Epilepsy and the origins of monotheism

Five closely related Egyptian Pharaohs shared two unusual traits – each had unusually feminized figures (large breasts and large hips), and each died young (and in fact younger than the preceding one). The former trait is suggestive of epilepsy, and the latter of a hereditary disorder. The five are Tutankhamen “the boy king”, his probable father Akhenaten, his possible uncle Smenkhkare, and before them Amenhotep III and Tuthmosis IV.

Saint Paul’s epileptic seizure – the creation of “Christianity”

In addition, two of them had powerful sun-related religious experiences: Tuthmosis IV in the middle of a sunny day, as detailed in the Dream Stele  inscription near the Sphinx in Giza; and Akhenaten, who elevated the minor sun-god Aten to be the supreme god, replacing Egyptian polytheism with what was probably the world’s first monotheist religion – the first of national significance, anyway.

Of the 40 kinds of epilepsy, the one that fits best is Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, in which seizures can be triggered by sunlight. Common symptoms include a compulsion to write, fainting, extreme religiosity, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Akhenaten, the creator of monotheism had it. Others suspected of it include Moses, almost certainly St. Paul (who was termed epileptic by contemporaries, and whose conversion on the road to Damascus would be a classic example of such a seizure), and definitely Dostoevsky.

There has long been a recognized association between monotheism and the desert’s all-powerful sun, as there is between polytheism and the lush diversity of sun-shaded forests. And it seems that epilepsy is another component of the development and spread of the idea of the One God.

If only they’d had shades in those days, think how much grief we could have avoided!

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Did the religious founders even exist?

Start with Muhammad who lived from 570 to 632 AD. There is extensive proof of his existence, but he’s relatively recent, from the early medieval period.

Before him, Jesus. There are strong indications that a Jewish rabbi of that named lived from about 6 BC – 34 AD, and was executed by the Romans. But those were turbulent times in that part of the world, with insurrections and sieges and the destruction of cities. Certainly the stories told about Jesus were reshaped by Paul with a pro-Roman bias, and some people claim there was no Jesus at all, just an amalgam of Mithraic and other myths.

Moses parting the Red Sea

Some of the religious back stories have always been really, really unlikely.

And now Moses, purported to have been the Jews tribal leader around 1500 BC, is under increasing scrutiny. His existence is questioned on the basis of the entire Jewish-Exodus-from-Egypt story being likely mythical, because there is no trace of any of it in the detailed Egyptian records we have today.

The further back in time, the more dubious the founder looks.

What about Odin? He could have been a tribal leader, bringing the Aesir through Germany into Scandinavia around 300 AD. A trickster, a shaman, a warrior, and perhaps a man who had half-learned to write on the fringes of the Roman Empire, and created a runic alphabet for his own people. Archeology will have to devise fresh tricks before we have more answers.

And Gilgamesh, searching for the secret of immortality, journeying to Dilmun to meet Utnapishtim the Faraway, the survivor of the Flood. The Persian Gulf used to be dry land right out to the Straits of Hormuz during the last Ice Age. If the land flooded by cataclysm rather than gradually, whatever proto-civilizations there were on that fertile plain would have been wiped out. Perhaps a man named Utnapishtim survived, and lived out his days in Dilmun, which the Bahrainis think is the place now known as Bahrain.

And coming back to our own time, we have to consider the new religions of Mormonism and Scientology. Clearly, Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard existed. And equally clearly, the back stories to their religions were made up out of whole cloth, shared with a couple of close associates, and then used to gain access to the wealth and women among the gullible.

And they’ve grown! Mormonism has gone from zero to 14 million since 1830, and Scientology from zero to maybe 200,000 since the early 50s.

So the old religions may have come about in the same way. Yes, there was a founder. Yes, he had visions, or claimed to have visions, or just preached a good story. And a lot of what he preached, even if he made it up out of whole cloth, was believed because it proved to be something that a lot of people were comfortable believing.

And that’s how we got where we are.

Hitler, Joshua, Genocide and God

Nobody (almost nobody) likes Adolf Hitler. Christians say he was an atheist, atheists say he was a Christian, Jews say he was a mass murderer. But we can get at his beliefs in two ways: through his actions, and through his words.

First, he was a human. As a species humans are territorial and resource-possessive. We’ve been walking out of Africa in waves for the past 100,000 years, staking a claim to the empty places we like, pushing out the inhabitants of a previous wave, defending our turf against the next wave. We use our gods as moral justification for murder, and we glorify our massacres as historic victories.

Genocidal massacres involve killing men, women and children

The Jews took over the Promised Land of Canaan in this way, with Moses telling them that God said to kill every man, woman, child, animal and tree in the targeted cities in order “that they not pollute you with their evil ways” (Deuteronomy 20: 16-18). With these cities the soldiers weren’t even allowed to abduct the virgins, they had to kill everything.

God intervened to help Moses’ successor Joshua in the conquest, sending hailstones to kill half the enemy one time, and another time stopping the sun in the sky so Joshua could finish off the enemy before dark. (It’s surprisingly hard to find corroborating evidence from other cultures, of the spinning Earth suddenly stopping, and the oceans slopping all over the land as a result, and so on.)

And so the Jews wiped out the people there and took Palestine for themselves.

Christians, Jews and atheists… who claims that this was good?

Hitler’s actions were no worse than Moses’ or Joshua’s, and for the same reason. Genocide for the sake of ethnically uncontested control of territory and resources, and for racial purity.

Christians, Jews and atheists… who claims that this was good?

“But wait,” a Christian may say, “that was acceptable in the time before Christ, but it changed with the dispensation of the New Testament. It isn’t acceptable today.”

No way, Christian! Jesus didn’t intend any changes to the Mosaic Law: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5: 17-18) Any subsequent changes are the work of Paul, not Jesus.

“No, no, wait, wait,” says the religious person. “Moses and Joshua were following the mysterious commands of God for some greater hidden purpose, which Hitler wasn’t.”

You can follow a more detailed discussion of that in a different blog here, and it brings us to the second way of looking at Hitler’s beliefs: his words. Here are 19 Christian quotations from Mein Kampf, from his speeches, and even this one:

“The Catholic Church should not deceive herself: if National Socialism does not succeed in defeating Bolshevism, then Church and Christianity in Europe too are finished. Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the Church as much as of Fascism. …Man cannot exist without belief in God. The soldier who for three and four days lies under intense bombardment needs a religious prop.”  – Adolf Hitler in conversation with Roman Catholic Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Bavaria, November 4, 1936

In sum, Hitler was one of those Christians who wants his Christianity free of Jews. And if his actions were evil, so too were those of Moses, Joshua and God.

So don’t blame atheism for Hitler and the Holocaust. Blame Moses and God… or blame the species we call “humanity”.

God *requires* abortions and sterilization for infidelity. (Applies to females only)

The Book of Numbers, chapter 5 verse 11, starts a section out with the inescapable fact that this passage is not just some prophet or opinionated preacher or whatever, this is GOD speaking: “Then the LORD said to Moses:”

God laying down the Law. It tends to favor men over women. Because Moses made God in his own image.

Numbers 5: 12-19 sets the stage: if a man knows or suspects that his wife has been sleeping with someone else, then he has to take her to the priest with a “grain offering of jealousy”. The priest takes the woman to “stand before the LORD”. He unloosens her hair. He puts the jealousy offering of grain into her hands. He takes some “holy water”, and sprinkles into it some dust from the temple floor. Then he puts her under oath and says “If you’re innocent, may this bitter water not harm you.”

But if she is guilty, it is God’s command that the priest ask God to curse her and cause her to have an abortion and have her uterus collapse, as a warning to others and as a way of making sure that the husband is only raising his own children.

Numbers 5: 20-22 (from the GOD’S WORD translation, 1995)-

20 If, in fact, you have been unfaithful and have had sexual intercourse with another man,

21 may the LORD make you an example for your people to see what happens when the curse of this oath comes true: The LORD will make your uterus drop and your stomach swell.’ “Then the priest will administer the oath and the curse by saying:

22 ‘May this water that can bring a curse go into your body and make your stomach swell and your uterus drop!’ “Then the woman will say, ‘Amen, amen!’

And the priest writes the curse on a scroll, and washes the words off into the bitter “holy water”, and makes the woman drink the water, which is designed to make her abort if she is guilty and to “cause her bitter pain” and to prevent her having any further children;

28 but if the woman is not unclean and is pure, she is not guilty and will be able to have children

… but only by her loving husband, of course.

Gotta love those primitive tribes and their old time religion!

New religion? New laws.

It’s normal for the founder of a new religion to produce a new code of laws. After all, the founder isn’t content with the existing social situation, or he (and it’s usually a he) wouldn’t feel the urge to create something different. The new religion will require a new definition of god/ess/es and a new definition of the appropriate and/or mandatory ways to worship them and beg things from them.

The god Shamash (seated) giving Hammurabi insignia and laws

New god(s), therefore new liturgy, new rules regarding purity… cleanliness… then food… food preparation… and of course clothing… and now we’re into the regulation of sexual relations… marriage… penalties for disobedience… Pretty soon you’re instituting the death penalty for adultery, then regulating marketplace weights and measures, and standardizing the length of cart axles so that the wheels always fit the ruts in the road.

It may not be necessary to create a whole new religion if your interest is just the laws. Especially if you have a pantheon of gods to choose between, you can simply shift the emphasis from one to the other, as Moses did in suppressing the worship of Ba’al and other gods in favor of Yahweh. But then, Moses may not have written all of those laws – it appears they kept getting added to for hundreds of years, the authors always attributing the additions to Moses attributing them to Yahweh.

Several centuries before Moses, various rulers in the area of modern Iraq such as Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi provided extensive written laws. They too invoked the gods as the true creators of the laws, increasing the authority of the laws and enhancing the status of the ruler.

So it’s an apparent anomaly that there was no new and extensive written code of laws with the birth of Christianity – neither from Jesus nor from Paul.

But Jesus had no interest in starting a new religion – he was a Jew who was trying to get all other Jews to turn back to the old ways, back to the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), and away from the polluting Romans.

And Paul, though he wanted to start a new religion, had no interest in new laws because he was intent on starting this new religion within the existing framework of the Roman Empire. The Romans didn’t look favorably on people who tried to override their laws.

So Christianity started out without any clear legal definition, only the tension of trying to adhere to the very different Mosaic and Roman legal structures simultaneously…

And then a few hundred years later we get Muhammad, and we’re back to divinely inspired legislation.

The Transfiguration – just a bloody meeting

The Transfiguration is one of those classic iconic and apparently pointless events in the gospels. Jesus is up a mountain with a couple of the disciples, and Moses and Elijah show up to talk with him. Jesus’ clothes shine brightly (that’s the Transfiguration) and Peter in his spontaneous fashion suggests building tabernacles (tents or huts) for them. A voice from the clouds is interpreted as saying “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”

Another unjustifiably airy-fairy Jesus story

Paintings have developed a tradition to show Jesus and the other two floating around in the air. Is there any textual justification for this? None. (Aside: This is exactly how myths develop: one person hears a story, wants it to be dramatic, fleshes the untold details out in their own mind, and then adds them as fact when they present the story – without even realizing they’re making changes.) Changes regarding a hero’s story tend to exaggerate and glorify, so you can discount some of the frills. But there’s probably a commonsense basis for the story.

Here’s how I tell it in “The Gospel According to the Romans”. First, it’s nighttime, full moon, but overcast. They go up into the mountain without Jesus telling them why. Then he tells them to hold back and goes alone into a clearing, where two Zealot leaders named (or code-named) Moses and Elijah come out and discuss their plans for the attempt to take over the Temple at Passover. (These disciples aren’t privy to this; they were the fishermen Simon Peter, James and John, not the Zealots Judas and Simon Zealotes.)

The full moon comes out from behind the clouds, and catches Jesus’ face and his white robes, making them shine dramatically. There is a roll of thunder. You can make thunder say whatever you want it to say – Eliot records it speaking Sanskrit in The Wasteland. Simon Peter babbles, not untypically.

Going back down the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until they’ve seen a man raised from the dead. In other words, not until he has done his Lazarus trick (which they don’t know anything about) which will be right before Passover at Jerusalem. At that point it won’t matter if anything they’ve heard gets out, the uprising to take control of the Temple will be about to happen anyway, and it will be too late for the Roman Legion to stop it…

So, what do you think? Plausible? Or you prefer the floating-around-in-the-air version?

“Who is my neighbor?” and the Ten Commandments

I’ve previously posted about the key Jewish commandments, reviewed by Jesus to his followers, to obey the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…” Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and treat all “the children of thy people” well and “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). The two greatest commandments are to obey the tribe’s God, and to be good to the tribe’s people.

Even those famous Ten Commandments are not a prescription for the human race: they are a prescription for the success of the Jewish tribe, which success is often going to be at the expenses of other tribes.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has a lovely 8-minute video in which he reviews and and updates the Ten Commandments for our time. But Hitch missed the question of who is your ‘neighbor’ (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house”, etc – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”…) Neighbor means fellow Jews. It is all very tribal. That’s why it was fine for Moses to say “God says Thou shalt not kill” and then to go out slaughter the men, women and children of Palestine, now that God had given the Promised Land to the Children of Israel.

There are universal religions, and there are tribal religions. The Romans understood the former, and tried to draw in every local religion they conquered. Judaism, the religion of Moses and of Jesus, was and is tribal, and in the time of Jesus it was bitterly opposed to being swallowed up by Roman syncretism.