Monday, July 30, 2012

Homosexuality Isn't Just Another Sin, It's a Judgment

Well, of course, it's another day in the fight to justify as much sin as we can get away with, so the internet is all ablaze with people who don't know their moral left hand from their right. One of the tired arguments from supposed Christians who support gay marriage is that we shouldn't judge others simply because their sins are different from ours. But does this objection really hold much water?

First, saying that we shouldn't judge others for their sins, because we have sin ourselves, runs counter to the biblical witness that tells us we are, in fact, to judge others for their sins if they claim to be Christians. First Corinthians 5-6 makes it clear that all Christians fall under the jurisdiction of the Church and that any church that does not deal with a person in willful, unrepentant sin, is itself under the judgment of God and needs to repent itself.

Second, it assumes that all sins are equal, which, of course, they are not. If all sins were equal then there would be no possibility for the Lord to tell the Pharisees that they would undergo a "greater condemnation," or speak of some receiving few lashes as opposed to others receiving many, or speaking of judgment being more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who reject Christ after the witness of the Spirit has been given to them. Sins are different, and that's why punishments in the law are not all the same either. Some broken laws require temporary or permanent exile, some require a fine, and some require death.

Third, and this is the really important one, homosexuality isn't just another sin that may bring one to judgment. It is the first sign, the revelation of God's wrath, that judgment has come upon that particular person or people. Romans 1:26-32 states that this is something to which God gives people over as a wrathful judgment against them. It means that God is angry with them, not favorable and a.o.k. with what they're doing. This judgment itself is a result of people distorting God's holiness/otherness and making Him more like themselves or something even lesser than themselves that they can manipulate and control. In other words, it is a result of people making God accommodating toward their sins. He is not the God who judges, but the God who can be controlled by His finitude, as creation can be controlled. We do it today by holding God's holiness at bay by saying He is a God of love. So we reduce God to a single attribute and then redefine His love as "acceptance," a definition of love that allows for us to use His grace as a license to sin without consequence.

But homosexuality isn't the only sign of this judgment. It is a form of the larger sin of sexual immorality, because sexual immorality itself is a use of sex that is non-procreative. The judgment here is the same as in the OT, where God cuts off one's offspring in His wrath and judgment. He blots out the person from the earth by making him the last in his line. What we see here is a merism in Rom 1:26-27, where men are engaging in unproductive sexual acts with women and contrasting that with men committing unproductive sexual acts with one another. The full range of sexual immorality then is meant in the allusion (i.e., any unproductive sexual act with other humans). Hence, it is not merely the homosexual who is under the judgment of God, but any who practice sexual acts that are not according to the creative order God has put in place for His images to practice.

Now, here is the thing. The question isn't whether some are under the wrath of God and others are not, but whether a Christian should be one who moves out of the wrath of God and into the grace that has been given to him so as to no longer participate in sexual immorality/non-procreative sexual acts. Romans 2:1 indicates that both Jew and Gentile (i.e., everyone) is under the wrath of God and that their sexual misuse is a sign of this. What is a sign of one's acceptance by God, however, is the gospel that now calls him to correct his distortions of God and his distortions of his anticreational actions.

Hence, out of all of the sins from which Christians are commanded to abstain, sexual immorality is essential (cf. Acts 21:25; Rom 6; 12:1-2; 1 Cor 5-6; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19-24; Eph 5:3-12; Col 3:5-7; 1 Thes 4:3-8; and Jude). This is true because we are to be moving out from our former roles as anticreational agents of chaos that worked against God's purposes of good in the world and toward our creational roles as His images as we do all manner of good in service of the true and living God (as opposed to our made-up version of God that once accommodated our sin).

What this means is that the person who is moving away from sexual immorality is the person who has become acceptable to God through Christ and His work; but the person moving toward justifying and indulging in his sexual immorality evidences his rejection by God and that he is still under God's wrath.

So how should we perceive things like gay "marriage"? Well, the person obviously is not struggling with his or her sin any longer. He or she has fully accepted it as acceptable to God. Hence, this person has never been saved. He or she is still under the judgment of God.

The person struggling with sin is another story. He or she may desire now to live as a Christian according to God's holiness, but is often defeated. This person needs mercy and grace and our help in his or her plight to move away from what is evil.

And what of the heterosexual person supporting gay marriage who also claims to be a Christian? The Scripture indicates that those who help others move into sin by justifying it are partakers of that sin, and hence, we must conclude that they are also partakers of the judgment of God. Hence, it is not merely that they justify another person's sin, but that they are under the wrath of God themselves, having never moved from death to life, and view what is sexually immoral accordingly (Rom 1:32).

Those who call themselves Christians, but are not moving away from sexual immorality, therefore, need to be placed under church discipline, as per 1 Corinthians 5-6. If they do not repent after being rebuked by individuals and the church, as the Lord Jesus commanded in Matthew 18, they are not to be considered true believers, and we are not to associate with them.

Those who are Christians are moving, even if imperfectly so, toward sanctification, i.e., the abstaining from sexual immorality, because it evidences our move from being under God rejection of us as His images, i.e., as agents of death, into our acceptance by God through Christ as agents of life.

Anyone who does not take all of the biblical evidence into consideration as the context for all other statements is merely playing games with the text and attempting to, once again, distort the nature of God in order to distort the judgment of God upon sin. Ironically, he or she is playing out the very scene described in the text.

But let's be real clear. Homosexuality, and like sins of sexual immorality, are not mere sins practiced by people who are all equally acceptable to God in Christ. It is the revelation that God's judgment is upon us for our having distorted who He is. As such, comforting people who remain in it, rather than calling them away from God's judgment through the gospel that would cleanse and move them toward sanctification, can be described as nothing short of evil.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Couple Quotes to Go with My Most Recent Post

Another aspect of pragmatics, namely the relation between the use of an expression in the context in which it is used, plays a role in the analysis of a different type of metaphoric expression. Thus, on the question of whether semantic deviance is a necessary condition for metaphoric, one may adduce examples like The oak has finally fallen, used with respect to the death or physical collapse of the stalwart person. Here we have an expression (representative of a large class) which is not semantically deviant, but which nonetheless functions metaphorically. It should be borne in mind, however, that for such examples to be understood metaphorically, the contexts of use must be exploited in a crucial way. It is only when the context involves a person, not a tree, that such expression can assume a metaphoric value. Such expressions, therefore, are equivocal, shifting in their status between literal and metaphoric, depending on the accompanying frame of reference. Although not semantically deviant, such metaphors evince what we might call pragmatic deviance: for them to function as metaphors, there must be some disparity between their literal sense and the environment in which they are uttered, and this disparity signals that they are to be understood as metaphors. In that they depend for their effect on disaccord between the expression and the conditions of use, equivocal metaphors bear an affinity to idioms, ironic utterances, and indirect speech acts.[1]

“prolixity is an icon of concealment” (Suzanne Kemmer, “Functional Linguistics: Iconicity,” 59). The social distance of a formal utterance and its meaning depends largely on the context in which it is stated. As one’s clarification of a term is longer than the term itself, that which accompanies the expression clarifies its meaning (Ibid.).

[1] Samuel R. Levin, “Linguistics and Literature: Metaphor,” in William J. Frawley, ed. The International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, vol. 2  (Oxford University Press, 2003), 48­1­­–82.

YHWH among Other gods

The following is a paper I started to write, but never finished, so it is still in need of some serious editing; but I was asked about this issue and thought I would post it. I do hope you'll be able to get something out of it.

Well put together puzzles give us a full picture of what they intend to depict. Individual puzzle pieces, however, do not. If one is to identify the contribution of the puzzle piece toward a particular puzzle, or even to identify to what particular puzzle said piece belongs, he or she will have to be familiar with the picture as a whole; but this is precisely what much of scholarship is not doing today. Those who tend to atomize texts in their quest to interpret them correctly are also engaged in a pursuit to know the whole picture by knowing the fragment, but end up removing the piece from the larger picture in order to replace one context with another—thus, not only changing the contribution the individual piece makes toward our understanding of the larger whole, but assuming that the larger whole altogether paints a different picture in the first place. In other words, what should allow us to correctly identify the nature of the individual stratum and its contribution toward the larger picture is removed from its context, assigned another context gained from reconstruction that utilizes diachronic data, and reinterpreted as a contribution to a very different picture than the one previously painted.[1]
This occurs quite often in the academic world, particularly within the world of biblical and historical studies. The larger texts are so chopped up into pieces, largely, in pursuit of the historical question of their individual origins, that scholars often find it difficult, and sometimes counterproductive to their newfound speculations, to put those pieces back together. Hence, the context provided by the actual literature is removed as a determining control of the language employed, and speculative historical reconstructions can then move into that role. What we end up with is an academia full of puzzle-pieces blowing in the wind, ready to be reconstructed in whatever way the individual interpreter sees fit. However, each piece was intended specifically to contribute to a larger picture that depicted one thing and not the other; and this is precisely where the context of the individual text is important. When one asks, What does Saying X mean in Context Y, that is a different question than asking, What has this meant in various contexts throughout its history? One is asking what it does mean, and the other is asking what it can mean, given the right contextual circumstances.

