Is the Bible monotheistic or monolatric?

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

As I have stated before, I am a huge fan of the scholarship of Michael Heiser. Michael Heiser’s main area of study is on the notion of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible. Simply put, the Israelite’s saw the gods of other nations as being real entities, not just false idols. For example, see Exodus 15:11:

Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

As Michael Heiser points out, for this verse to be truly meaningful, the gods in question must be real, otherwise it is like comparing Jesus to a Leprechaun, as he says. What set the Israelite’s apart from the other nations however is that Yahweh was the only god worthy of worship. For this reason, Michael Heiser claims that the Bible is in no way polytheistic. I however, strongly disagree with this statement, it seems to me like Ancient Israelite Divine Plurality is almost the textbook definition of monolatry. This issue in no way bothers me, in fact, it actually makes the Bible much more interesting. What do you think?

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(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Those gods were / are real to the people who worship them, just as many of our gods are real today too: money, science, military power, government, pleasure …

These are all real, and even have a place in the world. But when they are elevated to a throne where only God should be, they are false gods. To worship God as better than those things, and to think of those things as mere instruments in God’s hand is a good and proper attitude for any Christian to have. Even though gods like Zeus may not exist as some demiurge out and about creating mischief in the world, this doesn’t mean that such gods weren’t seen as real in the days that scriptures were being written. We still do this today in some sense when one sports team’s mascot is described as crushing the mascot of some rival team. Our ____ triumphs over your ____. So in that day and age of deity contests it was appropriate that the true God should be seen as superior to those. Only in our modern outlook do we hesitate and say “wait a minute – your god doesn’t really exist.” But to them back then, their god very much did exist and they placed their hopes and very lives in altars to those gods hoping to gain favor in battles, harvests, etc. Just like our gods, money, science, education, power, etc. are very real to us; so much so in fact that we don’t even use the language of “a god” because we want to differentiate our objects of worship from those of the past that we now deem to be outmoded. Unlike theirs, our objects of worship are very real, you see … runs our objection, and thus we do ancient zealots proud over all time by merely having repeated their refrain in yet its latest verses.


I don’t think you can say that the Bible itself is monotheistic or monolatric. The Hebrews were called to monotheism but lapsed into worshiping false gods. And one could make a very good case that in Israelite folk religion other gods did exist, but YHWH was the supreme god, the only one to be worshiped. (The Egyptian priests were able to pull off some tricks, and in Genesis 6 we see deities marrying human ladies.)

After the Babylonian captivity the Hebrews certainly were monotheistic. The early Christians were strictly monotheistic also.

(George Brooks) #4


From the context presented by Michael Heiser (via @Reggie_O_Donoghue )

. . . . a likely scenario would be:

A) The City-State empire of Judah, influenced by the Phoenician and Edomite cults, had a mixed religion of Moloch and Ea (associated with Yah when written in the Semtic alphabet) … with a strong possibility of a rivalry between these rival priestly clans.

B) When exiled by Babylon, the whole dynamic changed when the monotheistic Persians stepped into Babylon’s place. The Jewish priests were cultivated and taught by the Persian “magi” … creating a hybridization of the Jerusalem cult - - where a “council of Gods” became angelic beings, supporting a revised impression of who and what Yah represented to the priesthood…

C) These revisions became even more important when the Persians agreed to sponsor a return of the new Priestly school to Jerusalem… if the new religion would be compatible with the Persian view of metaphysics: Angels, Purity, and the End of Days!


What is your evidence for all this? We know that the cults of Baal and Asherah were practiced in Israel.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #6

I find Michael Heiser’s ideas offer interesting solutions to objections given to the Bible by atheists. Namely that other religions such as Zoroastrianism have theological similarities to Christianity because they are inspired by very real divine entities which the Bible acknowledges exist.

(George Brooks) #7

Firstly, I am offering context to the “@Reggie_O_Donoghue / Michael Heiser” scenario. No doubt it differs in details to what Heiser might prefer. And so I do have the avenue of plausible deniability for me - - that this is something I’m explaining rather than endorsing.

But, this is particular interpretation is actually a position that I’ve come to endorse myself, which I underpin with the folllowing:

A. Ezekiel, well in the midst of the Persian hegemony, tells us that Moloch practices exist in Jerusalem. Jeremiah, presumably from before the Exile, also states that Moloch practices exist in Jerusalem. In fact, in terms of ancient literature, the only city that appears to sacrifice more children to “Baal/Lord” than Carthage itself is Jerusalem! Where there is smoke there is fire.

B. The post-Exile books like Daniel and Esther make a very pointed argument that Jewish elite in exile were not just devoted to Yahweh, they had become masters of Persian religion and esoteria themselves.

C. We can see the old Babylonian stories of Enki/Ea being “Judaized” into monotheistic legends in the book of Genesis, when four specific Ea themes are re-told:

  1. Creation of the Cosmos out of the chaos of water (water is Ea’s element);
  2. Enki/Ea creating humanity out of water and dirt;
  3. Enki/Ea saving humanity from extinction by Flood;
  4. Enki/Ea confusing human language.

Judaism also becomes the one other religion where in addition to Monotheism:

  1. we have an End of Days;
  2. we have a messiah (a term actually applied to a Persian King in the Old Testament);
  3. we have extreme purity rules;
  4. we have an afterlife in the sky - - rather than in an underworld.

The Essenes seem to represent a highly Persianized form of devotion, which is criticized at various points in the Old Testament (for example, praying to the rising morning sun, instead of turning around and praying in the direction of the Holy of Holies).

(system) #8

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