Polytheism is defined as a multiplicity of individualistic divinities having human and/or animal forms and feelings. According to Islamic traditions, the first idols on Earth were during the time of Noah (Pbuh i.e. Peace be upon him). Noah was the tenth grandson of Adam (Pbuh). The names of these idols were Wadd, Sawaa, Yaguth, Yauq, and Nasr. They were righteous people, and everyone used to love and listen to them. When Wadd died, his followers missed him, and became very sad. Satan encouraged the people to make a picture of Wadd so they can keep it in their places, and remember this spiritual leader. They accepted Satan’s offer and became heavily involved in the pictures. When Satan saw what they did, he extended his offer to give them a statue of Wadd. Once again, they accepted Satan’s offer. Their following generation saw how their parents glorified those statues. Eventually, those statues were treated as gods, and during Noah’s time there were five idols.
This story explains how Satan takes the human being step by step towards every sin, even when the intention, of the people that accepted the pictures, might have been sincere. That is why the Islamic laws prohibit all actions that may lead to major sins.
Moreover, this story indicates that Man did not invent polytheism out of nothing. Adam believed in One God. His children followed satanic steps, and converted monotheism to polytheism. As time passes, religious beliefs and traditions were adulterated and contaminated from one generation to another. That is why most polytheistic beliefs or philosophical notions still have some elements of the monotheistic religion.
Many gods as well as the embodiment of Gods in human form (incarnation) characterize polytheism. Because of their human forms and the multitude of gods, they usually fight with each other, and they marry and get children who are also gods. Since the beginning of time, knowledge and wisdom were always transmitted from parents to children. Thus, the ancient relationships of gods to humans were as close as fathers and sons.
Babylon, one of the most important cities of the ancient world, whose location today is marked by a broad area of ruins just east of the Euphrates River, 90 km (56 mi.) south of Baghdad, Iraq. Babylon was the capital of Babylonia in the second and first millennia BC. This dynasty reached its high point under the powerful king Hammurabi in 1730 BC. In 1595 BC Hittites captured the city, and shortly thereafter it came under the control of the Kassite dynasty (1590-1155 BC). The Kassites transformed Babylon the city-state into the country of Babylonia by bringing all of southern Mesopotamia into permanent subjection and making Babylon its capital. The city thus became the administrative center of a large kingdom. Later, probably in the 12th century BC, it became the religious center as well. During their peak days, the priests filled the temples to recite Enuma Elish, the most famous of the ancient Near East poem. The purpose of the epic poem was to praise Marduk, the main god of Babylon and to celebrate the victory of Gods over chaos. The story begins with the creation of the gods, and three gods emerged: Apsu (the ocean), his wife Tiamat (the salty sea), and Mummu (the womb of chaos). These gods begot the successive generations of the gods, and then tried to destroy them. The plan failed, and the wise Ea (the Earth god) slew Apsu and locked Mummu away. Ea with his goddess wife Damkina produced their perfect son Marduk (the sun god). According to Enuma Elish, Tiamat created monsters and married their chief Kingu. Marduk conquered Tiamat and Kingu, the dragons of chaos, and thereby gained supreme power. Marduk fashioned the first man from the blood of the slain Kingu, and then, established Babylon as his dwelling place. Acknowledged as the creator of the universe and humanity, the god of light and life, and the ruler of destinies, he rose to such eminence that he claimed 50 titles. Eventually, he was called simply Bel, meaning "Lord."
The people of Canaan (near the Mediterranean Sea) were influenced by the myth of Ea (the god) and Marduk (the son of god). Later, Christianity adopted this concept of god and son of god into its doctrine.
The religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians had a major influence in the development of their culture. However, a true religion, in the sense of a unified theological system, was never recorded. The Egyptian faith was based on an unorganized compilation of ancient myths, nature worship, and innumerable deities. In the most significant and famous of these myths, a divine hierarchy was developed and the creation of the Earth was explained. The supreme deity of ancient Egypt was Ra, (the sun god), which was represented by a man with the head of a hawk, crowned with a solar disk.
