The first gods are fake

I’ve been working on a manuscript for a couple years that I’m trying to get published. It’s called ‘The lie of the first gods: Food Cons in Early Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Egyptian Religion.’ Thought people on this site might be interested in my argument. I looked into where the first god claims come from. Here’s what I found:

In Mesopotamia and Egypt, the first gods are statues, beautiful statues, but lifeless statues, and those statues are sometimes described as animate. They were supposedly possessed by heavenly gods deep inside temples, and then they ate and drank enormous feasts. In fact, the elites who claimed to serve them (kings, priests, state officials) ate and drank those feasts of meat, grain, bread, alcohol, etc., That food and drink came to them as offerings from peasants and other citizens.

In China, the first gods are ancestral spirits and nature powers. Those heavenly spirits supposedly appeared in temples during feasting rituals, and either ate and drank meat, wine, millet, etc. or absorbed its essence. Here the food and drink again came from the fields of peasants and other citizens.

Early elites lied about the first gods: kings, priests, state officials, etc. made claims about gods that cannot be true as if they were described. Chinese princes said spirits appeared audibly and visibly at their sacrifices, but they didn’t. Mesopotamian kings said that statues ate meat and drank alcohol, but they didn’t. Egyptian priests said statue-Horus drank wine, and statue-Sobek poured milk into his wooden mouth, but they didn’t either. This amounts to boldface lies.

Early elites watched feasting rituals go on, so they saw for themselves that the first gods did not exist as they described them to peasants and other citizens. I am arguing that early elites are little more than con artists, who deceived non-elites with their lies about gods. Gods were invented by early elites because they wanted to eat and drink well. A believing peasantry and other citizens meant they would continue receiving food and drink offerings “for gods,” offerings those elites then consumed themselves behind closed doors.

I welcome anyone’s thoughts on what I’ve posted. If anyone is interested in reading parts of the manuscript, shoot me a message. Fair warning, it’s a bit dense.

Chinese and Egyptian gods are not a part of the Abrahamic traditions. Is there a connection between Chinese and Egypt? How are you tying any of this together? “Early gods?” Why are you looking at major cultures? Did you omit the Greeks and the Romans? The Hittites and Babylonians and ancient Pantheons?

Your book sounds confusing and directionless.

LOL - Loved the soccer vid. Reminds me of my all time favorite soccer player, Rod Sterling.

I’ll respond point by point:

  1. “Chinese and Egyptian gods are not part of the Abrahamic traditions.” That’s not the point of the book. I deliberately avoid talking about Abrahamic faiths. They’re too late historically to tell us anything about where god claims originally came from, and they were influenced by other religions that were in the Middle East before them, i.e., Mesopotamian and Egyptian state religion.

  2. I’m tying it together by pointing out that the same kind of feasting rituals were performed in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Those feasting rituals involve gods who supposedly appeared or lived in temples, where they ate and drank their offerings. Those offerings came from peasants and other citizens. Do you see the common thread? I argue that this common thread means that early religions were food cons. A food con is a type of confidence game in which a con artist tricks a mark into surrendering their food or drink. In other words, as I already explained, early god claims were invented, dreamed up, lied into existence, to defraud peasants and other citizens. Elites only had the offerings to eat and drink because non-elites believed in early gods who were always hungry and thirsty.

  3. Why am I looking at “major cultures”? Because that’s where the first god claims were made, or the earliest documented god claims. Which cultures which left writings behind came earlier than Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China?

  4. The Greeks and the Romans are too late to tell us anything about where god claims originally came from.

  5. “Early gods”: I mean Mesopotamian gods like Enlil and Ishtar, Egyptian gods like Horus or Osiris, Chinese gods like ancestral spirits of Shang kings, etc. The first gods. The earliest gods on record.

  6. The Babylonians are Mesopotamians. They lived in Mesopotamia. My chapter on Mesopotamia talks about Babylonian gods such as Marduk, but more importantly talks about Mesopotamian civilization.

The Greek and Roman Pantheons were based on the Pagan rituals of food offerings to the gods. Not sure why that is late in history.

