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Urloony

Isaiah 43:10

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maklelan,

Your comments criticize a statement by Catherine but do not engage my criticisms of urloony's opening post.

You wrote:

I would imagine you might feel differently if an evangelical critic had claimed that he was going to show from grammar or syntax that a verse proved Mormon theology false, and then neglected to discuss grammar or syntax! And as I pointed out, urloony's post did not even discuss the context or meaning of Isaiah 43:10.

I have responded to urloony's recent response to me.

I would point it out, but if he had presented a related argument and just wasn't aware of the difference I wouldn't make a big deal out of it and I would respond to whatever was provided.

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Rob-

Sorry to keep cross-posting, but I think you bring up points that merit addressing. You asked urloony the following:

I have a simple question for you. How might an ancient Hebrew writer in, say, the sixth century BC, worded a statement so as to deny the existence of other gods? Take into consideration that there does not seem to be a distinct word in biblical Hebrew that means "existence" or "to exist" (although English translations might use these words in some contexts). That is, if statements like "There was no god formed before me and there will be none after me," "I am God and there is no other," "Besides me there is no god," etc., do not deny the existence of other gods, what sort of statement might a Hebrew have made that would deny their existence?

אין אלהים אחרים would be the best way to do it, although the context would have to support a notion that just didn't seem to exist in that time period. אין expresses non-existence, but it can be, and usually is, qualified. There are thirteen occurrences of the phrase אין אלהים in the Hebrew Bible, and three of them are unqualified (Pss 10:4; 14:1; 53:2). These are universally understood not as strict atheism, but as expressions of apathy toward deity. In other words, "there are no gods that I care about." This is made clear in the last two verses, where the phrase if followed with, "They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none that does good." In other words, the context shows the meaning is not one of absolute non-existence.

The others are qualified in reference to Yahweh, saying "there is no God with me," or "besides me," "in Israel" (a sarcastic question in 2 Kgs 1:3), or "in all the earth except in Israel." The former comments have already been dealt with (Heiser and MacDonald have shown they refer to purview, similar to Deut 31:17), and the last, put into the mouth of the foreigner Naaman, has to do with replacing one national deity with another, not with denying the existence of all others. After all, why would such a conclusion arise simply from Naaman's being healed by Yahweh? Naaman is given no reason to believe (and nor are we) that conversion to the worship of Yahweh requires the rejection of the ontological existence of other deities. And why specify that Yahweh is confined to Israel if no other gods exist? Taken as a declaration of absolute ontology, his statement would have to mean that the rest of the earth is without a god (i.e., Yahweh does not exist there). A deity can only be found within the borders of Israel. Naaman takes earth from Israel so that he can perform worship for a deity that he believes to be confined to the very land Israel. Does he mean that no deities exist at all outside of Israel, or only that the national deity in Israel is the only deity he finds worthy of his worship? The latter can be the only logical conclusion. This position is echoed in 1 Sam 26:18-20, where David is facing expulsion from Israel and interprets it to mean that he will be expelled from Yahweh's inheritance (cf. Deut 32:8-9) and, as a result, unable to worship Yahweh. He will be forced to worship other gods because he is not within Yahweh's purview. If he dies outside of Israel, it will be outside of Yahweh's presence. We cannot but conclude that in these texts, Yahweh's purview ended at the borders of Israel. Yahweh was a national deity, not the god of all the earth. Statements along the lines of "there is no other god" do not at all refer to absolute ontological existence.

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Rob-

Still more to address. (If the mods decide this is inappropriate then just let me know and I'll knock it off.) You state,

However, other biblical texts say exactly what you are denying here. "For all the gods of the nations are idols" (Ps. 96:5 KJV). Modern translations render elilim here as "idols" or "worthless" or "worthless idols."

The best translation would be "worthless things," and given that the rest of the rhetoric we've discussed refers to the relevance and potency of the gods of the nations, it doesn't at all deny their existence or insist they are actually nothing more than man-made objects. Even in the New Testament (1 Cor 10:20) Paul recognizes that there are divine beings that are evoked in the use of idols. He quotes Deut 32:17, insisting that the Gentiles who sacrifice to idols make offerings to demons, not to God. Paul doesn't bother to quote the rest of the verse, but it immediately identifies those demons with the appositional phrase "gods whom they did not know" ("they refers to the Israelites' ancestors, by the way, not the Gentiles). אלילים does not mean "idols," but "worthless things" (cf. Zech 11:17; Job 13:4), and Ps 96:5 does not deny the existence of the gods of the nations, just their relevance to Israel.

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Dan,

In other words, there is no statement that the Hebrew Bible could make that would in your opinion express a denial of the existence of other gods.

Just as I thought.

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Dan,

In other words, there is no statement that the Hebrew Bible could make that would in your opinion express a denial of the existence of other gods.

Just as I thought.

Do you disagree? If so, please explain.

