Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who’s your daddy? The Cuckold Carpenter in Myth, Ritual and Philosophy

My mother-in-law loves to say: “maternity is a matter of fact and paternity is a matter of opinion.” Opinions about the parentage of Jesus expose the origins of his story in Palestinian savior mythology. The story of a savior boy god with two daddies evolved from conflicting opinions between Greeks and Phoenicians about the role of the craftsmen deity in the story and who played the role of his mother. The Canaanite myth of Aqhat illustrates how the story in the stars was known during the Bronze Age. Many later stories about savior boy gods followed the same path in the stars; but, the myth of Eshmun best illustrates the conflicting opinions about the parentage of the boy. The Old Testament version of the story provides the reason for the name “Joseph” in the Jesus myth. The 1st century CE Jewish historian, Josephus, told a variation of the Joseph tale, demonstrating his use of myth in writing history. In the oldest gospel story of Mark, Joseph of Arimathaea plays the typical “Joseph” role. But, Matthew and Luke gave Joseph the carpenter a more prominent role as Jesus’ father. Then, the gospel of John provided a very sophisticated interpretation of the role of the two daddies as the philosophical father; yet, the story still played out in the stars.

Tracing the origins of deities is always very convoluted because ancient people syncretized different concepts about types of deities, blending influences from their neighbors to create their own interpretation of the god’s character. Every god’s character was constantly changing, as new philosophical, mythical, and ritual influences were incorporated into the old god’s image. The Levant was the ultimate cultural melting pot, blending influences from Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt, and Greece, and ultimately inventing Christianity. Just by tracing the transformation of a Bronze Age craftsmen deity into Joseph the Carpenter exposes the rich cultural parentage of the Jesus myth.

In the Bronze Age Canaanite story of Aqhat from Ugarit, Kothar-and-Khasis bestowed their bow and arrows on Aqhat’s father, Danel (Coogan 1978). Kothar and Khasis became one as Kothar wa Hasis, the craftsmen deity; in other words: a carpenter. He did useful things in Canaanite mythology, such as building Baal’s house and making weapons. Like most myths, Aqhat was a story that played out in the stars. Kothar and Khasis were the Gemini. Their role as the Gemini was preserved in the Bible book of Judges, which describes the twelve zodiac signs as twelve judges. In Judges, Ibzan was Gemini. Ibzan’s name means “their tin is white.” The plurality of his name and the reference to a metal used in weapon metallurgy, suggests that he was Gemini, the Great Twins in the star chart. The Great Twins stood with their weapons ready.

Below the Gemini in the later part of summer (the seasons proceed clockwise on the start chart) stands the Arrow constellation, marking the death of Aqhat. Aqhat’s death was the result of disobedience to the goddess Anat. Aqhat refused to give the goddess the bow and arrows given to his father by Kothar and Khasis and she killed him. The goddess stood in the stars as the Bow constellation next to the Arrow. Later in the story, the remains of Aqhat were gathered and buried in the Abyss constellation of late summer, at the beginning of the autumn planting season. Aqhat comes back to life with the return of the rains in autumn.

Baal and Mot
The Canaanite story of Baal and Mot is parallel to that of Aqhat, with Baal’s death during the heat of summer. In the story, Baal makes love to a heifer that gave birth to a boy. “Mightiest Baal did clothe him with his robe” (line 22) and gave the boy as an offering to Mot. The sacrifice of Baal’s son is at the same point as Aqhat’s death at the Arrow constellation. Mot was a dragon and appears in the star chart as the Leviathan under Leo.

The tablet is broken at this point and the story picks up again with the announcement that Baal is dead. The gods El and Anat mourn the death of Baal, described with farming allusions of ploughing and harrowing, represented by the Harrow constellation. Anat then buries Baal, assisted by Shapash, the sun goddess. The burial place of Baal is the same as Aqhat, in the Abyss constellation, beside the Harrow. Like Aqhat, Baal, the storm god, comes back to life with the autumn rains. Kothar and Khasis are instructed to drive away the Leviathan, which alludes to the farming activities represented by the Harrow constellation. This was the season when soldiers turned from fighting to farming, as represented in Isaiah 2:4:

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

The Canaanites of Ugarit claimed that Kothar and Khasis were Egyptian gods from Memphis, the site of the temple of Ptah. As the god of the mound who called creation into being, Ptah was regarded as a craftsmen god and later conflated with another craftsman deity, Seker. Seker was responsible for the regeneration of the sun during the night. Later, Ptah-Seker was conflated with Osiris, father of the boy-god, Horus. Kothar and Khasis were also connected with the sun in the mythology of Ugarit, as the companions of the feminine solar deity, Shapash. Their relationship with the sun was described in the story of Baal and Mot:

