Archive for May 2010

God of the Week: Obodas I

May 31, 2010

God of the Week 05/31/2010: Obodas I

Obadas I was a king of the Nabateans in the 1st century BCE. After his death he was deified, along with an all female trinity. His tomb is found in the historic building in the Jordan dessert known as Petra.

[features] have prompted the suggestion that the monument may have been a heroon, a commemorative mausoleum intended to serve the cult of a deified Nabatean dynast. This ruler has been identified as kind Obadas I on the basis of an inscription found on a rock not far from the site that mentions the cult society of that king.

-Petra By Maria Giulia Amadasi, Eugenia Equini Schneider

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Modern Christian Mythology: Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates

May 26, 2010

Modern Christian Mythology: Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates

Whenever a cartoon character dies, they goes to a comical version of heaven in which Saint Peter stands before the “Pearly Gates” of heaven, a key in his hand, and a large ledger book in from of him. As the dearly departed approaches, Pete checks for their name and, if they’re lucky, they’re on the list. If not, there’s a trap door underneath with their name on it.

The vision of Peter as a mystical gate keeper from from the Gospel of Mathew:

“I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven”
-Mathew 16:19a

The ledger is most likely a reference to the Book of Life from ancient Hebrew mythology, and the “Pearly Gates” comes from the strangest book in the Christian cannon, Revelations:

The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate being made from a single pearl.
-Revelation 21:21

These texts, literally read and pasted together with more than a little imagination, lead to a fanciful image of a long line of people stretched out along a  landscape of cloud, Peter at the head of the line for all eternity, allowing people in one at a time. Eternity’s bouncer.

Since the Christian church was founded in the midst of the Roman Empire, I suspect that the NT character of Peter was syncretized with the Roman god Janus, the god that opened and closed the gates of heaven every morning.

That’s Vampires, Not Atheists, Duffus

May 25, 2010

Two Florida teachers have been suspended after they threw “holy water” on a college because she was an atheist. This is quite funny, because of all the practices of religious people, holy water is one that’s so silly, I never really thought that anybody actually believed it. I always thought it was just one of those stupid traditions churches do for ambiance.

Local clergy have called an emergency meeting on Monday over two teachers who were removed from their classrooms after allegedly sprinkling holy water onto an atheist colleague.

So, what’s the local clergy calling a meeting about? Is it taking a beloved religious symbol and attempting to use it as a magic talisman? Nope.

“We need to know why one teacher is allowed to teach our children there is no God and nothing is done,” said the Rev. Willie J. Rainer, husband of one of the accused teachers and  an associate pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church in Pompano Beach. “But the Christian teachers have been removed from the classroom even though nothing has been proven.”

What hasn’t been proven? The existence of god? The thing philosophers have been debating since before the beginning of written language? No, that hasn’t been “proven”, though pretty much every damned claim in the Christian Bible has been disproved. But, this teacher isn’t teaching atheism. If she had been, she would have been dismissed. She just IS an atheist. And, I’m guessing that these teachers have a problem understanding that because separating their jobs from their beliefs isn’t a practice they adopt.

It’s not too surprising that the “good” reverend is the husband of one of accused, though. People this superstitious just can’t stay apart from each other. Hell, she probably stays with him for a steady supply of holy water. He’s probably blessed their water pipes so their toilet bowl is filled with holy water to keep the smell of bullshit out of their house.

Anyhoo, a quick look at the Catholic Encyclopedia states that “the first historical testimony does not go back beyond the fifth century.” So, yeah. not an ancient tradition handed down by Jeebus. Just magic and superstition.  But, for some reason voodoo dolls are looked down on.

God of the Week: Hestia (Vesta)

May 24, 2010

God of the Week 05/24/2010: Hestia (Vesta)

Hestia (Roman name Vesta) was the ancient Greek goddess of the hearth. She was the protector of the family and home life. In her honor, a fire was kept burning in the home, and at temples dedicated in her honor. The Vestales, or Vestal Virgins, were priestesses, young girls, that tended the fire at her temple.

Hestia was the daughter of Cronus and Ehea. She was the goddess of Fire in its first application to the wants of mankind, hence she was essentially the presiding deity of the domestic hearth and the guardian spirit of man, and it was her pure and benign influence which was supposed to protect the sanctity of domestic life.

Now in these early ages the hearth was regarded as the most important and most sacred portion of the dwelling, probably because the protection of the fire was an important consideration, for if once permitted to become extinct, re-ignition was attended with extreme difficulty. In fact, the hearth was held so sacred that it constituted the sanctum of the family, for which reason it was always erected in the centre of every house. It was a few feet in height and was built of stone; the fire was placed on the top of it, and served the double purpose of preparing the daily meals, and consuming the family sacrifices. Bound this domestic hearth or altar were gathered the various members of the family, the head of the house occupying the place of honour nearest the hearth. Here prayers were said and sacrifices offered, and here also every kind and loving feeling was fostered, which even extended to the hunted and guilty stranger, who, if he once succeeded in touching this sacred altar, was safe from pursuit and punishment, and was henceforth placed under the protection of the family.

-E.M. Berens, The myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome

The Vestal Virgins

The Vestalia was a festival held in honour of Vesta on the 9th of June, and was celebrated exclusively by women, who walked barefooted in procession to the temple of the goddess.

The priestesses of Vesta, called Vestales or Vestal Virgins, played a conspicuous part in these festivals. They were six in number, and were chosen — between the ages of six and ten — from the noblest families in Rome. Their term of office was thirty years. During the first ten years, they were initiated in their religious duties, during the second ten they performed them, and during the third they instructed novices. Their chief duty was to watch and feed the ever-burning flame on the altar of Vesta, the extinction of which was regarded as a national calamity of ominous import.

-ibid

Modern Christian Mythology: Rib Count

May 19, 2010

Modern Christian Mythology: Rib Count

The myth that men have one more rib than women is pretty easily debunked. After all, all you need to do is step into a science class room, find the skeleton, and count. And, as silly as it may sound, it still occasionally comes up in college classrooms.

The myth originates from a literal reading of the Genesis 2 version of the creation story. In Genesis 1, first first man and the first woman are created simultaneously, but in this version of the story, man is created first out of dust, then a woman is created out of the man’s rib bone:

And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib, which Jehovah God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

-Genesis 2: 21-22

Of course, even taken at face value, the Genesis story would in no way imply that all of Adam’s descendants would have been born one rib short of a rack. Just ask anyone missing a limb if their kids were born with the same piece of missing hardware. After all, if that was the way things worked, the practice of circumcision would only have been done once.

Is Jesus Based on the Greek Gods

May 18, 2010

There is no denying that Jesus, as we know him, does bare some resemblances to a handful of other gods, not only Greek in origin, but from all over the Mesopotamian region. Gods such as Dionysus, Hercules, Perseus, etc, were born of a virgin. God such as Attis, Tammuz, Osiris, El, etc, died, and then rose again (either in a literal or symbolic sense).

The argument from a comparative religion standpoint does not specifically say that early Christian “stole” ideas from other religions that they thought sounded cool, though it is often misinterpreted as such. It is instead a discipline of stepping back and looking at different religious ideas to see what they have in common. What sorts of themes and concepts do people revere? What makes people/objects holy or sacred? The study of comparative religion is more concerned with what goes on in the human mind than what goes on in any unseen world out there.

The Evolution of Jesus

The image of Jesus, as far as we can tell from the records that we have, did not appear out of whole cloth. Instead, the Jesus story appears to have grown in the telling. The earliest dated documents (the epistles, the Didiche, etc) talk of Jesus the Christ (the Greek reading of Joshua the Anointed) only in terms of a heavenly savior, an intermediary son through which his flock can get to know God the Father. The references by Paul that Jesus was revealed to him through the scriptures leads us to believe that he came to know of Jesus through a discipline know as pesher, pesher being a method of finding hidden messages or prophecies by re-interpreting already existing religious writings, like the Torah. A practice like this may sound strange, but you  are probably more familiar with it than you think, since it is still practiced today. Any time someone claims that God is giving them a personal message through some arcane interpretation of an ancient Bible verse, they are practicing pesher (though probably not in the same sophisticated way that the New Testament authors practiced it).

The next stage of development was the writing of the first gospel: The Gospel According to Mark. This document, originally untitled, is by far my favorite gospel preciously because of the heavily mythological feel it has. It reminds me very much of the Greek hero stories. It tells the story of Jesus walking around on Earth, something that had not been done yet, in a third person method (no claims of eye witness). Jesus is shown having the Holy Spirit enter into his body (apparently giving him his supernatural essence), he heals a deaf/mute by sticking his fingers in his ears and spitting, controls the weather, feeds a bunch of people with a food miracle, foretells the end of the world, then is killed, the holy spirit leaving him. There is no virgin birth in gMark. There is also no earthly resurrection of Jesus after his death; once the women go to the tomb, they find it empty and flee, telling no one. Jesus had, apparently, been pulled up directly to heaven. (the oldest copies of gMark end at chapter 16 verse 8, and the newer copies we have that continue past that point bear show a different writing style, leading experts to believe the narrative was appended at a later date to keep up with the evolving story).

The gospel of Mark is written using two distinctive methods very popular at the time: midrash and the emulation of Homer. Midrash is a method of re-writing ancient scriptures as a means of conveying lessons to a modern audience. The reason the Homeric epics the Illiad and the Odyssey were emulated was because, in the Hellenistic world, they were used as a  method to teach students to read and write. Anyone educated in Greek, the language the gospels were written in, would copy the stories, then re-write them in prose form, or write other stories using the outlines laid out by Homer.

Other literary markers in mark include it’s two part outline: Mark is divided into two section, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and his time in Jerusalem. Each section features 5 miracles that mirror each other, a feature that is obviously pure narrative, and not a relation of actual historical events.

The next major stage in the evolution of the Jesus story was the composition of the Gospel of Mathew. Written probably 20 years after Mark, it used the initial story Mark had written(even using direct quotes from it), adding to it a list of sayings that had been associated with Jesus, commonly refereed to as Q, and breaking the structure out into 5 sections in emulation of the Hebrew Pentateuch instead of Homer. The book then uses Moses as a model, having Jesus preach on a mount, adding a massacre of the innocents, and a flight into Egypt. Taken as a whole, the book is a classic midrash, re-telling the law code of Moses to the day’s Hellenistic Jews.

Mathew also adds to the story an earthly resurrection and a virgin birth, much like a Greek hero.

Possibly as late as the middle of the second century CE, the gospel story was re-written once more, this time in the writings known as the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (which really focuses on Paul). Luke appears to be the first of these gospels that really believes all the events told of in the previous documents really occurs and is attempting to write them as history.It appears to have been written for a Roman audience, since the Roman authorities in the story are relieved of responsibility for Jesus’ death. The author, again his true identity unknown to us, also relied heavily on the histories of Josephus and other sources to create what he believed would have been the history surrounding the early church.

_

So, is Jesus based on the Greek gods? Well, there may be some of that in there, but it would hardly be an intentional addition. Most elements of the story would have been added as the story grew.

The heavenly Jesus is a phenomena of the ancient world that we are well aware of: the intermediary son. It happened in many cultures when the concept of god evolves into that of an esoteric and philosophical being that many of the common people no longer felt they could relate to anymore. The intermediary son gives a personality to the god head.

The second stage, the earthly Jesus appears to have started as a narrative method of relating the story to new converts. When writing the story, the most popular aspects of hero would very naturally have been appealed to.

The third stage, adding historicity, would be done once the story gains importance.

At each stages more attributes would be added to the Jesus story, some of them Greek, some Hebrew. The Hebrew concept of a messiah restoring the Hebrew rule to Jerusalem became an intermediary son, a concept that was indeed very popular in the Mystery Religions.

God of the Week: The Sirens

May 17, 2010

God of the Week 05/17/2010: The Sirens

The Sirens were ancient Greek seductresses that lead sailors to their deaths by luring them too drive their ships too close to the rocks with alluring singing.

The Sirens would appear to have been personifications of those numerous rocks and unseen dangers which abound on the S.W. coast of Italy. They were sea-nymphs, with the upper part of the body that of a maiden and the lower that of a searbird, having wings attached to their shoulders and were endowed with such wonderful voices, that their sweet songs are said to have lured mariners to destruction.

-E.M. Berens, The Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome

In The Odyssey, Odysseus filled his sailor’s ears with wax to keep them from being lured by the songs of the Sirens.