Language and Monotheism

Monotheism has to be connected to development of written language. There are a few theories on how that might have happened. But one theory that I’m exploring advances the idea that it was particularly the adoption of phoenetic alphabet (Phoenician) which facilitated the creation of monotheism, in the Middle East.
But how does the process of converting sounds back and forth to symbols translate to monotheistic mindset? I can see superstitious type of logomamia (something like this happening even at the very creation of language, but to me, this behavior only leads to a type of witchcraft mindset and spell making. (It also reminds me of the Hebrew notion that the “real” name of god is not to be said out loud. Why so, I wonder? In the context of converting meaningless symbols to sounds it may hold a clue). Still, as I recall, Romans were also fond of writing down magical spells and they were not monotheistic, so to me, at best, phoenetic alphabet may lead to the creation of monotheism but does not necessitate it. There could be an extra element that I’m missing. Perhaps it is still within the audible process of symbol conversion (as Marshall McLuhan sees it), or it could be an external-to-language element, such as power struggle. (There is another theory in which the Hebrews chose to worship words (magical symbols?) over physical statues and monuments that were popular at the time). In any case, the consensus today seems to be that for a society to be monotheistic, it has to be literate first.
But also to note, monotheistic concepts can be created with geometric shapes, as well, like sphere and cube. It is believed by some Muslims, for example, that Kaaba cube represents the Truth because like the cube, the truth appears the same from all angles.


An interesting historical account, and a theory, but he didn’t really explore the connection between development of Proto-Semitic language and the creation of monotheism, so I found the title of this paper a bit misleading. Other than that, it was an interesting historical theory read. I like the idea that it was possibly a created written vernacular language by bilingual “illiterate” peoples of the time. … af52f57754

(Apparently, invention of phonetic alphabet is also credited with creation of individuality, as well as patriarchy)

Interesting symbology in Sikh monotheism:

Pagan Origins of Judaism
Christine Hayes on El

I was just thinking, could it be possible that the Muslims and Jews are worshipping essentially the same god? I don’t mean in a monotheistic-one-perfect-god sense, but in a sense that their god is a descendant of the same actual historical (abstracted) pagan diety, that at one point had a physical form and specific function.


Christine Hayes also seems to be suggesting the idea of perfect god may have been adopted by Judaism from Western Greco-Roman Platonic philosophy. (Which would put it as late as 400 BC, or during Axial Age).

The eastern idea of Brahman, written down in Sanskrit, was also written down roughly around the time Platonic ideas were being formed in the West.

Language facilitated but it is the background reason as for many other human developments.

The proximate cause is driven by the evolution of reason. This is driven from deeper by ‘one-up’ and ‘leadership dependent’ primal instinct within the majority’s DNA e.g. mine better than yours - in the face of an existential crisis.

Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE - 50 CE)
… back to Christine Hayes - on duels among different interpretations of Divine Law (in 1st century CE) in an attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance.

On Middle and Neo-Platonism (jumping around a bit here)


Well… I guess it’s like they say - where there’s a will, there is a way!

Interesting facts from Plotinus’ bio, hinting at Eatern influences…


Ammonius Saccas

(Alexandria must have been quite a place at its time)

thanks for the link…dovetails with my thesis that it is that the Jesus movement became “Christianity” because Christ did not return quickly as expected. This created the second great crisis in the faith of his followers. The first was, of course, Jesus’s crucifixion. A third fact of fateful significance in the development of Christianity was the rejection of Christ by the majority of the Jews and His acceptance by a growing number of gentiles. This acceptance was facilitated by the Hellenization of Judaism and the Gospel and the church’s internalization of Greco-Roman style government.

Those were some interesting times. I keep getting surprised by a realization of just how much free time some men must have had at the time to come up with all these ideas. Actually, I’ve always suspected that a potential birthplace of philosophy might have been a market place where men sat all day and gossiped about all kinds of bullshit. Well…that’s just my impression anyway.

Well yeah. I read that Socrates talked about the need for σχολή or leisure as the precondition to philosophizing and argued that it was hard work and a benefit to the community.

This is based on Christine Hayes’ lecture:

Christianity was born of the clash between Judaism and Greco-Roman culture. This clash can be illustrated pointedly in the conflict regarding the meaning of Divine Law. Yale Professor Christine Hayes discusses this here:

The characterization of Divine Law as utterly rational and in harmony with nature was widespread throughout the Hellenistic world of late antiquity. This created a cognitive dissonance for the Jews who’s Divine Law didn’t look like the Greco-Roman definition of Divine Law but rather more like human law grounded in the will of a sovereign that doesn’t necessarily conform to truth and has irrational aspects. This was particularly true of the impurity laws, the dietary laws and the laws concerning circumcision which became an embarrassment to the Jews.

Philo bridged the divide by equating Mosaic law with divine natural law and transferring to it the characteristic attributes of divine natural law which were that it was rational, true, universal, immutable, and unwritten. To accomplish this task he used the allegorical method extensively.

Paul accepted the basic Greco-Roman dichotomy between divine natural law on the one hand and human positive law on the other hand. However his response to the incongruity between biblical and classical conceptions of Divine Law was the opposite of Philo’s.

Paul represented the Mosaic law as particular temporary, non-rational and not conducive to virtue. Hayes argues that Paul’s representation of the Mosaic law in positive law terms was a strategic accommodation to his gentile audience. Particularizing the Mosaic law enabled Paul to argue that it did not obligate Gentiles, who’s entry into “God’s community” was required if the end-time visions of the prophets were to be fulfilled, was affected through faith.

Didn’t Philosophy naturally arise with the beginning of the thought process? although I do think that the raging hormones of youth does cloud better judgement and deeper thought processes.

I doubt it needed to be invented, but a nice thought of men (and women) contemplating whilst cotching. :smiley:

“Cotching” is new to me. How about this: Philosophy is a feedback loop in which language reflects on itself. Human beings are the host organism for this symbiotic memetic process.

…sounds good to me. :slight_smile: an evolutionary process, of which some think we are ready to move on from.

I’d say that cotching is the English version of jamming, but one still potters around finding things to do to appease an active mind… energy levels permitting.

Yeah an evolutionary process that began when a hominid was infected by an alien life form that generated the language meme. So you’re saying if Tom Petty had been a Brit he would have sang “you’re cotching me?”

So… according to the above, language can be acquired independently? and would alien life forms practice, or even have, a religion? or is this phenomenon a random one, based on mathematical probability?

I am not familiar with the original song, but the word is out of context here… “we’re cotching” or “you’re cotching with me” works.

Terrance McKenna proposed “that the transformation from humans’ early ancestors Homo erectus to the species Homo sapiens mainly had to do with the addition of the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis in its diet, an event that according to his theory took place in about 100,000 BCE (which is when he believed that the species diverged from the Homo genus).” … _evolution

The whole premise here seems pretty shaky.

Like, post Sea-people and bronze-age collapse I could see people basically going, “Who cares about the conflicts between our various cults? We just got our asses handed to us. Let’s band together, we can worry about the particulars of the cult later, and just do this. El, Yawheh, whatever-the-fuck-else, let’s just do this then we can argue about it.”

Naturally, those kinds of calls for unity are normally made by the second most powerful faction in the face of an enemy. They use that conflict to solidify their power. No need to involve alphabets into it, though because of the Bronze Age collapse we get the same timing.

Of course, the real answer is that the sea-people brought a monotheistic religion with them because, coming from the sea, they worshipped Chthulu. This also nicely explains why the monotheistic gods of levant are such psychopaths and why various gnostic movements tried to reimagine them as evil gods. It’s a cultural memory of the chthulu invasion.


Yes, the alphabet theory is interesting theory but it leaves quite a few things unexplained for me. For instance that the same effect could have been achieved through geometry, as it did with Islamic art here: Alhambra geometry and
Sacred geometry of Islamic art). Islamic art is said to have been influenced by Plato’s ideas, who, in turn, was influenced by Pythagoras. So, it seems that it could also have been just as well, the abstraction of mathematics, rather than phonetic alphabet. In fact, for an illiterate populace, meditation on such “sacred” geometry that would have presented itself throughout their waking lives might even have been easier and more effective. But perhaps the answer lies in an indeph exploration of the background context around developments of such things (economic, political, and social), and that would require a lot of historical digging and piecing of events together, and one would need to be as much of a historian as a philosopher.


I explored the drug use theory as well, and thought of mentioning it as a possibility, but decided not to, because at the time, I felt that it might move the research in wrong direction (i.e. developments and transformations of ancient cults - which is a big topic on its own). But according to my research, Plato and Aristotle (and likely Pythagoras) were both initiates into Eleusinian mysteries, which would also bring the use of psychedelic drugs into the picture.

Eleusian Mysteries

Philosophers who used drugs

Greek Mystry cults

The problem I have with the drugs theory is that if that were true, that experience would likely be encouraged for other people (the holy communion), and that means that we would be using psyhadelic drugs in our religious rituals as well, but we don’t. In fact, in Islam, even alcohol is strictly forbidden. If drugs were the cause (or an inspiration), why were they not passed on as well?

It’s become on-trend because of Westworld, but I’ve had a soft-spot for the bicameral mind. It’s just so fucking crazy, so it’s a lot of fun.

Drugs do have a strong cultural component. The hashish/vodka line gets used a lot by Russian historians because of how different cultures are on different parts of the line.

Part of their use is ritualizing their usage. Sure, Islam forbids alcohol, but Alawites have rituals where intoxication is mandatory (similar to the Jewish Purim ritua only they do it like every month. That might actually explain Assad’s foreign policy, but I digress). It’s also a good way to create separate groups. Christianity is the oddball here because it rejected that ritualization. I think it was Chesterton who said that the only reason why you open your mind is to close it again. Iconoclastic ideologies usually exist just long enough to mix things up before they become ritualized again. It’s easy to create a teleological narrative with the benefit of hindsight. Plenty of other “shake 'em up” religions. But the region for Christianity is all wrong for psychedelics.


Humans emerging as thinking humans in Ethiopia would appeal to a lot of Hoteps I know. I should share that with them, I’d never really looked at a map. But not really relevant to monotheism.

Probably a better vector for understanding are henotheistic/Kathenotheistic movements. In polytheistic cultures, you see various gods glomming onto other gods, becoming the same god, adopting a foreign god, separating into separate gods, etc. It’s an easy rhetorical move to escalate that and say only one god counts and it’s my god. Going back to the arbitrary rules thing, there is a sociological term for it but it’s escaping my mind right now and my google-fu is weak today. But separating out your cult has strong advantages. That way you’ve basically got one line of authority as opposed to multiple lines. While not strictly monotheistic, that’s basically what happened with Zoroastrianism. And, if you read between the lines a little and allow yourself some leeway since it’s in the distant past, it also does a fair job explaining the El/Yahweh fusion god you get in Judaism.

I like that reading, but it has it’s own retroactive teleology to it. When people start talking about it, things like the Norse religion(s) come up and, yeah, the they match is pretty perfectly. But the only versions we have are post-contact with Christianity and (importantly) after Christians had basically kicked their butts. So of course they Christianized their religion. And that’s when it wasn’t being written down by Christian monks for the purpose of proselytizing when it was 100% about Christianizing the religion.

Greek thought played a big role in all this when Christianity comes onto the scene but the neoplatonics are way late to the monotheism game. Alphabet at least makes more sense because it’s roughly contemporaneous. And alphabet is, as we all agreed, tempting but super shaky.

Same thing with drugs. Why would drugs make you think of one god and not many? I’ve encountered all sorts of crazy beings on trips. If I were a total melt-head shaman who had to trip balls as an occupation, I don’t see why I’d just think of one as opposed to a lot. Granted, that’s an atheist’s view. If there is just one god and psychedelics provide a channel to that god, then eventually you are gonna get it right. But that doesn’t seem real to me for obvious reasons.

It’s tricky man.