Thursday, January 30, 2014

Evidence of an Ancient Global Civilization pt 2

On the very next page, we run into one paragraph that is so rife with errors and fabrications that it needs careful attention to figure out just how much flaws have been crammed in. The paragraph follows on Murdock's statement that contact between the Americas and the Old World had to have begun much earlier than conventionally accepted - this paragraph gives 'supporting evidence' for such a contention. The paragraph is as follows:
For example, in the Americas are found the Eden, flood and Jonah myths; the story of the sun standing still; the veneration of the serpent; the virgin birth; the crucifixon; the practice of circumcision; and ascetic monasteries and nunneries. As another example, natives of British Columbia called the sun/sky-god “Sin,” like the Old World god, and represented Sin’s mother as being married to a carpenter, who teaches his solar son his trade.* Furthermore, as Carpenter states: “The same legend of gods (or idols) being born in caves has, curiously enough, been reported from Mexico, Guatemala, the Antilles, and other places in Central America.”* Also, the natives of Florida at the time of the Christian invasion were allegedly discovered to chant “Hosanna.”* [1, p. 392 The text has been altered slightly - asterisks mark where references to sources were, the particular sources are not particular relevant for the first impression.]
I shall now investigate this paragraph almost sentence by sentence. We first notice the lack of sources for the statement that the entire series of Eden, flood, Jonah, the sun standing still, crucifixion, circumcision and monasteries are present in the Americas. I do not doubt the presence of circumcision there, but any single correspondence between two cultures does not make evidence of contact. If many of these happened to overlap, it would be more interesting, but we are given no such information to work with.
As another example, natives of British Columbia called the sun/sky-god “Sin,” like the Old World god, and represented Sin’s mother as being married to a carpenter, who teaches his solar son his trade. [1, p. 392]
Here, Murdock's obscurantism knows no bounds. The natives of British Columbia have more than two dozen languages today. Several languages of the area have probably also gone extinct. Obtaining dictionaries of these languages is difficult - might be reasonably doable if you live close to a university library in Vancouver (or maybe the other major cities of Canada). (For an overview of the languages, see this.) This makes verifying her claim way more difficult than it should be. This suggests to me that Murdock does not understand the idea of peer review or what it is for. If she has considered it at all, it seems she thinks it is a hurdle to be jumped - with , rather than a quality assurance device. The source she refers to - O'Hara's Sun Lore, does explicitly mention the name of the language - Haida. However, obtaining that source separately and then verifying the claim is more work than going directly for the source language. It turns out that in Haida, 'Sin' is rather a word meaning 'day' and the day sky, but also the name of the sun-god. However, this is distances away from any historically possibly relevant word - the Proto-Indo-Europeans called the sun by a word more along the lines of 'shuen' (pronouncing the s and h as separate sounds) and sohwl - shuen was basically the root for oblique forms, sohwl the nominative. Random similarities between languages do happen, though, so even then it is not  a significant piece of evidence.

(It came to my attention after posting this essay, that there was a Babylonian god by the name 'Sin'. He was a lunar god, however.)

In Haida Texts and Myths [2], a story that sounds like it might be the one O'Hara is referring to is given. It differs at key points from Murdock's report: Master Carpenter is the name of a particular supernatural being (who also goes to war against the south-east wind!), and this God nowhere teaches his 'solar son' any trade. Also, the boy is very clearly supposed to have become the sky in the narrative, which mainly seems to be a just-so story for the different colours and weathers the sky has, listing how the boy makes different clothing in different colours from a variety of pelts and furs.
Furthermore, as Carpenter states: “The same legend of gods (or idols) being born in caves has, curiously enough, been reported from Mexico, Guatemala, the Antilles, and other places in Central America.”  [1, p. 392]
Carpenter indeed states this, and provides for a source Carl Friedrich Phillip von  Martius'  Beiträge zur Ethnographie und Sprachenkunde Amerika's zumal Brasiliens. I looked it up, and lo and behold,  Martius' statement is as follows, significantly different from Carpenter's deceptive restatement:
Wie in Mexico und Guatimala sind auch in Aiti Höhlen die mythischen Geburtstätten oder Ausgangsorte der Völker (so die Höhlen von Cazibaxagua und Amaiáuna (P. Martyr 103, 107); und Götzenbilder in die Wände der Grotte von Donden(????) eingegraben (Charlevoix Hist, de l'Isle Espagnole I. 78) bezeichneten sie als einen heiligen Ort.[3, p. 758]
My translation: As in Mexico and Guatemala, also in Aiti caves are the mythical birth-places or origins of the peoples (such as the Caves at Cazibaxagua and Amaiauna), and idols engraved in the walls of the Donden(?) grotto marks it as a holy place.
 These caves are birthplaces of the peoples, not of the gods. Carpenter misrepresents his source significantly:
This same legend of gods (or idols) being born in caves has, curiously enough, been reported from Mexico, Guatemala, the Antilles, and other places in Central America. See C. F. P. von Martius, Ethnographie Amerika, etc. (Leipzig, 1867), vol. i, p. 758 [4]
As a third really flawed claim in the same paragraph, we get this pearl:
Also, the natives of Florida at the time of the Christian invasion were allegedly discovered to chant “Hosanna.” [1, p. 392]