This brings us to our present subject. There is a trend now within some scholarly circles to argue that the Bible teaches contradictory opinions as to whether monotheism or polytheism is true. Some texts evidence polytheism or monolatry and others evidence a movement toward monotheism. Indeed, even referring to the uniqueness of God, or lack thereof, in terms of his singular or plural nature as “monotheism” or “polytheism” is discouraged.[2] However, most scholars do, in fact, see some texts as teaching monotheism,[3] but that other texts evidence a belief in polytheism by way of their assumptions.
For instance, Mark Smith makes the claim, assumed by many scholars, that the “mention of other deities for other peoples or in the Decalogue implies a de facto acceptance of polytheism for non-Israelites; this is not monotheism.”[4] He continues to argue that the “relative rarity of its [i.e., an assertion of monotheism] expression in the Bible is quite striking.”[5] But such is the case only if monolatry and polytheism are assumed as the context for the rest of the Bible. If polytheistic language assumes monotheism instead then the fewer statements of monotheism exist only to provide context to the larger whole, which, in agreement with Smith, is attempting to secure devotion to YHWH above other “gods.”
Gnuse, likewise, argues that “what we have in much of the biblical text is ‘monotheistic language inside of a polytheistic reference system’, that is, language which may sound monotheistic to us, but which is spoken to people who consciously or unconsciously were still polytheists.”[6] Hence, what is being assumed by these scholars is that the implicatures of the polytheistic statements made are being asserted along with the explicit expressions. In other words, when polytheistic language is used, polytheism is assumed. Hence, the contextual referents are polytheistic in nature, evidencing a belief that other gods, of the same divine nature as YHWH, exist.
My purpose in this paper is to argue against the tide at this point, as these assumptions have become the basis for dating texts, arguing for the theological progression of Israelite religion, identifying various strata, identifying original compositions and their revisions, etc. In essence, if what I will argue in this paper is correct, none of these can be established on the basis of the language used. In fact, the assumption that one can determine the religion of a text by phrases that are used, forms the foundation for all of these conclusions, which in turn have often been used as the determining factor in the investigation as to whether a text teaches monolatry/polytheism, is completely, and therefore fallaciously, circular.[7]
I will attempt to show in this paper that: 1. Monolatrous and polytheistic language does not carry its implicature in monotheistic contexts. 2. A synchronic analysis of the data is the only possible means by which one is capable of determining meaning, and therefore, although observing the evolution of a particular concept throughout history is possible, identifying the evolution of a particular text in regard to its language is not. 3. One cannot, therefore, sufficiently identify whether a particular text is a previous version of a text based upon the type of language it uses in terms of deity, or whether it is merely the author (an adherent of monotheism) utilizing such language as a rhetorical appeal to secure devotion to YHWH. In other words, I am flipping Smith’s assertion that the monotheistic passages are rhetoric to secure devotion and instead arguing that the polytheistic passages make up the rhetoric in a monotheistic context (i.e., the referents for polytheistic language is monotheism rather than the referents for monotheistic language being polytheism).
Hence, for Smith and many scholars, the polytheism of the cultural background in which the biblical text was born is assumed as controlling the monotheistic language. Thus, it is concluded that such monotheistic language must be interpreted within a polytheistic context. However, if the Bible were to be countercultural in this particular instance, then the controlling context must be found within the text, again a synchronic analysis versus a diachronic one must be employed here, and if the context of the entire text is considered, it is the polytheistic statements that are controlled by the monotheism evidenced therein for two reasons:
1. A belief in polytheism would contradict the monotheistic statements made by the same authors/redactors, and yet those authors/redactors obviously saw no contradiction between them.[8]
2. The polytheistic statements are largely made within poetry or elevated speech, which is the place where rhetoric is mainly to be found, whereas the monotheistic assertions are found within all sorts of genres, thus displaying that such is not merely rhetorical.[9]
What this means is that if it can be shown that the monotheistic passages, based on a synchronic methodology, are contextually controlling, then the implicatures that are normally assigned to the polytheistic statements, as Smith does above, have been divorced from the explicit assertion, and thus are no longer being asserted by the text. Hence, the mention of other gods would not de facto imply that other gods exist.

Indeed, the idea that language carries the intended meaning of its assumptions is patently false. Language does not always assume what is implied because language is not always literal. For instance, in the statement, “Tyra is the goddess of fashion,” one might conclude that for the statement to be asserted as true by its author, the assumption that goddesses exist (since Tyra is one) must also be implicitly asserted as true. The problem is that in the context of a (gender-neutral) monotheistic, agnostic, or atheistic setting, these words may still be spoken without asserting, by way of implication, the assumption that goddesses exist. One might assume the implicit assertion in a (gender-distinguished) polytheistic context, but such would still need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. However, within the former context in which it is uttered, the term is merely figurative and analogical.[10]
Likewise, when approaching the textual question within Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History, the works I will use as a test case for this study, one cannot assume that the statement, “There shall be no other gods who belong to you in my presence” (Deut 4:7) or that he is the “God of gods” (Deut 10:17) implicitly asserts the assumption, “other gods exist,” especially so if the context is one of monotheism. Hence, the context in which a statement is made becomes the key to correctly interpret that statement, as the phrase outside of a context is incapable of communicating its intended or unintended implicatures. Thus, it becomes all the more essential in developing a heuristic model needed to interpret the religion of the text in order to ask whether the context contains elements within it that evidence monotheistic or polytheistic assumptions, as those assumptions will determine the implicatures of the statements made.
Of course, whether the context is monotheistic, assuming the term refers to monotheism as it is used in the classical sense of the word (one that includes other beings that can be called “gods,” but are not “cut from the same cloth,” so to speak, must be proven, lest one attempt to merely assert what one needs to prove. Hence, the other question one must ask is, “To what type of monotheism, if a monotheism makes up the context at all, provides context to the statement?”
It will be my purpose in this paper to establish the nature of the context for the supposed polytheism asserted in the Hebrew Bible (specifically here in Deuteronomy and DtrH) in an effort to determine whether the claim that certain texts teach polytheism, as opposed to others that speak against it is linguistically sound, at least in terms of the way in which the argument is often established. I will attempt to examine some of the key texts in the debate in their respective contexts in terms of what is explicit and what is implicit with the understanding that what is implicit may or may not be understood as a factitive assertion being made by the author. I will also seek to apply the synchronic methodology of inquiry, versus the diachronic, in order to establish meaning, and argue as to why the claim that Deuteronomy and DtrH teach polytheism in some texts and monotheism in others is often due to a flawed methodology that employs the diachronic as the primary means of understanding the assumptions of a proposition, and therefore, imposes upon it a foreign context in order to establish the intended meaning of that proposition.

1. The Claim of Polytheism/Monolatry within DtrH

1.1.  Key Passages
Each of the three passages below are said to be evidence of polytheistic assumptions.
1.2.  From Deuteronomy 32.8–9, scholars argue that this passage teaches that Elyon, the supreme deity, and YHWH, one of his subordinate sons, not only exist as distinct deities, evidences polytheism, but that YHWH here is not even seen as the highest god. He is merely one of Elyon’s sons. Perhaps, he is the most powerful of his sons, as Baal is seen as the most powerful son of El in Ugaritic literature; but he is not the most high god, as that position is occupied by Elyon. Hence, if Elyon gives an inheritance to his son, YHWH, and both are gods, then more than one god exists. This is especially true, it is thought, since YHWH is one of the many “sons of Elohim” spoken of in the passage. Hence, polytheism is supposedly assumed.
1.3.  It is argued from Deuteronomy 10:17 that since YHWH is the God of gods, this must mean that other gods exist. Hence, in order for God to be the supreme god, there must be more than one.
1.4.  From 2 Kings 3.26, it is argued that YHWH is either of equal or lesser power than Chemosh once a child sacrifice has been made to empower Chemosh. What this means is that, not only does another deity, identified here as Chemosh, exist, but that YHWH is not superior to him.

From these arguments, it is concluded that the concept of YHWH within Israelite religion is reflected within these particular passages. Hence, the DtrH, at least in these texts, implies a tradition of Yahwism that does not assume his exclusive existence as the only, or even sovereign, deity that exists.

These conclusions, of course, assume that the implicatures are being asserted along with the statements made. In order to support that idea, diachronic information is brought in from the study of Israelite religion outside of the biblical text (supported by archaeological data, such as inscriptions, placement of altars, and the use of images), which itself is studied within the context of Ugaritic religion.
In other words, Ugaritic texts are used to interpret the archaeological data found within ancient Israel, and both are then used to reconstruct Israelite religion, which in turn is used to interpret the biblical text.
2.1. Ugaritic Material
2.2. El presides over a pantheon of subordinate gods who are his sons. Asherah/Athirat, El’s divine consort or wife, had seventy sons (KTU2 1.4.VI.46). This information provides the background to passages like Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and numerous passages that employ the divine assembly imagery (e.g., Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Ps 82:1–6).[11] Whereas all would agree that such serves as the background for the biblical texts, this particular view holds that it is not just imagery that carries over its intended purpose to convey sovereignty or to secure devotion to YHWH as Israel’s God, but that it also asserts the literal implicature that a literal pantheon exists.[12]
The characteristics that describe various gods, such as Baal, Shamash, or El, in Canaanite religion provide the background for texts that speak of YHWH as riding on clouds, overcoming the sea or chaos serpent, shining upon his people as the sun, or reigning as the patriarchal deity. Again, rather than being viewed as merely seeking to use the imagery known from these gods to convey various aspects of YHWH, certain scholars view them as divergent traditions in the biblical text that tell us that YHWH was once a solar deity, a storm god, and eventually was melded into El.
All of this may be true in regard to the religious development of concepts found within the nebulous that is ancient Israelite religion, but the question as to whether it is equally true of the biblical text (i.e., whether the biblical text is simply weaving alternate traditions together rather than employing traditions in a new context to say something very different than what that tradition originally may have understood about YHWH), even within the plethora of studies that have appeared within the last thirty years concerning the subject, is something that must yet be proven, and it is my contention that such cannot be apart from considering the synchronic as primary (i.e., that it controls one’s interpretation of how these concepts are being used in the biblical text over the cultural uses that the Bible may be embracing, ignoring, reinventing, or as I will argue, dissecting its idiomatic and rhetorical purpose from its literally asserted implicatures.

2.        Contextual Indications of Monotheism as the Basis of Synchronic Study: Deuteronomy 4:28; 28:36, 64; 32:16–18; 32:37–43; 2 Kings 19:17–18

A Word Concerning Synchronic versus Diachronic Methodologies
It has been noted for some time now that individual words do not carry their contexts with them. Before the advent of James Barr’s The Semantics of Biblical Language and Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (and a host of literature to follow), the methodology of inquiry employed by biblical scholars tended to be diachronic in nature in terms of their lexicography. A significant amount of scholarship has turned toward synchronic investigation due to the fact that studying a word’s historical development does not always yield the correct meaning of the word in any one particular context, and indeed, has often led one astray in his conclusions.[13] It did this because the controlling context for the word was thought to have been its historical development rather than the current context in which it was used. All sorts of fallacious ideas, from bending the context to fit a particular historical meaning to importing the entire history of a word into its current meaning, determined the interpretive direction of the context so that entire passages were distorted beyond recognition.
Although some scholars still employ such a faulty methodology, most of scholarship has caught up in this regard, and it should be praised for doing so.
However, such is the case largely in terms of its lexicography. When interpreting larger texts, such as phrases, pericopes, etc. it has largely maintained the status quo of investigation that attempts to give some credence to the diachronic over the synchronic. To be sure, both methodologies of inquiry have their place, depending upon what questions one is asking, but to employ the diachronic when a question is asked that only the synchronic can answer is a dubious task indeed. When we apply this observation to our current study, it is important to note that much of the conflict between this study and the studies that have appeared within the religionsgeschichtliche Schule is one of methodology. Diachronic methodologies are interesting and important for the purposes of studying historical developments by observing the various uses throughout a variety of texts; but they should not be employed as primary when data is available for synchronic investigation in the pursuit of the question, “What is the text saying?” anymore than the meaning of a word can be primarily determined by its historical use when the context may nuance it very differently than its previous contexts had.
This does not mean that the information gained from both diachronic and synchronic methodologies cannot be combined,[14] but only that the synchronic must first determine the meaning of the text at hand, and only then proceed to compare and contrast it with the diachronic.[15] Despite the many claims that this is being done, the diachronic nature of critical study throughout its interpretive history from the Enlightenment forward has so influenced modern study that unless one makes it his or her purpose to rid one’s presuppositions of the matrix formed from those previous works, it will be undoubtedly carried into one’s current study as a pseudo-control that does not allow the synchronic methodology to its work to the fullest extent that it can.
My purpose here then is to let the data speak within the context it resides, allowing the synchronic methodology of inquiry to yield results unhindered by diachronic observations.
Specifically, in regard to this study, I wish to isolate statements that very clearly, absent of predetermined ideas of the evolutionary development of Israelite religion one gains from diachronic study, are monotheistic (i.e., statements that argue that no other god who is of the same nature as YHWH exist).[16]
Such statements identify the nature of other gods as (1) that which is considered to be gods by other people, but are, either by explicit or implied assertions, are declared to be nonexistent; (2) empty idols that are manufactured by humans, but are not gods; and (3) demons, who are not gods. Let us now turn to some of these passages:

2.1.  The term Myhl), when referring to deities beside YHWH, often refer to idols throughout the entire ancient Near Eastern world, not necessarily literal gods. This is why kings were capable of going into temples and smashing “their gods,” and yet, the deity lived on.[17] When the word often appears in the Hebrew Bible, therefore, it is not attempting to declare the existence of other living deities, but assumes the existence of idols, which is obviously not in dispute.

2.2.  Statements made within the DtrH assume that other gods do not exist.
Joshua 10:12–14 assumes that the Canaanite war gods are just objects in the sky, incapable of giving aid to the Canaanites in time of war, and are easily held at bay by YHWH who controls them.
Judges 10:14–16 assumes that the gods the Israelites have chosen have no ability to save them in times of distress. These “gods” refer to idols, as they can be “put away.”[18]
In 1 Kings 18:26–29, Elijah mocks Baal as a human-projected deity who is not really there to hear the prayers of his prophets, who are presented as clearly devoted to him to the point of spilling their own blood, and yet, gaining no hearing.
In the Micaiah pericope (specifically in 1 Kings 22:19–22), Baal’s prophets are seen as merely receiving a false spirit, under the control of YHWH, by which they make their prophecies, rather than communing with Baal.
In 2 Kings 19:17–18, Hezekiah’s response to the letter of Rabshakeh reduces the gods of the foreign nations to mere idols made by the hands of men: 

"Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. “And now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou alone, O Lord, art God."

4. Whether What Is Presupposed in the Original Polytheistic Context Is Asserted in the Context of Deuteronomy and DtrH

4.1 What these pieces of evidence tell us is that the DtrH in its present form, as a whole, must be taken in light of an assumed monotheism presented by these various texts. If one is merely attempting to divide the texts up into their distinct sources for historical purposes, such a criticism need not apply, but if one is claiming that DtrH teaches X, then such a claim must be qualified as DtrH uses X in the context of Y that delimits X to teach Z. In other words, whatever DtrH teaches it teaches in context, and the context dictates the intended meaning of its constituent parts. Apart from the intended context, injecting foreign meanings into a phrase or utterance that it gained only in particular contexts is dubious. Hence, it is important to understand the assumptions of the author(s)/redactor(s) that sought to present a finished work and present the argument of that work as a whole to the community when one makes the sweeping claim that DtrH teaches X.
One of these methodological presuppositions can be found when scholars attempt to interpret biblical language in its ancient Near Eastern context. Now, I of course do this all the time. It should be done. Understanding the biblical languages is incomplete without understanding the cultural contexts to and within which those languages speak. However, my problem is how these things are often applied to the biblical text. It seems as though many people think that other cultural contexts determine the meaning of a shared language or conceptual framework that the Bible may use. But this is linguistically flawed. Let me give you an example.

Some people make the argument that the Hebrew Bible's use of divine exaltation language, where God is exalted above the other gods as unique, is consistent with the claim that some texts teach polytheism. So, for instance, if YHWH is exalted above all gods, this doesn't mean that YHWH is the only real God versus false ones, but simply that He is being exalted as the current deity that this particular text is choosing to exalt at this time for whatever reason. In other words, as the phrase is used in polytheistic contexts in other ancient Near Eastern literature, so it is carrying in those assumptions into the biblical text, and the best with which one is left is a text that teaches monolatry, not monotheism.

However, this use of ancient Near Eastern data commits a linguistic fallacy akin to what is known as illegitimate totality transference. This fallacy is committed when a word or phrase’s meanings in other contexts are assumed to be interpretive options when interpreting a single text. This fallacy, therefore, imports contextual referents that may be foreign to the current context one is studying. Most scholars are aware of this fallacy when it comes to smaller units of language as when one practices lexicography and seeks to determine the meaning of a word. This fallacy tries to transfer the meaning of a term, or in this case an entire phrase and/or genre, that originally meant one thing in one context, to a foreign context that must be established on its own merits. In other words, it seeks to say that whatever X means in context Y, it means in context Z as well. You begin to see the problem with this already. The logic of the methodology is simply this: B in the context of A = C, so B in the context of D also = C. In other words, AB = C // DB = C. Of course, this is completely fallacious. The context of D may in fact change everything there is to know about A. It could also be so similar that the logic is justified by A = D. The problem in this particular case is that A doesn't equal D. When the phrase appears in a polytheistic context, obviously, it does not teach monotheism; but when it appears in a monotheistic context, it does in fact teach monotheism.

Hence, it cannot be legitimately argued that a biblical book or section of books, and especially the canon as a whole, teaches polytheism by the use of language that once functioned consistently in a polytheistic context, but now functions just as consistently in a monotheistic context. So what scholars need to prove is not how the phrase or genre functions in another context, but that the biblical context is also polytheistic and thus its language functions identically to that in other ancient Near Eastern texts that are polytheistic. In other words, they cannot simply say that AB = C // DB = C without proving that the contexts A and D are parallel as well (i.e., that A = D).[19]

This is an issue of diachronic (i.e., how a phrase, genre, source text) functioned in various contexts throughout its history and cultural applications) and synchronic (i.e., how it functions within the present text one is studying) methodologies of inquiry. This is where I find his methodology confused. One answers, What is the history of X in various contexts, and the other answers the question, What is the meaning of X in this context? As you can see, they're completely different questions that need different methodologies employed to answer them. Unfortunately, what scholars are doing in their abuse of the ancient Near Eastern data is to use the diachronic to force a foreign meaning on a text that begs for a synchronic methodology in order to answer the question accurately. As one will not understand the meaning of the word "butter" in the compound "butterfly" by studying the history of the word "butter" in various contexts, one cannot determine the meaning of divine exaltation passages in Scripture by studying their ancient Near Eastern parallels as determinative. To put the fallacy of doing so in numerical form, 1 added in the context of 2 equals 3. 1 added in the context of 4 equals 5. So the end result is not the same because of the context. It is simply not enough to argue that 1 is used in both contexts and is symbolically identical language. The context, however, changes the meaning of its signification.

Instead, the context can be compared to those contexts in order to discover continuity and discontinuity between them, and it is only when context A can be said to parallel context D that such meaning can be assumed as common between the two groups of texts. So the question becomes, “Are the contexts in which these passages or phrases appear polytheistic or monotheistic?” And we should only ask that of the larger work (i.e., the book, the series of books, the canon), as these provide its context. Hence, when we ask if the Deuteronomistic Historians evidence polytheism or monotheism by the context of their larger works, we can conclude that they in fact are teaching monotheism. Hence, the phrase or genre of divine exaltation, where YHWH is exalted above the gods, etc., which once functioned polytheistically in other contexts (both Israelite and ancient Near Eastern in general) now function monotheistically to teach that there is but one God, and whatever is considered to be a god, whether it be a demon or an object, is not His equal because it is not really a God in the way that YHWH is God. Hence, Olson’s suggestion that Deuteronomy extends its teaching against the gods of “militarism, self-sufficient materialism, and self-righteous moralism”[20] is bolstered by the idea that the “gods” to which Deuteronomy (and by extension, DtrH) refer are not true deities, but still pose a grave threat to the exclusivity of YHWH worship, as a dissimilar god is not an ontological designation of other beings, but an abstract concept of anything that is given devotion. Thus, above all of these “gods,”[21] YHWH is to receive Israel’s devotion. DtrH’s radical monotheism is displayed, both in its reduction of other gods (in terms of worship) to non-gods (in terms of ontology), and its use of common idioms employed in the ancient Near East to exalt one deity over another (in terms of one’s devotion to that deity). Hence, the two elements of lessening Gp (God in a polytheistic context) when it comes to other gods, and increasing Gs (God in a context where he is presented as a singularity), create a monotheistic context that shies away from the polytheism that was once assumed and asserted in the use of idiomatic expressions within their respective polytheistic contexts. Hence, the question for modern scholars becomes whether polytheism, as opposed to monotheism, has been rightly understood in biblical contexts. Polytheism is, in fact, assumed in a sense, but not in the sense in which the modern scholar often takes it. There are many lords and gods in the world, to borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, but this is merely in terms of what one can worship, not a statement of ontology. In fact, I find Paul’s understanding of this language to be very much consistent with what I have argued here:[22]

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is [but] one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we [exist] for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we [exist] through Him. (1 Cor 8:5–6)
That seems to be exactly what Dtr and DtrH are saying in their present form. So does the synchronic drown out the diachronic? Yes, as it does in all language. Historical questions are historical questions, and contemporary questions are contemporary questions, and the latter will almost always employ some use for the former, but the former cannot be the determining factor for the latter’s interpretation. In other words, the religion of Israel cannot be the determining factor in interpreting the religion of the Hebrew Bible. They may be, and in fact are, two different religions. Hence, biblical theology can be done as it has always been done (absent of the religion of Israel as that which determines its path), and the history of Israel can be done as it should be (i.e., absent of the present form of the Hebrew Bible determining our view of its development). The problem arises when those in the pursuit of religionsgeschichte attempt to use it in order to comment upon Biblische Theologie (or, as is often the case, heilsgeschichte in terms of imposing some sort of overly simplistic evolutionary/Hegelian model of development from more “primitive” to more “intellectual/modern” views of deity[23]) as we now have it presented in the Hebrew text. Patrick Miller, therefore, alludes to the little value biblical theologians have seen in the questions concerning the religion of Israel, precisely, because biblical theology is a synchronic question that takes context into consideration. The historian’s quest, however, is in determining the process by which the present text (whether it exists in terms of a single word, phrase, or pericope, or first draft of a book) has come about; but this quest is not one that can answer the question of meaning. In other words, it is incapable of interpreting the text as we now have it. It’s contribution only exists after the meaning through a synchronic methodology has been first established. However, unlike the schemes evidenced in scholars like Eissfeldt and Gabler long ago, where the history of the Bible and the history of Israel were linked, I would propose that such is a fallacy based on a diachronic approach that has been applied to biblical interpretation. Instead, Biblische Geschichte and Biblische Theologie are linked together, yet both to be distinguished from religionsgeschichte.[24] It is not, therefore, the history of Israelite religion that can interpret the meaning of the biblical texts, since the biblical texts are historical presentations of theology, not historical presentations of Israel’s religion. In other words, the Hebrew Bible is prescriptive in its religion (i.e., arguing what ancient Israelites and the community of faith ought to believe), but the study of Israelite religion is descriptive (merely seeking to describe what various groups in ancient Israel did believe). Hence, the two pursuits are not incompatible, because they ask two very different questions and are studied through two very different methodologies of inquiry. What this means is that one cannot really speak of “biblical faiths” within a “nested hierarchy” in terms of various views of God’s singularity, unless the contexts in which the statements used to bolster such a claim do not evidence a monotheism that severs the previous implicatures from the idiomatic expressions that are formed by utilizing the polytheistic imagery that once asserted the implicature, “other gods of like nature exist.”[25]

5. How to Conclude Whether an Implicature Is Asserted in the Context of the DtrH: Synchronic versus Diachronic methodologies

When one discusses the value of a synchronic methodology over and above a diachronic one, he or she merely needs to appeal to the discussion of the latter half of the twentieth century that concerned itself with proper methodologies in discovering lexical meaning. Although this discussion was largely about the meaning of individual words, the important point that was established by those debates is that meaning must be derived primarily from context, and when it is not, it must be held as more of a tentative suggestion that may be replaced by a more accurate one once more contexts come available and are considered.
In a diachronic methodology, one considers the history of a linguistic unit, such as a word, and may determine its historical development legitimately as long as one or more of its historical meanings are not projected upon the current context of study without a comparison of contextual (i.e., synchronic) data factoring in as the controlling element of the method. A problem arises when scholars (and laymen alike) attempted to project historical meanings into a context that did not share enough similarity with previous contexts to warrant the assignment of an historical meaning to a present context of study.
Such is also true when one studies contemporary contexts that are still foreign (whether it be due to genre, cultural dissimilarity, or most importantly, dissimilarity of the immediate comparative contexts) to the current context of study.
What I am attempting to argue here is that what was true of smaller linguistic units, such as words, is also true of larger units, such as whole phrases. In regard to the current question, this would mean that the claim that DtrH teaches polytheism with the use of what was once polytheistic language must be established primarily by its present context, not primarily by its historical or contextually-foreign use.
For instance, if one were to employ this methodology to determine the word “butterfly” in the sentence, “The Monarch is the most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen,” one would be attempting to determine the meaning of the word “butterfly” by examining its constituent parts (i.e., “butter” and “fly”), the history of those terms, the history of the compound term, and the use of differing contexts in order to determine the meaning of the term. Hence, one might conclude on the historical study that a “butterfly” in this context was a fly made of butter, or something that Aunt Mildred throws at Uncle Harold when he makes an off-the-cuff remark at Thanksgiving. If one were to seek dissimilar contexts as a guide, one might conclude from contexts where the sentences were, “She is such a social butterfly,” and “I saw ‘Madame Butterfly’ last night at the State Theatre,” that the word in our example sentence referred to a type of person or the name of an opera; but all of the conclusions made upon the foundation of such a methodology would be erroneous. The truth of the matter is that one cannot determine the meaning of the word “butterfly” by employing a diachronic methodology. Only a synchronic one will do.[26]

In the same way, when examining what once functioned as polytheistic language in other contexts (historical or contemporary), which may be dissimilar to a current text of study, by employing a diachronic methodology, one is likely to conclude erroneously in determining the referents of the terminology and the purpose for which it has been employed in the current context.
As we have seen, the current context in which this language appears is monotheistic, not polytheistic. As such, to conclude that the phrases used in its current context mean the same thing that they do in dissimilar contexts, where polytheistic implicatures are present, is to misidentify what is being taught.
If one is inclined to object that DtrH is not one, but many texts pieced together, we would only need to expand the observations made concerning words and phrases to entire discourses and works that have been assumed into larger works, and now function within the context of those larger works. Hence, regardless of the prehistory of DtrH, the assignment of meaning by seeking to use its historical development as a guide to its current meaning is fallacious when the present context is dissimilar from that of its prehistory.

