Occupy the Bible

Occupy the Bible

The Bible is being used to rob of us of religious freedoms and on a larger scale, to destroy the Constitution itself. The imagery of the Book of Revelation is frequently used by Christian fundamentalists to sow discord and fear: fear of the other, fear of divine wrath should tolerance be shown to the divinely despised other. This is the context of every Republican hopeful’s platform in 2012. The righteous wrath of God is said to sit over our heads, ready to be unleashed should America not pray and repent of its sins. But there are problems with these images most fundamentalists are not aware of. Their antecedents are pagan. They go much further back than Christianity to the Old Testament, and further back even than that – to the god the Old Testament loves to hate: the West Semitic (Canaanite) storm god, Baal.

The imagery we see in Revelation 21.1-4 is far from original:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city and the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And  I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

See, the home of God is among mortals

He will dwell with them as their God

They will be his peoples

And God himself will be with them

He will wipe every tear from their eyes

Death will be no more;

Mourning and crying and pain

Will be no more,

For the first things have passed away.

As Mark S. Smith writes, “In sum, the motifs associated with Baal in Canaanite literature are widely manifeste in Israelite religion.” For example, from the evidence we have from Ugarit, we see that in the Baal Cycle the storm god defeats the enemy, the Sea (the sea was no more), whereupon Baal would build his divine palace (And I saw the holy city and the new Jerusalem…) and then defeat the ultimate enemy, Death (Death will be no more).[1]

The well known and oft-appealed to image of God associated with the end-times in Christian minds comes from Matthew:  “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). But this too, is Baal.

Baal, the storm god, was known as the Cloud-Rider and he rode a winged war chariot and the imagery associated with Baal is repeated in Psalm 18 (2 Sam. 22:11), having YHWH riding on the wind like Baal, surrounded by the very storm clouds associated with Baal, the very same storm clouds Jesus will later appropriate. Ezekiel 1 and 10 and Psalm 65:12 even appropriate Baal’s divine chariot. YHWH/God/Jesus became Baal the storm god.

But Baal has a different sort of gospel, or good word. It is not one of salvation of the soul but of salvation of the earth. It would quite a different “revelation” we would be reading today had monotheism not triumphed in the Middle East. Witness Baal’s speech to Anat regarding the “word” he will reveal to humanity:

For I have a word I will tell you,

A message I will recount to you,

A word of tree and whisper of stone,

Converse of Heaven and Earth,

Of Deeps to the Stars,

I understand the lightning Heaven does not know,

The word humans do not know,

And Earth’s masses do not understand,

Come and I will reveal it,

In the midst of my mountain, Divine Sapan,

In the holy place, on the mount of my possession,

In the pleasant place, on the hill of my victory.

When his divine palace is built his word will manifest as cosmic fertility or blessing (the communication of Heaven and the Deeps is an image for cosmic fertility). Baal’s victory, says Mark S. Smith, “presages a glorious natural paradise on earth through the agency of his fructifying rains.”[2]

In the Old Testament this bounty was given by YHWH instead of Baal but not to the whole world, to all Earth’s masses. Jealous YHWH would extend cosmic bounty to Israel only and Heaven and the Deeps are replaced by a covenant between YHWH and Israel (here we see a manifestation of the True/False distinction created by monotheism). As Smith writes, “The words of Hosea bear the freight of Canaanite literary tradition, evoking, like Hosea 2:18, the imagery of the storm-god Baal and his divine blessings on the cosmos.”[3]

I don’t know about anyone else, but I much prefer the idea of a god who sends his blessings to the entire world and not simply to one nation, be it Israel, or as Republicans would have it, the United States. I much prefer the idea of salvation for the Earth itself than some sort of nebulous (and un-needed in my opinion) salvation for human souls. I can see and hear and feel the earth and see her agony. No matter how much I might believe in human souls, they are not something I can see; they are not tangible and their existence cannot even be proven (and if I have one, as I believe I do, it doesn’t require a god’s intervention to carry on after my death). But I know the earth exists, and I know its hurts are apparently beyond the ability of humans to fix, if we even showed any concern to do so, which we do not.

And not only that, but the much vilified Baal is not coming on storm clouds to destroy me (he never threatened to do so) or to send me to some invented place called hell. Baal is on storm clouds because he is the storm god and he is sending not wrath but rain. We’re not going to die because a supposedly perfect god reveals his manifest imperfections in the form of jealousy and kills us all in a divine snit-fit. I don’t worship Baal but he sounds like a fine fellow, as far as gods go. I am far less happy with YHWH.

Everything has a context. And the context of the divine wrath we’re all being threatened with if we don’t do what the Republicans want has the context of pre-monotheistic (pagan) theology. Words, actions, divine names and epithets, have all been “borrowed” from a more ancient tradition and re-purposed, if I can create a metaphor, from the 99 percent to the 1 percent. Any god worthy of his name would want all to benefit, not only an elite few.

Just as the Wealth Elite want us to subordinate our interests to their own, for what they claim is the benefit of all (which somehow, no matter how rich they get, never actually comes to fruition), so the Religious Elite want us to subordinate our interests (our liberties and freedoms) to their own (the Republican idea of religious freedom). All we need for the good of all to become manifest in this later scenario is for the Other (gays, feminists, Muslims, atheists, pagans, etc) to be reviled, punished, dehumanized and ultimately killed, and everybody will be better off because then YHWH won’t be jealous anymore.

This religious image is a lot like the wealth image in another way: the Republican concept of shared sacrifice, where the sacrifice is not actually shared. The 99 percent always seem to pick up the tab for the 1 percent, whether it is money or freedoms. It’s time we occupy not only the center of the Wealthy Elite, Wall Street, but, before it can be used to destroy us, the center of the Religious Elite, the Bible.

[1] Mart S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, second edition (Eerdmans, 2002), Kindle edition, locations 1714-1723

[2] Smith (2002), locations 1524-1528

[3] Smith (2002), location 1534

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

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