Someone Tell The Ark I Found His Beer Mug

To my friend The Ark: I found your favorite beer mug.  Looks like you smashed it somewhere in San Diego, must have been a crazy night!

 
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On a Labor Day excursion to San Diego, my girlfriend and I stopped by Balboa Park’s “Museum of Man”, a decidedly non-PC name for one of few museums dedicated to anthropology.  Among the mediocre exhibits on evolution and Mesoamerican culture containing mostly replicas and casts of artifacts, I was pleasantly surprised to find this gem.  Tucked into the gimmicky “Beerology” exhibit, undoubtedly set-up to draw visitors to the small and not-so-noteworthy museum, was an actual beer cup buried alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten in his tomb in Amarna.  We can pretty safely assume that the ‘first monotheist’ actually used this now gangrenous chalice to knock back his royal brewskies.  I know it’s pretty nerdy, but this unexpected encounter with an ancient man with whom I happen to have a slight fan-boy fascination made me a little giddy for a fleeting moment.  Anyways, I just thought I’d let the guy know his cup is waiting for him in SoCal if he wants to come pick it up sometime.

I am that I am (and that’s all that I am)

popeye is god

 

In my recent post about the Lost God of Peace, I discussed the linguistic origins and evidence of the Canaanite god, and briefly mentioned some of the others in the pantheon and their linguistic remnants in the Semitic languages.  But there was one small deity in that pantheon that I may have overlooked (or intentionally passed over) whom you may recognize.  Did you find him?  He’s way down there almost at the bottom.  Yup that’s him!

That’s right, Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God worshipped by nearly 55% of the world’s population, once sat alongside Shalim as one of the minor gods of the Canaanites.  While this is hardly news to any diligent theologian, it may come as a bit of a shock to casual believers.  So how did this marginal, seemingly insignificant deity come to overtake his brother’s temple, marry his father’s wife, and completely redefine religion as the world knew it by becoming the one true god of monotheism?  Once again, a linguistic analysis may be able to help us explain this.

Take another look at the gods of the Canaanite pantheon.  Notice that almost all of them have a dominion that they ruled or oversaw, whether it be Yaw, the god of the seas and rivers; Ishat, the god of fire; or our guy Shalim, the god of the dawn.  In determining the origins of the names of gods in polytheism, you often run into the chicken vs. egg problem. For example, it may never be known whether Shalim took his name from the Canaanite word for ‘dawn’ or vice versa.  It can pretty safely be assumed that at one point the language was so primitive that the two probably shared a name, and possibly an identity.  Keep in mind that in the same way that monotheism arose from monolatrism which in turn arose from polytheism, polytheism probably arose from an amalgam of animism and ancestor worship.  Euhmerus theorized that all of the gods of Greece were named after distant ancestors who became deified over the generations, but he may have overlooked the fact that animism was an equally influential early religion, and many names of gods are derived from the common terms for natural objects.  But what about Yahweh?  It seems he was unique in this sense, as he does not have a natural phenomenon or an aspect of society that he supervises.  A little digging gives us evidence that he may have derived his name from a location or cultural name of his followers.  Probably the earliest mention of his name is in the Egyptian accounts of the ‘Shasu of Yhw,’ a nomadic tribe of people living around Egypt during the time of Amenhotep III (coincidentally the father of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who attempted to convert Egypt to monotheism… hmmmm….).  Since the other shasu mentioned in the accounts are followed by location names, it’s safe to assume that this instance of ‘yhw’ referred to a location as well.  Since these people were nomadic, we can hypothesize that they may have traveled south to Canaan and assimilated into the culture there, thus lending the god of their homeland to the Canaanite pantheon.  From there, this fringe group of pseudo-Canaanites, who seemed rigorously intent on maintaining their cultural identity through their god, were either pushed north by outside forces, or were led there on the promise of finding a land of their own, as the Bible states.

Enter Moses, the founder of Yahwehism.  Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘But Logan, didn’t Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all come before Moses?”  Or maybe you weren’t thinking that at all, but anyway.  Yes, these patriarchs of Genesis were the leaders of the Israelites before Moses.  But notice the name for Israel.  It has that pesky little -el suffix we discussed in the last post.  Also the Hebrew name used for God throughout Genesis is Elohim, another derivation of El, the Canaanite’s father god.  Clearly the author of Genesis meant for us to infer that during this time, the Israelites were still a sect of Canaanites.  But when Moses fled Egypt, according to Exodus, he lived with the Midianites, which the Bible tells us were also a sect of Canaanites or ‘Kenites.’  It is also possible that the Midianites were the ‘Shasu of Yhw’ mentioned in the Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Either way, it would appear that the author of Exodus wanted his readers to make that connection, because it is while Moses is among them that he receives his most important message from YHWH.

When Moses encounters God at the burning bush, he asks God his name, and God replies, “I am that I am.”  In Hebrew this is three words: ‘Eyeh Asher Eyeh‘- eyeh being the singular present (and future) tense of the verb ‘to be,’ and asher being a general pronoun which can mean that, which, who, where, or even because.  This simple phrase holds a vast amount of meaning, and is still regarded as one of the most important phrases in the Bible.  Medieval Jews listed it as one of the names of God that held special significance.  The author of Exodus, in an almost Shakespearean play on words, not only makes reference to the ‘yhw’ of the Midianites and the YHWH that his readers currently worshiped, but also states with power and clarity the meaning of Yahweh’s name.  The phrase is most commonly translated into English as “I am that I am,” but it could also mean “I will be what I will be” or “I will be because I will be,” which implies his promise to prove to the Israelites that he is their god.  But the most interesting possibility to me, is the translation “I am because I am” or “I am that which is,” implying that the author is intentionally separating the name YHWH from its cultural and geographic roots, and giving it new meaning which could be equated simply to ‘being’ or ‘existence.’  This perception of the name of God could have influenced Yahwism’s development from a monolatristic religion into a monotheistic one, since monotheism implies that God is all things and the cause of all things.  God is found in every aspect of the universe and ourselves, and thus could easily be defined as existence itself. 

While we may never know which of these meanings was actually implied by the author, since the language itself yields all of the meanings, it seems possible, even probable, that the author meant to imply all of them.  This simple phrase would lay the foundation for one of the most important religious movements in history, and is still seen today as declaration of the nature of God and existence itself.  It nullifies the debate of the existence of God by stating the God and existence are one in the same.  No matter your religion, any person can see the divine nature of existence itself and the value of worshiping your existence and the existence of all things.  That’s my bit.  Shalim, and have a good day!

The Recycled Universe and a Defense of Ancient Wisdom

I don’t know why it’s still so surprising to me that proponents of ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ can often be as unreasonable as the fundamentalists they demonize.  I suppose it’s a natural reaction to the ignorance of reason from, say, Creationists, that they’d be met with equal ignorance from advocates of ‘reason.’  I guess they figure they should fight fire with fire, but stooping to their level is as bad as losing in my book.  Any true lover of wisdom must accept the universal knowledge that we cannot truly know anything.  The multitudes of people who view scientific theory as the last word on any question about the universe tend to ignore this fact, even if they do know it, as soon as they get involved in a heated argument.  They completely disregard the maleable and ever-changing nature of science and its theories, and propose that the latest commonly accepted theory is fact.

Take for example the Big Bang Theory (not the TV show).  If someone in this day and age tried to argue that the big bang theory is wrong, they would surely be met with disdain and condescension from these scientific fundamentalists.  If they proposed that, according to Hindu texts, the universe is recycled, created and destroyed in a cyclical process for eternity, they would almost certainly be labelled a fundamentalist and a religious kook.  Their accusers would probably ignore the fact that the recycled universe theory has been around almost as long as the big bang theory, and was even entertained by Albert Einstein.  They probably wouldn’t even consider the recent research which has concluded that a recycled universe is much more likely to create the inflation necessary to the big bang model.  Even if they accepted that the cyclic model is possible, they would still insist that the Hindu scriptures can hold no useful insight into the matter, since they are not based on scientific research.  They would see no significance in the fact that a roughly 4,000 year old text proposes a theory that may soon replace the currently accepted one, and they certainly wouldn’t admit that the scripture has any more relevance in the argument despite its being theoretically verified.

Please understand that this is in no way an argument against atheism, or a call to convert to Hinduism and worship Brahma.  This is simply a plea for everyone on either side to calm down, listen to the wisdom of their ancestors as well as contemporary experts, and consider all possibilities in any matter, especially the most important ones.

Ancient Aliens (and a defense of mythology)

Even if you don’t watch the History Channel, you’ve probably heard of the show Ancient Aliens from this popular internet meme.  If you haven’t seen the show, you can probably assume what it’s about.  A bunch of crackpot ‘scientists’ pore through historical artifacts and ancient myths looking for evidence of alien encounters with ancient peoples.  After only a few viewings of the show, you begin to notice that there is a core group of about three ‘historians’ who assert these theories.  Other experts are brought in to talk about the evidence, but it usually takes cutting back to crazy-hair-and-crazier-name up there to come around to the punchline of the show, ‘Aliens’ – although he usually uses the term ‘extra-terrestrials’ with a lisp that’s as embarrassing as his hair.  Now despite my chastising of these loons, I actually really enjoy watching the show.  It presents a lot of history and ancient cultures that you wouldn’t usually hear about otherwise.  And if you have any sense in your head, you can usually figure out a better explanation for these historical mysteries than aliens, but at that point you’re too busy laughing at dude’s hair, which seems to get more out of control with every episode.

