Per Bastemhet

Monolatry is not monotheism

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In my last post on monolatry I mentioned I would explore how monolatry is not a monotheism.  I think the information in the last post combined with this information from Wim van den Dungen’s article "On Henotheism."  All quotes are from this article.

Ante-rational henotheism too, rooted in mythical notions and pre-rational pre-concepts, leaves the contradictions between the deities and the inconsistencies of the story-lines intact. There is no effort to elaborate an overarching theology, for the great questions of life are answered from multiple perspectives. The latter are not exclusive, but inclusive and complementary. The "great truth" is a mosaic of different answers, to be called in relative to the geosentimentality of the seeker and his or her point of view.

A notion of "one divine reality" is present, but not operationalized as such (cf. Hornung, 1986, 1999). It is difficult to distinguish ante-rational henotheism from monolatry. Each deity with its story is one representation of the whole by a part. Insofar as the answers given exceed the constituents of this part, other representations are called in. But various "great gods" continue to exist. There is no need to articulate one "grand story", a single tale answering all questions. The need for completeness is not processed by the limbic brain, but in the pre-frontal lobe. Once the provisional nature of the "great god" is eliminated, a mature form of henotheism is possible.

Monolatry would become rational henotheism if its provisional nature of interchangeable Great Gods settles on one only, as the Theban priests attempted in the Late Ramesside Period with Amun-Re:

"Secret of manifestations and sparkling of shape.
Marvellous God, rich in forms.
All Gods boast of Him,
to magnify themselves in His beauty,
to the extent of His Divinity."
Hymns to Amun, Leiden 350 I, chapter 200 – ca.1213 BCE.

Monolatry escapes the “One God” of rational henotheism and monotheism because the One Great God always changes, as mentioned in my last post.  (For a bit of background on the next quote, van den Dungen explored brain science to help explain how we understand mystic experience, and the pre-frontal lobe is the part of the brain that deals with critical thinking and higher brain functions)

The pre-frontal need to totalize all possibilities in one abstract thought is made possible by rational henotheism by accepting the rule that all Deities are epiphanies of the One God. I.e. the variety of Deities is not maintained ontologically, but only in terms of (a) emotional attachment to particular images, story-lines, family-constellations and ritual activities and (b) the operational effects of valid differentiations of the One God.

Monolatry does not have the feature of the One God like rational henotheism and monotheism do, but even those two differ in their conception of a One God, so one must not be mistaken for the other:

Fundamentally, rational henotheism differs with monotheism in terms of the mathematical definition of God. The Divine is not a singleton or finite set with only one number (the Divine = {"1"} = God), but the union of all possibilities (the empty set) and an organized (hierarchical) infinite set (the Divine = {Ø} U {1, 2, 3, 4, …. ∞} = God). In this infinite set of natural numbers, the first number still retains hierarchical firstness, and so the Divine still has "firstness" or "all-encompassing" features, namely insofar as "1" and the presence of "1" in all natural numbers is concerned (all natural numbers being additions of "1"). God is not only "1" (monotheism), but en plus all possible extensions of firstness (henotheism).

The Deities are the case-laws of the statute-law of the One. If we think the Pantheon, we only conceptualize God, but if we approach the One, we only experience the Pantheon. The One God is therefore not experienced directly, and His essence remains ineffable, unknowable and remote (the retained core of truth of monotheism). The apophatic rule of monotheism is maintained, but the catapathic features are transferred to so many expressions of the One. Insofar as the overall architectonic plan goes, God is the Author. But as soon as a particular item or force within that plan is addressed, the Deities spring to the fore. God is the hidden eye, the Deities the visible eye. Henotheism does not foster consistency but coherence. Paradox is not avoided but made efficient, if possible …

So as you can see, monolatry is not monotheism, and they’re actually opposite.  One does not accept the multiplicity of the divine while the other does.  Neither is monolatry a henotheism like the Greeks’ religion because of the provisional/interchangeable nature of the Great God.

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Written by Bastemhet

July 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm

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