So there he was, really no closer to finding the source of materialism, or more aptly put by modern philosophers as the mechanistic world-view, than when he started his journey back through the dawn of civilization and mankind’s search for meaning and order in the universe. He’d passed through the ancient cosmological and mythological traditions of the ancient Mediterranean and near east into the more rational and logical based Hellenistic theo-philosophical systems that emerged in Ancient Greece as writing spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean and different philosophical schools and centers of learning manifested throughout the Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman Empires.
And as he made this journey, he found that the intellectuals of this pre-Christian era had a plethora of well thought out systems of metaphysics, theo-philosophies, systems that rivaled even some of the theologies of modern times in terms of breadth and scope, and from which the sciences of modern day were ultimately born. He even saw the very roots of Christianity and to a lesser extent Islam, in these ancient theo-philosophies, providing the metaphysical and rational platform upon which polytheism or pantheism transformed into monotheism.
But what Charlie found interesting, and what he thought had been lost over the centuries, was that monotheism in its earliest stages as manifested in Judaism and then Christianity, adopted and crystalized polytheism and pantheism rather than abandoned it completely. As monotheism took root in the ancient world, as reflected most predominantly in Christianity which of course borrowed from and built off Judaic roots, this interconnection and codependence on its polytheistic and mythological roots had to a great extent been lost. It hadn’t been lost in the East, in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but in the West, with the advent of Christianity came such a great wave of love and sense of self-sacrifice that the rational foundation of the fundamental order of the world was lost in its wake.
From the modern viewpoint, ancient civilizations with their gods and goddesses and their respective mythos were perceived to be less advanced than their modern religious counterparts. Modern Western society rested on the firm belief, the faith, that there was only one God, and that the mind of man, with its power for rational thought and intellectual craftsmanship, represented a significant and marked evolution of the human condition, polytheism and mythology relegated to the naiveté of prehistoric and ancient man and represented historical artifacts rather than supplementary and complementary tools from which the material world, and the world of the spirit, was to be viewed.
Monotheism is perceived to be a more evolved and mature theological belief system than polytheism or pantheism (or perhaps Animism), the words used to most aptly describe the idolatry that was shunned by Christians and the Jews that preceded them. In the same way, in most of what we would call the civilized world, democracy is perceived to be a more modern and evolved system of government than totalitarianism or authoritarianism. This is how clearly we see it, how quickly we dismiss the mythology of the ancients, but what have we replaced it with exactly? What is our mythos of today? What is that we aspire to all of us when we climb out of bed in the morning chasing our desires? If not aspiring to the great deeds of Hercules or Odysseus then what? Fame? Fortune? The afterlife?
There was a purpose to the mythos of the ancients, a mythos which contained within it archetypal themes from the collective unconscious to use Jungian terminology, a mythos that spoke to the soul and inspired the mind well beyond any rational argument or metaphysical framework ever could or can. And yet this mythos is so easily dismissed today. Genesis and the story of creation is dismissed as a tool of the ignorant, a crutch for those who are uneducated or just plain dumb enough to believe the “Church”, whatever that is. But when we lose this connection with our prehistoric past, the world of story and fable, what we are left with in its place is the world of pure science, where the universe was created some 13.7 billion years ago in a cosmic event called the Big Bang, a story which is theoretically bereft of a Creator, backed by empirical data and evidence, where the Universe springs from nothing and yet at the same time provides the framework for all of the laws which govern bodies large and small many of which have been “discovered” in the last few centuries. And if we are to believe this theory, which rests on sound scientific evidence from a variety of fronts but is a theory nonetheless, our universe originated from a single point in space/time, a point the size of the tips of one of our fingers, and from this little massive and powerful entity the entire universe sprung forth.
Which is the more compelling myth, Charlie mused? Which one speaks more profoundly of a divine creator, a mystery wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a mystery – the Big Bang or the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Which story is more compelling and speaks to the soul of man? Is one story exclusive to another? Should the story of Genesis be taken literally? Did anyone of sound mind with a solid education, in any period of history, really believe that the world was created in seven days? How could you create the known universe in a construct of time that didn’t exist during the creative process? Do you really think this basic fallacy of the story of creation, a story that can be found throughout the ancient world in many albeit slightly different versions, was lost on the ancients?
There are actually two stories of creation documented in the Old Testament. Why on earth would Judeo-Christian scholars leave two stories of creation in the Bible? Why would they leave four stories of the life of Jesus in the Bible? People like to bash the “creationists” as ignorant and stubborn and non-scientific, but what about the metaphorical and allegorical teachings that rest in the Old Testament? Isn’t this the tool that Jesus used to teach? Using simile and parables? Isn’t this the tool any good teacher uses to teach? To draw connections in the mind to things people can relate to, to things that they can touch, see, taste or smell.
How many people can really wrap their head around a story of creation that rests upon extraordinarily complex mathematics that puts the origins of the universe within an infinitely dense point that dramatically expanded, driven by an as of yet unamend or undiscovered force, some 13.7 billion years ago. And if you can wrap your head around this concept, conceive of infinite density in an infinitely small point, what does it really mean? Does it simply mean that there is no such thing as God, because we can explain the origins of the Universe based upon some complex mathematical model backed by evidence of “cosmic radiation” and “universal expansion”? What about the simple glaring question of how the darn thing expanded to begin with or where the infinitely dense point in spacetime came from? Or what was there before the Big Bang? Or how we were created with intellectual capabilities to even consider how the Universe was created? Big Bang theory doesn’t answer any of these questions, at least it didn’t from Charlie’s perspective, it just raised more profound ones, the same ones that the ancients tried to answer when they created their respective theo-philosophies some 2500 years ago to try and provide for a more rational and reasonable framework for understanding the world around them and their place in it in a way that their respective cultural mythos could not.
Where Charlie was going with all this was to try and illustrate that with the advent of modern science, its exploration of the subatomic world and the “discovery” of the laws of quantum mechanics with their sound mathematical and empirical foundation, there was solid evidence for a level of interconnectedness to reality and to the world around us that was much more profound than anything taught in the scriptures of the Jews, Muslims or Christians, or anything taught by any of the major religions for that matter. That in fact there was a logical and rational explanation for the teachings of Jesus or any of the great prophets through the ages that shared similar messages with their followers to love the neighbor and turn the other cheek, not necessarily because these principles were morally right and it was something we “should” do in order to go to heaven or that individuals who did not follow these teachings were damned to hell, which is how these teachings were later interpreted, but because when you slapped that man’s cheek back after he slapped yours, you propagated hatred and violence into the world, a world within which you were a wholly integrated part, not a separate entity striving for your own personal gain. You slapped another version of yourself. And when you slapped another version of yourself, you created your own reality of violence and hate.
And if you think about it that way, why would you do that? Why would you slap yourself in the face? Why would you wage war against your brother? And why is this path of nonviolence, and intellectual understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, the teachings of all the great sages and prophets through the ages and the foundation of all the great religions of the world? Because the path of knowledge of sameness, of unification, is the way of peace and anyone who has taken the time to really look for the answer and has sincerely asked the question, has arrived at the same conclusion – just described it in different languages using different metaphors and analogies that fit the times within which the sage or prophet has lived. It doesn’t make the kernel of truth in all the messages any different, it just makes the clothing that the messenger wears, and the words he/she speaks, different to suit the needs of the listener – to teach and impart understanding.
Religion in all its forms is simply the codification, canonization, and formalization of the teachings of their respective prophets, a packaging and watering down of their teachings so that they have mass appeal. But don’t blame the messenger, and don’t blame those who try and crystalize and package the message, they do that with all the best intentions, but don’t look for answers from bodies of knowledge that are repackaged goods. It’s like going to the grocery store and getting canned beans and soup for dinner – yes it will satisfy your hunger but it’s not the same thing as fresh and natural greens and fruits, or homemade soup with fresh ingredients. It’s just not the same thing.
Where Charlie was going, and what he was trying to show really, was that modern science provided the rational underpinnings for the moral and ethical framework within which all the great sages taught and existed in all the world’s great religions, and that science was not in juxtaposition to religion or monotheism but complemented it and expanded upon it.
But Charlie couldn’t just jump from the development of monotheism in the Mediterranean the few centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and its adoption as the standard religion of the Roman Empire straight through to Descartes in the 17th century and leave out 14 or so centuries of the development of theology, from which science as we know it today emerged. He had to at least explore its evolution, see how it was related to the systems of metaphysics that originated in the ancient Mediterranean, and have at least some basic understanding as to its relationship to the socio-political development of Western civilization so that a better understanding of how we got to where we are today – where science and religion sit opposed to one another, one a product of the rational mind and another a product of faith – in order to show how science and religion were but different and closely related branches on the tree of knowledge rather than separate trees in separate farms cultivated and tilled by separate farmers and teachers.
It was clear however that somewhere in the first and second millennium AD not only had Jesus’s message been pretty much lost within the world of Christianity (don’t confuse the teachings of Jesus with the doctrine and dogma of the Church, they are not the same), but also that as education spread and science became the religion of the day and the learned people of the world shunned religion as the source of strife, war and persecution, the rich theo-philosophies of the ancients and their influence on early monotheistic development had for the most been lost, the roots of the tree had worn out and died so to speak.
