In the third interview in our series on ancient religious scepticism, Professor Tim Whitmarsh talks to Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou from the University of Exeter about monotheism and disbelief in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. They discuss how these slippery concepts might be seen to intersect with the historical events of the formative ‘Persian period’ (mid-6th to mid-4th century BCE), when Cyrus the Great allowed Jerusalem elites to return to their city after a period of exile in Babylon. Professor Stavrakopoulou explains how the issue of belief vs disbelief is a Christian, confessional notion that cannot be easily retrojected onto the world of the Hebrew bible – a world that was, we discover, animated by debates about the relative power and strength of different divine beings. And she goes on to sketch the polytheistic backdrop to early Judaism with reference to the intriguing storyline of the Book of Job, in which we find Yahweh at a council of deities to test the religious steadfastness of the book’s unlucky protagonist….

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