The ‘ancient alien’ or ‘ancient astronaut’ theory is not a new one by any means.  The alien explanation has been a recurring joke of archaeology since someone looked at the pyramids and said “How the hell did they do that?”  It’s the archaeologist’s way of saying, “Beats me.”  But ‘ancient alien theorists,’ which the show asserts is a real profession, take the explanation way more seriously.  Any piece of archaeological evidence that has even the slightest ambiguity in its origin, becomes evidence not only of aliens, but that aliens have been interacting with humans since we weren’t humans.  The theory only gets crazier from there, claiming that aliens had a direct influence on our evolution, and that we may be descendants of aliens fucking monkeys or something crazy like that.

The most common evidence they use for their theories, however, is not physical.  The ‘theorists’ claim that ancient myths of ‘gods,’ ‘angels,’ and other heavenly beings coming down from the sky, are misinterpretations of ancient alien encounters.  While some of these stories do bear striking resemblances to modern accounts of alien encounters, the theorists are entirely missing what that infers.  What these people fail to realize is that aliens are a modern myth.  Their claim that ancient myths merely ‘misinterpreted’ alien encounters, asserts that aliens are a proven fact.  The truth is we still know as little about these encounters as the ancients did.  We think that because we are more advanced technologically, that we have a better idea of what’s going on in these encounters, but we do not.  Any theory about aliens necessitates technology that does not exist, and has not been proven to be possible.  We are simply doing the same thing the ancients did, and putting these stories into a context that we understand.  The entire notion of aliens, abductions, alien testing on humans, is all a modern myth generated by sparse accounts of loosely similar experiences, just as the ancient myths were.  Yet these ‘theorists’ are quick to denounce the ancient interpretations as myth, and assert the modern interpretation as true.  This leads me to a more general, and much more destructive, misinterpretation: that of myth.

In modern connotation, the word ‘myth’ has become synonymous with ‘lie.’  It’s a way of dismissing something that isn’t true as irrelevant.  We apply the term ‘mythology’ to any religion or other set of stories that we want to do away with.  This is one way the modern religions dismissed paganism and other older religions.  We think of mythology as archaic and primitive, without realizing that we still participate in mythology.  The defining characteristic of a myth is not whether or not it is true, it is what function it serves in our collective psyche and our society.  Mythologists often use the example of superheros as the quintessential ‘modern myth.’  These characters transcend the individual stories they are in and become major influences on our culture despite being fictional.  A person who may have never read a Batman comic or seen a movie, knows who Batman is.  And the same can be said for Superman, V, Luke Skywalker, you name it.  But myths aren’t always based on fictional characters.  Some, like aliens, are based on actual experiences, and could be true.  One modern mythological figure that is completely true, is that of the G-man.  ‘G-men’ or ‘Men In Black’ (not the movie) are based on real people in our societies, yet their characters transcend the actuality of their origins.  They serve the same function as some demons of ancient myths.  They are mysterious and faceless creatures that have vast control over our lives and are typically indifferent or malevolent towards humans and our values.

So the correlation between ancient myths of ‘gods’ and ‘angels’ and the modern myths of aliens is no coincidence.  They serve the same mythological function: advanced beings from a realm beyond the earth that interfere or assist in human development.  Sometimes they are benevolent, sometimes malicious, but most of the time indifferent.  Often they can control events and physical forces that are beyond our control, such as time, weather, etc.  They sometimes give prophetic messages, or whisk unsuspecting humans off into the unknown and reveal to them mysteries of the universe.  The one interpretation does not validate the other or vice versa.  The ancients did not misinterpret aliens as gods.  We and the ancients have misinterpreted something that we don’t understand as something that we can understand, as we have done throughout history.  The commonalities are what’s important.  The fact that we need some type of figure or character to serve that function tells us something about our own psyche.  We yearn for the existence of a race of beings that lives beyond the trials and sorrows of human life.  The question is not, ‘are gods actually aliens?’; the question is, ‘why do we want to believe that such beings exist?’