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Dan,

Regarding elilim in Psalm 96:5, you wrote:

The best translation would be "worthless things," and given that the rest of the rhetoric we've discussed refers to the relevance and potency of the gods of the nations, it doesn't at all deny their existence or insist they are actually nothing more than man-made objects. Even in the New Testament (1 Cor 10:20) Paul recognizes that there are divine beings that are evoked in the use of idols. He quotes Deut 32:17, insisting that the Gentiles who sacrifice to idols make offerings to demons, not to God. Paul doesn't bother to quote the rest of the verse, but it immediately identifies those demons with the appositional phrase "gods whom they did not know" ("they refers to the Israelites' ancestors, by the way, not the Gentiles). אלילים does not mean "idols," but "worthless things" (cf. Zech 11:17; Job 13:4), and Ps 96:5 does not deny the existence of the gods of the nations, just their relevance to Israel.

First, nothing in Psalm 96 suggests that the gods of the nations were just as legitimately gods for those nations but were merely irrelevant to Israel. In fact, the description of those gods as “worthless things,” assuming that translation for the sake of argument, proves otherwise. The Psalmist does not mean that those gods were worth something to other nations but not to Israel; he means that they were worthless, period. The Psalmist also grounds this claim on the fact that unlike those gods, Yahweh was the creator of the heavens! In other words, Yahweh is not one god among many; he is the God responsible for the very realm from which the so-called gods supposedly rule.

Second, there is good lexical evidence in the rest of the Hebrew Bible for understanding elilim to refer to idols:

  • “Do not turn to the elilim or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am Yahweh your God” (Lev. 19:4).
  • “Do not make elilim for yourselves, set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God” (Lev. 26:1).
  • “Their land is filled with elilim; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.... And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day, and the elilim shall utterly pass away... In that day mankind will cast away their eliley of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship” (Isa. 2:8, 17-18, 20; likewise in Isa. 31:7).
  • “As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the elil, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her eliley as I have done to Samaria and her images?” (Isa. 10:10-11).
  • “An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, Yahweh is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and Egypt’s elile will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom; and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out, and I will confound their counsel; and they will inquire of the elilim and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers” (Isa. 19:1-3).
  • “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘I will destroy idols and put an end to elilim in Memphis’” (Ezek. 30:13).
  • “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless elilim!” (Hab. 2:18).
This usage is evident in Psalm 97, the psalm immediately following the one under discussion:
  • “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in elilim; worship him, all you gods!” (Psa. 97:7).

As I’m sure you know, the LXX substituted “angels” for “gods” here, and of course we agree that in the view of the LXX translators the angels were existent beings. Evidently, though, the LXX translators felt that translating elohim as “gods” in this context would be inaccurate or misleading.

The Hebrew writers of these books believed that in some way there were real, existing spirits behind the idols and images that people vainly worshiped. But according to Psalm 96:5, the “gods” of the nations were not actual divine spirits worthy or deserving of religious honor or fear, but worthless idols, creations of ignorant human beings. Whatever spirits inspired idol worship or used it to control those people were demons—lying, deceiving spirits, not deserving of being honored as a “god” (Deut. 32:17).

Let’s look more closely at Psalm 96:5 in context:

  • “For great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are elilim, but Yahweh made the heavens” (Psa. 96:4-5).

The approach you take to statements like verse 4 is to construe them as implicitly acknowledging the existence of other “gods.” But in context this doesn’t seem to follow. The gods “exist” insofar as they are elilim that the peoples of the world make for themselves and superstitiously fear, but they don’t amount to anything more than that. The injunction to fear Yahweh “above all gods” does not mean that people should fear all the gods but fear Yahweh more; it means that they should fear Yahweh alone and deny any power in worthless gods. The Hebrew writers of these books knew that other spirits besides Yahweh existed, and in some contexts they could refer to such spirits as “gods,” but the force of passages like this one is to deny that the “gods” that the peoples of the world worshiped were deserving of that designation.

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Dan,

Regarding elilim in Psalm 96:5, you wrote:

First, nothing in Psalm 96 suggests that the gods of the nations were just as legitimately gods for those nations but were merely irrelevant to Israel. In fact, the description of those gods as “worthless things,” assuming that translation for the sake of argument, proves otherwise. The Psalmist does not mean that those gods were worth something to other nations but not to Israel; he means that they were worthless, period.

