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Join the conversation! There are now 8 comments on this chapter's page 115. Inventing God and Law: Yahweh. Only Yahweh.. What are your thoughts?
  1. STM says

    How do we know what idols of Yahweh looked like?

    Why did the commoners, let alone the priests, believe Josiah when he “discovered” the book of law? Were they aware that other kings had pulled this stunt before?

    Did Josiah write David and Solomon himself, or hire someone else? I assume all the scribes Josiah commissioned were “silenced” after they finished the job.

    • >How do we know what idols of Yahweh looked like?

      Short answer: We don’t.

      He’s not alone. We don’t have any idea how most gods in that part of the world were being represented. The ones we do know, however, were mostly anthropomorphic. So if I were to make an educated guess, I’d say that cult statues of Yahweh looked like a person. And we do have representations of El, whom Yahweh merged into, and El was being depicted as an older bearded man, often seated with one hand raised in benediction. (If you look really closely at that first panel in its full resolution on Patreon, you’ll see that’s sort of what I went with for the guys hauling Yahweh out of the building. The idols you can see more clearly are a chariot of the sun god and a statue of Ba’al. We have all kinds of examples of Ba’al. Looks like Narmer, if you ask me.)

      If you go back farther in time to Yahweh’s southern roots, you can see rock carvings where he’s dancing around in a horned headdress with a very… generous… phallus hanging out. Somehow I suspect that he wasn’t depicted that way by Josiah’s day, however.

      • I should have included pictures.

        Here are a couple examples of El:

        Here are some examples of Ba’al:

        For comparison, here is a representation of Narmer, probably made during his lifetime:

        And here is a drawing of an inscription found on a small hill in northeast Sinai. The words refer to the two upright figures as “Yahweh and his Asherah.” El and Ba’al are also mentioned.
        Kuntillet Arjud Yahweh and Asherah

  2. Stephen Peter says

    Full disclosure, I’m uneducated in most of your questions, but I have some theories…

    1) How do we know what idols of Yahweh looked like?

    I entered “yahweh idol” into Gave me a few ideas. But since most of the idols were purged, what idols we find now through excavation can only be speculated about, never confirmed. I don’t think anything’s ever been found with יהוה‎ printed on it.

    2) Why did the commoners, let alone the priests, believe Josiah when he “discovered” the book of law?

    For the same reason why people were convinced that mRNA vaccines had a “ticking time bomb” that would kill you after so many years, or make you sterile, or whatever other quack excuse was floating around on Facebook: it’s all about the politics. Authority can easily use emotions and ignorance to appeal to commoners. There’s many, many political tools at leadership’s disposal that can be used to sway the masses. If Joseph Smith and Brigham Young founded a whole state after discovering the Book of Mormon, and Constantine managed to legalize Christianity throughout a whole empire, why can’t Josiah figure out the same for Judah? It’s not as though the process is as simple as flipping on a light switch; religious revolutions are also political ones, requiring lots of time and friction before the revolution is a true success. (One can even argue that the American revolution was also a religious revolution. Many of our colonists were escaping the persecution of the Church of England.)

    But there’s a lot of culture from that time period that we can’t fathom that I’m certain Josiah leveraged to “found” Judiasm. One neat theory is that Moses (who I believe was actually a real individual), portrayed himself as a living idol. (Idols were not gods, but rather likenesses of them, used as intercessors between the human realm and the divine realm. There were purification rituals to transform a likeness into an idol, which can be explained further here: [link]. The book of Exodus can be seen similarly as the purification and transformation of Moses from a mere human into a likeness of the divine. Other stories of prophets in the old testament often bear similar themes.) Josiah likely took advantage of these cultural rituals, stories, and traditions, and codified them.

    3) Did Josiah write David and Solomon himself, or hire someone else?

    I don’t believe David and Solomon were pulled out from Josiah’s rear orifice, but rather rooted in some degree of accepted history from that time. Very much like Paul’s evangelism in Greece, spreading Christianity by referencing the residents’ “Unknown God”, Josiah must have linked something new to something already known. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least, though, if the stories were highly embellished. After all, how can you imagine a glorious future if you can’t first imagine a glorious past? Do the words “Make America Great Again” ring a bell?

