YAHWEH (/ˈjɑːhweɪ/ , or often /ˈjɑːweɪ/ in English; Hebrew :
יהוה) was the national god of the
Iron Age kingdoms of Israel
(Samaria) and Judah . His exact origins are disputed, although they
reach back to the early
Iron Age and even the Late Bronze : his name
may have begun as an epithet of El , head of the
Bronze Age Canaanite
pantheon , but the earliest plausible mentions are in Egyptian texts
that place him among the nomads of the southern Transjordan . In the
oldest biblical literature he is a typical ancient Near Eastern
"divine warrior" who leads the heavenly army against Israel's enemies;
he later became the main god of the
Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and
of Judah , and over time the royal court and temple promoted Yahweh
as the god of the entire cosmos, possessing all the positive qualities
previously attributed to the other gods and goddesses. By the end of
Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), the very existence of foreign
gods was denied, and
Yahweh was proclaimed as the creator of the
cosmos and the true god of all the world.
Bronze Age origins
Iron Age I: El, Yahweh, and the origins of Israel
Iron Age II (930–586 BCE):
God of Israel
Yahweh and the rise of monotheism
* 5 Graeco-Roman syncretic folk religion
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 8.1 Citations
* 8.2 Bibliography
BRONZE AGE ORIGINS
The Israelites originated as
Bronze Age Canaanites, but
not appear to have been a Canaanite god. The head of the Canaanite
pantheon was El , and one theory is that the name
Yahweh is a
shortened form of _el dū yahwī ṣaba’ôt_, "El who creates the
hosts", meaning the heavenly army accompanying El as he marched beside
the earthly armies of Israel. But Yahweh's earliest possible
occurrence is as a place-name, "land of Shasu of YHW ", in an Egyptian
inscription from the time of
Amenhotep III (1402–1363 BCE), the
Shasu being nomads from
Edom in northern Arabia. In this
case a plausible etymology for the name could be from the root _HWY_,
which would yield the meaning "he blows", appropriate to a weather
There is considerable but not universal support for the view that the
Egyptian inscriptions refer to Yahweh. This raises the question of
how he made his way to the north. A widely accepted hypothesis is
that traders brought
Yahweh to Israel along the caravan routes between
Canaan , the
Kenite hypothesis, named after one of the
groups involved. The strength of the
Kenite hypothesis is the way it
ties together various points of data, such as the absence of Yahweh
from Canaan, his links with
Midian in the biblical stories,
Kenite or Midianite ties of Moses. However, while it is highly
plausible that the Kenites, Midianites and others may have introduced
Israel to Yahweh, it is highly unlikely that they did so outside the
borders of Israel or under the aegis of Moses, as the Exodus story has
IRON AGE I: EL, YAHWEH, AND THE ORIGINS OF ISRAEL
Image on pithos sherd found at
Kuntillet Ajrud below the
Yahweh and his Asherah", depicting the two as bulls with
the Egyptian god/goddess
Israel emerges into the historical record in the last decades of the
13th century BCE, at the very end of the Late
Bronze Age , as the
Canaanite city-state system was ending. The milieu from which
Israelite religion emerged was accordingly Canaanite. El , "the kind,
the compassionate", "the creator of creatures", was the chief of the
Canaanite gods, and he, not Yahweh, was the original "
Israel"—the word "Israel" is based on the name El rather than
Yahweh. He lived in a tent on a mountain from whose base originated
all the fresh waters of the world, with the goddess
Asherah as his
consort. This pair made up the top tier of the Canaanite pantheon;
the second tier was made up of their children, the "seventy sons of
Athirat" (a variant of the name Asherah). Prominent in this group was
Baal , who had his home on Mount
Zaphon ; over time
Baal became the
dominant Canaanite deity, so that El became the executive power and
Baal the military power in the cosmos. Baal's sphere was the
thunderstorm with its life-giving rains, so that he was also a
fertility god, although not quite _the_ fertility god. Below the
seventy second-tier gods was a third tier made up of comparatively
minor craftsman and trader deities, with a fourth and final tier of
divine messengers and the like.
El and his sons made up the Assembly of the Gods, each member of
which had a human nation under his care, and a textual variant of
Deuteronomy 32:8–9 describes the sons of El, including Yahweh, each
receiving his own people:
When the Most High (Elyon, i.e., El) gave the nations their
when he separated humanity,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of
for Yahweh's portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
Following the introduction of Yahweh, a shift in theophoric naming
occurred in which the original and most ancient biblical names paying
tribute to El (Isra-el , Dani-el, Samu-el, Micha-el etc.) began to be
displaced by names paying tribute to
Yahweh . Exodus 6:3 seeks to
merge the ancient Canaanite deity El with
Yahweh through a process of
I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to
but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them.