The reason this reading is not to be preferred is that (1) there's nothing anywhere in the Hebrew Bible that suggests your reading is appropriate, and (2) my reading is suggested by identical rhetoric throughout the Hebrew Bible. Look at the way Isaiah ridicules the nations, for instance. In Isa 40:17 the author states, "all the nations are as nothing before him--less than nothing--and are considered by him as vanity." Compare this to Isa 41:24, which says the same of the gods. In v. 23 Yahweh brings the princes "to nothing." In v. 11 those who are angry with Israel will be "as nothing," and in v. 12 those who war against Israel will be "nothing at all." In Isa 44:9 those who make idols are "vanity." Look at Deut 32:21, which says Israel worshipped things that were "non-gods," and as punishment Yahweh will bring up on them a "non-nation." Assyria certainly was a nation, though. I pointed you to verses in Job and Zechariah where the word אליל is clearly used adjectively, showing without doubt that the word does not simply mean "idols," but fundamentally refers to worthless things. It is used colloquially to refer to idols, but only because they were considered impotent and irrelevant, not because they were literally thought not to exist at all. My earlier discussion highlighted a few other places where non-existence was used to refer to unimportance. You cannot point to any verse in the entire Hebrew Bible, on the other hand, that uses the rhetoric of nothingness and worthlessness to indicate conscious and actual ontological nothingness. You say nothing indicates my reading, but my reading is found consistently throughout the Bible. Your reading, however, does not simply win by default, mainly because your reading is found nowhere in the Bible.

The Psalmist also grounds this claim on the fact that unlike those gods, Yahweh was the creator of the heavens! In other words, Yahweh is not one god among many; he is the God responsible for the very realm from which the so-called gods supposedly rule.

You're reading a context into their rhetoric that simply wasn't there. "The heavens" did not mean "all of outer space" in ancient Israel, and it's not the region from which the gods ruled. It referred to a discreet and solid dome above the earth. The gods were not thought to be limited to that realm. The most clear evidence of this is the creation account from the Enuma Elish, on which Genesis 1 is partly patterned. There Marduk shoots an arrow through the bloated Tiamat to kill her and then tears her body in half, with half being turned into the earth, and the other half into the heavens. Her companion, the god Qingu, was then killed and his blood was mixed with soil to create humanity. All the other gods existed and continued to exist independently and apart from the heavens and the earth, even though Marduk was the creator of both. A similar notion is found in Ps 29:10, where Yahweh is said to be "enthroned over the flood," with the flood referring to the waters of the heavens, which were separated from the earth by that dome known as "the heavens" (it is interesting to note, too, that Tiamat is cognate with the word tehom, or "depths," or the waters of creation. That those waters now make up a portion of the heavens is not accidentally similar to the Enuma Elish account).

Second, there is good lexical evidence in the rest of the Hebrew Bible for understanding elilim to refer to idols:

  • “Do not turn to the elilim or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am Yahweh your God” (Lev. 19:4).
  • “Do not make elilim for yourselves, set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God” (Lev. 26:1).
  • “Their land is filled with elilim; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.... And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day, and the elilim shall utterly pass away... In that day mankind will cast away their eliley of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship” (Isa. 2:8, 17-18, 20; likewise in Isa. 31:7).
  • “As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the elil, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her eliley as I have done to Samaria and her images?” (Isa. 10:10-11).
  • “An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, Yahweh is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and Egypt’s elile will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom; and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out, and I will confound their counsel; and they will inquire of the elilim and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers” (Isa. 19:1-3).
  • “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘I will destroy idols and put an end to elilim in Memphis’” (Ezek. 30:13).
  • “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless elilim!” (Hab. 2:18).
This usage is evident in Psalm 97, the psalm immediately following the one under discussion:
  • “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in elilim; worship him, all you gods!” (Psa. 97:7).

You left out the two verses I cited which shows what the word fundamentally means. These other uses refer to idols, but using a colloquial means of marginalization. Just replace אלילים with "worthless things" and you have the formal equivalence of the verse. It is somewhat like when someone asks you "what are you doing?" and you say "nothing." Obviously you're not doing "nothing," you're just doing nothing relevant to the context of the other person's concerns.

As I’m sure you know, the LXX substituted “angels” for “gods” here, and of course we agree that in the view of the LXX translators the angels were existent beings. Evidently, though, the LXX translators felt that translating elohim as “gods” in this context would be inaccurate or misleading.

No, they just want to cultivate a certain vernacular. There's really no difference between "angel" and "god" in the Hellenistic period. In fact, in LXX Deut 32:43 they take the Hebrew word "gods" and translate "angels of God" and "sons of God" in parallel to each other.

The Hebrew writers of these books believed that in some way there were real, existing spirits behind the idols and images that people vainly worshiped. But according to Psalm 96:5, the “gods” of the nations were not actual divine spirits worthy or deserving of religious honor or fear, but worthless idols, creations of ignorant human beings. Whatever spirits inspired idol worship or used it to control those people were demons—lying, deceiving spirits, not deserving of being honored as a “god” (Deut. 32:17).

Your use of the phrase "honored as a god" attributes to the word "god" a value judgment that simply did not exist in that time period. "God" did not connote any level of worthiness or awesomeness or majesty of any kind. It was simply a being that lived in the spiritual realms. They could be good, bad, and ugly. Deut 32:17 does not say the Israelites honored "demons, not gods," it says "demons, not God" (in fact, Heiser explains why here). It then explicitly calls those demons "gods."

