Henotheism (from Greek ἑνός θεός (henos theos), meaning 'one
god') is the worship of a single god while not denying the existence
or possible existence of other deities. Friedrich Schelling
(1775–1854) coined the word, and
Friedrich Welcker (1784–1868)
used it to depict primitive monotheism among ancient Greeks.
Max Müller (1823–1900), a German philologist and orientalist,
brought the term into wider usage in his scholarship on the Indian
Hinduism whose scriptures mention and
praise numerous deities as if they are one ultimate unitary divine
essence. Müller made the term central to his criticism of Western
theological and religious exceptionalism (relative to Eastern
religions), focusing on a cultural dogma which held "monotheism" to be
both fundamentally well-defined and inherently superior to differing
conceptions of God.
1 Definition and terminology
4 Hellenistic religion
5 Canaanite religion and early Judaism
6 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
7 See also
9 External links
Definition and terminology
Friedrich Schelling coined the term henotheism, from heis or heno
which literally means "single, one". The term refers to a
form of theism focused on a single god. Related terms are monolatrism
and kathenotheism. The latter term is an extension of "henotheism",
from καθ' ἕνα θεόν (kath' hena theon), meaning 'one god at
Henotheism refers to a pluralistic theology wherein
different deities are viewed to be of a unitary, equivalent divine
essence. Another term related to henotheism is "equitheism",
referring to the belief that all gods are equal. Further, the term
henotheism does not exclude monism, nondualism or dualism.
Various scholars prefer the term monolatrism to henotheism, to discuss
religions where a single god is central, but the existence or the
position of other gods is not denied. According to Christoph
Elsas, henotheism in modern usage connotes a syncretic stage in the
development of religions in late antiquity. A henotheist may worship a
single god from a pantheon of deities at a given time, depending on
his or her choice, while accepting other deities and concepts of
Henotheism and inclusive monotheism are terms that refer to
a middle position between unlimited polytheism and exclusive
Zoroastrianism and Iranian studies
Ahura Mazda is the supreme god, but
Zoroastrianism does not deny other
Ahura Mazda has yazatas ("good agents") some of which include
Anahita, Sraosha, Mithra, Rashnu, and Tishtrya.
Richard Foltz has put
forth evidence that Iranians of Pre-Islamic era worshiped all these
Mithra and Anahita.
Prods Oktor Skjærvø
Prods Oktor Skjærvø states
Zoroastrianism is henotheistic, and "a
dualistic and polytheistic religion, but with one supreme god, who is
the father of the ordered cosmos". Other scholars state that this
is unclear, because historic texts present a conflicting picture,
ranging from Zoroastrianism's belief in "one god, two gods, or a best
Hindu views on monotheism
Hindu views on monotheism and History of Hinduism
To what is One
They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni,
and he is heavenly-winged Garutman.
To what is One, sages give many a title.
Transl: Klaus Klostermaier
Henotheism was the term used by scholars such as
Max Müller to
describe the theology of Vedic religion. Müller noted that the
hymns of the Rigveda, the oldest scripture of Hinduism, mention many
deities, but praises them successively as the "one ultimate, supreme
God", alternatively as "one supreme Goddess", thereby asserting
that the essence of the deities was unitary (ekam), and the deities
were nothing but pluralistic manifestations of the same concept of the
The Vedic era conceptualization of the divine or the One, states
Jeaneane Fowler, is more abstract than a monotheistic God, it is the
Reality behind and of the phenomenal universe. The Vedic hymns
treat it as "limitless, indescribable, absolute principle", thus the
Vedic divine is something of a panentheism rather than simple
henotheism. In late Vedic era, around the start of Upanishadic age
(~800 BCE), theosophical speculations emerge that develop concepts
which scholars variously call nondualism or monism, as well as forms
of non-theism and pantheism. An example of the questioning
of the concept of God, in addition to henotheistic hymns found
therein, are in later portions of the Rigveda, such as the Nasadiya
Hinduism calls the metaphysical absolute concept as
Brahman, incorporating within it the transcendent and immanent
reality. Different schools of thought interpret
either personal, impersonal or transpersonal. Ishwar Chandra Sharma
describes it as "Absolute Reality, beyond all dualities of existence
and non-existence, light and darkness, and of time, space and
Further information: Hellenistic religion
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" and "all divinities were
interpreted as aspects, particles or epithets of one supreme God".
