Original Monotheism: The Santal

A month without Wi-Fi put this series on quite the unfortunate hiatus, but we’re back, baby! In an effort to produce enough evidence to allow us to consider the possibility of original monotheism as the ideal model for studying religion, I return to Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in their Hearts.

For a refresher in the series: I have posted about the way that original monotheism is foundational for Christian theology, how we got to where we are in current religious studies, and a look at Incans. In this post, I plan to provide another example of a people group who’s theology tracks closely enough with Christian theology to postulate that their religion could have grown out of initial Yahwism. Remember: the point isn’t to prove that these tribes and peoples definitively prove the existence of the Triune God. Rather, their stories provide a web that shows that Christian theology may have been a part of their personal theology long before the missionaries reached them. In showing this, I postulate that this shows remnantal aspects of the story of the gospel from ancient times.

In 1867, Norwegian missionary Lars Skrefsrud and Danish missionary Han Borreson made the trek to met the Santal people who lived in Calcutta, India. Wondering how long it would take for his message to reach Santal ears, he was surprised when they responded positively quickly to his gospel. They were astonished that he knew so much about the god “Thakur Jiu”. Thakur Jiu, transliterated, means “Genuine God”.

Thakur Jiu created two humans, Haram and Ayo, in a distant part of India, Hihiri Pipiri. The couple was tempted by Lita, who convinced them to make rice beer and sacrifice part of that beer to satan. In doing so, they were set into a deep sleep and woke up, realizing that they were nude.

Ayo then bore seven children, all of whom became the heads of new nations and tribes. Thakur Jiu called for them to return to him, but they wouldn’t. Thakur then took two of the offspring and hid them in Mount Harata (Ararat?) and wiped everyone else out with a flood. The survivors moved and prospered in Sasan Beda (lit. mustard field), and they were divided into the many people groups here.

As the people moved East of Sasan Beda, they were blocked by mountains. Instead of asking Thakur for help, they asked the spirits of the mountains for safe passage. They made a covenant with Maran Buru, the spirit of the great mountain, to pass through. In response, they offered sacrifices to Maran Buru. As they traveled far past the mountains, they still worshipped Maran Buru. This obligation continued today.

Still, Thakur Jiu was seen as the ultimate high god. He is known as distinct from the others as their head. He sees all because he created all things. He sets everything in its place and keeps it all nourished and continues it by his power alone. Interesting, huh?

Based on this, the missionaries were convinced that they could convert the tribe by calling God Thakur Jiu, and affirming that Jesus is the Son of Thakur. (This is part of the missiology we mentioned earlier.) Their missionary outlook, to use the name that they knew rather than forcing a new name, caused an outbreak of baptisms and Christians. By the end of the year, India saw 15,000 new baptisms under the name of Thakur.

This story is helpful in that it doesn’t only provide us an understanding of original monotheism, but it helps reinforce my missiological understanding of it.

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