Origins of Sacred Texts & Sites
Humans began walking the earth nearly 200,000 years ago.
Buddha is said to have been born 2,600 years ago (623 BCE), Jesus 2,000 years ago (4 BCE), and Muhammad nearly 1400 years ago (570 CE).
Interestingly, the first examples of sacred religious texts began well before that — 5,000 years ago. Prior to the written word, expressions of the divine were carried through physical expression — speaking, carvings, nature, rituals. Since then, various religions have staked their claim of the divine in written texts. We can see this unfolding in this brief timeline of sacred texts and sites through the ages:
3200 BC – First Written Word (Sumerian, Mesopotamia)
2600 BCE – Kesh Temple Hymn (Sumerian, Mesopotamia)
2400 BCE – Cannibal Hymn (Egyptian)
1700 – 1100 BCE – Rigveda (Hindu)
1000 -600 BCE – I Ching (Chinese)
1000 – 600 BCE – Avesta (Zoroastrian)
800 – 600 BCE – Bible, Old Testament (Jewish, Christian)
BCE (Before the Common Era) >> CE (Common Era)
100 – 70 CE – Bible, New Testament (Christian)
330 – 360 CE – Bible, Codex Sinaiticus (Greek)
400 CE – The Sutras (Buddhism)
610 CE – Qur’an (Muslim)
1844 CE – The Báb (Bahá’í)
Almost all religions claim their origin story to have come first as an attempt to legitimize their doctrine as the “one” truth. Even within a single religion, different versions of the story exist with varying degrees of tolerance for deviation. What I find most fascinating is that looking at the progression of religion from this vantage point it is impossible — more than that, irrational — to believe there is only one truth about the divine. Over thousands of years, different interpretations have evolved, many of which burn on from the embers of religions that came before. Stories have morphed and been influenced by the state of the world in which they exist.
Our desire to describe the “great mystery” we feel in our hearts is natural, but the idea that there is only one story, one interpretation is where we get lost. The story or religion we choose to practice is only pointing to the divine — a religion or story itself is not divine.
The Buddha says “my teaching is not a dogma or a doctrine, but no doubt some people will take it as such. I must state clearly that my teaching is a method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. A thinking person makes use of the finger to see the moon. A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
As our youth continue to turn away from organized religion, I wonder if the lack of tolerance or appreciation for diverse religious views isn’t driving them away? I worry that our cell phones have replaced prayer — a new source for daily (hourly, minute-by-minute) inspiration. Or perhaps is it a deep seated mistrust in religions’ influence of power and domination? The other day I was speaking to a young man in Ukraine who described himself as an atheist. Having grown up in a culture predominately Catholic, I asked why atheism was important to him and he said, “There are only two types of wealthy people in my country — priests and government officials — the rest of us barely get by.”
I understand this young man’s mistrust — I feel it deep in my bones. And yet, there is an insatiable thirst for something other than technology to fuel my soul.
Namaste, Amen, Salaam, Shalom, Blessed Be, Ashe’, Gesundheit, Love and Light.
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