For Jews, Christians and Muslims YHWH surfed existence before there was existence, sneezed six times, fashioned the universe expressly for man, then waited 13.7 billion years before telling some illiterate goat herders in the desert how to behave.
That’s one version of events, the version offered up by same said illiterate goat herders and since repeated by their tremendously gullible descendants. The other version of events is a tad less flighty, and it begins in the Edomite desert at least 17 Generations – 500 years – before this unfathomably bipolar (eventually) monotheistic Hebrew god was first even mentioned on the Mesha Stele. Here the 9th Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep III, made note of a troublesome band of nomadic raiders, the Semitic speaking Shasu, whom he listed as bothersome fleas in the Temple at Soleb. One of the six tribes who made up the Shasu, the Shasu of YHW, carried on their lips the stories of their single god (from whom they took their name) and most likely through contact with the copper and tin mines of the southern Canaanite province of Judah inadvertently handed over the patent for this deity to tribes from which Saul would emerge generations later and unite other geographically embarrassed northwestern-Semitic speaking settlements under the banner, “Children of YHWH.”
Granted, it’s mildly more complex than that but that’s the general crux of how this particular, not-so remarkable monotheistic god got its name. I say particular god because 100 generations ago the god the Hebrews came to call YHWH (derived from the Shasu, YHW) was about as original as a double-bladed sickle, sandals and hair beads. The Egyptians had toyed with the notion of a single god, Aten, in the Middle Bronze Age, and in the east Proto-Indo-Iranian mystics had been messing around with the concept of an uncreated creator, Ahura Mazda, for 30 generations before these proto-Judaic priests caught wind of the idea. Here were concepts surely well known to the biblical Abraham before he (a moniker presumably for a tribe) packed up his/their bags and migrated west from Ur, Mesopotamia, around 1,700 B.C.E. Concepts again revisited by the Hebrews 33 generations later after Babylon routed Judah and relocated many of the educated elite back east for a few hundred years before being set free by the Zoroastrian, Cyrus II. … but when they did get home they re-doubled their efforts to do to the capital “G” God business what Sir James Dyson did to vacuum cleaners.
Like Dyson and his patented ‘cyclonic separation’ technology the real stroke of genius hit upon by the proto-Israelites was not in the borrowing, the tweaking, or even the outright theft of concepts and stories from the older monotheistic and pantheistic religions, rather it was in turning their version of this god into a ‘personal’ one with a god awful temper. The six-part Judaic creation story, the cardinal couple Adam and Eve (Mashya and Mashyana), the duality of the universe, the concept of Free Will, and even the End Times prophecies with a Saoshyant – a saviour figure – were all stories embezzled from the far older Zoroastrianism, and from the Sumerians the Hebrews kidnapped Utnapishtim and renamed him Noah. The marketing master stroke was not however the hands-down, balls-out theft but instead the filling in of a gaping hole left in the eastern religions god figure. Ahura Mazda was omniscient but, it was stressed, not omnipotent. In the east there was an impressive disconnect between the uncreated creator and his greatest creation: humankind. Ahura Mazda did not interfere in earthy affairs and through this hole the northwestern-Semitic speaking priests saw their entire product differentiation strategy. Unlike Sir James Dyson their purpose was not however in the creation of a global sales juggernaut rather the establishment of a genealogically-specific cult headed by a interfering, nosey, hands-on deity obsessed with the lives of his people.
