhwh became the principal deity, the god of the Davidic dynasty and the national god of Judah during the ninth and eighth centuries. He absorbed the functions of the sun god and combined the functions of two further kinds of gods, El and Baal. The Temple of Jerusalem became the center of the kingship of Yhwh, although there were also other Yahwistic sanctuaries, and, particularly in the countryside, especially the bamôt. Toward the end of the eighth century Yhwh began to assert his superiority over the god of the underworld. Human sacrifices were offered to Yhwh in times of military crisis. Was he, then, worshipped in Jerusalem in a visible or invisible form? And was he the only god in the temple?



According to the Hebrew Bible and to numerous commentators, the cult of Yhwh was aniconic; one could not make images of him. However, our inquiry has shown that as far as the kingdom of the north is concerned, theriomorphic, and surely also anthropomorphic, images were clearly part of his cult. This is unambiguously indicated in biblical texts, and was not considered problematic, because the authors and editors of these texts were writing from the perspective of the “south” and thus felt free to present the cult of Yhwh in Israel as illegitimate and idolatrous in the original sense of the term. The worship of Yhwh in Israel, as described in the Bible, took the form of veneration of boviform statues. Those who hold that Yahwism was originally aniconic have nothing to say in the face of this biblical evidence except to claim that the bulls in question were construed as serving merely as pedestals for an invisible god.1 But this is a petitio principii. We do know of images of gods enthroned on bulls or other animals,2 but there is no clear evidence of a statue of an animal serving as pedestal of an invisible god.3 So the conclusion to be drawn is that the bull in the sanctuaries of the north represented Yhwh, who, as a storm god and chief god of the pantheon, was represented in the same way Baal or El were, namely as a bull. But the question about the existence of images of Yhwh can also be asked about the kingdom of Judah.




Should one imagine an original aniconic cult in the kingdom of Judah? Defenders of this view often claim that there was an aboriginal “de facto aniconism” in Judah, as is shown by the cult of massebes, the standing stones frequently mentioned in the biblical texts (maṣṣēḇôt) and discovered in great number by archaeologists.4 Standing stones are well attested in the second millennium in Syria, especially at Mari, and they can have different functions. Biblical texts allow us to distinguish four ways in which they were used. First of all, they could be funerary markers that played a role in the cult of the dead: according to Genesis 35:19–30, the patriarch Jacob put up a stele on the tomb of his wife Rachel. In 2 Samuel 18:18, Absalom, son of David who had no children, had a stele put up so that his name would be remembered. Standing stones could also serve to commemorate an event: in Exodus 24:4, Moses puts up twelve steles to represent the twelve tribes who are the parties to the covenant concluded between Yhwh and Israel on Mount Sinai. Similarly, in chapter 4 of the book of Joshua, Joshua sets up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan to commemorate the passage of the river by the twelves tribes. Then, one finds maṣṣēḇôt in the context of the ratification of a contract: in Genesis 31:43–45 a standing stone serves as witness to the treaty between Laban and Jacob about the division of their respective territories. But it is their last function, the role they can play in the worship of a god, that is the most important for our inquiry. Th is function is strikingly illustrated in Genesis 28, which tells how the patriarch Jacob founded the sanctuary of Beth-el.5 He marked this act by setting up a masseba there, which he anointed with oil: “Jacob got up early and took the stone which he had used as his pillow and set it up as a masseba and poured some oil on its top. He called this place by the name of Beth-el . . . He said: “This stone which I have set up as a stele shall be a house of god (bêt ʾĕlōhîm)” (28:18–19a and 22). The Hebrew word beth-el (“House of El or of God”) is the origin, via Greek, of the term “betyle,” which designates stones used in religious rituals. There have been a variety of answers to the question what func-



tion these stones had and what they symbolized. Were they used in fertility cults, as is suggested by the phallic form most of them had? Were they conceived as a kind of (temporary) dwelling for a god? Or were they images of the god himself? Following out this line of thought, one can go on to argue that the cult that was practiced around these stele was aniconic.6 This kind of cult could then be considered as having its origin in nomadic populations who worshipped their protective deities without the aid of theriomorphic or anthropomorphic images, and in this way were very different from the sedentary people of the ancient Near East. The following observations, however, prove that this theory is incorrect. Already in the second millennium at Mari, betyles and statues of gods coexist in close proximity to each other, which at any rate shows that it would be a mistake to oppose aniconism and iconism sharply in this period. At Mari the standing stele are called sikkanum (the term deriving possibly from a root meaning “set up,” which is the equivalent of the Hebrew n-ṣ-b, the root of masseba). The Assyrians called a stele ṣalmu, a word that recurs in Hebrew (ṣelem) as a word for statue. Was the cult of betyles really aniconic? At Mari, archaeologists have found a standing stone that is also sculpted in a rudimentary way to represent the features and, in particular, the sexual organs of a woman.7 Traces of painting have been found on the massebas of the sanctuary of Arad in the Negev. This could indicate that they were covered with painted images of the gods who were worshipped there. A stele from Petra in Jordan, which represents either the deity Dushara or an associated deity, may be taken to confirm this hypothesis.8 To return to the Bible, it seems clear enough that the masseba was a way of representing the god Yhwh; this is most probably particularly true outside of Jerusalem. The clearest example of this is the one already cited from the site at Arad. This sanctuary contained two steles representing Yhwh and another deity, unless the second stone was intended as a replacement for the first. The privileged locations for the cult of standing stones are the “high places,” the bāmôt. When speaking of the open-air sanctuaries, the biblical authors often refer to steles and “sacred poles” (maṣṣēḇôt waʾăšērîm). Because these bāmôt are Yahwistic sanctuaries, it is plausible to assume that the maṣṣēḇôt in these places represented in one manner or another



the god Yhwh. The presence of standing stones is no evidence at all in favor of assuming that there was an aniconic cult of Yhwh, especially because when the prohibition on sculpting statues of Yhwh was formulated, it was also immediately applied to massebas. Thus, we find in Deuteronomy the injunction “You shall not set up any masseba; Yhwh your god hates it” (16:22). And Leviticus draws a parallel between the words referring to sculpture and to massebas: “You shall not make false gods (ʾĕlîlîm), you shall not put up a sculpture (pesel) or a stele (maṣṣēḇāh) and you shall not place in your land any sculpted rock (ʾeḇen maśkît) to prostrate yourself in front of, for I am Yhwh, your god” (26:1). In this prohibition the terms pesel and maṣṣēḇāh refer to the cult of Yhwh,9 and that is probably also the case for the hapax legomenon ʾeḇen maśkît, a term that might be linked to the sikkanum of Mari mentioned above. In this text, which comes from the Code of Holiness (Lev. 17–26), a document composed in the sixth century, a standing stone is to some extent equated with an image, because both terms appear as parallels, just as in a text from the book of Micah: “I shall suppress from among you your sculptures (pĕsîlêḵā) and your standing stones (maṣṣēḇôtêḵā)” (5:12). Other, more recent texts seem to exhibit more tolerance toward the masseba than toward statues. Thus, in a text from the book of Isaiah, written down at the end of the Persian era or the beginning of the Hellenistic period (between 350 and 300), one can find the following vision: “On that day there shall be an altar of (or: for) Yhwh in the middle of Egypt and near the frontier of the country a masseba of (or: for) Yhwh” (19:19). Here the standing stone is to be thought of as an altar having the function, no longer of any representation, but simply of a “memorial.” Originally, however, the stele associated with the cult of Yhwh were most likely considered as representing him and symbolizing his presence.10


Let us return to images that specifically represent Yhwh. In the kingdom of Judah there are a significant number of representations of deities on



A coin (ca. 380) showing Yhwh. On the left, where one can see a deity seated on a throne with wheels, the inscription reads “Yehud” (Judah) or “Yahô.” On the right one sees the head of a man in a Corinthian helmet, perhaps a satrap of Transeuphratene.

all kinds of supports, but none is explicitly identified with Yhwh. For the moment let us set aside images that may represent the divine couple Yhwh and Asherah, to which we shall return later, and concentrate on images to be found on seals and coins that have been claimed to represent Yhwh. As early as 1906 Gustav Dalman claimed to be able to identify an image of Yhwh on a Hebrew seal that had belonged to a certain Elishama, son of Gedalyahu.11 The seal shows a god seated on a throne, flanked by two trees of life. Since then, other seals of the same type have been found, and Benjamin Sass of the University of Tel Aviv has revived this idea by suggesting that two seals dating from the seventh century might represent Yhwh with lunar attributes. Because these seals date from the period of Assyrian hegemony, this association with attributes of the moon would not be at all surprising.12 The image might also be thought to refer to El, except that the Yahwistic names of the owners of these seals would suggest rather an identification of the seated god with Yhwh. A coin from the Persian era shows a god seated on a winged wheel. Because this coin comes from Judah, the deity represented is probably Yhwh,13 and it is perfectly possible that we have here an image of Yhwh as “god of the sky” depicted with iconographic conventions deriving



both from the Levant and from Greece.14 If this interpretation turns out to be confirmed, that would mean that even as late as the Persian era, some circles had not accepted the prohibition that proto-Judaism wished to impose on the representation of Yhwh. In conclusion, representations of gods existed in the territories of both Israel and Judah. Among these we may find portraits of Yhwh, but in most cases the images are so stereotypical that they might also represent other gods. The documents provided by the Bible itself give the most conclusive evidence for the existence of statues of Yhwh in the kingdom of Judah.


Biblical texts frequently criticize the images of Yhwh as a bull that were to be found in the kingdom of Israel, but in contrast, no biblical text speaks of the existence of a statue of Yhwh in the Temple of Jerusalem or anywhere else in the kingdom of Judah. This is partly to be explained by the Judean perspective of the authors and redactors of the biblical texts, and by their theological commitments: they wished to suggest that the “legitimate” Judean cult of Yhwh had never been associated with images of him. However, upon closer inspection, there are fairly many indications that the prohibition on making images of Yhwh was an innovation, and that there had existed statues of Yhwh both in the Temple of Jerusalem and elsewhere. The first indication is the prohibition itself. Why prohibit what had never been done? The edited forms of the Decalogue and of chapter 4 of Deuteronomy are revealing on this point.

Polemic against Idols

The first part of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, which in the Pentateuch occurs in two variants,15 can be seen as an attempt to formulate the basic principles on which Judaism, which begins to take shape in the Persian era, would be founded. In the past it was often assumed that the Decalogue was one of the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible, but more recently scholars have begun to insist that the Ten Commandments in the (different) forms in which we find now them in the text, are better



understood as a summary of the various collections of laws given in the Pentateuch, and consequently that they are the work of editors in the Persian era. These editors were especially keen to harmonize several preexisting legal traditions, so as to produce a set of large-scale principles for what was developing into the religion we now call “Judaism.” It is, however, possible that certain of these commandments are much older, and that they were also repeatedly revised and transformed in the course of their transmission. The commandments given in the opening of the Decalogue are explained and justified, in contrast to the simple prohibitions in the second part. This shows that the commandments that need explanations are new theological inventions. They, however, are the ones that become characteristic features of Judaism. These innovations deal with such issues as the exclusivity of the Yahwistic cult, the prohibition of representations of the divine, the theology of the “name” of Yhwh, which will eventually lead to a full prohibition on pronouncing it, the Sabbath, which becomes a new mark of identity for Judaism in the diaspora, and the transformation of the religious cult of ancestors into the commandment to honor one’s parents while they are alive. As far as the prohibition of images is concerned, one should note that this commandment is not formulated in one single stroke, but is the result of a revision of an older text. The version of the prohibition in Exodus 20 reads: (3) You shall not have other gods before my face (4) You shall not make any sculpted image (pesel) nor anything that has the form (tĕmûnāh) of what is in the heavens above, down here on earth or in the waters under the earth. (5) You shall not bow down before them, and you shall not serve them, for I am Yhwh, your god, a jealous god, pursuing the sons for the faults of their fathers over three and four generations, if they hate me.

The need to prohibit sculpted images (pesel) and other representations (tĕmûnāh)16 presupposes first of all that such representations existed among the Judeans. The prohibition seems to have been imposed in two or three stages.17 The specific formulation of the prohibition that we now



read is the result of the work of the Masoretes, and in this formulation what is being expressed is a general opposition to “idols,” such as we find also in the second part of Isaiah (chapters 40–45), which dates from the Persian era. By looking at the passage very carefully, it is possible to reconstruct the older form of this commandment, which is indicated in italics. The intention is to prohibit the installation of statues of other deities in the sanctuary of Yhwh, literally facing him, and the attempt to exclude other gods from the temple of Yhwh would correspond well with what we know about the religious reforms of king Josiah at the end of the seventh century, a reform we shall discuss later. In the original version of this prohibition, Exodus 20:3 (corresponding to Deut. 5:7) was probably immediately followed, in verse 5 (or verse 9 of chapter 5 of Deuteronomy), by the exhortation not to prostrate oneself before these gods. The prohibition “You shall not make any pesel” (first part of Exod. 20:4 and Deut. 5:8), which is given in bold typeface above, is perhaps a first addition to the original text, which is aimed at prohibiting from then on the production of any (new) statue of Yhwh. The extension of this commandment to include a general prohibition on making an image of anything that lived under the sky, on earth, or in the sea (the underlined part of the text above) perhaps originally meant that Yhwh could not be represented in any way. However, because this addition was inserted before Exodus 20:5 (Deut. 5:9), it was quickly taken to be a general polemic against any kind of images. So, by looking at the prohibition of images in the Decalogue, we can trace an evolution that starts from the desire to rid Yhwh’s temple of the statues of other gods. At the point at which the two versions of the Decalogue were redacted, there was a radicalization of this process of evicting the images of other gods, and the editors added to the original text a further prohibition: the prohibition to represent Yhwh via images. This prohibition was eventually interpreted as a polemic against all idols. Chapter 4 of Deuteronomy confirms this hypothesis. It is a treatise on the prohibition of images, which appeals to the revelation at Mount Sinai. In Deuteronomy this reminder of the original revelation of Yhwh to Israel presents itself as a discourse by Moses. In verse 12, he insists on the fact that the people did not see the form or face of Yhwh when he



revealed himself: “Yhwh spoke to you from the midst of a fire: a voice spoke and you listened to it, but you did not perceive any form (tĕmûnāh); there was nothing else apart from the voice.” From this, the author of this text draws the conclusion that his audience may not make any statue of Yhwh: “(15) Take care for yourselves; because you did not see any form (tĕmûnāh) on the day on which Yhwh spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, (16a) do not corrupt yourselves by making for yourselves a sculpted image, any form of statue whatever (pesel tĕmûnat kol sāmel).”18 The only possible conclusion to be drawn from this text is that what is being discussed here is a statue of Yhwh. Because the people did not see any form of Yhwh, they cannot make a statue with that form.19 This text asserts that the exile and deportation took place precisely because the people had made a statue of Yhwh: (25a) If you corrupt yourselves by making a statue of any form whatever (pesel tĕmûnat kōl), if you do that which is evil in the eyes of Yhwh your god so as to offend him, (26) then I take as witnesses against you today heaven and earth, you shall quickly disappear from the land of which you will take possession by crossing the Jordan, you shall not prolong your days there; you shall be completed exterminated.

Away from their land the Israelites will have to serve other gods, made by those who deported them: “(28) Over there you shall serve gods who are the work of men’s hands, gods of wood, of stone, unable to see and hear, to eat and sense.” So the reinterpretation of the history of Israel and Judah given in chapter 4 of Deuteronomy takes the existence of one or many statues of Yhwh to be the cause of the catastrophe that took place in 587 when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and deported a large part of its population. This text, which dates from the Persian era, thus constitutes an important argument for the thesis that there was a statue of Yhwh during the Judean monarchy.



The Vision of the Prophet Isaiah

The author of chapter 6 of the book attributed to the prophet Isaiah legitimizes Isaiah’s prophetic status by reporting a vision of Yhwh in his sanctuary, couched in the first-person singular: In the year of the death of Osias, I saw the Lord (Yhwh) seated on a high and loft y throne, his robe fi lled the temple. Seraphim hovered above him; each with six wings, two for covering their faces, two for covering the feet,20 and two for flying. One cried out to the other: “Holy, holy, holy is Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, all the earth is fi lled with his glory.” The hinges of the doors began to tremble at the voice of him who cried and the house filled with smoke. I said: “Woe is me, I am lost, for I am a man with impure lips, I dwell in the midst of a people with impure lips and my eyes see (saw) the king Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt.” (6:1–5)

Some commentators have interpreted this scene as a vision during which the prophet was raised by the spirit of God into heaven. Th is reading of Isaiah 6, which can already be found in the Targumim (commentaries on the biblical texts by the first rabbis), is intended to avoid any allusion to a vision of Yhwh in the temple, which might in turn suggest that there was a divine representation in the temple. This is perhaps also the reason the Masoretes replaced the tetragrammaton Yhwh in verse 1 with ʾădōnāy, “The Lord.”21 The text of Isaiah 6 itself, however, clearly locates the prophet in the temple in Jerusalem at the time of the vision.22 Th is is indicated by the use of terms like hahêḵāl (the “palace”/”temple,” v. 1) and habbayit (the “House,” v. 4), both of which are frequently used to designate the sanctuary. The narrative additionally presupposes the division of the temple into three parts: the “Holy of Holies” (the throne), the “central hall,” and the “entrance” (hinges of the doors). Furthermore, the smoke mentioned in verse 4 makes sense only for a temple on earth, not for one in the heavens, as is also the case for the altar mentioned in verse 6. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to construct an opposition between the residence of a god in the heavens and his dwelling place on



earth, because the earthly sanctuary serves to connect heaven and earth. The temple offers access to the domain of the heavens. This conception is widespread in the ancient Near East and also finds expression in biblical texts, such as Psalms 11:4: “Yhwh is in his holy temple; Yhwh has his throne in the heavens.” The earthly temple is put in parallel to the place where Yhwh has his celestial throne. An iconographic example of this conception can be found on a tablet from the time of King Nabu-apaliddin of Babylon (885–850),23 which shows the king accompanied by two priests approaching the sun god Shamash at Sippar. Shamash, who is represented as much larger than the humans, is seated on a throne surrounded by the symbols of the “heavenly hosts,” the sun, the moon, and the planets. The god is in his heavenly palace, but this palace is connected to the temple on earth in which the king and the priests are standing. A kind of support or pedestal with the emblem of the sun god manifests his presence in the temple space. We may imagine a comparable scenario in Isaiah 6: the prophet sees the statue of Yhwh, which gives him access to Yhwh in heaven. Yhwh is so huge that his robe fills the whole central hall of the temple. The smoke mentioned in verse 4 is a sign that this is a theophany,24 a manifestation of Yhwh, who is sometimes symbolized by the smoke issuing from the altar. The exclamation of the prophet, “I am lost . . . because my eyes have seen king Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt,” means that he apparently had access to the statue of the god, a privilege normally reserved for the priests or for others who had been appropriately prepared. This is the reason the prophet then says he needs “sanctification” or “purification.” Yhwh is so holy that even the seraphim—winged serpents frequently represented on seals in Judea during the Iron Age, but originally of Egyptian provenance (the uraeus)—need to cover their eyes. In the book of Isaiah they appear as hybrids who serve, as in Egypt and the ancient Near East, to protect sanctuaries. In the text of Isaiah they are half serpents, half human, and are in the ser vice of Yhwh, whose throne is not described in any detail. Our earlier inquiry into exactly what is meant when the texts speak of Yhwh as enthroned upon the kĕrûḇîm has led us to the conclusion that there was a throne flanked by cherubim. The text of Isaiah 6 suggests that the dĕḇîr (the part of the temple where the god resides) of the



Temple of Jerusalem contained a throne with a statue of Yhwh, perhaps represented in the manner of El enthroned and surrounded by cherubim and seraphim.

The Throne of Yhwh

Something like this is also presupposed in the vision of the prophet Micaiah,25 reported in 1 Kings 22. This prophet announces to the kings of Israel and Judah that they will lose the battle they are about to initiate against the Aramaeans; he tries to justify this oracle of doom by explaining how he received it from Yhwh, and he recounts a vision similar to that of Isaiah: “I saw Yhwh seated on his throne and the whole army stood around him to his right and his left” (v. 19). In view of the numerous literary parallels, it is not impossible that the author of this vision was directly inspired by that of chapter 6 of Isaiah or that he was taking up what was a traditional topos in Jerusalem.26 The vision of the prophet Amos (recounted in Amos 9), speaks of the Lord ( ʾădōnāy”) “placed” (niṣṣāḇ) above or beside the altar: “I saw the Lord (Yhwh) placed on the altar. He said: ‘Strike the capitals! Let the thresholds be shaken and let them all be broken above their heads! I shall kill the rest with the sword’ ” (v. 1). Is this an allusion to a statue of Yhwh, standing like the image of Baal surrounded by lightning bolts in the sanctuary at Bethel? This would explain the reference to the sword as a reference Yhwh as war god. This vision, however, is too unclear for us to draw any certain conclusions from it. In the prophetic books from the Babylonian and Persian eras, direct visions of Yhwh gradually disappear.27 The prophet Ezekiel sees only a movable throne carried by hybrid creatures and cannot “discern” the face of Yhwh behind the fire and the clouds (Ezek. 1): (15) I looked at the living creatures and I saw on the ground beside these creatures one wheel for each face. (16) This is what the wheels looked like and their form: They sparkled like chrysolith and all four of them were alike. That was what they looked like. As far as their form was concerned, they overlapped each other . . . (19) When the creatures advanced, the wheels advanced with them;



and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose too. (20) They moved in the direction the spirit wished them to go, and the wheels were raised at the same time, because the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels . . . (22) Above the heads of the living creatures there seemed to be a firmament, sparkling like a resplendent crystal; it spread over their heads well above them. (23) Below the firmament their wings were spread toward each other. Each had two wings that covered it, each had two that covered its body. (24) And I heard the sound their wings made as they advanced; it was the noise of great waters, the voice of Shadday; the noise of a multitude, the noise of an army. When they stopped, they let their wings droop down. (25) There came a voice from the firmament which was above their heads. (26) And above the firmament which was over their heads like a stone of lazulite, there seemed to be a throne; this was what it looked like, like the appearance of a man up above, high up there. (27) Then I saw like the sparkling of vermillion, what looked like a fi re which enveloped everything all around, and starting from and below what seemed to be his waist I saw what seemed to be a fire and a radiance all about him. (28) It looked like a rainbow which appears in the clouds on rainy day: this is what the surrounding radiance looked like. This is what it looked like, the appearance of the glory of Yhwh (marʾēh dĕmût kĕḇôd-Yhwh). I looked and threw myself on my face on the earth; I heard a voice that spoke.

Th is vision is inspired by Assyro-Babylonian and Persian iconography, in which one often sees a divine figure on a movable throne carried by hybrid creatures. The author of Ezekiel 1 takes up this motif and suggests that the prophet saw Yhwh in a confused way, but he describes the scene with enough precision to allow readers to understand in what way the prophet “saw” Yhwh. It is a Yhwh enthroned; the mobility of the throne is an allusion to the fact that according to the book of Ezekiel, Yhwh left the city of Jerusalem, when it was taken, to accompany the exiles to Babylon.



The Substitution of the Lamp Holder for the Statue

The visions of the prophet Zechariah, redacted during the Persian era, no longer mention Yhwh, but are centered on a menorah, a sevenbranched lamp holder.28 In chapter 4 the prophet imparts the following revelation: (1) The angel who was speaking to me came back to wake me like a man whom one must rouse from sleep. (2) He asked me: “What do you see?” I replied: “I have a vision; it is a lamp-holder made completely of gold, with a reservoir for oil in the top part, and above that at the very top seven lamps and seven pipes for these lamps; (3) at its sides two olive trees, one on the right of the reservoir and one on the left.” . . . (13) He said to me: “Don’t you know what they represent?” I replied: “No, my Lord.” (14) He then said to me: “These are the two men designated for the oil, those who stand before the lord of the whole of the earth ( ʾădôn kol-hāʾāreṣ).”

Herbert Niehr has concluded that the lamp holder replaced the statue of Yhwh in the reconstructed temple.29 This function is particularly clear in verse 14, where the interpreting angel explains that the two “messiahs,” symbolized by the two olive trees, stand before the “Lord of the whole earth.”30 If there is a substitution in this chapter of Zechariah, this would reinforce the theory that the most ancient versions of divine visions contained allusions to a statue of Yhwh.

The Face of Yhwh

More than eighty verses of the various texts in the book of Psalms mention the face of Yhwh or of God. Many of these texts contain laments that god “hides his face” or requests that he no longer cover his face;31 alternatively there are supplications or expressions of thanksgiving for prayers granted that make reference to the face of Yhwh as shining or radiant.32 This form of speech is already attested in the royal correspondence at Ugarit, where it expresses the fact that the king is willing to grant an



audience or bestow certain benefits.33 In the Psalms, as in other texts, the same idea occurs. Some scholars have seen this as a metaphorical usage that shows the influence of a solar theology on the worship of Yhwh at Jerusalem.34 We might emphasize the cultural connotations35 of this expression and interpret it in a very concrete way as referring to the possibility of getting access to Yhwh, that is, to his statue. The same idea might underlie those psalms that evoke those who “seek” the face of Yhwh.36 The psalms that mention having a vision of the face of Yhwh are best understood against the background of this set of assumptions, namely that there existed a real statue of Yhwh in his temple that could be seen. In the ancient Near East the expression “see the face of God” had its roots in the ideology of kingship. To “see the face of the king” meant to be admitted into the royal presence; in the context of a religious cult, then, the expression “see the face of god” described the entrance into the sanctuary where the statue of the god was located.37 The same meaning would seem to apply to the use of the expression in the Hebrew Bible. ‘To see the face of god’ was widely used not only in Mesopotamia but also in Egypt, especially in the ritual of revealing the face of the god during which the statue of the god was unveiled for the attendant priests: “As a cultural phenomenon ‘seeing god’ usually means seeing or desiring to see, his statue for instance, during a procession.”38 These parallels from Mesopotamia and Egypt make it plausible to assume that the expression “see the face of Yhwh” used in the Psalms originally meant see the statue of Yhwh. This does not mean that all the psalms that mention the face of Yhwh need to be read in this way—those dating especially from the period between the fift h and second centuries may be using the expression in a merely symbolic sense. Nevertheless, most are best understood with reference to an existing statue of Yhwh. Thus Psalm 17 traces a development that proceeds from an initial lament during the night: “You investigate my heart, you inspect it during the night” (v. 3), to a state of fulfillment in the morning at the moment of waking: “With justice I shall contemplate your face and when I wake I shall have my fill of your image (tĕmûnāh)” (v. 15). This psalm uses the term tĕmûnāh for “image,” but this is precisely the word that is used in the Decalogue in the prohibition of representations of god, and also in chapter 4 of Deuteronomy (vv. 16, 23, and 25). So the epiphany in



Psalms 17:15 takes the concrete form of a vision of the statue of Yhwh in the morning. The same idea recurs in Psalms 63:2–3, which also speaks of a morning vision: “From the break of day I have desired you; my soul thirsts for you . . . Thus I saw you in the sanctuary, looking at your power and your glory.” These verses also celebrate the privilege of having had access to the statue of god. Similarly, the consonantal text of Psalms 42:3 is most plausibly rendered as “When might I come and see the face of god?”39 One can add to these examples those texts that refer to acts of praise before “the face of Yhwh.”40 Psalms 61:8 speaks of a king who is “always” seated in front of the face of god. This verse expresses the privileged relation between the king and his tutelary god, which is symbolized by his access to the Holy of Holies. Further support for the view that the term pānîm, “face,” refers in certain cases to a statue of Yhwh can be found in the use of the expression leḥem pānîm (“bread of the face”), which does not occur in the Psalms but is used in the prescriptions for organizing the sanctuary.41 There will originally have been bread placed before the statue of the god to serve as nourishment for him.42 To return briefly to the Psalms, recall that some of them seem to describe the practice of moving the statue of Yhwh in a procession. Processions of statues of gods on the occasion of festivals or at other times are well attested in the Near East and Egypt.43 Psalm 24 would make good sense in the context of a procession with the cult statue: the appeal to the gates to open and let the king of glory, Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, enter (vv. 7–10) would naturally accompany the return of the god to his sanctuary after a procession: (7) Gates, lift your head! Raise yourselves up, ancient portals! Let him enter, the king of glory! (8) Who is the king of glory? Yhwh, strong and mighty, Yhwh, mighty in war. (9) Gates, lift your head! Raise yourselves up, ancient portals! Let him enter, the king of glory! (10) Who is he, this king of glory? Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, it is he who is the king of glory.

Psalm 68 refers to a similar event: “We have seen your processions, God, the processions of my God, of my king (entering) into the sanc-



tuary; first the singers, last the musicians, in the middle the young women beating the tambourine” (vv. 25–26). These two texts add further weight to the claim that there was a statue (or statues) of Yhwh in the kingdom of Judah during the monarchy.

The Destruction of the Temple and the Departure of Yhwh

It is true that no biblical text mentions either the destruction or the deportation of a statue of Yhwh when the Babylonians sacked the Temple of Jerusalem in 587. This, however, is no proof that a statue of Yhwh did not exist, because later editors projected their religious ideas back onto the monarchic times and construed the whole history of Israel and Judah according to these ideas. Starting from their Judean perspective, they castigated the cult of the north (for instance, in the book of Hosea there is an announcement of the destruction of the bull of Samaria), but they are much more reticent about the details of the Yahwistic cult in the kingdom of the south. One can observe, though, that at the end of the books of Kings great emphasis is placed on the deportation of the “utensils (kĕlê) of the temple” to Babylon (2 Kings 25:14–15). One might speculate whether this very general term could not include one or several cult statues, all the more so given that the text of Isaiah 52:11 speaks of the return from Babylon of those who bear the kĕlê Yhwh: “Depart, depart, come out from there! Do not touch anything impure. Come out from the midst of Babylon! Purify yourselves, you who carry the utensils of Yhwh (kĕlê Yhwh)!” The expression used here is peculiar; the more usual formulation would have been “utensils of the house of Yhwh.” Further evidence in favor of the view that the statue of Yhwh had been deported along with other utensils can perhaps be found in the description given in Ezekiel 10:18–19 of the departure of the glory of Yhwh from the Temple and city of Jerusalem: “The glory of Yhwh departed from the threshold of the temple; it stood above the cherubim. So the cherubim opened their wings and raised themselves from the earth. Before my eyes the wheels came out at the same time.”44 This vision takes up again the motif of the deity standing on a cherub. Verse 4 in fact speaks of a single cherub (“the glory of Yhwh raised itself above



the kĕrûḇ on the threshold of the House”),45 whereas verse 18 mentions cherubim in the plural and alludes perhaps to the throne flanked by cherubim on which the god is seated. The composition of Ezekiel 10 is a vexed question and we shall simply mention that it certainly does not have only one author.46 Suffice it to say that the two iconographic motifs just mentioned are traditionally associated with a statue of the god located above the cherubim. In Ezekiel and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the statue has been replaced by the kāḇôd, the glory of god. However, the text in Ezekiel retains some traces that point to a deportation of a statue of Yhwh by the Babylonians.

Did the Statue of Yhwh Return to Jerusalem or Did It Disappear in the Persian Period?

Judaism, which was about to constitute itself as a distinctive religion during the second half of the Persian era, counted the prohibition on the use of graven images as one of its most characteristic features, one that was later to attract the interest, but also the contempt, of the Greeks and the Romans. However, this prohibition was not immediately enforced in all Jewish circles. The Judean coin mentioned above, which probably bears an image of Yhwh, indicates that even in the fourth century this type of representation was not unthinkable. In addition, a number of prophetic texts seem to express a hope for the return of the statue of Yhwh47—in a mode similar to that which one fi nds in various Assyrian, Persian, and Ptolemaic texts that describe the return of deported cult statues to their place of origin. In Jeremiah 31 the consonantal text of the divine oracle given in verse 21 should be read as: “Pay attention to the route, to the road on which I shall walk.”48 Placed in the context of the Near Eastern tradition of a return of cult statues, this verse may refer to a return of Yhwh (by way of a return of his statue) together with the returning exiles, as in the verses of DeuteroIsaiah: “With their own eyes, they see Yhwh returning to Zion” (Isa. 52:8).49 To be sure, such texts may also simply express a general wish that Yhwh be present once again in Judea, but it is not out of the question that some voices were raised demanding that this presence be made visible with the aid of a statue. Christoph Uehlinger claims that the desir-



ability of erecting a new statue of Yhwh was still debated in the Persian era.50 The intellectual elite of nascent Judaism, however, opted for radical aniconism. The origin of this decision to renounce the idea of having a statue of the god, might be found in the fact that after the destruction of the temple no one any longer knew how to represent Yhwh. We might compare this situation to that described in a tablet of a king of Babylon, Nabu-apal-iddin, which states that the temple of Shamash had been destroyed by the Suteans, a tribe known from the Mari texts: They have destroyed the reliefs . . . his form and his representation have disappeared: no one has seen them. Simbar-shipak, king of Babylon, made inquiries about his form, but did not see his face; because he did not find his image (ṣalam) and his representations. This is why he set up a disk of the radiant sun before Shamash.51

In contrast with the situation in Assyria there was no longer a king in Judah, and this led to a renunciation of the idea of having a statue of Yhwh. This break with the epoch of the monarchy is emphasized in a text that speaks of the lost ark: “One shall say no more: ‘The Ark of the covenant of Yhwh.’ It shall no longer come to mind, one shall no longer remember it, one will pay no attention to it; it shall not be made again. In that time one shall call Jerusalem ‘throne of Yhwh,’ all peoples shall rush together toward it” (Jer. 3:16–17). This oracle substitutes the city of Jerusalem for the ark in its function as throne of Yhwh.52 Jerusalem as a whole, then, is to become the “seat” of the god of Israel, the center of the world. After the prohibition of images was imposed, other substitutes were found for the statue of Yhwh, such as the “glory” of Yhwh or the lamp holder. As we shall see in what follows, the most important substitution was the scroll of the Torah, which, by formulating in writing the relation between Yhwh and Israel, made “visible” the word of god, which up to that time had been invisible.53



To be the only true god means to have no partners. Thus, Yhwh is traditionally considered to be an “unmarried” god, and the allusions to goddesses in the Bible, notably to Asherah, have been interpreted as referring to non-Yahwist cults. This is the way the editors of the Bible finally decided to present matters. For the historian, however, the situation looks very different. It is highly likely that Yhwh had a goddess associated with him in Judah and consequently also in Israel. To be sure, Yhwh was worshipped as the national god and that gave him a privileged place at least in the official cult, but that would not at all exclude a goddess as a companion. Thus on the stele of Mesha a goddess named Ashtar is associated with the national god Chemosh: I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls because I had dedicated (ḥ-r-m) them to the Ashtar of Chemosh.

Ashtar here is obviously a goddess, probably a parhedros who accompanies Chemosh in his military exploits.1 A certain number of inscriptions associate an “Asherah” with Yhwh, and she is also mentioned in biblical texts. To understand the exact na-



ture of this association, it is necessary to start with a description of the nature and function of Asherah in the ancient Near East.


The origins of the goddess Asherah are probably western Semitic, although the first references to her are to be found in Mesopotamia in the era of Hammurabi (eighteenth century). In Akkadian and Hittite she appears as Ašratu(m), Aširatu, and Aširtu. In Mesopotamia she is also attested in three ritual texts from the Seleucid period.2 In the letters of El Amarna a king of Ammuru named Abdi-Aširta appears ninety-two times. However, it is Ugaritic texts that form the principal source of our information about the goddess in the second millennium. Her name is written ʾaṯrt, vocalized as ʾAṯirat(u). In the Baal-cycle (KTU 1.1–6), she appears as the great goddess, parhedros of the god El and mother of minor gods in the pantheon who are called “the seventy sons of Aṯirat”: “He (Baal) summons his brothers to his dwelling, his peers to his palace. He calls the seventy sons of Aṯirat.”3 In the legend of Keret (or Kirtu), the heir to the throne of Keret is described as “he who shall suck the milk of Aṯirat,” which suggests that she could have been connected to fertility and may have played a role in the ideology of kingship. In southern Arabian inscriptions from the first millennium, the term aṯrt also occurs either as a divine name in general or as the name of a specific goddess. So it is possible that in certain cases Asherah does not designate a specific goddess, but simply means “goddess” in general.4


The word ʾăšērāh occurs forty times in biblical texts, mostly with the article. It occurs eighteen times in the singular; in the plural two forms are attested: ʾăšērîm (a masculine plural, nineteen times) and ʾăšērôt (a feminine plural, three times). The masculine plural is surprising. Some



have speculated that the masculine form is used when “asherah” refers to a sacred pole, a kind of stylized tree (we will come back to this). Another proposal has been made by Oswald Loretz, namely that the masculine plural is an artificial creation of the editors of the Bible in order to avoid any possible allusion to the goddess Asherah.5 We can group biblical references to Asherah into four categories: (a) the plural in stereotypical exhortations to destroy the altars, statues, and the asherim of other peoples;6 (b) texts in which Asherah is associated with Baal;7 (c): ʾăšērîm mentioned in connection with maṣṣēḇôt, standing stones;8 and finally (d) Asherah in connection with the altar or house of Yhwh.9 So the biblical texts make no direct link between Asherah and Yhwh. Nevertheless, they do associate the asherahs with standing stones, and we have seen that standing stones played a role in the Yahwistic cult practiced in sanctuaries in the high places. In addition, the texts listed under (d) above do suggest a possible integration of Asherah into the cult of Yhwh. The fact that certain biblical texts associate Baal and Asherah has led some to conclude that in the fi rst millennium the goddess Asherah had become the parhedros of Baal (although in the Ugaritic texts she is the parhedros of El). The only support for this hypothesis is the handful of biblical texts listed under (b) above; however, the fact that all the cited passages come from editors of the Deuteronomistic school strongly suggests that this association was invented to break the link between Yhwh and Asherah.


