This, of course, presupposes the existence of such fools at the time the statement was written, ca 1000 BC, yet not a shadow of a controversy has come down to us that so much as hints that the prevailing creationist view was ever challenged or even questioned in the ancient Middle East, so strongly was it held to in that region of the earth at least. And that is a notable fact that no one, to my knowledge, has ever sought to examine. (6)At one point during Jonathan Miller’s A Brief History of Disbelief Miller asked one of his guests this exact question. I forget who it was and I’m not in the mood to look through three hours of video just to find it at the moment. However, the answer was simple, concise, and made perfect sense. Publicly denying the existence of the gods would have been a really, really good way to get killed in the ancient world. It wasn’t a matter of, “Believe in [insert god here] that you may be saved from your sins and live forever in the golden halls.” It was more, “Sacrifice to [insert god here] so that the sun will rise tomorrow. Oh, and sacrifice to [insert other god here] or your enemies will overrun your lands, rape your wives, and carry your children off as slaves.” Basically, anyone who wandered about publicly doubting the existence of the gods would be seen as a direct and immediate threat to the community, branded a witch, heretic, or what have you, and killed. Atheism, in short, was not a good career move. Moreover, and this didn’t come up in the Miller interview that I recall, there really wasn’t a good alternative to creator god theories in the ancient world. Or any time up until about 150 years ago, for that matter. The closest you could really get to a completely naturalistic interpretation for the existence of the universe was something like the Tao. And since Cooper has already hopelessly mangled the Tao in to a “self-existing being” that exists “Outside this being,” I’m pretty sure he’s not going to get the subtle nuances of such things. This is how we ended up with deism, too. Until Darwin and the Origin of the Species, it was hard to come up with a good answer to the question, “If there is no god, how did we get here?” Of course, acknowledging such things would challenge Cooper’s thesis that everyone everywhere has always known about his relentlessly parochial concept of the divine. And I’m sure I’ve mentioned repeatedly that good historians drive towards their point without acknowledging any ideas or research that could possibly challenge their cherished beliefs. Anyway, his next target is, in fact, that ancient bastion of atheism: Greece. He starts with the Theogony of Hesiod, offering this quote:
'First of all the Void came into being ...next Earth ...Out of the Void came darkness ...and out of the Night came Light and Day...' (7)Wow! It sounds almost exactly like the Genesis account! But what are all those ellipses in the middle of the quote? If you’ll recall, ellipses tell me that, at the very least, more research is necessary. When I’m not feeling charitable they mean I’m pretty sure the author is trying to pull a fast one. Guess which option I’m choosing here. Once again, Cooper offers a bad footnote. Ancient texts are broken down in a similar fashion to the Bible, with at least chapter and paragraph notation, but often chapter and line or chapter, paragraph, and sentences all numbered. It’s inexcusable to use an ancient source and not give the coordinates to your readers. Cooper, of course, doesn’t give the coordinates. Fortunately, I did the leg work so you don’t have to. I’m pretty sure we’re looking for lines 116-138 of the Theogony. Just do an in-page search for "ll. 116-138" if you don’t trust me.
Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all (4) the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether (5) and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.Cooper does begrudgingly acknowledge that there’s a slight discrepancy between his paraphrase and the full content of Hesiod’s work.
And yet it is immediately obvious upon reading the whole of the Theogony that Hesiod did not get his information from the book of Genesis. This is evident from his debased view of the Creator alone. (Lack of italics for Theogony his. Yes. You see that correctly. He italicizes Lao-Tzu, but not the title of a book.)Also, if you’re, like me, scratching your head at the use of the word “debased” there, never fear. His next line makes it clear to us exactly what it means. He can’t resist moving forward in to a bit of creationist fan service.
But even though Hesiod's debased view may have been typical, and indeed understandable, for one who lived in a thoroughly pagan society, it was by no means a view that was shared by all his fellow pagans.Those poor, benighted pagans. Bless their little hearts, they just try so hard. Fortunately for them, they had Xenophanes to show them the light. I’m sure it was quite a burden for that great white hope to the rest of the Greeks, who were otherwise consigned to an existence of darkness and torment.
'Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods all the things which among men are shameful and blameworthy--theft and adultery and mutual deception...[But] there is one God, greatest among gods and men, similar to mortals neither in shape nor in thought ...he sees as a whole, he thinks as a whole, he hears as a whole ...Always he remains in the same state, changing not at all ...But far from toil he governs everything with his mind.' (8)Once again, I have no flippin’ clue about the origins of this quote if I stick with Cooper. Fortunately, the good people at Stanford University published an online encyclopedia of philosophy. Maybe they can shed some light on the quote. Turns out that we just don’t have much left of Xenophanes work and much of it comes from fragments of larger works or as quotations from others. This is a good thing to know. Fragment B11 shows that Cooper’s quote was accurate:
Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception. (B11)It also completely ignores Fragment B12:
...as they sang of numerous illicit divine deeds: theft, adultery, and mutual deceit. (B12)This probably changes the complexion of the argument from, “There aren’t many gods but one,” to, “Why the hell do we sing praises to these thieving, deceitful, adulterous jerks?” It’s more social commentary, a la Voltaire than apology, a la Lewis. In another fragment Xenophanes says:
Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black; Thracians that theirs are are blue-eyed and red-haired. (B16)This may well be the oldest statement that we make god in our own image in the books, further supported by a later fragment in which he adds that horses and oxen would probably draw gods who look like horses and oxen. In looking for an ally in Xenophanes I think Cooper made a mistake. It’s not quite as obviously bad as that whole Lao-Tzu and the Tao thing, but pretty close. Right up there in the quote Cooper originally uses to introduce Xenophanes are the words “there is one God, greatest among gods and men, similar to mortals neither in shape nor in thought.” This kinda-sorta implicitly rejects the idea in Genesis that Elohim created man and woman in Elohim’s own image. It introduces a concept much closer to Khabbala, or, dare I say it, Taoism. The impression is that Xenophanes’ Tao is external to the universe, so it’s not exactly Taoism. But we know so little about Xenophanes that it’s hard to say. I’d say we know enough, however, to say that Xenophanes would be surprised to get in to the pages of After the Flood the way he did. That’s enough for now. Next up: Cooper challenges Plato, Thales of Miletus, and Epicurus to a battle of wits. Something tells me he’s going to lose… Also, I’ll be spending Thursday through Sunday next at the Northlands Storytelling Conference. So I have no idea when the next After the Flood entry will be appearing. Consider yourselves warned.