GOD AND JUDAISM
Kabbalistic creator In the West, the Jewish God is known as Jehovah. Jehovah is English for the Hebrew word Yahweh, which is more properly known as YHWH. The pronunciation of YHWH has been lost. It word is believed to mean "he who causes things to be" and in Biblical times was so holy that no one was allowed to say it except for the highest-level priests in important ceremonies.
The Jews did not attempt to pronounce YHWH. It was too holy. Instead they said HaShem , the “name.” The famous rabbi Haninina ben Teradion was reportedly tortured to death for uttering the "unutterable." The use of the word Lord to describe God came into usage in part so believers didn’t have to use the word God. The name Jehovah, coined in the Middle Ages, was not used in the Hebrew Bible.
The source of our information about God is the Old Testament, which is largely ascribed to Moses. In the early passages of the Old Testament, God is referred to by several names including El Shaddai, which some scholars say signifies a storm god or god of power, and El 'Elyon. In Exodus 3:14 he reveals his true name to be Yahweh (YHVH, Jehovah). El Shaddai means "God of the Mountain." El 'Elyon means "God Most High."
In classical texts God was regarded as unknowable: “Thou can not See My Face.” Until the Kabbalists came along Jews accepted that description and did not dwell much on the matter.
Geoffrey Parrinder wrote in World Religions , "The dilemma of the Hebrew is not the question whether God exists, or why he exists, but rather how he acts in the world, and what he requires of people. The natural world is a manifestation of God's glory...The God of the Bible is both a remote transcendent being, imposing his awe upon the universe, demanding absolute obedience...and also a loving and compassionate father, who has a close personal relationship with those who revere him." [ World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]
Book: God: A Biography by Jack Miles.
Websites and Resources: Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Judaism and Jewish Resources shamash.org/trb/judaism ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah’org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; Judaism.com judaism.com ; ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article on Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Origin of Judaism adath-shalom.ca ;Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish Culture and History Resources ddickerson.igc.org/judaica ;
Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington
God Early in the Torah and the Bible
At the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, after the Creation, God resembles a local pagan deity. The poet Stephen Mitchell described him as a "jealous, bungling, punitive god, not the god we can love with all our hearts and soul." In the Old Testament, God often displayed extreme bouts of anger whenever humanity disappointed him, especially by sinning with sex. In addition to wiping out entire nations of sinners, God also killed a lot of animals who had done nothing wrong. Many scenes involving God's anger have been edited out of the children's versions of the stories.
In his unorthodox introduction to the Bible, the bestselling British author Louis de Bernieres wrote: "There are many episodes in the Bible that show God in a very bad light...and one cannot but conclude from them either that God is a mad, bloodthirsty and capricious despot, or that all this time we have inadvertently worshipped the Devil."
Much of God’s anger is directed at people who continue to worship other Gods. After God sees the Israelites with the golden calf which they began worshipping while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, God says: "Now let me be, that my anger may blaze forth against them and I may destroy them, and make you a great nation."
Over the course of the early Bible, God changes from a being that urges his followers to dash the heads of their enemies’ babies on rocks to the god in Isaiah that tells them to love their enemies. In the beginning of the Old Testament, God is quite busy and present. He shows up at the Garden of Eden, speaks to Abraham and Moses and even wrestles around with Jacob. As the Bible progresses he appears and speaks less and less until he virtually disappears.
Judaism and Satan
Lucifer Satan is a religious figure found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and similar to figures found in Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions. He is generally depicted as an evil adversary of God. Although the word Satan is derived from the Hebrew word for "Accuser," Satan is not given as high a profile in Judaism as he is in Christianity.
Often depicted with little horns, cloven hooves and a goatee, Satan is known by a number of different names, including the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Diablo, the Father of Lies, Lucifer (meaning “light bearer”), Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, Belial, Mastema, and the Lord of Lies. In the Bible he is referred to as the Evil One and the Prince of the World. Muslims know him as Iblis or Shaytan. Among the various spirits that have been summoned by his commands are demons, gods, idols, demigods, angels, sprites, ghosts, goblins, imps, fairies, fauns, jinns, nymphs, and poltergeists.
Satan is generally characterized as being powerful but not nearly as powerful as God, which begs the question, “Why doesn’t God just destroy him?” and “Why was he created in the first place?” The answer for this some scholars say is more of a literary question than a theological one: He is a convenient literary devise for personifying evil.
The concept of the devil seems to have originated with Zoroastrianism, which originated in Persia. The Jews were under Persian rule for two centuries beginning in 539 B.C. No doubt they were exposed to the Zoroastrian devil Ahriman. See Zoroastrianism, under Animism, Shamanism and Ancient Religions
Book: The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels (Random House).
Satan in the Torah and Old Testament
Jacob Wrestles with the Angel There is little mention of the devil in the early books of the Old Testament. The serpent in the Garden of Eden was later identified with the devil, but as he is written in Genesis he is only a snake. When he appears in the later books he takes on different names. In the Book of Job, he is a member of God’s angels who roamed around the world testing the faith of the chosen people. In Samuel he “incited David.” For the most part he is a minor figure.
Around 200 B.C. Satan began to emerge as a major figure in his own right among some Jewish sects. It was during this period that he developed into God's major opponent and was identified with the serpent that tempted Eve and the "Son of the morning" ("Lucifer") described by the prophet Isaiah.
Early Jews believed that when the Messiah arrived he would vanquish Satan and usher in a new era for God and his faithful followers.
Angels are messengers between God in heaven and humankind on earth. Angels often appear at key events in the Bible. They delivered messages to Abraham in the Old Testament and Mary in the New Testament as well as to Mohammed in the Koran. “Angel” is derived from the Greek word for “ambassador” or “messenger.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011