In sharp contrast to the biblical texts, a close link between Yhwh and Asherah is attested in the inscriptions found at Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom. Kuntillet Ajrud is located about 50 kilometers to the south of Kadesh-Barnea, not far from the ancient route leading from Gaza to Eilat. In 1975–1976, excavations conducted by scholars from Tel Aviv University discovered remains that they tried to interpret as those of a sanctuary or school. The most likely hypothesis is that it was a cara-



vanserai, probably dating to the beginning of the eighth century.10 This site has yielded inscriptions on the walls and on pottery vessels (pithoi). Pithos A 1 1. Says/Said . . . (proper name 1) . . . : “Say to Yehalle[l?]” (proper name 2), Yoaśah (proper name 3) and . . . (proper name 4?): I bless you [or, have blessed you] 2. by Yhwh of Samaria (šmrn) and his Asherah. Pithos B 2 1–2. Amaryahu says/said: 3. “Say to my Lord: 4. “Are you well? 5–8. I bless you [or, have blessed you] by Yhwh of Temān ([h]tmn)11 and by his Asherah. Let him [i.e., Yhwh] bless (you) and keep you safe 9. and let him be with my lord” Pithos B 3 [I bless you [I have blessed you]] by Yhwh of Teman and by/his Asherah. All that he shall request of someone, may he [i.e., Yhwh] grant it . . . and may Yhwh give to him according to his will.

There is now a broad consensus about the meaning of the two phrases Yhwh 8mrn and Yhwh (h)tmn. These are associations of the name of Yhwh with the name of a place—such as, for instance, “Ishtar of Nineveh.” So here there is a reference to two local manifestations of the national god of Israel, who had a sanctuary in Samaria and also in a region or city named Temān, located in the southeast of the Negev or in Edom. The inscriptions on these pottery vessels are accompanied by some drawings, but it is not clear that there is any connection between the inscriptions and the drawings, and even if there were, it would still be unclear what that connection was. Some scholars have claimed to see in the drawing on Pithos A a representation of two divine—or demonic—beings: Yhwh and his Asherah.12



Two figures under the inscription on Pithos A, found at Kuntillet Arjud; they perhaps represent Yhwh and Asherah.

Mordechai Gilula identifies the figure on the right, which in his view has bovine features, with Yhwh. The figure on the left was originally supposed to represent Asherah, but in an attempt to censor this, someone later “masculinized” the goddess by giving her a penis. It is true that in older publications, the second figure seemed to have a male sexual organ. However, in the most recent publication of the drawing by Zeev Meshel, it is not clear whether or not this figure really has a penis. If it does not, then the interpretation of this as a representation of the couple Yhwh and Asherah would become more plausible again. Some have also argued that the two figures on the left, who seem to be entwined or in some way doubled, in fact represent the Egyptian god Bes, who often appears in the form of twins. What, however, is one to make of the figure on the right who seems to be playing the lyre? Is this simply a male or female musician, or is it Asherah installed on her throne? This would be a rash claim to make, because the gender of the person on the right is unclear and in the mythological texts Asherah does not appear as a goddess of musicians. We might, however, wonder whether the painting on the other side of the vessel might not have included a representation of Asherah. Judith Hadley suggests that the stylized tree is the symbol of Asherah.13 That would also explain the presence of the lions, which are often attested as the favorite animals of the goddess. However, even if the iconographic material does not permit a defi nitive resolution of this



Pithos A of Kuntillet Arjud (verso): a stylized tree flanked by ibexes and supported by a lion.

issue, the inscriptions leave no doubt about the existence of an Asherah associated with Yhwh. A comparable inscription from about the same time as the texts from Kuntillet Ajrud was found in Khirbet el-Qom, 13 kilometers to the west of Hebron: “Uriyahou the rich has written it: May Uriyahou be blessed



by Yhwh, who has saved him from his enemies through his Asherah.” Certain authors have claimed (probably for theological reasons) that the term “asherah” in these inscriptions refers not to the goddess but to some cult objects.14 However, there is little point in such a contrast. Even if the reference was to a sacred pole or a stylized tree symbolizing the goddess, this would make little difference, because in the ancient Near East anthropomorphic statues of gods or their symbols could both equally be objects of a religious cult.15 Some scholars have interpreted “Yhwh and his Asherah” as meaning “Yhwh and his sanctuary,” but this usage of “asherah,” although it does exist in other Semitic languages,16 is not attested for Hebrew and does not make sense in the biblical texts.17 The simplest solution, then, is still to assume that these inscriptions refer to the divine couple “Yhwh and his Asherah.” The possessive adjective “his” may signal a certain subordination of Asherah, but that is surely just the traditional conception of the relation between man and woman.


It is possible that we already have some further references to the couple Yhwh and Asherah in the existing iconographic material. Christoph Uehlinger has identified one such on a fragment of terra cotta about 16 centimeters high; its provenance is not completely clear, but it may have been found at Tell Beit Misrim in Judah.18 The image is of a divine couple seated on a throne with the male figure occupying the central place and the woman beside him, both of them surrounded by sacred animals: lions or sphinxes. If the piece does represent Yhwh and “his” Asherah, it would be an image from the eighth or seventh century. This identification is interesting but remains very uncertain.19 A Judean seal from the Assyrian period also represents a divine couple that might be Yhwh and Asherah, who is identified as the “queen of heaven” mentioned in some biblical texts.20 Judith Hadley has proposed that we identify two figures on a cult object found in 1968 at Ta’anakh in the southern part of the valley of Jisreel in Galilee as the couple Yhwh



Couple seated on a throne (eighth to seventh century); they can perhaps be interpreted as Yhwh and Asherah.

and Asherah.21 This object, which dates from the tenth or ninth century, is on four levels. The top two levels show a stylized tree and a solar disk with what seems to be an accompanying horse.22 It is possible that we have here the symbols of Asherah and Yhwh. In Hadley’s view the female goddess at the bottom is Asherah. She concludes that an opening in the object with a depiction of two sphinxes on both sides guarding it might be a way of symbolizing the presence of Yhwh not with an image but by means of the smoke that was allowed to escape from the opening. This would be parallel to the literary references to the “glory of Yhwh,” which was conceived as a kind of cloud representing a manifestation of the god. This is a possible interpretation, but it is hard to be sure.23 Finally, and most recently, Garth Gilmour has argued for an identification of Yhwh and Asherah in a stylized image on a tessara found in the excavations of the city of David during the 1920s.24 Gilmour takes the figure on the right to be masculine and the four arcs at the bottom to represent mountains or the tops of a throne. He takes the stylized figure on the left to be a woman: the upper triangle representing the face,



Stylized image on a potsherd from the city of David: on the right, a male figure enthroned, perhaps on mountains; on the left, two triangles perhaps symbolizing a female figure.

and the lower the sexual organs. The two figures are connected by another triangle. Once again, this is an interesting proposal, but it remains speculative.


Pillar figurines have been found in many Judean towns from the eighth and seventh centuries—for instance, in Jerusalem, Arad, Beer-Sheba, Beth-Mirsim, Beth-Shemesh, and Lachish. More than a hundred have been found. Outside Judean territory only isolated instances of this kind of figurine have been discovered. The most frequently found form is that of a column, usually handmade, to which is affixed the bust of a woman, which is always handmade; then a molded head has been added. The breasts are always in relief, often supported by a pair of hands.25 These sculpted pillars are a characteristic expression of Judean piety especially in the seventh century. They are found most often in private houses, but also in tombs. They have often been interpreted as representations of a goddess, who is perhaps Asherah.26 That would make sense of the prominent breasts, which would emphasize the nurturing aspect of the goddess. It is the breasts as sources of nourishment that are of



central importance here, and, in contrast to full representations of the naked goddess, their possible erotic role is secondary. The pillar can also be interpreted as a tunic; in any case the pudenda of the goddess are invisible. If these figurines can be identified with Asherah, they would provide proof that there had been anthropomorphic representations of the goddess, which is what seems also to be claimed, at least indirectly, in certain biblical texts.


We have seen that in the inscriptions of Kuntillet Ajrud, Asherah is associated with the Yhwh of Samaria. 1 Kings 16:33 reports that King Ahab erected an Asherah,27 probably in the temple at Samaria. This Asherah continued to exist under King Jehoahaz (ca. 814–798), if we are to believe the critical remark by the editors of the books of Kings: “They did not take away the sins that the house of Jeroboam committed in Israel, they persisted in them; even the Asherah remained standing in Samaria” (2 Kings 13:6). In the kingdom of Judah we learn that the queen mother Maacah installed in the temple an “abominable thing for [the worship of] Asherah,” which King Asa (ca. 910–869) is said to have destroyed: “He withdrew even the title of queen mother from Maacah, his grandmother, because she had made this abominable thing for Asherah. Asa cut down her representation and had it burned on the banks of the stream of Kidron” (1 Kings 15:13). King Manasseh (ca. 687–642), whom the editors of the books of Kings abhor, is said to have had the statue of Asherah refashioned, after it had been destroyed by his predecessor Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4): “He placed the statue of Asherah which he had made in the temple” (2 Kings 21:7). If Hezekiah did actually try to eradicate the cult of Asherah, which is far from certain, there was obviously a revival of it under Manasseh. Even though the editors of the Bible criticized the kings who are alleged to have favored the worship of Asherah, this cult continued to be important up to the end of the seventh century. Asherah was



associated with Yhwh; she most probably had a statue in the temple beside his.


In Judah in the seventh century there existed a popular cult of a goddess called “Queen of Heaven.” Women seem to have played a central role in this cult. Two texts in the book of Jeremiah, which have been transmitted to us by the Deuteronomistic editors, criticize this cult severely. Chapter 44 of Jeremiah is presented as a discourse by the prophet to those who have taken refuge in Egypt after the destruction of Jerusalem. The speaker explains to them that the catastrophe occurred because the Judeans would not stop worshipping other gods. The Judeans to whom this speech is directed, for their part, strongly contest this interpretation of the fall of Jerusalem: We shall do what we have decided to do: burn offerings to the Queen of Heaven, pour her libations, as we have done in the cities of Judah and the alleys of Jerusalem . . . at the time when we had bread in abundance and lived happily without knowing any misfortune. From the time when we stopped burning offering to the Queen of Heaven, we have suffered want of everything and perished by the sword and famine. (vv. 17–18)

On this interpretation it was precisely the prohibition of the cult of the goddess—part of the reforms of Josiah, to be discussed shortly—that, by inciting the anger of the Queen of Heaven, justly caused the fall of the kingdom of Judah. It is possible that the Queen of Heaven was a manifestation of the goddess Asherah. The importance of women in the cult of Asherah is noted in 2 Kings 23:6–7, which report that women wove robes for Asherah in the Temple of Jerusalem. We should probably envisage a duality in the representation of Asherah, anthropomorphic in the Temple of Jerusalem and the temple at Samaria (? and elsewhere?), and in the form of a stylized tree (“sacred pole”) in the bāmôt and other places. The links between the goddess



Seal from Lachish representing a goddess, probably Asherah, with a stylized tree; above her a solar disk, perhaps representing Yhwh.

Asherah and the stylized tree are well attested iconographically, starting from the late Bronze Age. Thus on a pendant from Tell al-Ajul we see a branch protruding from the navel of the goddess.28 A jug from Lachish29 carries the inscription: mtn.šy. [l?] [rb]ty ʾlt—“an offering, a present for my Lady Elat [or, the Goddess].” Under the inscription there is a drawing, and the word ʾlt (Elat) is placed just above the tree flanked by creatures who look like goats. The goddess here can be identified with Asherah: rbt (“lady”) and ʾilt (“goddess”) are epithets of Asherah in Ugaritic mythological texts. A figurine of the goddess, found at Revadim, shows her with her sexual organs exposed; high up on her thigh there is a palm tree flanked by a pair of these goatlike creatures. The goddess suckles an infant at each of her two breasts. This image of the goddess represents the idea of fertility in a number of different ways. We can connect her attributes to various mythological texts from Ugarit, where Asherah is called “creatrix of the gods.” She appears repeatedly as a nursing mother and also bears the name Raḥmay—literally “the maternal breast.” On a seal from Lachish (now lost) the goddess could be seen with a stylized tree on one side and a female worshipper on the other, and above her the disc of the sun god. If this is Asherah, the solar disk above her may be interpreted as a representation of Yhwh. This seal shows clearly that the anthropomorphic “goddess” and the “sacred pole” should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Asherah could



be represented in two ways, just as Yhwh could be, by either a masseba or a statue. In conclusion, the goddess Asherah was associated with Yhwh as his parhedros, but she was also worshipped independently of him, especially by women, in the form of the “Queen of Heaven. It is only with the beginning of the reign of Josiah that we will find Yhwh alone without his Asherah.



The influence of the neo-Assyrian empire increased without interruption from the ninth century onward, and by the reign of TiglathPileser III (745–727) all the kingdoms of the Levant found themselves de facto under the domination of the Assyrians. The kingdom of Israel, with a more developed economy and political structure than Judah’s, was of correspondingly greater interest to the Assyrians, and it was rapidly forced to become a vassal state although it tried several times to escape this. Following a military campaign by Tiglath-Pileser III in 738, the kings Menahem of Samaria and Reṣîn of Damascus appear on the Assyrian lists as tributaries of the Assyrian king.1


There are numerous traces in the Bible of the attempt to form an antiAssyrian coalition led by the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus; Israel joined this coalition. As a result of a coup d’état in Samaria, which was supported by Damascus, someone named Peqah took the throne and joined the alliance to which the Edomites (and possibly also the





Nineveh Assur


Samaria Jerusalem



400 km

under Shalmaneser III under Ashurbanipal

The neo-Assyrian Empire and its extension

Philistines) then also adhered. In order to force the kingdom of Judah to join too, a military campaign was launched against it. This is often called the “Syro-Ephramitic War,” an expression coined by Martin Luther. According to the reports in Kings and Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah played an important role in this affair in his capacity as a counselor to the king. Thus Isaiah 7 contains an exhortation to the Judean king Ahaz to put his trust in Yhwh and not to yield to compulsion from Aram and Samaria: (5) Do not be troubled because Aram has decided to injure you, because Ephraim and the sons of Remaliah say: (6) Let us rise up against Judah, let us sow panic there, let us make our way there by force and proclaim the son of Tabeal king. (7) This is what the Lord has said: This shall not happen, it shall not take place. (8) To be sure, Damascus is the head of Aram and Rezin the head of Damascus, but by 65  years from now Ephraim shall be broken as a people—(9) Samaria is the head of Ephraim and the son of



Remaliah the head of Samaria. If you do not have trust, you shall not survive.

The original oracle, which probably was pronounced in the context of the assault by the anti-Assyrian alliance against the kingdom of Judah, exhorts the king to keep his distance from this coalition. The passage in italics was certainly added after the disappearance of the kingdom of Israel.2 2 Kings 16 refers to the same situation. King Ahaz paid a voluntary tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III3 and became his vassal (vv. 6–7), as is also indicated by the Assyrian list of 729, which show the Judean king as a tributary of the Assyrian king. So Judah sided with Assyria, and this allowed it to retain a kind of pseudo-autonomy and prevented it from being simply absorbed into the system of Assyrian provinces. This was not the case for the kingdom of Israel, however. In 733 the Assyrians took the kingdom of Damascus, capturing and impaling the king and his dignitaries. As far as Israel was concerned, its territory was reduced (2 Kings 15:29), and the areas annexed were integrated into the system of Assyrian provinces. In this difficult situation King Peqah was assassinated and replaced by an usurper called Hosea, who also had to pay a heavy tribute to the Assyrian Empire. An Assyrian source describes the putsch in the following terms: “Peqah, their king [I/they killed] and I installed Hosea [as king] over them. 10 talents of gold, 100 talents of silver I received.”4 The death of Tiglath-Pileser III in 727 gave rise to internal struggles at the court, and the Assyrians were compelled for a short time to reduce their pressure on the western periphery of their empire. The king of Israel, Hosea, seems to have been able to suspend his tribute. The account in 2 Kings 17 states that he tried to find support from a certain “Sô,” king of Egypt.5 The idea of seeking the help of Egypt would seem plausible, since such attempts are condemned in the book attributed to the prophet Hosea (who is not to be confused with the king of the same name). This policy provoked an Assyrian intervention. The siege of the city of Samaria began in 724 and lasted about three years until the city fell in 722.6 The city fell probably while Salmanasar V was still king, but his successor Sargon then put in place the new administrative structure



that incorporated the rest of the former kingdom of Israel directly into Assyria. The Assyrian overlord deported some of the inhabitants of Samaria and reorganized the city, as is indicated in the biblical narrative and also the Prism of Nimrud: With the power of the Great Gods, my lords, I fought against them . . . I counted as spoil 27,280 people together with their chariots and the gods in whom they trusted. From among them I formed a unit with 200 chariots for my royal force; I settled the rest of them in the midst of Assyria. I repopulated Samerina and made it greater more than before. I brought into it people from countries conquered by my hands. I appointed my eunuch as governor over them.7

The forced movement of populations was part of the military and political strategy of the Assyrians. These deportations were presented as a punishment of those who had broken treaties, but they also had another political function. The deportation of a part of the intelligentsia—priests, high officials, generals, and highly skilled artisans—allowed the Assyrians to dismantle the existing social structure. The defeated army was partially integrated into the Assyrian army, which at a stroke became more cosmopolitan, as is clearly indicated by certain reliefs that show soldiers of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The exiled populations were settled in urban centers like Nineveh or Nimrud, but also in the new city Dur-Sharrukin, which Sargon intended to make his capital. Settling other ethnic groups in place of the deported populations also allowed the Assyrians to keep better control of the annexed territories. The communities implanted by the Assyrians were considered by the rest of the population, who had been permitted to stay in the country, to be a part of the structure of Assyrian power, so these people, deported from elsewhere but now settled in Samaria, had no choice but to collaborate closely with the Assyrians.8 The annals of Sargon describe the deportation of Arab tribes to Samaria in 715: The Tamudi, the Ibadidi, the Marsimanni, and Hayapā, the distant Arabs who live in the desert who knew neither overseer nor commander, who never brought their tribute to any king, with the help



of Assur, my Lord, I defeated them. I deported the rest of them. I settled them in Samerina.9

This mixing of populations is the origin of the pejorative term “Samaritan” for a people who were thought by the Jews to practice a syncretistic cult. Nevertheless, the cult of Yhwh will have continued in the territory of the former kingdom of Israel, even though we have virtually no information about the religious situation in the kingdom until the Persian era. The polemic text of 2 Kings 17:24–33, however, indicates despite itself the persistence of a Yahwist cult in Samaria: (24) The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharwaim and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and inhabited the cities there. (25) However at the beginning of their settlement in that place, because they did not fear Yhwh, he sent lions against them who killed them. (26) They said to the king of Assyria: “The nations whom you have deported and settled in the cities of Samaria do not know the way to honor the god of this country. This god has sent lions against them, who make them die because they do not know the manner of honoring the god of the country.” (27) The king of Assyria gave this order: “Send back there the priests of Samaria whom you have deported, let them go and dwell there, and let them teach the way of honoring the god of the country.” (28) One of the priests who had been deported from Samaria then came back and lived in Bethel. He taught them how they ought to fear god. (29) Each nation made its own god and placed it in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had built. Each nation did the same in the cities in which they lived: (30) the people of Babylon made Succoth-Benoth,10 those of Cuthah, Nergal,11 those of Hamath Ashima 12 (31), the Avvites Nibhaz13 and Tartak;14 the Sepharites burned their sons in the fire for Adrammelech and Anammelech,15 the gods of Sepharwaim. (32). They feared Yhwh and made from among their own people priests for the high places to celebrate in their name in the houses on the high places. (33) Although they feared Yhwh, they served



their own gods according to the customs of the nations who lived from whence they had been deported.

In its current form the text dates from the Persian era and is influenced by the anti-Samaritan polemics of that time.16 The style of the Hebrew used in this text confirms that it dates from this late period: for instance, the verb “to be” is used with a participle to replace the usual narrative form, which is a feature typical of postbiblical Hebrew and betrays Aramaean influence. Nevertheless, the text may retain some historical memories of the situation in Samaria after its incorporation into the Assyrian Empire. The text informs us that the king of Assyria tried to repopulate Samaria with groups coming from Babylon and also perhaps from Syria,17 and an Assyrian source mentions that Arab tribes were also settled in Samaria. The name Hamath may designate a city on the Orontes, but if that is true, it is not really very far from Samaria, or it may refer to Amati in the south of Mesopotamia.18 Sepharwaim is either Sippar or Sipir’ani, a town not far from Nippur. This town is mentioned in the documents of Murashu,19 which also contain references to some people with Judean names in Babylon during the Persian era. It seems that some of the deported people who were settled in Samaria came from southern Mesopotamia. 2 Kings 17 combines this enumeration of the deported populations with some historical anecdotes, and contains a passage that shows that the Yahwistic cult continued to be practiced in the country: Yhwh sent an invasion of lions as a punishment for the neglect of his cult. As a response, the king of Assyria sent back an Israelite priest to be responsible for the cult of Yhwh at Bethel. Although the author of this text can barely hide his negative attitude toward the sanctuary at Bethel, it is probable that this sanctuary continued to play an important role even after 722. Its history is recounted in 2 Kings 17 with a touch of irony: the high officials of the king of Assyria speak to him of the “nations whom you have deported,” and the king answers by telling them to look for a priest from among those whom “you have deported” as if he were unwilling to accept responsibility for the deportations himself. The author of this episode clearly intends to put into relief the power of Yhwh, who keeps watch over the continuity of his own cult. Some have thought that



the invasion by lions was an actual historical event, arguing that the depopulation of an area could well allow lions to proliferate there. However, this motif could just as well and even more easily be explained as an invention by the author.20 It might also be a kind of literary reworking of one of the terms of a treaty concluded between the Assyrian king Esarhaddon and a certain Baal, king of Tyre (ca. 676), which specified that one of the punishments in case of noncompliance would be an invasion by lions: “May Bethel and Anat-Bethel deliver you to the paws of a man-eating lion.”21 Bethel appears in this text as a divinity, a kind of materialization of a “betyl.” This treaty is probably the oldest attestation of this divinity,22 who was worshipped in Phoenicia, among the Aramaeans, and also by various Aramaean and Judean communities in Egypt.23 It is possible that the god Bethel also had a cult in Israel, as is suggested by the oracle of Jeremiah 48: “Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh just as the house of Israel is ashamed of Bethel in which it put its trust” (v. 13). In 2 Kings 17 Bethel clearly designates the sanctuary of the former kingdom of the north. The author of this passage admits that the cult of Yhwh continues in Samaria, despite the importation of other deities, some of whom are difficult to identify. Unfortunately we have very little information, and what we do have comes from sources that often have a polemical bias, but the existence of a Yahwistic sanctuary on Mount Gerizim, which is attested archaeologically from the Persian era, confirms this continuity.


The defeat of the “big brother” in the north can hardly have failed to elicit a number of different reactions among the priests and high officials of the court at Jerusalem. Was it not a sign that the gods of the Assyrians were stronger than Yhwh and the tiny pantheon of Israel? Or had Yhwh rejected Israel, handing it over into the hands of the Assyrians in order to show that his “true” people were those who lived in Judah and in Jerusalem? We find an instance of this idea in Psalm 78: “(67) He [Yhwh] put aside the family of Joseph, he refused to choose the tribe of



Ephraim [the kingdom of Israel]. (68) He chose the tribe of Judah, the mountain of Zion which he loves.” In this way the sense of being the true people of Yhwh, the true Israel, took root in Judah in the court at Jerusalem. It is possible that it is starting from this period that Judah began to lay claim to the name Israel and thus also to the heritage of the former kingdom of the north. Th is sense of being the true people of Yhwh will have been reinforced by the unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in 701, which we shall discuss again later. The events of 722 had a significant impact on the demography of Jerusalem: “in a matter of a few decades—surely within a single generation—Jerusalem was transformed from a modest highland village of about ten or twelve acres to a huge urban area of 150 acres of closely packed houses . . . In demographic terms the city’s population may have increased as much as fifteen times, from about thousand to fifteen thousand inhabitants.”24 Demographic change brought with it a reorganization of the political structures of the kingdom of Judah: the traditional system of a purely agricultural economy founded on the clan was increasingly challenged by the centralized power of a state. The Judean administration underwent significant developments in the eighth century, and was progressively professionalized, reflecting the city’s growing size.25 It is not known for certain when Jerusalem spread to include the western hill (nowadays Jewish and Armenian quarters, and what is now called Mount Zion). The reasons for this spectacular expansion are certainly connected with the events of 733 and  722. There was most likely a large number of refugees from Israel, fleeing the Assyrians, who arrived at this time.26 Other authors cite politico-economic reasons. One theory is that the administration in Jerusalem regrouped the population in cities in order to be able to offer better resistance to the Assyrians.27 It is also possible that the economic boom in Jerusalem and the lack of cultivatable land in the rural areas attracted a population that would otherwise have been threatened with pauperization.28 However, excavations have revealed the existence of small villages in the environs of the city toward the end of the eighth and during the seventh century, so it does not appear that the small villages were all completely abandoned.29



We should not discount the possibility that there were several different reasons for the spectacular growth of Jerusalem, but it is hard to avoid assuming that there was a movement of populations from the north to the south. The Hebrew Bible mentions a group called the Rekabites, who are said to have participated in the revolt of Jehu against the Omrides;30 according to Jeremiah 35, this group was settled in Jerusalem at the end of the seventh century. 2  Kings 22:14 speaks of a ʿîr hammišneh, a “new [literally second] city,” in which the prophetess Huldah and her husband lived. The symbol of this new Jerusalem was king Hezekiah, who enjoys the almost unreserved approval of the editors of the Bible: “He did that which is right in the eyes of Yhwh, exactly as his ancestor David had done . . . of all the Kings of Judah who came before or after him, none was his equal” (2 Kings 18:3 and 5). It is not known when Hezekiah’s reign began.31 If it was in 728, this would have given him enough time to complete his building works at Jerusalem. It is possible that a new wall was built around Jerusalem or a reinforced rampart, and the biblical texts claim that Hezekiah also constructed a tunnel 533 meters long to bring water from Guihôn to Jerusalem.32 An inscription tells of how the tunnel was built, starting from each of the two ends at the same time: . . . the piercing . . . And this is the history of the digging. When . . . the pickaxes one against the other. And when there were only three cubits more to cut through, the men were heard calling from one side to the other; [for] there was zedah in the rock, on the right and on the left. And on the day of the piercing the workmen struck each to meet the other, pickax against pickax. And there flowed the waters from the spring to the pool for a space of 200 cubits. And [100] cubits was the height over the head of the workmen.33

Was this tunnel cut for reasons of defense or simply because the city, whose population now exceeded 15,000 inhabitants, needed a new source of water?34 E. A. Knauf claims that the construction of this tunnel would have taken a very long time, so long in fact that it would not have



been possible for it to have been initiated and completed during the reign of Hezekiah, so it was probably constructed under Manasseh, who wanted to use it to irrigate a royal garden on the Assyrian model. It is highly likely that most of the public works attributed by the biblical authors to King Hezekiah were actually carried out under Manasseh.35 Because the editors of the books of Kings utterly detested Manasseh, it makes perfect sense of them to have attributed these achievements to his successor. This thesis gains increased plausibility if Hezekiah did not in fact begin his reign until 715. The inscription on this tunnel is the fi rst monumental inscription known at Jerusalem.36 Also from this period is the fragment of an inscription on a large stone, intended for public display, on which words like ṣ-b-r (“accumulate”) and ̒ -š-r (“wealth”)37 can still be deciphered. In addition, an important inscription on the threshold of a tomb, at the entrance to the village of Shiloh, mentions a “master of the palace,” who has a Yahwistic name.38 There is an increase in the number of inscriptions toward the end of the eighth century, which is further evidence of the growing importance of Jerusalem at that time.


The editors of the books of Kings approved of Hezekiah because of his anti-Assyrian policy. It seems that as a direct act of provocation toward the Assyrians he fortified the city of Lachish and reinforced the defenses of Beer-Sheba. The exact date of his revolt against his Assyrian overlords is not known: “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him any more” (2 Kings 18:7). The following verse mentions an Assyrian campaign against the Philistines that took place in 701.39 It is possible that Hezekiah had intended to revolt before 701. Perhaps he had planned to join the rebellion organized by Ashdod, against which the prophet Isaiah issued a warning: (1) The year when the commander-in-chief sent by Sargon, king of Assyria, came to attack Asdod and he took it . . . (2) At that time Yhwh spoke through the mediation of Isaiah, son of Amos: “Go,” he said, “unknot the sackcloth you have around your waist, take



off the sandals you have on your feet” and he did this, going naked and barefoot. (3) Yhwh said: “My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot for three years—a sign and omen to Egypt and to Nubia. (4) Similarly, the king of Assyria will lead away the Egyptian prisoners and the Nibuan deportees, young people and old, naked and barefoot, their bottoms uncovered—naked in Egypt! (5) People will be surprised and confounded because of Nubia, to whom they looked and because of Egypt in which they gloried.” (6) But the inhabitants of these regions shall say: “Behold these to whom we looked so as to find refuge among them, and help and to be delivered from the king of Assyria. And we, how shall we escape?” (Isa. 20)

This oracle seems to suggest that the rebels tried to ally themselves with Egypt. After he came to the throne, Sennacherib (705–681) had to crush a revolt in Babylon, and so he was less active in the Levant. The Philistine cities, notably Ekron and Ashkelon, attempted to revolt once again, relying on help from Egypt, which wanted to regain control over the cities of Philistia, and perhaps also make Judah a buffer zone against the Assyrians. Popular support for Egypt in Judah toward the end of the seventh century is indicated by the significant number of Egyptianizing seals from this period that have been found by archaeologists. In 701 Sennacherib undertook a campaign against Palestine that is very well documented archaeologically, especially at Lachish. There are even Assyrian reliefs at Nineveh that represent the siege and fall of Lachish.40 Further evidence is provided by the annals of Sennacherib, the oracles in the book of Isaiah, and two different narratives of the aborted siege of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18–20. Assyrian texts assert that the people of Ekron deposed King Padi, a loyal vassal of Assyria, from the throne and gave him over to Hezekiah. This shows that the Judean king played an important role in this revolt, in which Egypt, too, was firmly engaged. Sennacherib intervened against Ekron and put Padi back on the throne: The high officials, the, nobles, and the people of Ekron who had thrown into fetters Padî their king, who was loyal to the treaty and oath with Assyria by friendship and had him handed over to



Hezekiah the Judean . . . I fought with and inflicted a heavy defeat on them . . . I made Padî their king come out from Jerusalem . . . As to Hezekiah, the Judean, who did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities . . . Himself I enclosed in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage . . . His towns, which I had plundered, I separated from his territory . . . I reduced his country.41

Th is inscription admits that Jerusalem was not conquered, something the biblical narrative explains as a result of the miraculous intervention of Yhwh.42 On the other hand, numerous towns were taken, notably Lachish. The annals and the biblical text concur in asserting that Hezekiah had to pay a heavy tribute that, according to the Bible, required the destruction of certain doors to the Temple of Jerusalem: The fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. Hezekiah, king of Judah, sent a messenger to say to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. Depart from me. Whatever you shall impose on me I shall bear.” The king of Assyria imposed on Hezekiah a tribute of 9 tons of silver and 900 kilos of gold. Hezekiah gave all the silver which was in the house of Yhwh and in the treasuries of the royal palace. This was the time when Hezekiah took away the chasings of gold which had covered the doors and lintels of the temple of Yhwh to give them to the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 18:13–16)

Although the size of the kingdom of Judah had been to some extent reduced,43 and it seems that there was a not insignificant deportation of population, the biblical author considers the events of 701 to be a sign of the omnipotence of Yhwh. Next to nothing is known about the deportees of 701; the Assyrian numbers (200,150 deportees) are much too high. In contrast to the way they had dealt with the Babylonians, the Assyrians did not settle the deportees together, but dispersed them. Some were enrolled in the army, which integrated and assimilated them into the Assyrian Empire.



Detail of a relief from the time of Sargon II showing the siege of a city; one can see a figure holding a scroll who is standing in a chariot before the gates of the city.

Although the events of 701 constituted an unmistakable defeat for Judah, the fact that Jerusalem remained untouched must have reinforced the comforting conviction among the religious and political leaders of the capital that Yhwh had protected his Mount Zion. The biblical narrative states that during the siege of Jerusalem a high Assyrian official gave a propaganda speech before the gates of the city. This was probably a genuine Assyrian practice, as documented on a relief showing a person in a chariot who is holding a scroll that would have contained the speech to be read to the inhabitants of the city. (28) The messenger stood up and shouted with a loud voice in the Judean language. He spoke as follows: “Listen to the words of the Great King, king of Assyria!” (29) Th is says the king: “Let not Hezekiah take advantage of you, because he cannot deliver you out of my hand!” (30) Let not Hezekiah persuade you to place your trust in Yhwh, saying: ‘Surely Yhwh shall deliver us; this town shall not be delivered into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ (31) Do not



listen to Hezekiah, for so speaks the king of Assyria: ‘Associate yourself in friendship with me, give yourselves over to me, and each of you shall eat the fruits of his own vine and his fig tree and shall drink water from his cistern (32) while waiting for me to come to take you to a country like your own, a country of wheat and new wine, a country of bread and vineyards, a country of fresh oil and honey, and thus you shall live and shall not die.’ Do not listen to Hezekiah for he deceives you by saying ‘Yhwh shall deliver us.’ (33) Were the gods of the nations able to deliver their own countries from the hand of the king of Assyria? (34) Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharwaim, of Hena, of Iwwah? Did they deliver Samaria from my hand?” (2 Kings 18)

The logic of this speech suggests that if the Assyrians were to abandon the siege of Jerusalem, that would be proof that Yhwh was more powerful than they and their gods were. It is difficult to know why the siege of Jerusalem was not continued to the end. 2 Kings 20:35–37 claims that the angel of Yhwh struck the Assyrian army, a demonstration that Yhwh, contrary to what the Assyrians pretended, was stronger than Assur and his armies. Historians have developed a number of different hypotheses to explain the Assyrian failure to take Jerusalem: the Assyrian army was weakened by its combats with the Egyptian rebels,44 or the Assyrians never really intended to destroy Jerusalem but wished to keep it in a reduced state as a buffer.45 According to another version of the biblical narrative, Sennacherib withdrew because of a conspiracy hatched against him in Assyria (2 Kings 19:7). However this might be, in the consciousness of the Judeans this quasidefeat was transformed into a triumphant victory. These events of 701 are the origin of the symbolic importance of Jerusalem as the city of Yhwh.46 First of all, it is this intervention of the Assyrians in Judah that in fact caused a centralization of the cult and the administration in Jerusalem, which remained the only city in Judah that the Assyrians did not conquer. The fact that Jerusalem was spared also gives rise to the “theology of the remnant” we find in Isaiah: this theological view asserts that in all the cataclysms of history Yhwh has always protected a “remnant” in Jerusalem.47 However, the events of 701 signify in partic-



ular a strengthening of the theology of Zion, the idea that Yhwh will always watch over his sacred mountain. Psalm 48, a song celebrating the protection of Zion, might well have been composed just after the events of 701: (2) Yhwh is great, he is worthy of all praise, in the city of our god, his holy mountain. (3) Beautiful is the hill, it is the gaiety of the whole earth, mount Zion, far in the north, the city of the great king. (4) In the palaces of the city God is known to be like a citadel. (5) For the kings were in league: they advanced together. (6) They looked on stupefied, stunned they took flight. (7) There a trembling took hold of them, like the pains of a woman in labor . . . (9) That which we have heard we have seen in the city of Yhwh Ṣĕḇaʾôt, in the city of our God; God will keep her strong forever.

It is this ideology of the uniqueness of Jerusalem and the hill of the Temple that will later become the foundation for the centralization of the cult of Yhwh.


The books of Kings describe Hezekiah as a reformer who prefigured King Josiah, in that they attribute to him the initiation of the process of centralizing in Jerusalem a cult of Yhwh to the exclusion of all other gods. There is much debate and disagreement about the historicity of these biblical claims which, except for one detail, are couched in very general terms. It is nevertheless not inconceivable that the reforms of Hezekiah did stand in some relation to the theology of Zion which we have just described: “He [Hezekiah] destroyed the high places, broke the massebas, cut down the Asherahs and smashed the bronze serpent which Moses had made, because the Israelites had up to that time burned incense before it; they called it Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4). Politically, the “reforms” of Hezekiah, particularly the closure of the high places, may simply have been a response to the geopolitical situation. After 701 nothing remained of Judah but Jerusalem and its hinterland. The biblical narrative



also claims that Hezekiah destroyed a “serpent of Bronze.” This is probably not an invention. This serpent attributed to Moses48 shows the influence of Egyptian conceptions,49 although serpents are worshipped in a number of different religious contexts. It may be connected with the seraphim in the vision of Isaiah 6, who surround the throne of Yhwh in the Temple of Jerusalem, but the fact that this serpent has a name (although Nehushtan simply means “serpent”) suggests rather that this is an instance of a particular cult of a serpent as healer. The fact that Hezekiah disposed of this statue might simply be a sign of his forced reversion to the status of vassal of the King of Assyria; it might have seemed politically wise to get rid of this Egyptian symbol.50


Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, had a very long reign of 55 years, but we have remarkably few details about it. For the editors of the books of Kings, he is the very model of a bad king who did everything “that displeased Yhwh.” Historically speaking, his acceptance of Assyrian dominance guaranteed a period of calm and stability for the kingdom of Judah. It is even possible that certain of the most remarkable achievements which the Bible attributes to Hezekiah are actually his doing. He probably rebuilt Lachish and put in place a series of fortresses dependent on Jerusalem, and it is possible that Assurbanipal restored to him some annexed Judean territory, notably the Shephelah, as a reward for his loyalty.51 In 2 Kings 21 Manasseh is explicitly compared to the king of the north, Ahab, for reintroducing Assyrian practices and also a cult of Asherah into the temple. The long enumeration of the faults of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:1–9 and 16–19,52 in which he is presented as violating all the important laws of Deuteronomy, is, in the view of the editors of the books of Kings, the prelude to the reforms of Josiah. 2 Kings 21:2:

Deut. 18:9:

Manasseh “followed the abominable practices of the nations whom Yhwh had driven out before the Israelites.”

“You shall not learn to imitate the abominable practices of these nations.”



2 Kings 21:3 and 7:

Deut. 16:21:

“Manasseh made a statue of Asherah.”

“You shall not plant a tree (as symbol) of Asherah.”

2 Kings 21:3 and 5:

Deut. 17:3:

“He constructed altars for all the army of the heavens.”

“If someone goes to serve and adore other gods, the sun and the moon or the army of heavens, I prohibit him from doing that.”

2 Kings 21:6:

Deut. 18:10.11:

“He made his sons pass through the fire; he practiced incantation and divination and he frequented necromancers and magicians.”

“One should not find among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire or who practices divination or is a soothsayer, diviner, or sorcerer . . . or a necromancer.”

2 Kings 21:16:

Deut. 19:10:

“Manasseh shed much innocent blood.”

“The blood of an innocent person may not be shed.” (see also 21:8–9)

So clearly the editors of the books of Kings wish to make Manasseh out to be a king who, in contrast to Josiah, did not observe a single one of the commandments of Deuteronomy. It is hard to say what really happened historically. Given that Manasseh was a loyal vassal, it is possible that he increased the presence of cult symbols that had Assyrian connotations. The army of the heavens mentioned in 2 Kings 21:15 might include the worship of sun, moon, and stars. The sun god was very popu lar at Haran, the “western capital” of the empire in the seventh century, and one finds his symbols on a significant number of seals dating from that era from all over the Levant, including Judah. So it is also possible that such astral cults were promoted under Manasseh, and that in Judah, that is Jerusalem, a moon god came to be identified with Yhwh.53 In general, the cult symbols in the seventh century are of



Assyrian inspiration, just as they were of Egyptian inspiration in the eighth century. We have little information about Amon, the successor of Manasseh. His name is perhaps Egyptian, which means that Egypt probably retook control of the Levant during his brief reign, which ended with a putsch. As a result of this putsch, the young Josiah mounted the throne, thanks to the support of the ̒ am hā ʾāreṣ, a coalition of large-scale landowners and other influential personages. It is probably during his reign that Yhwh definitively became the one God.




The beginning of the reign of Josiah coincides more or less with the beginning of the decline of the Assyrian Empire. About 627 Babylon recovered its independence and the Assyrians relaxed their grip on the Levant, which returned for a brief period to Egyptian control. It is possible that the Assyrians and Egyptians concluded a pact under Psammetichus I (664–610), and that in return for military support the Assyrians gave the Levant back to Egypt. We need to understand the reign of Josiah in this context. The biblical narrative that is devoted to him, however, is concerned only with the “reform” that he is said to have undertaken. Chapters 22 and 23 of the second book of Kings tell of the discovery of a scroll during renovation works in the Temple of Jerusalem during the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign. The discovery of this scroll by the priest Hilkiah and the reading of the book to the king by the high officer Shaphan caused a strong reaction in Josiah, who seemed deeply troubled by the curses contained in the book. He therefore sent Hilkiah, Shaphan, and some other high officials to consult the prophetess Huldah about the meaning of the scroll. She responded to the delegation with words that have many parallels with texts in Jeremiah. She



announced in particular a misfortune that would befall Jerusalem because the Judeans had abandoned Yhwh, but she also pronounced an oracle of peace for Josiah: (16) Thus speaks Yhwh: “I shall send a misfortune to this place and its inhabitants, accomplishing all that is contained in the book which the king of Judah has read. (17) Since they have abandoned me and have burned incense before other gods so as to offend me with all the diverse works of their hands. My fury is enraged against this place and shall not be quenched.” (18) However say this to the king of Judah who has sent you to consult Yhwh: “Thus says Yhwh, the god of Israel. You have well understood these words (19) since your heart was touched, you abased yourself before Yhwh . . . (20) because of this, I shall reunite you with your fathers; you shall be reunited with them in peace in the tomb and your eyes shall not see the misfortune that I shall bring upon this place.” (2 Kings 22)

After the officials had transmitted this message, Josiah himself read the book to “all the people” and engaged himself by treaty with Yhwh (2 Kings 23:1–3). Then Josiah undertook important modifications of the religious cult in Jerusalem and Judah, eliminating symbols such as the heavenly army and discharging the priests of Baal and Asherah. He desacralized and also destroyed the “high places,” the bāmôt, the openair sanctuaries consecrated to Yhwh and also the tōphet, which seems have been a site of human sacrifices. According to 23:15 he even demolished the altar at Bethel, the ancient Yahwist sanctuary of Israel. These acts of destruction had as their positive counterpart the conclusion of a (new) treaty between Yhwh and the people and the celebration of a Passover (23:21–23).


Some ancient Jewish commentators and Church Fathers had already identified the book that in 2 Kings 22–23 was said to have been found



in the temple as the book of Deuteronomy, because the acts of Josiah and the centralizing ideology that was at work in his “reforms” seem to follow the prescriptions of the Deuteronomic law.1 This theory was used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to date the first edition of Deuteronomy to the reign of Josiah. It proposes that the first edition of Deuteronomy was written to promote the reforms of Josiah, and the scroll was then disguised as a testament of Moses and hidden in the temple in such a way as to ensure it would easily be found. The whole exercise was a kind of “pious fraud.” The theory presupposes, of course, that it is a historical fact that the book actually was discovered in the temple, but this assumption raises some difficulties. The narrative in 2 Kings 22–23 is primarily a “foundation myth” produced by the biblical editors, the “Deuteronomists,” who wrote the history of the kingdom through the lens of the theological options set out in Deuteronomy. The narrative cannot therefore be used naively as if it were the report of an eyewitness of events that took place about 620. In its present form this text already contains references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile, and thus must have been redacted after 587, as is indicated, for instance, by the oracles of the prophetess Huldah in 2 Kings 22:16–17. The motif of “discovering” a book is very well known from ancient literature,2 and generally serves to legitimize changes in the religious, economic, or political order. We might note here, among other possible examples, a Hittite text from the fourteenth century in which the priest Murshili explains in a prayer that he had found two tablets that made him understand why the Hittite lands had been struck with an epidemic. One of these tablets made great play of an oath that Murshili’s father had sworn but had not kept.3 The Church father Eusebius cites the work of a certain Philo of Byblos (first or second century) who claims to have translated a history of Phoenicia written by someone named Sanchoniathon. This history is supposed to have been based on very ancient tablets of Taant (Thoth) that had been hidden by the priests and were now rediscovered.4 An Egyptian version of this motif appears in the final rubric of chapter 64 of the Book of the Dead, which did not take its standardized form until the Saite period (664–525). Th is chapter is presented as having been found in the temple of Sokaris and going back to the period of the very origins of Egypt itself.5



So it is possible that the first version of the description of the reforms of Josiah did not contain the account of the finding of the book.6 In fact, the narrative about the priest Hilkiah finding the book in verse 8 is introduced very briskly in the text and interrupts the first scene (vv. 3–7 and 9).7 So it is probable that, as many scholars have suggested, we should distinguish two stories in 2 Kings 22: the story of the restoration and reorganization of the temple and the story of the finding of the book. The latter may be a later insertion8 by a redactor of the Persian period, who in the context of emergent Judaism wanted to show how the book (the Pentateuch) gradually substituted itself for the traditional cult. This motif of “the finding of a book” also has parallels in the tablets deposited in the foundations of Mesopotamian sanctuaries, which are also often “discovered” by kings undertaking restoration works. The inscription of Nabonidus (556–539), the last king of the neo-Babylonian Empire, who wished to style himself as the finder of numerous documents, is of particular interest. Here is the story he tells of the reconstruction of the temple of Shamash at Sippar: An earlier king [Nebuchadnezzar] looked for the old foundation but did not find it. He had a new temple built for Shamash on its own, but it was not worthy of his lordly rank nor fitting for his status as god. The pinnacles of that temple fell down prematurely; its upper parts crumbled . . . I prayed to him [Shamash], offered him sacrifices and inquired of his decision. Shamash, the most sublime lord, had waited for me from the beginning . . . The elders of the city, the sons of Babylonian, the architects, the wise men . . . and I said to them: “Seek the original foundation.” . . . The assembly of the wise men saw the old foundation . . . They returned to me and said: “I have seen the old foundation of Naram-Sin, a king from distant time, the steady sanctuary of Shamash, the dwelling of his deity.” My heart exalted and my face shone.9

According to the text, the foundation stone contained a plan of the “original temple,” and this plan allowed King Nabonidus to undertake restoration works. In 2 Kings 22–23 the foundation stone is replaced by the book. Th is indicates that the story is an invention and cannot be



taken literally as an account of the events of 622. In addition, the narrative of how the pious king Josiah restored the temple in 622 is derived word for word from an earlier passage in the Bible, namely from the report (in 2  Kings 12:10–16) about a previous restoration of the temple under the Judean king Joas.10 The story of the restoration of undertaken by Joas, who had been crowned at the age of seven, concludes the history of the interlude during which Queen Athaliah held power. It seems that this narrative served as a model for the description of the restoration work of Josiah, who became king at the age of eight. Joas is also evaluated positively by the authors of the second book of Kings, although during his reign the high places did not disappear (2  Kings 12:3–4). The editors of the books of Kings are trying to show that Josiah actually succeeded in achieving what Joas was not able to do. More generally speaking, the works on the sanctuary are part of a ritual through which the king shows his devotion to the gods.11 2 Kings 22 employs this topos, adding to it some further Near Eastern motifs (the king as renewer of the temple, the discovery of ancient documents) in order to present Josiah as an exemplary king. So what should we make of the famous reforms of Josiah? Are they a pure invention of the editors of the books of Kings, as many commentators have maintained? It is true that we have no firsthand evidence of any reorganization of politics or reform of cultic practices that might have been associated with a purported set of “Josianic reforms.”12 There are, however, significantly many pieces of indirect evidence that make it plausible to suppose that the reign of Josiah did correspond to some major changes in the mode of worship of Yhwh.


Archaeology cannot contribute much to proving the historicity of the reforms of Josiah. Some scholars have tried to see in the decline of the sanctuary at Arad evidence of a policy of centralization, purportedly pursued by Josiah.13 Because archaeologists found the altars and two massebas of the sanctuary lying on the ground, this was taken as an indication that the sanctuary had been destroyed by the armies of



Josiah, but there is no need to adopt this interpretation. David Ussishkin reports that the sanctuary had not been established until the seventh century, and that it remained in use until the sixth century.14 Zeev Herzog claims that we must date the construction of the sanctuary and its retaining wall to the middle of the eighth century. The fact that the two horned altars and the massebas were carefully placed on the earth means that in fact they were probably being hidden in the place where they were found. This could well indicate a desire to make the sanctuary difficult to find during the period of the Assyrian invasion under Hezekiah.15 These contradictory claims show that the archaeological evidence is difficult to interpret. A fort was built at Arad under Manasseh or Josiah, but the sanctuary was not reestablished, which may perhaps be connected with the increasing importance of Jerusalem and thus with the reforms of Josiah.


The reforms of Josiah may be reflected in a change in the kinds of engraved images on seals found in Judah in the seventh and sixth centuries. In the seventh century the seals of aristocrats and high officials frequently exhibited astral motifs and anthropomorphic representations of gods. In contrast, in the corpus of about 260 seals we have from the sixth century, there is not a single astral symbol or image of a god, but only more abstract motifs. This implies that at the beginning of the sixth century, anthropomorphic and astral motifs suddenly went out of fashion among the elite of Jerusalem.16 More significantly, after the end of the seventh century, we no longer find designs that can be identified as representing the couple Yhwh and Asherah. Epigraphically, too, there are no inscriptions mentioning this couple in Judah after those in Khirbet el Qom and Kuntillet Ajrud.17 In the inscription at Khirbet Beit Lei (8 kilometers east of Lachish) there is a reference to Jerusalem. This inscription is difficult to date, but it seems to assert that Yhwh is the god of the whole country, the god of Judah and Jerusalem.18 If this inscription were to be found to date from the end of the seventh century, it might to some extent be thought to support the hypothesis of a



centralization of the cult of Yhwh. It is also noteworthy that in this inscription Yhwh is called the god of Judah and Jerusalem.


2 Kings 23 states that Josiah suppressed a number of religious elements related to the worship of heavenly bodies. Interestingly, the astral cult was an important part of neo-Assyrian religious ideology. The reference to the horses and chariots of Shamash, the sun god (v. 11), is historically plausible in the context of a Judea dominated by Assyria: “He suppressed the horses which the kings of Judah had installed in honor of the Sun at the entrance to the house of Yhwh, near the room of the eunuch NathanMelek, in the annexes; he burned the chariots of the sun.” The importance of this sun cult in Jerusalem is also indicated in a passage from the book of Ezekiel: “At the entrance to the temple of Yhwh between the vestibule and the altar, there were about 25 men who turned their backs to the temple of Yhwh and their faces to the east; they prostrated themselves toward the east before the Sun” (8:16). The iconography of the ancient Near East and the Levant furnishes a significant number of representations of horses and horsemen and also of images of the sun god, who is associated with horses. There is a particularly interesting engraving on a tridacna shell that was found in Sippar but originally came from the Levant and dates from the seventh century. It shows two horsemen flanking a solar deity, who appears in a kind of nimbus.19 Because Yhwh had already been assimilated to a sun god, the Assyrian solar motifs could be understood in Judah as standing for manifestations of Yhwh. The narrative of the reform also mentions a special class of priests called kĕmārîm. According to verse 5, Josiah “suppressed the kĕmārîm whom the kings of Judah had established to burn incense on the high places of the cities of Judah and the area around Jerusalem. He also suppressed those who burned incense in honor of Baal, the Sun, the Moon, the constellations, and also the army of the heavens” (2 Kings 23:5). The word kĕmārîm comes from the akkadian kumru, but is probably originally of Aramaean origin, and is rare in the Bible. It does occur in



Aramaean on two funerary steles from the seventh century. The kĕmārîm seem to have been a special group of priests particularly connected with the cult of astral deities, the sun god, and the moon god. This might be a historical memory of a class of priests “imported” into Judah in the context of the Assyrian occupation. The comment in verse 12 that “the king demolished the altars in the chamber of Ahaz which the kings of Judah had made on the terraced roof” may be a reference to a cult devoted to the army of the heavens that was practiced on the roofs of Jerusalem. King Ahaz had been a vassal of the king of Assyria, and it is possible that he had erected a place of worship on a terrace to show his loyalty (2 Kings 16).20 Th is may have been a large altar to which there was access via a staircase, so that approaching the altar would be like ascending to a terrace. The book of Jeremiah also mentions this cult in private houses, all of which will have had terraces: “All those houses on the roofs on the terraces of which they offered incense to the whole army of the heavens and poured out libations for other gods” (Jer. 19:13). Numerous texts assert that these cults continued after the reforms of Josiah, but always outside the temple in private houses.21


The reform of Josiah also affected “sacred prostitution.” Verse 7 of chapter  23 states that Josiah “demolished the houses of the ‘saints’ (qĕdēšîm) in the house of Yhwh and where the women wove cloth22 for Asherah.” It is clear that the word qādeš is an expression for male prostitutes23 and qĕdēšāh for female prostitutes. The demolition of the houses of prostitution harks back to the earlier notice about the first king of Judah, Roboam. During his reign at the end of the tenth century, he established various cults, which displeased the editors of the Bible, and in particular he was accused of having installed the practice of male prostitution: “wĕgam qādēš hāyāh bāʾāreṣ,” “there were prostitutes24 in the country” (1 Kings 14:24). The term q-d-š also occurs in Ugaritic texts, where it seems to designate people who are not priests but are dedicated to a deity. They may marry, have children, and be freed from their ser vice by royal de-



cree. The Ugaritic texts do not insist on the sexual activities of these persons, but this seems to be presupposed by a biblical text that is perhaps contemporary to Josiah’s reforms and that prohibits prostitution in the sanctuary: “There shall be no female ‘saints’ (qĕdēšāh) among the daughters of Israel, nor any male ‘saints’ (qĕdēšîm) among the sons of Israel. You shall not bring into the house of Yhwh, your god, to fulfi ll a vow, the pay of a prostitute (zônāh) or the price of a dog (keleḇ). Indeed one and the other are an abomination to Yhwh, your god.”25 This prohibition suggests that these are current practices, which there are now efforts to eradicate. The parallelism of the prohibition shows that the female “saint” is a prostitute (zônāh) and the “dog” a male prostitute. Sacred prostitution has given rise to a number of debates, and seems to have had a special tendency to stimulate the imagination of commentators. Karel van der Toorn thinks that the reference is to “normal prostitution,” which the temple conducted, as it were, to supplement its other income, and that one should read 2 Kings 23:7 as indicating that the prostitutes had their own special places, perhaps rented spaces in the Temple of Jerusalem.26 The question is whether there is a connection between the two parts of verse 7. Often the second part, which mentions the women weaving clothing for Asherah, is considered to be a gloss, but it is not necessary to read the text in this way. If the house of the qĕdēšîm is also the place where women make clothing for the goddess, the qĕdēšîm might be understood on the model of the transvestites and eunuchs who were known to be in the ser vice of the goddess Ishtar; Asherah was, after all a similar goddess.27 Note, too, that Deuteronomy prohibits not only prostitution, but also transvestism: “A woman shall not wear the clothing of a man and a man shall not put on the clothing of a woman, for he who does this commits an abomination against Yhwh, your god” (Deut. 22:5). In Mesopotamia the expression “house of Ishtar” may also designate a brothel, and there is probably a close connection between the cult of Ishtar and prostitution. Neo-Babylonian texts from Uruk seem to indicate that the clergy rented out women to well-to-do men, apparently as a source of extra income. It is then a plausible assumption that there were male and female prostitutes in the temple at Jerusalem, and if there was thought to be a connection between prostitution and Asherah, it is understandable that Josiah will have tried to ban prostitutes from the temple.




The reforms of Josiah seem to imply the disappearance of the goddess from the official cult in Jerusalem. 2 Kings 22:6 states, more exactly, that Josiah “brought out the Asherah from the house of Yhwh and took it outside Jerusalem to Wadi Kedron; he burned it in the Kedron and reduced it to dust. He threw the dust on the tomb of the common people.” This elimination of the statue of the goddess makes sense as part of the plan behind the reforms of Josiah, namely to introduce monolatry. The eradication of the cult of the goddess represented a significant break in tradition that could not easily be accepted by the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. The text already cited from Jeremiah 44 expresses the conviction that the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 should be interpreted as vengeance by the goddess whose cult Josiah had tried to prohibit: “Since the time when we stopped offering incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out libations for her, we have suffered a lack of everything and have been exterminated by famine and the sword” (v. 18). This text seems to refer to an attempt to prohibit the cult of the Queen of the Heaven, who, as we have already mentioned, may be another name for Asherah.


A further comparativist argument also supports the view that there was a cultural change under Josiah. Several reforming kings are known in the ancient Near East during the second and first millennia.28 Akenaton (1353–1337) undertook a “centralization” of religious cults in his new city of Aketaten, and preached the worship of a single god (Aton). Nebuchadnezzar (1125–1104) had the epic poem “Enuma Elish” rewritten, replacing Enlil with Marduk, whom he wished to establish as the central god of the Babylonian pantheon. Under the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705–681), Marduk was replaced by Assur, who became the “god of heaven and earth,” and a new temple was built outside the city of Assur. But Sennacherib’s successor, Esarhaddon, who had himself crowned king of Babylon, reestablished the cult of Marduk and the other Babylonian deities. Nabonidus (556–539) reinforced the cult of Sin, a moon



god, and restored a number of temples. Other gods were “degraded” relative to Sin: Shamash became the son of Sin, and Ishtar the daughter of Sin. The conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 put an end to this evolution. All of these reforms, which aimed at elevating a certain deity to the status of principal god, took their initiative from the king. The reforms of Josiah did not last, but in this they were no different from the parallel cases we have cited, so their transiency is no argument against their historical existence.


Should we interpret the reforms of Josiah, particularly those concerning “Assyrian” elements in the religious cult, to be a sign of an anti-Assyrian policy? We cannot exclude this possibility, but it is equally true that the changes in the religious cult in Judah at the end of the seventh century are simply a sign of the significant decline in Assyrian influence in Syria and Palestine. The progressive disappearance of the structures through which Assyria exercised its power and the resulting momentary vacuum created in Syria-Palestine in the final decades of the seventh century make it plausible to assume that Josiah, or rather his advisers, might have undertaken a reorganization of the politics and religion of Judah.29 In this context we may also assume that there was an attempt to centralize the religious cult, political power, and the structures of taxation (the sanctuaries were, after all, also responsible for levying taxes) and to bring them all under the direct control of Jerusalem. The relative independence of Judah in about 620 may well have caused some people to think that Josiah might be the founder of a great independent Judean kingdom.30 It has often been asserted that he was able to annex the Assyrian provinces that had been established on territory of the former kingdom of Israel, but there are few traces of any such annexation. 2 Kings 23:15 mentions the destruction of the sanctuary of Bethel, but the historical significance of this note is unclear. In any case it would not necessarily mean that there had been any Judean occupation of the Samaritan provinces of Samerina, Magidu,31 and Gal’aza.



Nevertheless, it is possible that Josiah and his counselors laid claim to the title of legitimate heirs of “Israel.” The territory of Benjamin, in which the sanctuary of Bethel was located, may have been annexed by Josiah, because in the book of Jeremiah the oracles of Yhwh are often addressed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Judah, and Benjamin. Another indication that Benjamin had been incorporated into the territory of the kingdom of Judah is that after the destruction of Jerusalem the Babylonians established the seat of the provisional government at Mizpah, a place located in Benjaminite territory. Even though the reforms of Josiah, or rather of his counselors, were not lastingly established, they were one of the most historically important moments in the evolution of the cult of Yhwh. From that time on, Yhwh became “one” god (not yet unique, but singular), and Jerusalem became the only place in which his sacrificial cult could be legitimately practiced. This new vision of Yhwh also began to manifest itself in an abundant literature that became the origin of the biblical corpus, and that was edited by the members of groups who supported Josiah’s religious changes.


The original version of Deuteronomy was not found during works on the temple, but rather was written in order to promote the ideas behind Josiah’s reforms. It opened with the affirmation that can be found in chapter 6 of the version of the book that has come down to us: Šĕmaʿ yiśrāʾēl yhwh ʾĕlōhēnû yhwh ʾeḥād. After the call to listen (“Hear O Israel”) the rest of phrase can be translated in different ways: “Yhwh, our god, Yhwh is unique,” or “Yhwh, our god, Yhwh alone,” or “Yhwh, our god is the one Yhwh.” The most plausible way to read it is to take this nominal proposition as being comprised of two distinct assertions: “Yhwh is our god” and “Yhwh is ONE.” These two assertions are easily understandable in the context of the reforms of Josiah: Yhwh is the (only) god of Israel and he is one—that is, there is only the Yhwh of Jerusalem, but there is no Yhwh of Samaria, Yhwh of Temān, Yhwh of Bethel, and so on. The claim that Yhwh is “one” corresponds to the fact that there is



only one place where he has a legitimate cult, as Deuteronomy goes on to explain, notably in chapter 12. The opening of the original version continued: “(4) Hear, Israel! Yhwh is our god, Yhwh is ONE. (5) You shall love Yhwh your god with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength.” These verses are clearly connected to the reforms of Josiah. First of all, the notice in 2 Kings 23:25 that gives a final appreciation of Josiah’s reign claims that he was the only king who exactly satisfied the prescriptions of Deuteronomy 6:4–5: “There was no king before him who came back to Yhwh as he did with all his heart, all his being and all his strength.”


The affirmation of the unity of Yhwh is first of all to be understood as a statement of the unity of the Yahwistic cult. The original version of Deuteronomy opposes the plurality of cult places and of manifestations of the divine by claiming that there is only one unique place to celebrate the cult of Yhwh. This was the slogan of Josiah’s reforms: Yhwh is One, that is, there is only one place where his cult is located. Jerusalem became the only Yahwistic sanctuary, in which, from then on, Yhwh was to be worshipped exclusively. The insistence on the unity of Yhwh is accompanied by the requirement of total love for this deity and for him alone. This commandment does not demand of man a sentimental love of this god; what it requires is absolute loyalty vis-à-vis the god of Israel. The language of Deuteronomy 6:5 comes from that of Assyrian treaties of vassalage, which oblige the vassals of the great king “to love” their sovereign. The closest parallels are with the oath of loyalty that Esarhaddon required his vassal kings to take in 672 in favor of his son Assurbanipal:32 “(266) ‘You shall love Assurbanipal . . . king of Assyria, your lord, as yourself’; (195) ‘You shall hearken to whatever he says and do whatever he commands, and you shall not seek any other king or other lord against him.’ ” Deuteronomy largely follows the style and structure of this treaty, which the author of the book may well have known.33 The parallels concern warnings against attempts to revolt



and against submitting oneself to other lords (as in Deuteronomy 13), but also curses, which Deuteronomy 28 takes from the Assyrian treaty and applies to Yhwh: Let Ninurta, the first among the gods, strike you down with his ferocious arrow; Let him fi ll the plain with your blood, let him nourish the eagle and vulture with your flesh . . . Let all the gods named in this tablet of treaty make your soil as hard as a brick . . . Also let not the rain fall from a sky of bronze . . . in place of dew, let burning charcoal rain down on your land.

We finds the same threats in Deuteronomy 28:34 May the skies above you be of bronze and the earth below you of iron. Yhwh shall make the rain on your country be of dust and sand; it will fall until you are destroyed . . . Your dead bodies shall be food for all the birds of the sky and all the beasts of the earth.

Clearly the author of the first version of Deuteronomy was inspired by the oath of Esarhaddon. In applying the requirement of absolute loyalty to Yhwh, however, Deuteronomy makes a “subversive” move: Israel now has a suzerain, which she should obey absolutely; this, however, is not the king of Assyria, but Yhwh, the god of Israel.


The summons of Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (the Šĕmaʿ yiśrāʾēl)35 is closely related to the law about centralization that is formulated in chapter 12. This important text has clearly been revised several times, but the oldest version, containing the basic idea behind the centralization of the cult, occurs in verses 13 to 18.36 To this core passage have been added first of all verses 8–12, which presuppose the Babylonian exile, and then verses 2–7, which insist on a strict separation from other peoples and seem to make more sense in the context of the preoccupations of the Persian era.



This chronological sequence (first verses 12–18, then 8–12, finally 2–7) is confirmed by the evolution of the formula used for the one sanctuary. Verse 14 speaks of the “place (māqôm) which Yhwh shall choose in one (ʾeḥād) of your tribes”; verse 11 mentions the “place (māqôm) in which Yhwh, your god, will chose to make his name dwell (šakkēn),” and in verse 5 we find mention of “the place (māqôm) that Yhwh, your god, will choose from among all your tribes to place there his name and make it to dwell (š-k-n)37 there.” This increasing emphasis on the motif of the chosen place shows the editors’ intention to insist, after the destruction of the temple, on the fact that Yhwh let only his name dwell in some chosen place, whereas he himself resided in heaven. Let us analyze the passage containing the oldest commandment about centralization that comes from the era of Josiah: (13) Take care not to offer your holocausts in any place you might see; (14) it is only at the place chosen by Yhwh in one of the tribes that you shall offer your holocausts; it is there that you shall do all that I command. (15) However, you may, as you will, kill animals and eat meat in all the towns, according to the benediction that Yhwh your god shall give you. He who is impure and he who is pure shall eat it as if it were gazelle or deer. (16) Yet you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the ground like water. (17) You shall not eat in your towns the tithe of your wheat, of your new wine, or of your oil, nor the fi rst fruits of your large and small animals, nor any of your votive offerings, nor your spontaneous gifts nor your voluntary contributions. (18) It is only before Yhwh your god that you shall eat these at the place Yhwh shall choose; you shall eat of these with your son, your daughter, your male servant, and your female servant and the Levite who is in your towns, you shall be in joy before Yhwh, your god for all your undertakings.

This prescription first of all contrasts all the many sacred places (kolmāqôm) with the sanctuary that Yhwh will choose in the territory of one single tribe. The māqôm intended here can be none other than the Temple of Jerusalem, and the “one” tribe (the kingdom of) Judah.38 The same ideology occurs in Psalm 78, where Yhwh refuses to choose Ephraim



(the north), but chooses “the tribe of Judah, the mountain of Zion which he loves” (v. 68). The author of the law on centralization takes up once again the tradition of the election of Zion and makes it his own, but he makes of it an exclusive choice, which prohibits the existence of any other Yahwistic sanctuary. However, this passage also, and principally, treats the direct consequences of the proposed centralization. The closure—at any rate, in theory—of the slaughterhouses in the local sanctuaries now makes it necessary to give permission for “noncultic butchering.”39 The regulation of this innovation takes up more space than the promulgation of the project of centralizing the cult. At the same time we might wonder whether the passage at Deuteronomy 12:13–18 contains the original decree or whether it is a later attempt to deal with the consequences of the law that centralized sacrifice in Jerusalem and prohibited it elsewhere.40 Of course, we cannot exclude the possibility that the original law was so extensively retouched that it is impossible to reconstruct it. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that the decree establishing that there be only one sanctuary would also have had to regulate the slaughtering of animals outside Jerusalem. If it is accepted that the original version of Deuteronomy, written toward the end of the seventh century, contained at least the kernel of the laws formulated in chapters  12–16, preceded by the Šĕmaʿ yiśrāʾēl in Deuteronomy 6:4–5, and followed by the benedictions and maledictions of chapter 28, then we can read the Šĕmaʿ yiśrāʾēl and the beginning of the law on centralization as a coherent unity. Hear, Israel, Yhwh is our god, Yhwh is ONE ( ʾeḥād). You shall love Yhwh your god with all (bĕ-kol) your heart, all (bĕ-kol) your being, all (bĕ-kol) your strength. Take care not to offer your holocausts in any (bĕ-kol) place you see. Only in the place that Yhwh shall choose in ONE ( ʾeḥād) of your tribes, it is there that you shall do all (kōl) that I shall command you.

This passage is organized around a shift back and forth between kol and ʾeḥād. Yhwh is one, and therefore each worshipper must attach himself to this god with all his person. To this one god there corresponds



the selection of a unique sanctuary in a unique tribe and the rejection of all the sacred places and, tacitly also, of all the other tribes (which means the kingdom of the north). This passage is addressed to relatively well-off people, who possess slaves and who are established on their own lands. The identity of the speaker is not clear. Is it Moses, Yhwh, the king, or an anonymous “I”? The Šĕmaʿ yiśrāʾēl in Deuteronomy 6:4–5 is probably intended as being spoken by Yhwh, but it is not impossible that in the first version of Deuteronomy, it was the king (Josiah), who was the imagined speaker. This will have been before the great revision of Deuteronomy during the period of the exile, when the scroll was transformed into the testament of Moses.


Other scrolls appeared during the reign of Josiah, such as the narrative of the conquest of the land, which is now to be found in the first part (the first twelve chapters) of the book of Joshua. This history takes up elements and themes of Assyrian propaganda, using its images and texts.41 Another striking feature of this text, in addition to the parallels with Assyrian material, is that the detailed narratives relating to the conquests are all located in the territory of Benjamin. This is probably to be explained as an attempt to justify the conquest of Benjaminite territory by Josiah in the seventh century via a narrative about the origins of Israel’s conquest of the land and presenting Yhwh’s role during the conquest in a similar way as the intervention of the Assyrian gods in favor of their people. In fact Joshua, whose historical existence is in no way certain, is just Josiah slightly disguised,42 and the fact that he conquers all the territories promised by Yhwh shows the superiority of the god of Israel to the other gods. The use of Assyrian themes and ideology makes the book of Joshua a “counterhistory” in the sense in which that term has recently come to be used.43 Another history written in the reign of Josiah may be the first version of a life of Moses. The narrative of Moses’s birth follows very closely that of Sargon, as described in texts written during the epoch



of Sargon II.44 So we can conclude that the end of the seventh century marks the beginning of an important part of biblical literature. Paradoxically, it is the Assyrians, deeply detested as they are by the biblical authors, who furnish a large part of the material needed to construct this literature and who thus contribute to forging the new image of Yhwh.


The biblical authors are terse about the end of their favorite king, which seems to have been rather less than glorious: During these days the Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, came up to join the king of Assyria near the river Euphrates. King Josiah marched out to meet him, but the Pharaoh, as soon as he saw Josiah, had him killed at Megiddo. When he was dead, his servants transported him on a cart and took him from Megiddo to Jerusalem. They buried him in his tomb. (2 Kings 23:29–30)

It is not clear whether Josiah wanted to challenge the Egyptian king, which is one possibility, given that Megiddo was part of the territory controlled by Egypt, or whether he had been summoned by Necho, who thought he was an unreliable vassal. The version found in Chronicles tries to make sense of events in the following way: (20) After all this, when Josiah had put the House back in order, the king of Egypt Necho came up to give battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah went out to meet him. (21) Necho sent messengers to say to him: “What is there between us, King of Judah? It is not against you that I have come today but against my usual enemy. God has told me to make haste. Do not oppose god who is with me, otherwise he shall destroy you. (22) But Josiah did not change his mind because he was seeking an occasion to fight against him. So he did not listen to the words of Necho, inspired by God, and he went to offer battle in the pass of Megiddo. (23) The



archers shot at King Josiah and he said to his servants: “Take me away for I am seriously wounded.” (24) The servants took him out of his war chariot, put him in a second chariot, and took him to Jerusalem. He died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers and all Judah and Jerusalem made lament over Josiah. (2 Chron. 35)

According to this version Josiah died because he did not listen to the words of the pharaoh, Necho, which were inspired by Yhwh. In addition, he did not die at Megiddo, but in Jerusalem. The death of Josiah seems also to have been the end of his reforms, at least in the short term. There is no reference to it in the book of Jeremiah, nor in Ezekiel, and in fact a sanctuary to Yhwh existed at Elephantine during the Persian period, that is, at a place clearly completely outside Jerusalem. It is even possible that there was one at Babylon, where the Judean exiles may have constructed a temple to Yhwh. This is not even to mention the Yahwist sanctuary at Gerizim. Nevertheless, the reforms of Josiah mark in a broad sense the beginning of Judaism, because of the theologically central place given to Jerusalem in these reforms, the affirmation of the unity of Yhwh, which is recited in Jewish prayers up to this day, and finally, the monidolatric idea of the exclusive worship of Yhwh, which can easily mutate into monotheism.




After the death of Josiah in 609, the Babylonians quickly took control of the Levant, although the Egyptians tried to contest this with them for a short time. Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, succeeded him, but Pharaoh Neco deposed Jehoahaz and replaced him with his brother Eliakim, whose name he changed to Jehoiakim (609–598), which is a Yahwistic name meaning “May Yhwh be exalted.” According to the account of the redactors of the books of Kings, the pharaoh recognized that Yhwh was the national god of Judah. Jehoiakim quickly became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar II, who in 609 defeated the Egyptian army at Carchemish. The king of Babylon now controlled Syria-Palestine, but left Jehoiakim in place, probably because he was keen to ensure some political stability in Judah. And it seems that at the beginning Jehoiakim was a faithful vassal to Nebuchadnezzar. But in 601 the Babylonian campaign against Egypt failed, which may have caused Jehoiakim to try to shift his po-



litical alignment and seek Egyptian support for greater independence from Babylon. This was a mistake, because the Babylonians quickly reasserted their control and pushed the Egyptians back. The second book of Kings asserts that “the king of Egypt no longer came out of his country because the king of Babylon had taken all that had belonged to the king of Egypt from the torrent of Egypt to the river Euphrates” (2 Kings 24:7). Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem to punish Jehoiakim, but Jehoiakim died during the siege. He was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin, who ruled for only three months, surrendered to the Babylonians, and thus, in 597, avoided the destruction of Jerusalem. Nevertheless the Babylonians decided to implement a policy of large-scale deportation, focused particularly on the city of Jerusalem. The king was exiled with the court elite: high officials, clergy, artisans. This first deportation was the most important one. The Babylonians installed in power Zedekiah (Mattaniah),1 another son of Josiah and uncle of the exiled king. Was he still considered to be a king or merely a governor? The editors of the book of Ezekiel seem to consider Jehoiachin to have been Judah’s last legitimate king. During the reign of Zedekiah, a revolt in Babylon and various other problems reduced the Babylonian presence in the Levant. There was a rebellion, most probably encouraged by the Egyptian king Psammetichus II (595–589), in which Zedekiah took part. The book of Jeremiah, which in chapters 37–43 recounts the last days of Jerusalem, shows that there was an anti-Babylonian faction at the court, although the prophet Jeremiah himself preached submission to the Babylonians, which caused him to be branded a traitor. Zedekiah himself seems to have been undecided, but he finally took the part of those who favored revolt. The Babylonians reacted immediately by destroying the Temple, the city, and the walls of Jerusalem. This was in 587. Jerusalem was not the only city to be destroyed. The Babylonians razed several other centers in Judah, and then organized a second deportation. They established a new administrative center in the small town of Mizpah in the territory of Benjamin (which had suffered less destruction than Judah), and installed Gedaliah, a member of the family of Shaphan, as governor. The demographic situation in Judah is difficult to evaluate. Oded Lipschits estimates that as a result of death, deportation, and flight, the



Table 1.

