Bible Review 19:1, February 2003

Bible Books: It’s Not What You Learned in School

This is how Ziony Zevit characterizes Israelite religions: They (not it) were polytheistic; the Israelite deity Yahweh, the Lord, was only the head of the pantheon. They were replete with divine couples (Yahweh and his consort Asherah were the most important pair, but there were also Baal and Anat or Anatot and perhaps others). They were not based exclusively at the Temple in Jerusalem; kings and Temple priests had only limited jurisdiction over religious matters. Israelite religions arose out of the needs and beliefs of the familial, kin and tribal groups, which formed the basic component of Israelite and Judean society. Israelite religions were tolerant of diversity, and were celebrated through varied cultic ceremonies at multiple locations by people who shared a sense of Israel’s common past. The Israelites as a people were defined by their common territorial boundaries, rather than their shared belief in a single god or their participation in a single cult.

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