Canaanite religion describes the belief systems and ritual practices of the people living in the ancient Levant region throughout the Bronze Age and Iron Age. the Canaanite religion seems to have involved a rich mythological tradition which served as a bridge between the more ancient Mesopotamian religions and the later Greek and Roman gods. Several of the most famous Greek gods, for example, clearly evolved from Canaanite antecedents, just as several of the Canaanite gods grew out of Mesopotamian roots. The supreme deity of the Canaanite pantheon was El, together with his consort, Asherah. As with the Greek tradition, these early gods were later supplanted by younger, more immediate presences, especially the rain/thunder god Ba’al and his consorts, such as the warrior goddess Anat and the love/fertility goddess Astarte. Early Israelite religion may once have shared the Canaanite belief in El and other gods, before the Jewish monotheistic tradition emerged. study of the Ugaritic material from Ras Shamra—together with inscriptions from the Ebla archive at Tel Mardikh and various other archaeological finds—have cast more light on the early Canaanite religion. Canaanite mythology was strongly influenced by Mesopotamian and Egyptian traditions. At the same time, Egypt appears to have inherited certain religious traditions from the Canaanites as well. Canaanite religious beliefs were polytheistic, with families typically focusing worship on ancestral household gods and goddesses, while honoring major deities such as El, Ashera, Baal, Anat, and Astarte at various public temples and high places. Kings also played an important religious role, especially in certain ceremonies, such as the sacred marriage of the New Year Festival, and may have been revered as gods. The Canaanite pantheon was conceived as a divine clan, headed by the supreme god El; the gods collectively made up the elohim. Through the centuries, the pantheon of Canaanite gods evolved, so that El and Asherah were more important in earlier times, while Baal and his consorts came to fore in later years. Many of the Canaanite deities found their way into the Greek and Roman pantheon. For example, the characteristics of both El and Baal may be seen in Zeus, while Astart resembles Aphrodite, Anat is similar to Athena, Yam to Poseidon, and Mot to Hades or Thanatos. Some of the deities listed below are mentioned only briefly in the Canaanite texts, while others were important locally or nationally—such as Chemosh—but not throughout the region. Still others, such a Moloch, are known mainly from Hebrew texts
- Anat—goddess of war, ever-virgin sister-wife of Baal, honored as a protector, agent of vengeance, and bearer of life
- Asherah—early semitic Mother goddess, “Lady of the sea,” consort of El, also called Athirat, the mother of 70 gods
- Astarte—goddess of love and fertility, sometimes the consort of Baal/Hadad
- Baalat or Baalit—the chief deity of Byblos, also identified with Astarte and Aphrodite
- Ba’al—meaning “Lord,” god of rain, thunder, and fertility, sometimes synonymous with Hadad; also used as a title prefixing the names of local deities
- Baal-Hammon—god of fertility and renewal in the Phoenician colonies of the Western Mediterranean
- Chemosh—the national god of Moab, referred to in both Moabite and Hebrew texts
- Dagon—god of crop fertility, sometimes identified with Hadad
- El—the chief deity, god of the sky, father of many lesser gods and ruler of the divine assembly, also worshiped by the Israelites
- El Elyon—Special title of El as “God most High”
- Eshmun—Phoenician god of healing
- Kathirat—a group of goddesses appearing in the Ugartic texts as divine midwives
- Kothar—full name Kothar-wa-Khasis, the skilled, clever god of craftsmanship and weapon-making
- Lotan—the seven-headed sea serpent or dragon, the pet of Yam or Yam’s alter ego, related to the biblical Leviathan
- Melqart—also called Baal-Melkart, the god who is king of the city, the underworld, and the cycle of vegetation in Tyre, also the patron of the Israelite queens Jezebel and Athaliah
- Moloch—title for the god who is “king,” probably identical with Milcom and known mainly from the Hebrew Bible as the deity to whom child sacrifices were offered
- Mot—god of the underworld, sterility, death, and the waterless desert
- The eastern Canaanite prophet Balaam is represented in the Bible as a worshiper of the Hebrew god Yahweh, as were the Shashu, a people located in the land of Edom.
