Questions about the nature of the universe arise in all cultures, and until recently one of the great riddles of history has been the origin of the human concept of God.
To a devout theist, asking when man invented God may sound sophomoric—after all, God has always existed; God did not have to be invented.
But there are those who have their doubts, not just about the eternal existence of a supreme being but also about whether it would be humanly possible to comprehend such an entity in any event.
Ten thousand years ago, animism was the world’s most pervasive religious belief. Every plant, stone and animal was thought to contain a spirit.
Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans subscribed to a polytheistic view of the universe. They conceived of a number of gods and goddesses who had specific responsibilities for ruling over the heavens, the seas, the underworld and everything in between.
Oddly enough, most of the world’s religions today are still based on polytheism, from Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism in Central Asia to Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism in the Far East and even contemporary tribal religions found in Africa and the Americas.
The current “big three” religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—are monotheist, believing in only one God, but they were not the first to subscribe to the idea of an omnipotent power overseeing all of humanity and the cosmos.
According to archaeologists working in the Jordan River Valley in 1997, the Migdol Temple in the ancient city of Pella was the birthplace of mankind’s idea of God.
Some 3,600 years ago, text was carved in stone there, indicating worship of a single all-powerful God, without denying the existence of other gods—a religion today referred to as “henotheism.”
Clearly, it was out of this belief and this temple that the monotheistic traditions of today arose. During the Axial Age from 800 to 200 B.C.E., it led to worship of Ahura Mazda in Persia, Yahweh in Israel, Hadad in Damascus, Milkom in Amman and Chemos in Moab (present-day Jordan)—different names for what would eventually become Allah, Jehovah or the one true God.
As the great French author Voltaire wrote in 1768: “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer,” meaning “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” So perhaps we did, and now we know when.
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