Monotheism: A Cross-Cultural Impediment?

nemrutAn Egyptologist, Jan Assmann argues in his 1997 work, “Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism,” that monotheism has been the single most important impediment to cross-cultural translation, communication and understanding, and, for this reason, the single most influential source of negativity and intolerance. According to Assmann, it is only with monotheism that we encounter the phenomenon of a “counter-religion”, by which he means a religious formation that posits a distinction between true and false religion. Before the emergence of monotheism, the boundaries between polytheistic cults were in principle open. Translatability is readily grounded in a general function attributed to divinities whose work in nature shows a correspondence. “The polytheistic religions overcame the primitive ethnocentrism of tribal religions by distinguishing several deities by name, shape and function,” Assmann writes, “the names are of course different (…) But the functions are strikingly similar” [so that] “the sun god of one religion is easily equated to the sun god of another religion. In contrast, monotheism, because revealed and not grounded in nature, erects a rigid boundary between true religion and everything else. Whereas polytheism (…) rendered different cultures mutually transparent and compatible, the new counter-religion blocked inter-cultural translatability. False gods cannot be translated.” (Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

Prof. William G. Dever and Francesca Stavrakopoulou on monotheism.

“To understand Paul, we have to realize that in antiquity, all monotheists were polytheists by our modern definition. Everyone (…) acknowledged the existence of everybody else’s gods. Back then, not only were you born into cultic obligations to the gods of your ethnic group, people showed respect to each other’s gods. The reason for this was twofold. Firstly, this was the language of diplomacy. Secondly, any god was more powerful than any human, so you wanted to avoid getting on the wrong side of any god”

Prof. William G. Dever (Archaeologist, Anthropologist, University of Arizona) says the Torah is a “Minority Report”

Francesca Stavrakopoulou on the Construction of Monotheism

Francesca Stavrakopoulou speaks on how Yahweh became prioritized over and above all other deities, so much so that all the other deities were relegated to lesser roles.

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