”Monotheism,” Yehezkel Kaufman, Israeli philosopher and Biblical scholar, observes, “postulates multiple deities, subordinated to the one; it tolerates myths of primordial struggles for cosmic supremacy. Two elements distinguish it from polytheism: a conviction that the one controls the pantheon, and the idea of false gods.

Worshiping other deities as mistaken or perverse.

That depends on what the Hebrew, Christian or Muslim would define as mistaken and perverse. "One of the transitional stages from polytheism to monotheism has been called henotheism," notes Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy at the University of Idaho, "a situation in which there are many gods but one God prevails as the king of gods or the God of gods." The first word of Deuteronomy 6:4 in Hebrew, Shema is applied as the name of the verse in its entirety, “Hear, O Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH alone/is one.” Although recognizing that the Shema is a fundamental confessional statement of ancient Israel, today’s religious scholars do not see eye to eye on its interpretation. If it is coupled with the centralization of the religious group in Jerusalem during the reforms of Josiah in the late sixth century BCE, then it could indicate that there was only one suitable expression of YHWH, namely in Jerusalem. The Shema could also mean that among all gods Israel is to worship only YHWH, henotheism, or that YHWH is the only god, monotheism. It is in this second sense that the Shema has become the innermost Jewish affirmation of faith in one God today.

Christianity is suspect, since the three-personed Godhead stinks to them of polytheism.

Since the Christians have come to worship Jesus as god (Pliny Epistles 96.7), how can they claim to be continuing the monotheistic tradition of the God of Israel? Various answers are suggested debated and rejected as heretical, but the design of a Trinity--one God, subsisting in three persons and one substance eventually overcomes accusations of infidelity. Putting aside the malodorous assertions above about what Jews and Muslims may or may not think, it's important to understand that ever since the 4th Century, in both Eastern and Western Christianity, the Trinity doctrine has been affirmed as a singular Divine essence of "One God in Three Persons," all three are distinct and “co-persons" or "hypostases." Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking to note that the term does not appear anywhere in the New Testament. Also the extended perception of three coequals in the Godhead created in later creedal formulations cannot be visibly identified within the boundaries of the canon. Later religious writers have tried to arrange the assorted references to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit found in the New Testament in order to battle against heterodox tendencies of how the three are connected. Expounding on the theology of a Trinity also provided a defense for the church against indictments of di- or tri-theism. While New Testament writers say a great deal about God, Jesus and the Spirit, no New Testament writer expounds on the connection of this aspect as many later Christian writers do.

Elohim ("God" in most translations) is plural, while God's personal name, YHWH ("the LORD" in most translations), is singular.

Yes, practicing Jews and Christians understand this as a basic concept rooted in the ancient past of our faiths. The earliest beliefs with its spotlight on El indicate a monolatrous El sect. Supplementary manuscripts underline the existence of other deities. In addition to the scriptures cited there is Psalm 29 where a summoning of the gods occurs to extol Yahweh, and Psalm 82 embodies Yahweh adjudicating the gods. 1 2 3 4

Once you start looking for it, you'll find traces of henotheism all over the place.

Since hedonism, or self-indulgence and henotheism, the worship of one god over many, sound very similar some may think they are one in the same. They are not and in the early era of ancestral religions there are clear indications of henotheism or monolatry, the worship of a single deity though recognizing the existence of others. Baruch Halpern, Chaiken Family Chair in Jewish Studies, Professor of Ancient History, Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Religious Studies, and Social Thought, Fellow, Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State calls it “incipient monotheism.” And yes, most practicing people of the book understand that the line between monotheism and polytheism is not an “either or” proposition. So do other religious groups. Akhnaton and Nabonidus, the two great religious reformers of Near Eastern antiquity, centered their religious groups on their particular gods. Similar to this are the monotheistic way of life of Judaism, Christianity and Islam: all acknowledge the existence of lesser divinities. For example there are the saints, angels, demons, and, in Christianity and Islam, Satan, the everlasting adversary of the high god. But these mores are not monotheistic, no religion, as opposed to theology, is. If so, then the connotation of monotheism would lose its meaning entirely.

Evolutionary views of religion

The development of monotheism in ancient Israel is difficult to trace and there is rarely agreement between scholars. One can effortlessly find a supporter for inserting the starting point of monotheism in each era from the ancients down to the exilic. Observations of monotheism are entangled with uniformly thorny issues like the historicity of the ancestors, the person of Moses, the composition of the tribal league, kinship relations, the inhabitation of the land of Israel, and the societal purpose of the prophets.

In more recent periods religious scholars have called attention to the role of the monarchy in the expansion of nationalistic individuality and parallel monolatrous inclinations. Halpern, sees in Josiah’s reformation a “self conscious monotheism.” Additional exemplars of overt monotheisms can be established in comparatively later Biblical texts. Consequently the prophet Jeremiah no longer portrays other gods as alternatives but instead as “cracked cisterns that can hold no water” 5

Cheerfully worshiping YHWH alongside other gods and the Canaanite goddess Asherah

Many secular students of theology predicate their ideas that the early Jews and Christians were strictly monotheists and fail to understand that monotheism did not occur like some Big Bang when Moses came down from the mountain. The goddess Asherah has always been known in the Bible through peculiar indicators of some type of religious article interpreted as asherah pole. Asherah was unquestionably there in monarchic Israel. Ancient Israel included highly diverse groups of people with different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds than is habitually assumed in today’s humanistic societies. It's no secret that there was certainly a cornucopia of conflicting beliefs, many at opposition with each other, and they were, in all likelihood, divergent from city to city. No doubt various communities had differing degrees of toleration when someone referred to “Yahweh and his asherah.” Some may have believed Yahweh to be the national divinity, yet had no difficulty in worshiping local Asherah deities, particularly in groups dealing with fertility and agriculture. For yet others, such as certain prophetic groups and the Deuteronmists who fought for the limited devotion to Yahweh; any suggestion of the goddess merited denunciation.

What revisionist scholars are you going to take a look at next?

Teletubbies. Not really, the truth is that humanity’s religious convictions are enlightening expressions which expand with humanity's spiritual urge towards the everlasting and its magnificent importance. Henotheism is not hidden like some deep dark DaVinci code, it’s woven throughout the ancient texts of the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’ran and most of the practicing religiosity understand that these texts are derived from a pluralistic society. Theology courses and degrees are wonderful things; walking in the footsteps of those who practice their faiths to fully understand our beliefs, is required.

Sources :

Halpern, Baruch, MonotheismThe Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.

Gier, Nick, Hebrew Henotheism
Accessed November 5,2006.

Holy Bible (NRSV)

Kaufman, Yehezkel Did idolaters really worship idols? :
Accessed November 5, 2006.

Lewis, Theodore J. The goddess Asherah The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.Erlicj, Carl S. ShemaThe Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.

Schowalter, Daniel N. TrinityThe Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.

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