Introduction

For the moment, I’m at home ill, and I need to finish a particular job for the university.  However, I can be a pretty good procrastinator, especially when I find myself an excuse to procrastinate.  This blog post is it … at least for a few hours …  THEN I’ll have to do my tedious job.

Anyway …  in the same vein I have dismissed with prejudice the belief that Jesus is a Xerox copy of Horus, today I want to see the real Pagan background of many of the Biblical stories … and this time with proper reliable foundations along with the opinion of the experts.  The reason I choose the Adam and Eve story is because it is one of the most misunderstood stories in the history of Judeo-Christianity, and still continues to be misunderstood.  The purpose of this series of blog posts is to somehow recover a bit of what is the background of the Adam and Eve story, including its Pagan roots.

 

Historical Background of the Adam and Eve Story

If you are acquainted with a bit of Bible scholarship, you know that in the Hebrew Bible you find, not one, but two creation stories.  The existence of both versions is explained by what is called today the “Documentary Hypothesis“, first formulated by Julius Wellhausen in the nineteenth century.  The brilliance of the proposal of this Bible scholar has been confirmed again and again over the years through the meticulous analysis of the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible.  Over the years the hypothesis has been altered as more, and more evidence is gathered from the Hebrew Bible’s own text, and in light of new discoveries being made on Ancient Israel since then.  I follow one of the branches, which was begun by Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889-1963) as it has been continued by scholars like Richard Elliott Friedman, who regards Tradition P as originating in King Hezekiah’s reign rather than during the Babilonial exile.  Of course, Kaufmann’s and Friedman’s views do not reflect the actual opinion of the virtual majority of experts on the subject, yet, it seems to be more reasonable and more fitting the evidence, than the view that P was produced during the Babylonian exile. Despite this, I want to point out too that Friedman is a great scholar and is being highly regarded and respected in the field.

For those of you who don’t know, the Documentary Hypothesis as it is formulated today says that the Pentateuch was created out of four distinct traditions by two priestly groups:

Yahwist Tradition (J):  This is the oldest of the four traditions, usually dated to the end of the Salomonic era (950 B.C.E.).  It concentrates all of its stories in the southern territory of the land of Ancient Israel, and it makes no reference at all to the northern tribes.  Its style seems to reflect the ideology of the Aaronid priests (the supposed descendants of Aaron) who worshipped Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple.  It shows Yahweh as being a sort of “close to Earth” sort of God, with very anthropomorphic qualities:  he walks, he is temporarly ignorant of what is going on, he regrets, and so on.  It is called the Yahwist tradition, because in Genesis it is the tradition that calls God “Yahweh”.  So, whenever you read a story in Genesis with the name Yahweh on it, just know that its core comes from the Yahwist tradition.  It’s usual representation in scholarly discussion is the letter J, mostly because when the Documentary Hypothesis was first proposed, it was in German, and Yahweh is written like “Jahweh” with a “J” in German.

—  Elohist Tradition (E):  This is the second oldest tradition was produced  by the most important priesthood of the Northern part of Ancient Israel.  The texts suggest strongly that this tradition was produced by this priesthood, because all of its stories concentrate in the North or refer to northern tribes.  We also know that this was produced after the division of Ancient Israel into two Kingdoms:  the Kingdom of Israel (North), and the Kingdom of Judah (South).  How do we know this?  Because the Shilo priesthood explicitly denounces the cult using golden claves instituted by the northern king, Jeroboam (Exod. 32; 1 Kings 12:25-33).  The Shilo priests were marginalized from this cult, so they made up the story about Moses destroying the golden calf as a way to denounce the golden calves’ altars in Bethel and Dan (1 King 12:31; 14:1-19).  This means that this tradition appeared approximately during the second half of the tenth century B.C.E.  It is usually thought that the Shilo priests were Moses’ descendants, mostly because they were the original guards of the Ark of the Covenant.  It is called the Elohist Tradition, because in Genesis, it refers to God as Elohim.

