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Are The Gods Of The Hebrew Bible Real?


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#1 Rob Bowman

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 11:12 AM

All,

The question I am raising here was prompted by a statement made by Dan McClellan on the CARM forum:

I don't believe the gods described in the Hebrew Bible are real, but that is not at all demanded by the debate. It's only demanded by those who would appeal to the Bible as an unassailable witness to metaphysical truth.


I am wondering, first of all, if any other Mormons here agree with this statement. Usually, when Mormons argue that the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of a multiplicity of gods, they do so because they think this coheres with or supports in some way the LDS doctrine of a plurality of gods. Yet such a line of argument seems to be undermined if one denies the reality or existence of those gods described in the Hebrew Bible. Dan's interest in the Old Testament appears to have nothing to do with agreeing with any doctrine or theology that he finds there, but instead is focused only on critiquing the evangelical belief in the Bible as an authoritative source of truth about God. His point would be no different if his argument was that Noah's flood was a myth or that the Exodus didn't happen. Elsewhere Dan has stated quite clearly that he is not arguing for any correlation between the Hebrew Bible's gods and the gods of LDS theology. So my first question here, for anyone who is interested, is whether you as a Mormon agree with Dan on this point.

My second question is especially for Dan himself, though again I invite others to share their thoughts. Dan has argued that El and Yahweh were originally two separate deities in the ancient Near Eastern culture, deities of non-Israelite peoples, and that somewhere toward the end of the era of the Hebrew Bible the two deities were assimilated to one another or fused into a single deity. Now, consider the implications of this theory along with the claim that the Hebrew Bible affirms the reality of gods that in fact (according to Dan) were not real. The logical implication seems to be that Dan would also not believe in El or Yahweh. After all, they were no different, fundamentally, from the other ANE deities that Dan says were not real. So this leads me to wonder if it would not be accurate to conclude that when Dan says "I don't believe the gods described in the Hebrew Bible are real" that includes El and Yahweh. So Dan, I'm asking if this is correct. I'm also asking what other Mormons here think on this question.

Edited by Rob Bowman, 25 June 2011 - 11:12 AM.

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#2 DH

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 11:27 AM

I could be wrong, but I would venture to guess that most LDS would disagree that the gods described in the Hebrew Bible are not real. Mormons believe in El(ohim) and Yahweh, or at least a version of them. They may or may not believe in the existence of other gods mentioned in the Bible (though of course they do not worship them), but I think your average Mormon does believe in El and Yahweh. As you pointed out, since DOM did not exclude El and Yahweh from his statement of disbelief, it implies that he doesn't believe in them, either. But maybe he didn't mean it that way, and will clarify.

Edited by DH, 25 June 2011 - 11:29 AM.

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#3 maklelan

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 12:27 PM

All,

The question I am raising here was prompted by a statement made by Dan McClellan on the CARM forum:

I am wondering, first of all, if any other Mormons here agree with this statement. Usually, when Mormons argue that the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of a multiplicity of gods, they do so because they think this coheres with or supports in some way the LDS doctrine of a plurality of gods. Yet such a line of argument seems to be undermined if one denies the reality or existence of those gods described in the Hebrew Bible. Dan's interest in the Old Testament appears to have nothing to do with agreeing with any doctrine or theology that he finds there, but instead is focused only on critiquing the evangelical belief in the Bible as an authoritative source of truth about God.


In my participation in the Mormonism forum at CARM, it's not so much about critiquing the belief as criticizing the grounds for their accusations against Mormonism.

His point would be no different if his argument was that Noah's flood was a myth or that the Exodus didn't happen. Elsewhere Dan has stated quite clearly that he is not arguing for any correlation between the Hebrew Bible's gods and the gods of LDS theology. So my first question here, for anyone who is interested, is whether you as a Mormon agree with Dan on this point.

My second question is especially for Dan himself, though again I invite others to share their thoughts. Dan has argued that El and Yahweh were originally two separate deities in the ancient Near Eastern culture, deities of non-Israelite peoples, and that somewhere toward the end of the era of the Hebrew Bible the two deities were assimilated to one another or fused into a single deity.


Actually I place their conflation at the beginning of the monarchy, well before the end of the era of the Hebrew Bible.

Now, consider the implications of this theory along with the claim that the Hebrew Bible affirms the reality of gods that in fact (according to Dan) were not real.


