Revisiting The Mythology Stuff

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I’ve been mostly down for the count the past few weeks, but in between long periods of feeling generally shitty and/or sleeping, I’ve been revisiting my interest in mythology with two good books and one academic paper that frankly blew my mind. My interest in this subject is very much rekindled — it seems there are some interesting data that would tend to support my hypothesis. Once I get through my health issues and find a legal place to live, I’m hoping to pick up this train of thought with much more diligence in February or March.

What I want to do for the moment, however, is try to distill my thoughts as best I can. The trouble I run into is that my archaeomythological (if I may coin a term) hypothesis is so broadly cross-disciplinary that there’s no existing taxonomy that I can lean on to provide structure, or at least none that I am aware of. I have to make it up as I go, a particular challenge for one as disorganized as I am.

My Hypothesis: Abbreviated Version

My hypothesis is basically this: the Mesopotamian mythological account of Adam & Eve, their Fall from grace, and the ensuing consequences of that Fall, are not simply etiological fables; they are instead the cultural memory of a specific population who witnessed another population’s comparatively abrupt Neolithic transition, and who rejected that transition as a comprehensive corruption. Over thousands of years both this memory and the neolithization process spread throughout Mesopotamia and became so intertwined that the original observer-observed distinction was lost. Ultimately, the Neolithic revolution gave rise to writing and scribes, who wrote down these stories and from whom we have inherited them as part of our Western canon.

My Hypothesis: Extended Version

The extended version of my hypothesis, in its current form, is based on biblical mythology (in addition to the archaeology) because that is what I know best, and I have not yet begun examining other Mesopotamian mythologies. So for now, the biblical mythology will have to do. In the end I think this is what will be most meaningful to Westerners, however, since the Bible contains all the layers of memetic mutation and variation through which our particular branch of Mesopotamian civilization has evolved — our memetic DNA, so to speak, founded on the original Mesopotamian myths and built up over the millennia.

Linear/Logical Stuff. If it turns out that the Adam-Eve-Fall story is literarily (not “literally!”) accurate — that is, genuine signal transmitted via narrative “noise” — it follows that some or all of the rest of the biblical mythology also carries genuine signal: since it was produced as an effort to preserve cultural continuity,* it will have also preserved the original signal whether intentionally or not. Thus the original signal should be apparent through the entire narrative arc of the Bible. The tone and timbre of the “noise” will necessarily change, requiring familiarity with the symbolism of the historical moment of a given writing in order to detect its presence, but the signal should carry through unchanged. I believe this is the case.

*I do realize the early Hebrews were, as a culture, every bit as diverse as the Mesopotamian cultures surrounding them; however, they chose the books of their canon to establish and maintain their particular — and for the era, peculiar — culture.

Narrative Arc & Plot. The Bible does have a rather traditional narrative arc. It starts at the beginning of “the world;” provides complexification throughout the middle; builds to a rather cartoonish, violent climax marking the end of “the world;” and culminates in “happily ever after.”

The plot of this narrative arc is precisely the same as all Mesopotamian resurrection mythologies: the eternal deity — representing what I will refer to here as the natural-ground-of-being — descends willingly to the underworld to rescue a beloved; there experiences death; and, having rescued the beloved, returns to physical life in a transcendent state. My firm belief is that this plot encapsulates the complete historical arc of Western civilization from a critical point of view that is aligned with natural-ground-of-being and located outside Mesopotamian-derived civilization. It is essentially an objective, cause-effect assessment of the Neolithic revolution.

Broadly, I’m interpreting the metanarrative like so:

(Note that in Christianity, Jesus saves humanity twice: once spiritually, via the cross; and the second time physically, via Armageddon. These dual salvations are shown in separate sub-columns in the table below.)

