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Bible Concordance
Religion (23 Occurrences)

Acts 24:14 But this I will say openly to you, that I do give worship to the God of our fathers after that Way, which to them is not the true religion: but I have belief in all the things which are in the law and in the books of the prophets:

Acts 25:19 but had certain questions against him about their own religion, and about one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.

Acts 26:5 having known me from the first, if they are willing to testify, that after the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

Acts 28:22 But we have a desire to give hearing to your opinion: for as to this form of religion, we have knowledge that in all places it is attacked.

Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my way of living in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the assembly of God, and ravaged it.

Galatians 1:14 I advanced in the Jews' religion beyond many of my own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Colossians 2:23 Which things indeed appear like wisdom in self-imposed worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but aren't of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.
(See NAS)

1 Timothy 1:9 With the knowledge that the law is made, not for the upright man, but for those who have no respect for law and order, for evil men and sinners, for the unholy and those who have no religion, for those who put their fathers or mothers to death, for takers of life,

1 Timothy 2:10 but (which becomes women professing godliness) with good works.
(See RSV)

1 Timothy 4:7 But have nothing to do with unclean and foolish stories. Give yourself training in religion:

1 Timothy 4:8 For the training of the body is of profit for a little, but religion is of profit in every way, giving hope for the life which now is, and for that which is to come.

1 Timothy 5:4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety towards their own family, and to repay their parents, for this is acceptable in the sight of God.
(See NIV)

1 Timothy 6:3 If any man gives different teaching, not in agreement with the true words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the teaching which is in agreement with true religion,

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, O man of God, keep yourself from these things, and go after righteousness, religion, faith, love, a quiet mind, gentle behaviour.

2 Timothy 3:2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, uplifted in pride, given to bitter words, going against the authority of their fathers, never giving praise, having no religion,

2 Timothy 3:5 Having a form of religion, but turning their backs on the power of it: go not with these.

Titus 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of God and an Apostle of Jesus Christ for building up the faith of God's own people and spreading a full knowledge of the truths of religion,

James 1:26 If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn't bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man's religion is worthless. Peter's First Letter

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

1 Peter 4:18 And if it is hard for even the good man to get salvation, what chance has the man without religion or the sinner?

2 Peter 2:2 And in their immoral ways they will have many eager disciples, through whom religion will be brought into disrepute.

Psalms 43:1 Be my judge, O God, supporting my cause against a nation without religion; O keep me from the false and evil man.

Isaiah 33:5 The Lord is lifted up; his place is on high: he has made Zion full of righteousness and true religion.

Religion (23 Occurrences)
... the conduct of life; a system of faith and worship; a manifestation of piety; as,
ethical religions; monotheistic religions; natural religion; revealed religion...
/r/religion.htm - 101k

Religious (13 Occurrences)
... 1. (a.) Of or pertaining to religion; concerned with religion; teaching, or setting
forth, religion; set apart to religion; as, a religious society; a ...
/r/religious.htm - 10k

... der israelit. Religion, 4th edition, 24), Addis (Hebrew Rel., 33), have
opposed or abandoned theory as applied to Israel. "Upon ...
/t/totemism.htm - 11k

Quick (49 Occurrences)
/q/quick.htm - 24k

Magician (5 Occurrences)
... DIVISION OF THE SUBJECT 1. Magic as Impersonal 2. Margic as Personal III. MAGIC
AND RELIGION IV. MAGIC ... III. Magic and Religion. Personal ...
/m/magician.htm - 24k

Magic (12 Occurrences)
... Exodus. Magic was an inherent part of the ancient Egyptian religion, and entered
largely into their daily life. ... III. MAGIC AND RELIGION IV. ...
/m/magic.htm - 29k

... of Theopompus) is lost. For a general account of Zoroastrianism, see PERSIAN
RELIGION. II. Relation to Israel. 1. Influence on Occident ...
/z/zoroastrianism.htm - 17k

Preaching (116 Occurrences)
... call from the church the witnessing body of Christ on earth, and has been duly set
apart as an accredited and qualified teacher of the Christian religion. ...
/p/preaching.htm - 50k

... 3. In What Senses an Anthropomorphic Element Is Necessity: In all really theistic
forms of religion, there is an anthropomorphic element present, for they all ...
/a/anthropomorphism.htm - 20k

Fasting (34 Occurrences)
... origin, is in favor with scholars, but we must not assume a religious origin for
all practices which in process of time came to be associated with religion. ...
/f/fasting.htm - 23k

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honor are due; the feeling or expression of human love, fear, or awe of some superhuman and overruling power, whether by profession of belief, by observance of rites and ceremonies, or by the conduct of life; a system of faith and worship; a manifestation of piety; as, ethical religions; monotheistic religions; natural religion; revealed religion; the religion of the Jews; the religion of idol worshipers.

2. (n.) Specifically, conformity in faith and life to the precepts inculcated in the Bible, respecting the conduct of life and duty toward God and man; the Christian faith and practice.

3. (n.) A monastic or religious order subject to a regulated mode of life; the religious state; as, to enter religion.

4. (n.) Strictness of fidelity in conforming to any practice, as if it were an enjoined rule of conduct.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

ar-me'-ni-an, ar'-i-an. This greatly resembled that of Persia, though Zoroastrianism and its dualistic system were not professed. We are thus enabled to judge how far the religion of the Avesta is due to Zoroaster's reformation. Aramazd (Ahura Mazda), creator of heaven and earth, was father of all the chief deities. His spouse was probably Spandaramet (Spenta Armaiti), goddess of the earth, who was later held to preside over the underworld (compare Persephone; Hellenistic). Among her assistants as genii of fertility were Horot and Morot (HaurvataT and AmeretaT), tutelary deities of Mt. Massis (now styled Ararat). Aramazd's worship seems to have fallen very much into the background in favor of that of inferior deities, among the chief of whom was his daughter Anahit (Anahita), who had temples in many places. Her statues were often of the precious metals, and among her many names were "Golden Mother" and "Goddess of the Golden Image."

Hence to the present day the word "Golden" enters into many Armenian names. White heifers and green boughs were offered her as goddess of fruitfulness, nor was religious prostitution in her honor uncommon. Next in popularity came her sister Astghik ("the little star"), i.e. the planet Venus, goddess of beauty, wife of the deified hero Vahagn (Verethraghna). He sprang from heaven, earth, and sea, and overthrew dragons and other evil beings. Another of Anahit's sisters was Nane (compare Assyrian Nana, Nannaea), afterward identified with Athene. Her brother Mihr (Mithra) had the sun as his symbol in the sky and the sacred fire on earth, both being objects of worship. In his temples a sacred fire was rekindled once a year. Aramazd's messenger and scribe was Tiur or Tir, who entered men's deeds in the "Book of Life." He led men after death to Aramazd for judgment. Before birth he wrote men's fates on their foreheads. The place of punishment was Dzhokhk'h (= Persian Duzakh). To the sun and moon sacrifices were offered on the mountain-tops. Rivers and sacred springs and other natural objects were also adored. Prayer was offered facing eastward. Omens were taken from the rustling of the leaves of the sacred Sonean forest. Armavir was the religious capital.

Among inferior spiritual existences were the Arlezk'h, who licked the wounds of those slain in battle and restored them to life. The Parikk'h were evidently the Pairakas (Peris) of Persia. The Armenian mythology told of huge dragons which sometimes appeared as men, sometimes as worms, or basilisks, elves, sea-bulls, dragon-lions, etc. As in Persia, the demons made darts out of the parings of a man's nails to injure him with. Therefore these parings, together with teeth and trimmings of hair, must be hidden in some sacred place.


Eznik Goghbatzi; Agathangelos; Moses of Khorene; Eghishe; Palasanean; Faustus Byzantinus; Chhamchheantz; Plutarch; Strabo; Tacitus. See my "Conversion of Armenia," R.T.S.; The Expositor T, II, 202.

W. St. Clair Tisdall


o-thor'-i-ti rabhah; toqeph; exousia; exousiazo; katexousiazo; epitage; huperoche; authenteo; dunastes


1. Of Two Kinds

(1) External

(2) Internal

2. Universal Need of Authority

3. Necessity for Infallible Criterion of Truth

4. Ultimate Nature of Authority

5. It Is God

6. Different Ideas of God and Different Views of Authority

7. A Problem of Knowledge for Christians


1. In Old Testament

2. In New Testament

3. Common Elements in their Meaning


1. Old Testament Teaching

(1) Earliest Form Patriarchal

(2) Tribal and Personal Authority

(3) See rs and Priests

(4) Kings and Established Religion

(5) The Great Prophets

(6) The Canon and Rabbinical Tradition

2. New Testament Teaching

(1) Jesus Christ's Authority (a) His Teaching

(b) His Works

(c) Forgiving and Judging

(d) Life and Salvation

(e) Derived from His Sonship

(f) In His Ascended State

(g) Christ and the Paraclete

(2) The Disciples' Authority

(a) Derived from Christ

(b) Paul's Authority

(c) Authority of All Believers

(d) Authority over the Nations

(3) Church's Authority Moral and Personal

(4) Authority of the Bible


1. Appeal to Reason as Logos

2. Orthodox Dogma

3. Scholasticism

4. Ecclesiastical Absolutism

5. Reformation Principles

6. New Scholasticism

7. The Inner Light

8. Back to Experience

9. Distrust of Reason

10. Christian Skepticism


1. External

(1) Incipient Catholicism

(2) General Councils

(3) Romanism

(4) Papal Infallibility

(5) Inerrancy of Scripture

(6) Anglican Appeal to Antiquity

(7) Limitations of External Authority

(a) Not Infallible (b) Rests on Personal Authority

(c) No Apostolical Tradition Extant

(d) No Consensus of Fathers

(e) Bible Needs Interpretation

(f) Authority Necessarily Spiritual

2. Internal Authority


I. General Idea.

1. Of Two Kinds:

The term is of manifold and ambiguous meaning. The various ideas of authority fall into two main classes: as external or public tribunal or standard, which therefore in the nature of the case can only apply to the outward expressions of religion; and as immanent principle which governs the most secret movements of the soul's life.

(1) External.

A characteristic instance of the former idea of authority is found in A. J. Balfour's Foundations of Belief: "Authority as I have been using the term is in all cases contrasted with reason, and stands for that group of non-rational causes, moral, social and educational, which produces its results by psychic processes other than reasoning" (p. 232, 8th edition). The bulk of men's important beliefs are produced and authorized by "custom, education, public opinion, the contagious convictions of countrymen, family, party or church" (p. 226). Authority and reason are "rival claimants" (p. 243). "Authority as such is, from the nature of the case, dumb in the presence of argument" (p. 234).

Newman makes a kindred distinction between authority in revealed religion and conscience in natural religion, although he does not assign as wide a sphere to authority, and he allows to conscience a kind of authority. "The supremacy of conscience is the essence of natural religion, the supremacy of apostle or pope or church or bishop is the essence of revealed; and when such external authority is taken away, the mind falls back again of necessity upon that inward guide which it possessed even before revelation was vouchsafed" (Development of Doctrine, 86, edition 1878). From a very different standpoint the same antithesis appears in the very title of Sabatier's book, The Religions of Authority and the Religion of the Spirit. He knows both kinds of authority. "The authority of material force, of custom, tradition, the co de, more and more yields place to the inward authority of conscience and reason, and in the same measure becomes transformed for the subject into a true autonomy" (p. xxxiii, English Translation).

(2) Internal.

Martineau distinguishes the two types of authority to reject the former and accept the latter. "The mere resort to testimony for information beyond our province does not fill the meaning of `authority'; which we never acknowledge till that which speaks to us from another and a higher strikes home and wakes the echoes in ourselves, and is thereby instantly transferred from external attestation to self-evidence. And this response it is which makes the moral intuitions, started by outward appeal, reflected back by inward veneration, more than egoistic phenomena, and turning them into correspondency between the universal and the individual mind, invests them with true authority" (Seat of Authority, Preface, edition 1890).

Confusion would disappear if the fact were recognized that for different persons, and even for the same persons at different times, authority means different things. For a child his father's or his teacher's word is a decree of absolute authority. He accepts its truth and recognizes his obligation to allow it to determine his conduct. But when reason awakes in him, he may doubt their knowledge or wisdom, and he will seek other guides or authorities. So it is in religious development. Some repudiate authorities that others acknowledge. But no one has a monopoly of the term or concept, and no one may justly say to Dr. Martineau or anybody else that "he has no right to speak of `authority' at all."

2. Universal Need of Authority:

All religion involves a certain attitude of thought and will toward God and the Universe. The feeling element is also present, but that is ignored in theories of external authority. All religion then involves certain ideas or beliefs about God, and conduct corresponding to them, but ideas may be true or false, and conduct right or wrong. Men need to know what is true, that they may do that which is right. They need some test or standard or court of appeal which distinguishes and enforces the truth; forbids the wrong and commands the right. As in all government there is a legislative and an executive function, the one issuing out of the other, so in every kind of religious authority recognized as such, men require that it should tell them what ideas they ought to believe and what deeds to perform.

In this general sense authority is recognized in every realm of life, even beyond that which is usually called religious life. Science builds up its system in conformity with natural phenomena. Art has its ideals of beauty. Politics seeks to realize some idea of the state. Metaphysics reconstructs the universe in conformity with some principle of truth or reality.

3. Necessity for Infallible Criterion of Truth:

"If we attach any definite intelligible meaning to the distinction between things as they really are, and things as they merely appear to be, we must clearly have some universal criterion or test by which the distinction may be made. This criterion must be in the first place infallible; that is, must be such that we cannot doubt its validity without falling into a contradiction in our thought... Freedom from contradiction is a characteristic that belongs to everything that is real. and we may therefore use it as a test or criterion of reality "(Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics, 18-19). A more skeptical philosopher writes:

"That the truth itself is one and whole and complete, and that all thinking and all experience moves within its recognition, and subject to its manifest authority, this I have never doubted" (Joachim, The Nature of Truth, 178). It is only a thoroughgoing skeptic that could disp ense with authority, a "Pyrrho," who holds suspense of judgment to be the only right attitude of mind, and he, to be logical, must also suspend all action and cease to be. There can be no question, therefore, except in total nescience, as to the fact of authority in general; and the problem to decide is, "What is the authority in religion?"

4. Ultimate Nature of Authority:

It is a problem involved in the difficulties of all ultimate problems, and all argument about it is apt to move in a circle. For the ultimate must bear witness of its own ultimacy, the absolute of its own absoluteness, and authority of its own sovereignty. If there were a court of appeal or a standard of reference to which anything called ultimate, absolute and supreme, could apply for its credentials, it would therefore become relative and subordinate to that other criterion. There is a sense in which Mr. Balfour's saying is true, "that authority is dumb in the presence of argument." No process of mediate reasoning can establish it, for no premise can be found from which it issues as a conclusion. It judges all things, but is judged of none. It is its own witness and judge. All that reason can say about it is the dictum of Paxmenides: "it is."

5. It Is God:

In this sense, there can be no question again among religious people, that the authority is God. The one idea involves the other. He alone is self-existent and supreme, who is what He is of His own right. If God exists, He is the ultimate criterion and power of truth and reality. All truth inheres in Him and issues from Him. The problem of authority thus becomes one with the proof and definition of God. These questions lie beyond the purpose of the present article; (see GOD). Their solution is assumed in this discussion of authority, although different theories of authority no doubt involve different ideas of God.

6. Different Ideas of God and Different Views of Authority:

External theories generally involve what is called a deistic conception of God. Spiritualistic theories of authority correspond to theistic views of God. If He is immanent as well as transcendent, He speaks directly to men, and has no need of intermediaries. Pantheism results in a naturalistic theory of truth. The mind of God is the law of Nature. But pantheism in practice tends to become polytheism, and then to issue in a crude anarchy which is the denial of all authority and truth. But within Christendom the problem of authority lies between those who agree in believing in one God, who is personal, transcendent and to some extent immanent. The differences on these points are really consequences of differences of views as to His mode of self-communication.

7. A Problem of Knowledge For Christians:

It is, therefore, a problem of epistemology rather than of ontology. The question is, in what way does God make known Himself, His mind and His authority to men generally? The purpose of this article is the exposition of the Biblical teaching of authority, with some attempt to place it in its true position in the life of the church.

II. The Biblical References.

1. In the Old Testament:

Only for

(1) rabhah (Proverbs 29:2): "to be great" or "many." "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." So the King James Version and the Revised Version, margin, but the Revised Version (British and American) "When the righteous are increased" (so BDB). Toy in the place cited remarks, "The Hebrew has: `When the righteous increase,' the suggestion being that they then have control of affairs; the change of a letter gives the reading `rule' which is required by the 'govern' of the second line."

(2) toqeph (Esther 9:29): "Esther the queen. wrote with all authority to confirm this second letter of Purim" (Revised Version margin "strength" [so BDB]).

2. In the New Testament:

(1) Most frequently for exousia; exousiazo; and katexousiazo:

(a) of God's authority (Acts 1:7): as the potter's over clay (Romans 9:21, right; Jude 1:25, "power"; Revelation 9, "power");

(b) of Christ's teaching and works (Matthew 7:29; Matthew 21:23, 24, 27 = Mark 1:22, 27 Mark 11:28, 29, 33 = Luke 4:36; Luke 20:2, 8 John 5:27, authority to execute judgment. The same Greek word, translated "power" in the King James Version but generally "authority" in the Revised Version (British and American) or the Revised Version, margin, appears also in Matthew 9:6, 8, to forgive sins: Matthew 28:18; Mark 2:10 Luke 4:32; Luke 5:24 John 10:18; John 17:2 Revelation 12:10);

(c) of the disciples, as Christ's representatives and witnesses (Luke 9:1, the twelve; 2 Corinthians 10:8, Paul); also of their rights and privileges; (the same Greek word in Matthew 10:1 Mark 3:15; Mark 6:7 Luke 10:19 = the Revised Version (British and American) "authority"; John 1:12 Acts 8:19 2 Corinthians 13:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:9 Hebrews 13:10 Revelation 2:26; Revelation 22:14 = the Revised Version (British and American) "right");

(d) of subordinate heavenly authorities or powers (1 Corinthians 15:24 1 Peter 3:22; and the same Greek word in Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12 Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10, 15 Revelation 11:6; Revelation 14:18; Revelation 18:1);

(e) of civil authority, as of king, magistrate or steward (Luke 7:8 = Matthew 8:9 [centurion]; Mark 13:34 Luke 19:17; Luke 20:20; Luke 22:25 = Matthew 20:25 = Mark 10:42; and Acts 9:14; Acts 26:10, 12 [of Saul]; and the same Greek word in Luke 12:11; Luke 23:7 John 19:10, 11 Acts 5:4 Romans 13:1, 2, 3 Titus 3:1 Revelation 17:12, 13);

(f) of the powers of evil (Revelation 13:2, "the beast that came out of the sea"; and the same Greek word in Luke 4:6; Luke 12:5; Luke 22:53 Acts 26:18 Ephesians 2:2 Colossians 1:13 Revelation 6:8; Revelation 9:3, 10, 19; 13:4, 5, 7, 12; 20:6).

(g) of man's inward power of self-control (the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 7:37; 1 Corinthians 8:9, "liberty"; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 7:4; 1 Corinthians 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18, the Revised Version (British and American) "right"; 1 Corinthians 11:10).

(2) For epitage: commandment, authority to exhort and reprove the church (Titus 2:15).

(3) For huperoche: "for kings and all that are in high place" (Revised Version (British and American) 1 Timothy 2:2).

(4) For authenteo: "I permit not a woman. to have dominion over a man" (Revised Version, 1 Timothy 2:12).

(5) For dunastes: "A eunuch of great authority" (Acts 8:27).

3. Common Elements in Their Meaning:

Of the words translated "authority," exousia, alone expresses the idea of religious authority, whether of God, of Christ or of man. The other uses of this word are here instructive in as bringing out the common element in secular and religious authority.

The control of the state over its subjects, whether as supreme in the person of emperor or king, or as delegated to and exercised by proconsul, magistrate or soldier, and the control of a householder over his family and servants and property, exercised directly or indirectly through stewards, have some characteristics which also pertain to religious authority; and the differences, essential though they are, must be derived from the context and the circumstances of the case. In one passage indeed the civil type of authority is mentioned to be repudiated as something that should not obtain within the religious community (Matthew 20:25-27 = Mark 10:42-44 = Luke 22:25, 26). But although its principle and power are so entirely different in different realms, the fact of authority as determining religious thought, conduct and relations permeates the whole Bible, and is expressed by many terms and phrases besides those translated "authority."

III. Biblical Teaching.

A summary of the Biblical account of authority is given in Hebrews 1:1; "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in a Son [RVm]." Behind all persons and institutions stands God, who reveals His mind and exercises His sovereignty in many ways, through many persons and institutions, piecemeal and progressively, until His final revelation of His mind and will culminates in Jesus Christ.

