Yahweh and the Sun
“And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD; and behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.”
“And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven…. And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the LORD…and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.”
2 Kings 23:5, 11
“And he removed out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the sun-images...
“…And they broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence; and the sun-pillars that were on high above them he cut down… and he broke down the altars, and beat the Asherahs and the graven images into powder, and cut down all the sun-pillars throughout the land of Israel, and returned to Jerusalem.”
1 Chronicles 14:5, 34:4, 34:6 (Darby)
“Archaeological findings also testify to the existence of a cult of sun worship in ancient Israel. Archaeological findings and biblical evidence confirm close relations between God and the sun, and the heavenly body is seen as similar to God. In many cases, the sun symbolizes God as a kind of portrait. However, the sun was apparently not conceived as an image, but rather as part of divine revelation.”
Dr. Pnina Galpaz-Feller, Samson: The Hero and the Man (33)
BIBLICAL AND JUDEO-CHRISTIAN tradition asserts that the Jewish tribal god was transcendent, beyond all visible phenomena such as the sun, moon, planets, stars and so on, thus making him superior to and creator of these entities. Using circular reasoning, it is averred that, since the Bible is “God’s Word,” Yahweh must be the one true divine power of the cosmos. This vaunted impression, however, is a late theological development, and it is known from scriptures such as Ezekiel 8:16 and 2 Kings 23:5–11 that the Jews indeed worshipped the sun, as well as the moon, stars and so on, sharing the polytheistic astral religion of their neighbors and predecessors.
In several ancient traditions, the patriarch Abraham is depicted as a renowned astronomer who taught that science to the Phoenicians, after having learned it from the star-gazing Chaldeans, identified by Hecataeus as the priests of the Babylonians. Concerning Jewish sky-watching, Baker comments:
The Jews were famous as astronomers, although this is rarely noted. Theophrastus, a Greek writing at the end of the fourth century BCE, said: “The Jews converse with each other about the deity, and at night time they make observations of the stars, gazing at them and calling on God in prayer.” Little is known of their ancient astronomy, although it is interesting to note that most of the evidence for names of stars and constellations is found in Job, which is either old or consciously archaising and depicts the older ways: Aldebaran and the Hyades, known as “the Moth,” the Pleiades, known as “the Cluster”; Orion, known as “the Stupid One”; and the Chambers of the South (Job 9.9); Ursa Major, known as “the Winnowing Fan,” an unidentified “Chamber”; Canis Major and Sirius, known as “the Hairy Ones” or “the Evil Ones” (Job 38:13...); and the mazzārȎt (Job 38:32)...
These celestial bodies are depicted in the Bible as sentient beings, as at Job 38:7, which speaks of “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy…” The “sons of God” in this verse are the bene Elohim, the sons of the solar El previously discussed, who symbolize the stars and of whom Yahweh evidently was one.
Again, Yahweh possesses numerous attributes of other, often older gods, seemingly as many as the Jewish scribes and mythmakers could find, rolled into one, in order to assert superiority and dominance over all other deities. Included among these many characteristics are solar aspects that link this tribal god to other deities of the Mediterranean, such as those whom Macrobius deemed solar in nature.
As stated, in other, older religious and mythological systems such as the Egyptian and Indian we also find a transcendent creator God or Goddess “above” the sun, moon, stars and so on. Hence, even this sublime god-concept is not new and unique to Judaism, and does not represent evidence that the Bible is indeed God’s word.
Origins and History
How far back the god Yahweh can be traced remains inconclusive, but we do have some indications. In this regard, Delitzsch discusses the appearance of personal names among the North Semitic tribes who “settled in Babylonia about 2500 B.C.,” including “God has given,” “God with me,” “Belonging to God” and so on. As evidence, the German theologian presents three small clay tablets from the Department of Assyrian and Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum that date to the reign of Hammurabi’s father, Sin-Muballit (fl. c. 1792 BCE). On these tablets from the 18th century BCE appear variations of cuneiform rendered by Delitzsch as “Yahwè is God.”
Fig. 97. Cuneiform ‘Yahwè is god’ tablets from Babylon, 18th cent. BCE. (Rogers, R.W., 91)
Fig. 98. Cuneiform of North Semitic ‘Jau is God,’ 18th cent. BCE. (Rogers, R.W., 91)
Concerning Delitzsch’s reading of these texts, Rev. Dr. Robert W. Rogers (1893–1929), professor of biblical exegesis at Drew University, remarks: “There can be no doubt that Ja-u-um-li is to be read ‘Jau is god’; it is exactly the equivalent of the biblical name Joel.” While this purported evidence of early theophoric YHWH names remains debated, this god-name could have been part of pre-Israelite Semitic tradition, such as the “use of ya-wi in Amorite personal names.”
