The Origin and Character of God: Ancient Israelite Religion through the Lens of Divinity 0190072547, 9780190072544

Few topics are as broad or as daunting as the God of Israel, that deity of the world's three monotheistic religions

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Table of contents :
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (The Origin and Character of God)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Copyright)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Dedication)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Contents)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Acknowledgments)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Abbreviations)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (1. Introductory Matters)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (2. The History of Scholarship on Ancient Israelite Religion A Brief Sk...)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (3. Methodology)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (4. El Worship)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (5. The Iconography of Divinity El)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (6. The Origin of Yahweh)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (7. The Iconography of Divinity Yahweh)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (8. The Characterization of the Deity Yahweh)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (9. The Characterization of the Deity Yahweh)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (10. The Characterization of the Deity Yahweh)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Conclusion)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Notes)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Works Cited)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Subject Index)
The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite ... ---- (Citation Index)
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The Origin and Character of God

The Origin and Character of God Ancient Israelite Religion through the Lens of Divinity T H E O D O R E J.   L EW I S


3 Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America. © Oxford University Press 2020 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data Names: Lewis, Theodore J., author. Title: The origin and character of God : ancient Israelite religion through the lens of divinity / Theodore J. Lewis. Description: New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references. | Identifiers: LCCN 2020015308 (print) | LCCN 2020015309 (ebook) | ISBN 9780190072544 (hardback) | ISBN 9780190072568 (epub) | ISBN 9780190072575 Subjects: LCSH: God (Judaism) | Judaism—History—To 70 A.D. | Palestine—Religion—History. | Palestine—Religious life and customs. Classification: LCC BM610 .L494 2020 (print) | LCC BM610 (ebook) | DDC 296.3/11—dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Printed by Marquis, Canada

For Dawn

Contents Acknowledgments Abbreviations

1. Introductory Matters

ix xiii


2. The History of Scholarship on Ancient Israelite Religion: A Brief Sketch


3. Methodology


4. El Worship


5. The Iconography of Divinity: El Section I:  Methodology and Iconography Section II:  Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and Divine Images Section III:  The Iconography of Ugaritic ʾIlu Section IV:  The Iconography of Israelite El

119 119 128 142 155

6. The Origin of Yahweh Section I:  The Meaning and Revelation of the Name Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible Section II:  The Name Yahweh in Extra-​Biblical and Epigraphic Sources Section III:  The Geographic Origins of Yahwistic Traditions and the Debate Concerning Northern (Canaanite) Versus Southern (Midianite) Origins


7. The Iconography of Divinity: Yahweh Section I:  The Iconography of Yahweh: Anthropomorphic and Theriomorphic Traditions Section II:  The Iconography of Yahweh: Aniconic and Abstract Traditions


8. The Characterization of the Deity Yahweh Part One: Yahweh as Warrior and Family God Section I:  Yahweh as Divine Warrior Section II:  Yahweh the Compassionate and Family Religion

427 427 428 473

9. The Characterization of the Deity Yahweh Part Two:  Yahweh as King and Yahweh as Judge Section I:  Yahweh as King Section II:  Yahweh as Judge

495 495 495 513

210 227 252

287 333

viii Contents

10. The Characterization of the Deity Yahweh Part Three:  Yahweh as the Holy One Conclusion Notes Works Cited Subject Index Citation Index

575 575 674 701 905 1019 1045

Acknowledgments Producing this volume was only possible due to a large support system of many people over many years. I was taught by stellar teachers who have left their imprint on my work more than they know. As the onomastic portions of the present work will illustrate, it is important to leave a record of the names of such giving people. I am deeply thankful for the efforts and the humanity of teachers from the University of Wisconsin–​Madison (Michael Fox, Menahem Mansoor, Norman Roth, Keith Schoville, Barbara Fowler, Barry Powell), the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Shraga Assif, Moshe Greenberg, Sarah Groll, Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, Rafi Kutscher, Alexander Rofé), and Harvard University (Michael Coogan, Frank Moore Cross, Paul Hanson, Thomas Lambdin, Patrick Miller, William Moran, Piotr Steinkeller). I  also learned much from Douglas Gropp and Choon-​Leong Seow, my classmates at Harvard, and from Marc Brettler and Bernard Levinson, my classmates at Hebrew University. I found supportive colleagues helping me to grow at the University of Georgia in its Department of Religion (Alan Godlas, Kenneth Honerkamp, George Howard, Russell Kirkland, Sandy Martin, William Power, Shanta Ratnayaka, Thomas Slater, David Williams), in Athens, Georgia (Howard and Linda Abney, Chris and Cheryl Cornwell, Ed and Lucy Larson, William and Amburn Power, Henry F. and Karen Schaefer), and at Johns Hopkins University in its Department of Near Eastern Studies (Betsy Bryan, Jerry Cooper, Paul Delnero, Marian Feldman, Mike Harrower, Richard Jasnow, Jake Lauinger, Alice Mandell, P. Kyle McCarter, Glenn Schwartz, and Ray Westbrook). I am a historian of religion who was blessed to have been trained in Near Eastern languages and civilizations (not theology, as close readers will see) and even more so to have made my home for the past eighteen years in a Near Eastern studies department with colleagues in Assyriology, Egyptology, and Northwest Semitics as well as in Near Eastern archaeology and art history. I have had the privilege of editing Near Eastern Archaeology for the American Schools of Oriental Research (thanks are due especially to Billie Jean Collins), and serving with dedicated board members promoting the amazing work of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. For years I have also had the privilege of editing the Writings from the Ancient World series (SBL Press). Thanks to working with stellar WAW authors and editors, I  have enjoyed learning of the entire ancient Near East broadly through a wide variety of literary genres. Special thanks for this endeavor

