The Origins Of Monotheism

EnolaGaia

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This Live Science article provides an interesting overview of current scholars' thinking about the historical evolution from polytheism to monotheism (e.g., the Abrahamic religions). Surprisingly, it turns out that some scholars believe our modern usage of 'monotheism' to denote the existence of a single deity isn't the same as older / ancient beliefs some call monotheism. The difference relates to those older beliefs' prescribing there was only one god to be worshipped rather than one god that existed at all.
What led to the emergence of monotheism?

Over half the world practices Christianity, Islam or Judaism, according to Pew Research Center. These religions are all monotheistic, involving the worship of one God. But according to scholars, our modern understanding of monotheism is a recent phenomenon — more recent even than the religions it describes.

So, how did monotheism emerge?

The answer is complicated. Monotheism didn't emerge with Judaism, nor Christianity, nor Islam, according to scholars. It's a modern concept. And depending on how you define it, it either emerged thousands of years before these major religions, or hundreds of years later. ...

At a surface level, many ancient religions look polytheistic. Whether you're looking at Mesopotamia or ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, the Kingdom of Aksum in northern Africa or ancient Israel: all of these civilizations once worshipped many gods. The reality is a little more complicated, said Andrew Durdin, a religious historian at Florida State University.

"When you look across human history, the distinction between polytheism and monotheism kind of falls apart" ...

Across cultures, pantheons, or groups of deities specific to a particular religion, were often written about as expressions of the same divine entity, similar to how Christians worship the Holy Trinity ...

This concept of divine unity wasn’t unique to Mesopotamia; this same concept existed in ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. ...

Put another way, ancient people may have viewed multiple gods from different cultures as all emanating from the same holy source. ...

It was in this context that religious movements began demanding exclusive worship of one God. In the 14th century B.C., the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten established a cult devoted only to the sun god, Aton. ... And some scholars believe it was up to a thousand years later that early Israelites began worshipping only one god: Yahweh, said Matthew Chalmers, a theorist of religion at Northwestern University in Illinois. It was a transition that took centuries, and it would be centuries more before the belief that only one God exists became cemented in Judaism, Chalmers said.

It's important to note that these people didn't think of themselves as monotheists or polytheists. "I don't think it was something ancient people were really interested in," Chalmers told Live Science. These movements didn't deny the existence of other gods. They just demanded that people stop worshipping them. ...

Similarly, early Christians didn't explicitly declare other gods nonexistent; they began referring to them as demons ... Proclamations that there was only one God show up in portions of the Hebrew Bible written around the fifth century B.C. — however, sections written earlier in Jewish history made no such claims ... And it wasn’t until the third and fourth centuries A.D., that the concept of one God finally began appearing in Christian liturgy. However, scholars disagree on the exact timeline ...

"I don't think there is a transition to monotheism," Chalmers said. After all, not everyone even agrees that Christianity, the largest ostensible monotheistic religion, is monotheistic at all, he added — some Jewish and Muslim writers interpreted the Holy Trinity as three gods rather than one. Instead, the distinction between polytheism and monotheism is one we've made in retrospect to try and make sense of our own history.

"It's a modern imposition," Haines said, "It allows us to map monotheism as a move towards progress."
FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/polytheism-to-monotheism.html
 
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Junopsis

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That "you shall have no gods before me" Christian commandment always got me in trouble. It presupposes having other gods, so they clearly exist in Christianity, and implies that it's fine to adhere to them as long as you put the old man first. But apparently that's rude to say or something.
 

Naughty_Felid

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This Live Science article provides an interesting overview of current scholars' thinking about the historical evolution from polytheism to monotheism (e.g., the Abrahamic religions). Surprisingly, it turns out that some scholars believe our modern usage of 'monotheism' to denote the existence of a single deity isn't the same as older / ancient beliefs some call monotheism. The difference relates to those older beliefs' prescribing there was only one god to be worshipped rather than one god that existed at all.


FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/polytheism-to-monotheism.html
So although the Romans worshipped many gods, they basically adapted/adopted local gods into their pantheon as being representations of their own gods which I always thought was very clever.

The next step would be to simplify it more by having one god.

