Ancient Complexity

The ancient world is always fascinating. It’s very much a foreign world. And so it helps us to challenge simplistic thinking.

Such things as ‘race’ did not exist as we know it. Even within a single group, it was difficult to determine who belonged or not. After asking “How, then, did you know a Jew in antiquity when you saw one?”, Shaye J. D. Cohen stated “The answer is that you did not.”

That is partly because there was so much mixing across populations and so many local variations within populations. Widespread influences and syncretism dominated the ancient world. Ancient people in a particular region had more in common than not, for they were the products of common cultural histories. Large frames of understanding encompassed diverse peoples.

This shared inheritance and mutual bond was acknowledged, sometimes even emphasized, by many going back millennia. It’s only over the distance of time that lines of distinction become hardened within historical texts. The lived reality at the time, however, was messier and more interesting.

That should force us to rethink our modern identities, as so much of who we think we are has been built on who we thought ancient people were. When we speak of ancient Greeks and Jews, the traditions of polytheism and monotheism, do we have any clue of what we are talking about? In our claims of being cultural descendants of earliest Western civilization, what do we think we have inherited?

Maybe we should ask another question as well. What have we lost and forgotten along the way?

* * * *

Of God and Gods
by Jan Assman
Kindle Locations 730-769

From the viewpoint of monotheism, polytheism seems prehistoric: original, inal, primitive, immature, a mere precursor of monotheism. However, as soon as one changes this perspective and tries to view polytheism from within, say, from the viewpoint of ancient Egypt, polytheism appears as a great cultural achievement. In polytheistic religions the deities are clearly differentiated and personalized by name, shape, and function. The great achievement of polytheism is the articulation of a common semantic universe. It is this semantic dimension that makes the names translatable, that is, makes it possible for gods from different cultures or different regions and traditions within a to be equated with one another. Tribal religions are ethnocentric. The powers and ancestral spirits that are worshiped by one tribe are irreducibly and untranslatably different from those worshiped by another. By contrast, the highly differentiated members of polytheistic pantheons easily lend themselves to cross-cultural translation or “interpretation.” Translation works because the gods have a well-defined function in the maintenance of cosmic, political, and social order. The sun god of one group, culture, or religion is the same as the sun god of another. Most of the deities have a cosmic competence and reference or are related to a well-defined cultural domain, such as writing, craftsmanship, love, war, or magic. This specific responsibility and competence renders a deity comparable to other deities with similar traits and makes their names mutually translatable.

The tradition of translating or interpreting foreign divine names goes back to the innumerable glossaries equating Sumerian and Akkadian words, among which appear lists of divine names in two or even three languages, such as Emesal (women’s language; used as a literary dialect), Sumerian, and Akkadian. The most interesting of these sources is the explanatory list Ann sa ameli, which contains three columns, the first two giving the Sumerian and Akkadian names, respectively, and the third listing the functional definition of each deity.5 This explanatory list gives what may be called the “meaning” of divine names, making explicit the principle that underlies the equation or translation of gods. In the Kassite period of the Late Bronze Age the lists are extended to include such languages as Amorite, Hurritic, Elamite, and Kassite in addition to Sumerian and Akkadian. In these cases the practice of translating divine names was applied to very different cultures and religions.

The origin of this practice may be found in the field of international law. Treaties had to be sealed by solemn oaths, and the gods who were invoked in these oaths had to be recognized by both parties. The list of the gods involved conventionally closed the treaty. They necessarily had to be equivalent in terms of their function and, in particular, their rank. Intercultural theology became a concern of international law.

The growing political and commercial interconnectedness of the ancient world and the practice of cross-cultural translation of everything, including divine names, gradually led to the concept of a common religion. The names, iconographies, and in short, the cultures might differ, but the gods remained the same everywhere. This concept of religion as the common background of cultural diversity and the principle of cultural translatability eventually led to the late Hellenistic outlook, where the names of the gods mattered little in view of the overwhelming whelming natural evidence for their existence and presence in the world.

The idea that the various nations basically worshiped the same deities albeit under different names and in different forms eventually led to the belief in a “Supreme Being” (Gk. Hypsistos, “the Highest One”).6 It essentially comprised not only the myriad known and unknown deities but also those three or four gods who, in the contexts of different religions, play the role of the highest god (usually Zeus, Sarapis, Helios, and Tao = YHWH). This super-deity is addressed by appellations such as Hypsistos (supreme), and by the widespread “One-God” predication Heis Theos. Oracles typically proclaim particular gods to be a unity comprised prised of a number of other gods:

One Zeus, one Hades, one Helios, one Dionysos, One god in all gods.7

In one of these oracles, Tao (YHWH), the God of the Jews, is proclaimed to be the god of time (Olam-Aion), appearing as Hades in winter, Zeus in springtime, Helios in summer, and “Habros Iao” in autumn.8 tumn.8 These oracles and predications manifest a quest for the sole and supreme divine principle behind the innumerable multitude of specific deities. This is typical of the “ecumenical age” (Voegelin) and seems to correspond to efforts toward political unification.9 The belief in the “Supreme Being” (Hypsistos) has a distinctly universalist character.

The sons of Ogyges call me Bacchus,
Egyptians think me Osiris,
Mysians name me Phanaces,
Indians regard me as Dionysus,
Roman rites make me Liber,
The Arab race thinks me Adoneus,
Lucaniacus the Universal God.10

This tradition of invoking the highest god according to the names given him by the various nations expresses a general conviction in Late Antiquity regarding the universality of religious truth, the relativity of religious institutions and denominations, and the conventionality of divine vine names. According to Servius, the Stoics taught that there is only one god with various names that differ according to actions and offices. Varro (116-27 BCE), who knew about the Jews from Poseidonios, was unwilling to differentiate between Jove and Yahweh because he felt that it mattered little by which name the god was called as long as the same thing was meant (nihil interesse censens quo nomine nuncupetur, dum eadem res intelligatuz).11 Porphyry felt that the names of the gods were purely conventional.12 Symmachus, a pagan prefect, wondered what difference it made “by which wisdom each of us arrives at truth? It is not possible that only one road leads to so sublime a mystery.” 13 Celsus argued that “it makes no difference ference whether one calls god `Supreme’ (Hypsistos) or Zeus or Adonai or Sabaoth or Ammon as the Egyptians do, or Papaios as do the Scythians. The name does not matter when it is evident what or who is meant.” 14 In his treatise on Isis and Osiris Plutarch makes this point, stating that no one would “regard the gods as different among different nations nor as Barbarian and Greek and as southern and northern. But just as the sun, moon, heaven, earth and sea are common to all, although they are given different names by the various nations, so it is with the one reason (logos) which orders these things and the one providence which has charge of them.” 15 Seneca stressed that this conviction was based on natural evidence: dence: “This All, which you see, which encompasses divine and human, is One, and we are but members of a great body” 16 According to Mark Smith, “Pliny the Elder (Natural History, bk. 2, V. 15) put the general point in a pithy formulation for deities in the world, that they are a matter of `different names to different peoples’ (nomina alia aliisgentibus).”17

The Mythic Past
by Thomas L. Thompson
pp. 306-308

Such theology in which the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, shared, reflects a world-view whose centre lay in an awareness of human ignorance and of the deceptiveness of sensory perception, associated with a nearly universal recognition of ineffable and transcendent qualities in life, fertility and wisdom.

This theology was an aspect of ancient philosophy and science. It was not so specifically Hellenistic as it was a product of the unified intellectual culture that had been created by the empire as early as the Assyrian period. It is a knowledge that is specifically set in contrast and in opposition to the old story-worlds of gods. From the early historian Hecateus to Plato and the Greek playwrights, and from the Babylonian Nabonidus to Isaiah and the author of Exodus, polytheism and monotheism were hardly ever opposed to each other. They rather reflected different aspects of a common spectrum of intellectual development. There was continuity between polytheism and monotheism as well as a process of changing interpretation. Hardly sudden or revolutionary, the changes of world-view were the result of more than a millennium of cultural integration. Crisis in such change was associated first of all with the understanding of divine transcendence, and with ideas regarding the truth, function and legitimacy of the personal gods of story. The struggle over beliefs about the unity of the divine came late and always had an explicitly political focus.

From at least early in the Assyrian period of the empire, in what are often thought of as the polytheistic worlds of Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia, reflective people had well understood a clear difference between the gods themselves and the statues and images that were used to represent them. They also understood the difference between the forces of nature and the divine powers that had created them. […]

In the simpler West Semitic world these tendencies were much more clearly marked. In the world of trade and shipping, where contact among many cultures and languages was commonplace, Syrian and Phoenician merchants readily identified specific gods of one region with the gods of similar function of another region. In this way, Astarte could be identified with Ishtar in the east and with Venus in the far west. Yam could be identified with Poseidon, and Ba’al with Hadad and Yahweh. Such syncretism was encouraged by the fact that many of the names of West Semitic deities directly reflected a given deity’s function. The name El translates simply as ‘God’ and is easily identified with the Aegean world’s Zeus. Ba’al translates as ‘master’ or ‘husband’, Mot as ‘death’, Yam as ‘sea’, and the like. At times they distributed the functions differently, so that for instance Ba’al could be identified with both Hadad and El, or Yahweh with both Ba’al and Elohim. It is only a very small step to recognize that implicit in such gods were functions of a single divine world. As different peoples gave these functions different names, the recognition came quickly that the gods themselves differed from each other because of distinctions given to them by humans. The specific gods that people knew were the gods they themselves had made to express the divine world.

One of the most frequent ways that West Semitic story, poetry and prayer particularized gods for very specific functions was to take the name of a high god – usually El, but Ba’al, Hadad and Yah web were used as well – and add a descriptive epithet. In this way, El developed many different faces. He was ‘the most high’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the god of the storm’. Also places or names of specific towns or regions made these nearly universal deities more particular. So we fold ‘Yahweh of Samaria’ and ‘Yahweh of Teman’. We have Ba’al and his Asherah, as well as Yahweh and his , without confusion. The divine name came to reflect a very particular local deity. At the same time, a default understanding of universalism is implicit. […]

The development of such an understanding of monotheism was hardly antagonistic to the worship of a variety of gods. Quite the contrary, this variety of gods, of individuals and of gods who changed, was a necessary aspect of human relationships to the transcendent. Both the gods of tradition and the forms of worship became subject to such critical thought, Gods, as human reflections, could be false, just as their worship could be empty and corrupt. By the late fifth century BCE, one or other form of this transcendent monotheism is known in many different regions. In Greece, it can best be seen in the writings of Plato about the One, True, Good and Beautiful. In Babylon the god Sin is spoken of in some texts in the same way as Ba’al Shamem is in Syria. In Persia, Ahura Mazda is frequently so understood. In the Bible itself, many of the references to ‘God’ (Elohim) , the ‘God of heaven’, ‘God the most high’, and ‘God’ in such expressions as ‘God’s Yahweh’ should be understood in this way. […]

One could dismiss the gods of stories and legend. One could also find a way of thinking of them with integrity. It is this kind of task that exercised many ancient writers of the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods. The early writers of the Bible were among them.

The first story in the Bible in which God meets Moses, the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3–6, illustrates well how a revision of a tradition’s stories can revive and modernize old world-views and outmoded traditions by understanding them in new ways. Traditional beliefs in the old gods of Palestine are saved in Exodus by having Yahweh, the long-forgotten god of ancient Israel, understood not as God himself, but as the name, the representative of the true God – the way that ancient Israel knew the divine. Yahweh recurrently plays a role in the Bible’s narratives as mediator between the Most High and Israel, sharing this role with his messiah, with his son, with the king and the prophets. Yahweh is the primary means by as expressed by the Yahweh tradition also plays the role of the philosopher’s stumbling block, as it does so forcefully throughout the Book of Job. On the other hand, Yahweh is equally freely identified with the true God, when addressed directly in prayer and song, and plays that role in some narratives. The story of the theophany in the burning bush in Exodus 3–6 also explains how the divine had been hidden in the worship of the even more ancient gods of Palestine: the lost gods of the patriarchs. These included even an El Shaddai who was no longer either worshipped or remembered. The ‘true meaning’ of the many, now fragmented stories of patriarchs and heroes is gathered together to be remembered and preserved in a way that the past had not grasped or properly understood. More than that, the writers of the Bible were free to create all their great stories about Yahweh, that they might reflect how old Israel had understood – and had misunderstood – the divine.

Stories from Ancient Canaan
edited by Michael David Coogan
pp. 77-78

[T]he language used of Baal as storm god is echoed in the description of Yahweh, the god of Israel, who

makes the clouds his chariot,
walks on the wings of the wind,
makes the winds his messengers,
fire (and) flame his ministers
(Psalm 104:3-4)

As Baal defeated Sea, so also did Yahweh:

With his power he stilled the sea,
with his skill he smote Rahab,
with his wind he bagged Sea,
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
(Job 26:12-13)

Similar mythological language occurs in Psalm 89:10 and Isaiah 27:1.

Baal’s adversary has the double title “Prince Sea” and “Judge River”; “sea” and “river” occur frequently in biblical poetry as parallel terms. Most interesting in this context is the application of the pair to the two bodies of water that Yahweh mastered, enabling his people to escape Egypt and enter Canaan:

When Israel came out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from people of a
different language . . . .
The sea saw and fled,
the Jordan turned back
(Psalm 114:1, 3)

Just as the Reed Sea was split so that the Israelites crossed on dry land, so too the Jordan miraculously stopped and the chosen people entered the promised land with dry feet (Exodus 14:22; Joshua 3:13). The repetition of the event is rooted in the old poetic formula; sea and river are two aspects of the same reality.

pp. 80-81

The Canaanite temples on which the description of Baal’s house is based were the primary analogues for the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, planned by David and built by his son Solomon. Solomon’s architects and craftsmen were Phoenicians who used cedar from the Lebanon for both the temple and the adjacent royal residence. The juxtaposition of temple and palace was deliberate: the deity guaranteed the dynasty and was purposely identified with t. This adoption of Canaanite theory and practice in the house of the god of Israel was responsible for prophetic opposition to the temple from before its construction until the last days of its existence:

“Thus says Yahweh: Would you build me a house to lie in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought the Israelites up from Egypt until today, but I walked among them with a tent as my divine home. In all the places I walked with the Israelites, did I ever say to one of the Israel’s judges, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’ ” (II Samuels 7:5-7)

Despite this conservative resistance the temple was built, and at its dedication Solomon prayed to Yahweh using words that could have been addressed to Baal:

“Give rain to your land, which you gave to your people as their inheritance.” (I Kings 8:36)

The acquisition of a house marks the climax of Baal’s ascent to the kingship, a climax marked by his theophany in the storm and his assertion,

“No other king or non-king
shall set his power over the earth.”

Baal’s centrality in Ugaritic religion is demonstrable. For instance, a significant index of popular beliefs is the use of divine elements in personal names; at Ugarit the most frequently occurring deity in names is Baal, including is other names and titles, such as Hadad.

The transfer of power from an older sky god to a younger storm god is attested in many contemporary eastern Mediterranean cultures. Kronos was imprisoned and succeeded by his son Zeus, Yahweh succeeded El as the god of Israel, the Hittite god Teshub assumed kingship in heaven after having defeated his father Kumarbi, and Baal replaced El as the effective head of the Ugaritic pantheon. A more remote and hence less exact parallel is the replacement of Dyaus by Indra in early Hinduism. These similar developments can be accurately dated to the second half of the second millennium B.C., a time of prosperity and extraordinary artistic development, but also of political upheaval and natural disasters that ended in the collapse or destruction of many civilizations, including the Mycenaean, Minoan, Hittite, and Ugaritic. This was the period of the Trojan War, of the invasion of Egypt and the Palestinian coast by the Sea Peoples, of the international unrest related in the Amarna letters. In such a context a society might suppose that its traditional objects of worship had proved ineffective, that the pantheon in its established form had, like an entrenched royalty, become incapable of dealing with new challenges. At this point it might choose an extradynastic god, as Ugarit chose Baal, son of Dagon and not of El; and, beset by invasions from the sea and tidal waves arising from earthquakes, it might construct a mythology in which the new god demonstrated his mastery over the sea.

Studies in the Cult of Yahweh
by Morton Smith
pp. 53-54

It is to this new Renaissance world of the Assyrians and the Phoenicians, the Lydians and the Greeks, that the Israelites, a new people of recent invaders, belong. They belong to the beginning of the iron age culture, not to the end of the bronze. Their cultural history is paralleled most closely by that of the iron age Greeks: savage invaders of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries, they soon assimilated some elements of the culture they had overrun, but reshaped these by their own standards and interests and combined them with new elements from the new [35] world around. Learning the alphabet from the Phoenicians, they began to write down their heroic legends and those of old holy places in their land (J and E, the Homeric epics and hymns); in these we can sometimes see the dim outlines of bronze age legends, but the heroes have become nomads and chieftans of the invasion period, and the mentality and language is that of early monarchies. As civilization developed, wealth and trade and social injustice increased, and the prophets emerged to denounce the wickedness of the rulers, defend the poor, and foretell the coming of the judgment of Yahweh or Zeus—Amos and Hesiod are conspicuously close in date, message, and prophetic vocation. But prophetic preaching was not directly effective. What the people needed for their protection was the publication of their laws, hitherto a matter of tradition in the heads of the rich—the city elders and the priests. Consequently, Deuteronomy and Draco are almost exact contemporaries, and both the social concerns and the proposed remedies of the deuteronomist are in many points parallel to those of Solon, who lived only a generation later. At the same time intellectual development is going on. Soon the gnomic “wisdom” poetry, traditional all over the near east, will be developed by gifted individuals like Theognis and the author of the first section of Proverbs to serve their own didactic purposes. From such beginnings will come, a century later, such great theologico-philosophical and dramatic dialogues on the problem of evil as Job and Prometheus Bound. And after these great peaks of poetry the writers of both peoples will turn to topics of more “human interest.” Speculative thought will concern itself with the good life (so Epicurus and Ecclesiastes), narration will turn to hellenistic romances like Judith and Tobit. This is the outline of Israelite literature, and it belongs part and parcel, soul as well as body, to the iron age and to the Mediterranean, not to the Mesopotamian world.

pp, 99-101

All in all the evidence seems to indicate that while the Hebrew and Aramaic elements were more frequent in Palestine, and especially in Judea, and while Greek elements were more frequent elsewhere in Roman territory, nevertheless, the range of possible variations was roughly the same. Even rather extreme variants turn where we should least expect them, e.g. substantial evidence for the Essene influence has been found in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Kuhn, NTS 7.334ff.). It would not be implausible to suppose that a few aristocrats in Jerusalem had the sort of Greek education and philosophical attitude that we find in Philo. Although Josephus’ Greek was none too good, his rival, Justus of Tiberias, was much better at home in the language (Josephus, Vita 40 and 340) and was remembered in philosophical literature for one of his anecdotes about Plato (Diogenes Laertius 2.41).

Consequently the common in toto distinction of “Palestinian” from “diasporic” (not to mention “hellenistic”) Judaism is simply unjustified. […]

And what were the Samaritans? The destruction of the Gerizim temple in Hyrcanus’ time is most plausibly understood as an attempt at religious Anschluss: Thereby the Samaritans would be forced to bring their sacrifices to Jerusalem and subject themselves to the Hasmonean High-Priesthood, which evidently considered them as potential Ioudaioi—adherents [302] of the Judean cult. How many of them consented to enter the fold? How many refused and resorted to surreptitious sacrifices without a temple, or contented themselves with synagogue worship? We have no way of telling. Josephus distinguished “Samaritans” as an ethnic group, and was contemptuous of them as he was of Idumeans and Galileans, who by this time were undoubtedly “Jews”—i.e., adherents of the Jerusalem cult—but whom Josephus often distinguished from Ioudaioi when he used the latter term to mean (territorial) “Judeans.”

It is time to tear away this cobweb of nomenclature and try to see the facts it conceals. We have to with the gradual extension through the Greco-Roman world (and through Arabia, Mesopotamia, Armena, and Iran, which are usually ignored) of a peculiar cult and its associated literary, legal, and social traditions.

Part of the literary tradition was the legend that the cult had once been peculiar to a single family—allied tribes are often linked by such familial legends. This legend has persisted to the present: Christians, like Jews, are still theoretically one family, the “Israel of God.” However, already in antiquity the members of this theoretical family seem to have showed no significant physical uniformity. I do not recall any ancient reference to a man’s being recognized, from his physical appearance, as a Jew, except when the recognition was an inference from circumcision. (And even circumcision was not specific; it occurred among Arabs and Egyptians.) We can be reasonably sure that in the Greco-Roman period the followers of this cult had been so diversified by intermarriage, adoption, conversion, and adherence, that its spread cannot be considered as that of a single genetic stock.

