Attn: Science Profs, your Evolution problem is in the Humanities Dept.

I sympathize with US scientists who are frustrated with the level of ignorance in our country regarding Evolution. However, they need to be aware that Evangelical preachers and conservatives are not their only problem. A number of liberals, particularly secular professors and teachers, are contributing to the problem with their presentation of ancient history.

I was dumbfounded when one of my favorite professors presented Genesis in a lecture about Bronze Age Mesopotamia. The paper topic assignment for the lecture was to compare the creation stories in Genesis and the Babylonian Enuma Elish. I was so shocked by the lecture and assignment that I scheduled a conference with the professor. I took issue with the presentation of Genesis because it did not address the most obvious difference between the two creation stories: Enuma Elish was written about 1400 BCE and one recent critical analysis of Genesis dates the book to the 1st century BCE. Even the most extreme maximalists date the composition of Genesis to the Persian period, about 500-400 BCE. Although some claim that the Old Testament corpus was first compiled during the reign of Hezekiah (7th century BCE) everyone agrees that the books were edited well through the Hellenistic Period.

I was really surprised that this issue of time was omitted from the discussion of Genesis because the same professor addressed dating as the central issue about the Iliad in another course. In that course, the Iliad was discussed in relation to archaeological material, art styles, and discussed the basics of interpreting primary sources. Both of the courses I took with that professor were lower division courses which satisfied critical thinking requirements. Lower division history, archaeology, and art history courses satisfy critical thinking requirements primarily because they address issues about time. In all the fields relevant to ancient history, dating material is the most fundamental exercise for developing critical thinking skills. The first rule of historical research is to “know thy author” by answering when, where, who, what, and why about primary sources. “When” is the most important question because it is essential for answering the other four questions. In Archaeology, the first lesson is about dating an archaeological layer. The greatest value of Art History is that dating artistic styles helps date archaeological layers. So, leaving the time issue out of a discussion of Genesis in comparison to Enuma Elish was a major omission.

When I questioned the professor, the answer was very disappointing. The professor said that the issue of time was not discussed because religious objectors disrupted the class. The course was not only geared towards the dumbest kid class; but, to the most religious. Only the most fundamentalist religious believer would object to dating Genesis to the Persian Period. Most mainstream Christians and Jews accept the maximalist dating of the Bible. This professor was not only unwilling to discuss my preferred dating to the Hellenistic-Roman periods; but, not even the maximalist view.

Professors in fields relevant to ancient history are in tough shape in the US. Many universities now only want to hire part-time adjunct professors. Even those who land a full time position are not paid very well. Degrees in these fields are almost synonymous with unemployment. Most professors simply cannot afford to be labeled controversial or discriminating against religious believers. Add to this that most people who pursue degrees relevant specifically to the history of Israel usually are religious and/or Zionist. It is because of those dynamics that the maximalist dating of the Old Testament is the most accepted in the US and the minimalist dating is more accepted in Europe.

A terrible thing happens when the issue of time is avoided in the comparison between the Enuma Elish and Genesis. Without the time factor, the explanation of the differences between the two stories becomes racist and overtly religious. Without time, Enuma Elish is the product of a Babylonian polytheist and the Genesis author becomes a monotheistic Jew. These descriptions become associated with static ethnic identities which lend credence to Christian and Jewish notions that the Bible is a superior book. The dynamic qualities of cultural evolution are lost and the Bible appears as an anomaly in cultural landscape of West Asia. Never mind that monotheism was a widespread theory during the Hellenistic period, when Genesis was most likely written. Never mind that Enuma Elish was not really a creation story, as much as it described the rise of the Storm God to the head of the Babylonian pantheon, when chariot warfare technology was spreading across West Asia. Never mind that West Asians only began to develop ethnic identities during the Persian period and racism is a recent development in human culture. Never mind, because the racist description makes religious people happy.

Scientists: your problem with Genesis is not merely that Creationists are out to destroy Evolutionary science. Down the hall from the science department, the humanities department is refusing to teach students critical thinking skills.

Diana Agorio is the author of Sex Rites: the Origins of Christianity, available on Amazon.

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Tags: Evolution, Genesis

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Comment by Diana Agorio on August 27, 2010 at 11:41am
Glen – Describing the ultimate origins of belief in gods is very difficult because it developed in pre-historic cultures. Such descriptions are highly speculative because there is no written evidence to support claims. However, I can prove that the gods of the Bible were nothing that modern people should believe in if they have any sense of morality. In my book, I explain that the god of the Bible (Yahweh and Jesus) was invented with child sacrifice rituals. I also demonstrate that the priests of these cults used drugs and profited from prostitution. Although the rituals I describe are gut-wrenchingly disgusting, the astrology portions of the book are really fun. Most of the characters in the Bible were gods and their stories follow a path through the Babylonian zodiac. My description of the evolution of West Asian legal systems should be particularly pleasing to atheists because the finest examples of ancient morality came from secular scribal judges, not priests. The secular scribal judges were also the oldest known critics of religion. Theocratic law codes developed from military law and they represent the most unsuccessful political systems.
A theist would have to be willfully ignorant to an extreme degree to still believe in the gods of the Bible after reading my book. However, wrote the book with an atheist audience in mind. There are already a lot of books by atheists who preach to theists. I wanted to write a history that was interesting to atheists, dispelling “The Lord of the Rings” type image of the ancient world presented by theist historians.
Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity is now available on Amazon.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on August 26, 2010 at 8:24pm
Author(s) who can give the origin of religious beliefs and describe the overlay will do wonders in the fight against theism. If you can show theists that their beliefs are a compilation by madmen copycat liars and that humans are animals then you demonstrate that their beliefs are no more credible than the shaman's beliefs.
Comment by Diana Agorio on August 26, 2010 at 4:04pm
Jim - Your description is the view of maximalist scholars, who hold sway in the United States. Although it is a plausible explanation, there is zero archaeological evidence to support it. Minimalist scholars (more common in Europe) point out that Berossos, who wrote a history of Babylonia about 290 BCE, was a likely source for many of the OT stories, most obviously the flood story. He also wrote about the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and other events in Palestine. It is very notable that the OT is somewhat reliable about international events; but, wildly innaccurate about domestic events in Palestine. This is another good indication that the OT authors used Berossos as a source and filled in with mythology and legend for the rest of their "history."

The favorite speculation of the maximalists is the religious reforms of Hezikiah and Josiah inspired a compilation of the earliest version of the OT. Hezikiah was a real king, known from Assyrian records. However, the Assyrian records show that the Biblical account of his reign is very innaccurate. A destruction layer which was used as evidence of Josiah's destruction of cult sites has now been redated to 70 years before his supposed reign. The destruction of cult sites was actually done by the Assyrians. Also, Josiah (unknown archaeologically) may be a completely mythical character. His name, his family, and his story look like they were lifted from mythology about the Egyptian boy-god, Khonsu. Khonsu was at his height of popularity during the Hellenistic period:

"Particularly after Alexander the Great, Amun’s oracle at Siwa was world famous. Amun’s son Khonsu also became really famous with Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-205 BC). The boy god was credited with healing powers. Ptolemy IV called himself: "Beloved of Khonsu Who Protects His Majesty and Drives Away Evil Spirits." The king of Judah after Amon was the famous Josiah and he was modeled on Khonsu. His name means “whom Yahweh heals.” He was a boy king, coming to the throne at age eight, like the boy-god Khonsu. Khonsu’s mother was Mut and her temple was redecorated by the Ptolemy Dynasty. She was also very much conflated with the other great goddesses of Egypt by the time of Ptolemy, when Isis was the supreme female deity. Isis was well known in Palestine during the Hellenistic Period. She even had her own temple in Samaria, built in the 3rd century BCE and was much beloved around the ancient world. Josiah’s mother’s name was Jedidah, which means “beloved.” The triad of Amon, Josiah, and Jedidah were not a real royal family. Their story was built upon the myths of Amun, Khonsu, and Isis." - Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity, page 126.

There is a big problem with scholars using "you can't prove it isn't true" arguments for using the OT to interpret archaeological material. Archaeologists continue to fill in the blanks with the OT narrative, even though the archaeological evidence consistently shows that the narrative is wrong. They also tend to take too many stories literally and not recognize the mythical origins of the tales.

The idea that the exiles compiled the OT is more of a romance tale than a realistic history. It is also possible that the destruction of the temple and exile never happened because the outline of the story matches a well known myth about the destruction of Baal's house and his exile. The Egyptian Exile of the Israelites is now well accepted as completely fictional and it also matches the Baal myth. Berossos, who wrote the story of the destruction of Jerusalem, was the high priest of Marduk (Baal) and used mythical tales as "history." Looking for history in the OT has led archaeologists on many wild goose chases because of the failure to understand that lots of mythology was used by Hellenistic period "historians" in creating their tales. Although there are kernels of truth in some tales, none of them should be taken too literally.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on August 26, 2010 at 2:12pm
The first exile to Babylon occurred in 598 BCE which included the secular and religious leaders (including the prophet Ezekiel) - the peasantry were of no concern to the Babylonians and remained in Judah. When Cyrus defeated the Babylonians in 538 BCE he returned the exiles to Judah.
The bulk of the Old Testament was compiled and/or created during the 60 year period of exile and was presented as the holy word of Yahweh to the left behind peasantry by the returning elites. Which accounts for the Babylonian mythology that found it's way into the "Good Book". The thrust of the writing was to establish the Hebrew's right to the land they occupied and the divine authority for the claims.

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