PAGANS AND SYNCRETISM
The Jewish people waged spiritual battle against pagan syncretism for centuries. This off and on again conflict always divided and weakened the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Strong prohibitions were finally initiated by Ezra (450 BC) when Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt.
In the pagan world Baal was understood as the god of the sky, particularly the god of storms or rain. His presence or dictate brought the rain, the wind and good weather for harvest. Since ancient peoples relied upon crops for their largess, including feed grain for their animals, the god of the sky was their most important god. Thus Baal, and his consort Asherah, the goddess of fertility, were the two most common pagan gods.
These gods went by other names as well. Lilith was the Hebrew Bible’s name for the Canaanite’s Asherah, later Astarte (Babylonian). Baal is the reference Jesus gives when he mentions Satan (Lucifer) falling from the sky. Lk. 10.18: Yeshua said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. (19) Remember, I have given you authority; so you can trample down snakes and scorpions, indeed, all of the Enemy’s forces; and you will remain completely unharmed. Nevertheless, don’t be glad that the spirits submit to you; be glad that your names have been recorded in heaven,” CJSB (Complete Jewish Study Bible).*
*First mentioned in Isaiah 14.12, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” Taken today as a prophetic scripture referring to Jesus, who would be the only personage who could ‘make Satan fall’. Not to be confused with ‘morning star’, which is a reference to Venus (feminine). Satan, Baal, Lucifer, are masculine. Jesus often referred to Isaiah during his ministry, both scripturally and prophetically. Among the Jewish people Isaiah was considered the greatest of the prophets.
Syncretism, the mixing or worship of conflicting religions, is rife throughout the Bible. Its most obvious mentioning is the making of the golden calf during the Exodus (Ex. 32.4-8). In later times Baal became the god of optional choice for the Jews. Because Baal was Lord of the Sky his province oversaw people’s daily life. If the sun shone bright, and then late in the afternoon the sky clouded up and it rained, that would be a perfect day. However, the god of “I Am That I Am” became the god of special events, as the exodus itself illustrates quite clearly. YHWH was the god you took into battle. He was the god who rescued you from danger, or the pit. Mixed marriages also accounted for syncretism. Although other influences could be mentioned, the preceding reasons are the most most basic as to why syncretism continued to rear its head.
The Jewish people still did not have it quite right. By mixing with those who believed in other gods, especially prevalent in the northern regions of Israel, it became easy for the Jews to lose their spiritual pathway. Teachings become mixed, rituals become mixed and pathway diverges. It is also true that sexual rites would also hold a great attraction to syncretic practices. Various attempts were made to keep the Jewish religio-ethnic group separated from other ethnicities and those who carried with them other gods (see, Gideon), but often times failed.
However, there was one major difference between the ‘God who healeth thee’ and all other gods. Much later those reasons become determinant as to the supremacy of the One True God. Unlike Baal, who was god of the sky, and unlike Geb, the Egyptian god of the earth, the One True God was everywhere all at once, ever present and in every place. But, what does this omnipresence really mean in the daily life of the Jewish people?
If you look into the sky and perceive Baal, but if you look at a tree and perceive another god, each god becomes ‘case specific’— you move from one god to the next as your needs may require. This movement requires a different cognizance, and would not be what we today call a ‘unified field’. There may be a hierarchy of gods which appear unified, but regardless of this apparent unity we run from one god to another for satisfaction. The gods are all about, but they are never One, and in fact were known or believed to fight with one another. True peace and Oneness can never be found through the pursuance of the many gods.
For example, a pagan person may be a tradesman, and place a ‘god of honesty’ in his trading room. As tradition would have it, a dishonest plan may not be plotted in front of such a statue. But if you wanted to speak of dishonest matters, therein offending such a god, you could remove yourself from that room and move to a different room. You would speak quietly so that you may not be overheard by the god of honesty, and it is at this point you may conduct shady affairs or dishonest business. By contrast, and as the development of Judaism continues, especially when there was no syncretic influence, the One True God lived with you, even within your tent. There could be no way to avoid His presence, and He would know your comings and goings.
GOD OF THE TENT
Abraham’s people were tent people. Praying to YHWH would not require any special place or time. YHWH knew everything about your family and yourself. He knew when you ate, what you ate, and who might have eaten a pomegranate that day. YHWH lived with you in your tent, nor was He represented by an idol. The illustration of this omnipresence lies in the tradition of not writing His name or saying His name, this should His name be somehow misapplied. ‘Adonai’ (Lord) was used instead of YHWH. YHWH was sacred in a manner no other god had ever been.
His omnipresence made Him sacred in a manner no other god could be. He was whole, and wholistic in considering everyone within a circumstance— He was always with you. Nor did he play favorites between one person and another. That is, He may have a plan for your life, but of necessity He takes every circumstance as it arrives. In doing so each person becomes dealt with individually, or with a group (tribe) as a whole. Everyone is taken into consideration, and thus He cannot respect your personhood more than another’s.
But, there is another tradition which is not commonly known, and one which is seldom mentioned. Within the Yahwist tradition harsh words, unrighteous speaking, or even a mild blasphemy would cause another to caution you. The reasoning behind the caution is the understanding that the One True God, as omnipresent, is aware of your words and your behavior. There is no place to go where He cannot hear you. He is with you always, but would be perceived as a protector and comforter. Thus each person shares a certain commonality. This value of commonality extends into every form of social commerce. For the Jew, God is watching.
YHWH was the first god who could grant not just favor, but grace (Noah, Gn. 6.8). He did not depend upon man to preserve the remnant of Himself before men, but could preserve the remnant as He saw fit, as the story of Noah, and later Abraham, illustrate. He was not the god of your configuration. He was self-evident. He was “I Am that I Am.”
This shift in consciousness had a profound effect upon mankind. The enlightenment into such a being opens doors to spiritual understanding, allowing a depth of thinking that could not possibly be reached by contemplating the activities of a sky-god, nor the pleasures of Asherah, essentially the goddess of sex. Mankind enters into a whole new level of intelligence, one more deeply cognitive and abstract, and paves the way for more similar teachings to follow: some mathematical, some in metal-work and agronomy, harnessing of power through invention, as well as the creation of the enlightenment principle, then later coalesced into the teaching called the Way. Abstract thinking as well as cognition allows for the pursuant study toward the enlightenment into God, as well as the enlightenment experience itself.
In revealing the full message of god’s nature, Jesus equates God as love. He tells us to love God with all of your heart, your mind and your soul (Mk. 12.30), noted as the individual’s first commandment. However, the previous verse (29) is not mentioned so often, and alludes to the unification and oneness teaching of the Way: “Hear, O Israel,; the Lord our God is one Lord:” Verse 31 is accounted as the second commandment, “Namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” That God is equated with love is an expansive view, and one in which all men may freely participate. Thus, God is Unity, He is at one with Himself, and thus you may also be at one with Him (Jn. 17.22-23).
In the ancient pagan world of the middle-east none of the above attributions had before entered the earth scene. The very concept of “I Am that I Am” had never been truly understood. The various gods were always best understood by what they were to be used for! We may speak the word, we may pray in supplication, but we do not use YHWH. He is above our use, but may answer our prayers. He is above our words, for in the first place the Word came from Him. He is above our conception, for He is His own conception, and thus endless, and thus there is always room to understand more about His qualities. He becomes endless knowledge, He is endless-love-the-great-creation. He does not possess faith, He is faith— faith thus becomes embodied in the nature of the universe itself.
YHWH becomes the God-of-the-tent, ever present, ever faithful, complete and full with grace.