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El as a Procreative God


maklelan

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I'm doing some research related to the divine council and the development of early Israelite theology and I wanted to share some interesting insights. As part of my research I'm investigating the early epithets of God in Israel and the surrounding cultures. The Hebrew Bible has appropriated a number of epithets originally belonging to the deities of Ugarit and other Canaanite and Mesopotamian deities. One epithet of particular interest to me is â??l qn â??arṣ, which is a title for the Canaanite deity El which means "El, Creator of Earth." It has been found in a Jerusalem inscription dating to 8th-7th century BCE, as well as a number of other Semitic inscriptions (see Patrick D. Miller, Jr., "El, Creator of the Earth," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 239 [summer 1980]: 43-46). In the Hebrew Bible we find a version of the title in Gen 14:19, 22 (â??ēl â??ely

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Im barely starting to get into the whole Biblical scholarship stuff. Keep it up.I don't see why the Israelite conception of God pre josiah would be different from the Canaanite variety.
Because there was a point of departure. It's a lot like those who broke away from the Nephites in the BoM. They had the same origin point, but they didn't have copies of the scriptures, nor prophets among them. Ideas started to change. The basic ideas were there, but many details were modified, added, and deleted over time. So when the Nephites found them again, they marvelled at the differences, but in many cases used the basic similarities as the leads to get them back on track. ("Do you believe there's a Great Spirit? Yes? Okay. This is the God we're talking about. Now let's move on...")
Because there was a point of departure. It's a lot like those who broke away from the Nephites in the BoM. They had the same origin point, but they didn't have copies of the scriptures, nor prophets among them. Ideas started to change. The basic ideas were there, but many details were modified, added, and deleted over time. So when the Nephites found them again, they marvelled at the differences, but in many cases used the basic similarities as the leads to get them back on track. ("Do you believe there's a Great Spirit? Yes? Okay. This is the God we're talking about. Now let's move on...")
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Comments?

Provocative post. I remember David B. posted something similar earlier in where he recommended a book, "God's Phallus" which discussed this very thing. I bought the book and told David I bring it to Sunday School. I would let him explain the circumstances of my ownership to my bishop.

To the point, however, I have found that deities sexuality is conflated with their ability to rule. I remember that a hallmark of Egyptian resurrection was a renewed ability to procreate. Indeed, even King David's effectiveness as a ruler was based on his ability to "stay warm" a euphemism to engage in sexual contact,

"I Kings 1:1 King David was very old; even when they covered him with blankets, he could not get warm. 1:2 His servants advised him, â??A young virgin must be found for our master, the king, to take care of the kingâ??s needs and serve as his nurse. She can also sleep with you and keep our master, the king, warm.â? 1:3 So they looked through all Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 1:4 The young woman was very beautiful; she became the kingâ??s nurse and served him, but the king did not have sexual relations with her.

Many other cultures held the same beliefs of sexual potency among their male deities including Indian and Asian religions. I am interested to see what others post here. I remember the last time this was brought up it was ultimately shut down.

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Except that David's effectiveness as a ruler was not dependant on sexual relations, in fact the whole point is that they did not have sex.

There were no electric blankets, nothing which could be done to keep David warm. I'm by no means a medical expert, but perhaps he had a severe form of arthritis. Avishag is described as an agent, a caregiver. I'm sure today's caregivers are glad that is no part of their job description.

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Except that David's effectiveness as a ruler was not dependant on sexual relations, in fact the whole point is that they did not have sex.

There were no electric blankets, nothing which could be done to keep David warm. I'm by no means a medical expert, but perhaps he had a severe form of arthritis. Avishag is described as an agent, a caregiver. I'm sure today's caregivers are glad that is no part of their job description.

Continue reading in that chapter, though. It was the fact that David didn't have relations caused an usurper to come forth to declare himself the new king,

1:5 Now Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, was promoting himself, boasting, â??I will be king!â? He managed to acquire chariots and horsemen, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard.

As a corollary many European kings such as the Fisher King were often killed off when they failed to perform due to the linkage between the king's virility and the fertility of the land. I would suggest this was also the case with Israelites kings as well. The king in Israel with partially divine and as such ruled in anthropomorphic sexual kingship,i.e., when the king was virile the land bloomed.

In support let me quote from the Interpreter's Commentary on the Bible...

