Yesterday I suggested that we could read the Old Testament to find out more than just ethics and morality. I suggested that as we read the Old Testament we could actually discover one of the most ancient worldviews in recorded history: the worldview of the Jewish people.
Now, any worldview has to reckon with big questions and fundamental issues. The Jewish worldview begins, ends and has as both its center and circumference its concept of God. And their concept of God stood in stark contrast to other belief systems of the time in the most significant of ways.
The Jewish people believed that there is one God. There may be other supernatural beings — both good and evil — but there is only one God (YHWH), and this God alone is to be worshiped.
This is a huge shift from the commonly accepted wisdom that was around when the Old Testament began to be written. If we take a conservative approach (and — believe it or not — I’m considered theologically conservative by most measures) and say that Moses started writing Genesis during the 40-years of wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus, we can safely assume that the Jews coming out of Egypt may have bought into some of the Egyptian assumption that there was actually a pantheon of gods — several dozen of them — each with specialized abilities and powers — most with limitations and geographical boundaries.
So, they might have been a little surprised to find out that there’s really just one God who had no limits and was not bound to a specific location.
This, to me, is fascinating. Think through this with me. If the Old Testament is accurate, all human beings came from one man and one woman (Adam & Eve). Furthermore, all human beings could trace their lineage back to one man (Noah) and his family (Shem, Ham & Japheth). Even if these names and stories are viewed metaphorically, we can agree that the Old Testament claims all humans come from common stock if you go back far enough, right?
Now, that would mean that at some point in time, everyone believed in the same God, wouldn’t it? That theory is called “original monotheism” — and much has been written about it. The most compelling case is probably provided by Dr. Winfried Corduan. His version of the theory actually states, “[R]eligion began with God himself, who revealed himself to human beings. Consequently, all other religions are deviations from this original starting point” (A Tapestry of Faiths: The Common Threads Between Christianity & World Religions, p. 17).
Okay, that’s the theory, and it makes a lot of sense to me. What I’m wondering is why do you suppose humanity moved from monotheism (the belief that there’s just one God) to polytheism (the belief that there are multiple gods) in the first place? And why do you think it was so important for Moses to establish the oneness of God?