IN 586 B.C.E., King Nebuchadnezzar II, ruler of the mighty Babylonian Empire and earthly agent of the High God Marduk—king of the gods—broke through the walls of Jerusalem, sacked the capital of the kingdom of Israel, and burned the Jewish temple to the ground. Thousands of Jews were put to the sword; the few who survived—especially the educated elite, the priests, the military, and the royals—were sent into exile in a transparent attempt to put an end to Israel as a nation. And if Israel no longer existed, then neither did its god, Yahweh.1
In the Ancient Near East, a tribe and its god were considered a single entity, bound together by a covenant in which the tribe cared for the god by offering it worship and sacrifices, and the god returned the favor by protecting the tribe from harm—be it from flood or famine or, more often than not, from foreign tribes and their gods. In fact, warfare in the Ancient Near East was considered less a battle of armies than a contest between gods. The Babylonians conquered Israel not in the name of Nebuchadnezzar, their king, but in the name of Marduk, their god. Marduk was believed to fight on the battlefield on behalf of the Babylonians and in accordance with the covenant Marduk had made with Nebuchadnezzar.
The Israelites had the same agreement with their god. It was Yahweh who ruled Israel, and thus Yahweh whose task it was to defend it. The bloody battles between the Israelites and their enemies, which take up so much of the early books of the Bible, were explicitly framed as a fight between Yahweh and foreign gods. Indeed, Yahweh was often charged with planning, commanding, and executing those battles on Israel’s behalf.
“David inquired of Yahweh, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?’ Yahweh said to David…‘You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come upon them opposite the balsam trees’ ” (2 Samuel 5:19–23).2
This explicit identification of a tribe with its national god had profound theological implications for ancient peoples. When Yahweh helped the Israelites crush the Philistines, it proved that the Israelite god was more powerful than the Philistine god, Dagon. But when the Babylonians destroyed the Israelites, the theological conclusion was that Marduk, the god of Babylon, was more powerful than Yahweh.
For a great many Israelites, the destruction of their temple—the House of Yahweh—signaled more than the end of their national ambitions. It meant the end of their religion. Cut off from the rites and rituals that had been central to their religious devotion and thus their very identity as a people, they had no choice but to surrender to the new reality. They adopted Babylonian names, studied Babylonian scriptures, and began worshiping Babylonian gods.
But among these exiles was a small band of religious reformers who, faced with the unacceptable prospect of accepting Yahweh’s obliteration at the hands of Marduk, offered an alternative explanation: Perhaps Israel’s destruction and exile was part of Yahweh’s divine plan all along. Perhaps Yahweh was punishing the Israelites for believing in Marduk in the first place. Perhaps there was no Marduk.
It was precisely at this moment of spiritual distress, when the kingdom of Israel had been laid waste and the temple of Yahweh torn down and defiled, that a new identity was forged, and with it a wholly new way of thinking about the divine.
THE GOD WHO would come to be known as Yahweh made his first appearance in the form of a burning bush, somewhere perhaps in the rocky deserts of northeastern Sinai. “This is my name forever,” Yahweh tells the prophet Moses, “and this is how I will be remembered from generation to generation” (Exodus 3:15).3
Moses is in this desert wasteland, the Bible says, because he is fleeing the wrath of the pharaoh. According to the book of Exodus, the Israelites who, a few generations earlier, had followed the descendants of the patriarch Abraham into the land of Egypt, had grown so numerous and powerful that they were stripped of their wealth and freedom and forced into slavery. So feared were they in Egypt that the pharaoh himself commanded that every newborn Israelite son be drowned in the Nile.
Yet somehow this one child was spared. His parents, descendants of Levite priests, placed him in a papyrus basket when he was only three months old and sent it floating among the reeds on the riverbank. The pharaoh’s daughter found him there. She took pity on the boy, brought him into her house, and raised him as Egyptian royalty.4
One day, after he was grown, Moses went out among the people and witnessed for himself the crushing labor enforced upon the Israelites. He saw an Egyptian master beating an Israelite slave and, in a fit of rage, he killed the Egyptian. Fearing for his life, Moses fled Egypt for what the Bible calls “the land of Midian.” There he met a “priest of Midian,” who welcomed him into his home and tribe, giving him his own daughter, Zipporah, in marriage.5
Many years passed as Moses built a life with his Midianite family in the household of his priestly father-in-law. Late one afternoon, as he was tending his father-in-law’s flock, Moses herded them beyond the wilderness, to the foot of a sacred Midianite place known as “the mountain of god.” It was there that he came across the mysterious deity who introduced himself as Yahweh.
Where exactly there was may be impossible to discern. In the book of Exodus it seems clear that the location of “the mountain of god” is in northeastern Sinai. But in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the Bible, the mountain where Moses meets Yahweh is located near Seir, in southern Transjordan. It is difficult to know what the Bible even means by “the land of Midian.” As far as we know, the Midianites were a loose federation of non-Semitic, desert-dwelling people whose homeland was in northwestern Arabia—not in the Sinai Peninsula, nor near Transjordan. In fact, there is so much confusion and contradiction in the Moses story—Moses’s father-in-law is named Reuel in Exodus 2:18, and Jethro just a few verses later (Exodus 3:1)—that historians have had a tough time making much sense of it.6
The problem is that no archaeological evidence has ever been unearthed to indicate the presence of Israelites in ancient Egypt. That is a remarkable statement considering the sophisticated bureaucracy of the Egyptian state in the New Kingdom (the period in which the Moses story is supposed to have taken place) and its legendary penchant for recordkeeping. What’s more, although the Egyptians regularly employed slave labor, the role and social status of a slave fell into one of three categories: slaves who had been captured in war, slaves who had sold themselves into slavery in order to pay a debt, and slaves who were, like indentured servants, duty bound to the state for a set period of time.
Moses and the Burning Bush
Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: “Die Ikone”/ Wikimedia Commons
The Israelites fit into none of these categories, making the notion of Egypt’s having enslaved their entire population difficult to swallow. Even more unbelievable is the reason the Bible gives for their wholesale enslavement: that this tribe of Semitic nomads had somehow grown “more numerous and more powerful” than the Egyptians who were, at the time, the largest, wealthiest, most militarily potent empire the world had ever known (Exodus 1:9–10).7
But perhaps the most confusing element of the Moses story has to do with the deity he encounters in the desert. Yahweh’s origins are an enigma. The name does not appear in any of the god lists of the Ancient Near East, an extraordinary omission considering the thousands of deities included in these lists. There are, however, two hieroglyphic references to Yahweh in Nubia dating to the New Kingdom period—one at the temple built by Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III, in the fourteenth century B.C.E., the other at a temple built by Rameses II in the thirteenth century B.C.E.—that mention something called “the land of the nomads of Yahweh.” Although there is some debate as to where exactly this land is, the consensus is that it is a reference to the broad desert region lying just south of Canaan—that is, “the land of Midian.”
So then, Moses, who had married into a Midianite tribe, came across a Midianite deity (Yahweh) while under the employ of a Midianite priest (his father-in-law) in the land of Midian.8
If the story ended there—and if we ignored the historical problems cited above—it would make a certain amount of sense. But the story doesn’t end there. Because the first task that this Midianite god gives to Moses is to return to Egypt, free the Israelite slaves from bondage, and shepherd them back to their home in the Land of Canaan: “Thus will you say to the children of Israel, ‘Yahweh, the god of your fathers, the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the god of Jacob, has sent me to you’ ” (Exodus 3:15).
This claim would have come as something of a surprise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because the fact of the matter is that these biblical patriarchs did not worship a Midianite desert deity called Yahweh. They worshiped an altogether different god—a Canaanite deity they knew as El.
