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My New Word for the Day - Mo's Journal
November 1st, 2007
12:31 pm

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My New Word for the Day
Well, the day was yesterday. I'm taking this Jewish Adult Ed class on Wednesdays.

The word is "monolatry" and the concept itself is new to me.

The early Israelites were not monotheists, they were monolatrists. They didn't believe there is only one deity - they believed there were many but they were required to only worship their Guy. As my instructor analogized, it wasn't that they thought there weren't other gods out there, but this was the only one they were allowed to marry.

This has been a Fun Fact to Know and Tell.

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From:rae_1985
Date:November 1st, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
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Early on this was a way to not piss off the Pagans. It also allowed for people to convert or have family members that weren't Jewish. It's a very interesting concept, especially when looked at historically.
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From:mofic
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
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Well, early on I think there wasn't even a concept of monotheism. It developed over time.
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:November 1st, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
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So, when or how do you think the concept of monotheism, specifically in Judaism, developed? I don't know much about any of this. I'm guessing that there might not be any pinpointed time, but was wondering what you know of this progression?

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From:mofic
Date:November 2nd, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)
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I think it did develop over time. My guess would be during the period of the development of the Talmud. I'll tell you next semester when we study that period whether I was right :-). But it's clear that in the period of writing and codifying the bible that it's just not there. The deity described is always enjoining on the people to worship G-d alone and not all those other gods, but there's no suggestion of the reason being "because I'm real and they aren't." That's a later idea.

Also as candrawest points out, there is a bit of a pantheon in the bible, or at least there's mention of other heavenly beings.

The idea of monotheism is *so* central to Judaism, but of course the ancient Israelites weren't Jews in any sense we'd understand now. One thing a guy at my shul said in a dvar a year or so ago really struck me - he said that Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism were two religions that both grew out of Temple Judaism. I think that's true. We tend to think of ourselves as continuing in a religion and Christianity branched off, but really the whole Israelite experience of religion disappeared with the temple...
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:November 2nd, 2007 04:45 am (UTC)
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Hmmm... interesting. Ok, if you have time and energy, post whatever you learn! I'm fascinated by this stuff, but don't really know much about it, factually.

Also somewhat on this topic, I've never understood why any god would be a jealous god, as God is mentioned to be numerous times in the Bible. At least I recall this. I asked why this would be in a few Sunday school classes (Christian ones, though) and the answer I'd get was always something like "Well, we think it's a mis-translation".


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From:mofic
Date:November 2nd, 2007 11:01 am (UTC)
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Ok, if you have time and energy, post whatever you learn!

LOL! It's a pretty intense class - 3 hours of instruction and reading a book or two a week. But I'll keep posting Fun Facts to Know and Tell from it.

What did the Sunday School teachers think the right translation was?
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:November 2nd, 2007 12:44 pm (UTC)
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Erm, not sure. I think that "incaurate translation" explanation is used when they don't know what else to say or whenever it didn't fit in with that church's specific doctrine.
From:thelastgoodname
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
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Suddenly, the commandment about having no other gods before God makes a lot more sense.
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From:mofic
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
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Yes! Exactly. And also all that stuff about being a "jealous G-d."
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From:candrawest
Date:November 1st, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
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I never knew the word for it, but I knew the concept. At least one of our many churches in my childhood taught this. My understanding is that many of the Biblical rules that seem somewhat random now, like not wearing clothes of mixed materials and not trimming the corners of the beard (it's been a long time so feel free to correct me on these), existed because those things were characteristic of worshipers of other gods. So the Israelites were not to have the appearance (or the practice) of worshiping some other god.

I also arrived at that conclusion myself before hearing it (though not fully developed) when I re-read Genesis after reading Madeline L'Engle's Many Waters. I'd never taken much notice of the nephilim (or giants) mentioned in Genesis 6 until they showed up in that book. Genesis 6:4 is usually rendered "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown," or very similar. However, the footnotes say it could be read as sons of gods, which certainly fits in better with the image of god presented by the rest of the Bible.
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From:mofic
Date:November 2nd, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
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My understanding is that many of the Biblical rules that seem somewhat random now, like not wearing clothes of mixed materials and not trimming the corners of the beard (it's been a long time so feel free to correct me on these), existed because those things were characteristic of worshipers of other gods. So the Israelites were not to have the appearance (or the practice) of worshiping some other god.

That's a theory that's used sometimes to explain "hukim" - laws where no reason is given. But in the actual practices they do not jibe with what's known of the people around them. It is clear that they felt a need to set themselves apart, to define who is "Us" and who is "Them" and did it in a few ways.

That nephilim bit is so intriguing, I think. Every time I read it I feel like there was a whole story there but it got redacted. It sort of makes me want to write biblical fanfic :-).
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:November 2nd, 2007 04:46 am (UTC)
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Oh wow... you should SO write a biblical fanfic. I'd be very interest in that!
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From:candrawest
Date:November 2nd, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
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Ah, didn't know that. My Biblical studies ended several years ago when I gave up attending church and since then I have given up religion and all of the Bibles I owned as well. Obviously the people who told me what I said weren't huge on the veracity of information.
(Deleted comment)
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From:mofic
Date:November 2nd, 2007 12:54 am (UTC)
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Fun, eh? Hey, maybe some of your monarchists are monolatrous. Oh oh oh and if they believe in monogamy, too, they could be monogamous monolatrous monarchists. But not in a monolithic way :-).
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From:libgirl
Date:November 2nd, 2007 03:27 am (UTC)
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Ooo. I like that word. And, I like the concept. :) Thanks for sharing.
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From:mofic
Date:November 2nd, 2007 10:59 am (UTC)
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I live to serve.
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:November 2nd, 2007 03:29 am (UTC)
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"Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism were two religions that both grew out of Temple Judaism."

Hmmm, interesting. In a torah discussion group, a couple of people brought up the theory that there were originally many gods, and God was specifically the one for the Israelites. But I hadn't realized it was actually solid history. How nice to know -- and how fascinating to think that contemporary Jews (except for certain ones who fully plan to rebuild the temple and start up priests and sacrifices again) are actually a different religion than our forebears.

Monolatry. What's the root "latry" and how is it different than "theist?" I've only run into idolatry before, so this was indeed a fun fact to hear and pass on.
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From:mofic
Date:November 2nd, 2007 10:59 am (UTC)
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According to my dictionary, the "latry" ending is from Greek - latroeia, meaning service or worship. That's interesting to me, because the word "avodah" in Hebrew also means both those things.

I think "theos" is Greek for god. In general, the "theist" or "theism" suffix means belief in a god or gods - as in atheism, monotheism, polytheism and even just theism as a word.

A good book on the development of monotheism that takes a multi-religious view is Karen Armstrong's A History of God.

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