Jesus – Son of Yahweh?


















Unlike mainstream Judeao-Christianity, the EFC does not consider the Old Testament to be an important part of our religious tradition. This is because it is mainly the story of the ancient Israelites as they developed into Jews and not that of the Anglo Saxon English people. Parts of the Old Testament, especially the early parts of Genesis, do contain elements of a wider mythology which may be of relevance to us. And other parts may be useful simply to study. But it is not our story.



We see Jesus as the incarnate ‘Word’ (Logos) of God. The Logos has spoken, and continues to speak, to all peoples in different ways and by different means. But we do not equate ‘God’ with Yahweh who we see as the tribal Guardian of the Israelites. Neither do we see Jesus as the Jewish Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.   






However, this approach does raise the important question of Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament and to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Orthodox Christianity has gone to great lengths to show that Jesus is not only foreseen in the Old Testament but that he is the awaited Messiah. Indeed, Jesus’ actual name is derived from the Hebrew ‘Yehoshua’ or its diminutive ‘Yeshua’ or ‘Yahshua’. The names means to ‘cry to God (Yahweh) for help’ or ‘Yahweh rescues or delivers.’  Whilst only Matthew and Luke have nativity stories, they both tell of an Angel instructing Mary that the child must be called Yehoshua, so it must be important. It certainly seems to support the Judeao-Christian theology that not only is Jesus ‘God’, but that ‘God’ is Yahweh. Jesus is seen as implacably a part of the Old Testament and the Old Testament a vital part of the Christian religion and foreshadowing of the incarnation of Yahweh as Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, the story may simply have been made up specifically to make this link!



But not all early Christians, or later ones for that matter, accepted this link. One of the earliest and best known of these was Marcion of Sinope who lived around 85 to 165 AD. He expressly and emphatically rejected that Yahweh was ‘God the Father’. This was because he found that the teachings of Jesus were at odds with the actions of Yahweh as written down in the Old Testament. Marcionites rejected the Old Testament on the basis that its God, Yahweh, was a violent, false God and even rejected large parts of the New Testament on the same grounds.



Furthermore, Yahweh is not the only ‘God of Israel’ mentioned in the Old Testament. It also refers to ‘El’, who was originally a Canaanite deity who came to be worshipped by the Israelites and is well attested to in the Bible.  Many academics believe that parts of the Old Testament have been cobbled together from two separate texts representing different traditions, the Yahwist and the Elhoist.



There is a great deal of evidence in the texts to support this view. The very name ‘Israel’, which means ‘may El persevere’, includes ‘El’ but not ‘Yahweh’. In Genesis 35: 9-15, we see Jacob being given this name through the blessing of ‘El Shaddai’, that is God Almighty. There are also many similarities between descriptions for El in the Canaanite texts and those used for Yahweh in the biblical sources (1).



In the oldest literary traditions of the Pentateuch, there are more references to God as El than as Yahweh. El is identified as the deity to whom many of the early patriarchal shrines and altars were built. For example, in Genesis 33: 20, Jacob builds an altar in Shechem and dedicates it to “El, God of Israel”. In Genesis 17: 1, it is written that “Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him: “I am El Shaddai.” Exodus 6: 2-3 states, “I am Yahweh. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, and I was not known to them by the name Yahweh.”



Furthermore, Yahweh was originally presented as being subordinate to El. Deuteronomy 32: 8-9 presents Yahweh as merely one of El’s council!


“When the Most High (’elyôn) gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated humanity, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of divine beings. For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”



So, El is presented as the Most High who gave each deity in the divine council their own nation. Israel was the nation that Yahweh received. But Yahweh was allotted this nation by El, ‘the Most High.’ Yahweh is simply one of the deities within the divine council of El. Other biblical passages support this view. Psalm 82: 1 speaks of the “assembly of El.” Psalm 29: 1 enjoins “the sons of El” to worship Yahweh and Psalm 89: 6-7 lists Yahweh among El’s divine council.



Over time, the Israelites came to see or depict their tribal god as the supreme deity, even the only deity, and to absorb the imagery of El into Yahweh. Even the name ‘El’ came to mean simply “God,” so that Yahweh was then directly identified as El. Thus in Joshua 22: 22: “the God of Gods is Yahweh” (’el ’elohim yhwh).



The EFC does believe that the story of the divine Council is a true revelation from God. Whilst it is possible that the Urgaritic people did have a direct revelation from the supreme God in El, this does not necessarily follow. According to Marcion, the supreme God has not revealed His name. However, it clearly shows that Yahweh is not that God! 



The EFC sees Jesus as the incarnation of the one true God. We do not equate this God to either El or Yahweh. We do not dispute that Jesus was born into a Jewish world, where Yahweh was equated with the one God. ‘Yehoshua’ was actually a common name in Judea in the time of Christ. As Yahweh was equated with the one God in that culture, so the name had come to mean ‘Salvation through God’ as God was understood in that time and place – Yahweh. The story in the bible about the naming of Jesus simply reflects these cultural associations. 




1. See: F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press 1973); M. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans 1990); and W. Dever, Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans 2008).




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