I was referring to my own personal belief regarding the gods of the nations (i.e., Chemosh, Marduk, Qos, etc.). I personally believe that both Yahweh (Jesus) and El exist. In my scholarship I don't grant the existence of any of them, though.

The logical implication seems to be that Dan would also not believe in El or Yahweh. After all, they were no different, fundamentally, from the other ANE deities that Dan says were not real.


This seems to me to be an unnecessarily strict parsing of my words.

So this leads me to wonder if it would not be accurate to conclude that when Dan says "I don't believe the gods described in the Hebrew Bible are real" that includes El and Yahweh. So Dan, I'm asking if this is correct. I'm also asking what other Mormons here think on this question.


No, that would not be an accurate understanding of my statement of personal belief. I am completely agnostic in my academic approach, but that was not the context of my comment.
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#4 mfbukowski

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 01:42 PM

All,

The question I am raising here was prompted by a statement made by Dan McClellan on the CARM forum:



I am wondering, first of all, if any other Mormons here agree with this statement. Usually, when Mormons argue that the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of a multiplicity of gods, they do so because they think this coheres with or supports in some way the LDS doctrine of a plurality of gods. Yet such a line of argument seems to be undermined if one denies the reality or existence of those gods described in the Hebrew Bible. Dan's interest in the Old Testament appears to have nothing to do with agreeing with any doctrine or theology that he finds there, but instead is focused only on critiquing the evangelical belief in the Bible as an authoritative source of truth about God. His point would be no different if his argument was that Noah's flood was a myth or that the Exodus didn't happen. Elsewhere Dan has stated quite clearly that he is not arguing for any correlation between the Hebrew Bible's gods and the gods of LDS theology. So my first question here, for anyone who is interested, is whether you as a Mormon agree with Dan on this point.

My second question is especially for Dan himself, though again I invite others to share their thoughts. Dan has argued that El and Yahweh were originally two separate deities in the ancient Near Eastern culture, deities of non-Israelite peoples, and that somewhere toward the end of the era of the Hebrew Bible the two deities were assimilated to one another or fused into a single deity. Now, consider the implications of this theory along with the claim that the Hebrew Bible affirms the reality of gods that in fact (according to Dan) were not real. The logical implication seems to be that Dan would also not believe in El or Yahweh. After all, they were no different, fundamentally, from the other ANE deities that Dan says were not real. So this leads me to wonder if it would not be accurate to conclude that when Dan says "I don't believe the gods described in the Hebrew Bible are real" that includes El and Yahweh. So Dan, I'm asking if this is correct. I'm also asking what other Mormons here think on this question.


You are of course getting into the question of what is "real" here, without any basis of a definition.

Is poetry "true"? Are species which are not yet discovered "real"? How much does "courage" weigh? Is your God scientifically observable?

I don't think you know what you are getting into.

Without definitions you can take your pick of meanings, so take your pick of answers too!

Looks like a trap to me- either answer I am sure will be "wrong". If we say "yes, they are real" you will conclude we worship Baal among our pantheon of "gods"; if we say "no they are not real" you will conclude we do not worship Yahweh.

It's a lose- lose proposition, and sure to be a long drawn out argument with no possible end and a lot of arguing.

Edited by mfbukowski, 25 June 2011 - 01:49 PM.

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#5 David T

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 02:28 PM

As I see it, the argument isn't, "The Bible has reference to multiple gods that we believe in," it is that the approach of , "Appeals to so-called 'Biblical Monotheism' in order to disprove the possibility of existence of other such beings as LDS thought allows for" is faulty.
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#6 Rob Bowman

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 02:56 PM

Dan,

You wrote:

I was referring to my own personal belief regarding the gods of the nations (i.e., Chemosh, Marduk, Qos, etc.). I personally believe that both Yahweh (Jesus) and El exist. In my scholarship I don't grant the existence of any of them, though.


Would I be correct in inferring that if you believe that Yahweh and El both exist, then you do not believe in the deity Yahweh Elohim, the Israelite conflation of Yahweh and El?
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#7 DH

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 03:13 PM

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with every fiber of my being, that poetry exists...
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#8 maklelan

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 03:20 PM

Dan,

You wrote:

Would I be correct in inferring that if you believe that Yahweh and El both exist, then you do not believe in the deity Yahweh Elohim, the Israelite conflation of Yahweh and El?


