Foundationless origin theory of the Bible.

From: Allen Roy (
Date: Wed Jun 28 2000 - 12:10:00 EDT

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    [Here in condensed form is Eternity in their hearts, by Don Richardson,1981, Ch. 4, "Scholars with Strange Theories". He makes some interesting points on the origin of Wellhousen's JEPD redactor theory. He makes frequent reference to: Origin and Growth of Religion, Wilhelm Schmidt, 1931. Allen]

    p. 133

    When Charles Darwin applied and extended evolutionary principles to show how diverse biological forms could have emerged from simpler forms, the excitement increased. Other thinkers, working more or less concurrently with Darwin, hoped that principles of evolution would enable them to unlock mysteries of another kind of phenomena -- the origins of human society, culture, and religion.

    p. 134

    They dismissed the Bible's claim that the first religion to appear on earth was a monotheistic faith ..

    Nor did they accept another biblical insistence, that spiritism and polytheism in all their forms are "false" religions .... In other words evolutionists erased distinctions between "true" and "false" religion as scientifically meaningless. Lumping all religions in the same crucible, they advanced a bold hypothesis: that the very religions the Bible calls "false" originated first.

    For example, an Englishman named Edward B. Tylor theorized in a two-volume work called Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom, that the idea of a human "soul" must have been the natural seed thought from which all other religious concepts evolved.

    Tylor continued, It dawned upon them that other entities -- animals, trees, rivers, mountains, the sky, and even forces of -- might be similarly endowed. Thus did spiritism (Tylor called it "animism") come to birth -- the first religion!

    Ages later, said Tylor, a new phenomenon emerged in some human societies -- stratification of classes. Human aristocracies ruling over peasants suggested aristocracies of "gods' ruling over run-of-the-mill souls and spirits. Thus Polytheism, in Tylor's model, emerged from Spiritism -- but only where the social phenomenon of stratification of classes prompted it!

    p. 135

    Still later, ... one aristocrat was fortunate enough to be exalted above his peers as a monarch. Once again, theologically precocious minds projected this latest social development over their vision of the supernatural world. Result: one member of the local pantheon of gods began to gain stature above his fellow deities as a budding "supreme god." Thus monotheism, said Tylor, gradually evolved out of polytheism -- but only in areas where the social phenomenon of monarchy suggested it!

    At least four notions were implicit in Tylor's evolutionary model. First, ... religion's natural origin and subsequent evolutionary development had now been scientifically explained. Second, since monotheism marked the FINAL stage in religion's evolution, religion had now reached the end of a dead-end street. Third, ... the next step for people who wanted to stay on the crest of evolution's wave: abandon religion with its now defunct God, gods, or spirits.

    p. 136

    What ... was the fourth notion implicit in Tylor's theory? ... If Tylor was correct, primitive societies would be devoid of monotheistic presuppositions, ...

    Schmit wrote: "[Tylor's theory] ... left no room for opposition ... for the next three decades it remained 'the classical theory,' ... almost without any loss of prestige. Even [Herbert] Spencer's ghost-theory, which immediately succeeded it, could not deprive it of pride of place."

    "A notable proof of the extent to which Tylor's theory influenced the world is the fact that it was accepted by a number of prominent students of ethnology and religion almost without alteration. ..."

    p. 137

    Occasionally, even in the heyday of evolutionary theories like Tylor's, a few voices at least tried to call attention to scattered reports that even very primitive tribes acknowledged the existence of a Creator. But scholars paid little or no attention. Schmidt describes their attitude as follows: "The doctrine of progressive Evolution mastered the minds of all Europe, ... All framers of theories concerning fetishes, ghosts, animism, totemism and magic, if they agreed in nothing else, were at one in this, that the figure of the sky-god must be got rid of from the earliest stages of religion, as being too high and incomprehensible [for savage minds] ... unless it was preferred to deduce him from Christian influence. The strength of this universal current of thought was so great, and the resulting discredit into which it brought the notion of the great age of the sky-god so complete, that hardly anyone found courage to oppose it and to draw attention to the quite frequent examples of this exalted sky-god appearing among decidedly primitive peoples, where not the least trace of Christian influence was to be found."

