For many of us, the concept of these two extremes is so real we’ve convinced ourselves of it … “You’ll never get to Heaven if you…” or “You’ll go to Hell if …” – that sort of thing.
These and similar concepts have been so often expressed in our culture that we can actually feel the truth of it in our bones. It’s a part of us … But is it true? For some of us, even to question such dogma or express the slightest curiosity … this natural human desire to know is tantamount to heresy. People were killed in the past for such innocent inquiry.
To express this natural curiosity now won’t usually get you killed. We’ve grown smarter, as a species. Then again, not much. You’ll still be held in small esteem for such thoughts by that majority of others who really believe in Heaven and Hell. They’ll hate you for not sharing their convictions, for it’s felt as a threat to their very basis of being … so deeply planted that none dare inspect the roots.
Will you really go to Hell if you say, God damn? Some people think so. It’s sort of hard to qualify that in the world of the living when the only proof of it is to die, first. “Honor thy father and mother”? Well, what if they were less than honorable, giving lessons of inferiority, or perversion, or worthlessness, or pain? Who will go to Hell, then – you, for not accepting their mistreatment? Or – them, for giving it? Seems a little relative.
Actually, it’s all a little relative, when you think about it. For instance: if only “good” people go to Heaven and only “bad” people go to Hell, what about those “in-between”? And is it cut-and-dried? How good is “good”? How bad is “bad”? Is there a percentage? Can someone be mostly good, but not quite – say, 90 percent? What happens, then – he spends nine days out of ten in Heaven, then has a lousy vacation? Or, perhaps he’s almost exactly equal in the good and bad, but just a little better in the better, maybe 51 percent. Does he still go to Heaven? What about the guy who’s almost as good, but only 49 percent – does he go to Hell, being so close to the “cutoff” line? What if he’s only done one “bad” thing in his life, but it was so bad, he knocked his average down to that 49 percent? Shall we burn him if he only had that one little mistake? Wasn’t this whole dogma based on forgiveness?
And if it was, how can we harm anyone who’s committed any “sin”? Don’t we forgive them all? Aren’t we supposed to? What if they do another “bad” thing – what if they kill again, for example? Do we forgive them again? And again? How many cheeks can we turn? Is there something wrong in this philosophy, an ultimate contradiction in such belief?
The answer, it would appear, is yes – we can’t forgive the perpetual “sinner” any more than we can condemn a man for one mistake, unless it was horrendous and intended. “Thou shalt not kill” … what about actual self-defense, or killing someone who’s an immediate danger to others, even if you’re not threatened? The true spirit of humanity would seem to suggest an obligation to the greater good, even at the extreme sacrifice of the one who threatens it without retreat.
But, to return to the question of Heaven and Hell, is there a scholarly basis for such concepts, or are they merely inventions of the early Church to establish a mythical quid pro quo for being good or bad … a moral impetus for the ignorant multitude unaware of such fine distinctions? Research would seem to suggest the latter explanation, for there never used to be a Heaven or Hell at all, just one place where everyone went when they died, according to the earliest traditions. It was called Sheol. No separate places for the good or the bad, just … Sheol. One size fits all. This is clear from the description on page 276 of the Encyclopoedia Britannica (1965 ed., Vol. 11): “The state of the dead was one of neither pain nor pleasure. Neither reward for the righteous nor punishment for the wicked was associated with Sheol. The good and the bad alike, tyrants and saints, kings and orphans, Israelites and Gentiles all slept together without awareness of one another.” That reference is cited on page 1488 of the Aid to Bible Understanding, which further mentions that “Sheol and Hades refer to the same thing, mankind’s common grave.”
Hades, in other words, was not originally defined as a place of hellfire and brimstone presided over by a devil in red with a tail and horns and a pitchfork … such description was a creation of evangelical motive.
Imaginative concepts of Heaven and Hell were later inventions of the New Testament, and those who presumed to “retranslate” according to their own standards for revision: “The Hebrew word she’ohl occurs sixty-five times in the Bible and in the Authorized Version has been translated thirty-one times (as) ‘hell,’ thirty-one times (as) ‘grave,’ and three times (as) ‘pit.’ ” Identifying strongly with the spirit of such revision, “The Catholic Douay translation renders the word sixty-three times as ‘hell,’ once as ‘pit,’ and once as ‘death.’ “
These and other attempts to redefine the Bible amount to nothing less than deception meant to suit a “Christian” agenda: “Commenting on such use of the word ‘hell’ in Bible translation, Collier’s Encyclopedia (1962 ed., Vol. 12, p.27) says: ‘Since Sheol in Old Testament times referred simply to the abode of the dead and suggested no moral distinctions, the word ‘ ‘hell,’ ‘ as understood today, is not a happy translation.’ “
The concept of Heaven as an eternal Paradise was a Persian invention, from the writings of Zarathustra (ca. 700 B.C.)*, and it appears nowhere in the Old Testament nor in cuneiform antecedents. One finds it, of course, in the New Testament, but the mention of it at 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 is dismissed as common only to Paul, himself, when he says he “knew a man who was caught up to the third heaven … into Paradise”: “Since there is no mention in the Scriptures of any other person having had such an experience, it seems likely that this was the apostle’s own experience.” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p.735)
* Alexander’s conquest in 331 B.C. resulted in the complete destruction of all Zoroastrian records, 1,200 cowhides said to be written in gold ink. Subsequent reconstruction turned up a small percentage of original text, but current devotees now rely on the remembered details of their faith as provided by a select few in the past with a talent for such recollection.
Heaven was regarded in the early Bible as simply the sky above us, extending out to infinite space. The “Lord” was envisioned by Solomon as positioned even beyond that, higher than high, past the “heaven of heavens.” Despite such inspired hyperbole, the Aid to Bible Understanding states at page 732 that “Solomon’s statement does not mean that God has no specific place of residence. Nor does it mean that he is omnipresent in the sense of being literally everywhere and in everything. This can be seen from the fact that Solomon also spoke of Jehovah as hearing ‘from the heavens, your established place of dwelling….’ “
As for Purgatory, it does not exist. At least, not in the Bible: there is no mention of it in the Authorized Version, nor in its Topical Guide nor the Bible Dictionary. Zarathustra conceived of such a place, intermediate “between heaven and hell for souls neither good enough for the one nor bad enough for the other…,” a concept which also found its way into the Babylonian Talmud. But there is no such antecedent in the Sumerian.
Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, as concepts of an “afterlife,” were not common to the earlier traditions. Only Egypt envisioned such fantasy in their Osiris ritual, as Gordon remarks: “Each dead person was identified with Osiris on the assumption that the deceased would undergo, but emerge triumphant like Osiris from, a trial full of vicissitudes to qualify for the life eternal.” That practice may be safely presumed as the antecedent for all such later custom, as Gordon continues: “The fully developed concept of a personal judgment, whereby each man enters paradise if his character and life on earth warrant it, appears quite remarkable when we consider that centuries later there was still no such idea in Mesopotamia and Israel. The Babylonians and Assyrians never developed it…. Indeed the later Jewish, Christian and Islamic concept of the afterlife, as one in which the individual is rewarded or punished depending on his earthly record, is more akin to Egyptian views than to those of the Old Testament.” Zarathustra would later define the concept even further. (The Ancient Near East, Cyrus H. Gordon, W.W. Norton, 1965, page 62.
For the actual traditions, as related in the very earliest records and uncontaminated by later fantasy, we must look to Sumer In the beginning, the Sumerian pantheon included Enlil and Enki, sons of Anu and Antu. There were also daughters, such as Ninhursag, and aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and grandchildren, as well as “semi-divine” offspring with humans (Gilgamesh, e.g.). Zecharia Sitchin relates on page 123 of The 12th Planet: “Of the six known sons of Enki, three have been featured in Sumerian tales: the firstborn Marduk, who eventually usurped the supremacy; Nergal, who became ruler of the Lower World; and Dumuzi, who married Inanna/Ishtar. (Enki’s younger son, Ningishzidda, is yet to be fully corroborated by buried tablets as the Mesoamerican gods known variously as Quetzalcoatl [The Plumed Serpent], Kukulkan, and Viracocha).
“Enlil, too, had three sons who played key roles in both divine and human affairs: Ninurta (Ningirsu), who, having been born to Enlil by his sister Ninhursag, was the legal successor; Nanna/Sin, firstborn by Enlil’s official spouse Ninlil; and a younger son by Ninlil named ISH.KUR (‘mountainous,’ ‘far mountain land’), who was more frequently called Adad [Hadad] (‘beloved’).
“As brother of Sin and uncle of Utu and Inanna (children of Nanna/Sin and Ningal), Adad appears to have felt more at home with them than at his own house. …
“The greatest affinity seems to have existed between Adad and Ishtar…. Was there more to this ‘affinity’ than a platonic relationship, especially in view of Inanna’s ‘record’ (of dalliance)? It is noteworthy that in the biblical Song of Songs, the playful girl calls her lover dod – a word that means both ‘lover’ and ‘uncle.’ Now, was Ishkur called Adad – a derivative from the Sumerian DA.DA – because he was the uncle who was the lover?
