Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 17): The Jews and Judaism

First view: The Jews and Judaism are not at all responsible for the later evils of monotheism which were mostly Christian and Islamic

Second view: Since the Jews invented monotheism, they are responsible for all its later legacy and evils

Balanced view: While Judaism can be partly responsible in certain ideas, the Jews are a people who (like many others) may have been misled from their original polytheism, and mainly because of foreigners 

 A friend of mine referred me once to a few videos by one Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian tribal anarchist who not only is notorious for his dislike of Jews, but who has also carried his foolish theories so far as to condemn all Southern Europeans (whom he believes to be impure racially and therefore subtly inferior) for adopting and spreading Christianity (an un-European, inferior “Jewish” religion according to him) in Europe. Being offended, I tried to counter this absurd notion by raising a simple question in the comment section “You blame the Southern Europeans for adopting Christianity from the East, but not the Northern Europeans for adopting it from the South. How is that logic fair?” As one might expect, he replied by saying that “Christianity was forced on us” and this was the perfect opportunity for me to turn his theory on its head by mentioning that it was the “racially pure” Germanic king Charlemagne who forced it on North Europe, a man who was actually strong enough to march against Rome and destroy Christianity if he had chosen to do so. I concluded also that we shouldn’t attack people but only bad ideas, because by attacking people who adopt certain wrong ideas, we make them only hold more strongly to them. Varg didn’t and couldn’t reply without making a greater fool of himself than he already was, and after some heated altercations with his minions, I was banned. I wish to transfer this aforementioned conclusion to the question of Jews and Judaism, because it is very significant and fair to do so. What I have to say here is threefold. First and foremost, it wasn’t the Jews who invented monotheism, because, if we are to believe scholarly evidence, that was the work of Akhenaten the Egyptian Pharaoh, whose imperialism gave rise to the idea! There is no historical basis for the existence of an Abraham nor even a Moses, and scholars have also pointed out that in both cases, the characters and the events surrounding them fit the Iron Age (beginning from 1000 BCE). Furthermore, there is no evidence for Jewish monotheism as we know it, till about 600 BCE in Jerusalem; this is why we see strangely unbiased references to ancient Canaanite and Semetic Gods in some parts of the Old Testament. The Jews (properly meaning the branch of Canaanites living around the region of Judea and Jerusalem) till that time were henotheists who accepted other Gods, but only worshipped Yahweh out of them. By around 600 BCE or so, a priesthood seems to have arisen from Jerusalem, under the kingship of Josiah, advocating for a reformed theology that rejected images and henotheism. This biased zeal may have been fueled by imperialism in the region, since Judea was in danger of conquest and cultural influences from their Assyrian and Babylonian neighbors, which is actually recorded to have happened in 586 BCE. The mourning priesthood, or perhaps even the captive people (who are said to have been enslaved by the Babylonian), then viewed this as a punishment from Yahweh because of their neglect towards him, and thus a sort of ideology, albeit defensive in its purpose, was born. My second point is that further imperialism in the next centuries was responsible for the exacerbation of the problem; this was carried out by the successors of Alexander’s new Hellenistic Empire. The Maccabean revolt of 167-160 BCE against the Seleucid Empire was as much a noble movement for independence as it was a zealous force that was later to grow into intolerance and systematic conversion. But who do we blame for this? I say the Greeks and their imperialism, who are the causes. We know for certain that it was the Greek sense of cultural superiority and cultural imperialism that angered the conservative Jews and made them revolt afterwards on three occasions against the Roman Empire, but this occurred only after a great deal of Jewish blood was unmercifully spilled in the streets of Alexandria and Antioch during riots there. The monster of monotheism, that was later to become Christianity, was born out of this struggle for cultural supremacy, and because it was advocated by Hellenistic Jews (that is ethnic but not religious Jews), it soon grew into a multicultural movement that by 200 CE distanced itself so far from Jews and Judaism that it professed open hatred towards them! The Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus much more than the occupying Romans or Greeks who had caused the Judean resistance of Jews against foreign imperialism in the first place—Strange irony. This leads me into my last point, which is brief. The Jews are by all accounts a noble set of tribes and peoples whose endurance through so many hardships can be a valuable lesson for us polytheists. Their resistance to Rome above all is to be remembered as entirely worthy of imitation and indeed a most beautiful thing in itself*. Surely they can make excellent polytheists and indeed their anti-monotheistic efforts have already done much to pave the path: We owe a great deal to the likes of (among others) Baruch Spinoza, Karl Marx, Franz Boas, the Kabbalists, Jacques Derrida, and indeed Margot Adler for the gradual revival of polytheism that we have today. Let us unite and join with them in rediscovering our polytheistic origins and ancestors, in order to enjoy a more harmonious existence blessed by the plurality of all our great Gods and peoples.

