Mark S. Smith on The Birth of Monotheism

Professor Mark S. Smith (Princeton Theological Seminary) explains the origins of monotheism in ancient Judaism, in an address to the Tangier Global Forum, University of New England, Tangier Campus Auditorium, Morocco, on January 19, 2017 (the talk begins at 5:13).

Monotheism (the belief in only one god), given birth in ancient Israel and known from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, has been a topic of fascination for centuries. In the modern times, monotheism functioned to advance Christian claims to “western” superiority as colonialist powers came into contact with “non-western” societies. Thus, monotheism has been a colonializing discourse. By contrast, the monotheistic discourse found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament served as a means to preserve and assert Israelite identity in the face of the colonizing power of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. This monotheistic discourse was grounded in traditional Israelite practice and thought and developed fully under the impact of both internal socio-political stresses and external influence from the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. This lecture will address the various factors that contributed to Israel’s vision of one god for the world.

Representing gods and men in the ancient Near East and in the Bible

Representing Gods and Men

The Collège de France hosts the videos of papers delivered at the 2015 Seminar in Thomas Römer’s series The Hebrew Bible and Its Contexts, May 5-6, 2015:

Representing gods and men in the ancient Near East and in the Bible (Représenter dieux et hommes dans le Proche-Orient ancien et dans la Bible)

The videos are available for download in *.mov format.

La question des images est un élément central pour l’intelligence des religions anciennes et modernes. Les religions monothéistes se basent toutes sur le Décalogue qui interdit la fabrication des images. Mais comment comprendre cet interdit : s’agit-il d’un refus de toutes sortes d’images ou « seulement » de la représentation du divin ? Et quelle est la raison d’être d’un tel interdit ? Pourquoi considère-t-on illégitime de représenter des dieux et des hommes, ce qui fut pratique courante dans le Proche-Orient ancien ? Le colloque s’efforcera d’apporter des éclaircissements sur plusieurs questions : Quelle est la fonction des représentations du divin mais aussi des hommes ? Quelles sont les différentes manières de représenter des dieux  et quelle est la fonction de ces représentations ? Les représentations permettent-elles de mieux comprendre les cultes officiels et les cultes privés ? Quel est le rôle des images dans le culte royal ? Le roi est-il l’image des dieux ? Y a-t-il des religions aniconiques ? Pour quelles raisons décide-t-on d’interdire des images ? Y a-t-il des précurseurs au commandement biblique dans le Proche-Orient ou ailleurs ?

The question of images is a central element in the understanding of ancient and modern religions. The monotheistic religions are all based on the Decalogue, which prohibits the making of images. But how should we understand this prohibition: is it a rejection of all kinds of images or “only” of the representation of the divine? And what is the purpose of such a prohibition? Why it is considered improper to represent gods and men, which was common practice in the ancient Near East? The symposium will seek to clarify several questions: What is the function of the representations of the divine and also of men? What are the different ways of representing the gods and what is the function of these representations? Do the representations provide insight into official and private worship? What is the role of images in the royal cult? Is the king the image of the gods? Are there any aniconic religions? For what reasons does one decide to prohibit images? Are there any precursors to the biblical commandment in the ancient Near East or elsewhere?

Mardi 5 mai 2015

9 h 30 Introduction to the Symposium (Ouverture du colloque): Thomas Römer


Présidence : Thomas Römer

13h00 Discussion


Présidence : Michaël Guichard


Présidence : Christophe Nihan

17h45 Discussion

Mercredi 6 mai 2015

Présidence : Nele Ziegler


Présidence : Dominique Charpin

12h45 Discussion


Présidence : Jean-Marie Durand


16h45 Discussion et clôture du colloque

Nathan McDonald on why the Old Testament is not Monotheistic

On April 6, 2009, Dr Nathan MacDonald, lecturer in Old Testament at the School of Divinity, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, delivered this lecture at Harvard Divinity School, examining “Israel’s religious history and assumptions of its monotheism”.