Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Esoteric Conception of Divinity in the Ancient World

The December issue of the Ritman Library Newsletter has published an article on the significance of the Assyrian Sacred Tree, which I wrote in late November 2015. It can be found at:

The Esoteric Conception of Divinity in the Ancient World.

Here are a some extracts:

The ideas of an ur-Reality in both Assyria, and in the writings of Plato, are strangely similar.

"....Plato’s Republic tells of the craft of passing from the contemplation of one Form to another, entirely intellectually, and without distraction, with the intention of eventually arriving at the contemplation of The Good. The man returning from this journey comes back with knowledge beyond the scope of any wisdom to be found on the Earth.

The Platonic discussion of the Forms is treated by modern scholars as a species of literary fiction. Meaning it has no detectable connections with cultural activity in Greece, or in any other part of the civilised world in the two millennia before the Common Era. But Plato is very clear that it is important to look to the ‘One Thing’, the ur-Reality which underpins the world of the here and now. So he is talking of a conception of God, which gives rise to all other things which may be understood by the mortal mind, though the ultimate abstract conception of Reality may lie forever beyond human understanding.

In Assyria, the excellence and perfection of the king’s skills, described in Ashurbanipal's Annals (late 7th century B.C.E.), and in letters to the king, were understood to place him in proximity to the god Ashur. He is thus at the limit of what a mortal may do and be; as Ashur is at the limit or zenith of Reality itself. Ashur is Reality itself. That the Sacred Tree may stand in for the king suggests that it was understood also as an esoteric and symbolic representation of the idea of limit, taken to the nth degree, and also of Reality itself."

The article suggests that both bodies of thought are rooted in the same concept of an ur-Reality.

The point? Philosophy is much older than we think it is, and its origins can be found in ancient divine cult. Divinity was a philosophical concept, rather than the product of human credulity. We can trace this concept in time by studying a technical aspect of the concept of the divine, which is the ancient preoccupation with limit. 

[Feb 7, 2016]


The Ritman Library is also known as the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, and is based in Amsterdam. 

Two relevant posts which might be of interest are available on this blog - the first is an extract from an article in The Sacred History of Being on the subject of the Assyrian Sacred Tree and its significance; the second is a discussion of the idea of limit in the Roman social and cultic context, The Divine and the Limit.

Thomas Yaeger, December 31, 2015.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Van De Mieroop, M.: Philosophy before the Greeks: The Pursuit of Truth in Ancient Babylonia. (eBook and Hardcover)

How interesting that this book should show up almost at the same moment (within days!) as The Sacred History of Being! The argument isn't the same, and focuses on Babylonia. But both works see the development of philosophy by the Greeks as the result of the collapse of the 'Cosmopolitan System' in Mesopotamia in the 1st Millennium B. C. E.  The Sacred History of Being focusses on intellectual life in Assyria, Israel, and in Greece.

Van De Mieroop has cottoned on to the importance of the use of lists in Mesopotamia, which is one of the most important ways of entering the Babylonian scholarly mindset. The chapter list suggests he has not explored the idea of divinity in Mesopotamia in any depth.

Van De Mieroop, M.: Philosophy before the Greeks: The Pursuit of Truth in Ancient Babylonia. (eBook and Hardcover)

The cover blurb for the book says:

"There is a growing recognition that philosophy isn’t unique to the West, that it didn’t begin only with the classical Greeks, and that Greek philosophy was influenced by Near Eastern traditions. Yet even today there is a widespread assumption that what came before the Greeks was "before philosophy." In Philosophy before the Greeks, Marc Van De Mieroop, an acclaimed historian of the ancient Near East, presents a groundbreaking argument that, for three millennia before the Greeks, one Near Eastern people had a rich and sophisticated tradition of philosophy fully worthy of the name.

In the first century BC, the Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily praised the Babylonians for their devotion to philosophy. Showing the justice of Diodorus’s comment, this is the first book to argue that there were Babylonian philosophers and that they studied knowledge systematically using a coherent system of logic rooted in the practices of cuneiform script. Van De Mieroop uncovers Babylonian approaches to knowledge in three areas: the study of language, which in its analysis of the written word formed the basis of all logic; the art of divination, which interpreted communications between gods and humans; and the rules of law, which confirmed that royal justice was founded on truth.

