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The origins of the worship of Yahweh are obscure, but reach back at least to the early Iron Age and probably to the Late Bronze Age. His name may have begun as an epithet of the god El, head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon ("El who is present, who makes himself manifest"), or he may have been a god from northern Arabia (the Kenite hypothesis). In either case, the name appears to have been unique to Israel and Judah, and is not clearly attested outside the two kingdoms.
In the oldest biblical literature (12th-11th centuries) Yahweh is a typical ancient Near Eastern "divine warrior" who leads the heavenly army against Israel's enemies; he and Israel are bound by a covenant (a feature unique in ancient Near Eastern religion) under which Yahweh will protect Israel, and Israel in turn will not worship other gods. At a later period Yahweh functioned as the dynastic cult (the god of the royal house), the royal courts promoting him as the supreme god over all others in the pantheon, notably Baal, El and Asherah, (the last of whom may have been his consort). Over time Yahwism became increasingly intolerant of rivals, and the royal court and temple promoted Yahweh as God of the entire cosmos, possessing all the positive qualities previously attributed to the other gods and goddesses. With the work of Second Isaiah (the author of the second half of the Book of Isaiah) towards the end of the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), the very existence of foreign gods was denied, and Yahweh was proclaimed as the creator of the cosmos and true God of all the world.
By early post-biblical times the name of Yahweh had ceased to be pronounced. In modern Judaism it is replaced with the word Adonai, meaning Lord, and is understood to be God's proper name and to denote his mercy. Christian Bibles follow the Jewish custom and replace it with "the Lord".
In the Hebrew Bible the name is written as יהוה (YHWH), as biblical Hebrew was written with consonants only. The original pronunciation of YHWH was lost many centuries ago, but the available evidence indicates that it was in all likelihood Yahweh, meaning approximately "he causes to be" or "he creates". The origins of the god are unclear: an influential suggestion, although not universally accepted, is that the name originally formed part of a title of the Canaanite supreme deity El, el dū yahwī ṣaba’ôt, "El who creates the hosts", meaning the heavenly army accompanying El as he marched out beside the earthly armies of Israel; the alternative proposal connects it with a place-name south of Canaan mentioned in Egyptian records from the Late Bronze Age.
By early post-biblical times the name Yahweh had ceased to be pronounced aloud, except once a year by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies; on all other occasions it was replaced by Adonai, meaning "my Lord".  In modern Judaism it is one of the seven names of God which must not be erased, and is the name denoting God's mercy. The Vatican has banned the use of "Yahweh" in vernacular worship since 2008, and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has directed that the word "Lord" and its equivalent in other languages be used instead. Almost all Christian Bibles substitute "the LORD" and "GOD" for the tetragrammaton, although the Sacred Name Movement, active since the 1930s, propagates the use of the name Yahweh in Bible translations and in liturgy.
Origins and adoption as "God of Israel"
The archaeological evidence suggests that the Israelites arose peacefully and internally in the highlands of Canaan - in the words of archaeologist William Dever, "most of those who came to call themselves Israelites ... were or had been indigenous Canaanites." What distinguished Israel from other emerging Iron Age Canaanite societies was the belief in Yahweh as the national god, rather than, for example, Chemosh, the god of Moab, or Milcom, the god of the Ammonites.
Several pieces of evidence have led scholars to the conclusion that El was the original "god of Israel" - for example, the word "Israel" is based on the name of El rather than on that of Yahweh. El was the head of the Canaanite pantheon, with Asherah as his consort and Baal and other deities making up the pantheon. Yahweh probably originated as a warrior-god in the region of Edom and Midian, south of Judah, and was introduced into the northern and central highlands by southern tribes such as the Kenites; Karel van der Toorn has suggested that his rise to prominence in Israel was due to the influence of Saul, Israel's first king, who was of Edomite background. In any event, he became identified with El to such an extent that El's name became a generic word meaning simply "god"; Asherah became Yahweh's consort, while Yahweh and Baal at first co-existed and later competed.
Yahwism and the monarchy
In the monarchic period the king functioned as head of the national religion. The kings used national religion to exert their authority, but gods other than Yahweh continued to be worshiped. Evidence increasingly suggests that many Israelites worshiped Asherah as Yahweh's consort.
Archaeologists and historical scholars use a variety of ways to organize and interpret the available iconographic and textual information. William G. Dever contrasts "official religion/state religion/book religion" of the elite with “folk religion” of the masses. Rainer Albertz contrasts "official religion" with "family religion", "personal piety", and "internal religious pluralism". Jacques Berlinerblau analyzes the evidence in terms of "official religion" and "popular religion" in ancient Israel.