1. Old Testament Teaching:

(1) Earliest Form Patriarchal

The earliest form of authority is patriarchal. The father of the family is at once its prophet, priest and king. The consciousness of individuality was as yet weak. The unit of life was the family, and the father sums up the family in himself before God and stands to it as God. Such is the earliest picture of religious life found in the Bible. For whatever view may be taken of the historicity of Genesis, there can be little doubt that the stories of the patriarchs represent an early stage of religious life, before the national or even the tribal consciousness had developed.

(2) Tribal and Personal Authority

When the tribal consciousness emerges, it is clad in a network of customs and traditions which had grown with it, and which governed the greater part of the life of the tribe. The father had now become the elder and judge who exercised authority over the larger family, the tribe. But also, men of commanding personality and influence appear, who change and refashion the tribal customs. They may be men of practical wisdom like Jethro, great warriors like Joshua, or emergency men like the judges. Moses stands apart, a prophet and reformer who knew that he bore a message from God to reform his people's religion, and gave Israel a knowledge of God and a covenant with God which set them forever apart from all other peoples. Other tribes might have a Jethro, a Joshua and a Jephtha, but Israel alone had its Moses. His authority has remained a large factor in the life of Israel to the present day and should hereafter be assumed as existing side by side with other authorities mentioned.

(3) See rs and Priests

In our earliest glimpses of Hebrew life in Canaan we find bands of seers or prophets associated with religion in Israel, as well as a disorganized priesthood which conducted the public worship of Yahweh. These features were probably common to Israel and neighboring Semitic tribes. Here again the individual person emerges who rises above custom and tradition, and exercises an individual authority direct from God over the lives of the people. Samuel, too, was a prophet, priest and king, but he regarded his function as so entirely ministerial, that God might be said to govern His people directly and personally, though He made known His will through the prophet.

(4) Kings and Established Religion

In the period of the kingship, religious authority became more organized, institutional and external. The occasional cooperation of the tribes developed into nationality, and the sporadic leadership of emergency chieftains gave way to the permanent rule of the king. Priests and prophets became organized and recognized guilds which acted together under the protection and influence of the king, along the lines of traditional morality and religion. The Hebrew church in its middle ages was an established church and thoroughly "Erastian." We know very little of the details of its organization, but it is clear that the religious orders as a rule offered little resistance to the corrupting influences of the court and of the surrounding heathenism.

(5) The Great Prophets

Opposition to corruption and advance to higher levels of religious life invariably originated outside the recognized religious authorities. God raised for Himself prophets such as Elijah, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah, who spoke out of the consciousness of an immediate vision or message or command from God. In turn they influenced the established religious authorities, as may be seen in the reformations of Hezekiah and Josiah. All that is distinctive in the religion of Israel, all revelation of God in the Old Testament, proceeded from the inner experiences of the irregular prophets.

(6) The Canon and Rabbinical Tradition

In the Judaism of the post-exilic period, the disappearance of the kingship, and the cessation of prophecy produced new conditions which demanded a readaptation of religious authorities. The relative position of the priesthood was greatly enhanced. Its chiefs became princes of Jerusalem, and exercised all the powers of theocracy that remained under foreign rule. And new developments emerged.

The formation of the canon of the Old Testament set up a body of writings which stood as a permanent and external standard of doctrine and worship. But the necessity was felt to interpret the Scriptures and to apply them to existing conditions. The place of the old prophetic guilds was taken by the new order of rabbis and scribes. Gradually they secured a share with the priests in the administration of the law. "In the last two pre-Christian centuries and throughout the Talmudic times, the scribes tsopherim, also called the wise chakhamim, who claimed to have received the true interpretation of the Law as `the tradition of the Elders and Fathers' in direct line from Moses, the prophets, and the men of the great synagogue,. included people from all classes. They formed the court of justice in every town as well as the high court of justice, the Sanhedrin in Jerus" (Kohler in Jew Encyclopedia, II, 337). In the time of Christ, these courts were the recognized authorities in all matters of religion.

2. New Testament Teaching:

(1) Jesus Christ's Authority.

When He began to teach in Palestine, all knowledge of God, and all exercise of His authority were mediated through the priests and scribes, who however claimed the Old Testament as their source. Christ was neither the destroyer nor the creator of institutions. He never discussed the abstract right or capacity of the Jewish orders to be religious teachers. He enjoined obedience to their teaching (Matthew 23:2, 3). Still less did He question the authority of the Old Testament. He came not to destroy, but to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). But He did two things which involved the assertion of a new and superior authority in Himself. He repudiated the scribes' interpretation of the law (Matthew 23:13-16), and He declared that certain of the provisions of the Mosaic law itself were temporary and tentative, and to be replaced or supplemented by His own more adequate teaching (Matthew 5:32, 34, 39, 44; Matthew 19:8, 9).

In doing this, He was really fulfilling a line of thought which permeates the entire Old Testament. All its writers disclaim finality and look forward to a fuller revelation of the mind of God in a day of Yahweh or a new covenant or a Messiah. Jesus Christ regarded these expectations as being realized in Himself, and claimed to complete and fulfill the development which had run through the Old Testament. As such, He claims finality in His teaching of the will of God, and absolute authority in the realm of religion and morals.

(a) His Teaching

His teaching is with authority. His hearers contrast it with that of the scribes, who, with all the prestige of tradition and establishment, in comparison with Him, entirely lacked authority (Matthew 7:29 Mark 1:22 Luke 4:32 John 7:46).

(b) His Works

His authority as a teacher is closely associated with His works, especially as these revealed His authority over that world of evil spirits whose influence was felt in the mental disorders that afflicted people (Mark 1:27 Luke 4:36).

(c) Forgiving and Judging

In His claim to forgive sins, sanctioned by works of healing, He seemed to exercise a Divine prerogative (Matthew 9:6, 8 Mark 2:10 Luke 5:24). It implied an infallible moral judgment, a power to dispense with the recognized laws of retribution and to remove guilt, which could only inhere in God. All these powers are asserted in another form in the statement that He is the final judge (John 5:27).

(d) Life and Salvation

He therefore possesses authority over life and salvation. The Father gave Him authority over all flesh, "that whatsoever thou hast given him, to them he should give eternal life" (John 17:2 the American Revised Version, margin). This authority begins in His power over His own life to give it in sacrifice for men (John 10:18). By faith in Him and obedience to Him, men obtain salvation (Matthew 10:32; Matthew 11:28-30). Their relation to Him determines their relation to God and to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:40 Luke 12:8).

(e) Derived from His Sonship

When challenged by the chief priests and elders, the established religious authorities, to state by what authority He taught, He gives no categorical reply, but tells them the parable of the Vineyard. All the prophets and teachers that had come from God before Him were servants, but He is the Son (Matthew 21:23-27, 37 Mark 11:28-33; Mark 12:6 Luke 20:2, 8, 13). The Fourth Gospel definitely founds His authority upon His sonship (John 5:19-27). Paul deduces it from His self-sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-11).

(f) In His Ascended State

In His ascended state, all authority in heaven and on earth is given unto Him (Matthew 28:18). It is not only authority in the church, and in the moral kingdom, but in the universe. God has set Him "far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Ephesians 1:21; compare Colossians 2:10 1 Peter 3:22 1 Corinthians 15:24 Revelation 12:10).

(g) Christ and the Paraclete

His authority in the church as revealer of truth and Lord of spirits is not limited or completed within His earthly life. By His resurrection and exaltation He lives on in the church. "Where two or three are gathered. in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Greater works than He did in the flesh will be done in the church, because of His exaltation: (John 14:12); and by His sending the Paraclete, "Comforter" (American Revised Version) (John 14:16). The Paraclete, which is the Holy Spirit, will teach the disciples all things, and bring to their remembrance all that He said unto them (John 14:26).

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1. First Period

2. Second Period

3. Third Period




1. Enlil, Ellil

2. Anu

3. Ea

4. Sin

5. Shamash

6. Ishtar

7. Marduk (Old Testament Merodach)

8. Nabu (Old Testament Nebo)

9. Nergal, the city god of Kutu (Old Testament Guthah)

10. Ninib

11. Ramman

12. Tammuz

13. Asshur



1. Maqlu

2. Shurpu






I. Definition.

The religion of Babylonia and Assyria is that system of belief in higher things with which the peoples of the Tigris and Euphrates valley strove to put themselves into relations, in order to live their lives. The discoveries of the past century have supplied us with a mass of information concerning this faith from which we have been able to secure a greater knowledge of it than of any other ancient oriental religion, except that of Israel. Yet the information which is thus come into our hands is embarrassing because of its very richness, and it will doubtless be a long time before it is possible to speak with certainty concerning many of the problems which now confront us. Progress in the interpretation of the literature is however so rapid that we may now give a much more intelligible account of this religion than could have been secured even so recently as five years ago.

For purposes of convenience, the religion of Babylonia and Assyria may be grouped into three great periods.

1. First Period:

The first of these periods extends from the earliest times, about 3500 B.C., down to the union of the Babylonian states under Hammurabi, about 2000 B.C.

2. Second Period:

The second period extends to the rise of the Chaldean empire under Nabopolassar, 625 B.C., and

3. Third Period:

The third period embraces the brief history of this Chaldean or neo-Babylonian empire under Cyrus, 538 B.C.

The Assyrian religion belongs to the second period, though it extends even into the third period, for Nineveh did not fall until 607 B.C.

II. The Sources.

The primary sources of our knowledge of this religion are to be found in the distinctively religious texts, such as hymns, prayers, priestly rituals and liturgies, and in the vast mass of magical and incantation literature. The major part of this religious literature which has come down to us dates from the reign of Ashurbanipal (668-625 B.C.) though much of it is quite clearly either copied from or based upon much older material. If, however, we relied for our picture of the Babylonian and Assyrian religion exclusively upon these religious texts, we should secure a distorted and in some places an indefinite view. We must add to these in order to perfect the picture practically the whole of the literature of these two peoples.

The inscriptions upon which the kings handed down to posterity an account of their great deeds contain lists of gods whom they invoked, and these must be taken into consideration. The laws also have in large measure a religious basis, and the business inscriptions frequently invoke deities at the end. The records of the astronomers, the state dispatches of kings, the reports of general officers from the field, the handbooks of medicine, all these and many other divisions of a vast literature contribute each its share of religious material. Furthermore, as the religion was not only the faith of the king, but also the faith of the state itself, the progress of the commonwealth to greater power oftentimes carried some local god into a new relationship to other gods, or the decadence of the commonwealth deprived a god of some of his powers or attributes, so that even the distinctively political inscriptions have importance in helping us to reconstruct the ancient literature.

III. The History.

The origin of the Babylonian religion is hid from our eyes in those ancient days of which we know little and can never hope to know much. In the earliest documents which have come down to us written in the Sumerian language, there are found Semitic words or constructions or both. It seems now to be definitely determined that a Sumerian people whose origin is unknown inhabited Babylonia before the coming of the Semites, whose original home was in Arabia. Of the Sumerian faith before a union was formed with the Semites, we know very little indeed. But we may perhaps safely say that among that ancient people, beneath the belief in gods there lay deep in their consciousness the belief in animism. They thought that every object, animate or inanimate, had a zi or spirit. The word seems originally to have meant life. Life manifests itself to us as motion; everything which moves has life. The power of motion separates the animate from the inanimate. All that moves possesses life, the motionless is lifeless or dead.

Besides this belief in animism, the early Sumerians seem to have believed in ghosts that were related to the world of the dead as the zi was related to the world of the living. The lil or ghost was a night demon of baleful influence upon men, and only to be cast out by many incantations. The lil was attended by a serving-maid (ardat lili, "maid of night") which in the later Semitic development was transformed into the feminine lilitu. It is most curious and interesting that this ghost demon of the Sumerians lived on through all the history of the Babylonian religion, and is mentioned even in one of the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 34:14; Hebrew Lillith, translated "night monster"). The origin of the Semitic religion brought by the ancient Semitic people and united with this Sumerian faith is also lost in the past.

It seems to be quite clear that the gods and the religious ideas which these Semites brought with them from the desert had very little if any importance for the religion which they afterward professed in Babylonia. Some of the names of their gods and images of these they very probably brought with them, but the important thing, it must always be remembered, about the gods is not the names but the attributes which were ascribed to them, and these must have been completely changed during the long history which follows their first contact with the Sumerians. From the Sumerians there flowed a great stream of religious ideas, subject indeed to modifications from time to time down the succeeding centuries. In our study of the pantheon we shall see from time to time how the gods changed their places and how the ideas concerning them were modified by political and other movements. In the very earliest times, besides these ideas of spirits and ghosts, we find also numbers of local gods. Every center of human habitati on had its special patron deity and this deity is always associated with some great natural phenomenon. It was natural that the sun and moon should be made prominent among these gods, but other natural objects and forces were personified and deified, streams, stones and many others.

Our chief source of information concerning the gods of the first period of religious development before the days of Hammurabi is found in the historical inscriptions of the early kings and rulers. Many of these describe offerings of temples and treasures made to the gods, and all of them are religious in tone and filled with ascriptions of praise to the gods. From these early texts Professor Jastrow has extricated the names of the following deities, gods and goddesses. I reproduce his list as the best yet made, but keep in mind that some of the readings are doubtful and some were certainly otherwise read by the Babylonians or Sumerians, though we do not now know how they ought to be read. The progress of Assyrian research is continually providing corrected readings for words hitherto known to us only in ideograms. It is quite to be expected that many of these strange, not to say grotesque, names will some day prove to be quite simple, and easy to utter: En-lil (Ellil, Bel) Belit, Nin-khar-sag, Nin-gir-su, wh o also appears as Dun-gur, Bau, Ga-tum-dug, Nin-dindug, Ea, Nin-a-gal, Gal-dim-zu-ab, Nin-ki, Damgal-nun-na, Nergal, Shamash, A or Malkatu, the wife of Shamash, Nannar, or Sin, Nin-Urum, Innanna, Nana, Anunit, Nina, Ishtar, Anu, Nindar-a, Gal-alim, Nin-shakh, Dun-shagga, Lugalbanda, with a consort Nin-sun, Dumu-zi-zu-ab, Dumu-zi, Lugal-Erim, Nin-e-gal and Ningal, Nin-gish-zi-da, Dun-pa-uddu, Nin-mar, Pa-sag, Nidaba, Ku(?)-anna, Shid, Nin-agid-kha-du, Ninshul-li, En-gubarra, Im-mi-khu(?), Ur-du-zi, Kadi, Nu-ku-sir-da, Ma-ma, Za-ma-ma, Za-za-ru, Impa-ud-du, Ur-e-nun-ta-ud-du-a, Khi-gir-nunna, Khi-shagga, Gur-mu, Zar-mu, Dagan, Damu, Lama, Nesu, Nun-gal, An-makh, Nin-si-na, Nin-asu. In this list great gods and goddesses and all kinds of minor deities are gathered together, and the list looks and sounds hopeless. But these are local deities, and some of them are mere duplications. Nearly every place in early times would have a sun-god or a moon-god or both, and in the political development of the country the moon-god of the conquering city displaced or absorbed the moon-god of the conquered. When we have eliminated these gods, who have practically disappeared, there remains a comparatively small number of gods who outrank all the others.

In the room of some of these gods that disappeared, others, especially in Assyria, found places. There was, however, a strong tendency to diminish the number of the gods. They are in early days mentioned by the score, but as time goes on many of these vanish away and only the few remain. As Jastrow has pointed out, Shalmaneser II (859-825 B.C.) had only eleven gods in his pantheon: Ashur, Anu, Bel, Ea, Sin, Shamash, Ninib, Nergal, Nusku, Belit and Ishtar. Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) usually mentions only eight; namely, Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Bel (that is, Marduk), Nabu, Nergal, Ishtar of Nineveh and Ishtar of Arbela. But we must not lay much emphasis upon the smallness of this number, for in his building inscriptions at the end he invokes twenty-five deities, and even though some of these are duplicates of other gods, as Jastrow correctly explains, nevertheless the entire list is considerably increased over the eight above mentioned. In the late Babylonian period the worship seems chiefly devoted to Marduk, Nabu, Sin, Shamash and Ishtar. Often there seem little faint indications of a further step forward. Some of the hymns addressed to Shamash seem almost upon the verge of exalting him in such a way as to exclude the other deities, but the step is never taken. The Babylonians, with all their wonderful gifts, were never able to conceive of one god, of one god alone, of one god whose very existence makes logically impossible the existence of any other deity. Monotheism transcends the spiritual grasp of the Babylonian mind.

Amid all this company of gods, amid all these speculations and combinations, we must keep our minds clear, and fasten our eyes upon the one significant fact that stands out above all others. It is that the Babylonians were not able to rise above polytheism; that beyond them, far beyond them, lay that great series of thoughts about God that ascribe to him aloneness, to which we may add the great spiritual ideas which today may roughly be grouped under ethical monotheism. Here and there great thinkers in Babylonia grasped after higher ideas, and were able only to attain to a sort of pantheism of a speculative kind. A personal god, righteous and holy, who loved righteousness. and hated sin, this was not given to them to conceive.

The character of the gods changed indeed as the people who revered them changed. The Babylonians who built vast temples and composed many inscriptions emphasizing the works of peace rather than of war, naturally conceived their deities in a manner different from the Assyrians whose powers were chiefly devoted to conquests in war, but neither the Babylonians nor the Assyrians arose to any such heights as distinguish the Hebrew book of Psalms. As the influence of the Babylonians and Assyrians waned, their go ds declined in power, and none of them survived the onrush of Greek civilization in the period of Alexander.

IV. The Pantheon.

The chief gods of the Babylonian and Assyrian pantheon may now be characterized in turn.

1. Enlil, Ellil:

In the earliest times known to us the greatest of the gods is the god of Nippur whose name in the Sumerian texts is Enlil or Ellil. In the Semitic pantheon of later times he was identified with the god Bel, and it is as Belhe has been chiefly known. During the whole of the first epoch of Babylonian history up to the period of Hammurabi, he is the Lord of the World and the King of the Land. He was originally the hero of the Flood story, but in the form in which it has come down to us Marduk of Babylon has deprived him of these honors. In Nippur was his chief temple, called E-kur or "mountain house." It was built and rebuilt by the kings of Babylonia again and again from the days of Sargon I (3800 B.C.) onward, and no less than twenty kings are known to us who pride themselves on their work of rebuilding this one temple. He is saluted as "the Great Lord, the command of whose mouth cannot be altered and whose grace is steadfast." He would seem, judging from the name of his temple and from some of his attributes, to have been originally a god of the mountains where he must have had his original dwelling-place.

2. Anu:

The name of the god Anu was interpreted as meaning heaven, corresponding to the Sumerian word ana, "heaven," and he came thus to be regarded as the god of heaven as over against Enlil who was the god of earth, and Ea who was the god of the waters. Anu appears first among the great gods in an inscription of Lugalsaggi, and in somewhat later times he made his way to the top of the earliest triad which consists of Ann, Enlil and Ea. His chief seat of worship was Uruk, but in the Assyrian period he was associated with the god Adad in a temple in the city of Asshur. In the myths and epics he fills an important role as the disposer of all events, but he cannot be thought of as quite equal in rank with Enlil in spite of his position in the heavens. Antu or Anatu is mentioned as the wife of Ann, but hers is a colorless figure, and she may probably be regarded as little else than a grammatical invention owing to the desire of the Semites to associate the feminine with the masculine in their languages.

3. Ea:

The reading of the name of the god Ea still remains uncertain. It may perhaps have been Ae, as the Greek Aos would seem to indicate. His chief city of worship was Eridu, which in the earliest period was situated on the Persian Gulf, near the mouths of the Euphrates and the Tigris. His temple was there called E-absu, which means "house of the deeps," interpreted also as "house of wisdom." He must have been a god of great importance in early times, but was left behind by the growing influence of Ellil and in a later period retained honor chiefly because he was assumed to be the. father of the god Marduk, and so was reverenced by the people of the city of Babylon. As the lord of wisdom he filled a great role in exorcisms down to the very last, and was believed to be the god who was most ready to respond to human need in direful circumstances. Ea's wife is called Damkina.

4. Sin:

Sin was the city god of Urn (Ur of the Chaldeans in the Old Testament). He was originally a local god who came early to a lofty position in the canon because he seems always to have been identified with the moon, and in Babylon the moon was always of more importance than the sun because of its use in the calendar. His temple was called E-kishshirgal, i.e. "house of light." His worship was widespread, for at a very early date he had a shrine at Harran in Mesopotamia. His wife is called Ningal, the Great Lady, the Queen, and his name probably appears in Mt. Sinai. He is addressed in hymns of great beauty and was regarded as a most kindly god.

5. Shamash:

The Sun-god, Shamash, ranks next after Sin in the second or later triad, and there can be no doubt that he was from the beginning associated with the sun in the heavens. His seats of worship were Larsa in southern Babylonia and Sippar in northern Babylonia in both of which his temple was called E-bab-bar, "shining house." He also is honored in magnificent hymns in which he is saluted as the enemy and the avenger of evil, but as the benignant furtherer of all good, especially of that which concerns the races of men. All legislation is ascribed to him as the supreme judge in heaven. To him the Babylonians also ascribe similar powers in war to those which the Egyptians accorded to Re. From some of the texts one might have supposed that he would have come to the top of the triad, but this appears not to have been the case, and his influence extended rather in the direction of influencing minor local deities who were judged to be characterized by attributes similar to those ascribed to him in the greater hymns.

6. Ishtar:

The origin and the meaning of the name of the goddess Ishtar are still disputed, but of her rank there can be no doubt. In the very earliest inscriptions known to us she does not seem to have been associated with the planet Venus as she is in later times. She seems rather to have been a goddess of fruitfulness and of love, and in her temple at Uruk temple-prostitution was a feature. In the mythological literature she occupies a high place as the goddess of war and of the chase. Because of this later identification she became the chief goddess of the warlike Assyrians. Little by little she absorbed all the other goddesses and her name became the general word for goddess. Her chief seats of worhip were Uruk in southern Babylonia, where she was worshipped in earliest times under the name of Nana, and Akkad in northern Babylonia, where she was called Anunitu, and Nineveh and Arbela in Assyria. Some of the hymns addressed to her are among the noblest products of Babylonian and Assyrian religion and reach a considerable ethical position. This development of a sexual goddess into a goddess who severely judged the sins of men is one of the strangest phenomena in the history of this religion.

7. Marduk:

Marduk (in the Old Testament Merodach) is the city-god of Babylon where his temple was called E-sagila ("lofty house") and its tower E-teme nanki ("house of the foundation of heaven and earth"). His wife is Sarpanitu, and, as we have already seen, his father was Ea, and in later days Nabu was considered his son. The city of Babylon in the earliest period was insignificant in importance compared with Nippur and Eridu, and this city-god could not therefore lay claim to a position comparable with the gods of these cities, but after Hammurabi had made Babylon the chief city of all Babylonia its god rapidly increased in importance until he absorbed the attributes of the earlier gods and displaced them in the great myths. The speculative philosophers of the neo-Babylonian period went so far as to identify all the earlier gods with him, elevating his worship into a sort of henotheism. His proper name in the later periods was gradually displaced by the appellativc Belu "lord," so that finally he was commonly spoken of as Bel, and his consort was called Belit. He shares with Ishtar and Shamash the honor of having some of the finest hymns, which have come down to us, sung to his name.

8. Nabu:

Nabu (in the Old Testament Nebo) was the city-god of Bor-sippa. His name is clearly Semitic, and means "speaker" or "announcer." In earlier times he seems to have been a more important god than Marduk and was worshipped as the god of vegetation. His temple in Borsippa bore the name E-zida ("perpetual house") with the tower E-uriminanki ("house of the seven rulers of heaven and earth"). In later times he was identified with the planet Mercury.

9. Nergal:

Nergal, the city-god of Kutu (in the Old Testament Cuthah), was the god of the underworld and his wife Eresh-kigal was the sovereign lady of the under-world. He was also the god of plague and of fever, and in later days was associated with the planet Mars, though scholars who are attached to the astral theory (see below) think that he was identified at an earlier date with Saturn. For this view no certain proof has yet been produced.

10. Ninib:

Unfortunately the correct pronunciation of the name of the god Ninib has not yet been secured. He seems originally to have been a god of vegetation, but in the later philosophical period was associated with the planet Saturn, called Kaitaann (Kewan, Chiun, Amos 5:26 the King James Version, the English Revised Version). As a god of vegetation he becomes also a god of healing and his wife Gula was the chief patroness of physicians. He comes also to be regarded as a mighty hero in war, and, in this capacity generally, he fills a great role in the Assyrian religion.

11. Ramman:

Ramman is the god of storms and thunder among the Babylonians and in the Assyrian pantheon he is usually called Adad. This form of the name is doubtless connected with the Aramaic god Hadad. In the Sumerian period his name seems to have been Ishkur. His wife is called Shala.

12. Tammuz:

The name Tammuz is derived from the Sumerian Dumuzi-zuab ("real child of the water depths"). He is a god of vegetation which is revived by the rains of the spring. Tammuz never became one of the great gods of the pantheon, but his popularity far exceeded that of the many gods who were regarded as greater than he. His worship is associated with that of Ishtar whose paramour he was, and the beautiful story of the descent of Ishtar to Hades was written to describe Ishtar's pursuit of him to the depths of the under-world seeking to bring him up again. His disappearance in the under-world is associated with the disappearance of vegetation under the midsummer heat which revives again when the rain comes and the god appears once more on the earth. The cult of Tammuz survived the decay of Babylonian and Assyrian civilization and made its way into the western world. It was similar in some respects to that of Osiris in Egypt, but was not so beautiful or so humane.

13. Asshur:

The supreme god of Assyria, Asshur, was originally the local god of the city which bears the same name. During the whole of Assyrian history his chief role is as the god of war, but the speculative philosophers of Assyria absorbed into him many of the characteristics of Ellil and Marduk, going even so far as to ascribe to him the chief place in the conflict with the sea monster Tiamat in the creation epoch.

V. Hymns and Prayers.

The religious literature of the Babylonians and Assyrians culminated in a great series of hymns to the gods. These have come down to us from almost all periods of the religious history of the people. Some of them go back to the days of the old city-kingdoms and others were composed during the reign of Nabonidus when the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus was imminent. The greatest number of those that have come down to us are dedicated to Shamash, the Sun-god, but many of the finest, as we have already seen, were composed in honor of Sin, the Moon-god. None of these reached monotheism. All are polytheistic, with perhaps tendencies in the direction of pantheism or henotheism. This incapacity to reach monotheism may have been partially due to the influence of the local city whose tendency was always to hold tightly to the honor of the local god. Babylonia might struggle never so hard to lift Marduk to high and still higher position, but in spite of all its efforts he remains to the very end of the days only one god among many. And even the greatest of the Babylonian kings, Nebuchadrezzar and Nabonidus, continued to pay honor to Shamash in Sippar, whose temple they continually rebuilt and adorned with ever greater magnificence. Better than any description of the hymns is a specimen adequately to show their quality. Here are some lines taken from an ancient Sumerian hymn to the Moon-god which had been copied and preserved with an Assyrian translation in the library of Ashurbanipal: + O Lord, chief of the gods, who alone art exalted on earth and in heaven, Father Nannar, Lord, Anshar, chief of the gods, Father Nannar, Lord, great Ann, chief of the gods, Father Nannar, Lord, Sin, chief of the gods, Father Nanbar, Lord of Ur, chief of the gods, Father Nannar, Lord of E-gish-shir-gal, chief of the gods, Father Nannar, Lord of the veil, brilliant one, chief of the gods, Father Nannar, whose rule is perfect, chief of the gods, Father Nannar, who does march in great majesty, chief of the gods, O strong, young bull, with strong horns, perfect in muscles, with beard of lapis lazuli color, full of glory and perfection, Self-created, full of developed fruit, beautiful to look upon, in whose being one cannot sufficiently sate himself; Mother womb, begetter of all things, who has taken up his exalted habitation among living creatures; O merciful, gracious father, in whose hand rests the life of the whole world, O Lord, thy divinity is full of awe, like the far-off heaven and the broad ocean. O creator of the land, founder of sanctuaries, proclaimer of their names, O father, begetter of gods and men, who dost build dwellings and establish offerings, Who dost call to lordship, dost bestow the scepter, determinest destinies for far-off days. Much of this is full of fine religious feeling, and the exaltation of Sin sounds as though the poet could scarcely acknowledge any other god, but the proof that other gods were invoked in the same terms and by the same kings is plentiful.

Some of these hymns are connected with magical and incantation literature, for they serve to introduce passages which are intended to drive away evil demons. A very few of them on the other hand rise to very lofty conceptions in which the god is praised as a judge of righteousness. A few lines from the greatest of all the hymns addressed to Shamash, the Sun-god, will make this plain:

COLUMN II + Who plans evil-his horn thou dost destroy, 40 Whoever in fixing boundaries annuls rights. The unjust judge thou restrainest with force. Whoever accepts a bribe, who does not judge justly-on him thou imposest sin. But he who does not accept a bribe, who has a care for the oppressed, To him Shamash is gracious, his life he prolongs. 45 The judge who renders a just decision Shall end in a palace, the place of princes shall be his dwelling. - COLUMN III + The seed of those who act unjustly shall not flourish. What their mouth declares in thy presence Thou shalt burn it up, what they purpose wilt thou annul. 15 Thou knowest their transgressions: the declaration of the wicked thou dost cast aside. Everyone, wherever he may be, is in thy care. Thou directest their judgments, the imprisoned dost thou liberate. Thou hearest, O Shamash, petition, prayer, and appeal. Humility, prostration, petitioning, and reverence. 20 With loud voice the unfortunate one cries to thee. The weak, the exhausted, the oppressed, the lowly, Mother, wife, maid appeal to thee. He who is removed from his family, he that dwelleth far from his city. - There is in this hymn no suggestion of magic or sorcery. We cannot but feel how close this poet came to an appreciation of the Sun-god as a judge of men on an ethical basis. How near he was to passing through the vale into a larger religious life!

The prayers are on the whole upon a lower plane, though some of them, notably those of Nebuchadrezzar, reach lofty conceptions. The following may serve as a sufficient example:

O eternal ruler, lord of all being, grant that the name of the king that thou lovest, whose. name thou hast proclaimed. may flourish as seems pleasing to thee. Lead him in the right way. I am the prince that obeys thee, the creature of thy hand. Thou hast created me, and hast entrusted to me dominion over mankind. According to thy mercy, O Lord, which thou bestowest upon all, may thy supreme rule be merciful! The worship of thy divinity implant in my heart! Grant me what seems good to thee, for thou art he that hast fashioned my life.

VI. Magic:

Next in importance to the gods in the Babylonian religion are the demons who had the power to afflict men with manifold diseases of body or mind. A large part of the religion seems to have been given up to an agonized struggle against these demons, and the gods were everywhere approached by prayer to assist men against these demons. An immense mass of incantations, supposed to have the power of driving the demons out, has come down to us. The use of these incantations lay chiefly in the hands of the priests who attached great importance to specific words or sets of words. The test of time was supposed to have shown that certain words were efficacious in certain instances. If in any case the result was not secured, it could only be ascribed to the use of the wrong formula; hence there grew up a great desire to preserve exactly the words which in some cases had brought healing. Later these incantations were gathered into groups or rituals classified according to purpose or use. Of the rituals which have come down to us, the following are the most important:

1. Maqlu:

Maqlu, i.e. "burning," so called because there are in it many symbolic burnings of images or witches. This series is used in the delivering of sufferers from witches or sorcerers.

2. Shurpu:

Shurpu is another word for burning, and this series also deals much in symbolic burnings and for the same purposes as the former. In these incantations we make the acquaintance of a large number of strange demons such as the rabisu, a demon that springs unawares on its victims; the labartu, which attacks women and children; and the lilu and the lilitu, to which reference has been made before, and the utuku, a strong demon.

These incantations are for the most part a wretched jargon without meaning, and a sad commentary on the low position occupied by the religion which has attained such noble heights as that represented in the hymns and prayers. It is strange that the higher forms of religion were not able to drive out the lower, but these incantations continued to be carefully copied and used down to the very end of the Babylonian commonwealth.

VII. The Last Things.

In Babylonia, the great question of all the ages-"If a man die shall he live again?"-was asked and an attempt made to answer it. The answer was usually sad and depressing. After death the souls of men were supposed to continue in existence. It can hardly be called life. The place to which they have gone is called the "land of no return." There they lived in dark rooms amid the dust and the bats covered with a garment of feathers, and under the dominion of Nergal and Ereshkigal. When the soul arrived among the dead he had to pass judgment before the judges of the dead, the Annunaki, but little has been preserved for us concerning the manner of this judgment. There seems to have been at times an idea that it might be possible for the dead to return again to life, for in this underworld there was the water of life, which was used when the god Tammuz returned again to earth. The Babylonians seem not to have attached so much importance to this after-existence as did the Egyptians, but they did practice burial and not cremation, and placed often with the dead articles which might be used in his future existence. In earlier times the dead were buried in their own houses, and among the rich this custom seems to have prevailed until the very latest times. For others the custom of burying in an acropolis was adopted, and near the city of Kutha was an acropolis which was especially famous. In the future world there seem to have been distinctions made among the dead.

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1. Universality of Religion

2. Theories of Its Origin and Growth of Religion

3. Evolution


1. Karma

2. God

3. The Summum Bonum

4. Self-Revelation of God

5. Incarnation

6. Salvation

7. Faith

8. Approach to God


1. Tenets Common to All Religions

2. Tendency to Degradation, not to Progress, in Ethnic Faiths

3. Mythology and Religion

4. Religion And Morality in Ethnic Faiths


1. Rites

2. Dogmas

3. Asserted Parallels to Gospel History

4. Virgin Birth

5. Heathen Aspirations and Unconscious Prophecies

6. Lessons Taught by Comparative Religion


I. The Subject in General.

The science of comparative religion is perhaps the latest born of all sciences. Largely in consequence of this fact, our knowledge of what it really proves is still far from definite, and men draw most contradictory conclusions on this point. As in the case of all new sciences in the past, not a few people have endeavored under its shelter to attack Christianity and all revealed religion. These assaults already give signs of failure-as in similar cases previously-and a new evidence of Christianity is emerging from the conflict. It is only "a little learning" that is proverbially dangerous. The subject with which the science of comparative religion deals is religion in general and all the facts which can be learnt about all religions ancient and modern, whether professed by savages or prevalent among highly civilized communities, whether to be studied in sacred books or learnt orally from the people.

1. Universality of Religion:

In this way we learn first of all that religion is a universal phenomenon, found among all nations, in all conditions, though differing immensely in its teachings, ceremonies and effects in different places. It is perhaps the most powerful for good or evil of all the instincts (for it is an instinct) which influence mankind.

2. Theories of Origin and Growth of Religion:

To account for the origin and growth of religion various theories have been propounded:

(1) "Humanism," which is the revival of the ancient view of Euhemeros (circa 400 B.C.) that all religion arose from fear of ghosts, and all the gods were but men who had died;

(2) "Animism," which traces religion to early man's fancy that every object in Nature had a personality like his own;

(3) the Astral Theory, which supposes that religion originated from worship of the heavenly bodies.

It is clear that there are facts to support each of these hypotheses, yet no one of them satisfies all the conditions of the case. To (1) it has been replied that most tribes from the earliest times clearly distinguished between those deities who had been men, and the gods proper, who had never been men and had never died. Regarding (2), it should be observed that it admits that man's consciousness of his own personality and his fancy that it exists in other creatures also does not account for his worshipping them, unless we grant the existence of the sensus numinis within him: if so, then this explains, justifies, and necessitates religion. (3) The Astral Theory is in direct opposition to Euhemerism or Humanism. It ascribes personality to the heavenly bodies in man's early fancy; but it, too, has to presuppose the sensus numinis, without which religion would be impossible, as would be the science of optics if man had not the sense of sight.

3. Evolution:

It is often held that religion is due to evolution. If so, then its evolution, resulting ex hypothesi in Christianity as its acme, must be the working out of a Divine "Eternal Purpose" (prothesis ton aionon, Ephesians 3:11), just as has been the evolution of an amoeba into a man on the Evolutionary Theory. This would be an additional proof of the truth of Christianity. But, though doubtless there has been evolution-or gradual progress under Divine guidance-in religion, the fact of Christ is sufficient to show that there is a Divine self-revelation too. Hence, the claim of Christianity to be the absolute religion. "The pre-Christian religions were the age-long prayer, the Incarnation was the answer" (Illingworth). Christianity as revealed in Christ adds what none of the ethnic faiths could prove their claim to-authority, holiness, revelation.

II. Relation of Christianity to Ethnic Faiths and Their Tenets.

It is very remarkable that Christianity-though clearly not a philosophy but a religion that has arisen under historical circumstances which preclude the possibility of supposing it the product of Eclecticism-yet sums up in itself all that is good in all religions and philosophies, without the bad, the fearful perversions and corruptions of the moral sense, too often found in them. The more the study of comparative religion is carried on the more plainly evident does this become. It also supplements in a wonderful way the half-truths concealed rather than revealed in other systems, whether religious or philosophical. We subjoin a few instances of this.

1. Karma:

Karma is strongly insisted on in Hinduism and Buddhism. These teach that every deed, good or bad, must have its result, that "its fruit must be eaten" here or hereafter. So does Christianity quite as forcibly (Galatians 6:7, 8). But neither Indian faith explains how sin can be forgiven, evil be overruled for good, nor how, by trampling under foot their vices, men may rise higher (Aug., Sermo iii, De Ascensione). They recognize, in some sense, the existence of evil, and illogically teach that rites and certain ascetic practices help to overcome it. They know of no Atonement, though modern Hinduism endeavors to propitiate the deities by sacrifices, as indeed was done in Vedic times. Conscience they cannot explain. Christianity, while showing the heinousness of sin as no other system does, and so supplementing the others, supplements them still further by the Atonement, showing that God is just, and teaching how His very righteousness can be brought to "justify" the sinner (Romans 3:26).

2. God:

Mahayana Buddhism proclaims an immanent but not transcendent being (Dharma-kaya), who is "the ultimate reality that underlies all particular phenomena" (Suzuki), who wills and reflects, though not fully personal. He is not the Creator of the world but a kind of Animus mundi. He is the sum total of all sentient beings, and they have no individual existence, no "ego-soul." The world of matter has no real existence but is his self-manifestation. Christianity supplements and corrects this by teaching the transcendence as well as the immanence (Acts 17:28) of the Creator, who is at least personal, if not something higher, who is the Source of reality though not Himself the sole reality, and of our personality and life, and "who only hath immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16).

3. The "Summum Bonum":

Vedantism and Cuffiism proclaim that ultimate absorption in the impersonal "It" is the summum bonum, and the Chandogya Upanishad says, "There is just one thing, without a second" (Book VI, 2 1, 2). Of this one thing everything is, so to speak, a part: there being no ultimate difference between the human and the Divine. Thus sin is denied and unreality proclaimed (Maya, illusion). The yearning for union with God underlying all this is satisfied in Christianity, which provides reconciliation with God and shows how by new spiritual birth men may become children of God (John 1:12, 13) and "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), without being swallowed up therein like a raindrop in the ocean: the union being spiritual and not material.

4. Self-Revelation of God:

Orthodox (Sunni) Muslim theology declares God to be separated from man by an impassable gulf and hence, to be unknowable. Philosophically this leads to Agnosticism, though opposed to Polytheism. Among the Jews the philosophy of Maimonides ends in the same failure to attain to a knowledge of the Divine or to describe God except by negations (Cepher Ha-madda`, 1 11). The Bible, on the other hand, while speaking of Him as invisible, and unknowable through merely human effort (Job 11:7, 8 John 1:18), yet reveals Him in Christ, who is God and man. Jewish mysticism endeavored to solve the problem of creation by the invention of the 'Adham qadhmon (archetypal man), and earlier by Philo's Logos doctrine and the Memra' of the Targums. But these abstractions have neither reality nor personality. The Christian Logos doctrine presents no theoretical but the actual historical, eternal Christ (compare John 1:1-3 Hebrews 1:2).

5. Incarnation:

Heathenism seeks to give some idea of the Invisible by means of idols; Vaishnavism has its doctrine of avataras; Babiism and Bahaiism their dogma of "manifestations" (mazhar) in human beings; the `Ali-ilahis are so called because they regard `Ali as God. Instead of these unworthy theories and deifications, Christianity supplies the holy, sinless, perfect Incarnation in Christ.

6. Salvation:

Hinduism offers mukti (moksha), "deliverance" from a miserable existence; Christianity in Christ offers pardon, deliverance from sin, and reconciliation with God.

7. Faith:

Krishnaism teaches unreasoning "devotion" (bhakti) of "mind, body, property" to certain supposed incarnations of Krishna (Vishnu), quite regardless of their immoral conduct; Christianity inculcates a manly, reasonable "faith" in Christ, but only after "proving all things."

8. Approach to God:

Pilgrimages in Islam and Hinduism indicate but do not satisfy a need for approach to God; Christianity teaches a growth in grace. and in likeness to Christ, and so a spiritual drawing near to God.

III. General Characteristics of Ethnic Faiths.

1. Tenets Common to All Religions:

In all religions we find, though in many various forms, certain common beliefs, such as:

(1) the existence of some spiritual power or powers, good or bad, superior to man and able to affect his present and future life;

(2) that there is a difference between right and wrong, even though not clearly defined;

(3) that there is an afterlife of some sort, with happiness or misery often regarded as in some measure dependent upon conduct or upon the observance of certain rites here.

In the main the fact of the all but universal agreement of religions upon these points proves that they are true in substance. Even such an agnostic philosophy as original Buddhism was, has been constrained by human need to evolve from itself or admit from without deistic or theistic elements, and thus Buddha himself has been deified by the Mahayana School. Yet no ethnic faith satisfies the "human soul naturally Christian," as Tertullian calls it (Liber Apologeticus, cap. 17), for none of them reveals One God, personal, holy, loving, just, merciful, omniscient and omnipotent. Even Islam fails here. Ethnic religions are either

(1) polytheistic, worshipping many gods, all imperfect and some evil, or

(2) mystical, evaporating away, as it were, God's Personality, thus rendering Him a mental abstraction, as in the Hindu philosophical systems and in Mahayana Buddhism. Christianity as revealed in Christ does just what all other faiths fail to do, reconciling these two tendencies and correcting both.

2. Tendency to Degradation, not to Progress, in Ethnic Faiths:

As a general rule, the nearer to their source we can trace religions, the purer we find them. In most cases a degradation and not to progressive improvement manifests itself as time goes on, and this is sometimes carried to such an extent that, as Lucretius found in Rome and Greece, religion becomes a curse and not a blessing. Thus, for example, regarding ancient Egypt, Professor Renouf says: "The sublimer portions of the Egyptian religion are not the comparatively late result of a process of development. The sublimer portions are demonstrably ancient, and the last stage of the Egyptian religion was by far the grossest and most corrupt" (Hibbert Lectures, 91). Modern Hinduism, again, is incomparably lower in its religious conceptions than the religion of the Vedas. In Polynesia the same rule holds good, as is evident from the myths about Tangaroa. In Samoa he was said to be the son of two beings, the "Cloudless Heaven" and the "Outspread Heaven." He originally existed in open space. He made the sky to dwell in. He then made the earth. Somewhat later he was supposed to be visible in the moon! But a lower depth was reached. In Hawaii, Tangaroa has sunk to an evil being, the leader of a rebellion against another god, Tane, and is now condemned to abide in the lowest depths of darkness and be the god of death. In South Africa, Australia and elsewhere, traditions still linger of a Creator of all things, but his worship has been entirely laid aside in favor of lower and more evil deities.

3. Mythology and Religion:

Almost everywhere mythology has arisen and perverted religion into something very different from what it once was. The same tendency has more than once manitested itself in the Christian church, thus rendering a return to Christ's teachings necessary. As an instance, compare the modern popular religion of Italy with that of the New Testament. It is remarkable that no religion but the Christian, however, has shown its capability of reform.

4. Religion and Morality in Ethnic Faiths:

For the most part, in ethnic religions, there is no recognized connection between religion and morality. The wide extension of phallic rites and the existence of hierodoulai and hierodouloi in many lands show that religion has often consecrated gross immorality. Mythology aids in this degradation. Hence, Seneca, after mentioning many evil myths related of Jupiter, etc., says: "By which nothing else was effected but the removal from men of their shame at sinning, if they deemed such beings goals" (L. A. Seneca, De beata vita cap. 26). With the possibly doubtful exception of the religion of certain savage tribes, in no religion is the holiness of God taught except in Christianity and its initial stage, Judaism. Ethnic deities are mostly born of heaven and earth, if not identified with them in part, and are rarely regarded as creating them. It was otherwise, however, with Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism, and with certain Sumerian deities, and there are other exceptions, too. The "religions of Nature" have generally produced gross immorality, encouraged and even insisted upon as a part of their ritual; compare Mylitta-worship in Babylon and that of the "Mater deum," Venus, Anahita, etc.

IV. Supposed Resemblances to Revealed Religion.

1. Rites:

Much attention has been called to real or supposed community of rites and "myths," especially when any ethnic faith is compared with Christianity. Sacrifice, for instance, is an essential part of every religion. In Christianity none are now offered, except the "living sacrifice" of the believer, though that of Christ offered once for all is held to be the substance foreshadowed by Jewish sacrifices. Purificatory bathings are found almost everywhere, and that very naturally, because of the universality of conscience and of some sense of sin.

2. Dogmas:

Belief in the fiery end of the world existed among the Stoics, and is found in the Eddas of Scandinavia and the Puranas of India. Traditions of an age before sin and death came upon mankind occur in many different lands. Many of these traditions may easily be accounted for. But in some cases the supposed resemblance to revealed religion does not exist, or is vastly exaggerated. The Yoga philosophy in India is popularly supposed to aim at union with God, as does Christianity; but (so understood) the Yoga system, as has already been said, implies loss of personality and absorption into the impersonal, unconscious "It" (Tat). The doctrine of a Trinity is nowhere found, only Triads of separate deities. Belief in a resurrection is found in only very late parts of the Persian (Zoroastrian) scriptures, composed after centuries of communication with Jews and Christians. In the earlier Avesta only a "restoration" of the world is mentioned (compare Acts 3:21). Original (Hinayana) Buddhism teaches "immortality" (amata), but by this is meant Nirvana ("extinction"). Mithraism has been said to teach the "resurrection of the body," but, according to Eubulus and Porphyry, it taught rather the transmigration of the soul.

3. Asserted Parallels to Gospel History:

The assertion is often made that many of the leading gospel incidents in the life of our Lord are paralleled in other religions. It is said, for instance, that the resurrection of Adonis, Osiris and Mithra was believed in by their followers. It is true that, in some places, Adonis was said to have come to life the day after he had met his death by the tusk of a boar (the cold of winter); but everywhere it was recognized that he was not a man who had been killed, but the representative of the produce of the soil, slain or dying down in the cold weather and growing again in spring. As to Osiris, his tomb was shown in more than one place in Egypt, and his body was never supposed to have come to life again, though his spirit was alive and was ruler of the underworld. Mithra was admitted to be the genius of the sun. He was said to have sprung from a rock (in old Persian and Sanskrit the same word means "sky," "cloud" and "rock"), but not to have been incarnated, nor to have died, much less to have risen from the dead. The modern erroneous fancy that Mithraists believed in his resurrection rests solely on one or at most two passages in Christian writers, which really refer to the burial of Osiris and the removal of his body from the tomb by his hostile brother Typhon (Set). The high morality attributed to Mithraism and even to the worship of Isis rests on no better foundation than the wrong rendering of a few passages and the deliberate ignoring of many which contradict theory.

4. Virgin Birth:

Virgin birth, we have been told, is a doctrine of many religions. As a matter of fact, it is found in hardly one ethnic faith. Nothing of the kind was believed regarding Osiris, Adonis, Horus, Mithra, Krishna, Zoroaster. Of Buddha it is denied entirely in all the books of the Southern Canon (Pali), and is found expressed only vaguely in one or two late uncanonical works of the Northern (Sanskrit) School. It was doubtless borrowed from Christianity. Supernatural birth of quite a different (and very repulsive) kind is found in many mythologies, but that is quite another thing.

5. Heathen Aspirations and Unconscious Prophecies:

Heathenism contains some vague aspirations and unconscious prophecies, the best example of which is to be found in Vergil's Fourth Eclogue, if that be not rather due to Jewish influence. Any such foregleams of the coming light as are real and not merely imaginary, such, for instance, as the Indian doctrine of the avataras or "descents" of Vishnu, are to be accounted for as part of the Divine education of the human race. The "false dawn," so well known in the East, is not a proof that the sun is not about to rise, nor can its existence justify anyone in shutting his eyes to stud rejecting the daylight when it comes. It is but a harbinger of the real dawn.

6. Lessons Taught by Comparative Religion:

Comparative religion teaches us that religion is essential to and distinctive of humanity. The failures of the ethnic faiths no less than their aspirations show how great is man's need of Christ, and how utterly unable imagination has ever proved itself to be even to conceive of such an ideal character as He revealed to us in the full light of history and in the wonder-working effects of His character upon the lives and hearts of those who then and in all ages since have in Him received life and light.


Tylor, Anthropology; Jordan, Comparative Religion, Its Genesis and Growth; Falke, Zum Kampfe der drei Weltreligionen; Gould, Origin and Development of Religious Belief; Jevons, Introduction to the History of Religion; Reville, Prolegomena to the History of Religions; Max Muller, Introduction to the Science of Religion; Hardwick, Christ and Other Masters; Kellogg, The Light of Asia and the Light of the World; Farrar, The Witness of History to Christ; A. Lung, Magic and Religion; The Making of Religion; Johnson, Oriental Religions and Their Relation to Universal Religion; Farnell, The Evolution of Religion; Howitt, The Native Tribes of Southeast Australia; Smith, Religion of the Semites; Reinach, Cultes, mythes et religions; Dilger, Erloschen des Menschen nach Hinduismus und Christentum; Rhys Davids, Origin and Growth of Religion; Kuenen, National Religions and Universal Religion (Hibbert Lectures, 1882); Dollinger, The Gentile and the Jew in the Courts of the Temple of Christ (1862); Dodson, Evolution and Its Bearing on Religion; MacCulloch, Comparative Theology; Baumann, Uber Religionen und Religion; Waitz, Anthropologie der Naturvolker; Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics; Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris; Dufourcq, Hist. comparee des rel. paiennes et de la religion juive; Oesterley, Evolution of Religious Ideas; Martindale, Bearing of Comp. Study of Religions on Claims of Christianity; W. Clair Tisdall, Comparative Religion.

W. St. Clair Tisdall



1. Greek Myths

2. Mythology Distinguished from Religion

3. Local Shrines

4. Epithets of the Gods

5. Nature of the Gods of Worship

6. Relation of Greek Gods to Nature

7. The Greater Gods of Greece

8. Nature Gods

9. Gods of Human Activities and Emotions


1. Omens

2. Divination by Sacrifice

3. Dreams

4. Oracles


1. Shrines

2. Temples

3. Priests

4. Seasons of Worship: Festivals

5. Elements of Worship

6. Prayer

7. Burnt Offering, or Sacrificial Meal

8. Meaning of Sacrifice

9. Propitiatory Sacrifice

10. Purification

11. The Great Religious Festivals

12. Mysteries at Eleusis

13. Absence of Magic and Mystery


1. Funeral Rites

2. Future Life in the Homeric Poems

3. Later Beliefs in Immortality


1. Greek Idea of Sin

2. Religious Ideals


1. Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology

2. Greek Influence on Christian Liturgy

3. Greek Influence on the Sacraments


I. The Greek Gods.

1. Greek Myths:

The gods of ancient Greece are well known to our western civilization through the myths which have found so large a place in our literature. In Greece itself, fancy had free play in dealing with these divine beings, and the myths were the main treasure-house from which the poet drew; the same myths and the same gods, under different names, reappear in Rome; and Rome passed them on, a splendid heritage of imagination, to the literatures of later Europe. It is characteristic of myths that they deal with persons, not so different from men in their nature, but with more than human powers. Gods, nymphs and satyrs, noble "heroes" or evil spirits have superhuman powers in varying degree, but they remain persons with a human interest because of their human type. And, further, as men are organized in families, cities and states, so there is a tendency to organize the beings of myth into social groups, and even to bring men, heroes and gods together into one large social organism, the universe of persons.

These Greek myths, the story of Athena's birth full-armed from the brain of Zeus, of Circe's magic potion, of Poseidon's chariot on the waves, and of Apollo's shafts are familiar to us from childhood. To regard them as expressing the content of Greek religion is as natural as it is false. Very few myths have any religious meaning at all, in spite of the large part the gods play in them. A little comparison with the facts of worship serves to show that here the gods are quite different from the gods of story.

2. Mythology Distinguished from Religion:

Some of the gods hardly appear in myths, and some of the beings of myth are not worshipped; in worship, each god is for the time being the only god thought of, not a member of the hierarchy established in myth; moreover in myth the gods are treated as universal, while the gods of worship are most closely attached, each to one shrine. Along with these external differences goes the one essential difference between a being of story and an object of worship. The failure to recognize the deep meaning of Greek religion results from the superficial assumption that myths constitute a peculiar kind of theology, when in reality they teach but little, and that, indirectly, about religion proper.

3. Local Shrines:

The essential fact about the gods of Greek religion is that each god was worshipped in a unique form at one or another particular shrine by a group of worshippers more or less definite. The group might include the state, the dwellers in one locality or simply the family; whatever its limits, it included those connected with the god by a social-religious tie, and the fundamental purpose of the worship was to strengthen this tie. In a city like Athens there were hundreds of such shrines, varying in importance, each the place where one particular phase of a god was worshipped at specified times. The particular form of the god was ordinarily indicated by an epithet attached to his name, Zeus Olympios, Dionysus Eleutherios, Athena Nike. This epithet might refer to the locality of the worship (Aphrodite of the Gardens), to the center from which the worship was brought (Artemis Brauronia), to some local spirit identified with the greater god (Poseidon Erechtheus), or to the nature of the god himself (Apollo Patroos).

4. Epithets of the Gods:

Each of the many shrines in Athens had thus its unique god, its group of worshippers connected with the god, its particular form of worship and times of worship, its own officials. While the state exercised general supervision over all the shrines, they were not organized in a hierarchy under any distinctly religious officials, but remained as independent units. Religious worship in a given city meant the aggregation of independent worships at the different local shrines.

5. Nature of the Gods of Worship:

The god of worship, then, was the god of a local shrine whose blessing and favor were sought at certain times by those who had the right to worship there. As in myth the gods were drawn after human types, that is, with human virtues and human frailties, and bodies almost human, except that they were not made to die; so in worship the gods were persons not unlike men in their nature. Worship proceeds on the assumption that gods are like human rulers, in that men honor the gods by games and processions, seek to please them by gifts, and ask them to share banquets made in their honor. Only the humanness of the gods in worship is something more subtle, more intimate than in myth. No stress is laid on human form or the vagaries of human character in the gods of worship; in form they remain spirits more or less vague, but spirits who care for men, who may be approached as a man approaches his ruler, spirits bound to man by close social ties which it is his duty and pleasure to strengthen. Zeus is father of gods and men, a father not untouched by the needs of his children; Athena cares for the city of Athens as her special pride; each family worships gods which are all but akin to the family; in the gymnasium, Apollo or Hermes is represented as the patron and ideal of the youths who exercise there; the drama is part of the service of Dionysus; in a word each form of human activity, be it work or pleasure, was a point of contact with the gods. The real forces at work in the world were first men, and secondly beings with a nature like man's, but with powers superior to man's; worship was the attempt to ally the gods more closely to man by social-religious ties, in order that as both worked together the ends of life might be successfully attained. This conception of the gods as higher members of society is the keynote of Greek religion. In some ethnic religions the gods seem to be evil beings whose desire for mischief man must overcome; in others they are beings to be avoided as much as possible; or again they are rulers who delight in man's abject servitude; or again by cultivating the friendship of one god, man may hope to win blessing and avoid harm from the others. In Greece all the gods of worship were essentially friendly to man, because they were akin to him and a part of the society in which he lived.

6. Relation of Greek Gods to Nature:

The relation of the gods to Nature is not so simple as might at first appear. Within certain limits the forces of Nature were subject to the will of the gods. From the Greek point of view, however, the relation is much more intimate, in that the forces in the world, at least in so far as they affect man, are personal activities, activities that express the will of divine beings. We say that Poseidon personifies the sea, Gaia the earth, Helios the sun; and the origin of religion has been sought in man's awe before the forces of Nature. The truer statement is that the Greek world, including the physical world, was made up of spiritual beings, not of physical forces. "The fire, as useful as it is treacherous, is the province of Hephaestus; all the dangers and changeableness of the sea are reflected in Poseidon and his followers; an Artemis is there to guide the hunter, a Demeter to make the grain sprout, a Hermes or Apollo to watch over the herds; Athena is the spirit of wisdom, Hermes of shrewdness, Ares of tumultuous war.. In a word the Greek gods are in the world, not above the world, superior beings who embody in personal form all the forces that enter into human life." The contrast between such a personal point of view and the mechanical view of modern science is as marked as the contrast between it and the Hebrew conception of a universe brought into being and controlled by a God quite distinct from the physical world.

7. The Greater Gods of Greece:

Of the particular gods, little need be said. The five greater gods, Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo and Artemis, are not closely connected with any one phenomenon of Nature or human life, though Zeus has to do with the sky, and Apollo and Artemis acquire a connection with the sun and moon. The most important worship of Zeus was at Olympia, where the pan-Hellenic games were held in his honor. Elsewhere he was worshipped mainly in connection with the weather and the changing seasons. Apparently much of his preeminence in Greek thought was due to myth. Hera was worshipped with Zeus on mountain tops, but her special place in worship was as the goddess of marriage. Athena, the maiden goddess of war and of handicrafts, was worshipped especially in Northern Greece. War dances found a place in her worship, and she was rarely represented without aegis, spear and helmet. All the arts, agriculture, handicrafts, even the art of government, were under her care. Apollo was worshipped widely as the protector of the crops, and of the shepherd's flocks. In this aspect his festivals included purifications and rites to ward off dangers. He was also the god of music and of prophecy. At Delphi his prophetic powers won great renown, but the Pythian games with their contests in music, in rhythmic dancing, and in athletic sports were hardly less important. Artemis, in myth the chaste sister of Apollo, was worshipped as the queen of wild creatures and the mother of life in plants as well as in animals. She was the patron and the ideal of young women, as was Apollo of young men.

8. Nature Gods:

The gods most closely associated with Nature were not so important for religion. Gain, mother earth, received sacrifices occasionally as the abode of the dead. Rhea in Crete, Cybele in Asia Minor, also in origin forms of the earth mother, received more real worship; this had to do primarily with the birth of vegetation in the spring, and again with its destruction by drought and heat. Rivers were honored in many places as gods of fertility, and springs as nymphs that blessed the land and those who cultivated it. Poseidon was worshipped that he might bless fishing and trade by sea; inland he was sometimes recognized as the "father of waters," and a god of fertility; and where horses were raised, it was under the patronage of Poseidon. The heavenly bodies marked the seasons of worship, but were rarely themselves worshipped. In general, the phenomena of Nature seem to have been too concrete to rouse sentiments of worship in Greece.

9. Gods of Human Activity and Emotions:

A third class of gods, gods of human activities and emotions, were far more important for religion. Demeter, once no doubt a form of the original earth-goddess, was the goddess of the grain, worshipped widely and at many seasons by an agricultural people. Dionysus, god of souls, of the inner life, and of inspiration by divine power, was worshipped by all who cultivated the vine or drank wine. The Attic drama was the most important development of his worship. Hermes was quite generally honored as the god of shepherds and the god of roads. As the herald, and the god of trade and gain, he found a place in the cities. Aphrodite was perhaps first the goddess of the returning life of the spring; in Greece proper she was rather the goddess of human love, of marriage and the family, the special patron of women. Ares, the Thracian god of war, was occasionally worshipped in Greece, but more commonly the god of each state was worshipped to give success in battle to his people. Hephaestus, pictured as himself a lame blacksmith working at the art which was under his protection, was worshipped now as the fire, now as the patron of cunning work in metal. Asclepius received men's prayers for relief from disease.

II. Revelation: Inspiration.

For the Greeks revelation was a knowledge of the divine will in special circumstances, and inspiration was evinced by the power to foresee the divine purpose in a particular case. There is no such thing as the revelation of the divine nature, nor any question of universal truth coming to men through an inspired teacher; men knew a god through his acts, not through any seer or prophet. But some warning in danger or some clue to the right choice in perplexity might be expected from gods so close to human need as were the Greek gods. The Homeric poems depicted the gods as appearing to men to check them, to encourage them or to direct them. In Homer also men might be guided by signs; while in later times divine guidance came either from signs or from men who were so close to the gods as to foresee something of the divine purpose.

1. Omens:

The simplest class of signs were those that occurred in Nature. In the Iliad the thunderbolt marked the presence of Zeus to favor his friends or check those whose advance he chose to stop. The Athenian assembly adjourned when rain began to fall. Portents in Nature-meteors, comets, eclipses, etc.-claimed the attention of the superstitious; but there was no science of astrology, and superstition had no great hold on the Greeks. In the Homeric poems, birds frequently denoted the will of the gods, perhaps because their place was in the sky beyond any human control, perhaps because certain birds were associated with particular gods. The presence of an eagle on the right hand (toward the East) was favorable, especially when it came in answer to prayer. At times, the act of the bird is significant, as when the eagle of Zeus kills the geese eating grain in Odysseus' hall-portent of the death of the suitors. In later Greek history there are but few references to signs from birds. The theory of these signs in Nature is very simple: all Nature but expresses the will of the gods, and when the gods wish to give men some vague hint of the future, it is necessary only to cause some event not easily explained to attract man's attention.

2. Divination by Sacrifice:

From the 5th century on, divination by means of sacrificial victims took the place ordinarily of signs such as have just been described. In the presence of the enemy or before some important undertaking, animals were sacrificed to the gods. If they came willingly to the altar, if the inward parts, especially the liver, were sound and well shaped and of good color, if the sacrifice burned freely and without disturbing the arrangement on the altar, success might be expected. The theory was very simple: if the gods were pleased and accepted the sacrifice, their favor was assured; but if the sacrifice deviated in any way from the normal, it would not please the gods. Thus any sacrifice might have prophetic significance, while sacrifices offered before important undertakings had special meaning. The practice arose of repeating sacrifices before a battle until a favorable one was obtained, and at length, as religion began to lose its hold, the time came when a general might disregard them completely.

3. Dreams:

An important means of learning the will of the gods was through dreams, when the ordinary channels of perception were closed and the mind was free to receive impressions from the gods. The treacherousness of dreams was fully recognized, even in the Homeric poem; students of natural science came to recognize that dreams arose from natural causes; none the less they were generally regarded as a source of knowledge about the future, and gradually a science for interpreting dreams was evolved. For Pindar and for Plato the soul was more free when the body slept, and because the soul was the divine part of man's nature it could exercise the power of divination in sleep. Many of the recorded dreams are signs which came to the mind in sleep, like the dreams of Joseph and of Pharaoh, signs that needed later interpretation.


Prophets and seers were not as important in Greece as among many peoples. The blind Teiresias belongs to the realm of myth, though there were great families of seers, like the Iamidae at Olympia, who were specially gifted to interpret dreams, or signs from sacrifices. Ordinarily it was the "chresmologist," the man with a collection of ancient sayings to be applied to present events, whose advice was sought in time of need; or else men turned to the great oracles of Greece.

4. Oracles:

The most important oracle was that of Apollo at Delphi. Hither came envoys of nations as well as individuals, and none went away without some answer to their questions. After preliminary sacrifices, the priestess purified herself and mounted the tripod in the temple; the question was propounded to her by a temple official, and it was his function also to put her wild ravings into hexameter verse for the person consulting the oracle. A considerable number of these answers remain to us, all, of course, somewhat vague, many of them containing shrewd advice on the question that was brought to the oracle. The honor paid to the oracle and its influence, on the whole an influence making for high ethical standards and wise statesmanship, must be recognized. The early Christian Fathers held that the Pythian priestess was inspired by an evil spirit; later critics have treated the whole institution as a clever device to deceive the people; but in view of the respect paid to the oracle through so many generations, it is hard to believe that its officials were not honest in their effort to discover and make known the will of the god they served.

III. Forms of Worship.

1. Shrines:

It has already been pointed out that Greek religion centered about local shrines. While in early times the shrine consisted of an altar with perhaps a sacred grove, and later it might be no more than a block of stone on which offerings were laid, the more important shrines consisted of a plot of land sacred to the god, a temple or home for the god, and an altar for sacrifices. The plot of land, especially in the case of shrines outside a city, might be very large, in which case it often was used as a source of income to the shrine, being cultivated by the priests or leased under restrictions to private persons.

2. Temples:

In this precinct stood the temple, facing toward the East, so that the morning sun would flood its interior when it was opened on a festival day. With one or two exceptions, the temple was not a place of assembly for worship, but a home for the god. It contained some symbol of his presence, after the 5th century B.C. ordinarily an image of the god; it served as the treasure-house for gifts brought to the god; worship might be offered in it by the priests, while the people gathered at the sacrifice outside. And as a home for the god, it was adorned with all the beauty and magnificence that could be commanded. The images of the gods, the noblest creation of sculpture in the 5th and 4th centuries, were not exactly "idols"; that is, the images were not themselves worshipped, even though they were thought to embody the god in some semblance to his true form. In Greece men worshipped the gods themselves, grateful as they were to artists who showed them in what beautiful form to think of their deities.

3. Priests:

Each of these shrines was directly in the hands of one or more officials, whose duty it was to care for the shrine and to keep up its worship in due form. Occasionally the priesthood was hereditary and the office was held for life; quite as often priests were chosen for a year or a term of years; but it was exceptional when the duties of the office prevented a man from engaging in other occupations. In distinction from the priests of many other forms of religion, the Greek priest was not a sacred man set apart for the service of the gods; the office may be called sacred, but the office was distinct from the man. The result was important, in that the priests in Greece could never form a caste by themselves, nor could they claim any other powers than were conferred on them by the ritual of the shrine. Thus Greek religion remained in the possession of the people, and developed no esoteric side either in dogma or in worship.

4. Seasons of Worship: Festivals:

The seasons of worship varied with each particular shrine. While the state observed no recurring sabbath, it recognized a certain number of religious festivals as public holidays; thus at Athens the number of religious holidays in the year was somewhat larger than our fifty-two Sundays. The tradition of each shrine determined whether worship should be offered daily or monthly or yearly, and also what were the more important seasons of worship. The principle of the sacred days was that at certain seasons the god was present in his temple expecting worship; just as it was the principle of sacred places that the temple should be located where the presence of the god had been felt and therefore might be expected again. Neither the location of the temple nor the seasons of worship were determined primarily by human convenience.

5. Elements of Worship:

The elements of worship in Greece were

(1) prayers, hymns, and votive offerings,

(2) the sacrificial meal,

(3) propitiatory sacrifice and purification, and

(4) the processions, musical contests and athletic games, which formed part of the larger festivals.

The heroes of Homer prayed to the gods at all times, now a word of prayer in danger, now more formal prayers in connection with a sacrifice; and such was doubtless the practice in later times.

6. Prayer:

In the more formal prayers, it was customary to invoke the god with various epithets, to state the petition, and to give the reason why a favorable answer might be expected-either former worship by the petitioner, or vows of future gifts, or former answers to prayer, or an appeal to the pity of the god. Sometimes a prayer reads as if it were an attempt to win divine favor by gifts; more commonly, if not always, the appeal is to a relationship between man and his god, in which man's gifts play a very subordinate part. Thanksgiving finds small place in prayer or in sacrifice, but it was rather expressed in votive offerings. In every temple these abounded, as in certain Roman Catholic shrines today; and as is the case today they might be of value in themselves, they might have some special reference to the god, or they might refer to the human need in which the giver had found help. So far as the great public festivals are concerned, the prayer seems to have been merged with the hymn of praise in which the element of petition found a small place.

7. Burnt Offering or Sacrificial Meal:

The most common form of worship consisted of the sacrificial meal, like the meat offering or meal offering of the Hebrews. The sacrifice consisted of a domestic animal, selected in accordance with the ritual of the shrine where it was to be offered. First the animal was led to the altar, consecrated with special rites and killed by the offerer or the priest while hymns and cries of worship were uttered by the worshippers. Then some of the inward parts were roasted and eaten by priests and worshippers. Finally the remainder of the creature was prepared, the thigh bones wrapped in fat and meat to be burned for the god, the balance of the meat to be roasted for the Worshippers; and with libations of wine the whole was consumed. The religious meaning of the act is evidently found in the analogy of a meal prepared for an honored guest.

8. Meaning of the Sacrifice:

The animal, an object valuable in itself, is devoted to this religious service; the god and his worshippers share alike this common meal; and the god is attached to his worshippers by a closer social bond, because they show their desire to honor and commune with him, while he condescends to accept the gift and to share the meal they have prepared. (Possibly the animal was once thought to have been made divine by the act of consecration, or the god was believed to be present in his flesh, but there is no evidence that such a belief existed in the 5th century B.C., or later.) The simple, rational character of this worship is characteristic of Greek religion.

9. Propitiatory Sacrifice:

When men felt that the gods were displeased or in circumstances where for any reason their favor was doubtful, a different form of sacrifice was performed. A black animal was selected, and brought to a low altar of earth; the sacrifice was offered toward evening or at night, and the whole animal was consumed by fire. While in general this type of sacrifice may be called propitiatory, its form, if not its meaning, varied greatly. It might be worship to spirits of the earth whose anger was to be feared; it might be offered when an army was going into battle, or when the crops were in danger of blight, or of drought; or again it was the normal form of worship in seasons of pestilence or other trouble. Sometimes the emphasis seems to be laid on the propitiation of anger by an animal wholly devoted to the god, while at other times there is the suggestion that some evil substance is removed by the rite.

10. Purification:

The later conception is clearer in rites of purification, where, by washing, by fire, or by the blood of an animal slain for the purpose, some form of defilement is removed. In the sacrifice of a pig to Demeter for this purpose, or of a dog to Hecate, some mystic element may exist, since these animals were sacred to the respective goddesses.

These various elements of worship were combined in varying degree in the great religious festivals. These lasted from a day to a fortnight. After purification of the worshippers, which might be simple or elaborate, and some preliminary sacrifice, there was often a splendid procession followed by a great public sacrifice.

11. The Great Religious Festivals:

In the greater festivals, this was followed by athletic games and horse races in honor of the god, and sometimes by contests in music and choral dancing, or, in the festivals of Dionysus at Athens, by the performance of tragedy and comedy in theater. In all this, the religious element seems to retreat into the background, though analogies may be found in the history of Christianity. The religious mystery plays were the origin of our own drama; and as for the horse races, one may still see them performed as a religious function, for example, at Siena. The horse races and the athletic games were performed for the gods as for some visiting potentate, a means of affording them pleasure and doing them honor. The theatrical performances apparently originated in ceremonies more essentially religious, in which men acted some divine drama depicting the experiences attributed to the gods themselves.

12. Mysteries at Eleusis:

This last feature is most evident in the mysteries at Eleusis, where the experiences of Demeter and Persephone were enacted by the people with the purpose of bringing the worshippers into some more intimate connection with these goddesses, such that their blessing was assured not only for this world, but for the life after death.

13. Absence of Magic and Mystery:

In all the forms of Greek worship perhaps the most striking feature was the absence of magic or superstition, almost the absence of mystery. Men approached the gods as they would approach superior men, bringing them petitions and gifts, making great banquets for their entertainment, and performing races and games for their pleasure, although this was by no means the whole of Greek religion, a phase of religion far more highly developed in the rational atmosphere of Greek thought than among other races. As the Greek gods were superior members of the social universe, so Greek worship was for the most part social, even human, in its character.

IV. The Future Life.

1. Funeral Rites:

Greek thought of the life after death was made up of three elements which developed successively, while the earlier ones never quite lost their hold on the people in the presence of the later. The oldest and most permanent thought of the future found its expression in the worship of ancestors. Whether the body of the dead was buried or burned, the spirit was believed to survive, an insubstantial shadowy being in the likeness of the living man. And rites were performed for these shades to lay them to rest and to prevent them from injuring their survivors, if not to secure their positive blessing. As at other points in Greek religion, the rites are fairly well known, while the belief must be inferred from the rites. The rites consisted first of an elaborate funeral, including sometimes animal sacrifices and even athletic games, and secondly of gifts recurring at stated intervals, gifts of water for bathing, of wine and food, and of wreaths and flowers. The human wants and satisfaction of the spirit are thus indicated. And the purpose is perhaps to keep the spirit alive, certainly to keep it in good humor so that it will not injure the survivors and bring on them defilement which would mean the wrath of the gods. At the same time, any contact with death demands purification before one can approach the gods in worship.

2. Future Life in the Homeric Poems:

The second element in Greek thought of the future life appears in the Homeric poems, and through the epic exerted a wide influence on later periods. Here the separateness of the souls of the dead from the human life is emphasized. Once the bodies of the dead are burned, the souls go to the realm of Hades, whence there is no return even in dreams, and where (according to one view) not even consciousness remains to them. It would seem that the highly rational view of the world in the epic, a point of view which laid stress on the greater Olympian gods, banished the belief in souls as akin to the belief in sinister and magic influences. We might almost say that the thought of the greater gods as personal rulers tended to drive out the thought of lesser and more mystic spiritual influences, and made a place for souls only as shades in the realm of Hades. Certainly the result for Greek religion was to render far less vivid any idea of a real life after death.

3. Later Beliefs in Immortality:

The third element was associated with the worship of the gods of the lower world, and in particular Demeter and Persephone. In this worship, particularly at Eleusis, the fact of life after death was assumed, a fact that the Greeks never had denied; but the reality of the future life, the persistence of human relationship after death, and the kindly rule of Persephone as Queen of Souls were vividly impressed on the worshippers. In part through the influence of the Orphic sect, the actual divinity of the soul was believed by many thinkers, a doctrine which was formulated by Plato in a manner which profoundly affected early Christian thought.

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1. Pre-Mosaic Religion of the Ancestors of Israel

(1) The Traditional View

(2) The Modern View

(3) A Higher Conception of the Deity; 'ilu, 'el

(4) Totemism, Animism, etc.

(5) Conception of God

(6) Cult

2. The Mosaic Covenant with Yahweh

(1) The Covenant-Idea

(2) The Covenant-God, Yahweh

(3) Monotheism of Moses

(4) Impossibility of Representing Yahweh by an Image

(5) Ethical Character of the God of Moses

(6) The Theocracy

(7) The Mosaic Cult

3. The Religion of Israel before the 8th Century B.C.

(1) Decay of Religion in Canaan

(2) The Theocratic Kingdom

(3) Religious Ideals of the Psalms from the Time of David

(4) Wisdom Literature from the Time of Solomon

(5) The Sanctuary on Mt. Zion

(6) The Religion of the Kingdom of Ephraim

(7) Elijah and Elisha

4. Development of the Religion of Israel from the 8th Century B.C. to the Exile

(1) The Writing Prophets

(2) Their Opposition to the Cult

(3) Their Preaching of the Judgment

(4) Their Messianic Promises

(5) Reformations

(6) Destruction of Jerusalem

5. The Babylonian Exile

(1) Spiritual Purification through the Exile

(2) Relations to the Gentile World

6. Religion of the Post-exilic Period

(1) Life under the Law

(2) Hellenism

(3) Pharisees and Sadducees

(4) Essenes

(5) Positive Connections between Judaism and Hellenism

(6) Apocalyptic Literature


1. The Living God

2. The Relation of Man to This God


I. Introduction: Historical Consideration of the Religion of Israel

In former times it was the rule to draw out of the Old Testament its religious contents only for dogmatic purposes, without making any distinction between the different books. These writings were all regarded as the documents of the Divine revelation which had been given to this people alone and not to others. At the present time the first inquiry in the study of these books deals historically with the religious development of the Israelites. This religion was not of a strictly uniform nature, but is characterized by a development and a growth, and in the centuries which are covered by the Old Testament books it has passed through many changes. Then, too, in the different periods of this development there were various religious trends among the people and very different degrees in the extent of their religious knowledge. The common people were at times still entangled in crude heathen ideas, while the bearers of a higher Divine light ranked vastly above them. And even in those times, when these enlightened teachers secured full recognition, there occurred relapses into lower forms of religion on the part of the masses, especially because the influence of the nations surrounding Israel at all times made itself felt in the religious life and thoughts of the latter. And even when the correct teachings were accepted by the people, a malformation of the entire religion could readily occur through a petrifaction of the religious life. It is the business of the science of the history of religion to furnish a correct picture of this development, which in this article can be done only in the form of a sketch.

One of the recent results of the science of the history of religion is the knowledge that the religion of Israel itself, and not merely the corruptions of this religion, stood in a much closer connection with other religions than had in former times been supposed. The wealth of new data from the history of oriental nations lately secured has shown that it is not correct to regard the religion of Israel as an isolated phenomenon, but that considerable light is thrown upon it from analogous facts from surrounding regions. Of especial importance in this respect is the study of Assyrian and Bah antiquities, with their rich and illustrative monuments, and, by the side of these, also those of Egypt; and, further, although these are indeed much smaller in number, the inscriptions and monuments of a number of peoples situated much nearer to Israel and ethnologically more closely connected with them, such as the Moabites, Arameans, Arabians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and others. For later times, Parsiism is an especially important factor.

These antiquities have shown that between the religion of Israel and the religions of these nations there existed such close connections that a relationship between them cannot be denied. It is indeed true that these similarities are mostly of a formal nature, but they nevertheless point to similar conceptions of the Divine Being and of the relation of man to this Being. We find such connecting links in the cult, in the traditions concerning the creation of the world, concerning the earliest history of man kind, etc.; further, in the conception of what is legally right and of the customs of life; in the ideas concerning death and the world beyond; concerning the souls of men and the supernatural spiritual world, and elsewhere. These analogies and related connections have appeared so pronounced to some savants, especially Assyriologists, that they are willing to find in the religion of the Israelites and Jews only a reflection of the Babylonian, or of what they call the "religion of the ancient Orient." But over against this claim, a closer and deeper investigation shows that a higher world of thought and ideals at all times permeates the Israelite religion and gives to it a unique character and a Divine truth, which is lacking in all other religions and which made Israel's religion capable of becoming the basis of that highest Divine revelation which through Christ came forth from it. We will here briefly sketch the progress of the development of this religion, and then formulate a summary of those characteristics which distinguish it from the other religions.

II. Historical Outline.

1. Pre-Mosaic Religion of the Ancestors of Israel:

(1) The Traditional View.

The sources for this period are meager. Yet what has been reported concerning the religion of the period of the Patriarchs is enough to give us a picture of their conception of the Deity. And this picture is more deserving of acceptance than is the representation of the matter by the traditional dogmatics of the church and also that of those modern scholars who are under the spell of the evolutionary idea, and who undertake to prove in the Biblical history of Israel the complete development from the lowest type of fetishism and animism to the heights of ethical monotheism. The views of the old church teachers were to the effect that the doctrine concerning the one true God had been communicated by God to Adam in its purity and perfection, and by him had been handed through an unbroken chain of true confessors of the faith (Seth, Noah, etc.), down to Abraham. But this view does not find confirmation in the Biblical record. On the contrary, in Joshua 24:2, 15, it is even expressly stated of the ancestors of Abraham that they had worshipped strange gods in Chaldea. And the ancestors of the people, Abraham, Jacob, and others, do not appear on the stage of history with teachable creed, but themselves first learn to know gradually, in the school of life, the God whom they serve, after He has made Himself known to them in extraordinary manifestations. Abraham does not yet know that Yahweh does not demand any human sacrifices. Jacob still has the narrow view, that the place where he has slept is the entrance portal to heaven (Genesis 28:16, 17). Omnipresence and omniscience are not yet attributes which they associate with their idea of the Divinity. They still stand on a simple-minded and primitive stage, as far as their knowledge of the living God is concerned.

(2) The Modern View.

Over against this, modern scholars describe pre-Mosaic Israel as yet entirely entangled in Semitic heathen ideas, and even regard the religion of the people in general, in the post-Mosaic period down to the 8th century B.C., as little better than this, since in their opinion the Yahweh-religion had not thoroughly permeated the ranks of the common people, and had practically remained the possession of the men, while the women had continued to cultivate the ancient customs and views. W. R. Smith and Wellhausen have pointed to customs and ideas of the pre-Islamic Arabs, and S.I. Curtiss to such in the modern life of oriental tribes, which are claimed to have been the property of the most ancient Semitic heathen tribes, and these scholars use these as the key for the ancient Israelite rites and customs. But even if much light is thrown from these sources on the forms of life and cult as depicted by the Scriptures, much caution must be exercised in the use made of this material. In the first place, neither those Arabs of the 6th century A.D., nor their successors of today, can be regarded as "primitive Semites." In the second place, it is a question, even if in the earliest period of Israel such customs are actually found, what they really signified for the tribe of Abraham. We are here not speaking of a prehistoric religion, but of the religion of that tribe that came originally from Ur of the Chaldees, and migrated first by way of Haran to Canaan, and then to Egypt. In this tribe such primitive customs, perhaps, had long been spiritualized. For these Hebrews cannot be regarded as being as uncivilized as are the New Zealanders, or the Indians of North America, or those Bedouins who have never left the desert; for they had lived in Babylonia for a long period, even if, while there, they had withdrawn themselves as much as possible from the more cultured life of the cities. The patriarchs were in touch with the civilization of the Babylonians. We do not, indeed, want to lay special stress on the fact that they lived in Ur and in Haran, two cities of the moon-god, the worship of which divinity shows monotheistic tendencies. But the history of the family of Abraham, e.g. his relation to Sarah and Hagar, shows indisputable influence of Babylonian legal ideas. Probably, too, the traditions concerning the beginnings of history, such as the Creation, the Deluge, and the like, were brought from Babylon to Canaan by the tribe of Abraham.

(3) A Higher Conception of the Deity; 'ilu, 'el.

But this tribe had come to Babylonia from Northern Arabia. It is a very important fact that the oldest Arabian inscriptions, namely the Minaean and the Sabean, lead us to conclude that these tribes entertained a relatively high conception of the Deity, as has been shown by Professor Fritz Hommel. The oldest Arabian proper names are not found combined with names of all kinds of gods, but with the simple 'ilu, 'el, or God, or with 'ili, "my God." Then, too, God is often circumscribed by the nouns expressing relationship, such as 'abhi, "my father," or 'achi, "my brother," or 'ammi, "my uncle," and others, which express an intimate relationship between man and his God. Corresponding to these are also the old Semitic proper names in Canaan, as also the name Abraham, i.e. 'Abhiram, "my father is exalted," or Ishmael, and many others. We accordingly must believe that the ancestors of Abraham immigrated into Babylon with a comparatively highly developed religion and with a uniform conception of God. Here their faith may have been unfavorably influenced, and it is not impossible that the religious disagreement between the patriarch and his neighbors may have been a reason for his migration. Abraham himself is regarded by the Canaanites as a "friend of God," who stands in an intimate relationship with his God, and he is accordingly to be regarded, not merely as a secular, but also as a religious tribal head, an Imam, a prophetical personality.

(4) Totemism; Animism, etc.

Still less is it correct to ascribe to this tribe the lowest religious stage possible, namely that of fetishism or of totemism (worship of demons or worship of animals) and the like. Some think they find evidences of the worship of animals in Israel. The fact that some Israelites were regarded as descendants of Leah ("wild cow"(?)), others of Rachel ("mother sheep"), is claimed to refer to the fact that these animals were totems of the tribe, i.e. were worshipped as ancestors. But for this claim there is no scintilla of proof. These names of women, especially in the case of a nomadic tribe, can be explained in a much more simple way. The calves that appear in later times as images of Yahweh are just as little a proof for the claim that calves were worshipped by the ancestors of Israel as divinities. We read nothing of such an image before the sojourn in Egypt, and after that time this image was always regarded symbolically. The fact, again, that from the days of Moses, and without a doubt earlier than this, certain animals were not allowed to be eaten, does not justify the conclusion which Professor B. Stade and others have drawn from it, namely, that these animals were in olden times regarded as divine (tabu), and for that reason were not permitted to be eaten, and only afterward were avoided as "unclean." The list of unclean animals in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 speaks for an altogether different reason for regarding them as unclean. It is not at all thinkable that these many, and as a rule unclean and low class of animals, were at one time accorded divine honor, while the higher and cleaner class had been excluded from this distinction. We have accordingly no reason for finding animal worship here. On the other hand, it is self-evident, in the case of such an old nomadic tribe, that man stood in a more familiar relationship to his animals, and for this reason the slaughter of these was a more significant matter than was afterward the case. This was done only on extraordinary occasions, and it readily was accorded a religious consecration.

See also TOTEMISM.

The idea is also emphatically to be rejected, that in the pre-Mosaic period mere animism prevailed in Israel-the worship of spirits and of demons. It has been tried in vain to show that in the most primitive period of Israel's religion the worship of ancestors occupied a prominent place. As Professor Emil Kautzsch has emphasized, the arguments which have been drawn from the mourning customs of the Israelites in favor of this claim (as this is done by F. Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode, nach den Vorstellungen des alten Israel und des Judentums, Giessen, 1892) are altogether inadequate, as is also the appeal to the marriage with a deceased wife's sister, as though the purpose of the institution was to secure for the deceased who had died without issue somebody who would attend to his worship. Because of the strongly developed mundane character of the religious life in Israel, it is natural that it was regarded as a calamity if there was no issue who kept alive the memory of the departed in the tribe. But even if the argument from the mourning customs of Israel were more convincing than is actually the case, and that gifts, such as food, oil, and the like, were placed in the tomb of the departed, as was often done by the Canaanites, yet this would be in the ancient Israelite religion a matter of subordinate importance, which could readily be explained on the ground of natural feelings. It could never be made to appear plausible that all religions had grown out of such a cult. If the teraphim are to be regarded as having been originally images of ancestors, which is quite plausible, then they would indeed represent a continuous ancestral cult, as the people evidently kept these images in their houses in order to attract to themselves blessings, to avert misfortunes and to secure oracles. But these dolls, modeled after the form of human beings, already in the period of the Patriarchs were regarded as a foreign element and in contradiction to the more earnest religious sentiments (compare Genesis 31:19; Genesis 35:2, 4).

That Israel, like all ancient peoples, did at one time pass through an "animistic" stage of religious development could best be proved, if at all, from their conception of the soul. Among the purifications those are especially necessary which are demanded by the presence of a dead body in the same room with the living, as the living are defiled by the soul of the deceased in leaving the body (Numbers 19:14). Even the uncovered vessels are defiled by his soul-substance (Numbers 19:15). This, however, is a biological conception, which has nothing to do with the conception of the Deity.

Or are those perhaps right, who think that the primitive Israelites had accepted animism in this sense, that they did not as yet worship any actual divinities, but only a multitude of spirits or demons, be these ghosts of departed human beings or the spirits of Nature, local numina? In favor of this last-mentioned view, appeal is made to this fact, that in the ancient Semitic world local divinities with very circumscribed spheres of power are very often to be met with, especially at springs, trees, oases, at which a demon or divinity is regarded as having his abode, who is described as the ba`al or master in this place; compare such local names as Baal-tamar, Baal-hermon, and others. Such local spirits would then be the 'elohim, out of which would grow more mighty divinities of whole cities and countries. To these it would be necessary yet to add those spirits which were worshipped by individual tribes, partly spirits of ancestors, who also could have grown into higher divinities, while the rest of the mass of deities, good and bad, had to content themselves with a lower rank.

As against this, we must above all consider the fact that in ancient Israel the demons played a very subordinate role. The contrast in this regard with Babylonia is phenomenal. It is probably the case that at all periods in Israel there existed a belief in unclean spirits, who perhaps lived in the desert (compare the se`irim), or in the demoniacs, and could otherwise, too, do much harm. But they are not described as having much influence on man's life. How few indications of such a view can be found and how little most of these indications prove we can see in the work of H. Duhm, Die bosch Geister im Altes Testament, Tubingen, 1906. After the Babylonian exile, and still more after the longer sojourn of the Israelites in Babylon, their imagination was to a much greater degree than before saturated by the faith in spirits. Then the closer study of such Semitic be`alim teaches us that they were not originally conceived in such a narrow sense. They are very often of a solar nature, celestial powers who have their abode at a particular place, and there produce fertility, but in this special function represent a general power of Nature. The same is the case with the tribal divinities. These are by no means merely the personifications of the small power of a particular tribe, but claim to be absolute beings, which shows that they are regarded as higher divinities which the tribe has appropriated and adapted to its own political ideas. We accordingly have no right to think that such a divinity was to be regarded as really confined to a particular hill, or even to a certain stone or tree where it was worshipped. The rock or stone or tree divinities of the ancient Arabs are celestial powers, who have only taken their abode at these places, even if popular superstition did actually identify them with such stones or trees.

It is therefore a misconception of the actual state of affairs when the conclusion is drawn that stone-worship is meant when Jacob erects a stone monument, the matstsebhah at Bethel, and anoints it with oil, and when this is understood to be a low type of fetishism. Stones are to the present day, for the wandering tribes, the signs by which important localities, especially sacred places, are designated. The symbolical significance of such stones may be quite different, as also the relation which a divinity is thought to sustain to such a stone monument. For this reason, too, the judgment of the Bible concerning such objects is quite different. Only then, when they are symbols of idolatry, as the chammanim, i.e representations of the sun-god, ba`al chamman, are they everywhere rejected in the Old Testament. In the same way a mighty tree, especially if it is found near a spring of water, is in the Orient, by its very nature, a proof of the life-producing God. Such a tree naturally suggests that it is a place where divine life can be felt. Trees that have been made sacred by manifestations of the divinities or have been consecrated by the memory of a great personality, especially the oak, the terebinth, the palm, were regarded as favorite places beneath which the divinity was sought. Only in that case, as was indeed common in Canaan, when the unhallowed powers of Nature were here adored, was this custom reprehensible in the eyes of the prophets. The 'asherim, too, are of a decidedly heathen character, as these trunks of trees were symbols of the goddess Ashera. Further, it was a favorite custom to worship the divinities on the high places, for the reason that they were regarded as in or attached to the heavens. Only because of the heathen worship which was practiced on these bamoth were they, in later times, so hateful to the prophets.

(5) Conception of God.

In answer to the question, what ideas the patriarchs, the pre-Mosaic leaders of the people of Israel, entertained concerning God, attention must first of all be drawn to the fact that God spoke to some of these personally, be this in one form of manifestation or in another. These men heard the word of God with their own ears, and that, too, in the most important moments of their lives. In the case of Abraham, these revelations are fundamental for him and for his people. The prophetic factor, which goes through the entire history of Israel and constitutes the life-principle that fills its religion and causes its further development, is at the very first beginnings the source whence the knowledge of God is taken. This presupposes a personal God; and, as a matter of fact, a fixed personality is demanded by the character of such a God. His "I" impresses itself upon man with absolute power and demands his service entirely. This "I" constantly remains the same, and everywhere evinces the same power, be this in Haran or in Canaan or in Egypt, and whether it manifests itself to Abraham or to Isaac or to Jacob. This oneness is not formulated as a didactic proposition, but as a living reality: only this God existed for His adherents. These appeal to Him at all times with equal success. The manifestations of this God may be of a different kind at different times. He is even entertained, on one occasion, as a personal guest by His friend Abraham, together with two companions (Genesis 18:1). On another occasion (Genesis 15:17) Abraham beholds Him in symbolical form as a burning and fiery furnace (probably to be regarded as similar to the movable altar discovered by Sellin in Taanach). But these are to be regarded as special favors shown by God. In general it was the rule that God could not be seen without the beholder suffering death. Then, too, the conviction is very old, that what man sees in the case of such theophanies cannot have been God Himself, but that He had manifested Himself through a subordinate agent, an angel (this is particularly the case in the document E in Genesis). This angel, however, has no significance in himself, but is only the creature-veil, out of which God Himself speaks in the first person. In the most elementary manner this formal limitation of God appears in Genesis 11:5, where He goes to the trouble of descending from heaven in order to look at something on earth; and in 18:21, when He desires to go to Sodom personally, in order to convince Himself that what He has intended to send upon this city is also the right thing. It is indeed possible to find in the first instance some traits of irony, and possibly in the second case the epic details may have added something. However, God is no longer spoken of in such a human way in the post-Mosaic times. This shows that the document J (Jahwist) at this place contains material that is very old. All the more is it to be noted what exalted conceptions of God prevail already in these narratives. He dwells in heaven (11:5; 19:24), something that has without reason been claimed not to have been the idea entertained in the older period. He is the God of the world, who exercises supremacy over all the nations. He rules with justice, checks pride, avenges injustice, and that, too, not only in a summary manner on whole countries, but also in such a way that He takes into consideration every individual and saves the one just man out of the midst of the mass of sinners (18:25; 19). In short, He is already the true God, although yet incompletely and primitively grasped in His attributes.

This God, ruling with omnipotent power in Nature and history, has entered into a special relationship with the tribe of Abraham. He has become the Covenant-God of the patriarch, according to the testimony of the old document J in Genesis 15. We accordingly find here already the consciousness that that God who rules over the world has entered into a special relationship with one small nation or tribe. This fact appears also in this, that Abram (Genesis 14) acknowledges the highest God of the priest-king Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20) as his God, as the founder of heaven and of earth, and identifies Him with his own Covenant-God Yahweh.

(6) Cult.

As far as the cult is concerned, it can be stated that at this period it was still of simple, but solemn and dignified character. The people preferred to worship their God at such places where He had manifested Himself, usually on high place, on which an altar had been erected. There were no images of the Divinity extant. As the word mizbeach, "altar," shows, the sacrifices were usually bloody. Human sacrifice had already in the days of Abraham been overcome by the substitution of an animal, although in olden times it may have been practiced, perhaps, as the sacrifice of the firstborn; and in later times, too, through the influence of the example of heathen nations, it may have found its way into Israel now and then. Both larger and smaller animals were sacrificed, as also fowls. The idea that prevailed in this connection was that God, too, enjoyed the food which served man as his sustenance, although God, in a finer way, experienced as a pleasure only the scent of the sacrifices, as this ascended in the flame and the smoke (Genesis 8:21). But the main thing was the blood as the substratum of the soul. The fruits of the field, especially the first-fruits, were also offered. Of liquid offerings, it is probable that in primitive times water was often brought, as this was often a costly possession; and in Canaan, oil, which the inhabitants of this country employed extensively in their sacrifices (Judges 9:9, something that is confirmed also by recent excavations); also wine (Judges 9:13). As the ancient burnt or whole sacrifices (Genesis 8:20) give expression to reverence, thankfulness, the prayer for protection or the granting of certain favors, the people from the very beginning also instituted sacrificial feasts, which gave expression to the covenant with God, the communion with the Covenant-God. In this act the sacrifice was divided between God and those who sacrificed. The latter ate and drank joyously before God after the parts dedicated to Him had been sacrificed, and especially after the blood had been poured around the altar. The idea that this was the original form of the sacrifice and that gift-sacrifices were introduced only at a later period when agriculture had been introduced is not confirmed by historical evidences. That man felt himself impelled, by bringing to his God gifts of the best things he possessed, to express his dependence and gratitude, is too natural not to have been from the beginning a favorite expression of religious feeling. In connection with the sacrifices the name of God was solemnly called upon. J even says that this was the name Yahweh (Genesis 4:25), while E (Elohist) and P (Priestly Code) tell us that this name came into use only through Moses.

According to P (Genesis 17:10), circumcision was already introduced by Abraham in his tribe as the sign of the covenant. There are good reasons why the introduction of this custom is not like that of so many other ceremonies attributed to Moses. The custom was without doubt of an older origin. From whatever source it may have been derived in its earlier ethnological stage, for the Israelites circumcision is an act of purification and of consecration for connection with the congregation of Yahweh. A special priesthood, however, did not yet exist in this period, as the head of the family and of the tribe exercised the priestly functions and rights (compare Genesis 35:1 ff), although the peoples inhabiting Canaan at that time had priests (Genesis 14:18).

2. The Mosaic Covenant with Yahweh:

(1) The Covenant-Idea.

Israel claims that its existence as a nation and its special relation to Yahweh begins with its exodus from Egypt and with the conclusion of the covenant at Mt. Sinai (compare Amos 3:2; Amos 9:7). As the preparation for this relation goes back to one individual, namely, Abraham, thus it is Moses through whom God delivered His people from bondage and received them into His covenant (see concerning Moses as a prophet and mediator of the covenant, ISRAEL, HISTORY OF). It is a matter of the highest significance for the religion of Israel that the relation of this people to Yahweh was not one which existed by the nature of things, as was the case with the other oriental tribal and national religions, but that it was the outgrowth of a historical event, in which their God had united Himself with them. The conception of a covenant, upon which Yahweh entered as a matter of free choice and will, and to which the people voluntarily gave their assent, is not an idea of later date in the religious history of Israel, which grew out of the prophetic thoughts of the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., as has been claimed, but is found, as has been made prominent by Professor French Giesebrecht (Die Geschichtlichkeit des Sinaibundes, 1900), already in the oldest accounts of the conclusion of the covenant (E, J), and must be ascribed to the Mosaic age. This includes the fact, too, that this covenant, which unites Yahweh with Israel, could not be of an indissoluble character, but that the covenant was based on certain conditions. The superficial opinion of the people might often cause them to forget this. But the prophets could, in later times, base their proclamations on this fact.

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1. Early Aryan Religion

2. Avesta and Rig-Veda

3. The Creator


1. Leading Principle

2. Not Monotheistic

(1) Darius and Xerxes

(2) Ahura Mazda

3. Objects of Worship

4. Anro Mainyus and His Creatures

5. Production versus Destruction Fertility

6. Contest between Ormazd and Ahriman

7. Ethics

8. Sacred Thread

9. Early Traditions

10. The Earth

11. Heaven and Hell

12. Interment

13. Worship

14. The Magi

15. Eschatology

16. Hebrew and Christian Influence

17. No Virgin Birth


I. Before Zoroaster.

1. Early Aryan Religion:

There are clear indications in the Avesta that the religion of the Medes and Persians before Zoroaster's time agreed in most respects with that of the Indian Aryans, and in a less degree with the beliefs of the Aryans in general. All the Aryan tribes in very ancient times showed great respect for the dead, though they carefully distinguished them from the gods (compare Rig-Veda X, 56, 4). The latter were principally the powers of Nature, the wind, fire, water, the sky, the sun, the earth, and a host of personifications. The procreative powers in Nature, animate and inanimate, seeming to be the source of animal and vegetable life, received adoration, which ultimately led to unspeakable corruption. Herodotus tells us that the Persians in his time worshipped the sun, moon, sky, earth, fire, wind and water (i.131). Offerings to the gods were laid on a mass of pomegranate twigs (baresman; Sanskrit, barhis), and the flesh of victims was boiled, not burnt. Libations of haoma-juice were poured out, just as in India the soma was the drink of both gods and their worshippers.

2. Avesta and Rig-Veda:

A comparison between the spiritual beings mentioned in the Avesta and those spoken of in the Rig-Veda is most instructive in two ways. It shows that the original religion of the Iranians and of the Indian Aryans agreed very closely; and it also enables us to realize the immensity of the reformation wrought by Zoroaster. Many of the names of supernatural beings are practically the same; e.g. Indra (Indra, Andra), Mitra (Mithra), Aryaman (Airyaman), Asura (Ahura), Apam Napat (Apam Napat), Tvashtri (? Tishtrya), Rama (Raman), Vayu (Vayu), Vata (Vata). So are many words of religious import, as Soma (Haoma), Mantra (Mathra), Hotra (Zaotar). The Yama of India is the Yima of Persia, and the father of the one is Vivasvat and that of the other Vivanhat, which is the same word with dialectic change. The Holy River of the Avesta, Aredhvi Sura, the Unstained (Anahita), is represented by the Sarasvati, the Ganga (Ganges) and other sacred streams worshipped in India. In Persia Atar (or Fire) is a son of Ahura Mazda (Yasna LXIV, 46-53), as Agni (equals Ignis) is of Tvashtri in the Rig-Veda. Armaiti is Ahura Mazda's daughter, as Saranyu in the Rig-Veda is the daughter of Tvashtri, the "Creator." The use of gomez (bovis urina) for purification is common to both India and Persia. Though the soma-plant is not now the same as the haoma, the words are the same, and no doubt they at one time denoted one and the same plant. Many of the myths of the Avesta have a great resemblance to those of the Rig-Veda. This comparison might be extended almost indefinitely.

In another respect also there is an important agreement between the two. Though some 33 deities are adored in the Vedic Hymns, yet, in spite of polytheism and low ideas of the divine, traces of something higher may be found. Varuna, for instance, represents a very-lofty conception. In the closest connection with him stands Asura, who is a being of great eminence, and whose sons are the gods, especially the Adityas.

3. The Creator:

Tvashtri again is creator of heaven and earth and of all beings, though his worship was ultimately in Vedic times displaced by that of Indra. It is clear then that the Indian Aryans were worshippers of the Creator and that they knew something of Him long before they sank into polytheism. In the Avesta and in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions alike, Ahura Mazda occupies much the same position as Varuna, Asura (the same word as Ahura), or Tvashtri in the Rig-Veda, or rather in the ancient belief of which traces are retained in the latter work. Hence, as the Avesta teaches, Zoroaster was not for the first time preaching the existence of Ahura Mazda, but he was rather endeavoring to recall his people to the belief of their ancestors, the doctrine which Ahura Mazda had taught Yima in primeval time in his first revelation (Vendidad II, 1-16, 42). The great truth of the existence of the Creator, testified to by tradition, reason and conscience, undoubtedly contributed largely to Zoroaster's success, just as a similar proclamation of the God Most High (Allah ta`ala'), worshipped by their ancestors, helped the thoughtful among the Arabs in later years to accept Muhammad's teaching. The consciousness in each case that the doctrine was not new but very ancient, materially helped men to believe it true.

