Ugaritic texts predating the Israelites as we know them (1300 bce) contain some of the seeds of Yahwism as well as early evidence of cross pollination between other pantheons of gods in geographic proximity. All the El stuff—Elohim, El -Shaddai, ect—exists in the Ugaritic texts. A dragon cycle appears in the texts and remnants specific to the Ugaritic texts appear in the Hebrew Bible. This cycle called the Baal Cycle is mapped out on the agricultural seasons. The god Baal, a son of El, destroys the Leviathan, a sea dragon or possibly simply the sea itself, and, from the carcass of the beast, constructs the physical world as the ancients understood it. A god called Marduk from Babylon also performs this exact task and he probably did it before Baal.
The early forms of Israelite religion are rotten with cross pollination (known as syncretism) from Egyptian and other Canaanite ideas. The concepts of trees of life and knowledge spin through most of the ancient Middle East. The Israelites are not alone in worshiping snakes or divine councils. Reverse engineering references to the Sun in the Book of Psalms reveals the deep vein of Egyptian influence. The Egyptian Empire influenced everything. I find this syncretism, this absorption of culture, a familiar turn in the way ideas and fascinations still ebb and flow through human cultures. I just watched Michael Rappaport make a statement on how white Americans hold African American culture in far higher regard than actual African Americans and I see variations of this effect as I peer back through history. We infect one another with the random trends and strange exports and it rarely takes a generation for these things to normalize and assimilate.
By far the most fascinating syncretism in the ancient Middle Eastern religions is that of Zoroastrianism into the gristle of Judaism, and in turn, Christianity. There was no hint of punishment after death or life after death (unless of course you were a prophet) in Judaism until the Babylonian exile. The deceptively simple dark and light structure of Zoroastrianism solved one of the biggest theological problems for the Israelite religion. Evil. If Yahweh is all powerful and all things come from him, this complicates any explanation of evil. Capital E Evil. Since the rise of the Yahwist cult, the Israelite answer had always been a mishmash of self-loathing and authoritarian pushback. Zoroastrianism had bad guy and that bad guy solved the puzzle of Evil. Where the apocalyptics of exilic Jews made tacit remodeling of the role of the (S)atan in their sacred texts, Christians and Muslims later mapped the Evil of Zoroastrianism’s Angra Mainyu to Lucifer, Satan and a whole passel of characters from the Old Testament, molding them into one Evil Prince. The Gnostics and the Catholics would write adventurous origin stories for the dark lord. Needless to say, the co-opting of a Angra Mainyu only led to far more confusing philosophical problems for both Christianity and Islam. They had simply lifted the product and left in Babylon the nuance and context of the Zoroastrianism battle between light and dark, good and evil.
Religion is Hip-Hop. Religion is anime. Religion is pho. Religion is baseball and basketball. Religion is k-pop. Religion is cultural overlap.
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That Night Filled Mountain
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