Xenotheism: The Faith of Abraham
Akhenaten, Isaiah, and the Foundation of Christian Zionism
In the Torah, Moses dies just before the Hebrews proceed into the promised land of Canaan. He is the hinge upon which Judaism swings, yet his life story contains many mythic archetypes as well as frank miracles. The Amarna tablets suggest that the Jewish Bible is a literary pastiche, wherein the authors used the legend of Moses to connect the "divine" origins of Hebraism to the quasi-historical Joshua. The Amarna Tablets were written during the reign of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, and discovered at his forsaken capital city. Akhenaten is regarded by many historians as a pioneer of monotheism (a role also acribed to Moses); Akhenaten destroyed the polytheistic idols of Egypt and proclaimed exclusive worship of the Sun. But Egyptians eventually rebelled against this new religion, perhaps related to reasons such as Akhenaten using child slaves to build his capital city, or being profoundly deformed yet unrepentantly incestuous. If nothing else, Akhenaten was a megalomaniac who would rather build monuments to his beliefs than maintain the fortunes of the Egyptian state.
The conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews is actually corroborated by the Amarna Tablets, which describe a group of "Habiru" menacing and later conquering the city-states of Canaan. You would think that proponents of the Jewish and Christian faiths would trumpet this historical correlation, but there is a very good reason why they do not. Because the Habiru were not returning from slavery in Egypt, and they had not just made a covenant with Yahweh. The meaning of the word Habiru in the Amarna Tablets is similar to the meaning of "deplorable" today. They were political outsiders, as well as social outsiders, living on the fringes of the cities and in the mountains. This condition is closely associated with the received meaning of "Hebrew", which is "wanderer". (See: "Who are the Habiru of the Amarna Letters?" by S. Douglas Waterhouse, https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1280&context=jats).
In his book Akhenaten, King of Egypt, Cyril Aldred describes the Habiru as "displaced persons of different ethnic origins and speech, wandering about Palestine and Syria in robber bands. They kept to the unfrequented tracks, living by rapine and mercenary service according to their opportunities. Groups of Apiru [Habiru] were hired as soldiers of fortune by the local rulers, and occasionally even by the Egyptian district commanders." The Torah inverts this historical reality by ascribing a cohesive ethnic and linguistic identity to the Hebrews.
During the last years of Akhenaten, Cyril Aldred writes "the army, which had been trained in the profession of arms by fighting in the field under the leadership of valiant pharaohs, had now become an instrument of centralized domestic policy, more concerned with laboring in quarries and vast building projects than combating in foreign theatres of war" (Akhenaten p.282). Because of this, "the Egyptian commissioners had to recruit such mercenaries, including roving bands of Apiru [Habiru] cut-throats, to support the loyalist vassals in keeping the Pharaoh's peace" (p.282). Thus, Aldred tells us that the Habiru were actually employed by the Pharaoh of Egypt. The Torah inverts this by saying the Hebrews were enslaved by the Pharaoh.
Aldred also writes of this time that "plague was raging in the near east". Akhenaten was a notorious iconoclast, lashing out at the Egyptian pantheon in years 6 and 9 of his reign. But by the 15th year of his reign, as his country was ravaged by plague and his own inbred family dropping like flies, he "assailed the monuments of Amun", whose "statues were smashed; even small scarabs that bore his name were defaced". Aldred writes that this final bout of iconoclasm "disclose something more than official execration and suggest general panic." (p.289). Aldred concludes:
The troubles that must have crowded fast upon the king in the last years of his life were not only domestic and mortal, but also political. Egyptian influence in Syria looked very near to complete collapse, and its hold further south in Central Palestine was also threatened. The ascendancy of the Aten had proved baleful for those realms on which it shone. In the midst of these setbacks, Akhenaten died in circumstances that are wholly obscure.
The fate of Akhenaten remains shrouded in mystery, and Egyptologists are not sure if they have identified his mummy. It is thus conceivable that Akhenaten fled Egypt or was exiled, in which case he could have made an alliance with the Habiru who were newly ascendant in Canaan. In this scenario Akhenaten, the inventor of monotheism, made an alliance with the Habiru, his former employees, to inaugurate the Hebrew nation. Alternately, Akhenaten may have died in Egypt, (or in the wilderness) and only his character used as a template for Moses. But either way this means that the life of Moses and his covenant with Yahweh is a total myth. It means the Pentateuch is a total myth. Important elements of the Torah such as plagues, monotheism, iconoclasm, and the Hebrew conquest of Canaan all reflect the historical reign of Akhenaten. But there was no Yahwist monolatrism at this time, and there were no descendants of Abraham. The Amarna tablets tell us that the ruler of Jerusalem in the 1330s BCE was a prince named Abdi-Heba, a Jebusite.
So who or what is Yahweh? According to wikipedia, Yahweh is known as a member of the Canaanite pantheon who was first elevated over the other gods (monolatrism), and later became the only god of the Jews (monotheism). Wikipedia provides an uncharacteristically lucid paragraph:
The exact transition between what is now considered monolatristic Yahwism and monotheistic Judaism is somewhat unclear, however it is evident that the event began with radical religious amendments such as the testaments of Elijah and the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah and had been fulfilled by the end of the Babylonian captivity, where the recognition of Yahweh as the sole god of the universe had finally secured a majority of the Jewish people.
