Kong Hans, a Swiss theological Professor, pointed out that the world’s religions can be divided into three systems: the “three major religions of Abraham system” in the Near East belong to the Semitic prophetic religion, and their common ground is piety.

Indian religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, are characterized by mysticism.

Chinese philosopher religion is centered on sages.

However, the characteristics of the three religions are not absolute, but overlap and blend to some extent.

The author basically agrees with the above view.

In fact, from the perspective of origin, the three systems are just distributed on the Asian continent from east to west, forming three plates.

The Near East, that is, the Middle East, includes Egypt in North Africa, but at the same time, it also blends with the Greek civilization in the Mediterranean.

In short, the theory of three systems proves the regional characteristics of religious origin and development.

This paper attempts to make a superficial analysis on the characteristics of religious development in the ancient Middle East.

First of all, let’s divide the basic stages of the development and evolution of ancient religions in the Middle East (because the ancient religions in the Middle East were finalized after the spread of Islam, and there is a close relationship between Islam and ancient religions, the author brings them into the scope of discussion).

From the perspective of religious types and communication, it generally includes the following four stages.

The first stage was the early development period of primitive fetishism and polytheism centered on Egypt and the two river basins (from ancient times to 2500 BC).

During this period, Egypt and the two river basins were the two major centers of civilization in the Middle East.

Their religions characterized by polytheism were highly developed and formed unique doctrines, religious organizations, rituals and facilities.

The second stage is the period when polytheistic culture spread from the two centers to other regions (about 2500 BC – 6th century BC).

During this period, the backward nationalities in the middle east gradually developed their own civilizations and polytheistic religions, such as the hurit, Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Jews and so on.

These nations and countries are often under the rule of the two centers, and their religions are also strongly influenced by the two centers, especially the two river basins.

For example, the shrines of the hurit people living in Syria include the gods EA, Anu, enril and Ishtar in the two river basins, and take nipur and Eli, the religious centers of the two rivers, as their places of sacrifice.

The hurit people also spread the religious culture of the two rivers to heti, the close neighbor of Asia, and even Greece.

The third stage is the period of the rise of dualism and monotheism (about the 6th century – the 1st century BC).

The backward ethnic groups that integrated their own religions and foreign religions began to accelerate their development and carried out religious innovation, leaping over the two declining centers.

Persia and Judea became new religious centers and integrated with the Greek religious culture of Macedonia, which later ruled the Middle East.

The main achievements are the formation and development of dualism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism and monotheism Judaism (according to many mathematicians, Zoroastrianism originated before 1000 BC, but it became the Persian state religion in the Sassanian empire after AD), as well as the spread of various folk esoteric religions and new philosophical ideas, Thus laying the foundation for the emergence of world religions.

The fourth stage is the period of the rise and dominance of world monotheism (from the middle of the 1st to the 7th century).

At the end of the 5th century, Jewish scholars completed the compilation of the oral law collection Talmud, which marked the final formation of classical Judaism.

More importantly, the world monotheistic Christianity, which integrates the culture of the Middle East and Greece, was born and spread to West Asia, North Africa and Europe.

However, many nationalities in the Middle East have resisted the strong Greek factors contained in Christianity.

The consequence is the rapid rise of Islam, which adheres to complete Monotheism and opposes idol worship but still absorbs a certain Greek culture, and its dominant position in the Middle East.

The middle east civilization circle with the three monotheistic religions as the basic cultural carrier has initially taken shape.

As American scholar Lapidus said, “the Arab conquest in the 7th century and the subsequent Islamic era retained the continuity of the institutions in the Middle East.

” It can be seen that the development of ancient religions in the Middle East has obvious context and stages.

In the above historical development, the ancient religions in the Middle East show the following four characteristics different from other parts of the world. I. gradually form the ultimate care system embodied in the three monotheistic religions, which is characterized by the theory of heaven and hell and the theory of resurrection, showing a certain concept of “collective redemption”.

As far as the two civilization centers in the Middle East are concerned, there are differences between the two river basins and Egypt.

Lianghe civilization is generally considered to have originated earlier, and its religious thought is affected by the geographical environment to a certain extent.

The Euphrates and Tigris rivers are fast flowing and frequently diverted, which is unfavorable to shipping.

The flood is uncertain, and the precipitation season is inconsistent with the agricultural time, which is unfavorable to agricultural production.

Although the two river basins have established developed civilizations through the development of irrigation, their religions show more pessimistic tendencies under the influence of the environment, which can be proved by the tragic ending of the protagonist looking for the eternal grass in the epic of Gilgamesh.

In the ancient religions of Lianghe, there is no theory of afterlife.

People think that after a generation of dead people live in the dark, they will disappear.

On the other hand, the legend of Tammuz, the plant God who came back from the dead, also contains the idea of resurrection.

Egypt’s geographical environment is different.

The Nile floods regularly and timely every year, and the water flow is relatively slow, which is conducive to agriculture and shipping.

In addition, the local dry climate made the corpse dry without decay, which gave birth to the idea of afterlife and resurrection.

The ancient Egyptians believed that people had souls and could be resurrected after death, but only if the bodies were well preserved, resulting in the custom of making mummies.

In addition, after death, people should also enter the underworld and be judged by the resurrected plant God, Osiris, the king of the underworld and other gods.

The soul of evil doers will be swallowed by demons.

Therefore, the pursuit of immortality has become the goal of the monarch’s unremitting efforts, which is reflected in the upsurge of building pyramids.

In the doctrine of Zoroastrianism, after death, people will be judged by fazomitra.

The good will go to heaven and the evil will go to hell.

However, when the end comes, they must pass the final judgment.

No matter good or evil, their souls can be resurrected and enter the kingdom of light.

However, resurrection does not require the body, because the creator is omnipotent.

It can be seen that the doctrine of heaven and hell in Middle Eastern religions aims to regulate people’s ethics and actions in this world with a fantasy afterlife.

It is related to the theory of resurrection.

Both of them are applicable to the individual level and belong to “personal redemption”.

This is different from South AsiaThe theory of religion advocating reincarnation and reincarnation is consistent in goal and function.

The difference is that the theory of heaven and hell is an irreversible process, while reincarnation is an infinite cyclic process, although the theory of resurrection makes it possible for Middle East people to come back from the dead in theory.

Related to this, Middle Eastern religions have also developed the idea of “collective salvation”, that is, theories such as the Millennium kingdom.

Zoroastrianism believes that the process of fighting between good and evil, that is, the process of world creation and destruction, is divided into four stages, each of which is a thousand years.

The first stage is static stage.

The second stage is the period when Mazda, the good God, created the material world.

The third stage is the period when Mazda defeated the devil and Zoroaster was born.

In the fourth stage, Zoroaster designated his son as the Savior, who guided mankind into the kingdom of “light, justice and truth”.

The creation of God, the last judgment of the world and Christianity also advocate the same.

Judaism believes that Jews are “God’s voters” and make a covenant with God.

However, later Rabbi Judaism no longer emphasized that the Savior came because of God’s will as early Judaism did, but advocated that when all Jews abide by God’s law, it means that the rule of the Savior is realized on earth.

Christianity believes that the world created by God is flawed, human beings bear the original sin, and Jesus redeemed the sin for human beings with his life.

Believers must realize redemption through faith in Christ, God and the world.

Islam also believes that when the end of the world comes, all lives will end, all the dead will rise, accept the judgment of Allah, and the good will enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is the real and eternal destination of people.

In a sense, this is a religious view of history, which clarifies the religious view of historical development.

It is under the influence of this doctrine that Christian historiography was formed after the 3rd century.

It holds that history is the process from God’s creation to the last judgment, and the predetermined process of God’s will in all regions and nationalities of the world.

Its representative work is St.

Augustine’s empire in the 5th century.

Obviously, what the above-mentioned religions emphasize is the common destiny of all believers and all mankind (the proposition of “God’s electorate” or original sin, “all brothers in the four seas”) and the collective and simultaneous redemption of the whole nation or all believers in the end, and individual redemption is an integral part of collective redemption.

They also place great emphasis on the secular efforts of believers.

On the contrary, although Buddhism believes that the world is constantly changing, it is “given by God”, and the individual’s destiny is determined by the “karma” of the previous life.

Buddhism completely emphasizes individual and decentralized salvation, and its view of social development is circular rather than historical.

The reason is that the above middle east religions often show the nature of entering the WTO, while Buddhism is a typical birth religion. II. The social function of religion has developed from the early multi-functional undifferentiated state to the close religious community that widely guides and regulates social, political and economic life and internal autonomy in the later stage, forming a highly integrated state of politics and religion.

In the early stage, religions in the Middle East widely participated in social life and were closely related to politics, economy, society and culture.

In particular, it is worth mentioning that the early countries in West Asia were generally born in temples.