The one thing common to all forms of the cult was the god called Yahweh, Yah, Iao, etc., who was often associated with various titles and epithets—Elohim, Adonai, Sabaoth, He who hears prayer, He whose name is blessed, etc. Most of these epithets, in one place or another, seem to have hypostatized as independent but associated deities. [303] Yahweh might also be associated with other gods, of whom a long list could be compiled from the Old Testament times on. His most famous associate, of course, was to be Jesus. In a few systems of the sort usually called “gnostic” Yahweh appears as an inferior god, and he so appears, too, in a good many unsystematic magical texts. He was also included in various syncretistic expressions of late Roman paganism, for instance the famous Clarian oracle: “I declare Iao to be the highest god of all, the Hades for winter, Zeus of beginning spring, Helios for summer, and splendid Iao of autumn.” (Macrobius, Sat. 1.18).

To what extent such theological effusions implied worship is uncertain, but there is no question that the worship of Yahweh by pagans was ancient and extensive. Ezra proudly records the offerings made to Yahweh by the Persian emperors; the refusal of the Jerusalem temple staff to accept sacrifices offered by the Romans was the official beginning of the revolt A.D. (Josephus, War 2.409). Therefore to discuss the spread of this cult in terms of “the extension of Judaism”—whatever one means by “Judaism”—is to discuss only one part of a complex process. The neglected part of this process, which badly needs study, was an important factor in the extension of declared “Judaism,” since Dio Cassius reports that the name Ioudaioi was commonly applied to whatever men followed Jewish customs (37.17.1).

This report illustrates our need for another study—that of the ancient definitions of “Jew” and “Judaism,” with careful attention to the different users of the terms and the circumstances of the usage. We have already seen some of the ambiguities of the terms in antiquity—the fluctuation between religious and territorial usage (the Idumeans were Ioudaioi because adherents of the Jerusalem temple, but not Ioudaioi because not natives of Judea), the fluctuation between references to temple adherence and reference to general religious pattern (the adherents of the Onias temple were Ioudaioi by general pattern, in spite of their rejection of Jerusalem), the uncertainty as to which variations of the pattern, and how man of its [304] elements, are referred to. (Were the Samaritans Ioudaioi, or the Christians, or the sebomenoi? And so on.) An even more serious difficult results from the modern specialization of “Jew” to refer to the adherents of rabbinic Judaism and their descendants, plus a few minor groups—the Karaites, the Falashas, and the like. Because of this modern usage, students of first century “Judaism” commonly take for granted that, even though rabbinic Judaism had not yet developed, something very like it was the common form of the religion, at least in Palestine, and all other groups are to be seen as divergent from this primitive stock. An extreme absurdity is reached from this notion when the Judaism of the high-priestly families of the Jerusalem temple itself, who are supposed to have been mostly Sadducean, is represented as a divergence from pretendently “normative” Pharisaic Judaism.

pp. 130-131

The first of these facts—which we should never have expected even from the Greco-Roman literary remains—is the wide extent of iconic decoration from the second century on. Of course, there were some references to iconic decoration in the literature: even Herod Agrippa I, the friend of the Pharisees, had in his palace at Caesarea statues of his daughters. But hitherto such details could be treated as exceptional. Now that the materials has been collected it appears that decoration with human figures was customary even in Jewish religious buildings. The second and third century catacombs of Rome show Victory crowning a youth, Fortuna pouring a libation, cupids, adolescent erotes, and so on. A similar catacomb is reported near Carthage. The second or third century synagogue of Capernaum had over its main door an eagle, carved in high relief. Over the eagle was a frieze of six naked eotes, carrying garlands. Inside was not only a frieze containing human, animal and mythological figures, but also a pair of free-standing statues of lions, probably in front of the Torah shrine. The synagogue of Chorazin, of about the same date, had similar statues and a frieze showing vintage scenes of the sort traditionally associated with the cult of Dionysus. Remains of some dozen other synagogues scattered about Palestine show traces of similar carved decoration. There are human figures in high relief in the second-to-fourth century catacombs of Beth Shearim. From the same period the synagogue of Dura shows a full interior decoration of the frescoes representing Biblical scenes. From the fourth and fifth century synagogues of Palestine we have a half dozen mosaic floors, and there is reason to believe that in about half of them the central panel was occupied by a picture which, if not found in a synagogue, would be recognized as a representation of the sun god driving his chariot.

So long as these remains were studied one group at a time, they might be explained as heretical. This is now impossible. On the other hand, it is dangerous to explain them as orthodox first, because the meaning of orthodoxy is uncertain for this [491] period, second, because the carved decoration of the Galialean synagogues shows deliberate mutilation: human and animal figures have been chipped away carefully, so as to leave the rest of the carving undamaged. Similarly, the eyes of some figures in the Dura synagogue have been gouged out, but the rest of the faces left unmarked. Again, a sarcophagus in Beth Shearim was broken up in ancient times, probably because it showed Leda and the swan and other carved figures. Unfortunately, the date of the mutilations in the carved synagogues is a matter of dispute. Those who maintain that carved decoration was always permitted by orthodox Judaism can blame the destruction on the Moslems. But if these synagogues housed orthodox Judaism, then it must have been somewhat different than it is pictured by the rabbinic literature.

pp. 184-186

Religious symbols are among the objects that produce emotional reactions in their observers (make them feel secure, hopeful, etc). The [54] emotional reaction produced by a symbol is its “value,” as distinct from its “interpretation,” which is what the people who use it say it means. The value of a symbol is always essentially the same, the interpretations often change. (Thus the picture of a wine-cup produced from time immemorial its “value,” a feeling of euphoria, although its “interpretation” as a reference to Christ’s salvific blood began only with Christianity.) So long as an object commonly produces its “value” in the observers, it is a “live” symbol. Once the “value is no longer commonly produced, the object is a “dead” symbol. One social group may take over symbols from another. When “live symbols are taken over, they retain their former values, but are commonly given new interpretations. In the Greco-Roman world there was a “lingua franca” of “live” symbols, drawn mostly from the cult of Dionysus, which both expressed and gratified the worshipers’ hope for salvation by participation in the life of a deity which gave itself to sacrificial death in order to be eaten by its followers and to live in them. The Jews took over certain of these “live” symbols. (In Palestine, before 70, because of the anti-iconic influence of the Pharisees, they took only geometric objects, fines, grapes, and the like; elsewhere—and, in Palestine, after 70, when Pharisaic influence declined—they took also figures of animals and human beings.) Since these symbols were “live” in Greco-Roman society, the Jews must have known their “values” and adopted the symbols for the sake of those “values.” Therefore the Jews must have hoped for mystical salvation by participation in the life of a self-giving deity, probably through a communal meal. However, since they worshipped only Yahweh, they must have imposed, on these pagan symbols, Jewish interpretations. These interpretations, as well as the symbols unchanged “values, ” may be discovered in the works of Philo (the chief remains of this mystic Judaism) and also occasionally n the other Jewish literature of the time, and in early Christian works. (The rapid development of Christian theology and art suggests they arose from similar prior developments in Judaism.) The same sources indicate the “values” and interpretations which the Jews found in and imposed on those objects of Jewish cult which they now began to use as symbols: the menorah, the Torah shrine, and so on. For “values,” however, all literary sources are secondary; the symbols must first be allowed to speak for themselves. Rabbinic literature is particularly unreliable as to both the “values” and the interpretations of the symbols, since “the rabbis” were both anti-iconic and opposed to mysticism. Their religion was a search for security by obedience to a law laid down by a god essentially different from man; with this god no union was possible, and his law forbade making images. The widespread use of mystical symbols testifies, therefore, to a widespread mystical Judaism indifferent, at best, to the authorities cited in rabbinic literature. To judge from the archaeological evidence, rabbinic Judaism must have been, by comparison with the mystical type, a minor sect. [55]

pp. 228-229

It is immediately obvious that we have a striking parallel to the Johannine story of Jesus’ miracle at Cana in Galilee, John 2:1-11, when Jesus comes to a marriage feast where the wine has run out and changes water into wine.

Scholars had long maintained that the Cana story had a Dionysiac background. It has no Synoptic parallel; the miracle it reports is not even of the same type as any of the miracles reported in the Synoptics; in this respect it is unique among the Johannine stories of Jesus’ “signs”; therefore the supposition that it came from some alien tradition was plausible. Moreover, its introduction could be [818] explained by a polemic motive found elsewhere in John—the desire to contrast Jesus as the true, spiritual vine, with Dionysus, the false, earthlyone. However, the Dionysiac myths cited as parallels were somewhat remote in time, geography, and content. Consequently a plausible case could be made out by those who wanted to deny the Dionysiac reference and to explain the story wholly from Jewish analogies and concerns—the multiplication of food and “healings” of springs in the Old Testament, the contrast, in the Johannine story, between the Jewish water of purification, which is transformed, and the wine of Christian baptism with the spirit, which Jesus gives to men. Now, however, the main reasons for denying a Dionysiac reference are refuted. It appears that when the Gospel according to John was being written there was next door to Galilee, at Sidon (a city whose territory Jesus is said to have visited, Mark 7:31, and from which men came to Galilee to hear him, Mark 3:8) an established public festival of which a myth obviously similar to the Cana story was the central theme. [819]

pp. 233-235

Its presumably Jewish source therefore serves to strengthen Bickerman’s theory that it was the Jews of Italy who represented Yahweh as Sabazius in 139 B.C. A century later we find the ivy wreath and grapes on the coins of Antigonus Mattathias (40-37); then, over the entrance of Herod’s temple, the great golden vine which seemed to some a proof that the resident deity was Dionysus. After this comes the coinage of the Jewish revolts in 66-73 and 132-35, with its chalices and amphorae, wine leaves and grape clusters. (The lyre on the coins of the second revolt recalls the one in the hands of the satyr in the Beit Lei burial cave.) [Pausanias had heard of some shrine in Palestine which was said to be the tomb of a Silenus (.24.8).] The [824] evidence of the coins is continued by the decoration of Palestinian tombs and synagogues, much of it using familiar Dionysiac vocabulary.

The popularity of the cult of Dionysus in Palestine, the sense which pagans found in these symbols (as shown by the interpretations already cited) and the frequency with which these symbols were used on religious buildings and funerary objects (where ancient decoration was commonly significant)—these factors taken together make it incredible that these symbols were meaningless to Jews who used them. The history of their use shows a persistent association with Yahweh of attributes of the wine god. This association explains why some Jews identified the two deities, others at least chose Dionysus as the interpretatio greaeca of Yahweh, and yet others contrasted Yahweh—or his logos—as the true vine, with Dionysus the false one.

If we now look for the source of this association we are led back to very early Biblical material. For it cannot be supposed that the wine god came to Palestine only with the Greeks—not even though the Greeks came there in the second millennium B.C., as their pottery indicates. Palestine was presumably a grape growing country from time immemorial, and the god was doubtless as old as the use of his gifts. If the Biblical story (Exod 6:3) is to believed Yahweh was a new-comer in the country. His association with the wine god—and with other deities—will have begun with the conquest or shortly after. By the time of our earliest Biblical texts he had become a rather complex concept: he had been completely syncretized with El, Elyon, and Shaddai; with other dieties, like Tsur, Gad, and Am, his relations were certainly close. As for the wine god(s)—such phenomena as the Rekhabite reaction and, even more, the survival of the nazirate as the status perfectionis of a man devoted to Yahweh, indicate that Yahweh’s original [825] attitude to wine was not a friendly one. Down to the time of Hosea, most Israelites believed that wine was given by Baal, not Yahweh. On the other hand, the author of Judges 21:12ff. thought that in the time of the Judges the girls of Shiloh already went out to dance in the vineyards on the feast of Yahweh—as they still did in the time of the Mishna (Ta’ anit 4:8); the legend of Jepthah’s daughter looks like a nationalistic explanation of a maenadic custom; wine, though secondary in sacrifices to Yahweh, became an accepted element in them after the tribes settled down; and there is no doubt that one of the original elements of Sukkoth was a vintage festival. Plutarch’s source and his own judgment were right about this—the feast was certainly sacred to a wine god. But who was this wine god, and where did he first become associated with Yahweh?

It is possible that a partial answer to these questions may be found in Genesis 18:1-15, the myth of Abraham’s entertaining Yahweh and two angels and receiving as a reward the promise of a son from Sarah. Ever since the time of Delitzsch this myth has been recognized as an example of a common type, known from many Greek and Roman parallels. Numerous scholars have [826] remarked that the myth presumably was that of the sanctuary of Hebron—the center of a grape growing district, as Skinner observes—and many have thought it pre-Yahwist, since it tells of the appearance of three deities, not one. The Yahwist retelling, with its change from the plural to the singular, has created difficulties in the text. It is not improbably that the three deities and their host, the original hero of the shrine (who may or may not have been named Abraham) made up the “four” referred to in the ancient name—or nickname—of Hebron, Kiryat ha ‘arba’, “the city of the four,” commonly syncopated to Kiryat ‘arba’. And it is not unlikely that the three deities may be the three giants whom the Yahwist hero Caleb drove out of Hebron when he took it (Josh 15:14; Judges 1:20; cp. Josh 11:21f.; 14:15).

The names of the three figures at Hebron differ from one Biblical source to another, for reasons we cannot now discern. In one set of stories they are Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, Aramaic names which, as Moore remarked, tell us nothing. In Gen 14:13, however, they are Mamre, Ehskol, and Aner, all of whom made a covenant with Abraham (As did the deity who appeared to him in Hebron, if Gen 15:18 or 17:1-27 is to be associated with that shrine). Of these, Mamre and Eshkol had their individual holy places, Mamre at his oak grove and sacred well, modern Ramet el Halil, just outside Hebron, Eshkol in his valley famous for its grape vines—his name means “grape cluster.”

p. 237

Sozomen then goes on to tell how St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, got wind of these goings on and persuaded Constantine to build a church on the site and prohibit all non-Christian worship. In this report his narrative is based on Eusebius’ Life of Constatine. From Constantine’s letter, as quoted by Eusebius (3.51f.) it appears that there were pagan idols and a pagan altar on the site. These the emperor ordered destroyed. From their destruction—presumably—came the fragments discovered by Mader in his excavation of the site. Of these fragments the one certainly recognizable was a head of Dionysus. Or should we say, Dionysus-Yahweh-Eshkol?

Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity
by Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui
pp. 113-116

Groups of pagans with religious inclinations close to Judaism sometimes associated themselves with local Jewish communities, and this kind of Jewish acolyte — from the ranks of which came many of the earliest converts to Christianity — is likely to have acted as a connection to other Greek cults. A recent study by Stephen Mitchell, for instance, clearly establishes that the pagan cult of Theos Hypsistos — a single and transcendent deity, whose name could not be spoken — was the result of strong Jewish influence on pagan culture in Asian Minor. This is the most spectacular example of Hellenic adoption and appropriation of Jewish beliefs. However, the presence of Biblical ritual and theologcla elements, particularly the use of the name “Iao” — evidently connected with “Yahweh” — in religious and magical papyri of Imperial Egypt, makes clear that this Judaizing influence spread through many other religious and literary circles in which Orphic elements also appear. The existence of Jewish elements is furthermore well established in Hermetic and Gnostic literature, where the influence of Orphism has already been noted. The existence of an Orphic-Jewish or Jewish-Orphic syncretism is a practically inevitable conclusion given such trends.

Ideological assimilation is of course a bilateral process, though ancient apologetic writings tend to transmit only cases of Jewish influence spreading outward to affect the Hellenic culture around it. This bias creates the impression of a Judaism kept free of syncretistic contamination and exerting its energies in a purely unidirectional fashion. It is true that Jewish orthodoxy grows more and more passionate over time in its exclusion of Greek influences: for example, the translation into Greek of the Bible becomes more literal from the Septuagint until the absolutely literal translation of Aquila. However, the strict boundaries set by orthodoxy and apologetics are artificial, and it is not unlikely that users of many of the Orphic-Jewish syncretistic texts were in fact Jewish themselves, or very close to Jewish communities. The motivation behind the reaction of those Jewish purists who resist Hellenic thought and culture, and the work of those internal apologists who seek to reaffirm the strength of orthodox doctrine to the faithful, appears to lie precisely in fear of Jewish religious identity being lost against this syncretistic background. The entirely reactive character of the movement, however, attests to the great fluidity of actual religious practice. It is the same situation the Christian apologists will later confront when they come to polemical attack against a nascent pagan-Christian syncretism — whose strength is revealed not only in the direct references made by the apologists themselves, but also in the vitriol with which they decry it.

It is in Palestine that the dramatic ambiguities in religious cult and belief of the time are revealed in greatest detail and in particular in the cult of Dionysus. The cult in question is connected specifically with Baccus’ role as god of wine, and while we do not have sufficient evidence to link the cult — universal throughout the Mediterranean — with the mysteries or with the Orphic tradtion, the Jewish attitude toward it is precisely the same as is found in relation to cults of a more explicitly Orphic flavour. the presence of the Bacchic cult in Palestine and the assimilation of Baccuus to Yahweh are very well attested, and it is presumably because of the pervasiveness of such syncretism that contemporary denunciations of Bacchic rituals are so harsh. When Antiochus Epiphanesestablished the worship of Dionysus in his attempts to Hellenize Judea in 16 B.C. (2 Mac 5-6), he was doubtless trying to institutionalize an already-existing syncretism for political self-interest. His attempt was nevertheless condemned by the ultimately prevailing orthodoxy of the time as ” the abomination of desolation” (Dn. 12:11). The Wisdom of Solomon, the last canonical book of the Old Testament, was written in Alexandria in the first century BC and harshly criticizes the Bacchic teletai (Wis 12.3-7). Dionysus becomes in this account the heir to the Baal of the Canaantes, an object of worship whose relationship to Yahweh was marked, on the evidence of the Old Testament synthesized in the classic work of Ranier Albertz (1994), by a similarly widespread syncretism existing in the face of constant official condemnation. Pagan authors such as Plutarch, Valcrius Maximus, and Tacticus differ on whether the Jewish Yahweh should be identified with the Greek Dionysus. The Orphic tradition does not appear to play any direct role in this process of assimilation and separation, but the tendency to Bacchic assimilations should be borne in mind when attempting to explain the absence of Dionysiac elements from those aspects of Hellenic culture ultimately accepted into Jewish orthodoxy. From its perspective, the most similar is the most dangerous, for it tends most powerfully towards uncontrolled assimilation.

One may attempt to differentiate from this kind of clear-cut syncretism some instances of cultural assimilation which attest a much more managed process, guided by an orthodoxy that sought to hellenize Judaism while preserving its inner core. External accomodation to the Hellenistic cultural milieu may be in principle distinguished from actual cultic syncretism. For example, when Philo depicts the community of Jewish therapeutai as if they were initiates in the Bacchic mysteries, such assimilation is purely an external metaphor does not mean that these therapeutai adored Bacchus in any way. However, such clear distinction is not always conceptually fixed. The figure of Orpheus, precisely, offers and excellent example. There is one possible textual instance of an external assimilation between David and Orpheus. Psalm 151 in the Septuagint version talks about David — the putative author of the Psalm — praising God with his lyre. The Psalm was only known in its Greek translation until 195, when the Hebrew version discovered in the manuscripts of Qumram was published. This purported original version has two lines (2b-3) which are absent from the Greek version: “And [so] have I rendered glory to the Lord, thought I, within my soul/The mountains do not witness to him, nor do the hills proclaim; the trees have cherished my words and flock my deeds.” These lines that state the power of the singer over nature suggested from the beginning that there was a conscious appropriation of the myth of Orpheus, the singer who enchants nature, to depict David’s song. The reading and translation of these lines is, however, very controversial, and this interpretation has been hotly debated. However, the fact that the Greek version of the Psalm lacked precisely those two verses may be a sign of some censorship of unclear lines whose assimilation of a Greek myth may have been excessive for the orthodox Jewish translators.

Whatever the facts of the case of Psalm 151, this presentation of David as Orpheus is clearly found in several images found in synagogues of the eastern Empire — the most famous being the frescoes of Dura-Europas in the third century AD and a mosaic in Gaza of the sixth century AD. King David is depicted as Orpheus, surrounded by the animals he has attracted to him with is voice. It is clear that the iconography of the singer whose music pacifies those who hear him is perfectly adapted to the representation of David, whose music cured the mad soul of King Saul (I Sm. 16:23). The Orpheus myth furthermore occasions the depiction together of various animals who, in listening to the musician’s song, forget their natural enemity and live together in harmony — an image characteristic of the Golden Age that the prophets announced would witness to the restoration of David’s kingdom (Is. 9:1-11). This kind of appropriation of Greek myths to Jewish contexts can be hard to distinguish from flee-flowing mutual syncretistic exchange. In fact, the following discussion of Christian encounters with Orphic tradition expands the problems raised by the Jewish evidence.

Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan
by John Day
pp. 66-67

So far as the above biblical names are concerned, we cannot be certain whether they simply allude to the Canaanite god Baal, or refer to Yahweh as being equated with Baal, or are simply an epithet “Lord’ for Yahweh without actual identification with the god Baal. Whatever the case with the above names (and the same explanation need not apply to Jerubbaal and the others), we have definite evidence that Yahweh could be referred to as Baal from the personal names Bealiah (2 Chron. 12.6 [ET 5]), one of David’s warriors, and Yehobaal, a name found on a seal,” which seem to mean respectively “Baal is Yahweh and “Yahweh is Baal’. That Yahweh could actually be equated with Baal is clearly indicated by Hosea 2.

