Development of religion in state societies
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Development of Religion in State Societies. Text extracted from Our Kind By Marvin Harris. Role of Priests. Humans wish for goods and services from the gods It was the job of ecclesiastical specialists (priests) to obtain these. Obtaining favors from gods.

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Development of religion in state societies

Development of Religion in State Societies

Text extracted from

Our Kind

By Marvin Harris

Role of priests

Role of Priests

  • Humans wish for goods and services from the gods

  • It was the job of ecclesiastical specialists (priests) to obtain these

Obtaining favors from gods

Obtaining favors from gods

  • Aggressive approach: Threaten to harm the gods who do not cooperate. 

    • Does not work with supreme beings.

  • Exchange goods and services with the gods

    • Offerings

Obtaining favor from the gods

Obtaining favor from the gods

  • Appeal to the gods' mercy and generosity

    • promising love and devotion in return

  • Sacrifice as an expression of devotion:

    • destruction of ones property,

    • self mutilation,

    • slaying a loved one.

The gods want food

The gods want food

  • For exchange with gods, what do gods want?

  • Answer: gods want what people value most -- food and drink

  • Without gods help, humans cannot feed themselves

  • Must feed the gods to get that help.

Offering of food to the gods



  • But gods only require spiritual essence of food set out for them

  • The material food itself can be redistributed to the people.

  • Gifts of food and donations to the gods became taxes for the church in larger state societies.

Ziggarut (Mesopotamia)

Meat offerings

Meat offerings

  • Meat: central focus of food sacrifices to the gods

  • Meat is the most prestigious and desired food among humans and therefore also gods

  • Thus animal slaughter and religious ritual closely intertwined

Hebrew animal sacrifice

Solomon s temple

Solomon’s Temple

  • At  the dedication of first temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep as a peace offering.

  • Meat was not left to rot, but was redistributed to people in feasting.

Solomon’s Temple

Human sacrifice

Human Sacrifice

  • Human flesh was not generally viewed as meat the gods liked to eat.

  • Human sacrifice in most instances was intended to win the sympathy of the gods.

  • Usually children were sacrificed: buried beneath foundations of buildings or burned in Biblical times.

Abraham to sacrifice Isaac

Human sacrifice1

Human Sacrifice

  • In Carthage, 20,000 children were sacrificed

    • 400-200 B.C.

  • Buried in urns.

Human sacrifice2

Human Sacrifice

  • Prisoners of war also sacrificed.

  • Most widespread human sacrifice occurred at the death and burial of kings. 

  • Often all wives, concubines, cooks, grooms and other servants killed when king died.

Zhou Dynasty, China

The gods who would not eat people

The gods who would not eat people

  • Why did the gods not like to eat people?

  • Not an ethical impulse of humans to protect human life

    • humans readily slaughtered on battlefield.

  • Did people not prefer to eat humans?

    • Not likely –

  • Cannibalism practiced in many band-and-village societies and chiefdoms:

    • often prisoners of war eaten

Large state societies

Large State Societies

  • It was more cost effective to turn prisoners of war into slaves.

  • Each farmer and worker in a state society can produce a surplus of goods and services.

  • The larger the population, the more surplus, and the more powerful the governing class becomes.

Band and village societies

Band and Village Societies

  • Cannot produce large surpluses

  • Have no large central government to unite defeated enemies

  • Have no governing class to benefit from taxation.

  • Bringing a captive home to be a slave is just one more mouth to feed.

  • Therefore, more benefit derived from eating a captive

The gods who ate people

The gods who ate people

  • Aztecs had a large state society

  • Their gods craved human flesh, especially human hearts.

  • Big question: why cannibalism here and not in other state societies?

Job of aztec priests

Job of Aztec Priests

  • To satisfy craving of gods for human flesh

  • If craving not satisfied, gods would destroy the world.

  • Prisoners held down on top of pyramid temples, heart cut out still beating, offered to gods.



  • Body of prisoner rolled down pyramid

  • Head cut off and displayed

  • Flesh redistributed for meat.

  • Cortez found 136,000 heads of sacrificial victims

Why aztec prisoners eaten not slaves

Why Aztec prisoners eaten, not slaves?

  • Lack of domesticated animals for meat in new world.

