Rolling Thunder: Reader Responses to 'The Sacred History of Being'

April 22, 2018

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I've taken to including the phrase 'Greece is not the 'birthplace' of Western Civilization' in some tweets, in response to the occasional public assertion that Greece is the birthplace of Western Civilization. Hence the response below:

Keith R. Amery @amery_1 21h

Wasn't this covered decades ago by "Black Athena"?

Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator

A radical text: The Sacred History of Being (published 2015). Greece is not the 'birthplace' of Western Civilization. http://shrineinthesea.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-sacred-history-of-being-as-its.html?spref=tw #Philosophy #History #Religion #Cult #Assyria #Greece #Mesopotamia #Anthropology pic.twitter.com/nVohrpe9Be

Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator 19h
Replying to @amery_1

Bernal argued that Egypt was a better candidate, and that the deprecation of Egyptian thought was a construct of the Enlightenment. But he wasn't equipped to dig systematically for evidence of philosophical thought in ancient Egypt and in Mesopotamia. That's the difference.

[By coincidence the article 'Shar Kishati and the Cult of Eternity' was scheduled to follow shortly afterwards, and Keith Amery kindly retweeted it. It illustrates how different SHB is from Martin Bernal's Black Athena, in approach and in content. Though a thorough reading of Bernal's book was one of the reasons I went off to study the ancient world.]

Keith R. Amery @amery_1 21h

Shar Kishati and the Cult of Eternity

Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator

'Shar Kishati' and The Cult of Eternity #Mesopotamia #Philosophy #Abstraction #Cult http://shrineinthesea.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/shar-kishati-and-cult-of-eternity.html?spref=tw pic.twitter.com/DSNS1ex5Kj


Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator
Replying to @amery_1

You've noticed this article, which gives some idea of my approach.

10:03pm · 21 Apr 2018


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There is a lot of discussion in The Sacred History of Being of the deification of inanimate statues in the ancient world. This discussion covers both the intellectual model within which the deification made sense,  and two contemporary descriptions of the ritual by which the statues were made divine. The issue of deification and de-deification of statues came up on Twitter in connection with an episode of 'Civilisations' presented by Mary Beard, 'The Eye of Faith'. I responded to the Egyptologist Margaret Maitland first:


Interesting exploration of the controversy of religious imagery on #Civilisations by @wmarybeard: art dangerously entangled with the divine. In ancient Egypt, superseded statuary had to be ritually disposed, a remarkable example being 20,000+ statues buried under Karnak temple


'art dangerously entangled with the divine'. A bit tendentious perhaps? the Egyptians would not have seen it like that.

Replying to @Rotorvator

It was a subject of discussion in the tv programme #Civilisations. I agree that it was probably not generally seen as an issue in ancient Egypt, an exception being what do you do with a divine statue when you stop treating it as divine?


The regular process of the installation and de-installation of gods (not merely 'images' of the divine) suggests something which we are no longer comfortable in taking on board, I've not seen the relevant episode of Civilisations yet. I'll catch up with it this afternoon.

@wmarybeard The Civilisations episode was miles better than any of the episodes from the Kenneth Clark series. But sound? Why should the inanimate nature of a divine statue imply that it is a mere image of the divine, and not the divine itself? That's a modern assumption.


I agree if you look at classical sculpture the distinction between deity and statue of deity can be very hard to draw. Christianity and other world religions tend to debate the boundary fiercely




It's not that the statue was seen as divine in itself so much as a repository for the divine and consequently as something "infected" with it. In this way the cache is analogous to a genizah


The genizah analogy is apt: what is commissioned needs to be decommissioned at some point. The idea however that divine statues were not seen as divine in themselves but rather as repositories for the divine, is a modern fudge.

March 25, 2018.

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Robert Nagle wrote the following in his blogpost on interesting offerings from Smashwords at reduced prices, during 'Read an eBook' week 2018 (March 4-10):

[The] Sacred History of Being by Thomas Yaeger. This book  of ancient scholarship by a scholar of ancient languages  intrigued me so much that I ended up buying the ebook at 75% off.  The book argues that philosophy and the conception of the divine, the nature of reality and being came about well before the Greek philosophers; Yaeger examines historical evidence from cultures predating the Greeks to establish this thesis.

 Another fascinating and slightly more accessible book, Understanding Ancient Thought  tries to get inside the mind of ancient humans from different cultures in Greece, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Mexico and Asia. You can view the Table of Contents for this book on Yaeger’s blog.