The main body of Sumerian city-state economy is the temple, whose area can reach more than 13 of the total urban area, while the labor force controlled by individual temples accounts for half of the total labor force of the city-state.

The names of the early kings of the city-state were “en” and “Ensi”, while “en” was originally a high priest, and “Ensi” refers to the administrator or founder of the temple.

Obviously, the early city leaders appeared from the high priests rather than the clan nobles.

At the same time, the temple accounts for 13% of the total urban area of the two river basins and Egyptian cities.

From the perspective of social functions of temples and priests, this period was still in a state of intersection with other institutions and strata, and the social division of labor was not clear.

For example, in terms of economic affairs, the temples in the two river basins are responsible for the reserve and disaster prevention of agricultural products, tax payment, reserve of reproduction materials, payment of rations for public works personnel and temple employees, organization of foreign trade, etc.

City priests are often held concurrently by elders, and there are no full-time priests.

During the imperial period, religion in the Middle East became an important official ideological tool.

In Egypt, the pharaoh was known as the “son of RA”.

His statues and gods were juxtaposed in the temple.

After his death, the Pharaoh often built burial temples and magnificent pyramids for him.

In the two river basins and Persia, there is also a long tradition of divine monarchy.

With the development and popularization of religion in the late period, a close religious community with strong members and strong cohesion gradually formed in the Middle East in the 4th-9th century, especially the “classic religions” such as Zoroastrianism and the three monotheistic religions.

The author believes that the main characteristics of close religious communities are: (1) fixed worship ceremony.

Believers usually worship at home and hold group worship once a week in churches, mosques or synagogues.

Zoroastrians and Islamists worship five times a day, and they must be cleaned before worship.

For Muslims, worship can take place in the workplace and on the way to travel, so it is integrated into their daily life.

(2) common community property.

It is managed by religious institutions, including religious facilities, public bathhouses, schools, cemeteries, administrative buildings and religious funds.

The religious fund is also responsible for the expenditure of charitable activities.

(3) unified religious education.

Zoroastrianism formed institutionalized religious education in the late Sassanian empire.

The three monotheistic religions also have special religious schools, and their subjects include secular courses.

(4) all inclusive religious laws and specialized legal institutions.

The religious law makes detailed and extensive provisions on the daily life of believers, including ethics, diet, funeral, marriage, property inheritance, child custody, debt lending and many other aspects.

It also has a special legal institution to deal with relevant affairs within the society.

In terms of diet, we attach great importance to cleanliness, so some foods are taboo.

(5) believers have obvious external signs.

For example, male Jews must be circumcised, and their clothes and braids vary according to their sect.

(6) provisions on abstinence.

All the above religions have provisions on cleanliness.

Asceticism mainly exists in Christianity, later Zoroastrianism and some factions of Sufism.

(7) severe punishment for apostasy.

If the Zoroastrian religion stipulates to cancel the traitor’s qualification of inheriting property, he can be arrested, and those who fail to persuade can be executed.

Islamic SunniThe Hanafi School of law also stipulates that traitors should be disqualified from inheriting property.

Of course, similar provisions can not prevent the occurrence of religious reform or even large-scale religious reform.

(8) the formation of religious hierarchy system and religious people’s control over associations.

In Zoroastrianism, a pyramid like religious system consistent with the administrative system of Sassanian Empire has been formed: the chief priests appointed by the government at the highest level of the country, the high priests and priests consistent with major provinces or general provinces, and the clergy of administrative units at and below the county level.

On the other hand, late Judaism and Islam, for example, established decentralized autonomous societies that did not rely on the official and were controlled by Rabbi, Ulama and Sufi leaders respectively.

(9) the extensive connection between religion and social life.

The unity of politics and religion is a prominent feature.

For example, Zoroastrian monks participate in politics, including the abolition of the king.

Islam’s Ulama has the power to interpret the law on economic training and the power of justice and education, controls the Waqf religious fund, participates in local tax, water conservancy, public security, charity affairs, and even serves as administrative officials.

The extensive connection with social life is actually the expression of WTO accession religion.

In addition, Judaism and Islam also consolidate communities through internal marriage and promote the spread of religion.

The formation of religious associations not only enhances the internal cohesion, but also intensifies the differences, opposites and even conflicts between religious associations.

After the Sassanian Empire occupied Iraq, it gradually began to recognize the autonomy of local religious communities and exchange religious tolerance for tax and political support.

This policy was inherited by the later Arab Empire and applied to “Demi” (believers of “classic religion”, i.e. Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians).