Planet Eden

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The old legends say we came from a planet.  I’m serious.  That somehow one planet produced us on its own, totally randomly. Seems pretty ridiculous to me. The most complex thing I’ve ever seen a planet produce is a chemical storm. But that’s what they say. Supposedly this magical planet somehow had more than just a handful of elements, it had hundreds. And all those random chemicals magically came together to create a perfect biome just for us.  It’s absurd. This planet somehow produced its own reaction turbines that took in our carbon dioxide and converted it to oxygen. And they were supposedly all over the place. I mean, this stuff is laughable. On top of that, it could magically produce nutrients out of its crust. And there were little beings like us, only not as smart, whose bodies were made of nutrients and we would kill them and eat them.  For real, this is in the archives. This magical planet produced everything we needed, we didn’t have to go from planet to planet gathering resources to convert to nutrients.  Everything was laid right at our feet. Seriously, people actually believe this shit. I guess I get it. It’s nice to imagine a place like that. Makes you feel special.

It’s bullshit though.  I mean, just look at the evidence.  We’re an extremely complex organization of about 100 elements, put together in just the right way, and programmed to reproduce.  We were obviously made on purpose by someone or something.  And they probably didn’t get it right, so they just jettisoned us out.  An experiment gone wrong.  How else do you explain it?  We bicker and argue and believe stupid stories.  We have to scrounge around space for the elements we need to keep us alive.  We can’t self-sustain, so they just discarded us.  At least that makes the most sense to me.  Seems way more probable than a magical planet out in some distant galaxy.  But they’re right, I don’t know for sure.  I just go where the evidence leads instead of blindly believing some old superstition.

But we got too greedy, the legends say. We used up all the resources there, so we had to leave. But someday it’ll revive itself, this magical planet out there, and we can return and live with everything at our feet again. It’s just false hope is what it is. People want to believe in some utopia, past or present or both. It’s bullshit. People need to wake up.  Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt anybody if they want to believe it.  They just want to feel like there’s some purpose behind all of this.  Otherwise they’d just jettison themselves, which I wouldn’t mind to be honest.  That’s mean to say.  They’re not hurting anyone, they’re just annoying.  It’s a nice thought though.  I guess I can’t blame them.  It’d be great if I was wrong, if one day we found it.  I’d be the first to apologize.  I hope I am wrong.  I hope one day we can just stay on one planet that provides everything for us.  Planet Eden.  Sounds like a nice place.

10 Things Every Person Ever Has Thought or Said

Whenever I’m feeling lonely or like my life is insignificant, I like to think of the connections I have to people past and present.  There are certain undeniably universal aspects to everyone’s life, and if we can only keep these things in mind, we can remind ourselves that we are connected to everyone who has ever lived or ever will.  I’ve compiled a list of sentences that nearly every person has said or thought in some form, in some language, at some point in their lives.  Hopefully this will inspire you to feel the connection you have to all humans throughout time.

1. I’m hungy.

2. I’m thirsty

3. I’m horny.

4. Ouch.

5. Ahhhhhh!!!

6. Whoops.

7. Fuck it’s hot/cold!

8. I’m tired.

9. I wonder if [person] likes me.

10. I have to take a shit.

So there you go!  Hope that was inspiring.  Feel free to add to the list!

The Flood Myth Mystery Solved (maybe, probably not)

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I’ve always had a strange fascination with ancient mythology.  Maybe it’s my interest in story-telling, since ancient myths are the oldest stories we have as a species.  But somehow it has always felt like more to me.  Mythology was an ancient way of passing on stories, before historical accounts were ever kept.  Most people tend to think that myths simply came from the imaginations of ancient people, but I like to think that most myths were a way to pass on the account of an actual important event.  Of course stories get distorted, especially when hundreds of different people tell them over thousands of years, but they need to start somewhere, and it seems more likely to me that ancient people would consider actual historic events more important to pass on than made-up stories.  The amount of time that human beings have been around before ever writing anything down vastly outweighs the span of time of our recorded history, so it’s fascinating to me to hear these stories and try to decipher if it holds some morsel of truth of an actual event in ancient history.  There is an entire field of study dedicated to investigating similarities between myths of different cultures throughout the world, and there are some astounding correlations.  It’s easy to understand how some stories may be passed from one culture to another, and due to constant migrations of ancient cultures, some stories may have simply gotten around through word of mouth.  However there are a few myths from countless isolated cultures around the world that share so many similarities with each other, it’s hard to dismiss it as simply coincidence.