The Amorites comprised the North Semitic tribes who settled in Babylon around 2500 BCE and whose Canaanite pantheon may have included not only El or ilu but also at some point Iave or YHWH, apparently as El’s son. The evident fact that the proto-Israelite nomads called Shasu of Yhw were part of the Amorites would explain how North Semitic language and YHWH ended up in Judea, dawning from Seir. It should be recalled that the Arab version of the solar Dionysus, Orotalt, likewise reigned in Seir.
As shown, YHWH as the dominant god appears to be a later development out of the Semitic tradition, and Yahweh or “Jehovah” was but one of many variations of this Semitic theonym, with other forms transliterated thus:
Jehovah Jehova (Hebrew)
Also known as: Ahiah, Hehuah, Iah, Iaw, Ie, Ieu, Ieui, Jah, Jahve, Jahweh, Jaldabaoth, Jao, Jhvh, Jhwh, Jod-heh-vav-heh’, Yahowah, Yahu, Yahveh, Yahweh, Yaw, Yehoveh, Yhwh.
The sacred name or tetragrammaton יהוה YHWH has been found in paleoHebrew on the Mesha stele (c. 840 BCE) and on ostraka or potsherds from Israel dating to the ninth century BCE. Although the exact etymology and pronunciation of YHWH remain unknown, “some scholars trace it through the Phoenicians, as an appellation for the sun.”
To Be or Create?
As concerns the etymology of YHWH, Cross remarks that the “accumulated evidence…strongly supports the view that the name Yahweh is a causative imperfect of the Canaanite-Proto-Hebrew verb hwy, ‘to be.’” Elsewhere, we read:
The original pronunciation of YHWH was lost many centuries ago, but the available evidence indicates that it was in all likelihood Yahweh, meaning approximately “he causes to be” or “he creates.” The origins of the god are unclear: One influential suggestion, although not universally accepted, is that the name originally formed part of a title of the Canaanite supreme deity El, el dū yahwī ṣaba’ôt: “El who creates the hosts,” meaning the heavenly army accompanying El as he marched out beside the earthly armies of Israel. The alternative proposal connects it with a place-name south of Canaan mentioned in Egyptian records from the Late Bronze Age.
Yahweh thus may have begun as a “creator” epithet of the god El, while the place-name Yahu “appears to be associated with Asiatic nomads in the 14th to 13th centuries BCE.” The same word, Yahu, as a Jewish god-name can be found also in the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine (5th cent. BCE).
An inscription dating to the Late Bronze Age (c. 1220 BCE) from a temple at Lachish, southwest of Jerusalem, contains the phrase “El Yah,” providing evidence of these two gods’ syncretic nature at that time. During that era, the area was occupied by Jebusites, Hittites and Amorites: “The Jebusites were of mixed Amorite and Hittite blood,” the same mixture as the later Israelites according to Ezekiel 16:3, previously noted.
Baker points out that the god-name El is older than Yahweh and that it should have faded away by the time of the Exile centuries later, if the Pentateuch represents “history.” However, El continues to be popular in biblical writings, increasingly so, as “the writings from the exilic period and later use El more frequently than the earlier texts.” This fact appears to be at odds with the biblical Yahwist henotheism.
We have seen already how Yahweh is identified with or possesses the attributes of several pre-Israelite, Semitic solar, storm and fertility deities such as Shamash, Baal, El and Adad. Along with his tabernacle and numerous other elements with astronomical or astrotheological meaning, Yahweh himself has many solar characteristics, previously discussed and delineated further by biblical scholar Rev. Dr. J. Glen Taylor in Yahweh and the Sun: Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel. Indicating its pervasiveness, Taylor calls this Jewish sun worship “solar Yahwism,” remarking:
Several lines of evidence, both archaeological and biblical, bear witness to a close relationship between Yahweh and the sun. The nature of that association is such that often a “solar” character was presumed for Yahweh. Indeed, at many points the sun actually represented Yahweh as a kind of “icon.” Thus, in at least the vast majority of cases, biblical passages which refer to sun worship in Israel do not refer to a foreign phenomenon borrowed by idolatrous Israelites, but to a Yahwistic phenomenon which Deuteronomistic theology came to look upon as idolatrous.... an association between Yahweh and the sun was not limited to one or two obscure contexts, but was remarkably well integrated into the religion of ancient Israel.
Yahweh’s solar nature was suppressed in later centuries, when the Deuteronomist theology began to be developed, evidently during the eighth to sixth centuries BCE.
Nevertheless, the solar Yahwist mythology continued into the common era with the second book of Enoch (1st cent. AD/CE?), among other writings and artifacts. In 2 Enoch, the pseudepigraphic author purporting to be the patriarch himself describes his vision of God in solar terms: “I have seen the Lord’s eyes shining like the sun’s rays and filling the eyes of man with wonder.” This description reminds one of Moses’s shining face (Exod 34:29, 35) and Jesus during his transfiguration (Mt 17:2).
