Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Philip Davies: "Watch Your Language!"

In Bible and Interpretation, Philip Davies offers some critical advice about the words we throw around as bible scholars, suggesting we need a Bible Dictionary so that we don't continue to misuse them. Here's one of the entries:

(a) A probably fictitious entity supposedly composed of the elements of two nation-states formed in Palestine during the Iron II period under the kings David and Solomon
(b) The name given to a kingdom centered in the Ephraimite hill country of Palestine between the end of the 10th and the end of the 8th centuries BCE, possibly deriving its name from a group mentioned in the MERNEPTAH STELE.

This entry greatly oversimplified the issue: the Israels that the biblical writers offer us are more varied and variegated: the books of Deuteronomy, Kings, Ezekiel, Chronicles, and Ezra, for instance, all differ on what “Israel” includes (make up your selection from Samarians, Judeans, and Judeans claiming to be returned from exile, proselytes, gerim). It is now clearer, too, that Judah and Israel probably originated independently, developed independently and, though closely associated during their history (by temporary political union and vassalage), were at their demise antagonistic neighbors. Yehud and Samerina later must have combined into some kind of religious unit called “Israel”: the Pentateuch is a set of texts canonized by both Judeans and Samarians and describe this “Israel” as a fictitious twelve-tribe nation existing from patriarchal times, enslavement in Egypt, and escape to the land of Canaan. While a few historians accordingly now speak of “Israel and Judah,” distinguishing their social and religious attributes and their memories of the past, it is all too common to find “Israel” used without discrimination between the two kinds of Israel or between either of them and Judah.

I was more interested, however, in what he had to say about supposed "Yahwism":

The problem does not stop there. Many scholarly books mention the “religion” of “Israel” as “Yahwism.” As far as I know, Yahweh was a god worshipped in Israel and Judah, and apparently also in Teman and elsewhere. But a “religion of Yahweh”? There was no “Baalism” “Mardukism,” or “Elism.” Deities are not religions. Indeed, it is misleading to use the word “religion” to imply a system of belief and practice. In the ancient Near East, people venerated many deities and participated in many cults simultaneously. Their “religion” was an amalgam of these—ancestral cults, city cults, royal cults, national cults, cults of sacred places, and so on. People were far too religious to have one “religion.”

I love that last line: "People were far too religious to have one 'religion.'" Too true. Too true. You can read the rest here.

No comments: