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The Concept of Monotheism Since Ancient Times

Monotheism is the natural instinct placed into the people by God (Quran 30:30). The message of “worship God Alone” is universal and was preached by all messengers from God. With time, the practice of religion frequently deteriorated to incorporate polytheistic elements. Yet traces of the original monotheism can be found in many, if not all, of these religions.

Hinduism today is perhaps the most prevalent of the religions considered as polytheistic. Yet, a number of authorities agree that the original principles of Hinduism advocate monotheism. In Hinduism, the Creator and Absolute God is called “Brahman”. Brahman is referred to as formless or “nirakara”, and beyond anything that we can conceive of and has no gender, form or features. The various gods and goddesses are thus merely manifestations of the One God. In fact many passages in Hindu scriptures seem to suggest the worship of One God. To quote from the Gayatri Mantra in the Yajur Veda:

Let us meditate on God, His glorious attributes,
who is the basis of everything in this universe as its Creator,
who is fit to be worshiped as Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omniscient
and self existent concious being,
who removes all ignorance and impurities from the mind
and purifies and sharpens the intellect.

The justification for setting up of gods and goddesses in Hinduism is that it helps human in visualizing and compreheding Brahman (God). We know from Quran that no visions can encompass God (6:103) and therefore while to God belongs the Most beautiful names and attributes (7:180, 20:8), setting up idols and deities and worshipping them instead of God is not what God wants (2:22, 3:64, 7:3, etc.) .

Dr Clifford Wilson former director of the Australian Institute of Archaeology describes in his book, “The A.B.C. of Biblical Archaeology”, evidence of monotheism seen in many ancient cultures. We present some extracts from chapter 11 of his book titled “The Concept Of Monotheism In Ancient Times”. The book is available online at: We also augment the discussion with Quranic references.

Monotheism in Ancient Egypt

Monotheism was known in very early times. The Egyptian Book of the Dead demonstrates that the Egyptian people originally believed in one great God and not many. With the passage of time, each of the known attributes of the true God were personified as new and individual deities - and so, polytheism developed.

That view is well documented by the famous Egyptologist, Sir Wallis Budge, in his best-known text, The Book of the Dead. Following are statements from the Book of the Dead as to the attributes of the true God, selected from The Papyrus of Ani:

"A Hymn To Amen-Ra ... president of all the gods ... Lord of the heavens ... Lord of Truth ... maker of men; creator of beasts ... Ra, whose word is truth, the Governor of the world, the mighty one of valour, the chiefs who made the world as he made himself. His forms are more numerous than those of any god ... "Adoration be to thee, O Maker of the Gods, who hast stretched out the heavens and founded the earth! ... Lord of eternity, maker of the everlastingness ... creator of light ... He heareth the prayer of the oppressed one, he is kind of heart to him that calleth upon him, he delivereth the timid man from the oppressor ... He is the Lord of knowledge, and Wisdom is the utterance of his mouth. "He maketh the green herb whereon the cattle live, and the staff of life whereon men live. He maketh the fish to live in the rivers, and the feathered fowl in the sky. He giveth life to that which is in the egg ... "Hail to thee, O thou maker of all these things, thou ONLY ONE. In his mightiness he taketh many forms."

Wallis Budge states: "After reading the above extracts it is impossible not to conclude that the ideas of the ancient Egyptians about God were of a very exalted character, and it is clear that they made in their minds a sharp distinction between God and the "gods" ... Here then we have One God who was self-created, self-existent and almighty, who created the universe."

Other scholars have endorsed the arguments of Sir Wallis Budge, and he himself quotes others. One example is: "As a result of their studies of Egyptian texts, many of the earlier Egyptologists, e.g. Champollion-Figeac, de Rouge, Pierret and Brugsch, came to the conclusion that the dwellers in the Nile Valley, from the earliest times, believed in the existence of one God, nameless, incomprehensible, and eternal." (p.105)

Sir Flinders Petrie, the famous Egyptologist, had the same belief. In The Religion of Ancient Egypt, published by Constable, London, 1908, he wrote:

"Were the conception of a god only an evolution from such spirit worship, we should find the worship of many gods preceding the worship of one god ... What we actually find is the contrary of this, monotheism is the first stage traceable in theology ... Wherever we can trace polytheism back to its earliest stages, we find that it results from combinations of monotheism. … Each city appears to have had but one god belonging to it, to whom others were in time added. Similarly, Babylonian cities each had their supreme god, and the combinations of these and their transformations in order to form them into groups when their homes were politically united, show how essentially they were solitary deities at first."