According to the Egyptian account of creation, only the ocean existed at first. Then Ra came out of an egg (a flower, in some versions) that appeared on the surface of the water. Ra brought forth four children, the gods Shu and Geb and the goddesses Tefnut and Nut. Shu and Tefnut became the atmosphere. They stood on Geb, who became the Earth, and raised up Nut, who became the sky. Ra ruled over the entire universe and humans. Geb and Nut later had two sons, Set and Osiris, and two daughters, Isis and Nephthys. Osiris succeeded Ra as king of the Earth, helped by Isis, his sister and wife. Set, however, hated his brother Osiris and killed him. The powerful charms of Isis resurrected Osiris, who became king of the underworld, the land of the dead. Horus was believed to be the son of god Osiris and goddess Isis. Horus later defeated Set in a great battle and became king of the Earth.
In the fourth dynasty, the Egyptian king Snefru declared himself as the incarnation of the living sun god Ra. Cheops, his son and successor and the builder of the great pyramid of Giza, followed his father’s royal footsteps, and took the title son of the god Ra. Later, all Egyptian Pharaohs assumed the title god as well as the son of god Ra.
Ancient Egyptians believed in many articles of monotheistic faith such as: the hereafter, Day of Judgment, hell and paradise. Pyramids were their resurrection machines, with The Book of Dead, written on the walls of the deceased’s chamber, described the safe passage to paradise. It has been suggested that their original monotheistic belief came from Osiris, who was actually Enoch of the Old Testament, and Prophet Idris in Islam. Notice the similarity of the names Osiris and Idris.
The legends of ancient Greece are more familiar because they have become so permanently embedded in literary traditions of Western civilization. Herodotus believed that the ancient Greek religion had been derived from the Egyptians. However, there was no worship of animals or of gods in animal form, as there was in Egypt. Greek gods and goddesses were pictured as being much like men and women. The term for this is anthropomorphism, meaning "in the form of a human." Greek conceived the gods to be more heroic in stature, more outstanding in beauty and proportion, and more powerful and enduring than humans. They were nevertheless endowed with many human weaknesses. They could be jealous, envious, hateful, and trivial.
During the Hellenistic period (about 323-146 BC), ancient Greeks became exposed to the Egyptian and Asian myths. A great poet called Homer brought many of the ancient stories together in a long poem of heroic adventure, called Iliad and Odyssey. These epics revealed much about the religion of the Greeks of that time. They believed in gods and goddesses who had many human traits and often took part in the lives of the people. These gods and goddesses, who often laughed, ate, drank, loved and hated, were said to live above the clouds of Mount Olympus in northern Greece. Each god or Goddess had some power over the forces of nature and the humans. For example, Aphrodite was the goddess of love, Athena was the virgin goddess of wisdom and war, Sofia goddess of wisdom, and Apollo was the god of the sun, poetry, and music. At the head of the divine hierarchy was Zeus, the spiritual father of gods and men. His wife was Hera, queen of heaven and guardian of the sanctity of marriage.
Hinduism is a collection of religions, which has evolved over 4000 years on the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is a major world religion, not only by virtue of its many followers (estimated at more than 900 million) but also because of its deep influence on other religions during its long history. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word sindhu, "river." The Persians in the fifth century BC called the Hindus by that name, identifying them as the people of the land of the Indus. Hindu beliefs are so diverse; it has been suggested that "Hindu religion" does not exist. There are, however, some basic beliefs that are shared among the Hindus:
♦ Belief in the unity of all things in the world. The Hindus believe that there is one spirit that runs through all humans, animals, and plants. The Hindus call this unifying spirit Brahman.
♦ Belief in reincarnation of souls. They believe that when a person dies, he or she will be reborn in another life form. For example, the soul of dead animal might move to a newborn child.
♦ Belief in the Karma, which is the spiritual law of the universe that has great power, even though we cannot see it or touch it. It records the good and the bad deeds that a person does while alive and determines where the person should go in the next life. Being reborn as a Hindu of the high caste might be the reward a good person. An evil person may be reborn as an animal.
