Monolatrism or monolatry (Greek: μόνος (monos), single, and λατρεία (latreia), worship) is defined as "the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity." In contrast to monotheism, monolatry accepts the existence of other gods; in contrast to henotheism, it regards only one god as worthy of worship.
Many religions acknowledge the existence of various gods and/or spirits who do God’s will, which, strictly speaking, makes them more monolatarus than monotheist. However, monolatry is not the same thing as henotheism, which is "the belief in and worship of one God without at the same time denying that others can with equal truth worship different gods." The primary difference between the two is that monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist, while henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise.
In contrast to the widely held assumption that Judaism has always been a monotheistic religion, many recognized scholars have formulated a substantial case for ancient Israel's practice of monolatry. For instance, John McKenzie states that in the ancient Near East, "the existence of divine beings was universally accepted without questions. As for unicity, in Israel there is no clear and unambiguous denial of the existence of gods other than Yahweh before Deutero-Isaiah in the sixth century B.C.E.… The question was not whether there is only one elohim, but whether there is any elohim like Yahweh." This viewpoint is echoed in the work of Raymond F. Collins who notes that the "exclusivity of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel is an important element in Israel’s oldest religious tradition. However, it is not necessary to ascribe the present formulation of the commandment ["you shall have no other gods before me"] to a very early stage of the tradition, nor is it advantageous to interpret the commandment as if it inculcated monotheism. The commandment technically enjoins monolatry, but it can be understood within a henotheistic religious system." "The Deuteronomic Code imposes at the least a strict monolatry."
John Day writes, "As absolute monotheism took over from monolatry in Israel, those who had originally been in the pantheon of the gods were demoted to the status of angels."
Some scholars claim the Torah (Pentateuch) shows evidence of monolatrism in some passages. This argument is normally based on references to other gods, such as the "gods of the Egyptians" in the Book of Exodus.
The first of the Ten Commandments has been interpreted as monolatry; Exodus 20:3 reads "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
There is even a passage in the Psalms, verse 86:8 that reads "Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works."
However, passages of monolatrism in Hebrew scripture could merely also be rhetorical devices, not an assumption of the existence of other gods. In an ancient world full of faiths and gods, the need to differentiate Hebraic monotheism from the background may explain passages suggestive of monolatrism.
All links retrieved November 14, 2014.
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