Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "The Triumph of Yahwism"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 




Volume XXIV Part II 1905 

The Triumph of Yahwism 



THE religious situation in Judah and Jerusalem in the 
closing years of the kingdom is portrayed in the books 
of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah, after a sweeping in- 
dictment of the past, likens the nation of his time to a wild 
ass given over to the indulgence of desire, and adds that 
kings, priests, and prophets take stocks and stones for their 
gods, and that the gods in Judah are as numerous as the 
cities (2 s328 ) ; like a wife, he says, who is unfaithful to her 
husband, the House of Israel is unfaithful to Yahweh (3 20 ). 
These passages appear to have been written before the year 
604. In a later passage (7 17 - 18 ) he describes what was done 
in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem : " the 
children gather wood and the fathers kindle the fire and the 
women knead the dough to make cakes for the queen of 
heaven and to pour libations to other gods." It appears, 
also, if we may trust the account in 44 15 " 19 , that the cult of 
the queen of heaven was no mere passing fit of devotion — it 
had become almost the reigning cult : when, after the fall 
of the city, some of the people had gone down to Egypt, the 
women, backed by their husbands, stood up stoutly for 
their goddess against the prophet, and made an argument 
(exactly parallel to his argument for Yahweh) that doubt- 
less seemed to them decisive : when, said they, we worshiped 



the queen of heaven, as we and our fathers, our kings and 
our princes, had been in the habit of doing, we had plenty to 
eat and were in all respects well off, but since we have ceased 
to worship her, we have wanted all things and have been 
consumed by sword and famine. In 19 4, 5 human sacrifice, 
offered to Baal, is mentioned as an existing custom. Ezekiel's 
picture of the time agrees with that of Jeremiah. In chs. 6, 
8, 14, 16, 23, he charges the whole nation with defection from 
Yahweh: the mountains of Israel are seats of sun-worship 
and other idolatrous cults (6) ; Jerusalem has adopted the 
religious rites of Assyria and Chaldea (16, 23) ; in the 
temple itself the elders of Israel worship the sun and all 
manner of idols, and the women practice the cult of Tam- 
muz (8) ; in the Babylonian colony, also, the elders and 
others are idol- worshipers (14 1-5 ). The religious guides of 
the people, the priests and the prophets, are included in this 
condemnation (so also Jer. 8 1 " 3 ). 

There is no good reason for doubting the substantial ac- 
curacy of these descriptions. The passages cited above, with 
the possible exception of Jer. 44 15 ~ 19 , are generally held to 
belong to the period of the two prophets, and this latter pas- 
sage may be omitted without seriously affecting the picture. 
If the picture be a faithful one, it follows that Yahwism 
was not the predominant cult of the people at that time. It 
was in a sort acknowledged as the official national cult. 
But the people, while they frequented the temple of Yahweh 
to procure his favor, yet thought it no wrong to worship 
other gods (Jer. 7 4 " 11 ) ; the prophet's declaration that they 
were unfaithful to Yahweh, and that this temple might perish 
like the shrine of Shiloh, was violently resented, and the 
mob, including the priests and the prophets, seized him with 
the intention of putting him to death (26 8 * 9 ). 1 There was, 
doubtless, a strong Yahweh party; but it consisted chiefly 
of the Jerusalem priests and the better sort of prophets, 
elders, and princes (26 10 " 24 ) ; the mass of the people were 
more attracted by Canaanite, Assyrian, and Babylonian cults, 
which offered a rich and visible form foreign to the severe 
1 Probably the affair at Anathoth (Jer. II 31 ) was similar to this. 

toy: the triumph of yahwtsm 93 

meagerness of the traditional nomadic worship of Yahweh. 
The queen of heaven and the mourning for Tammuz appealed 
to the women, and the images, the visible embodiments of 
the deity, to all the people. 

In regard to the condition of things during the reigns of 
Josiah and Manasseh we have material in Zephaniah, Kings, 
and Deuteronomy. All these bear witness to the prevalence 
of the worship of foreign deities. Zephaniah (whose first 
chapter belongs somewhere in Josiah's reign) speaks of 
astral, Baal, and Melek cults as then practiced, and de- 
nounces priests of Yahweh, priests (kemarim) of other gods, 
princes, and members of the royal house (l 4 " 8 ). This agrees 
in general with the description given in 2 K. 23, according 
to which in the year 622 idolatrous shrines had been estab- 
lished by royal authority in the cities of Judah, incense was 
burned to Baal and to heavenly bodies, in the temple-area 
were horses and chariots consecrated to the sun, and near 
Jerusalem the highplaces built by Solomon for the worship 
of various foreign deities still stood. The defection here 
attributed mainly to the kings is affirmed in 22 16- 17 of the 
nation. This relates to the time of Manasseh, who, accord- 
ing to the record (2 K. 21, cf. Jer. 15 4 ), adopted and intro- 
duced the Assyrian worship almost bodily. This procedure, 
in view of the military prestige and cultic splendor of 
Assyria, was perfectly natural, and involved no abandon- 
ment of Yahweh. It was not a change of gods, but an 
enlargement of the sphere of worship, a na'ive syncretism 
(not uncommon in religions not highly organized) that 
doubtless made the people more rather than less religious. 
There is no report of any protest against the king's action 
by priests and prophets of the time, 2 nor is there any evi- 
denee^that he ceased to worship Yahweh. His object in 
placing images and symbols of Assyrian deities in the temple 
was neither to disown the national god (which is inconceiv- 
able for that time) nor to assert his preeminence over the 
others (of which there is no hint), but to do honor to the 
brilliant strangers and secure their protection, and perhaps 
8 If Mio. 6 belong here, its silence respecting Assyrian cults is noteworthy. 


to gain favor in the eyes of his suzerain, the king of Assyria. 
Obviously he had not grasped or did not accept the idea 
that only one god should be worshiped ; and it is not likely 
that the people, who seem to have adopted his large scheme 
generally, held any other theory respecting monolatry. 8 The 
foreign cult, according to the accounts, held sway over all 
the land, and the worship of Yahweh, though it did not 
cease, occupied a subordinate position. It was, however, 
stoutly maintained by a section of priests and prophets and 
their adherents among the people. 4 The protests of the book 
of Deuteronomy against polytheism (32 1M8 13, 18 10 5 7 - 8 7*- 5 
27 15 ) bear witness to its prevalence, but also to the steady 
opposition made to it by a vigorous circle. Josiah is said 
to have undone the work of Manasseh. But though there 
is no reason to doubt that the description, in 2 K. 23, of his 
drastic proceedings is correct, there is no evidence that these 
had any permanent effect on the manners of the people at 
large. Of the religious condition in Judah between the 
date of the reformation (622) and the death of Josiah 
(609-8) we have no immediate information. It is not im- 
probable that foreign worship was crushed for a time — the 
women in Jer. 44 18 speak of having ceased to burn incense 
to the queen of heaven, and in 2 Chr. 35® Jeremiah is said 
to have composed an elegy on the king. But in any case 
the effect of Josiah's movement was brief and superficial ; in 
the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the situation was as bad as 
could be. The reformation was suggested and carried on 
by a small Yahweh party, and doubtless sustained by the 
king as long as he lived; but on his death the great body 
of the people fell back by natural inertia into their accus- 
tomed way, which was polytheistic. During the last century 
of the kingdom (686-586) Yahwism, far from being dominant 
among the people, was struggling to maintain itself against 
formidable rivals. 

8 It was held, even by advanced thinkers, that the various gods had been 
assigned by Yahweh to the different nations (Dt.4 19 - 2 ° 32 8 - 9 , revised text). 

4 It may perhaps be inferred from Jer. 35 19 that the Bechabites were 
stanch supporters of Yahwism at this time. 

TOY: the triumph of yahwism 95 

Hezekiah is credited (2 K. 18 4 ) with a movement of re- 
form similar to that of Josiah, only of smaller proportions. 
Assyrian religious influence had not yet made itself felt — 
the cultic abuse that he opposed was the worship at the 
various shrines, with their sacred pillars and posts, and the 
worship of the bronze serpent. This serpent figure, the editor 
of Kings remarks, was made by Moses — an indication that 
the cult reached far back, though nothing is said of it else- 
where ; what its relation to Yahweh was is uncertain. Here 
again there is no ground to doubt that Hezekiah's reforma- 
tion was real as far as it went (cf. 2 K. 18 22 ). That its 
results did not last long (except in the case of the bronze 
serpent, which he destroyed) we know from the succeeding 
history. The only available testimony is that of contem- 
porary prophets, and, if Hezekiah ascended the throne in 
the year 715, 5 the only contemporary prophetic utterances 
are those contained in certain chapters of Isaiah (1, 10 5 " 32 
14 24 - 32 18, 20, 22, 28 7 " 13 , 29 1 " 14 30 1 " 17 31) in none of which is 
there a word concerning the worship of other gods than Yah- 
weh, except, perhaps, in 31 7 and in a reference (10 u ) to the 
idols of Jerusalem put into the mouth of the king of As- 
syria ; but the authenticity of this verse is doubtful. The 
silence of these chapters on this point may mean that foreign 
cults were suppressed. Hezekiah, it seems, had broken up the 
rural shrines, and it would be easy to control the worship in 
Jerusalem. In this movement, doubtless, we must recognize 
the hand of the Yah wist party — Isaiah seems to have in- 
terested himself in affairs of state and to have had great 
influence with the king. The history of Hezekiah and Josiah 
shows what results might follow when the Yahwist leaders 
were able to get control of the government : there would be 
a momentai-y predominance of the Yahweh cult, succeeded 
by a return of the popular mind to its natural attitude of 
indifference or unreflecting eclecticism. The reverses of the 
nation, attributed by the prophets to Yahweh's displeasure, 
were supposed by the people to show the power of foreign 

6 So 2 K. 18 1S , and this date suits the conditions better than the date 726, 
derived from 2 K. 18 1 . 


deities. Men, as a rule, worship the god that seems most 
able to help them. 

Whatever be Hezekiah's date, we have testimony in Isaiah 
(26-8 710-12^ 2 Kings (16 3 - 4 ), and perhaps Micah (l 5 ) as to 
the religious condition in Judah between the years 735 and 
721. Under Ahaz the highplaces were kept up and sacrifice 
of children was practiced ; both these cults probably involved 
the worship of foreign deities. Sacrifice of firstborn children 
may have been an old Israelite custom ; but the old custom 
seems to have passed away (Ex. 13 12,13 ) and the new cult 
was of Canaanite origin. The details of the worship at the 
local shrines (highplaces) are not given in the Old Testa- 
ment ; but it seems certain that they were devoted both to 
Yahweh (2 K. 18 22 ) and to other deities (Ezek. 6, Hos. 2) ; 
probably the people did not distinguish sharply between 
gods. The idols, also, mentioned in Isa. 2 8 , may have in- 
cluded images of Yahweh as well as of other deities; the 
emphatic and repeated prohibitions of the making of Yah- 
weh images (in the decalogue, interpreted by Dt. 4 12 ) indicate 
that the practice existed in the eighth century. Yahweh- 
worship was, of course, general — the proper names of the 
time bear witness to that — but it was only one of a number 
of popular cults. Philistine influence appears at this time 
(Is. 2 6 ). It is mentioned only in connection with the 
practice of magic, but this involved the worship of certain 
gods. In general the feeling of the prophets Isaiah and 
Micah is that the nation has forsaken Yahweh ; the indict- 
ment relates largely to moral conduct, but, from Is. 2 6,8 , 
must also include cultic defection, as they regarded it ; more 
properly stated it was childlike devotion to all the gods that 
they were intimately acquainted with. 

