In theology, monotheism (from Greek μόνος "only" and θεός "god") is the belief that only one deity exists. The concept of "monotheism" tends to be dominated by the concept of God in the Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the Platonic concept of God as put forward by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Less known religions, such the Bahá'í Faith, Rastafarianism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism are also monotheistic.
Whereas monotheism is a self-description of religions subsumed under this term, there is no equivalent self-description for polytheist religions: monotheism asserts itself by opposing polytheism, while polytheism does not use the same argumentative device, as it includes a concept of divine unity despite worshipping a plethora of gods. By the same token, monotheistic religions may still include concepts of a plurality of the divine, for example the Trinity, in which God is one being in three personal dimensions (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Additionally, most Christians believe Jesus to have two natures (divine and human), each possessing the full attributes of that nature, without mixture or intermingling of those attributes. Although Christian theology reserves worship for the Divine, the distinction between worshipping the divine nature of Jesus but not the human nature of Jesus can be difficult for non-Christians (and even Christian laity) to follow.
Christians of a catholic tradition venerate the Saints among them Mary as human beings that had remarkable qualities, have lived their faith in God to the extreme and continue to assist in the process of salvation for others.
The concept sees a gradual development out of notions of henotheism and monolatrism. In the Ancient Near East, each city had a local patron deity, such as Shamash at Larsa or Sin at Ur. The first claims of global supremacy of a specific God date to the Late Bronze Age, with Akhenaten's Great Hymn to the Aten (connected to Judaism by Sigmund Freud in his Moses and Monotheism), and, depending on dating issues, Zoroaster's Gathas to Ahura Mazda. Currents of monism or monotheism emerge in Vedic India in the same period, with e.g. the Nasadiya Sukta. Philosophical monotheism and the associated concept of absolute good and evil emerges in Classical Antiquity, notably with Plato (c.f. Euthyphro dilemma), elaborated into the idea of The One in Neoplatonism, later culminating in the doctrines of Christology in Early Christianity and finally (by the 7th century) in the radical tawhid in Islam.
Austrian anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt in the 1910s postulated an Urmonotheismus, "original" or "primitive monotheism", a thesis now widely rejected in comparative religion but still occasionally defended in creationist circles.
On the surface, monotheism is in contrast with polytheism, which is the worship of several deities. Polytheism is however reconcilable with Inclusive monotheism, which claims that all deities are just different names or forms for the single God. This approach is common in Hinduism, e.g. in Smartism. Exclusive monotheism, on the other hand, actively opposes polytheism. Monotheism is often contrasted with theistic dualism (ditheism). However, in dualistic theologies as that of Gnosticism, the two deities are not of equal rank, and the role of the Gnostic demiurge is closer to that of Satan in Christian theology than that of a diarch on equal terms with God (who is represented in pantheistic fashion, as Pleroma).
Other issues such as Divine Right of Kings may possibly also stem from pharaonic laws on the ruler being the demigod or representative of the Creator on Earth. The massive tombs in the Egyptian pyramids which aligned with astronomical observations, perhaps exemplify this relationship between the pharaoh and the heavens.
In Zoroaster's revelation, Ahura Mazda is a transcendental and universal God, the one uncreated Creator (standard appellation) and to whom all worship is ultimately directed. However, Zoroaster also perceives Mazda to be wholly good, and that his creation is wholly good. In conflict with creation is anti-creation, evident in the created world as decay and disorder. Since anti-creation is purely destructive it cannot have been created (otherwise it would self-destruct) and hence must - like the Creator himself - be uncreated.
