Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy: The Myth of Hebrew Monotheism (chapter 8)

I have realized that the best way to debunk The Christ Conspiracy would be to reproduce the entire book, and insert indented comments every now and then explaining the errors in the bit given above. Alas, this would run foul of copyright.

Sources are forthcoming. Some additional editing will occur. This is like the third rewrite, and I still am not happy with it.

The first time I read chapter 8, I figured the biggest main point was fairly accurately explained: a lot of the old testament is, in fact, narratives that have little, and in many cases nothing, to do with what actually happened. However, in a way quite unique to Acharya, she even manages to get a lot of the facts around this relatively well-known fact wrong, and the reasoning she uses is nothing but flaky.

Chapter 8 is a jumbled mess - much like this response to it became by association. Certainly there are kernels of truth in it - but nothing that is surprising to anyone who has read any serious biblical scholarship published in the last few decades. As an example of this, we get:
As demonstrated, the historical and archaeological record fails to provide any evidence whatsoever that the New Testament story is true. Nor does it bear out important Old Testament tales, such that the religion Christianity is purportedly based on is unsubstantiated as well. In fact, the very notion of the monotheistic Hebrew God, as allegedly depicted in the Old Testament, who could produce a son, is baseless. [1, p. 88]
Indeed, as she states here, the development of Hebrew monotheism probably happened along a course quite different from that described in the Old Testament. However, the main point she is going for here is well known except if you either learn from evangelicals or just do not care. It is accepted by mainstream scholarship. What relevance this has to the main thesis of historicists - viz. that there is a historical person at the roots of the gospel narratives - is never established. A historical Jesus, as anyone with five brain cells to rub together would know, does not require the existence of God, nor does it require that Isaiah really wrote the book of Isaiah (or any other author of the OT books). Of course, pointing out the fact that the old testament narratives are untrue is called for, but reasoning that because the OT is untrue and the God described in it is not real, it follows that a person described as that God's son cannot have existed is mightily deluded. And Acharya makes this clear: "...Hebrew God ... who could produce a son, is baseless." Anyone think the point there is anything but "God does not exist, so Jesus cannot exist either"? If this is not what she tries to say, she should have written in some other way, as this is the only reasonable way of reading it.

She goes on and describes the Documentary Hypothesis, but even there she gets the order of the four authors wrong, thinking that the scholarly consensus puts the Elohist first. I would not have spotted this particular (minor) problem myself, it was noted by a friend of mine. The friend wants to go by 'the esteemed gentleman from North America' as his pseudonym, so that is how he will be referred to from now on.
The Pentateuch, for example, had at least four authors or schools of writers. Even though they are of different authors, these separate segments, some of which were written centuries apart, were interwoven in a confusing yet clever manner. The oldest section of these books is called "E" for "Elohist," so-named because the writer mostly uses the word "Elohim" for "God," although it should be rendered "Gods." [1, p. 90]
It also turns out the Elohist is so called not for "mostly" using the word Elohim, but for using it up to the point where God reveals the tetragrammaton to Moses; apparently, the Elohist did consider YHWH the primary name of God. What is more, he considered God's revealing the name to Moses a turning point in history, after which he uses YHWH rather frequently. [5]

In actuality, the Hebrews were by no means the originators of the concept of monotheism, as the Egyptians, for one, had the one God at least a thousand years before the purported time of Moses, by orthodox dating. As Wheless says:
[T]his finally and very late evolved monotheism is neither a tardy divine revelation to the Jews, nor a novel invention by them; it was a thousand years antedated by Amenhotep IV and Tut-ankh-amen in Egypt"--nor were even they pioneers. We have seen the [Catholic] admission that the Zoroastrian Mithra religion was "a divinely revealed Monotheism" (CE. ii, 145)
[1, p. 88] 

She is confused about the dating of pharaohs [6], of Moses, and of the development of Judaism, not even getting her summary of the bit she quotes right. This bit was also pointed out by the esteemed gentleman from North America.

Amenhotep IV is dated to the 14th century BCE[6], orthodox dating puts Moses quite close (same century). Of course, Moses probably did not exist. The dating Wheless provides is actually reasonable - if we assume he is writing about Jewish monotheism as a post-exilic development - which it is likely to be.

She extracts too much mileage out of the names of God used in the Old Testament, and introduces needlessly convoluted interpretations of them. Many of the translations used in translations of the Bible do make sense, and her complaints are weird. She quotes Higgins to justify the demand of word-for-word accuracy in translation:
The fact of the names of God being disguised in all the translations tends to prove that no dependence can be placed on any of them. The fact shows very clearly the temper or state of mind with which the translators have undertaken their task. God is called by several names. How is the reader of a translation to discover this, if he find them all rendered by one name? He is evidently deceived. It is no justification of a translator to say it is of little consequence. Little or great, he has no right to exercise any discretion of this kind. When he finds God called Adonai, he has no business to call him Jehovah or Elohim. ... [1, p. 89 ][2]
 This betrays a naive view of translation, and misrepresents what translators generally do - most serious translators stick to a rather consistent mapping of Hebrew names of God to English titles (usually LORD = yhwh, Lord = adonai, God = Elohim and El). Every translation ever has to exercise discretion of that kind and worse. An utterance in one language almost never can stand in a one-to-one relation to an utterance in another. A one-sentence utterance can be more difficult to translate reasonably than a whole chapter or book, simply because there is less redundancy available to the translator. This redundancy helps inform the translator what the intended meaning of the utterance was. It is this intended meaning that the translator primarily should be concerned with expressing in the language to which he translates, not the manner in which it is expressed in the original language. For someone who calls herself a linguist, Acharya has a rather unsophisticated view of translation.

Due to this apparently being, to her, a rather important point that she repeats through her work - the Bible and other works having been mistranslated - I have decided to write a separate post on translation in general to give a more nuanced picture of translation and its challenges, and there will be no sources for my statements on translation in this post, as I will review some literature on the topic in that post. [Link will come here.]

We find this bit about Elohim:
The plural term Elohim appears over 2500 times in the Old Testament but is falsely translated in most versions. This fact of plurality explains why in Genesis "Gods" said, "Let us make man in our image." As stated, Elohim refers to both "gods" and "goddesses," and its singular form, El, served as a prefix or suffix to names of gods, people and places, whence Emmanu-El, Gabri-El, Beth-El, etc. Even "Satan" was one of the Elohim, as Walker relates:
In the original wording, Satan was one of the bene ha-elohim, sons of "the gods"; but Bible translators always singularized the plurals to conceal the fact that the biblical Jews worshipped a pantheon of multiple gods.
[1, p 99] 
The example Walker cites, viz. Satan being one of the bene ha-elohim  is from Job (and occurs a few times in that particular book; nowhere else is, as far as I have been able to find, Satan called a son of elohim). Here, Walker is making a rather unwarranted assumption - although one that can be forgiven on account of most fundamentalists, evangelicals, etc preaching it and basing their theology on it. The assumption is that the authors of the Old Testament were presenting one unified, systematic theology, and that having the author of Job consider Satan a son of the gods implies all of the authors think he is a son of the gods. Turns out most old testament authors do not concern themselves with Satan, and it is likely he was not particularly important to Old Testament era theologizing - more evidence of an interest in Satan as a character appears in later intertestamental writings. Why Acharya appeals to this shoddy bit of Walker's work is beyond me. In addition, the allegation of mistranslation here is flaky - it is very possible for ha-elohim to be semantically singular.

With a few exceptions, throughout the Old Testament, when used as a name for God, Elohim stands with singular verbs, which is also the case with other morphologically plural but semantically singular things.
Alas, there is a difference between English and Hebrew here that is quite important: English only marks person on its verbs in a restricted set of its verbs - present tense verbs and in the exceptional past tense forms of the verb "to be". The fact that Walker is neither a linguist nor a biblical scholar is evident here as well - even though there is not much in ways of verbs with Elohim as the subject in the whole book of Job, the verbs are singular with the only example of Elohim as subject available:
Job 28:23 אלהים הבינ דרכה והוא ידע את־מקומה 
[3, p. 1656] 
The verbs here - ידע ,הבינ - are singular. Whoever wrote the version of Job that we have did apparently assume Elohim can be used as a name for a singular entity, and did do so at least once, and did nowhere use it in a manner that contradicts such an understanding of it. Even though it is possible an earlier version had it plural - Job is very possibly borrowed from an earlier, non-monotheist religion - what we want to know is what the Hebrew scribe that made a version for religious use among the Hebrews thought, and he does indicate that he stands for some kind of monotheism. Given the singular use of Elohim, it is a fairly natural assumption that at least the last redactor of Job was a monotheist. If that is the case, translators who give us a translated version of the theology that Job presents translating Elohim as a singular are translating it in a wholly justified manner.

