Temple sheds new light on Yahweh-faith

Belief in the god Yahweh was far more diverse after the Babylonian exile than previously thought


Gard Granerød, professor at MF.

Professor Gard Granerød analyzes characteristics of the Judean faith in God on the Egyptian island Elefantine in his latest book. It bears the title "Dimensions of Yahwism in the Persian Period. Studies in the religion and the Society of the Judean Community that Elephantine. " The period of time referred to is about 550-330 bc., is called the Persian period or the after exilian period. The book is an important contribution to the cultural history and religious-historical context of which the Old Testament has occurred, according to the author himself.

- One of the peculiar features of Elephantine's Judeaens religion is that they had a temple of YHW, probably pronounced "yaho," which was their main God. This is a local manifestation of the God YHWH, probably pronounced "Yahweh," which we read about in the Old Testament. "yaho, the God of heaven", were deity YHW also called, said Granerød.

Parallel temples
An artistic representation of how this temple may have looked like (based on archeological and textual material) see bottom of the article.

- If we add texts for instance. 5 Deuteronomy 12, there should only be one legitimate temple of Yahweh. But both texts from Elephantine and archeological excavations show that it was a yaho-temple on the island - in parallel with the rebuilding of the temple of Yahweh by Jews in Jerusalem, says Granerød, and continues:

- Belief in the god Yahweh (in Norwegian Bible translations "Lord") was far more diverse in the centuries after the Babylonian exile than the Old Testament suggests.
Granerød describes a historical irony in that one of the Yahweh Temples that are best documented archeological - temple in Elephantine - is unknown to many scholars.
- While the most famous Yahweh Temple in Jerusalem is very little available to archeologists.

YHW is referred to as «Yaho, the God who dwells in the fortress Elephantine» in one of the sources Granerød studied.
- The Elephantine-Judeans thought that Jaho house was the temple erected for yaho on Elephantine. It appears that Jews there further identified JHW in Elephantine with YHWH (Yahweh) in Jerusalem. Presumably, they identified their YHW with YHWH in Samaria also tells Granerød.

Torah a common spiritual denominator?
Many will associate the period known in history which is affiliated with yahvism and the Judeaen/Jewish religion, with books like Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah 8 conveys the book by Moses laws was the fundamental document and which constituted the community of Judah who returned from exile in Babylon.
- If you read Jewish canonical, apocryphal and pesudepigraphical literature from the time of the Second Temple in light of Nehemiah 8, you get the impression that the Torah in one form or another was a common spiritual denominator acceptable to all communities among the Judeaens, says Granerød.

Not known to Moses laws
It might be relevant in the discussion about what Judeaen religion was in the Persian period, thinks Granerød.
- There is in fact nothing that suggests that there was knowledge of the books of Moses in the Aramaic documents from Egypt, that are our sources for the Judaean community in Elephantine. The text collection Granerød refers to consists of private and official letters, legal documents, lists, texts and various inscriptions on potsherds. Absence of Holy Scriptures is therefore one of several characteristics of the form of Yahweh believe that this group practiced.
- It does not seem that they had writings as we know from the Old Testament, as the Pentateuch prophet literature and the like.

Distinct Judeaen identity
- A central question in my book is: What were the salient aspects of the religious ideas and practices of the Judaeans in Elephantine? There are many theories about this, but none of these have been received with general acceptance, says Granerød.
He sees that it is still reasonably clear that many of the texts in the corpus reveals that both individuals in Elephantine and society as such had a distinct Judean identity. In Granerød book mentioned several examples to support this understanding.

Granerød has published a popular presentation of his research in the October issue of The Ancient Near East Today (2016), Vol. IV, no. 10, which you can read online here and here.

Illustration, courtesy: Stephen G. Rosenberg, "The Jewish Temple at Elephantine" Near Eastern Archaeology 67 (2004): 4-13.


 facts about elefantine

- Elephantine is an island in the River Nile
- The island was an important border fortress, which Judeaen soldiers served at during the Persian period. The Judeaen garrison belonged to the Persian Empire colonial-administration of Egypt.
- The Judeaen soldiers were living on Elephantine for generations.
- The Judeaen community on the island was relatively large, presumably up to 3,000 inhabitants.