Extreme Anthropomorphism: God and His Relationships

      Elizabeth Chipkin

Evolution is often seen as the antithesis of religion.  Religion is a system of beliefs held with ardor and faith, whereas evolution is a process of change.  In Judaism, the people are led by a divine being, God, who directs them and their transformations. Throughout the Bible not only do humans evolve, but God does as well.  God changes how He interacts with humans and other divine beings. The evolution of God’s interactions with heavenly beings and the Israelite people can be seen through His actions in the Pentateuch and Prophets.  The different grammatical references to God and his interactions with angels in Genesis, God’s interactions with the Egyptian deities and the Israelites during the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Golden Calf, and the interactions between God, the prophets and the people of Israel in the time after the Torah ends display a complex look at the evolution of God’s relationships. 

Genesis

Throughout the Bible, God is referred to by many names and phrases: Adonai, Elohim, YHVH.  Sometimes He speaks, sometimes someone speaks for Him and other times He is simply alluded to indirectly.  Looking strictly at the Hebrew grammar, God is almost exclusively referred to in the first person or third person singular.  However, there are three times in the Bible when God is discussed in the first person plural.  All three occur in Genesis (Garr 2003).

The first time is Genesis 1:26, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image after our likeness.”  God has just created everything that makes up the world, and has not spoken to or consulted any other being.  Suddenly, He speaks to and acknowledges the presence of other beings, discussing an “us” that was never there before.  God informs these other beings of His plans to create man for the purpose of ruling everything.  No answer is recorded, neither support nor opposition.  The divine beings are silent.

The next time God refers to Himself as part of a larger group, necessitating the need for the word ‘us,’ is in Genesis 3:22, when Adam and Eve disobey God’s command.  God directly instructed Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree, yet they pick and eat a fruit.  God fashions them clothing, as it says “Now that man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad.”  Again, there is no answer; instead the next verse describes how God “banished him [Adam] from the garden of Eden.”

The final occurrence of God in the first person plural is Genesis 11:7, just after the flood.  Here, the people have come together to build a city, and even more specifically, a tower.  God is not pleased with the city and says, “Let us then go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.”  God proposes this idea, and again the other divinities are silent.  Their silence is final; God does not use the first person plural again in the Bible. 

After the Tower of Babel incident, God no longer utilizes the first person plural.  He is either referred to by the third person singular, or when speaking uses the first person singular.  God clearly feels a need to inform, consult or include other divine beings in His decisions prior to Abraham.  He seeks the opinions of others; He includes others in hope of hearing their opinion.  Why do the divinities remain silent?  A lack of a response from the angels suggests there was no response to record.

God made men, Adam specifically, betzelem elohim, in His image.  Yet, neither Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, Noah nor the other divine creatures challenged God, or made Him explain Himself.  Abraham was righteous, hospitable, kind, obedient, yet challenging (Zvi, 1992).  It is this challenge which God seeks, and finally finds in the patriarch of Judaism.  When God finds Abraham, He no longer needs to consult the other divinities, the “yes-men” of the heavenly world.

If angels are not separate, opposing divine beings, yet not actually God, what are angels and their interactions with God?  God directly communicates with Abraham on multiple occasions, yet on other occasions it is angels who direct Abraham’s actions. Both tell him what to do and sometimes they contradict each other (Goodman, 1996).  Abraham follows God from his home, to a land unknown.  He is blessed by God, his name changed by God, is told by God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, and it is God who directly tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Yet it is an angel who tells Abraham to stop the sacrifice.  Angels come and tell Abraham and Sarah to expect a son and it is angels who tell Lot to flee Sodom.

Who has more authority, God or the angels?  Prior to Genesis 11:7, God included the other divinities in His plans.  However, when they did not distinguish themselves from God, they simply became an extension of God.  The angels become part of the larger God being.  They do God’s bidding, but in their own style.  Throughout the Bible they communicate, represent and enact God’s will when called upon.  ‘Malachim’ is the Hebrew word for ‘angels,’ and in the Torah, malachim are always grammatically and practically controlled by God (Kugel, 2003).  Everything they do, speak, or appear, is orchestrated and credited back to God.  They are divine beings without free will. Their relationship with God is that of complete submission.

Abraham, on the other hand, has a very personal relationship with God.  It is through his interactions with both angels and God that Abraham is able to confirm his faith in God.  Abraham’s faith comes from the knowledge that God tests him, but a part of God, that inherent in the angels, will never allow Abraham to betray his true self. Since angels could not become God’s challenger in the way humans beings have, they became God’s right-hand, as evident in the Akedah.