- Nikkal—goddess of fruit and orchards, married to Yarikh
- Qadeshtu—the Holy One, goddess of love, also a title given to Asherah and related to the Egyptian goddess Hathor
- Resheph—God of plague and healing
- Shalim and Shachar—twin gods of dusk and dawn
- Shamayim—the god of the sky or the heavens
- Shemesh—Mesopotamian god of the sun also worshiped in Canaan, meaning “sun” in Hebrew possibly related to the hero, Samson
- Tanit—Phoenician lunar goddess, worshiped as the patron goddess at Carthage, and sometimes identified with Astarte or Anat
- Yam—god of the sea
- Yarikh—god of the moon, after whom the city of Jericho was named; Lord of the sickle, provider of nightly dew; married to the goddess Nikkal
- Yahweh—The Israelite god, worshiped not only by the Hebrews but also by eastern Canaanites such as the prophet Balaam (Numbers 22) and the Shashu of Edom
In Ugarit, the gods were called ‘ilhm (elohim), or the children of El, a probable parallel to the the biblical “sons of God.” The chief god, a progenitor of the universe, was El, also known as Elion (biblical El Elyon), who was the father of the divinities. In the Urgaritic material, El is the consort of Ashera, who is described as the “mother of 70 gods.” In the Urgaritic Baal cycle, Baal, the god of storms and fertility, earns his position as the champion and ruler of the gods by defeating the tyrannical Yam, the god of the sea, and later triumphing over Mot, the god of death. Yam had been placed over the other gods by El but ruled them tyrannically. Asherah offered herself as a sacrifice if Yam will ease his grip on her children. He agreed, but Baal boldly declared that he will defeat Yam, despite Yam’s being endorsed by El. With the aid of magical weapons given to him by the divine craftsman Kothar-wa-Khasis, Baal is victorious. However, the god of death and the underworld, Mot, soon lures Baal to his own death in the desert, spelling drought and ruin for the land. Baal’s sister/wife Anat retrieves his body and assaults Mot, ripping him to pieces and scattering his remains over the fields. El, meanwhile, has had a dream suggesting that Baal would be resurrected, which indeed takes place. However, Mot, too, had revived and mounted a new attack against Baal. After their titanic but indecisive battle, Mot finally bows before Baal, leaving Baal in possession of the land and the undisputed regent of the gods. Thus, Baal came to replace even El as the most important deity, although El himself remained theoretically supreme. In practice, temples to Baal were fairly common in Canaanite culture, and many ritual objects devoted to Astarte and Anat have also been uncovered. Even the Israelites honored Baal and the “asherim,” the latter term referring to poles, standing stones, and even trees devoted to a goddess and accompanying altars to both Baal and Yaweh/El. In the Greek sources describing Canaanite religion, the union of El Elyon and his consort bore Uranus and Ge, Greek names for the “Heaven” and the “Earth.” Biblical scholars see a parallel between this and the opening verse of Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning Elohim created to the Heaven and the Earth.” A further parallel is seen with the story of the Babylonian creation myths. The Greek sources also describe El as married to Beruth. This marriage of the divinity with the city seems to have biblical parallels with the stories of the link between Melkart and Tyre, Yahweh and Jerusalem, Chemosh and Moab, and both Tanit and Baal Hammon with Carthage. El Elyon is called “God Most High” in Genesis 14.18–19 as the God whose priest was Melchizedek king of Salem. Psalm 78:35 appears to identify El Elyon and the Hebrew God, Elohim, also called Yahweh (the Lord). The earliest Canaanite places of worship were simple stone or brick altars usually located at a high place. Sacred groves are also indicated, especially in Israelite texts, which speak of fertility rites practiced under trees: “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there” (Jer. 3:6). Bronze Age Canaanite temples usually consisted of a large room, together with a porch and courtyard. A stone altar for sacrifices is often found outside the entrance to the inner temple. Later examples sometimes contain inner sanctums within the main temple, referred to as a “Holy of Holies.” Sacred objects unearthed include incense altars, sacrificial offering stands, tables for drink offerings, bronze statuettes, numerous nude clay figurines of goddesses, vessels for oil and wine, seals, and standing stones. El is seen in Canaanite religious art as a seated male figure, often with arms raised in blessing. Asherah—and later Ba’al and Astarte or Anat—was associated with a cult of fertility. Asherah’s sacred animal was the lion, and Astarte is sometimes associated with a serpent. Priests or priestesses clothed and sometimes “fed” the deity through various rituals and offerings. In cities, the king had a particularly important relationship with the local patron deity. Family devotions, especially to the female deity, are indicated by large numbers of goddess figurines found in private homes, as well as by biblical references such a Jeremiah’s: “The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger.” (Jeremiah 7:18). Although the biblical writers cast Canaanite religion as the antithesis of Israelite monotheism, historians of religion tend to view the early Israelite religion as largely evolving out of Canaanite culture, of which it was