Monotheism Preceded Polytheism

Other people were also originally monotheists, knowing of only one true God. The late Dr. Arthur C. Custance wrote a series called The Doorway Papers (Brockville, Ontario, Canada). In Paper 34 he gives evidence to show that this was the case with many such people, contrary to the views of many scholars. At first scholars examining the records of ancient peoples:

“... found themselves dealing with a tremendous number of gods and goddesses and other spiritual powers of a lesser sort which seemed to be always at war with one another and, much of the time, highly destructive. … As earlier and earlier tablets, however, began to be excavated and brought to light, and skill in deciphering them increased, the first picture of gross polytheism began to be replaced by something more nearly approaching a hierarchy of spiritual beings organized into a kind of court with one Supreme Being over all." (p. 3)

Stephen Langdon’s “Semitic Mythology” in 1931 also propounded the view that monotheism preceded polytheism (contrary to then popular / established belief). He made his point very clearly:

"In my opinion the history of the oldest civilization of man is a rapid decline from monotheism to extreme polytheism and widespread belief in evil spirits. It is in a very true sense the history of the fall of man."

In an article written in 1936 he further states:

"The history of Sumerian religion, which was the most powerful cultural influence in the ancient world, could be traced by means of photographic inscriptions almost to the earliest religious concepts of man. The evidence points unmistakably to an original monotheism, the inscriptions and literary remains of the oldest Semitic peoples also indicate a primitive monotheism, and the totemistic origin of Hebrew and other Semitic religions is now entirely discredited."

Max Muller, a German scholar wrote in “Lectures on the Science of Language” published in 1875:

"Mythology, which was the bane of the ancient world, is in truth a disease of language. A myth means a word, but a word which, from being a name or an attribute, has been allowed to assume a more substantial existence. Most of the Greek, the Roman, the Indian, and other heathen gods are nothing but poetical names, which were gradually allowed to assume divine personality never contemplated by their original inventors. … Eos was the name of dawn before she became a goddess, the wife of Tithonos, or the dying day. Fatum, or Fate, meant originally what had been spoken; and before Fate became a power, even greater than Jupiter, it meant that which had once been spoken by Jupiter, and could never be changed - not even by Jupiter himself. … Zeus originally meant the bright heaven, in Sanskrit Dyaus; and many of the stories told of him as the supreme god, had a meaning only as told originally of the bright heaven, the Danae of old, kept by her father in the dark prison of winter. …"

In another book, “History of Sanskrit Literature”, Max Mueller wrote:

"There is a monotheism that precedes the polytheism of the Veda; and even in the invocation of the innumerable gods the remembrance of a God, one and infinite, breaks through the mist of idolatrous phraseology like the blue sky that is hidden by passing clouds."

Evidence of Monotheism in Dispersed (Primitive) Religious Communities

Wilhelm Schmidt’s original German work was translated into English and published in 1930 as a single volume titled, "The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories". In his work, Schmidt observes that many of the most “primitive cultures” (i.e. hunters, food gatherers and storers, and pastoral nomads maintaining flocks) have a simple faith in a Supreme Being who has neither wife nor family. Under Him and created by Him are the primal pair from which the tribe is descended. According to Schmidt we find this form of belief among the Pygmies of Central Africa, the South-east Australians, the inhabitants of North central California, the primitive Algonkins - and to a certain extent the Koryaka and Aimu.

Don Richardson in his book “Eternity In Their Hearts” (1981) reaches a similar conclusion. He writes:

"Back on the Kalahari Desert, in the Ituri forest, and innumerable other locations, however; the young anthropologists were getting down to a deeper level of questioning. They would ask the animists:
"By the way, who made the world?" and were startled to hear them respond, often with a happy smile, by naming a single Being who lived in the sky.
"Is he good or bad?" was a usual second question.
"Good, of course", was the invariable reply.
"Show me the idol you use to represent him", the researcher might ask.
"What idol? Don't you know that he must never be represented by an idol?"

This of course opposes the teachings of many modern scholars. However, as Don Richardson says:

"They began discovering what thousands of exploring Christian missionaries had already discovered - that about 90% of the world's folk religions are permeated with monotheistic presuppositions."

Don Richardson elaborates with tribe after tribe, even showing that there were hymns with theology that was clearly consistent with the fact of one true God. Here is one selection, from the Karen people of Burma:

"Y'wa is eternal, his life is long.
One aeon - he dies not!
Two aeons - he dies not!
He is perfect in meritorious attributes.
Aeons follow aeons - he dies not!"

Such people actually refer to Him as Creator. Another hymn extolled Y'wa as Creator:

"Who created the world in the beginning?
Y'wa created the world in the beginning!
Y'wa appointed everything.
Y'wa is unsearchable!"

Still another hymn conveyed deep appreciation for Y'wa's omnipotence and omniscience, combined with acknowledgment of a lack of relationship with Him:

"The omnipotent is Y'wa; him have we not believed.
Y'wa created men anciently;
He has a perfect knowledge of all things!
Y'wa created men at the beginning;
He knows all things to the present time!
O my children and grandchildren!
The earth is the treading place of the feet of Y'wa.
And heaven is the place where he sits.
He sees all things, and we are manifest to him."

It almost seems that such people have the Bible record of creation before them. Don Richardson states: "The Karen story of man's falling away from God contains stunning parallels to Genesis Chapter 1 and the Quran 7:19-22:

"Y'wa formed the world originally.
He appointed food and drink.
He appointed the "fruit of trial."
He gave detailed order.
Mu-kaw-lee deceived two persons.
He caused them to eat the fruit of the tree of trial.
They obeyed not; they believed not Y'wa ...
When they ate the fruit of trial,
They became subject to sickness, aging, and death ..."

These Karen people had obstinately adhered to their own folk religion despite high pressured attempts by the Burmese to convert them to Buddhism!

Don Richardson shows that such findings have "disturbed evolutionists more than any other cultural phenomenon." Evolutionary theorists hold that the concept of one Supreme Being was reached only after proceeding through more lowly beliefs such as fetishes, nature gods, and polytheism. They now find evidence of the exact opposite, i.e. that the more "primitive" tribes have more advanced ideas about one true God - monotheism! Thus, despite many "scholarly" views to the contrary, historical and other records reject animism as the "original" religion and they indicate that people have known of the one true God from the very beginning. This is the same message of monotheism that we see in the practice of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

[Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Luke 12:29-30, Quran 3:18]
Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One God!
Therefore you shall adore the Lord your God
with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

[Quran 42:13] He decreed for you the same religion decreed for Noah, and what we inspired to you, and what we decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: "You shall uphold this one religion, and do not divide it." The idol worshipers will greatly resent what you invite them to do. GOD redeems to Himself whomever He wills; He guides to Himself only those who totally submit.

[Quran 3:19] The only religion approved by GOD is "Submission." Ironically, those who have received the scripture are the ones who dispute this fact, despite the knowledge they have received, due to jealousy. For such rejectors of GOD's revelations, GOD is most strict in reckoning.

[Quran 3:95] Say, "GOD has proclaimed the truth: You shall follow Abraham's religion - monotheism. He never was an idolater."

[Quran 30:30] Therefore, you shall devote yourself to the religion of strict monotheism. Such is the natural instinct placed into the people by GOD. Such creation of GOD will never change. This is the perfect religion, but most people do not know.

[Quran 7:172-173] Recall that your Lord summoned all the descendants of Adam, and had them bear witness for themselves: "Am I not your Lord?" They all said, "Yes. We bear witness." Thus, you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, "We were not aware of this."
Nor can you say, "It was our parents who practiced idolatry, and we simply followed in their footsteps. Will You punish us because of what others have innovated?"



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