Canaanite Reconstructionism

Apparently there are Canaanite Reconstructionists! Yes, among the small number of neopagans in Israel, there are some Israelis who are trying to ‘revive’ Ugaritic and Canaanite religion. They honour or worship Asherah, Anat, or Ba’al – goddesses and gods worshiped by ancient Hebrews.

I recently discovered this in a chapter from a 2017 book by Shai Feraro, “Canaanite Reconstructionism Among Contemporary Israeli Pagans” (in Kathryn Rountree, ed., Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism, Palgrave Macmillan).

The chapter mentions Emily, a former Orthodox Jew, but now a devotee of the goddess Asherah. Emily points out that Asherah is a native deity of the land of Israel, unlike Yahweh, who is just a foreign invader:

She [Emily] quoted a verse from Deuteronomy (33:2) which states that: “Jehovah came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them,” in order to suggest that he was a Midianite deity that “immigrated” into the land of Canaan. She said: “He is not mine, he is not for me, he ruined my … his people destroyed my Goddess.”

She’s most likely right about Yahweh originally being foreign to the Hebrews. Most recently the Midianite origins of Yahweh have been defended in Thomas Römer’s book, The Invention of God (Harvard University Press, 2015).

There are still only a small number of Israeli neopagans who currently incorporate Canaanite religion into their practices. But Shai Feraro notes that Canaanite Reconstructionism has begun to grow in just the last 6 or 7 years. “As the local Israeli [neopagan] community matures and gains confidence, it seems that the tendency to focus on ‘home-grown’ local deities is growing.”


Thomas Römer on the composition of the Hebrew Bible and Mamma Mia!

In “Autopsie de la Bible” (31 August 2016), French journal Témoignage chrétien interviews Professor Thomas Römer, chair of The Hebrew Bible and its Contexts at the Collège de France. It’s a good read.

And at the end, there is a section in which Thomas Römer explains the composition of the Hebrew Bible by comparing it to the use of Abba songs in the film Mamma Mia!

Thomas Römer earlier made the comparison with Mamma Mia! in his Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France (5 February 2009). Although the movie is getting a bit old, his use of it was obviously memorable – and, dare I say it, more memorable than the movie itself. Have a look at my earlier Remnant of Giants post, where I transcribed and translated that part of his Inaugural Lecture.

Here’s the relevant part of his more recent Témoignage chrétien interview:



Interviewer: In your “Inaugural Lecture,” you explained that the Pentateuch was constructed a little like the musical film Mamma Mia!

Thomas Römer: Yes, this was at the time that this film was released. For its screenplay, the film constructed a fairly banal story from different songs of the group Abba. The songs originally had no connection, neither chronological nor thematic. But the screenplay devised a fictional marriage to impose order on songs whose only connection was to have been written by the same composers and sung by the same group. And the result was a movie with a story loosely hung together.

It seemed to me that the image was useful to show how traditions of the Pentateuch which were unrelated in the original were linked together. On the one hand, you have the history of the world, with its grand narratives, the creation of the world, of man, the Flood, Babel; disparate narratives that have no other link between them except to imagine the origins of the world and humanity. Then there are the narratives of the Patriarchs. Again, they were told separately at first: the adventures of Jacob, of Isaac, of Abraham. And Joseph is yet another story. These stories have the same literary genre, but they were not written to follow each other. Jacob is probably the the most ancient story and Abraham came last. But in the Bible, they chose to put Abraham first.

The stories of the Patriarchs and the stories of the Exodus were, at the beginning, not linked at all. In the stories of the Patriarchs, importance is placed on descent, on genealogy – but in the story of Exodus, genealogies disappear. Even Moses was not an ancestor. He has sons of whom we do not know at all what become of them. In the episode of the golden calf, God said, “I will destroy all these people and I will make of thee a great nation.” But Moses refuses to become an ancestor. This is a profound reflection on a question in emerging Judaism: how are we Jewish? Because we descended from Abraham, from Isaac, from Jacob? Or because we keep the commandments that Moses transmitted at Sinai?


Lors de votre « Leçon inaugurale », vous avez expliqué que le Pentateuque était un peu fabriqué comme le film musical Mama Mia.

