Friday, June 30, 2006

Myth Theory: A Unifying Concept

After my long hiatus from thinking associated with trying to earn a living, I was trying to grasp the various elements that go flashing through my monitor. One seems to stand out potentially as the grand unifying concept, the answer to what "Deep Thought" was supposed to obtain, is the concept of Myth Theory.

Myth Theory is the notion that the story tellers of an event were themselves so far removed that they are a completely unreliable witness to the historical facts. Thus, the story tellers purpose is not to relay anything historical, but instead to perpetuate a myth which has as its primary purpose to convey moral principals or to provide a rallying concept for a civilization. The myth theoretician is now called upon to explain what the purpose of the myth really was.

This isn't to say that the myth has no value. Like Aesop's Fables, the value is clear to the myth theoretician.

I can't say when myth theory started precisely, but it seems to be associated with "The Enlightenment". Homer's stories were one of the original for which Myth Theory (MT) was applied. Comparing the Bible to ancient cuneiform translations of stories from Babylon and other cultures fueled the MT movement. At some point, however, the tail began to wag the dog: MT became the reality and reality began to be interpreted systematically according to MT.

Gradually MT has gone out from things that are clearly historical and began to infect the here and now. A perfect example of this was the supreme court's overturning of sodomy laws based on "International Law". Of course, International Law doesn't mean the law of the US, or the law of Saudia Arabia and Iran. It refers to a MT interpretation, that was concocted by legal elites. The interpretation of the Myth was then used to supplant the reality. It should be clear that MT empowers an intellectual elite who have somehow become authorized to interpret the myths, in a manner similar to how the ancient Babylonian elites were authorized to interpret dreams.

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on the Geneva Convention is also consistent with MT: The actual words and intent of the Geneva Convention were discarded in favor of the Myth and the Myth was then used as the basis for the ruling, just as was done decades ago for the US Constitution.

MT is now rapidly becoming a fact of life that must be contended with at every level. MT, for example, has managed to create a terrorist out of President Bush and make a freedom fighter out of Osama Bin Ladin. President Bush also is a creature of MT, however, as he tries to interpret the conflict according to MT's doctrines. MT tells that "separation of church and state" is part of the US constitution. MT says that global warming will stop if only we adapt more socialism. For fundamentalist Christians, of course, MT is at its harshist.

Viewing the liberal/conservative divide as a fight over MT gives me a much clearer idea of why things tend to split the way they do. For example, there are some very conservative theologians who also subscribe to MT while there are quite similar fundamentalists who reject MT. If we simply enumerate their theological beliefs, it would seem that they should be very friendly with each other, but in fact they both make each other extremely uneasy. Then then there is Elizaphanian's post on the mythology of science.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Supreme Court Grants Citizenship to SPECTRE

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Solar Power vs Globalization

I like to follow the trends on many things high-tech related. Here is an article on the production of silicon wafers for solar panels. For those who follow silicon wafer production trends, it looks like the bulk of the solar panel production and planned expansion of production is in Asia. There are probably many reasons for this including availability of capital for investment, price of power to process the silicon, and ease of regulations ranging from environmental to labor. As with steel, shipping and automobiles, the west isn't competitive in these basic industries without quotas.

The irony of this is that the subsidies to solar power provided by western governments are most likely to enrich Chinese capitalists and further fuel globalization. Is that good or bad?

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Right to Live

"The NEW YORK TIMES and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live.
" - White House Press Secretary Tony Snow

I know our society has established a "right to die" along with a "right to privacy" and a "right to pay taxes". There is also the "right for lawyers to collect lots of money". Does anyone know where the "right to live" comes from? Does this apply to Americans or only foreigners? Hello? Anyone out there?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fundamentalism and American Culture

Elizaphanian includes this post regarding the new book, Fundamentalism and American Culture. Now admittedly I haven't read the book, but from the little bit of review I have seen, it basically rehashes the same old caricatures.

The primary points seem to be that Fundamentalists rejected "science" as well as the new scholarly work of the 19th century. The dates on the book, 1870-1925, however, should give this game away for anyone who can use some basic common sense:

In the period of 1870-1925, the biological understanding was essentially non-existent. For example, DNA and proteins were discovered in the 1950's and even today, the workings of complete organism is barely understood. Radioactive dating was likewise discovered in the 1960's. Yet the fundamentalists were scoffed at for their refusal to accept 'science'! Instead, the fundamentalists should be commended as the only ones who weren't willing to be sucked into the scam, holding fast to Biblical teaching in spite of the systematic corruption and dishonesty of the intelligensia.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thomas Edison and the Light Bulb

Many years back, a friend of mine took me to a Buddhist temple in Osaka, Japan where there is a statue of Thomas Edison. Few of us remember now that there was a time when he was treated as a near deity. As the creator of the light bulb, we were astounded at the achievements of a mere man.

