Thursday 11 July 2013

Jealousy and divinity

Is jealousy a quality which can be attributed to a god?  Absolutely.  But not to the extent that it may often be made out to be.

There is some debate in the Canaanite community as to Yahweh's place in the religion.  To some prophets of ancient Israel, he was in the temple of Samaria with Asherah; to others, he was the one and only god.  Which prophets do we believe?  Obviously, they can't both be right.  This debate raged right through the monotheistic reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah, right up until the Babylonian captivity.  And if an ancient Judahite slave in Babylon, set free by the Persians to return home, thought that the debate would end after the Babylonian Exile was over, he was sorely mistaken.  Persian-era Judah saw some prophets like Ezra and others, who returned from Persia with the intention of instructing the people in the decrees of the Persian king, but who were also responsible for the adoption of a kind of universal monotheism among the Jews.  But the debate raged on, mostly in Jerusalem rather than elsewhere, and at some points in the Hellenistic period each new high priest could be either a polytheist or a monotheist.  It wasn't always a friendly argument either, as fierce competition between the high priests Honiyyo and Honiyyo 'Menelaus' show.  And likewise with Joshua, who attempted to take the priesthood for himself twice, and ended up fleeing from Judah to Ammon, then to Egypt, and finally to Sparta (home of Lycurgus, famed among the Jews as the 'Greek Moses'). 

The Jerusalem temple, where Yahweh sat with Asherah
The main argument against worship of Yahweh among other gods is the monotheistic prophets' insistence that he is 'a jealous god' who is jealous that other beings may be given the title of 'god' alongside him.  Worship of other gods alongside such a god is not possible.

Yahweh enthroned
The trouble with the argument that other gods cannot be worshiped alongside a 'jealous god' like Yahweh is that it can be refuted.  In fact, it was refuted many years ago.  Here is Melek of Tyre when he talks about this very issue.  Here he clearly refutes the idea that gods can be so jealous as to not tolerate worship of other gods alongside them:

"I could also give proof to you of that insidious name of 'gods' from the law, when it cries out and admonishes the hearer with much reverence, 'Thou shalt not revile the gods, and thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.' For it does not speak to us of other gods than those already within our reckoning, from what we know in the words, 'Thou shalt not go after gods'; and again, 'If ye go and worship other gods'. It is not men, but the gods who are held in honour by us, that are meant, not only by Moses, but by his successor Joshua. For he says to the people, 'And now fear him and serve him alone, and put away the gods whom your fathers served'. And it is not concerning men, but incorporeal beings that Paul says, 'For though there be that are called gods, whether on earth or in heaven, yet to us there is but one God and Father, of whom are all things'. Therefore you make a great mistake in thinking that God is angry if any other is called a god, and obtains the same title as himself. For even rulers do not object to the title from their subjects, nor masters from slaves. And it is not right to think that God is more petty-minded than men. Enough then about the fact that gods exist, and ought to receive honour."

What this shows is that a god cannot be angry if others are worshiped and regarded as gods alongside himself.  The reason is that even a human king will not object if there are others who are ruling as kings alongside him, but over different kingdoms.  If a king was so jealous that he sent his subjects and messengers to use any means possible to eliminate any other kings in all the four corners of the earth, and that they were bound by law to do this or else their disobedient subjects would face punishment; what then would you think of him?  You would think, quite rightly, that he was simply insane.  What kind of a moon-struck lunatic would do this?  If you would think this lowly of a human ruler, what of a divine ruler?  Do you think that if it simply ridiculous for a human king to do this, it is fair to say that for a god it is impossible?  Especially if we are to believe that this same god was given domain over Israel by El himself, an idea going right back to the origins of the Kingdom of Israel itself, and which supposedly happened after the great flood:

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of God (the gods themselves). For Yahweh's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance."

Since Yahweh is certainly a god, and therefore among the 70 children of El, it is logical that he was given one of the 70 nations which existed on the earth after the flood.  And his connection with Israelites is well-known.  Are we to believe then, that El would be so foolish as to give a god so deranged and irrational a large nation of his own to govern?  Is this a logical conclusion?   As we can see, it's possible for a god to have a jealous character, but not to be so jealous as to exclude the worship of other gods or to demand exclusive worship aside from very exceptional circumstances (and even then, only to individuals, such as certain individuals in Egypt) and never out of jealousy or a burst of passion, but instead for a higher spiritual purpose. 

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