Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 7: The Divine Warrior.

O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me, or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue. O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause, then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust. (Selah) Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God. God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies. They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends. I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. (Psalms 7:1-17 NRSV)

Here the psalmist is writing about his enemies and possibly is asking to be delivered from those who betrayed him. Here the text is rich in language of Yahweh being the divine warrior. There are many images of this in the biblical text and here we will discuss the aspects of the divine warrior and then look at some other texts outside the Old Testament to understand this aspect of Yahweh more fully. We will look at some holy war songs with in the Old Testament two are thought to be some of the oldest written pieces of literature in the bible: the “Song of Miriam” in Deuteronomy 15, the “Yahweh the Warrior” in Psalms 24, and the “Prayer of Habakkuk” in Habakkuk 3. Then we will compare these with the similarities of the “The Baal Epic”, The Sumerian Epic of Creation known better as “Enuma Elish” and the texts from the Epic of Babylon; Ishtar and Izdubar. Here gods will slay dragons, shoot lightning from the sky, move mountains, divide the seas, and cause storms against their enemies.

The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power— your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble. At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:3-11NRSV)

Above is a well known holy war song found in Deuteronomy 15. The Song of Miriam is routinely compared to the Baal Epic. The text is broken down into three themes. Yahweh defeats the sea, Yahweh defeats his enemies, and Yahweh should be king. Below the text sounds more powerful if the word Lord is changed to Yahweh. As we read the biblical texts we at times filter it through the New Testament. To appreciate the Biblical texts as literature one must discard all the prophetic ideas and especially the perceived theology, and come to understand the text from the view point as literature created for the gods. Although a whole book could be written about this comparison with the Baal Epic we will discuss; the fight with the sea combined with the exodus account, and the fight Baal had with the sea as a god.

Many would balk at the notion of the “Song of Miriam” being composed as the “battle of creation” account. Dated between the late twelfth and early eleventh century, the text comes during the early tribal league. It is hypothesized that the account was later combined with the account of the biblical exodus during the monarchy period. There is evidence that the motif of Yahweh fighting the sea is much older. There are two examples in the bible that speak of Yahweh’s battle with the sea with hints of the battle of creation. The first text is Psalms 114:1-8:

“When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s [236] sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.” (Psalms 114:1-8 NRSV)

Another text with this combination is in the text of Isaiah 51:9-11:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over? So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:9-11 NRSV)

Now we come to the Baal Epic and the fight between Yamm (god of the sea), and Baal. In the text we hear the prophecy concerning Baal from Korthar, the craftsman of the gods, being proclaimed:

“The mighty will fall to the ground,
the powerful into the Slime.”
These words had just come from her mouth,
this speech from her lips, she had just spoken,
when he groaned from under Prince Sea’s throne.
And Kothar-wa-Hasis replied:
“Let me tell you, Prince Baal,
let me repeat , Rider on the Clouds:
behold, your enemy, Baal,
behold, you will kill your enemy,
behold, you will annihilate your foes.
You will take your eternal kingship,
your dominion forever and ever.” (Coogan88)

The victory is proclaimed in the text when Baal over comes the Sea with the two clubs with magical names, Yagarris (driver) and Ay-yamarri (chaser), Korthar has fashioned for him.

And the club danced in Baal’s hands,
like a vulture from his fingers.
It struck Prince Sea on the skull,
judge river between the eyes.
Sea stumbled;
he fell to the ground;
his joints shook;
his frame collapsed.
Baal captured and drank Sea;
he finished off Judge river. (Coogan89)

Another text where the Sea is destroyed is in the Sumerian Epic of Creation, “Enuma Elish”. Below we read the detailed battle between them and of the weapons used. It is also interesting to note the use of the elements of nature in the text below when comparing it to the biblical texts and that of the Baal Epic.

