Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Rolf Furuli r.j.furuli at
Thu Jan 24 05:40:38 EST 2002

Dear Jonathan,

As to the concept "monotheism" it depends on what you mean. In 2. 
Corinthians 4:4 (New Testament) we read about "the god (QEOS) of this age" 
who is identified as Satan. The writer and his audience believed in the 
*existence* of many  gods, but they did not worship them; so these 
Christians neither advocated polytheism or henotheism. To abandon 
monotheism one must, as I understand the concept, both believe in and 
worship more than one god.

I find exactly the same situation in the Pentateuch. The commandment 
against )E:LOHIM )A:XERIM in Exodus 20:2 implies that other (living) gods 
existed, but it need not necessarily imply polytheism. In Deutronomy 32:17 
and Psalm 106:36,37 the writers tell that behind the carved images were 
living gods, the $EDIM. We find exactly the same thought in 1 Corinthians 
8:5,6 and 10:20 where the Greek equivalent DAIMONIOIS is found.

I am not aware of a single passage in the Pentateuch where the writer 
writes in favor of polytheism or henotheism (even though angels are called 
"gods" both in the Tanach and in the NT (Psalm 8:6- Hebrews 2:7, Psalm 
97:7; 138:1), or where he himself implies that he has abandoned monotheism 
and in reality is a polytheist.

I believe that one of the most important sides of the Shema of Deuteronomy 
6:4 is that it is directed against polytheism , because the most natural 
translation of YHWH )E:LOHENU YHWH )EXFD is not. "YHWH our God is one." but 
rather "YHWH our God is one YHWH:" The expression "one YHWH" can be 
directed against Ba`al Peor, Ba`al Berit, YHWH Shomron, YHWH Tema etc. So 
the writer wants to stress: There is just one YHWH for us.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>In view of all the studies on ANE suzerainty treaties, does anyone still
>seriously claim that the Ten Commandments are monotheistic?
>Jonathan D. Safren
>Dept. of Biblical Studies
>Beit Berl College

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