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Archaeologists uncover remains of an Edomite copper production facility on the so-

called Slaves' Hill in Timna. The dark stones that cover most of the site are slag left
over from the smelting process Ariel David

Jewish God Yahweh Originated in

Canaanite Vulcan, Says New
The cult of YHWH as god of metallurgy originated among semi-nomadic copper
smelters between the Bronze and Iron Age, suggests biblical scholar: And he
was not worshipped only by Jews
Ariel David
Apr 11, 2018

TIMNA – Around 3,200 years ago, the great empires around the
Mediterranean and the Middle East suddenly imploded. The Egyptians
retreated from Canaan and the copper mines of Timna in the Negev,
skulking back to the banks of the Nile. And in the arid wastes of
southern Canaan, a new power arose.

The Timna mines were taken over by semi-nomadic tribes, which set
up a mining operation that dwarfed the previous Egyptian industry.

This new desert kingdom would leave its mark on the main building at
Timna: the Egyptian temple of Hathor, protector of miners. The new
masters smashed the effigy of the Egyptian deity – leaving the
fragments to be found by archaeologists more than 3,000 years later –
and set up over the ruins of the temple a tent sanctuary, judging by the
remains of heavy red and yellow fabric found in the 1970s.
There they worshipped a new god, one that had no apparent name or

That miners' god was none other than the deity known by the four
Hebrew letters YHWH, who would become the God of the Jews and, by
extension, of Christians and Muslims, claims Nissim Amzallag, a
biblical studies researcher at Ben-Gurion University.

Tough fabric found at Timna,

that may have come from a tent Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel
Antiquities Authority

According to Amzallag, long before becoming the deity of the Israelites,

Yahweh was a god of metallurgy in the ancient Canaanite pantheon,
worshipped by smelters and metalworkers throughout the Levant, not
just by the Hebrews. His theory is not exactly widely accepted, but has
recently been gaining traction.

Woolen textile from Timna

decorated with stripes of red produced from dyers’ madder and blue
made from a plant-based indigo that probably derived from
woad. Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Roughly from the 19th century, biblical scholars began looking at
scripture less as records of divine revelations and more as historical
and literary documents. This has led, for example, to the so-called
“Documentary Hypothesis,” which considers the Torah, the first five
books of the Bible, to be a compilation from multiple sources, each
produced by different authors with their own beliefs and agendas.

Microscopic magnification
(x60) of woolen textile from Timna dyed in red and blue stripes (photo
taken with Dino-Lite microscope). Dr. Naama Sukenik, Israel
Antiquities Authority

But mysteries remain: where did the YHWH cult originate? Who were
the first people to worship him? And how did he end up being the sole
deity of a group called Israel, who, as their very name says (in Hebrew),
didn’t even start out as a Yahwistic people, but as followers of El, the
main god of the Canaanite pantheon?

Fire and brimstone

Most scholars already believe that the cult of Yahweh first emerged
somewhere in the southern Levant, partly based on Egyptian texts
from the late second millennium B.C.E. These documents describe
groups of Canaanite nomads collectively known as Shasu, including
one tribe named Shasu Yhw(h) – perhaps the first recorded Yahweh
worshippers in history.

The Bible itself may contain a memory of this southern origin of

Yahweh, as it tells us explicitly that God “came from Teman”
(Habbakuk 3:3) or that he “went out of Seir” and “marched out of
Edom” (Judges 5:4-5) – all toponyms associated with the area ranging
from Sinai to the Negev and northern Arabia.
Was Hathor's temple converted to a temple for Yahweh the metal god? At the Timna
copper mine Ariel David

“Everybody recognizes these southern origins of Yahweh, but most

scholars stop there,” Amzallag says. “This forms the basis of my theory
as well, but I take it a step forward.”

Reading between the lines, the Bible contains clues pointing to an

original identity for Yahweh as a metallurgical deity, he says.