597 587 582

2 Kings 24–25 Number of deportees

Jeremiah 52 Number of deportees

24:14: 10,000 24:16: 8,000 “the rest of the population”

52:28: 3,023 52:29: 832 52:30: 745

population decreased from about 100,000 to 40,000 inhabitants, but Benjamin seems to have been less severely affected.2 We do not know if the Babylonians gave a specific name to the former kingdom of Judah. It is clear that part of Judah, especially the south, was invaded by Arab and Edomite tribes. The governor Gedaliah was assassinated by members of the anti-Babylonian party soon after he was installed, and the Babylonians reacted with a third deportation in 582. The biblical texts which deal with the final days of Judah—2 Kings 24–25, and Jeremiah 37–44 and 52—are not in agreement about the relative size of the various waves of deportation. The numbers at the end of the book of Jeremiah seem to be more exact than those in 2 Kings 24–25, but they seem quite low and not consistent with the apparent fall in Judah’s population. One possible explanation of the difference between 2 Kings and Jeremiah is that Jeremiah gives figures for the number of heads of households, and if we multiply these by five or six, we get figures that correspond roughly to those given for the first deportation in 2 Kings 24. Although some biblical texts give the impression that the Judah was completely empty during the period called the “Babylonian exile,”3 life actually continued in Judah and especially in Benjamin. The importance of Benjamin and Mizpah at this period may also have led to a revitalization of some of the traditions associated with Saul, who had been a Benjaminite; some people may have wished to promote him instead of giving prominence to the continuity of the Davidic line.4 We know very little about the life of the population that remained in the country. Babylonian sources tell us nothing, but it is plausible that they appointed another governor after the assassination of Gedaliah. As far as biblical texts are concerned, with very few exceptions they report



essentially from the perspective of the exiles in Babylonia, the elite who considered themselves the “true Israel.” Thus, we find virulent polemics, especially in the book of Ezekiel, against those who remained in the land. They are considered to have been rejected by Yhwh, who, according to the editors of the book, had abandoned his country to go with the exiles to Babylonia. In contrast to the practice of the Assyrians, the Babylonians allowed the exiles to remain in groups derived from their place of origin, and the Judean high officials were probably also used for administrative tasks. The biblical texts mention several places inhabited by deported Judeans: Tel-Aviv on the Kebar canal (Ezek. 3:15), probably in central Babylon not far from Nippur; Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub-Addan, Immer (Ezra 2:59); Kasifya (Ezra 8:17). Unfortunately, these places are otherwise unknown. Flavius Josephus refers to a city called Nearda5 (which is also mentioned in the Talmud), that is, Tell Nihar, located on the left bank of the Euphrates, above Sippar, which was the seat of a famous academy in the third century of the Christian era. A Babylonian cuneiform tablet from the Moussaïeff collection, which, if it is genuine,6 would date from the Persian period, contains a contract for the sale of animals that involved some people with Yahwistic names. In addition, this contract is said to have been concluded in a city named “Al-Yahûdû” (“[New] Judea”) in “the 24th year of Darius, king of Babylon, king of the land.”7 This name corresponds to the name used in a Babylonian chronicle to designate Jerusalem. So it is a “new Jerusalem” founded by Judeans in Babylon. We cannot determine its exact location, but it does show the economic importance and prosperity of the Babylonian Golah.8


The events of 597 and 587/586 must have produced a major crisis in the collective identity of the Judeans. The destruction of Jerusalem and the movements of population were significant, but it is also true that they mainly affected the members of the elite, who were deported, rather than the rural population and the poor, who remained in the country.9 The elites and particularly the royal officials10 had been cut off from



Table 2. Prophet





High official


Personal knowledge Hope for a better future Utopia

Representative of former authorities Tradition

Semantics of crisis Reference

Return to mythic origins Myth

High level of formal intellectual training Construction of a history “History”

the source of their power. More generally, after the events of 597/587 the traditional political and ideological pillars of a monarchical state in the ancient Near East had collapsed. The king had been deported, the Temple destroyed, and the geographic integrity of Judah was compromised by the deportations and voluntary emigration. One way of explaining the situation was that the gods of Babylon were stronger, and had won a victory over the national god Yhwh, who had clearly been defeated. Another possible explanation was that Yhwh had abandoned his people. Different groups in the Judean aristocracy tried to deal with and overcome the crisis by producing ideologies that endowed the fall of Judah with theological meaning. We can order these attempts according to a model proposed by Armin Steil. Steil, who was influenced by Max Weber, developed his model by analyzing the semantics of crisis in the context of the French Revolution;11 however, this model is also very helpful for understanding the reactions to the fall of Jerusalem that we find in the Hebrew Bible. Steil distinguishes three types of attitude toward a crisis: that of the prophet, that of the priest, and that of the mandarin. The prophetic attitude consists in declaring the crisis to be the beginning of a new era. The main proponents of this attitude are members of marginal groups, who are nevertheless capable of formulating and communicating their convictions. Conservative representatives of the social structures that are collapsing are more like to adopt a priestly attitude. For those who take this posture, the way to overcome the crisis is to return to the sacred origins of society, given by God, and to ignore the new reality. The mandarin posture expresses a choice by high officials, who are trying to understand the new situation and accommodate themselves to it in









TransEuphrates Gaza




Pasargadae Tema



Extension of the Persian Empire

order to preserve their existing privileges. The “mandarins” try to objectify the crisis by giving a historical account of it that explains the collapse of the old social structures. These three attitudes are summarized in table 2. Instances of all three of these attitudes are clearly visible in the Hebrew Bible and its interpretations of the destruction of Jerusalem. These reactions were perhaps put down in writing during the period called “the exile” (587–539),12 but it is more reasonable to think that they date from the later Persian period, when socioeconomic conditions had somewhat stabilized. In 539 Babylon was taken by Cyrus (559–529), with the support of the priesthood of Marduk (the principal god of the Babylonian pantheon), who were dissatisfied with the religious policy of Nabonidus. Cyrus’s rule was characterized by a certain tolerance vis-à-vis subject populations, and thus permission was given to exiles to return to their countries and to restore and practice their local cults. Many of the most important biblical texts that try to explain the destruction of Jerusalem and the role of Yhwh in that catastrophe were most likely written by Judean intellectuals in the Babylonian Golah.




The biblical version of the “mandarin” position toward the crisis is the Deuteronomistic school. Its members are the descendants of scribes and other officials of the Judean court—that is, of the very people who supported or even initiated the reforms of Josiah. This group is obsessed by the end of the monarchy and the deportation of the elites of Judah, and it seeks to explain the exile by constructing a history of Yhwh and his people, from the beginning under Moses up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the aristocracy. Th is is the story the Hebrew Bible tells from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings.13 The Deuteronomists reworked the old scrolls dating from the Assyrian epoch in order to construct a coherent history divided into different periods: Moses, the conquest of the land under Joshua, the period of Judges, the charismatic leaders in the time before the kingdom, the rise of the monarchy, the period of two kingdoms, and the history of Judah from the fall of Samaria to the fall of Jerusalem. The guiding principle of this historical reconstruction was that all negative events—the division of the “united kingdom” into Israel and Judah, the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions—were the “logical” consequences of the disobedience of the people and its leaders to the will of Yhwh. The will of Yhwh is precisely expressed in Deuteronomy, where it is called the “covenant”14 or the original treaty between Yhwh and Israel. It is Yhwh himself who set in motion the Babylonian invasion, in order to punish Judah for its worship of other gods (2  Kings 24:2 and  20). The Deuteronomists seek to rebut the suggestion that Marduk and the other Babylonian gods had vanquished Yhwh, and in this way the “Deuteronomist history” constitutes the first attempt at writing a complete history of Israel and Judah from the origins to their respective ends. There are many other instances in antiquity of a connection between a crisis and the writing of history. Thucydides wrote his History of the Great War between Sparta and Athens in the fi ft h century, and addressed it to “those who desire an exact knowledge of the past to help them interpret the future” (I.22). Similarly, Herodotus composed his



History in order to present the general reasons for the wars with Persia and the reasons for the individual dramatic events that occurred during these wars.15 Obviously, the Deuteronomistic history is not a work of historiography in the modern sense of that term—for instance, in the sense in which the nineteenth-century historian Leopold von Ranke claimed that history must to be devoted to finding out “what really happened.”16 The Deuteronomist history is, nevertheless, a serious attempt to construct the past so as to explain the present. Exile and deportation are the global themes of this history, which puts together various traditions and makes connections between different periods in order to culminate in the narrative of the end of the monarchy, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the loss of the country. All of these events, according to the Deuteronomists, resulted from the anger of Yhwh toward his people and their leaders. Judah and Jerusalem had not been able to resist the Babylonian attack because Yhwh himself had sent this army to annihilate them. (2) Thus Yhwh sent against him the troops of the Chaleans, the troops of the Aramaeans, the troops of the Moabites, and the troops of the Amorites; he sent them against Judah to make it disappear according to the word that Yhwh had spoken through the intermediary of his servants, the prophets . . . (20) It is because of the wrath of Yhwh that this had happened to Jerusalem and Judah; his anger was great enough to cause him to push them out far from his presence. (2 Kings 24)

In this passage the authors of the Deuteronomistic history are trying to show that the fall of Jerusalem in no way means that the Babylonian gods have defeated the national god of Judah. The events of 597 and 587 can only be explained, they claim, if one assumes that the wrath of Yhwh was the real agent in bringing about the collapse of the kingdom. But if Yhwh did use as his instruments the king of Babylon and his gods, this means that he was in control of them; they were no more than his tools. This idea prepares the way for the “monotheistic” statements in the parts of the Deuteronomistic history that were revised and retouched last of all, in the middle of the Persian period.



Many texts of Deuteronomy demand that their readers or listeners “not run after other gods.” The perspective presented in these texts is clearly one of monolatry, exclusive worship of one god: it is in no way denied that other gods exist, but Israelites were simply prohibited from following them. The expression “following them” probably refers to participation in processions, during the course of which the statues of these gods were exhibited. In the very latest texts added to the Deuteronomistic history during the Persian era, there is by contrast an insistence that Yhwh is the only god, and that no others exist apart from or beside him: “Recognize it today and reflect on it: it is Yhwh who is god, on high in heaven and down on earth, there is no other” (Deut. 4:39). But if Yhwh is not only the tutelary deity of Israel, but also the only “true god” in the universe, as is claimed in Deuteronomy 4, what about his privileged relation with Israel? The Deuteronomists find the answer in the idea of election. Yhwh has chosen Israel as his special people from among all the nations. In the late monotheistic texts found in Deuteronomy, the affirmation that Yhwh created the heavens and the earth is often linked with the assertion that he had chosen Israel.17 (14) Yes, the heavens and the heavens beyond the heavens, the earth and all that is found there belong to Yhwh, your god. (15) Yhwh attached himself to your fathers alone to love them, and after them to their descendants, that is, to you, whom he has chosen among all the people as one can see today. (16) So circumcise your heart 18 and do not stiffen your neck. (17) For it is Yhwh, your god, who is the god of gods and lord of lords, the great god, powerful and redoubtable, impartial and incorruptible. (Deut. 10)

Thus for the Deuteronomists Yhwh is certainly the god who reigns over all the nations, but he also entertains a special relation with Israel. This is a truly ingenious way of maintaining the old idea of Yhwh as the national or tutelary god while also affi rming that he is the only true god.




The most highly developed set of monotheistic speculations in the Hebrew Bible is to be found in the second part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40–55), which is often called “Deutero-Isaiah.” It is a collection of anonymous oracles that was revised over and over again during a period of at least two centuries.19 The kernel of the text we now have is a piece of propaganda celebrating the arrival in Babylon of the Persian king Cyrus the Great (II) in 539. This kernel takes its inspiration from the “Cyrus cylinder” on which the Persian king has himself celebrated (by the priests of Marduk) as having been chosen by Marduk to govern the nations and restore peace.20 Just as the Cyrus cylinder says that Marduk took Cyrus by the hand, one can read in Isaiah 45:3, “I hold Cyrus by his right hand.” Just as Marduk “names” Cyrus, so Yhwh calls him by his name. The cylinder asserts that Marduk “subjected to his feet the land of Guti and the troops of the Medes”; Isaiah 45:1 states that Yhwh chose Cyrus “to abase all nations before him.” According to the text on the cylinder, Marduk “makes Cyrus appear unceasingly with justice and righteousness”; Yhwh says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd” (Isa. 44:28). The text on the cylinder asserts that Marduk goes always at Cyrus’s side, whereas Yhwh promises to Cyrus, “I myself shall walk in front of you” (Isa. 45:2). The cylinder emphasizes that Cyrus sent back all the exiled peoples: “I assembled all the people and I sent them back,” which corresponds to the speech of Yhwh in Isaiah 45:13 about the Persian king: “He shall send back all those of my people who were deported to their native places.” The author of this text exhibits a very robust universalism in presenting Cyrus as the Messiah of Yhwh, despite taking his inspiration from the propaganda of the Persian king, which was itself a reworking of the Assyro-Babylonian royal ideology. Other texts from the corpus of Deutero-Isaiah go even further by proposing a “theoretical demonstration” of monotheism; this is virtually the only place in the Hebrew Bible where such a thing can be found. In the first chapters of the collection, the peoples and their gods are summoned to present themselves before Yhwh so that they can come to realize that there is no god other than he: “So that they might recognize that from the rising of the sun to its setting, apart from me there is:



nothing! It is me, Yhwh. There is no other” (Isa. 46:6). All other gods are nothing but chimeras, “wood for the fi re” (Isa. 44:15). The author mocks the sale of statues of the gods, the only use of which is to enrich the artisans who made them: “Those who make idols are all nullities, the figures they spend so much time on are of no use . . . Who has ever fashioned a god in the absence of profit?” (Isa. 44:9–10). This demonstration of the uniqueness of Yhwh, whom texts in Deutero-Isaiah often identify with El,21 is presented as a kind of theological revolution. The manifestation of Yhwh as the only god of all the peoples of the earth and of the entire universe amounts to a new revelation: (14) Thus speaks Yhwh, he who paid your ransom, the Holy One of Israel: “Because of you I am launching an expedition against Babylon, I shall cause them all to flee as fugitives, yes, the Chaldeans on those boats where their shouts of acclamation resounded. (15) I am Yhwh, your Holy One, he who created Israel, your king.” (16) Thus speaks Yhwh, he who made a way in the middle of the sea, a path in the center of the unchained waters, (17) he who mobilized chariots and horses, troops and assault teams all together, caused them all to fall over never to rise again, snuffed out like a wick and extinguished: (18) “Do not recall any more the first events, do not cling to the memory of things done in the past. (19) I shall make something new that is already breaking into bud; do you not recognize it? Yes I shall make a way through the middle of the desert, paths through the barren places: (20) the wild beasts shall give me glory, the jackals and ostriches, because I shall procure water in the desert, rivers in the barren places to provide drink for my people, my elect (21), a people whom I have formed for myself and who will give me praise.” (Isaiah 43)

The exhortation not to remember the first events may be read as a criticism of the Deuteronomistic obsession with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile.22 For the author of this passage, that page has been turned, and Yhwh will manifest his power by putting in place a “new Exodus” and bringing (through the actions of Cyrus) the deported people back out of Babylon.23 The monotheism of Deutero-Isaiah insists



that the unique god cultivates a special relation with Israel. In this, many texts of Deutero-Isaiah come close to the Deuteronomists. DeuteroIsaiah, however, or at any rate the view expressed in Isaiah 40–55, tries also to resolve two major problems to which the assertion of a unique god gives rise: the question of the “feminine” aspects of the divine and the question of the origin of evil.


The emergence of monotheism is accompanied by the disappearance of the goddess, whom the partisans of the reforms of Josiah had in any case wanted to ban from the official cult in Jerusalem. A vision of the prophet Zacharias (Zech. 5:5–11) may give us a glimpse of the process by which the goddess was evicted from the cult.24 The prophet sees a woman named rišʿāh (impiety),25 who is enclosed in a barrel and taken outside the country by two winged women. They take her to Babylon, where she will have a sanctuary and where she will be immobilized on a pedestal. This vision looks like a metaphor of the eviction of the cult of the goddess from Judah; henceforth she shall have a place only among the pagan peoples.26 Still, this disappearance of the goddess poses a problem about how to deal with the feminine in this “new” monotheistic religion, which was eventually to become Judaism. Yhwh became the only god, a transcendent god, yet he was to keep his specifically male titles, such as “lord” “king,” “master,” and so forth. It is no accident that one finds, in DeuteroIsaiah passages that express with the greatest clarity the monotheist idea, the greatest number of feminine images applied to Yhwh. This is how Yhwh responds, through the mouth of his prophet, to the expressed fear that he had forgot his people: “Does a woman forget her baby? To show tenderness to the son of her belly? Even if these women do forget, I shall not forget you” (Isa. 49:15). The attitude of Yhwh toward his people is compared here to the love of a mother for her children. Also in verses 2 and 24 of chapter 44 and in verse 3 of chapter 46, Yhwh is presented as having formed Israel at his maternal breast. The metaphor of giving birth



is also present in Isaiah 42.14. Here the exile of the Judeans is explained by the fact that Yhwh has remained inactive, but this period is over and he will now act: “Like a woman in labor I shall breathe, breathe in and breathe out at the same time.” The return of the exiled community to its own country is assimilated to a new birth, and Yhwh is the goddessmother who creates something new in the travails of childbirth. To be sure, in the preceding verse (13) this same Yhwh arises like a warrior who smites his enemies, so here we have a clear transition from a male warrior god to a maternal god who gives birth to her people. There is a comparable passage in a poem inserted into Deuteronomy 32. This poem was written by a poet who was a contemporary to the collection called Deutero-Isaiah and in it Yhwh appears, first of all, as a father: “Is he not your father, who has given life to you?” (v. 6). But then later we find this accusation: “You have forgot the god who brought you into the world”27 (v. 18), so Yhwh appears simultaneously as father and mother of Israel. We can also observe this integration of female traits into Yhwh in the final chapters of the book of Hosea, which was reworked and re-edited at about the end of the sixth century or early in the fi ft h.28 Chapter 11 of the book assimilates Ishtar and Yhwh.29 In verses 3–4 Yhwh clearly appears as a nourishing mother: (3) “It is I who have taught Ephraim to walk, taking him in my arms, but they have not realized that I was taking care of him (4) . . . For them I was like those who lift a baby up to their cheek and I gave him sustenance.” It is Yhwh who taught Ephraim (i.e., Israel) to walk, who lifts him up like a baby against his cheek, protects and nourishes him. In verse 9 of chapter 14 Yhwh is compared to a fertile tree (“I am, myself, like a cypress, always green and it is from me that your fruit proceeds”), but the fertile tree is the symbol of the goddess Asherah. The beginning of this verse is perhaps corrupt, although whether by accident or because it was intentionally tampered with, is not clear. Julius Wellhausen thought that the passage would have begun originally with this affirmation by Yhwh: “I am myself his ‘Anat’ and his ‘Asherah.’ ”30 If this conjecture is correct, we would have here another instance of the attempt to integrate the functions of goddesses into Yhwh himself. The priestly document, which we shall soon discuss, begins with a narrative of God’s creation of the world, of animals, and of humans. When



God decides to create the human being, he says he wishes to create him in his “image.” The execution of this decision is recounted as follows: “God created man in his image, he created him in the image of god. He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). The fact that “man” in the image of god is male and female may refer to the tradition of the divine couple (Yhwh and Asherah), transposed to the human couple, or it may express the idea that god himself contains within himself male and female functions.31 Another way of compensating for the disappearance of the goddess is the personification of the concept of wisdom (ḥokmāh), which begins to be observable at the end of the Persian era and becomes pronounced in the Hellenistic period.32 In Proverbs 8, Wisdom herself speaks, presenting herself as a goddess who was at the side of Yhwh even before the creation of the world: (22) Yhwh engendered me, first fruit of his activity, prelude to his ancient works. (23) I have been consecrated from the beginning of time, from the origins, from the first times of the earth. (24) When the abysses did not yet exist, I had been born . . . (30) I was always at his side, the object of his delectation each day, playing in his presence all the time, (31) playing in his earthly universe; and I find my pleasures among men.

Wisdom appears here as a daughter of Yhwh, begotten by him to accompany him during the creation of the universe; to some extent she is a mediatrix between Yhwh and men. So the goddess did not completely disappear, she just came back in other forms.33


In polytheistic systems, where what happens in the universe depends on the action of a multitude of divinities, the existence of evil and of suffering can be attributed to particular malevolent gods or demons. Human beings have to appease or defend themselves against these gods, and they can do that in a number of ways, for instance by the use of amulets.



Polytheistic views admit that the gods are unpredictable and that their actions toward humans may well be harmful, even though humans have not been in any way at fault in their relations with them. However, as soon as one admits the existence of only one god, the question of the origin and reason for evil arises in a very pointed way, and biblical texts give different responses to this question. Some texts claim that evil and suffering are divine punishments of those who have committed reprehensible acts, but others question this theology of retribution. Thus, in the book of Job the author shows that Job, contrary to what his friends say, does not merit the fate that befalls him. However, the author never does give a real answer to the question about the origin of the evil Yhwh inflicts on Job.34 In addition, the narrative of the creation that opens the book of Genesis suggests that darkness, chaos, and the abyss—symbols of evil or of primordial chaos— are not created by god but “tamed” by him, because he is able to integrate them into his creation. These texts concede a certain autonomy to evil, without, however, developing a dualist system of theology. One passage in Deutero-Isaiah, in contrast, proposes a radical solution in that it affirms that it was Yhwh himself who created evil:35 It is me Yhwh, there is no other, apart from me no one is god. I have put the belt around you36 though you do not know me, so that it may be recognized, from the rising of the sun to its setting: apart from me there is nothing! I am Yhwh, there is no other, I form the light and I create the darknesses, I make the good (šālôm)37 and the evil (raʿ), I, Yhwh, I do all that. (Isa. 45:5–7).

This text is practically the only one in the whole of the Hebrew Bible38 to affi rm explicitly that God not only created šālôm, the harmonious order, but also its contrary, evil or chaos. Deutero-Isaiah is the collection of texts that approaches most closely to what Steil calls the prophetic attitude to a crisis. The author of this text insists that all powers, even destructive ones, originated in Yhwh and are under his control. Because there is only one god and nothing apart from him (v. 5), nothing can escape God. However, in the overarching context created by the writings in the Bible, an assertion like this remained marginal.




The model proposed by Steil distinguishes a third category of reaction to a crisis, that of the “priest.” This attitude does in fact correspond very well to that exhibited in what is traditionally called the “priestly document” in the Bible. This priestly work includes texts that today are part of the Pentateuch, that is, sections found in Genesis, Exodus, and the first part of Leviticus. These texts were drawn up by a group of priests or persons very close to priestly circles either in Babylon or Jerusalem at the beginning of the Persian era. For the members of these priestly circles the only thing that really counted was the time of origins (the origin of the world, the time of the Patriarchs and Moses). In contrast to the Deuteronomistic history, the priestly writings show no interest in the history of the monarchy or the loss of the country. The priestly authors treat everything as established since the origins of the world and humankind: the prohibition on consumption of blood (a rule established after the Flood), circumcision (a ritual imposed on Abraham), and Passover (established at the moment of the departure from Egypt). The same is true of the various ritual and sacrificial laws: all was revealed to the people in the desert through the mediation of Moses. The first edition of this priestly text, which was later augmented, probably concluded with the account of the ritual of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”), which is now to be found in Leviticus 16.39 In this account, great emphasis is placed on the need for the high priest to purify the sanctuary and the community regularly. In contrast to Deuteronomistic conceptions, which insist on a strict separation between the people of Yhwh and other peoples, the members of these priestly circles put forward an inclusive monotheism, which tries to define the place and role of Israel and of Yhwh among all the peoples and their respective gods. To this end, the priests used a theory of the divine names to develop a system of “three circles” or three stages of the revelation of Yhwh.40 In the priestly narratives of the origins of the world and of humanity and also in the story of the Flood, Yhwh reveals himself to all humankind as ʾĕlōhîm. This term can be translated as “(a) god,” “(the) gods,” or “God.” Probably the members of this priestly milieu were the first to



use the term ʾĕlōhîm in the sense of “(the one, unique) God.”41 One can see this very clearly in the story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. Because the name ʾĕlōhîm is at the same time both a singular and a plural, in a sense all gods can be seen as manifestations of the one God. For the members of these priestly circles, this means that all people who worship a creator god are actually, without knowing it, worshipping the god who will manifest himself later to Israel under the name of Yhwh. According to the priestly document, Yhwh revealed himself to the Patriarchs and their descendants as “El Shadday”; by using this name, the authors of the “priestly writings” claim that the god who revealed himself to Abraham was also the one known to Ishmael, the first son of Abraham and the ancestor of the Ishmaelites. In referring to “El Shadday,” the priestly editors make use of a name that they knew was archaic, but that at the time was still used for a god venerated in Arabia.42 To Moses alone, and then through him to Israel, God reveals himself under his name “Yhwh.” This is the sole privilege of Israel, which is thereby put in a position to worship this god properly. However, Israel is not permitted to derive an inappropriate “profit” from this knowledge, so during the second part of the Persian era, a prohibition is gradually elaborated on pronouncing the name of Yhwh. This priestly construction also implies that the immediate neighbors of Israel who stand in a relation of kinship to “Israel” via Abraham and Jacob—that is the Arab tribes (through Ishmael), the Moabites, the Ammonites (through Lot), and the Edomites (through Esau)—are closer to Israel with respect to kinship, language, and customs than nations living farther off.43 The priestly narrative views all the most significant cultural and ritual institutions as having been given to the Patriarchs and Israel before the political organization of the tribes. This means that there is no need of a country or a king in order to worship Yhwh in an appropriate way. This uncoupling of the cult of Yhwh from political institutions and from a connection with a particular country prepares the way for the idea of a separation between the domains of religion and of politics. The institutions whose origins the priestly narrative is concerned to describe are thought to be differentially binding on different human groups. The prohibition of blood after the Flood should apply, according



to the priests, to all humanity under the authority of “Elohim”; circumcision should apply to (and was in fact practiced by) all the descendants of Abraham who worship “El Shadday”; finally Passover, the sacrificial rituals and the alimentary prescriptions, as well as Yom Kippur, are the specific rites by which Israel organizes its cult worship of the one and only god, who revealed himself to Moses under his name “Yhwh.” Thus at the beginning of the Persian period we see the elaboration of a number of ways of redefining the worship of Yhwh as the one and only god, while continuing to affirm his special relation to Israel. We shall now turn to the question of possible Persian influences on this redefinition of the god Yhwh.


It is very difficult to form a clear idea of the religious system adopted by the Achaemenid kings.44 Added to that, there is a problem in dating Zoroaster, and in discovering where he lived and what his original “message” was. The oldest manuscript of the Avesta, the sacred book of Mazdeism and of the Zoroastrianism that succeeded it, dates from the thirteenth century ad, and the difficulties surrounding the composition of this text recall in several respects the difficulties confronting interpreters of the Hebrew Bible. At present it seems unlikely that there was a corpus of Mazdean writings at the time of the Achaemenids, although most scholars seem confident that we can trace the Gathas (the sayings of Zoroaster) back to the beginning of the first millennium. However, even if we adopt the views of the “minimalists” who accept the traditional view that Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander, this would not cast any doubt on the existence of some kind of Mazdeism during the Achaemenid period. Mazdeism is clearly attested as part of the official royal religion since the time of Darius (521–486), who in the famous inscription in Behistun legitimizes his royal standing by reference to the will and support of Ahura-Mazda. In the inscription of Elvend he calls Ahura-Mazda “the great god, who created this earth, who created yonder heaven, who created men, who created happiness for man.” In addition to Ahura-Mazda, though, this inscription also mentions “all the other



gods who exist.” It also seems that the Persian overlords permitted the subjects in their empire to worship local gods. One might well wonder whether a constellation like this should be called “monotheism,” unless of course it is simply assumed that the Mazdeism of the Persians was a kind of syncretistic or inclusive monotheism in which a variety of other gods were taken to be merely local manifestations of Ahura-Mazda. On the other hand, the authors of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah put great emphasis on the strong and positive connection between the Persian Empire and the eponymous protagonists of these two books: the governor Nehemiah, and the scribe and priest Ezra. The text calls Nehemiah a royal official at Susa, capital of the Achaemenid Empire, and a royal cupbearer, which was a post with high social status.45 Ezra was a scribe and priest in Babylon, and was recognized in that capacity by royal authority. Chapter 7 of the book of Ezra narrates how he went to Jerusalem to proclaim there a law that was at the same time the law of “the God of heavens” (v. 12) and the “law of the king” (v. 26). It makes little difference in this context whether these two personages historically existed or were fictions;46 they symbolize in one way or another the idea of a close collaboration between the Judean and Persian authorities. In any case, no text in the Hebrew Bible takes an openly critical position toward the Achaemenid overlord. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Persian kings appear as instruments of Yhwh, enlightened sovereigns who permitted and favored the restoration of the Yahwistic cult at Jerusalem. So we can say that the proto-Judaism of the Persian period accepted the idea of a translatio imperii (as it would be called in the Middle Ages), interpreting it in favor of the Achaemenid kings.47 The question of a direct influence of Mazdeism on early Judaism is difficult to resolve. On the one hand, it is true that in many psalms of the Persian period Yhwh appears enthroned in the midst of a heavenly assembly and overshadowing all other gods, who are reduced to the status of “angels” or “saints” (Pss. 89:6 and 103:20). The retention of the old pantheon can be explained, at least in part, as resulting from Persian influence in two dimensions. First, Yhwh is envisaged here after the image of the Persian king, who is in fact the only true king, because he dominates all the kings of other peoples.48 In addition, however, Yhwh also corresponds to Ahura-Mazda, at least to the Ahura-Mazda who is



worshipped after the Zoroastrian reforms, because each of them is imagined as the only true god, who is established and holds sway at the summit of the traditional pantheon. It is also now unanimously recognized that the figure of Satan as a member of the celestial court is not attested in biblical texts until the Persian period. He appears for the first time in the prologue to Job, where Yhwh is shown enthroned in the sky surrounded by his ministers. Among these ministers is a “śātān,” an “adversary,”49 who is a bit like the secret agents of Persian kings. The figure of śātān is inserted here in the prologue in order to remove from Yhwh the suspicion of having been responsible for all the disasters inflicted on Job for no apparent reason.50 The same tendency to make evil an independent power is visible in the way an old narrative from 2 Samuel is rewritten in the books of Chronicles.51 The story starts when David undertakes a census that incurs divine punishment, and ends with his discovery of the place where the future temple will be built.52 The older version of the narrative in 2 Samuel 24 opens as follows: “The wrath of Yhwh was inflamed once again against the Israelites and he excited David against them.” So here it is Yhwh himself who initiates the action as a result of which thousands of people will die, because David will be punished by a plague that descends on Israel. In 1 Chronicles 21, the same story is told as follows: “Satan stood up against Israel and he incited David to take a census of Israel.” It is difficult to tell whether Satan is conceived of here as a kind of negative counterpart to Yhwh, standing over against him, or whether he is a kind of hypostasis of the divine wrath. The insistence on Satan as a protagonist, as an agent of evil, nevertheless introduces a dualism in which evil could come to appear to be almost as powerful as God, the creator of good. The appearance of Satan on the scene might be influenced by the form of Persian dualism we find in the confrontation of Ahura-Mazda and Angra-Mainyu (Ahriman). In the texts of the Hebrew Bible, this dualism is not developed, but it does come more and more to the surface in certain currents of Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods,53 and it is not impossible that there might be a strong Iranian influence in some of the more apocalyptic of these sects.54 It is also possible to detect other Persian influences in the Judaism that develops starting in the sixth and fift h centuries. This might be the way



to interpret a text such as the book of Malachi, which views Yhwh as if he were the Persian Great King: “ ‘For from the East to the West great is my name among the nations. In any locality a sacrifice of incense is made to my name, and a pure offering, for great is my name among the nations,’ says Yhwh of the Armies” (Malachi 1:11). Yhwh is the universal god to whom all people present offerings. The replacement of animal sacrifices by the sacrifice of incense might also be a result of Persian influences, because Mazdeism is characterized by a distinct preference for vegetable sacrifices over bloody sacrifices.55 In summary, it is highly likely that there were some Persian influences on the elaboration of Yahwist monotheism in early Judaism, although this influence is not as easily demonstrable as some scholars have claimed.


In the Hellenistic period monotheism becomes more and more the distinctive marker that gives Judaism its identity. This monotheistic religion begins to fascinate Greek and Roman intellectuals, and also has an attraction for some members of the aristocracy of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the monotheist conception did not fully impose itself immediately. The most obvious example of deviation from monotheism within a Judean community comes from the colony of Elephantine on an island in the Nile in the south of Egypt, vis-à-vis Syene. Documents from this community show that in addition to worship of Yhwh, they also worshipped a goddess called A ̒ nat. Thus an oath sworn about the sale of a donkey that was owned jointly by two individuals and then sold by one of them reads: “Oath [of] Menahem, son of Shallum . . . which he swore to Meshullam, son of Nathan by Yahu the God, by the temple and by ʿAnat-Yahu.”56 Pierre Grelot holds that A ̒ nat, a goddess known at Ugarit as a parhedros of Baal, is identical to the goddess A ̒ tti, who also appears in the documents from Elephantine, and he identifies both of them with the “Queen of the Heavens.”57 A divine triad appears in one list of cultic payments: “The money which arrived today into the hands of Yedonyah, son of Gamaryah, in the month of Pamenhotep:58 a sum of 31 kars,59 8 sicles. Of this, 12 kars,



6 sicles for Yahô, 7 kars for Ašim-Bêt-ʾēl, 12 kars for A ̒ nat-Bêt-ʾēl.” 60 We can conclude from this that the Jewish colony worshipped Yahô (Yhwh) and Bêt-ʾēl, who is probably a god of the Aramaeans of Syene. These two form a triad with the goddess A ̒ nat, who was Yahô’s parhedros, with Ašim-Bêt-ʾēl apparently being their son. Despite the fact that this form of worship of Yhwh was not exactly orthodox, the leaders of this community kept up contact by letter with the authorities in Jerusalem and Samaria, who seem to have reached an accommodation with this economically well-off community. When the Jewish temple at Elephantine was destroyed by the Egyptian priesthood with the collaboration of the Persian satrap, the leaders of the community wrote—in 407—to the Persian governor of the province of Yehud (Judea), asking permission to rebuild their sanctuary.61 The documentation about this community breaks off about 399.62 The evidence we have, though, shows that even at the end of the fift h century it was possible to practice a sacrificial cult of Yhwh outside Jerusalem, and to worship Yhwh together with other gods. So polytheism did not disappear that easily. As Pierre Gibert reminds us, “monotheism is very difficult to understand,”63 and even the word itself reflects modern conceptions. The Hebrew Bible does not use the term “monotheism” or its opposite, “polytheism.” The first writer to use the word “polytheism” was Philo of Alexandria, when in the first century he contrasted the dóxa polutheï ́a of the Greeks with the message of the Bible.64 The term “monotheism” seems in fact to be a neologism coined in the seventeenth century. The deists speak of “monotheism” as a way of referring to their universal religion of humanity; Thomas More and others then apply this to Christianity in order to distinguish it from other beliefs systems that were current in antiquity, and to defend it against the Jewish criticism that Christianity does not respect the commandment of the exclusivity of God.65 Whereas the deists used the concept of monotheism in an inclusive sense, partisans of the revealed religions attributed to it the function of excluding other beliefs—monotheistic faith was supposed to allow one to distinguish the biblical religions from others. So there have been two ways of construing monotheism from the very beginning: an exclusionist reading and an inclusivist reading. We can find both of these tendencies in the discussion of Yhwh. As we have seen,



the Deuteronomistic school developed a segregationist theory, whereas the priestly authors preached an inclusive monotheism.


