Give me that old-time religion
Posted by R. Berg on August 08, 2001
In Reply to: Gods posted by ESC on August 07, 2001
: : What civilization had first used this expression. This is something that was not explained in my studies at the university in the comparative religious class.
: I think your question is, when did humans put a name to the idea of a supernatural being or beings? My son the religion scholar (I'm so proud) tells me that religion predates humans. "Pre-humans" originated the idea of a god or gods. Or, let me correct myself, from the time that these early people had conscious thought, they knew God. So words meaning God were probably among the first spoken words.
: What do you think Phrase Folk? To get the discussion ball rolling, here's some information I found on the subject of the name of the Supreme Being.
: From "Sacred Origins of Profound Things: Stories Behind the Rites and Rituals of the World's Religions" by Charles Panati (Penguin Books, New York, 1996): "god. God. The lower-case word summons images of paganism and humankind's primitive past.The upper-case word invokes the single unifying being or oneness who triumphed over polytheism,.. One God. A personal God . 'I am the Lord thy God,' he made clear early on, perhaps as early as 1400 B.C.E, 'thou shall have no other Gods before Me' (Exod. 20:2-3). Let's start with God's earliest name. YAHWEH: NEAR EAST, c. 1400 to c. 1200 B.C.E. He's Allah to Muslims, a word that in Arabic translates as 'God.' He's 'God the Father' to Christians.To the ancient Israelites, however, he was 'Yahweh.' A personal name. On Mount Sinai, c. 1400 B.C.E., from out of a burning bush, God called to Moses.ordering the prophet to free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Startled, Moses asked: 'If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?' (Exod. 3:13)' God answered cryptically, cloaking his name in four Hebrew consonants: YHWH - called the tetragrammaton, meaning 'four things written.' It is pronounced Yahweh, which has various translations: 'I am who I am,' or 'I shall be what I shall be,' or as some linguists argue, 'He who brings into existence whatever exists.' All three meanings demonstrate how the word 'Yahweh' is related to the Hebrew verb 'to be,' which reaches beyond 'to exist' to encompass 'to be actively present in.' This connotation of 'active presence' implies that God is with us and active in daily events.(Scribes) combined the unpronounceable YHWH with vowels from two popular old Hebrew terms for God: 'Adonai' and 'Elohim' - arriving at YeHoWah, which Renaissance Christians rendered as Jehovah. This form made its way into the King James Bible. Had the word 'Yahweh' been spoken before Moses heard it on Mount Sinai? Linguists tell us that Yahweh was one of many names for a primary pagan 'god' known to all ancient Semitic peoples before the birth of monotheism."
: From the Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Revised by Adrian Room) "God. A word common, in slightly varying forms, to all Germanic languages, and coming from a root word related to Old Irish 'guth,' 'voice.' It is in no way connected with the English word 'good.'"
: From the "Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995). "God or god. n. Old English (about 725) 'god' Supreme Being, deity; cognate with Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Dutch, 'god,' Supreme Being, deity, Old High German 'got' (modern German 'Gott'), Old Icelandic 'godh,' 'gudh,' and Gothic 'guth,' .The Germanic words for 'god' were originally neuter, but after Germanic tribes adopted Christianity, 'God became a masculine syntactic form."
The oldest use of a word that translates as "gods" that I know of is in "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (Sumerian, c. 2000 B.C.). "When the gods created Gilgamesh, they . . ." The first civilization to speak of gods would be whatever civilization was the first to be polytheistic, and that may have been the Sumerian, but I don't know that it was. By the account in the Bible, polytheism predated monotheism--but that account doesn't claim to report events in the whole world, only in the Near East.