x Acknowledgments go to Bob Buller and Simon B. Parker. I also thank the members of the Biblical Colloquium, who have provided rigorous feedback to my work for many years. The list of scholars and researchers from whom I have learned is endless, as documented throughout the volume and in the lengthy bibliography. I fear I will leave so many out should I begin to list their names. Hopefully the citations of their work can underscore my indebtedness. I must mention five scholars who graciously read portions of my manuscript and provided me with substantial feedback:  Daniel Fleming, David Noel Freedman, Peter Machinist, Kathryn Medill, and Sara Milstein. Taking the time to go through another’s work and offer incisive feedback is a hallmark of collegiality. Thank you. Those who know Daniel Fleming’s extraordinary investments to improve the research of others (faculty and students alike) will not be surprised to read of my deep indebtedness to him for covering my drafts at every turn with probing historical challenges to rethink my approach and the very categories of my analysis. I am also indebted to the numerous students who have pushed me in my thinking, especially those graduate students who read earlier drafts of the present work in seminars on ancient Israelite religion at Johns Hopkins University. On an institutional level, I am indebted to Johns Hopkins University. The importance of strong institutional support for the humanities is needed more than ever, and I thank the numerous leaders who make this a reality at Johns Hopkins day after day, year after year. A special thanks to the Blum family for endowing the Blum-​Iwry Chair, which I have the honor of holding, as it celebrates the life of Samuel Iwry. (See the oral history of his life, To Wear the Dust of War: From Bialystok to Shanghai to the Promised Land.) For the current volume, I also owe a large debt to fellowship support from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, from the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Words cannot begin to express my appreciation of Oxford University Press for agreeing to publish a manuscript of such length and with so many images. Special thanks to Steve Wiggins (truly a scholar and a gentleman), Drew Anderla, Amy Whitmer, Melissa Yanuzzi, the typesetting team at Newgen, and especially Sue Warga, who took on the herculean task of copy-​editing such a large and technical manuscript. I am deeply indebted too to WordCo Indexing Services for producing the subject index and to Noah Crabtree for producing the citations index. I  am delighted to give thanks to the many individuals who kindly helped in securing permissions for the images that occur in the volume, and in some cases the images themselves, as noted in the various credit lines. These thoughtful individuals include Susan Allison, Yael Barshak, Robert D. Bates, Adam L. Bean, Amnon Ben-​Tor, Nelly Beyman, Stephen Bourke, Edward F. Campbell, Felicity Cobbing, Billie Jean Collins, Stefanie P. Elkins, Yosef Garfinkel, Garth Gilmour, Joseph A.  Greene, Ze’ev Herzog, James K.  Hoffmeier, Kathryn Hooge Hom,

Acknowledgments  xi Sarah Horowitz, Jean-​Baptiste Humbert, David Ilan, Yael Klein, Kay Kohlmeyer, Marilyn Lundberg, Valérie Matoïan, Amihai Mazar, Nadine Meouchy, Michael Moore, Dick Osseman, Jaimie Owen, Nava Panitz-​Cohen, Alan Paris, Zev Radovan, Seth Richardson, Lucia Rinolfi, David Schloen, Olaf Tausch, Gary Lee Todd, Christoph Uehlinger, Andrew Vaughn, Kim Walton, Ziony Zevit and Bruce Zuckerman. A  special word of thanks goes to Kim Walton (of Walton Image Supply) for her heroic efforts in tracking down and organizing the many possible sources for images. I am indebted to Kim for her efficiency and many hours on my behalf. I  also need to express a special word of appreciation to Amnon Ben-​Tor and the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations, as I  use more images from Hazor than from any other site. I close with deep thanks to my family. One of the chapters in this volume articulates the vital importance of family religion. So too the importance of family in every aspect of life. Though they have both passed, I honor the lives of my father, Harland Richard Lewis, and my mother, Jean Margaret Van Den Heuvel Lewis, whose love, concern, and work ethic were formative. The poignancy of life without them finds solace only in the memory of their devoted caring. And where would I be without the love and supportive prayers of my in-​laws, Jess and Jan Daniels? My siblings (Sally, Michael, Martin, Andrew, Matthew) have always provided the deepest bonds of support. My children (Eric, Meghan, Hannah, Liam) have been the richest of blessings. One of my greatest delights and honors is to be a father to such amazing individuals. To Dawn Tierney Lewis, wife, lover, best friend, intellectual, musician, companion, and contemplative soul-​mate: I am ever thankful for the depths and joys of love we share. You have lived with this book for so long, ever patient, ever supportive, ever wise in your counsel. I dedicate this book to you, my love. Acknowledgments combine acts of recognition and expressions of gratitude. How then could I do any other than to close by giving all thanks and honor to the subject of this volume, “the God who holds in his hand our every breath and every path” (Dan 5:23)?

Abbreviations 1Q

Dead Sea Scroll text number from Qumran Cave 1


Dead Sea Scroll text number from Qumran Cave 4


Dead Sea Scroll text number from Qumran Cave 11


Tablet signature of texts from Mari

Akk Akkadian ANEP

The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. Edited by James B. Pritchard


Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Edited by James B. Pritchard

Arb Arabic Arm Aramaic BDB

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament

C stem

causative stem (e.g., Hiphil in Hebrew)


The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Chr Chronicler CIS

Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum


The Context of Scripture. Edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger


Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum


Catalogue des textes hittites. Emmanuel Laroche


Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals. Nahman Avigad and Benjamin Sass


Deuteronomy-​related source (of the Pentateuch)

D stem

doubled stem (e.g., Piel in Hebrew)


deity name


Dictionary of the North-​West Semitic Inscriptions. Jacob Hoftijzer and Karen Jongeling


Dead Sea Scrolls

xiv Abbreviations DtrH

Deuteronomistic History


Deuteronomistic History (Josianic edition)


A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. Gregorio del Olmo Lete and Joaquín Sanmartín


Elohist source (of the Pentateuch)


El-​Amarna tablets

G stem

ground or simple stem (e.g., Qal in Hebrew)

Gen rab

Genesis Rabbah


Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. Edited by Emil Kautzsch. Translated by Arther E. Cowley


geographic name


The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner and Johann J. Stamm


Holiness source/​code (of the Pentateuch)

Heb Hebrew Impf

imperfect or prefixal verbal form


Jahwist/​Yahwist source (of the Pentateuch)


Jewish Publication Society Translation of the Hebrew Bible

KA Kuntillet  ʿAjrud KAI

Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften. Herbert Donner and Wolfgang Röllig


Keilschrifttexte aus Assur religiösen Inhalts. Edited by Erich Ebeling


Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti libros


Ketef Hinnom


Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit. Edited by Manfried Dietrich, Oswald Loretz and Joaquín Sanmartín


Keilschrifturkunden aus Boghazköi


Late Bronze Age

LXX Septuagint MHeb

Medieval Hebrew


Masoretic Text (of the Hebrew Bible)

N stem

N-​prefix stem (Niphal in Hebrew)


New American Bible


New English Bible

Abbreviations  xv NIV

New International Version


Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation according to the Traditional Hebrew Text


The non-​Priestly writings in the Pentateuch that included J and E in the documentary hypothesis


New Revised Standard Version


Old Greek


Old Latin


Priestly source (of the Pentateuch)


perfect, perfective or suffixal verbal form


personal name


Répertoire d’Épigraphie Sémitique


Ras Ibn Hani (excavation number)


Ras Shamra (excavation number)


Revised Standard Version

Syr Syriac Syr-​Hex

Syro-​Hexapla, translation of Origen’s six-​column edition of the Hebrew and Greek texts into Syriac

Sum Sumerian TAD

Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt. Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni

tD/​Dt stem

doubled stem with infixed t (e.g., Hitpael in Hebrew)

Tg Targum TUAT

Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments. Edited by Otto Kaiser

Ugr Ugaritic V Vulgate VAT

Vorderasiatische Abteilung Tontafel. Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin


Writings from the Ancient World. SBL Press


Introductory Matters This volume is a reference work about God—​the god who comes to be understood in different ways by Jews, Christians, and Muslims through the ages. Can you imagine a more daunting challenge? Hence the length of this book. And its brevity. One would have to write endlessly to cover such a topic, only to realize that any treatment would remain incomplete. Immediately one must choose how to approach the material and selectively what to cover. My approach is that of a historian of religion rather than that of a theologian. Specifically, I write as a historian of the religion of ancient Israel as it is understood within its ancient Near Eastern context, primarily the societies of ancient Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. These ancient cultural and sociological contexts gave birth to fundamental understandings of God that would come to be foundational to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Prior to articulating the selective scope of the present volume, it is worth pausing to ponder the vastness of the task before us.

The Scope of a Comprehensive Volume on Ancient Israelite Religion Deciding on the scope of the present work presents a challenge. As a reference volume, it should present a resource for readers who seek to delve into the subjects it treats, presenting the issues at hand as well as the primary and secondary sources to which the reader may turn for additional study. Yet the subject of the present volume, ancient Israelite religion, is far too large to be covered in a single volume. This is especially true if one desires to probe its various topics with the depth of research they deserve and to present readers with the primary texts and secondary literature where they can dig deeper still. Consider what a comprehensive volume on ancient Israelite religion should entail.

History of Scholarship and Methodology Foundationally, the reader should be introduced (but briefly) to the history of scholarship and the present state of the field such that she appreciates the river into which she is stepping. There are a number of ways to approach the

2  The Origin and Character of God topic, so ideally the reader should also be presented with the author’s methodological principles (whether she agrees with them or not). Articulating a thoughtful methodology is a desideratum, for today’s analyses of Israelite religion (indeed, of the academic study of religion in general) are dramatically different from those of past generations. So far, so good. The two chapters that cover this are Chapter Two, “A Brief History of Scholarship,” and Chapter Three, “Methodology.”

Divinity The overwhelming task of articulating ancient Israelite religion comes into sharper focus when one ponders the lengthy list of topics that must be addressed. Surely the gods must be given their due (within Israel and within its broader cultural context), yet cracking the door to divinity invites a plethora of the preternatural. Even if we restrict ourselves to only the male gods of the Levant and only those of the Iron Age, we still face dealing with Athtar, Baal, Baal Hammon, Bethel, Chemosh, Dagan, El, Elyon, Eshmun, Gad, Hadad, Horon, Melqart, Milcom, Molek, Mot, Qadosh, Qaus, Reshep, Shamash, Yahweh, Yam, and Yarikh. Even this list is partial, as it does not include the various local and regional manifestations of the same deity.1 Obviously, female divinity needs a similar full and nuanced treatment, and here too the list is lengthy, including named deities (Anat, Anat-​Yahu, Asherah,2 Ashtart/​Astarte,3 Ashtarot, Baalat, Ishtar, Qedeshet, Qudshu, Tanit) and those known through titles and iconography (e.g., Queen of Heaven, Dea Nutrix, Mistress of Animals). Fleshing out divinity further would have to include the plural gatherings known as divine councils and assemblies. Examining the preternatural in ancient Israel more broadly would necessitate looking at entities linked to the heavens and the angelic as well as the netherworld and the demonic.

Sacred Time, Sacred Space Israelite religion took place in sacred time and sacred space, and these too would have to be studied fully for a comprehensive understanding. Even the briefest of surveys of the former would have to work through reams of calendrical sources, and surveys of the latter with volumes of archaeological data. Ziony Zevit’s (2001) masterful study of Israelite religions reveals the daunting task of articulating the many and varied forms of sacred architecture with ever increasing examples coming from each new season of excavations. That sacred trees and sacred waters—​even agrarian threshing floors—​were also places of cult increases

Introductory Matters  3 the level of difficulty.4 Of course, the religious paraphernalia filling such sacred spaces would need attention as well (e.g., apotropaic objects, censers, cultic jewelry, cultic symbols, incense, lampstands, the Nehushtan, mĕzûzôt).

The Practice of Religion Clearly, one would soon need to address cult per se, and here too there is a staggering amount of material about the actual practice of religion. Hopefully one could settle on an organizing principle (political? sociological? economic? ideological? theological?) that could facilitate articulating the varieties of royal cult, family and household religion, priestly tenets, prophetic and mantic practices, the daily religion of the sages writing reflective literature, and last but not least apotropaia thought to be effectual. Reform movements would need to be juxtaposed with counterreform measures. While certain rituals and religious festivals would take center stage (e.g., Sabbath observance, circumcision, sacrifice, Passover, yôm kippur), the comprehensive treatment we are envisioning would have to include a wide array of rituals (birth rituals, healing rituals, funerary rituals, ritual bathing, clothing, anointing, purification rituals, dedications, fasting, oaths, vows, temple rituals, etc.) and the full calendar of festivals and feasts (ḥag maṣṣôt, ḥag haqqāṣîr, ḥag hāʾāsîp, ḥag šābūʿôt, ḥag hassukkôt, bikkûrîm, pesaḥ, New Year’s festivals, New Moon, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee Year, etc.). Dare we mention cults of the dead, cultic prostitution, and child sacrifice? The finely tuned differences of offerings (zebaḥ, šĕlāmîm, ʾāšām, ḥāṭṭāʾt, ʿōlâ, tĕrûmâ) would have to be scrutinized diachronically and synchronically, as would dietary regulations and rationales. With the manipulation of blood seen as particularly distinctive in Israelite religious practice, one would have to examine whether blood was used symbolically and/​or instrumentally, whether Passover blood should be understood as apotropaic, whether daubing blood on the right ear, thumb, and big toe is best seen as purificatory or as an indexical sign.5 And once we start to consider the human body, Catherine Bell’s voice in our head urges us to consider the “ritual body” and the “socialized body.” How does ritual performance (e.g., garbing, anointing) reveal how Israelite religion was used ideologically to construct and reinforce hierarchy?

Religious Personnel: Kings, Priests, and Prophets Once humans enter the picture, the scope enlarges still further to include the different personnel involved in the various types of religion. Israelite religion

