Impressions of “The Assembly of the Gods” by E. Theodore Mullen Jr.

tdaxp’s note. Over the weekend I read “The Assembly of Gods,” #24 in the Harvard Semitic Monographs series, by E. Theodore Mullen Jr. The book is brief scholarly, but for me provided a tremendous amount of context both in understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Robert Alter’s translations of it (The Former Prophets, The Wisdom Books, Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses, and others). This is not a review of that book, which you should read, but a thinking thru of the implications of it.

the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

For years I’ve heard, and have said, that the moral of Genesis 1-2 is that God created everything — that the lesson is that the moon, the sun, and the stars of the sky are simply creatures and not a special creation.

Well, even Ba’al agreed with that

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed ageless is He who formed us
CTA 10.III.6-7

I’ve long been interested in what the earliest patriarchs actually believed. While Ba’al seemed like a generic demon worshiped by foreigners.

He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.
1 Kings 18:18

The question of what is belief in God without a scripture puzzled me. It’s well enough to say that Enoch’s faith let him walk in good, and implied in the text that he was assumed into heaven like Mary, but why, and for what role?

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:21-23

The Hebrew Bible is clear that there are at least two aspects (persons? hypostases?) of the One: God and The LORD. “God” is often the translation of “El” (which literally means “God”) or “Elohim” (literally gods, but meaning the Council of Gods). The relationship of the terms religious “El” and “Elohim” are like the relationship of the political terms “President of the United States” and “White House,” in America, or the terms “Chairman” and “Party Center” in communist countries. While one refers to an individual as such, and the other refers to a political organization run under the lawful dictatorship of that person, in practical terms it is a distinction without a difference.

Canaanite_God_El

El is God the Father, the “Father of Man” (CTA 14.I.35-43) to the Canaanites. In the Council of the Gods, God judges both men and gods (Psalms 82). The Heavenly Host serves and adores God. The stars themselves are his armies

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
CML 114-116

Not only is God the Creator, the ageless creator of the cosmos, and judge of all things, he is also kind. He hears prayers. He is compassionate. Threats and condemnations mean nothing because he cannot be threatened or condemned. Indeed, God, the Kindly One, listens to even bitterness as a father listens to his children

If you does not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will smash the doors of the netherworld,
I will place those above below,
I will raise up the dead eating and alive
So that the dead shall outnumber the living
VI 96-100

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
    let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Job 7:17-19

But God, who inexplicably allowed the death of his children, in both cases had mercy. Ba’al was raised from the dead. And Job received a new family. Death cannot be erased. But life moves on.

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. There was One True God who was a Creator. Aside from him where merely creatures, weak and powerful, who may or may not be rightly placed or worthwhile. Before recorded time God the Father of Men had revealed himself to the people of Canaan. We at best have some memory of his early servants. But beyond that, nothing. Who were these men?

In their worship of God the Father of Men, their knowledge of his eternal rule and judgeship over the cosmos, his sometimes inexplicable actions and his endearing love for his children, the earliest patriarchs must have spread the true religion throughout ancient Canaan. Because this must have happened in a pre-literate society we have only the names of who we assume were the heroes of this great evangelization. But like St. Kilda, we have only their names.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. After he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared. After he became the father of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died.
Genesi 5:9-17

Ba’al Contends

gideon destroys the altar of baal

The Canaanites believed worship in Ba’al worked.  Dan’il, similar to Job, was struck by misfortunate. But instead of cursing God, Dan’il continued his worship, and successfully Ba’al pleaded with God on his behalf.

Then on the seventh day
Ba’al drew near with his supplication
“In need is Dan’il, man of Rapi,
Moanins it eh Hero, the Harnamite,
Who has no son in his house like his brothers,
Nor scion like his kindred,.
He has no son like his brothers,
Nor scion, like his kindred
He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Strikingly, Dan’el is specifically mentioned as a righteous gentile by the Prophet Ezekial, with Job himself and with Noah

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Dan’il and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

Like the Canaanites, the ancient Hebrews knew they had an advocate, a witness, and a redeemer in Heaven

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:25a

But in spite of this, the Lord Ba’al is not the same person as the LORD. For continuing the above verse, Job knows he will see him in the flesh.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

Job asserts that God and the Redeemer are the same being, that he is both El and a man.  This is the LORD, this is Christ, but this is not Ba’al.

