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The Birth of Monotheism

Lecture Tangier Global Forum Lecture Series

Mark Smith

Mark Smith

Monotheism (the belief in only one god), given birth in ancient Israel and known from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, has been a topic of fascination for centuries. In the modern times, monotheism functioned to advance Christian claims to "western" superiority as colonialist powers came into contact with "non-western" societies. Thus, monotheism has been a colonializing discourse. By contrast, the monotheistic discourse found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament served as a means to preserve and assert Israelite identity in the face of the colonizing power of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. This monotheistic discourse was grounded in traditional Israelite practice and thought and developed fully under the impact of both internal socio-political stresses and external influence from the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. This lecture will address the various factors that contributed to Israel's vision of one god for the world.


Mark S. Smith is Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary and formerly the Skirball Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University. After earning master's degrees from the Catholic University of America, Harvard Divinity School and Yale University, he completed his Ph.D. at Yale. He subsequently taught at Yale University and Saint Joseph’s University. Professor Smith also served as visiting professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a two-time winner of New York University’s Golden Dozen Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. He specializes in the study of Israelite religion and the Hebrew Bible, as well as the literature and religion of Late Bronze Ugarit. He is the author of more than 100 articles and 15 books, including The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (1990; second edition, 2002); The Pilgrimage Pattern in Exodus, with contributions by the archaeologist Elizabeth Bloch-Smith (1997); The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (2001); God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World (2008); Poetic Heroes: The Literary Commemoration of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World (2014 ); How Human is God? Seven Questions about God and Humanity in the Bible (2014); and Where the Gods Are: Spatial Dimensions of Anthropomorphism in the Biblical World (to appear this year). 


Tangier Campus Auditorium
Smith poster
2:00 PM US EST
Tangier Campus Auditorium

Tangier Campus

Free and open to the public