Slaves Of God -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 09:1 (Winter 1966)
Article: Slaves Of God
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Slaves Of God

Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D.

Yehezkel Kaufmann, the Israeli biblical scholar, makes the following statement in his book The Religion of Israel (1960), p. 318:

Lev. 25:39–43, on the other hand, does away with Israelite bondage entirely, for Israelites are “slaves of YHWH,” whose lordship excludes subservience to human masters. This lofty conception, unparalleled elsewhere in antiquity, is, however, limited in its application to Israelites and does not embrace foreigners. (Italics ours.)

Kaufmann in strongly stressing the uniqueness of the experience of the children of Israel has unfortunately overstated his case and has completely overlooked the evidence from other cultures of the ancient Near East.

In fact, when one views the evidence one has great difficulty finding a culture in the Near East that does not have the “slave of God” motif. We may cite some representative examples.

Slave Of God Names

I. Egyptian

Many of the examples occur as theophoric names—personal names that include a god’s name as an element. In the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.) we have Hm-Ntr “Slave-of-God,” Hm-R’ “Slave-of-Re,” Hm-Hthr “Slave-of-Hathor.” Later we have Hm-Ptah “Slave-of-Ptah.” 1

II. Babylonian

In old Babylonian (1800-1600 B.C.) we have a well-known historic figure, a king of Larsa (1771-1759 B.C.) who was named Warad-Sin, that is “Slave-of-(the god) Sin,” as well as Ab-di Ili “Slave-of-God,” and Ab-du Ish-ta-ra “Slave-of-Ishtar.” At Nuzi (1500-1400 B.C.) we have the similar Warad Ishtar, and other names including Warad Kubi, “Slave-of-Kubi” (an evil demon who caused miscarriages). In the Cassite period (1650-1175 B.C.) we have Abdu-Nergal, “Slave-of-Nergal.” 2 Many of these names also occur in the Akkadian letters found at Amarna in Egypt (14th century B.C.), e.g. Abdi-Heba, “Slave-of-Heba” (a Hurrian deity).

III. Ugaritic

At Ras Shamra (1500-1200 B.C.) we have the names ‘bdil, “Slave-of-God,” and ‘bdb’l, “Slave-of-Baal.” There also occurs ‘bd Ibit, “Slave-of-Labi’t” (the Lioness Goddess). The Lioness Goddess may be either Atirat, Attart, or Anat. The latter was the warlike goddess whose violence was celebrated in Ugaritic myth as follows:

She piles up heads on her back

She ties u...

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