The term monotheism, a concatenation of the Greek “monos” meaning one and “theos” meaning god or gods, was first attributed to the 17th century theologian and Platonist Henry More who used the term to describe the a belief in a single deified anthropomorphic principle, mainly in juxtaposition to the belief in the existence of many gods as reflected in pantheistic or polytheistic traditions such as Hinduism or the religions of the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks or Romans. As interpreted today, the term also implies the worship of a single, unified deity at to the exclusion of all other gods and forms of worship, as reflected most predominantly in the Abrahamic religions which explicitly prohibit the worship of any God other than the one prescribed in their scripture. Monotheism in this anthropological and historical evolutionary context is viewed as a more evolved form of religion than its animistic or pantheistic predecessors, in much the same way as homo sapiens is viewed as higher form of ape species than say chimpanzees.
Evidence for the origins of monotheism in ancient history is somewhat muddy and clouded in ancient history however, with different traditions emerging at different times in different civilizations with many similar traits, begging the question as to whether or not monotheism was borrowed and handed down from one tradition to the other (as was clearly the case in the Abrahamic traditions for example) or whether there was some other form of borrowing or exchange that occurred.
When we think of monotheism today we tend to think of the most influential monotheistic religions of modern times, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam – followers of which represent roughly 14 million, 2 billion and 1.3 billion respectively and account for over half of the world’s current population. Each of these major religious faiths are Abrahamic religions in the sense that they all attribute their history and founding back to Abraham as their first prophet as described in the Old Testament Judaic scripture. Surprisingly, despite their similar roots, you’d be hard pressed to find a greater source of conflict and philosophical and religious disagreement in the last 2000 years than these different religious factions, each of which proclaims to be the one and true path to heaven and righteousness and each of which argues that the alternative viewpoints are fundamentally flawed and wrong in some way, and in the case of Christianity and Islam at least, will lead to persecution in eternal damnation. Not such a pleasant thought, Charlie mused.
The development of monotheism in the West runs parallel with the development of Western civilization. It’s not clear whether or not this is a product of chance or if the development of Western civilization and the evolution and maturity of monotheistic religious traditions were related in some way and this was one of the questions Charlie was attempting to answer. One thing was clear however, you could not look at the development of Western civilization since the first millennium BC without looking through the lens of philosophical, metaphysical, theological or religious developments, doing so would leave you with an incomplete picture as religious forces, faith in the divine, was very much a driving force of the development of Western civilization itself, this much was clear.
This religious development in the West could be looked at in contrast to its counterpart in the East where theological and pseudo-religious frameworks emerged but they went in a slightly different direction, placing more emphasis on right living, ethics and morals, and less focus on exclusive and specific anthropomorphic divine modes of worship. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism for example, all rich and prolific religious traditions of the East which thrived in ancient times and still flourish today, were and are much more accepting of the worship of many different deities or aspects of the divine, or in some cases – Taoism and Buddhism for example – lack the divine anthropomorphic principle to be worshipped at all. They all however do not outlaw idolatry explicitly as a tenet of faith however, and do not establish the worship of one and only one God as a fundamental tenet of their faith, a marked distinction from the religious developments in the West.
So although religions of the East represent significant world factions in modern times, over 1 billion followers at least, these belief systems cannot be considered monotheistic in the sense that they do not profess and dictate the worship of a single, exclusive deity at the expense of the worship of all other deities and manifestations of the divine. And perhaps not unrelated, the religions of the East have not been the source of great strife or persecution in the last few thousand years since their inception.
Having said that however, there are some monotheistic threads present in the Eastern religious traditions, in albeit not as hard or stubborn a form as their Western counterparts, again based on our working definition of monotheism being the explicit and law based worship of a single deity to the exclusion of all other deities and idols.
One such example is the sky god based worship prevalent in most Chinese Imperial dynasties dating back to the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC as reflected in the insribings and other archeological evidence from the Shang Dynasty (c. 1800 to 1100 BC) in the Yellow River valley in eastern China that tied legitimacy of authority to an ancient Chinese god called Shangdi, believed to represent the supreme sky deity of the traditional Chinese Bronze Age and prior religious cults, harkening back no doubt to its pantheistic and animalistic roots.
Rulers of the Chinese empire were looked upon as Tianzi, or sons of Heaven, which is who the deity came to represent over the centuries, i.e. Heaven. What we know about Shangdi is mostly from Imperial dynastic sources, and Shangdi is presented as the ruler of heaven who presides over order and justice in the world of human affairs, and the association of which provides legitimacy to the rulers. In this sense Shangdi can be looked at as analogous to Marduk of the Babylonians who rose to prominence as the head of the Babylonian pantheon as Babylon rose to power around the same timeframe much further to the West.
From the writings of Confucius in the Analects, believed to have been transcribed between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC by the followers of Confucius, we find a pseudo-anthropomorphic concept of this deified principle of Heaven, a being that cannot be deceived (i.e. omniscient), and one who guides people’s lives and maintains a personal relationship with them, dolling out tasks for people to fulfill in order to teach them of virtues and morality. This could be interpreted as analogous to God the Father in the New Testament and most certainly goes well beyond the sky and heaven god of old Chinese pantheistic traditions from which it surely originated from, albeit falling short of the one and only one God of the Abrahamic religious systems.
Still, theological systems such as Mohism, which took root in ancient China around the same time as Confucianism and Taoism in the middle of the first millennium BCE but never got an imperial or socio-political foothold in later Chinese dynasties, applied even stronger Western monotheistic qualities to Shangdi, teaching that the function of lesser gods and ancestral spirits was merely to carry out his will, many anthropomorphic aspects of the divine emanating from the one eerily similar to Zoroastrian, Greek and Roman traditions of the West that emerged around the same time.
Mohism’s founder, Mozi, wrote Will of Heaven, pieces of which are very much reminiscent of Genesis and the other ancient Sumer-Babylonian creation myths:
“I know Heaven loves men dearly not without reason. Heaven ordered the sun, the moon, and the stars to enlighten and guide them. Heaven ordained the four seasons, Spring, Autumn, Winter, and Summer, to regulate them. Heaven sent down snow, frost, rain, and dew to grow the five grains and flax and silk that so the people could use and enjoy them. Heaven established the hills and rivers, ravines and valleys, and arranged many things to minister to man’s good or bring him evil. He appointed the dukes and lords to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked, and to gather metal and wood, birds and beasts, and to engage in cultivating the five grains and flax and silk to provide for the people’s food and clothing. This has been so from antiquity to the present.”
Temple of Heaven Beijing
Worship of Shangdi and Heaven in ancient China included the erection of shrines and the offering of prayers, the last and greatest of these houses of worship being the Temple of Heaven in Beijing that was erected in the 14th century CE. The connection of Shangdi to the authoritarian rule was prevalent even after Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism took root with the Chinese people in the latter part of the first millennium BC, as evidenced by the rulers of China continuing to perform the annual custom of slaughtering an animal, usually a bull, in honor of Shangdi.
Although its popularity diminished and faded after Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism took roots in Ancient China, its precepts and deities to some extent were incorporated and adopted into these religious systems, most notably Taoism, but also even in terminology used by early Christians in China who drew a direct parallel between their God the Father and China’s Shangdi in Heaven. This connection of Shangdi to the legitimacy of the ruling emperor survived right up until the establishment of the Republic of China in the early 20th century CE, speaking to the broad influence of the deity as well as the lasting quality of the tradition to the Chinese.
Similar monotheistic traits can be found in Hinduism as well in sects such as Vaishnavism which worships Lord Vishnu as the one supreme godhead of the universe. The worship of Lord Vishnu extends back into 2nd millennium BC as can be found referenced in many of the passages in the Rig Veda, as is the concept of Brahman which although a later Hindu development also takes on some of the attributes of a monotheistic deity from which all things emanate or spring forth. The Hindu tradition is pantheistic however and despite the different tendencies toward the worship of a single anthropomorphic deity, or even the worship of a non-anthropomorphic principle such as Brahman (akin to the first and final cause of Aristotle), the Hindu tradition throughout its history always recognized and accepted the worship of many gods and in this it is distinct from the religious traditions that rose to prominence in the West.
So although it would be inaccurate to say that monotheism in all its forms was absent from the ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley regions and the Far East/China, we don’t find the same hardened monotheist features of the Abrahamic religions which were born to the West in the Mesopotamian, Persian and Egyptian regions of the ancient world. It is however safe to state that what was most definitely lacking in the traditions to the East was the emphasis on prophets, revealed scripture in general, combined with a lack of tolerance of the worship of a multitude of deities – perhaps due to the strong influence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, all of which shunned the worship of anthropomorphic deities and did not profess a “revealed” attribute to their scripture per se. These systems of belief that were prominent in the ancient Eastern civilizations for the most part prescribed to their followers the means of how to live in balance with your environment rather than who to worship to ensure a place in heaven, much more analogous to the Ancient Greek theo-philosophical systems than the Abrahamic religions.
As we look back to the West a millennia or two prior to the Christian era however, as urban centers, agriculture and imperial kingdoms emerged to unify disparate tribes and wandering herdsman into polities and city-states, we do find traces of some of the roots of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths, particularly with Zoroastrianism which had widespread influence in Ancient Persia and Iran. You also see some of the influence of the Greek theo-philosophies on the development of the Abrahamic religions as well but this came much later in the historical record and the Greeks couldn’t necessarily be viewed as proponents of monotheistic faiths by any measure, although Platonists might disagree to some extent. In general, the Ancient Greeks are known for their worship or study of this divine through the lens of reason rather than faith and belief or due to instruction specifically from the “word of God” as the Abrahamic religious systems professed.
From ancient history then, leaving the theological and religious developments of the Far East aside for now, there were at least five monotheistic traditions which had widespread influence on the ancient world and have affected our pure monotheistic traditions that survive into modern times, monotheistic in this sense being defined as the enforced and prescribed worship of a single deity to the exclusion of all other deities:
- Judaism: as reflected in the Torah, or Old Testament scripture, which traces its roots back to the time of Abraham roughly at the turn of the 2nd millennium BC down until modern times,
- Zoroastrianism: its name derived from the supposed author of its primary scripture The Avesta by Zarathustra, aka Zoroaster, which took root in the Ancient Persian empires in the Mediterranean and Near East in the second half of the first millennium BC, surviving in small pockets down into modern times,
- Atenism: which had a very brief period of influence limited to Ancient Egypt at the end of the 14th century BC as established and mandated by the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten,
- Christianity: which of course was developed around the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and then took root in Western civilization as the Roman Empire extended its influence throughout the Mediterranean in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, and
- Islam: which was founded by Muhammad in the early part of the 6th century CE and quickly took root in the Mediterranean, Near East, and North African regions with the spread of the Islamic Empire via the Muslim Conquests.
Each of these powerful religious forces exerted some level of influence on the development their successors as well as their respective parallel development, with the exception of Atenism whose level of influence remains somewhat uncertain and debatable, although its unique monotheistic attributes, so distinct from its polytheistic and pantheistic roots, have been argued by some to have strongly influenced Judaism (or the other way around) as the Exodus of Moses and his people from Egypt is dated within a century or two of the emergence of Atenism speaking to the monotheistic trends active at that time in that part of the ancient world.
Christianity and Islam, both representing the most widely spread and influential monotheistic religions in the world today by any measure, sprung from and were heavily influenced by the monotheistic religions, and metaphysical and philosophical systems, that preceded them. This was evident by the effective incorporation of Judaic mythology and tradition into the Bible and Christian tradition, and then the explicit references to the Jesus and the Abrahamic roots of Islam in the Qur’an, and even to a lesser extent of the incorporation of many of the themes and divine principles of Zoroastrianism in Christianity, although the extent of Zoroastrian influence on Christianity is debated by modern scholars.
But to fully understand the process by which these monotheistic faiths became so widely adopted, and monotheism became almost synonymous with civilization, one must look into ancient times and analyze the underlying historical socio-political forces that were at play while these faiths and religious systems evolved.
Sumerian vs Biblical Creation Myth
Judaism has its roots deep in ancient history, and in many respects represents one of the oldest and most well documented ancient monotheistic traditions. Some of the historical narrative of the Old Testament can be placed well back into the second millennium BC looking at the evidence from within the Old Testament itself as well as archeological and historical evidence independent of the scripture. The Jewish tradition was born out of the eastern Mediterranean and shows marked Sumerian and Babylonian influence as illustrated in the mythology and historical narrative of Genesis whose creation and flood mythology shares common themes and motifs with its Sumerian and Babylonian cultural neighbors.
Judaism today, and from its outset upon its founding by Moses teaches that there is only one God and no other God is to be worshipped other than He, namely Yahweh or Elohim. The Jewish mode of worship, its religious practices and ritual, and even its ethical and moral precepts, are based upon both an oral and a written tradition of the Torah, all of which were said to have been handed down by Yahweh to Moses himself and are documented in the Books of Moses, or the first 5 Books of the Old Testament of the Christian canon, which make up the heart of the Torah.
As far as when Moses might have lived, if you use the events in the Books of Moses themselves and marry the timeline therein to archeological and other historical evidence which more narrowly identifies the timeframe of the Egyptian and Babylonian Pharaohs and Kings for example, you end up with a mid-15th century BC date give or take for the Exodus which puts Moses’s life and works somewhere in the middle of the first millennium BC if we presume he is an actual historical figure.
But the oldest extant documents of Judaism date from the Hellenistic period, some 1000 years or so after Moses supposedly lived, so we’re looking at roughly one thousand years or so of oral tradition before the scripture is actually written down. These texts include Hebrew and Aramaic papyri with biblical fragments such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then Greek documents such as the Septuagint which is believed to have been compiled in the 3rd century BC.
The written tradition of the Jewish faith is centered around the Tanakh, which is the name in Judaism given to the canon of the Hebrew Bible, along with the Talmud, which consists of the commentary of thousands of Jewish Rabbis compiled over centuries on topics from ranging from Jewish law, to ethics and customs, theology and philosophy, as well as history and mythology, and provides the basis for Jewish law.
The Tanakh is broken down into three categories of works, all of which are for most part included in the Christian canon as the Old Testament:
- The Torah: meaning “teaching” in Hebrew or sometimes translated as “law” into English refers to the Five Books of Moses or the first five books of the Old Testament – namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books are also sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch, literally “five books” in Greek. They consist of the story of the origin of the universe and subsequent early generations of mankind in Genesis, along with the detailed account of the life of Moses and his leading of the Jews out of Egypt back to their homeland in Israel.
- The Nevi’im: or “Prophets” which consist of eight books and cover the time from when the Jews enter the land of Israel until the time of Babylonian captivity under the prophet Judah in the early 6th century BC – namely the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel I & II, Kings I & II, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve minor Prophets, and
- The Ketuvim: or “Writings” which is sometimes referred to by the Greek name Hagiographa which consist of eleven books, including the Book of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Daniela and Chronicles among others.
According to the Talmud, much of the contents of the Tanakh were compiled by the Men of the Great Assembly by 450 BC or so, although most modern scholars believe that the canonization of the Tanakh wasn’t finalized in its present day form until somewhere between 200 BC and 200 CE. The Tanakh was written in Hebrew, with the exception of the majority of Ezra and Daniel and some of the chapters of Jeremiah which were written in Aramaic (another language in the ancient Semitic family very closely related to Hebrew) and The Talmud is written in Hebrew and Aramaic as well.
This implies of course that you have at least a thousand years or so before the teachings of Moses were actually transcribed to paper after he presumably lived, leaving plenty of room for doubt and question as to whether or not Moses was the author of the Books attributed to him, as well as the question as to what socio-political factors drove its adoption and prevalence among the Jewish people for a thousand years after Moses died and handed over the care for the Jewish people (and state) to his successor Joshua. Ancient oral traditions were powerful no doubt, but how much was lost or transformed within these 1000 years before the Jewish canon was transcribed by the Men of the Great Council in the 5th century BC and the centuries thereafter?
As far as authorship goes for the Pentateuch itself, it is very much debated by modern scholars and theologians as to whether or not it can be established that Moses was the actual author, although the fact that these five books provide a consistent and cohesive narrative – beginning with the creation of the universe and mankind’s place in it in Genesis and ending with the establishment of the Jewish people in their homeland under Moses and his successor Joshua in Deuteronomy (literally “The Second Law” in Greek) – would seem to indicate that there was a single author or editor who compiled at least these 5 ancient books, although t’s still a subject of debate as to whether or not that author was in fact Moses.
The core of the Jewish faith and tradition however rests in the Torah, and from the Jewish vantage point its author, at least the first five books, is Moses. The Moses to whom Yahweh revealed his message to directly, which was captured in the Torah, in both written and oral form, and passed down through the ages via the Rabbinic scholars and teachers into present day. According to the Jewish tradition, the contents of the Torah were “revealed” to Moses by Yahweh himself, in the very same way the Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic faiths had at their core the belief that their scripture was revealed by the one true God of their respective faiths through their respective prophets – Zarathustra, Jesus and Mohammed respectively.
But with Moses and Judaism, as in each of these other great ancient monotheistic traditions, the prophet taught the message of the one true God to students and followers, their people, and then generations after these teachings were transcribed from the oral tradition into written form in order to unite its people, each revealed tradition transcribed in the language that was prevalent in the civilizations within which the religions flourished. For the Jews it was Ancient Hebrew, for the Zoroastrians it was Old Avestan, for the Christians it was Greek and then Latin, and for the Muslims it was Arabic. The language within which each of these ancient religious frameworks was documented reflected and mirrored the civilization within which they took root, each civilization unique in its own way and this uniqueness was reflected in the prevalent language and form of writing which was most common place, for language and civilization evolve together. But their development within the context of the civilization from within which they emerged, and then in turn the canonization of the scripture itself, shared almost exactly the same basic evolutionary structure [the same could even be said for Atenism, despite its brief tenure in a very limited geography in Ancient Egypt].
As an interesting journey into how a concept or term can be disfigured and lose meaning as it moves through successive languages and centuries, let’s look at how the Hebrew word Torah, which carries so much significance in the Jewish community, has come to be more understood as law or custom rather than the full revealed and complete theological and spiritual framework that it implied to its ancient ancestors.
The word “Torah” in Hebrew is derived from a root that means to ” guide” or “teach”, so a good translation for the word directly into English might be “teaching”, “doctrine”, or “instruction”. But in the Greek Septuagint which was transcribed in the first or second century BC in old Koine Greek, the Hebrew torah was translated to the Greek nomos, which loosely translated to English is “law” or “custom” but in practice actually had a much more complex and rich meaning in the ancient Greek civilization from which the word emerged.
The translation of “torah” to nomos, and in turn to its Latin successor lex (which has a much more direct association with what we denote by “law”), has historically given rise to the misunderstanding that Torah signifies or emphasizes laws or customs rather than the implying the complete historical and socio-religious narrative captured in the scripture of the Jewish faith. Having said that, given how steeped in tradition and custom the Jewish faith is, still following today in many respects the ways and customs of the ancient Judaic hunter/gatherers that made it down through the Books of Moses to subsequent generations, one can see why an association with Torah and “law” could have developed over the centuries and stuck.
A Greek Orphic hymn to the god Nomos illustrates its depth of meaning of this concept to the Ancient Greeks, at least to those who used the word to translate the Hebrew torah in the few centuries before Christ, which gives the reader perhaps a more broad understanding of what Torah really signifies in Hebrew:
“The holy king of gods and men I call, heavenly Nomos, the righteous seal of all: the seal which stamps whatever the earth contains, and all concealed within the liquid plains: stable, and starry, of harmonious frame, preserving laws eternally the same. Thy all-composing power in heaven appears, connects its frame, and props the starry spheres; and unjust envy shakes with dreadful sound, tossed by thy arm in giddy whirls around. ‘Tis thine the life of mortals to defend, and crown existence with a blessed end; for thy command alone, of all that lives, order and rule to every dwelling goes. Ever observant of the upright mind, and of just actions the companion kind. Foe to the lawless, with avenging ire, their steps involving in destruction dire. Come, blest, abundant power, whom all reverse, by all desired, with favouring mind draw near; give me through life on thee to fix my sight, and never forsake the equal paths of right.”
So with the Jewish monotheistic tradition then, we see some outside influences on the scripture itself from Sumerian, Babylonian and other Canaanite mythos, but the faith, as with all of the Abrahamic traditions, is centered around the belief in the direct revelation of the Word of God to its prophet, Moses, and the subsequent transmission and codification of this revelation to its people. But what should not be lost, and is true most certainly for Christianity and Islam as well, is that the canonization and standardization of the faith and its practices down through the centuries after the passing of its prophet, was intended to unite its people, and somewhat distinctly for the Jews, to legitimize and establish their ancestral homeland in Israel.
With Judaism explored, Charlie moved on somewhat further East to Ancient Persia to see what monotheistic traditions became prevalent during the same time period in ancient history, roughly 2nd and first millennium BC before Christianity and the Roman Empire spread throughout the region. To this end, we see Zoroastrianism develop and mature, with many parallels to the Jewish tradition, although absent is the history of persecution of its people and the driving precept of an ancestral homeland.
Ancient Religion & Civilization Timeline
Evidence of Zoroastrianism can be found in the historical record from the Greek historian Herodotus, where in Histories (written late 5th century BC in Greek) he describes the consolidation of the Median tribes under Deioces of Iran in the 7th century BC, of which the Magi are listed as one of the tribal groups. Herodotus also uses the term Magi to describe the priestly caste of the Medians as well which is how the term later was adopted. In the archeological record, specifically in the Behistun Inscription, which is attributed to Darius the Great, the third king of the Achaemenid/Persian Empire dated to the latter part of the 5th century BC, his imperial success is attributed to the grace of Ahura Mazda, the one and only supreme God of the Zoroastrian faith. These two sources are the earliest direct connection that can be established between the Persian Empire in the first millennium BC to the teachings ascribed to Zarathustra, identifying at the very least the widespread influence of Zoroastrianism in the ruling class of Persia at this time.
The scripture of the Zoroastrian faith however go back much farther in ancient times than its adoption by the Persians in the middle of the first millennium BC however. The Avesta, which is a term used to describe the original collective works of the Zoroastrian faith named after the language which they were written in, i.e. Old Avestan, speak of the belief in one creator God, Ahura Mazda, a renaming of an Old Iranian god who was proclaimed the one and only and uncreated God by Zoroaster or Zarathustra in Persian.
Accounts of modern scholars date the contents of the Avesta as indicative of hunter/gatherer and nomadic societies that are consistent with archaeological findings in Near East at the turn of the first millennium BC, centuries before the Persian Imperial period. But as Moses is accredited with authoring the first five books of the Old Testament, Zoroaster is credited with the authorship of the Gathas and the Yasna Haptanghaiti, both of which represent the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism and both of which are known to have been transcribed and authored in Avestan, a language known only for its association with Zoroastrian scripture.
The Gathas describe a society of consisting of priests and herdsmen/farmers, a nomadic culture with tribal structures organized at most as small kingdoms. This contrasts sharply with the view of Zoroaster having lived in an empire, at which time society is attested to have had a tripartite structure with the addition of a solider and warring class to the priests and nomad/farmers, providing evidence for the origins the Zoroastrian scriptures dating back into the 2nd millennium BC prior to the imperial age of the Persians despite this society having the first known reference to Zoroastrian faith.
The life and times of the prophet Zoroaster are known through the Zoroastrian texts themselves and through no other source other than brief references by much later historians. The language of the Yasna Haptanghaiti and the Gathas is Old Avestan, believed to have been spoken and used by the Eastern Iranian peoples in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE based upon archaeological and other evidence. Greek philosophers and historians such as Plutarch and Aristotle however put Zoroaster much further back in history to the 6th millennium BC or so, most likely leveraging existent Persian references to this approximate date which had attempted to establish him as an historical figure to provide legitimacy to the ruling Persian empire. So although a precise date of the founding of Zoroastrianism and its founder Zarathustra is uncertain, Old Avestan’s close ties with Vedic Sanskrit combined with the life and times that are described within the oldest Zoroastrian liturgy put the date of the origins of the scripture somewhere between 1500-1100 BCE.
What is known from the Avestan texts is that Zoroaster was born in Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan into a Bronze Age culture marked with polytheistic religious beliefs as were common in those ancient times, including rituals of animal sacrifice and the use of hallucinogenics for spiritual awakening, the latter practice of which could be considered similar in many respect to shamanic rituals of the Native American populations of more modern times which we may be more familiar. The religious practices and way of life as described in the Avesta were in many respects quite similar to the early forms of Hinduism described in the Vedas which arose in the Indus valley region to the East of Ancient Persia. What is clear from the ancient texts is that Zarathustra rejected the religion of the Bronze Age Iranians with their many gods and oppressive class structure, and he opposed animal sacrifices and the use of hallucinogenics in rituals, marking a fairly significant divergence from the standard practices off his day and establishing the foundation for a monotheistic faith, unifying the various notions of divinity found within this pantheistic tradition into one all-encompassing deity or principle called Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda (right, with high crown) presents Ardashir I (left) with the ring of kingship. (3rd century CE)
Ahura Mazda is described as the highest deity of worship in Zoroastrianism, and is the first and most frequently invoked deity in the Yasna, the accompanying hymns of the Avestas which complement and supplement the Gathas of which Zarathustra is the supposed author. The word Ahura means “light” and Mazda means “wisdom”, thus Ahura Mazda is the lord of light and wisdom and he is considered to be the upholder of Asha or Arta, which corresponds quite closely to the Sanskrit word rta which signifies the underlying order of the universe and society within it, or simply truth. Ahura Mazda is an omniscient and omnipotent god, who is viewed in the early Avestan tradition as the antithesis and path of freedom from angra mainyu, or “destructive mind”, a human construct in the old Avestan scripture who is in later Zoroastrian tradition transformed into a deity personifying evil.
Furthermore, some of the deities of the Old Iranian religion, referred to as daevas in Old Avestan (devas in Sanskrit), are described as delighting in mischief and conflict and the scripture refers to these deities as evil spirits and manifestations of Angra Mainyu, or God’s adversary (Satan). Many of these principles of the battle between good and evil, and the existence of angels and demons of heaven which presided over the world of mankind, are principles that are found in Christianity as it flourished several centuries after Jesus was crucified and his message spread. Also of note is that in the Younger Avesta, three divinities of the Zoroastrian pantheon are repeatedly identified as ahuric, meaning that each act together collectively to both represent and protect Asha, or the world order and divine truth which governs the universe. These three deities are later referred to as the Ahuric triad – namely Ahura Mazda, Mithra and Burz – to which similarities with the Christian Holy Trinity have been drawn by later scholars looking to connect Christian theology with Zoroastrian principles.
Zoroaster was thus the first to teach the doctrines of an individual judgment, Heaven and Hell, the future resurrection of the body, the general Last Judgment, and life everlasting for the reunited soul and body. These doctrines were to become familiar articles of faith to much of mankind, through borrowings by Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is in Zoroastrianism itself that they have their fullest logical coherence….
The existence of some of these precursor Christian ideas and concepts, along with the notion of last judgment, have led some scholars to draw a line directly connecting the Zoroastrian tradition with later Christian theology and although a direct correlation is hard to establish, some pattern and cultural borrowing between the two faiths in all likelihood did occur.
Very little is known about the spread of Zoroastrianism between the time when it is believed Zoroaster actually and the time of the advent of the Persian or Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, other than the fact that during this period Zoroastrianism must have gained enough influence in Western Iran in order for it to be adopted by the ruling class of the Persian Empire. It is however with the reign of the Persian ruler Darius I (550 – 486 BC) that direct reference to the Ahura Mazda of Zarathustra first appears in the historical record, and from then on in the Persian dynasty of kings, Ahura Mazda along with some of the lesser gods in the Old Persian and Iranian tradition, are referenced and worshipped as benefactors of their successful reign.
Achaemenid Empire at its height circa 5th century BC
To state Zoroastrianism was the state sponsored religion of the Persian Empire kings might be going too far based upon what we know, however it is clear that the spread of Zoroastrianism and its influence on later monotheistic religions (as the Zoroastrian faith and tradition did coexist with Judaism as evidenced by Biblical scripture, for example the three Magi who visited Christ at his birth) did begin with rise in power of the Persian empire in the 6th century BC and the spread of Persian/Iranian influence.
It is fairly certain that the Persians were exposed to some form of Judaism and vice versa however as evidenced by the Old Testament scripture that speak to the Jews being conquered by the Babylonians and their temple being destroyed (c 586 BC) hence beginning the period of of Jewish exile, and then the return to their homeland and the rebuilding of their temple under the auspices of the Persian King Cyrus in 536 BC. So clearly the Jews and Zoroastrian/Persians had direct contact during this time period, and it’s not too large of a leap of faith to presume that some of their religious and mythological dogma was blended and coalesced between the two religious systems.
By some scholars it is held that Zoroastrianism in some form or other was the state religion of the Persians during the Achaemenid Empire until the end of the 4th century BC. Although most of what today we would consider to be Zoroastrian lore was documented and codified much later (the historical evidence points pretty clearly to the Avestas being written not until centuries after the birth of Christ), the faith itself was handed down in oral tradition by Persian/Iranian religious elders over the generations as was the case with all religious sects and cults in ancient times. And it was these religious elders, referred to as the Magi by the Greeks and Romans, who are referenced as being persecuted during the Greek occupation by Alexander’s forces and his successors, during which time it is believed that much of Zoroastrian texts and traditions were lost and/or marginalized.
So what is probably not far-fetched then, at least from Charlie’s perspective, is that Zoroastrianism was adopted by a culture, civilization and language that was used to unify a people and solidify an empire, i.e. the Persian Empire. This development and spread of influence is somewhat analogous to its Jewish, Christian and even Islamic counterparts who saw the development of their faith be systemized and codified in parallel to their respective imperial expansion and/or defense.
Ancient Egypt was a land conquered by many ancient civilizations over the centuries, and yet one with a deep and rich history itself, one steeped in the rule of the Pharaohs over the lands of the Nile, and one which had e a rich and unique mythos that directly connected the established authority with the divine godhead that legitimized their rule. Although various gods and myths were used and manipulated over the centuries from city to city, there is one religious development in particular that has drawn much speculation and thought by later scholars, particularly with respect to its relationship to Moses, in its departure from Egyptian polytheistic roots and rituals to a more clear, and state authorized and sponsored, monotheistic faith.
Egyptian civilization is typically marked by the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by its first pharaoh in the latter part of the 4th century BC, old for ancient civilizations no doubt, and this era corresponds roughly to the development of writing, i.e. cuneiform, in the Tigris-Euphrates valley to the North and East. According to Manetho, a 3rd century BC Egyptian historian and priest who authored Aegyptiaca, or “History of Egypt”, a seminal work describing the development of Ancient Egyptian civilization, the period of Egyptian societal consolidation under the rule of a single unified King or Pharaoh begins with Menes around 3000 BC. Such begins the first dynastic period of Egypt as it is referred to by modern scholars, and the beginning of one of the great unified civilizations of ancient times.
The Egyptian mythos is probably best known for the importance it held the relationship of death and life, with a persistent and widespread belief of the existence of the soul beyond death, giving rise to their practices of mummification and pyramid and tomb building for which Ancient Egypt is probably best known. But religion and the relationship to the divine in Ancient Egypt was marked by the worship of many deities, each reflecting some aspect of nature or reality, consistent with most middle and late Bronze age cultures throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, and similar even to the Far Eastern pantheistic religious traditions we see from the same period (in what is today India and China).
From the historical and archeological record we see many versions of the Egyptian pantheon, and even slightly variant creation myths, each with different local variants on the same theme; where order, Maat, emerged from the chaos that preceded the world, and the pantheon of gods was installed to preside over humanity from which the Pharaohs’ legitimized their dominion over the Egyptian people. It is clear that their pantheon and mythos evolved over time however, Ancient Egypt was exposed to more and more cultural influence from its neighbors to the North and East. Over the centuries, particularly in the first millennium BC, its mythos and pantheon become merged and synthesized with other ancient gods and mythologies as its territory came under the dominion of first the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans.
Under the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhhenaten, or Amenhotep IV (1364-147 BC), something very interesting and unique in Egyptian socio-political history happened though, and although it lasted but a decade or two, represents one of the most unique religious and political developments in Ancient Egypt that has been the cause of much speculation as it relates to the development of monotheism in the Ancient World.
Worship of Aten, the great disc of the sun, by Amenhotep IV
One of the gods in the Egyptian pantheon which always held great significance and relevance to the people of Egypt was the Sun God Re, or Ra, who was one of the principal gods in the Egyptian pantheon and mythos, owing no doubt to the close Egyptian relationship and dependence to the sun for life, agriculture, passage of seasons, flooding of the Nile, etc.. Prior to the reign of Amenhotep IV, the sun god was worshipped as Amen-Re and was looked upon as the highest and most revered god of the entire Egyptian pantheon. A lesser principle or aspect of this sun god Ra was Aten, which signified the sun disc itself which although was an aspect of Ra, did not hold great import in Egyptian mythology before Amenhotep IV.
But in the early part of Amenhotep IV’s reign, for reasons that can only be looked upon as socio-political, Amenhotep IV established what we today refer to as Atenism as the official religion of the state, and proclaimed that Aten be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods, not only outlawing the worship of all other gods even in individual homes, but also even going so far as to oversee the systemic destruction of idols and all other references to other gods in the Egyptian pantheon throughout the land, gods and goddesses that had been worshipped for millennia.
This development marked a significant divergence from Egyptian policy that preceded him which had accepted the various gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon for centuries and to a great extent permitted religious freedom of worship throughout the kingdom. He even went so far as to change his name to Akhenaten (or “agreeable to Aten”), and began the construction of a new capital city called Akhetaten in the deities’ honor.
A hymn to Aten found in identical form in five ancient Egyptian tombs illustrates the monotheistic conception of Aten that was proselytized by Amenhotep IV.
Splendid you rise, O living Aten, eternal lord!
You are radiant, beauteous, mighty,
Your love is great, immense.
Your rays light up all faces,
Your bright hue gives life to hearts,
When you fill the Two Lands with your love.
August God who fashioned himself,
Who made every land, created what is in it,
All peoples, herds, and flocks,
All trees that grow from soil;
They live when you dawn for them,
You are mother and father of all that you made.
When you dawn their eyes observe you,
As your rays light the whole earth;
Every heart acclaims your sight,
When you are risen as their lord.
When you set in sky’s western lightland,
They lie down as if to die,
Their heads covered, their noses stopped,
Until you dawn in sky’s eastern lightland.
Their arms adore your ka,
As you nourish the hearts by your beauty;
One lives when you cast your rays,
Every land is in festivity.
Singers, musicians, shout with joy,
in the court of the benben-shrine,
And in all temples in Akhet-Aten,
The place of truth in which you rejoice.
Foods are offered in their midst,
Your holy son performs your praises,
O Aten living in his risings,
And all your creatures leap before you.
Your august son exults in joy,
O Aten living daily content in the sky,
Your offspring, your august son, Sole one of Re;
The Son of Re does not cease to extol his beauty,
Neferkheprure, Sole-one-of Re.
I am your son who serves you, who exalts your name,
Your power, your strength, are firm in my heart;
You are the living Aten whose image endures,
You have made the far sky to shine in it,
To observe all that you made.
You are One yet a million lives are in you,
To make them live (you give) the breath of life to their noses;
By the sight of your rays all flowers exist,
What lives and sprouts from the soil grows when you shine.
Drinking deep of your sight all flocks frisk,
The birds in the nest fly up in joy;
Their folded wings unfold in praise
Of the living Aten, their maker.
Unique to Atenism relative to the other ancient monotheistic faiths is of course is it’s purely socio-political origins, i.e. there is no revealer of truth or scripture to which it adheres as is the case with other monotheistic traditions that emerged from ancient Western civilization, outside of Amenhotep IV himself. Atenism is simply the decree of truth from the ruler of the day in what can only be seen as a blatant attempt at the consolidation of power within his domain. But there are uniquely monotheistic traits to Atenism as it was professed and doled out to the Egyptian people, and to this extent it is worth consideration and study within the context of the development of monotheism historically.
The stark contrast of Atenism relative to the Egyptian religious precepts which preceded it, as well as the timing of Amenhotep IV’s rule which coincides within a century or two of Moses’s exodus from Egypt, has given rise to much scholarly debate as to whether or not the monotheistic principles embedded in Atenism were a foreign construct that was borrowed and adapted by Amenhotep IV from some outside influence, or perhaps even (as was suggested by Sigmund Freud), that Atenism was the source from which Judaism’s monotheistic tradition sprung.
The next major monotheistic development in ancient times after Zoroastrianism from the East, Judaism from the Ancient Palestinian region, and Atenism from Ancient Egypt/Northern Africa is Christianity, a system which emerged out of the cultural and religious melting pot of the Ancient Mediterranean and quite directly out of Judaism itself as Jesus was of course a Jew. The development of Christianity as a formal religion doesn’t really begin until the 4th century CE however, when religious persecution of Christians is stopped by the Roman Empire as reflected by the Edict of Milan (c 313 CE), and then the New Testament canon is established by the end of the 4th century CE.
The (Eastern) Roman Empire at its greatest extent under Justinian I, in 555 AD
As of 2010, it is estimated that there are over 2 billion Christians in the world today representing some 1/3 of the total world population and despite there being many different schools of Christianity that have developed over the centuries since it was established, the faith itself in all its forms fundamentally rests on the interpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus as reflected in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (aka the Gospels), or the first four books of the New Testament which are the best extant sources of the life and teachings of Jesus.
To understand Jesus’s perspective and from what socio-political context he preached however, it must be first and foremost be understood that Jesus was a Jew, and it cannot be dismissed that the Jewish traditions and faith as reflected in the Torah and as taught by the Rabbinic scholars of his day played a major role in his religious and theological beliefs, even if he teachings are viewed as contradictory and rebellious to Judaism. According to the Gospels in fact, his crucifixion stems in no small part due to his rebellion against the rabbinic establishment, even though it was up to the Romans to execute him.
Although it was many centuries after the death of Jesus that a standard Christian Canon and Christianity as we know it today emerged, from the start Christianity rested on the Jewish monotheistic tradition and heritage, reinforcing the belief that there was but one supreme, omniscient God, and that he was to be worshipped to the exclusion of all lesser gods and idols. But the teachings of Jesus, his ministry spanning only the last two or three years of his life according to the Gospels, put a new spin on the God of the Old Testament, transforming him into God the Father, introducing the concept of the Holy Spirit, and professing the possibility of a more a more direct and personal relationship with God than professed in prevailing Judaic traditions, going so far as to say that the “kingdom of God is within you”.
From this socio-political context, Jesus’s teachings themselves can be looked at as very similar to the development of Buddhism to the East where Buddha professed a path of enlightenment that was and should be open to all, stemming from his dissatisfaction with the Brahman priestly classes’ monopolization of the divine that was prevalent in the Hindu/Vedic culture of his time. Jesus’s teachings can be looked at in the same light within the context of the Jewish society within which he lived, grew up and then later taught – God was not the providence of the Rabbis only but is open and accessible to all; seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.
From the perspective of the development of monotheism itself however, there is not much that Jesus and/or Christianity adds to the historical record, although it arguably does introduce a more in depth and relevant set of theological constructs which clearly resonated with Ancient Western civilization more so than the alternative religious and theological traditions of the time as reflected by Christianity’s widespread adoption in the centuries after Jesus’s death and its further evolution and spread down into modern times.
From another vantage point, the spread of Christianity does coincide with the prevalence and more widespread influence of writing and the written word in ancient society, as the life and times of Jesus was recorded in a way, and handed down to his followers, such that his teachings could be captured in a more sincere and holistic format than the prophets of the monotheistic traditions that preceded him – namely Moses of the Jews and Zarathustra of the Zoroastrians, the accounts of the lives of which were steeped too far back into Bonze Age history to be looked at as first hand historical narratives and were clearly wrapped in fable and myth to some extent, a fact in all likelihood not lost on the people that were drawn to Christianity after its teachings began to spread. So with the spread of Christianity and the canonization of the Bible, which incorporated and built off of the Jewish canon which preceded it, you now have entered into the historical record a new prophet with a fresh interpretation of Jewish scripture who’s actual life and teachings survive in a much richer and more historical contextual form than the prophets of the preceding monotheistic traditions, arguably attributing to its widespread appeal to the populace of the ancient civilizations within which Christianity flourished.
But what you also have with Christianity, which lies in direct parallel to the spread and adoption of the monotheistic traditions which preceded it, is an underlying need and desire to unite peoples from a range of cultural backgrounds and histories expanding over broad regions and territories under one ruler and one kingdom as the driving force behind the standardization of the belief system and the scripture which it rested upon. The Romans utilization and indoctrination of the teachings of Jesus in the form of early Christianity can be looked at as a direct parallel to the utilization of the Zoroastrian scripture by successive Persian emperors to legitimize and unify their dominion over the Mediterranean and Near East, the use of the divine revelations as reflected in the Books of Moses as the legitimizing force behind the establishment of the Jewish homeland of Israel and the unification of the Jewish people, and similar albeit less widespread socio-political forces behind Atenism under Amenhotep IV. Although in the case of Atenism there was not necessarily any revealed scripture to which the authority of Aten was justified outside of the decree from the Pharaoh himself, perhaps one of the main reasons why the practice died out so soon after it was established.
By the time Jesus starts his ministry in 30 CE or so then, you have at least a few centuries of fairly widespread religious belief that espoused the existence of a single omniscient and omnipotent Creator as reflected in Zoroastrian and Judaic communities existing alongside the Hellenistic theo-philosophical tradition that explained the existence of the universe and mankind’s place in it as emanating from a single source, the first cause of Aristotle and the demiurge or divine craftsman of the Platonists. So by this time you did have at least an historical precedence for monotheism as espoused by the Persians, the Greeks and the Jewish tradition, the latter of which could arguably be called the least tolerant of the monotheistic traditions and the most focused on fixed modes of worship and behavior, and of course from this relatively intolerant Jewish tradition from which Christianity emerged primarily.
But by no means could you call the mainstream religious beliefs at the time of Christ to be anything but predominantly pantheistic or polytheistic. What you did have by the time of Jesus’ ministry however was the existence of many well thought out and fairly widespread intellectual frameworks on top of which monotheism could be constructed, all of which were divorced from pure mythology/pantheism itself, and this was the environment into which Christianity was sown. You could say that in the first few centuries CE, Western civilization was ripe for the adoption of some sort of creed or faith that was more intellectually and rationally evolved than the pantheistic and even pseud-monotheistic traditions of the ancient civilizations in that region that were shepherded by their respective priestly classes.
It is fairly widely accepted for example that the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity was a later development of Christianity, one with in all likelihood Hellenistic and/or Zoroastrian roots, of particular note is the Neo-Platonist doctrine of the One, the Intellect and the Soul as put forth in the 3rd century CE by Plotinus (c 204/5 – 270 CE) and expounded upon by his successor Porphyry (234 – 305 CE). For although God the Father and the Holy Spirit are referred to and spoken of in Christian scripture (Old and New Testament) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not explicitly stated or referred to anywhere in the Bible itself. It is not until theologians and commentaries on Christian scripture began to emerge in the 4th century CE, a society steeped in Hellenistic philosophy as well as the Christian movement, that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity emerges and takes root in the orthodox Christian community.
You can also see the influence of Jewish scholars such as Philo of Alexandria (c 20 BC – 40 CE) on Christianity as it develops in the first few centuries after the birth of Christ, most notably in Philo of Alexandria’s concept of Logos which he developed to try and fuse Jewish and Hellenistic philosophical thought, a concept that is invoked right at the beginning of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
But despite Christianity’s theological and metaphysical depth, and the existence of relatively recent accounts of its prophet Jesus even to later students of Christianity, all of which represented qualities which for sure separated it from its metaphysical and religious predecessors, it still held fast onto the Judaic traditions of the worship of the One god to the exclusion of every other, as well as an evangelical bent that stemmed from the Gospels that distinguished it from other faith and belief systems, all of which set the religion up for not only widespread adoption throughout the Western world but also as the source of much persecution as it spread as tolerance was never an attribute that was espoused by early or later Christians through Medieval times necessarily.
So ironically, despite the firm convictions of the man we know as Jesus as reflected in the Four Gospels that are most closely tied to his actual life and works, the contents of which speak to the existence of an historical figure who professed to all those that would listen that the kingdom of heaven was within each and every one of us that the door shall be opened for all who knock and that the ruling religious aristocracy of the day had no monopoly on the kingdom of heaven, beliefs for which he was sentenced to death analogous to the execution of Socrates by Athenian authorities some six centuries earlier in Greece, the evolution of Christianity and the ascent to power an influence of the Christian Church in Western civilization at best stifled religious freedom and independent theological development and at worst excommunicated and/or condemned to death those that put forth alternative ideas of creation or salvation that were not consistent with the Christian Church and its associated dogma which rested on the notion of the Bible as the Word of God.
From Charlie’s viewpoint, it was this orthodoxy and rigidness of belief combined with the widespread influence and adoption of the Christian Church which were in no small measure responsible for what historians now call the Dark Ages, dark because free thought and the independence of the mind and spirit to interpret the divine in their own words and from their own socio-cultural context was subjugated to the one view of the Church that they deemed was right and correct.
As the power center of the Roman Empire shifted to the East, orthodox Christianity began to take shape and Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire (aka Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire), Islam emerged as a powerful new religious movement in what is now modern day Saudi Arabia lying just to the East. Islam in Arabic means ‘submission or surrender and obedience to God’s will’ and was founded by Muhammad (c. 570 – 632 CE) in the early 7th century CE. During the latter years of his life, Muhammad not only founded Islam and established the Muslim brotherhood, but he also became a renowned political leader and consolidated the various warring tribal forces of the Saudi Arabian peninsula, culminating in the establishment of the Constitution of Medina in 622 CE which established the first Islamic state in history.
The main scripture of Islam is the Qur’an, and in the Muslim tradition it is said that the scripture was revealed to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel in a series of revelations starting from when he was around 40 years old until the end of his life. The Quran is composed of verses, or ayat, that make up 114 chapters, suras, of unequal length which are classified either as Meccan or Medinan depending upon the place and time of their claimed revelation. The Qur’an, along with the biographical and historical material associated with the life of Muhammad in what is referred to as Al-sira (or simply sira) along with the hadith, which are sayings and phrases attributed to Muhammad that have been handed down over the centuries in either oral or written form, form the basis of Islamic thought and religion.
In Islam, the concept of monotheism is referred to as the tawhid, a word reflecting the singular, unique, and wholly integrated nature of the one true God, or Allah (wahid is the word for “one” in Arabic). Islamic monotheism can be viewed as a more pure form of monotheism relative to Christianity in that it, consistent with the Jewish tradition, not only did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, but also believed that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity represented a bastardization of the monotheism taught by the Abrahamic prophets. Although Islam references and acknowledges the prophets of the Jews and even acknowledges Jesus as a great teacher and prophet (“Isa” is the name given to Jesus in the Qur’an), Islam teaches that each of these religions has been tarnished and jaded over the centuries since their prophets had died, and the world was in need of a new, fresh revealed message for its era, i.e. enter Muhammad and Islam.
From an historical and academic perspective the Qur’an is said to have been codified and transcribed some 20 years or so after Muhammad’s death by one of his followers in order to ensure a single source of the scripture for all Muslims and discourage fragmentation among the Muslim community. Islam has remained largely unified in its theological view and canon over the centuries, a unique trait relative to its Christian predecessor in fact, and it is the adherence and belief of different sets of hadith that are attributed to Muhammad that the different Islamic sects such as Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadi are distinguished by. The oral tradition is said to have kept the scripture alive word for word until it was transcribed, and in all likelihood this was the case, although its safe to say that the organization of the sayings into verses and chapters was a later invention of the editor and compiler of the sayings rather than Muhammad himself.
As Christianity looked to the Judaic tradition for its history and mythology as reflected in the incorporation of the Jewish Old Testament into its biblical scripture, Islam also incorporated the Abrahamic as well as Christian tradition into its dogma and mythology, specifically citing and referring to the long line of Jewish prophets as well as to Jesus, Isa, throughout the narrative of the Qur’an, in many cases relaying some of the same stories and myths in the Old Testament within a similar but altogether unique and colloquial narrative.
Even more so than Judaism and Christianity, Islam looked to its scripture the Qur’an and the life of its prophet Muhammad as the one and only means to salvation, resting on the revealed nature of its scripture and its breadth of scope in social and legal tenets. Although Islamic tradition as taught by Muhammad believed in the Judeo-Christian prophets of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, it taught that their messages had ben warped and bastardized over time and that it was the words of Muhammad, as revealed to him and codified in the Qur’an and the hadith, that were the one and only true path to salvation. It was taught that Islam was the last revealed message of Allah in fact, and that no other prophet other than Muhammad was needed after his message was given to the world.
Islam then, like Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism before it, placed emphasis on the literal interpretation of the Qur’an itself as revealed scripture before individual theological interpretation or individual realization – all questions and answers lay either in the Qur’an itself or in the hadith and sira that sprung from the Islamic tradition. What has made matters worse, at least worse from Charlie’s perspective with respect to the misinterpretation of the meaning and true timeless value of the Qur’an, was that the book clearly had a social and political motive as well as a religious one, covering a broad range of topics outside of religion and theology such as banking and trade, welfare, war and man’s relationship to the environment, harkening back almost to the works of Plato and Aristotle and other countless ancient philosophers, theologians and metaphysicians who attempted to ground a moral and ethical framework into their own respective theological and metaphysical world view independent of a theological stance per se. The attempt is commendable, and surely the times and turmoil of the age of Muhammad in some sense demanded this grounding and broad scope, but scholars and interpreters of his “words”, be they people of faith or otherwise, must take into account the social, economic and spiritual plight of the era within which he lived and taught – scholarship 101 from Charlie’s perspective.
Islamic Conquests in the few centuries after Muhammad
Over the centuries following Muhammad’s death, Islamic influence spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa and into Central Asia via the Muslim Conquests, an age of conquest and proliferation of the Islamic faith that Muhammad himself started on the Arabian peninsula, creating a sphere of influence by the 8th century CE that rivaled even the Roman Empire at its height. From the start, Islam was not only a religious system that outlined how to worship the one true God, i.e. Allah, and that idolatry and paganism was to be shunned, but it also prescribed a system of law and a way of life in a very detailed and explicit way such that political as well as religious harmony could be achieved. Such was the origin of the great faith of Islam that has been handed down to us over the centuries.
So as Charlie had perused and looked for a simple progression or development of monotheistic religions in the ancient world he found anything but. He saw that monotheistic faiths clearly had tentacles that stretched far back into ancient times, at least as far back as the 2nd millennium BC as was the case with Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Atenism. Furthermore, it was very difficult to argue that these traditions did not develop somewhat independently, despite the arguments for Jewish pilfering of monotheism from Atenism as argued by Freud, and the hypothesis of some scholars that much of the Jewish mythology and narrative in the Old Testament was simply borrowed or stolen from Ancient Sumer-Babylon. These theories are thin at best and rely on similar motifs present in the systems of belief as the main source of evidence rather than on evidence of any clear and direct relationship in the historical, archeological or written record.
Having said that, it did appear to Charlie that these ancient monotheistic traditions clearly had some level of influence on their more modern brethren, in much the same way that Hellenistic philosophy influenced Christian theology as it evolved alongside the advancement of the Roman Empire. Not borrowing or stealing of ideas per se but the application of older patterns, stories and mythology to the ideas, life and works of a given society and people as professed by their prophet of choice. Clearly Jewish mythology shared many features with its Canaanite and Sumerian neighbors and specific influences from Egypt are of course called out in the Old Testament, even if they are done so only to point out the contrast in belief systems. Out of these ancient traditions, the Abrahamic thread clearly won out, although the Jewish tradition and message was transcribed and re-interpreted first by the Christians through the life and teaching of Jesus and then by the Muslims through the life and teachings of Muhammad.
What all of these religions and belief systems shared in common however is that they evolved and matured through the assimilation of the messages within a certain socio-political context, in no small part due to the need to consolidate a people or a nation. For Zoroastrianism it was the Ancient Persian Empire which provided the foundation to its widespread influence, for Judaism it was the tool employed by Moses to unite his people and find a homeland as they journeyed out of Egypt, for the Christian it was the evolution and spread of the Roman Empire that was its fuel, and then for Islam it was the spread and consolidation of the Muslim Empire that arose in reaction to what it thought was misinterpreted doctrine by the Christians and Jews and other pagan religions of Muhammad’s time. In each of these examples the respective religious growth and influence was fueled by not only a reaction to the ancient pagan rituals and idol worshipping that was clearly looked down upon by civilized and learned people even in ancient times, but also by the need to unite a people under one state that drove the standardization of respective scripture (canonization) and even the standardization of interpretation of scripture of each of the respective monotheistic traditions as was the case with the Abrahamic religions most certainly.
Contrast these Western religious systems that rested on revealed scripture to prophets against the Indo-Aryan tradition as laid out in the Vedas, which although rested in a firm belief that the words of the Vedas were eternal and not of this mortal world (i.e. were divinely inspired just as the Qur’an was believed to be by the Muslims, the Torah was believed to be by the Jews and the Bible was believed to be by the Christians), had embedded in it a deep metaphysical and philosophical tradition which placed individual realization and communion with the divine before any godhead or religious dogma and therefore carried along with it a relatively open interpretative tradition that allowed for the rich theological and metaphysical traditions of Jainism, Buddhism, and even various interpretations of the Vedas such as Advaita Vedanta and Dvaita Vedanta, to all flourish and coexist in the same society freely and openly, without the evangelical characteristics of the Abrahamic traditions to the West.
But it was the socio-political context that Charlie thought was missed by orthodox interpretations of the Abrahamic religions into modern times. The Jewish faith rested on the revelations of Moses some 4 thousand years ago, the Christians on the at best indirect accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus as reflected in the Gospels, and then again by Muslims based upon the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, all scripture that was believed to be the revealed word of the one true God and all interpreted by its followers without the critical lens of rationalism or reason as was so prevalent in the intellectual community of the Greeks for example.
Let’s say for a moment that the revelationary aspect of each of these religious schools was true, i.e. their doctrines and the words therein were indeed given from the one and only true God of the Abrahamic people – the Yahweh of the Jews, God of the Christians and Allah of the Muslims. This message still needed to be interpreted through the mind of the prophet; prophets are human constructs no matter what their divine state is. They eat, breathe and speak and interact with the world around them just like all the rest of us. They are human, this cannot be denied. [Jesus was killed, he may have come back from the dead but he’s still dead speaking to his fundamental human rather than divine nature, divine in this sense being beyond life and death].
This message of the respective faiths then is interpreted not only by the mind of the prophet but then translated into intellectual concepts that are reflected in the language that was used by the prophet and then codified by successive generations; Ancient Hebrew for the Jews, Greek for the Christians, and Arabic for the Muslims. But each language system evolved and was closely tied to the people and culture within which it thrived. There is no word in Hebrew, Arabic or Greek even for the Internet, for Instant Messaging, for Social Media, there was no need for them clearly for these constructs did not exist. But anyone pursuing a relationship with the divine today has to coordinate and reconcile these core characteristics of modern society with their notion of the divine. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism cannot help us with this; this was Charlie’s core hypothesis, or at least one of them.
Furthermore, each belief system was then codified, transliterated and documented by followers of said prophets – none of the prophets authored their own works. And each system contained a code of ethics, conduct for worship, and even laws that were very specific to the peoples and cultures within which these religions emerged. As an example Mohammed took many wives. This was an accepted and legal practice in his time. In our day this would be seen as immoral. This doesn’t imply that Muhammad was an immoral or unethical man, simply that the system of laws and ethics, and even the modes of worship, that are inherent to Islam were designed specifically for 7th century Arabia, not for 21st century modern times. This is not to single out Islam, who by far has the fullest accurately historical account of the life and teaching of their prophet relative to Judaism or Christianity, all these ancient religions share the same limitations.
These religions evolved as systems of faith centuries ago before the age of technology, before the industrial era even. And yet we look to these scriptures for guidance and assistance in how to relate to the world around us and still behave morally and ethically responsible. This was an impossible task from Charlie’s viewpoint. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack except there was no needle in the haystack, just lots of pieces of hay that various people told us looked like needles. But they weren’t any needles in the stack no matter how hard we looked. There was only hay. And yet we are all perplexed by the fact that we cannot find the needle, and we argue over which piece of hay the needle is, but the fact is that there is no needle. It’s not there.
To make matters worse, the Abrahamic religions professed not only that their way was the only true right way to avoid eternal damnation, but that somehow its evangelization became embedded in the faiths themselves, leading to all sorts of religious and warring conflict throughout the advancement of Western civilization, even of course trickling down into modern times where war over the “holy land” of the ancient scripture still goes on today.
In monotheistic religions the belief system, the value system, and the action system are all three determined in a significant way by the conception of God as one unique and personal being. Negatively considered, the monotheistic conviction results in the rejection of all other belief systems as false religions, and this rejection partly explains the exceptionally aggressive or intolerant stance of the monotheistic religions in the history of the world. The conception of all other religions as “idolatry” (i.e., as rendering absolute devotion or trust to what is less than divine) has often served to justify the destructive and fanatical action of the religion that is considered to be the only true one… – [http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/390101/monotheism]
From Charlie’s standpoint all of these monotheistic traditions were most certainly rich in history and served a great need to humanity as civilization emerged in the West, and indeed these great religions serve a great need even in modern times as people search for faith and a meaning to the universe and their role in it, speaking to the profound effect that the lives of these great prophets have had on successive generations and the power of their respective teachings. But where people went astray is the attempt to glean meaning from thousand-year-old scripture divorced from socio-political context. It was a fool’s errand from Charlie’s perspective and could only lead to confusion and dismay.
 http://www.hugheshistory.com/ReligionsComparison.pdf. Sikhism is also a monotheistic religion with a fairly significant following of some 300 million people but not relevant for this discourse given its fairly limited geographical context (India) and its lack of influence on the development of theology and Western civilization as it was founded in the 15th century.
 Mozi, Will of Heaven, Chapter 27, Paragraph 6, ca. 5th Century BCE
 There is also credible historical evidence at least that indicates that the final Jewish canon in its present day form was still as yet finalized by the first century CE, as reflected for example in the writings of Jewish historian Josephus among others, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanakh#History.
 There are plenty of references in the Books of Moses themselves, as well as throughout the rest of the Old Testament and even throughout the New Testament, that explicitly refer to Moses as their author, and the narrative of the five books is fairly consistent suggesting that they were composed by a single author, or at least edited by a single individual, but who this individual was and even when he might have actually have lived is debatable. See http://bible.org/seriespage/introduction-pentateuch for a fairly detailed account of the scholarly debate and evidence of the authorship of the Pentateuch.
 Orphic Hymn 64 to Nomos (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
 The Behistun Inscription is from Western Iran and was authored by Darius the Great sometime during his reign between 522 and 486 BC. It was written in three forms of cuneiform script – Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian (a later form of Akkadian) – providing a very sound view of comparison of these three ancient languages as well as the script itself, effectively serving the same purpose as the famed Rosetta Stone in Egypt to the Iranian cuneiform script in the Near East.
 The Avestan language contains many similarities with the ancient Vedic Sanskrit in the Rig Veda, and belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of languages, a branch of the Indo-European languages family. Many of the some root words and associations can be made between the Old Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit, in much the same way English and say German share many of the same word roots and language principles.
 Mary Boyce,ZoroastriansL Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, p. 29.
 Also known as the First Persian Empire which at its height exceeded even the reach of the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.
 For a more in depth look at the role of Ahura Mazda in the reign of the Persian Empire kings see The Achaemenid Kings and the Worship of Ahura Mazda: Proto-Zoroastrianism in the Persian Empire by Avram R. Shannon; Studia Antiqua 5.2, Fall 2007
 In the Judeo-Christian creation mythology, in Genesis, the creation of Day and Night, and the creation of the Sun and Moon respectively to rule over each, occurred on the fourth day.
 See Freud’s 1937 work Moses and Monotheism where Freud theorizes that Moses was in fact of Egyptian descent rather than Jewish, and that he borrowed the principles of Atenism in his formation of Judaism. For more details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_and_Monotheism,
 The English word “canon” comes from the same word in Latin, i.e. canon, meaning “measuring line” or “rule” which stemmed from the Greek word kanon which is translated to English more broadly to denote any straight line or bar, rule, or standard of excellence. The New Testament was transcribed in Greek for the most part and then was later translated into Latin.
 From Luke 17:21 and variously translated as “the kingdom of God is within you” to “the kingdom of God is in your midst”, the meaning being that heaven is closer than it would appear, i.e. not a far-off place that you realized or met with after death but something, someplace, that was ever present right now in your midst. See http://biblehub.com/luke/17-21.htm.
 John 1:1, King James Bible. Note that the Gospel of John is markedly different than the other three Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke known collectively as the Synoptic gospels given their many similarities in content and narrative and shows many gnostic and Hellenistic philosophical attributes that are not present in the synoptic gospels.
 The Qur’an, Sira and Hadith are roughly analogous to the concepts of the Torah, Tanakh and Talmud in the Judaic tradition which make up not only the revealed scripture of the Jews (the Torah), but also the rabbinical and oral teachings handed down over the age after Moses via the Rabbinical tradition, parts of the Tanakh and the Talmud in its entirety.
 There exists some archeological evidence which points to the belief that Yahweh existed within the Canaanite pantheon, perhaps only emerging as the supreme one and only God after theological evolution and canonization of Jewish scripture. – e.g. fourteenth-century B.C.E. texts found at Ugarit describe mythical battles between Yahweh and various other Canaanite gods, with Yahweh consistently emerging as the champion.