How did Monotheism Develop?


Akhenaten as a Sphinx with the Sun God

While monotheism is seen as something that has derived from Judaism, the history of how monotheism became pervasive is complex. Integrating both historical and archaeological data, we find that the rise of monotheism has been influenced by key political events. These political events help transform not just these early monotheistic faiths but also by extension many parts of the world today.

The first evidence of monotheism emerges from Egypt in the 14th century BCE (1353-1336 BC) during the reign of Akhenaten.[1] The king was known to have worshiped Aten, the sun disk god (Figure 1). While initially Akhenaten allowed the worship of many gods, as Egyptian kings had always done so, by the 5th year of his reign there was a decisive movement that made the worship of Aten the only recognized cult in the country.

This constituted the first evidence in history of monotheism.[2] However, while this represented an innovation, the worship of a single god proved to be highly unpopular with the priestly classes as well as, most likely, the local population. In this period, worship of deities was very specific to given cities and temples. Additionally, these temples performed important economic activities to communities. The ban of other gods or the cessation of worship of other gods would have been devastating to local economies and communities.[3]

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Categories: Ancient History, History of Religion

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