The Idea of Semitic Monotheism

Stroumsa, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021


The Idea of Semitic Monotheism examines some major aspects of the scholarly study of religion in the long nineteenth century–from the Enlightenment to the First World War. It aims to understand the new status of Judaism and Islam in the formative period of the new discipline. Guy G. Stroumsa focuses on the concept of Semitic monotheism, a concept developed by Ernest Renan around the mid-nineteenth century on the basis of the postulated and highly problematic contradistinction between Aryan and Semitic families of peoples, cultures, and religions. This contradistinction grew from the Western discovery of Sanskrit and its relationship with European languages, at the time of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Together with the rise of scholarly Orientalism, this discovery offered new perspectives on the East, as a consequence of which the Near East was demoted from its traditional status as the locus of the Biblical revelations.

This innovative work studies a central issue in the modern study of religion. Doing so, however, it emphasizes the new dualistic taxonomy of religions had major consequences and sheds new light on the roots of European attitudes to Jews and Muslims in the twentieth century, up to the present day.

Table of contents

Introduction: The Study of Religion and the Spirit of Orientalism
1. Varieties of Monotheism and the Three Rings
2. The Enlightenment’s Paradigm Shift and the Three Impostors
3. Aryans, Semites, and Jewish Scholars
4. Cultural Transfers and Philologia orientalis
5. Semitic Monotheism: Renan on Judaism and Islam
6. A Jesus of White Marble or a Jesus in the Flesh?
7. Secular Scholarship in France: Catholics, Protestants, and Jews
8. From the Quarrel of Monotheism to the Babel-Bibel Controversy
9. Semitic Religion and Sacrificial Ritual
10. Sacrifice Compared: Israel and India
Conclusion: Comparing Monotheisms

(Text from the publisher)


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