Patriarchal Religion As Portrayed In Genesis 12-50 -- By: Augustine Pagolu

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 47:2 (NA 1996)
Article: Patriarchal Religion As Portrayed In Genesis 12-50
Author: Augustine Pagolu


Patriarchal Religion As Portrayed
In Genesis 12-501

Augustine Pagolu

Although J. Wellhausen had already rejected the historicity of the patriarchs, and with it their religion, and argued that the patriarchal traditions were retrojections dating from the Monarchical period, A. Alt’s essay ‘Der Gott der Väter’ marked a watershed in the study of patriarchal religion. In this essay he argued both for a patriarchal religion distinct from Mosaic religion and for the possibility of its originating during or at just before the settlement of Israelite clans in Canaan. While many since Wellhausen have continued to argue against the historicity of the patriarchs, a number of scholars, in the light of Ugaritic and other archaeological discoveries, have followed Alt in arguing for a distinct patriarchal religion before the Mosaic period. However, the study of patriarchal religion has chiefly been confined either to the different divine names or to the social and legal practices frequently attested in Genesis. As a result, relatively little attention has been paid to patriarchal religious and cultic practices in Genesis.

This thesis takes its departure from the Hebrew Bible’s own testimony that patriarchal religion was distinct from Mosaic religion. In the thesis, this distinctiveness is chiefly sought in patriarchal worship and cultic practices, such as altars, pillars, tithes, vows and ritual purity. These aspects are studied in the light of both second millennium ancient Near Eastern and Israelite (i.e., post-Mosaic) parallels. It is argued that while the worship and cultic practices of

the patriarchs have elements in common with both the ANE and Israel, the portrayal of God as God of the fathers and his covenant with the patriarchs are unique features.

Moreover, the nature of the patriarchs’ involvement in their cultic practices bears no comparison to that of the ANE or Israel. The patriarchs are described as engaging in these cultic practices in order to maintain their religious piety. There is a consistent portrayal of these practices as being distinctive to their religion and lifestyle. In the ANE altars were not built by individuals, but were largely restricted to organised or popular cults at sanctuaries where priests presided. Similarly, planting trees or raising pillars in order to worship God is explicitly prohibited in latter Israel, yet the writers of Genesis, in spite of their Yahwistic ethos, portray these patriarchal practices as unexceptionable and even approved by God. Again, prayer, tithing, vow making and purificatory rituals were common in the ANE and Israel, but in the latter they largely took place at...

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