Bible Review 20:1, February 2004

What’s in a Name?

Early Evidence of Devotion Exclusively to Yahweh

By Jeffrey H. Tigay

Idolatry is one of Israel’s most heinous sins, according to the biblical authors. The Tablets of the Law that Moses brings down from Mt. Sinai begin with the line: “I, YHWH (Yahweh), am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides me.” Despite this, the prophets rail against Israel’s tendency to chase after other deities: “For your gods have become as many as your towns, O Judah, and you have set up as many altars to Shame [a derogatory reference to Baal] as there are streets in Jerusalem—altars for sacrifice to Baal” (Jeremiah 2:28, 11:13).

Many scholars agree that ancient Israel was a polytheistic society. The dominant view today is that the Israelite populace as a whole was not monotheistic (believing in the existence of only one god) or even monolatrous (worshiping one god while not necessarily denying the existence of others) until the period of the Babylonian Exile, in the sixth century B.C.E.

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