Cross on the Merger, Jeroboam’s Old-Time Religion, Myth, and History

I’m continuing my way through Frank Moore Cross’ Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic.  I have two items:

1.  For my first item, I will talk about some things that Cross discusses on pages 72-75.  Cross believes that, at an early date, ancient Israel identified YHWH with El.  (On page 5, Cross, like Mark Smith, argues that Exodus 3 and 6 demonstrate that El and YHWH were initially distinct, until they were combined at some point, as deities were assimilated into other deities in the ancient Near East.)  On what basis?  First of all, El was popular in “the Semitic community in Sinai, the eastern delta of Egypt, and Seir”, which are areas that have been associated with some version of the name YHWH, in either early poetry of the Hebrew Bible, or extra-biblical sources.  Second, there had to be “some prior cultic unity” that bound together “people of Patriarchal stock and the disparate elements invading Canaan from the wilderness”, for how else could there have occurred such a “rapid cultic unification of the diverse peoples who were bound into the twelve-tribe league around the shrine of the Ark of Yahweh” Tzebaot?  Cross appears to believe that what drew these disparate peoples together was an identification of El with YHWH.  Third, the earliest traditions of Israel present YHWH as one who is similar to El, for, like El, YHWH is judge in El’s court (Psalm 82; 89:6-8), head of the Divine Council, and king (Exodus 15:18; Deuteronomy 33:15; Numbers 24:21).  YHWH also has wisdom, age, and compassion, and is creator and father (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 32:6). Fourth, the Tabernacle reflects “Canaanite models, and specifically the Tent of [El] and his cherubim throne.”

Fifth, Jeroboam established a royal Yahwist chapel at a shrine of El, showing that Jeroboam identified the two with one another.  Cross maintains that Jeroboam’s shrine was Yahwistic, not in honor of another god.  On what basis?  First, Cross states that the Golden Calf story (which concerns the cult of Jeroboam) was originally in favor of Jeroboam’s cult, for it presents the venerable Aaron making it, reciting a classic Yahwistic formula over it (this god brought Israel out of Egypt), proclaiming a feast to honor it, and referring to a miracle, namely, that the calf emerged from the fire.  But this story was later edited to become a “polemic against the Bethel cultus and its Aaronid priesthood.”  Second, although I Kings 12:28 and Exodus 32:4 describe the god in the plural, Cross believes that the god was originally intended to be singular, for there is only one Golden Calf.  Third, Jeroboam was vulnerable and did not want the Northern Israelites to leave him for the southern shrine, and so repudiating Yahweh (the god Israel was used to) in favor of a new god would not have served his interest.  Rather, Jeroboam, in his own way, was promoting the old-time religion, as he picked a sanctuary that had a traditional connection with the patriarchs and used a bull iconography, which had “Aaronic connections.”  (Cross also states that David promoted the old-time religion, for, in constructing a Tent for worship—the Tabernacle described by P—David hearkened back to an earlier tent, as II Samuel 7:5ff. indicates, plus David honored the league sanctuary at Shiloh—in his “national shrine in Jerusalem”—and appointed a Mushite from Shiloh as a high priest.)  Fourth, the Elijah-Elisha traditions, Amos, and I Kings 13-14 do not consider the Bethel cult to be idolatrous.  Jeroboam’s sin was “establishing a rival to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem”, not idolatry.  Cross’ points are valid, in my opinion, but, at some point, the Calf was associated with idolatry, for Exodus 32:8 seems to suggest that the Israelites worshiped the Calf.

Cross states that Yahwism absorbed elements of patriarchal religion: “the tutelary deity or deities entered into an intimate relationship with a social group expressed in terms of kinship or covenant, established its justice, led its battles, guided its destiny.”  YHWH was “judge and war leader of the historical community”, as was evident in his revelation of himself to the patriarch Moses, the Exodus, and the Conquest.  Aspects of El that entered Israelite religion included God being the “high and eternal one”, “creator of heaven and earth, [and] father of all.”

2.  Overall, Cross appears to accept the historicity of the Exodus and the Conquest.  He disagrees with those who maintain that the Exodus and the Conquest were a historicization of the Canaanite myth of the god’s battle against the chaotic sea, as well as Gerhard Von Rad, who disputes a historical Conquest and argues that Israel’s wars were defensive, not offensive.  Cross counters that holy war was practiced even by “pre-Yahwistic and non-Israelite peoples”—such as Moab, Edom, Ammon, Midian, and Qedar—so why not Israel (pages 88, 105)?  Cross thinks that myth and history were blended in the cult, and that myth served to deepen the history.  Cross also posits stages.  At one point, myth predominated in the cult, as “primordial events of cosmogonic myth” were celebrated (page 143).  Then, at the time of the tribal league, the focus was on Israel’s history, which was combined with myth.  With the monarchy came a shift back to myth—as the focus was on creation.  But other things were emphasized as well: kingship, “the eternal decrees of God” and “the choosing of the house of David and Zion” (page 106).  History was not totally tossed out the window, however, for there was still a ritual celebration of the Conquest.  But that was transformed within the royal cult.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Cross on the Merger, Jeroboam’s Old-Time Religion, Myth, and History

  1. Pingback: Frank Moore Cross « James’ Ramblings

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