  • No other way Aztec rulers could play the role of being great providers by redistributive feasting

  • Also satisfy human physiological dietary needs for protein, vitamins and minerals found in meat

Aztec ritual sacrifice

The non killing religions

The Non-killing Religions

  • In the 1000 years before birth of Christ:

    • New charismatic leaders arose in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Persia, India

    • New leaders denounced ritual killing of people or animals as way to win favors from gods.


The non killing religions1

The Non-killing Religions

  • Gods demand lifetime devoted to

    • good deeds,

    • love,

    • kindness to people

    • and all living things

  • If

    • Defend the poor and weak

    • Restrain appetites and ego

  • Then

    • expect reward in heaven:

      • immortality or eternal peace.



  • Ancient Iran and Persian Empire, then died out.

  • Founded by Zoroaster (Zarathrustra)

    • 7th century B.C.

    • after a vision of Ahura Mazda,

      • Lord of Enlightenment

  • Cosmic struggle between

    • god of Good (Ahura Mazda) and

    • god of Evil (Ahariman)

  • Dualism

    • good versus bad



  • Humans free to choose one side or other

  • If choose Ahura Mazda,

    • must give up intoxicants,

      • ritual slaughter of animals,

      • and shedding of blood

    • go to heaven when die

  • If choose Ahairman,

    • go to hell when die.

Ahura Mazda



  • Arose in India, still practiced by 2 million followers

  • Founded by Mahavira in 6th century B.C.

    • after he achieved spiritual fulfillment

    • opposing Vedic traditions of animal slaughter and redistribution.

  • Accepted rebirth,

    • but denounced caste system and Brahmin rituals




  • Path of liberation involves 5 vows:

    • do not kill, tell lies, steal, fornicate,

    • or acquire excessive riches

  • Animals, even insects not killed.

  • Adepts had higher standards:

    • complete chastity,

    • self mortification including exposure to hunger, thirst, cold, insect bites and intense heat.



  • Arose in India, spread to far east

    • Founded by Guatama Siddhartha

      • 6th century B.C. after enlightenment

    • He realized that

      • he must give up self-inflicted fasting and punishment

      • and find a middle way.

    • Opposed

      • caste system and

      • animal -killing religion of the Vedas

Enlightenment of Buddha



  • Eight-fold way to achieve nirvana

    • (deliverance from cycle of reincarnation and pain):

  • mental and physical discipline to avoid

    • lying,

    • lusting,

    • killing of animals or people,

    • stealing, or

    • bringing harm to others.



  • Evolved in India from Vedas

  • Vedic Brahmans gave up killing of animals

    • and instead became guardians of animal life

  • All Hindu castes work to

    • prevent slaughter of cattle, and

    • consumption of beef

  • Ahimsa, or reverence for all living beings

    • became central ethical component.




  • Judiasm was not an otherworldly, soul-saving religion

  • Israelites followed Yahweh's commandments to be

    • blessed with progeny,

    • free from disease,

    • victorious in battle, and

    • Have abundant wheat, wine, oil, cattle, and sheep.

  • Animal sacrifice occurred on a large scale in ancient Judaism.

  • Not really a non-killing religion

    • despite commandment "Thou shall not kill"




  • Arose from Judaism

  • One of the more recent non-killing religions

  • Christianity removed animal sacrifice and redistribution of meat

    • and replaced it with symbolic meal: Eucharist Ritual (last supper).

  • Apostle Paul said that the blood of animals cannot take away sin:

    • God had sacrificed his only son to remove human sin, and those without sin would have eternal life.

Jesus Christ

Origin of non killing religions

Origin of Non-Killing Religions

  • Why did Non-killing religions arise, replacing redistributive feasting?

    • States were being ravaged by brutal and costly wars

    • Environmental depletions, population growth, and the rise of cities created food shortages

    • Thus difficult to maintain a steady supply of meat for redistributive feasting

    • The class system produced widespread poverty among the common people

Jesus and the poor



  • Zoroaster lived in a time of political instability and cultural change

1500 500 bc india

1500-500 BC India

  • Vedic meat-redistributive religions (Ganges Valley) thrived

  • Populations were small and spread out in villages

  • There were dense forests, and fodder for animals.

  • No conflict between raising animals and plowing fields.