If this happened at a redaction-stage during the Hebrew redacting and compilation of the Hebrew scripture, we know that at least the redactor was some kind of monotheist.

 Alas, the English past tense does not permit for the kind of accuracy I need to illustrate the problem here, and therefore I have taken the liberty of rendering a sample of Genesis in the present tense. If Genesis were translated as per Acharya's and Higgins' guidelines, it would have to be something like this:
In the beginning, gods creates the heavens and the earth, ... the gods says ... and gods calls the light day... [Genesis 1, my intentionally too literal translation.]
Yes, there are dialects of English where this would not be remarkable at all, but in standard English, the awkwardness of the grammatical error there would better encode what actually is going on in the original text, if we were to adhere to Acharya's idea of translation. Alas, modern English does not mark person/number at all in the past tense paradigm (and very little of it in the present paradigm) with one particular exception, thus if we were to adhere to Acharya's demands here, biblical translations would be misleading by omitting quite an important indication that the subject indeed is singular. By Acharya's advice, we'd lose more than we'd keep!

When the translators change the names, they do remove some information from the text, but it is quite clear even for someone reading the Hebrew that the people using these names did consider Elohim, YHWH and Adonai titles that could and often did refer to the same entity - an entity that many, including me, do not consider to ever have existed de re. The de re / de dicto distinction seems to cause Acharya some troubles, though: she constantly applies de dicto reasoning de re and vice versa.

When translating the Bible, the translator should try to convey what the Bible says. Not what the unattested books it was based on, redacted from, etc say, except in the few cases where there are good reasons to do so, such as if the text is damaged and there are texts that probably are related that help in figuring out what the damaged text actually says. Redaction is not damage, it is redaction. Redaction tells us what the redactor thought. When dealing with post-exilic Judaism, the redactors are an important group of interesting voices.

Acharya comments on translations:
 Of these versions, only the Darby retains the word "Elohim" for "God(s)," and this word almost always is accompanied by "Jehovah," even though "the LORD God" was not called YHWH until the time of Moses. In this way, translators have given the appearance of uniformity where there was none.  [1, p. 91]
The translators work with texts that have been inherited from antiquity. In these, YHWH does occur - in the texts themselves - in times that are supposed to occur prior to the appearance of Moses. I am not familiar with Darby, English translations do not really interest me much, ultimately. (As I prefer reading the text in Hebrew to the extent of my abilities.)

El Shaddai was the name of the god of Abraham, or "the God of the Fathers," who was replaced by Yahweh in the 6th chapter of Exodus:
And God spake unto Moses and said unto him, I am Yahweh: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I was not known unto them.
[1,  p. 92]
Acharya falls into an unusual kind of fallacy in both the quotes above, accepting the historicity of Moses and Abraham, and assuming that we know, and the authors who lived much later knew rather specific things about Moses' and Abraham's beliefs. In reality, neither is likely to have existed, and the authors knowing genuine factual things about them is rather unlikely. If some speculation as to their beliefs happens to be accurate, there is no way on earth to verify it.

She goes on in her confusion:
Charles Potter relates that El Shaddai was later demonized in Psalms 106:37, condemned as one of the "devils" -- the Canaanite Shedim, to whom the Israelites sacrificed their sons and daughters. Psalms 106, in fact, provides a concise chronicle of how the "chosen people" "whored after" other gods, i.e., were polytheistic. [1, p. 92]
This is just a confused reading of Psalms 106:37 in the first place. Shedim as the word for "demons" occurs in the torah as well, this being a demonization of El Shaddai is thus unfounded. In fact, the Priestly source talks of worship of demons using the word shedim while also using El Shaddai repeatedly as a designation for God.

A grating problem with this chapter, is that Acharya seems to think there is something significant about the many ways in which the tetragrammaton is transliterated in different sources: YHVH, YHWH, JHVH, IHVH, ... :
Thus, the tetragrammaton or sacred name of God IAO/IEUE/YHWH is very old, [1, p. 94]
YHWH/IEUE was additionally the Egyptian sun god Ra: ... [1, p. 94] 
When the sun passed into Aries, "the Lord's" name was changed to the Egyptian Iao, which became YHWH, IEUE, Yahweh, Jahweh, Jehovah and Jah. This ancient name "IAO/Iao" represents the totality of "God," as the "I" symbolizes unity, the "a" is the "alpha" or beginning, while the "o" is the "omega" or end. [1, p. 94]
That "I" symbolized unity would deserve some kind of backup, and A and O being alpha and omega in Egyptian seems weird, as the idea of an alphabet with a first phoneme and a last phoneme did never really occur to the Egyptians. There is more similar baseless speculation, usually involving astrology that I will not copy here.

Also, the distinction between majuscules and minuscules was not been invented until medieval times, so this obsession with writing IAO/Iao is weird as well - in the relevant scripts, it was only either iao or IAO, as the distinction between capital and minuscule letters was meaningless in the relevant scripts at the time.

Regarding the tetragrammaton, she quotes Walker showcasing lack of linguistic expertise:
Yahweh had yet another aspect to "his" persona, as at some early stage the "sacred tetragrammaton" of "God" was bi-gendered. As Walker states:
Jewish mystical tradition viewed the original Jehovah as an adrogyne, his/her name compounded as Jah (jod) and the pre-Hebraic name of Eve, Havah or Hawah, rendered he-vau-he in Hebrew letters. The four letters together made the sacred tetragrammaton, YHWH, the secret name of God... The Bible contains many plagiarized excerpts from earlier hymns and prayers to Ishtar and other Goddess figures, with the name of Yahweh substituted for that of the female deity.
[1, p. 95] 
YHWH cannot be obtained from Hawah by prefixing a yod, as the two words contain different consonants. The difference is as significant as the difference between the final consonant in Scottish loch and the initial one in ham. To a speaker of Hebrew, these were and are distinct sounds, spelled using different letters,
ה and ח. Granted, they are letters that do look similar, and the sounds they represent have some acoustic similarity - but there is acoustic similarity and visual similarity between d and b as well, but this does not mean we can claim rode and robe are etymologically related words. There have to be supporting evidence if such a claim is to fly.

Further, Acharya presents a theory that the Levites were an Indo-European upper class group among the Semitic Hebrews:
Both of these groups, Semites and Aryans, are claimed in the Bible to have been "sons of Noah" who were to "share the same tent" and to enslave the descendants of Noah's third son, the Hamites; thus, at some point their distinction could not have been very pronounced. In fact, the Aryans and Semites are more intermingled than suspected, as some of the "sons of Japheth" became Ashkenazi, or "European Jews," as stated at Genesis 10:2-3. Indeed, the distinction was made long afterwards, when the Yahwists were compiling their books and attempting to promote themselves as strict segregationists. [1, p. 97]
Ashkenazi as a designation for European Jews does not go back to Biblical times. Which exact ancient tribe it refers to in the Bible is not entirely certain, but its application to European Jews is a result of European Jews first applying the term to a geographical region, because they for some reason figured the inhabitants of this region were the descendants of Biblical Ashkenaz. This is not Judaism 101, of course, but it is not exactly PhD-level studies either. This kind of confusion is a trademark trait of Acharya's writings, so it is all good. Similar reuses of old tribe names and names from the biblical genealogies in Jewish culture include Sepharad for Spain - a name whose original referent also is uncertain, but might be Sardis, Turkey - and Edom, a kingdom bordering Judah, the name of which was reapplied to Rome once the original Edomite kingdom had dwindled into insignificance. See also the Hebrew name for France (Tzarfat). Using a medieval, Jewish designation for a region - a designation based on rather random reuse of Biblical terminology - that then was reapplied to the Jews living in that region to draw conclusions about Biblical era Jewish relations to other ethnicities is far from a reliable method.

