“Did Adam worship the same God as Moses or did he know him by a different name? This would be a matter or prime importance to us today, but the bible seems curiously vague on the subject and gives conflicting answers to this question. J says tha tmen worshipped Yahweh ever since the time of Adam’s grandson.”
-Karen Armstrong in A History of God
I’ve come across the verse that is referenced above before. Briefly, the verse states this:
“At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.”
At the time, I was blown away by this verse, and I speculated as to the intent of the writer:
“This is an incredibly interesting verse. It implies that before, people did not call upon the name of the LORD. In fact, we never see Adam entreating God for anything. God seems to always show up for stuff. Is the ancient reader supposed make some sort of connection between east of eden and calling upon the LORD, i.e., is the reader supposed to understand that we normally call upon the LORD when things suck? I don’t know. That’s potentially an unjustified inference. It is mentioned in the same paragraph as the one discussing Adam and Eve, however. But f. Did they even have paragraphs back then? This is freaking crazy.”
Armstong seems to suggest a different reason for including this detail. She seems to suggest that the author included the detail to mark a moment in history where the Israelites began their interaction with a specific god. As mentioned yesterday, polytheism was the dominate religious paradigm of the day, so perhaps the ancient author is clarifying for an audience that might have imagined that people might have called upon a name other than Yahweh’s.
Armstrong points out another interesting fact about the ancient world: It was often thought that having the name of the deity gave the possessor power over the deity. Perhaps, then, calling upon the name of the LORD makes a reference to the ancients trying to revert that famous statement Jesus made into this one: “Not Your will, but mine be done.” Of course, the ancients might not have seen anything wrong with this practice of putting God in a box, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from their mistakes.
Fast forward to Exodus and we find Moses trying to learn the name of Yahweh. Yahweh responds with, according to Armstrong, an idiom that essentially means, “Never mind what my name is!” In other words, Yahweh would not be defined or put into a box for the convienient use of Moses.
Its interesting that in the narrative Moses does not know the name of Yahweh already since, presumably, this is the god of his anscestors. They are, in this instance, just getting acquainted. Its quite a remarkable introduction. The anthropomorphic equivalent would look something like this:
Hi! I’m Matt.
Hey, I won’t be named.
(There’s an interesting similarity between Yahweh, the god who won’t be tied down by the human chanting of his name, and the God beyond god (Tillich and Armstrong’s god), who can’t be defined or understood in any direct sense.)
Well, what can I take away from this? Of course, there’s the lesson of not trying to own God with names. I’m tempted to condemn my heretical search for altered conceptions of God because of the lack of justification of God’s actions (as expressed in the bible). However, my attempt to “name God” or seek a conception that makes sense is not born out of some desire to control God. It is born, hopefully, out of a humble desire to know the truth. This is fine line that I probably cross all the time. Forgive me God.