1.3.9- Develop. of Early Religions


By: Jasmine Sholapurwalla, Ashley Jacobs, Mitch Rhodes, and Farha Hanif

The Origins of Religion


Throughout history, religion has played a huge part in the way human society functions. As humans started to develop tools, language, and the concept of living in groups, they also began to explore the concept of religion, as seen by their art and complex burial rituals.

As time went on and humans made the shift from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary lifestyle, religion was used to unite the groups of people by giving them a common bond to share. In addition, religion was used as a method to control the masses. As a result, many religions began to grow in both size and complexity. This can be seen when examining the Vedic religion, Zoroastrianism and Hebrew monotheism.


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The Evolution of Religion

The Vedic Religion

Vedism originated in what is modern day India, and part of Iran. It is thought that the religion started in the 16th century BCE and lasted through 6th century BCE. The religion is polytheistic. They would preform rituals as sacrifices to sacred fires. They would sacrifice animals, meat, milk, crops, and other materials/crops. It was rare to have a human sacrifice.
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This is an ancient Vedic Yantra. A Yantra is a piece of art with a geometric design. This Yantra is in the shape of a lotus flower, and represents the different human chakras (vibes of energy) that humans experience. It may have been used for medical purposes. This piece of artwork illustrates how advanced the Vedic people were.
  • They made the sacrifices to the gods to get a better harvest, good fortune, large number of cattle, and many other material benefits
  • The rituals started to become more complicated and difficult to preform so Vedism started to become a more philosophical religion, and it eventually became Hinduism

Zoroastrianism


Zoroastrianism originated in ancient Persia, in the present day country of Iran. Historians infer that the religion dates back between the 11th century and the 16th century BCE. During this time, the founder of the religion, Zarathustra, was born. Here in history, much of Persia believed in a faith similar to the Vedic religion. Some similarities exist between the religions, one being the importance of fire. (In Zoroastrianism, fire is seen as a source of light and purity, and is the most important symbol of the religion.) However, Zarathustra preached a religion very different from the common beliefs of the region. For example,

  • Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion. Zoroastrians believe in only one God, Ahura Mazda. All religions prior to this were polytheistic.

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The Zoroastrian prophet, Zarathustra

  • Unlike people before them, Zoroastrians saw their God as a lord of wisdom, rather than of strength and power. This could show a change in the ideals of the individuals living at this time.
  • Zoroastrianism preached the idea of righteousness as a way to become closer to God. This is seen by their principle of Humata, Hukhta, Huveshta, or Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. Rather than focusing on complex rituals and ceremonies to achieve spiritual enlightenment, Zoroastrians instead followed this principle.
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The Asho Farohar, an important symbol in the Zoroastrian religion. The three rows of feathers of the wings represent the concept of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds, which is written in ancient Arabic above the picture


Zoroastrianism became the major religion in the Persian Empire after Zarathustra converted the reigning ruler, Prince Vishtaspa, to his faith. The religion has continued to last into modern history, and has played a major part in influencing many present day religions, such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Today, the Zoroastrian population is slowly dying off, with an estimated 190,000 Zoroastrians living in the world. Majority of this population resides in India.

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Zoroastrianism's Influence on the three major religions today

Hebrew Monotheism


Judaism began in the 9th to 6th century BCE in the present day countries of Palestine and Israel. Historians believe that the people belonging to the early Jewish faith were polytheistic. However, as time went on, Judaism began to be influenced by other religions in the region, such as Zoroastrianism. This influence slowly changed the polytheistic faith to a monotheistic faith. This conversion happened in approximately 2000 BCE with the birth of Abraham, who is considered to be the father of the Jewish religion. Some aspects of Judaism include:

  • The idea of free will, where humans have the power to make their own decisions
  • A close relationship between God and humans (as opposed to Gods and Gods)
  • Belief in an afterlife and personal salvation

Abraham’s children, the Hebrews, adopted this new monotheistic faith. Over the years, the Hebrew faith has experienced a great deal of prosecution from various other cultural and religious groups. One example of this is seen in the book of Exodus, which discusses the story of Moses. Moses lived from 1200 BCE to 1300 BCE, during a time of Jewish enslavement by the Egyptians. Legend states, that with the help of God, Moses was able to lead his people to freedom, back to the region of Palestine and Israel where the faith originated.

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Artistic Representation of Moses parting the Red Sea

During this time, the religion underwent another transformation (perhaps due to the political and cultural strife the two cultures were experiencing) with many more rules and laws for human conduct. The most famous of these laws are The Ten Commandments.

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The Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses


Today, Judaism continues to last, with 13.2 million people in the world practicing the religion today. They are spread all over the world, with majority of the population residing in Israel and the United States.

Summary

This transformation is easily seen when looking at the evolution of religion in the Middle East. One of the first major religions in this area was a religion similar to the Vedic Religion, a religion with many elemental Gods and complex rituals. These rituals were used to plead to the Gods for things like a good harvest and wealth. As humans gained a better understanding of the environment and became more specialized in their occupations, the idea of elemental Gods began to lose their appeal. This caused a shift in belief from many different Gods to one all-powerful God, and consequently, the religion of the region shifted from Vedism to Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was the first monotheistic religion in the world. Zoroastrians believe God to be a source of wisdom and righteousness, and follow the path of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. This monotheistic belief influenced many other world religions, such as Judaism. Early Judaism was polytheistic, but transformed to a monotheistic faith after being exposed to Zoroastrianism. Like Zoroastrianism, Judaism also believes in a personal relationship between God and human, along with the concept of free will. Despite the hardships that the Jewish people have faced throughout history, they have condinued to endure, and are still a major religion in the world today.


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