The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts

The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts

The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts

The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts

Synopsis

According to the Bible, ancient Israel's neighbors worshipped a wide variety of gods. In recent years, scholars have sought a better understanding of this early polytheistic milieu and its relation to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Drawing on ancient Ugaritic texts and looking closely at Ugaritic deities, Mark Smith examines the meaning of "divinity" in the ancient near East and considers how this concept applies to Yahweh.

Excerpt

All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?

T. S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi”

N ow, at the turn of the millennium, God remains a central question in Western culture. Through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, the notion of God could be assumed. People may have seriously questioned the justice or nature of God, but the “existence” of God was a given. In the wake of massive religious wars and the Enlightenment came more critical analysis of religion, specifically religion as human artifact. Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Durkheim, Freud, Geertz: their powerful analyses cumulatively put belief in God first in jeopardy and then in flight before an increasingly secular Western culture. The crisis-point in many intellectual circles has long passed. Numerous studies of God treat the divine largely as a social construct, psychological projection, or literary figure. Now in religious studies departments, theological discussions question the intelligibility of either God or the act, concept, and structure of faith (“what does it mean to believe in God?”). Yet the “flight of God” from American universities is hardly a uniform phenomenon. Although discourse about God and the notion of belief has become increasingly problematic in departments of religion and divinity schools, theists elsewhere in the university are scarcely in full retreat. For example, a survey of American scientists on one campus, the University of Georgia, conducted by the Pulitzer Prize—winning historian of science Edward Larson, hardly indicates complete lack of belief; if anything, the opposite is the case. Moreover, the topic of God has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in contemporary Western culture by way of the field of physics. Recent works exploring the divine and physics include Mark Worthing's God, Creation and Contemporary Physics. So, at the start of the new millennium, faith is increasingly questioned in religion and divinity faculties even as it is affirmed in other quarters of American universities.

This range is evident as well in recent studies of God in the Bible. Within the fields of theological and biblical studies, traditional theological studies of God . . .

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