Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  


2-2-1-7 Canaanite Theology Smashed

An analysis of the surrounding religious beliefs of the early Canaanite tribes at the time of the Exodus indicates that the one true God chose to reveal Himself in language which clearly alluded to the surrounding theological ideas. It has been shown that ‘El’ was the name of the most powerful Canaanite god in the plurality of deities which the Canaanites worshipped [1]. The characteristics of Yahweh God of Israel as expressed in the first five books of the Bible are almost identical to the language of the day used to describe the Canaanite deity ‘El’ [2]. For example, ‘El’ married the prostitute Asarte, as Yahweh married the prostitute Israel (Hos. 3:1); and most noteworthy of all ‘El’ sacrificed his own son [3]. Significantly, ‘El’ is one of the titles which God uses for Himself in His word. Arthur Gibson (Biblical Semantic Logic pp. 35,137) points out that the name ‘Yahweh’ has similarities with the Amorite god Ya-Wi, and the Ugarit god Yahaninu. So here is clear evidence that God reveals Himself in the language of the day in order to demonstrate, by the very fact of His evident superiority of power, that these other deities to whom He alludes did not exist; Yahweh was the true ‘El’. Those gods with similar names were nothing compared to the true Yahweh El.

Surrounding Religions Mocked

London’s British Museum houses the world’s largest collection of archaeological finds relating to Israel and the surrounding nations. A stroll round the exhibits soon reveals that the one true God of Israel revealed Himself in religious terms which were alluding to the surrounding theologies of the various pagan deities. Just a handful of examples will make the point:

- The throne of the king of Babylon was surrounded by lions; as was Solomon’s.

- Babylon and other surrounding nations were governed by king-priests. David, Messiah and other ultimate figures in the true theology of the Old Testament are also portrayed as being king-priests, as are the saints in their role as the future rulers of the world (Rev. 5:10 Gk.).

- Religious cities were personified in Greek culture; as was Jerusalem.

- Many Canaanite religions practiced a cutting of part of the body as a sign that they were in covenant with a certain god. The rite of circumcision must be seen within this context.

- Some of Babylon’s idols were covered with eyes; compare this with the Cherubim being described like this too.

- The Old Testament frequently describes Yahweh as being “high” or “above”, using the Hebrew word alah. The Arabic word for ‘God’ is ‘alah’. They appear, superficially, to have good ground to argue that the (false) god of their religion is in fact Yahweh of the Old Testament. The apparent coincidence that ‘alah’ is the Arabic name for God and this word is applied to the God of Israel indicates how God was teaching the Arabs that they should make their god the God of Israel; but at the same time this ‘coincidence’ gave them opportunity to justify their own false religion, if they failed to think carefully about how the Old Testament uses ‘alah’.

Elijah And Elisha

This manner of demolishing the claims of surrounding pagan beliefs in idols and demons is common in the Old Testament. Thus the record in 1 Kings 18 sets up a contest for credibility between Baal, the god of storm and rain, and Yahweh God of Israel. It is evident that Baal did not exist; the onlookers were utterly convinced by the extent of the miracle that “Yahweh, Yahweh, He is the God”.

2 Kings 2:19 (AV mg.) records how the people complained that “the water is naught, and that ground causing to miscarry”. This was evidently an incorrect superstition of the time; barren ground cannot make the women who live on it barren. But Elisha does not blow them into next week for believing such nonsense. Instead he performed the miracle of curing the barrenness of the land. The record says that there was no more barrenness of the land or women “according to the saying of Elisha which he spake”. Normally the people would have recoursed to wizards to drive away the relevant demon which they thought was causing the problem. But the miracle made it evident that ultimately God had caused the problem, and He could so easily cure it. This was a far more effective way of sinking the people’s foolish superstition than a head-on frontal attack upon it.

Lucifer Likewise…

We keep one of the best examples until last. Isaiah 14:12-15 describes how ‘Lucifer’, the king of Babylon, wants to ascend up above the heavens and usurp Yahweh’s throne. This is actually quoting [4] from a Ugaritic legend concerning the god Attr (the Hebrew for ‘Lucifer’ is the equivalent of this). Attr wanted to become the head of the gods, and he succeeded – in surrounding mythology. Isaiah 14 quotes this part of the legend, but shows how he would be cast down to the earth by Yahweh, to the lowest pit. This clearly establishes that the Bible uses allusion to the false ideas of the surrounding world in order to bring home the extent of God’s power and therefore the non-existence of idols/demons.

It has been shown by many students that the Gospel and epistles of John are shot through with allusion to the language of surrounding Gnostic philosophy [5] in order to show the infinite superiority of the true Gospel over the vain philosophy of the first century world in which John’s Gospel was first inspired. This is a New Testament example of what was done in Isaiah 14.


[1] J.C.L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1978).

[2] J.Gray The Legacy Of Canaan (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1957); see too F.M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973).

[3] This is mentioned by Werner Keller, The Bible As History p. 261 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1957 ed.).

[4] The correspondence is remarkable. A tablet was found at Ras Shamra in 1929 bearing this mythical legend, and including the very words which Isaiah 14 quotes. It is Ugarit Text no. UM129. See C.H. Gordon, Ugaritic Manual (Rome: P.I.B., 1955).

[5] For example, John Carter, The Gospel of John (Birmingham: CMPA, 1943). C.H. Dodd demonstrates that phrases in John’s letters like “We are in the light”, “We know God”, “We dwell in God” etc. are all Gnostic phrases; what John is saying is that we, the true believers, are in this position on account of knowing the true Gospel. Thus the Spirit is alluding to the false claims of the surrounding world and showing that the power of the Spirit exposed these claims as false. See C.H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953).