    • As to 3), there may have been a real David! The Tel Dan inscription and the Mesha stele may very well refer to a “House of David” operating to the south of Israel during the 800s BC. They may be referring to a place rather than a powerful lineage—it’s by no means well-settled—but the odds-on hypothesis for a while has been that it refers to a powerful lineage with an ancestor named David. But there is no evidence that there was an actual kingdom there yet, certainly not one centered on Jerusalem, and definitely not the grand united kingdom of Israel and Judah told of in the Old Testament. If the “House of David” hypothesis is correct, it would be referring not to a dynasty of kings but to a line of chieftains in a stateless tribal society.

      (And if it seems like this is all an irrelevant tangent, trust me, it’s all going to be relevant when we get to the newborn United States and its Constitution. Everything from bands to religious/state institutions to these founding myths and beyond. Lord knows I do love a digression, but there is method to my madness. I hope.)

  3. STM says

    Did the cult gigolos offer their services to men, women, or both?

    • I haven’t seen any references to descriptions of what went on in the Jerusalem temple. That’s not surprising, as there aren’t many contemporary writings about anything at all, and any that might have existed may well have fallen victim to the profound iconoclasm of these political reforms.

      However, we can make a reasonably educated guess, because sacred prostitution was widespread throughout the ancient and classical Near East and Mediterranean. People will always want to have sex, they’re always going to find ways to have sex, and other people are always going to be willing to supply that demand in exchange for something of value—prostitution. When that prostitution takes place within a holy temple, under the auspices of a god, and by prostitutes who are servants of that god (and generally perform purifying rituals before and after), it loses any sense of tawdriness or sinfulness and becomes perfectly acceptable if not sacramental. A genuine social need is met, the temple gets the payment, and the economic benefit to society exceeds its price. As one scholar recently put it, “Prostitution was very much a public good in the ancient world.” Morris Silver, Sacred Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World: From Aphrodite to Baubo to Cassandra and Beyond, Münster: Ugarit Verlag Buch und Medienhandel, 2019, at 6. Sacred prostitution could be performed as a holy rite, just as you’d pay a temple for sacrificing a sheep or performing any other ritual. But it could also be a simple sexual outlet for unmarried men, or for merchants or other travelers away from home.

      The key detail you’ve no doubt noticed is that this is a service provided to men. Women are not going to brothels to get laid in the ancient world. Because that could lead to an illegitimate birth, a child born of man A into the lineage of man B, and that is abhorrent to the ancestors and the gods, violating the most fundamental value of settled societies after the agricultural revolution. Women are only permitted to sleep with their husbands, or to have sex as either not-to-be-married common prostitutes or as not-to-be-married priestess-prostitutes. (Or, if she is a high priestess, there is also the “ritual marriage” sacred intercourse to ensure fertility of land and people, sometimes even followed by the sacrifice of her male consort — but that’s not what we’re talking about.)

      No, the clientele of ancient prostitutes, sacred or profane, was men. Which implies that male cult prostitutes were offering their services to other men. This absolutely did not carry the same stigma in those societies as it has in more recent times, if any at all. Sure, if you go by how they’re described in the Old Testament, you certainly get the sense that it was being stigmatized as an abominable act by whoever was writing it. Yet the fact that it was a thing at all, sanctioned by the temple and everything, also suggests that it wasn’t stigmatized at all up to that point.

      Which leads to an intriguing but sad conclusion, that the Judeo-Christian prejudice against homosexuality is the product, not of any divine will, but of an ancient politician’s callous maneuver to shore up his absolute rule by eliminating the religious competition. In getting rid of something that had up to then been perfectly normal and acceptable, he painted it as an abomination, and subsequent authors made that condemnation part of holy scripture.

      • This is your most interesting and bizarre comment reply to date…and I have been commenting with wiseass questions for years. This reminds me of the holy status of orgasm in Shinto. Was homosexuality acceptable outside of cult prostitution, or did the temple have a monopoly on this service? I would think there would be more demand for priestess-prostitutes, given that most people are heterosexual. Do the babies born to female prostitutes, priestess or common, get any lineage?

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