Leuchter-Jeroboam’s turn to the occult

The Hebrew word elohim means God most of the time in the Bible. It is plural but in some way the plural refers to the limitless nature of God. The Hebrew word for water is plural too—waters. The vastness of the ocean is probably behind this. But like elohim it is used as a singular.

However, there are some strange uses of elohim, especially where more ancient material gets past the theological filters of the Deuteronomists and late priests. One of those places is in the story of Saul consulting a spiritualist. When she calls up Samuel from the grave, she says “I see a god (elohim) coming up out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13).

In connection with spiritualism, this use apparently occurs again in Isaiah 8:19 which the NRSV renders:

Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods [elohim], the dead on behalf of the living. . .

So Mark Leuchter, in The Levites and the Boundaries of Israelite Identity, has some basis for his contention that Jeroboam’s calf images represent ancestor worship.

Jeroboam said the calves were the elohim who had brought Israel out of Egypt (1 Kings 12:28). So Leuchter concludes that Jeroboam’s religion was a reversion to an ancestor worship that had existed in the chiefdom-based society before the monarchy.  The exodus myth fulfilled the aspirations of the fathers, like Jacob, who had been venerated in the northern part of Israel.

Before I give my own spin to this, let me point to another passage that he thinks supports his theory. He applies this understanding of deity to Amos 2:8 where worship abuses at Bethel take place in “the house of their elohim”. He says that this referred to “a space at Bethel devoted to ancestor veneration” (p. 125).

It is not exactly clear to me what the role of the calf images was. But in Jerusalem we know there was, until Hezekiah destroyed it, a serpent image to which people offered incense apparently to venerate Moses (2 Kings 18:4). Maybe the calves were like that.

Leuchter’s theory was that El worship in the chiefdoms of the north had combined with the new YHWH worship that came from the south. Certain Egyptians and Kenites seem to have been behind this.

The kings, including Saul, supported this identification of YHWH with the God of the fathers. Leuchter sees Jeroboam reinterpreting the exodus myth in order to revert to a form of the pre-monarchy religion.

I am trying to understand this in terms of the development of the priesthood. To do this I am bringing in a concept that Leuchter does not use as far as I know. That is the concept of a shaman versus a priest. As I understand it a shaman seeks to connect people to the spirit world in general. A priest, even in a polytheistic society, usually represents one god and serves the temple of that god. This oversimplifies it, I am sure.

But it seems like a useful contrast. Perhaps the old religion of Israel was shamanistic. Perhaps the priests Jeroboam appointed (1 Kings 12:31) were actually shamans. This set up a major theological conflict. The shamans venerated and consulted elohim as the spirits of the dead. The Levites, on the other hand, represented a living God.

It seems likely to me that Moses was, at least sometimes, venerated in Jeroboam’s religion.  Jeroboam probably saw himself as a new Moses, freeing people from Solomon’s son as Moses had freed people from Pharaoh.  He was highly hypocritical.  Jeroboam seems to have been the vassal of a Pharaoh.

It is suggestive that in the Elohistic story of the Exodus, the magic-like power of Moses and his staff stand out.  In just the E material it looks like Moses waving his staff is the cause of the sea parting, just as in another northern tradition Elijah parts the river by hitting it with his rolled up, magic cloak.  Were people a little more superstitious in north during the divided monarchy due to widespread ancestor veneration?

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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1 Response to Leuchter-Jeroboam’s turn to the occult

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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