History of religion

The first monotheist?

Published in GralsWelt 85/2014

Was the Old Testament Abraham the first to spread the belief in one God? A biblical historical approach to the life of the legendary ancestor.

According to historians, many parts of the Bible are not reliable reports, and the majority of biblical persons - especially in the Old Testament - are uncertain whether and when they lived. (See. "The Moses Riddle" and "No Trumpets Before Jericho").

It may come as a surprise that the existence of an important religious figure from early history who lived centuries before Moses is considered certain by most historians, although there is no clear evidence: Abramwho later Abraham called.

For Jews and Christians, Abraham, along with his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, is one of the three “progenitors” or “patriarchs” (not to be confused with “patriarch” as the official church title). In Islam, Abraham is considered a prophet.

According to Genesis (the first book of Moses), Abraham is the tenth descendant of Noah. Abraham probably lived at the beginning of the second millennium BC, perhaps in the city of Ur or its surroundings. Some consider his father to be a trader in the city, but it seems more likely that Abraham (around Ur as the starting point of his wanderings?) Was born in a nomadic tent and was a goatherd.

“And who could have a more beautiful faith than he who surrenders his face to Allah and does what is good and obeys the religion of Abraham, the purer in faith; and Allah made Abraham a friend. "
Koran (4th sura, 124).

“There are basically only two ways of dealing with the Bible: you can take it literally or you can take it seriously. Both are not compatible. "                         Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997).

"The greatest and most important men of all time, including early antiquity, always believed in only one, purely spiritual God."
Ernst Curtius (1814-1896).

Ur and Haran in the time of Abraham

In the fourth millennium BC there were already larger cities such as Uruk and Ur in Mesopotamia. Around 2000 BC - at the time of Abraham [1] - Ur was an important city on the Euphrates, near its confluence with the Persian Gulf. Ur was a trading center with workshops, weaving mills, fashion shops, docks, a temple district with a ziggurat (step pyramid), a ruler's palace and city walls.

Many gods were worshiped in ancient Mesopotamia: for example Adat the weather god; Inanna, giver of life and destroyer; Ninurta, the god of war; Shamash, the sun god; Sin, the moon god; Tiamat and her opponent Marduk (world creation myth) and others. In this group of gods there was usually a main god and his wife [2]. Each city also had its special patron deity.

Even if Abraham did not grow up in Ur [3], he probably visited this city (or another Chaldean city, for example Mari) and got an impression of the ruling deities. Was he confused by this multitude of gods cults, which vied with one another and also partly contradicted one another?

From Ur, Abraham's clan embarked on a long journey:
"Terah took his son Abram [...]to move to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. " (Genesis 11:31).

Biblical Haran was a junction of caravan routes. It could be located by a mound of rubble called "Tell Hariri," probably the remains of the Mesopotamian city-state of Mari. Excavators found numerous inscribed clay tablets, even with references to a tribe that was probably identical to the later Hebrews. (8).

Tax evasion to Canaan

In Genesis it says:
"The Lord said to Abram: Move away from your country, from your relatives and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1).

Archaeologists have looked for reasons for the emigration of Abraham's family: overgrazing, military threat, lack of water, tribal disputes?
The explanation was found in messages on clay tablets unearthed in Mari. The state had begun to extend its legal system and administration to the clans in the desert. This included a “census”, the registration of nomadic tribes. They got nervous; because they had probably already made the experience elsewhere that registration is the first step towards taxation and the forced recruitment of warriors. An official's report on a clay tablet warns his ruler:
“Regarding the proposal of the Benjaminite census that you are writing about, I say: The Benjaminites are unsuitable for a census. If you do it anyway [...], they will leave the country and not return. " (6, p. 43).

It has always been difficult to collect taxes from nomads. Turkish officials in Arabia or North Africa failed often enough in the 19th century. And even in the present day, sly sheep farmers have managed to bully officials of the European Union (3). Four thousand years ago, Abraham's clan behaved accordingly: They moved on. One could loosely describe Abraham as the first prominent tax evader in world history!

Abraham, meanwhile the shech (head) of his clan, was looking for a freer area. Through traders or wandering shepherds he had received news of the "purple land" of Canaan, "in which milk and honey flowed". It was sparsely populated, not part of a large empire, and tax collectors were hardly to be feared.

Abraham traveled through Canaan, had to evade a famine to Egypt (according to the Bible) and was involved in armed conflicts until he finally got his great insight.

Melchizedek - a True Priest?

After a successful campaign, Abraham met one of the strangest characters in the Bible:
“Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of the Most High God. He blessed Abram and said: Blessed be Abram from the highest God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and praised be the highest God who delivered your enemies to you. Abram then gave him a tithe of everything. " (Genesis 14: 18-20).
Salem has been renamed Jerusalem (Jehovah's Association with Salem), and the New Testament says:
“This Melchizedek […], whose name means 'King of Justice' and who is also King of Salem, which means 'King of Peace'; he who has no father, no mother and no family tree, no beginning of his days and no end of his life, an image of the Son of God: this Melchizedek remains a priest forever. " (Heb. 7, 1-3).

There is much speculation about Melchizedek, the first in time of the priests mentioned in the Bible. (9).
From a later Jewish point of view he was a "heathen" [4]. Does it correspond to the very old ideal of a priest-king who harmoniously combines both offices - king and high priest? Or is he a type of Jesus? Melchizedek offers bread and wine; does he anticipate the Lord's Supper? [5] Since he blesses Abraham, he is above him in the spiritual hierarchy, and taxes (tithing) are only paid to someone who is stronger. This is also where the legitimation for the tithes demanded by the priesthood or the church for centuries can be found.

