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A Synopsis of Paper 97: Evolution of the God Concept Among the Hebrews

The Hebrews accomplished the greatest feat in the evolution of religion when they transformed Yahweh, the savage, jealous god of Sinai, into the loving creator of all things, the merciful Father of all mankind.

After the times of Moses, the Hebrew people regressed in their religious practices. When Hebrew leaders combined their tribes to stave off hostile neighbors in Palestine, Samuel, a teacher from a long line of Salem teachers, used the new central government to turn Israel away from the worship of Baal and back to the worship of Yahweh. His great contribution was the pronouncement that Yahweh was changeless, perfect, and divine. Samuel taught that the favor of Yahweh was not shown through material prosperity. Samuel progressed in his understanding of God throughout his lifetime, eventually knowing him as a merciful judge. Samuel's successors continued his legacy, preaching a god of divine power.

One thousand years before Christ, the Hebrews split into two nations. Spiritual decadence set in. Elijah worked diligently to restore the northern kingdom to a God concept similar to the days of Samuel by devoting himself to demolishing the altars of Baal and other idols.

There was a long‑standing controversy between followers of Yahweh and followers of Baal (Baal means owner). The southern tribes believed in one God. They thought that land belonged to Yahweh; it could not be bought and sold. The northern tribes, Canaanites and Baalites, believed in many Baals, and in the right to buy and sell land. Elijah succeeded in his work by shifting the Yahweh‑Baal controversy from the issue of land ownership to the issue of monotheism vs. polytheism.

Amos discovered new concepts of Deity. From Amos, the Hebrews heard for the first time that God would no more tolerate their sins than he would tolerate the sins of other nations. This direct attack on the chosen people doctrine was resented by many Hebrews. Amos proclaimed that Yahweh was the God of all nations, and that ritual could not replace righteousness. Hosea followed Amos with a doctrine of forgiveness through repentance rather than sacrifice; his gospel was one of divine mercy and loving kindness.

The first Isaiah preached the eternal nature of God, his infinite wisdom and reliability. He was followed by Micah and Obadiah, who denounced priestly rituals and attacked the systems of sacrifice. Jeremiah declared that Yahweh was God of all the earth, of all nations and all peoples, and that God did not defend Hebrews in their military struggles against other nations. He was cast into a dungeon for this accurate statement.

The Hebrew nation fell before the armies of Babylon. While in captivity in Mesopotamia, Hebrew priests prepared a textbook to bolster the courage of their people. Although they had no intention of writing a sacred book, their textbook later became scripture. In their fervor, these priests destroyed every known record of Hebrew history to make way for their newly written glorification of the Hebrew race.

The priests were greatly hindered in their influence over the captives by Isaiah the Second, a true believer in the God of justice, love and mercy. His theories of the nature of God were so compelling that he made converts equally among the Jews and their captors. The writings of the second Isaiah are preserved in the Book of Isaiah, chapters forty through fifty-five. Isaiah taught eloquently about God as universal creator and upholder. His writings are among the truest presentations of God's character before the time of Jesus.

The Jewish religion of the Old Testament was born in Babylon during the captivity. The Hebrews concluded that if they were to prevail, they must convert the gentiles; they had to become the chosen servants of God. The leaders preached that the Jews would be a chosen people, not due to special indulgences from God, but because they would perform the special service of carrying the truth of one God to all people. But when the Babylonian captivity ended, the Jewish people returned to their rituals. Without losing the concept of the Universal Father, the Hebrews fell into spiritual retrogression. Jewish theology refused to expand. Judaism persists today by virtue of its strong institutions and deep love of justice, wisdom, truth, and righteousness.

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