Zoroaster & the Dawning of Monotheism

By some traditions today is the birthday of the prophet Zoroaster.

Zoroaster is often considered the first monotheist (Please note this is a fact challenged with some vigor at my Facebook page by some of a more scholarly turn than I), although as his dates are in fact far from certain some Jews might reasonably object. When the Jewish faith evolved from henotheist (the belief in many gods but yours is best) to monotheist (only one deity worthy of the name) is debated. But we know with certainty Judaism is monotheistic from the Babylonian Captivity in seventh century before the common era, when it appears to have taken its modern contours. At the same time it looks like the mainstream of scholarship is drifting in the direction of the tenth century before Jesus for Zoroaster, which makes him a competitor only with the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who is probably better described as a henotheist than a monotheist…

Once the official religion of various Near and Middle Eastern empires, today a small remnant continues, with guestimates of a quarter of a million to maybe two and a half million adherents, most of whom live in India.

While Zoroaster’s religion held up a single true god, Ahura Mazda, functionally the religion was an ethical dualism with a constant struggle between good and ill. It also upheld moral agency and claimed we have freedom to choose, with consequences in those choices.

Oh, Jews and Christians and therefore Muslims, too, can also thank Zoroastrianism if not Zoroaster directly for angels.

Various other elements of the religion are now found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam along with various Western gnostic streams.

Truthfully I’m not sure whether to thank him for monotheism, which in my view has not been proven to be particularly helpful to the human condition, but, still, it all begins, or seems to, with him, and it is worth noting…

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  • Agni Ashwin

    “While Zoroaster’s religion held up a single true god, Ahura Mazda, functionally the religion was an ethical dualism with a constant struggle between good and ill.”

    Ahura Mazda will eventually win, and destroy totally Angra Mainyu (the source of evil), the daevas (the evil deities), the dregvant (evil humans), and hell itself.

    “Monotheism” has perhaps outlived its usefulness as a descriptive term, for any religion.

    • felixcox

      Christianity, a self-styled monotheism, is not really monotheistic, no matter what adherents claim. They worship Jesus who is repeatedly and clearly quoted as putting himself in a submissive relationship with Yahweh, even saying in heaven he sits at the right hand. This is polytheism, plain and simple. The later doctrine of the trinity was a rhetorical trick to have multiple gods while claiming there’s only one. Also, Jesus himself makes quite a fuss about demons. The bible, unhelpfully, never defines demons, but we can surmise they are supernatural beings who can take over the body of earth-dwelling mortals. This is a type of god. Angels, also clearly described as powerful supernatural beings, are also gods, by any reasonable definition. It’s as if a worshipper of Zeus believed in all the other gods, but claimed only Zeus deserves the title of god because he’s the strongest. No matter how you square it, christianity (and any other belief system that includes angels or demons) is polytheistic.

      • Pixie5

        Not only that but the OT has traces of references to polytheism. In the creation story God is refered to in a plural sense. And the ten commandments says that God is a jealous God and that they shall not worship any other Gods. That sounds to me like an acknowledgment of other Gods. Later Christians came up the idea that other Gods are imaginary, but I have my doubts that originally that was the case with the Jewish people. The Jewish God was a tribal deity for the Jews only.

        Yes the Trinity is a puzzle, as Jesus does indicate that there is a difference between him and God. In fact he even says that there are things that only “the Father” knows. So Jesus could not be one with God since he did not have all the knowledge that God possessed. The Holy Spirit is also a very strange concept and separate from God and Jesus. Jesus was baptized in the Holy Spirit when John baptized him in water. Then God announced how proud he was of his Son. Jesus would not have needed to be baptized in the Holy Spirit if he were already one with it.

        Oh well that is the least of the contradictions in Christianity but I find it interesting that once you let go of preconceptions about the Bible then you can decipher what the authors actually meant within the context of their own time. Judaism did not spring up fully formed and neither did Christianity.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          The main article uses the accurate term (henotheism) to refer to the ancient understanding that there could be more than one god but only one God. And you’re right that the Old Testament uses plural construction often; “elohim” is even a plural noun.

          But you missed the carry forward of that idea in the New Testament, found in John 10:34. When you comment that trinitarianism doesn’t align well with biblical text (either the New or Old Testaments), you go too far by saying that it is a “contradiction[] in Christianity.” Not all Christians are trinitarian, and certainly the earliest Christians were not. The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t show up until about the 4th Century, and even then you can read how the various credal statements acknowledge the separate person-hood of the members of the Godhead.

          Most trinitarian belief today is a logical muddle that recapitulates modalism, a theory of the Godhead that was expressly rejected as heresy by theologians of the day and that is still regarded as heretical today. But ask your average Christian to explain how his or her understanding of the Trinity differs from modalism, and watch the blank stare you get in response. Ask the same question of a conventional Christian theologian who actually understands what modalism is, and get ready for a thousand words that will leave you with no greater understanding than when you first asked the question.

          Try it, it’s fun!

      • 013090

        Judaism no doubt is rooted in henotheism (and hence Christianity also), and I believe Zoroastrianism is what made it monotheistic during the Babylonian exile of the religious elites and prior to the return from exile under Persian rule.

        But Christianity is absolutely monotheistic. Whether you think the Trinity is logical or not doesn’t matter. Christian theology from its earliest texts clearly has a strong tradition of the Trinity, and even those that don’t are still monotheistic in that they believed in a form of Christianity that could broadly be termed as unitarianism (not just in the modern sense of the word).

        Also, belief in angels or demons certainly doesn’t translate to polytheism. The tradition they are rooted in may be henotheistic, but in Christian/Jewish theology they are created beings, just like humans, while God is uncreated and eternal. It doesn’t matter if angels/demons are supernatural, humans are also viewed as supernatural spirits dwelling in material bodies. To say angels prove Christianity is polytheistic is to say humans prove Christianity is polytheistic.