“But Ishkur was not only a playboy; he was a mighty god, endowed by his father Enlil with the powers and prerogatives of a storm god. As such he was revered as the Hurrian/Hittite (god) Teshub and the Urartian Teshubu (‘wind blower’), the Amorite Ramanu (‘thunderer’), the Canaanite Regimu (‘caster of hailstones’), the Indo-European Buriash (‘light maker’), the Semitic Meir (‘he who lights up’ the skies).”
It should be noted that modern scholars never doubted the Sumerian source of biblical writings, nor that such literature from Sumer later percolated through Canaanite, Hurrian, Hittite, Amorite, Eblaite, Babylonian, and other cultures before being finally recorded in the Hebrew.
That said, it would appear naive to believe there was ever only one god, for even the Bible speaks of them in plural … “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), “Let us go down” (Genesis 11:7), etc. As the older gods became less resolute, their authority was gradually assumed by sons and grandsons. For instance, Enki’s son Marduk (Hebrew, Merodach) seized control of Babylon with such godly ego that his scribes changed the old stories, inserting his name for Enlil’s in the historical records. As Sitchin tells it from page 110 of The 12th Planet:
“This usurpation of the Enlilship … was accompanied by an extensive Babylonian effort to forge the ancient texts. The most important texts were rewritten and altered so as to make Marduk appear as the Lord of the Heavens, the Creator, the Benefactor, the Hero, instead of Anu or Enlil or even Ninurta. Among the texts altered (in which Ninurta was originally named) was the ‘Tale of Zu’; and according to the (changed) Babylonian version it was Marduk (not Ninurta) who fought (and vanquished) Zu. In this version, Marduk boasted: ‘Mahasti moh il Zu’ (‘I have crushed the skull of the god Zu’).”
As happened with the name of Enlil, so also with that of Marduk. Finegan relates on page 30 of Myth & Mystery that: Sennacherib, who destroyed Babylon in 689 (B.C.), strongly opposed the worship of Marduk; in fact, during his reign Assyrian scribes replaced the name of Marduk in their copies of the Enuma Elish with the name of the Assyrian god Ashur.”
There is no doubt of such competition among the gods, whether in the primeval battles recorded in many cultures, or in the later contention for parameters of earth. There is also no doubt that Anshar was not much involved with the latter, nor Anu, his son, after operations here had assumed full swing. Indeed, it was Enlil who was foremost in charge, being the natural son and legal successor to that position by reason of his birth to Anu’s official consort, Antu. Though actually born first, brother Enki was second in command, but only because of his birth to a concubine of Anu’s instead of the “mother of succession.” Taking precedence over both positions would have been a birth even closer by royal blood – between a god and his half-sister – as with Enlil and Ninhursag’s union, which produced Ninurta.
Nevertheless, Enlil was supreme, with the position of power and weapons to prove it, symbolized by the title of his ‘Enlilship,” the supreme command. This is acknowledged in the stele of Hammurabi of Babylon (ca. 1800 B.C.), where Marduk was the chief god, yet the stele shows Hammurabi’s acknowledgement of gods even greater: “Anu and Enlil named me to promote the welfare of the people … to cause justice to prevail in the land.” Marduk may then have been the latest, but he was certainly not the greatest, as so exemplified.
Along with Marduk’s later supremacy in Babylon and Assyria from the 14th century B.C. onwards, “… his son Nabu attained such prominence that the inscription on a statue of Nabu set up at Nimrud (Calah) under Adad-Nirari III (810-783 B.C.) ends, ‘Wait on Nabu; do not trust in another god.’ “
Sound familiar? It should, for it is but one of many examples of jealous gods who warned their flocks against following another.