But science moves on wherever the relentless pursuit for truth goes and respects no one. Professor William Sanders from the University of California at Berkeley has been studying light bulbs now for decades. His recent work points to the fact that modern light bulbs all had a common ancestor. Professor Sanders tells of his work: "By comparing different light bulbs and looking at the rate of change of their features, we have been able to project backwards and show that all light bulbs had a common ancestor around 12 million years ago." Needless to say, there are still radical fundamentalists who have protested this finding and are pushing to have the teaching of Thomas Edison as the creator of the light bulb be retained in the school curriculum. Professor Albert Crandall from Oxford, who regularly goes on debating tours, explains "We have been able to prove for quite some time that intelligent design is impossible. Evolution is the only logical explanation for the existence of the light bulb. In fact, a proper understanding of the light bulb is not possible without first establishing a proper foundation in the principals of Darwinian Evolution."

Rev. Roger Wilkinson of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in San Francisco explained the following: "Religious icons provide comfort to people and the myth of Thomas Edison is extremely important to them. We have found that it is possible for people to realize this comfort experientially while understanding that the light bulb is actually millions of years old". He has been working on his new book, "In Search of the Historical Thomas Edison" in an effort to help people understand the mystery of Edison.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Feast of Esther: Dilettante vs Scholar Round 1

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush:
At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present. For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days,

Scholar aggressively delivers the first blow:

“A moderate scholar of our day can find no historical nucleus, and calls it a sort of historical romance. The very first verses in the book startle the reader by their exaggerations, e.g. a banquet lasting 180 days, “127 provinces.” - Encyclopedia Britannica (1910 ed.)

Dilettante goes reeling to the ground - his health almost completely gone. As Scholar prepares the final blow which ties Esther to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, however, Dilettante throws "the book" at Scholar:

Herodotus Quote 1 (this is from the travels of Xerxes through Greece):

“As for the Greeks that fed the army and entertained Xerxes, they were brought to great poverty, so that many of them were driven to forsake their homes. … … showed that there were expended on the meal four hundred talents of silver. In other cities also they that had this charge made the same reckoning. … … Also they prepared cups and bowls of gold and silver and all other things for the furniture of the table. … … The next day they tare down the tent and took all the furniture, leaving nothing, but carrying all away with them.”

Herodotus Quote 2

“Well therefore did Megacreon of Abdera speak when he counseled the men of Abdera to go with their wives and children to the temples, and after putting up prayers for the time to come, thank the Gods that it was not the pleasure of King Xerxes to have two meals in the day, for that verily if he had desired not only dinner but breakfast also, then must the people of Abdera have either fled from before the King or, awaiting his coming, have been utterly ruined.”

Herodotus Quote 3 - regarding the Greeks in the Persian camp after the Battle of Platea.

"Xerxes, when he fled away out of Greece, left his
war-tent with Mardonius: when Pausanias, therefore, saw the tent
with its adornments of gold and silver, and its hangings of divers
colours, he gave commandment to the bakers and the cooks to make
him ready a banquet in such fashion as was their wont for
Mardonius. Then they made ready as they were bidden; and Pausanius,
beholding the couches of gold and silver daintily decked out with
their rich covertures, and the tables of gold and silver laid, and
the feast itself prepared with all magnificence, was astonished at
the good things which were set before him, and, being in a pleasant
mood, gave commandment to his own followers to make ready a Spartan
supper. When the suppers were both served, and it was apparent how
vast a difference lay between the two, Pausanias laughed, and sent
his servants to call to him the Greek generals. On their coming, he
pointed to the two boards, and said; I sent for you, O Greeks, to show you the folly of this Median captain, who, when he enjoyed such fare as this, must needs
come here to rob us of our penury."

Nehemiah Quote 1 (regarding his priviledges as a Persian governor):

"Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people."

Xenophon Quote 1 (regarding Persians habit of changing palaces - explaining why the banquet "only" lasted 180 days):

"Cyrus himself made his home in the center of his domain, and in the winter season he spent seven months in Babylon, for there the climate is warm; in the spring he spent three months in Susa, and in the height of summer two months in Ecbatana. By so doing, they say, he enjoyed the warmth and coolness of perpetual spring-time."

Herodotus Quote 4 ( a brief excerpt of a longer passage regarding Cyrus' initiation of the Persian conquests and explaining why feasting was a central part of Persian culture):

" … Meanwhile, after he had gathered together all the flocks of goats and of sheep and the herds of cattle of his father, Cyrus slaughtered and prepared them with the intention that he would entertain the Persians’ army with them and, in addition, with wine and food as suitable as possible. …"

Clearly, the text of Esther, compared to Herodotus is understated. As the Book of Esther explains the reason for the celebration of Purim, which is a time of feasting - per the Persian origins. As it turns out, the reference to Ishtar proves untraceable so this impressive missile is made of Nerf and bounces harmlessly away from Dilettante.