        • felixcox

          “But Christianity is absolutely monotheistic. ”

          I am not an essentialist, and so I cannot reduce christianity (or any other umbrella term encompassing tens, hundreds of millions of people) to such a simplistic formula. I thought your perspective is interesting and to an extent makes rhetorical sense. But your conclusions cannot and most certainly do not speak for everyone.
          The trinity does not make any logical sense, no matter how soon after Jesus’s death it was fumbled together. Jesus, according to the 3 out of 4 gospels, is a subordinate, non-equal, autonomous being. Tradition has changed this and it took the tortured ‘logic’ of the trinity to square the circle. Believers since then can assert that Jesus-worship is not polytheism ’till they are blue in the face- the rest of us can simply read the foundational texts for ourselves and see the truth.

          • 013090

            I will avoid absolutes, but will respectfully note that you similarly made an absolutist statement by saying that Christianity is polytheistic, no ifs or buts about it. I’ll cede I should avoid absolutes on this matter, but will still stand by saying that the vast majority of Christianity is monotheistic.

            You can say you don’t think the teaching of the Trinity is logical, but how do you then deal with anti-trinitarian Christianity? And whether or not one agree with the theology of the trinitarian Christians, it has no bearing on whether either the institution(s) or personal faith of Christians is/are poly or monotheistic. They view God like an egg, in that it has 3 parts but still only makes one egg. When they commune with one godhead they believe they commune with all godheads. You may find it illogical, but it does not mean they are polytheists. Your subjective view has no bearing on their subjective view.

          • felixcox

            “I will avoid absolutes, but will respectfully note that you similarly made an absolutist statement by saying that Christianity is polytheistic, no ifs or buts about it.”
            True! I overstated, thanks for calling me out on that. I should have said a plain reading of christianity’s foundational texts points to polytheism, regardless of the fact that many adherents simply use semantics to downgrade (from gods to angels, the devil, demons, segments of the godhead, saints, etc) the other supernatural autonomous beings. This while granting that ‘creative’ interpretation can make the scriptures say pretty much anything one wants. Depends on the level of creativity.

          • 013090

            See my other comment to you, and the one to FA Minter. Thanks.

          • felixcox

            I am familiar with many of the analogies christians use to explain the trinity. And they do not make sense, just like your egg analogy. I can too can instantly communicate with members of my family who are far away, who share my substance (blood and flesh)- this doesn’t mean we exist as one indivisible Holy Quadrilateral. It means autonomous beings can have similar qualities (one substance) yet be autonomous.

          • 013090

            With all due respect, your interpretation of ancient scriptures and your disagreements on the logic of the Trinity is irrelevant in determining whether Christianity is monotheistic. Under your framework, how do you deal with anti-trinitarian or unitarian Christianity? In that context, your argument completely collapses. Additionally, explain why the egg analogy is so flawed, and why if someone believes it they are automatically a polytheist. I myself do not subscribe to orthodox Christianity, but you are making claims which I do not feel you are properly backing up.

          • felixcox

            “your interpretation of ancient scriptures and your disagreements on the logic of the Trinity is irrelevant in determining whether Christianity is monotheistic.”

            In other words, my opinion doesn’t count! Okay then, that settles that.

            Anti-trinitarians and unitarians are fascinating digressions into other topics. I am simply pointing out that anyone who professes that the gospels are reliable accounts of Jesus’s words/deeds is endorsing scriptures that plainly and clearly portray and quote Jesus subordinating himself to the Father (and of course Jesus never ever explains that he’s really a third of the God-head. To the contrary, he further reinforces his subordination by declaring that he will sit NEXT TO the father in heaven…) Separate and not equal.
            I know that christians have a different narrative- I was a devout believer once. I understand the cognitive dissonance and the rhetorical smoke and mirrors necessary to rationalize the irrational.
            [edited for clarity]

          • 013090

            I never said your opinion shouldn’t be listened to, but yes, just like my opinion, it is irrelevent to the subjective faith of another individual, unless that individual decides to take your opinion into account. That was my point and that is a fact. I wasn’t trying to say your opinion doesn’t matter in a broader sense.

            As for your statement about the gospels, the gospels clearly claim both that Jesus is God (in many places, but John 1 is an example) and that there is only one God. The gospel also clearly differentiates between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So based on that, what is an honest reading if you take the gospels as holy scripture? It is certainly not polytheism, it is either a form of Trinitarianism or Unitarianism.

            You say it is irrational, but how so? For example, how is the egg analogy irrational like you said earlier?

            Also, how do different degrees of authority within a Union mean that it can’t be a Union? For example, in many governments around the world there are different branches but there is one which is clearly the highest in authority. Yet it is all still one government. Of course government is not the equivalent of the concept of God, but it shows that the logic of saying authority within an entity means it isn’t one entity is not valid. In the same way, the movement of your hand is subordinate to your brain, but both are just as much ‘you’.

          • felixcox

            If each godhead has autonomy, then they are united no more than my family is united. Only a fool would look at my family and say we are One. Please re-read my example vis-a-vis the Holy Quadrilateral. If christians would admit that the trinity is really three deities, then we could have a rational discussion. But to pretend they are autonomous yet the same is to invent a word salad to justify an illogical concept.
            Yes, you can quote John all you want, but the three other gospels make no such assertion (that Jesus=god), and they come decades earlier. The synoptic gospels in fact over and over emphasize Jesus’s subordinate role of the father. In fact, when asked how to pray, Jesus, contra christians today, prays to the father (not himself). Christians have overlooked this and just pray to Jesus. but Jesus never told followers to pray to him.
            One verse in John doesn’t erase the multiple verses that contradict John (that is, unless you have a preconceived notion of the trinity and cherry pick the verses you want and ignore the rest).
            I’ll repeat that I agree that most believers don’t claim to be polytheists. And I’ll simply repeat yet again that their foundational texts strongly argue otherwise.

            p.s. your egg analogy (nor do analogies using the liquid/ice/steam qualities of H2O) doesn’t work because the individual pieces of egg do not show any traces of autonomy. They are not beings like you and me. Therefore asserting their unity is no problem.