In the earliest literature such as the
Song of the Sea (Exodus
15:1–18, celebrating Yahweh's victory over Egypt at the exodus ),
Yahweh is a warrior for his people, a storm-god typical of ancient
Near Eastern myths, marching out from a region to the south or
south-east of Israel with the heavenly host of stars and planets that
make up his army. Israel's battles are Yahweh's battles, Israel's
victories are his victories, and while other peoples have other gods,
Israel's god is Yahweh, who will procure a fertile resting-place for
There is none like God, O Jeshurun (i.e., Israel)
who rides through the heavens to your help ...
he subdues the ancient gods, shatters the forces of old ...
so Israel lives in safety, untroubled is Jacob's abode ...
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
and you shall tread on their backs. (
IRON AGE II (930–586 BCE): YAHWEH AS GOD OF ISRAEL
Solomon dedicates the Temple at
Jerusalem (painting by James
Tissot or follower, c. 1896–1902)
Yahweh was the national god of the kingdoms of Israel and
Judah , and appears to have been worshiped only in these two
kingdoms; this was unusual in the
Ancient Near East but not
unknown—the god Ashur , for example, was worshiped only by the
After the 9th century BCE the tribes and chiefdoms of
Iron Age I were
replaced by ethnic nation states , Israel , Judah ,
others, each with its national god, and all more or less equal. Thus
Chemosh was the god of the Moabites,
Milcom the god of the Ammonites ,
Qaus the god of the Edomites , and
Yahweh the "
God of Israel " (no
God of Judah" is mentioned anywhere in the Bible). In each kingdom
the king was also the head of the national religion and thus the
viceroy on Earth of the national god; in
Jerusalem this was reflected
each year when the king presided over a ceremony at which
enthroned in the Temple.
The centre of Yahweh's worship lay in three great annual festivals
coinciding with major events in rural life:
Passover with the birthing
Shavuot with the cereal harvest, and
Sukkot with the fruit
harvest. These probably pre-dated the arrival of the
but they became linked to events in the national mythos of Israel:
Passover with the exodus from Egypt,
Shavuot with the law-giving at
Sukkot with the wilderness wanderings. The festivals thus
celebrated Yahweh's salvation of Israel and Israel's status as his
holy people, although the earlier agricultural meaning was not
entirely lost. His worship presumably involved sacrifice, but many
scholars have concluded that the rituals detailed in
with their stress on purity and atonement, were introduced only after
Babylonian exile , and that in reality any head of a family was
able to offer sacrifice as occasion demanded. (A number of scholars
have also drawn the conclusion that infant sacrifice, whether to the
Molech or to
Yahweh himself, was a part of
Israelite/Judahite religion until the reforms of
King Josiah in the
late 7th century BCE). Sacrifice was presumably complemented by the
singing or recital of psalms , but again the details are scant.
Prayer played little role in official worship.
The Hebrew Bible gives the impression that the
Jerusalem temple was
always meant to be the central or even sole temple of Yahweh, but this
was not the case: the earliest known Israelite place of worship is a
12th-century open-air altar in the hills of
Samaria featuring a bronze
bull reminiscent of Canaanite "Bull-El" (El in the form of a bull),
and the archaeological remains of further temples have been found at
Dan on Israel's northern border and at Arad in the
Negev and Beersheba
, both in the territory of Judah. Shiloh ,
Gilgal , Mizpah ,
Ramah and Dan were also major sites for festivals, sacrifices, the
making of vows, private rituals, and the adjudication of legal
Yahweh-worship was famously aniconic , meaning that the god was not
depicted by a statue or other image. This is not to say that he was
not represented in some symbolic form, and early Israelite worship
probably focused on standing stones, but according to the Biblical
texts the temple in
Jerusalem featured Yahweh's throne in the form of
two cherubim, their inner wings forming the seat and a box (the Ark of
the Covenant ) as a footstool, while the throne itself was empty. No
satisfactory explanation of Israelite aniconism has been advanced, and
a number of recent scholars have argued that
Yahweh was in fact
represented prior to the reforms of
Josiah late in the
monarchic period: to quote one recent study, "n early aniconism, _de
facto_ or otherwise, is purely a projection of the post-exilic
imagination" (MacDonald, 2007).