When looking at the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, “God…said to him, ‘Abraham…take your son…to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2).  Abraham is directly told by God to kill his son; so Abraham takes Isaac to Mount Moriah.  Yet when it comes time to stop Abraham from actually performing the sacrifice, “an angel of the Lord called to him [Abraham] from Heaven” (Genesis 22:11).  When the angel explains to Abraham the change in instruction, the angel says “since you have not withheld your…son from me” (Genesis 22:12).  The use of the word “me” is out of place since it is God who demanded the test of Abraham.  The angel speaks on God’s behalf.  Both God and the angel have key roles in this test; and Abraham listens to both equally.  Angels are an extension of God, and Abraham respects and adheres all divine beings connected to God. 

God needs a being to challenge Him.  While Abraham provided that challenge for some time, one person alone cannot always take the opposing point of view.  God realizes this after the Akedah.  Abraham did not challenge God’s demand to sacrifice Isaac.  After the angel tells Abraham not to sacrifice his son, Abraham has no interactions with God or angels.  He returns from Mount Moriah, buries Sarah, finds a wife for Isaac and dies.  God no longer consults Abraham once Abraham does not stand up to God when asked to kill his son. God’s relationship with Abraham was one of challenges.

Exodus

Exodus begins with the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and ends with the creation of the Tabernacle in the desert.  The Israelites are freed from bondage by the Ten Plagues, sent by God, to convince the Egyptians of God’s presence and abilities.  God tells Moses in Exodus 7:3, “I will lay My hand upon Egypt and deliver My ranks, My people Israelites, from the land of Egypt with extraordinary chastisements.  And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”  The Ten Plagues are referred to as “marvels” in the Bible, a way to show the awesomeness of God (Hendel, 2001).  However, in order for God to truly prove His superiority, He needed to conquer the Egyptian gods, and remind the Israelites as well as show the Egyptians and their deities the power of one divine being (Trevisanato, 2005).

When looking at the Ten Plagues in relation to God’s dominance over other deities, each plague is assigned an Egyptian god, which the Israelite God will dominate over.  The first plague, turning the river to blood, is connected to the God of the Nile River.  Seen as the giver of life, the Nile converts to a river of death due to the lack of water and the influx of blood.  The second plague of frogs is connected to Isis, the goddess of fertility.  Frogs were considered good luck and Isis is often represented as a frog.  The third plague, lice, is seen to dominant over Seth, the Earth god.  The most insignificant creatures came from the earth and no prayers to Seth relieved the Egyptian suffering.  Agriculture, disease, water fertility and everything else in the Egyptian society is connected to a specific god.  These gods to whom the Egyptians prayed were triumphed over by a single God (Trevisanato, 2005).

Additionally, the Egyptian Shamans, communicators with the spirit world, were stripped of their powers during the Ten Plagues.  The medical shaman in plague six, the weather shaman in plague seven and the agricultural shaman in plague eight were all revealed as frauds.  The tenth plague is a sacrifice to the Israelite God.  Since the firstborn is considered to be the excellence of man and God considers the firstborn as chosen for Him, He took away the Egyptian’s excellence and showed His preference for the Israelites (Trevisanato, 2005). 

By dominating over the Egyptian gods and goddesses, God admits their existence, engages them and even sees them as a potential threat.  God sees the deities as a way for the Israelites to reject and forget Him.  Not wanting this to occur, He takes out the most important spiritual figures of Egyptian society, one at a time.  The God of Exodus dominates over, yet admits and finds threat in, the existence of gods and goddesses.  He interacts with them, but only for the purpose of annihilating them from Israelite culture. 

With the conclusion of the Tenth Plague, the Israelites leave Egypt.  They are freed from bondage by God and eventually given the Ten Commandments, at first orally.  The Ten Commandments establish God’s singularity and dominance.  Exodus 20:2 states: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  God immediately connects Himself to the release from bondage.  God is the sole reason the Israelites are no longer in Egypt (Hendel, 2001).  From this declaration forward, no divine being can ever match what God has given the Israelites: freedom.  Because no other divine being can ever recreate this release from bondage, no other god or goddess can lift the Israelites up from such a low position, no other deities warrant recognition, favor, worship or interaction from Israelites and their God.  God’s lack of interaction or admittance of other deities is seen in the incident with the Golden Calf.

After the verbal recitation but prior to Israel’s reception of tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Golden Calf is built and subsequently destroyed.  The Golden Calf has been interpreted as representation of the Egyptian Cow-deity named Habor.  She was the goddess of love, dance, alcohol and death (Shell, 2006).  Here is yet another example of idol worship in the Torah.  Yet God deals very differently with this deity.  When God looks down from Mount Sinai, He sees the people make this goddess and claim it as their savior from slavery.  God’s initial response is not to destroy the goddess, but rather to destroy those who worship the Golden Calf.  God tells Moses of his plan, similar to God informing Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah.  God says to Moses, “I see that this is a stiff-necked people.  Now let me be that my anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them” (Exodus 32:9-10).  God neither engages the deity in a battle of abilities nor proves His abilities or wonders to the people.  God is simply ready to wipe out the people of Israel and start again.  Yet once again, God is challenged, this time by Moses.  And it is Moses who meets the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain and destroys the calf (Exodus 32:20).

