The Jesus Clone II
The Pre-Jesus God
Section II: The Pre-Jesus God
In the last section we were free to discover who the prehistoric God was unfettered by human “insights” and unmarked by human fingerprints. In this section human beings will be painted into the picture of the world’s evolutionary landscape and we will be able to see if they will affect—and if so in what ways—God’s nature. It’s not that God’s nature will actually be affected by humans, but it’s how the human presence upon the world’s evolutionary landscape might change the discussion about His nature. In the last section we touched on elements relating to the dynamic nature of the prehistoric God. We listed some of these elements and stacked them up against elements of the religious interpretations of God’s nature and found these to be static, narrow and shallow by comparison. We extrapolated our discussion on God’s dynamic nature to include aspects of His approach to the design and the production process of His creation a.k.a.: the universe. This process…known as evolution…incorporated long, drawn-out periods of gestation and mutations which resulted in the manifestation of the physical universe in its present form according scientific findings. We might say that God was using broad strokes of His artists brush, utilizing bold colors and thick textures in the early stages of the universe’s formation. There wasn’t much finesse and refinement here—that would come later. Included in this evolutionary process is life in all of its various states; again, in this God incorporated this broad-strokes technique! Homo sapiens were merely the rough sketches for the first human beings—and the first human beings were broad-stroke renderings of the emerging human race. Against the tapestry of today’s first-world citizenry these first humans were primitive and ignorant. God only knows at what exact point in time Homo sapiens became human beings; but logic dictates that at some point in the recent past (within the past million or so years) Homo sapiens made the leap across the gorge dividing non-sentient and sentient beings. No matter which card you want to play here—science or creation—the fact remains that there was a time on the planet when at one moment there existed zero sentient beings and the next moment there existed one! As a result there now sits on top—as the crowning jewel of God’s animal kingdom—humanity.
Meanwhile, over in the deity corner, God has been busy for billions of years doing everything imaginable (literally) including designing and creating human beings. So at the time humans first showed up on the planet the gulf between God and man’s capacities to think function and to create was enormous. In the previous section on the Prehistoric God, we pointed out that a dynamic facet of God’s nature included a plan for Him to pass the torch of creation along to humans (…and on the 7th day He rested); however in the early days of our existence on earth, we humans don’t really seem ready to receive it, do we?! To get us ready to receive this torch, we will have to continue the human evolutionary process in 3 areas…In the area of our individual mental and physical advancements; in the area of the ongoing development of civilization; and finally we humans will have to evolve in our concept of God Himself in order that we might understand or apprehend the essence of His nature. This final category would have to incorporate a sort of spiritual or divine evolution. (See Chapter Five.iii: New Creatures in Christ) Divine evolution refers to the process of developing the spark if divinity residing within each human being; the thing that makes each one sentient and human. If this divine spark can develop—can evolve, it will guide humans into all truth about the Creator God and about His authentic nature. It will at the same time disclose to us as humans the purpose of our existence and what potential energies reside therein. If this process gets thwarted, sidetracked or is hijacked, we as a species will be in big trouble on a number of levels. In this section we will discuss what happens as humanity embarks upon its path of evolution as a species and how the lens of human perspective on the dynamic nature of God gets all smudged by human fingerprints.
- Deities: polytheism and monotheism
The idea of a deity or god has always been a necessary ingredient in the evolutionary process of the human civilization. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which would have to include the fact that the actual Creator/God planted this desire/compulsion to find Him within each human.
Beyond this though there is a much more basic motivation for mankind to embrace the idea. Since the very beginning humans have entertained the idea of a being bigger than themselves—someone who could command nature and the elements and influence situations and life circumstances, especially those to which they felt vulnerable. They envisioned this being, this god to be like themselves, only bigger, stronger and smarter who processed supernatural powers. They also thought they could, in their limited way, influence this god and sway him to behave nicely towards them. If they could figure out how to do this and do it effectively, they believed it would be well worth their pursuing such an enterprise. This kind of relationship would benefit them in two ways: 1) they wouldn’t have to live in fear of what this deity might do to them, in the event they displeased him and 2) They could influence him to do things for them, if they could find ways to get on his good side. And so began the concept of religion—the practice of rites and beliefs designed to please a deity. In the earliest renditions, humans could not imagine one, single being so powerful and mighty that he would be able to rule and direct everything in their world: so they imagined it was most probable that there existed many different gods each one specializing in a different area of life. In this concept: god “A” was in charge of the weather; god “B” fertility; god “C” crops and so on. This belief system was known as polytheism or the belief in many gods.
Most of the religious disciplines are of the mind that civilization started in the Middle Eastern region. It is a widespread speculation that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in the Mesopotamian Valley. It’s for this reason that I’d like to begin this conversation on religion here in this part of the world. There was an ancient civilization named for this region: the Mesopotamians. These Mesopotamians made up a large group of people and occupied a vast area of this Valley. They were polytheistic in their theological beliefs. In the year 2,000 B.C. the world population is estimated at somewhere around 30 million—the bulk of these people lived in this area. Out of the vast population of the Mesopotamian culture, the subculture or tribe of the Hebrews emerged. In the distant past in this region of Mesopotamia a particular man named Abram lived in the city of Ur (capital of the ancient kingdom of Sumer). Abram’s story begins when a new deity or God impresses upon his mind to leave his home and go to a land to which God would direct him. In the message Abram received from God he was told that from then on he’d be called Abraham and that he would be the father of many nations. In the minds of his fellow Mesopotamians the fact that Abram (now Abraham) was packing up his family and all his stuff to go off into the wilderness wasn’t particularly remarkable, but what was remarkable was Abraham was claiming that this new deity of his was the one and only God. In this proclamation, Abraham was introducing into the human psyche the concept of monotheism—the idea of one God—one entity who created and ruled everything.
Concurrent with this monotheistic idea of God, other unique aspects of this God’s nature were trying to be introduced into the human psyche as well. In the time of Abraham, it would become apparent in the coming months, years and centuries that these other aspects of God’s nature would be a much, much bigger challenge to get into the human psyche. In truth this Deity was different in every single aspect of His nature: His thinking, philosophy and behavior compared with any other previous or existing deities. So unique and unusual were this deity’s character attributes that it would take the Hebrews several hundred years to work out the kinks and purge the preconceived notions they held about Him. In fact it would take the sending of His (God’s) own Son to the world to personally plant the vision of His Father’s true nature into humanity’s collective heart. (See the next section: The Jesus God)
The most unique and incredible facet of this monotheistic God’s nature was that He was impervious to human coercions and manipulations. The human idea had always been that God could be appeased or flattered into behaving benevolently toward us humans. The flip side of this idea was that if we humans failed in our attempts to appease or flatter him/her/them, we would be punished for our transgressions. So our human concepts of the nature of any and every deity should incorporate a system of beliefs and doctrines that would embody foolproof formulae for appeasing and flattering God. From our human point of view, this makes complete and total sense, because it’s how we humans think and behave towards one another. This is why it was so difficult for our ancestors to apprehend the notion of a deity whose nature was contrary to this model. Another unique and even more incredible facet of this God’s nature was that He was loving…so much so that it could be said that He was the very embodiment of love. The kind of love He had for His creation, His children was categorized as unconditional love. The thing that made Him impervious to human manipulation was this unconditional love aspect of His nature. You see no matter what humans did—good or bad—it wouldn’t affect or alter the love God had for them.
In the earliest formative years of civilization humans were bound to go through many changes in its overarching struggle to find its stride, so to speak. This applied to humanity’s ability to find its stride in the evolutionary process discerning and establishing its authentic relationship with the Creator. In the past section, our conversation about God focused mostly on His creative nature (the Holy Ghost) and working with the raw materials of the physical universe including life. As we are beginning to introduce human beings onto the landscape of evolution we can expand the discussion to incorporate them. We can go right to the time of Abraham when the concept of a monotheistic God is first introduced into the mix. As the monotheistic view is introduced, we see the Hebrew nation embarking upon an historical journey that will prove to be both a blessing and a curse affecting the whole world from that time forward. You see the concept that God was a single entity was only part of the story. With the other aspects of the monotheistic God, as it turns out, the Hebrews were way off the mark. One of the reasons for this is many of the earliest Hebrew concepts of God’s nature were drawn from deities of other, neighboring cultures in and around the Mesopotamian Valley. Some of the concepts acquired from these other deities were…
- Burnt Offerings. These offerings were usually crops or other goods that were thought to have been given to a person by a god or gods. The idea was to take a portion of the blessing the god had given the person and burn it on an altar as a sign of self-sacrifice and gratitude for the blessing.
- Animal Sacrifices. This is like the burnt offering, but it is specifically a living offering which is killed and burned upon the altar for the same reason stated above. The concept was easily often embellished as people desiring an especial blessing or forgiveness would conceive the idea of substituting a human being for a farmyard animal. Pagan rituals incorporated human sacrifices to their deities…Abraham borrowed this idea from previous common pagan practice.
- Tributes. This is another term for bribe. The reason someone pays a tribute is to flatter or influence God or the deity directly or through the deity’s representative (minister). They are designed to win over God’s favor so good will befall the one who offers the tribute.
- Tithing. These are similar to tributes only they are more akin to a tax than a bribe. In the Mosaic Law there is a whole law of tithing that is practiced today by Jews and Christians. The incentive for believers to pay tithes is the promise of God’s blessing raining down from above upon those who faithfully pay their tithes. Gigantic empires known as mega-churches or mega-congregations are flourishing all across America because they preach this promise of affluence through the practice of tithing. It is more popular today than it has ever been.