Furthermore, a representation of the Jewish "Feast of the giving of the law" has an image of an erupting volcano - Mt. Sinai- with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments above it. As Jordan Maxwell points out, the benediction or blessing sign of the Feast is the same as the split-fingered, "live long and prosper" salutation of the Vulcan character Spock on "Star Trek." Vulcan, of course, is the same word as volcano, and the Roman god Vulcan was also a lightning and volcano god. In volcano cults, the thunderous noise coming from the mountain is considered the "voice of God," the same voice that "spoke" to Moses in the myth.
 [1, p. 96]
The reasoning here is pure unadulterated gold bullshit. YHWH is a volcano god because Star Trek's Vulcans make a salutation that Jews too make*. Suck on that for a while. Seriously.
Furthermore, the word Israel itself is not a Jewish appellation but comes from the combination of three different reigning deities: Isis, the goddess revered throughout the ancient world; Ra, the Egyptian sun god, and El. As Hazelrigg says:
... Israel, meaning a belt or land of the heavens, the twelve tribes of which compare to the number of constellations that environ the ecliptic, and through which the Sun makes his annual circuit ... Issa-ra-el, the kingdom of the moon (Isis), Sun (Ra), and stars (El).[1, p. 98]
This kind of reasoning is ... so goddamn stupid I cannot help at this point but actually use that kind of wording. Hazelrigg, the 19th century astrologer is a reliable source, of course, no doubt whatsoever regarding that.

The knowledge of the precession goes back many thousands of years and is found around the globe from China to Mexico, reflecting that the so-called primitive ancients were in reality extraordinarily advanced. [1, p. 93]
Historians of astronomy date this to 2nd century BCE Greece, and no earlier.

She does her usual linguistic bullshitting:
 In the ancient languages of Ireland and Sri Lanka, "Baal" means "sun."[1, p. 93]
No word for sun in Old Irish is anything like Baal, and I am left to wonder which Sri Lankan language she is talking of, as there are in fact several. Neither Sinhala nor Tamil have their most common word for 'sun' derive from anything like baal - they have words along the lines of curiyan and ira. If it is an uncommon word for sun in either of the Sri Lankan languages, I would be happy to know which language it is. If it is some of the Vedda dialects she is thinking of, good luck finding anything on that if the desire to check whether this is fact or fabrication. Sinhala does not distinguish p from b, and in Sinhala, all long vowels in the modern variety of the language are results of recent loans - all long vowels in ancestral Sinhala have been shortened in the modern form. My perusal of dictionaries (with alphabet charts close at hand) give no results. Again, both these languages distinguish two laterals, one retroflex l and one "regular" l, and even checking both those does not help.

Of course, if your audience mainly consists of newly deconverted atheists, soon-to-deconvert doubting Christians and convinced theosophists and whatnot, anything that contradicts evangelical/fundamentalist/... beliefs is enough to make that audience happy. Once the first exaggerations caused by the newfound freedom from Christianity have been overcome, one would hope such deconverts would accept a more realistic view of the past and realize that any given claim is not true simply by virtue of contradicting Christianity.

If the objective of her text is to appeal to such an audience rather than to be logical and scholarly, it is a success: even though the bloodiest narratives of the Old Testament are long rejected as ahistorical, Acharya still rants about Hebrews and especially the monotheists among them of carrying out these genocides, and makes it clear they are terrible people - and yes, certainly the authors were terrible people for making up and lauding these vile acts. Meanwhile, she is ready to question one aspect of the story: the history of monotheism presented in it. She seems to accept the violent conquests as accurate, but rejects the historical accuracy of the description of how monotheism evolved. She would be more correct to reject both.

I will write another separate chapter about what archaeologists and scholars think about the history of biblical era Israel later, or alternatively write reviews of a few books on it.

At this point, I have been thinking for a couple of months already that quoting Acharya without comment should be sufficient to debunk her for a sufficiently erudite reader.

*Leonard Nimoy - who has an orthodox Jewish background, had witnessed this salutation as a kid. In his role as Mr. Spock, he used this recollection as a basis for the salutation, since he thought it looked neat and dignified. That is a much simpler account for the relation between the Jewish ritual salutation and the Vulcan salutation, rather than believing that Desilu Productions and Paramount Television knew secret things about ancient history. I extend thanks to the esteemed gentleman from North America who provided this source [4] after reading my post.

[1] Acharya S, The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Higgins, Anacalypsis
[3] ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach
[5] Tim Widowfield,
[6] Encyclopedia Britannica, Akhenaton

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