 

_________________

*I say in itself, to distinguish the heroic acts from the later erratic & pathological product that grew out of their miserable defeat in Jerusalem, i.e. Christianity. 

19 thoughts on “Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 17): The Jews and Judaism

  1. maartenmijmert

    Varg Vikernes is a shitstain upon the Heathen reputation. The fact that his nonsense still gets shared in meme’s amongst many low-threshold groups is a huge example of why my religion currently deserves the bad reputation it has. More on-point I think it it is a false asssertion to link monotheism to the opressive natures of many civilisations, like the Hellenist empire you mentioned. Buddhists and Hindu’s are commiting horrific acts of terrorism and theocraticsm now and in the recent past as well, Rome was imperialist and rather genocidal independently of their faith, furthermore I think it is a bad road to threath to assign blame for anything to such large, ancient and broad groupings. As for Judeaism itself, I recently aquired a great little book full off wisdoms presented in anaqdote’s from rabbi’s that include a council of Rabbi’s declaring a rule, and telling God in his face that he has no authority to change that rule. I think we as Polytheists can learn a lot from Jewish traditions on how to survive and prosper as a minority grouping while maintaining (or in our case creating) a social-cultural idenity that will both survive and be something to take pride in.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      You are right about Varg and the minions (as I call them, or perhaps a better Germanic term would be “trolls”) who support him. I have rarely seen so much willful stupidity like theirs. The Heathens need to counter him (in a balanced way rather than from an extreme position) in order to set their movement right, otherwise problems will continue. I share your spirit also regarding the Jews and their various accomplishments, which surely we not only can, but also must, learn from and emulate.

      As for your point about monotheism and oppressive natures of many civilizations, my unbiased view (based on research) is this: the imperialism of large & ambitious states led to the decay of polytheism and gradually the appearance of monotheism–I have been quite fair in mentioning the imperialism of Rome and the Hellenistic Kingdoms as a cause of later Christian imperialism. And yes, while this did happen “independently of their faith” (as you say), it still caused a decay of their faith. This has also happened to Buddhists and Hindus, if you look at history; the fanaticism we see today is the result of an imperfect system and bad ideas that spread far and wide, and what makes it worse is the competition between both the decaying polytheistic systems and ideas, as well as emerging monotheistic systems and ideas.

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      1. Euphonia from the River

        Buddhism is an imperialist religion to begin with. They patronize and appropriate native polytheism and animism to inject their own bullshit which they believe is universal BTW (universalism). A good example of this is: in Thailand, there is an ancient tradition of honouring wild banana tree nymphs (nang tani) with offerings and one must consult a priest and gain the tree’s approval before cutting it down. Nowadays, people believe that the requirement to respect the trees is voided by Buddhist rituals that claim to make the nymphs powerless, so they can justify cutting down trees that should be standing.

        Buddhism has other stupid beliefs: like Christianity and Gnosticism, it believes human suffering is one of the most important and universal things. Rather than focusing on other beings and their interests like plants, non-human animals, water, ecosystems, minerals, Spirits, Gods, Ancestors etc. Humans are not the most important thing: anything that exposes this, whether secular humanism or Buddhism is something we must recognize as incompatible with our religions.
        One offensive myth from Buddhism meant to justify their appropriation of Hinduism is to say that the Gods apparently were amazed by Buddha’s wisdom and encouraged him to share it far and wide. They also imply the Gods are lesser than Buddha because their still suffer and have not attained nirvana. Yet other times, they relabel Gods and Goddesses Bodhisattva, which takes them away from the context of their beautiful local and ethnic traditions.