As for this claim, Murdock quotes Higgins, who quotes Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico. As luck would have it, the particular quote he refers to is available online (the five pages subsequent to it seem unavailable though):
It is a certain fact, that many Hebrew words are scattered through the American idioms. A respectable writer says, that the inhabitants of Florida made use, in their religious songs, of the exclamation Hosanna, and their priests were named Jouanas....  [5, p. 71]
"A respectable writer" is about as helpful as "I have it on good authority that ...", or "Ancient alien theorists contend that ...". We should here also be vary about claims made by Kingsborough: he was convinced that the natives of the Americas were the lost tribes of the Israelites. His interpretation of evidence is often fanciful and he seems not to have been skeptical about any evidence that would have favoured his theory. He is mainly respected today as a collector of facsimiles of native American works, not as an expert on native American history.

Note - the above are all errors found in one paragraph. I will not claim I have exhaustively mined that paragraph for errors, even - there may very well be more of them.

We go on to find more bullshit, again not made up by Murdock, but still clear fabrications that she either unsuspectingly (and if so, stupidly) or knowingly (and if so, deceptively) repeats.
Furthermore, the Adam tale is found in the Chimalpopoca manuscript of the Maya, which “states that the Creator produced his work in successive epochs, man being made from the dust of the earth on the seventh day.” So remarkable are the similarities between the Mexicans and the Semites that not a few scholars and researchers have wanted to call the Mesoamerican natives “Jews” and to find in them (and others) a “lost tribe” of Israel.[1, p. 393]
The first mistake is pretty significant here. Codex Chimalpopoca is an Aztec manuscript, not a Maya manuscript. From such a mistake onwards, is there any credibility whatsoever to what Murdock reports about this codex? This demonstrates what I have previously said that her attempts entirely rely on second-hand readings of sources. It further turns out this particular example is good evidence regarding the flaws of her method, as her source has misunderstood the codex or is just fabricating claims about it.

As a rather relevant point, the Codex[6] does not state that man was made from the dust of the earth on the seventh day - in fact, there's only five "suns" listed in it. The 'people' of each sun eventually go extinct - the first are eaten by jaguars, the second get blown away by the wind and turned into monkeys, the third had fire rain on them and turned into turkeys, the fourth were drowned by a flood and turned into fish . There is a narrative that looks a bit like the Noah story - Tata, and his wife Nene are told to hollow out a cypress and survive the flood in it. Once the flood is over, they offend the gods, who punish them by cutting their heads off, attaching the heads to their rumps and thereby making dogs out of them (!). The only notions this shares with the Biblical story is that of rain killing earth's inhabitants and only a few being rescued, Tata and Nene. The end of the story is likewise a motif entirely lacking in the Biblical narrative. That motif is rather significant as it turns the story into a just-so story for the existence of dogs, as well as reinforcing the notion that right conduct with regards to the gods is important.

Then mankind is created during the fifth sun. The creation of mankind is thus: six gods mourn over the earth not having any inhabitants. However, Quetzalcoatl went to the Lord of Death to obtain the bones  (of the previous inhabitants of the earth?) and does so after some trickery had ensued. The bones were ground up, all the gods mourned over the dust and one god bled his penis onto it. And the Gods conclude by saying that mankind has been born.