[http://shrineinthesea.blogspot.co.uk/p/first-look-at-my-new-book-which-should.html]

Thanks Robert! At: http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/2018/03/2018-overlooked-ebook-gems-for-1-or-less-on-smashwords-ebook-week-march-4-10/

(scroll down to Social Science and History).

TY, March 10, 20I8


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A response to an article,  'The Esoteric Conception of Divinity in the Ancient World', published in the Ritman Library Newsletter in December 2015. The article discussed The Sacred History of Being. I didn't spot the response until January 26, 2018.


Mark A. Lajeunesse says:

October 4, 2017 at 8:26 am Absolutely enlightening work. I would like to read your book when I finally get the leisure time to do so. I am a full time student at the University of Albany and have shared many of the same interests as you do. I would also like to get in contact with you to get at your understanding of things that I have thought about often. I often feel weighed down at university and sometimes even hindered by the conventions employed by professors especially regarding history and the history of ideas. Overwhelmed at the moment with thoughts that what I am doing is an egregious waste. I hope it is not, regardless I digress… as I said before. Absolutely enlightening and illuminating work.

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A comment from Joel in ga on a key theme of The Sacred History of Being:

joel in ga 28 December 2017 at 23:13

"Intellectual imposture"--nice phrase. Now I'll probably be looking for opportunities to use it :)

"This suggests the uncritical acceptance of space and time as something which exists apart from the Divine, and which is perhaps a fatal objection to the ontological argument." -- This is a fascinating point. Realism as opposed to idealism seems to be the default position of most apologists for theism. ....

Thomas Yaeger 29 December 2017 at 13:12

Thanks for your comment. I didn't invent the phrase - I borrowed it from Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, who wrote a book on postmodern academic writing, with the title 'Intellectual Impostures'. A great book, which by a strange coincidence was excellently reviewed by Richard Dawkins (published in Nature, in 1998) as 'Postmodernism Disrobed'. http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/dawkins.html

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One of the articles I linked in a tweet on the 22nd of December 2017 was:



I received a response from Bernard Lamborelle, who has been reading The Sacred History of Being: 

Replying to @Rotorvator

Indeed. Tell me who your "God" is and I will tell you what I think of it...

Replying to @blambore

The hook is misleading. If you read the article, I will respond.

Replying to @Rotorvator

I did read the article and agree. My comment was more along the lines that we should always start by defining what we mean by "God" before we can communicate efficiently on the topic...

Replying to @blambore

I see. Many of my articles take as their point of departure the text of 'The Sacred History of Being' (2015), which is an extensive discussion of what God is, the origins of the concept, and the weaknesses of human argument concerning what is Divine.

Replying to @Rotorvator

I'm still reading your book... and I very much enjoy the intelligent, well informed discussion on the notion of "God" and [...] being. I often regret that too many "atheism vs theism" debates amount to little more then a pissing contest between egos...

3:47pm · 22 Dec 2017

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An exchange in November 2017 with someone tweeting as 'BPBowne'. Borden Parker Bowne was an important American philosopher, born in 1847, died 1910, who taught philosophy for more than thirty years. He described his work as 'Kantianised Berkeleyism'. Much of his most interesting work was in the area of metaphysics.

The tweeter regularly posted quotations by Bowne, and I responded to one of these. I've put the exchanges into chronological order.

1. Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator
Replying to @BPBowne

A surprising quotation, which would put Parker Bowne in territory similar to Locke's association of ideas. A Platonist would say that forms and ideas in the world relate to those in transcendent reality, and we understand them because our souls participate in that reality.

2. 18 Nov 17, 5:27pm
Borden Parker Bowne @BPBowne

Thanks for your reply. Bowne seemed to be in the line of philosophical succession from Locke to Berkeley to the German theistic idealist Lotze. In Philosophy of Theism, the earlier version of Bowne's Theism, Bowne recalls how Locke observed that the universe consists of a system of relations. Bowne elaborated in Theism on how relations are the work of the mind. Plato's view as you have described it seems rather compatible with Bowne's. Like Berkeley, Bowne would attribute to the Divine Mind ideas transcending human ideas and would explain that we understand them because the laws of intelligence are the same for the Divine mind as for the human mind. In Theism, Bowne frames an epistemological argument for theism from the fact that the external world is thought-shaped.

3. 19 Nov 17, 5:35pm
Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator

And thanks for yours too, which clarifies what was a bit puzzling. The difference between Locke and Berkeley is that Locke, though talking about a universe consisting of a system of relations, was not talking about a system of relations within  Divine mind. J. G. Frazer adopted Lockes' ideas wholesale, but refused to write about the concept of Being, since he said 'nothing can be predicated of Being'.  Which, for a cultural historian, is a pretty extraordinary thing to say.

Best, Thomas

4. 23 Nov 17, 12:41am
Borden Parker Bowne @BPBowne

Excellent blog post on Berkeley. Well crafted summary giving a sense of the power of his view.

5. Thomas Yaeger @Rotorvator

Many thanks! It's actually a full chapter from my book 'The Sacred History of Being', published in November 2015. It is part of an extensive attack on the validity of the ontological argument, which doesn't resemble argument about the nature and reality of the Divine in antiquity. The OA makes it nearly impossible for us to understand ancient religion, and the book is an attempted corrective. Berkeley's argument was quite close to the kind of discussion which took place in antiquity - I included this chapter to show that there were other ways to discuss Divine questions.


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From Ben Thomas (@writingben), August 18, 2017.

Hi Thomas,

[.....]  my historical novel "The Cradle and the Sword," set in ancient Mesopotamia -- and, I might add, significantly influenced by "The Sacred History of Being" -- went on sale on Amazon today. [......]  Thank you, again, for providing such stimulating material for discussion, and for inspiration in my own (fictional) work. --Ben

Ben's book is at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0692922636/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_ttl_sol_0

I replied:

Ben, hi.  Congratulations on a very professional looking job. I look forward to reading it. Thanks for the heads-up.

My third book, 'Understandng Ancient Thought' will be available in ePub format on August 21. It expands on some of the discussion in SHB, but it can be read separately. Details at:

http://shrineinthesea.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/nineteen-meditations.html

Good luck with your book!

Best, Thomas

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From Simo Parpola, April 14, 2017.

Many thanks for sending me your book, The Sacred History of Being. I read it with great interest and appreciation. It is well written and planned, the result of many years of serious thinking and research, and I really hope that it will attain its goal and help shake the outdated paradigm of the Greek origin of philosophy that continues to be maintained in academic circles. I'm sure that much of the Mesopotamian evidence that you present is totally new to your readers and should induce them to revise their views.

I liked your discussion of the "subjective element in the identification of quality evidence that makes good science so hard to do" (pp. 66-67) and the "unwillingness to go beyond what can be commonly understood" (p. 79), and I learned a great deal about philosophy in general as well in reading the book.

...

Best wishes and warm regards,

Simo

I replied, April 15, 2017:

Dear Simo,

I' am so pleased that you found my book to the point. And well written (that took a lot of time, and was intentional).

....

Best wishes, Thomas


Tweet by Nick Zacharewicz @NickSCZach (January 2017):
"All about how history is built by inclusion and omission. Even written histories have to hang together like a good story."

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I had an interesting conversation with Ben Thomas about the book at the beginning of September. This is an edited version of the exchange, published with his permission.

Ben Thomas (@writingben) Sept 1 2016

I'm about halfway through your book, and I'm absolutely fascinated -- not only because you're casting light on some of the most neglected and dismissed aspects of pre-Classical thought, but because a lot of your assertions resonate deeply with some of my own conclusions. For example, I've done no formal research on Kaballah or Assyrian iconography -- but ... it occurred to me that the gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon fit perfectly into the sephirotic diagram. I even drew a series of doodles in which I inserted the cuneiform symbols for the gods in their corresponding places on the diagram.
[…] I say these things to point out that even with no formal background in this field, and without any exposure to your work or thought, was drawn toward the very same ideas you explore in your book, by my sheer love for the aesthetic and thematic textures of ancient Near Eastern thought. Finding those ideas in your book is an intensely thrilling experience for me.

I replied:

Many thanks for your initial reactions to my book. As you will see later in the book the relationship between the Kabbalah and the Mesopotamian pantheon is established pretty firmly. I wasn't the one to find it - The Assyriologist Simo Parpola wrote a paper about it in 1993. We had a discussion about that relationship between late 2004 and early 2006. It is interesting however to discover that the possible relationship was suspected by others quite independently.

Sep 1

The important point is that the sefirotic diagram features a transcendent absolute. No problem if the origin of the Kabbalah is in the medieval period. If it can be traced back to the 14th cent BCE however, then the history of philosophy needs a rewrite.

Sep 1

However I will not spoil the experience of the book for you, if I can avoid it. That it argues that the history of philosophy needs some revision is in the advertisement for SHB.

Ben replied the following day:
Just finished the book, and left a very positive review on Goodreads. I really do think it deserves more attention than it seems to be getting, and I hope it will as more people read it. As I said in my earlier message, your thesis helps a lot of disparate elements -- symbols, artistic choices, odd passages of text, similar traditions -- fall into place in a very logical way. Regarding the mes, do you think they were strictly abstract attributes, or is it possible that they were instantiated in physical objects at some point in the tradition? For example, in the story of Inanna and Enki, it's clear not only that Enki stores the mes in a particular place in the E-Abzu, but that Inanna is able to display them to the people of Uruk. I wonder if there was an older Sumerian tradition of "making mes" in some physical sense.
Sep 2

I replied:

Many thanks for your comments, and for the positive review, which hits the mark. I'm impressed that you got through it so fast! As regards the Mes, there are abstractions, and images of abstractions. So they could be instantiated in physical objects, just as the gods could be instantiated in statues. It was also possible for the melammu of the gods to be put on, and taken off. So properties and attributes can be moved around. There is evidence for example that properties and attributes have passed from one god to another in the liturgy of the Babylonian New Year Festival, possibly in response to political changes. The understanding of the Mes in Sumer was essentially the same as later on (the term is Sumerian), but I chose not to go there for the purposes of this book
.
Sep 2

Ben replied:

That makes a lot of sense about the mes.... It's clear that the ancient Mesopotamians didn't draw the lines between the physical and the abstract in the same ways we do -- and as you point out in the book, anyone with divine status could step across those boundaries. [....]
The following review was left by Ben Thomas at the Goodreads page for The Sacred History of Being, and he gave the book five stars.


The ancient Greeks didn't invent philosophy. They themselves acknowledged the intellectual debts they owed to older Egyptian and Babylonian thinkers. Yaeger's thesis in this book is that we actually have abundant evidence of the nature of ancient Mesopotamian philosophy - not in the form of written texts, but through artistic symbols and literary metaphors. Through these allusions, a picture of a rich Mesopotamian intellectual tradition emerges: a tradition that may be the common ancestor of many esoteric doctrines found throughout the ancient Mediterranean. 

Finally, Ben also mentioned the book on www.medium.com (September 27), in response to a user question:

One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read .... recently is The Sacred History of Being by Thomas Yaeger, which is available in ebook format. This book makes (what’s in my view) a very strong argument that the ancient Greeks didn’t invent philosophy at all, but were drawing on deeply rooted, well-developed Eastern traditions that were widely known throughout the world at that time. This thesis is a very controversial one — not “historical canon” by any means— but in any case, the book provides an excellent introduction to the history of ideas in ancient Asia.
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Comment From 'Texelar' (Paul Boudreau) on the list of questions relating to The Sacred History of Being, October 16 2015, shortly before publication of the book:

Interesting stuff! They are all questions worth asking. My personal interests end temporally where the Greeks took up the banner of higher thought. I make my case here: 
http://www.awhico.com/blog/egyptianpyramidmysticism.

There is so much evidence for cultural elevation before the time of the Greeks that it is a wonder we have the modern concepts of "progress". You capture it with your Question #30.

I replied:

Texelar, hi. Thanks for your comments, and for the links to your blog pages.

The intellectual world before the Greeks of the middle of the 1st millennium BCE *was* very sophisticated. But it and the moderns for the most part speak different conceptual languages, with different assumptions and understandings. So it is possible for the moderns to fail completely to recognise what they are looking at.

One of the functions of SHB is to explore and explain some of the sophistication and the complexity of ideas in the ancient world (and not just in Greece). Another is to show intellectual continuities between Greece and other cultures; and also the continuities which exist between the 2nd millennium BCE and the 1st.

Certain technical details of ancient civilisations, their art, their poetry, their architecture, their rituals, etc., illustrate how they understood the nature of reality, once you understand something of the armature of ideas they employed to understand their world. SHB is very much focussed on these technical details, which have been described before, but not much subjected to interpretation.

We have the modern concept of progress because we choose to look at the past from the point of view of the present. It's where we are, after all. Hard to bear the idea that we represent a shadow of what once was.

Best, Thomas.


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