Was Judaism Originally Polytheistic?

Whilst doing some research, I came upon this claim:

"Most scholars agree that the Hebrew Bible describes a monotheistic religion in principle. However, there is evidence that the Israelite people as a whole did not strictly adhere to monotheism before the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. Much of this evidence comes from the Bible itself, which records that many Israelites chose to worship foreign gods and idols rather than Yahweh.[16]

During the 8th century BCE, the monotheistic worship of Yahweh in Israel was in competition with many other cults, described by the Yahwist faction collectively as Baals. The oldest books of the Hebrew Bible reflect this competition, as in the books of Hosea and Nahum, whose authors lament the “apostasy” of the people of Israel, threatening them with the wrath of God if they do not give up their polytheistic cults."

Does anyone have any knowledge on this topic that they could share? :slight_smile:

I think that’s a pretty good explanation. Judaism worships the one, true God.

Remember, “Jewish” is both a religion and a race of people. So, many *people *within the Jewish ethnic group went astray and were influenced by the religious practices that surrounded them.

The Jewish religion remained steadfastly monotheistic, as it is today.

That is practically the story of the entire Old Testament-- God calling his people to authentic worship and relationship through his prophets and priests.

It’s not a claim so much as true, archaeologically as much as Biblically. (“You shall have no other gods before Me” is a pretty good indicator that even God, at least as the Israelites understood Him at the time, recognised other deities in one sense of the word).

As 1ke points out, there is Judaism the religion and the Jewish people (the two are by no means the same thing). The historical, archaeological, record (and some limited scriptural evidence) clearly points to ‘the Jews’, which is to say the majority or all of the Jewish people, practicing limited polytheism although how this was specifically characterised is harder to say conclusively. Does it mean that Judaism the religion was ever polytheistic? No. The religion developed extensively during the 1st millennium BC until the religious tradition became entirely defined (First Temple period? during/immediately after the Babylonian Captivity?) around God.

All religions of that era, through to the paganisms contemporaneous with early Christianity, were a little bit syncretic, so it should be no surprise that Judaism had this characteristic too. The Bible represents the reality of the polytheism in a particular light (some of the people “going astray” etc), though it might not quite accurately reflect the historical reality.

The short answer is yes - but probably not in the immediate, simple way we might consider the Greek and Roman pantheon version of polytheism

I’d say the prehistoric cultural belief system Judaism sprang from was polytheistic–but Judaism wasn’t judiasm until God revealed himself to hen as he only God.

Before that, it wasn’t Judaism.

Yes, Judaism was originally polytheistic, or, rather, the Judaism we’re familiar with emerged out of polytheism.


A reading of the Hebrew bible easily shows that for many centuries the Israelites believed in the existence of multiple gods. That does not mean, however, that they always worshipped those other gods. At times some did, and at times perhaps even a majority did, as evidenced by the exhortations of several prophets. They did come to believe that their God, Yahweh, was the supreme God, and that other nations worshipped one or more lesser gods.

Psalms 135 and 136 have verses that show that thinking, in that they proclaim that the God of Israel is the supreme God, the “Lord of lords”, but not the only god.

I think that the scholarly consensus is that the Hebrew people originally believed in multiple gods, and that the idea of one God and creator of all evolved over time, as has been stated by other posters.

I would recommend reading a history of the Hebrew people and of Israel and Judea to get a better overview of the dynamics of that people and land over the millennia.

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