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The Early History of God

ISBN: 9780802839725

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Foreword by Patrick D. Miller:

In this remarkable, acclaimed history of the development of monotheism, Mark S. Smith explains how Israel's religion evolved from a cult of Yahweh as a primary deity among many to a fully defined monotheistic faith with Yahweh as sole god. Repudiating the traditional view that Israel was fundamentally different in culture and religion from its Canaanite neighbors, this provocative book argues that Israelite religion developed, at least in part, from the religion of Canaan. Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological sources, Smith cogently demonstrates that Israelite religion was not an outright rejection of foreign, pagan gods but, rather, was the result of the progressive establishment of a distinctly separate Israelite identity. This thoroughly revised second edition of The Early History of God includes a substantial new preface by the author and a foreword by Patrick D. Miller.

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“The most significant change involves Israel’s cultural identity. Despite the long regnant model that the ‘Canaanites’ and Israelites were people of fundamentally different culture, archaeological data now cast doubt on this view.” (Page 6)

“Iron I period (ca. 1200–1000). The record would suggest that the Israelite culture largely overlapped with, and derived from, ‘Canaanite’ culture.” (Page 6)

“Convergence involved the coalescence of various deities and/or some of their features into the figure of Yahweh. This development began in the period of the Judges and continued during the first half of the monarchy. At this point, El and Yahweh were identified, and perhaps Asherah no longer continued as an identifiably separate deity. Features belonging to deities such as El, Asherah, and Baal were absorbed into the Yahwistic religion of Israel.” (Pages 7–8)

“In early Israel, the cult of Yahweh generally held sway. However, this statement does not fully characterize pre-exilic Israelite religion as a whole. Rather, Israelite religion apparently included worship of Yahweh, El, Asherah, and Baal.” (Page 7)

“During the Judges period, the major deities in the territory of Israel included Yahweh, El, Baal, and perhaps Asherah.” (Page 30)

Review of the first edition—Smith deserves a very careful and appreciative hearing. . . . This book provides a feast for the attentive reader and concerned scholar.

Journal of Biblical Literature

Review of the first edition—Smith assembles and analyzes a tremendous array of archaeological and textual evidence to challenge the notion of Israel’s religious distinctiveness. . . . The implications of this insight for theological reflection on Judaism are incalculable.

The Christian Century

Review of the first editon—It is rare to find a book so steeped in the primary evidence of texts and history and so thoroughly conversant with the nuances of recent scholarly discussion. . . . Smith’s admirable erudition and discerning judgment will make this book required reading for present and future generations of biblical scholars and students.

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

Review of the first edition—The notes are a treasury of information and resources for scholars, yet the treatment is one that an informed reader can follow. . . . One is left with both respect for Smith’s contribution and also a clear awareness of how it cuts against the basic grain of the biblical text itself.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • Title: The Early History of God
  • Author: Mark S. Smith
  • Series: Eerdmans Biblical Resources Series
  • Publisher: Eerdmans
  • Publication Date: 2002
  • Pages: 289

Mark S. Smith is Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary and Skirball Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University. He has also served as visiting professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. An award-winning author, Smith has written sixteen books, including The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel; The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts; God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World; How Human Is God? Seven Questions about God and Humanity in the Bible; and Where the Gods Are: Spatial Dimensions of Anthropomorphism in the Biblical World. His current research focuses on a commentary on the book of Judges, coauthored with archaeologist Elizabeth Bloch-Smith.


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Digital list price: $28.99
Save $6.00 (20%)