You keep saying “Original God claims.” We know that animism evolved into token worship. We have Ancestor Worship in China and throughout Asia. Sympathetic ritualism of Shamanist traditions evolving into Parasympathetic symbolic traditions.

First gods? Was that Zoroastrianism that began two millennium before christianity? No, because Hinduism goes back a lot further. How about the first known temple, Gobekli Tepe. How about the Aztecs, who sacrificed people?

You must account for all of these to make the book valid.

@Cognostic Yea, Scott Sterling is a soccer god, the man, the myth, the legend.

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I disagree. Historically, Zoroastrianism comes from a “prophet” who lived in the early 1st millennium BCE. The god claims I examine come from the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, meaning 1000-2000 years before Zoroaster. I don’t think I’m going too far by arguing that earlier god claims influenced Zoroastrian religion.

I considered studying the Aztecs but they’re a 1st-2nd millennium CE culture. They were influenced by far earlier Mesoamerican religions and because there aren’t good textual remains from Mesoamerica, I didn’t write about them in the book.

So are we going back to Middle Paleolithic Bear Worship? Where are you drawing these lines and why? Why only 2000 years prior to Babylonia? Why not 3000 years? Whatever the distinction is, you have in your mind, you are not making it clear in what you have written.

Does your book have a goal?
Who is your audience?
Why would anyone want to read your book?
Are you saying anything new or interesting?
You are doing research I presume??

How are your findings showing a new side to information that is already out there, or adding to information that is already out there. Obviously you are not saying anything new as your not doing authentic research in the field. (Archeology.) You are merely regurgitating some stuff you have read in a (supposedly) different light. This begs the question (Are you an expert in the field? Why would anyone listen to anything you say?)

You’re being a little hostile and I’m not sure why, but I’ll answer your questions. I am not an expert in the field of ancient religions, but I published an article and a book review in the academic journal Sociology of Religion in 2015 and 2019 respectively, so I’m an independent scholar with some background in the concepts I use in ‘The lie of the first gods…’. If you’re interested, I can send you the article to read. It’s about Pentecostal Christianity, and I examine it through the lens of Collins’ interaction ritual theory.

Second, I am not “regurgitating” anything. Please tell me who else is saying that gods are deliberate lies of early elites, who lied to eat and drink well. Please tell me where else you read the phrase “food con,” a concept I developed myself. You will not find it online, you will not find it in books. It’s a type of confidence game (Confidence trick - Wikipedia), a trick meant to defraud someone. That’s where religion comes from: it comes from confidence games, like the ones people try on the subway, when they ask to use your phone to “call a ride” and then run off with it. It’s that simple.

As for my findings, I studied Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt by reading English translations of some 125 ancient texts as well as examining archaeological data (that’s archaeology with an a). I cite existing social science research and dialogue with it throughout, including well-known authors in the fields of these ancient faiths.

So if you want to talk science, social science: I have data, I have a concept I introduce and other concepts I use (interaction rituals, elites and non-elites, etc.), and I situate my findings within the wider field. I introduce a new perspective on literally old evidence. That’s social science baby.

I’m not going to respond to your 5 questions because I’ve answered them already. You want to read the book proposal, you’re more than welcome to, but I answer it in there.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha … Hostile for asking logical questions. Ha ha ha ha ha ha … Do you understand, what you have said thus far makes little to no sense at all.

Your words exactly … What is it you are arguing and why should anyone give a shit> WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?

Okay… at least you took the time to reply. Let’s go see what you have to say.

Now why is it you can be concise when describing this article but completely amorphous when attempting to describe your book? Are you still trying to figure out a direction?

You are still using amorphous terms, original, early elites, ancient faiths, (Aparently Random but selected to fit your criteria - isn’t that what creationists do?) This brings into question the scope of your references. How did you determine scope and why? Still wondering who your audience is and why?

New perspective on old evidence? We know the pagan religions of Greece and Rome took offerings of food and money, livestock and crops from the people and that the elite had full use of these offerings, even giving some of them back to the people at the coliseum games or during religious festivals. So, this much is common knowledge. You are asserting that the same rituals occurred prior to the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Babylonians, I gather… ? How is this interesting?