Eternal deity & beloved carrying on life, all is well Adam & Eve & Elohim (i.e., natural-ground-of-being) in the Garden of Eden Pre-agricultural sedentism in Lower Mesopotamia, characterized by egalitarian social structures, much leisure, and a more-or-less indefinitely sustainable subsistence industry
Beloved gets into trouble somehow The Fall The Neolithic Revolution: “the inhabitants of Earth” = the beloved
(First Salvation) (Second Salvation)
Eternal deity’s descent to the underworld Jesus’s (i.e., natural-ground-of-being) crucifixion & descent to Hell Planet is engulfed in a one-world-government with limitless power The neolithization of the entire world, culminating in global industrial civilization; civilization = hell
Eternal deity’s death in the underworld Jesus’s three days in Hell prior to his resurrection The final battle of good v. evil at Armageddon; evil is defeated Collapse: the final battle of Earth systems v. industrial civilization; civilization is defeated
Rescue of the beloved Jesus permanently satisfies God’s judgment against the “fallen” The final judgment — everything “fallen” is thrown in the lake of fire, the righteous are ushered into eternity Post-collapse existential crisis; the original Neolithic mistake is corrected through cultural self-judgment
Eternal deity’s return to physical life in a transcendent state Jesus’s resurrection The redemption; new heaven and new Earth for the former things are passed away Conscious development of sustainable and life-affirming new social structures based on lessons learned
Eternal deity’s reunion with the beloved New Jerusalem descending from heaven to be Jesus’s (i.e., natural-ground-of-being) bride Civilization that is married to, not divorced from, Earth systems

My Process & Goals

What I’m doing with the Mesopotamian mythology looks a great deal like “Biblical archaeology” in the popular sense of the term — namely, presuming the Bible is an infallible play-by-play of ancient history and setting out in search of bias-confirming evidence.

What I’m doing is actually the opposite. My presumption is that archaeology, to the best of its ability, provides the proper historical context; my process is to map the mythology to the archaeological evidence to see where these match up and where they don’t. I do believe mythologies can be excavated to reveal the mindset of those who created and perpetuated them. But mythologies do not emerge in a vacuum — they are inextricably contained within times and places. Archaeology identifies those times and places, the shape of the vessel so to speak, that determine the shape of the mythos.

I am in no way seeking to validate the historical or other distortions of Christianity. My goal is anamnesis: to remember what has been forgotten, and to reconstruct our forgotten cultural narrative in contemporary language. This is, by definition, a heretical endeavor.

Implications

If my hypothesis is anywhere near correct, the content of the ancient Mesopotamian Fall mythology has distinct implications for us today:

  • Our collapse trajectory was initiated by a deliberately-chosen shift in cognition.
  • This cognitive shift was expressly forbidden by paleolithic peoples, who recognized collapse trajectory and create a taboo against it.
  • The nature of the original cognitive shift is preserved for us in our Mesopotamian mythos. If we can excavate it successfully, we can address it.
  • Collapse is probably inevitable, because it is the logical outcome of the original cognitive shift. This was the reason for the paleolithic taboo.
  • Biblical prophecies of apocalypse are indeed prophetic — but only in the sense that causes have predictable effects.
  • Ignoring our own mythology is to choose amnesia over anamnesis, a revolving cycle of growth-collapse over steady-state sustainability.

…among lots of other things.

Questions

Obviously this heretical interpretation of Genesis, Jesus, and Revelations raises tons of questions. Irrelevant theological issues aside, the most pertinent of these relate to our historical moment on the cusp of global collapse. These include (but are obviously not limited to):

  • Is there enough evidence to support my assertion that the mythologies are cultural memory? What other proven examples exist, and how accurate are the mythologies in relation to the archaeology?
  • What is the process by which historical events get encoded as cultural memory?
  • Are there any extant examples from anywhere in the world in which a mythological “prophecy” has proven to be wise foresight rather than mysticism?
  • Is there anything in the prehistoric archaeology of southwest Asia indicating that the concept of “taboo,” or anything like it, existed?
  • If my hypothesis regarding mythological cultural memory is supported by the archaeological evidence to an acceptable degree, do the future projections contained in these cultural memories — a.k.a., “prophecies” — measure up to the same degree?
  • Is there enough intellectual and spiritual substance here to refashion our Mesopotamian mythology into one that can carry us forward through collapse, and provide a solid mythological foundation for rebuilding?

Big Challenge: Organizing The Data

My biggest challenge at this point is organizing the data. Ordinarily, putting all this together into a written format would require an outline: headings, subheadings, topics, etc., all arranged linearly. But the information I’ve collected to date is in no way linear. One assertion requires backing info from this discipline; some from that discipline; insight from something else over yonder, on and on. The only linear thing in the whole mess is time — the chronological order of the archaeological record.

