Comparing Polytheism & Monotheism

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Comparing Polytheism & Monotheism

Religion was a major part of life in all early civilizations. However, not all religions were the same across these diverse civilizations. One way to categorize religions is by the number of divine beings or gods that followers believe in. Monotheistic religions feature a single god or divine being. Polytheism refers to religions in which followers believe in more than one god.

Civilizations such as the Sumerians and Ancient Egyptians practiced polytheism. In early Sumerian society, each city-state had its own god that protected it. As time passed, major Sumerian deities would include Enlil, the god of wind, air, earth, and storms, Ninhursag, the goddess of the mountains, Shamash, the god of the sun, and his father Nanna, the god of the moon.

Later, Sumerian gods would come to maintain human forms and traits. Sumerians believed that their role was to serve the gods. Religious ceremonies were conducted at a large temple in the center of the city known as a ziggurat. 

Comparing Polytheism & Monotheism

In Ancient Egypt, religion was very important. A pharaoh was the divine leader and considered to be both man and a god. Egyptians believed in many gods and sometimes gods would take the form of animals. Ra was the sun god and king of all the gods. Egyptians believed in life after death. They believed the body was needed in the afterlife, and they would preserve the body to be taken along with the spirit to the afterlife. They used a process called mummification to preserve bodies for the journey into the afterworld.

There are several ancient civilizations that were monotheistic. Zoroastrianism was the main monotheistic religion in Persia. It is based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster. Followers of Zoroastrianism believed in one god called Ahura Mazda. Their holy book was known as the Avesta. Zoroastrianism also holds the belief in the duality of good and evil. The religion is believed to have influenced later religions in history, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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Judaism began with the Hebrews and is also an example of a monotheistic religion. Abraham is the first prophet and founder of Judaism. Their sacred text is the Torah. Judaism believes in one god who speaks through prophets.

Another major prophet in Judaism was Moses. He is believed to have led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, and wander the desert for 40 years in search of the Promised Land.

Polytheism and Monotheism do have similarities, in that they both have the belief in god(s) or divine being(s). Both belief systems are considered forms of theism. This means that they believe in a god(s) that interact and have a personal relationship with their believers, as opposed to deism in which the belief is that the creator does not interact with the universe.  

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