Friday, August 30, 2013

Barbara Walker: Senate

Tracing down some claims Barbara Walker made that D.M. Murdock repeats uncritically, I stumbled across this while searching for one article:

From Latin se-natus, "self-born," in earliest times probably a group of matrones or tribal mothers thought to be reincarnated in their daughters by matrilineal succession. The later patriarchal gods also claimed to be "self-born," like Ra in Egypt. Providing any god with a mother implied that there was an older, greater female authority over him-- a self-defeating idea for patriarchal thinkers.[1, p. 902]
Senate is not related to natus, and does pretty certainly not mean "self-born". How do we know this?

  • natus changes to gnatus with every other prefix we know it to occur with, c.f. cognatus and pregnas.
  • senatus and natus are not of the same declension. Applying a prefix does not change the declension of nouns in Latin. Sometimes, different nouns have a few forms cooccuring, c.f. anus (anus, ring) and anus (old woman), or datus and datum, both of which have forms that coincide and forms that are distinct. Thus, senatus and natus being similar in the nominative does not prove that they originate with the same word, and their not being similar throughout the paradigm indicates they very probably are not.
  • se- is not used very often for that kind of construction
  • We know what it actually derives from - senectus, from senex. Senex signifies old, senectus is a collective noun for old persons. Thus, the senate is basically an assembly of elders. 
  • We know the greeks translated it as gerousia, which also signifies an assembly of old people.
Alas - or maybe rather, fortunately - Latin reference grammars will not go about listing every thing that isn't permissible in Latin. Thus finding a concise source for any of the claims above is rather challenging, as these claims are negative rather than positive and reference grammars generally describe what is possible.

It should be pretty obvious Walker just tried her hand rather ineptly at etymology in order to prop up her hypothesis, which is that Indo-European culture had been, rather recently, predominantly a matriarchy. 

[1] Barbara Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy: Other Elements and Symbols of the Christian Myth, pt I

Due to a certain problem with Murdock's writing that has been bugging me for a while, this post got longer - again - than I had expected. There is a bit of a rant about her way of dealing with the Biblical text, which I think is fairly well justified. There is enough wrong in this chapter to justify quite a bit of text devoted to debunking it, and therefore, I split it into two, thus also maintaining even a semblance of some kind of publication frequency on this blog. One thing that really bothers me with this chapter, is that a number of sources are wrong - I figure she has simply typoed or misremembered in the references, and that other works by the same authors are intended, but this makes writing an informed critique of her work a very frustrating endeavour. 