This does not mean that each individual tradition (e.g., Deut 5–26), if isolated, would not evidence that, within the text’s prehistory, the poytheistic statements asserted their assumptions together with their explicit teaching when the idiom functioned more literally, but merely that this is diachronic information that is no longer relevant to the existing context, as that context has now been altered by the addition of material that changes its intended meaning.
Hence, the diversity in the DtrH is a claim that can be made when discussing the historical question, but not when one is discussing the text as it has been received today. The text, as a whole, no longer carries the historical meaning into its current context when the context is no longer equivalent to its previous contexts.
One can, therefore, no longer make the claim that “the DtrH teaches X” (where X is the teaching that other gods exist) when, in fact, the DtrH may have once taught X, but does so no longer within the context of the entire DtrH as it has been presently received. What Patrick Miller observes of the prologue to Deuteronomy can be said of the whole of DtrH:

This same linguistic fallacy (i.e., employing a diachronic over a synchronic methodology) is repeated throughout various studies both in terms of other texts found within the Hebrew Bible and beyond.[27] Where it is often noted that polytheistic language appears in poetic texts, it is to emphasize the symbolism of YHWH as exclusively God for superlative purposes, and is not literally asserting that YHWH is the only God who exists, it seems to go unnoticed that as such, these poetic texts are not literally asserting that other gods exist either. In other words, if the expression as to YHWH’s exclusiveness and uniqueness is not literal, why take polytheistic language in a monotheistic context to be literal?
What this means is that one cannot analyze the development of teachings found within the Hebrew Bible through the development of language alone. Archaeological data, cognate languages, and source theory all provide important information for the study of Israelite religion through history, but their study is confined to the diachronic alone. They can be compared to the synchronic, and when the context is parallel, can be interpreted by the diachronic, but when the context is not parallel, they must be taken separately and only contrasted rather than conflated with the diachronic data.
What some scholars have done is to take diachronic information as the context for the synchronic, but this is woefully flawed, as it merely allows the scholar to posit any reconstructed history he sees fit and replace the actual context with one he finds more in harmony with his preconceptions (in this case, the modern scholar seeks a text with theological diversity because he values theological diversity and desires, in one way or another, for the text to reflect this value).
For instance, take Richard Nelson’s words in his OTL Commentary:

Yahweh is the complete opposite of the absent and impotent gods mocked in vv. 37–38. The repetitive grammar of exclusivity . . . proclaims that Yahweh is the sole deity having the powers of the Divine Warrior. “No other god beside me” conveys that Yahweh is not associated with any pantheon, companion god, or consort . . .Verse 39 proclaims Yahweh’s incomparable activity and power, but not any sort of absolute monotheism.[28]

The observations made by Nelson concerning the nature of YHWH’s exclusivity in opposition to lesser gods are not widely disputed, although for what reason they are absent and impotent is. But what does Nelson mean by the statement that verse 39 does not proclaim any sort of absolute monotheism? Surely, he means to say that if verse 39 is to be taken by itself, outside of its context, it does not proclaim such, but verse 39 is not outside of a context. What Nelson seems to intimate here is that verse 39 as M0, where M is meaning and 0 represents its context, does not convey M1, where 1 is the context within the Song and of DtrH as a whole that clarifies the referents of what is said in verse 39. But along with saying that M0 does not convey M1 apart from its context, we can also say that it no longer conveys M2, where 2 stands for the polytheistic context that once provided alternate referents toward the communicative value of M. Hence, saying that M0 does not convey M1 is the equivalent of saying that M0 does not convey M2. Yet, that is precisely the claim being made by saying that M0 does not convey absolute monotheism, since this implies that it conveys a partial monotheism that, perhaps, includes some type of what is traditionally thought of as polytheism. Hence, if M0 does not convey M1 because M0 must be taken separately from its context within the diachronic method of determining meaning, then M0 cannot convey M2 either, since it cannot be joined to a foreign context with referents implying polytheism. If it is joined to a foreign context, then it no longer stands on its own, and thus, saying what verse 39 conveys or does not convey in terms of its theological referent (here conveying what type of monotheism is intended) is a dubious and task, as it would not convey any type of monotheism at all (absolute or otherwise).
In reality, what Nelson et al. are doing in making statements like this is not merely attempting to take verse 39 according to M0, only partially considering the present context and partially considering the foreign context in order to combine them as a single referent, but to assume that M0 = M2. Thus, only a partial monotheism is observed.
However, contextual referents, which Nelson himself observes, indicate an absolute monotheism in the sense that there are no other gods who are in like kind as YHWH.
It is possible, however, that Nelson is making this distinction by his phrase “absolute monotheism.” In other words, it may be that Nelson is simply saying what I am saying: that the text teaches that there are no other gods like YHWH, but that this does not negate the idea that lesser gods, who are gods in a different sense (i.e., entities that are not gods but considered such by men, such as demons, idols, etc.) exist.

But if the trajectory of the biblical authors is to argue against polytheism, why use common phrases that often assert their implications in polytheistic contexts   may lead to confusion

For example, Levenson takes the 1st Person plural suffix in Genesis 1:26 to refer to the divine council. He states:

“It is true—and quite significant–that the God of Israel has no myth of origin. Not a trace of theogony can be found in the Hebrew bible. God has no nativity. But there do seem to be other divine beings in Genesis 1, to whom God proposes the creation of humanity, male and female together: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v. 26). When were these other divine beings created? They too seem to have been primordial… From other biblical accounts of the divine assembly in session, it would appear that these “sons of God/gods” played active roles and made fresh proposals to God, who nonetheless retained the final say.”

This understanding, that polytheistic language carries with it polytheistic implicatures, is rampant throughout scholarship. John Day cites some examples of polytheistic language used throughout the Bible when it refers to the divine assembly, or “heavenly court”:

“There are further numerous places where the heavenly court is referred to without specific use of the expressions ‘sons of God(s)’ or ‘sons of the Most High.’ Thus, the heavenly court is mentioned in connection with the first human(s) (Gen. 1.26, 3.22; Job 15.7-8) or elsewhere in the primeval history (Gen. 11.7; cf. Gen 6.2 above), and in the context of the divine call or commission to prophesy (1 Kgs 22.19-22; Isa. 40.3, 6; Jer. 23.18, 22; cf. Amos 3.7). We also find it in connection with the guardian gods or angels of the nations (Isa. 24.21; Ps. 82.1; Ecclus 17.17; Jub. 15.31-32; cf. Deut. 32.8 and Ps. 82.6 above; implied in Dan. 10.13, 20; 12.1)…Just as an earthly king is supported by a body of courtiers, so Yahweh has a heavenly court.”

One might come to believe, therefore, that certain texts in the Bible teach polytheism (i.e., that the religion these authors are communicating to others is one that holds to the existence of other gods); but we must also make note that many of the instances cited here, as well as quite a few in the DSS[29] that are not, appear within monotheistic contexts that delimit what was perhaps their original intent within a polytheistic context. Language cannot function in pieces, but as a whole. As such, one must note the context of any given phrase in order to decipher the intentional assertion being made by its employer. Hence, if the language of divine council, which originally assumed a polytheistic worldview, is used in the exclusively monotheistic context of the Qumran community (which itself likely adopted it from the biblical texts), one can no longer assume that polytheistic implicatures are being asserted. In other words, what was once perhaps implicitly asserted and presupposed as true in the employment of polytheistic language has been dropped as an assertion, and the explicit assertion now functions only figuratively to express the deity’s superiority through a common idiom.
This is not to say that there is no polytheistic assertion remaining, as one often concedes another’s assumptions in the attempt to argue a further point. Hence, the language, although functioning as figurative and poetic from the authors point of view, may still seek to penetrate the mind of the polytheist by granting him his language while denying him his worldview. Hence, in the context of DtrH, the terms that assume the existence of other “gods” refer to what others worship as gods, not necessarily what is a god in the same sense as YHWH. They are said to be demons and not gods in the sense that YHWH is God, YHWH alone is said to have the final say over all of them, and when not occupied by demons, the gods of the nations are merely dead idols made of wood and stone that can neither hear nor speak.

Biblical works outside DtrH evidence this same context. Exodus 15.11 reads, “Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” This sounds very similar to an Old Babylonian hymn to the moon god Sin: “Lord, who surpasses thee? Who can equal thee? Great hero, who surpasses thee? Who can equal thee? Lord Nanna, who surpasses thee? Who can equal thee?” Again, this appears in hymnody. When the scene is in prose, this language does not usually appear in the Hebrew Bible. Is this because the hymn was originally sung in a henotheistic context? Likely, but it no longer appears in one, and hence, the additional context of both the book and canon delimits the underlying assumptions that the text likely presupposed, and thus, delimits its implicit assertions as well.

Scholars will, therefore, conclude that this demonstrates that the biblical authors believed that there were other gods besides Yahweh in existence.”

Any internal evidence that suggests that a polytheistic understanding of the text is faulty is simply chalked up to being a result of a later redaction—thus the theory is not falsifiable at best, and gained through a faulty methodology at worst, since it continually appeals to the diachronic as the only worthy context when synchronic evidence speaks against it.
In reality, the more likely scenario is that the DtrH evidences a background where numerous ideas and traditions have been assimilated into religious language, and are being used in its final context as that which apocopates the implicature from the explicit teaching of the entire context. What this does in return is to change even the explicit referents to which the words originally referred and merely keeps them as imagery of the larger textual whole. In other words, they remain in the language for purposes of rhetorical imagery, not as declarations that describe what the author(s) of those texts actually believes to be the case. What gives credence to this understanding is that the phrases are largely retained within poetry. Hence, even within the DSS, the terminology is retained within hymnody, but never used within prose.[30]

Last, but not least in importance, the idea of Yahweh receiving Israel as his
allotted nation from his Father El is internally inconsistent in Deuteronomy. In
Deuteronomy 4:19-20, a passage recognized by all who comment on these issues as an explicit parallel to 32:8-9, the text informs us that it was Yahweh who “allotted” (קלח) the nations to the host of heaven and who “took” (חקל) Israel as his own inheritance (cf. Deuteronomy 9:26, 29; 29:25). Neither the verb forms nor the ideas are passive. Israel was not given to Yahweh by El, which is the picture that scholars who separate El and Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32 want to fashion. In view of the close relationship of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 to Deuteronomy 4:19-20, it is more consistent to have Yahweh taking Israel for his own terrestrial allotment by sovereign act as Lord of the council.[31]

What Heiser is noting is the synchronic above the diachronic by appealing to the words used within the context of the song and to the later addition of the prologue that now provides further context to the imagery of Elyon as a patriarchal deity passing out allotments to his sons. Where this idea was once presented, perhaps, with its assumptions (i.e., that Elyon and YHWH are separate deities, where YHWH is the son of Elyon), the context, both of the song itself and that which is provided by the addition of the prologue, renders the original implicatures silent, and merely presents the imagery in a monotheistic context for rhetorical reasons, emptied of the idea that more than one god exists. The language is retained, however, for rhetorical purposes, since the continual presentation of God within the DtrH and the Hebrew Bible as a whole is one of the transcendent God (l) or Myhl),[32] here as Nyl), implying that transcendence is its function in the context) working in the world through his identity as YHWH, the imminent warrior God who is the national deity of Israel. In other words, the imagery that once implied the existence of two gods now functions to support the biblical view of the God of Israel as both the transcendent God of the universe as well as the divine warrior God who presents himself present and accessible to his people. In other words, the characteristics that one may find in El and Baal come together in the God of Israel to form two aspects of his existence as both transcendent and imminent. Thus, he can be viewed both as Elyon giving an inheritance to YHWH and as YHWH receiving an inheritance from Elyon, the implicature that may have once existed as asserting the existence of two different deities having been removed by the context of Deuteronomy, DtrH, and the theology of the Hebrew Bible (gained from both explicit and implicit literary arguments found therein) as a whole.
Hence, language has contextual referents. One cannot simply divorce a text in isolation from its contextual referents in order to posit a possible assertion of another context, either real or fabricated. In other words, the language expresses nothing by itself. One may, indeed, conclude that phrase X means Y in context Z, but what one cannot responsibly do in sound exegesis is to say that phrase X means Y in and of itself, and therefore in context W, it means the same as it does in context Z. Language is by nature referential, and to divorce it from its present context simply leaves open endless possibilities for scholars to assign new contexts to it in an effort

What the proponent of the polytheist DtrH ultimately is saying is that the only way to express monotheism is that the authors and redactors of these texts refrain from using polytheistic language altogether; and yet, it has been shown by those very proponents that such language is indispensable if one wishes to communicate idiomatically within the culture that YHWH is superior to all other entities that may be considered gods (i.e., idols, demons, or humanly contrived beings that do not exist). Hence, the ancient writer is between a rock and hard place. If he wishes to convey that YHWH is superior to what is considered deity in other religions, he must use polytheistic language, but although he uses it without asserting its implicature, in using said language, he will be accused of being monolatrous by nature of the language that he uses to convey monotheism. If the objection is brought up that monotheistic language is used that provides context to the polytheistic language, thus showing that it is no longer to be understood as affirmations of polytheism, it will simply be argued that such a context is a later addition to the text, and thus, not apart of the original context, as it evidences a more primitive form of religion than that developed by later forms of monotheism.[33] Hence, all evidence within the context is dismissed on the basis that it doesn’t support the thesis, and all evidence that supports the thesis is taken in isolation from other clarifying statements within the context, and it is placed within polytheistic contexts (reconstructed from literature among the cognate languages, i.e., manufactured from diachronic information). Hence, perhaps the reason that the argument made by Smith et al. is so convincing to some scholars is that the way it is argued seems to be unassailable, and of course, it is, precisely, because it is not falsifiable, which makes it a speculative hypothesis that belongs in the realm of belief and not as a piece of scholarship that can be verified as factual.

Hence, as DtrH, in its presently received, canonical form, assumes that other gods are: non-existent in terms of being of the same species as YHWH, non-existent in terms of being only idols that can neither see nor hear, and non-existent in terms of being demons/spirits rather than gods at all. Hence, this assumption delimits the asserted implicatures that were once present in other contexts (or in the original context of an earlier stage of DtrH) to the monotheistic. What one is able to see, therefore, is a context created by multiple voices that give rise to an understanding where other deities, which an ancient person might be tempted to place in the same category as YHWH, do not really exist. This context, then, provides an answer to the question, “How is polytheistic language being used in a context that assumes the non-existence of other deities in the sense that YHWH is deity?” The answer seems to be that it is merely being used as idiomatic language and rhetorical imagery that asserts YHWH’s supremacy without asserting the existence of other gods. In other words, what is presented in polytheistic language asserts only the greatness of YHWH, but not the literal implicatures that other gods exist.
The picture painted by Smith, in regard to Biblische Theologie is vindicated in that such uses are rejections of older theology within the religious world of ancient Israel that merely retain the outline of that theology, precisely because the biblical authors/redactors are using the language game of their culture. As Smith concluded concerning polytheistic language in the LXX and DSS, so I have concluded concerning the same within the context of biblical literature, using synchronic observation as primary: [Polytheistic language] does not carry the same freight . . . [it] is devoid of its earlier polytheistic context.”[34] I have thus concluded that, as in the DSS and LXX, the use of such language is in continuity with the way an ancient Israelite might convey sovereignty and providence provided by their gods, but is in discontinuity in terms of asserting its implicatures that other gods, in terms of their similar nature to YHWH, actually exist.

I also want to make clear that both diachronic and synchronic information are valuable, but that the diachronic cannot determine the synchronic, as is often the case when one assumes the background gained from a diachronic study to be the context most in continuity with a particular text. Instead, the value of the diachronic is only for comparison and contrastive purposes once the synchronic study has exhausted its limitations. Only then is one able to come to the diachronic information and evaluate whether it stands in continuity or discontinuity with that gained from synchronic observation. Hence, Patrick Miller’s exhortation to take both into consideration when considering the Canaanite imagery of El and Baal as it is applied to YHWH remains valid for our study as well. The issue is simply a matter of determining what questions we are answering (e.g., “What does Deuteronomy teach?” vs. “What did the sources used by Deuteronomy once teach in different contexts?”) and which methodology must be given priority over the other in order to answer those questions.[35]

[1] Some of this is likely the result of scholars confusing two questions: What is the religion the biblical text requires of its recipients to believe versus what was the religion of ancient Israel (popular or official—the distinctions between the two now understood as minimal)? These are not the same questions. Hence, when one seeks to lay a background of the biblical text, which is likely functioning as a polemic and subversive element within Israelite religion, as a context in which it is in continuity, one ends up with interpretations that run counter to the intended meaning of the text. I find Robert Gnuse’s distinctions (No Other Gods, 123), which are based upon Michael Coogan’s (“Canaanite Origins,” 115–16) sage advice that “it is essential to consider biblical religion as a subset of Israelite religion and Israelite religion as a subset of Canaanite religion,” helpful here:

1)       Biblical religion is a narrow aspect and subsequent interpretation of the broader polytheistic pre-exilic Yahwism of Israel and Judah. It was created by exilic and post-exilic Priestly and prophetically inspired theologians in a negative reaction to that earlier cultus. Biblical religion demonstrates a significant evolutionary advance because of its conscious formulation by those theologians, even though it used concepts and beliefs of the earlier religious phenomena. This summarizes what many of the previous scholars have opined.

