Saturday, 19 March 2011

Yahwism in ancient Israel

In this post, I want to summarise the three useful categories that Patrick D. Miller posits for ancient Israelite religion in his book The Religion of Ancient Israel.

Orthodox Yahwism

-  Worship was given exclusively to Yahweh, even if the existence of other deities was not necessarily denied.
-  No visual representations of Yahweh were permitted.
-  Oracles and prophets were legitimate, but divination and necromancy were not.
-  Various sanctuaries were maintained, but the cult of Yahweh ultimately became restricted to the temple in Jerusalem (as least as regards the southern kingdom of Judah).
-  Certain cult objects were prohibited, including pillars (massebot) and sacred poles or trees (asherim).
-  Festivals were held, celebrating (for example) the exodus from Egypt.
-  Sacred persons included priests, prophets and the king.

Heterodox Yahwism

This differed from orthodox Yahwism in several ways:
-  The use of certain cult objects, notably the asherim, and iconography.
-  The use of "high places" (bamot) as cult sites.
-  The use of certain divination techniques and of necromancy.

Syncretistic Yahwism

This was characterised by the worship of other deities alongside Yahweh, including:
-  Ba'al (Hadad)
-  Heavenly bodies (the sun, moon and stars)
-  The deity known as the "Queen of Heaven" (Astarte or Ishtar?)
-  Tammuz