Monday, August 24, 2009

Mark Smith: Monotheism and the Structures of Divinity

In Chapter Three of The Memoirs of God, "Biblical Monotheism and the Structures of Divinity," Mark Smith attempts to explain the development of monotheism in Israel, a process which we have touched upon repeatedly in this examination of Israelite religion. As Smith observes in his introductory remarks, a major difficulty in dealing with this aspect of Israelite religion is that "monotheism was a development in Israelite religion that was read back into its earlier religious tradition." Briefly, monotheism developed within an elite segment of the Israelite population during the late monarchy. However, from the perspective of these relatively late thinkers, monotheism was read back into earlier times, although the writings of the Israelite scriptures clearly preserve important information that shows that earlier Israelite religion was not monotheistic. As a result, the Israelite scriptures must be approached with caution in order to separate out genuine early traditions from later interpretative developments based on Judaic monotheism. Later Christians unfortunately adopted late Jewish interpretations of the early traditions uncritically, as well as reading Christian meanings back into the Israelite scriptures. Smith's approach to this issue views the development of monotheism as part of a "survival strategy" for Israel, one intended as a response to historical challenges to Israel's continued survival--in particular, the fall of the dual kingdoms of Israel and Judah.