The Original World Monotheism
Roy L Hales
Nonbelievers have often remarked on the exclusiveness of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but Scripture indicates that all mankind once knew God. When Noah performed the sacrifice of Genesis 8:20-9:17, immediately after the flood, his entire family - the ancestors of all humanity - was blessed. Mankind later settled in Sumeria where they built the tower of Babel. Jewish tradition maintains that God urged the people to disperse and colonize the earth but they would not: SO God dispersed them.1 Subsequent generations of humanity grew increasingly indifferent to their Creator, as Romans 1:21-24 describes:
Because when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness
The Creator chose a single family to preserve his worship, yet even as this family, soon a nation, came into being there were living prophets of the original monotheism: When Abraham was in Canaan he met Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God (Genesis 14:18-20); Numbers 22 through 24 describes how the prophet Balaam, from either Syria or lraq,2 was asked to curse Abraham's descendants just prior to their conquest of Canaan. A study of numerous world traditions echoes the above Scriptural idea that all mankind once followed the Lord and then fell away.
There are many evidences of the loss of the original world monotheism, and descent into paganism. The key early literate civilizations of Sumeria, Egypt, India, China and Mexico all show signs of having once been monotheistic. Some primitive peoples of Africa, North America and Japan embraced the idea of a single Creator God, yet for all practical purposes have abandoned His worship for that of spirits. This journey from monotheism to spirit worship in the case of Sumeria, Egypt, India and Mexico led to the worship of many gods.
MONOTHEISM IN SUMERIA. EGYPT AND INDIA
The evidences for an original monotheism in Sumeria, Egypt and India have long been known. Archaeologists have discovered that the further back in Sumerian history you go, the more prominent the sky god An appears: so many believe he was once the sole god of Sumeria Evidences for worship of "the One God" in Egypt are more abundant and at the same time more confusing. Hymns like the following are abundant in Egyptian literature:
One, the maker of all things, the Spirit, the hidden Spirit, the maker of Spirits. He existed in the beginning, when nothing else was. What is created He made after he came into being. . No man knoweth how to find Him; His name is a mystery and is hidden. His names are innumerable. He is truth, He liveth on truth, He is the king of truth. He is life, through Him man liveth; He giveth life to man, He breathed life into his nostrils . . He Himself is existence; He neither increaseth or diminisheth. He made the universe, the world, what was, what is and what shall be . . . He heareth him who calleth on Him, He rewardeth his servants, those who acknowledge Him He knoweth, He protecteth His followers.4
In face of the obvious abundancy of Egyptian gods, various experts have disputed as (0 whether (hey might all be different aspects of "the One" or if the various deities were competing to be "the One."5 From a Biblical perspective the idea of oneness probably lingered on long after this culture had departed from worship of the real One.
The monotheistic heritage of India is clearly revealed in her earliest scripture, the Rig Veda:
In the beginning, who was born the Lord the sole Lord of all that is who made the earth, and formed the sky, who giveth life Who giveth strength, whose bidding gods revere the ONLY GOD6
The Chinese originally worshipped a deity whose name, Shang Ti, translates into English as "Supreme Lord" or "Lord Above."7 All things were made by Him, all punishments and rewards were ultimately traceable to Him.6 An examination of the traditions of those days when he was worshipped reveals a mixture of Spirit worship and acknowledgement of God not unlike that found in the Biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The Story of one man, emperor Ch'eng Tang (circa 1760 B.C.), stands out as something almost akin to the Bible Stories. Ch'eng Tang lived during the evil days of the last Hsia emperor.
He was greatly troubled by his sovereign's misdeeds, but would not attempt to straighten things Out without the express command of Heaven. Then a voice came to him in a dream: "Attack. I shall give you all the strength you need; for I have received for you heaven's mandate."9 Ch'eng Tang then destroyed the Hsia dynasty and Set himself up as emperor. His conscience was not fully at rest, however, and for several years Tang wondered whether he had acted rightly. Finally a severe drought came upon the land and Ch'eng Tang dressed himself as if he was about to be sacrificed calling out to God" do not destroy my people because of my sinsl"10 Rain is said to have fallen at that moment. Ch'eng Tang may have followed God, at least insofar as he understood Him, but his example is unique in Chinese chronicles. Passing generations gave an increasing attention to the laws of God, while forgetting His personality.
Confucius (511-479 BC) remarked that regardless of whether God exists or not, His worship is good for the people. It was in his time that the more personal title Shang Ti was abandoned for the more impersonal label Tien (Heaven).11
MONOTHEISM IN EARLY MEXICO
The early peoples of Mexico may have had a single Creator God. (Different "experts" argue as to whether He and his wife were separate entities or different aspects of the same being). One legend tells how He made a garden, or City, of eternal summer and flowing waters. God set a beautiful tree in the middle of this garden and ordered the lesser gods not to touch it. These lesser divinities disobeyed and tore great strips from the tree in their zeal to deflower it. As a result God threw these "gods" Out of the garden and gave them various tasks to perform. The first human couple had also lived In the garden and were now ejected along with the lesser "divinities."12
A CREATOR GOD AND MANY SPIRITS
The transition from a monotheistic society into one that worships spirits is illustrated by many primitive peoples that still exist today. The white skinned Ainu of Japan, for example, believe in a single Creator God, but think that He is too remote to be interested in men: so the Ainu deal with spirits.13 Many North American Indian tribes believe that the Creator appointed spirits as intermediates between man and God.14 The Algonquin tribes of eastern Canada went so far as to state that God, Himself, told the Indians to seek after spirits. This alienation from God is perhaps best expressed by a west African native who describes the Creator God of his culture:
Yes, He made us; but having made us, He abandoned us, does not care for us; He is far from us. Why should we care for Him? He does not help or harm us. It is the Spirits who can harm us, whom we fear and worship, and for whom we care.15
RISE OF PANTHEISM
From the worship of many spirits it is but a short step to the worship of many gods. The Canaanites appear to have been midway in this process with the worship of their supreme god El along with numerous lesser deities. Egypt, Sumeria and India all became lands of many gods. The gods of Mexico are seemingly without number, and are found in innumerable forms in as many different cultures. The Chinese retained the idea of a single heaven, but the real life of their spirituality was in spiritism and occult practices.
All the peoples of the earth once knew of the true God, but they did not worship Him in their hearts and they did not obey Him. All that remains of their belief is legends. The true worship of God passed into modern times through the descendants of Abraham. Yet even when God preserved HES worShip in a single family, soon a nation, He did not forget the rest of the earth's population. As the Lord said to Abraham, "in thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:181. Two thousand years later God Himself walked the earth in the form of man. One of His final commands to his disciples concerns the descendants of those who strayed from Him so many generations before, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 18:15).
1 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews I. iv. 1.
2 The Companion Bible (KJV), (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons 1970) fn p. 212 re the whereabouts of Balaam's hometown Pethor.
3 Rev. Wilhelm Schmitt, Primitive Revelation (St. Louis, Missouri, & London, England: Herder Book Co., 1939) pp.236-237.
4 E.A. Wallis Budge, Osiris (New Hyde Park, N.Y: University Books, 1961) p. 357.
5 Dr. Brugsch & Maspero as cited by Budge, p.140.
6 Rig Veda excerpt from Selwyn Gurney Champion & Dorothy Short, Readings from World Religions (Greenwhich, Conn., Fawcett Publ., 1951) pp. 26-27.
7 E. Allie and M. Frazer, Chinese and Japanese Religion (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1969) p.268.
8 Wing Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1970) p.16.
S Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology (Viking/Compass, N.Y., 1974) p.396.
10 Li Ung Be ng, Outlines of Chinese history (Peking, 1914) p.15.
11 Wing Tsit Chan, p.16.
12 Irene Nicholson, Mexican and Central American mythology (London, N.Y., Sydney, Toronto: Hamlynn Publications, 1967) pp.20,21 & Burr Cartwright Brundage, The Fifth Sun (Austin, Texas & London: University of Texas, 1979) pp.47, 48.
13 Rev. John Batchelor, The Ainu of Japan (London: The Religious Tract Society) p.252.
14 Schmitt pp.171-174 & Cottie Burland, North American Indian Anthology (London, N.Y., Sydney, Toronto: Hamlvnn Publ., 1965) pp.73, 103-106 & Diamond Jenness, The Faith of a Coast Salish Indian (B.C. Provincial Museum: Anthropology in B.C., Memoir 131 pp.35, 36.
15 Schmitt pp.171-174.
16 Nassau, Fetishism in West Africa pp. 36-37 as cited Budge p.369.