India 600 bc

India 600 BC

  • By 600 B.C. when Jainism and Buddhism arose:

    • Most people in the Ganges Valley lived in a state society

    • Population had risen to the millions

    • Towns and cities had sprung up

    • The Gangetic plain had become deforested

India 600 bc1

India 600 BC

  • There was a shortage of pasture and fodder

  • Oxen were too scarce to be consumed in feasts

    • (and were needed to plow fields)

  • Warfare was incessant

  • droughts produced dust bowls.

India 600 bc2

India 600 BC

  • “Lakes, wells and springs were dried up... Sacrifices were in abeyance.  Agriculture and cattle-rearing were given up.  Markets and shops were abandoned... Festivals died out.  Everywhere heaps of bones were seen and cries of creatures heard.  The cities were depopulated, hamlets burnt down.  People fled from fear of one another or of robbers, weapons, and kings.  Places of worship were deserted.  The aged were turned out of their houses…” 

  • -- Hindu epic poem Mahabarata

India 600 bc3

India 600 BC

  • “…Kine, goats, sheep and buffalo fought and died in large numbers.  The Brahmans died without protection.  Herds and plants withered.  The earth looked like trees in a crematorium.  In that dreadful age when righteousness was at an end, men...began to eat one another"

-- Hindu epic poem Mahabarata



  • Arose At a time of guerrilla wars aimed at overthrowing Roman power.

  • High priests, big landowners, and wealthy merchants lived in splendor, amidst

    • widespread unemployment,

    • landlessness, and

    • mistreatment of peasants and slaves.

Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of Judea



  • Throughout the Roman Empire one did not have to be a slave or peasant

  • to be appalled and to feel threatened by the

  • corruption,

  • brutality,

  • class antagonisms and

  • ceaseless wars

Roman Slave Market



  • Apostle Paul preached that the promised kingdom was not on earth but in heaven.

  • Neither worldly riches nor worldly pain were important

    • because those who loved humankind,

    • lived in peace, and

    • believed in Jesus …

    • would be rewarded with the gift of eternal life.

Apostle Paul

Religions of love and mercy

Religions of Love and Mercy

  • To become world religions, the religions of love and mercy:

    • Sponsored and encouraged military conquest

    • Aided and abetted harsh forms of political repression

      • and control.

Catholics versus Protestants

How non killing religions spread

How Non-killing Religions Spread

  • None of the non-killing religions has reduced the incidence or ferocity of war

  • Each is implicated in devastating inversions of the principle of non-killing and reverence for life.

Appeal to founders of empires

Appeal to Founders of Empires

  • Concern with the soul's prospects in the next life

  • Advantages in preserving and incorporating defeated populations as as source of labor and wealth.

  • Non-killing religions reassured the enemy that they could survive capture, and made foreign rule easier

  • Promise of rewards in afterlife instead of rewards to the body in life was convenient

Appeal to founders of empires1

Appeal to Founders of Empires

  • Life on earth was painful,

    • but poverty and suffering improved ones chances of eternal bliss

  • Governing class did not have to provide wealth and happiness

    • to validate its right to govern.

  • Redistributioncould not work anyway

    • in times of high population, environmental destruction, economic crisis

  • Killing justified by self-defense

    • or wars that were Just, Good and Holy

  • Soldiers went into battle convinced that their souls would be rewarded

    • if they died in combat



  • Spread throughout India and into the far east via 1000 years of war.

  • Kublai Khan converted to Buddhism, then conquered China

    • 1279 A.D.

Kublai Khan

Spread of buddhism

Spread of Buddhism

Hindus drive out buddhists

Hindus drive out Buddhists

  • Hindus battled Buddhists in India for hundreds of years

  • Buddhists eventually defeated, driven out of their homeland (India)

Buddhist Temple, Thailand



  • Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 A.D.

  • The Roman Empire became Christian

  • Christians were obliged to perform military service for the Empire

  • Rival Christian factions (Gnostics) were suppressed: Roman Church dominated

Christian Gnostic Factions



  • Pagan worship, Pagan temples, Judiasm, and Manichaeism all severely dealt with

  • Emperor Justinian (529 A.D.) ordered all who refused to become Christians to surrender their property and go into exile.


Religions of europe 1100 1200 a d

Religions of Europe: 1100-1200 A.D.

Development of religion in state societies

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