The result is an innovative intellectual history of the ancient Near Eastern world during the many centuries in which Babylonian philosophers inspired scholars throughout the region—until the first millennium BC, when the breakdown of this cosmopolitan system enabled others, including the Greeks, to develop alternative methods of philosophical reasoning."


[See also my analytical review of Van De Mieroop's book in the blogpost: 'A Saussurian Approach to Babylonian Epistemology', published May 21, 2015 at:]

Saturday, 26 December 2015

'Exterminate all the Idols' (Blogpost by Wouter Hanegraaff)

Exterminate all the Idols:

"I have long been puzzled by the fact that whereas one can easily fill a library with academic books about “magic”, there are so few systematic studies of “paganism” as a category in the study of religion and even less that focus on what was traditionally seen as the core practice of pagan religion – “idolatry”. The rare exceptions to this rule, such as Moshe Halbertal’s & Avishai Margalit’s Idolatry(1992), focus mostly upon Judaism. One searches practically in vain for authoritative monographs about the notion of idolatry and its significance in monotheist religions generally.
And yet, that significance is enormous. ....."

"...monotheism defines its very identity not so much by its focus on One God (after all, it shares the focus on one deity with many “pagan” religions, and normative Christianity believes in a triune deity, not to mention angelic hierarchies and so on) but by its radical and uncompromising rejection of pagan “idolatry” – the worship of gods incarnated in images or statues – as the unforgivable sin par excellence. The history of how idolatry has been discursively constructed as monotheism’s “other” in the history of the three “religions of the book”, and the real-life effects of that discourse, should be a major concern for scholars."

Creative Reading: Perspective 2016

A depressing but accurate account of the current state of Western culture by Wouter J. Hanegraaff. How quickly things can change in a relatively short span of time!

Creative Reading: Perspective 2016: The world is changing. At this end of the year, with Christmas coming up and a New Year just around the corner, I fe...

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Being, Kabbalah, and the Assyrian Sacred Tree

[This is an extract from the chapter 'Being, Kabbalah, and the Assyrian Sacred Tree' in The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015]

Stylised trees were part of the iconography of religion in ancient Mesopotamia, as far back as the fourth millennium. By the second millennium B.C.E., the image of the tree 'is found everywhere within the orbit of the ancient Near Eastern oikumene, including Egypt, Greece, and the Indus civilisation’. While its precise religious significance has been unclear, Simo Parpola suggests that ‘its overall composition strikingly recalls the Tree of Life of later Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist art.’ The implication being that there is some kind of cultural continuity behind the progress of this symbol.  [i]

The symbol, as it interests us here, dates from around the middle of the second millennium B.C.E. At about that time there is a new development of the symbol of the tree. The Late Assyrian form of the Tree appeared during the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I, of the thirteenth century B.C.E. The rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the first millennium spread the symbol throughout the Near East, and it survived until the end of the millennium. This form of the tree is the one most familiar to students of Assyriology and those who have visited the Assyrian galleries in the British Museum, with its garland of cones, pomegranates, or palmates surrounding either the crown of the tree, or its trunk. The importance of this symbol is made clear by the fact that it appears on royal garments, jewelry, official seals, as well as the royal wall paintings and sculptures found in the royal palaces. Indeed in the famous throne-room of Ashurnasirpal II (now in the British Museum), it is the central motif, standing directly behind the throne.  [ii]  There are literally hundreds of examples of the Late Assyrian Tree motif, and they exhibit a wide degree of variation.  [iii]  However Parpola argues that ‘its characteristic features stand out even in the crudest examples and make it generally easy to distinguish it from its predecessors’. He describes it as follows:

Essentially it consists of a trunk with a palmette crown standing on the stone base and surrounded by a network of horizontal or intersecting lines fringed with palmettes, pinecones, or pomegranates. In more elaborate renditions, the trunk regularly has joints or nodes at its top, middle, and base and a corresponding number of small circles to the right and left of the trunk. Antithetically posed animal, human, or supernatural figures usually flank the tree, while a winged disk hovers over the whole.

Until the publication of Parpola’s paper, despite painstaking analyses of this symbol, very little was found to explain its meaning and function, largely due to the fact that there is an almost total lack of textual evidence concerning the tree. Some work by the Assyriologist Irene Winter however has shown that the Tree represents the divine world order, and that the Assyrian king maintained this order on earth as the vice-regent of the god Aššur.  [iv]  Parpola points out that the observation was made some time ago that the king may take the place of the Tree between the winged genies, and that ‘whatever the precise implications of this fact, it is evident that in such scenes the king is portrayed as the human personification of the Tree.  [v]  As personification of the Tree, then the king represented the ‘realization of that order in man… a true image of God, and the ‘Perfect Man’.  [vi]

Parpola argues that the Tree symbol in Assyria had a dual function in Assyrian Imperial art. As well as symbolizing the divine world order which the Assyrian king maintained, it could also relate to the king, resulting in his portrayal as the Perfect Man. This would account for the prominence of the Tree as an imperial symbol, providing legitimation for the rule of Assyria, and justification of the king as absolute ruler.  [vii]

Since there are no references to such an important symbol in contemporary written sources, this ‘can only mean that the doctrines relating to the Tree were never committed to writing by the scholarly elite who forged the imperial ideology but were circulated orally.’  [viii]  Parpola also suggests this implies a stratification of knowledge in Assyria, and that ‘only the basic symbolism of the Tree was common knowledge, while the more sophisticated details of its interpretation were accessible to a few select initiates only.  [ix]

Parpola argues that ‘the strictly esoteric nature of Kabbalah and the fact that its secret doctrines were for centuries, and still are, transmitted almost exclusively orally are the principal reasons why next to nothing was known about it until the late Middle Ages. The esotericism of Kabbalah and its fundamentally oral nature are stressed in every Kabbalistic work, ancient and modern’. He suggests that beyond the parallel of an esoteric and oral aspect to both Mesopotamian and Kabbalistic lore, there is also a strong parallel between the Assyrian Tree and the Sefirotic Tree.  [x]  He also suggests that the entire doctrinal structure of Kabbalah revolves around the diagram of the Sefirotic Tree, which ‘strikingly resembles the Assyrian Tree’.  [xi]

As we shall see, it is probable that they are two products of the same body of ideas, the first traceable to the 13th century B.C.E., and the latter with a less clear early history, resurfacing in the Middle Ages of our own era.

The Sefirotic Tree is so-called on account of the elements known as Sefirot (countings or numbers) which are represented in the diagram by circles, numbered from one to ten.‘ They are defined as divine powers or attributes through which the transcendent God, not shown in the diagram, manifests himself.’  [xii]  Parpola describes the tree thus:

The Tree has a central trunk and horizontal branches spreading to the right and left on which the Sefirot are arranged in the symmetrical fashion: three to the left, four on the trunk, and three to the right. The vertical alignments of the Sefirot on the right and left represent the polar opposites of masculine and feminine, positive and negative, active and passive, dark and light, etc. The balance of the Tree is maintained by the trunk, also called the Pillar of Equilibrium.

The other two pillars are known as the Pillar of Judgement, and the Pillar of Mercy.

Parpola suggests that the Sefirotic Tree has a dual function, like the Assyrian Tree.
It is both a picture of the macrocosm, giving an account of the creation of the world, accompanied in three successive stages by the Sefirot emanating from the transcendent God. It also charts the cosmic harmony of the universe upheld by the Sefirot under the constraining influence of the polar system of opposites. In short, it is a model of the divine world order, and in manifesting the invisible God through His attributes, it is also, in a way, an image of God. Its other function is to refer to man as a microcosm, the ideal man created in the image of God.

[End of Extract]

[i] Parpola acknowledges that the question of the existence of the concept of the Tree of Life in Mesopotamia has been disputed, resulting in the use of the ‘more neutral term’ ‘sacred tree’ when referring to the Mesopotamian symbol. ‘The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy’, in JNES 52/3 (1993) p 161 n.4.

[ii] Details of instances of the appearance of the sacred tree are given by Parpola in footnotes 9-13, p163, JNES 52/3 (1993)

[iii] Parpola has included a typological appendix to his paper  Appendix A, p200-01, JNES 52/3 (1993) , illustrating the range of variation in the depiction of the tree.
[iv] Winter published on this subject in Program n. 13, pp. 26ff.