        I’m glad for them that they have preserved more native customs in Buddhism than has been done in Islam and Xtianity, even if the context is perverted. There is such well preservation in Tibetan Buddhism that it would be easy to find the polytheist and animist elements and disentangle them from Buddhism.

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      2. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Well said, Courtney! It’s all part of the decline that the Hindus predicted would occur in their time and after. The Buddhists probably think they are moving against decline, but oh are they mistaken and arrogantly so!

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    2. Euphonia from the River

      Varg is quite the dogmatic authoritarian. He has lots of “controversial” opinions on his blog. One that stuck out to me when I used to snoop around his blog for curiosity is that he is really an atheist. He believes that theism is primitive and that ancient Europeans were “too smart” for it. Even though he seems to have a spiritual connection to his Pagan ideas, they are all based off allegory and no belief in actual Gods. He believes that Neanderthals were actually the master race and the reconstructions based on their remains are Jewish lies to make them look primitive, lmao.
      I agree with you Melas on the Jews. It is unfair to put all the blame for monotheism on them when it was Christianity and Islam that really went around the world causing cultural and literal genocide. I’ve seen Jewish Hellenic polytheists which is just as bad as Celtic ones. I think the Canaanite Gods are pretty cool. Especially their names sound badass because the buybull spent so much time complaining about them and their “evil”. I’ve always loved the story of Jezebel. A proud and noble polytheist til the very end. The crap calling her a whore is pure Christian misogyny.

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      1. Melas the Hellene Post author

        I’ve noticed the same. Apparently he thinks literal interpretations are of Christian origin. That’s a mistake–quite the contrary, deep/literary interpretations of his kind are of Christian and philosophical origin.

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  2. Paul

    Ah, Varg Vikernes. I laughed out loud at calling his followers minions and trolls 😂 He has even said my own Breton ancestors are partly descended from Mongols. It’s a fact that during and after the Migration Period that we intermarried fairly heavily with the Alan people from Central Asia who, depending on which source you read, were an Iranian or a Turkic people, but we have zero Mongolian influence. He is really only concerned with blonde-haired, blue-eyed northern Europeans (except the Sámi. “Mongols”, again!).

    But speaking of Central Asia, monotheisms have existed without Judaic origin or influence, for example Zoroastrianism and Tengrism.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Slantia, my good friend! I had thought you wouldn’t return. I am glad I had another article about the Celts ready to welcome you back.

      A friend of mine shared that video you mention about the Bretons and Alans. Varg has (or had, I hope) a ridiculous, unfounded notion that all dark-haired people are in European are non-European…I think the Alans were mainly Iranic and actually came into Europe to escape from the Turkic expansion. There would otherwise have been genetic evidence in Bretons that showed Central Asian admixture.

      As for monotheism, it is important to note that it’s origin was Egyptian and the Jews only developed it 800-1000 years later. But what’s even more important is, what caused monotheism to rise! I believe the causes were imperialism and syncretism. I am considering to write a new series about the decline of polytheism wherein I could explain this rise in detail.

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  3. K

    There has been a change lately where many are turning on Varg over his insistence that everything in myths is about childbirth and placentas. This after angering some when he referred to much of Southern Europe as “basically Arabs.”

    People often say that Tengri worship and Zoroastrianism are monotheistic. I have not seen that this is true. If a Zoroastrian, for example, is observing their traditional calendar where they offer to and worship various Yazatas(from the same root as Vedic yajna, meaning to sacrifice) like Mithra, Fravashis(the genii of people living and deceased), Atar(fire, like Agni), the Sun, the Moon, Tir, Anahita, and Verethragna(Vritra-striker, like Indra’s title), I am not seeing monotheism. These deities are also called ahuras, from Vedic asura, also a generic term for a deity. That they have one, Mazda, that is the greatest of ahuras does not make it monotheism. Both Christianity and Islam have denounced the Zoroastrians as polytheistic in the past.