“Shapash, the shades are under you;
Shapash, the ghosts are under you;
The gods come to you,
Behold the dead come to you.
Kothar is your companion
And Khasis your intimate.
In the sea are Arsh and the dragon;
Let Kothar and Khasis banish them,
Let Kothar and Khasis drive them away!”
(Gibson 1977)

The goddess Shapash was replaced in Canaanite mythology with the masculine Shamash, due to Mesopotamian influences. The Mesopotamian Shamash also had two attendants called Kettu and Mesaru, who were blended with Kothar and Khasis. They became Sydyk and Misor in Philo of Byblos’ Sanchuniathon. Sydyk became the father of the Gemini, called the Cabeiri, and of the boy-god, Eshmun. The Cabeiri were associated with military cults, evolving from a Bronze Age class of charioteers. 13th century BCE texts from Emar exposed the Semitic origin of the word Cabeiri as kbr meaning “great.” In the Emar texts, it was used to describe the Great Gods. The word is probably of Sumerian origin, from the word for copper, kabar (Buckert 1985, 282 and notes on page 457.).

In Greek myth, the Cabeiri were the sons of Hephaestus, the god of metallurgy. In Anatolia, they were part of the mother goddess cult. The Korybantes (probably derived from Cabeiri) were nine male dancers dressed in military regalia, who performed in ceremonies for the Cybele.

Similar dancers, called Kouretes, performed in Crete. They represented the spirits which protected the infant Zeus and Dionysus. By the Hellenistic Period, Kouretes and the like were considered identical to traveling Galli priests (Roscoe 1996, 202). The apostle Paul was most likely a Galli type priest. His lifestyle closely mirrored that of a travelling Galli priest.

There are many similarities between the boy-god cults of the Levant and Cabeiri sanctuaries in Greece. The Cabeiri sanctuary in Samothrace featured two bronze pillars, just as did the Melqart temple and the Yahweh temple. At the Thebes Cabeiri site in Boeotia, many little bronze bull figurines were found, reminiscent of Aaron’s golden calf in the Moses story. Pausanias states that the cult of Demeter in Thebes was run by the Kabeiriia, who performed secret initiation rites. Sanchuniathon also says that contemporary with the Cabeiri was Elioun (Hypsistos) the most high god of Byblos. He was killed by wild animals and venerated by his children. Hypsistos was equated with Yahweh during the early days of Christianity and his cult spread to Anatolia and Greece. But, Byblos’ patron god was Adonis, a boy killed by a wild boar, just like the later myth of Eshmun. So, the Elioun-Hypsistos, equated with Yahweh, was also equated with Adonis and Eshmun.

In all of the variations on the Cabeiri rituals, metallurgy was important, thought of as a magical art and evolved into a variety of mystery cults. It was because of this association with metallurgy that Greeks identified the Cabeiri as the sons of Hephaestus. But, Phoenician myth said that Eshmun and the seven Cabeiri were the sons of Sydyk. Philo of Byblos’ Sydyk was a variation on the older Canaanite god, Resheph. Primarily from Egyptian sources, it is evident that Resheph was a patron deity of charioteers and metal workers. He was later called Apollo, who was a son of Zeus in Greek myth. (But, by the Roman period, the solar deity was also conflated with Zeus, who was originally the storm god deity.) The Phoenician Apollo as Sydyk was the origin of the names Zadok, the Zadokites, and Sadducees, who were high priests in Jerusalem.

The confusion of Hephaestus with Sydyk (Apollo) is further explained by the Babylonian constellation of the Harrow. The Harrow was described as the weapon of the god Mar Biti in Mul-Apin (White 2008) . Mar Biti was called by the same names as Ea, aka Enki, the wise lord of the Abyss, called the Apsu. And, the vizier of the Abyss was the craftsmen god, Mummu. Mummu was the Mesopotamian equivalent of the Egyptian Ptah and the Greek Hephaestus. Presiding over the Abyss made Mummu a lord of the underworld. But, another deity, Nergal, was the lord of the underworld in Mesopotamian myth and he was equated with Resheph in Canaanite mythology. Resheph was represented by the Deer constellation, standing above the other entrance to the underworld, the Field constellation. In myth, the Field was associated with stories about springtime sex and conception. The Abyss on the opposite side of the star chart was associated with burial and autumn sex rituals. The myth and ritual associations were due to agricultural activities during spring and autumn. Because the human gestation period is nine months, a baby conceived under the Field constellation was born under the Cargo Boat constellation, near the winter solstice. A baby conceived under the Abyss constellation was born near the Gemini and Arrow constellations, near the summer solstice.

