Question: "Was Yahweh originally a Edomite or Canaanite god?"
Answer: The idea that Yahweh started out as an Edomite, Midianite, or Canaanite deity is a modern myth promoted by secular scholars. The starting point for these theorists is an anti-scholarly bias against the possibility that God is who the Bible says He is, namely, the one-and-only Creator, Author of life, Judge, and Savior of the world (Genesis 1:1; 18:25; Acts 3:15; John 3:16). Rather than acknowledge that God made man in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27), they assume that man made God in man’s image. And when you begin with a premise that is an error, you’re guaranteed an invalid conclusion.
The false theory that Yahweh, the God of the Bible, was created out of the chief god of Edom with influence from Midian relies on the following points:
• During the Exodus out of Egypt, Israel had to pass by the nations of Edom and Midian on their way to the Promised Land (Canaan). During their forty years in the wilderness, as they fashioned a new religion, Israel was supposedly influenced by Edom’s and Midian’s religious beliefs.
• The Midianites—descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham (Genesis 25:1)—had a priest named Reuel (Exodus 2:18) or Jethro (Exodus 3:1 and later). Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible, married Jethro’s daughter. Moses then presumably brought much of his father-in-law’s theology into his own new religion and our Scripture, including Jethro’s god(s).
• God’s name in Scripture is transliterated from the Hebrew as YHWH, probably meaning “I Am” (Exodus 3:13–14). There is an obscure reference in a 13th-century BC Egyptian document to a region in Edom associated with JWH, possibly indicating that JWH was a national god of Edom. Of course, the spelling JWH is similar to YHWH.
• Edom, populated by descendants of Esau (Abraham’s grandson and Israel’s/Jacob’s brother), worshiped a local god named Qos; certain Bible verses show that Israel’s God acted locally and in some of the same places as Qos; therefore, the Hebrew concept of God may be based on Edom’s Qos. Some Bible verses referring to areas within Edom include the following:
Deuteronomy 33:2 – “The LORD [Yahweh] came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran.”
Judges 5:4–5 – “When you, Lord, went out from Seir, / when you marched from the land of Edom, / the earth shook, the heavens poured, / the clouds poured down water. / The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, / before the Lord, the God of Israel.”
Habakkuk 3:3a – “God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran.”
This last error—that Yahweh is linked to the god of Edom because of His localized actions—is especially inexcusable for any serious scholar. Verses throughout the Bible speak of God’s appearing and acting in many specific locations. There is no logically sound reason for concluding that Moses and all the Bible writers after him were confused about whether God was some petty, magical deity haunting the neighborhood or the Being greater than the universe He created. In fact, the remainder of Habakkuk 3:3 lays the question to rest: “His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.” This is not a description of a local god. See also Deuteronomy 10:14; 2 Chronicles 2:6; Psalm 19:1–4; and Hebrews 1:10–12.
So, the whole theory that Yahweh was borrowed from local mythologies in Edom and Midian rests on 1) Israel’s route through the desert, 2) Moses’ choice of a wife, 3) a similarly spelled word, and 4) mentions of Edom in the Bible. It’s not much to go on, but it’s all the theorists have. When you reject the truth of God’s revealing Himself in Scripture, you’re left to grasp at straws.
Sadly, the confusion about Yahweh’s being an Edomite or Midianite god is common among modern scholars. They “discover” tiny clues from which they fabricate entire myths—all of which just happen to “disprove” the Bible. They even claim to know more about ancient cultures and beliefs than the very people who lived at that time, spoke that language, read those Scriptures, and worshiped that God. The Bible refers to such scholars as “claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).
Fortunately, there is plenty of excellent scholarship, both Christian and secular, to refute the notion that Yahweh was an outgrowth of various pagan gods. There is much study being done that continues to astound the world by proving again and again the Bible’s amazing historic, geographic, scientific, and spiritual accuracy. Of all the thousands of holy books in the world, only the Bible has survived every attempt to destroy or discredit it, coming through each attack with even more confirmation that it is the error-free, inspired Word of God (Psalm 119:89).