Yahweh among the Gods

Shayne Cohen notes in his Beginnings of Jewishness that “many gentiles in antiquity recognized that the God of the Jews was a powerful God” (142).

He cites the magical papyri that “routinely invoke the ‘God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ ‘Iao Sabaoth,’” as well as “a disciple of the orator Herodes Atticus” who “quoted two verses from Deuteronomy 28 in the warning curse he included in the epitaph for his son. This gentile knew that a curse backed by the authority of the God of the Jews would likely be effective” (142).

Jewish writers told stories of gentile kings and other dignitaries who “witness some manifestation of the power of the God of the Jews and as a result venerate the God and acknowledge his power.” Heliodorus was thwarted in his attempt to steal from the Jerusalem temple and as a result “bore testimony to all men of the deeds of the supreme God” (2 Maccabees).

In fact, “many gentiles incorporated the God of the Jews into their pantheon. In the Hellenistic and early Roman periods numerous dignitaries offered sacrifices or gifts to the God of the Jews at his temple in Jerusalem. Even Alexander the Great was said to have done so. . . . The theological meaning of the gesture was clear. . . . The Jews are a respectable nation, and their God is a respectable deity. An empire has many nations and many gods” (143).

Why not include Yahweh among them?

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