The Invention of God by Thomas Römer
A reconstruction of the history of Israel, of the origins of the Old Testament and particularly what the Israelites thought about God
The Invention of God
By Thomas Römer
Harvard University Press
Reviewed by Pieter Lalleman
Behind the provocative title of this book lies a rather ordinary book. Professor Römer offers a reconstruction of the history of Israel, of the origins of the Old Testament and particularly what the Israelites thought about God. Like many critical scholars, he does not believe what the Old Testament says about itself, Israel and God.
And of course he argues on every page that the Old Testament is full of contradictions. So, instead, Römer taps into other sources which he regards as more reliable. Thus he denies that there is much historical reality behind the stories about Abraham. Moses, Samuel, David and Solomon.
Only when we get to the kings Hezekiah and Josiah does the professor begin to accept some truth in the biblical narratives. He reproduces the 150-year old hypothesis that it was the Midianites who first worshipped the God Jahweh and that they influenced Moses (about whom we know next to nothing). It was then Saul and David who introduced Jahweh to Jerusalem, but for a long time Israel worshipped more gods than one and there was a statue of Jahweh in the temple.
The book reads well, so if you want to know what is generally taught in universities, here is a good introduction. If you want to know what the Old Testament itself says and what Israel believed, a more orthodox book would be a better choice. I would suggest Richard S. Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Leicester: Apollos, 2007, ISBN 978-0-8010-2717-8).
The Revd Dr Pieter J. Lalleman teaches Bible at Spurgeon's College