[v] The King is representative of the god Aššur, who is indicated by the winged disk which hovers above the Tree.

[vi] JNES 52/3 (1993) p 167-8, & n. 34, where Parpola tells us that ‘Perfect Man’ is well attested as an Assyrian Royal epithet  eṭlu gitmālu . Similar phrases are known, such as ‘perfect king’  šarru gitmālu , and the phrase ’what the king said is as perfect as the word of god’  in the text LAS 144 r. 4f. (Letters of Assyrian Scholars) . Parpola points out that the concept of the ‘perfect king’ goes back to the early second millennium. In n. 33 it is noted that the king was often referred to as the image (şalmu) of God. Phrases such as: ‘the father of the king my lord was the very image of Bel, and the king my lord is likewise the very image of Bel,’  LAS 125: 18f., and ‘You, O king of the world, are an image of Marduk.’  RMA 170=SAA 8 n333 r.2 . Also: LAS 145: ‘The king, my lord, is the chosen of the great gods; the shadow of the king, my lord, is beneficial to all…. The king, my lord, is the perfect likeness of the god.’
[vii] JNES 52/3 (1993) p 168.

[viii] JNES 52/3 (1993) p 168.
[ix]  Parpola indicates that the evidence for ‘an extensive esoteric lore in first and second-millennium Mesopotamia is amply documented’, and the ‘few extant written specimens of such lore prove that mystical exegesis of religious symbolism played a prominent part in it.’ JNES 52/3 (1993) p 169.

[x] JNES 52/3 (1993) p 169. See also n. 41.

[xi] JNES 52/3 (1993) p 171, n45. ‘The first step in Kabbalah is to become familiar with the Sefirotic Tree. Without this key, little can be comprehended’ – Halevi, Z: Tradition of Hidden Knowledge. London, 1979.
[xii] JNES 52/3 (1993) p 171-2

Solon in the Court of Croesus

[This is an extract from the chapter 'Solon in the Court of Croesus', from The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015]

Solon asked of Croesus,

do you inquire of me concerning human affairs – of me, who know that the divinity is always jealous, and delights in confusion. For in lapse of time men are constrained to see many things they would not willingly see, and to suffer many things….

This is something of a reproach to the king, since later Solon says that man is ‘altogether the sport of fortune’: man cannot look to happiness on earth for this reason. Solon calculates the days of a man’s life in which he is the sport of fortune, and does so as follows: 

… I put the term of man’s life at seventy years: these seventy years then give twenty-five thousand two hundred days, without including the intercalary month; and if we add that month to every other year, in order that the seasons arriving at the proper time may agree, the intercalary months will be thirty-five more in the seventy years, and the days of these months will be one thousand and fifty. Yet in all this number of twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty days, that compose these seventy years, one day produces nothing exactly the same as another.

This is in fact a piece of idolatrous lore, intelligible to the initiated, but otherwise a piece of pointless pedantry at this point in the conversation between Solon and Croesus, and also hideously wrong in its details.  [i]

It is rather a shorthand way of conjuring religious ideas and images by means of numbers. Solon has suggested to the king that he look to eternity, to the telos, and then, using numbers, the image of a man’s life is compared with what later came to be known as ‘the Great Year’ in the writings of Plato. At Timaeus 39d it is said: people are all but ignorant of the fact that time really is the wanderings of these celestial bodies, bewilderingly numerous as they are and astonishingly variegated. It is none the less possible, however, to discern that the perfect number of time brings to completion the perfect year at that moment when the relative speeds of all eight periods have been completed together and, measured by the circle of the Same that moves uniformly, have achieved their consummation. [ii]
In other words the Great Year is the period after which all the celestial bodies have returned to the same positions in the heavens. The circle of the Same which is the measure, is the equatorial plane, which moves uniformly along the ecliptic over thousands of years. It is assumed that the precession of the equinoxes was unknown in Plato's time, and that the Great Year was simply a notion of an eternal return.  [iii]  Nevertheless, Plato does here specify measurement of time by the uniform movement of the circle of the Same (the circle of the Different being the plane of the ecliptic).

The equinoxes move 1/360th of the way around the equator in a period of approximately 70 years, so the Great Year is around 25,200 years long.  [iv]  The year is notionally 360 days long in ancient Greece and elsewhere – the basic unit is supplemented by intercalated months to maintain the place of the seasons in the calendar. But the basic unit was chosen as 360 days in order that the year might participate in the chain of images which is implicit in the numbers given in this instance by Solon to Croesus.

The intercalary months are of thirty days, and there are thirty five of these, since (we are told) they are added every other year in order that ‘the seasons arriving at the proper time may agree’. This of course is absurd. Every alternate year would have had 390 days, and the average year would have 375 days – ten days too many. At that rate the seasons would be out of kilter with the calendar by a whole month every three years, a whole season in twelve years, and a whole year in forty-eight. So either there is something wrong with this passage, or the import of the passage is not as innocuous as it seems. The key is the phrase: ‘arriving at the proper time may agree’. It is the images of completions implicit in Solon’s statement which is the principal significance of this passage.

[End of extract]

[i] Solon made some practical changes to the calendar of the Athenians, therefore this passage cannot represent Solon’s actual understanding of the calendar – it would produce chaos.
[ii] Plato, Timaeus 39d, Cooper, John M. (ed.), "Plato: Complete Works" 1997, p. 1243.
[iii] Hipparchus has the credit for discovering the precession, some two hundred years after Plato.
[iv] The actual figure, first established by Newton, is close to one degree per 72 years. That is an angular distance of around two diameters of the moon.

The Babylonian Creation

This is an extract from the chapter 'Creation' in The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015. The discussion of the Babylonian idea of the Creation in this chapter emphasises that there are several philosophical concepts present in the story we are told. Almost all scholars of Mesopotamian civilisation however, accept the conventional narrative which states that philosophical thought was the creation of the Greeks in the middle of the 1st Millennium B.C.E, and so the presence of philosophical concepts in texts from a much earlier time, and in another place (as here) is not noticed, and is not discussed. Instead of clear and cogent thought, scholars believe that the authors of the Babylonian creation were dealing with loose notions about the cosmos and the world. This is false. The later writings of the Greeks echo earlier ideas from Mesopotamia, and often very closely, as The Sacred History of Being uncovers. 

Thomas Yaeger, February 22, 2018

In Babylonia and Assyria, plenitude could be represented by the waters of ocean. Before ordered generation arose from these waters, there was a primal chaos, which Mesopotamian scholars understood in terms of undifferentiated possibility. The Babylonian priest Berossus, who lived and wrote in Greek most probably during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, describes this primal chaos in terms which emphasise that it is a plenitude (this passage was preserved by Alexander Polyhistor):

There was a time in which there was nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a two-fold principle. Men appeared with two wings, some with four wings, and two faces. They had one body, but two heads the one of a man, the other of a woman. They were likewise, in their several organs, both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats. Some had horses' feet; others had the limbs of a horse behind, but before were fashioned like men, resembling hippocentaurs. Bulls, likewise, bred there with the heads of men; and dogs, with fourfold bodies, and the tails of fishes. Also horses, with the heads of dogs: men, too, and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures with the limbs of every species of animals. Add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance. Of all these were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.

The person, who was supposed to have presided over them, was a woman named Omoroca; which in the Chaldee language is Thalatth; which in Greek is interpreted Thalassa, the sea: but, according to the most true computation, it is equivalent to Selene, the moon. All things being in this situation, Belus came, and cut the woman asunder: and, out of one half of her, he formed the earth, and of the other half the heavens; and at the same time he destroyed the animals in the abyss. All this (he says) was an allegorical description of nature. For the whole universe consisting of moisture, and animals being continually generated therein; the deity (Belus), above-mentioned, cut off his own head; upon which the other gods mixed the blood, as it gushed out, with the earth; and from thence men were formed. On this account it is that men are rational, and partake of divine knowledge. This Belus, whom men call Dis, (or Pluto,) divided the darkness, and separated the heavens from the earth, and reduced the universe to order. But the animals so recently created, not being able to bear the prevalence of light, died.

