Heresy

 

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(What follows is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book Messed-Up! ©2016 Scott Davis, All Rights Reserved to Author)

Ancient religions tended to be complex:  there were usually a whole pantheon of gods, each of which had his own province or specialty. This led to a host of problems, mostly centering around the idea of offerings. While ordinary people could maybe afford to secure the goodwill of one or even two gods, no one could afford to make offerings to them all! For most people, this wasn’t a huge problem: they just had to figure out which aspect of their lives was most in need of help, and make offerings to whichever god was in charge of that. Farmers would make offerings to the deity of the harvest, hunters would make offerings to the deity of the hunt, warriors would make offerings to the deity of war, and housewives and hookers would make offerings to the deity of love (in most cases this was a goddess. Oddly, housewives made offerings to this deity that they might become pregnant, while prostitutes tended to make offerings to her that they might not.)

(Don’t make that face. Prostitutes did, in fact, have their own Temple, at least in the ancient city of Corinth. There, the Greek geographer Strabo states, “The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by men and women to the service of the goddess.” His other remarks on the subject involve sailors and ship captains spending fortunes there. Look, I’m not joking, ok? Google it.)

This was all well and good for ordinary folk, but a king had to be concerned with all these things. If there was a bad harvest, an unsuccessful military campaign, or a storm that wrecked all the ships, the king tended to get the blame. Whether they genuinely felt responsible for the fortunes of their kingdoms, or were simply concerned that too much bad press would see them out of a job, kings felt the need to propitiate all the important gods. You might think that a king could afford to make offerings right and left, but you’d be wrong:  kings had to maintain armies, and pay for monuments – and even with slave-labor for monuments, the things weren’t cheap!

A number of useful end-arounds began to be used – the most popular was for the king to declare himself to be a god:  this basically enabled him to make offerings to himself for successful harvests, wars, shipping ventures, etc. The priesthood might complain that this was cheating – but this very often resulted in the king passing laws like “All Priests will hereinafter be Eunuchs”. People be stupid – but once the king of Babylon made this proclamation, priests far and wide learned to keep their mouths shut and just deal with it!

(It is a truism of history that men will usually compromise their principles in order to avoid castration, as can be seen in most modern marital relations. In these enlightened modern times, most women keep their husband’s testicles in their panty-drawer.)

Many ancient civilizations declared their kings to be gods, and Egypt was no exception, but, where other ancient civilizations might put up a few minor monuments, and raise an army only when they needed one, the Egyptians tended to keep a standing army, and make regular raids on the surrounding peoples so as to enslave them, because they were really into making monuments. Big ones. Like Pyramids. As time went on, each Pharaoh felt the need to out-do the last one, and it was damned expensive, even though the Pharaohs used the standard “I am a god” dodge to reduce the cost of religious observances.

Then, in about 1350 BC, a Pharaoh of Egypt had an epiphany.

Among their other weirdnesses, the Egyptian royal line was known for inbreeding on a scale that would have shocked even modern Mississippi.  One consequence of this was that Pharaoh Amenhotep IV was a spindly little grotesque who felt he could do as he pleased, and was too imbecilic to realize there would eventually be consequences. Soon after taking the throne he declared A) he wasn’t a god, B) none of the other gods were gods, either, and C) except Aten, who was THE one and only supreme creator and source of all blessings.

The people of Egypt were rattled. It was like daddy had just sat them down and declared Santa Claus to be a hoax. Worse, none of them had even heard of Aten, whom, the Pharaoh explained, was the deified disk of the sun, but was not the sun god, Amon-Ra, who was a fraud. The priests of all those former gods and goddesses were rattled, too, and found themselves fired without even unemployment pay (which wouldn’t be invented for another 4000 years) – and with no place to live, since Pharaoh had shut down all the temples. The artists of Egypt were also rattled, since Pharaoh decreed that A) it was illegal to depict any of the former gods and goddesses, and B) it soon after became illegal to depict Aten, who had transcended his creation and could no longer be adequately depicted in any fashion – for an Egyptian artist, these two proclamations were a disaster, since by far the greatest source of their income had been depicting gods!

