Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 4: Yahweh And The Temple Of Baal.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? (Selah) But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. (Selah) Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!” You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety. (Psalms 4:1-8 NRSV)

In short, this particular Psalm is a prayer for rain. In the above text, the people have forsaken Yahweh and relied on other gods to produce results. The author tells them that through repentance and offering right sacrifice that the rains will come; through Yahweh crops will once again abound. There are, however, some important aspects within this small text that have greater relevance. The concept is that if a temple for the God is built, then prosperity will come to the land; if the temple is not built or is in shambles, then prosperity is withheld by the heavens, at time in the form of rain. The concept of the right sacrifice brings the blessings of the gods. Yahweh had a rather elaborate and strict set of sacrificial rules; if one part of the ritual was not followed to his liking, the sacrifice was invalid. Major similarities exist between the Canaanite religion and its counterpart, the house of Yahweh; in each, a god demands a temple and withholds prosperity from the people until he is granted his wish.

The ancient Phoenicians had a ritual for the express purpose of entreating the deity to provide regularity to the seasons and food for the people. If the rain was too much or too little, the people filled vessels with fat or corn and buried them in the earth to honor the god Aleyn. This particular ritual is not found in the Old Testament, but other rituals of the Jewish feasts and festivals are similar to those found in the texts at the Ras Shamra site. One example would be the Jewish Feasts of Unleavened Bread. However, these similarities may be addressed in a later essay. The example above was given to provide some insight into the kind of rituals that were performed in the hopes that the god would provide rain.

Ancient Canaanite mythology stresses the importance that a deity has his or her own temple erected in order for him or her to claim legitimacy in the Council of El. One story relates that Baal sought permission from El, and also from the goddess of the council, to have the people erect him a temple. Baal sends his wife and sister, Anat to plead his case. Anat, a war goddess, threatens El with death; he relents. The goddess Asherah, El’s wife, who apparently has objections, is the last to be persuaded before permission is granted. In the end she is won over by a bribe of gifts given to her by Baal. Asherah and Anat, together promote the building of the house of Baal. Now Baal’s power will be manifested as the storm god. We find the account in a translation from the texts containing the stories of Baal:

“But El the Kind, the Compassionate, replied:
“Am I a servant, a power of Asherah?
am I a servant holding a trowel,
or Asherah’s brick maker?
Let a house like the other gods’ be built for Baal,
a court like Asherah’s sons’.”
And Lady Asherah-of –the –Sea replied:
“You are great, El, you are truly wise;
your gray beard truly instructs you…
Now Baal will begin the rainy season,
the season of wadis in flood;
and he will sound his voice in the clouds,
flash his lightning to the earth.
Let him complete his house of cedar!
Let him construct his house of bricks! (Coogan p. 101)

So now Baal has a temple, and now will begin the rainy season.

It is interesting to note the view of Yahweh. In stark retaliation and contrast to his counterpart Baal in Canaan; Yahweh is repulsed at first by the idea of a temple. In II Samuel we read:

“Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:5-7 NRSV)

Later in the same text Yahweh relents and tells David that his offspring, Solomon will build him a house; which, when comparing the details of the construction, is patterned after the temple of Baal. A more powerful example however, is given at a much later time period. The temple and sacrifice becomes one of the most important aspects in Yahwehism. We travel forward in time to the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian exile. It is here, now possibly more then ever, that the temple is most important to Yahweh. And Yahweh requires a house and right sacrifice to bring bounty and blessing to the land. The job falls to the prophet Haggai. Below we read the full account:

“Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the soil produces, on human beings and animals, and on all their labors.” (Haggai 1:3-11 NRSV)

Yahweh also explains that all the sacrifices in Babylon were void because they were sacrificed in an unclean land among and unclean people and the house of Yahweh laid desolate and broken. Even though the priests still remembered the laws after being in captivity; Yahweh chastises them. In Haggai chapter two, Yahweh explains in the form of questions posed to the high priests. He also gives the reason why he with held the rain:

Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered, “Yes, it becomes unclean.” Haggai then said, So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the Lord; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. But now, consider what will come to pass from this day on. Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the Lord’s temple, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. (Haggai 2:13-17 NRSV)

Yahweh then has the people recall, in verse 18, that when the foundations of the temple were laid, it was then, and only then, that earth brought forth its bounty.

This essay was not meant to create disillusionment of some believers, nor was it to prove that the religion of Yahweh was a carbon copy of the Canaanite. The examples discussed here were meant to take note of the similarities between the two religions. The Jewish religion that sprang forth did so in stark retaliation to the Baal cults. However hard they tried, they could not shake off some of the religious; rituals, sacrifices, and mythology that were so entrenched within the culture they came to inhabit.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Habel, Norman C. Yahweh verses Baal: A Conflict of Religious Cultures. Bookman Associates. New York, New York 1964.

Jack, J.W. The Ras Shamra Tablets: Their Bearing on the Old Testament.T. T Clark. George Street, Edinburgh 1935.

Myers, Carol L. and Eric M, Myers. The Anchor Bible: Haggai, Zachariah 1-8. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1987.

* All biblical references were quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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