Jack Shechter offers a detailed clarification of the ideational development within each of the tenets that flow from the Oneness of God that is the core of the monotheistic idea as it has evolved over the centuries. The Idea of Monotheism historically traces the concept of God as it emerged in the ongoing life of the people in specific time periods; it reflects the newly perceived perspectives about the deity due to changing times, locales, and climates of opinion. However, so profoundly One is God in Judaism, these transformations had not effect whatever on this eternally uniform substance. Thus, what man did over time was to uncover God's true nature; he unraveled that which was always there—the nonexistence of other gods and His universality.
With The Idea of Monotheism: A Guide to Its Evolution, Jack Shechter makes a major contribution to the history of ideas.
The author carefully and clearly illustrates how the conception of Monotheism—the foundational doctrine of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—has evolved from patriarchal times through the early modern period. Along the way, the book packs three major theological punches—in a chapter on the divergent God idea in Christianity vis-à-vis Judaism, one on the Divinity in the human being, and a concluding chapter on the meaning and relevance of Monotheism for moderns.
To demonstrate how and why all this came about, the author culls the pertinent biblical texts, consults prominent ancient, medieval and modern philosophers and theologians, and distills their insights into lucid and readable prose. This work reflects the author’s experience over decades of teaching biblical ideas to students training for the rabbinate and priesthood. It also reflects his vast experience and highly effective work as educator of the public at large.
In this book Jack Shechter shows how the monotheistic idea grew into its own over the biblical period and flowered fully among the rabbis. He shows that the core notions implicit in the One God idea during the pre-Mosaic and Mosaic eras emerged with greater power among the biblical prophets and classical rabbis, and especially that the ethical and practical implications of these core notions expressed themselves more clearly and definitively over time.
Most importantly, in a set of very important chapters, the author relates the basic idea of monotheism—the absolute uniqueness of God—to the problem of a divine spark within human beings which enables them to live ethically and love. He then draws out the moral corollaries from the understanding that one God created all humanity. Shechter makes frequent references to older and newer scholarship and to foundational questions of theological ethics, yet he writes with great clarity and with an eye toward the concerns of a modern, searching religious person.