The most widespread and strikingly similar myth is what’s commonly referred to as the “Flood Myth.”  Nearly every ancient culture has some sort of deluge story in their mythology.  These stories don’t always involve flooding; in some the earth is consumed by fire, insects, and all other sorts of natural disasters.  Yet the basic storyline is always the same.  The earth becomes overpopulated, so the culture’s gods or deities decide to destroy it.  Yet they choose one family or couple of humans to repopulate the planet once the deluge is over.  Of course, there are several variations of what happens next, from building an ark and gathering two of every animal, to escaping in hollow reeds provided by a “Spider Mother.”  Yet in the end, the hero survives (and amazingly almost always ends up on a mountain) and repopulates the planet with ‘righteous’ or at least more heavenly-aligned humans.  The similarities and seeming universality of the myth has baffled mythologists and anthropologists for centuries.  Most dismiss it as coincidence or claim that it got around by the good old means of word-of-mouth.  But what if there was some sort of global event that caused all of these different cultures to pass the story on for tens of thousands of years?  What sort of event could cause such a widespread cultural phenomenon at a time when there was no sort of global communications network?

First of all, let’s look at the history of the myth.  The first account of a flood story is included in (coincidentally?) one of the first accounts of anything ever.  The Sumerians were an ancient people that settled in modern day Iraq, which gets its name from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk.  The clay tablets found at their settlements are generally agreed to be the earliest written accounts, roughly dating to as far back as 2150 B.C.E.  On one of these tablets, of which huge chunks are missing, there is written the Sumerian creation myth, which tells of a great flood and a single man, Ziusudra, who was saved by constructing a boat for himself.  Two more Sumerian flood myths change the name to Atrahasis and Utnapishtim, but the story remains generally unchanged.  It’s easy to see how a story written down by the first people to write anything down could be so old as to eventually make its way across the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa.  But how do we find similar stories in North and Central America, when the migration into North America is generally placed between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago?  The way I see it, there are three possible explanations for this:

1. The story predates the migration into the Americas, and was preserved through oral tradition.

2. The stories coincidentally arose, independent of each other, across the globe, or…

3. There actually was some sort of global event that occurred, and was passed down by separate cultures over thousands of years.

The most common hypothesis, besides the coincidence one, is that at the end of the last ice age, roughly 10,000 years ago, the Earth went through intense climate change over a relatively short period of time.  The polar ice caps and glaciers around the world were melting at a rapid rate, which caused water levels to rise, probably resulting in large floods in certain areas, or at least forcing people out of settlements that may have been too close to the shore.  There have been several unaccounted for structures, even cities, found underwater along the continental shelf to support this theory.  However, this does not account for the strikingly similar motifs in each story, such as the earth being overpopulated, the flood being caused deliberately by the gods to destroy humans, and one person being chosen to continue the human race.  To me, the only plausible explanation is that all of the stories stem from one original account that predates the migration into the Americas.  This explanation requires a great deal of justification.  The story would have to have been known to a vast majority of humans on earth at the same time, and there must have been some reason to preserve it so carefully throughout the millennia.  It seemed for a long time that this hypothesis would remain just a fantasy in my mind, with no way of ever being proven.  However, new research into human genetics, along with a recently discovered archeological site and specific geological evidence,  may give substance to my idea.

A new genetic study shows that at some point in our history, roughly 195,000 years ago, the number of breeding humans on the earth dwindled from 10,000 to about 600.  Even with an estimated addition of non-breeding individuals, that would still make human beings endangered by today’s standards.  So what caused this genetic “bottleneck” to occur?  Together with geology and anthropology, we can paint a good picture of what was happening at the time.  Anthropology tells us that at that time there were at least four different species of hominids on the earth, and geological evidence shows that at that time, the Earth was going through intense climate change.  Accordingly, the landscape of certain areas was changing rapidly and drastically.  Particularly, the middle of Africa went from being a tropical rainforest to a great plain to a desert and back again several times over a couple thousand year period.  At around 200,000 years ago, the entire continent went through megadraughts, forcing our ancestors south to the coastline.  The vast continental desert prevented us from moving out of that area until about 50,000 years ago.  So for about 150,000 years, 30 times the span of time in our recorded history, we were geographically isolated.  We spent that time evolving, concentrating our DNA, learning together, sharing information, perfecting our survival techniques, and sharing stories.  And maybe just one of those stories was the story of how our particular species survived a natural disaster (a gradual one, but still) while the other “unrighteous people” (other hominids) were killed off.  And maybe, as we spent the next 50,000 years spreading across the earth, beating out the weaker species, dominating our environments, we thought it was important to preserve the story of how we were saved by the “gods” in order to repopulate the planet with out “righteous” species.

It may be a stretch to equate this fantastic myth of destruction and miraculous salvation to a slow and gradual process of fine-tuning our species, but it may serve as validation to those who believe, like me, that our ancient history is preserved in our earliest stories, if we simply read them in the right light.