"Just as David thought that he could not worship Israel's God except on Israel's soil (I Sam. 26:19; cf. II Kings 5:17-18), so it was believed that the fertility of the soil and the general prosperity of the people were bound up with the fertility of the king. David by this time is old and decrepit and his sexual vigor is in question. Attempts are made to remedy the situation. The first cure is to heap clothes upon his bed in order to secure such physical heat as might render him capable. When this fails a search is made for the most beautiful young woman in the land. Great emphasis is placed on her charms. The LXX supports this by translating in vs. 2, "and let her excite him and lie with him" (cf. the use of qa6lpw in Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 1. 590). The fact that the king had no intercourse with her is decisive in the story and not a mere interesting addendum. If David was impotent he could no longer be king. Further, there is no point in the story of 2:12-25 unless Abishag the Shunammite had been more than an old man's nurse. She must have been reckoned as David's wife or Solomon would never have interpreted Adonijah's request as a bid for the throne. Also, why should a king be expected to abdicate because he cannot keep warm in bed even when clothes are piled upon him?

This explanation, dependent upon the necessity of the physical vigor of the king, is in line with the ideas of primitive peoples generally, and indeed finds present-day support in the Near East. There was an occasion when the authority of Ibn Saud over his Arabs actually depended on such a factor (H. C. Armstrong, Lord of Arabia [Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1938], p. 106). A number of instances have been collected by lames G. Frazer of the killing of the king when his bodily vigor fails, for "the fertility of men, of cattle, and of the crops is believed to depend sympathetically on the generative power of the king" (The Golden Bough [Abridged ed.; London: Macmillan & Co., 1923], pp. 264-83, especially p. 269). There is no need to assume the existence in old Israel of the ritual of the sacred marriage, annually performed in the Mesopotamian cults, since it is clear from the story that the search for the ravishing young woman is exceptional. It is possible, nevertheless, to see here some evidence of primitive ideas among the Hebrews at the beginning of the first millennium B.C."

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I think that is because he realised that if his father was unable to perform, he was old and weak enough not to oppose Adonijah.

PS I wouldn't touch Frazer's scholarship with a ten-foot barge pole.

Neither would I... :P

BTW, It's good to 'see' you again. I hope all is well in Zion.

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Hey Mak,

Great points and a fascinating topic. In case you're interested, I posted some ideas on this issue here at MA&D in August of 2007:

True enough, biblical authors do not depict their God having sex, but this does not mean that the authors did not view their deity as a sexual being.

In fact, given the archeological evidence pertaining to ancient Israel, together with the stories of the divine realm from ancient Canaan, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia, biblical authors would have possessed a highly unusual view, if they understood their God as celibate; for a recent analysis of this issue see Judith M. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Of course the discovery of the pottery shards from Kuntillet 'Ajrud which depict Yahweh with his wife, illustrate that Yahweh himself, at least in some Israelite minds, was a sexual being; for a nice general survey see Margalit, Baruch, â??The Meaning and Significance of Asherah,â? Vetus Testamentum 40 (1990): 264-297.

Given this prevailing trend, when it comes to the biblical view of Godâ??s sexuality, absence of evidence is not evidence of abstinence.

In reality, the Bible contains important clues suggesting that God and his heavenly host were, in fact, sexual beings. While this observation may seem blasphemous to some Christians, biblical authors clearly felt quite comfortable portraying their deity in sexual terms.

One recent study devoted to this topic includes Willem Boshoff's â??Sexual Encounters of a Different Kind: Hosea 1:2 as Foreplay to the Message of the Book of Hosea,â? in Religion and Theology 1(1994): 329-339.

In the article, Boshoff discusses the fact that Hos 1:2 relies upon the imagery of conjugal infidelity in relationship to the Yahweh-Israel relationship. Boshoff suggests that the imagery and vocabulary in the book of Hosea reflect the multifaceted religious situation in ancient Israel wherein Hosea was one of many competing religious viewpoints.

Bhosoff notes that the discoveries at Kuntillet 'Ajrud have, in fact, provided interpreters with access to these Israelite perspectives.

Of course to build the case for Godâ??s sexuality in the Bible, one cannot rely solely upon one or two individual texts. Itâ??s the combination of sources that produces the final image of a sexual deity witnessed in the Bible.

The first piece of evidence for this view derives from the story of Eden in Genesis 2-3.

The account depicts man as the primordial gardener-- a task that man shares with Yahweh himself. When Yahweh speaks to his divine council in Genesis 3:22 and declares, â??See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil,â? the dependent qualifier â??knowingâ? proves meaningful.

Prior to partaking of the fruit, the man was already â??likeâ? God. Not only was man immortal, but also man, as gardener, performed the task of a god. Hence, partaking of the fruit produced a specific result, the man became like the gods â??knowing.â?

Based upon the fact that Genesis 4:1 presents Adam immediately "knowing" his wife upon leaving the Garden of Eden, biblical scholar Marc Brettler observes that â??eating from the tree of â??knowledgeâ?? leads to a very specific type of â??knowing;â?? nowhere in the text is this knowledge depicted as intellectual or ethicalâ? in How to Read the Bible (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2005): 46.

Notice that according to the account, the first thing that the man and women â??knowâ? after eating the fruit is gender difference.

Also, as Brettler insightfully notes, â??the renaming of the woman as Eve, chavvah (â??progenitressâ??), â??because she was the mother of all the livingâ?? (Gen. 3:20), happens only after eating from the tree. This too bolsters the â??sexualâ?? reading of this storyâ??eating of the tree of ultimate â??knowledgeâ?? turns the wife of Adam from ha-ishah (â??the womanâ??) into a (potential) motherâ? (Ibid.).

To this, I would add the fact that sexual metaphors of fruit and gardens are ubiquitous in Near Eastern love poetry; see J. Atkins, Sex in Literature, vol. III (London: 1978): 178, 222.

Ancient Mesopotamian authors regularly incorporated these metaphors to create erotic motifs:

Vigorously he sprouted, vigorously he sprouted and sprouted,

Watered it- it being lettuce!

In his black garden of the desert bearing much yield did my darling of his mother,

My barley stalk full of allure in its farrow, water it- water lettuce,

Did my one- a very apple tree bearing fruit at the top- water it- it being a garden!

As cited in T. Jacobsen, Harps that Once: Sumerian Poetry in Translation (1987): 94.

Do not dig a [canal]

Do not plough [a field], let me be your field.

Farmer, do not search for a wet place,

My precious sweet, let me be your wet place.

Let the ditch (?) be your farrow,

let me be your canal,

Let our little apples be your desire!

As cited in Leick, Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature, 149-150.

The highly sexual connotation of gardens and fruit was not unknown to the author of the Song of Songs 4:12-13a:

A garden locked is my sister,

my bride,

a garden locked, a fountain

sealed.

Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates

with all choicest fruits

With this understanding, it seems meaningful that imediately after leaving the Garden of Eden, â??the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cainâ? (Gen. 4:1).

From both a biblical and general Near Eastern perspective, Eveâ??s description of this event leaves the role of God in this process perhaps intentionally ambiguous: â??I have procreated a man with Yahweh.â?

In support of my reading of Genesis 4:1 as â??I have procreated a man with Yahweh,â? I would add that the Hebrew root qnh has a grammatical cognate in the Ugaritic word qny

In addition to its general meaning â??to acquire,â? the Ugaritic verb qny denotes â??creation through procreation,â? and â??to bring forthâ?; see M.H. Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts (Leiden: Brill, 1955); 50-54.

The same connotation for qnh clearly appears in the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, Stefan Paas has suggested that â??the semantic separation between the two fields of meaning is actually not as sharp as first might appear; it is possible that the original meaning of qnh is â??to create,â?? from which the other meanings are derivative. YHWH is the Owner because He is the Creatorâ?; see Stefan Paas, Creation and Judgment: Creation Texts in Some Eighth Century Prophets (Leiden: Brill, 2003): 66.

Genesis 4:1 seems to be a play on the ancient tradition that a God could produce offspring with a mortal woman through sexual intercourse.

The interesting story about the gods having sex with mortal women in Genesis 6 illustrates that sexuality was, in fact, both a power and a pleasure associated with the gods by biblical authors.

To further clarify, the text does not state that Yahweh had relations with Eve; Genesis 4:1 specifically states that â??the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived.â?

However, in her speech, Eve uses the word qny which means at miniumum, â??to create,â? and implies â??to procreate.â? According to Eve, she performed this act â??t , i.e. â??with,â? Yahweh. In its original cultural context, this statement carried a suggestive meaning.

Dr. Marc Brettlerâ??s commentary given on the Samson birth narrative in Judges 13, from his work The Book of Judges, proves insightful:

â??When Manoahâ??s wife speaks to her husband, she notes (v. 6), â??The man of God has come to meâ??;â?¦ the idom â??come toâ? is also used in sexual contexts, so this may also be translated: â??The man of God slept with me.â?? Through this double entendre put in the mouth of the clever wife of Manoah, a double entendre that her dim-witted husband is too stupid to understand, the audience is told the true father of the â??boy to be bornâ??â? in The Book of Judges (London: Routledge, 2002): 45.

Brettlerâ??s readingâ??which is also given by biblical scholars A. Reinhartz and S. Ackermannâ??is sustained by comparing Judges 13 to other biblical stories concerning barren women. For example, in 1 Samuel, Hannah conceives after offering her prayer, albeit specifically following the statement, â??Elkanah was intimate with Hannah his wife, and Yahweh remembered herâ? (1: 19).

Accordingly, Brettler argues that â??the parentage of the child explains his superhuman abilitiesâ? (Ibid. 46). Samson is like the Nephilim of old.

And speaking of the Nephilim, these superhuman creatures were produced when the gods saw that the mortal women were fair, â??and they took wives for themselves of all that they choseâ? (Gen. 6:2). This story illustrates that gods, in the biblical view, were indeed sexual beings, just as they were throughout the ancient Near East. It really is wrong to suppose that biblical Israel existed in some sort of cultural vacuum.

Notice that the biblical God Yahweh reacts to the illicit sexual act of the gods in Genesis 6 with anger and destruction. In the Bible, the antithesis to Genesis 6 is Genesis 19, were human beings are the ones who seek sexual encounters with the members of the heavenly host. Significantly, God also reacts to this illicit act with anger and destruction.

Gods seeking sex with humans, or humans seeking sex with gods; either way, these stories illustrate that biblical authors viewed the members of the divine council as sexual beings.

I think we should ask ourselves the question, if the gods in Genesis 6 were capable of having sex, why not the God who ruled over them in the divine council? Remember, it was this very being who acknowledged the legitimacy of the serpentâ??s observation that eating from the fruit made Adam and Eve like the gods in â??knowingâ? (Gen. 3:22).

[Kevin Graham] is correct that the Ugaritic tablets present El as highly sexual. But what if the only Ugaritic tablet we had was the story of king Kirta?

None of the patriarchal stories portray the biblical God having sex. Then again, neither does the Canaaanite myth of Kirta from ancient Ugarit.

This ancient myth focuses upon the centrality of kingship as a Canaanite institution through three tablets telling the story of king Kirta. Thus, the account is not concerned with the details of the celestial realm; only the exploits of the Canaanite king.

However, in the myth, Kirta receives a visit from El, the head of the divine council of deities:

For in his dream El came down,

in his vision the Father of Men.

He approached and asked Kirta:

â??Why are you weeping, Kirta?

Why does the Gracious One, the Lad of El, shed tears?

Does he want to rule like the Bull, his father,

or to have power like the Father of Men?â??

(as cited in Stories From Ancient Canaan; ed. Michael D. Coogan, pg. 58-59).

Since this â??patriarchalâ? story is not concerned with the celestial realm, the myth never describes the sexual exploits of El--only his interactions with his "prophet/king."

However, as Kevin corretly notes, we know from other sources that the people of Ugarit viewed the Bull of Heaven as sexuality active. Asherah, the principal goddess of Sidon and Tyre, was the â??Mother of the Gods.â? She was Elâ??s wife.

Therefore, simply because the patriarchal stories in the book of Genesis do not portray the details of the celestial realm doesnâ??t mean that the authors did not view God as a sexual being.

In fact, other details found throughout the Bible, like those Iâ??ve identified above, suggest that from a biblical perspective, sexuality is a power intimately associated with God--just as it is in every other ancient Near Eastern tradition.

Following the formation of woman in Genesis 2, the biblical text provides an intriguing note:

â??Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one fleshâ?? (Gen 2:24).

This narrative statement draws upon the fact that the man in Eden leaves God and cleaves unto his wife as one flesh. Indeed, immediately after the text states that God drove out the man from the garden of Eden, the account states that â??the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cainâ?? (Gen 3:24-4:1).

The story of Eden presents a tale of the primordial man leaving God and cleaving unto his wife as one flesh. However, Genesis 2:24 not only states that the man left his father, the account specifically notes that the man also left his mother.

The concept of a divine consort is certainly not foreign to other biblical texts. Biblical scholar Michael Coogan has argued that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 1-9 provides evidence for the ongoing worship of a goddess as consort of Yahweh; Michael D. Coogan, "The Goddess Wisdom: â??Where Can She Be Found?â??," Literary Reflexes of Popular Religion, Baruch Hu (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999): 203-209. 1999

Coogan suggests that â??as time went on . . . orthodoxy recognized that this daring use of popular polytheism was at least a source of confusion if not an outright threat and so it took pains to demythologize the goddess Wisdom, to make her an abstractionâ? Ibid. 208.

If Coogan is correct, this would explain why Yahwehâ??s consort whom the man leaves behind does not appear directly in Genesis 2-3.

Interesting, however, that without her appearance, it is extremely difficult to make much sense of the biblical story of Eden.

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