Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Linguistics: Language Complexity and its origins

I previously pointed out some notional difficulties with linguistic complexity - difficulties in exhaustively measuring it, difficulties in defining it, etc. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that languages do have something we reasonably can call 'complexity' - and that this complexity appears on several levels. How does this complexity come about?

We first need to look at the context in which a language normally exists: the brain and the speech community.  The brain, obviously, is what produces linguistic utterances - and other brains parse these utterances. I think we can meaningfully say that grammar (as well as lexicon, as well as stylistics, as well as ...) all boil down to one thing: patterns. 

Side-track 1: Neural networks

Neural networks, as it happens, are pretty good at some things. Among them is pattern recognition. And since patterns are a relevant thing, we should probably start with them. Neural networks are a well-known and researched general architecture for pattern recognition. Our brains are, as it happens, instances of neural networks - probably the most complex known examples, in fact.

Most readers probably have not read a lot about them, so I figure a short introduction is called for. I like to go for the excessively abstract when describing things - along the styles of "imagine an arbitrary multiset". I realize this does not work for most readers, so I will try to avoid it.

Imagine a simple sensory organ (oh man, there I go), where there are several sensors that pass on a signal if they are triggered. Different sensors react to different types of stimuli, or stimuli of similar kinds of different qualities, or even the same kind of stimuli - but by virtue of being at different locations they still convey different information onward. Each sensor, when the right stimuli is present, sends a signal. Let us assume the signal is binary - yes or no.

Let us further imagine that there are a bunch of things - we call them nodes - that receive these signals and sometimes also pass them on, along directed vertices (that is, lines from one node to another). These form a huge network, where each node can send (henceforth fire) to other nodes, and likewise receive from other nodes. The node cannot, though, decide which nodes to fire to - firing always transmits on all outwards vertices.

Every vertex is ascribed a weight. The weights of all simultaneously firing vertices reaching a node is added up (or multiplied or had some function applied to it), and if the sum (or product) exceeds some treshold, the receiving node also fires.
Now, this would be a static neural network - whenever the source sends a given signal, exactly the same things transpire down the line in the network. (Well, unless there is some loop where signals cause some feedback - but we could consider those loops a type of source as well, so we ignore those or consider them a special case, for now at least. The brain does have loops, though.)

So, we add this mechanism: a firing node increases the weight of whichever incoming vertex also carried a firing signal, and decreases the weight of whichever incoming vertices did not simultaneously fire. Essentially, if node A fires after it received signals along vertices a,b and d, from then on, it will listen more closely to those vertices.

The exact function by which the weight is changed affects the neural network's properties - most texts I have read on this uses sigmoid functions of varying steepness. In the brain, the function probably also varies with age, diet, part of day, what part of the brain it is happening in, etc. I am not very knowledgeable about the biological mechanisms involved, but I would figure there are various biochemical components involved. (Complications can be added, but these do not alter the fundamental computational power of the network - only changing details of the implementation. Certainly such changes affect efficiency on specific problems, but a problem-agnostic architecture should preferably be as simple as possible. An example of such a complication could be adjusting downwards the weight of firing vertices when the recipient node is not triggered. Another architecture has a second kind of vertex too - a blocking vertex. A firing signal sent down a blocking vertex prevents the recipient node from firing.)

Now, the cleverness of the system described above may not be obvious at first sight - and I know I am not good at explaining these things.

The system above only observes whether signals cooccur often enough to exceed some treshold when added up. If they do, their assigned weights are increased. Some things will coöccur by coincidence, whereas some things will coöccur by correlation. E.g. 'twinkle twinkle little' tends to correlate with 'star', because, quite obviously, these are the lyrics of a somewhat popular lullaby. However, the neural network can also be unlucky - and have some non-correlating things often appear in the input data, by coincidence. "Locally", the nodes do not have the power to reason as to whether two signals they have seen coöccuring are coincidences or genuine correlations.

There is no flawless approach to weeding out coincidences from correlations. Good updating functions, however, may help a bit. A function that increases the value of incoming vertices drastically will obviously start considering many coincidences as though they were bona fide patterns; on the other hand, a function that increases the value very conservatively may not even accept genuine correlations until they have occurred very often - and if the event is infrequent, the network may never adjust itself into recognizing it as a pattern. Meanwhile, the way vertices are decreased is also important - a false positive that only is recognized by the neural network for a short while is not a problem in the long run; if the weight of vertices that do not co-fire - or even worse, incoming vertices that fire when the target node does not - are adjusted down quickly, this probably will remove false positives, but it may also remove genuine positives.

Details in how the senses work are somewhat unnecessary - and often, the way we now consciously think of some things - language, things according to what class we assign them to (cup, glass, pitcher, beaker, chalice, ... and the various objects that may be in more than one of these classes), etc, there has often already been a bunch of layers of neurons acting on it. When you hear a word, first it passes through several layers of neural networks - one parses pitch content, another parses relative pitch contour, another parses and classifies the acoustic events as phonemes, another parses and classifies these phonemes as morphemes, and does guesswork that corrects possible mishearings, another parses and tries to reconstruct the syntactic structure that generated the sentence in another mind.

Each of these can gainfully be described as pattern recognition: recognizing speech sounds requires recognizing sounds with some vague similarity as far as their acoustics go, as well as having recognized which kinds of variations in these patterns are to be expected. Recognizing a word is recognizing a pattern of sounds; error-correction recognizes various other information as indicating that maybe this other word (or even maybe it's this word, which at least is a word unlike the audio information that actually entered the process) is the one heard, as these words and extralinguistic facts - things we have seen or know by other means - tend to pattern together.

The unit of recognition is the whole pattern, not the parts of the pattern - if pieces are amiss or wrong, if the pattern is recognized we are likely to recognize the whole pattern, rather than the mistaken details in it. And probably, some neuron activity may contribute to another neuron that also gets already processed signals stemming from the same sources, so there is a fair share of things, ultimately, that complicate the matter.

However, what "a whole pattern" is depends on the size of the "circuitry" we are discussing - when you hear someone say something, there are parts of your brain that react to patterns in the intonation, there are parts that react to the acoustics of really short samples, there are parts that react to the acoustics of a set of the samples (and recognize that yeah, this is Eric's voice), there are parts that react to the speech sounds (this is a d, this is an ɪ, this is an s, this is some noise I couldn't recognize, this is an z, ...), there are parts that react to the series of speech sounds (this is dɪs ?z, and because this pattern is similar enough to ðɪs ɪz it will by fortunate accident be identified as this is), there are parts that react to the words in the previously identified sentences, and that parse the grammar. This, in turn, also interacts with other things stored in the neural network, such as things the listener knows about the speaker that may affect what he is saying at the moment, and so on - of course depending on whether the relevant parts of the neural network have been forming connections between them and so on.

I do acknowledge that the above bit does not explain how and why a neural network also produces linguistic content. A longer essay on mirror neurons, and on the interactions of different other parts of the brain, and the evolutionary pressures that have caused those parts of the brain to trigger certain things would be needed to explain why neural networks also have behaviors, instead of just identifying a pattern and sending out a positive or negative conclusion to a final node.

It is worth noting that linguistics is split on . Chomskyists hold that the neurons of the brain come, to some extent, preprogrammed. This means that it is easy for a human to learn language, because there are already some basic patterns embedded in our brains - all we need to do is know which ways these patterns are implemented. One such pattern is supposedly the object, i.e. verbs often can have an argument that is, in some sense, a primary complement. Objects but not subjects being universal could point to objects being such an embedded notion. (I have seen other sources maintain that only subjects are universal, so do not quote me on either of these.)

However, I will not present any arguments in favor of whether such a language organ is present in the brain, or the brain more generally just happens to enable language without a portion devoted to the purpose, but I will admit that I do find the Chomskyite school on the topic to be more convincing. Linguists do not seem often to explicitly talk about neural models of language - however, this is mostly the result of the analysis being a bit more abstract and more general models of computation suffice. Ultimately, detailed analysis of neural networks is cumbersome, and this may be why their study is not common in linguistics departments. They do have applications in computational linguistics, though.

Side-track 2: The speech community

A language without a speech community is a dead language. The speech community consists of the speakers of some language. For most of the history of mankind, all actual linguistic context has been rather fresh off another neural network.

This means what one should look at is the effect of having a lot of neural networks - all with slightly unique architecture - the neurons are probably not perfectly identical in the first place, the information that has entered the network differs, etc. It should be obvious different individual networks will have identified different patterns - as well as having different false positives as well.

However, as the same patterns that are used to recognize language also are used to produce language, these patterns will be present in the linguistic data that we are exposed to throughout our lives. Thus, there are definite patterns in the language we hear - simply because these patterns appear from other pattern-matching neural architectures.

As previously stated, it is somewhat likely different individuals' have slightly different setups in their brain. Thus, some patterns that exist in the population may not exist in other members of the population. Meanwhile, some may have identified the things differently.

Consider, for instance, the development of the word beads. To what extent the meaning shift that occurred was the result of intentional metaphor or not, it is quite clear at one point in the history of English, nearly everyone understood bead as referring to prayer, whereas at one later point, nearly everyone understood it as referring to small, round solid objects. Over time, a mistaken pattern got so popular, it replaced a previous one. Identifying what referent a word had was reinterpreted. Those who counted their prayers so often were counting them by counting a kind of round solid object, that observers took the word to signify the round solid objects, because of a rather obvious coöccurence.

Neural networks explain both how grammar is passed down the generations, and how grammar changes as it is parsed slightly differently down the lines. How do accidental patterns create grammar though?

If a certain tendency for collocation has appeared - some words or morphemes tend to occur in sequence or near each other under certain circumstances - this easily is understood as expressing circumstances along those lines. If others pick up the pattern, this grammaticalizes, and suddenly there is grammar. All grammar in all languages probably originate with this phenomenon, but later, influence between languages also has added some to the mix.

Of course, some individuals may not have grammaticalized the same patterns, and we do find some variation in how subcommunities of a speech community - and even individual speakers - understand and use constructions. Many dismiss this as speaking sloppily or being ignorant, but a lot of neural network effort has gone into generalizing other underlying patterns. Can we really say one generalization is better than another? Which one is better - one that is more consistent with other patterns in the language? One that is more elegant? One that is more parsimonious? Turns out the standard language sometimes expects a more parsimonious pattern, and sometimes a less parsimonious pattern (see, e.g. begs the question, where the standard language expects a very unnatural and often not very obvious interpretation!).

Ultimately, a population of neural networks exchanging messages in a flexible protocol which adjusts for the properties of both the neural network and the medium over which the signal is passed (audio through air or text on various materials or morse beeps over electric lines or so on) is a sufficient explanation for how grammar appears. The neural networks identify patterns - even unintentional patterns- and generalize them. Sometimes, the identification goes wrong. If many speakers do this misidentification, it is likely the entire language changes with them - in reality, we should probably think of any specific language as some kind of average of how the population parses and generates the language.

Further, lots of grammar ensures some grade of redundancy in the language - and this is useful to ensure that the language has some persistance over a noisy channel, as the world does happen to be such a noisy channel. Some grammar - verb conjugations, case agreement, noun gender, etc, probably is the result of elements being repeated that can help guess the intended meaning even if noise happens to eat some important syllables; if there's fifteen words in the language that begin with ka-, and you don't hear the rest of the word, but some other word gives away that the word also is of, say, neuter gender, it is likely that the neural network can exclude many candidate words if the context otherwise wasn't enough to exclude all but one.

We do, in fact, mishear a lot more than we think, and our brains use cues along these lines to reconstruct the data. In a language without redundancy, the amount of times people in our surroundings would keep going "what?", "excuse me, what'd you say", would probably cause us to repeat poignant information that helps this - hence, e.g. the widespread use of double negation throughout languages in the world. If such repetition gets turned into a pattern, and this pattern is worn down by sound change, it easily is turned into regular morphology. Other reasons probably also underlies the appearance of grammar, though, such as the Chomskyan notion of part of the brain constituting a language organ with certain pre-wired settings conductive to learning language.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy: Chapter 10, pt 5

A nice thing about using 19th century sources if your intent is to make it difficult for readers to trace your sources, is that they often lack the textual apparatus we take for granted these days that help looking things up. I am really thankful some of these texts now exist online in searchable electronic form.

Murdock goes on, making rather unsubstantiated claims about the content of the Bible:
 As noted, by the time of reformer king Josiah, the kings of Judah reportedly erred terribly when they established the worship of the heavens, even though their predecessors were applauded for doing the same:

And he deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places at the cities of Judah and round about Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and the moon, and the constellations, and all the host of heavens. (2 Kings 23:5)
 [1, p. 137]
I do challenge Murdock to inform us where these predecessors were applauded for doing so. I seem to recall both the deuteronomist historiographer and Chronicles being pretty endless lists of kings doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD, with the occasional exceptions who still failed to entirely satisfy the demands. Among these evils are generally mentioned the sacrifices at the high places - a designation used for cultic places on hilltops. 
It is evident that there are a number of characters or factions in the OT depicting themselves as "the Lord," since in one book, the heavens are to be praised as creations of the Almighty himself, but, in another, to do so is considered idolatrous. 
[1, p. 137]
Here it is worth noting - as I have pointed out in previous posts, that she provides no explicit examples of exhortations to praise the heavens. Rather, the praise - in the biblical versions of these texts - is directed at God, and the heavens are rather provided as examples of his power. Certainly these texts may be adaptations of earlier texts with explicit sun worship. The fact that the sun worship has been removed from them does tell us something about the authors, though, and that is quite explicitly that they do not approve of sun worship.

Murdock goes on interpreting a number of texts from the Old Testament to demonstrate the presence of astrotheology. These examples include Ezekiel, Jacob's sons, Jacob's ladder, Moses and the tabernacle, Joshua, Esther, king Ahaz and Daniel. Her reasoning repeatedly is based on flawed logic, and at times even on pretty clear fabrications. I will point out a sample of flaws below:
In addition to these examples of astrology in the Bible can be found a number of references to esteemed biblical characters using the "arts of divination" to their and their Lord's benefit. Naturally, where characters are favored by biblical writers, these astrological and magical arts are perfectly good, but when used by those not favored they are "evil." Regardless of this prejudice, there is no doubt that "good" biblical characters practiced the magical arts. In fact, in the earliest parts of the Bible, divination is praised as a way to commune with God or divine the future (Genesis 30:27). Indeed, the word "divination" comes from the word "divine," which is a demonstration that divination was originally considered godly and not evil. [1, p. 139]
This etymology is irrelevant when trying to figure out what the stances of the Biblical authors were. 'Divination' has a clearly latinate origin, the Hebrew writers used words that had nothing with God to do - קסם ,מקסם, נחש (naħaš, miqsam, qasam/qesem) among others. Why an etymology originating half a Mediterranean away can be used as evidence regarding the value that something held in the eyes of biblical writers is never made clear. The main word used for it in the greek portions of the Bible as well as the Septuagint is, by the way, closely related to a greek word for 'mad'. (Also, naħaš can signify observing in general, see e.g. 1Ki 20:33, although the pi'el form, used in the account with Laban, seems more limited to supernatural practices.)