II. Zoroastrianism.

1. Leading Principle:

The reformation wrought by Zoroaster was a great one. He recognized-as Euripides in Greece did later-that "if the gods do aught shameful, they are not gods." Hence, he perceived that many of the deities worshipped in Iran were unworthy of adoration, being evil in character, hostile to all good and therefore to the "All-Wise" Spirit (Ahura Mazda) and to men. Hence, his system of dualism, dividing all beings, spiritual or material, into two classes, the creatures of Ahura Mazda and those of the "Destroying Mind" (Anro Mainyus). So many of the popular deities were evil that Zoroaster used the word daeva (the same as deva, deus, and Aramaic di) to denote henceforth an evil spirit, just as Christianity turned the Greek daimones and daimonia (words used in a good sense in classical authors) into "demons." Instead of this now degraded word daeva, he employed baga (Old Persian; Av. bagha, Vedic bhaga, "distribution," "natron" "lord") for "God."

2. Not Monotheistic:

But, it must be remembered that Zoroaster did not teach monotheism. Darius says that "Auramazda and the other gods that there are" brought him aid (Beh. Inscr., IV, 60-63), and both he and Xerxes speak of Auramazda as "the greatest of the gods." So, even in the first Gatha, Zoroaster himself invokes Asha, Vohu-Mano, maiti, Sraosha, and even Geus-urvan ("the Soul of the Bull"), as well as Ahura Mazda.

(1) Darius and Xerxes.

Darius mentions the "clan-gods," but does not name any of them. He and Xerxes ascribe the creation of heaven and earth to Auramazda, and say that the latter, "Who made this earth, who made yon sky, who made man, who made happiness for man," has appointed each of them king. It is "by the grace of Auramazda" (vashna Auramazdaha) that Darius conquers his enemies. But both Artaxerxes Mnemon and Artaxerxes Ochus couple Mithra and Anahata (Anahita) with Auramazda (Ahura Mazda) in praying for the protection of the empire.

(2) Ahura Mazda.

In the Avesta, Ahura Mazda is one of the seven Amesha spentas or "Bountiful Immortals." He is the father of one of them, Spentas Armaiti, who is also his spouse. He is primus inter pares among them, their chief, but by no means the only god. Monotheism is distinctly taught in later Zoroastrian works, for instance, in the Zaratusht-Namah, composed 1278 A.D., but it is due to Christian and Islamic influence.

3. Objects of Worship:

The modern Zoroastrian view, clearly stated in the Dasatir i Asmani and elsewhere, that all the good creatures of Ormazd (Ahura Mazda) are entitled to adoration, undoubtedly rests upon the Avesta. There we find, in the first place, the Amesha Spentas, who occupy in regard to Mazda the same position as do the Vedic Adityas toward Varuna, though not one of the Adityas is identical with any of the Amesha Spentas.

The names of these are: (1) Ahura Mazda (otherwise called Spento Mainyus or "Bountiful Mind");

(2) Vohu Mano ("Good Mind");

(3) Asha Vahista ("Best Righteousness");

(4) Khshathra Vairya ("Excellent Ruler");

(5) Spenta Amaiti ("Bounteous Piety");

(6) Haurvatat ("Health");

(7) Ameretat ("Immortality").

Each has a special province: thus Armaiti is the general spirit of earth and presides over its fruitfulness. She is the troness of virtuos matrons. Khshathra is the guardian of metals. Vohu Mano guards sheep and cattle and introduces to Ahura Mada the spirits of the just. Next in rank come the Yazatas ("Worshipful Ones"), of whom there are a large number. Three of them, Mithra, Rashnu and Sraosha, preside at the judgment of the dead on the 4th day from death. Rashnu holds the scales in which a man's deeds are weighed. Sraosha guards the soul during the first three nights after death. Airyaman Ishya ("the longed-for comrade") is the protector of mankind, the bestower of peace and happiness. On one occasion (Vend., Farg. XXII, 23-29) Ahura Mazda sends his messenger Nairyo Sanha ("male instructor") to ask his aid against overwhelming odds. Riman Hvastra, the bosom friend of Mithra, presides over the atmosphere and also gives its taste to food. Mithra is the genius of truth, possessed of 1,000 ears, and riding in a single-wheeled chariot (the sun), while darting golden darts and driving fiery steeds. Tishtrya, identified with the dog-star Sirius, sends rain and is by Ahura Mazda endowed with his own power and dignity (Yasht VIII, 52;). This is true of Mithra also (Yasht X, 1) Atar ("Fire"), Vayu ("Air"), Vata ("Wind"), Verethraghna ("Mars"), Saoka ("Prosperity"), Aratat (genius of Justice), Vizista ("Lightning"), Fradatfshu (the guardian of cattle), Berejya (genius of grain), Cista and Daena ("Knowledge" and "Religion"), who are others of the Yazatas. All these are entitled to worship at the hands of the true adorer of Mazda (Mazdayasna, opposed to Daevayasna, or worshipper of the demons).

4. Anro Mainyus and His Creatures:

In opposition to the creatures of Ahura Mazda are those of Anro Mainyus, who is the source of all moral and material evil. The first chapter of the Vendidad tells how he created something bad in opposition to everything good made by Ahura Mazda.

A demon is the adversary of each Amesha Spenta: Aka Mano ("Evil Mind") that of Vohu Mano, and so in order: Indra (or Andra, "demon of untruthfulness"), Saurva ("evil government") Nonhaithya ("discontent"), Tauru ("who poisons water") and Zairi ("poison"), being antagonistic to the other Bountiful Immortals. Aeshma-Daeva ("Demon of Wrath")-the Asmodeus of Tobit 3:8-is the special foe of Sraosha, the genius of obedience. Apaosha, demon of drought, is the enemy of Tishtrya. Buiti (or Buidhi) teaches men to worship idols, and also causes death. Bushyasta is the demon of sloth. Vidhatus or Astuvidhstus causes death by destroying the body. Other evil beings, Drujes, Pairikas, Jainis, Yatus, are so numerous in the later parts of the Avesta that a pious Zoroastrian must have lived in continual dread of their assaults. He had even to conceal the parings of his nails, lest they should be used as darts to his injury by these his spiritual foes.

5. Production versus Destruction:

Holiness does not enter into Zoroaster's conception of the divine nature. This is a point to which attention has not yet been properly directed, though its importance can hardly be exaggerated. The epithet Spenta, often applied to Ahura Mazda and mistranslated "Holy," is by the Zoroastrians themselves in Pahlavi rendered afzunik, i.e. "that causes increase." Its (?) span or spen equals (Sanskrit) svi, "to swell," "to grow," "to increase." The opposite to this is the term anro (angro, from (?) angh; compare German eng, "narrow") to the Evil Spirit, and denoting "narrowing," "decreasing," "destroying." Hence, as the Destroyer, he is styled pourumahrka, "full of death."


Ahura Mazda and his assistants promote life, fertility in man, beast and plant, agriculture, increase; while Ahro Mainyus and his creatures cause destruction and death. Atar ("Fire"), also styled Apam Napat ("Offspring of the Waters"), is the vital flame and the male energy in the world; Aredhvi Sura Anahita is the female. As a river the latter flows from Mt. Hukairya, a peak in the Elburz Range (Yasna LXIV), into the Caspian Sea (Vourukasha) in the midst of which grows the tree Hvapa ("well watered") which bears the seeds of all plants. Anahita means "undefiled," but it is applied to purity of water (to defile any of the four "elements" was, for later Zoroastrians, a grievous sin) and not to any moral purity in the goddess. Her association with Mithra was close, even in Herodotus time, for he falls into the mistake of saying (i.131) that the Persians called Aphrodite Mithra, when he should have said Anaitis (Anahita). Though god of truth and righteousness Mithra is not associated with moral purity (chastity). On the contrary, he was said to fertilize the earth with his rays, as sun-god, and Anahita as goddess of fruitfulness represented the female principle in conjunction with him. The vileness which led to the identification of Anahita with the Babylonian Mylitta was doubtless of later date than Zoroaster's time, yet there was little or nothing in Zoroastrianism to check it. Something similar asserts itself in Armenia, as well as in Iran, and in fact in all Nature-worship everywhere. Associated with this was the form of incest known as next-of-kin marriage (Av. Hvaetva-datha, Pahl. Khvetukdas), which permitted and encouraged marriages between brothers and sisters.

6. Contest between Ormazd and Ahriman:

According to later Zoroastrian belief, the contest between Ormazd (Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (Anro Mainyus), after continuing for 9,000 years, is to be decided in favor of the former only through his possessing foreknowledge and Ahriman's lacking it (Bund., I). Both came into existence independently in limitless time (Av. Zrvana Akarana; Vend., Farg. XIX, 13; Pahl. Daman i Akandrakhom-and, Bund., I), which, personified in the Vendidad, is called "Self-created," and is there by Ahura Mazda's command invoked by Zoroaster in conjunction with Vayu, the Air, the Winds, "the bountiful, beauteous daughter of Ahura Mazda" (Armaiti), the Earth, and other objects of worship (loc. cit.). No creature of Ahriman is to be worshipped; hence, Indra, though in later Vedic times rising in India to a leading position in the Pantheon, is in the Avesta accounted a fiend, the very impersonation of the Lie which the Avesta so firmly denounces and which Darius mentions as the cause of all the rebellions, which produced so much bloodshed in his time. No virtue was valued so highly as truth in ancient Iran, as Herodotus agrees with the Avesta in testifying.

7. Ethics:

Avestic morality encourages the destruction of all hurtful things, as being of Anro Mainyus' creation, and the propagation of everything good. Hence, agriculture is especially commended, together with the rearing of cattle and sheep. Somewhat later the whole duty of man was said to consist in good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Fierce opposition to every other religion was enjoined as a religious duty, and, under the Sasanides especially, this led to fearful and repeated persecutions of Christians throughout the empire.

8. Sacred Thread:

The Sacred Thread (Av. Aiwyonhana; Skt. Upavitam, etc., now by the Parsis styled the Kushti) plays as important a part in Zoroastrianism as in Hinduism. So do charms, mathras (Sanskrit, mantras), consisting in repetitions of the verses of the Avesta. The latter is even adored.

9. Early Traditions:

The first thing created by Ahura Mazda was a Bull, which may represent the earth, and reminds us of the Cow Audhumla in the Edda (Gylfaginning VI). This was killed Traditions by Anro Mainyus (in a later version, by Mithra). His spirit (Geus Urvan) went to heaven and became the guardian of cattle. The first man was Gaya-maretan ("Mortal Life"); hence, the phrase Haca Gayat Marethnat a Saosh-yantat, "from Gaya-maretan (Gayomard), Kayomarth) to Saoshyant" (Yasna XXVI, 10; Yasht XIII, 145), means "from the beginning to the end of the world." From the Airyanem Vaejo ("Aryan germ"), the first home of the Iranians, men were compelled to migrate because Anro Mainyus so altered the climate that the winter became ten months long and the summer only two. Yima Khshaeta ("Yima the Brilliant," Persian, Jamshid), son of Vivanhat, though he twice refused Ahura Mazda's commission to guard his creatures, and though by three lies he lost the "Royal Light" (Chvareno Kavaem) which he originally possessed, was yet directed to prepare a very extensive enclosure (Vara), in which he preserved "the seeds of sheep and cattle, of men, of dogs, of birds, and of red, glowing fires" from some terribly severe winters which came upon the earth (Vendidad II; Yasht XIX). The Bundihishnih tale of a flood differs from this, preserving an independent narrative. Ahura Mazda's law was preached to men within Yima's enclosure.

10. The Earth:

The earth consists of seven divisions, called Karshvares (compare the Sanskrit dvipas). Only one of these, Chvaniratha, is inhabited by men; the others are separated from it by impassable abysses. Sun, moon, and stars revolve round Mt. Taera, a peak in the Elburz Mountains (Demavend?). A later legend says that the Elburz Range surrounds the earth.

11. Heaven and Hell:

Each god and man possesses a fravashi, which has been compared to a guardian spirit and seems to differ from the soul (urvan). After judgment by Mithra, Rashnu and Sraosha, the souls of the dead must cross the Chinvat-bridge ("Bridge of the Judge"), which is guarded by two dogs and is narrow and difficult for the unjust, but wide and easy for the just. The righteous man then advances through three Paradises, those of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Works (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarsta: Yasht XVI; Arta Viraf Namak, VII IX), until, led by Sraosha, Atar, and Vohu Mano, he finally reaches Ahura Mazda's abode of light and glory, Garo-nmana (in Gathas, Garo-demana; Pahl. Garotman), where Ahura Mazda himself receives him with the words: "Greeting to thee; well hast thou come; from that mortal world hast thou come to this pure, bright place" (A. V. Namak, XI, 8, 9). But the soul of the wicked man, passing through regions of Evil Thoughts, Evil Words and Evil Deeds, finally reaches a dark and gloomy Hell (Duzhanh). In later times it was believed that those not yet fit for heaven waited in Misvana Gatus, an intermediate place where the extra merits of the just were stored up for the benefit of the less fortunate (Vend., Farg. XIX). A later name was Hamistakan. But De Harlez is of the opinion that this idea was borrowed from medieval Christianity.

12. Interment:

In primeval times the Persians buried or burned their dead. Zoroastrianism may have introduced the dakhma (Vendidad, passim) or Tower of Silence, on which bodies are exposed to be eaten by vultures. Those of which the ruins have been discovered at Al Hibbah are very ancient. But in Herodotus' time it was usual, after permitting the flesh to be devoured by dogs and birds, to cover the bones with wax and bury them (Herodotus i.140). This was done to prevent them from coming in contact with and so polluting the earth. The custom of burial is proved by the tombs of the Achemenian kings near Persepolis, and that of Cyrus, a stone chamber raised high above the ground, at Pasargadae.

13. Worship:

Zoroastrianism permits no idol-worship and no temples, fire-altars only being used. These were served by Atharvans or fire-priests, who fed the fire with costly wood and poured into it libations of haomajuice, taking care to cover their mouths with a cloth (paiti-dhana) to keep the sacred fire from being polluted by their breath. Sacrifices were often offered on the tops of the highest mountains under the open sky (Herodotus i0.132; Xen. Cyrop. viii).

14. The Magi:

The Magi doubtless owed their monopoly of priestly functions to their being Zoroaster's own tribe. They are not mentioned as priests in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions. Only once does the word. "Magus" occur in the Avesta, and then in composition (Moghu-tbish, a Magus-hater, Yasna LXV, 7). It is not necessary to trace to Babylonian influence the decay of Zoroastrianism and its degradation in late Achemenian times. This was at least in large measure due to a revival of the ideas and practices forbidden by Zoroaster, which reassert themselves in some parts of the Avesta, and which afterward gave rise to Mithraism.

15. Eschatology:

The Avesta states that, 1,000 years after Zoroaster's death, a prophet named Ukhshyat-ereta will arise from his seed to restore his religion. After another 1,000 years another, Ukhshyat-nemanh, will appear for the same purpose. The end of the world will come 1,000 years later. Then a third prophet, Saoshyant, will be born, and will usher in the Restoration (frasho-kereti) of the world to its primitive happiness and freedom from the evil creatures of Anro Mainyus. This process will be completed in 57 years, during which 6 other prophets will perform in the other 6 Karshvares the work which will here be accomplished by Saoshyant. But mention of this Restoration occurs only in very late parts of the Avesta (e.g. Vend., Farg. XVIII, 51). It does not mean Resurrection, as De Harlez has shown. Later still, something of the kind was believed, and in the Bundihishnih (chapter v) and the Patet (section 28) we have the word ristakhiz (from Av. irista, "departed," and chvis,"to rise"), which does mean "rising of the dead." But it can hardly be doubted that the doctrine is due to Hebrew and Christian influence, especially when we consider the late and uncertain date of the books in which the idea occurs.

16. Hebrew and Christian Influence:

Israelites settled in Media in large numbers in or about 730-728 B.C. under Sargon (2 Kings 17:6), long before Zoroaster's birth. It is possible that his reformation may have owed much therefore to Hebrew influence.


The idea of virgin birth has been asserted to occur in Zoroastrianism, both with reference to Zoroaster himself and to the last three great prophets of whom mention has been made. This is an error. The Avesta and all later Zoroastrian books speak of Zoroaster's birth as quite natural, his father being Pourushaspa. Nor is virgin birth referred to in the case of Saoshyant and the rest.

17. No Virgin Birth:

(Mater cuiusque ex iis, sese in lacu quodam lavans, Zoroastris semine illic reposito grayida facta filium pariet: Vend., Farg. XIX, 4-6; Yasht XIII, 128, 142; Bund., XXXII, 8, 9.) Virginity is not highly esteemed in the Avesta, though fornication is condemned.


Geldner's edition of text of Avesta; De Harlez, Avesta; Achemenian Inscriptions; Sacred Books of the East, volumes IV, XXIII, XXXI; Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig Veda; Haug and West, Arta Viraf Namak; Spiegel, Einleitung in die trad. Schriften der Parsen; Eranische Altertumskunde; Darmesteter, Etudes iraniennes; Haug, Essays on.... Religion of Parsis; De Harlez, Manuel du Pehlavi; Cook, Origins of Religion and Language.


W. St. Clair Tisdall


re-lij'-un: "Religion" and "religious" in Elizabethan English were used frequently to denote the outward expression of worship. This is the force of threskeia, translated "religion" in Acts 26:5 James 1:26, 27 (with adjective threskos, "religious"), while the same noun in Colossians 2:18 is rendered "worshipping" ("cult" would give the exact meaning). And in the same external sense "religion" is used by the King James Version for latreia, "worship" (so the Revised Version (British and American)), in I Maccabees 1:43; 2:19, 22. Otherwise "Jews' religion" (or "religion of the Jews") appears in 2 Maccabees 8:1; 14:38 (the Revised Version (British and American) bis); Galatians 1:13, 14 (Ioudaismos, "Judaism"); and "an alien religion" in 2 Maccabees 6:24 (allophulismos, "that belonging to another tribe"). The neglect of the external force of "religion" has led to much reckless misquoting of James 1:26, 27. Compare Acts 17:22.


Burton Scott Easton




sem'-its, sem-it'-ik,

1. Biblical References

2. The Five Sons of Shem

3. Original Home of the Semites

4. Confusion with Other Races

5. Reliability of Genesis 10

6. Semitic Languages

7. Semitic Religion

(1) Its Peculiar Theism

(2) Personality of God

(3) Its View of Nature

(4) The Moral Being of God


1. Biblical References:

The words "Semites," "Semitic," do not occur in the Bible, but are derived from the name of Noah's oldest son, Shem (Genesis 5:32; Genesis 6:10; Genesis 9:18, 23; 10:1, 21; 11:10 1 Chronicles 1). Formerly the designation was limited to those who are mentioned in Genesis 10; Genesis 11 as Shem's descendants, most of whom can be traced historically and geographically; but more recently the title has been expanded to apply to others who are not specified in the Bible as Semites, and indeed are plainly called Hamitic, e.g. the Babylonians (Genesis 10:10) and the Phoenicians and Canaanites (Genesis 10:15-19). The grounds for the inclusion of these Biblical Hamites among the Semites are chiefly linguistic, although political, commercial and religious affinities are also considered. History and the study of comparative philology, however, suggest the inadequacy of a linguistic argument.

2. The Five Sons of Shem:

The sons of Shem are given as Elam, Assbur, Arpachshad, Lud and Aram (Genesis 10:22). All except the third have been readily identified, Elam as the historic nation in the highlands East of the Tigris, between Media and Persia; Asshur as the Assyrians; Lud as the Lydians of Asia Minor; and Aram as the Syrians both East and West of the Euphrates. The greatest uncertainty is in the identification of Arpachshad, the most prolific ancestor of the Semites, especially of those of Biblical and more recent importance. From him descended the Hebrews and the Arab tribes, probably also some East African colonies (Genesis 10:24-30; Genesis 11:12-26). The form of his name 'arpakhshadh) has given endless trouble to ethnographers. McCurdy divides into two words, Arpach or Arpath, unidentified, and kesedh, the singular of kasdim, i.e. the Chaldeans; Schrader also holds to the Chaldean interpretation, and the Chaldeans themselves traced their descent from Arpachshad (Josephus, Ant, I, vi, 4); it has been suggested also to interpret as the "border of the Chaldeans" (BDB; Dillmann, in the place cited.). But the historic, ordinary and most satisfactory identification is with Arrapachitis, Northeast of Assyria at the headwaters of the Upper Zab in the Armenian highlands (so Ptolemy, classical geographers, Gesenius, Delitzsch). Delitzsch calls attention to the Armenian termination shadh (Commentary on Genesis, in the place cited.).

3. Original Home of the Semites:

If we accept, then, this identification of Arpachshad as the most northeasterly of the five Semitic families (Genesis 10:22), we are still faced by the problem of the primitive home and racial origin of the Semites. Various theories of course have been proposed; fancy and surmise have ranged from Africa to Central Asia.

