biblical scholars

Did the Hebrews Believe in Other Gods?


Did the Hebrews believe in one god or many gods?

For a great read on the topic see this brief article: 


The many voices of the Bible often disagree

I once preached that “the bible is a elegantly cohesive book that contains one voice and story” which is a very common idea among the most conservative of Christians.

However, the Bible, as it turns out, does not really reflect this simple declaration, instead it’s a complex book with many voices, and sometimes, these voices disagree.

Ronald J. Allen, a New Testament Professors at ‘Christian Theological Seminary’ writes that:

“Some biblical writers disagree with one another. The Deuteronomist, for instance, assumes that obedience begets prosperity while disobedience calls forth a cures, but the book of Job says, “not necessarily.” Readers are advised in 1st Peter to be obedient to the emperor since the emperor is Gods agent, but the book of Revelation regards the Roman empire as an instrument of Satan. The Bible is not a rigid anvil… [there are] many forms of pluralism in the Bible.”

biblical studies quote

The Hebrews were not likely monotheists, but henotheists

Alan T

Biblical and historical scholars think the evidence shows that the Hebrews were not monotheistic, but henotheistic, meaning they believed other gods existed, but theirs was the only one worthy of worship.

Alan T. Levenson, a professor of Hebrew history states that: “In the opinion of most Bible scholars, the ancient Israelites were monolaters or henotheists, who affirmed their allegiance to one God (YHVH), but acknowledged the presence of other gods for other nations. Not until a much later period… did Israel accept that God was one and omnipresent.”

“Archaeologists have turned up numerous statuettes of YHVS’s divine consort [wife] Asherah centuries after the prophet Amos had proclaimed Gods universal sovereignty. Synagogue services feature the verse from Exodus, “Who is like you among the gods, YHVH?” a question that makes more rhetorical sense if there are other gods, albeit false ones, with whom to compare the God of Israel.”

Dan Wallace thinks that 99% of liberal bible scholars started out as conservatives

According to one of the world’s leading conservative evangelical scholars, most “liberal” Biblical scholars start out as devout conservatives.

dan wallace liberal scholars

Daniel Wallace, a leading evangelical scholar of textual criticism writes:

“Some years ago, I was on a committee that was working on a revision of the standard Greek grammar of the New Testament. In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal.

And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background.

I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%. Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road.” (1)

There are diverging traditions in the bible, like the two stories of Judas death

There are many cases where multiple traditions are interwoven in the Bible. Sometimes we know why these developed, other times, we can only guess.

One example of diverging traditions is the death of Judas, which has two different biblical accounts or traditions that cannot be fully reconciled. While some have tried to reconcile it (indeed one can find many conservative Christian pastors focus on one of the many differing elements of the story, the death itself, and try to hypothesize how a person can both hang himself, and die by falling head first, at the same time) yet most scholars generally agree these are different accounts. This discrepancy is acknowledged by academics from all traditions (Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, & Secular), see below.

judas death bible contradiction

Kim Paffenroth, Catholic scholar:

“The actual details of the two accounts are irreconcilable. This difference in content creates quite a different meaning for Judas’s death in Acts. Luke’s version of Judas’s death does not include the poignancy (or notability) of suicide (as in Matthew), but rather portrays the death as the kind that should (or must?) happen to wicked people. He shows an interest in relating the death more graphically and grotesquely when he adds the detail that “all his bowels gushed out.” (1)

Bart Ehrman, secular scholar:

“According to Matthews Gospel, Judas hanged himself, and that after his death the chief priests used the betrayed money to purchase a field in which to bury strangers in Jerusalem. They called it the Field of Blood, because it was purchased with “blood money.” The book of Acts has a different account of Judas’s death and its relationship to this field. It is probably impossible to reconcile the details of these two accounts.” (2)

Craig A. Evans, Darrell Bock, Andreas J. Köstenberge, Conservative evangelical scholars:

“The two accounts appear to be independent traditions. A point often overlooked is that the existence of two distinct traditions suggests that Judas’ scandalous death was a widely known fact in the early church. Clearly we are not certain of all the details given the differences between Luke and Matthew.”  (3)


Most scholars argue that the Pauline letters in the Bible are not all authentic

“A combination of philological, rhetorical, theological, and historical evidence has led most scholars to conclude that Paul did not write all letters attributed to him.

Nearly all scholars consider Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon as authentic.

Conversely, most would agree that Paul did not write 1 and 2 Timothy or the letter to Titus (the so-called Pastoral Letters), although a few scholars maintain that these letters are also authentic.

With regard to Ephesian, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians there is an ongoing discussion regarding authorship, but most scholars think that Paul did not write Ephesians, and the same is the case for Colossians. The authorship of 2 Thessalonians is still an open question.

Thus the Pauline letters may be divided into three groups
(a) almost certainly genuine letters (authentic)
(b) letters concerning which there is an ongoing discussion (disputed)
(c) letters almost certainly not written by Paul (pseudonymous or deuteropauline)”

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible