In chapter 2 of God or Godless? John Loftus asserts that the biblical concept of God evolved over time from polytheism to monotheism. He infers from this that there is no unified teaching about God in the Bible, and that the choice of one (Yahweh rather than Baal, say) is more or less a historical accident.
John’s argument is full of sweeping statements, right from the start. When he says, “biblical scholars long ago acknowledged…”, he should have said, “Some biblical scholars think…”. When he says, “the evidence for this is overwhelming”, he should have said, “The evidence for this is disputed”. From such unsupported assertions he erects a flimsy case for biblical history having been constructed by those in power to suit their own aims and purposes, and for the biblical texts being pieced together long after the events (real or fictitious) to which they refer.
It would take more scholarship than John, Randall, or I have to pick through this argument point by point. So I just note that John provides virtually nothing by way of evidence for these assertions. I have done a little bit of work on the relevant biblical texts, and have written this up in the relevant sections of my Bible commentary on this blog).
Randall’s response is to say, in effect, ‘So what?’ God reveals truth progressively, and in this case revealed himself first as one of a number of gods, and then as the only true God. I don’t dispute the premiss (that God reveals truth progressively) at all; in fact, that’s exactly what the Bible itself teaches (Hebrew 1:1, for example). I’m not convinced, however, that the Bible starts off with polytheism and moves gradually to montheism. The very first verse of the Bible – Genesis 1:1 – is forthrightly monotheistic, and the rest of that chapter could be seen as a sustained critique of polytheism (with its sun-gods, moon-gods, and so on). Where the Old Testament writers do speak of other gods, then they are usually thinking of them as ‘so-called’ gods that have no real existence (Psalm 82, mentioned by John as supporting polytheism) is a case in point.
Writing in the Dictionary of Old Testament: Pentateuch, M.W. Chavalas notes that ‘according to J. Wellhausen, Israelite religion moved in an evolutionary progression from polytheism to henotheism (loyalty to one god without denying the existence of others). It only progressed to monotheism at the time of the Judean prophets in the eighth century B.C. Although this view has been all but abandoned, there is no consensus about when monotheism did take root. Of course, statements such as Exodus 15:11 (“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?”) have been considered proof of attributing a henotheistic belief system to Moses. Furthermore, the first commandment could imply the existence of other deities. The Hebrew term for God (Elohim), which is related most likely to Akkadian elu, denoted the function of a being, not its nature. Nowhere does the Pentateuch imply that the “gods” have fundamentally the same nature as Yahweh. Thus Moses could have penned these statements and still have been a true monotheist. The prohibition of worship of other gods and of divine images in Israel appears to be unique in the ancient Near East.’
See: Michael S. Heiser: Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible. Bulletin for Biblical Research 18.1 (2008) 1–30. Online.