Pharaoh Amenhotep ( which meant “Amon is Pleased”) soon decided he was not pleased with a name that referenced a fraudulent deity, and renamed himself Akhenaten (which meant “Effective for Aten” … something seems to be lost in translation.) He was also not pleased when he looked around himself at the city of Thebes, where, sadly, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a depiction of a god (and seriously upsetting the cat, who had also been considered a deity before Akhenaten nixed the pantheon.) This, finally, rattled the slave-laborers, since the little fruitcake ordered them to build him an entirely new capital city at Amarna, which he would name after his shiny new god: Akhetaten ( “Horizon of the Aten”, apparently because all you could see from there to the horizon were inscriptions to the newly-minted deity.)

While he was in the process of making these sweeping historic changes, Akhenaten appropriated the treasuries of the fraudulent deity’s temples – ostensibly on behalf of Aten. It isn’t clear what all that dough was used for, beyond the construction of a brand new capital, but the priesthood of Amon-Ra had been enormously wealthy, and could probably have funded the construction of a city with their pocket-change.

‘Enormously Wealthy’, almost without exception in human history, equates to ‘Enormously Powerful’, and the Priests of Amon-Ra, despite being newly unemployed, still had some residual pull. The details aren’t known, but it can safely be assumed that the former priests orchestrated a fair amount of murmuring in the background. Still, the little nut-bar was Pharaoh, and no one really had the stones to revolt until he died. In fact, the return to the status quo took several years and a few temporary Pharaohs (King Tut among them) after Akhenaten croaked – but, if it was slow to begin, it was, nevertheless, thorough. Akhenaten, and the entire line of his descendants were essentially erased from history. Aten’s city was abandoned, his worship outlawed, ALL the other gods were reinstated to divinity, the temples were reopened, their priesthoods restored, and pretty much every reference to Akhenaten or his wife and children was obliterated from every monument.  The temples of Aten were disassembled and used for building material elsewhere – which is basically the only way we know any of this:  when blocks with writing on them were used in a new structure, the written side was turned inward, where it wouldn’t be seen – until millennia later when they were excavated. Indeed, the whole reason Tutankhamun’s tomb escaped the notice of both robbers and archaeologists for 3200 years was that he was the son of Akhenaten and every record of his existence was destroyed.

Anyway, with the death of Akhenaten, mankind’s first experiment with monotheism was declared an epic fail, and everyone went back to worshiping many gods.

Everyone except the Jews, that is.

Judaism was founded around 3500 years ago, give or take a few centuries. In other words, within a couple of centuries, give or take, of Akhenaten’s rule. There has been quiet speculation, ever since the discovery of Akhenaten’s religious revolution, that the Jews got the idea of a single God in Egypt, where the descendants of Jacob were said to have been slaves. When this question is put to Jewish scholars, they are quick to claim that there were Israelite slaves in Egypt before Akhenaten, and that he probably got his idea of a single God from imperfectly overheard slave gossip. It seems unlikely that the answer will ever be known with any certainty – but, if it turns out to be the latter, it’s a good bet that history will be sued for Libel by a massive coalition of Jewish Law-Firms.

Anyway, according to the Scriptures, the Pharaoh of Egypt, during the time of Israelite servitude, decided that there were too many of them, and they were beginning to pose a threat. Still, Egypt had always had a need for slave-labor, and he couldn’t afford to kill them all, so he hit upon a solution that he felt was a ‘win-win’:  he ordered the slaughter of all newborn male infants.  This was a ‘win’ for him, because he wouldn’t have to worry about a ton of rebellious teenagers showing up in a few years – and he considered it a ‘win’ for the Israelites, because some of them would go on living, albeit in miserable bondage. What’s not to like?

Accordingly, as the word of the impending slaughter leaked out, an Israelite woman named Jochebed, who’d just given birth, decided her brand new baby boy stood a better chance floating in a basket on the river with the crocodiles, than he did against Pharaoh’s Newborn Massacre Squad. She took a basket, sealed it up with pitch, put the baby in it, and, completely ignoring his threats of legal action, dropped him in the river to fend for himself – the correct phrasing for which, at the time, was “put him in the hands of the Lord!”

The Lord apparently took the hand-off without a hitch, sprinted downstream, and lateraled to the daughter of Pharaoh, who was out having a refreshing bath.

Like most women, she was all “Oooo, a baby!”  and, despite the objections of her attendants, she filed for adoption, giving the child the name “Moses”, which some have interpreted as “Gift of the River”. (Incidentally, there are no records regarding Pharaoh’s feelings about a child of unknown parentage being raised as a prince of Egypt – but unless he’s the most inattentive parent ever, he had to have known that his daughter hadn’t given birth herself!  In view of this, I wish to register my objections that the scriptures contain no account of what happened when the Pharaoh asked “where the hell did that come from????” )

Scripture pretty much skips everything after that, until young Moses comes across an Egyptian smiting an Israelite, takes exception, and does some smiting of his own. Sadly, he smote rather harder than he intended and the Egyptian croaked. With cunning born of need, Moses dragged the body away and hid it in sand. Not long after, he came on some Israelites fighting and demanded to know why. One of them sneered at him and asked “What are you going to do? Kill us like you did that Egyptian?”

Oh. Shit.

At this point, Moses decided maybe it might be a really good time to tour the Sinai Desert.

He eventually ended up in a place called Midian, where a dude name Jethro managed the biggest sheep ranch in the region. At dinner, Jethro explained that he had loads of daughters, no sons, and – hey, Moses wouldn’t happen to be into sheep would he???

Moses quickly settled down when Jethro hastily explained that he hadn’t meant it that way, and soon thereafter married one of Jethro’s daughters, and settled in to learn the sheep-ranching trade.

At some point thereafter, while rounding up some strays, he noticed a bush, high up on the slopes of the nearby haunted mountain.  Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have paid much attention:  there were bushes all over the place. This one, though, he noticed, was on fire – again nothing all that out of the ordinary – but it wasn’t being reduced to ashes as had been his experience with other fiery bushes, so he decided a closer look was called for.

Upon nearing the bush, he heard a voice come out from it, ordering him to halt, and remove his shoes, for he was standing on Holy Ground. A somewhat protracted conversation ensued, the bush explaining that it was actually the God of the Israelites, and that it had heard the wailing of his people that were in Egypt, and that Moses was to head on back there and convince Pharaoh to let them go.

One would think that, having received the commands of God, Moses would have saluted smartly, replied “Yes, sir!” and gotten right to it.  Moses, however had some … concerns.

According to scripture, Moses asked who he was, that he should approach Pharaoh?  The bush crackled in irritation, while most likely the Lord counted to ten Billion, then he assured Moses that he would be with him, and it would all work out. Moses then pointed out that he wasn’t much at public speaking, so maybe God should find someone else. The bush fumed for a moment in silence, while presumably the Lord counted to ten trillion, then he told Moses that the job was his, he wasn’t getting out of it – but, yeah, ok, he could get his brother, Aaron to be his mouthpiece.

Moses, having gotten his way – at least partially – may have been getting a little cocky. He had yet another issue:  if he was going to demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites in the name of their God, it was a good bet that Pharaoh would want to know just exactly what that name was.

The bush blazed ominously for several seconds, while presumably the Lord counted to ten quadrillion, then explained “I AM.”

Moses’ brow furrowed, “Excuse me?”

“I AM WHO I AM.”

Moses stared at the bush for a bit, “er, yes, well …”

“YOU SHALL SAY THAT I AM HAS SENT YOU.”

“Ah. Yes, well, that should do it, I expect.”

Scripture doesn’t say, but it seems likely, at this point, that the Lord may have thought “This is going to be a LONG exodus!”

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~ by dourscot on February 20, 2016.

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