Were the Jews actually pagans?
I was watching an old TV rerun of The Bible the other day, and my eyelids started to get heavy. Suddenly, I was shocked to find I'd been transported back in time, four thousand years, to the very village of Abraham and Sarah. What an opportunity, to meet the patriarch of all Western religion! I was so excited. Not only is Abraham the spiritual father of all Muslims, Christians and Jews, but Abraham and Sarah got to personally meet God. And there was Abraham, right in front of me! I was so full of questions, I hardly knew where to start.
"You must have been overwhelmed in the glow of God's love and kindness!"
"Actually, he was pretty harsh," said Abraham, stroking his beard. "You know, you have to be pretty careful what you say when He is around. He's got quite a temper."
"A temper? But He is a forgiving, loving God!"
Abraham gave a chuckle. "Who told you that, son? You should see what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah! And that business telling me I had to sacrifice my son, and only stopping me at the last second? That wasn't much fun."
"No, I suppose not. But he is God Almighty, and who are we to question His reasons, right?"
"Almighty?" Abraham looked a bit perplexed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know, He is the one and only God, He created the universe, and His infinite wisdom and ways are sometimes too mysterious for us poor humans to understand."
Abraham looked at me like maybe I was crazy. "Are you sure we're talking about the same Lord?"
"Of course!" I replied. "You are Abraham, right?"
"That's me. But my Lord never said anything to me about being almighty, or really smart. I mean, he couldn't even find Adam and Even in the Garden when they hid from Him! Did He tell you He was almighty?"
"No, but everyone knows it!"
"Well, son, it's news to me. Around here our Lord helps us with wars and such. He's pretty good at a raining down burning sulfur, confusing our enemies, spreading plagues, you know, stuff like that. But that's about it."
"But, wait!" I was confused. "Doesn't he help you with all of your prayers?"
By now, Abraham seemed to be pretty convinced I was loony, but he was my host and kept humoring me. "Actually, that's a bit of a problem. Our Lord is pretty jealous, and he doesn't want us worshipping the other gods. But that's kind of tricky. I mean, what are we supposed to do when we need some rain?"
"Pray to the Lord, of course!"
"And what good would that do? The rain is one of the other god's jobs."
"Other gods?" I was shocked. "You mean, you worship other gods?"
"No! A deal is a deal. But that's the problem. We have all sorts of gods who could help us. Sometimes we need rain, fertility, love, all sorts of things. But our Lord put us on the straight and narrow. I made a covenant with Him - we're to pray only to our Lord, and ignore the other gods. In return, he's going to take good care of us. But it's hard, we've been worshipping those other gods for so long..." He looked kind of wistful.
"But ..." I didn't quite know what to say. This was shocking! Could Abraham be a polytheist? I had to ask. "You don't believe in those other gods, do you? I mean, they're false gods!"
"Who told you that? Of course we believe in them! They've protected and helped us for time immemorial! That's why it's been hard for me to get my people to worship only the Lord. They just can't see how our Lord, the God of Armies, can help us with all the other things we need. A lot of my people are afraid that if we stop worshipping the other gods, they'll take vengeance on us. But I'm in charge here, and I told everyone in no uncertain terms to toe the line. Our Lord made a deal, and He is going to keep it, so we'll keep our part too."
By this time, I was practically dizzy with confusion, and the sky began to spin. I suddenly woke up, saw George C. Scott on the TV, and realized it was all a dream. But ... what about all that stuff Abraham said in my dream? I guess the Israelites really were pagans!
It makes sense, I guess. Why would they have to swear their loyalty to Yahweh, if he was the only guy in town?