once part. The Book of Genesis itself describes the patriarch Abraham as a worshiper of El—also called El Shaddai and El Elyon—building altars, offering sacrifices, and paying tithes to him. Exodus indicates that the Hebrews knew God only as El Shaddai until the time of Moses, who learned God’s true name, Yahweh (the Lord), at Mount Sinai: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3). Certain passages in the Bible imply that Israelite religion was once polytheistic. For example, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 indicates a moment when El Elyon assigned Israel to Yahweh: When the Most High (Elyōn) divided to the nations their inheritance, he separated the sons of man… the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. Similarly, Psalm 82:1-6 says that “God (Elohim) presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the gods… I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High (Elyon).’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” What may be described in these verses is a process of El and Yahweh merging into the one supreme God and then reducing the other Canaanite deities into something less than gods altogether. Indeed, some versions of Psalm 82 render the word “gods” as “heavenly beings” or even “angels.” Similarly, Job 1:6 states that “One day the sons of God (also sometimes translated as “angels”) came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.” According to many historians of religion, the angels of later Jewish mythology were once members of the divine assembly consisting of El and the ben-elohim (sons of God), who were originally the lesser deities described in the Canaanite pantheon. Such a divine assembly appears several times in the Canaanite texts. The Hebrew prophets not only denounced Canaanite religion for its polytheism and idolatry but also for its sexual immorality and practice of human sacrifice. That the Canaanites practiced the rite of hieros gamos, involving ritual sex between the king or priest, representing a god, and a woman or priestess, representing a goddess, seems well attested—even if it was not as common as the prophets claimed. The practice of human sacrifice also seems to have occurred among the Canaanites, as it once did among the Israelites in the case of Jephthah’s daughter, for example (Judges 11). In the time of Jeremiah, Israelites still offered their children as sacrifices, a practice apparently intended to satisfy Yahweh Himself, who insists through the prophet that He never commanded such a thing, “nor did it ever enter my mind” (Jeremiah 7:31). Jeremiah similarly denounces the common practice of Israelite families of offering honey cakes to the Queen of Heaven. Archaeological evidence also supports the fact that not only Canaanites, but Israelites as well, kept figurines of goddesses in their homes at least until the time of the Babylonian exile. Whether one sees Israelite religion as growing out of Canaanite religion or being perverted by it, the reality seems to be that Israelite religion did not completely separate from its Canaanite counterpart until the return of the Jews from Babylon or later. Joshua 24:11 – And ye went over Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand. Judges 3:3 – [Namely], five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. Deuteronomy 20:17 – But thou shalt utterly destroy them; [namely], the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Their final fate, too, was a puzzle. The Hebrew text offers one explanation for the destiny of the Canaanites: annihilation. The Israelites, per Deuteronomy 20:16-18, were commanded to “utterly destroy” the cities of various tribes including the Canaanites. Those who survived fled or became servants. A fragment of a painted limestone relief dating to about 3,400 years ago from Thebes in Egypt depicts defeated Canaanites. For three centuries, Egyptians ruled the land of Canaan. Armies of chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers under the pharaoh Thutmose III thundered through Gaza and defeated a coalition of Canaanite chiefdoms at Megiddo, in what is now northern Israel, in 3,458 years ago. The Egyptians then built fortresses, mansions, and agricultural estates from Gaza to Galilee, taking Canaan’s finest products—copper from Dead Sea mines, cedar from Lebanon, olive oil and wine from the Mediterranean coast, along with untold numbers of slaves and concubines—and sending them overland and across the Mediterranean and Red Seas to Egypt to please its elites. As with many colonial ventures before and since, military conquest led to a new cultural order in the occupied lands. Across Israel, archaeologists have found evidence that Canaanites took to Egyptian customs. They created items worthy of tombs on the Nile, including clay coffins modeled with human faces and burial goods such as faience necklaces and decorated pots. They also adopted Egyptian imagery such as sphinxes and scarabs. For the Egyptians, Canaan was a major trophy. Artists in Egypt carved and painted narratives on the stone walls of temples boasting about vanquished subjects and depicting Canaanite prisoners naked and bound at the wrists. Yet Egypt’s presence in Canaan ended sooner than the pharaohs might have expected. With Canaan under assault from seaborne invaders and hit by drought so severe it caused food shortages, Egypt’s colonial rule began to crumble around 3,200 years ago, starting in the north and gradually spreading south. Egypt