For the lay Christian, it may seem confusing as to why scholars especially Christian scholars would assert that early Israelite theology could possibly be polytheistic. The issue comes from archaeological evidence that points to a situation in which the same terms that are used for the Elohim of the nations around Israel are also used in the Bible for the Elohim of Israel. For example, the singular Hebrew term for Elohim is “el” it is also the ancient Canaanite word for Elohim. And because some see a correlation some scholars want to assume that the Canaanite Elohim over time became the Jewish Elohim and that therefore that is why they call him “el”. And there are other examples of such instances where one could possibly make the argument that the identity was the same Elohim. And there has been much writing in this theory especially among atheists who want to disprove the validity of the Bible. I would like to at this point give my explanation as to why these things seem to occur and why it is not according to the pattern or the narrative that is being given that Israel adopted the Elohim of the Canaanites and transformed it into YHWH.
So, to begin with we must start with the story of Genesis, the book is not written until the time of Moses. From it we learn about the events that happened at the beginning. And one of the most important things that we can learn from the book of Genesis is that humanity freely tried to worship Elohim by their own means and not necessarily by ones exemplified by Elohim. For example, Cain and Abel had two different methods of worshiping Elohim Almighty. Biblically we don’t know why Cain and Abel decided that it was time to sacrifice or make a gesture towards Elohim at this point. But it does seem as though it is the first time that Cain or Abel are going to present a gesture toward Elohim. Given that this might be their first time they may have asked their parents about what would be a proper gesture. Or if they heard the stories of when Adam and Eve fell they may have gathered indicators as to what type of worship would be proper. But what one seems to have learned that the other did not is the choice to offer an animal sacrifice versus a plant offering. And we might wonder besides influence from the Holy Spirit upon Cain and Abel. We do get an indication as to what might have been a reason why able wanted to give an animal sacrifice. And, why it might’ve been obvious or should have been obvious to Cain as to why an animal sacrifice were better. In Genesis 3:21 we read
“21 And the Lord Elohim made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. “
It is possible that Elohim made the garments of skins for Adam and Eve immediately after the judgment to cover their shame of nakedness. Before the fall they had no shame about their nakedness and this nakedness or at least the awareness of the nakedness was revealed to them after they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, this condition of self-consciousness and vulnerability came because of eating from the tree. And Elohim created a covering that was going to satisfy their self-consciousness of their nakedness and help them in their new condition. So, what was learned by Abel it seems is that he recognized that the coat of skin came from an animal and that an animal had to die to cover the shame that resulted from the fall. The punishment that was given to Adam was about death and in eventual death that he was going to experience. And it seems that one of the reasons why Adam did not immediately die is because the animals that were used for the coats of skins temporarily atoned for and was a replacement for temporarily for the wages of sin that Adam owed. So, this was the first sacrifice to atone temporarily the death that Adam owed. So instead of having an immediate death the animal died in Adam’s place to atone for or partially stay the judgment of death on Adam. So, the garment of skin is a physical representation of the atonement that took place through the blood of the animal. The example that Elohim gave to Adam and Eve and to their children was one of animal sacrifices to satisfy or stay the judgment of Elohim momentarily. When it comes time now for Cain and Abel it seems that Abel understood the gesture that Elohim sacrificed a life to cover this sin or nakedness of his parents. And Abel therefore understood that he needed to have a blood sacrifice like that of their parents to appease Elohim momentarily. Cain on the other hand may have not understood or may have disagreed with Abel and Elohim tried to deal with Cain on the issue but ultimately Cain’s free will was always available to him.
The irony in this story is that Cain became angry because of his offering being rejected and later shed blood of his brother. We know that Cain was angry and it may have most likely been because of the rejection of the offer and by Elohim. Why he decided to attack Abel as a result may have been because of the righteousness Abel exemplified or it could have been that Cain did not want to kill an animal. As we know a human sacrifice was needed to take away the sins of the world which was done through Jesus. But Cain may have said what’s better than offering an animal why not offer a human that could take away the sins of the world. We don’t know if that’s the thinking of Cain but it is possible that he shed his brother’s blood to try to offer a better sacrifice than his brother which would be a human. Either way the point is that humanity was beginning to disagree on the method of worship. And eventually it is easy to understand how one person may seek Elohim differently than someone else and may claim that their Elohim is different and right while the other one worships the wrong one in their opinion. So, my suggestion is that because Cain and Abel are already showing how humanity is starting to differ on methods of worship and their perception of Elohim is different. Given more time the divisions become tribal each family having a different opinion on the worship of Elohim and who Elohim is. And then later entire nations would grow into different opinions on who Elohim is and how to worship him.