And unto Marduk their first-born they spake:
“May thy fate, O lord, be supreme among the gods,
“To destroy and to create; speak thou the word, and (thy command) shall be fulfilled.
“Command now and let the garment vanish;
“And speak the word again and let the garment reappear!”
Then he spake with his mouth, and the garment vanished;
Again he commanded it, and the garment reappeared.
When the gods, his fathers, beheld (the fulfilment of) his word,
They rejoiced, and they did homage (unto him, saying), ” Marduk is king! “
They bestowed upon him the sceptre, and the throne, and the ring,
They give him an invincible weapon, which overwhelmeth the foe.
“Go, and cut off the life of Tiamat,
“And let the wind carry her blood into secret places.”
After the gods his fathers had decreed for the lord his fate,
They caused him to set out on a path of prosperity and success.
He made ready the bow, he chose his weapon,
He slung a spear upon him and fastened it . . .
He raised the club, in his right hand he grasped (it),
The bow and the quiver he hung at his side.
He set the lightning in front of him,
With burning flame he filled his body.
He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiamat,
The four winds he stationed so that nothing of her might escape;
The South wind and the North wind and the East wind and the West wind
He brought near to the net, the gift of his father Anu.
He created the evil wind, and the tempest, and the hurricane,
And the fourfold wind, and the sevenfold wind, and the whirlwind, and the wind which had no equal; ( King p.61-65)

Below the “sea-serpent-death” Tiamat, in great detail, is defeated:

Now after the hero Marduk had conquered and cast down his enemies,
And had made the arrogant foe even like …,
And had fully established Anshar’s triumph over the enemy,
And had attained the purpose of Nudimmud,
Over the captive gods he strengthened his durance,
And unto Tiamat, whom he had conquered, he returned.
And the lord stood upon Tiamat’s hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
His fathers beheld, and they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.
Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the …, and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions (thereof),
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-shara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-shara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bêl, and Ea in their districts to inhabit. (King p.71-77)

So clearly there are comparisons with in these texts that are important to take note of as holy war theams. Both Yahweh and Baal and Marduk conquer the sea and the river all using the elements of nature. It is also interesting to note that both texts have mention of both sea and river. Next we will move on to explore the war hymn in Psalms 24. Both Deuteronomy 15 and Psalms 24 are among the oldest hymns in the biblical texts.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. (Selah) Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Selah) (Psalms 24:1-10 NRSV)

The above text Yahweh destroys his enemies also it is important to not references to the seas and rivers above. This text plainly states Yahweh will have victory over his enemies and will personally establish himself entering the heavenly holy temple and sitting on the throne as king. So also dose Baal and Marduk, after defeating their enemies. Now we will turn to one last War hymn in Habakkuk

God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. (Selah) His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed close behind. He stopped and shook the earth; he looked and made the nations tremble. The eternal mountains were shattered; along his ancient pathways the everlasting hills sank low. I saw the tents of Cushan under affliction; the tent-curtains of the land of Midian trembled. Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Or your anger against the rivers, or your rage against the sea, when you drove your horses, your chariots to victory? You brandished your naked bow, sated were the arrows at your command. (Selah) You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you, and writhed; a torrent of water swept by; the deep gave forth its voice. The sun raised high its hands; the moon stood still in its exalted place, at the light of your arrows speeding by, at the gleam of your flashing spear. In fury you trod the earth, in anger you trampled nations. You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed. You crushed the head of the wicked house, laying it bare from foundation to roof. Selah) You pierced with their own arrows the head of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter us, gloating as if ready to devour the poor who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the mighty waters. I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us. (Habakkuk 3:3-16 NRSV)

Now we come to the text from the Epic of Babylon; Ishtar and Izdubar.
The text below can be compared more to the Psalms especially in chapters 6:3; 13:1, 2; 74:9; 80:4; 82:2; 89:46; 90:13; 94:3. Below we see the same words and themes used once again. The warrior Izdubar makes a plea to the goddess Ishtar for help in defeating enemies. It reads:

“How long, O Ishtar, will thy face be turned,
While Erech desolate doth cry to thee?
Thy towers magnificent, oh, hast thou spurned?
Her blood like water in Ul-bar, oh, see!
The seat of thine own oracle behold!
The fire hath ravaged all thy cities grand,
And like the showers of Heaven them all doth fold.
O Ishtar! broken-hearted do I stand!
Oh, crush our enemies as yonder reed!
For hopeless, lifeless, kneels thy bard to thee,
And, oh! I would exalt thee in my need,
From thy resentment, anger, oh, us free! (Hamilton p.13-14)

The text above also has many of the themes we have discussed. In short, it appears through this analyst, that the motif and mythological themes of the divine warrior had many similarities in the Ancient Near East. The gods, conquering enemies with the elements of nature, disease, pestilence and weapons of war; taking the throne in his divine temple, and being praised as lord of lords and as the god king, ran deep in the stories of old. It is true that old gods never die but are just reformed and out done by the new; and their heroic deeds retold by the writings and voices of their pious believers.

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

Cross, Frank. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997.

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

Hamilton, Leonidas Le Cenci. Ishtar and Izdubar: The Epic of Babylon. W.H. Allen & Co. New York 1884.

King, Leonard William. The Seven Tablets of Creation. Luzac and Co. London 1902.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 6: My Bones Are Shaking With Terror.

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long? Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame. (Psalms 6:1-10 NRSV)

In Psalms six there are two aspects of the psalm that will be discussed within this essay. The first is the theme of the Psalm itself. Then, a discussion of the use of the word “Sheol”, found in verse six. In doing so possibly we may have a better picture of what the Psalmist is going through and textual similarities of the other nations at the time.

The text of this particular Psalm is a prayer of lamentation. The writer may have a terminal illness and is asking Yahweh for deliverance. There are about seven of these Psalms. In the Catholic Church they are called the Penitential Psalms. They consist of the present Psalm, plus Psalms 37, 38, 51, 102,130, and 143. These types of Psalms were quite common in the Ancient Near East. Most people off handily would associate such a prayer with the writings contained in the book of Job. While this association is correct, they are found elsewhere also. Below we will explore at least three of these examples.

The first is called “A Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar” a section of this text reads:

“I have cried to thee, suffering, wearied, and distressed, as thy servant.
See me o my Lady; accept my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and hear my supplication.
Promise my forgiveness and let thy spirit be appeased.
Pity! For my wretched body which is full of confusion and trouble.
Pity! For my sickened heart is full of tears and suffering.
Pity! For my wretched intestines which are full of confusion and trouble.
Pity! For my afflicted house which morns bitterly.
Pity! For my feelings which are satiated with tears and suffering.” (Pritchard p.384)

The next text that deals with our theme is the text “I will Praise The Lord of Wisdom”. In this Akkadian text we find the writer in extreme torment.

“The Alu (disease demon) has clothed himself with
my body as with a garment.
Like a net sleep has covered me.
My eyes stare without seeing.
My ears are open without hearing
Faintness has seized my whole body.
A stroke has fallen upon my flesh.
Weakness has taken hold of my hand.
Weariness has Fallen upon my knees…” (Pritchard p.435)

The last example of the three, we come to the Ugaritic literature, and find the “Legend of King Keret”. The king here is in mourning over his wife that has died. We read:

So he enters his cubical and weeps,
An inner chamber and cries.
His tears drop
Like shekels to the ground.
His bed is soaked by his weeping,
And he falls asleep as he cries.” (Pritchard p.143)

The above texts were given to show their similarities to the Psalm we are discussing. Also it shows that the writing style in the ancient Near East dealt with some of the same issues. Now we will discuss the word Sheol, and how it pertains to the texts describing the underworld.

In the Old Testament the underworld was a place some what removed from the world above. Its population was in a semi conscience sleep. It is supposedly devoid of any praise of God but not removed from his justification. In Deuteronomy 32:22 we read:

“For a fire is kindled by my anger, and burns to the depths of Sheol; it devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

And again in Psalms 139:8 we find the familiar text:

“If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”

Although it was the land of the dead, there are examples of the dead being aroused from Sheol when called upon. One well known example is the raising of the spirit of Samuel, in First Samuel 28:11-15. Another example is Isaiah 14:9

Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.”

The word Sheol is used about Fifty-eight times in the Old Testament. This is disputed by some due to the different translations. Some translations use “Sheol” for grave, death, and pit. So the word usage of translations is under much debate. It also appears that one could be delivered from Sheol by Yahweh after a certain time. Although this may not be popular in some circles the example that best fits this hypothesis is in the book of Job.

“But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. O that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. (Job 14:10-15 NRSV)

Possibly Sheol, for the Jewish community, became like a intermediate between the stage of death and resurrection. It is interesting to note the similarities of purgatory and the writing of Dante’s Inferno to this concept. Many modern ideas about hell and the afterlife may have been influenced by these texts concerning Sheol. A more detailed essay on the after life and the under world in relation to the ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Old Testament is in the making and these similarities will be discussed farther.

In Psalms six, we have one of many painful prayers to Yahweh for deliverance from death, pain, suffering, and enemies. We also had a chance to look at some parts of similar texts that corresponded with the Psalm. We also took a short time to discuss a few topics concerning the Jewish underworld. The biblical texts are full of symbolic, iconographical, and mythological symbols that at times need to be picked apart. The debate of such topics only leads to more topics and more understanding.

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

Orr, James. “Sheol.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan 1939.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 5: Baal Verses Death

Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you. The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house, I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield. (Psalms 5:1-12 NRSV)

In the above text, the Psalmist possibly is being accused of idolatry. If found accused, the guilty may not be allowed in the temple. The enemies create lies and accusations. The Psalmist prays that the wicked will have poor council and there by proving his innocents by their mistakes. However, one verse jumps out in particular and that is the text, “their throats are open graves”. Below we will discuss what this could possibly mean and the Ugric mythology that may be behind this text so we can better understand just how terrible these enemies mentioned in Psalms five are.

In the Ugaritic texts there is what some scholars call the “Baal Cycle”. In short, it is the story of the Canaanite god Baal and his fight with the Lord of the Underworld, Death. Baal dies for seven years while doing Battle with the god Death. During that time there is no rain. After some battles as king, Baal refused to pay due tribute to Death in a message that he sent in announcing his new temple. After Baal’s defeat of the Sea or the “serpent”, which caused cosmic collapse, he is punished by being made to go down into the throat of Death. Baal gets bad news from his messengers and becomes scared of death; he submits. After he sleeps with the goddess Anat, he and his sons and daughters descend into the underworld. In doing so, they bring the full fury of the storm with them, Rain, wind, lightning and clouds. It is while Baal is battling in the underworld and dies that the earth receives no rain and drought is upon the land.

“Message of El’s son, Death,
the word of El’s Darling, the Hero:
‘My appetite is like that of a lioness,
or the desire of a dolphin in the sea;
my pool seizes the wild oxen,
my well grabs the deer;
when I have the appetite for an ass,
then I eat with both my hands…”
“One lip to the earth , one lip to the heavens;
he will stretch forth his tongue to the stars.
Baal must enter inside him;
he must go down into his mouth,
like an olive cake,
the earth’s produce,
the fruit of the trees.”
Baal the conqueror became afraid;
the Rider of the Clouds was terrified:
“ Leave me; speak to El’s son Death,
repeat to El’s Darling, the Hero:
‘Message from Baal the Conqueror,
the word of the Conqueror of Warriors:
Hail, El’s son Death!
I am your servant, I am your forever. (Coogan p. 106-107)

It is also interesting to note the mourning process that was carried out by El and Anat. It explains in detail why the believers of Baal cut themselves while on Mount Carmel. The worshipers were grieving Baal’s death. Below we read the account of the believers cutting themselves:

Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. (1 Kings 18:28-29 NRSV)