In the Bible, Yahweh’s appearance is usually accompanied by volcanic-

like phenomena. When he descends upon Mt. Sinai to reveal the Torah
to the Jews, the mountain erupts in fire, spewing lava and billowing
clouds accompanied by earthquakes and thunderstorms (Exodus 19:16-

In antiquity, metallurgical deities like the Greek Hephaestus or his

eponymous Roman equivalent, Vulcan, were associated with volcanic
descriptions - which closely mirror the smoke, fire, black slag and
molten red metal produced in the smelting process, Amzallag says.
Archaeologists uncover remains
of an Edomite copper production facility on the so-called Slaves' Hill in
Timna. The dark stones that cover most of the site are slag left over
from the smelting processAriel David

Poetic metaphors throughout the Bible describe Yahweh as a fiery deity

who makes the mountains smoke (Psalms 144:5) and melts them down
(Isaiah 63:19b), just like smelters melt down ore to obtain copper and
other metals, the researcher notes. In fact, in Psalm 18:18 Yahweh is
depicted as anthropomorphized furnace: “smoke rose from his
nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed
out of it.”

To ancient people, the process of melting down rocks to extract metal

would have “appeared completely preternatural and required a divine
explanation,” Amzallag told Haaretz.

Yahweh’s metallurgical attributes were also on display in the pillar of

fire and smoke by which he guides the Hebrews in the desert (Exodus
13:21) and the cloud that accompanies his visits to the Tent of Meeting
(Exodus 33:9-10), a simpler version of the Tabernacle in which Moses
speaks face to face with God.

The description of this tent bears remarkable similarities to the

sanctuary in Timna, further suggesting that 3,000 years ago, this place
may have been dedicated to the worship of Yahweh, Amzallag

Yahweh, god of the Edomites?

But wait a minute - the Bible and most archaeologists agree that after
the collapse of the Egyptian empire in the 12th century B.C.E., Timna
was taken over by the Edomites, not the Israelites.
While the Bible goes to great lengths to describe Israel’s neighbors –
such as the Edomites, the Midianites and the Moabites – as dastardly
pagans, the text also betrays that Yahweh was worshipped by these
nations too, possibly even before the Israelites did so, Amzallag notes.
Genesis 36, for example, makes it clear that the Edomites are
descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, and lists Edomite monarchs who
ruled “before any Israelite king reigned” (Genesis 36:31).

A view of the Timna valley in the Negev desert Ariel David

The Ammonites and Moabites are listed as descendants of Lot (Genesis

19:37-38), the nephew of Abraham and pious Yahweh-believer who
escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

In other words, the genealogies of the Bible contain the memory of an

ancient confederation of Canaanite peoples, who may have considered
themselves all descendants of Abraham and who all worshipped
Yahweh alongside other gods, Amzallag posits.

We should trust the Bible on this, he says, because its editors wouldn't
have wanted to admit that the cult of Yahweh was not exclusive to
Israel. "So, if they reference it, it must be true,” Amzallag concludes.

The explosive revelation on Mt.

Sinai imagined in an early 20th century illustration the Providence
Lithograph Compan

Further biblical evidence of this broadened base of worshippers can be

found in the Book of Exodus, where a key role is played by Jethro,
Moses’ father-in-law, who lives near the mountain of God (alternatively
called Horeb and Sinai).

It is Jethro who indirectly leads Moses to his first meeting with Yahweh
at the burning bush. And it is he who inaugurates the Tent of Meeting
with a sacrifice and proclaims that “Yahweh is greater than all other
gods” for having freed the Hebrew slaves from Egypt (Exodus 18:7-12).

But Moses’ father-in-law is not an Israelite: he is described

alternatively as a Midianite priest (Exodus 3:1) and a Kenite (Judges

Now, according to Bible, the Midianites were descendants of Midian,

another son of Abraham, which again supports the idea of the existence
of an extended family of Yahwistic peoples. The Kenites, on the other
hand, are a tribe descended from Cain and described as living among
all the peoples of the Levant and specializing in crafts and
metalworking, which, according to Amzallag, is further evidence that
Yahweh’s first incarnation was as a smelting god.

Note that the so-called Midianite-Kenite hypothesis goes back to the

19th century, when biblical scholars saw Jethro’s story as evidence that
these groups introduced the Israelites to the worship of Yahweh.
Amzallag seems to be the first to stress the metallurgical side of this
hypothesis and link Yahweh specifically to the rites and cults of ancient
miners and smelters.
An 1890 illustration of the Tabernacle, with the presence of Yahweh signalled by a
cloud of dark smoke. Holman Bible

Copper mining at Timna and at other remote sites like Faynan, today
in southern Jordan, was central to the region’s economy, employing
not just miners and smelters, but blacksmiths, traders and other
workers in every town and village of Canaan. These people, identifiable
as the biblical Kenites, would have been held in high regard and seen as
being close to the divine because they possessed knowledge about the
secret and mysterious process of copper smelting, Amzallag says.