Religious affairs in the Northern Kingdom from Jero- 
boam I to the fall of Samaria are described in Amos, Hosea, 
Micah, and Kings. Amos denounces the shrines of Bethel, 
Dan, and Gilgal, but gives no details of the worship there. 
The book of Hosea is more explicit : ch. 2 declares that the 
worship of the local Canaanite deities was universal — this, 
in the writer's mind, means an abandonment of Yahweh, 


yet clearly Yahweh was one of the deities worshiped, a 
baal (vs. 16 ), though others, it seems, were more resorted to ; 
the same thing is said substantially in eh. 3 ; in the second 
part of the book the shrines of Gilgal, Bethel, and Samaria 
are denounced, and apparently those of Mizpah, Tabor, 
Gilead, and Shechem (5 1 6 8, 9 ), and there is a definite po- 
lemic against the bull-worship (8 5 10 5 ), to which also there 
is probably a reference in Am. 8 14 . This worship seems not 
to have been regarded as anti-Yahwistic before the time of 
Amos, for Elijah and Jehu are not said to have opposed it ; 
the increasing ethical clearness and opposition to images on 
the part of the great Yahwist leaders will account naturally 
for this new movement in the eighth century. The bull- 
worship became the national cult of the Northern Kingdom, 
was developed by Omri and Ahab (1 K. 16 25 - 30 ) and con- 
tinued to the end, but it seems not to signify lack of devotion 
to Yahweh. 6 The general indictment of the Northern King- 
dom is contained in a late section in the book of Kings 
(2 K. 17 10 ~ 17 ), wherein it is charged with both baalism and 
astralism. Whether the former refers to baal-cults in 
general or only to the Tyrian cult of Jezebel it is not easy 
to say; neither baal-worship nor star- worship is elsewhere 
mentioned in this period, except that it is said that Ahaziah 
sent to consult the Philistine Baalzebub (2 K. 1). But this 
latter incident makes it probable that local gods were wor- 
shiped, though the interest of the later (Judsean) editors 
was almost entirely fixed on the bull-cult, which naturally 
appeared to them a more formidable attack on Yahweh. 
There is no mention of any contemporary protests by Yah- 
wists till the introduction of the Tyrian worship. This was 
so flagrantly anti-national that it aroused the opposition of 
the national party, and the foreign cult was crushed by Jehu. 

• Probably Jeroboam meant his bulls to represent Yahweh. True the 
authenticity of the second half of 1 K. 12 28 is doubtful — the tradition of 
the exodus is not mentioned elsewhere before the time of Amos, and we do 
not know when it took shape. But there is no hint in the Old Testament 
that the bulls represented a foreign god, and we know of no Israelite god but 
Yahweh. The Dan shrine, adopted by Jeroboam, seems to have been Yah- 
wist from an early time (Judg. 18). 


It lasted only about a generation, but seems to have been 
generally accepted by the people (1 K. 19 18 ). 

In the Southern Kingdom, from Solomon to Hezekiah, the 
record is one of practically continuous non-Yahwistic cults ; 
and the reform of Hezekiah, extending over less than a gener- 
ation, had hardly any observable permanent effect. Foreign 
worships are noted in the times of Solomon (1 K. II 5 " 8 ), Re- 
hoboam (14 222 *), Asa (15 12 - 14 ), Jehoshaphat C22 43 ), Jehoram 
(2 K. 8 18 ), Ahaziah (8 2 0, Jehoash (12 3 ), Amaziah (14 4 ), 
Azariah (15*), Jotham (15 35 ), Ahaz (16 3 - 4 )- Many of the 
notices refer to highplaces ; but it is probable that these 
shrines involved worship of local baals along with that of 
Yahweh. It is not said that Ahaz's new altar, fashioned 
after that of Damascus (2 K. 16), brought in any element 
of foreign worship ; but the fact that Isaiah's friend Urijah 
(Is. 8 2 ) was charged with its erection shows what freedom 
the king allowed himself in the arrangement of the temple- 
cult. Ahaz's polite indifference to Isaiah's proposed sign 
from Yahweh (Is. 7 12 ) was hardly due to his greater inter- 
est in other deities. But in any case it appears from the 
evidence that Yahwism was only one of a number of cults 
practiced in Judah during this period. No protest against 
this mingling of cults is recorded. It is mentioned that Asa 
removed the hedeshim and the idols that his fathers had 
made, and destroyed his mother's mifleset ; and Jehoshaphat, 
it is said, continued his father's work (1 K. 22 43 ). As to 
the history of sacred prostitution in Israel we have no exact 
information; from Gen. 38 21 - 22 1 K. 14 24 Am. 2 7 (?) Hos. 4 13 
Dt. 23 17, 18 we may perhaps infer that it continued to exist 
to the end of the seventh century, though it may not have 
come into prominence until the time of Manasseh. The 
precise nature of the mifleset is unknown; it was possibly 
connected with obscene worship. These were flagrant viola- 
tions of custom, and their removal did not affect the general 
popular worship of other deities than Yahweh. This popular 
worship appears to have been sanctioned by custom (which 
was the determining authority) and goes back as far as 