So, as we go to the story of the Tower of Babel we see that everyone is unified and together for one purpose in one accord. We don’t know if they all agreed on who Elohim is and the worship of Elohim. But we know that in the time of Noah there were many who it seems did not even care about who Elohim was and decided to follow their own heart and do as they pleased. Given this atheistic type of environment that developed so quickly. It is possible that the same propensity happens after Noah the desire to live as one pleases to have their own Elohim or to be atheistic. During these fluctuations of differing opinions and coupled with the division of language and the separation of the peoples you end up with different Elohim. Differing Elohim differing opinions on Elohim differing worship styles and atheistic styles, but also with that came similarities. The name for Elohim originally may have been “el” and that word may have survived through the division of languages. In other words, the groups of people who spoke the same language may have tried to communicate with others about Elohim and worship. And the only thing that they may have understood between each other could have been the name of Elohim “el” and so as these peoples migrated to where they eventually lived they may have shared the same names for Elohim that were recognized before they all split. So, when we find the same word being used for a Canaanite Elohim and for the Israelite Elohim may not be because Israel adopted the Canaanite Elohim as their own and transformed him into Jehovah. But it may be that the word was consistent and that word had universal understanding. So, I believe just because the word is the same doesn’t mean that they were the same or that one was taken from another and that the entire story of the Bible is a fallacy. But it may be that the same name was used and was adopted by several different languages. They may have all thought that they were worshiping the same Elohim but as time and evolution of worship then the eventual strife and enmity between the peoples the Elohim of one kingdom is no longer the same Elohim of another, the adoption of the word should be taken as a generic term and not as a personal name of any being. If we understand that the term is not a personal name but just a generic term then we have understanding that they’re not talking about the same Elohim but are using generalized generic terms that can be applied to anything.
The biggest difference between the gods of the nations that surround Israel and the nation of Israel and its God is that God has come to Abraham and his descendants and has chosen him and his children to teach the world the truth about who God really is. In Egypt dwelling in the land of Goshen for so long God chose Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. And God gave Moses the clearest understanding about what happened at the beginning in Genesis up to his point in time and gave various laws and rituals for the people of Israel. What is different is that God is explaining what happened at the beginning that he is the only true God why he came to Abraham and what he did with Isaac and Jacob to set the record straight on who God is and what God is doing with the nation of Israel. So it’s a recalibrating of misunderstandings that might’ve been during the time when everyone worship God in their own way. God has stepped into the commotion that is going on on the earth and is making himself known to those who are confused about him. There are undoubtedly similarities between the Canaanite God and the Israelite God and there are great differences as well. But what God is doing through Moses is explaining in no uncertain terms that there is one source of all, the sole cause of all and that this God has chosen Abraham and his descendants as his people. The theories that exist in the pantheons that exist in the surrounding nations should be taken as mere fiction because Israel has a direct connection to the cause of all and he is explaining that he is the Almighty and if he were a part of the Pantheon he would have told them. And so, the trust that Israel has in their God brings them to understand that the story that they’re given by God through Moses is the idea that they should have and the rest the nations have some fiction or their own gods but there are not related to their God. Israel fully understands that the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob is the only cause of all who is worthy to be worshiped and the surrounding nations are not The Almighty, but I don’t think that they have come to a point to where they are monotheistic they still are tolerant of other people’s having their own gods they’re just not worshiping them they have an exclusive relationship with Jehovah.
I also would like to talk about briefly the assumption that the stories of a flood from the other nations, some scholars say the Jews plagiarized the stories and made them their own and/or stories of Adam and Eve were taken from stories of other mystical tales found in the general Middle East. But what we must understand is that each culture comes from Noah and that these stories of the flood and Adam and Eve should be shared to a degree. The languages are divided these stories may not be fully understood by all the groups of people who migrated their separate ways. So, the story may take on a different version and may be changed over time because of oral tradition is not as exact as the pen and paper. So, these different stories of a flood all point to the fact that there was a flood the difference in the Jewish story is that Elohim gives the story to Moses and explains firsthand what happened instead of filtered through generations of people who may have changed the story over time. So, I would not say that those stories are where the Jews got the idea of a flood and decided to make it their own but that they are genuine stories that have morphed over time but the Jewish story is the first-hand account of Elohim’s experience with what happened at that time. So, it is an eyewitness account whereas the rest of these flawed creation stories are not. There is no real problem with archaeological finds with terms that are found in the Bible being used for Elohim’s of other nations because it is a fact that these people were together at one place at one time for one purpose and then were confounded in their languages. And before they separated people whom they knew and formally spoke to the day before they may have pointed to some object and could at least said what word was Elohim which is probably the most important thing to all the peoples. So, we know that it’s not impossible for them to learn the term Elohim that they all had when they were still together though they may not have been able to say anything otherwise I don’t see it is impossible for them to have agreed on how they said the word Elohim.