Title page for ETD etd-03192004-135203

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Gericke, Jacobus Wilhelm
Email gerickeg@genepath.co.za
URN etd-03192004-135203
Document Title Does Yahweh exist? A philosophical-critical reconstruction of the case against realism in Old Testament Theology
Degree PhD (Old Testament Science)
Department Old Testament Studies
Advisor Name Title
Prof D J Human
Prof J H le Roux Committee Co-Chair
  • ontology
  • philosophy of religion
  • philosophical-critical analysis
  • Old Testament Theology
  • arguments against the existence of Yahweh
  • atheism
  • Yahweh
  • God
  • realism
  • devil's advocate
Date 2003-10-09
Availability unrestricted
Does Yahweh exist? What is the ontological status of Yahweh-as-depicted in the Old Testament texts? Is the deity merely a character of fiction or does He also exist in extra-textual reality?

According to the viewpoint of the devil’s advocate whose perspective on the issue is articulated in this thesis, the answer to the question is simply, no – Yahweh does not exist. He may seem real to those who believe in him and in the world of the text but he has no extra-textual and extra-psychical counterpart.

To prove such a controversial claim, the philosophy of religion has been utilised as auxiliary discipline within Old Testament studies in the form of philosophicalcritical analysis (philosophical criticism / philosophy of Old Testament religion). A devil’s advocate's case against realism in Old Testament theology has been reconstructed in the form of seven arguments against the existence of Yahweh.

According to the argument from theological pluralism, one element of the depiction of Yahweh in the text that is rather suspicious is the fact that Yahweh is characterised in ways that blatantly contradict each other. Both synchronic and diachronic perspectives on the theological contradictions suggest that there is no coherent biblical view of what Yahweh is actually like, what his will is and what he supposedly did. This deconstructs realism since the same actually existing entity cannot have discrepant attributes, hold mutually exclusive moral beliefs and have a history of both doing something and not doing the same thing at the same time.

From the perspective of the argument from unorthodox theology, it is apparent that Yahweh is often depicted in ways most unorthodox from the point of view of Christian philosophical theology. Some texts appear to suggest he may not be eternal, single, omnipotent, omniscient, precognisant, immutable, omnipresent or wholly uninvolved in the actualisation of evil. If there is a God and if this God has all the attributes assigned to him by popular classical Christian philosophical theology, it follows that unorthodox depictions of Yahweh must be fictitious.

In the view of the argument from polymorphic projection, everything about the god Yahweh appears suspiciously all-too-human. What Yahweh believes about the world, his self-talk, what he considers morally right and wrong and the way in which his own abode is run are all uncannily similar to the worldview and superstitions of the Iron Age Levant. The divine variables never transcend this all-too-local and all-too-cultural matrix and even change along with it. This unmasks Yahweh as ananthropomorphic, sociomorphic and sychomorphic projection – a character of fiction who does not exist outside the minds of those who created him in their image.

The argument from mythology and syncretism demonstrates that the discourse of Yahweh’s religion and the sacred stories and poems in which he features contain numerous parallels to the myths, legends, folklore and superstitions found in other pagan religions. There are also marked traces of syncretism between the cult and theology of Yahweh and the ideologies of the Israelites' neighbours which, in each case, predates Yahwism. This suggests that Yahweh’s ontological status may very well not be all that different from that of El, Baal, Zeus or Maduk.

From the perspective of the argument from fictitious cosmography, the world in the text where Yahweh is depicted as existing, acting and in which his abode is located and of which he is the creator, does not exist. Yahweh’s world and his worldview are demonstrably fictitious. Since the Old Testament depicts Yahweh as being “up there” in the sky and since we know that he is demonstrably not there, Yahweh-as-depicted stands unmasked as a character of fiction.

The argument from fictitious history asserts that the Old Testament is filled with historical fiction. For a variety of reasons, it can be demonstrated that many of the depictions of supposed historical scenarios are completely fictitious in that they never happened in the way the details of the accounts imply were the case. Since what was intended as history is actually fiction and no god literally appeared, acted and spoke as Yahweh is depicted as doing, it follows that Yahweh as thus depicted is a character of fiction. He does not exist.

Finally, the argument from meta-textual history shows that, on the one hand, the all-too-recent and all-too-local origins of the worship of Yahweh on a historical and cosmic scale unmask it as a wholly human enterprise. On the other hand, the Old Testament texts themselves have all-too-human origins rather than being the result of actual divine revelation. The Old Testament appears not to be the Word of God but human words about an allegedly existing deity. The development of Yahwism and its derivatives (Judaism and Christianity) seems not to have been determined by progressive revelation but by socio-cultural paradigm shifts and a history of repressed anti-realist tendencies. From such a meta-textual historical perspective it becomes obvious that Yahweh-as-depicted in the text is indeed no more than a product of human ideological imagination. In other words, he does not really exist.

Though not all seven of these devil’s advocate’s arguments may be equally devastating when viewed in isolation, in the form of a cumulative argument against realism, they constitute seemingly irrefutable proof that Yahweh-as-depicted in the text does not exist. Consequently, realism collapses not only in Old Testament theology but also in any form of theism somehow related to, rooted in and/or dependent on realism in its discourse.

  Filename       Size       Approximate Download Time (Hours:Minutes:Seconds) 
 28.8 Modem   56K Modem   ISDN (64 Kb)   ISDN (128 Kb)   Higher-speed Access 
  00front.pdf 475.89 Kb 00:02:12 00:01:07 00:00:59 00:00:29 00:00:02
  01chapter1.pdf 1.53 Mb 00:07:05 00:03:38 00:03:11 00:01:35 00:00:08
  02chapter2.pdf 269.30 Kb 00:01:14 00:00:38 00:00:33 00:00:16 00:00:01
  03chapter3.pdf 495.64 Kb 00:02:17 00:01:10 00:01:01 00:00:30 00:00:02
  04chapter4.pdf 372.56 Kb 00:01:43 00:00:53 00:00:46 00:00:23 00:00:01
  05chapter5.pdf 468.37 Kb 00:02:10 00:01:06 00:00:58 00:00:29 00:00:02
  06chapter6.pdf 370.24 Kb 00:01:42 00:00:52 00:00:46 00:00:23 00:00:01
  07chapter7.pdf 437.06 Kb 00:02:01 00:01:02 00:00:54 00:00:27 00:00:02
  08chapter8.pdf 1.19 Mb 00:05:30 00:02:50 00:02:28 00:01:14 00:00:06
  09chapter9.pdf 217.15 Kb 00:01:00 00:00:31 00:00:27 00:00:13 00:00:01
  10bibliography.pdf 223.41 Kb 00:01:02 00:00:31 00:00:27 00:00:13 00:00:01
  11appendices.pdf 1.69 Mb 00:07:50 00:04:01 00:03:31 00:01:45 00:00:09
  12back.pdf 639.83 Kb 00:02:57 00:01:31 00:01:19 00:00:39 00:00:03

Browse All Available ETDs by ( Author | Department )

If you have more questions or technical problems, please Contact UPeTD.