My earliest draft of my reference article on the term “monotheism” was very brief, and so I can share it in its entirety here:
monotheism n. Do not use this term.
I came to the International Society of Biblical Literature conference hoping to get a better sense of whether this was the emerging scholarly consensus on the subject, and as a result of the papers I have heard I decided to expand my first draft with a slightly longer introduction:
“Monotheism” was a term used in Biblical studies until the summer of 2011, largely as a self-description used by religions whose monotheistic credentials were questionable, and as a term used by scholars to highlight what those religions in fact were not.
I am, of course, being facetious in what I wrote above. But since the sessions on monotheism at the International Society of Biblical Literature conference have centered on questioning the appropriateness and usefulness of continuing to have Biblical scholarship employ the term, I thought that I might in fact hear a great many papers moving in the direction my spoof drafts above suggest. But in fact, the papers generally have recognized that terminology and conceptual baggage are not so easily set aside. And my own view is that the term “monotheism” as a scholarly concept is no more or less problematic than other terms we use such as “God” and “religion.”