Granted, few people probably look at the histography of organised religion this way but any market analyst charged with studying the mystic industry would have seen it coming from a mile away. I loathe the word, but it was inevitable. 55 generations ago the God Business was ready to be turned on its head, and after a few promising prototypes and a little closed-market product testing monotheism was a shoe-in to sweep the spiritualism market of Asia Minor, and through that westerly facing door, Europe. And here’s why:
Sure, a turd in the shape of a “G” might mean more to the average man on the street today, but this simple equation not only answers why a farmer (a rather baffled farmer it can be said) got less produce out of his land after sowing more seed than ever before, but also why 55 generations ago polytheism was, quite literally, a dead man walking. The Law of Diminishing Returns, a reduction in profit or output after a certain level of inputs is reached or passed, is one of those peculiarly counterintuitive things we naked apes accidentally tripped over while going about our naked ape business of making and selling the things we made and grew. As strange as it sounded the more you put into something did not necessarily correspond to the more you got out. In more cases than not the opposite rung true and although first laid out into a working economic theory in the early 1800’s the discovery of mysteriously evaporating returns was by no means unique to the Victorian era, and nor was it limited to just profit or physical units of output. Take a walk from any Mediterranean shoreline 60 generations ago, across the Fertile Crescent, over the Hindu Kush and all the way to the banks of the Indus River and you would have encountered what Marx called the “tendency of the rate of profit to fall.” There’s a slim but calculable chance you might have seen it written across the faces of perplexed pottery floor managers trying to figure out how they wound up with less units of production after putting more potters on the line, or perhaps heard it in the grumblings of frustrated shipwrights unable to explain why colossal 400-oarsman powered naval frigates were slower than their smaller 200-oarsman cousins, but there is every chance you would’ve seen it in the increasingly bedazzled expressions of the pious trying to juggle the happiness of a thousand Gods.
Take a step back and consider for a moment the labyrinth of presented problems in just hosting a simple birthday party west of the Euphrates 60 generations ago. Any self-respecting host would first have to give offerings to Erra, the God of mayhem, just to ensure he was looking elsewhere on the big night. Then some attention would have to be paid to Endursaga so word of the party got out and save the embarrassment of being left holding mountains of kubbah and quickly spoiling kanafeh. To those ends a quiet word to Adad and Shamash would also be in order to ensure good weather and that party goers arrived safely. Those arrangements made it’d then be wise to slaughter a goat or two to Mushdamma, Namshub and Nin Ildu to take out some insurance on your house and ward against some untimely collapse which was, no doubt, frowned upon in the Middle Iron Age as much as it is today. That done, any host worth his salt would have to pay careful attention to the Gods and Goddesses of grog: Ngeshtin-ana, Ninkasi, Nunbarsegunu, and Siris to name just four for without their assistance a party wouldn’t really be a party worth the foot slog or the cost of the present. Some carefully directed prayers should then be made to Kulitta, Ninatta and Jubal for great music and finally some serious attention given over to pleasing Nanaya and Nin-imma: the Goddesses of voluptuousness and sensuality. As an afterthought it would also be prudent to spill the blood of an ox or two to Amasagnul, Ama-arhus,Dagon, Ninurta, Dumuzi, Inanna, Ishtar, Mylitta, Sulpa’e, Nanshe, and Ningirsu just to make sure none of your daughters were knocked-up by some visiting Sipparian asshole.
Smooth talking, virginity wrecking Sipparians aside, you don’t need a Nobel Prize in Economics to know if you flood any market with product, be it potatoes or capital or helpful gods the results will predictably be the same: the value of potatoes and money and gods will plummet. Simply put, the more Gods the priests of the Upper Bronze and Lower Iron Age snapped into existence and threw into their respective pantheons the less impressive the entire family would have seemed to of become. There was a loss of the Gods core value; a creeping dilution of the market where the practice and perceived benefits of belief became counterproductive. Now this is not to say the pantheons were on their way out. Far from it. When monotheism was first tickled by the Egyptians and Proto-Indo-Iranians 130-odd generations ago Polytheism wasn’t even remotely close to what marketers today call the last of the four stages of a product lifecycle: Maturity & Decline. Even as late as 60 generations ago the pantheon of Gods was still an immensely lucrative Cash Cow with the priests overseeing the product family in much the same way brand managers today massage any successful market product: they keep adding features to increase end user satisfaction. A new handle, better lights, softer wheels, even vibrant new packaging techniques are all tools used to keep a smile on the consumers face and ensure repeat purchases. Now whereas Gillette might today introduce a sporty lime green summer version of their supremely successful Mark III razor the temple priests introduced Enshag, the God of warding off colds and sniffles, or Ninkarnunna, the God of barbers. For the architects they invented Mushdamma, the God of construction. For the brewers it was Siduri, the God of beer, and for cocktails the Goddess Ninkasi. Nin-agal was for blacksmiths, Uttu for fine clothe making, and for writers, Ninkasi. There were Gods for everything, even a God for shaping bricks, Kabta. With an expertise polished over 150 generations the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician, Egyptian and Canaanite priests conjured hundreds upon thousands of evermore increasingly specific deities to fill evermore specific market niches and by doing so they were unwittingly forcing the aggregated market value of even the shiniest of the gods down.
Now predictably where there is clutter and oversupply in any market there inevitably arrives a craving for something more potent, streamlined, and meaningful; something with greater value and punch. Drug addicts call it looking for a bigger and greater hit, and wondering through the Edomite desert (modern day Sinai) a band of Semitic speaking Bedouins, the Shasu of YHW, were carrying the exact product a small settlement of northwestern-Semitic speaking Canaanites seemed to have been looking for. What these Bedouins had in their keep was a remarkable story of a single, personal, all-purpose, all-weather God; a God who with a little tweaking and a great deal of plagiarism these linguistically specific Canaanites would slowly fashion into their own private Swiss Army Knife of a deity: a chap we know today as the monotheistic, Yahweh. That’s not however to say this YHWH came neatly wrapped-up in a single white tunic. Far from it. For 800 years YHWH was a patchwork polytheistic god who sometimes appeared as the head of the Canaanite pantheon (El), at other times as the Canaanite god of armies (Tseboath), and when the times called for it, Shaddai (The Destroyer) from the Sumerian pantheon. It was only much later, toward the lower half of the 1st century BCE, did this bipolar, schizophrenic, multi-hatted god begin to take on the shape of a single identity, but when it did the fate of polytheism in Asia Minor was sealed. It was nothing but a geographic accident, but when the theatrics of this easy-to-handle, all-in-one, one-size-fits-all God spilled over into Syria, then Cappadocia, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lycia, and on to the gates of Europe and Central Asia in Bithynia it found audiences (not so surprisingly) more than just a little willing to taste a more potent supernatural dish. Here was an iPhone God with an open operating platform ready for developers to produce Apps like Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism, and even accommodate major system upgrades like Islam. The consumer really didn’t stand a chance. They were sold on monotheism before they even knew it.