Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Jonathan D. Safren yon_saf at
Thu Jan 24 12:27:30 EST 2002

Dear Rolf,
Your monotheistic interpretation of the "Shema" is one I can subscribe to.
Note also the monotheistic statements in Deut. 4 "You have been shown to
know that YHWH is God..there is no other but Him" , "And you shall know
today, and you shall put it into your heart, that YHWH our God...there is
none besides him".
Note the similar statements in Is. 44. In both passages, there is a clear
denial of the existence of other gods, thus leading to the definition of
monotheism as the worship of one God, denying the existence of other gods.

Henotheism, on the other hand, is the worship of one God, without denying
the existence of other gods. This  is evident in the Ten Commandments, both
in Exodus 20 and Deut. 5: "I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt
from the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides me." Here
there is no nullification of the existence of other gods, but a prohibition
of worshipping them.

In the past, much was made of Akhenaton's religion and its possible
influence on the Israelites.But the religion of Akhenaton was lacking the
idea of the divine suzerain, who makes a treaty - i.e., covenant - with his
human vassals.One of the major stipulations of every ANE suzerainty treaty,
after the self-presentation of the suzerain with all his titles, and the
history of his relationship with the vassal, is the demand for absolute
loyality to him, the suzerain. Does any other ANE religion involve such a

The only possibility I can see for the origins of such an idea, if it is not
purely Israelite, is the worship of Baal Berith in Shechem, where, according
to Josh. 24, the Israelites made a covenant with YHWH.


Jonathan D. Safren
Dept. of Biblical Studies
Beit Berl College

----- Original Message -----
From: "Rolf Furuli" <r.j.furuli at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2002 12:40 PM
Subject: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

> 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."
> 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.
> Regards
> Rolf
> 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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