did not fall alone. The eastern Mediterranean’s two other great powers of the day, the Hittites in central Turkey and the Mycenaeans in Greece, saw their capitals sacked and their governments fail. They all toppled in the pan-Mediterranean Late Bronze Age collapse of the 3,200 years ago. Egypt’s 2,000-year-old dynastic system survived, but it lost its trade ties throughout the Mediterranean and its valuable outposts in Canaan. At the port of Jaffa, on Tel Aviv’s south side, archaeologists Aaron Burke of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Martin Peilstöcker of Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz are finding that the fall of Egypt’s rule came the way Hemingway famously described bankruptcy—gradually, and then suddenly—and was at least partly due to homegrown factors. The Egyptian outpost at Jaffa had an uneasy relationship with the locals, and it apparently met a fiery end. Burke and Peilstöcker have found evidence of two catastrophic blazes, ten years apart, that destroyed Jaffa, the second one occurring in about 3,125 years ago. That fire, Burke believes, marked the end of Egypt’s presence not just in Jaffa, but in all of Canaan. “Jaffa was the only Egyptian outpost that was purely military. This was their last line of defense, and once it fell, any remaining Egyptian centers in Canaan would have been cut off from Egypt,” says Burke. Egypt and Canaan were neighbors whose histories of war, trade, and migration intersected and intertwined over millennia. Egypt’s powerful centralized government ruled along the Nile, where pharaohs built the pyramids of Giza and reigned like gods over people who worshipped them. In contrast, Canaan was a land of warring city-states and hill tribes, spread out over what are now Israel, Lebanon, southwestern Syria, and the West Bank. At Canaan’s peak, there were about 20 such city-states in the southern area alone. Their culture was rustic, their power decentralized and weak. Canaan had great mineral and agricultural wealth—and the Egyptians coveted it. As early as around 3,000 years ago, the Egyptians established busy trading posts in the coastal city of Ashkelon and in Gezer in the center of the region to buy up exotic products and transport them to Egypt on donkeys, which had only recently been domesticated. A few centuries later, the Egyptians began trading by ship with the seaport of Byblos on the coast of modern Lebanon, bypassing southern Canaan, whose ties with Egypt languished. Over time, Canaan’s states strengthened and, around 3,700 years ago, they invaded northern Egypt with a devastating innovation—the horse-drawn chariot—followed by settlers who built cities in the marshy Nile Delta. Known as the Hyksos, a Greek version of an Egyptian phrase that meant “foreign rulers,” they maintained their cultural habits and clashed with Egyptian rule to the south. Ultimately, the Egyptian state, reunified under the pharaoh Ahmose (3,550–3,525 years ago), expelled the Hyksos and sent them back to their homeland around 3,540 years ago. A century later, newly self-confident and thirsty for expansion, the Egyptians found the right agent for their ambitions in Thutmose III (3,479–3,425 years ago). His lithe, commanding figure can still be seen today smiting Canaanite masses in temple carvings in the old dynastic capital of Luxor. To the south, Nubia fell under Egypt’s military might, too. “Egypt now saw itself as the center of the universe, and all its neighbors were considered enemies and targets for invasion,” says Daphna Ben-Tor, former curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Egypt was at the threshold of the New Kingdom (1550–1070 years ago), the artistic golden age of Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, and Tutankhamun. “As it became richer and reunified,” Ben-Tor says, “its appetite grew for the kinds of high-status goods that Canaan offered, such as copper, turquoise, and high-quality wood.” At Hazor, one of ancient Canaan’s largest cities, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently found part of a sphinx made of gneiss, a valuable stone used by the Egyptians for statues of gods and rulers. The sphinx bears an inscription to Menkaure (r. 2490–2472 years ago), a pharaoh who was originally interred in one of Giza’s pyramids. Yet the layer of the excavation in Hazor where the statue was found dates from centuries later in the 3,500 years ago. The sphinx had probably been imported from Egypt to lend status to a temple, a relic from the old days meant to lend prestige to Egypt’s new colony. Egypt’s power wasn’t felt only in mighty sculptures. It also wielded a strong cultural pull on Canaan’s elite, who were attracted to Egypt’s graceful jewelry and symbols. Archaeologists have found hundreds of Egyptian-style objects in Canaanite burials, including alabaster, glass, and carnelian jewelry, scarabs decorated with sphinxes and hieroglyphs, and clay pots. Wealthy Canaanites liked to stock their tombs with imitations of Egyptian ushabti, figurines of people who would tend to the dead in the afterlife. “There was an Egyptianization, so to speak, of Canaan’s material culture,” says Ben-Tor. “The Canaanites were burying their dead with objects imported from Egypt or with local imitations of them.” Around 5,000 years ago, the Canaanites now generally recognize as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The Canaanites created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and were mentioned many times