How do you respond to a Wikipedia claim that all modern scholars believe Judaism evolved from polytheism?
I was reading some Wikipedia articles about early Israel and came across and interesting section regarding the origin of Yahweh
Ill let you read it but I’m adding quotes from it that I was hoping you could respond to.
"It is generally accepted among modern scholars that the narrative of Israel’s history found in the biblical Books of Kings is not an accurate reflection of the religious world of Iron Age Judah and Israel. Contrary to the biblical picture, Israelite monotheism was not a primordial condition, but the end result of a gradual process which began with the normal beliefs and practices of the ancient world."
"In the earliest stage, Yahweh was one of the seventy children of El, each of whom was the patron deity of one of the seventy nations. This is illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint texts of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, in which El, as the head of the divine assembly, gives member of the divine family a nation of his own, "according to the number of the divine sons": Israel is the portion of Yahweh. The later Masoretic text, evidently uncomfortable with the polytheism expressed by the phrase, altered it to "according to the number of the children of Israel"
I don’t think Wikipedia is a fantastic source for Biblical interpretation but it still makes one wonder were they get this from.
This is a very good question. Your skepticism of Wikipedia is a good idea. It is not the fault of Wikipedia, but of the authors who use it to push forward their world view. Personally, I like the Wikipedia model, but one must be careful to sift facts from thinly-veiled opinion.
It is true that there exists a majority of archaeologists who have a naturalistic, atheistic or postmodern world view. Scholars of this sort ASSUME that there is no God and that the Bible is not inspired by that God which they already assume does not exist. It should not surprise anyone that people who assume that God does not exist and that all historical phenomena can be described based on human attributes reach the conclusion, when they analyze the Bible, that it is not inspired by God. Such conclusions are based on circular reasoning and therefore are not valid. I come across this phenomenon as a scientist, but in a different field. Some scientists are naturalists. They impose their world view on scientific and other phenomena, laughing and ridiculing those who accept a world view which includes God when they have presented literally no evidence to exclude God. Inevitably, their arguments are circular and therefore go nowhere.
So, the person or persons who wrote this article are working from a world view which decides the issue before the question is asked. They KNOW that there is a rational non-God explanation to everything, and naturally, they find one. Therefore you should be EXTREMELY suspicious of their evidence, but more fundamentally, of their conclusions. What the author should have said is "it is generally accepted among scholars who take an anti-biblical world view that…" These theories sound so convincing until one thinks a bit, in which case they fall apart like the paper tiger they are. This 70 god to one God theory sounds really smart and logical, but it is based on virtually thin air. Let me explain.
Let us take the world view of the atheist or postmodernist for a moment. We have the existence of the Old Testament and a clear, strong monotheism. How did this arise? Logic and common sense (working within this paradigm, that is) tells us that this view HAD to arise from a more primitive religion. This is the only option. Our job, then, in to find that more ancient religion and remnants of it in later Judaism and, voila! We now know where Judaism came from. This is what is going on behind the scenes of the article you read. Obviously (to the person making this incorrect assumption) monotheistic Judaism was proceeded by polytheism, which was proceeded by animism. That is how all religions arose, and obviously (to the atheist, anyway), this has to be the case with Judaism. Now, all we need is the "proof."
But let us look at this "proof." It is rather blatantly thin!!! What is the evidence that the book of Exodus is the result of a gradual and natural human process? Is it one tiny little passage suck as Deuteronomy 32:8-9? The Jews generally used El or El Shaddai for God, not YHWH. Assuming that the Dead Sea Scrolls, not the Masoretic text is the more correct version (a big assumption), is the fact that God said to his people "he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of God" proof that the Jews at the time of the Exodus were polytheistic? More importantly, is it proof that the Bible is not inspired and that the picture of God presented in Deuteronomy is not inspired? Is it not easily understood to mean that God divided the territory of Israel among the tribes? Just look at verse 9. "For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his inheritance." This is NOT polytheism. Let us suppose, for a moment, that a scribe "improved" the original. This is definitely possible. We know that scribes tended to occasionally try to improve on the original. However, here is the question. Is Deuteronomy 32:8-9 strong evidence that the writer of Deuteronomy was a polytheist? My conclusion is that it is the thinnest conceivable evidence for this, especially given the fantastically strong evidence that the writer of Deuteronomy is a monotheist!!!! So much for this "evidence"!!!
So, where does the author find evidence that the Jews 1200 BC were polytheists? Where is his smoking gun that Moses believed in seventy deities, but then pared them down to one? In fact, does he have a single piece of evidence for this? We need to ask these questions. Where did he get this? From an artifact? From an OT manuscript? I say he got it from his own imagination. Here is the quote from the article: "In the earliest stage, Yahweh was one of the seventy children of El, each of whom was the patron deity of one of the seventy nations. This is illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint texts of Deuteronomy 32:8-9" OK. Where does he get the number seventy? Where is his evidence that YHWH was at one time listed among seventh gods in a pantheon? I tell you this. He has absolutely zero evidence for this. All evidence is so indirect as to virtually be not evidence at all. It is pure speculation, being made by a person who is already sure of the conclusion, which is that monotheism was not given to the Jews by revelation, but that it evolved gradually.
Is the idea that monotheism evolved gradually rational? I say yes, absolutely it is rational. This seems to be common sense, based on human reasoning, but we should remember that human reasoning is not truth. It is human reasoning. By definition, the use of human reasoning cannot disprove God. If that (ie the question of whether humanism is rational) is the source of evidence that God did not inspire the Bible, then, by rights, it ought to be completely excluded. What we need is actual evidence that Judaism evolved. Unless I see otherwise, I conclude that this author has literally no evidence to support his conclusion. Certainly Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is not evidence of a 70-god polytheistic writer of Deuteronomy. This is really rather ridiculous.
Now, did the thinking of the Jews evolve over time? Yes it did! What did not evolve is the concept of God in the scriptures. That is what is consistent. So, scholars can show lots of idols from archaeological digs in the Near East. This should not surprise us, because the Bible clearly depicts many Jews practicing idolatry. The Jewish people did not all reject polytheism. This is evidence FOR the inspiration of the scriptures, not against it. The Bible is consistently monotheistic from Genesis to Revelation DESPITE the polytheism of many Jews. Why scholars do not notice this is something to be explained.
Do not be intimidated by those who begin with an anti-God world view and use their assumptions as the chief means of argument against the inspiration of the Bible. Such circular reasoning is the cause of the article you read. It certainly is not the result of evidence.
John Oakes, PhD