Monday, October 27, 2008

Dawn of Religion Pt. I

Hammurabi [Manu] receiving the "Code of Laws" from the Sun God [Surya/Sol].

"Dawn of Religions in the Paradise on Earth"
Dr. Ranajit Pal (

Of Paradise or EDEN: this had been
Perhaps thy Capital Seat, from whence had spread
All generations, and had hither come
From all the ends of th' Earth, to celebrate
And reverence thee their great Progenitor...
-- Milton's "Paradise Lost"

The discovery of agriculture freed primitive men and women from the woes of food-gathering and [there] grew the first cities. The emergence of copper and bronze gave birth to industry and then came the epoch-making invention of writing[Note 1], which totally transformed society and ushered in what we fondly term civilization[2].

Another great leap forward was the advent of the wheel, which brought nations closer together and broadened the political and cultural horizons of people. Finally, the smelting of iron marked another phase in the story of humankind that has had fateful consequences.

In this "new" world arose the modern idea of God together with a sharpened notion of human selfhood. This phase is discernible in all the ancient religious texts of the world, the RgVeda[3], the Avesta[4], as well as the Old Testament[5] and has been roughly dated to the mid-eighteenth century BC[6] when the patriarch Abraham left Ur and migrated to Palestine.

The Old Testament has often stood on [a] thin line between history and myth. That many of the outstanding archaeological discoveries in Assyria and Sumer were in part inspired by references in this ancient text is a glowing tribute to its authenticity. It has also stimulated groundbreaking works of world literature like Milton's "Paradise Lost."

Incidentally, before he became a celebrated poet, Milton (1608–1674) was an ardent political activist who not only took part in the making of history but also had a considerable familiarity with the historical literature of his day[7]; yet today not all pre-historians or archaeologists would agree with his claim that [all] mankind spread from Eden[8], which was in the East as stated in the Book of Genesis. However, his concomitant assertion that even after the fall, Eden remained a principal religious center where people from the ends of the earth came "to celebrate and reverence thee" deserves to be examined with greater care. This statement cannot be dismissed as mere reverent circumlocution as it has echoes in many other independent sources.

Archaeological and historical considerations indicate that the ancient Paradise was in Seistan, which may be seen as the original home of all the ancient religions[9] of the world. More>>
1. The earliest evidence of writing comes from the fourth millennium BC Sumerian tablets which were not religious invocations but temple book-keeping records. From the later documents we get a fairly vivid picture of the ancient cults - of the myths and songs for propitiation of the Gods, for warding off the evil spirits, for celebration of harvests and weddings, and lamentations of death and defeat. The dying and subsequent reincarnation of the shepherd-God Dumuzi played a very important role in the lives of common people of Uruk and other Sumerian cities. His wife Innana was also a very powerful figure who had astral associations and was the Goddess of procreation and war.

2. What are the driving forces behind this process of civilisation, it is hard to say. A related question is why did the Stone Age people abandon the way of life that had served them well for millennia? Is it that blind monster of history or fate, the ever-increasing thirst for material goods, a mystical awareness of the supernatural and the cosmos, or a combination of all of these factors? Today there is an ever-growing realization that with the progress of civilisation our environment is continually being threatened by man-made perils. The nostalgia for the lost habitat, therefore, has now become almost an instinctive response.

3. The date of the RgVeda has been variously given as 1200BC to 1500BC by the German scholar Max Muller, 2000-1400BC by the American Sanskritist Whitney and 2400-1400BC by Haug. The date given by Max Muller is now generally thought to be rather late. The contention that Vedic society was pastoral having no knowledge of agriculture is baseless.

4. The root of the name Avesta is said to be "vid," that is, "to see," which is also the root of the name RgVeda. The extant Avesta is said to be only a part of a much larger body of scripture that existed before. It is apparently Zoroaster's transformation of the ancient tradition. There are very large overlaps between the Avesta and the [Vedas?] which is likely to have been similar to the RgVeda. Alexander the Great is said to have destroyed the sacred books of the Zoroastrians. Despite several attempts the date of Zarathustra cannot be ascertained with any certainty. This is probably due to the fact that the name signifies the holder of an office. There were many Zarathustras. Herzfeld wrote that Gomata's adversary was Zarathustra.

5. History as narrated in the Old Testament is not written from a secular viewpoint. As in the [Buddhist] Jataka [Birth-] stories, the events are seen as revealing the presence and power of God. Nevertheless, owing to the absence of a fictive Jonesian superstructure, it is more useful as a [series of] stories of real tribes in real geographical settings.

6. Don Cupitt, After God, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997, p.28.

7. David Lowenstein, Milton and the Drama of History: Historical Vision, Iconoclasm, and the Literary Imagination, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

8. Mankind had spread from the Eden.

9. From the earliest times in history, religion must have played an important part in the lives of men and women and in this sense the idea of a precise dawn of religions is not a clear-cut one. Even in the Stone Age (500,000 BC to 10,000 BC) when there were no trappings of civilization, men and women believed in a hidden magical world inhabited by the spirits of their ancestors, animals, birds, and trees. Some of the these animistic beliefs and practices made their way into later religions. The transformation to agrarian society can perhaps be dated to about the 6th millennium BC, and the beginnings of the Bronze age to about... The discovery of iron has left imprints in the religious practices of all civilized nations, and it is possible to visualize a beginning of this phase.

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