2.3.8. Free will
One more concept was articulated later, under the influence of Greek philosophy, but is consistent with the Deuteronomistic view and its derivatives. The idea is that God did not create evil, but God did create free will and gave it to human beings. Free will gives us the power to choose. God wants us to choose good, but in order for there to be a choice there has to be an evil choice alongside the good choice. Evil happens because humans fail to choose the good. God could have eliminated the evil choices, but then it would be meaningless if, like robots, we follow the pre-determined script to do good. On a related point, some philosophers claim that evil has to exist because we could not know the good if there were not evil with which to contrast, much like “hot” is only understood in contrast to “cold.” Other ideas continued to develop over the centuries.
The ancient writers have a variety of ways of expressing their theological points. Try to match the passages below with the ideas outlined above.
2.4. How should we live our lives?
The Israelites did not spend much time writing creeds or statements of theological belief. The emphasis was on practice-how one lives one’s life. The beliefs covered above are always presented with the implications for what one should do about it. For the Israelites, the question of “who is God?” led to “who are we, and what does God expect us to do?” Thus, we conclude our treatment of the theological questions of the Israelites with what for them was the most important part. It should be noted that different parts of the Hebrew Bible emphasize different priorities about which practices are most essential for the Israelites.
2.4.1. Exclusively Israelite, not Canaanite
The Israelites thought of themselves as a people called to live in a special and exclusive relationship with God . The part that most contrasts with their ancient neighbors is “exclusive.” Israel was expected to serve God alone, and conversely God’s best promises and blessings were only for Israel. It is typical for communities to build their internal identity and unity by establishing boundaries that define who they are not. If you think about it, many groups are most easily defined by what they are not or what they oppose. For the Israelites an exclusive relationship with God required strict boundaries.
For the Israelites, the most important thing was to not be Canaanite. The Israelites originated in Canaan so it was particularly difficult to create identity boundaries. Their language was the same, their architecture was the same. Some scholars believe the Israelites hated the economic injustice associated with the rich, elitist, abusive Canaanites. Some believe it was their sexual perversion that initiated the separation. Whether it was the original issue or not, the point most clearly emphasized in Israelite literature is that you cannot worship both gods . The God of Israel, LORD, cannot tolerate Israelites worshipping the god of the Canaanites, Ba‘al, any more than a married person can tolerate infidelity from a spouse. In most of the ancient world it was pretty normal to celebrate a festival to one god one month and another festival to another god the next month. The Israelite prophets demanded exclusivity. The Israelites were not allowed to go to the festivals of other gods, especially Ba‘al. This is the practical implication of what was stated above about henotheism and later monotheism.
One of the controversial conclusions that many Israelites drew from the importance of not worshipping other gods is the prohibition of intermarriage. Intermarriage means marriage between members of different groups. Today it might make a difference whether we are talking about different religious groups, ethnic groups, or something else. In the ancient world those distinctions were not so clear, as religion was closely tied to ethnicity. The Israelites feared that if you marry a non-Israelite your spouse will eventually persuade you to worship the other god, which would offend the God of Israel. Note that the problem is not that someone else worships another god, it is only if an Israelite worships another god. The Israelites debated how strict this rule was, with some saying it is okay if the spouse converts, and others completely ruling out the possibility. Intermarriage remains controversial today. Most Jews today fear that intermarriage will lead to dilution of Jewish identity and children who do not completely identify with Jewish heritage. Catholicism does not oppose intermarriage but only endorses marriages that are committed to raising the children Catholic.