The first four suns all lasted for centuries - the first four were 676, 364, 312 and 676 years (with an additional flood of 52 years), and the fifth sun is the one under which the author thought he was living. The 52 year cycle was important to the Aztecs and many other Mesoamerican peoples, as 52 years is the time it takes for their 260-day and 365-day 'years' to complete a full round, i.e. 52*365 is the least common multiple of 260 and 365. Thus we see another pattern in this story related to Aztec culture: the belief that the end of the cycle had to be properly observed lest calamities and downright complete destruction would befall mankind. The observations were, of course, proper sacrifices.
However, as we have seen, according to the Samaritans there were no lost tribes, and, racially speaking that relationship is not indicated, at least not between the natives of the past few thousand years. [1, p. 393]
The way this argument is presented suggests it is used to establish that no American tribes are lost tribes of Israel. (The line of reasoning being that since no lost tribes ever existed, none of them can have reached America?) This seems to be a rather convoluted line of argument - better arguments for the non-existence of the lost tribes can be obtained from genuine archaeologists of the Middle East and even biblical scholars, and arguing against the claim that some Native American tribes are Lost Tribes is not really even required - no good evidence in favor of such a hypothesis has been presented by anyone, and the burden of proof is on those who hold such a theory. Murdock, of course, muddies the picture by believing in a lot of shoddy evidence that would support such a contention, yet does not believe in the contention itself and favours equally unlikely scenarios.
But, in more ancient times there was indeed in Mesoamerica a race very similar to that of the Semites, i.e., bearded white men, resembling Phoenicians. In fact, there are purportedly Phoenician artifacts found in the port of Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian sites, suggesting that the Phoenicians, for one, did cross the Atlantic at least 1,000 years before the arrival of the Europeans. [1, p. 393]
No sources given - which artifacts does Murdock think are likely to be genuine out of place artifacts suggestive of transatlantic voyages? On which studies does she base her conclusion that these exist? Mere assertion does not cut it.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy, 1999. Adventures Unlimited.
[2] Swanton, John. Haida Texts and Myths, 1905.
[3] von Martius, Carl Friedrich Philipp.  Beiträge zur Ethnographie und Sprachenkunde Amerika's zumal Brasiliens, volume I. 1867
[4] Carpenter, Edward. Pagan and Christian Creeds, 1920. Available at
[5] Lord Kingsborough, Edward King. Antiquities of Mexico. Available at
[6] Codex Chimalpopoca in translation -

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy: Evidence of an Ancient Global Civilization (pt 1)

Chapter 24 is maybe the crowning achievement of delusional thinking in The Christ Conspiracy. To some extent, it will be excluded from the second edition though, so there is apparently hope. (However, she apparently intends to publish a separate book that develops these hypotheses further.) This will be a thorough review of the chapter, leaving nearly no stone unturned. Because of the scope of such a review, it will be split into several posts.

The chapter starts out with a quote that should be pretty obviously wrong to any reader of sound mind:
Civilizations have been born and completed and then forgotten again and again. There is nothing new under the sun. What is, has been. All that we learn and discover has existed before; our inventions and discoveries are but reinventions, rediscoveries. 
Col. James Churchward [1, p 391]
James Churchward - whose books are referenced a dozen times in The Christ Conspiracy - was an occultist. He is mainly known for popularizing the fabled 'lost continent' of Mu - using no evidence that would pass scientific muster whatsoever, he wrote a whole bunch of books about it making all kinds of outlandish claims about its supposed (magical) inhabitants - the Naacals - and whatnot. An utter nutter, in other words. Churchward wrote his books around the onset of the 20th century, and was convinced that the ancients had even more advanced technology and science than his contemporary civilization. (By the time the above quote was published, quantum mechanics already had been developed to some extent. In other words, Churchward must have believed the Naacals had quantum mechanics or something even more impressive, if you want an idea of what scientific understanding had been attained when Churchward wrote this.)  
As has been seen, it is virtually impossible to determine which nation is the progenitor of western culture and, therefore, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and we are left to ponder the idea of another source, such as the Pygmies, who claim to have been a global culture many thousands of years ago.[1, p. 391]
This is a weird line of reasoning. If it is impossible to determine a single progenitor, maybe it is because several cultures have contributed? Maybe it is because some of the contributing cultures - northern and eastern European paganism, for instance - are not known in sufficient detail? Further, what questions are she even trying to answer here? What parts of western culture does she try to account for by finding a progenitor-culture? Why the pygmies, and which particular pygmies at that? Several groups that go under that designation exist, and many seem not to have any close genetic links - in fact, some Asian pygmies seem to have genetical components from the extinct Denisovan species of human, which places their divergence fairly early (20000 years ago at the very least). Further, those African pygmy groups that are related seem to have some very old divergences - they probably split dozens of millennia ago. The question she asks seems to be a loaded question with little actual use except to lead into cloudcuckoolander-worthy speculations.
The fact that the standardized mythos and ritual are found in detail around the world begs the explanation of at least one such global civilization long ago destroyed by cataclysms but preserved in both story and stone.[1, p 391]
The attempts to show that such a 'standardized mythos and ritual' are 'found in detail' around the world rely on sources that Murdock did not even read first-hand. A much closer evaluation of the sources is called for - and such an evaluation is almost certain to demonstrate a significant amount of problems in the sources. I will provide a few such examples below.
Indeed, attempts to trace this commonality to India and/or Egypt do not suffice to explain how the same tales and rites came to be known and practiced in Mexico and in such remote places as Polynesia.[1, p. 391]
In a previous chapter that I have not reviewed yet, Murdock tries determining whether European culture (and the Jewish and Christian religions) are ultimately Egyptian or Indian. The similarities to Polynesian culture are described later in the chapter, and turn out to be pretty weak.
Nor do they explain the enormous archaeological remains found around the globe, which serve as mysterious and inescapable reminders that at some ancient time so-called primitive men were able to do what, according to evolutionary and creationist theories alike, they were not supposed to be able to do.[1, p. 391]
This is a fascinating example of Murdock rejecting evolutionary science without making sure to know exactly what it says first. Evolutionary scientists place the main significant biological changes - i.e. the transition to 'modern humans' at several tens of thousand years ago. (If memory serves, anatomically modern humans appeared >150 000 years ago, whereas behavioral modernity varies; if we go by when language appeared, guesses vary from 100 000 to 50 000 years ago. As for the appearance of more general behavioral modernity (as opposed to just the appearance of language), a quick survey of unscholarly sources (wikipedia and the like) suggests a span of hypotheses ranging from before anatomical modernity to as recently as 40 000 years ago. Nevertheless, all of these predate the building of the pyramids by more than 30 000 years. Anyways, all these evolutionary theories agree: essentially, humans were supposed to be able to do exactly that which Murdock claims they could not. Murdock here engages in a fallacy known as strawmanning (with regards to evolutionary theory). Her fallacy is further propped up by a weird fallacy where she has to assume something along these lines: evolutionary theory* is wrong, because archaeologists are wrong, without ever establishing the latter claim. Thus far, she has demonstrated neither.
Such similarities between cultures around the planet can be found in religion and mythology, customs, rituals and symbols, language, astrological and astronomical knowledge, and archaeological/architectural remains. In investigating such cultural commonality, it would reasonable to conclude that our current global civilization is not the first. The further we delve back in time, naturally, the more difficult it is to discover solid ground and the more speculative is the discussion.[1, p. 391]
The last sentence here is a good point, and one you would hope Murdock herself would have understood to appreciate. She doesn't. Alas, the previous sentence is pure delusion and shows just how she disregards what she is about to say about the difficulty of finding solid ground.

* I do not get the impression that Murdock believes evolution not to be a fact, she rather seems to believe that our current understanding of when (and possibly how) mankind has evolved is significantly flawed.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy, chapter 17: The Meaning of Revelation pt 2

The more general discussion Murdock presents regarding Revelation is very unclear. She identifies a lot of motifs in the book - there is no discussion of the use of these motifs. Murdock generally seems content to identify motifs and stop there - throughout the book, there is very little in ways of analysis of the actual use of motifs. Let us compare this with the following excerpt from E.P. Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism:
The case is not quite so clear when one considers the comparison of individual motifs. The notion that a religion is the sum of its parts is not a ridiculous one, and therefore the comparison of numerous parts is not so obviously inadequate as the comparison of reduced essences. Nevertheless, it is inadequate for the true comparison of religions, for two reasons. In the first place, it is usually the motifs of one of the religions which are compared with elements in the second religion in order to identify their origin. The two religions are not treated in the same way. The history of the comparison of Paul and Judaism shows this clearly. One starts with Pauline motifs and looks for their origins in Judaism, but the various elements of Judaism are not taken up for their own sake. It follows that there is no true comparison of the two religions. In the second place, motif research often overlooks the context and significance of a given motif in one (or sometimes both) of the religions. It is conceivable for precisely the same motif to appear in two different religions but to have a different significance. One may consider the analogy of two buildings. Bricks which are identical in shape, colour and weight could well be used to construct two different buildings which are totally unlike each other. One could knock down a building and build another, unlike the first, from the same bricks. In motif research, one must consider function and context before coming to an overall conclusion as to similarity or dissimilarity. [3, p. 13]
Sanders' piece of reasoning here is something Murdock would do well to consider. However, that would require her to acknowledge that the lack of any method (and consequently, lack of discussion of advantages and disadvantages of the method) to her research is a problem. That lack of method is painfully visible in this chapter, where assertions are made without hesitation, and few or no attempts to establish any facts are made, and any attempt whatsoever to create a coherent picture of the assertions is curiously absent. As an instance of such assertions we have the following:
In fact, Revelation records the mythos of the precession of the equinoxes, or the
“Great Year,” and was apparently originally written to usher in the Age of Aries,
which began around 4,400 years ago.[1, p. 267]
This is a fairly remarkable claim - one that really requires significantly more elaboration and, indeed, evidence. Nothing in the chapter connects the various motifs to particular things relevant to that particular time. An astronomical investigation regarding what particular things happened in the skies at about the time the Age of Aries was entered, in combination with star-related imagery from Revelation could demontstrate a connection. No such comparison is made, she just points to star-related imagery again and again, asserting that these somehow demonstrate her point. She never demonstrates that these things are connected in the way she asserts they are.

There further is a bunch of rather weird claims that have little or nothing to do with astrotheology, yet contain shoddy sources and claims that would require quite a bit more in ways of support:
As noted concerning the same cherubim in Ezekiel, these four animals represent
the four cardinal points of the zodiac. The throne is the sun, and the multitudinous
“eyes front and behind” are the infinite stars. The three pairs of wings of each beast
represent the three signs of each of the four zodiacal quadrants. These “living
creatures” were also found in Egypt. As Walker says, “Spirits of the four points of the
year were sometimes called Sons of Horus.” [1, p. 268]
It is worth noting that Walker indeed says this, but does not provide any further references, thus - as so frustratingly often - making it difficult to verify. Further, she is willing to ascribe fairly modern ideas to the authors of Revelation, courtesy of John G. Jackson:
Jackson relates that the four beasts also represent Noah and his three sons, i.e., the various races. In this scenario, the lion is the lion of Judah, or Shem, “father” of the Semites; the bull symbolizes the Hamites of Egypt; the eagle is Japheth, progenitor of the Aryans; and the man is Noah, who is of the “Adamic” or “Atlantean” race.[1, p. 268]
The kind of obsession with an Atlantean race that she here infers that the author of Revelation shares with various modern theosophists and other people seems quite badly justified. Even though she does provide a source - Jackson - from what I know of this author I have a hard time imagining there to be anything of any value to it. Why would the four beasts represent these groups? What makes this statement in any way meaningful or verifiable? Do any early Christian writers understand it in such a manner?

One particular bit in Revelation that clearly has astrological origins (but the use of which, as a motif, is not necessarily entirely pro-astrology in Revelation*) is discussed, in its own subchapter:
The “woman clothed with the sun” is both the moon, which reflects or “wears” the sun, and the constellation of the Virgin, who has the moon under her feet and the stars above her head.  [...] At the Temple of Isis at Denderah was an image of a woman “seated at the center of a blazing sun crowned by twelve stars and with her feet resting on the moon. The woman was the symbol of Mother Nature; the sun represented creative strength; the twelve stars stood for the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and the Moon signified Matter and its domination by Spirit.” Walker relates the eastern custom regarding the woman:  According to Tantric tradition, the Goddess concealed herself behind the sun’s brightness; it was “the mayik vesture of Her who is clothed with the sun.” This image reappeared in the New Testament as “the woman clothed with the sun.” (Revelation 12:1).[1, p. 269-270]
The temple of Isis at Denderah makes a new appearance in Suns of God, but the same mistaken claim appears in this volume as well:
As to the antiquity of this motif, it should be noted that the temple at Denderah has been averred to be possibly 10,000 years old, based on the astrology it depicts.[1, p. 270]

No serious archaeologists claim that the Denderah temple is 10,000 years old. There is pretty clear evidence that it stems from the time of Cleopatra. I have previously discussed this particular topic.[4 also provides a more direct source regarding Denderah.]
The much ballyhooed number, 666, mentioned in Revelation as the “mark of the
Beast,” was in fact held sacred in the goddess-worshipping cultures as representative
of female genitalia.[1, p. 271]
Which cultures exactly? Murdock does not tell. Nor give any kind of source.