It is clear, of course, that the biblical writers seem to have approved of some particular types of soothsaying practices and disapproved of others. The reasons for this disapproval (and approval) probably is religious (and obviously irrational) in nature. Maybe they disapproved of the doctrines that informed some of the soothsayers' predictions or whatever, but that is the usual way of political religion and thus nothing particularly remarkable. We can see the same thing in modern religious movements, and need not presume any conspiracies to explain it. Indeed, Genesis 30:27 is among the older parts of the Bible per the documentary hypothesis, and the development where some manner of soothsaying practices originally were accepted but soon earned the ire of the writers of the Biblical books is entirely possible - downright very likely correct.

However, the argument from etymology she uses still fails so spectacularly that one is left to wonder what she was thinking.
Divination does not fall out of favor until later books, eventually being considered as "sin" in the first book of Samuel, in which the Israelite king Saul uses a diviner to "divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you." [1, p. 139]
It would be interesting to have a timeline specifying when Murdock thinks the different books of the Bible were written. The dating of this particular bit of Samuel and the various places in the priestly and deuteronomist parts of the Torah that specifically condemn various practices along these lines - Lev 19:26, Lev 19:31, Deut 18:10-11 - seems to be pretty close, but the Book of Samuel and Deuteronomy probably had a shared author. This only amounts to evidence that as Judaism developed, its view on such things grew increasingly negative.
 For centuries, the character Moses has been held in high esteem, his every word studied and each move charted. Yet, few have understood the true nature of his "covenant with the Lord," as reflected by the esoteric or mystical meaning of Moses's tabernacle, which, in fact, is the "tent of the sun." Respected Jewish historian Josephus, who was an initiate of several secret societies, elucidates upon Moses's tabernacle: 
And when [Moses] ordered twelve loaves to be set on the table, he denoted the year, as distinguished into so many months. By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts he secretly intimated the Decani, or seventy divisions of the planets;
[1, p. 140]
Compare exodus 25:32: And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side.

Whence Josephus got his idea that there were seventy parts is not clear to me - probably some later tradition - but it is not present in the Bible. This does not tell us much, except that Josephus idea was not the one intended by the authors, and that Murdock's attempt at figuring out what the biblical authors intended really is based on shoddy ideas of what the biblical authors even wrote. Yes, Josephus did subscribe to some kind of astrology-based interpretation of the biblical narratives. Does this mean that the authors of the pentateuch did so? If they did, can we really know what astrological doctrines they subscribed to? Can we know whether a certain passages refers to that set of beliefs or to some other part of their doctrinal system? One thing is clear though: we cannot take some arbitrary other tradition and claim that this tradition is what these authors had in mind, especially if this other tradition is mistaken as to what the biblical tradition contains in the first place.
[...] As to their zodiacal designations, Jacob's first-born, Reuben, is Aquarius, the "the beginning of my strength ... unstable as water." Simeon and Levi, "the brothers," are Gemini. Judah, the "lion's whelp," is Leo. Zebulun, who "... shall be for an haven of ships," may correspond to Libra, "the ship sign, or arc, or ark." Issachar is a "strong ass, crouching between the sheepfold's burdens," possibly corresponding to the bull of Taurus, the "workhorse." Of Jacob's son Dan, Anderson relates:
"Dan shall be the serpent by the way, an adder in the path that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backwards." This is ... the scorpion, or serpent, and alludes to that constellation which is placed next to the centaur or armed horseman, or Sagittarius, which falleth backwards into the winter solstice of [Capricorn].
Jacob's son Gad is a reversal of Dag, the fish god, possibly representing Pisces. It was said of Asher that he would have "rich food" or "fat bread;" thus, he would correspond to Virgo, the bread-giver or fall harvest. Naphtali is "a hind let loose," representing Capricorn, the goat. Joseph, who was fiercely attacked by archers, is Sagittarius. The son of Rachel, the "Ewe", Benjamin, the "ravenous wolf" who "divides the spoil," would be Aries, who "comes in like a lion" and divides spring and winter. According to Andersson, the "fruitful bough" of Joseph representing his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, could share the "portion divided between them" of the "double-sign" of Cancer. Joseph himself, of course, is "an interpreter of dreams and a noted magician" with a magical "silver cup," by which he divines. 
[1, p. 140]
So, hinds are goats, Dag is Gad, a ravenous wolf is a ram is a lion, and donkeys are bulls. I find it likely we are dealing with pareidolia again. However, in case there is astrology involved in this, it is very possible the redactor just failed to notice it and included the blessing anyway. Still, the above segment may really be the most convincing example of astrology in the Old Testament that has been shown this far, with the exception of certain details in Job.
Jacob's ladder with the 72 angels ascending and descending represents the 72 decans, or portions of the zodiac of five degrees each. [1, p. 142 ... my bolding, as I find this example a particularly important instance of her misleading the reader.]
Nowhere is the number of the angels mentioned in the original text:
Gen 28:12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 
Of course, the number in her claim may derive from some later text commenting on it - some midrash, perchance? If so, though, scholarly practice would be to indicate that source. Otherwise, what she has done there is close to pure fabrication.
The same ladder story is found in Indian and Mithraic mythology, as Doane relates:
Paintings representing a scene of this kind may be seen in works of art illustrative of Indian Mythology. Manrice [sic] speaks of one, in which he says:
"The souls of men are represented as ascending and descending (on a ladder), according to the received opinion of the sidereal Metempsychosis."
... And Count de Volney says:
"In the cave of Mithra was a ladder with seven steps, representing the seven spheres of the planets by means of which souls ascended and descended. This is precisely the ladder of Jacob's vision."
 [1, p. 142]
The typo - Manrice instead of Maurice - is Murdock's, though it is understandable given that Doane's book uses a font where the difference is difficult to spot. However, this does tell us Murdock has not investigated Maurice's book at all; considering it is a significant portion of this quote, that is weak.

