Some Considerations on Origin and Development of Polytheism and Monotheism

Nov 2016
400
Munich
#1
Here is my reconstruction of the development of polytheism and monotheism.

In the Paleolithic, that is, until the Neolithic (in the ancient Middle and Near East from approx. 10,000 to 3,500 BCE), there was no polytheism, but a kind of ´monotheism´ directed at a female apersonal deity (Palaeolithic primordial mother religion). I put the term in quotation marks, because it is not to be understood in the sense of today's usage, but is supposed to express that there was no polytheism yet. The reason for the sacralization of the feminine consisted in the woman's ability to give birth, which was analogously set with the fertility of nature and thus received religious status. Most likely, in the Paleolithic nothing was known about the male contribution to female fertility until the Neolithic (i.e. the introduction of cattle breeding). Therefore it came to an additional sacralization of the man in form of the bull cult only from this time on.

For several millennia a mother goddess and her son-lover, revered as a bull, formed the Neolithic pantheon. With the differentiation of the political-social system, the divine realm was also differentiated, i.e. different natural and cultural functions were assigned to gods (of both sexes), whose assistance was ritually requested in the context of the respective field. In Sumerian culture, there were even gods responsible for pickaxes and ploughs. Until the middle of the 3rd century BCE the goddess of love and fertility Innana and from then until the beginning of the 2nd century her Akkadian version Ishtar (with additional war competences) were the most respected deities in Mesopotamia, still above the male gods Enki and Enlil, proven by the thanks of the most powerful warlord of the 3rd century, Sargon of Akkad, who offically thanked goddess Inanna for her support of his military campaigns.

What does all that show? That a) divinity first of all means nothing other than sacralized fertility, which is symbolically projected onto an anthropomorphic or theriomorphic figure (primordial mother, then bull god) and that b) with increasing social complexity other areas or functions contained therein are also equipped with deities.

The most important deities stood in a family relationship to each other, for they were nothing other than human figures projected into the supernatural realm, mythologically arranged according to pedigrees, e.g. Nammu as the divine primordial mother of the heavenly god An and the earth goddess Ki, from whose union the storm god Enlil and the mother god Ninlil emerge, which in turn produce a mighty quadrility of other gods. This family tree, originating from Nammu, shows how much the Paleolithic cult of a primordial mother still influenced the much later polytheistic systems. For the same reason, the goddesses Inanna and Ishtar - as shown above - maintained a leading position for a long time. This circumstance is significant, because it corrects the today widespread but fundamentally wrong notion that the highest deity in the religious thinking of man has always been male.

Polytheism thus fed itself from two independent sources: a) it reflected political-social and cultural functions (rule, economy, sexuality) and b) symbolized natural phenomena as anthropomorphic divine entities on which man could exert influence through cultic activities.

The development towards monotheism ran parallel to the development of the idea of the Great Empire, as it was promoted by the kings of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian kings, like all ancient Oriental kings, stood in the function of mediators between the gods and the human world, more precisely: they were regarded as governors of the state god Assur, who was increasingly understood in the sense of an inclusive monotheism, i.e. all other gods, including the foreign states, functioned only as executive organs of Assur.

This dynamic was taken up by some influential Israelite Yahweh worshippers and gradually transferred to their god.

At the end of this process, Deutero-Isaiah´s version of Yahweh stood as the only god with authority over the whole world. This theological step contradicted the political impotence of the Israelite people, who were even stateless at the time of the Babylonian exile. The trick was to no longer interpret Yahweh as God of the state, but as a patron and war god of the ´people of Israel´ exclusively chosen by him. However, the monolatric process leading up to that time took place over several centuries and against the resistance of the people, who stubbornly wanted to hold on to the multiplicity of gods, above all to the worship of the goddess of love Ashera (a Syrian-Canaanite variant of Inanna/Ischtar).

But it didn't take long until, under the influence of Hellenistic philosophy and the Egyptian religion, the old polytheistic longing for a goddess stirred up again, encapsulated in the figure of the Jewish ´Lady Wisdom´, the personified Chokmah as female partner and messenger of Yahweh, based among others on the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Ma´at. The origin of this figure is usually dated to the post-exilic period, but is possibly already of preexilic origin. A sample from the OT:

(Proverbs 8)

22 The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth...


(and so on)

Of course the Jewish angels also have unconscious polytheistic roots, mediated by Mazdaism, whose ideas, including those of angels, influenced Israelite theology during the Babylonian exile. Originally, the Mazda angels were degraded gods from polytheistic systems, monotheistically revolutionized by Mazdaism.

