[[File:Akhenaten_as_a_Sphinx_(Kestner_Museum).jpg|thumbnail|left|Akhenaten as a Sphinx with the Sun God]]While monotheism is seen as something that
has derived from Judaism, the history of how monotheism became pervasive is complex. Integrating both historical and archaeological data, we find that the rise of monotheism has been influenced by key political events. These political events help transform not just these early monotheistic faiths but also by extension many parts of the world today.
==First Evidence of Monotheism==
The first evidence of monotheism emerges from Egypt in the 14th century
BC (1353-1336 BC) during the reign of Akhenaten.<ref>For information about Akhenaten see: Reeves, Nicholas. 2005. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0500051062/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0500051062&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=677e84cbaa3df8a547a903e9e58c82b0 Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet]''. 1. Aufl. London: Thames & Hudson.</ref> The king was known to have worshiped Aten, the sun disk god (Figure 1). While initially Akhenaten allowed the worship of many gods, as Egyptian kings had always done so, by the 5th year of his reign there was a decisive movement that made the worship of Aten the only recognized cult in the country.
[[File:376px-Statuette_Goddess_Louvre_AO20127.jpg|thumbnail|200px|left|Figurine of Astarte (Asherah) with a horned headdress, Louvre Museum]]
This constituted the first evidence in history of monotheism.<ref>For information about monotheism in this period see: Hoffmeier, James Karl. 2015. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0199792089/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0199792089&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=2ff8db798db59fc236b0c547f0d958ea Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism]''. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.</ref> However, while this represented an innovation, the worship of a single god proved to be highly unpopular with the priestly classes as well as, most likely, the local population. In this period, worship of deities was very specific to given cities and temples. Additionally, these temples had important economic activities to communities. The ban of other gods or the cessation of worship of other gods would have been devastating to local economies and communities.<ref> For information about how temples in cities function during the ancient world see: Kemp, Barry J. 2006. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0415235502/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0415235502&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=68c8626317aaf79a23b9398a4a09701e Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization]''. 2nd ed. London ; New York: Routledge, Pg. 257 .</ref>
Ancient Judaism: Not Very Monotheistic==
In Biblical chronology, we see that the establishment of the state of Israel would constitute the world’s first true monotheistic state. However, the reality is there is no evidence yet that shows monotheism existed or was beyond a limited minority either in Judah or Israel, the two main states of the Jewish people in the Bible.< ref> For information regarding the diversity of gods in ancient Israel and Judah, see: Stavrakopoulou, Francesca, and John Barton, eds. 2010. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0567032167/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0567032167&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c- 20&linkId=a6fddd78b93aaa866baffd50a135f2a0 Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah]''. London ; New York: T & T Clark.</ref> In fact, excavations throughout modern Israel reveal very commonly other gods, in particular Asherah (or Astarte), was worshiped, likely in conjunction with Yahweh, the Jewish god. While the Jewish Yahweh god may have been the main god, it appears other gods were worshiped and accepted by much of the Jewish population. Perhaps one of the starkest indications that monotheism, if it existed at all, would have been limited a very small minority of Jews. During the 8th century BC, archeologists have found evidence that suggests that Yahweh was married or coupled with the goddess Asherah.<ref> For information about this inscription, see: Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 2006. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520250052/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0520250052&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=d016bd8cf492a027e3ef5cd3d600f5b7 Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History]''. 1. paperback print. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, pg. 74.</ref> This indicates that even if Yahweh had supremacy he was not the only god worshiped. In fact, the Bible does seem to suggest this was the case (e.g., the Asherah poles worshiped in the Bible). What is not indicated is the extent of which ancient Judah and Israel, in essence, appeared to be very similar to other contemporary states, which had chief gods (e.g., Ba’al, Marduk, Ashur, etc.) but also worshiped other deities.<ref>For information about other states and how divinity was structured see: Snell, Daniel C. 2011. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/052168336X/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=052168336X&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=8863fbc417e1e248326b0e496a5416b4 Religions of the Ancient Near East]''. New York: Cambridge University Press.</ ref>
==The New Monotheism== [[File:Zeus_Yahweh.jpg|thumbnail|250px|4th Century BC Phoenician coin with a image that possibly represents Yaweh.]] Perhaps more critical to monotheism is not what occurred in the period of Judah and Israel but what happened afterwards. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was sacked, which constituted a major crisis for the Jewish population of Judah.<ref>For a history on the exile of the Jews from Judah see: Lipschitz, Oded, and Joseph Blenkinsopp, eds. 2003. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1575060736/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1575060736&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=843b06a4bf8a1afaa936dace0527238e Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period]’’. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns.</ref> Many elites were taken to Babylon and this began a long period of the Jewish diaspora in places such as Mesopotamia (i.e., Iraq) that lasted until after World War II. We see soon after this period a greater emphasis on Yahweh, while other gods are now depicted in a negative light and Yahweh is mentioned as the only god.<ref>For indication of monotheism during the post-Babylonian exile period and its predecessors see: Schneider, Laurel C. 2008. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0415941911/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0415941911&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=d65b1e1dca811b52f37f6d5cae77a156 Beyond Monotheism: A Theology of Multiplicity]''. London, [England] ; New York: Routledge.</ref> In other words, the theology began to be monotheistic by at least after the period of the exile in Babylon. This could be due to the fact that the main temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem was destroyed, negating any way to properly worship the god. Regardless, what is clear is monotheism only began to obtain greater traction after the destruction of the temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem.
Perhaps also critical to these developments were other religious changes occurring to the Near East from the period of the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC) and later. This period introduces a new god, Ahura Mazda, to the wider Near East. While this may not seem significant, this god began to be associated with the emerging religion of Zoroastrianism.<ref>For information about Zoroastrianism see: Boyce, Mary. 1996. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9004092714/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=9004092714&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=89511a221a1a75eb734672874e72f015 A History of Zoroastrianism]''. 3rd impression, with corrections. Handbuch Der Orientalistik. Erste Abteilung, Der Nahe Und Mittlere Osten, 13. Bd., Religion, 1. Abschnitt, Religionsgeschichte des Alten Orients, Lfg. 2, Heft 2A. Leiden ; New York: E.J. Brill.</ref>
This faith eventually (i.e., this is unclear how this religion develops or when it develops its main tenants) becomes likely the earliest faith which depicts a single good god fighting an evil deity (Angra Mainyu) in a great cosmic struggle affecting the whole world (i.e., a universal faith). Furthermore, this good vs. evil struggle is also depicted in the eventual resurrection of the dead during a judgment day on Earth, where the good go to a type of heaven. What this suggests is that Judaism, or at least very likely Christianity, may have been influenced by Zoroastrianism’s concepts of good vs. evil, as the major tenants that Christianity adopts, such as the concept of God vs. Satan and judgment day, were already present in Zoroastrianism.
What is also telling is that monotheism only appears to emerge during a period when larger states and empires were present. In fact, all religions that we can call monotheistic, or more accurately universal religions (i.e., a religion relevant to all people and not just a population group; e.g., Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Manichaeism) develop at a time of large scale empires where kings were now being called “king of kings” and seen as unifiers of many people.<ref>For the concept of “king of kings” and larger unification of multiple populations during the period of the large empires see: Shayegan, M. Rahim. 2011. ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521766419/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0521766419&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=1f93b445436f466baed1d819eb20554d Arsacids and Sasanians: Political Ideology in Post-Hellenistic and Late Antique Persia]''. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.</ref> In essence, before a single or universal god became the norm, the concept of a universal king or emperor became well established. This likely makes the idea of a single political unity more palatable for multiple population groups. We know universal empires sought to unify people through a common government and other common cultural links, including through the economy.<ref>For information about emerging concepts of universalism in empires see: Cline, Eric H., and Mark W. Graham. 2011. [https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521717809/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0521717809&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=a411bd2ba7d644e44a13cf9065a4430e <i>Ancient Empires: From Mesopotamia to the Rise of Islam</i>]. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.</ref> Therefore, it may not be a surprise that universal empires helped to create philosophies of universal religions and ideas, as the ideas of greater unity between populations had already become well established. On the other hand, during the period when Yahweh, for instance, was the chief god in Judah, we see no evidence that this god was considered the only god and certainly he was only associated with the Jewish people. In essence, the mental constructs of god in the pre-Babylonian exile period (i.e., before the 6th century BC) do not appear to incorporate God as being the only god. The development seems to happen later, perhaps under the presence of empires and/or the desire to transform an existing religion due to changes in political circumstances such as the loss of Jerusalem.
What is clear is monotheism was not something that clearly develops for a long period of time. We can see archaeological and historically that at least through the first half of the first millennium BC polytheism dominated. The later monotheistic faith of Judaism appears to initially be a polytheistic religion. After the influence of empires and the loss of the Judean temple, we begin to see greater transformations toward monotheism. This eventually gives rise to modern monotheistic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Along the way, Zoroastrianism likely played an influential role in these universal faiths.
[[Category:Bronze Age History]]
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