in the Bible. But who were they and what ultimately happened to them? Were they annihilated like the Bible says? Over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites referenced from the genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived almost 4,000 to 3,700 years ago, one in a large jar burial along with genomes representing people from modern-day Lebanon, in addition a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have arrived via conquests by distant populations such as the Assyrians, Persians, or Macedonians. An estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 3,800 to 2,200 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside. “The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations. However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages. We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age.” the study read. In this study, we sequenced five whole genomes from around 3,700-year-old individuals from the city of Sidon, a major Canaanite city-state on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. We also sequenced the genomes of 99 individuals from present-day Lebanon to catalog modern Levantine genetic diversity. We find that a Bronze Age Canaanite-related ancestry was widespread in the region, shared among urban populations inhabiting the coast (Sidon) and inland populations (Jordan) who likely lived in farming societies or were pastoral nomads. This Canaanite-related ancestry derived from mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians. We estimate, using linkage-disequilibrium decay patterns, that admixture occurred 6,600–3,550 years ago, coinciding with recorded massive population movements in Mesopotamia during the mid-Holocene. We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age. In addition, we find Eurasian ancestry in the Lebanese not present in Bronze Age or earlier Levantines. We estimate that this Eurasian ancestry arrived in the Levant around 3,750–2,170 years ago during a period of successive conquests by distant populations. The Near East, including the Levant, has been central to human prehistory and history from the expansion out of Africa 50–60 thousand years ago,1 through post-glacial expansions and the Neolithic transition around 10,000 years ago, to the historical period when Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, and many others left their impact on the region. Aspects of the genetic history of the Levant have been inferred from present-day DNA, but the more comprehensive analyses performed in Europe have shown the limitations of relying on present-day information alone and highlighted the power of ancient DNA (aDNA) for addressing questions about population histories. Unfortunately, although the few aDNA results from the Levant available so far are sufficient to reveal how much its history differs from that of Europe, more work is needed to establish a thorough understanding of Levantine genetic history. Such work is hindered by the hot and sometimes wet environment, but improved aDNA technologies including use of the petrous bone as a source of DNA14 and the rich archaeological remains available encouraged us to further explore the potential of aDNA in this region. Here, we present genome sequences from five Bronze Age Lebanese samples and show how they improve our understanding of the Levant’s history over the last five millennia. The Near East, including the Levant, has been central to human prehistory and history from the expansion out of Around 4,000 to 3,000 years ago, in the Levant, a distinctive culture emerged as a Semitic-speaking people known as the Canaanites. The Canaanites inhabited an area bounded by Anatolia to the north, Mesopotamia to the east, and Egypt to the south, with access to Cyprus and the Aegean through the Mediterranean. Thus, the Canaanites were at the center of emerging Bronze Age civilizations and became politically and culturally influential. They were later known to the ancient Greeks as the Phoenicians who, 3,500 to 2,300 years ago, colonized territories throughout the Mediterranean reaching as far as the Iberian Peninsula. However, for uncertain reasons but perhaps related to the use of papyrus instead of clay for documentation, few textual records have survived from the Canaanites themselves and most of their history known today has been reconstructed from ancient Egyptian and Greek records, the Hebrew Bible, and archaeological excavations. Many uncertainties still surround the origin of the Canaanites. Ancient Greek historians believed their homeland was located in the region of the Persian Gulf, but modern researchers tend to reject this hypothesis because of archaeological and historical evidence of population continuity through successive millennia in the Levant. The Canaanite culture is alternatively thought to have developed from local Chalcolithic people who were themselves derived from people who settled in farming villages 10,000 to 9,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. Uncertainties also surround the fate of the Canaanites: the Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations. However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages: cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day. Ref Ref Ref Ref Ref Ref Ref
Archaeology disproves the all the beginning of the bible thus discredits all Abrahamic religions are based on it, so this includes Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, etc.