Let’s look more closely at Psalm 96:5 in context:

  • “For great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are elilim, but Yahweh made the heavens” (Psa. 96:4-5).

The approach you take to statements like verse 4 is to construe them as implicitly acknowledging the existence of other “gods.” But in context this doesn’t seem to follow. The gods “exist” insofar as they are elilim that the peoples of the world make for themselves and superstitiously fear, but they don’t amount to anything more than that.

The gods are elilim in reference to Yahweh. He is to be feared above the gods. This is pointless rhetoric if the next statement identifies the gods as inanimate man-made objects. "God is great than all the pieces of clay, sucka!" How is that powerful? On the other hand, the rhetoric continues if we understand it to mean they are worthless compared to him. "God is better than them all, so much so, in fact, that they're worthless!" That's effective rhetoric. The context is the question of who is worthy of praise. The attribute that garners the praise is power. Yahweh created the heavens, but these gods are impotent. Their power is nothing compared with the power to create the heavens. The fact that Yahweh is the creator of the heavens is a meaningless contrast with the declaration that the gods don't even exist at all.

The injunction to fear Yahweh “above all gods” does not mean that people should fear all the gods but fear Yahweh more; it means that they should fear Yahweh alone and deny any power in worthless gods. The Hebrew writers of these books knew that other spirits besides Yahweh existed, and in some contexts they could refer to such spirits as “gods,” but the force of passages like this one is to deny that the “gods” that the peoples of the world worshiped were deserving of that designation.

Again you assign value judgment to a word that simply carried no such connotation in that time period. Your are also asserting a reading for this text that completely undermines its rhetorical value. You are also reading modern theological notions into these texts simply without comment. Lastly, you have not addressed the texts I mentioned that show that Yahweh was a national deity confined to Israel in the early sections of the Hebrew Bible, nor have you addressed my argument for my reading. You've just provided your own reading and asserted that it is right and mine is wrong.

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Rob, I noticed you said the following;

Don't feel bad about not being able to answer my question--Dan considers himself a Hebrew scholar, and he couldn't come up with anything, either (he offered a reply on another forum in which he could offer no suggestion).

First, I find it a bit silly to suggest that I am only a Hebrew scholar in my own mind. Do you disagree, or is the above just for rhetorical effect? I am being serious and would like a direct answer to this question.

Next, I would ask what the following is if not a clear and direct answer to your question, "How might an ancient Hebrew writer in, say, the sixth century BC, worded a statement so as to deny the existence of other gods?":

אין אלהים אחרים would be the best way to do it, although the context would have to support a notion that just didn't seem to exist in that time period. אין expresses non-existence, but it can be, and usually is, qualified.

I've never seen you be flagrantly dishonest before, so I am figuring this is just an oversight. If so, I am requesting you correct it.

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Maklelan, thanks for the earlier response. I have another question:

Some critics of LDS belief in a Divine Council/monolatry acknowledge that Israelites did believe in the existence of multiple deities at times, but that the Old Testament is a story of God continuously calling people away from that [erroneous belief] and "back" to belief in and worship of the one God. How do you view such claims?

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Maklelan, thanks for the earlier response. I have another question:

Some critics of LDS belief in a Divine Council/monolatry acknowledge that Israelites did believe in the existence of multiple deities at times, but that the Old Testament is a story of God continuously calling people away from that [erroneous belief] and "back" to belief in and worship of the one God. How do you view such claims?

I disagree with them. The authors of the Hebrew Bible acknowledge and approve of the existence of other gods throughout its earliest history, and God himself is presented as approving as well. In Deut 32:8-9, for instance, he delegates authority over the nations to the gods. And while the Deuteronomistic literature and the stuff after it were fiercely monolatrous, they did not deny the existence of the other gods, just their usefulness. It wasn't until the Hellenistic period that the notion developed that the other gods were simply angels, and that's when monotheism as it is understood today really began (at least, that's the argument I made at SBL in Atlanta and will make in my current masters thesis).

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I disagree with them. The authors of the Hebrew Bible acknowledge and approve of the existence of other gods throughout its earliest history, and God himself is presented as approving as well. In Deut 32:8-9, for instance, he delegates authority over the nations to the gods. And while the Deuteronomistic literature and the stuff after it were fiercely monolatrous, they did not deny the existence of the other gods, just their usefulness. It wasn't until the Hellenistic period that the notion developed that the other gods were simply angels, and that's when monotheism as it is understood today really began (at least, that's the argument I made at SBL in Atlanta and will make in my current masters thesis).

Were these other gods considered equal to Yahweh, or was there a special relationship that set Yahweh apart from the others? Essentially what I'm getting to is whether the ancient Israelites (pre-Josiah's reforms) had a concept of an Only Begotten (i.e. Gen. 22:2,12,16) as opposed to one of many.

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•“Do not make elilim for yourselves, set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God” (Lev. 26:1).

Aseh, the word used for make also meant to acquire, such as the nefesh Abraham acquired in Haran, or the later Rabbinic dictum aseh lecha rav wehistalek min hasafek- acquire for yourself a teacher and leave behind doubts.

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Dan,

You wrote:

First, I find it a bit silly to suggest that I am only a Hebrew scholar in my own mind. Do you disagree, or is the above just for rhetorical effect? I am being serious and would like a direct answer to this question.

I was contrasting what urloony claimed for himself with what you claimed for yourself, not questioning your claim. I apologize for the misperception my wording created. I agree that you are a Hebrew scholar.

More later (I have to leave).

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"God is great than all the pieces of clay, sucka!" How is that powerful?

Hahaha, great response. Good read too.

Compare this to Isa 41:24, which says the same of the gods. In v. 23 Yahweh brings the princes "to nothing." In v. 11 those who are angry with Israel will be "as nothing," and in v. 12 those who war against Israel will be "nothing at all." In Isa 44:9 those who make idols are "vanity." Look at Deut 32:21, which says Israel worshipped things that were "non-gods," and as punishment Yahweh will bring up on them a "non-nation." Assyria certainly was a nation, though.

I think this is powerful stuff here. It is worth repeating.

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Dan,

. . . I apologize for the misperception my wording created. I agree that you are a Hebrew scholar.

Did you apologize in the forum that you made "the mispreception"?

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Did you apologize in the forum that you made "the mispreception"?

with all due respect, I don't think it would make a bit of difference over there. At least Rob did make the acknowledgement. I suppose if Dan still has an issue then he can bring it up.

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with all due respect, I don't think it would make a bit of difference over there. At least Rob did make the acknowledgement. I suppose if Dan still has an issue then he can bring it up.

Sure it would make a difference. It is the difference between doing it right and not.

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Dan,

You wrote:

I was contrasting what urloony claimed for himself with what you claimed for yourself, not questioning your claim. I apologize for the misperception my wording created. I agree that you are a Hebrew scholar.

More later (I have to leave).

Thanks Rob. I shouldn't have been so sensitive about that, but over on that board it's a pretty common chord for them to strum.

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Dan,

You wrote:

Next, I would ask what the following is if not a clear and direct answer to your question, "How might an ancient Hebrew writer in, say, the sixth century BC, worded a statement so as to deny the existence of other gods?"....

I didn't say your answer wasn't clear or direct. I said that you "couldn't come up with anything" in the way of a statement that an ancient Hebrew writer could have made that would have categorically denied the existence of other gods. That seems to be a correct assessment. Your first sentence, which you quoted, suggests a possible wording, but then the rest of the paragraph so eats away at your opening statement that in the end you leave no way for the Hebrew Bible to assert categorically that the other gods don't exist. Your approach puts the burden of proof on the view that takes such statements literally even when they appear to be categorical instead of putting the burden of proof on the view that no such statement appears anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. I happen to think it is revealing that even the most categorical-sounding statement on the matter would not be sufficient to convince you that the writer was denying the existence of other gods.

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Dan,

Earlier in this discussion, you had asserted that Psalm 96:5

does not deny the existence of the gods of the nations, just their relevance to Israel.

In response, I wrote:

First, nothing in Psalm 96 suggests that the gods of the nations were just as legitimately gods for those nations but were merely irrelevant to Israel. In fact, the description of those gods as “worthless things,” assuming that translation for the sake of argument, proves otherwise. The Psalmist does not mean that those gods were worth something to other nations but not to Israel; he means that they were worthless, period. The Psalmist also grounds this claim on the fact that unlike those gods, Yahweh was the creator of the heavens! In other words, Yahweh is not one god among many; he is the God responsible for the very realm from which the so-called gods supposedly rule.

I'm afraid your entire line of response failed to connect with my point here. You wrote:

The reason this reading is not to be preferred is that (1) there's nothing anywhere in the Hebrew Bible that suggests your reading is appropriate, and (2) my reading is suggested by identical rhetoric throughout the Hebrew Bible. Look at the way Isaiah ridicules the nations, for instance. In Isa 40:17 the author states, "all the nations are as nothing before him--less than nothing--and are considered by him as vanity." Compare this to Isa 41:24, which says the same of the gods. In v. 23 Yahweh brings the princes "to nothing." In v. 11 those who are angry with Israel will be "as nothing," and in v. 12 those who war against Israel will be "nothing at all." In Isa 44:9 those who make idols are "vanity." Look at Deut 32:21, which says Israel worshipped things that were "non-gods," and as punishment Yahweh will bring up on them a "non-nation." Assyria certainly was a nation, though. I pointed you to verses in Job and Zechariah where the word אליל is clearly used adjectively, showing without doubt that the word does not simply mean "idols," but fundamentally refers to worthless things. It is used colloquially to refer to idols, but only because they were considered impotent and irrelevant, not because they were literally thought not to exist at all. My earlier discussion highlighted a few other places where non-existence was used to refer to unimportance. You cannot point to any verse in the entire Hebrew Bible, on the other hand, that uses the rhetoric of nothingness and worthlessness to indicate conscious and actual ontological nothingness. You say nothing indicates my reading, but my reading is found consistently throughout the Bible. Your reading, however, does not simply win by default, mainly because your reading is found nowhere in the Bible.

