In a university course, I was taught that El and Yahweh were Caananite gods and that Judaism developed from a Canaanite cult devoted to Yahweh:

Judaism was developed from a monolatrous Yahwism.

When I challenged the claim, the professor stated that most modern Jews (who believe in and/or practice Judaism) agree with this.

Does modern Judaism accept the above claim? Does it differ between orthodoxy, reform, etc.?

Edit: Clarified the meaning who a modern Jew is referring to.

From my own research:
  • 10
    "the professor stated that most modern Jews agree with this" Did he say most Jews or most Jews who believe in and/or practice Judaism? Most Jews nowadays probably also believe God doesn't exist, which can hardly be described as a tenet of the religion Judaism.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 16:23
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    "Modern Jews" range from atheists to Ultra-Orthodox. DO you target any particular group?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 16:24
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    If you'd like a short, rationalist overview of how and why traditional Jews believe Judaism started, you'll enjoy reading "Permission to Receive" by Lawrence Kelemen.
    – user17319
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 18:33
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    The Torah tells us that Avraham was the first one to recognize that there was One G-D. That was 400 years before Jews received the Torah and Judaism took hold. How would you prove that this ancient Caananite cult didn’t sprout from the teachings of Abraham? He did teach his beliefs to many people who crossed his path. If so, then this cult really was developed from Judaism rather than the other way around
    – Chatzkel
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 22:43
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    I was thinking of writing an answer to the question as written as "no, as a singular and monolithic thinking collective we have all, unanimously voted in cabalistic session that we, to a man, do not." Are you asking whether the theory you cite runs afoul of particular doctrine? That would be an answerable question, but to ask for a representation of the various opinions of the entire seems problematic.
    – rosends
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 0:19

6 Answers 6


The Torah states that MalkiTzedek, king of (Jeru)Salem, was a priest to El Almighty (Genesis 14:18) and that Abraham gave him tithes. Abraham did not start monotheism, according to Jewish tradition, although it wouldn't have survived to the modern era without him. Whether there was ALSO a NON-faithful (monolatrous) Canaanite cult around El Almighty is not a matter of Jewish religious concern but is certainly possible, much as we find in I Kings 18:21 and other places about the Biblical Israelites. Half-belief is often more popular than true belief, but it tends to develop in the context of a pre-existing true belief rather than the true belief springing from out of a half-belief.

It should be noted that the term, Y-H-W-H, translates as " He who always was and always will be". It kind of excludes the idea of being part of a pantheon.


In a not-widely-known piece on Bereishis 14:18 ("MalkiTzedek... priest to El Elyon"), the Ohr Hachaim says the following:


ואומרו לאל עליון, להיות שהיה להם אלוהות אמצעיים כידוע לכסילים אמר כי זה כהן לאל עליון על כל האלוהות שהיו להם אז

"[The verse] says "El Elyon", since they had intermediate deities as is known for fools, it says that he was the priest to the God that was above all the gods that they had in those days..."

This would answer the question asked by many, which is how Avraham was different from the monotheism that preceded him, known in traditional sources as "Yeshivat Shem Ve'Ever". Presumably, his uniqueness was that he completely rejected all the lesser gods. It is interesting that he seems to respect MalkiTzedek. In fact, rabbinic tradition, fully upheld by the Ohr Hachaim himself, identifies MalkiTzedek as Shem, son of Noah, teacher of Avraham, Jacob and Joseph, and paradigm of righteousness.

As the disciple of MalkiTzedek/Shem, Avraham forged a new path. Judaism, according to the Ohr Hachaim, developed from a monolatrous Canaanite cult devoted to El Elyon.


Rambam's Thirteen principles are still considered obligating in Orthodox Judaism.

See Jewish_principles_of_faith, especially:

  1. The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher.
  2. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.
  3. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.

So, since the Torah says that Judaism was received by the Jews from God through Moses on Mt. Sinai, this is the only accepted narrative.

Regarding non-religious denominations (opposing the divinity of the Torah), your claim is pretty much the scholarly consensus.

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    God made the dimensions of the mishkan based off of other canaanite temples that predate the mishkan. One can believe everything you've said and still say some things about our religion were carried over, either by the people of Israel or by God Itself.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 19:00
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    An all-powerful, all-knowing being that hates idol worship more than anything else on earth requires a bunch of idol worshipers in order to draw up a set of blueprints? That sounds even more farfetched than atheism Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 20:19
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    @JoshK Indeed it is, but that's just a strawman since no one here said "requires"
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 20:56
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    @JoshK Did anyone say require? God also apparently spoke to people in Hebrew. We can trace a lot of the Hebrew language to languages that came before it. Who would make the argument that God "required" idol worshippers to make a language for God to be able to speak it? No one. Rather we might say that God was willing to work with what was understood at the time, and what was understood on the time is obviously going to be based on what came before that time
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 22:08
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    The issue is with the term "based off of" Cannanite temples. It could be "similar to" or even "identical to" but "based off of" has implications that I don't think apply here at least within the context of our mesorah Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 6:32

Most Jews are not fact deniers by nature. Say what you will about us as a stiff necked people, but if we perceive something as a fact we are generally not going to shy away from its implications. This is one of many reasons why Jews end up in many research, medicine, science and math based fields.

Most scholarly Jews I know who have studied Israelite history would not dispute facts presented in front of them. I would say most religious Jews are ignorant of the history of El as a God in the Canaanite pantheon. Just as many Christians are ignorant of the history of Judaism that predated Christianity, so too many Jews are ignorant of the Canaanite religion and history that predates the Torah's narrative. So while I might expect some religious Jews who are ignorant of the history to dispute the argument you've presented, I think a lot of Jews who are immersed in the history wouldn't try and dispute it. But they may say something which I will say to you now:

Just because we have more evidence for Yahwistic monolatry than for Yahwistic monotheism in ancient Canaan, does not mean you've proven anything. 75 years ago there was not much outside evidence to prove that David was a real person, the evidence pointed to the contrary. But further evidence has been discovered which now points to David being a real person.

  • It is true that ancient Israelites believed in monolatry (many gods) but, to be sure, the patriarchs knew that the ancients were wrong on a good number of things and were monotheistic. See my answer below: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/126568/17072
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 6:22

There is no denomination of Judaism that takes the official position that Judaism developed from a Canaanite cult.

Not even groups like Reform or Reconstructionist who deny the divinity of the Bible and constantly revise their theological view to fit with current Western academic beliefs and theories. There may be individual clerics and members of those groups who believe so but there are many others who have other beliefs and theories as to the origins of Judaism.

Belief that there were those who believed in one God and rejected idolatry before Judaism started should be pretty universal. Does anyone think Noah and his sons were idolaters?


El means “G-d,” el is the singular for Elohim. El means “powerful.” G-d is called Elohim (in the plural) because G-d is more powerful than anything else. G-d and idols are referred to as el because they are powerful. It is not that Y-h-v-h comes from a lesser Canaanite god. Everybody knows that.

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    God has many names, each referring to a different 'aspect' (justice, severity, kindness, more lofty aspects of godliness, more hidden aspects of godliness, etc.) Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 9:22
  • @IStandWithIsrael Yes, we agree. However, (and I didn't add this to my answer) G-d's names are actually not names of G-d but functions of G-d.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 17:37

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