The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism

The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism

The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism

The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism


Sure to provoke discussion and debate as it offers a unique approach to some old and perplexing issues in the history of ancient Israel and its religion, Cook's study is a bold new proposal for synthesizing the social history of Israel's religious traditions. Among the many Yahwisms" coexisting in ancient Israel was an initially small minority stream of theological tradition composed of geographically and socially diverse groups in northern and southern Israel. These groups shared a religious commitment to a covenantal, village-based, land-oriented Yahwism that arose before the emergence of Israelite kingship. It eventually rose to dominance, and its theology provided robust resources for dealing with the Babylonian exile. It thus came to occupy a prominent place in the present canon of the Hebrew Bible. Cook combines detailed study of biblical texts with a carefully constructed social-scientific method and body of data to argue for the early origins of biblical Yahwism. This book is written to be accessible to lay readers and also of significant interest to Hebrew Bible students and specialists. Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature ("


Scholarly revisionists and challengers now question the historical roots of Israel's traditional covenantal faith, rocking the foundations of Judaism and Christianity. Raising these challenges, based in part on new archaeological finds, they argue that the central religious understandings now found in the Hebrew Bible emerged historically only at a relatively late point in Israel. the beliefs and practices that the Bible advocates, these scholars contend, lack a legitimate pedigree. They evolved as a religious breakthrough or an ideological polemic around the time of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E.

In this book, I take on this present-day, revisionist scholarship. I go behind the texts of the Hebrew Bible to explore the actual social roots of what Scripture describes as Israel's ancient covenant beliefs, revealed at Mount Sinai. I show that they are not the product of a long history of Israelite religious and cultural development, but an early, minority perspective from outside of Israel's and Judah's central state culture.

What is at stake is the provenance and time of origin of the Hebrew Bible's dominant beliefs. By dominant beliefs, I mean the overt religious points of view that the Bible presents and supports—viewpoints that Jews and Christians will instantly recognize.

I shall call these dominant, scriptural beliefs biblical Yahwism. This term, though susceptible to multiple interpretation and misunderstanding, serves to distinguish the religious perspective of which I shall speak from other patterns of belief that include worship of Yahweh, the God of the Bible. a term such as canonical, covenantal, Sinai Yahwism would be more appropriate for my subject matter, but it would be cumbersome.

. As I discuss in chapter 2, I use the term Sinai as shorthand for the broad covenantal theology of Deuteronomy and related biblical texts. I do not make any claims about actual

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