    In Altaic worship of Tengri, the basic system has the sky father(the highest Tengri) and earth mother. There are many other tengris(in the general sense of deities) of various things like childbirth(Umay), death(Erlek), mountains, the Sun Goddess, the Moon God, storms, the hunt, as well as local spirits. Ancestors and especially dead shamans are also worshiped. Not a lot of monotheism there either. Buddhist and Iranian influence added Vedic deities, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, and other Indo-European deities to the mix.

    In my estimation, monotheism is not the thing that sets Judaism apart. Some cultures have had the concept independent of them. There is no great surprise in that. Judaism combines monotheism with their cultural and racial particularism. The Torah says they have been chosen for Yahweh to set them above all other nations. This means that non-Jews are without a god or any real historical purpose. Judaism also teaches that non-Jews must serve Jews. Their prophetic books like Isaiah say this. The bloody diatribes against the Moabites and Edomites in the Old Testament are there because those peoples got out from under Jewish control, which is spelled out clearly in the books of Kings.

    There is a lot of evidence of Jewish polytheism at least up to the Maccabean period. Even Josephus mentions some kind of house gods that Jews had within recent memory. Keep in mind that the Maccabees spent a lot of time spreading Judaism in the region by the sword, forcing Levantine peoples like the remnants of Moab, Ammon, and Canaan, Syrians, the Samaritans(northern Israelite remnants) and the Edomites(which the Jews attacked) to convert to Jerusalem temple Judaism. The Maccabean period saw much infighting between early Jewish sects, which is why we hear of John Hyrcanus killing and enslaving Samaritans, and Alexander Jannaeus crucifying Pharisees. There was a concerted effort by the Jerusalem priests to monopolize all religious functions. The old kings and the tribal patriarchs made altars beneath old trees(often oak) and set up stone pillars for worship. The Jerusalem priests forbade both of these things, even as they kept texts that have Abraham and Jacob doing these things. The trees were associated with Asherah worship, which archaeology and the texts support. Non-Levites were priests before, as the accounts in Judges and of David show. The Jerusalem priests did not want this either. People sacrificed at local holy sites and did not need a Levite to do so, as accounts in the Old Testament also show local festivals and offerings outside of those in the authorized Levitical holidays, with no negative connotation. There is also something telling from Leviticus(the P source).

    Leviticus 17
    “2 Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them: This is what the Lord has commanded. 3 If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people. 5 This is in order that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and offer them as sacrifices of well-being to the Lord. 6 The priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and turn the fat into smoke as a pleasing odor to the Lord, 7 so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves. This shall be a statute forever to them throughout their generations.”

    “Goat-demons” can also mean goat gods or spirits, the Hebrew word there seirim means the “shaggy haired ones.” Much like Azazel likely was a goat figure of some kind. Sometimes the seirim are translated as satyrs. Clearly this was not from any purported time of Moses. This was an issue to reformers wanting to do away with all local worship. Deuternomy, a centralizing document, spends a lot of time emphasizing Jerusalem, paying tithes, and priestly authority. Even the king was supposed to study the books of the priests and obey them. This is in stark contrast to the kings depicted in Samuel and Kings. David and Solomon appointed priests and received honors from them. Solomon dismissed one of the high priests(that there were two is already telling) for political purposes. The royal cult was based around the king, and priests were secondary in it. Neither David or Solomon suppressed local worship either, they took part in it. Their lauded first temple was built for them in part by Phoenician pagans, and from the outset it was dedicated to multiple gods. Solomon is blamed for this in later sources, but this was just narrative manipulation by the priests. Solomon’s temple was also packed with images of bulls, lions, horses, cherubs(sphinx like winged figures of the ancient Near East, term derived from Assyrian language), vines, flowers, gourds, and so on. The bronze serpent(later said to be the one Moses made) had a corner of the temple and was also worshiped. Hardly iconoclastic, and anything else full of common pagan symbols of strength and fertility would be termed idolatrous by the Jews and Christians today. The Jews at Elephantine in the Persian period were worshiping Anat as a consort or part of Yahweh(as she was to Hadad in other Canaanite cultures) and were freely mingling with the Egyptians and their local temple. This was more like older Hebrew religion than the Jewish sects and the rabbis that arose about two centuries later.

