Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bible Study #3

A Continuation of our Look at the Creation Story in Genesis 1

Genesis 1:11-13

11. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Having made a congenial place for further creation, God now plants a garden; this garden will provide food for the creatures he will bring into being. But there’s a catch: he brings them into being because he needs someone to tend his new garden! This is mentioned early in the next chapter of Genesis where it says:
“and there was not a man to till the ground.” (Genesis 2:5)

So, too, did the Sumerian gods have a lovely garden spot.... It was called Dilmun and was the place where Enki (called Ea in Babylonian myth) and Ninhursag created humans. It was referred to as “the place where the sun rises” (which usually indicates the direction of east) and “the Land of the Living.”

Genesis 1:14-18
14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15. and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18. and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

God realizes that the light of consciousness is not going to be quite enough; his creation now has physicality—substance—and to go along with that God fashions light of a physical kind. He makes a light to rule the day—the sun—and a lesser one—the moon—to rule the night. In addition, he makes the stars. Then he sets sun, moon, and stars in that dome of a firmament to give their light and mark the division between day and night.

Genesis 1:19
19. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

The fact that the time periods referred to in Genesis do not refer to 24 hour periods should be evident by the fact that the earth itself is not created till the third day, and the time-marking, day-creating solar body does not come into being until the fourth day. So when God said, “Let their be light” on the first day, it was not the light of sun or moon he was referring to. It was the light of consciousness.

Genesis 1:20-25
20. And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. 24. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

In this newly created planet earth, there is now air, water, and land, so God seeks to fill each of these with appropriate forms of animal life, all of which can reproduce themselves so that life may continue. They live in his lovely garden, but he requires someone to tend his garden....

Genesis 1:26
26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The creation of humankind has been dealt with in a previous posting, Bible Study #1, so I refer you to that:

In verse 26 God gives humans “dominion” over the rest of earth’s animals. The Hebrew word translated as dominion is
rdh or râdâh It means to govern, to hold sway over. It implies a position of responsibility for what is governed, which, in turn, implies a duty to care for it properly. The word does not mean “dominate” with that word’s usual implications of conquering and subjugating.

In these verses God says—or the gods say to each other—“We’ve made this beautiful place, this garden, and many wondrous creatures to inhabit it. Let’s make beings who can caretake it for us.”

Genesis 1:27
27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

This, also, has been dealt with in a previous posting but I’d like to add a few more thoughts.

What is the “image of God?” This has been argued over the years, some holding that it refers to man’s immortal soul, and some thinking that it refers to mankind’s special mental abilities, the ones that separate us from the animal kingdom. Some believe that this verse means that God has a physical body, complete with all the parts possessed by humans. This last belief seems to echo the stories of the ancient gods and goddesses of mythology, who were quite often portrayed as having human type bodies and being subject to human type injuries and emotions.

I think the intention in this passage is the second option—to indicate that humans, although animal in physical form,
do possess mental and spiritual abilities beyond those of the rest of the animal kingdom.

Genesis 1:28
28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

There’s that word “dominion” again. To me it seems that in this passage God is saying, “Here’s the lovely garden I’ve made you. It’s now your home and contains all you need to live. But you must take care of it so that it will continue to be healthy. In fact, I’m appointing you my deputy, my proxy here, to make sure all goes well and the garden—and all its plants and animals—stay in good shape.”

The implication being that if they fail to do their caretaker duties,
they themselves will not thrive.

It should be noted that in the Babylonian version of the story, humans were created as workers to serve the gods, who were tired of all the grunt work and warfare they’d been doing. After the battle with Tiamat, Marduk announces:

My blood will I take and bone will I fashion
I will make man....I will create man who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established, and that their shrines may be built.

Genesis 1:29-30
29. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

God now has his gardeners. Previously he has encouraged them to reproduce. Now he shows them all the lovely things that are there to eat so that they and their progeny may continue in life, and continue to care-take his beautiful garden. He even tells them about seeds, so they can plant new herbs and trees.

Genesis 1:31
31. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

This is an interesting and unique feature of the Hebrew version of the story. At the end of every day of creation, God looks upon it and is pleased with his handiwork.

Genesis 2:1-3
1. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

The “host of them,” when referring to the earth means all the creatures of the earth; when referring to the heavens the term means the stars and planets. In Sumerian & Babylonian mythology these were the gods and goddesses.

2. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

And of course we all know that on the final, the seventh day—the day after creating humanity to tend his garden—God rested, just as the Babylonian gods rested after humans had been created to be their servants.

It should be noted that biblical scholarship tells us that these first chapters of Genesis were most likely written in the late 7th century BCE. The parallel Sumerian and Babylonian stories date back to perhaps 2000 years before that time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bible Study #2

Creation 101

Since humans have enquiring minds, almost all cultures have creations stories. Why are we here? How did we get here? How did things begin? What does it all mean?

Genesis 1:1-2
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

New religions, at their start, always use cosmologies that are current and familiar to their followers, though they may expand on them later. And so it was with early Hebrew religion. The writers of the sacred texts used the basics of Middle Eastern, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Persian cosmology—in short, every religious concept to which they’d been exposed over centuries had helped form their world view and thus figured into their writings.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the word used for “the deep” was the Akkadian/Semitic word
tehom, meaning abyss or deep. It refers to the great deep of the primordial waters, referred to in Babylonian mythology as the goddess Tiamat and in the Sumerian stories as the goddess Nammu (also called Nanna), and Egyptian mythology as Nun/Nunet. We can gain a better understanding of the Tehom, the Deep, by looking at its mythological roots: both Tiamat and Nammu were looked upon as the Primeval Sea that gave birth to the first gods, including the sky god and the earth goddess. Nun and Nunet were part of the original Ogdoad—the eight deities who symbolize outer space, the primordial darkness, air/invisibility, and the primordial waters—which represent the “beginning state” from which the rest of the world was later formed.

The first verse of Genesis is merely a statement of what is to come; the rest of the story follows in the subsequent verses. The second verse begins this process by telling us how things were before this creation started: It was dark and nothing was formed; all that existed was the Deep, the Tehom, Tiamat, Nammu, Nun. The Tehom was the primal state—the great, undifferentiated Sea of Being, the Void that is not empty, but full of potentialities.

Genesis 1:2
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Within that primal Void, that sea of being, a movement occurs, and that movement is the awakening of that Sea of Being into Consciousness, a Consciousness that will soon, and intentionally, call other beings into existence.

The Original Oneness has become Two–the first separation—and the Two will eventually become the Many.

As with the Egyptian Nun and Naunet, the Babylonian Tiamat had a partner: she was the salty waters; her partner, Absu, (means abyss) was the sweet waters. They mingled their waters and thus engendered the first gods.

Genesis 1:3.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

With Consciousness comes Awareness....

In many old mystical traditions, the Cosmos is breathed into being on the Divine Exhalation, and out of being on the Divine Inhalation, of the great divine creative power we call God. This Great Power breathes in and out, expands and contracts, creates and destroys. As the Great Breath spirals outward, its movement creates vibration, and thus sound. The Sound is Tone; the Tone becomes the Word. The Word is uttered—“Let their be light,” and the Word, creating light, creates the world. (1)

Genesis 1: 4.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

This is the second separation of the Primal Oneness. When consciousness gives rise to awareness, things can be perceived, differentiated, evaluated—and thus Cosmos created from Chaos, because creation is, essentially, creating order, or cosmos (which means patterned or ordered world) out of chaos.

Genesis 1:5
5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

With this verse the writer informs us that the cycle of time has been launched, and the very first vibrations/emanations/variations of the Word have been given names.

Genesis 1:6-7
6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

This is the third separation. What was previously one big chaotic watery “abyss” is now separated into the above and below. In ancient Babylonian myth it was believed that the earth floated on a vast sea of water; this sea was the “waters below” and the source of springs and rivers. The heavens were the “waters above.”

In the Babylonian stories Tiamat and Absu had an “intermediary” called Mummu (or Mommu), the god of mist. He was said to be the son of Tiamat and Anu, god of the heavens. As intermediary Mummu was the “mist” (moist air) which separated the sea of the sky—the waters above—from Tiamat and Absu—the waters below.

