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

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