You appear to be so fixated on defending the claim that the Hebrew Bible never speaks of other gods as nonexistent that you missed my whole point. Here it is again: it is simply not true that Psalm 96:5 merely denies the relevance to Israel of the gods of the nations. The Psalmist is not acknowledging the nations' gods as equally valid gods for them but not for Israel. He is, at the very least, by your own linguistic analysis, dismissing those gods as worthless. This text does not agree with the notion that Yahweh was simply one among many gods. It maintains that Yahweh is the one who created the heavens. "All the earth" is to sing to Yahweh (v. 1). His glory and works are to be made known "among the nations" and "among all peoples" (v. 3). He is to be "feared above all gods" (v. 4), because "all of the gods are worthless" (v. 5a, using your preferred rendering) whereas "Yahweh made the heavens" (v. 5b). All the families of the peoples of the earth are summoned to come and give Yahweh the praise and honor due him (vv. 6-8 ). "All the earth" is to tremble before him (v. 9). "The nations" are to be told that Yahweh reigns, and that he will judge the peoples (v. 10). All creation is to rejoice because Yahweh is coming to judge the world and all the peoples (vv. 11-12). This Psalm clearly views Yahweh as the God of the whole universe and of all peoples, not just as the deity assigned to Israel. That was and is my point. I am far less concerned at this point about the semantic debate over whether supernatural entities other than Yahweh are properly termed "gods" than I am about the status of those "gods" in relation to Yahweh.

What really troubles me about your position, Dan, is epitomized by your claim on CARM that "the Bible teaches that there are other gods that are equal to and higher in knowledge, power, etc., than Yahweh." That is an indefensible claim. Even if I were to grant your exegesis of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, on which you base so much, at most this would be one text that supported the idea of one deity higher in status than\ Yahweh. There are five problems (at least!) with your statement. (1) No biblical text, even granting your exegesis, speaks of more than one god of higher status than Yahweh. (2) Not even one biblical text claims that there are other gods superior in knowledge or power to Yahweh -- not even Deuteronomy 32:8-9, even granting your exegesis of the text (since it says nothing about the relative power or knowledge of El and Yahweh, which you construe to be two separate deities there). (3) Not one biblical text affirms that "the gods" distinct from Yahweh (and El, if you wish) are even equal to him in power or knowledge. (4) Numerous texts affirm the opposite of these claims; that is, numerous texts affirm that Yahweh alone is God, that no other god is even like him, that he alone is the God of heaven and earth, and so forth. (5) For you to say "the Bible teaches" is an egregious violation of your own principles, since you deny that "the Bible teaches" anything; that is, in your view any assertion about the Bible's teaching falsely assumes that the Bible is "univocal."

Edited by Rob Bowman

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Dan,

You wrote

I didn't say your answer wasn't clear or direct. I said that you "couldn't come up with anything" in the way of a statement that an ancient Hebrew writer could have made that would have categorically denied the existence of other gods. That seems to be a correct assessment.

It is quite incorrect. I had originally intended to reply that an author from the time period would not have had such a notion, and so we can't bother to speculate on how he would have conceived of it and expressed it in writing. Rather than point that out and sidestep your question, though, I thought I would be helpful and provide an example of what we might reasonably expect to find if such a notion were current and to be expressed.

Your first sentence, which you quoted, suggests a possible wording, but then the rest of the paragraph so eats away at your opening statement that in the end you leave no way for the Hebrew Bible to assert categorically that the other gods don't exist.

Correct. This does not change the fact that I suggested how it could have been expressed. The notion that I "couldn't come up with anything," and that I offered "no suggestion" is a blatant falsehood. I explained what it would have been had the hypothetical situation been possible. I pointed out, however, that the hypothetical situation conflicts entirely with the evidence. To assert that because the statement could not have been made by someone from that time period I have somehow failed to produce a satisfactory answer flagrantly begs the question (you presuppose the statement was possible) and is nothing short of asinine. It's the equivalent of asking me to explain how Shakespeare would have described television and then saying I was unable to respond, or "come up with anything," when I provided a hypothetical description and pointed out that no such description would actually have taken place.

Your approach puts the burden of proof on the view that takes such statements literally even when they appear to be categorical instead of putting the burden of proof on the view that no such statement appears anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.

When the context shows the statement is not to be understood literally, the burden of proof does in fact rest with the person wishing to interpret it literally. I've satisfied my burden of proof. I've shown why the context conflicts with your reading. You have yet to directly engage my argument; you've only flatly denied my conclusion and asserted your own. You have to be able to explain what in my argument is lacking, and it should be more than simply asserting that it's wrong.