4  The Origin and Character of God broadly construed includes the king as a (the) primary cultic officiant together with a wide variety of priestly functionaries and various intermediaries associated with prophecy in its many forms. For a comprehensive look, each of these would have to be addressed for their religious components. Kings were closely associated with divinity and often perceived as the primary cultic actor who provides access to the gods. They were involved in the performance of cult, such as making burnt offerings (ʿōlôt) as well as the so-​called peace offerings (šĕlāmîm) and, in King Ahaz’s case, even blood manipulation. In addition to the performance of cult, Israelite and Judean rulers were the primary sponsors of religion, building and maintaining altars, sanctuaries, and temples. A glance at the remarkable finds at Kuntillet ʿAjrud (a remote site on the Darb el-​Ghazza caravan route under royal control) reminds us to include well-​trained scribes in any scenario of royal cult, as they were the ones used by monarchs to pen poetic theophanies (KA 4.2) similar to what we find in the Hebrew Bible’s oldest war poems. Ideologically, some have claimed divinity for the Judean king, and this too would need to be thoroughly examined. Were kings thought to be divine, or merely elevated leaders, or perhaps “infused with divinity” just short of being deified? A look at royal cult would also have to include the king’s role in judicial affairs, as earthly kings were to be righteous in imitation of the Divine Judge, who gifted them with discernment. Righteousness (ṣĕdāqâ), as the prophet Amos underscores, is parallel to justice (mišpāṭ). Just as royal cult was a mainstay of Israelite religion of the monarchic period, so too priestly cult was an ever-​present reality. The pages of the Hebrew Bible present us with Aaronids, Levites, Levitical priests, Mushites, the priests of Nob, Shilohnites, and Zadokites, not to mention groups known as “priests of the second order,” “the priests of the high places,” and the kĕmārîm priests. Even David’s sons are called priests. Yet another category are the male and female Nazirites who, in the formulation by the Priestly Source (P), vow a temporary threefold abstinence: refraining from cutting their hair, avoiding intoxicants and unclean food, and avoiding any contact with a corpse. Though an arduous undertaking, a comprehensive treatment would have to unpack the Hebrew Bible’s descriptions of ongoing negotiations over sacerdotal power, status, and cultic privilege. This is true particularly for understanding holiness in the biblical tradition. For, in addition to holiness being about cultic purity (i.e., cleanness void of moral, social, and/​or ritual pollution), holiness also served as an indicator of rank among cultic personnel. For example, the P traditions advocate that only Aaronid priests (in contrast to the non-​Aaronid Levites) are called holy. Analogously, just as holiness served as an indicator of rank among priestly personnel, so too holiness served as an indicator of Yahweh’s supremacy over the gods. Aged Israelite lore proclaimed:

Introductory Matters  5 Who is like you among the gods, Yahweh? Who is like you, feared in holiness?

mî-​kāmōkâ bāʾēlim yhwh mî kāmōkâ neʾdār baqqōdeš (Exod 15:11)

Again, God must be given his due. A third group of religious personnel central to our task would be intermediaries best known from the Hebrew Bible’s prophetic corpus but now expanded to encompass the divinatory arts (see Kitz 2003; Nissinen et al. 2003, 2019; Hamori 2015). Prophetic perspectives have always had their appeal to historians of Israelite religion due to the prophets’ varying modes of experience (visionary, auditory, audiovisual, dreams, ecstasy, omens, etc.) and modes of communication (verbal and nonverbal symbolic acts). Wide-​ranging religious viewpoints come from their different chronological, geographic, and sociological contexts. The last is particularly needed for revealing how prophetic engagement with royal and priestly cult was tied to one’s sociological setting (see Wilson 1980). Indeed, the roles of prophets and priests could be symbiotic (cf. Ezekiel the kōhēn) as much as they could be adversarial. Prophets cannot simply be reduced to outsiders speaking truth to religious power, as they themselves could be practitioners of cult. Elijah may never have been called a priest, yet he builds an altar “in the name of Yahweh,” procures a bull and fuel source, cuts the sacrificial animal into pieces, and invokes the deity through petitionary prayer—​all resulting in divine visitation. Moreover, “cult” should not be reduced to the sacrificial. That Elisha, “a holy man of God” (ʾîš ʾĕlōhîm qādôš hûʾ), was thought to resurrect the dead is just as much a part of Israelite religious belief. That a variety of divinatory procedures—​those legitimized and those branded illicit—​are attested (belomancy, cleromancy, extispicy, necromancy, oneiromancy) urges us to expand our definition of how divine intermediaries functioned (see Kitz 2003; Hamori 2015). That the primary medium used by the high priest to seek the will of God was the divinatory, binary Urim and Thummim once again shows how the priestly blends with the prophetic.

Other Religious Actors The three groups of personnel just described (royal, priestly, and prophetic intermediates) scratch only the elite surface of religious actors. Ancient Israelite religion encompassed far more than the elite preoccupation of using religion to obtain, secure, and bequeath power, be it the throne’s or the temple’s. The non-​elite religion of private individuals, families, and households was of abiding concern, as it addressed the transitions of life (birth, marriage, death). Thus our panoramic look at Israelite religion should treat the petitioning of the

6  The Origin and Character of God Divine Parent for safe births, fit children, and sturdy livestock; for snakebite remedies and sexual potency; for good weather, adequate water, and abundant crops. Lest we draw dichotomous categories too rigidly, we should remember the porous boundaries between elite and non-​elite religion:  kings, priests, high-​ranking officials, elite merchants, and the like shared similar concerns with commoners, as they all petitioned the divine for personal health and prosperity. During desperate times, certain individuals regardless of social standing turned yet elsewhere to seek succor. Though the precise literary genre of incantations is missing from the pages of the Hebrew Bible (contrast, for example the Ugaritic ritual texts), the Hebrew Bible nonetheless knows of such activity—​activity that was certainly at home within ancient Israel (though often deemed illicit) (see Lewis 2012). Thus a comprehensive coverage of the religion that was practiced in ancient Israel would have to explore the following incantation specialists: ḥōvēr ḥāver “enchanter of spells” (Deut 18:11; Isa 47:9,12); ḥôvēr ḥăvārîm mĕḥukkām “expert enchanter of spells” (Ps 58:6); mĕnaḥēš “omen interpreter” (Gen 44:5,15; Deut 18:11); mĕkaššēp “sorcerer” (Exod 7:1; 22:17; Deut 18:11; Mic 5:11); mĕʿônēn “cloud watcher?” (Deut 18:11; Mic 5:11; cf. Arslan Tash II); ḥăkam ḥărāšîm “skilled enchanter” (Isa 3:3; cf. Deir Alla I.36); nĕvôn lāḥāš “expert incantation specialist” (Isa 3:3); mĕlaḥăšîm “incantation specialist” (Ps 58:6); baʿal hal​lāšôn “master of the tongue” (Qohelet 10:11); ʾōrĕrê-​ yôm “those who curse the day” (Job 3:8); ʿōrēr livyātān “those who (are skilled at) rousing Leviathan” (Job 3:8); ʾaššāpîm/​ʾāšĕpîn/​ʾāšĕpayyăʾ “exorcist” (Dan 1:20; 2:27, 4:4; cf. Akk ʾāšipu). As we learn from the presence of amulets in the archaeological record, the prevalence of apotropaia thought to be effectual should not be underestimated.

The Reflective Side of Israelite Religion Also among the religious actors were those who sought to reflect on society, divinity, and the human condition, the sages who have left us with probing remarks that scholars have called “wisdom literature.” Wisdom (ḥôkmâ) in biblical tradition is grounded theistically: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov 9:10). It has a great respect for the elderly and a strong sense of community: “Ask your ancestor, and he will tell you; Your elders, and they will inform you” (Deut 32:7). It privileges collective truths, accrued over time:  “Indeed, inquire of bygone generations, Ascertain the insights of their ancestors; For we are but of yesterday and know nothing; Our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you, Utter words out of their understanding?” (Job 8:8–​10).