YAHWEH AND THE RISE OF MONOTHEISM
Pre-exilic Israel, like its neighbours, was polytheistic , and
Israelite monotheism was the result of unique historical
circumstances. The original god of Israel was El, as the name
demonstrates—its probable meaning is "may El rule" or some other
sentence-form involving the name of El. In the early tribal period
each tribe would have had its own patron god ; when kingship emerged
the state promoted
Yahweh as the national god of Israel, supreme over
the other gods, and gradually
Yahweh absorbed all the positive traits
of the other gods and goddesses.
Yahweh and El merged at religious
centres such as Shechem, Shiloh and Jerusalem, with El's name
becoming a generic term for "god" and Yahweh, the national god,
appropriating many of the older supreme god's titles such as Shaddai
Elyon (Most High).
Asherah , formerly the wife of El, was worshipped as Yahweh's
consort, and various biblical passages indicate that her statues were
kept in his temples in Jerusalem, Bethel, and Samaria.
also have appropriated
Anat , the wife of Baal, as his consort, as
Anat of Yahu," i.e., Yahweh) is mentioned in 5th century
BCE records from the Jewish colony at
Elephantine in Egypt. A goddess
called the Queen of Heaven was also worshipped, probably a fusion of
Astarte and the Mesopotamian goddess
Ishtar . Worship to
Yahweh coexisted in the early period of Israel's history, but they
were considered irreconcilable after the 9th century BCE, following
the efforts of King
Ahab and his queen
Jezebel to elevate
Baal to the
status of national god, although the cult of
Baal did continue for
The worship of
Yahweh alone began at the earliest with
Elijah in the
9th century BCE, but more likely with the prophet
Hosea in the 8th;
even then it remained the concern of a small party before gaining
ascendancy in the exilic and early post-exilic period . The early
supporters of this faction are widely regarded as being monolatrists
rather than true monotheists ; they did not believe that
the only god in existence, but instead believed that he was the only
god the people of Israel should worship. Finally, in the national
crisis of the exile, the followers of
Yahweh went a step further and
outright denied that the other deities aside from
Yahweh even existed,
thus marking the transition from monolatrism to true monotheism.
GRAECO-ROMAN SYNCRETIC FOLK RELIGION
Yahweh is frequently invoked in Graeco-Roman magical texts dating
from the second century BCE to the fifth century CE, most notably in
Greek Magical Papyri , under the names Iao ,
and Eloai . In these texts, he is often mentioned alongside
traditional Graeco-Roman deities and also Egyptian deities . The
Gabriel , Raphael , and Ouriel and Jewish
cultural heroes such as
Jacob , and
Moses are also invoked
frequently as well. The frequent occurrence of Yahweh's name is
probably due to Greek and Roman folk magicians seeking to make their
spells more powerful through the invocation of a prestigious foreign
deity. In his _Quaestiones Convivales _, the Greek writer Plutarch of
Chaeronea claimed, without providing any evidence, that
Dionysus , the ancient Greek god of wine, drunkenness,
and ritual madness.
Ancient Semitic religion
God in Abrahamic religions
Historicity of the Bible
History of ancient Israel and Judah
* Names of
God in Judaism
Second Temple Judaism
Sacred Name Movement
* ^ "Canaanites" in this article means the indigenous Bronze Age
Iron Age inhabitants of southern Syria, the coast of
Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan – see Dever, 2002, p. 219
* ^ For the varying texts of this verse, see Smith, 2012, pp.
139–40 and also chapter 4.
* ^ Refer to any Hebrew interlinear of the Masoretic Text or Greek
interlinear of LXX Septuagint for Exodus 6:3. Additionally, the NLT
attempts to preserve these names at Exodus 6:3.
* ^ Van Der Toorn 1999 , p. 766.
* ^ Edelman 1995 , p. 190.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Miller 1986 , p. 110.
* ^ Smith, Mark S. (28 June 2010). _
God in Translation: Deities in
Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World_. Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing. pp. 96–98. ISBN 978-0-8028-6433-8 . A fair reading of
the very difficult evidence would suggest that
Yahweh was a god
secondarily imported into the highlands of Israel from the south
Deuteronomy 33:2, Judges 5:4, Psalm 68:8,
18, and Habakkuk 3:3, 7) and that he was identified secondarily at
some point with the indigenous Canaanite and early Israelite god El.
