The First Prophets: Inside The Minds Of The World’s Oldest Religious Founders
"Let us be quiet, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson hints at the subjective experience of religious revelation - the revealing of a higher truth to a messenger by a supernatural deity. Religion is one of humankind's oldest and most important developments, and it has been studied from many perspectives: sociological, neurological, anthropological, and through evolutionary psychology. Despite its often destructive results, religion was originally intended to be beneficial, instructive, and hopeful.
Yet one still knows very little of how the first founders of the world's great religions actually thought. They all claimed to have experienced a religious revelation, beginning more than three millennia ago. What is at the heart of such experiences? Could there be a common mechanism at work in the minds of these great religious founders? This is difficult to gauge, as in many cases one has no reliable accounts of the lives of these individuals.
Moses with the Tables of the Law by Guido Reni (1624) Galleria Borghese (Public Domain)
Nonetheless, this paucity of information should not dissuade one from trying to develop insight into their minds. What if a common psychological mechanism was operating within these pioneering people, a syncretistic mechanism that emerged under conditions of physiological stress and cognitive dissonance? Their minds culminated and reorganized numerous older beliefs in profound new ways, reconciling their conflict and ultimately convincing themselves that they had been visited by a deity with a new message of hope for humanity.
Revelation versus Religious Syncretism
Ever since religions first emerged, they have interacted and joined features to create further religious vehicles. This process is called syncretism and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the " attempted union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices, especially in philosophy or religion". Generally understood to act over a long time on large populations, examples include Caribbean Santeria and Japanese Shinto-Buddhism.
More ancient examples include the combining of the Egyptian gods Amun and Ra, Osiris and Ptah, the Canaanite gods Baal and Zephon, and later Egyptian-Greek gods, such as Serapis (Osiris and Apis) and Hermanubis (Hermes and Anubis).
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Jonathon Perrin is a petroleum geologist who has helped excavate numerous prehistoric Native sites in Canada. With a degree in geology and archaeology, his passion is writing about ancient mysteries and uncovering the subverted truths of history. He is the author of Moses Restored: The Oldest Religious Secret Never Told, available in print or as an e-book from Amazon.com.
Top Image: La conversion de Saint Paul by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy. (Public Domain)