A few days ago I exchanged emails with Cris Putnam who blogs at Logos Apologia. The conversation was in regard to how Dr. Joseph Farrell had published certain ideas about the name Yahweh in cuneiform texts that people who are actually in this field (ancient Semitic languages) know were rendered invalid and dispensed with over 150 years ago. The idea way back then was that the divine name was known in Mesopotamia before the patriarchal period or the earliest biblical writings. It seems it’s part of some misguided claim about Israelites being incapable of an original religious thought. Cris posted a response to Farrell in which he uses part of our exchange.
If you have modern reference tools like Anchor Bible Dictionary (Anchor-Yale) or Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Brill), the entries on “Yahweh” are quite clear that the divine name is known outside Israel (in Semitic texts) from shortly after 1000 BC (i.e., well into the biblical period itself). That’s no surprise given the geo-political interaction described in the Old Testament and sources like the Mesha Stela (“Moabite Stone”). The Mesopotamian “evidence” Farrell touts is nowhere in view since, like I said, it was slapped around and resigned to the dustbin of bad cuneiform etymology 150 years ago.
But don’t take my word for it.
Contemporary cuneiform expert Stephanie Dalley (you may have her anthology of Mesopotamian literature) addressed exactly what Farrell has in his book (you can see the pages at Putnam’s link) in a 1990 journal article. She wrote:
There is no reason from cuneiform material to question the view that the worship of Yahweh began in Sinai or southern Palestine in the very late Bronze Age and spread northwards around the turn of the millennium.1
Why is Dalley so confident (other than her own expertise in cuneiform)? Because she isn’t ignorant of the history of scholarship on this matter like Farrell is. Dalley references an 1885 essay by S. R. Driver, an eminent Semitist in his day, that debunked the work of F. Delitzsch (the guy whom Farrell quotes) on the matter. So effective was Driver’s rebuttal that the matter ended then and there — which is unusual in scholarship. Basically, it was a cuneiform butt-whooping.
But again, don’t take my word for it. Here’s the Driver article, which is public domain (i.e., Farrell could have found this if he’d been interested in accuracy instead of promoting some personal agenda point).2
Since I also get email about Yahweh showing up in the Ebla texts and Ugaritic material (both incorrect as well), I thought I’d add the note below from another scholar trained in cuneiform, Karel van der Toorn. He writes in DDD:
The cult of Yahweh is not originally at home in Palestine. Outside Israel, Yahweh was not worshipped in the West-Semitic world—despite affirmations to the contrary (pace, e.g. G. GARBINI, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel [London & New York 1988] 52–65). Before 1200 BCE, the name Yahweh is not found in any Semitic text. The stir caused by PETTINATO (e.g. Ebla and the Bible, BA 43  203–216, esp. 203–205) who claimed to have found the shortened form of the name Yahweh (‘Ya’) as a divine element in theophoric names from Ebla (ca. 2400–2250 BCE) is unfounded. As the final element of personal names, -ya is often a hypocoristic ending, not a theonym (A. ARCHI, The Epigraphic Evidence from Ebla and the Old Testament, Bib 60 (1979) 556–566, esp. 556–560). MÜLLER argues that the sign NI, read yà by Pettinato, is conventionally short for NI-NI = ı̀-lɩ́, ‘my (personal) god’; it stands for ilı̄ or ilu (MÜLLER 1980:83; 1981:306–307). This solution also explains the occurrence of the speculated element *ya at the beginning of personal names; thus dyà-ra-mu should be read either as DINGIR-lɩ́-ra-mu or as dilix-ra-mu, both readings yielding the name Iliramu, ‘My god is exalted’. In no list of gods or offerings is the mysterious god *Ya ever mentioned; his cult at Ebla is a chimera.
Yahweh was not known at Ugarit either; the singular name Yw (vocalisation unknown) in a damaged passage of the Baal Cycle (KTU 1.1 iv:14) cannot convincingly be interpreted as an abbreviation for ‘Yahweh’ (pace, e.g., DE MOOR 1990:113–118). . . . The earliest West Semitic text mentioning Yahweh—excepting the biblical evidence—is the Victory Stela written by Mesha, the Moabite king from the 9th century BCE. The Moabite ruler recalls his military successes against Israel in the time of Ahab: “And →Chemosh said to me, ‘Go, take Nebo from Israel!’ So I went by night and I engaged in fight against her from the break of dawn until noon. And I took her and I killed her entire population: seven thousand men, boys, women, girls, and maid servants, for I devoted her to destruction (hḥrmth) for Ashtar-Chemosh. And I took from there the ʾ[rʾ]ly of Yahweh and I dragged them before Chemosh” (KAI 181:14–18). Evidently, Yahweh is not presented here as a Moabite deity. He is presented as the official god of the Israelites, worshipped throughout Samaria, as far as its outer borders since Nebo (נבה in the Mesha Stela, נבו in the Bible), situated in North-Western Moab, was a border town. . . .
