Patheos answers the question:

What is the Oldest Religion?

Books of holy texts

The oldest religion in the world is considered to be Hinduism. While the emergence and exact origin date of Hinduism as a modern religious identity is difficult to pinpoint, mostly because modern Hinduism forged together a variety of different local religious practices in India, most scholars consider the Hindu religion and theological world view to be the oldest. A big part of the reason that Hinduism is considered the oldest religion in the world is because of the ancient nature of some of the central scriptural writings of Hinduism. The oldest religious texts still used by practicing religious groups, for example, is the Hindu Vedas. These sacred texts of Hinduism are some of the oldest religious texts in the world. The Vedas were composed as early as 1500 BCE, and are a collection of sayings, wisdom, poetry and songs written in an ancient form of Sanskrit. This means that we can trace central Hindu ideas to at least as early as 1500 BCE, which theoretically makes Hinduism the oldest religion in the world—though the Hinduism you and I are most familiar with took on its form and many of its beliefs during what is known as the “Hindu renaissance” of the late 18th—early 19th centuries. 

There are many other religions still practiced today that are also very ancient. Zoroastrianism, for example, is a religion which still has about 200,000 adherents, and which is based on the teachings of its founder, Zarathustra, who is considered to have lived between the 10th and 5th centuries BCE in what is now modern-day Iran. Zoroastrianism was an important religion during the Babylonian empire and, as the religion of the empire, had a significant influence in the region. For example, Zoroastrian ideas about purity, deities, and other rituals had a major influence on Jewish legal codes of the time period, in part, perhaps, because of the Persian captivity. 

Another religion that is pretty ancient is Judaism. Judaism emerged sometime between the 9th and 5th centuries BCE, in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (though the tradition itself credits its origin with the biblical character of Abraham). Scholars suggest that Judaism underwent many theological developments throughout its history, from its origin as a geographically specific tradition to the form in which it is currently practiced. Other ancient religions currently practiced include Jainism and Buddhism; both having roots in the predecessor, Hinduism. Religions, such as Christianity and Islam, emerged after the beginning of the common era. 

Of course, there are many ways to understand ancient religious practice. Evidence of religious rituals, and even potential belief in an afterlife among humans, can be found in many prehistoric contexts. Religious worship based on animism, ancestor veneration, or nature worship are also considered very ancient. Civilizations dating back to antiquity, such as the ancient Egyptians, developed complex and elaborate religious traditions, which involved intricate theological beliefs and practices. The oldest religion most likely was a faith which has not survived in the records of human history.

Learn more about the origins of religious traditions here. 

11/15/2023 12:13:48 AM