The history of the rise of monotheism

The past few weeks have been very busy for me as I carry on my research about the origins of monotheism. Penning a chronology to that end with notes is a very difficult task, because certain details are very important to explain. I have also confirmed my earlier suspicions that monotheism did not arise in a vacuum, but rather paralleled or was directly influenced by other developments. The separation of monotheism, therefore, from various socio-political changes is a grave mistake. My chronology begins at the onset of the Bronze Age, 3300 BCE, and so far continues till only 490 BCE, whereas I had meant to stop at Late Antiquity (400 CE). After a total of 25 pages, I think it has already grown too complex for a publication here, even as a series, and since the complexity will only increase, I have determined to incorporate it into a book I have been conceptually preparing for some time past. Nevertheless, I have selected some important observations and conclusions about monotheism, in order to share them below. I look forward to remarks and discussions. 

Initial points:

A- The history of monotheism begins in Egypt, and 90% of its essence is developed there, with only growth accounting for its later spreading.

B- The character and deeds of “Abraham” never existed, and are merely composites of various traditions, created later. The beginning of “Jewish” monotheism goes back to Moses, who was himself an Egyptian, but his story has later additions. Therefore, the Jews are merely an extension of Egypt, as indeed they historically were geographically during the New Kingdom.

The causes of the rise of monotheism, in chronological order, were as follows:

1- The meta-tribal imperialistic creation of the Egyptian state with extreme centralization of power

2- The superiority of this centralized state in the minds of elites, including priests

3- The rise of theology, symbolism and syncretism of various regional and local Gods in order to maintain, explain, and sacralize the complications of the new state

4- The creation of moral dualism, as an extension of phenomenal duality, to maintain the state’s stability; the concomitant rise of Osiris as a savior God and Set as a demonized God

5- The democratization of royal religion and theology during an initial period of decline in Egypt

6- The rise of a bureaucratic scribal class, distinct from the priesthood, with its own literature and quasi-theology

7- The competition of regional priesthoods in order to achieve theological hegemony in the state

8- The rise of monism, universalism and further syncretism as a means to reconcile the competition, sometimes arbitrarily and inconsistently

9- The conflict between ambitious priests and Pharaohs for influence in the state*

10- The increase of meta-national imperialism as a means to unify and strengthen Egypt

11- Extreme imperialism within the upper Middle East leading to the weakening of several empires

12- The rise of independent tribes in Canaan after the Bronze Age collapse, a respite of imperialism

13- The rise of henotheism in the Levant as a means of protection from extreme Assyrian imperialism

14- The conflict between priests and Jewish kings for influence and tribal supremacy leading to the second rise of monotheism **

15- The rise of a Jewish ideology after the destruction of the temple and their deportation by the Neo-Babylonian empire

16- The Hellenistic imperialism of the Near and Middle East and the subsequent cultural and religious syncretisms

17- The new Hellenistic culture challenging centuries of Jewish autonomy under the now dead Persian empire

18- The expansion of Jewish monotheism by proselytism as a defensive means to Hellenistic cultural imperialism, but now with Hellenistic ideas absorbed within Judaism in order to combat the imperialism better

19- The rise of the Roman Empire and the increasing hatred or envy of Hellenistic Greeks towards proselytizing Jews, culminating in a few massacres

20- The destruction of the Temple by the Romans during the Jewish rebellion, giving rise to an alternative to Judaism, i.e. Christianity, which is a syncretism of Greek and Jewish thought, mainly former.

21- The rise of Neoplatonism, with deistic and monotheistic elements, as the dominant philosophical and theological system in the Roman Empire

22- The rise of counter-culture against the Roman Empire and the Christians successfully developing and proselytizing a combined mystical & Neoplatonic ideology as a remedy to it, while competing with other mystical religions and philosophies

23- The prosecution of Christians as an evil influence that was leading to the decline of the empire***

24- The Roman Emperor Constantine converting to Christianity (the religion of his enslaved mother) after proclaiming monotheism to be legal.

25- The rise of conflicts among Christian sects and Constantine’s forced standardization of the doctrines, leading to Christian power, and the later persecuting the polytheists as revenge for former grievances.

26- The fusion of Christianity with the imperialistic functions of the Roman Empire, and subsequent forced conversions and expansion

27- The cultural imperialism of Christianity leads to the persecution of Jews, many of whom settle in Arabia, with Arabia becoming the next battle ground for the spread of monotheism

28- The rise of Mohammed as a centralizing force against cultural imperialism but with his own kind of monotheism, regarded as the purest and final version ****

29- The huge and quick expansion of the Islamic empire and its competition with the Christian empires of the east and west, both proselytizing

30- The rise of modern empires and further proselytization of colonization of polytheistic peoples, continuing to this day



* Akhenaten and the definite invention of monotheism is placed here. His religion is soon stamped out (within about 35 years), and point 10 is the probably period a historical Moses can be assigned to.

** This begins with King Josiah, but it differed from Egyptian imperialism in that the function of the conflict seemed to be paranoid protection in the face of Assyrian imperialism.

***By 300 CE, the Christians made up about 10% of the Roman Empires population, mainly concentrated in the East part, and almost always within cities. They refused to sacrifice to the cult of the Emperors and thus were accused of civil rebellion. It is not known to what extent this was done, but the Christians likely exaggerated it by magnifying and glorifying stories about martyrs.

**** It is said Mohammed, who belonged to a noble mercantile family, travelled to the North (around Jordan and Syria) as a young man and met with an Arian monk who regarded him as a chosen one foretold by scriptures. This may have happened because of the strange similarity in the alphabetical appearance of the word “Jesus” in Syriac script to the word “Mohammed” in the Arabic script. See image below. Mohammed was interested in ruling Arabia, probably in imitation of “Christendom” and he borrowed his hatred of Jews and pagans from there.   

Jesus and Mohammed


2 thoughts on “The history of the rise of monotheism

  1. Paul

    Really good summary, friend. I’m curious, have you considered Zoroastrian contributions to the rise of monotheism? The religion is in a much reduced state today, but was a widespread and prestigious world religion in its heyday. Certainly the Greeks had contact with the Persian world, as did the Jews/Hebrews. The dates of Zoroaster’s lifetime are not exactly clear, but it’s possible that he lived before Akhenaten’s time and thus his teachings would have pre-dated Akhenaten’s innovations. Or do you think that the monotheisms of today are more related to/descended from the prototype developed in Egypt? Granted, there is a huge chunk of time between Akhenaten and the heights of Persian civilization, but one can read of Zoroastrianism inspiring everything from doctrines of salvation to angels being depicted as winged beings. I’m far from knowledgeable on anything Egyptian (I emphasize this) and no grand expert on Zoroastrianism, but it certainly wielded hefty influence at one time and the question and possibilities are intriguing.

    As for the book(s) that you have planned, fortunately self-publishing is fairly easy these days with print-on-demand. When the day comes, I do hope that autographed copies will be available for those of us who wish to have them 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thank you kindly! There is debate regarding when Zoroaster lived, with the largest range I have ever seen for such an important historical character (1500 BCE-500 BCE). What complicates this further is that the character Zoroaster may be somewhat different from the ideas of “Zoroastrianism” later attributed to him and standardized under the Parthians and Sassanids. To my knowledge, there is more agreement among scholars that he lived later in the above-mentioned range, within the general period of other famous thinkers elsewhere like Buddha, Laozi and Thales. Nevertheless, another complication arises when we consider “Zurvanism” which seems to be a different form of Zoroaster’s ideas.

      As for the influence of Zoroastrianism on monotheism, I would venture to say it was mainly on Christianity than Judaism, nor was this quite unique, since other mystical and dualistic schools (Gnosticism and Manicheanism) were contemporaneous during the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. The Egyptians preceded all others in their development of dualism, syncretism, theology and centralization of power, all essential components of monotheism. In my chronology, I note that within Zoroastrianism there was much borrowing from Egyptian religion (through Babylonia), not only of motifs like the winged sun, but also the equating of the good Ahura Mazda with fire (Ra) and the evil Ahriman with darkness and chaos (Set/Isfet) as well as with a serpent (Apep). If you add Ma’at, Osiris, Dionysus, and Horus to Ra on the one hand, and combine Set, Isfet, Apep, the Titans, and Baal on the other, you get “God/Jesus” and the “Devil” respectively.

      P.S. The book will probably take a long time to produce and perfect, but I hope it will bring some benefit. Signing is not something I am fond of, but I might consider it.

      Liked by 2 people


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s