Was Yahweh Originally an Edomite or Canaanite God?

This article will endeavor to show the differences between the Canaanite/Edomite god and the one and true God. It will also show how the Israelites did not, in fact, combine polytheistic gods to create monotheism. In fact, the opposite happened.

Hope Bolinger
Was Yahweh Originally an Edomite or Canaanite God?

Many who try to argue against the validity of Christianity and the Bible will say that Yahweh had come to Judaism through a Canaanite or Edomite god with a similar name.

The same skeptics will say that Judaism reduced a polytheistic religion into a monotheistic religion, saying that the Israelites combined several Canaanite gods into one God.

This article will endeavor to show the differences between the Canaanite/Edomite god and the one and true God. It will also show how the Israelites did not, in fact, combine polytheistic gods to create monotheism. In fact, the opposite happened.

Yahweh a Canaanite or Edomite Metallurgy God?

According to scholar Nissim Amzallag, Yahweh originated during the Bronze Age, in Canaanite religion, as the patron god of metallurgy, considering metals were an important hallmark of that time period.

This theory did not come about until recently when secular scholars have said that because the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert (Numbers 13:1-33), they would have been influenced by nations in the surrounding areas such as the Edomites, descendants of Esau, and the Canaanites.

Therefore, the theory suggests they adopted aspects from Edomite and Canaanite deities and attributed them to the God they claimed to follow.

One such deity includes the Edomite god, Qos. Qos, the chief god of the Edomites, stood out amongst the pantheon of fertility gods. Because of Qos’ connection with Mount Seir and Scripture’s seemingly connection with that Mount in Deuteronomy 33:2, scholars assumed the connection between the two.

Furthermore, scholars will argue that Moses married a foreign wife whose father worshipped other gods and might have let the pantheon into his own religious beliefs like Solomon did (1 Kings 11).

What Does the Name Yahweh Mean?

As explained in this article, we don't have an exact meaning and definition of the word Yahweh. Some Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible don't translate perfectly into another language. However, we can do our best to translate the meaning of the name.

Any time we read the word LORD in the Old Testament (all caps) we can know that's the word Yahweh in the original language. Originally it would've been written in the transliteration of YHWH. We don't know quite what it sounded like because the language didn't have vowels written down.

Although we can't pinpoint an exact definition for one of the most famous names for God, we do know that those in the Old Testament would not utter this name out loud. They thought the name itself was too holy. They would often use substitute names such as Elohim or Jehovah. Adonai is another substitute for the word Yahweh. All these names mean Lord. They acknowledge the power and might of our heavenly Father.

Why the Yahweh as a Canaanite God Theory Doesn’t Hold Up

The theory doesn’t hold up for a number of reasons. First of all, scholars are essentially grasping at straws. Most of the theory operates on conjecture. The Israelites lived near foreign peoples and some married foreign peoples, so, therefore, they changed their entire religion based on the influence of those peoples, according to the theory.

Also, similarly spelled names do not indicate it’s the same God. Although the Canaanites had El, and the Jews had Elohim, and the Edomites had JWH and the Jews had YHWH, it does not conclude that the gods are one and the same.

After all, Belteshazzar and Belshazzar are not the same people, not even close (Daniel 5). One was an Israelite captive in Babylon, the other, a king who loved a good party before the end of his kingdom.

Third, in Exodus, God makes it abundantly clear that he does not want his people to worship other gods (Exodus 23:13, Exodus 34:14). In no way shape or form would God have let them simply adopt other gods into their pantheon, let alone combine Him with them. We see consequences during their time in the desert when they do turn to other gods (Exodus 20-21).

Even though Israel strays away from God, God places godly leaders such as Moses, Joshua, etc. to prevent them from going astray. During their time in the desert, Moses would not have allowed them to adopt Canaanite or Edomite gods.

Origins of Yahweh: Polytheism to Monotheism Or the Other Way Around?

“OK,” scholars may say, “but Israel clearly created monotheism from the polytheistic cultures surrounding them. They brought many gods and turned them into one, like Akhenaten with Aten.”

Some may even point to the evolution of religious cultures from earlier cultures to modernized ones. They’ll say, “Look, as religions evolve, we see many gods of these more primitive cultures becoming one god.”

Truth is, it works the opposite way. Instead of many gods becoming one, we see one becoming many. Many start with a chief god (like El or JWH) and then later add a pantheon. In some ways, one could argue that they had an influence from the Israelites and not the other way around.

Of course, we could dive into philosophical arguments about why having one God makes sense over having several, after all, take one look at Greek mythology. Gods fight all the time and cause havoc and chaos on earth.

But overall, the polytheism to monotheism theory operates on conjecture at best. Both this argument and the argument from El to Elohim has very little basis, archeological evidence, and substantial proof.

Why Does The Origin of Yahweh Matter?

Many who will try to attack the Christian faith will rely on arguments like this. After all, if they can attack the Creator himself, they can weaken the faith and religious beliefs of those who believe in the Creator. If they convince a Christian that their faith is all based on polytheistic cultures that eventually molded into monotheistic ones, they'll wonder about the credibility of the Bible. They muse if they'd believe in a lie their whole lives. Post-modern society believes that one day we'll shed the need for religion and that religion is simply a part of the evolutionary process for survival.

But if we establish reasons for why monotheism devolved into polytheism, and not the other way around, we can show that the Israelites didn't borrow a Canaanite god and transform him into something else. Instead, Yahweh had been with them since the beginning and continued to pursue a relationship with them, even after they chase after foreign gods.

Our job is to learn all we can about the evidence, and trust only the facts, and not the biases. Unfortunately, many scholars will operate on conjecture or biases to try and crumple Christianity. But at the end of the day, we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by any newfound theory (Ephesians 4:14). We must first investigate the evidence before reaching any conclusions. We are to give a reason for the hope we have, and part of that reason is that we've researched the Bible and everything held within. We've compared it with other worldviews and found the other worldviews wanting. We need both faith and apologetics to have a solid foundation in Christianity.

And trust that if God is who he said he is, that the evidence will point to his character, his power, and his truth.

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headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.


This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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Originally published March 24, 2020.