Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 070
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 70 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon and this week I’ve been reading and watching various books and videos about the identity of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
My aim has been to discover whether the Yahweh of the Old Testament is—as those of the Jewish faith and Jehovah’s Witnesses teach—the same God as El (or Elohim) and El Elyon. Is there only one “true God” in the Biblical narrative, just with multiple titles, or are there two or more gods vying for the top spot? Is Yahweh, Elohim, El Elyon, a real God (or gods) or just a man-made deity? And if real, which one (or ones) were responsible for creating the physical Universe including us?
There are many different explanations out there, and the more you dig the more questions you end up with, but I narrowed it down to three questions which I’m going to attempt to answer in this podcast:
1. What does the Bible say the Israelites believed?
2. What did the Israelites actually believe?
3. What is actually true?
Let’s take the first question, What does the Bible say the Israelites believed?
Taking just the Torah—the first five books of the Old Testament—we have a few very specific mentions of Elohim, El Elyon, and Yahweh as follows:
Genesis 1:1 tells us “Elohim created the heavens and the earth.” Elohim is plural. It could mean “gods” and this might seem plausible when we read in verse 26 Elohim saying “let us create man in our image”, but Elohim can also mean “god”, singular, with an emphasis on the supremacy of the god in question—a kind of royal “We”-ness. Every Bible translation I’ve come across translates Genesis 1:1 as “God”, a single god with a capital G. Verse 26 may indicate he is speaking to other gods—or as Jehovah’s Witnesses would have it, angels—or more specifically one angel-god, the “Word” of John 1:1 who they say was Jesus in his pre-human existence. Or it could just be an example of God talking to himself as a singular but majestic entity.
Or then again—and this is the explanation I favour—he could be talking to one or more of a number of fractal instances of himself. Trinitarians would, I guess, limit these instances to three persons in one God but I take it further and think of God as Many yet One. I have no problem recognising these instances in the Biblical narrative as “angels” or “gods” but I do want to say I only believe in One—one “God”, one Mind, one Consciousness, arising from Source. If that singularity experiences life through duality, fine, but I feel any duality we speak about is but an illusion. Mind is ultimately non-dual in nature. There is just One.
Genesis chapter 2 fleshes things out a bit when it tells us, not that “God”—or even “gods”—created the heavens and the earth, but that Yahweh did it. Much more helpful! Now we have a specific God to attribute creation to, and combining Genesis chapters 1 and 2 together we can deduce that the Torah shows the Israelites believed Elohim and Yahweh were the same god, the god of creation—God with a capital G. Bear in mind this is only what the Torah is telling us they believed. In actuality, the Israelites may not have believed any such thing, at least not to start with. Interestingly, despite the hints at dualism in Genesis, Isaiah 44:24 says, “I am Jehovah, who made everything. I stretched out the heavens by myself, And I spread out the earth. Who was with me?”
Any belief in El or El Elyon being a different entity to Yahweh does not seem to be indicated in the Torah, at least nowhere I can see. In fact, quite the opposite. As Genesis continues into chapter 12, it indicates that even Abraham, the father of the Israelites, was a bonafide monotheist worshipping only Yahweh, which is odd because he was from Babylon and we are told in Joshua 24:2 that his father, Terah, worshipped “other gods”. Surely Abraham did too, at least to start with, but Jehovah’s Witnesses will not accept this. They say Abraham worshipped only Yahweh, the God of Shem who, apparently, was still alive at the time.
Genesis 14:18 introduces us to Abraham’s encounter with the king-priest of Salem, Melchizedek and his god, El Elyon which means “God Most High”. In isolation, this might leave us wondering if this god is different to Yahweh in Genesis chapter 2 and Elohim in Genesis chapter 1, but we are quickly given the answer in verse 22. El Elyon is applied there, by Abraham himself, to Yahweh, El Elyon, Elohim, “Maker of heaven and earth”. Elohim, El Elyon, and Yahweh are clearly the same God as far as the Torah is concerned, and that, according to the Torah, is what was believed from the get-go.
