Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy: Chapter 10, A study in eisegesis, pt 4

This post is a bit shorter, but I figure shorter posts may be a better idea for this blog. I go on commenting on the text of the chapter as earlier. I will try and produce sources for whatever claims I make - in this case, though, most claims regard the nature of poetry and metaphor itself, so I may actually need to rephrase it later on if I get around to actually reading up on those topics. Another claim I make regarding Jewish calendar disputes probably needs some sources - alas, I cannot recall at the moment where I read what I read on it. This project really makes me regret never having kept a detailed log of all books and papers I ever have read.

In Psalms 19, we hear about the heavens "telling the glory of God ... there is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." To the unitiated, this sounds strange --how can the heavens tell the "glory of God?" [1, p 134]
Psalms, naturally, is poetry. Poetry does weird things with words, we can compare, e.g. Psalms 22, where the narrative tells us the author is compassed by dogs and bulls, and the lion's jaw is apparently also a concern. Or how can Psalms 19:9-10, be? "the judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. More to be desired [are they] than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." I doubt anyone ever has seen or heard of a judgment having a flavor! Any other number of similar rather odd similes, metaphors and so on occur in poetry. Indeed, they may even be hallmarks of poetic styles in various languages.

And how do their "voice" and "words" go out to the end of the world without speech or words? The word for "voice" in the Hebrew is properly translated as "line." This line or lines are the cosmic rays coming off the various planetary bodies, lines that were perceived by the ancients to penetrate the earth as well, a perception that caused them to be anxious about establishing the "kingdom of heaven on Earth" by emulating what was happening in the heavens. Anderson explains the importance of the lines or rays:
Among the Eastern nations it was taught that all spiritual life first came from the sun, and its magnetic descent to the earth, becoming earth-bound, or dwelling in the earth, and after passing through a series of evolutions, and different births and changes from the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, ascending or descending the scale [like Jacob's angels], according to the good or evil magnetic rays at its births and its various probationary existences, at last purified and intellectually refined, and master of itself, the pure Ra, or astral body, at last was drawn back into the bosom of the father, sun, from whence it was first originated.
Thus, astrology, or astrologos in the Greek, has been considered the "word of God," as is evidenced by the biblical singing stars and heavens passing along their "voice" and "words" through the earth. [1, p. 134]
Murdock over and over again emphasizes how much in ways of metaphor there is in the Bible. Yet she goes for a remarkably literal interpretation of some of it - the lines spoken of as going out have to be actual lines that do go out in some manner. Poetic metaphor (and other literary tropes) can and does regularly use even more distorted ways of expression.

Nowhere does she really establish that which she claims to establish here above - she has given no evidence that astrology was considered the word of God - she has provided a bunch of opinions, and from this, she somehow establishes that astrology was the "word of God" ...
Of course, including a quote from a 19th century astrologer does make it all the more convincing (the nested quote is from Karl Anderson, on whom I have written a separate post. Worth noting here is that Anderson does not provide sources for his claims regarding ancient beliefs, so I am at an impasse regarding verifying whether he had any actual primary sources at hand.).
The Psalms passage continues: "In [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun." This "tent" or "tabernacle" represents a holy sanctuary or house of worship; thus, the heavens are truly the temple of the sun, as well as of the other celestial bodies. This heavenly temple was, however, continuously recreated all over the planet, as continues to this day, unbeknownst to the masses. [1, p. 134]
Just as likely, this might be a description of how the Psalmist conceives of the act of creation: for the creator, making the heavens - whatever structure he ascribed to it - was as easy as setting a tent is for a man. Here, eisegesis is all we (can?) get. And a huge helping of it. Of course, my interpretation might also be eisegetical - but my interpretation is favored, unless other convincing evidence is provided, by Occam's razor.

