Polytheism in Genesis

Polytheism in Genesis
Questions About Biblical Inerrancy

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Three distinct beings, united in ways that are contested amongst those who read the Bible, and yet each possessing qualities of the divine.  What is contested is just how these divine qualities are manifested in each and what they mean for each other.

By and large, I feel that so many people forget that the Old Testament does reveal knowledge about God.  The common mindset from the people I know is that the New Testament is the source to look to for who God is.  Then, they decide to interpret the Old Testament views on God and doctrine in general through the eyes of the New Testament.  They fail to realize that the Old Testament did in fact come first and that it should be considered and understood first before reading and fully understanding the New Testament.

I am going to lay out specific scriptural incidents from the Torah that can give us an understanding of God, whomever that might be, and all the things that exist in Heaven.

The Genesis Evidence

Genesis 18

Three men appear to Abraham and he hails them (or at least the leader) as the Lord.  God appeared in the form of three men.  However, in chapter 19, we see that two of them were angels, or at least described as such.  These angels still seemed to have godly powers (19:10-11; 16-17; 23-26).

Genesis 22

This account stuck out to me while I was doing my own personal reading and studying of the Bible for myself.  There were some inconsistencies in this account that I had never noticed before but, when I really read it through, it cast the concept of God in a whole new light.

A quick summary of Genesis 22: this passage is a rather famous one where Abraham is being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  It eventually results in the fulfillment of a covenant that God made with Abraham earlier in Genesis, which was for Abraham’s seed to fill the entire world and nations.

Isaac was already a blessing from God to Abraham and his wife, Sarah.  He was born to them when they were both quite old.  It was also rather apparently that Isaac was to be the only son that they had.  If Abraham were to sacrifice Isaac at the will of God then that would be the loss of his only way to have his seed fill the Earth.

Of course, the story is quite famous because, as Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, God stops him from doing so and he is rewarded for his faithfulness.

Now…the words in this story reveal more than one might initially suspect.

We know, from the very first verse, that it is God who asked this of Abraham.  The verse reads well, stating:

“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am”

We have now established that it was God who was speaking to Abraham and God who was requiring a sacrifice from him.

After the sacrifice is about to happen, a new person shows up, stopping the sacrifice.  Let’s read the verses involved:

“And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.” –Genesis 22:11

So, the “angel of the Lord” has stopped Abraham from committing the sacrifice he was instructed by God to make.  But, the angel continues to speak in a rather confusing way in verse 12—

“And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

The wording in this verse is extremely important.

First, the angel of the Lord makes note that Abraham fears God.  This much is evident since Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son showing he feared God more than he loved his son.  This notation from the angel, however, shows that the angel is separate from God.

The verse continues, however, to say that Abraham did not withhold his son from HIM, the angel!

We already know from the first verse of chapter 22 that Abraham was asked to do this for God.

Then, in verse 11, we are introduced to the angel of the Lord, who stops Abraham from doing this thing.

Then, in verse 12, the angel makes note that Abraham fears God, but then goes on to say that Abraham was not withholding the sacrifice from him, the angel, NOT from God.

There is an inconsistency here that does not match up.  It was God that required the sacrifice, not the angel of the Lord, and the angel of the Lord makes it clear that he is not God, but then says that the sacrifice was meant for himself, not for the God that he references.

There are many ways to think about this.  One might think that the angel of the Lord is, in fact, God, and that when he says, “I know that thou fearest God” that he is actually referring to himself in 3rd person.  There might be some plausibility behind this theory, except that an angel is not the same substance or figure as God.  An angel is of a higher order than humans but are of a lower order than God (or so the Old Testament currently suggests).  For God to be an angel would not work because He is not the substance of an angel.

Second, this is an angel of the Lord.  The Lord is the God described all throughout the Old Testament.  So God appearing as an angel of Himself wouldn’t precisely fit this case either.

