Right now atheists seem to be all abuzz about Yahweh, a.k.a The Volcano God, in some weird attempt to discredit The One we Christians, Jews and Muslims worship today. Ask any of us monotheists if we believe God is a god of volcanoes and the discussion will be cut short by weird looks and lots of laughter.
What’s even more amusing is that they are speaking as if this is new insight that we benighted believers have been ignorant to. Enter one of my favorite books on religion, The History of God, by Karen Armstrong.
To understand what we are losing—if, that is, [God] really is disappearing—we need to see what people were doing when they began to worship this God, what he meant and how he was conceived. To do that we need to go back to the ancient world of the Middle East, where the idea of our God gradually emerged about 14,000 years ago.
Armstrong, Karen (2011-08-10). History of God (Kindle Locations 236-238). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Yes, 14,000 years ago which predates the Exodus by better than 10,000 years. Yes, 10,000. Apparently God is a bit older than this Yahweh dude, but let us focus on this “Volcano God,” Yahweh. After all that’s who we call God, right?
The Israelites called Yahweh “the God of our fathers,” yet it seems that he may have been quite a different deity from El, the Canaanite High God worshipped by the patriarchs [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]. He may have been the god of other people before he became the God of Israel. In all his early appearances to Moses, Yahweh insists repeatedly and at some length that he is indeed the God of Abraham, even though he had originally been called El Shaddai. This insistence may preserve the distant echoes of a very early debate about the identity of the God of Moses. It has been suggested that Yahweh was originally a warrior god, a god of volcanoes, a god worshipped in Midian, in what is now Jordan. We shall never know where the Israelites discovered Yahweh, if indeed he really was a completely new deity. Again, this would be a very important question for us today, but it was not so crucial for the biblical writers. In pagan antiquity, gods were often merged and amalgamated, or the gods of one locality accepted as identical with the god of another people. All we can be sure of is that, whatever his provenance, the events of the Exodus made Yahweh the definitive God of Israel and that Moses was able to convince the Israelites that he really was one and the same as El, the God beloved by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The so-called “Midianite Theory”—that Yahweh was originally a god of the people of Midian—is usually discredited today, but it was in Midian that Moses had his first vision of Yahweh.
Armstrong, Karen (2011-08-10). History of God (Kindle Locations 582-594). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
But the Bible does contain volcanic imagery when we see Elijah experience Yahweh. The problem is that atheist critics are intentionally myopic. They are looking to discredit so they ignore obvious evidence.
There [the prophet Elijah] experienced a theophany which manifested the new Yahwist spirituality. He was told to stand in the crevice of a rock to shield himself from the divine impact: Then Yahweh himself went by.
Thence came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before Yahweh. But Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But Yahweh was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But Yahweh was not in the fire. And after the fire came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with a cloak. [1 Kings 19:11-13]
Unlike the pagan deities, Yahweh was not in any of the forces of nature but in a realm apart. He is experienced in the scarcely perceptible timbre of a tiny breeze in the paradox of a voiced silence.
Armstrong, Karen (2011-08-10). History of God (Kindle Locations 709-717). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
In my New Revised Standard edition, it reads “the sound of sheer silence.” Not exactly what comes to mind when evisioning the image of a volcano although that’s the imagery announces Yahweh’s arrival. If God really was a volcano god would he not be in that which he is manifested: a volcano? The volcano becomes a sign of power and majesty but even here we have three specific denials that this describes Yahweh’s nature. The author of Kings even goes so far as to employ a paradox to remind us that God’s nature is indeed inscrutable.
For us believers, this is so par for the course it’s almost read on automatic. The Israelites on their Exodus saw God in the volcano of Mt. Horeb when Moses comes down with the Law. Elijah being a simple human could not stand in Yahweh’s awesome (quiet?) presence. Yawn. Nothing that hasn’t been taught in Sunday School since forever. Of course, all of this is entirely missed by atheist critics eager to make God small and easily dismissed.
I am not surprised…and neither should you. But it is amusing.