Monday, November 8, 2010

Similarities and Influences pt1

Today we are going to take a brief look at the origin and influences of some  religious ideas and characters.Before that; I would like to say that in order to gain a healthy understanding concerning the origins of various religions, it is important to note that (as obvious as it may seem) wars, migration and trade were key in the spread of ideas across the globe. In the Mediterranean region known to some as the "cradle of civilization;" there is a rather unique geographical feature. Three continents; Africa,Asia,Europe are virtually connected. Therefore this area of the world became the incubator for much of the worlds great ideas(and bad ones!); and it also became a fierce battle ground, as it was soon realized that he who controlled the Mediterranean controlled the "world".Around this region we have Egypt,Carthage, Italy, Greece, Israel,Syria to name a few of histories major "players." The benefit was the rapid increase in knowledge for mankind as a whole.Philosophies and religious ideas were rampant as teachers, soldiers and merchants traveled from nation to nation. Under the rule of Kings; it was common for the conquering King to replace the "gods" of the vanquished King. Often victory in battle was attributed to some deity; so to lose also meant that your "god" was defeated also.Some conquerors would not totally abolish the former religion; but would allow religious freedom. Eventually ideas would mingle and sometimes new religions would arise; this process is ongoing. If we look at Islam for instance; there are various sects, such as Sunni and Shiite. If we look at Judaism, we have various sects, such as Orthodox and Reformed. In Christianity there are hundreds of variations and sub divisions. So we can see that even in a singular religion; eventually it breaks up into sections. So Imagine if we have differing religions interacting constantly. This is what took place in ancient times and we truly had a melting pot of ideas and  none of these ideas espoused in major religious thought today are unique . Let us look at some:
We will start with the flood and creation stories because they is probably the most well known stories in the west. Let it be known that there are several "flood" stories that predate the one in the bible and the Sumerian is one of the oldest on record. In the Sumerian version, the hero of the flood is Ziusudu; In the Babylonian account it is Utnapishtim (see Epic of Gilgamesh).The ancient historian Berossus gives Xisouthros, and the Hebrew versions of course give Noah.So what is the point? The point is to show that ideas that people often claim to be unique and even go a step further in claiming divine authority are merely rehashed stories of ancient origin.
Let us look at another hero; Samson. Everyone has heard of the mighty Samson; whose strength came from his long hair.Who allegedly killed 1000 men with a jawbone of an ass(Judges 15:16).In verse 18, after all the killing, Samson is thirsty(who wouldn`t be?) v.19 "But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water...he drunk...and his spirit was revived again.(Judges 15:19)."
Now if you want to take this "hagiography"  literally then be my guest, however an understanding of history and some astronomy helps a great deal here to understand that Samson's feats are allegorical in nature..I quote from the classic text "Hamlet`s Mill": "The "Jaw" is in [space] (e.g.heavens). It (the jaw) was the name given by the Babylonians to the [star cluster] Hyades," which are in the constellation Taurus as the jaw of the bull. If we remember the classic tag "the rainy Hyades" it is because Hyades meant "watery." In the Babylonian creation epic Marduk uses the Hyades (e.g.Jaw) as a weapon to destroy the brood of heavenly monsters (Santillana & Dechend p.166)." Of course the stories are not exact; but think of thousands of years passing and the story is being shared by various languages and cultures. Notice the idea of  "the Jaw" is the same. "In South America, where bulls were still unknown, the Arawak's,the Tupi, the Quechua of Ecuador spoke of the "Jaw of tapir." In our sky the celestial "Samson" is Orion, What is interesting about this connection is that Orion is blind. Samson was also made blind.Orion is the ONLY blind constellation of myth. He was also mighty hunter, alias Nimrod. In China he is called "War Lord Tsan" the master of the fall hunt. Samson's feats included tearing a lion apart with his hands(because he was mad),tying 300 fox tails together(for no reason).What we have is a story mixed with incoherent elements of mythology. For example to understand the 300 foxes tails being tied together; one must read Ovid, who speaks of the feast of Ceres, where foxes with burning tails are chased through the circus, but still it is not completely clear. There is also a similar "Samson" in Japanese mythology. his name is Susanowo which means "Brave,Swift Impetuous male" which describes Samson exactly.The ancient Maya have Zipacna as a "Samson." This is just a crash course in similarities and influences. We will look at many more as this is just part one.Remember these stories are ancient and have been passed on for thousands of years and adjusted according to cultural preference. Notice that images of Jesus often reflect the culture that he is presented in. The same applies with these stories; they reflect the society and culture.The hero will always be the majority or ruling class. Enjoy, ask questions, refute, but above all keep an open mind.


Georgio De Santillana and Hertha Von Dechend (1969)
Epic of Gilgamesh (penguin classics) translated by N.K Sandars (1966)
Legends of Babylon & Eygpt in relation to the Hebrew tradition by Leonard W. King, M.A,Litt.D.F.S.A
pub.1918 from the Schweich Lectures in 1916 at the British Academy

Suggested reading:          A great article called Samson:Myth or fact. It is actually two articles written from the opposing viewpoints of a believer and a skeptic. I suggest you read both, they are both well written.
Books by the early christian writers: (e.g. Tertullian,Justin Martyr,Polycarp etc)
you will find them debating against "pagans" or non belevers (e.g Celsus) what is important is with the debates you will find the discussions of religious influence among other things.
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