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Monotheism

Monotheism

Author: Ted Fairchild
Description:

This lesson discusses and broadly defines monotheism within the context of the three major "Western" faith of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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Tutorial

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Hello. Welcome back, in the study of religions, there are many references to monotheism and the monotheistic tradition. At the same time, this usually refers to the three Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, there are other traditions that would technically be grouped under monotheism but are not in the Abrahamic tradition. Some examples of these would be African tribes like Maasai in East Africa and the Himba people of Namibia.

For this tutorial, we're going to introduce the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions through our key term. As with many concepts in the study of religions, it's very helpful to use etymology, the study of word roots, to get a deeper insight into the meaning. So our English word "monotheism" comes from two Greek words--"mono," meaning one, and "theos," meaning god. So it means the belief that only one god exists.

Before the emergence of YHWH, the unspeakable name for the one God of Judaism and Christianity and Islam, the tribes of Canaan in Mesopotamia had many gods. It is believed that eventually the deal was struck between the god El and the people that lived in and around Mesopotamia and Canaan. In exchange for security and protection from other tribes, the Canaanites agreed to worship no other gods but El.

At some point in the second millennium before the common era, it is believed that a covenant or agreement was made between Abraham and Yahweh, the pronunciation of YHWH, which is called a tetragrammaton, and Abraham sets off for the promised land of Canaan.

In the book of Genesis it says, "To your offspring I will give this land." The book of Genesis is in the Torah. It's also called the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. And thus begins the Abrahamic journey all the way through Christianity and Islam.

Throughout the Judaic tradition, Yahweh is called by many names, however, this doesn't conflict with the radical monotheism or the strict monotheism that is characteristic of this first tradition. Some of the names for Yahweh include Elohim, Jehovah, Hashem and Adonai.

Tradition states it is forbidden to pronounce the tetragrammaton YHWH, written in biblical Hebrew, which does not use any vowels. These other names appear often in the subsequent books of the Torah and are used in prayer for different names at different times for different prayers.

In the order of the three Abrahamic religions, Christianity comes next historically. The relationship between all these faiths is very complex. There's a weaving of similarities and differences. One thing that Judaism and Islam have in common, however, is that they both follow a very strict monotheism when compared to the Trinitarian monotheism of Christianity.

Among Christians in general there is the belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, which has to do with God manifesting Himself in the three divine persons called hypostases-- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This in no way compromises His unity and role as the single God of the faith, however.

Because of this, some Muslims and Jews don't agree that Christianity can be technically called a monotheistic religion. Islam and Judaism also both deny the resurrection of Jesus. And of course Judaism regarded Him as a false prophet while Islam generally considers Him a true prophet, but that His message became corrupted.

And although Judaism and Islam share a strict monotheism, Islam calls God by the highest name, Allah, which is unique to the Islamic faith.

So now we can review. Monotheism simply means the belief that there is one God. We looked at the etymology of it. And we saw that it applies not only to the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also to some of the African tribes.

We pointed out some the similarities and differences between the three Abrahamic faiths. And we noted there are different protocols for using the name of God in different contexts among the different religions.

And perhaps the most notable distinction among Christianity is the idea of three divine persons of God and how its form of monotheism is considered a Trinitarian monotheism, which is quite distinct from Islam and Judaism.

Notes on “Monotheism”

Terms to Know 

Monotheism

The belief that only one god exists.