    E. De Pressense, ... "I was struck ... with the increasing vehemence of the attacks made, not only on Christian theism, but on the very foundations of spiritual religion. ..."

    p. 138

    De Pressense went on to mention "the victory so loudly vaunted in the camps of materialism ... The promotion of a materialistic fanaticism at least as extravagant as any fanaticism of the theists. ... the premature triumph which materialism claims for itself in its popular manuals of science ..."

    [Then in 1898] Andrew Lang, allowed himself to read a missionary's report, sent home to supporting churches from a distant field. The missionary said that primitive inhabitants of that distant place already acknowledged the existence of a Creator God even before the missionaries arrived! ... Lang's reaction ... was that the missionary had made a mistake. But the further his studies took him the more examples of this kind he met with, and at last he came to the conclusion that this fundamental tenet of Tylor's would not hold water.

    p. 139

    Schmidt comments repeatedly throughout his work on the persistent tendency of scholars to ignore or discredit the sky-god phenomenon. Not until as late as 1922, did the first scientific monograph on the subject appear.

    p. 140

    Still Lang pressed his attack, relying especially on "the startling discoveries of A.W. Howitt ....

    Tylor himself had read Howitt's papers... "His only resource... was to .. question the native origin of these gods, referring them to European, and specifically to missionary influence."

    But Howitt, ... had already indicated to Tylor that no such "out" was available.

    It was the beginning of the end for Tylor's theory.

    Wilhelm Schmidt ... threw himself into one of the most extensive research projects ever undertaken by one man. Schmidt began documenting and compiling evidence for "native monotheism," evidence which was now beginning to flow in like a tide from all parts of the world. ... by 1955, he had accumulated more than 4,000 pages of evidence in a total of 12 large volumes!

    p. 141

    The entire thirteenth chapter of Schmidt's The Origin and Growth of Religion is devoted to quotations from dozens of anthropologists, showing that acceptance of Schmidt's research was virtually universal. The tide had turned! And yet ---

    Before it's downfall, Tylor's theory had inspired certain scholars to apply his ideas in other fields. One would think that refuting the "mother theory" would cause its "conceptual offspring" in other fields to decline as well. This has not been the case. Some of the conceptual offspring to Tylor's theory took on a life of their own, ... and managed to distance themselves from their mother. Thus when she was axed, they were spared and persist, however unjustifiably, to this very day!

    Tylor's Theory and Liberal Theology

    "A further important conquest for the animistic [spiritist] theory was the field of Old Testament theology. Here the agent was J. Lippert who ... declared the theory to hold good for the development of the Jewish people and [their] religion. This application of the theory was immediately accepted by two leading theologians of Liberal Protestantism: B. Stade . . . and F. Schwall . . .. They were joined by a long array of other authors, such as R. Smend, J. Benzinger, J. Wellhausen, A. Berthold and others, who sought support for their ideas, not only in the results of textual criticism, which they employed, but in these data provided by ethnological research, as transmitted to them by Tylor's theory.

    ... Schmidt quotes a Professor Brockelmann as claiming that 'Wellhausen . . . was more or less consciously under the influence of ... E.B. Tylor ... [and] . . supposed animism to be the only source of religious life."

    p. 142

    It was this Wellhausen who became prominent in developing a famous theory claiming that vestiges of the polytheism which, as required by Tylor's theory, must have preceded the development of biblical monotheism, can still be found in the Old Testament [the J.E.P.D. redactors theory]. He claimed that monotheistic priests later tried to expunge earlier statements consistent with polytheism from the Pentateuch, but they overlooked some! ... To my knowledge no liberal scholar has ever blown a whistle and said, "Wait! since we no longer endorse Tylor's theory, why are we still endorsing this orphaned offspring of Tylor's theory?"

    Even conservative theologians have often accorded Wellhausen's liberal theology an undeserved compliment by attacking it as if it were a conceptually independent structure. Their attacks might have been more effective had they publicly exposed the fact that Wellhausen's theology is based upon an anthropological theory which most anthropologists no longer endorse.


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