Mankind’s Earliest Religious Beliefs
The study of Mankind’s earliest religious beliefs is a fascinating topic. Archeologists and historians have identified evidence of such activity from 3500-4000 BC in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The type of religious activity they have found is Polytheistic, because the deities vary depending on the culture, and there are multiple deities within cultures. Secondly, the objects of this worship are typically celestial objects, and deities fashioned after humans and animals, which are assumed to have special power over the circumstances of human existence.
The Two Assumptions regarding Mankind’s Earliest Religious Beliefs:
For the evolutionist who assumes that mankind developed over billions of years, polytheism would be a logical candidate for mankind’s earliest religious beliefs. As mankind gradually developed simple rational capabilities, they would have also developed simple religious beliefs.
However, for the person who assumes the accuracy of the biblical record, a different picture of mankind’s earliest religious beliefs is presented. According to the Bible, mankind started out with Monotheism, not Polytheism! From the beginning of man’s existence, mankind in general, worshipped the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth. In this blog we will learn what the Bible record says about mankind’s earliest religious beliefs, and its relationship to the polytheism discovered by archeology.
Objection to the Biblical Record:
Some knowledgeable reader may immediately raise an objection: How can the Bible tell us anything about those earlier times when it was written by Moses who lived around 1500 BC? It is true that Moses wrote the earliest books of the Bible around 1500 BC. However, some of what Moses wrote describes events and people who lived thousands of years previously. So for this part of the biblical record, Moses no doubt wrote down what had been transmitted orally through previous generations, or had existed previously in a simpler written form.
So the real question becomes: How valid are the sources that Moses used in writing his account? I maintain that the sources which Moses used are at least as reliable as the artifacts found by archeologists. Many Jewish scholars have accepted Moses’ source material as valid for thousands of years since. Jesus Christ Himself quoted Moses frequently. So until someone can prove that what Moses wrote is fictitious, I will assume it has validity.
The Creator God
We will start in the Book of Romans, Chapter One. In verse 19, the Apostle Paul says that since the time of Creation (heavens, earth, and all life forms) God has held human beings responsible for acknowledging Him as the Omnipotent and Supernatural Creator. Verse 20 says that God has made Himself known to mankind through the things God has created. In other words, the heavens, the earth, and all life forms are THE EVIDENCE that a SUPERNATURAL BEING must have brought them into existence.
Creation of a Universe so infinitely beyond man’s capabilities, is evidence of an Omnipotent Creator. And Creation of a Human Being with rational and emotional capabilities, and all life functions directed by a astounding DNA code, is evidence of an All Knowing Source of Life as its Creator.
Mankind’s Earliest religious beliefs in the Creator God:
Next, Paul describes a period of time when the human race, in general, worshipped this SUPERNATURAL CREATOR. They saw all the magnificent evidence of HIM in the Creation (heavens, earth, life forms). Paul uses the following phrases to describe mankind’s initial knowledge of God, and their decision to move away from Him. Rom 1: v21-25.
1. ……although they (mankind) knew God, they…….v21
2. … they changed the glory of the incorruptible God, and ….v23
3. …. they exchanged the truth of God, and ……..v25
4……they had worshipped and served the Creator……v25
It is abundantly clear that earliest mankind had seen God’s Creation, knew Him as the Creator, recognized some of God’s attributes, and worshipped Him as the Creator. But they would eventually replace this knowledge of the Most High God with man-made religion.
Rejection of the Creator God:
The Worship of the Creator, at some point in time, gave way to a rejection of the Creator. (later in this document we will consider two times when this happened) The text, Rom 1:21-32, is very clear as to the primary reason behind the transition to man-made religion. Mankind’s first step was to give up their previous understanding of the Creator God and their Worship of Him. And for each step they took away from the Creator God, mankind went further into confused thinking and immoral behavior.
Here are the steps of the decline:
1. Mankind came to a point when they chose not to recognize or honor God as Creator. v21
2. This choice caused mankind’s thinking to become futile, dark, and foolish. v22
3. Mankind then substituted man-made, god-images to worship in place of God the Creator. They were images of man, birds, beasts and creeping things. V 23
4. God honored their choice, but it resulted in unclean lusts and dishonoring of their physical bodies. v24
5. Mankind had exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped the creature, rather than the Creator. v25
6. This was just the beginning of mankind’s descent into sexual perversion and moral depravity.
7. God gave them up to vile passions, women with women, men with men. v26-27
8. The decline continued further ……….See Verses 26-32
Mankind’s Two Starts with the Creator God:
Mankind had two distinct “Starts” with the Creator God. They were separated by a period of 1650 years. In each case these “Starts” began with a single human family. A family which had an intimate knowledge of the God of Creation. Sadly, both of these “Starts” ended in a rejection of God.