          • 013090

            Trinitarian theology doesn’t teach three different autonomies, only one. So that isn’t an issue in the least with all due respect.

            You once again go into the issue of Jesus acknowledging the authority of the Father. But that is a point I responded to in the last reply to you. How does authority within an entity logically mean Union is impossible?

            Also, the synoptics may not make as direct of a claim than John about Jesus being God, but the synoptics certainly heavily allude to it. A Christian taking the gospels as the inspired word of God could very easily take it as it teaching Jesus is divine without being illogical or dishonest. I am certainly not coming to this with a preconceived notion. I have no reason to defend the Trinity.

            Finally, the Egg analogy still stands, since as I said, there is no autonomy. The Trinity teaches that they all share the same will.

          • FA Miniter

            Actually, trinitarianism teaches three separate and distinct persons in one god. So, yes, they must be autonomous by that doctrine.

            As to the claims in the synoptics that Jesus is god, I hope you are not referring to the “son of man” references, which from references in the Hebrew Bible is well established to simply mean a human being.

          • 013090

            How do you define autonomy? The Trinity teaches that all 3 possess one nature and will. If they are share one will, how are they autonomous?

          • FA Miniter

            Did they all get crucified? It seems the father was up in the clouds looking down.

          • 013090

            How does a spirit get crucified anyway? Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified, his incarnate flesh. The flesh was not God, it was merely material incarnating God. No material is God, only the spirit (according to Christianity).

            How does saying that the Father was not crucified say they are autonomous and not one? A human can cut off one hand, but not the other. Neither arm has autonomy but just because one hand on one arm was cut-off does not mean both arms are not part of one body/mind/will. So your question in no way supports saying that they are autonomous.

          • felixcox

            Please go back and re-read the gospels. They are littered with Jesus quite explicitly and clearly talking about the Father as if it is someone else- NOT Jesus. Jesus defers to the father. Jesus even says something like, ‘let your will be done,” not MY WILL.” That’s autonomy. Nowhere in the gospel does Jesus or anyone else assert anything like the trinity. It’s simply not there because such a concept did not exist until hundreds of years later, as competing and contradictory branches of christianity threatened to dilute the power of the church. So they arrived at the trinity as a desperate way to make a circle a square. Instead of admitting the obvious- that the gospels do NOT support the notion that Jesus=God, they invented the concept of the trinity. It’s having your cake and eating it too.

            And right, hands do not have autonomy, so your analogy is irrelevant to this discussion.

          • FA Miniter

            If only the son got crucified, then the experiences of the father and son differ. Of course, god the father, as the modern view would go, is incapable of experience. So, any experience of the son would be foreign to the father.

          • 013090

            When you say the Father is considered incapable of experience, are you referencing the idea of his omnipotence and eternalness? As in he doesn’t change? Or something else? Just curious.

            Also, in Trinitarian thought the Father would have felt the same spiritual pain as the Son. Yes, the Father would not have been physically crucified (technically, neither would the Son. You can only crucify flesh, not spirit, and the fallen flesh of Jesus is not considered ‘God’ in Christianity); but when a hand is severed from an arm, that does not mean the arm is not one body with the head if the head is not severed along with it. But the head, though not directly harmed, still feels the pain.

          • FA Miniter

            How do you deal with John 14:28: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to
            you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father,
            for the Father is greater than I.” ???

            It sounds like you are crossing the line either to Apollinarism or Docetism, old heresies about the trinity. Actually, your main thesis would be the heresy of Sabellianism.

          • 013090

            So is your point that authority is incongruent with a unified will? Or just a general Union?

            Also, how would this be considered heresy by a Christian? Everything I’ve said is fairly orthodox. Orthodox Christianity would say that there is one will and one nature.

          • FA Miniter

            1. “Greater than” means “not equal to”.

            2 . Look up the heresies, especially Apollinarism, which is pretty much what you are arguing for. Heresy is not orthodox, by the way.

          • 013090

            Sorry for the delayed response; I was traveling over the weekend.

            1. Can authority be viewed as one being ‘greater than’ the other in an existential
            sense though? I don’t see any reason to believe that. There are plenty of examples in which one person can have authority over another in a sense, but where neither party views themselves as ‘greater than’ the other in some existential way. And at its core something like this is an existential argument.

            2. I did, and it looks like Apollinarism is extremely different, if not the opposite at the core
            point of which I’m arguing. Also, Apollinarism is more a theology on the nature of Jesus rather than the nature of the Trinity (which are distinct theologies), but of course seeing as the Son is part of the Trinity it is somewhat connected. If I was making an Apollinarian argument, I would not have argued that Jesus had two wills, a divine one and a human one. This is just based on wiki, but it says that basically the key point of it is, ‘Apollinaris’ rejection that Christ had a human mind’. Obviously, what I laid out earlier is the exact opposite of that, so Apollinarism certainly can’t be ascribed to my statements. Further, my description of theology dealing with the nature of Christ is quite Orthodox. The idea that Christ is both fully human and fully God is a basic tenant of mainstream Christianity. I didn’t know these terms before looking them up just now, but a more broad term for what I argued is ‘Dyophysitism’, the view of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the large majority of Protestantism, while Apollinarism is ‘Monophysitism’.

