Friday, August 28, 2009

A rich tapestry of second-hand cloth

By Ellipses

Remember "Stone Soup?" A stranger wanders into town and claims that he can make a wonderful culinary concoction using a stone as the base. He fills a kettle with water, drops in a stone, and let's it simmer. As it cooks, he interacts with a number of locals, and of each one, he requests another ingredient. "Stone soup is really good with carrots," he says to one. "I had a great stone soup one time that had onions in it," he says to another.

Eventually, everyone in town has contributed various items to the pot, and the resulting mix is... well, it's soup. Real, honest to goodness soup. Of course, the townspeople think that it's a miracle that one could make this great soup from a stone, since they are oblivious to the fact that they created the soup incrementally... they are like that frog in the bowl of water that is slowly heated to a boil. They don't notice the addition of this or the inclusion of that. They can't see the forest for the trees. I'll run out of cliches eventually, I'm sure.

Christianity is a lot like Stone Soup... There isn't a lot to it that is unique or original. It has, impressively, assembled some of the best stories and beliefs and components of countless belief systems that existed before it into a wonderfully complex narrative.

Most people are familiar with some of the bible stories that are retellings of earlier tales. I'd like to extend an invitation to contributing writers, commenters, and any of the hundreds of random observers who stumble across this blog to share examples of this tradition of assimilation... whether it's the parallel of the apple in genesis with the pomegranate in Persephone and Demeter, or the coincidence of Christmas with Saturnalia, or the relationship between Mary/Jesus and Isis/Horace...

This isn't an attempt to disprove, but rather an invitation to understand through dissection and deconstruction. It should be an honest set of vignettes that illuminate the ideas presented in Christianity. Add your contribution either in the comments or write a featured post. Take it wherever it wants to go. Sphere: Related Content


Lori said...

I really like this post! Anywho.
This is not anything that religion has taught me. I surmised this idea from personal study.
In the bible we have been taught the basics about the flood. Noah building the ark and begging people to come into the ark. Bringing two of every kind of animal. But that is not the rest of the story. I wanted to know why the people thought Noah was crazy for saying water was going to fall from the sky. From the beginning of Genesis until the rain fell on the Earth and flooded it,it had NEVER rained. A mist use to come up out of the earth to water the plants. So if the water use to be "IN" the Earth then the Earth must have been more like a fresh grape. When the water flooded the Earth and it took more than a year to dry for the Ark inhabitants to exit. Much of the preexisting civilization would be in the deepest parts of the ocean and various other places. And now the Earth is more like a raisin with water filling the wrinkles. This is just a theory born of study and thought. There is a fair amount of archeological finds that show ancient civilizations but many could be buried deep within the ocean. Flooding the whole Earth is representative of the old life being buried and new life when brought up out of the the cleansing water. In searching for an assimilation of the flood in the Bible I only found Halo-The Flood, [1] (Latin Inferi redivivus[2] meaning "The dead reincarnated"), [3] or The Parasite[4] as called by the Covenant, are an extragalactic inter-connected collective parasitic organism that survives by consuming sentient life forms of sufficient biomass and cognitive capability. The Flood are responsible for consuming most of the sentient life in the galaxy including the Forerunner during the approximately 300-year-long Forerunner-Flood War. [5] The Flood presents the most variable faction in the trilogy, as it can infect and mutate Humans and Covenant species, such as Elites, Prophets and Brutes, into Combat Forms.

Wesley said...

If you want to examine Christianity’s family tree of multiple traditions and ancient folklore, you need go no further than the Bible’s first book. You barely get out of the first chapter of Genesis before there are questions that you would think any thinking person would ask. Why are there two creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis? They are separate and unequal in style, order of the facts, and details. The only thing they share is that God appears in both.

In the first version God takes six days to create animals and man and woman with no mention of Adam and Eve. Then in Genesis Chapter 2, Verse 4, the second version begins and is set in the Garden of Eden with no mention of how many days it took to do all the heavy lifting.

The order of creation is different. In the first version, God created heaven and earth but in the second version he creates earth and the heavens. And what we hear repeated now is like a Chinese menu version with one from column A and one from column B. A colorful mismatched platter of flied sclipture.

Version one (written by the Priestly writer or P) says that in the beginning God created light and the night sky, he separated and forked the waters, did the dry land thing, and sea thingy, and then he made vegetables (like you Blogitards) and the trees, sun, moon, stars and seasons. Then he made the living creatures of sky and sea, and at last mankind meaning man and woman together. On the seventh day he rested. Finally, in this version God recommends a vegetarian diet and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. He concludes it was very good. There is no mention of Eden or a Tree of Good and Evil. No woman out of man’s rib. Both sexes created at the same time and equal and in God’s own image.

Even without a competing version who is the “us” in “let us make man in our own image?” Does “own image” mean we look like God? Who? Black people, white people, men, women, etc? And if God thinks his creation is good, why did things turn out so bad?

Version 2 says that in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens god creates man through the dust of the ground, and then he plants the Garden in Eden and puts man there in the garden with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil man cannot eat of tree of knowledge of good and evil. No mention of when or if God rested

This is a good time for a Hebrew lesson. The word Adam is derived from Hebrew word for man in the collective sense, as in humanity. Also Adam is related to Adama which means ground or earth in Hebrew. The ancient Hebrews engaged in wordplay a lot and it was a highly valued poetic device in Hebrew writing. In a later book they changed the name of a rival God Baal to Beelzebub which means Lord of the Dung.

As you might expect, the Adam and Eve story is not entirely original. It is similar to earlier creation myths of the ancient near east. The idea that god could create was not exclusive to ancient Israelites. The myths of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the two civilizations that bracketed the Israelites, also celebrated the concept of a divine word. Ancient Israelites drew upon commonly held beliefs about creation ancient folklore that came from the lands and people that had most impact on ancient near east.

Anonymous said...

Most ancient civilizations that have left us significant information also have stories / legends / historical accounts that involve a “great” or “worldwide” flood. Strict creationists believe that this backs up their beliefs. They also cite things like the Grand Canyon as possibly being created by Noah’s flood… Most interesting, they also believe that Noah’s Ark may be preserved on Mt. Ararat. See

And for balance,

scott said...

Lewis Black said in one of his stand-up shows that the Old Testament stories were the result of a Jewish ethnic talent for bullshitting, combined with the need to entertain themselves while wandering around the desert for so many years. Hey, they had to do something around the campfires!

That there is so much obvious syncretism in the Scriptures of which most Christians (especially the Biblical literalists) are unaware is one of the things that i find among the most fascinating in modern Christianity.

Obviously, i'm not a Biblical literalist. My view of the Good Book is very influenced by the words of an insightful and honest priest i know. He once told me that the Bible is a historical account of a peoples' understanding of their relationship with the God they worship. In many instances, they used familiar stories, adapted in one way or another. Also in many instances, they recorded and edited together oral traditions in an effort to preserve them as well as to support goals important to their tribal societies.

Generally, i approach the Bible as containing very human attempts to communicate Mysteries, those universal human experiences which are best understood when they're approached through metaphor, parable, poetry and narrative.

One of my favorite examples of differing narratives in the Old Testament requires a Bible with the Apocrypha. Compare the Book of Daniel with the apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon. Daniel presents as a very different person in the two narratives, even though they cover some of the same events. The explanation i've read for the differences is that the Daniel portrayed in the official Hebrew canon was toned down in order to support the staus quo of the power structures of the time while still appeasing the peoples' love of the popular Daniel saga. In Bel and the Dragon, Daniel is much less meek and far more of a challenging revolutionary.

Wesley said...

Scott...LMFAO at Lewis Black. What he said is so true and hilarious at the same time. For me, I think miss that Jesus had a great sense of humor or at least a flare for the sarcastic. Wheh asked by Paul "Are you God?" instead of answering he asks a question back (very Jewish) "Who do you think I am?"...but back to Noah...

Lori, did you know that Leonardo da Vinci found the fossilized remains of sea creatures in the Alps but he failed to come to the same explanation for those high altitude fossils as modern science now accepts? Scientists have now figured out that the Alps were once at or below sea level but were thrust higher when Africa was in the Continent invitational demolition derby with Europe. They slammed inot each other and that's the Alps were formed. In Leo’s day things were a lot simpler and it was perfectly plausible to most folks that what Leo found was indisputable proof that a great flood once covered the entire globe. But we have science now that can help us determine to some degree what really happened.

But th story is not surprising since every ancient culture has some sort of flood or deluge myth, that shares a lot with the Bible’s flood. In most of them the Gods send a catastrophic flood to destroy the world, but God tells one man of the coming disaster and his family is saved to continue human existence. For instance, one Sumerian tale related the story of King Ziusudra, who survives a flood, offers a sacrifice to the gods, repopulates the earth, and gains immortality. The Greeks have the story of Deucalion. The son of Prometheus, Deucalion was another boat builder. When Zeus flooded the earth in one more of his fits of rage, Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrhus, take refuge in an ark that lands on top of Mount Olympus. Deucalion repopulates the earth with stones that represent bones of Mother Earth. But of these myths, the one most like Noah’s story is from the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic. In this story, the hero Utnapishtim, also survives the flood by building a boat, which comes to rest of Mount Nisir, in the same region as Noah’s Mount Ararat.

All of these similarities suggest that these Near Eastern stories shared some common tradition, perhaps a memory of a catastrophic flooding of the Tigris-Euphrates plain. It is easy to imagine that people whose “world” constituted the area in which they lived could imagine a devastating flood that affected them had actually destroyed the whole world. In fact the Hebrew word for “earth” in Gen 6:17 also means land or country which would suggest a more limited flood.

With all due respect Lori, no one has ever discovered evidence of a flood that could have covered the entire earth. And there is no evidence that it never rained before Noah’s time. If you go back and look at Genesis 2:4-7 you’ll see it actually says that God had not sent rain YET. This passage is referring to a time during the creation, before there were plants and before man had been created. It says that there were waters that spring up out of the ground that watered the Earth. Genesis tells us in later verses that there were four great rivers all springing from one river with its headwaters in Eden. The Bible is not specific about whether or not God ever sent rain, but let’s face it after God created man, and especially after He sent them out of the garden to work the land, that He would have caused it to rain so they could produce fruits and grains to live on.

Genesis is the story of the creation told in the simplest and most basic way possible.

Lori said...

People actually do read this stuff. I wasn't debating truth or fiction. I just made a statement as to wondering why they thought Noah was crazy when he said rain would fall from the sky.
The book could have been The State of Fear by Micheal Crichton or The Secret Life of Bees. My thoughts didn't even relate to the original post, really. It was what I thought of when I read - Stone Soup. I'll take the post way more serious before I hit "comment"