Modern humans first appeared some 200,000 years ago, but the first writing system was only invented some 5,500 years ago in Ancient Sumeria.
This means there’s a 195,000 year prehistoric period where we have almost no idea what sort of gods people worshipped, much less what their names were.
Since the prehistoric gods are forever lost to us, the only option left is to turn towards the gods mentioned in the first writing systems. These include the Sumerian Nammu, the Egyptian Atum and the Canaanite Yahweh.
However, there is one particular god that we know of that is much, much older than the ones mentioned above and can legitimately be called “the original god” for much of the world’s population.
The Indo-European god Dyeus Phter, meaning Father Sky, can be called the first and oldest known god in recorded human history. His existence can be traced back some 5000 – 7000 years ago.
Perhaps the best candidate for the first known god in history is *Dyēus, often referred to as *Dyēus Phter (“father daylight-sky-god”), the reconstructed name of the Proto-Indo-European sky god.
The Indo-Europeans were an ancient people that lived some 6000 years ago in the steppes north of the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains (roughly modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia).
Unfortunately, the Indo-Europeans were a preliterate society, so they left no written records of their culture and way of life.
However, based on indirect evidence, we know they possessed a religion, a distinct language, and mythology.
Over the course of thousands of years, the Indo-Europeans began a series of migrations that brought them to Europe, the Middle East, and as far south as India.
During these migrations, the Indo-Europeans brought their own language and gods with them.
*Dyēus in particular acted as a template out of which most Indo-European cultures created their own gods and pantheons.
There are many variations of *Dyēus (or *Dyēus Phter), some of which will sound quite familiar:
- The Greek Zeus.
- The Roman Jupiter (derived from Djous patēr).
- The Hindu gods were named Deva or Devi.
- The Latin “deus” is also a descendant of *Dyēus.
The above are just a few examples of gods from seemingly disconnected areas of the world that nonetheless trace their lineage to a single divine figure, *Dyēus.
So other than the historical lineage of *Dyēus, what else do we know about this enigmatic god?
Unfortunately, a lack of written evidence makes it difficult to describe *Dyēus in complete certainty, but there are a number of things historians are confident about:
- *Dyēus was the Indo-European sky god, but probably not the supreme god of the Indo-Europeans.
- As the sky god, *Dyēus had control over the weather but he wasn’t quite a storm god in the same way as Zeus or Jupiter.
- From atop the sky, *Dyēus could see everything that happened in the world of mortals and was thus all-knowing and all-judging. For this reason, *Dyēus may have also functioned as a god of justice, who punished the wicked and blessed the good.
- The sun may have been the “eye of *Dyēus”.
- The wife of *Dyēus may have been Dʰéǵʰōm, the “Mother Earth” goddess.
- *Dyēus was the father of the Divine Twins, Indo-European deities that served as rescuers and healers of mankind.
It is unfortunate that we do not have more evidence about *Dyēus, since his influence is great and can be felt in one way or another by most countries and cultures in the world today.
Outside of *Dyēus, there are a number of other gods and goddesses that can lay claim to the title of “first known god in the world”, and most of them even have actual written evidence to back up their claim.
Nammu (Sumerian, 2100 BCE)
Nammu is the primordial sea goddess that created the world, at least according to Sumerian mythology.
The first written records of Nammu are more than 4000 years old and date from 2100 BC, making her one of mankind’s oldest recorded deities.
According to the Sumerian creation story, she is the mother of Heaven (Anu) and earth (Ki), and through them, the origin of all gods in Sumerian mythology.
Unfortunately, not much else is known about Nammu. Based on archaeological evidence, she was kindly disposed towards humanity, which prayed to her to obtain protective blessings.
Nammu was never a particularly popular goddess, and her cult was strong in the ancient city of Eridu. For reasons that are still unclear, however, Eridu was abandoned by the year 600 BC, and Nammu’s worship appears to have ended at about the same time.
Atum (Egyptian, 2300 BCE)
Atum is the creator deity in ancient Egyptian mythology, with his name thought to derive from the verb “tm”, which means “to complete” or “to finish” Thus, Atum is the “complete one” and the one who finishes the world.
According to the ancient Egyptian creation myth, Atum created himself out of the primordial waters of Nu. From there, Atum created the gods Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture.
Later on, Atum became a solar deity and represented the evening sun, while Ra was the morning sun and Khepri was the midday sun.
In one fateful conversation with Osiris, Atum reveals to Osiris that he will destroy the world and return it to its original state in the primordial waters of Nu.
All other gods and beings will perish, with the only survivors being Atum and Osiris, eternally wandering the primordial waters in snake form.
Yahweh (Judaism, 1550 BC)
Yahweh is an ancient deity that originated in the Levant region (roughly modern day Israel, Syria and Lebanon).
His exact origins are unclear, but it appears he was at first a single god among the Canaanite pantheon, alongside others such as Baal, Asherah, and El.
Over time, the Israelites branched out from the Canaanite peoples and became a distinct cultural entity.
Even after their cultural separation from the Canaanites, the Israelites continued to worship Yahweh as a god of storms who marched alongside the Israelites during their military conflicts.
Starting with the year 1000 BCE, the worship of Yahweh grew ever more prominent. Over the course of hundreds of years, the Israelites stopped worshiping other gods, shifting their focus only to Yahweh.
This process culminated with the complete rejection of the old gods from the Canaanite pantheon, such that Yahweh was now the supreme god and ruler of the world.
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