In v. 18 (ET 16) Hosea declares, “And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me “My husband”, and no longer will you call me “My Baal”. The following verse goes on to say, ‘For I will remove the names of the Baals from your mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more’. Now the Baals were mentioned earlier in this chapter in v. 15 (ET 13), and these clearly refer to the fertility deity, Baal, whom the people regarded as being responsible for the grain, wine, oil and so on in v. 10 (ET 8), and also the ‘lovers of v. 7 (ET 5). From all this it can hardly be doubted that Hosea was not simply objecting to the epithet “Lord’ (ba’al) being applied to Yahweh, but was countering a tendency of the people to conflate Yahweh and Baal to such an extent that the essential identity and uniqueness of the former was compromised.

Further evidence in support of the view there were some who equated Yahweh with Baal derives from the fact that such a hypothesis has explanatory power in accounting for the rise of the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7.”

p. 70

Since the Baal promoted by Jezebel was the same Baal who had been worshipped by the Canaanite population of Israel and syncretistic Israelites, it can readily be understood how he gained such a large following. This would not be the case with Melqart, the city god of Tyre, and, as M.J. Mulder has emphasized, Ahab would have commit ted political suicide had he attempted to promote such a foreign god.

p. 74

That the name Baal-Zebul was known to the Jews is attested in the New Testament, where Beelzebul has become the name of the Prince of the Demons, Satan (Mt. 10.25, 12.24, 27; Mk 3.22; Lk, 11.15, 18–19). The reading Beelzebul in the New Testament is certainly original: almost all the Greek manuscripts read Beek e3ot). Only Vaticanus (B) and, in every case except one, Sinaiticus (8) read Beef effou%. The reading Beelzebub is found later in the Vulgate and Peshitta, and is clearly inferior, making the New Testament demonic name agree with the god of Ekron in 2 Kings 1. It is all the more remarkable that the form Beelzebul is attested in the New Testament when we reflect that it is not found in the Old Testament, and it testifies to the continuation of a Canaanite numen in transformed demonized form in popular Jewish religion at a late date.

It is not surprising that the name became a term for the ‘Prince of the Demons’ (cf. zbl, prince’): the name of the leading god, when abomi nated, naturally became transformed into that of the leading demon. The idea that pagan gods are demons is found in Deut. 32.17; Ps. 105.37; Bar. 4.7 and Ps. 95.5 (LXX); also in 1 Cor. 10.20 and Rev. 9.20.

The Early History of God
by Mark S. Smith
Kindle Locations 1553-1682

According to Philo of Byblos (PE 1.10.7), beelsamen was a storm-god, associated with the sun in the heavens and equated with Zeus,305 although Baal Shamem’s solar characteristic apparently was a later product.306 That Baal Shamem and not Melqart was the patron god of Ahab and Jezebel may be inferred from the proper names attested for the Tyrian royal family. The onomasticon of the Tyrian royal house bears no names with Melqart. There is only one exception to *b‘l as the theophoric element in royal proper names from Tyre.307

That Baal Shamem and not Melqart was a threat in Israel in the pre-exilic period might be inferred from the fact that the god in question is called “the baal” (1 Kings 18:19, 22, 25, 26, 40). The invocation of Baal Shamem in the Aramaic version of Psalm 20 written in Demotic may also provide evidence of this god in Israelite religion.308 This version of Psalm 20 belongs to a papyrus dating to the second century known as Papyrus Amherst Egyptian no. 63 (column XI, lines 11-19). The text, which may have come from Edfu, shows some Egyptian influence, specifically the mention of the god Horus. The text may secondarily reflect genuine Israelite features. M. Weinfeld argues that the psalm was originally Canaanite or northern Israelite.309 For Weinfeld, the references to Baal Shamem, El-Bethel, and Mount Saphon reflect an original Canaanite or northern Israelite setting, perhaps Bethel. The biblical version of Psalm 20 would reflect a southern version, which secondarily imported the psalm into the cult of Yahweh. In this case, the Aramaic version may have derived from a northern Israelite predecessor. If so, the reference to Baal Shamem might reflect the impact of this god in Israelite religion.

Some scholars identify the baal of Jezebel with the baal of Carmel, perhaps as his local manifestation at Carmel.310 Like Baal Shamem, the baal of Carmel appears to be a storm-god. A second-century inscription from Carmel on a statue identifies the god of Carmel as Zeus Heliopolis.311 At Baalbek, Zeus Heliopolis had both solar and storm characteristics. According to Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.23.19), this Zeus Heliopolis was a solarized form of the Assyrian storm-god, Adad.312 As with Baal Shamem, the solar characteristic of Adad is a secondary development. Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.23.10) identifies the cult of Zeus Heliopolis with a solarized worship of Jupiter. […]

In sum, the biblical evidence suggests that the Phoenician baal of Ahab and Jezebel was a storm-god. The extrabiblical evidence indicates that the baal of Carmel and Baal Shamem were also storm-gods, whereas Melqart does not appear to have been a storm-god. From the available data, following O. Eissfeldt, Baal Shamem was the baal of Jezebel.

Some reason for the adoption of the Phoenician baal by the northern monarchy may be tentatively suggested. The coexistence of cult to Yahweh and Baal prior to and up to the ninth century may have suggested to Ahab and his successors that elevating Baal in Israel would not represent a radical innovation. Ahab’s religious policies presumably would have appealed to those “Canaanites” living in Israelite cities during the monarchy, if these “Canaanites” represent a historical witness to those descendents of the old Canaanite cities that the Israelites are said not to have held originally (Josh. 16:10; 17:12-13; Judg. 1:27-35);314 however, this witness is difficult to assess for historical value. The religious program of Ahab and Jezebel represented a theopolitical vision in continuity with the traditional compatibility of Yahweh and Baal. Up to this time both Yahweh and Baal had cults in the northern kingdom. Whereas Yahweh was the main god of the northern kingdom and divine patron of the royal dynasty in the north, Baal also enjoyed cultic devotion. Ahab and Jezebel perhaps created a different theopolitical vision. While the cult of Yahweh continued in the northern kingdom, Baal perhaps was elevated as the patron god of the northern monarchy, thus creating some sort of theopolitical unity between the kingdom of the north and the city of Tyre. […]

According to historical sources, support for Baal was severely ruptured at this juncture in Israelite history. Jehu managed the slaughter of Baal’s royal and prophetic supporters and the destruction of the Baal temple in Samaria (2 Kings 10), and Jehoiada the priest oversaw the death of Athaliah and the destruction of another temple of Baal (2 Kings 11). Jehu’s reform was not as systematic as the texts might suggest, however. Jehu did not fully eradicate Baal worship.316 Confirmation for this viewpoint comes from inscriptional and biblical sources. The Kuntillet ‘Ajrûd inscriptions contain the names of Baal and Yahweh in the same group of texts. Dismissing such attestations to the god Baal because the script may be “Phoenician” appears injudicious.317 Indeed, the texts bear “vowel letters” (or matres lectionis),318 which constitute a writing convention found in Hebrew, but not in Phoenician. Unlike Hebrew, Phoenician does not use letters to mark vowels.319

References in Hosea to “the baal” (2:10 [E 8]; 2:18 [E 16]; 13:1; cf. 7:16) and “the baals” (2:15 [E 13]; 2:19 [E 17]; 11:2) add further evidence of Baal worship in the northern kingdom. Hosea 2:16 (E 18) begins a section that recalls imagery especially reminiscent of Baal. According to some scholars,320 Hosea 2:18 (E 16) plays on ba‘al as a title of Yahweh and indicates that some northern Israelites did not distinguish between Yahweh and Baal. The verse declares, “And in that day, says Yahweh, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My ba‘al.’”321 The substitution of Yahweh for Baal continues dramatically in Hosea 2:23-24 (E 21-23). These verses echo Baal’s message to Anat in KTU 1.3 III 13-31 (cf. 1.3 IV 7-20). In this speech, Baal announces to Anat that the word that he understands will be revealed to humanity who does not yet know it. In the context of the narrative, this word is the message of the cosmic fertility that will occur when Baal’s palace is built on his home on Mount Sapan. Upon the completion of his palace, Baal creates his meteorological manifestation of the storm from the palace, which issues in cosmic blessing (KTU 1.4 V-VII). Part of the message to Anat describes the cosmic communication between the Heavens and the Deeps, an image for cosmic fertility […]

Despite royal attempts at reform, Baal worship continued. Although Jehoram, the son of Ahab, undertook a program of reform (2 Kings 3:2) and Athaliah and Mattan, the priest of Baal, were murdered (2 Kings 11:18), royal devotion to Baal persisted. Ahaz fostered Baal worship (2 Chron. 28:2). According to Jeremiah 23:13, Baal worship led to the fall of Samaria and the northern kingdom. The verse declares, “And among the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing; they prophesied by Baal and led astray my people, Israel.” Jeremiah 23:27 further condemns Israelite prophecy by Baal. Hezekiah sought to eliminate worship of Baal, but his son, Manasseh, rendered royal support to his cult (2 Kings 21:3; 2 Chron. 33:3). Finally, Josiah purged the Jerusalem temple of cultic paraphernalia designed for Baal (2 Kings 23:4; cf. Zeph. 1:4). Prophetic polemic from the end of the southern kingdom also claims that the monarchy permitted religious devotion to Baal down to its final days (Jer. 2:8; 7:9; 9:13; 12:16). From the cumulative evidence it appears that on the whole Baal was an accepted Israelite god, that criticism of his cult began in the ninth or eighth century, and that despite prophetic and Deuteronomistic criticism, this god remained popular through the end of the southern kingdom. There is no evidence that prior to the ninth century Baal was considered a major threat to the cult of Yahweh. […]

The descriptions of Baal and baals in 1 Kings 17-19, Hosea 2, and other biblical texts raise a final issue concerning Baal’s character in ancient Israel. In the Ugaritic sources Baal’s meteorological manifestations are expressions of his martial power. In contrast, 1 Kings 17-19 and Hosea 2 deplore belief in Baal’s ability to produce rains, but these and other biblical passages are silent on the martial import of his manifestation. Indeed, no biblical text expresses ideas about Baal’s status as a warrior. Yahweh had perhaps exhibited and possibly usurped this role at such an early point for the tradents of Israel’s religious literature. This conclusion might be inferred from the numerous similarities between Baal and Yahweh that many scholars have long observed.

The Chosen People
by John Allegro
pp. 19-20

In fact, the names of the patriarchal heroes, as that of the god himself, are non-Semitic, as our recent researches have shown, and go back to the earliest known civilization of the Near East, indeed of the world The language to which we can now trace these names is called Sumerian, and seems to have been the fount of both Semitic and Indo-European and was in use long before these two linguistic families went their separate ways The divine name Yahweh (its purposeful mispronunciation as “Jehovah” was intended to preserve its secrecy from the uninitiated) turns out to have been merely a dialectal form of the Greek god-name Zeus, and both meant “spermatozoa,” the source of all life The very common Semitic word for “god,” El, in its various forms, has a similar connotation, and cognate names such as Ba’al and Hadad, Seba’oth (the Hindu Siva), and the like, refer to the male organ of generation with which the god was mythologically identified He was envisaged as a mighty penis in the heavens which, in the thunderous climax of the storm, ejaculated semen upon the furrows of mother Earth, the womb of creation.

Israel on the steppes of north Arabia before she became tainted with the gross perversions of agricultural fertility cults The whole concept of the desert god owed more to the efforts of later theologians to historicize their mythology than to any authentic tribal memories of Israel’s early experiences We are now able to pinpoint the source of the patriarchal myths in a particular form of the fertility religion, centered on the cult of the sacred mushroom Its devotees conceived the fungus as a manifestation of the phallic god, and believed that eating it brought them into a direct relationship with the deity and enabled them to share in the heavenly secrets The cap of the mushroom, the Amanita muscaria (see below, Chapter 16), contains a hallucinatory drug which imparts a sense of euphoria, coupled with violent physical energy, followed by periods of acute depression This cult was as old as the name Yahweh, and similarly derived from the Sumerians

p. 51

However, much more than fiscal measures was required to weld this heterogeneous collection of peoples together into an organic whole There had to be an emotional rallying point, overriding all other allegiances, ethnic, even familial It could only be religiously inspired, and at its center must be a supranational god, a single deity to whose creative acts was owing all life, on earth or in the heavens, and to whom was thus due the homage of all men The traumatic effects of the Exile upon the minds of the intellectual elite of Judah had already produced the monotheistic ideal of Second Isaiah (Ch 40-55), who uncompromisingly identified the tribal god Yahweh with the sovereign Lord of all history In fact, as we may now appreciate, he was doing no more than perceive in the deity the fertility concept that had been implicit in his name, “Sperm of life,” from the beginning Yahweh, like his exact philological counterpart, the Greek Zeus, and his semantic equivalent, El, chief god of the Semites, was always the one Creator God, the source of all life, and only secondarily appropriated as a tribal deity The Jewish philosopher, wrenched from his homeland by a foreign conqueror, was forced to project his understanding of Yahweh’s dealings with his people against a back cloth of world politics If Israel’s god had any reality at all, he must be able to act over a far wider area than Palestine, and to be able to demand the allegiance of many more peoples than the Jews and the Canaanites The prophet saw Yahweh as a cosmic deity, lord of the heavenly hosts and forces of nature, but at the same time still the special god of Israel, a tribal deity whose main interest was the welfare of his Chosen People Thus it followed that whatever the grand strategy in the Creator’s mind, it involved the destiny of the Jews, and all history was directed to their glorification.

p. 75

For twenty-five years this “Acra,” as it was called, peopled not only by Seleucid troops but other pagans and Hellenized Jews, became virtually the new Greek Jerusalem, a polis, with the Temple serving as the city shrine like that of any other Greek center The “godless” people who inhabited the Acra, led apparently by Menelaus and his friends, were clearly intent on a complete integration with their Greek neighbors The exclusive nature of the Yahwistic cult was to be broken and the tribal god identified with the Greek Zeus.

As we saw, this association between the gods was, in fact, perfectly historical and legitimate Zeus was, indeed, Yahweh in origin; both names meant the same, “seed of life,” or spermatozoa, and both had their common origin in the underlying fertility religion of the ancient Near East Just how far this fact may still have been recognized in popular tradition, even as late as the second century BC, we cannot know Our records were composed by writers utterly hostile to this synthesis.

pp. 78-79

The climax in the Greek campaign to amalgamate the Jewish and pagan gods came, according to our sources, with the introduction of the so-called “Abomination of Desolation” into the Temple, in December 167 BC (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; I Macc 1:54) The strange Semitic phrase is customarily explained as a pun on the cultic title “Ba’al of Heaven,” designating the ancient Semitic storm god Hadad, with whom Zeus (Jupiter) Olympius had been already identified (cp II Macc 6:2) Much the same syncretism had already been carried out with local approval in the Samaritan Yahwistic Temple on Mount Gerizim, where the god was identified with Zeus Xenius, “Defender of Strangers” (II Macc 6:2) Again, historically, this identification of the storm deity with Yahweh and Zeus was perfectly correct The Jewish god’s accompanying title, Sebaoth, we may now recognize as having originally meant “Penis of the Storm,” reflecting the ancient conception of the phallic deity as a mighty organ in the heavens ejaculating the precious Yahweh/Zeus spermatozoa in his tempestuous orgasm The idea is accurately conveyed in the Semitic divine name Hadad, derived from a Sumerian term for “Mighty Father.”

Whatever the form (probably phallic) in which Zeus Olympius was represented “upon the altar” (I Macc 1:54), it was certainly placed there with the active support of Menelaus and the priestly hierarchy of the Temple, and was doubtless as popular among the laity as were the incense altars “at the doors of their houses, and in the streets” (I Macc 1:55) Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that these cultic “abominations” were instituted overnight; Hellenism had long before made deep inroads into Jewish ideas and practices, and, in any case, many aspects of Greek religion would have found their echoes in the old Israelite fertility worship, which never lay far beneath the surface of the Jewish consciousness. Thus, the worship of Bacchus, in which the Jews joined, carrying the ivy covered thyrsus (II Macc 6:7), was again only another aspect of the ancient fertility cult, on which our recent studies of the religion of the Sacred Mushroom have cast much new light.

Suns of God
by Acharya S (D. M. Murdock)
pp. 109-110

The Hercules myth also makes it into the Old Testament, in the tale of Samson, whose name means “sun” and is the same as Shams-on, Shamash, Shamas, Samas and Saman. Both solar heroes are depicted with their gates or pillars, those of Hercules at Gadiz, while Samson’s were at Gaza. Each is associated with lion killing, and each was taken prisoner but breaks free as he is about to be sacrificed, killing his enslavers in the process. In the end, the Hercules/Samson myths are astrotheological, with the pillars representing solar symbols: “The two pillars…are simply ancient symbol-limits of the course f the sun in the heavens…” “Now just as Samson in one story carries the pillars, so did Herakles…. And in ancient art he was actually represented carrying the two pillars in such a way under his arms that they formed exactly a cross…” Like many others, “St. Augustine believed that Samson and the sun god Herakles were one.”

In addition, the Palestinian term “Simon,” “Semo” or “Sem” is likewise a name for the sun god Shamash/Shemesh, who, like Hercules, has been equated with the Canaanite/Phoenician god Baal. This god “Semo or Semon was especially worshipped in Samaria,” also known as the “Cyrenian Saman,” who is evidently the character traditionally represented among early Christians and Gnostics as “Simon of Cyrene” who legendarily bore Christ’s cross. Interestingly, the Cyrenians were some of the earliest proselytizers of Christianity (Acts 11:20). In Hebrew “Sem” or “Shem” means “name,” which is the term pious Jews use to address Yahweh, the latter being one of the ineffable, unspoken names of God. As “Sem” or “Shem” is a name for the God Sun, so is Yahweh; it is apparent that “Sem” is the northern kingdom version of Yahweh, whence come “Semites” and “Samaritans.” Indeed, the “early Israelites were mostly sun worshippers,” as the fables concerning “Moses, Joshua, Jonah, and other biblical characters are solar myths.”

pp. 116-117

When comparative mythology is studied, the precedent for Christianity becomes evident in numerous “Pagan” cultures. So to is the astrotheological religion present in Judaism, the other predecessor of Christianity. Although Judaism is today primarily a lunar creed, based on a lunar calendar, as a result of the nomadic nature of its early tribal proponents, the religion of the ancient Hebrews and Israelites was polytheistic, incorporating the solar mythos as well. The desert-nomad tribes that Judaism came to comprise were essentially moon worshipping or nigh-sky people, but they eventually took on the solar religion as they came to be more settled. This astrotheological development is reflected in the use of different calendars: For example, the Dead Sea scrolls contained a solar calendar, as opposed to the luni-solar calendar used by the rabbis. The Dead Sea collection also contained treatises on the relation of the moon to the signs of the zodiac, such as the “Brontologion” (4Q318).

The polytheism of the Israelites is reflected in a number of scriptures, including Jeremiah 11:13-14, wherein the writer laments:

For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to burn incense to Baal.

The word for “gods” in this passage is Elohim, which is regularly translated as “God” when referring to the Jewish “Lord.” The singular form of “Elohim” is “Eloah” or “Eloh,” used 57 times in the Bible, to indicate both “God” and “false god.” “Baal,” used over 80 times in the Old Testament, means “lord” and represents the sun god worshipped by the Isreaelites, Canaanites, Phoenicians and throughout the Levant. It is noteworthy that at this late date when “Jeremiah” was written (c. 625-565 BCE), the Jews were still polytheistic, as they had been for centuries prior.

This polytheism is further demonstrated in a confused passage at Psalms 94:7, which states: “…and they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.'” (RSV) The word translated as “The Lord” is actually “Jah,” whle the “God” of Jacob is “Elohim” or gods. A better translation would be “…Jah does not see; Jacob’s Elohim do not perceive.” This Jah is the IAO of the Egyptians, while the Elohim are the multiple Canaanite deities. According to Dr. Parkhurst and others, the Elohim of the Israelites referred to the seven planetary bodies known and revered by the ancients. These seven Elohim are also the seven powerful Cabiri of the Phoenicians and Egyptians, one of who was “Axieros,” whom Fourmont identified as the biblical Isaac. The Elohim and polytheism of the Hebrews are dealt with extensively in The Christ Conspiracy and elsewhere. In any event, the worship of the Hebrew, Israelites, and Jews long ago before the Christian era was both polytheistic and astrotheological, the same as that of their so-called Pagan neighbors.