Mummu was also said to be a craftsman god, a god of technical skills; in other words, a “maker” type of god. Some scholars see him, along with Tiamat and Absu, as part of the original Babylonian Trinity.

So with Mummu, mist and craftsman god, we now have both the space made for further creation to take place— just as God’s separation of the waters and establishment of an Above and a Below formed a space for his work of creation to continue—and the emergence of one with skills to do the further creating, a role performed by God himself in the Hebrew story.

Genesis 1:8
8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

The word “firmament” has been taken to mean sky, and one can see why this word was used, as the sky does indeed seem to divide the above and below. Our English word firmament is a translation of the Hebrew, raqiya, meaning wide expanse, or raqa, which means to pound or stretch something into a wide expanse. In Mesopotamian cosmology, the sky was thought of as a dome or high vault that covered the flat earth as it floated on the sea of the “waters below.” On the other side of the sky/firmament were the “waters above.”

Picture, if you will, floating in the depths of a great sea, a flat-bottomed half-sphere covered with a dome.

Genesis 1:9-10
9. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

The major preliminary essential elements of consciousness, awareness, time, and the directions of up and down being taken care of, attention is now turned to how to turn the watery space into a habitable place. This is, once again, a separation—the fourth one. The waters under the heavens—the ancient primal sea—are separated from part of the planet’s surface so that the land beneath that water can emerge, dry out, and become fit for habitation.

In the Babylonian stories, the primeval mother Tiamat, after giving birth to the first gods, was disturbed by all the noise they made—all those further “movements and separations.” This ultimately led to Tiamat being slain by her grandson Marduk, who makes order from the chaos that was Tiamat by creating the world—earth and sky—from the various parts of her body.

“He sliced her in half like a fish for drying: Half of her he put up to roof the sky, drew a bolt across and made a guard to hold it. Her waters he arranged so they could not escape.” (2)

Here we see Marduk, in the Babylonian myth, creating a firmament from half of Tiamat’s body, to hold back the “waters above.”

1. McArthur, Margie, Wisdom of the Elements. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1994.
2. Dalley, Stephanie, ed. and trans. Myths from Mesopotamia. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bible Study #1

There is a curious notion prevalent these days. It’s the notion that both Judaism and Christianity were always the great monolithic belief structures that they are today: that the basic core beliefs of those religions were divinely revealed early on, and therefore present in those religions from that moment onward. And that those core beliefs, and the situations in which they came into being, are written down in Bible pretty much exactly as they happened. And that nothing much has changed except for people’s “unfaithfulness” to those beliefs and the struggles of various prophets to bring the people back into line. With regard to the Old Testament, many people seem to think that Moses sat down to take dictation one day, writing out the first five books of the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch. With regard to the New Testament, people seems to think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were following Jesus around taking shorthand.

Oh, I know not every Christian or Jew believes that; but many do. But it’s simply not true. Both of these religions developed over time, adding and expanding concepts because that’s how things work. Biblical scholars have identified no less than five different “author voices” in the Old Testament; these voices have been labeled J, E, D, P & R. More about this in another post.

Within the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis there are two different stories of the creation of humankind. The first account is found in Genesis 1:26-27:

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (26) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (27).

Please note the use of the plural terms—us, our, and them—which I have rendered in bold text. Although this is not so in the first part of verse 27, in general, the verse seems to indicate that the voice (i.e. God) that is speaking is talking to someone—someone who is going to help in the job to be done—and that the “man” to be created is plural as well.
Male and female created he them.

The second account of humankind’s creation is found in Genesis 2:7 to 2:22. In this scenario, the Lord God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes life into him.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul.

Later, he decides man needs a “helpmeet,” and after none of the newly created animals fill the bill, God casts Adam into a deep sleep, removes one of his ribs, and makes a woman from it.

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; (21) And the rib, which he Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. (22)

This account differs from the first in that the “Lord God” is a singular entity who creates the male first and the female secondarily. This is the account that has been used ever since to justify the position that women are inferior beings and subject to men.

In the next chapter of Genesis, Adam names his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all living.” It should be noted that the word
Adam means "earth, clay," and that Eve means "life."

Why these differing accounts? Well, as previously mentioned, biblical scholars have identified at least five different “author voices” in the Old Testament, writing at various times hundreds of years apart. These early chapters of Genesis give evidence of that. In addition, by the time these stories were written down, the people calling themselves Hebrew had incorporated into their culture influences from Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, and the surrounding Canaanite culture. The scriptural texts written and edited over hundreds of years reflect this.

There are traces of both Sumerian and Egyptian myth in this story. The god Enki and goddess Ninhursag (also known as Nintu or Ninti) created humans using clay and blood. Later, their daughter Ninti, whose name means “Lady of the Rib,” heals Enki’s injured rib, thus giving him new life—a sort of echo of the much later Hebrew myth later wherein Eve is created/given life from Adam’s rib. In Egypt it was the potter god, Khnum, who made humans using clay (and his potter’s wheel) and breathing the breath of life into them—just as the Lord God created Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him. 

Clay/dust/earth and the breath of life....In a sense, Eve, whose name means Life, is the form the animating spirit of God takes when it enters into the dust of the earth. Eve is the life that is breathed into the sculpted dust that is Adamwho, both legends and Kaballah say, contained both male and female essences and energies within "his" earthen body. 

Thus Eve IS the mother of all living, because if it weren’t for Eve the human entity would be incomplete—without breath and therefore not “alive;” a hermaphroditic physical form incapable of reproducing itself and thereby continuing Life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Biblical Inerrancy

Before I blog any more on spiritual topics, I feel I must take a few “bytes” to address the topic of biblical “inerrancy”—the completely absurd concept that’s seemingly dominating evangelical and other forms of organized Christianity for many years.

I can be very brief about this topic—biblical inerrancy is an impossibility.

Biblical inerrancy, for those who don’t know, is the idea that the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is completely, wholly, and literally true in every word as originally written; that it not only contains no error, but is not even subject to error because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Bible’s author was God (who used humans to transcribe his words) and since God cannot make errors, the Bible is, defacto, error free.

The biblical inerrancy folks used to insist that the bible was wholly true no matter the edition—that the Holy Spirit had guided every writer and translator—but have seemingly backed off that claim in light of recent scholarship. And as for use of the phrase “originally written,” since no one actually knows what was originally written—there being no original edition—this is a convenient escape clause that allows them to insist that whichever version or translation they prefer is the correct one.

The Bible, as a book, is an assortment of texts written over about 1500-1600 years by various and largely unknown authors. That the gospels and epistles of the New Testament have the names of various apostles and disciples attached to them is not proof they were written by these particular individuals. In fact, the earliest Gospels we’ve found were written in Greek, and by writers well schooled in Greek rhetoric and composition. By contrast, the four evangelists were Aramaic speakers; Peter and John were said to be illiterate.

As regards the Old Testament, it becomes apparent to anyone who’s studied Middle Eastern mythology that many Old Testament stories are adaptations of the earlier stories of Sumeria and Babylonia. The story of Noah, for instance, is similar in many details to that of the Babylonian Utnapishtim and the Sumerian Ziasudra—and both Babylonian and Sumerian civilizations predate the concept of the Hebrews as a people, much less the writing of the Hebrew scriptures. Many of the names, titles, and epithets of God given in the Old Testament were names, titles, or epithets of the Babylonian gods.

The Old Testament shows influences from Sumerian, Babylonian, Canaanite, and Egyptian sources. The New Testament shows evidence of Greek schools of thought.

What we today know as the Bible wasn’t even officially assembled as such by the church until the Council of Rome in 382 A.D., by which point in time a theology had developed that required that only texts in agreement with that theology be included in the final product.

It is important to remember that we don’t have the “originals” of the gospels or epistles, only copies made many years later. The New Testament has been translated countless times by countless scribes, as any reputable biblical scholar will tell you, and most will agree that there are differences, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the various translations still extant. At this point in time, the number of texts found number in the thousands and often don’t agree with each other, perhaps due to scribal error, editing, or the fact that there was more than one version of many of the events or stories. In comparing and dating texts, scholars have found versions where it's that clear bits have been added onto earlier versions of the same books, the Gospel of Mark being a case in point: The last 12 verses dealing with the post-resurrection days are not found in the earliest versions.

According to biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, Mark is the oldest gospel, written somewhere around the year 90 A. D.; Matthew and Luke were written 10 to 15 years after that and were most likely based on Mark. John’s gospel was probably written about 10 years after Matthew and Luke.

Another thing to consider with regard to scriptural inerrancy is that until the middle of the 4th century, there were many different approaches to, beliefs about, and interpretations about the life and message of Christ. There was not a single, authorized, monolithic set of beliefs about these things in place until the church set about creating one in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Council of Nicaea, the Council of Rome and several subsequent church councils of that era formulated what we now call Christianity, defining the basic elements of belief and worship—including the divinity of Jesus and papal authority—and sorting through a large collection of various religious texts to put together what we now call the Bible. Shortly thereafter, the destruction of all “non-canonical” texts was ordered. But not all were destroyed. Many were hidden away and have only come to light within the last century and are expanding our view of those early times.

Given the above historical details, how anyone can claim biblical inerrancy is completely beyond me. Please understand that this does not mean that I think there is nothing of spiritual or inspirational value in the bible. There most definitely is. I, for one, greatly value the New Testament message of Jesus and find that if one simply concentrates on that message and doesn’t obsess about about doctrinal details, it is a great guide for living from a place of truth, love, and compassion.

God's Name

I am reposting my very first blog post since it would appear that Blogger won't allow me to make any stylistic changes to it.


The 3rd of the 10 commandments enjoins us not to take God’s name in vain. Despite popular belief, “God” is not a personal name; it’s a title, a job description. (Yes, I know....try telling that to Sister Mary Sourpuss, your 5th grade teacher, when she’s just heard you say “God damn it!”)

So what was the personal name of the divine creator being in the ancient Mediterranean/Middle Eastern world—Sumeria, Canaan, Phoenicia, Syria, Judea—an area which has had so much influence on the western religions of today?

To paraphrase T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, “The name of a god is a serious matter; it’s not just a part of your holiday games...”

In ancient times, names were a serious matter. Not just a random combination of sounds, names were meant to convey the nature and essence of the thing named—the unique, specific, vibrational frequency that exemplified the most vital and central core of the thing. From this comes the old belief that to know a being’s name is to have power over it—an illustration of the archaic belief in the power of sound.

In all languages, vowels are what makes sound; it is sometimes said that vowels “ensoul” a word. The commonly accepted vowels in the English language are A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. Occasionally W is added to that list.

The three major western religions of today’s world—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all arose in the Middle East. Historically, the ancient Semitic languages, which came to dominate a large portion of the Middle East, did not have letters that indicated vowel sounds in words. Only consonants were written. Later, markings or ‘points’ were inscribed over certain letters in words to indicate an accompanying vowel sound.

But those familiar sounds of A-E-I-O-U-Y-W were certainly known and used in the ancient world, and were, in fact, quite often considered sacred. The reason for this is that, unlike consonants, which are made solely by positions of tongue, lips, and movements of the mouth, breath—more specifically, the movement of breath—is required to make vowel sounds. Vowel sounds are pure sound, unencumbered by consonants.

Since living beings must breathe, breath was seen as akin to life—that sacred and mysterious animating force that seems to move in and out of physical form as it wills. Being is breathing; breathing is being. In the biblical Book of Genesis, in fact, it is the Divine Breath—the wind—moving over the waters of the primal Tehom, or Deep Abyss, which triggered creation.

So it is not surprising to find that many of the ancient names of god were the sequence of vowel sounds such as would be made with the pronunciation of words such as the Hebrew IHVH/YHVH (Yahweh), the Greek IAO, and the Phoenician IEUO—all of which translate to things like, “he will cause to become; he causes to become; he was; he will be; I am the One Who Is, " or simply, "I am that (which) I am." It is the power of breath and sound that brings life into being; it seems logical to suppose that the creator’s name would reflect this.

