Henotheism in Orphic sources
: origins, development and reception

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim of this research is to examine the theme of divine uniqueness and unity within the polytheistic structures of the Ancient Greek world, focusing on what is referred to as 'Orphism', exploring the relevant sources and examining its development from the Classical period through Hellenistic Judaism and into the Christian era. In this project I have looked at different sources linked to Orphism which present a divine figure that emerges from the plurality of a polytheistic structure and appears to acquire the status of a 'one' god (separate and complete). To do so, I have also analysed the Christian reception of these sources, since many Christian authors quote them with different points of view and levels of appreciation. Key works include pseudo-Justin's De monarchia and Cohortatio ad Graecos, Clement's Protrepticus and Stromateis, Eusebius' Praeparatio Evangelica and the Theosophia Tubingensis.

By investigating these sources, including variously dated fragments such as the Orphic Hymn to Zeus and Orph. Hymn. 15, 19, 20, I have traced the development of this topic in successive historical periods and environments, an example of which is to be found in the poem known as Hieros Logos composed in Alexandria in Egypt within Hellenistic Judaism around the II century BCE, which imitates an Orphic Hieros Logos.

This thesis contributes a new approach to the theme of Greek henotheism and to the study of the divine figure in Orphism, drawing attention to the historical, literary and cultural relevance of the sources, making use of a comparative approach. Thanks to the contribution of the Cognitive Studies of religion this project will primarily demonstrate that it is possible to find henotheistic tendencies in Orphic sources and how these texts are intertwined with other philosophical and religious ideas. The analysis of the aforementioned selected texts will reframe and improve our understanding of part of the Orphic literary corpus, showing the reader how these literary sources can inform us about the reflection on and devotion to a ‘one god’ in Greek religion, and especially in Orphic manifestations.
Date of Award1 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorHugh Bowden (Supervisor)

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