Henotheism (Greek Polytonic|εἷς θεός "heis theos" "one god") is a term coined by
Max Müller, to mean devotion to a single godwhile accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities. [Müller, Max. (1878) "Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion: As Illustrated by the Religions of India." London:Longmans, Green and Co.] Müller made the term central to his criticism of Western theological and religious exceptionalism (relative to Eastern religions), focusing on a cultural dogmawhich held "monotheism" to be both fundamentally "well-defined" and inherently "superior" to differing conceptions of God.
Variations on the term have been inclusive monotheism and monarchical polytheism, designed to differentiate differing forms of the phenomenon. Related terms are
monolatrismand kathenotheism, which are typically understood as sub-types of henotheism. The latter term is an extension of "henotheism", from Polytonic|καθ' ἕνα θεόν ("kath' hena theon") —"one god at a time". Henotheism is similar but less exclusive than monolatrybecause a monolator worships only one god, while the henotheist may worship any within the pantheon, depending on circumstances. In some belief systems, the choice of the supreme deity within a henotheistic framework may be determined by cultural, geographical, historical or political reasons.
Henotheism in various religions
While Greek and Roman religion began as
polytheism, during the Classical period, under the influence of philosophy, differing conceptions emerged. Often Zeus(or Jupiter) was considered the supreme, all-powerful and all-knowing, king and father of the Olympian gods. According to Maijastina Kahlos "monotheism was pervasive in the educated circles in Late Antiquity"Maijastina Kahlos, "Debate and Dialogue: Christian and Pagan Cultures C. 360-430", Ashgate Publishing, 2007, p.145; p.160] Maximus Tyrius( 2nd centuryA.D.), stated::"In such a mighty contest, sedition and discord, you will see one according law and assertion in all the earth, that there is one god, the king and father of all things, and many gods, sons of god, ruling together with him." [ Encyclopedia Britannia, 11th edition, Maximus Tryius.]
The Neoplatonist philosopher
Plotinustaught that above the gods of traditional belief was "The One" and Maximus of Madauros even stated that only a mad person would deny the existence of a single God.
Hinduismis mostly monistic, or in some instances monotheistic, see Hindu views on monotheism. The concept of Brahmanimplies a "transcendent and immanent" reality, [ Brahman] which different schools of thought variously interpret as personal, impersonal or transpersonal. With the rise of Shaivismand Vaishnavismin the early centuries CE, Hinduism can largely be considered monotheistic, although the monism of Advaita school following Adi Shankara(see Smartism), is generally viewed as 'inclusive' monotheism. [Smartas worship 5 deities - Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Surya, Devi, Ganesha.] [Smarta Hinduism, a contemporary “soft polytheistic” (technically,“inclusive monotheistic”) religion, recognizes thousands of gods and goddesses, each representing one characteristic of a supreme Absolute called “Brahman. [http://www.pilambda.org/horizons/v84-3/v84-3.pdf Educational Horizons] ] The Devas of the historical Vedic religionare usually confused with demigods or angels, but they are better described as "celestial gods" or deities representing personification of supernatural forces within material nature. [http://books.google.com/books?id=IhLN2I9yTTkC The True History and the Religion of India: A Concise Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism] ] The Rigvedawas the basis for Max Müller's description of henotheism in the sense of a polytheistic tradition striving towards a formulation of The One (" ekam") Divinity aimed at by the worship of different cosmic principles. From this mix of monism, monotheism and naturalist polytheism Max Müller decided to name the early Vedic religion henotheistic. A prime example of the monistic aspects of the late Rigveda is the Nasadiya sukta, a hymn describing creation: "That One breathed by itself without breath, other than it there has been nothing."
