Social Science Courses / Course / Chapter

Monotheism History, Origin & Examples | What is Monotheism?

Ron Petrarca, Duane Cloud
  • Author
    Ron Petrarca

    I received my bachelor's degree in history from George Washington University and later earned a master's degree in the same subject from Uppsala University in Sweden. I have been a writer and editor for more than two decades.

  • Instructor
    Duane Cloud

    Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Explore the definition of monotheism. Study the origin of monotheism in Egypt and Persia, and review monotheism examples in Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Updated: 02/27/2022

Table of Contents


What Is Monotheism?

A common question people who study religion often ask is "What is monotheism?." and how does it differ from polytheism? The term "monotheism" is derived from two ancient Greek words: mono (one) and theos (god). Therefore, monotheism is a religious belief that maintains that there is only one god. It is the opposite of polytheism, which is the belief in many gods. This definition leads to another question: "What does monotheistic mean?". Monotheistic is an adjective that is used to describe a religion that believes in the existence of only one god. Christianity and Islam, the world's two largest religions, are both monotheistic faiths. Both of these faiths believe in the existence of a single transcendent deity that created the universe and everything else in it. Adherents of Christianity and Islam reject the existence of other gods and goddesses and even consider it sinful to worship more than one god.

History of Monotheism

Historians disagree about the origin and history of monotheism. Many scholars believe that the first recorded instance of a monotheistic religion was in Egypt circa 1350 BC under the rule of the pharaoh Akhenaten. Egyptian religion was polytheistic in nature, and Akhenaten's departure from this tradition was a radical change in Egyptian society. In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh was seen as both a god and a ruler; therefore, his beliefs and dictates carried enormous significance. The religion Akhenaten created was based on the worship of the sun god Aten. Today, Egyptologists and religious scholars call this faith Atenism, and many believe it is the first instance in the historic records of a truly monotheistic faith. However, others disagree. We know very little about how widespread Atenism was or if believers believed that Aten was the only god or simply the most powerful god. Atenism did not last long. It more or less disappeared several decades after Akhenaten's death, and the official religion of the Egyptian court returned to the previous polytheistic faith that had been practiced for centuries. There are many theories that attempt to explain why Atenism died out, but one of the most logical is that the majority of the Egyptian people simply saw this belief as heresy. In other words, it was too different from their traditional faith to be widely accepted.

Zoroastrianism, which originated in ancient Persian, was another monotheistic faith. While Zoroastrianism was once widespread in the Middle East, it has very few followers today. The religion is named after its founder, Zoroaster, about whom very little is known. Historians are not even sure which century he was born in.

Judaism is the oldest major monotheistic religion in the world today. It originated in the area that is now made up of the nation of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Jewish people were originally polytheistic, but they eventually abandoned all their gods and goddesses except for one, Yahweh. Religious historians disagree as to the exact time that the Jewish people adopted Yahweh as their sole god, but many believe that this event occurred during the 6th century BC. The most important religious text in Judaism are the Hebrew Scriptures, which includes parts of the Old Testament in Christianity. This collection of texts contains numerous stories about how God interacted with the Jewish people and gave them a set of laws to live by.

Christianity was founded in the first century AD as a Jewish reform movement by Jesus of Nazareth in the Roman province of Judea. Christians were at first persecuted by the Romans, but the religion grew rapidly in the Mediterranean region and by the 4th century AD became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Islam, the world's second largest monotheistic faith, was founded in the 7th century AD by Mohammed. It shares many similarities to both Christianity and Judaism. In fact, these three religions are known as the Abrahamic faiths. This is because all three of them revere the Biblical figure of Abraham and can trace the lineage of their founders back to him.

Statue of Akhenaten

statue of Akhenaten from ancient Egypt

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Polytheism: Definition, Origins & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Man & Religion
  • 0:36 What Is Monotheism?
  • 1:00 Monotheism Yesterday:…
  • 2:26 Monotheism Today:…
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
Save Timeline
Speed Speed

Monotheism Examples

The following section explores the concept of monotheism in more detail.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

Which faith is monotheistic?

A monotheistic faith is a religion that believes in only one god. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all monotheistic faiths.

What is monotheism in religion?

Monotheism is the belief in a single god. This is the opposite of polytheism, which is the belief in many different gods.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account