          • felixcox

            “How does saying that the Father was not crucified say they are autonomous and not one? ”

            That you ask this suggests you are either not thinking about the sentences you type, or that you are arguing in bad faith. Please- if YOU say you weren’t crucified but YOUR SON was- you would be foolish to assert that the two of you were autonomous…
            The burden is on you, not us, to show why the obvious (that Jesus is distinct from the Father) is not true. And one verse in John won’t cut it, since it’s so obviously contrary to the portrait painted by the earlier gospels, and so obviously against common sense.

          • 013090

            This will once again be a consoldated response, since I believe you had 3 or 4 different replies to me.

            Heh, it is fairly tough to keep track of what is in response to what with how these threads are organized, so forgive me if I make any mistakes in that regard. Also, sorry for the delayed response, I was traveling over the weekend.

            As for the immediate above, look to my response before to FA. You replied but ignored the counter point I made. Why is my statement simply me not thinking? And I promise it is not out of bad faith. You have to at least reply to my counter point to him on the issue if you make that claim.

            As for other verses, how about outside the Gospels? If your criteria is the earliest written material, then the Gospels shouldn’t be our starting point. The scholarly consensus is that to have a best look at early Christianity, we should not look to the Gospels, but to the Epistles. Many of them were written a good bit before any of the Gospels, and by different authors. If we use those, the idea of the Trinity is much more plainly written out. It is clear the idea was very prevalent in the very early Christian Church. That was my main allusion when I referenced cherry picking of verses. So take those into account with the Gospel of John, and it is easy to understand how a modern Christian comes to the conclusion of a Trinity. The exact word isn’t used but it is all but spelled out in their earliest religious texts.

            Also, you keep hitting on the idea of dogma being written over the centuries. Of course that is the case, but so what? The point isn’t to say what should have won out in the early days of a plethora of views, but whether the idea of the Trinity is polytheism. That is why it is very important to see what Trinitarian dogma says on the matter, in regards to biblical canon. What reasoning did they use, and why? So just because certain ecumenical councils happened centuries later does not mean Trinitiarianism is polytheism.

            As for your point about the hand being distinct from the brain (which seems to be your only disagreement with the analogy), yes, the two are distinct in a sense. But it doesn’t mean they are not one body. The point is that the hand has no autonomy, since they are of one will (the Father and Son). So if we define autonomy as based in wills (and that definition is extremely important to ensure we aren’t merely debating semantics), showing distinctions (which of course a Trinitarian would never deny, but fiercely argue for) does not hurt the concept of the Trinity. If they were mere family members, they would have their own wills.

            As for the point that you said I didn’t respond to, I had responded but in an indirect way. My apologies for not making it more clear though as I should have. But I will respond more directly now.

            Why would you be ridiculed? You said because one comes from the other. But we are not dealing with the biological here, but the spiritual. Christian texts clearly state that God is eternal and spirtual, and hence is not ‘born’ (the humanity of Jesus was born, but not the divinity). The Son does not come from the Father because they both always existed. The Title the ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ are more analogies, but like any analogy you cannot take it to any limit not spelled out in the analogy (Would it be valid to say the Father had to physically have sex with Mary or else the idea that he was the Father would be ridiculed?).

          • felixcox

            As I said, your opinion seems to be based more on the traditions that emerged long after the death of Jesus. St Paul did not know Jesus and only claimed to have visions of him (as mohammed claimed gabriel visited him, as Joseph claimed moroni visited him)- as with any court of law, I am not taking his alleged visions as adequate proof of his authority. My narrative comes only from the texts that claim to portray Jesus and his ministry (i.e. the gospels). Within the gospels, there is merely one verse that supports the trinity; while there are dozens and dozens, many direct quotes from both father and son themselves (!) that instead are more harmonious with the notion of Jesus not being equal to the father. It’s that simple. I know, I KNOW how successive generations reinterpreted this. And my point is very simply that such reinterpretations are contradicted by more verses than they are supported by.
            Pretend we take all the verses that support polytheism (e.g. god saying “this is my son…” or Jesus saying, “I will sit next to the father in heaven”) and tally them up, and then tally up the gospel verses that support the trinity. it would be maybe 30 to one in favor of polytheism. That’s my point- that all the subsequent interpretations go directly against the majority of verses that address the nature of Father and Son. I’m well aware of the rhetorical techniques to get over this unfortunate fact- but the facts are the facts. They do not argue for trinitarianism, for the most part. On a plain reading, there is strong evidence in favor of polytheism – IN THE FOUNDATIONAL TEXTS.

          • 013090

            You make three points in your response.

            1. These are traditions which emerged long after.

            But the Epistles, which certainly were not long after, and come from multiple authors, show these traditions were around in the very early Church.

            2. You criticize the role of Paul.

            But Paul was not the only author of the Epistles; even most attributed to him are not written by him (the authors are unknown). So these scriptures were not all written by merely Paul. Also, yes, Paul did not know Jesus, but neither did the authors of the Gospels. As a matter of fact, Paul was much closer time wise to Jesus than any of the authors of the Gospels were (neither of the apostles Matthew or John wrote the Gospels attributed to them). He was a contemporary of Peter and James the brother of Jesus, and additionally it is clear that many of the base theologies were not made by Paul, seeing as the early Christian communities he visited didn’t take his claims of Jesus as some extravagant and new claim like they would have otherwise. So why are the authors of the Epistles all so unreliable according to you while the authors of the Gospels (excluding John) are reliable in this sense? Also, the synoptic gospel of Luke is widely considered to be written by the same author of Acts, most argue that they are part of one large work. Acts of course takes a strongly pro-Pauline stance. Your point on this issue seems inconsistent. Some of the Epistles are more truly foundational texts than the Gospels are (though as I will say below, I don’t think the other Gospels take an anti-Trinity view either).

