Jewish Monotheism, Roman Polytheism. Atheism.

It is amusing to think that many religious Jews and Romans saw each other as atheists.

The Jews felt that polytheism showed that Romans had no concept of the supreme Creator, and were therefore atheists.

The Romans felt that Jews acknowledging only their one tribal god showed that Jews had no concept of the rich and diverse spiritual nature of the universe, and were therefore atheists.

So it goes.

Socrates – bearded old dude who lives on in libraries and T-shirts

The Jews had a point: the Roman gods didn’t look like they were capable of creating a planet, yet alone an entire Universe. They weren’t an orderly or spiritually uplifting bunch.

The Romans had a point: the Jews were claiming that there was only one God, and that He was their tribal god, and no one else’s counted. That’s a no-win situation for anyone but Jews.

Presumably a real atheist, whether Roman or Jew, didn’t give a damn either way.

3 comments on “Jewish Monotheism, Roman Polytheism. Atheism.

  1. ushashi says:

    Hello Robin, from a snowy Salt Spring!

    I have a hopefully quick comment, much amused as usual – and as always with eyes opened by you. (‘Hopefully’ quick for me as I have much else to do – and for you because I can write reams too much!)

    I am no authority on how Romans thought two thousand years ago, but I can speak as a Gentile. As a kid of 8 I started reading the Christian Bible from the beginning, like a book – I’d been to Sunday School for the first time. I was an avid reader. I can tell you the Old Testament was an eye-opener at 8. A great beginning! followed by deterioration and muddle. But I had spunk, I read i all the way through. No intermediaries.

    And what this little kid took away from ploughing her way through the begats and prophecies and major shambles is that in both Testaments an awful lot of what’s written doesn’t “come from God” – or Jesus, but from grown-ups who have views on both – and where there is plot, it’s not that dissimilar from the usual grown-up fare in the library: bafflingly insane. “I’m never going to grow up” was my ardent intention, born of having finished reading all the available children’s literature and moving on to literature for adults.

    The “Jewish God” I met in those pages as a child of 8 previously steeped only in very select parts of the New Testament, was not a God to catch the heart (I say select parts; my family followed the sayings of Jesus; they didn’t go to church, or deal with priests or vicars or other intercediaries, the line was direct with God – the three-‘head’ed God of Christianity. We hung out with God a lot – who was part Yahweh, part Jesus, part neat magic (“Holy Ghost – wow!”). Jesus the boy was one of my Imaginary Friends, along with Mowgli, Tarzan and Robin Hood – my four-headed inner mentor-companions, bearing scarce resemblance to their written form – eventually to be superceded by the likes of Alexander the Great (the Mary Renault one) and John Lennon… (Some time in my teens I opted for the Thinking Greeks over my previous admiration for, fascination with, the ingenious inventive Conquering Romans: the British ones; we were taught much of them in school, and Rosemary Sutcliff helped flesh them out quite a lot!). But my original Four Imaginary Friends have never been forgotten, never discarded (well, maybe Tarzan was discarded – but I think he may have taught me to read – when I was 4; and I owed him at least for that great eye-opener) But here I go, digressing.

    My morning thought was that a Roman who read the Old Testament as I did, to figure out the God of the Jews, were not unlikely to have felt as I did, that Yahweh was pretty much on a par with the rowdy messed-up brawling Roman gods. Your words struck a deep chord of memory – you nailed it: to me, the Jewish God in the Old Testament “did not look like he was capable of creating a planet, let alone an entire universe”, and he was so DECIDEDLY not an orderly chap, more a fear-mongering self-obsessed “loud and aggressive person, vexatious to the spirit”! – so, no, not a spiritually uplifting influence. I can no longer remember all the details of my reading that led to that final appraisal. But when people use the term “anger management issues” the God of the Old testament springs lively to mind. I have the impression he apologised often for his own behaviour – the rainbow reminds me. Mostly, I retain the idea that “followers” argue a lot, and on all sides I understood before he sang it out into the world, John Lennon’s plea for us to imagine “no religions too” – spirituality yes, but no orderly reorganisation of an original uplifting inspiration into established institutionalisation – not for me.

    My young Imaginary Friend Jesus was argumentative – very handy for the development of self-to-self debating skills – but he advocated calming down to a peaceful watching and re-establishment of understanding through gentleness and loving kindness as a valid solution to most of life’s difficulties as encountered by an 8-year-old who often did not listen to her elders (or even talk to them – despite the good guidance they did very much instil in me, I seem to have thought they were all too busy, wrapped up in their own problems as they were, to turn to them for help, when crisis swept me off my feet into the unruly dispirited loud and vexatious turbulent madness my family termed “Shashi going berserk” (my family nickname was – is – Shashi). Anger, fury, fear, spite, and above all revenge didn’t feel godlike to me, when I was filled with it (it is all one to me). There are an awful lot of vengeful-sounding gods out there. I was an amazingly creative little kid, and so happy – that’s what felt godlike. As did loving people. I’m afraid even Jesus did not impress me with how loving he was, written about by his admirers on paper.

    My mum seemed to live by Love being God, rather than the other way round. My dad told me again and again that “God is in every stick and stone and leaf and tree, God is in you, and God is in me” – crouched down beside me at my level, pointing out the things of Nature, weather, the passage of the seasons, the stars and the universe all around us, touching us. He would poke my chest as he said “God is in you” and poking his own chest as he said “God is in me” – “and don’t you forget it, OK?” before being wrapped in a loving joyous celebratory whirling hug. God’s not the only one in me – my dad’s in me still, though he died when I was barely 30 and I am 70 now. All my dead reside in me. And Baba Hari Dass is here with me, and within me too, now that he too has done that thing they call “died”. I love the three-headedness (all-is-one) of the explanatory concept of Brahma the “Creator”, Shiva the “Destroyer” (“Transformer” is a better translation for me) and Vishnu the “Preserver” – but it’s Ganesh I talk to, plead with for assistance, thank! God ’n Ganesh: the Imaginary Friend of my adulthood, guiding me through the Creation, life-giving Transformations, and Preserving of the Essence of the Salt Spring Centre School that amazingly thrives on to this day, 35 years since it first “opened” like a bud, in September 1983. Its joints have become a little stiff with seemingly inevitable institutionalisation, but its heart beats on as ever. I thoroughly enjoy those ritual aspects of the Hindu religion that “spark joy in me” – those “in” words of the moment! But in the end, no, I’m not into religions – or even “God” perhaps? I’m into “yoga as a way of life” I guess – but I’ve retained that questioning little 8-year-old’s spirit of taking a good look and figuring it out for yourself not through ‘authorities’, but what you discover seems “true” to you, because it “works” – for you, and keeps doing so. To keep me free, joyous, light, buoyant, shining, radiant, peaceful; perfectly content. That’s what I’ve figured out I need to keep alive in me, to feel God is in me along with every stick and stone and leaf and tree. God should be capable of perfect contentment with everything, don’t you think? unrattled by the foolishness of the ungodly – and the overgodly. Yes – and by any passing lapses into foolishness of oneself.

    I think my point, in brief, is that each side could have felt the same way about the other’s godheads. It takes time and commitment to come to understand complex concepts made simple by being told in stories. To BOTH sides, the other’s idea of God probably looked incapable and uninspiring. As did the both the Roman Gods and the Jewish God, when I was 8.

    Hello Ganesh, as I knew you! Usha


    Liked by 1 person

  2. ushashi says:

    How did that happen! I left out the last brief paragraph … Here that is:

    “And I thought of myself as a secret atheist, posing as a believer in ‘God’. No change there, really – but oh how I do love to dwell with the gods! Life without spirituality would be depressing, I think – achingly, poignantly pointless. So Imaginary Gods dwell within me.”


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the really long and thoughtful comment! From one island to another… personally, I prefer that I could swim today, than enjoying the beauty of snow…
      You might also be interested in my other blog: which is where most of my current blogging and poetry goes. Tomorrow’s blog post links to a poem that is (sort of) in sync with your comments.
      Give me a mailing address, and I’ll send you something frivolous.


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