Book Notice: Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes

Collin Cornell, ed. Divine Doppelgängers: YHWH’s Ancient Look-Alikes. University Park: Eisenbrauns, 2020. 280 pages. $99.95 (hardcover).

Since the 1700s, archaeologists have uncovered texts from the Near East that contain depictions of deities strikingly similar to some descriptions of YHWH in the Old Testament. Such parallels can be disorienting for readers of faith upon first encounter. Scholars have put forward various proposals for explaining the seeming incongruity between biblical claims of YHWH’s uniqueness and parallel descriptions of other gods in the ancient world. Divine Doppelgängers, edited by Collin Cornell (Visiting Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, TN), contains a series of essays that provide “reflections on the ‘problem’ of YHWH’s ancient look-alikes.” The volume as a whole is an attempt to think theologically about this question. The book’s thirteen chapters are divided into three parts (summarized below). Each section is prefaced by a brief introduction to what follows. Four of the chapters are reprints of previously published articles. Overall, the chapters are quite accessible, as evidenced, for instance, in the transliteration of foreign scripts.

Part 1 orients readers to the materials and approaches used in the academic field of Israelite Religion. The diverse methods employed and solutions advocated in this section show a range of perspectives. Several chapters take more of a sociological perspective in an attempt to reconcile the development of YHWH from/against other ANE deities. Part 2 takes the Moabite deity Chemosh as an extended case study. Collin Cornell’s chapter describes the author’s initial disorientation when he first read the Mesha Inscription, a text from the king of Moab (cf. 2 Kgs 3:4). Chemosh expresses anger toward his people and hands them over to foreign oppressors (namely the Israelite Omri!). Among the available solutions, Cornell follows the Dutch theologian K. H. Miskotte, who argues that the representation of YHWH as a ‘god among gods’ is anchored in God’s free choice. Thus, the resemblance of YHWH in other ANE deities stems from his free decision to draw near. This allows for other expressions of deity among other peoples, such as in Chemosh to the Moabites. This accommodation, he says, is analogous to the incarnation of Christ. Other chapters in this section explore other aspects of YHWH and Chemosh. Part 3 explores further parallels to YHWH from the ancient world, including fate, the maternal Divine Wet Nurse, and bull and horse imagery. This section includes both literary and iconographic analysis.

Many of the chapters in the volume helpfully present the relevant parallels between the biblical God of Israel and Israel’s neighbors. The contributors write from different faith traditions and academic specialties. As noted by the editor, the central concern of the book is to engage the theological “problem” posed by YHWH’s look-alikes in light of biblical statements of his incomparability and uniqueness. While a more detailed analysis cannot be undertaken here, I would strongly question many of the theological proposals put forward. Though the data must be taken seriously, from the perspective of historic Christian theology, it is difficult to reconcile the revelation of the triune God with other gods that demand worship. For this reason, I would suggest reading this volume alongside a book like John Currid’s Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament (2013).

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Andrew M. King, Assistant Dean of Spurgeon College and Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College.


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