|Monotheism can be defined as the belief in and worship of only one God. Although some early scholars of religion believed that monotheism may have been the earliest form of religion, it now seems certain that monotheism evolved gradually over a number of centuries. Generally, it is considered that monotheism originated in ancient Israel.|
|A form of religion that may have preceded monotheism in ancient Israel is henotheism. Henotheism can be defined as the recognition of many different gods, but the worship of only one God. In other words, one may acknowledge the existence of many gods, but worship one god exclusively.|
|Undoubtedly, there were many pivotal events in the
emergence of monotheism. Judaism, Christianity and Islam
consider Abraham to have played an important role in
rejecting the worship of idols and many gods in favor of worship of
only one God. Later, the law that was given to Moses set forth the
notion that the God of Israel alone was to be worshipped: "You shall
have no other gods before me." Notice that in both cases, there is
not an explicit denial of the existence of other deities. It
is clear, however, that both the Abraham and Moses traditions demand
the exclusive worship of one God.
The major event in the emergence of monotheism in Israel was the Exile. In 586 BCE, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took most if its political and religious leadership into exile in Babylon. This loss of the temple, the priesthood and the land of Israel forced the Israelites to rethink the nature of God and the question of other gods. What emerged by the end of the exile was the revolutionary notion that only one God exists. Moreover, this one God is not limited to one specific place, but was the creator and ruler of the entire universe.
The monotheism that was articulated during the Exile became the foundational principle for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Generally, monotheism extends beyond the belief in one God to specific beliefs about the nature of that God. These include the belief that God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing). In addition, God is believed to the self-existent (not created) creator who continues to sustain and be active in the created order. As such, God is incomparable and cannot be equated to any image or representation. Finally, the monotheistic faiths believe in an ethical monotheism: that is, God is good, beneficent and just.