Journal of Heresies

My search for truth in a world of deceit.

Location: United States

I have what is probably an insatiable desire to search out the answers to what may be impossible questions.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pantheistic Monotheists

The following quote comes from the book review titled The Jewish Goddess, Past and Present by Jay Michaelson which can be found here.

Based on the Bible, one might think that most Israelites were pious monotheists; yes, they came into contact with foreign gods and goddesses, and many strayed, but the Temple was the center of religious life, and the priests there maintained the covenant between the God in heaven and His people.

Based on the Bible, the vast majority of the Israelite people were not pious monotheists. Although YHVH says that there is no other god beside Him and commands that He alone be worshipped, the Bible and other historical sources show that the majority of Israel retained and adopted the worship of other so-called gods and goddesses. This is afterall what the prophets were continually warning about. Learning that archeologists have found an abundance of Asherah relics or any other idols should not shock the Bible student. Such findings support the scriptural description of the state of Israelite society.

Michaelson also says:
Perhaps the deeper question here is what we mean when we speak of Judaism — whether we refer to the normative texts of the elite, or the descriptive reality of the masses. Which is more accurate, and which more wise: the strict ideals of the rabbis, or the complex realities of the peasants?

The first part of the question, "what do we mean when we speak of Judaism" is a good one, and in my opinion the same question can be by extension applied to Christianity whose practice has greatly diverged from its Hebraic and Judaic roots. The challenge for all of us, whether called a Jew or Christian, is to sort through all the traditions handed to us, and to toss away everything that YHVH calls an abomination. Clearly, Asherah and idol worship were disasterous infections among the Israelites of old and plague both Judaism and Christianity even today. Often times those practicing the pagan customs don't even realize what they are doing. Are Christianity and Judaism defined by the sum of their practices? What if their practices are not in line with their calling? I know some believers who no longer want to be called by the name "Christian" because the world defines Christianity by its practices and customs, many of which do not stand up to the instructions given to us in the Bible.

Regarding the last part of Michaelson's question: "Which is more accurate, and which more wise: the strict ideals of the rabbis, or the complex realities of the peasants?" I have several questions. First, what is meant by "rabbis" as the modern concept of rabbi may not be the same as the ancient concept of rabbi. Does the phrase "ideals of the rabbis" refer to philosophy, scripture writings, or rabbinical practice? Solomon was supposedly quite wise, yet he practiced what Michaelson seems to be referring to as "the complex relaties of the peasants." And of anyone, certainly Solomon eventually grasped just how complex it was indeed! Solomon only retained (and prospered) the kingdom by the promise and grace of YHVH, but Solomon's folly in worshipping the foreign gods of his wives set a poor standard for future leaders and the nation as a whole.

Michaelson's first observation is accurate - there is a dichotomy in definition. However, the dichotomy is not between people (if that is what he is saying), it is within people. Both "rabbi's" and "peasants" are capable of folly as well as wisdom. It is in my opinion inappropriate to label all who might fall in one or another group as more wise or more accurate.

It is unfortunate that Michaelson reviews the two books in one article, and incorporates some of his own religious comentary. The first book, Did God Have a Wife? Archeology And Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William G. Dever may be an interesting and useful resource for investigating the archeological context of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and perhaps the origins of some unbiblical customs. It is however difficult to determine from the article, whose views are whose.

Check out the article which I linked to above, and also Dr. Claude Mariotini's post on his blog found here.