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HenotheismHen"o*the*ism (?), n. [Gr. e"i`s, "enos`, one + E. theism.] Primitive religion in which each of several divinities is regarded as independent, and is worshiped without reference to the rest. [R.]
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|Part of a series on|
|Agnosticism · Apatheism · Atheism
Deism · Henotheism · Monolatrism
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Abrahamic (Bahá'í · Christianity
Islam · Judaism) · Ayyavazhi
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Sikhism · Zoroastrianism
|Eternalness · Existence · Gender
Names ("God") · Omnibenevolence
Omnipotence · Omnipresence
|Experiences and practices|
|Belief · Esotericism · Faith
Fideism · Gnosis · Hermeticism
Metaphysics · Mysticism
Prayer · Revelation · Worship
|Euthyphro dilemma · God complex
Neurotheology · Ontology
Philosophy · Problem of evil
Religion · Religious texts
Portrayals of God in popular media
Henotheism (Greek εἷς θεός heis theos "one god") is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped. The term was originally coined by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854) to depict early stages of monotheism, however Max Müller (1823–1900), a German philologist and orientalist, brought the term into common usage. Müller made the term central to his criticism of Western theological and religious exceptionalism (relative to Eastern religions), focusing on a cultural dogma which held "monotheism" to be both fundamentally well-defined and inherently superior to differing conceptions of God.
Variations on the term have been "inclusive monotheism" and "monarchical polytheism", designed to differentiate differing forms of the phenomenon. Related terms are monolatrism and kathenotheism, which are typically understood as sub-types of henotheism. The latter term is an extension of "henotheism", from καθ' ἕνα θεόν (kath' hena theon) —"one god at a time". Henotheism is similar but less exclusive than monolatry because a monolator worships only one god (denying that other gods are worthy of worship), while the henotheist may worship any within the pantheon, depending on circumstances, although they usually will worship only one throughout their life (barring some sort of conversion). In some belief systems, the choice of the supreme deity within a henotheistic framework may be determined by cultural, geographical, historical or political reasons.
While Greek and Roman religion began as polytheism, during the Classical period, under the influence of philosophy, differing conceptions emerged. Often Zeus (or Jupiter) was considered the supreme, all-powerful and all-knowing, king and father of the Olympian gods. According to Maijastina Kahlos "monotheism was pervasive in the educated circles in Late Antiquity" and "all divinities were interpreted as aspects, particles or epithets of one supreme God". Maximus Tyrius (2nd century A.D.), stated:
The Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus taught that above the gods of traditional belief was "The One" and polytheist grammarian Maximus of Madauros even stated that only a mad person would deny the existence of the supreme God.
Contemporary Hinduism is mostly monistic, or in some instances monotheistic (see Hindu views on monotheism). The concept of Brahman implies a transcendent and immanent reality, which different schools of thought variously interpret as personal, impersonal or transpersonal. With the rise of Shaivism and Vaishnavism in the early centuries of the Common era, Hinduism is generally monistic and henotheistic: there is practically a consensus that there is a supreme, absolute, and omnipresent divine entity. Of the four major sects, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism each regard only one specific Indic deity (Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti) as the supreme being and principal object of worship, whereas all other divinities are considered merely "sub-gods" or manifestations of it. Smartism is also monistic, but does not single out one specific Indic deity but a pentad of gods - the "Panchayatana", which includes Shiva, Vishnu, Surya, Devi, and Ganesha.
The multitude of deities, or Devas, of the historical Vedic religion have a subordinate and secondary status vis-a-vis the One Supreme God, a status that some authors have even tried to express by comparing it to that of Western demigods or angels; Prakashanand Saraswati, in "The true history and the religion of India", prefers the term "celestial gods". The Rigveda was the basis for Max Müller's description of henotheism in the sense of a polytheistic tradition striving towards a formulation of The One (ekam) Divinity aimed at by the worship of different cosmic principles. From this mix of monism, monotheism and naturalist polytheism Max Müller decided to name the early Vedic religion henotheistic. A prime example of the monistic aspects of the late Rigveda is the Nasadiya sukta, a hymn describing creation: "That One breathed by itself without breath, other than it there has been nothing."