            3. Jesus references the Father numerous times.

            You once again say that referring to them as the ‘Father’ or ‘Son’ means polytheism. I already responded to this point earlier, but you did not have a counter point, but merely reasserted your view.

            All this leads to the conclusion that we can’t say the NT clearly doesn’t teach the theology of the Trinity, as you have claimed. This doesn’t mean one must accept the theology, but the evidence does not at all support the idea that the only reason one believes the Trinity (and hence, monotheism) is out of some sort of ignorance or intellectual dishonesty (even if the Judeo-tradition descends long before from henotheism) as you have repeatedly claimed.

          • felixcox

            My thesis is simple. We can look at the gospels in light of the trinity and see how many verses are consonant/dissonant with that theory. We can look at the gospels in light of polytheism and see how many verses are consonant/dissonant with that theory. After doing so, I conclude that polytheism is the most logical and simple answer. If it looks like a duck, etc. Trinitarianism requires us to suspend our normal definition of terms (like god, son, autonomy) in order for it to make rhetorical sense. that’s special pleading.

            I do not hold the gospels as historically reliable as to their accounts of miracles. Oh, I’m quite aware of the consensus regarding both the authorship and dating of the gospels and epistles. But I do look at the gospels as accurately preserving at least some of the traditions at the time of their compositions. And the synoptic gospels simply do not portray Jesus as being equivalent to god; on the contrary, they explicitly portray him as being submissive to the father. Now, even if they did, of course that would not be sufficient reason to believe (for far too many reasons, and no time for that tangent here).
            No matter how you want to rationalize it, father and son are distinct. Same family- fine! but not the same being. That’s simply the way the world works. And if the god portrayed in the gospels was real and he meant for his son to be perceived as an equal, then he utterly failed, since he permitted the gospels to be canonized with all their references to the distinctness of the son.
            What I’m saying is hardly new- in fact, the doctrine of the trinity emerged precisely because it was becoming problematic as early christians were being called out for being polytheists. They had to find some way to have their cake and eat it to- hence, the trinity. Theologians have recognized how problematic the trinity is- even Aquinas- they concede it by saying “it’s a great Mystery…” In other words, it doesn’t make sense, but logic be damned, we’ll believe it anyway. God is not three persons. The old testament says NOTHING about this supposed tripartite division of yaweh. trinitarianism is very simply a post-hoc rationalization trying to harmonize contradictory accounts. Nobody (no body (singular) is more than one body). Nobody has submissive yet equal autonomous parts. This is very simple and it takes heavy indoctrination into trinitarianism in order to blind people of this simple fact.
            I don’t know what response you referred me to (I looked above but did not see anything that explains why a father and son are autonomous but the same- please refer me to your solution), but fathers and sons are distinct no matter if you are talking about man or gods. Hercules is a son of a god. but still he’s autonomous and he is distinct from Jupiter, his father. Given that christianity emerged in roman-occupied palestine, and given that within the roman pantheon gods were thought to have sons and daughters, and for humans to be deified, it makes no sense that Yahweh, all of a sudden, would borrow the exact same language of the dominant culture (son of god, like Ceasar) and intend it to mean something else. That would be pretty dumb of god, since such a theology would most certainly be confused with polytheism (as it explicitly was!). No, that doesn’t pass the smell test. It’s illogical and goes against the most obvious solution- that early christians were influenced (to some extent) by polytheism and later synthesized these ideas into the trinity. It’s called occam’s razor, and it dispenses with the trinity quite handily.
            I’ll put it another way. Granting that the trinity is true opens up a flood-gate of questions that cannot be satisfactorily answered. While granting that the trinity is not true, that instead christianity was simply another evolution of religion that borrowed from other cultures, answers most questions. It makes the most sense. It requires no special pleading (unlike trinitarianism, which wouldn’t exist without it).

          • 013090

            Let me answer your last paragraph first. It seems you are reframing the argument. I am not and have not been claiming the Trinity is true. I am not a Trinitarian. This is instead about whether Trinitarianism=Polytheism. Of course the Judeo-Christian tradition is influenced by poly/henotheism. No one here is denying that; I stated that was my opinion very early on in this discussion. And no one is saying Christianity, like any other religion, is not an evolution of other beliefs. But influence does not equate to equivalence.

            Also, it seems you are repeatedly reiterating your views, but you don’t reply to my counter points. You make a claim; I counter the claim; and then you repeat the claim without countering my counter. For example, you once again bring up the issue of authority, but I have already responded to that point multiple times without a more detailed response from you.

            Even if we assume that authority is an issue, how does Luke work into that equation in reference to your thoughts on the synoptics, with its clearly pro-Pauline author who would have been fully aware of Paul’s writings?

            As for thoughts by the likes of Aquinas saying parts of it are a mystery, sure, but how does that equate to them seeing it as polytheistic? It is more a mystery of how it works, not of whether it is polytheism. I doubt Aquinas would agree with your interpretation of his quote.

            The quote from my earlier post: “As for your point about the hand being distinct from the brain (which seems to be your only disagreement with the analogy), yes, the two are distinct in a sense. But it doesn’t mean they are not one body. The point is that the hand has no autonomy, since they are of one will (the Father and Son). So if we define autonomy as based in wills (and that definition is extremely important to ensure we aren’t merely debating semantics), showing distinctions (which of course a Trinitarian would never deny, but fiercely argue for) does not hurt the concept of the Trinity. If they were mere family members, they would have
            their own wills.

