The Third Testament: A Monastic Project For The Anthropocene

Facebook Twitter Reddit Email

This post represents the culmination of my thinking on the Western mythology subject to date. I imagine I’ll have more to say that fills in the blanks, but for the moment this is the final broad brushstroke.

Before I get into the meat of my post, a recap, so that the placement of this puzzle piece makes sense to anyone who hasn’t read all the previous material.

Review Of Previous Material

The foundational thesis of my thoughts on this matter is that the Bible is not, and was never intended to be, a universal, abstract, “spiritual” document, but rather a culturally-specific, concrete, mundane document. It describes the foundation of Western civilization only, and preserves all those intangible, worldview-related things that cannot be recorded in material artifacts that are devoid of language. It is the why of our Mesopotamian civilizational heritage, beginning in the late Paleolithic just prior to the advent of agriculture, extending across the millennia to encompass each successive iteration of Western civilization, and predicts the entirely foreseeable, only possible logical conclusion of our Western cultural maladaptive pathology: total global collapse.

As a culturally-specific, mundane document, the Bible is applicable to non-Western cultures and civilizations only to the extent that these adopt Western worldviews and lifeways.

The Bible is a thoroughly Jewish work from beginning to end, and it is written from a Jewish perspective. At the risk of being offensively reductionist, for my purposes here the important factor to remember about this Jewish perspective is that it is one of being an outside observer.

The Bible begins in Genesis, written in the third-person observer perspective, with a quick sketch of Paleolithic horticultural life. “Adam” and “Eve,” representing a specific population somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia, experience everyday life as a vast unity and without any concept of an “other.” They then choose, consciously and deliberately, to adopt an alien worldview in which the universe is divided into self/other, good/evil, etc. In other words, they choose to believe that dualism, and the profound separateness in which it is saturated, is real, true, and correct. In their new state of horrific separateness and aloneness, they retreated into abstraction and became the forebears of those who gave birth to gods, took up agriculture, and erected cities, which in time became empires. I call this civilizational vector the “Mesopotamian strain,” and it includes all the empires that arose from the ashes from previous empires that trace their lineage back to Sumeria, including and especially our own.

From the observer point of view, separateness and its result, empire, are vile corruptions that must and will come to an end because these are devouring cancers — they are unsustainable. I believe there’s an argument to be made that the invention of linear time (as opposed to the cyclical concept of time), widely attributed to the ancient Hebrew culture, may have arisen in response to the knowledge that there was a final end somewhere down the line, which a cyclical concept of time could not accommodate.

The Old Testament is the Jewish Tanakh and much of it is dedicated to the struggle of the ancient Hebrews to remain culturally distinct from the dualist- and agricultural-based empires metastasizing the world around them. The New Testament is written around the person Jesus of Nazareth, who made his appearance at the apex of the Roman Empire — which can also be considered the apex of the Mesopotamian strain depending on one’s criteria. Jesus was a Jew who held fast to the original Hebrew concept of Oneness — expressed in Genesis as Elohim, the first name of God, its roots deep in the Paleolithic — and dedicated his life to calling out both Jew and Gentile from the imperial death machine.

The Roman Empire routinely crucified its radical dissidents and Jesus of Nazareth was no exception. In life he was an unremarkable, marginal freak, but his death gave rise to a very remarkable mythology. This mythology married the linearity, Oneness, and expectant finality of Hebrew culture with the cyclical, agricultural renewal of the Mesopotamian strain. The resulting mythos features the final, inevitable death of the imperial cancer, followed by the anomalous resurrection of a socially complex city that operates based on the principle of Oneness, exists in homeostasis with its environment and not in opposition to it, and is “eternal” — in other words, sustainable. In this way the city as a form of social organization is “born again,” redeemed from the dualist corruption in which it was originally born.

Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and this is where we find the description of this new city, the “New Jerusalem,” preceded by chapter upon horrifying chapter detailing the bloody, cataclysmic death of the Mesopotamian strain — the Apocalypse. One would be forgiven for thinking that the Apocalypse was the sole point of Revelation. Certainly the logical-conclusion global collapse is worthy of much ink; however, the truly fascinating stuff picks up after the Apocalypse, and that is what I want to focus on here.

Apocalypse, Judgment, & A Third Testament

Revelation 20 details the Judgment, in which God judges the Antichrist, the False Prophet, Satan, and all the people who willingly participated with these over the course of time and especially during the “Great Tribulation,” those seven years leading up to the Apocalypse itself. For the sake of brevity I won’t quote the whole chapter, but you can read it here.

I think what Revelation 20 symbolizes is a conscious process of reshaping Western culture, going forward after global collapse, to purge it of its pathology and ground it in sanity. Perhaps something like a culture-wide, civilization-wide 12-step process: We are powerless over our drive to accumulate and our lives have become unmanageable. We came to believe that Elohim (Wakan-Tanka, the Tao, Source, the mind inside of Nature) could restore us to sanity. We made the decision to turn our lives and our will over to the mind inside of Nature, and we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. And so on.

It makes sense to me that if the point of the Bible is to span the Mesopotamian strain, in anticipation of its demise and subsequent redemption, it should include a record of the actual events of that demise. Moreover, those of us who are here now to witness Apocalypse are the best suited to be its chroniclers, and to lay the foundation for the future judging process or even to begin the process now. And there is also the question of what is worth saving from the Mesopotamian strain? What are the criteria for “worthy” and “unworthy” of the Western civilizational lineage?

I think this content and exploration of these questions should constitute a Third Testament of the Bible. That’s easy to say, but a biblical testament is no small project — it took thousands of years to develop the content of the Old Testament, and it took 325 years to develop and collect the content of the New Testament. A Third Testament would take many people many lifetimes, and would require many other people supporting them in the effort provided the project would continue beyond the point of being able to buy and sell.

For some reason it didn’t occur to me for many weeks of thinking about this that what I am looking at here is a monastic tradition or a monastic project.

Lots of people in the doomosphere have spoken of monastic traditions as being something that could carry at least some people through collapse and preserve what is worthy of being preserved of our culture. Monasteries are by definition, however, spiritual in nature, and no one I’ve seen has proposed anything like a solid spiritual context for collapse in general, let alone for a granular monastery here and there. That kind of communal life will fall apart very quickly without some greater understanding to hold it together.

A Third Testament project would provide everything necessary intellectually and culturally not only for the continuation of one, or even many, monasteries indefinitely; it would also provide a bridge from this side of collapse to whatever comes afterward, no matter how long the ensuing Neo Dark Ages, in just the same way the monasteries of Europe bridged the Dark Ages between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

This idea’s been kicking around in my head for some time now. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

7 Responses

  1. Milton Dixon says:

    Hi Paula,

    I think this is a really great analysis of the Bible. It puts together the way I’ve always thought about it with a take on the flow and decline of civilization.

    What if the monastic project that you suggest looks different than previous manifestations? What elements of past monastic traditions would a modern project need? What elements were more specific to the times they previously occurred in?

    • Paula says:

      Milton — these are great questions and ones I haven’t had a chance to delve into much yet. Off the top of my head, I would fully expect any new monastic tradition in the Elohim trajectory to be completely different from whatever came before, just simply because industrialization has made the physical logistics of the world completely different. I also think it would be in the best interest of everyone involved, including the living planet Earth, if the project was open-source, and I mean like die-hard, to the core open-source. Let it fork and fork and fork ad infinitum. Let people self-organize into groups focused on preserving whatever they think is relevant to make it through collapse and a very severe, perhaps unsurvivable population bottleneck. Perhaps the Third Testament would turn out to be nothing except a card catalog of those books, works of art, etc., of which the project decides is worth preserving knowledge. And then somewhere, there would need to be a library archive of those books, works of art, etc., and all of those would have to be recreated with archival quality materials, because all the materials used for books, posters or what-have-you today will crumble in ~50 years.

      But that’s as far as I’ve gotten with thinking about it. To the best of my knowledge, no one is working on anything like this.

  2. ulvfugl says:

    Are you familiar with the unmonastery movement ?

    http://www.unmonastery.eu/index.php/goals/

    The Bible is a thoroughly Jewish work from beginning to end

    There’s all kinds of odd bits and pieces from all over the place, viz. St John Gospel, In the Beginning was the Word has nothing to do with the Jewish tradition it comes from the Greeks, Plato et al., my impression, there never was any homogeneity, there were thousands of cults, tribes, individuals, constant changes and variations, what we have in the Bible is a rather arbitrary and random-ish selection of what happened to survive through the filters of history and chance, and then there are all the vagaries of translation… have you looked into that ?

    • Paula says:

      Well, as far as the Old Testament goes, there is homogeneity in one regard: all of it was written in Hebrew. And the Hebrew language is not simply just phonetically symbolic, it has many layers of meaning that can’t be understood from any but a Jewish perspective. This article is a really fascinating explanation of Hebrew: http://goo.gl/3u345G

      I don’t think either of the testaments are as random as all that, although they did come about from a grassroots here-and-there kind of beginning, the texts were also written, circulated, and ultimately canonized within well-defined if evolving cultural environments, which were in fact Jewish, which has remained a distinct cultural identity since before the advent of the Hebrew calendar, for which 2013 is the equivalent year 5774. That’s a long ass time.

      Here’s a missing piece which I wrote about before that might clarify: Genesis is written in the third person by the forerunners of the ancient Hebrews, who were outside observers to the “Fall” — a.k.a., the advent of agriculture ➞ cities ➞ civilizations ➞ empires — and wanted nothing to do with it, in the same way Native Americans wanted nothing to do with “civilized” Europeans. I believe this is why the ancient Hebrews tried so hard to keep themselves culturally distinct… so while both the Old Testament and the archaeological record show periods of integration between the ancient Hebrews and the surrounding civilizations, including worship of various civilized gods and the like, the cultural mandate to remain distinct has always stood and has never been completely forgotten.

      That in turn acts as a kind of backbone for whatever happens with regard to mythologies, languages, etc. So while there’s variation, it occurs within a limited scope, and thereby preserves the underlying important kernels for people to excavate.

      • ulvfugl says:

        Hi Paula,

        Just thinking about the New Testament, I think that what made it into the modern Bible is highly arbitrary. I was staggered to discover how dreadful the translations are. I mean imagine putting an english text through google translate into several different languages and then back to english and see what you get, and imagine, tearing out pages and erasing words and smudging letters and generally making the writing almost impossible to read, and then the guy who translates it has no idea what the author actually intended to say, because it’s some arcane spiritual stuff that’s encoded in imagery.

        I forget the exact number, but someone calculated hundreds of thousands of errors in every gospel. It comes out as nice poetry sometimes, but nothing like the original :-)

        Joseph was a carpenter ? Yeah, ‘cept aramaic for carpenter is the same spelling as scholar, so maybe Jesus came from a family of intellectuals, not woodworkers :-)

        Thanks for the info re Hebrew, yes, very interesting something I’ve always wanted to study in greater depth.

        You may find this interesting, because of huge influence upon Christianity, nothing to do with Jewish tradition

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsqNvkPFQR0&feature=share&list=PL5999EB20650567DF

        Also although you probably know ?

        http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html

        http://youtu.be/ogXWwKcHPNc

  3. […] been stewing on two new posts. The next logical idea to pursue after my previous “Third Testament” post would be to brainstorm some possible sketches of what a “third testament […]

  4. “To the best of my knowledge, no one is working on anything like this.”

    Actually, I have been working on something like this on and off for several years, although it’s been mostly dormant recently.

    It’s a graphic novel project (3sovereigns.com) that might continue as a prose novel project dealing broadly in themes of ancient roots of modern institutions, starting with a pan-Silk-Road Jesus story built around something like the Axial Age idea of the emergence of many of the earliest and most influential cosmopolitan bureaucratic empires, using it more as a framework for exposition and speculative fiction than an honest historical hypothesis.

    My earliest and most ambitious plans were to have this arc be the first part of a trilogy with a conclusion that plays out a kind of apocalyptic yielding of bureaucratic forms of organization to networked decentralized disintermediated tinkering sometime around the time of Singularitarian speculation, drawing heavily from the precedent of how Nikolai Fyodorov’s Cosmist exegesis of Christianity influenced real space exploration.

~ comments are closed ~