In my last post (see Pt. 16) I shared Peter Enns’ juxtaposition of the biblical creation narrative with the Enuma Elish. In this post we return to his book The Evolution of Adam for his discussion on monolatry. For Enns this is the important theological, polemical point being made that we need to recognize.
Enns observes that we know that the Israelites were “…not consistently monotheistic, which is the belief that only one god exists. Rather, the Israelites were monolatrous, at least throughout portions of their history, meaning they worshiped only one God, Yahweh, but without denying the existence of other gods. (The Greek word for worship is latreuō, hence monolatry.)” (Kindle Locations 1176-1178)
The question of the Book of Exodus is not whether YHWH is a humanitarian liberator of slaves. Enns writes, “Rather, Yahweh is laying claim on his own people, that they might serve him rather than Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.” (Kindle Location 1183) This means, “…the question throughout Exodus is, ‘Whom will Israel ʿavad: god-Pharaoh as slaves or God-Yahweh as worshipers?’” (Kindle Locations 1189-1190). Or put another way:
“The exodus story is about Israel’s God—the God of first a wandering and then an enslaved people—who marches into the territory of the superpower of the day and effortlessly defeats their gods and their king. Exodus is a story of monolatry, not monotheism. To miss this is to miss the theological depth of Exodus.” (Kindle Locations 1201-1204)
The first and second commandments are about loyalty and fidelity to Israel’s God, not a denial that there are other gods. Enns reminds us that several psalms reflect this idea, 82.6; 95.2; 96.4; 97.9; 135.5; and 136.2. He acknowledges:
“The Old Testament is not uniformly monolatrous (e.g., see Deut. 4:39; Isa. 44:6–20; Jer. 10:1–16), but that does not affect the point I am making.”
“Genesis 1 reflects the same argument we find in Exodus and the Psalms: Yahweh alone is worthy of worship, and none of the other gods can compare to him. This is a radical claim that would have spoken volumes to a small, beleaguered nation surrounded by polytheism. Yahweh spoke and things fell into place quickly and effortlessly. Even the sun and moon—deities in the ancient world—are impersonal objects fixed in the heavens by God’s command not until day 4. The placement of the stars, thought to be keys to revealing the will of the gods, is almost an afterthought.” (Kindle Locations 1226-1232)
This is the point of Genesis and the creation narrative. It is not about science for Enns. It is about the theological message that YHWH is over creation, not the gods.
I will continue my reflections on Enns’ views of the biblical flood stories as juxtaposed with other flood stories and their impact on how we read Genesis in my next post, but for now I direct you to the comments if you have any thoughts on monolatry, monotheism, and how this impacts our reading of Genesis. Also, I would like to direct reader’s attention to Michael Heiser’s recent blog post, “Genesis 1-3 at Face Value–Is It Compatible with Recent Genome Research.” It is quite thought provoking!