Why did God not interact with this god similarly to how He dealt with the Egyptian gods in the land of Egypt?  Throughout all the plagues, the Israelites saw the terrible atrocities the Egyptians were experiencing.  In times of great despair they were acutely aware of the good aspects of their lives: the lack of plagues, God’s favor.  However, once in the desert and away from the atrocities and the constant continuation of plagues, they forgot the wonders of God.  The Israelites also forgot the covenant with God.  They did not follow His teachings.  God decided that rather than dealing with the deity, it would be more effective and have more long term resonance in the Children of Israel’s memory to simply deal harshly with those who created the idol. 

Prophets

The Torah ends with the death of Moses, the Israelites entering Israel the Moses’ eulogy, which says, “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.”  The Ketuviim, the writings of the work of the prophets, begins.  Joshua is the first prophet followed as he looks to conquer Canaan.  The Hebrew word for prophet, navi, is often interpreted to mean “fruit of the lips.”  A prophet is a speaker, an alerter, a philosopher.  Yet a prophet is not simply a seer, a person with the ability to see the future.  They proclaim their visions, so all of Israel can benefit from their communication (Foster, 1886).

Yet many prophets are doubted; Barak refuses to go into battle despite the prophecy without Deborah at his side (Judges 4:8).  And many prophets doubt their own abilities and attempt to escape from their task; Jonah runs away from God rather than go to Ninveh and prophesize (Jonah 1:2).  Yet God continues to use human emissaries to deliver his messages.  These prophets are not always Jewish, not always willing and not always male; it is almost impossible to fit the prophets into a pattern.  While it might seem more effective to directly communicate with the Israelites, God does not seem concerned with effective communication (Paulsen, 1999).

Why did God replace His direct communication to humans with angels, and subsequently replace the angel communication with divinely inspired humans?  God is weaning the Israelites from His direct commands.  Similar to a parent, the children must one day establish independence.  They must make mistakes and face the consequences of their actions.  Here at the time of the prophets, the Israelites have entered the final stage.  God no longer interacts with other divine beings (Paulsen, 1999).  He is dominant.  The Israelites readily listen to His command, ready to face an enemy or perform a sacrifice in the name of God.  The prophets allow God to remain as a presence in Israelite society, but also take a step back.  While it might be easier, faster, or more convenient for God to directly tell the Israelites whom to fight, when to repent or when to offer praise, the Israelites have matured.  God’s interactions with the Israelites become removed and indirect.  While this may seem harsh and cold, it is necessary to ensure the Israelites become an independent nation, serving God without His direct supervision and guidance.  They must find guidance from other resources, such as fellow Israelites and the Torah. 

            God shifts His mode of communication and interaction with humans from the beginning of the Bible through the Prophets.  He begins by attempting to engage in discussion with other divine beings.  When they do not respond, he turns to Abraham.  Abraham challenges God, engages God and vice versa.  When Abraham can no longer oppose God, God continues His relationship with the humans and eventually the Israelite people.  He engages in battle with deities and proves to the Israelites and the Egyptians his omnipotence.  When the Israelites lapse into idol worship in the desert, it is the original foundation of God’s relationship with humans, the challenging opposition He created, which reminds God that destruction of the Israelites is not the conclusion.  He reinforces His message through His prophet Moses.  God realizes that the larger Israelite community has become more responsive to Moses, their human leader, than an indefinable, spiritual divine being.  God therefore takes a step back, and directs through others.   The age of prophets is categorized by humans relaying God’s messages to the greater Israelite community.  The greater purpose of his interactions with humans was the enable Israelites to establish their independence as a nation.  Malachi, who prophesized in 300 BCE, is commonly accepted as the final Jewish prophet (Foster, 1886).  Since then, the Jewish people have been carrying out God’s will independently.  They interpret the law as best they can and practice what they deem important.  They attempt imitatio Dei; they evolve.

 

Works Cited

 

Foster, R.V. (1886).Hebrew Prophets and Prophecy. The Old Testament Student. 6, 110-113.

Garr, Randall (2003). In His Own Image and Likeness: Humanity, Divinity, Monotheism. Boston, MA: Brill.

Goodman, L.E. (1996). God Of Abraham. Oxford, US: Oxford University Press.

Hendel, Ronald (2001).The Exodus in Biblical Memory. Journal of Biblical Literature. 120, 601-622.

Kugel, James L (2003). The God of Old. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Merriam-Webster, (2008). Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved November 22, 2008, from Definition: religion, evolution Web site: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ religion.

Paulsen, David (1999).The God of Abraham, Isaac. Journal of Speculative Philosophy. 13, 114-116.

Shell, Marc (2006).Moses' Tongue. Common Knowledge. 12, 150-176.

Trevisanato, Siro (2005). The Plagues of Egypt. Gorgias Press: New York, NY.

Zvi, Ehug Ben (1992).The Dialogue Between Abraham and YHWH. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 17, 27-46.

 


Comments