Biblical Monotheism

“Judaism has a structural peculiarity so perplexing and profound that though its two daughter monotheisms, Christianity and Islam, took much else from it, they did not adopt this: it is a particularist monotheism. It believes in one God but not in one exclusive path to salvation. The God of the Israelites is the God of all humankind, but the demands made of the Israelites are not asked of all humankind. There is no equivalent in Judaism to the doctrine that extra ecclesiam non est salus, ‘outside the Church there is no salvation.’ To the contrary, Judaism’s ancient Sages maintained that ‘the pious of the nations have a share in the world to come.’ Indeed the Bible takes it for granted that the God of Israel is not only the God of Israel. He is also the God of Abraham’s contemporary Melchizedek, king of Salem, not a member of the covenantal family but still a ‘priest of the Most High God.’ He is acknowledged by Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and a Midianite priest, who gives Israel its first lesson in government – the appointment of heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Two of the Bible’s heroic women, Tamar and Ruth, are not Israelites. The first is a Canaanite, the second a Moabite, yet each has a place of honour in Israel’s history and both are ancestors of its greatest king, David. How does such an idea arise and what does it imply?”

“To this I suggest a radical answer. God, the creator of humanity, having made a covenant with all humanity, then turns to one people and commands it to be different, teaching humanity to make space for difference. God may at times be found in human other, the one not like us. Biblical monotheism is not the idea that there is one God and therefore one gateway to His presence. To the contrary, it is the idea that the unity of God is to be found in the diversity of creation.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 45