Other Gods: What the Bible Thinks about Other Nations’ Deities

By :  Benjamin D. Sommer Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages Posted On Feb 1, 2021 / 5781 | Monday Webinar The Other in Jewish Text and Tradition

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Part of the series “The ‘Other’ in Jewish Text and Tradition”

The Bible frequently instructs the nation Israel not to worship “other gods” (אלהים אחרים). But the Bible never actually states that these other gods do not exist. Praying to other gods would be an act of disloyalty for an Israelite, but not an absurdity—there are apparently other gods who would hear the prayers in question. In fact, the Bible regards it as perfectly appropriate for other nations to worship them, because the “other gods” are simply the gods of other nations. In this session, we will examine the biblical attitude toward these other gods and what their existence implies about other religions. We will see, paradoxically, that the Bible remains monotheistic, even though it acknowledges the existence of many deities. 

This session is generously sponsored by the Messer family in memory of Susan Kortsen.


We live in a time of such polarization—political, racial, economic, religious—that the gaps between us sometimes feel insurmountable. But this is not a new condition for Jews, either within or outside of the Jewish community. This webinar series will explore those gaps between “us” and “the other”: Israelites and other ancient peoples; men and women in the Bible and Talmud; Jews by birth and Jews by choice; the founders of Hasidim and their opponents; Israelis and Palestinians; and more. 

From the ancient Near East to the American civil rights movement; from medieval philosophers to contemporary Jewish educators: how have Jews related to those we define as “other,” and how have we marginalized sub-groups within the Jewish community? What is our obligation to those we perceive as different? How have Jews challenged communal norms from within? JTS scholars guide us in an intellectual journey through Jewish history and text to understand how these gaps have been understood and, at times, bridged.

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At JTS, we are committed to providing the Jewish community with outstanding classes in Judaic studies. We hope you will partner with us so that we can continue to do so. Did you know that you can sponsor a learning session to honor a loved one, celebrate an occasion, or commemorate a yahrzeit? To learn more visit the Community Learning sponsorship page or email learninglives@jtsa.edu.