A history of religion

As we are all aware, the Abrahamic religions that include Judaism, Christianity and Islam are newcomers, with Islam being the newest founded in Mecca and Medina at the start of the 7th century CE, and Christianity separating from Judaism after the alleged death of Jesus Christ, and finally Judaism which originated much further back, and can be researched as far back as 4,000 years ago. Judaism, whilst being old, has survived alongside Egyptian polytheism, Zoroastrianism, Babylonian mythology, and Sumerian religions, that were the first of the civilisations of Mesopotamia, and historians are confident that to continue its survival it had to adapt, assimilate and integrate other beliefs into its faith, but despite this, it still remains as one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions.

Göbekli Tepe

The Göbekli Tepe, which is located in a Turkey, is currently what historians believe to be the oldest ritual site ever discovered, and it dates back to between the 10th and 8th century BCE, making it possibly 12,000 years old. It consists of over 200 pillars that weigh up to 10 tons each, so how they were erected remains a mystery that will probably never be solved, as with the newer site at Newala Çorî . No one is exactly sure which religion is the oldest, but it seems likely that the locations of the oldest religions can be found in the regions contained with The Levant and India.

The Levant

The Levant

The Levant, is a region in the western part of the Middle East, that’s located beside the eastern Mediterranean, and includes Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, and many cultures have existed there, including the Phoenicians, the Mesopotamians, the Macedonian Empire, Assyrians, Babylonian and the Persians to name just a few, so to pinpoint the exact location of the first religions isn’t so simple. There are essentially three types of religions that worship Gods, and they include polytheism (worship of more than one god); monotheism (worship of one god); and henotheism (worship of one god in many forms), and all three can be traced within the Levant.

Mesopotamia

Uruk

Many historians are confident that Mesopotamia, who’s regarded as the ‘cradle of civilisation‘, is the birthplace of what we consider to be religion. Sumer, which later became Babylonia, consisted of Sumerians who are claimed to be the inventors of writing, so the first historic documented religious transcript can be dated back to approximately 3500 BCE. Mesopotamian religion was both polytheistic and henotheistic in nature, with many gods taking different forms, and historians can’t claim just exactly how many gods (dingir) were worshipped by Sumerians, but they know of over 2000. Each city in Mesopotomia had its own unique god, and the king of the gods, Anu was god of the city of Anuk. Anu allegedly possessed the ‘anûtu‘ (Heavenly power), and was the father of all the gods, demons and spirits. Mesopotamian religion was one of the first to mention a holy trinity, or triple deity that was worshipped as one, as well as Trimūrti, who’s the triple deity in Hinduism, that included Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It’s believed that Mesopotamian religion heavily influenced the Egyptian religious backbone, and Judaism.

What did they believe in?

As I’ve already stated, Mesopotamian religion focussed on a trinity of Gods, and also worshipped thousands of lesser Gods. They believed in creation, their mythology speaks of a flood, and a hanging garden in Babylon, they believed in a heaven and an underworld where people went when they died. They accepted that priests were the mediators between god and man, and that anything good or bad that happened to them was because of their God’s will, and that each city was to be ruled under a theocracy. The later Babylonian religions believed that man was born from clay, and both the Atra-Hasis, from Akkadian tablets, and the Epic of Gilgamesh both mention of flood myth of massive proportion. The hero, Utnapishtim, is warned to build a giant ship called ‘The preserver of life‘, and he took animals on board until the flood subsided.

“The first 11 chapters of Genesis are largely set in Mesopotamia. Eden is a Sumerian word meaning “steppe,” and was a district in Sumer. The Tower of Babel was in Babylon. The Hanging Gardens may have inspired the story of the Garden of Eden. According to Genesis Abraham and Cain and Abel and numerous other Biblical figures were born in Mesopotamia and the first cities founded after the flood were Babel (Babylon), Erech (Uruk), and Accad (Akkad) there.” – Source

Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrian temple

There is a strong possibility that the majority of the world’s religions were heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism, which predates almost every existing religion, and is still practised to this day in parts of Iran and India. It deals with the concept of free will, and the dualism of good and evilZarathustra, an Iranian prophet is said to be the founder of Zoroastrianism, and the worship of the creator God, Ahura Mazdā. He allegedly created twin spirits, Spenta Mainyu was good, and Angra Mainyu was evil.

Historians believe that Zarathustra heavily influenced Judaism, and from that came the birth of Christianity. When the early Israelites encountered the Persian Empire, they were heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism’s claim of Heaven and Hell, good and evil, angels and demons.

“As the Bible narrative unfolds, the depiction of the God of Israel gradually and perhaps inconsistently in parts evolves from a God of anger and vengeance who orders the massacre of entire peoples to a compassionate father of His people in the later prophetic books which serve as a bridge between Judaism and Christianity. The geographical and societal relationship between Zoroastrianism and Judaism could be used to explain this transformation” – Source

Every good protagonist needs a good antagonist , and Zoroastrianism doesn’t let us down. Ahriman is God’s adversary and is responsible for everything that’s bad, wicked and evil, like anger, greed, envy and more serious things like death and disease. In Islam he’s called Iblis, and in Christianity he’s called Satan. Early Israelites believed in a creator, but they also believed in many subordinate gods, that were generally vengeful war gods, which sums up YHWH perfectly in the Torah and the Old Testament, and it’s only after the birth of Christ does he become a god of peace and love.

“Genesis 6.7 – I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them”

What did they believe in?

As I’ve already stated, they believe in a creator called Ahura Mazdā, and his adversary, or devil, is called Ahriman. It’s arguably the very first monotheistic religion that involves prayer several times a day, and studying of a holy book called Avesta. Zarathustra was a prophet chosen by Ahura Mazdā to spread the word of Zoroastrianism, which they worship in communal temples, and was introduced to the Jewish community who were being held captive in Babylonia. When Cyrus freed them, they returned to Israel and began writing the Torah, undoubtedly influenced by Zoroastrianism.

Hinduism

Hindu temple

Is Hinduism the world’s oldest surviving religion? Some scholars are inclined to think so, but how it began and by who remains a mystery, but what is known is it’s currently the world’s third largest religion at just under 1 billion worshippers, who are mostly located within India. Many people who follow Hinduism claim that not only is it a set of religious beliefs, but it’s also a branch of philosophy of life, and how it should be lived, and is known as the ‘way of life’. Hinduism is mostly henotheistic where they worship ‘Brahman’ in its many forms, but also recognise thousands of other gods in existence.

What do they believe in?

They believe in something called Samsara which is the continuation of the circle of life through life, death and reincarnation, and believe in karma, and to achieve enlightenment through dharma which is achieved by living a moral and ethical life. Their sacred texts are known as the Vedas:

  • The Rig Veda
  • The Samaveda
  • Yajurveda
  • Atharvaveda

Many Hindus reject the claim that their religion had a beginning and say that it’s timeless, and the similar religion of Buddhism was an off-shoot of Hinduism, and shares the belief in karma and reincarnation. Hindu worship is known as puja, and takes place in a temple called a Mandir, and Hinduism, like Christianity has split off into different beliefs, and different forms of worship. Despite being henotheistic, the majority of Hindus believe in the one true god, Brahman, and the other god are various incarnations of him, and he is the one true, supreme being and creator.

Christ vs Krishna

The similarities between the birth, life, and death between Jesus Christ and Krishna are too numerous to be ignored, and if you just look at the names, you instantly begin to see a connection, as both mean Christos in Ancient Greek. Both were sent to Earth intended to be a saviour and restore peace, and both were born from the divine. They were both said to be healers and the creators of miracles, and both were allegedly omnipresent, and omnipotent, and both chose disciples to help spread the world of God.

 “Each mystery religion taught its own version of the myth of the dying and resurrecting Godman, who was known by different names in different places. In Egypt, where the mysteries began, he was Osiris. In Greece he became Dionysus, in Asia Minor he is known as Attis, in Syria he is Adonis, in Persia he is Mithras, in Alexandria he is Serapis, to name a few.”Source

Greek religion

Greek temple

Greek mythology is very fantastical, and heavily influenced Roman polytheism, and one of the rivals to Christianity, which Christianity actively attacked, destroyed temples, and removed from society was Mithraism. Mithraism was mostly found in Italy, but it became quite widespread, and the rival cult at the time, that was attempting to grow was Christianity, but why were they so keen to get Mithraism out of the picture, considering there were so many similarities? Jesus Christ was put on the Earth as a saviour to mankind, as was Mithra, who was to protect the souls of the just. Both were allegedly born at the same time, although Mithra arrived 200 years prior, and both were sons of a God, and a mortal mother. Both were murdered for their beliefs, and both rose from the dead. Mithra was the god of wine, and wine is used as the blood of Christ in Catholic Churches. When Mithra returned to Mount Olympus he was in the company of 12 other people. Coincidence?

‪Even if you step away from Mithraism, and focus on the polytheistic nature of Greek religion, once again, like Eve, it was a women called Pandora who started the trouble for mankind, but it was Zeus’ wife Hera who became the punisher, not God. In Greek mythology, Pandora is the first woman and is known as the ‘one who bears all the gifts‘ All of the Gods gave her one of their traits, and she was given special gifts that were kept in a pithos, and she was told never to open it, but being a human, curiosity outweighed her obedience and she opened it letting out greed, envy, hatred, pain, disease, hunger, poverty, war, and death.‬

‪I’m sure that you’ll agree that there are two distinct similarities between Pandora and Eve. Both are created in the image of the creator. Both are told to leave something alone, yet their curiosity gets the better of them, and disobeying good judgement can have dire consequences. Both Christianity and Greek polytheism use disobeying God as the reason why humans suffer from disease and sin. Eve’s punishment was women having extreme pain during child birth, and Pandora was punishment to man for accepting the gift of fire from Prometheus. ‬

Christianity was born within a world dominated by the Roman Empire, who, like I’ve already stated, was heavily influenced by the Greek gods, and the Greek philosophy, where philosophers publicly debated ethics, and morality. The majority of the gods were seen as trouble makers, and had no qualms in getting involved in wars with man, and YHWH, as we know was a subordinate desert war god, under the rule of El. Was Christianity influenced by Greek ethics and wished to paint their god in a good light in the New Testament, and try and take away the image of a blood thirsty hater of his creation?

Egyptian religion

Egyptian temple

One of the most influential and important deities studied by Egyptologists is Horus, as different forms of Horus have been discovered throughout Egyptian, then Roman Egyptian mythology. Horus was the son of Iris and Osiris, and Horus was considered the Sky God and was represented by the famous Eye of Ra. Iris instructed Horus to protect Egypt from her jealous brother, Set, who was the god of the desert, and they engaged in conflict for many years, but the real reason I brought up Horus, was the distinct similarity between him and the story of Jesus Christ who came much later. Some theologians claim it’s merely hearsay, whilst people like Richard Dawkins have written extensive articles where their stories are almost identical. I will refrain from attempting to join the dots on what I can’t kind conclusive evidence for, but undoubtedly Judeo-Christian tradition was heavily influenced from Egyptian tradition, as how could they have avoided each other considering Egypt is beside the Canaan region, and by far predates Israel and Judaism.

So let’s put Horus to one side, and focus on YHWH. Christians are so often obsessed with ‘Yahweh’ (YHWH) being the one true God, but is he? (YHWH) ‘יהוה is known as the ‘tetragrammaton’ and is the name allegedly revealed to ‘Moses’ as the true name of God, and it was only in the 19th century did theologians begin calling him Yahweh, or sometimes he was known as (JHVH) ‘Jehovah’ which contains the consonants from JHVH and the vowels from the Hebrew name for ‘Lord’ (ădōnāy), and despite YHWH being mentioned in the ‘Torah’, devout Jews will never say the name out loud as it’s considered disrespectful, and unutterable. As Judaism went from being regional to international the Jews began using the name ‘Elohim’ to describe their God as having superiority over others.

The ‘Canaanites‘, who were in the regions that are now ‘Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon‘ that are known as the ‘Levant’ (شَام) worshipped many Gods (polytheistic) and YHWH was just one of them. ʼĒl ’ and ‘Asherah’ were the top of the hierarchy, and Yahweh was a subordinate God. ‘Samaria’ which is now known as Israel went from polytheism to accepting monotheism in the form of ‘Yahwism’, and he became Israel’s national God. Yahwism initially co-existed with primitive forms of ‘Judaism’. So how did Yahweh go from being quite low down in the Canaan hierarchy to having billions of present day followers believing he is the creator of all? Canaan worshipped a great number of Gods and there’s significant evidence of this, and it’s only more recently in the history of Judaism that they’ve looked back at the early days of Canaan and made the claim that all the time they believed in the one true ultimate God. This one ultimate God is now the Abrahamic God, and is now seen as the ultimate creator in ‘Judaism’, ‘Islam’ and ‘Christianity’.

Yahweh is potentially taken from Egyptian mythology and became a desert war God of the ‘Timna mines’ and the metallurgy that moved into early Canaan pantheon, before he became the God of the Jews. So his origin and legitimacy as being the one true God and the creator of the universe is highly questionable to say the least. Even the name Israel is derived from the God ʼĒl’ who was the original God of Israel, not Yahweh, and is claimed to have fathered many Gods who share attributes with Greek Gods. So when did ʼĒl’ become insignificant or non existent and a lesser God rise to power? This is a classic case of a cult arising from folklore and there’s clearly no more chance of Yahweh being a supreme being than ‘Zeus‘.

“Although the biblical narratives depict Yahweh as the sole creator god, lord of the universe, and god of the Israelites especially, initially he seems to have been Canaanite in origin and subordinate to the supreme god El. Canaanite inscriptions mention a lesser god Yahweh and even the biblical Book of Deuteronomy stipulates that “the Most High, El, gave to the nations their inheritance” and that “Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob and his allotted heritage” (32:8-9).” – Source

So what about the Ten Commandments I hear you cry, do they have any significance in Egyptian mythology? Well, I’m glad you asked, as yes they do. Heard of the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead‘? The Book of the Dead is a collection of religious texts, and magic spells which enables the deceased to travel through the Duat, the Egyptian Underworld, to the afterlife, and was placed within a burial chamber. During the journey through Duat, the deceased would face judgement in front of Osiris, and they’d have to swear that they hadn’t committed any of the 42 sins. If they passed the test, they became maa-kheru, which means vindicated, and were allowed passage into the afterlife. The 42 sins are obviously more comprehensive than the Ten Commandments (Decalogue), they list the moral code (Divine principles of the Maat) that was expected in civil Egyptian society.

‪I have not committed sin.‬

‪I have not committed robbery with violence.‬

‪I have not stolen.‬

‪I have not slain men or women.‬

‪I have not stolen food.‬

‪I have not swindled offerings.‬

‪I have not stolen from God/Goddess.‬

‪I have not told lies.‬

‪I have not carried away food.‬

‪I have not cursed.‬

‪I have not closed my ears to truth.‬

‪I have not committed adultery.‬

‪I have not made anyone cry.‬

‪I have not felt sorrow without reason.‬

‪I have not assaulted anyone.‬

‪I am not deceitful.‬

‪I have not stolen anyone’s land.‬

‪I have not been an eavesdropper.‬

‪I have not falsely accused anyone.‬

‪I have not been angry without reason.‬

‪I have not seduced anyone’s wife.‬

‪I have not polluted myself.‬

‪I have not terrorized anyone.‬

‪I have not disobeyed the Law.‬

‪I have not been exclusively angry.‬

‪I have not cursed God/Goddess.‬

‪I have not behaved with violence.‬

‪I have not caused disruption of peace.‬

‪I have not acted hastily or without thought.‬

‪I have not overstepped my boundaries of concern.‬

‪I have not exaggerated my words when speaking.‬

‪I have not worked evil.‬

‪I have not used evil thoughts, words or deeds.‬

‪I have not polluted the water.‬

‪I have not spoken angrily or arrogantly.‬

‪I have not cursed anyone in thought, word or deeds.‬

‪I have not placed myself on a pedestal.‬

‪I have not stolen what belongs to God/Goddess.‬

‪I have not stolen from or disrespected the deceased.‬

‪I have not taken food from a child.‬

‪I have not acted with insolence.‬

‪I have not destroyed property belonging to God/Goddess.‬

Correct me if I’m wrong, but does the Ten Commandments borrow heavily from this, or is it just coincidental?

Pagan religions

Stonehenge

In a way I’ve already covered some pagan religion, as paganism simply refers to a religion that isn’t one of the main religions that’s followed, and it was initially a derogatory slur from Christianity to describe polytheism as being inferior. The reason why Christianity has such an issue with paganism is due to the commandment that states that idolatry, the worship of false gods is not to be tolerated – and it seems that important that it’s ranked as the first commandment.

“I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.” 

Christianity has throughout the ages vehemently opposed paganism, and often associated it with witchcraft and the occult, and it’s been received with mixed attention. Peaceful conversion was initially attempted, as Christianity wished to spread and wipe away pagan beliefs, but faith can be very strong, and not everyone wishes to be a Christian. So the next step became oppression, persecution, and military conquest and invasion of pagan lands as Christianity spread like a plague throughout Europe. There’s no doubt that early Christianity was influenced by paganism, as Christianity rose from the shadows of Judaism, and initially began in Roman occupied lands, and the Romans were polytheist was a whole, before they embraced Christianity in the 3rd century CE.