Oui, c’était au moment où ce film est sorti. Pour son scénario, on a construit une histoire assez banale à partir des différentes chansons du groupe Abba. Les chansons, à l’origine n’avaient aucun lien ni chronologique ni thématique. Mais le scénario du film a imaginé une rocambolesque histoire de mariage pour imposer un ordre à des chansons dont le seul lien était d’avoir été composées par les mêmes auteurs et chantées par le même groupe. Et à l’arrivée, on a un film avec une histoire qui se tient à peu près.

Il m’a semblé que l’image était utile pour montrer comment les traditions du Pentateuque, avaient été reliées entre elles alors qu’elles n’avaient aucun lien à l’origine. D’une part, vous avez l’histoire du monde, avec les grands récits, création du monde, de l’homme, Déluge, Tour de Babel ; récits disparates qui n’ont pas d’autre lien entre eux que d’imaginer les origines du monde et de l’humanité. Puis, il y a les récits des Patriarches. Là aussi, on avait raconté de manière séparée d’abord les aventures de Jacob, d’Isaac, d’Abraham. Et Joseph est encore une autre histoire. Ces récits ont le même genre littéraire, mais ils n’ont pas été écrits pour se suivre. Jacob est probablement l’histoire la plus ancienne et Abraham, le dernier venu. Or dans la Bible, on a choisi de mettre Abraham d’abord.

Les histoires des Patriarches et les histoires de l’Exode, à l’origine, ne sont pas du tout liées. Dans les histoires patriarcales, l’importance est mise sur la descendance, sur la généalogie, alors que dans le récit de l’Exode, les généalogies dispa – raissent. Même Moïse n’est pas un ancêtre. Il a des fils dont on ne sait pas du tout ce qu’ils deviennent. Dans l’épisode du veau d’or, Dieu dit « Je vais exterminer tout ce peuple et je ferai avec toi un grand peuple ». Mais Moïse refuse de devenir un ancêtre. C’est une réflexion profonde sur une question du judaïsme naissant; comment est-on juif ? Parce qu’on descend d’Abraham, d’Isaac, de Jacob ? Ou parce qu’on observe les commandements que Moïse a transmis au Sinaï ? 

Thomas Römer’s Wonderful Introduction to Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Scholarship: Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France (2009)

Jim West has chased down an open-access copy of a wonderful introduction to biblical scholarship on the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: Thomas Römer’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France (5 February 2009).

The English version: “The Horns of Moses: Setting the Bible in its Historical Context”

The original French version: “Les Cornes de Moïse: Faire entrer la Bible dans l’histoire”

A video of Römer’s inaugural lecture is available here, and includes many very useful slides which illustrate his talk:

Leçon inaugurale de Thomas Römer

In addition to his formidable erudition, there is also much humour to be found throughout Thomas Römer’s many works, and I draw your attention to his powerpoint illustration of paragraph 28 in his talk. Here Römer makes an excellent analogy between the manner in which the biblical composers employed earlier sources and the film Mamma Mia‘s employment of ABBA songs. This is one point where the video of his powerpoint illustration is most useful (see 36:55-38:16 in the video).

La première partie de la Bible hébraïque … n’est pas première ; elle est le résultat d’un effort théologique et éditorial de réunir, à l’intérieur d’une même bibliothèque, des traditions et des rouleaux d’époques diverses, véhiculant des idéologies différentes voire contradictoires. Pour illustrer un tel phénomène, permettez-moi d’évoquer un film qui a connu l’année dernière un certain succès et dont la banalité, si d’aventure vous l’avez vu, a dû vous effrayer. Il s’agit de Mamma Mia. Le fil narratif, donc la chronologie, de ce film, est clairement secondaire. Le seul but de l’intrigue est de permettre de regrouper et d’organiser un certain nombre de chansons du groupe suédois ABBA, qui à l’origine ne racontent pas une histoire continue et qui n’ont pas de liens thématiques entre elles. Il en va de même pour certaines « chronologies » bibliques.

The first part of the Hebrew Bible … was not actually first; it was the result of a theological and editorial effort to bring together, in the same volume, traditions and scrolls from different eras, conveying differing and even contradictory ideologies. To illustrate this phenomenon, allow me to mention a film that enjoyed considerable success last year and whose triviality, if you happened to see it, must have struck you. The film is Mamma Mia. The narrative, hence the chronology, of this film is clearly secondary. The only aim of the plot is to bring together and organize a number of songs of the Swedish group ABBA, which originally did not relate a continuous story and have no common thread. The same applies to certain biblical “chronologies”.