What Doane is trying to show here is that the ladder-motif is used when discussing the idea of reincarnation. The seven steps in the Mithra example may very well represent the seven planets, and if there is a seventy-two angels motif elsewhere that might very well represent the zodiac in chunks of five degrees. However, the biblical version does not have the seven steps, nor does it have the seventy two angels.

Doane does, by omission, do some violence to his quote from Maurice as well. Maurice says the following:
The passages presented to the reader in the preceding section are not the only ones in which the gradual ascent of the soul through through[sic] the planets, or spheres of purification, is plainly imitated in the Geeta. They are, however, sufficient for our purpose; and in proof that the Indians actually had, in the remotest æras, in their system of theology, the sidereal ladder of seven gates, so universally made use of as a symbol throughout all the East, I have now to inform the reader of the following circumstance: -- there exists, at present, in the royal library at Paris, a book of paintings entirely allusive to the Indian mythology and the incarnation of Veeshnu, in one of which is exhibited this very symbol, upon which the souls of men are represented as ascending and descending, according to the received opinion of the sidereal Metempsychosis in Asia. [2, pp 258-259]
Maurice tells us that in one volume, there is a depiction of souls of men ascending and descending a ladder. Doane's quotation can give the impression that this is a common motif in Hindu depictions of reincarnation, something Maurice's writing does not establish very strongly.

If the ladder motif has a common origin, can we assume the particular details - number of angels, number of steps, if such details do exist and have any significance - were part of the original meme? Can we assume it was originally used to express reincarnation? As we have scant textual evidence from Mithraism, we do not know how - nor even if - the ladder motif was used in any narratives in the religion, and as we are not provided with any Hindu source for the ladder motif either, we cannot compare the narratives in which they are used, thus making it well-nigh impossible to determine whether there is any possibility that there even is a shared motif there.

Reincarnation does occur in some kabbalistically inclined varieties of Judaism, and there is a rich literature devoted to explaining how this or that group in the biblical narrative is the last generation before the flood being reborn to earn redemption or be punished or such. Reincarnation clearly has appeared in abrahamic religions. Doane, however, is trying to convince the reader that Biblical theology presupposes reincarnation. Does it? If it does, there is a decisive lack of concern for it in the biblical text. It is likely the concept entered into Judaism later, or simply that the Biblical authors did not particularly care for or about it.

 There is no internal textual reason why Jacob's ladder would have anything to do with reincarnation given either - there is nothing about the context that even hints at there being some hidden doctrine to it.
In addition, the name "Jacob" is a title for a priest of the Goddess Isis, which is fitting, since she is the Queen of Heaven who rules over the night sky, or Set the supplanter. [1, p. 142]
 The bit '"Jacob" is a title for a priest of the Goddess Isis" has for a reference Karl Anderson's Astrology of the Old Testament, page 66. As other references she has made to that work agree in page number with the edition I am using (and also that used by google books, which I sometimes use when searching these works), I am pretty certain the error here is not due to she and I using different editions, but due to this not being in Karl Anderson's book in the first place. 
Joshua or Jesus, son of Nun (the "fish"), was the second great prophet after Moses, leading the Israelites to the promised land in Jericho, first encamping at Gilgal, or Galilee. Like Jacob, Joshua also sets up twelve stones representing the tribes and the signs of the zodiac. [1, p. 142] 
Nowhere in the Biblical account does Jacob set up twelve stones [edit: I noticed there's been a typo here, as I previously apparently have written that Joshua did not set up twelve stones; Jacob nowhere is said to set up twelve stones, and I was surprised when rereading this that I had not caught the error previosuly], although he repeatedly does set up stones, making the astute reader wonder whether Murdock knows the biblical narratives at all or whether she is making stuff up. (Yes, Joshua does indeed set up twelve stones. If those stones existed, this narrative may very well have the function of co-opting them into the biblical religion. This seems to be the simplest explanation as far as I can tell? Jacob, however, does no such thing.)

Of course, Jacob is probably a mythical figure with no real historical existence - he is a mythical tribal ancestor. The stone pillars, later ascribed to Jacob, may very well have existed, and ascribing them to the tribal ancestor would be a way for the biblical author to establish legitimate Israelite/Judean claim to the land where the stone pillars stood.
It is said that in Joshua's day, the sun stood still, an event about which has been put forth much tortured speculation as to how and when it could have occurred. In reality, it occurred quite frequently and still does, at the solstices, as the meaning of the word "solstice" is "sun stands still," the time when "the sun changes little in declination from one day to the next and appears to remain in one place north or south of the celestial equator." [1, p. 142]
The story given in Joshua, is of course, impossible. But the literal details prevent reading it as though it were about the solstice - Jos 10:13-14 "And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. [Is] not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel." Hasted not to go down about a whole day, the moon stayed, and no day like that before it or after it. The author is describing something that does not happen yearly - and the moon does not stand still during the solstices either! 

