Anthropomorphism in Ancient Religions -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 125:497 (Jan 1968)
Article: Anthropomorphism in Ancient Religions
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Anthropomorphism in Ancient Religions

Edwin M. Yamauchi

[Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi, Professor of History, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.]

The word anthropomorphism in its restricted sense means the representation of deity with the forms of humanity. The word anthropopathism means the representation of deity with the feelings of humanity. If we may coin a word, anthropopraxism would mean the representation of deity with the activities of humanity. The first word, however, is used in a more general sense to include these latter aspects, and it is in this sense that it will be used in our study.

Philosophically oriented moderns have assumed that the frank and frequent anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament are all too similar to the representations of pagan religions.1 Many Biblical critics further assume that certain types of anthropomorphisms belong to the more primitive stages of Old Testament religion and that they can hence be used as a criterion in the evolutionary framework of the documentary hypothesis.

In our present study we find upon closer inspection that in spite of the apparent similarity in expression to pagan religions the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament reveal all the more remarkably a sharply contrasting concept of deity.

Pagan Anthropomorphisms Readily Exchange with Theriomorphisms

Theriomorphism, the representation of deity in animal form, occurs occasionally in Greek religion, frequently in Canaanite religion, and most frequently in Egyptian religion. Zeus in his many liasons with women transforms himself into a bull to win Europa, into a swan to win Leda, etc.2 At Ugarit El, the nominal head of the pantheon, “was called the ‘father bull,’ i.e., the progenitor of the gods, tacitly likened to a bull in the midst of a herd of cows and calves.”3 In the Baal Epic the goddess Anath is transformed into a wild cow, copulates with Baal, and gives birth to a bull.

Mesopotamian deities are generally anthropomorphic with a few exceptions: Tiamat is portrayed as a monster with four eyes, horns and a tail; the protective shedim are the famous winged bulls found in the Assyrian palaces. Gods may have animal epithets, e.g. Anu and Enlil are both called “the bull of heaven.”

It is above all in Egypt that deities are represented in animal form. The goddess of the sky, Nut, is often pictured as a cow and sometimes as a sow. Set, the enemy of Osiris, is portrayed as a fantastic ...

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