Institution Granting Degree
The University of Wisconsin - Madison
Divine council, Canonical, Second Temple, Jewish, Noncanonical texts, Monotheism
Biblical scholarship has reached a consensus with respect to the presence of a divine assembly of gods in Israel's faith. Prior to the sixth century B.C.E., Israelite religion underwent an evolution from an initial polytheism to a firm monolatry, where the other gods of the divine council were tolerated but not worshipped. The religious crisis of Israel's early sixth century B.C.E. exile prompted the scribes to obscure the council in the canonical texts and compose new material declaring that Yahweh had punished Israel for her sins, brought her out of bondage, and put the other gods to death. This historical turnabout and its literary response marked the birth of true monotheism in Israel, where no other gods existed except Yahweh.
This consensus is plagued by numerous difficulties. There are hundreds of references to other gods in a divine council in exilic and post-exilic canonical texts and the non-canonical writings of Judaism's Second Temple period. The context for these references disallows the conclusion that the writers are speaking of idols or of the beliefs of pagans. Rather, they reflect the worldview of late Israelite religion and Second Temple Judaism. This worldview included the belief in a deified vice-regent who ruled the gods at the behest of the high God. So transparent was this divine vice regency that Second Temple Jewish authors wrote of a deified second power in heaven. The rhetoric of Deuteronomy and Deutero-Isaiah that there are no other gods besides Yahweh fails to prove the consensus view, since the same language is used in monolatrous pre-exilic texts and fails to account for the plethora of references to other gods in late Jewish writings.
This dissertation calls the consensus view of the development of monotheism in Israel into question by demonstrating that belief in a divine council survived the exile. As a result, this dissertation posits that the survival of Israel's pre-exilic divine council has greater explanatory power than the consensus view of the development of monotheism with respect to divine plurality in late canonical and non-canonical Second Temple period texts.