BLTC Press Titles


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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


Essays in modern theology and related subjects

by Charles Augustus Briggs

Excerpt:

In the Old Testament, omitting Genesis, the denunciations of polytheism appear to be all directed against foreign cults. Certain passages in Amos and Hosea may refer to worship at shrines which, though nominally devoted to Yahweh, was, in the opinion of these prophets, really treason to him; * and it may be that Deut. 64 is a protest against a popular view that there were many Yahwehs in the land.f In any case this polyyahwism was probably regarded by the prophets as not essentially different from the Canaanite polybaalism, as in fact the Yahweh at any place was simply the local baal. But the people of a given community, in worshipping their local Yahweh, were not conscious of devotion to more than one god—that is, polyyahwism was not exactly polytheism. J The historical books, however, and the prophets of the seventh and sixth centuries definitely charge the people with polytheistic practices. Later books, secure in the conviction of Yahweh's supremacy, ridicule idolatry and calmly relegate foreign gods to a subordinate place in the world.§ The probability appears to be that down to the latter part of the sixth century, and perhaps after this, the Israelites worshipped foreign deities whenever they came into close contact with them; and there is nowhere in the Old Testament doubt as to the real existence of such deities.|| The teraphim, apparently native Israelite, form a class by themselves.

* Am. 8"; Hob. 58, 8"".

fCf. W. F. Bade, Der Monojahwismus d. Devi.,in Zeitschr. alttesl. Wiss., 1910. t Cf. the various shrines and titles of Zeus and Jupiter and other deities. § Is. 40, 44; Ps. 96' '.7, 975, 115; cf. Briggs, Psalms. (I The "not-God" of Deut. 32", Jer. 57, al. means simply relative impotence; cf. Hos. 18.

But, while thus there seems to be no recognition of native polytheistic practices (except that every family or clan had its teraphim) in the books referred to above, it has been supposed that Genesis assumes a native polytheistic system which, as antedating Yahwism, indicates a date for the composition of this book. It is generally held that Genesis contains early material, traditions, and ideas going back of the time of David, and possibly, in some instances, back of the settlement of the tribes in Canaan. The question of the historical value of the traditions must be kept distinct from the question when our Genesis was put into shape. The two questions doubtless are closely connected with each other: one's estimate of the historical worth of the stories of Abraham and Jacob will be affected by his opinion as to the date of these stories in their present form. Still, the two questions may be kept apart—or rather, so far as polytheism is concerned, we may ask whether or how far its occurrence in Genesis reveals a stratum of religious thought different from and cruder than that which appears in clearly historical times. For convenience the various supposed polytheistic statements and expressions may be considered under different heads.

1. The plural predicates found in connection with Elohim in 6tt, 185- 8, 2013, 31M, 357 hardly throw light on the question under discussion. The great majority of Septuagint MSS.* and of the other ancient versions ignore the plural form in these passages; this fact, however, is not important, for monotheistic translators would naturally interpret such statements monotheistically. It is more to the point that the plural form is ignored in the Hebrew context. In 618 the DJTTWD may be read as plural participle, the preceding "OJn being changed to IJjn, and then the flood will have been sent by the " gods." But with this reading the variation of numbers becomes strange: "Elohim said, The end of all flesh is come before me ... we are about to destroy. ... I am about to bring the flood ... I will establish my covenant." It seems more probable that the writer intended the participle in v. 1 3 to be taken as singular. The following pitfn JIN then makes a difficulty; the nK may be understood as preposition (so Sept. and most moderns), but the statement that man is to * See the Cambridge text of Brooke and McLean.

be destroyed "with" the earth does not suit the general line of thought of the paragraph, in which not the earth in itself but man is the offending thing.* Comparison with w. a-7 suggests the reading ""]"D instead of fiN (so Olshausen)—man is to be destroyed from off the earth; the emendation requires a not too violent change.f However the text may be dealt with, it does not appear that we are warranted in seeing in it a polytheistic conception.

In 185- 8 the three men, Abraham's visitors, appear to speak as if they were equals in dignity: together they accept or permit his hospitality: " they said, so do." This is not unnatural, since all three are guests; but in v.9 the three call for Sarah with a tone of authority: "they said, Where is Sarah thy wife?" This association of the two with the one will be considered below (under division 4)—here only a word respecting the plural form of the verb. Again the contextual use suggests doubt: "they said, Where is Sarah ? . . . and he said, I will return." While, as will be pointed out below, the use of plurals in the narrative is intelligible, in this particular instance there seems to be no propriety in the variation of number except on the supposition of a monotheistic revision of the text. A scribal slip of the pen is possible. Codex A of Sept.- has the singular in v.8- 9, but in v.6 not a few cursives and a couple of uncials have the plural.


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