Was there any kind of monotheism before the Bible? The Mesopotamian religions produced huge epics, which greatly influenced the authors of the texts collected in the Bible. Th is shows that the boundaries between monotheism and polytheism are porous. The epic of Gilgamesh, the stories of the creation and of the Flood, all served as models for the authors of the biblical texts, who took over these narratives and reinterpreted them from the point of view of monotheism. To take merely one example, in the Mesopotamian stories about the flood, which were very widely disseminated from the Sumerian period (third millennium) onward, we find that the roles in the narrative are split up: the “wicked” gods decide to exterminate humanity, but a “good” god, a friend of men, warns his chosen one of the catastrophe to come, allowing humankind to survive. In Genesis, Yhwh, the god of Israel who then eventually became the one god, assumes both of the two roles: he decides to destroy all humanity, but also to save Noah and his family. So the one god must also integrate into himself these dark, incomprehensible aspects of divinity. Th is is, to be sure, not something that is completely alien to Assyrian and Babylonian polytheisms. In these traditions, too, there are texts in which an individual laments the fact that he has been abandoned by his tutelary god or is even being set upon by him in a way that prefigures the book of Job.66 Despite the fact that Mesopotamian culture is marked by a very highly elaborated form of polytheism, we can nevertheless find some tendencies in the direction of a “henotheistic” view, that is, a special attachment to one god that does not imply a denial of the existence of others. Nebuchadnezzar I (1125–1104) wanted to make the god Marduk, who was in the first instance the tutelary god of the city of Babylon, the central god in the Babylonian pantheon. Nabonidus (556–539) tried to make the sun god Sin the principal god of the Babylonian Empire. Then, of course, there is the reform of the religious cult undertaken by Pharaoh



Akhenaton (Amenhophis IV, 1353–1337), who is often represented as the first monotheist. The origins and motives of the monotheistic revolution of Amenhopis IV are only partially understood. In the sixth year of his reign this pharaoh abandoned Thebes and founded a new capital, Akhetaton (Tell El-Amarna), devoted to the exclusive worship of Aton, the disk of the sun. The king set in motion a great iconoclastic movement, which had as its immediate goal the complete eradication of any trace of the god Amon, the god of Thebes and principal deity of the Egyptian pantheon up to that time. Other gods, however, were also targeted. The hymn to Aton67 shows a sort of cosmic monotheism that prefigures the deism of certain representatives of the enlightenment: Aton-the-light is the one and only god who “created millions of forms (the rays of the sun) while remaining a unity.” The new religion was strongly marked by the royal ideology: Akhenaton was the son of Aton, the only one who had proper knowledge of the god. Other texts and images give the impression that the royal couple sometimes formed a divine trinity with Aton, like that which existed in some traditional pantheons. There have been those who have tried to locate the origins of biblical monotheism in the revolution of Akhenaton, although we know Akhenaton’s reforms were quickly undone by his successors. Those who have pursued this line of thought have generally done so by making Moses the disciple of the iconoclast pharaoh or even by claiming that the two were really one and the same person. However, biblical monotheism manifests itself in a completely different way from that of Akhenaton. First of all, it has its origin about 800 years later, and it is impossible to trace any chronological line of contact from it back to the earlier Egyptian form of monotheism. Second, Yahwistic monotheism has no roots in a royal ideology, but is instead a reaction to the disappearance of kingship and the collapse of the traditional national religion. So there is really no genealogical relation between the two forms of monotheism. The noted Egyptologist Jan Assmann makes it very clear that there is no causal connection between the monotheist revolution of Akhenaton and Yahwist monotheism.68 There were, however, some “memory traces” of the monotheism of Akhenaton, and these may have influenced the authors of the biblical books when they set about redacting their foundational history of the



departure from Egypt and the revelation on Mount Sinai. The association of the figures of Moses and Akhenaton probably goes back to Manethon, a Hellenized Egyptian priest who wrote during the third century ad. Manethon discusses a priest named Osarsiph, who became the leader of a community of lepers condemned to forced labor. This Osarsiph he claims, gave his community laws that were the exact opposite of all traditional Egyptian practices: in particular, he is supposed to have prohibited the worship of the gods. Manethon ends his narrative by stating that this leader of a band of unclean laborers “changed his name and took the name of Moses.”69 Osarsiph seems, then, to be a caricature of Akhenaton, which shows that the trauma Akhenaton inflicted on traditional Egypt was having effects even a thousand years after his death. The vision of Manetho, that Moses was an Egyptian misunderstood by his countrymen, prepares the way for a conception that can count Sigmund Freud among its best-known adherents.70 The Hebrew Bible, in the form in which we have it today, presents itself in all three of its parts as a “monotheistic document,” but the authors and editors of the various texts of which it is composed also retained traces of polytheism—for instance, in Job and in numerous psalms, where Yhwh appears surrounded by his heavenly court. Thus, there is at least a partial integration of the polytheist heritage into the Bible’s monotheistic discourse. The authors of the New Testament and also those of the Koran were going to be confronted with the same problem, namely how to deal with plurality within the framework set out by the confession of a single, unique god. Biblical monotheism, therefore, is not really a closed philosophical doctrine—it is pluralist, and invites the readers of its texts to reflect on the difficult relation between unity and diversity.


The tiny province of Yehud could not be expected to be of much interest to the Persians, so our information about this region comes mostly from biblical sources that express the ideology of the Judean elite during the



Persian era.71 If we accept the accounts given in the books of Chronicles and Ezra, immediately after his victory over Babylon in 539 king Cyrus promulgated a decree authorizing Judean exiles to return to Judea and encouraging them to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. This is certainly an ideological construction72 that is intended to show how concerned the Persians were with the well-being of the exiled Judean community. The construct was not a complete invention, though, because it was based on the established fact that the fi rst Persian kings did claim to have restored local cults and resettled the exiles in their former homes. Even if these claims were part of royal propaganda, it is clear that the religious policies of the Persians were different from those of their predecessors. One might even speculate that Persian syncretism allowed them easily to identify local deities as manifestations of Ahura-Mazda. After Judea’s integration into the Babylonian Empire, the seat of provincial government of the former kingdom was at Mizpah. We do not know when or why Jerusalem was, then, once again made the capital of the province (medina) of Yehud,73 but it is clear that the reconstruction of the temple and the other construction projects undertaken in Jerusalem under Nehemiah are an indication of the growing importance of the city during the first Persian period. One of the first governors (peḥāh) of Yehud seems to have been Zorobabel, a descendant of the royal lineage of David, who had been deported. He was appointed by the Persians, who may have thought that his royal pedigree would be likely to persuade the indigenous populations to collaborate with him. It is possible that his arrival in Jerusalem generated some hopes of a possible restoration of the Davidic monarchy.74 There may even have been some desultory attempts at realizing this hope, but there is no trace of any serious anti-Persian revolt, as has sometimes been claimed.75 The very sudden disappearance of Zorobabel from the Biblical texts suggests, though, that the Persians quickly deposed him again to neutralize any messianic expectations. Some of the following governors are epigraphically known, but it is unclear whether they were all Judeans, or whether some of them were Persians.76 The real power in domestic affairs, in any case, seems to have lain with the priestly and lay elites centered around the Temple of Jerusalem.







Mizpah Gibeon


Jerusalem Netofa (Ramat Rachel)

Lachish Azekah Keila


A. 0

5 10 km


Bethel Mizpah Gibeon



Jerusalem Netofa Azekah Keila

(Ramat Rachel)


B. 0

5 10 km

Two reconstructions of the extension of the province of Yehud: (A) following E. Stern, (B) following L. Grabbe



We have no precise information about the boundaries or the population of Yehud in the Persian period. The number given for returned exiles in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 9, namely 42,000, is clearly unrealistic. In the first part of the Persian era, there were fewer inhabitants than that in all of Yehud.77 There is now a heated debate about the population of Jerusalem during the Persian period with minimal estimates ranging from 200 to 300 persons, but others claiming figures as high as 1,000.78 It is possible that Jerusalem at the time was no more than the temple itself and the site of Ramat Rahel, which had already been important in the Assyrian and Babylonian periods, was where the Persian administration was located. As we have already remarked, the members of the Babylonian Golah were in no hurry to return to Jerusalem. The Babylonian archives of the Murashu family contain a large number of Jewish names, and the existence of the recently discovered “City of the Judeans” (Al-Yāhūdu) near Nippur79 also indicates the importance of the Babylonian Jewish diaspora in the Persian period. The Jews who returned from Babylon may even have been encouraged to do so by the Persians, and in any case they maintained close relations with them. The economic and ideological power, though, clearly lay in the hands of this Golah, who had returned to the country and controlled the restored city of Jerusalem. It is also important, however, not to forget the province of Samaria, even though the biblical writings make little reference to it, and, when they do mention it, are highly negative. Archaeological excavations strongly suggest that there was a Yahwistic temple at Gerizim from the fift h century on.80 This means that at the time at which the Pentateuch was promulgated, there actually were two sanctuaries dedicated to Yhwh: Jerusalem and Gerizim. The Samaritans must have contributed more to the promulgation of the Pentateuch than the biblical authors admit. Future research will no doubt bring us greater clarity about what this means. It is clear, though, that although the Pentateuch is very firmly wedded to the idea that there is one and only one sanctuary (Deuteronomy 12), it never actually mentions Jerusalem by name. Genesis make an allusion to Jerusalem, particularly in chapter 14, when Abraham encounters the mysterious king and priest of Salem, but at the end of Deuteronomy it is Mount Gerizim that appears as the site of sacrifice.81



So the Pentateuch, which was accepted by both Jews and Samaritans as a foundational document, allows for two different localizations of the single unitary sanctuary. Some kind of compromise must, therefore, have been reached, not only between the various currents of Judaism, but also between Jews and Samaritans. It was probably between 400 and 350 that the priestly writings, the book of Deuteronomy, and other traditions such as the story of Joseph (Gen. 37–40), were put together to form the Pentateuch, the Torah. At the beginning the prophetic scrolls and the histories from the conquest to the Babylonian exile (that is, the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) were excluded, and that seems to have been the result of two factors. First, the religious and lay elite were highly suspicious of the prophets and their messages, because some of them announced events such as the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, which were unacceptable both to the rulers of the temple and to the Persians. Second, for the Samaritans the books of Samuel and Kings were unacceptable, because they asserted that the true sanctuary of Yhwh was at Jerusalem. The Pentateuch closes in Deuteronomy 34, with the death of Moses, who never did enter the promised land. He thereby became a symbol for Jews in the diaspora, and his life could be seen as implying that it did not matter much whether or not one lived in a foreign land, provided that one had showed oneself faithful to the divine commandments passed down by Moses. This is another peculiarity of Judaism in the early stages of its development. In the ancient Near East, it was the kings who received from their tutelary divinities laws that they were to teach their peoples, as can clearly be seen on the stele containing the law of Hammurabi, which shows the Babylonian sovereign in front of the god Shamah, who is giving him his laws. But in the Hebrew Bible, no king ever receives a law; this function has been transferred to Moses. Another way of defining Judaism, then, is as a religion that has no need of royal, that is, state, legislation. The Pentateuch puts itself in the place of political institutions, but also in the place of a country, so that it becomes, in the famous words of the poet Heinrich Heine, a “portable fatherland,” which allows Jews to worship Yhwh by observing the laws to be found in the Torah and which can be read anywhere where there are synagogues.



The book of Ezra attributes the promulgation of the Pentateuch to the scribe and priest Ezra, who came to Jerusalem with a letter of accreditation from the king of Persia and with the task of enforcing the “law of the god of the heavens” and the law of the king (Ezra 7). Peter Frei has proposed that the Persian administration had itself authorized and commanded the different populations of the empire to edit their religious traditions and submit them for approval to the Achaemenid rulers.82 But this theory rests on a fragile evidentiary base;83 none of the examples cited by Frei can be directly compared with the Torah, because they are all brief documents and are often concerned only with details of local cults. The formulation of the Torah is, in the first instance, an internal phenomenon concerning Judeans and Samaritans, with some strong implications for the Golah. Members of the Golah could recognize themselves in the figure of Ezra and derive a sense of legitimacy from the picture he painted of Persian benevolence toward the promulgation of the Pentateuch. With the Torah, Judaism became definitively a mobile religion suitable for the diaspora. Yhwh no longer needed a temple, but he nevertheless retained a special relation with his people insofar as they lived according to the prescriptions of the Torah.


We have defended the view that there was a statue of Yhwh in the first Temple of Jerusalem, and that Josiah’s reforms were in no way incompatible with the continued existence of this statue. The original commandment, which was eventually integrated into the Decalogue as “you shall have no other gods before me,” was directed primarily at the presence of statues of other gods facing the statue of Yhwh. When the temple began to be rebuilt at the start of the Persian period, the construction of a (new) statue of Yhwh was doubtless discussed. A text from the collection called “Deutero-Isaiah” that announces the return of Yhwh from Babylon states: “The voice of your watchmen! They raise their voices, together they shout out an acclamation, for with their very own eyes



they see Yhwh in the process of returning to Zion” (Isa. 52:8). The most obvious way to interpret this is that it imagines the arrival of a statue of Yhwh in Jerusalem. But the option that prevailed was not to refashion a statue of Yhwh. The preeminent importance of the Torah, in fact, made a statue pointless. For this reason the author of Deuteronomy 4 insists that the people did not see any “form” or shape or representation when Yhwh revealed himself to Israel: “(15) Take good care: You did not see any form (těmûnāh) on the day when Yhwh spoke to you at Horeb in the midst of fire. (16) Do not corrupt yourselves by making a graven image (pesel) a form representing anything whatever (tĕmûnat kol-sāmel tabnît).” This passage can in fact be read as a programmatic statement opposing the fashioning of a statue of Yhwh during the Persian period.84 Aniconism became a fascinating mark of Jewish identity in the Hellenistic and Roman contexts. When Pompey entered the Temple of Jerusalem in 63, he discovered to his stupefaction that it was empty,85 a thing that seemed inconceivable.86 Another decision, which underlined the transcendence of Yhwh, was that taken by Judaism in about the fourth century no longer to pronounce the name of Yhwh, but instead, as we saw in Chapter 1, to substitute “the Lord” or “the Name.” This decision, which must have been taken before the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek, is also a result of the new monotheistic creed: because a proper name serves to distinguish one person or god from another, the one and only God does not need a proper name; on the contrary, even giving him one would be a concession to polytheism. The translation of the Pentateuch into Greek definitively made Yhwh a universal god. The so-called Letter of Aristeas states that the translation was completed by 72 scholars in Alexandria about 270 in the reign of Ptolemy II. This is the origin of the name “Septuagint,” which is given to the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek, and then, by extension, to all translations into Greek of other parts of the Hebrew Bible. The 72 scholars are said to have worked independently of each other, but to have produced the same text. This story is clearly a fiction—we know that the different books of the Pentateuch were not all translated in a single continuous process and that they were not all translated by the same translators. Nevertheless, it is plausible that the work of translation started in the third century. With this translation, Yhwh, or rather



kúrios and théos, came to be known to the Greek world and became, once and for all, the universal god. His cult expanded throughout the Mediterranean basin as Jews settled in various places and built synagogues. He also fascinated and attracted many non-Jews. Thus Yhwh became a god who transcended the Semitic context, although Judaism continued—and continues to this day—to affirm its special link with him.


Our inquiry has covered the origins of Yhwh, his adoption as the god of Israel, his rise as the tutelary god of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, his transformation into a single god under Josiah, and then his evolution into the unique and exclusive god after the collapse of the Davidic kingdom and the geographic explosion of the “people of Yhwh.” The story has covered roughly a millennium, from the end of the thirteenth century until the Hellenistic period. We concluded our investigation with the translation of the Torah into Greek in the third century, and this development marks the conquest of the Western world by Yhwh, a god who from then on would be called kúrios, “Lord.” We could, of course, continue the story through the following centuries, but our aim here is simply to describe the invention of monotheism. Judaism, then, was constructed in its different currents and sensibilities on this monotheistic foundation, as were, later, Christianity and Islam. By way of a conclusion, let us sketch the historical evolution of Judaism up to the Roman period. In about 200 Palestine passed into the control of the Seleucids, although at that time Rome was already beginning to extend its power over the whole of the Mediterranean. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was de facto already a vassal of Rome and was supported by a part of the



Jewish aristocracy, undertook the Hellenization of Jerusalem. In 167 he tried to transform Jerusalem into a Greek polis by force, and attempted to rededicate the temples of Yhwh in Jerusalem and Samaria to different manifestations of Zeus, whom he would surely have tried to identify with Yhwh. Some years later he entered the Temple of Jerusalem, in an attempt, it seems, to acquire the money he needed for his tribute to Rome. These turmoils gave rise to an apocalyptic literature, though very few traces of it are preserved in the Hebrew Bible. The best example is the book of Daniel, which depicts an epoch in crisis under Antiochus IV. The book was redacted in 164, just before the death of Antiochus. The “apocalypse,” a word that means “revelation,” was a literary genre with its roots in the prophetic movement but also in the wisdom literature of the Near East. Using a pseudonym,1 the author of an apocalyptic work tried to instruct his readers about events that would come before the end of time. These events were interpreted as signs of a victory of God against the forces of evil. In the book of Daniel, the end corresponds to a judgment on all humanity, as a consequence of which the just who had not been rewarded during their lifetimes would come back to life. This is the first clear attestation of the idea that God will make the dead come back to life. The god of Israel appears in Daniel 7 as the “Ancient One,” seated on a throne with wheels,2 and accompanied by another heavenly figure called the “Son of Man.” The Son of Man receives from the Ancient One sovereignty over all the earth. Th is configuration is strikingly similar to that of the couple El and Baal at Ugarit, where El is also described as an ancient who leaves his son Baal to take care of the affairs of the world. The figure of the “Son of Man” will play an important role later in messianic expectations where the expression comes to mean the messiah, the ideal king who is to come. In apocalyptic literature Yhwh is not alone in heaven: The book of Daniel mentions Michael, commander of the army of Yhwh and called “prince of the first rank,” which means, presumably that he is to be counted as one of the archangels. Speculation about a heaven populated with all kinds of angels is highly developed in the first book of Henoch.3 This book was not finally accepted into the canon, but the older parts of it are probably contemporary with or even earlier4 than the period during which



the book of Daniel was redacted. The part of Henoch called “The Book of the Watchers” contains the oldest extant list of the seven archangels.5 Like the book of Daniel, the book of Henoch describes a judgment to come, but this judgment is not only one in which God intervenes, but also one in which all kinds of celestial entities participate. The idea of a final battle between the good God and his army against the forces of evil and darkness was a constitutive element of the belief system of the community at Qumran. One of the writings from this community, called the “war scroll,” describes the combat between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness.” The same scenario will be found again in the New Testament, notably in the Apocalypse of John, which describes the battle between the heavenly army against Satan (in Greek, diabolos: the devil) and his army. This battle will end with a new creation.6 This dualistic vision, which has it that God must confront the forces of evil, ends with a description of the battle to come, in which the divine army is victorious over the armies of darkness. This is a conception shared by the authors of the book of Daniel, who come from the same milieu as the Maccabees. The Maccabees were Jewish militants who engaged in armed struggle against Hellenization: in 162 they succeeded in taking the city of Jerusalem and purifying the temples, which in their view had been defiled by Antiochus IV and the Hellenistic party. As a religious movement, the Maccabees represent an attempt to return to a non-Hellenized Judaism, an attempt that quickly showed itself to be doomed to failure. The dynasty of the Hasmoneans, which arose from the Maccabees, eventually adopted precisely the Hellenistic culture and ideology that the Maccabees had originally attacked. Under this dynasty there was a Jewish state that, during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76), had about the same geographic extent as the territory the biblical narratives attributed to David or Solomon. The independence of the state of the Hasmoneans, though, was only relative. Their kingdom was tolerated by the Romans because they provided a counterweight against the Seleucids. This tolerance ended in 63 when Pompey took Jerusalem, entered the temple, and discovered that it was empty. The Hasmoneans were replaced by the Herodians, Hellenized Idumeans (inhabitants the region of Edom) who had converted to Judaism and were supported by Rome. Herod the Great enlarged the Temple of Jerusalem between 27 and 20,



but was detested by the Jews because of his Idumean origins and his submission to the Romans. The historian Flavius Josephus claims that on the threshold of the Christian era Judaism was divided into four ideological currents, reflecting four very different general religious views. The Sadducees,7 a priestly elite linked to the temple at Jerusalem, were fairly open to Greek influences, but they defended the Torah, the Pentateuch, as the only authority in matters of religious practice, and thus refused to accept such new doctrines as the resurrection of the dead. They also held a doctrine of retribution, according to which every man was rewarded or punished for his actions during his life on earth. This group was therefore in conflict with the Pharisees,8 a group fundamentally opposed to the Hellenization of Judaism. In contrast to the Sadducees, whose religiosity was centered on the temple, the Pharisees focused on the study of the Torah and its application to everyday life.9 The Essenes,10 who were at first allied to the Pharisees, were originally religious fraternities, of which Qumran is the best-known example. They followed very strict rules, rejected the sacrificial cult of the Temple of Jerusalem, had their own calendar, and awaited the coming of one, or perhaps two, messiahs and the end of the world. It is usually assumed that this sect disappeared after the destruction of the temple in ad 70, but it is possible that certain groups continued to exist during the second and third centuries ad.11 The Zealots12 were an armed resistance movement against the Romans. Flavius Josephus counts them as a “fourth sect” and states that they were very close to the Pharisees: Except that those who profess [Zelotism] hold that it is only god alone whom one should recognize as lord and king. They have such an indomitable passion for liberty that provided they do not have to give to any man the name of lord and master, they are indifferent to most extraordinary kinds of death and the most atrocious tortures which they suffer themselves or which they inflict on those persons whom they do not approve.13

This group, which is at the origin of the revolt against the Romans, pursued a theocratic idea and did not recognize any earthly power apart from the divine government. Thus they can be seen to prefigure other



radical or fanatic movements, which appear throughout the history of the three great monotheistic religions. The revolt in ad 70 finally led to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. However, in contrast to the situation following the destruction of the first temple in 587, there already existed an institution that could replace it, namely the synagogues, which then became once and for all the places in which Judaism found its identity. A final revolt, that of the proclaimed messiah Bar Khokba from 132– 135, resulted in another defeat. The Jews, driven out of Jerusalem, had now definitively become a minority group within Judea, and settled all around the Mediterranean basin. The Sadducee, Essene, and Zealot tendencies disappeared or became tiny minorities. Pharisaic Judaism became dominant and then turned into “rabbinical” Judaism. The word “rabbi” means master or teacher. In order to define the identity of this form of Judaism and also as a reaction against incipient Christianity, the Pharisees decided, during the second century ad, to define exactly what the sacred books of Judaism were, and it is in this period that we find the origin of the Tripartite Bible, which is composed of Pentateuch (Torah), Prophets (Neviʾim), and Writings (Ketuvim). It is important, however, to remember that for Judaism, in contrast to what is the case for Christianity, these three parts do not have equal authority. The Pentateuch constitutes the central part, and it must be read in its entirety during religious ser vices in the synagogue, whereas the Prophets and Writings are considered to be complementary to the Torah. For Judaism, then, God reveals himself primarily through the 613 commandments of the Torah as transmitted to the people through the intermediacy of Moses. Therefore it is primarily the observance of these divine commandments and the search for their true meaning that characterize Judaism and its God, whose name is not pronounced, but whose interaction with Israel is commemorated through reading of the Pentateuch. And it is precisely the Pentateuch that had retained the memory traces of a god who at the beginning was completely different from the transcendent, one-and-only god now professed by the monotheist religions. The goal of this inquiry was to trace the path of the god Yhwh, a desert war god who became the one unique God of the monotheistic religions. Let us summarize the most important results of our analysis, while em-



phasizing their fallible character. The very fact that the biblical god originally had a proper name, Yahu, Yaho, or Yahweh, indicates that he was not originally understood to be the one-and-only God, but merely one god among others who were worshipped by various peoples in the Near East. The narratives in Exodus suggest that this god had not always been the god of a group called “Israel.” The name of this group itself contains the divine name “El,” not “Yhwh.” The two narratives about the vocation of Moses show that he did not know the name of the god who was to become the god of Israel. Various biblical texts suggest that Yhwh came from the south; he comes “from Seir,” “from Edom,” or “from Mount Paran.” Two texts even seem to identify Yhwh with Mount Sinai, although we cannot say exactly where the authors of these texts14 would have located this mountain. That Yhwh was identified with a mountain might perhaps also be reflected in the following fact: Egyptian texts of the last third of the second millennium mention Shasu nomads; some of them are described using an Egyptian word, which probably corresponds to the name “Yhwh” and probably also designates a mountain. This would be, then, the oldest attestation of the name of the god who was to become the god of Israel. The “foreign” origin of Yhwh is also indicated by the fact that, according to Exodus 3, he manifests himself to Moses while Moses is sojourning in the land of Midian in the ser vice of his father-in-law, who is a priest. This suggests that Yhwh was worshipped first in Midian and probably also in Edom. The inquiry has also turned up some pieces of evidence that Yhwh was first the tutelary deity of the Edomites before becoming the god of Israel. In addition, the cult of a “southern” Yhwh existed at least until the eighth century, as is shown by the graffiti from Kuntillet Arjud that mention a certain Yhwh of Temān or Yhwh of the south.15 The late arrival of Yhwh in the territory of Israel is also indicated by the fact that there are practically no Yahwistic names to be found for places in Canaan. The divine names that one does find there as part of place-names are those of other deities: Carmel (“vineyard of El”), Baalhazor (“village of Baal”), Anatot (derived from the name of the goddess Anat), Jericho (recalling the name of a moon god), and many others. Yhwh may have come to the territory of Israel with a nomadic group who worshipped him, before he came into contact with the federation



of tribes called Israel. We have no clear attestations of this encounter outside the Bible. The poetic text of Deuteronomy 33:5, “He became king in Yeshurun16 when all the chiefs of the people were assembled, the tribes of Israel,” may perhaps refer to the adoption of Yhwh by Israel. This, however, might also be the case for the conclusion of an alliance between Yhwh and “his people,” which is related in Exodus 24. Although the text in its present form was put into writing very much later, it is not impossible that it does reflect that initial encounter. Apparently there is a connection between Yhwh and the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. The stories of the books of Samuel attribute the victory of Saul over the Philistines to the intervention of Yhwh. The warlike character of Yhwh, who was also a god of storms, makes him a particularly appropriate god to exercise the function of protector of the first king of Israel. It is also highly likely, though, that Saul worshipped other gods too, because one of his sons bears the name Ishbaal, “man of Baal”; unless, of course, “Baal,” which originally means “master” or “lord,” is understood here as one of Yhwh’s titles. When David took Jerusalem, Yhwh came with him in an ark, a chest in which Yhwh was present beside the army of his people. This once again shows the military character of Yhwh, as does his title Ṣĕḇāʾôt (“Yhwh of the armies”). Oddly enough, David, who is presented by the biblical authors as the founder of the Davidic dynasty chosen by Yhwh, did not construct a temple for his tutelary god. The narrative found in the books of Samuel states that he transported the ark to Jerusalem, but that it was Solomon who built the temple there. Careful analysis of the narrative of the building of the temple in 1 Kings 6–8, and particularly a comparison of the Masoretic text with the Greek, strongly suggests that this was not really a new construction, but instead the renovation of an existing sanctuary. The Greek text of the dedication of the temple even suggests that Yhwh was not originally the only god worshipped there. He perhaps shared the site with a sun god, Shamash, whose function he gradually took over. In order to arrive at a proper understanding of the process by which Yhwh came to be ascendant during the first centuries of the first millennium, we must invert the presentation made by the biblical authors



and read it against the grain. The authors impose on the history of Israel and Judah a Judean, southern perspective, which held that the only legitimate sanctuary of Yhwh ought to be the Temple of Jerusalem. This study, however, has shown the importance of Yhwh in the kingdom of the north, as witnessed by the stele of the Moabite king Mesha, which proves the existence of sanctuaries dedicated to Yhwh in the Moabite territories annexed by Israel. There were several Yahwist sanctuaries in Israel: the most important was Bethel, to which must be added the temple in the capital Samaria, and also one in Dan, although that one may have existed only in the eighth century. In the north, Yhwh was worshipped primarily as a “baal,” a storm god. Omri and his successors seem to have preferred a Phoenician baal (Melqart?) to the baal Yhwh, and this provoked a Yahwistic putsch carried out by Jehu, who then very quickly became a vassal of the Assyrians. In the kingdom of Israel, the worship of Yhwh was marked by Phoenician and Aramaean influences, whereas in the south it was instead Egyptian motifs and concepts that made themselves felt. The polemics against the “calf of Samaria” contained in the book of Hosea show that in Samaria Yhwh was represented in bovine form. But Yhwh was also “the god who led us out of Egypt.” 1 Kings 12 asserts that it was Jeroboam I who had these boviform statues made, but it is possible that this is a retrojection of an initiative by Jeroboam II, during whose reign in the eighth century Israel experienced several decades of prosperity. The stories about the patriarch Jacob, who changed his name to “Israel” (Gen. 32), and his “discovery” of the sanctuary of Bethel (Gen. 28) show the transformation of a tradition about Jacob into a national Israelite tradition. This text also expresses the claim that the sanctuary at Bethel now belongs to Yhwh. Most likely in the north, Yhwh later took on traits of Baal-Shamem, “Baal of the Heavens,” who was well known in Syria and Phoenicia. This was in the first instance a title for the storm god, but it eventually became the name of an autonomous deity. It is possible that in the north the baal Yhwh also took over some traits that were, in Ugarit for instance, attributes of El. The tendency of Yhwh to take over the functions of other gods did not produce monidolatry in the north. We know this because when the Assyrians in 772 deported a part of the population, they also, by their own assertion, deported “the



gods in which they had put their trust,” which shows that there was a diversity of gods in Samaria. The Bible gives no information at all about the history of the former kingdom of Israel during the following centuries, but we know that the cult of Yhwh continued, because archaeology has revealed a temple of Yhwh on Mount Gerizim that existed in the fift h or fourth century. In the kingdom of Judah there also was a series of other sanctuaries outside Jerusalem, notably at Lachish, at Arad, and also at various “high places.” These were open-air sanctuaries, more modest than the great ones and no doubt well distributed throughout the countryside, and they responded to the needs of smaller population centers. In the books of Kings, the sanctuaries of Lachish and Arad are not mentioned and the high places are condemned, even though these were sanctuaries where Yhwh was worshipped, together, we can assume, with other gods. The vision of the editors of the Bible presupposes the idea, developed at the end of the seventh century, of a centralization of the cult and of political power in Jerusalem. Before this period the worship of Yhwh was like that of the tutelary gods of neighboring peoples to the east and north. Although it would have been anathema to the editors of the Bible, and also is anathema to certain theologians, Yhwh had a parhedros, the goddess Asherah, who was also called the “Queen of Heaven.” It is also likely that there was a statue of Yhwh in the Temple of Jerusalem, perhaps of a Yhwh seated on a throne of cherubim, like El at Ugarit. Th is is the configuration that underlies the vision of the prophet Isaiah and the description of the throne of Yhwh in the first chapter of Ezekiel. The existence of a statue of Yhwh is also confirmed by the prohibitions contained in texts from the Persian period, because what would be the point of prohibiting something that had never existed? In the “high places,” and also perhaps in the sanctuary of Arad, Yhwh and Asherah were worshipped in the form of standing stones, or perhaps a stele and a stylized tree symbolizing the goddess. During the ninth and eighth centuries Yhwh defi nitively became the head of the pantheon, taking over the functions of the other gods, such as the sun god, who is also the divine judge. There are in fact psalms that transfer the characteristics and functions of the sun god to him. Yhwh was first considered to be a son of



El,17 but then he took over the functions of the head of the Canaanite pantheon, becoming, like El, the divine creator of heaven and earth. The evolution of the Yhwh of Judea, that is, of Jerusalem, in the direction of becoming the most important god worshipped by the Judeans was accelerated by the fall of Samaria in 722. The defeat of the big brother in the north caused the clergy and the high officials in Jerusalem to begin to think that the “true” Yhwh was the Yhwh of Jerusalem, and the abortive siege of the city by the Assyrians in 701 reinforced the conviction that Yhwh would defend Zion, his mountain at Jerusalem, forever. Although Hezekiah’s anti-Assyrian policies caused the Assyrians to annex significant parts of the kingdom of Judah and deport part of its population, this defeat was transformed by the authors of the Bible into a victory. The events of 701 are the origin of the idea of an indissoluble link between Yhwh and Jerusalem. This was reinforced by the reform of Josiah about 620. After the fall of Samaria, Jerusalem grew significantly and became a real city. The policies of centralization pursued by King Josiah and his advisors made the temple in Jerusalem the only legitimate sanctuary, which required them to authorize the practice of non-cult-related slaughter of animals for consumption, on the condition that appropriate taxes were paid to the temple. When Assyrian power grew weaker, the king and his advisors took advantage of this situation to clear the temple of statues and symbols that reflected Assyrian religious practices. The slogan of the reforms of King Josiah was “Yhwh is ONE,” which is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 6:4, and this functioned as a kind of preamble in the original edition of the book. This slogan means that there is only one Yhwh—the Yhwh of Jerusalem. It seems that attempts were also made to eradicate the popular cult of the “Queen of the Heavens,” the goddess Asherah. Later when Jerusalem was destroyed, certain Judeans took the catastrophe to be a manifestation of the wrath of that goddess, whom they had been forced to stop worshipping. Behind Josiah’s reforms we can see the desire to establish a monolatric cult. Attempts like this are also known in other parts of the Near East: the existence of other gods would not be denied, but cult worship would be given to only one god. Although Josiah’s reforms were not an immediate success, they represent a crucial moment in the career of the



god Yhwh, and together with the idea of the centrality of Jerusalem and the exclusive worship of Yhwh, they constitute one of the foundations on which Judaism was later to be constructed. Recall, too, that under Josiah something like literary activity in the proper sense fi rst arises, with the first editions of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel, and Kings, the history of Moses, and other texts. The event that was decisive in turning Yhwh, the one god, into Yhwh, the unique God, was the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 and the geographic dispersion of the Judeans—first between Palestine, Babylon, and Egypt, but then also to the rest of Asia Minor and eventually to the whole Mediterranean basin. The absence of a king, of a functioning temple, and of an autonomous country made it impossible to worship Yhwh as a national god or as the tutelary god of a royal family. As the second part of the book of Isaiah states, many Judeans had come to believe that the “arm of Yhwh” was very short,18 and that it therefore made sense to look for some other gods to worship. It is, paradoxically, in this situation of crisis that various groups, comprising former members of the clergy and high officials of the court, conceived different explanatory models to help them deal with the crisis, and to invent a new way of understanding the relation between Yhwh and Israel. The work of the Deuteronomists forms an enormous historical fresco comprising the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel, and Kings. The aim of this history is to show that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile were not the result of Yhwh’s weakness, but instead were the work of Yhwh himself, who was at the origin of the catastrophe: he used the Babylonians to punish his people and his kings, because they had not respected the divine commandments, which had been entrusted to them in Deuteronomy. If Yhwh can make use of the Babylonians, that means he can control them; therefore, he is more powerful than the gods of Babylon. This is the prelude to the monotheist idea, which can be found in Isaiah 40–55. This part of the book of Isaiah insists on the claim that Yhwh, identified with El, is the only true god and that statues of other gods are nothing but chimaeras made by the hands of man. In contrast to Deuteronomistic forms of thought, the priestly writing, devoted to describing the period of the origins, defend an inclusive



monotheism, affi rming that all peoples worship the same god, even without knowing his real identity. Only Israel knows the true identity of this god, and this made of Israel a people apart. The monotheistic idea does pose the question of the particular relation that might exist between the one-and-only god and a single people, and this relation is explicated in various biblical texts, especially in Deuteronomy, by reference to the notion of election. Yhwh chose Israel among all the peoples and made of her “his own special portion.” Polemic against the statues and images of other gods could be expected to lead to the invention of an aniconic cult of Yhwh and thus to the absence of a statue in the rebuilt Temple of Jerusalem. Beside the Temple the synagogues developed, probably during the Persian period, where the cult of Yhwh was based not on the clergy and bloody sacrifices, but on a reading of the Torah. The first version of this Torah, the Pentateuch, was edited and began to circulate during the Persian period about 400–350. It put together priestly writings, a portion of the Deuteronomistic texts, and some others, and its coherence lay in the fact that it contained all the divine commandments transmitted to the people by Moses at Mount Sinai. That meant that knowing the will of Yhwh no longer required there to be a king or a country (the Pentateuch stops before the conquest of the country). In a certain sense incipient Judaism invented the separation of political power and religious practice and also the distinction between religious practice and a specific territory, allowing Judaism to function as the religion of a diaspora. The transformation of Yhwh into the unique god was effected by the refusal of Judaism to call him by his name, and especially by the translation of the Torah into Greek. This is what permitted the whole world, seen from the Greco-Roman perspective, to discover and eventually turn toward him.


introduction 1. The plural is used here to indicate that the Christian Bibles differ among themselves: The Catholic Old Testament is different from the Old Testament of Protestants, and the different Orthodox Churches include in their Old Testament various further books, different ones depending on the regional variant of Orthodoxy in question. 2. Th is confessionally neutral term will be used in place of “Old Testament,” which derives from Christian usage and presupposes a conception of the Hebrew Bible as the first part of the Christian Bible. 3. “Traces of memory” (Gedächtnisspuren) is an expression frequently used by the German Egyptologist Jan Assmann, who has shown great interest in the origins of biblical monotheism. 4. Judaism lacks a single simple term to designate the whole of their Scripture, and generally resorts to the acronym “TaNaK” composed from the initial letters of the three parts. 5. The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. 6. This Hebrew Bible in three parts does not entirely correspond to the Christian Old Testament, which is divided into four parts. There are, however, at least three different Old Testaments, one for each of the three main denominations of Christian religion: Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Orthodox Churches. The structuring and organization of the texts and the decision to include or exclude particular texts results from the particular theological preferences of each denomination.



7. The text of the Jahwist (J), who uses the name “Yahweh” (Jahwe in German) for god, was supposed to date from around 930; that of the Elohist (E), who prefers to call god “Elohim,” was attributed to the eighth century. It was assumed that the Deuteronomist (D) wrote in the time of King Josiah (end of the seventh century); and finally the priestly writings (P) were assigned to the time of the Babylonian exile or the beginning of the Persian period. For further details, see Albert de Pury and Thomas Römer, “Le Pentateuque en question: Position du probleme et brève histoire de la recherche,” in de Pury and Römer, La Pentateuque en question, 3rd ed. (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2002), 9–80. 8. For more details, see Jean-Daniel Macchi, “Histoire d’Israёl: Des origines à l’époque de la domination babylonniene,” and Arnhaud Sérandour, “Histoire du judaїsme aux époques perse, hellénistique et romaine: De Cyrus à Bar Kokhba,” both in Introduction à l’Ancien Testament, ed. Thomas Römer, JeanDaniel Macchi, and Christophe Nihan, 2nd expanded ed. (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2009), 51–82 and 83–121. 9. Oswald Loretz, Habiru-Hebräer: Eine sozio-linguistische Studie über die Herkunft des Gentiliziums ̒ Ibri vom Appelativum habiru (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1984); Nadav Na’aman‚ “Habiru and Hebrews: The Transfer of a Social Term to the Literary Sphere,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 45 (1986): 217–288. 10. Israёl Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Free Press, 2001); Oded Lipschits, The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Judah under Babylonian Rule (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005). For Aren Maeir, see his marvelous lecture on the role of archaeology in the study of the biblical stories about origins: .com /watch? v=3eWq MX716Zs. 11. Thus, a significant number of the events narrated in the books of Kings are also mentioned, in another contexts, in Assyrian and Babylonian records and inscriptions. 12. The Iron Age ends for the archaeologists of the Levant with the Persian era. 13. The biblical texts call them “the uncircumcised” because, in contrast to the populations of the Levant, they did not practice circumcision. 14. Kings Omri, Ahab, and Joram. 15. We will return to discuss this stele and that of Mesha in more detail in what follows. The majority opinion among scholars holds that it contains the first mention of the name “David” outside the Bible. 16. Jehu was not in fact the son of Omri, but for the Assyrians Omri was the founder of the kingdom even after the end of his dynasty. It is also possible that the Assyrians simply were not much interested in the internal politics of Israel and questions of genealogy. 17. It is impossible to establish exact dates for the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah, so all the dates given must be considered merely approximate.