Having received a perfect 6-combo, Scholar is now the one on the ground. Dilettante prepares to deliver a final Malpractice missile to Scholar, but just as it is about to hit, Scholar pushes the little red Tenure button. The missile ricochets, striking down Dilettante. Scholar has won the first round. Dilettante must learn that Scholar is immune to malpractice - by definition.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Daniel 11:2-4
For those of you who don't recognize the photo, this is red meat. It is an invitation to vent your opinions in the comments spot.

The passage from Daniel 11:

2 "Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will appear in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece. 3 Then a mighty king will appear, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. 4 After he has appeared, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.

Comparing Daniel 10:1 and Daniel 11:1, it appears that this vision is when Darius is governor, but Cyrus is the emperor. The three more kings in order would then be Cambyses, Smerdis and then Darius. Darius killed the interloper, Smerdis, to become king and brought the Medes into control of the empire. His son Xerxes was the richest of the Persian kings and the one who literally stirred up everyone against Greece. Verses 3 and 4 are probably a reference to Alexander the Great.

Herodotus in the years after the events of Xerxes did a great deal of touring to interview those who were involved in the events of Xerxes and document everything he could find, so the independent testimony will be quite useful. For example, we see that Darius was governor in Babylon. It was common for kings of this time to die by assasination - for which Darius had first hand experience. Thus, we shouldn't be surprised that he brought much of his entourage from Babylon to Susa. Herodotus also informs us that Babylon was responsible for suppying eunuchs to the Persian kings. In Nehemiah, we find that he was the king's cupbearer for Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes. As we look at Esther and consider how it was probably written, we should consider that it is the Jewish component of the palace staff that is telling the story based on what they have observed first hand.

The Medes and Persians were in many ways similar to the Mongols. They were a warlike people who looked down on the jobs of administration. Thus, it was normal for them to employ people of various races to oversee the administration while they did the much more honorable work of head banging that was needed from time to time.

Correction: The position of Darius prior to the assasination of Smerdis isn't known. My guess is that Darius had some how taken an interest in Daniel long before becoming king.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Tomb of Daniel?

This strange structure at the ruins of Susa is claimed to be the tomb of Daniel. The story behind the tomb is this:

There is a river that passes the city of Susa. After Daniel died, he was buried on one side of the river. The farmers on the opposite side began to notice that their crops were doing much worse than the side which Daniel was buried on, so they brought the tomb over to their side. Then the crops began to be much more abundant on the side that formerly had been doing poorly, while the side that had been doing well now produced a sparse crop. This resulted in much squabbling until the farmers agreed to move Daniel's tomb back and forth between river banks annually. The entertainment was eventually brought to a halt by a Muslim caliph who was appalled at the practice and built the present structure.

Whether any of that is true or not - or merely the product of entrepreneurial creativity - I cannot say. The ancient Persians were believed not to have any writing until the time of Cyrus, and this doesn't seem to have been carried on after the Persian empire. Thus, there is very little independent documentation for much of what happened during the Persian Empire.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cyrus and Sparta

The picture is of the ruins of Sparta. As Cyrus conquered the known world, the little town of Sparta sent Cyrus a letter informing him that he would suffer their wrath if he sent his armies to Greece. Cyrus asked who Sparta was and wrote a letter back to Sparta informing them,
“I have never yet been afraid of any men, who have a set place in the middle of their city, where they come together to cheat each other and forswear themselves”.

2500 years later, we hear similar characterizations of capitalism, although no one has yet surpassed Cyrus in eloquence.

The Greeks had markets in the center of their cities and were known for free-trade and globalization tendencies as they traded throughout the Mediterranean. The Persians were a feudalistic society - which is a predecessor to our current central planning tendencies. The government determines where the resources are needed.

Thus, we have the first record of insults hurled between capitalists (Sparta) and central planners (Persia). Under Darius and Xerxes, these insults escalated into military campaign. The shock waves of the events recorded in Herodotus still reverberate today, as America looked to the ancient Greeks for their ideals of democracy and freedom.

Christians today tend to look to those values of democracy and freedom for our spiritual security. When we look at the Bible's treatment of this period, however, we see that it was the central planners that God chose to secure the future of His people.
Daniel and Esther

Before launching into Esther itself, we need to consider connections. Looking at Esther by itself is peculiar. As Jim just observed, there is no reference to God in Esther and it looks like a simple good guys/bad guys story. There is something else beneath the surface, however, and it is this that we want to find. First some background.

The historical significance of Esther has greatly increased over recent decades due to a simple fact: All of the documents of the Persian Empire were destroyed and the inscriptions are few and far between. Thus, the Bible provides the only written accounts from within the walls of the palaces of the Persian Kings. An understanding of Persia, however, is useful in understanding Esther and Herodotus provides extensive discussion on what the Greeks thought they knew about Persia.

The Persian Empire was established by Cyrus the Great, who left us the tomb in the photo. His last major conquest was over the city of Babylon. Herodotus tells of this in considerable detail. Cyrus laid seige to Babylon and Babylon proudly boasted that they could wait Cyrus out. Cyrus, however, dug canals into the desert. One evening when Babylon was having a great celebration, Cyrus allowed the water of the Euphrates river to flow into the canals, dropping the river level and allowing his soldiers to march into Babylon along the river bed. Babylon awoke the next day with Cyrus as ruler - Darius, who was not part of the royal family, was made the governor.

Thus, we see at the end of Daniel 5, "That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two."

This verse looks puzzling. Wasn't it Cyrus who took over at the age of 62? Why does it say Darius? Again, Darius took over as governor, but he would have been much younger. Then Herodotus also tells us that several years later, Babylon rebelled and needed to be conquered a second time. This verse, however, appears to be an over-simplification of a variety of events.

An interesting tidbit from Herodotus is that Cyrus (a Persian) became concerned about a prophecy that Darius would take over the Persian Empire. Darius' father, Hystaspes, was one of the princes of the Medes and assured Cyrus of the loyalty of his son. It is tempting to speculate that this prophet was Daniel, but all we can do is speculate. Then there is the verse from Daniel 11:1 - "And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him." Given the prophecy that Cyrus heard, it is surprising that Cyrus didn't execute Darius immediately. More to speculate on ...

Background will continue and get more interesting with the next post ... (Daniel 11:2-4)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Book of Esther and Herodotus

I have to repeat a class on the book of Esther. From what I can tell, after Genesis chapter 1, there are few books in the Bible that have been so thoroughly "dissed" as the book of Esther. Luther was offended that it was included in the Bible. The 19th century scholars called it a "romantic movel" for which no "historical nugget" could be found. (Encyclopedia Brittanica - 1910) Modern historians of Persia have been much more open minded.

In my earlier preparations, I had tried to go through the related literature as thoroughly as possible, without acutally learning Greek, Ancient Persian and Ancient Babylonian writing. That primarily meant reading Herodotus end-to-end and lining up individual passages with Esther to see if there was any correlation. There are also some archeological pictures from the University of Chicago that were done in Iran at the site of Persepolis that provide some additional insights.

Now that Herodotus is available online, the ability to verify the correlations is open to everyone. So lets begin with a statue of one of the characters to be introduced, Herodotus of Halicarnassus ~ 484 BC - 425 BC.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fundamentalism and Violence

Probably no stereotype of fundamentalist is more common than the idea of fundamentalists being violent. This stereotype is also completely in error. I say that primarily from a family background of multiple generations having been raised as fundamentalists and always interacting with the fundamentalist community. So, let's dissect the notion that fundamentalists are violent:

Stereotype 1: Much of the violence in America is due to gun totters that are inspired by Bible thumping Fundamentalists.

Correction: Fortunately, the gun violence in America has been largely on the decline for the last few decades. I did have one classmate (a close friend) who killed his brother with a shot to the head. He never talked about religion, so I don't think he can be logically classified as a fundamentalist. Most of the killing that I hear about on the daily news, however, is due to gangs dealing drugs and/or robberies.

Stereotype 2: Fundamentalists are like Hitler - psychos who use religion to whip up nationalist fervor for the purpose of killing.

Correction: I did actually read enough of Mein Kempf to see what Hitler's views on Christianity really were. (I read lots of stuff, ranging from the Koran to the Bhagavadgita.) The correct summary of Hitler's viewpoint is that the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism was due to the clever manipulations of the Jews! This so trivializes the doctrinal notions of the Catholics and Protestants that we can say that Hitler's view of theology was that it was totally meaningless. Of course, Hitler was obsessed with power and organized religion was nothing more than a tool to achieve that end. The large-scale state organized churches in Germany were the perfect tool.

If we compare actual fundamentalists to the German model in any detailed way, the divergence is remarkable: Rather than large scale religious institutions, fundamentalist are frequently characterized by the independent church. Theology and a correct understanding of the Bible are always emphasized (though not always achieved) compared to the emphasis on form and structure that Hitler so easily manipulated.

Stereotype 3: Christian fundamentalissts are violent, just like Muslim fundamentalists.

Correction: Fundamentalism is about fundamentals. For Christians, the fundamentals are Christ. For Muslims, the fundamentals are Mohammed. Mohammed was a warrior. Christ is meek.

"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory."

It is impossible for someone to look to Christ as his foundation and not be affected by Christ's meekness. Similarly, as people look to Mohammed for their foundation, the fundamentals will lead them in the opposite direction.