Maximus Tyrius (2nd century A.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."
Plotinus taught that above the gods of
traditional belief was "The One", and polytheist grammarian
Madauros even stated that only a madman would deny the
existence of the supreme God.
Canaanite religion and early Judaism
Rabbinical Judaism as it developed in
Late Antiquity is emphatically
monotheistic. However, its predecessor—the various schools of
Hellenistic Judaism and Second Temple Judaism, and especially the cult
Yahweh as it was practiced in ancient Israel and Judah during the
8th and 7th centuries BC—have been described as henotheistic.
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
Asherah 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.
Kurt Noll states that "the Bible preserves a
Yahweh used to 'live' in the south, in the land of
Edom" and that the original god of Israel was El Shaddai.
Several Biblical stories[which?] allude to the belief that the
Canaanite gods all existed and were thought[by whom?] to possess the
most power in the lands by the people who worshiped them and their
sacred objects; their power was believed to be real and could be
invoked by the people who patronized them. There are numerous
accounts of surrounding nations of Israel showing
fear or reverence for the Israelite
God despite their continued
polytheistic practices. For instance, in 1 Samuel 4, the
Philistines fret before the second battle of Aphek when they learn
that the Israelites are bearing the Ark of the Covenant, and therefore
Yahweh, into battle. The Israelites were forbidden to worship
other deities, but according to some interpretations[which?] of the
Bible, they were not fully monotheistic before the Babylonian
captivity. Mark S. Smith refers to this stage as a form of
monolatry. Smith argues that
Yahweh underwent a process of merging
with El and that acceptance of cults of
Asherah was 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.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Some scholars have written that The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) can be characterized as henotheistic,
but others have rejected this stance.
Eugene England, a professor at
Brigham Young University, asserted that
Brigham Young and
Joseph Fielding Smith
Joseph Fielding Smith along with LDS
B. H. Roberts
B. H. Roberts used the LDS interpretation of 1 Corinthians
8:5–6 as "a brief explanation of how it is possible to be both a
Christian polytheist (technically a henotheist) and a monotheist".
BYU Professor Roger R. Keller rejected descriptions of the LDS Church
as polytheistic by countering, as summarized by a reviewer, "Mormons
are fundamentally monotheistic because they deal with only one god out
of the many which exist."
In their book, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, Richard and
Joan Ostling, wrote that some Mormons are comfortable describing
themselves as henotheists.
Kurt Widmer, professor at the University of Lethbridge, described LDS
beliefs as a "cosmic henotheism". A review of Widmer's book by
Bruening and Paulsen in the FARMS Review of Books countered that
Widmer's hypothesis was "strongly disconfirmed in light of the total
Van Hale has written, "Mormonism teaches the existence of gods who are
not the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost" and "the existence of more than
one god [is] clearly a Mormon doctrine", but he also said that
defining this belief system in theological terms was troublesome.
Henotheism might appear to be "promising" in describing LDS beliefs,
Hale wrote, but it is ultimately not accurate because henotheism was
intended to describe the worship of a god that was restricted to a
specific geographical area.
Henosis, mystical "oneness", "union", or "unity" in classical Greek
King of the Gods, a tendency for one divinity, usually male, to
^ a b c d e
Monotheism and Polytheism, Encyclopædia Britannica (2014)
^ a b c d e f g Charles Taliaferro; Victoria S. Harrison; Stewart
Goetz (2012). The Routledge Companion to Theism. Routledge.
pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-1-136-33823-6.
^ Robert Karl Gnuse (1997). No Other Gods: Emergent
Israel. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 132–133 with footnote 6.
^ Müller, Max. (1878) Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion:
As Illustrated by the Religions of India. London:Longmans, Green and
^ a b c d Ilai Alon; Ithamar Gruenwald; Itamar Singer (1994). Concepts
of the Other in Near Eastern Religions. BRILL Academic.
pp. 370–371. ISBN 978-9004102200.