 When the Goddess was vilified by the patriarchy, she became the
“Beast” and her sacred number the “mark.” The number 666 was not held to be evil
or a bad omen in Judaism, as is evidenced by the biblical story of Solomon
possessing 666 talents of gold. In fact, it is a sacred number. [1, p. 271]
I have not, in years of studying Judaism, come across any statement to the effect that 666 is particularly sacred in Judaism.[3 provides one particular statement to the effect that it is not.] Certainly, there is a significant amount of numerology in kabbalah, and 666 appearing somewhere in there is entirely possible. If such a number can be found, showing that it indeed is an old tradition would be pretty important in order to make that particular claim - providing a medieval kabbalistic work does not suffice. The further analysis of the number is fraught with unbridled speculation taken as fact:
As Higgins says:
The Hexad or number six is considered by the Pythagoreans a perfect and sacred number; among many other reasons, because it divides the universe into equal parts. It is called Venus or the mother. It is also perfect, because it is the only number under X, ten, which is whole and equal in its parts. In Hebrew Vau is six. Is vau mother Eva or Eve?
In addition, Anderson points out that “666” also corresponds to the sun rising at 6:00 a.m., reaching its height six hours later, and setting at 6:00 p.m. [1, p. 271]
Of course, the earliest manuscript we have has the number 616 there. The early manuscript evidence is rather firmly divided on those two. Any theory that purports to explain it should also explain this discrepancy. Higgins' speculation is as usual fairly amusing. Six apparently divides the universe into equal parts. Tell me which number does not! Where is six called 'the mother' or Venus?

Higgins' understanding of the notion of perfect numbers is finally lacking - perfect numbers were among the first classifications of numbers in number theory after the rather fundamental classes of odds, evens, primes and composite numbers. A perfect number is a composite number whose positive divisors (excluding itself) add up to itself - 6 is perfect because it is divisible by 3,2 and 1, which added together equal 6. 10 is not, since 5, 2 and 1 add up to 8. The next perfect number is 28 - divisible by 1,2,4,7,14, which as we can easily see add up to 28. (1+2+4=7, 7+7 = 14, 14 + 14 = 28). I guess 'whole and equal in its parts' may signify something like that, but it's far from clear. Since Higgins clearly was no mathematician, it is possible he was just imperfectly parroting a definition he had heard and misunderstood. Alternatively, he was using some obsolete way of talking about arithmetics, but I can find no other source using similar wording to describe perfect numbers. Ultimately, of course, he is correct in saying that it is a perfect number - but even then that says nothing about 666 - which is not written as three sixes in neither Greek, Latin or Hebrew. (χξς in Greek, DCLXVI in Latin, ת״רסו or somesuch in Hebrew.) Parsing the number does seem easily to lead into pareidolia and too many assumptions. Numerology makes it way too easy to find false positives.

As for Eva/Eve, one would think the other letters in the name would also have contributed to the gematria - the sum of her Hebrew name's letters, after all, is 21 - thus connecting it to 666 also seems weak.
Its true meaning, of course, has been lost to the masses, as they have been told that astrology is “evil,” a deliberate device to prevent them from studying it, because, with such astrological knowledge, they would understand clues such as in Revelation (22:16), where the true nature of Jesus is clearly identified when he is called the “morning star,” i.e., the sun, which is the real “revelation.” [1, p. 272]
I suggest Murdock study the concept of metaphor, which she claims the Bible is full of. I would suggest reading the above as a metaphor - i.e. conveying something that is not its literal meaning. The entire book of Revelation is full of such metaphor, and I am surprised to see Murdock repeatedly call for a literal reading of it in the name of reading it metaphorically.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy
[2] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy, Ch 19: Essenes, Zealots and Zadokites, pt 1

It is useful for the next several installments of the review of The Christ Conspiracy to consider the more general structure of the book. With the exception of a few chapters, most chapters fit into a rather simple partitioning into a few overarching themes or functions - which of those words to pick for describing it depends a bit on whether we look at the claims, which tend to be similar in each partition, or whether we look at the basic questions the chapters investigate. The first few chapters establish that early Christianity did have a significant amount of fabrication going on. The second part consists of several chapters trying to establish the meaning of the Christian mythos.

