First commandment - suggestion of polytheism?

I was glancing at the ten commandments the other day in front of the local city offices and it occured to me that it says “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” not “Thou shalt have ho other gods.” This to me suggested that there is an acceptance of other gods, just that they are in, at best, second place.

So it is that I bring this here.

Henotheism, not polytheism, but yeah, it was a tacit acknowledgement that other gods existed.

there are actually lots of references in the bible to “many gods”

of particular interest may be

apparently, the image of “the gods”, not “A god”

explicitly acknowledges that there are other gods, but that they aren’t as good.

Actually now that I’m thinking about this, I read a book once called the History of God that explained that originally the Hebrews didn’t think that Yahweh was the “only” god, merely the most powerful. the explanation, I believe, centered around the belief that most Gods only had sway in a certain geographic area, or over a certain type of element, and that this new, more powerful God who favored the Hebrew people had control everywhere AND over everything, and all he wanted in return was the same sort of worship you’d normally accord a God and a covenant not to worship the lesser gods, a pretty good rate of return, one would think

I’ve also heard a theory that this was the Father speaking to the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Correct - this is spelled out in one of the Old Testament books, though I can’t remember which. There was a series of battles between the Hebrews/Israelites and a neighboring tribe or country. The Hebrews won the first battle, which took place in the mountains (I think). So the other army said, roughly, “We lost because their god is a god of the mountains. Let’s attack them on the plain, where our god has dominion!” So they attacked the Hebrews on the plain, and got whupped again. Actually, I guess that was from the perspective of the other people, not the Hebrews, though it doesn’t surprise me that the Hebrews may have thought the same way.

Apparently is right. The text does not say that God is plural—it says “let us make man in our image.” It simply indicates that God was not alone during the creation of man. The context of the bible indicates that the creation of the angels, and Jesus Christ (in his pre-human form) pre-dated the creation of Adam and Eve. Further, Jesus is shown to be God’s “master worker”, the “firstborn of all creation” and present during th creation of man. That Jesus and the angels were made “in God’s image” is hardly a revelation (pun intended) given that man was also. It is entirely reasonable to infer that Jesus Christ was firmly established as God’s son, and master worker, for millions of years perhaps, before man was created. This fact, and the reality that the creation of angels predated Adam, simply suggests that God utilized the assistance of his son (too made in God’s image) for the creation of man. At any rate, this text does not indicate that God is plural unless you put words in the author’s mouth that he simply did not say.

Uh, no. The gods indicated in the bible are always depicted as man-made—and powerless. The Sovereign Lord Jehovah is exclusively credited with the creation of the universe, the angels, the earth and it’s environment, humans and the list goes on. Because men were/are willing to craft a god doesn’t mean that they are legitimate. So it isn’t simply a matter of “not as good”, as if the God of the Israelites was simply ‘better’ or ‘stronger’. Rather, they were seen as invalid, frauds, and man-made creations without sentience.

Is this consistent with the bible record as to how the Israelites viewed Jehovah God?

No, it is not.

TV Time:

In a sense. The Jewish understanding of idolatry is not that the powers worshipped by other peoples didn’t exist at all, but that they are not the ultimate power, they have no power independently of the capabilities G-d built into them, like any other creature. Idolatry is the worship of the natural or supernatural forces that G-d created in the world to perform certain functions, and the second (as Jews reckon them) commandment tells Jews not to worship such intermediaries, but to worship only G-d himself, directly.

Incorrect. Please cite the account for us.

But you’ve basically answered this already. It is not a minor distinction that the other army/nation believed that numerous [sentient] gods existed—and that their god might prevail in different terrain.

It’s another thing entirely to say that the Jews (Hebrews) believed it as well. The Jews acknowledged the existence of other gods—to the extent they recognized that these gods were a source of veneration. Here too, they were seen as frauds; man made creations without power. They viewed their God as The Only True God.

The book of Psalms describes a man who takes some wood and uses it to start a fire to warm himself and cook some food. The rest he uses to form an image that he bows down to as a god. The foolishness of this is clear. The texts conclude by saying anyone doing this will end up just like this god—lifeless.

Elijah (iirc, and will cite if asked) challenged the worshippers of Baal to produce him, and went so far as to mock him—saying he was perhaps busy in the bathroom.

The Israelites recognized that other gods existed, but not gods that had an objective existence and power outside of the pagan belief system that gave them the semblance of life.

but the angels were in many beastial forms as well: I suppose that the counter-argument is that he was talking to the human-shaped ones

Erm, I’m not putting words in anybody’s mouth. In fact, you’re the one assuming that God was speaking to an unnamed cohort, unless you have a cite to show that God was speaking specifically to human shaped angels and Jesus.

seems to refute that…
and Joshua

(as well as the following passages) never seem to indicate that these are not actually “Gods”, merely not the God these particular people (the isrealites) are worshipping)


Umm… surely it’s a tacit acknowledgement that people worshipped other gods, not that those gods existed? A nice, but significant distinction.

Like I said, I don’t recall precisely where the account appears. I want to say it’s in Joshua someplace, but I’m not sure.

I understand this. I must have been thinking of something else, like the very early pre-Moses Hebrews.

No, they originally believed that other gods existed. All the archaeological evidence shows that the Israelites didn’t become truly monotheistic until fairly late in the game. Their religious practices grew first out of Canaanite beliefs (from the same pantheon), then became henothestic (oher gods exist but our god’s better), then strictly monotheistic. In pre-exhilic times, Yahweh even had a girlfriend goddess named Asherah. There are woodens statues and inscriptions identifying Asherah as Yahweh’s consort.

There’s a theory that Yahweh was originally not worshipped alone, but together with two or three goddess-wives. From Chapter 1 of the novel King Jesus, by Robert Graves (London: Cassell & Company, 1946):

Don’t know if anyone but Graves ever subscribed to this, but I’m sure he didn’t just make up all those names.

I think this is correct. As far as I can remember, nowhere in the Bible is any other god said to actually do anything (unless Satan in the book of Job counts as a “god”). Which doesn’t necessarily mean that the people at the time didn’t believe they were real.

A modern interpretation of this commandment that I’ve seen frequently is that, if you’re a believer, God is supposed to come first. If your ultimate allegience is to money, or a totalitarian state, or another human being, or your own appetites, or whatever, then that’s your god “before Me,” and you’re breaking that commandment.

This interpretation probably isn’t what it meant to the Israelites, but it is at least suggested by Jesus’s statement that “you cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

I always thought Exodus 7:10-13 showed other gods doing something.

It never actually says that another god did it, but where else would they get magical powers?


Found it.

BTW, does anybody know where Graves got this? I can find nothing about it here or here.

Huh? That doesn’t say anything about God “divorcing” any goddesses.

I know, that’s just Graves’ interpretation. And “obscene” it is indeed!

Maybe they were the B.C. version of David Copperfield?

are you sure you aren’t referencing the same passages I’m talking about?

Joshua 24 involves the covenant between Yahweh and the Jewish people. In particular, that Yahweh is jealous, and that worshipping other Gods would piss him off. Nowhere in that entire passage are these Gods refer to as false, powerless, or otherwise non-existent, merely that they shouldn’t be serving these other Gods, as they are now making a covenant to serve ONLY Yahweh, in return for his favor all over the earth.

The concept of a “false” god doesn’t appear until Jeremiah, the early writings all seem to indicate the idea of true monotheism hadn’t even occurred to the early Israelites