Patrick D. Miller has distinguished three broad categories of Yahwism, orthodox, heterodox, and syncretistic. Orthodox Yahwism demanded the exclusive worship of Yahweh (although without denying the existence of other gods). The powers of blessing (health, wealth, continuity, fertility) and salvation (forgiveness, victory, deliverance from oppression and threat) resided fully in Yahweh, and his will was communicated via oracle and prophetic vision or audition. Divination, soothsaying, and necromancy were prohibited. The individual or community could cry out to Yahweh and would receive a divine response, mediated by priestly or prophetic figures.
Sanctuaries were erected in various places and were used to express devotion to Yahweh by means of sacrifice, festival meals and celebrations, prayer, and praise. Toward the end of the seventh century (BCE) in Judah, worship of Yahweh was restricted to the temple in Jerusalem, while the major sanctuaries in the northern kingdom were at Bethel (near the southern border) and Dan (in the north). Certain times were set for the gathering of the people to celebrate the gifts of Yahweh and the deity’s acts of deliverance and redemption.
Everything in the moral realm was understood as a part of relation to Yahweh as a manifestation of holiness. Family relationships and the welfare of the weaker members of society were protected by divine law, and purity of conduct, dress, food, etc. were regulated. Religious leadership resided in priests who were associated with sanctuaries, and also in prophets, who were bearers of divine oracles. In the political sphere the king was understood as the appointee and agent of Yahweh.
Heterodox Yahwism is described by Miller as a mixture of elements of orthodox Yahwism with particular practices that conflicted with orthodox Yahwism or were not customarily a part of it. For example, heterodox Yahwism included the presence of cult objects rejected in by orthodox expressions, such as the Asherah, figurines of various sorts (females, horses and riders, animals and birds, and the calves or bulls of the Northern Kingdom. The "high places" as centers of worship seems to have moved from an acceptable place within Yahwism to an increasingly condemned status in official and orthodox circles. Efforts to know the future or the will of the deity could also be understood as heterodox if they went outside the boundaries of orthodox Yahwism, and even commonly accepted revelatory mechanism such as dreams could be condemned if the resulting message was perceived as false. Consulting mediums, wizards, and diviners was often employed by heterodox Yahwists.
Syncretism covers the worship of Baal, the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars), the "Queen of Heaven" and other deities as well as practices such as child sacrifice: "Other gods were invoked and serviced in time of need or blessing and provision for life when the worship of Yahweh seemed inadequate for those purposes." Evidence increasingly suggests that many Israelites worshipped Asherah as the consort of Yahweh, and various biblical passages indicate that statues of the goddess were kept in Yahweh's temples in Jerusalem, Bethel, and Samaria. Further evidence includes the many female figurines unearthed in ancient Israel, supporting the view that Asherah functioned as a goddess and consort of Yahweh and was worshiped as the Queen of Heaven.
Yahweh after the monarchy
Following the destruction of the monarchy and loss of the land at the beginning of the 6th century (the period of the Babylonian exile), a search for a new identity led to a re-examination of Israel's traditions. Yahweh now became the only god in the cosmos.
Ancient Israel and Judah
It has traditionally been believed that monotheism was part of Israel's original covenant with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, and the idolatry criticized by the prophets was due to Israel's backsliding. But during the 20th century it became increasingly recognised that the Bible's presentation raises a number of questions: Why do the Ten Commandments declare that there should be no other gods "before Me" (Yahweh), if there are no other gods at all? Why do the Israelites sing at the crossing of the Red Sea that "there is no god like you, O Yahweh",
Evidence of Israelite worship of Canaanite gods appears both in the Bible and the archaeological record. Respectful references to the goddess Asherah or her symbol, for example, as part of the worship of Yahweh, are found in the eighth century inscriptions from Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom, and references to the Canaanite gods Resheph and Deber ("Pestilence" and PLague") appear without criticism in as part of the military retinue of Yahweh. The "host of heaven" is also mentioned without criticism in and . The god El is also continually identified with Yahweh.
Israel inherited polytheism from late first-millennium Canaan, and Canaanite religion in turn had its roots in the religion of second-millennium Ugarit. In the 2nd millennium, polytheism was expressed through the concepts of the Divine Council and the divine family, a single entity with four levels: the chief god and his wife (El and Asherah); the seventy divine children or "stars of El" (including Baal, Astarte, Anat, probably Resheph, as well as the sun-goddess Shapshu and the moon-god Yerak); the head helper of the divine household, Kothar wa-Hasis; and the servants of the divine household, including the messenger-gods who would later appear as the "angels" of the Hebrew Bible.
In the earliest stage Yahweh was one of the seventy children of El, each of whom was the patron deity of one of the seventy nations. This is illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint texts of Deuteronomy 32:8–9, in which El, as the head of the divine assembly, gives each member of the divine family a nation of his own, "according to the number of the divine sons": Israel is the portion of Yahweh. The later Masoretic text, evidently uncomfortable with the polytheism expressed by the phrase, altered it to "according to the number of the children of Israel."