Related to the Phoenician IEUO and Hebrew YHVH is the Ugaritic YAM / Iahu / IeuoYw / Yawu, a deity whose name—extremely similar to the Hebrew Yahu/Yahweh—means sea, as in the primordial salty sea of creation the Babylonians knew as the creatress Tiamat and the Sumerians as Nammu. Not surprisingly, it was said that Yam often took the guise of a storm or wind god. And Yam, in his turn, would seem to be a manifestation of an even older Babylonian deity, Ea (Aay-ah, Eh-yah, or Ee-yah), who in the much earlier Sumerian era was called Enki. It is interesting that Yam was said to take the guise of a storm or wind god, because Enki had a brother called Enlil— called Ilu in Babylonian and Akkadian times—who actually was the god of sky, air, wind, and storms. The main part of his name, “lil” meant wind. The word Ilu meant “god,” thus equating god with the wind. Ilu seems to be the source of the later Phoenician/Canaanite “El,” meaning God, or Lord, and as a suffix this has attached itself to names of other divine beings (or divine attributes, depending on your point of view) such as Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, and the like.

"El" can also mean "the," as in a very specific, and sometimes only, "one."

Both Enlil / Ilu and Enki / Ea are very strong contenders for being the original form of Yahweh. As the Sumerian god of the sea, Ea/Enki was ruler of the element of water, the god of intelligence, wisdom, and the primeval establisher of law and order—all of these being also attributes of the Hebrew Yahweh. Enki, on the other hand, was a very powerful god of sky, air, wind, and storms, as we have said. The Hebrew god Yahweh seems, by his attributes and characteristics, to be a conflation of Enlil / Ilu and Enki / Ea.

It should be noted here that names of the much later-in-time Roman father god Jupiter / Jove (IOVE or IOWE) and the Greek father god Zeus (Ze being equivalent to the I in Iupiter / Jove) come from the same root and have the same meaning and similar attributes as YHVH / IEUO / IAHU. It should also be noted that in ancient Egypt the god HU (Hhhoooooo), whose name, when pronounced, sounds very much like the wind blowing, was said to be a deification of the first sound, the utterance that initiated creation. This brings to mind the first verse of the Gospel of John— “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

In the New Testament, the descent of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the Spirit of God) upon the apostles at Pentecost is marked by a great and loud wind (in addition to the small “tongues of fire” pictured over their heads in medieval paintings). In the second of the creation stories found in Genesis (as in several other creation stories), God “breathed” into Adam, his clay creation, thus bringing Adam to life by an infusion of his own Divine Spirit. In this we can see the ancient belief that breath, life, and the Divine Spirit are all the same.

Breath is life; breath is divine and sacred; therefore life is sacred. To take the “name” of the Lord “in vain” is to violate life/breath. That particular commandment, therefore, might well be a proscription against doing harm to living, breathing beings.

In the desert lands of the middle east where much religion originated, the winds are a very powerful force of nature, one capable of creating changes in the landscape and in life. It’s not surprising that the winds would be considered the divine breath, and their howling or soothing noises to be the words of the divine voice. This is a very animistic/shamanistic perspective, and humanity's earliest spiritual belief was animism -- the belief that all nature was alive.

The wind is everywhere, however, not just confined to deserts. It blows in forests, among mountain peaks, at the seashore, and on the sea—causing things to move and change in all these places. In fact, the movement of wind—the Divine Spirit—over water is the act of creation in more than one creation story. In the Babylonian tales, the creatress Tiamat—the primal watery salty void—is slain by her great-grandson Marduk; his weapon is the power of the winds, given him by his father Ea. From her body the world and its creatures were then created.

If the name of something is a sound which represents its essence, then the most primal name of God is the sound of life—the vowel sounds of spoken language, which often seem to mimic those of the natural world of wind and wave. We can only define or express the divine in terms of what is familiar to us, and what is familiar to us is the world of nature. At their most basic foundation, all religions are nature religions, born of early humans sitting around their campfires at night, listening to the sounds of nature, gazing at the star-filled sky, or perhaps standing on the seashore or mountain top thinking, “All this is so much bigger than me; where did it come from? Where did I come from?”

Wind and wave, fire and earth. Perhaps the question is not really what is the personal name of God, but rather, does God actually have a personal name, like any Tom, Dick or Harry?

Personally, I don’t think he / she / it does. Something as vast as the divine creator spirit fills, or IS, all things and all beings. We know it by its manifestation. To our ancestors the forces of nature were the manifestation of the divine; and the sounds those forces made were the voice of the divine speaking its many names.