            As for the point that you said I didn’t respond to, I had responded but in an indirect way. My
            apologies for not making it more clear though as I should have. But I will respond more directly now.

            Why would you be ridiculed? You said because one comes from the other. But we are not dealing with the biological here, but the spiritual. Christian texts clearly state that God is eternal and spirtual, and hence is not ‘born’ (the humanity of Jesus was born, but not the divinity). The Son does not come from the Father because they both always existed. The Title the ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ are more analogies, but like any analogy you cannot take it to any limit not
            spelled out in the analogy (Would it be valid to say the Father had to physically have sex with Mary or else the idea that he was the Father would be ridiculed?).”

            So to summarize the above, distinction does not equate to autonomy if autonomy is defined by will and nature. Also, Zeus is still Zeus even without his sons. But the earliest Christian texts show a belief that the Father and Son are one, and that you can’t have one without the other. The Father is not God without the Son and Holy Spirit, etc… So such a relationship is simply not logically comparable to the idea of pagan deities and their offspring.

          • felixcox

            Thanks for the response. We probably don’t always mean the same thing when we reference “christianity.” Most christians probably disagree to an extent among themselves. The word encompasses many things. My comments are focused on the traditional sources of knowledge [gospels] about the life and deeds of Jesus. Separately I can talk about Paul or whoever else. but he was not there during the alleged events, nor does he provide a narrative about Jesus (beyond a very cursory checklist of being born a woman, dying for sins, rising from death). No quotes. So sticking to the gospel, the direct reading is incompatible with the subsequent notion of the trinity. Yes, most christians will disagree and will try to harmonize (creatively ‘interpretion’) the quotes that so clearly show submissiveness and distinctness of action and will. And again and again, I will simply say a plain reading of the text is not consonant with the idea of Jesus being one and the same as the father. I’m well aware that there are mountains of texts of theologians trying to say, like you, that jesus spirit was eternal and one with the father. But these are subsequent speculations that Jesus never advocates. On the contrary (with the one exception in John), he is quoted as putting himself submissive and disctinct- an obediant chosen servant to carry out the will, NOT HIS WILL, but his father’s. So carry on with telling me what subsequent christians invented to rhetorically have their cake and eat it to, and I will once again point you back to the foundational narrative (gospels) of the christian faith.

            As to your flawed hand/brain analogy, it doesn’t matter that they are one body. A body is not a hand. a hand is not a body. a hand is not a brain. hand==brain. I don’t understand. Are you suggesting that because hand and brain are part of a body, then hand=body? Because it simply does not follow.
            That’s why I repeated the analogy of my family. My father shares a substance with me. But he’s not me. You can then protest, but we’re talking about heavenly families! Ok. zeus and his son. whatever. doesn’t matter that SUBSEQUENT [edited here because i accidentally posted before i was done] christians created a word salad that allows distinct entities to be called one entity. Nor does it matter the relationship between Luke and Paul. Why? Because, as I said, my interpretation is derived from the actual text of the foundational narrative of Jesus’s life and deeds.

          • felixcox

            “The Trinity” doesn’t teach anything. Believers in the trinity teach things. I hope you can see the difference. And yes, as I said, believers in the trinity make up a word salad to pretend that multiple autonomous beings are really the same being.

            (hint- an all-powerful god would have no need to say a prayer to himself, as Jesus prayed to the father… definitely not the same god. please re-read the gospels)

          • 013090

            Wow, lots of different replies. Don’t have time now but I’ll respond later.

          • felixcox

            “Finally, the Egg analogy still stands, since as I said, there is no autonomy. The Trinity teaches that they all share the same will”

            Nope, your analogy completely fails exactly because no part of the egg is autonomous.
            “The Trinity” does not teach anything. Christians, rather, teach the trinity, and they further assert that each of the three shares the same will. Unfortunately for such people, the gospels contradict this doctrine. Jesus quite clearly and unambiguously distinguishes between him and the father. And nobody in the gospel is clear on what exactly is the holy spirit.

            But I think we are going in circles. I (and others) keep going back to the gospels- you keep running away from the gospels and asserting the doctrine of the trinity… which goes back to my original post, which claims that the trinity is an incoherent doctrine that is undermined by a plain, simple reading of the gospel text.

          • FA Miniter

            I mentioned Philo and also the Islamic concept of Tawhid above. Neither Judaism nor Islam considers Christianity to be a monotheistic religion. To both of them, God is unity, having no parts, no subdivisions, no distinct facets. You should step outside the belief system that you accept in order to evaluate the ideas of others.

            Trinitarianism is a form of polytheism, just limiting the number of god figures to three instead of a whole pantheon. The father did not get crucified; neither did the holy spirit. The holy spirit came in the form of a dove, not Jesus. The father said, “this is my son in whom I am well pleased” not Jesus or the holy spirit.

          • 013090

            You say I should step outside of my belief system. What is my belief system? Based on your statement, I think you’d be surprised as to what I believe. Just because I defend the monotheism of Christianity does not mean I am a Christian, and on any issue I am willing to change my mind if the evidence leads there. I am just discussing whether Christinaity is monotheistic.

            Obviously Jews and Muslims have a different form of monotheism, but why must there only be one form of monotheism? And what makes the Jews and Muslims right? Just because they are different doesn’t make them right.

            I challenge the very basic concept that to be ‘One’ there can be no subdivisions or parts. What logic supports that? It is an easy claim to make, but not easily supported. We are each one human with many different parts, and nations have one national government with many different parts. It isn’t a mere pantheon in Christianity because each is dependent on the other, and cannot exist without the others, and the others cannot exist without it. Their existence and self is definitively based on and a part of the others. That is not just a pantheon. That is a far too simplified view.

          • felixcox

            “It isn’t a mere pantheon in Christianity because each is dependent on the other, and cannot exist without the others, and the others cannot exist without it. ”

            So you assert without evidence. For centuries, Yahweh never ever claimed to be a tri-part god- we see no hint of Jesus or holy spirit. But after Jesus, and centuries later after theologians invented the trinity, we are supposed to assume that after all those centuries without mentioning it, Yaweh is dependent on Jesus, cannot exist without Jesus, and vice versa?! Where’s your evidence? It’s certainly not in the bible- or at least, not a plain reading of the text. As I said, we can creatively ‘interpret’ any text to mean anything we want. But I’m talking about a plain reading. What do you have aside from a traditional point of view?

          • 013090

            I know you had four recent responses, but I am going to consolidate my response here in one post for organizational purposes.

            It seems much of your argument centers around one thing, whether or not the Christian God’s different godheads have ‘autonomy’. If it is possible that they don’t then much of your argument is invalid. You bring up some reasons to oppose the idea of autonomy. The two main points you bring up are as follows:

            1. Jesus says to the Father, ‘Your will be done’. Hence he has a different will.
            2. Jesus says he will sit at the right-hand of the father. Hence they are not both part of one God.

            With all due respect, neither of those support your point. For (1), we have to take a looks at Christianity 101. What was God incarnate? It was Jesus. Who is Jesus? The Son taking on a fallen human form. What does Christianity teach about Jesus and his body’s fallen nature? It teaches that Jesus had two wills, one of the spirit, which was God, and one of the flesh, which was not God. It was human. So, the flesh had a will not to die, just as it had a will to sin through all of his life. But the point is that Christianity teaches that Jesus was perfect, and that fallen human will was always subject to the perfect will of God. His god-aspect always resisted his flesh-aspect’s desire to sin.

            So, he is saying in essense, ‘Not the will of my flesh, but the will of the Father’. But nowhere can you use that statement to logically say that the Father and Son (the spirit, not the flesh) do not share the same will. In that area, the burden of proof lies with you. In extension, the point of the resurrection is that afterwards, his flesh was redeemed. So the flesh’s will is now in line with God’s will. According to Christian teaching, the same will happen in the future for the ‘righteous’.

            So, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit according to Christinaity all have one will and nature.
            For (2), it ties in to what I said earlier. A hand is separate from the arm, but they are still part of one body. So saying that they will sit next to eachother cannot be logically intepreted to mean that they do not share the same will and nature. Also, keep in midn that this is most likely metaphorical, in that it is a reference to authority (which i’ve gone into in past posts).

            To show that Jesus says that the Father and Son are not the same, it takes more than to show Jesus referencing the Father. The mind references the hand but it does not mean they are not one body. You need to show Jesus saying the Father and Son have different wills and natures.

            So this is all consistent with the idea that there is only one autonomy.

            Also, you mention that I avoid the gospels. How have a done that? It doesn’t matter if John was written later, it is still part of the gospels recognized by Christians as the inspired word of God that clearly states that Jesus is God. With all due respect, we can’t simply cherry pick the parts that support our arguments. We either take it all into account or none when it comes to determining whether Christian Trinitarian thought is in accord with the gosples.

            Also, I remind you that I have no reason to merely defend the ‘traditional’ view. I don’t believe in Christian tenets even more basic than the Trinity. I have no bias to defend Christinaity on this matter.

          • felixcox

            All you have done is repeat christian dogma that emerged centuries after the events of the NT. As I have repeated, a plain reading of the texts do not support this dogma (unless “creative interpretation” is used).

            Specifically, there is no verse that supports your assertion that “Jesus had two wills, one of the spirit, which was God, and one of the flesh, which was not God…”

            That’s the centuries-later dogma I’m talking about.

            “The mind references the hand but it does not mean they are not one body. You need to show Jesus saying the Father and Son have different wills and natures…”

            Nope. The brain references the hand, and yes, they are part of the same body, but the brain is distinct from the hand (just as a father is distinct from the son, even though they are from the same family). The gospels show us that Jesus was ignorant about what the father knows (at the same time, they do not make nonsensical claims about Jesus having two wills). That is inconsistent with John’s assertion. And because there is only one such assertion (that Jesus is God), and dozens of references that are 100% consonant with the idea of two gods, then that’s all I need to show that 3/4 gospel writers did not think of Jesus the way John did. You try to harmonize it just like evangelical and catholic apologists; like them, you cherry pick one quote from John, and ignore the dozens of quotes that, as I said, are 100% consonant with the idea of autonomy (ironically, claiming I’m the one cherry picking!).
            Jesus sitting by himself in heaven? That makes no sense.

            I’ll once again repeat the parallel you haven’t addressed. Imagine I presented my son (who has a distinct will), and I claimed that he and I were really the same because we share some essential qualities (which would obviously be true), I would correctly be ridiculed for denying the obvious- that having a son by definition means the introduction of ANOTHER person. No semantics could rationalize a silly idea like father and son are the same.
            It just makes no sense if you really think about it. As I said, I was a devout believer, and it was kind of hilarious when I finally could see how hopelessly irrational the trinity is.

          • FA Miniter

            As I said in another recent post, you seem to have one foot in the Docetic heresy, another foot in the Sabellian heresy, and a third foot (?) in the Apollinarian heresy. Trinitarianism is very sophisticated stuff. Reference to the Catechism is not going to answer the questions.

          • felixcox

            So you are conceding that there are disctinct heavenly beings; with distinct wills; with disctinct actions?
            If you concede these, then you are conceding that they are separate persons (just like the ancient hymn says, “God in three persons, blessed trinity”). And if you happen to call those persons gods, then voila! you’ve just described a pantheon! Yes yes, we all know that the trinity tries to deny this using semantics. But if it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. If it looks like polytheism, smells like polytheism, then yes, it’s polytheism.

