The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel

The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel

The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel

The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel

Synopsis

Foreword by Patrick D. Miller

In this remarkable, acclaimed history of the development of monotheism, Mark S. Smith explains how Israel's religion evolved from a cult of Yahweh as a primary deity among many to a fully defined monotheistic faith with Yahweh as sole god. Repudiating the traditional view that Israel was fundamentally different in culture and religion from its Canaanite neighbors, this provocative book argues that Israelite religion developed, at least in part, from the religion of Canaan. Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological sources, Smith cogently demonstrates that Israelite religion was not an outright rejection of foreign, pagan gods but, rather, was the result of the progressive establishment of a distinctly separate Israelite identity. This thoroughly revised second edition of The Early History of God includes a substantial new preface by the author and a foreword by Patrick D. Miller.

Excerpt

There has been and is much disagreement among theologians about the
god honored among the Hebrews.

The view expressed in the epigraph is as true today as it was when Lydus, a Greek of the sixth century A.D., wrote these words. The role of Yahweh within Israelite religion was an important area of inquiry within biblical studies throughout most of the twentieth century. During this century, the understanding of Yahweh has been shaped strongly by the study of Canaanite deities. The title of a significant work in the field of Israelite religion, W. F. Albright’s Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, echoed in the subtitle of this present work, reflects the central place that various “Canaanite” deities have long held in the discussion of Israelite monotheism, which may be defined as the worship and belief in Yahweh and disbelief in the reality of other deities. The study of Canaanite deities in connection with Yahweh was inspired largely by the discovery of numerous ancient texts in the Levant, especially

1. Lydus, De mensibus 4.53; for text and translation, see H. W. Attridge and R. A. Oden, Jr., Philo of Byblos: The Phoenician History, CBQMS 9 (Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1979), 70–71.

2. W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: An Historical Analysis of Two Conflicting Faiths (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968). Albright (p. vi) dates the preface of the book 1 July 1967. For an interesting retrospective of Albright’s thought, see J. A. Miles, Jr., “Understanding Albright: A Revolutionary Etude,” HTR 69 (1976): 151–75. Albright’s title is echoed in the name of J. Day’s book, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, JSOTSup 265 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001). On the term “Canaanite,” see the comments on p. 19 n. 2 below.

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