FRDB Archives

Freethought & Rationalism Archive

The archives are read only.


Go Back   FRDB Archives > Archives > Biblical Criticism - 2001
Welcome, Peter Kirby.
You last visited: Today at 05:55 AM

Notices

 
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old 06-12-2001, 02:44 PM   #1
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Question Were the Hebrews always monotheistic?

Hello all.

I recently have been reading Huston Smith's The World's Religions and in the chapter on Judaism he makes a strange (at least to my understanding) comment. He says;

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">From a very early date, possibly from the very beginning of the biblical record, the Jews were monotheists. Smith pg.274</font>
Now, I respect Smith and enjoy his book; however, I have my doubts about what he says here. I have heard from several others that it is clear in the Old Testament that the Hebrews did not consider Yahweh the only god, just their national god. It was only at a later date that the idea of true monotheism came to be a part of the Jewish religion.

I know that there are others here who have a much greater knowledge of the OT, the Hebrew language, and the history of the Jews than myself. So, could someone help out?

Perhaps Smiith means that while the early Jews may have believed that other gods existed they exclusively worshipped Yahweh, thus making them monotheists by default. That sounds a little better, but still seems like a creative use of the concept of monotheism. (Not to even mention that from archaeological and the biblical record we can see that the Jews did in fact worship other gods and goddesses.)

regards,

red dawn
 
Old 06-12-2001, 04:59 PM   #2
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Smile

depends on who you read, sometimes there was a Mrs. God, I forget her name, think it meant wisdom. The people also were fond of Ishtar and Baal which pissed off the Yaweh enthusiasts to no end. The Yaweh priest class was always in competition with the Royalty just like in the middle ages, Popes vs. Kings.
"Man will not truly be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last preist" some French guy said that.
 
Old 06-12-2001, 10:53 PM   #3
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Post

If we are to believe the Biblical record, they certainly weren't all monotheists. Much of the criticism of the OT prophets is directed at them for worship of Baal and Ashtaroth.
 
Old 06-13-2001, 12:01 AM   #4
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Post

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by not a theist:
If we are to believe the Biblical record, they certainly weren't all monotheists. Much of the criticism of the OT prophets is directed at them for worship of Baal and Ashtaroth.</font>
I agree with what you and Marduck have said. What I am trying to get at though is whether the early Bible writers conceived of Judaism as being monotheistic as we would understand it today. I completely realize that lay people worshipped other gods and partook of fertility rites. What I want to know is, did the priests acknowledge other gods as being real? Smith claims that Judaism was monotheistic from the beginning of the biblical period. Others have said though that in the early books of the Bible it is clear that the writers were not strict monotheists (i.e. the only god in the universe was Yahweh), they just considered Yahweh to be their tribal god.

Assuming Abraham existed, (and I have no qualifications to comment on his historical truth) was he a monotheist? Or did he only decide to worship a single god while still acknowledging other gods as belonging to their respective tribes/kingdoms? In my reading of the OT it seems ambigious; however, I am sure that others have a much better grasp of the texts than I do.

regards,

red dawn
 
Old 06-13-2001, 08:35 AM   #5
James Still
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Pacific Northwest (US)
Posts: 527
Post

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by marduck:
depends on who you read, sometimes there was a Mrs. God, I forget her name, think it meant wisdom.</font>
Yep, her name would be Astarte and her oldest temple at Byblos dates way way back to he Neolithic. Before they adopted monotheism, the Jews were like all other Bronze Age cultures and had numerous agricultural deities. You can see the transition to monotheism in King Solomon who worshipped Astarte as well as Yahweh (1 Kings 11:5). She was known as Ishtar in Babylon and Demeter to the Greeks. Barbara Walker notes that her symbol was the dove and coinage shows her as the heavenly dove of wisdom. Here's an interesting passage in Psalms where Yahweh is upset with his fellow gods and goddesses on the Divine Council:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince" (Psalms 82:1-7).

The Hebrew Scriptures never denies the existence of other gods and goddesses. It just insists that Israel pledge its allegience to only one of them, thus the commandment to have no other gods before Yahweh.
James Still is offline  
Old 06-13-2001, 09:51 AM   #6
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Post

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by James Still:
The Hebrew Scriptures never denies the existence of other gods and goddesses. It just insists that Israel pledge its allegience to only one of them, thus the commandment to have no other gods before Yahweh.</font>
The technical name for this form of belief, incidentally, is henotheism. I have no idea how contemporary Judaism deals with the seeming embarrassment of pre-monotheistic thought in the Tanakh -- but as far as Christianity goes, I think that the remnants of henotheist thinking persist even to this day.

