History of the one God

Heythrop Journal 38 (4):371–400 (1997)

John Milbank
University of Nottingham
The article discusses the history of monotheism from the earliest times to the present. It begins with arguments against the notion of monotheists as an evolutionarily early stage in religion and then proceeds to characterize monotheism in the Old testament. The view that there was every a pre‐monotheistic phase of one ‘national God’ is called into question, along with the priority of the ‘God of history’ over the creator God. Association of the divine with social justice is shown to be common to the ancient Near East as a whole; however, Israelite monotheism, it is argued, was associated with a kind of conservatism which preserved more features of an oral and gift‐exchange culture, while calling into question the more fetishistic aspects of such culture. Monotheism, it is claimed, is what refutes both myth and rationalism, while the superiority of one God to many gods is defended in connection with the theme of peace. The final section deals with the three monotheistic faiths, and argues that Christianity, with its doctrines of incarnation and the Trinity, is not qualifying monotheism and its distinctive features as just adumbrated, but on the contrary developing it in the purest and most consistent form
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DOI 10.1111/1468-2265.00055
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