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Urmonotheismus, the German for "primeval monotheism", is the hypothesis of a monotheistic Urreligion first defended by Austrian anthropologist, Catholic priest and member of the Divine Word Missionaries Wilhelm Schmidt (1868–1954) in his Der Ursprung der Gottesidee appearing from 1912, opposing the "Revolutionary Monotheism" approach that traces the emergence of monotheistic thought as a gradual process spanning the Bronze and Iron Age Religions of the Ancient Near East and Classical Antiquity.

Alleged traces of primitive monotheism were located in the deities Assyrian Ashur and Marduk, and Hebrew Yahweh. Monotheism in Schmidt's view is the "natural" form of theism, which was later overlaid and "degraded" by polytheism.

Schmidt's hypothesis was controversially discussed during much of the first half of the 20th century. In the 1930s, Schmidt adduced evidence from Native American mythology in support of his views (High Gods in North America, 1933). By the 1950s, the hypothesis was effectively refuted, and its proponents of Schmidt's "Vienna school" rephrased it to the effect that while ancient cultures may not have known "true monotheism", they at least show evidence for "original theism" (Ur-Theismus, as opposed to non-theistic animism), with a concept of Hochgott ("High God", as opposed to Eingott "Single God"). Christian apologetics in the light of this have moved away from postulating a "memory of revelation" in pre-Christian religions, replacing it with an "inkling of redemption" or virtuous paganism unconsciously anticipating monotheism.

Abandoned as it was, at least in its strict form, by its original proponents, the hypothesis continues to be defended in pious circles outside academia, in particular in Biblical literalism and creationism, and e.g. Mormon fundamentalism which considers black skin a curse of God for nations that fell away from original monotheism. Thus, Norman Geisler of the Southern Evangelical Seminary defends "Primitive Monotheism" in the sense of Romans 1:19-23,

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. (KJV)

like Schmidt locating vestiges of original monotheism in primitive religion[1]

"In all these [primitive African] societies, without a single exception, people have a notion of God as the Supreme Being." This is true of other primitive religions as well, many of which have a High God or Sky God which reflects a basic monotheism."


  1. ^ Norman L. Geisler, Primitive Monotheism, Christian Apologetics Journal, Volume 1, No.1 (Spring 1998).[1], p. 4, quoting J. S. Mbiti, Concepts of God in Africa, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.
  • Raffaele Pettazzoni, Das Ende des Urmonotheismus, Numen (1958).

See also



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