Yahweh appears again in Exodus chapter 3 in the account of Moses and the burning bush. Some have suggested this was not Yahweh himself but an angel—indeed that is what verse 2 seems to be saying—and some scholars even believe Yahweh is synonymous with “the angel of Yahweh”, but a contextual reading of chapter 3 seems to indicate not just the presence of an angel, but also Yahweh, God, who speaks from the burning bush.
So, it would appear, that the Torah is telling us the Israelites believed in Elohim (God), Yahweh, and El Elyon (God Most High) and that all these terms represent one and the same God—the creator God, the God of Abraham, and later the God of Moses and the Israelites. But is this how things really were?
Moving onto our second question, What did the Israelites actually believe?
Putting the Bible to one side for a moment we find the situation to be much messier in real life. According to a number of modern scholars who base their findings not on the Bible narrative but on actual archaeology, the early Israelites were descendants not of Abraham who is said to have originated from Ur in Babylonia, but from the Canaanites, and the Canaanites were, it seems, already worshipping El and Yahweh long before the Israelites ever came on the scene.
The Canaanites were polytheistic, worshippers of multiple gods. El was their chief god, the father of a pantheon of lesser gods, the Elohim or “sons of El”. Yahweh was a different god to El, one of these lesser gods, one of the Elohim. Now whether or not this reflects reality, whether there is or isn’t a real live Yahweh separate to El, or even an El himself, the fact is that’s what the Israelites originally believed in. It was messy, unlike the “one God” of the Torah. So, the Torah isn’t a true reflection of early Israelite history. It appears to be a rewrite from much later in time.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, I always believed the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, were written by Moses around 1513 to 1473 BCE, but it’s more likely Moses—and even Abraham—never existed. The Israelites were probably a group of people that emerged from a Canaanite tribe around 1175 to 1000 BCE. The Torah was most likely not written until after the Israelites had grown significantly as a people and been exiled in Assyria and later Babylonia. Most likely it was written during Persian times around 500-400 BCE as an attempt to codify what the Israelites were supposed to believe, officially.
You see, the Persians were big on repatriation. They were quite happy to see the Jews return to their homeland, but on one condition—that they had a national identity, a history of their origins, and above all a set of laws. Enter the Torah. What the Israelites actually believed from earliest times might have been nothing like they believed in their later post-exilic history. They may well have started out like their Canaanite ancestors, believing in multiple gods of which El and Yahweh were two distinct personages. Then, as time went on, they may have conflated El and Yahweh into the Most High (El Elyon) which then got written into the Torah. The Torah may have simply been an attempt to tidy up the messy, multi-god religion of the early bronze-age Israelites and present monotheism as “the way it’s always been” in order to gain the permission of the Persian government to return to their homeland.
This leads us to our third question, What is actually true?
Is there a real, singular, Elohim—El or God with a capital G—responsible for creating the heavens and the earth like Genesis chapter 1 tells us? Or are there multiple lesser gods exploiting the plural nature of the word Elohim? Is one of these lesser gods called Yahweh, or is Yahweh the same as El, as Genesis chapter 2 seems to suggest? Which God (big G), god (little g), or gods—if any—created the physical Universe? If real, did any of these gods appear to humans in burning bushes and the like, or were those just made-up to give the Israelites an origin story?
If we try to find the answer from the Bible we will quickly come up short. There are so many different ways to interpret verses that refer to El, Elohim, El Elyon, Yahweh and so on. As far as Jews are concerned now, their Torah teaches only one God, and that seems to me to be the case, but numerous ideologies exist. Some say the Torah hints at El, El Elyon, and Yahweh being different gods. Deuteronomy 32:8 is one of these passages:
“When the Most High [El Elyon] gave the nations their inheritance,
When he divided the sons of Adam from one another,
He fixed the boundary of the peoples
With regard for the number of the sons of Israel.
For Jehovah’s people are his portion;
Jacob is his inheritance.”
That’s from the New World Translation, but some translations hint at something different. Instead of saying El Elyon “fixed the boundary of the peoples with regard for the number of the sons of Israel” they read, “sons of God”, “angels”, or even “gods”.