Cool, send me the link to the book proposal. I have a degree in Sociology and another in Psychology. I am always interested in new ideas. My knowledge of the Western religions basically ends with Zoroastrianism. You have ‘said’ absolutely nothing that peaks my interest.

Shoot me a message and I’ll copy and paste the proposal into my reply.

That said…

You said something that’s remotely coherent, and it’s this: that you think I’m wrong because in Greece and Rome the gods’ offerings were apparently redistributed to the masses. Stop thinking about Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt in light of Greece and Rome. They aren’t the same civilization, they don’t have the same practices.

Let me explain it again. In Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China, peasants and other citizens provided the offerings for statues and spirits, those are the gods I’m talking about. Those offerings were consumed by elites who claimed- lied- that they fed them to statues or spirits. They did not return those offerings to the faithful as was apparently the case in Greece and Rome; they kept them for themselves. That’s the difference here.

It’s interesting because this weighs against the possibility that Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Egyptian elites believed in their own god claims. I’m saying they couldn’t have believed in them, and did not believe in them. They made those god claims anyway (animate statues, descending spirits) because they got the offerings by making them.

Their claims amount to a confidence game (Confidence trick - Wikipedia). Are you familiar with confidence games? A confidence game involves a con artist tricking someone into voluntarily surrendering valuable property. In ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China, many feasting rituals “for gods” constitute confidence games, I’m arguing. In simple terms:

Step 1. King says to peasant: “These statues are hungry and thirsty. If I feed them for you, they will make the rivers run and the sky rain” (that’s a claim from the Sumerian hymn Utu E, found here: A shir-namshub to Utu (Utu E): translation).
Step 2. Peasant surrenders their grain and animals
Step 3. Kings, priests, state officials, etc. eat the grain and animals themselves.

This shows early god claims are not sincere misunderstandings of reality, but are deliberate lies, motivated lies, from persons who benefitted from peasants and other citizens believing that.

Where do you think god claims come from? Sincere mistakes, lies, or somewhere else? I’m trying to point out that my perspective is innovative.

Then you are dismissing other cultures and religions because they do not fit your presupposed narrative. That is not even science or research. It is propaganda.

To be fair, he says he explicitly looks at really old religious practices. Way older than what the greeks and romans looked at. And hence much older than e.g. Aztec religions, which are new in comparison. For these, proto-native american religious practices would be more interesting, but there are noe written tracks of these. The oldest religions where we can say something definite are those where there are written records. Which leaves us with, say, sumerian and maybe old assyrian religions, old egyptian practices, and religious practices for where there are written records 4000 years or older, or something like that.

However, I also understand the arguments that fraudulent practices in newer religions would also be relevant. There are plenty of modern religions to pick from, of which Scientology is one where you have a combination of outright dishonesty, fraud, etc. at the top level. And I think it would be interesting to make a comparison here.

Yes. Just an impression, but the ideas and the way they are expressed sound like those of a self taught person.

As far as we know, the first gods and spirits originated at least in the neolithic, possibly earlier.

Imo, virtually universal spiritual beliefs began and have persisted because they meet important human needs. When those needs are met elsewhere, religiosity recedes, as is happening in affluent societies.

As far as I’m aware the beliefs and motivations of the diverse priestly castes and of individuals is unfalsifiable.

I think your premise is flawed and irrelevant. Nor are you claims original or novel.

However, if that’s your hobby, you’re not hurting anyone.

Not always a good idea to ask for opinions unless you really want them.

Get_off_my_lawn: I see the value in what you’re suggesting. For the purposes of the faiths I considered, I think it would be jarring to include much later faiths. Totally with you that religious deception is not limited to the earliest god claims recorded (Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and likely others of nearly comparable age).

boomer47: I want people’s opinions or I wouldn’t ask. You’re not being hostile, you’re offering constructive criticism; I don’t agree with your perspective, but I welcome your thoughts. I am admittedly self-taught in these ancient faiths (Mesopotamia, China, Egypt), but I studied them by reading widely in the texts which survive from those faiths and reading existing scholarship produced by experts in the fields. As for my training, I have an M.A in Sociology and I’ve been formally trained in the sociology of religion.

As for your argument: I don’t dispute the fact that religious ideas provided apparent value to persons other than early elites. Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Egyptian elites told peasants and other citizens that by sacrificing to gods like Enlil, Ishtar, Horus, Tang, etc. their lives would be better. Those gods supposedly made the sky rain and the rivers run and so on, protected warriors in battle, etc. That wasn’t the case, and what I’m arguing is that elites knew that because those claims rest on demonstrable falsehoods.

Statues cannot eat and drink, and visible, audible spirits do not exist. Early elites claimed to make life better for early non-elites in the states in question by feeding those gods. That means they cannot have sincerely believed in their god claims, at least, not god claims involving statues or spirits that feast. That’s how I argue they deceived non-elites.

Where have you heard the arguments I’m making before, if they aren’t novel or original?

David_Kittens: Oh please, I am not writing propaganda. I have to eventually end the book, I have to limit my findings somewhere, and I’m simply not interested in studying later faiths. I’m just not, other people have and can do that. I don’t have the experience necessary to study Zoroastrianism and I’ll be honest about that: I tried to read the Avestas once and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

As far I understand OP, he is looking at organized religion and religious practices. There are some written records from the sumerians, but before the invention of writing, we have no clue about how religion was organized. And at what point does a religion become organized, and for what purpose? Although I think OP may have some good points, like I said above, I’m not quite sure whether he’s asking the right questions, looks at it with a preconceived conclusion, or asks a question that cannot be answered. For example:

  • Case A: priests/the elite feasts after the food offering, laughing about how stupid the peasants are.
  • Case B: priests/the elite feasts after the food offering, considering it to be their duty after the gods have feasted on the spiritual, symbolic food.

Now, how do you distinguish between case A and case B, without any written records explaining what actually went on? Besides, if the goal is to have a big feast, it would probably be easier to collect the food in the form of taxation, as you’d probably get more of it that way.

Great questions, and that’s the kind of feedback I was hoping for. You’re right, without written records it would be impossible to argue that elites, as you put it, laughed about their deceptive performances afterward as they feasted on the gods offerings. Most of those offerings were indeed collected as taxes, and I try to be careful in my argument that coercion, at least threats, played some role in gaining elites the offerings. My argument is that elites made promises to non-elites, promises which are documented in early Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Chinese texts (Chinese spirits protect the estate says the Zhou song ‘Thick Starthistle,’ Egyptian gods keep the peasants from starving says ‘The Hymn to the Nile’). Most of the time early non-elites were not coerced, at least, texts don’t suggest they were. They were instead tricked out of their offerings.

There would certainly be value in examining even earlier claims about gods, which probably predate the organized religions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. I think I would be biting off more than I could chew if I studied them without textual evidence, and that textual evidence is lacking. It’s just not there. There’s likely gods depicted on Chinese bronzes that predate the Shang Dynasty, for instance, by a thousand or more years from Erligang, but there’s no texts that go with them. I have no way of knowing if the elites responsible for those depictions also ate and drank the offerings.

To speak to your dichotomy, which is also a great question: Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Chinese texts suggest a natural form of eating and drinking. Gods are rarely said to eat or drink symbolically without consuming the offerings. I can back this up with primary sources: Cauville (2012), for instance, translates wall texts from temples to Hathor, Horus, Isis, etc. in which gods are said to consume offerings including bread, wine, meat (e.g., “Horus eats the pieces and drinks the blood”). That’s not something priests could believe sincerely because those gods were statues, and statues are necessarily lifeless.

I understood that, but think it’s cherry picking, and unfalsifiable at that. I’ll stick to my position.

I’ll admit I cannot prove elites were willfully deceptive. I argue that point by providing evidence that they made claims that were demonstrably false from their perspective. A Shang prince, for instance, claimed a dead king appeared as a pheasant at a sacrifice. That didn’t happen. That begs the question why he said it did. Mesopotamian kings claimed the gods Enlil and Utu ate meat and drank liquor. Those gods are statues, which means that never happened either.

By showing they made demonstrably false claims, I argue intent. That’s all I can do, and I’m up front about that.