(1) The most common, almost generally accepted, theory places their beginnings in Arabia because of the conservative and primitive Semitic of the Arabic language, the desert characteristics of the various branches of the race, and the historic movements of Semitic tribes northward and westward from Arabia. But this theory does not account for some of the most significant facts: e.g. that the Semitic developments of Arabia are the last, not the first, in time, as must have been the case if Arabia was the cradle of the race. This theory does not explain the Semitic origin of the Elamites, except by denial; much less does it account for the location of Arpachshad still farther north. It is not difficult to understand a racial movement from the mountains of the Northeast into the lowlands of the South and West. But how primitive Arabs could have migrated uphill, as it were, to settle in the Median and Armenian hills is a much more difficult proposition.

(2) We must return to the historic and the more natural location of the ancient Semitic home on the hillsides and in the fertile valleys of Armenia. Thence the eldest branch migrated in prehistoric times southward to become historic Elam; Lud moved westward into Asia Minor; Asshur found his way down the Tigris to become the sturdy pastoral people of the middle Mesopotamian plateau until the invasion of the Babylonian colonists and civilization; Aram found a home in Upper Mesopotamia; while Arpachshad, remaining longer in the original home, gave his name to at least a part of it. There in the fertile valleys among the high hills the ancient Semites developed their distinctively tribal life, emphasizing the beauty and close relationship of Nature, the sacredness of the family, the moral obligation, and faith in a personal God of whom they thought as a member of the tribe or friend of the family. The confinement of the mountain valleys is just as adequate an explanation of the Semitic traits as the isolation of the oasis. So from the purer life of their highland home, where had been developed the distinctive and virile elements which were to impress the Semitic faith on the history of mankind, increasing multitudes of Semites poured over the mountain barriers into the broader levels of the plains. As their own-mountain springs and torrents sought a way to the sea down the Tigris and Euphrates beds, so the Semitic tribes followed the same natural ways into their future homes: Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Palestine. Those who settled Arabia sent further migrations into Africa, as well as rebounding into the desert west of the Euphrates, Syria and Palestine. Thus Western Asia became the arena of Semitic life, whose influences also reached Egypt and, through Phoenicia, the far-away West-Mediterranean.

4. Confusion with Other Races:

While we may properly call Western and Southwestern Asia the home of the Semitic peoples, there still remains the difficulty of separating them definitely from the other races among whom they lived. The historic Babylonians, e.g., were Semites; yet they dispossessed an earlier non-Semitic people, and were themselves frequently invaded by other races, such as the Hittites, and even the Egyptians. It is not certain therefore which gods, customs, laws, etc., of the Babylonians were Semites, and not adopted from those whom they superseded.

Assyria was racially purely Semitic, but her laws, customs, literature, and many of her gods were acquired from Babylonia; to such an extent was this true that we are indebted to the library of the Assyrian Ashurbanipal for much that we know of Babylonian religion, literature and history. In Syria also the same mixed conditions prevailed, for through Syria by the fords of the Euphrates lay the highway of the nations, and Hittite and Mitannian at times shared the land with her, and left their influence. Possibly in Arabia Semitic blood ran purest, but even in Arabia there were tribes from other races; and the table of the nations in Genesis divides that land among the descendants of both Ham and Shem (see TABLE OF NATIONS). Last of all, in Palestine, from the very beginning of its historic period, we find an intermingling and confusion of races and religions such as no other Semitic center presents. A Hamitic people gave one of its common names to the country-Canaan, while the pagan and late-coming Philistine gave the most used name-Palestine. The archaic remains of Horite, Avite and Hivite are being uncovered by exploration; these races survived in places, no doubt, long after the Semitic invasion, contributing their quota to the customs and religious practices of the land. The Hittite also was in the land, holdling outposts from his northern empire, even in the extreme south of Palestine. If the blue eyes and fair complexions of the Amorites pictured on Egyptian monuments are true representations, we may believe that the gigantic Aryans of the North had their portion also in Palestine

5. Reliability of Genesis 10:

It is customary now in Biblical ethnology to disregard the classification of Genesis 10, and to group all the nations of Palestine as Semitic, especially the Canaanite and the Phoenician along with the Hebrew. McCurdy in the Standard BD treats the various gods and religious customs of Palestine as though they were all Semitic, although uniformly these are represented in the Old Testament as perversions and enormities of alien races which the Hebrews were commanded to extirpate. The adoption of them would be, and was, inimical to their own ancestral faith. Because the Hebrews took over eventually the language of the Phoenician, appropriated his art and conveniences, did traffic in his ships, and in Ahab's reign adopted his Baal and Astarte, we are not warranted at all in rushing to the conclusion that the Phoenicians represented a primitive Semitic type. Racial identification by linguistic argument is always precarious, as history clearly shows. One might as well say that Latin and the gospel were Saxon. There are indications that the customs and even the early language of the Hebrews were different from those of the people whom they subdued and dispossessed. Such is the consistent tradition of their race, the Bible always emphasizing the irreconcilable difference between their ancestral faith and the practices of the people of Canaan. We may conclude that the reasons for disregarding the classification of Genesis with reference to the Semites and neighboring races are not final. Out from that fruitful womb of nations, the Caucasus, the Semites, one branch of the C Caucasian peoples, went southwestward-as their cousins the Hamites went earlier toward the South and as their younger relatives, the Aryans, were to go northward and westward-with marked racial traits and a pronounced religious development, to play a leading part in the life of man.

6. Semitic Languages:

The phrase Semitic Languages is used of a group of languages which have marked features in common, which also set them off from other languages. But we must avoid the unnecessary inference that nations using the same or kindred languages are of the same ancestry. There are other explanations of linguistic affinity than racial, as the Indians of Mexico may speak Spanish, and the Germans of Milwaukee may speak English. So also neighboring or intermingled nations may just as naturally have used branches of the Semitic language stock. However, it is true that the nations which were truly Semitic used languages which are strikingly akin. These have been grouped as

(1) Eastern Sere, including Babylonian and Assyrian;

(2) Northern, including Syriac and Aramaic;

(3) Western, including Canaanite, or Phoenician, and Hebrew, and

(4) Southern, including Arabic, Sabean and Ethiopic (compare Geden, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 14-28).

The distinctive features of this family of languages are

(1) the tri-literal root,

(2) the consonantal writing, vowel indications being unnecessary so long as the language was spoken,

(3) the meager use of moods and tenses in verbal inflection, every action being graphically viewed as belonging to one of two stages in time: completed or incomplete,

(4) the paucity of parts of speech, verb and noun covering nearly all the relations of words,

(5) the frequent use of internal change in the inflection of words, e.g. the doubling of a consonant or the change of a vowel, and

(6) the use of certain letters, called "serviles," as prefixes or suffixes in inflection; these are parts of pronouns or the worn-down residua of nouns and particles. The manner of writing was not uniform in these languages, Babylonian and Assyrian being ideographic and syllabic, and written from left to right, while Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic were alphabetic and written from right to left.

The primitive forms and inflections of the group are best preserved in the Arabic by reason of the conservatism of the desert peoples, and in the Assyrian by the sudden destruction of that empire and the burial of the records of that language in a comparatively pure state, to be brought back to light by 19th-century exploration. All the characteristics given above are clearly manifest in the Hebrew of the Old Testament.

7. Semitic Religion:

In the study of Semitic Religion there are two tendencies toward error:

(1) the Western pragmatical and unsympathetic overtaxing of oriental Nature-symbols and vividly imaginative speech. Because the Semite used the figure of the rock (Deuteronomy 32:4, 18, 30) in describing God, or poetically conceived of the storm-cloud as Yahweh's chariot (Psalm 104:3), we must not be led into believing that his religion was a savage animism, or that Yahweh of Israel was only the Zeus of the Greeks. How should an imaginative child of Nature speak of the unseen Spiritual Power, except in the richest analogies of Nature?

(2) The second error is the tendency to treat the accretions acquired by contact with other nations as of the essence of Semitic religion, e.g. the golden calf following the Egyptian bondage, and the sexual abominations of the Canaanite Baal and Astarte.

The primitive and distinctive beliefs of the Semitic peoples lie still in great uncertainty because of the long association with other peoples, whose practices they readily took over, and because of the lack of records of the primitive periods of Semitic development, their origin and dispersion among the nations being prehistoric. Our sources of information are the Babylonian and Assyrian tablets and monuments, the Egyptian inscriptions, Phoenician history, Arabian traditions and inscriptions, and principally the Old Testament Scriptures. We can never know perhaps how much the pure Semitism ofBabylonians and Assyrians was diverted and corrupted by the developed civilization which they invaded and appropriated; Egypt was only indirectly affected by Semitic life; Semitic development in Arabia was the latest in all the group, besides which the monuments and reste of Arabian antiquity which have come down to us are comparatively few; and the Phoenician development was corrupted by the sensuality of the ancient Canaanitish cults, while the Bible of the Hebrews emphatically differentiated from the unwholesome religions of Palestine their own faith, which was ancestral, revealed and pure. Was that Bible faith the primitive Semitic cult? At least we must take the Hebrew tradition at its face value, finding in it the prominent features of an ancestral faith, preserved through one branch of the Semitic group. We are met frequently in these Hebrew records by the claim that the religion they present is not a new development, nor a thing apart from the origin of their race, but rather the preservation of an ancient worship, Abraham, Moses and the prophets appearing not as originators, but reformers, or revivers, who sought to keep their people true to an inherited religion. Its elemental features are the following:

(1) Its Peculiar Theism:

It was pronouncedly theistic; not that other religions do not affirm a god; but theism of the Semites was such as to give their religion a unique place among all others. To say the least, it had the germ of monotheism or the tendency toward monotheism, if we have not sufficient evidence to affirm its monotheism, and to rate the later polytheistic representations of Babylonia and Assyria as local perversions. If the old view that Semitic religion was essentially monotheistic be incapable of proof, it is true that the necessary development of their concept of God must ultimately arrive at monotheism. This came to verification in Abram the Hebrew, Jesus the Messiah (John 4:21-24) and Mohammed the false prophet. A city-state exclusively, a nation predominantly, worshipped one god, often through some Nature-symbol, as sun or star or element. With the coming of world-conquest, intercourse and vision, the one god of the city or the chief god of the nation became universalized. The ignorant and materialistic Hebrew might localize the God of Israel in a city or on a hilltop; but to the spiritual mind of Amos or in the universal vision of Isaiah He was Yahweh, Lord of all the earth.

(2) Personality of God:

Closely related to this high conception of Deity was the apparently contradictory but really potent idea of the Deity as a personality. The Semite did not grossly materialize his God as did the savage, nor vainly abstract and etherealize Him and so eliminate Him from the experience of man as did the Greek; but to him God universal was also God personal and intimate. The Hebrew ran the risk of conditioning the spirituality of God in order to maintain His real personality. Possibly this has been the most potent element in Semitic religion; God was not far from every one of them. He came into the closest relations as father or friend. He was the companion of king and priest. The affairs of the nation were under His immediate care; He went to war with armies, was a partner in harvest rejoicings; the home was His abode. This conception of Deity carried with it the necessary implication of revelation (Amos 3:8). The office, message and power of the Hebrew prophet were also the logical consequence of knowing God as a Person.

(3) Its View of Nature:

Its peculiar view of Nature was another feature of Semitic religion. God was everywhere and always present in Nature; consequently its symbolism was the natural and ready expression of His nature and presence. Simile, parable and Nature-marvels cover the pages and tablets of their records. Unfortunately this poetic conception of Nature quickly enough afforded a ready path in which wayward feet and carnal minds might travel toward Nature-worship with all of its formalism and its degrading excesses. This feature of Semitic religion offers an interesting commentary on their philosophy. With them the doctrine of Second Causes received no emphasis; God worked directly in Nature, which became to them therefore the continuous arena of signs and marvels. The thunder was His voice, the sunshine reflected the light of His countenance, the winds were His messengers. And so through this imaginative view of the world the Semite dwelt in an enchanted realm of the miraculous.

(4) The Moral Being of God:

The Semite believed in a God who is a moral being. Such a faith in the nature of it was certain to influence profoundly their own moral development, making for them a racial character which has been distinctive and persistent through the changes of millenniums. By it also they have impressed other nations and religions, with which they have had contact. The Code of Hammurabi is an expression of the moral issues of theism. The Law and the Prophets of Israel arose out of the conviction of God's righteousness and of the moral order of His universe (Exodus 19:5, 6 Isaiah 1:16-20). The Decalogue is a confession of faith in the unseen God; the Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-26) is equally a moral code.

While these elements are not absent altogether from other ancient religions, they are pronouncedly characteristic of the Semitic to the extent that they have given to it its permanent form, its large development, and its primacy among the religions of the human race. To know God, to hear His eternal tread in Nature, to clothe Him with light as with a garment, to establish His throne in righteousness, to perceive that holiness is the all-pervading atmosphere of His presence-such convictions were bound to affect the life and progress of a rate, and to consecrate them as a nation of priests for all mankind.


For discussion of the details of Semitic peoples and religions reference must be made to the particular articles, such as ARPACHSHAD; EBER; ABRAHAM; HAMMURABI; ASSYRIA; BABYLONIA; BAAL; ASHTORETH; ASHERITES; MOLOCH; CHEMOSH; CHIUN; ISRAEL, RELIGION OF etc. The literature on the subject is vast, interesting and far from conclusive. Few of the Bible Dictionaries have articles on this particular subject; reference should be made to those in the Standard and in the HDB, volume both by McCurdy; "Semites" in Catholic Encyclopedia skims the surface; articles in International Eric are good. In Old Testament Theologies, Davidson, pp. 249-52; Schultz, chapter iii of volume I; Riehm, Alttestamentliche Theologie; Delitzsch, Psychology of the Old Testament. For language see Wright's Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages. For history and religion: Maspero's three volumes; McCurdy, HPM; Hommel. Ancient Hebrew Tradition, and Semitic Volker u. Sprache; Jastrow, Comparative Semitic Religion; Friedr. Delitzsch, Babel u. Bibel; W. R. Smith, Religion of the Semites.

Edward Mack



1175. deisidaimonia -- a religion, superstition
... a religion, superstition. Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: deisidaimonia
Phonetic Spelling: (dice-ee-dahee-mon-ee'-ah) Short Definition: religion ...
// - 7k

2356. threskeia -- religion
... religion. Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: threskeia Phonetic Spelling:
(thrace-ki'-ah) Short Definition: ritual worship, religion Definition ...
// - 6k

2454. Ioudaismos -- Judaism
... Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine Transliteration: Ioudaismos Phonetic Spelling:
(ee-oo-dah-is-mos') Short Definition: the Jewish religion, Judaism Definition ...
// - 6k

1479. ethelothreskia -- self-willed (arbitrary and unwarranted) ...
... 1479 (from 2309 , "desire" and 2356 , "religion") -- properly, religion,
defined by the desires of the human -- which amounts to ! ...
// - 7k

3547. nomodidaskalos -- a teacher of the law
... in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), they had the status of "" -- ie a premier "teacher
of the Law" who gave "expert " on issues in Jewish life and religion. ...
// - 8k

2450. Ioudaizo -- to Judaize
... Verb Transliteration: Ioudaizo Phonetic Spelling: (ee-oo-dah-id'-zo) Short Definition:
I live as a Jew Definition: I live as a Jew (in religion, ceremonially). ...
// - 6k

3153. mataiotes -- vanity, emptiness
... ace) Short Definition: vanity, purposelessness Definition: vanity, emptiness, unreality,
purposelessness, ineffectiveness, instability, frailty; false religion ...
// - 6k

4339. proselutos -- one who has arrived (at Judaism), a proselyte
... Short Definition: a proselyte Definition: (lit: that has come to), a proselyte,
that is a non-Jew, who has been circumcised and has adopted the Jews' religion. ...
// - 6k

3097. magos -- a Magian, ie an (Oriental) astrologer, by impl. a ...
... Magoi, a Median tribe (so Herodotus); a Magian, one of a sacred caste, originally
Median, who seem to have conformed to the Persian religion, while retaining ...
// - 7k

5579. pseudos -- a falsehood, untruth, lie
... of Speech: Noun, Neuter Transliteration: pseudos Phonetic Spelling: (psyoo'-dos)
Short Definition: a lie Definition: a lie, falsehood, untruth; false religion. ...
// - 6k

Topical Bible Verses
James 1:27
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.


The Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Institutes of the Christian Religion. <. The Institutes of the Christian
Religion John Calvin. Table of Contents. Title Page. ...
// institutes of the christian religion/

The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul
The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. <. The Rise and Progress of
Religion in the Soul Philip Doddridge. Table of Contents. Title Page. ...
/.../ rise and progress of religion in the soul/

Lectures on Revivals of Religion
Lectures on Revivals of Religion. <. Lectures on Revivals of Religion
Charles Grandison Finney. Table of Contents. Title Page. ...
// on revivals of religion/

The Evidences of the Christian Religion, with Additional ...
The Evidences of the Christian Religion, with Additional Discourses. ... The Evidences
of the Christian Religion, with Additional Discourses Joseph Addison. ...
/.../addison/the evidences of the christian religion with additional discourses/

Miracles and Supernatural Religion
Miracles and Supernatural Religion. <. Miracles and Supernatural
Religion James Morris Whiton. Produced by Bryan Ness ...
// and supernatural religion/

Political Religion
... THE FIRST BOOK OF KINGS POLITICAL RELIGION. ... When once the principle of saving
trouble comes in, in religion, it generally plays a great part. ...
/.../maclaren/expositions of holy scripture f/political religion.htm

The Eccentricity of Religion
... THE ECCENTRICITY OF RELIGION. ... Meekness must be victimized; spirituality
must be misunderstood; true religion must be burlesqued. ...
/.../ ideal life/the eccentricity of religion.htm

Of Religion.
... Chap. VIII."Of Religion. But religion is overthrown if we believe Epicurus
speaking thus:". "For the nature of gods must ever ...
/.../a treatise on the anger of god addressed to donatus/chap viii of religion.htm

A Present Religion
... A Present Religion. A Sermon (No.196). ... So likewise with true religion; men
are constrained to believe that there is truth in religion. ...
/.../spurgeon/spurgeons sermons volume 4 1858/a present religion.htm

Whether Religion is a virtue?
... OF RELIGION (EIGHT ARTICLES) Whether religion is a virtue? Objection 1:
It would seem that religion is not a virtue. Seemingly it ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether religion is a virtue.htm



Feng Shui




Religion: False

Religion: National: Established by Jeroboam

Religion: National: Priests Supported by the State

Religion: National: Subverted by Jeroboam

Religion: National: Supported by Taxes

Religion: Natural

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Abel

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Abraham

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Anna, the Prophetess

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Asa

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Cornelius, Another Centurion

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Daniel

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Eunice and Lois

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Gideon

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Hezekiah

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Jabez

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Jacob

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Jehoshaphat

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Jehu

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Jethro

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Joshua

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Josiah

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Moses

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Noah

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Samuel

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Simeon

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Solomon

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: The Roman Centurion

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: The Three Hebrews (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego)

Religion: Outstanding Religious Persons: Zacharias

Religion: True



Related Terms

Religious (13 Occurrences)


Quick (49 Occurrences)

Magician (5 Occurrences)

Magic (12 Occurrences)


Preaching (116 Occurrences)


Fasting (34 Occurrences)


Intercession (12 Occurrences)



Fear (970 Occurrences)

Truth (380 Occurrences)





Jew (34 Occurrences)

Jeremy (2 Occurrences)

Jewess (3 Occurrences)

Jewish (49 Occurrences)

Godliness (16 Occurrences)

Firstling (8 Occurrences)

Cruelty (8 Occurrences)


Stoics (1 Occurrence)

Superstition (1 Occurrence)



Circumcision (98 Occurrences)

Fast (157 Occurrences)

Firstborn (119 Occurrences)

Conversion (1 Occurrence)



Molech (16 Occurrences)


Omnipotence (2 Occurrences)



Moloch (2 Occurrences)

Demoniac (7 Occurrences)

Demon (26 Occurrences)

Alexandria (4 Occurrences)

Ahab (85 Occurrences)

Syrians (63 Occurrences)

Education (4 Occurrences)

Idolatry (14 Occurrences)

Cruel (196 Occurrences)

Images (158 Occurrences)

Authority (326 Occurrences)

Mystery (31 Occurrences)


Holiness (76 Occurrences)

Golden (86 Occurrences)

Joram (26 Occurrences)




Armenia (2 Occurrences)


Gezer (14 Occurrences)


Galatia (6 Occurrences)

Rome (12 Occurrences)

Proselyte (2 Occurrences)

Obed-edom (16 Occurrences)

Obededom (15 Occurrences)

Lets (31 Occurrences)

Last (1087 Occurrences)

Gallio (3 Occurrences)

Godly (50 Occurrences)

Irreligious (7 Occurrences)

Fool (95 Occurrences)

Folly (68 Occurrences)

Faithless (46 Occurrences)

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