While the Bible often goes on and on about the genealogy of its heroes, Melchizedek's ancestry, which is otherwise so important, remains in the dark. So what is to be made of this strange pagan priest? Was it perhaps a product of the imagination? Or nothing more than the shech of a tribe who extorted tithes from Abraham as a toll for his transit? Was Melchizedek then hyped up into a powerful, high spirit personality in the Bible in order to indirectly enhance Abraham?

Since angels appeared to Abraham several times, I personally tend to see in Melchizedek - if not a symbol - a higher spirit being that comes from the otherworld to Abraham via the "Supreme god" spoke. A revelation that became a key experience for Abraham for his knowledge of God? (The assumption by many UFO believers that Melchizedek could have been an alien seems less likely to me personally.)].

A hero of faith

Is it a coincidence that the great religions arose in the desert? Do you have to wander through the desert for a long time before you can grasp the highest? Or is it the deeply impressive sight of a clear night sky full of glittering stars, alien to a city dweller of today, which suggests eternity and encourages belief in God?

After a long journey Abraham had visions in which the Lord God appeared to him (Genesis 15). At the age of 99 years (a typical symbolic number) Abraham was granted a covenant with God for himself and his descendants, who raised this clan from the multitude of other peoples of the world. Abraham becomes a widely admired hero of faith, to whom Jesus (John 8, 56) and Paul (Rom. 4, 13) appeal and praise Muhammad.

On God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18), the calling of Abraham (Genesis 17, 2), the covenant made by God with Moses on Sinai (Exodus 19) and the Ten Commandments given there (2. Moses 20) is the basis of the Jews' self-understanding as that "Chosen people".

What else the Old Testament of the Bible has to say about Abraham is irrelevant to his fundamental knowledge of the being of the greatest God.

Also the command of God to Abraham: "Take your son, the only one you love, Isaac [...], and offer him there on one of the mountains as a burnt offering" (Genesis 22, 2) was not given in this way. This tale of sacrifices is an old Sumerian legend (1, p. 98) that was ascribed to Abraham [7]. Was it the intention of the Bible author to express that Almighty God abhorred human sacrifice? [8].

Belief in the highest God

There was already an inkling of the being of the highest, the only God in primitive peoples and in many ancient peoples [9]. Whether in the early Indian Rig-Veda, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in ancient Persian Zoroastrianism ("A Persian Bringer of Truth", under “History of Religion”), in the speculations of Greek philosophers or in East Asian teachings such as the Tao-te-king attributed to Lao-tse. The monotheistic sun religion Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV., 1364-1347 BC) probably originated after Abraham's time.

As a rule, Abraham is considered to be the first to speak clearly of the one, the Almighty God. The three "Abrahamic religions" (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) venerate him as the founder of their religions:
“When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said to him, I am God Almighty. Go your way before me and be righteous! " (Genesis 17: 1).

Historically, since Abraham at least, there has been the idea of the one, the almighty God in the world. This idea of God continued to work for thousands of years. It became the basis of world religions and is one of the most important insights of mankind.

(1) Barthel, Manfred, What is Really in the Bible, Econ, Düsseldorf 1987.
(2) Black, Jonathan, The Secret History of the World, Goldmann, Munich 2008.
(3) Der Spiegel, No. 14, April 3, 2010, p. 51.
(4) Scarre, Chris, Weltatlas der Aräologie, Südwest, München o. J.
(5) Thompson, JA, Shepherds, Traders and Prophets, Brunnen, Gießen 1996.
(6) Zierer, Otto, Ideas move the world, Prisma, Gütersloh 1978.
(7) Wikipedia encyclopedia, article "Abraham".
(8) Wikipedia encyclopedia, article "Mari (city)".
(9) Wikipedia encyclopedia, article "Melchizedech".

[1] In the "Patriarchal Tale" (Genesis 11, 10–50, 26), customs are described that date back to between 2000 and 1400 BC. In which the patriarchs came to Canaan. A more precise time determination is hardly possible.
[2] The Canaanites worshiped Asherah and Baal as main gods, the Hebrews first Asherah and Yahweh, until Asherah was ousted.
[3] "In Chaldea" means something like "Ur in the plain". Today we would say “Ur in Sumer”.
[4] Whoever has made the covenant with God belongs to the people of Israel (Genesis 17). The others are the goyim (non-Israelites).
[5] The symbolic meaning of bread and wine is said to date from very early times, long before Abraham. (Cf. for example Bernd Hercksen, “Vom Urpatriarchat zum Global Crash”, Shaker Media, 2010, p. 103).
[6] In the Kabbalistic tradition, Melchizedek has a secret identity. There he is Noah, the great leader from Atlantis, who taught mankind agriculture, the cultivation of grain and wine and who never really died but went into another dimension. He has now returned to be Abraham's spiritual teacher and to bestow higher orders on him. (2, p. 247).
[7] As with many biblical narratives, there are also esoteric interpretations here (2, p. 247).
[8] There was human sacrifice among the Israelites. Deuteronomy 18:10 says: "There should be no one with you who lets his son or daughter go through the fire." “To go through fire” means a burnt offering. In Judges 11: 30–39, Jiftach believes he must keep his vow and offers his daughter as a burnt offering.
[9] Cf. Ivar Lissner, "Aber Gott war da", Walter, Olten 1960.