Many Christians believe in a pantheon of
angels, demons, and/or Saints that are inferior to the Trinity. Christians do not label these beings as gods per se, although they are sometimes the object of prayerand some signs of honor. Mainline Christian churches which permit prayer to saints, however, insist that such prayer is only proper when limited to asking for the angelor saint's intercessionto God. [ [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08070a.htm Catholic Encyclopedia: Intercession] ] They are adamant that saints possess no powers of their own, and any miracleable to be attributed to their intercessionis the product of the power of Godand not any supernatural power of the saint. Were there to be any aspect of worship toward these angelic or saintly figures, then the matter would reflect polytheism, rather than henotheism, monolatry, or monotheism. This stance and use of the acknowledgment of other heavenly beings (Saints, most often) during prayer is primarily practiced in traditional Catholicism, whereas the vast majority of Protestantdenominations hold God as being the only appropriate object of worship.
Such practices could be construed, however, as acts reflecting monolatrism rather than henotheism, and it is thusly important to note that, within a religious belief system, the acknowledgement of angels, saints, or any other spiritual entities does not immediately imply their worship nor their worthiness of receiving worship. [ [http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blrel_theism_heno.htm Varieties of Theism: What are Henotheism and Monolatry?]
When Christianity was adopted by Greco-Roman pagans or African slaves, the new converts often attributed to these saints features of their previous polytheistic figures. In some cases, these beliefs have developed out of the Catholic Church and form
syncretisms like Santeria. These beliefs are somewhat similar to modern Hinduismwhich distinguishes between God in the form of Vishnuor Shiva, and devas which are subordinate to God and who supervise forces of nature such as Agni(i.e., fire) or Vayu(i.e., wind).
non-trinitarianChristian denominations have also been labeled henotheistic:
Gnosticismis generally henotheistic.
* Although most
Latter Day Saintsadamantly label themselves as monotheists, somewho lay claim to henotheism.Fact|date=August 2008 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints(colloquially known as the LDS Church or Mormon church) considers the members of the Christian Godhead as three distinct beings, where God the Fatheris supreme, yet all three beings are defined collectively as "God". Though not mentioned in canonical scripture, somewho Latter-day Saintsinfer the possible existence of other gods and goddesses outside of our God's realm. However, they are neither known nor acknowledged, nor do they have any relevance to this Earth or humanity ("see" Godhead (Mormonism)). Another supposition not discussed in canonical scripture is the concept of a Heavenly Mother.
Latter-day Saints worship one god, which belief is most easily described as worshiping God the Father through the conduit of the Son, Jesus Christ. Whereas other Christians speak of "One God in Three Persons", LDS scripture speaks instead of three persons in one god. See the
Book of Mormon's sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Mosiah|chapter=15|verse=4 ("they are one God"), and LDS interpretation of John 17:11 [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/john/17/11#11] ] (Jesus asks the Father in prayer that his disciples "may be one, "as we are").
Jehovah's Witnessesare viewed as henotheistic because they worship the god Jehovah while viewing Jesus, Satan and angels as lesser gods. Satan in particular is referred to as "god of this system of things", that is, the invisible spirit having control over governments and other institutions of the secular and religious world, a position he has held since Adam and Eve's defection in Eden, with its implicit change of allegiance from God (Jehovah) to Satan. Jesus is referenced as sitting at the right hand of God, assisting in all acts of Creation aside from his own, hence his status as "only begotten" (cf. John 1:14, 18). It should be noted that no "god" aside from Jehovah is an appropriate object of worship for Jehovah's Witnesses. Jesus alone is accepted as an intercessor between God and man, but even he is not worshiped as such. Thus, the belief system may more appropriately be described as monolatristic rather than henotheistic, though both appellations would likely be disputed by adherents.
