Most Jews, even or especially yeshivah students, do not know that the Hebrew word Hag and the Arabic word Haj both refer to a large scale annual pilgrimage celebration.
An annual Hag/Haj is a very important factor in drawing together wide spread religious groups and uniting them. As ancestor worship strengthens kinship ties over more and more generations, it also expands kinship ties over more nomadic bands creating extensive clans and tribes.
These clans and tribes need to gather periodically at a special time and place to exchange future mates. They also started exchanging i.e. trading for desirable objects not found in their usual local. Seashells, obsidian, red ocher and other materials have been found in campsites and graves more than 100-200 miles away from their closest natural source.
The stronger the attraction of a special place, the greater the effort that distant clans and tribes will make to attend, so gathering spots that are turned into sacred sites of pilgrimage through special seasonal feasts and rites will vastly enrich human communities.
There are scholars who think that Homo Sapiens advanced trade networks helped them out compete Homo Neanderthals in Europe. Recent studies of Neanderthal DNA have shown that they were a distinct species not ancestral to Homo Sapiens.
The need for all the clans to show up about the same time leads to fixed seasonal holy days and a religious calendar. The need to mark time for pilgrimage festivals led people to study the cycle of the moon,the sun’s rise and the movement of the constellations: and thus move some of the earthly spirit powers into the sky.
Annual pilgrimage festivals like the Hajj to Makka, and the Haj Sukot to Jerusalem, still have a major world wide spiritual impact and serve in most religions as great sources of religious experience and solidarity.
Over the past few decades, archaeological theory has shifted toward the idea that civilizations arose in different regions around the world thanks to the evolution of religious co-operation.
Archaeologists have discovered that the consumption of food and drink in ritually prescribed times and places—known technically as feasting—is one of the cornerstones of heightened sociality and cooperation throughout human history.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh”, one of the earliest written texts known, is the story of a god-king, Gilgamesh, who ruled the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium B.C.E. The epic hints at how the ancients viewed the origins of their civilization. Gilgamesh’s antagonist, Enkidu, is described as a wild man, living with the beasts and eating grasses with the gazelles.
But he is seduced by a beautiful temple priestess who then offers him clothing and food saying; “Enkidu, eat bread, it is the staff of life; drink wine, it is the custom of the land.” And so Enkidu is transformed from a naked wild beast into a “civilized” man living with other people.
Both bread and wine are products of settled society. They represent the power to control nature and create civilization, converting the wild into the tamed, the raw into the cooked – and their transformation cannot be easily done alone.
The very act of transforming the wild into the tame/civilized is a social one, requiring very many people to work together. Religion is a cement helping societies build a civilization; although for some individuals it is a pain-killing opiate, and for others it is a self-righteous power trip.
For more information see page 130 in my new book “Which Religion Is Right For You? A Kuzari for the 21st century.” Hadassa Word Press ISBN (978-620-2-45517-6)