Yahweh and Elohim: One or two characters in the story of Abraham?

In his latest podcast Episode 19 of Nov 10th 2018 @25:00, Mira Scriptura responds to my post Facing Cognitive Dissonance by conceding on a few points and by defending his position. And while I too would have to concede on a few good hits, I would be happy to debate others. However, I think there is little value focusing on the minor points until we’ve sorted out the most fundamental issue that separates us.

The crux of our disagreement stems from the different views we hold regarding the nature of the composition of the story of Abraham (Genesis 12-25), especially in regard to the use and origin of the names Yahweh and Elohim that are found in the text. Mira Scriptura adheres to Tzemah Yoreh’s Supplementary Hypothesis which suggests that the two names originates from different authors, but refer to one and the same God.

Meanwhile I believe that the composition is mostly original and was articulated in the context of a secular covenant where the two names refer to separate characters.

A popular view

Our respective positions could hardly diverge any more than that, although I will readily admit that Mira Scriptura’s position is perfectly aligned with that of a majority of scholars, while my view relies on a new approach that has yet to percolate to the academic community and be properly peer reviewed.

In arguing for his position, Mira Scriptura summarizes Yoreh’s Supplementary Hypothesis. In a nutshell, a hypothetical “Book of E”, initially referring only to God as Elohim, was later augmented by the Yahwist to form the “Book of J”.

The Yahwist allowed himself to use the term Elohim (in addition to the term Yahweh) because he was building upon an existing text. This would be the reason we find these two names in the text.

Something just doesn’t jive

The issue I have with this explanation is that this Supplementary Hypothesis doesn’t make anything of the fact that, in both of these speculative books (i.e. “E” and “J”), God sometimes appears under the traits of an anthropomorphic character and other times under the traits of an immaterial deity. For Yoreh, these changes bear no influence on the interpretation, or the authorship of the text. From this perspective, there is one God, and this god takes various names and aspects. A truly soluble solution where anthropomorphism and immaterialism intermix with the names Elohim and Yahweh to express the various aspects of a single deity.
Yet, if these two names are truly referring to one and the same God, one would not believe it would be possible to dramatically alter the plot of the story and increase its coherence by splitting this one figure in two independent characters.

I am arguing in my book in favour of what I call a Dissociative Exegesis. This method shows that it is not only possible to see two figures in the text – a mere mortal and a deity, but it also enables us to argue that this mortal figure was, over time, elevated to the rank of deity, and that’s why the two characters came to be regarded as one. Scribes would have naturally started using the names Elohim/Yahweh interchangeably. Hence the importance of focusing on the nature of this God character, rather than its name.

Rediscovering a lost story

As soon as the anthropomorphic figure is isolated from the immaterial one, the text takes on a whole new meaning. There is no need to exclude, make selection or change the text for this new interpretation to stand out (this would render the exercise all too subjective).

Yahweh = mortal lord in league with four Easter Kings. Elohim = deity.

The approach is very straightforward. It involves systematically tracking and visualizing the anthropomorphic character in the story as a mortal overlord who reveals to be in league with the four Eastern kings of Gn14. It then becomes clear that these people are allies seeking to maintain control over this important trade corridor. The covenant with Abraham is a natural outcome as it helps secure control over the valley.

This interpretation is holistic, extremely coherent and efficient, with only a few minor exceptions in the text that must be accounted for. It is no longer necessary to call upon multiple authors, faith, legend, oral tradition, or theophany to explain the origin of one of the most fundamental stories of Judaism. A statistical analysis provides further support for this secular interpretation by showing that, although the name Elohim is used in an anthropomorphic context more than half of the time and that Yahweh only appears 63% of the time, there is still a 93% chance that Yahweh refers to an anthropomorphic character and Elohim to an immaterial deity in the story (see post Dissociative Exegesis for Abrahammies).

Text… and context

This truly unexpected interpretation perfectly fits the historical context of the Ancient Near East (ANE). No other example of a divine covenant was ever found in this region. The religious story of Abraham is truly unique and does not fit the context. In addition, the ancient Israelites were known to be practicing the cult of the ancestors. The deification of a powerful ruler makes perfect sense. Everything flows naturally and answers abound. This secular interpretation is supported by every archeological finds we know of and yields to a complete and efficient explanation for the origin and evolution of the faith – something scholars are still struggling to understand. This is why I do believe that within the next 10-20 years, as scholars start considering my work within the historical context of the Bronze Age, they will come to the inevitable conclusion that the biblical Covenant finds its origin in a secular treaty.

Such an interpretation will bring scholars to reconsider their presuppositions. They will eventually come to realize that the Bible has much closer ties to the literature of Ugarit than they currently think. Once they understand that Yahweh is not a new God, but a compounded deity which embodies the characteristics of the Ugaritic pantheon, they will realize that the Bible was written by a group of Canaanite priests who tried to hide the deeper, polytheistic origin of their faith. The reason Baal and Yahweh share so many traits (location: Shechem, title: Lord of Covenant, consort: Asherah, etc.) is because they are one and the same deity. I predict that they will also eventually come to conclude that the Ugaritic pantheon itself consisted of nothing more than a bunch of deified rulers, organized to rule in heaven for eternity, as they ruled on earth during their lifetime.

The fact Mira Scriptura and I continue to hold our respective positions shows we view the world from two very different perspectives. I am enjoying this dialogue because I view it as a genuine effort to learn, understand each other and put forward our best arguments. Hopefully, readers will gain something positive out of it.