From these various biblical passages, it is obvious that the Lord is not only the architect of the heavens but is pleased with both his stellar creations and his ability to command them. That being the case, it is equally obvious that astrology is not evil, unless the Lord is evil, an idea widely subscribed to by the Gnostics, who made the assessment that anyone in charge of this chaotic and crude "lower" world must be a villain. But if "God" is good, then "his" creation must be good, and the biblical writers make it clear that astrology and the zodiac are their Lord's creation. [1, p 135]
Here, Murdock fails at logic. Being proud of something does not necessitate, by logic, that one also be happy with each use it is put to. Astrology being evil would not imply god being evil, and even if it did, this does not mean that the authors of the Bible necessarily realized that such an implication existed - humans can and do, after all, believe things that are illogical - assuming the biblical authors to be perfect logicians is not justified. Even if it were that the biblical writers thought that astrology is their Lord's creation it does not follow that they also thought it was good (see, e.g. how they also assume God created all living beings, yet forbade the eating of certain kinds of living beings for the Jews). Besides, the vast majority of biblical references to the significance of the heaven only seems to refer to it as a rather huge time-keeping device (and an impressive one at that), rather than as a thing with particular mystical significance.

Even then, a lot of the conclusions in this particular paragraph do not follow from the assumptions, and it is not clear the assumptions are all that well-founded. Finally, the reference to the gnostics is kind of weirdly placed and seems to have no actual reasonable role in there. Finally, it seems more like an attempt to make Christian readers subscribe to the idea that maybe astrology is all right after all, surely god must permit it, which would seem a weird thing to place in a scholarly book on religious history!

The Hebrews were also "moon-worshippers" in that many of their feasts and holidays revolved around the movements and phases of the moon. Such moon-worship is found repeatedly in the Old Testament (Ps. 8:13, 104:19; Is 66:23), and to this day Jews celebrate holidays based on the lunar calendar. At Isaiah 47, these moon-worshippers are equated with astrologers, i.e., "... those who divide the heavens, gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you."
The Jewish nighttime worship is also reflected in the noncanonical Epistle to Diognetus, an early Christian writing which further demonstrates that astrology was important to Christians, as, while the author obviously does not like the way in which the Jews are consulting the heavens, he does consider the "cycle of the seasons" to be "divinely appointed":
As for the way [the Jews] scrutinize the moon and stars for the purpose of ritually commemorating months and days, and chop up the divinely appointed cycle of the seasons to suit their own fancies, pronouncing some to be times for feasting and others for mourning . . .
[1, p 136] 
I am inclined to think the Epistle to Diognetus is referring to the practice in rabbinic Judaism to adjust the calendar in order to avoid long stretches of sabbath and high holidays. However, certain movements of second temple Judaism disagreed with this practice, and had different ways of resolving the problem of these long stretches: a year of 364 days, for instance, is divisible by 7, and thus a holiday on a set date will recur on the same weekday every year. That particular year-length is repeatedly lauded in 1 Enoch 82:5-6 among other verses. However, after a few decades, the calendar will go out of synch with the seasons. How this was handled by those groups is not known today, as their records have been lost.

We do know, though, that at various times there has been disagreement over the practice of adjusting when Rosh Hashanah will occur - Karaites, Samaritans and various second temple era movements appear to have opposed the practice using no light terms. An early Christian likewise finding the practice objectionable would not be surprising if his religious tradition had any connection to those second temple era movements or their descendants. I should probably look into the Epistle to Diognetus quote in its original form for this, but the translation suggests disapproval of some kind of adjustment anyway: "chop up the divinely appointed cycle of the seasons to suit their own fancies, ..."

We should also note how negative statements about astrology in the Bible is seen as proof of biblical theology being astrological. Whenever she lists a verse without quoting it, it is worth checking what the verse actually says. Generally, they do mention the sun or the moon, but seldom in terms that suggest worship.
Psalms 8:13 does not exist, although I guess Psalms 8:3 is what she meant. That particular verse functions to as a way of saying that God is seen as powerful enough to control and create celestial bodies - what significance does man have to him?

Psalms 104 is a list of both mundane, miraculous and celestial things God has control over and does not as such worship the sun or the moon or phrase anything as though the moon or sun were the object of the worship - unless also the cedars of Lebanon are objects of the same worship. Finally, Isaiah 66:23 talks of the moon partially as a unit of time, and partially - and this partially does support her case - for some ritualist reason (whatwith rosh chodesh-observances).

Again, her pattern of tendentious interpretation of sources combined with a generous helping of downright worthless sources is repeated.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy, 1999.

No comments:

Post a Comment