Rabbi Firestone is Professor of Medieval Jewish and Islamic Studies, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and is a senior fellow of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California.
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On 18 June 2006 prof. Reuven Firestone gave a lecure for the Friends of the Levisson Institute under the provoking title:
"If there is only one God, why are there so many monotheisms?"
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All believers in one God derive their spiritual existence from the same deity, however that deity is called. Monotheism began as a unifying system. And yet from the earliest annals of religious history, we observe monotheists arguing, fighting and warring with one another over which understanding of God and the divine will is really true. Such observation almost requires us to ask: Is there something about the nature of monotheism that encourages conflict? 


If we want to know about monotheism, we need to begin at the beginning, and the story begins with the emergence of monotheism. It seems to have taken monotheism quite a while to emerge as a belief system in the long intellectual history of humanity. There is still some controversy among scholars over exactly when, where and how monotheism emerged. I intend to explore the change in thinking about divinity, from a multiplicity of Gods to one God, a change that current Biblical scholarship places sometime around the 6th century BCE or later. While my approach certainly includes theological issues, I want to be clear that I am not interested here in the theological problematic of "truth" in relation to God. I am working now as a historian, not a theologian, so in theory, I could arrive at the same conclusion whether I am a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim or none of the above.

There is wide agreement among biblical scholars and historians of religion that the Israelites did not suddenly come upon the notion of the One God. It was, rather, a process.

And in fact, Israel may not have been the only community working on the issue of monotheism. There is that pesky Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaton whose reign seems to reflect, at the very least, a kind of henotheism in which only one God is worshipped while not denying the existence of other Gods. Some consider him to have been a true monotheist. But his theology did not catch on. It died with him. 

Download the complete text in PDF format.