From Pre-Adam Religious Awareness To Nearness With The One God – OpEd


A great deal of unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding has been caused by the careless use of the terms ‘human’ and ‘man’ by evolutionists to describe the increasing number of fossil finds of tool using biped primate species (over a dozen now)  that may have been ancestral to Homo Sapiens. I shall try to refer to each distinct species by its scientific name only. 

Most people think that the name ‘human’ or ‘mankind’ should be reserved only for our own species. Not using the name ‘human’ and ‘man’ carelessly would help resolve most of the conflict over the theory of evolution. The theory of  evolution can help us understand why religion is so important for human survival and why religion is universal. 

Indeed, modern preAdam Homo Sapiens would be better named Homo Religiosus, a term used by many scholars in religious studies and anthropology.      

The evolution of spiritual activities that enhance the successful survival of humanity is not only concerned with enhancing the survival of our own species. With the recent domestication of plants and animals and the very recent industrial revolution, Homo Sapiens (HS) acquired a great deal of responsibility for the evolution of most of the species on the planet itself. The ability to genetically modify both plants and animals gives humanity a significant role in the future evolution of  life. 

Thus the behavior of religious people themselves now becomes a factor in the evolution of life on earth. Religious behaviors are evidence of self-conscious creative thought processes most people associate with Homo Sapiens. Religious behaviors are the creative responses of intelligent minds to certain challenges in social and personal life. Only one of millions of species on this planet can consciously have an impact on the evolution of life. That species is Homo Sapiens. 

Religion provides guidance and direction to enable humans to be good stewards of nature rather than destroyers of society and nature. Thus it is only natural that God has inspired thousands of individuals to urge their communities to live according to God’s will. But first humans had to be prepared to be receptive to the words of the prophets. Although no one knows exactly how spiritual awareness arose in preAdam times the following scenarios seem reasonable to me.

All sentient beings are able to respond to the challenges of life. In each species some individuals respond to new environmental challenges better than others do; and their descendants increase. Some sentient beings that are conscious are capable of learning from the challenges of life. They can improve themselves. A few are even able to show others what they have learned and thus improve their group and their descendants’ chances of survival. These species have developed cultural ways of meeting life’s challenges. For many centuries it was thought that mankind’s ability to use tools was what made us unique. 

However, we now know that several different species use tools (including birds) and Chimps not only use but also make at least three different kinds of tools for different functions. Chimp tool use differs in different locations (a cultural not a genetic difference). Chimps also show signs of self-awareness by recognizing themselves in a mirror. So what makes us what we are? 

First, humans are a small group, hierarchically organized, social primates. Any genes that enable the group (extended family and/or band) to function better will contribute to individual survival and reproduction. Second, the species that preceded Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthal have been evolving larger and larger brains for several million years. Eventually two species, Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthal evolved that achieved self-conscious ways of meeting life’s challenges through non-material i.e. cultural and spiritual behaviors.

Homo Sapiens (HS) faced at least half a dozen different challenges over the last 100-120,000 years that stimulated spiritual developments that improved survival rates both for groups and individuals within the group. One of the greatest challenges to increased intellectual development is anxiety and self-imposed stress. 

The more HS can think about things, the greater the ability to produce anxiety and self-imposed stress that are debilitating by themselves, and also depress the immune system. Anything that reduces stress and anxiety increases survival rates for intelligent minds. Also as successful groups got larger it became harder and harder to keep them from getting into internal conflict and splitting. 

Larger groups, or groups with strong alliances, were more likely to win when there was intergroup conflict and had  less negative effects from inbreeding. Anything that helped larger groups create bonds that were more than extended family and clan, and behavioral norms that could unite two or more clans, would increase survival rates.  Individuals with a mental illness could not contribute much to a tribe or band. Anything that helped heal or integrate these individuals would help survival rates. These are some of the situations faced by a species that began using its mind more and more.

The first challenge is also the ultimate one: death. Homo Sapiens is the only living species that knows in advance that death is inevitable. Genesis 2:17 teaches “on the day you eat it (the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will know) you will surely die.” Elephants, Chimpanzees and Orangutans have been observed to mourn for a dead child, but no other living species practices ritual burial. 

The intelligent minds of HS responded to the death of loved ones by creating funeral rites and rituals of ancestor worship. Evidence from Qafzeh cave in northern Israel of ritual burial and grave goods (red ocher and mollusk shells of an inedible species) goes back 100 -110,000 years or more. These funeral rituals brought comfort and solace to the mourners. 

Funeral rituals also had the important effect of strengthening group solidarity at a time when leadership might be challenged and changing. Strengthening group solidarity reduced internal conflict and violence thus increasing the chances of raising children to adulthood.   

