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Yahweh (Canaanite deity)

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Zeus Yahweh

A YHD drachm, a silver coin probably struck by the Persian administration in Jerusalem (4th century BCE). The coin shows a deity seated on a winged wheel, sometimes interpreted as a depiction of Yahweh (Yahu). The legend reads either "YHD" ("Judea") or "YHW"' ("Yahu").

The Hebrew/Christian god Yahweh, prior to taking on wholly monotheistic attributes in the 6th century BCE, was a part of the Canaanite pantheon in the pre-Babylonian captivity period. Archeological evidence reveals that during this time period the Israelites were a group of Canaanite people. Yahweh was seen as a war god, and equated with El. Asherah, who was often seen as El's consort, has been described as a consort of Yahweh in numerous inscriptions.[1] The name Yahwi may possibly be found in some male Amorite names.[2] Yahu may be found in a place name.

Archeological evidence

Egyptian place name "the land of Shasu-yiw"

A list of Egyptian place names from the temple of Amon at Soleb (see also Shasu of Yhw), from the time of Amenhotep III (1402-1363 BCE) is the earliest possible occurrence of Yahu.[3] The place name appears to be associated with Asiatic nomads in the 14th to 13th centuries BCE. A later mention from the era of Ramesses II (c. 1303 BCE – 1213 BCE) associates Yahu with Mount Seir. From this, it is generally supposed that this Yahu refers to a place in the area of Moab and Edom.[4] Whether the god was named after the place, or the place named after the god, is undecided.[5]

Yw in the Baal Cycle

More recently, the damaged Ugaritic cuneiform text KTU 1.1:IV:14-15 is also included in the discussion:[6]

From KTU II:IV:13-14

  • [ ][p]n il dp[id...] [7] [J yp 'r] Sm bny yw 'ilt
My son [shall not be called] by the name of Yw, o goddess, [Jfc ym smh (?)] [but Ym shall be his name!]
  • wp'r $m ym
So he proclaimed the name of Yammu.
  • [rbt 'atrt (?)] t'nyn
[Lady Athiratu (?)] answered,
  • lzntn ['at np'rt (?)]
"For our maintenance [you are the one who has been proclaimed (?)][8]

Many scholars[who?] consider yw a reference to Yahweh. Others[who?] consider that yw is unlikely to have be derived from yhw in the second millennium. However the Ugaritic text is read, the verbal play on the similarity between yw and ym (the sea-god Yam) is evident.[9]


Early worship of Yahweh likely originated in southern Canaan during the Late Bronze Age.[10]

Early history

It is probable that Yahu or Yahweh was worshipped in southern Canaan (Edom, Moab, Midian) from the 14th century BC, and that this cult was transmitted northwards due to the Kenites. This "Kenite hypothesis" was originally suggested by Cornelius Tiele in 1872 and remains the standard view among modern scholars.[11] In its classical form suggested by Tiele, the "Kenite hypothesis" assumes that Moses was a historical Midianite who brought the cult of Yahweh north to Israel. This idea is based on an old tradition (recorded in Judges 1:16, 4:11) that Moses' father-in-law was a Midianite priest of Yahweh, as it were preserving a memory of the Midianite origin of the god. While the role of the Kenites in the transmission of the cult is widely accepted, the historical role of Moses finds less support in modern scholarship.

The oldest West Semitic attestation of the name (outside of biblical evidence) is the inscription of the victory stela erected by Mesha, king of Moab, in the 9th century BC. In this inscription, Yahweh is not presented as a Moabite deity. Mesha rather records how he defeated Israel, and plundered the temple of Yahweh, presenting the spoils to his own god, Chemosh.

The direct competition of Yahweh with Baal is depicted in the narrative of Elijah in the Books of Kings. Yahweh or Yahu appears in many Hebrew Bible theophoric names, including Elijah itself, which translates to "my god is Yahu", besides other names such as Yesha'yahu "Yahu saved", Yeshua "Yahweh's Salvation" or Yahu-haz "Yahu held", and others found in the early Jewish Elephantine papyri.

See also


  1. Archeology of the Hebrew Bible
  2. Frank Moore Cross: Canaanite myth and Hebrew epic: essays in the history of the religion of Israel. Harvard Univ Pr, 1997. P. 62f. Print. ISBN 978-0-674-09176-4
  3. Theological dictionary of the Old Testament, 5 :G. Johannes Botterweck,Helmer Ringgren "Of the Egyptian evidence, a list of toponyms from the temple of Amon at Soleb (Amenhotep III, 1402-1363) is the earliest; here we find an entry t3 slsw yhw[3], "the land of Shasu-y/iw". Similar references occur in a block from Soleb"
  4. DDD (1999:911), citing Weippert (1974:271), Axelsson (1987:60)
  5. R. Giveon (1964) suggests that this Egyptian reference to yhw might be short for a *beth-yahweh, i.e. an early Canaanite cult center of Yahweh.
  6. The Israelites in history and tradition Niels Peter Lemche - 1998 - 246 "Maybe also the Ugaritic passage KTU 1.1:IV:14-15 should be included in the discussion: sm . bny . yw . ilt, translated by Mark S. Smith in Simon B. Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), 89 "
  7. sm.bny.yaw.ilt [...] A concordance of Ugaritic words, 3 Vol.3:Jesús-Luis Cunchillos,Juan-Pablo Vita,José-Ángel Zamora p1684
  8. Johannes Cornelis de Moor The rise of Yahwism: the roots of Israelite monotheism 1997 - 445 13-20 [J yp 'r] Sm bny yw 'ilt = My son [shall not be called] by the name of Yw, o goddess, [Jfc ym smh (?)] [but Ym shall be bis name!] wp'r $m ym = So he proclaimed the ..."
  9. Theological dictionary of the Old Testament: 5 p 510 ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren - 1986 - 521 "The form yw could not be derived from yhw in the second millennium unless the latter had become opaque, which is unlikely. However the Ugaritic text is read, the verbal play on the similarity between yw and ym (the sea-god Yam) must be recognised".
  10. Robert K Gnuse, No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel, Sheffield Academic Press (1997) pp. 74-87
  11. DDD (1999:911).


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