    Judaism is a highly negative development, and I care for it no more than I do the other two. The archaic Hebrews however, were just another people in the Levant, and not particularly special or nefarious. They just lost out to bigger powers in the region, and failed in their own empire building ambitions. After the Babylonian exile, some Jews blamed the disaster on Josiah and the later kings removing Asherah from the temple in Jerusalem. This probably had more truth to that than what the so called reformers came up with. The Jews have suffered repeatedly because of the false expectations and hubris fed to them by those political prophets and the Levite centralizers.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      The latest I’ve heard about Varg is that his views are becoming more moderate after a period of racism towards Southern Europeans. He does actually have a few very interesting ideas that could make him a very positive force (especially with the numbers he has), if only he would abandon some of his unfounded ideologies about Jews and Southern Europeans alike.

      You offer an excellent account of the Jews and Judaism here. Many thanks for it. It makes me comfortable to know about the earlier (or rather much later than I had guessed) henotheistic side because I have lately discovered (though not yet confirmed by second DNA test) that I’m partly Separdic on my Greco-Egyptian dad’s side. I like to think of it as Phoenician or Canaanite ancestry, which is very similar if not the same. And as you point out, there were henotheistic and monotheistic factions always in conflict. It also helps to know that I can challenge Paul of Tarsus directly now, which I aspire to do one day…

      I do however have 3 questions for you : a) what do you think of the influence of Akhenaten on the invention of monotheism (a term I always use in contrast to henotheism)? b) Although the Jerusalem priesthood & Josiah is to blame for monotheistic Judaism, do you also blame the neighborly imperialism for producing such a pathological and hostile mode of belief? c) Is it possible that the Jerusalem priesthood derived some of its ideas from remnants of Akhenaten’s ideas, if we can judge from the story of Moses?

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  4. K

    A) I don’t know if he invented monotheism, he is just the one we know of first. Akhenaten was radical in terms of what he tried to do with Egypt. He even changed longstanding artistic conventions. It seems like he wanted to completely change Egypt. And of course, all worship of Aten had to go through Akhenaten himself, similar to how Abrahamic prophets work. The Egyptian response is telling. He is referred to later as “the enemy.” I don’t think Akhenaten had any imperial reasons for it, it looks more like he wanted to do away with the powerful Amon priesthood and the semi-independence of the great Egyptian cities. Further centralization, in other words. Akhenaten’s reign saw a decline in Egyptian power, and the end of his dynasty. Hardly a successful bid for empire building. The next Dynasty(19th) had to reclaim territories lost in the time after Akhenaten.

    B) Not really. The Israelite kingdom(more like confederation) controlled its weaker neighbors like Moab and Edom, until the confederation broke down and the vassals became independent. The Old Testament hatred toward these people is outright stated in the text to be because “they are in rebellion against Israel to this day.” I think the reality of the situation was that the Israelites were not originally a single people. They had elements of different Levantine, Mesopotamian, and possibly Aegean(the tribe of Dan) peoples among them. With a possible Egyptian element among the priests in the south. Even their own accounts have foreigners like Hittites, Jebusites, Gibeonites, possibly Cretans, and others among them. There was a strong rivalry between the northern tribes and the southern tribes(mainly Judah). Notably, the northern tribes in the (rather biased) account in 2 Chronicles are depicted as exiling the Levites from their land. It seems that the northern priesthood that did exist claimed Moses as their ancestor, not Aaron like the line of Zadok(appointed by David) that controlled the Jerusalem temple. This became a rivalry between the religious centers in Bethel, Shiloh, and Jerusalem. I think the priests in Jerusalem had the goal of centralizing power in their hands even over the king(it was an unstable monarchy) and over other religious centers. The creation of a single cult and belief system may have been seen by the later kings as a necessary step to forge the tribes into a single people. The Israelites were prone to infighting and rebellion, even in the face of their enemies like Aram, Moab, Assyria and Babylon. The northern tribes had even helped both Aram and Assyria attack the southern tribes. Josiah is depicted in the account in 2 Kings as going up to the northern tribes and destroying their religious centers. The main promise the reformers gave is that if only Yahweh was worshiped and in Jerusalem alone, Israel would get its old power and influence back. In the time of King Ahab(northern tribes) the Israelites were able to field quite a large army of chariots against the Assyrians, and gathered many allies from the region against Assyria. This is on mentioned on a stele of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. Ironically Ahab was fine with worshiping other gods in addition to Yahweh and is vilified in the Old Testament account, but the power the reformers wanted, he actually had.

