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.
Examples of Monolatrism
In ancient Israel
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.
- "The Apostle Paul indicated that although there are gods many and lords many, to Christians there is but one god (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6). This appears to be a proclamation of monolatry rather than monotheism."
- "Jews at the time of Jesus were not monotheists, that is, only believed in the existence of one god, but where instead involved in monolatry, that is, the worship of one god. The distinction is important. In many places, the Bible tacitly acknowledges the existence of more than one deity, but does not sanction the worship of more than one god."
- Frank E. Eakin, Jr., The Religion and Culture of Israel (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1971, OCLC 161710), 70.
- Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1979), 351.
- Eakin, 70, 263
- John McKenzie, "Aspects of Old Testament Thought" in Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990, ISBN 0136149340), 1287, S.v. 77:17.
- Raymond F. Collins, "Ten Commandments," in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, six volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992, ISBN 0385193513), 6:385.
- John J. Scullion, "God (OT)," in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, six volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992, ISBN 0385193513), 2:1042.
- John Day, "Canaan, Religion of," in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, six volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992, ISBN 0385193513), 1:835.
- Martin S. Tanner, A Review of Melodie Moench Charles' "Book of Mormon Christology," in Brent Medcalfe’s New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1993, ISBN 1560850175).
- Martin S. Tanner, A Review of Melodie Moench Charles' "Book of Mormon Christology," in Brent Medcalfe’s New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1993, ISBN 1560850175), 24-25.
- Cust, Robert Needham. Essay on the common features which appear in all forms of religious belief. London: Luzac, 1895.
- Dever, William G. Did God Have A Wife? Archaeology And Folk Religion In Ancient Israel. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005. ISBN 978-0802828521
- Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd ed. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 978-0802839725
- Smith, Mark S. The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. Oxford University Press, USA; New Ed edition, 2003. ISBN 978-0195167689
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