Yahweh’s market take up rate – the speed in which a new product is embraced by consumers – was however anything but astronomical. Elohim, El, Shaddai, Elyon, Adonai, and Tseboath were all names used instead of or in conjunction with the tetragrammaton YHWH throughout the five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). El was the head of the Canaanite pantheon, Tseboath the Canaanite god of armies, and Shaddai was the Sumerian pantheons’ king of cunts, appropriately named The Destroyer. Here was a bitzer god: a bit-of-this and a bit-of-that, and all of this and that was quite purposely pretty horrible. Over hundreds of years this multi-purpose, all-in-one kitchen appliance was being constructed in such a way to stand up to the tyranny’s of his peoples own existence, and the best way the proto-Judaic priests found to do this was to simply make their god an even bigger tyrant. Indeed, of all the characters ever dreamed up by us naked apes none is more ghastly than the god laid out in the Torah. As Richard Dawkins so wonderfully put it, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
A “capriciously malevolent bully” capable and willing to shit down the throats of all who stood in the way of his chosen people and their aspirations for bigger and better things was it seems precisely what the Hebrews were looking for… And no one can really blame them for wanting to window dress what was an otherwise fabulously dull corporeality. The peoples we know today as the Hebrews had done nothing during the entire Bronze Age other than migrate west from Mesopotamia (probably as part of the Hyksos ‘invasion’) and establish themselves as a linguistically specific cluster of Canaanite settlements who kings would call into service from time to time to build this and that or fight in wars who’s outcomes only affected these tribes in so far as perhaps introducing a new king who would occasionally call them into service to build this and that and fight in wars. The solution the priests found to this ugly reality problem was simple: they just made up a new past. They fashioned a story, the Exodus, in which YHWH – that is to say, Elohim, El, Shaddai, Elyon, Adonai, and Tseboath – and his chosen people (themselves) go on an adventure and with the help of a magical weapon (the Ark of the Covenant) kickass all the way to the ‘promised land.’ A ripping yarn full of action and mysticism, trials and tribulations, heroic deeds and ultimate triumph… and all of it complete and utter fantasy. Just as soon as a sceptical eye was cast on the Exodus story it was categorically debunked as myth. Nowhere is there any mention of northwestern-Semitic speaking Canaanites in Egypt other than in the form of paid mercenaries, the Habiru. It is however likely there are kernels of truth in the tale, small stories perhaps originating from the remnants of the Hyksos who were kicked out of Egypt in 1250 BCE and resettled in Palestine. Given however that Pharaohs were men literally obsessed with recording even the most mundane happenings inside their kingdoms it is ludicrous to suggest one, possibly Ramses II, simply ignored 10 plagues wreaking havoc across his empire and the annihilation of a large swath of his professional land army at the hands of foreign labour union leader. These were men – the Pharaohs – who set in stone everything from seasonal river levels to yearly crop yields and the likelihood of one forgetting to make even a passing note of losing a few heavily armoured divisions is simply preposterous, and that’s putting it lightly.
Invented histories aside, the priests were not dressing up this complete asshole of a deity to create a vast multinational evangelical conglomerate. The extreme opposite was in fact closer to the truth. They purposely set out to make the Hebrew religion into an exclusive country club with its own discriminatory rules and regulations which ultimately produced some of the most racially charged religious texts ever put into print: the Talmudic doctrines. These scriptures – rule books supposedly handed down from Moses on his non-existent adventure – distinguish Jews as superior in all ways to Gentiles (all non-Jews) and laid out some of the most unsavoury life coaching tips ever articulated by human beings. Lying, bribery, underpaying labour, theft, cheating, and even murder are all perfectly legitimate pursuits according to the Talmud in order to milk gentiles or get them under control. All things civilized people would call vile and abhorrent are in fact permitted with the one warning note being that a Jew should not defame the Jewish people, or Yahweh, in committing these otherwise heinous acts. In other words, its fine to cheat and steal and lie, just don’t do it to a fellow Jew or get caught doing it to a Gentile. For example: “If a Jew is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known and do the evil there” (Moed Kattan 17a), “All gentile children are animals” (Yebamoth 98a), “Gentile girls are in a state of niddah (filth) from birth” (Abodah Zarah 36b), “A Jew need not pay a gentile the wages owed him for work (Sanhedrin 57a), “If a Jew finds an object lost by a gentile it does not have to be returned” (Baba Mezia 24a), “When a Jew murders a gentile, there will be no death penalty. What a Jew steals from a gentile he may keep” (Sanhedrin 57a), “Jews may use lies (subterfuges) to circumvent a Gentile” (Baba Kamma 113a).
As supremely offensive, discriminatory, repugnant, and at times purely hateful as the Talmudic doctrines are they may be viewed as nothing but a kneejerk xenophobic reaction of a tiny band of culturally specific, angst-ridden people desperate to cling to some sense of identity in the face of far larger forces flowing around them. This is no excuse for the obnoxious prejudices contained in these scriptures but it is amply reflected in their god, Yahweh, who was about as welcoming as syphilis to all non-Jews. For quite obvious reasons the end result was not a religion that would travel well into other cultures, but it was not designed to travel. Exclusivity was the goal and as a religion it was destined to remain a closed and racially-centric one until some travelling 1st Century Judean crisis cultists busted the door open and began selling a more outsider-friendly product: Yahwehism 2.0, later named Christianity. Five hundred years later a temporal lobe epileptic merchant-slash-paedophile from Mecca would create Yahwehism 3.0 according to the self-described voices he heard in his head. Like Christianity, Islam was an all-inclusive open-market adaptation of Yahwehism 1.0 and retained the deeply pervasive theme of a personal god; a god who was in all reality nothing but the creation of a wandering band of Edomite desert Bedouins whom historically and geographically embarrassed northwestern-Semitic speaking priests dressed up with plagiarized Proto-Indo-Iranian mysticism, pilfered Sumerian stories, and an awful lot of home grown paranoia and racism.