Or maybe the god of storms

“There is no doubt that at least for the Edomites, and possibly for their
neighbors, religion had to go hand in hand with what was their most
important activity,” says Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist from Tel
Aviv University who leads a team excavating at Timna. “They depended
on the success of these operations and they definitely would have felt
they needed the help of a god in the complex smelting process and in
organizing these mining expeditions to distant, arid areas.”
Reconciliation of Jacob and
Esau, by Rubens. The biblical story the two brothers and forefathers of
the Israelites and Edomites is a sign of the close links between the two
peoples, who may have worshSchleißheim State Gallery

We have no direct proof that the metallurgical god, worshipped at the

Edomite sanctuary in Timna from the 12th to the 10th century B.C.E.,
was Yahweh: there is no inscription invoking his name. But the kinship
described in the Bible between the Israelites and the Edomites, and the
metallurgical attributes of Yahweh in the holy text, are “compelling
arguments” supporting Amzallag’s theory that this god was worshipped
by multiple peoples as a deity connected to metallurgy, Ben-Yosef

There are skeptics.

“The theory is interesting but I don’t think there is enough evidence to

say that the first worshippers of Yahweh were metallurgists,” says
Thomas Romer, a world-renowned expert in the Hebrew Bible and a
professor at the College de France and the University of Lausanne.
There is strong evidence connecting the Israelites and the Edomites,
and maybe the latter worshipped Yahweh as well, says Romer, author
of “The Invention of God,” a book about the history of Yahweh and the
biblical text.

However, Romer disagrees with Amzallag’s interpretation of the

supposed volcanic phenomena described in the Bible. He thinks they
are more indicative of a god of storms and fertility, similar to the
Canaanite god Baal.

“It is quite common for storm gods in antiquity to make the mountains
tremble, but is this really an allusion to volcanism or is it just showing
the power of the god?” Romer says.

Iron trumps bronze

If, and that’s a big if, Amzallag’s theory is correct, a niggling question
remains: how did this smelting god, worshipped by the semi-nomadic
peoples all over the southern Levant become the solitary national deity
of just one of these nations, the Israelites?

That may have had to do with the rise of the Iron Age, Amzallag says.
Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, two relatively rare elements. Iron
is much easier to find and just needs to be combined with another
common element, carbon, to produce one of the strongest metals
known to man: steel.

By the 9th century B.C.E., copper production at Timna and the rest of
the Levant had all but shut down and the process of smelting had lost
much of its mystique. In the Iron Age, Mediterranean metal workers
lost their elite status and were simply seen as skilled craftsmen rather
than quasi-priests or magicians.

In parallel, their gods either lost their importance in the local pantheon
and were forgotten, or were transformed, acquiring different attributes
and characteristics, Amzallag says. Meanwhile, the loose coalition of
Canaanite nomadic tribes who once saw themselves as descendants of
the same patriarch, had morphed into a patchwork of small,
centralized kingdoms, each vying for the status of regional power.
Conflict became inevitable, and indeed the Bible is filled with stories of
wars between the Israelites and their neighbors, who are invariably
depicted as evil.

As each nation attempted to gain political and military supremacy over

the other, the Israelites may have also tried to establish their spiritual
superiority, depicting themselves as favored children of a powerful god,
or, to use a biblical turn of phrase - a Chosen People.

“To gain primacy and become the chosen people of God, they had to
remove the metallurgical origins of Yahwism and disconnect him from
the other nations,” says Amzallag. But while weeding out explicit
mentions of Yahweh’s roots, the editors of the Bible could not
completely ignore the traditions and stories that were already an
integral part of the identity of this cult, he suggests.

Yahweh’s fiery attributes or the stories of a shared Abrahamic origin

for the peoples of the Levant are echoes of more ancient beliefs, he
says, clues that remind us that “once there was no exclusive connection
between God and Israel. Initially, God belonged to all.”
Ariel David
Haaretz Contributor

acessado em 11/04/2018 às 20:07h