Now compare the story of El, Baal’s grandfather, grieving the death of his grandson:

Then El the Kind, the Compassionate,
came down from his throne,
sat on his stool,
and coming down from his stool he sat on the ground.
he poured earth o his head as a sign of morning,
on his skull the dust in which he rolled;
he covered his loins with sackcloth.
He cut his skin with a knife,
he made incisions with a razor;
he cut his cheeks and chin,
he raked his arms with a reed,
he plowed his chest like a garden,
he raked his back like a valley.
He raised his voice and shouted:
“Baal is dead: what will happen to the peoples? (Coogan p.109)

The verse in Psalms 5:9 shows that the enemies of the writer are all consuming with their false accusations. Their appetites are that of a lioness. They will consume the accused with lies at any cost and eat anything in their path as they wish. The Psalmist asks Yahweh for protection from these terrible enemies. He asks Yahweh to do battle; to guard with a shield. The points brought out from such a small text shows the severity of the problem mention in the above Psalm. It also shows that with such fierce enemies making accusations, ones faith in Yahweh’s protection and guidance is almost demanded.

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.

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

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.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 3: Yahweh As Suzerain

O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” (Selah) But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill. (Selah) I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people! (Selah)
(Psalms 3:1-8 NRSV)

The above possibly is spoken by a king who is surrounded by his enemies. Some think that this text was written by David while he was fleeing from Absalom. Such headings are under debate, even though some aspects of the lament may possibly correspond in content to the events in David’s life. Such introductions also exist in Ugric poetry and laments, with headings that read “Concerning Baal”, and the like. With the opening verses we see that the many whom are rising and say, “There is no help for you in Yahweh.”, pay later by having their cheek struck and their teeth broken by Yahweh.

Another interesting point to elaborate on is the word “shield” in verse four. Some scholars such as Dahood believe the word here should be “suzerain” or “overlord”. It is defined by the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, as:

“Shield, buckler, defense, ruler, armed, scales, now also suzerain is suggested. The noun magen refers to an object which provides covering and protection to the body during warfare. Of the six Hebrew words rendered in KJV as “shield” or “buckler” only magen, sinna, and possibly shelet refer to what may properly be called shields. It is obvious that magen and sinna refer to different types of shields, but English versions have not consistently maintained the distinction, rendering both words indiscriminately as “shield” or “buckler.”

In Luke 22:25 we find the definition: But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. Another example is in Psalms 84:11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. So Yahweh is just that, he gives to his vassals.

Lastly, in contrast to the introduction, where the enemies of the lamenting King were saying there was no help in Yahweh, we read in contrast “Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!” Or, Salvation belongs to Yahweh. In the end the jaws and teeth, or the instruments of the sin, were marked and destroyed by Yahweh.

In the following Hittite prayer, called the Daily Prayer of the King, the writer also calls for help against sinful enemies and asks the god acting as the “suzerain” for protection and blessings.

And as for the enemy countries that are in revolt and turmoil- some refuse the due respect to thee, Telepinus, and to the Hattian gods; others are out to burn your temples; others seek to obtain the rhyta, the cups and the utensils of silver and gold; others seek to lay waste your plowland and pasture, vineyards ,gardens, and groves; others seek to capture your plowmen, vinedressers, gardeners and millwomen- give evil fever, plague, famine and misery to these country enemies.
But to the king and the queen, to the princesses and to the Hatti land grant life , health, strength, long and enduring years of joy! Grant everlasting fertility to their crops, vines, fruit-bearing trees, cattle, sheep, goats pigs, mules and asses together with the beasts of the fields, and to their people! Let them florish! Let the rains come! Let the winds of prosperity pass over! Let all thrive and prosper in the Hatti land! And the congregation shouts: “Let it be so!” (Pritchard p. 397)

Archer. Gleason L. Jr. , Bruse K. Waltke. & R. Laird Harris, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Electronic Edition, Moody Press. Chicago, Illinois 1980.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

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

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 2: I Will Tell Of The Decree Of The Lord

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling
kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.

