Monday, May 20, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy, chapter 10: A study in eisegesis, pt 3

This post alas got too long for the blogger editor to work correctly with - the word wrap gets borked if I include the whole post, so ... I will have to further subdivide this chapter, as there is a significant amount of problems with it, and including all of them and explaining the problems will take time. I will post sections of it as they get finished. Alas, some of the borked word-wrap is still present in this post, and it seems 

Murdock goes on to present what to her passes for evidence of implicit (as well as explicit) astrotheology in the Bible. This is not the heart of her argument, but it's one of the main arteries.

The Bible is, in actuality, basically an astrotheological text, a reflection of what has been occurring in the heavens for millennia, localized and historicized on Earth. This fact is further confirmed by numerous biblical passages concerning the influences of the heavenly bodies, but it also becomes clear through exegesis of the texts from an informed perspective.[1, p. 128]
The evidence for this that she presents is highly selective. In the narratives of the deuteronomist history, she finds a handful of things which she manages squeezing an astrological interpretation out of - Joshua stopping the sun, Ezekiel's wheels, the prevalence of nighttime worship in Judaism. A prime example of the lack of substance in this eisegesis can be found here:
In fact, as noted, the polytheistic Hebrews and Israelites worshipped a variety of Elohim, Baalim and Adonai, many of which were aspects of the sun, such as El Elyon, the Most High God. In addition, at Amos 5:26 is a verse concerning the mysterious "Kaiwan," the "star-god"of the house of Israel. This star-god is El, the sun, or Saturn, the "central sun," whom, as stated, the Hebrews worshipped, as reflected by their sabbath on Saturday. [1, p. 136]
Problems that beset this passage are numerous: Kaiwan is a hapax legomenon - it occurs once throughout the Bible; we know very little what it signified in Biblical Hebrew. True enough, comparative evidence from related languages do support the claim that Saturn is a reasonably likely referent for the word. However, in trying to figure out what biblical theology is, we should actually see what it says about this Kaiwan.
וּנְשָׂאתֶם אֵת סִכּוּת מַלְכְּכֶם וְאֵת כִּיּוּן צַלְמֵיכֶם כֹּוכַב אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר עֲשִׂיתֶם לָכֶֽם׃
unśatæm ʔet sik:ut malkəķæm wæet kiyun şalme:ķæm koķav
ʔæloheķæm ʔašær ʕaśitæm (cheapnis transliteration, admittedly, and inconsistently jumping between some scandinavian transliteration scheme and some more international ones)
fast-and-dirty translation: and-carry-qal.perf.masc.2pl the booths/tents of Moloch-your and Kiyun images-your of (a) star of your god(s) which you have made for yourselves. Turned into somewhat passable English: and/but you carried the booths of your Moloch and Kiyun, images of a star of your gods who you had made for yourself.
It gets interesting once you get to the next verse, though, as it is made quite clear the author disapproves of these deities, and I will cheat and just quote the KJV:
Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name [is] The God of hosts.
Making the author's disapproval quite clear. Of course, the Bible is a product of tension between some religious reformers (and internally between them), and the folk religion of the Israelites. We would be surprised if this tension was not visible - if there were no tension, there would have been little reason to write the angry message present in many of the prophets in the first place, for instance. Now, Murdock's stunt here is to pretend the things the biblical authors ranted against are the things the biblical authors believed. By ignoring the context, Murdock can pretend that the Bible supports astrology much more than it really does. She repeatedly pulls this stunt - it pays off checking every verse she mentions but does not quote, as there often is a reason she does not quote it. But even further than that, actually thinking about why the text includes references to things such as these often has quite the opposite meaning from what Murdock reads into it.
As history, these various biblical tales are no more factual than the stories of the Greek gods or the Arabian knights. As allegory, however, they record an ancient wisdom that goes back well beyond the founding of the Hebrew nation, into the deepest mists of time. [1, p. 129 ]
I agree with the first part here, and so do many modern scholars - there is little in the Bible that is accurate history (see, e.g. Silberman's The Bible Unearthed). To what extent the stories encode something hidden, it is likely that whatever was hidden in that case is irretrievably obfuscated by now. Murdock's interpretations of it seem no better than any other pareidolia taken far enough.
In ascertaining the astrology of the Bible we should first properly define the word astrology. Although many people think astrology is meaningless mumbo-jumbo, it is not merely casting horoscopes but is in fact a science, as "astrology" means the study of the celestial bodies (astronomy) and their influences on each other and on life on Earth. The only difference between the well-respected astronomy and the vilified astrology is that astronomy charts the movements and constitution of the celestial bodies, while astrology attempts to determine their interrelationships and meaning.  [1, p. 129]
Is this an overt admission of belief in astrology? I do agree that if we are to go looking for astrology, we should agree on what it is. However, she does not really define it here - which is what she claims to set out to do - but rather only presents an apology for it. Are theories of gravity and electromagnetism astrology? After all, the former can be used to study and predict movements of celestial bodies (and how they affect each other), and the latter can be used to explain how photons from certain celestial bodies affect the life cycle of plants and animals as well as cause very intricate reactions on your retina! (Which, of course, is a subset of life on Earth, which is affected in extensively detailed ways when you look up at the starry night sky.) What does "interrelationships" or "meaning" signify in this context - does Murdock ascribe some kind of objective semantic content to the movements of the skies? There are several significant differences between astronomy and astrology that Murdock ignores here: astronomers use the scientific method to test their theories, astrologers (generally) do not.

Astronomers attempt to explain their observations - and they manage to do so, using science that has been tested elsewhere (and their observations, in turn, can be used to test scientific theories, see e.g. the use of a solar eclipse to test Einstein's theory of relativity). Astrologers on the other hand explain their claims (and come up with excuses when empirical tests reject their claims) by referring to untestable phenomena that have not been verified in laboratories. No astrologer this far has given any realistic explanation as to how the stars would affect life on earth in any way even remotely similar to the way astronomists interact with other sciences. See, e.g. how Karl Anderson keeps referring to magnetism, yet never shows any understanding whatsoever of magnetism as a phenomenon. Real interaction with a science requires actual  understanding of it, something astrologers seldom even have the faintest interest for.

... which in turn was not possible without the understanding that the earth was round and revolved around the sun, crucial information suppressed by the conspirators, to be seemingly rediscovered late in history. Such information, however, has always been known by those behind the scenes. [1, p. 130]
See this.
As time went on, this science became increasingly complicated, as the infinite stars were factored in and as the heavens changed. Recognizing the interaction between the planetary bodies and their influence on Earth, the ancients began to give the heavens shape and form, persona and attitude. [1, p. 130 ]
I would love to know what influence, beyond the obvious sun-related influences (seasons, light in the day) and moon-related influences (tides, somewhat light nights) Murdock is referring to. Maybe it is how when both venus and mercurius are in taurus, sagittarians get skeptical of bullshit or whatever, who knows?

Murdock does not just make outlandish claims, she also goes on to ram down open doors. As a great surprise she springs on us that Christians in the past thought the Bible contained allegories. This must be maddeningly uncomfortable a truth for anyone without any familiarity with patristic thought or most brands of theology:
Other early Christians also knew about the allegorical nature of the Bible, but their later counterparts began in earnest the profitable push for utter historicization, obliterating millennia of human study and knowledge, and propelling the Western world into an appalling Dark Age. St. Athanasius, bishop and patriarch of Alexandria, was not only aware of the allegorical nature of biblical texts, but he "admonishes us that 'Should we understand sacred writ according to the letter, we should fall into the most enormous blasphemies.'" In other words, it is a sin to take the Bible literally! [1, p. 132]
Murdock has probably not verified whether St. Athanasius said that though, as the source she gives is Pike's The Morals and Dogma of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, which provides no further source. In addition, on the very same page Pike showcases really outdated ideas of the age of the Zohar, accepting an early 1st millennium age for it ("The source of our knowledge of the Kabalistic doctrines, are the books Jezirah and Sohar, the former drawn up in the second century, and the latter a little later;" [2, p 266]) For a very short sample of claims, it seems Pike's accuracy is low. May be the present sample just was unlucky, but ... I cannot read every book Murdock has consulted for her work. However, as Pike does not use much in ways of sources, I find he cannot be held a reputable source on anything.)
Whether Christianity really propelled the western world into the Dark Ages is questioned by several historians and other causes have to be considered as well - the great migrations of the time, various problems with the Roman Empire itself, etc. Certainly Christianity contributed to the appearance of the Dark Ages, but exactly how large the share of the blame it should be appointed is hard to estimate. Further, how such a push for "utter historicization" that she posits could have propelled the western world into the dark ages is rather left unclear, as she provides no explanation. Would the dark ages have been avoided if medieval Christianity believed Jesus was a supernatural being who never walked the earth?

What profit does historicization confer on the clergy that absence of historicization would deprive them of? The idea that historicization was carried out for some kind of profit also seems suspect. In part, relics are indeed a profit-bringer that historicity helps create and justify, but it would seem the later habit of canonizing untold numbers of believers would have made it possible to create such an industry without a historical savior. Also, compare how common ritual non-relic holy objects are in Judaism, and the amount of money invested in mezuzoth, tefillin, tallit, ... one would think that such a system would be more gainful for conspirators wishing to profit off a religion, compared to the relatively little market for relics: once a relic is sold, its resale value plummets, it sits somewhere in a church, and so on. Tefillin and tallitoth, on the other hand, get worn out, and mezuzoth need to be checked for flaws regularly as well. Unlike a relic, though, that is a feature: you need new tallitoth, new tefillin, new mezuzoth, ... or reparations if possible for the tefillin and mezuzoth. There is no Catholic rule requiring that you have to buy a new finger from S:t So-and-So whenever the previous one has been worn out.
Christian father Origen, called the "most accomplished biblical scholar of the early church," admitted the allegorical and esoteric nature of the Bible: "The Scriptures were of little use to those who understood them literally, as they are written." [1, p. 132 ]
Tracing this down is interesting, as the quoted bit is from Higgins' Anacalypsis, part II (page 270). And the quote is not present in the source he provides. The essential meaning is there, so it is possible he was using some other translation that does translate it like that, though. Again, more primary sources would be called for. However, Murdock's wording skates very close to implying that this indeed is what Origen says, whereas it actually is (again, modulo translation) Johann Lorenz von Mosheim summing up his views of Origen's teachings this way. Mosheim may very well be right, but certainly Murdock would benefit from having read more recent sources - quoting a polemicist who quoted a polemicist does not inspire confidence. Google scholar does identify a handful of other books using the exact same wording, but none of the results can be considered to be anywhere near primary sources: three 19th century books on prophecy, Anacalypsis and Murdock.
In fact, in examining biblical texts closely, we further discover that various places and persons, portrayed as actual, historical entities, are in fact allegory for the heavens and planetary bodies. In reality, virtually all Hebrew place-names have astronomical meanings. [...] Contrary to popular belief, the reverence displayed by other peoples for "God's heavens" is also exhibited by the Israelites, whose very name, as we have seen, is astrotheological. [1, p. 132 ]
I have previously pointed out that the claim that Israel is an astrotheological name is flawed.  I have also pointed out that the source for identifying Hebrew place names with astronomical things is flawed.
Despite the negative comments and exhortations found in the Bible against astrology, star-gazing, soothsaying and divination, we discover various passages that clearly refer to these magical arts and their objects of reverence with fondness. In fact, at several points the heavens are personified and appear as wondrous characters whose praises are sung by biblical characters, in precisely the same manner as their Pagan counterparts. [1, p. 132]
We will see that what Murdock means by this ignores what the verses in question say (at least most of the time). But I am getting ahead of myself.

The author(s) of Job is one such character, and it is in this book we find unambiguous references to astrology. In Job, "the Lord" personifies the "morning stars"- "the sons of God" - and has them "joyfully crying out." In trying to make Job feel small and obey him, the Lord presents a list of his own godly attributes, including the ability to command the happy heavens:
 [1, p. 133 ]
Commanding the heavens would be a pretty impressive feat, and it is quite possible the Jewish redactors who finalized the Hebrew version of Job intended that kind of meaning - God is more powerful than the Pleiades, and he controls Orion, he is the one who leads Mazzaroth (a constellation) and guides the Bear, he knows the ordinances of the heavens, et cetera. Meanwhile, this also establishes that God is not ruled by the Pleiades, Orion, Mazzaroth or by the Bear: they are his underlings, and subject to his control. Murdock instead reads this as agreeing that the stars and constellations are seen as divine. However, indeed, the author of Job does seem to agree with the notion that the stars had an influence on the affairs on Earth:
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth? (Job 38:31-33)
 [1, p. 133]
This is pretty much the only such stance attested in the canonical bible, although more such stances can be found in later Jewish literature. (E.g. intertestamental as well as early rabbinic and kabbalistic work.)
The Pleiades factor into Judaism more than is admitted, as some of the numerous "sevens" mentioned throughout the Bible refer to these "sisters," as Walker relates:
[The Pleiades] were probably represented in pre-patriarchal Jerusalem by the holy Menorah (seven-branched candlestick) symbolizing the sevenfold Men-hora or Moon-priestesses, as shown by its female-genital decorations, lilies and almonds (Exodus 25:33).
 [1, p. 133 ] 
How does something that is not spoken about or by and large ascribed any significance factor into something? If an idea or thing influenced the development of a cluster of ideas, and later on disappeared from that cluster of idea, what sense does it make to claim the thing or idea factors into it at this point? As for the significance of seven in Biblical thought, who knows - might just as well be the number of stars in some other constellation, or the Pleiades may have been seen as signifying something else than a number of sisters, or it might have been the number of something that was not in the sky. Pareidolia hits hard, again.
Also in Job, a book replete with celestial imagery, the author portrays the Lord as he who "described a circle upon the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble...his hand pierced the fleeing serpent." In mythology the heavens are depicted as an "abyss of waters," so this scripture is reference to the zodiacal circle, "described" or drawn by God. The "boundary between light and darkness" is, naturally, the horizon, and the trembling "pillars of heaven" are the same held up by Samson, the "bright sun." In addition, "his hand piercing the fleeing serpent" could refer to the Egyptian god Set/Seth, the constellation of Serpens, or the sky itself; however, this last part could also be translated as the "crooked serpent" who does not flee but is formed by the Lord's hand, representing Scorpio.
 [1, p. 133 ]
I do not see why the reference to "the face of the waters" has to be understood as a reference to the zodiacal circle - it seems more reasonable to see this as a reference to the early cosmology of the middle east peoples[4, chapter 1], viz. a flat world whose landmasses are surrounded by water. Such an interpretation even more naturally fits the idea of horizon as boundary. There is no way to verify or falsify whether Murdock's interpretation is accurate, and that is a problem - it can just be a fanciful interpretation or the actual meaning of the text here. I remain unconvinced, as I find other interpretations with a less explicit astrological meaning more convincing. It may just describe the immense powers a creator commanded when constructing the universe, or it may hint at astrological significance of constellations.
Of this mysterious and clearly astrological work attributed to Job, Anderson says, "... the whole book is a complete description of the Masonic ceremonies or Egyptian Masonry, or trial of the dead by Osiris..."
So, Job's book has parallels in a movement with medieval roots. The inquisitive mind naturally wonders which direction the influence may have taken! Anderson only asserts this, and does not show that this is so, nor does he provide any sources for his claim. [3, p. 113]

As to the sources she uses in this chapter, thus far, many of them are highly questionable in quality: None out of Pike, Anderson, Higgins and Hazelrigg are reliable scholars. Again, some claims that definitely would demand sources (even if they are true) are unsourced, and we are left just to believe on Murdock's authority (e.g. Kaiwan being El being Saturn). In further installments of reviews of this chapter, the sheer amount of eisegesis will be more apparent.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Pike, The Morals and Dogma of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, LH Jenkins, 1928
[3] Anderson, Karl; The Astrology of the Old Testament
[4] Schiaparelli, Astronomy in the Old Testament,  available at

No comments:

Post a Comment