Chapter 14  goes on to find parallels (and roots) for a variety of pericopes and elements present in the Bible and Christianity. She thinks these are significant evidence of the derivative nature of Christianity. I will agree that Christianity is relatively derivative (although I do also hold that Christianity probably by accident has some innovations of its own - however, these innovations obviously do not make it any more true anyway, and thus making a fuzz about which details are innovations and which are not may seem unnecessary. However, scholarly work never sleeps.)
Indeed, the seven archangels of Christianity are masculine remakes of the Seven Hathors of Egypt, which were female.[1, p. 216]
The source she gives for the last claim there is pages 232-233 of Barbara Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets - I did waste some effort trying to locate it elsewhere in the WEMS first. No such statement is present in it. Murdock has given the wrong book, as this claim can be found on the corresponding page in Walker's Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. Walker does not provide any parallels between the Hathors and the intermediate stage - the Zoroastrian Amesha Spentas - and the Christian arch angels, with the exception of their number. That number also varies significantly in Christianity, by the way, and was not originally seven in Zoroastrism either. What would be helpful here would be an actual overview of their similarities, though, as something as flimsy as 'the same number' (which is, as pointed out, not even entirely right) is not quite sufficient. Walker does not even provide a source that would help in reviewing research into the similarities between the different groups, though, so this is just empty, unsupported assertion. James Hope Moulton observes - page 252 of Early Zoroastrianism - that the number of amesha spentas originally was six, and only later - under semitic influence - changed the number to seven. Seven amesha spentas only appear in the later zoroastrian works. Admittedly, Moulton wrote in the late 19th century, but the same claim appears explicitly in Skjærvø's An Introduction to Zoroastrianism (2008), pp 2, 16, and in other both more and less introductory texts about Zoroastrianism, which indicates that the idea of the Amesha Spentas originally being six and only relatively recently being extended to include a seventh has been found convincing by scholars for over a century. Considering the efforts that have gone into showing that Judaism derives many of its ideas from Zoroastrianism, the survival of such a claim for such a long time does indicate that it is pretty good.
As part of the mythos, the good and bad angels (devils or demons) actually represent the angles or aspects of the zodiac, whose influences were determined to be either benevolent or malevolent.[1, p. 232]
There is no etymological connection between angel and angle. Angel derives from Greek  ἄγγελος, messenger, whereas angle derives from Latin angulus (from proto-Indo-European *h2engulos, which also is the origin for Greek ἀγκύλος, ankylos. As a slight aside we may note that in the greek of the bible, the preferred word for angle-like things and corners is γωνία, whereas a cognate to ankylos makes a cameo-appearance denoting the inner curve of the bent arm in Luke 2:28The meaning of angel is well known - originally messenger, later acquiring the significance of supernatural beings dispatched by God. The similarity between angel and angle would not even be present in Hebrew, Egyptian or Babylonian, and thus  it is quite unlikely the original intent was anything like what Murdock here posits. There is no evidence that the concept of angels was meant to correlate in this fashion to the zodiac. Such evidence would be interesting and significant, but if false etymologies is all there is, she should be forthright about how baseless a claim it is. 
It is clear from biblical writings that during the first centuries of the Christian era, numerous "Christs" were running about the Roman world, jockeying for position. These individuals were such a threat to the "true" Christ's representatives that they felt the need to dispense with the competition by forging the Epistles of John sometime during the second century: "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come." (1 Jn 2:18)
Walker relates the true meaning of "antichrist":  
 Antichrist was the Christian equivalent of the Chaldean Aciel, lord of the nether world, counterbalancing the solar god of heaven.
In other words, it was the night sky. [1, p. 216]
 So it was the night sky, but it was also other messianic claimants? I can dig both - but there is an interesting problem with this. Murdock's understanding hinges on a literal reading of selected verses of a few books of the NT, c.f. how 1 John speaks about God:
1 John 1 5: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 6: If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 7: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 2 9He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. 10: He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. 11: But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [...] 18: Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour.
Now, Murdock has several times throughout the book maintained steadfastly that the Bible is full of metaphor - and she is correct - but her way of finding this metaphor is to read the text as literally as possible. If Murdock is to be believed, when the author of 1 John speaks of light and darkness he means real tangible light and darkness - nighttime and daytime, he is not using the words metaphorically to signify some kind of religious notion distinct from night and day - Murdock understands 'dark and light' metaphorically to signify 'dark and light'. And finally, it is the last hour (before sunset), because several sunsets have already arrived? But several sunsets have already arrived even when it is morning, and thus by counting past sunsets, we have no idea which hour of the day we are in. Clearly, the metaphor here is on a more grand scale than dusks and dawns, nighttimes and daytimes. It gets even better, though, as apparently, these nighttime skies have gone out from the Christian congregations:
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.
Interpreting antichrist in this (or other positions) as referring to the night sky gives really weird meanings to the text, meanings that do not fit the context, and seem very useless in the context they are given - the author of John is essentially writing word salad if Murdock is right. This is a problem that generally occurs with Murdock's interpretation of elements in religious texts in general: she really has a love for saying X is Y, where X is any element from Christianity, and Y is a constellation, an ancient god or goddess, etc. Doing so, she seldom takes context into consideration, and makes the texts she is interpreting lack every significance - as if their authors did not intend for there to be a meaning in their text whatsoever.

Ultimately, she at times reads the Bible as though it was just a list of X1, X2, X3... corresponding to Y1, Y2, Y3..., interspersed with a superfluous and meaningless storyline. Her approach removes the coherence from the text, she treats it as a fundamentally contentless, anarrative list of mythological beings - she does not read the Bible as a narrative or in the case of the Epistles and the later prophets, as a collection of arguments - the gospels are just a set of allusions referring to the goddess, the pleiades, etc, and the actual narration around these references is just there to give structure to the thing or are the results of a conspiracy to historicize it - the important thing, to her, in the text are the pleiades and the goddess and so on, not the text actually saying anything about whatever it is saying things about. In her interpretation of the text, it alludes to a lot of things, but almost never says anything about them. She reads the Bible as an enumeration with little information, like a phone book with the numbers curiously missing. Thus, she can speculate freely as to what content the authors really had in mind, and that is great if you do not have even a scrap of evidence to base such speculation on.

More clear problems in the text will appear in the next post.

[1] Murdock, D.M., The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Walker, Barbara, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects
[3] Moulton, James Hope. Early Zoroastrism.