The God in the Bible is a monster is such a common criticism, it’s almost a cliche? The Bible consists of sixty-six books written between the 5th century BCE and 2nd century CE. All of the books were written by different authors for different audiences and for vastly different reasons. The sixty-six books of the Bible are made up of hundreds and hundreds of stories, parables and prayers, all of which have been aggressively edited and redacted by different scribes at different times and for vastly different reasons. All of the original authors intended for their voice to be heard on its own, in its own context, and never intended for their work to be shoehorned into an anthology. These are the facts on which most independent Biblical Scholars agree.
That the Bible was not physically written by God is therefore evident but that doesn’t mean that God is not in the Bible. If the Bible is anything, it is the record of the evolution of God within the minds of the Hebrew people through seven hundred years.
Despite what the word ‘God’ might mean to you or me, the God in the Bible is, before anything else, a literary character. Many people forget this important point and cannot understand why other people’s vision of God doesn’t agree with theirs. Jews are confounded by the fact that Christians find a trinity of gods in a book about the world’s first monotheistic religion. While Christians cannot understand how Jews could worship a God who has spent most of the last four thousand years punishing them. The inevitable contradictions in the Bible have led most people in the West to abandon God altogether. Today, in the year 2021, many of us are beginning to realise how this literary confusion has led to the fall of Western civilisation.
With that in mind, it is important to note that when the Jesus of History spoke of a God he would often use the word ‘Light’ as a metaphor. His vision of God was of a metaphysical, transcendental and yet immanent God of pure goodness. Unfortunately for the Jesus of History, for every verse in the Bible that agrees with him, there are five others that describe a god of war and genocide. I do not have space here to explain the different sources that make up the Tanakh (the Old Testament) but would refer the interested reader to Dr Steven DiMattei’s website and his work on the Priestly, Elohist, Yahwist and Deuteronomist Sources. You can also refer to my own book, “How History Created the Bible.”
This article, however, will discuss the different gods in the bible, their evolution and how science might be finally catching up with the Jesus of History.
How any of us may interpret a religious text depends largely on what already exists within us. Just as some people will hear Rap music and want to kill themselves, other people will love it. Conversely, some people listen to Jazz and enjoy its complexity while other people just hear a nonsensical jumble of sound. In the same way, how we see God (or not), says more about who we are as people than about the reality of any objective divine being.
The Hebrew people, their cultural and spiritual evolution is a litmus of how all of us have evolved over the last three thousand years.
We know from the archaeology that in the 12 century BCE Israel was a large Kingdom in the north of the Southern Levant centred around the lush Jezreel Valley and the Galilee. At the same time, Judah was a sparsely populated hill country and Jerusalem was nothing more than an unfortified village covering only four hectares. Contrary to popular belief, the Hebrew people are indigenous to the Southern Levant and at some time in the Second Millennium BCE separated themselves from the larger Canaanite communities. It is inevitable that the first God of the Hebrew people was ‘El’, a Canaanite God, who gave them the name ‘Isra’El’.
“And God said unto him, Thy name [is] Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Isra’el shall be thy name: and he called his name Isra’el.”
The Canaanite God ‘El’ was originally part of a pantheon of Gods and was the father figure in much the same way as Zeus in the Greek Pantheon. El had a wife called Asherah, his children included Baal. He was often represented with a crown of horns and represented by a calf.
The texts of the Torah tell us that the Hebrew people were violently opposed to the use of human sacrifice, in particular child sacrifice. We know from contemporary sources that the Canaanite people, which included the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, practiced child sacrifice and child prostitution in their temples. There are good reasons to assume that the Israeli Hebrew people separated themselves from the Canaanites over this one issue. It is very likely that the Hebrew custom of circumcision was offered to the people as an alternative to sacrificing their first-born sons.
It would be inevitable that the Hebrew version of the Canaanite God El would evolve to reflect this growing empathy within the Hebrew people. It is clear in the texts of the Old Testament and modern archaeology that the worship of El and Asherah (his feminine aspect) was popular throughout the 1st millennium BCE.
“And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men?”
As you can see in the quote above and contrary to popular myth, the worship of El and Asherah did not involve child sacrifice. In fact, there is significant evidence that the Israeli Hebrews from the Galilee did not normally indulge in animal or human sacrifice but rather burnt incense and offered cakes, wine, music and olive oil to their gods.
“And he (Hezekiah) did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it…”
2 Kings 18:4
At much the same time as Kings was written, the Priestly source wrote the Book of Exodus in which God has a new name. In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asks God what his name is he replies, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh. This is generally translated as “I am being, which I shall be” but most Hebrew speakers understand the text to say “All that Was, is and Will be”. Exodus is based on a much older oral tradition and has many aspects of the Elohist source. Within this conversation Moses is referring to God as El’Shaddai (God of the Mountain) so we could speculate that the name “I-Am” is an evolution of the God “El”.
It is important to note at this point that the Indian sacred Vedic text, ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ also speaks of God as “I-Am” and can be internally dated to between the third and fourth millennium BCE. It is evident then that “I-Am” or Ehyeh was the name for God from at least the 1st Millennium BCE in the Southern Levant.
All of the Elohist texts describe God as communicating with humans via messengers (Malakh – called Angels by Christians). He is not anthropomorphic.
With the fall of Israel to the Assyrians, Judah becomes ascendant and Jerusalem finally becomes a city and a client Kingdom to the Assyrians. The Judeans worshiped a God called YHWH (Yahweh) from the Negev Desert.
The Judean god, Yahweh, was in many ways the same as the Babylonian god called Marduk. Yahweh, like Marduk, was morally ambivalent and could be ‘Good’ one day but destroy people on a whim the next day.
“And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, ‘Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For [there is] no bread, neither [is there any] water; and our soul hates this light bread’. And Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”
This Judean blood god had all the aspects of Marduk, the god of the Babylonians.
Babylonian: “Word of him (Marduk) shall endure, not to be forgotten.”
Enuma Elish Tablet V11:31-2
Hebrew: “The word of our God shall stand forever.”
Babylonian: “Command destruction or creation, they shall take place: each at your (Marduk) word.”
Enuma Elish Tablet IV: 20
Hebrew: “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and I create evil: I am the Lord and doeth all these things.”
Babylonian: “Oh Marduk, you are Lord of all Gods.”
Enuma Elish IV: 5
Hebrew: “Our God is above all gods…God of gods.”
Marduk was mirrored by an avatar called Mushussu, which appeared in the form of a ‘Dragon’. Mushussu had four legs and the body of a serpent. Genesis 3 is a Yahwehist text and describes how the serpent corrupts Eve in the Garden of Eden. As a punishment, Yahweh/Marduk punishes Mushussu and his descendants to live without limbs – condemned to travel the world on his belly.
It was the Judean elite and their scribes who controlled the narrative and it was their understanding that God was all powerful and if a person or a people were suffering it must be because they have offended God. It was logical then for them to tell the Hebrew people that Israel had been destroyed for the crime of disobeying the Judean God Yahweh. For this reason, worship of El and Asherah was persecuted by the Judean elites. The Bible narrative is propaganda for the new cult of Yahweh. The worship of El and Asherah is dismissed as ‘Idolatry’ but we now know that this was a lie.
For example, it could be said that Rabbinical Jews worship the Torah as a God or that the items of their worship are a form of idolatry or perhaps that Muslims worship the Kaaba but of course this is not true. In the same way, there is no evidence that the figurines of El and Asherah or Moses’ Serpent staff were anything more than merely religious metaphors designed to help focus the mind of the people. Contemporary scholars of Hebrew history are coming to see that the worship of El and Asherah was the preferred religion of the Hebrew people for most of their history and had nothing to do with idolatry. It was the Judean cult of animal sacrifice and their war God Yahweh that was historically abnormal.
Over the last two thousand years, Yahweh has subsumed all of the aspects of El and Asherah. Today, Rabbinical Jews refer to the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of God and understand their God much as the Israelis understood El.
From the texts, it is obvious that the Jesus of History, when he said the word ‘God’, was referring to the Israeli (Galilean) understanding of El as the one transcendent and yet immanent God of all.
“Why call me good? There is none good but one, God!”
“The most important precept you will hear is ‘Listen Israel, the Lord, our God, is one’.”
From the Q-Source sayings (earliest sayings) it is obvious that the Jesus of History does not see himself as God or in any way divine. However, there is a strange saying in the Gospel of Thomas that doesn’t make any sense unless you realise that the saying is a Greek misunderstanding of the Hebrew concept of the Ain-Sof and reference to the Ayer Asher Ayer divine name. When you transliterate the saying in terms of Exodus 3:14 (I-Am) the words of the Jesus of History makes perfect sense.
“Jesus said, ‘(I-Am) is the light above them all. (I-Am) is the All. All come forth from (I-Am) and all is attained through (I-Am). Split wood, and he is there. Lift up a stone and there you will find (I-Am)’.”
Gospel of Thomas 77
It is interesting to note that, in many ways, Thomas 77, and its reference to split wood and stone, is a narrative description of a sub-atomic reality that science is only recently beginning to confirm.
In summary, it is evident that the Jesus of History represented a uniquely Galilean vision of a transcendent deity, which was based on the original God of Israel ‘El’. With the death of James the Just, the brother of the Jesus of History, Galilean spirituality lost its central authority. The Nazarene school disappeared by the 6th century CE. Judaism had lost its mystical root.
We can see that Rabbinical Judaism is fundamentally based on an anthropomorphic God of storms and war. Originally interaction with the deity, for ordinary people, was via the priesthood and the medium of animal sacrifice. Today, many Jewish people (particularly secular Jews) leave Rabbinical Judaism due to a lack, in their words, of an internal connection to God.
However, there was rebirth of Hebrew mysticism in the 13th century CE called the Kabbalah. With the publication of the Sepher Bahir and Sepher Zohar a transcendental view of God was again possible. However, it is almost impossible to justify that view in the context of the Old Testament.
Islam on the other hand, agrees with the Jesus of History in its view of one transcendental God. These quotes from the Holy Quran demonstrates the similarities between the Nazarene school of Judaism and Islam.
“There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer” (42:11).
“No vision can grasp Him, but His Grasp is over all vision” (6:103).
“Praise be to Allah. He is such that senses cannot perceive Him, place cannot contain Him, eyes cannot see Him” (Nahjul Balagha: Sermon 185)
The Arabic name for God is Allah and is based on the Aramaic version of the God ‘El’.
We can see that a great injustice has been done to the Jesus of History and his legacy. It is ironic that Rabbinical Judaism and Christians dismiss the original religion of the Hebrew people as somehow pagan for burning incense while sacrificing animals is somehow to be considered ‘civilised’.
If you would like to know more about the evolution of God in the Bible you can get a copy of my book ‘The True Sayings of Jesus: The Jesus of History Versus the Christ Myth‘.