Did Moses Exist?
by D. M. Murdock (Acharya S.)
Kindle Locations 791-798

In our quest, we must keep in mind the syncretism or merging together of divine figures, such as these various lawgivers, practiced not only by pagans with their numerous gods and goddesses but also by Jews. Regarding the Greco-Roman period (332 BCE– 284 AD/ CE), for example, British New Testament scholar Dr. Ralph P. Martin (1925– 2013) and American theologian Rev. Dr. Peter H. Davids state:

Nowhere is syncretism illustrated more clearly than in the magical and astrological beliefs of the era. In this realm, power takes precedence over personality. Commitment to one deity or fidelity to one cult gives way to rituals of power that work. Thus many gods and goddesses could be invoked at the same time by one person. Yahweh (or Iao) could be invoked in the same breath as Artemis and Hekate. Palestinian and diaspora Jews participated in this form of syncretism. Numerous Jewish magical amulets, spells and astrological documents attest to the prevalence of syncretistic Jewish magic.

Kindle Locations 6114-6165

Summarizing the works by some of these ancient writers, Israeli scholar Dr. Abraham Schalit (1898– 1979) remarks:

The non-Jews of Alexandria and Rome alleged that the cult of Dionysus was widespread among Jews. Plutarch gives a Bacchanalian interpretation to the Feast of Tabernacles… According to Plutarch the subject of the connection between the Dionysian and Jewish cults was raised during a symposium held at Aidepsos in Euboea, with a certain Moiragenes linking the Jewish Sabbath with the cult of Bacchus, because “even now many people call the Bacchi ‘Sabboi’ and call out that word when they perform the orgies of Bacchus.” Tacitus too thought that Jews served the god Liber, i.e., Bacchus-Dionysus, but “whereas the festival of Liber is joyful, the Jewish festival of Liber is sordid and absurd.” According to Pliny, Beth-Shean was founded by Dionysus after he had buried his wet nurse Nysa in its soil. His intention was to enlarge the area of the grave, which he surrounded with a city wall, although there were as yet no inhabitants. Then the god chose the Scythians from among his companions, and in order to encourage them, honored them by calling the new city Scythopolis after them (Pliny, Natural History 5: 18, 74).

An inscription found at Beth-Shean dating from the time of Marcus Aurelius [121– 180 AD/ CE] mentions that Dionysus was honored there as ktistes [founder]. Stephen of Byzantium reports a legend that connects the founding of the city of Rafa also with Dionysus (for the Dionysian foundation legends of cities in the region, see Lichtenberger’s study). It is wrong to assume as some do that Plutarch took his account of the festival of Tabernacles from an antisemitic source, for despite all the woeful ignorance in his account it contains no accusation against, or abuse of, the Jews.

It is more likely that Plutarch described the festival of Tabernacles from observation, interpreting it in accordance with his own philosophical outlook, which does not prevent him, however, from introducing into it features of the cult of the famous Temple of Jerusalem gleaned by him in his wide reading. The description as a whole, however, is of Tabernacles as it was celebrated in the Greek diaspora at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century C.E., and not as it was celebrated in the Temple, which had already been destroyed for more than a generation. The festival undoubtedly absorbed influences from the environment, so that Plutarch could indeed have witnessed what he recognized as customs of the Dionysian feast. 870

In view of what we have seen and will continue to see here, we submit that Plutarch’s account is not “woefully ignorant” and that the influence of Dionysianism on Jewish religion began before the First Temple period, including among the Amoritish proto-Israelites who eventually settled the hill country.

Beth Shean

The important ancient town of Beth Shean or Beit She’an (Bethshan, Βαιθσάν, Βεθσάνη)— meaning “house of tranquility”— was called “Scythopolis” in Greek and supposedly was founded by Dionysus. Beth Shean is referred to several times in the biblical books of 1 and 2 Samuel, as well as in Judges and others, and is located strategically in the fertile Jordan Valley, south of the Sea of Galilee and east of the Samarian hill country. Situated at the juncture between the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys, this region is also deemed the “West Bank” of the Jordan River. It is noteworthy that one of the area’s largest winepresses was found at Jezreel, one of many such devices in ancient Israel. 871

The Scythopolis/ Beth Shean region began to be occupied from at least the fourth millennium BCE, with settlements in the third millennium onward, until an earthquake destroyed it in the Early Arab period (749 AD/ CE).

In the Late Bronze Age (15th– 12th cents. BCE), Beth Shean was an Egyptian administrative center, followed by a Canaanite city (12th– 11th cents. BCE) and then an Israelite settlement (10th cent.– 732 BCE). During this time, the people worshipped many different gods, including those of the Canaanites, Egyptians, Greeks and Philistines. A stele from the era of pharaoh Seti I mentions Egypt’s victory over the neighboring hill tribes, among whom were the Hapiru. 872

Grapevine cultivation in the Beth Shean area apparently began during the fourth millennium BCE, 873 and it may be suggested that the vine and wine cult existed in the region long before the Israelites arrived or emerged. As noted, Greek occupation of Asia Minor to the northwest began by 1200 BCE, leaving several centuries between that time and when the Pentateuch emerges clearly in the historical record.

Therefore, it is probable that the rituals of the Jews during the time of Diodorus and Plutarch derived from many centuries before, with influence from other cultures over the centuries that the area was occupied. This influence, of course, would extend to peculiarities of the Dionysian cultus as developed hellenically. So entrenched was the city’s association with Bacchus, in fact, that Pliny the Elder (23– 79 AD/ CE) equated Beth Shean/ Scythopolis with Nysa, “so named of Father Liber, because his nurse was buried there.” 874

Thus, it should not surprise us if the town was “founded” by the archaic wine god and if the Jewish fertility and harvest festival comprised many elements of Bacchic religion, possibly absorbed during the occupation of Beth Shean by Israelites. Other cities, such as Rafa, Rafah or Raphia (Egyptian Rph) in southern Israel/ Palestine on the border of Egypt, were claimed also, as by Stephanus of Byzantium (fl. 6th cent. AD/ CE), to have been founded by the wine god.

Kindle Locations 6536-6542

Regarding 2 Maccabees and the ancient association of Yahweh with the gods of other cultures such as Zeus or Jupiter, American New Testament professor Dr. Sean M. McDonough remarks:

An even more common identification, however, was Dionysus. Tacitus (Hist. 5.5: 5), Lydus (De Mensibus 4: 53), and Cornelius Labeo (ap. Macrobius, Saturnalia 1: 18: 18– 21) all make this association, and a coin from 55 BCE of the curule aedile A. Plautius shows a kneeling king who is labeled BACCHIVS IVDAEVS. E. Babelon argues that this must be the high priest, “the priest of the Jewish Bacchus.” This identification may have been based on more than mere speculation. According to 2 Macc. 6: 7, the Jews “were compelled to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus, wearing wreaths of ivy”…

Kindle Locations 6841-6856

It is obvious not only that Jews were well aware of Bacchus but also that they revered his cult enough to feature him prominently, according to Maccabees, as well as Plutarch’s statements and the depiction of Dionysus’s life-cycle in ancient mosaics in Israel.

Indeed, the presence of Dionysus on mosaics from the third to fourth centuries AD/ CE in the finely appointed home of the apparent Jewish patriarch at Sepphoris or Tzippori, a village in Galilee, lends weight to Plutarch’s commentary. 1022 Significantly, this imagery depicts Bacchus and Herakles in a wine-drinking contest, which Dionysus wins, a theme flagrantly featured in the prominent Jewish citizen’s home. Since Herakles was a favorite of the Phoenicians, this symbolism could reflect the defeat of that faction commercially, in the wine trade. This central place for Bacchus indicates the wealth of the community depended significantly on the blessings of the grape.

If these later Jews were aware of Dionysus and unflinchingly revered him, it is reasonable to suggest that Israelites knew about his worship and myth in more remote antiquity, particularly as they became wine connoisseurs, a trade that dates back 3,000 years in the hill country where they emerged.

It is very significant that this site of Bacchus worship, Sepphoris, was deemed the Cana of the New Testament, where Jesus was said to have produced his water-to-wine miracle. 1023 It is clear that the gospel writers were imitating the popular Dionysus worship with the newly created Christ character.

Kindle Locations 7215-7228

The Greek god Dionysus’s worship extends back at least 3,200 years, but the reverence for a wine deity in general is much older. Extant ancient texts describing Bacchus’s myth date from the 10th century BCE to the fifth century AD/ CE. For many centuries since antiquity, scholars, theologians and others have noted numerous parallels between Dionysus and Moses, most attempting to establish biblical priority but some declaring that the former post-dated and was derived from the latter.

We have seen that important aspects of Bacchus’s life, described consistently for centuries dating back to the 10th century BCE at the latest, correspond to that of the Israelite lawgiver. Also discussed is the contention by Plutarch that the Jews practiced Bacchic rituals and that Diodorus equated the Jewish god with Dionysus, a reverence evident from Dionysian artifacts such as mosaics in at least one house of a wealthy and powerful Jew.

Since it appears that the Moses character was not created until sometime during or after the Babylonian exile, possibly with his myth in the Pentateuch not taking its final biblical form until the third century BCE, it is conceivable that Bacchic ideas from the Greek historians and poets prior to that time, such as Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Euripides and many others, were incorporated directly in the biblical myth. It is also possible that the framers of the Moses myth were aware of the Dionysian myths because they had been written into plays performed around the Mediterranean for centuries. The story of Bacchus in particular would have been well known enough not to need to rely on the texts directly; hence, the Dionysus-Moses connection could have been made early.

Kindle Locations 9403-9429


The theonym Iao was used popularly in the magical papyri and other artifacts of the first centuries surrounding the common era: “The name Iao also appears on a number of magical texts, inscriptions and amulets from the ancient world.” 1545 These artifacts include an amulet from the first century BCE that reads: “IAO IAO SABAOTH ADONAI.” 1546 This sort of invocation indicates a Semitic origin but passes seamlessly into the formalized Gnosticism of the second century AD/ CE onwards.

In the New Testament, the word Σαβαώθ Sabaoth is used twice, at Romans 9: 29 and James 5: 4. Strong’s defines the term as: “Lord of the armies of Israel, as those who are under the leadership and protection of Jehovah maintain his cause in war.” 1547 The title “Sabaoth” derives from the Hebrew root צבא tsaba’, which is defined as “hosts,” as in both warfare and heaven. In its astral connotation, צבא tsaba’ means “host (of angels)… of sun, moon, and stars… of whole creation.” 1548 Hence, we see an astrotheological theme in the “host of heavens.”

Concerning the amulets and the YHWH-Iao connection, Classics professor Dr. Campbell Bonner relates:

As to the meaning of Iao, there can be no doubt, especially since the subject was thoroughly investigated by Graf von Baudissin; and, in fact, the combination of Ιαω Σαβαωθ Αδωναι [Iao Sabaoth Adonai] “JHVH of hosts, Lord,” which is common on both amulets and papyri, is convincing in itself. 1549

As noted, “Sabaoth” may be related to “Sabeus,” which in turn is an epithet of Dionysus, who is also equated with Iao by Macrobius. Thus, Yahweh is Iao is Bacchus, and all are the sun.

The Sun

To reiterate, Iao was identified with the sun, as in the mysteries and the oracle of Apollo at Claros. Macrobius (1.18.20) relates that Iao was “supreme god among all,” represented by the wintry Hades, the vernal Zeus, the summery Helios and the autumnal Iao, 1550 also noted as Iacchus or Dionysus, the latter’s role as the sun in the fall appropriate for a wine god.

As can be seen from ancient testimony, and as related by Dr. Roelof van den Broek, a professor of Christian History at the University of Utrecht: “Iao stood for the Sun.” 1551


Once again, both Plutarch (Quaest. Conv.) and Macrobius (4th cent. AD/ CE) identified the solar Iao with Bacchus, who in turn was equated by Diodorus with Yahweh. Plutarch (Symp. 5.3) also associates Bacchus with Adonis.

Did God Have a Wife?
by William G. Dever
Kindle Locations 2668-2800

Thus in the biblical writers’ view, from Moses to Ezekiel – 60o years, Israel’s entire history in Canaan – folk religion is bound up with rites having to do with “green trees;’ rites prohibited, yet practiced nonetheless. Why the biblical writers’ obsession with trees? It seems pretty obvious: a luxuriant green tree represents the goddess Asherah, who gives life in a barren land. (Those of us who have lived in the Arizona desert appreciate why trees seem miraculous.) And on the ridges and hilltops, where one seems closer to the gods and can lift up one’s eyes to the heavens, the trees and groups of wooden poles erected to her added to the verdant setting and the ambiance of luxuriousness, of plenty.

Such “hilltop shrines” with groves of trees are well known throughout out the Mediterranean world in the Bronze and Iron Ages, and they continued to flourish clear into the Classical era. Why should ancient Israel not have participated in this universal oriental culture of “fertility religions,” which celebrated the rejuvenation and sustaining powers of Nature? Perhaps Israel’s only unique contribution was to see over time that Nature is subsumed under Yahweh, “Lord of the Universe,” whose power ultimately gives life to humans and beast and field. But that insight was a long time coming, and it was fully realized only in the wisdom gained from the tragedy of the Babylonian captivity (Chapter VIII).

Despite what seems to me the transparency of the “tree” motif in connection with Asherah, ancient commentators seem to have been confused, fused, and so were modern scholars until recently. As I have noted above (Chapter IV), the Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible in the 3rd-2nd century B.C. were already sufficiently removed from the Iron Age reality that they did not understand the real meaning of Hebrew ‘aherah. Thus they rendered the term by the Greek word ‘alsos, “grove,” or dendron, “tree.” […]

There is, however, evidence of still another goddess who was venerated by the ancient Judeans. The prophet Ezekiel reports that at the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem there sat “women weeping for Tammuz” (Ezekiel 8:14). “Tammuz” was the later name of the 3rd millennium nium Sumerian god Dumuzi. He was a seasonal “dying and rising” god whose consort was Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna). Like Canaanite Baal in the western Semitic world, Dumuzi died annually in the early summer when the rains ceased, and then he descended into the underworld as though dead. Ishtar mourned his passing, but in the fall she helped to bring him back to life, and they re-consummated their sexual union. Thus Nature was fructified in an unending cycle of love, death, and reunion. The Mesopotamian cult of Tammuz was largely the province of women, who naturally empathize with his “widow” Ishtar, and ritually mourn his passing. ing. There seems little doubt that this pan-Mediterranean seasonal myth of Baal and `Anat, Tammuz and Ishtar, was popular in some circles in Judah, especially after the Assyrian impact in the late 8th century B.C. (Ackerman 1992:79-80).

There is also evidence of other mourning rituals in the Hebrew Bible, for other male deities. In Elijah’s famous contest on Mt. Carmel, the prophets of Baal attempt to call up the dead vegetation deity Baal by ritually ally gashing their flesh (I Kings 18:28), a typical funerary rite. Baal is also known by his other name Hadad, and in Zechariah 12:10, 11 there is a description of “mourning for Hadad-Rimmon in the Valley of Megiddo.” Hosea 7:14 may also refer to the same rites, condemning those who “turn to Baal” (Hebrew uncertain), who “wail upon their beds” and “gash themselves.” selves.”

Before leaving what may seem to be a confusing multiplicity of female male (and male) deities, and the question of which cultic artifacts may relate late to which, let me note one fact that may help. In the eastern Mediterranean world generally, there appear many local deities, both male and female, who were probably conceived of as particular manifestations of the more cosmic high gods. Thus in Canaan, we have texts naming Ba`alat (the feminine counterpart of Baal) “of Byblos.” The male deity Baal appears in Canaanite texts as Baal Zephon, “Ba’al of the North.” Baal appears in the Hebrew Bible as “Ba’al (of) Hazor”; “Ba’al (of) Hermon”; “Ba’al (of) Meon”; “Ba’al (of) Peor”; and “Ba’al (of) Tamar.” In the Kuntillet `Ajrud texts discussed above, we find mention of “Yahweh of Samaria,” and “Yahweh of Teman (Yemen).” Thus a number of scholars have called attention tion to the tendency of the High God or Goddess to appear in the form of the deity of a particular local cult, often with a hyphenated name. This would be a sort of “diffusion” of the deity; but on the other hand, these deities ities could coalesce again under different conditions into a sort of “conflate” flate” deity. The result is often great confusion of names and identities. For instance, a long chain of textual witnesses over time result in the following equation: Baal-Hadad = Baal-Shamen (“of the heavens”) = Zeus Helio = Heliopolitan Zeus. All these names, however, are reflexes of the great West Semitic high god Baal, “Lord of the Heavens/Sun” (the Greek equivalent of Baal with Zeus and helios, “sun,” is transparent). Likewise Canaanite `Anat became Greek Athena, the warlike patron deity of Athens. And Canaanite-Israelite Asherah appears later as Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus, the latter also goddesses of beauty, love, and sexual pleasure. The similarities are unequivocal: Asherah and Aphrodite are both connected to the sea, and doves are symbols of both. Aphrodite’s lover Adonis clearly preserves the earlier Phoenician-Hebrew word ‘adon, “Lord.”

Of relevance for the female deities worshipped in ancient Israel, we should note the work of my teacher Frank Cross and several of his students. dents. They have argued that the three great goddesses of Ugarit – Asherah, `Anat, and Astarte – are all in effect “hypostatizations” of the cosmic Great Goddess of Canaan, all playing the same role but each perhaps haps venerated in a particular local manifestation, tradition, and cult. We could insist on choosing one – but should we? In Roman Catholic piety, especially among ordinary, unsophisticated worshippers we encounter many “Marys” – “Our Lady of Guadalupe”; “Our Lady of Lourdes”; etc. Are these different “Marys,” or one in many guises? Often folk religion may be universal and timeless; but it is always the here and now that matters. Thus women in ancient Israel were probably addressing their special concerns to the Great Mother of Canaan who lived on in the Iron Age, whether they knew her as “Asherah,” the “Queen of Heaven,” or “Ishtar,” or “Astarte.” I think that most conceived of her as a consort of the male deity Yahweh, but others may have seen her more as simply a personification of Yahweh’s more “feminine” attributes.

Early Judaism
by John J. Collins & Daniel C. Harlow
pp. 20-24

Throughout the period under consideration in this volume, Jews lived in a world permeated by Hellenistic culture. The pervasiveness of Hellenistic influence can be seen even in the Dead Sea Scrolls (where there is little evidence of conscious interaction with the Greek world), for example, in the analogies between the sectarian communities and voluntary associations.

Modern scholarship has often assumed an antagonistic relationship between Hellenism and Judaism. This is due in large part to the received account of the Maccabean Revolt, especially in 2 Maccabees. The revolt was preceded by an attempt to make Jerusalem into a Hellenistic polis. Elias Bickerman (1937) even argued that the persecution was instigated by the Hellenizing high priest Alcimus, and in this he was followed by Martin Hengel (1974). Yet the revolt did not actually break out until the Syrian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had disrupted the Jerusalem cult and given the Temple over to a Syrian garrison. The revolt was not directed against Hellenistic culture but against the policies of the king, especially with regard to the cult. Judas allegedly sent an embassy to Rome and availed himself of the services of one Eupolemus, who was sufficiently proficient in Greek to write an account of Jewish history. The successors of the Maccabees, the Hasmoneans, freely adopted Greek customs and even Greek names. Arnaldo Momigliano wrote that “the penetration of Greek words, customs, and intellectual modes in Judaea during the rule of the Hasmoneans and the following Kingdom of Herod has no limits” (Momigliano 1994: 22; see also Hengel 1989; Levine 1998). Herod established athletic contests in honor of Caesar and built a large amphitheater, and even established Roman-style gladiatorial contests. He also built temples for pagan cults, but not in Jewish territory, and he had to yield to protests by removing trophies, which involved images surrounded by weapons, from the Temple. In all cases where we find resistance to Hellenism in Judea, the issue involves cult or worship (Collins 2005: 21-43). Many aspects of Greek culture, including most obviously the language, were inoffensive. The revolt against Rome was sparked not by cultural conflict but by Roman mismanagement and social tensions.

Because of the extensive Hellenization of Judea, the old distinction between “Palestinian” Judaism and “Hellenistic” (= Diaspora) Judaism has been eroded to a great degree in modern scholarship. Nonetheless, the situation of Jews in the Diaspora was different in degree, as they were a minority in a pagan, Greek-speaking environment, and the Greek language and cultural forms provided their natural means of expression (Gruen 1998, 2002). The Jewish community in Alexandria, the Diaspora community of which we are most fully informed, regarded themselves as akin to the Greeks, in contrast to the Egyptians and other Barbaroi. The Torah was translated into Greek already in the third century B.C.E. Thereafter, Jewish authors experimented with Greek genres — epic, tragedy, Sibylline oracles, philosophical treatises (Goodman in Vermes et al. 1973-1987: 3: 1.470-704; Collins 2000). This considerable literary production reached its apex in the voluminous work of the philosopher Philo in the early first century C.E. This Greco-Jewish literature has often been categorized as apologetic, on the assumption that it was addressed to Gentiles. Since the work of Victor Tcherikover (1956), it is generally recognized that it is rather directed to the Jewish community. Nonetheless, it has a certain apologetic dimension (Collins 2005: 1-20). It is greatly concerned to claim Gentile approval for Judaism. In the Letter of Aristeas, the Ptolemy and his counselors are greatly impressed by the wisdom of the Jewish sages. Aristeas affirms that these people worship the same God that the Greeks know as Zeus, and the roughly contemporary Jewish philosopher Aristobulus affirms that the Greek poets refer to the true God by the same name. The Sibyl praises the Jews alone among the peoples of the earth. Philo, and later Josephus, is at pains to show that Jews exhibit the Greek virtue of philanthrōpia. […]

The story of modern scholarship on early Judaism is largely a story of retrieval. None of the literature of this period was preserved by the rabbis. The Greek literature of the Diaspora may not have been available to them. Much of the apocalyptic literature and of the material in the Dead Sea Scrolls was rejected for ideological reasons. The recovery of this literature in modern times presents us with a very different view of early Judaism than was current in the nineteenth century, and even than more recent accounts that impose a rabbinic paradigm on the period in the interests of normativity.