It did not take long until polytheistic tendencies gained the upper hand in the form of the Trinity, the veneration of saints and the veneration of Mary. The implicit polytheism of the idea of the Trinity is passionately denied by theology, but is openly revealed because of the obvious illogicality of the construct - insofar as it makes a monotheistic claim. Marian worship is undisguisedly polytheistic, since the Marian figure is ascribed miraculous healing abilities, which in former times were characteristic of some goddesses, e.g. the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Artemis. And the fact that the so-called saints have the intercessory function with God for the praying corresponds one-to-one to the task of the ancient Near East personal patron deities to say a good word for their human protégés with the upper gods. Mary is thus in the succession of the ancient Near East mother goddess and the saints in the succession of the ancient Near East personal patron deities.
 

specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
2,334
Australia
#2
. ... Most likely, in the Paleolithic nothing was known about the male contribution to female fertility until the Neolithic (i.e. the introduction of cattle breeding). .....

I have read this postulation several times over the years. I think it is entirely false and and has no basis in reality.

Why do you consider this 'most likely' ?
 
Nov 2016
400
Munich
#3
I have read this postulation several times over the years. I think it is entirely false and and has no basis in reality.
I will give some, I think, striking arguments for my thesis, but would like to know before why you think that it is "false". Just to say, it´s false, without any reasoning, is very sparse.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2016
400
Munich
#4
Now I´ve waited long enough for an answer to my question why Specul8 "thinks" the assertion of a missing knowledge of male fertility in the Paleolithic to be wrong - however I waited in vain. From there I conclude that this "thinking" was rather a feeling. So here are my announced arguments:

The intervall between two births by the same woman was three years for the Neanderthals and four years for the Modern Humans, i.e. our ancestors, who are the subject here, because the infants were suckled for so long, which is why ovulation and fertilisation by male sperm was biologically blocked for this time. The years of infertility of women until the next birth is certainly one of the reasons why it was so difficult to discover the connection between sex and birth in the Palaeolithic. After all, a woman had thousands of times sex with several partners in those years without becoming pregnant.

Numerous Late Paleoltihic caves, some 20,000 years old, have within vulva depictions and V-like signs. In El Castillo four intensely red painted vulvas are placed beside a black arrow sign. In Bedeilhac a vulva is most lifelike sculptured in the clay soil, showing the clitoris. The entrance of the cave of La Magdeleine in France presents two reliefs to each side, showing women with emphasized three-sided pudendas. To take such depictions as mere sexual symbols instead of symbols of regeneration would be an anachronistic misreading, just for the reason that if a sexual meaning was intended it would be unexplainable why there was no parallel depiction of male genitalia.

The absence of any ritual representation of a phallus or of the sexual (in the form of a coitus) up to the Neolithic is an almost compelling indication for the ignorance of fatherhood, because the significance for procreation was a prerequisite for the ritual representation of genitals. No representation of the phallus or the sexual therefore automatically means ignorance of the male contribution to procreation.

The oldest known representations of a human sexual act date back to the late 9th millennium BCE, the early phase of the Neolithic: a stone relief and a stone sculpture from the Natufian culture in Ain Sakhri in Jordan. The stone sculpture of an ithyphallic fertility god found in Göbekli Tepe can be dated at about the same time.

According to Catal Hüyük excavator James Mellaart, further finds of a cultic phallus date back to the 6th millennium (5,800 BCE in Tepe Güran, 5,800 BCE in Sarab, 5,500 BCE in Tell-es Sawwan and 5,000 BCE in the Halaf culture).

So the phallus established itself as a sacral symbol only in the Neolithic. This is all the more astonishing because its counterpart, the sacredly exaggerated vagina, has shaped religious iconography for tens of thousands of years.

Since its fertility aspect justified this practice, the absence of the symbolic phallus can only mean that fatherhood was unknown in the Paleolithic.

The Palaeolithic hunters had spared female animals because of their supposed monogenetic fertility and had only killed male animals. For the same reason, the first cattle breeders had probably slaughtered only male sheep and goats at the beginning of the Neolithic, only to find that the remaining females lacked offspring. From there they seemingly concluded that the male sex contributes to human fertility.
 
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specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
2,334
Australia
#5
I will give some, I think, striking arguments for my thesis, but would like to know before why you think that it is "false". Just to say, it´s false, without any reasoning, is very sparse.
For a start, the onus is on you as you have made an assumption about people being ignorant of the most basic and obvious facet of life. All they have to do is observe themselves and any other animals mating and the result of that. IMO this opinion assumes that people had poor observation and deduction skills . They certainly didn't .

Considering the Australian Aboriginals, I have heard the same claim . Ridiculous . Of course they knew the connection . Thats one reason why why they used sub-incision - as a method of birth control. Their understanding was different in that a man first 'conceives' the child by taking in a 'child - germ' at a special place (usually a 'water hole') then the 'gives the child' to his wife via the sexual act, and she nurtures and grows the child germ into a baby and gives birth to it .

Wives where stolen to bring into another tribe to increase population and diversity , not just as 'sex slaves' and other puposes.

And these where paleolithic people (at time of first white contact ) just beginning to move into a 'neolithic' era .

- they offer virtually a 'living example' .
 

specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
2,334
Australia
#6
Now I´ve waited long enough for an answer to my question why Specul8 "thinks" the assertion of a missing knowledge of male fertility in the Paleolithic to be wrong - however I waited in vain. From there I conclude that this "thinking" was rather a feeling. So here are my announced arguments:

The intervall between two births by the same woman was three years for the Neanderthals and four years for the Modern Humans, i.e. our ancestors, who are the subject here, because the infants were suckled for so long, which is why ovulation and fertilisation by male sperm was biologically blocked for this time. The years of infertility of women until the next birth is certainly one of the reasons why it was so difficult to discover the connection between sex and birth in the Palaeolithic. After all, a woman had thousands of times sex with several partners in those years without becoming pregnant.

Numerous Late Paleoltihic caves, some 20,000 years old, have within vulva depictions and V-like signs. In El Castillo four intensely red painted vulvas are placed beside a black arrow sign. In Bedeilhac a vulva is most lifelike sculptured in the clay soil, showing the clitoris. The entrance of the cave of La Magdeleine in France presents two reliefs to each side, showing women with emphasized three-sided pudendas. To take such depictions as mere sexual symbols instead of symbols of regeneration would be an anachronistic misreading, just for the reason that if a sexual meaning was intended it would be unexplainable why there was no parallel depiction of male genitalia.

The absence of any ritual representation of a phallus or of the sexual (in the form of a coitus) up to the Neolithic is an almost compelling indication for the ignorance of fatherhood, because the significance for procreation was a prerequisite for the ritual representation of genitals. No representation of the phallus or the sexual therefore automatically means ignorance of the male contribution to procreation.

The oldest known representations of a human sexual act date back to the late 9th millennium BCE, the early phase of the Neolithic: a stone relief and a stone sculpture from the Natufian culture in Ain Sakhri in Jordan. The stone sculpture of an ithyphallic fertility god found in Göbekli Tepe can be dated at about the same time.

According to Catal Hüyük excavator James Mellaart, further finds of a cultic phallus date back to the 6th millennium (5,800 BCE in Tepe Güran, 5,800 BCE in Sarab, 5,500 BCE in Tell-es Sawwan and 5,000 BCE in the Halaf culture).

So the phallus established itself as a sacral symbol only in the Neolithic. This is all the more astonishing because its counterpart, the sacredly exaggerated vagina, has shaped religious iconography for tens of thousands of years.

Since its fertility aspect justified this practice, the absence of the symbolic phallus can only mean that the fatherhood was unknown.

The Palaeolithic hunters had spared female animals because of their supposed monogenetic fertility and had only killed male animals. For the same reason, the first cattle breeders had probably slaughtered only male sheep and goats at the beginning of the Neolithic, only to find that the remaining females lacked offspring. From there they seemingly concluded that the male sex contributes to human fertility.

Some good facts but wrong assumptions , like this one : " Since its fertility aspect justified this practice, the absence of the symbolic phallus can only mean that the fatherhood was unknown" Big assumption !

There are more, at present I am limited in time ( I'm a busy man ;) )
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,590
#7
I think "Polytheism" is a bit loaded of a term. People immediately think "Oh, like the Norse and Dia Consentes Roman Gods!" when the actual nature of relationships between different sets of gods is quite a bit different when considering the tradition.

For example, the Egyptians and many Greek societies had "polytheism" but their gods had a very intertwined relationship, like cogs in an overall larger entity. No one considers the Christian God polytheistic simply because there are three of them (Father, son, and Holy Spirit), but it technically is, but we don't use the word because... as I mentioned, it's loaded. Despite all this, we readily apply the term to all things non-Christian where systems of gods also get the label of polytheistic.
 
Aug 2010
15,012
Welsh Marches
#8
Polytheistic is simply a descriptive term, and an accurate one even if (to some extent) the many deities who are honoured are ordered into some sort of system.
 

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