“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
The second commandment declares that in Israel no other god should be worshiped in addition to Yahweh. While the intent of the commandment may have included the idea of monotheism, the words of the commandment do not deny the existence of other gods. The truth of monotheism, that there was no other God besides Yahweh, came into existence late in the faith of Israel.
Henotheism is a word used to describe the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods. The people of Israel believed in and worshiped Yahweh as their God, but they also acknowledged the existence of other gods.
Many people in the Ancient Near East were polytheists. Polytheism is a system of belief in which people worshiped many gods. In general, most polytheistic religions are associated with the various aspects of nature worship. Since primitive civilizations did not have a scientific understanding of the world in which they lived, most people in primitive societies associated natural phenomena with the realm of the gods.
Several gods are mentioned in the Old Testament. These gods were associated with people who lived in the various nations that composed the world of the Bible. Some of these gods were worshiped by the people of Israel. According to the biblical writers, the apostasy of Israel was the reason the people went into exile.
Below is a list of some of the gods mentioned in the Old Testament:
1. Adrammelech (2 Kings 17:31)
The name of one of the gods the people of Sepharvaim worshiped. The Sepharvaim were a group of people the Assyrians settled in Samaria after the fall of the Northern Kingdom.
2. Anammelech (2 Kings 17:31)
Another god of the people of Sepharvaim. The people of Sepharvaim worshiped their gods by sacrificing their children by burning them.
3. Ashima (2 Kings 17:30)
A god worshiped by the people of Hamath who settled in Samaria after the fall of the Northern Kingdom.
4. Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5)
Ashtoreth was the goddess of the Sidonians. Ashtoreth is the name by which the Canaanite goddess Astarte is called in the Old Testament. She was the consort of Baal, the Canaanite storm god.
5. Baal (Numbers 25:3)
Baal was the Canaanite storm god. Baal was also associated with the fertility of the land. The word “Baal” means “lord,” “husband.” Many people in Israel worshiped Baal in his different manifestations. The earliest mention of Baal in the Old Testament is in Number 25:3 when the people of Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.
6. Bel (Jeremiah 51:44)
The name by which Marduk, the god of the Babylonians, is called in the Old Testament. Bel appears in the Apocrypha, in the addition to the book of Daniel.
7. Chemosh (1 Kings 11:7)
The national god of the Moabites to whom Solomon built a temple in the mountains east of Jerusalem. The writer of Kings calls this god “the abomination of Moab.” The Moabites were called “The people of Chemosh” (Numbers 21:29).
8. Dagon (Judges 16:23)
Dagon appears in the Old Testament as the god of the Philistines. The nature and characteristics of Dagon are not very clear. Some scholars have identified Dagon as a “grain” god while others have identified him as a “fish” god. It seems that the Philistines adopted the cult of Dagon after they settled in the land of Canaan.
9. Kaiwan (NRSV) or Kiyyun (ESV; Amos 5:26)
Amos calls Kaiwan “your star-god.” Kaiwan was an astral god worshiped by some people of the Northern Kingdom after they became vassals of the Assyrians. This god is associated with the planet Saturn.
10. Milcom (1 Kings 11:5)
Milcom is known as “the abomination of the Ammonites.” He is also known as Molech. Jeremiah says that the Israelites offered their sons and daughters as a sacrifice to Molech by burning them. The meaning of the name is not clear. Probably, the meaning of the name is derived from the word “melek,” the Hebrew word for king.
11. Molech (Jeremiah 32:35)
Molech is the same god as Milcom above. The name Molech comes from the consonants of the word “melek,” “king” and the vowels of the Hebrew word “bosheth,” a word that means “shame.”
12. Nebo (Isaiah 46:1)
The name of a Babylonian god that appears only in Isaiah. The name of this god appears in the name of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
13. Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4)
This was the bronze serpent worshiped by some people in Judah in the days of Hezekiah. This deity was associated with the serpent Moses made in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8-9).
14. Nibhaz (2 Kings 17:31)
The name of a god worshiped by the Avvites, a people brought to Samaria by the Assyrians.
15. Nisroch (2 Kings 19:37)
The Assyrian god worshiped by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. According to the biblical text Sennacherib was worshiping his god when he was killed by his sons.
16. Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18)
A Syrian god. After Naaman was cured from his leprosy and proclaimed his faith in the God of Israel, he recognized that he would still have to bow down to Rimmon because he served the king of Syria.
17. Sakkuth (NRSV) or Sikkuth (ESV; Amos 5:26)
A Babylonian deity associated with astral worship. In the book of Amos, Sakkuth appears together with Kaiwan.
18. Succoth-benoth (2 Kings 17:30)
The name of a god worshiped by the people of Babylon who lived in Samaria after the Assyrians conquered the city of Samaria in 722 B.C.
19. Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14).
A Mesopotamian god whose cult has been associated with the cycle of the harvest. The weeping for Tammuz is a reference to the death of the god, which in turn was associated with the agricultural calendar
20. Tartak (2 Kings 17:31)
The god worshiped by the Avvites, a group of people brought to Samaria by the Assyrians after they conquered the Northern Kingdom.
21. The Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 7:18).
The name of an unidentified goddess worshiped by the people of Judah in the days of the prophet Jeremiah (7th and 6th centuries B.C.). The Queen of Heaven appears only in the book of Jeremiah (7:18; 44:17, 18, 19, 25). This goddess has been identified with the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar and with the Canaanite goddess Ashtoreth, also known as Astarte.
In a future post I will discuss in more detail the raise of monotheism in Israel.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Exodus 20:3, Decalogue, Polytheism, Henotheism, Monotheism