No doubt, our current picture of early Judaism is also incomplete. Despite the important documentary papyri from the Judean Desert dating to the Bar Kokhba period (Cotton in Oppenheimer, ed. 1999: 221-36), descriptions of the realia of Jewish life still rely heavily on rabbinic sources that are possibly anachronistic. The overdue study of women in this period is a case in point (Ilan 1995). One of the salutary lessons of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they revealed aspects of Judaism that no one would have predicted before the discovery. And yet this was only the corpus of writings collected by one sect. To do justice to early Judaism we would need similar finds of Pharisaic, Sadducean, and other groups, and further documentary finds similar to those that have shed at least limited light on Egyptian Judaism and on Judah in the Bar Kokhba period.

Aphrodite and the Rabbis
by Burton L. Visotzky
pp. 56-58

There is even a dual – language inscription, first in Hebrew and then in Greek, of the name Rabbi Gamaliel, possibly the same rabbi who was patriarch of the Jewish community. Artistic motifs on the Beth Shearim sarcophagi include the ark or desert tabernacle, palm fronds, and lions (of Judah?)—all commensurate with rabbinic religion. But there are also eagles, bulls, Nike (the goddess of victory), Leda and the swan (aka Zeus), a theater mask, a spear – carrying warrior fragment, and yet other fragments of busts, statues, and bas reliefs of humans, none of which might be considered very “Jewish” by the rabbis of the Talmud. It’s hard to know what to make of this mishmash of pagan and Jewish burial symbols.

Even more confusing, perhaps, is the fact that in a number of synagogues from the Byzantine period that have been unearthed across the Galilee, the mosaics on the floors, most often in the central panels, display a zodiac with the twelve months, depicted in a circle enclosed in a square frame. At each corner of the square is a personification of the season of the year in that quadrant—except for the one mosaic, where the floor guy got the order of the seasons confused and laid them in the wrong corners. I suppose a zodiac is conceivably within the pale, except it has a whiff of paganism about it. But what is truly astonishing about these mosaics is that in the center of the circle in each of these synagogues, there is Zeus – Helios , riding his quadriga (a chariot drawn by four horses) across the floor – bound sky!

To say the least, the god Zeus is unexpected on a synagogue floor, and there is no scholarly consensus whatsoever as to what this possibly can mean about Judaism in Roman Palestine. The quadriga is, however, a fairly popular and perhaps even universal symbol of strength. Above is the famous quadriga atop Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

But really, Zeus – Helios riding across the floor of Holy Land synagogues? We’ll discuss this more later. But if we add to this artistic record the Samaritan’s Temple on Mt. Gerizim (near modern Nablus), we must conclude that the overwhelming physical evidence of Judaism, even in Roman and Byzantine Palestine, is decidedly not the Judaism of the Talmudic rabbis.

p. 188

The surprise is in the central panel. Here is a zodiac, complete with Greek mythical figures—including an uncircumcised boy representing the month of Tishrei (Libra). Smack in the middle of the zodiac circle is the divine figure of Zeus – Helios , riding his four – horsed quadriga. Depictions of Helios can also be found in synagogue remains at Na’aran (in the South), at Bet Alpha (also in the Galilee), and at Sepphoris.

pp. 198-205

Given the art we have uncovered in the synagogue there, I must conclude that the Jews of Sepphoris also were comfortable living among their pagan neighbors. […]

Of course, Jewish tradition tells of another great musician and harp player, King David. So we shouldn’t be entirely surprised to see him on the mosaic floor of the early sixth – century CE synagogue on the coast at Gaza, looking remarkably like Orpheus. Just in case you might think it actually is Orpheus, the mosaic has a caption to the right of the Jewish king’s head identifying him in Hebrew as “David.” But he is clearly modeled on Orpheus—his harp is charming a snake, a lioness, and even a giraffe (or maybe a long – necked gazelle).

This brief detour to see King David in Gaza has brought us back from pagan gods and heroes once more to Jewish characters in synagogues. Let’s return to Sepphoris now to take a closer look at the art in the synagogue excavated there. The synagogue dates from the fourth century, and its art is typical: menorahs, palm, and citron (the biblically commanded lulav and etrog, used for the holiday of Sukkot), lions, a shofar, and other biblical horns.

As we walk to the front of the main sanctuary, bordered on either side by the Jewish symbols just mentioned, there is a mosaic panel of the Temple—or maybe it’s a Torah ark? In any case, the doors of that building are topped with a shell shape and bracketed by pillars. This ubiquitous depiction of doors is found in many Roman – era synagogues. But it also is found on a sarcophagus in the Naples Museum, there identified as a Christian resting place. And similar sets of doors can be found outside of religious contexts, at least Jewish or Christian ones.

We already have seen “the doorway” in funerary and synagogue contexts, but it is also found on a wall in Herculaneum, the pagan town that was covered along with Pompeii by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The doorway is flanked by columns on both sides, with the oft – seen shell above the portal. Within the doorway is neither a Torah nor a Temple priest, but two figures: male and female. Most art historians identify them as Poseidon and his wife, Amphitrite. The shell is appropriate for the King of the Sea.

But what can this tell me about the depiction of the shell and the doorway in synagogue art? That type of doorway may be a Torah ark or shrine, since the one depicted in Rome’s Jewish catacomb at Villa Torlonia shows scrolls inside the open doors. It may symbolize God’s house, as it seems to be a portal for the gods in the picture above. But the doorway also may be symbolic of the monumental gates of the Jerusalem Temple. In Jewish Roman art it may even represent the synagogue itself. There are too many options to decide with any assurance what the door is supposed to represent. I would like to think that the one thing the doorway should not represent in synagogue art, however, is a portal for pagan gods. […]

The quadriga and my mention of the Bible brings me right back to the synagogue at Sepphoris and a confusing, complex image there. The central panel of the synagogue floor’s mosaic “carpet” depicts the zodiac, with Zeus – Helios riding his quadriga across the sky as the central focus. The prevalence of the zodiac in synagogue art may indicate an area of divergence between the rabbis of Talmudic circles and the Jews in the synagogue communities of Roman Palestine. The rabbis expressed their stern disapproval of the image, while the Jews in the synagogue seemed to enjoy the motif.

In fact, the zodiac occupies a significant place in the broader Jewish worldview. Each Jewish month is measured by the phases of the moon, visible over its monthly cycle. Given that this is a phenomenon observable in nature, it is not surprising that the months of the Jewish calendar correspond with other cultures’ lunar calendars. Indeed, the rabbis’ calendar borrows the names of its months from Babylonia; and these months are congruent with the signs of the celestial zodiac. However, the rabbis do not believe that astrology rules Jewish fate—the Talmud explicitly rejects this notion when it more than once pronounces: “The astrological signs [Hebrew: mazal ] are not for the Jews.”

Yet in Palestinian synagogue zodiac mosaics, the months are depicted by astrological signs. The roundel of synagogue zodiac wheels, even when they are captioned in Hebrew, depicts those signs. […]

Throughout the ancient world, the sun was the preeminent symbol of daily constancy. The diurnal round of the sun with its warmth and healing power was seen as a benefaction from the gods or from God. In polytheistic pagan cultures, the sun was often seen as a god, Sol Invictus, the invincible sun, also known as Zeus – Helios . Yet anyone who has read the Ten Commandments knows only too well that this is a disturbing, even forbidden, notion. Exodus 20: 3–5 commands:

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make any statue nor any depiction of what is in the heaven above, nor on the earth below, nor in the waters below on the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . .

When Rabbi Gamaliel made his comment about Aphrodite in the bathhouse, which I recounted to you earlier, he offered Jewish legal parameters for representation of living forms in subsequent Jewish art. We do not represent gods to be worshipped but can represent figures, even human, for aesthetic reasons. Beauty is not forbidden; it is rather encouraged, especially as an offering to God. This is how Gamaliel was able to bathe before that statue of Aphrodite. Even so, the center of the zodiac at the Sepphoris synagogue remains challenging, as it depicts the sun god Helios, riding his heavenly quadriga across the daytime sky. […]

Clearly, the community of the synagogue in Sepphoris was not too worried about the Second Commandment’s prohibition against heavenly bodies, even if Helios was depicted only symbolically. This representation might reflect a tradition in the Babylonian Talmud, where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hannaniah likened the difficulty of looking directly at the sun to the difficulty of beholding God. So perhaps the orb of the sun in the Sepphoris synagogue mosaic is meant only to represent, but not to picture, God.

In truth, this mosaic is hardly unique. The synagogues in Huseifa and Hammat Tiberias also have zodiacs on their floors. At Hammat, Helios/Sol is not merely an orb, but incarnate. […]

Hammat Tiberias and even Sepphoris/Diocaesarea were Roman imperial cities. So it is possible that the Jews there were more assimilated and so were more comfortable with these pagan symbols. Perhaps the urban communities were just that much more cosmopolitan and laissez – faire about their Jewish practice. But in fact there are also zodiacs in the small town synagogues of Na’aran, near Jericho, and at Beit Alpha, in the Galilee. These are not big urban centers, and while the primitive art of Beit Alpha shows a lack of sophistication, it enthusiastically embraces the Zeus – Helios image. […]

To further complicate our understanding of the images found on these synagogue floors, Helios is invoked in a Jewish prayer, recovered in a quasi – magical liturgical text from the fourth century CE among the manuscripts of the Cairo Geniza, the ancient used – book depository. The prayer is in a manuscript called Sefer HaRazim, the Book of Mysteries. We quoted this prayer above, while discussing Gamaliel’s bath with Aphrodite. Here is the line of Greek, transliterated into Hebrew, which names Helios:

I revere you HELIOS, who rises in the east, the good sailor who keeps faith, the heavenly leader who turns the great celestial wheel, who orders the holiness (of the planets), who rules over the poles, Lord, radiant ruler, who fixes the stars.

The Helios prayer gives us a peek at Greco – Roman Jewish folk religion in Roman Palestine during this period. Perhaps it also sheds light on the Zeus – Helios images on the synagogue floors. Helios, or Sol Invictus, as he was known in Latin, apparently was a revered god, at least by some. He was a pagan god who might have been identified with the One and Only God in the minds of the Jews who beheld him riding across their community’s synagogue floor.

The Helios phenomenon is even more complicated than the Jewish evidence alone allows. The last pagan emperor, Julian, who reigned from 361 to 363, wrote about Helios,

What I am now about to say I consider to be of the greatest importance for all things “That breathe and move upon the earth” and have a share in existence and a reasoning soul and intelligence, but above all others it is of importance to myself. For I am a follower of King Helios . . . the King of the whole universe, who is the center of all things that exist. He, therefore, whether it is right to call him the Supra – Intelligible , or the Idea of Being, and by Being I mean the whole intelligible region, or the One. . . .

In Julian’s “Hymn to King Helios,” we see a pagan praise his god as the One. Julian defines attributes of Helios not unlike those that the rabbis attribute to their one God. To the extent that the Jews who placed the image of Zeus/Helios on the floors of their synagogues knew or agreed with Julian’s theology, the image may have been a convenient pictorial stand – in for God. Some synagogue mosaics depicting biblical stories also show the hand of God reaching down from Heaven. So Helios simply might represent the Jews’ God in these synagogue mosaics.


Cradle to Grave, Grave to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle. This is a sustainability model popularized by William McDonough. But he isn’t the originator of this line of thought. The basic sustainability ideas he argues for have been around for a while. Even the phrase “cradle to cradle” was used by others before him, which makes it irritating that he tried to trademark it. He has a habit, as some have noted, of stealing ideas and claiming them as his own while demanding high fees. So, maybe he is a bit of a self-promoting egotist or maybe he is simply greedily self-interested. His being a thought leader might be equal parts real influence and aspirational fantasy, whether or not that is problematic to the sustainability movement. It sometimes takes big egos to push big ideas, as long as a personality cult doesn’t get in the way.

Whatever the case, he could still be right about what he (and many others) have advocated. The moral merit and practical value of those ideas is a separate issue from what some deem to be his personal weaknesses or failings. The point is that I wouldn’t argue that there are necessarily problems in the ideas themselves, but underlying motives are always of concern in what they point toward. It’s a question of ascertaining and assessing what is behind the rhetoric and to what end that rhetoric might be used. It’s the same issue that motivated my writing about Foster Gamble (Thrive: Libertarian Wolf in Progressive Clothing) — and I might note that it was the same friend that brought them both to my attention, a very good friend I might add whose opinion I respect, but he admits to being drawn into and sometimes misled by libertarianism (something I can empathize with, considering my own libertarian inclinations).

My doubts began when I read an article about McDonough (the one specifically recommended by my friend): Industrial Revolution, Take Two by Matt Tyrnauer. As often is the case, I had a mixed response. It is one of the many nice-sounding libertarian dreams and not one that easily fits into the left-right spectrum. The problem is, even when well intentioned, these dreams are too often used to rationalize nightmares or else the resulting obfuscation (intended or not) makes it hard to tell the difference.

What stands out to me is that McDonough doesn’t seem to discuss democracy at length or at the very least he doesn’t clearly prioritize it, which opens the door for anti-democratic opportunists and reactionaries. To be fair, he does occasionally, albeit briefly, mention democracy. On his official website, in talking about one of his projects and the principles its based upon, he explains that, “In essence, they will extend the rights and responsibilities of a democratic government and its citizens into the realm of nature and design.” He rightly worries about “the fundamental challenge to democracy,” that “If our actions today rob our children of their right to choose, we are practicing intergenerational tyranny, an affront to democratic traditions.” And about regulations, he writes that they:

…are a legitimate transitional response. And when technologies such as nuclear energy and genetic engineering threaten to generate irreversible environmental changes, perhaps more urgent action is called for. Addressing the possible impacts of these industries would be an expression of democracy, for irreversible ecological change robs future generations of the right to choose: Once you’ve altered the genetic code there’s no turning back; once a species is lost, it is lost forever. As Thomas Jefferson said, “life is for the living,” and diminishing the life and the choices of our children and grandchildren is a kind of remote tyranny. Regulations that preserve choice and environmental health preserve democracy.

This Jeffersonian idealism is a major strain in American thought. And it resonates deeply.  I might add that this was the basis of the early notion that constitutions, patents, and corporate charters should never last longer than a single generation — that is to say no generation, once dead, has the natural right and moral justification to (immortally and in perpetuity) impose anything onto following generations, be it constraints or costs. McDonough also is able to put democracy into a larger global context:

Today, we might try waging peace on the scale of the Marshall Plan with the widespread application of intelligent design, a concerted international effort to develop products, industrial processes and social systems that support sustainable economic strength, cultural diversity and environmental health. From this perspective, sustainable design can be seen as one of the essential paths to peace and security. Consider resource dependency. From the viewpoint of both sustainability and international relations, reliance on a single, non-renewable resource to fuel economic growth is a signal of a design problem. In Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, for example, we see oil generate wealthy elites but no democratic institutions and no emerging intellectual infrastructure to support long-term social well-being or economic growth. In America, there are strong democratic traditions, but today the U.S. spends up to $50 billion annually, as well as lots of international good will, to protect the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. South America is now emerging as the new, unstable oil arena.

But strangely democracy only comes up once in his book, Cradle to Cradle (p. 23), and even then only in the context of industrial capitalism:

The advantages of standardized, centralized production were manifold. Obviously, it could bring greater, quicker affluence to industrialists. On another front, manufacturing was viewed as what Winston Churchill referred to as “the arsenal of democracy,” because the productive capacity was so huge, it could (as in two world wars) produce an undeniably potent response to war conditions. Mass production had another democratizing aspect: as the Model T demonstrated, when prices of a previously unattainable item or service plummeted, more people had access to it.

I give him some credit for discussing democracy at all. But the above commentary of his from various sources is about a page worth in total and, as far as I can tell, it is about all he has ever written on the topic. It’s merely something about which to make a rare point in passing. But it’s not central to his argument or, if it is in the background of his thought, it isn’t a rhetorical frame overtly used to construct his worldview. Even when democracy does come up, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of it in relation to self-governance, political process, anarchosyndicalism, etc. At most, McDonough’s view of democracy appears to be as a general concept of a democratic society and a broad tradition of Western civilization, in the mainstream sense and not with clear radical and revolutionary implications.

Maybe this is unsurprising. He argues against any ‘ism’ for, in his mind, ideology inevitably means extremism. This indicates that he considers the radical and revolutionary to be a bad thing. He wants moderate and gradualist reform within the system, not wholesale transformation of the system. And so he argues for a balanced approach that doesn’t go too far in any direction, which obviously means some kind of claim for centrism (a position that puts me on guard). The problem is that the denouncing of ideology is an old strategy for smuggling in an unstated ideology. This was powerfully used by Southerners before the Civil War in attacking supposedly radical ideologies of the Northern states such as abolitionism, feminism, Marxism, red republicanism, etc. Anyway, it’s clear that McDonough does have an ideology, something along the lines of mildly progressive soft neoliberalism leaning toward social semi-libertarianism. On the positive side, he seems to be a pragmatist of sorts (self-perceived pragmatism, after all, is a core neoliberal justification) and so maybe open to persuasion… or else just ideologically confused.

There is no doubt that cradle to cradle is a beautiful dream. But it won’t be primarily created through technology and industry but through democratic revolution that helps create a democratic political and economic system. Otherwise, such technology and industry will lead to yet another authoritarian social order. Libertarian (or pseudo-libertarian) techno-utopias won’t save us from the more fundamental problem of anti-democratic corporatism with its concentrated wealth and power, no matter how paternalistically it is wielded. Change will have to come from the bottom up, which is problematic that McDonough directs his arguments toward those at the top.

To my mind, this seems part of an old game… no matter if McDonough understands his own part in it. It has been played well by right-wing libertarians and laissez-faire capitalists for generations, co-opting rhetoric as necessary. There is always a beautiful dream involved. It’s hard to argue against it on its own terms. If the rhetoric matched reality, I’d be on board with almost every beautiful dream that came down the pipeline. But the reality rarely matches the rhetoric. The political right loves to complain that liberal and leftist reality is inferior to right-wing fantasies. Yet they feel no responsibility to ever concretely prove their fantasies should be taken seriously. Neither neoliberalism nor neoconservatism, much less libertarianism, have spread freedom around the world. The wealth has not trickled down and all boats have not been lifted. We are still waiting on the promises of prior utopian visions. Repackaging old rhetoric is the opposite of helpful, if that is all this amounts to (and I hope not).

To continue, here is something else from Tyrnauer’s piece:

“How many environmentalists do you know who say growth is good?,” McDonough asks. “We celebrate growth. Abundance is something we want. Our idea is to make production so clean there’s nothing left to regulate.” This, he notes, is extremely appealing to people of all political persuasions, from those who love the environment to those who want commerce free of regulation.

I can guarantee you this much. Such rhetoric will be used to attack environmental regulations and regulatory agencies by right-wing think tanks and media, lobbyists and politicians. As Chomsky advises, we the public need to develop some serious intellectual defenses against the power of rhetoric, especially when it becomes mass-produced and widely circulated propaganda. Millions, if not trillions of dollars, are spent every year in researching, developing, and implementing more effective ways to monopolize the public mind, manipulate public perception, and manage public opinion.

The fact that corporations and corporate media have already latched onto this “cradle to cradle” rhetoric should greatly worry us all. It maybe already has been turned into yet one more ideology of technocratic paternalism, the reason the investor class and the creative class love it so much. It portrays a world led and ruled by the tech industry and its pseudo-libertarian visionaries. Denying its status as an ideological ‘ism’ makes it even easier to be co-opted for nefarious ends. Such sustainability visioneering is an answer coming from on up high, not being developed from below among the democratic masses. If failed government is eliminated without filling the void with democracy, all that would happen is for corporate bureaucracy and privatized authoritarianism to take its place. Tech and industry is a means, not an end. Only democratic process can lead to democratic results.

