The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion

Is Turkey’s “Stonehenge” evidence of the oldest religion in the world?

The massive stone enclosures of the Göbekli Tepe ruins (known to many as Turkey’s “Stonehenge”) may be the earliest examples of Neolithic religion. What do the enclosures and the fascinating reliefs that adorn their pillars reveal about the oldest religion in the world? Photo: Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic Stock.

On a hill known as Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”) in southeastern Turkey, excavations led by Klaus Schmidt uncovered several large megalithic enclosures that date between 10,000 and 8000 B.C.E., the dawn of civilization and the Neolithic age. Each of these circular enclosures, which many have described as Turkey’s “Stonehenge,” consists of 10 to 12 massive stone pillars surrounding two larger monoliths positioned in the middle of the structure. There are no village remains at or near the Göbekli Tepe ruins, suggesting that the unique site was a ceremonial center exclusively used for the practice of the Neolithic religion of local hunter-gatherer groups.

Given the early age of the site, equally surprising are the varied and often highly elaborate carvings that adorn the pillars of the Göbekli Tepe ruins. Among the pillars are detailed and often very realistic depictions of animal figures, including vultures and scorpions, lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, asses, snakes and other birds and reptiles. In addition, some of the massive monoliths are carved with stylized anthropomorphic details—including arms, legs and clothing—that give the impression of large super-human beings watching over the enclosures.

Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.


Despite the primitive age of the sanctuary at Göbekli Tepe, the carvings reflect a high level of artisanship depicting a plethora of animal figures in both low and high relief, including vultures and scorpions (shown here), lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, asses, snakes, other birds and reptiles. Photo: Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic Stock.

The Göbekli Tepe ruins and enclosures—the earliest monumental ritual sites of Neolithic religion and possibly the oldest religion in the world—are causing experts to rethink the origins of religion and human civilization. Until recently, scholars agreed that agriculture and human settlement in villages gave rise to religious practices. The discoveries at the Göbekli Tepe ruins, however, indicate that earlier hunter-gatherer groups that had not yet settled down had already developed complex religious ideas, together with monumental ceremonial sites to practice the sacred communal rituals of Neolithic religion.

Indeed, excavations at the Göbekli Tepe ruins uncovered tens of thousands of animal bones, indicating that many different species—including those depicted on the pillars—were slaughtered, sacrificed and presumably eaten at the site. While it is uncertain to whom these sacrifices were made, it’s possible they were offered to the enclosures’ stylized human pillars that, as some have suggested, may represent priests, deities or revered ancestors in Neolithic religion. Given that human bones were also been found, others believe the Göbekli Tepe ruins may have been a Neolithic burial ground where funerary rituals and perhaps even excarnations were practiced.*

To learn more about the Göbekli Tepe ruins and Neolithic religion, read Ben Witherington III’s article “In the Beginning: Religion at the Dawn of Civilization” as it appears in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.



* For excarnation in the later Chalcolithic period, see Rami Arav, “Excarnation: Food For Vultures,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2011.


Related content in Bible History Daily:

Why Study Prehistoric Israel?

The Prehistoric Diet and the Rise of Complex Societies

No Matches? No Problem. Ancient Fire-Making in Israel

Çatalhöyük Mural: The Earliest Representation of a Volcanic Eruption?

Journey to the Copper Age: A Video Lecture by Thomas E. Levy

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in December 2012.


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  • Saul says

    The LXX reveals that the Masoretic dating of the Patriarchs’ lifespans has been truncated by 1400 years. Therefore the Flood of Noah is properly 3142 BC. The comet/asteroid that hit North America was in 10,900 BC. Conflating the two events, separated by over 7000 years, will prevent you from understanding the events properly. The Torah says the Flood covered the eretz = land, not the whole earth.
    The Burckle asteroid impact in the Indian Ocean in 3142 BC, east of Madagascar,
    caused a massive tsunami to sweep up the Perisan Gulf and bury Sumer in 10 feet of mud.

    • Eric says

      Saul, this was a world-wide flood. If eretz does not mean “world” (in addition to “land”) what word does? The flood was an instrument that divided continents and changed the environment so completely that things could not grow to their optimum in the most optimum conditions. Evidence of the flood is worldwide, not merely in one region of the eretz.

  • Jaroslav says

    Gobekli Teoe has only one connection with the Bible-the T-tav shaped ityphallic pillars with the T-tav shaped Sol-om-on Temple in any biblical map of Jerusalem,the Temple Mount…Similar T-tav shaped pillar is Number 6 in Tortuguero,Mexico,announcind the Descend of Bolon Yokte Ku after 13 Bak’ tuns,therefore,after 2012…The 9 headed Dragon(Milky Way),perhaps connected also to the biblical Yoktan,relative of the phallic Peleg?

  • Alan says

    Correction: The Bible reflects reality… EXCEPT for the Book of Esther. It is the only “canonized” book that doesn’t mention God — even ONCE — and was the only book from the TaNaKh (OT) not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).

