Saturday, 14 November 2015

II. Out of the Garden: Origins

September 16 2015 - OUT OF THE GARDEN: ORIGINS

-Class & Video:

This video, When God was a Girl, I found really interesting--even though the title doesn’t really fit (though I’m sure it made for good television for the BBC). It challenged me in many ways and even opened my mind to alternative possibilities. I would sum up the video differently than I would this week's reading from Eisler, which I’ll do separately below, even though they have the “Goddess Theory” in common. 

In the video the idea is presented that there used to be very prevalent monotheistic Goddess worship in pre-Patriarchal cultures, and Bettany Hughes shows us little statues as evidence, then travels around to other locations counting forward in historical time where similar evidence can be found to show the development and eventual overthrow of the cult of the Goddess. 

With the development of cultures came the discovery of agriculture; people began to compete over material things due to their accumulation of wealth, and with that masculine war gods overturn warm and nurturing goddesses, but the Goddess never truly disappeared, as Rome later re-adopts Cybele via Phrygia during the Second Punic war due to a prophecy found in the Sibylline Books, but over time the Goddess was once again supplanted by another deity, this time Christianity, which persists to our present day. Hughes concludes by bringing us to India, where the goddess (or goddesses, one goddess in many forms? Surely a separate deity from Cybele?) is still alive and well in the lives of her devotees.

I came into this class with an unintentionally closed mind, full of piss and vinegar and ready to argue against the “Great Goddess Hypothesis” due mostly to this week's reading from Eisler, but also, I must admit, from my own bias, but the way in which this film was presented really made me stop and think, and remind myself, that just like Socrates, the only thing I know is that I know nothing.

With that said, the film was not without minor problems, such as using Gobekli Tepe as evidence for goddess worship. Ancient Alien theorists do the same thing, and I think that we just don’t know enough about Gobekli Tepe to cite it as evidence for any theory of human development--the whole thing hasn’t even been completely excavated yet. 

The second problem which stood out to me, and is a problem for anything when the people you’re projecting your ideas onto are no longer there, is that--with the little Goddess statues, specifically the one found at Catalhoyuk by James Mellaart--only we (they) are saying they are Goddesses, they could be dolls, they could be folk art of the time, they could be anything (see Justin Corfield’s “PRO” section in chapter 6 of Popular Controversies in World HIstory (an unbelievably expensive e-book) found here, p. 128). Especially telling to this point is when Bettany narrates that current archaeology is rewriting “this picture,” and even more telling is when she next speaks with Shahina Farid about the figurine found in the grain bin and the Farid tells the Hughes “I don’t think she’s a goddess yet at this stage,” and just prior to that Farid uses the word “interpret,” with that I’d conclude that what I wrote above stands--not only do we not know what this specific figurine is, it’s impossible to know, all we can do is interpret and make conjecture, and if enough agree then it's the current popular theory.

Upon rewatching this part of the video at home I noticed something that ties in more with the writings of Eisler than it does with this video. In the video Bettany cites the work of archaeologist James Mellaart, but unless I missed it, nowhere is the work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas mentioned, a name which is inextricably linked with the Great Goddess Hypothesis and is important in the work of Riane Eisler, this omission being very telling as to exactly what this video does and doesn’t want the viewer to be aware of, I assume do to the criticism which has developed around the work of Gimbutas over the years. 

Another contrivance in the presentation of information is that the viewer is also not informed of all the controvesy that surrounded Mellaart in regards to some of the evidence he used to support his views upon Goddess worship in Anatolia (see Harold Haarmann’s “CON” section in chapter 6 of Popular Controversies in World History found here , p. 146-148), prior to that the Dorak affair (Haarmann, p. 138-140), his ban from Catalhoyuk until 2005, nor is the fact that Catalhoyuk remained unexcavated after Mellaart until the early 1990s (

Either way, right or wrong, the Great Goddess Hypothesis is certainly interesting archaeology that I’m definitely going to have to look into further.

