The individual episodes of this Podcast are now being made available to download through iTunes. The server that hosts the Podcast has storage maximums for cheapskates like myself, so it may take a few months for all the episodes to be available. Check out iTunes and search for the episode you’d like to download — and please be patient while I work on getting the others uploaded.
Angry Gods Podcast 23 concerns the concept of atonement. Related to but distinct from sacrifice, the concept of atonement is widely utilized in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This podcast considers why the idea of God as an angry God is so prevalent, and suggests how the concept of atonement might fit in this matrix.
Origins of Sacrifice Podcast 22 considers possible origins for the sacrificial practice of slaughtering animals. In considering ancient societies, sacrifice first appears with the Sumerians and temple culture. Temples require priesthoods and priesthoods are supported by monarchs. In a world with no separation of “church and state” the government and religious factions each require the support of the other. Sacrificial systems help to uphold the infrastructure of society.
Whence Moses? Podcast 21 follows on from podcast 19 concerning Moses. Specifically, the question addressed in this podcast is the origin of Moses. While not historically attested, Moses is nonetheless an important figure in both Judaism and Christianity. How do we explain Moses if he is not historical? This podcast attempts to suggest one plausible origin for Moses while admitting that we simply do not know where he really emerges in the religious imagination of antiquity.
Ch-ch-changes Podcast 20 addresses the stress that religions face when they must change. All religions change over time, although this seldom comes easily. Beginning with an example from Zoroastrianism, this recording then raises the question of how Christianity has changed since the first century. It is suggested that this change is necessary if religion is to survive.
Moses and the Problem of Torah Podcast 19 is a reflection on the place of Moses both in the Hebrew Bible and modern America. Considering the popularity of Bruce Feiler’s America’s Prophet, Moses does seem to hold a special place in the American mind. Nevertheless the historical Moses is historically unattested, and his description in the Bible raises several thorny questions. The Torah comes to Israel via Ezra in the Persian Period, meaning that the prophets were the only source of knowing the divine will in Israel during the monarchy. Since this is backward from the usual biblical rendition, it is suggested that Moses is made to fill the gap and that his certitude is what makes him an American icon.
Death’s Door Podcast 18 considers the perceptions of the world of the dead, according to Ancient Near Eastern sources. Specifically the question addressed is can the dead return from the underworld, based initially on the story of Samuel’s return from the dead in the Bible — this leads to a description of the underworld based on ancient sources. The Zoroastrian connection is encountered in the development of the realms of heaven and hell.
It Was a Small World After All Podcast 17 addresses one of the prevailing orthodoxies of the ancient world: the relative lack of communication between regions. It is clear from evidence that continues to emerge that ancient cultures knew about and borrowed from each other. The most obvious of these exchanges across distinct cultures concerns Hellenistic and Semitic contact. The Greeks clearly borrowed from their Semitic neighbors, as Cyrus Gordon worked so hard to convey. Although still not universally acknowledged, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that ancient societies were singular, isolated, and self-sufficient.
Our Myth of History Podcast 16. “Myth” is a difficult word to define. In the ancient world, however, reality, or truth, was expressed in terms of myth. Today we assume that myth is “untrue” or false. This dichotomy often leads to an unfortunate undervaluing of ancient texts and stories. At root the problem is that we are on the far side of a paradigm shift. This podcast addresses the question of how we might try to understand myth in a way that fits with the modern outlook. Since historical veracity is the modern paradigm, it stands to reason that history has become the mythology of present-day thinkers.
Religion’s Double-Edged Sword Podcast 15 discusses a recent visit of Westboro Baptist Church’s “protesters” to Rutgers University. The issue is whether religious freedom includes the right to encourage hate crimes on the part of those not directly involved in the “protests.” Religious freedom is the phenomenon that allows such groups to develop in a democracy, but the end results of such groups is destructive to the democracy that engendered it. This is compared to the Scientology case that is simultaneously taking place in France and noting the differences between them.
We Don’t Need Another Bible Podcast 14. This podcast addresses the issue of agenda-driven Bible translation. Although all translators, being human, have agendas, typically they are for the advancement of knowledge. The news about Conservapedia’s Conservative Bible Project suggests that progress should be turned back to the first century and fast-forwarded to the Neo-Con agenda. The trend is disturbing because not many Americans have the essential background to assess critically whether Bibles are translated with serious scholarly intent or not. The ten principles of conservative Bible translation from Andrew Schlafly’s Conservapedia are examined.
God’s Wife Podcast 13 follows up on the previous two posts concerning Asherah. Here a little more background is provided on the discussion/debate concerning the goddess. I trace the origins of Asherah, best attested at Ugarit, and explain why this should be our primary source of information about the character of the goddess. I consider the 40 biblical passages briefly before moving on to the Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Epigraphic South Arabian material. Clearly the most important evidence for the debate on whether Yahweh was wed or not is the set of inscriptions from Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom. I examine these bits of evidence as well, explaining why I doubt that they intend to portray a divine couple. The podcasts closes with what I believe to be the way forward — a clear understanding of Asherah based on Ugarit and read without a scholarly agenda (yes, they do exist!).
Noah’s Lark Podcast 12. This podcast concerns the myth of the great flood. It begins with a consideration of why modern expeditions do not find anything (nothing to be found), and considers the reasons the story is so appealing to present-day readers. The Sun Pictures productions on the flood story are reviewed, along with the story of the hoax played on Sun in their 1992 made-for-television movie. The history of the flood story is briefly narrated, beginning with George Smith’s 1872 discovery of the Mesopotamian flood story, back to Atrahasis and the Eridu Genesis from Sumer. The flood story is one of the earliest religious stories known.
Fundamentalist Foibles Podcast 11 deals with the phenomenon of Fundamentalism, particularly biblical Fundamentalism, and its history. The podcast begins by setting the historical parameters, in the early part of the twentieth century, and considers some of the reasons that the movement may have begun. German biblical criticism, Darwin’s theory, and the First World War among them. A brief sketch of the movement is then offered, starting with the Niagara Bible Conference and the publication of The Fundamentals. The basic tenets of the belief system are summarized, again with suggestions as to why this may have been the case. A cautionary conclusion ends the presentation.
Evolution of Gods This podcast is a reflection on the origins of religion itself. The earliest stages of religion actually appear in the Upper Paleolithic period of human evolution. They are evident in burial practices, the making of female figurines, and in cave art. This leads me to conclude that religion has its origins well before civilization began. The ultimate origin of the gods, however, is unknown. Three sources briefly considered are E. B. Tylor’s animism thesis, Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind, and Stewart Guthrie’s pareidolia as evolutionary advantage idea.
The Fear of the Lord is Pure As a child I suffered many phobias. One night a phobia became reality as a bat landed on my pillow and caused me to dream that I was a vampire. This podcast is a talk about how fear is closely tied to religion. In the ancient world the only appropriate response to gods was one of fear. This is reflected, I contend, in the phenomenon of movie monsters having religious origins.
Creationism’s White Box Creationism is not default biblical interpretation, as much as it claims to be so. Creationism is a definable historical movement with a history beginning in the nineteenth century CE. The place of early evangelists and especially George McCready Price are considered as the true starting point of Creationism as a social movement. The concerns with the inhumane treatment of others during the First World War fueled concerns that the Bible was the only remedy to humanity’s ills. Evolution, therefore, took on a diabolical cast.
What the Devil Children in American often grow up with the idea of an eternal struggle between God and the Devil. What is not really explained to most people is that the Devil is a late import into the Judeo-Christian tradition. This podcasts looks at the various characteristics of the Devil: horns, cloven hooves, red color, etc. to determine if there are ancient antecedents to these traits. The origin of the figure of the Satan in Zoroastrianism is also discussed.
The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea Interestingly, Leviathan has become a synonym for the Devil. In the ancient world, Leviathan was a sea “monster” who was more appropriately considered a deity. The origin of Leviathan goes back to the earliest cultures of Mesopotamia and the concept was accepted and incorporated by the ancient Israelites. This podcast considers the demonization of Leviathan and why he has become symbolic of the Devil.
What’s Wrong with Baal? Using a fictional sparring between Yahweh and Baal as a starting point, this podcast considers the reasons that the ancient god Baal was considered evil. In the biblical world, Baal’s companion El was simply accepted as a type of Yahweh, whereas Baal was considered evil. This exploration studies this dynamic to see if there is a reason Baal is singled out as a “bad guy” among the gods worshiped before the Israelites appeared on the historical scene.
And We All Fall Down This podcast is a consideration of early dissension in Christianity. It is often assumed that Christianity was united until the break between Protestants and Catholics occurred in the Reformation. This is incorrect. This presentation considers the fact that Christianity has always been prone to splinter, and that even as Christianity began sects started to emerge.
Whence Monotheism Monotheism is a religious anomaly. From the point of view of anthropology and from human history, the earliest religions are polytheistic. This podcast presents some reflections on where monotheism may have originated. The history of the phenomenon is traced back to the destruction of Jerusalem when emergent Judaism had to make difficult decisions about what was going on in the spiritual world. The conclusion that there was only one god derives from this conflicted situation and becomes normative in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Michael Jackson, Isaac Newton and the Alphabet Following Michael Jackson’s untimely death, the Jackson Five’s early hit “ABC 123” prompts an exploration of the alphabet. Isaac Newton suggested that he saw farther by standing on the shoulders of giants. The largest giant, however, had to have been the genius who invented the alphabet, thereby making writing a democratic venture. Nearly all literature today relies on the simplification that took place when syllabic cuneiform became alphabetic. The transition seems to have taken place near ancient Ugarit. Despite the loss of interest the site suffers from, it is one of the most important developments of human origin.
Puff the Magic Dagon This podcast begins with the idea of H. P. Lovecraft’s Dagon. Dagon was perceived as a “fish god” even in biblical times, but this is not really the origin of the god as we know him. Dagan was ancient agricultural deity, one of the important, if poorly understood, Mesopotamian gods. His associations with the water come through, perhaps, how similar his name is to the Hebrew word “fish.” Lovecraft popularlized this notion in The Shadow over Innsmouth, his creepy story of fish people in a hidden New England village. This story was eventually made into a movie entitled Dagon. This film has a cult following that has perpetuated the idea of Dagon as a fish god.