Sure, on paper, Satan is held to be merely a finite creation of a supremely sovereign God. Yet the whole "plot" of the Christian myth would only make sense if Satan were a plausible (read: similarly powerful) rival to God. Why flood the world, sacrifice your own kid, and finish things off with a big, theatrical battle of angels vs. demons if you could just blink your adversary out of existence?

[This message has been edited by Throbert McGee (edited June 13, 2001).]
 
Old 06-13-2001, 11:08 AM   #7
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Talking

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Throbert McGee:
The technical name for this form of belief, incidentally, is henotheism.
</font>
Thank you!! I had heard of henotheism before and I have been trying to allude to the concept. I had forgotten the word used to describe this kind of belief. It seems to me that in the early books of the OT the Jews were henotheistic, not monotheistic. It seems that true monotheism really did not enter the picture on a wide scale until the Babylonian captivity.

regards,

red dawn
 
Old 06-13-2001, 11:20 AM   #8
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Post

I remember that Karen Armstrong gave good treatment to this topic in her book A History of God. She shows the developement of the concept of Yahweh from polytheistic roots through to its monotheistic evolution.

Without wax,
Spider


 
Old 06-14-2001, 09:38 AM   #9
James Still
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Pacific Northwest (US)
Posts: 527
Post

The Christian conception of God, while owing its theological roots to monotheism and the God of Abraham, turns away from Judaism and embraces Platonism and Neoplatonism for its philosophical roots. It was Plato after all that postulated a powerful Demiurge in the Timaeus. The Demiurge was the Logos, the creator of heaven and earth; however, the Demiurge was not the greatest being. The "Spirit" was greater still, making the Demiurge the architect of the cosmos and the Spirit its ruler.

This philosophy led the Gnostics to craft their famous dualism in which Jehovah was identified with the Demiurge (and had nefarious motives) while the true God was identified with the Spirit. Well we all know how it ended (even while the transition is messy). The Gnostics lost the struggle for dominance and were branded heretics and the Neoplatonic influence won. Funny how the God of Abraham lost...

As we all know, it was finally decided that God was both a single essential being (the God of Abraham) and three essential persons in one being (God, Spirit, and Logos). Jesus becomes identified with the Logos (the Demiurge, the architect of the cosmos) and God becomes the Father in whom all things are sustained.

And of course there's a whole can of worms on the parallels for the trinity in Babylonian myth or the supernatural father, mortal mother, and child trinity of the Egyptians...
James Still is offline  
Old 06-14-2001, 10:16 AM   #10
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Post

I thought Henotheism was the belief in the Great Chicken...

&lt;dodges rotting fruit&gt;

I am under the impression that Judaism was originially the worship of a desert blood/war god and his goddess consort. (Ross Shepard Kraemer) There is 'traditional' evidence that the 'Sabbath' was percieved as a female deity entering the home to bless it later, while originally she was a fertility goddess. Somewhere in the Bible (I can't find where, sorry) it has women offering cakes to 'the Queen of Heaven'.

I was taught that the 'no other gods before me' was a comment about lust and money, et al. I didn't believe it. They meant gods when they said gods back then.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">they just considered Yahweh to be their tribal god.
</font>
otherwise, how could Cain have left Yahweh?

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Assuming Abraham existed, (and I have no qualifications to comment on his historical truth) was he a monotheist?
</font>
Maybe an athiest? I read a tale about him--- his father was an idol maker (sculptor?) and left young Abraham in charge of the shop one day. Abraham, who was apparently a nasty little boy, took his fathers hammer and smashed all but the largest statue. When his father got back, he asked Abraham what had happened. Abraham said there was a battle and the largest one won. His father said 'don't be ridiculous, they are made out of stone! They can't do that!' and Abraham said 'Then why do you worship them?'

His father converted, and Abraham started the religion then.

Which is an 'interesting' story, except that is not the pagan idea of idols (as houses for the god if they want to visit earth, not as the deity itself.)

 
 

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:42 PM.

Top

This custom BB emulates vBulletin® Version 3.8.2
Copyright ©2000 - 2015, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.