My previous post about Western pantheistic mythology generated quite a few comments. I want to try to offer a bit of background information that might clarify some things. This subject deserves much more extended treatment than I am going to give it here, but hopefully it will provide a reasonable starting place.
My take on the Bible, and Judeo-Christian mythology in general, is completely different than anything I’ve found in the mainstream or even the mainstream fringe. When I started looking into J/C mythology I threw away everything I ever knew about it — I mean everything, I would on occasion spend weeks trying to identify whether what I thought I was reading was actually there, or whether it was something I was projecting onto the text. This has become an ongoing process for me whenever I delve into the mythos.
It’s also been extremely important to find accurate translations & extended explanations of biblical Hebrew. This language does not function even remotely like English, and there is simply no way to translate it with precision in the absence of cultural context. I’ve relied a lot on the endlessly compelling Abarim Publications website for this information, and in particular the Names of God section of the Names Vault.
I should also give credit to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael for putting me on this quest in the beginning. In the novel, Ishmael shares an interpretation of the Cain & Abel story in which Cain represents up-and-coming, agriculturally-based civilization wiping out the shepherding cultures, represented by Abel. I don’t know if Quinn knows this, but the Cain & Abel story has ever been a skull-cracking problem for even the most learned theologians because it simply makes no sense in the context of any Christian theology. This presentation is the first I’ve ever seen that actually makes perfect sense. And upon inspecting it further, I discovered that this particular lens brings all kinds of things into focus that Quinn evidently missed, perhaps because he escaped having the Bible jackhammered into his head the way I had growing up.
In my reading and researching, there are a few fundamental things I’ve realized about our conception of Judeo-Christian mythology that are just completely wrong.
1. The original creation-force in Genesis, Elohim, is not the same concept Christians worship as “God” today. (And maybe Jews too, but I don’t know.)
Elohim is the first name of God used in Genesis, and it is mysterious because it is plural, while God is actually one. It’s a mystery, but as Arie explains at Abarim Publications, “Though certainly much debated, this Name (still most probably) has to do with the first God-experience that people had; awe or fear for the powers of nature,” and that, “Bottom line: the Name Elohim has something to do with powers: The Powers That Be; The Many Powered.”
After further reading and meditation, I concluded that Elohim has more in common with Wakan Tanka and the Tao than with any anthropomorphized, personified deity projection. Some level of understanding of Wakan Tanka is especially helpful here. From the link above, a quote from a Lakota medicine man named Lame Deer:
You can’t explain it except by going to the circles within circles idea, the spirit splitting itself up into stones, trees, tiny insects even, making them all wakan by his everpresence. And in turn all these myriad of things which make up the universe flowing back to their source, united in the one Grandfather spirit.
Plural, yet one. I believe this is much closer to the original concept of Elohim than a white-bearded white dude on a throne. In fact, I don’t even think the word “God” applies to Elohim. English doesn’t have an equivalent word.
2. Elohim’s evolution runs in tandem with the line of paganism’s evolution. Though intertwined, they are distinct, and both Biblical literature and the archaeological record demonstrate periods of disentanglement. Elohim mythology is fundamentally separate from civilization’s mythologies.
With the rise of civilization and its pantheons of pretend gods that don’t actually exist, the name Elohim changed, and continued changing, in what I believe was a reaction by the ancient proto-Hebrews to distinguish Elohim and themselves from these.
The difference between the two is that the Elohim concept dates back to the paleolithic, prior to the advent of farming, and is fundamental to an animist worldview. The proto-Hebrews tried very hard to maintain this worldview and developed shepherding, as opposed to farming, as their primary subsistence strategy. Shepherding is in some ways similar to nomadic hunter-forager subsistence — it is essentially a domesticated version of following game from place to place throughout the year, and as such, would have no reason to view themselves as separate from nature the way farming cultures did.
That notion of separateness underlies farming cultures and places humans in a competitive relationship with nature rather than a dependent one. The same singular-plural Spirit that was once viewed as the source-of-all now becomes an adversary, and requires equally nebulous, farming-friendly “spirits” to ensure the nature Spirit doesn’t ruin the harvest. Over time those natural processes that could be ported to agriculture — fertility, growth, rebirth and the like — got pulled from their places on the other side of fence, placed in an imaginary spirit realm, personified, named, and eventually became the pantheons associated with early farming civilizations.
Much of the Old Testament is devoted to the problem of keeping the ancient Hebrew culture true to its original concept of God, e.g., Elohim, in the face of tremendous cultural, political, and military pressure from the civilizations growing ever larger in the Mesopotamian region. The books of the Prophets are filled to overflowing with admonitions to stop worshipping “false gods,” “false idols” and the like specifically because they are not real. For example, Jeremiah 10:4-5 (NIV):
(4) They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
(5) Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
I have written about real vs. not-real elsewhere. Nature and our connection to it is real; and I contend that the Elohim-Tao-Wakan-Tanka animating force of nature is real. Farming and civilizational developments are not-real to the degree that these are separated from nature. The pantheons that arise from farming and civilization are equally not-real. Elohim mythology could not be more separate from civilization’s pantheistic paganisms.