Give the lower classes ability and freedom to solve their own problems — some possibilities: community self-governance, direct vote determining government budgets, corporate charters determined by and limited to the public good, tax free co-operatives, employee-owned factories, locally-operated municipalities, every neighborhood with a creativity lab, tools and machinery made affordable to the lower classes, public education and professional training provided as a right, educational and research resources freely available to all citizens, all or nearly all scientific research and academic books openly accessible to the public, a publicly-maintained internet system of knowledge and ideas, strong platforms of public media and public debate, and whatever else along these lines.

I’m thinking of examples like the young guy in an isolated poor village who was able to build a windmill to pump water for his community and he did so by using knowledge from the internet and spare parts nearby. And I’m thinking about the experiment involving computer terminals that were put into poor neighborhoods that allowed uneducated kids to educate themselves (English, mathematics, etc), even though no one was telling them that is what they should do. I bet, if given the resources and opportunity, the poorest of minorities out of necessity would be more likely to come up with brilliantly innovative ideas than rich white guys like William McDonough and Foster Gamble.

If there is an environmentally sustainable societal and economic ecosystem to be developed, it will come from the common folk because they have the strongest incentive for improving society. It won’t come from the world of transnational corporations nor from corporate media and corporatist government. Big biz is a threat to our survival, not our savior. All that big biz and its cronies will do is use the techno-libertarian rhetoric to dismantle environmental regulations and protections while they spin some PR and throw out a few token efforts and symbolic actions. They will enact their ultimate capitalist dream of endless guilt-free hyper-individualistic consumerism that replaces community and civil society, the commons and the public good.

But it will sound great in theory. The corporatist media will push the propaganda model so as to make these rhetorical schemes into some variety of ideological realism. The pundits will preach it with such inspiration. The thought leaders will give their TED talks. The Koch-funded academics will indoctrinate the young. The think tank intellectuals will spread the word. And the professional politicians will halfheartedly repeat the talking points. Any alternative will be ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, or attacked.

Let me finish with one last quote by Tyrnauer:

One of the things that is holding back the environmental movement and its proponents, says McDonough, is the collective burden of guilt about the ills of our society. “They say they want durable products that last a long time. Like a 25-year car. I’ll tell you why that’s not good. That car will still be made with toxins in the adhesives, compound epoxies. O.K., it amortizes its damage over a longer period of time, but it’s still a car that is damaging. You also lose jobs, because people don’t buy enough cars. You are using outdated technology on the roads for a longer time.” The solution that he and Braungart suggest is a five-year car that allows for industry to “transform the technology at high speed toward the Cradle to Cradle concept. The five-year car is a car whose materials are all coherent and tagged. In fact, all materials in the car have ‘passports.’ So we know where they come from, and we know where they’re going”—back to the auto-makers—“after five years of utility, so the car could be recycled and updated with the latest in safety and efficiency. All done with the same materials that you—in effect—lease from the auto company. They keep making the cars out of the same stuff.”

Meanwhile, one of the things holding back actual environmental sustainability, protection, and thriving is corporatist power and rhetoric. The ruling elite force guilt onto us about our demands for a political and economic system that serves we the public of this society and we the inhabitants of the living biosphere, calling us such names as ‘takers’ and ‘welfare queens’. They shift the guilt onto us in order to avoid the legal and moral guilt of those who have created the mess and made government seem dysfunctional, even as government serves their every need and demand — like Reagan complaining about big government as he grew the military and created the permanent debt. If guilt really were so powerless to influence change, it wouldn’t be a target of those most guilty. Social science research shows that guilt is quite powerful, such that people will punish the perceived guilty even at high costs to themselves. That enforcement of public morality is what the powerful fear, as it is the fuel of populist outrage that has forced major changes throughout history.

Besides, environmental regulations won’t ever be eliminated. In any society, there will always be public policy about how natural resources are used, how costs and benefits are allocated, how social norms are enforced, how wrongdoing is punished or compensated. etc. The issue isn’t for or against government, as long as we want to maintain a complex society. Rather, what we must choose is a free society of self-governance or an authoritarian regime of self-destruction. Government regulations are most dangerous when there is regulatory capture. Eliminating the power of government doesn’t eliminate the dangers of the very corporations that took control. That would simply lead to privatized authoritarianism, corporate bureaucracy, and plutocratic monopolization.

Simply put, I don’t trust sirens of laissez-faire salvation and plutocratic paternalism, even when dressed up with environmentalist buzz words and social democratic pleadings. It doesn’t matter how enticing is the futuristic utopia they promise. The challenge before us is the sifting out the good from the bad, the intentions from the results, the rhetoric from the reality. We should dream big, but we must guard those dreams jealously. We must defend them against those who would co-opt and abuse them, turning the radical and revolutionary into the reactionary and regressive. The solution isn’t to curtail big dreams but to unleash them from the forces of small-minded dreamers. If these dreams are to serve the public good, the public must claim them.

I’ll leave it to others to judge the likes of William McDonough, one of the glittering gods on Mount Olympus. It is ultimately irrelevant. He doesn’t own any of these ideas, despite his attempts to do so. If he helps give voice to what needs to be heard, well then good for him. But he better get out of the way for those who will need to do the hard work. And so I’ll look to the ground for what will be emerging next in the world. The much needed radical revolution will come in unexpected forms, like a god in the gutter. A new living generation will inherit the earth and they will do what must be done. Cradle to grave, grave to cradle.

* * *

Untying Cradle to Cradle
by Aetzel Griffioen

Closed Loop, Cradle to Cradle, Circular Economy & the New Naturephilia
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Walter Stahel, an architect, economist, and one of the founding fathers of industrial sustainability is credited with having coined the expression “cradle to cradle” in the late 1970s [8]; even though Braungart and McDonough claimed to have invented it [9]. Stahel intended to reverse the crude and wasteful linear industrial system the world has inherited from the industrial revolution, which depletes finite resources, creating toxic products that largely end up in landfills to poison the environment. Stahel developed a “closed loop” approach to production and founded the Product Life Institute in Geneva with the main goals of product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities and waste prevention. Kodak, DuPont, the BBC and Bosch are among its clients.

“Cradle to cradle” as propounded by Braungart and McDonough means to go one step further; they want industry not only to close the loop by recycling, but to redesign the industrial processes altogether. Instead of concentrating on making the current system more efficient (less bad), we can redesign the system to be thoroughly good. Recycling and reuse is not a solution if the product or material is toxic in the first place, it will inevitably end up in the environment to poison us more slowly, but still surely.

So, we must eliminate toxic materials and processes altogether, to make products that can be safely recycled and reused or else composted to support plant growth. There are already impressive successes (but also notable failures that critics accuse McDonough of ignoring, or still claiming as successes [9]).

If, like me, you expected to find a coherent theory behind the cradle to cradle approach, then you’d be disappointed and frustrated as I was, until I learned of the successful actual implementations (see Box), which serve to remind us that good intentions can often work. On the other hand, a coherent theory may improve the success rate, and at least, provide criteria for judging success.

Cradle to Cradle
by David Swanson

Three comments. First, this book does not suggest any radical change in behavior for the typical reader. (Have lots of kids, drive lots of cars, buy lots of stuff – what a break through!) This book is, rather, advice for architects, corporations, and municipalities. It is intended to free the typical reader of guilt. I think it should do something else as well, namely urge us to political action, to demanding of our democratically elected representatives that the earth-saving innovations described in the book be taken advantage of. All the descriptions in this book of common household objects, such as sofas, “off-gasing” toxic particles makes me want to take action to change things or at least buy a mask, not go shopping.

Second, the examples of new materials and building and product designs described in the book all build on the environmental thinking that McD and B so loudly reject. Reducing pollution to zero is not a “new paradigm” from reducing pollution to a teeny bit – it’s just better.

Third, the vision of rendering mad self-indulgence completely beneficial to all other species is far from a reality, and even the dream described by McD and B would not, in any way that I can imagine, make it possible to place an unlimited number of humans on the planet without hurting anything – more humans than under current practices, yes — an infinite number, no. But let’s remember that most of the people now on the planet do not do nearly as much damage as we do in this country. How many billion Americans the Earth can hold has not been answered.

There is also a disturbing thread of anti-government corporatism in the book. Ford and Nike and other corporations for which the authors have worked are described as heroes for their positive efforts, while their destructive practices are passed over. The authors repeat a distinction (citing Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival”) between Guardians and Commerce, i.e. paternalistic government and noble corporate heroes:

“Commerce is quick, highly creative, inventive, constantly seeking short- and long-term advantage, and inherently honest: you can’t do business with people if they aren’t trustworthy.”

Is this a joke? Do these guys believe press releases they read from, say, Enron? (Apparently so, because later in the book they write: “…the summer of 2001, when unusually high energy demand in California led to rolling blackouts, skyrocketing prices, even accusations of profiteering….” Accusations! High demand or restrained supply? What rock have these intelligent authors been naturally cooling themselves under? Well, at least they recognize the concept of profiteering, even though it fits poorly with the inherent honesty of commerce.)

Immediately following the “inherently honest” comment (page 60) Mc D and B go on to equate regulation with partial pollution reduction, and to conclude that because complete pollution reduction is desirable and possible, regulation is bad. Instead they should conclude that rather than allowing limited pollution, regulators should ban it entirely (through whatever stages of phasing in that policy prove feasible). Later the authors claim that their design to allow a factory to reuse its effluent as influent “eliminated the need for regulation.” This should at the very least have been stated more clearly: it eliminated the need to monitor effluent. It did not eliminate the need to ban harmful effluent. Nor did it provide any reason to think making environmental behavior “voluntary” would cause other factories to employ similar solutions, however easy or profitable they might be.

The Lies and Fraud of My Hero William McDonough
by Derek Christensen

What’s the summary of the summary? McDonough is an impressive man, but he dreams on a scale much larger than he can deliver. His impressive gains are frustrated by his personal desire for wealth – Cradle to Cradle had incredible potential until he slapped on such high fees licensing fees. By attempting to control and own everything he created, potential partners were alienated and the growth of his ideas stagnated.

The future lies with green architecture and manifacturing, but it does not lie with William McDonough.

Green Guru Gone Wrong: William McDonough
by Danielle Sacks

As someone who believes that “commerce is the engine of change,” as he puts it, McDonough has never confined his ambition to the high plains of principle. The virtue of his cradle-to-cradle idea is that it offers a virtuous result — infinite abundance with no waste — through an unabashedly commercial channel, namely manufacturing. If he could establish himself in that chain as the arbiter of clean products, there is no limit to what it might yield — for everyone. “The faster and larger our business grows,” he told me, “the better the world gets.” […]

McDonough is not above poetic license. When I ask him which building marked the genesis of the sustainable-design movement, he points to the office he designed for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It was the first green office in the U.S.,” he says. Harrison S. Fraker Jr., dean of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, demurs: “Sustainable design started long before McDonough even opened his office… . McDonough gets credit for everything because he is such a good promoter of all the good things he has done… . I hate to see false myths perpetuated.” Even the term cradle to cradle, for which McDonough has applied for a trademark, isn’t his at all. According to Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute think tank, “Walter Stahel in Switzerland actually coined the phrase 25 years ago, long before Bill started using it.”

For those who came to know McDonough from within the environmental and design movements — those whose labors rarely reach the ears of Laurie David — an alternative narrative exists about him. Until now, it has been shielded from the mainstream for two reasons: First, McDonough has done more than most to popularize the very idea of cleaning up the world, and for that, even his detractors agree he deserves thanks; second, if word gets out that he may not be all that he appears, the overall cause of sustainability could suffer. “He’s been incredibly important and valuable in this role as visionary,” says Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co. “The problem is that sometimes the theorists like McDonough will represent themselves as practitioners, and that’s where the guys in the trenches get frustrated.” […]

The Oberlin case is part of a larger pattern, some of his former colleagues say. “McDonough doesn’t care if the facts are wrong,” one told me, “because he’s a self-mythologizer. His job in the world is to convince people that a positive future is possible, and it doesn’t help his cause to admit there are hiccups and failures along the way.”

Inscribed near the entrance of McDonough’s architecture firm in Charlottesville is a favorite mantra: design is the first signal of human intention. He repeats it religiously, and for him it means that every object contains clues to whether it was created with the earth in mind. It is one’s intention, McDonough believes, that one is judged on.

McDonough’s willingness to let good intentions obscure very mixed results appears to have sometimes clouded his own — and others’ — view of his abilities. […]

Critics argue that McDonough’s work is not transparent or consensus based, and that because he sometimes consults for companies whose products he’s also certifying, the whole endeavor is conflicted, if not unethical.

Bill McDonough Gets Trashed in Fast Company
by Lloyd Alter

K • 9 years ago
I too was there at UVA school of architecture when McDonough was there and was unimpressed. Sure, he’s an amazing motivational speaker, who regurgitates the same speech over and over. Then, if you get to meet any of the people he champions (as I did, when I took his class, ‘Environmental Choices’) what you really learn is that what he’s doing is taking the messages of people who are really ‘doing the work’ and ‘breaking ground’ and making like they were his own.

Now sure, not everyone is a good salesman, and I do think there’s a niche for someone to ‘get the word out’. But there is no good reason to make yourself look amazing on the backs of others and not really give them credit. Also, once you heard the people speak he was ‘borrowing’ from, you realized how great they were and how vacant some of the stuff he was saying was- because he wasn’t a specialist, just a salesman.

And a somewhat overinflated one at that. Champion people for the right reasons I say. McDonough has an amazing flair for the pitch, but you really can’t count on him for substance (from experience).

Anonymous • 9 years ago
I was at UVA’s school of architecture when McDonough was there. My former classmates and I, including people who have worked for him and his firm, have been telling anyone who will listen that he is not all that he seems for almost 10 years. Funny how long it’s taken for word to get around.

Cradle to Cradle as Conventional Right-Wing Anti-Government Ideology
by Dale Carrico

To denigrate the “cradle to grave” tyranny of social democracy and public welfare has, of course, been a staple of reactionary right-wing political invective for generations. But I want to direct attention to a variation of this same polemic at the heart of what is often peddled as a progressive, environmentalist discourse — the so-called “cradle to cradle” design ethos.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart has come to be a sort of bible (together with Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry and Bruce Sterling’s periodic papal-imperial declarations about blobjects and spimes and whatnot) for the so-called “Bright Greens” and the whole green design crowd more generally that more or less arose out of or together with Stewart Brand’s California libertopian retro-futurology-qua-ecology.

In a characteristic passage (pp. 59-61) from Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart summarize a formulation from the great Jane Jacobs that they take up and divert to their own ends, describing “two syndromes of human civilzations: what [Jacobs] calls guardian and commerce”:

The guardian is the government, the agency whose primary purpose is to preserve and protect the public. This syndrome is slow and serious. It reserves the right to kill — that is, it will go to war. It represents the public interest, and it is meant to shun commerce (witness conflicts over campaign contributions from vested interests).

Commerce, on the other hand, is day-to-day, instant exchange of value. The name of its primary tool, currency, denotes its urgency. Commerce is quick, highly creative, inventive, constantly seeking short- and long-term advantage, and inherently honest: you can’t do business with people if they aren’t trustworthy.

Notice that the attribution of slowness and violence as definitive of government, and then of efficiency and creativity to commerce are very straightforward Anglo-American right-wing Movement Conservative pieties (an assimilation to neoliberal discourse I think Jacobs herself resists better herself, if not enough).

One need not pretend that all representative politics and social administration are transparent, efficient, fleet-footed, and fair to feel hesitant about declaring governance as inevitably and exhaustively and quintessentially bloated and jackbooted as conservatives nowadays are so often keen to do, usually all the while singing arias to celebrity CEOs and commercial culture as though corporations and salesmen are gloriously immune to bureaucracy, dysfunction, conformism, cronyism, fraud, aggression, and waste.

Although it might seem the authors are somewhat evenhanded in a characterization noting the indispensability of government to the “public interest,” they undermine this apparent balance when they go on thereupon to depict government action exclusively in terms of war-making and then stealthfully re-attribute public interestedness to the commercial sphere declaring commerce, astonishingly, as inherently concerned with long-term interests and trustworthiness.

Notice, by the way, the authors’ rather typical handwaving away of the well-known critique that a focus on short-term profit-taking tends to happen at the expense of thinking about longer term consequences with their chirpy collapse of this conflict into a seamless “seeking [of] short- and long-term advantage,” a phrasing that refuses to concede such a problem even exists. Also, notice that the authors seem to consider trustworthiness logically entailed by the structure of enterprise and that the endless empirical instances to the contrary anybody can effortlessly call upon are apparently irrelevant to their abstract celebratory point. It is also intriguing to say the least to note that fairly widespread concerns about the impact of corporate money in the United States’ flabbergastingly corrupt and wasteful campaign finance system are regarded by the authors as straightforward expressions of hostility to free enterprise, as if innovation and fair trade somehow require a “democracy” controlled by millionaires instead of majorities.

Waste is Food (review of Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart)
by Tom Lambert

As a historian, I often think about how the carrying capacity of the planet has changed. Six hundred years ago, it would be unimaginable to think that we could live in a society of plenty where nobody had to die of famine and where we would see life expectancies of 70 years and more. Medieval Europeans believed that only in Eden had such a state existed and, furthermore, there was no reason for man to live hundreds of years like Noah and Methuselah. A short life sufficed to find salvation and a long life only served to encourage vice. As it turns out, they may have been right about that one – a long lifespan has given us the chance to use up a lot more resources per person, but hasn’t necessarily made us into better human being. In any case, though, we forget that at one time the wheeled plow was high tech and it created the possibility of feeding far more people. Similarly, changes in land tenure, the increased use of horses and so forth, made it possible for fewer farmers to feed more people.

So I believe that McDonough is right. Faced with the alternatives, we can come up with products that are non-toxic. They will be infinitely upcycled if industrial products and just simply thrown “away” if they are biological products that can be simply composted. Under such conditions, what is to stop infinite growth? In a word: energy. Thus far, almost every shortage we have faced on the planet has been solved by throwing more energy at the problem. As we see the looming problem of climate change, though, we see that using more energy in the forms we currently use it is, in itself a problem. I have no doubt that if we can solve the energy question, we can shift to a planet of plenty where every necessary product is produced safely and sustainably. Some products, it’s true, might get prohibitively expensive, but for the most part we will see those as unnecessary. There is a limit to planetary population, certainly, but history has shown that we have no idea what that number is (and to some extent that’s a value judgement – can we plow up all wilderness in order to grow food?). But the energy question is one that is looming imminently. That’s the one part of the puzzle that McDonough doesn’t really address and that may be the fundamental problem. As he says, efficiency is not enough. A more efficient system just runs out of resources more slowly. Granted, energy is not on McDonough’s agenda – he designs products and buildings and does his best to make them energy efficient (that bad word again), but leaves it up to others to find sources of energy that are as eco-effective as McDonough’s designs.

Anthropocene Politics I
(from Environments, Natures and Social Theory)
by Damian White, Alan Rudy, & Brian Gareau

The fusion of transhumanist and neoliberal ideas has played an important cultural role in Right libertarian digital utopianism that has emanated out of Silicon Valley, and through Wired  magazine. End Times Ecology provides the backdrop narrative informing all kinds of different modes of environmental activism. In some senses they can be seen as reinstating in new ways the catastrophe/cornucopia binary that has run through environmental politics since the early 1970s. Nevertheless, a great deal of contemporary science fiction, from the work of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower to films such as Gattica (1997) and Elysium (2013), are attempts to grapple with worlds confronting both neoliberal hybridities and ecological collapse. Much of this literature thus unsettlingly suggests that these two discourses could in fact be different sides of the same coin. […]

It is interesting to note that bright green literatures often work with multiple political narratives. Some of the less compelling interventions are directed at business leaders who, it is believed, will act out of enlightened self-interest to implement forms of eco-innovation (see McDonough and Braungart, 2013). However, other currents (see Mostafavi and Doherty, 2010) provide more layered accounts of multiple possible entry points available for the dispersal of such innovations well beyond the conventional “entrepreneur/CEO as hero” model: from forms of industrial redesign that are promoted by local, municipal, regional or national governments to full scale public urban planning, from firm-based innovation to innovation driven by government regulation or social movements. Reading beneath the green business uplift narrative, many bright green authors acknowledge that much more radical regime change will be required to make their visions possible. This observation is rarely made explicit in this literature, but it outlines the necessary terrain of engagement that must take place between the critical environmental social sciences and Bright green sensibilities (see White and Wilbert, 2009; Hess 2012, 2014). […]

Given the technocentric and power-free nature of much post- environmentalist analysis, it is easy to see how the post-environmentalist vision of a “good anthropocene” could converge and merge with the hybrid neoliberal vision. A post-environmentalist ecomodernist future can be envisaged where the affluent live in high security, Dubai-style dense, green “smart cities.” Such forms of fortress urbanism could be underpinned by corporatist public-private governance structures, mega-energy technologies, hyper-industrial agriculture and global industrial supply chains that are all serviced by dispossessed classes living densely and eco-efficiently in the urban periphery. This decoupled, carbon- constrained, ecomodern world would, of course, exist within a broader “re-wilded” planet where perhaps “non-moderns” and those who have refused to be “modern” or those who have escaped from the neo-corporatist ecomodern smart city live off their wits, taking their chances while plotting different futures. […]

If end times ecology looks upon our unfolding hybrid worlds with horror and resignation, we have also seen that diverse hybrid neoliberals, bright green and post-environmental currents – whatever their differences – have sought to reframe the environmental debate as questions of technological innovation and inventiveness. All these dis-courses present technological innovation as defining
invention. As a result of this, there are strong tendencies to present social life and politics as the realm of inertia. More generally, it could be observed that the primary voices that are seen as drivers of change are “entrepreneurs,” policy makers, technocratic experts and design professionals. The public, or publics, as potentially sentient, creative, informed and knowledgeable political actors with their own insights, are absent.

