Unlike the Hindu, Xenophanes inclined to pantheism as a protest against the anthropomorphic polytheism of the time, which seemed to him improperly to exalt one of the many modes of finite existence into the place of the Infinite.
The ancient Babylonian psalms clearly reveal that the highest minds were moving out of polytheism to a monotheistic identification of various deities as diverse phases of one underlying essence.
They make counter attacks on polytheism as a folly and on the shamefulness of obscene myths.
For a true appreciation of the chaotic polytheism that reveals itself even in the earliesttexts it would be necessary to be able to trace its development, stage by stage, out of a number of naive primitive cults; but the period of growth lies behind recorded history, and we are here reduced to hypotheses and a posleriori reconstructions.
Thus to take the preface as a distinct word is not reasonable unless there are cogent grounds for uniting the commandments against polytheism and idolatry.
Whilst it can hardly be allowed that Xenophanes, so far from denying, actually affirms a plurality of gods, it must be conceded to Freudenthal that Xenophanes's polemic was directed against the anthropomorphic tendencies and the mythological details of the contemporary polytheism rather than against the polytheistic principle, and that, apart from the treatise De Melisso Xenophane et Gorgia, now generally discredited, there is no direct evidence to prove him a consistent monotheist.
Besides those who were ready to go the whole length and accept circumcision, numbers adopted particular Jewish practices, observing the Sabbath, for instance, or turned from polytheism to the doctrine of the One God.
Descartes establishes a philosophic monotheism, - by which the medieval polytheism of substantial forms, essences and eternal truths fades away before God, who is the ruler of the intellectual world no less than of the kingdom of nature and of grace.
By such conceptions the Hellenic polytheism was moralized; the physical character of the greater gods fell into the background, and the sculptor's art came to the aid of the poet by completely enduing them with personality.
While these monotheistic, pantheistic doctrines were taught in the schools, the people were left to a debased polytheism and to new superstitions imported from the Orient; the philosophers themselves were by no means unaffected by the popular beliefs.