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, involves leading scholars Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman who draw on recent archaeological research to present a dramatically revised portrait of ancient Israel and its neighbors. They argue that crucial evidence (or a telling lack of evidence) at digs in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon suggests that many of the most famous stories in the Bible—the wanderings of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, and David and Solomon’s vast empire—reflect the world of the later authors rather than actual historical facts. What they argue, in chapter after chapter, is that these books of the Bible make the most sense as coming out of a seventh-century (BC) context. A lot of the Bible is royal and elite propaganda to justify empire expanding through conquest. Overall the differing archaeology evidence and the complete lack of any confirming archaeology evidence is devastating to all the Abrahamic religions. Ref
Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction. But modernity has obscured the original distinction between the two kinds of biblical writing, depriving readers of the depth of the text. Perhaps surprisingly, this confusion lies at the heart of the History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible,” which continues the pattern of blurring history and fiction, and thereby misrepresenting the nature of the Bible to its viewers. One way to understand the difference between history and fiction in the Bible is through the Old Testament’s natural division into three parts:
- The world and its nature (Adam to Terah).
- The Israelites and their purpose (Abraham to Moses).
- The Kingdom of Israel and life in Jerusalem (roughly from King David onward).
Even a cursory look reveals a clear and significant pattern. In the first section, characters live many hundreds of years, and in the second, well into their second century. Only in the third section do biblical figures tend to live biologically reasonable lives. For example, Adam, in the first section, lives to the symbolic age of 930, and Noah lives even twenty years longer than that. Abraham, from the second section, lives to be 175, his son Issac to 180, and Jacob “dies young” at the age of 147. But the lifespans from King David onward, in the third section, are in line with generally accepted human biology. Furthermore, historians mostly agree that only the third section represents actual history. The reasonable ages in the third section of the Bible, and, in particular, the wildly exaggerated ages in the first, suggest that the authors of the Old Testament intended only the third part as history. Underscoring this crucial difference, some of the lifespans in the first two sections are so absurd as to defy literal interpretation. These hugely advanced ages are central clues about the point of the stories. The Old Testament contains a wide range of texts in addition to stories: laws, prayers, moral codes, and more. But even the stories come in more than one variety. Noah and the Great Flood are not in the same category as Moses and the Ten Commandments, and both are different than King David and the First Temple. History and fiction mingle throughout the Old Testament, so these divisions are just rough guides. Jeremiah’s historical description of the siege on Jerusalem is not the same as Ezekiel’s non-historical vision of the dry bones, just as there are historical elements (like the invention of fire-hardened bricks) even in the non-historical account of the Tower of Babel. The interesting point here is not that some of these stories happened and some didn’t (though that’s almost certainly true). The point is that the Bible itself portrays them differently, only presenting some of them as having happened. In other words, sometimes “believing the Bible” means believing that a story in it didn’t happen. The situation not unlike a modern newspaper, which combines news with opinion, puzzles, comics, etc. The news can be accurate even if the comics are not. The same is true for the different parts of the Bible. The New Testament similarly offers more than just stories, and, as with the Old Testament, only some of the stories in the New Testament were meant as history. Others were intended to convey things like theology and morality. The account of Jesus’ life in the Gospels is not the same as the beast in Revelation or Adam’s life in Genesis. (The issue of different categories for Jesus and Adam is a matter of fierce modern debate because of its potential theological significance and its interaction with the theory of evolution.) All of this is important for people who want to believe, for instance, that a man named Jesus was crucified in ancient Jerusalem (as described in the Gospels) even if they don’t believe that a donkey spoke aloud (Numbers); or that Jews lived in Jerusalem during the first millennium BC (Kings, for example) even if they didn’t leave Egypt 600,000 strong (Exodus). Ref