Scholars have known for centuries that there were two distinct deities worshiped by the Israelites in the Bible, each with a different name, different origins, and different traits. The Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)—is actually a composite work stitched together from various sources spanning a period of hundreds of years. Look closely and you can occasionally see the seams where two or more different traditions were sewn together. There are, for instance, two separate creation stories written by two different hands: Genesis chapter 1, in which man and woman are created together and simultaneously, and Genesis chapter 2, the much more popular Adam and Eve story, in which Eve is made from Adam’s rib. There are also two different flood narratives, though, unlike the two creation stories, these are woven together to create a single, conflicting account in which the flood lasts either forty days (Genesis 7:17) or one hundred fifty days (Genesis 7:24); the animals are brought aboard the Ark in either seven pairs of male and female (Genesis 7:2) or just one pair of every kind (Genesis 6:19); and the flood begins either seven days after Noah enters the Ark (Genesis 7:10) or immediately after he boards with his kin (Genesis 7:11–13).
By meticulously tracing each of these separate narrative threads, biblical scholars have managed to identify at least four different written sources that make up the bulk of the early books in the Bible. These are named the Yahwist, or J, source (j is pronounced as y in German), which dates to the tenth or ninth century B.C.E. and runs through large parts of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers; the Elohist, or E, source, which dates to the eighth or seventh century B.C.E. and is mostly confined to Genesis and parts of Exodus; the Priestly, or P, source, which was written either during or immediately after the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C.E. and is primarily a reworking of the J and E material; and finally, the Deuteronomist, or D, source, which runs from the book of Deuteronomy through First and Second Kings and can be dated to somewhere between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C.E.
There are numerous differences between these sources. For example, the Elohist material, which was probably written by a priest from northern Israel, refers to Mount Sinai as Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1) and calls the Canaanites “Amorites.” In these passages, God tends to reveal himself mostly in visions and dreams, as opposed to the more southern-centered Yahwist material, which often portrays God in uncannily anthropomorphic ways: He creates the world through trial and error, forgetting to craft a mate for Adam (Genesis 2:18); he strolls through the Garden of Eden, enjoying the evening breeze (Genesis 3:8); and at one point, he loses track of his creation, Adam and Eve, unable to find them when they hide among the trees. “Where are you?” Yahweh shouts into the night air (Genesis 3:9).
However, the primary difference between the Yahwist and Elohist sources in the Pentateuch is that God is called by a different name in each. The god of the Elohist is El or Elohim (the plural form of El), which is rendered in most English translations of the Bible as God, with a capital G: “After these things, God [Elohim] tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). In contrast, the god of the Yahwist tradition is known as Yahweh, usually rendered in English Bibles as the Lord, spelled with all capital letters: “The LORD [Yahweh] said, ‘Surely I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt’ ” (Exodus 3:7). The much later Priestly source tends to go back and forth between using the names Yahweh and Elohim in an obvious attempt to merge these two different gods into one.
Although the Yahwist material is about a hundred years older than the Elohist, the Elohist tradition represents the older deity. In fact, while we know next to nothing about the origins of Yahweh save that he was likely a Midianite god, El is one of the best-known and most well-documented deities in the Ancient Near East.
A mild, distant, fatherly deity traditionally depicted either as a bearded king or in the form of a bull or calf, El was the High God of Canaan. Known as the Creator of Created Things and the Ancient of Days, El also functioned as one of Canaan’s chief fertility gods. But El’s primary role was as the celestial king who served as father and preserver of the earthly kings of Canaan. Seated on his heavenly throne, El presided over a divine council of Canaanite gods that included Asherah, the Mother Goddess and El’s consort; Baal, the young storm god known as the Rider of the Clouds; Anat, the warrior deity; Astarte, also called Ishtar; and a host of other, lower deities.9
El was also unquestionably the original god of Israel. Indeed, the very word Israel means “El perseveres.”