Alexander Heidel points out that thalatth in the foregoing passage, “... is obviously a scribal error.”  [i]  He says that the form thamte corresponds to the Babylonian tamtu, denoting the sea, the ocean, or Tiamat, which is the personification of the primordial sea or ocean. Heidel notes that Omoroka is a title of Tiamat  [ii]  –   Heidel also observes that the emended form of Omoroka in the Greek text is Omorka, which has the same numerical value (by gematria) as ‘Selene’ (the moon).  [iii]

Belus upon this, seeing a vast space quite uninhabited, though by nature very fruitful, ordered one of the gods to take off his head; and when it was taken off, they were to mix the blood with the soil of the earth, and from thence to form other men and animals, which should be capable of bearing the light. Belus also formed the stars, and the sun and the moon, together with the five planets.

It is interesting to compare again Plato’s account of the creation of the universe:

When He (Theos) took over all that was visible, seeing that it was not in a state of rest but in a state of discordant and disorderly motion, He brought it into order out of disorder, deeming that the former state is in all ways better than the latter. For Him who is most good it neither was nor is permissible to perform any action save what is fair. As He reflected, therefore, He perceived that of such creatures as are by nature visible, none that is irrational will be fairer, comparing wholes with wholes, than the rational; and further, that reason cannot possibly belong to any apart from Soul. So because of this reflection He constructed reason within soul and soul within body as He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good.  [iv]

These accounts are essentially consonant, in that they relate an initial state of discord in creation, as we read already in the text of Berossus:

... there were creatures with the limbs of every species of animals. Add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance.

These were not to be tolerated as part of the creation, though they were implicit in the ground of Being. They do not make sense in terms of a rational creation. Note the sentence: “add to these fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other wonderful animals, which assumed each other's shape and countenance.” in the Babylonian account (my emphasis). This makes it clear that these animals are the product of a plenitude, a totality, in which all possible combinations are, at the least, potential and latent. But they are to be destroyed in favour of a rational creation. This might be taken to imply that they possess the same degree of reality as the rational creatures which are to succeed them. Though they can have no practical existence.  By contrast the creation of men is due to the intervention of a god, who thereby made men rational. Berossus further connects this rationality with the ability to understand the workings of the divine....

[End of extract]

[i] Heidel, A. The Babylonian Genesis, p77, footnote 85
[ii] Op cit. footnote 84, p 77.
[iii] Op cit. footnote 86, p77.
[iv] Plato, Timaeus, 30a–b.

The Babylonian Mis Pi Ritual

[This is an extract from The Babylonian Mis Pi Ritual, a chapter from The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015]

....Then the offering-arrangements are dismantled.  The hand of the god is taken, and they process to the garden.

The new god is seated in the orchard, in the midst of the reed-standards on a reed-mat placed on a linen cloth. His eyes are turned toward sunrise.

You go to the river and throw mashatu-meal into the river;
You libate mihhu beer. You lift up your hand; and you recite three times each in front of the river the incantation, 'Apsu-temple, where fates are determined,' (and) the incantation 'Quay of the Apsu, pure quay;'

The operator is instructed to draw water (for) seven holy-water-basins, and to place the water in the chapel of Kusu. Into the basin of Mouth-Washing is thrown an interesting selection of items: tamarisk, mastakal, date palm 'heart', seven palm shoots, salalu-reed, apparu-reed, sweet-reed, sulphur, salt, cedar, cypress, juniper, 'horned alkali', sikillu-plant, tree-resin, lodestone, zalaqu-stone, mussaru-stone, carnelian,  [i]  lapis-lazuli, pappardilu-stone, pappardildilu-stone, silver, gold, tin, iron, oil, salve-oil,  perfumed (?)  oil, cedar oil, syrup (and) ghee.

Mention of  the 'Apsu-temple, where fates are determined,' and 'Quay of the Apsu, pure Quay,' represents a poetic reduplication of a single idea, which is the idea that both of them point to the ground of Being, of totality, where fate and destiny can be determined, since all knowledge is present in the Apsu, and that proximity to the Apsu is to be had at the river bank, since all  rivers in Mesopotamia were accorded divine status, and therefore prefixed with the Sumerian determinative sign 'Dingir'.  Tamarisk and date-palm-heart have already been discussed in terms of images pointing toward the Apsu. Juniper has been used in purification rituals in a number of cultures. The palm shoots fairly obviously represent coming forth and generation. 'horned alkali' is a vegetable ash, which clearly represents the final end for something which once had existence. Tree-resin is something which is often found exuding from pines, and can be used for purification purposes, lodestone may indicate stones which fall from the sky, and so were once part of the image of being which the night sky represents. Lapis-lazuli is the colour of the sky, and was a much sought after mineral in antiquity for that reason. It was often used in circumstances where a reference to the sky was required. Gold and Silver reference the Sun and the Moon who are gods, who belong to the image of Being. And gold possesses incorruptibility, which may be the reason why Shamash is also the god of justice (there is no justice where there is corruption).  Iron is far from incorruptible, but it has a special excellence of its own, in that it was the hardest metal available in the first millennium B.C.E, and could be worked into useful forms by the smiths, who had something of the divine fire about them.

After a line which is hard to understand, but concerns arrangement, the operator is instructed to fill a trough of tamarisk wood with the waters of the holy-water-basins. Into this trough carnelian, lapis-lazuli, silver beads, gold beads, juniper and halsu-oil, and then to set the holy water-basins on the brick of Dingirmah. The holy-water-basins are set up, and the Mouth-Washing is performed again. The offering-arrangement is dismantled.

At line 25 the instruction is to set up nine offering arrangements for Anu, Enlil, Ea, Sin, Shamash, Adad, Marduk, Gula (and) Ishtar, the stars  ...  toward the north. The incantation, 'Tamarisk, pure wood,' is recited, and the Mouth-washing is performed again.

Now we get some interesting astronomical detail in connection with the ritual.

You set up towards the south nine offering arrangements for Ninmah, Kusu, Ningirim, Ninkurral, Ninagal,
Kusibanda, Ninildu, Ninzadim and that god.

The Mouth washing is repeated here, and after each of the following, until line 36.

You set up 2 offering arrangements for Jupiter and Venus.
You set up 2 offering arrangements for the Moon and Saturn.
You set up 3 offering arrangements for Mercury, Sirius (and) Mars.
You set up 6 offering arrangements for the Scales (Libra) (which is) the star of Shamash, the Plough (Triangulum/Andromeda), 'SU.PA' (Boӧtes), the Wagon (Ursa Major), Erua (Coma Berenices), the She Goat (Lyra).
You set up 4 offering arrangements for the Field (Pegasus/Andromeda), the Swallow (Pisces), Anunitum (Pisces) (and) the Furrow (Virgo).
You set up 4 offering arrangements for the Fish (?), the Giant (Aquarius), Eridu (and) the Scorpion.

 [End of extract]

[i] Carnelian was used in both Mesopotamia and Greece for seals, because clay did not stick to it. Symbolically the carnelian represents one half of the undefined dyad, and the clay represents what Plato referred to as the ‘receptacle’, capable of receiving images, and participating in Being. Each is the reverse of the other. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Hume and Kant on Reality

[This is an extract from 'Hume and Kant on Reality', a chapter in The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015]

Kant defines metaphysics very closely as something whose ‘fundamental propositions …  and  its fundamental concepts must never be taken from experience’, since metaphysical knowledge lies beyond experience. The ground of metaphysics will not be either ‘outer experience’, which he defines as the source of physics, nor ‘inner experience, which provides the basis for empirical psychology.’ In other words metaphysics is a priori knowledge, ‘out of pure understanding and pure reason’.

Kant recognizes the need to differentiate metaphysics from pure mathematics, and refers the reader to the Critique, where he says

Philosophical cognition is rational cognition from concepts. Mathematical cognition is rational cognition from the construction of concepts.’ [i]

He expands on this by saying that ‘to construct a concept means to exhibit a priori the intuition corresponding to it. Hence construction of a concept requires a non-empirical intuition. Consequently this intuition, as intuition, is an individual object; but as the construction of a concept, (a universal presentation), it must nonetheless express in the presentation its universal validity for all possible intuitions falling under the same concept.’

Kant uses the example of the construction of a triangle, arguing that this construction exhibits the object which corresponds to this concept ‘either through imagination alone, or in pure intuition.’ It can be drawn on paper of course, as a mathematical figure, but in such a case the representation is an empirical intuition, not a pure intuition, though both in the case of the pure intuition and the empirical intuition, Kant has exhibited the object a priori, without having used a model taken from experience (meaning that only the properties of a triangle have been used in its construction). Though the drawn figure is empirical, yet it serves to express the concept ‘without impairing the concept’s universality’.  Only those properties which it is necessary to consider for the construction of the triangle are involved – the many inconsequential details of a physical triangle – the length of the sides, and the angles of the triangle, are not involved in the abstraction. All such irrelevant details are removed from the concept, and the result is therefore wholly abstracted from any particular instance of a triangle.

Kant’s argument is therefore that ‘philosophical cognition contemplates the particular only in the universal’. By contrast, he says that mathematical cognition ‘contemplates the universal in particular, and indeed even in the individual’. This might seem at first sight to be a strange distinction, however Kant explains himself clearly, saying that even in the case of this mathematical cognition, the contemplation of it is ‘a priori, and by means of reason.’ And so, ‘just as this individual is determined under certain universal conditions of construction, so the object of the concept – to which this individual corresponds only as its schema – must be thought of as determined universally.  Thus the essential difference between these two kinds of rational cognition ‘consists in this difference of form, and does not rest on the difference of their matter or objects.’

[End of extract]

[i] Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason,  (A 713. ff), unified edition, trans. Pluhar, Werner S., Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1996.

Plato's Theory of Vision

[This is an extract from 'Plato's Theory of Vision', a chapter in The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015]

....At Tim 92c, after describing the range of creatures which have been created, Plato concludes his book by saying that:

Our Cosmos has received the living creatures both mortal and immortal and been thereby fulfilled; it being itself a visible Living Creature embracing the visible creatures, a perceptible God made in the image of the Intelligible, most great and good and fair and perfect in its generation – even this one Heaven sole of its kind.

“This one Heaven sole of its kind”. This is not an acknowledgement of a copy additional to the divine reality. He speaks of “Ouranos hode monogenes.” If it is not a copy what is it? If we look again at Tim 30c ff., we find an expansion of his argument.

We shall not deign to accept any of those which belong by nature to the category of ‘parts’; for nothing that resembles the imperfect would ever become fair. But we shall affirm that the Cosmos, more than aught else, resembles most closely that Living Creature of which all other living creatures, severally and generically, are portions. For that Living Creature embraces and contains within itself all the intelligible Living Creatures, just as this Universe contains us and all the other visible living creatures that have been fashioned. For since God desired to make it resemble most closely that intelligible Creature which is fairest of all and in all ways most perfect, He constructed it as a Living Creature, one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself.

The first of these passages contains the description of the cosmos as “a perceptible God made in the image of the Intelligible.” The second says that “the Living Creature is one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself?” So one of its principal characteristics is that it is perceptible and visible, and that it is also made in the image of the intelligible. It is generated, but it is sole of its kind. The creatures which it holds are rational portions of itself.

One might argue that there is no need of a copy at all, and that the story of the copy of perfection which this is supposed to be, is a fiction, discussed only as a likelihood. For it is conceivable, and indeed necessary, that all of the things which might be perceptible as generated items are already present in potential in Being. Rather than this first ineffable reality being subject to a copy, it is conceivable that both generation and perceptible entities are equally the product of a way of seeing what is potential in Being. In other words, the Living Creature which is perceptible is the product of perception rather than the creation of a separate copy of the perfect reality which is beyond all perception.

Plato anticipated these questions, for at Tim 31 he says:

Are we right, then, in describing the Heaven as one, or would it be more correct to speak of Heavens as many or infinite in number?” His answer is based on the very Greek notion that to join two things together a third thing is necessary. He says that we must speak of the Heaven as One, “if it is to be framed after its Pattern. For that which embraces all intelligible Living Creatures could never be second, with another beside it; for if so, there must needs exist yet another Living Creature, which should embrace them both, and of which they two would each be a part; in which case this Universe could no longer be rightly described modeled on these two, but rather on that third Creature which contains them both.

So, if a copy is made of Being, it would follow according to this mode of argument, that there would need to be a third Being of which both the model and the copy would be parts. Clearly this is an unacceptable state of affairs, and so it cannot be that Plato supports the argument that it is a likelihood that there is a copy of Being in which things move, and in which generation occurs. 

[End of extract]