False god

The term false god is used in some monotheistic religions to indicate cult images or the deities of Pagan religions – as well as other competing entities or objects to which particular importance is attributed.[1] Conversely, followers of polytheistic religions may regard the gods of various monotheistic religions as "false gods" because they do not believe that any real deity possesses the properties ascribed by monotheists to their sole deity. Atheists, who do not believe in any deities, do not usually use the term "false god" even though that would encompass all deities from the atheist viewpoint. Usage of this term is generally limited to theists, who choose to believe in some deity or more deities, but not in others.

Remains of the Nergal Gate in Nineveh, Iraq

In Abrahamic religions, a false god is a deity or object of worship besides the Abrahamic god that is regarded as either illegitimate or non-functioning in its professed authority or capability, and this characterization is further used as a definition of "idol".[2][3][4] The term is often used throughout the Abrahamic scriptures (the Bible and the Quran) to compare Yahweh[3] (interpreted by Jews and Christians) or Elohim/Allah[4] (interpreted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims) as the only real God. Nevertheless, the Hebrew Bible itself recognizes and reports that originally the Israelites were not monotheists but engaged in idolatry and worshipped many foreign, non-Jewish Gods besides Yahweh and/or instead of him, such as Baal, Astarte, Asherah, Chemosh, Dagon, Moloch, Tammuz, and more, and continued to do so until their return from the Babylonian exile[3] (see Ancient Hebrew religion).

The vast majority of religions in history have been polytheistic, worshipping many diverse deities. Moreover, the material depiction of a deity or more deities has always played an eminent role in all cultures of the world.[1] The claim to worship the "one and only true God" came with the arrival of Abrahamic religions and is the distinguishing characteristic of monotheism. However, the term "false god" is regarded as offensive[citation needed] by many devout polytheistic Pagans[citation needed], and others whose chosen religion honors the deity or deities who are explicitly or implicitly being denounced by the term "false god."


  1. ^ a b Frohn, Elke Sophie; Lützenkirchen, H.-Georg (2007). "Idol". In von Stuckrad, Kocku (ed.). The Brill Dictionary of Religion. Leiden: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1872-5287_bdr_SIM_00041. ISBN 9789004124332.
  2. ^ "Definition of idol". Merriam-Webster.com. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2021. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Kohler, Kaufmann; Blau, Ludwig (1906). "Idol-Worship". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. Archived from the original on 4 May 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  4. ^ a b Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. J.; Heinrichs, W. P.; Lewis, B.; Pellat, Ch.; Schacht, J., eds. (1971). "Idol, Idolatry". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. 3. Leiden: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_DUM_1900. ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4.

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