Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jewish Replacement Theology

It is wrong to claim that when Jews affirmed faith at Sinai they were worshipping one of the deities of the Ugaritic pantheon in praying to Elohim?
Elohim, when referring to God means literally "Supreme Deity" or "Greatest Deity." It is true that Judaism is nothing original or distinct in the context of Near Eastern literature.  Ancient Israelites lived in a time of multi-cultural influences and throughout its history have adopted “Egyptian”, “Sumerian”, “Babylonian”, “Zoroastrian”, etc., concepts, legends, myths and customs.
Texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the beliefs of Akhenaton, Biblical quotes that refer to the polytheistic beliefs of people prior to the existence of the covenant of Israel are all a part of the evolution of Judaism. Every Near Eastern and Mediterranean culture certainly influenced the Jewish people in some manner. This does not mean that the monotheism of Judaism or its eternal covenant of law (Torah) with God is not unique to the Jewish people, nor does it imply Judaism itself has ever permitted polytheism despite the apostates who stray in every generation.
The History of the Jewish people begins in Ur, which is now in southern Iraq. The monotheism of Abraham arose in a world where virtually everyone who followed any religion was polytheist. The religious practices of the ancient Levant revealed an obsession with preparation for death, and appeasement of the deities with human sacrifice. The language and terms of the early Hebrews who began as a family, then tribe, then grew to an eternal covenant nation surrounded by polytheism on every side, reveal a people who came to reject and replace their ancestors’ former beliefs with those of the covenant between the incorporeal God and Israel. It isn’t a surprise that the terms and titles used to refer to God in Torah were those that would be understood by the people in that part of the world, the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob redefined them and claimed there was only one God and the others were impotent and false. Judaism is a world and life-affirming religion to its very core. A contextual reading of the Exodus story alone in contrast to the Egyptian Book of the Dead shows exactly how one religion will turn similar concepts topsy-turvy from another. The Book of the Dead revealed that the many Egyptian deities focused on death and an afterlife. The Torah reads as a replacement theology to the Book of the Dead, ironically in much the same way that the New Testament of Christianity reads as replacement theology to the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), with its return to focus more on the afterlife than this life or lives to follow our own. The Torah led the Hebrews from a system of worship of more than one deity who was represented on earth via incarnate Pharaohs/savior kings and whose religions focused more on the afterlife than this life, to a covenant of faith that is monotheistic in nature. This monotheism of Torah directly forbids the worship of any man as god and primarily focuses on life rather than death.
Torah = The Book of Life, Egyptian man/god's and polytheistic idolatry = The Book of the Dead.
Our English word God has a very similar path to meaning of deity. The ancient Visgoth's, a Germanic people worshipped Gott as their 'primary' deity. Gott became a synonym for deity, and then became the word God for English speakers. In German, the word Gott still means God. When a Christian German today prays to Gott, they are no more praying to that Visgoth deity than the ancient Hebrews of the covenant of Israel were praying to the Sumerian deity or to any pantheon of Canaanite deities. From the time of Abraham, the defining nature of the covenant of Israel is dedication to ONE God exclusively.
Judaism "replaced" the older gods of the Sumerians, Egyptians, Caananites, etc. with their concept of Monotheism. However, Israel did not negate the stories, legends and myths of the older cultures rather they re-imagined them and rewrote them into their own narrative. This is Jewish replacement theology and is readily admitted to by Joseph Gitkatilla, a prominent Kabbalist who wrote Sha'are Orah (pg. 42 of Weinstein edition) wherein he states: “the gods of Egypt [i.e., the Heliopolitan pantheon] are like the firstborn in regard to the rest of the gods.” This was subsequently admitted to by Isaac Luria (Arizal) who applied the concept of Shevirat Kelim (shattering of vessels) to the Egyptian gods saying that they were corrupted thus Israel was raised up to restore the "true" Divine construct.