Introductory Matters  7 Thus a comprehensive treatment of Israelite religion would need to articulate the “wisdom perspective”—​that religion had better be about how to make the right choices in life, how to get along with people, how to live life decently, how to avoid personal disaster, how to drink deeply of God. For these concerns, about religion in its applied form, the historian of religion would have to turn his focus away from the grand affairs of state, history, politics, and law. Wisdom’s goal is personal holiness, marked by honesty, self-​control (especially in speech), diligence, and morality, and dedicated to securing a life of well-​being, decency, and dignity. Godly wisdom stands in contrast to “folly” (ʾiwwelet), a term used to encapsulate self-​destructive behaviors focusing on oneself apart from God.6 The thorough treatment we are envisioning would have to appreciate the variety of literary forms used to express these perspectives (axioms, disputation speeches, exhortations, folk wisdom, maxims, pithy expressions, precepts, proverbs, reflections, theodicies) together with how wisdom is personified as a woman bidding one to dine (Prov 9:1–​3). It would have to explore religious reflections on suffering (see Job) and on finding order among the absurdities and perceived randomness of life (see Qoheleth) as it probed questions of theodicy. It would need to be attuned to the ways in which authors were self-​referential as they included descriptions of “interiority” (see Niditch 2015). In short, it would have to “look at life honestly, as the sages of Israel surely did,” in order to “see goodness, beauty, and justice” along with life’s “evil, ugliness, and injustice” (Fox 2000: 3).

Aesthetic Presentations of Israelite Religion: Literature, Music, Art, and Dance Many readers of a volume on Israelite religion who have a passion for the humanities would want to see substantial coverage of the ways in which literature, the visual arts, music, dance, and drama were used by the ancients to express their religious beliefs. In this desire they stand in good company, for text (the Hebrew Bible and the epigraphic record) and material culture reveal that the ancients widely embraced the humanities. One need look no further than the many examples of literary craftsmanship (puns, double entendres, storytelling, etc.),7 melodious psalms, the large percentage of the Hebrew Bible that was written in poetry, David’s ritual dance (2 Sam 6:12–​16), Elisha’s music-​induced prophecy (2 Kgs 3:15; cf. 1 Sam 10:5–​6), Job’s morning stars singing (Job 38:7), or the tradition that God gifted Bezalel and his craftsmen with superior artistic skills to be used in his service (Exod 31:1–​11; 35:30–​35). The Priestly Tradition offers the strongest apology for how God desires the best of the humanities to be used in religious service—​in the creation of sacred

8  The Origin and Character of God architecture (Tent of Meeting, Ark, kappōret, altar, basin), religious furnishings (incense stands, lampstands, tables, utensils), and the paraphernalia of cult (from priestly vestments to anointing oil and incense). P elaborates on how God called Bezalel personally, how he filled him with his divine spirit (rûaḥ ʾĕlōhîm), with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft (bĕḥokmâ ûbitĕbûnâ ûbĕdaʿat ûbĕkol-​mĕlāʾkâ; Exod 31:3; 35:31). God desires and empowers his artisans to work skillfully in a variety of media and with various artistic techniques (Exod 31:4; 35:32–​35). There are aesthetic reasons why the Hebrew Bible is chanted (Jacobson 2017: 4–​10), why its psalter is the hymnbook of the church, why its pages are vital to the canon of English (and non-​English) literature curricula, and why its stories are a canvas for the history of art, not to mention the worlds of theater and film. Turning again to religion, when the great English humanist and apologist G. K. Chesterton (1908: 60, 63–​64) mused about his “ultimate attitudes toward life; the soils for the seeds of doctrine,” he quipped: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story, there is a story-​teller.”

Conclusion to the Scope of a Comprehensive Volume on Ancient Israelite Religion The preceding survey articulates the breadth of scope that a comprehensive volume should entail, together with the daunting task of carrying out such an endeavor. To make matters even more challenging, Chapter Three will address the academic disciplines and methodologies needed to write a history of Israelite religion. Obviously, a single volume of manageable length cannot cover all of the aforementioned features unless one chooses to present a brief flyover, and then one ends up with an introduction rather than a reference volume. The best approach, then, is to be selective in choosing several broad areas of concentration that are representative of the whole.

Taste and see that Yahweh is good . . . (Ps 34:9 [Eng 34:8])

The Scope of the Present Volume The present volume is a synthetic presentation of core elements of ancient Israelite religion. The varied topics mentioned earlier have undergone a distillation process that hopefully, as with an aged Scotch, brings out the intense flavors, colors, and aromas of the remarkable past without being reductionist. Israelite religion must be understood through texts (the Hebrew Bible and the epigraphic

Introductory Matters  9 record) and material culture, yet also within its broader ancient Near Eastern cultural and historical context. Synthesizing so much material runs the risk of oversimplifying, yet in our age of narrowing specializations there remains a great benefit in looking at the broad picture.

An Organizing Principle: Studying Ancient Israelite Religion through the Lens of Divinity There are many options for organizing our material, as varied as the many topics just mentioned. Ziony Zevit (2001: 79) wisely uses the materiality of cult, especially the variety of sacred architecture and the epigraphic record, “as a matter of research strategy” in order to appreciate the multiplicity of Israelite religions. Rainer Albertz uses a sociological lens to view the history of Israelite religion from small family groups to a centralized state, but also with a keen eye on personal piety (Albertz 1978, 1994; Albertz and Schmitt 2012). Susan Niditch (2015) looks to descriptions of self-​representation and self-​contemplation to view the individualistic experience of religion. Debra Ballentine (2015) looks afresh at how religious myths of combat functioned ideologically as much as they delightfully entertained. Mark Smith (2001b, 2002a, 2004, 2008, 2016) repeatedly turns to divinity as a conceptual category to organize his multifaceted studies of Israelite religion. Karel van der Toorn’s (2018b) varied essays on Israelite religious beliefs and practices are now collected under the title God in Context. Similar to the work of Smith and van der Toorn, the present volume looks to divinity as an organizing principle, though this book will include a variety of theoretical perspectives, including those of the historians of religion already listed. By using divinity, I do not mean to narrow the topic theologically; rather, writing as a historian of religion, I intend to explore divinity as a window to the historical, the sociological, the performance of cult, the ideological, and the aesthetic. I have chosen to look at literary and iconographic portrayals to see how humans represented their deities and in so doing represented themselves and their religious world. Why the lens of divinity? Daniel Schwemer (2016: 1–​3) articulates the divine orientation of Hittite cult in ways that resonate with the religions across the ancient Near East, including (with certain adjustments) ancient Israel: The sphere of the divine forms part of the Hittite landscape; mountains, rivers and rocks are regarded as numinous powers, as are the sea, the sun and the storm. The gods inhabit the various regions of the cosmos and the land, but, at the same time, they reside in houses built for them by mortals whose relationship to their divine lords is conceived in analogy to that of a

10  The Origin and Character of God slave to his master. The people take care of and provide for the gods whose contentment and favorable presence are considered to be essential for the prosperity of the land. The basic patterns of how and when mortals provide [for] and honour the gods are . . . shaped by the conceptualisation of divine beings in analogy to human authorities (anthropomorphism).  .  .  . The observance of the cult is regarded as a prerequisite of the gods’ favour; it thus plays a central role in establishing and preserving the exclusive relationship between the Hittites and their gods.

