Archive for the ‘egypt’ tag
This post stems from a conversation over at Bunch about biblical contradictions, particularly related to the creation story and man’s fall from grace in Genesis.
For simplicity’s sake, I am mostly going to be speaking here of the Judeo-Christian conception of God, known as Yahweh in the Old Testament and God the Father in the New Testament, but a good portion of this will apply to the God of Islam or any other deity that man has created with certain transcendent, otherworldy characteristics, such as omniscience.
The following is the first definition of “god” from the Merriam Webster:
capitalized: the supreme or ultimate reality: as
the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
I would wager that because of our general acceptance of religion in society, “goodness” continues to be part of our working definition of what we mean when we say God. But does this necessarily have to be the case? The ancient Greeks completely understood that although humans might label a being as a god does not mean that this being is actually good just because he commands powers that might appear mystical to us. Indeed, the Greek gods were in some cases capricious, childish and downright vile in some of their dealings with humans and each other. Take the rape of Europa, for instance (see illustration).
Yahweh, likewise, is certainly capricious, jealous — by his own admission — and overbearing, and thus, not much different than his Greek counterparts in being wholly a human creation.
In any case, let’s briefly take the Bible’s word for it and assume for argument’s sake that the Judeo-Christian god is basically good. The Bible directly tells us in many places that God is good, not the least of which are Psalm 100:5, “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” and Psalm 107:1, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His loving kindness is everlasting” and Matthew 19:17, “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? (there is) none good but one, (that is), God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
But it seems these passages belie God’s actual actions if we look at the Jewish and Christian narratives in totality, which in turn, make the strong case, once again, that the Bible is wrought with inconsistencies. First, let’s take the Jewish tradition from the Old Testament. Since there doesn’t seem to be a coherent consensus in Judaism about the afterlife, and particularly, heaven and hell, we can just look at the behavior of Yahweh toward his “chosen” people. Although the argument that God is good may be up for debate, as I argue here, the notion that he is omniscient and all-powerful are not, otherwise, we must change what we mean when we utter this three-letter construction.
If God is omniscient, he would have known there in the black chaos before speaking anything into existence that man would be seduced by the serpent and ultimately fall from grace. He would also know, in his omniscience, the precise time and place that Satan would tempt Eve to eat the fruit. He knew there in the black chaos that man would be exiled from the Garden as a result of the fall (and his seeming lack of concern that Satan infiltrated Eden) and would be relegated to a life of toil and birth pains. He knew there in the black chaos that man would soon after the fall become wicked in his sight. He knew he would have to flood the entire earth, kill untold numbers and preserve only one pious man and his family. He knew there in the black chaos that his “chosen” people, Israel, would betray him time and time again by falling into idol worship. He knew his beloved Israel would become slaves in Egypt. He knew of the wandering, the despair and the bloodlust on display against rival tribes in his name. He knew there in the black chaos that someone claiming proprietary knowledge would advocate the burning of random women believed to be witches and of stoning gay people. He knew of the impending Inquisitions; he knew there in the black chaos that Hitler, wanting to purge the world of his own “chosen” people, would maim, starve and slaughter 6 million Jews.
Moving beyond the Old Testament into Christianity, God knew that he would one day send his son for the atonement of man. He knew of the intense suffering that Jesus would endure. He knew of the intense suffering and persecution that early Christians would endure. He knew that one day, he would have to watch as millions, exercising their “god-given” reasoning capabilities, would not be able to believe in the historicity of Jesus or accept his gift of salvation and thus be cast down to perdition to burn forever and ever.
Regardless of whether any of this is true in reality and if we take these stories at face value, God saw the misery, the suffering, the despair, the waste of life and loss that would ensue once he spoke creation into being. He saw it all in the beginning. His mind’s eye envisioned this vale of woe in the chaos, and with a poker player’s blank stare, he went about the business of creation anyway. This alone, notwithstanding any arguments we might make about unnecessary suffering and an all-loving deity, renders God evil at best and sadistic at worst.
I’m currently reading, “Cleopatra: A Life” by Mary Schiff, and in Chapter V, she mentions a trip Florence Nightingale took to Egypt. Since she remained part of the Church of England, Nightingale apparently did not make the leap from merely observing similarities between the Jesus Christ stories in the New Testament and Osiris and many other gods of antiquity that predate Christ and most likely form the basis for our conception of him.
Here is what she has to say on a Sunday morning in an Isis temple:
I cannot describe to you the feeling at Philae. The myths of Osiris are so typical of our Saviour that it seemed to me as if I were coming to a place where He had lived — like going to Jerusalem; and when I saw a shadow in the moonlight in the temple court, I thought, “Perhaps I shall see him: now he is there.”
Of course, she was also apparently not astute enough to realize that all of them derive from sun god worship, which not surprisingly, has been recorded in most all times and locations in history, from ancient South American myths to Africa, the Middle East and even China.
The Christ myth is basically a hodgepodge of the various common themes.
While I realize a link between Jesus and Horus has been hotly debated for years and is still a point of contention, the list of similarities among myths in ancient Egypt, Greece and elsewhere to Christianity are almost too numerous to list. According to writer Joseph Campbell, the pattern, known as a monomyth, goes something like this:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
And so goes the Jesus tale and many, many others throughout antiquity.
For further reading, see the Wikipedia entry on Jesus and comparable mythology.
The New York Times is featuring a slideshow of protest signs during recent demonstrations in Tahrir Square. The protest eventually led to Hosni Mubarak stepping down as the nation’s president after 29 years in power. While demonstrations led to an important change in Egypt, the signs themselves perhaps reined in a new era in protests signs, as locals often fused technology, culture and cleverness to get their point across. Here are some highlights from The Times and from around the Web.
And my favorite:
As Christianity gains steam in Roman Egypt toward the end of the fourth century A.D., a young slave (Max Minghella) weighs his desire for freedom against his growing love for his mistress (Rachel Weisz), an atheist as well as a professor of philosophy.
Set in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria in the 4th century, the film recounts the personal, social and religious conflicts that begin to take shape as Christianity gains a wider influence in other regions of the world, like Northwest Africa.
In the beginning, we are met with the atheist philosopher Hypatia who is instructing her small group of students on the movements of the planets, which were called “wanderers” at the time. Throughout the film, she grapples with the once-important question: In what way do the planets revolve around the sun. She knows, of course, that Earth is round and that the sun, not Earth, as early believers claimed, is at the center of the solar system, known as heliocentrism. Because objects fall in precisely the same way from no matter what height, she learns on a trip to sea that the Earth is not rotating in any way that is at once noticeable to humans in real time. Thus she was left with the question of how the concept that we know today as gravity affects the movement of the “wanderers,” all the while, being ridiculed by Christians for correctly believing that Earth was round. She also ponders a theory that, as best I understand it, held that within the larger orbit of the planets, each individual planet demonstrated its own, more localized and smaller orbit. Hypatia was also attributed by one of her pupil’s, Synesius, later bishop of Cyrene, with the invention of the astrolabe, although some others have apparently come before Hypatia’s.
While Hypatia is wrestling with these questions — in the movie, she says that if she could only figure out a solution of the Earth’s orbit, she could die happy — her slave Davus, an intelligent servant who falls in love with her, later comes to believe in Christianity and joins a rather violent group that eventually subdues the pagans, of which, Hypatia’s father is a member, and destroys the famous Alexandria library, which at one time, was filled with now-lost volumes of learning, smashed, of course, by the believers, who were, as ever, hostile to science and philosophy. Here is the Wikipedia snippet on that unfortunate scene:
In the late 4th century, persecution of pagans by newly Christian Romans had reached new levels of intensity. In 391, the Patriarch Theophilus destroyed all pagan temples in Alexandria under orders from Emperor Theodosius I.
Later in the film, Davus begins to question the brutal methods dished out by his brethren, stating to one of his fellow believers that Jesus himself forgave those who persecuted him even while on the cross. Touche. Nonetheless, that objection didn’t seem to make a dent on his radical cohorts. The Christian/Pagan conflict then began to heat up in Alexandria as another of Hypatia’s students, Orestes, now prefect of the city, and Hypatia’s confidant, is upbraided for his refusal to kneel to God when a passage in the New Testament is read during a service about how men should not seek advise of women. The apologist leading the serve all but by name identifies Hypatia as one who practices witchcraft, as she is the most well-known woman in the town. In those days, and even in 17th century America, women either bowed the knee or were disgracefully accused of sorcery or licentiousness.
On Synesius’ urging, however, Orestes approaches Hypatia to ask her, at least in deed, to go through with a baptismal to protect her from retribution from the Christians. Orestes said he could no longer protect her with his troops because of increased pressure from the believers. He also said he could not function in his duties as prefect without her counsel, adding that he did not want one of the main Christian leaders to “win” by dividing the two friends. To which Hypatia replied in what I would call the climax of the film:
Oh, Orestes. He’s already won.
She then walks out into the streets and is immediately arrested by the same Christian group to which Davus belongs.
As the movie concludes, Hypatia is marched up the steps of a church, while ruthlessly being mocked as a witch and whore by the religious. The stunning, soft-faced and exceeding intelligent Hypatia is then stripped naked and is about to be skinned alive. Davus, to save Hypatia from the humiliating and torturous fate, suggests to his Christian brethren with a different technique: stoning. While the group temporary disperses to gather their stones — persecuting tools are always within arms reach — he approaches the woman he loves, wraps her arms around her from behind, cranes his head and looks into her eyes. They both nod in agreement in what must happen. He proceeds to cover her mouth and nose with his hand to suffocate her. When the believers come back, the Hypatia is already dead, and Davus simply says that she fainted and walks out of the church as the other believers throw rocks at the carcass. She’s believed to have been dragged naked through the streets, although the film does not depict this. I would be interested to know if Davus left Christianity after that episode or he continued in his belief. Perhaps he began to follow a more moderate brand or he disavowed his faith. Either is probable since he appeared quite devout, yet humane and thoughtful.
Given how beautiful and reasonably-minded Hypatia is thought to have been, I felt intense anger at the end of this film that such a smart and lovely creature had to endure such a hideous death by people who thought they had God on their side. And more than that, the feeling was tinged with the thought that she probably died in real life by a much worse means than suffocation and also that countless women were burned and hung or stoned as witches because of religion and ignorance. That’s not fiction.
Christopher Hitchens has written an entire book on the how religion has poisoned history down through the ages, but we can heap on more to the number: the record of science and free thought in antiquity or at any time, really. The famous library in Alexandria was completely upended and basically converted to an animal stable. Who knows how many secular or scientific works of antiquity have been lost because of the pomposity and outright certainty of the religious that they are in the right, when science more and more heaps on the evidence that it’s precisely the other way around. For instance, the authors of the Handbook of Christian Apologetics often use the claim of the historicity of religious texts and the large number of texts that have been preserved through history to validate their supernatural claims. But how many more ancient secular, scientific and philosophical texts might we have if the religious strong hand hasn’t warred against free thought and inquiry since religion was invented? How much history might have been written differently had not religious strong-handing elevated certain preferred works and subdued or outright destroyed others as in the library. For, it is in the religious, that the religious held the power in the times of Hypatia. Else, she would have gotten to live a full life. Else, the works that she so admired in the Alexandria library might have been preserved.
I’ll leave it to those who have yet to see the film to discover whether or not she finally answered the question about the Earth’s rotation and orbit. In total, I thought the videography was excellent, which at times panned away to provocative and unique angles, and at others, expanded out to view the entire globe from space, as if to remind the reader, not only of religion’s near ubiquitous hold on mankind but about Hypatia’s more personalized struggle to figure the calculus of the cosmos.