Indeed, the origin of Yahwist monolatrism may be pinned on the reforms of the Judite king Josiah. In the Jewish bible, prior to Josiah, we have a lot of legends that cannot be verified through archaeology. But immediately after Josiah, we have the Babylonian captivity, which is verified by archaeology. Therefore it is plausible that Josiah is the inventor of the Pentateuch and he who folded the history of Akhenaten and the Habiru into the legend of Moses and the Hebrew. The deuteronomic reform of Josiah can charitably be considered the origin of Judaism, and Nebuchadnezzar to be the first reaction against Judaism.
So what right does Yahweh have to be the one and only God? Even among the people who believed in him, he was originally a member of a pantheon. The false history of the Pentateuch therefore first victimized the Israelites themselves, by denying their other gods. Yahwist monolatrism is what changed Israelites into Jews. But Yahweh was never content to conquer the Israelites only; he then demanded that the Israelites conquer the world in his name. As a result this petty volcanic spirit has become known as the one and only God, the creator itself. He masquerades behind ideals of unity, and deceives the nations into worshipping him. Yahweh is an imposition and a falsity. He is not the only god; he is a very strange god, the god of a fictionalized tribe. Therefore it is accurate to call belief in Yahweh not monotheism, but xenotheism. His is the worship of an alien deity.
This brings us to the real crux of Judaism (and Christianity): the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was written during the Babylonian captivity, shortly after the advent of Yahwist monolatrism. The gist of his prophecy is simple: Yahweh is pissed off. As usual, Yahweh blames the Israelites for their own problems; they are never worshipping him properly or sufficiently, they are always breaking his rules. Yahweh believes that suffering can only be the consequence of disobeying him. Therefore whereas history suggests that the Babylonian captivity was a reaction against Judaism, Isaiah suggests the Babylonian captivity occurred because the Jews were not being Jewish enough.
Yahweh's venom drips from the pages of Isaiah. He tells his people, "Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD [YHWH]; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him" (Isaiah 1:4). He says "Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers" (Isaiah 1:7). And "Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD [YHWH], defying his glorious presence" (Isaiah 3:8). In other words, Yahweh actually takes credit for the disasters that befell the Jews, saying they are his judgment against a nation of sinners and rebels. Isaiah says Yahweh has left Israel with a mere remnant or seed, and without it they would be as desolate as Sodom and Gomorrah. Yahweh reveals his own faithlessness by comparing the Israelites to the Sodomites. It is clear that he will be happy to destroy Israel if Israel continues to fail him.
Yahweh says that Zion has fallen but will be restored to a new righteousness:
Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD [YHWH], to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD [YHWH] from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
Now, this vision of a peaceful world appears to be a noble sentiment and one of the foundational premises of Christianity. But why is YHWH now interested in peace, when he once commanded the Hebrews to destroy the Canaanites utterly? Why does Yahweh in the next verse promise to strike the Earth terribly and humble every great work of mankind? It is evident that, as usual, Yahweh is in a state of inchoate rage, and his promises of peace are also promises of ruin. What value is a peace that must be achieved through armageddon?
Yahweh desires to destroy everything beautiful and humane. He dreams of demeaning women: "Instead of smelling of sweet perfume, she will stink. She will wear a rope for a sash, and her elegant hair will fall out. She will wear rough burlap instead of rich robes. Shame will replace her beauty" (Isaiah 3:24). It is important to note that Yahweh's vitriol in Isaiah is NOT directed towards the Babylonian captors, but towards the conquered Israelites themselves. His is the foundation of Christian "anti Semitism".
Isaiah describes the offspring of a virgin who will be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). This is another pillar of Christian belief. Yet Isaiah says Yahweh commands this child to "spoil quickly, plunder speedily!" (Isaiah 8:3). He says "Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered!" (Isaiah 8:9). Thus we must understand that, according to Isaiah, the child of the virgin who will redeem Zion is a warrior who will shatter the nations of Earth for Yahweh. Not a meek pacifist or universalist. This brings us to Isaiah 8:14, when Yahweh says he will lay down a stumbling stone to ensnare wayward Israelites (see my essay on the "offensive rock" of Simon Peter). Isaiah says "The lord and his warriors are coming to destroy all the world" (Isaiah 13:5).
We might as well note that in Hebrew "ben" means "son" while "eben" means "stone". Therefore Immanuel is called a "ben" and the "offensive rock" is called an "eben". Zion is properly understood as the dwelling place of Yahweh. Although Zion is on a mountaintop, it is also a fortification thereof. Therefore Zion must be built. Isaiah describes how Yahweh will build his dwelling place, by laying a precious cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16). The epistle of Peter in the New Testament transfers the identity of Immanuel as the son/stone of Zion to the character of Jesus Christ.
Cyril Aldred concludes his book on Akhenaten:
A dereliction from statecraft to theology led to neglect, corruption and near-anarchy. Moreover, the wind of change was pestilential and resulted in the virtual extermination of the ruling family. The eclipse of Akhenaten was complete. After the Amarna interlude, the life of Egypt resumes its flows through normal channels. Yet perversely, the ideas to which Akhenaten had sacrificed so much did not wholly die with him. They continued to haunt the minds of others, and eventually prevailed as the ordinances for the conduct of Man vis-a-vis God in the decalogue that was part of another "Teaching". (p.306)