Finegan continues from page 30: “The god Ashur (also Assur) bears the same name as the oldest Assyrian capital (both the god and the city are mentioned in literary sources from the third millennium B.C.), and it is from (his) name that the name of Assyria is derived. As in the case of Marduk and Babylon, the rise of Ashur to great prominence paralleled the rise of the city to political supremacy. From the thirteenth century onward Ashur is assimilated with Enlil, and assumes Enlil’s titles such as Great Mountain and Father of the Gods. …
“That the Assyrians felt a personal (actual) relationship with the deity is evident from the standard Old Assyrian term ‘god of the fathers.’ We hear, for example, of ‘Ashur, the god of your fathers,’ and ‘Ilabrat [the Assyrian messenger-god], the god of our fathers.’ Similar phraseology is found at the same time (second millennium B.C.) among Assyrian rulers at Mari, and may be compared with the usage in Genesis 26:24; 28:13; 31:5,53; and Exodus 3:15.” All of which comparatives compel the question that: Since the later gods, Marduk and Ashur, borrowed such terms of prominence (e.g., “Father of the gods”) from Enlil, whose earthly importance was well-documented and superior to
that of his father (Anu) and grandfather (Anshar) … is there any doubt that Enlil was, indeed, the Father figure of old, aka Jehovah, Yahweh, The Most High, God of your Fathers, Our Father, etc.? Sitchin affirms at page 97 (The 12th Planet): “A Sumerian psalm spoke in veneration of this god:
‘Lord who knows the destiny of The Land,
trustworthy is his calling;
Enlil who knows the destiny of Sumer,
trustworthy is his calling;
Lord of all the lands;
Lord of the Rightful Command;
Shepherd of the Black-Headed Ones ….
From the Mountain of Sunrise
to the Mountain of Sunset;
There is no other Lord in the land;
you alone are King.’
There is evidence that Enlil (El) was the chief god of Ugarit known as Dagon, who was known to Ebla as Dagan, and was the father of Baal, Yamm, and Mot (the Egyptian Osiris), and the goddess Anath (Anat): The Ancient Near East, Vol. I, pp. 94-118. “King Father Shunem” was an epithet of El in the Tale of Aqhat and may refer to his paternal status over the people of Shumer/Shin’ar/Sumer.
Further evidence (pp. 104-106, 116, 117) reveals another name for Baal was Hadd, which may logically be an abbreviation of Hadad (Ishkur/Adad), the Storm-God son of Enlil. Supporting this are the epithets of Baal, himself: “Rider of the Clouds,” and “God of Rain and Thunder.” With Baal as Hadad, El was obviously Enlil.
As the Roman culture was a direct beneficiary of the Greek, which was, in turn, influenced by Mesopotamian offshoots of the Canaanite/Phoenicians and Crete, it is reasonable to suggest that Zeus and Jove were modeled on none other than Jehovah, aka Enlil. Legend has it that Zeus arrived in Greece by swimming from Crete.
Enlil (El) was already quite old when his son Adad (Baal) came to prominence and, though the former was the god originally associated with the sky and wind and storms and lightning, some scholars identify Zeus and Jove with that inheritance of his son, Adad (Baal). Sitchin notes on page 152 of the Avon book of 1980, The Stairway to Heaven: “Baal, as Zeus, was always armed with a lightning-missile, the bull his cult symbol,” which, we know, was also that of his father, old “Bull El.”
Sitchin continues, illustrating the commonality of the various cultures: “When Zeus fought Typhon, it was his sister Athena, Goddess of War and Love, who alone stood by him; and in Egyptian tales, Isis alone stood by her brother-husband Osiris. So it was when Baal fought his two brothers: his sister-lover Anat alone came to his help. Like Athena (and Ishtar), she was on the one hand ‘The Maiden,’ often (depicted as) flaunting her naked beauty, and on the other hand the Goddess of War, the lion a symbol of her bravery. (The Old Testament called her Ashtoreth.)
“The links to Egyptian prehistorical recollections and beliefs were no less than to those of Greece. Osiris was resurrected by Isis after she had found his remains at the Canaanite city of Byblos. Likewise, Ba’al was brought back to life by Anat after he was smitten by Mot. Seth, the adversary of Osiris, was sometimes called in Egyptian writings ‘Seth of Saphon’; Ba’al … acquired the title ‘Lord of (Mount) Zaphon.’ Egyptian monuments of the New Kingdom – paralleling the Canaanite period – often depicted the Canaanite gods as Egyptian deities, calling them Min, Reshef, Kadesh, Anthat. We thus find the same tales applying to the same gods, but under different names, throughout the ancient world.
“Scholars have pointed out that all these tales were echoes, if not actual versions, of very much earlier and original Sumerian tales: not only of Man’s Search for Immortality, but also of love, death and resurrection among the gods. All along (throughout the various cultures), the tales are replete with episodes, details, epithets, and teachings which also fill the Old Testament – attesting to a common locale (greater Canaan), common traditions, and common original versions.”