            Again, if a follower of Odin decided that only Odin counts as a god, even though there are other autonomous subordinate beings in Valhalla, then fine! It’s a free country, and a follower can make up new terms till the cows come home. But the rest of us can see that all he did was take the pantheon and redefine it. The fact is, Odin is not alone up there. Just like in heaven, where Jesus allegedly claims THAT HE WILL SIT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER.
            We can’t make it any clearer than Jesus does. I don’t sit next to my self. You don’t either. When you sit next to somebody, even your spouse, you are still a distinct person. How can this be any clearer?

          • Enric Martinez

            Wrong. The vast mayority of Christians are Roman Catholics, these does not only worship the Trinity, but the Virgin Mary and a wide amount of saints.

            Even worse: While at the official level there are three mayor entities of worship (Jesus, God/Javew and the Virgin Mary) plus the saints (just recall Saint Patrick), at the popular level Catholics and similar non-reformed Christian sects do actually incur in plain and simple idolatry, meaning by which that they do attribute divine powers to certain images of Jesus, the Virgin and the Saints, such as Orthodox Icons, the famous Virgin of Guadalajara, El Jesus del Gran Poder in Seville. You would be astonished about how people speak about these, you may for instance learn that somebody prayed to a particular image of Christ or the Virgin and he or she didn’t respond and then went to another image of the very same personage which granted his wishes.

            Or in Football, were different Madonnas protect different clubs and therefore among themselves.

            This is more than mere polytheism; this is practically animism.

            Please note that as a Spaniard raised in Germany I am pretty well informed about the uses and beliefs of both Catholics and Protestants (I was raised an atheist if that matters)

        • FA Miniter

          Being created does not mean that the entity is not a god. Plenty of gods from Greece to Egypt were created. For instance, Athena sprang from the mind of Zeus, but was a powerful goddess, and Zeus himself was the child of Cronus and Rhea. If the entity is immortal and has powers beyond those of humans, the designation of god applies.

          There is also evidence that Yahweh, the god of the Jews and Christians, was one of the sons of El, a Canaanite/Phoenician god.

          • 013090

            I completely agree, but that does not contradict my point. My point is what makes angels gods in the Christian tradition (unique from the traditions it descends from)? Sure, the concept of angels is likely descended from the idea of lesser deities. But in the Christian tradition they have been downgraded. Angels are not worshiped, sacrificed to, exalted, etc… they are seen as tools of Yahweh, and not at all treated as deities. Sure, they are considered supernatural beings, but so are humans.

          • Enric Martinez

            But saints do!
            And the Mother of God, the Virgin Maria is worshiped as an equal to Jesus and not only in folkloric Catholicism and Orthodox traditions but even by the official theology of these churches.

        • Enric Martinez

          In this case all religions are monotheistic as all of them have such a being that is not created and creates the rest of the lot.

      • FA Miniter

        Well said. Anyone familiar with Philo’s concept of the unity of God or Islam’s theory of Tawhid cannot see Christianity as monotheistic. Apart from the problem of the trinity, the many supernatural beings you mention are an enormous problem. And the Christian god does not seem to be able to destroy his biggest enemy.

      • Enric Martinez

        And don’t forget the Saints!
        Saints are deified humans in the same way the Romans used to deify their emperors and some important figures.
        Even Islam is de facto politheistic a it has at least one such deified human, Mohammed and quite a bunch of angels and such.

  • Jeff Martin

    Where is the evidence that the 10th century is the date for Zoroaster? I read from scholars that it was about 500BC. Also where is the evidence that says Akenaten was a henotheist rather than a monotheist?

    • Agni Ashwin

      500 BCE is probably too late. The language of the Zoroastrian scriptures points at least to 1000 BCE, perhaps 1500 BCE.

      • Jeff Martin

        Could you give me a reference?

        • Agni Ashwin

          Zoroastrianism: An Introduction, by Jenny Rose, p. 9.

          Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, by
          Mary Boyce, p. 2.

    • moon_bucket

      I don’t know what the evidence is but I recently listened to a profs podcast and he said that there are some who say 500 BCE and some who say 1000 BCE. IIRC he agreed with ~500 BCE

    • FA Miniter

      It looks to me as though Akhenaten (whose rule ended about 1333 bce) was a monotheist. He suppressed the worship of Amun and the priests of Amun as well. Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, in his historical novel, Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, portrays him as a monotheist and forerunner of Jesus and Muhammad.

    • Raymond McIntyre

      Quote from an article I wrote on this issue. “. . .Zoroaster is generally accepted as an historical figure, but dating just when Zoroaster lived is fraught with difficulty. The most widely accepted calculations place him near to 1200 BCE thus making him a candidate for the ‘founder of the earliest religion based on revealed scripture’ while there are other estimates that date his life anywhere between the 18th and the 6th centuries BCE. The Gathas and the chapter known as Yasna Haptanghaiti are all written in Old Avestan and the language used in these passages is much older than the language used in other parts of the Zoroastrian writings which are called the Avesta and which are written in what is called Young Avestan.
      Old Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit are both descendants of the Proto-Indo-Iranian language and the Gathic Old Avestan is still quite close in structure to the Sanskrit of the Rig-Veda in language usage. However the Sanskrit of the Rig-Veda is somewhat more conservative in outlook and structure than the Avestan of the Gathas and so, based on the changes in the languages, scholars date the Gathas to around 1000 BCE, give or take a couple of centuries. . .”

  • charles.hoffman.cpa

    Zoro may have been the first monotheism, but Jews were the ones who started serving pickled herring at their circucisions

  • Raymond McIntyre

    Zoroaster was a fascinating person.