2)       Israelite religion is part of a family of national cults which are found in Palestine, including at least the religious beliefs of Ammon, Moab, and Edom, and perhaps even the Philistines at the periphery. The continuity between pre-exilic Yahwism and these national cults of neighboring states is probably greater than authors have recognized in the past.

Hence, the questions, “What is the religion of the Bible?” versus “What is the religion of ancient Israel?” must be seen as two separate questions, as the former would only overlap, depending upon its influence, to a smaller degree with the latter. Hence, when scholars use the Ugaritic background to reconstruct Israelite religion, this is an historical investigation, not one of the present meaning of the text at hand. Scholars had always seen the evolution from monolatry to monotheism as the trajectory of Israelite religion, precisely, because their study of Israelite religion was based primarily upon the text of the Bible that follows that same trajectory. It is only now, as archaeology and foreign texts, like those found at Ugarit, are viewed as the primary sources of study that the view of Israelite religion within the academic landscape has changed. Hence, it is important to realize that the nature of the question asked will determine the nature of how the question is answered. If an historical question is asked, an historical answer should be given (thus, discussing the nature of Israelite religion as it is gained from archaeology, comparative religion, textual development, etc.). If, however, a textual question is asked, a much different answer needs to be given since it is gained from the text and its literary context first.
[2] If by the term “monotheism” one intends to say that it is the “worship and belief in Yahweh and disbelief in the reality of other deities” (Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, xix), then, of course, this definition is not one obtained from the biblical data; but if it includes a belief in other deities in a sense then the term floats just fine in biblical waters.
[3] I agree with the assessment of Smith (The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheisitic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, 152) at this point, as he states: “One must be careful, for terms of exclusivity need not always represent the existence of one . . . However, I accept the generally accepted view that these terms of divine exclusion represent monotheism.”
[4] Ibid., 279, fn. 19. I believe the idea that the language “implies” polytheism is the basis most scholars have for arguing that some texts evidence monolatrous and even polytheistic assumptions. As I will argue in this paper, this is not a given.
[5] Ibid., 154.
[6] No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel, 122.
[7] The claim that the Bible is theological diverse in terms of its view of the singularity or plurality of existent deities is also largely dependent upon such circular reasoning. The Bible is certainly theological diverse in many things, but whether it is in this instance must be proven by an appropriate methodology that considers the textual context above the possible historical reconstructions gained from what we know of the cultural situation, since authors can dissent, texts can be polemical, and often are, moving against their culture rather than with it.
[8] Indeed, such language continues to be used in highly monotheistic contexts, such as found within the DSS and the New Testament.
[9] This doesn’t mean that monolatrous assumptions are not evidenced within certain authors, but that what is being taught in the text itself is not polytheistic.
[10] Cf. also the atheist who goes to the doctor for a broken leg and discovers he has another easily curable disease from which he would have died who then says, “It turned out to be a blessing.” The implicature there is that blessings (which historically are linked to existence of deities providentially providing benefits to their people) exist; but in the context of his beliefs, the implicature is no longer being asserted.
[11] Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, 41–53.
[12] Ibid., 49. Although Smith concludes that the biblical text merely “preserves the outline of the older theology it is rejecting,” he also makes it clear that the language of pantheon provides a “place for the other gods of the other nations,” and that the biblical text still maintains a place for “such a god who is not Yahweh,” something that can be only understood of the tradition, not the text in its current context.
[13] Although when some scholars attribute imagery used from other deities (e.g., cf. Herbert Niehr’s [“The Rise of YHWH in Judahite and Israelite Religion” in The Triumph of Elohim: From Yahwisms to Judaisms, 67–71) attribution of solar language to YHWH being solarized, or sky language to YHWH’s being astralized) as evidence of a syncretistic collapse of deities into YHWH, rather than seeing it as common cultural expressions to convey power over nature, such can be seen as an attempt to place the diachronic over the synchronic. Niehr’s conclusions, as are those of his colleagues within the rest of the monograph, are primarily dependent upon using the diachronic as that which controls the interpretation of these texts (note that Niehr calls archaeological and epigraphical evidence his primary source of study, Ibid., 71). Hence, not only is the imagery of the sun or heavens used to convey sovereignty and providence, but the entire identification of Baal or Shamash are transferred to these texts along with that language. Hence, YHWH is not just the sovereign of the storm, but he is a storm god. YHWH is not just compared to the sun that shines and gives life, but he is the actual sun god. This plays well into the evolutionary scheme assumed, but it does not the product of a proper methodology.
[14] For a helpful paradigm provided by the study of M. Dijkstra, see his “The Geography of the Story of Balaam: Synchronic Reading as a Help to Date a Biblical Text,” 72–97 in Synchronic or Diachronic: A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis edited by John C. de Moor (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995).
[15] The observation made by F. de Saussure, the philologist to whom Barr and many others attribute our Copernican shift in linguistics, remains well established: “[the diachronic and synchronic methodologies] are not of equal importance . . . the synchronic viewpoint predominates, for it is the true and only reality to the community of speakers” (Cours de linguistique générale, 90, as quoted in James Barr, “The Synchronic, the Diachronic and the Historical: A Triangular Relationship?” in Synchronic or Diachronic, 1). I affirm this, along with the consideration noted by Barr that synchronic study often includes a certain amount of historical questioning concerning time and audience (Ibid., 3–4). My critique of Barr would be that his attempted redemption of the diachronic by moving it closer to the synchronic (or vice versa) only serves to show how powerful the diachronic has become in biblical scholarship, as his analysis of why the synchronic must take the diachronic into consideration all assumes conclusions based upon diachronic research in the first place. I appreciate his attempt to not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but at this point the water has become so dirty that I believe he is imagining a baby in the water that is not there. Indeed, much of his statements concerning the need for diachronic inquiry either assume ideas gained from diachronic investigation in the first place, thus seeing its importance to the matrix because it is everywhere to be found within it, or they are asking historical questions (e.g., Barr gives the example where one asks why a contemporary state of the genders of the German Wort and Antwort are dissimilar, and surmises that such a state can only be understood through diachronic inquiry—such, however, is merely asking how the state came to be, not what it means or how it functions within the current context, which is the question that synchronic study must answer).
[16] This is opposed to arguing from statements that are ambiguously monotheistic due to their use of polytheistic language: “no other gods in my presence,” “there is no god like You,” etc. Indeed, most scholars consider these texts to evidence monolatry, but I will attempt to show that when coupled with monotheistic statements, they in fact teach no such thing.
[17] As one of numerous examples, consider Sennacherib’s claim that after he had “destroyed Babylon, [he] had smashed the gods thereof” ARAB 2:185. For the biblical evidence, see Exod 20:28; Deut 4:28; 2 Kings 19:17–19. In polytheistic contexts, the idols are referred to as “gods” precisely because some of the deity’s essence dwells therein. However, in biblical contexts, the implicature is not transferred with the language in a similar way that we are discussing our current subject. The images are merely the work of human hands and are not gods at all.
[18] Cf. also Jud 6:31: “But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Will you defend Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead [his case] for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him defend himself, because someone has torn down his altar.” The explicit challenge by Joash, in context here, asserts the implicature: “Baal is not really a god.” Hence, proposition x (where x = if he [Baal] is a god, let him defend himself) asserts its implicature y (where y is that Baal is not really a god, so he is not capable of defending himself). Cf. this to the statement in Matthew, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:40). Where one might say that no implicit assertion can be determined, as the speakers may merely wish to see if Jesus is the Son of God here, and thus be agnostic on the subject and assuming nothing, the context indicates that this is not their implied assumption at all: “and those passing by were hurling insults at him, shaking their heads . . .” (v. 39). Thus, one can see yet again that the context determines whether an implicature is being asserted.
[19] Cf. the study by Jeffrey H. Tigay (The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, 149), where the later prologue of the epic, although staying true to the essence of the original story that would have one enjoy life, rather than seek the impossibility of immortality, has also transformed its message to say that immortality is still possible through what one leaves behind (in terms of building projects and through what one records in writing). In a similar way, Deuteronomy and the DtrH as it now stands, has been transformed by its additional context that retains the original intention of the polytheistic idiom, but now does so while still retaining the exclusivity and singularity of YHWH as God. Hence, one can only make the claim that Dtr and DtrH once taught x outside of the context of y, but not that it teaches x within the context of y in the same way that one can only say that the Gilgamesh Epic once taught x outside of the context of y, but cannot be said to teach x within that context.
[20] Dennis T. Olson, Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1994), 3. See his argument for this in Ibid.,
