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Deity of Abraham and Moses and how it related to them in the Hebrew Bible. (Covenant, Suzerain, Commandments, Anthropomorphism and Tribal particularism) How did the “big man” economic system shape this idea of deity?

The Bible is full of stories about people who disobeyed God. However, one notable exception is Abraham who is referred to as the father of great faith. He was not perfect but he obeyed God’s command to leave his homeland in Mesopotamia and settle in the Promised Land (ancient Canaan; later Israel). The Hebrew Bible described him as the father of great faith because God promised him to have many descendants who would make a great nation, through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He believed in the promise even though he did not have a child. As a reward for Abraham’s faith, God fulfilled his promises to make Abraham and his descendants a great nation as his son, Isaac, bore a son (Jacob) who eventually bore 12 sons. Jacob’s descendants became the great nation of Israel. In the contemporary world of faithful (Christian, Islam and Judaism), all trace their roots to Abraham. The Hebrew Bible described Moses one of the greatest prophets who ever lived for good reason. Moses was born during hard times in ancient Israel. He grew in slavery in the land of Egypt. However, the Israelites grew larger in numbers, which forced Egyptian king to order murder of all male newborns by drowning them in the Nile River. Moses’ mother saved his life by hiding him in a reed basket. Ironically, the king’s daughter raised Moses in the palace. With God’s help, Moses succeeds in his mission of delivering the Israelites from Egypt. God gave him the Ten Commandments and other Laws at Mount Sinai. He later led the Israelite to the Promised Land where he died at an old age.

The lord had promised Canaan to his chosen people in a covenant made with the patriarch Abram-Abraham and re-affirmed with Jacob-Israel, Isaac and Moses. This special relationship of an only and living deity directly with a whole people marked a significant transition in the mythology and religion of the Middle East. A big man was the most influential man in the community. Big men were recognized as performing most capably in political, social, economic and ceremonial activities. However, they lacked coercive authority and their position was informal and often unstable. The major role of the big man was to influence his society through being a good leader but not by commanding. In shaping the notion of deity, the big man was expected to act as a negotiator with the neighboring communities and periodically redistribute foodstuffs, produced by his wives. In this sense, they were seen as ensuring the well-being of his society.

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What is henotheism? Describe the particular character of ancient near eastern henotheism and its economic and political influence. In what ways was the ancient Israelite religion henotheistic?

Henotheism is a subdivision of polytheism- the belief in existence of many gods- and it includes teaching plurality of gods where one of them gods is the supreme god. Some critics of Christianity misunderstood the doctrine of the Trinity and claimed it to be a triad that consists of a supreme God- known as the father- who is greater than both Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Some Christians criticize others of misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity and claim it to be a triad that consists of a supreme God known as The Father who is a greater God than Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, such critics fail to understand that the Trinity is the teaching that, there is only one God in three eternal and distinct persons who share one divine substance. Israelites could influence their leaders (Aaron) to make them visible gods who they could carry in battlefields like other communities. They believed in visible gods and Supreme God who stayed in the temple.

Characterize the God of the first Israelite Temple. Where did he live? Who had access to him? Why did he require sacrifices? What does the Ark of the Covenant suggest about the Israelite perception of his presence?

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The temple was a worshipping center for the Israelites. To the very rear of the temple stood space, that was thirty-by-thirty. The space was set aside by King Solomon for the most Holy place on earth and was known as the Holy of Holies. It was also the dwelling place of the living Yahweh. The temple was the permanent place of worship of the Israelites, as the people would no longer have old tents or move from one place to another searching for a place of worship. God was invisible but present in all occasions. The walls of the temple from the floor to the ceiling were paneled with cedar planks from Tyre to the North. Gold was placed in almost every corner of the temple. There were two- fifteen-foot tall- cherubim carvings made from olive wood. They were placed magnificently in the inner most sanctuary of the temple. Beneath the cherubim was placed the Ark of the Covenant in which the most sacred objects of the Israelites were stored. The temple was the only place where sacrifices were made to thank God (Daryoush Jahanian, 2007).

This glorious, beautifully adorned place meant to house the loving, living and accessible Yahweh of Israel, who was fearfully hidden behind a thick curtain never to be seen by Jewish eyes. Only the High Priest of the Israelites had the permission to enter the Holy of Holies. The visit was done only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Yahweh required sacrifices as thanksgiving from the Israelites. In addition, he required that the kings would have sacrifices for the wrongs that were done by the Israelites, kings and fore fathers of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s power and its presence assured the Israelites conquer whenever they went on war on were faced by their enemy communities (Keith Henry III, 2010). 

