The Origins of Monotheism and Universal Religions

The Wall Street Journal has reviewed David Gelernter’s new book, Judaism: A Way of Being.  Along the way, the reviewer claims that “Judaism itself is a wide-ranging book about the beliefs, practices and philosophy of the world’s first monotheistic religion.”

Not really.  Zoroastrianism is usually recognized as the first monotheistic religion, and its roots go all the way back to 1,000 BC or even older.  Moreover, in 1300 BC the Egyptian ruler Akhenaten established a monotheism centered on the sun god Aten.

With respect to Gelernter’s new book on Judaism, his explanation for evil is interesting:

Mr. Gelernter grapples with the baffling existence of evil. He does so by asserting that with the destruction by the Romans of the Second Temple—in 70 A.D.—the era of prophecy ended and God withdrew from history. This is certainly an explanation, though it leaves one with a diminished view of God and the usual mystery of why such a withdrawal should ever happen.

In yesterday’s post, I noted that all city-states in Mesopotamia and elsewhere each had their own pantheon of gods and that the city-states were constantly warring.  These gods were always associated with the rulers, so whenever a city-state was conquered or collapsed (which was often), it caused people to question the efficacy of the gods (they lost faith, in other words).

It was this constant process that eventually led people to seek more stable or single gods, whose divinity would not ebb and flow with the fortunes of city-states.  Universal religions were born from this process.

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