Christians believe in the spiritual beings angels and demons that are ontologically inferior to God. Christian churches maintain such beings are distinct from "gods", even though some churches authorize supplication, prayer and veneration of heavenly beings, angels, and saints, Christians who died in a state of grace and are believed to be in Heaven. This acknowledgment of heavenly beings during Christian prayer is practiced in Catholicism, Anglicanism, Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy. and some parts of Lutheranism. Such churches teach these supernatural beings do not possess any power independent of God, and maintain that veneration is properly limited to intercession with God (that is, praying to God on behalf of the petitioner). In this view any miracles resulting from the veneration of heavenly beings are fully attributable to God alone, and not through the powers of lesser beings. The honor given to these beings is defined in Catholic theology as dulia, or veneration, whereas adoration or worship (latria) is reserved for the Trinity alone.
To Christian monotheists, such formalized worship of an angelic or beatified figure as is present in Hinduism reflects the heresy of polytheism, henotheism, or monolatry. The majority of Protestant denominations further maintain that veneration of saints involves an act of essential worship dissonant with Christian salvation, holding that philosophical distinctions between dulia and latria are indistinguishable in practice. One of the five solas of the Protestant reformation is Soli Deo gloria, or "glory to God alone".
Mormons worship the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, "in the name of" Jesus Christ (the Son of God), and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Each is acknowledged to be a member of the Godhead and to be God. Mormonism also teaches that people can be joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, eventually becoming gods themselves. In contrast to other branches of Christianity, Mormon theology considers God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to be three separate gods united in will and purpose, (see social trinitarianism) as opposed to the orthodox view of three hypostases sharing in one Divine nature or essence (ousia), with the three members of the Godhead co-eternal and co-equal, together adored (worshiped, given latria) and glorified.
Modern Rabbinical Judaism is monotheistic, but its Canaanite religion antecedent in ancient Israel and Judah (10th to 7th centuries BC) was henotheistic. For example, the Moabites worshipped the god Chemosh, the Edomites, Qaus, both of whom were part of the greater Canaanite pantheon, headed by the chief god, El. The Canaanite pantheon consisted of El and Asherah as the chief deities, with 70 sons who were said to rule over each of the nations of the earth. These sons were each worshiped within a specific region. K. L. Noll states that "the Bible preserves a tradition that Yahweh used to 'live' in the south, in the land of Edom" and that the original god of Israel was El Shaddai.
Several Biblical stories allude to the belief that the Canaanite gods all existed and possessed the most power in the lands that worshiped them or in their sacred objects; their power was real and could be invoked by the people who patronised them. There are numerous accounts of surrounding nations of Israel showing fear or reverence for the Israelite God despite their continued polytheistic practices. For instance, in 1 Samuel 4, the Philistines fret before the second battle of Aphek when they learn that the Israelites are bearing the Ark of the Covenant, and therefore Yahweh, into battle. In 2 Kings 5, the Aramean general Naaman insists on transporting Israelite soil back with him to Syria in the belief that only then will Yahweh have the power to heal him. The Israelites were forbidden to worship other deities, but according to some interpretations of the Bible, they were not fully monotheistic before the Babylonian Captivity. Mark S. Smith refers to this stage as a form of monolatry. Smith argues that Yahweh underwent a process of merging with El and that acceptance of cults of Asherah was common in the period of the Judges. 2 Kings 3:27 has been interpreted as describing a human sacrifice in Moab that led the invading Israelite army to fear the power of Chemosh.
