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Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

Solving Contradictions

Now Anath goes to her house,
The goddess proceeds to her palace.
Not sated with battling in the plain,
With her fighting between the two towns,
She pictures the chairs as heroes,
Pretending a table is warriors,
And that the footstools are troops.
Much battle she does and beholds,
Her fighting contemplates Anath:
Her liver swells with laughter,
Her heart fills up with joy,
Anath’s liver exults;
For she plunges knee-deep in knights’ blood,
Hip-deep in the gore of heroes.
Then, sated with battling in the house,
Fighting between the two tables….
Maiden Anath washes her hands,
Yabamat Liimmim her fingers;
She washes her hands of knights’ blood,
Her fingers of gore of heroes….
Footstools turn back into footstools.[i]

Archaeologists found this piece of poetry while digging through the ruins of Ugarit, a trading center near the Mediterranean Sea in what is now Syria. The numerous clay tablets found there have intrigued biblical scholars because the Ugaritic language is very similar to Hebrew, more so than any other ancient Near Eastern language, and because the poetry is very similar in certain respects with the poetry of the Old Testament.

This particular piece of poetry could have been one of the most humorous in the entire Ugaritic literature if the motive behind it had not been so gruesome. Not satisfied with the amount of blood she has spilled in a major battle, the war goddess Anath returns home and, still covered with her victims’ blood, engages in a mock battle with her furniture! This is one bloodthirsty war goddess. This is also one bloodthirsty war goddess with two names, one Anath, the other Yabamat Liimmim.

Almost all of the ancient gods and goddesses had at least two names. In the Iliad, the archer god is known as Phoebus, Apollo, Phoebus Apollo, and Smintheus. The Ugaritic craftsman-god was known as Kothar, Khasis, Kothar wa-Khasis, and Hayyin. All of these names appear in a brief passage from The Tale of Aqhat.[ii] The Babylonians’ chief god, Marduk, had fifty names, all of which are defined at the end of the Babylonian Creation Epic.[iii] A hymn to the Egyptian god Osiris says that he was “many of names,” which was certainly true. One list, compiled around 1600 BC, has sixty names on it; another list, compiled about 1300 years later, has 158 names on it![iv]

So too, the book of Genesis offers several names for God. Yahweh and Elohim are the most popular, but there are also Yahweh Elohim (even as Phoebus and Apollo are combined in Phoebus Apollo or Kothar and Khasis are combined in Kothar wa-Khasis), El Elyon (God Most High, 14:18-22), El Roi (the God who sees, 16:13-14), El Shaddai (God Almighty, 17:1), and El Olam (Everlasting God, 21:33). The multiple names for God are not evidence of multiple authors; the single author of the Pentateuch was simply following ancient Oriental custom.

Documentarians now recognize this custom, but they still divide Genesis according to its use of Yahweh and Elohim because they believe the use of Yahweh in particular creates two major contradictions. In Exod. 3:13-15, Moses asks for God’s name, which seems to imply that he and the Israelites do not know what it is. God tells him that his name is Yahweh. Exod. 6:3 seems to suggest that Moses’ ancestors did not know God’s name, yet passages in Genesis clearly show that Moses’ ancestors did know this name. Surely these ancestors would have passed this name down to Moses and the other Israelites. So why did Moses not know this name? These contradictions can be explained, according to the documentarians, if we say that Exod. 3:13-15 came from E, that Exod. 6:3 came from P (since it is a doublet of the previous passage) and that the passages up to Exod. 3 which have Yahweh came from J.

But is the theory of multiple authors the only explanation for these contradictions, indeed, for any contradiction we might encounter in any text? I think not. I can think of seven reasons why contradictions may appear in the work of a single author, three of them having to do with the author and four of them with the reader….

[i] James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 2nd edition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955), 136, hereafter referred to as ANET.

[ii] ANET, 151.

[iii] ANET, 69-72.

[iv] E.A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, Vol. 2 (London: Methuen and Company, 1904), reprint (N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1969), 162, 176-185.

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