18. These two traditions are juxtaposed and contrasted with each other in Hosea 12. 19. 2 Kings 17 admits this. 20. It is possible that certain of the works attributed to Hezekiah are actually to be assigned to Manasseh, a king whom the editors of the books of Kings abhor. 21. The second part of Proverbs (25:1) claims in its title to have been compiled during the reign of King Hezekiah. 22. These texts constitute chapters 40 to 55 of the present book of Isaiah.

1. the god of isr ael and his name 1. Before the signs designating vowels were invented, it was possible, in certain contexts, to use some of the consonants to indicate the pronunciation. These were called matres lectionis (mothers of reading). 2. Martin Rösel, Adonaj: Warum Gott ‘Herr’ genannt wird (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 5–8. 3. The ĕ is used because the first vowel a in the word ʾădōnāy is preceded by a shewa, a sign that indicates that it is to be pronounced like the “smooth aspiration” in Greek: a brief glottal stop before the a. In certain manuscripts only the first and last vowel are indicated (ĕ—a), but in some the o is also added. 4. Certain Masoretic vocalizations of the tetragrammaton when it is preceded by a preposition clearly speak against this theory. See Martin Rösel, Adonaj: Warum Gott ‘Herr’ genannt wird (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 2–5. 5. In the transcriptions the sound u corresponds to the u in German or Italian. 6. As a side note: this location has significance for Mormons, who believe that its name refers to Lehi, a prophet mentioned in the Book of Mormon. 7. André Lemaire, “Prières en temps de crise: Les inscriptions de Khirbet Beit Lei,” Revue Biblique 83 (1976): 558–568. 8. Biblical Hebrew does not make a clear grammatical distinction between future and present. 9. Stromates (ca. ad 220) V.6. 10. Epiphanius II, Panarion haer. 34–64, 40:5.8. 11. Quaestiones in Exodum (XV). This same Theodoret takes up the question again in Haereticarum Fabularum compendium (V:3) where he states: “Aiá means ‘he who is.’ This name was never pronounced among the Hebrews . . . The Samaritans, who did not understand the meaning of the word, read it as Iabé.” This quotation clearly shows that the name Aiá refers, not to the tetragrammaton, but to the expression ʾehyeh (I am / I shall be) in Exodus 3:14. 12. Amphilochia 162. 13. Comm. In Ps. 2:2 (PG 12:1104). 14. Josef Tropper, “Der Gottesname *YAHWA,” Vetus Testamentum 51 (2001): 81–106.



15. A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century b.c. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), e.g., 16, 71, 86. 16. The pronunciation Iaō (“Ya-hô”) is probably also found on a votive stele from the Roman era (third century) dedicated to Zeus Serapis (a god created by Ptolemy I as the national god of Greece and Egypt), who retrospectively was identified with Iaō. The stele in question is in the museum of Léon in Spain. 17. For more details, see David E. Aune, “Iao,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, vol. 17 (Stuttgart: Hierseman, 1996), cols. 1–12. 18. This is also the view of Martin Rose, Jahwe: Zum Streit um den alttestamentlichen Gottesnamen (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1978). 19. Johannes Renz and Wolfgang Röllig, Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik: II. Die althebräischen Inschriften. 1. Zusammenfassende Erörterungen: Päleographie und Glossar (Darmstadt: Wissenschaft liche Buchgesellschaft , 1995), 89–90, gives a good summary of extrabiblical testimonia. 20. Manfred Weippert‚ “Jahwe,” in Jahwe und die anderen Götter: Studien zur Religionsgeschichte des antiken Israel in ihrem syrisch-palästinischen Kontext (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 35–44. 21. Karel van der Toorn, “Yahweh,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., ed. K. van der Toorn et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 910–919. 22. In the Pantheon of Ugarit/Ras Shamra, El (Ilu) is the chief deity. However ʾilu can also mean simply “god” or “divinity.” 23. Adad was a storm god. 24. William F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: A Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994 [1968]), 147–149. 25. Sigmund Mowinckel‚ “The Name of the God of Moses,” Hebrew Union College Annual 32 (1961), 121–133. Similarly, Alvaro Lopez Pego, “Sobre el origen de los teónimos Yah y Yahweh,” Estudios biblícos 56 (1998): 5–39. 26. Ernst Axel Knauf, “Yahweh,” Vetus Testamentum (1984): 467–472. These two forms are attested in the Koran and the Kitāb al-aṣnān, The Book of Idols, in which Hisham ibn al-Kalbi (737–819) speaks of the idols of the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period. 27. Julius Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1914), 25 n. 1. 28. In the ancient Semitic world, divine names construed with causative prefi xes are rather rare.

2. the geogr aphic origin of y hwh 1. Giovanni Pettinato, “Il calendario di Ebla al tempo del re Ibbi-Sipiš sulla base di TM.75.G.427,” Archiv für Orientforschung 25 (1974–1977): 1–36. 2. Hans-Peter Müller, “Gab es in Ebla einen Gottesnamen Ja?,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 70 (1980):  70–92;  K. Van der


3. 4. 5. 6.


8. 9.

10. 11. 12.





Toorn, “Yahweh,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., ed. K. van der Toorn et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 910–911. Th is text is cata logued as KTU 1.1.IV:13–20 according to the international system of reference for Ugaritic texts. André Caquot et al., Textes ougaritiques: Mythes et légendes, vol. 1 (Paris: Cerf, 1974), 309. André Finet, “Yahvé au royaume de Mari,” Res Orientalia 5 (1993): 15–22. Thomas Schneider, “The First Documented Occurrence of the God Yahweh (Book of the Dead ‘Roll 5’),” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7 (2008): 113–120. West Amara was the Egyptian administrative center of upper Nubia (Kush) from the reign of Sethi I (1294–1279) and was also known as “The house of Ramses, the well-beloved of Amon.” Manfred Weippert, “Semitische Nomaden des zweiten Jahrtausends: Über die Šʒsw der ägyptischen Quellen,” Biblica 55 (1974): 265–280, 427–433. Translation adapted from James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955), 259. Translation adapted from ibid., 262. Refers to the tribes mentioned in verse 5. The Hebrew expression mĕrîḇōt qādēš is difficult to understand. Some translate the Masoretic text as “he has come from the holy myriads,” which really does not make much sense. The semitic poetic figure, which is called “parallelism of members,” would suggest that this expression has a geographic meaning. The Septuagint takes Qadesh as a proper name so as to read: “with the myriads of Qadesh.” Some scholars correct the Hebrew text, making it mēʿarḇōt (“from the steppes”), which at any rate makes sense, or mimmĕrîḇat [“from Meribat”], which is also possible, because Meriba is mentioned in verse 8, which recalls the revolt of the people at this place (see also Exod. 17:7). The end of this verse is virtually untranslatable. The Masoretic vocalization suggests something like: “from his right hand a fire of law emerges.” The term dāt (“law”) is a Persian loan word, which could mean that this might be a gloss or a later addition. The Septuagint has “angels with him” probably in order to create parallel with the “myriads of saints.” The possible reading adopted here takes the word as a feminine plural ʾašdôt, which means something like “the slopes,” the place of transition between the mountains and the desert. The Masoretic text is not very clear. One has sometimes corrected the Hebrew bām sînay (“with them—Sinai”) and replaced it with bāʾ missînay (“he has come from Sinai”), but there are no manuscripts or other versions that attest this reading. This substitution of “Elohim” for “Yhwh” may possibly be the result of a theological decision of the Asaphites, a group of Levites (a tribe of priests who


16. 17.

18. 19.

20. 21.





provided the cantors for religious ser vices). They collected and edited this collection of psalms. The number of these psalms—there are 42 of them— probably also played a role in their organization. It is possible, according to certain experts, that the Elohistic Psalter contained 42 occurrences of the tetragrammaton. In the Talmud, Treatise Qidushin 71a, one finds the idea that the divine name consists of 42 letters, which probably refers to different ways of naming the god of Israel. In Mesopotamia the number 42 is often used to divide long hymns. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead there are 42 divinities and 42 sins it is necessary to avoid; in the Hebrew Bible and also the New Testament the number 42 is reputed to be unlucky. For further details, see Laura Joffe, “The Answer to the Question of the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and the Elohistic Psalter,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 27 (2002): 223– 235; and Joel Burnett, “Forty-Two Sons for Elohim: An Ancient Near Eastern Organising Principle in the Shaping of the Elohistic Psalter,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (2006): 81–101. Walter Gross, Richter (Freiburg: Herder, 2009), 306–307. Christoph Levin, “Das Alter des Deboralieds,” in Fortschreibungen: Gesammelte Studien zum Alten Testament (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2003), 121–141; BerndJörg Diebner, “Wann sang Deborah ihr Lied? Überlieferungen zu zwei der ältesten Texte des TNK (Ri 4 und 5),” Amsterdamse cahiers voor exegese en bijbelse theologie 14 (1995): 106–130. Giovanni Garbini, “Il cantico de Debora,” La parola del passato 33 (1978): 5–31. The interpolated verses take up descriptions that are to be found in the poetic text of Genesis 49:13–16. The thesis that holds that the mention of the other tribes in Judges 5:15–18 is due to a later editor might also be supported by the texts of Judges 4, where only the tribes of Nephtali and Zebulon are mentioned. The word used for “God” here, “Eloah,” is found most frequently in the book of Job. Ernst Axel Knauf, Midian: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte Palästinas und Nordarabiens am Ende des 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr. (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1988), 52 n. 260. Henrik Pfeiffer, Jahwes Kommen von Süden: Jdc 5, Hab 3, Dtn 33 und Ps 68 in ihrem literatur-und theologiegeschichtlichen Umfeld (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005). The debate has continued in a recent number of the Berliner Theologische Zeitschrift 30 (2013): Henrik Pfeiffer, “Die Herkunft Jahwes und ihre Zeugen,” is a further defense of Pfeiffer’s position, but Manfred Krebernik‚ “Die Anfänge des Jahwe- Glaubens aus altorientalischer Perspektive,” holds that an origin from the south remains the most plausible hypothesis. IV R 28 N 2. The translation follows Dominique Charpin, “Chroniques bibliographiques 3. Données nouvelles sur la région du petit Zab au xviiie siècle av.


25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31.


J.C.,” Revue d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie Orientale (2004): 151–178, quotation at 153. We shall see the significance of ostriches in Midianite pottery in Chapter 3. Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998). Following the French translation of Jacques Briend and Marie-Joseph Seux, Textes du Proche-Orient ancien et histoire d’Israël (Paris: Cerf, 1977), 73–81. This changes in the New Testament. See Willem Pleyte, La religion des pré-Israélites: Recherches sur le dieu Seth (Leiden: T. Hooiberg & Fils, 1865 [1862]). Thierry Bardinet, “La contrée d’Ouân et son dieu,” Égypte nilotique et méditerranéenne 3 (2010): 53–66. In the book of Genesis, Seth appears as the third son of Adam (Gen. 4:25). There is probably no connection between this Seth and the Egyptian god, even though in Greek the two names are identical.

3 . moses and the midianites 1. Cited in number 124 (1999) of the journal Le Monde de la Bible, which is devoted to Akhenaton and monotheism, p. 31. 2. For more details, see Thomas Römer, Moïse: Lui que Yahvé a connu face à face (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), 62–65. 3. Some scholars take the term “Irsu” translated here as “parvenu” to be a proper name. 4. Papyrus Harris I (see James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969], 260). 5. Pierre Grandet, “L’exécution du chancelier Baÿ,” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 100 (2000):  339–345; Stefan Timm, “Der Tod des Staatsfeindes: Neues zu Bзj*,” Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008): 87–100. 6. Wolfram von Soden, “Mirjām—Maria ‘(Gottes-)Geschenk,’ ” Ugarit Forschungen 2 (1970): 269–272, at 270; Ernst Axel Knauf, Midian: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte Palästinas und Nordarabiens am Ende des 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr. (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1988), 77–78. 7. Ludwig Schmidt, Das 4. Buch Mose: Numeri Kapitel 10,11–36,13 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 144–148. 8. The association of Midian and Moab is also found in the notice in Genesis 36:35 (= 1 Chron. 1:46) that one of the kings of Edom struck down Midian during a campaign in Moab. 9. The “Deuteronomistic editors” were a group of scribes and editors who, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587, re-edited a certain number of older texts in an attempt to explain, as the book of Deuteronomy does, the fall of Judah


10. 11.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.


and the deportation as divine punishment for transgression of the law of Yhwh. Manfred Ullmann, Das Gespräch mit dem Wolf (Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1981), 54–57. Two passages seem to make an allusion to this. Isaiah 10:12: “Yhwh of the Armies will swing his whip against him, as when Midian was defeated at the rock of Orev.” Psalm 83:10–12: “(10) Treat them like Midian, like Sisera, like Yabin at west Qishon . . . (12) Treat their nobles like Orev and Zeev and their princes like Zevah and Ṣalmunna.” Knauf, Midian, 84–86. Verses 2:23b–25 are generally ascribed to the priestly narrative, which is a later addition to the older narrative. Translation follows, with some differences, /JJSinuhe/text.html. This difficulty was avoided by the Syriac and the Greek versions, which replace the verb “settled” with “went in the direction of.” “Yhwh” in the fragments of the Genizah at Cairo and in the Greek. According to the Samaritan Pentateuch it is Jethro who bows, but this is doubtless a theologically inspired correction of the original story. In the Samaritan Pentateuch and certain Greek manuscripts: “he invited him into his tent.” This last part of the verse (between the asterisks) is lacking in the Septuagint. The Syriac version, the Targum, and the Vulgate propose “brought a holocaust,” but this is also a dogmatic correction. The Samaritan Pentateuch reads: “some of the Elders.” This reconstruction is close to that proposed in Knauf, Midian, 156–157. Joseph Blenkinsopp, “The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis Revisited and the Origins of Judah,” Journal of the Study of the Old Testament 33 (2008): 131–153. In Genesis 15:19 the Kenites and Kenizzites are mentioned together. E. A. Knauf, “Qaus,” Ugarit-Forschungen 16 (1984): 93–95.

4 . h o w d i d y h w h b e co m e t h e g o d o f i s r a e l ? 1. Manfred Görg, “Israel in Hieroglyphen,” Biblische Notizen 106 (2001): 21–27, at 26; Peter Van der Veen et al., “Israel in Canaan (Long) before Pharaoh Merneptah? A Fresh Look at Berlin Statue Pedestal Relief 21687,” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 2 (2010): 15–25, at 24 n. 66. Others connect the name with the root “be just” or “protect.” 2. See also Isaiah 44:2. 3. UT 2069:3=KTU IV.623:3. 4. Philip  R. Davies, In Search of “Ancient Israel” (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1992), 57–58.



5. Grammatically this is not completely unproblematic. One ought really to have ʾēl to mark the direct object. 6. Translation inspired by Claire Lalouette, L’Empire des Ramsès (Paris: Flammarion, 2000 [1985]), 267. 7. The “Libyans” refers to the peoples who live immediately east and south of the Nile valley. 8. “Nine Bows” designates the traditional enemies of Egypt. 9. The Hittites in Anatolia. 10. The identification is uncertain here. The name is attested in several Egyptian documents. Joshua 16:6 mentions a town by the name of Yanoah as part of the frontier with Ephraim, but it is not certain that this is to be identified with the name on the Egyptian stele. It seems that “Yenoam” designates a region in northern Palestine or in Transjordan (Manfred Weippert, Historisches Textbuch zum Alten Testament [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010]), 102 n. 136). 11. Van der Veen et al.‚ “Israel in Canaan.“ 12. Manfred Görg, “Weitere Beobachtungen und Aspekte zur Genese des Namens ‘Israel,’ ” Biblische Notizen 154 (2012): 57–68. 13. This latter is the considered view of the Egyptologist Youri Volokhine of the University of Geneva. His colleague Thomas Schneider of the University of San Diego is even more categorical in his rejection and considers this attempt to identify the place mentioned on the pedestal with “Israel” as a speculation without any foundation. I wish to thank these two colleagues for their comments and help. 14. Ludwig D. Morenz, “Wortwitz—Ideologie—Geschichte: ‘Israel’ im Horizont Mer-en-ptahs,” Zeitschrift für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 120 (2008): 1–13. 15. André Lemaire, “Asriel, šrʾl et l’origine de la confédération israélite,” Vetus Teatamentum 23 (1973): 239–243. 16. Kenton L. Sparks, Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel: Prolegomena to the Study of Ethnic Sentiments and Their Expression in the Hebrew Bible (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1998), 105–108. 17. Edward Evans-Pritchard, The Nuers: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969). 18. The book of Judges, although it contains a collection of legendary tales about the charismatic leaders of various tribes of Israel, presents the era before the monarchy as a period without a central or permanent power structure. 19. This statistic does not distinguish between occurrences of ʾĒl as a proper name and of ʾēl as a generic term. 20. These books, which are held together by a single narrative framework, are often called the “Enneateuch.” 21. An allusion to Jerusalem.



22. In Genesis, Abraham is called “Abram” until he changes his name in chapter 17. 23. Th is word is lacking in the Septuagint, in Syriac manuscripts, and in the Genesis-Apocryphon found at Qumran. It is probable that the original text did not contain the name of Yhwh. Copyists probably added it to affirm the identity of Yhwh and El. 24. In the Bible at Deut. 32:8, Isa. 14:14, and Ps. 9:3. 25. For the text and a translation, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefîre, Biblica et orientalia Sacra Scriptura antiquitatibus orientalibus illustrata, 19, rev. ed. (Rome: Pontificial Biblical Institute, 1995). 26. Side A, line 11; note the parallel expression “Shamash [the sun] and Nour [light].” 27. KTU I.16 iii: 5–8. 28. Ernst Axel Knauf, “El Šaddai— der Gott Abrahams?,” Biblische Zeitschrift (1985): 97–105. 29. Frauke Gröndahl, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit (Rome: Pontificiae Universitatis Gregorianae, 1967). 30. KTU 1.108.12. However, it is also possible to read this as “El, in the desert, hunts.” 31. See also “El-Berith” (“El of the Contract”) in Judges 9:46. However, the original version of the Greek translation has Baal, not El, here, as at 8:33 and 9:4. 32. Ernst Axel Knauf, “Esau,” Neues Bibel-Lexikon, vol. 4 (Zurich: Benziger, 1990), 587–588. 33. Zeev Meshel, Schmuel Ahituv, and Liora Freud, Kuntillet A ̒ jrud (Horvat Teman): An Iron Age II Religious Site on the Judah-Sinai Border (Jerusalem: Israel Explorations Society, 2012). 34. As is suggested by Klaus Koch, “Jahwäs Übersiedlung vom Wüstenberg nach Kanaan: Zur Herkunft von Israels Gottesverständnis,” in Der Gott Israels und die Götter des Orients: Religionsgeschichtliche Studien zum 80. Geburtstag von Klaus Koch, ed. Friedhelm Hartenstein and Martin Rösel, 171–209 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 194. 35. “Moses took half of the blood, which he put into basins; he sprinkled the other half on the altar . . . Moses took the blood and sprinkled the people with it, saying: ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which Yhwh has concluded with you upon these words’ ” (Exod. 24:8). 36. William Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites: The Fundamental Institutions, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: A.& C. Black, 1927), 314. 37. The verb used here for “love” is a hapax legomenon (ḥ-b-b); compare the Arabic word Habib (friend). It is also used in the Bible as a proper name “Hobab” for the father-in-law of Moses and as the name of the Kenite (Num. 10:29; Judg. 4:11). 38. The Masoretic text has the plural, the Septuagint the singular. 39. As we have seen, this is a poetic name for Israel.



5. the entr ance of y hwh into jerusalem 1. Josh. 18:1, 8–10; 19:51; 21:2; 22:9, 12. 2. As we shall see later, the book of Joshua was originally composed in the seventh century. There never was a conquest, because, as we have already noted, the entity “Israel” was composed originally of autochthonous populations who were then joined by fragments of the Shasu and Hapiru, bringing with them their god Yhwh. The book of Joshua, however, may reflect some military confl icts, which certainly did develop between “Israel” and various towns in Canaan. 3. Trent Butler, Joshua (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 249–250. 4. Israel Finkelstein, “Seilun, Khirbet,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1069–1072. 5. The same idea can be found in Ps. 78:58–61: “They roused him to anger with their high places; their idols incited his jealousy. He left his dwelling in Shiloh, the tent which he had set up among men. He gave over his power to captivity and his majesty into the hands of enemies. He abandoned his people to the sword, he was angry against his patrimony.” 6. Jürg Hutzli, Die Erzählung von Hanna et Samuel: Textkritische und literarische Analyse von 1 Samuel 1–2 unter Berücksichtigung des Kontextes (Zurich: TVZ, 2007), 213. 7. For a first orientation one may consult Israel Finkelstein and Neil A. Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (New York: Free Press, 2006). 8. According to George Athas, The Tel Dan Inscription: A Reappraisal and a New Interpretation (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), which presents all the documentation and the various interpretations in a very complete way, it is probably a victory of the son of Hazael, that is, of Bar Hadad. 9. Fragment A, line 8–9. 10. Together with Albert de Pury and Axel Knauf, I have myself insisted on the difficulties of this reading; we have proposed instead “Beth Dôd”; Dôd meaning “Uncle” or “Well-beloved.” This reading would follow the style adopted in the stele of Mesha for describing a person’s tutelary deity. See Ernst Axel Knauf, Albert de Pury, and Thomas Römer, “*Baytdawid ou *baytdwd? Une relecture de la nouvelle inscription de Tel Dan,” Biblische Notizen 72 (1994): 60–69. However, I do not wish to insist on this in the face of a general consensus against it. 11. According to G. Athas, The Tel Dan Inscription, the expression would refer to the city of Jerusalem. But the parallel with “house of Omri” speaks in favor of the traditional interpretation. 12. This is the name of the son of Saul (“Man of Baal”) according to the Greek version. The Masoretes changed the Hebrew text to make this pejorative: IshBoshet (“Man of Shame”).



13. In the Masoretic text “Ashurites.” The name is not clear. Is this intended to be a reference to the Assyrians? In that case it would be an anachronistic gloss. The editors did not understand this word and tried to emend it in various ways. Judges 1:32 mentions a clan of Asherites, who were perhaps the group referred to in the original text. 14. Diana V. Edelman, “The ‘Ashurites’ of Eshbaal’s State,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 117 (1985): 85–91; Ernst Axel Knauf, “Saul, David, and the Philistines: From Geography to History,” Biblische Notizen 109 (2001): 15–18. 15. The spectacular site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which has recently been excavated by Yosef Garfi nkel and was situated in an area where Philistine influence was very strong, might, as Israel Finkelstein has suggested, be part of a zone also under the influence of Saul’s kingdom. It might correspond to Saul’s place of encampment, the Valley of the Terebinths, mentioned in 1 Samuel 17 (see Israel Finkelstein, The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel, Ancient Near East Monographs [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013]). Th is hypothesis, however, has not found universal assent. For further discussion of the interpretation of the site at Qeifaya by Finkelstein, which shows that archaeology can have surprises in store for the historian and scholar of the Bible, see Yosef Garfi nkel et  al., “Khirbet Qeifaya 2009 (Notes and News),” Israel Exploration Journal 59 (2009): 214–222. 16. The language typical of the Deuteronomistic editors is absent from 1 Samuel 4–6. Perhaps it is an older tradition integrated into the Deuteronomistic history, or a more recent addition made after the Deuteronomistic redaction. 17. Dagon (Dagan) was a Levantine god connected with fertility and possibly also agriculture. In the Bible he appears as the god of the Philistines. If this has any historical basis whatever, the attribution would be a further indication of the rapid way in which the Philistines adopted autochthonous deities. 18. The end of this verse (“fift y thousand men”) is missing in many manuscripts. In others is it attached in a grammatically very awkward way to what comes before it. It is certainly a gloss that was originally in the margin of a scroll and was intended to emphasize the force of Yhwh’s attack. A later copyist put it into the main text, which had originally read only “seventy men.” 19. One can find pictures of this in Ernie Haerinck, Bronzes du Luristan: Énigmes de l’Iran ancient, IIIe-Ier Millénaire av. J.-C. (Paris, Paris Musées, 2008). 20. We will return to the question of a goddess associated with Yhwh later. 21. Knauf, “Saul, David, and the Philistines.” 22. It is at this time that one finds the first traces of a wall. There are some indications that the site was inhabited from about 3100. 23. According to the priestly sources, the ephod is a kind of corset worn by the priest over his clothing. It also has a function in divination: two bones, called ʾurim and tummim, are in some way contained within the corset and are



25. 26. 27. 28. 29.



32. 33.





used to determine the divine will. In other texts the ephod is a statue of a deity. Compare what is written in Exod. 28:42–43: (42) “Make for them (= Aaron and his sons) linen knickers to cover their nudity, reaching from the kidneys to the thighs. (43) Aaron and his sons shall wear these when they enter the tent of the Presence or when they approach the altar to officiate in the sanctuary; thus they shall avoid sin and shall not die.” Theodore W. Jennings, Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel (New York: Continuum, 2005), 83–86. 1 Chronicles 28, esp. verse 3. Thus, for instance, Jacques Cazeaux, Saul, David, Salomon: La Royauté et le destin d’Israël (Paris: Cerf, 2003). See especially Finkelstein and Silberman, David and Solomon. Gregory J. Wightman, “The Myth of Solomon,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 277/278 (1990): 5–22; Finkelstein and Silberman, David and Solomon, 153–159, 255–261. For a discussion of the debate, see Jan Christian Gertz, “Konstruierte Erinnerung: Alttestamentliche Historiographie im Spiegel von Archäologie und literarhistorische Kritik am Fallbeispiel des Salomonischen Königtums,” Berliner Theologische Zeitschrift 21 (2004): 3–29. Jacques Briend, “Un accord commercial entre Hiram de Tyr and Salomon: Étude de 1 R 5, 15–26,” in Études bibliques et Proche Orient ancien: Mélanges offerts au Rvd. Père Paul Feghali, ed. Ayoub Chehwan and Antoine Kassis (Beirut: Fédération biblique, 2002) 95–112. Finkelstein and Silbermann, David and Solomon, 173–174. Victor Hurowitz, I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple Building in the Bible in the Light of Mesopotamian and Northwestern Semitic Writings (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 313; for the details, see 130–310. Nadav Na’aman, “Sources and Composition in the History of Solomon,” in The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, ed. Lowell K. Handy (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 76–77; Finkelstein and Silberman, David and Solomon, 175–176. These lists might have existed in different forms, as is shown by the fact that, in contrast to the Masoretic text, the Septuagint preserves two nonidentical lists of the officials of Solomon, in the third book of Kingdoms, chapters 2:46 and 4:2–6. In the Greek Bibles the two books of Samuel and the two books of Kings are grouped together as four books of Kingdoms. Thus the Hebrew text of 1 Kings corresponds to the third book of Kingdoms in the Greek version. See Adrian Schenker, Septante et texte massorétique dans l’histoire la plus ancienne du texte de 1 Rois 2–14 (Paris: Gabalda, 2000), 34–35. Timo Veijola, “Solomon: Bathesheeba’s Firstborn,” in Reconsidering Israel and Judah: Recent Studies on the Deuteronomic History, ed. Gary N. Knoppers


37. 38. 39.

40. 41. 42.

43. 44.


46. 47. 48.



and J. Gordon McConville (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000 [1979]), 340– 358; Ernst Axel Knauf, “Le roi est mort, Vive le roi! A Biblical Argument for the Historicity of Solomon,” in Handy, The Age of Solomon, 81–95. Konrad Rupprecht, Der Tempel von Jerusalem: Gründung Salomons oder jebusitisches Erbe? (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1977). The most sacred part of the temple. This kernel was later reinterpreted by an editor in the priestly style. See Ernst Würthwein, Die Bücher der Könige 1–16 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977), 84–91. Following ibid., 84–85. The asterisk indicates that this is a reconstructed form of the text, whose existence is deduced. For what follows, see Schenker, Septante et texte massorétique; Othmar Keel, “Der Salomonische Tempelweihspruch: Beobachtungen zum religionsgeschichtlichen Kontext des Ersten Jerusalemer Tempels,” in Gottesstadt und Gottesgarten: Zur Geschichte und Theologie des Jerusalemer Tempels, ed. Othmar Keel and Erich Zenger (Freiburg: Herder, 2002), 9–22. Vorlage is used as a technical term to refer to the Hebrew text, which the Greek translators actually had before them and used. Its size is probably exaggerated to conform with that of the temple of the seventh century, at a time when Jerusalem had become an important city. The Hittite temple of Tell Tayinat in Anatolia (today in southeast Turkey) has a comparable size. According to 1 Kings 6, the main chamber measured 60 cubits, which means 30 m., and would have been enormous. Adrian Schenker, “Une nouvelle lumière sur l’architecture du Temple grâce à la Septante? La place de l’arche de l’alliance selon 1 Rois 6:16–17 et 3 Règnes 6:16–17,” Annali di Scienze Religiose 10 (2005): 139–154. See The Greek word kainótēs is attested only in the Septuagint, apart from this passage also in Ezek. 47:12, where it refers to the new moon. See also in Ezek. 43:8 the criticism of the kings who lived cheek-by-jowl next to Yhwh: “They put their thresholds next to my threshold, the jambs of their doors next to the jambs of mine, and there is no more than a wall between them and me; they have also made impure my sacred name by the abominations they have committed; this is why I have exterminated them in my wrath.” This oracle makes allusion to the fact that the royal palace was next to the temple. For an image, see Othmar Keel, Die Geschichte Jerusalems und die Entstehung des Monotheismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 278.



6 . t h e c u lt o f y h w h i n i s r a e l 1. At this date the Assyrians, who had annexed part of Israel ten years or so earlier, destroyed Samaria, deported some of the population, and integrated the rest of the former kingdom into the system of Assyrian provinces. 2. In Hebrew the word ̒ ôlām signifies a very long time, but this is not necessarily the same as the Greek notion of “eternity.” 3. We shall come to these inscriptions later. 4. Letters numbered 252–254. For a translation, see William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992). 5. Eran Arie, “Reconsidering the Iron Age II Strata at Tel Dan: Archeological and Historical Implications,” Tel Aviv 35 (2008): 6–64. 6. Ernst Axel Knauf, “Bethel,” in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., vol. 1 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), cols. 1375–1376. 7. Num. 23:22 and 24:8. The word used here is “El” not Yhwh. Because this is a rather late text, “El” may simply mean “God.” Perhaps the editors also wanted to avoid putting the tetragrammaton into the mouth of a pagan prophet. 8. Stefan Timm, Die Dynastie Omri: Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte Israels im 9. Jahrhundert vor Christus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1982), 32–33. 9. Detlef Jericke, Regionaler Kult und lokaler Kult: Studien zur Kult- und Religionsgeschichte Israels und Judas im 9. und 8. Jahrhundert v. Chr. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010), 90–91. 10. The discovery of this stele generated a whole series of false inscriptions called “Moabitica.” At the end of the nineteenth century, suspicion fell on the original stele itself, and a number of scholars, particularly German scholars, thought it was a forgery because it contains a certain number of turns of phrase that are very close to biblical expressions. 11. The translation follows that available at /westsem/mesha.html. 12. This means that Moabite territory was annexed to Israel. 13. In the cycle “Baal and death” he is mocked because he aspires to the throne of Baal, for which he is too small. He seems to have been a deity of the desert associated with drought. 14. For more details, see Ernst Axel Knauf, Ismael. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte Palästinas und Nordarabiens im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1985), 81–83. 15. As one can see from the description in the book of Ezekiel: “The hearth of the altar (hāʾăriʾēl) was 12 cubits long, 12 cubits wide and formed a square on all sides” (43:15–16). 16. Johannes Renz and Wolfgang Röllig, Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik I (Darmstadt: Wissenschaft liche Buchgesellschaft, 1995), 79–110.



17. KTU 1.3 II 40. 18. Ps. 68:5, which in its Masoretic version contains the expression rōḵēḇ bā ʿărāḇôt (“rider of the steppes”), reflecting perhaps the original title rkb b̒ rpt (bāʿărāpôt) or b̒ abt (be̒āḇôt) (“rider of the clouds”), which the psalmist will have changed deliberately or the later editors thought it necessary to censor. 19. The “sacred steppe,” which is also attested in Ugarit in the myth of Shahar and Shalimu (gods of the dawn and the dusk), has been transformed in the Masoretic text into “the desert of Qadesh.” 20. For a translation of this treaty, compare /saa02/corpus. 21. Dany Nocquet, Le Livret noir de Baal: La polémique contre le dieu Baal dans la Bible hébraïque et dans l’ancien Israël (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2004), 291– 292, 295. 22. Following James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East: Supplementary Texts and Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 662. 23. Judg. 2:13 and 10:6, also 1 Sam. 7:3–4. These texts, to be sure, use the plural forms for “baals” and “astartes,” so they are intended to designate all foreign gods, male and female. 24. See Nocquet, Le Livret noir de Baal. 25. It is often thought that this is a reference to the region from which he came, but no such place is known. “Tishbite” is probably a wordplay depending on toshab, a term designating a foreigner or a person who has no land of his own and is thus dependent on others. 26. Unfortunately we have little information about Phoenician mythology. 27. Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Les relations entre les cités de la côte phénicienne et les royaumes d’Israël et de Juda (Louvain: Peeters, 1992), 306–309. The fragments in question have been attributed to Menander (fourth century) but are actually much later. 28. The story is corrected in the following chapter (1 Kings 19), added later. In the later chapter Yhwh manifests himself not in fire or storm or earthquakes but in a soft rustling. 29. This is the same expression one finds on the stele of Mesha; it requires that, for the honor of Yhwh, anyone who shall have profaned him by participating in any other cult shall be put to death. 30. “Prophets of Baal” are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible except in 1 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 9. 31. This is perhaps a vessel with a narrow base coming together at the bottom in a point. 32. James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 281. 33. Herbert Niehr, Ba̒ alšamem: Studien zu Herkunft, Geschichte, und Rezeptionsgeschichte eines phönizischen Gottes (Louvain: Peeters, 2003).



34. O. Keel and C. Uehlinger, Dieux, déesses et figures divines (Paris: Cerf, 2001), seal no. 212b. 35. Benjamin Sass, “The Pre-Exilic Hebrew Seals: Iconism vs. Aniconism,” in Studies in the Iconography of North-West Semitic Inscribed Seals, ed. Benjamin Sass and C. Uehlinger (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993), 194–256, seal no. 141. 36. The Masoretic texts reads: “Your judgments: a light will shine out from them,” whereas the Greek version gives the original text: “My judgments are like light.” 37. For further details, see C. Uehlinger, “Anthropomorphic Cult Statues in Iron Age Palestine and the Search for Yahweh’s Cult Images,” in The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the Rise of the Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. Karel Van der Toon (Louvain: Peeters, 1997), 124–128. 38. The candidates are Samaria, Hamat, Qarqar. The relief of Sennacherib shows the sack of Ashkelon. 39. 1 Kings 12, Exod. 32, the book of Hosea. 40. Amihai Mazar, “The ‘Bull Site’—An Iron Age I Open Cult Place,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1982): 27–42. 41. The Masoretic text reads: hannaʿar hāyāh mĕšārēt ʾet-yhwh ʾet-pĕnê ʿēlî hakkōhēn. The reconstructed text would read: naʿar hāyāh mĕšārēt ʾet-pĕnê yhwh lipnê ʿēlî hakkōhēn. 42. Jürg Hutzli, Die Erzählung von Hanna und Samuel (Zurich: TVZ, 2007), 81. 43. In Ezek. 20:23 and 44:12 the same root appears to express cult activities associated with other deities. 44. Claus Westermann, “Šrt—dienen,” Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, vol. 2 (Munich: Kaiser, 1984), col. 1020. 45. This hypothesis can be supported by two further considerations. The first derives from textual criticism. The Septuagint suppresses the suffi x at the end of the verb and translates it in a very general way as “for performing ser vice,” which might reflect a desire to efface all traces of an allusion to a statue. Other texts in Deuteronomy that describe the function of the Levites have also been altered. Verses 18:5 and 7, and also 21:5, speak of ser vice “in the name” or “for the name” of Yhwh, so verse 10:8 seems to have escaped censorship.

7. t h e c u lt o f y h w h i n j u d a h 1. The text of 1 Sam. 9:19–25 mentions a meal at the bāmāh of Rama. 2. Ze’ev Herzog, “The Date of the Temple at Arad: Reassessment of the Stratigraphy and the Implications for the History of Religion in Judah,” in Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan, ed. Amihai Mazar (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 156–178. 3. On the stele of Mesha, only the tutelary god Chemosh and his parhedros are mentioned. 4. A god associated with the Sun.