The early Israelites worshiped El by many names—El Shaddai, or El of the Mountains (Genesis 17:1); El Olam, or El Everlasting (Genesis 21:33); El Roy, or El Who Sees (Genesis 16:13); and El Elyon, or El Most High (Genesis 14:18–24), to name a few. And while it may seem incongruous that the Israelites living in Canaan would have so eagerly adopted a Canaanite god as their own, the influence of Canaanite theology runs deep in the Bible—so deep, in fact, that it isn’t always so easy to draw a clear distinction ethnically, culturally, or even religiously between the Canaanites and the Israelites, certainly not in the early history of Israel (c. 1200–1000 B.C.E.).10
The traditional view of the Israelite people is that they were strict monotheists, dedicated to the one and only God of the universe, surrounded on all sides by the polytheistic Canaanites and their false gods. This view does not stand up to historical and archaeological scrutiny. To begin with, there was no single group called the Canaanites; the term is a general designation for all of the various tribes who inhabited the highlands, valleys, and coastal regions of the land of Canaan (the southern Levant, comprising parts of modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel-Palestine). That has made it next to impossible to cleanly single out Israelite culture, however that is defined, from the larger umbrella of Canaanite culture. Many scholars now believe that the Israelites were of Canaanite stock, part of a hill-dwelling clan that had settled the highlands and then gradually broke free from the larger Canaanite group of tribes, expressing a distinct identity that nevertheless remained rooted in Canaanite culture and religion. Both groups were comprised of West Semitic peoples who spoke a similar language, shared a similar script, and held in common similar rites and rituals. They even employed the same religious terminology for their ceremonies and sacrifices, leading to dozens of Canaanite loan words in the Hebrew language, most of them pertaining to religious matters.11
Seated statue of El Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
And of course they shared the same god: El.
Actually, it may be more accurate to say that the Israelites and Canaanites shared the same gods, because by no stretch of the imagination could the early Israelites be considered monotheistic. At best, they practiced monolatry, meaning they worshiped one god, El, without necessarily denying the existence of the other gods in the Canaanite pantheon. In fact, the Israelites occasionally worshiped those other gods, too, especially Baal and Asherah and, to a lesser degree, Anat. And while the Bible is replete with passages, mostly composed by the later Priestly writer, condemning the worship of all these other gods, those condemnations only prove that these gods were indeed worshiped by the Israelites, both regularly and, as their presence inside the Temple of Jerusalem indicates, officially. King Saul, the first king of Israel, even named two of his sons after the god Baal—Eshbaal and Meribbaal—alongside the son he named after Yahweh: Yehonatan, or Jonathan.12
All of this is to say that the early Israelites likely viewed their god El pretty much the same way the Canaanites viewed El: as the chief deity presiding over a divine assembly of lower deities, just as Enlil, or Amun-Re, or Marduk, or Zeus, or any other High God would. They acknowledged, and occasionally even worshiped, the other deities in the Canaanite pantheon. But their allegiance was to the god after whom they were named: El.
It was this same El with whom the patriarch Abraham, who lived most of his life in the land of Canaan and who was steeped in Canaanite culture and religion (if not a Canaanite himself), made a covenant in exchange for a promise of fertility—which was, after all, one of El’s primary functions: “I am El Shaddai; walk before me, and be blameless….I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:1, 6).
It was El who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a test of his loyalty and faith; El who renewed the covenant with Isaac’s son, Jacob: “You will no longer be called Jacob, rather your name will be Israel” (Genesis 35:10). And it was in the name of this same El—the “El of your father” (Genesis 49:25)—that Jacob passed the covenant on to his own son, Joseph, who, the Bible tells us, was the first of the Israelites to leave Canaan and settle in Egypt, where generations later his descendants would come into contact with a hitherto unknown Midianite god who called himself Yahweh. Indeed, the story of how monotheism—after centuries of failure and rejection—finally and permanently took root in human spirituality begins with the story of how the god of Abraham, El, and the god of Moses, Yahweh, gradually merged to become the sole, singular deity that we now know as God.13
AFTER THAT FIRST encounter with Yahweh in the desert, Moses returned to Egypt with a message for the Israelites: The god of their forefathers—of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—had heard their cry and would soon liberate them from bondage. But the Israelites were unfamiliar with Moses’s deity. Even after Moses demonstrated his god’s power and persuaded them to follow him back to “the land of Midian”—that is, “the land of the nomads of Yahweh,” where the Israelites supposedly encamped after fleeing Egypt—they continued to exhibit little loyalty to this unknown god. As Moses stood atop “the mountain of god” to receive a new covenant from Yahweh (the Ten Commandments), meant to supplant Abraham’s covenant with El, the Israelites down below had already reverted to the worship of Abraham’s god, fashioning for themselves an idol in the shape of a golden calf—the primary symbol of El.14
Writing hundreds of years after the event, the Priestly writer tries to reconcile the conflict between these two separate strands in early Israelite belief by having Moses’s god explicitly state, “I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:2–3). Yet this claim only highlights the fact that the patriarchs of Israel, in whose memory Yahweh speaks, did not know who Yahweh was.
Reconciliation between Yahweh and El would eventually emerge in Israel, though the history of that reconciliation is a bit rockier than the Priestly source suggests. It seems that Yahweh devotion entered the land of Canaan from the south and was centered there for much of its existence. In the northern regions of Canaan, the Israelites who had been living in the land for generations worshiped El as their High God while also acknowledging, and on occasion worshiping, the other gods of Canaan. It wasn’t too difficult, therefore, for them to simply add Yahweh into the mix, though, as the Bible indicates, this occurred slowly and in stages. We can catch a glimpse of this gradual process in the so-called Song of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy:
When Elyon gave the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the sons of man,
he fixed the borders of the people in accordance with the number of the gods;
Yahweh’s own portion was his people.
This extraordinary passage not only affirms Israel’s recognition of other gods under El’s rule, it clearly casts Yahweh as one of those gods. It states that each deity received as a gift or “portion” from El its own nation, and that Yahweh’s gift was the nation of Israel.15
When the nation of Israel became the kingdom of Israel around 1050 B.C.E., the merging of Yahweh and El was reinforced. Even their names were occasionally fused together as Yahweh-El or Yahweh-Elohim, presented in most English translations of the Bible as the Lord God: “My son, give glory to the Lord God [Yahweh-Elohim] of Israel; give thanks to him and tell me what you have done” (Joshua 7:19).16
The consolidation of Israel into a kingdom was a response to increased threats from neighboring tribes. To preserve its independence and maintain its viability, Israel centralized its power, transforming itself from a theocratic tribe ruled by prophets and judges into a monarchy ruled by kings. And as happened in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and elsewhere, as the nature of the rule of men on earth changed, so, too, did the rule of the gods in heaven to match; in other words, politicomorphism.17
Israel’s burgeoning monarchy required a national deity: a divine king to reflect the authority of the earthly king. Considering that the capital of this kingdom, Jerusalem, was located in Judah, in the south, it was only natural that Yahweh—by this time already viewed as Yahweh-El—would eventually fill that role. Thus the desert deity worshiped by nomads in the Sinai was elevated to the top of the Israelite pantheon as king of heaven and ruler of all other gods. “Yahweh has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalms 103:19).
Yahweh essentially became the patron god of the Israelite kings. A temple was built in Jerusalem, and the new national god was placed there in the form of the Ark of the Covenant—Moses’s covenant, that is. Under the royal sponsorship of Israel’s monarchy, the cult of Yahweh evolved into a structured regiment of ritual sacrifices, mythic narratives, and melodious prayers, according to the common pattern of tribal worship that existed throughout the Ancient Near East.
As with Marduk, Ashur, Amun-Re, and all the other High Gods, the higher Yahweh ascended in Israel’s pantheon, the more he absorbed the qualities and attributes of the other gods. So we see Yahweh in the Psalms—the chief form of kingly propaganda in the Bible—subsuming El’s role as the celestial king, enthroned and surrounded by a heavenly host in a divine council, just as El had been.
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh,
and your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
Who in the sky can be compared to Yahweh?
Who among the sons of god is like Yahweh,
a god feared in the council of the holy ones,
greater and more fearful than any of those who surround him?
PSALMS 89:5–7; SEE ALSO PSALMS 82, 97, AND 99
Yahweh began to embody the imagery of the storm god Baal, the Rider of the Clouds, becoming “the one who makes the clouds his chariot, the one who rides upon the wings of the wind” (Psalms 104:3). “You rule over the raging sea,” the Psalmist sings; “when its waves rise, you still them” (Psalms 89:9).