There are two Egyptian texts that mention Yahweh. In these texts from the 14th and 13th centuries BCE, Yahweh is neither connected with the Israelites, nor is his cult located in Palestine.3 The texts speak about “Yahu in the land of the Shosu-beduins” (tʒ šʒśw jhwʒ; R. GIVEON, Les bédouins Shosou des documents égyptiens [Leiden 1971] no. 6a [pp. 26–28] and no. 16a [pp. 74–77]; note WEIPPERT 1974:427, 430 for the corrected reading). The one text is from the reign of Amenophis III (first part of the 14th cent. BCE; cf. HERMANN 1967) and the other from the reign of Ramses II (13th cent. BCE; cf. H. W. FAIRMAN, Preliminary Report on the Excavations at ʿAmārah West, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1938–9, JEA 25  139–144, esp. 141). In the Ramses II list, the name occurs in a context which also mentions Seir (assuming that sʿrr stands for Seir). It may be tentatively concluded that this “Yahu in the land of the Shosu-beduins” is to be situated in the area of Edom and Midian (WEIPPERT 1974: 271; AXELSSON 1987:60; pace WEINFELD 1987:304). In these Egyptian texts Yhw is used as a toponym (KNAUF 1988:46–47). Yet a relationship with the deity by the same name is a reasonable assumption (pace M. WEIPPERT, “Heiliger Krieg” in Israel und Assyrien, ZAW 84  460–493, esp. 491 n. 144).4
To be honest, I was a bit surprised that Farrell had put this sort of material in a book. Dr. Farrell has a PhD in Patristics (early church fathers – Greek writers, specifically, though that field requires Latin). He isn’t a biblical studies scholar or a Semitic languages expert. While he’s out of his element (as we all are when we stray outside our field of expertise), I have no explanation for the shoddy research that he published in this regard. When I see material that’s 150 years out of date, I expect a Zecharia Sitchin sighting, not Joseph Farrell. It’s actually a bit disconcerting since I’ve found his research on WWII exotic science and Nazi survival mythology (or not) so interesting and (usually) well-founded (yes, I do cross-check what I read in any given place). I guess when it comes to biblical studies or Semitics or (some forms?) of Christianity he has some axe to grind. That’s no excuse in any regard. All I can say here is that if his work on “Yahweh” troubles anyone, it can safely be ignored.
- S. Dalley, “Yahweh in Hamath in the 8th Century BC: Cuneiform Material and Historical Deductions,” Vetus Testamentum 40:1 (Ja 1990), p 21-32, at page 22. Dalley is referring to the turn of the first millennium BC – ca. 1000 B.C. S=Other scholars disagree with Dalley’s argument in this article that Yahweh was worshipped in Syria in the 8th century BC. ↩
- I don’t expect readers to be able to digest all the cuneiform and high-browed language discussion. I post the article to show readers that the rebuttal exists. Basically, Driver concluded then what 150 years of scholarship has since validated: the divine name occurs outside the Hebrew Bible, but Delitzsch’s ideas — and so, Farrell’s — have no merit. ↩
- Note that this is no biblical surprise, either, as this name for the God of the patriarchs was first announced in the biblical story of Israel in Midian at the burning bush – Exod. 3:1-14; cp. Exod 6:3. ↩
- K. van der Toorn, “Yahweh,” ed. Bob Becking and Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 910–912. ↩
“I guess when it comes to biblical studies or Semitics or (some forms?) of Christianity he has some axe to grind.”
Mike, his animus actually is specifically directed against Y-H-W-H. See his recent book, _Yahweh the Two-Faced God_.
Here’s a long interview which gets to the heart of his thesis in about 6 minutes.
thanks! I’ll give it a listen.
Aren’t satan and yhwh two sides of the same coin?
no – that’s Persian/Zoroastrian dualism.
Then why does god let satan tempt eve and why does he constantly send evil spirits to kill babies or give people nightmares and so on? Generally, why does god let satan loose? God or satan obviously aren’t individuals, but rather a principle, given personality attributes to simplify comprehension. So why is it unfair to say that god and satan are two sides of the same coin?
1) God lets Satan tempt Eve because Satan (like all divine beings and all human beings) was created with free will. In other words, God isn’t prompting the temptation. It happens because Satan decides to do it. If you want to ask “why didn’t God stop it?” get my book when it comes out. I’m not going to reproduce the content here. It lived on my website for years. Contrary to what you may have heard some Christians teach, God isn’t the cause of every event that happens.
2) God is allowed to judge evil when and how he sees fit. You don’t get to tell God he can’t do that. In most biblical cases, these sorts of things happen after opportunities to stop doing evil. If free will beings won’t stop doing evil, then they may suffer such consequences. And when adults screw up, sometimes their children suffer as well.
3) Why is it wrong to say they are two sides of the same coin? Because (with respect to the Bible) they are never cast as equals.