5. The Greek version in 3 Kingdoms 8:53 mentions a “Book of songs,” which may perhaps refer to the same scroll. 6. Recall that in the “Elohist Psalter” the editors have replaced most mentions of Yhwh with “Elohim.” 7. The same idea can be found in the original version of Deut. 32:8. 8. This takes place in the epic called “Enuma Elish,” which tells the story of the creation of the world, which results from the victory of Marduk over the sea monster Tiamat. For a translation, see Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature (Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 2005), 472: “The Great Gods convened, they made Marduk’s destiny highest, they prostrated themselves . . . they granted him exercise of kingship over the gods, they established him forever for lordship of heaven and netherworld.” 9. Nahman Avigad and Benjamin Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1997), 1175. 10. Oded Lipschits and David Vanderhooft, The Yehud Stamp Impressions: A Corpus of Inscribed Impressions from the Persian and Hellenistic Periods in Judah (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011). 11. The root is not attested in Hebrew. 12. In one sense this is perfectly “normal,” given that according to the biblical narrative Jerusalem was not incorporated into Judah until the time of David. However, Genesis 14 does mention “Shalem,” and Joshua 10 describes a battle by Joshua against a king of Jerusalem. 13. 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2 (= 1 Chron. 13:16); 2 Kings 19:15 (= Isa. 37:16); Pss. 80:2 and 99:1. 14. In the story of the expulsion from the garden at Genesis 3, Yhwh places cherubim at the entrance of the garden to prevent humans from entering it again. 15. Manfred Görg, “ṣb’wt als Gottestitel,” Biblische Notizen 30 (1985): 15–18. 16. 1 Sam. 4:4 speaks of the “ark of the covenant of Yhwh ṣĕḇāʾôt.” 17. Flying snakes, well known in Egyptian iconography. 18. Psalms 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1. A number of others also describe Yhwh as a grand king seated in his celestial council. 19. Sigmund Mowinckel, Psalmstudien (Kristiania: J. Dybwad, 1922). 20. This psalm is part of the Elohist Psalter in which Yhwh is in most cases replaced by “Elohim” (god). 21. KTU 1.10 III 12–15. 22. “Baal and Yam,” KTU 1.2 IV 30–35. 23. It is better here to depart from the Masoretic text and read the singular in order to preserve the parallelism with verse 14 and because the word tannîn is often construed as a proper name. 24. Lev. 18:21, 20:2–5; 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35. 25. Otto Eisfeldt, Molk als Opferbegriff im Punischen und Hebräischen und das Ende des Gottes Moloch (Halle: Niemeyer, 1935).



26. This identification was based only on 1 Kings 11:7, but the apparent reference to Molek there is a scribal error. 27. Johan Lust, “Molek and Arkhôn,” in Studia Phoenici IX: Phoenicia and the Bible, ed. Edouard Lipiński (Louvain: Peeters, 1991), 198–208. 28. Tophet is a pejorative vocalization based on boshet (“shame”); the original form is Taphet. 29. The editors no doubt revised the phrase “There was a great anger toward Israel,” suppressing the name of the god who was angry, probably Chemosh. 30. “Your bones shall not descend to šĕ’ôl,” CIS II.145. See Nicholas J. Tromp, Primitive Conceptions of Death and the Netherworld in the Old Testament (Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1969), 21–23. 31. Thomas Römer, “Jugement et salut en Ésaïe 28,” Positions Luthériennes 43 (1995): 55–62. 32. The excavator Gabriel Barkay dates these amulets to the seventh century (“The Challenge of Ketef Hinnom: Using Advanced Technologies to Reclaim the Earliest Biblical Texts and Their Context,” Near East Archaeology [2003]: 162– 171), but this dating is not universally accepted: Angelika Berlejung (“Ein Programm fürs Leben: Theologisches Wort und anthropologischer Ort der Sílberamulette von Ketef Hinnom,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 120 [2008]: 204–230) proposes the fifth century; Nadav Na’aman (“A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom,” Israel Exploration Journal 61 [2011]: 184–195) argues in the same direction. The dating to the Hellenistic epoch by Ferdinand Dexinger (“Die Funde von Gehinnom,” Bibel und Liturgie 59 [1986]: 259–261) seems implausible.

8 . t h e s tat u e o f y h w h i n j u d a h 1. Thus Ronald S. Hendel, “Aniconism and Anthropomorphism in Ancient Israel,” in The Image and the Book in Iconic Cults: Aniconism and the Rise of the Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. Karel van der Toorn (Louvain: Peeters, 1997), 216–219; André Lemaire, The Birth of Monotheism: The Rise and Disappearance of Yahwism (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2007), 63–76. 2. See also Chapter 5, the drawing of a Syrian storm god enthroned on a bull. 3. Silvia Schroer, In Israel gab es Bilder: Nachrichten von darstellender Kunst im Alten Testament (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987), 101 n. 147. 4. Trygve N. D. Mettinger, No Graven Images? An Israelite Aniconism in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context (Stockholm: Alquist & Wiksell International, 1992); see also Mettinger, “Israelite Aniconism; Developments and Origins,” in Van der Toorn, The Image and the Book, 173–204.



5. The same event is recalled in Genesis 35:13. 6. Mettinger argues in this way in No Graven Images? 7. See Jean-Claude Margueron, Mari, métropole de l’Euphrate au troisième et au début du deuxième millénnaire av. J. C. (Paris: Picard, 2004), 56, plate 36. 8. For an image, see /cmc/exhibitions/cmc/petra /petrae .shtml. 9. Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27 (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 2280–2282. 10. This was also the case for other gods, as is attested in 2 Kings 3:2 and 10:7, which mention a masseba of Baal. 11. Benjamin Sass, “The Pre-exilic Hebrew Seals: Iconism and Aniconism,” in Studies in the Iconography of North-West Semitic Inscribed Seals, ed. Benjamin Sass and C. Uehlinger (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993), 232–234. 12. Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger, Dieux, déesses et figures divines (Paris: Cerf, 2001), § 178. 13. Diana Edelman, “Tracking Observance of the Aniconic Tradition through Numismatics,” in The Triumph of Elohim: From Yahwisms to Judaisms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 185–225, esp. 187–196. See also Ya’akov Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage, 2 vols. (Dix Hills, NY: Amphora Books, 1982), § 1.25. 14. Erhard Blum, “Der ‘Schiqquz Schonem’ und die Jehud-Drachme BMC Palestine S. 181, Nr. 29, Biblische Notizen (1997): 13–27, esp. 23–24. 15. Exod. 20 and Deut. 5. 16. The rare word tĕmûnāh, which occurs in apposition in Deuteronomy (5:8) but in conjunction in the version in Exodus (20:4), appears in the Pentateuch only in the late texts of Numbers 12:9 and Deuteronomy 4 (verses 2, 15, 16, 23, 25). Outside the Pentateuch it occurs only in Psalms 17:15 and Job 4:16. 17. See Felix Garcia Lopez, Le Décalogue (Paris: Cerf, 1992), 31–32; Christoph Uehlinger, “Exodus, Stierbild und biblisches Kultverbot: Religionsgeschichtliche Voraussetzungen eines biblisch- theologischen Spezifikums,” in Freiheit und Recht: Festschrift für Frank Crüsemann zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Rainer Kessler and Andreas Ruwe (Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser- Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2003), 42–77, esp. 69–71; H. Niehr, “Götterbilder und Bilderverbot,” in Der eine Gott und die Götter: Polytheismus und Monotheismus im antiken Israel, ed. Manfred Oeming and Konrad Schmid (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 2003), 227–247. 18. What follows this passage is a later addition, which, as in the Decalogues (second part of Exod. 20:4), is intended to transform the prohibition in verse 16a into a general interdiction of any representation: “(16a) the image of a man or woman (17) the image of any animal on earth or any bird which flies in the sky (18) the image of any animal who crawls on the earth, or of any fish who lives in the waters below the earth.” See Dietrich Knap, Deuteronomium 4: Literarische Analyse und theologische Interpretation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987), 36–37; Matthias Köckert, “Vom Kultbild Jahwes zum



20. 21.


23. 24. 25. 26.



29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.


Bilderverbot: Oder: Vom Nutzen der Religionsgeschichte für die Theologie,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche (2009): 371–406, 386. Note in passing that the commentary on Numbers 12:6–8 states that only Moses saw the tĕmûnāh (“form”) of Yhwh. This is intended to distinguish him from the prophets and indeed all other men. Euphemism for genitals. A certain number of the manuscripts give the original version with “Yhwh,” rather than “Adonay”; see Hans Wildberger, Jesaja 1–12 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1972), 231. See Othmar Keel, Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst: Eine neue Deutung der Majestätsschilderungen in Jes 6, Ez 1 und Sach  4 (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), 46–52. For a reproduction of this bas-relief, see http://fr.wikipedia .org /wiki /Ban %C3%BB-apla-iddina. For a comparable theophany, see Exod. 19:19 and 20:18. This Micaiah, son of Yimla, is not the same prophet as the one who gives his name to the book of Micah. Micaiah is a prophet of the north but the books of Kings were redacted by Judean scribes, and since Micaiah has a “true” word of Yhwh’s to pronounce, this should be legitimated by an “orthodox” vision and not by reference to cult practices from the north that the Deuteronomistic scribes considered to be illegitimate. The kernel of the book of Amos probably dates to the eighth century. This book contains some material that is older than that found in the prophetic books of the Babylonian and Persian periods. Françoise Smyth-Florentin, “L’espace d’un chandelier: Zacharie 1,8–6,15,” in Le livre de traverse: De l’exégèse biblique à l’anthropologie, ed. Olivier Abel and Françoise Smyth-Florentin (Paris: Cerf, 1992), 281–289. Herbert Niehr, “In Search of Yhwh’s Cult Statue in the First Temple,” in Van der Toorn, The Image and the Book, 90. See also verse 10, where the two lamps of the lampholder represent the eyes of Yhwh. Psalms 10:11, 13:2, 22:25, 27:9, 30:8, 31:21, 44:25, 69:18, 88:15, 102:3, 104:29, 143:7. Psalms 4:7, 31:17, 44:4, 67:2, 84:4, 84:8, 84:20, 89:16, 119:135. KTU 2:13 and 2:16. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalmen 51–100 (Freiburg: Herder, 2007), 67, commenting on Ps. 67:3. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Die Psalmen: Psalm 1–50 (Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1993), 198. Psalms 24:6, 27:8, 105:5. Friedrich Nötscher, “Das Angesicht Gottes schauen” nach biblischer und babylonischer Auffassung (Darmstadt: Wissenschaft liche Buchgesellschaft , 1969




40. 41. 42. 43.

44. 45. 46.



49. 50. 51.


[1924]). Oddly, Nötscher claims rather arbitrarily that there is no allusion to a statue in the Psalms because the presence of Yhwh is merely an invisible presence (89). Youri Volokhine, “Le visage dans la pensée et la religion de l’Égypte ancienne” (doctoral thesis, University of Geneva, Faculty of Letters, 1998, rev. version 2000), 536. For considerations that point in the same direction, see Hossfeld and Zenger, Die Psalmen,  267–268, and some of the Hebrew manuscripts. The Masoretes vocalized the verb “to see” so as to construe it as expressing a passive (“When shall I be seen by the face of God?”), which does not make much sense and which the Greek and Syriac versions have suppressed. These operations show that the allusion to a statue of the god was thought to be too clear in this passage. Psalms 16:11, 68:4, 95:2, 98:6. Exod. 25:30, 35:13, 39:36, 40:23; 1 Sam. 29:8; 1 Kings 7:48 (parallel in 2 Chron. 4:19); Jer. 52:33. Niehr, “In Search of Yhwh’s Cult Statue,” 88. Eiko Matsushima, “Divine Statues in Ancient Mesopotamia: Their Fashioning and Clothing and Interaction with the Society,” in Official Cult and Popular Religion in the Ancient Near East, ed. Eiko Matsushima (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1993), 209–219; Angelika Berlejung, Die Theologie der Bilder: Herstellung und Einweihung von Kultbildern in Mesopotamien und die alttestamentliche Bilderpolemik (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998). See also verse 4 and 11:22–24. The Greek version has a plural, but this is probably an attempt at harmonizing this passage with others. For one possible hypothesis about the growth of this chapter, see, for instance, Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann, Das Buch des Propheten Hesekiel (Ezekiel), Kapitel 1–19 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996), 149–156. Bob Becking, Between Fear and Freedom: Essays on the Interpretation of Jeremiah 30–31 (Leiden: Brill, 2004); and Becking “The Return of the Deity from Exile: Iconic or Aniconic,” in Essays in Ancient Israel in Its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman, ed. Yairah Amit et al. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 53–62. The Masoretic vocalization (the qĕrê) takes the verb to apply to Israel, which in this poem is compared to a woman. Although this is a comprehensible reading, it may still well be a correction intended to bring the text into line with later religious ideas. See also 45:2, 52:12, etc. Uehlinger, “Exodus, Stierbild und biblisches Kultverbot,” 70–71. The translation follows Berlejung, Die Theologie der Bilder, 141–145. Obviously Nabu-apal-iddin eventually does receive a revelation about the form of the statue of Shamash and is able to have it made.



52. In certain biblical texts the ark itself serves the function of a cult statue, e.g., in 1 Sam. 4. 53. Karel van der Toorn, “The Iconic Book: Analogies between the Babylonian Cult of Images and the Veneration of the Torah,” in The Image and the Book, 229– 248; Thomas Podella, “Bild und Text: Mediale und historische Perspektiven auf das alttestamentliche Bilderverbot,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 15 (2001): 205–256.

9. yhwh and his a sher ah 1. Sa-Moon Kang, Divine War in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1989), 77. See also the discussion of the stele of Mesha in Chapter 6 above. 2. Nicholas Wyatt, “Asherah,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., ed. K. van der Toorn et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 101. 3. KTU 1.4 vi: 44–46. 4. Inscription 3350 of the Répertoire d’épigraphie sémitique (RES) mentions a temple of Wadd (a moon god) and of Athirat; inscription 3689 mentions a couple “Amm and Athirat.” 5. Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz, Jahwe und seine Aschera: Anthropomorphes Kultbild in Mesopotamien, Ugarit und Israel: Das biblische Bilderverbot (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1992), 82–85. 6. Exod. 34:13; Deut. 7:5; 12:3. 7. Judg. 3:7 (plural), 6:25–30; 1 Kings 18:19 mentions in parallel with the 400 prophets of Baal, 400 prophets of Asherah; 2 Kings 21:3. 8. 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 17:10, 18:4, 23:14, and parallels in 2 Chron. 14:2 and 17:6. 9. Deut. 16:21; 1 Kings 15:13, 16:33; 2 Kings 13:6, 21:3, 7, and 23:6–7. 10. Israel Finkelstein and Eli Piasetzsky “The Date of Kuntillet Ajrud: The 14c Perspective,” Tel Aviv (2008): 135–185. The report on the excavations has just been published: Zeev Meshel and Liora Freud, eds., Kuntillet Ajrud (Ḥorvat Teman): An Iron Age II Religious Site on the Judah-Sinai Border (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2012). 11. “Temān,” which is used with an article, may perhaps signify the south in a general sense. 12. Mordechai Gilula, “To Yahweh Shomron and His Asherah,” Shnaton 3 (1979): 129–137 (in Hebrew), xv–xvi (in English); Brian Schmidt, “The Aniconic Tradition: On Reading Images and Viewing Texts,” in The Triumph of Elohim, ed. D. V. Edelman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 76–105. 13. Judith Hadley, “Yahweh and ‘His Asherah’: Archaeological and Textual Evidence for the Cult of the Goddess,” in Ein Gott allein? JHWH-Verehrung und biblischer Monotheismus im Kontext der israelitischen und altorientalischen


14. 15.

16. 17. 18.


20. 21. 22. 23.


25. 26.



Religionsgeschichte, ed. Walter Dietrich and Martin Klopfenstein (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 235–268. André Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Ashera?,” Biblical Archaeological Review (1984): 45–51. Worship of the goddess Asherah is also reflected in theophoric proper names containing “Asherahs” as a component that can be found on seals dating from the eighth and seventh centuries: ʾšrḥy (“Asherah is my life”); see N. Avigad and B. Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1997), 486. Aširtum in Akkadian; ʾšrt in Phoenician; šrt or ʾṭrt in Aramaic. For a critical evaluation of this etymology, see Sung Jin Park, “A Short Note on the Etymology of Asherah,” Ugarit Forschungen (2010): 527–534. C. Uehlinger, “Anthropomorphic Cult Statuary in Iron Age Palestine and the Search for Yahweh’s Cult Image,” in The Image and the Book, ed. K. van der Toorn (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 150–151. The provenance is uncertain because the object was purchased on the “grey market.” C. Uhelinger, “Eine anthropomorphe Kultstatue des Gottes von Dan?,” Biblische Notizen 72 (1994): 85–99. This article also canvasses the possibility that fragments of a statue found at Tel Dan might have belonged to the statue of a god, possibly Yhwh. This is a highly conjectural interpretation that depends in part on reading the phrase byt dwd in an inscription found on the same site as meaning “House of Dod” and not “House of David,” which is the reading preferred by the great majority of scholars. O. Keel and C. Uehlinger, Dieux, déesses et figures divines (Paris: Cerf, 2001), § 197. Judith Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). For a similar structure, see also 2 Kings 23:11. See also the criticism in Izak Cornelius, “In Search of the Goddess in Ancient Palestinian Iconography,” in Israel zwischen den Mächten: Festschrift für Stefan Timm zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Michael Pietzsch and Friedhelm Hartenstein (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2009), 77–98. Garth Gilmour, “An Iron Age  II Pictorial Inscription from Jerusalem Illustrating Yahweh and Asherah,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 141 (2009): 87–103. For an image see _Israel_ Mus .jpg. Raz Kletter, “Between Archaeology and Theology: The Pillar Figurines from Judah and the Asherah,” in Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan, ed. Amihai Mazar (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 179–216. In Hebrew with the article.



28. For a picture, see the website for the British Museum. The website presents the goddess as Ashtarte, but she should be identified with Asherah. 29. Israel Finkelstein and Benjamin Sass‚ “The West Semitic Alphabetical Inscriptions, Late Bronze II to Iron IIA: Archaeological Context, Distribution and Chronology,” Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel 2 (2013): 149–220, quotation on 153.

10. the fall of sa m aria and the rise of judah 1. William H. Shea, “Menahem and Tiglath-Pileser III,” JNES 37 (1978): 43–49. 2. Willem A. M. Beuken, Jesaja 1–12 (Freiburg: Herder, 2003), 199. The reference to sixty-five years poses a problem because the kingdom of the north was certainly defeated about ten years after the Syro-Ephramite war. The addition would have been made by a copyist who was revising the roll of Isaiah after the deportation of the foreign population of the former kingdom of the north under Assarhaddon (680–669) and Assurbanipal (668–627). 3. Ḥayim Tadmor, The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994), 68–69. 4. Ibid., 138–141. 5. The identity of this person has been vigorously discussed. There was no pharaoh of this name. Some have thought that this refers to a person named in Assyrian sources as Sib’e, an Egyptian general (see John Gray, I & II Kings: A Commentary, 3rd ed. [London: SCM Press, 1977], 583). The Hebrew name may also be an allusion to the Egyptian city of Sais or simply a transcription of the Egyptian word for king (nj-swt). 6. The Annals of Sargon II state that it is Sargon who took the city, but both the Hebrew Bible and the Babylonian chronicles state that the fall of Samaria was the doing of his predecessor, Salmanasar V. In view of the difficulties Sargon had in taking power, it seems plausible that he would have tried for ideological reasons to appropriate the credit for the fall of Samaria. 7. Prism of Nimrud, translation following William W. Hallo, ed., The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions, Monumental Inscriptions, and Archival Documents from the Biblical World, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 295–296. 8. See Morton Cogan, Imperialism and Religion: Assyria, Judah and Israel in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries b.c. (Missoula, MT: Society of Biblical Literature, 1974). 9. Following Hallo, The Context of Scripture, 2:293. 10. Sukkot-Benot has not been identified. Some have postulated a goddess Banitu (Morton Cogan, “Sukkoth-Benot,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed., ed. K. van der Toorn et al. [Leiden: Brill, 1999], 821–822), but it is also possible to understand the name, which means “huts of the girls,” as an allusion to prostitution. The list given here, then, would start with practices involving young girls and end with the sacrifice of sons by fire.



11. God of the underworld, also attested in the proper name of a high official at Babylon; see Jer. 39:3 and 13. 12. Ashima is a deity also attested among Arab tribes at Teima. The name, which itself means “The Name,” is a substitute for the proper name of the goddess (see Amos 8:14). Others see in Ashima a parody of Asherah. 13. Apparently an Elamite deity. 14. Deity who is otherwise unknown, perhaps Elamite, which would explain the association with Nibhaz. 15. The names of these two gods have the lexeme melek as a component. As the text states, they are gods to whom human sacrifices are made and thus similar to molek or Yhwh-melek (see Chapter 7). 16. Jean-Daniel Macchi, Les Samaritains: Histoire d’une légende; Israël et la province de Samarie (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1994), 56–71. 17. See the discussion of the identification of the place-names in Volkmar Fritz, Das erste Buch der Könige (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1996), 101. 18. Ran Zadok, “Geographical and Onomastical Notes,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 8 (1976): 117. 19. Ibid., 115. 20. The sanctuary of Bethel was already associated with lions in 1 Kings 13, and the lion is also the animal who symbolizes the tribe of Judah. 21. Translation following 22. For further details, see Wolfgang Röllig, “Bethel,” in van der Toorn et al., Dictionary of Deities and Demons, 173–175. 23. A letter found at Hermopolis mentions the temple of Bethel and the temple of the Queen of Heaven; at Elephantine one finds the trinity Yaho, Ashim-Bethel, and Ana-Bethel. 24. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman‚ The Bible Unearthed (New York: Free Press, 2001), 243. 25. This is also supported by the finds of a significant number of fish bones in Jerusalem, which show that there was considerable commerce toward the end of the ninth or the beginning of the eighth century. For more details, see Ronny Reich, Excavating the City of David: The Place Where the History of Jerusalem Started (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2011). 26. Magen Broshi, “The Expansion of Jerusalem in the Reigns of Hezekiah and Manasse,” Israel Exploration Journal 24 (1974): 21–26. 27. Baruch Halpern, “Jerusalem and the Lineages in the Seventh Century b.c.e.: Kinship and the Rise of Individual Moral Liability,” in Law and Ideology in Monarchic Israel, ed. Baruch Halpern and Deborah W. Hobson (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 11–107, 25–26. 28. Larry G. Herr, “Archaeological Sources for the History of Palestine: The Iron Age II Period; Emerging Nations,” Biblical Archaeologist 60 (1997): 114–151, 154– 183, esp. 155–157.



29. Wolfgang Zwickel, “Wirtschaft liche Grundlagen in Zentraljuda gegen Ende des 8. Jahrhunderts aus archäologischer Sicht: Mit einem Ausblick auf die wirtschaft liche Situation im 7. Jahrhundert,” Ugarit Forschungen 26 (1994): 564–586. 30. 2 Kings 10:15 and 23. 31. 2 Kings 18:19 states that Samaria fell in the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign, which would put the beginning of his reign in 728. However, 2 Kings 18:13 states that the siege of Jerusalem took place in the thirteenth year of Hezekiah, which would indicate that he ascended the throne in 715/714. It is hard to decide. 32. 2 Kings 20:20; Isa. 22:9; 2 Chron. 32:3–4.30. 33. For translation, see tion. 34. David Ushishkin, “The Date of the Judean Shrine at Arad,” Israel Exploration Journal (1988): 141–157. 35. Ernst Axel Knauf, “The Glorious Days of Manasseh,” in Good Kings and Bad Kings: The Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century b.c.e., ed. Lester L. Grabbe (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 164–188. 36. Johannes Renz and Wolfgang Röllig, Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik, vol. 1  (Darmstadt: Wissenschaft liche Buchgesellschaft, 1995), 190. 37. According to Philip R. Davies and John W. Rogerson, “Was the Siloam Tunnel Built by Hezekiah?,” Biblical Archaeologist 59 (1996): 138–149, the inscription is no earlier than the Hasmonean period, a view that has not recommended itself to a majority of scholars. For arguments against this thesis, see Stig Norin, “The Age of the Siloam Inscription and Hezekiah’s Tunnel,” Vetus Testamentum 48 (1998): 37–48. 38. J. Briend and M. J. Seux, Textes du Proche- Orient ancien et histoire d’Israël (Paris: Cerf, 1977), 117. 39. “He attacked the Philistines all the way up to Gaza and devastated their territory, both their simple watch-towers and their fortified cities” (2 Kings 18:8). 40. David Ussishkin, The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib (Tel-Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, 1982). 41. For translation, see W. Mayer, “Sennacherib’s Campaign of 701 bce: The Assyrian View,” in “Like a Bird in a Cage”: The Invasion of Sennacherib in 701 bce (JSOT S 363), ed. Lester L. Grabbe (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 196; or James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 288. 42. 2 Kings 20: “(35) That night it happened that the angel of Yhwh went out and struck down 180,000 men in the camp of the Assyrians. The next morning when they arose there was nothing but cadavers and dead men. (36) Sennacherib, king of Assyria broke camp; he returned to Nineveh where he remained.” 43. Some think that nothing was left of Judah apart from Jerusalem and its hinterland; see, for instance, Gösta Ahlström, The History of Ancient Palestine





47. 48.




52. 53.


from the Paleolithic Period to Alexander’s Conquest (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1993), 717–730 and map 21. Ernst Axel Knauf, “Who Destroyed Beersheba II?,” in Kein Land für sich allein: Studien zum Kulturkontakt in Kanaan, Israel, Palästina und Ebirnâri für Manfred Wieppert zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Ulrich Hübner and Ernst Axel Knauf (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002), 188. Ludwig Massmann, “Sanheribs Politik in Juda: Beobachtungen und Erwägungen zum Ausgang der Konfrontation Hiskias mit den Assyrern,” in Hübner and Knauf, Kein Land für sich allein, 169–172. Yairah Amit, “When Did Jerusalem Become a Subject of Polemic?,” in Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period, ed. Andrew  G. Vaughan and Ann E. Killebrew (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 365–374. Jutta Hausmann, Israels Rest: Studien zum Selbstverständnis der nachexilischen Gemeinde (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1987). Num. 21:4–6, which is probably a very much later source, gives an etiology of this serpent. Moses is said to have fashioned it in the desert to save the Israelites from the attacks of serpents that Yhwh sent against them because they were disobedient. For discussion of the importance of representations of serpents influenced by Egyptian models in Judah during the eighth century, see Othmar Keel, Die Geschichte Jerusalems und die Entstehung des Monotheismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 422–429. Kristin A. Swanson, “A Reassessment of Hezekiah’s Reforms in Light of Jar Handles and Iconographic Evidence,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 64 (2002): 460–469. Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, “The Judahite Shephelah in the Late 8th and Early 7th centuries b.c.e.,” Tel Aviv 31 (2004): 60–79; Alexander Fantalkin, “The Final Destruction of Beth Shemesh and the Pax Assyriaca in the Judahite Shepelah: An Alternative View,” Tel Aviv 31 (2004): 245–261. Verses 10–15 are certainly an editorial interpolation intended to make Manasseh the principal, if not the unique, king responsible for the fall of Judah. For a seal from this period perhaps representing Yhwh under a lunar aspect, see B. Sass, “The Pre-exilic Hebrew Seals: Iconism vs. Aniconism,” in Studies in the Iconography of North-West Semitic Inscribed Seals, ed. Benjamin Sass and C. Uehlinger (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993), 232–234.

11. the reforms of josiah 1. Deut. 17:1–3 and 2 Kings 23:4–5; Deut. 12:2–3 and 2 Kings 23:6 and 14; Deut. 23:18 and 2 Kings 23:7; Deut. 18:10–11 and 2 Kings 23:24.



2. See Bernd Jörg Diehner and Claudia Nauerth, “Die Inventio des sepher hattorah in 2 Kön 22: Struktur, Intention und Funktion von Auffindungslegenden,” Dielheimer Blätter zum Alten Testament 18 (1984): 95–118. 3. The text can be found in Pritchard, The Ancient Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 394–396. 4. Katherine Stott, “Finding the Lost Book of the Law: Re-reading the Story of ‘The Book of the Law’ (Deuteronomy–2 Kings) in Light of Classical Literature,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 30 (2005): 153–169. 5. In a chapter that is extremely difficult to translate and that exists in a long and an abbreviated version. The rubric of the papyrus of Nu contains the following story: “This formula was found at Hermopolis . . . under the feet of that god (= Thoth) at the time of the majesty of that king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Mycerinus triumphant, by prince Dejdefhora triumphant who found it when he went to inspect the temple . . . He took it as a wondrous thing to the king when he saw that it was something very secret which had not been seen or known about. Let he who reads this formula be pure and without blemish.” This translation follows Paul Barguet, Le Livre des Morts des Anciens Égyptiens (Paris: Cerf, 1967), 104–105. 6. Nadav Na’aman, in “The ‘Discovered Book’ and the Legitimation of Josiah’s Reforms,” Journal of Biblical Literature 130 (2011): 47–62, claims that the discovery of the roll was an essential element in allowing the reforms to proceed, but the parallel narrative to 2 Kings 22–23 in 2 Chron. 34 recounts first the reforms of Josiah and only then the discovery of the book. 7. “(3) In the 18th year of his reign, king Josiah sent the secretary Shaphan, son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam to the house of Yhwh saying: ‘(4) Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, so that he might collect all the silver brought to the house of Yhwh and which the guardians of the threshold have received from the people. (5) Let them put this silver into the hands of the supervisors, those responsible for the works at the house of Yhwh, so that they may pay those who work in the house of Yhwh to repair damages to it: (6) the carpenters, builders, masons to buy beams and dressed stones to repair the house. (7) And let them not demand an accounting of the silver put into their hands because they are acting on conscience.’ (8) The high priest Hilkiah said to the secretary Shaphan: ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of Yhwh.’ Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan who read it. (9) The secretary Shaphan came to fi nd the king and gave an account in these terms: ‘Your servants have spent the silver found in the house and have put it into the hands of the  supervisors of work, those responsible for the house of Yhwh.’ ” It is easier to follow this passage without verse 8 (in italics above), which is an interpolation. 8. Which is to be found in verses 8, 10–11, 13*, 16–18, 19*, and 20* of chapter 22 and in verses 1–3 of chapter 23.



9. The first part of the inscription (until “crumbled”) follows Richard Ellis, Foundation Deposits in Ancient Mesopotamia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 181. The second part is adapted from the German translation of  H. Schaudig, Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros’ des Grossen, samt den in ihrem Umfeld entstandenen Tendenzschriften: Textausgabe und Grammatik, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 256 (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2001), 392. 10. See especially Hans-Detlef Hoff mann, Reform und Reformen: Untersuchungen zu einem Grundthema der deuteronomistischen Geschichtsschreibung (Zu rich: Theologischer Verlag, 1980), 169–270. The process of initiating the works, the mention of the workers and their honesty, is in parallel in the two passages. See, for example, 2 Kings 12:16: “No account was required of the men to whom the money was given so that they could hand it on to those who actually did the work, because they acted with probity”; and 2 Kings 22:7: “Do not demand of them an account of the money put into their hands because they act in good conscience.” 11. Victor A. Horwitz, I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple Building in the Bible in the Light of Mesopotamian and Northwest Semitic Writings (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). 12. For the distinction between primary and secondary witnesses, see Ernst Axel Knauf, “From History to Interpretation,” in The Fabric of History: Text Artifact, and Israel’s Past, ed. Diana V. Edelmann (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 26–64. 13. Yohanan Aharoni and Ruth Amiram, “Arad: A Biblical City in Southern Palestine” Archaeology 17 (1964): 43–53. 14. David Ussishkin, “The Date of the Judean Shrine at Arad,” Israel Exploration Society 38 (1988): 142–157. 15. Zeev Herzog, “The Date of the Temple at Arad: Reassessment of the Stratigraphy and the Implications for the History of Religion in Judah,” in Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan, ed. Amitai Mazar (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 151–178. 16. Christoph Uehlinger, “Was There a Cult Reform under King Josiah? The Case for a Well- Grounded Minimum,” in Good Kings and Bad Kings, ed. Lester L. Grabbe (London: Clark International, 2005), 279–316. 17. One must note, however, the existence of the goddess Anat associated with Yhwh in the Elephantine community during the Persian period. 18. André Lemaire, “Prières en temps de crise: Les inscriptions de Khirbet Beit Lei,” Revue Biblique 83 (1976): 558–568. 19. Rolf Stucky, The Engraved Tridacna Shells (Sao Paulo: Museu de Arqueologia et Etnologia, Universidade de Sao Paolo, 1976), no. 21. 20. The text of Isa. 38:3 also mentions a staircase of Ahaz, which may be the same construction.



21. The book of Jeremiah was written down about half a century after the reforms of Josiah. The text of the book of Zephaniah is also much later than the end of the sixth century. Zephaniah 1:5 denounces all kinds of cults: “Those who bow down on the terraced roofs before the army of the heavens, those who prostrate themselves while binding themselves by an oath to Yhwh while also taking an oath by Milkom.” 22. The Masoretic text has bātîm here, “houses,” which makes no sense. One should take this term in a more abstract sense to mean “covers,” or one must postulate an incorrect and tendentious vocalization of a word meaning “clothing” (compare the Arabic word battun). 23. Some scholars have questioned the existence of prostitution in the temple; for instance, Christine Stark, “Kultprostitution” im Alten Testament? Die Qedeschen der hebräischen Bibel und das Motiv der Hurerei (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006). Stark admits, however, that the qĕdēšîm were an integral part of the religious staff for the service of Asherah, which makes it likely that they can be identified with the assinu (transvestites?) in the service of Ishtar. 24. In Hebrew the term “prostitute” is here in the collective singular. 25. This passage from Deut. 23:18–19 was redacted by someone in the circle of those who were at the origin of Josiah’s reforms. 26. Karel van der Toorn, “Cultic Prostitution,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. D. N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5:510–513. 27. Hermann Spieckermann, Judah unter Assur in der Sargonidenzeit (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1982), 221. 28. Nadav Na’aman, “The King Leading Cult Reforms in His Kingdom: Josiah and Other Kings in the Ancient Near East,” Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte 12 (2006): 131–168. 29. According to 2 Kings 22:1, Josiah began his reign at the age of eight. If this is historically accurate, his counselors, among whom must we must place the family of Shaphan and the priest Hilkiah, will have governed in his place. 30. See  Gösta  W. Ahlström et  al., The History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander’s Conquest (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1993), 778. 31. Ephraim Stern suggests that the fact that Josiah was killed at Megiddo by a king of Egypt might signify that Josiah had effectively governed this region for a brief time (Stern, Archeology of the Land of the Bible, vol. 2: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods, 732–332 bce [New York: Doubleday, 2001], 68). However, it makes more sense to suppose that Megiddo was under Egyptian control. See Ahlström, History of Ancient Palestine, 765. 32. For a translation of this loyalty oath, see S. Parpola and K. Watanabe, NeoAssyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths (SAA II) (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1988), 28–58.



33. Very recently a copy of this treaty was found at Tall Tayinat in southern Turkey, which shows that it was recopied and deposited in the temples of the vassal states, so it is easy to imagine that a copy of it would have been available at Jerusalem and that Manasseh had committed himself to respect it. See Jacob Lauinger, “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty at Tell Tayinat: Text and Commentary,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 64 (2012): 87–123; also Hans U. Steymans, “Deuteronomy 28 and Tell Tayinat,” Verbum et Ecclesia 34 (2013), http://www 34. For details, see Hans U. Steymans, Deuteronomium 28 und die adê zur Thronfolgeregelung Asarhaddons: Segen und Fluch in Alten Orient und in Israel (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995). 35. This text is nowadays a part of the liturgical prayers of Judaism. 36. See Martin Keller, Untersuchungen zur deuteronomisch-deuteronomistischen Namenstheologie (Wertheim: Beltz Athenäum, 1996), 25–44; Bernard  M. Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 21–28. 37. The Masoretic vocalization of l-š-k-n-w poses problems. In putting the main caesura after šām (“there”), the Masoretes took š-k-n as object of the following verb. In the original text, however, l-š-k-n-w would have been intended as an infinitive expressing intensifying purpose to carry out all that was enjoined in the formula of centralization. See Keller, Untersuchungen, 15–17. 38. See Andrew D. H. Mayes, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans/ Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1981), 227. 39. This term is to be understood in opposition to “slaughtering in the context of a religious cult.” “Noncultic” slaughtering takes place outside the central sanctuary and is thus not an integral part of the cult, although of course it too will be accompanied by various rituals. 40. Norbert Lohfink, “Fortschreibung? Zur Technik von Rechtsrevisionen im deuteronomischen Bereich, erörtert an Deuteronomium 12, Ex 21,2–11 und Dtr 15,12–18,” in Das Deuteronomium und seine Deutungen, ed. Timo Veijola (Helsinki: Finnische Exegetische Gesellschaft ; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996), 139–142. 41. K. Lawson Younger Jr., Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1990). 42. Richard D. Nelson, “Josiah in the Book of Joshua,” Journal of Biblical Literature 1004 (1981): 531–540. 43. Amos Funkenstein, “History, Counter-History and Memory,” in Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution,” ed. Saul Friedlander (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 66–81. 44. T. Römer, Moïse: Lui que Yahvé a connu face à face (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), 27–31.