The Bible imagines the religion of ancient Israel as purely monotheistic. And doubtless there were Israelites, particularly those associated with the Jerusalem Temple, who were strict monotheists. But the archaeological evidence (and the Bible, too, if you read it closely enough) suggests that the monotheism of many Israelites was far from pure. For them, Yahweh (the name of the Israelite god) was not the only divinity. Some Israelites believed that Yahweh had a female consort. And many Israelites invoked the divinity with the help of images, particularly figurines. I call this Israelite religion pagan Yahwism. The archaeological evidence we will look at comes mostly from Judah in what is known in archaeological terms as the Assyrian period, the span from 721 B.C.E., when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, until 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and brought an end to the Davidic dynasty in Judah. This period, to put it into perspective, is several centuries after King Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple in about 950 B.C.E. So the archaeological evidence we are about to discuss documents a level of Israelite paganism long after Solomon built an exclusive home for Israel’s god. While Yahweh was the god of the Israelites, other nations had their own national gods. The chief god of the Phoenicians was Ba‘al. For the Philistines, the chief god was at first Dagon and later also Ba‘al (Judges 16:23; 2 Kings 1:2). For the Ammonites it was Milkom. For the Moabites, Chemosh. For the Edomites, Qos. And for the Israelites and Judahites—Yahweh. Except for the Edomite god Qos, who appears only in the archaeological record, all of these gods are mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33). Interestingly, while each nation’s chief god had a distinctive name, his consort, the chief female deity, had the same name in all these cultures: Asherah or its variants Ashtoreth or Astarte. (As we shall see, this was even true of Yahweh’s consort.) Not only was the female consort the same, the various nations used the same cult objects, the same types of incense altars made of stone and clay, the same bronze and clay censers, cult stands and incense burners, the same chalices and goblets and the same bronze and ivory rods adorned with pomegranates. It was easy to take cult vessels of one deity and place them in the service of another one—and this was commonly done. Ref
If we propose to study the history of the religion of ancient Israel, we must be governed by the same postulates that are the basis of modern historical method. Our task must be a historical, not a theological, enterprise. We must trace the origins and development of Israel’s religion, its emergence from its West Semitic, particularly Canaanite, past, its continuities with the past, its innovations, individual or peculiar configurations, its new emergent whole, and its subsequent changes and evolution. In the past historical questions of “origins” or “emergence” of the ancient Israelite religion could not be answered satisfactorily and indeed were rarely addressed. Today, thanks to the archaeological exploration of Israel and neighboring lands, the history of Israel has become part of the history of the ancient Near Eastern world. Israel’s ancient literature can be viewed increasingly as evolving out of the genres of kindred literatures. We possess Northwest Semitic epic literature from a century or so before Moses. The religion of Israel can now be described in its continuities with, and in its contrasts with, contemporary Near Eastern and especially West Semitic mythology and cult. Ref
Have biblical archeologists traditionally tried to find evidence that events in the Bible really happened?
William Dever: From the beginnings of what we call biblical archeology, perhaps 150 years ago, scholars, mostly western scholars, have attempted to use archaeological data to prove the Bible. And for a long time it was thought to work. [William Foxwell] Albright, the great father of our discipline, often spoke of the “archeological revolution.” Well, the revolution has come but not in the way that Albright thought. The truth of the matter today is that archeology raises more questions about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and even the New Testament than it provides answers, and that’s very disturbing to some people. Ref
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