Those of us who somehow managed to be educated without the use of computers, at least nothing more advanced than a TI-30 calculator, fumble our way through the world-wide web. I’ve got this blog, a Twitter and a Facebook account, and I’m on Google + and Medium, and I really don’t know how any of these things work. One of my motivations for starting this blog was to continue the tradition of speaking to audiences that I used to have in my lectures while I taught. I was told that such a format was known as a podcast and I found a host site where I could leave my recordings for free. I could then make a link and bring them onto the podcast page of this blog. How any of that works, I have no idea.
Recently a few would-be listeners have asked what has happened to the podcasts. Since I don’t really know where they were in the first place, I’m not sure how to send a map to them now. One of my readers, however, has kindly set up a new webpage where all 23 podcasts are available. You can find it by clicking on this link. My thanks to Ahmed Fasih for setting this up. The podcasts cover various aspects of ancient religion. Even now, every great once in a while, a world-recognized name in academia will ask me about some of these topics. When you’re an academic you have the opportunity to spend vast amounts of time focusing on a single subject. The only subject you have that privilege with outside academia is money. I do hope my friends in the academy realize just how lucky they are.
In any case, the podcasts are back. Maybe now that they’re not invisible any more, and since in coming days it may be important to remember when things were better, I may find time to add to them. Blogs—at least those that are regularly read—are locations for discussion. I’m always glad to answer questions that are posted here. During the work week my time is constrained, so you might need to wait for a weekend, but I will respond. I know religion is passé. I know people have better things to do with their time. I also know that for the vast majority of humankind religion remains a vital and integral part of their lives. Exploring it seems to make sense to me. For those who’d rather listen than read, the podcasts are once more available.
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.
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.
Podcast 20 is here! For those who are wondering, it was a long semester with daily class prep, so I did not have the opportunity to record any podcasts. The topic of this discussion is how religions naturally must change over time. Even though religions are by nature conservative, if they last long enough they will face advances in human culture and experience. This creates a dilemma that is not often addressed. It’s evolution on a religious scale.
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.
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.
“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.
This podcast 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.
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.
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!).
This podcast deals with 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.
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.
Podcast 10 concerns the earliest signs of religion in the Upper Paleolithic period. Three distinct aspects of early human cultural inclinations are explored to determine if they point to an emergent form of religion.