In the Gathas, Zoroaster does not acknowledge any divinity other than Ahura Mazda. However, the hymns of Indo-Iranian religious tradition (of which the Gathas are a part) are always addressed to a specific divinity and those closely associated with him, and in this sense the Gathas are not (necessarily) a denial of the other divinities, but the exaltation of a specific one. Although not mentioned by name (in the Gathas, Ahura Mazda is itself an epithet, not yet a proper name), Zoroaster implicitly acknowledges the existence of other Ahuras "Lords", as in "thou who art the mightiest Ahura and the Wise (Mazda) One" (Yasna 33.11). In addition to these lords that are "worthy of worship" (yazata), Zoroaster also refers to the daevas as the 'wrong' gods, or 'false' gods, or gods 'that should not be worshipped' and whose followers are to be brought onto the path of righteousness. In later Zoroastrian tradition, the daevas are demons, but this is not yet evident in the prophet's own poetry.
Zoroastrianism is thus monotheistic inasfar as all worship is ultimately directed to Ahura Mazda. However, unlike Zurvanite Zoroastrianism, neither revealed nor present-day Zoroastrianism is monist. At no time did Zoroastrianism preclude the existence or worship of other divinities, which are today considered to be aspects or evidence of creation and hence of the Creator. The invocation of divinities besides Ahura Mazda is however common practice in Zoroastrian tradition, and is not necessarily either a sign of henotheism (the one extreme interpretation) or the worship of pure abstractions (the other extreme): In the past it was common for an individual, household or clan to adopt a patron divinity and although several attempts have been made to define ancient Zoroastrianism on the evidence of such adoptions - for instance, in inscriptions or in theophoric names - these are inherently unsuitable for that purpose.
The major source of monotheism in the modern Western World is the narrative of the Hebrew Bible, the source of Judaism, which was created from the 13th century BCE to the 4th century BCE. Judaism may have received influences from various non-biblical religions present in Egypt and Syria. This can be seen by the Torah's reference to Egyptian culture in Genesis and the story of Moses, as well as the mention of Hittite and Hurrian cultures of Syria in the Genesis story of Abraham.
In traditional Jewish thought, which provided the basis of the Christian and Islamic religions, monotheism was regarded as its most basic belief. Judaism and Islam have traditionally attempted to interpret scripture as exclusively monotheistic whilst Christianity diverted to a more complex form of tripartite monotheism, as a result of considering the Holy Spirit to be a part of God, and attributing divinity to Jesus, a Judean Jew, in the first century AD, defining him as the son of God. Thus, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
There are interpretations of the biblical text which hold that in the early Mosaic era, the possibility of other gods is left an open question, although by this stage Israel claims that their God is greater (Ex 18:11). Traditional views differ on this point. This same subtle shift is shown in 2 Chr 2:5, and could indicate that Israel understood that the God they recognized was God alone, and other gods were therefore false. This would be Monotheism in the proper sense of the word. By the time of the prophet Isaiah, Monotheism is solidly and explicitly accepted. “Thus says the , the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” (Is 44:6) Thus, the development of the people of Israel to a true Monotheism, appears to be a gradual process, with the exception of Gen 1:1 - which thus casts substantial doubt on the legitimacy of that hypothesis. It is into this context that Christianity emerges, and thus Christianity was from the outset Monotheistic. (John 1:1)
A strictly literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 4:39 excludes the possibility of henotheism. The verse states: "Know this day, and take it to heart, that the is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is none else." If one were to view that Deuteronomy is a late addition to the Five Books of Moses, this would reflect the later adoption of monotheism. However, if Deuteronomy is taken to be part of the original text, as it generally is among those who use it as scripture, this would indicate that the monotheistic concept existed from the time the Torah was composed.
In the west, the Hebrew Bible has been the primary source describing how and when Monotheism was introduced into the Middle East and the west. As believed by followers of some of the Abrahamic religions, it teaches that when Abraham discovered God (Genesis 12:1-9 ; 13:14-18 ; 15 18 ; and 22 ), he thus became the world's first Monotheist. According to these, until then, in ancient history all cultures believed in a variety of multiple deities such as in idolatry, forces and creatures of nature as in animism, or in celestial bodies as in astrology, but did not know the one and only true God.
However, the Hebrew Bible teaches that, at Creation, Adam and Eve knew God (and so did their descendants) but that over the ages, God and his name were forgotten. This is how one of the most important Jewish sages, Maimonides describes the process in his work the Mishneh Torah:
There has historically been disagreement between the Hasidic Jews and the Mitnagdim Jews on various Jewish philosophical issues surrounding certain concepts of monotheism. A similar situation of differing views is seen in modern times among Dor Daim, students of the Rambam, segments of Lithuanian Jewry, and portions of the Modern Orthodox world toward Jewish communities that are more thoroughly influenced by Lurianic Kabbalistic teachings such as Hasidism and large segments of the Sepharadi and Mizrahi communities. This dispute is likely rooted in the differences between what are popularly referred to as the "philosophically inclined" sources and the "kabbalistic sources;" the "philosophic sources" include such Rabbis as Saadia Gaon, Rabenu Bahya ibn Paquda, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Maimonides. The "kabbalistic sources" include Rabbis such as Nahmanides, Bahya ben Asher, Rabbi Yitzhak Saggi Nehor, and Azriel. The Vilna Gaon is usually granted great respect in modern times by those who side with both views; by the more kabbalistic segments of Judaism he is regarded as a great kabbalist; those who take the other side of the issue regard him as a strict advocate of the people of Israel's historical monotheism.
Judaism's earliest history, beliefs, laws, and practices are preserved and taught in the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) which provides a clear textual source for the rise and development of what is named Judaism's ethical monotheism which means that:
When Moses returned with the Ten Commandments, the second of those stated that "you shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3), right after the first, which affirmed the existence of God. Furthermore, Israelites recite the Shema Yisrael ("Hear O' Israel") which partly says, "Hear, O' Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Monotheism was and is the central tenet of the Israelite and the Jewish religion.
|Hebrew||שמע ישראל יי אלהנו יי אחד|
|Common transliteration||Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad|
|English||Hear, O Israel! The is our God! The is One!|
The literal word meanings are roughly as follows:
In this case, Elohim is used in the plural as a form of respect and not polytheism.
Gen.1:26 And Elohim said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Elohim is morphologically plural in form in Hebrew, but generally takes singular agreement when it refers to the God of Israel (so the verb meaning "said" in this verse is vayyomer ויאמר with singular inflection, and not vayyomru ויאמרו with plural inflection), and yet in this case the "our" and "us" seems to create a presumption of plurality, though it may just be God talking to angels and not another god.
Judaism, however, insists that the " is One," as in the Shema, and at least two interpretations exist to explain the Torah's use of the plural form. The first is that the plural form "Elohim" is analogous to the royal plural as used in English. The second is that, in order to set an example for human kings, Elohim consulted with his court (the angels, just created) before making a major decision (creating man).
The First Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea in Bithynia (in present-day Turkey), convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325, was the first ecumenical conference of bishops of the Christian Church, and most significantly resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent 'general (ecumenical) councils of Bishops' (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy— the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom.
The purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements in the Church of Alexandria over the nature of Jesus in relationship to the Father; in particular, whether Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father or merely of similar substance. St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius took the first position; the popular presbyter Arius, from whom the term Arian controversy comes, took the second. The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250-318 attendees, all but 2 voted against Arius).
Christian orthodox traditions (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical) follow this decision, which was codified in 381 and reached its full development through the work of the Cappadocian Fathers. They consider God to be a triune entity, called the Trinity, comprised of the three "Persons" God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the three of this unity are described as being "of the same substance" (ὁμοούσιος). The true nature of an infinite God, however, is beyond definition, and "the word 'person' is but an imperfect expression of the idea. In common parlance it denotes a separate rational and moral individual, possessed of self-consciousness, and conscious of his identity amid all changes. Experience teaches that where you have a person, you also have a distinct individual essence. Every person is a distinct and separate individual, in whom human nature is individualized. But in God there are no three individuals alongside of, and separate from, one another, but only personal self distinctions within the Divine essence, which is not only generically, but also numerically, one.
Some critics contend that the Trinity originated in the Pagan Celtic tradition, in which many gods and goddesses were tripartite, and that its incorporation into Christianity is a corruption of the original doctrines, similar to the adoption of many Pagan gods and goddesses such as Brigid as Christian Saints. Other critics contend that because of the adoption of a tripartite conception of deity, Christianity is actually a form of Tritheism or Polytheism. This concept dates from the teachings of the Alexandrian Church, which claimed that Jesus, having appeared later in the Bible than his "Father," had to be a secondary, lesser, and therefore "distinct" God. This controversy led to the convention of the Nicean council in 325 CE. While this might be the case in various unorthodox (non-Nicene) instances, Christianity is popularly misunderstood as Tripartite monotheism. For Jews and Muslims, the idea of God as a trinity is heretical - it is considered akin to polytheism. Christians overwhelmingly assert that monotheism is central to the Christian faith, as the very Nicene Creed (among others) which gives the orthodox Christian definition of the Trinity does begin with: "I believe in one God".
Some Christian groups eschew orthodox theology, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, followers of Mormonism, Oneness Pentecostals, the Unitarians, Christadelphians, Church of God General Conference (Abrahamic Faith), Socinian and some of the Radical Reformers (Anabaptists), do not teach the doctrine of the Trinity at all. The Rastafarians, like many Christians, hold that God is both a unity and a trinity, in their case God being Haile Selassie.
The holy book of Islam, the Qur'an, asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being who is independent of the creation. The indivisibility of God implies the indivisibility of God's (called Allah in Arabic) sovereignty which in turn leads to the conception of universe as a just and coherent moral universe rather than an existential and moral chaos (as in polytheism). Similarly the Qur'an rejects the binary modes of thinking such as the idea of duality of God by arguing that both good and evil generate from God's creative act and that the evil forces have no power to create anything. God in Islam is a universal God rather than a local, tribal or parochial one; an absolute who integrates all affirmative values and brooks no evil.
Tawhid constitutes the foremost article of the Muslim profession. To attribute divinity to a created entity is the only unpardonable sin mentioned in the Qur'an. Muslims believe that the entirety of the Islamic teaching rests on the principle of Tawhid (Oneness of God ).
Bahá'ís believe that although people have different concepts of God and his nature, and call him by different names, everyone is speaking of the same entity. God is taught to be a personal God in that God is conscious of his creation and has a mind, will and purpose. At the same time the Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully understand him or to create a complete and accurate image of him. Bahá'u'lláh teaches that human knowledge of God is limited to those attributes and qualities which are understandable to us, and thus direct knowledge about the essence of God is not possible. Bahá'ís believe, thus, that through daily prayer, meditation, and study of revealed text they can grow closer to God. The obligatory prayers in the Bahá'í Faith involve explicit monotheistic testimony.
In Hinduism, views are broad and range from monism, pantheism to panentheism - alternatively called monistic theism by some scholars - to monotheism (also see Hindu denominations). Rather than entirely in keeping with essential monotheism, Hinduism claims to possess the religious truth of monism. There exist many different Hindu sects devoted to different avatars, it is understood that each is really either Vishnu or Shiva. Furthermore, the Brahma Samhita states that Vishnu is like milk and Shiva is yogurt. Several other personal forms of God are elaborated in the Puranas as divine descents, aspects, incarnations, or manifestations of Brahman, the transcendent and immanent reality. All Upanishads teach that there is a supreme Absolute Reality, Brahman - the Infinite One, including all that is manifest and unmanifest.
Into deep darkness fall those who follow the immanent. Into deeper darkness fall those who follow the transcendent. He who knows the transcendent and the immanent, with the immanent overcomes death, and with the transcendent reaches immortality. (Shukla Yajur Veda, Isha Upanishad 12-14)
The four major sects of modern Hinduism - Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism, all believe in one God but differ in their conceptions. Smartas, who follow the Advaita philosophy of absolute monism, venerate various personal forms of God as merely multiple manifestations of the same divinity, Brahman. Absolute monists see one unity in all there is, with all conceptions and names of personal deities as no more than different aspects of the Supreme Being, like a single beam of light separated into colors by a prism. Some of the Smarta aspects of God include Devi, Vishnu, Ganesha, and Shiva. It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West. Smartas are followers of Advaita who can select an "Ishta-devata" (the chosen personal deity) to be worshiped. In contrast with Smarta/Advaita, this is not the case with other predomninant sects such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, which follow an established singular concept of God, as panentheistic monistic monotheism.
Vaishnavism is one of the earliest implicit manifestations of monotheism in the traditions of Vedas. Svayam Bhagavan is a Sanskrit term for the original deity of the Supreme God worshiped across many traditions of the Vaishnavism, the monotheistic absolute deity. This term is often applied to Krishna in some branches of Vaishnavism.
All Hindu scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita) ultimately stress the oneness of the Absolute Reality and describe God as the Eternal Truth that is unborn, immortal, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Many scholars interpret verses as either pantheistic monism (like in Advaita) or panentheistic monism (all other schools of thought). Pramana or epistemological dialectics are put forth by various philosophical schools of Hinduism with their views on monism and God's omnipresence.
The Rig Veda, the very first book, discusses monotheistic thought. So does Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda.
"The One Truth, sages know by many names" (Rig Veda 1.164.46)
"When at first the unborn sprung into being, He won His own dominion beyond which nothing higher has been in existence" (Atharva Veda 10.7.31)
"There is none to compare with Him. There is no parallel to Him, whose glory, verily, is great." (Yajur Veda 32.3)
The number of auspicious qualities of God are countless, with the following six qualities being the most important:
The Nyaya school of Hinduism has made several arguments regarding a monotheistic view. The Naiyanikas have given an argument that such a God can only be one. In the Nyaya Kusumanjali, this is discussed against the proposition of the Mimamsa school that let us assume there were many demigods (devas) and sages (rishis) in the beginning, who wrote the Vedas and created the world. Nyaya says that:
[If they assume such] omniscient beings, those endowed with the various superhuman faculties of assuming infinitesimal size, and so on, and capable of creating everything, then we reply that the law of parsimony bids us assume only one such, namely Him, the adorable Lord. There can be no confidence in a non-eternal and non-omniscient being, and hence it follows that according to the system which rejects God, the tradition of the Veda is simultaneously overthrown; there is no other way open.In other words, Nyaya says that the polytheist would have to give elaborate proofs for the existence and origin of his several celestial spirits, none of which would be logical. So it is much more logical to assume one, eternal, and omniscient God.
Sikhism is a distinctly Panentheistic faith that rose in northern India during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sikhs believe in one, timeless, omnipresent, supreme creator. The opening verse of the Guru Granth Sahib, known as the Mool Mantra signifies this:
The word "ੴ" is pronounced "Ik ōaṅkār" and is comprised to two parts. The first part is simply: "੧" - This is simply the digit "1" in Gurmukhi signifying the singularity of the creator. Together the word means: "There is only one creator God"
The Sikh holy scriptures refer to the One God who pervades the whole of Space and is the creator of all beings in the whole Universe. The following quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib highlights this point:
The Sikhs believe that God has many names - but they call God VāhiGurū. The word Guru means teacher in Sanskrit Similarly, the name Hari, Raam, Allah, Paarbrahm, Krsna which are names of God are frequently mentioned in the Sikh holy scriptures. The same god of the Muslims, Hindus, etc is known as the Akal Purakh (which means 'the true immortal', i.e God) or Waheguru, the primal being.
It is also stated in Guru Granth Sahib ji that:
Awal Allah Noor Upaya, Kudrat kae sab bandey ek noor tae sabh jag upjaya, kaun bhaley kaun mandeyWhich means that from that god we all are created nobody is above or beneath anyone.
Monday Books : Historical Take on Bible; the Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past by Thomas L. Thompson Pimlico
Apr 02, 2001; Byline: DAPHNE ABERNETHY This is the study of how the Bible fits into history - the way in which it deals with the past, the...