The Great Flood
Tower of Babel
When Noah performed the sacrifice of Genesis 8:20-9:17, immediately after the Great Flood, his entire family - the ancestors of all post-Flood humanity - was blessed by the Lord. Mankind later settled in Shinar, (in what became ancient Mesopotamia; 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 confused their languages and compelled them to disperse.1 Noah's descendants sailed and walked - migrating long distances in a few short years.
Thus ancient Egypt, China, Central America, and other regions soon became settled with their technology, sophisticated ancient languages, and the soon diverging cultures and customs. And over time ... their original monotheistic beliefs began to dim in their minds.
Subsequent generations of humanity grew increasingly indifferent to their Creator, as (New Testament) 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). The Old Testament's Book of Numbers, chapters 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 originally all mankind once followed the Lord and then fell away.3
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 they had later 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 knows how to find Him; His name is a mystery and is hidden. His names are innumerable. He is truth, He lives on truth, He is the king of truth. He is life, through Him man lives; He gives life to man, He breathed life into his nostrils . . He Himself is existence; He neither increases or diminishes. He made the universe, the world, what was, what is, and what shall be. ... He hears him who calls on Him, He rewardes his servants, those who acknowledge Him He knows, He protects His followers.4
In face of the obvious abundancy of Egyptian gods, various experts have disputed as to whether they might all be different aspects of "The One" or if the various deities who 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 One Creator.
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 gives life Who gives strength, whose bidding gods revere the ONLY GOD.6
The Chinese originally worshipped a deity whose name, Shang Ti (上帝; Shangdi), 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.8 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 sins!"10 Rain is said to have begun falling at that moment. Ch'eng Tang may have followed God, at least insofar as he understood Him, but his example is unique in ancient Chinese chronicles. Passing generations subsequently gave an increasing attention to the underlying laws of God, but at the same time forgetting His personality.
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 also ejected, along with the lesser "divinities."12
THE 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:
Biblical Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is more powerful than the evil spirits. He alone is our strength in times of trouble. We need to turn to Him, ask for forgiveness of sins, accept His death on the Cross on our behalf, and believe that He conquered death itself (The Gospel - I Corinthians 15:1-4). The Creator God wants us back! In this way - Christianity is NOT a foreign religion - it is the completion, the restoration! - it brings us back to the worship of The One True God, the CREATOR OF ALL PEOPLES, AND ALL NATIONS.
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 - as in 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 One True God, but later they did not worship Him in their hearts and they no longer sought to obey Him. All that remains of their original beliefs are the legends of old. The true worship of God passed into modern times through the descendants of Abraham. Yet even when God preserved His worship in a single family, and soon a nation (the Hebrews; ancient Israel), 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 22:18). Two thousand years later God Himself (Jesus Christ) 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 16:15).
1 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews I. iv. 1.
2 The Companion Bible (KJV), (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons 1970) on p. 212 are 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 (Greenwich, 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.
9 Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology (Viking/Compass, N.Y., 1974) p. 396.
10 Li Ung Beng, 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: Hamlynn 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 by Budge p.369.