Yahweh was the original god of the Israelite and Judah kingdoms. The origin of his worship dates from the early Iron Age or perhaps the late Bronze Age. His name may have been an epithet to El, head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon, (“El who is present, who makes himself manifest.”), or a great Arabian god (Kenite hypothesis).At present no dispute of his leadership is found as coming from either kingdom. This is affirmed from the oldest biblical literature (covering eleven or twelve centuries) and seen as a typical ancient Near Eastern “divine warrior” leading a heavenly army against the enemies of Israel; and there was a bound (covenant) formed between Yahweh and the Israelites for which he would protect them provided they worshipped no other god. Such a covenant had not previously been know in Near Eastern religion. The Israelites thereby claimed to be God’s chosen people.
This bound or covenant eventually promoted Yahwism, Yahweh the supreme god. Such a religious view became to be more firmly held in the royal courts in the area which created rivalry. To Yahweh were assigned cosmic attributes which were previously attributed to other gods notably Baal, El, and Asherah. Yahweh became the supreme god destroying older pantheons of gods and goddesses. Yahweh grew very intolerant.
To better understand the rivalry between the gods one must know that ancient nations, or people, had their own national god. Therefore, the belief in Yahweh separated or distinguished the Israelites from the Moabites, children of Molech, who believed in and worshipped Chemosh or Milcom, the god of the Ammonites. In case of Yahweh, scholars think he replaced El who was originally the “god of Israel.” Yahweh became synonymous with El, meaning “god,” head of the Canaanite pantheon with Asherah as his consort and Baal plus the other deities. Certain tribes introduced Yahweh. The concept spread and more believed. Asherah became Yahweh’s consort. At first Yahweh and Baal co-existed and eventually competed with Yahweh being champion. This is how god and goddesses were formed and undid. It is suggested what helped Yahweh’s influence and permanency was Saul, Israel’s first king.
When Israel inherited the Canaanite religion including the Canaan pantheon Yahweh was one of the seventy children of El, each being a patron over each of the seventy nations. This is mentioned in several works “according to the number of divine sons” Israel is the portion of Yahweh. Apparently in later Masoretic texts this polytheism became troublesome so “according to the number of children of Israel” was substituted.
The movement away from polytheism toward monotheism is most interesting. The development of monotheism mainly involved social changes which included the conquest of people. This is seen in the Ugrant religion: El and Asherah headed the divine family and controlled the activities of their children as was mirrored on earth. However, on earth, times were changing with the formation of extended families. As seen in the Bible from the sixth century BCE onward traumatic changes occurred in the patriarchal family structure. The role of the dominant family patriarch changed, he became less dominant and his heirs resumed more responsibilities. As cultural family lineages diminished family values also changed. The individual became more responsibility for his own behavior which led to the dependency on a single deity who controlled the cosmic activities as they were once controlled by the divine family members. Just as the individual replaced the patriarchal family, a single god replaced the divine family.
This further was demonstrated in a worldview. There were the neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian conquests. As long as Israel was a group of nations each having its particular god things remained all right each nation was as powerful as its god. However, this pictured changed following conquests of alien nations. Being defeated by a non-Israel nation would normally mean admitting the gods of the defeating nation were more powerful than Yahweh; the Assyrian gods or the Babylonian gods were more powerful than Yahweh and defeated him. But to the Israelites this was not the case. They refused to believe that the Assyrians defeated them because the power of the Assyrian’s god Marduk was greater than the power of Yahweh; rather they believed their defeat and exile was Yahweh’s punishment upon them, a face saving technique.
After the post-exilic area monotheism was well established not only among the Israelites but throughout the western world. (see Yahweh in Christianity) This view was vastly shared: nations and men served one god who instructed events of all history.A.G.H.