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13. Meaning of Monotheism

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

MEANING OF MONOTHEISM

As we shall see, the Allãh of the Qur�ãn says again and again that he is not revealing anything new but only re-affirming what is already recorded in the earlier scripture, namely, the Bible. He is annoyed with the Jews in particular for their refusal to recognize Muhammad as a prophet when their own prophets were known to have spread the same message received from the same source. Muhammad, too, is pained that his people repudiate him without checking with the Jews and the Christians the truth of what he is proclaiming. Muslim theologians of later ages will deny that Muhammad learnt anything from the Bible. In their eagerness to invest Muhammad with an absolutely original inspiration, they will portray him as an illiterate (ummî) who could neither read nor write. But we will better believe Allãh and his prophet rather than the latter-day Muslim theologians, and proceed to examine what the Bible says vis-a-vis other people�s gods and places of worship.

The Bible is, of course, a large and complex composition spanning several centuries and dealing with diverse subjects. We shall confine ourselves to the main theme which runs through all its book except most of the Psalms and Proverbs, namely, the struggle by a succession of prophets to make the Jews stick to a strict monotheism with all its implications. The prophets speak on behalf of a boastful being who introduces himself as Jehovah and thunders a thousand time that he alone is worthy of worship to the exclusion of all �other gods�. Moses hails him as �a warrior� whose name �the nations heard and trembled.�

The story in the Bible starts a long time before Jehovah identifies himself to Moses. But that story is not relevant in the present context except at one point where Jacob asked his people to �rid yourselves of foreign gods you have among you� and �buried them under the tere-binth tree.� For our purpose, the story acquires interest only after Moses leads his people out of Egypt and goes up to Mount Sinai where he has been summoned by Jehovah �in a peal of thunder.� That is when Moses receives the famous Ten Commandments.

The commandments that are relevant in the present context are the first two. Jehovah says, �I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods set against me. You shall not have a carved image for yourself nor the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, for, I, the Lord your God am a jealous god. I punish the children for the sins of their forefathers to the third and fourth generations of those that hate me.� He does not make it clear how homage to other gods means hatred for him.  He betrays the pathological state of mind in which a person feels slighted simply because some other person is praised. In any case, he goes ahead and lays down that �whoever sacrifices to any other god but the Lord shall be put to death under solemn ban.�

This was no empty threat as Moses proved soon after. While he went up to Mount Sinai for a second time his people down below melted their ornaments, made a golden calf, and started worshipping it with song and dance. Jehovah was furious. He threatened to destroy the whole lot of them, and Moses had a hard time pacifying him. Moses hurried down in order to handle the situation. �Then he took the calf they had made and burnt it; he ground it to powder, sprinkled it on water and made the Israelites drink it.� Next he took his place at the gate of the camp and said, �Who is on the Lord�s side? Come here to me; and the Levites all rallied to him. He said to them, �These are the words of the Lord the God of Israel: Arm yourselves, each of you, with his sword. Go through the camp from gate to gate and back again. Each of you will kill his brother, his friend, his neighbour.� The Levites obeyed, and about three thousand of the people died. Moses then said, �Today you have consecrated yourselves to the Lord, because you have each turned against his own son and his own brother and so have brought this blessing upon yourselves.� � All ties of kinship which normal societies, particularly pagan societies, have prized stood dissolved in the new dispensation. A brotherhood of believers (or bandits) based on a commonly shared cult came into existence. Muhammad will also call upon the Muslims to do the same and acknowledge no relationship higher than obedience to the dictates of Islam.

Jehovah made it quite clear to the Jews that if they failed to punish those among them who turned to other gods, he will take the matter in his own hands and inflict terrible calamities on the whole people. �If inspite of this you do not listen to me and still defy me, I will defy you in anger, and I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. Instead of meat you shall eat your sons and your daughters. I will destroy your hill shrines and demolish your incense altars. I will pile your rotting carcases on the rotting logs that were your idols, and I will spurn you. I will make your cities desolate and destroy your sanctuaries� I will destroy your land and the enemies who occupy it shall be appalled. I will scatter you among the heathen and I will pursue you with the naked sword; your land shall be desolate and your cities heaps of rubble.� He left no one in doubt that he was a hardened gangster who would stop at no crime. We shall meet him again in the Qur�ãn.

The �other gods� are not worth worshipping because they are �made by human hands out of wood and stone, gods that can neither see nor hear, neither eat nor smell.� Idols are not only dead matter but also �loathsome and abominable.� They cannot help, nor save you in an emergency. We shall meet the same note in the Qur�ãn. Allãh will also pity the people who bow before such �dead and dumb things�.

The march towards the land, which Jehovah had long ago promised to deliver to his Chosen People, was resumed. Jehovah himself led the Jewish horde, assuming the form of a cloud. On the way he gave elaborate instructions about how he himself was to be worshipped. At last they were on the frontiers of the promised land. Jehovah briefed them how to proceed: �When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you are entering to occupy and drive out many nations before you-Hitites, Girgashites, Amorites, Cananites, Perrizites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations more numeous and powerful than you--when the Lord your God delivers them into your power and you defeat them, you must put them to death. You must not make a treaty with them or spare them. You must not intermarry with them, neither giving you daughters to their sons nor taking their daughters for your sons: if you do, they will draw your sons away from the Lord and make them worship other gods. Then the Lord will be angry with you and quickly destroy you. But this is what you must do to them: pull down their altars, break their sacred pillars, hack down their sacred poles and destroy their idols by fire, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God chose you out of all the nations on earth to be his special possession.�

Jehovah also warned the Jews against reformers who may appear among them. �When a prophet or dreamer appears among you and offers you a sign or a portent and calls on you to follow other gods whom you have not known and worshipped, then, even if the sign or portent should come true, do not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer� That prophet or that dreamer shall he put to death, for he has preached rebellion against the Lord who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the path which the Lord your God commanded you to take. You must rid yourselves of this wickedness.� The gate was thus slammed for ever against any second thoughts on the subject. The Israelites were to remain in the prisonhouse of monotheism for all time to come.

The conquest of the promised land proceeded apace, accompanied by unmitigated slaughter and rapine. Jehovah commanded his servants again and again not to leave alive anything that breathes. �So Joshua massacred the population of the whole region-the hill country, the Nageb, the Shephelah, the watersheds-and all their kings. He left no survivor, destroying everything that drew breath as the Lord God of Israel had commanded.� Jehovah took credit for all the victories and waxed eloquent in self-adulation.

But as the war of conquest drew to a close and the Jews settled down in the promised land they reverted more and more to the normal human habit of worshipping the Divine in many Names and Forms. They intermarried with the neighbouring non-Jewish tribes, defying the ban which Jehovah had imposed on them. The foreign brides brought their own Gods, and also priests who tended to those Gods. The defiance of Jehovah reached a new high in the reign of Solomon. He had seven hundred wives, most of them foreign princesses, and three hundred concubines who �turned his heart to follow other gods.� Jehovah warned him twice but to no avail. Solomon simply ignored him, and he could not do a thing. He consoled himself that he was sparing Soloman for the sake of the latter�s father, King David.

The Jewish kingdom split into two after the death of Solomon-Israel in the north with its seat at Samaria, and Judah in the south with its seat at Jerusalem. The scribes who wrote the story of Solomon credited Jehovah with a curse which broke the kingdom after Solomon�s death. It was wisdom after the event. In any case, the worship of other gods continued unabated. Ahab, king of Israel, had married a foreign princess, Jezebel, who was a devotee of Baal. Temples were built for the new God where his priests presided. Ahab himself paid homage to him. Elijah, a self-appointed prophet, admonished the king but was dismissed with contempt. So Elijah took resort to trickery. He invited the priests of Baal to Mount Carmel in order to demonstrate to them the superiority of Jehovah over Baal. His swordsem who lay in ambush seized four hundred and fifty priests. Elijah himself �took them down the Kishon and slaughtered them in the valley.� Then he ran away for dear life because queen Jezebel had summoned him.