3. Christianity is not and has never been a development of Elohim mythology. It is Roman paganism, plain and simple.
Everyone knows Emperor Constantine got saved in 312 AD, and from that point forward the names of Catholic (which means universal) deities got plastered over preexisting pagan deities & holidays until the whole empire was officially Christian. All major Christian holidays were originally pagan. A lot of minor ones, too, especially those named after Catholic saints. We celebrate Halloween because the European pagan subjects of the Holy Empire wouldn’t give it up.
Imagine you’re a Roman soldier fighting under the tutelage of the deity Mars. Then one day you hear that the deity is now called Jesus. What exactly has changed?
Imagine you’re a Roman general suppressing insurrections and expanding the Empire’s territories for the glory of Jupiter. Then one day you find out you’re now doing these for the glory of God the Father. What exactly has changed?
So far as I can tell, all Christianity and the Catholic Church (since it was the only church until the Reformation) managed to do was thrust Roman paganism forward through history under another set of names. None of it — including later Protestant Christianity — has anything whatever to do with either Jesus or Elohim. I don’t care how much ink has been devoted to Christian theology by learned scholars and wise men. I don’t care how complex and Christianly-symbolic the liturgy. Nowhere in Christendom does anyone even attempt to tease apart this conflation of Roman pagan deities from Christian names — until they do, Christianity will always be Roman paganism by another name.
4. Jesus was an anarcho-primitivist dropout and a memetic mutation
Everything Jesus did and said was in opposition to civilization and empire. He walked away from a lucrative career and hit the road on foot to tell people that life in civilization is fucked up, that they can find abundance and joy outside of it, that the meek and the poor shall inherit the earth, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Any reading of any gospel — Nicene-approved or otherwise — comes down to basically the same philosophy: there is safety in dropout mode; there is danger in embracing civilization’s honors; heaven and eternity are already here on earth for those who choose it. This makes perfect sense in light of the original Hebrew concept of Elohim: “…the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” (Gospel of Thomas)
What I personally find inspiring is that the things Jesus taught are practically a road map for extrication. Had his message not been so violently oppressed, then absorbed into the mainstream culture and rendered impotent, it may have triggered a sizable dropout movement within the Roman Empire. TPTB have held this memetic mutation at bay for two millennia, but it’s looking more and more attractive to us here on the brink of global collapse. Downsize, trust the land, gifting as a form of economy, all of this is evident in Jesus’ teachings.
There’s a reason the meek shall inherit the Earth. I would say almost anyone on the extrication path chooses “meekness” precisely because we have a better chance of inheriting the Earth in the end. We get it.
Concluding notes. This already got quite a bit longer than I expected and I’m nowhere near done hashing through this. For the time being I am going to post this, and pick back up after the weekend.
Sidebar: since it’s Easter weekend, last year’s Easter post might be worth a read if you haven’t already.
The following is an addendum to the above. I had originally planned to do an entire new post, but I only got one more item before I realized that everything else I had to say was a rehashing of what I’d already written. So, instead of a brand new post, I’m tagging it onto the end of this post.
5. Elohim mythology — and Jesus’ teachings, by extension — do not encourage or condone coercive, political religion over all the world. This is an artifact of imperial paganism that got carried forward in history along with the underlying pagan mythologies. Elohim mythology & Jesus’ teachings encourage extrication from empire, not establishment of it.
This goes along with #4 from my previous post. One of the most eye-opening unlearning experiences I ever had with regard to this subject came during an email exchange with an Orthodox Jewish gentleman, whose name I now forget because it was so long ago. He explained to me that the Ten Commandments were part of the original legal covenant of the Jews with their God, and were never intended for Gentiles. The only laws intended for Gentiles were the seven Noachide laws. These are super basic laws that anyone with a shred of common decency and compassion probably follows anyway.
It was quite a light bulb moment and brought into focus numerous things that Jesus taught to both Gentiles and his fellow Jews. The entire reason the ancient Hebrew culture came into being was to separate from the pagan civilizations springing up all over Middle East, and to remain true to the original Elohim from the Garden. As a Jew, this cultural separation would have been central to Jesus’ identity; as a prophet, teacher, messiah or what-have-you — or even as just a really really smart guy 2000 years ahead of his time — he understood the wisdom of remaining separate, of not being brainwashed by civilization’s stories.
This theme of remaining separate carries through the entire Bible, all the way through to the end of Revelation. It is always a small contingent who separate, everyone thinks they’re crazy, then when TSHTF their separation is what saves them from the disaster that befalls everyone else.
Now, there are indeed places in the Old Testament where the Israelites go on the warpath and kick the living shit out of some culture or other that was minding its own business. I would have to go back and trace this out to be certain, but if memory serves, this kind of behavior comes about only after the Israelites had spent many generations in captivity as slaves to the Egyptians. Their own culture had been decimated; what they knew from civilization got incorporated into their own culture. The nature of the ancient Hebrew God seems to change in conjunction with the level of the Israelites’ exposure to civilization. This is not an excuse, just an observation of the effects of Elohim-paganism entanglement.
(On a side note, I am in fact aware that no archaeological evidence exists for the Hebrew enslavement by Egyptians or their subsequent exodus. The important point is what can be learned from the mythology. If the archaeology supports, or denies, the mythology, so much the better.)