One might think that this is a reference to the Trinity and that the angel of the Lord is a pre-incarnate Jesus and that the God He refers to is the Father.  In that way, Jesus can speak as though the offering is to Him because He and the Father are one God.

However, this again hits a snag, because Jesus is not an angel.  He is God.

Genesis 28

Jacob erects a sacred pillar (18) in Bethel in honor of the God he is just getting to know (20-21).  However, this is forbidden explicitly later on in the Bible because it was a polytheistic/pagan practice (Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 16:22).  It’s confusing as to why Jacob would do such a thing that was done so frequently in other polytheistic nations (Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 12:3) if he was truly monotheistic and didn’t know (or at least believe) that there were other gods or divine beings in Heaven.

Genesis 31

Jacob is begged by Isaac and Rebekah especially to marry within the covenant and people (see 27:46 and 28:1-3).  This is likely because they were disgusted with Esau’s choice to do otherwise (27:46; 26:34-35).  The fact that Isaac and Rebekah both trusted in her brother, Laban, to provide a respectable wife for Jacob suggests that Laban’s family wasn’t seen as untrustworthy and within good standing.  The primary concern with Isaac and Rebekah not wanting Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman is due to religious differences, a difference which suggests that Laban’s family would be okay in the way of religion.

However, Laban undoubtedly believes and worships more than one god (even through idols; 31:19; 31:30).  Given their status as “household items” he probably worshiped them through idols.  This, of course, is something strictly forbidden by Judaism and Christianity.  However, the question remains: why would Isaac and Rebekah send their child to marry women who were daughters of a pagan father, meaning they undoubtedly were also pagan?  They explicitly trusted Rebekah’s family in this respect, trusted them to be respectable.  Somehow, however, this wasn’t the case, and they were a completely different religion than Isaac and Jacob—or were they?

Genesis 32

After sending an envoy to Esau, Jacob prepares to meet him himself with his family.  During the night, however, Jacob is suddenly made to wrestle with a man.  There is speculation over whether or not this event actually took place before or after the meeting with Esau as after the fight, Jacob’s hip is maimed (26) yet he walks fine in chapter 33.

The fight in and of itself is interesting because, without a doubt, this man is divine in some respect.  The question is whether or not he is an angel.

Scripture explicitly states that he is an angel later on (Hosea 12:5-6).  Given the context of the story, however, this doesn’t seem entirely accurate, especially since Jacob himself says that he saw God face-to-face after this altercation (Genesis 32:31).

The angel renames Jacob.  While this may not seem to be a very big deal to us readers to him it would have been.  Throughout the Bible, God is the only one who would be renaming people (Genesis 17:5; 15).  The fact this angel renames Jacob says quite a bit about his status.  It would seem as though the angel is God, or a god, but for some reason this god seems to have been demoted just like the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 22.  A changing of the Torah would explain this inconsistency quite well.  Why was this god demoted to angel later in the texts?

Genesis 35

Jacob is now returning with his family (and all the women and children of Shechem to boot) to Bethel where he initially erected the sacred pillar spoken of in chapter 28.  This place is a sacred site (28:16) and of God.  One of the prerequisites to coming here is rid one’s self of all foreign gods and signs of them (35:2; 4).  Note: this passage says nothing about the foreign gods being false.  It simply denotes them as “foreign” and not the God of Israel.  This suggests that yes, there are other gods, and yes, the people following Jacob likely were worshiping some of them, but now they are to recognize and worship only one God, that being El-Bethel (7; translates to “God of Bethel”).

God renames Jacob here again (10), a decidedly odd action considering that this had already happened in chapter 32.  This inconsistency lends more credit to the theory that the texts have been changed at some point.  Jacob is finally actually referred to as Israel a couple times after this (21-22) but then it switches back to Jacob right afterwards.  He is referred to as Jacob or Israel interchangeably through the rest of the Bible.