Whatever the nature of David's religious movement 
(2 Sam. 6), it is evident from the succeeding history that 
it did not prevent heterolatry. Brought up in a pastoral 
community of Judah he would of course inherit the Yah- 
wistic traditions and customs of that region. But he re- 
garded the cult of Yahweh as belonging only to Yahweh's 
land, and took it as a matter of course that in another land 
he would worship other gods (1 Sam. 26 19 ). It was not he 
that introduced Yahwism into Northern Israel; the tradi- 
tion respecting the shrines of Shiloh and Dan (1 Sam. 1-6, 
Judg. 18) is too strong to permit such a supposition; we 
must suppose that some knowledge of Yahweh had come 
to the Joseph tribes at an earlier time. But Yahwism ap- 
pears to have had its stronghold in Judah, and David was 
an ardent Yahwist. Doubtless a Yahwist party existed be- 
fore he came to the throne — a party that held to the old 
nomadic tradition and was unfriendly to Canaanite customs. 
Thus the policy of Samuel and the " prophets " and other 
persons connected with him may be explained. Saul, whose 
military renown had made him king over the Joseph tribes, 
was doubtless a worshiper of Yahweh (as is indicated by the 
name of his son Jonathan), but not devoted enough to satisfy 
the extreme Yahwists, and Samuel cast his eye on the young 
Judsean warrior (1 Sam. 19 18 ) whose fidelity was unquestion- 
able. If we may accept the account of Samuel's anointing 
of David (1 Sam. 16) as a good tradition, the procedure is 
exactly parallel to the anointing of Jehu — it is the act of 
leaders who saw the necessity of having a vigorous and 
thoroughgoing Yahwist at the head of the government. 
Their expectations were to a certain extent fulfilled. The 
establishment of the Jerusalem shrine, together with the 
partial unification of the country, tended to diffuse and fix 
the conviction that Yahwism was the official national cult. 
Neither David's tabernacle nor Solomon's temple had any 
effect in restraining the worship at the rural shrines, which 
was not always worship of Yahweh; but they doubtless gave 
a certain eclat to the latter cult, especially in the South. 
Nor did the unification last long — it was in fact only skin- 


deep, and the Northern Kingdom set up its own official 
ritual, which, however, seems to have been Yahwistic. The 
attachment to Yahweh was probably strong in the royal 
family of Judah owing to David's influence; royal names 
compounded with "Yahweh" are more numerous in the 
South than in the North. 

Back of David and Saul lies the period of the judges, in 
which the history of Yahwism is obscure. Its close is dis- 
tinguished by the rise of the nationalist Yahweh party, 
whose object was both political and religious — two sides 
that characterized it throughout. It was probably in silent 
process of formation for a considerable time, perhaps from 
the moment of the settlement in Canaan. Antagonism would 
naturally spring up between the rigid adherents of Yahweh 
and the Canaanite party — that is, the Canaanites and those 
who adopted Canaanite and other foreign cults. This an- 
tagonism continued in spite of the partial amalgamation of 
Yahweh and Baal: the Canaanite communities were gradu- 
ally absorbed by the Israelites, and the title " Baal " was 
given in the early times to Yahweh (cf. the name of David's 
son Baalyada, 1 Chr. 14 7 , and so, probably, that of Saul's 
son Ishbaal, 1 Chr. 8 s3 ); but the two cults remained side 
by side. 

According to the prophetic writings the popular devotion 
to non- Yahwistic cults seems to have increased rather than 
diminished as the Israelites advanced in civilization. Yet 
the testimony goes to show that baalism was universal in the 
time of the judges. The summary of the religious history 
in Judg. 2 U " M represents the people as alternating between 
Yahwism and baalism ; but obviously the real situation that 
comes out between the lines is continuous addiction to 
Canaanite cults. The summary is late, in general of the 
Deuteronomic period; but the tradition it expresses is sup- 
ported by other statements in the book. Gideon's ephod 
(8 27 ) set up in all innocence and widely resorted to in the 
central part of the North, apparently had nothing to do 
with Yahweh; and it is doubtful whether Micah's shrine 
was devoted to Yahweh before the Bethlehem priest came 


to him (17 13 ). The judges, as they are here depicted, were 
not men in whom one would look for cultic fastidiousness. 
Beyond doubt Yahweh worship existed in the North; but it 
ia difficult to say how widely extended it was and how much 
stress was laid on it. For example, the author of Deborah's 
Song, a resident of the North and an ardent Yahwist, meas- 
ures the devotion of the tribes to Yahweh by their readiness 
to fight the foreign foe; but it is obvious that participation 
in a battle was determined by local considerations, and is no 
indication of the extent of the popular worship of Yahweh. 
The description of Yahweh's coming from Edom (vss. 4 - 5 ), if 
it belong to the original form of the poem, shows that the 
writer thought it well to insist on the non-Canaanite origin 
of the national deity — it suggests that the consciousness 
that he abode in Edom drew a dividing line between those 
who held to him and those who worshiped Canaanite gods. 
But, apart from the passage in question, the fact that Yah- 
weh's proper or original abode was in Edom (or Horeb) was 
doubtless widely known. 

There is only slight mention of Judah in the book of 
Judges; the tribe was perhaps isolated from the others, 
and this book consists mainly of traditions of the northern 
half of the land. The conquest of the South is curtly de- 
scribed in the first chapter, and besides this there is only 
the bare mention of a Levite (17, 18) who came up from 
Bethlehem to the Ephraimite highland; another Levite 
(19), who dwelt in Ephraim and married a wife in Beth- 
lehem, may also have come from the latter place. As to the 
condition of religion in Judah there is no direct statement 
in Judges. It is perhaps to be included in the indictments 
of chs. 2 and 10, but this is not certain. However this may 
be, all the hints in the early records lead us to suppose that 
the people of the South would be especially devoted to the 
cult of Yahweh. Here dwelt Kenites (l 16 ) of the tribe 
into which, according to one tradition, Moses married, whose 
god seems to have been Yahweh (Ex. 18 10 - u ) ; and Moses' 
wife was of a priestly family. The early fortunes of Moses' 
tribe of Levi are involved in obscurity: after some unfor- 


tunate experience (Gen. 34), it appears, the tribe was scat- 
tered (Gen. 49 7 ) and never succeeded in gaining territory. 
From Judg. 17 it may probably be inferred that some Levites 
lived in the district of Judah, and that they were specially 
connected with the cult of Yahweh. As Moses, in all proba- 
bility, was closely related to the Kenites by marriage, and 
from them adopted the cult of Yahweh and introduced it 
into Israel, his tribe would naturally be regarded as minis- 
trants of this cult; or it is, perhaps, better to say that 
Moses' tribe, affiliated with the Kenites in their home at 
Horeb, fell in with their worship. However this may be, 
the Levites were landless, and seem to have wandered about 
seeking dwelling-places. Carrying special knowledge of the 
details of the cult of Yahweh, they would be a sort of Yah- 
weh missionaries, and would form a nucleus of a Yahweh 
party. With them would be associated all those persons 
who, for whatever reason, declined to adopt the worship of 
the Canaanite baals. As has already been remarked, we do 
not know precisely how or when the Joseph tribes came to 
the knowledge of Yahweh, or how the Yahweh cult spread 
through the land. But it may be assumed that in these early 
times it had no strong hold on the people, and was kept 
alive by a minority (Gideon is, perhaps, according to the 
tradition in Judg. 6, a strenuous Yahwist, yet, according 
to 8 27 , free in cultic details). 

This rapid review of the history indicates that down to 
about the middle of the sixth century Yahwism was not the 
prevailing popular worship in Israel. In every period for 
which there are records the testimony of prophets and his- 
torians is to the effect that non-Yahwistic cults were not 
only practiced by the masses and some of the leaders but 
were preferably followed. For the succeeding time down 
to the coming of Nehemiah there is little historical material. 
In the sixth century there are indistinct signs of indifference 
to Yahweh (Is. 42 18 - 20 45 913 55 2 cf. 59) and later (perhaps 
in the fifth century) definite charges of addiction to foreign 
cults (Is. 57 3 " 10 65 1 " 5 66 3 - 4 )- For the community that built 
the second temple we have only the vague hint in Zech. 5 W1 , 


in which " wickedness " (whether ethical or cultic is not 
said) is borne off from Jerusalem to the land of Shinar. 
From such statements we gather little or nothing concern- 
ing popular customs. The evidence goes to show that 
under Nehemiah the little Judsean community was definitely 
Yahwist 7 and so continued ; and the Samaritans and prob- 
ably the Babylonian colony were in accord with it. The cen- 
tury 550-450 thus witnessed a noteworthy cultic evolution or 
reorganization — the final triumph of Yahweh in Israel. 

For the explanation of the result we must assume, in the 
first place, a firm tradition of Yahwism as the national cult 
brought by the people from the wilderness into Canaan. 
This cult was substantially in the hands of the two dominant 
Israelite bodies, the Moses group (Levi and Judah) and the 
Joseph group, 8 but doubtless spread over the whole Israelite 
territory. The nation, as a whole, seems never to have lost 
the consciousness of its national character, though at times 
this consciousness was obscured or deadened. Other cults 
attracted the people, but none of them had the stamp of 
Israelite nationality. It is out of national traditions that 
national life is developed. 

In the next place, the records bear witness to a constant 
struggle between this native cult and its foreign neighbors. 
The antagonism was at first purely social, not ethical, and 
not based on religious convictions. The people never held 
that Yahweh was the only god in existence, or that he was 
morally or physically superior to other gods. They shared 
the opinion, common among undeveloped communities, that 
a god was to be valued according to his performance; 9 in this 

7 The practices mentioned in Zech. 10 2 13 3 do not disprove this general 
statement. The existence of other gods continued to be recognized 
(Ps. 58. 82). 

8 Gad, Asher, Reuben, and Simeon may be left out of the account as un- 
important. Dan appears to have received Yahwism from Levi. Issachar, 
Zebulon, and Naphtali were probably attached to Ephraim ; they have little 
prominence. The Judah tribe was a conglomeration, in which Kenites, 
Kenizzites, and related clans are found — all originally nomads of the dis- 
tricts south of Canaan. 

9 The appeals of the prophets on behalf of Yahweh are based largely on 
What he has done for his people. 


regard there is a fine eclecticism among half-civilized tribes. 
The loosely held traditional reverence for the national deity 
was not strong enough to prevent recurrence to other deities, 
particularly in those places in which there came about a 
fusion of Israelite and Canaanite inhabitants. It was only 
a small minority that was so strongly attached to Yahweh 
as to be proof against the seductions of outside cults. There 
are indications (in Judges, as is pointed out above) that this 
Yahweh party was in existence at a very early time, but it 
took shape only under the pressure of peculiarly adverse cir- 
cumstances. The antagonism of cults was at first unformu- 
lated, hardly conscious. It began to become conscious when 
the national spirit was aroused, in the time of Samuel and 
Saul, by the fear of permanent foreign domination — political 
nationalism and religious nationalism united, as, in fact, they 
were at bottom one. The records of this early religious 
movement are brief and fragmentary, but there are indi- 
cations that it was at first connected with the old nomadic 
tradition. Samuel is said to have been a Nazirite (Samson 
is too vague a figure to be cited), David was of the Judsean 
wilderness, Elijah was of the eastern steppe, Amos was a 
herdsman. Later prophets (Hos. 2, Is. 7) recur to the 
Avilderness as the scene of the nation's purer religious life. 
It was the recollection of Yahweh as a wilderness deity. 
The Rechabites also, flitting and undefined as they are, be- 
long in this category. This memory of the non-Canaanite 
origin of the national cult was powerful enough to band 
together a certain number of persons, and it was their zeal 
that kept Yahwism alive through the troubled years when 
the whole nation, kings, princes, elders, people, seemed to 
have gone over to the service of foreign gods. This minority 
represented the genius of the Israelite people — the instinct 
of devotion to one deity. 10 After a while the party pro- 
duced a succession of great thinkers who, holding fast to 
the claim of the national god to be worshiped alone, looked 
away from nomadism, and created an ethical type of religion. 

