The Invention of God, by Thomas Römer

imagesThomas Römer is a leading scholar of Old Testament studies at Collège de France. In The Invention of God, Römer provides an excellent synthesis of the current state of research on how Yahweh became the god of Israel. His study covers the period ranging from the Iron Age (aprox. 1000 BCE) to the post-Persian era (approx. 300 BCE). In this monograph, he recounts in great details how there was a time when Yahweh, Baal and Asherah were worshipped alongside each other’s and how Yahweh evolved into becoming Israel’s exclusive deity. Unfortunately, Römer does not bring anything new to the debate. It is noteworthy, especially since so many scholars continue to deny any historical value to the biblical texts, that Römer courageously admits “breaking a taboo” when he writes that biblical literature “could still preserve ‘traces of memory’ of events of the distant past.”[1] It is unfortunate, however, that Römer fails to recognize any historicity to the character of Abraham, and that he did not extend his investigation to the Bronze Age (approx. 2000 BCE). Indeed, he would have had little choice, but to discuss the importance of ancestors worship in ancient Israel. And in doing so, perhaps he would have noticed the important parallels that can be observed between the cult of the ancestors and the Abrahamic narratives. This, in turn, might have brought him to investigate on Baal Berith (“Lord of Covenant”), the pagan deity of Shechem that bears so many parallels with Yahweh (not just its epithet). Had Römer done so, I believe his book would have been very different.
As The Covenant covers in details the period of the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, it offers a perfect complement to Römer’s study. The Covenant shows that the Abrahamic story, which is the umbilical cord of Judaism across the ages, does not originate out of thin air, but can actually be traced back to a particular historical event of the Bronze Age. This event was related to the exercise of power over the Valley of Siddim, an important trade corridor between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and marked, as I try to demonstrate, the moment in history that led to the actual invention of God.
Excerpt from The Invention of God:

“This investigation will also break a taboo that has dominated recent biblical studies. Since 1970s, at least in Europe, the texts of the Pentateuch, some of which had traditionally been thought to be extremely ancient and to date back to the beginning of the first millennium, have come to be assigned a much more recent time. For this reason we have seen the advent of a perfectly understandable and healthy skepticism about the historical value of these texts; they have come to be seen as theological or ideological constructions rather than historical records. Many parts of the Pentateuch presuppose the annihilation of the kingdom of Judah, the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the Babylonian exile in 587, and this has often been taken as a good reason to consider it illegitimate to use these texts to trace the origins of Israel and its god. To take this tack, however, is to ignore the fact that the narratives contained in the Pentateuch are not inventions proceeding simply from the minds of intellectuals seated in their comfortable chairs. Biblical literature is a literature of tradition: those who put these traditional accounts into writing received them from others, and they had all the freedom they needed to transform or interpret them, or to rewrite them modifying older versions, sometimes in a very drastic way. In most cases, however, the process of revision operated in a manner that rested on certain archaic kernels of fact, which might perhaps have received their definitive formulation only at a relatively late stage, but which could still preserve ‘traces of memory’ of events of the distant past.” p.3

The Invention of God
By Thomas Römer
Translated by Raymond Geuss
Harvard University Press, 320pp
ISBN 9780674504974
Published 14 December 2015
[1] Römer, Thomas. 2015. The Invention of God. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p.3