A brief history of monotheism
After an introduction,
- How extraordinary the Amarna Period was
- Monotheism in Canaan
- Loss of the first immanent form of divine power
- Jesus of Nazareth
- Exit God, the possible author is much greater
What is possible
As we have seen in the introduction of this website, our universe could be, - somewhere between its appearance of being material and its relative ultimate reality, - the permanent creation of an author endowed with all its basic energy. Under a new scientific lighting, we discover suddenly that everything, including us, might exist, and might evolve, as wanted by such an author, - thereby corresponding to an intelligent design.
Of course, no historically proved or scientifically observed miracle has ever testified to the presence of a spirit in the basic energy. Yet, discreetly placed, a possible sign of an author's presence could be in the extremely subtle equilibrium of forces which allows the universe to last, - or in the seizing of chances, at the exact fraction of second when it was necessary, which made life appear and complexify on Earth. And conscience, our conscience, after all, - could it have appeared just as if it had invented itself ? Is it not, by force, the work and reflection of a higher, greater, primordial conscience ? It seems so, but we shall never know.
Of course, the prolonged and slow evolution of the universe, since its irruption in the Big Bang, may have been produced by a chain of hazards and necessities, as most scientists say it did. This assumption, however, verges on an abyss of perplexity when we want to know from where this bursting mass of energy could have come. Simply, also, the result seems to be too nice for so rough a cause. And if the state of conscience almost miraculously bestowed on us allows us to dream of something better still, of a paradise, of a world without evil, - is it not another one of its marvels ?
Among the signs of a presence, we could also count the recurrent use, in nature on Earth, of the golden number, or "divine proportion", which appears so often in plants and animals, and especially in our bodies, where it rules the compared lengths of finger-bones, of parts of the arms, or the compared height of the navel to that of the top of the head, etc. Could it be by chance ?
Whatever really happened, the presence which we now feel as possible in us and around us, the spirit which may be diffused in cosmic energy, would be of such magnitude and such immediacy as to be totally incompatible with the figures of God still currently proposed by monotheistic religions, - either the speaking God who gave his laws to the Hebrews and insisted on having a particular alliance with them, or God the Father, character of masculine gender, for the Christians, or even Allah the Great, magnificent, resplendent, but still remote and separate, of Islam.
Our religions of monotheism are all wrongly addressed and based on false premises, - all three are obsolete.
If there is a presence, this presence is also in us, as in everything around us, but our religions wanted us to know, address and pray a perfect God of absolute goodness, full or mercy, and therefore they were obliged to become dual by showing him as transcendant, separated from his creation, and to introduce the devil, Satan, a spirit of evil, besides him in the story they told. At best, each one of these religions was a monotheism and a half...
Let us be aware of it, however : there was one pure monotheism in our history, the first one known, the religion created in Ancient Egypt, for a very short time, by Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, around 1350 B.C.
How extraordinary the Amarna Period was
We have to achnowledge that the religion of Aten, founded during the Egyptian New Kingdom by an inspired young Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty and his Great royal wife, Lady of the Two Lands, was intuitively a truly correct monotheism, exactly adapted to what our scientific discoveries now lead us to consider as possible, if not certain.
The first known and documented religion of only one god was imposed for a few years to the Kingdom, - or rather to the Court of Egypt, as it could not infuse the whole population in such a short time, - by Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who then took the name of Akhenaten. He tried to lead all his subjets into an impetus - both reasoned and mystical - towards a divine force mastering everything in the world. The episode was short-lived, beautiful, - and dramatic.
The queen was beautiful. The sovereigns decided to build a new City of Light along the Nile, named Akhetaten or "the Horizon of Aten", which was beautiful. The Pharaoh's wisdom was beautiful. Life in Akhetaten, rich as the Court of the Pharaohs was at the time, with food, flowers, art, gold and riches of various kinds all plentiful, was serene and easy for a dozen of years approximately.
Akhenaten had a dramatic illness, or rather a sort of hormonal dysfunction, which gave him a bizarre body. The sovereigns' fight against the priests of the old egyptian gods was dramatic, all along their tenure. The couple had six children, - all girls, which was dramatic for the succession to the throne ; and they lost three of them during childhood. As they were stubborn pacifists, the Empire soon lost many of its border provinces. They both died young, and the future of their religion had not been secured. The new city was abandoned, and later destroyed. Several of the subsequent pharaohs did all they could to erase any trace of what Akhenaten and Nefertiti had thought, written and created.
The Aten religion, so soon declared heretic, disappeared completely, until some traces of it were discovered, late in the XIXth Century, near the village of Tell-el-Amarna, exactly where Akhetaten had been built and buried. We have a limited quantity of art pieces and of correspondence of the time, and two of the Hymns written by Akhenaten.
Aten was a god already known in Egypt when the young Pharaoh was enthroned, but his dedication to re-define this divinity as unique created a completely new philosophy of life. Aten had the sun as symbol, but the worship was for light itself and for cosmic energy, rather than for the solar disk in the sky. Akhenaten produced the first idea of the universe seen as "a god's continuing creative activity" (1). For proof of it, we can examine some verses of the Hymns to the Aten :
O you sole God, whose powers no other possesses,
You did create the Earth according to your desire
While you were alone :
Men, all cattle large and small,
All that are upon the earth, (..)
You set every man in his place,
You supply their necessities,
Every one has his possessions,
And his days are reckoned.
You made the distant heaven in order to rise therein,
In order to behold all that you did make,
When you were alone.
You make the beauty of form through yourself alone,
Cities, towns, and settlements, on highway or on river,
All eyes see you before them,
For you are Aten, Lord of the day over the earth.
There is no other that knows you, save your son Akhenaten.
You have made him wise in your designs
And in your might.
The world is in your hand,
Even as you have made them. (2)
Sand blown by the desert wind accumulated itself in sculptor Tuthmes' workshop, when Akhetaten was abandoned. The very famous painted limestone-and-plaster bust of Queen Nefertiti landed softly on the dust, when its wooden stand became rotten and collapsed. Then it was quietly covered and buried. This allowed us to recover it intact after more than two thousand years.
No one was allowed to stay longer in the heretic city, clearly.
But what if someone called Ahmosis, or Thutmosis (or some other typical Egyptian first name ending with -mosis), converted by Akhenaten and determined to maintain his faith, wanted to save himself by emigrating, - most likely with a small group of other believers ? Where would they have gone to ?
(1) Dorothea Arnold, in "The royal women of Amarna", New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996, p.56.
(2) Translation by Professor James Henry Breasted, as in Weigall, Arthur, "The life and time of Akhnaton", London, Thornton Butterworth Ltd, 1922 ed. - with "you" instead of "thou", to avoid a God-the-Father syndrome.
Monotheism in Canaan
The next episode of monotheism, as is well-known, took place in Canaan, thanks to a population progressively installed in the highlands between the coastal plains and the Jordan Valley, as from the XIIIth Century B.C. Progressively, and peacefully, - not quite as the Bible says. Or even far from it.
History of these regions, as verified by Egyptian archeology and documentation as well as by extensive excavations on the spot and in the Sinai Peninsula, now indicates that these people did not come in a mass migration out of Egypt (1). They did not conquer their territories during a war, with trumpets blown to cause impressive walls to collapse : the cities of Canaan were unfortified at the time, and Jericho in particular. All the discovered traces, rather, indicate that more and more peasants moved there, probably due to overpopulation in the low lands, or to avoid their rising taxes. They were joined by many nomads who decided to transform their tents into houses. They started practicing agriculture, growing cereals, olive-trees and vineyards, besides herding their cattle.
They were Canaanites like the others, looking for unexploited land (even if it was known to be more difficult) and for a different life. Yet they presented two revealing particularities which made them unique in the whole region, as revealed by archeologists. One is the absence of remains of pigs in all the excavated sites. The other is that they seem to have had the constant practice of worshipping only one god, with a marked tendency, in the southern parts, to practice religious acts in only one place, the Temple of Jerusalem.
What was the cause, - where did this come from ? The only country where pigs were not eaten, and where a form of monotheism had been known, at the time, was Egypt.
Around the year 1'000 B.C., the uprooted peasants and the settled nomads were forming a small, modest kingdom in their highlands. The kingdom of David, why not, and of Solomon, but never as powerful and glorious as in the grandiose descriptions given in the Bible. Jerusalem still was a small city at the time. Later the land was divided into two kingdoms, of Judah in the South, around Jerusalem, and of Israel in the North.
In 724 B.C., the Assyrians took the kingdom of Israel and deported its population. Judah remained alone, and Jerusalem gained in importance. It became an active and prosperous city, with a more cultivated population. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have clearly demonstrated that the Torah, the five initial books of the Bible, were written around 625 B.C., during the reign of King Josias, to serve as a consolidation of the faith in a unique God. They are filled with mentions of very particular relations with Egypt, - to begin with a trip of Abraham visiting the Pharaoh, to continue with the sale of Joseph by his brothers, to end with the lengthy stay of hundreds of thousands of Hebrews working as slaves, until they returned to their homeland. All of them fables, as far as can be verified.
Again, what was the cause ?
After Akhenaten's death, Horemheb, his general, who had been ordered to remain idle during the whole reign, immediately started to fight many battles on the borders, and before he became pharaoh himself he had rebuilt the Egyptian Empire as it had been under Amenhotep III (Akhenaten's father), including large parts of the Middle East, with Syria, and some portions of Asia Minor. The firm grip of the Empire, in the region, lasted for many centuries after the Amarna period. This of course included the whole of Canaan, but it is likely that the newly populated highlands were not kept under very close scrutiny.
Now we see it better : people who wanted to persevere in the worship of Aten could not remain in Egypt, where this religion was strictly forbidden. They could not go "abroad", since all other empires were closed to them. Moreover, they had their own religions, which were imposed on the population. They could not remain in the fertile coastal plains of Canaan, or in the Jordan Valley, closely surveyed by the Egyptian imperial power on the routes to its outer northern provinces. But a small group of fleeing people could easily find refuge in the mountains, among a newly-installed population of peasants, and remain hidden there for the rest of their lives.
It is known that the Highlands people had contacts with a nomadic population originating from the Arabian Desert, of poor reputation, the Habirus, who migrated at times to the Egyptian Delta where they worked in the fields or on building-sites. The group of our "Mosis" and his friends could have found it convenient to mix with some Hubaru workers returning to Arabia, accompanying them in disguise on the road, later letting them go in order to stay in the Canaan mountains where life - difficult as it was - appealed more to them than the nomads' existence in the desert.
It is easy to see them trying to convert their hosts to the cult of a unique god "whose name must not be pronounced" (for fear of an Egyptian officer listening?), teaching them not to eat pork, advising them to practice circumcision like in Egypt. As time passed, with an oral transmission of stories about the origins, - which, as is well-known, always tend to become more and more flourished in the process, and to be enriched with old legends known in the region, - the Hubarus' name was probably transformed into Hebrews, "Mosis" became a Hebraic hero, his friends became a crowd and an army. From then on, the Canaanites of the Highlands began to feel themselves as being a very different people.
Sigmund Freud was among the first to say that Moses had to be Egyptian (2). His name is an indication, his culture reflects exactly the Amarna episode. He probably saved monotheism, but he lost the essential findings of Akhenaten.
(1) Israel FINKELSTEIN et Neil Asher SILBERMAN, "The Bible Unearthed", New York, Simon and Schuster Inc. 2001
(2) Sigmund FREUD, "Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische religion", Amsterdam, Allert de Lange 1939
Loss of the first immanent form of divine power
Egypt was fertile and prosperous, and the Pharaoh, more than anyone, was sheltered from any material constraint. Akhenaten had every reason to think of a unique creative power, responsible for everything in this world and worthy of praise at the same time.
Whereas the worshippers in exile of the Aten, if and when they found refuge in the rocky hills of Palestine, were forced to sweat if they wanted food and shelter, like their hosts. They could no longer admire without restriction the creator of such an hostile nature. They were no longer in a mood to say "You set every man in his place, You supply their necessities" (1), as they were exiled in poorly irrigated lands. They were no longer in a country which, thanks to the Aten, was "in daily festivity" (1), - no longer bathing in harmonious prosperity like during the Amarna Period.
They had to explain this disaster. So they normally invented the story of the fall of the humans, of the original sin, of the expulsion from an earthly paradise. The creation had revealed itself as not so perfect. It could not be the fault of a perfect God, so they had to invent the Devil. Since life was not easy-going and harmonious like in the City of the Horizon, they had to bring in the Law, dictated by the perfect God, to maintain some kind of order in the probably rude population to which they had been mixed.
Aten was a pure creative force which was equivalent to the Supreme Identity, the Ultimate Reality, the Absolute or the Way described in the religions of Asia. But in order to save the idea of a unique God, the displaced Aten-worshippers had to adapt it to an unforeseen situation. The master of a "continuing creative activity" was diminished into a mere character who had created the world once upon a time and detached himself from his invention, remaining distant, demanding, bitter at times, scornful, even bellicose.
This notion was of a God no longer unique. First because there was, there had to be the Devil besides him, and a competition between them. Then, because next to other well-known gods the Hebrews had in fact appointed their exclusive God, a God without a name - or also called Yahve, after the Thunder-god of the Hubarus. A long-lasting duality between God and the world had been introduced.
Jesus of Nazareth came to the world on the premises of this unfortunate misrepresentation.
(1) words from the Great Hymn to the Aten
Jesus of Nazareth
Back to our scientific alternative : if the world exists by pure chance, Jesus of Nazareth was a strange character who had a bizarre destiny in Palestine, during the Roman occupation, such as to create the most amazing knot of misunderstandings in our history, - worth making his approximate birth-date the pivot of our calendars.
But if we feel that there is a presence in the universe, - a presence with a will to see an intelligent design applied to its development, - we have a wider array of possibilities concerning him.
Of course we must give up the idea of a Redemptor, of the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. Life on Earth evolved from single-cell beings to complexified animated creatures, of which we seem to be the most elaborate in terms of being "sapiens sapiens". In this evolution-process, we cannot find a moment when we would have made a "fall". We have just seen how the Aten-believers probably had to invent a legend to find a cause for which humanity was expelled from a paradise, but the original sin cannot find its place at any particular point in our development as conscious creatures. It was on the contrary a constant progress towards more reflexive power and more knowledge. This means an increase of power - which can evidently be used for the better or for the worse, but globally proved to be positive. Good or evil are purely relative notions : we are predators by birth, forced to destroy life in plants or in animals to survive. It follows that we can be either careful, modest predators, - or cruel, gruesome, insatiable, demanding ever more food, power, pleasures and sexual satisfactions, killers even for our fellow-creatures. But no one could be a killer all the time, no evil is absolute. If the universe has an author, we are what he wants us to be, - we always were.
We must also give up the idea that Jesus was God-incarnate, as a part of the a Trinitarian God. If there is a presence, Jesus was an "incarnation" just like everyone of us, save for the possibility of being involved in some miracles.
Finally, we must see that Jesus' resurrection is a poor indication of what our life after life could be. Even with glorified bodies, we would not have enough space on Earth to live there again all together, and in any case we know that the Earth is condemned to disappear when the Sun will have burnt all its fuel, in approximately four and a half billion years from now. Which is a long time, but still far short of an eternity.
If there is an author of the universe, what was his intention when creating Jesus of Nazareth... Was Jesus really granted all the miracles cited in the Gospels, to make him unforgettable, or was the destiny of an exceptionnally wise and gifted young man, born in this very special country at a crucial point in time, such as to give rise to all sorts of speculations, tales and scriptures which allowed him to become known as Jesus Christ outside the jewish nation and to cause, in a slow and often dramatic process, a conversion of the whole Roman Empire to the exclusive God of Israel. Albeit under a new conception as "God the Father", and against the will of the Jews themselves.
With an impressive knowledge of local history, religious practices and philosophies in the Near East at the time, Gerald Messadie published a sort of biography of Jesus, - imaginary, of course, for all the periods in his life which remain unknown to the gospels, but as probable as possible after all his investigations (1). He says that crucified people always remained a long time before they died, possibly a day or two, unless the soldiers broke their legs, as was done to the two thieves crucified with Jesus according to St. John. So he suggests that Jesus had only fainted, or fallen into a coma, when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (dissident members of the Sanhedrin, ashamed of what had been done,) asked Pilate (himself uneasy with the condemnation) for permission to dispose of his body. They might have taken care of him, hidden in the tomb, so that Jesus could have escaped on the third day, via Emmaus, to disappear presumably in the East. Some say he did go to India.
(1) Gerald Messadié, "L'homme qui devint Dieu" (The man who became God), Paris, Robert Laffont 1988
With or without actual miracles, what remained of this episode was a lesson of mutual love, a quasi-sign of the presence, and christianity. In review:
- The lesson of mutual love was constantly revived in preaches by the Churches, - but brought very little results in two thousand years. The whole period was filled with merciless religious wars, against the Moslems and against the pagans, or between christian nations, or even with civil wars inside christian populations, - not to speak of autodafes and other crimes, plus of course constant exactions against the Jews culminating with the nazis' genocide.
- With Jesus of Nazareth, we were never as near to receiving a sign of the possible and probable presence of an author of the Universe, - but no miracle related to him, however, was ever proved. We have no material trace of his passage. The lists of "the taxing of the whole world" ordered in the Roman Empire "when Cyrenius was governor of Syria" were not transmitted to us. Neither did the Roman Empire leave a register of its innumerable crucifixions. Christ, after his resurrection, did not present himself to the Sanhedrin priests, to triumph before them and the crowd. He did not go back to Pilate to wash his hands a second time himself. Yet this quasi-sign did not go unnoticed, if we judge by the pompous institutions which perpetuate its souvenir.
- For the possible will behind an intelligent design, christianity was an indispensable step. Mainly because of the defective vision of the world it proposes. It decrees that we are in a disparaged world, a valley of tears, an "here-below", and that the Christians have to detach themselves from its false seductions to think only of Heaven, of salvation in the kingdom of God, in a "better world".
Mankind until then had respected nature (by force if not by intent), taking from it only what it could always provide. Ancient populations cultivated their fields with meticulous care, in cycles designed to last forever. But, impregnated with this unfavorable opinion of nature, Christians tended to take minimum care of their land and of everything on it. And when the religion loosened its grip, the bad habits had been contracted. The modern philosophy that emerged considered the individual man as the only interesting subject, facing a void and disposable "extension" - things, animals, world, universe. A general disinterest for the support of life allowed all Western populations to develop - along with unhibited science - more and more efficient technologies, which soon became polluting, causing irreparable damage. The same disdain allowed them to start the adventure of colonisation and slavery. They created a most dangerous form of civilisation. They still enjoy a precarious comfort in it, but it leads to a catastrophic future. Ask the obese, fed to death on industrial, improper nourishments, - for example.
Even the preaching for mutual love had its bad aspects, as it left all other living creatures out in an identical sinister disdain. Not that previous or other civilisations were all and always better in this regard, but it is a pity to see so-called Christians assemble by tens of thousands in arenas to watch beautiful animals being tormented and cruelly killed. They also regularly throw living animals into boiling water to eat them. They perform revolting laboratory-experiences on mice, dogs and monkeys. As for plants... Life is not respected in any form except human, - when it is.
Paradoxical as it may seem, this sort of awful freedom given by the contempt for a fallen, imperfect creation was key to the development of a basic research which now gives us a clear view of the universe as it is - relative, abstract, based on pure energy, with an Earth much more fragile than the Ancients ever thought. Otherwise, we might still stand - for science and philosophy - at the traditional stage where China and India were before we intoxicated them with our notions of progress.
Christianity forced us to ceaselessly face the image of a terrible capital punishment of past times. On the other hand, it proposed an interesting - yet difficult to understand - notion of divinity, combined in the three forms of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Islam, which appeared later in the Orient, was a much more sensible religion, easier to understand, much nearer to Greek and hellenistic philosophy. Prophet Muhamad took in account some of the same scriptures, but he had the inspiration to redress a part of the preceding errors. Islam considers Jesus of Nazareth as a simple prophet, and although his miraculous birth from a virgin is admitted, his divine nature is not recognized.
Islam is wiser. Islam does not know the original sin. It loves creation as it is. It promises a paradise, but does not prevent people from enjoying life on Earth if they can. Islam flowed like the water of a peaceful oasis in front of populations in the desert of Arabia when it appeared. Islam was spread like the refreshing water of a fountain at the feet of nations with more patience than those of Western Europe, and transformed them. Islam was for a long time, in its domain, a religion which produced beauty, serene life, tolerance, harmony, always respecting traditions. Its quick propagation in a wide array of countries was normal as it brought more than a simple religion, a living mode, rules of behaviour, civil laws, a philosophy of life.
Yet Islam also is a "monotheism and a half" (knowing and needing Satan), addressed to a character-God, a God in duality with the universe. Islam corrected and simplified the image of God, but if "Allah is Great", it is not to the point of attaining the stature of Aten with his "continuing creative activity", it is not with the absoluteness of an author and permanent creator of the universe.
Islam wants its followers to pray, when the possible spiritual spirit-energy would have no need to talk to himself through our mouths, and even to prostrate themselves in a submissive attitude, when the same presence would rather need active human beings, observant, thoughtful, critical and responsible. If they meditate, they should rather be fixing the horizon in order to see what is to be admired, and what is to be corrected, between them and there.
Islam is unfair towards women, when evolution constantly maintained them in perfect equality, and when they are more sensitive, more foreseeing than men, - qualities presently in deep need for mankind. Islam forces them to hide their beauty in public, which is an insult to the possible author of nature - or an insult to nature as an author.
If there is an author, this presence may have created an apparition of Gabriel Archangel to dictate the Quran, but the same applies here as with Christianity: other, simpler means of inspiration could also have been used. It must be noted that Islam made a slight error when imposing the Ramadan. This fasting has to be observed from dawn to sunset during a full lunar month, which falls at always different times in the solar year. Yet a fasting from dawn to sunset cannot be observed inside the polar circles during summer, as the sun never sets. This tends to indicate an ethnic and local origin of the religion, and casts a slight shadow on the quality of its inspiration. Muhamad was certainly unaware of the fact, but Gabriel Archangel should have known.
Islam in recent times inspired too much resignation in front of fatality and the force of events. Islam extols submission to rules decreed in the past which had a customary background but became archaic, - some of them going against universally adopted Human Rights. It is proved, anyway, that the rules edicted by the Prophet concerning women aimed at improving the situation they had in Arabia at the time, and were intented to emancipate them from an excess of masculine domination. Out of context, the same rules are now used to bully them, forcing them to feel inferior to men.
Exit God, the possible author is much greater
Our universe has no place any more for a God seen as someone "else", for such a strange character removed in another Heaven. God is neither dead like Nietzsche said, nor living like lapsed dogmas pretend. We have to completely abandon the idea.
Monotheistic religions contributed largely to the formation of our sensibilities. They served as basis for our cultures. They tainted to their colours the diverse evolutions of people on large parts of the Earth. They were not made for the divine forces they wrongly and vainly addressed, they were made for us. We needed religions to guide and console us in all sorts of situations.
Now we must do without them. There must no longer be any "us" and "them" for such reasons. We have to invent - each one of us - our own rites of passage, for birth, legal union or funeral, with our choice of poetry, music, songs or philosophical excerpts. We arrive in the open vastness of a free, universal, but personal spirituality. We must get out of our molds, invent our future, enjoy our freedom, feel worthy of our possible author.
The possible presence is impervious to our science and to our scientific instruments, but it is completely permeable to our intuition.
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© André Chollet
Last revised March 2006