Where Did They Originate?
WHILE the religions of the world are very diverse, there are certain widespread similarities. For example, the voodoo religions of South America, the tribal religions of Africa, the great religions of the East, the aboriginal religions of Australia—in fact, nearly all religions—believe that there is a spiritual part of man that survives the death of the fleshly body. Also, most religions have beliefs about the existence of unseen spirits that can affect mankind for good or for bad.
Have you noticed, too, how widespread is the use of religious images? Also, many religions practice divination or astrology. And a surprising number of religions throughout history have had triads of gods, similar to Christendom’s Trinity.
Do you think it is possible that all these religions developed such similar religious practices independently of one another? Or is it more likely that they somehow got their ideas from a common source? Surely, this is more reasonable. But what was that common source?
To answer this, we have to discuss the question of where religion came from. This is a subject that students of history do not understand well. The World Book Encyclopedia states: “Certain scholars have developed theories on how religion began in prehistoric times. No one theory has been accepted by all scholars.” However, there is a good authority that tells us about the origin of religion. That authority is the Bible.
The Start of It All
As you know, the Bible is a book that at one time was widely respected. In these days, unfortunately, fewer and fewer people read it. Yet when we are discussing religion, we cannot do so in a satisfying way if we fail to refer to the Bible, because, religiously speaking, it has had more effect on mankind than any other book.
Also, apart from anything else, the Bible’s explanation of how religion started carries weight because it was recorded by men who lived at a time much closer to the actual events than we do. Let us consider what the Bible says and compare our findings with some of the theories of modern scholars.
The Bible tells us that man originally believed in only one God. This was not his own idea. According to the record, God revealed himself to man at the very beginning as the great Source of life. He offered help and guidance, so that man could make his way successfully in life. (Genesis 1:26–2:25) Hence, everything started with just one religion. How, then, did today’s confused situation come about?
According to the Bible, this stemmed from a rebellion against that one original Source. In a document that is more than 3,000 years old, a man named Nimrod is identified as initiating this rebellion. Nimrod became a city builder, constructing cities in the ancient region known as Mesopotamia. Today that area is a part of Iraq. Some of the cities that he built were named Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh.—Genesis 10:10-12.
Dr. Robert M. Adams, writing in the magazine Scientific American, called the building of cities “the second great ‘revolution’ in human culture.” Since the cities that Nimrod built were among the earliest ones noted in the Bible, we can appreciate the influence this man must have had.
At what eventually became the greatest of these ancient cities, Babel (or, Babylon), the Bible tells of an effort to thwart God’s express will that mankind should spread around the earth and populate it. The people said: “Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves, for fear we may be scattered over all the surface of the earth.” (Genesis 11:4) However, because of divine intervention they failed in their purpose and gradually dispersed to different parts of the earth. In doing so, they carried their rebellious religious ideas with them.
How does this compare with the current theories of scholars?
First: The Encyclopedia Americana says: “Scholars nearly all agree that the earliest civilization of which we have knowledge arose among the Sumerians in Mesopotamia.” Dr. Gideon Sjoborg, in an article in the Scientific American, agrees, saying: “As far as is known, the world’s first cities took shape . . . in the Fertile Crescent, the eastern segment of which includes Mesopotamia.” Hence, scientists feel that mankind started to build major cities in just about the same area where the Bible says they did.
Second: The names and locations of most of those cities that the Bible says were built by Nimrod are familiar to archaeologists.
Third: The inhabitants of Mesopotamia were known to build large towers for religious purposes. They called them ziggurats. Of course, the actual tower referred to in Genesis chapter 11 was not finished. But archaeologists have uncovered many completed towers that were probably similar to it.
Fourth: The name “Nimrod” has not been discovered outside the Bible itself, but some encyclopedias associate it with the name of the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. The letters “MRD,” which appear in each name, seem to be the root, or meaningful part, of both words. If this association is correct, then Nimrod eventually was worshiped as a god just as, in later years, the Caesars of Rome and the Pharaohs of Egypt were worshiped as gods.
Of course, archaeologists are limited in what they can discover about things that happened so long ago. Many of the ruins that they dig up are in poor condition, and it is difficult to interpret them correctly. Doubtless much important evidence has been lost forever. Hence, a Bible student does not rely on archaeology to prove the truth of the Bible record.* Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that this science has confirmed the general outline of the events recorded in the Bible.
It is also noteworthy that this ancient history helps us to understand features about the religious scene of the world today. How? In that the inhabitants of Mesopotamia were very religious after that original rebellion. They believed that there was a spirit part of man that survived death. They had a strong belief in demons. They used images. They practiced divination and astrology, and they even had triads of gods. These are some of the same beliefs that are held in common by so many today.
Does this mean that the religion of ancient Mesopotamia spread and influenced religions around the world? Many scholars have come to that conclusion. In Handbooks of the History of Religions, Prof. Morris Jastrow spoke of “the profound impression made upon the ancient world by the remarkable manifestations of religious thought in Babylonia.”
In the book The Worship of the Dead, Col. J. Garnier wrote: “Not merely Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, but also the Hindus, the Buddhists, . . . the Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Druids, Mexicans and Peruvians . . . must have all derived their religious ideas from a common source and a common centre. Everywhere we find the most startling coincidences in rites, ceremonies, customs, traditions, and in the names and relations of their respective gods and goddesses.” Evidently, when those early Babylonians were forced to migrate around the earth, they carried their religious ideas with them to their new homes.
But can this information help us to locate the right religion today?
For further solid reasons why the Bible should be accepted as truth, see the book Is the Bible Really the Word of God?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Blurb on page 5]
Triads of gods. Use of images. Astrology. Existence of unseen spirits. A spiritual part of man that survives death. These beliefs are common to religions in most lands
[Pictures on page 4]
Adoration of Mary