Do the Old Testament authors’ portrayal of the protagonist insinuate the existence of other Heavenly deities?

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It is impossible not to notice a pattern of the protagonist’s jealousy in the Old Testament. This jealousy is something that has intrigued me for the past few weeks. Why is an all powerful God jealous of the gods of the surrounding cultures? If he is the only supreme being than what is there to be jealous of? If you speak directly to your people then why not explicitly say that there are no other God? There are several passages that show the ancient Hebrew people as practicing monaltry, but is the protagonist portrayed as having knowledge of other Gods existing?

Exodus 20:1-2 states, “And God spoke all these words:“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.“You shall have no other gods before me.” (biblegateway.com). The wording here is interesting, and in my opinion leaves room for question. Verse 2 states, “I am the Lord YOUR God”. Why not, “I am the Lord God”? Adding “your” makes me wonder if other people had a different God. This idea is supported by  of patheos.com who states, “Have you ever thought much about the wording of this commandment? Why doesn’t it say that Jehovah is the only god? It’s because this section of the Bible was written in the early days of the Israelite religion (roughly 10th century BCE) when it was still polytheistic. The next commandment notes, “I, Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God”—jealous because there were indeed other viable options, and Jehovah insisted on a commitment”. It is interesting that a God who is self-proclaimed as jealous,  does not take this opportunity to establish that he is the only God. Verse 3 states “no other gods BEFORE me”. This idea of “before” insinuates that the protagonist could have allowed other  gods after him doesn’t it? Which brings up the question of whether or not these people did, in fact, have other gods after Yahweh. According to Israel Draze, “Ancient Jews[1] believed that many gods exist but felt that they should only worship y-h-v-h[2] and maintained this notion for hundreds of years, and this fact is found in hundreds of verses in the Hebrew Bible. This is not monotheism, but monolatry. Monotheism is the belief that only a single god exists. Monolatry, from the Greekmono = one and latreia = service, is the belief that many gods exist but only one should be served.” We see this throughout the Old Testament as the Hebrew people are to the polytheistic cultures around them such as the Canaanites and Egyptians. Scott Rutherford suggests that monotheism may have come about as a result of the exposure to Babylonian culture during captivity.

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Another passage that invokes question is Exodus 7-11 which narrates the plagues brought on Egypt by the protagonist. Here we see do not see a portrayal of jealousy, but a portrayal of acknowledgement.  Several of the plagues are directly associated with Egyptian gods. According to hubpages.com, the plague that turned water to blood was corresponding to Hapi who was the Egyptian god of the Nile.  Why does Yahweh go to such links to acknowledge them? Hubpages.com goes on to answer this question by stating that it was to, “demonstrate that the Lord was superior to all the other Gods of Egypt“.  This answer makes sense and is backed up in the text. Here, we have another perfect opportunity to proclaim that he is a sole deity and not just “superior”. This scene, as well as Exodus 20:1-3 are only two of the passages that subtly portray the protagonist as accepting that he is not the only heavenly deity.

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I would not be doing this question justice if I did not look at it from the other side. There are also plenty of occasions in the Old Testament that back up the idea that Yahweh does not acknowledge a God other than himself. In 2 Kings 19:18-19 it states, “They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not godsbut only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.“(biblegateway.com). This passage conveys a very different story. It makes it perfectly clear that the people and their God did not accept the existence of any other deity. The use of the term “gods” is explained by gotquestions.org by stating that  “Describing something as a “god” does not mean you believe it to be a divine being. The vast majority of Old Testament Scriptures which speak of gods are speaking of false gods, those who claim to be gods but are not.” (gotquestions.org) We see this same idea again in 1 Kings 18:24 which states, “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.“(biblehub.com).This “battle of the gods” was something that was supported by the protagonist to show once and for all that other gods were simply not real. Elijah as a prophet of Yahweh even tries to provoke the followers of Baal to emphasize the fact that Baal does not exist and that Yahweh does. 

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There are several more passages that could be used on both sides of this argument. I don’t believe it is possible to concretely say for certain either way. Whether you believe this book to be sacred or not, you can’t argue that it is a work of literature. As a work of literature, it is open to interpretation by its readers. All the verses in support of either side can be interpreted for other. I personally believe that he was not portrayed as accepting the existence of other gods. His jealousy can be scene as stemming from frustration and not necessarily literal jealousy of another being.

 

 

 

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