Another article criticizing Tyson’s small mindedness on ‘Cosmos.’
Here is a link to an article worth reading for fans of the new ‘Cosmos.’ I had the same problem with the episode they discus, that they are changing the complicated circumstances of early modernity into a simplified morality tale who’s aim is not explaining the past but teaching the simple minded a new mythology with new demons.
Images from formally classified Cold War satellites show evidence of thousands of previously unknown ancient cities. Every archeological site has the potential to offer huge insights into little understood eras of our past. Hopefully stability in the Mid-East will allow for excavations of these sites, though there is a fear that amateur treasure hunters will get there first.
A post on Dr. James McGrath’s blog, Exploring our Matrix, has had me thinking about the Genesis myths and its relation to reality. The post is a quote from Rev. Joseph Phelps that reads as follows, “What kind of childish literalism reads the anthropomorphic language of Genesis and concludes that the Bible can only be read as a historical rendering of the origins of the universe?” The people who wrote Genesis must have been aware that they taking the accounts of other mythologies and modifying them for their own religious ideology, so that raises question of how literally they took what they wrote. Never the less it does express concepts about the origin of the world they probably thought were valid. Some of its features may well have been understood literally by them, for instance that the top of the sky was a solid dome and above it was a sea of water. While dismissed even by young earth creationist, at that time, that was a reasonable guess about how the world was constructed. Regarding its anthropomorphism, this is mostly a product of the J account of creation in chapter two, but even P account in chapter one presents a god with a human perspective, most evident when he makes humans in the likeness of himself and his council of spirits. This reflects the time and place of Genesis’ composition, where myths of cosmic origins were reimagined using language established by the first humans, who describe the time before their ancestors as a mythic Dreamtime where the laws of the current world did not apply and who could not imagine agencies at work other than the ones they knew, animals and humans. Compare this with later philosophical cosmologies such as in Daoism, where the creation comes about by the action of abstract ideas and forces or our own modern cosmogonies that are populated by mathematically defined fundamental forces and particles. But is there any truth in this theory of the beginning in Genesis? I think the writers for the most part were wrong, but at its beginning, they assert that in the beginning, their was a god, and their was a shapeless dark void. There is something to this conception of the beginning that is intriguing. It imagines that before creation, there existed in a timeless prior state a shapeless form that would be the source of all shaped forms. It was essentially a ball of potential things that had no property until acted on by the god, who in this account is the source of all possible forms, yet is independent of the material they find expression in. Our own cosmos might be described this way in its state before the big bang, existing within a state beyond the ability of science to describe was the “material” from which all things are composed and the laws of physics that establish what forms can be.
An inscription in Canaanite has recently been found in Jerusalem. The inscription consist of a number of Canaanite letters that don’t appear to spell any known words in the Canaanite lexicon on a clay pot. The find dates slightly before the time when Jerusalem was supposed to have been captured by king David. On occasion I have seen scholars that are surprised or dubious that the ancient Israelites produced text. Finds like these tend to undermine such doubts, though it shouldn’t be surprising since it was the biblical world that invented the alphabet so why shouldn’t the people of Syria/Palestine be writing before the Greeks? Contra the notions of some historians, I don’t think it would be unlikely that Israel produced text, even at early stages of its development.
Paintings have been recovered on the walls of what are described as shrines from Neolithic sites in Turkey. These images, shown below, depict animals being set upon by what appear to be hunters.
Catal Huyuk c.6000 BC (source: Charles Burney, “The Ancient Near East” Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1977 )
Reconstructed Catal Huyuk shrine based on archeological remains (compare the fragment above with the reproduced image on the wall) (source: Seton Lloyd, “The Archaeology of Mesopotamia” London, Thames and Hudson, 1978)
But are these simply depictions of hunts? Images from South Africa created by a paleolithic people, the San, have a similar composition, and it is known what they depict (see below). The hunts depicted in San rock art do not take place in the earthly realm, but in the spiritual world. The San create these pictures to manifest the power of shamanistic vision quests created in altered states of mind achieved by way of rhythmic dancing (other methods are used by different societies to achieve similar mind states, including drugs, meditation, and physical stress). In these mystic states souls can interact with the spirit creatures that the San beleive exist in the rock and control nature. The animals are called rain animals because they are said to bring rain. The capture of the rain animal by the shamans allows them to bring its rain into the material world. Clouds are themselves described as a beast, with the columns of rain its feet. The spirit animals, like earthly animals, give nourishment. Just as this nourishment is not obtained in the normal way humans obtain nourishment from animals, their existence is not apparent like earthly animals. Instead they provide nourishment in a magical way and can only be directly observed by shifting one’s consciousness into the magical world of spirit beings.
Recent San rock paintings from South Africa. ( http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/rari/page6.php )
This concept has also been applied to similar images found in the caves of Ice Age Europe (see below). The Cro-Magnon peoples did not use human forms nearly as much as the San, but the images of Shamans stalking bison, and the depictions of such animals being assaulted by spears may carry the same function, to show the shaman leading animals out of the spirit world through the womb of the earth goddess and into the material world. That paleolithic Europeans believed a spirit woman birthed animals is an interpretation supported by the commonness of this theme around the world and the frequent occurrence of female figurines among the Cro-Magnon.
Cave art from Ice Age France see ( http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281/Philosophy%20of%20Magic/My%20Documents/Therianthropes.htm )
In fact their closest relatives today, the Basque, have retained myths of the mother goddess living in caves and birthing the gods from there. Note in the lower left corner of the image from Turkey the figure of the mother goddess, very similar to the styles used for thousands of years in Europe. The paintings in Turkey may be evidence of the retention of the ice age religious practices by the first towns, with the walls of the shrines becoming an artificial cave or rock wall.
Left, from Catal Huyuk, right, an Ice Age Venus
The walls at Catal Huyuk could be concretized shamanistic journeys where the spirit animals birthed by the goddess could be captured by shamans. The rituals may have included part of the general community to help enact the spirit hunt or perhaps only select elite interacted with the images. Either way the animals may not be representing simply animals but spirits that control the beast, or, given the agricultural focus of these sites, weather. It should be kept in mind the association of sky gods with bulls throughout the ancient near east and Greece. The close resemblence between the pictures at Catal Huyuk seem to indicate that not only did the priest there owe their traditions to people who sought shamanistic visions though altered mindstates, but likely that they still did.
Lewis-Williams, J. David. The Mind in the Cave. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Michael Everson, “Tenacity in religion, myth, and folklore: the neolithic Goddess of Old Europe preserved in a non-Indo-European setting” Journal of Indo-European Studies 17 Numbers 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 1989, pp. 277-95. http://www.evertype.com/misc/basque-jies/basque-jies.html#ft5
Basque Mythology http://www.buber.net/Basque/Folklore/aunamendi.mythology.php