According to the Five Books of Moses, Abraham is revered as the one who overcame the idol worship of his family and surrounding people by recognizing the Hebrew God and establishing a covenant with him and creating the foundation of what has been called by scholars "Ethical Monotheism". The first of the Ten Commandments can be interpreted to forbid the Children of Israel from worshiping any other god but the one true God who had revealed himself at Mount Sinai and given them the Torah, however it can also be read as henotheistic, since it states that they should have "no other gods before me." The commandment itself does not affirm or deny the existence of other deities per se. Nevertheless, as recorded in the Tanakh ("Old Testament" Bible), in defiance of the Torah's teachings, the patron god YHWH was frequently worshipped in conjunction with other gods such as Baal, Asherah, and El. Over time, this tribal god may have assumed all the appellations of the other gods in the eyes of the people. The destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon was considered a divine reprimand and punishment for the mistaken worship of other deities. By the end of the Babylonian captivity of Judah in the Tanakh, Judaism is strictly monotheistic. There are nonetheless seeming elements of "polytheism" in certain biblical books, such as in Daniel's frequent use of the honorific "God of gods" and especially in the Psalms. Jewish scholars were aware of this, and expressed the opinion that although the verse can be understood wrongly, God was not afraid to write it in the Torah. However, the word God in Hebrew (Elohim) is also a plural, meaning "powerful ones" or "rulers". This is true in Hebrew as well as other related Canaanite languages. So "Elohim" could refer to any number of "rulers", such as angels, false gods (as defined by Torah), or even human holders of power including rulers or judges within Israel, as described in Exodus 21:6; 22:8-8, without violating the parameters of monotheism. Some scholars[who?] believe that Exodus 3:13-15 describes the moment when YHWH first tells Moses that he is the same god as El, the supreme being. This could be the recounting, in mythical form, of Israel's conversion to monotheism.
The majority of inhabitants of Pre-Islamic Arabia were henotheists. The Qur'anic term for their religious doctrine is shirk (i.e., "sharing"); it describes them as mushrikin (i.e., those who believe in God, but "share" other Gods in divinity). Pre-Islamic Arabs believed in a supreme God, and the word they used for him (Allah) is the same one used in Islam. But they did believe in lesser gods too. The unequivocal monotheism of Islam (often described as the foundation of the religion and its most fundamental article of faith) arose as a reaction to this belief system. Of course, shirk is a very pejorative term in Islam, and is considered one of (if not) the gravest of sins. The Qur'an (Al-Nisa: 48) says that God can forgive anything except shirk.
Islam teaches the belief in angels who always act on the command of the supreme God, most prominently the archangels Jibrail, Mikail, Israfil and Azrail. There also exists the belief in jinns, spiritual beings that can have either positive or negative dispositions towards God and humans, and who at rare times intervene in human lives. Islam, however, does not allow their followers intercession with jinns, angels, or proclaimed saints. Invocations and prayers are only permissible when they are directed towards the supreme God.
|Conceptions of God|
While the ancient Egyptian beliefs usually recognized many gods, worship was often focused primarily upon a supreme deity, and this focus also changed from time to time. When Amenhotep IV became Pharaoh (circa 1353 BC), the supreme deity was considered to be Amun-Ra (itself the result of an earlier rise to prominence of the cult of Amun, resulting in Amun becoming merged with the sun god Ra). Gradually, the new pharaoh shifted the focus to the god Aten, eventually declaring that Aten was not merely the supreme god, but the only god. He changed his own name to "Akhenaten" and eventually ordered removal from the temples of the name Amun (as well as references to the plural 'gods'). After his death, the prior religious establishment was restored to power, and Amun-Ra once again became supreme, among many lesser deities.
In ancient Dacia the cult of Zalmoxis had grown into a wide spread henotheistic religion by the seventh century BC. Even though the Dacians had many other deities Zalmoxis was regarded as "the one true god" by most Dacians and many Thracians. During King Burebista's reign the year of Zalmoxis' death was marked as the first day of the Dacian calendar.
Henotheism is closely related to the theistic concept of monolatry, which is also the worship of one god among many. The primary difference between the two is that henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise, while Monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist.