Islam and Judaism [5]: Four stages of monotheistic development

For 90% of our species’ history, we did not farm, or create large settlements and complex polytheistic religious and political hierarchies. Instead we lived in small, nomadic family based bands, hunting and gathering.

Then we transitioned from a hunter-gatherer life, to a plant harvesting and cultivation life, and then to towns, writing and monotheism. Early humans were smart enough to farm, but they didn’t. If our ancestors didn’t grow plants, it’s not that they weren’t smart enough to farm.

It is true that agriculture has significant disadvantages compared to foraging. Farming takes more effort and offers less leisure time and an inferior diet. If hunters are hungry in the morning, they can have food on the fire at night. Farming requires hard work today to produce food months later—or with our rain, not at all.

Farming requires the self disciple to overcome the powerful desires of immediate self-satisfaction and to invest in the storage of temporary food surpluses to feed people all year round. A hunter having a bad day can still hunt tomorrow, or seek richer hunting grounds elsewhere, but farmers, tied to the land, are at the mercy of nature’s great variability.

Agriculture has military disadvantages as well. Hunter-gatherers are mobile and can travel long distances to attack or retreat. Constant practice with spears and bows made them deadly fighters.

Yet from 15-10,000 years ago onward, humans all over the world repeatedly abandoned the 200,000 year old hunter-gatherer lifestyle for farming. Agriculture emerged in early civilizations as crops were domesticated in five locations around the world — rice in China; grains and pulses in the Middle East; maize, beans and squash in Mesoamerica; potatoes and quinoa in the Andes and in Bolivia where manioc, squash and other edibles became garden plants over 10,000 years ago.

Pre-historic religions like Shamanism, are primarily focused on individuals who needed healing [especially defending against the evil eye], and magically influencing the powerful spirit forces of nature. Shamans worked well in extended family bands of 50-150 people, but tribes of many thousands of people need ongoing large scale ceremonies and rituals to keep them together as an ongoing community emotionally; and need manifold moral laws enforced by a transcendent Power to help them get along with each other socially over many generations.

The larger clans and tribes should gather periodically at a special place to exchange future mates. They then started exchanging [trading for] desirable objects not found in their usual local. Seashells, obsidian, flint, red ocher and other materials have been found in campsites and graves more than 100-200 miles away from their closest source.

The stronger the attraction of a special place, the greater the effort that distant clans will make to attend, so gathering spots at sacred sites of pilgrimage will enrich human communities. Some scholars think advanced trade networks helped humans out compete Homo Neanderthals in Europe. The need for all the clans to show up at the same time leads to fixed seasonal holy days and a religious calendar. The need to mark the time for pilgrimage festivals led people to study the cycle of the moon and the stars.

Then tribes began to build monumental outdoor sanctuaries. The oldest structure discovered so far is Göbekli Tepe near the Turkish-Syrian border. Begun more than 11,000 years ago, it predates the earliest villages by 2,000 years. Göbekli Tepe predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years; and attracted worshippers from up to 150 km away. Many of its stone pillars are decorated with carved animal reliefs such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and birds, particularly vultures.

Monumental building activity required organizing large groups of workers to build structures over many decades. This may have been the first example of some form of government beyond the blood bonds of family and clan. Governments can force people to work together on major building projects; but only organized religions can inspire people to do it.

To this day pilgrimage festivals like the Muslim Hajj and the Jewish Haj Sukkot still have major social impacts and serve in most religions as great sources of religious experience and solidarity.

Yet at the beginning of the 8th millennium BCE Göbekli Tepe, which by then consisted of 16 great stone rings, one of them 65 feet across, sited at the northern edge of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Arabia—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from the whole Levant,. apparently lost whatever significance it had for the region’s inhabitants for the previous thousand plus years.

However, the complex was not simply abandoned. Instead, each enclosure was buried quite deliberately under tons of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools.

