Ancient Java: Exploring Commonalities and Counterfeits
By Tim Thornton, July 17, 2013
Along the equator in Southeast Asia is a vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands known today as the country of Indonesia. With the world’s fourth largest population, Indonesia is home to hundreds of people groups and languages that have their roots in a variety of ancient cultures. The island of Java holds many antiquities that give us insight into the past of one such ancient culture.
Secular paleoanthropologists suggest that the primate ancestors of the Southeast Asian people moved to and evolved on Java. The meager evidence for this hypothesis is fragments of humanoid bones found throughout the island—one partial skeleton is known as the infamous ‘Java Man’.
God’s Word, however, leaves no room for the evolution of apes to man. And there is hard archaeological evidence that confirms that humans, made in the image of God, were dispersed at Babel and traveled to the Indonesian islands possibly soon thereafter.
Considering the evidence that ancient people traveled worldwide (See chapter 7 in The Genius of Ancient Man), it is possible that some used boats to reach Java as early as 2000 BC. From all indication, these people made their way from India and China perhaps in more than one migration. Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced to the island either from migrating peoples or through trading between 1000 BC and 500 AD.
Ancient Indian Sanskrit inscriptions on rocks found throughout Java suggest that there were kingdoms on Java a few centuries after the time of Jesus Christ. Dynasties and kingdoms rose and fell as the centuries went by, but the evidences of these ancient civilizations are still visible today.
The largest Buddhist building in the world, Borobudur is also known as “the world mountain”. Built by the Sailendra dynasty around 800 AD, its massive symmetrical, multi-tiered structure, as well as its ornate reliefs and statues testify to the intelligence of the ancient people who built it.
The massive pyramidal structure of Borobudur. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Near Borobudur is a very large Hindu complex that was built around the same time. Prambanan contains magnificent temples constructed with large stone blocks. Like Borobudur, the Prambanan complex has multiple concentric squares of small monuments surrounding a larger monument in the center. Borobudur’s structure is multi-leveled; leading up to one large monument. Prambanan’s monuments, on the other hand, are all on the same plane around three massive structures in the center. Most of the monuments at Prambanan are not fully reconstructed, but it assumed that all of them used to house some kind of a deity; the three in the middle are dedicated to the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.
The massive central spires of Prambanan [website nexttriptourism]
An artist’s sketch of the remarkably symmetrical complex [website borobudurpark]
All of these sites are found in a natural plain in Southern Java that is covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash and debris. Many of the monuments here had to be excavated from the ground and reconstructed, and it is assumed that hundreds and even thousands more of these have yet to be uncovered.
Built in the 15th century, this curious temple bears a remarkable resemblance to the Mayan monuments. It is a stone ziggurat that seems to represent a mountain. Reliefs and statues found there are strikingly similar to those of 8th century Javanese temples. From all indication it was a place of fertility worship not much different from the ancient temples of the Greeks and Central and South Americans.
Other notable monuments on the island of Java include: Candi Mendut, Candi Ceto, Candi Arjuna, Candi Kidal, and Candi Penataran. These are only a handful of the many monuments built to honor gods, spirits, kings, and animals throughout Java.
Many of these monuments have been restored to their original shape and brilliance, and it is amazing to think that considering the frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Southern Indonesia, some of the ancient structures still stand. The ability to construct such strong buildings without modern machinery eludes our understanding.
A Word on Temples
“Candis” (pronounced ‘Ch-ahn-dee’) or temples have been built for centuries on Java, the most prominent ones being constructed between 7th and 10th century AD. These structures are not unique though. Since the tower of Babel, the first known man-made religious monument, the “temple” has been a place of worship for many pagan religions throughout history.But in reality they are all merely counterfeits and perversions of what God originally instituted.
In the Bible, the Temple of the Lord was a very important place. It was at the Temple where sacrifices were made for the “purifying of the flesh” (Hebrews 9:13) and where God-fearing people would worship the Lord. At the same time the Jews honored the living God, the One True God, the pagan nations around them constructed temples for their gods (Judges 9:46, 2 Chronicles 32:21, 36:7).
The Lord ordered the Israelites to destroy such temples and tear down the high places (Leviticus 26:30, Numbers 33:52, Deuteronomy 12:2). It is ironic then that today, in a world fascinated with antiquity, some have fought to restore such places. But they won’t last forever—Praise the Lord that His kingdom is everlasting! “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).
Indonesian people generally have respect for mountains. Shrines and graves of ancient kings and even village rulers dating back to the 15th century have been found on the tops of high peaks. Mount Lawu, located in Central Java, is considered by locals to be the holiest mountain in the world.. Indeed, people travel far distances to climb to its 10,000 ft. high summit to fast and pray to their ancestors’ spirits. Interestingly enough, there are at least ten ancient complexes of stone terraces and walls on Lawu’s top. The largest terrace is about 330 feet long and 65 feet wide. These structures have been given estimated construction dates around the time of Christ!
Each of the aforementioned ancient structures of Java are all evidence that the ancient people were truly intelligent, just as God’s Word implies. The construction of monuments in the shapes of mountains and on top of mountains testifies to the spread of ideas from the Tower of Babel to Asia. The people of Java are descendants of Adam and Eve, not the product of evolution.
But all these ancient monuments are products of Satan’s counterfeit kingdom— perversions of God’s perfect created institutions. Unfortunately, many Indonesian people today have bought into Satan’s lies and worship the spirits of their ancestors, animals, and even rocks and trees rather than the Creator of the universe.
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and of four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1: 22-23).
In ancient times, the people mixed such animism with Hindu and Buddhist influences. Although these belief systems are contradictory, they are from the same counterfeit kingdom. Syncretism, the combining of multiple contradictory beliefs, has been a part of Indonesian culture for centuries. Today, in the world’s largest Muslim nation, most Indonesians still hold on to their animistic beliefs. They hold two authorities that could not mix if they were to live out their beliefs.
In reality there is only one true authority: the God of the Bible. And He presents salvation as a free gift to any who would believe in Jesus Christ His Son as the perfect atoning sacrifice for all mankind’s sin. There is no neutral ground: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).