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Friday, December 17, 2010

Monotheism & the text of Deut. 32:8 MT & 4QDeut. Part two

 In  Deut. 23:8 4QDeut do YHWH  and Elyon ‏עליון ὁ ὕψιστος The Most High refer to two different deities? The literature on this question is voluminous and much of it highly technical. R. Bauckham's[1] treatment is relatively accessible. He finds it inconceivable that in Deuteronomy, where  YHWH is portrayed repeatedly as the only true God, we would find a reference to Elyon ‏עליון ὁ ὕψιστος The Most High as a distinct deity or even the father of YHWH. He cites from the immediate context to demonstrate: 

Deut. 32:39 ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι
καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ
ἐγὼ ἀποκτενῶ καὶ ζῆν ποιήσω
πατάξω κἀγὼ ἰάσομαι
καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὃς ἐξελεῖται ἐκ τῶν χειρῶν μου

Deut. 32:39      ¶ See now that I, even I, am he;
        there is no god beside me.
    I kill and I make alive;
        I wound and I heal;
        and no one can deliver from my hand.
Michael Heiser[3] in a more technical paper demonstrates the fallacies in the arguments for two separate deities. The article for Elyon in the DDD[4] considers the evidence for Elyon with reference to a separate deity in the OT as ambiguous but the use of Elyon as an epithet of YHWH is not. The evidence for Elyon as an epithet outside the OT is widespread.

Both Heiser and Bauckham are concerned with more than just resolving the referent of Elyon ‏עליון ὁ ὕψιστος in Deut. 32:8. The academic consensus which imposes an evolutionary framework on the history of monotheism in Israel is the primary target. Heiser[5] and Bauckham[6] demonstrate how this interpretive framework functions to control exegesis and how it distorts the evidence. On page one of his introduction Heiser states:

The polytheistic nature of pre-exilic Israelite religion and Israel’s gradual evolution toward monotheism are taken as axiomatic in current biblical scholarship. ...  Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82 are put forth as rhetorical evidence of this redactional strategy and assumed religious evolution. The argument is put forth that these texts suggest Yahweh was at one time a junior member of the pantheon under El the Most High, but that he has now taken control as king of the gods.
Bauckham and Heiser both point out that this interpretive framework is assumed prior to looking at the evidence. The evidence is filtered and structured according to a grand scheme of evolutionary religious development culminating in strict monotheism at late date. Heiser and Bauckham refer to Mark S. Smith[7] as a representative of this school of thought.  

... Deut 32:8-9, preserves the outlines of the older theology it is rejecting. From the perspective of this older theology, Yahweh did not belong to the top tier of the pantheon. [7]
This interpretive framework controls the reading of the text.  Bauckham and Heiser, using somewhat different strategies, have both set out to demonstrate that a hermeneutic which assumes Israel’s gradual evolution toward monotheism from a earlier polytheism is a closed system, a broadly circular argument and that it distorts the reading of the biblical text.  

[1] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, pp. 112.

[3]Michael Heiser, Are Yahweh and El Distinct Deities in Deut. 32:8-9 and Psalm 82? October 3, 2006.  Also found here.

[4] E. E. Elnes and Patrick D. Miller, "Elyon," in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd rev. ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill / Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999),

[5] Heiser, page 1

[6] Bauckhamh,  pp. 60-106.

[7] Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (OUP, 2001), 49. cited in Heiser:2006 p. 1


Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

For parallels between OT representations of "God" and those of high moral henotheistic gods of the ANE see my chapter, "The Cosmology of the Bible," in this book: Use Amazon's "LOOK INSIDE" feature to read pages 116-118 where a lot of the parallels are concentrated. But there's other parallels pointed out throughout the rest of the chapter whose pages might unfortunately be restricted viewing. Still, anyone with a free account should be able to view those pages.

12:14 PM  

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