10 Kenan's famous characterization of the Semitic theistic instinct would 
be substantially true if instead of "monotheism " he had said " monolatry." 

toy: the triumph of yahwism 105 

It is not the first time that the true spirit of a people has 
been embodied in a minority which has fought its way to 
recognition. What the other party thought and did we can 
only guess. The Old Testament was written by devoted 
Yahwists who have no mercy on their opponents ; these 
latter have no showing, and the real history of Ahab, Ahaz, 
Manasseh, and the "false prophets" might put things in a 
different light. Be this as it may, it is certain that our 
prophets represent the true Israel. 

But the prophets, with all their splendid hopefulness and 
courage, seemed to be carrying on a losing fight — at the fall 
of Jerusalem the situation was not encouraging. It is, in 
fact, doubtful what the issue would have been but for the 
political conditions that put the control of the Judsean 
remnant into the hands of Yahwists and perhaps other 
nationalists. The leaders on the other side were in exile, 
the old seductive neighbor cults were crushed by the Per- 
sians, and the new rulers of the Jews were not image- 
worshipers and were almost monotheistic. Something, no 
doubt, must be credited to the general advance of thought — 
the Jews began to feel the intellectual influence of a larger 
world. All these conditions combined to set Yahwistic mo- 
nolatry on a firm foundation, from which it was not destined 
to be moved. 

The triumph of Yahvveh was brought about by the vigor 
and determination of a minority of the Jewish people, 
seconded at the last by fortunate social circumstances. The 
ethical power of the Yahwist cult came to it through the 
ethical clearsightedness of its adherents. The moral de- 
velopment was an affair of time : in the beginning the morals 
of the cult were those of a half -civilized people — then there 
was an advance to the elementary rules of the decalogue, 
and to the broader morality of the prophets, and finally to 
the greater depth and refinement of later law-books (Deut., 
Lev. 19) and of Job, Proverbs, Psalms, and certain non- 
canonical writings (Ben-Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit). 
No cult, simply as a cult, has any inherent ethical power — 
it is always ethically what its founders and adherents make 


it. Nor was there any peculiar moral element resident in 
the way in which the Israelite tribes adopted the worship of 
Yahweh. If, indeed, it could be supposed that their adop- 
tion of it was by formal national free choice, this fact would 
probably give enthusiasm and persistence to their devotion. 
But such a method of adoption would be unexampled in the 
history of early tribes, and there is nothing in the records to 
prove it. Ex. 18 cannot be regarded as more reliable in 
details than the rest of the exodus story. The historical 
kernel of the description in Ex. 18 is some connection be- 
tween Israelite Yahwism and the tribe of Jethro; but a 
formal public meeting and vote for Yahwism seems to be in 
the highest degree improbable. 11 It is by social intercourse 
that a cult goes from one early community to another (in 
this way the Israelites fell into baalism) ; and so, probably, 
Yahwism came to Israel. We must, no doubt, recognize a 
peculiar vigor and stanchness in the original adherents of 
Yahweh — such stanchness is a characteristic of the Jewish 
people, and is sufficient to account for the persistence of the 
national worship. The later ethical character of the cult 
may be regarded as contained implicitly in the earliest form 
in the sense in which every result is implicit in its beginning. 
The maintenance and development of a national faith by 
a minority is not a phenomenon peculiar to Israelite history. 
The Greek national religion had its real expression in the 
poets and philosophers of the sixth, fifth, and fourth centu- 
ries B.C. ; but the circumstances were such that this highest 
form did not penetrate the masses. China, India, and Egypt 
went through similar experiences. Medieval Christianity, 
which was the old Germanic heathenism with a veneer of 
Christian terms, owed its purification to a few persons, and 
the European masses are still heathen. The peculiarity of 
the Jewish history is that it was possible to isolate and 
train the better element of the people. 

11 Similarly the tradition of the prowess of Levi (Ex. 32, Deut. 33 s - 9 ) is 
not historical.