Polytheism in the Abrahamic Religions

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have polytheistic origins. Many of these ideas continue to exist to the present day and new polytheistic ideas have been introduced. Abrahamic religions typically claim to be monotheistic but many beliefs are inherently polytheistic. These include:

Belief in several divine entities is polytheism, and doesn't necessarily depend on the entities being worshiped.

"When polytheism is superseded by monotheism, the host of deities is either abolished (theoretically) or bedevilled (i.e., turned into demons), or downgraded to the rank of angels and ministering spirits. This means that an officially monotheistic system can harbor a functional de facto polytheism. [1]"

Contents

Polytheistic origins and the Old Testament

Judaism originated in the polytheistic ideas of the time and directly from the Canaanite religion that originated before 1200 BCE. [2] Christianity adopted the Torah/Old Testament and with it the polytheistic baggage of the Canaanite religion.

According to the documentary hypothesis, the Torah/Old Testament was mainly authored by anonymous writers Jahwist (J) and Elohist (E). They imagined Yahweh as anthropomorphic and one amongst many gods.

"Let us make mankind in our image"

— Genesis 1:26

"Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?"

Exodus 15:11 Bible-icon.png

"Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them."

Exodus 18:11 Bible-icon.png

"I, Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God"

Exodus 34:14 Bible-icon.png

The polytheistic tendencies of the Israelites can be seen in their construction and worship of a golden calf in Exodus 32 Bible-icon.png. Around 750 BCE, The prophets Isaiah, Amos and Joshua strongly argued for worship of Yahweh alone. With the "discovery" of Deuteronomy in around 622 BCE, the henotheistic character of their religion was formalised. Around the same time, scriptures were revised by Deuteronomist (D) to fit the new approved history of the Israelites.

"You shall have no other gods before me."

Deuteronomy 5:7 Bible-icon.png

The author "second Isaiah" responded to the defeat of Jerusalem by the Babylonians by a stricter adherence to Yahweh. This was the beginning of western monotheism (about 600-500 BCE). The Old Testament is again edited and rewritten by Priestly Source (P) to fit the new narrative.

"I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god."

Isaiah 44:6 Bible-icon.png

This account of the authors J, E, D, P is Wellhausen's formulation of the documentary hypothesis. This hypothesis had academic consensus for much of the 20th century. In the late 20th century, several other competing theories emerged which are more complicated and with differing numbers of sources. Many of these theories subscribe to the polytheistic origin of the Old Testament.

Other instances of polytheism in the Bible include:

Muhammad's Satanic Verses

Muhammad had an early revelation that said polytheism was true. This was probably motivated by political expediency. He later claimed they we inspired by Satan and are therefore referred to as the Satanic verses. They were expunged from the Qur'an. [3] This does raise the question that any other religious revelation might have been inspired by Satan.

Allah predated Islam and was one of the many Gods worshiped in Mecca before Muhammad imposed monotheism in 630 CE.

Modern Christian Polytheism

Modern polytheistic belief in Christianity include the Trinity, angels and Satan.

"Some Christians, many Moslems, most philosophers and almost all non-believers regard the doctrine [of the Trinity] as a thin disguise for polytheism. [4]"
"In Christian mythology, the gods are no less than four, sometimes more. The Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Satan are certainly gods. For whatever the Christian apologist wants to say, these four certainly function as much like individual gods as any Greek gods. The Yahweh figure may be more powerful than the Son, Satan or Holy Ghost, but so too was Zeus or Thor. All move in mysterious ways and while three are allied against one, so too were there alliances among Greek and Norse gods.[5]"

"The theory of three persons in one God (that is, a personal Trinity or Tri-unity) suggests polytheism"

— Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science [6]

Some denominations have polytheistic practices:

References

  1. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, Polytheism, Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. L. Jones.
  2. Evid3nc3, Atheism - A History of God (The Polytheistic Origins of Christianity and Judaism)
  3. [1]
  4. [2]
  5. There are No Monotheistic Religions: Educating Monotheists to Their Polytheist Beliefs, By Darrel W. Ray
  6. [3]

See also

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