James Kugel (2011: 28–​30) concurs lucidly: The peoples [of the ancient Near East] had always deferred, and referred, to God or the gods in all things, going back to time immemorial. . . . The gods’ looming presence in the ancient Near East has, of course, some practical consequences. . . . [H]‌ow someone thinks about God . . . has very much to do with how that person conceives of himself or herself, and more precisely, how such a self conceives of itself fitting into the world.

Mark Smith (2001b: 103) poignantly adds: To understand divinity is to extrapolate from the human condition to express reality that cannot be entirely described; and to understand humanity is in turn to make some sense of divinity that can be sensed only in part. . . . [D]‌ivinity is not simply humanity writ large. . . . The ancients struggled with the limits of their understanding of divinity. . . . It was a mystery of something beyond themselves.

Seven Tastings The distillate before you has seven flavors. As a first taste, Chapter Four considers the worship of El, the deity who appears in the name of the eponymous ancestor Israel. Sociologically, the flavors here are those of ancestral traditions, the so-​ called God of the Fathers, and family religion—​standing apart from the religion of a centralized state and hierarchical priestly cult. The literary portrayals of El worship must be complemented by a look at the aesthetically physical. Was El imagined in the form of an enthroned, benevolent patriarch, a majestic bull, or even a solid block of stone? Chapter Five, our second taste, blends in the iconography of El situated within a comparative study of ancient Israel’s neighbors, especially the robust ʾIlu religion of Late Bronze Age Syria (Ugarit). The numerous

Introductory Matters  11 cults of standing stones (known elsewhere as betyls or “houses of El”) attested archaeologically throughout Iron Age Israel’s history will also be sampled. Yahweh is far and away the dominant deity of Israelite religion, such that Patrick Miller (2000: xviii) can assert that “the centrality of this deity” and his “nature and character” are “at the heart of all the practices of Israelite religion” (my emphasis). Thus our remaining five tastings will probe the historical question of the origin of Yahweh and the various ways in which he was characterized.8 Chapter Six provides a third tasting with an emphasis on the historical. Readers can evaluate the Hebrew Bible’s foundation stories about Yahweh (and vis-​à-​vis El worship) juxtaposed next to the epigraphic record, with datable texts ranging from Egyptian geographical lists of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE to a ninth-​century BCE Moabite inscription and multiple ninth-​and eighth-​century BCE Yahwistic inscriptions from a remote site on the Darb el-​ Ghazza caravan route just south of Qadesh-​Barnea (Tell el-​Qudeirat), a site with a long biblical pedigree. Anyone who enjoys hypothesizing about the identity of Moses’s father-​in-​law or connections to Midianites and Kenites will find an array of theories that can be sampled alongside archaic Hebrew poetry (biblical and epigraphic) describing militaristic wilderness theophanies. Chapter Seven offers yet another tasting (our fourth) of the ways in which divinity was represented, with a detailed exploration of Yahweh’s image in text and object. Whether Yahweh was embodied anthropomorphically, theriomorphically (with bulls and lions), or as taking up residence in solid stone is situated within the broader philosophical debate coming from ancient Israel’s well-​known aniconic traditions, which advocated that the image of God cannot and must not be fashioned. Anthropologically, here we come up against Rudolph Otto’s theories that humans can be fascinated by the irresistible appeal of the numinous while at the same time standing in utter dread of the danger, even lethality, of the sacred. The ubiquity of anthropomorphic language used of Yahweh resides on the pages of the Hebrew Bible alongside multiple traditions that represented Yahweh abstractly. With its ethereal qualities, fire was consistently chosen as representing Yahweh’s presence, from Moses’ burning bush and Elijah’s “proof of divinity” contest on Mt. Carmel to fiery anthropomorphisms where Yahweh’s mouth breathed fire and his nostrils snorted smoke. The ancients also developed a notion of abstract “radiance” that they assigned to their gods (e.g., Akkadian melammu), and for several biblical authors (e.g., the Priestly Source and Ezekiel) Yahweh was best conceptualized as kābôd, a term that we will do our best to define. A third attempt at portraying the divine abstractly was developed by Deuteronomic/​ Deuteronomistic scribes. They asserted that the very Name (šēm) of Yahweh could capture his essential nature and represent his presence “residing” in the Jerusalem Temple in a way that avoids (humanlike) limitations such as sitting on

12  The Origin and Character of God a throne. Yet other thinkers imagined that Yahweh might manifest as an invisible presence, and here they were echoing their neighbors to the north (in Ayn Dara, Syria) who carved a series of gigantic footprints representing an invisible deity of enormous size walking into his (or her) inner sanctum. The remaining chapters correlate the ways in which Yahweh was characterized with the practice of cult, and with a variety of ideologies, religious expressions, and understandings throughout society. The plurality of religious actors described earlier in our panorama (kings, priests, prophetic intermediaries, sages, and the non-​elite) will be addressed—​though, again, through a representative sampling and without any attempt at an exhaustive coverage. Chapter Eight (our fifth taste of Israelite religion) intentionally juxtaposes two extremes: Yahweh as warrior and Yahweh as parent. Our intent is to provide a corrective for those who choose to view religion (especially biblical religion) narrowly, asserting that “the God of the Old Testament” is militaristic and thus they want nothing to do with him. In the ancient world (known for its brutality no more than ours) gods had to fight for their adherents. For whatever reason (the desperate petitions of the victims of brutality crying out for justice, or the aggrandizing and legitimizing of a self-​serving monarch), gods were perceived as and needed to be powerful—​to right wrongs, protect crops, and vanquish enemies. As a shock to our modern perspective, to say that a god is “holy” can emphasize that he is militarily powerful. Ḥērem battles are cultic as much as they are military. A soldier “consecrates” himself for the sacrality of war. Moreover, the notion of Yahweh as divine warrior transcended the mundane to include what has been labeled “cosmic” warfare, where a superendowed deity was able to vanquish seven-​headed dragons that threatened society at large. Yet as we see with all societies, alternative voices were at the ready to provide a counternarrative that God is a force of peaceful existence. Thus Chapter Eight balances tales of divine warfare with powerful rhetorical aspirations of disarmament. People can choose to beat their swords into plowshares, to learn of war nevermore. Surprisingly, we come across juxtaposed similes that depict Yahweh as both “like a warrior” and “like a woman giving birth” (Isa 42:13–​14). Such language gives us a thirst for the ways in which Yahweh was portrayed as a compassionate family god. The rest of Chapter Eight then explores the non-​elite religious actors sketched in the panorama. How is it that the warrior God can stoop to dry one’s tears? Using the language of family religion (what Saul Bellow called “kitchen religion”), we will see that Yahweh is portrayed as a caring father to his child Israel, like a mother nourishing her newborn. Another blended (sixth) taste is found in Chapter Nine:  it intentionally juxtaposes God as king and God as judge. Just as pondering Yahweh as a family god provided a window into domestic cult, so viewing Yahweh as king helps us to peer into royal cult, and seeing Yahweh as judge provides an avenue into ancient