Once we arrive, in the video, towards the end of the 3rd century BC we are introduced to the Galli, eunuch priests’ of Cybele who dressed feminine, were castrated as a sacrifice to the Great Mother, and who were not Roman, but Phrygian. It was brought up in class briefly as a tie-in with last week's video in regards to the possible prohibitions against male homosexuality due to its association with goddess worship. At first I thought this posed a chronological problem, but upon looking further into the discussions surrounding when the Book of Leviticus was composed and/or compiled, the dates when the Phrygian kingdom was at its pinnacle, and checking the dates of the Babylonian Exile, I’m left wishing that this tie-in between videos had had the time to be elaborated upon further.

-Riane Eisler “From Ritual to Romance” 

If I were to sum up this reading I’d say that it is trying to convey to the reader that prior to the Abrahamic religions there existed “a much earlier Western religion” “in which the Goddess and her divine son or consort were worshiped, women were priestesses, and the sexual union between woman and man had a strong spiritual dimension,” and that Eisler uses various interpretations of ancient sexual symbols from archaeology and linguistics (particularly her earlier work, The Chalice and the Blade, as well as the work of Marija Gimbutas, which Eisler in turn also used for the aforementioned work), new and old sexual realities--specifically her own dominator/partnership idea of social and sexual organization, and the theory of that sex is a social construct to assert this, as well as various borderline contexomies from the work of Elaine Pagels to “show” how “the Church’s [she means the Roman Catholic Church] “moral” condemnation of sexuality...was an integral part of the Church’s highly political strategy to impose and maintain its control over a people who still dimly remembered, and clung to, much earlier religious traditions.”

A big problem for her argument is that her entire conception of “the Church” is based upon a fallacy, that fallacy being that the Roman Catholic Church was this dominating institution that had a monopoly on “Christianity” until the Protestant Reformation. This view which is found amongst people raised in a world where the aftershock of the Reformation has long died down completely alienates the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, as well as the Assyrians, and is a totally skewed version of history that completely eliminates the historicity of the ancient Pentarchy comprised of the five major Patriarchates of the Holy Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem--what, only in the Patriarchate of Rome was Goddess worship so entrenched that the local church in Rome had to use a political strategy of “condemning sexuality” to control Goddess worshippers? And if there was a unified neolithic culture in which Goddess worship was key, then why in the other four Patriarchates did we not see the same “political strategy” employed? Were the Goddess worshipping inhabitants of those lands simply nominal in their adherence to the Goddess (much the same way as most Christians are now) and just replaced one deity with another just to placate their Grandmothers (much the same way many nominal Christians do now come Easter and Christmas)?

In the video Bettany Hughes only used the word “suppressing” once in relation to Christianity (but clearly meaning the local church in Rome), and that was only in reference to St. Peter’s being built upon an older site of Cybele’s sacrificial altars (as a tangent to this, nowhere in the video was the cult of Mithra brought up, even though at the part in the video where the sacrifice of bulls is mentioned a classic image of Mithra sacrificing a bull is briefly splashed across the screen); however, once we get to this reading from Eisler (which is predicated on her earlier work) we are launched deep into the realm of Goddess conspiracy theory--which would be why Dan Brown used her ideas in The Divinci Code.

There are many things I find wrong with Eisler’s work, but for the sake of brevity I only touched upon a small portion of it above. For those with more time to really dig into the ideas which Eisler’s work is predicated on I’ll point the reader here and here. The first of the two links provided also has a tie-in to the video from our first week, especially in relation to my mention of the Documentary Hypothesis in my entry for September 9th, the second link just shows that not all archaeologists and anthropologists agreed (nor do all feminists, as we also see in next week’s "Fat Jesus" reading) with the conclusions that were used as some of Eisler’s source material.

As to the truth of the historicity of the idea presented in the video and to the reading from Eisler for this week--let’s assume that they are correct in their interpretation of history, that ancient peoples believed in a (monotheistic?) Goddess, the evidence of which first arises pre-figuratively at Catalhoyuk (first because we don’t know enough about Gobekli Tepe and since  Shahina Farid said she doesn’t think it’s yet a goddess). The knowledge of this (by now a) Goddess grows and eventually winds its way to Phrygia and then spreads all around finding its pinnacle in Rome, where eventually it is overcome by Christianity (either by choice, as in converts actually believe in Christ, or violently, as in converts actually believe in the Goddess but hide the fact--I’ll let the reader decide). As an Orthodox Christian it doesn’t matter, for as we are told in Psalm 95:5 as found in the Septuagint: All the gods of the pagans are demons.

-Sex and Religion, Chap. 1, “Sex and Religion: An Introduction”
I think the best summary of this reading--due to it being an introduction to sex and religion--can be found within the first paragraph where Meredith McGuire is quoted, “all religions have attempted to interpret sexual themes or experiences. Religious symbolism frequently deals directly with themes of sexuality. Important parallels exist between spiritual and sexual ecstasy.”

For me especially that quote rings true as a brief introduction because it immediately brings to mind something I read this morning in my daily reading of Scripture, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Be’or, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes uncovered” (Numbers 24:3-4 RSV). In the notes for these verses, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha: Expanded Edition, Revised Standard Version, we are told “These verses suggest the ecstasy during which the oracle came.”

Also, in comparison to the introduction(s) in our other textbook, this one appears to be much more balanced in its approach, which makes since since this one appears to be more a “religious studies” book and Sexuality and the Sacred more actual academic theology, so of course they have different places they start out from.

This difference can really be seen in this introduction when they write “Indeed, there is no one specific religious approach to sex, nor one specific approach to sex within any given religion. Rather, the relationship between sex and religion involves a myriad of perspectives, paradigms, contradictions, and debates,” and “characterizing Christianity as totally and absolutely sex negative is clearly inaccurate and irresponsible,” which can be seen when they use the term “Western Christendom.”

But like most things, eventually there are a few mistakes in some of the arguments they use to arrive at their description of sexual regulation in the Christian context, as an example the author quotes Romans 1:32 as saying homosexuals “deserve to die”, so I went and checked the Greek and it literally reads “worthy of death,” which is also the rendering found quoted in St. John Chrysostom’s 5th Homily on Romans. Some might say it’s pretty much the same thing, but in the context of--not only of the entire passage of Scripture where that quote is found but also in the totality of Christian life, it definitely doesn’t mean what the author of our reading appears to be implying.

Later, in their brief explanation of restrictive sexual regulation, amongst the other questions/theories as to why sex needed to be controlled (does sex need to be controlled because it is chaotic and irrational, or is it seen as chaotic and irrational because people would like to control it?) they bring up the matriarchy/patriarchy duality of an old matriarchal, prosex, partnership religion/culture becoming replaced by a new patriarchchal, antisex, dominator religion/culture thus bringing us back to this week’s reading from Eisler and ideas we’ve covered so far, but with a much more balanced approach. For example, when they counter the view of the duality of matriarchy/patriarchy (as stated above) by stating “other scholars argue the rise of patriarchy was motivated by more pragmatic concerns,” such as non-monogamous sex and the tracing of family ties via the maternal line. And further down they hit back much harder when they bring Hinduism into the matriarchal/patriarchal dualism debate, 

“The fact that ancient Hindu scriptures venerate goddesses and celebrate sexuality has not historically translated into empowerment for Indian women. If religions are antisexual because they are patriarchichal, then why do some prosexual religions also oppress women?”

A question that was not brought up once by Bettany Hughes, which is quite distressing, especially because India is not only known here in the West for the recent public attention to all the gang rapes, but also because India has been practicing female foeticide in conjunction with their already high rate of legal sex-selective abortion for a long time (Sorry, Bettany).

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