(This would be reflected in later texts that reflect an older
distinction between the two gods, such as the original text of
Deuteronomy 32:8-9.) The old southern tradition for Yahweh, over and
against the well-attested tradition of El in
Canaan (long recognized
by many scholars), points to the secondary identification of El and
Yahweh, which might constitute the earliest Israelite case of
cross-cultural translatability, specifically in their capacities as
chief-gods of their respective regions (despite their rather divergent
natures). If correct, translatability would lie at the very heart of
early Israelite divinity. However, several scholars hold what seems to
be a less likely view, namely that
Yahweh was originally derived as a
title of El. Claims in either direction about the original
relationship between these two gods cannot be established with
* ^ Miller 2000 , p. 1.
* ^ Dijkstra 2001 , p. 92.
* ^ Dever 2003b , p. 128.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Hackett 2001 , pp. 158–59.
* ^ Smith 2002 , p. 72.
* ^ Wyatt 2010 , pp. 69–70.
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ Betz 2000 , p. 917.
* ^ Day 2002 , p. 15.
* ^ Dever 2003b , p. 125.
* ^ Miller 2000 , p. 2.
* ^ Freedman, O\'Connor & Ringgren 1986 , p. 520.
* ^ Grabbe 2007 , p. 151.
* ^ Dicou 1994 , pp. 167–81, 177.
* ^ Anderson 2015 , p. 101.
* ^ Grabbe 2007 , p. 153.
* ^ Van der Toorn 1999 , p. 912.
* ^ Van der Toorn 1999 , pp. 912–13.
* ^ Van der Toorn 1995 , pp. 247–48.
* ^ Shanks, Hershel. “The Persisting Uncertainties of Kuntillet
‘Ajrud.” _Biblical Archaeology Review_, Nov/Dec 2012.
* ^ Noll 2001 , pp. 124–26.
* ^ Cook 2004 , p. 7.
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Coogan & Smith 2012 , p. 8.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Smith 2002 , p. 32.
* ^ Smith 2002 , p. 33.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Hess 2007 , p. 103.
* ^ Coogan & Smith 2012 , pp. 7–8.
* ^ Handy 1994 , p. 101.
* ^ _A_ _B_ theyellowdart (19 March 2010). "When
Jehovah Was Not
God of the Old Testament. Part II". _Patheos — Faith promoting
rumor_. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
* ^ _A_ _B_ "rlst 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew
Bible) — Lecture 7 - Israel in Egypt:
Moses and the Beginning of
Yahwism (Genesis 37- Exodus 4)". _Open Yale Courses_. Retrieved 6
* ^ Hackett 2001 , p. 160.
* ^ Grabbe 2010 , p. 184.
* ^ Noll 2001 , p. 251.
* ^ Schniedewind 2013 , p. 93.
* ^ Smith 2010 , p. 119.
* ^ Hackett 2001 , p. 156.
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Davies 2010 , p. 112.
* ^ Miller 2000 , p. 90.
* ^ Petersen 1998 , p. 23.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Albertz 1994 , p. 89.
* ^ Gorman 2000 , p. 458.
* ^ Davies & Rogerson 2005 , pp. 151–52.
* ^ Gnuse 1997 , p. 118.
* ^ Davies & Rogerson 2005 , pp. 158–65.
* ^ Cohen 1999 , p. 302.
* ^ Dever 2003a , p. 388.
* ^ Bennett 2002 , p. 83.
* ^ Mettinger 2006 , pp. 288–90.
* ^ MacDonald 2007 , pp. 21, 26–27.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Albertz 1994 , p. 61.
* ^ Gnuse 1997 , p. 214.
* ^ Romer 2014 , p. unpaginated.
* ^ Smith 2001 , p. 140.
* ^ Smith 2002 , pp. 33, 47.
* ^ Niehr 1995 , pp. 54, 57.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Ackerman 2003 , p. 395.
* ^ Day 2002 , p. 143.
* ^ Smith 2002 , p. 47.
* ^ Smith 2002 , p. 74.
* ^ Eakin 1971 , pp. 70 and 263.
* ^ McKenzie 1990 , p. 1287.
* ^ Betz 1996 .
* ^ _A_ _B_ Smith & Cohen 1996 , pp. 242–56.
* ^ Arnold 1996 .
* ^ Smith & Cohen 1996 , pp. 242–256.
* ^ Plutarch & trans. Goodwin .
* ^ Hedreen 1992 , p. 1.
* ^ Oliver 1966 , p. 234.
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