  • Alan says

    Why do you think the Most High detested the “high places?” These temples are scattered throughout the world. The fallen angels (aka Watchers) descended at Mount Hermon and established themselves to be worshipped as gods. With man’s being made in the image of the Elohim, these Watchers had sexual compatibility with human females with their progeny being literal giants. They taught men all kinds of abominations as is extensively documented in the books of Enoch and Giants (discovered among the DSS) as well as briefly in Genesis 6. All mythology has its basis in truth. That was the reason for the worldwide Deluge… BTW, as a change was made to the Earth after the Flood, antediluvian radiocarbon dating is ineffective. These complexes are not as old as is presented in this and other articles.

    Just a parting thought… The Elohim, or family/tribe of God — Father/Most High/Yahoah, Son/Yehoshu’a, Holy Spirit/Ruach HaKodesh, seraphim, cherubim, archangels, angels, and the Heavenly Hosts — are not of Earth. Therefore, by definition, they are EXTRATERRESTRIALS! No, these temples were not built by hunter-gatherers, and the Bible reflects reality — including the Creation, which most modern “Biblical scholars” deny.

    • Nicholas says

      +Alan One of the great questions of the day is: Who is ELOHIYM? We have the use of this word throughout scripture and it appears for the first time in the very first verse of Bere’shiyth (Genesis).

      Bere’shiyth (Genesis) 1:1
      IN the beginning ELOHIYM created את eth the heavens and את eth the earth.

      One of the great detractions, in my view, from this word, is the simplistic concept that because the word is in the masculine plural (-iym) therefore, the word is discussing gods, not a singular (echad) entity, but a multiplicity of entities. From this flat-footed interpretation, historians and other academics have concluded that the earth was created by aliens, and that man himself was created by aliens, with the ones who were created (namely, us) referred to as gods (elohiym).

      Another concept that arises is the notion that ELOHIYM refers to God in three persons, therefore the trinity (the polytheist view found in many branches of Christianity). For purposes of our discussion here, I do not believe that is true, but that instead, the sevenfold doctrine of his whole creation is revealed even in the word ĕlôhîym (אֱלֹהִים).

      Chanok (Enoch) 93:12
      Afterwards, in the seventh week, a perverse generation shall arise; abundant shall be its deeds, and all its deeds perverse. During its completion, the righteous shall be selected from the everlasting plant of righteousness; and to them shall be given the sevenfold doctrine of his whole creation.
      We are going to discuss this sevenfold doctrine here in respect of the word ELOHIYM, and see what we find.

      Chanok (Enoch) 61:10-14
      Then YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH seated upon the throne of his glory the Elect One; 11 Who shall judge all the works of the holy, in heaven above, and in a balance shall he weigh their actions. And when he shall lift up his countenance to judge their secret ways in the word of the name of YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH, and their progress in the path of the righteous judgment of EL ELYON; 12 They shall all speak with united voice; and bless, glorify, exalt, and praise, in the name of YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH. 13 He shall call to every power of the heavens, to all the holy above, and to the power of ELOHIYM. The Keruviym, the Seraphiym, and the Ophaniyn, all the angels of power, and all the angels of YAHUAH, namely, of the Elect One, and of the other Power, who was upon earth over the water on that day, 14 Shall raise their united voice; shall bless, glorify, praise, and exalt with the RUACH EMUNAH, with the RUACH CHOKMAH and NETSACH, with the RUACH CHECED, with the RUACH MISHPAT and SHALOM, and with the RUACH RAHTSON; all shall say with united voice; Blessed is he; and the name of YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH shall be blessed forever and ever; all, who sleep not, shall bless it in heaven above.

      Now, in this passage, we find so many things: the discussion of the Elect One (MASHIACH); who judges in the word of the name of YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH; and an additional Power other than the Elect One was upon earth over the water on that day.

      We will be discussing this other Power here, although we have an immediate discussion in the very verse which follows in Chanok, namely, the identification of seven RUACHOTH.

      RUACH EMUNAH – The Ruach of Faith
      RUACH CHOKMAH – The Ruach of Wisdom
      RUACH NETSACH – The Ruach of Longsuffering
      RUACH CHECED – The Ruach of Mercy
      RUACH MISHPAT – The Ruach of Judgment
      RUACH SHALOM – The Ruach of Peace
      RUACH RAHTSON – The Ruach of Benevolence

      We see here one example of the sevenfold doctrine found in creation. Can these words in Ivriyt (Hebrew) be bunched into these simple English interpretations? No, not really. Emunah means faith, but what is faith if not belief? Chokmah means wisdom, but what is wisdom if not the Yir’ah YAHUAH – the fear of YAHUAH? Netsach means longsuffering, but it also means endurance; Checed means mercy, but it also means a form of grace. And so, it goes. Equally important is the word RUACH itself, which means primarily breath, not spirit.

      Before moving one, consider one more passage from Chanok:

      Chanok (Enoch) 62:2-4
      YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH sat upon the throne of his glory. 3 And the RUACH TSEDAQAH was poured out over him. 4 The word of his mouth shall destroy all the sinners and all the wicked, who shall perish at his presence.

      Now consider the language in Yesha`yahu (Isaiah):

      Yesha`yahu (Isaiah) 11:2-5
      And the RUACH YAHUAH shall rest upon him, the RUACH CHOKMAH and BIYNAH, the RUACH ETSAH and GEVURAH, the RUACH DA’ATH and of the YIR’AH of YAHUAH; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of YAHUAH: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his reins.

      As we can see, Chanok and Yesha`yahu are consistent, one to the other. Again, let us see the sevenfold doctrine in this passage:

      RUACH YAHUAH – The Ruach of YAHUAH
      RUACH CHOKMAH – The Ruach of Wisdom
      RUACH BIYNAH – The Ruach of Understanding
      RUACH ETSAH – The Ruach of Counsel
      RUACH GEVURAH – The Ruach of Strength
      RUACH DA’ATH – The Ruach of Knowledge
      RUACH YIR’AH – The Ruach of the Fear of YAHUAH

      Now let us compare these seven RUACHOTH with the seven days of creation.

      We begin now to answer the question as to who or what is ELOHIYM. Let’s take a closer look at this word RUACH:

      Chanok (Enoch) | Yesha`yahu (Isaiah) | Verses
      RUACH RAHTSON | RUACH YAHUAH | Bere’shiyth 1:2-3
      RUACH CHOKMAH | RUACH CHOKMAH | Bere’shiyth 1:3-5 (1st day)
      RUACH NETSACH | RUACH BIYNAH | Bere’shiyth 1:6-8 (2nd day)
      RUACH SHALOM | RUACH ETSAH | Bere’shiyth 1:9-13 (3rd day)
      RUACH MISHPAT | RUACH GEVURAH | Bere’shiyth 1:14-19 (4th day)
      RUACH CHECED | RUACH DA’ATH | Bere’shiyth 1:20-23 (5th day)
      RUACH EMUNAH | RUACH YIR’AH | Bere’shiyth 1:24-31 (6th day)

      Ruach (רוּחַ) (Strong’s 7307) from H7306, is understood to mean wind; by resemblance breath, i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation; figuratively, life, anger, unsubstantiality; by extension, a region of the sky; by resemblance spirit, but only of a rational being (including its expression and functions). Its root is (רוּחַ) ruach, which means properly to blow, i.e. breathe.

      We see this same expression in the Greek, where the phrase Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) is derived from the phrase: hágios pneuma. The word pneuma πνεῦμα (Strong’s G4151) meaning a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc.

      So, when we talk about the RUACH HAQODESH, we are referring to the Holy Breath of YAH. Is this consistent with the account of creation in Bere’shiyth (Genesis)? Yes, it is. Because the verses recount the phrase “and ELOHIYM said (אֱלֹהִים אָמַר)” seven times: (Bere’shiyth 1:3; 1:6; 1:9; 1:14; 1:20; 1:24; and 1:29. We now see the plurality of the expression of YAHUAH the creator; creating creation by means of the seven breaths we call RUACHOTH; all together encapsulated in the word ELOHIYM.

      Final notes: Let us continue to discuss this heptadic schematic of scripture:

      Zakaryahu (Zechariah) 3:8-9 
      Hear now, O Yahusha the high priest, you, and your fellows that sit before you: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth את eth-my servant the BRANCH. 9 For behold the stone that I have laid before Yahusha; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, says YAHUAH TSEVA’OTH, and I will remove את eth-the iniquity of that land in one day.

      Zakaryahu (Zechariah) 4:10
      For who has despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see את eth-the plummet in the hand of Zerubbavel with those seven; they are the eyes (עיני) (ayiniy) of YAHUAH, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

      And also consider:
      Chizayon (Revelation) 1:19-20
      Write the things את eth which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden menoroth. The seven stars are the angels of the seven called out assemblies: and the seven menoroth which you saw are the seven called out assemblies.

      Stephen Pigeon

      • Daniel says

        You are parsing tid bits, like most Hebrew scholars, you are waisting your time because you care too much for one language. Expand your horizons.

      • Eric says

        Seven is a symbol of God and his totality and holiness, which goes beyond creation (six days). Seven is the signature of the one God, hence, seven spirits of holiness, the seven-tiered candlestick, the series of seven in Revelation (where the seventh is set apart from the six preceding events. Jesus died on the sixth day and his body rested in the tomb on the seventh. (The Resurrection happens on the “new day,” as God brings about a “new thing,” which is also why eight is a symbol of the Christian life.)

    • Daniel says

      The deluge was an asteroid hitting the northern ice cap in two stages, starting around 10,800 bce. – not sure about your sweeping allegations of the flood over turning radio carbon dating.

    • Eric says

      No, Alan. Let’s rein in that imagination!

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