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LECTURE V NOTE F.—P. 184.
EARLY MONOTHEISTIC IDEAS.
It has been shown (Note A. to Lecture III.—Primitive Fetishism and Ghost Worship) that man’s earliest religious ideas were not his poorest. It may now be affirmed that his earliest ideas were in some respects his highest—that the consciousness of the one God was with him in the dawn of his history, and has never been wholly extinguished since.
Ebrard, after an exhaustive examination of ancient religions, thus sums up: “We have nowhere been able to discover the least trace of any forward and upward movement from Fetishism to Polytheism, and from that again to a gradually advancing knowledge of the one God; but, on the contrary, we have found among all peoples of the heathen world a most decided tendency to sink from an earlier and relatively purer knowledge of God.”—Christ. Apol. iii. p. 317 (Eng. trans.).
The ancient Egyptian religion was at heart monotheistic. M. de Rouge says: “The Egyptian religion comprehends a quantity of local worships....Each of these regions has its principal god designated by a special name; but it is always the same doctrine which reappears under different names. One idea predominates, that of a single and primeval God; everywhere and always it is one substance, self-existent, and an unapproachable God.” (Quoted by Renouf, p. 90.) This, he says, was the doctrine of the Egyptians in the earliest period. M. Renouf confirms this statement. “It is incontestably true,” he testifies,”that the sublimer portions of the Egyptian religion are not the comparatively late result of a process of development or elimination from the grosser. The sublimer portions are demonstrably ancient; and the last stage of the Egyptian religion, that known to the Greek and Latin writers, heathen or Christian, was by far the grossest and most corrupt.”—Hibbert Lectures, p. 91.
The early Babylonian religion was polytheistic; but here also the monotheistic consciousness breaks through in the exalted predicates applied to the great gods by their respective worshippers. Each god seems at first to have been worshipped by its own city as supreme—the moon-god at Ur; the sun-god at Sippara; Ann, the sky, at Erech; Ea, the deep, at Eridu; Nebo at Borsippa, etc. Thus the 443moon-god was celebrated as the “lord and prince of the gods, who in heaven and earth alone is supreme”; Nebo, in the belief of his worshippers, was the supreme god, the creator of the world; Anu, the sky—god, became a supreme god, the lord and father of the universe, then “the one god” into whom all the other deities were resolved; Asshur developed peculiarly exalted traits. “We can, in fact,” says Professor Sayce, “trace in him all the lineaments upon which under other conditions there might have been built up as pure a faith as that of the God of Israel”—Sayce’s Hibbert Lectures, 1887, p. 129; cf. pp. 116, 160, 191, etc. Others go farther, and see in Ilu—Heb. El “the Babylonian supreme deity,” cf. Schrader, Keilinschriften, i. p. 11 (Eng. trans.); and conclude, with Duncker and Lenormant, that the Babylonians in the earliest times worshipped one god, El, Ilu. (In Ebrard, ii. p. 330.)
The religion of the Vedas in India, in like manner, is purer than the later Hindu developments, and points back, through philology, to an earlier stage still, when the Polytheism of the Vedas was as yet non-existent. “Behind the Homeric poems,” says Dr. Fairbairn, “and the Vedas, and the separation of the Iranic-Indian branches, lies the period when Colt and Teuton, Anglo-Saxon and Indian, Greek and Roman, Scandinavian and Iranian, lived together, a simple, single people. . . . Excluding the coincidences natural to related peoples developing the same germs, we find two points of radical and general agreement—the proper name of one God, and the term expressive of the idea of God in general. . . . A name for God had thus been formed before the dispersion. . . . The result is a Theism which we may name individualistic.”—Studies in the Phil. of Religion, pp. 22–29; “The younger the Polytheism, the fewer its gods,” p. 22.
Ebrard says: “Immediately after the separation of the Iranians and Indians, that is, during the first Vedic period, the consciousness was fully present among the Indians that the Adityas did not represent a multitude of separate deities in a polytheistic and mythological sense, but only the fulness of the creative powers of the one God, and that the holy God, and that in each of these Adityas it was always the one God who was worshipped. And the farther back we go into the past, the more distinct do we find the consciousness among the Indians. In the second, the Indra period, it dwindles away, and gives place to a polytheistic conception.”—Christ. Apol. ii pp. 213, 214. He finds the common root of the Indian and Iranian religions in “a primitive Monotheism, or Elohism, as we might call it, since there is no real distinction between the Elohim and the Adityas” (p. 214). The Iranian religion in the form in which we find it in the Zend-Avesta (Zoroastrian) is dualistic; but the conception of Ahura-Mazda, as we find it in the earlier portions, is so exalted that it may almost be called monotheistic. It unquestionably springs from the common Aryan root indicated above.
Herodotus has the striking statement that the ancient Pelasgi, the early inhabitants of Greece, gave no distinct names to the gods, but 444prayed to them collectively. “They called them gods, because they had set in order and ruled all things.” But as for the special names attached to them, and the functions severally assigned to them—all this, he thinks, goes no farther back than Homer and Hesiod. “These framed a theogony for the Greeks, and gave names to the gods, and assigned to them honours and arts, and declared their several forms” (ii 52, 53). Max Muller does not hesitate to say, following Welcker: “When we ascend to the most distant heights of Greek history, the idea of God as the Supreme Being stands before us as a simple fact.”—Chips, ii. p. 157. This strain of Monotheism in the religion of the Greeks is never absolutely lost, but reappears in the beliefs of the philosophers, the’ Orphic mysteries, and the lofty conceptions of the great tragic poets. Plutarch, in like manner, tells of the early religion of the Romans, that it was imageless and spiritual Their religious lawgiver, Numa, he says, “forbade the Romans to represent the deity in the form either of man or of beast. Nor was there among them formerly any image or statue of the Divine Being; during the first one hundred and seventy years they built temples, indeed, and other sacred domes, but placed in them no figure of any kind; persuaded that. it is impious to represent things Divine by what is perishable, and that we can have no conception of God but by the understanding.” Lives, on Numa. The legendary form of the tradition need not lead us to doubt that it embodies a substantial truth.
On this subject see Ebrard’s Christian Apologetics; Loring Brace’s The Unknown God; Pressense’s The Ancient World and Christianity (Eng. trans.); Vigouroux’s La Bible et les Decouvertes modernes, lii.—“On Primitive Monotheism”; Rawlinson’s Tract on “The Early Prevalence of Monotheistic Beliefs,” in Present Day Tracts (No. 11), etc.
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