The mantle of Elijah fell on Elisha. He earned his well-deserved reputation as a prophet by cursing some naughty children, forty-two of whom were torn to pieces by she-bears. He egged on an adventurer, Jehu, who seized the throne of Israel after slaughtering the sons of Ahab, and getting Jezebel thrown out of a palace window so that �some of the blood splashed on the wall and the horses who trampled her under foot.� The worship of Baal, however, was far from finished in the kingdom, and many of his priests were still around. Guided by Elisha, Jehu announced that he, too, had become a devotee of Baal and was holding a great sacrifice in the big temple in the capital city. He invited all the priests of Baal and saw to it that all of them assembled. His armed guard fell on them suddenly and slaughtered them to the last man. The idols in the temple were brought out and burnt. The sacred poles were broken and the sacred pillars pulled down. The temple was turned into a lavatory. Jehovah blessed the enterprise and confirmed the kingdom in the family of Jehu for four generations. Elisha lived thereafter a much satisfied man who had fulfilled his mission.

An so on, the story snowballs through the rest of the books in the Bible. The common people in the two kingdoms relapse into polytheism and idol-worship, again and again. More prophets appear on the scene and do what Elijah and Elisha had done. Each succeeding prophet turns out to be a gangster greater than the preceding one. They curse and torment their own people, and invoke calamites on them. But as the people remain indifferent to them, they feel utterly helpless and console themselves by praying for the �great day� when the Lord will destroy all other gods together with those who worshipped them.

Jehovah himself had always been intemperate in his language vis-a-vis those who strayed away from the straight path. But as he feels more and more helpless in the face of his people�s �obstinacy�, his language becomes increasingly foul and ends by being downright obscene. He views the worship of other gods as adultery and fornication, and denounces both kingdoms as harlots given to wilful whoredom.

He addresses his prophet Ezekiel and says: �Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations� And it came to pass after all thy wickedness, that thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place and made thee a high place in every street� and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed, and multiplied thy whoredoms. Thou has also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbours, great of flesh� They give gifts to all whores: but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and hirest them, that they may come unto thee from every side for thy whoredom� O harlot, hear the words of the Lord: Thus saith the Lord God: Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations� I will gather all thy lovers with whom thou has taken pleasure� I will gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness� And I will also give thee into their hands� and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords. And they shall bum thy houses with fire� and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot, and thou also shall give no hire any more.�

In another message to the same prophet, Jehovah says, �Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of the same mother. And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth : there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.� Turning to Samaria, he pronounces: �Neither left she her whoredoms brought from Egypt : for in her youth they lay with her, and they bruised the breasts of her virginity, and poured their whoredoms upon her.� Coming back to Jerusalem, his language becomes filthier. �And when her sister saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she, and in her whoredoms more than her sister in her whoredoms� For she doted upon their paramours whose flesh is as the flesh of asses and whose issue is like the issue of horses.�

Jehovah�s character, as portrayed in the Bible, can now be summed up. He behaves like a bully and a coward par excellence, apart from his proclaiming, again and again, that he is a hardened gangster who has committed many crimes. He takes the whole credit every time the Jews are victorious and commit slaughter and rapine. But when the tables are turned on the Jews, he turns tail and blames the Jews for betraying him by worshipping other gods. The Jews on their part try to return to monotheism, and its concomitant, iconoclasm, again and again, on being admonished by their prophets. But their situation does not improve. They get defeated and enslaved successively by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Mecedonians, the Seleucids, and the Romans. In the final round, the only country which they had occupied after making rivers of blood flow is lost to them for ever, and Jehovah�s only temple at Jerusalem is destroyed from the foundations, never to be built again. Jehovah does not bat an eye. He remains unshaken in the hallucination that he is the Lord.

His final volte-face on the Jews is simply breath-taking. Another self-appointed prophet named Jesus follows in the footsteps of his predecessors and harangues the Jews to repent, for the Last Day is drawing near. He shows some miracles, collects crowds, and gets picked up by the Roman police as a disturber of peace. Jehovah does not lift his little finger to save the his prophet from a cruel and shameful death; Jesus is crucified along with two common thieves. The prophets that follow beat their Lord�s record in double-talk. On the one hand, they pin down the crime of the Jews, so that this already tormented people gets subjected to repeated pogroms for two thousand years. On the other hand, they spread the abominable superstition that Jesus was the Christ who mounted the cross willingly and voluntarily in order to wash with his own blood the sins of mankind! Knavery, thy name is prophethood.

Reading the Bible between the lines, however, one cannot resist the conclusion that Jehovah�s blessing as well cursing is no more than wisdom by hindsight. Howsoever awsome he may sound, particularly because he has been for a long time the god of nations with bigger guns, he remains a contrived creation of a closed and cruel theology mounted mechanically on purely mundane happening. He does not exist and has never existed outside that theology, neither in history nor in any high heaven. The only dwelling place which can be assigned to him is in the dark drives of human nature. He has possessed successively or he has been appropriated by some bandit formations bent upon wanton aggression in order to carve out predatory empires. The fact that these formations advertise themselves as the Church or the Ummah should deceive no one.

Christianity which took over bodily the closed theology of Judaism committed the same crimes on a far more extensive scale. This is not the place to describe what the Christian theologians, missionaries and swordsmen did to the pagan people and their places of worship in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Oceania; for the present we are dealing with the Islamic theology of iconoclasm, and the Bible has come in because it is the source of that scourge. What we wish to point out is that in every case the Bible was their guidebook. �The introduction of Christianity, and more especially its establishment in the Roman Empire in the fourth century of our era, proved the destruction of pagan idols, however skilfully and elegantly formed. The crusade against the statues of gods commenced in the latter part of the reign of Constantine and continued gradually to advance, until under Theodosius the Younger it pervaded all parts of the Empire. Not that the Christians despised art or were incapable of appreciating aesthetic excellence, whether in painting or in sculpture, but their hostility to pagan idols was wholly of a religious nature.� Nearer home and as late as the sixteenth century, �At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before-that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the Hindu temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material were in most cases utilized to erect new Christian churches and chapels.� A complete history of Christian iconoclasm world-wide has yet to be compiled.  But judging from what we find scattered in the histories of Christianity in different countries, there is enough evidence that for a long time the Bible left a trail of devastation wherever it went.
 

Footnotes:

Exod. 15.3,14.

Gen. 35.2,4.

Exod. 19.19.

Exod. 20.2-5; See also Exod. 20.23; 23.13,24; 34.17; Lev. 19.4; 26.1; Deut. 4.16, 23-24; 27.14-15; Jos. 24.14,23; Isa. 42.8; Ezech. 20.6-8, 15-18, 23-24, 28-31, 39.

Exod. 22.20; Lev. 20-1-5; Deut. 17.2-5.

Exod. 32.20. Islamic invaders of India repeated the performance many times after burning Hindu idols. Mahmûd of Ghazni is the first to be credited with it in Muslim annals.

Exod. 32.26-29. See also Deut. 13.6-11; 17.2-5

Lev. 26.27-33. See also Deut. 4.25-28; 6.14-15; 8.9-20; 30.17-18; 31.16-18; 32.16-17,21,23-25, 37-42; Jos. 23.16; 24,20, 1 Kings 11.1-13, 2 Chr. 7.19-20; 34,24-25; Ps. 16.4; Isa. 19.1-4; Jer. 5.19; 7.16-20; 11.9-11; 16.18-21; 17.1-4; 18.21; 44.15-27; Ezech. 6.3-7, 13-14; 8.7-18; 16.35-43; Hos. 2.4-6; 10-13; 8.3-7; 10.1-8; 11.2-6; 13.1-3; Mich. 1.6-7; 5.13-14; Nah. 1.14; Zeph. 1.4-6., Zach. 11.17; Rev. 2.21-23.

Deut. 4.28. See also Ps. 115.4-8; 134.15-18; Isa. 37.12,19,38; 41.22-24; 44.9-20. 46.6-7; Jer. 10.1-5, 8-9, 14-15; 16.20; Zach. 10.2; 1 Cor. 8.4.

Deut. 7.26. See also Deut. 12.29-31; Jer. 4.1; 6.15; Acts 15.20; 1 Cor. 10.14;2 Cor. 6.15-18; Eph. 5.5; Col. 3.5; 1 Jn. 5.21.

Deut. 32.37-38; Judges 10.13-14; Ps. 96.5; 97.7; Jer. 2.28.