Yahweh even took on the female traits of the goddess Asherah, particularly her maternal, nurturing characteristics, as when Yahweh cries out “like a woman giving birth” (Isaiah 42:14). “Listen to me house of Jacob and all of the remnants of the house of Israel,” Yahweh says, “those who have been born from my belly, those who were carried in my womb” (Isaiah 46:3).
Yet even at this point of convergence in Israel’s history, with Yahweh ascendant, the Israelites did not deny the existence of other deities. While there’s some evidence for the presence of a “Yahweh-only” sect in Jerusalem, the monarchy itself neither discouraged nor encouraged the worship of other gods; they merely focused their worship on their own national god. As the renowned biblical scholar Morton Smith wrote, “the attribute of the god of Israel [Yahweh] was merely that of the major god of any ancient near-eastern people…to be greater than the gods of their neighbors.”
“Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, awesome doer of deeds, worker of wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).
Again, this is not monotheism. At best it is monolatry, though even that label falls short when one considers how seamlessly other deities were included in Israelite worship. As with most ancients, the Israelites had a difficult time envisioning Yahweh as the sole god in the universe. They thought Yahweh was merely the best god in the universe. “For you, Yahweh, are most high over all the earth; you are greatly exalted over all the gods” (Psalms 97:9). They viewed Yahweh as king and ruler over the other gods: the highest god, the strongest god—the god of gods.
And then one day a stronger god, Marduk, appeared and defeated Yahweh, throwing the god of Israel down from the throne of heaven and in the process setting the stage for a new way of thinking, not just about Yahweh but about the very nature of the universe. For it is only at this point in the history of Israel—when the Israelites had been cast out of the land their god had promised them and scattered across the Near East—that we begin to see the first expressions of unambiguous monotheism in the entire Bible: “Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and its redeemer…‘I am the first and the last; besides me there are no gods’ ” (Isaiah 44:6).18
The introduction of monotheism among the Jews was, in other words, a means of rationalizing Israel’s catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. The crisis of identity posed by the Babylonian Exile forced the Israelites to reexamine their sacred history and reinterpret their religious ideology. The cognitive dissonance created by the Exile required a dramatic, hitherto unworkable religious framework to make sense of the experience. Previous theological ideas that had been difficult to accept—Can one god be responsible for both good and evil? Can one god take upon itself all of our human attributes at once?—suddenly became more palatable. If a tribe and its god were indeed one entity, meaning that the defeat of one signaled the demise of the other, then for these monotheistic reformers suffering exile in Babylon, it was better to devise a single vengeful god full of contradictions than to give up that god and thus their very identity as a people. And so all the historical arguments against belief in a single god were suddenly swept away by the overwhelming desire for this tiny, insignificant Semitic tribe to survive. “I am Yahweh, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I, Yahweh, am the maker of all these things” (Isaiah 45:6–7).
This is the birth of Judaism as we know it: not in the covenant with Abraham, nor in the Exodus from Egypt, but in the smoldering ashes of a razed temple and the refusal of a defeated people to accept the possibility of a defeated god. The very testament of faith in Judaism, known as the Shema (“Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our god, Yahweh is one”), was composed after this transformational moment in Israelite history, as was most of what we know today as the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Even the biblical material composed before the Exile—that is, the Yahwist and Elohist sources—was reworked and rewritten by the Priestly and Deuteronomistic writers after the Exile to reflect this newly found vision of One God.
The God that ultimately arises from the Babylonian Exile is not the abstract deity that Akhenaten had worshiped. It is not the pure animating spirit that Zarathustra imagined. It is not the formless substance of the universe written about by Greek philosophers. This was a new kind of God, both singular and personal. A solitary God with no human form who nevertheless made humans in his image. An eternal, indivisible God who exhibits the full range of human emotions and qualities, good and bad.
It is an extraordinary development in the history of religions—one that took hundreds of thousands of years to evolve; one that would be overturned a mere five hundred years later by an upstart sect of apocalyptic Jews calling themselves Christians.19