You would be incorrect. This literary conflation is just a different method for referring to the God of Israel, and Mormons believe, as do most Christians, that the textual identification of Jesus and the Father often overlaps. The difference is that Mormons believe this happens because of divine investiture of authority and things like that, while most Christians believe it is because the two share the same divine identity. In other words, Yahweh Elohim could refer to the premortal Jesus or to the Father. I don't believe it refers to some ontological conflation of the two.
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#9 Rob Bowman

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 03:25 PM

Dan,

You wrote:

You would be incorrect. This literary conflation is just a different method for referring to the God of Israel, and Mormons believe, as do most Christians, that the textual identification of Jesus and the Father often overlaps. The difference is that Mormons believe this happens because of divine investiture of authority and things like that, while most Christians believe it is because the two share the same divine identity. In other words, Yahweh Elohim could refer to the premortal Jesus or to the Father. I don't believe it refers to some ontological conflation of the two.


Are you claiming that the "conflation" of El and Yahweh was merely "literary" and that none of the writers of the Hebrew Bible thought that El and Yahweh were literally the same deity?
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#10 maklelan

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 03:34 PM

Dan,

You wrote:

Are you claiming that the "conflation" of El and Yahweh was merely "literary" and that none of the writers of the Hebrew Bible thought that El and Yahweh were literally the same deity?


No, but I'm claiming that the conflation of the two has its origins in literary spheres and that that conflation in the mind of ancient Israelites is not determinative in my own theology.
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#11 mfbukowski

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 04:22 PM

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with every fiber of my being, that poetry exists...


8P

But is it "true"?

As in:

This literary conflation is just a different method for referring to the God of Israel, ...


Edited by mfbukowski, 25 June 2011 - 04:24 PM.

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#12 mfbukowski

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 04:33 PM

Are you claiming that the "conflation" of El and Yahweh was merely "literary" and that none of the writers of the Hebrew Bible thought that El and Yahweh were literally the same deity?


This illustrates exactly my point.

What they thought was what they said in literature, I presume, unless they were lying, which is of course absurd.

The only "reality" we can talk about is.... uh, what we can talk about. In such a case, what is "literal" IS nothing more or less than language, because language is all we have.

We are talking about beliefs here- not things we can put in a basket and carry around with us. The question is what they "actually believed"- nothing more or less. If it is true they conflated the concepts- that is all there was to be conflated!
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#13 DH

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 06:25 PM

8P

But is it "true"?

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

:pirate:
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#14 HeatherAnn

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 07:37 PM

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

:pirate:

As beauty is all in the eyes & heart of the beholder, so is God.
If it has influence, it's real.
Beliefs have influence on how we think, feel, act & even physiologically change.
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#15 HeatherAnn

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 07:39 PM

8P

But is it "true"?

Just as true as that smiley face made me laugh!

:rofl:
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#16 Rob Bowman

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 08:35 PM

Mr. Bukowski,

You wrote:

You are of course getting into the question of what is "real" here, without any basis of a definition.

Is poetry "true"? Are species which are not yet discovered "real"? How much does "courage" weigh? Is your God scientifically observable?

I don't think you know what you are getting into.

Without definitions you can take your pick of meanings, so take your pick of answers too!

Looks like a trap to me- either answer I am sure will be "wrong". If we say "yes, they are real" you will conclude we worship Baal among our pantheon of "gods"; if we say "no they are not real" you will conclude we do not worship Yahweh.

It's a lose- lose proposition, and sure to be a long drawn out argument with no possible end and a lot of arguing.


You're completely off track here. You can always say "Yes, they are real, but we don't worship any of them except Yahweh" or "Only one of them is real, namely Yahweh" or "Only two of them are real, El and Yahweh" or whatever you want to say. The trap you describe is not in play here at all.
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#17 Rob Bowman

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 08:51 PM

Dan,

I had asked: Are you claiming that the "conflation" of El and Yahweh was merely "literary" and that none of the writers of the Hebrew Bible thought that El and Yahweh were literally the same deity? You replied:

No, but I'm claiming that the conflation of the two has its origins in literary spheres and that that conflation in the mind of ancient Israelites is not determinative in my own theology.


Here is a group of texts D and another group of texts S. D, in your view, conflate El and Yahweh without affirming that they are ontologically the same deity. S, in your view, affirm that El and Yahweh are ontologically the same deity. You appear to take the view that there are actual texts in both groups. Correct me at any point if I'm misunderstanding you.

