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The mysterious story of man's search for God

The mysterious story of man's search for God

Lord of animals

The first appearance of a deity in human form, but with deer antlers and wolf skin, has been discovered in the Cave of the Three Brothers in France, and dates back to about 25,000 years ago. The figure represents a deified shaman (a type of primitive priest who was in contact with spirits).

In prehistoric times, when entering a state of trance, shamans claimed to penetrate the spirit world. They were zoomorphic deities, i.e. with animal forms, considered as Gods of hunted species (Mammoth God, Wild Horse God, Wild Ox and so on, such as those depicted in the Lasho Cave).

Later the deity took on feminine features in the Paleolithic Age and with the birth of agriculture. Sacred statues of Venus with prominent abdomen, breasts and buttocks depicted the Mother Goddess, patroness of fertility.

Finally, with the invasions of the warlike Kurgan peoples from the Volga plains, and with the spread of warfare in Europe, male deities appeared. They were the Gods of armies, the "flags" of different peoples. If one people won over another, it meant that their God was superior.

God of the Bible

However, with Yahweh, the Hebrew God of the Bible, things were different. Although he was lost, with his people in exile, he was considered the creator, the one true God, of all, and not just a protector of his people. And this new image of God spread thanks to the awesome theological-popularizing tool of the Bible.

But a lot of time had to pass, and today it is known that it was a long journey. Analyzing the Holy Scriptures with the historical-critical method, researchers have discovered that monotheism was established in a somewhat different way than is commonly believed.

Although the Jews are considered the pioneers, today it is hypothesized that its true origin is in the Egyptian deity Aten, the sun disc (also called Amen, the same term with which Christian and Muslim prayers end today).

When polytheism was restored in Egypt, the believers of Aten, exiled earlier, had exported monotheism. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, speculated that Moses was actually one of them. But the transition to monotheism was not straightforward.

One of God's biblical names, Elohim, is a plural noun: the plural of Eloah. In Genesis (1, 26) he says: "Let us create man in our image!". The usual explanation is that it was a royal plural form to exalt the figure of God.

You shall have no other Gods…

But today the hypothesis has been raised that it is actually a linguistic trace of an earlier polytheistic phase of the Jewish religion, influenced by the cults of the land of Canaan, directed to the god El. Eloah reads "Allah", the term by which Muslims refer to God.

And it's not the only proximity. It should not be forgotten that according to the Holy Scriptures, Abraham, the prophet of the covenant with God, is the ancestor of the 3 great monotheistic religions, through his sons, Isaac (Jewish-Christian line) and Ishmael (Arab-Muslim line).

Therefore, it is likely that the Jews had some form of monolatry (ie a stage in which one outstanding God was revered, but acknowledging that there were others beside him), and even before the age of polytheism.

If it were not so, why should it be said in the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3)? And why should the Israelites sing after crossing the Red Sea "Who is like you among the gods, O Lord" (Exodus 15:11)?

God's wife

The deity of the city of Ugarit, El (Elohim mentioned in the Bible), had Asherah as his wife and also children. This is where the biblical expression "children of God" can come from. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of sacred texts ranging from the 1st to the 3rd century AD, we read an older version of the biblical Deuteronomy than that of the canonical texts.

It is written there that each member of the divine family receives from El a nation, and Israel is the nation that belongs to Yahweh (Dt 32: 8-9). God's children are called to humble themselves before God in Psalm 29. Furthermore, there are many biblical passages in which God is mentioned, albeit in a position of superiority, within a pantheon that includes other Gods.

For example "I will praise before the Gods" (Psalm 138, 1); "Our God is greater than all other Gods"; "God is the Lord of lords" etc. If El's sons ended up taking on a different meaning, Asherah, better known as Astarte, had a worse fate.

Her cult was eradicated, as can be read in Deuteronomy 12:3: "You will break down their altars, and you will blot out their names in those places". However, the memory of Asherah returned with the archaeological discovery of stone tablets with the inscription: "Yahweh and his friend Asherah".

"Trinity", a very ancient concept

Even the cult of Aten must have included Israel in any case. Today scholars think that Aten became "Adonai", another term used to refer to God in the Bible. A critical reconstruction of history assumes that King Saul, engaged militarily against the Philistines, judged that this Egyptian God's message of peace was not suitable for a policy of conquest.

For him, a national God "of armies" was better.

For this reason, he supported the local cult of Yahweh, without opposing the former cult, in order to avoid schism. Thus, in the God of Israel, two religious sensitivities were united: that of Aten/Adonai and that of Yahweh. The variety of names by which God is referred to in the Bible (Elohim, Adonai, Yahweh) indicated different deities, which were fused into one in a slow process.

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