Jacob yet again erects another sacred pillar on his wife’s grave (20) which is, again, extremely odd.  This isn’t an altar like Jacob erected earlier in honor of God (3) but is instead a pillar.  Given the Lord’s apparent animosity towards pillars as expressed later in the Torah it’s confusing as to why Jacob is doing this, especially considering that the Lord had ordered them to remove from them all signs of foreign gods already.  Why would Jacob do something that was a polytheistic practice in a place where other gods were not welcome?  One might think that perhaps it was acceptable because there are other gods but Jacob was only intending this pillar to be connected to the El-Bethel, thus making it acceptable.  Once again, small inconsistencies that suggests changes later on.

Question: Why is Benjamin listed as having been born in Paddan-aram (26) when we were just told he was born somewhere between Bethel and Ephrath?  Paddan-aram area isn’t anywhere near Bethel or Ephrath.  The Paddan-aram area is far to the east of Bethel.  Could this be another inconsistency that exists due to changing of texts?

Chapter 36

The first evidence of changing of texts is found through errors noting the lineage of Esau’s wives and their fathers.  Compare 36:2-14 to 26:34 and 28:9.  Yet further evidence of Torah inconsistencies.  While these don’t point towards more than one god they do definitely show us inconsistencies that speak of changes being made and mistakes slipping through the cracks.  Given the close proximity of the earlier two sources to other questionable areas then it seems like they are incorrect and the listing in chapter 36 is correct.  Also, chapter 36 expands on them and their descendants which makes it seem more reliable.  Still, the unreliability of earlier parts of Genesis is a source of concern.

Chapter 41

Joseph is given in marriage to Asenath (45), which literally means “belonging to Neith.”  Neith is an Egyptian goddess.  Asenath’s father’s name, Potiphera, means “he whom Ra gave,” Ra being an Egyptian god.

One very important thing to remember is that Pharaoh is not Jewish despite his familiar and comfortable references to God (38-39).  Yes he referred to God, but whether or not he was referring to the Jewish God that Joseph was familiar with isn’t unknown and also isn’t very likely, especially considering the fact that he was Egyptian, meaning he would have worshiped the Egyptian gods.  The language in 37-43 doesn’t tell us that, though.  In fact, it almost seems to strongly imply otherwise.

The language throughout the Torah is tricky and a little deceptive when it comes to speaking of God.  Oftentimes, when foreigners use the word “God” we are led to believe that they believe in the Jewish God, but that simply isn’t true.  Their language suggests this but historical context and other Biblical passages strongly speak against this.

We see Joseph and other Torah figures (such as Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham) speaking of God in very similar terms.  Based on the similar language styles it definitely does not exclude the idea that they believed in and possibly even worshiped other gods for a time.  All we see recorded in the Torah are the Jewish God’s dealings with various figures but we don’t know if other gods had dealings with them.  There is much that the Torah doesn’t record about the lives of its figures.  This much is made obvious since this entire scenario of Joseph’s story took place while Jacob was alive but we were treated to Jacob’s death chapters before this one.

Chapter 44

In this chapter we are told how Joseph practices divination via a silver goblet (5).  This kind of practice was definitely forbidden by God (Leviticus 19:31).  It seems extremely odd that an upright man of God would ever turn to divination.  In previous chapters Joseph had no trouble interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams by the power of God alone yet here we have explicit reference to Joseph using a silver goblet and divination to receive things from God.

Divination during this time was a practice of pouring liquids into a cup or bowl and looking for omens in them.  Any Jew or Christian doing this now would be frowned severely upon at the best or condemned and deemed to be of Satan at the worst.  Yet here we have a prophet of God, a man who has the Lord’s favor and the great-grandson of Abraham himself, using divination in his position in Egypt.

Does God tolerate His followers consulting false spirits even if just to hold their position?  The typical answer would be no.  Any strong Christian today who compromised and started doing witchcraft to protect him or herself would be condemned by most Christians.