I happen to think it is revealing that even the most categorical-sounding statement on the matter would not be sufficient to convince you that the writer was denying the existence of other gods.

I think it's revealing that you seem to think "categorical-sounding" trumps a thorough and objective look at the context and the use of the vernacular (and so much so that you aren't even required to address the context).

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Dan,

You wrote:

I was contrasting what urloony claimed for himself with what you claimed for yourself, not questioning your claim. I apologize for the misperception my wording created. I agree that you are a Hebrew scholar.

More later (I have to leave).

I made no claims for myself whatsoever. Stating that "Dan considers himself a Hebrew scholar, and he couldn't come up with anything, either..." is not an attempt at contrast, but rather to be demeaning. What is it that you believe I claim to be?

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Dan,

Earlier in this discussion, you had asserted that Psalm 96:5

In response, I wrote:

I'm afraid your entire line of response failed to connect with my point here. You wrote:

You appear to be so fixated on defending the claim that the Hebrew Bible never speaks of other gods as nonexistent that you missed my whole point. Here it is again: it is simply not true that Psalm 96:5 merely denies the relevance to Israel of the gods of the nations. The Psalmist is not acknowledging the nations' gods as equally valid gods for them but not for Israel.

I see your point, and I was responding directly to it by carefully explaining exactly why your point is mistaken.

He is, at the very least, by your own linguistic analysis, dismissing those gods as worthless.

Yes. This is hyperbole. It's no different from the comments that the nations are "nothing and less than nothing" before Yahweh, despite the fact that the nations very clearly and consistently manhandled Israel at will.

This text does not agree with the notion that Yahweh was simply one among many gods. It maintains that Yahweh is the one who created the heavens.

I explained why that's not relevant.

"All the earth" is to sing to Yahweh (v. 1). His glory and works are to be made known "among the nations" and "among all peoples" (v. 3). He is to be "feared above all gods" (v. 4), because "all of the gods are worthless" (v. 5a, using your preferred rendering) whereas "Yahweh made the heavens" (v. 5b). All the families of the peoples of the earth are summoned to come and give Yahweh the praise and honor due him (vv. 6-8 ). "All the earth" is to tremble before him (v. 9). "The nations" are to be told that Yahweh reigns, and that he will judge the peoples (v. 10). All creation is to rejoice because Yahweh is coming to judge the world and all the peoples (vv. 11-12). This Psalm clearly views Yahweh as the God of the whole universe and of all peoples, not just as the deity assigned to Israel. That was and is my point. I am far less concerned at this point about the semantic debate over whether supernatural entities other than Yahweh are properly termed "gods" than I am about the status of those "gods" in relation to Yahweh.

Psalm 95 is an exilic text and is much later than the texts which speak of Yahweh solely as a national deity. He had already been universalized by the time of the composition of this psalm, but the rhetoric is still just rhetoric, and there's simply no indication Yahweh was viewed as ontologically transcendent. He is just represented as by far the most powerful. The same rhetoric is found all over the ancient Near East. For instance, an Assyrian hymn to Shamash states, "You alone are manifest. No one among the gods can rival you.” A Sumerian hymn declares, “Nanshe, your divine powers are not matched by any other divine powers.” A hymn to Amun-Re praises him with the following:

Unique one, like whom among the gods?

Goodly bull of the Ennead,

Chief of all the gods,

Lord of Truth, Father of the gods,

Who made mankind, who created the flocks,

Lord of what exists, who created the tree of life,

Dogging whose feet are the gods,

As they recognize His Majesty as their Lord,

Lord of fear, rich in terror,

Great in wrathful manifestations, powerful in appearances,

Whose offerings flourish, who made foodstuffs,

Jubilation to you, who made the gods,

Who suspended heaven, who laid down the ground!

Of course, Amun-Re is a conflation of two local deities, and even though by this time period he was exalted over the other gods, he had a wife and children who were also gods. I would say this rhetoric is much stronger in terms of transcendance than anything you find in the Hebrew Bible. It goes on:

You are the Sole One, who made [all] that exists,

One, alone, who made that which is,

From whose two eyes mankind came forth,

On whose mouth the gods came into being,

Father of the fathers of all the gods,

Who suspended heaven, who laid down the ground.

Who made what exists, who created that which is,

Sovereign, — life, prosperity, health! — Chief of the gods.

Hail to you, who made all that exists,

Lord of Truth, Father of the gods,

Singly unique One, without his second . . .

Unique king, like whom among the gods?

Amun, more powerful than all the gods.

What really troubles me about your position, Dan, is epitomized by your claim on CARM that "the Bible teaches that there are other gods that are equal to and higher in knowledge, power, etc., than Yahweh." That is an indefensible claim. Even if I were to grant your exegesis of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, on which you base so much, at most this would be one text that supported the idea of one deity higher in status than\ Yahweh.