This chapter is the first in the final section of the book. These chapters attempt to identify the participants in the machinations behind Christianity, the deep roots of Christianity, or something along those lines, and in extension the deep roots of western culture. The questions these chapters try to answer are not very clearly stated, and the answers given seem to be a bit all over the place.

Chapter 19 presents an overview of the relationship of early Christianity to the Jewish movements of the time. The focus is mainly on the Essenes. The chapter's structure, as far as the Essenes go, roughly follows this outline: She states that some scholars have sought the origins of Christianity in Essenism, and in Jesus as a traveling Essene teacher of mysteries. She points out that lack of such evidence is pretty damning for the whole notion that Jesus was such a teacher. Christianity is stated to have spread too quickly for there to have been any truth to the origin story given in the NT - a rag-tag group of fishermen and other unassorted Jewish peasants could not have organized the early church in the short time span during which the church came about - thus scholars have seen the Essenes as a possible solution to that problem, what with the Essenes already having such an organization in place. She notes that this theory does not agree with fundamentalist Christian notions of Christian history.

The chapter starts out with a question, an answer to which is not really convincingly provided in the entire chapter:
The question remains as to how the Christian myths was created and by whom. In looking for the originators of Christianity, many people have pointed to the Essenes, the third Jewish sect besides the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem.[1, p. 296]
Murdock seems to be a bit inconsistent in whether she is arguing against Essenes-as-a-source-for-Christianity or Jesus-as-an-Essene.
 Like the mythicists' arguments, the Essene theory of Christian origins is repugnant to fundamentalists, because it posits the pre-existence of the Church, which would mean that Jesus was not its founder. The Church, according to such Christians, was not already established at the time of Christ's alleged advent but, under Christ's supernatural power and inspiration, miraculously caught ire and was empowered beyond all expectations, to spring out of nowhere into a full-fledged movement, with extraordinary influence and, apparently, a good deal of wealth. In swallowing this yarn, then, we are supposed to accept that, within a number of years of Jesus's purported death, a ragtag band of illiterate fishermen and semiliterate peasants questionable in their faith in Jesus was able to establish a full-blown church, with bishops, deacons, parishes and rituals. [1, p. 297]
Indeed, fundamentalist Christians believe things that clearly are mistaken. In other news, water is wet.
In spite of this fervent belief, there remains no evidence for such a  miraculous genesis, so scholars have been compelled to turn to the white-robed Essenes as the wellspring of Christianity. Within this theory, early Christianity was "pure" and "untainted" by corruption, which came only after it was institutionalized as the Catholic Church. [1, p. 297]
This is a very clear-cut case of strawmanning. Scholars who posit that Christianity grew out of Essenism do by and large not posit that early Christianity was "pure" and ""untainted" by corruption". Most such scholars nowadays generally admit quite clearly that religions and religious sects are human constructs, where all kinds of human behaviors exist. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that 19th century freemasons often sought an untainted Christianity in Essenism, but rebuttal of the problematic aspects of a 19th century hypothesis does not suffice to likewise reject a more modern view that has amended those very flaws. For examples of the kinds of views modern scholars have, Gabriele Boccaccini has several books and articles on the Essene-Christianity connection.

Thus this is a fairly terrible misrepresentation of the theory genuine scholars are working with. A scholar is supposed to keep up with what scholars are actually saying - not use strawman arguments. The alternative is that she is ignorant about what scholars actually are thinking. Both options are rather damning, and I do not see a third option. Certainly the kind of notion she decries - that early Christianity was 'pure' and unsullied - does exist, and is held by many protestants. Likewise, there are new religious movements on the fringes of Christianity that do think the Essenes were pure, and claim to be their spiritual descendants. However, these are not exactly scholars, and rejecting them - although relevant in a work for the deconversion of that kind of audience - is entirely irrelevant in a scholarly work.