Introductory Matters  13 Israel’s judiciaries. Some scholars advocate that the metaphor of Yahweh as king was the primary way in which the ancients understood their god. Reciprocally, the way they conceptualized kingship was informed by the actions of their monarchs and the ideology of royal power and prestige. As already noted, both actions and ideologies were wrapped in theocentric garb, as kings were the primary cultic actors and, at least for the Davidides, occupied their thrones because of divine providence. Chapter Nine then looks at royal cult, including the religious lives of Israelite and Judean monarchs and their putative divinity, all set against the backdrop of ancient Near Eastern royalty. As Yahweh was the Eternal King, so the anointed monarch sat on Yahweh’s eternal throne (wayyēšeb ʿal-​ kissēʾ yhwh lĕmelek; 1 Chr 29:23; Ps 45:7 [Eng 45:6]). As Yahweh was the king par excellence, so “incomparable” language was used of certain kings (e.g., Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah), as they were linked to the divine especially via cult. Some kings receive considerable attention for their sponsoring and performance of cult—​not just the favored David and Solomon, but also Ahaz, whose blood manipulation is unparalleled among all the other kings of the Bible. (Elsewhere such activity is solely the prerogative of priests.) Ideologically, while Judean kings were not considered to be divine (nowhere do they ever receive cult), they nonetheless were infused with divine qualities. As Yahweh was seen as the chief magistrate and divine lawgiver, so Judean monarchs were ordained of God to ensure justice (mišpāṭ), equity (mîšōr), and righteousness (ṣedeq, ṣĕdāqâ). Chapter Nine thus rounds out our look at royal religion by considering Judean kings, who were viewed as “kings of justice,” to borrow a phrase from their Mesopotamian neighbors. It articulates judicial ideals found across the Near East that sound quite contemporary, as they provide legal safeguards for the disadvantaged of society (especially widows, orphans, and the gērîm, or non-​ Israelite residents). It also explores whether kings actually enacted laws, in light of the poor documentation for royal legislation within the Hebrew Bible. Considering ancient Israelite societies at large, over long chronological and geographical spans, Chapter Nine also looks at non-​royal judiciaries. Understanding the origin and organization of early Israelite judiciaries is fraught with challenges, yet this need not stop us from exploring what can be said about the roles of the paterfamilias, fathers and mothers, kinsmen, tribal “heads” (rāʾšîm), tribal “officials” (šōṭĕrîm), judges (including the female Deborah), town elders, and priests. A theocentric constant is again in full view: the notion of God as judge permeates all social levels. So too we find the divinely inspired judicial ideal of rendering decisions without partiality, providing justice for native and non-​native resident alike, with all social rungs (kaqqāṭōn kaggādōl) receiving equal treatment. Chapter Nine also considers the abuse of judicial power by documenting, albeit briefly, prophetic voices speaking out against injustice. Sociologically, it

14  The Origin and Character of God mattered not if prophets commissioned by Yahweh stood within the power structure or without. Advocating for justice was their vocation. As will be detailed later, they employed a variety of literary genres (e.g., judicial parables, judgment oracles, covenant lawsuits) to advocate change for the disenfranchised. Finally, Chapter Nine focuses attention on the reflective nature within Israelite religion, where sages probed the nature of the judicial ideal as it applies to divinity. The theodicies left for us to ponder are nuanced and existential. They include affirmations that Yahweh is indeed just (Leibniz’s théodicée), but that lessens not the absurd and maddening ways in which divine retribution plays out (thus Qoheleth). Boldly, the reflective side of Israelite religion also made space for direct challenges to the Almighty. One need not only imagine taking God to court, says Job; an actual legal case can be filed. Yet with litigation comes a verdict, and likely not what the litigant Job had in mind when he first strove to put God in the dock. For our final tasting we offer a holiness blend. Using divinity once again as an organizing principle, Chapter Ten explores the notion of Yahweh as the Holy One to speak primarily about priestly religion. When many people think of the practice of Israelite religion, they imagine priestly cult, and with good reason. As previously mentioned, a wide variety of sacerdotal personnel and their activities are ubiquitously documented. The sheer volume of this material and its unparalleled relevance for understanding Israelite religion can be daunting, even paralyzing. Surely one must have the brilliance and constitution of a Jacob Milgrom or a Baruch Levine to understand this material fully. True enough. But this need not keep us from appropriating their insights (and those of other dogged researchers) to sketch a partial picture. Still, the reader should be forewarned: even the partial picture presented in Chapter Ten is not for the timid. Yet exploring priestly cult in detail is essential for understanding Israelite religion—​hence the bulk of our chapter even as a distillate. Chapter Ten examines the concept of holiness broadly construed within ancient Israelite religion. Perhaps counterintuitively, it begins with an overview of non-​cultic understandings of holiness. Again, this is intentional, in order to awaken the reader cross-​culturally, to bring the reader to consider that within the Levant to call a god holy can likely be an affirmation of power, especially military power. Surprisingly, here there is no hint of what comes to define holiness in priestly and Deuteronomic traditions (e.g., sacerdotal rank, cultic purity, social and ethical behaviors, and being withdrawn from common use). The earliest passages of the Hebrew Bible on holy divinity resonate with what we see in Late Bronze Age Levantine antecedents and from the ninth-​/e​ ighth-​century BCE epigraphic record at Kuntillet ʿAjrud: to say that Yahweh is holy is to say that he is powerful. All such passages—​including archaic poetry and the lethal holiness

Introductory Matters  15 of the Ark narrative (with poor Uzzah as an object lesson matched only by the deaths of Nadab and Abihu), not to mention Hosea’s and Isaiah’s “Holy One of Israel”—​are examined in turn. The cultic management of holiness takes up the core of Chapter Ten. One text after another reveals how the actions of individuals within a sacred location and the delimiting of sacred space correlate with social and cultic status. It is easy to see how the concept of holiness is used ideologically to construct and reinforce rank, power, and privilege. This is especially true in the promotion of Moses, Aaron, and the Aaronid priests. And yet curious oddities will jump out to the reader. For example, though Moses is the preeminent authority throughout this material (and though we use the exclamatory “Holy Moses!”), the verb qdš is never used of Moses throughout the Hebrew Bible apart from a single (late) reference. Moreover, though the inaugurator of cult, Moses is never explicitly called a priest and never undergoes any type of consecration ritual. The discussion in Chapter Ten probes why this may be so. Building on the work of Catherine Bell and others on ritual performance and the ritual body, Chapter Ten examines two particular ritual acts (clothing and anointing) that serve to construct and reinforce social realities and hierarchies. It is shown how the ritual clothing of Aaron is an act of investiture that formally bestows and confirms the authority due his rank as high priest. Vestments are used to mark both his subservience before God and his elevated status before humans. The ritual substances (oil and blood) and manner (pouring versus sprinkling) of anointing similarly mark sacerdotal rank. Chapter Ten also devotes special attention to cultic actors (“holy” personnel) per se and across a wide swath of literature. As Saul Olyan (2000: 35) perceptively notes, there is nothing more fascinating than to see how “among the ranks of the cultic elite, distinctions of status . . . are often expressed through the idiom of holiness.” One need probe no further than P’s adamant assertion, mentioned previously, that only Aaronid priests (kōhănîm) are holy. In this volume the reader will see how each tradition (e.g., Priestly Source, Holiness Code, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, Deuteronomistic History, and Chronicles) has its own nuances and terminology about who can be holy and why it vitally matters for the control and exercise of cult. Readers not familiar with this material should gain a new appreciation for how the Hebrew Bible preserves opposing voices with regard to restricting and expanding holiness. Of special interest for the latter are P’s traditions about temporary Nazirites who were able to achieve a higher level of sanctity, especially women who have no other cultic role in P’s scheme. Even more striking is the Holiness Code’s (H’s) comprehensive notion of holiness that includes the entire community (not only priests) and covering a wide array of cultic, economic, judicial, moral, and social parameters.

