UPDATED: BELOW YOU WILL FIND THE FINAL DRAFT!
Karen Armstrong‘s A History of God presents a lot of very interesting information about the history of the G-d of what I’ve come to learn are called “Yahwists“, otherwise known as Children of Abraham, or Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
I’ve also found a disturbing lack of certain pieces of information that are very important for someone outside the Jewish faith to understand our faith. There are other pieces where Armstrong chooses to go with what is the majority usage, without explaining actual definitions versus practical definitions.
Thusly, what I wrote was something of a “this is what I want my classmates to know in the space I have allotted.” I’m not sure how I feel about how I ended it.
This is it:
On Yahwists and Jewish Thought
In class, my group-mates and I incorrectly remembered a date somewhere around 1000-1500 BCE for when Abraham likely lived. Let me set this straight, Armstrong in A History of God tells us Abraham “left Ur and eventually settled in Canaan sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean at the end of the third millennium BCE”, approximately settling in the land of Canaan around 1850 BCE. (11-12)
I must admit frustration with Armstrong’s repeated usage of the term goyim to only mean “gentiles”, when in fact it means “nations”. It has come into usage as “gentiles”, but the proper use and meaning of the term is very different. For example: “Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, lo yilmedu od milchamah.” This translates roughly to “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they make war any more.”
In my experiences, no Jewish person refers to G-d in any instance as “Yahweh”, as Armstrong continually refers to G-d. Instead, “Adonai” is used in prayers, “Hashem” is used outside of prayers, “Elohim”, “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King — very traditional and used on Yom Kippur and select services leading up to Yom Kippur), among others. There are many other names for G-d. “Yahweh” is, in my experiences, a very Christian way of referring to G-d, though this is a derivation of the sacred name of G-d YHVH, or the hebrew being יהוה. “Yahweh” and “Yahwist” is used by Jewish folk only in scholarly circles when it comes to comparative religion.
Palestine is a name given to a large region of land by the Romans when they conquered the Israelites, naming it after the Israelites’ long-time enemy, the Philistines. The land of the Philistines was historically smaller than what has since been called Palestine. This is something few history books, including A History of God mention, though it is important.
The Mishnah and Gemara (which make up the Talmud) are key documents to understanding Judaic thought. So, too, is what has come to be known as the “13 Principles of Faith” of Moses ben Maimonides, also known as the Ramban, one of our rabbinic Sages. In addition to this, I’d recommend for anyone interested, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), and in fact, there is a great volume that gives a whole list of great Jewish books spanning the millennia One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman.
For more information, please speak with one of the following:
Rabbi Seth Goldstein, Temple Beth Hatfiloh, (liberal-progressive)
360-754-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org, bethhatfiloh.org
Rabbi Cheski Edelman, Chabad Jewish Discovery Center, (traditional-orthodox)
Or contact me! Interest meeting for those wanting to explore or celebrate Judaism (in all it’s forms) on campus next Wednesday, October 17th from 4-5pm inside Student Activities (CAB building) at the big wood table. Historianneke@gmail.com
On Abraham, Yahweh, and Armstrong
There was a date for when Abraham lived that I kept dwelling on after class the other night, knowing I’d seen it somewhere. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong tells us Abraham “left Ur and eventually settled in Canaan sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean at the end of the third millennium BCE”, approximately settling in the land of Canaan around 1850 BCE. (11-12)
Most of the reading that stuck out to me was Armstrong, though some were the sukkot texts Rabbi Seth brought in to class. I found it fascinating about the lulav representing the body of a person, the etrog representing the heart, and all of Israel! There is a lot of outside knowledge I bring to the class when it comes to certain aspects of what we are learning. I understand, but have not fully come to terms with the differences between scholarly work (particularly of someone raised in, who believes in a particular faith, versus a person who studies it from the outside) and everyday practice.
One instance of this frustration I have felt is Armstrong’s definition and repeated use of the term “goyim” to mean only “gentiles”, when, strictly speaking, the literal definition is “nations”, and can be used when referring to any body of peoples. Though it has come into usage in the vernacular as “gentiles”, as someone who is bound up in the study of linguistics, it’s (I feel) reappropriation is one that is disconcerting to me.
Some other instances throughout my reading of A History of God that stood out similarly was the omission of change in territorial names from Israel or Judah to Palestine, the latter being a name given by the Romans to a large region of land when they conquered the Israelites, naming it after the Israelites’ ancient enemy, the Philistines. The land of the Philistines was historically smaller than what has since been called Palestine.
Armstrong consistently referred to G-d as “Yahweh”. Within my practical experiences, I have no memory of any Jewish person(s) referring to G-d in any instance as “Yahweh”, instead using “Hashem” outside of prayer, and many other terms during prayer. “Yahweh” is, in my experiences, a very Christian way of referring to G-d, though this is a derivation of the sacred name of G-d, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. “Yahweh” and “Yahwist” is used by Jewish folk only in scholarly comparative religion circles.
Some questions I have going forward: Regarding the prophets, what are the differences in how Islam, Judaism, and Christianity view these folks? What meaning is there to the way the Qu’ran depicts the same stories? (I understand Islam is “correcting the mistakes” of passing the information, and of “correcting the corruption” of Judaism and Christianity, and I am curious how this shows through the Qu’ran, the hadith, and through other Islamic text and thought.) When it comes to living, and bringing the holy into everyday life, trrrrrwhat are the reasons for kosher or halal slaughter, for covering of the head, for things like mezuzot and their counterparts (if they exist), etc? I hope we can explore these, and other issues that may come up, in the weeks to come.