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Re: Ch. 6 - From Polytheism to Monolatry
This is not a short book, and it is rather densely packed. There is another thing about it that I think may have irritated stahrwe, but which I don't put a negative spin on. Wright is quite scrupulous about exploring all possible positions, weighing evidence for each, sometimes admitting that the picture is murky and so the final answer must remain tentative at best. He uses the views of biblical scholars, but he won't take them as authoritative considering the scantiness of evidence that is going to exist for these historical periods. He can make your head spin a bit and he tests the reader's patience at times. I found that to be true for this chapter, but again I have to give Wright credit for carefulness, judiciousness, and impressive management of a welter of possible interpretations. I think that if readers out there need to cut back in the interest of saving time, the detail in this chapter is not that essential to understanding Wright's plotline.
The shift from polytheism to monolatry (worshiping only one god while admitting the existence of others) was a shift from Israelite polytheism to worship of Yahweh alone as the official state religion of Israel. This is a different picture than what the writers of the bible wanted to convey when they spoke of polytheism, which was a lapsing of Israelites away from their already established monotheism to a foreign-influenced god worship.
The shift was driven mostly by, Wright concludes, Israel's rejection of internationalism and the liberal attitude that stance implied toward the gods of other states. The Yahweh-alone movement was a nationalist movement that naturally consolidated religious belief in the major god of Israel, Yahweh, and in particular in the Yahweh of Jerusalem (there having been Yahwehs connected to other specific places). It was Israel's unique position as a small state bordering much larger states that made it so prone to foreign influence and open to the threat of foreign domination. This engendered a defensive reaction, a labeling of things foreign as evil, including of course foreign gods. Wright points to these "facts on the ground" as the reason for the movement toward monotheism.
But in his usual fashion, he gives a nod to the contrasting general theory for the change, that theological belief itself drove the transition. He declares, however, that his bias in the book is that politics, economics, and demographics have a bigger role in causing theological change.
At the end, he addresses the problem of monotheism and intolerance (even though monotheism hasn't arrived in Israel quite yet), and finds it easy to explain. Well, maybe instead of summarizing him I could leave the question open for anyone to respond to. Does monotheism produce "belligerent intolerance?" (p.162).
_________________ No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
Last edited by DWill on Tue Sep 14, 2010 8:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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