Since Joseph did this, however, and no one batted an eye, not even his brothers when they returned, it stands to reason that this practice must not have been regarded as so abhorrent or bad at one time.  Consulting other spirits (or gods) through means of Egyptian witchcraft was a commonplace thing.  If Joseph did it here then who’s to say that he actually wasn’t doing it earlier when he interpreted dreams?  We aren’t told that he did but the Torah doesn’t record everything…so he might have.  How is it that this generation, so close to Abraham, was still steeped in witchcraft and consulting other gods and spirits in their doings?  And, more importantly, why was God okay with it?

Chapter 48

When Jacob is blessing Joseph’s sons he makes some interesting references to God that bring up some points that should be considered.

First, Jacob refers to God as “the God,” instead of just “God” (15).  That’s an odd thing for a person who only believes in one God to say.

What is really interesting, however, is how he refers to God as an Angel (16).  This is reminiscent of chapter 22 where God suddenly switches from God to an Angel of the Lord.  Are we seeing a reprise of the Angel of the Lord here?  Why is God suddenly referred to as an Angel?  This inconsistency is another black mark against ferocious assertions that there exists only one God.  Why is God called an Angel and why is the Angel in chapter 22 obviously different from God?  Question everything.

The Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel

I purposely left this for the last because people often point towards the wording in the Garden of Eden as proof of a Trinity in God.  However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Now that we’ve seen the very real evidence that God isn’t alone in His divinity and that there ARE other divine beings—gods?—in existence, we can examine the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel more effectively.

“..let Us make man in Our image…” (Genesis 1:26)

“..and you will be like gods, who know good and evil..” (Genesis 3:5)

“…the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil…” (Genesis 3:22)

“…come, let us go down and there confuse their language…” (Genesis 11:7)

The Lord God: speaking and referring to Himself in a plural sense?  Or multiple divine beings: speaking and acting together?  One might think the former and recognize it as proof of the Trinity.  There’s one main issue I see with that:

If God is a Trinity then why didn’t God refer to Himself in a plural form all throughout the Torah and New Testament?  God only refers to Himself in a plural form in the Garden of Eden and at the Tower of Babel.  Never, however, does He do this again.

Protestants have claimed forever that the New Testament is all about revealing the Trinity to the world.  If that is true then why doesn’t God refer to Himself in a plural manner?  Why does Jesus take painstaking measures to inform others that He is not His Father but is in fact there to do the Will of the Father, which He has seen (John 5:19)?  It’s because there is no Trinity and the Trinity isn’t God.

If the Trinity is the God that we’re supposed to worship then this God effectively isn’t omniscient.

Mark 13:32 says that Jesus does not know when He will return.  He is without this knowledge.  EVERYONE is without this knowledge except the Father.

IF the Trinity is God then the Trinity should know when Jesus will return since God knows everything.  However, the Trinity doesn’t know when Jesus will return because the Spirit and Son don’t know.  Only the Father knows.  The Trinity, if it is God, does not know everything and is not an omniscient God.

Conclusion

I know that many will likely say that the people during the time that Genesis speaks of would not have had the commandments of God given later on in Leviticus or Deuteronomy.  That is not true, however.

Moses was called to write down the laws that already existed. God wasn’t just making things up as He went.

Genesis 26:5 says, “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Abraham kept God’s laws. The Hebrew word for “law” here is “towrah.”  Read about it.

“Torah” doesn’t just mean the first five books, it refers to the laws of God as given in the Old Testament times. In this case, it refers directly to the Mosaic Law. God is saying in Genesis 26 that Abraham had been obeying His law, which means he had it, which means all of the Israelites should have had it…right?  Despite this, however, they continued in their false ways, and God did not bat an eye.

To me, this says that our Most High recognized the existence of other gods, or divine beings, and that the Old Testament was later changed to reflect an unwillingness to see those divine creatures for who they are.  I don’t see this as horrible in and of itself…after all, we were told explicitly not to have anything to do with them.  But they do exist, and for Latter-day Saints to be criticized for knowing this is completely ridiculous considering the growing amount of evidence that they do exist and always have and always will.

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