In Greek myth, Eshmun/Asclepius was born on the funeral pyre of summer at the Arrow constellation, making his conception at the Abyss. His mother was Coronis, the raven or crow of Apollo, which was located above the Abyss constellation, standing on the tail of the Leviathan. So, the Harrow as Hephaestus was nearby when the boy-god was conceived in the Abyss. He was also the father of the Gemini, located above the Arrow constellation, where the boy-god was born on the funeral pyre. But, the Phoenician Eshmun was conceived in the Field constellation of spring, under the Deer constellation of Resheph/Apollo, born in the Cargo Boat constellation, and died at the Arrow constellation. Phoenicians denied that Eshmun/ Asclepius was illegitimate, as the Greek story claimed that Coronis was unfaithful to Apollo.

Eshmun/Asclepius was the god of healing and his temple at Sidon was a popular place to go for healing rituals. In a nearby village, was an eight-chambered cave temple, called the Eshmunit. Eshmun’s name means ‘eight” and his seven brothers were the Cabeiri, including the Gemini. But, with Hephaestus as the father of the Gemini, he was a step-father to Eshmun.

Joseph and Benjamin
A version of the Eshmun/Asclepius myth is found in Genesis in the birth story of Benjamin. The parallels between the Eshmun/Asclepius myth and the Benjamin story are extraordinarily complete. Philo of Byblos’ Sanchuniathon states that Eshmun’s father, Sydyk, had a brother named Misor (Sacred Texts 2010). (The brothers were based on Kettu and Mesaru, the attendants of Shamash in Mesopotamian myth.) Benjamin’s father was Jacob, who had a twin brother named Esau, the equivalent of Misor. The Old Testament story says that Esau was red and hairy, which sounds like something an ancient person would say about an attendant deity of the sun. The birth story of Eshmun is found in a Greek tale about Asclepius. Eshmun was identified with Asclepius from at least the 3rd century BCE, based on coins found in Palestine. Asclepius was born prematurely, as his mother was burned alive on a funeral pyre. The Greek story of Adonis’ birth from Myrrha also alluded to the ritual of burning a baby or a pregnant woman. The story of Asclepius’ is also similar to the birth of Benjamin. Benjamin means “son of the right hand.” The right hand of the sun god was Sydyk, the father god of Eshmun, in Philo of Byblos version of the tale. Sydyk and his brother were the attendants of the sun god, with Sydyk on his right. Rachel gave birth to Benjamin at Bethlehem; but, the town is called Ephrath in the story of Benjamin’s birth (Genesis 35:19). “Ephrath” means “ash heap” and Rachel died in childbirth with Benjamin, on the ash heap of Bethlehem. This story is identical to the myth of Eshmun/Asclepius. Following her death, Jacob erected a pillar on Rachel’s grave in Bethlehem, which became a cult site. This pillar was noted as Rachel’s Seplechure in the story of Saul’s trip around the zodiac, which was represented by the Arrow constellation of the summer solstice. The pillar was the phallic representation of the dead baby. Like the Eshmunit cave near Sidon, there was also a cave at Bethlehem, which was a cult site of Tammuz until it was turned into the birthplace of Jesus in the 4th century CE. The Tammuz/Dumuzi story of Mesopotamia followed the same path in the stars as Aqhat, etc.

An element of the human sacrifice ritual, evidenced by a stele found at Incirli in Anatolia, is also alluded to in the birth of Benjamin story. The king states in the Incirli inscription that he sacrificed a sheep, or a lamb, along with the boy (G. E. Markoe 2000, 135). This element is alluded to in the sacrifice of Rachel and newborn Benjamin in Rachel’s name, which means “ewe.” Rachel was the sheep, sacrificed with Benjamin. The sacrifice of the sheep along with the child was called a molk offering. This word is the same as melek, which means king, offspring, or seed. It was an offering specifically made by kings, who sacrificed their own offspring. It was the title of the god called Moloch, in the Old Testament. Human sacrifice at the Tophet was the ritual of Moloch.

Benjamin’s ascent to heaven by burning on the Tophet at the Arrow constellation was alluded to in Jacob’s description of him as a wolf in Genesis 49:27:

“Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.”

The Wolf constellation occupied the center of the star chart with the North Star, on the imaginary cross in the sky. The association of the boy god with the wolf will become more apparent in the following stories.

Benjamin’s older brother was Joseph, the other son of Jacob and Rachel, who was sold into slavery to Egypt. Going to Egypt was symbolic of Baal’s departure to the underworld, at the beginning of summer, in Gemini. The twins were represented in Joseph, because his two boys, Manasseh and Ephraim, returned from Egypt to inherit Joseph’s portion. In the story of Baal and Mot, Baal was buried in the Abyss constellation. The Abyss in the Joseph story was the pit at Dothan, where Joseph was cast by his brothers. They fished Joseph out of the pit and sold him to slave traders, headed for Egypt. Joseph’s coat of many colors was dipped in goat blood and shown to his father as evidence of his death. The coat was also part of the Baal and Mot story as Baal’s robe, given to his calf-son before being sacrificed to Mot. Joseph was Kothar wa Hasis, Ptah, Mummu, and/or Hephaestus, represented by the Harrow constellation next to the Abyss. Hephaestus was also cast into the abyss in his myth, when he was thrown from Olympus and into the sea. The craftsman deity always did useful, practical things. Joseph was the problem solver for the pharaoh and his family and a very crafty guy.

The cult site of Joseph when Christianity was first forming was Joseph’s tomb at Shechem. The Bible story claims that Joseph’s bones were brought from Egypt by the Israelites and buried at Shechem. The tomb was most likely another Eshmunit type cave sanctuary, associated with the Cabeiri. Today, due to the animosity between Palestinians and Jews, Palestinians claim that Joseph was buried at Hebron and that the Joseph of Shechem was a Muslim. But, Islam did not exist during the early days of Christianity; so, the Bible version of the location of Joseph’s tomb was the accepted story. And, Joseph’s field and Jacob’s well at Shechem are part of the gospel story of Jesus, according to John, showing that early Christians knew about the importance of Joseph at Shechem.

Joseph and Hyrcanus
The 1st century CE Jewish historian, Josephus, tells another tale about a supposed historical Joseph and another version of Benjamin, called Hyrcanus (Josephus n.d.). This Joseph supposedly lived during the Hellenistic period and also went to Egypt. Like the other Joseph, he was a crafty guy who became very wealthy. And, he had eight sons, just like Sydyk, the father of the Cabeiri and Eshmun. This Joseph’s eighth son was called Hyrcanus. Oddly, encyclopedia references to Hyrcanus either do not explain the origin of the name or claim that it is unknown. It is odd because the name is very easy to interpret: “Hyrcanus” means “wolf.” The etymology of the name is so easy to figure out that it is even found in the Wikipedia explanation for Hyrcania:

“Hyrcania (Ὑρκανία) is the Greek name for the region in historiographic accounts. It is a calque of Old Persian Verkâna as recorded in Darius the Great's Behistun Inscription, as well as in other Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions. Verkā means "wolf" in Old Iranian.” (Wikipedia n.d.)

Hyrcanus was the wolf and the Benjamin/Eshmun of Josephus’ story. Josephus describes Hyrcanus as a very crafty boy who becomes very rich and built a great castle and series of caves on the east side of the Jordan. Josephus was no doubt describing a castle now known as Qasr al ‘abd in Jordan; but, the link between Qasr al ‘abd and the highly fictional Hyrcanus is doubtful. The description of multi-chambered caves sounds like a cult site similar to the Eshmunit caves of Sidon. The location of Hyrcanus’ house on the eastern side of the Jordan was the location of the sun’s rising. Boy gods, like Horus, were associated with the “house of the morning” of the rising sun. By the Hellenistic period, Ptah-Seker, the Egyptian Hephaestus, was fully conflated with Osiris, the father of Horus. Josephus claimed that Hyrcanus took his own life at his castle. However, the Roman period story of Eshmun also described the boy god as killing himself, dying due to auto-castration. The style of the Joseph stories from the Bible and from Josephus was really, really, really, really, really, common during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Myths about gods were converted into stories about men. A lot of the “history” from these periods is actually based on mythical tales.

Following the story of Hyrcanus, Josephus claims to relay the contents of a letter from the Hellenistic period King Areus of Sparta to the Jerusalem priesthood. The letter claimed that the Spartans (Lacedemonians) thought they were of the same heritage as Jews, derived from Abraham. There actually were a lot of religious influences from the Levant in Greece, particularly in the neighborhood of the Spartans in the Peloponnese. So, tracing the direction of influence in mythology is difficult; but, the stories can be identified by time period. Josephus’ tales and the Old Testament stories reflect the influence of Euhemerism, which really took off during the Hellenistic period. There was a good mythical rationale behind Josephus’ Spartan letter. The Lacedemonian myth was that they were the offspring of Zeus. Abraham was the Jewish Zeus/Baal, the storm god. “Abram” means “father thunder” an apt epithet for the storm god. There was also a Lacedemonian parallel story of Jacob and Esau, in the story of Acrisius, king of Argos. Acrisius and his twin brother Proetus quarreled even in the womb and Acrisius expelled his brother from his inheritance. The brothers eventually had to split the kingdom, much like the twins, Jacob and Esau. The importance of the wolf in the Benjamin and Hyrcanus stories is further illuminated by the oldest and most important cult site of Argos, the sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios, Apollo the wolf (Bing 1977). Apollo was the god identified by the Phoenicians with Sydyk, the father of Eshmun. The wolf aspect of Apollo was also sometimes equated with the war god, Ares. Ares was in some sense an alter-ego of Apollo. And, Ares was caught in the act with the unfaithful wife of Hephaestus, Aphrodite. Both Joseph the carpenter and Hephaestus were cuckold husbands of the love goddess.

Mummu Jesus

Mummu, the Mesopotamian Hephaestus, also had an alter-ego on the opposite side of the star chart. Mummu’s brother and sister, Lahmu and Lahamu, guarded the entrance of the Abyss. They were portrayed as sphinx like bullmen, and appeared frequently in West Asian architecture as the guardians of gateways and doorways. They were prominent in temples, such as in the description of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, with the winged beasts decorating the walls of the sanctuary. On the star map, Lahmu as the Panther constellation stands above Enki of Aquarius, which is opposite of the Abyss beside the Harrow. “Bethlehem” originally contained a reference to a Canaanite form of Laḫmu, rather than to the Canaanite word for "bread" lehem. So, Joseph the carpenter father of Jesus in Matthew and Luke was from the House of Lahmu: Bethlehem. Like the Josephs before him, Joseph the carpenter also made a trip to Egypt. And, like Hephaestus, he was not really the father of his wife’s child.

Joseph the carpenter is not mentioned by name in the older gospel of Mark. But, Jesus was called the carpenter in Mark 6:3:

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.”

The brothers and sisters named off for Jesus could refer to the Cabeiri, the seven siblings of the savior boy god. Or they could refer to guardians of the entrances to the underworld. “James” was derived from “Jacob” who was the Sydyk-Resheph in Bible mythology. He was represented as the Deer constellation, below the Panther, the beast representing Llahmu –Joses (Joseph). They stood over the Field constellation of spring. Juda and Simon were Leo and the Raven, perched on the Leviathan above the Abyss of autumn. These monsters were all brothers of Mummu, the Mesopotamian craftsmen deity. I found that the oldest gospel of Mark closely follows the Babylonian star chart; but, the later gospels follow a much more Greek interpretation of astrology.

I also found that Joseph as Lahmu did preside over the birth story of Jesus in Mark, as Dalmanutha. Dalmanutha has never been identified on land. Its illusive location is due to the fact that it was at the gates of hell, in the Panther constellation. “Dalmanutha” was a transliteration from Aramaic, with de as a prefix and utha as a suffix (C. C. Library n.d.). The remaining lmn referred to Llamu. Jesus nativity at the gates of hell was preserved in the later gospels, with Bethlehem as his birthplace and Joseph the carpenter represented Llamu, the brother of Mummu, the craftsman deity. The gospel of Mark is 100% star story, with Jesus as a fetus in a cosmic womb and as a new born baby. He dies on the Arrow constellation, just like all of the other boy gods. And, the Harrow presided over the burial of Jesus as Joseph of Arimathaea. “Arimathaea” means “heights” and everyone in Palestine knew about the tomb of Joseph, located in the high valley of Shechem. He was Joseph the carpenter god, whose bones were brought from Egypt and deposited in a tomb in Shechem.

Jesus as the son of Joseph is only given scant mention in the gospel of John, as is Joseph of Arimathaea. But, the concept of Joseph as inspired by Mummu is in the opening words of the gospel of John:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men."

The “word” was “logos.” During the first decades of the 20th century, scholars were bantering back and forth about the Babylonian Mummu as the origin of the Greek concept of logos. By 1948, it was established that Mummu was indeed relevant to the meaning of logos (Heidel 1948). So, the Mesopotamian craftsmen deity was in some sense the father of Jesus in John.

John with its emphasis on logos is the most “Greek” of the four gospels and the Greek star chart is relevant to the unique references to Joseph’s field and Jacob’s well in Shechem. Above the location of the Harrow in the Babylonian star chart is the Crater or Cup of Apollo, in the Greek star chart. In John chapter 4, Jesus goes to Jacob’s well in the field of Joseph at Shechem and talks about drinking water with a Samaritan woman. Jesus offered her special water:

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:14.

Jesus offered the Samaritan woman water from his father’s cup, Apollo’s Krater. She was represented by the same constellation as Eshmun/Asclepius’ mother, Coronis, the Raven/Crow, next to Apollo’s Cup, in Greek astrology. The Greek notion that she was an unfaithful wife is also part of the story because she was described as having five husbands. The woman left her waterpot next to the well and flew off to tell everybody about Jesus. She was the noisy crow and her waterpot became Apollo’s Cup. The gospel stories are creation stories, describing the how the constellations were formed and Jesus was the crafty guy who put them in their place, with his words or logos.

“Like father like son” was a central concept in ancient mythology, with gods sharing aspects of their father’s character. With the evolving monotheism of the Greco-Roman period, Jesus became the all-purpose god and conflated with the aspects of his fathers. He was the ultimate syncretized god, blending the mythologies of all peoples of the Roman Empire into one super-deity. His parentage was so confusing that he became his own father as logos. In other words: Jesus was the greatest bastard of mythology.

This blog post is a suppliment to my book: Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity

Works Cited

The star charts are borrowed from here: Babylonian Star Chart

Bing, J. D. "Lykopodes: A Contribution to Athenian Military History from Peisistratos to Kleisthenes." The Classical Journal 72, no. 4 (Apr. - May 1977): 308-316.

Buckert. Greek Religion. 1985.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. Louisville: Westminster, 1978.

Gibson, John. Canaanite Myths and Legends. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1977.

Heidel, Alexander. "The Meaning of Mummu in Akkadian Literature." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 7, no. 2 (April 1948): p. 101.

Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews.

Library,Christian Classics Ethereal. Life and Times of Jesus. Calvin College. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xxxvi.html.

Markoe, Glen E. Phoenicians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Roscoe, Will. "Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion ." History of Religions 35, no. 3 (February 1996): 195-230.

Sacred Texts. The Theology of the Phoenicians from Sanchoniatho. 2010. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/af/af01.htm (accessed 2010).

White, Gavin. Babylonian Star-Lore. London: Solaria, 2008.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Did this atheist get beat up by an agnostic? NO!

The youtuber who posted this video said:
“Watch this atheist get beat up by an agnostic on the historical Jesus. LOL it..”

The video is an interview with Bart Ehrman by the Infidel Guy. In general, I really like Bart Ehrman; but, he certainly flubbed this interview. I agree that the Infidel Guy did not know enough about the subject to call Ehrman on his flubs. I do not completely disagree with Ehrman about the historical Jesus. There could have been a real person called Jesus. But, Ehrman is wrong to deny that it is not also possible and actually quite likely that Jesus was completely mythical. Here are just three things that Ehrman said that made me roll my eyes.

Ehrman:  “I don’t think there are any serious historians who doubt that Jesus existed, there are a lot of people who want to write sensational books and make a lot of money.”

Few “serious” historians also doubt the existence of Zoroaster, Buddha, the Old Testament prophets, etc. Questioning the existence of these characters is a new trend in historical research because the modern history writing fashion began in the 19th century with “serious” historians who did not question the existence of Moses, Abraham, or God. The reason so few “serious” historians question the existence of ancient religious figures is because the modern history writing of the late 19th century and early 20th century was dominated by some very obtuse people. The more critical thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment were replaced in the 19th century by those inspired by the beginnings of archaeological research. The early forays of Europeans in West Asia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean turned up artifacts that were interpreted as evidence that Bible stories were true or at least symbolically true. Later 20th century historians were faced with a mountainous task of disproving the earlier history. “Facts” in history are established by consensus; so, eradicating a false “fact” means persuading the consensus to change its mind. But, just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true, even if those people are “serious” historians.

Ehrman’s second point begs the question: Do sensational books about the non-existence of Jesus make a lot of money? No. Bart Ehrman is making much more money with his book about the historical Jesus than authors who claim Jesus was a mythical character. Ehrman will probably sell more copies of his book than all mythicist books put together. Which movie made more money: “The God Who Wasn’t There” or “The Passion of Christ” flick? From a marketing perspective, Bart Ehrman made a smart choice to write about the historical Jesus rather than the mythical Jesus, because most people believe Jesus existed. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true; but, it is easier to sell them a book that appeals to their beliefs.

Ehrman:  “What hardcore evidence is there that Julius Caesar existed?”

Maybe Ehrman just had a brain fart and couldn’t think of a better example off the top of his head; but, the evidence that Julius Caesar existed is better than the evidence for Paul, who no one doubts existed because he wrote letters. Julius Caesar wrote two books that are still read to this day and some other books that were cited in ancient sources. Also, Julius Caesar was a political figure and Jesus was a religious figure, claimed to be a god. Mythical gods were the central objects of worship in all ancient cults; so, the likelihood of Jesus being a mythical character is much greater than a political figure, like Julius Caesar. Also, all the stories about Jesus life are mythical tales. Jesus never wrote anything. His words are in the form of speeches, presented within the mythical tales about him. Ancient authors regularly made up speeches for the characters in their stories; both for real people and for fictional characters. So, the existence of those speeches is not evidence that Jesus existed.

And, many of the “historical” figures who “serious” historians believe existed are probably also mythical characters. Many of the legends about ancient kings, queens, and royal children are mythical tales. Gilgamesh, Semiramis, and Attis, are three I can think of off the top of my head who are probably completely mythical royals. All of the characters in the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Argonautica, and the Torah are mythical figures. There is far more fiction than history in all ancient books, particularly religious books. The likelihood that the gospel stories about Jesus (a god) are 100% fiction is much higher than any possible kernels of historical fact. Just because a lot of people believe in Jesus does not make him real.

Ehrman claims that Paul knew Jesus’ relatives and said: “Why would he lie about it?”

There is a very good reason to believe Paul lied about knowing Jesus’ brother, James: Paul was crazy. Paul also believed he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  There is no reason why James could not have been as mythical as Jesus and the rest of Jesus’ family, like his mother (a character obviously based on a goddess) and his father, a god. Early Christianity was polytheistic. As I demonstrate in my book, all of the characters in the gospel of Mark were based on mythical characters. Perhaps some of the characters were also real people; but, the story about them is pure myth.

I didn’t listen to the rest of the interview. I was too disappointed to hear Ehrman, who is probably the best in his field, make such silly statements to listen any further. If this is the best a “serious” historian can do, then our “serious” historians are pretty sad characters.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thus spake not Zarathustra

The notion that Zoroastrian monotheism influenced the Old Testament authors is a very widespread idea. It is an attractive idea because it fits so well with the theory that the Torah was compiled during the Persian period. It is also evident that Jews held the most famous Achaemenid kings, Cyrus and Darius, in high regard and there is a lot of evidence of Persian influences in Judaism; so, the influence of Zoroastrianism was very plausible. However, the theory of the monotheistic influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism during the period of the Achaemenid kings breaks down on closer examination. But, the story of how this became such a pervasive idea illuminates some of the biggest problems in how history was created over the last 100 or so years. As usual, it was a story shaped by political ambition and blind acceptance of religious traditions, rather than an honest look at the evidence.

The problem with understanding the development of Zoroastrianism began in the 19th century with the scholarly acceptance of Zoroaster as the prophet who began the religion. The most prominent western scholars thought it preposterous to question the existence of the prophet (Skjærvo̵ 1997). The only question they debated was when Zoroaster lived. This question continues to be debated and the dates range wildly between 1200 BCE to 600 BCE. However, there is simply no evidence that Zoroaster was a real person and the claims that he existed are from centuries after his supposed life. As with all other legendary prophets, it is plausible that there was some guy named Zoroaster; but, his existence is unnecessary for explaining the origin of the faith.

The early archaeological work in Iran seemed to point to very early evidence of Zoroastrianism. But, the interpretation of that evidence was extremely influenced by the political climate in Iran during the 20th century, under the rule of the shahs. Reza Kahn was not a very religious person; but, he promoted nationalism in Iran to glorify and legitimize his rule. (Abdi 2001) As the preferred ruler of Iran by western countries, western scholars had little interest in questioning his promotion of a national history of Iran that glorified Zoroaster and undermined Islam. The Iranian government and western governments, particularly the British, were happy with the overt nationalism promoted through archaeology in Iran. So, even school children in America learned that Zoroastrianism was the first monotheistic religion.

Recent reexamination of the archaeological evidence claimed as demonstrating proto-Zoroastrian religious practices shows the flaws in the earlier theory. Sites interpreted as Zoroastrian fire temples are now understood as simply being rather typical pagan temples of the time and not as evidence of monotheism (Shenkar 2007). The earlier notion that Zoroastrian monotheism was “corrupted” with polytheistic influences from the Elamites and Mesopotamians no longer makes sense. It is evident that Zoroastrianism evolved from polytheistic beliefs, in much the same way as monotheism evolved across West Asia and along the same time line. The Zoroastrian texts were first compiled under the Sasanians during the 3rd century CE, when the kings were instituting theocratic government (Daryaee 1995). Just as the Roman emperors found monotheism to be politically useful, the Sasanians promoted the trend in Zoroastrianism.

This short summary of how the history of Zoroastrianism developed demonstrates that no history can simply be read and accepted at face value, particularly when it is a history of a religion. Religious histories are always three dimensional, influenced by both ancient and modern political factors.

Works Cited

Abdi, Kamyar. "Nationalism, Politics, and the Development of Archaeology in Iran." American Journal of Archaeology 105 (Jan. 2001): 51-76.

Daryaee, Touraj. "National History or Keyanid History?: The Nature of Sasanid Zoroastrian Historiography." Iranian Studies 28, no. 3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1995): 129-141.

Shenkar, Michael. "Temple Architecture in the Iranian World." Iran & The Caucasus 11, no. 2 (2007): 169-194.

Skjærvo̵, P. Oktor. "Review: The State of Old Avestan Scholarship." Journal of the American Oriental Society 117, no. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1997): 103-114.

I was inspired to write this article by a question that came up during my radio interview with Brian Magee on the Appreciate Your Mind program on KNDS, 96.3 FM in Fargo, ND. I give some other reasons for why the Zoroastrian monotheism was an unlikely inspiration for the Old Testament authors during the interview, as well as discuss a number of other issues. You can listen to a podcast of the show here: http://appreciateyourmind.podomatic.com/

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Listen to Diana Agorio discuss Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity with  Brian Magee of the Appreciate Your Mind show on KNDS, 96.3 FM in Fargo, North Dakota.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pagan mythology in the Jesus Story

Here is one example of pagan myth and Babylonian star lore in the New Testament from my book.  This excerpt describes the action in Mark chapter 5:

“As Jesus continued his trip in this quadrant of the zodiac, he drove a herd of demon possessed swine into the sea. Jesus and his apostles crossed the sea from Pisces and headed for Gadara (or Gerasa,) deep in the lower left quadrant of the sky chart. They found a man possessed with demons in a graveyard. Jesus casts his legion of demons into a herd of swine and drives them into the sea. This story is very clearly illustrated in the stars. In the lower left quadrant of the sky, stands Mad Dog (Figure 1.) Directly in front of Mad Dog is the Wild Boar, representing the demon filled swine. The Wild Boar is headed for the Abyss constellation, the sea where the demon swine drown. This same pig in the Wild Boar constellation did not kill Joshua, on his adventure with the twelve spies. Caleb, the eunuch faithful dog of Joshua, also takes part in Jesus story, as the Mad Dog constellation. He was the man in the graveyard possessed by the legion of demons. The Mad Dog illustrated the crazed Galli priests, who performed frenzied rituals during festivals. The story of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man reflects precisely the rituals of the Galli. The eunuch priests used loud music to treat psychological disorders (Roscoe 1996). They were equated with the Cabeiri type dancers who performed the same rituals. The growing public dislike for the Galli is also noted in Mark. After healing the crazy man, the locals tell Jesus to leave their region. The Mad Dog whom Jesus cured asked to follow Jesus. But, Jesus tells him to go home to his friends and tell how Jesus cured him. The Mad Dog became a Galli priest and his home was the Mad Dog constellation, just like Caleb. The Galli priests were the traveling preachers of savior theology, like the apostle Paul.

Some New Testament scholars have scratched their heads about the swine story, because the geography makes the swine running all the way from Gadara to the sea seem far-fetched. (Apparently, a legion of demon possessed swine does not defeat logic.) Probably the real reason for this tale happening in Gadara was because of Dionysus’ popularity in the Decapolis region. In a couple myths, Dionysus drives men mad and they fall into the ocean and turn into dolphins. The story matched star lore and popular myth, not the geography of Gadara.”

The star map below is borrowed from:

Note Mad Dog standing behind the Wild Boar, running towards the Abyss, in the lower left quadrant of the map: