Saturday, April 25, 2015

Youngblood: Israelite monotheism not the result of a "process of evolution"

I’ve been getting ready for teaching another Old Testament Survey class this summer by reading a new assigned book, Ronald Youngblood’s The Heart of the Old Testament, Second Edition (Baker Academic, 1971, 1998).  Youngblood traces various OT themes, including monotheism, sovereignty, election, covenant, theocracy, law, sacrifice, faith, and redemption.

I was struck by his discussion of monotheism in the OT.  He notes that modern historical-critical and comparative religion scholars have tended to see monotheism as “a product of evolution.”  So, there was a “process of evolution” in the religion of Israel from primitive animism (belief in spirits in natural objects), to polytheism (belief in many gods), to henotheism (also called monolatry, belief in one superior god among many gods), and, finally, to monotheism (belief in one true God).

Youngblood, however, responds:

But it simply cannot be shown that there is a universal tendency of the part of polytheistic religions to gradually reduce the number of deities until finally arriving at only one deity.  Indeed, in some instances such a religion may even add more deities as its adherents become aware of more and more natural phenomena to deify.  At any rate the Old Testament teaches that monotheism, far from being evolved through the centuries of Israel’s history, is one of the inspired insights revealed to the covenant people by the one true God himself (p. 11).

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