Before moving to answer the question: Where did the major denominations come from? I am going to digress into some additional information on the history of idolatry. I believe that there is some value to the Christian in understanding this varied topic so as to be able to better identify how things got headed the direction they did, and the danger that may lie ahead. The prophet wrote – I would that my adversary had written a book. Well, he did. It is known as history. And in it, though obscure, and just as it was written in the Old Testament, is the foundation of everything that has stood against the knowledge of God.
I had quoted some scholars weeks back concerning idolatry. Others from those days had stated similar things. Alexander Campbell posed, “This idolatry filled the world with every species of crime. When amors, intrigues, debaucheries, rapes, and murders were the pastimes of the gods worshiped by the great mass of human kind, what must have been the morals of the worshippers?”
The earliest archaeological evidence lists that Ninus, the son of Nimrod the Hunter, the builder of Nineveh (a great, great grandson of Noah: Ge. 10: 8 – 12), had the distinction of introducing the first recorded false god. In public assemblies at Babylon, Ninus presented to the city a statue of his father, known to them as Belus, supposedly establishing him as the founder of their empire. He commanded them to pay the same homage to his likeness as they had to him in life, and apparently he, that is Ninus, had the wherewithal to see to it. The location of the statue was appointed as a sanctuary for offenders and they were exempt from any punishment. An offer of clemency appeals to the lowest sorts of the citizenry in a society, and is still used in places today to help build a loyal base of scoundrels. These events occurred about two years prior to Noah’s death, some two millennia from the creation.
Not everyone bought in or bowed down. Others nations chose who or what they would fashion as their gods. Some began to deify the heavens, or fire, the sun and moon, or mammals and birds. The satirist Juvenal noted that every orchard had its own gods.
According to some of these same stone records, Belus was also known as Jupiter and Saturn among these early Babylonians. The name later transliterated out through multiple stages and into different languages as Beel, Baal, Beelphegor, Beelzebub, and Beelzemen. Sound familiar? Later in Greece Jupiter was called Olympius and later Zeus, and in Rome was known as Capitolinus.
Out of a single family and a man’s name came some of the earliest accounts of false gods. The statue became the idol and the idol became the god, and none of it due to chance. Out of a single idol arose a state religion and others invented, and out of that contrived beginning came many more.
The vernal equinox became known as Horus in Egypt, Hercules in the Greek and later Sancus in Latin. Upon the autumnal equinox the sun became Adonis to the Greek, as in earlier days by the winter solstice it had become the dead Osiris to the Egyptian. The priests of Egypt and Phoenicia gave names to every phase of the sun and moon, to all of the stars and to each season. Everything was associated with its own god. The Egyptians had identified each hour of the day and could compute them all using accurate established clocks: the obelisk and the clepsydra. The rest had also done similar things. Each part had a god of its own and one associated with each and every season. When in Aries, the sun was Ammon the ram, when in Taurus, it became Apis the bull. All of it was based upon the movement of the heavens and the more complex sidereal calendar. The entrance into the temple at Karnak was “modified” over time to incorporate the transition of the stars, so that Sirius would continue to shine directly into the sanctuary.
The courses of priests were trained and steeped in their duties and also in the associated fabricated religious histories. They existed due to the benevolence of the leaders, and they established a hierarchy of patronage towards the kings and courts of the lands in which they lived and served. Their primary duty was to fatten the coffers from both ends. Money can buy loyalty at least to a point; and people have always made easy targets for those who would liberate them from their gold and their goods. The powerful may have been heathens and pagans but they were not simple minded or unobservant. They could compute the time and the seasons and they could work the math; or they had someone available who could. The great temples and halls of Egypt, Persia and Greece were not haphazard structures; and they were not built by aliens. The ancients could also make the connection to power and work out things to their collective advantage.
The largest free standing dome in the ancient world, the Pantheon in Rome, was originally built to house images of the Roman gods in niches by month and season. As it later became one of the first Roman Catholic sanctuaries, the statues of those early gods were simply replaced with those of the “saints” of Rome with the building rededicated to the Virgin Mary.
Idolatry seems to fit hand-in-glove with religious and state functions. And upon close inspection it also seems to have had an early common ancestry.
(You can find and verify most of this through Wikipedia, if you should bother to take the time. And you can find it all within the walls of a good modern city library. The sources there must include some older texts though, not just the modern sort we have come to know and rely upon within our very trusting, sheltered and limited lifetimes.)
Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel.
Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”
After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.
(1 Kings 12: 25 – 30)