    The reformers’ revulsion for other gods might have been because the Israelites worshiped what were the national patron deities of other groups. Chemosh, for example, was patron of Moab but also worshiped by Israel. Qos was worshiped by Edom(possibly a form of Yahweh), but never mentioned as a problem in Israel like other gods. Milcom was worshiped by Ammon, also noted in the Old Testament as an abomination worshiped by Israel. No complaints at any point about worshiping Egyptian gods in Israel, though Egyptian religion was influential in the region from what we know from archaeology. Tammuz is mentioned, worshiped all over the Mediterranean in many forms, but originating in Mesopotamia. Baal(actually several gods) was worshiped by all sorts of Levantine peoples, many rivals of Israel. All the gods named specifically in the Old Testament complaints were worshiped by enemies of Israel, most of which were vassals or tributaries(according to the Old Testament) of Israel in the past. Later, we do see a general revulsion for all foreign worship in the texts, but the early complaints seem to be targeted at specific groups of people. It makes some sense not to worship the patron gods of your hated enemies. Why would Chemosh listen to Israelite prayers or offerings when they oppose his people Moab?

    Jeremiah 7(Blaming the Assyrian conquest of the northern tribes on their lack of proper worship)
    12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.

    Isaiah 11(Ephraim was the biggest northern tribe, Judah the main power in the south. The tribes to work together against their old enemies and former vassals)
    He will raise a signal for the nations,
    and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
    and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.
    The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
    the hostility of Judah shall be cut off;
    Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
    and Judah shall not be hostile towards Ephraim.
    But they shall swoop down on the backs of the Philistines in the west,
    together they shall plunder the people of the east.
    They shall put forth their hand against Edom and Moab,
    and the Ammonites shall obey them.

    Isaiah 33(Note the constant emphasis on Jerusalem and what is being promised)
    Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals!
    Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    a quiet habitation, an immovable tent,
    whose stakes will never be pulled up,
    and none of whose ropes will be broken.
    But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
    a place of broad rivers and streams,
    where no galley with oars can go,
    nor stately ship can pass.
    For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,
    the Lord is our king; he will save us.
    Your rigging hangs loose;
    it cannot hold the mast firm in its place,
    or keep the sail spread out.
    Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
    even the lame will fall to plundering.
    And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
    the people who live there will be forgiven their iniquity.

    Isaiah 34(Edom to be punished for its past rebellion, Zion and Jerusalem again)
    For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of vindication by Zion’s cause.
    And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch,
    and her soil into sulfur;
    her land shall become burning pitch.
    Night and day it shall not be quenched;
    its smoke shall go up forever.

    Jeremiah 44(Jeremiah’s dialogue with the Judeans who fled to Egypt)
    15 Then all the men who were aware that their wives had been making offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you. 17 Instead, we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials, used to do in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no misfortune. 18 But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by the sword and by famine.” 19 And the women said, “Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands’ being involved?”

    Jeremiah responds by telling them that their offerings caused the loss to Babylon. He also promises them that Yahweh will ensure that every single Judean in Egypt will die by famine and sword. Egypt will be given over to its enemies. The Elephantine community of Jews puts this into question, at what point could all the Jews in Egypt have been slaughtered? Nor did Babylon ever take over Egypt. Seems like his opponents at least had a better argument to me. Ironically, even when the Maccabees violently enforced what the reformers had wanted, miraculous recovery did not happen. Jews fought each other in religious wars and continued to be dominated by others.

