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The Origins of Biblical MonotheismIsrael's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts$
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Mark S. Smith

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195134803

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/019513480X.001.0001

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The Emergence of Monotheistic Rhetoric in Ancient Judah

The Emergence of Monotheistic Rhetoric in Ancient Judah

Chapter:
(p.149) 8 The Emergence of Monotheistic Rhetoric in Ancient Judah
Source:
The Origins of Biblical Monotheism
Author(s):

Mark S. Smith (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/019513480X.003.0009

Monotheism is addressed in the context of the polytheisms of ancient Ugarit and early Israel. Within the Bible, monotheism is not a separate stage of religion in ancient Israel, as it is customarily regarded. It was in fact a kind of ancient rhetoric reinforcing Israel’s exclusive relationship with its deity. Monotheism is a kind of inner community discourse using the language of Yahweh’s exceptional divine status over and in all reality (“there are no other deities but me”) in order to absolutize Yahweh’s claim on Israel and to express Israel’s ultimate fidelity to Yahweh in a world where political boundaries or institutions no longer offered sufficiently intelligible lines of religious identity. In its political and social reduction in the world (first because of the rise of foreign empires in the seventh century, followed by its exile in 587–538 ), Israel elevated the terms of its understanding of its deity’s mastery of the world. Put summarily: Israel was now no nation, but the gods of other nations, including the greatest powers, were not really gods; and Yahweh was the sole force over both.

Keywords:   ancient Israel, Judah, emergence of monotheism, Israelite exile, Israelite monotheism, Israelite polytheism, monotheism, polytheism, religious history, Ugaritic polytheism, Yahweh

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