Andrew Barry (2002) has observed quite usefully that this conceit, that we live in technological societies that are driven by technologies, has become central to the understanding of many people in the affluent world. Barry suggests that “technological societies” are not necessarily any more technological than past societies, but they are societies that take technological change as the model of invention. The irony here, Barry suggests, is that the endless technological churn that contemporary “technological” economies generate do not necessarily give rise to particularly inventive worlds. Barry indeed observes that periods of rapid technological change can drive anti-inventive forms and behavior. Patenting knowledge or making endless upgrades of software or hardware packages can merely facilitate forms of defensive innovation generating technological changes that are conservative in their implications, “maintaining or rigidifying existing arrangements between persons, activities, devices, and habits of thought; they may restrict and displace the possibility of alternative developments” (Barry, 2002:212). We should not then simply equate technological novelty with inventiveness. Rather, Barry suggests:

Inventiveness should not be equated with the development of novel artifacts, or indeed with novelty or innovation in general. Rather, inventiveness can be viewed as an index of the degree to which an object or practice is associated with opening up possibilities. In this view, scientific and technical objects and practices are inventive precisely in so far as they are aligned with inventive ways of thinking and doing and configuring and reconfiguring relations with other actors. From this perspective it is possible to identify forms of invention that are not technical but rather involve the use of a device in more creative ways. In short, just because an object or device is new does not make it an invention. What is inventive is not the novelty of artifacts and devices in themselves, but the novelty of the arrangements with other objects and activities within which artifacts and instruments are situ-ated and might be situated in the future. (Barry, 2002:211–212)

Barry’s observations prompt the question as to whether there are ways of thinking about an inventive politics, an experimental environmentalism and a public ecology (Luke, 2009) which could open up the making of our hybrid worlds to many more perspectives and voices.

Redefining Sustainability
by Ramesh Bjonnes

Progressive Utilization Theory, also known by the acronym PROUT, is a collection of socioeconomic and political ideas created by Indian philosopher Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, envisioning “a decentralized, community-based world economy of self-sufficiency; economic democracy; small business; and limits on the accumulation of wealth.” From a PROUT perspective even the most idealistic sustainable models will inevitably confront capitalism’s inherent contradiction: that self-interest and profit are the main drives of the economy and also the main causes of economic exploitation and environmental degradation.

Sarkar explains: “The contradictions in capitalism are due to the self-centered profit motivated psychology and the accumulation of wealth for the benefit of a few rather than for the welfare of all. Hence, capitalism is not congenial to the integrated growth of human progress.” In other words, in a capitalist economy, no matter how green, there will always be a tug of war between the bottom line (profit) and the second bottom line (sustainability). And the bottom line will always win.

Sarkar’s keen insight into this fundamental flaw of capitalism is the reason why PROUT advocates a radical restructuring of the entire economy. PROUT’s alternative to capitalist reform is its three-tiered structure—small private enterprises, worker owned cooperatives and enterprises owned by state, regional or municipal boards. The inherent problems of profit-motivated greed can thus be checked and balanced by limiting capitalism itself. In other words, without curbing the growth of private capitalism—which is driven by its profit motivation– it will be impossible to maintain social, economic and environmental balance, no matter how “sustainable,” “green” or “natural” the economy is.

What We Must Do (Part 2)
by Peter Montague

As we have seen, the main enemy of democracy is inequality of wealth (and therefore power). When Big Money calls the shots, most people are disenfranchised like cattle. There is no evidence that wealthy elites make better decisions than the American people as a whole would make if the institutions of our democracy were working properly (media, schools, courts, legislatures, labor unions, law-making and policy bodies, local businesses and local economies, plus electoral systems for judges, legislatures, governors, and presidents).

If inequalities of wealth are the greatest threat to democracy — and are the hallmark of an unsustainable society — then we could protect democracy and promote sustainability by protecting the institutions that reduce inequalities of wealth.



A Compelling Story

“A year after that very popular novel came out I read an article summarizing a study about that novel conducted by scholars at a well-known university. The study documented that the vast majority of people who bought and read this popular book believed it was not a novel, but an absolutely true story, though the book was marketed as a work of fiction, and nowhere on or in the book did the publisher or author claim the story was true. The study further reported that when people who loved this book were informed that the story was not true, they reacted with either tremendous anger or enormous disappointment, or both.”

This is Todd Walton discussing an interesting phenomenon, from Know Your Audience. And it is something he has personally experienced with his own fiction writing:

“I became aware of this phenomenon—people believing fiction is true—some years before this mass delusion about a popular novel swept the nation. In those long ago days, I frequently gave public readings of my fiction; and it was during the mid-1980s that more and more people began to experience my stories as true rather than as fiction. In response to this phenomenon, I would preface my reading of each story by declaring that the tale was not autobiographical, not inspired by supposedly true events, and was most definitely a work of fiction.

“Even with this disclaimer, many people in my audiences continued to assume my stories were recollections of things that had really happened to me, regardless of how preposterous that possibility.”

It’s not only that people were adamant about believing his fiction was real. They would get quite upset when told once again that it was fiction, even though they already had this explained to them before the reading. Some of them accused the author of lying to them. And a few left the room in protest.

From a slightly different perspective, here is an anecdote shared by Harlan Ellison:

“He told me– and he said this happened all the time, not just in isolated cases– that he had been approached by a little old woman during one of his personal appearances at a rodeo, and the woman had said to him, dead seriously, “Now listen to me, Hoss: when you go home tonight, I want you to tell your daddy, Ben, to get rid of that Chinee fella who cooks for you all. What you need is to get yourself a good woman in there can cook up some decent food for you and your family.”

“So Dan said to her, very politely (because he was one of the most courteous people I’ve ever met), “Excuse me, ma’am, but my name is Dan Blocker. Hoss is just the character I play. When I go home I’ll be going to my house in Los Angeles and my wife and children will be waiting.”

“And she went right on, just a bit affronted because she knew all that, what was the matter with him, did he think she was simple or something, “Yes, I know… but when you go back to the Ponderosa, you just tell your daddy Ben that I said…”

“For her, fantasy and reality were one and the same.”

I quoted that in a post I wrote about a similarly strange phenomenon. It’s how people are able to know and not know simultaneously (a sub-category of cognitive blindness; related to inattentional blindnesscontextual ignorancehypocognition, and conceptual blindness). With that in mind, maybe some of those people in Walton’s various audiences did know it was fiction, even while another part of them took it as real.

This kind of dissociation is probably more common than we might suspect. The sometimes antagonsitic responses he got could have been more than mere anger at having their perception denied. He was going beyond that in challenging their dissociation, which cuts even deeper into the human psyche. People hold onto their dissociations more powerfully than maybe anything else.

There is another factor as well. We live in a literal-minded age. Truth has become conflated with literalism. When something feels true, many people automatically take it as literal. This is the power of religion and its stories, along with politics and its rhetoric. But some argue that literal-mindedness has increased over time, starting with the Axial Age and becoming a force to be reckoned with in this post-Enlightenment age of scientism and fundamentalism. That is what leads to the black-and-white thinking of something either being literally true or absolutely false (a blatant lie, a frivolous fantasy, etc). Iain McGilchrist describes this as the brain dominance of the left hempisphere’s experience and the suppression of right hemisphere’s emotional nuance and grounded context.

This mindset isn’t just a source of amusing anecdotes. It has real world consequences. The most powerful stories aren’t told by fiction writers or at least not by those openly identifying as such. Rather, the greatest compelling storytellers of our age work in news media and politics. The gatekeepers have immense influence in determining what is real or not in the public mind. This is why there is a battle right now over fake news. It’s a battle among the gatekeepers.

This connects to the smart idiot effect. It’s interesting to note that, according to studies, the least educated are the most aware of the limits of their knowledge and expertise. It requires being well educated to fall into the trap of the smart idiot effect (hence why it is called that). This is the reason media personalities and politicians can be so dangerous, as they are people who talk a bit about everything while often being an expert in nothing or, at best, their expertise being narrowly constrained. This is fertile ground for storytelling. And this is why attention-grabbing politicians like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump first became famous as media personalities — their being experts only in entertainment and egotism. Those like Reagan and Trump are storytellers who embody the stories they tell. They pretend to be something they are not and their audience-supporters take the pretense for reality.

This is seen in many areas of society but particularly on right-wing media. Interestingly, according to research, it is most clearly evidenced among the most well informed audience members of right-wing media who simultaneously are the most misinformed. The average Fox News viewer does know more factoids than the average American (maybe no great accomplishment), but they also know more falsehoods than the average American. What they don’t know very well is how to differentiate between what is true and not true. To be able to make this differentiation would require they not only be able to memorize factoids but to understand the larger context of knowledge and the deeper understanding of truth — the subltety and nuance provided primarily by the right hemisphere, according to Iain McGilchrist. Otherwise, factoids are simply fodder for talking points. And it leads to much confusion, such as a surprising percentage of conservatives taking seriously Stephen Colbert’s caricature of conservatism. Isn’t that interesting, that many conservatives can’t tell the difference between supposedly authentic conservatism and a caricature of it? The election of Donald Trump, an apolitical demagogue posing as a conservative, emphasizes this point.

It is maybe no accident that this phenomenon manifests the strongest on the political right, at least in the United States. It could be caused by how, in the US, authoritarianism is correlated to the political right — not so in former Soviet countries, though. So the main causal factor is probably authoritarianism in general (and, yes, authoritarianism does exist within the Democratic Party, if not to the extreme seen within the GOP; but I would note that, even though Democratic leaders are to the left of the far right, they are in many ways to the right of the majority of Americans… as observed in decades of diverse public polling). Research does show that authoritarians don’t mind being hypocritical, assuming they even comprehend what hypocrisy means. Authoritarians are good at groupthink and believing what they are told. They are literal-minded, as for them the group’s ideology and the leader’s words are identical to reality itself, literally. One could interpret authoritarianism as an extreme variety of dissociation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Todd Walton’s most offended audience members would test as higher on authoritarianism. Such people have a strong desire to believe in something absolutely. Self-aware use of imagination and the imaginal is not an area of talent for them nor the trait of openness upon which it depends. This is because they lack the tolerance for cognitive dissonance, a necessary component of suspension of disbelief in the enjoyment of fiction. It makes no sense to them that a story could be subjectively true while being factually false (or factually partial). Hence, the sense of being deceived and betrayed. The fiction writer is an unworthy authority figure to the authoritarian mind. A proper authoritarian demagogue would tell his followers what they wanted to hear and would never then tell them that it was just fiction. The point of storytelling, for the authoritarian, is that it is told with utter conviction — it being irrelevant whether or not the authoritarian leader himself believes what he says, just that he pretends to believe.

Authoritarians aside, it should be noted that most people appear to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, between non-fiction and fiction. People will say they believe all kinds of things to be true. But if you give them enough of an incentive, they will admit to what they actually believe is true (priming them for rational/analytical thought would probably also help, as various studies indicate). And it turns out most people agree about a lot of things, even in politics. Dissociation has its limits, when real costs and consequences are on the line. But most storytelling, whether fictional or political, won’t effect the concrete daily life of the average person. People want to believe stories and so will take them literally, especially when a story has no real impact. For example, believing in the literal reality that bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ is an attractive story for it being largely irrelevant, just a pleasant fiction to create a social bonding experience through ritual (and evidence indicates that many ancient people perceived such things metaphorically or imaginally, instead of literally; the mythical being a far different experience from the literal). Literal-minded people forget that something can have truth value without being literally true. That is what stories are about.

So, it’s possible that if there had been some concrete and personal incentive for self-aware honesty (at least some of) those seemingly naive audience members would have admitted that they really did know that Todd Walton’s readings were fictional. It’s just that, under the actual circumstances with little at stake, their only incentive was their own emotional commitment in being drawn into the story. To be told it is fiction is like being told their experience is false, which would be taken as a personal attack. What they are missing, in that situation, is the willingness to separate their experience of the story from the story itself. It feels so real that they it would ruin their experience of it to imagine it not being real. That is a successful story.

(By the way, this helps explain why Plato so feared the poets, the storytellers of that era. See some context for this in an earlier post of mine, On Truth and Bullshit: “Frankfurt talks about the ‘bullshit artist’. Bullshitters are always artists. And maybe artists are always bullshitters. This is because the imagination, moral or otherwise, is the playground of the bullshitter. This is because the artist, the master of imagination, is different than a craftsmen. The artist always has a bit of the trickster about him, as he plays at the boundaries of the mind.”)

* * *

For some further thoughts from Iain McGilchrist:

The Master and His Emissary
pp. 49-50

“Anything that requires indirect interpretation, which is not explicit or literal, that in other words requires contextual understanding, depends on the right frontal lobe for its meaning to be conveyed or received. 132 The right hemisphere understands from indirect contextual clues, not only from explicit statement, whereas the left hemisphere will identify by labels rather than context (e.g. identifies that it must be winter because it is ‘January’, not by looking at the trees). 133

“This difference is particularly important when it comes to what the two hemispheres contribute to language. The right hemisphere takes whatever is said within its entire context. 134 It is specialised in pragmatics, the art of contextual understanding of meaning, and in using metaphor. 135 It is the right hemisphere which processes the non-literal aspects of language, 136 of which more later. This is why the left hemisphere is not good at understanding the higher level meaning of utterances such as ‘it’s a bit hot in here today’ (while the right hemisphere understands ‘please open a window’, the left hemisphere assumes this is just helpful supply of meteorological data). It is also why the right hemisphere underpins the appreciation of humour, since humour depends vitally on being able to understand the context of what is said and done, and how context changes it. Subjects with right brain damage, like subjects with schizophrenia, who in many respects resemble them, cannot understand implied meaning, and tend to take conversational remarks literally.”

pp. 125-126

“Metaphor is the crucial aspect of language whereby it retains its connectedness to the world, and by which the ‘parts’ of the world which language appears to identify retain their connectedness one to another. Literal language, by contrast, is the means whereby the mind loosens its contact with reality and becomes a self-consistent system of tokens.”

p. 332

“Metaphorical understanding has a close relationship with reason, which seems paradoxical only because we have inherited an Enlightenment view of metaphor: namely, that it is either indirectly literal, and can be reduced to ‘proper’ literal language, or a purely fanciful ornament, and therefore irrelevant to meaning and rational thought, which it indeed threatens to disrupt. It is seen as a linguistic device, not as a vehicle of thought. What the literalist view and the anti-literalist view share is that, ultimately, metaphor can have nothing directly to do with truth. Either it is simply another way of stating literal truth or else it undermines any claim to truth. But as Lakoff and Johnson have shown, ‘metaphor is centrally a matter of thought, not just words’. 2 The loss of metaphor is a loss of cognitive content.”

What is inheritance?

The original meaning of a gene was simply a heritable unit. This was long before the discovery of DNA. The theory was based on phenotype, i.e., observable characteristics. What they didn’t know and what still doesn’t often get acknowledged is that much gets inherited from parents, especially from the mother. This includes everything from epigenetics to microbiome, the former determining which genes express and how they express while the latter consists of the majority of genetics in the human body. The fetus will also inherit health conditions from the mother, such as malnutrition and stress, viruses and parasites — all of those surely having epigenetic effects that could get passed on for generations.

Even more interestingly, DNA itself gets passed on in diverse ways. Viruses will snip out sections of DNA and then put them into the DNA of new hosts. Mothers, including surrogate mothers, can gain DNA from the fetuses they carry. And then those mothers can pass that DNA to any fetus she carries after that, which could cause a fetus to have DNA from two fathers. Fetuses can also absorb the DNA from fraternal twins or even entirely absorb the other fetus, forming what is called a chimera. Bone marrow transplantees also become chimeras because they inherit the stem cells for blood cells from the donor, along with inheriting epigentics from the donor. These chimeras could pass this on during a transplantee’s pregnancy.

We hardly know what all that might mean. There is no single heritable unit that by itself does anything. That is not the direct source of causation. A gene only acts as part of DNA within a specific cell and all of that within the entire biological system existing within specific environmental conditions. The most important causal factors are various. What is in DNA only matters to the degree it is expressed, but what determines its expression will also determine how it expresses. Evelyn Keller Fox writes that, “the causal interactions between DNA, proteins, and trait development are so entangled, so dynamic, and so dependent on context that the very question of what genes do no longer makes much sense. Indeed, biologists are no longer confident that it is possible to provide an unambiguous answer to the question of what a gene is. The particulate gene is a concept that has become increasingly ambiguous and unstable, and some scientists have begun to argue that the concept has outlived its productive prime” (The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture, p. 50). Gene expression as seen in phenotype is determined by a complex system of overlapping factors. Talk of genes doesn’t help us much, if at all. And heritability rates tells us absolutely nothing about the details, such as distinguishing what exactly is a gene as a heritable unit and causal factor, much less differentiating that from everything else. As Fox further explains:

“It is true that many authors continue to refer to genes, but I suspect that this is largely due to the lack of a better terminology. In any case, continuing reference to “genes” does not obscure the fact that the early notion of clearly identifiable, particulate units of inheritance— which not only can be associated with particular traits, but also serve as agents whose actions produce those traits— has become hopelessly confounded by what we have learned about the intricacies of genetic processes. Furthermore, recent experimental focus has shifted away from the structural composition of DNA to the variety of sequences on DNA that can be made available for (or blocked from) transcription— in other words, the focus is now on gene expression. Finally, and relatedly, it has become evident that nucleotide sequences are used not only to provide transcripts for protein synthesis, but also for multilevel systems of regulation at the level of transcription, translation, and posttranslational dynamics. None of this need impede our ability to correlate differences in sequence with phenotypic differences, but it does give us a picture of such an immensely complex causal dynamic between DNA, RNA, and protein molecules as to definitely put to rest all hopes of a simple parsing of causal factors. Because of this, today’s biologists are far less likely than their predecessors were to attribute causal agency either to genes or to DNA itself— recognizing that, however crucial the role of DNA in development and evolution, by itself, DNA doesn’t do anything. It does not make a trait; it does not even encode a program for development. Rather, it is more accurate to think of DNA as a standing resource on which a cell can draw for survival and reproduction, a resource it can deploy in many different ways, a resource so rich as to enable the cell to respond to its changing environment with immense subtlety and variety. As a resource, DNA is indispensable; it can even be said to be a primary resource. But a cell’s DNA is always and necessarily embedded in an immensely complex and entangled system of interacting resources that are, collectively, what give rise to the development of traits. Not surprisingly, the causal dynamics of the process by which development unfolds are also complex and entangled, involving causal influences that extend upward, downward, and sideways.” (pp. 50-52)

Even something seemingly as simple as gender is far from simple. Claire Ainsworth has a fascinating piece, Sex redefined (, where she describes the new understanding that has developed. She writes that, “Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl.”

This isn’t all that rare considering that, “Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD.” And, “What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body. Some studies even suggest that the sex of each cell drives its behaviour, through a complicated network of molecular interactions. Gender should be one of the most obvious areas to prove genetic determinism, if it could be proven. But clearly there is more going on here. The inheritance and expression of traits is a messy process. And we are barely scratching the surface. I haven’t seen any research that explores how epigenetics, microbiome, etc could influence gender or similar developmental results.

Billy Graham’s Addiction to Political Power

“The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

That is from the infamous Billy Graham. The argument is that the founders weren’t serious when they talked about the separation of church and state. It’s amusing in its silliness. It would be like saying that the framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of oppressive monarchy and aristocracy, not freedom from oppressive monarchy and aristocracy. He is playing a word game to push an agenda. But many of the founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, were quite clear in what they meant about separation of church and state. Religious freedom most definitely does not entail the constitutional right to enforce theocratic laws onto others.

Graham has a long history of political involvement and influence. This has been true across every presidential administration since the 1950s. He was particularly close with Richard Nixon. After Nixon’s scandalous resignation, Graham expressed more wariness toward politics. He went so far as to later on criticize Jerry Fallwell’s politicized “moral majority” (Parade Magazine, 1981), stating that:

It would be unfortunate if people got the impression all evangelists belong to that group. The majority do not. I don’t wish to be identified with them. I’m for morality. But morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak out with such authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists can’t be closely identified with any particular party or person.

Referring specifically to Falwell, he made himself even more clear:

I told him to preach the Gospel. That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.

