Ancestral religions and the Origins of Monotheism

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Assignment 5: Ancestral religions and the Origins of Monotheism (individual paper)

Readings to use for this assignment:

  1. ATR in Key Theses
  2. God in ATR
  3. Bumuntu Memory
  4. Tolerant Gods
  5. Origin of Monotheism (by Jan Assmann)
  6. Egypt and Israel
  7. Egyptology and Theology

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO IN YOUR PAPER

The focus of this paper is to understand the real nature of African religions and their contribution to Humanity.

You basically have to summarize the readings around that specific topic.

It is crucial

  • to summarize the African vision of God (characteristics or attributes of God): use the following texts: “God in ATR,” “ATR in Key Theses” and “Tolerant Gods”
  • to describe the African vision of morality (summarize specifically the major moral values taught by African spirituality): use the text titled “Bumuntu Memory” and “ATR in Key Theses.”
  • to clarify what Africa has contributed to world civilization and “world spirituality” (via ancient Egypt). Here you have to address the Egyptian problem: what did Egypt contribute to the Bible, to Judaism, to Christianity, and to Pre-Christian Europe (mainly Greek Religion, Philosophy, Science, Democracy and Human Rights). And identify what Herodotus and Basil Davidson said about the culture and race of ancient Egyptians, and write your thought on this matter. Here use the following texts: Origin of monotheism (by Jan Assmann), Egypt and Israel, ATR in Key Theses, and “Egyptology and Theology.”

Origins of Monotheism

Some Specific Questions to be addressed:


  1. How do these readings dispel negative myths about African spirituality or African traditional religions?
  2. What is the African conception of God (the nature of God and his characteristics, see text 10 on the Concept of God in African religions)
  3. Summarize the fundamental moral values of African traditional religions and in so doing explain how Africans define a “good human being,” or a genuine religious person or someone regarded as holy or “a good guy.” ( “Bumuntu” text is critical here).
  1. Explain the origin of Monotheism using these texts, especially the text by Jan Assmann. What is the African contribution to the Bible, to Judaism and to Christianity and to world religions in general?
  2. How did you feel while doing this assignment? What did surprise you? What did you find unbelievable and why?
  3. How did this assignment help you achieve the educational goals of our university
  4. Identify 5 citations (sentences from the Readings) that you found significant for our learning process, and explain why you found them significant for our learning process in this course.

GUIDING PERSPECTIVE FOR THIS PAPER

  1. “If archaeologists are correct in believing that the first human beings came from Africa, then it stands to reason that the first religions also originated there… It is possible that, as the earliest humans slowly migrated to other continents of the world, they carried with them religious ideas and practices that originated in Africa.”

Robert M. Baum, “Indigenous Religious Traditions” in Willard G. Oxtoby and Alan F. Segal, A Concise Introduction to World Religions. (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 15-17.

  1. In 2003, Dr. Jackson J. Spielvogel (Professor at the Pennsylvania State University) opened his book on “Western Civilization” with chapter one on “The Ancient Near East: the First civilizations” in which he made the following important remark:

“All humans today, whether they are Europeans, Australian Aborigenes, or Africans, belong to the same subspecies of human being. The first anatomically modern humans, known as Homo Sapiens Sapiens appeared in Africa between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago. They began to spread outside Africa around 100,000 years ago… By 10,000 B.C., members of the Homo Sapiens Sapiens species could be found throughout the world… Western civilization can be traced back to the ancient Near East, where people in Mesopotamia and Egypt developed organized societies and created the ideas and institutions that we associate with civilization. The later Greeks and Romans, who played such a crucial role in the development of Western Civilization, where themselves nourished and influenced by these older societies in the Near East. It is appropriate, therefore, to begin our story of Western civilization in the ancient Near East with the early civilization of Mesopotamia and Egypt.”

Ancestral religions

Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization. Volume 1: to 1715. (Thomson Wadsworth, 2003), p.2.

  1. “As the time drew near for God to fulfill the promise he had solemnly made to Abraham, our nation in Egypt grew larger and larger, until a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing of Joseph. He exploited our race, and ill-treated our ancestors, forcing them to expose their babies to prevent their surviving. It was in this period that Moses was born, a fine child and favored by God. He was looked after for three months in his father’s house, and after he had been exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptiansand became a man with power both in his speech and his actions.”

(Acts 7, 17-22, Stephen’s Speech. From The Jerusalem Bible).

  1. Robert Fisher, American missionary:

Reflecting on the discoveries of linguistics, genetics, paleontology, and history of art, the American missionary Robert Fischer comes to the logical conclusion on the significant role played by Africa in the origin of world religions and their basic symbols and rituals, and religious language:

The scientists, whose job is to look for fossil remains and to dig for archeological evidence of human origins, have probably demonstrated quite well for us that the earliest human life forms appeared in East Africa over a million years ago. These paleoanthropologists maintain that the first humans evolved in Africa and migrated to Europe and Asia.

These earliest human life are referred to as Homo erectus. The evolution from Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens is explained in various ways. Some believing in the “multiregional hypothesis” claimed that some Homo Sapiens developed in Africa, another in Europe and another in Asia.

But other scholars maintain that all humans that inhabit the earth today came out of the Homo Sapiens that evolved in Africa (“Out of Africa” theory). Scientists at Berkeley, California, and at Emory, in Atlanta, by looking at patterns of genetic variation of mitochondrial DNA among human populations, determined that Africans, of all existing populations, have the deepest genetic roots. Since only women are the bearers of a type of “genetic time-clock,” the African woman stands out as the model of a kind of “Mitochondrial Eve.” Thus genetic evidence point to the origin of humankind from a “Black Eve.” All humanity descends from a Black African woman. The fundamental belief among many scientists is that the transformation of an archaic human form to a modern form of Homo Sapiens occurred first in Africa about 100,000 to 150,000 years ago.

From Africa this most recent ancestor migrated to spread over the face of the earth. All human beings therefore descended from Africans. This implies that not only humanity, but also language, culture, civilization and religion were born in Africa… Until about 1950 it was assumed that the Afroasiatic language family had been introduced into Africa from neighboring Asia, but now it is widely held that it originated in Africa west of the Red Sea. It includes the Semitic languages of southwestern Asia, such as Arabic, Hebrew, and ancient Aramaic, and the ancient Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, and Omotic languages of northern and northeastern Africa…

The point we make here is that since the cradle of humanity was probably Africa – or, at least, one important segment of the species Homo Sapiens evolved out of an early genetic pool in Africa – one could claim that dance, ritual, and ceremony are the dramatic elements of the religious traditions that are still extant today all over sub-Saharan Africa and have spread from there over the face of the earth. The African is a person of dance. The Africans were the first human beings to dance and reflect on their humanity in terms of a world beyond the physical, the spiritual order of gods and ancestors. The Africans were the messengers of art and of the good news about a world beyond the mere mundane earth.”

Robert B. Fisher, West African Religious Traditions: Focus on the Akan of Ghana. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998), pp.13-15; 30.

 

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