Priestly Tradition (P):  After the Assyrian invasion of the Northern territory of Ancient Israel, the Shilo priests had to flee from the North, and establish themselves in Jerusalem along with their rivals, the Aaronid priests of the Jerusalem Temple.  Given the situation, during their stay, someone or some group fused traditions J and E, creating a sort of JE document (721-716 B.C.E.).  Apparently the Aaronid priests did not like that at all, and they took advantage of a moment of crisis (Assyrian invasion under Senacherib’s leadership) and created its own alternate version of the JE document, this is the Priestly Code, or the Priestly Tradition (P).  It is very easily recognizable in the Hebrew Bible because of its repetitive style.  We know today that the first version of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:4a) was created by them precisely because of this repetitive style.  Its style is arid and shows God as an abstract, distant, and, yet, an all-powerful entity.  It is also very prescriptive in terms of the Law.  Another reason we know that the first version of creation was written by them is because it was created to justify the Sabbath as a holy day:  Elohim (God) created the world in six days and on the seventh He rested.  All of the Book of Leviticus is basically Priestly Code, since it is prescriptive from beginning to end.  They also shaped it so that it made the Aaronid priests the supreme authorities in the cults to Yahweh in the Temple, lessening the role of other Levite priests.  It is thought by most scholars that it was produced by the Aaronid priests during the Jewish Babylonian exile (5th century B.C.E.), I am of the thinking that it was produced during the years 715-686 B.C.E., much as Richard Elliott Friedman argues.

Deuteronomistic Tradition (D):  This tradition is actually a response of the Shilo priesthood to P.  They adopt some of the Priestly Code, but removing the excessive legislation, and the Aaronid privileges.  It centers around a writing said to be found beside the Ark of the Covenant, which later became the center or core of the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 12-26).  D is distinctive in so far it only recognizes the stories told in JE while ignoring those in P, which shows once more the angry disputes between the Aaronid and Shilo priests.  D was produced during the sixth

Much later, after the Jews returned from the Babilonian exile, some priest (thought to be Ezra) or a group of priests coming from the Aaronid dynasty compiled all of these traditions together (JEPD) creating the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, as we know them today.  We know that because, with the exception of the Book of Deuteronomy, each and every one of the books of the Pentateuch begins with a P story or text.

A Polytheistic Ancient Israel?

Most traditional Jews and Christians are actually surprised by the fact that the Torah (the Pentateuch) was the result of conflicts among priesthoods.  Archaeology may point to the fact that perhaps the disputes had a wider reach, given the fact that ever since before the time of David and Salomon, Ancient Israel was fundamentally a polytheistic society.  There may have been many more priests dedicating their cult to other gods before Yahweh.  In fact, it was in a point of eclecticism, which means that it absorbed from the beliefs in deities all around the Middle East.  As we know from archaeology, far from coming from nomad escapees from Egypt, Ancient Israel rose from an uprising by lower class Canaanites.  Their main god was El (אל‎, where the word “Elohim” (אֱלֹהִ֔ים) comes from), usually represented as a man, but also symbolically by a calf, and who was not particularly associated with any natural power.

Gebel el Arak Knife
This illustration of the Gebel el Arak Knife shows the God El in the Middle

El was the supreme god, the head and father of the rest of the gods.  Simultaneously, in the spirit of eclecticism, many of the Canaanites in the Southern part of Israel sympathized with a Shasu god called Yahu (יהו), where  the name “Yahweh” (יהוה) seems to have come from.  Later, the gods El and Yahweh became in some way one sole god, the head of all the other gods.  It is no accident that in the Hebrew Bible, the name “Yahweh” was revealed to Moses while staying in Midian, since that town was the place where the Shasu lived and Yahu was worshipped (Exod. 3).  It is no accident either that the north seemed to concentrate itself on the name “Elohim” while the south on the name “Yahweh”.

Evidence of the fusion between El and Yahweh has been found archaeologically and in the Bible itself.  For instance, when Yahweh revealed his name to Moses, the text says:

Elohim also spoke to Moses and said to him.  “I am Yahweh.  I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and jacob as El-Shadday (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name ‘Yahweh’ I did not make myself known to them” (Exod. 6:2-3).

Another piece of evidence comes from archaeology.  We know for a fact that the Canaanite god El had a wife or a consort called Asherah, with whom El had 70 sons.  This has been recorded in the clay tablets of Ugarit.

