​The Genesis of Western Deities—a treatise


IF THE standard reference works mention Yahweh at all, it is only to explain, with hollow erudition, that the original form of His name was YHWH, and that it was turned into Jehovah in the Eighth Century A.D. by giving YHWH the vowels of Adonai. But where Yahweh Himself came from they do not say. This lack was elucidated and supplied by Dr. Langdon, who was Professor of Assyriology at Oxford and a man of great learning. His study of the evidence lead him to believe that the original god of the Jews and Christians was not Yahweh at all, but Ilani (later written Elohim), and that this Ilani was picked up from the Babylonians in the dark backward and abysm of time, long before the Jews settled in Palestine. In those days they were a wandering tribe of great pugnacity, and the Babylonians got rid of their raids and forays by making mercenary soldiers of them, and allowing them to engage in trade. They lived this life for five or six centuries at least, and gradually became more or less Babylonianized. For one thing, they adopted a large part of the Babylonian mythology, and through them it has come down to us—the story of the Flood, that of the Tower of Babel, that of the Fall of Man, and so on. And for another thing, they abandoned the primitive gods who had contented them in the desert, and adopted the Babylonian sun-god, who was widely popular among the peoples of Asia Minor and passed under various names. What the Jews called him at the start is unknown, but in the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Centuries B.C., when they began to move westward toward the Mediterranean, they found that the Phoenicians and Arameans called him El, and this name they presently borrowed.

But El soon had a rival, for in the course of their wanderings in search of land the Jews entered Canaan, and there they found another god, Yahweh. This Yahweh, compared to El, was a somewhat primitive deity. He was not a splendid sun-god but a simple rain-god. El’s province was the whole universe, but Yahweh confined Himself pretty strictly to Canaan. Nevertheless, there was something powerfully attractive about Him, for Canaan was a dry country, and a rain-god was of much more use in it than a sun-god. So the Jews, like the other Semitic tribes who followed them into Canaan, began to incline toward Him, and when they conquered the land and began their history as a settled people they made Him their tribal god. He remains so to this day, and Christians and Moslems in their turn have borrowed Him, but no reader of the Old Testament need be told that He never had it all His own way, even in the palmy days of Israel. On the contrary, He had to meet constant and serious competition from two sides. On the one side were the primitive Baalim or village gods to which the Jews of the remoter settlements were always returning, to the rage and despair of the prophets in practise in Jerusalem. And on the other side was the stately and elegant hierarchy of Babylonian gods, headed by the gorgeous El, for which the sophisticates of the cities, especially in the cosmopolitan North, always had a nostalgic hankering.

In the end the Jewish priests had to make a sort of compromise between Yahweh and El, and the two are amalgamated in the Old Testament into a joint god who is spoken of first under one name and then under the other. But the majority of Jews, at all events in the southern part of Palestine, always leaned toward Yahweh. He was a much more friendly and comfortable god, despite His frequent rages, than El. El was all right in the over-refined cities of the North, but down in the deserts of Judah the herdsmen and shepherds preferred a god who was more approachable and had a better understanding of the needs of simple men. In the Old Testament it is always Yahweh who appears in the most human and charming situations—wrestling with Jacob, taking the air in the Garden of Eden, suspicious and jealous of the builders of the Tower of Babel, gossiping with Moses, lunching with Abraham. There is nothing subtle about this Yahweh—nothing of the metaphysical elegance of El. He does not appear as the Word, but as a downright and even flat-footed old man—a sort of fatherly general superintendent of the Jews, very friendly when they obey His orders but cruel and vindictive when they try to fool Him.

The modern Jews, and the Christians and Moslems with them, have pretty well forgotten El. He survives only in a few refinements of ritual and in the books of learned divines. Yahweh has swallowed him—Yahweh, the honest old rain-god. He it is that the Jews have long trusted to restore them to the land of their fathers, and He that the Catholics hope will be kind enough to make their stay in Purgatory short, and He that the Methodists count upon joyously to burn all the rest of us in white-hot flames forever. He has been successful among gods largely because of His very crudity. No training in divinity is needed to understand Him. At times, as beseems a god, He may retreat into inscrutability, but in general He is quite comprehensible, and even transparent. His principles, indeed, are so simple that they are taught in the Sunday-schools to children of five or six. As in ancient Palestine, He increases in humanness as He gets away from the cities, and throws off the uncomfortable vestments of El. In the South of this great Republic He returns to the primitive estate of a rain-god, and when there is a drought His votaries turn out exactly as the desert Jews used to turn out in Southern Palestine, to demand confidently that He do something about it.

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