I understand from the Bible, from the Wikipedia articles Yahweh and Yahwism and from lectures of various scholars that polytheism was practiced by at least some religious leaders, priests, kings and laymen of the allegedly-Canaanite kingdom of Israel and the allegedly-Canaanite Kingdom of Judah:
One opinion is that Yahweh was a war or storm god worshiped by at least one (probably Midianite, probably aniconic) group, and that this group later migrated northern and absorbed into ancient Israeli-Judean society and introduced Yahweh whom was adopted as the national god of the two kingdoms but not necessarily in an aniconic way and often presented with Asherah as his consort.
Yigal Ben Nun who wrote the book "קיצור תולדות יהוה" (no English name yet) often claims that the first Israelite temple included a statue of Yahweh and possibly of Asherah and that probably was a statue of any other god in its temple ("house") per wider Canaanite pantheon and that there are numerous clues for that in the Hebrew bible itself;
Besides that, some allege that a monotheistic aninconic "yahwistic" sect was slowly developing primarily in Judean society, and adopted by aristocracy gradually to remove elements of polytheism until finally consolidated as the sole form of Israelite religion in Babylonian captivity.
Many archaeologists and Bible researchers opinionated about a merging of Yahweh, El and Asherah into Yahweh itself in Israel and Judah by that sect:
- El (a named
[Canaanite][supreme]god) →→→ el ("god"
[single]) or eloah ("god"
[single]) or elohim ("god"
- el's/eloah's/elohim's name →→→ Yahweh
Asherah (El's consort) →→→ Yahweh's consort and later Shekhinah ("presence" or "effect" of god) and/or Menorah (as a religious item) which are feminine terms in Hebrew, adjusted to the fertility of Asherah as a fertility goddess or as being symbolized by a tree fertile with branches ("Menorah branches"), respectively
These Asherah ideas might be supported from findings at Kuntillet Ajrud.
Ashdat →→→ X
The bible is allegedly cluing that Yahweh first "appeared" or worshiped in areas named:
Sinai, Horeb Teman, Paran, Seir and Edom
These names might describe an area stretching primarily from western Sinai peninsula to the mountains of Edom, while:
- Teman might be a general term for that southern area (including further south until Tayma)
- Paran might be the slopes along Edom mountain(s)
- Seir as the mountain (or mountain range) named Edom mountain(s)
- Edom as an inclusion of Paran and Seir
- Horeb might be a specific area within Sinai
Deuteronomy 33:2 (KJV)
דברים פרק לג פסוק ב
וַיֹּאמַ֗ר יְהוָ֞ה מִסִּינַ֥י בָּא֙ וְזָרַ֤ח מִשֵּׂעִיר֙ לָ֔מוֹ הוֹפִ֙יעַ֙ מֵהַ֣ר פָּארָ֔ן וְאָתָ֖ה מֵרִבְבֹ֣ת קֹ֑דֶשׁ מִימִינ֕וֹ אֵ֥שׁדָּ֖ת אֵ֥שׁ דָּ֖ת לָֽמוֹ
Which I would translate as:
And he said: Yahweh came from Sinai and shined from Seir for them ; (he) appeared from Paran mountain(s?) ; and with him from(among?) tens of thousands of holy ones ; Ashdat from his right ; Ash Dat (?) for them.
Note: Ashdat part isn't included in KJV but is included here.
Judges 5:4 (KJV) שופטים פרק ה פסוק ד
יְהוָה בְּצֵאתְךָ מִשֵּׂעִיר בְּצַעְדְּךָ מִשְּׂדֵה אֱדוֹם אֶרֶץ רָעָשָׁה גַּם שָׁמַיִם נָטָפוּ גַּם עָבִים נָטְפוּ מָיִם.
Which I would translate as:
Yahweh, in your exit from Seir, in your marching from Edom field ; (the) land was noised, also skies fell, also clouds felled water.
Habakkuk 3:3 (KJV)
חבקוק פרק ג פסוק ג
אֱלוֹהַ מִתֵּימָן יָבוֹא וְקָדוֹשׁ מֵהַר פָּארָן סֶלָה כִּסָּה שָׁמַיִם הוֹדוֹ וּתְהִלָּתוֹ מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ.
Which I would translate as:
Eloah from Teman would come and a holy one from Paran mountain(s?) ; selāh ; his beauty covered the sky and his glory (was) filled (in) the land.
All of this might clue that Yahweh was not only worshiped in a pantheon of at least some Ancient Israelis and at least some ancient Judeans, but maybe also by ancient Edomites ; Edomites had the national god Qos and maybe were the closest kingdom in culture and language to Israel and Judea → some researchers consider Edomite language as a dialect of Hebrew.
Was Yahweh a god in a possible Edomite Pantheon?
Short answer: yes.
The earliest evidence for Yahweh worship is sparse, especially regarding its precise 'nature'. For the very early Edomite religious concepts it is even scarcer. For Yahweh it is also - sometimes fiercely - contested in many details. Not in the least because most devout deny any development in these concepts, taking the scriptures as inspired, first and final words on these matters.
- Bob Becking, Lester L. Grabbe (eds): "Between Evidence and Ideology: Essays on the History of Ancient Israel read at the Joint Meeting of the Society for Old Testament Study and the Oud Testamentisch Werkgezelschap Lincoln, July 2009", Oudtestamentische Studiën, Old Testament Studies, Brill: Leiden, Boston, 2010)
A very similar effect is seen for more secular scholars who tend to early-date many events or trends. One such thing is most probably the undeniable trend towards monotheism as "until finally consolidated as the sole form of Israelite religion in Babylonian captivity." This is much too early in this 'definity' (sic).