- Fealties. This is an undying loyalty to the deity which the deity holds over the head of the subject. This concept has grown and developed into the undying loyalty towards things associated with God, for example the Bible. And once these things gain this kind of prominence within the mind of the believer, the believer will tenaciously—like a wild dog clamped onto a piece of raw meet. They never question the authenticity or validity of that thing because that would be a breach of loyalty to God, Himself.
- Ritual Bathing and Baptism. In a few pages we will be discussing the development of human civilization in the aforementioned Mesopotamian Valley. In the article it talks about the importance and the impact that irrigation had in the process of developing the evolving civilization. The author of that article describes water as being god-like in the minds of the ancients and for very good reason. This esteem was easily adapted into the religious rites of the day and it stuck. In the next section on The Jesus God we will put this idea of baptism a bit more into perspective.
- Payback for Transgressions. Good examples of this concept appear throughout the Mosaic Law which describes specific punishments that are to be given for specific transgressions. e.g.: A woman caught in the act of adultery is to be publicly stoned by a group of her peers.
- The concept of an egotistical God who needs adoration and groveling responses from His subjects/children.
- Short recap…
The nature and behaviors which I have listed above…would these be characteristic of a dynamic deity…someone who designed and created the dynamic universe scientists describe which we discussed in the last section? No. This nature and these behaviors are characteristic of a static and extremely narrowly-focused deity. This deity fits the description of the one religions describe…one who created the entirety of his creation in seven 24-hour days; who creates for a time and then stops creating; who speaks to his children for a while and then ceases; who tolerates His children’s sins for a season—until He can tolerate them no longer; at that day He will return to the earth and flame almost everyone except for the select cookie-cutter few who were able to figure out the hidden secrets of the Bible.
In the latter part of this section: The Pre-Jesus God we will discuss what the catalyst was for this narrow and small image of God. These aspects of the God of Abraham were more easily swallowed because they came out of a culture of superstition and ignorance that was on par with those ancient times. In that discussion the question will be put forth…were these narrow characteristics devised by Abraham or did they originate elsewhere and for different reasons?
In short, favors and blessings from him are hard won—they must be earned. The way we as humans thought about God was all-important, because much, it was believed, was riding on the matter of being correct in our view of Him and what He expected from us humans. If we got it wrong, He would make us pay and pay dearly. Many stories in the Old Testament paint the picture of a vengeful and demanding God. He is depicted as being moody and easily upset. Many of these notions are alive, believed and adhered to today. There is a whole competitive culture inherent in religious motifs and themes. In the next section entitled: The Jesus God, we are going to consider the true characteristics of this monotheistic God that Abraham was talking about. You see, not only was Abraham’s monotheistic God different from the other polytheistic deities in that He worked and ruled on His own, He was different from them in every other way imaginable. When Jesus shows up in the world, He counsels the Hebrews on aspects of God’s (His Father’s) nature. Two such bits of counsel are: “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” This gives a living, breathing model of the Father’s nature; Jesus Himself. So as Jesus is, so is the Father. This statement is pretty hard to get around. A specific truth about His father’s nature is conveyed in the following parable. In this story, the king/master represents Jesus’s Father (aka: the God of Abraham) and the heavily indebted slave represents any human being.
23…the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.
24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him.
25 Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
26 “At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’
27 Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
(Holman Christian Standard Bible)
To accurately analyze this parable, we must remember that it is a parable so the humans in the story must indiscriminately represent any humans. The key to the lesson of this parable is in the answer to the question: “What did the slave do that triggered the benevolent response from the king? According to the story, the king was prepared to hold the slaves feet to the fire in order to get him to pay the debt. When the slave fell facedown before the king and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ It was something about this response that made the king order the slave released and he forgave him his debt. So when we try to get at the truth about the king’s nature we can say that the king was prepared to do anything to get from the slave that which was owed him; but, according to the story, it was equally true that the king was prepared to let the slave go and forgive him the debt. Again we must remember that this is a parable…so, theoretically speaking, it doesn’t matter how many slaves are brought before the king, it doesn’t matter who they are and it doesn’t matter how much they owe…the king is looking for a reason to forgive the debt and free the slave. This is the truth about the king’s nature. The king represents Jesus’s Father who is the God of Abraham.
Getting back to the topic of the competitive themes inherent in the Hebrew culture; these motifs date back to the time of Abraham and before. Whether or not Abraham is directly responsible for assigning these prickly attributes to his monotheistic God is, at this point all but impossible to determine. The history of the Hebrews has been tainted therefore the truth about how the concept of their monotheistic God actually evolved within their culture is anybody’s guess. Let me explain my thinking on this. Much if not all of the Hebrew history was an oral record—it was passed down from generation to generation by people telling it in the form of a story or in songs. Because it was passed along this way, two tendencies were apt to influence the accuracy of the retelling: 1. the stories and songs would most certainly be abridged forms designed to hit the high points and skip over the details, 2. As the stories were repeated again and again, they were most certainly embellished and made more dramatic in their endless process of retelling. If this weren’t enough of a factor, there was a time much after the events of Abraham and Moses actually took place, the oral history was written into the text we now have which is the Torah and/or the Old Testament. This writing down of the history of the Hebrews came at a time of much turmoil and upheaval in the Hebrew experience. This was at a time when Jews were exiled from Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II.( see Chapter Eleven. i. The reverse engineering of the Hebrew lineage)
- The devolution factor
Human nature seeks for definitive solutions, absolutes. As people we tend to search for the one correct thing. And once we believe we have found it, we share the thing with others seeking validation for the thing from them. In this process the action is such that the more people gathered in agreement around the thing, the more strength of character it acquires. Once a critical mass of consensus about it is reached, a new phenomenon takes place: People stop looking any further and they take on a defensive position against anything or anyone who might challenge their thing. Any would-be challenger is regarded as inferior, flawed, wrong or sinful.
In the last chapter: The Prehistoric God we learned that God uses, to the human eye chaos and random events to advance His purposes. However…out of chaos and randomness even we humans can detect over the longer period, patterns of what we can determined as advancements and progress.
The human predilection to find the one ultimate thing—the panacea of life—only to shut down the machinery of progress and advancement when it’s been found; runs at odds with the directive of the prehistoric God. In shutting down the machinery of progress, humans are hoping that doing so will put an end to the chaos and randomness of life that comes with progress.
In the last section we also discussed that order and sense can and often do emerge out of naturally manifesting chaos, but it does so at its own (albeit slow) pace. This overall progress we learned is called evolution. And an important step in the evolutionary ladder is what the Book of Genesis says happened on the 7th day of Creation—God rested and in doing so handed off the torch of creation to humanity. This torch of creation, by definition, infers progress and progress on a grand scale. Lots and lots of innovations—by trial and error and chaos, will be on the docket as humanity moves into the future. With the desire to hurry up the manifestations of order and sense to bypass the messiness of chaos, some humans have conjured up a belief that it’s in the best interest of mankind that God keeps the torch of creation in His possession. To this end some have conjured up a bogus narrative around this idea and have dressed it up in religious clothing. In effect what has happened (and continues to happen) is God—amidst the action of handing off the torch to humans—some guys are reaching out to receive it while others are busy pushing it back into His hand. In all the back and forth melee and confusion, the exact location of the torch is uncertain. About ½ of the people think humanity is holding the torch and the other ½ thinks God still has it. Those who think God has it are kind of hoping that He will use it to scorch the britches of those who believe humanity holds it. These people are the evangelical Christians and because they believe God holds the torch, everything that happens in the world rests within His capable hands. From their perspective…it’s not the place for humans to be concerned with moving the torch of creation forwards; they believe all of that stuff is up to God to handle. They further believe that humanity’s place is to stand aside, to assume a passive role, and not get in His way. The narrative these evangelists are chatting up is anything and everything other than moving it forwards—working with the flow of evolution; and they expend much energy attempting to thwart it.
To see if there is evidence that God’s creation torch was in the hands of humanity, let’s go back to the very beginnings of civilization—to its formative years—to when it was engaged in a struggle to establish itself and find its place in the world. During this formative period with all of its tumults and struggles we should see emerge things like language development, social hierarchies, cultures, technological advancements and religion. Looking into the books and records of the ancient world we see this is what took place.
Meanwhile in a synchronous orbit above these actual and historically provable events is forming this aforementioned narrative promoting the idea of a one right and true thing—a panacea if you will. When and exactly how this narrative gets inserted into the actual story of the formative ages of our world civilization is not exactly clear; but it wasn’t concurrent with the events themselves. The ‘Why’ of this narrative is more easily surmised. We have but to look at the fruit of this panacea narrative which talks the fable of a one right and true thing to get on track with the motivation of such a narrative. Fast-forwarding to now, the bulk of the religious Christian community has built its entire belief system upon the foundation of this narrative of a one right and true thing. Accompanying this narrative is the contention that if there’s a right way of doing and believing, then there must be a wrong way of doing and believing. And following close on the heels of this narrative is the supposition that says: those people who are engaged in the right way of doing and believing are themselves right and those people who are engaged in the wrong way of doing and believing are themselves wrong. The gathering together of all the right concepts and all the right methods of human interaction and drafting them into tangible modes of expression that might be shared with others is, in short, religion.
Listening long and hard to this narrative of a one right and true thing has brought many people into a flock that focuses its attention and energies on religious enterprises. This endeavor has brought about two dramatic results: the dynamic atmosphere of the group has turned static and for them, the dynamo of evolution has slowed, stopped, and reversed direction. For them, the process of devolution has begun; the dynamic prehistoric God has shriveled up and blown away and a different, more manageable God has been dropped into His place.
I am including the following article in its entirety because of its accurate representation of God passing the torch of creation to humans. The article depicts humanity developing the raw materials God provided for them with which they might build a civilization. We are attempting to glean God’s part in the midst of all the dynamic interplay the article describes. In a way the article is saying that God has set up the stage, provided a long checklist of props, brought in fledgling set designers, scenery builders, producers, directors and a plethora of actors He has devised a medium filled with potential for these components to interact in interesting ways…He is anticipating some great dramas will materialize here.
Rise of Civilizations and Empires in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley
By Maghan Keita
Historians often write of world history in terms of the development of civilizations defined by a characteristic empire. What defines an empire and what does the building of empire suggest? The regions of Mesopotamia, Egypt (the Nile Valley), and the Indus Valley are three rich areas for studying how people and ideas come together to create civilizations and empires.
Imagine three spaces that are sparsely populated, yet well watered and fertile, in a time before written history. Two are river valleys, another lies between two rivers forming a rich plain. Imagine that humans settle in these regions and domesticate plants and animals. The domestication made possible by these riverine territories and the success of that domestication—farming and grazing—lure increasingly greater human and animal migration to these spaces. As these populations increase, so do their needs. These needs give rise to the social and political economic formations that characterize the ancient urban spaces and states of Mesopotamia and the Indus and Nile valleys.
The spaces depicted by the author of this article—Maghan Keita—are ripe for growing crops and domesticating animals. At the same time, I (as does the author) look at them as environments teaming with potential with which the burgeoning human race might receive its endowment from God’s hand—the torch of creation. Humans didn’t create this environment, it was provided for them by God, as is alluded to in the Genesis account of creation. As was offered in the last section, God designed it off of an evolutionary blueprint! Now, let’s see what happens from here…
The collections of peoples, goods, and ideas suggest difference and diversity and are also the hallmarks of empires. The human, material, and intellectual richness of the regions created the need to organize. The organizational necessity was the result of innovation, communication, and the movement of populations.
Movement of People
The initial formation of these civilizations is based on the movement of peoples into the river valleys and plains. These people were nurtured by these spaces. They often described their environments as god-like and characterized their nearby rivers as life-giving. The transformation of these valleys and plains into places capable of physically nurturing the various peoples who moved into them was one of the first acts of cultural innovation and exchange. A simple illustration of this exchange is seen in the technologies of food production. The types of food in a region, where the food could be grown, and, under what conditions, all gave rise to innovation.
The use of these valleys’ soil and water were signs of innovation and exchange. Though we lack significant insight into the technologies of the Indus Valley, we know that for the Mesopotamians, the key to making the Fertile Crescent fertile was the technology of irrigation. In fact, irrigation became the key feature of the civilization. As a result of the need for irrigation, religious and legal codes in many Mesopotamian societies focused on water use.
- …The types of foods produced in certain spaces or regions became unique to those regions, giving each region its own identity. This will factor into the rise of several unique cultures occupying these areas each possessing its own intrinsic value and characteristics.
- In the last section we visited the idea of necessity being the mother of invention; we see this dynamic in action as irrigation systems get developed in regions further away from the sources of water. As ways to irrigate became more and more sophisticated, its use became widespread throughout the region, so much so as to change the landscape of the greater Mesopotamian Valley. Areas that were once low and arid were now lush and fertile. The ancients residing there were witnessing this transformation of the land first hand. They were awed and delighted by the seemingly god-like power of water. Before they reached this stage, their understanding of God was based upon their (up to that point) limited experience with Him; they understood Him as one who provided for the humans who’d settled in the indigenously fertile areas of the region, this would by necessity exclude from this blessing of fertile lands any latecomers to the region. Their observation of this exclusionary component of God’s nature mapped upon their cultural awareness of Him and the limited power and scope of His benevolent nature. With the introduction of water into the arid areas caused a change in everything, including their human concept of God’s nature. This earmarks a pattern of evolution that—if left to run its own course—would continue forwards into the future. In this next phase, they see new blessings introduced into the region; 1) Water management and distribution into the wastelands which served to expand the circle of the original blessing (crop production); 2) Greater technical knowledge and experience in the area of irrigation; and 3) The expanded awareness of God’s nature. From the perspective of the prehistoric God—He was pleased with the way things were progressing in this phase of creation evolutionary process.
- This latest relationship humanity has with water gets incorporated into religious symbolism. This is true in early polytheistic “pagan” disciplines; as well as in the Judeo/Christian disciplines. Water becomes an iconic representation of cleansing: In the Jewish practice of ritual bathing water cleanses the body in order to make one acceptable in God’s eyes; in the sacrament of baptism water washes away the sins of the penitent person. In siting the origins of this practice of using water as a sacred symbol which is still used today we can know two things…1) It is a part of our nature as mortals to seek leverage in a relationship with God and 2) As mortals, we believe that it’s in God’s nature to look upon our human nature as inherently filthy and unworthy. With this kind of postulation in play, the only chance any human being has to enter into relationship with God is for that human to first get right with Him. These perspectives have their origins in the earliest polytheistic/pagan religions.
- In reference to our conversation on the dynamic nature of God, we must consider a third stage to this blessing of bounty which God had provided for the fledgling society of human beings—humanity’s ability to innovate. This one gets lost in the fray of historical events, because the tendency is to believe that all of this monkeying around and tinkering with stuff we humans get up to is of our own doing. It’s viewed as a way of frittering away our spare time or burning up excess energies. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our human drive to tinker and monkey about with stuff is divinely inscribed—it’s purposefully engineered into our spirits by the Man Upstairs. It is the very thing designed to convey the torch of creation along the tracks of history on its way into the future. If this point is lost on us, we will quickly lose touch with our intuitive bond with the prehistoric God.
Egypt and the Nile Valley civilizations were defined by the rich alluvial soils that annual floods deposited along the Nile banks and in the delta and the flood plains. The use of water and the timing of flood seasons gave rise to a number of technological innovations, such as the calendar. These cultural and technological innovations also guaranteed the growth of large populations and increased the possibility that some of those populations would be located in central urban centers.
These societies’ agricultural and ecological technologies drew immigrants and travelers who often brought goods and ideas that contributed to the culture of these civilizations. As people moved in, the issue of population density arose. The ability of these areas to sustain population—an ability that can be thought of as a richness—attracted more peoples.
As civilization is expanding, we see the need for further innovations to deal with new challenges. Included on the list of challenges are influencing the success and efficiency of crop harvesting; the ever-growing influx of peoples (those migrating in and those passing through); rethinking societal logistics as populations expanded in the rural areas. Depending upon the outcomes of these challenges determined whether or not the expanding area could sustain population. These all are challenges never before seen upon the world stage. Humanity’s self-image is beginning to evolve from one with a me/mine tenor into one with a we/our tenor. Concepts like the common good are beginning to find their way into the global consciousness.
Some of these peoples entered the areas peaceably. Others used force to maintain or expand geographic and cultural spaces, indicating imperial activity. An interesting pattern emerges here in that some urban centers were constructed to protect against invading forces, as seen in the walled settlements of the Indus Valley and early Mesopotamia. However, as much as these walled settlements repelled invaders, they also attracted them. The river valleys and the plains, and their agricultural richness, supported the formation of cities. The cities themselves—cities such as Harappâ in the Indus, Ur of Mesopotamia, and Memphis in Egypt—became representative of the regions’ richness. The cities became emblems of their respective empires and either allowed for the extension of the empire or resisted the threats of other powers.
Over centuries, these three civilizations developed through movement, mingling, and settlement in rich river valleys and plains; through population growth and increased density; and through the expansion of settlements into cities, and later, often into city-states, states, and empires. Again, the movement and exchange of people, goods, and ideas—sometimes peaceably, sometimes through force—is assured.
Patterns of population growth emerge and techniques and practices start to become established. Expanding on the basic plan of community structure, towns give way to cities, cities—municipalities, municipalities—states and states—empires. Another technique was forthcoming in this pattern of growth—adaptation. As new challenges were discovered, new innovations were devised to incorporate them. Those communities who could see this as just part of the process of growth, that is to say those who became intuitive with the nature of growth, were the ones who succeeded in sustaining growth; those who couldn’t were vulnerable…
Disbursement of Ideas and Goods
The historical activities of the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, and Egypt indicate that various peoples moved in and out, contested the regions’ spaces, and sought to control other peoples, their goods, and their resources. This interaction had profound consequences on how those involved thought about themselves and each other. Their ideas were tested, challenged, and in many instances, changed. These regions’ cities probably were seen as symbols of wealth; therefore, groups in and outside of the region often sought to control them. Cities in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley can be seen easily in terms of a richness in population. Richness is understood as the population’s ability to produce goods and services in quantity-not just agriculture, but skills such as metalworking, pottery, or commerce. Thus, richness in population meant surpluses allowed the cities and the areas they controlled to support a ruling and administrative class, and maybe an army. Frequently, product surpluses were exchanged, providing wealth for the area and drawing other peoples to it. The Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, and Egypt all experienced the results of a rich and productive population.
As the metropolitan areas grew larger in number, their size alone attracted more population growth. As the numbers of people grew so did the diverse and dynamic nature of the community. The interactions among the people—much of it hostile and sinful—held outcomes that, although not good in the short term, proved to push the evolutionary envelope further still. In this we see over the vast expanse of time that God uses the evolutionary process and the messiness of sin to advance His mission of creation. We see out of the midst of the fray of human interactions—if left to follow its own course—what will emerge are more new technologies and skills such as metalworking, pottery and commerce. The dynamic underpinning the whole of this evolutionary process, keeping it up in the air, moving it forwards is the innate human intrigue with action and adventure. Human nature loves the idea of a good challenge. Still today people enjoy going to the movies to see stories depicting a protagonist getting pitted against impossible odds; who must endure unimagined hardships and who in the end emerges victorious. These early folks were living this movie every day and on a global scale. This human intrigue is divinely engineered into our collective spiritual psyche. God set the world up in such a way that the potential for this kind of exchange not only might occur within the human drama…it most certainly would do. The dynamic God loved (and still does) to watch the interplay of creation happening on the fly upon the crackling and explosive human stage. In early days the world was fraught with adventures of human beings (His children) engaged in the hand to hand campaign of building and developing this burgeoning world society.
Trade between Empires
Within the movement and exchange that epitomized the Indus, Mesopotamian, and Nile civilizations, rising empires imposed a stability that occasionally resulted in greater interaction between states and peoples because of the inherent security of the empire. The most striking example of this greater interaction is trade. Many scholars argue that the collection of peoples in certain areas and changes in demographic concentration are related to patterns of trade. Urban growth can be explained by looking at the spaces where trade was possible and the ways in which that trade might have drawn together people and their goods or services. Those spaces necessitated some authority to provide order and security. From here we might speculate on the rise of urban space and the institutions and people who might have administered it.
The goods and security offered by these urban spaces lured the merchants not only to travel from place to place carrying goods and ideas but also often to become residents in distant places, establishing new communities within communities. At times, some of these merchants served as ambassadors. They presented information that was important to maintaining good relations between their home societies and those they adopted through trade. They also helped resolve issues that might be problematic for their fellow countrymen. Many of these transplanted merchants settled in their adopted societies, adding another element of interaction and mixture.
In this light, some of the states that existed in this broad space from the Indus to the Nile were known as merchant states and known by the reputations of their merchants. Commercial activity was simply one more component that helped to knit the area together as an intercontinental community.
We might select any of the salient points of these three areas and see them replicated in some form across the others. The reason for this replication, and its differences, reiterates that the establishment of empires, and the civilizations they represented, was not the creation of discrete imperial space so much as a way of ordering interaction between possible discrete spaces.
The structures of these civilizations—these empires, states, cities—did not stop the interaction and the flow of goods, people, and ideas. On the contrary, they encouraged it. That encouragement resulted in the earliest formations of what has been called the Afro-Eurasian Old World—the interaction between the Indus, Mesopotamian, and Nile river systems.
About the author: Maghan Keita is an associate professor of history at Villanova University. He is the author of Riddling the Sphinx: Race, the Writing of History, and America’s Culture Wars among numerous other publications.
- Abraham in Keita’s world
In the Maghan Keita article we looked at the beginning period of civilization and some of the components and conditions in play which factored into the developmental process of the earliest societies in history. As we continue our look back into the deep past and focus our attention in the three extensive valley regions to which Keita is referring; we will attempt to overlay Abraham and his immediate offspring of Hebrews atop the authentic looking historical background Keita has provided for us. This will help us picture Abraham and the Hebrews more in the real time setting historians talk about. If we can establish Abraham there, we can add his immediate lineage to the evidence board. In doing this we must proceed cautiously and pay close attention to each character we place there. By the end of the section it will be clear why there is a need for caution.
With everything that’s taking place in this hotbed of activities and developments author Maghan Keita is describing, the idea of religion was bound to arise and get a good foothold upon the landscape of civilization. Qualifying for a moment the use of the term religion in the context of this section…religion, specifically, is the sophisticated system of beliefs and practices around the concept of a deity which uses political and other similar methods to bring people into, and keep them adhered to this system. So in a word—control was that which was sought out by those desiring leverage. In the time of burgeoning empires and kingdoms, the leverage brought about by religious control could be more advantageous than gold amidst this outcropping of population feed by the energy of technological and social developments.
As was previously mentioned, Abraham was living in the year 2000 BC. The number of people on the earth at that time is approximated to be 30 million. Believing in and worshipping deities was, by no means a new thing at the time of Abraham. Polytheism—the worship of many gods—was widely practiced throughout the 3 regions Keita talks about. No surprise, the tenor of polytheism was changing and evolving right along with every other thing on the eco-socio-political scene of that area at the time.
I made mention in the previous section The Prehistoric God that growing up I went to Catholic schools. In my catechism classes I was taught the story of Abraham and his family and I have to tell you that the setting of the world in Abraham’s day—as it was described by my catechism book—to my mind’s eye was in no way the way Keita describes it, far from it. As I was researching for this section and discovered that scientists have estimated the world population at about 30 million—my jaw dropped in surprise at this news (as I suppose it would do for most of my grade school classmates). With the overly abbreviated rendition of Abraham’s world setting, the catechism version of how he came to the concept of the monotheistic (single God) view; I am sure leaves out lots and lots of pertinent information. The longer, more authentic story is that the single-God view, no doubt slowly evolved into the human psyche over the centuries and it happened within a world context more akin to that which Keita describes in his article. It wasn’t just dropped into someone’s (Abraham’s) lap one day, as the catechism teaches us to believe. This catechism depiction of Abraham’s day is a far-reaching and potent example of the religious control to which I was referring a few pages ago.
Now let’s gradually add to Abraham’s lineage, starting with his son. In this process we are attempting to establish a connection between Abraham and another larger-than-life character who lived 700-800 years in Abraham’s future, his name is Moses. The setting for Moses is a different valley—also mentioned in the Keita article—the Egypt Valley. Moses had a particular role in shaping the destiny of the entire Hebrew Nation. He had such an effect on the Hebrew nation that he changed their entire culture—a change that was so dramatic, in fact, that its wake affected the whole world for all time.
Let’s get started. Abraham’s son was named Isaac and the Bible tells the story about when Abraham nearly killed Isaac on God’s command. The story reports that one day Abraham was out in the dessert with Isaac when he realized that time had gotten away from them and he hadn’t yet offered up his daily animal sacrifice to God. Realizing there weren’t any animals at hand to sacrifice, he looked at his son and it got into his head to offer him up as a sacrifice to God. The Bible says that God commanded Abraham to do it—but the idea that God would command Abraham to murder someone, let alone his own son, is ludicrous. Add to this that Isaac would be the first in the line of the heritage of Abraham’s seed that would be great in number as per God’s promise to Abraham. The authenticity of this as an actual encounter Abraham is having with God leaves the reader highly suspicious, to say the least for many different reasons. Let’s put this story up on the evidence board and interleave it with the culture and time Keita describes…
This depiction describes a microcosm which represents the authentic chaos out of which divine order emerges. And as it is repeated and improved upon in its practice it becomes more and more sophisticated in its evolutionary traits and mannerisms. Religion on the other hand attempts to bring about civility through the means of repressing our human nature and preaching that these behaviors appear unseemly and even abominable in God’s eyes. In these attempts, the religious influence again and again paints the inaccurate picture of God’s authentic nature and falsifies His intention of creation. As a result, religion denies the evolutionary ebb and flow of God’s nature as it attempts to tame dynamic interplay and replace it with a kind of static still life of a hollow sanctity.
In the Genesis representation of the entire creation process the evolutionary phases were depicted symbolically in days. In the 1st six days God declared at the conclusion of each that what He had accomplished that day was “good”. In the Genesis account for the 7th day upon which it is written that He rested—we have been saying that there is the strong implication that in His resting from all His creation labors, He handed the torch of creation to Humanity. In this we can’t help but wonder…at the end of this day (for we are still living in this 7th day) will God look around and declare once again…”It is good?!” At the end of this 7th day will conclude the 7 days of creation carried out through the process of evolution will bring forth the Kingdom of God.
Human Sacrifice or not?
- The Paleolithic evidence for sacrifice is unclear, and it has not been observed in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. It has been observed, however, in pastoral and agricultural societies. In simpler societies, anyone is usually permitted to offer a sacrifice, but in the more developed, i.e. centralized societies, this right is generally reserved for either a religious specialist or a person of high political rank. Often, the sacrificial cult is linked to the legitimacy of a king or emperor, as in classical Japan, China, Sumeria, Egypt, and Rome; sometimes, struggles for control over this cult lead to conflict between priests and kings. “Sacrifice, at its first appearance, is a magical instrumentality that in part stands at the immediate service of the coercion of the gods. For the gods also need the soma juice of the sorcerer-priests, the substance which engenders their ecstasy and enables them to perform their deeds. This is the ancient notion of the Aryans as to why it is possible to coerce the gods by sacrifice…Still another view of sacrifice holds that it is a means of deflecting, through magical media, the wrath of the god upon another object, a scapegoat or above all a human sacrifice”.
- In the Hebrew tradition, the Levites are the high priests of the chosen people, God’s favored sons, according to them. They are rewarded for their saintly behavior by being given the best lodging, food, drink, loot, and women in any town they enter. They are also, naturally, exempt from the wars that they may cause “in the Lord’s name.” They were also “Tax-free” from the temple. The Levites are the upholders of God’s law, and as such they are to be protected and esteemed no matter what. This includes other people sacrificing their lives for them, and performing human sacrifice.
Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
- “In Palestine, numerous bodies of children discovered in the foundations of buildings leave no room for doubt that oblations of this character were of common occurrence among the Canaanites to strengthen the walls of houses and cities. Thus, in the whole area of the high place at gezer, skeletons of new-born infants were buried, deposited in food-offerings in smaller vessels, two at least of the bodies showing marks of fire… that the infants were an oblation of the first-born devoted to the temple from birth may be deduced from the fact that they were less than a week old, and from the occurrence of similar offerings in the corners of the house or under the foundations.”
Max Weber, “The Sociology of Religion”
- ”The occurrence of human sacrifice appears to have been widespread and its intentions various, ranging from communion with a god and participation in his divine life to expiation and the promotion of the Earth fertility. It seems to have been adopted by agricultural rather than by hunting or pastoral peoples. Of all the worldly manifestations of the life-force, the human undoubtedly impressed men as the most valuable and thus the most potent and efficacious as an oblation. Thus, in Mexico the belief that the sun needed human nourishment led to sacrifice in which as many as 20,000 victims perished annually in the Aztec and Nahua calendrical maize ritual in the 14th century AD.”
Dr. E. O. James, “Sacrifice and Sacrament”, p 95
- In looking at the origins of human sacrifice to the priests, the original things offered for sacrifices were small things, like butterflies, fruits, small animals, etc. As the priests grew in power, they demanded larger and more expensive sacrifices and “pledges” to the temple. When they really wanted to flex their muscles, they performed a human sacrifice. James Hastings, (“The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics”, p 863), informs us that: “Hebrews: This member of the Semitic family was no less prone than the rest to human sacrifices….”
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1975 Edition, Vol. 14, p. 131
- Even the more conservative viewpoints, such as those expressed by “Harper’s Bible Dictionary”, p 824-5, shows this relationship between Arabians, Hebrews, and human sacrifice. “Human sacrifice was exceptional among the ancient Hebrews, although we still read, ‘The firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me’ (Ex. 22:29, cb. 13:2). The Israelites very early substituted, like Abraham (Gen. 22:13), an animal sacrifice to ‘redeem’ the first born (Exod. 13:13-15, 34:20; Numb. 18-15). nevertheless, in a desperate crisis, the first-born was sacrificed as the supreme gift to the deity…. The immolation of Jephthah’s daughter (Judg 11:30-40), which has been compared to Agamemnon’s proposed sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia (saved by Artemis), is the result of a vow made to the deity to obtain victory. Prisoners of war were occasionally sacrificed either for blood revenge (Judge 8:18-21) or as part of the ban (1Sam 15:33). Both these barbaric ancient rites were regarded as sacrifices to the deity ….”
- In “The History of Childhood”, Lloyd De Mause writes: “Child sacrifice was practiced… in certain periods by the Israelites. Thousands of bones of sacrificed children have been dug up by archaeologists, often with inscriptions identifying them as first-born sons of nobility”.We then have to ask the question, “What’s the point of human sacrifice”? There’re four basic categories that religious sacrifice falls under, which are: Religion, catastrophe, nutrition, and economic/political. How does that work?
Religion: Where religious decrees make it necessary for a human sacrifice.
Catastrophe: A catastrophe happens where it is necessary to appease the Gods, or prevent another one from happening.
Nutrition: The culture didn’t have enough food to support themselves so resorted to human sacrifice/cannibalism.
Economic/political: The king and nobles would do it as a tributary means, like giving so much grain or so much cattle.
In the end, Isaac makes it through this ordeal alive. According to the story, Abraham was commanded by God (in an audible voice no less) to kill and offer up his own son as a sacrifice. In the end, just when Isaac was bound and on the altar and Abraham had his knife brandishing hand raised up ready to deliver the death stab, an angel of the Lord appears and stays his hand, preventing Abraham from following through and killing his son. The audible voices of God was an overly dramatic telling of the story when actually it was merely Abraham’s guilt pressing him to do this daily ritual of offering up a sacrifice to the Lord. Another, equally plausible theory is that Abraham did hear a voice, but it was wasn’t God’s voice; it was the voice of the devil. This second scenario smacks of Jesus’s encounter with Evil (the devil) in the dessert when It appeared to Him and tried to tempt Him into doing something (spiritually speaking) absurd. In either scenario—the first time God actually makes an appearance in the story is when the angel shows up and stops him from delivering the deathblow. Remember, the concept of the monotheistic God is still evolving and morphing out of the previous polytheist model along with those old traditions and practices.As our story continues, we see Joseph begin his life as a slave to An Egyptian overlord; but low and behold, through a series of bizarre twists of fate, he manages to make a positive impression upon the king (or pharaoh) of Egypt. It seems Joseph has a gift for interpreting dreams. And the process of connecting to pharaoh begins when he makes a good impression on his Egyptian overlord. Joseph was able to correctly interpret a recurring dream that had been troubling him; so to thank Joseph he arranges for Joseph to have personal audience with the pharaoh. In this meeting the pharaoh himself shares a troubling dream of his own and Joseph interprets it for him. Well one positive thing after another happens and before you know it Joseph is made into a high-ranking official of Egypt. This positive trend of good fortune continues for Joseph and skipping ahead, it’s not too long before his brothers and his father, Jacob all move from Canaan to Egypt to settle in for the good life. Eventually this happy ending is played out when the pharaoh, good friend to Joseph dies and is replaced by a new pharaoh who doesn’t know anything about the sweet deal old pharaoh had with Joseph and his family. According to the Bible account, in the next 100 years or so the Hebrew population grows quite large; so much so as to pose a potential threat in the mind of the new pharaoh. So just as a preemptive act new pharaoh decrees that all the Hebrews be taken into captivity and made to do hard, subservient work for him and the Egyptian nation. The story goes that after 100 or more years all of the Hebrews living in Egypt were direct descendants of Jacob’s family; Jacob conveniently had 12 sons and these sons would sire many descendants within these 100+ years. Sometime in the interim, God had changed Jacob’s name to Israel so the enslaved offspring of Jacob (now Israel) became known as Israelites or the children of Israel. The line of descendants from each of his sons came to be known as tribes e.g.: the descendants of Joseph were referred to as the Tribe of Joseph. Another of Israel’s sons was Judah, so his descendants were referred to as the tribe of Judah or Jews.
This whole story of the Hebrew nation, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel and his 12 sons who sired the 12 tribes of Israel was conveyed generation after generation through an oral tradition. A father would tell it to his children and possibly his grandchildren and when they had their own families these, in turn would pass the story along to their children and on and on generation after generation. As these historical events took place, this process of oral tradition was the only means with which the Hebrews/Israelites kept track of them—nothing was written down. It’s for this reason that all the stories and the accounts as we read them now in the Old Testament have a canned, tone to them. If we overlay these stories and these characters on top of the ancient and dynamic cultural backdrop as Keita describes the Mesopotamian and Egypt Valleys setting to be; how well do they fit in—easily and naturally, or do we have to kind of cram them in there? Let’s skip ahead a few years…
So Isaac, having survived the murder attempt by his father takes a wife whose name is Rebecca. Eventually he sires two sons with Rebecca—twins named Esau and Jacob. In the Jewish tradition the oldest son would be the one to inherit all of his father’s belongings and property. Though these two boys were twins, Esau was born first which meant that he was the older twin. This didn’t happen, though, according to the story and Jacob obtained the birthright of his father’s fortune. Because of this the Bible stories from this point follow the life of Jacob. Jacob marries and sires 12 sons; the most famous of these was second to the youngest named Joseph. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite and this made his older brothers jealous. One day when Joseph was out tending his father’s sheep, He was set upon by some of his brothers. They grabbed him up, bound him and ended up selling him to some traveling merchants to get rid of him once and for all. In this venture, his captors move Joseph to Egypt somewhere in the region of Nile River Delta to begin his tenure as a slave. With this event, slavery begins its major role in the culture of the Hebrew nation—a role that haunts them and the rest of the world even today.
Israelites are enslaved in Egypt for the next 400+ years
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.
9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us.
10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites
13 and worked them ruthlessly.
14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
Exodus 1:8-14 (NIV)
The Old Testament story skips ahead over 400 years at which time Moses appears upon the scene. Moses is a pivotal character in the Hebrew/Israelite narrative because he is given the huge task of liberating the Israelite nation from their enslavement by the Egyptians. This chapter of the story is referred to as the exodus event (or the Israelites exit out of Egypt adventure) The story begins with Moses allegedly being audibly ordered by God to approach face to face the king of the nation of their captors and demand, “Let my people go!” Before we go any further I want to remind you once again that this story has been documented only by oral tradition for 100s of years. For this reason I’d say that this is as good a place as any to ply a couple of different scenarios for what actually happened and what ramifications were forth-coming. For several reasons Old Testament stories are greatly debated among historians and Bible scholars around the authenticity and accuracy of these events and characters. I would like to postulate around two or three scenarios and see what happens. With the first scenario we will presuppose that the events and characters are 100% accurately represented in the Bible. In this frame of mind let us cast our retrospective gaze at this entire event. Even in this literal rendition of the story, if we look at it with eyes open, we can detect a cause and effect pattern moving like falling dominos from its start with the statement Moses delivered to the Pharaoh and proceeds in a continuum all the way through to our modern world and its Christian/Judeo cultures. To be able to catch sight of this pattern we must critically scrutinize our man Moses and try to picture ourselves in his shoes.
The Bible description of the life of slavery endured by the Israelites is for all intents and purposes nonexistent. The duration of their enslavement is only arrived at by Bible scholars who tell us it was 400-430 years. This is the span of time that elapsed between when The Israelites became enslaved to when Moses stood before Pharaoh to demand the release of God’s people. And according to the Biblical accounts of what transpires in this period is the Israelites perform hard labor for their Egyptian overloads by day and make more Israelites by night. So what the whole of the Israelite nation is engaged with for these 400+ years might be summed up like this: They’re doing slave labor and they’re increasing in population. Whether by choice or whether by reason of their geographic position, these Israelites are stuck in this place and they are stuck in this situation. They are held suspended as victims of their circumstance for hundreds of years. The way the human mind works is that it is conditioned by the input of its 5 senses and by its mental interpretation of the situation. Added to this is the ever increasing number of people trapped in the experience with you. The longer the situation is prolonged the more you become convinced that it will never relent but continue and continue; and the direr the situation becomes the more helpless you are to do anything to change it. Eventually this pattern became a perpetuation of horror that was the Israelites’ reality. Slavery and misery became the main event of their entire culture. The concept of an environment of eternal torment and scorching heat was conjured from this narrative of 400 years of enslavement in the dessert sun. The concept of burning in hell forever as a punishment became incorporated into their collective psyche from that time forward. After hundreds and hundreds of years of conditioning, the Israelites were now in a position where their only possibility of release from their perpetual torment was—as far as they could imagine—was for someone from the outside to come to deliver them from their plight.
- The Israelite captivity in Keita’s world
As we try to fit this culture into the outside world around it as it’s described by Meagan Keita, our first conclusion might be that it doesn’t fit in at all. This kind of culture, static in many respects, existing for such an extensive period, while surrounded by such a dynamic setting is hard to imagine. But as we hold a magnifying glass over some of the details in the descriptions of the hustle-bustle of the 14th century BC we can see as recurring themes, ruthlessness and the determination to dominate the weak and indigent. All of these energies were in play as cultures struggled to rise above neighboring cultures. The motto of the day was conquer or be conquered. Keita sites a few examples of alliances that successfully blended two cultures wherein each one was able to bring something of value to the table; however most often cultures didn’t play well together. History tells countless stories of two neighboring kingdoms engaging in one conflict or another. These conflicts would more often than not end with the prevailing army moving in to fleece and plunder the citizenry; who would leave behind an occupying presence to govern the conquered. As this trend continued, Might makes right became written into the script of the overarching world view of the day. To this point while I was considering what I wanted to write about in this chapter on the Israelite captivity I found myself going back and forth on the issue. My gut was telling me to treat this whole episode involving the trapping and enslaving of this entire race of people which lasted more than 400 years, as pure myth. Everything about the story seemed counterintuitive with common sense and more on par with storybook tales. How could a once flourishing race of people be contained and forced to do work for a race of overlords—what could possibly compel them to remain in that state of enslavement for so long a period? I compiled a list of reasons “for” in one column and “against” on the other with regards to the plausibility of such a story. In the “against” column I came up with:
- The whole story seemed contrived and counterintuitive with the dynamic and volatile world that Keita depicts in the article we read.
- Wouldn’t their prolonged captivity and forced-labor conditions establish a situation wherein the Israelite males would grow stronger physically, in number and resolve to rise up and contend with and potentially overpower their evil taskmasters and overlords?
- Archeological research estimates the building of the pyramids in that region at 300 years prior to the time of the Israelite captivity. So the time period is out of sequence with historical research.
But then as I continued to think on this and reason further, a few things occurred to me that seemed to fit in the “for” column:
- The region in which they were being held captive worked heavily against the possibility of executing any type of mass escape. This area of Egypt (the City of Tanis in the Nile River Delta) is surrounded on all sides by either dessert sand or the Mediterranean Sea. Which begs the question: “Where would they go and how would they get there?”
- The debilitating psychological toll this long-term abuse would have upon the Israelites (including the young males) would work to erode any resolve towards planning and attempting an escape.
- There are Hebrew customs and beliefs that obviously originate with the Egyptians; the practice of circumcision, for example. This supports the idea of a long-term intermingling of the two cultures.
- The Book of Mormon asserts that the aboriginal South Americans—the Aztecs, Toltec, Incas, et Al descended from the tribe of Joseph (a lost tribe of Israel). The story tells of a small group of these descendants migrating to Central America sometime after the time of the Israelite captivity in Egypt. There is evidence supporting this kind of a story in the countless archaeological artifacts and ruins that have been unearthed throughout the South and Central Americas. These artifacts seem to strongly suggest cultural links between the Egyptians and the pre-Aztecs, not the least of which are pyramids!
So my feeling at this point is that the plausibility factor is there, at least enough to not rule out the idea altogether. Beyond the plausibility of the facts of the story, I would like to focus on the effects this story has acquired; and dig deeper into how it was able to rise to its present-day status. Today this story surrounding the plight of the Israelites (the exodus event) is no less than the pivotal narrative in any discussion related to Judeo and/or Christian belief systems.
- The exodus event didn’t begin with Moses
The Bible’s focus in this story is so much centered in the exodus event, or the story of the process that got the Israelites freed from their Egyptian captors. It may even be said that the heart and soul of the Old Testament lives in the story of the exodus event. But to get a truer sense of what this event is all about—to fully realize the scale of it, one must include the prior centuries of enslavement of the people on the front end and what came after they got out of Egypt. The event in its entirety has directly or indirectly shaped things on a global scale. This shape is still in evidence today and, if anything its strata has been galvanized many times over ever since.
One factor easily overlooked in the story of the Israelite captivity is the cultural vacuum that came to be as a direct result of the captivity itself. While these people were enslaved and forced to do someone else’s bidding, they were—as a people—denied the time and opportunity to develop and advance as a people. So any cultural momentum they had before they were captured was forced into a state of suspension. What social and technical developments might they have engaged in if they had been allowed to continue forward with their own unique brand of cultural momentum? Displayed in bold relief against the dynamic, even volatile setting Meagan Keita describes as being in play in the Egypt Valley; the reality of the Israelite world is static and repressed. For them—nothing changes, nothing moves forward, no improvements or developments of any kind are experienced. Meanwhile the outside world around them is evolving, it continues forward. Year after year, passes by with no change for them. Generation after generation passes by and still their plight remains unchanged. Century after century—and the nothingness persists; while the only thing happening is this static perception of reality is becoming stamped upon their cultural psyche. Their collective conception of God Himself is becoming tainted by their never-ending bleak circumstance. The concept of a dynamic God is being overshadowed by their perverse idea of reality.
- Moses the deliverer
As we discuss the exodus of the Israelites from captivity let’s remember that we are basing this commentary upon the supposition that the Bible’s depiction of things is by and large accurate. Let’s talk numbers—the Israelite people living in captivity in Egypt at that time are estimated to be between 20,000 and 600,000. This is a big variant, but either number will serve to illustrate the fact that this was a huge crowd of people. With this in mind—one hurdle Moses is facing is he has to sell the idea that he, Moses is in actual audible communication with God. All of the plagues that Moses had God bring upon the Egyptians went a long way to make an impression on the Israelites too. If their escape does succeed, Moses will have to keep alive the notion that he alone has the ear of this almighty being for the duration of their journey. This is important for a couple reasons; the cumbersome number of people will have to be motivated to keep moving, not unlike a herd of cattle and on the other side of that coin, he has to somehow keep them from turning against him. Moses’s main imperative will continue to be selling this idea of an almighty God to them. To this end Moses got the idea that having a set of laws, which he received from God would go far in helping him hold things together. The 10 commandments were designed as a decree literally set in stone to keep the overwhelming mass of people focused on the task of moving through the desert wilderness and to keep them from turning against Moses and each other. Their very survival was at stake. So the 10 Commandments or the Law of Moses was not designed nor did it represent God’s loving nature as Jesus will later describe to people; it was established as a form of martial law— a sustainable way to control the masses and keep them moving along on their journey.
The manner in which Moses claims he received these Ten Commandments carved into 2 stone tablets is that God told him to go up into a high mountain to converse with Him and to receive instructions from Him. While he was gone everybody else was down below waiting and wondering what was going on. After some days they began to really wonder what Moses was doing and when he would return. The generations upon generations of captivity had conditioned the Israelites to feel at ease when their tyrannical overlords were watching over them; because, although this was a part of their enslavement role, it had also become a means of security for them. Moses and his God up to this point were regarded by the Israelites as surrogate overlords to them. As long as Moses was at hand, telling them what was going on and telling them what to do next, they were fine. When Moses was not around for several days or weeks, the Israelites began to grow skittish. Seeking comfort, they attempted to summon this God of Moses on their own using means that were familiar to them. They reasoned that if they could somehow fashion a golden icon to God, this would appease Him and they would establish a direct line with which to interface with Moses’s God themselves. So when they went to the number 2 guy, Aaron with the idea, he suggested they go and gather their gold jewelry, melt it down and form it into a golden calf. Evidently Aaron concurred with them that this idea might work. So in this venture, their hearts were in the right place, but their concept of God was still incomplete and perverse resulting from their years and years of living as a slave nation under the thumb of the pagan Egyptian culture.
When Moses came down from the mountain he was mightily upset, mostly because he misinterpreted what the Israelites were up to. He perceived that a mutiny was taking place before his very eyes and he figured all was lost. The reason he went up into the mountain was to receive and bring down a set of commandments which would help him control the crowd; but it looked like in his absence the crowd had gotten away from him, so to speak. Was his overly-long absence the instigator of this apparent mutiny he was witnessing? In a last ditch effort to regain control he smashes the stone tablets on the side of the mountain in a Hestonian show of vexation that was meant to personify God’s wrath. This seems to make a tremendous impression upon all who are witnessing the display from below; in this explosive demonstration the Law of Moses makes its grand entrance on to the Israelite cultural stage.
What happened next was those commandments worked to maintained law and order throughout the remainder of their travels in the wilderness. Those commandments must have been highly effective because their journey allegedly lasted a total of 40 years—but the Israelites made it through to their destination, the Promised Land. These Ten Commandments grew in number and complexity and in many ways became a surrogate for their leader, Moses and for the God he represented.
- Short recap…
This mutant God was utilized by Moses to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The concept worked so well with Pharaoh; Moses expanded the narrative to coerce the (from Moses’s quite desperate perspective) Israelite mob into civil order. The tact Moses used with both Pharaoh and the Israelites was simple: do what my God says or He’s gonna kick your collective ass! In both cases, it worked and the stink of this mutant iron-fisted bully-god remained throughout the rest of the Israelites’ journey in the desert. And what became of the Ten Commandments that were designed to keep the massive crowd controlled and moving along through the desert? Not only did the Israelites keep it but they expanded upon its concept until it grew into a full religious-political framework. Out of this political structure an entire culture grew.
Let’s pause for a moment to take a quick inventory of traits which have accumulated around this mutant God that Moses used to get the Israelites through the desert. Remember this is a hybrid deity that has been accumulating characteristics from various sources over the years. A short list should include…
- Polytheistic traits: animal sacrifices; offering tributes; offering tithes; ritual bathing
- Egyptian specific traits: making icons and monuments; the practice of circumcising young males;
- Moses God traits: communicates verbally but only to Moses; He works within narrow and strict parameters (e.g.: the Mosaic Law and 7 calendar-day of creation) He sees things in black and white—no gray areas. He is judgmental, punitive and loving (after a fashion).
In the wake of the entire ordeal of the exodus event the Israelite culture was profoundly affected. As a people, they were paranoid they might fall into captivity again. And there was the looming question as to why God would let this horror befall them in the first place. Had He been displeased with them for some reason? In this possibility they were nervous and guilty. This mindset of guilt and paranoia was the perfect incubator for breeding the ever-growing size and strength of the Mosaic Law. And the more the laws and conditions were heaped on…the more they seemed to be willing to accept them, because in the back of their collective mind, lurked the idea that in some way they were at fault and they deserved it! In this they made a different kind of exodus journey one that took them—not on an actual physical trek—but on a shared mental journey from the memory of their past enslavement to one of a psychological enslavement. As horrific as the 400 years of bondage under the hot Egyptian sun was, this psychological bondage was in its way much more insidious and cruel. This bondage disguised itself as Godly obedience and the dangling carrot of righteousness.
Other concepts that, over time will get traction with the Hebrew culture and extend beyond into Christianity…
- The shoes Moses filled in a very real way was that of savior of the people, this because they believed he saved them from their eternal condemnation in hell—metaphorically speaking. This hell metaphor works in two ways: the 400 years the Israelites spent in captivity seemed like an eternity to them; and who could say how much longer they might have remained captive there had Moses not come to their rescue!?; and their state of perpetual servitude in the hot Egyptian sun prompted the classic image of a fiery hot environment that Christians still entertain today.
- The guilt component gets evolved into the popular Christian belief affiliated with original sin: all humans are unclean and unworthy simply by virtue of being born. The natural state for humans is a retched one, the only hope for us humans is redemption offered to us from someone who is benevolent and more powerful than any of us. This savior comes to save us all from our horrible situation. This is in the similitude of the plight of the Israelites who are born into the retched conditions associated with being slaves under Egyptian rule. The entire concept of love is then built upon this idea of an outsider (who is mighty enough to accomplish the task) comes to our rescue and frees us from bondage. Any conditions i.e.: commandments, religious rites and practices, etc. attached to the deal are viewed as reasonable and not worth mentioning compared to what we humans have been freely given by the savior. Do you get the connection between the real historic account of the Hebrews and the Christian narrative of the savior?
- The reverse engineering of the Hebrew lineage
Some of the stories in the Old Testament are similar to those told in an even older Mesopotamian series—the Travels of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was an ancient character much depicted in oral tales of the greater Mesopotamian region. Do you remember Abraham was a part of this culture and the Hebrew nation was a subculture within the larger municipal of Mesopotamians? This fact then tells us that the origins of the stories in the Old Testament didn’t come out of a vacuum and they most likely didn’t originate from God, they came out of the lore of the day which was commonly shared through storytelling, songs or dramas. These then naturally became incorporated into Hebrew and later into Israelite traditions. These influences and stories were shared over and over, generation after generation, gathering cultural steam as they went. Eventually many of these tales, etc. were selected to be written up into a collective text. This collection would include poems, myths, proverbs, historical accounts, ancestral lineages and even doctrines and laws—specifically the Law of Moses. This obviously happened, but there is some debate as to when it happened and who wrote it down. The established Christian view is that Moses wrote them down and what he is accredited with specifically is writing what is referred to as the first 5 books of the Old Testament, or the Pentateuch. Recently this notion has been challenged by many scholars (religious and non-religious alike) and those challenging it do so with very good reason. I too am in the camp that challenges the Moses authorship of the Pentateuch, but would like to add to my challenge a list of ramifications that addresses topics in the conversation of this as well as the next section of this book.
What if this collection of writings was assembled for ulterior motives—political or otherwise, in this, wouldn’t it have to be disqualified as scripture for reasons stated within its own pages (e.g.: “Thou shalt not bare false witness…”, “[Don’t be]…like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”, etc.)? Regardless of its much heralded wisdom, etc. its pages purportedly hold; shouldn’t its feet be held to the fire if it’s being touted as factual and historically viable? In our journey thus far some quite substantial doubts have been raised by people more qualified than myself in this area…
The Bible’s internal chronology places Abraham around 2000 BCE. Despite this, “there is nothing specific in the Genesis stories that can be definitively related to known history in or around Canaan in the early second millennium B.C.E.” As a result, “it is now widely agreed that the so-called ‘patriarchal/ancestral period’ is a later literary construct, not a period in the actual history of the ancient world” (Professor Paula McNutt). “The majority of scholars believe that the Pentateuch was composed in the Persian period (roughly 520–320 BCE), as a result of tensions between the Jewish landowners who had stayed in Judah during the Babylonian captivity and claimed Abraham as the “father” through whom they traced their right to the land, and the returning “Priestly” exiles who based their claim to dominance on Moses and the Exodus tradition.”
Abraham from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This report seems to indicate that the collection of stories, et AL was assembled much later during the Persian Period which puts it at between 520-320 BC. In effect the article brings to light two important points in our discussion: 1) the actual Old Testament wasn’t put into text (writing) until 800-1000 years after the time of Moses and 1500-1700 years after Abraham. 2) Those who wrote it down were politically agitated and therefore highly incentivized to make the text say what would be advantageous for their agendas. So before we move on let me pause for a moment to sum up what it is that we just learned…for reasons we don’t fully understand, at least the first five books of the Old Testament have been altered and embellished! These misrepresentations of the stories and the facts means the entire Old Testament has been tainted and can no longer be trusted. So in our attempt to ascertain some semblance of facts about the pre-Jesus God we will fare much better if we move away from attempting to get at facts from a questionable resource and instead focus on why this was done.
There is no better way to figure this out than to look at the topics, themes, and patterns of the writings themselves. Once we examine these things, we can start asking some pertinent questions. I would like to remind those Christian readers that if the above report is indeed accurate, it would open the door for doing this sort of questioning about the Old Testament and to do so with impunity—because its divine status would have been forfeited for reasons I have already mentioned. If the report is not accurate, meaning that Moses did actually write the Pentateuch, then it and Moses would need to be vindicated, correct? Finding out the truth about its origins by continuing our investigation of the Pentateuch and these allegations against it would be an excellent way of achieving this vindication.
When we read the Old Testament today one of the most apparent aspects running throughout its pages is the in-depth emphasis on the Hebrew lineage. But the hanging question here is: were these names being kept mentally on the fly as part of the oral tradition? If they weren’t writing any of it down, this is how it would have to be done, but it seems like a lot of trouble for not a lot of payoff. Especially for us today, what spiritual significance or value resides in a long litany of names? Sure, we have some stories that go along with some of the names, but many of them are just faceless and meaningless names. But if you consider the value of such a list against the allegations brought by the report; that seems to shed a whole other light on things and suddenly we have a possible motive! Let’s use an example…if someone is trying to get at his poor old granny’s fortune after she has died, what better way to do it than to jockey her will so your name appears as sole heir to her estate. Taking this example a bit further…what if granny has been dead for several hundred years and no will ever existed. A lawyer steps in and advises you that in lieu of the missing will a list of names (a lineage) would suffice to prove your connection to granny; which would entitle you to the old bag’s considerable fortune? You and the lawyer put your heads together and realize that such a list would be untraceable due to the fact that anyone on the list would also be long dead and unable to challenge the list’s authenticity! Why not concoct our own list of names? If we could get this list of names—this lineage to pass muster in the eyes of any would-be challengers we’d be home free. And the longer it went unchallenged, the more credibility it would gain. This sums up the Pentateuch and the Hebrew lineage of patriarchs. In this second example who do you think granny symbolizes?
This is just a parable of sorts depicting opportunity, motive and what might be construed as evidence which together might lead us to a perp—assuming there is a perp and Moses didn’t write the 5 books. Are there other indications of book-cooking that are presented within the book itself? Remember we are utilizing enlightenments we already discovered and some we are about to discover in the next section: The Jesus God. Consider the mystery of the ever-expanding Mosaic Law!
In Exodus we are told the story of Moses going up into the mountain where God gave him the Ten Commandments. Then before we know it in the next book (book 3 of the Pentateuch) Deuteronomy we begin seeing other commandments or laws popping up all over the place. When it’s all said and done we see 613 laws. What is happening on the journey through the dessert that Moses needs to impose more and more laws upon these people who’ve already been through so much? Moses, the one who was willing to step up and free the entire nation of Israel from 400 years of bondage, in the end turns tyrant? It doesn’t add up. You may argue that Moses was acting on behalf of God; and that idea makes even less sense—especially in the light of the God Jesus is seen presenting in the next section. When we submit as evidence this expanding Law of Moses paper clipped the above report there seems to be a pattern of corruption emerging.
- Fleshing out the evidence…
Revisiting the lineage ploy once again, I’d like to talk about the tightness and thoroughness of the documentation of this lineage. The lineage is complete, pure and unbroken. It is so thorough in fact that it goes all the way back to the very first humans and—in a manner of speaking—to God Himself. It is one tight package I must confess; maybe too tight. Another possible tell in the lineage structure is the period of history when patriarchs reportedly were living inordinately long lives eight, nine hundred years and more. This sort of thing smacks of fairytales and mythology. Following along this fairytale continuum is the tale of a worldwide catastrophe that wipes out the entire population of earth (except for our hero—Noah—the patriarch and his family). How convenient for those keepers of the lineage. Mesopotamian folklore detailing a great flood predates Moses by several hundred years and is one of the stories told in the Travels of Gilgamesh I referred to earlier. The line of Patriarchal descendants continues after the flood but from that point on people are living normalized lifespans. Earlier I mentioned that the lineage neatly goes back to even before the time of the very first patriarch, Adam and in a sense includes God Himself; this trim lineage kit includes the entire creation package that God completed (working against a stopwatch) in 7 days. Once God got that completed and out of way and man was created, the lineage of the Hebrew patriarchs is launched and we’re off to the races! But from our modern day perspective the notion of a 7-day creation grows thinner and thinner.
The Mosaic Law has been so effective at shaping a narrative that promotes the validity of the mutant pre-Jesus God that its muscle is really being felt around the world today. This is the most convincing evidence of all supporting the above report siting conclusions of many literal experts who decry the Moses authorship of the Pentateuch. Some might say this matter is only relevant to the Hebrew lineage the Jews and what they choose to believe in. Wrong. It goes way past that when you see on any day following a decision being reached in support of gay marriage—big crowds of devout Christians gathering outside courthouses and carrying “God Hates Fags” signs while shouting down happy couples going inside anticipating the sealing of their nuptials.
Referring back to the report, Professor McNutt suggests the main motivation for composing the Pentateuch was to sort out who the rightful heirs were (by virtue of the lineage) to the land in the Palestine area. The land they are talking about is Judah or the Kingdom of Judah. This land lies right at the heart of the modern day Israeli/Palestinian struggle which has been going on since the 1960s. The reason for the ongoing skirmish: land rights. Who were these authors of the Pentateuch? Wouldn’t it be advantageous to know who they are? For some pertinent info let’s go to another article and with this article we will wind up this section on the Pre-Jesus God.
- History of Israel (c. 600 – c. 160 BC)
- The deportation and exile of an unknown number of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, starting with the first deportation in 597 BC and continuing after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 587 BC resulted in dramatic changes to Jewish culture and religion. During the 70-year exile in Babylon, Jewish houses of assembly (known in Hebrew as a beit knesset or in Greek as a synagogue) and houses of prayer (Hebrew Beit Tefilah; Greek προσευχαί, proseuchai) were the primary meeting places for prayer, and the house of study (beit midrash) was the counterpart for the synagogue.
- In 539 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, and in 537 BC Cyrus the Great allowed Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple. He did not, however, allow the restoration of the Judean monarchy, which left the Judean priests as the dominant authority. Without the constraining power of the monarchy, the authority of the Temple in civic life was amplified. It was around this time that the Sadducee party emerged as the party of priests and allied elites. However, the Second Temple, which was completed in 515 BCE, had been constructed under the auspices of a foreign power, and there were lingering questions about its legitimacy. This provided the condition for the development of various sects or “schools of thought,” each of which claimed exclusive authority to represent “Judaism,” and which typically shunned social intercourse, especially marriage, with members of other sects. In the same period, the council of sages known as the Sanhedrin may have codified and canonized the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), from which, following the return from Babylon, the Torah was read publicly on market-days.
- The Temple was no longer the only institution for Jewish religious life. After the building of the Second Temple in the time of Ezra the Scribe, the houses of study and worship remained important secondary institutions in Jewish life. Outside of Judea, the synagogue was often called a house of prayer. While most Jews could not regularly attend the Temple service, they could meet at the synagogue for morning, afternoon and evening prayers. On Mondays, Thursdays and Sabbaths, a weekly Torah portion was read publicly in the synagogues, following the tradition of public Torah readings instituted by Ezra.
- Although priests controlled the rituals of the Temple, the scribes and sages, later called rabbis (Heb.: “my master”), dominated the study of the Torah. These sages maintained an oral tradition that they believed had originated at Mount Sinai alongside the Torah of Moses. The Pharisees had their origin in this new group of authorities.
- The Hellenistic period of Jewish history began when Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 332 BCE. The rift between the priests and the sages developed during this time, when Jews faced new political and cultural struggles. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, Judea was ruled by the Egyptian-Hellenic Ptolemies until 198 BCE, when the Syrian-Hellenic Seleucid Empire, under Antiochus III, seized control. Then, in 167 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV invaded Judea, entered the Temple, and stripped it of money and ceremonial objects. He imposed a program of forced Hellenization, requiring Jews to abandon their own laws and customs, thus precipitating the Maccabean Revolt. Jerusalem was liberated in 165 BCE and the Temple was restored. In 141 BCE an assembly of priests and others affirmed Simon Maccabeus as high priest and leader, in effect establishing the Hasmonean dynasty.
Emergence of the Pharisees
- After defeating the Seleucid forces, Judas Maccabaeus’s nephew John Hyrcanus established a new monarchy in the form of the priestly Hasmonean dynasty in 152 BCE — thus establishing priests as political as well as religious authorities. Although the Hasmoneans were heroes for resisting the Seleucids, their reign lacked the legitimacy conferred by descent from the Davidic dynasty of the First Temple era.
- The Pharisee (“separatist”) party emerged largely out of the group of scribes and sages.
- Their name comes from the Hebrew and Aramaic parush or parushi, which means “one who is separated.” It may refer to their separation from Gentiles, sources of ritual impurity or from irreligious Jews. The Pharisees, among other Jewish sects, were active from the middle of the second century B.C.E. until the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Josephus first mentions them in connection with Jonathan, the successor of Judas Maccabeus (“Ant.” xiii. 5, § 9). One of the factors that distinguished the Pharisees from other groups prior to the destruction of the Temple was their belief that all Jews had to observe the purity laws (which applied to the Temple service) outside the Temple. The major difference, however, was the continued adherence of the Pharisees to the laws and traditions of the Jewish people in the face of assimilation. As Josephus noted, the Pharisees were considered the most expert and accurate expositors of Jewish law.
- The Pharisees were one of at least four major schools of thought within the Jewish religion around the 1st century. They were also one of several successor groups of the Hasidim (the “pious”), an anti-Hellenistic Jewish movement that formed in the time of the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes (175–163 BCE). The social standing and beliefs of the Pharisees changed over time, such that the role, significance, and meaning of the Pharisees evolved as political and social conditions in Judea changed.
- At no time did any of these sects constitute a majority; most Jews were non-sectarian. Josephus indicates that the Pharisees received the backing and good-will of the common people, apparently in contrast to the more elite Sadducees associated with the ruling classes.
- In general, whereas the Sadducees were aristocratic monarchists, the Pharisees were eclectic, popular, and more democratic. (Roth 1970: 84) The Pharisaic position is exemplified by the assertion that “A learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest.” (A mamzer, according to the Pharisaic definition, is an outcast child born of a forbidden relationship, such as adultery or incest, in which marriage of the parents could not lawfully occur. The word is often, but incorrectly, translated as “illegitimate”.”)
- Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic tenet of an oral Torah, and created new interpretations based on a literal understanding of verses. In their personal lives this often meant an excessively stringent lifestyle from a Jewish perspective, as they did away with the oral tradition, and in turn the Pharisaic Jewish understanding of the Torah. An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of, “an eye in place of an eye”. The Pharisaic understanding was that the value of an eye was to be paid by the perpetrator. In the Sadducees’ view the words were given a more literal interpretation, in which the offender’s eye would be removed. From the point of view of the Pharisees, the Sadducees wished to change the Jewish understanding of the Torah.
- The sages of the Talmud see a direct link between themselves and the Pharisees, and historians generally consider Pharisaic Judaism to be the progenitor of Rabbinic Judaism, that is normative, mainstream Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. All mainstream forms of Judaism today consider themselves heirs of Rabbinic Judaism and, ultimately, the Pharisees.
Pharisees: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Short recap…
- While God was working with Moses in freeing the Israelites, He was also working with the neighboring cultures in the vicinity…what methods did God utilize to interface with these different cultures? How were they different from those He used with the Israelites? Were they dynamic methods? How were they similar? Was God working with the Israelites’ nemeses the Egyptians?
- The pre-Jesus God was the God of Moses or as the deity Moses was trying to portray to the Israelites. This God was a mythological god with the seed of actual divinity in Him. He was a hybrid deity…that is to say He had incorporated within His demeanor rumors of the love component that Jesus will talk about; but at the very same time He projected the strong elements of fear, guilt, judgment and many of the ungodly characteristics associated with religious renditions of the God we see today. As they focused upon these perverse aspects of this Moses God that took the Israelites down a path that spawned a growing list of commandments—on this path they fully developed the narrative framing and promoting these perverse aspects of this God’s nature including His mutant brand of love. It will take Jesus coming to the earth and living in their midst to get them back on course. Once Jesus comes to the earth the spiritual evolution of humanity will be able to recommence; but until that time—in this interim period—we might compare it to the period the Israelites spent in captivity in Egypt.
- The scattering of the tribes of Israel was a way of breaking the spell of evil as 11 of the tribes were dispersed in some unknown way and in this act of dispersion were delivered from the captivity of the Mosaic Law once again.
- As humanity moves further away from the inception of the Mosaic Law and its perverse narrative of ignorance and superstition featuring its puny and insignificant deity—the more it will lose its gravitational pull on us as a world community. Now that Jesus has come to the earth, shared His Kingdom message—featuring His Father the one, true, dynamic God of immense size and scope—the total Jesus package has eclipsed the Mosaic Law. Subsequently, the only way for we Christians to clearly view the Mosaic Law with the intention of utilizing it, is to move to the side so as to see past Jesus and His Kingdom message.
- Infighting among the tribes and the learned men spawns a dynamic of competing for correct doctrines. This practice continues today, e.g.: the1000s of denominations resident within the US.