(Psalms 2:1-12 NRSV)

Psalms Two can be divided into three sections one through three tells of the local kings plotting rebellion against the new Overlord. In verses four to nine, describes God’s reaction and thought on the matter. Finally, verses ten through twelve explain the judgment of the matter. The good will be rewarded and the evil will parish (Dahood 7-8).

The above text show just how seriously the office of the King was taken in the time of this texts composition. In Hebrew culture and in the biblical texts, the King was chosen by Yahweh. Any issues you had with Yahweh’s anointed, you also offended Yahweh himself. One example of this would be the account of David choosing not to kill Saul even though he was urged by some to do so at the time of opportunity.

The king in early Hebrew culture was the son of the deity only through the covenant and was not divine, unlike their neighbors whom claimed to be the incarnate or “God on earth”. In Ugaritic literature, King Kirta is said to be the son of El, the ruler of the Canaanite pantheon (Walton pp. 518-519).

The Assembly of the gods arrived,
And Baal the Conqueror said:
“Come now El the Kind, the Compassionate: bless Kirta the Noble,
Show your favor to the Gracious One, The Lad of El:
El took a cup in his hand,
A goblet in his right hand;
He pronounced a blessing over his servant,
El blessed Kirta the Noble,
He showed his favor to the Gracious One, The Lad of El: (Coogan p. 66)

The idea of Yahweh laughing in response to his enemies is not a new one. Elsewhere in the biblical texts we hear Yahweh laugh at his enemies: Psalms 52:6; 59:8; Proverbs 1:26, to name a few. It is interesting to note that almost the same theme that is in verse 4 of Psalms 2 is used also in Psalms 59:8 But you laugh at them, O Lord; you hold all the nations in derision.

In verses seven to nine the Psalmist prophesies that when Yahweh is asked, he will deal out vengeance on the rebellious. He promises the chosen king their lands and the earth his procession. Yahweh has assured the king victory.

The warning comes rather stern in verses ten through twelve, serve Yahweh or pay dearly. The rebellious wicked are reminded that they are rulers of the earth. Also, in Psalms 82 Yahweh warns the gods that if they continue to do evil they to will be mortals. To be rulers of heaven comes to those who are righteous and are the chosen Sons of Yahweh.

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.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 1: The Wicked Will Not Stand in the Judgment

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalms 1:1-6 NRSV)

The above Psalm opens the book of Psalms. It is not only a text contrasting the assembly of the just with the assembly of the wicked, it represents the background theme of the whole book of Psalms. The Psalms and their themes were wildly used in the Ancient Near East and below we will discuss some of these themes that have the same elements as Psalm 1 (Dahood pp.1-5).

From the Sumero-Akkadian text from the Ashurbanipal library dating to about 668-633 B.C., we find the text “Hymn to the Sun-God”. Here the god Shamash is the universal god and enjoys the praise and worship of all people of the earth. In this particular hymn is about the righteousness and judgment of Shamash. Here the theme of judgment and the destroying of the wicked is prevalent. The wicked one in this text has no defense as he stand before the god in the divine council.

When thy weapon is turned on him he has no saviors.
In his trial his father will not stand by him;
To the word of the Judge even his brothers do not answer;
By a bronze trap he will be caught unawares.
The horn of the perpetrator of abomination thou dost destroy.
(Pritchard pp.387-388).