During the time of the Roman Empire, everyone who wasn’t a Jew was referred to as a pagan, and Judaism viewed this as an advantage, and claimed superiority. They influenced the pagans by offering them something they’d never had before, redemption and the promise of salvation in the next life if they adhered to the gospels of Christ. In a way, it was a form of emotional blackmail, as the pagans were told that Judaism, and early Christianity worshipped the one true god, and he was more powerful than all of the other gods combined. Pagans worshipped gods so that their crops would grow, or they’d avoid becoming sick, or be protected from tyranny, but here was a promise of reward if they dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ. How could they resist? They’d never had a promise like this before, a god that could actually love them without sacrifice.

By 300 years after the death of Christ, the Roman Empire had taken in Christianity, and half of them were now Christians, and they were in the millions. There are stories about Christians destroying pagan temples so the pagans had nowhere to worship their gods, then they were promised safe passage if they accepted a Jesus into their hearts, but with Christianity only allowing the one true god, they were forced to abandon their polytheism. Every time a pagan converted to Christianity, paganism lost a follower, and this made an impact on Norse, Celtic and Saxon paganism, and as Christianity spread, it took away parts of pagan rituals. One of the most prominent is Christmas, or as Germanic pagans called it – Yuletide, which was a winter solstice festival. Where do think the concept of Christmas trees came from? Germany was literally covered in fir trees. It’s apparent that as Christianity spread it incorporated local customs and traditions, as what’s the best way to assimilate a nation than to respect their culture? It was halfway through the fourth century that Christianity claimed that Christ was born in December, so there’s no doubt that Yuletide, and the Roman festival of Sol Invictus (unconquered sun). Sol Invictus was the Roman sun god, and his birthday was celebrated on – wait for it – 25th December, which celebrated winter solstice, and the day was called ‘dies natalis Invicti‘. At the time the Roman Empire hadn’t embraced Christianity, and it wasn’t until a hundred years later in the 4th century that the Church, under the rule of Emperor Constantine, did they start celebrating Christmas on the 25th December. Many historians claim that it was highly unlikely that Jesus would have been born in late December, as Jerusalem would have been extremely cold, and the stables would have been shut up to keep the cattle safe.

“7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” – Luke 2: 7-8

Islam

Muslim mosque

For anyone who’s reading this who’s wondering why I’ve singled out Judaism and Christianity, but ignored the third Abrahamic religion, Islam, then don’t despair as its time is here. Islam is the toddler, the infant of Abrahamic religions, but considering it’s so young, it’s staggering how many followers it has. This is partly due to Islamic states being theocracies, whereas inhabitants literally have no choice but to follow Islam, and in part due to assimilation of other nations and cultures during Islamic invasions that were one of the reasons for the Crusades. Islam was born in the 7th century by the self appointed prophet Muhammad who claimed to be the messenger of the one true God, Allah. But Christianity and Judaism had already been there, and made the claim of the one true God. Why did it take over 2,500 years from the birth of Judaism, to Christianity, then centuries later Allah decided the world needed to know about him, and how can any Muslim not accept that Islam was undoubtedly influenced by previous religions of the region?

They assimilated much of the Levant, often by force, and many scholars and theologises are adamant that the Qu’ran was constructed by borrowing religious beliefs, and ethics from many previous faiths, that include obviously Judaism and Christianity, but Arab paganism, and a splash of his own opinions. Muslim scholars refuse to accept this and say that Muhammad was confronted by the spirit Gabriel and he recited the words of God, and Muhammad wrote the Qur’an to reflect the words of Allah. Yet many passages in the Qur’an reflect verses in the Torah, and also match tales told by Jewish Rabbi which he’d remembered on his travels.

At the time of Muhammad’s birth, Mecca, his place of birth was extremely diverse, with both Judaism, Christianity and Arabian paganism the norm, and Muhammad would have grown up surrounded by these faiths, which would have had a profound influence on his life as he grew into a man. Initially he attempted to gain allegiance with Judaism and Christianity, but accusations of being a false prophet began to tarnish his reputation and he had no choice but to distance himself.

Despite this, Abraham was recognised in Islam, as it was in Judaism, Christianity and Baháʼí Faith, and he links all as he’s allegedly a messenger of god who links the prophets. In Judaism he’s ‘our father Abraham‘, the first Jew, and in Christianity it’s Jesus the Messiah who’s central, but in Catholicism, Abraham is ‘our father in faith’, and in Islam, he’s a link to the prophets and is known as ʾIbrāhīm. and is mentioned throughout the Qur’an. Many scholars claim that Islam is essentially Judaism with different ideologies and social expectancy.

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