An Indonesia Creation Story
In the beginning, the sky was near the earth and so God hung gifts on a cord to lower them down to his people. One day he lowered a stone, but the people did not want it. A few days later, he lowered a banana and they did want that. God said:
“Since you have chosen the banana, your life will be like the fruit. If you had chosen the stone, your life would be like the stone, eternal and unchangeable.”
This story has several familiar spiritual themes. (1) We have an original couple who receives good gifts from God, but who doubt his goodness and makes the wrong choice, bringing death into the world.
We westerners tend to think in terms of copyright. Wait a minute-who came up with this story first? All the others have violated the copyright, they are plagiarists. How did the same story get into Genesis and into an oral tradition in Indonesia? The most probable answer is that it is a very old, old story ascending from the misty past, when there was just one “tribe.” (2)
Beware of historical fundamentalism; do not confuse the age of an idea with the first document that attests to it. If the first written mention of Zoroastrianism is around 450 BC, do not assume that it was founded that year; the concepts may have existed for millennia and been passed down orally.
As for dating the beginning of religious ideas chronologically, it will probably prove to be an exercise in futility. Ideas do not fit so neatly into either time or locale; people have been trading goods, ideas and DNA for at least 14,000 years, when the obsidian trade (3) had already spread from present-day Turkey across what we now call the Middle East. That’s 14,000 BC-4,000 years before anyone stopped hunter-gathering and settled down to farming.
Our ancestors got around a whole lot more than we used to think. There was the 2,000 mile Frankincense Trail from Oman to the Mediterranean, the Silk Road network from China to Rome, and widespread sea trade. (4)
Just like gazing over a vast landscape, the further away from us, the mistier the scene becomes. An archeologist may find a grave with the skeleton of a young woman, a shell and a necklace, but have no idea what it all meant to those who buried her. So they often guess, filtering it through their own worldview.
Another caveat: I have been amazed how often politics enters into archeological conclusions, which I had expected to be straight forward and ‘factual.” This is especially apparent for westerners who have had great difficulty admitting that brown people could have developed anything like a civilization. Civilization, by the way, is a fuzzy word, but does not mean what we think of as “acting civilized.” It means living in a city, with some sort of government and usually, writing. Obviously, a group could fulfill all those criteria and still behave rather atrociously.
Experts in comparative religions set out their differences like a buffet: a storm god here and an earth mother there, here an idol, there an altar, everywhere a sacrifice. How crazy and contradictory they all seem-except for the right one, of course, there has to be a right one. I mean, these folks believed this character Zalmoxis was immortal while these folks had a Supreme Trio and these silly people believed spirits lived in stones.
That is one approach, but I think it is impoverished and incomplete. After all, you could do the same with any three people; make a long list of ways in which they differ until the reader concluded they were a chaotic assemblage of nonsense.
Or you could say they all have two eyes, ears, legs, arms, hands, one heart, the same expressions when sad, mad or glad, they all speak languages, tell jokes and so on. In fact, anthropologist Donald Brown found over 200 Human Universals, ways in which all people from all cultures are similar.
For example, humans are aware that they control their actions and prefer their own kinship groups to others. That means all humans everywhere have this in common, from Siberia to Papua New Guinea (with the possible exception of some Americans from 14-18 who do not control their actions very well and are frequently frustrated with their kinship group.)
Common themes include: The connection between immortality and stones, a cord between heaven and earth, and the closeness of earth and sky at the beginning.
Tribe, band and chiefdom have technical definitions I am going to ignore.
Obsidian is volcanic glass, the Rolex of the Stone Age, with an edge so sharp, it is still used in surgical instruments.
Attested by a ship full of merchandise that sank off the coast of Turkey in 1300 BC, packed with goods from northern Europe to Africa.
To prove this to your self, enter “Aryan Invasion theory” in your search engine and observe the heated debates.