[21] A demon, therefore, is not distinguished from a god in terms of having less power than deity, but in terms of being an agent of chaos that does not seek to order the land in a beneficial manner for other deities and humans. As such, humans only appeal to them to appease them so that they do not destroy, but they are not worshiped as a god who is seen as an agent of order. Hence, a god is any powerful being, given supernatural power and authority to exercise for purposes good or evil. This definition includes a whole host of individuals, but the point of the Deuteronomist is that there is only one God of gods, used now in a monotheistic context to mean that there is only one all-powerful God in terms of degree. The other foreign gods that are accepted in surrounding polytheistic contexts and lay claim to his title are actually not gods, but demons (as they do not seek order but destruction of the nations over which they rule). They cannot give and take away life as God can. Hence, God can stroll into another nation and claim a people within it for himself, precisely, because “YHWH, he is the God; there is no other beside him [i.e., in his category/group/species]” (Deut 4:34–35).
In fact, the Hebrew phrase ʾên ʿôd milbaddô in Deuteronomy 4:35 indicates that this is not merely a superlative expression, but a proclamation of a type of monotheism. To throw a common quip of the opposing position, there is simply no other way an ancient Israelite individual can communicate the uniqueness of God as a species than this. The word ʿôd communicates the idea of what is additional in terms of its collocations. The term lĕbad refers to a separation from a group or species in distinction from it. The comparative mem expresses that there is no other among this group, and the group is specified by the 3d Person Singular possessive suffix that refers back to YHWH who is God. The Hebrew should be, therefore, translated as “there is no additional [god, or anyone else] who belongs to his species/kind.” Hence, the phrase conveys that idea that YHWH is God in a way that no other being is a god, even if that being is referred to generically as a god.
Again, in v. 39, YHWH is said to be the God over heaven above and over the earth below, which places his domain as the entire cosmos, not just a localized area. If one is inclined to argue that such terminology can be applied in polytheistic contexts, the phrase ʾên ʿôd is repeated here to communicate that not only does YHWH reign over the entire cosmos, but that there is no additional being/god that also reigns within it.
Deuteronomy 5:6 speaks of him as the “living God.” One might ask the question, therefore, “Living” in comparison to whom? Does this not presuppose that the other gods to whom YHWH is being compared are not living, i.e., they do not really exist? To what gods is YHWH being compared in the book? Are they not only the gods of the nations (6:13), but also any other god that would lay claim to be of his species (4:34–35, 39)?
Although most translations opt to take ʾēl gādôl wĕnôrāʾ in 7:21c as “a great and awesome God,” it can also be taken as an epithet “Great and Awesome El.” In this case, El is being identified appositionally with YHWH your God in 7:21b as one and the same entity.
[22] Numerous scholars have noted that Paul here is attempting to apply the Shema to his own Greco-Roman context.
[23] cf. the statement made by Robert K. Gnuse (No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel, 255): “With the emergence of radical monotheism in the exile and beyond, the old worldview began to crumble quickly in the minds of the Jews, and the biblical text reflects that experience. Biblical thought is part of a greater evolutionary development in the ancient world beginning around 3000 BCE, which is still occurring today—for some people still have horoscopes, palm readers and other forms of superstition, all of which betray fearful anxieties and a flight from freedom and responsibility.” Gnuse sees the biblical text as a stage in the evolutionary developmental view of God from primitive myth to modern complexity that excludes superstition. What he states here can be found in numerous works that follow this same simplistic, Hegelian understanding of religion. To be sure, the biblical pattern is one of purity to corruption toward purity again, or to put it more plainly in theistic terms, one that went from monotheism to polytheism to monolatry to monotheism again, whereas, the evolutionary model begins at what is deemed the more primitive stage (which here is viewed as polytheism).
[24] This does not mean that biblical history and theology does not contribute to the larger picture of the history of Israel as displaying certain stages of development (either in continuity or discontinuity with the larger culture) within Israelite religion, but only that Israelite religion cannot determine the nature of biblical religion, and hence, biblical religion remains untouched by the study of Israelite religion, since the latter belongs to the descriptive and the former to the prescriptive within the community of faith. In other words, one’s faith in biblical theology does not determine or hinder one’s study of the history of Israelite religion, precisely, because the study of the history of Israelite religion does not determine or hinder one’s faith, and when biblical religion makes its contribution toward the study of Israelite religion, it does so descriptively. This is different than Eissfeldt’s model that saw the two as irreconcilable pursuits, one of faith and one of science; but it is clear that both of these pursuits are ones of faith and science.
[25] Of course, one’s dating system of the biblical books will also have an impact upon one’s view of development, since if all of the biblical books as they now exist date from the exile or later then the Bible, as we now have it, teaches that religion. If one is gaining diversity of faiths from projections of previous editions that predate the final form, or from statements that once functioned differently in polytheistic or monolatrous contexts, then one is committing a lingusitic fallacy by seeking to answer the question of “What does it say?” by asking “What did it say?” Hence, diversity of thought and nestled hierarchies must be established on the basis of text as a whole or one is left with a version of the semantic fallacy of illegitimate totality transference, where every stage of the history and its contexts are used to interpret a text within its current context.
[26] In terms of assuming foreign referents that exist in a dissimilar context, dissimilar in terms of evidencing a belief in polytheism versus monotheism, see this fallacy committed by Mark Smith (The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, 67–68), where he assumes that the word ršp in biblical contexts, such as in Deuteronomy 32, carries the referents found within polytheistic contexts into them. The fallacy is committed again and again by Smith throughout his works.
[27] For instance, the language used in such DSS texts as 4Q400, 4Q403, 4Q405, 1QH XVIII, as well as within other 2d Temple literature is often taken as evidence that a strict ontologically exclusive monotheism was not believed by early Judaism and Christianity.
[28] Richard D. Nelson, Deuteronomy: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 377.
[29] Cf. 4Q404, and the other “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice,” as they are often called, where it is clear that Myhl) is used to refer to angels (Carol Newsom, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, 23–38). In fact, in the monotheistic context of Second Temple Judaism, even humans given supernatural gifts, abilities, or positions by YHWH are called “god” (see    and the interpretation of Myhl) in Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34–36, as speaking of humans there ‘two whom the word of God came”). Newsom notes the popular etymology that associates the term “ly) (‘magnate’, ‘powerful ruler’) with l) (‘divine being’)” (Songs, 23). Hence, one can see why one might use the term Myhl) to refer to angels or men without reservation in a monotheistic context. This makes the scholarly task of deciphering the Israelite religion prescribed in the Bible more difficult, as context must determine the meaning, and yet, the meaning determines the place of the text within the historical development of the religion. In other words, if meaning must be gained from context, it is virtually impossible, aside from other independent factors, to determine whether the use of a word or phrase stems from an older form of the text or from the most recent (and perhaps only) author himself. To put it another way, it is impossible to find strata by using a reconstructed religion of Israel that is not based upon the text in context as a guide.
[30] Using such imagery in prose is not forbidden for this interpretation to stand. Imagery is used in all sorts of genres. What is said above is simply to note that the biblical community tended to retain the rhetoric within the more fictional (in terms of genre) presentations of the deity that one finds in ancient poetry and hymnody.
[31] Michael Heiser, “Are Yahweh and El Distinct Deities in Deut. 32:8–9 and Psalm 82?” 15.
[32] The singular use of the grammatical plural seems to already indicate that YHWH is both tribal and national deity in Israelite thought in the phrase “YHWH is Myhl),” where YHWH refers to the tribal deity on a microcosmic scale and Myhl) refers to the national deity on a macrocosmic one. For an understanding of the singular use of the grammatical plural as having both national and familial connotations see Joel S. Burnett, A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim, SBL Dissertation Series 183 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001). Hence, the statement that YHWH is Elohim is a statement saying that he is both family and national deity, contributing toward the exclusivity of his worship in biblical theology.
[33] Even though Smith argues that monotheism is not a new stage in the religion of Israel, he does move along the lines of an evolutionary development theory when he contrasts later formulations of monotheism with earlier forms within an assumed polytheistic/monolatrous context.
[34] Ibid., 50.
[35] Miller’s comments (Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology, 392–393) are geared more toward seeing continuity as much as discontinuity in the Hebrew Bible with its Canaanite background in how the imagery invoked carries concepts concerning YHWH that are similar both in form and content with those applied to gods like Baal or El. His wisdom, however, is appropriate for our study as well in that Israelite monotheism is of a more ancient mindset than modern, Aristotelian formulations that often have more in continuity with the transcendent aspects of those deities, but not the imminent. Hence, Miller’s tripart understanding of YHWH out of the gods, the gods within YHWH, and YHWH against the gods (Ibid., 374–90) remains the best way to study the Hebrew Bible’s concepts concerning deity. It is simply a matter of understanding the first as a study of the Israelite religionsgeschichte, the second as studying the terminology of religionsgeschichte, and the third as a conclusion of the relationship between Biblische Theologie and religionsgeschichte that must come first from synchronic study in its relationship to the diachronic information gained from religionsgeschichte. In other words, the intersection of religious history and text can only be appropriately determined by letting the text speak within its own written context first.