Why did the destruction of the Temple change Israelite ideas of God? What particular Persian ideas about God did the Israelite exiles in Babylonian captivity borrow?

The destruction of the temple left the Israelites with fear that they would be attacked. They feared defeat by their enemies. There was battle between the forces of evil and good, with the ultimate victory of good over evil because that was the only command that Yahweh had commanded them to do. Those who would side with the forces of good were supporting the Divine cause. The Israelites considered the evil forces as signs of envy, anger, lies and environmental pollution. The Persians believed in freedom of choice and liberty, as reflected in the texts of later Avesta and Gathas. The issue of freedom came to the minds of many Israelites and it caused them to go against the will of the living God. God punished them through hunger and death.

The other Persian concept was a chosen government and the kingdom of God. The government would have all sort of virtuous women and men who resided freely and chose leaders for their righteousness. The oppressed would be rehabilitated. Their goal was to see everyone work towards establishing the chosen government where good overcame the evil. The Persians believed in life after death, immortality of soul and that the souls of the dead would be judged for their deeds of the past on the bridge of judgment. Three angels (Sraosha, Mithra and Rashn) would differentiate the souls by their conscience and then determine the eternal dwellings of the two groups in either heaven or earth. Because of the Persian protection and favorable attitude of the Achaemenid kings, the Israelites entertained a warm feeling thereafter for the Persians and this made them more receptive to their influence (Ashtiyani, 1990).

What particular Greek ideas influenced Hebrew ideas about God?

As with many religious groups, there are vigorous debates and discussions on whom influenced whom. The Hebrew was mostly required to learn the Greek language, as well as adapt to the pressure of Hellenistic culture. Israelites had difficulties in believing in invisible God. They wanted a God they would carry at all places they went for them to succeed in the battles and various challenges they encountered in the strange jungle. From this idea, ideas of interaction, interchange and communication with other communities was evident.     

How did Christianity and Islam adapt the Hellenized Hebrew concept of God into Trinitarians and tawhid, respectively?

Many religious leaders within Islam and Judaism accused Christian Trinitarians of practicing polytheism that is, believes in many gods rather than the living God. Islam holds that because Allah is absolute and unique (the concept of tawhid) the Trinity was impossible and has been condemned as polytheistic. Trinitarians hold to the divinity that Jesus Christ in that they base on the fact that Jesus existed as the son of God in human flesh. Thus, he is both man and God who humbled himself lower than the angels for the sake of humankind and was tempted as humans, but he did not sin. Trinitarians believe that Christ retained full human nature even after resurrection.  The Islam believes that God (Allah) is one and the only, the eternal and absolute. He does not beget, nor is he begotten, and there is no other like Him.

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How are the attributes ascribed to God in the theological system of “Classical Theism” different from the ancient Israelite Temple God?

In addition to the Israelites arguments about the existence of God, one argument has taken the form of a controversy on the existence of God; the issue is existence of evil. God is a deity in deistic and theistic religions and other beliefs that represent either the principal deity in polytheism or the sole deity in monotheism. Unfortunately, it is hard to deny the existence of evil and to deny the Israelites’ fact that God is benevolence or omnipotent. The God of classical theism has often possessed these two key characteristics with a limited or morally suspect God presenting a whole raft of other challenging questions. The challenge lies on whether God is omnipotent or not, which allowed Him to create creatures who have freedom to determine their actions and free will. The Israelites believed that it was the exercise of freedom, that gave way to evil and God would punish them. The difference arising from the argument is the involvement of the claim that God allows evil for inscrutable and some complex reasons. However, the Israelites, through the prophets of God, believed that moral evil was the failure to do God’s will and that natural evil was not a consequence of God’s own unlimited power.    

How do most modern Westerners differ from how ancient and edieval people thought about God hold the concept of God?

Studying Israelite religion involved recognizing the character traits of ancient religion manifests in the biblical records. The study often aims at large scale developments as well as examining religions in their institutional expressions because many biblical records provide information mostly about Israel’s institutions such as social, religious and royal. In the modern world, many westerners look at religion as a private matter that is kept separate from both politics and economy. However, this contradicts the religion that was depicted in the Hebrew’s Bible because it was primarily not a private issue but a communal one (and a national one that had major political and social implications. The westerners present biblical work in a general view in that it depends on how the Bible presented the ancient Israel and its religion. With such sorts of pictures, westerners correlate religious features with developments within social and political institutions (Vergilius Ferm, 1981).

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