Also common to many cultures was the place of Baal, the mountain ascribed to him and the other gods, Baal Zaphon, known as Baalbek. Sitchin clarifies from page 182: ” … there is no doubt left in our mind that in Baalbek we have found Baal’s Crest of Zaphon, the target of the first journey of Gilgamesh.” Mr. Finegan elaborates on the connection between Sumer and the Bible at page 37: “We have seen that there are Mesopotamian antecedents for … the biblical manner of speech about the creation, the phrase ‘the God of your fathers’ (Exodus 3:15), and the biblical record of the flood (Genesis 6-8). Likewise the form of Mesopotamian law is characteristic of most law in the Hebrew Scriptures, and not a few of the biblical laws are comparable in phrasing and import with those of Hammurabi (by whose time the earlier Sumerian laws had been transformed by Semitic influence into the crueler edicts of lex talionis – an eye for an eye – instead of the former payment of money).
“In the time of the Jewish captivity in Babylon (ca. 600 B.C.), however, the Hebrew prophets declared (a new) monotheistic belief in unequivocal terms and cast scorn on Bel (Marduk), and Nebo (Nabu) and the idols by which the Mesopotamian gods were represented (Isaiah 46). This repudiation persisted (to the present day) in Christianity and in Islam. Nevertheless, the Mesopotamian influences continued in the Hebrew Scriptures and therewith also in Christianity and Islam (and, should we mention, Mormonism).”
Very little art does not derive something from its predecessors. The same can be said of “written” art. This is certainly true of the Hebrew Bible, which antecedence owed not a little to Sumer. In parallel with that culture, however, the Egyptian exercised, also, great influence on the Hebrew.
One must first remember the many gods noted in the earliest cultures. Around 1350 B.C., Amunhotep IV changed his name to reflect his change of Egyptian religion. Whether it was Akhenaton’s heretical deification of an inanimate and solitary “sun” (which the Romans later elevated to Deus Sol Invictus) or other cause, the tendency to redefine the pagan pantheon into singular focus became the eventual credo worldwide. Gods who were formerly flesh and blood, real and recorded, became thus reduced in time to a single supreme being with mysterious aura of namelessness and ethereal fantasy, rendering the definable might of previous reality into the current fiction of an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent superphantom. Such wonderful mirage has already been slightly discounted above, however, in the Fundamentalist acknowledgement against omnipresence (in re: Solomon).
Though Akhenaton’s radical reform was strongly repudiated after his death and the old gods restored to their rightful honor, the seed had been planted and would bear later fruit in less than a century. The tendency to render all former gods into a mysterious, all-powerful “One,” unnameable (ineffable), was perhaps firmly inaugurated by this passage from the Leiden Papyrus of Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty (ca. 1260 B.C.), in which we find the god described in terms antecedent to those later used in the Bible. As Finegan mentions on page 60, “In chapter 200 (4.12-21) it is said that his name is ‘hidden’ because he is a mystery: ‘too mysterious that his glory should be revealed, too great that question should be made of him, too powerful that he should be known.’ “
As if in further correspondence with the later Christian doctrine, the unmistakable concept of a Holy Trinity is also advanced: “And then in chapter 300 (4.21-26) it is stated that there exist only three gods, namely, Amun, Re, and Ptah, and that they are actually only one:
‘Three [gods] are all the gods –
Amun, Re, and Ptah –
and there is none like them.
‘Hidden’ is his name as Amun,
Re belongs to him as his face,
and Ptah is his body.
Their cities on earth are established forever;
Thebes, Heliopolis, and Memphis until eternity.’ “
Three gods – who are only one, whose name is mystery – is this not a presursor to the Christian concept of an unfathomable God and his equally unfathomable Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (nee Ghost)?
Fortunate was the Bible to have been blessed with a wealth of material not only from Mesopotamia and Egypt, but also from the Indo-European Zarathustra and his Zoroastrianism. Finegan relates on page 116: ‘Going beyond the general similarity of ideas to that of specific individual concepts, there is the development of biblical thought about Satan in comparison with Zoroastrian beliefs. In Job 1:6-12 and Zechariah 3:1-2 ‘the Satan’ is the accuser of Job and of Joshua and the high priest, and in Chronicles 21:1 Satan is the one who incites David to number Israel (cf. 2 Samuel 24:1). Thus the earlier concept of Satan shows him playing an adversarial role (a worthy opponent: more wily, perhaps, than evil).”
The concept of Satan as distinctly “evil” and the personification of “sin” became only more fully developed in the construction of the New Testament: “In the New Testament he is called both Satan and the devil, and is not only the ‘accuser’, (Rev. 12:10) and the ‘tempter’ (Matt. 4:1-3), but a distinctive personality who embodies (now) the power of darkness. He is the enemy of light and of God (Acts 26:18), being ‘the prince of demons’ (Matt. 9:34; etc.), ‘the ruler of this world’ (John 12:31; etc.), ‘the one who has the power of death’ (Heb. 2:14), and ‘a murderer from the beginning … a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44); ‘yet in the end he will be defeated forever’ (Rev. 12:9; 20:10).
“In many respects the Zoroastrian Angra Mainyu/Ahriman, who is the hostile spirit, the enemy of Ahura Mazda’s holy spirit, Spenta Mainyu, appears like a prototype of the biblical Satan. Angra Mainyu brought death into the world (Yasna 30:4); he has the daevas of evil spirits under his control (30.6); likewise the druj, the demon of the Lie, the personification of deceit, is on his side against asha, the principle of Truth and Righteousness on the side of Ahura Mazda (30.8). But in the final outcome Deceit will be delivered into the hands of Truth (30.8), both ‘the most wicked druj, born of darkness,’ and ‘the evil-doing Angra Mainyu’ will be overcome (Yasht 9.95-96), and with a fiery purge of evil the universe will experience renovation (Bundahish 30.29-32). Thus Zoroastrian influence may well be recognized in the shaping of the biblical concept of Satan.” Finegan further states at page 117 that “There is also probable Zoroastrian influence in the development of biblical thought about the end of the world and the afterlife.”
As with Satan, so was Lucifer recast in evil terms, though he was originally known to the Greeks as the Morning Star: Aurora (or Eos), Greek goddess of the Dawn, is often seen as whipping a quadriga (four-horse chariot), with Lucifer in her lead, bearing a torch. As stated on page 168 of The Manual of Mythology, by Alexander S. Murray (Newcastle, 1993):
“In other representations we find Hermes advancing before her, a duty which Lucifer, the Morning Star, and a favourite of Aphrodite and Hera … most usually performs.”
Edith Hamilton confirms this view in concise terms from the Mentor book, Mythology (NAL, 1942, p.106): “… Lucifer, the light-bearer, the star that brings in the day….” Further confirmation occurs at page 1451 of the Aid to Bible Understanding: “In some translations the Latin Vulgate term ‘Lucifer’ is retained. It is, however, merely the translation of the Hebrew word heh-lel’, ‘shining one.’ “
Each of these authoritative notations thus describes Lucifer in positive terms of light, contrary to the subsequent Christian depiction of him as a satanic demon of darkness.
In similar fashion, the Canaanite god of Ugarit was originally referred to as Zebul Baal, meaning “Prince Baal,” but this was later changed, as Finegan shows at his page 139: “In 2 Kings 1:6,16, the god of the Philistine city of Ekron is called Baalzebub; zebub means ‘fly,’ rendered ‘Baal Fly’ by the Septuagint…. This may be an intentional and disparaging distortion of the name.” The real distortion occurs in the Bible, however, as Finegan shows: “In Matthew 12:24 and elsewhere in the New Testament, Beel-zebul is presumably the same god and is (there) identified as the prince of demons.”
“Devil” was a term for one who would “deviate” from an accepted path, one who disagreed. It was also a term for one by whom others were “tempted” to think for themselves. This contrary influence would be considered blasphemous and earn for such “devil” the epithets of “accuser” or “slanderer” (criticizer) of the accepted position and its holder of esteem.
When The Exorcist came out, many were convinced that William Peter Blatty’s book and movie showed an accurate depiction of Satan, aka the Devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer and his legions, etc. Mercedes McCambridge made it all the more convincing with her studio-enhanced, throaty rendition of The Evil One.
But was it real? Could that and similar allusions to Satan have any actual substance, or are they merely entertainment? Many modern accounts of exorcism and poltergeist phenomena would seem to affirm, without question, the manifestation of disembodied spirits. The reported physical effects in certain of these accounts might further attribute to these spirits an anger, violence, or demonic influence. That something very powerful is observed cannot be denied, for there is no doubt that physical objects of great weight are often moved quickly as if by unseen hand, while smaller objects (often appearing from nowhere) seem to propel themselves across the room. In similar enigma, a “possessed” victim will often seem to acquire a different personality, dark and menacing, replete with uncommon strength or unnatural abilities (speaking in “tongues,” e.g.).
Not to go unmentioned are the equally baffling talents of automatic “writing” by which is produced material foreign to the writer’s conscious abilities, or automatic “artwork,” which renders works in the style of long-dead masters from a hand ignorant of their conscious execution.
Our current understanding of these and other such phenomena is, sadly, inadequate. The mind of man is a marvelous and mysterious construct, possessed of seemingly infinite capacity and power. It is well known and documented, for example, that certain human beings are able to remove their conscious minds and senses from the confines of the physical body and observe what transpires at a distance (remote sensing), providing evidence of seeing it (clairvoyance) and hearing it (clairaudience). Some can even control physical objects at a distance using only the powers of the mind (psychokinesis). Nor is this ability naturally available to only a select few: what is possible for any one human is also likely possible for any other. Such extraordinary human resource was considered so potentially viable that both sides attempted its implementation against the other in World War II. And a Nightline program in the late ’90s revealed that the U.S. Army had employed “remote viewers” for at least twenty years. That our bodies radiate constant unseen energy which intensity is directly affected by health or mood is graphically apparent in the technique of Kirlian photography.
The ultimate scientific definition of the relationship of these phenomena to the subconscious and the psychic realm has not yet been established. Nor has our science yet reached an exact correlation between pubescence and the psychic. Research would currently suggest, however, that such transitional children provide a gateway to certain poltergeist manifestations. It might also suggest the psychic susceptibility of certain individuals to the “demonic” phenomenon and its possible attendant reliance upon the human subconscious. Is Holy Water really holy, or is the belief in it merely holey, inspired by the personal conviction of its power?
Toward this extreme, concerning the vision of “God’ or “angels” often reported in cases of Near Death Experience – is it really God or angels that people are convinced by, or merely a subconscious fantasy engendered by one’s own long-held beliefs and the physiological effects of lessened brain oxygen? That the latter may have greater weight is perhaps exemplified by the particular “God” mentioned in different belief systems – a different vision according to each different belief.
We are nothing without our personal beliefs, for they ground us to a solid base, the unimpeachable foundation of our thoughts, words, and deeds – the soul of our convictions. Unimpeachable, that is, by anyone but ourselves. No one else can change our “deepest” minds. If there is ever to be any such paradigm shift in this basic belief, it is well understood that only we, ourselves, can make such change.
The insistent question of these phenomena just mentioned is therefore simply this: owing to the apparently infinite capacities of the human mind … how much of our belief is conditioned by ourselves, and how much from “outside” influence? One thing is ultimately clear – beliefs are very real, though often independent of supportive facts.
In pertinent point – to reinvigorate the “Job” debate – it is ultimately puzzling to most people that an all-powerful “God” would allow so much suffering in the world when His simple command could easily end it. Few are convinced that repeated examples of Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Salvador or even Hitler can be effectively accepted as “lessons” meant to inspire forbearance. Many have been long convinced of tattered seams in that myth … and that logic would compel an alternate explanation.
“Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling-place of slaves and serfs? Simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians? That he did a few miracles to astonish them? That all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum filled with Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians, and Methodist mummies?”
“There is no slavery but ignorance.
Liberty is the child of intelligence.”
(Robert G. Ingersoll, from George Seldes’ compilation of The Great Quotations, Lyle Stuart, 1960, page 351)
The people of ancient Sumer could not understand how their gods could ignore them, either. Long before the creation of a biblical “Job,” Sumerians prostrated themselves in anguished prayer, begging release from their earthly woes. And always, unlike today, they would blame not fate or the will of the gods for their misfortune, but themselves. It was considered necessary to present oneself in abject humility, all the while praising the local god whose wisdom and power could have prevented such misfortune.
At that time, prayer could be occasionally effective, for the gods were still involved and available. But they were, of course, busy: who among them could afford to constantly minister to the multiplying complaints of a growing multitude? Mediators were needed, many of them, to handle the burgeoning breed. Enter the priests. These functionaries would placate their troubled flock and decrease the number of complaints, bringing only the rarest worthy case to the attention of a local god. In modern example, all the rest were simply exhorted to keep praying in humility, with the reminder that they were basically no-good “sinners” who had somehow brought their problems on themselves. This reduced a lot of traffic to the higher-ups and was, therefore, quite effective. People do complain a lot, don’t they? The gods were happy – this gave them a lot more free time.
There was that exceptional case, now and then, which was accidentally overlooked, despite its merit. One example is found, among others, in the literature of the day (“Ludlul Bel Nemeqi”) and provides an obvious precedent to “Job.” In this, as well, despite the quite apparent goodness of the man, he is unjustly reduced and comes to suffer all manner of calamity.
Priests give him little solace or true comfort, however, for their constant pronouncement is simply that his suffering is due to his own misdeeds. Not a matter of godly attention. Editor James Pritchard confirms from The Ancient Near East (Vol. II, p.136):
“In spite of surface appearances to the contrary, there are no cases of unjust and undeserved human suffering; it is always man who is to blame, not the (busy) gods. But the truth of such theological premises and conclusions is by no means readily apparent, and in moments of adversity, more than one sufferer must have been tempted to challenge the fairness and justice of the gods, and to blaspheme against them.”
Denying this urge, Pritchard notes, was usually encouraged in order not to make matters worse. Instead, the afflicted continued only to praise his god despite injustice and was, in the end, rewarded: “… the poet informs us that the man’s prayer did not go unheeded, and that his god accepted the entreaties and delivered him from his afflictions.” That was then. Things were different.
Despite the paradox of Job, faith seduces some more easily than logic. Many of us now still openly thank “god” for our providence, in words praising that mysterious “controller” of our destinies … “Most of all, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ… ” or, a simpler “Thank you, Jesus,” or, “I couldn’t have done it without…” or, “I owe it all to…” or, “Everything I am (or have) today is because of…”, etc.
Yet, how much of our good fortune can actually be attributed more to the miraculous than our own personal luck or industry?
Despite our sincere belief and a conviction based on practice of prayer for millennia, the evidence would appear to support an uncomfortable but unmistakable conclusion … there is no one to hear you, now. That there once was, as suggested by the ancient records, is also unmistakable. Such records reveal that Ezekiel may have been the last human to have personal contact with a god (four visits between 593-573 B.C.). After him, several of the then-remaining gods had lived in Babylon for a time, but, as told in a tablet of Cyrus (ca. 550 B.C.), finally departed from their mansions there, angry that Marduk had convinced them to live in such a disrespectful place.
We live in such a place today, our moral standards reduced to insignificance, our treatment of each other too often heartless and unconscionable. William Bennett had to write a book about values when it became obvious how many of us didn’t have a clue (The Book of Virtues, Simon & Schuster, 1993). When Nietzsche said “God is dead,” he meant that deep respect in all of us, that sense of the sacred we seem to have lost. It is nothing less than humility and a feeling of wonder for the world around us, an acknowledgement from the child within that we can still be amazed or delighted or diminished, that we can still feel love or magic or respect for something outside our too-important selves. Nietzsche was not referring to the actual gods of our past, or any one particular “God”: the God within us is dead, that ultimate arbiter and fount of propriety, that region of reason and center of sanctity that determines our deepest principles. Without it, we are motivated by a selfishness more common to animals.
We must find that God again, restore its rightful and necessary place in our heart of hearts, our heaven of heavens. If prayer is to be truly effective, it is this God we should consciously address, for it is this God we ultimately beseech.
And as for those others: if they are not, at the moment, here to hear … where are they, and when might they return? Difficult questions, to be sure. If we can surmise, however, that they actually left en masse near the time of Ezekiel (ca. 600 B.C.) before the recording of Cyrus’s tablet, and that they are at this moment some 2,600 years into Nibiru’s 3,600-year orbit, we should not expect their return until about the year 3,000. Then again, owing to the vagaries of historical interpretation … they may be just around the corner.
The real “Christian” ethic? Sure, it’s in the Bible – all those ideals of decent and honorable behavior. But is one less decent for ethics equal or superior to those of a parent, teacher, or Church? Can one be whole without slavish allegiance to another authority, if one surely breathes the nature of “good” and is, thereby, a “gift” to others? Has he not, then, a better gift than those who would presume to give it? The answer to that is found in the Bible, itself:
“For God commanded, saying,
Honour thy father and mother: and,
he that curseth father or mother,
let him die the death. But ye say,
Whosoever shall say to his father
or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever
thou mightest be profited by me;
and honour not his father or his mother,
he shall be free. And ye shall suffer him
no more to do ought for his father or his mother.”
Matthew 15:46; Mark 7:10-12
Reprehensible though it may seem to some, a person may disdain accepted paths and reject his culture’s impositions with impunity if that person loves, at heart, his fellows, but sees beyond their limited vision.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
And, how to tell what is truly “right,” despite what others may say?: If your heart says “Yes,” then go; if it’s “No,” you’ll know. That’s it. You already knew that, of course.
Goodness – Godness – the same in any culture, because it is a function not of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Confucianists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jainists, or any other creation of man. It is a function of man, himself … humanity. That is the only religion. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are but creative fictions of little minds in a fearful past, when control of the masses was more easily effected, and when those in power could paint equally fanciful pictures of a Satan or Devil, a God or angelic messengers. On this, the eve of a new age, we know that we, alone, are responsible for the good or evil we do each other. It’s time for graduation.