Because the Bible narrates that Israel first encountered its deity YHWH at Sinai after having left Egypt and before entering the land of Canaan, the question of YHWH’s historical origins has long been a topic of inquiry among biblical scholars. The claim of a non-autochthonous origin for a national god is indeed peculiar in terms of the wider ancient Near East, but in the context of the Bible is prominently and repeatedly given expression. So is it possible that a germ of truth lies behind this tradition?
The tendency in modern biblical scholarship has been to assume that the story of YHWH’s southern origins is based on very early tradition, partly because of the distinctive association of Midianites with YHWH worship and the figure Moses, but also because of a few examples of alleged early Hebrew poetry that describe YHWH coming from Edom or Sinai (Jdgs 5:4-5; Deut 33:2; Ps 68:8-9; Hab 3:3-4). During the last half of the 20th century and continuing until today, extra-biblical inscriptions that mention the name YHWH and connect it to the general area of Edom/southern Palestine have gradually taken on a pivotal role in the discussion. They are widely understood to confirm the basic picture that YHWH originated in the southern deserts outside the land of later Israel-Judah.
However, in recent years this standard view has come under strong criticism from a variety of angles, primarily within German language scholarship. This minority perspective argues that recent literary-critical and tradition-historical investigation into the development of exodus and other biblical tradition undercuts notions about their high antiquity, problematizes the interpretation of the extra-biblical evidence mentioned above, and highlights biblical material suggesting that YHWH originated as a fairly conventional Syrian-Canaanite weather god linked to developed agriculture.