Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Meaning of the Universe

What is the meaning of the universe? Why does it exist and of what importance is the universe to us humans on planet Earth? For thousands of years the sky was no more than white specks on a black background. Occasionally  a ‘shooting star’ added temporary spice to the scene. To many believers, this was Heaven. The Bible refers to the firmament. In Genesis it says

Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.


Of course the priests who wrote these words some 3000 years ago knew just that much about ‘the Heavens.’ They were not as skilled in astronomy as the magi in the Near East. And that was entirely enough for late Bronze Age societies. The Creation Story in Genesis (stories) satisfied these scientifically ignorant people as well. After all, 50 years ago we never knew of black holes or dark energy or Bosons.

As a result, the question posed at the beginning of this essay is only relevant to people living in the 21st century. We are the very first humans to wonder why this vast universe exists. The first people. The vastness is inconceivable. A few days ago astrophysics presented data about a small section of the universe that appeared especially cold in comparison with other places there. This patch itself was 1.3 billion light-years wide- an unimaginable distance.

Literature from 3000 years ago (or even 100 years ago) will not help solve this question. Philosophers and theologians must start from scratch to ponder this 21st century puzzle. And, of course, the question arises: Where is God in all of this?

  

Advertisements

Where Did the Israelites Originate?

So much of the Hebrew Bible is myth that it is difficult to separate the fiction from fact or, actually, the historicity from the mythology. The books of Joshua and Judges, for example present the tribe of the Israelites as a powerful military force which successfully fought battle after battle with their enemies to conquer the lands of Canaan. Naturally, God/Yahweh both advised and helped the Israelites through these magnificent conquests. 

Today, these passages in the Hebrew Texts are upheld by the modern state of Israel as proof that it deserves the land ‘promised’ to them by God/YHWH. Sadly, it is all bunk. Modern archaeology has proven both books to be mythology. Jewish archaeologist Israel Finkelstein’s book, The Bible Unearthed, presents a strong case for this. Not only does this science disregard much of Joshua and Kings, but it also deflates the principle that the Israelites were a ‘chosen race.’

Finkelstein And several otherarchaeologists and historians of the ancient Near East hold the idea that the ancient Israelites were merely Canaanites who eventually formed a separate culture and their own ethnic identity. Rather than ancient Israel being its own ethnic group, these scholars claim that Israelites and Canaanites shared the same ancestry, somewhere around 1200 BC or later, after the collapse of several Canaanite city-states, certain Canaanites split off to form the Israelite group. This theory of shared ethnicity is based upon archaeological evidence which shows similarity in language and material culture, pottery, architecture and tools, plus a common region ofsettlement. 

Beyond Finkelstein, Aharon Kempinski, “How Profoundly Canaanized Were the Early Israelites?” and William Dever, “Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?” present similar evidence and draw the same conclusion about the origin of the tribe of Israel. Further, none of them certify the Exodus from Egypt.

As a result, what are we to conclude about the authorship of the Hebrew texts? Were they really “inspired by God/YHWH? Or are they merely the musings of writers who wish that the history of their people had been much more grand?

Original Blessings

When I first heard the Adam and Eve story back in my youth I wondered about that Tree. Of course I pictured an apple tree as artists’ renditions conjure. But a magical one! Tree of knowledge, for crying out loud! One bite of THAT apple and, bingo, no more school. Alas, it turned out to be a fable or allegory or myth. Whatever.

Millions of people, nonetheless, still believe that the tale is true- that there was a garden, a tree, a serpent and a sin. And, even more incredulous, that this ‘sin’ stains the soul of every infant born of a woman. The so-called Original Sin. Apparently it is part of the x-chromosome yet undiscovered as of this writing. A dominant gene.

The idea was concocted in the brain of some theologically obsessive male in the 2nd century. Too bad he didn’t take up a career in wagon wheels or pig slaughter. Sadly, the subsequent Christian children’s souls were semi-permanently stained- so said the Church. And, not surprisingly, only the Church could remove said blemish. Donations always appreciated. 

While all of this muckity muck was going on in the Christian community, Pagans were happily celebrating the Original Blessings from their Gods. Pagans and Christians lived in the same places and knew each others’ rituals and beliefs. 

Brendan Myers, author of the book, The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy from the Iron Age to the 21st Century, writes about the history of Paganism and says,
To put it simply, people got tired of the austerities of Christian discipline and the misanthropy of the Doctrine of Original Sin.  They maintained the appearance of being committed Christians, of course … But they dramatized for themselves a world that never knew Original Sin, and so still existed in a state of original blessing.  In that imagined world it was no sin to ‘dance, sing, feast, make music, and love’ … and despite the heroic efforts of puritanical counter-Renaissance activists like Savonarola, the box would never be shut again.”
Although that box never was shut, serious barriers were erected around it by the Church itself. In fact, 3 centuries after the doctrine of Original Sin hung like a dark cloud over Christendom, Emperor Justinian nearly nailed the box shut as he ordered the closure of all the philosophy schools, because he thought they were an intellectual threat to Christian teachings. An intellectual threat. Imagine that! People were put to death for trying to see what was hiding in that box. 

Original Blessings from the Gods. How refreshing. How liberating.