Sunday, 20 August 2017

Current Books by Thomas Yaeger


'Understanding Ancient Thought' is now available (August 20 2017) from Itunes, Barnes & Noble, Blio, Inktera, Rakuten, Smashwords, and other major ebook retailers. 





'Understanding Ancient Thought' is the third of a quartet of books concerning the antiquity of philosophy, and its connection with divine cult in the ancient world. The fourth book of the quartet is expected to be available sometime in 2018. The title will be announced shortly. 

A chapter list for Understanding Ancient Thought' is available. Purchasing and ereader options are  also available for the book at the foot of the chapter listing. 



A sample of the text is available from the library supplier Overdrive (below). You can't buy it directly from them (unless you are a library), so you need to go to one of the regular online bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, etc.   



Friday, 18 August 2017

Retailers carrying 'Understanding Ancient Thought' (2017)


Below is a selection of screenshots from retailer sites. These are Itunes, Rakuten Kobo, Rakuten (Japan), Livraria Cultura (Brazil), and Barnes & Noble for North America. The book will be available on August 21. Some sites are offering it for pre-order, though not all sites do this. The book will appear on other sites, such as Blio, from the 21st. The book will also be available (on the 21st) directly from Smashwords, my principal distributor. 


A chapter listing complete with chapter summaries is available at: http://shrineinthesea.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/nineteen-meditations.html. The page also contains direct links to retailers, and information about ereaders and ebook management software. 






Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Splendor of Totality





The announced date for the publication of Understanding Ancient Thought was August 29. The date was picked initially to allow me plenty of time to fix any formatting problems, to allow the distributor Smashwords time to review the book visually, and to acquire an ISBN for the ePub version.

In fact there were no formatting issues at all with the book (by the time you've got to your third one you've got the hang of the process); the ISBN arrived within minutes of the request, and the book was visually reviewed inside two days. It is now in the Smashwords Premium catalogue, and is available for pre-order.

August 29 is not a significant date for me. A little desk research lets me know that it is John Locke's birthday (1632), about whom I've written a fair amount (in connection with his doctrine of the association of ideas); that in 1831 Michael Faraday demonstrated the first electric transformer; that in 1742 Edmond Hoyle published his "Short Treatise" on the card game whist; and in 1842, Great Britain & China signed the Treaty of Nanking, which ended the infamous Opium war. A few other things have occurred on August 29 in history of course, but it isn't a stand out date.

A much more interesting date for publishing the book is August 21, when a total solar eclipse will be visible over a large part of the continental United States. Not many radical texts have been published to coincide with a solar eclipse, but I have the capacity to change the publication date, bringing it forward by eight days.

My book concerns ancient patterns of thought, many of which now seem very strange to us, and which are more or less unintelligible, except through a great deal of unpicking. I haven't written about eclipses and eclipse prediction in Understanding Ancient Thought, but eclipse prediction was one way in antiquity to demonstrate to a population that a priesthood had an understanding of the mind of God. That connection with what is Divine, that understanding of it, is one of the main themes of the book.

So I choose the more auspicious August 21 for the formal publication date. Available (in ePub format) from Barnes & Noble, Itunes, Inktera, Blio, Smashwords, and other eBook retailers.

UAT will now be released in the US at midnight EST on August 20 2017.

[Post updated August 11, 2017]



Saturday, 22 July 2017

Concerning Cult Images


The following text was an appendix to the 2004 draft of what became The Sacred History of Being. Some informative texts from antiquity (such as this one) survive in part as quotations by other writers. In this case the original author was Porphyry, and it was quoted in an extensive work (the Preparation for the Gospel) by the industrious christian apologist Eusebius in the 4th century C.E. As I've shown elsewhere, Porphyry knew about the doctrine of wholes and totalities also understood by Pythagoras and Plato and others, and so he was well informed, and so gives an insight into the real significance of the practice of idolatry in the ancient world.

I first read this text around 1993, and it gave shape to a good deal of the writing which went into The Sacred History of Being during the next ten or so years. Eusebius' purpose in quoting the text was to show that much of the nature of earlier religion was a mere foreshadowing of the Christian revelation. My purpose in including the text as an appendix was to show that there was still much known of the nature of 1st millennium idolatry up until the closure of the philosophical schools in 529 C.E., and that their knowledge pointed to quite a different understanding of polytheism than the one we commonly associate with the history of Israel and its religious struggles, and the later Christian objections to the 'abomination' of polytheism. 

The appendix was removed while I was writing the final draft of the book between 2011 and 2014, in order to keep the text within manageable limits.

TY, July 22, 2017 



Appendix E: Concerning Cult Images (Porphyry) – extracts preserved in Eusebius’ the Preparation for the Gospel


fr. 1 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 3.7.1
I speak to those who lawfully may hear:
Depart all ye profane, and close the doors.

The thoughts of a wise theology, wherein men indicated God and God's powers by images akin to sense, and sketched invisible things in visible forms, I will show to those who have learned to read from the statues as from books the things there written concerning the gods. Nor is it any wonder that the utterly unlearned regard the statues as wood and stone, just as also those who do not understand the written letters look upon the monuments as mere stones, and on the tablets as bits of wood, and on books as woven papyrus.

fr. 2 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 3.7.2-4

As the deity is of the nature of light, and dwells in an atmosphere of ethereal fire, and is invisible to sense that is busy about mortal life, He through translucent matter, as crystal or Parian marble or even ivory, led men on to the conception of his light, and through material gold to the discernment of the fire, and to his undefiled purity, because gold cannot be defiled.

On the other hand, black marble was used by many to show his invisibility; and they moulded their gods in human form because the deity is rational, and made these beautiful, because in those is pure and perfect beauty; and in varieties of shape and age, of sitting and standing, and drapery; and some of them male, and some female, virgins, and youths, or married, to represent their diversity.

Hence they assigned everything white to the gods of heaven, and the sphere and all things spherical to the cosmos and to the sun and moon in particular, but sometimes also to fortune and to hope: and the circle and things circular to eternity, and to the motion of the heaven, and to the zones and cycles therein; and the segments of circles to the phases of the moon; pyramids and obelisks to the element of fire, and therefore to the gods of Olympus; so again the cone to the sun, and cylinder to the earth, and figures representing parts of the human body to sowing and generation.

fr. 3 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 3.9.1-5

'Now look at the wisdom of the Greeks, and examine it as follows. The authors of the Orphic hymns supposed Zeus to be the mind of the world, and that he created all things therein,containing the world in himself. Therefore in their theological systems they have handed down their opinions concerning him thus:'

Zeus was the first, Zeus last, the lightning's lord,
Zeus head, Zeus centre, all things are from Zeus.
Zeus born a male, Zeus virgin undefiled;
Zeus the firm base of earth and starry heaven;
Zeus sovereign, Zeus alone first cause of all:
One power divine, great ruler of the world,
One kingly form, encircling all things here,
Fire, water, earth, and ether, night and day;
Wisdom, first parent, and delightful Love:
For in Zeus' mighty body these all lie.
His head and beauteous face the radiant heaven
Reveals and round him float in shining waves
The golden tresses of the twinkling stars.
On either side bulls' horns of gold are seen,
Sunrise and sunset, footpaths of the gods.
His eyes the Sun, the Moon's responsive light;
His mind immortal ether, sovereign truth,
Hears and considers all; nor any speech,
Nor cry, nor noise, nor ominous voice escapes
The ear of Zeus, great Kronos' mightier son:
Such his immortal head, and such his thought.
His radiant body, boundless, undisturbed
In strength of mighty limbs was formed thus:
The god's broad-spreading shoulders, breast and back
Air's wide expanse displays; on either side
Grow wings, wherewith throughout all space he flies.
Earth the all-mother, with her lofty hills,
His sacred belly forms; the swelling flood
Of hoarse resounding Ocean girds his waist.
His feet the deeply rooted ground upholds,
And dismal Tartarus, and earth's utmost bounds.
All things he hides, then from his heart again
         In godlike action brings to gladsome light.

Zeus, therefore, is the whole world, animal of animals, and god of gods; but Zeus, that is, inasmuch as he is the mind from which he brings forth all things, and by his thoughts creates them. When the theologians had explained the nature of god in this manner, to make an image such as their description indicated was neither possible, nor, if any one thought of it, could he show the look of life, and intelligence, and forethought by the figure of a sphere.

But they have made the representation of Zeus in human form, because mind was that according to which he wrought, and by generative laws brought all things to completion; and he is seated, as indicating the steadfastness of his power: and his upper parts are bare, because he is manifested in the intellectual and the heavenly parts of the world; but his feet are clothed, because he is invisible in the things that lie hidden below. And he holds his sceptre in his left hand, because most close to that side of the body dwells the heart, the most commanding and intelligent organ: for the creative mind is the sovereign of the world. And in his right hand he holds forth either an eagle, because he is master of the gods who traverse the air, as the eagle is master of the birds that fly aloft - or a victory, because he is himself victorious over all things.


fr. 8 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 3.11.22-44

The whole power productive of water they called Oceanus, and named its symbolic figure Tethys. But of the whole, the drinking-water produced is called Achelous; and the sea-water Poseidon; while again that which makes the sea, inasmuch as it is productive, is Amphitrite. Of the sweet waters the particular powers are called Nymphs, and those of the sea-waters Nereids.

Again, the power of fire they called Hephaestus, and have made his image in the form of a man, but put on it a blue cap as a symbol of the revolution of the heavens, because the archetypal and purest form of fire is there. But the fire brought down from heaven to earth is less intense, and wants the strengthening and support which is found in matter: wherefore he is lame, as needing matter to support him.

Also they supposed a power of this kind to belong to the sun and called it Apollo, from the pulsation (palsis) of his beams. There are also nine Muses singing to his lyre, which are the sublunar sphere, and seven spheres of the planets, and one of the fixed stars. And they crowned him with laurel, partly because the plant is full of fire, and therefore hated by daemons; and partly because it crackles in burning, to represent the god's prophetic art.

But inasmuch as the sun wards off the evils of the earth, they called him Heracles (Heraklês) (from his clashing against the air (klasthai pros ton aera) in passing from east to west. And they invented fables of his performing twelve labours, as the symbol of the division of the signs of the zodiac in heaven; and they arrayed him with a club and a lion's skin, the one as an indication of his uneven motion, and the other representative of his strength in "Leo" the sign of the zodiac.

Of the sun's healing power Asclepius is the symbol, and to him they have given the staff as a sign of the support and rest of the sick, and the serpent is wound round it, as significant of his preservation of body and soul: for the animal is most full of spirit, and shuffles off the weakness of the body. It seems also to have a great faculty for healing: for it found the remedy for giving clear sight, and is said in a legend to know a certain plant which restores life.

But the fiery power of his revolving and circling motion, whereby he ripens the crops, is called Dionysus, not in the same sense as the power which produces the juicy fruits, but either from the sun's rotation (dinein), or from his completing (dianuein) his orbit in the heaven. And whereas he revolves round the cosmical seasons (hôras) (and is the maker of "times and tides,") the sun is on this account called Horus.

Of his power over agriculture, whereon depend the gifts of wealth (Plutus), the symbol is Pluto. He has, however, equally the power of destroying, on which account they make Sarapis share the temple of Pluto: and the purple tunic they make the symbol of the light that has sunk beneath the earth, and the sceptre broken at the top that of his power below, and the posture of the hand the symbol of his departure into the unseen world.

Cerberus is represented with three heads, because the positions of the sun above the earth are three-rising, midday, and setting.

The moon, conceived according to her brightness, they called Artemis, as it were (aerotemis), "cutting the air." And Artemis, though herself a virgin, presides over childbirth, because the power of the new moon is helpful to parturition.

What Apollo is to the sun, that Athena is to the moon: for the moon is a symbol of wisdom, and so a kind of Athena.

But, again, the moon is Hecate, the symbol of her varying phases and of her power dependent on the phases. Wherefore her power appears in three forms, having as symbol of the new moon the figure in the white robe and golden sandals, and torches lighted: the basket, which she bears when she has mounted high, is the symbol of the cultivation of the crops, which she makes to grow up according to the increase of her light: and again the symbol of the full moon is the goddess of the brazen sandals.

Or even from the branch of olive one might infer her fiery nature, and from the poppy her productiveness, and the multitude of the souls who find an abode in her as in a city, for the poppy is an emblem of a city. She bears a bow, like Artemis, because of the sharpness of the pangs of labour.

And, again, the Fates are referred to her powers, Clotho to the generative, and Lachesis to the nutritive, and Atropos to the inexorable will of the deity.

Also, the power productive of corn-crops, which is Demeter, they associate with her, as producing power in her. The moon is also a supporter of Kore. They set Dionysus also beside her, both on account of their growth of horns, and because of the region of clouds lying beneath the lower world.

The power of Kronos they perceived to be sluggish and slow and cold, and therefore attributed to him the power of time (chronou): and they figure him standing, and grey-headed, to indicate that time is growing old.

The Curetes, attending on Chronos, are symbols of the seasons, because time (Chronos) journeys on through seasons.

Of the Hours, some are the Olympian, belonging to the sun, which also open the gates in the air: and others are earthly, belonging to Demeter, and hold a basket, one symbolic of the flowers of spring, and the other of the wheat-ears of summer.

The power of Ares they perceived to be fiery, and represented it as causing war and bloodshed, and capable both of harm and benefit.

The star of Aphrodite they observed as tending to fecundity, being the cause of desire and offspring, and represented it as a woman because of generation, and as beautiful, because it is also the evening star -
"Hesper, the fairest star that shines in heaven." *[1]

And Eros they set by her because of desire. She veils her breasts and other parts, because their power is the source of generation and nourishment. She comes from the sea, a watery element, and warm, and in constant movement, and foaming because of its commotion, whereby they intimate the seminal power.

Hermes is the representative of reason and speech, which both accomplish and interpret all things. The phallic Hermes represents vigour, but also indicates the generative law that pervades all things.

Further, reason is composite: in the sun it is called Hermes; in the moon Hecate; and that which is in the All Hermopan, for the generative and creative reason extends over all things. Hermanubis also is composite, and as it were half Greek, being found among the Egyptians also. Since speech is also connected with the power of love, Eros represents this power: wherefore Eros is represented as the son of Hermes, but as an infant, because of his sudden impulses of desire.

They made Pan the symbol of the universe, and gave him his horns as symbols of sun and moon, and the fawn skin as emblem of the stars in heaven, or of the variety of the universe.

fr.10 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 3.11.45-.13.2

The Demiurge, whom the Egyptians call Cneph, is of human form, but with a skin of dark blue, holding a girdle and a sceptre, and crowned with a royal wing on his head, because reason is hard to discover, and wrapt up in secret, and not conspicuous, and because it is life-giving, and because it is a king, and because it has an intelligent motion: wherefore the characteristic wing is put upon his head.

This god, they say, puts forth from his mouth an egg, from which is born a god who is called by themselves Phtha, but by the Greeks Hephaestus; and the egg they interpret as the world. To this god the sheep is consecrated, because the ancients used to drink milk.

The representation of the world itself they figured thus: the statue is like a man having feet joined together, and clothed from head to foot with a robe of many colours, and has on the head a golden sphere, the first to represent its immobility, the second the many-coloured nature of the stars, and the third because the world is spherical.

The sun they indicate sometimes by a man embarked on a ship, the ship set on a crocodile. And the ship indicates the sun's motion in a liquid element: the crocodile potable water in which the sun travels. The figure of the sun thus signified that his revolution takes place through air that is liquid and sweet.

The power of the earth, both the celestial and terrestrial earth, they called Isis, because of the equality (isotêta), which is the source of justice: but they call the moon the celestial earth, and the vegetative earth, on which we live, they call the terrestrial.

Demeter has the same meaning among the Greeks as Isis amongs the Egyptians: and, again, Kore and Dionysus among the Greeks the same as Isis and Osiris among the Egyptians. Isis is that which nourishes and raises up the fruits of the earth; and Osiris among the Egyptians is that which supplies the fructifying power, which they propitiate with lamentations as it disappears into the earth in the sowing, and as it is consumed by us for food.

Osiris is also taken for the river-power of the Nile: when, however, they signify the terrestrial earth, Osiris is taken as the fructifying power; but when the celestial, Osiris is the Nile, which they suppose to come down from heaven: this also they bewail, in order to propitiate the power when failing and becoming exhausted. And the Isis who, in the legends, is wedded to Osiris is the land of Egypt, and therefore she is made equal to him, and conceives, and produces the fruits; and on this account Osiris has been described by tradition as the husband of Isis, and her brother, and her son.

CHAPTER XII

At the city Elephantine there is an image worshipped, which in other respects is fashioned in the likeness of a man and sitting; it is of a blue colour, and has a ram's head, and a diadem bearing the horns of a goat, above which is a quoit-shaped circle. He sits with a vessel of clay beside him, on which he is moulding the figure of a man. And from having the face of a ram and the horns of a goat he indicates the conjunction of sun and moon in the sign of the Ram, while the colour of blue indicates that the moon in that conjunction brings rain.

The second appearance of the moon is held sacred in the city of Apollo: and its symbol is a man with a hawk-like face, subduing with a hunting-spear Typhon in the likeness of a hippopotamus. The image is white in colour, the whiteness representing the illumination of the moon, and the hawk-like face the fact that it derives light and breath from the sun. For the hawk they consecrate to the sun, and make it their symbol of light and breath, because of its swift motion, and its soaring up on high, where the light is. And the hippopotamus represents, the Western sky, because of its swallowing up into itself the stars which traverse it.

In this city Horus is worshipped as a god. But the city of Eileithyia worships the third appearance of the moon: and her statue is fashioned into a flying vulture, whose plumage consists of precious stones. And its likeness to a vulture signifies that the moon is what produces the winds: for they think that the vulture conceives from the wind, and declares that they are all hen birds.

In the mysteries at Eleusis the hierophant is dressed up to represent the demiurge, and the torch-bearer the sun, the priest at the altar the moon, and the sacred herald Hermes.

Moreover a man is admitted by the Egyptians among their objects of worship. For there is a village in Egypt called Anabis, in which a man is worshipped, and sacrifice offered to him, and the victims burned upon his altars: and after a little while he would eat the things that had been prepared for him as for a man.

They did not, however, believe the animals to be gods, but regarded them as likenesses and symbols of gods; and this is shown by the fact that in many places oxen dedicated to the gods are sacrificed at their monthly festivals and in their religious services. For they consecrated oxen to the sun and moon.

CHAPTER XIII

The ox called Mnevis which is dedicated to the sun in Heliopolis, is the largest of oxen, very black, chiefly because much sunshine blackens men's bodies. And its tail and all its body are covered with hair that bristles backwards unlike other cattle, just as the sun makes its course in the opposite direction to the heaven. Its testicles are very large, since desire is produced by heat, and the sun is said to fertilize nature.
To the moon they dedicated a bull which they call Apis, which also is more black than others, and bears symbols of sun and moon, because the light of the moon is from the sun. The blackness of his body is an emblem of the sun, and so is the beetle-like mark under his tongue; and the symbol of the moon is the semicircle, and the gibbous figure.





[1] Homer, Iliad 22:318

Thursday, 20 July 2017

What is Sacred, and what is Profane?




Questions which underpin the ancient world view:


The first question is the most profound of all, which is: why is there something rather than nothing?

How can the existence of the physical world be explained? It has patterns of behaviour (natural laws), but it is not clear where both the physical reality and its patterns of behaviour originate, and what sustains both.

A second question concerns the nature of the reality which underpins the reality of the physical world. Is it itself, or is its nature compromised by the emergence of a physical reality? This question is prompted by the idea that reality, in order to retain its essential nature, cannot be multiple, and cannot be subject to real change.

Following from this is the idea that reality must be beyond measure, beyond size, beyond existence in physical dimensions, be uniform in its nature, be complete, and also without limitation.

The implication of this view is that the physical reality which we experience represents a point of view of the transcendent reality. It is not real, but a representation or a medley of representations of what reality itself is.

It follows that all things, past present and future, are contained, as potencies, in the nature of reality itself. They are possible points of view. All things which have happened, and all things which may happen, are there.

It follows also, that, given this point of view, all knowledge of past present and future, all possible states of reality, are also present in reality itself.

This description of reality itself is a description of the plenum, which is something which contains all things. Not because it is a collection of things, but because it is, as it is, an undifferentiated whole.

This is the reality which was understood to underpin physical reality in the ancient world (at least by those of the sacerdotal class who had the leisure to discuss such questions).  It transcends everything physical, measurable, definable.

Ancient accounts of the creation of the physical world however suggest that the created world was in chaos at its beginning. What does this mean?

It means that, by whatever means the plenum gives rise to the physical world and its realities, by itself it cannot give rise to a rational creation. Its creations are not defined by anything approaching reason.

Ancient cosmogonies reflect this. The Enuma Elish from Mesopotamia has two distinct levels of divine beings. The first group is present during the initial creation, and the second group is responsible for the second and rational creation. The first group of gods are not gods after the pattern of the second group. The king of heaven does not have a name in Mesopotamia, or rather his name is his description (Anshar). It is two words joined together – ‘heaven’ and ‘king’. In the Mesopotamian context both heaven and the king were understood as representations or images reality itself – representing some of the properties of the plenum.

In a sense therefore, the initial gods are simply gods which must be latent in the nature of reality itself, whether or not there is a rational creation underway. There must be a heaven, and there must be a king of it, if there is to be anything else. And somehow the first creation has to be destroyed, if there is to be a rational creation. The gods who are present during the first creation are there to serve the purpose of making it possible for there to be a rational creation.

It would be argued that we know these gods are real because we are now living in a rational creation. They also give rise to the gods who preside over the rational creation, and who have the power and authority to order the cosmos, and human society.

In the Enuma Elish, Marduk is the king of the gods, and his properties are described. Each aspect of Marduk has a name, as well as a description, and each of those names represents a god. So in effect, the description of Marduk is a collection of the divine powers of all the gods.

Each of the divine names of Marduk has a description, and each of these descriptions explains the particular form of rational and good order in the world, over which they and Marduk preside. So each of the gods can be understood as abstractions of aspects of the rational creation. They represent excellences in the world. Marduk represents the sum total of these.

This is the clue to understanding much of the ancient understanding what the divine is. Each described excellence resembles reality itself in terms of its properties. The excellence may serve social functions, as does a skill or specialism, but it should be performed for its own sake. The excellence is complete in itself, is whole, is at the apex of what is possible, and involves knowledge of the divine on account of its perfection. The performance of these excellences recalls the perfection and completeness of the plenum, and reinforces the presence of the divine in the world. 

Which brings us to another question asked in antiquity: can the divine be present on earth, within the world of physical reality? In terms of its representation, yes, since there are many things which share properties with the divine. The ideas of the limited, and that which is without limit, that which is perfect, whole and complete in itself; beauty, justice and good order, greatness, etc. The list can be extended. Hence the importance attributed to these properties in the ancient world.

But can the gods have existence and reality in the physical world, without compromising their essential nature. Evidently this was considered to be possible, though always a matter for some conjecture.

Why was it considered to be possible? This brings us to the most astonishing and subtle part of the ancient picture of reality. We need to return to the question of whether or not reality retains its nature on the creation of physical reality. It is easy for us to imagine that physical reality is here, with us, and the transcendent world of the plenum is somewhere over the horizon. But that would make the physical world a partial copy of the transcendent world, which would make reality more than itself. It would be multiple rather than single and simply itself. 

At this point, the human race made an enormous leap of understanding. Few would understand it fully and properly, but it stands behind the creation of civilisation and the great intellectual structures of the ancient world which we refer to as religions. The leap involved the recognition that, if reality was to retain its integrity and nature, then it could not stand behind a copy of itself. And if it could not stand behind a copy of itself, then there is no copy. If there is no copy, then the reality and the representation of it on earth are one and the same thing.

Many would have baulked at this idea. But the logic is impeccable. Further, there are several conclusions which can be – and were, drawn from this understanding.

The first is that all things on earth are representations of reality itself. We may not easily read them as such representations, but nevertheless, that is what they are.

Secondly, if all things are representations of reality itself, which is infinite, then all things in the physical world which have the properties of finitude, also are infinite.

Thirdly, the representation of space and time and difference is an illusion. These things are not real, but simply represent what is actually real in such a way.

Fourthly, if divinity is equated with the nature of reality itself, then all things are divine, whether in Heaven or on Earth.

The fifth conclusion is that since it is apparent that not everything on Earth is infinite as we encounter it, even if it possesses the property of infinity, along with reality itself, then everything on Earth has a double nature. It is both sacred and profane.

The sixth conclusion is that holiness, divinity and infinitude are properties which can be put on and taken off like a garment (the Sumerian concept of the Mes instantiates this idea).

The seventh conclusion is that we have no independent reality of our own, and that the world is the property and creation of the gods. Our perception of it is just that. We can understand it as a wholly secular phenomenon, or we can recognise and understand it as the property of the divine.


The eighth conclusion is that, in order to have good order in the physical world, we need to strive to become holy, acquire knowledge of divine things, and to do divine things, for divine things are possible on the Earth. This is the origin of the idea of sacralisation, which is the putting on the quality of divinity. 

Monday, 17 July 2017

The significance of the chapter on Plato's theory of Being


One chapter in The Sacred History of Being is particularly difficult to understand as presented. It is the way it is because it concerns an argument by Plato concerning the nature of reality, and whether or not divine things can have a presence in the world. It also concerns how such a presence should be understood. The chapter is an assemblage of Platonic argument,  scattered through a number of dialogues. I'm not aware of any other attempt to reconstruct Plato's discussion of the nature of reality, so the job needed to be done. 

The chapter can be understood as a reconstruction of how Plato might have discussed the nature of reality with those of his students deemed to have the ability to grasp the esoteric understanding of Being. It is a reconstruction based on references in his writings, which documents in detail the sources I used.  This documentation allows the argument to be discussed critically by those who have not been on the same path as I have over the past twenty years or so. 

Though the chapter is a difficult read, it is not that difficult to explain. In conversation with a reader recently, I provided a short explanation of the nature of the chapter, and its significance for the overall argument of The Sacred History of Being. It concerns the belief that divinity could be present in inanimate objects, and whether reality itself is necessarily one. And the consequences which necessarily follow from such discussion. 

I wrote:
The chapter which explores Plato's theory of Being is the most difficult chapter in the whole book, without question. But it is crucial to an understanding of the overall thesis. I recommend skipping forward to read the postscript, and the chapter on Pythagoras and Totality, which explain  something of the context and significance of Plato's argument.

I can however tell you what the significance of Plato's argument is, once all the pieces are put together (which is what I did in that chapter). One of the central mysteries of the ancient world is how and why did they believe that inanimate objects could be considered to be divine? Modern anthropologists are forced to argue that they believed this because of intellectual error. The chapter shows that in fact the belief that an inanimate statue could house the divine was based on a logical argument, which Plato references at various points in his canon (most crucially in The Sophist). The logical conclusion of the argument is simply that the world in which we live has a double nature. The world is a plenum which presents to us a partial picture of reality (because we are finite creatures and not infinite). The real world (the fulness, or the plenum) cannot move without compromising its nature. So reality is not subject to change. There cannot be a finite world and an infinite one, which would also compromise the nature of the plenum.

The conclusion which must be drawn, though not overtly and clearly expressed by Plato, is that on purely logical grounds, the finite world is an illusion, and a representation of the unmoving plenum which appears to contain movement. That is its double nature. It is both infinite and finite at the same time.

This is the reason why it was possible to understand an unmoving statue as a god: because it is both infinite and finite at the same time.

The overall argument of the book is to this effect - hence the examination of Mesopotamian rituals for the installation of divine statues toward the end of the book.

So the ancient belief in the divinity of statues was not the result of careless thought or a primitive stupidity, but the result of careful argument about the nature of reality itself, in both Greece and Assyria, and elsewhere. This places philosophical thought (dialectical argument) at the root of religious cult, rather than a separate and unrelated discussion of abstract questions, with no bearing on thought concerning the gods.

I hope this helps with your understanding of the argument.

Best regards,

Thomas 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The World Turned Upside Down




  1. People believe many of the things they believed in antiquity, but the frame which gives them meaning has shifted.
  2. The modern approach to understanding is to deal in discrete and measurable entities, and their combinations. In the ancient world, they were more interested in understanding the part in relation to the whole.
  3. How this reversal came about is complex, and the process is not yet complete. The ancient world view is essentially a teleological perspective, in which the final cause of everything has an impact on all significant things in the world. In this world view, facts are intimately associated with values.
  4. Teleology has been expelled from our sciences, because it is regarded as a baseless principle, and not a real cause at all.
  5. Losing the teleological perspective from modern science is generally regarded as a great advance, freeing us from superstitious notions about purpose, whether in evolution of animals and other creatures, and also frees us from reading the hand of the gods in events. In our world, though artists and poets frame things otherwise, there is no moral connection between facts in themselves, and values. The deficiency is supplied by law and a rational understanding of society. It is the real purpose of the European enlightenment.
  6. However the success of the enlightenment enterprise creates a difficulty for us in understanding the ancient world. It makes it incomprehensible to us in its own terms, and it has become a very strange place.
  7. To simplify the difficulty, the enlightenment scholars imagined they could discern the real driving forces in ancient society, which were not necessarily clear from the texts and the archaeological evidence. This meant grading the evidence from antiquity in terms of its real meaning, and giving precedence to particular interpretation. This process became an important part of classical scholarship.
  8. Latterly, ancient history largely has been taught in terms of Marx’s economic model of reality (even if Marx was not often mentioned), in which everything is explained in terms of material and economic pressures operating on society. I was taught the history of the ancient near east entirely in this way. Many interesting aspects of the ancient world consequently were downgraded in importance, and some were not mentioned at all (we shall return to some of these). Since all ancient societies were deemed to be explicable in terms of this materialistic model, assessment of each culture was reduced to ‘how well did they do?’ Moral judgements were not encouraged.
  9. We need to look at how ancient societies understood themselves. A number of ancient writers concerned themselves with what we need to understand, including Plato and Aristotle. .Some of the details can be reasonably inferred, and can be added to the picture if they both inform the evidence, and are supported by the evidence.
  10. It has been noted that ‘completed action’ is of great importance in the ancient world, principally in the context of ritual. Why is this? It implies that ‘incompletness’ is a negative thing. Completeness was a characteristic of the gods. This is true whether we are considering the head of a pantheon, or the lowliest member of it. All are regarded as complete in themselves. It is a characteristic of divinity.
  11. We are used to thinking that it is the detail, the narrative of the ritual which ought to have been considered efficacious by those participating in the ritual. The detail and the narrative are important, but it is the completion of detail and narrative which are regarded as achieving the desired result.
  12. The Sumerian god Ea is the god of the waters of the Abyss. He is depicted in iconography as sitting enthroned in the deep. He is in the same place as the subject of his lordship. The kings of Babylon had themselves depicted sitting on the rolling sea in a ritual context, in order to, as we would have it, be associated with Ea, his responsibilities and characteristics. Thus their kingship is connected with the world of the divine.
  13. This however is to see the image within the ritual as a metaphor. It is much more than a metaphor. If the ritual is performed correctly and completely, not only is the king standing in the place of the god, the completeness establishes an essential identity with the god.
  14. This is a hard idea to follow.  We should recall that much of the cultural trajectory of the 1st millennium BCE in the Mediterranean and the Near east revolved around the pursuit of political hegemony, which would be achieved through overturning control of the highly theocratic Assyria. The Persians took it, and then Alexander. And Alexander styled himself a god.  To run Assyria was to represent the will of the divine on earth.
  15. Modern historians see this pursuit as the seeking of the trappings of divine kingship, which can then be used as part of the propaganda of the hegemony, thus buttressing it. But this is to slip past what might have been the understanding at the time, among ruling elites.  There was a long-standing discussion in the ancient world about whether or not a man could be a god, and how that transition might be effected.
  16. We need to look at the range of causes understood in the ancient world. We have good detail about the causes understood by the Greeks, through Aristotle. These were: formal, material, efficient, and final. The final cause is the ultimate teleological explanation. The formal cause, in the case of a statue, would be the idea of the statue, the material cause would be the wood, bronze or ivory out of which the statue is to be made, the efficient cause is the sculptor who gives the form to the statue, and the final cause is the reason or end for which the statue has been created.
  17. Each of these causes contributes to the completion of whatever it is that is being made. The final cause of an entity might not be framed in terms of an ultimate final cause – Aristotle describes the bricks of a house existing for the purpose of creating a house – but its completion would conjoin it with the ultimate final cause. We know that the completion of a sacred building was treated as a very serious matter, on a par with the proper completion of a performed ritual. Likewise the decommissioning of a sacred building was as important an act as its creation (in Mesopotamia very often marked by completely backfilling the structure).
  18. These ideas stretch back to the Bronze age and most likely far beyond, even if their formalization in writing dates from the fourth century BCE in Greece. The perfecting of objects, whether through refinement of their form, their material, the craftsmanship of their execution, their size (microliths and megaliths), through the purpose of the object, or through the birth and death of living things, can be identified in both archaeology, and references in texts.
  19. Aristotle in ‘On Coming-to-Be and Passing Away’ gives an interesting perspective on the relation of mundane reality to a more enduring reality. Forms come to be and pass away into something else. There are areas of stability, but essentially all mundane things he understood as alterations of something else.
  20. In his ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ it becomes clear that his teleological perspective means that moral action has implications for the status of the agent. He concludes that a principal characteristic of the gods is contemplation, and that the end result of achieving the intellectual virtues is a state of contemplation by the agent. We can take this characterization of the gods with a pinch of salt, in that it would not have offered much incentive for his pupil Alexander, but Aristotle does suggest that this is at least a form of emulation of the divine.
  21. Looking at the two works together, we can see that in his former work his view is that mundane reality is woven out of a supersensible reality which is transcendent .And he argues in the second  that the end of the moral life is a state of immobile contemplation.  Which again is a state which transcends mortal existence.
  22. This transcendent reality, it seems, does not have any obvious relation to mundane existence, since it is beyond change, and does not allow action. It is the supersensible reality from which mundane reality somehow emerges as a subset of possibility.
  23. It is only possible for this to happen (according to this line of argument) if the transcendent is connected in some way with the world of the mundane. Living form, judgement and decision are only possible in the mundane world, through common properties with reality itself. The importance of the connection with the supersensible world cannot be overestimated, and this is achieved through completions. 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Intentionality, Conjecture, and what is Holy


This is a suppressed chapter (to use the jargon) from The Sacred History of Being (2015). I removed it, together with some other chapters along the way, in order to focus the argument of the book more tightly. It looks at the role of intentionality in establishing commerce with the Divine, and the essentially phenomenological nature of how the Divine is both made and known by us. It draws parallels between the creation of gods in antiquity, and the setting up of saints in Heaven. Both represent instantiations of what is Holy.


***

It is unclear that the realm of the divine has reality. It is real, and at the same time it is not.  The only argument for the world of existence is that it is a poor copy of the divine world. And the divine world is uncertain. So how ‘real’ is the world of existence? What is the way out of this dilemma?

The answer is intentionality. The objective world is subject to change, as is the understanding of men. We cannot know the full properties of God, because, among other things, God is transcendent of human understanding. How can mortal man then understand the properties and nature of the divine, and how can the gods have a genuine involvement in the world? The answer arrived at, it would seem, is that the human understanding does not need to encompass the actual nature of the divine in order to have commerce with it. 

This is an exceptionally important point, since, beyond legitimizing commerce with the divine despite the definition of God as beyond human understanding, it also provides the intellectual basis for the creation of multiple gods. Essentially therefore the idea of isolating the properties of God, insofar as they can be understood, was understood to be a way of accessing the nature of these properties, and therefore to allow operations to take place, establishing a commerce between the divine and the world of change.

Intentionality explains why the ancients created a multiplicity of gods. If the divine itself cannot by definition be completely defined and understood, at least certain properties and attributes can be understood. These can therefore be defined and named as ways of accessing the divine. This does not at all conflict with the idea that the reality of the divine is in question. Instead this view argues that there is in fact a subjective component in the reality of the divine, at least insofar as it is possible for us to have commerce with it. That is to say, some aspects of the divine are accessible to the human mind. We cannot prove that it is real or that it exists in any sense, but despite this uncertainty, there are certain properties of the divine which are indisputable. Proof of the whole nature of the divine is unimportant, since this cannot, by the definition of the divine, be demonstrated.. We might then say that all connection with the divine therefore is an act of faith rather than certainty. The nature and power of the divine can be understood, defined, invoked and accessed by man.

Viewed in this way, we can see that each of the gods we encounter in ancient accounts represents a slice through the nature of divinity, so that one god has a special interest in one thing as opposed to another, a special set of characteristics or attributes, which more directly can be understood than an abstract and indefinable numinous concept of divinity. However the underlying numinous concept, in fact the objective numinous reality itself, requires to be real and present as the ground of being behind the multiplicity of gods. 

This explains the phenomenon of henotheism, found in ancient polytheism. Pharaoh, for example, as the incarnation of the the divine on earth, could ‘appear’ as himself, or could appear in any appropriate form of the divine. When smiting his enemies for example, he might appear as ‘Montu, in his great form.’ He might be depicted on a temple wall as Montu, rather than in the form of the king. It might also be the case that a divine pronouncement might involve the speaker moving successively from the voice and vocabulary associated with one god, to the mode of speech associated with another god, as appropriate. This has been found in Assyrian records, where someone recorded in a state of divine possession, speaks successively as the voice of different gods.

Considered in this way, the divine world is filled with a variety of gods. Some of these have been defined, and subsequently invoked. Other aspects of the underlying divine reality have not been defined or invoked, and remain as possibilities. In the world of existence, the divinities which have been defined were given representation in the form of images and statuary.

None of this should be taken to imply that polytheism initially arose from such a complex and philosophically subtle theory as this. We have much information about the growth of local pantheons in the near east, and the way in which local gods were absorbed into state pantheons, given increased importance over time, or diminished in importance, according to requirements. They would be given family relationships which they did not possess when they first arrived, and gain attributes and characteristics which they did not have when they were first born in the smaller urban centres. 

We cannot easily know to what extent there was an intellectual model behind the creation of polytheistic belief and worship from its first appearance in the archaeological and textual record. It is likely that much of what has been written about ancient polytheism from an anthropological perspective is probably correct, and valuable to our understanding. It is just that the account is incomplete from this limited perspective, and anthropologists have hardly ever seriously considered the possibility that some intellectual ideas might underpin the phenomenon as well.  

Those notionally equipped to explore this territory, the specialists in ancient philosophy and perhaps theologians, have had many reasons to stay out of this territory. For them, the possibility of the ancient presence of a sophisticated intellectual model, based on logical argument, is not something which can be easily entertained. This is something which belongs to the Greeks. Though the Greeks were polytheists, their polytheism antedates the beginnings of philosophy in the historical record, and therefore polytheism has no bearing on philosophy, or vice versa. Many writers on both Greek religion and philosophy have found this arrangement to be conveniently tidy and a boon to scholarship. But it is not the case.

Shortly before I began this work, Pope Benedict visited the UK in connection with the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. When I read the details of the process of Beatification (essentially of making saints), I was struck by the resemblance between the idea of this in the Catholic Church, and the idea of setting up gods in antiquity (which will be explored in more detail later on).  The idea is that someone has to request (in ancient parlance this would be to ‘invoke’) the assistance of a person, now deceased, who showed especial virtues in life, and has to receive a response to this request which amounts to a miracle.

This is worth unpicking in detail, in order to understand the logic which is involved. It is not clear why someone would invoke someone less than the divine itself, if the divine is on offer, unless the virtues of a lesser being seem more appropriate. In other words, the prospective saint offers what looks like a channel which is more likely to be successful than the supplicant making a direct appeal to a God who is both difficult to define, and to know. 

The Catholic Church itself promotes the idea of sainthood, and unambiguously points at likely candidates. Newman has been one of those for quite sometime. Two miracles are required for the final elevation to sainthood. Why miracles? Because miracles are defined as things which cannot be accounted for in terms of earthly understanding. These may (in the extreme) be things which defy our understanding of physics, but ordinarily are occurrences such as unexpected remission from terminal illness, which ‘defies’ orthodox medical science. This was indeed the case for the supplicant who invoked the assistance of John Henry Newman.

The argument therefore runs as follows: Newman has special status in Heaven because an appeal for his assistance was answered. Because the assistance defied earthly understanding and expectation, the result was a miracle which otherwise could not have occurred. Therefore his status in Heaven is proved*[1]. Thus it is that the Catholic Church sets up saints on earth, and also in Heaven.

The Catholic Church is not based on polytheistic belief.  So it is rather surprising to find that it supports the idea that divine intervention can occur via the saints, rather than directly through the divine father, or his incarnation on earth.

The only significant difference between the Vatican’s idea of saints and the ancients idea of gods is that all of the saints are supposed to have lived human lives before being elevated to a divine status in Heaven. The ancients did not subject themselves to such an unreasonable constraint, and created gods who had never lived, and who could never have endured existence in the world. They could do this because they understood a formal and technical mechanics underpinning connection between the earthly world of existence, and divinity. The mechanics are still available to us in the records.   

It might be in order here to recap a little on the nature of the intellectual model of reality which underpins polytheistic belief, as we find it reflected in Greek texts, particularly those by Plato.

The most perfect entity it is possible for man to conceive is God. God is reality itself. The world of existence as understood by man is imperfect, and consists of imperfect representations of reality. The world of appearance as understood by man is subject to change and corruption, whereas the world of divine reality as conceived by man is eternal.

God is real. Existence is full of representations, more or less false, more or less true. Reality and existence are opposed. Man can apprehend that this is the case.

Since existence is suspended from reality, as a poor image of it, it is subject to change. Since man is an existent creature, man’s perception of reality is also subject to change. Both the nature of things which are existent, and man’s perception of these changeable things, are perpetually in flux.

Man cannot have full understanding of the nature of the divine, since, by definition, the divine transcends the world of sensible reality, and existence. It is in essence transcendental, and to the fullest extent.

However there are a number of ways in which the world of existence can access the divine reality. Several characteristic features of the divine remain in the sensible world, and retain their divine natures.  The connection does depend absolutely on the idea that the divine is complete, is total in its nature, is the ultimate limit of reality, and is the final end.  These things have analogues in the world of existence, and so there is a route of commerce open between the world of the divine and the world of existence.

Man has connection with the world of the divine through things and properties which are present in the world of existence which participate in the nature of the divine. These things include: completion, totality, the limit, the end, the perfection of a thing, a nature, a property, or an act, and so on. It also includes infinitive and superlative action, and also its extreme opposite, inaction. Greatness too, which we found to be an insufficient concept in the medieval version of an ontological argument concerning the divine, is also something which may open the way to the divine. The ancients also included ‘fame’ as one of the properties which connect man with the divine. We can explore the wide range of concepts and properties which can connect us with the divine along the way.  We shall find that justice, beauty, magnanimity, ethical and moral perfection, and honour, are also included in this list.

It is not necessary for us to have a complete understanding of the divine in order to access aspects of that higher reality. In fact a focus on particular characteristics, a ‘bracketing’ of the most relevant aspects of the divine, increases the efficacy of the commerce with the divine. Thus the intentionality of the supplicant is a factor in the opening of contact with the divine. There are other ideas associated with the strengthening of the connection with the divine which we shall explore. These include reduplication, the striking together of images and concepts, the collection or heaping up of things, especially where these result in reduplication of properties; the act of drawing near to the divine, or to the image of the divine, and so on. The deliberate opposition of ideas and images is also relevant to the business of establishing a commerce with the divine. For connection with the divine represents an alteration of state.

And to reiterate a key point, none of this proves the reality of God. It merely establishes a range of correspondences between a concept of God and a hypothetical Being who might or might not have reality. Instead, the entire intellectual system underpinning polytheism, at least in its later stages, was rooted in the paradoxical and transcendent notion of the divine, which necessarily defied human comprehension. So, there was no proof available, but within this world view, ‘proof’ conclusive to the human understanding would have demolished the entire edifice.




[1] It is proved by the fact that it could not ordinarily have happened. This is a tacit admission that what is real, what is possible, at the level of divine reality, may be entirely contrary to what we understand as possible in the world of existence. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Leibniz on the Existence of God



Leibniz wrote:

Although I am for innate ideas, and in particular for that of God, I do not think that the demonstration of the Cartesians drawn from the idea of God are perfect. I have shown fully elsewhere (in the ‘Actes de Leipsic,’ and in the ‘Memoires de Trevoux’) that what Descartes has borrowed from Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, is very beautiful and really very ingenious, but that there is still a gap therein to be filled. This celebrated archbishop, who was without doubt one of the most able men of his time, congratulates himself, not without reason, for having discovered a means of proving the existence of God a priori, by means of its own notion, without recurring to its effects. And this is very nearly the force of his argument: God is the greatest or (as Descartes says) the most perfect of beings, or rather a being of supreme grandeur and perfection, including all degrees thereof. That is the notion of God. See now how existence follows from this notion. To exist is something more than not to exist, or rather, existence adds a degree to grandeur and perfection, and as Descartes states it, existence is itself a perfection. Therefore this degree of grandeur and perfection, or rather this perfection which consists in existence, is in this supreme all-great, all-perfect being: for otherwise some degree would be wanting in it, contrary to its definition. Consequently this supreme being exists.

Again here the problem is the idea that ‘existence’ is a perfection. Later Kant would object that existence is necessarily a  property of anything which we might consider, and therefore the idea of ‘existence’ as a property of anything is irrelevant. However, much of what Liebniz has to say from this point on is interesting and relevant to the argument.

*** [my paragraph division]

The Scholastics, not excepting even their Doctor Angelicus,*[1] have misunderstood this argument, and have taken it as a paralogism;*[2] in which respect they were altogether wrong, and Descartes, who studied quite a long time the scholastic philosophy at the Jesuit College of La Fleche, had great reason for re-establishing it. It is not a paralogism, but it is an imperfect demonstration, which assumes something that must still be proved in order to render it mathematically evident;

*** [my paragraph division]

 That is, it is tacitly assumed that this idea of the all-great or all-perfect being is possible, and implies no contradiction. And it is already something that by this remark it is proved that, assuming that God is possible, he exists, which is the privilege of divinity alone. We have the right to presume the possibility of every being, and especially that of God, until some one proves the contrary. So that this metaphysical argument already gives a morally demonstrative conclusion, which declares that according to the present state of our knowledge we must judge that God exists, and act in conformity thereto. But it is to be desired, nevertheless, that clever men achieve the demonstration with the strictness of a mathematical proof, and I think I have elsewhere said something that may serve this end.

That the most perfect Being exists, according to Leibniz:

I call every simple quality which is positive and absolute, or expresses whatever it expresses without any limits, a perfection. But a quality of this sort, because it is simple, is therefore irresolvable or indefinable, for otherwise, either it will not be a simple quality but an aggregate of many, or, if it is one, it will be circumscribed by limits and so be known through negations of further progress contrary to the hypothesis, for a purely positive quality was assumed.

From these considerations it is not difficult to show that all perfections are compatible with each other or can exist in the same subject.

For let the proposition be of this kind:

A and B are incompatible

(for understanding by A and B two simple forms of this kind or perfections, and it is the same if more are assumed like them), it is evident that it cannot be demonstrated without the resolution of the terms A and B, of each or both; for otherwise their nature would not enter into the ratiocination and the incompatibility could be demonstrated as well from any others as from themselves. But now (by hypothesis) they are irresolvable. Therefore this proposition can not be demonstrated from these forms.

But it might certainly be demonstrated by these if it were true, because it is not true per se, for all propositions necessarily true are either demonstrable or known per se.

Therefore this proposition is not necessarily true.

It is granted, therefore, that either a subject of all perfections or the most perfect being can be known.

Whence it is evident that it also exists, since existence is contained in the number of the perfections. 

 Liebniz concludes by saying that he ‘showed this reasoning to D. Spinoza when I was in the Hague, who thought it solid; for when at first he opposed it, I put it in writing and read this paper before him.'








[1] I.e., Thomas Aquinas.
[2] A fallacious argument or illogical conclusion, especially one committed by mistake, or believed by the speaker to be logical.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Eighteen Meditations


Understanding Ancient Thought (published at midnight, Eastern Standard Time, August 20, 2017. Available for pre-order from August 8th). 

Eighteen meditations on our understanding of ancient history, on the importance of philosophical ideas in antiquity, and also on our understanding of the human mind, then and now.

The ancient world is often very mysterious to us, since its inhabitants thought within quite different models of reality. After the passage of two or three millennia, it is hard for us to make sense of the assemblage of information which has survived the enormous passage of time. Sometimes the nature of the evidence is problematic, and sometimes our approach to that evidence is the problem: we carry intellectual baggage which often makes it very difficult to know and understand what we are looking at.

In essence, this collection of essays attempts, as far as possible, to understand the ancient world within its original context, and to highlight where modern thought and the modern mind introduce obstacles to what can be understood.

The chapter list:

Divination in Antiquity was written in the latter stages of The Sacred History of Being. It was uploaded as a post to my website, and I promoted the essay by adding in brackets ‘and the sense it made’. Most people have no idea why divinatory procedures would ever have made sense in antiquity, but there is a sense to it, once the conceptual model in operation is grasped. This essay explores that conceptual model. 

Knowledge and Esoteric Doctrine concerns scholarly disinterest in the role of esoteric ideas and doctrine in ancient models of reality. Partly this disinterest is because the esoteric is, by definition,  kept secret and unknown, and partly because it is assumed that esoteric doctrine would have had no connection with abstract and universal ideas known to us, and therefore must remain unintelligible to us, even if we could disinter the details. The first of these appeals to the evidential invisibility of what is esoteric, and the second, to its irrational nature. Plato’s esoteric doctrine however is in plain view. We need to look for evidence, rather than presuming that it is not to be had.

Being, Knowledge and Belief in Israel is an expanded version of a chapter which appeared in The Sacred History of Being (The Idea of Being in Israel) which looked at the body of Mesopotamian ideas about the gods and the divine through the extensive commentary on these ideas present in the books of the Old Testament, and in documents from Assyria. The chapter also explored how Old Testament ideas about images were understood by the Christian writer Tertullian, in the early second century of the common era. Now supplemented by a discussion of the problematic relationship between monotheism and polytheism in the ancient Near East.