So one deity above Yahweh is ok, but two would be unacceptable, and that's what you expect me to show? Ok. In 2 Kings 3 Yahweh's promise to deliver the Moabite army into the hands of Israelite forces is frustrated by the Moabite deity to whom the king offered his son as sacrifice. Immediately following the sacrifice a divine wrath came over the Israelites and they were routed. Here the Moabite deity showed himself to be more powerful than Yahweh. That makes multiple deities that are in some way above Yahweh. Before the exile, when Yahweh was conceived of as a national deity, all the national deities were on more or less the same level, which is why I stated that there are other gods that are "equal to and higher" than Yahweh. This changed through the course of time, of course.

There are five problems (at least!) with your statement. (1) No biblical text, even granting your exegesis, speaks of more than one god of higher status than Yahweh.

Deut 32:8-9 and 2 Kgs 3:18-27. That makes two. Of course, just pointing to one still supports my position and flatly undermines yours.

(2) Not even one biblical text claims that there are other gods superior in knowledge or power to Yahweh -- not even Deuteronomy 32:8-9, even granting your exegesis of the text (since it says nothing about the relative power or knowledge of El and Yahweh, which you construe to be two separate deities there).

According to 2 Kgs 3:27 the Moabite deity routed Israelite forces that were promised victory by Yahweh himself. The Moabite deity proved himself more powerful in that instance.

(3) Not one biblical text affirms that "the gods" distinct from Yahweh (and El, if you wish) are even equal to him in power or knowledge.

See above. I hope the goal posts don't move now, requiring three verses in order to count.

(4) Numerous texts affirm the opposite of these claims; that is, numerous texts affirm that Yahweh alone is God, that no other god is even like him, that he alone is the God of heaven and earth, and so forth.

And those texts are late and are hyperbole. Additionally, "like him" does not necessarily refer to ontology. Other basketball teams are nothing compared to the Mavericks. None other team is comparable. None can compare. See, I did the same thing. Why do you insist on denying ancient authors the right to use rhetoric and hyperbole? See the other examples of the same rhetoric I provided from manifestly polytheistic cultures.

(5) For you to say "the Bible teaches" is an egregious violation of your own principles, since you deny that "the Bible teaches" anything; that is, in your view any assertion about the Bible's teaching falsely assumes that the Bible is "univocal."

I used the phrase out of convenience. I usually state "the biblical texts" or something similar that points explicitly to the pluriformity of the biblical witness. I didn't this time. It's not a big deal.

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I've never understood those at CARM who ignore the Near Eastern culture of the Old Testament. Are we really not supposed to take the following parallels seriously?:

Shamash Šuilla prayer (BMS 6:129-132):

May the heavens rejoice in you, may the earth be jubilant in you.

May the whole pantheon bless you.

May the great gods make your heart content.

Deut. 32:43 LXX:

Be glad, O skies, with him and let all the divine sons do obeisance to him.

Be glad, O nations, with his people and let all the angels of God prevail for him.

The 4QDeutq translation reads, “worship him all you gods.”

I also find the singling out of the fire god Girra in Maqlu II (76-102) significant. He is described as the "eminent one of the gods." The prayer then states, "You alone are my god, you alone are my lord, you alone are my judge, you alone are my aid, you alone are my champion!" Reminds me of the Shema's declaration that Israel's God is "Yahweh alone/one." Obviously, "one" is not the monotheistic, ontologically unique declaration that many make it out to be.

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Dan,

You wrote:

So one deity above Yahweh is ok, but two would be unacceptable, and that's what you expect me to show? Ok. In 2 Kings 3 Yahweh's promise to deliver the Moabite army into the hands of Israelite forces is frustrated by the Moabite deity to whom the king offered his son as sacrifice. Immediately following the sacrifice a divine wrath came over the Israelites and they were routed. Here the Moabite deity showed himself to be more powerful than Yahweh. That makes multiple deities that are in some way above Yahweh. Before the exile, when Yahweh was conceived of as a national deity, all the national deities were on more or less the same level, which is why I stated that there are other gods that are "equal to and higher" than Yahweh. This changed through the course of time, of course.... According to 2 Kgs 3:27 the Moabite deity routed Israelite forces that were promised victory by Yahweh himself. The Moabite deity proved himself more powerful in that instance.

I'm having difficulty taking this argument seriously. I am aware of at least three live interpretive options with regard to 2 Kings 3:27, but yours is not one of them. The text does not say what you claim in two respects: it does not say that the Israelite forces were routed, nor does it say that the Moabite deity (Chemosh) overcame the Israelite forces. It is rather incredible to claim that the book of Kings means that at this point Chemosh got the better of Yahweh. For a recent, brief article that discusses the text and provides citations to other recent studies, see Scott Morschauser, "A 'Diagnostic' Note on the 'Great Wrath upon Israel' in 2 Kings 3:27," JBL 129 (2010): 299-302.

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