Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

Why did the Israelites worship gods other than the LORD (YHWH or Yahweh)?

Yahweh was worshipped as the national god but that the concerns of the local region, of fertility and of day to day living and producing food, required local deities, the baals and the asherahs.  Most of the sacrifices were probably made to Yahweh in response to national concerns.  Except for the Baal that Jezebel brought, who was a national god from Tyre (1 Kings 18), and thus a direct challenge to Yahweh as the national deity of the Northern Kingdom; all the others were probably local deities.  For example, Baal of Peor (“the lord of Peor”) was considered a kind of nature spirit in charge of the area of Peor.  Asherah may be an exception to the category of local deity. She was often seen as the consort of the chief deity (in other cultures such as at 13th century BC Ugarit).  Some of the inscriptions describe Yahweh and Asherah, suggesting some people worshipped her as the “wife” of Yahweh.  This would be consistent with what we know elsewhere.  So at Ugarit in the 13th century the chief deity was El and his wife of Asherah.  They were the parents of all the major deities, including Baal.

See further my book, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker 2007).

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