Before Yahweh is passed off with subterfuge as the “inferior” son of El Elyon and linked up with the god of Boko Haram, there is need to clarify some points raised by Yemi Ogunsola in his column in the Guardian Newspaper of 14th July 2012. The piece was a reaction to a rejoinder to his earlier write up on the person of Yahweh. His “informed comment” presently is that Yahweh is an extraterrestrial alien that rode a spaceship to Babylon where prophet Ezekiel saw his glory. More importantly he reiterates his point that Yahweh is inferior to El Elyon because the latter allotted Israel to the former as his portion with untenable reasons.
The idea of Yahweh as an extraterrestrial alien that travels in spaceships, within the ambit of reason and science is highly speculative and a product of fertile imagination. Scientists are strongly of the opinion that we are not the only sentient beings in the universe, they conjecture that the cosmos is teeming with extraterrestrial beings, Carl Sagan a Cosmologist, in his book titled: Cosmos, posits that in our milky way galaxy alone, if we take the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence in one out of 1 million solar systems with similar cosmic evolution history like our solar system, we will have the possibility of 150,000 places where sentient beings inhabit in outer space. That is a reference to our immediate environment in the cosmos where our solar system is located, not to think of the cluster of galaxies called local group and super clusters containing billions of galaxies in the universe that are billions of light years away from the earth.
The above submission is to clarify the possibility of an extraterrestrial being riding spaceship to the world in order to show off his glory to one Jewish prophet in Babylon on July 31, 593 B.C, while such is conceivable, it remains a speculative enterprise without factual backing in human experience. Yahweh the Christian God does not need to ride a space ship in order to communicate himself to Prophet Ezekiel because he is not an imaginary scientific extraterrestrial intelligent being, but he is the creator of the universe and he transcends his creation.
It will be very simplistic to interpret the theophany experienced by Prophet Ezekiel as the physical presence of Yahweh in human form who flew to Babylon in a spaceship. Prophet Ezekiel described what he saw in esoteric terms that are suggestive of something mechanical but not what can be validly interpreted as a spaceship. He no doubt described a complex visible structure that was wheel like, however, in order to show the spiritual nature of his description he went further in Ezekiel 1: 20-21, to state that “the wheels shared the spirit of the animals,” the four animals which he described in detail earlier in the chapter. A mechanical spaceship cannot share the spirit of any animal. How else do we expect Ezekiel to describe God’s visitation to his people in far away land of exile in Babylon, if not that he came in a dramatic and extraordinary way? Simple, account of a theophany presented in anthropomorphic language.
If the Bible is considered a credible and reliable source of information about the Jewish understanding of their God, which I presumed Yemi Ogunsola seems to agree with, if only to argue his points. Then El Elyon is not superior to Yahweh, the repeated Biblical passage relied on Deut.32:7-9 does not support the claim if studied in context and not superficially. There is a semantic mix up of names that should be clarified. The divine name Elyon, Hebrew word meaning “the Most High” was actually how the ancient Canaanites referred to the highest of their gods in their pantheon, not a particular god as claimed. The name also appears a few times in the Bible in reference to Yahweh the God of Israel. The patriarchs spoke of God as the highest Lord El Shaddai, that God known to them as “high and most powerful Lord” gradually came to be identified with Yahweh (Gen.14: 18-22. His identity was fully revealed to Moses as “Yhwh” in the burning bush theophany cf. Ex.3:13.
According to Michael Schmaus; “For Moses Yahweh alone is God, not only the God of Israel but God as such. Yahweh is not a national God. In his nature he is superior to the world; his power is not limited, it reaches out beyond the boundaries of his own people... As the one and only true God Yahweh does not tolerate strange gods. ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house bondage. You shall have no other gods before me’ (Ex 20: 2ff; Deut. 5:6 ff).” From the foregoing it is obviously erroneous to claim the same Moses in his farewell song shortly before his death turned round to ascribe subordinate role to Yahweh in relation to a Canaanite god called “El Elyon.”
The semantic and syntactic “mix up” of divine names El Elyon and Yahweh discernible here is that of transition from second person singular to first person singular in the action of the “Most High God” to allot territories to nations on earth as understood by the writer(s) of the book of Deuteronomy under contention here. James Kugel sheds light on the issue thus: “The song says that when the ‘Most High’ was dividing up the human population into different nations and granting each its national territory, He did so on the basis of the total number of ‘the sons of God’ (or ‘sons of El’). That is, things were arranged so that each of these lesser deities would have his own nation to look after. But God kept Israel for Himself: the Lord’s own portion is His people, Jacob His allotted share.” The same God “Most High” allotted Israel to Himself; the passage is a classic case of transition of sentence by the writer of Deuteronomy from second person singular to first person in his account of Moses’ goodbye speech to Israelites probably for variety in the use of language.
It is pertinent for us to point out that equating Hebrew divine names of “‘El” and “Yahweh” with deities “Orisa” in Yoruba language according to Yemi Ogunsola is a personal opinion that is premised on sentimental semantic analysis rather than fact of the language involved. Yahweh as presented in the Old Testament unites in himself everything that is divine, all the qualities which the pagan neighbours of the Israelites attributed to their gods and deities. Once the Hebrews attributed all the divine attributes prevalent in their time to Yahweh, they worshipped him as higher than any other lesser deities around them.
There is no doubt that in the earlier phases of Hebrew religion that many attributes of Yahweh were identical with those of the deities in the surrounding region. The Bible is full of constant tension between monotheism centred on Yahweh and the polytheism of their immediate neighbours. Prophetic movements in Israel were vehement in upholding the supremacy of Yahweh backed by monarchs that were faithful to the Mosaic code and the covenant of Yahweh with the Hebrews on Mt Sinai (Is.2:8-18, 6:1-3, Jer.2:11; 5:7) etc. According to Prophet Isaiah: “Thus says Yahweh, Israel’s king, Yahweh Sabaoth, his redeemer: I am the first and I am the last; there is no God except me. Who is like me? Let him call out, let him affirm it and convince me it is so; let him say what has been happening since I instituted an eternal people, and predict to them what will happen next! You are my witnesses. Is there any God except me? There is no Rock; I know of none.”(Is.44:6-8).
The New Testament adopts the monotheism of the Old Testament as the basis for its religious tradition and beliefs about God. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the patriarchs (Act.3:13, 5:30, 22:14), the God of Israel (Mt.15:31, Lk. 1: 68, Heb.11:16). The Angel who bore the message from God to Mary spoke about the power of “the Most High” (Lk.1: 31-35).
The purpose of this excursus into Old and New Testaments is to buttress the fact that in Biblical tradition both religious beliefs and scholarship, Yahweh is never considered inferior to any God. The Hebrew expression Elyon meaning the “Most High” when combined with the divine name “El” to mean “El Elyon” is a synonym name for Yahweh- Elohim, which is the name for the Judeo-Christian God as the analyses made so far demonstrate.
The Church is not hiding anything from anyone, the facts are open to people who are intelligent enough to study and understand. This kind of analysis is obviously not the information an average Christian is interested in during religious service. But in the sterile academic environment devoid of faith people have the time for this kind of exegetical analysis for the sake of knowledge not to build up faith. It is inappropriate to equate Yahweh with deities and erroneous from Biblical data available to pass him off as a subordinate of the Canaanites’ deities identified as “El Elyon.” Genuine questions about atrocities attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament can be addressed in a separate write up. Yahweh has no link with Boko Haram in any way imaginable.
Rev. Fr. Peter Oluseyi Adeyemi.