She further dismisses the idea that Christianity has anything to do with Essenism by these statements:
In reality, the so-called pure Christianity would have been abhorrent to the followers of a simply morality such as the Essenes. For example, in addition to the squabbling, threats and apparent murders of converts such as in Acts, where Peter is virtually depicted as having caused the deaths of a husband and wife over money, this "pure" Christianity included the exhortation of slaves to remain slaves, such as at ... [1, p. ]
Not all religions live up to their reputations. Are we to expect the Essenes to be any better?

In order to compare Christianity and the Essenes, we need to have an idea regarding what beliefs and practices characterized Essenism - what distinguished it from the Pharisees and the Sadducees? What doctrines distinguish early Christianity from all three of them? Due to Murdock's rejection of the notion that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain any significant portion of Essene material, she has very few sources about their beliefs with which to work. Nevertheless, she does seem to think she knows a fair deal about their beliefs, as is evident from these statements:
The zealous Jesus's rash and brusk behavior is, in fact, contrary to the restraint and discipline of the peaceful Essenes. ... In addition, the Essenes were not followers of the Hebrew Bible, or its prophets, nor did they subscribe to the concept of the original fall that required a savior. They did not believe in physical resurrection or a carnalized messiah. ... [1, p. 299] 
Of course, the notion of the 'original fall' is understood very differently in Rabbinic Judaism than it is in Christianity, to the extent that it does not really have any clear connection to the savior whatsoever - the fall and the savior seem not to be connected together in a systematic way in Judaism. Thus, the lack of a fall does not have to indicate the lack of a messiah (and even vice versa). Further, we do not know that the Essenes rejected the Hebrew Bible, and some evidence seems to indicate they at the very least incorporated it in some way into their scripture.

Neither does Rabbinic Judaism subscribe to the kind of notion of a fall that Christianity does, yet Rabbinic Judaism too expects a savior. Since Murdock in addition rejects the idea that there is any substantial corpus of Essene material in the DSS, she is left with nearly no evidence as to what the exact beliefs of the Essenes were - yet dares to make sweeping statements about their beliefs! What this lack of any substantiation whatsoever outside of the reports of three ancient historians and the works of Philo should lead to is scholarly carefulness. Murdock instead takes this lack as license to speculate wildly. As for such wild speculation, the claim that the Essenes were not followers of the Hebrew Bible also seems somewhat suspect - or at least in need of some source backing it up.

There are indeed some reasonable points in this chapter - points she returns to in a much more focused way in Who was Jesus - Footprints of the Christ. The reasonable points are used, however, to reject points against which they are not sufficient or even helpful arguments. The argument is very unfocused - is she arguing against Christianity as an offshoot of Essenism? Is she arguing against Jesus as an Essene? Arguments that would support one of these is used to debunk the other and vice versa, and even then, those arguments are not particularly good. She seems to subscribe to a very idealized notion about the Essenes, and therefore has a hard time reconciling them with Christianity.
... The real Essenes, as described by Josephus, abhorred falsehood, and unlike the Christian fathers, would not have mindlessly believed the unbelievable. [1, p. 299]

Woah, wait, what? A religion in antiquity whose members would not have mindlessly believed the unbelievable? This sounds pretty credulous. It is clear the Essenes did in fact mindlessly believe the unbelievable, just like members of most religions ever.
 In reality, the so-called pure Christianity would have been abhorrent to the followers of a simply morality such as the Essenes. For example, in addition to the squabbling, threats and apparent murders of converts such as in Acts, where Peter is virtually depicted as having caused the deaths of a husband and wife over money, this "pure" Christianity included the exhortation of slaves to remain slaves, such as at ... 1 Timothy, Colossians 3, Titus 2
As for peacefulness, one of the ancient Essenes we know by name - John the Essene - was a general in the Jewish war[n]. I find it unlikely he was the only Essene to fight in that war.
However, the Jewish aspects of the Christ character  are mainly Pharisaic, not Essenic.[1, p. 300]
Which particular aspects, pray tell, are those? Is it his wearing black rather than white? Without any explanation of this claim, we cannot evaluate it. Jesus deviates a lot from Pharisaism as well as Sadduceanism - belief in Satan as a fallen angel and various other aspects of his teachings seem to point to a non-Pharisaic ideological background.

In conclusion, the above quotes indicate that Murdock is even ready to interpolate a lot from the very little evidence we have (according to her) about Essene beliefs. The conclusion of the chapter does connect Christianity a bit more closely to Essenism, but along the way to that conclusion she goes through a lot of bullshit.

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