The Goddess Asherah

However, another inscription was found where Asherah appears as Yahweh’s consort or wife.  The inscription itself, dating from the eight century B.C.E., was found at Khibet El-Kom near Hebron (in the south of Ancient Israel), and it says this in Ancient Hebrew:

בירכתי אתכם ליהוה שומרון ולאשרתו

(I have blessed by Yahweh of Samariah and by his Asherah.)

There is also more hidden evidence about the worship of Asherah along Yahweh in the Bible.  For instance, we find this passage in 2 Kings:

The carved image of Asherah that [King Manasseh] had made he set in the house of which Yahweh had said to David and to his son Salomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever” (2 Kings 21:7).

[King Josiah] brought out the image of Asherah from the house of Yahweh, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people.  He broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of Yahweh, where the women did weaving for Asherah (2 Kings 23:7).

King Josiah lived during the sixth century, which means that before that, the worship of Asherah was widely accepted, even to the point that Manasseh included its worship in a temple dedicated to Yahweh.  There is still another part of the Hebrew Bible where the worship of Asherah appears, but it is not very evident.  She appears in a poem recited by Moses shortly before he died.

[Moses] said:  Yahweh came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran.  With him were myriads of holy ones; at his right, his own eshdat (אשדת). (Deut. 33:2)

The word “eshdat” has been a pain in the neck for a lot of Bible scholars for years.  The term does not seem to correpond to anything we know in Hebrew.  Sometimes it is translated as “fiery law” or “host”.  However, in this context, it does not seem to be clear that this is its meaning.  Perhaps one of the best ways to solve the problem is to think of the Book of Deuteronomy as being altered after the Asherah worship was banned.  Then, it makes a lot of sense.  The Hebrew letters for ashdat (אשדת) look extremely similar to the letters of the words for Asherah (אשרה).  So, according to one very interesting hypothesis, the original text may have been this one:

[Moses] said:  Yahweh came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone foth from Mount Paran.  With him were myriads of holy ones; at his right, his own Asherah (אשרה). (Deut. 33:2)

Where is the evidence that the Biblical Yahweh or Elohim was the head of other gods, just like the Canaanite El?  You need to look no further than the Hebrew Bible itself.  Let me quote these passages (I will underscore the important parts of certain passages, others will be self-evident):

Then Elohim said, “Let us make man (adam) in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the Earth.”  So Elohim created him in his image, in the image of Elohim he created them; male and female he created them.  (Gen. 1:26-27).

Then Yahweh Elohim said:  “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:22).

Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? (Exod. 15:11)

Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of Yahweh:  I saw Yahweh sitting on this throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him” (1 Kings 22:19).

… those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to Yahweh, but also swear by Milcom {an Aamonite deity}; those who have turned back from Yahweh, who have not sought Yahweh or inquired him (Zeph. 1:5).

Yahweh has taken his place in the divine council;  in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:  “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?  Give justice to the to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.  I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O Elohim, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! (Psalm 82).

In other words, Elohim or Yahweh is the supreme deity, father of the rest of the gods.  These gods are national gods who rule other nations.

Many people ask about the real meaning behind the first commandment.  Notice that it doesn’t say:  “You shall not believe in any gods, just Me”.  It rather says:

I am Yahweh your God … you shall have no other gods before me. (Exod. 20:1,3).

So, does this commandment say that Israelites do recognize the existence of many other gods, but are only allowed to worship one?  The answer is “Yes”.

Then how is it that Judaism is now associated with monotheism?  This is because religions change and adapt over time as a reaction to a whole variety of social events.  Yahweh was unquestionably the Jewish national God, and was worshipped as such.  A worship of other gods other than Him might mean disloyalty not only to Yahweh, but to Ancient Israel itself.  This is the reason why in so many parts of the Bible, Yahweh’s prophets denounce the infidelity of many Israelites who worshipped other gods, and interpreted a lot of their disgraces as Yahweh’s punishment for Israel’s idolatry.