Deut. 7.1-6. See also Exod. 23.23-24, 27.32-33; 34.10, 12-17; Num. 33.50-56; Deut. 7.16. 23-26; 8.19-20, 12.1-3; Jos. 6.17; 8.1-8, 28-29; 23.7.

Deut. 13.1-5. See also Deut. 13.12-16; 18.20.

See Jos. 6.21-24; 8.22-25, 28-29; 10.5-40.

Jos. 10.40. See also Jos. 11.5-6, 8-9.

1 Kings 11.1-5.

1 Kings 18.17-40.

2 Kings 2.23-24.

2 Kings 9.33.

2 Kings 10.18-30.

See 2 Kings 11.17-18; 23.4-6,8,10-14; 15-16,19-20,24; 1 Chr. 14.8-12; 2 Chr. 14.2-5, 23.17; 33.1-15; 34.3-7 for some of the stories.

See Isa. 2.18-21; 17.7-8; 31.7-8.

Ezech. 16.2. �Abominations� means �idols�.

Ezech. 16.23-25. In plain language �eminent place� and �high place� mean a �brothel.� The reference is to temples of other gods which came up in every street. �Opened thy feet to everyone that passed� means worshipping every other god.

Ezech. 16.26. �Great of flesh� in plain language means �possessing a big male organ.� The reference is to the size of gods from Egypt.

Ezech. 16.33. What is meant by this passage is that people of Jerusalem worship gods who cannot reward them in exchange for their devotion. Jehovah cannot understand any worship which is spontaneous and without expectation of reward. He is fond of making convenants with his devotees, no matter whether he can fulfil them or not. He also threatens punishments, no matter whether he can carry them out or not.

Ezech. 16.35-41. Jehovah threatens to get Jerusalem destroyed by those very nations whose gods are worshipped in that kingdom. He will take credit when Jerusalem is attacked and destroyed by other nations, though he will have no hand in mobilizing the attacks. He is always wise after the event and his scribes pre-date his presence in the stories.

Ezech. 23-2-3. The passage means that the Jews used to worship others gods while they were in Egypt. Jehovah has a dirty mind and cannot help resorting to obscene language for stating simple facts which he finds unpleasant for his inflated ego. His language became the stock-in-trade of Christian and, later on, Muslim theologians.

Ezech. 23.8

Ezech. 23.11-20. �Flesh� means the �male organ� and �issue� the �semen� which pours out in orgasm. What is meant is that the people of Jerusalem loved to worship large-sized idols. See also Jer. 2.23-28; 3.1-2, 6-9, 13; 5.7-8; 11.13-15; 13.26-27; Ezech. 23.40-44; Hos. 1-2; 2.2; 3.1; 4.12-14; 5.3-4; 6.10; 9.1; Nah. 3.4-6. The same language is used for pagan Rome in Rev. 2.14,20-23; 14.8; 17.2; 18.3,9; 19.2. Early Christian missionaries in India used the same language for idol-worship by Hindus who felt puzzled because their morals were far better than those of the contemporary Christians. The language had to be deciphered before Hindus could grasp its import.

According to some Bible scholars Jesus himself staged his crucifiction in order to prove to his own advantage some Old Testament prophecies, and survived the ordeal to spread the story that he had risen from the dead. But here we are concerned with the version hawked by Christian tradition and theology.

Rev. James Gardner, Faiths of the World, London, 1860, New Delhi Reprint, 1986, Vol. I, p. 306. What Christian iconoclasm did in the Roman Empire has been partly documented in Pierre Chuvin, A Chronicle of the Last Pagans, Harvard University Press, U.S.A., 1990.

Hindus away quite a few of their idols and installed them in temples beyond the reach of the Christian missionaries who were protected by the Portuguese pirates.

T.R. de Souza in M.D. David (ed.), Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, Bombay, 1988, p. 18.  The destruction in Goa has been documented in A.K. Priolkar, The Goa Inquisition, Bombay, 1962 (reprinted by Voice of India, 1991), and that in Madras by Ishwar Sharm, The Myth of St. Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, Voice of India, 1991. What the Jesuits did in Pondicherry under the French has been summarized from the Diary of Anand Ranga Pillai in Sita Ram Goel, History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, Voice of India, 1989, pp. 377-86.