Herbert Armstrong, as lousy a theologian as he was, got one thing about the scriptures partially right. He maintained that the Hebrew word “Elohim” was a “uni-plural” name for god that meant God was more than one, actually a family of beings.
From there, his understanding and subsequent teaching went way off into left field, and beyond, leading to the assertion that we, if saved and faithful to the end, would join that family – would actually be born as Gods, brothers of Jesus, at the resurrection.
I won't get into the varying teachings of multitudes of sects, philosophies, religious denominations, etc. that sometimes put us humans in the category of already being individuated parts of the universal god spirit. The Mormons expect to be glorified and become supreme gods over multitudes of worlds throughout the universe. I guess that pertains only to this planet as the originating center of everything because that's where they happen to be. I haven't delved into the specifics.
Ancient cultures of Southern Europe and the Middle East all worshiped anthropomorphized gods who were mirrors of human society on an exalted level. All the pantheons revolved around a supreme, randy, philandering divine patriarch with jealous wives, concubines, multitudes of quarreling children jockeying for position, etc.
In the Greek world, Zeus was at the top of the heap and father of the gods, with all the inevitable attendant problems. The Romans had their Jupiter.
The Canaanites and Mesopotamians had their own little god-family setup. Into this world was born a guy we know as Abraham.
In that world, there was a father of the local gods known as El Elyon, God Most High. One of his sons was Yahweh who became over time the specific god of the Israelites. Others of his sons and daughters became the exalted gods and goddesses of other tribes and localities. There was Ashtoreth, his wife, also called Asherah, Ishtar, Ninlil and Elath, Baal, his senior son, and Anath, his daughter.
They were known collectively as Elohim, the divine family of El or El Elyon.
The names given these gods varied throughout the Near East. El was Ilu Kergal to the sumerians. Baal was known as Hadad in Phoenicia and Nergal in Mesopotamia. Anath was Inana to the Sumerians and Astarte to the Phoenicians.
According to I Kings 11:5, Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth and that worship continued in Judea until the Babylonian captivity.
The Israelites did not consider Yahweh the only god any more than their neighbors did. That is why the commandment against worshiping other gods specifically stated that they should have no other gods “before” Yahweh because he was jealous of his position as their specific god. It took centuries of development before those other gods got shoved out of the way, sublimated and incorporated into just one deity that is worshiped to this very day as the one and only god. These gods were considered real and a competitive threat.
Scholars like Laurence Gardner, Chris Rolston, Mark Smith, Frank Cross and others tell us that the early picture given for Yahweh is that of a Near Eastern tribal deity. Those facts have been covered up and forgotten as that tribal deity evolved over time along with Israelite chauvinistic aspirations. Soon he became the only true god, the others being marginalized and finally, totally ignored by followers of Judaism and Christianity.
The Hebrew scriptures as we know them today weren't written by Moses or any of the other “heroes” they portray. They evolved slowly over centuries and began taking shape only after the Babylonian captivity during which the Jews became more highly educated and had access to the historical records and myths their “hosts” and scholarly neighbors had meticulously preserved. There was no organized Jewish book for centuries; just separate scrolls, revered in some places, questioned in others and constantly revised and edited to correspond to currently held opinions and doctrine, and, of course, the interests of the temple priesthood.
Laurence Gardner in The Origin of God makes this revealing statement about Genesis: “...there is little discrepancy between the manner of his biblical representation and those of the Sumerian, Akkadian and Canaanite tablets from which the Genesis portrayal derived....but there is much information in the source records which the Bible writers preferred to leave unstated....God's image becomes increasingly a matter of retrospective scribal interpretation.” In other words, there was “scribal spin.”
Gardner's book is currently available through bookstores and Amazon. It is thorough and scholarly but is easy to read and understand. Likewise, The Early History of God by Mark S. Smith.
These facts have been known to scholars for generations. Recent archaeological discoveries have added immense new knowledge which makes it plain that the common conceptions about the origin of the “god” people confidently worship are totally erroneous.
The Pentateuch, and much of the rest of the Old Testament, is basically a legendary fiction crafted in the centuries following the Babylonian captivity largely from sources the Israelites obtained from their more advanced captors and neighbors. It is based on fables and myths that circulated freely from nation to nation and tribe to tribe and were preserved in the libraries and archives of the more advanced peoples and the chauvinistic motives of the priests and scribes involved.
For quick and interesting info on the multiple gods theme, go to You Tube and look up videos by the backyard professor. For another good rundown on how this evolution took place, here is another great You Tube video: http://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3