When I watch any documentary on archeology concerning the bible, even if it is supposedly secular, it is always claimed that Judaism is the first monotheistic religion in existence. Yet, it is clear that the archeology regarding Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) was earlier. But even besides that I’m even more confused at why everyone seems to have a consensus that polytheism itself was actually ever really the essence of any society at any time in the first place. In other words, to me it seems clear that all religions from tribal times on up were generally of either a monotheistic nature or of a secular nature. Of course there would be odd ones here and there that have origins of exactly two essences. But generally speaking, the assumptions we hold that ancient societies have held polytheistic origins doesn’t make sense.
The tribal cultures would likely have based their beliefs on stories of their real family ancestors that get distorted or exaggerated in time. The animism assumed to be based on physical surroundings and events would have been only accepted as a means of practical use. In other words, the members of the tribes may not necessarily believe nor be required to believe a literal mystical certainty behind their myths and rituals, they were just means to learn to function, behave, and try to predict events in reality better as a cohesive family group. Learning a new word, for instance, can be spelled out by a story of its roots. If a functional word was most memorable because it was the name of a past ancestor who had a character that defined the meaning of the term, than it made memorizing the word that much easier.
If you recognized the clarity of the ancient mind as reasonable rather than naive or dumb, you can think for instance that they would easily infer that all living humans or other animals require this ‘invisible’ air or spirit to imbue life. They would also notice how the different types of airs go from visible, rise up, and become invisible. A fire, for instance shows smoke go up and diffuse to become less and less visible. Also, it would make sense to say that those precious waters that fall from above must come from the blue seas above to become the visible clouds before they burst down as rain. So, ... would it not be reasonable back then to assume that burning something may encourage that smoke to contribute to the sky, possibly make clouds, and fall as rain? The ritual of sacrifice could have been born of such thinking. The words they use to communicate these would have been imbued with the possible personalities of those whom helped make the words have meaning. And the people would have understood this.
If they had guesses as to their origins, it would be likely that they would have presumed some type of single source. Some tribes may have attributed it to a thing, like an egg, or to a full personality as in an anthropomorphic ancestor. Most would likely be female as they seem to be more evident to be the source of birth for certain. More mature tribes that certainly know the male sperm as being essential too could have a male god. And some, may have both.
The birth of what appears to be polytheism, I believe, is actually the birth of agriculture and the original intent of the temple. As tribes learned how seeds related to crop growth, it would be likely that they first had temporary stays at small field plantations that they would stop to on cycles of their yearly hunting and gathering routes. But as more and more tribes would catch on to this new technology, they too would begin to do the same. A problem would begin to rise such that a tribe might come by at harvest time only to find another tribe reaping their areas leaving them nothing.
At first, it may have been accidental. The later arrivals could just till the alternate field instead. But even this would become impossible after time and the result would be a lot of conflict between tribes. The best way to settle their claims would have been to mark their areas with something that is unique to each tribe. At first they may have tried clay signatures—one they leave with the land, and one they keep with the tribe. Perhaps they are inverse markings that match. But eventually, new problems would arise where sneaky people would just dig up the clay markers and replace it with theirs. There had to be another way. But how?
I believe that they opted to create a communal center where the tribes would leave totem markers that represent their claims and eventually representatives from each tribe to stay at these places to secure these markers. These markers are the idols we’ve come to know as belonging to temples and the representatives became the priests, where each one represented a different tribe. The apparent polytheism is nothing but a phase of an early coming together of different cultures. Of course the priests and idols represent a god-figure or something similar. They were emblems or reminders that certified the unique tribes; they were the signatures. But these centers were NOT centers of worship as we tend to assume today. Only as generations of the settled peoples began to intermingle and intermarry is it likely that the general population began to forget the original functions of the temples.
In order to keep the peace in a setting society, it would have been time necessary to require a policing crew that was unified in its decision-making and actions. So the priests would likely have collectively negotiated either one of their tribes or an outside one that specializes in such skills to do so. That select tribe and it’s leader would have been the origin of the King. He or she would be in command of the policing and protection of the society and would also have their own tribal beliefs represented in the temple. But as a whole, the social order would not impose any people to be required to betray their tribal cultures and their priests. (At least, originally)
This is my theory of the original temples, priests, kings, and theism. Does this fair well to anyone else?