Of course this did not happen, but trying to read it as symbolic of the solstices is weird: the remarkableness ascribed to it as well as the uniqueness makes it unlikely the author was describing something that happens twice a year. (But rather an imagined situation that just never happened in real life, but would have been impressive and downright dreadful if it had occurred.)
The sun also stood still at the death of Krishna, centuries earlier: "1575 years before Christ, after the death of Cristna (Boodh the son of Deirca), the sun stood still to hear the pious ejaculations of Arjoon." This solstice motif likewise appears in the mythologies of China and Mexico. [1, p. 142]
The claim that the solstice motif appears in Mexican and Chinese mythology - Murdock refers to Doane, who refers to Higgins. The Krishna claim also refers to Higgins. Higgins refers to Kingsborough for the Mexico claim, but only by his name, and not by page number or chapter or anything. Kingsborough is rather unreliable, as is Higgins. Still, as we can find - a long chain of difficult to look up references-upon-references.
As to Joshua and various other aspects of the Old Testament, Higgins sums it up: 
The pretended genealogy of the tenth chapter of Genesis [from Noah on down] is attended with much difficulty. It reads like a genealogy: it is notoriously a chart of geography. . . . I have no doubt that the allotment of lands by Joshua was astronomical. It was exactly on the same principle as the nomes of Egypt, which every one knows were named astronomically, or rather, perhaps, I should say, astrologically. The double meaning is clear . . . Most of the names . . . are found in the mystic work of Ezekiel. . . . [Genesis tenth] chapter divides the world into 72 nations. Much ingenuity must have been used to make them agree with the exact number of dodecans into which the great circle was divided.
 [1, p. 143]
How difficult is it really to list 72 tribes and relate them to each other in arbitrary ways (and ignore all other tribes). Much ingenuity is not required. Just a list of 72 tribes! Reading the text in Higgins - without ellipses - does not make it any clearer what significance he thinks Ezekiel has in the context. Also, the clear double meanings are asserted, but not shown. This is a typical instance of Higgins' frustratingly plodding style.

In the famous scene where Daniel interprets the dreams of Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar, it is implied that while the others who attempted to do likewise were astrologers, soothsayers and the like, Daniel himself was not. On the contrary Daniel too was an astrologer, and we also discover he is not a historical character, as Walker relates:
Writers of the Old Testament disliked the Danites, whom they called serpents (Genesis 49:17). Nevertheless, they adopted Dan-El or Daniel, a Phoenician god of divination, and transformed him into a Hebrew prophet, His magic powers were like those of the Danites emanating from the Goddess Dana and her sacred serpents.He served as court astrologer and dream-interpreter for both the Persian king Cyrus, and the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:21, 2:1) indicating that "Daniel" was not a personal name but a title, like the Celtic one: "a person of the Goddess Dana." 
[1, p. 143]
I fully agree that Daniel was not historical (but how can a non-historical person have been an astrologer, when the myth about him clearly implies he was not?). Murdock's argument for his ahistoricity is deeply flawed, however.  "We also discover he is not a historical character, as Walker relates:" implies Murdock believes the following text is sufficient evidence of his ahistoricity:
Eponymous Great Mother of the Danes and many other peoples, such as the Danaans, the Danaids, the biblical Danites, and the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann, "people of the Goddess Dana."¹ The Russians called her Dennitsa, "Greatest of all Goddesses." [...] Writers of the Old Testament disliked the Danites, whom they called serpents (Genesis 49:17). Nevertheless, they adopted Dan-El or Daniel, a Phoenician god of divination, and transformed him into a Hebrew prophet. His magic powers like those of the Danites emanated from the Goddess Dana and her sacred serpents. He served as court astrologer and dream-interpreter for both the Persian king Cyrus, and the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:21, 2:1), indicating that "Daniel" was not a personal name but a title, like the Celtic one: "a person of the Goddess Dana." [3, p 206-207]
We may observe that the reasoning in it is deeply flawed.
Apparently, Barbara Walker believes that since people often functions as the plural of person in English, any word that can be translated people also can be translated person. (Or, at least, that this line of reasoning applies when desired to apply.) Tuatha dé Danann, in fact, is morphologically plural. It is clearly a mythical(?) ethnicity, and (probably) not a title applied to some persons. Another reasonable translation of the phrase would be 'tribes/peoples of Dana' - this translation not being susceptible to Walker's distortion.

The argument basically contains several unsupported facts about connections between Dana and the tribe of Dan and a non-existent Phoenician God (as in Dan-El is an ancient Phoenician protagonist of a story, not a God. The story probably did contribute to the Daniel narrative. Walker should have actually studied these things instead of pulling them out of thin air, though.)

