To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
By my reading of the Egyptian evidence, Yhwʒ is one unit in a coalition of forces that Egypt claimed to have fought and defeated, so as to represent each by a bound prisoner with a distinct label. Together with Trbr, Smt, and Pyspys, Yhwʒ belonged to a “Shasu-land,” not a self-given identity but an Egyptian way to characterize the associated groups and to locate them spatially by a logic that is opaque to us beyond the connection of the mobile pastoralist Shasu with land not occupied by the cities of Canaan and their small subordinate kingdoms. This analysis is intended to embrace a range of possible relationships to the “land” that the Egyptians attributed to this connected Shasu population, but the identification of each individual name with a body of people appears unavoidable. These are not topographical features or gods or sacred places unless they gave their names to the Shasu units thus designated. I find no evidence that in the early 14th century, a Shasu-land was restricted to the southern region later identified with Edom and Seir, though a southern location would not affect the larger interpretation of Yhwʒ as a Shasu group, which I define as a “people.”
One thing about Mark Smith’s work on religion is that his analysis of any individual problem always represents just one part of an effort to understand the whole. He has written synthetic studies but no “history of Israelite religion” or book-length examination of El, or Yahweh, or all the gods of Israel. It is particularly interesting to me that Smith’s treatments of Yahweh have the feel of finishing a landscape rather than of isolating a portrait. He has written on Yahweh because he must, in order to address so many different views of biblical and (call it) Israelite religion. I wonder whether he has not made Yahweh his primary object because he has not been certain of having discovered something deeply new about the god, and he is always looking for a fresh line of sight on the material at hand. He tells me, reflecting on what I just wrote, that another factor is “how the biblical material seems to reflect lost knowledge about Yahweh,” or even that Yahweh could have been “an unknown god for Israel in some critical respects to which the biblical authors – and we – no longer have access.”
Going back to the 19th century, scholars observed that if Israel had an origin, its God must as well. In particular, the divine name peculiar to Israel, written with the consonants Yhwh, must have come from outside this people, and the only question was where. Yet there is no certain evidence for a god named Yahweh before the name’s first appearance in a mid-9th century BCE royal inscription from Jordan, where the desecration of his sanctuary at Nebo follows its destruction by the king of Moab. This victory was part of a campaign to expel the rival kingdom of Israel from the region north of Dibon, and Yahweh is identified with that enemy. The question remains nonetheless: How did Israel come to regard Yahweh as its divine patron, to share only with its immediate southern neighbor, the kingdom centered at Jerusalem? To the extent that we could peer behind the biblical tapestry, which renders Yahweh both Israel’s special god and a deity with worldwide reach, we might catch a glimpse of the social landscape within which Israel took form.
After respectful consideration of Amorite evidence for personal names with the Yaḫwi-/Yawi- verbal element, Karel van der Toorn (1999: 914) concludes that “though theoretically possible, it is difficult to believe that the major Israelite deity, venerated in a cult that was imported into Palestine, was originally a deified ancestor.” Gods that originated as human ancestors tend to be worshiped locally, for a restricted group. Having declined this possibility, van der Toorn turns to other composite names, such as Rakib-’el (Charioteer of El) or Malakbel (Messenger of Bel), which represent subordinates to the great gods. Albright, Cross, Dijkstra, and de Moor all proposed explanations that identify Yahweh with El, a deity of unassailable prominence, but van der Toorn (915) finds it unexpected to have the proper name of a major god replaced by an activity attributed to him. More deeply, with two different divine names in play and contrasting associations, the very notion of an original identification raises doubt.
In spite of its frequent application, the Egyptian evidence for Yhwʒ does not supply straightforward support for Yahweh’s origins among peoples of the wilderness south of Israel and Judah. Yhwʒ identifies a major unit of what the Egyptians confronted as a unified “Shasu-land,” a land not yet situated by Egypt in Seir and Edom. As often asserted, nevertheless, the Shasu name does appear to lie behind the deity Yahweh. When Bernhard Grdseloff (1947) discovered the Shasu list, he presented it as confirmation of an already dominant explanation for Yahweh’s origins, what I have called the Midianite Hypothesis. In order to reconsider the implications of this oldest Egyptian evidence, we must examine the Hypothesis in its larger form, and the next two chapters address the main material and arguments. The idea that Yahweh was originally a god of desert peoples from whom Israel learned of him was first based on biblical prose (this chapter). Current renditions now give greater weight to biblical poetry that is considered older than and independent from those prose texts (Chapter 4).
At the center of any evaluation of early evidence for Yahweh must stand a pair of related texts from New Kingdom Egyptian sites in northern Sudan: one from Soleb, during the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1390–1352); and the second from ‘Amarah West, during the reign of Ramses II (ca. 1279–1213). Both are monumental inscriptions for display on temples, lists of places and peoples that create a map of Egypt’s world. This material is far older than any potential reference to Yahweh, and if the name Yhwʒ does match the deity rendered as Yhwh, even if it did not yet identify a god, it becomes the chronological starting point for all historical evaluation (Figure 1).
In support of a Midianite Hypothesis, long-standing interpretation of both prose and poetic biblical texts has found in them reflections of Yahweh’s origins outside Israel and Judah among desert peoples that once lived to the south. I have concluded in Chapters 3 and 4 that while both sets of material reflect a persistent and perhaps surprising sense of kinship with such pastoralist neighbors, the texts do not indicate that these were the first peoples to worship Yahweh. Before weighing the biblical material, I undertook in Chapter 2 to reexamine the oldest evidence brought to bear on the name Yahweh, the Yhwʒ component of “Shasu-land” in Egyptian geographical lists from the 14th and 13th centuries. This evidence places us among just such a population evoked by the Bible, though without a particularly southern location, and yet Yhwʒ does not name a god, at least by its primary and only explicit application.
Yahweh is the proper name of the biblical God. His early character is central to understanding the foundations of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic monotheism. As a deity, the name appears only in connection with the peoples of the Hebrew Bible, but long before Israel, the name is found in an Egyptian list as one group in the land of tent-dwellers, the Shasu. This is the starting-point for Daniel E. Fleming's sharply new approach to the god Yahweh. In his analysis, the Bible's 'people of Yahweh' serve as a clue to how one of the Bronze Age herding peoples of the inland Levant gave its name to a deity, initially outside of any relationship to Israel. For 150 years, the dominant paradigm for Yahweh's origin has envisioned borrowing from peoples of the desert south of Israel. Fleming argues in contrast that Yahweh was not taken from outsiders. Rather, this divine name is evidence for the diverse background of Israel itself.