Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Conversations with Angie: If Jews borrowed terms for God from other cultures, does it follow that Judaism derived from those other cultures?

This is the last post for "Conversations with Angie." I timed it just wrong; school starts tomorrow. I should'ved saved the whole thing for when school starts since I won't have as much time to write new material for this blog once school starts.

Now about the "El" issue. You said, "Now, I know a Christian would argue that this is true only because God was revealing Himself to humanity throughout history, but I don't buy that." I don't buy that either, although I don't think we can rule it out as a possibility. According to the Bible, God HAS revealed himself in various ways to other people. Not all the descendents of Abraham, for example, became Israelites. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. If God revealed himself to Abraham, then it shouldn't surprise us that Ishmael's descendents would be familiar with some of the stories passed on by Abraham. But only Isaac's descendents were part of Israel. And not even all of Isaac's descents became Israelites. He also had two sons, Jacob and Esau, and only Jacob's descendents became Israelites.

Since all of these people have a common ancestery, we should expect them to share a common language, including similar words used in reference to deities.

If you have access to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, there's an article on "Names of God in the OT" by Martin Rose that's worth reading.

The Jews used all kinds of titles to refer to God, but there was only one word they used as God's revealed name, and that was YHWH. Since this is the only name that was revealed to them by God himself, then the Bible supports the notion that the rest of these titles are just aspects of the Hebrew language that developed the same way all languages develope. Borrowing the language of another culture doesn't entail borrowing the ideas as well. The Greeks, for example, had a very different idea of deity than Jews had, but that did not stop the Jews from using the word "theos" when referring to their own God in the Greek language.

"Shaddai" just means "almighty." This is a description of deity. If other cultures called their deities "shaddai," it shouldn't suprise us that the Jews would borrow that title to refer to their own deity. It would be like saying, "No, your god isn't shaddai; OURS is!" Some people claim the same thing happened with various titles of Jesus. Titles like "lord" and "savior" were also used of Roman emperors. Some people speculate that calling Jesus "lord" was a way of denying the lordship of Caesar. Personally, I think they're mistaken, but even if it's true, what follows from that? Nothing. Likewise, nothing follows from the fact that Jews borrowed the title "shaddai" from other cultures or religions. The same is true with the word "Addonai" which just means "lord" or "master."

The word "El" and "Elohim" is more interesting. "El" was a generic term meaning simply "god," and "elohim" means "gods." At least that's the way the Jews used the word. They did not limit the term to their own God either. In Exodus 12:12, for example, it says, "all the gods [elohim] of Egypt..." According to this article in the ABD, "el" was used throughout the semitic world as a generic term for god. The Canaanites were the only ones who seemed to use it as a proper name. The reason I point this out is that nothing follows from the fact that the Jews used the word "el" to refer to their deity except that they lived in a semitic world in which "el" was a common word in semitic languages to refer to deity.

The end.

Your ole buddy,


Steve said...

Well I think Angie was pointing out other things as well.

In "A Hero with a Thousand Faces" Bill Campbell talks about the "myths" in history that run through every religion.

For example, the Flood story in the bible is a very common flood story in many world religions. Other people note that perhaps the Story of Eve is actually a reincarnation of Pandoras Box from Greek Mythology and that the Garden of Eden is like the Greek "Golden Age" myth.

Caan refers to the "Ungodly line" in Greek tradition, if one agrees with this theory.

Moreover, the idea of Jesus is actually not unique to Christianity, some people argue he bears significant resemblance to Apollonius of Tyana

And in this respect, I think the "ideas" in the Bible may refer to many other religions in the world. Thus we can replace the idea of "is it impossible these ideas are not true" with "is it likely these ideas are not true."

ephphatha said...

Steve, I already addressed the points you raise in yesterday's blog. Incidentally, when was Apollonius of Tyanna written?

Steve said...

well your previous blog mentioned that these stories indicate that such an incident actually did occur. That makes sense in terms of the Flood story, but does it make sense for other ideas?

