The Audacity of Ancient Israel’s Monotheism

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3

The reality of Israel’s monotheism which destroyed higher criticism and points to a unique supernatural revelation of the religion of ancient Judaism

The bible is clear; all the nations knew about God and god is continually dealing with all of mankind. After the flood and the tower of Babel, mankind split into several people groups and migrated all over the face of the earth. I have read direct translations of ancient Navajo stories which read like a blend of the first chapter of Genesis and chapter one of the Gospel of John. The first religion in China had prayers read in the annual sacrifice which could easily have been mistaken for one of the Psalms. Clay tablets over 4500 years old were dug up in India that told a flood story where the Indian Ham laughed at a drunken Noah. Studies from the diggings at Ras Shamra gave credence to the idea that a Supreme God had once been acknowledged all across the ancient Semitic world. (1)

However the bible is equally clear that mankind has a definite downward tendency to forget about God and either corrupt the original knowledge or invent their own religions. By the time God called to Abraham, in the city of Ur, the entire world in the ancient middle east had fallen into a dark paganism which didn’t reflect their original understanding.

As a previous post indicated, one of the marks of this paganism was a mix of bizarre medical practices and belief in divination of the stars, tea leaves, sheep livers or anything that moved. They had also fallen into the worship of a huge number of lesser and greater deities and spirits.

In order to understand or even define paganism, we have to view it through the filter of the scriptures, because the Scriptures were the product of Divine re-intervention of the one true god as they were originally given to the Hebrew people. Of course when we do that we’re assuming in faith that Abraham and Moses did in fact have a direct encounter with the Creator of the universe.

Many people however approach the Scriptures and religion quite differently and assume the exact opposite, that the Judaic religion was no more than a product of man’s invention and the surrounding Babylonian and Egyptian cultures. Not only have atheists approached Judaism this way, but in contemporary Christianity many theologians are also trying to understand ancient Judaism by viewing it through the pagan filter of the surrounding cultures.

This approach isn’t a new one, it was tried before by the higher critics at the beginning of the 19th century, and it failed miserably. The higher critics assumed that all religion was a natural product of culture which evolved from fetish worship of spirits to the worship of many gods, and finally, to the worship of one god. They didn’t always say so, but it’s clear from their writings that they believed the ultimate peak of the evolution of religion would lead to a faith in no gods, at all. Because of this belief, they were sure that Israel could not have had a monotheistic religion in 2000-1500 BC. The evolution of religion in the ancient near-east just hadn’t evolved far enough yet, which was clearly evidenced by the paganism and polytheism of the surrounding cultures. Therefore they made some very strong assumptions;

  • The Old Testament was not the result of supernatural revelation
  • The Old Testament could not have been written until around 800 BC at the earliest
  • It was impossible for Israel to have a law prohibiting the making and worship of idols.
  • There could not have been writing at the time of Abraham, Moses, or the Patriarchs.

Based on a naturalistic understanding of religion and its formation, their assumptions made sense. For Israel to have suddenly come to a knowledge of a monotheistic God, while dwelling in world of utter polytheism just doesn’t fit the picture unless they really did experience a direct intervention and revelation from a supernatural god.

All of those four assumptions were based on an effort to understand the ancient Israeli nation through the filter of a naturalistic understanding of the surrounding pagan cultures. And all four of those assumptions were proven wrong, within the next few decades, by the spade of the archaeologists. Not only did the ancient middle or near-east have writing, they had it in an abundance which astonished the modern academic world.

Archaeologists began digging up clay tablets from NuzI and Ras Shamra and many other sites all over the middle east from hundreds of years prior to Moses or Abraham. They found Caananite alphabets and cuneiform tablets and Hebraic and Egyptian writings. Business deals, histories, poetic writing mirroring the songs of Deborah and Miriam were found, in mass. So much so that famous British Assyriologist Sayce could say; “The age of Abraham was a more highly educated country than the England of George the Third.” (time of American Revolution) (2)

And the word use and style of writing and the historical information could not have been found in any document not written in the time frame the bible claims for itself. On top of this, thousands of yards of dirt have been removed from ancient Jewish towns and villages all over ancient Israel, and never has an idol to a Hebrew male god or other god been found.

There can be no doubt, that wherever Moses and Abraham got their monotheism from, it certainly was not from the evolution of religion or from the surrounding pagan cultures. And they received their revelations in the exact time periods they claimed to.

This audacious uniqueness of ancient Israel is a strong argument in favor of direct supernatural revelation by a supernatural God and defies explanation by naturalistic or atheistic means.

It is also a strong argument against trying to understand Judaism or the Book of Genesis through the light of a often contrived understanding of Babylonian or other pagan religion.

Have a great day

(1) [Jacobs, E., Theology of the Old Testament, 1958]  [Hodges, Mark, 10 Myths of Modern Academia]

(2) Hodges, Mark, 10 Myths of Modern Academia, 2011, Amazon-Kindle

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About notmanynoble

woodcutter from Washington State
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