Now, in your own personal theology, El and Yahweh are either ontologically different deities or they are ontologically the same deity. Since you affirm personal belief in El and Yahweh, these are your only two choices. If you deny that El and Yahweh are ontologically the same deity, then you cannot affirm the reality of the deity to which S refers. That is, you can believe in the reality of El and Yahweh as two different deities, or you can believe in the reality of one deity who is both El and Yahweh (i.e., Yahweh Elohim). You cannot have it both ways.

The matter may be restated in this way: You appear to take the view that El, Yahweh, and Yahweh Elohim are three different deities mentioned in the Bible, with Yahweh Elohim originating as a literary conflation of the first two. If you affirm the reality of El and Yahweh as two separate deities, then you cannot affirm the reality of Yahweh Elohim.

From what you have said previously, I take you to believe in the reality of El and Yahweh as two separate deities. Therefore, you cannot believe in the reality of Yahweh Elohim. In any texts in which an author actually affirms that Yahweh is El, the view expressed by the author in that text is in your view mistaken.

I have more questions, but I'd like some clarification on this issue first, if that's okay.
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#18 maklelan

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 09:30 PM

Dan,

I had asked: Are you claiming that the "conflation" of El and Yahweh was merely "literary" and that none of the writers of the Hebrew Bible thought that El and Yahweh were literally the same deity? You replied:

Here is a group of texts D and another group of texts S. D, in your view, conflate El and Yahweh without affirming that they are ontologically the same deity. S, in your view, affirm that El and Yahweh are ontologically the same deity. You appear to take the view that there are actual texts in both groups. Correct me at any point if I'm misunderstanding you.


There are texts that conflate the two and there are texts that do not conflate the two. There are no texts that conflate the two without affirming that they are ontologically the same deity.

Now, in your own personal theology, El and Yahweh are either ontologically different deities or they are ontologically the same deity. Since you affirm personal belief in El and Yahweh, these are your only two choices. If you deny that El and Yahweh are ontologically the same deity, then you cannot affirm the reality of the deity to which S refers. That is, you can believe in the reality of El and Yahweh as two different deities, or you can believe in the reality of one deity who is both El and Yahweh (i.e., Yahweh Elohim). You cannot have it both ways.

The matter may be restated in this way: You appear to take the view that El, Yahweh, and Yahweh Elohim are three different deities mentioned in the Bible, with Yahweh Elohim originating as a literary conflation of the first two. If you affirm the reality of El and Yahweh as two separate deities, then you cannot affirm the reality of Yahweh Elohim.


I don't identify three different deities. I identify two. Yahweh El is not a third deity, it's just Yahweh identified with El. It's not like the assertion in antiquity that Yahweh is El suddenly produces a conglomerate deity that exists apart from Yahweh and El. The identification does not distinguish the deity from Yahweh by himself, and that identification has no bearing on what deities I believe actually exist. (Also, Elohim is not a personal name in the Hebrew Bible, and so Yahweh Elohim is not a conflation of the two, it just means "Yahweh God." I was reading Yahweh El in your OP, since the first reference in your post was to El. I overlooked that you were referring to Yahweh Elohim.)

From what you have said previously, I take you to believe in the reality of El and Yahweh as two separate deities. Therefore, you cannot believe in the reality of Yahweh Elohim. In any texts in which an author actually affirms that Yahweh is El, the view expressed by the author in that text is in your view mistaken.

I have more questions, but I'd like some clarification on this issue first, if that's okay.


If when the text says "Yahweh is El" it is using El in the generic sense then I don't take any issue with it. If it uses El as a personal name, then the text would conflict with my personal theology. I would appreciate it if this line of questioning arrived at a point rather quickly.
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#19 mfbukowski

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 09:49 PM

Just as true as that smiley face made me laugh!

:rofl:


Funny, but very insightful!!
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#20 mfbukowski

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Posted 25 June 2011 - 09:51 PM

Mr. Bukowski,

You wrote:



You're completely off track here. You can always say "Yes, they are real, but we don't worship any of them except Yahweh" or "Only one of them is real, namely Yahweh" or "Only two of them are real, El and Yahweh" or whatever you want to say. The trap you describe is not in play here at all.


Fine. I'll be waiting to call you on it. :ph34r:
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