Canaanite and Israelite beliefs
It is generally uncontroversial that many of the Iron Age religions found in the
land of Israelwere henotheistic in practice. For example, the Moabites worshipped the god Chemosh, the Edomites, Qaus, both of whom were part of the greater Canaanite pantheon, headed by the chief god, El. The Canaanite pantheon consisted of El and Asherat as the chief deities, with 70 sons who were said to rule over each of the nations of the earth. These sons were each worshiped within a specific region. K. L. Noll states that "the Bible preserves a tradition that Yahweh used to 'live' in the south, in the land of Edom" and that the original god of Israel was El Shaddai.K. L. Noll, "Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction", Continuum, 2002, p.123]
Several Biblical stories allude to the belief that the Canaanite gods all existed and possessed the most power in the lands that worshiped them or in their sacred objects; their power was real and could be invoked by the people who patronised them. There are numerous accounts of surrounding nations of Israel showing fear or reverence for the Israelite God despite their continued polytheistic practices. [David Bridger, Samuel Wolk et al, "The New Jewish Encyclopedia", Behrman House, 1976, pp.326-7] For instance, in 1 Samuel 4, the
Philistinesfret before the second battle of Aphek when they learn that the Israelites are bearing the Ark of the Covenant, and therefore Yahweh, into battle. In 2 Kings 5, the Aramean general Naamaninsists on transporting Israelite soil back with him to Syria in the belief that only then will Yahweh have the power to heal him. The Israelites were forbidden to worship other deities, but according to some interpretations of the Bible, they were not fully monotheistic before the Babylonian Captivity. Mark S. Smith refers to this stage as a form of monolatry.Mark S. Smith, "The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel", Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, pp.58, 183] Smith argues that Yahweh underwent a process of merging with Eland that acceptance of cults of Asherahwas common in the period of the Judges. 2 Kings 3:27 has been interpreted as describing a human sacrifice in Moab that led the invading Israelite army to fear the power of Chemosh.Gregory A. Boyd, "God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict", InterVarsity Press, 1997, p.118]
According to the Five Books of Moses,
Abrahamis revered as the one who overcame the idol worship of his family and surrounding people by recognizing the Hebrew God and establishing a covenant with him and creating the foundation of what has been called by scholars " Ethical Monotheism". The first of the Ten Commandmentscan be interpreted to forbid the Children of Israel from worshiping any other god but the one true God who had revealed himself at Mount Sinai and given them the Torah, however it can also be read as henotheistic, since it states that they should have "no other gods before me." The commandment itself does not affirm or deny the existence of other deities "per se". Nevertheless, as recorded in the Tanakh("Old Testament" Bible), in defiance of the Torah's teachings, the patron god YHWH was frequently worshipped in conjunction with other gods such as Baal, Asherah, and El. Over time, this tribal god may have assumed all the appellations of the other gods in the eyes of the people. The destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalemand the exile to Babylon was considered a divine reprimand and punishment for the mistaken worship of other deities. By the end of the Babylonian captivityof Judah in the Tanakh, Judaism is strictly monotheistic. There are nonetheless seeming elements of "polytheism" in certain biblical books, such as God's reference to himself as "us" in Genesis1:26 and 3:22, in Daniel's frequent use of the honorific "God of gods" and especially in the Psalms. Jewish scholars were aware of this, and expressed the opinion that although the verse can be understood wrongly, God was not afraid to write it in the Torah. However, the word "God" in Hebrew ("Elohim") is also a plural, meaning "powerful ones" or "rulers". This is true in Hebrew as well as other related Canaanite languages. So "Elohim" could refer to any number of "rulers", such as angels, false gods (as defined by Torah), or even human holders of power including rulers or judges within Israel, as described in Exodus21:6; 22:8-8, without violating the parameters of monotheism. Some scholars believe that Exodus3:13-15 describes the moment when YHWH first tells Mosesthat he is the same god as El, the supreme being. This could be the recounting, in mythical form, of Israel's conversion to monotheism.
Henotheism and monolatry
Henotheism is closely related to the theistic concept of
Monolatry, which is also the worship of one god among many. The primary difference between the two is that Henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise, while Monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist. Henotheism thus supposes to know less about divine matters, and Monolatry more. [ [http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blrel_theism_heno.htm Varieties of Theism: What are Henotheism and Monolatry? ] ]
* [http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blrel_theism_heno.htm What are Henotheism and Monolatry?]
* [http://www.sofiatopia.org/equiaeon/henotheism.htm On Henotheism]
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