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!

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The God of Solipsism

I’m bad at intros, so I’m just going to jump right into it.  This is an explanation of a theory I have that, in order for a solipsist to accept that the external world exists, he must believe in God.  Now this doesn’t have to be Yahweh, or any god in particular, it merely needs to serve the function that I am presenting.

If reality cannot be proven to be more than a construct of consciousness, then in order for the external world to exist independently of my consciousness, it must exist, in full, in some consciousness that is at a higher level than mine.  In this case, I am a figment of this higher consciousness’s imagination, as are all the people and beings that I encounter.

Another way to think of it: If I accept that the external world exists, then I must accept the existence of other minds, other minds that, like mine, cannot prove the existence of anything but their own minds.  So unless we are all actively constructing the universe collectively, than there is a mind outside the universe imagining the entirety of it.  Now there may be evidence of the former if we look at quantum mechanics in this light.  If we are all actively constructing the universe as we go, then the more we probe into the inner workings of the universe, the more we have to actively construct.  So you could see the anomalies and contradictions of quantum mechanics as our minds not being able to accurately construct all levels of the universe.  Since subatomic particles behave differently when they are being observed, this theory is entirely possible.  But if the latter is true, then we are simply pushing the bounds of what we can understand being figments of the imagined universe, and only God can fully understand it, if that.

This is not an original concept.  The illustration above represents one version of Hindu cosmology in which Brahma, sitting on a lotus flower that grows out of the navel of Vishnu, who rides on the back of a serpent in a primordial endless ocean (just ignore that part for now), dreams the universe.  Vedantic Hinduism claims that Brahma is all things, and that the universe we live in is Brahma’s dream, and the Atman (the individual self) is a manifestation of Brahma in his own dream.  Hinduism may be one of the oldest religions known to man, not to mention the oldest one still practiced today, yet even here we find the concept of solipsism giving rise to God (or Brahma).

Believe Everything (Believe Nothing)

I’ve started to notice in my online debates (I know, I’m so cool, right?) that I tend to send mixed messages as far as my actual viewpoint on the topic.  I somehow manage to defend and oppose both sides of the argument at the same time, which causes some confusion.  If I defend religion, or a religious person, in a debate, people assume that I am a religious person, at which point I have to clarify that I’m not really, but I’m interested in religion and religious debates.  In philosophical debates, I am often labelled as a solipsist because I pull the solipsism card alot.  People then go on to try to disprove solipsism to me, at which point I have to clarify that I’m not a solipsist really, but I think that solipsism is very possible, and so has to be taken into account when debating the nature of existence.  This has caused me to attempt to sit down and actually define my beliefs, which has been harder than it sounds.  It seems that most people (at least most bloggers) have a very well-defined set of beliefs that they defend in all of their posts and comments, so when they read something, they say something along the lines of ‘You are wrong or right for these reasons.’  But I find that most of my comments usually start with ‘I think…’ or ‘Maybe, but…’  or something along those lines.  I try to steer clear of asserting my opinions as facts, despite what my schoolteachers taught me about how to write an essay.  This may be my natural aversion to confrontation, as I find most blog debates quickly get heated, and then people just start animalistically defending their own point without actually debating the topic.  But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that I just don’t truly believe that any one viewpoint is correct.  I have theories about the world and how it works, but I could be completely wrong, and I accept that fact.  I don’t think that just because something could be wrong, I should ignore that viewpoint entirely, as I could learn alot from considering it.  I don’t ‘believe’ in any one religion or religion in general, but I want to learn as much as I can about each one, because who knows where I’ll come across an answer to a question I have or a thought I may never have had before?  I’m not a solipsist, because I don’t deny the existence of objective reality, but I don’t think it can be entirely proven either, so I have to frame all of my assertions about objective reality through the lens that I may actually be talking about nothing.  I think that in order to consider all viewpoints, we can’t simply find the reason that one is wrong and then cast it out.  In order to gain anything from the viewpoint, we have to consider the implications that it makes about the world around us, and who knows, maybe we’ll learn something by doing so.  Just a thought, I’d love to hear yours below!!