16  The Origin and Character of God

Conclusion I never imagined that I would begin a book on religion (and on God!) by talking about Scotch. Hopefully the distillate before you has the maturity to capture a taste of Israelite religion with all its complexities. Hopefully it is robust yet supple, offering something for every palate with surprising notes, layered aromas, and intricate coloring. And hopefully it is well balanced, able to warm the soul as on a wintry day and linger long with a smooth finish.


The History of Scholarship on Ancient Israelite Religion: A Brief Sketch Introduction: Schematizing Intellectual History Schematizing the history of human thought into categories is always risky, yet pedagogically necessary in order to focus discussion. Dividing history into periods usually predisposes us to treat them as antithetical. When C. S. Lewis gave his inaugural lecture as professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge in 1954, he remarked that the opposite is often preferable. In his field of study, he noted, following Jean Seznec, “as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance come to be better known, the traditional antithesis between them grows less marked” (1955: 1–​3). The same could be said of the history of human thought presented in this chapter as one realizes the degree to which thinkers (ancient and modern) are indebted to their predecessors. On the other hand, one could adopt Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) well-​known “paradigm shift” model and assert that the major advances that have propelled fields of study are not at all gradual or linear, but revolutionary in character. Here too one could easily demonstrate insights gained because certain scholars stepped outside of accepted dogma and saw things in a new light (cf. Rendtorff 1993b). Clearly, the best reconstructions of intellectual history resist such binary oppositions, realizing that continuity and novelty can coexist. Out of necessity one must provide structures within which to view the vast sweep of human thought as it pertains to the study of religion. To quote Lewis again, “We cannot hold together huge masses of particulars without putting into them some type of structure. . . . All divisions will falsify our material to some extent; the best one can hope is to choose those which will falsify it least” (1955: 3–​4). With this hope in mind, the following brief outline of the history of scholarship is presented for heuristic purposes. Not all aspects of biblical scholarship are treated, only those with direct impact on the study of ancient Israelite religion. Even so restricted, the secondary literature is vast and can only be sketched.

18  The Origin and Character of God

The Growth of the Critical Study of the Bible: The Enlightenment It is common to find introductory books that assert that the critical study of the Bible began with the Enlightenment in eighteenth-​century Europe (e.g., Fohrer 1972: 17; Frei 1974: 51; Oden 1987: 19). To be sure, traditional beliefs regarding the Bible were already being questioned prior to this time. As early as the late medieval period Ibn Ezra (1092–​1167) was intimating that portions of the Pentateuch were incompatible with Mosaic authorship, as were the latter chapters of Isaiah with the eighth-​century BCE Isaiah ben Amoz.1 Yet the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries do represent an increase in direct challenges against the traditional views of the church and synagogue. Richard Simon (1638–​1712) would contest the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch based on his literary studies, while Jean Astruc’s (1684–​1766) isolation of divine names and duplicate narratives would mark the beginnings of source criticism (cf. Knight 1973: 39–​58). Thus, for our purposes, the Enlightenment is a convenient place to start the story of intellectual history as it influenced the study of the Bible. And yet, if a personal caveat may be permitted, I would argue that in choosing this period we need to be careful not to imply even subtly the denigration of pre-​Enlightenment intellectual activity (due to the unstated view that scholarship must be skeptical to be critical). Working backward in time from the Enlightenment, one can appreciate biblical insights (even critical in nascence, although rarely skeptical) coming from many avenues of inquiry (philosophical, theological, exegetical) from diverse groups, including Jewish (e.g., Spinoza, Maimonides, the Qimhis, Ibn Ezra, Rashi), Catholic (e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Anselm), and Protestant (e.g., the sixteenth-​century reformers) scholars. Though often hailed as monolithic, the Enlightenment period was certainly not uniform in its expression. At various points one finds intellectualism as well as anti-​intellectualism, belief in progress as well as pessimism, theism as well as deism and atheism, credulity as well as skepticism. Nonetheless, the Enlightenment spirit in general placed emphasis on human reason, experience, and autonomy as it rebelled against external authority. “Sapere aude! [Dare to be wise!] Have courage to use your own reason!—​that is the motto of enlightenment,” opined Immanuel Kant (1959: 85). As epitomized in the work of Kant, Enlightenment thought is a product of seventeenth-​century Rationalism and eighteenth-​century British Empiricism. In rejecting Rationalism (which wanted to argue for the existence of God but from reason instead of revelation), Kant argued that one simply cannot have a scientific theology. The human mind is capable of wrestling with the material world; it is powerless for speculating theologically. Following David Hume, he denied the necessity (non-​contingency) of

The History of Scholarship on Ancient Israelite Religion  19 God, the classic doctrine of previous historical theology, thereby reducing “religion” to human morality. For Kant, future historical researchers could no longer appeal to any truth claims that a biblical author may make. They must be satisfied with describing only religious people, their beliefs, and their morality. One cannot theorize about God. The empirical spirit of the Enlightenment did not go unchallenged. As the eighteenth century drew to a close, poetic writers who yearned for passion and aesthetics rather than scholasticism revolted against rationalism and Kantian skepticism. Some Romantics followed in the footsteps of Jean-​Jacques Rousseau in their emphasis of feelings, imagination, intuition, and a return to nature. The Romantic who left his mark on the study of ancient Israel more than any other was the prolific Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–​1803), himself a student of Kant.2 “The historian, Herder said, must loathe metaphysical abstractions and purely rational constructs. The proper historian must rather work as does an artist or a poet” (Oden 1987:  9). And thus Herder did, as he emphasized the Volkspoesie of the early Hebrews (see his two-​volume The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry). Such was the world of intellectual thought when the history of biblical scholarship was entering its most pivotal century, the nineteenth. It is hard to overestima