#213…science, RELIGION, ETC.: “Isms, Olatries, and Gods”


Take, for example,




an uncommon word that can open your mind of confuse you further…


For more use the DOOR.




    We claim, among others things, that we enjoy “words” and language. Here’s a series of religious words you may find informative. We won’t be heavy-handed, or too detailed, in defining them–you take take your own journey to do that if you feel so inclined.

    One proviso from us, however. We’re steping into a sea of hundreds who’ve investigated (or diddled around) here and there, changing this word and that. When referring to the Judeo/Christian God, we’ll always use the capital “G”; when referring more broadly to “divinities,” which may even include the J/C God, we’ll use “g.”

    Here’s our word list:

    god — a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes.

   polytheism (-ist) — belief that many gods exist.

   monotheism (-ist) — belief that only one god exists.

   monolatrism (-ist) or monolatry (-ist) — the worship of one true god [or God if referring to the J/C god] without excluding the existence of other gods, or claiming that only one god exists.

   henotheism (-ist) — the belief in and worship of a single god [usually not the J/C God] while accepting, and often taking seriously, the possible existence of other gods.

   Atenism (-ist) — A “brief,” odd period during the 1300’s BC when the Egyptians, under a pharaoh named Akhenaten, focused upon worshiping the sun god only, or almost exclusively.

   Why all this here? Certain scholars from 150 years or so until today declare that the Jews of the Old Testament were monolatrists, rather than monotheists because of such expressions even found in the 10 Commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” suggests, they say, that to early Jews other gods were real, and God acknowledges that, but demands they should be farther down the pecking order.

   Books, of course, have been written about all this and what it might imply–not our subject here!

   We will offer one rejoinder to what this might imply theologically [coloring is ours]:

Jeremiah 10:2-5

Thus says the Lord:

“Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity¹.
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols² are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
    and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
    for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
    for they cannot do evil,
    neither is it in them to do good.”

   Scarecrows in a cucumber field would seem to have a limited range of power.


¹ Jer. 10:3  Or vapor or mist.

² Jer. 10:5  Hebrew they.

English Standard Version (ESV) © 2001 Crossway Bibles, div. of Good News Publishers.

Author: John Knapp

2 thoughts on “#213…science, RELIGION, ETC.: “Isms, Olatries, and Gods”

  1. First, you have “henoism” where you clearly mean “henotheism.”

    More importantly, your main assertion here, that the “Jews of the Old Testament” were monotheistic, is severely problematic. It implies that the entire Old Testament, and the millennium of ancient Israelite belief and practice that it depicts, was a monolith. No one argues that a passage like Jer 10:2-5 or (my favorite on the subject) Isa 44:9-22 supports monotheism. But there are two issues with this:

    (1) [less important, and I expect you would admit this] The reason these passages are written at all is because there was idolatry within Israel, so clearly some Israelites were polythestic.

    (2) [more important, and this post suggests against this] All of the blatantly monotheistic texts in the OT come from the latter part of events covered in the text, historically. Jeremish was writing in the 6th century; Isaiah 44 came from the 6th century as well (even if you see this as coming from the “historical Isaiah,” it would be in the later 8th century, well into the period of the monarchy). Older texts strongly suggest monolatry in several places, from the ten commandments to Deut 32 (see esp. vv. 7-12) to many of the more archaic Psalms (see esp. 82–and don’t be misled by the scare quotes that the NIV uses in v. 1 with no justification whatsoever).

    On the whole, your claim here is oversimplistic. The Bible is a complicated text (more accurately, many texts).

    Of course, if you really are referring only to the “Jews” of the OT, maybe this is accurate since “Jewishness” didn’t really become in vogue until the exile. But then you’re only talking about a tiny section of the OT.

    1. Thanks for your careful reading. “Henoism,” though technically correct, is a poor choice in this context, so I have replaced it with your suggested “henotheism.” (My sources for this word on the Internet were weak, misleading, and distracting.)
      With regard to your (2), I’m not sure of what you say about my being “oversimplistic.” Your “The Bible is a complicated text” would be a good Post-it for the lid of Pandora’s box. Stepping back a bit, some of the issue here might be one of semantics (not helped by translation): in particular, the literal and metaphoric use of what is meant by “gods.”

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