Over 800 references to the pre-earth existence of mankind have been identified in Jewish and Christian sources from the time of Christ until the sixth century, A.D. Early Hellenistic (Greek) writings also referred to belief in a pre-earth life. However, after the sixth century A.D., mention of a life before mortality virtually disappears from orthodox Jewish, Christian, and Greek writings (Hamerton-Kelley, R.G., Pre-Existence, Wisdom and the Son of Man in the New Testament, Cambridge University Press, 1973).
A premortal existence was discussed by such well known ancient philosophers as Plato, and Christian writers Origen of Alexandria and Justin Martyr. The writings of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus and the Jewish theologian Philo (who claimed that everything he wrote agreed with the Pentateuch) show that belief in a premortal life was evident in Judaism until the 5th century, A.D., which in certain quarters held that the soul longs to return to that premortal existence after earth life (Judische Theologie, 212-228).
Until the sixth century A.D., early Christianity taught that we had a pre-earth life. Then the doctrine of a pre-existence was condemned by the council of Constantinople in A.D. 553. However, Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics reports the doctrine of a pre-existence was favored by Origen (the greatest of early church theologians), Justin Martyr, Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem, Peirius, John of Jerusalem, Rufinius, Nemesius, and the Western Church generally until the time of Gregory the Great (article on pre-existence, p. 239).
More recently, Dr. Wayne Dyer, referring to the research of Sir Aldous Huxley, said:
Aldous Huxley in The Perennial Philosophy studied every age and every civilization and found there were three factors that were a part of every human age and every civilization that ever existed. These were civilizations that never had any contact with each other at all; primitive tribes, Budhists, eastern philosophies, cave men, etc.; they all believed three things:
1) There is an infinite world beyond the world of the changing; there is some kind of an existence that is in back of this physical world that we find ourselves in and that we are awake in.
2) The second thing they all believed is that an infinite world is a part of every human personality… that it is a part of every human being.
3) And the third thing they have all believed and that is a part of every culture is that the purpose of life and of being here is to discover God or to discover that invisible world which we call God.
A life before is spoken of in the legends of Africa, in the traditions of Native Americans, and in the myths of other cultures. An excerpt from Alex Haley’s book Roots serves as an example:
“He said that three groups of people lived in every village. First were those you could see–walking around, eating, sleeping, and working. Second were the ancestors whom Grandma Yaisa had now joined.
“And the third people–who are they?” asked Kunta.
“The third people,” said Omoro, “are those waiting to be born.”
–Haley, Alex, Roots. New York: Doubleday, 1976, p. 29.
There are also many ancient texts which have only within recent years been translated and made available to the general public. They are full of quotations and comments about the origin of man.