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Is it true that there was a time when Jews believed in the existence of several Gods instead of just One? Somebody told me that there was a time when they even worshiped different Gods - even after Moses. Is that true?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Throughout the Bible, many Jews keep veering into idolatry, such as the examples seen in Yaakov's answer. (Fascinatingly the whole idolatry thing comes to a screeching halt right around the Jews' return from Babylon to Israel around 2500 years ago. The Talmud says there was some "itch" that idol-worship seemed to "scratch" that dissipated then.)

But the "proper Jewish belief and practice" was clearly in one God -- just that lots of Jews kept having problems following it, apparently.

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Very interesting. Thank you. –  brilliant Apr 18 '12 at 0:36

You have to make a distinction between believing in the existence of multiple gods (which is clearly accepted in the Tanach - see God on the Egyptian Gods) and worshiping them. Only when the Jewish people turned to idolatry did they actually worship other Gods, but they were certainly 'aware' of their 'existence', and believed them to exist. This is why Aseret Ha'dibrot says "You shall have no other gods…" - that is, you will worship no other gods, and not "there are no other gods".

However, I believe it was accepted by the Jews that God was the King/Lord/Greatest among all the deities. I'm reminded of Ramban's (I think) commentary where he instructs on how to call on the deities that are in charge of celestial bodies to curse people. Source is commentary on D'varim 18:10-11

EDIT:

See this wikipedia article on monolatry for a more complete explanation.

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This seems close to the view of "אלוקא דאלוקיא" which is idolatry. –  Shmuel Brin Apr 18 '12 at 5:11
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This answer seems to be dependent on a very specific understanding of the questioner's word-choice: God. –  Double AA Apr 18 '12 at 5:37
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Their mistake was as follows: They said God created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of God, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king. –  Shmuel Brin Apr 18 '12 at 6:19
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After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would - according to their false conception - be fulfilling the will of God. –  Shmuel Brin Apr 18 '12 at 6:20
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This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshiped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star. –  Shmuel Brin Apr 18 '12 at 6:20

This is clearly depicted in numerous locations in the bible. To name a few major pagan cults, you have the Golden Calf worship in Exodus, Baal Peor worship in Numbers, and Baal worship in Kings.

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure they were still only worshiping Hashem with the Egel Hazahav, they were just doing it the wrong way. –  Ari A Apr 18 '12 at 1:09
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Maybe according to some miforshim, but that's not the simple meaning of the text. –  Yaakov Kuperman Apr 18 '12 at 1:12

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