Take Hinduism for example, in which multiple stories draw from a "motif" that seems to be a recurring theme in the mahabarata and ramayana.

And while its POSSIBLE that multiple stories are true, isn't it also possible that the later story draws from the previous story?

Whenever you follow an oral tradition, this is something you encounter, with actions and deeds being attributed to people that did not actually do anything.

In the case of Ancient Greece, Lycurgus is most probably a compliation of many early people formed into a single person. In Roman history, Romulus and Remus are very similar to Greek myths.

I think that while its possible the Bible didn't borrow from previous religions and attribute those things to different people, places, times, and for a different message - its not very likely that everything in the Bible is literally true and unique to Christianity.

In particular, do you believe that Abraham was actually 700 years old? We can say its saying "he was probably just very old" but that seems to indicate that the Bible was written using literary traditions from the period, which means the biographies and stories are not very trustworthy (much like the biographies of Rome and other societies)

ephphatha said...


I don't know what to say without repeating what I've already said. Yes, it's possible there are some made up stories in the Bible. It's possible some of the stories were borrowed from other traditions (though I don't think the evidence warrants that conclusion). But as I've said before, it's not necessary to believe the Bible is the inspired word of God before you can be justified in believing in Christianity.

Also, as I said before, many of these supposed parallels are contrived. The similarities are no more striking than similarities between Christianity and Aztecs or Iriquois religions which had no contact with Christianity.

And the reason I asked you when Apollonius of Tyanna was written is because it was written in the third century, well over a hundred years after the gospels were written, which makes it impossible that Christian writers borrowed from it.


Steve said...

well I see your position Sam and I respect it.

I have heard that argument (about Apollonius of Tyana) before in The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. However, that argument assumes the gospels were written prior to 200AD. That is something that has yet to be determined.

The "Bible" wasn't really created until the Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 A.D., the fourth century!

ephphatha said...


With all due respect, I think you just have a few things mixed up about the history of the canon. What I'm saying here isn't just what conservatives say. It's common knowledge among all scholars, both liberal and conservative. Most scholars think Mark was written around 70 CE, Matthew and Luke were written in the 80's, and John was written in the 90's. Some conservative scholars date them earlier. There are a few scholars who date Luke as late as 120 CE, but there are absolutely no scholars whatsoever who date any of the canonical gospels as late as 200 CE. John's gospel at the very latest could be dated as late as 120 CE, because we actually have a fragment of his gospel that dates to about 120 CE. I think it is P66 if memory serves me right.

The Bible was not "created" at the council of Nicea or any other council. The canon developed over time, most of the new testament books being recognized by the majority of Christians well before 325. It did not take its final form until the council of Carthage in 498.

But the canon is completely irrelevent to the topic at hand. The issue of the canon deals with which books were inspired and authoritative and which were not. The issue at hand dispenses with that question altogether since these books can be taken as historical sources apart from any assumption of authority or inspiration.


Steve said...

This is true, and i did not mean to imply the gospels were written in 200 CE, I just said one must assume that in order to know that apollinius of tyana borrowed from christianity. However, some of the gospels were altered over time from earlier Greek versions, and these altered versions were translated into the Greek versions. The differences are not always substantial, but in a few places (references to Jesus) things are different.

But with respect to the larger point, I've also heard that some scholars argue apollonius of tyana was in fact Jesus, except for the fact apollonius is recorded to have traveled in places Jesus was not, and of course apollonius is dated closer to 217 CE.

Steve said...

sorry i meant to say "these altered versions were translated into the english versions"

ephphatha said...


You're right that there are textual variants in the gospels, but there are enough old copies that it isn't hard to tell where they are. Two examples off the top of my head are Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. Most people don't think these were part of the originals, because they're absent from most of the oldest manuscripts, which most modern translations will tell you in a footnote. But for the most part, the gospels have been well-preserved, and there are very few unresolved textual variants.


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