Pseudo-Enoch continues with his depiction of Yahweh, including storm-god attributes: “…I heard the words of the Lord, like incessant great thunder and hurling clouds.”
Dating the previous century or two, the first book of Enoch has a distinct “sun angel,” Shamshiel or שמשין אל in the Aramaic and Σεμιήλ in Greek, also transliterated as Samsâpêêl, Shamshel, Shamsiel or Shashiel. Shamshiel is one of the “Watchers” in that mysterious book, called by a name that means “sun of God.”
In his book The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, Mark Smith includes a chapter entitled, “Yahweh and the Sun.” In this chapter, Smith provides a subsection, “The Assimilation of Solar Imagery,” commenting upon the biblical “chariots of the sun” and several other solar artifacts and biblical verses:
In its denunciation of various temple practices, 2 Kings 23:11 includes “the chariots of the sun” (markĕbôt haššemeš). The picture is apparently one of chariots carrying the sun on its course, being pulled by horses. Archaeological findings may add to this picture. Horse figurines with a sun disk above their heads have been discovered at Iron Age levels at Lachish, Hazor and Jerusalem. The uppermost register of the tenth-century stand from Taanach likewise bears a sun disk above the body of a young bull. At Ramat Rahel, two seals dating to the Persian period (ca. 587–333) depict bulls with solar disks between their heads. Finally, the imagery of divine wings, as in Psalms 17:18, 36:7, 57:1, 61:64 and 63:7, invites comparison with the winged sun disk represented on preexilic seals (although the imagery could have coalesced with the iconography of the cherubim in the Judean temple). It would appear from Ezekiel 8:16 and 2 Kings 23:11 that either solar worship or worship of a solarized Yahweh took place in the temple during the waning years of the Judean monarchy.
As can be seen, the sun was associated with the chariot, horse and bull, the latter as in the “golden calf.” Included in Smith and Taylor’s analysis is an artifact called the Taanach cult stand (10th cent. BCE), which uses a depiction of a sun disk above a bull to represent YHWH.
Several scriptures refer to חמניכם chammanim, often translated as “incense altars,” serving as part of the polytheistic Semitic worship. These artifacts are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 14 and 34, for example, rendered by various translations as “sun images,” “sun pillars” or “sun idols.” The apparent sun pillars or statues were to be destroyed along with the asherim and other cult objects, and are surmised to have been dedicated particularly to the solar Baal.
There are many other artifacts and scriptures in which solar imagery is applied to Yahweh, including Deuteronomy 33:2, previously discussed as depicting the god’s dawning from the east and shining forth over the mountain, with his fiery flame. Another solar scripture appears at 2 Samuel 23:4, concerning the God/Rock of Israel, about whom we read that “he dawns on [men] like the morning light, like the sun shining forth upon a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.”
We have discussed already the biblical association of Jesus with the “sun of righteousness” with “healing on its wings,” invoking very old solar symbolism and a winged sun disk. As another example, “pottery found throughout Judea dated to the end of the 8th century BC has seals resembling a winged sun disk burned on their handles…argued to be the royal seal of the Judean Kingdom.” The pre-exile seals are called “LMLK,” referring to the Hebrew letters lamedh mem lamedh kaph, which connote “belongs to” or ownership, specifically of clay jars during Hezekiah’s reign. This fact is ironic, since Hezekiah is depicted as a violent reformer king and reputed destroyer of idols.
Fig. 99. Winged sun disk, c. 700 BCE. LMLK seal, Judea
Demonstrating the solar symbol’s ongoing importance, another Judean pottery sherd from the seventh century BCE owned by the “king of Zph” depicts the two-winged sun disk.
It is significant that the archaeological site at Lachish has produced more of these LMLK seals than any other location and that paleo-Hebrew ostraca have been discovered there as well, with its long history of El Yah worship and mixture of proto-Israelite Amoritish peoples.
Yah, Jah, Yahh
In the Bible, another name for the Lord is יה Yahh, Yah or Jah, as at Psalm 14:35. As noted, יה Yahh is used 49 times in the Old Testament and is considered an “abbreviation,” “contraction” or “shortened form” of Yahweh, although some have submitted that Yah is an older, more primitive usage.
As an example of Yah, at Psalm 68:4 the singer says:
לפניו ו ׃ ש עלזו ב מו ב יה ל ערבות ס רכב ש לו ז מו ל מרו ש אלהים ירו
Sing to God [Elohim], sing praises to his name [Shem]; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds; his name [Shem] is the LORD [Yah], exult before him!
The solar imagery of Elohim Yah riding upon the clouds, like Helios/Apollo in his chariot, is evident in this verse, especially when one considers the apparent shem-shemesh connection. In the same psalm (68:4, 8–9), as well as at Psalm 104:3 and Deuteronomy 33:26, Yahweh is depicted as riding through the skies upon clouds and creating rain.
