Friday, February 29, 2008

Michener's God

James Michener was a writer who did extensive research on whatever topic he was writing. I was introduced to Michener during a summer class I took in Israel, and I picked up his The Source to see through his eyes how archeology can inform us about the past.

If you have read his Hawaii, you know Michener does not treat "Christians" with great kindness. Still, he has a lot to teach us about his view of God.

I present to you the theory of the evolution of God (religion) with special relation to the evolution of the Hebrew religion (or monotheism) to which he as well as many other scholars hold. My source is his Source.

I guess we start with "apelike man from Africa...looking for a time when gods have not yet been called forth by hunger of man." This could have been about 12 000 years ago. Eventually, "man" began to walk upright (already having developed the capacity for language) and hunt for food. While the males were hunting the women were gathering wheat from away and learning to plant it closer to their primitive lodging.

Humans have moved into the arena of naming spirits and forces but have yet to develop "placating ceremonies." Crops depend on the sun and rain. There is an "I-It" relationship to the natural world and spirit world. There is "an impersonal spirit but inanimate."

Later, we've moved into an "I-You" (is there any influence from Martin Buber's I-Thou ?)relationship. The human thanks the flood by giving "him" an offering. Therefore, the elements have become personified.

The storm, the wind, the wild boar, and the water will know we mean them no harm if we put a high stone on a rock. They can then see we are not out to hurt them.

A lot more time passes, and we have the Canaanites and their fertility deities like Astarte (Ashtart) called Ashtoreth by the Hebrews, Ishtar by the Babylonians, and Aphrodite by the Greeks. Basically, we go from 1. self-awareness to 2. awareness of the natural world to 3. seeing the need for showing the elements that we are nice people to 4. personifying the elements to 5. placating the evil spirits who may cause us harm to 6. pleasing the fertile spirits/gods for the continuation of our self (both reproducing our own kind and the reproduction of the Earth).

Our monoliths are now established, considered dropped down from the sky by the gods. These stones became special and among the many monoliths erected, certain ones became holy. Trash collected around them and eventually covered most of the rock leaving just the top. This symbol becomes the "father of all gods" or "El," the source of all power.
The rise of monotheism is an attempt to pull all the gods together into one.
I realize that this is a pretty oversimplified explanation of the rise of monotheism. I sort of wanted it that way. To start, I, myself, need a simple way of understanding this process.
But why couldn't there have just been "God?"


Stew said...

It does beg the question of why the omnipotent and omniscient one has been so crap at revealing himself to the world. Everyone seems to hear a different message, and even those that read from the same book end up interpreting it differently. If only he would come blazing out of the sky and announce to humanity, "No, you dolts, it's like this ...."

pecheur said...

I wonder that myself.

And then what does the incarnation do in helping His revelation?

Yes, many different messages interpreted from one book. Why is that not the case with Shakespeare or Hammurabi?

I wish you would have been able to finish the ... I'd be interested in knowing what'd he say. =)

drlobojo said...

I re-read 'The Source' last year. I read it every decade of so. El of course is a monolithic (one rock) god, with a family so to speak. Re: El-ohim of the Bible chapter one. When you dig deep enough into Pagan religion you will find one god with lessor gods (personalities) eminating from he or she. Not all that different from the Roman Catholic pantheon of the trinity, Mary, and he saints. Of course the "degree" of worship is different in that pantheon, the Trinity receives adoration, Mary does too I think, but maybe not, and the Saints just get veneration. Again dig deep into the ways the different Pagan pantheons were "worshiped" and you find levels of such.
Of course, the very concept of the Trinity causes those outside our initiation to question whether our God is more than one as well. Most times I see the Trinity as something professed to be unique in religion, but is is far from it.
The Egyptians,as an intitial example were creating trinities and triumpherets 3000+ years before the Capadocian Fathers worked out the acceptable formula for the Christian Trinity. (See: Osiris-Isis-Horus)
I do think God has been revealing his/herself all along and we humans have recognized as much of him/her as we could at the time. In a thousnad years our decendents may look back from some distant plant and wonder at our primative understanding of god in the 21st century.

pecheur said...

Oops. thanks for clarifying. yes, El is the monolithic god there.

So what if man started out understanding God in pagan terms and x-amount of thousands of years later, here we are. Could this be possible?

Great idea though of what the concept of God will be another 5000 years. We will certainly look like cave men ourselves.

This is one of my favorite books. Glad to see someone else is reading it also.