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.”

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Giant Librarians of Debir, or Who is stronger: Yahweh or some iron chariots?

Bob Seidensticker
Bob Seidensticker

Bob Seidensticker blogs at Cross Examined: Clear Thinking About Christianity. The blog can be found on the “Atheist Channel” on Patheos – a site also known for hosting the blog of novelist Mike Bird, whose fantasy novels have been described as “more like LOTR than the Narnia Chronicles”.

In a recent post, Bob examines examples in the Bible where Yahweh gets defeated in battle by other gods. As Bob says, these narratives are often quickly explained away in Christian commentaries on the Old Testament, given that the Bible’s acceptance of the existence of other gods beside Yahweh is something that many Christian commentators are keen to suppress. Yet the idea that Yahweh is one god among other gods is regularly affirmed throughout the majority of the books of the Old Testament (and continues in early Christianity, although the other gods are demoted to demons). Have a read of Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah, edited by John Barton and Francesca Stavrakopoulou (2010) for a recent treatment of the many divinities who were worshiped in ancient Israel and Judah.

When Bob describes Yahweh’s defeat by iron chariots in Judges 1.19, he makes mention of Kiriath Sepher (“City of Scribes”), otherwise known as Debir, a  city possibly inhabited by giant librarians – according to one children’s book.

Have a read of Bob’s full post here.

Dancing on “The Tomb of Caleb” – The Facts Under the Ground

According to Numbers 13-14, Moses sent a group of spies to spy out the promised land. The spies returned to the whole assembly of Israel, and discouraged them from entering into the land, claiming that they had seen giants there. But Caleb, along with Joshua, encouraged the Israelites to kill all the prior inhabitants of the land and settle in their place. For this, Caleb was praised for “fully following after” the Israelite god, Yahweh.

Orthodox Jewish men dance near the alleged tomb of the biblical figure Caleb in the Palestinian town of Kifl Hareth in the West Bank. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
Orthodox Jewish men dance near the alleged tomb of the biblical figure Caleb in the Palestinian town of Kifl Hareth in the West Bank. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

Earlier this year [2010], a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to add two West Bank shrines to a list of Israeli heritage sites set off weeks of clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops in the biblical city of Hebron. Both of those sites, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, hold great significance for Muslims and Jews.

No clashes were reported during the pilgrimage to Kifl Hares, which began late Thursday and ended early Friday. The Palestinian mayor, however, called it “a serious bother.”

Israeli soldiers, some using glow sticks to direct traffic in the darkness, imposed a curfew on the Palestinian residents. The Jewish visitors, some carrying children or pushing strollers, walked the village’s narrow streets. Near the tombs, groups of ultra-Orthodox men with sidelocks and black hats recited prayers, sang and danced in circles.

Some devout Jews claim biblical Joshua, along with his father, Nun, and companion Caleb are buried in Kifl Hares.

– Ben Hubbard, “Thousands of Jews visit disputed West Bank tombs”, Boston.com, 9 April 2010

This is causing some bother:

Thousands of Jewish settlers raided Friday the West Bank town of Kifl Hares north of Salfit to perform traditional prayers at what they have claimed is the tomb of Joshua the son of Nun.
Israeli Radio put the number of settlers that raided the site from Thursday night to Friday morning at 15,000. They were protected by Israel occupation forces (IOF).

Uprooted Palestinians, “Jewish settlers raid Kifl Hares in bid to claim shrine”, 30 April 2011

The tomb of Caleb at Kifl Hares
The tomb of Caleb at Kifl Hares

Ahmed Bouzia, the mayor of Kifl Hares, called the most recent visit “a serious bother” and said many villagers worry Israel will try to take the sites away from them.

“All three are Islamic graves,” Bouzia said, adding that one contains the remains of an ancestor. “Anyone who uses his eyes and head can see that these are Islamic graves.”

– Ben Hubbard, “Thousands of Jews visit disputed West Bank tombs”, Boston.com, 9 April 2010

So right now, in Israel, a tradition is being invented about the tomb of Caleb.

According to a fresh report by the PIC, there are three Islamic shrines in Kifl Hares, Dhul-Kifl, Dhul-Nun, and a shrine built by Sultan Saladin, which Israelis wish to convert into a biblical site, naming it the shrine of Joshua, who led Moses’ army into Palestine from Jericho.
Palestinians fear Israel wants to hijack the shrine in the center of the village and add it to the alleged Jewish heritage list, as was done with Ibrahimi and Bilal Ben Rabah mosques.
Uprooted Palestinians, “Jewish settlers raid Kifl Hares in bid to claim shrine”, 30 April 2011

Raiding Jewish Settlers at Kifl Hares
Raiding Jewish Settlers at Kifl Hares

Episode 1 of The Bible’s Buried Secrets – BBC2 – Francesca Stavrakopoulou

For those of you in the UK, or who can pretend you’re in the UK, here’s Episode 1 of BBC2’s The Bible’s Buried Secrets, hosted by University of Exeter’s Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou, hosting The Bible's Buried Secrets, BBC2

It turns out that the famous old Bible story – you know the one about a shepherd-boy who kills a ten-foot giant, gets selected as king by a prophet who claims to be guided by an ancient Semitic deity called Yahweh, soothes evil spirits by playing a harp, and conquers most of the ancient Levant – has gone and stretched a few of the facts. Whoever would’ve seen that coming?

Update: See all three episodes of The Bible’s Buried Secrets here.