1 2 . f r o m o n e g o d t o t h e o n ly g o d 1. Just as the pharaoh had done for Jehoiakim, the king of Babylon also changed the name of the king of Judah, probably in order to illustrate his power. 2. Oded Lipschits, “Demographic Changes in Judah between the Seventh and the Fift h Centuries b.c.e.,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Periods, ed. Oded Lipschits and Joseph Blenkinsopp (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 323–376. 3. For instance, 2 Kings 25:21: “It is thus that Judah was deported far from its lands.” On the myth of the empty land, see Hans Barstad, The Myth of the Empty Land: A Study in the History and Archaeology of Judah during the “Exilic” Period (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1996). 4. Diana Edelman, “Did Saulite-Davidic Rivalry Resurface in Early Persian Yehud?,” in The Land That I Will Show You: Essays on the History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honour of J. Maxwell Miller, ed. J. Andrew Dearman and M. Patrick Graham (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 69–91. 5. Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities xv:1.2. 6. This collection comes from the “grey market,” the open market of buyers and sellers of “antiquities.” 7. Francis Joannes and André Lemaire, “Trois tablettes cunéiformes d’onomastique ouest-sémitique (collection Sh. Moussaïeff ) (Pls I-II),” Transeuphratène 17 (1999): 17–27, 33. 8. Term used for the Babylonian exiles settled in the country to which they were deported. 9. The book of Jeremiah contains some evidence that the poor might actually have benefited from a redistribution of the land of the exiles by the Babylonians. 10. The text of 2 Kings 24:14 and 16 does not explicitly mention priests among the deported. According to 2 Kings 25:18–20, two important priests are said to have been killed after the destruction of Jerusalem. It is possible that some members of the priestly class stayed in Judah and that a kind of sacrificial cult was permitted to continue there, as is suggested by Jer. 42:5. 11. Armin Steil, Krisensemantik: Wissenssoziologische Untersuchungen zu einem Topos moderner Zeiterfahrung (Opladen: Leske & Buderich, 1993). 12. This chronological scheme, to be sure, is deceptive, because although the fall of the neo-Babylonian empire in principle provided the opportunity for exiled populations to return, many Judeans remained in Babylon or Egypt, two places that became intellectual centers of Judaism. 13. For more detail, see Thomas Römer, The So-Called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological, Historical and Literary Introduction (London: T & T Clark; New York: Continuum, 2005).



14. The Hebrew word bĕrît, which is usually translated “covenant,” actually covers the same semantic field as the Assyrian adê, which means treaty or loyalty oath. 15. See the introduction to book 1. 16. Even if it is true, as Richard Evans claims, that Ranke’s famous formula “wie es eigentlich gewesen” ought rather to be translated “how things essentially were” (Evans, In Defence of History [London: Granta, 1997], 17). 17. This was clearly shown by Rolf Rendtorff, “Die Erwählung Israels als Thema der deuteronomischen Theologie,” in Die Botschaft und die Boten: Festschrift für Hans Walter Wolff zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Jörg Jeremias and Lothar Perlitt (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1981), 75–86. 18. Deut. 10:16 puts great emphasis, as 30:6 does, on the motif of the “circumcision of the heart.” Th is might be connected with a polemic against priestly attempts to transform the ritual of circumcision into a distinctive sign of Judaism at this period when Judaism was only in its initial stages of development. 19. Odil H. Steck, Gottesknecht und Zion: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Deuterojesaja (Tübingen: Mohr, 1992). 20. A English translation is available at /explore /highlights/articles/c/cyrus _cylinder_-_translation.aspx. 21. “El” here has probably the general sense of “God.” 22. Jean-David Macchi, “ ‘Ne rassassez plus les choses d’autrefois’: Ésaïe 43, 16–21, un surprenant regard deutéro-ésaïen sur le passé,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 121 (2009): 225–241. 23. The victory of Yhwh over the Babylonians is described using the same images as those applied to his victory over the pharaoh and his army in the book of Exodus. 24. On this topic, see Diana  V. Edelman, “Proving Yahweh Killed His Wife (Zech. 5:5–11),” Biblical Interpretation 11 (2003): 335–344. 25. The very word riš̒āh may be understood as a pun on the name of the goddess Asherah (ʾăšērāh). 26. The deportation of the goddess to Babylon makes sense in light of the view that the great goddess (Ishtar) was originally from Mesopotamia. According to Zechariah she should return there. 27. The exact meaning of the verb utilized is “put down in labor,” which is used here as a masculine participle. 28. See Marie-Theres Wackert, Figurationen des Weiblichen im Hosea-Buch (Freiburg: Herder, 1996). 29. Martti Nissinen, Prophetie, Redaktion und Fortschreibung im Hosea-Buch: Studien zum Werdegang eines Prophetenbuches im Lichte von Hos 4 und 11 (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker; Neuenkirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991), 268–276. 30. Julius Wellhausen, Die kleinen Propheten: Skizzen und Vorarbeiten, 3rd ed., vol. 5 (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1963 [1889]), 134.



31. Some of the shifts one find in this passage are that much easier to make because the author of Genesis 1 uses the term ʾělōhîm, which can be read as either singular or plural. 32. A comparable phenomenon can be found in Egypt, where ma’at, originally a concept expressing the just order of the world, is transformed into a young goddess with a feather in her hair, symbol of ma’at. 33. Later in Judaism there is a similar evolution with regard to the idea of shekina, which first signifies the divine presence among men, but then also takes the form of a hypostasis. 34. In the framing chapters 1–2 and 42, the sufferings of Job are said to result from a wager between Yhwh and the Adversary (“satan”), an agent provocateur of the celestial court. We shall return to this. 35. Martin Leuenberger, “Ich bin Jhwh und keiner sonst”: Der exklusive Monotheismus des Kyros-Orakels Jes 45, 1–7 (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2010). 36. This refers to the Persian king Cyrus. 37. Th is expression, often translated as “peace,” signifies the just order where everything is in its place, a state without perturbation. 38. Only Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) two centuries later will go in the same direction by giving the following advice to its readers: “On the good day, be happy, on the bad (rā̒ āh) day consider this: the one is also the other, God has made them, so that man cannot discover what shall come after him” (7:14). 39. Christophe Nihan, From Priestly Torah to Pentateuch: A Study in the Composition of the Book of Leviticus (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 340–378. 40. The theory behind this idea can be found in the priestly version of the revelation of Yhwh to Moses in Exodus 6: “(2) God spoke to Moses. He said to him: ‘It is me, Yhwh. (3) I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shadday, but did not make myself known to them under my real name ‘Yhwh.’ ” This text refers back to chapter  17 of Genesis, which also belongs to the priestly narrative and where Yhwh presents himself to Abraham as “El Shadday.” Before this revelation to Abraham the priestly editors used the word ʾělōhîm to refer to God. 41. Albert de Pury, “Gottesname, Gottesbezeichnung und Gottesbegriff: ʾělōhîm als Indiz zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Pentateuchs,” in Abschied vom Jahwisten: Die Komposition des Hexateuchs in der jüngsten Diskussion, ed. Jan Christian Gertz, Konrad Schmid, and Markus Witte (New York: De Gruyter, 2002), 25–47. 42. Ernst Axel Knauf, “El Šaddai: Der Gott Abrahams?,” Biblische Zeitschrift 29 (1985): 87–105. 43. This proximity is also illustrated in Genesis 17 in the priestly narrative of the institution of circumcision, which is presented as a sign of the covenant between Yhwh and Abraham. However, not only Isaac, but also Ishmael, is



45. 46.


48. 49. 50.


52. 53.


circumcised, which shows that the priestly authors knew that this practice was common among Arab tribes. The fact that Ishmael is circumcised at the age of thirteen, whereas Isaac is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, shows the evolution in Judaism of a rite of passage at puberty into a ritual marking the entry of the newborn boy into a community. For a first orientation, see Muhammad A. Dandamaev and Vladimir Lukonin, The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); J. Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia: From 550 BC to 650 AD (London: Tauris, 1996). Lester Grabbe, Ezra-Nehemiah (London: Routledge, 1998), 160. See Herbert Niehr, “Religio-Historical Aspects of the ‘Early Post-Exilic’ Period,” in The Crisis of Israelite Religion: Transformations of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times, ed. Bob Becking and Marjo C. A. Korpel (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 243. The historical existence of Erza poses a number of problems; that of Nehemias seems more plausible. For details, see Albert de Pury and Thomas Römer, “Terres d’exil et terres d’accueil: Quelques réflexions sur le judaïsme postexilique face à la Perse et à l’Égypte,” Transeuphratène 9 (1995): 29–30. The relief and inscriptions of Behistun, which describe the conquests of Darius, show this very clearly. In the narrative given here in the book of Job, “satan” is not (yet) a proper name, but designates a function. It is obvious that the verses containing the interview of God and satan were added after the fact to the original narrative in which Yhwh is directly responsible for the calamities inflicted on Job. It is perfectly possible to read the first chapter of Job without the scenes in the celestial court and have the sense that nothing is missing. This impression is confirmed when one notices that the pronoun suffi xes in verse 13 (“his sons and daughters”) cannot refer to the immediately preceding verse (“Satan withdrew from the presence of Yhwh”). Rather these pronouns make sense only if one connects them with verse 4 (“this Job always did”). In addition, the epilogue of chapter 42 does not contain any reference to the wager between Yhwh and satan, but is rather devoted to a reckoning of accounts between Yhwh and Job’s friends. The retrospective integration of satan into the story of Job can be understood as an attempt to extract evil out of the divine nature and “personify” it. The books of Chronicles are of later origin than the books of Samuel and were probably composed at the end of the Persian era or the beginning of the Hellenistic age. Colette Briffard, “2 Samuel 24: Un parcours royal; Du pire au meilleur,” Études théologiques et religieuses 77 (2002): 95–104. An instance of this would be the dualism asserted by the Qumran community, which expected an eschatological struggle between the opposing “sons




56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62.

63. 64.

65. 66. 67. 68. 69.


of light” and “sons of darkness,” and “popular” religion at the time of Christ had a very complex demonology. Frantz Grenet, “Y a-t-il une composante iranienne dans l’apocalyptique judéochrétienne? Retour sur un vieux problème,” Studia Archaeus 11–12 (2007– 2008): 15–36. Jacques Briend, “Malachie 1,11 et l’universalisme,” in Ce Dieu qui vient: Mélanges offerts à Bernard Renaud, ed. Raymond Kuntzmann (Paris: Cerf, 1995), 191–204. A. E. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 148, doc. 44. P. Grelot, Documents araméens d’Egypte (LAPO) (Paris: Cerf, 1972), doc. 10. Seventh month of the Egyptian calendar, corresponding to the Babylonian Tishri. Sum calculated in Persian monetary units with a value of 10 sicles. A “sicle” was the equivalent of a Greek drachma. Grelot, Documents araméens d’Égypte, p. 383, doc. 89. Th is papyrus is in Berlin. See /cojswikiwp/the _ elephantine _temple-_407_bce/. Lester Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period. 1: Yehud: A History of the Persian Province of Judah (London: T & T Clark, 2004), 318–319. Pierre Gibert, “Le monothéisme est très difficile à penser,” Le Monde de la Bible 124 (2000): 50–51. See Gregor Ahn, “ ‘Monotheismus’–‘Polytheismus’: Grenzen und Möglichkeiten einer Klassifikation von Gottesvorstellungen,” in MesopotamiaUgaritica-Biblica: Festschrift Kurt Bergerhof, ed. Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993), 5–6. For more details and a bibliography, see Fritz Stolz, Einführung in den biblischen Monotheismus (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1996), 4–22. Samuel Terrien, Job, 2nd ed. (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2005), 60–62. Some have tried to find traces of this hymn in Psalm 104, but the parallels cited are rather insubstantial. Jan Assmann, The Price of Monotheism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010). For the fragments of Manetho, see Gerald Verbrugge and John Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000). See also Jan Assmann, “Exodus und Amarna: Der Mythos der ‘Aussätzigen’ als verdrängte Erinnerung der Aton-Religion,” in Ägypten-Bilder: Akten des Symposiums zur Ägypten-Rezeption Augst bei Basel, vom 9.–11  September 1993, ed. Elisabeth Staehelin and Bertrand Jaeger (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 11–34.



70. Sigmund Freud et al., The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Moses and Monotheism, an Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works (London: Hogarth Press, 1975). 71. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. 72. Jacques Briend, “L’edit de Cyrus et sa valeur historique,” Transeuphratène 11 (1996): 33–44. 73. It has often been claimed that at the start of the Persian era Yehud was not autonomous, but was part of a larger province of which Samaria was the capital, and that Yehud separated from Samaria only under Nehemiah. This view is not tenable. There are several indications of the existence of an independent province of Yehud from the neo-Babylonian era. 74. Both the biblical account and the consensus of traditional specialist opinion agree that the temple was rebuilt in 520–515. Diana Edelman, however, has maintained that it would be more reasonable to date the reconstruction to the period during which Nehemiah was active—that is, in the fift h century. This does seem a reasonable assumption in light of the important changes introduced into the province of Yehud by the Achaemenid king Artaxerxes  I (465–424). See Diana Edelman, The Origins of the “Second” Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem (London: Equinox, 2005). 75. See chapter 2 of Haggai; compare also the importance of Zorobabel in the visions described in the book of Zechariah. 76. André Lemaire, “Administration in Fourth- Century bce Judah in Light of Epigraphy and Numismatics,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century  B.C.E., ed. Oded Lipschits, Gary  N. Knoppers, and Rainer Albertz (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 53–74. 77. It is difficult to form an exact idea of the population as long as one does not know how far Persian Yehud extended. Charles E. Carter, in his Emergence of Yehud in the Persian Period: A Social and Demographic Study (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 246–248, estimates the population of Yehud at about 20,000 to 30,000. 78. See Lipschits, “Demographic Changes,” 39–54. 79. Laurie Pearce, “New Evidence for Judeans in Babylonia,” in Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period, ed. Oded Lipschits and Manfred Oeming (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 399–411. 80. Ephraim Stern and Yitzak Magen, “Archaeological Evidence for the First Stage of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim,” Israel Exploration Journal 52 (2002): 49–57. 81. In Deuteronomy 27, the Masoretic text states that the altar should be built on Mount Ebal, but the Samaritan Pentateuch specifies Gerizim. The Samaritan version is the original, as is confirmed by a fragment from Qumran. See Christophe Nihan, “The Torah between Samaria and Judah: Shechem and Gerizim in Deuteronomy and Joshua,” in The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Un-



83. 84.

85. 86.


derstanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance, ed. Gary N. Knoppers et Bernard M. Levinson (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 187–223. Peter Frei, “Zentralgewalt und Lokalautonomie im Achämenidenreich,” in Peter Frei and Klaus Koch, Reichsidee und Reichsorganisation im Perserreich, 2nd ed. (Freiburg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996), 5–131. Jean-Louis Ska, “Le Pentateuque et la politique impériale perse,” Foi et Vie 103, Cahiers Bibliques 43 (2004): 17–30. See above and Matthias Köckert, “Die Entstehung des Bilderverbots,” in Die Welt der Götterbilder, ed. Brigitte Gronenberg and Hermann Spieckermann (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007), 272–290. Tacitus, Histories V:i. This is the origin of all kinds of anti-Jewish polemics, claiming, for instance, that the Temple at Jerusalem contained an ass or the head of an ass. On this, see Philipe Borgeaud, “Moïse, son âne et les Typhoniens: Esquisse pour une remise en perspective,” in La Construction de la figure de Moïse: The Construction of the Figure of Moses, ed. Thomas Römer (Paris: Gabalda, 2007), 121–130.

co n c l u s i o n 1. Thus, the book of Daniel, written about 164 bce, was attributed to a sage and visionary who lived during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Th is was thought to reinforce the authority of his visions of the End. In certain visions one finds, in a form easy enough to decipher, the idea of a succession of empires up to the epoch of Antiochus IV. Because this “vision,” which supposedly took place in the Persian period, had at the time of writing already been realized, the same could be expected to be true of the visions concerning the end of the world. 2. This recalls the vision of the prophet Ezekiel in the first chapter of the book attributed to him. 3. The complete text of this book was preserved only in Ethiopian manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the discovery of fragments of the book at Qumran shows the antiquity of certain parts of the book, which were originally written in Aramaean. 4. This part of the book is often dated to the second century. 5. Uriel watches over the path of the stars and the angels in Tartarus. Raphael protects human spirits and knows the dwelling places of the dead. Raguel executes justice in the world of luminaries. Michael is the chief of the heavenly army. Sariel is the prefect of evil spirits. Gabriel watches over Paradise and over the Cherubim and also plays the role of messenger of the divine will. Remiel is prefect of those brought back to life. 6. From the point of view of the history of religions one can observe the recurrence here of a theme already found in Mesopotamia in the second millennium: the



8. 9. 10.

11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.


creator god must vanquish one or more aquatic monsters (of a serpentine or dragonlike kind) who symbolize chaos. Only then can he initiate the creation of the world. The word occurs for the first time in 1 Maccabees 12:18 and probably derives from “Sadoq,” which appears in the books of Samuel and then that of Ezekiel as the name of a high priest. The name comes from a Hebrew word meaning “place separately, put apart.” In a certain sense Sadducees and Pharisees are successors of the priestly and Deuteronomistic currents that one can discern in the Bible. Information about this group comes primarily from Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 13:171–173; 15:371ff ; 18:11–25. Their name perhaps derives from an Aramaean word meaning “pure, holy.” Emile Puech, “Khirbet Qumrân et les Esséniens,” Revue de Qumrân 25 (2011): 63–102. The name is Greek and means “zeal.” Jewish Antiquities 18:23. The location of Sinai that is now used is founded on a Christian tradition of the fourth century. One of the inscriptions adds an article before “Temān,” which suggests that the word is understood not as a proper name but as a substantive. Poetic name for Israel. See the remarks above about the original version of Deut. 32:8, where Yhwh appears as one of the sons of El. In Isaiah 40–55 one finds repeatedly the assertion attributed to Yhwh: “No, my arm is not short.”


ʾAdōnāy, replacing Yhwh, 27 Ahab, Yhwh, and Baal, 117–119 Akhenaton, 233–234 Am Yhwh, 83–85 Aniconism: as mark of Jewish identity, 240; and standing stones, 142–144 Apocalyptic literature, 243 Archaeology: inscriptions of Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet El-Qom, 162–166; recent progress, 12 Archangels, 243–244, 293n5 Ark of Yhwh, 90–91, 93–94, 98–100. See also Temple of Jerusalem Asherah, 250; in ancient Levant and Near East, 161; in Bible, 161–162; connection to sacred prostitution, 198–199; cult, 188–189; eliminated, 200, 251; inscriptions regarding, 162–166; qualities transferred to Yhwh, 222–223; as “Queen of

Heaven,” 170–172; seals, 278n15; worship according to biblical texts, 169–170; and Yhwh, representations of couple, 166–168 Ashtar-Chemosh, 114 Assyria: annexing Israel, 175–176; and building of Temple, 96–97; decline in influence, 201; Hezekiah’s revolt, 182–187; influence on book of Joshua, 207–208; introduction to era, 15–19; Judah’s resistance, 179–180; Manasseh’s acceptance, 188–190; resistance, 105; spread of empire, 173–179 Baal: and Asherah, 162; as model for Israel’s Yhwh, 106–107, 109, 111–112, 123; poems about kingship, 135; worship in Samaria, 111–112; and Yhwh, in Israel, 116–121; Yhwh vs. Phoenician, 120–121



Babylon, as center of Jewish intellectualism, 20–21 Babylonian exile, 210–213, 252; crises, 213–215; during Persian era, 237; as punishment from Yhwh, 216–217; scrolls produced, 20 Bethel: during Assyrian rule, 177–179; sanctuary, 107–108, 249 Betyles, 92, 142–143 Beya, 52–53 Bible: Asherah in, 161–162; and attitudes toward exile, 215; and Christian Old Testament, 255n2; edited historiography, 15; efforts at dating, 8; El in, 78–82; existence of multiple gods, 1–2; feminine integration, 221–223; historical interpretation, 3–4; introduction, 5–9; maximalist and minimalist approaches, 12; monotheism predating, 232–234; placing Yhwh from south, 40–42; structure, 255n6; terminology used, 9–10; Tripartite, 246. See also Pentateuch; Priestly writings; Prophets; individual books Blood ritual, 84–85, 264n35 Book, “discovering,” 191–194 Bull worship, 122; statues at Dan and Bethel, 109–111; Yhwh depicted in north, 141 Butchering, cultic and noncultic, 205–206, 286n39 Calf. See Bull worship Camel, domesticated by Midianites, 55, 57 Canaan, historical meaning, 9 Caquot, André, 37

Centralization, as ideology, 204–207 Chemosh, 113–114 Cherubim, 131–132, 151–152, 157–158 Circumcision, 63–64, 289–290n43. See also Covenant, blood Commandments: prohibition against sculpted images, 147–148; 246, 613 Covenant, blood, 84–85; laid out in Deuteronomy, 216 Cult of Yhwh: differences between north and south, 106–107, 124, 249; in and out of Israel and Judah, 106; Jerusalem as central, 251; Midianite priest as founder, 64–67; unity in Deuteronomy, 202–204 Cult of Yhwh, reforms. See Josiah, reforms Cyrus: authorization to rebuild Temple, 235; “cylinder,” 219; victor over Babylon, 21, 201, 215 Dan, sanctuary to Yhwh, 107–108 Daniel, book of, as apocalyptic literature, 243–244 David: chosen by Yhwh, 136–137, 248; and Jerusalem, 92–94; Yhwh as God, 88–89 Death, 138–140 Decalogue, prohibition against sculpted images, 146–148, 239 Deportations, 211–213; as Assyrian strategy, 176–178; as punishment from Yhwh, 216–217 Deutero-Isaiah: and God’s creation of evil, 224; monotheism, 219–221 Deuteronomistic history, 20–21, 105; and path toward monotheism, 216–218


Deuteronomists, 193, 252, 256n7 Deuteronomy: and ideology of centralization, 204–207; reflecting reforms of Josiah, 202–204 Deuteronomy 4: polemic against idols, 148–149; and statue of Yhwh, 240 Deuteronomy 33, and geographic origin, 40–41, 45–47 Diaspora, Torah imparting legitimacy, 238–239 Ebla, as origin of Yhwh, 36 Edom, connection to Yhwh and Israel, 68–70 Egypt: and Babylonia, 210–211; control of Levant, 12–13; exodus, 107–111; gods, 48–50; Joseph’s arrival, 57; liberation, 5–6; origin of Yhwh near, 38–40, 45–46; power, 54 Egypt, Moses in. See Moses El: connection to Israel, 72–77; in Genesis and Hebrew Bible, 78–82; and Yhwh in Jerusalem, 127–128 El Elyon, 78–79, 127–128 Elephantine, resistance to monotheism, 230–231 Elijah, as champion of Yhwh, 118–120 Elohim: in Jerusalem, 127–129; priests’ use, 125–126; substitution for Yhwh, 27, 41–42; used by psalmists, 259–260n15 Elohist (E), 256n7 El Olam, 80 El Roi, 80 El Shadday, 80–82


Enemies of Israel. See Assyria, Egypt; Midianites Esau. See Edom; Jacob and Esau Essenes, 245 Evil: battling, 243–244; question in monotheism, 223–224; Satan, 229 Exile. See Babylonian exile Exodus: link between Moses and Midianite priest, 62–67; Yhwh and El, 247; Yhwh as god, 107–112. See also Midian; Moses Exodus 18, Jethro as Midian priest, 64–67 Exodus 19 and 24, references to ̒ am, 83–84 Exodus 3, God’s name revealed to Moses, 28–32 Exodus 20, prohibition of idolatry, 147–148 Ezekiel 1, vision of Yhwh, 152–153 Ezra: as Golah, 239; Persian influence, 228 Fathers of the Church, testimony on God’s name, 30, 32 Feminine qualities of Yhwh, 221–223 Fertile Crescent, defined, 10 Flood narratives, 232 Genealogies, 5 Genesis: El in, 78–82; question of origins, 5 Genesis 25, legitimizing Midianites, 60 Geographic origin hypotheses: Ebla, 36; between Egypt and Seir, 38–40; Mari, 38; from the south, 40–42; outside Israel, 35, 247–248; Ugarit, 36–37



Gideon, Midianites portrayed negatively, 59 God of Israel. See Yhwh; Name of God Gods: reforms of Josiah, 200–201; of steppes and arid regions, Yhwh as, 48–50; storm, 47–48, 116–117, 248; sun, 99–103, 126–130; warrior, 47–48, 248 Goddesses, 109, 160–161: eliminated by Josiah, 200; excluded from monotheism, 221–223; Queen of Heaven, 170–172. See also Asherah Golah, Babylonian, 213–215, 237 Greek: Pentateuch translated, 22, 240–241; and pronunciation of God’s name, 31; struggles against Hellenization, 242–245 Habakkuk 3: character of Yhwh, 47–48; and geographic origin, 40–41, 45–47 “Hebrew,” historical meaning, 10 Henoch, book of, 243–244 Henotheism, 232–233 Hezekiah: foreign policy, 182–187, 251; public works, 17, 181–182; reforms, 187–188 Historical analysis, methodology, 2–4 History, written in response to crisis, 216–217 Hobab, as priest of Midian, 63 Horse imagery, 197 Hosea, feminine qualities of Yhwh, 222 Huldah, pronouncement, 191–192 Human sacrifice, 137–138 Iaṓ, pronunciation of God’s name, 30–31

Idols: aniconism, 239–240; bull statues, 107–111, 122, 141; in Deutero-Isaiah, 219–221; divine couple, 166–168; female figurines, 168–169; in northern sanctuaries, 122–123, 141; polemic against, 146–149, 218. See also Standing stones; Statues Images of Yhwh: and Asherah, 166–168; Isaiah’s vision, 150–152; in Israel, 122–123; prohibition, 274–275n18; reconciling feminine, 221–223; seals and coins, 144–146; in Temple of Jerusalem, 146. See also Bull worship; Idols; Prophets: visions of Yhwh; Statues of Yhwh; Yhwh: face Isaiah, warning against revolt, 182–183 Isaiah 40–55, monotheistic assertion, 219–221 Isaiah 7, exhortation to Judah, 174–175 Isaiah 6: vision of Yhwh, 150–152; and Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, 134 Israel: as chosen people, 218; first attested occurrence of name, 74–77; first traces, 13–14; historical meaning, 9; history to Hellenistic era, 10–22; identifying, 77–78; meaning of name, 72–74; name found on pedestal, 75; original meeting point with Yhwh, 71–72; Yhwh’s introduction, 82–85. See also Kingdom of Israel Jacob: and Esau, 68–70, 81–82; struggle with God, 72–73 Jehu, revolt, and Yhwh, 118–120


Jephthah, 1 Jeremiah 44: and Queen of Heaven, 170 Jeroboam, 104, 107–108 Jeroboam II, 16–17 Jerusalem: as central to cult of Yhwh, 202, 251; centralization under Josiah, 204–207; and David, 92–94; destruction, 211–212; effects of 701 siege, 184–186; El and Yhwh, 127–128; Hellenization undertaken, 242–243; response to ideological crisis, 214–215; rise and fall, 17–19; transformed into large city, 180–181; Yhwh’s rise, 126–127. See also Kingdom of Judah; Temple of Jerusalem Jethro, as priest of Midian, 63–67 Jewish identity, in Genesis narratives, 5–6 Joseph, sold by Midianites, 57 Joshua: book of, and military conflicts, 265n2; narrative of conquest and life of Moses, 207–208; and Shiloh as house of Yhwh, 86–87 Josiah, 18–19; death, 208–210; as Joshua, 207; reign, 191–192 Josiah, reforms, 251–252; Deuteronomy, 202–203; elimination of goddess, 200; and “found” book, 192–195; historical argument for existence, 201–202; ideology of centralization, 204–207; inscripted evidence, 196–197; kings and principal gods, 200–201; question of archaeological evidence, 195–196; sacred prostitution, 198–199; in 2 Kings 23, 197–198


Judah, historical meaning, 9l. See also Kingdom of Judah Judaism, as “religion of the book,” 234–239 Judges, book of, and centrality of power, 263n18 Judges 5: character of Yhwh, 47–48; placing Yhwh’s origin in south, 40–42, 44–46; theophany in context of Song of Deborah, 43–44 Judgment, in apocalyptic literature, 244 Kĕmārîm, 197–198 Kenites, connection to Yhwh, 67–68 Khirbet el-Qom, inscriptions regarding Asherah, 162–166 Khirbet Qeifaya, 266n15 Kingdom of Israel: decline, 17; falling to Assyria, 175–179; more dominant than Judah, 105–106; prosperity, 14–17; representations of Yhwh, 122–123, 141; Yhwh and Baal, 116–121 Kingdom of Israel, sanctuaries and divinities, 116. See also Sanctuaries for Yhwh Kingdom of Judah: decline, 19–20; diverse sanctuaries for Yhwh, 125–126, 250; history from southern perspective, 104–106, 249; life during exile, 212–213; post-722, 179–182; prosperity, 17–19, 22; standing stones, 142–144; and Syro-Ephramitic War, 174–175. See also Jerusalem Kings: Davidic as mediator for Yhwh, 136–137; origins, 88–80,



Kings (continued) 248; reform of gods, 200–201; Yhwh as monarch, 135–136. See also Melek; individual names Kings, books of: depiction of cult of Yhwh, 104–106; historical relevance, 14–15. See also 1 Kings; 2 Kings Kuntillet Ajrud, inscriptions regarding Asherah, 162–166 Lachish, siege and fall, 183–184 Levant, defined, 10 Levites. See Priests Manasseh: accomplishments attributed to Hezekiah, 182; worship of Yhwh during reign, 188–190 Mandarin attitude to exile, 214–215. See also Deuteronomistic history Marduk: compared to Yhwh, 219; and lunar deity, 100–101 Mari, as origin of Yhwh, 38 Masoretes, system of vocalization, 25–26 Massebas, 142–144 Mazdeism, influence on early Judaism, 227–229 Melek, relation to Molek, 137–138 Menorah, as substitute for statue of Yhwh, 154 Mēriḇḇōt qōdeš, 100, 259n12 Merneptah, stele, 74–77 Mesha, stele inscription, 112–115 Midian: identifying region, 54–55; Moses’s arrival from Egypt, 60–62 Midianite-Kenite hypothesis, 67–68

Midianite priest: as founder of cult of Yhwh, 64–67; by many names, 62–64 Midianites: camel raising, 55, 57; commercial activities, 55–58; negative portrayal in texts, 58–60; positive portrayal in texts, 60; wife of Moses, 51, 63–64 Monotheism: of Deutero-Isaiah, 219–221; in Deuteronomistic history and priestly document, 20–21; excluding goddess, 221–223; path toward, 216–218; Persian influences, 227–230; predating Bible, 232–234; of priestly milieu, 225–227; and question of evil, 223–224; resistance, 230–232; use of term, 231 Moses, 5; arrival in Midian, 60–62; Egyptian name, 52; fi rst account of life, 207–208; God’s name revealed, 28–29; Midianite wife, 51, 63–64; possible sources, 52–54; and priest of Midian, 62–67 Mountain of God: in Edom, 81–82; in Midian, 63–66 Mount Sinai. See Sinai Mount Zion. See Zion Nakedness, in books of Samuel, 93–94 Name of God, as enigma, 24–29; prohibition of pronouncing, 26; pronunciation, 30–32. See also ʾAdōnāy; El; El Elyon; Elohim; El Olam; El Roi; El Shadday; Iaṓ; Tetragrammaton, Yaho, Yhwh


Nehemiah, Persian influence, 228 Numbers 25, Midianites as enemy, 58–59 Old Testament. See Bible; Pentateuch; Priestly writings; Prophets; individual books Omrid dynasty: 14–16; defeated, 112–113. See also Ahab 1 Kings 6: cherubim in sanctuary, 132; construction of temple, 100 Origins, priestly concerns, 225–227 Parân, and geographic origin of Yhwh, 45–46 Patriarchs, 5 Pentateuch: central role, 246; Decalogue, 146–147; difficulty in dating, 8; genesis, 234–239; translation into Greek, 22, 240–241; two main parts, 5–6; value as source, 3–4. See also Deuteronomy; Exodus; Genesis Persian era: autonomy granted to Judah, 21; early, and priestly circle, 225–227; influences on biblical monotheism, 227–230; return to Jerusalem, 235; and statue of Yhwh in Jerusalem, 158–159. See also Cyrus Pfeiffer, Henrik, 47 Pharisees, 245 Polytheism: in Bible, 1–2; discredited in Deutero-Isaiah, 219–221; and existence of evil, 223–224; reforms of Josiah, 200–201; storm god, 47–48, 116–117, 248; sun god, 99–103, 126–130; use of term, 231. See also Idols Pottery, Midianite, 56


Priestly attitude to exile, 214–215 Priestly writings, 20–21, 225–227, 252–253, 256n7 Priests: function, 123, 271n45; Midianite, 62–67; monotheism of, 225–227 Prism of Nimrud, 122–123, 176 Prophetic attitude to crisis, 214–215, 224 Prophets: as complement to Torah, 246; Isaiah’s visions, 150–152; story of Israel, 6; visions of Yhwh, 152–153. See also individual prophets Prostitution, sacred, 198–199, 285n23 Proverbs 8, Wisdom as female, 223 Psalm 82, and El, 127–128 Psalm 132, Yhwh choosing David and Zion, 136–137 Psalms, containing Yhwh’s kingship, 135 Psalm 74, and Yhwh’s victory over sea, 135–136 Psalm 68: character of Yhwh, 47–48; placing Yhwh’s origin in south, 40–42, 44–46 Psalm 24, and statue of Yhwh, 156 Psalm 29, Yhwh as storm god, 116–117 Queen of Heaven, 170–172. See also Asherah Religiosity, ancient, three levels, 106 Reuel, as priest of Midian, 62–63 Revelation: and existence of other gods, 2; placement in Exodus, 65–66; and prohibition of images, 148–149; three stages, 225–227. See also Sinai



Rituals: blood, 84–85, 264n35; priestly concerns, 225. See also Sacrifice Roman era, Judaism up to, 242–246 Sacred pole, 143; Asherah as, 170–172 Sacrifice: centralized, 205–206; child, 137–138; in Exodus 18, 66–67; incense vs. animal, 230; priestly concerns, 225 Sadducees, 245 Samaria: Baal worship, 111–112; deportations and mixed populations, 177–178; possible sanctuary, 111–112; siege, 175–176, 279n6 Samaritans, contribution to Pentateuch, 237–238 Samuel, and Shiloh, 87–88 Samuel, books of: and connection between kings and Yhwh, 88–89; David’s and Saul’s nakedness, 93–94; depiction of cult of Yhwh, 104–106; historical relevance, 14–15 Sanctuaries for Yhwh: added to sun god, 101; Dan and Bethel, 107–108; diversity in Judah, 125–126, 250; Elephantine, 209, 230–231; Nebo, 115; Samaria, 111; Shechem, 107. See also Temple of Jerusalem Satan: first appearance, 229; interview added, 290n50 Saul, Yhwh as God, 88–89 Scrolls, copied and edited, 8 Ṣĕḇāʾôt, 132–135 Segmentary societies, Israel as, 77–78 Seir, as geographic origin, 38–40 Šĕmaʿ yiśrā ʾēl, 202, 204–207 Sennacherib, 183–184

Seth, connection to Yhwh, 48–50 Shasu nomads, and placing geographical origins, 38–40 Sheol, 139 Shiloh, as sanctuary of Yhwh, 86–88 Sinai: and geographic origin of Yhwh, 44–46; placed in Midian, 63–66; Yhwh introduced to Israel, 83–84. See also Moses; Revelation Solar deity. See Sun god Solomon, as builder of Temple, 95–97 Song of Deborah, and theophany in Judges, 43–44 “Son of God,” 243 Standing stones, 142–144 Statues: Asherah, 169–170, 200; bull, 109–111, 141; female Judean, 168–169. See also Idols; Images of Yhwh; Standing stones Statues of Yhwh, 250; deported from Jerusalem, 157–158; and destruction of Temple, 149; Deuteronomy 4, 240; fate in Persian era, 158–159; in Israel, 122–123, 141; in Judah, 155–157; lamp holder as substitute, 154. See also Standing stones Steil, Armin, model for crisis reaction, 214–215, 224–225 Steles: Merneptah, 74–77, 263n10; Mesha, 112–115. See also Standing stones Storm god, Yhwh as, 47–48, 116–117, 248 Sun god: and Temple of Jerusalem, 99–102; traits in Yhwh, 128–130; Yhwh’s evolution over, 126–127


Synagogues, and “portable” Judaism, 238, 246, 253 Syro-Ephramitic War, 174–175


2 Kings 22–23, and Josiah’s reforms, 191–195, 197–198 Ugarit, as origin of Yhwh, 36–37

Temple, connecting heaven and earth, 151 Temple of Jerusalem, 18–19; built by Solomon, 95–97; cherubim, 132; destruction, 19–20, 157–158, 211, 252; and ideology of centralization, 204–207; not built by David, 94–95; partial destruction by Assyrians, 184; probable origins, 125–127; proximity to palace, 268n48; question of which god’s, 99–103; reconstruction, 21, 235, 292n74; renovation of existing sanctuary, 97–101; second, destruction, 244–246; statue as cause for destruction, 149; and Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, 134 Ten Commandments. See Decalogue Terminology, 9–10 Tetragrammaton, 25–28. See also Yhwh 3 Kingdoms 6, construction of temple, 100 Throne of Yhwh, 131–132, 151–153 Torah. See Pentateuch Tree, stylized, representing Asherah, 170–171 Tunnels, Hezekiah’s, 181–182 2 Kings 17, cult of Yhwh in Samaria, 177–179 2 Kings 21, Manasseh’s depiction, 188–189

Vowels, adding, 25–26 Warrior god, Yhwh as, 47–48, 248. See also Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt Wisdom, as goddess, 223 “Writings,” 6–7, 246 Yaho, 30–34 Yehud, during Persian era, 235–237 Yhwh: as associate to sun god, 101–103; attempt to murder Moses, 63–64; connection to Elyon, 79; as exclusive, unitary, invisible, transcendent, universal God, 239–241; face, 154–157; introduction into Israel, 82–85; Midianite priest’s role, 64–67; nature of inquiry, 22–23; as protector, 186–187; and variations Yhw and Yh, 27–29. See also Cult of Yhwh; Name of God Yhwh-Melek, 137–138 Yhwh Ṣĕḇāʾôt, 132–135 Zealots, 245 Zechariah, vision of menorah, 154 Zion, as theology, 130–131; strengthening, 186–187 Zoroaster, problem in dating, 227