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  • Jewish God Yahweh Originated in Canaanite Vulcan, Says New Theory

    The cult of YHWH as god of metallurgy originated among semi-nomadic copper smelters between the Bronze and Iron Age, suggests biblical scholar: And he was not worshipped only by Jews.

    TIMNA – Around 3,200 years ago, the great empires around the Mediterranean and the Middle East suddenly imploded. The Egyptians retreated from Canaan and the copper mines of Timna in the Negev, skulking back to the banks of the Nile. And in the arid wastes of southern Canaan, a new power arose.

    The Timna mines were taken over by semi-nomadic tribes, which set up a mining operation that dwarfed the previous Egyptian industry.

    This new desert kingdom would leave its mark on the main building at Timna: the Egyptian temple of Hathor, protector of miners. The new masters smashed the effigy of the Egyptian deity – leaving the fragments to be found by archaeologists more than 3,000 years later – and set up over the ruins of the temple a tent sanctuary, judging by the remains of heavy red and yellow fabric found in the 1970s.

    There they worshipped a new god, one that had no apparent name or face.

    That miners' god was none other than the deity known by the four Hebrew letters YHWH, who would become the God of the Jews and, by extension, of Christians and Muslims, claims Nissim Amzallag, a biblical studies researcher at Ben-Gurion University.

    According to Amzallag, long before becoming the deity of the Israelites, Yahweh was a god of metallurgy in the ancient Canaanite pantheon, worshipped by smelters and metalworkers throughout the Levant, not just by the Hebrews. His theory is not exactly widely accepted, but has recently been gaining traction.

    Attachment 1094 Attachment 1093 Attachment 1092
    Woolen textile from Timna decorated
    with stripes of red produced from
    dyers’ madder and blue made from a
    plant-based indigo that probably
    derived from woad.
    Tough fabric found at Timna,
    that may have come from a tent
    Microscopic magnification (x60) of
    woolen textile from Timna dyed in
    red and blue stripes (photo taken
    with Dino-Lite microscope).


    Roughly from the 19th century, biblical scholars began looking at scripture less as records of divine revelations and more as historical and literary documents. This has led, for example, to the so-called “Documentary Hypothesis,” which considers the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, to be a compilation from multiple sources, each produced by different authors with their own beliefs and agendas.

    But mysteries remain: where did the YHWH cult originate? Who were the first people to worship him? And how did he end up being the sole deity of a group called Israel, who, as their very name says (in Hebrew), didn’t even start out as a Yahwistic people, but as followers of El, the main god of the Canaanite pantheon?

    Fire and brimstone

    Most scholars already believe that the cult of Yahweh first emerged somewhere in the southern Levant, partly based on Egyptian texts from the late second millennium B.C.E. These documents describe groups of Canaanite nomads collectively known as Shasu, including one tribe named Shasu Yhw(h) – perhaps the first recorded Yahweh worshippers in history.

    The Bible itself may contain a memory of this southern origin of Yahweh, as it tells us explicitly that God “came from Teman” (Habbakuk 3:3) or that he “went out of Seir” and “marched out of Edom” (Judges 5:4-5) – all toponyms associated with the area ranging from Sinai to the Negev and northern Arabia.

    Attachment 1095

    “Everybody recognizes these southern origins of Yahweh, but most scholars stop there,” Amzallag says. “This forms the basis of my theory as well, but I take it a step forward.”

    Reading between the lines, the Bible contains clues pointing to an original identity for Yahweh as a metallurgical deity, he says.

    In the Bible, Yahweh’s appearance is usually accompanied by volcanic-like phenomena. When he descends upon Mt. Sinai to reveal the Torah to the Jews, the mountain erupts in fire, spewing lava and billowing clouds accompanied by earthquakes and thunderstorms (Exodus 19:16-19).

    In antiquity, metallurgical deities like the Greek Hephaestus or his eponymous Roman equivalent, Vulcan, were associated with volcanic descriptions - which closely mirror the smoke, fire, black slag and molten red metal produced in the smelting process, Amzallag says.

    Attachment 1096
    Archaeologists uncover remains of an Edomite copper production facility on the so-called Slaves' Hill in Timna. The dark stones that cover most of the site are slag left over from the smelting process Ariel David

    Poetic metaphors throughout the Bible describe Yahweh as a fiery deity who makes the mountains smoke (Psalms 144:5) and melts them down (Isaiah 63:19b), just like smelters melt down ore to obtain copper and other metals, the researcher notes. In fact, in Psalm 18:18 Yahweh is depicted as anthropomorphized furnace: “smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.”

    To ancient people, the process of melting down rocks to extract metal would have “appeared completely preternatural and required a divine explanation,” Amzallag told Haaretz.

    Yahweh’s metallurgical attributes were also on display in the pillar of fire and smoke by which he guides the Hebrews in the desert (Exodus 13:21) and the cloud that accompanies his visits to the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:9-10), a simpler version of the Tabernacle in which Moses speaks face to face with God.

    The description of this tent bears remarkable similarities to the sanctuary in Timna, further suggesting that 3,000 years ago, this place may have been dedicated to the worship of Yahweh, Amzallag maintains.

    Yahweh, god of the Edomites?

    But wait a minute - the Bible and most archaeologists agree that after the collapse of the Egyptian empire in the 12th century B.C.E., Timna was taken over by the Edomites, not the Israelites.

    While the Bible goes to great lengths to describe Israel’s neighbors – such as the Edomites, the Midianites and the Moabites – as dastardly pagans, the text also betrays that Yahweh was worshipped by these nations too, possibly even before the Israelites did so, Amzallag notes. Genesis 36, for example, makes it clear that the Edomites are descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, and lists Edomite monarchs who ruled “before any Israelite king reigned” (Genesis 36:31).