Theologian Within

In order to complete my Master’s Degree, I had the awesome opportunity to write a thesis.  I realize it is not a dissertation or anything, but it was still an opportunity to hone my writing skills by writing a 100 page document while holding onto a cohesive argument.  I also realize that most of you are not interested enough in reading a 100 page academic document such as this, but just in case you’re interested in something like this, you can download it by clicking on the picture.  I’ve included the introduction below.

Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all share one common feature; they all embrace a monotheistic view of the divine world. The belief in the existence of one deity alone is often taken for granted and assumed to have been in existence either for all time, or immediately upon the exclamation of the Shema at the foot of Mount Sinai: “Listen Israel: Yahweh is God, Yahweh alone!” Roland Murphy calls this “instant monotheism” and offers an alternative point of view that suggests rather that the adoption of monotheism as a belief system was a “long historical andMONOTHEISM IN THE OLD TESTAMENT theological development.”[1] Murphy is correct and it is the goal of this study to explore the strategies utilized by the Old Testament writers to implement Yahweh’s will of moving the nation of Israel from a popular acceptance of polytheism/henotheism to a worldview dominated by monotheism.

At the time of the Sinai event, the known world was dominated by an established polytheism.[2] This view concerning the world of the gods was foundational to the ancient Near Eastern worldview. In other words, the world of the divine in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Canaan was inhabited by multiple deities and it was into this world that Israel settled. This polytheistic foundation of Israel’s neighbors implied something far more than one option among many religious possibilities. In truth, there was no other option visible in these nations’ or in Israel’s experience. Polytheism was the only known view regarding the world of the divine.

It is inconceivable for any nation, under these circumstances, to immediately adopt a new religious view. It is more incredible however, to consider such a thing when the nation is one of recently escaped slaves of 400 years who have been wandering in the wilderness for a generation.[3] While it is unclear from biblical material whether Israel ever accepted a full blown form of polytheism, it does appear that they practiced a limited form of it entitled henotheism.[4]

Scripture makes it clear that this was not the desire of Yahweh. Passages such as Deuteronomy 4:35; 4:39; Isaiah 45:5; 45:6; 45:21-22; 46:9; and Joel 2:27 make it clear that besides Yahweh “there is no other god.” The henotheism mentioned above was not to be the final theology that Israel was to affirm.

Downloading the full document by clicking on the picture above.


Notes:

[1] Roland E. Murphy, The Gift of the Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2000), 32.

[2] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. defines polytheism as the “belief in or worship of more than one god.”

[3] During their 400 years in Egypt, the Hebrews may have lived separately from the Egyptians, in the land of Goshen, but Joshua 24 makes it clear that they had adopted pluralistic and polytheistic practices by worshipping foreign gods and even as they prepared to enter the promised land they still had these gods in their midst. “He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel” (NRSV).

[4] Though he disagrees with defining Israel’s religion as henotheism, John Bright quotes the NewStandard Dictionary of the English Language (Funk & Wagnalls, 1955) in defining it as, “the exclusive worship of a tribal-national deity which did not deny the reality of patron deities of other peoples.” A History of Israel (4th ed.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 145.

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