Sun and Shield
Another solar scripture is Psalm 84:11:
For the LORD God is a sun and shield.
The relevant Hebrew is:
שמש ומגן יהוה אלהים
Shemesh magen Yahweh Elohim
Again, shemesh or shamash means “sun” and is the name of the Babylonian sun god. Magen denotes “shield,” as in the “Magen David” or “Star of David” of the modern era, giving it also a stellar connotation. A possible intention of this verse would be to identify “Yahweh Elohim” as or with Shamash.
To reiterate, there are many such biblical verses and other extrabiblical proofs of Yahweh’s solar nature, another of which is his mythical appearance at Exodus 3:2 as an “eternally burning bush,” resembling a sun with a corona of rays.
Biblical sun worship thus is evident in numerous texts, including Psalm 104, previously discussed. Scholars have continued to debate how the parallels between Psalm 104 and Akhenaten’s “Hymn to the Sun” came about, whether there is direct influence or derivation through the Phoenicians or Canaanites, but a relationship is evident.
In this regard, John Day remarks:
It is clear enough that Psalm 104 has some elements reflecting Canaanite mythology, such as the storm god and conflict with the waters motifs and the bringing of rain attested in vv. 1–18 (and the use of the name Leviathan in v. 26). Dion has rightly argued that Psalm 104 constitutes an amalgamation of Canaanite storm god and Egyptian Sun god motifs to Yahweh—vv. 1–18 and 20–30 respectively. ...
….Eventually an Israelite author combined motifs from Akhenaten’s Sun hymn with other motifs originating in the Canaanite storm god (vv. 1–18), thus producing the psalm we now have.
The full title of Dion’s article is entitled: “YHWH as Storm-God and SunGod: The Double Legacy of Egypt and Canaan as reflected in Psalm 104.” In any event, the inclusion of this solar hymn reveals Israelite sun worship.
Like other sun gods, Yahweh had a tempestuous side, in which he served as a storm god, controlling the weather. Yahweh’s storm-god and/or weather controlling aspects are exemplified at Job 38:1, 9, 25–29, 34–37; Psalm 18:10–14; Isaiah 19:1; and Ezekiel 1:4, 28. His apparent Ugaritic predecessor Yw, son of El, may have been a storm deity as well, like Hadad/Adad, also identified with Baal and Yahweh.
Yahweh’s stormy attributes are laid plain in these various biblical books, equating him with Baal, Adad, Marduk and Seth, among others. As another example, one word for “storm” or “storm-wind” in Hebrew is סופה cuwphah, used at Numbers 21:14 to describe the miracle at the Red Sea.
Yahweh’s meteorological attributes are exemplified also in the cloud by which he leads the Israelites through the desert, where, upon Mt. Sinai and in the tabernacle, Yahweh likewise appears to Moses from the middle of a cloud.
In the Pentateuch, the word “cloud” ( ` ענן anan) is employed some 42 times in relationship to Yahweh. For example, Exodus 16:10 reads:
And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
In reality, it is the radiant glory of the sun that appears in or through the clouds.
Regarding how Yahweh eventually ended up as the dominant god of the Israelites in Judea, one popular theory holds that he was a favored deity of certain Amorites, part of the pre-Judaic Semitic multi-tribal ethnicities who occupied southern Syria/Palestine and eventually in part came to dominate the northern Israelites as well. Egyptian Execration Texts (c. 1850–1800 BCE) “trace the social and religious development of the Amorites...in Palestine and Southern Syria from a stage when they retained a political organization and religion characteristic of a tribal state to the stage when they had finally settled down to the sedentary life of farmers.” From the subsequent mingling of peoples, some Amorites, including the Shasu of Yhw, eventually became Yahwists, Judeans and Jews.
Originally, these peoples were followers of multiple deities around the eastern Mediterranean and Levant, including El, Baal, Tammuz and other Semitic gods, many of whom were significantly solar and atmospheric in nature. At some point during the first millennium BCE, this ancient community struck upon the tribal war god Yahweh above all others, carrying his standard in their battles.
The reality is that the ancient world flourished with a plethora of deities, many of whom possessed numerous solar attributes, including those discussed in the present work. Yahweh represents another of the same type, building on the ancient solar mythology and astral religion, demonstrated abundantly in texts and artifacts reflecting his solar nature and syncretized attributes from a number of sun gods and goddesses from antiquity.
Fig. 104. Sun god Helios surrounded by 12 zodiacal signs, with four solstices and equinoxes in corners, 6th cent. AD/CE. Synagogue mosaic from Beit Alpha, Israel (NASA)
Fig. 105. Zodiac with Helios in center, 6th cent. AD/CE. Synagogue mosaic, Tzippori/Sepphoris, Israel. (G.dallorto)