The Concept of the Plenum in Babylon argues that the description of Marduk in the Babylonian New Year Festival liturgy (The Enuma Elish) and the fact that the described creation was two-fold (it began before Marduk appeared, and was subsequently destroyed), indicates that their creation was understood to emerge from a plenum, in which all things potentially exist. This is an abstract conception which is not supposed to be present in Mesopotamia in the early 1st millennium B.C.E.

Pleroma, Cosmos, and Physical Existence explores the kind of discussion that would necessarily underpin the idea of a plenum or pleroma as the root of physical creation.  The discussions closely parallel some of those found in Plato, including the question of whether reality retains its nature after the production of a physical reality.

The Divine and the Limit explores the prominence of Janus in the ritual life of the Romans. In the songs of the Salii (‘jumpers’ or dancers) he was called the good creator, and the god of gods; he is elsewhere named the oldest of the gods and the beginning of all things.  The king, and in later times the rex sacrōrum, sacrificed to him. At every sacrifice he was remembered first; in every prayer he was the first invoked, being mentioned even before Jupiter. He is especially associated with the idea of limit, which is a preoccupation of a number of ancient cultures.

Logical Modality in Classical Athens finds that though we have recognised only one logical modality for more than two millennia, there were in fact two. One of them was appropriate to earthbound existence; the other supplied a rational basis for contact with the divine.

Sameness and Difference in Plato is a further discussion of the idea of the Plenum.  Philosophical writing about the divine in the west departed from the consideration of reality as something intricately bound up with a plenum during the Middle Ages, and as a result, philosophical argument about the divine, all the way up to the present day, deals poorly with certain issues, and no longer resembles the kind of argument about the divine found in ancient literature.

Shar Kishati, and the Cult of Eternity is a discussion of the hypothetical core of the ancient understanding of Reality as something which might be separated from everything else (in a Husserlian sense), though it does not mean that such a hypothetical core was separable from the rest of the religious and theological implex of ideas which constituted Greek and Mesopotamian religion. The point of the exercise was to explore what was actually essential to that implex of ideas, and to get a better understanding of why it was important to the functioning of the ritual universe, in both Greece and Mesopotamia.

The Harmony of the Soul explores the idea of Justice discussed in Plato’s Republic, which argues that the pursuit of special excellences by individuals, in terms of skills, and moral and intellectual virtue, without reference to the activities of other individuals, was understood to result in a harmonious arrangement of society.  They are joined together as a consequence of the fact that each of the virtues is complete and perfected. A parallel notion of the virtue of special excellences in ancient Assyria is discussed in the chapter ‘Standing in the Place of Ea’.

Synoikismos and the Origins of the Polis discusses what we know of the idea of the polis, which appears to have been modelled according to a conception of the divine. Thucydides tells us that, from the time of the first kings down to Theseus (the legendary founder of Athens, whose name is probably related to the verb tithemi, "to set in place") the people of Attica always lived in (their own) poleis; unless there was some common danger they would not come together in council with the king, but each individual polis would govern itself. Theseus did away with the multiplicity of poleis and their separate councils and governments.

Teotihuacan and the river of Mercury explores the symbolic function of this highly reflective metal, recently found inside a tomb in Mexico and known, on the basis of historical records, to be present also inside the Qin tomb in China, and finds parallels with such ideas (mirroring the heavens to provide connection between transcendent reality and the earthly world) in both Greece and in Mesopotamia.

Beyond the Religious Impulse Sometimes the important bit of evidence which will enable us to make sense of something is present, but not recognised, because the scholar is asking the wrong questions, and possibly asking questions within the wrong analytical paradigm. In fact there is a very large quantity of material available to scholars which can tell us much about the intellectual life of the ancient world, but because of the contemporary intellectual and cultural landscape, with its relatively inflexible interpretative structures, developed over many years, it simply cannot be seen for what it is. Worse, if the evidence is present but indicates counter-intuitive conclusions, it is unlikely ever to become part of the discussion. Better to grasp at straws.

Frazer and the Association of Ideas Like other scholars, then and now, Frazer did not recognise the other logical modality in classical Athens, though he read the relevant texts. Instead, he devised an explanatory mechanism of his own. This was based on the phenomenon of the association of ideas, argued by John Locke in the seventeenth century as a description of how we think. Applying this to human behaviour across history and cultures, he concluded that much human activity could be understood in terms of intellectual error. The phenomenon of the association of ideas is real enough. But it isn’t the basis of religious life in antiquity.

Aristotle’s Four Causes We recognise only one cause in the modern world, which is the efficient cause. This is concerned with work, energy and power. In antiquity Aristotle described four causes, which are discussed here. Did Aristotle conjure these by himself, or were these concepts understood across the civilised world for centuries before Classical Greece?

Cultural Parallels and False Narratives discusses our understanding of what religion is, the etymology of the word (including Cicero’s definition), and compares the Hindu concept of religion with those of Greece and Rome. The evidence makes more sense if we talk instead in terms of divine cult.

Plato’s Point of View  - Plato’s main concern was what was truly real, which remained necessarily unchanging and itself, and therefore could not be present, at least as itself, in the world of the here and now. This is not however, how Plato is understood or represented by modern philosophers. There are two main schools of thought: the first is that his position is consistent throughout his work, but his work is shaped by an unknown agrapha (unwritten esoteric doctrine). The second is that his work represents a discursive exploration of philosophical questions, which comes to no firm conclusion.

Standing in the Place of Ea explores the role of the King in ancient Assyria, as the vizier of the god Assur. He was trained in the Adapa discipline, which is related to the myth of Adapa. He was required to be skilled in crafts, spear-throwing, scholarship, mathematics, divination, etc., and to excel other men, as chosen for the role by Assur. Thus he would emulate the knowledge and power of Ea, the divine sage whose home was the Abzu, the abyss at the root of creation.


Buying a copy of Understanding Ancient Thought


The book will be available in eBook format from a number of large retailers, including ItunesBarnes & NobleBlio,  KoboInktera, and other retailers around the world. So, if you are already signed up to an account with one of those, you can buy the book in exactly the same way as any other book. 


The eBook is in ePub format, which can be read on Macs, iPads, iPhones, etc, and most other tablets, irrespective of the operating operating system they use. If you have an Amazon Kindle, the ePub formatting of the book can be converted easily to the MOBI format, which the Kindle uses, with the excellent eBook management software Calibre, which can be downloaded free. 

The book can be read on a PC, laptop or notebook computer, in ePub or any other eBook format, using the Adobe Digital Editions software, which is also available free, in both Mac and PC formats. Supports conversion to many formats, including PDF. 

The principal distributor of Understanding Ancient Thought is Smashwords. The book (from mid-August 2017) can be downloaded from Smashwords directly, after a signup which takes just a minute or so. The book can be paid for using a credit or debit card, or with Paypal, if you have an account with them. After purchase, the book goes into a library space associated with your signup, and it can be downloaded on to your device from there. Just follow the link.

The book is around 53k words, is written with the interested lay reader in mind, with the minimum of jargon; is properly documented, and with around 10 pages of end notes. Probably it will change your life. Available in ePub format.

Text modified August 12 2017.