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?"