Ba’al was a created being. But he was a fighter. And it is from this strength, his independent ability to intervene in human affairs (granted to him by El), that the Canaanites thought he was a “god.” Gideon’s mockery of Ba’al makes sense because Ba’al does not move ineffably, does not have an inexplicable plan: the only reason to worship Ba’al is that he offers earthly protection

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”  So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[ that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Judges 6:31-32

Like Ba’al, Gideon was an earthly judge. Neither Ba’al nor Gideon created the world. Both theoretically received whatever wisdom they had from God. But in the here and now, Gideon destroyed Ba’al temple. So there’s no reason to worship Ba’al.

islamic state destroys temple of baal

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

wedding at cana

The Canaantes, like the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians, knew God in His compassion had human attributes. In a real and literal sense God is also man.

El sits enthroned in his shrine
El sits enthroned at his banquet
El drinks wine until satiated
New wine until inebriated
11.14-16

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground…. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
Genesis 18:10-2, 7-8

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Luke 7:34

But what Canaanite religion lacked — the fatal flaw that lead to Ba’al worship instead of the LORD — was any willingness or desire on the part of El, Ba’al, or anyone to become man. El ate and drank, Ba’al interceded and advocated, but Ba’al is primarily concerned about building a better house than God

There’s another – perhaps more troubling difference – between Ba’al and the LORD. Ba’al destroyed Chaos, the great sea monster Yamm.

Sea collapsed! He fell to the earth!
His joints trembled, his frame collapsed
Ba’al destroyed and drank Sea!
He brought Judge River to an end!

To “gods” like Ba’al the sea monsters may be formidable. El keeps them around for fishing

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Job 41:1-2

destruction_of_leviathan1

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

The ancient Hebrew religion, unlike the Canaanite religion, understand the LORD was God in human flesh. The early Christians, unlike the Canaanites, knew that the Intercessor and Redeemer was himself true God, and not simply a powerful extradimensional creature. But the Hebrews and Christians shared another belief, foreign to the Canaanites.

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_001

As Mullen writes on page 283:

One of the most unique aspects of Hebrew religion is the unparalleled phenomenon of the classical prophets. These men, called by the LORD, served as couriers of the decree of the assembly/the LORD. They pronounced thee judgment of the LORD with the formula “koh amar YHWH,” thus asserting that their message of authority was equal in power to that of the council itself. The usage of this formula, which we have been unable to treat fully in the present work, deserves a detailed investigation in light of the council background and messenger formula used in both Ugarit and in Israel. While the members of the Canaanite and Phoenician councils remained colorless minor deities, the hypostasis of the decree of the high god, in Israel the prophet was introduced as a participant in the heavenly assembly who then served as the courier of the judgment of the LORD. This development constitutes a radical break with all other council traditions in the ancient near East.

But later Mullen notes a qualification. The prophets often did not speak with the LORD himself, but with His Spirit.

In ancient Israel, unlike in their Canaanite neighbors the Spirit of God — who somehow proceeds from both El and the LORD — spoke thru the Prophets.

We believe in one God

Jesus-pilate44

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. But pragmatically they were polytheists.  Worship was a technology and a machine to make life better. Ba’al was worshiped because he was effective. Many today worship power or money for the same reasons.

We worship God because He is our Creator and our Redeemer, not because he is a magician with a magic wand.

Princes may censor our words (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Money may be the answer for everything (Ecclesiastes 10:19). But it is not to be loved (1 Timothy 6).

Only God and Man — El and the LORD — Mary and Pontius Pilate — all the saints, and those most in need of salvation — should be loved.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

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