Friday, March 18, 2005

Henotheism

One of the central narrative arcs in the story cycle of the novels is the movement from polytheism, to henotheism, to monotheism. Most people recognize the first and last terms, but "henotheism" is not nearly as familiar.

So what the heck is it?

Henotheism is the belief that there is one god for a particular people or tribe, without disbelieving in other gods for other peoples. Moses, contrary to popular opinion, was a henotheist, not a monotheist. He did not disbelief in the gods of Egypt -- he said only that they were not for the Hebrews, who were to worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone. That's why the Egyptian priests are able to transform their staffs into serpents. It was a show of the power of their gods. But Yahweh is stronger, and the transformed staff of Moses devours the other two, "proving" that the god of the Hebrews is stronger than the gods of Egypt. A lesson the Pharaoh ignores to his ruin.

In the second novel, The Words of Making, a henotheistic religion arises that greatly alarms the king and the priesthood because of its popularity with the common folk. The men who are in power see the religion of the One God as a subversive force that must be contained or destroyed. The problem for the king is that his son, Gerin, has become a follower of the new religion, since he has come to believe that the divine presence who has appeared to him several times is a messenger of this new god....

1 comment:

Saguaro Dreamer said...

I never heard the term "henothteism" before. Thank you for the brilliantly simple explanation, David. I've always had a vague notion that Moses, Elijah, Jonah and the rest of them would not be allowed to teach Sunday School in any of the "by-the-book" churches. Now I know why. Those mighty men of old did not treat other gods as figments of heathens' imagination, but as real supernatural beings. Furthermore, they didn't necessarily believe Yahweh to be superior to the other deities - just that he is "right" for the Hebrews. The crux of the Hebraic henotheism seems to be the belief that a Hebrew man calling on the name of Yahweh (a "Hebrew" proprietary god) will defeat a non-Hebrew man calling on any other god. Or at least that's my train of thought right now. Thanks, your post has truly been food for thought and grist for the mill.