Next we observe and Egyptian text called “The Instruction of Amen-Em-Ope”t In this text we find similar themes, in particular that of the tree and its fruit and foliage. The wicked is dried up but the righteous is full of leaves and bearing fruit. This text is close to the book of Proverbs 22:17-24 and Jeremiah 17:5-8. The papyrus is dated between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C. The forth chapter of this text reads:

As for the heated man of the temple,
He is like a tree growing in the open.
In the completion of a moment comes its loss of foliage,
And its end is reached in the shipyards;
Or it is floated far from its place.
But truly the silent man holds himself apart.
He is like a tree growing in a garden.
It flourishes and doubles its yield;
It stands before its lord.
Its fruit is sweet; its shade is pleasant;
And it’s end is reached in the garden…
(Pritchard pp.421-422)

In Psalms 1:5 we are told “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous..” The person who stands in the judgment is the person who is speaking, or has the floor. He either gets to plead his case to the heavenly council as in Job 30:28 or the action can apply to a witness as in Psalms 27:12. In Psalms 82:1 it is God himself that addresses the council. It appears that here the wicked will not be able to speak their cause in the heavenly council or ever be able to have the floor. Not being able to have this option would for some be hell itself (Walton p. 518).

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

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

For Who Has Stood In The Council Of The Lord?

For Who Has Stood In The Council of the Lord?: Thoughts On The Heavenly Council

Then God said, “Let us make humankind 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 God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV)

One interesting theme in the Old Testament is the idea of the Heavenly Council. Most would say that the account in Genesis, of the creation of man, was proof of the deity existing before the creation of the world. However, there are several passages that would have to be overlooked. Below we will discuss these passages and explore the possibility of the existence of Yahweh and the Council of the Gods. The text below has been posted in full rather then referred for reason of clarity and reference. One of the best references that fully cover this topic is the book, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. On page 186, Frank Moore Cross goes into detail on this topic as well as the Old Testament writing styles.

The text below in the book of Kings shows the proceeding of the heavenly council with Yahweh sitting on the throne with the hosts of heaven around him. It is the job of the prophet to witness these proceedings and then to proclaim what he heard and saw.

Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, “I will entice him.’ “How?’ the Lord asked him. He replied, “I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then the Lord said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’ So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has decreed disaster for you.” Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the Lord pass from me to speak to you?” Micaiah replied, “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.” The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, and say, “Thus says the king: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water until I come in peace.’ ” Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you!” (1 Kings 22:19-28 NRSV)

Below, Jeremiah asks his questions after there are disputes over who is a real prophet and who is not. Here he challenges those who profess to proclaim the words of Yahweh.

For who has stood in the council of the Lord so as to see and to hear his word? Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it? (Jeremiah 23:18 NRSV)

Below is a very old Psalm in which Yahweh addresses his council and chastises them for dealing unjustly with the wicked. He tells them to rises up and act like the gods they are and Judge justly. We may judge from this interaction that the “sons of God” according to Genesis 6:2 NRSV, may well be these council members taking wives among the mortals on earth which in turn leads to the biblical flood. Another explanation of this text comes from The Anchor Bible: Psalms 51-100 by Mitchell Dahood. His explanation of Psalm 82 states that this is the Lord’s judgment of the pagan gods of other nations. Verses 2-4 give the summery of Charges and 5-7 makes these gods responsible of the cosmic disorders. In Verse 7 God strips the gods of surrounding nations of their immortality. This Psalm shows the view point that the Yahweh cult had concerning other nations and their gods.

God 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? (Selah) Give justice 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 God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! (Psalms 82:1-8 NRSV)

In the text below it is Isaiah, like Micaiah in I Kings, witnessing the Council of Yahweh. In this passage there are Seraphs in attendance. Isaiah proclaims his uncleanness and is purified by the seraph touching is lips with coal. He is commanded by Yahweh to make the people dull.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:1-12 NRSV)

Lastly we have the vision of Zechariah. Here Joshua has become a high priest and as Zechariah witnesses the proceedings in the Heavenly council.

Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the Lord was standing by. Then the angel of the Lord assured Joshua, saying “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! For they are an omen of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.” (Zechariah 3:1-10 NRSV)

The idea of a Heavenly Council was prevalent in the Canaanite culture as well is it would be out of line to think that these cultures had no effect on the early Israeli people as they entered the land Yahweh promised them. Below is a passage of Baal chastising the council of the gods:

Comes Puissant Baal,
Advances the Rider of the Clouds.
Lo, he takes his stand and cries defiance,
He stands erect and spits
In the mist of the assembly of the divine beings:
Abomination has been placed upon my table,
Filth in the cup I drink

(Pritchard 132)

Yahweh was always in competition with Baal. And Baal was also in competition with Yahweh. This is seen in I Kings 18 in the account of Elijah on Mount Carmel. Also, due to the fact that many were confusing Yahweh with Baal, Yahweh changes his ways of revealing himself in I Kings 19:11. Yahweh was not in the wind, earthquake or fire, all of which were attributes of Baal also. But Yahweh was now in the “sound of sheer silence”. With this change we see Yahweh withdraw from personal holy war and uses Prophets and empowers mortals to do his bidding. And it is the still small voice the beckons the people of Yahweh to this day. Although this change happened Yahweh and the council of the gods still appear in the writings of later Old and New Testament texts.

Cross, Frank. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 51-100. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Saved from What?

It is thought that when one was saved from sin God had the power to over come and transform an individual. Many times is thought that a person who is saved is no longer a slave to sin but in thinking about the issue one needs to wonder if that is the case. Many have truly been transformed, However many have not. Below we will discuss some of these inconsistencies.

While I was watching the Mantel Williams show there was an episode featuring pedophiles. One offender claimed to be rehabilitated however before his rehabilitation he committed thirty offences against children. When question by Montel and the audience, is said that if he had safe guards in place everyday that he was confident he would not re-offend. He mentioned that as a requirement of his probation he was made to take polygraph tests, wear a Global Positioning Device, and was monitored by the criminal justice system. I realized that I heard that some place before. That place was church. So the question remains, if a saved person is redeemed from his sins and its grip, can he re-offend? It so then the age old question was he really saved in the first place.

Saying he was not saved in the first place, in my opinion is way to save God and Christianity its dignity. These places the blame totally on the weak human that God was suppose to empower so he might refrain from evil. The devil also ends up taking the brunt of the blame. For when a Christian falls he is always said to be there as the reason what, or it is believed he was pulling the strings to manipulate the decision to sin. Also it is interesting that most Christians who become saved put in place safe guards as if they already expect to re-offend. They shun old friends, watch their language, where they go, and what they do. They may even have a group of friend who will constantly monitor them to make sure they stay on the narrow path of righteousness. Many groups try to overcome the nature of sin through Baptism, and in some circles, Sanctification, which is supposed to take away the urge to sin.

So a rather pointed question would be that is a person is truly saved from drinking then he would be able to be a bar tender and not even have the urge for a taste of beer, or perhaps if one was saved from sexual promiscuity, he or she would be able to be among the prostates and not have an urge toward the sexual. To many time Christians get saved and have but up defenses and safe guards. We lock ourselves in our churches among God’s people and think I am safe if I have this or that in place. A good prayer life, bible reading, and church attendance are just a few of these defenses against re-offending. But who is there to work and witness for Christ at the bar or in the brothel? Do we rally think God cannot deliver us for past offences? Or dose he leave the urges for us to contend with ourselves.

This may be what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he mentioned he had a thorn in the flesh. So then dose God only save us from our sins and not from ourselves. And what happens when a sanctified believer re-offends back into sin. Is he still saved, never sanctified, or never saved in the first place. I have to admit I find this issue most confusing.

Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

My Long Time Friend R. Wilcox

I have posted a few essays by my long time friend R. Wilcox.  I did not want to post his full name due to the fact that some of the content here is controversial and to maintain privacy.  I did want to give him credit for his long time study in the areas of; World Religion, Mythology, Biblical Archeology, Early Israeli History, Terrorism, Anthropology, Criminology, Forensic Anthropology, Criminal Psychology, and Literature. He has sent me binders of information, has loaned me countless books, and has recorded many lectures all of which I am thankful. He has taught me how to research properly and has shown me the value of books. Below are a few essays he has sent to me over the years and I am happy to post them here.

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