(But not the main point of this question… A glimpse of this discussion to be found in "Monotheism, what monotheism"-Bob Becking in: Bob Becking, Meindert Dijkstra, Marjo C. A. Korpel, Karel J.H. Vriezen (eds.): "Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah", Biblical Seminar 77, Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, 2002)
It remains a problem that from our main textual evidence we have not that much to go on for Yahweh himself:
The origin of Yahweh worship is hidden in the dark prehistory of the people of Israel. The tradition in Ex 3 mentions Sinai / Horeb as the starting point for the worship of Yahweh, but it is not clear whether this tradition is historically correct. The lack of data makes it impossible to make more than one assumption. In my opinion Yahweh was the god of an immigrant group from the southern East Bank. In the Iron Age, his worship was linked to the worship of both the Canaanite god El / ilu and the god of the "Exodus" group. The Old Testament texts are all of later origin, and therefore it is a tour de force based on literary-critical decisions to describe the origin and original character of the deity Yahweh without falling into a circular argument.
- Bob Becking: "Jahwe", Wibilex, 2006
For Yahweh at Edom we have nonetheless some basic facts to observe:
The absence of references to a Syrian or Palestinian cult of Yahweh outside Israel suggests that the god does not belong to the traditional circle of West Semitic deities. The origins of his veneration must be sought for elsewhere.
A number of texts suggest that Yahweh was worshipped in southern Edom and Midian before his cult spread to Palestine.
By the 14th century BCE, before the cult of Yahweh had reached Israel, groups of Edomite and Midianite nomads worshipped Yahweh as their god. These data converge with northern traditions, found in a number of ancient theophany texts, according to which Yahweh came from Edom and Seir (Judg 5:4; note the correction in Ps 68:8)) [… listing place names as evidence for a toponymic origin of the name 'Yahweh'… ] All of these places - Seir, Mt Paran, Teman and Sinai - are in or near Edom.
- Karel van der Toorn: "Yahweh"; in: Karel Van Der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. Van Der Horst (eds): "Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible", Brill: Leiden, Boston, 21999.
The Edomite national god Qaus/Qos is at least as closely related in origins and syncretistic development as El and Yahweh. But that is my personal conclusion. A more recent discussion of this problem concludes:
[… ] we have reviewed the primary material and textual evidence for the veneration of Qos among the inhabitants of ancient Edom (and to some extent, their successors, the Idumeans and Nabateans). We have considered what some scholars have posited about the nature of Qos, theories that are based largely, though not exclusively, on what is known of the desert dwelling deities of the Syro-Palestinian milieu. Finally we looked at some of the theories surrounding the enigmatic connection between Yahweh and the god of Edom, concluding that Yahweh and Qos both originated in the south, were worshipped together as deity and divine symbol, and through various circumstances, ended up becoming the respective deities of Judah and Edom due largely to the political circumstances of these respective groups.
Despite the case that I have attempted to make for the worship of Yahweh/ Qos, the presumed relationship between these two important deities will likely remain shrouded in mystery, as will many things pertaining to ancient Edom and the tribal coalitions of the Negev and northwestern Arabian Peninsula. We simply lack the kind of material and textual data necessary to make any solid conclusions. nevertheless, as Blenkinsopp points out,
“in a sense, all our knowledge of the past is hypothetical and probabilistic, and the task of the historian is always that of coming up with a better hypothesis.”
That being said, it has been my task to take into account the relevant biblical and extrabiblical data at hand and to work toward a new, provisional interpretation by which to understand the relationship between Yahweh and Qos. For it does seem to be the case that a connection between Yahweh and Qos would have existed, given the glimpses in the biblical text of Yahweh's southern origin and the relationship between Judah and Edom as perceived by the biblical authors. It is, therefore, my hope that the hypothesis set forth in this analysis will contribute to a better understanding of the nature of the relationship between these two unique and enigmatic deities of the ancient near East.
- Justin Kelly: "Toward a new synthesis of the god of Edom and Yahweh", Antiguo Oriente: Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios de Historia del Antiguo Oriente Vol. 7, 2009. (PDF)
One interesting thing relating back to the post-exilic data in forming Israel identity is that the close relationship, a 'brotherhood', with Edomites is that after the Exile this boundary was apparently deepened. Yahweh coming from the Edomites did not help as much as the status between siblings soured:
By presenting the 'other' in dark colours, a boundary is drawn between 'we' and 'they'. In the period after the exile, the Edomites still were seen as related as well as inimical. The tradition on the betrayal of Edom functioned as a boundary marker of the community. 'We' were thus separated from 'they'. 'We' - Israel - were as a result of the divine grace returned from exile. 'They' - the Edomites - were excluded as badly behaving brothers. In order to construe this divide a claimed tradition was constructed.
- Bob Becking: "The betrayal of Edom: Remarks on a claimed tradition", HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 72(4), a3286, 2016.
I want to add something connected with your issue of the cult of God Yahweh. One ought to consider the meaning of the discovery of Ex 1-18 dating - this text is not late than from the 12th century before Christ. It is the reason the hypothetically constructed by scientists history of Israel must be rethought. See my paper in academia.edu.