    C) Akhenaten may have influenced Judaism. There are alternative accounts of Moses as some kind of renegade Egyptian priest leading followers out of Egypt. Psalm 104 and the Great Hymn to the Aten have some similarities, though you will have to look and judge for yourself. Levite names both in texts and on occasional artifacts show some names of Egyptian origin, including that of Moses himself. There have been winged solar disc artifacts found in Israel from the kingdom period and well before that are Egyptian in style. This is no guaranteed tie to Akhenaten because it was a common symbol, but it shows Egyptian influence. Akhenaten also did not want Aten written with the solar disc hieroglyph, he wanted the name spelled out phonetically. That is very strange for Egypt, but it reminds me of the Jewish aversion to depicting Yahweh. Or of the obsession they have with the sacred name in written form.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      A) Centralization is akin to imperialism, because it is an expansive and conquering policy. Akhenaten as Pharaoh was already an Emperor in effect, but he sought to get rid of all other participation in matters of power and influence, and perhaps imitate the very absolute Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom whose solid centralization produced the pyramids. There is something additional however that we can observe about the cultural & religious milieu of the 18th dynasty–a unique and dangerous innovation that surely contributed to this sudden creation of monotheism. It was the arbitrary and imperial (I must repeat the word) syncretism of the major Gods Amun and Ra, respectively the patron Deities of Thebes and Memphis (or broadly Upper and Lower Egypt). From what I have initially read, it was a project by the Theban priesthood to extend their power, under the patronage & sanction of the New Kingdom pharaohs who had expelled the Hyksos and re-united Egypt. The country had already developed distinct Enneads and theogonies in its major cities, but this attempt to fuse two major Gods into one was the exact religious parallel to the political project of uniting a declining Egypt in order to produce a new era. Akhenaten simultaneously challenged the Theban priesthood, but carried their innovative idea a step further (in the same direction), only adding the extremely jealous and ambitious condition of disallowing other cults (in the 9th year of his reign). If the project had gone forward and succeeded through the generations, Akhenaten would have become the equivalent of Constantine.

      B) & C) Thanks for your very generous and instructive notes & explanations. Would you say that monotheistic Judaism is a curious syncretism between Akhenaten’s ideas and aggressive tribalism? It reminds me of Charlemagne to some degree (except he had a pope above him), because, like the Jews, his people (the Franks) were tribal (rather than urban) and warlike. So, one could say he was attempting to conquer the tribes by uniting them (under pretence of “civilization”) with a strong sword in one hand and strong idea in another. In both cases, it was all about the maintenance of power and self-preservation in the face of instability and competition. Imperialism may not be the best word, but I still think it fits the situation.

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  5. K

    A) Also, future centralizers definitely had a use for monotheism just like Akhenaten did. Ardashir did it to the Iranians, Constantine to the Romans. In Europe, the heathen kings that converted were most interested in church support and funding for the purpose of centralizing power. In the case of Norway, power was actually centralized by a heathen king(Harald Harfagr) but later got Christianized by members of his large dynasty attempting to keep power in their hands. In Denmark, it was under threat of invasion by the Holy Roman Empire and Harald Bluetooth who wanted to centralize power in his hands. The monotheism by itself is not all that useful, I would say. It needs to come with a powerful central religious organization. Believing in one god is not enough. Akhenaten built it around himself. Constantine built it around his new state church that eventually had sway in all of Europe. Ardashir in Iran built it around a central priesthood under his patronage.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      A brilliant summation here. It seems that imperialism, centralization, syncretism and monotheism go hand in hand. But how imperfect is that thing (the empire or the state) which is produced by such imperfections!

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  6. K

    https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/bethel-the-forgotten-god-of-israel/

    I just read this earlier today.

    “Would you say that monotheistic Judaism is a curious syncretism between Akhenaten’s ideas and aggressive tribalism?”

    It would have been kind of like tribalistic aggressive Atenism at first. The rabbis eventually managed to turn the Jews from a collection of insular, warlike tribes into merchants, scholars, and lawyers. And they started a ton of infighting among Jews, leading them to become a scattered people living with a tradition of rules and ideas rather than blood and soil when the rabbinical strand became dominant. I consider this very ironic, considering it was originally based around consolidating power over that collection of tribes and controlling that land. Though Hellenistic influence would be pointed out by some as a contribution, along with Persian influence.

    There is something else I want to bring up, but I literally don’t have the time right now. It is about Greek philosophy and its likely influence on the development of Judaism. This struck me recently, and from a school of philosophy you probably don’t expect.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      That article is full of very interesting information and it suggests that monotheism was very rare among “Jews” even after the changes instituted by King Josiah–perhaps these “reforms” only applied to the priesthood at first and their quasi-noble circles (think of the parallel of the early Greek philosophers). It seems that we begin to see aggressive & expansive monotheism only after the Hasmonean revolt; I can’t help but think of the comparative parallel of aggressive Greek philosophy (from Athens and the Orphics) beginning to creep up after the Persians first come in (it also happens again after the Peloponnesian War). It’s almost as if these systems of thought, while dangerous, were to a large degree “coping mechanisms” that developed in times of novelty and risk to understand a wild and tumbling world.

      As to your point about the Hellenistic influence on Judaism, it is absolutely important to emphasize. The Jews transitioned from tribalism, protectionism and synoecism into transcendental, expansive & materialistic activity precisely because of the Hellenistic Greeks and particularly the Athenian mentality which now dominated the Mediterranean region. The Jews literally were competing with the Greeks and they committed the mistake of imitating them too much—the result was a great deal of bad blood and bloodshed…as well as Christianity.

      The Stoics and Platonists chiefly influenced Jewish philosophy, which is neither new nor striking. It took place in Alexandria for the most part and perhaps in other Hellenistic cities like Tarsus and Antioch. I can’t think of other schools. The Peripatetics may have contributed something, but probably inconsiderable. Epicureanism was conversely held as an antagonist to Judaism, just as the Stoics and Platonists did. Other than these, I am baffled.

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  7. K

    It’s the Epicureans. It struck me that what we know the of the Sadducees is compatible with Epicureanism. The Book of Ecclesiastes might have been Sadducee literature. It also could have post dated Epicurus, like other Jewish literature of that genre. Jesus ben Sirach quoted it, and he also referenced Aesop. Sometime from the Persian period to 180BCE would be the basic range for its composition. Read Ecclesiastes or Wisdom of Sirach while thinking about Epicureanism and the Sadducees. Despite the specifically Jewish message here and there, they are compatible with Epicurean tenets and would be a good match for Sadducee beliefs. One might wonder if the Sadducees were not Jewish Epicureans, of the learned elite sort like the Epicureans often found among the Greeks and Romans. The Talmud mentions “Epicureans” an awful lot and it is clear that the rabbis hated those they labeled as such. It might have been a place holder for “atheist” or “irreligious”, but it could have been that the hated Sadducees were also meant. The Talmud is a work of the Pharisee faction for the most part. To them the Sadducees and Epicureans may have overlapped.

    The Sadducees believed in a by the book interpretation of Jewish law and made no use of methods like midrash or pesher. They tended to be found in elite circles involved in the temple in Jerusalem. The Sadducees believed that Yahweh does no evil to humans, that there would be no resurrection of the dead, no apocalypse belief, did not believe in an afterlife(or just Sheol), no belief in after death rewards or punishments(obviously), and did not believe in demons or evil spirits(possibly not even angels in the sense other sects did). Notably, the Sadducees rejected determinism or any notion of fate. Compare to Epicurus.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      An interesting point. I looked into the Ecclesiastes for myself and noticed similarities with Epicureans. However, I don’t think that is the main influence (if at all-some scholars doubt any influence) because it is a King who speaks in old age. There is also a considerable Hesiodic parallel, with the only difference being the royal speaker doesn’t care for labor (why should he?). So, the Epicurean position doesn’t hold quite well or only does partly. In any case the work must have circulated or suited the upper classes, like the Sadducees, but the Pharisees could have found value in it.

      Having learned a great deal by looking into the differences of the Pharisees & Sadducees (also Essenes), I came to the conclusion that they both retain some traditional remnants of the earlier henotheism and both introduce innovations. The Sadducees Sheol without resurrection or retribution looks very Homeric and traditional to me, but that Yahweh does no evil is not. The refusal to believe in fate as well as daemons and spirits is likewise an untraditional thing that probably arose from a concentration upon the study of texts and not enough engagement outdoors with nature of the kind that the Pharisees experienced. We see this urban/rural division elsewhere also. The interesting & ironical thing however is that the Sadducees were traditional in their literal study of the Torah unlike the scholarly Pharisees.

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