It is difficult to discern what Murdock's main point here is supposed to be. A point I am fully in agreement with is that the book of Daniel did not predict anything - but in fact was written after the facts, and interpretations that make later events seem to be in fulfillment of it generally are based on misreading and pareidolia. It is also clear that Daniel was in part a polemical work where many of the points probably had a function in a theological struggle within 2nd temple Judaism, probably soon after Maccabeean times.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Doane, T.W., Bible Myths and their parallels in other religions
[3] Barbara Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy: Chapter 10, A study in eisegesis, pt 4

This post is a bit shorter, but I figure shorter posts may be a better idea for this blog. I go on commenting on the text of the chapter as earlier. I will try and produce sources for whatever claims I make - in this case, though, most claims regard the nature of poetry and metaphor itself, so I may actually need to rephrase it later on if I get around to actually reading up on those topics. Another claim I make regarding Jewish calendar disputes probably needs some sources - alas, I cannot recall at the moment where I read what I read on it. This project really makes me regret never having kept a detailed log of all books and papers I ever have read.

In Psalms 19, we hear about the heavens "telling the glory of God ... there is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." To the unitiated, this sounds strange --how can the heavens tell the "glory of God?" [1, p 134]
Psalms, naturally, is poetry. Poetry does weird things with words, we can compare, e.g. Psalms 22, where the narrative tells us the author is compassed by dogs and bulls, and the lion's jaw is apparently also a concern. Or how can Psalms 19:9-10, be? "the judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. More to be desired [are they] than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." I doubt anyone ever has seen or heard of a judgment having a flavor! Any other number of similar rather odd similes, metaphors and so on occur in poetry. Indeed, they may even be hallmarks of poetic styles in various languages.

And how do their "voice" and "words" go out to the end of the world without speech or words? The word for "voice" in the Hebrew is properly translated as "line." This line or lines are the cosmic rays coming off the various planetary bodies, lines that were perceived by the ancients to penetrate the earth as well, a perception that caused them to be anxious about establishing the "kingdom of heaven on Earth" by emulating what was happening in the heavens. Anderson explains the importance of the lines or rays:
Among the Eastern nations it was taught that all spiritual life first came from the sun, and its magnetic descent to the earth, becoming earth-bound, or dwelling in the earth, and after passing through a series of evolutions, and different births and changes from the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, ascending or descending the scale [like Jacob's angels], according to the good or evil magnetic rays at its births and its various probationary existences, at last purified and intellectually refined, and master of itself, the pure Ra, or astral body, at last was drawn back into the bosom of the father, sun, from whence it was first originated.
Thus, astrology, or astrologos in the Greek, has been considered the "word of God," as is evidenced by the biblical singing stars and heavens passing along their "voice" and "words" through the earth. [1, p. 134]
Murdock over and over again emphasizes how much in ways of metaphor there is in the Bible. Yet she goes for a remarkably literal interpretation of some of it - the lines spoken of as going out have to be actual lines that do go out in some manner. Poetic metaphor (and other literary tropes) can and does regularly use even more distorted ways of expression.

Nowhere does she really establish that which she claims to establish here above - she has given no evidence that astrology was considered the word of God - she has provided a bunch of opinions, and from this, she somehow establishes that astrology was the "word of God" ...
Of course, including a quote from a 19th century astrologer does make it all the more convincing (the nested quote is from Karl Anderson, on whom I have written a separate post. Worth noting here is that Anderson does not provide sources for his claims regarding ancient beliefs, so I am at an impasse regarding verifying whether he had any actual primary sources at hand.).
The Psalms passage continues: "In [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun." This "tent" or "tabernacle" represents a holy sanctuary or house of worship; thus, the heavens are truly the temple of the sun, as well as of the other celestial bodies. This heavenly temple was, however, continuously recreated all over the planet, as continues to this day, unbeknownst to the masses. [1, p. 134]
Just as likely, this might be a description of how the Psalmist conceives of the act of creation: for the creator, making the heavens - whatever structure he ascribed to it - was as easy as setting a tent is for a man. Here, eisegesis is all we (can?) get. And a huge helping of it. Of course, my interpretation might also be eisegetical - but my interpretation is favored, unless other convincing evidence is provided, by Occam's razor.

From these various biblical passages, it is obvious that the Lord is not only the architect of the heavens but is pleased with both his stellar creations and his ability to command them. That being the case, it is equally obvious that astrology is not evil, unless the Lord is evil, an idea widely subscribed to by the Gnostics, who made the assessment that anyone in charge of this chaotic and crude "lower" world must be a villain. But if "God" is good, then "his" creation must be good, and the biblical writers make it clear that astrology and the zodiac are their Lord's creation. [1, p 135]
Here, Murdock fails at logic. Being proud of something does not necessitate, by logic, that one also be happy with each use it is put to. Astrology being evil would not imply god being evil, and even if it did, this does not mean that the authors of the Bible necessarily realized that such an implication existed - humans can and do, after all, believe things that are illogical - assuming the biblical authors to be perfect logicians is not justified. Even if it were that the biblical writers thought that astrology is their Lord's creation it does not follow that they also thought it was good (see, e.g. how they also assume God created all living beings, yet forbade the eating of certain kinds of living beings for the Jews). Besides, the vast majority of biblical references to the significance of the heaven only seems to refer to it as a rather huge time-keeping device (and an impressive one at that), rather than as a thing with particular mystical significance.

Even then, a lot of the conclusions in this particular paragraph do not follow from the assumptions, and it is not clear the assumptions are all that well-founded. Finally, the reference to the gnostics is kind of weirdly placed and seems to have no actual reasonable role in there. Finally, it seems more like an attempt to make Christian readers subscribe to the idea that maybe astrology is all right after all, surely god must permit it, which would seem a weird thing to place in a scholarly book on religious history!

The Hebrews were also "moon-worshippers" in that many of their feasts and holidays revolved around the movements and phases of the moon. Such moon-worship is found repeatedly in the Old Testament (Ps. 8:13, 104:19; Is 66:23), and to this day Jews celebrate holidays based on the lunar calendar. At Isaiah 47, these moon-worshippers are equated with astrologers, i.e., "... those who divide the heavens, gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you."
The Jewish nighttime worship is also reflected in the noncanonical Epistle to Diognetus, an early Christian writing which further demonstrates that astrology was important to Christians, as, while the author obviously does not like the way in which the Jews are consulting the heavens, he does consider the "cycle of the seasons" to be "divinely appointed":
As for the way [the Jews] scrutinize the moon and stars for the purpose of ritually commemorating months and days, and chop up the divinely appointed cycle of the seasons to suit their own fancies, pronouncing some to be times for feasting and others for mourning . . .
[1, p 136] 
I am inclined to think the Epistle to Diognetus is referring to the practice in rabbinic Judaism to adjust the calendar in order to avoid long stretches of sabbath and high holidays. However, certain movements of second temple Judaism disagreed with this practice, and had different ways of resolving the problem of these long stretches: a year of 364 days, for instance, is divisible by 7, and thus a holiday on a set date will recur on the same weekday every year. That particular year-length is repeatedly lauded in 1 Enoch 82:5-6 among other verses. However, after a few decades, the calendar will go out of synch with the seasons. How this was handled by those groups is not known today, as their records have been lost.

We do know, though, that at various times there has been disagreement over the practice of adjusting when Rosh Hashanah will occur - Karaites, Samaritans and various second temple era movements appear to have opposed the practice using no light terms. An early Christian likewise finding the practice objectionable would not be surprising if his religious tradition had any connection to those second temple era movements or their descendants. I should probably look into the Epistle to Diognetus quote in its original form for this, but the translation suggests disapproval of some kind of adjustment anyway: "chop up the divinely appointed cycle of the seasons to suit their own fancies, ..."

We should also note how negative statements about astrology in the Bible is seen as proof of biblical theology being astrological. Whenever she lists a verse without quoting it, it is worth checking what the verse actually says. Generally, they do mention the sun or the moon, but seldom in terms that suggest worship.
Psalms 8:13 does not exist, although I guess Psalms 8:3 is what she meant. That particular verse functions to as a way of saying that God is seen as powerful enough to control and create celestial bodies - what significance does man have to him?

Psalms 104 is a list of both mundane, miraculous and celestial things God has control over and does not as such worship the sun or the moon or phrase anything as though the moon or sun were the object of the worship - unless also the cedars of Lebanon are objects of the same worship. Finally, Isaiah 66:23 talks of the moon partially as a unit of time, and partially - and this partially does support her case - for some ritualist reason (whatwith rosh chodesh-observances).

Again, her pattern of tendentious interpretation of sources combined with a generous helping of downright worthless sources is repeated.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy, 1999.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Barbara Walker: Baal-Hadad

tCanaanite Lord of the Hunt, slain by priestesses of Asherah, who buried him in a bog (earth-womb) and resurrected him after seven years, the standard term of kingship in primitive Palestine.1 He was mated to Asherah as Lady of the Pomegranate at Hadad-Rimmon, and his name was borne by two biblical kings, Ben-hadad and Hadad-ezer (Zechariah 12:11).
1. Hooke, M.E.M., 87.
[Walker, "Baal-Hadad"] 
A sampling of the source - Hooke's Middle Eastern Mythology (the sample including every line including the word "seven" or "year" or "king" or "kingship") - shows that he nowhere says anything about the standard term of kingship in primitive Palestine. In addition, her restatement of the story of Baal-hadad is severely misleading:
In this myth the handmaidens of the goddess Asherah, the Lady of the Sea, and of Yarikh, the moon-god, are sent to entreat the help of El against the attacks of monstrous creatures sent by Baal which are devouring them like worms. El tells them to go into the wilderness and hide themselves, and there give birth to wild beasts with horns and humps like buffaloes. Baal-Hadad will see them and chase after them. They do so and Baal is seized with desire to hunt the creatures to which they have given birth. But the chase proves disastrous to the god; he is caught by the monsters and disappears for seven years, sunk in a bog and helpless. During his absence things fall into chaos on earth. [Hooke, pp. 86-87]

It would also have been relevant to point out that both the biblical kings were kings of neighbouring nations, so their names cannot be seen as indicative regarding the beliefs of the biblical authors.

Walker, Barbara. Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets; again, page numbers are omitted as the articles are in alphabetic order.
Hooke, S.H., Middle Eastern Mythology, pp. 86, 87, available on