IS AN “IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE” A FAIR WAY TO DESCRIBE THE CONFLICT BETWEEN YAHWEH AND BAAL DURING THE CONQUEST?
According to the Oxford Dictionary “ideology” is a system of beliefs characteristic of a social group. Thus, the idea of an ideological battle presupposes a struggle between conflicting beliefs, in this case the unique monotheistic worship of Yahweh, a transcendent God with ethical demands on the one hand and the polytheistic worship of Ba’al and a pantheon of gods which involved nature worship, a fertility cult and even child sacrifice.
There is much debate about the way the “Conquest” took place and even the date it took place. It was either a military invasion which according to the Israelites, fulfilled the promises made by Yahweh as part of the Covenant, (Joshua 11:23), or infiltration by nomadic tribes into the less populated areas of Canaan (Martin Noth) or a “peasants’ revolt” which overthrew the rich Canaanite city states (George Meldenhall). However, in whatever way the conquest took place the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan where Ba’al was worshipped.
Yahweh was known as the powerful, personal God of the Hebrews and already known to the Canaanites e.g.Rahab (Joshua 1:22-26) “Your God is God in heaven above and here on earth” and to the Gibeonites (Joshua 9) “Everyone in the country is terrified”. Yahweh was the God of the poor and oppressed as was shown in the exodus from Egypt and by the Covenant which set forth rules for daily behaviour and according to the Covenant all land belonged to God, not to individuals. Yahweh acted through history for the love of his people.
Why then was there a constant temptation to change allegiance from the monotheistic worship of Yahweh, who had brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert to the Promised Land, to the polytheistic Canaanite worship of Baal, which continued throughout the Old Testament, let alone during the Conquest? Why was there this constant ideological battle? For example, in (Judges 2:11-15) it states that the religion of Baal was a more formidable force than the Israelite armies when they did not keep the Covenant which meant worship of Yahweh alone. This suggests the Israelites had begun to worship Ba’al.
Baal was a fertility and agricultural god. Texts found at Ugarit show that it was thought that Ba’al brought the autumn rains and good crops. By acting out fertility rites in their temple, with prostitutes and sometime child sacrifice, Ba’al and other Canaanite deities ensured agricultural and economic success. Thus, unlike the worshippers of Yahweh, the worshippers of Ba’al could make the gods do as they wanted through these magic rites. This indigenous religion which apparently brought both agricultural and economic success and allowed the ownership of land must have seemed very attractive and may go some way to explain the attraction of Ba’al worship to the Israelites as they mixed with the Canaanites.
So the period of the Conquest and beyond (e.g. Josiah’s reforms in 2 Kings 23:4-5) was indeed a struggle between two incompatible ideologies in the shape of the struggle for allegiance between two distinct religions.
Curtis Adams: Oxford Bible Atlas 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2009
Drane, John: The Old Testament 3rd Edition, Lion Press, 2001
Bimson John, The Origins of Israel in Canaan: An examination of Recent Theories