Could this be evidence that one of Allah’s earliest monotheistic prophets like Idris/Enoch [Qur’an 19:56-7, 21:85], reached the area of Göbekli Tepe and convinced the people there to abandon their pilgrimage to Göbekli Tepe; and wait patiently for Prophets Abraham and Ishmael to rebuild the Ka’ba at Mecca, and then later for Prophets David and Solomon to build a Temple at Jerusalem? I think so.

According to Genesis 4:26 humans only began to call upon the one God’s name in the days of Enosh, who was the son of Prophet Seth, and the grandson of Prophet Adam. That could mean that human consciousness had finally risen to the level of being able to receive Divine communication from the One God. It took over 3,500 years for monotheism to spread world-wide even with scriptural revelations; so it is not surprising that it took 200,000 years to get pre-humans to be ready to receive revelations.

And that could mean that prior to the century when Adam, Seth and Enosh lived, prehistoric religions evolved naturally. Only with the rise of monotheistic prophets and scriptural revelations did the One God penetrate human consciousness. This development occurred in four stages.

From Prophet Adam to Prophet Abraham thousands of Prophets of the One God spoke to every tribe in the world in its own language. Some prophets were ignored, some were rejected or killed, and some prophets did succeed in establishing a monotheistic religious community.

However, none of the established monotheistic religious communities lasted very long. The pressure to conform to the polytheism that was universally observed; doomed every one of the pre-Abrahamic established monotheistic religious communities to disintegration. But with Prophet Abraham, who is the only prophet to be titled as God’s friend in three different religion’s Sacred Scriptures things radically changed.

“Indeed, We chose him (Abraham) as one pure and most distinguished in the world, and he is surely among the righteous in the Hereafter”. (Qur’an 2:130) and “You have an excellent example to follow in Abraham.” (60:4) and “Follow the way of Abraham as people of pure faith.” (3:95)

What makes Prophet Abraham, “whom God chose to be His friend” (Qur’an 4:125 & Isaiah 41:8) so special? For Jews and Christians Abraham is the first monotheist. But for Muslims, Adam was the first of many thousands of prophets of the one God (one Hadith says 124,000) each of whom called upon the people of their own tribe or nation to worship only the One God.

What makes Prophet Abraham an excellent example according to three different religion’s Sacred Scriptures, is that Abraham “whom God chose to be His friend” (the Arabic Qur’an 4:125, the Hebrew Bible Isaiah 41:8, and the Greek New Testament James [the brother of Jesus] 2:23) is the progenitor of all three different ongoing monotheistic religious communities.

Polytheistic religions were long lasting because they are pluralistic and tolerant of other Gods; and do not claim to be the only way to God, but they are disconnected from the One God who created the universe.

Judaism is the longest lasting of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions because it is based on the covenant God made with the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai, but because it was tribal and not missionary minded, it accepted converts but did not seek them.

Christianity is the largest of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions because it is very missionary minded and because it is based on belief in the Crucified Son of God, who is the only way to get to heaven. Christianity is not pluralistic; and its emphases on true belief makes it anti sectarian, anti other religions, and often violence prone.

Islam is the latest and fastest growing of the Abrahamic religions because while it is missionary minded; it also advocates religious pluralism, it was much less prone to violence against sectarians and other religions.

All three religions need to emphasize their pluralistic views and stress the wisdom of this narration, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries, and finally written down in several slightly different versions in the 19th century.

Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father, divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.

One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term draught that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.

The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought. “My brother has a wife and four children to feed and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”

So that night the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.”

So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I’ll take more.” That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts.

After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.

The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake – I’ll take two large sacks.”

The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance.

When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened.

Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.

Only God can make a place holy and since God loved the two brothers for their exemplary love and concern for each other; God’s prophets made their descendants worthy to worship in a holy House rebuilt in that valley; and a holy House later built on that hill.

When all those, both near and far, make brotherly love primary in our religious lives, then God will do as Prophet Abraham requested, and “Make this a land of Peace, and provide its people with the produce of of the land”. (Qur’an 2:126). Then will the children of Adam and Abraham live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.

Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca. I believe that both are correct.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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