Maybe for the next fiasco someone will ressurect the Sacred Mushroom theorys of John Allegro.
This is the second time I have noted you referencing Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. I assume you find this to be a useful reference, but do you recommend it for us weekend scholars? I guess Dr. Farrell could use a copy too. I am just trying to justify the $70.00 expense. Thank you.
DDD is the best reference tool for what it covers, period. To get the most out of it, you ought to have a basic Hebrew vocabulary and be able to read/follow transliteration. But even without that I’d recommend it.
Someone already has resurrected Allegro’s theory that the visions and teachings of the Celestial Jesus were transmitted during ecstatic rituals involving sacred entheogens (e.g., the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria). See Jan Irvin’s new edition of the “Mushroom and the Cross” and the “Holy Mushroom”.
Having read what I could of Allegro’s book and adding in what I know of the religious use of entheogens, I think that Allegro definitely stepped outside his area of expertise on the wrong foot (Amanita muscaria would not have been the entheogen in that culture) but not, necessarily, off the the path.
The descriptions of the earliest christian movement certainly suggest an ecstatic cult movement (see Stevan Davies’ “Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity” among others). There is circumstantial evidence for the use of sacred entheogens in the OT. Since many historic ecstatic religions have an origin in the use of sacred entheogens, the possibility that Christianity began as just such a religion cannot be simply dismissed.
The other area where I think Allegro’s theory went wrong was that (as I understand it) he proposed that the mushroom cult theory necessitated a Celestial Jesus who was later humanized rather than a mundane Jesus. I believe that the mushroom cult theory works perfectly well with either Historic or Celestial Jesus.
This is a classic example of confusing correlation with causation. No more than that. It deserves the intellectual derision it gets from 99.9% of the academy, regardless of their theology (or not).
“A particular plant grows in some parts of the biblical world, where biblical figures lived.”
“Therefore, all the biblical writers and figures ate that plant and got high, then wrote about their hallucinations.”
(And then there’s the experiential consistency problem, in addition to the logic problem: I know people who took hallucinogens. They will all tell you that hallucinogenic experiences are not consistent / the same).
Again, good grief.
Dr. Heiser, this isn’t really on topic for this particular blog so I’ll leave these closing statements.
Until that 99.9% of the academy has actually studied shamanism, sacred entheogens, and their role in the foundations of religious practices, their opinions, in this matter, are those of amateurs.
You, yourself, often berate biblical amateurs for expressing as fact information that is little more than ill-informed opinion. Please extend the courtesy of acknowledging that biblical scholars are often amateurs in areas other than the “Bible”. Likewise, I will accept that many of the people (including Allegro) speaking of hallucinogens in the “Bible” don’t really know what they’re talking about.
Oh, and when hallucinogen experiences are examined at a community rather than individual level, there are consistency that can be noted. These are strong enough that researchers can often identify the type of hallucinogen used from descriptions of the experience as long as the hallucinogens are of biological origin. Modified and synthetic hallucinogens (not a real issue in historic religious studies) do introduce significant experiential variations within hallucinogenic classes.
We can always discuss this matter in more detail elsewhere.
My note still stands. You haven’t at all resoled the way this confuses correlation with causation. That’s quite clear. And then there’s the disconnect about non-consistency of experience (show me the study that shows uniformity of experience). And then there’s the reductionist nature of the argument (not alluded to by me yet, but I’ll include it here): that Christianity cannot be reduced to the experiential; it includes propositional truth claims (in fact, those are the core of the faith). Propositional truth claims don’t result from hallucinogens. And then one wonders why pre-Jesus Jews who presumably ate the same mushrooms didn’t report the same Christological ideas!
This idea is one of those that is so deeply flawed you hardly know where to start.
So much for that idea. I did find of interest Midianite (hḥrmth). Synonym for Hebrew kherem?
Page? (I need to see if the last h is a suffix or whether th is a transliteration reflecting something else).
“Deaf phone” syndrome. Dr Farrell’s quote Delitzsch’s work in certain context. Moses meet persona which present himself “Elyah Asher Elyah” and on cuneiform this name is translated as Enki. This mean that god of Hebrew isn’t creator of whole universe but being with supreme knowledge/technology (as control of weather) to normal human. And Hebrew were uses as tool to destroy thats nations which was threat to him. Yahweh/Jesus has double standards one for himself and one one for humankind. He can know but humankind can be only slaves race.
absolutely wrong in so many ways.
This paragraph was drawn from van der Toorn’s DDD quote above:
The Moabite ruler recalls his military successes against Israel in the time of Ahab: “And →Chemosh said to me, ‘Go, take Nebo from Israel!’ So I went by night and I engaged in fight against her from the break of dawn until noon. And I took her and I killed her entire population: seven thousand men, boys, women, girls, and maid servants, for I ***devoted her to destruction (hḥrmth)*** for Ashtar-Chemosh.
Reminded me of Hebrew kherem from past courses.
Thanks for linking to my post Mike!