^ a b c Christoph Elsas (1999). Erwin Fahlbusch, ed. The Encyclopedia
of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 524.
^ Online Etymology Dictionary: kathenotheism
^ Carl Olson (2007). The Many Colors of Hinduism: A
Thematic-historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press.
pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-0-8135-4068-9.
^ Richard Foltz, "Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present",
Oneworld Publications, 2013, p. xiv
Prods Oktor Skjærvø
Prods Oktor Skjærvø (2006), Introduction to Zoroastrianism, 2005,
Harvard University Archives, p. 15 with footnote 1
^ Brian Arthur Brown (2016). Four Testaments: Tao Te Ching, Analects,
Dhammapada, Bhagavad Gita: Sacred Scriptures of Taoism, Confucianism,
Buddhism, and Hinduism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
pp. 347–349. ISBN 978-1-4422-6578-3.
^ Klaus K. Klostermaier (2010). A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition.
State University of New York Press. pp. 103 with footnote 10 on
page 529. ISBN 978-0-7914-8011-3.
^ See also, Griffith's
Rigveda translation: Wikisource
^ Sugirtharajah, Sharada, Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial
Perspective, Routledge, 2004, p.44;
^ William A. Graham (1993). Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of
Scripture in the History of Religion. Cambridge University Press.
pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-521-44820-8.
^ a b c Jeaneane D. Fowler (2002). Perspectives of Reality: An
Introduction to the
Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press.
pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-1-898723-93-6.
^ James L. Ford (2016). The Divine Quest, East and West: A Comparative
Study of Ultimate Realities. State University of New York Press.
pp. 308–309. ISBN 978-1-4384-6055-0.
^ Ninian Smart (2013). The Yogi and the Devotee (Routledge Revivals):
The Interplay Between the Upanishads and Catholic Theology. Routledge.
pp. 46–47, 117. ISBN 978-1-136-62933-4.
^ Jessica Frazier (2013). Russell Re Manning, ed. The Oxford Handbook
of Natural Theology. Oxford University Press. pp. 172–173.
^ PT Raju (2006), Idealistic Thought of India, Routledge,
ISBN 978-1406732627, page 426 and Conclusion chapter part XII
^ Jeffrey Brodd (2003). World Religions: A Voyage of Discovery. Saint
Mary's Press. pp. 43–45. ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5.
^ Paul Deussen, Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Volume 1, Motilal
Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120814684, page 91
^ Ishwar Chandra Sharma, Ethical Philosophies of India, Harper &
Row, 1970, p.75.
^ a b c Maijastina Kahlos, Debate and Dialogue: Christian and Pagan
Cultures C. 360-430, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, p.145; p.160
^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, Maximus Tryius.
^ Maijastina Kahlos, Debate and Dialogue: Christian and Pagan Cultures
C. 360-430, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, P.70
^ K. L. Noll
Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction,
Continuum, 2002, p.123
^ David Bridger, Samuel Wolk et al., The New Jewish Encyclopedia,
Behrman House, 1976, pp.326-7
^ Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 3
^ a b Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God:
Yahweh and the Other
Deities in Ancient Israel, Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, pp.58, 183
^ Gregory A. Boyd,
God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict,
InterVarsity Press, 1997, p.118
^ Englund, Eugene. "The Weeping
God of Mormonism". Dialogue: A Journal
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^ Sillman, H. Jeffrey. "A One-Sided Dialogue", Sunstone, June 1989,
pp. 48–49 (review of Roger R. Keller's "Reformed Christians and
Mormon Christians: Let's Talk", Ann Arbor, MI: Pryor Pettengill, 1986)
^ Osterling, Richard and Joan Osterline. Mormon America: the power and
the promise, Harper Collins, 2007,HarperCollins, 2007, p 310
^ Kurt Widmer. Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological
Evolution, 1830–1915. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000., p. 158
^ Bruening, Ari D. and David L. Paulsen. "The Development of the
Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Early Myths".
FARMS Review of Books 13/2 (2001), pp. 109–69.
^ Hale, Van. "Defining the Mormon Doctrine of Deity: What Can
Theological Terminology Tell Us About Out Own Beliefs?" Sunstone 10
(Jan. 1985), pp. 23–27.
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