Between the eighth to the sixth centuries El became identified with Yahweh, Yahweh-El became the husband of the goddess Asherah, and the other gods and the divine messengers gradually became mere expressions of Yahweh's power. Yahweh is cast in the role of the Divine King ruling over all the other deities, as in Psalm 29:2, where the "sons of God" are called upon to worship Yahweh; and as Ezekiel 8-10 suggests, the Temple itself became Yahweh's palace, populated by those in his retinue.
It is in this period that the earliest clear monotheistic statements appear in the Bible, for example in the apparently seventh-century Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, 1 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 7:22, 2 Kings 19:15, 19 (= Isaiah 37:16, 20), and Jeremiah 16:19, 20 and the sixth-century portion of Isaiah 43:10–11, 44:6, 8, 45:5–7, 14, 18, 21, and 46:9. Because many of the passages involved appear in works associated with either Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through Kings) or in Jeremiah, most recent scholarly treatments have suggested that a Deuteronomistic movement of this period developed the idea of monotheism as a response to the religious issues of the time.
The first factor behind this development involves changes in Israel's social structure. At Ugarit, social identity was strongest at the level of the family: legal documents, for example, were often made between the sons of one family and the sons of another. Ugarit's religion, with its divine family headed by El and Asherah, mirrored this human reality. The same was true in ancient Israel through most of the monarchy – for example, the story of Achan in Joshua 8 suggests an extended family as the major social unit. However, the family lineages went through traumatic changes beginning in the eighth century due to major social stratification, followed by Assyrian incursions. In the seventh and sixth centuries, we begin to see expressions of individual identity (Deuteronomy 26:16; Jeremiah 31:29–30; Ezekiel 18). A culture with a diminished lineage system, deteriorating over a long period from the ninth or eighth century onward, less embedded in traditional family patrimonies, might be more predisposed both to hold the individual accountable for his behavior, and to see an individual deity accountable for the cosmos. In short, the rise of the individual as the basic social unit led to the rise of a single god replacing a divine family.
The second major factor was the rise of the neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. As long as Israel was, from its own perspective, part of a community of similar small nations, it made sense to see the Israelite pantheon on par with the other nations, each one with its own patron god – the picture described with Deuteronomy 32:8–9. The assumption behind this worldview was that each nation was as powerful as its patron god. However, the neo-Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom in ca. 722 challenged this, for if the neo-Assyrian empire were so powerful, so must be its god; and conversely, if Israel could be conquered (and later Judah, c. 586), it implied that Yahweh in turn was a minor divinity. The crisis was met by separating the heavenly power and earthly kingdoms. Even though Assyria and Babylon were so powerful, the new monotheistic thinking in Israel reasoned, this did not mean that the god of Israel and Judah was weak. Assyria had not succeeded because of the power of its god Marduk; it was Yahweh who was using Assyria to punish and purify the one nation which Yahweh had chosen.
By the post-Exilic period, full monotheism had emerged: Yahweh was the sole god, not just of Israel, but of the whole world. If the nations were tools of Yahweh, then the new king who would come to redeem Israel might not be a Judean as taught in older literature (e.g. Psalm 2). Now, even a foreigner such as Cyrus the Persian could serve as the Lord's anointed (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1). One god stood behind all the world's history.
The fifth century Elephantine papyri suggest that "even in exile and beyond the worship of a female deity endured." The texts were written by a group of Jews living at Elephantine near the Nubian border, whose religion has been described as "nearly identical to Iron Age II Judahite religion". The papyri describe the Jews as worshiping Anat-Yahu (or AnatYahu). Anat-Yahu is described as either the wife (or paredra, sacred consort) of Yahweh or as a hypostatized aspect of Yahweh.
Yahweh in the Abrahamic religions
Many Jews, Christians and arguably Muslims are offended by the idea that Yahweh appeared historically as another god among many pagan gods:
The idea of God changing seems a contradiction in terms, because God is supposed to be absolute, and eternal, and sacred, and in fact that essential sacred reality doesn't change but the way people express it over the years does change.
It can be argued that any object of historical research has a history and therefore an evolution, this is how history works as a science. This, regardless of whether Yahweh is the One True God.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Yahweh|
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- "CNS STORY: No 'Yahweh' in songs, prayers at Catholic Masses, Vatican rules". Retrieved 29 July 2009.
- Liturgiam authenticam
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- Meindert Djikstra, "I have Blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah: Texts with Religious Elements from the Soil Archive of Ancient Israel" (in "Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah", ed. Bob Beckering, Sheffield Academic Press, 2001)
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- Mark S.Smith, "Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century" (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
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- Mark S. Smith, "Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century" (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
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- similar to the relationship of Jesus to God the Father
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