Monotheism and Polytheism

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The earliest people that we know of were all polytheistic: they all worshipped many gods. From 3000 BC to 539 BC, the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians all worshipped pretty much the same set of gods, despite their cultural differences. The most important of these gods was Ea. Ishtar was the most important goddess. Like the Greek Aphrodite and Demeter, or the Roman Venus and Ceres, or the German Freya, Ishtar was a fertility goddess.

The Phoenicians and Canaanites, further west along the Mediterranean coast, were also polytheistic, but they had different gods. Their most important god was Baal, and some reports say that the Phoenicians and Canaanites sacrificed their children to him. Their most important goddess was Astarte, another fertility figure. The Hittites arrived later, around 2500 BC, and had different gods because they were Indo-Europeans, but they were polytheistic too.

The first signs of monotheism in West Asia come from the Bible, where by around 1000 BC the Jews seem to have already thought that they should worship only their own one God. They clearly believed that there were many gods, but they should only worship theirs, and in exchange he would take care of them against all the other gods. They may have gotten this idea from the Egyptians. SIGN IN

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