The Revised Standard Version reads:
“When the Most High apportioned the nations,
when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of the gods;”
Reading like that, the statement that follows, namely that “Jehovah’s people are his portion; Jacob is his inheritance”, could mean Yahweh is not El Elyon after all but one of the gods. Or, it could just mean El Elyon assigned different nations to his sons and saved Jacob, or Israel, for himself.
Like I say, it’s hard to pin anything down for sure in scripture, but the Torah and other Old Testament books are only the tip of the iceberg. When you add to the equation other philosophies such as Gnosticism, you end up with even more entities competing for the role of Yahweh—Yaldebaoth for example, even Lucifer! At best, we can figure out what the Torah seems to indicate the Israelites believed. As we’ve seen, it’s most likely not what they actually believed, and in my opinion even less likely that it bears any resemblance to what is actually true. The larger Old Testament, and other sacred writings, leave us more confused than ever.
Regardless of what the Bible says, it seems that the Israelites were polytheistic, worshipping a pantheon of gods including, but not limited to, El and Yahweh, at least to start with. This much appears to be supported by the archaeology, archaeology that appears to be at odds with what the Bible seems to be telling us—that the Israelites were always monotheistic and worshipped only Yahweh who was the same as El or Elohim, and El Elyon.
Some would say we are reading the Torah wrongly, pointing for example to Deuteronomy 32 as “proof” that El Elyon and Yahweh are not the same, but even if that’s what the writer meant it doesn’t mean that’s what Genesis intended to portray. Remember, the Torah and even the Old Testament at large, is not one book. It’s a collection of books. It’s perfectly conceivable that different books, or even different sections within the same book—Genesis chapters 1 and 2 for example—could be telling a completely different “Who is God?” story. Just because Deuteronomy 32 is part of the Torah doesn’t mean it’s obligated to be harmonious with Genesis as Jehovah’s Witnesses would argue to be the case—just because they’re in the same library—or Bible—doesn’t mean they have to agree with each other. Basically, the Bible, with its apparently inharmonious tales of “how it is” doesn’t really get us very far.
Yes, we can make educated guesses as to what the Torah writers seem to be saying the Israelites believed, but once you venture outside the Torah into other Old Testament books, such as the Psalms, you may well find discrepancies. All I can tell you with some degree of confidence is that the Torah itself was a late attempt to wrap everything up tidily and present the Israelites as having always been a monotheistic people worshipping Yahweh El Elyon (Jehovah God Most High), but again, archaeology tells us a different story, at least when it comes to the early Israelites. They clearly worshipped multiple Canaanite gods including El and Yahweh who were not viewed as the same god.
From a Canaanite perspective, El seems to be the same as Elyon, but not Yahweh, and Elohim (gods) can refer to El or to any of El’s sons, including Baal and Yahweh. To complicate things further, Yahweh often refers to himself as the Israelite’s “baal” (for example at Jeremiah 3:14) which literally means “husband” or “owner”.
So, what is actually true? I don’t mean what did the Israelites believe about their God or gods, or even what does the Bible say the Israelites believed. No, I mean is there really an El, El Elyon, or Yahweh?
What follows is not from reading the Bible or any secular sources. This is what I know intuitively to be true as a spiritual guide and teacher:
At a foundational level there is what I and many other spiritual teachers refer to as “Source”. Other titles include “The Absolute”, “The Ultimate Reality”, “The Infinite Deep” and “Brahman”. The latter appears in Hinduism connoting the highest Universal Principle, the ultimate reality in the Universe. It is the immaterial, efficient, formal and final cause of all that exists. It is the pervasive, infinite, eternal truth. It does not change, yet it is the cause of all changes. Brahman, as a metaphysical concept, refers to the single binding unity behind everything that exists in the universe. Brahman is uncreated, eternal, infinite, transcendent, the cause, the foundation, the Source and the goal of all existence. From a scientific perspective, we may think of Source in terms of a unified quantum field or a quantum matrix.
Personally, I see no need to refer to Source as “God” and to do so, I think, complicates things. Source has no need for worship. While Hinduism refers to Brahman as “Consciousness”, I prefer the word “Awareness”. I think there is a difference. Consciousness is a temporal process that requires—or may even be the cause of—Time, and by extension Space. This thought occurs before that thought and this one after that. Consciousness implies a forward-moving “flow”. It suggests decision making, the selection of one choice from among many, whereas Awareness, I feel, allows for all potential thoughts to occur at once, eternal—as Brahman is said to be—and unchanging in form.
