I hope it's ok to post this on Philosophy S.A. It's really a question of the philosophical view of God.

Was the ancient Jewish (Abrahamic/Mosaic) view of 1 "true" god, faceless, formless, nameless, and at least in some ideology, not just above all other gods, but the ONLY god that wasn't "fake" a unique idea when it arose. Did the idea evolve over time or did it appear suddenly (possibly providing evidence of an experience of revelation?). It seems to have been a rather unique alternative to other "competing" religions.

  • 2
    Historically speaking, most of Jewish beliefs and ideas were "stolen" from Egyptians, and could be traced back to Sumerian civilization. Note that even in Old Testament God is not formless (made a man in his own image) and there are some kind of "sons of god" ruling over Earth. Even Egyptian magicians/priests facing Moses are able to perform some kinds of smaller miracles, implying that their (Egyptian) gods have some power, but not so great as Yahweh.
    – rs.29
    Dec 12, 2021 at 2:15
  • Seems off-topic here. Instead check history.stackexchange.com/questions/12300/…
    – tkruse
    Dec 12, 2021 at 4:27
  • I’m voting to close this question because the analysis isn't as philosophical as historical in nature, though the two subjects clearly intersect.
    – J D
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:12

3 Answers 3


I don't think so.

The Dao of Daoism was also nameless and formless.

Also the Pythagoreans notion of the monad is similar.

Buddhism describes the underlying structure of the world as 'nothingness' and by this they do not mean nothing but that it has no form. In a papal encyclical, this is described as a via negativa towards God.

Akhenaten, the tenth ruler of the 18th dynasty in Ancient Egypt attempted to introduce a monothiestic religion under Aten but was persecuted because of it. He said:

The temples of the gods have fallen to ruin, their bodies do not endure. Since the time of the ancestors, it is the wise man who knows these things. ... And I have watched as the gods have ceased their appearances, one after another. All of them have stopped, except the one who gave birth to himself. And no-one knows the mystery of how he performs his tasks. This god goes where he pleases and no-one knows of his going. I approach him, the things which he made. How exalted they are.

In the Islamic traditions, it is said that before the Prophet Muhammed there were a quarter of a million prophets sent to all the peoples of the world saying the same thing: that God is One.

I'd say that the understanding that God is a unity wasn't discovered once, but many times; and the historical record bears this out.


It absolutely evolved over time.

One scholarly position is that the identification of Yahweh with Ēl is late, that Yahweh was earlier thought of as only one of many gods, and not normally identified with Ēl. Another is that in much of the Hebrew Bible the name El is an alternative name for Yahweh, but in the Elohist and Priestly traditions it is considered an earlier name than Yahweh." - From here

There is more to the belief El & Yahweh were separate at one time if you dig into it.


"The biblical narrative is also sorely challenged by the findings at the site of Kuntillet Ajrud, in the Sinai desert, where archaeologists discovered inscriptions on rock dedicated to “Yahweh of Samaria” and “Yahweh of Teman” – showing that this god was worshipped in multiple incarnations at different sanctuaries. Dated to the early 8th century B.C.E. (just a few decades after the Mesha stele), these inscriptions at Kuntillet Ajrud also include a crude engraved drawing of a male deity and a female deity, and describe the latter as Yahweh’s “Asherah.” " - from here

The cult of Yahweh began as henotheistic, and there are many examples of the infringement of other worship practices, like Moses & the golden calf incident, and not mixing animal & plant fibres in a law called shatnez linked to practicing Canaanite rituals - dietary laws like not cooking a calf in milk have also been linked to proscribing rituals. These weren't being dismissed as superstition, but as empowering the deities of other peoples, & being unfaithful to Yahweh. Several Biblical stories allude to the belief that the Canaanite gods all existed and were thought to possess the most power in the lands of the people who worshiped them and their sacred objects; their power was believed to be real and could be invoked by the people who patronised them. There are indications Lilith was a protective deity of newborn children, who's amulets were used controversially into monotheistic times.

In Judaism the relationship with the deity progressed through a series of fiats, Adam & Eve's, Noahide, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and various others. So, 'no gods before me' became a specific crime against god with the commandments given to Moses.

But before that, Abraham is a really interesting example of embodying the beginning of what has been called The Axial Age, the time when from the 8th-3rd centuries BCE cultures across the world transitioned from sacrifice-led rituals to more legalistic traditions. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his first born. Like he was becoming aware even the greatest sacrifice he could think of, wasn't enough to show his obedience to god. Sacrifice was still practiced until the last fall of the Temple, but I would describe this experience of Abraham as 'reaching beyond sacrifice' for something more, as why he is the patriarch of 3 major religions.

What are called angelic beings in Judaism like the ophanim which appeared to Daniel, would have been called lesser gods in other traditions. Placing allegiance firmly to one deity above all had a primarily political impact, as discussed here: Why is the emergence of Monotheism a cultural milestone in the development of mankind? There is a pattern that religious variety & tolerance can thrive in highly military unified states like Ancient China & Rome, but political dissent not, whereas religious conformity is extra valuable where military unity is not, like the Holy Roman Empire able to mount Crusades, but also to encompass many cultures languages & political systems, or Ancient India where travel was always tricky. It can also be seen how the Islamic Ummayyad's were able to go from being a desert tribe confederation to ruling 29% of the world's population in less than a century of becoming monotheistic.

So set in this context, was Jewish monotheism unique?

The Egyptian pharoah Akhenaten attempted to introduce monotheism. It didn't go well, & it ended after his reign.

The transcendental monist take on Hinduism interprets all beings as 'faces of Brahma', which I would link to what Plato was innovating with his forms, a framework to find political unity across religious divides.

Judaism was innovating, being the first to explicitly declare itself monotheistic, but as mentioned many continued to partake in other rituals. What religions say about themselves is rarely as important as what they do. I would look to Durkheim's understanding of what religion does & how it works, that it's about the social binding power of enacting shared attitudes to what is held sacred & put beyond question. Judaism was reducing the scope for 'religious entrepreneurialism', & consolidating the laws & principles into one structure, in a legalistic way in the sense of based on precedent. You see the same pattern later in Sikhism. I'd say this process of enforcing religious unity, allowed greater freedom to disagree in other matters, & Jewish culture famously celebrates being argumentative). Simply declaring only one god is important isn't the big deal, it's this transition from sacrifice-based religion, & building a centralised unified orthodoxy that holds space to disagree elsewhere (religious unity patching up political disunity). And that, I think, is the bit that matters Judaism did first.

Plus all classes taking the same day strictly off work, that was an underappreciated innovation with deep repercussions (Babylonians had similar numbers of rest days, but far less strict or universal).


The oldest records, the vedas, show it is not unique. See these two pages -

https://archive.org/details/IndianPhilosophyACriticalSurvey/page/n11/mode/2up and https://archive.org/details/IndianPhilosophyACriticalSurvey/page/n13/mode/2up

The evolution of monotheism, a supreme extra-cosmic God; and monism, the One Absolute Existence encompassing all, and their historical roots are lost in the sands of time and both developed throughout the world.

For a detailed discussion of 'uniqueness' and 'comparisons' obscure what may be termed the actual relationships, see Jonathan Z. Smith's Drudgery Divine: On the Comparisons of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity. You might also like Philosophy East/Philosophy West: A Critical Comparison of Indian, Chinese, Islamic, and European Philosophy by Ben-Ami Scharfstein et al.

"ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti" - Truth is One, men call It by various names. (Rig Veda I.161.16)

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