The Rediscovery of God
You are searching for the God of gods, the Creator, in the under-
standing of your heart. I am he.
—Apocalypse of Abraham1
ONE ASPECT OF the Hebrew Bible that immediately draws even a casual reader’s attention is the intense and pervasive rivalry it records between the God of Israel and the deities of the environing peoples. The former, most often referred to by the four-letter name “YHVH” (rendered into English as “the LORD”), is very often depicted as embroiled in fierce competition against the other gods for the loyalty of the people Israel. Although the biblical texts portray these rivals as foreign, they cannot deny their appeal to the Israelites or disguise the fact that those loyal to the LORD alone found themselves at times a pronounced and vulnerable minority. “How long will you keep hopping between the two boughs?” the ninth-century prophet Elijah, no friend of interfaith services, thunders on Mount Carmel. “If the LORD is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!” (1 Kgs 18:21).2 Offering abundant evidence for the ferocity of the struggle for YHVHistic purism, biblical law proscribes anyone who sacrifices to another god, demands that the Canaanite altars and icons be smashed to pieces, and specifies capital punishment for any Israelite, prophet or layman, who counsels that those gods be worshipped.3 “For he urged disloyalty to the LORD your God …” Deuteronomy explains. “Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst” (13:6).
The issue in these texts is not ontological but political or, better, theopolitical; that is, the question is not whether these other gods exist but whether Israel may serve them, and to that question the answer is, of course, a resounding “no!” As the loyal servant of their