Humans were buried in an Israeli cave 90-100,000 years ago (Science News 10/29/03) and Neanderthals buried their dead in an Iraqi Kurdistan cave 60,000 to 70,000 years ago (SN: 2/18/20). A child’s body found in an East African cave around 78,000 years ago is the oldest known intentional human burial in Africa said the investigators who report the discovery in the May 6, 2022 issue of Nature

Although other species also dream, the intelligent minds of HS creatively concluded that dreams about the dead showed that the dead were still active and could continue to help their descendants. Thus departed spirits ought to be venerated and worshiped. . It is possible that nomadic hunter-gatherer bands used the skulls of important individuals in community rituals for many centuries. Two HS skulls from Herto in Ethiopia, well worn through handling, have been dated to more than 140,000 years ago. 

These ritual activities strengthened feelings of kinship within and among hunter-gatherer bands enabling them to be more stable and grow larger. This in turn increased the chances for survival of individuals within the more effective bands and clans. 

Ritual activities and ideas about help available from deceased ancestors reduced stress and anxiety and so led HS to expand the realm of spirits to the treatment of physical and mental illness. We now know that anxiety and stress weaken the immune system and increase the chances of not surviving an otherwise survivable illness. Anything that reduces anxiety and stress increases survival rates. This is one key reason that religious behavior became ubiquitous. 

Illness, especially mental illnesses that tend to be chronic rather than fatal, provided serious challenges to the intelligent minds of HS. Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Bipolar Disorders and other brain diseases occur in at least 2-3% of the population worldwide. Thus there should be at least one or two cases in every band of 50-100 people. 

Severe cases are very scary and disabling, but the intelligent minds of HS could react to the challenge of mild cases with a variety of rituals and practices that served to alleviate the symptoms through mind-body interactions that we recognize today as placebo faith healing. 

Placebo faith healing works primarily by reducing pain through endorphin release and increasing the strength of an individual’s immune response, which is weakened by stress and anxiety. Only HS are known to be capable of placebo spiritual healing. Among HS today only a minority of individuals are able to heal themselves with the aid of placebo faith healing. The hope that ritual can heal and the ability to trust a healer are powerful factors that frequently bring about improvement. 

Chanting, drumming, dancing, meditation and fasting are widespread ways of inducing an alternative consciousness that helps alleviate pain, stress and anxiety in Pre Adam humans. With the support of a community of believers, and a tradition that enhances their individual hope and trust results would be even better. A cure, either short or long term, isn’t the only outcome in faith healing. The ceremony itself can reduce many of the side effects of the illness such as depression, stress, anger and negativity. This often ameliorates symptoms and brings relief. Chronic illness negatively impacts the immune system and eventually increases death rates. 

Ritual faith healing ameliorates symptoms for many people in these types of situations. This reintegrates the ‘possessed’ into a support group and reduces stress, strengthens the immune system and reduces death rates. A tiny charismatic minority, who themselves had struggled successfully to overcome these diseases, may have become guides to others.

Without successful reproduction no species can flourish, or even survive. HS were as subject to the biological imperative (commandment) to be fruitful and multiply as all other species. But the intelligent minds of HS knew the dangers of childbirth. Infant mortality rates in most tribes were more than one in four. The maternal death rate for every four births was more than one in ten. Pregnancy was highly desired and birth anxiously awaited. Pregnant women naturally sought the physical help of their mothers and grandmothers who in turn sought the spiritual help of their now departed mothers and grandmothers. 

Western anthropologists influenced by Christian thinking refer to these offerings as sacrifices. The Biblical Hebrew term korban is both more accurate and more insightful. The verb l’karayv means to draw near or come close. A korban is a way to attach, engage or bind the human realm to the spirit realm. When food and drink are offered to another person it is not a sacrifice. 

Food and liquid offerings are an invitation to a closer relationship. As the Qur’an states about animal offerings: “It is not their flesh or blood that reaches Allah; rather, it is your piety that reaches Him. Thus has He disposed them for your benefit so that you may magnify Allah for His guiding you. And give good news to the virtuous.” (Qur’an 22:37)

Sacrifice has many meaning: it commemorates Abraham’s offering of his son’s life and God’s rejection of this sacrifice in exchange for Abraham’s submission to God’s will; it is an offering of thanksgiving to the God of Creation who has been so benevolent to mankind; and it teaches the well-to-do to share their blessings to ‘eat thereof (the Sacrifice) and feed the beggar and the suppliant’. (Qur’an 22:36) The act of willing submission to the Divine Will moved father and son) to qurbu il-Allah (closer to Allah), from which the notion qurban at the ‘Eid-ul-Adha is derived. Qurban basically implies taking an action with the intention of drawing nearer (qareeb) to Allah.

Especially during ceremonial occasions food and drink serve to bring people together, including those who have been estranged from one another because of transgressions that have occurred. Thus offerings to the Gods can help people who feel estranged from God return to a closer (karayv) relationship. Offerings help people reunite or reconcile with God. The food offered to a God is usually eaten wholly or in part by those who contribute it or by the priests who offer it. 

The Biblical God doesn’t want grain or meat offerings (Psalm 40:7). Humans offer them, especially when they feel estranged from the Divine, in order to draw closer (karayv) to the Divine. Only human sacrifice should be called sacrifice. While human sacrifice was widespread in the past it was usually relatively rare.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *