The Hebrews were not monotheistic prior to 440 BC

I try to read each comment fully when it is written, but often I don’t have time to respond in depth.

Before I got too far behind, I wanted to correct a misconception, even though it will probably lead to a huge debate.

A medieval otaku wrote:

The thing about revelation is that it must always be gradual. Human beings hate change and are very subject to misunderstanding. Imagine if God had revealed that He was a Trinity to the Israelites at the very beginning. The Israelites might have said to themselves: “Hey, we worship a plurality of gods just like everyone else!” (Muslims accuse Christians of the same thing nowadays.) Instead, God, through steady revelation, made the Hebrews move from first the understanding that He was the God of the Hebrews, then that He was better than the other gods, next that He was the only true God of all people, then that He had a sole begotten Son, then that there was a Holy Spirit which was His Spirit, and lastly that He was Three Persons in one God–Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This process took from 2000 BC (Abraham) to its full clarification in 325 AD (the Council of Nicea). And even then, the Arian heretics contested the doctrine for a long time afterwards! To have revealed the full nature of God to the Hebrews while they still wandered the desert would have been too much for them to handle.

The Hebrews did not invent ethical monotheism. In fact, they didn’t even invent monotheism. The Hebrews were not monotheistic until 440 BC, when somebody – probably Ezra – rewrote an assortment of pre-existing stories into the core of the Old Testament.

I guess it’s time to go back to a source I haven’t reviewed for many years – namely Friedman’s Who Wrote The Bible?

It will take me a while to go through this book. But it should clear up some historical disputes.

It might not clear up the relevant disputes, but it should force me to specify my premises, if nothing more.



  1. medievalotaku · May 22, 2014

    I’d have to agree that the Hebrews were not monotheists until later in their history. There is a term which means “a religion which recognizes a plurality of gods, but claims that its god is better than the rest.” I think that’s where the Hebrews started. Zoroaster came up with a more definite monotheism before hand, but the Hebrews were not too far behind in perfecting their knowledge of God. By ancient standards, two hundred years is not too long.

    That looks like a great book. I’ll have to read it!


    • gaikokumaniakku · May 23, 2014

      I think you are thinking of “henotheism.”

      the worship of a particular god, as by a family or tribe, without disbelieving in the existence of others.
      ascription of supreme divine attributes to whichever one of several gods is addressed at the time.


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