If I am to use the term “God” I shall, I think, reserve it for what arises from Source, namely Mind, Consciousness, “l”—duplicated many times over in order to have multiple experiences, either as Spirits (gods, angels, demons) or as humans, but here’s the thing—the apparent duality of many gods or angels or humans is itself an illusion. There is only One of us—Me, and You—Us. We are the Same. One Mind. One Consciousness. There’s really no need to call us “God”—I don’t need to worship myself, nor do you—but if we must employ the G-word, from my ego perspective I Am God. From your perspective You are God. There is only Mind—One Mind having multiple experiences. I am you. You are me. We are all One. There’s no need to worship anyone and no need to think of a separate over-lording “God” sitting in judgement of us. We, you, I, am IT.
Is it possible that instances of me/you/us have appeared to humans throughout history, claiming to be Yahweh, the only true God, demanding worship as the Bible indicates? Possibly. Is it possible that multiple instances of me/you/us have all clamoured for the role of Most High, El Elyon? Sure, but the bottom line is, that none of those claims—if they have ever been made— have any validity. Neither the real history of the Israelites nor the cleaned-up Bible narrative accurately reflects the truth. There is no “greater” God, no “only true” God. We, you, I—are IT.
What’s more, we are consciously creating this Universe, the “heavens and the earth”, manifesting it into being. Reality, as much as reality is a thing, is the product of us manifesting our thoughts into being and then perceiving those same thoughts as “real” in a kind of feedback loop. We are creating our own illusion of reality. So, if we ever have masqueraded as the only true God deserving of worship we’ve only fooled ourselves.
The Israelites wrote the Old Testament, especially the Torah, as a way to explain “how things are”, but it was written largely from an egotistical perspective. Occasionally there are glimmers of Oneness that shine through, but at the time the Torah was written people weren’t spiritually ready for the notion that we are One and we are all God. It was either a singular God or multiple gods, an overlord or lords, and we were their subjects.
Jesus had it hard enough when he tried to get people to accept he was One with “the Father”, another word for “Source”, and trying to get his followers to understand what he meant by them all being “one in him” must have been a nightmare! I imagine that the first Christians, when they were born again at Pentecost 33 AD, “got it”, but back then it will have been a very narrow view of what we now think of as spiritual awakening, ascension, and enlightenment.
If you’re looking for the truth about God, I suggest you put the Bible to one side. The Bible is a religious book, a book created by Judaism and Christianity. Don’t get me wrong. The Bible has its uses. There is some wonderful Wisdom contained in some of the books that were included in the Bible canon, but that doesn’t mean every part of the Bible is “inspired by God”. Nor does it necessarily explain God as he, we, truly are. rue inspiration comes when a writer channels their Higher Self, when they think and speak as God, as Source Mind, as their True Nature. There certainly are examples of that kind of inspiration in the Bible, but there are also many scriptures that are at best mundane without evidence of any special inspiration.
Conversely, there is also evidence of Divine inspiration in other works of literature outside of the Bible, in music, poetry, and art. The “breath of God” is not the monopoly of those who have a certain holy book. To find that Divine spark we only need to look within. When we do so, we realise I Am and I Am All That Is. You can call me El, Elohim, El Elyon, Yahweh, or just Daniel. Try to make that fit with what the Bible says is true, or what the Bible says the Israelites believed to be true, or even what the Israelites actually believed was true according to archaeological evidence and you will struggle, but this, I believe, is the truth.
So in conclusion, Source underpins everything. The Source is the “Infinite Deep in which all the worlds appear to rise.” Mind arises from Source. Mind manifests as Many but this is just an illusion. There is but One Mind, One Consciousness. Mind may manifest as God, gods, angels, demons, or humans. One of these instances may be El Elyon. Another may be El. Yet another, Yahweh. These may be different or they may be the Same. There may also be Elohim, sons of El or angels, but however you look at it, duality is only an illusion. There is but One. We are IT—the I Am.