Wednesday, March 18, 2020

So what is it? Alike or Different? The answer is:

Here is a touchstone of that religion, and perhaps it is as close as we can come to marking the particularity, or uniqueness, of Israel’s religion. One can say that for two reasons: (1) the intention of the first commandment is spelled out in various ways throughout the documents which are our basic source for understanding that religion, and in a way that indicates they are basic for understanding Israel’s religion throughout its course; and (2) we know no genuine analogies in the ancient Near East to this exclusive, imageless worship of one deity. Thus in the first commandment we encounter a basic principle that reflects both the radical integration or centralization of the divine realm in Yahweh and also his exclusive claim over against all other gods.

I would argue, therefore, that the focus of concern properly belongs on the interplay of discontinuity and continuity. The careful investigation of the history of Israel’s religion impresses one with both realities, as I have tried to indicate in the preceding section. And although various interpreters may come down more strongly on one side or the other, no true analysis of that religion can ignore either element or set it aside. While Israel’s understanding of its God is distinctive, the tendency to regard it as utterly unique and sui generis is misleading in that it fails to take account of the way in which that conception is similar to or shaped by the religious environment. It is not simply a matter of a few metaphors or epithets which are paralleled elsewhere, but of basic language, thought forms, and relationships between deity and nature, history, tribe, state, and individual. The claim of Yahweh to the exclusive worship of Israel is represented with such flexibility and creativity that it may at one time involve explicit rejection of language or forms associated with another deity while at another time appropriating them openly. Association with one deity (Baal) may be rejected at an early stage, while association with another deity (El) may be implicitly accepted for a long period of time. To seek to discard all this as form and not content, to disregard all the complex associations of Yahweh and the gods is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Commonality, therefore, or continuity, both synchronically and diachronically, is just as strong and significant a history of religion conclusion as is discontinuity.—Patrick D. Miller in Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes, p. 29 (emphasis original)

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