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One God. Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire, by Stephen Mitchell and Peter Van

Reviewed by Michele Renee Salzman

This is one of two volumes edited by these same scholars after a 2006 conference at Exeter on ‘Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire (1st-4th century A.D.)’.1 This conference aimed to clarify the differences between pagans and Christians in matters of monotheism.

The title of this volume, One God, suggests that the authors agree that there was a notion of ‘one god’ among pagans and that some form of religion had existed that could rightly be called ‘pagan monotheism.’ This is not the case, however, for there is no agreement on the existence of pagan monotheism, nor is there agreement among those scholars who accept this term on how to define it. Two of the papers argue strongly for the view that most of the documentary evidence for what others see as pagan monotheism should be interpreted from a polytheistic viewpoint, that is, as a exalting a divinity within a pluralistic context.

The argumentation on both sides of the issue by authors with strongly held views makes this an exciting volume to read. The contributors confront central issues of definition and theory as well as praxis. Their disagreement on the concept of pagan monotheism shows that there is room for more work on a topic that has contemporary relevance; as Christoph Markschies’s paper shows, the political consequences ascribed to monotheism, including its potential to justify hate and violence based on religious intolerance, would be called into question if one could argue that pagans also practiced monotheism. Indeed, the attributes of monotheism might have to be redefined if pagans could be demonstrated as having practiced it.

Read the original article at: Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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