♦ Belief in the non-injury of any living creature. Since the Hindus believe that the same spirit unites all humans, animals, and plants, many of them do not kill animals or eat meat.
♦ Belief in many gods and goddesses
who are different forms of Brahman. The trinity in Hinduism involves Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Vishnu is also worshipped in the form of a number of "Avatars" - avatar is the descent of a god to Earth in human form, more generally used of a person who is believed to embody or incarnate the divine. Shiva is said to have appeared on Earth in various human, animal, and vegetable forms. The great river goddess Ganga (the Ganges) is said to be a wife of Shiva. The goddess of music and literature, Saraswati, associated with the Saraswati River, is the wife of Brahma. Some scholars suggested that this Hindu form of trinity was the model adopted later as a Christian doctrine.
♦ Belief in working without worrying about results.
Many minor gods are associated with the great gods or with their children and friends. Hanuman, the monkey god, appears in the Ramayana as the cunning assistant of Rama in the siege of Lanka. Skanda, the General of the Army of the gods, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is the elephant-headed god of scribes and merchants, the remover of obstacles, and the object of worship at the beginning of any important enterprise.
It is interesting to note the close resemblance between the names Brahman, the Hindu unifying spirit, and Rahman, one of the Names of God in Islam. This may suggest that Hinduism had monotheistic origin.
Buddhism is closer to philosophy than religion. It was founded in northeastern India by Siddhartha Gautama (560 - 480 BC), who is known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. He was born near the present Indian-Nepal border. He was the son of the ruler of a small kingdom. He had everything that he wanted, but was disturbed by the sorrow and suffering of some of the people in the kingdom. Therefore, at the age of twenty-nine, he left the palace, his wife and his son, to search for the cause and the solution of suffering. He meditated underneath a bodhi tree, near what is now Nepal, until he attained the enlightenment for which he had been searching. Once having known this ultimate truth, the Buddha underwent a period of intense inner struggles. He began to preach, wandering from place to place, gathering a body of disciples, and organizing them into a monastic community known as the sangha. In this way he spent the rest of his life.
Buddha means the enlightened one. This title applies to any person who has attained the ultimate realty "nirvana." but it is often used for the founder of Buddhism. The original teachings had little ritual and downplayed the importance of deities. Legends surrounded the Buddha's life quickly turned into miracle stories, and after the Buddha died (from eating a poisoned meal) his bones and teeth were spread far and wide as holy relics. The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. Later followers arranged his beliefs. The original Buddhism seems to present a moral and philosophical way of life rather than a religion.
Although never actually denying the existence of the gods, Buddhism denies them any special role. Their lives in heaven are long and pleasurable, but they are in the same condition as other creatures, being subject eventually to death and further rebirth in lower states of existence. They are not creators of the universe or in control of human destiny, and Buddhism denies the value of prayer and sacrifice to them. The deities are so preoccupied by their own pleasures that they lose sight of the need for salvation. Enlightenment is possible only for humans, and not for gods.
The Four Noble Truths: At the core of the Buddha's enlightenment was the realization of the Four Noble Truths:
1. Everything in life is suffering. It is a statement that, in its very nature, human existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the Hindu idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth.
2. All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that result from such ignorance.
3. Overcoming ignorance and attachment can end suffering.
The means to achieve nirvana lies in the Noble Eightfold Path of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, wisdom, and concentration.
Nirvana: is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path in life. To achieve this goal is to reach nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been extinguished. Not to be confused with total annihilation, nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond definition. After achieving nirvana, the enlightened individual may continue to live, burning off any remaining karma until a state of final nirvana is attained at the moment of death.
The ethic that leads to nirvana involves cultivating virtuous attitudes, known as the Palaces of Brahma: loving, kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and patience. The ethic that leads to better rebirth, however, is centered on fulfilling one's duties to society. It involves acts of charity, as well as observance of the five ethics that constitute the basic moral code of Buddhism. The ethics prohibit killing, stealing, harmful language, sexual misbehavior, and the use of intoxicants. By observing these ethics, the three roots of evil—lust, hatred, and delusion—may be overcome
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