During the Ottoman Empire, it developed into the famous “Milet” system.

Among the above religions, Zoroastrianism gradually disappeared after the demise of the Sassanian Empire due to its excessive dependence on the government, while the three monotheistic religions relied on strong religious communities to survive even after the disintegration of the regime, and even forced the conquerors to change religion. III. The system of gods and spirits started from the original animism of all things, and developed to monotheism through the transition of polytheism and dualism.

With the development of the city-state to the unified kingdom and even the Empire, the main gods have appeared in the polytheism in the ancient Middle East, such as RA and Amun in Egypt, ANU in Sumer, Marduk in Babylon and Assur in Assyria.

Mueller, a British scholar, believes that a single main god religion appeared in late Egypt, that is, a polytheism with fixed main gods.

In the second stage of the development of ancient religions in the Middle East, dualism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism and Manichaeism were formed.

This is an obvious feature of the Middle East, because the dualism in the Middle East is the most typical, and is concentrated in Persia and Iraq (i.e. today’s two Iraq) under the rule of Seleucid Empire and Parthian Empire.

Interestingly, geographically, Persia and Iraq, which has long been under Persian political rule and cultural influence, are just at the eastern end of the Middle East (at this time, monotheism has sprung up in Palestine), adjacent to India, which is characterized by polytheism and belongs to Aryan people like Persia.

This phenomenon is worth exploring.

In addition, because dualism advocates good and belittles evil, it believes that mankind will eventually enter the “Kingdom of light, justice and truth”, which is essentially a theological monism.

But Persia is also one of the birthplaces of monotheism in the Middle East.

Mithraism, which worshipped the ancient Persian God Mithra, spread westward into the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. The religious ceremony included the use of bread and wine, and Mitra’s birthday was also on December 25, which provided nourishment for the pregnant Christianity.

At the western end of the Middle East, the world’s first monotheistic Judaism was also announced.

Judaism is generally regarded as a national religion, but it has absorbed a large number of factors of various religions in the Middle East in the process of its formation, especially those in the two river basins, Egypt and Persia.

For example, from Zoroastrianism, it absorbs the tenets of immortality of soul, doomsday judgment, rewarding good and punishing evil, the other side of the world and so on.

In addition, with the integration of the Jewish state into the unified Middle East Empire and the diaspora of Jews, a large number of other nationalities (such as the Arameans) changed to Judaism, and the Jews also abandoned Hebrew during the Sassanian Empire and adopted Aramaic as daily language, while Hebrew was only used as prayer language.

All these are bound to have an impact on the development of Judaism in the later period.

In a sense, Judaism is the product of the culture of the Middle East.

It is under the influence of Persia, Judaism and other religions (such as Egypt, the two rivers basin and Syria, Gnosticism and Orphism) and ideas (such as stoicism and Neo Platonism) circulating in the Middle East and the Mediterranean that the first worldwide monotheism Christianity came into being in the first century A.D. In the 7th century, Islam, another worldwide monotheism, was also born.

The birthplaces of these two religions are located in Palestine and Hanzhi, which are located at the western end of the crescent zone.

This area is located at the confluence of Egypt, the two river basins – the three centers of civilization of Persia and Greece, and the three monotheistic religions regard Jerusalem as a holy city, which is also rare in the world.

Being able to absorb a lot of nourishment from cultures outside the region (Islam also absorbs useful materials from Greek thought, while Gnosticism absorbs the thought of soul reincarnation from India), which is also an important feature of the development of ancient religions in the Middle East and the reason why they became world religions.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity are monotheistic religions that have really reached a perfect level, especially the first two.

Because Christianity is influenced by Greece, there are still remnants of Trinity doctrine and idol worship.

In contrast, most religions in other parts of the world have not finally completed the transition to monotheism.

In addition, Christianity and Islam are also the most widely spread religions in the world. IV. in terms of social view, from the early popular religion, through the transition from elitism and hierarchy to universalism and egalitarianism, which are the inevitable characteristics of world religion.

In the early religions in the Middle East, the concept of society is vague.

With the emergence of dualism and Judaism, the mainstream of religions in the Middle East shows an obvious tendency of elitism and hierarchy.

First of all, Zoroastrianism has spread widely in the upper society and promoted social differentiation.

Ideologically, it attaches great importance to order, stability, legitimacy and harmony, requires women and children to obey men and parents, and maintains the caste system of Persia.

Fire temples are also divided into three categories, belonging to priests respectively.