This article obviously doesn't cover, (ok I've skimmed it), Eastern religions.

I think as a political move when there were so many different expansions across Europe and parts of Africa and Asia by so many different people just keep it simple.

People in power at the time understood this.
 

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In Judaism, a core of the belief is one G-D.

It happened that at times in ancient history, some Jews worshipped idols.

As to who was the first person to worship G-D, we believe it was Adam, and that the early generations of humans believed in G-D.

But over time, this belief was distracted into idol worship, and it took Abraham to logically understand there was one G-D.
He re-affirmed belief in one G-D to the rest of the world and disparaged idolatry.
Things have continued in an unbroken line of monotheism for us since then.
 

blessmycottonsocks

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The proliferation of so-called Venus figurines from the Palaeolithic to Neolithic ages, suggests strongly that worship of a female deity was the earliest form of monotheism.
Common features found in these carvings from Siberia to the Mediterranean are prominent breasts, bellies, wide hips and exaggerated pudenda, but curiously, no or minimal facial features. This hints at an idealised Fertile Earth Mother, symbolising Mother Earth and the continuation of life.
I can see the logic in this and it strikes me as strange that the big monotheistic religions that followed became almost exclusively patriarchal.

venus1.JPGvenus2.JPGvenus3.JPGvenus4.JPG
 

EnolaGaia

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The proliferation of so-called Venus figurines from the Palaeolithic to Neolithic ages, suggests strongly that worship of a female deity was the earliest form of monotheism. ...
Just a note ... This was the academically fashionable way to interpret the Venus figures beginning some decades ago. However, this interpretation entails projecting a lot of later / modern sociocultural features (religion; iconography; function of worship) onto a Stone Age context.

This presumptuous conclusion about existence of a primeval matriarchal religion and / or prehistoric sociocultural power structures has faded over the years (from accepted wisdom to merely one hypothesis about the mystery surrounding these figures' ubiquity and significance).

More recent attempts at explaining the Venus figures have suggested they served a purpose other than religious iconography of the sort we recognize millennia later. One recent suggestion is that they served as teaching or goal-setting memes for a female form better able to weather the environmental conditions in areas most affected by the glaciations of the time:

https://forums.forteana.org/index.p...es-venus-of-willendorf-etc.23599/post-2014352
 

blessmycottonsocks

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Just a note ... This was the academically fashionable way to interpret the Venus figures beginning some decades ago. However, this interpretation entails projecting a lot of later / modern sociocultural features (religion; iconography; function of worship) onto a Stone Age context.

This presumptuous conclusion about existence of a primeval matriarchal religion and / or prehistoric sociocultural power structures has faded over the years (from accepted wisdom to merely one hypothesis about the mystery surrounding these figures' ubiquity and significance).

More recent attempts at explaining the Venus figures have suggested they served a purpose other than religious iconography of the sort we recognize millennia later. One recent suggestion is that they served as teaching or goal-setting memes for a female form better able to weather the environmental conditions in areas most affected by the glaciations of the time:

https://forums.forteana.org/index.p...es-venus-of-willendorf-etc.23599/post-2014352
Obviously it is just a hypothesis, but I do find these carvings, and cave art, such as this "Venus" from the famous Chauvet caves, very suggestive of iconography:

venus.JPG

Similarly, and jumping forward in time several thousand years, the strange fish/human hybrid carvings from the Lepenski Vir culture immediately struck me as the totemisation of some deity. Unless the Lepenski Vir or Vinča script is ever deciphered though (exceedingly unlikely, given that we still cannot crack the much later Linear A) and describes the Danube culture's religious beliefs, then we can only speculate as to their purpose.

vir.JPG
 

EnolaGaia

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Agreed, but ...

Although I have no problem with the idea that investing effort in a figural sculpture connotes 'significance', I think a subsequent leap to concluding this significance is 'religious' (in any sense we modern folks understand) is a bridge too far.

I'm not confident it's even safe to assume a figural carving of a fellow human necessarily represented a higher - much less abstract / godly - status.

Bear in mind that (AFAIK) all other figural sculptures known from the *-lithic eras depict prey.

Just sayin' ... :reyes:
 
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