For this reason, the Aaronid and the Shilo priesthood, even when being rivals, tried their best to concentrate the worship on Yahweh/El as a way to guarantee national security.  Notice that the Priestly Code and the Deuteronomist Code appeared just when kings Hezekiah and Joshiah made their respective religious reforms requiring two things:  that all israelites concentrated their worship on the national God, Yahweh; and the elimination of all worship to other gods, including the Asherah worship.  So, from polytheism, Judaism evolved to henotheism or monolatry, the worship of one God, even recognizing the existence of many other gods.  When the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant (regarded as Yahweh’s own holy presence) disappeared, those Jews who were exiled to Babylon began to worship an omnipresent God, and gradually were leaving behind their belief in the existence of other gods, until by the second or first century B.C.E., basically Judaism became monotheistic.  This did not stop many in the general population to worship other gods.  In the Second Book of Maccabees, there is a reference to Israelites who secretly worshipped other gods and died in the field of battle (2 Mac. 12:38-45).  Yet, from the first century C.E. until today, Judaism has remained monotheistic, just as Christianity has.

 

Our First Conclusion

As we have been able to see here, the story of Adam and Eve has a very complex background.  The original story comes from Tradition J, but we see that when J was written at the time polytheism, at least in the form of henotheism, was practiced.  As we shall see in our next post, not only does Yahweh appear in the story, but He also appears implicitly as the head of an assembly of gods.  It also means that Asherah may appear in some way in the story, since her cult seems to be associated in some way with the “Tree of Life”.  As we shall see, the monotheistic viewpoint that came later, and also many of the elaborations by later Christian authors, have obscured the original meaning of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis.

For those Jews or Christians who doubt this information, I regret to inform you that this is a standard view in Bible scholarship.  You will find this information in every respected research entity or university what I have just said above ….  Contrary to the “Horus=Jesus” thing, this is not just a mere invention of a Puerto Rican philosophy teacher, or any lunatic.  This has been very well researched and discussed by the best authorities in the area (Jews, Christians, agnostics, atheist or otherwise), especially archaeologists, paleographers, anthropologists, among many other people in the field of Bible scholarship.  If you want more information about reliable scholars in the area, see the section of “References” below.

Here I share with you a documentary on this subject.  I highly respect Frenceska Stavrakopoulou (I always have a hard time spelling her last name 😛  Geez!)  … I beg to differ from her interpretation that these discoveries practically “collapses” the foundations of modern monotheism.  I think it does so only in ultraorthodox and fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity (as seen in the documentary).  For the rest of us who do not belong to these groups, we have absolutely no problem with these discoveries and research.  In fact, a lot of the people who are elaborating on this research are believing Jews and Christians.  Most of us have incorporated an evolutionary model where God reveals Him/Herself through historical processes, and this is one.  I also disagree with their conclusion that Jews and Christians are closet polytheists.  We use a lot of symbolic types that came from the polytheistic era, but their meaning has changed dramatically, and their use is concentrated on the worship of a single God.  Symbolic types do not have static meanings, they always change throughout history.

 

Note:  All of the Biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is today the best Bible translation available made by top scholars in the field.  I used the original Hebrew whenever possible to express a point that is clearer in that language.  I specifically use the most recent version of The HarperCollins Study Bible, also created by top scholars in the field today.

 

References

Barton, J. & Stavrakopoulou, F. (2010).  Religious diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah.  London:  T&T Clark.

Dever, W.  (2002).  What did the Biblical writers know and when did they know it?:  what archaeology can tell us about the reality of Ancient Israel.  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Dever, W.  (2003).  Who were the early Israelites and where did they come from?  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Dever, W. G. (2005). Did God have a wife?:  archaeology and folk religion in Ancient Israel.  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Dever, W. G.  (2012).  The lives of ordinary people in Ancient Israel:  when Archaeology and the Bible intersect.  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Fleming, D. (2012).  The legacy fo Israel in Judah’s Bible:  history, politicas, and the reinscribing of Tradition.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Friedman, R. E.  (1997).  Who wrote the Bible?  NY: HarperOne.

Friedman, R. E.  (1999).  The hidden book of the Bible.  NY:  HaperOne.

Friedman, R. E.  (2003).  Commentary on the Torah.  NY:  HarperOne.

Halpern, B. & Adams, M. J.  (2009).  From gods to God:  the dynamics of Iron Age cosmologies.  Mohr Siebeck.

Stavrakopoulou, F.  (2012).  Land of our fathers:  the roles of ancestor veneration in Biblical land claims.  London:  T&T Clark.

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