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Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it. The thing is, you are a Christian. Yeah, I get it, you don't believe in Christianity or Islam. What religion were your parents? Your parents' parents?

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It's a cultural construct, just like race, but it's part of who you are and who you are not. That being said, let's all be atheists, but let's not pretend that atheism means we are outside of religious history. You are mistaken about the Ugaritic attestation of the word ilhm. Your argument about the plurality of the gods doesn't rely on the Ugaritic evidence, but on the plural form of the title elohim is strictly speaking a title, not a name, in the Hebrew Bible.

It should be made explicit that your argument must look back on a period before the Hebrew Bible was composed, however, because throughout the Hebrew there is no confusion: "Elohim" is a singular deity. He is the singular subject of narrative and poetry and in every case but Genesis he takes singular modifiers. Furthermore, much of the point of the narratives, laws, and poetry in the Hebrew Bible is the singularity of the deity. ANE texts do not refer blandly to "gods" or "the divine council" as the subjects of narratives and givers of laws.

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One cannot seriously posit that a monotheistic editor went through all the texts and changed what was original a reference to "the gods" into God. If elohim originally only meant "gods," it took the new semantic possibility of "God" long before the stories were written. Enough of linguistic trivialities. Israelite religion throughout the Iron Age was clearly polytheistic and borrowed from Caananite tradition. One merely has to examine the thousands of pillar figurines found in this period to see that also, google Kuntillet Ajrud. The Hebrew Bible contains vestiges of all sorts of Canaanite belief, far more than the examples you've mentioned.

This doesn't change the fact that the Hebrew Bible is rigorously monotheistic in its outlook, especially vis-a-vis Ugaritic literature, and that Judaism post-exile, when most of the Hebrew Bible was composed and set in its form, is monotheistic. I've read the Ugaritic texts, and while the similarities are impressive and cast the Hebrew Bible in an entirely new light, the differences are even more impressive, especially when talking about the number of deities officially espoused in the texts. The idea that the Torah has more polytheistic vestiges than the prophets is questionable.

The prophets use elohim in precisely the same way as does the Torah. The Torah is no earlier in Judaism than the prophets; in fact much of it is probably later. Deuteronomy is famous, but it's a poem set within the book, and possibly not composed by the Deuteronomist, who ascribes all Israel's failure to take the Promised land in terms of their worshiping deities like Baal. I appreciate your sticking it to Wieseltier, that haughty bastard, but I don't think one is forced to choose between the religious text and the religion. The genocide passages in the Hebrew Bible don't mean that Jews and Christians believe in genocide.

Part of theology in bookish religions is how you explain your texts or Andrew Sullivan would have abandoned Catholicism long ago.

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Judaism has consistently, for hundreds and hundreds of years, explained itself in terms of strict monotheism, and the Torah and the rest of the Tanak give far more basis for that interpretation than for polytheism. I find Wiseltier's argument specious, and, as a Christian, laughable. It has seemed to me, as a pure layman in these matters, that the stories of Genesis make much more sense when read with the assumption that they are polytheistic myths given a monotheistic coat of paint.

Genesis , if we discovered the manuscript today, would read as a polytheistic myth: the Creator seems in personality more of an engineer, treating his creation as an equal, while Ruler, who clearly rules over a pantheon, seems an entirely different entity.

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Or so it seems to my barely-educated self. Similarly, I always call up notions of Poseidon or a variant of him becoming pissed at humanity, and Athena or variant choosing her favorite to build an ark to escape Poseidon's wrath, as a more sensible origin of the Flood story -- since in its current edited, imho form, God has a split personality: so angry that He intends to destroy humanity, while simultaneously working to save it.

For those questioning the polytheism of Christianity; Gods, angels, "seperate order of creation", you can call them what you like.

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Chinese gods and immortals

Regardless of the name you give them, the whole collection of angels, demons, and saints are, at base, divine beings, gifted in all bu the most extreme Protestant traditions with supernatural powers over the lives and fates of men. To a scholar of religion and history, that IS a god. Any Japanese Shintoist alive today would recognize that as a god, just as any Olympian-worshiper of the Archaic Age. It may offend your sensibilities and you education to think of the saints, the angels, and the Devil as gods but that's precisely what they are; the fact that The Great Nameless One, The Father, He Who Is His Title happens to be their boss makes Christianity no more monotheistic than Zeus' similar role made the Olympian faith.

Several contributors have made significant points. In this posting I limit myself to responding to the perceptive remarks of Anodos. First, it is true that in the Tanakh as we have it Elohim is a plural noun treated as a singular. In and of itself it may not rank in this sanitized form as a marker of polytheism. However, the contrast between Yahweh and Elohim is the cornerstone of the Documentary Hypothesis, rejected by much Rabbinical opinion because it suggests that Yahweh and Elohim may be two separate deities, and not just different names for the same person.


I am not a Hebrew philologist, and in retrospect I would perhaps put this argument in a more subjunctive mode. Still, there is a problem here that is not resolved by applying the conventional wisdom of grammatical analysis. It is true that the soil of Palestine has yielded thousands of amulets and figurines representing a variety of deities. In a brief piece such as this, I could not go into such matters, which will be covered in my monograph on the Abrahamic religions.

The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology (S U N Y Series in Religious Studies)

Archaeology is important, not least for the negative verdict is has rendered regarding the standard accounts of early Israelite history. As a supporter of the Minimalist trend in Tanakh scholarship, I have no trouble acknowledging that the Pentateuch is late, possibly later than some of the Prophets. The Tanakh itself was probably created some time between and BCE, no earlier. However, the Pentateuch "the Torah" purports to provide details of early Israelite history, even though it is simply a jumble of myth and fable.

However, this is not the view of observant Jews like Wieseltier. For them, the Pentateuch, polytheism and all, is far and away the most important part of the Bible. Divided into portions it is read, word for word, in synagogues throughout the world, following a tradition that is at least years old.

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Thus is not open to individuals like Wieseltier to downgrade the Torah strictu sensu in favor of some later, "improved" model that is purely monotheistic. If the Torah-Pentateuch is absolutely foundational, as mainstream Judaism holds, it cannot be some sort of primitive approximation though this view is open to secular scholars. How about responding to the other comment asking for some justification for your claim that Jews are increasingly feeling free to express contempt for Christian beliefs?

I wondered about that remark of yours as well. Your post proves only that many ancient Israelites were polytheists. Wieseltier's point is about modern Orthodox Judaism's theological difference with modern orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Judaism rejects the polytheism of all the many ancient Israelites who practiced it -- in line with the prophetic condemnations of Ba'al worship, Asherah worship, et cetera. This paradoxical conception may be a Divine and true mystery for Christians, but is as unacceptable for traditional Jews as the rejection of the Gospels would be for Christians.

There is nothing offensive in Wieseltier pointing out that from the traditional Jewish perspective, the Trinity is completely unacceptable. He wasn't saying Christians are stupid or malicious -- just that he believes they are wrong. Newsflash: religions disagree with one another! There is a modern example that is quite similar; in Complexity Theory. This is the relationship of order and chaos in situational complexity. In a sense, the two sides of the coin and how they define the whole.