That didn’t stop Graham from continuing to play the political game. He stayed close to the Washington establishment in the decades since. In 2011, he once again expressed regret for his complicity in the politicization of religion. Yet the very next year he jumped into another political fight over gay marriage in North Carolina. The culture wars are simply too thick in his blood. The attraction to political power is an addiction. He can’t help himself. John Becker wrote that,

The fact that the 93-year-old Graham, who was born during the final days of World War I, supports marriage discrimination is not, in and of itself, surprising, when one considers both his age and his evangelicalism. What is rather surprising, however, is the fact that he’s made such a public anti-gay pronouncement at all. After all, the man has been essentially in retirement since 2007. Since that time, he’s left most of the right-wing craziness to his son, Franklin “President Obama may or may not be a ‘son of Islam’“ Graham, and his daughter, Anne “9/11 was God’s way of getting back into the government and our schools“ Graham Lotz. Waggoner notes that William Martin, an authorized biographer of Graham, cannot recall any effort by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association similar in size and scope to its current pro-discrimination push in the organization’s entire 62-year history. And according to Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University, this can only mean one thing: that the source of this bigotry is not Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA, but Billy Graham himself. Says Martin, “I am somewhat surprised that he would take that strong a stand. In the past, I have heard him say with respect to homosexuality, there are greater sins. Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will.”

It appears the Graham family ministry has become ever more politicized as the patriarch ages. Billy Graham is no longer heeding his own advice, hard earned from his earlier life experience. This can’t be blamed on his family taking over the ministry. It’s obvious the elder Graham is still fighting the culture wars in very much politicized form.

It’s with this in mind that we should take note the political support of Donald Trump by family members and key figures close to Billy Graham. Even though Franklin Graham promised not to endorse a candidate, he posted a photograph of his father with Donald Trump right before the election. He described those photographed with his father as “a few special friends,” implying the relationship between Billy and Donald isn’t a casual association. Acknowledging the support he had been given, Trump stated that he was “a big fan of Billy Graham” and then thanked some of the family members.

It’s not clear what Billy Graham thinks of Trump. But one thing is clear. This new administration has been extremely divisive among evangelicals, even among those surrounding the Graham family. Consider the warning of “21st century idolatry” given by Ed Stetzer. He is the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center.

Trump’s narcissistic buffoonery and anti-Christian sociopathy will make many evangelicals rethink their position on the politicization of religion, specifically in its present partisan divide. It will weaken the ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party. It might also weaken the ties with the religious right as well, since younger evangelicals are increasingly liberal and progressive. It is the decades of politicized religion by religious right figures like Billy Graham that have turned so many away from the old culture wars. That might not have happened if Graham had taken his own earlier advice to heart.

Feline Friends

Many people think of cats as loners, as if their only concern is some food and a warm place to sleep. But in my experience, cats are highly social creatures. It’s just their social behavior is more on individual terms, rather than the pack mentality of dogs.

One of my cats follows me around like I’m his mommy. He does this when I walk around the house. And when I used to go outside with him, he would take long walks with me and no leash was required. I used to do that with my childhood cat, after which the blog is named. We’d go for long walks through the neighborhood and into the nearby woods, sometimes him leading and sometimes me leading. We were best buds. It’s the old story of a boy and his cat.

I was thinking about this because I noticed a kitty peering in the back door this morning. It was a new feline friend I made about a month ago. She is new to the neighborhood, living in some nearby house as she has a collar. I’ve only seen her a few times before this. Yet she had already figured out where my house was and sought me out. So, I went out to greet her. I gave her some pets and we played a bit out in the yard. I led her over to the catnip patch and that got her all excited. It was a pleasant interruption to my morning.

It’s nice having a cat to visit me. The last cat I befriended lived a couple of blocks away. He would walk over to my house and he did the same thing this cat just did. He’d peer in the back door to see if I was home. Then we’d go off on little adventures, which usually involved me walking him back to his own home. It was our routine, until some incident forced his owner to permanently keep him inside.

I have human friends as well. But I must admit that some of my favorite friends are cats. Sure, humans have their own nice qualities. It’s just that I’ve never known any human who will stand at my back door waiting for me to come outside and play.

The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind

Ideological labels are used in an odd way on the political right. They are used more as weapons of rhetoric than as accurate descriptions. This relates to Corey Robin’s analysis of the reactionary mind. One of the most interesting things that distinguishes the reactionary from the traditionalist is how easily the reactionary co-opts from the political left.

This is particularly central to American society. The reactionary mind, like fundamentalism, is the product of modernity. And the American experience was born out of modernity, beginning with post-feudal colonial imperialism. The social order and social identity fell into disarray and so political ideology became ever more primary. The reactionary mind is dynamically adaptive, for it shifts according toward which it is reacting. It thrives in instability and will promote instability, even as it scapegoats its enemies for this very same instability that it requires.

Reactionaries are tough opponents. They feel no moral obligation to fight fairly. Nor will they ever state their true intentions. The mindset and worldview precludes it, at the level of consciousness. The reactionary mind is not just a set of tactics but a way of being in the world, a permanent survival mode of mistrust and deception. Labels in themselves mean nothing to the reactionary. They are like crabs, in camouflaging themselves, that attach things to their shells — pieces of coral, anemones, etc. There is a hodge-podge quality to their stated views, a little bit of this and a little bit of that with no need for principled consistency. 

The earliest example of this is the fight over Federalism. The war of rhetoric was won by those fighting for centralized power. They didn’t actually want Federalism. What they were attempting to create, as Corey Robin explains so well, was a new form of hierarchy and ruling elite involving the same old pattern of concentrated wealth and power. They were as much attacking the traditional ancien régime (old order) as they were attacking the revolutionary movement. They co-opted from both of their enemies, but over time as traditionalism declined they increasingly focused on co-opting from the political left.

The first great victory of American reactionaries was in falsely claiming to be Federalists. They did this by co-opting the revolution itself and, by way of the Constitutional Convention, redirecting it toward counter-revolution. This forced their opponents into the position of being called Anti-Federalists, even though their opponents were the strongest defenders of Federalism. The winners not only get to write the history books but also get to do the labeling.

This is how a society like ours, founded on liberalism, quickly had its radical liberalism defanged. Thomas Paine, in a short period of time, went from revolutionary hero to social pariah and political outcast. He didn’t fit into the reactionary scheme of the new centralized establishment. Even to this day, the political right goes on trying to co-opt the label of liberalism, despite the absurdity in calling themselves classical liberals. Now a radical progressive and social democrat like Paine was a classical liberal, but he was largely written out of the history books for almost two centuries.

This pattern has repeated throughout Anglo-American history (and I’m sure elsewhere as well). The capitalists originally were strong liberals with a clear progressive bent. Paine, for example, was for free markets. And like Paine, Adam Smith saw high economic inequality as a direct threat to a free society. Yet the reactionaries took over free market rhetoric to promote the inevitable authoritarianism and paternalism of a high inequality society. Because of this, it has become harder and harder to take seriously the rhetoric of free markets — in its being falsely used to defend crony capitalism, plutocratic corporatism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal globalization, market fetishism, and crude (pseudo-)libertarianism. There is nothing free, much less classically liberal, about this capitalist realism.

There are more examples. Consider right-wing libertarians and right-wing anarchists (e.g., anarcho-capitalists). Both varieties of right-wingers typically defend the legacy of inequality and injustice. Their labeling themselves as libertarian and anarchist would have been absurd a century ago. Both libertarians and anarchists arose out of the left-wing workers movement in Europe. Yet here we are with the political right having successfully co-opted the label of libertarianism and are in the process of co-opting the label of anarchism.

There is nothing they can’t co-opt, once they set their mind to it. This is true even for labels that involve race issues. The theory and label of human biodiversity has become popular among the political right, specifically among alt-righters, the Dark Enlightenment, and other similar types. They use it to promote the cynical worldview of genetic determinism and race realism. The sad part is that the originator of human biodiversity, Jonathan Marks, created the theory specifically to disprove these right-wing claims.

Once again, here we are with the political right having so thoroughly co-opted a label that its very origins is forgotten. It’s a theft not just of a label but the destruction of meaning. It makes genuine debate impossible, and that is the entire point. Reactionaries are constantly seeking to muddy the water. They do everything in their power to control the terms of debate. Their opponents are left in a state of disorientation and constantly on the defense. This is easy for reactionaries to do because they have nothing specific to defend or rather that they keep well hidden what they are defending by way of obfuscation.

This wouldn’t necessarily mean much if not for the consistent pattern that can be seen across the centuries. It’s clearly significant in what it says about the modern political right and the consequences it has for the political left. The lesson is this. Never take them at their word. And never fight on their terms. Labels do matter.

Too Much Success

It’s amazing the abilities some species have. But that brings up a question. If they are such an advantage, why doesn’t every species have equally amazing abilities? This particularly comes to mind with perceptual abilities.

Human senses are fairly mediocre. We can’t sense much of the world that many other species can. We make up for it with opposable thumbs and cognitive development. Just imagine how much more bad ass humans would be if we could see like a hawk, hear like an owl, and smell like a wolf.

Maybe there is no evolutionary advantage to having the best possible abilities in all ways. It might actually be a disadvantage, both for the species and for the ecosystem or even biosphere. Any given species being too successful might throw off the balance between species. Evolution isn’t only seeking the survival of species but also the survival of complex relationships between species.

Consider one of the earliest microbes, cyanobacteria. They were so successful that it led to what is called the Great Oxygenation Event. Most other microbes at the time were anaerobic and oxygen was toxic to them. It caused earth’s first mass extinction. Even the cyanobacteria didn’t benefit, as there numbers also precipitously dropped.

Too much success can be a dangerous thing, for all involved. This is a lesson of evolution. It’s the success of the entire system of species that matters, not the success of a single species. The survival of the fittest species is secondary to the survival of the fittest ecosystem and biosphere. As Phil Plait put it (Poisoned Planet):

“It’s an interesting tale, don’t you think? The dominant form of life on Earth, spread to the far reaches of the globe, blissfully and blithely pumping out vast amounts of pollution, changing the environment on a planetary scale, sealing their fate. They wouldn’t have been able to stop even if they knew what they were doing, even if they had been warned far, far in advance of the effects they were creating.

“If this is a cautionary tale, if there is some moral you can take away from this, you are free to extract it for yourself. If you do, perhaps you can act on it. One can hope that in this climate, change is always possible.”

An Inconsistency on the Political Left

Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky had some strong disagreements a while back, about religion in its relation to extremism and terrorism. It was a dialogue that didn’t really go anywhere. Their ideological worldviews were too different. But it occurred to me what exactly is odd about the conflict.

Harris believes there is something inherent to certain religions and to the religious mindset in general. Chomsky takes the opposite tack by emphasizing conditions and context. Islamic terrorists are the result of a half century of geopolitical machinations that involved Western governments eliminating secularism and promoting theocracy.

It’s a difference of whether one emphasizes civilizational war or common humanity. The divergence of these worldviews extends back to the Enlightenment and even further back to the Axial Age.

That isn’t exactly what I want to discuss, though. It came to my mind that these two thinkers switch positions when it comes to the human mind. Harris denies that there is an inherent self, whereas Chomsky has long argued that there are inherent modules within the mind.

Both seem inconsistent, but as mirror images of each other. Some have noted that Chomsky’s linguistic theory doesn’t fit his political ideology. There is a drastic mismatch. Chomsky dismisses this as two separate areas, as though the human mind and human society had nothing to do with each other. That is odd. Harris, as far as I know, has never even attempted to explain away his inner conflict.

Most on the political right would argue that nearly everything is inherent: human nature, language, culture, religion, genetics, biology, gender, etc. It is assumed that there is a fundamental, unchanging essence to things that determines their expression. I disagree with this viewpoint, but at least it is consistent. There are other areas of inconsistency on the political right, some real whoppers such as with economics. Yet for this set of issues, the greater inconsistency appears to be on the political left.

Another Way

Health is a longtime interest of mine. My focus has been on the relationship between mental health and physical health. The personal component of this is my depression as it has connected, specifically in the past, to my junk food addiction and lack of exercise at times. When severely depressed, there isn’t motivation to do much about one’s health. But if one doesn’t do anything about one’s health, the symptoms of depression get worse.

It’s for this reason that I’ve sought to understand health. I’ve tried many diets. A big thing for me was restricting refined sugar and simple carbs. It’s become clear to me that sugar, in particular, is one of the most addictive drugs around. It boosts your serotonin which makes you feel good, but then it drops your serotonin levels lower than before you ate the sugar. This creates an endless craving, once you get into the addictive cycle. On top of that, sugar is extremely harmful to your health in general, not only maybe resulting in diabetes but also suppressing your immune system.

Most addictive behavior, though, isn’t necessarily and primarily physical. The evidence shows that it’s largely based on social conditions. That has been shown with the rat park research, with inequality data, and with Portugal’s model of decriminalization and treatment. Humans, like rats, are social creatures. Those living in optimal social conditions have lower rates of addiction, even when drugs are easily available. I’m sure this same principle applies to food addictions as well. It also relates to other mental illnesses, which show higher rates in Western industrialized countries.

This occurred to me a while back while reading about the Piraha. Daniel Everett noted that they didn’t worry much about food. They ate food when it was there and they would eat it until it was gone, but they were fine when there was no food to eat. They live in an environment of great abundance. They don’t lack anything they need.

Yet it’s common for them to skip eating for a day because they have something better to do with their time, such as relaxing and socializing. Everett had seen Piraha individuals dance for several days straight with only occasional breaks and no food. Hunger didn’t seem to bother them because they knew at any moment they could go a short distance and find food. A few hours of a single person hunting, fishing, or gathering could feed the entire extended family for a day.

The same thing was seen with their sleep patterns. The Piraha rarely slept through the entire night. There were always people awake and talking. They didn’t worry about not getting enough sleep. They slept sporadically through the night and day, whenever they felt like it. According to Everett, the Piraha are a happy and relaxed people. They don’t seem to fear much, not even death, despite living in a dangerous environment. They have a low anxiety existence.

Modern Westerners also live amidst great abundance. But you wouldn’t know it from our behavior. We are constantly eating, as if we aren’t sure where our next meal is coming from. And we obsess over the idea of getting a full night’s rest. Our lives are driven by stress and anxiety. The average Westerner has a mindset of scarcity. We are constantly working, buying, consuming, and hoarding. The only time we typically relax is to escape all the stress and anxiety, by numbing ourselves with our addictions: food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, television, social media, etc.

That has been true of me. I’ve felt that constant background of unease. I’ve felt that addictive urge to escape. It’s not healthy. But it’s also not inevitable. We have chosen to create this kind of society. And we can choose to create a different one. Addiction makes us feel helpless, just as it makes us feel isolated. But we aren’t helpless.

As Thomas Paine wrote at the beginning of this country, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Imagine a society where we could be at peace with ourselves, where we could have a sense of trust that our needs will be taken care of, to know that there is enough abundance to go around. A world where the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and the poor lifted up. All of that is within our means. We know how to do it, if only we could imagine it. That would mean creating a new mindset, a new way of being in the world, a new way of relating.

* * *


I was thinking about a particular connection to addiction, mental illness, and other health problems. This is part of the isolation and loneliness of a hyper-individualistic society. But American society adds another dynamic to this in also being highly conformist — for various reasons: the entrenched class hierarchy, the strictly oppressive racial order, the history of religiosity, the propagandistic nature of national media, the harsh Social Darwinism of capitalist realism, etc.

Right before this post, I was writing about authoritarian libertarianism. There is a weird, secret link between the extremes of individualism and the extremes of collectivism. There is a long history of libertarians praising individualism while supporting the collectivism of authoritarians.

Many right-wing libertarians are in love with corporatism which was a foundation of fascism. Corporations are collective entities that are created by the public institution of government through the public system of corporate charters. A corporate charter, by government fiat, doles out special privileges and protections. Business often does well under big government, at least big business does.

This dynamic might seem strange, but it has a certain logic. Carl Jung called it enantiodromia. That is a fancy word for saying that things taken to their extreme tend to become or produce their opposite. The opposite is never eliminated, even if temporarily suppressed into the shadow and projected onto others. It’s a state where balance is lacking and so the imbalance eventually tips the other direction.

That is the nature of the oppositional paradigm of any dualistic ideology. That is seen in the perceived divide of mind (or spirit) and matter, and this leads to Cartesian anxiety. The opposition is false and so psychologically and socially unsustainable. This false ideology strains the psyche in the futile effort to maintain it.

This has everything to do with health, addiction, and all of that. This condition creates a divide within the human psyche, a divide within awarenesss and thought, perception and behavior. Then this divide plays out in the real world, easily causing dissociation of experience and splintering of the self. Addiction is one of the ways we attempt to deal with this, the repetitive seeking of reconnection that the can’t be satisfied, for addiction can’t replace the human bond. We don’t really want the drug, sugar, or work we are addicted to, even as it feels like the best substitute available to us or at least better than nothing. The addiction eases the discomfort, temporarily fills the emptiness.

It is worth noting that the Piraha have little apparent depression and no known incidents of suicide. I would see this as related to the tight-knit community they live within. The dogmatic dualism of individual vs collective would make no sense to them, as this dualism depends on a rigidly defended sense of identity that they don’t share with modern people. Their psychic boundaries are thinner and more open. Social hierarchy and permanent social positions are foreign to them. There is no government or corporations, not even a revered class of wise elders. Inequality and segregation, and disconnection and division are not part of their world.

You might argue that the Piraha society can’t be translated into lessons applicable to Western countries. I would argue otherwise. They are human like the rest of us. Nothing makes them special. That is probably how most humans once lived. It is in our nature, no matter how hidden it has become. Countries that have avoided or remedied the worst divides such as inequality have found that problems are far fewer and less severe. We may not be able or willing to live like the Piraha, but much of what their lifestyle demonstrates is relevant to our own.

This can be seen in the Western world. Lower inequality states in the US have lower rates of mental illness, obesity, teen pregnancies, homicides, suicide, etc as compared to higher inequality states. Countries with less segregated populations have greater societal trust and political moderation than countries with highly segregated populations. In modern societies, it might be impossible to eliminate inequality and segregation, but we certainly can lessen them far below present conditions. And countries have shown when social conditions are made healthy the people living there are also more healthy.

The world of the Piraha isn’t so distant from our own. We’ve just forgotten our own history. From Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich discusses how depression becomes an increasing issue in texts over the centuries. If you go far back enough, anything akin to depression is rarely mentioned.

She puts this in the context of the loss of community, of communal lifestyle and experience. During feudal times, people lived cheek to jowl, almost never alone. As family and neighbors, they lived together, ate together, worked together, worshipped together, and like the Piraha they would wake up together in the night. They also celebrated and danced together. Festivals and holy days were a regular occurrence. This is because most of the work they did was seasonal, but even during the main work season they constantly put on communal events.

Like the Piraha, they worked to live, not lived to work. Early feudal villages were more like tribal villages than they were like modern towns. And early feudal lords very much lived among the people, even joining in their celebrations. For example, during a festival, a feudal lord might be seen wrestling a blacksmith or even playing along with role reversal. The feudal identity hadn’t yet solidified into modern individuality with its well partitioned social roles. That is partly just the way small-scale subsistence lifestyles operate, but obviously there is more going on than that. This involved the entire order and impacted every aspect of life.

Let’s consider again Paine’s suggestion that we begin over again. This was stated in the context of revolution, but revolution was understood differently at the time. It implied a return to what came before. He wasn’t only speaking to what might be gained for he had a clear sense of what had been lost. The last remnants of feudalism continued into the post-revolutionary world, even as they were disappearing quickly. Paine hoped to save, re-create, or somehow compensate for what was being lost. A major concern was inequality, as the commons were stolen and the public good was eroded.

Even though it wasn’t how it typically would’ve been framed at the time, the focus in this was public health. Paine on occasion did use the metaphor of health and sickness — such as when he wrote, “That the king is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.” The monarchy wasn’t just about the ruler but about the whole social order that was ruled over, along with its attendant inequality of wealth and power. The sickness was systemic. As with the human body, the body politic could become sick and so it could also be healed.

It never occurred to the American revolutionaries that the problems they faced should be blamed on isolated individuals. It wasn’t limited to a few malcontents. A growing unease spread across colonial society. Even as we think of our society having progressed much over the centuries, we can’t shake the mood of anxiety that continues to spread. Surrounded by abundance and with greater healthcare than our ancestors could have dreamed of, we manage to lead immensely unhealthy and unhappy lives. We are never fully content nor feel like we like we fully belong.

As individuals, we hunger for our next fix. And as a society, we are rapacious and ravenous toward the world, as if our bountiful wealth and resources are never enough. Early colonial trade was strongly motivated by the demand for sugar and now we find present neo-colonial globalization being driven by the demand for oil. Sugar and oil, along with much else, have been the fuel of restless modernity. It’s an addictive social order.

The corrupt old order may have ended. But the disease is still with us and worsening. It’s going to require strong medicine.