Yes, Andrew, “you shall have no other gods before me” is a command from YHWH and a universal, timeless truth. It is a prohibition against idolatry.
The many gods of the ancient world, and of today, are truely the stuff of human projections. Many in the ancient world saw the God of the Hebrews as just another god among many, some considered YHWH as just one of the gods but superior to all the others. YHWH is declaring that there are no other gods. Today these other gods are still with us, in the form of celebrity culture, money, fame, spiritual pride and even football etc.etc.
Regarding Girard’s thinking on sacrifice and the creation of divinity: Girard discovered a recurring pattern when looking at ancient rituals and myths. A victim is sacrificed to ensure the safety and health of the rest of the community. The victim is blamed not only for social problems, but also for droughts, plagues and everything that disrupts social cohesion. The death or expulsion of the scapegoat, restores the peace and calm. Consequently, the scapegoat, having been seen as responsible for all the ills and violence in the community, suddenly becomes a powerful force which is also responsible for the restoration of peace and calm. Put into the words of Girard himself, upon the death of the scapegoat, “peace will descend on the community because everybody will be without and enemy. There will be innocence again. And this will be experienced as such a miracle that the victim who was reviled two minutes before will come to be considered as divine. The malefactor becomes a benefactor. And there you have the real archaic sacred which is both bad and good. This sudden reconciliation – and there must be reconciliation, since there is no more enemy – involves the conflation of absolute war and total peace in one second.”
Andrew, you will find as the course progresses that James illustrates well how the Hebrew scriptures expose this use of violence to quell violence, know as the ‘archaic sacred’, or the ‘the myth of redeeming violence’. Many parts of the Psalms and the prophets, including Hosea, Jeremiah, Amos, and Isaiah, critique the practice of sacrifice. Psalm 50 claims that God doesn’t want a blood sacrifice, but a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Hosea 6:6 claims that God wants mercy, not sacrifice. Jeremiah 7 states that God never ordained sacrifice in the first place. Isaiah 66 states that “Whoever slaughters an Ox is like one who kills a human being. Whoever sacrifices a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck.” And then, of course, we have Jesus who taught forgiveness and reconciliation.
Should you have further queries about the thought of Girard, I would prefer to recommend some reading, as my remit is to accompany you through the journey of ‘Jesus the Forgiving Victim’. But I think you will find that it will become clearer as you progress with the text.
Our current session is 1.4 ‘The Road to Emmaus’ do you have any queries about this topic?