Bible Review 19:1, February 2003

Gods and the One God

In antiquity, all monotheists were polytheists.

By Paula Fredricksen

Bible Review

Consider these three texts from the ancient Mediterranean world:

1. A third-century B.C.E. inscription declares the manumission of a slave on the orders of two deities, who revealed that this was their will in a dream to one Moschos, son of Moschion.1

2. A treatise from the mid-second century C.E. explains that the universe was created not by the High God but by “another god” (heteros theos), and that this lower god was the chief divine personality described in the Jewish Bible.

3. Another late antique inscription, in hexameter verses, hymns the Highest God and speaks of subordinate divine personalities as “his angels.”2

All three texts are in Greek. Their respective authors, however, belonged to different religious communities. The first, Moschos, identified himself as Ioudaeos, that is, as a Jew. The second, Justin Martyr, was a philosophically educated Gentile Christian. The third was an anonymous pagan. Yet all three were monotheists.

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