Religious Syncretism in Israel and Judah – Part 2
The Reign of Solomon
To Read Part 1: Religious Syncretism in Israel and Judah – Part 1
The Davidic monarchy did not centralize the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem but it promoted the worship of Yahweh as the God of Israel. Solomon’s reign, however, departed from the worship of Yahweh as the sole God of Israel. In his effort to enlarge his kingdom, Solomon made concessions to foreign religious practices that made a profound impact in the life of the nation.
In order to cement relationships with other nations, Solomon established political alliances which were sealed with marriages to women who were not Israelites. Solomon’s wives did not abandon their native gods but brought their religious practices with them to Solomon’s court. In an effort to please his foreign wives, Solomon promoted their religious traditions by building temples for their gods on the mountain east of Jerusalem.
The writer of Kings said:
“For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:5, 7).
Solomon built a magnificent temple for Yahweh in Jerusalem but the temple was built after the model of Canaanite temples. Along with a new temple came a new theology that was developed in that temple, largely by Zadokite priests with a Jebusite background. The theology developed in Jerusalem would be a synthesis of Israelite and Canaanite religious ideas. The purpose of this new theology was to create a national theology. Traditional Canaanite understandings of god were transferred to Yahweh and then made compatible with Israelite history. This new national theology of Yahweh would then be compatible with Israelite culture and customs and serve to unite the Israelite and Canaanite population and form a united country.
While priests in Jerusalem were developing a national theology, it is likely that grass-roots religion looked very different from the national cult. Besides the possible occasional pilgrimage, it seems that the state religion had little impact upon the Israelite people.
Many of the attempts at religious reforms during the period of the monarchy were mostly related to the official religion as practiced in the temple of Jerusalem. Archaeological discoveries seem to indicate that the religious life and the piety of the majority of the population remained largely unaffected.
The syncretistic practices in the local shrines also seem to demonstrate that personal religion was not affected by the efforts of the reforms to establish the worship of Yahweh as the only valid religion expression in Israel.
The statement that Yahweh “was angry with Solomon” (1 Kings 11:9) is an indictment on the religious practices promoted by Solomon in Jerusalem. As a result of Solomon’s introduction of foreign religious practices into the life of the nation, divine judgment came upon him and his kingdom.
“The Lord said to Solomon: Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son” (1 Kings 11:11-12).
In addition, Yahweh raised up two adversaries (Hebrew satan) against Solomon. One was Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:14) and the other was Rezon, the son of Eliada (1 Kings 11:23). A third adversary was Jeroboam the son of Nebat (1 Kings 11:26), to whom ten tribes were given at the time of the division of the kingdom.
The prophetic desire for religious change was expressed by Ahijah the Shilonite prophet (1 Kings 11:29). In his charge to Jeroboam, Ahijah prophesied in the name of Yahweh and promised Jeroboam ten tribes. But the promise has one condition: Ahijah told Jeroboam:
“If you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:38).
Ahijah’s desire for religious reform under Jeroboam did not materialize because Jeroboam introduced a new type of religion into the Northern Kingdom.
Next: Part 3: The Religious Syncretism of the Northern Kingdom.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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