Humans are religious by nature. There is no way around that reality. Wherever you are, wherever you go, people believe in right and wrong, good and bad, and everything in between. People have been turning to religion to seek answers to life's most profound questions for thousands of years. But it begs the question: does having an older religion make it more correct? In today's post, we are on a quest to locate and name the seven oldest religions on Earth. So buckle up; it is going to be a bumpy ride!
1. Hinduism (15th – 5th century BCE)
Hinduism is generally believed to be the world's oldest religion and was founded more than 4,000 years ago. It's difficult to trace its origin because it has no founder and is a compilation of several belief systems. Unlike Christianity or Judaism, Hinduism is not an organized religion. As such, it is sometimes referred to as the "family of religions" because of its accommodating nature. Hinduism was birthed out of a fusion of two cultures. At some point, around 1500 B.C, the Indo-Ayran people migrated to the Indus Valley, located in modern-day Pakistan, where their culture and language merged with the natives of that region. Hinduism evolved out of that unique context and grew to accommodate both cultures as they morphed into one people.
2. Zoroastrianism (10th – 5th century BCE)
Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion (modern-day Iran) that may have developed as long as 4,000 years ago. Like Judaism, this religion promotes the belief in one God. Zoroastrianism flourished under the Persian Empire and was the state religion of three separate Persian dynasties. The ancient religion is said to be founded by the prophet Zoroaster. However, unfortunately much is not known about him. In fact, there is much debate about when he even lived. Some scholars argue that he was likely alive during the time of Cyrus the Great, an ancient Persian king who lived in the 6th century, while others insist that the time of Zoroaster's life was much earlier. We may never know for sure but what is undeniable is that Zoroastrianism was a major influence on the region and is still practiced by devoted followers to this day.
3. Judaism (9th – 5th century BCE)
The father of Judaism is believed to be Abraham. A man that the Tora (the Jewish scripture and Christian Old Testament) claims was born in Ur, a city in ancient Mesopotamia. The Torah teaches that God called Abraham to leave Ur and migrate to the land of Cannon, where eventually, the decedents of Abraham became the nation of Israel. Judaism is an old religion starting in the early two millennium B.C. Judaism teaches monotheism or the belief in one God. Those who adhere to Judaism believe that God formed a supernatural agreement called a covenant with Abraham and his decedents, whereby God promised to bless and protect them if they obeyed His law. Christianity was birthed out of Judaism. Jesus, who claimed to be the promised Messiah of Judaism, was rejected by the religious teachers of Judaism in the early first century and was executed for claiming to be God. So while Christianity hails Jesus as the promised Messiah, those who practice Judaism are still waiting for the promised Messiah.
4. Jainism (8th – 2nd century BCE)
Jainism emerged out of the Ganges region in what is modern-day India and heavily influenced Buddhism and Confucianism. Jainism teaches that the Tirthankara is an individual who has obtained perfect mastery over anger, pride, deceit, and desire. However, there can only ever be 24 Tirthankara in each half-cycle of human existence. Jainism teaches that there are two cycles in each era of humanity. Jains use the analogy of a wheel turning to represent time. Each full rotation is one era. This wheel of time is spinning infinitely, with each half cycle getting its own set of 24 Tirthankara. The last and 24th Tirthankara of our current cycle was Mahavir Swami, historically verified and was born in 599 B.C. As such, according to Jainism, our current half cycle is ending, and soon the first Tirthankara of the last half cycle will be born.
5. Confucianism (6th – 5th century BCE)
Beginning in the 6th century, Confucianism quickly spread throughout Asia and continues to impact millions of people's lives some 2,600 years later. However, unlike Buddhism, Confucius was not the founder of Confucianism. Confucius claimed that he was merely revitalizing the teachings of ancient Chinese traditions. Confucianism also differs from other major world religions in that it lacks strict order. Confucianism is more of a way of thinking and being than a religious identity. As such, it is common for people to adhere to other religions while keeping up their Confucianism thought.
6. Buddhism (6th – 5th century BCE)
Buddhism began in 500 B.C., and as such, it predates Taoism by a mere 100 years. However, unlike Taoism, this religion has a founder. His name was Siddhartha Guatama, a young rich prince from Lumbini, which is part of modern-day Nepal. According to legend, Siddhartha's father wanted to keep him shielded from any and all suffering. As such, the king had all the sick and elderly people hidden from his son's presence. However, at the age of 29, Siddhartha came into contact with the reality of suffering during a trip outside the palace. This experience moved him deeply, and he was unwilling to continue living his posh lifestyle. Taking a vow of poverty, he left the palace in search of enlightenment. After his death, his followers continued his legacy turning his teachings into a religion.
7. Taoism (6th – 4th century BCE)
Taoism started in China about 2,400 years ago and was officially recognized as a religion during the Tang dynasty. However, there is no official founder of Taoism; rather, it evolved naturally out of Chinese folk religion. Zang Daoling, while not the founder of the religion, did organize its teachings in a school that he started for the purpose of spreading Taoism in 142 B.C. He became the Celestial Master, a tradition that continues today. The current Celestial Master lives in Taiwan.
In conclusion, religion has played a major role in the development of the human race. It has offered comfort to those grieving the loss of loved ones, eased the fears of those dying, and, perhaps most significantly, given people a sense of meaning and purpose. Indeed, religion, while being the center of many conflicts (it is true), has also done much good for the human race and has likely impacted our world more significantly than even technology.