The first “Start” was immediately after Creation and began with the very first family of Adam and Eve. At the beginning, all was well between mankind and God, but that began to change immediately. Their son Cain killed his brother Abel, and then wandered off on his own. And 1650 years later, civilization had descended into a rejection of God, moral depravity, and violence. This period came to an end when God wiped out civilization with the Great Flood. There is no biblical record of polytheistic worship prior to the flood. However, it may have existed considering civilization’s rejection of the Creator God.
The second “Start” happened immediately after the Great Flood, and began with Noah’s family of eight, whom the Creator God had protected through the Flood. Once again, at the start, mankind worshipped the Creator God. But true to form, they soon rejected Him. This time it took only 200 years before mankind in general, had descended into Polytheism. They created their own
gods and began the practice of worshipping man-made images. The transition to Polytheism may have happened at different times in various branches of the human family because of their migration patterns.. But we know from both archeology and the Bible, that it was firmly in place in Mesopotamia when Abraham’s family resided in Ur of Chaldea.
Timeline of the Shift in Mankind’s Earliest Religious Beliefs:
Creation (Start point)
Worship of the Creator by Adam and Eve
Rejection of the Creator by mankind in general
Atheism and Violence rampant in civilization
The Flood destroys all but eight individuals( 1650 years after Creation)
Worship of the Creator by Noah’s extended family
Rejection of the Creator by mankind in general
Polytheistic religions are practiced
Abraham’s culture in Chaldea was polytheistic (250 years after Flood)
The Patriarchs During Civilization’s Two Rejections of God:
If we use the records of genealogy starting with Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-12, we can discover some interesting facts about the people who lived during the two periods of decline. Following is a more detailed timeline that includes the lifetimes and other information about the Patriarchs. They were the male heads of families who lived during these periods. They were part of the culture that twice moved moved away from the God of Creation.
The Start after Creation:
The first thing to notice about the generations after Creation was the length of their lives indicated by the horizontal line after each patriarch’s name. Genesis gives us the following data about each patriarch: His age when his First son was born, and the years the Patriarch lived After the birth of his First son. From that is calculated his Length of Life. These 3 numbers are shown just above each Patriarchs horizontal line. A small vertical line represents the first son’s birth.
Notice how long Adam lived, 930 years. Now notice the generations of sons and grandsons listed below Adam. Question: How many generations of children had Adam known by the time he died at 930 years after Creation?
2nd Generation Cain, Abel and Seth
9th Lamech lived until 872 years after Creation
10th Noah was born 1054 years after Creation
Answer: 8 generations, because Lamech was still alive but Noah had not yet been born when Adam died 930 years after Creation.
The Population Explosion:
Notice the typical age when each Patriarch had his first son. For Adam it was 130 years. The earliest shown is 65 years, the oldest (with the exception of Noah’s which seems out of line with the others) is 187. These numbers do imply that these patriarchs fathered children for a longer period than in our experience. Their long lives, plus a longer period of fathering children, would have created an exponential population explosion.
The Four Patriarch Witnesses:
Probably the most important information for our topic, are the patriarchs which have a DOUBLE, DASHED horizontal line next to their name. These 4 patriarchs have either implied or stated information in the text that identifies them as individuals who believed in the Creator God. Let’s consider each of them.
The senior patriarch and head of the human race had an experience with the Creator God which would have forever convinced Adam as to the One and Only True God. (You can read it in the first 2 chapters of Genesis) Adam would have been the ultimate Witness to the existence and the attributes of the Creator God after his experience in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve could not identify any human parents. They were personally linked to the Creator God. Not only that, imagine the impact of Adam’s witness to the early human race when we consider the number of generations of grandchildren he would have been able to tell about the Creator God. For 930 years, his account must have been difficult for anyone to dispute or ignore. Adam was the Primary Witness for the God of Creation.
One of Adam’s grandchildren. Besides his key dates, the record tell us one significant aspect of Enosh’s life. It says in Gen 4:26 that “in Enosh’s days(life) men began to call on the “Name of the Lord.” The exact details of the statement are hidden, but we can conclude one thing: That during Enosh’s lifetime a significant number of the human family believed enough in God that they would begin to call, or reach out to Him. It could mean that prior to this time men believed in God the Creator, but now they began to call out to Him for their daily needs. Or, it could imply that during his generation, the greater majority of men believed and worshipped the Creator God. Either way it points to a general awareness of God the Creator during Enosh’s lifetime.
Enoch was a 7th generation grandson of Adam. His biography is one of the most astounding of the patriarchs. It was a powerful prophetic sign of God’s hope and desire for the human race. In Gen 5:24 it says about Enoch that “Enoch walked with God and was not, because God took him.” What a witness Enoch’s life must have been to his contemporaries and descendents. Not only did he believe in God, he had personal relationship with Him. And the statement “God took him” was a prophetic sign of things to come. Think of Elijah, Jesus Christ, and the promise to all those who would eventually believe in, and follow Christ.
A 10th generation grandson of Adam, Noah and his family of eight were the only survivors of the Flood which wiped out civilization about 1650 years after Creation. Noah had a personal relationship with the Creator God and was obedient to him. In the text, Noah is called “a just man, perfect in his generation, and Noah walked with God” Gen 6:9
The Testimony of the Four Witnesses from Creation to the Flood:
The lifetimes of the four witnesses overlapped during the period from Creation to the Flood. The flood happened about 1654 years after Creation. As mentioned, Adam’s witness lasted for 930 years after Creation. The witness during Enosh’s life may have lasted until his death 1140 years after Creation. However, Noah was born 1054 years after Creation, so Noah could have known Enosh for about 80 years before Enosh died. And Noah lived until 350 AFTER the Flood! So the torch was passed by faithful witnesses from Creation, up to and through the Flood.
The Condition of Mankind Prior to the Flood:
The world’s population must have been in the hundreds of thousands by the time of the Flood. Did the testimony of the patriarchs have any impact on the beliefs or civility of mankind prior to the Flood? It was the total absence of belief in the Creator, and the total lack of civility of the world’s population, that brought the Flood upon the earth. Here are some descriptions of behavior at that time:
“the sons of God…...took wives for themselves of all whom they chose” Gen 6:2
“God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” Gen 6:5
“The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Gen 6:11
“All flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Gen 6:12
“And (God) spared not the old world…………...bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” 2Pet 2:5
The Creator God could only find Noah’s family of eight who respected God’s warning and obeyed His instructions. The rest of mankind had no interest whatsoever. It was a sad commentary on the priorities of the human race when they chose to forget the One True God of Creation, the God of their fathers.
In spite of their rejection of God and moral depravity, there is no biblical record that mankind prior to the Flood had practiced Polytheism. It seems highly likely that they would have, in that they had given up on Noah’s testimony and his God. And with a “God vacuum” mankind typically tries to fill it with their own gods. So they may have invented their own gods, but there is no biblical record for it.
Notes Regarding the First Start:
1. The human race has a serious bias to drift away from what they know about the True God. This happens in spite of the faithful witness of a minority. The result is a general corruption and collapse of society.
2. Adam and Eve were intimately aware of the Creator God in that they were eye-witness subjects of His creative work, and He had communicated with them.
3. Evil, and rejection of the Creator God, was evident in the couple’s first children as Cain slew his brother Abel out of jealousy over a worship offering to God.
4. At the beginning, human beings had much longer lifespans than we do today, and longer periods of fertility. This was probably due to the pristine nature of the human DNA, having had no prior negative mutations.
5. Longer lifespans and longer fertility periods resulted in an exponential population explosion. This meant that grandparents would live to see 6 or 7 generations of grandchildren, and their children, and their children, etc.
The Start after the Flood:
The generations which began after the Flood began with Noah, his 3 sons and their wives. One noticeable feature about people after the Flood, is that their lifetimes were considerably shorter than those prior to the Flood. Their lifespans began declining to around 200 years. Secondly, the age at which they fathered the first son was quite consistent, about 30 years. This would have produced a lessor population explosion than at Creation, but still potentially greater than our experience today.
The record of the patriarchs after the Flood has only their names and pertinent ages. There were about 9 generations until we reach the patriarch Abram or Abraham, and his wife Sarah. Because of the 30 year generations, there would only be about 290 years after the flood until Abraham’s birth.
Polytheism 250 years after the Flood:
After the Flood, we have a different record of mankind’s departure from the Creator God. We can safely assume that Noah and his family were convincing witnesses to the Creator based on their experience before and through the Flood. But as we have learned, mankind has strong tendency to turn away from what they know about God. We do have one important record of man’s thinking about God during this period. They conspired to build the Tower of Babel in order to reach God, or be like God. This ended with God’s dispersion of mankind across the globe. We do have the genealogical record from Noah’s sons, Ham, Shem, and Japeth. Sadly, the primary thing we learn about this period is that by the time of Abraham, civilization had become immersed in Polytheism and Image Worship.
Polytheism in Mesopotamia:
It was about 200 years after the Flood that Nahor was born. Nahor was the father of Terah, and Terah was the father of Abram. When Abram received a call from God, he and his father and grandfather were living in Ur of Chaldea in Mesopotamia. Joshua 24:2 describes the indigenous religion of that area as Polytheism (other gods). This has been confirmed by archeology which shows that these people were worshippers of the Moon, and also had a pantheon of gods in the image of man. They worshipped mages of these gods who were supposed to control all of their basic necessities and fortunes. There were gods and goddesses for rain, crops, fertility, etc. One fascinating fact about this departure from God, is that Noah, “the preacher of righteousness,” was still alive when it happened. Not only that, Noah’s life
until 350 years after the Flood, overlapped with Abraham’s who was born 292 years after the Flood.
Notes about the Second Start:
1. The second “Start” had different players but the same outcome. It ended with a rejection of the knowledge of the True God of Creation.
2. Mankind had two fresh starts worshipping the God of Creation. They chose to walk away from Him both times.
3. This time the rejection of God resulted in Polytheism and man made Image Worship.
4. Noah and his 3 sons were the faithful witnesses for the True God AFTER the Flood, as they had been BEFORE the Flood, Their witness did not have a major effect this time either. Apparently, the remembrance of the Creator God’s intervention with the Flood, meant nothing to mankind. Most of them probably decided it had never happened. Or that it was small local flood.
5, Noah’s lifetime overlapped with Abraham’s lifetime.
Conclusions for Mankind’s Earliest Religious Beliefs:
1. At two separate times, mankind’s earliest religious beliefs centered on the God of Creation. The Most High God had revealed Himself through Creation and the Flood, and was acknowledged by the human family that was closest to those events. However, over the course of time, mankind gradually decided to replace the One True God with many anthropomorphic gods and goddesses of their own imagination. And they represented these gods with statues and images of their invention.
2. In subsequent human history, this same type of shift, away from God, has been repeated many times. What happened after the Most High God revealed Himself by a miraculous deliverance of Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh, and permanently placed them in the land of Canaan? How many generations passed before the Israelites started chasing after the polytheistic gods of their neighbors? It got so bad that God banished 10 tribes of Israel to wander the world, and two tribes to Babylon for 70 years of captivity.
3. Think of God’s most important intervention in human history, the sending of Christ Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Mankind had the opportunity to see and worship the Righteousness of God Himself with their own eyes. There were a few who embraced Him, but mankind in general either rejected or dismissed Him. They put Him to death after 33 years.
4. In modern history the same “falling away from God” has happened repeatedly. Think of the last 200 years of history in America. In the early 1800’s and soon after, religious revival was sweeping the country. Many Bible preachers covered America with Bible based preaching about the One True God and Salvation through Jesus Christ. This revelation was embraced by so many as to have a noticeable, positive affect on society, here and abroad. Thousands were repenting and turning to Christ. New church gatherings began all over the land. New orphanages, hospitals, universities were created in the Name of the Lord. Many missionary outreaches were initiated to foreign lands.
Compare that time with the moral condition in America today. Some of the same church denominations that embraced the Bible based faith in 1800, are now denying the beliefs on which they were founded. The biblical principles which provided the foundation for past generations, are now forbidden to be taught in the public schools. And the result is the same as it was 6000 years ago. The majority of Americans have turned to their Idols. The decline in morality from 1800 until today has been shocking, and violence has become a way of life.
5. Throughout history, the human race has displayed a serious flaw in their most basic motivation. Whenever they are confronted with the truth about the True God of Creation, they consistently choose to reject Him and replace Him with their own gods. The One True God always begins His revelations with short, but explosive impact on mankind, but the impact soon fades into a long, gradual decline into unbelief. Thankfully, the One True God has never given up on mankind’s rejection of Himself. Throughout history He has continued to display His Power and Love by periodic, supernatural revelations of His existence and character. However, He has warned mankind that His revelations will not continue forever. There will be a limit to His patience. Jesus described it like this:
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the Coming of the Son of Man.
For as in the days before the Flood, they were eating, drinking marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark, and(they) did not know until the Flood came and took them all away.
So also will be the Coming of the Son of Man…………………………………
Therefore be ready, for the Son of Man is Coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Matt 24: 37-44
For free access to a Bible:
For additional discussion of this topic see:
The Most High God and the False Gods of Antiquity
To learn more about the Bible see:
Messiah in the Torah and Tanakh (Old Testament)
Mankind’s Earliest Religious Beliefs
Mankind’s Earliest Religious Beliefs