Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan
A review of John Day's, "Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Day, John Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. Journal for the Society of the Old Testament Supplement Series 265. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press., 2000. 282 pp. Hardback, ï¿½46.00; $73.00. ISBN 1850759863.
Day provides a useful guide for understanding many of the major deities mentioned in the Old Testament, including El, Asherah, Baal, Astarte, Anat, the Queen of Heaven, the sun, the moon, Lucifer, Mot, Resheph, Molech, the Rephaim, and Yahweh. With a heavy emphasis on the written sources and especially the Ugaritic texts, Day presents a considered and well reasoned series of arguments that address some of the major issues in the interpretation of the texts and provide a coherent and reasonable understanding of these deities and their associations with other figures. The book is a pleasure to read as it provides well reasoned and carefully documented discussion.
Each chapter considers various significant issues. Day demonstrates persuasively that Yahweh’s origins are not the same as El of Ugarit. Asherah is shown to be the consort of El at Ugarit. Her connection with Baal in the Bible is not a description of the chief divine couple, according to Day, but the use of biblical polemic to condemn both deities. The biblical writers appropriate Baal imagery from Ugarit, including the god’s appearance as a dying and living deity. In particular Hosea takes this imagery and uses it for his own purposes in his indictment of the Northern Kingdom. Astarte and Anat, wives of Baal at Ugarit, become deities of minimal description during Israel’s Monarchy, although Day finds continuing traces of them in some rhetorical wordplay. Day reasonably identifies Astarte with the Queen of Heaven. The sun and moon are both mentioned as deities that are rejected by the biblical authors. Day reviews the solar evidence regarding Samson, his places of sojourn, and his experiences. A lengthy section on Isaiah 14 and the imagery of Lucifer there is set in both a historical and mythological context. The former is Nebuchudnezzar, king of Babylon; whereas the mythological context goes back to the Baal epic and the description of Athtart’s failed attempt to take over the god’s throne. It extends on through the apocalyptic literature of the New Testament, as Day shows. The last section of deities to be examined is that of the underworld figures of Mot, Resheph, Molech, and Rephaim. Mot and Resheph, who both appear in the Bible as common nouns, have various levels of personification in biblical texts, from absence to echoes of myth themes to more apparent manifestations of these figures.
Two issues arise with regard to Day’s arguments. First, his dismissal of the reading of Asherah as Asherata in the Kuntillet Ajrud and other inscriptions (p. 52) reduces the issue to one of “double feminization” and overlooks facts such as the consistent of all extrabiblical occurrences of Asherah with a final “-ta”. This could be rendered as it is in these inscriptions. See my “Asherah or Asherata?” Orientalia 65 (1996) 209-219. Second, Day seeks to answer the argument of Tigay that the dominant Yahwistic elements in the personal names from ancient Israel demonstrate a monotheism throughout the Monarchy. While Day is correct that this dominant presence in the names does not prove widespread monotheism (pp. 226-228), it is incorrect to minimize the significance of these data. It is a significant counterbalance to inscriptional evidence that does demonstrate the presence of other deities. Clearly, neither Israel nor Judah were monolithic in either monotheism or polytheism.
Overall, Day has provided a useful review of the religion of ancient Israel in term of the deities present there.
Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament