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GOD OF ISRAEL AND THE NATIONAL PANTHEONS:
by Dr Surya Kumar Daimari
5/11/2016 / Bible Studies
GOD OF ISRAEL AND THE NATIONAL PANTHEONS:
Giving of sacrifices to God was the most integral part of the Jewish religion. Without the blood of the sacrifices it was impossible for an Israelite to think of approaching the living God. The High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle only in a year but not without the blood. The system of sacrifice among the Israel's was instituted and ordained by God Himself. The covenantal relationship between God and Israel was confirmed and ratified with the giving of sacrifices. Later, sacrifice became a sacred institution in the Old Testament Sanctuary Service. The name per excellence for the God of Israel is "Yahweh". "Yahweh" is directly involved throughout history in Israel's deliverance from the bondage in Egypt who guided Israel to the Promised Land. So the God that Israelites worshipped and offered sacrifices to is a God of history. "Elohim" is a generic term for deity where Greek equivalent is "theos". It refrs to God as the creator who created the whole universe and men. El Elyon, El Shaddai, Yahweh are the names of God which are remarkable in biblical theology. They refer to God as the living God who progressively manifested Himself through theophanies and actual historical events. "El Elyon" means "God Most High". "El Shaddai" means "God Almighty". God Himself said, "I am who I am" Ex 3:14
Apart from "Yahweh", the God of Israel, the Bible is full of gods and goddesses of various nations that surrounded the Israel. These gods and goddesses or the pagan deities were also known as "the national pantheons". The Semitic idiom for "pantheon" is "the assembly of the gods". These pantheons which surrounded the nation Israel stood as the rival gods of the Israel's "Yahweh". Interestingly, the Heb word "Elohim" was also used of Astoreth, the goddess of the Sidomians (I Kings 11:5). Sacrifices were not only practiced by the Israelites but also by the heathen. The practice of sacrifice seemed to have been the most integral part of the pagan religions too. The biblical view point regarding these national pantheons or the heathen deities however categorically denies objective reality (Jer 2:11) but affirms their subjective existence. These deities were always alive in the minds of the devotees. The subjective existence of the deities or pagan pantheons therefore inspired the devotees to worship them and bring various kinds of sacrifices. Many altars, temples and shrines were erected in the names of their gods. The deities were represented by various kinds of images, idols or cult objects. Sometimes they were fused into one.
There are innumerable pantheons or deities mentioned in the Bible. Some of the important pantheons or deities which were associated with the children of Israel some way or the other are mentioned below.
1. The Pantheons or the Gods of Ammonites:
The chief god of Ammonites was known as Molock or Molech or Milcom in Judges 10:6 (See "Human Sacrifice").
Dugon or Dagon, Hadad, Anath are among the other pantheons of Ammonites (See Josh 24:2,15; Judges 6:10; I Kings 21:26; II Kings 21:11)
There were the temples of Ishtar at Mari and Dagon at Babylon which were probably the Amorite Shrines.
2. The pantheons of the Assyrians: (Nah 1:14):
Asshur was the chief god of the Assyrians.
3. The pantheons of Babylonians (Is 21:9; Ezr 1:7)
There were perhaps more than 700 pantheons in the land of Babylon. Few of them are as follows-
Anu, known as the god of heaven.
Enlil, known as the god of earth.
Enlil's wife was Dankina and his son was Marduk.
Sin (the Sunerian Nanna), the moon god; Shamash, the sun god.
Ishtar (Sunerian Innina), the goddess of fertility.
Allatu, the goddess of the underworld.
Namtar, herald of the god of death.
Kingsu, the goddess of chaos.
Apsu, the god of the under world ocean.
Nabu, the patron saint of science and learning.
Nasku, the god of fire.
4. The Pantheons of the Canaanites:
The chief god of the Canaanites was called EL, the creator. "Baal" was the son of El. He was exalted by various names such as "the one who prevails", the exalted one, "Lord of the earth", "Lord of heaven", "rider of the clouds" etc. Baal was the serious rival god to that of Israelite's "Yahweh". He was worshipped in the high places of Moab (Num 22:41), (See "human sacrifice"). Dagon, Moloch, Resheph and Rimma were also the prominent gods of Canaanites.
5.The gods of Egypt:
The chief Egyptian pantheon was named by different names at different places and times. Aten-Re, Khepri, Khnum-Re, Amon-Re, are the names of the same god at different places. According to the early Egyptian Literature, there were at least 1,200 deities in Egypt. Some of the chief deities were
Apis, the bull of Memphis (Ex 32; I Kings 12:25-33).
Hapi, the Nile god.
Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty.
Ma'at, the god of right and order.
Sothis, the god star.
Sihor, the god of the underworld etc.
Some Important Individual Gods:
1. Adrammelech (II Kings 17:31)- a deity worshipped by the people of Sepharvaim.
2. Aman (Jer 46:25)- a deity of Thebes.
3. Anammelech (II Kings 17:31) a deity worshipped by the people of Sepharvaim. Children were sacrifice to Anammelech as burnt offerings.
4. Artemis She was the sister of Apollo, the daughter of Leto and Zeus. Artemis and the Roman Diana are believed to be the same who was a huntress and protector of womanhood and known as the moon goddess. There is the mention of Artemis in Acts 19:23-40. At Ephesus, she was known as the goddess of fertility. Her temple in Paul's day was one of the
seven wonders of the world. The Gr. Word "thea" was used of the goddess of Diana (Acts 19:27,35,37).
5. Asherah- She was the chief goddess of Tyre. She is entitled as "the bride of Anu (heaven)" as found in a Sumerian inscription to Hammurabi. Her another title is "holiness". In the O.T., she is equated with Ashtoreth and was associated with the worship of Baal (Judges 3:7; I Kings 18:19; II Kings 23:4; Judges 2:13; 10:6; Sam 7:4; 12:10).
As Ashtoreth, she is called "the queen of heaven" and also "the goddess of the evening star". Astoreth was also worshipped by the God's people, the Hebrews during the days of the Judges (Judges 2:13; 10:6).
6. BaalZebubthe god of the Philistine (II Kings 1:2,6,16). The name "Baal- Zebub" as according to the Ugaritic text means "Prince, Lord of the earth". He was also known as "Lord Prince" or "Baal the Prince".
7. Chemosh- the god of the Moabites (Num 21:29; Jer 48:46). Children were sacrificed to this god (II Kings 3:27). The important thing to note is that even Solomon built a Sanctuary for Chemosh (I Kings 11:7).Later, this sanctuary was destroyed by the king Josiah (II Kings 23:13-14).
8. Dagon- a fish god. In the O.T. , he is known as the god of the Philistines
(Judges 16:23-24). He was worshipped at Beth- shan (I Chr 10:10).
9.Queen of Heaven-- a pagan goddess.
She was a mother goddess symbolizing Fertility. The Israelite, specially the women worshipped her and offered sacrifices in the days of Judah (Jer 7:18). She was worshipped for fertility of field., flock and for the welfare of the family .
cf Jer 44:17 "then had we plenty of victuals, and were well and saw no evil".
Thus Queen of Heaven is equated with a goddess called Anath-bethel worshipped by the Jewish people in Egypt on the island of Elephantine.
10. TammuzMesopotamian deity, the husband of Ishtar. The fourth Jewish Babylonian month (June- July) is named after the name of this deity. It is interesting that some Israelite women in Jerusalem were weeping for the god of Tammuz (Ez 8:14). The main sacrificial animal offered to Tammuz was "Swine".
11. ZeusZeus is the Greek Olympian pantheon which is mentioned in Acts 14:12. Zeus is a famous god whose worship is widespread in New Testament times. His status at Olympia was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. He is believed to be equivalent with Jupiter , the Latin Pantheon. The main sacrifices sacrificed to him were oxen and sheep.
It was very strange that apart from Yahweh some of the Israelite worshipped many other gods and goddesses which have been mentioned above which were just myth. They can no way be compared to the Lord. But we believe in a living God.
"For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and terrible above all that are round about him? O LORD GOD of hosts, who is mighty as thou art, O LORD, with thy faithfulness round about thee?" Ps89:6-8
"For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods" Ps 95:3
#1 W.F. Albright, "Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan", pp 234-244,
Garden city: Doubleday, 1968
Name of the Author of this article: Dr. Surya Kumar Daimari, MA,M.Ed, PGDTE,D.Min.(Doctor of Ministry)
The author is a freelance writer.
Book published: The Names of the Believers in the Bible in Types and Symbols .
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Read more articles by Dr Surya Kumar Daimari
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