I’ve started a spreadsheet in which I hope to organize the chronology of the archaeology, and to which I plan to add various mythological references where they appear to fit. I have no doubt this spreadsheet will be overwhelmingly massive pretty quick but for the moment it’s the best I know to do. I will likely move this spreadsheet to Google Docs so I can access it from anywhere — when I do, I’ll make it public and commentable (if that’s possible).

So that’s where I’m at for the moment with the mythology stuff. I’m fascinated to no end that our memetics might be quantitative and not qualitative only, and the things we might be able to learn about ourselves culturally by engaging the mythology at this level. Cross your fingers that I can get my health under control enough to pursue this!

4 Responses

  1. Eric in Kansas says:

    Hi Paula, I’m happy to see you back here with a long post, and I’m looking forward to what you might come up with putting all those pieces together. I am intrigued by your mytho-historiographic idea, and I have the feeling that you are barking up the right tree.
    A few thoughts:
    -The Gilgamesh epic has Enkidu the wild man and his fall into civilization. There are some interesting similarities to the Adam & Eve story, especially the part about blaming the women – in Enkidu’s case, the prostitute from the temple of Ishtar.

    -Gobekli Tepe, in southeast Turkey is a site of monoliths that were clearly used for some ritual purpose, about the time in question,
    8,000 – 9,000 years BCE. I don’t know how much we really know about what happened there, but it was right about the time that cereal grains were being domesticated in that same area. Shortly afterward there appears to have been the kind of nasty conflict you’d expect from agricultural settlements taking land from the local foragers.

    -I wonder how the Mesopotamian civilization’s story compares with the stories of agricultural city states that arose in the New World. Does any agricultural civilization require a fall?

    -Some of the Amazonian tribes seem to have been able to hold onto their old ways, even after contact with Europeans. I’m htinking of the Piraha, as described by Daniel Everett in ‘Don’t sleep there are snakes’. It seems that they are just really hard-assed about their culture, and think that white people (and Brazilians) are just wimps.

    Thanks.

    • Paula says:

      Hi Eric! :) I need to get a copy of the Gilgamesh epic… can you recommend a good translation? I’m always so skeptical of translations after having to wade thru all those different translations of the Bible as a kid.

      I’ve been reading some about Gobekli Tepe, amazing site! Incredible stone carvings there! I didn’t know about the conflict however, the timing of that could be interesting to compare to other goings-on in the Levant at that time.

      I don’t believe any other mythologies include a “fall” aside from Mesopotamian myths. I don’t know of any at least. I’m inclined to think this is unique because the Mesopotamian culture that was critical of agriculture & neolithization more generally went on to become not only cohesive but highly literate. I would think most cultures critical of neolithization would not adopt its ways; its an anomaly that the rejection got recorded as it did.

      Are the Piraha the ones who greet any outsiders, especially whites, by throwing spears at them and shooting arrows? Maybe I’m thinking of some other tribe.

      This academic paper I mentioned is crazy interesting. I’m planning to link to it later when I talk about it more in-depth but if you’re interested in this stuff you’d probably dig it: http://goo.gl/wYXMn — in a nutshell, the author proposes that the Persian Gulf sea floor was exposed during the last ice age, and part of it was a very large oasis with a considerable population. Then when the glaciers melted it got inundated again, causing the populations there to disperse. It aligns with numerous things from the Genesis story, but also interestingly, the Sumerians considered themselves to have come from the sea, and were located pretty much on the coast of the Persian Gulf. The paper also talks about some interesting archaeological finds that would support the idea, primarily the appearance of highly developed tools at sites along the Persian Gulf coast that seem to have come out of nowhere. Awesome stuff.

  2. Brutus says:

    I’m excited to see this topic come up again and congratulate you on the concise restatement and the fuller explanation. I have a long comment, part rejoinder, percolating up in my mind, but I hesitate to submit it for a variety of reasons. If I do post it, it undoubtedly won’t be right away, but this thread isn’t time sensitive and probably ought to be in a top posts sidebar since it’s one of the centerpieces of the blog.

  3. […] is interpreted with a scandalously high degree of controversy. (I’m especially intrigued by Paula Hay’s thesis over at Mythodrome that the story of The Fall is really about the loss of animism, not a literal expulsion from the […]

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