Monday, May 17, 2010

Yahweh is Israel

"Science and the Profane" frequently features essays from The TheoThanatos Foundation's leaders and Senior Fellows. Today's entry was written by Peter Pence. Peter Pence is Senior Fellow of Obfuscation for The TheoThanatos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular God is Dead: Evangelicals and the Problem of Elohim, which looks at questions raised by Brites that seem to threaten traditional views of Christian theism.

You could say that the Yahweh story came first and then Second Temple Jews just followed that precedent. But there is another way. Don’t think of Yahweh as the beginning of story. Instead, think of Yahweh as a retrojection of the Second Temple theology into primordial time. Try reading the OT narrative backward rather than forward.

Maybe Second Temple Judaism happened first, and the Yahweh story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Yahweh story is really a Second Temple story placed in primeval time. It is not a story about the Creator of the world but about the creation of the Second Temple. Having gone to all the trouble of building a temple, they had to invent a God to go with it.

Everyone has to decide for themselves which of these readings of the OT has more “explanatory power.” I (and other Brites) come down on the second option for a number of reasons, some having to do with keeping up appearances.

Having said all this let me take a step or two back. I am not saying that this is ALL there is to the Yahweh story. There are all sorts of angles one can take to get at that extremely rich and deep piece of mythopoetry. But the “Yahweh is Israel” angle is at the very least a very good one—and in my opinion a much better angle than seeing Yahweh as a real Supreme Being. And you have to admit there is one distinct advantage of this reading that readers of TheoThanatos will recognize immediately: if the Yahweh story is not about a real Deity, then the conflict between Scripture and atheism cannot be found there.


  1. It looks like you've got Rome's theory of "the Church" as the "ongoing incarnation of Christ" all balled up together with Newman's theory of Development, as applied to Israel as Yahweh. What a mess.