Book Review: The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries by David Ulansey

I thought you should know that this book exists.

I don’t even remember where I got it. I have a feeling I got it at a used book store or a library sale, or maybe I stole it from my dad’s library. I know it’s been sitting around my study for a few years, waiting for me to get to it. It was published in 1989.

This is a good, accessible piece of scholarly work that first explains what the cult of Mithros was, then traces the history of scholarly thinking about it, and then advances Ulansey’s theory about what was really behind the cult.

What Is Mithraism

Mithraism began to spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first century C.E., reached its peak in the third century, and finally succumbed to Christianity at the end of the fourth century. At the cult’s height mithraea could be found from one end of the empire to the other, “from the banks of the Black Sea to the mountains of Scotland and to the borders of the great Sahara Desert,” as one authority puts it.

ibid, p. 4

As a result, many of the underground Mithraic temples whose iconography Ulansey shows pictures of are found in Germany or in Italy, although this is a cult that had its origins in Tarsus, in southern Turkey.

For a long time, the accepted theory among scholars was that the god Mithras got his start as the Iranian god Mithra, because they happen to share a name. However, the attributes of Mithras don’t line up very well with those of Mithra, which leaves the door open to other explanations.

The cult was apparently based on a story where Mithras slaughters a bull, and from the bull’s body sprang all the plants that man finds useful, such as wheat, grapes, etc. Because it was a mystery cult, nothing was ever written down about the secret meaning of this story, nor of the levels through which the neophyte progresses as he is initiated deeper and deeper into the mysteries. But in all Mithraic temples, there is consistent iconography. This includes a picture of Mithras slaying the bull, with wheat coming out of the wound. Mithras is typically looking away from the bull (though this is “corrected” in some reconstructions), wearing a distinctive hat which was associated with Persia and with Perseus in the ancient world. Around him are placed other figures which will prove to have significance in unravelling the meaning of the cult. Sometimes, the whole scene is placed under an arch or inside a circle that shows the zodiac. Sometimes, Mithras is also portrayed as standing inside a circle or hoop lined with star symbols.

A Brief Tour of the Ancient Mediterranean, Near East, and Europe

In unfolding his theory, Ulansey takes us on a fascinating tour of the ancient world. For example, he spends a lot of time establishing how and why Mithras came to be associated with (based on?) Perseus, who was the founder and hero of the city of Tarsus and, in fact, the local god of that whole region. (Mithras’ hat — a “Phrygian cap” — was originally worn by Perseus, and Ulansey contends that he looks away from the bull as he slaughters it because Perseus looked away from Medusa as he slaughtered her.) He gets into the fact that the cult may have originated with pirates of Cicilia, which lies just off the coast from Tarsus:

[T]he Cicilian pirates were far more than a mere band of thieves. Rather, the pirates, who numbered at least twenty thousand, formed what amounted to a small nation which at its height controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea.

ibid, p. 88

Ulansey then quotes Plutarch from Life of Pompey:

“The power of the pirates had its seat in Cicilia at first … then, while the Romans were embroiled in civil wars, the sea was left unguarded … until they no longer attacked navigators only, but also laid waste islands and maritime cities … There were also fortified roadsteads and signal-stations for piratical craft in many places … more annoying than the fear [the pirate fleets] inspired was the odious extravagance of their equipment, with their gilded sails, and purple awnings, and silvered oars … For you see, the ships of the pirates numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred … Presently men whose wealth gave them power, and those whose lineage was illustrious, and those who laid claim to superior intelligence, began to embark on piratical craft and share their enterprises.”

ibid, p. 88

There are plenty of other fascinating historical nooks in this edifice, such as the figure of a lion-headed man, entwined by a snake, standing on a sphere; the idea of Mithras being born out of the rock; the exact nature of the Gorgon, and many, many others. Every single one makes sense when it comes up in context. That said, there were certainly some bizarre ideas floating around in the ancient world.

The Zodiac

So, to get right down to it, Ulansey’s case is that the Mithraic mysteries were a way of encoding astronomical knowledge. Because this is the ancient world we are talking about, this knowledge could equally be considered scientific, cosmological, and religious, as will become clear shortly.

Lately, I’ve been studying the zodiac in a desultory fashion. Don’t worry, I am not planning to take up astrology. Astrology is specifically forbidden to faithful Jews, and to children-of-Abraham-by-faith like myself. But it is of interest to me, because it was so important to the people of the ancient world. They worked it into their monuments and their mythology. The signs of the zodiac, and other constellations, were associated with the gods, and a good case could be made that this association started in pre-Flood days.

The other thing that fascinates me about the zodiac is that it’s so hard to observe. Now that I keep chickens and also work outside the home, I’ve been obliged to get up before dawn to let the chickens out. I live in a rural area with relatively dry weather, so you’d think it would be easy for me to take a quick glance at the horizon while I’m out there, and be able to tell which constellation is in the east, right where the sun is going to rise in an hour or two. As it turns out, it’s not so easy as all that. You not only have to know which direction is due east, you also have to have something that helps you sight where the sun is going to rise … and it moves. Then you have to be able to recognize the constellations. To really figure out the whole zodiac, you’d have to be making these observations daily, throughout all the seasons of the year, until you noticed that the constellations of the zodiac make a notional belt around the earth, and that at different times of year, they take turns “housing” the sunrise. This is already difficult enough that you’d have to have a pretty strong motivation to pursue it. (Stronger than mine is right now.) Ancient people thought this was so worthwhile that they managed to master the very difficult science of astronomy. Many ancient monuments, in fact, were built as observatories, from Stonehenge to many structures in the Americas.

Why were they so motivated to study the stars? That’s a discussion for another time.

According to Ulansey, the Mithraic iconography (and probably the whole cult) was designed to encode the secret of Equinoctal Precession. This is a really complicated phenomenon, so if you don’t know what it is, I’ll let you look it up. Basically, because of an irregularity in the earth’s rotation, the zodiac sign that “houses” the sunrise on the equinox will stay the same for 2,160 years, by which time the sunrise has migrated back to the previous zodiacal sign (hence, precession). (Also, incidentally, Polaris has not always been the the pole star.) Precession has been discovered at different times in the past by different civilizations. Graham Hancock makes a pretty good case that it was known by somebody, before conventional history began. But due to the difficulty of observing it, it has not been known at all times by all peoples. Around the time that the cult of Mithras apparently started, it had recently been discovered, and begun to be talked about, in the vicinity of Tarsus, in the same intellectual circles that were also providing aristocratic pirates.

Breaking Hoops and Wheels and Mills

Now, to you and me, equinoctal precession might fall into the category of “Oh, that’s interesting.” Not so for the ancients. For one thing, this cult probably started among pirates, who use the stars to navigate. The idea that the stars were once different and are not the same all the time would be earth-shattering to them. But this news gets even more ominous when we understand ancient cosmology.

(And when I say “ancient” here, I am talking about the cultures of the Mediterranean, Ancient Near East, and parts of Europe. Though, not to keep mentioning Graham Hancock, but in his book Fingerprints of the Gods he finds similar cosmology in ancient India, Central America, and Scandanavia. So a case could be made that this cosmology was once worldwide.)

This ancient cosmology, then, conceived of the heavens as a huge machine, constructed of two or more intersecting hoops (the zodiac, the celestial equator, and, essentially, the prime meridian/international date line projected into the sky). Sometimes the heavenly machinery is portrayed more as a big edifice with four pillars supporting it. Sometimes it’s a “mill” that turns. Probably some ancient people took this more literally than others; some understood it was notional, but represented something real.

Now, imagine that you think of the universe as a big, finely tuned machine, where the constellations always end up in the place they are supposed to be. If the whole hoop has moved out of its place, this could be conceived of as “breaking” the machine. This is why cycles of a certain number of years (not everyone got the precessional intervals right) were thought to bring cataclysms upon the world. So, we get myths worldwide about a mill being broken, and this causing the stars to fall from their places, the sky to become dark, fire and floods to sweep over the earth, etc. Again, read Hancock to find out more about this than you ever wanted to know.

But the point is, whether the Cicilian pirates thought that precession caused a cataclysm, or whether it just meant the universe was less stable than they had imagined, this would have been a revolution in their scientific, cosmological, and religious thought. (Religious because, in ancient times, science and cosmology and religion were really all a part of one system, especially when you consider that the stars and other heavenly bodies were thought to metaphysically influence events on earth.) So, whether you count it as belonging to three, two, or just one unified field of knowledge, this was a big enough discovery to be kept secret (a “mystery”) and passed on to initiates in a whole new cult religion.

Sooo … Roman laws and their unintended consequences

Publius Valerius won the name Publicola — “friend of the people” — by putting through the Assembly several laws that remained basic in Rome: that any man who should try to make himself king might be killed without trial; that any attempt to take a public office without the people’s consent should be punishable with death; and that any citizen condemned by a magistrate to death or flogging should have the right of appeal to the Assembly. …

In 486 [B.C.] the consul Spurius Cassius proposed an allotment of captured lands among the poor; the patricians accused him of currying popular favor to make himself king, and had him killed; this was probably not the first in a long line of agrarian proposals and Senatorial assassinations, culminating in Gracchi and Caesar. In 439 Spurius Maelius, who during a famine had distributed wheat to the poor at a low price or free, was slain in his home by an emissary of the Senate, again on the charge of plotting to be king. In 384 Marcus Manlius, who had heroically defended Rome against the Gauls, was put to death on the same charge after he had spent his fortune relieving insolvent debtors.

The Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ, by Will Durant, pp. 16, 23

More Horrors of Hermeticism

This two-volume book, The Devil’s Redemption by Michael J. McClymond, is just too good of a resource to fuel only one blog post.

Last week, it was McClymond who helped me sort through the (intentionally?) confusing tangle of different claims about what Hermeticism actually is. We scratched the surface of Hermetic/Esoteric/Gnostic/Platonic/New Age thought enough to recognize that we have all encountered it before, and that it has had a pervasive influence on our culture in all sorts of ways. This week, I’m just going to list a number of characteristic doctrines of Hermetic/Esoteric thought.

Each of these bullet points (or cluster of them) could have a volume written about it (and probably has). I could write a 1,000-word blog post about each one: My personal history with it, the damage it does to people, why it seems to make sense, how it differs from biblical teaching. But today, I’m not going to do that. I just want you to be able to recognize these doctrines when you hear them, so you know that they are neither just common sense, nor orthodox Christian teaching, nor are they a profound new insight that was just had on the spot by whoever is asserting them to you. They are characteristic doctrines coming from an ancient, broad and deep, but erroneous, stream of human thought. All of these bullet points are paraphrased from the section “Common Esoteric Teachings” in McClymond’s Appendix A: Gnosis and Western Esotericism: Definitions and Lineages, pp. 1069 – 1070.

  • The godhead has within it some or all of these things: inherent crisis, inherent evil, inherent or intrinsic suffering, temporality or process arising from inherent imperfection.
  • Apophatic theology: God does not know himself, because “the infinite or unbounded cannot in principle be known” (p. 382).
  • A divine feminine principle (sometimes called Sophia) exists in the godhead.
  • Coincidence of opposites
  • God did not create from nothing, and/or nothing is not really nothing; instead, nothingness or chaos is a “constitutive principle.”
  • Spiritual things are somehow material, and material things are somehow spiritual. (“Spirit stuff”)
  • All things are alive.
  • “The material universe [is] ontologically inferior.”
  • “The material universe [is] generated by human desire and imagination.”
  • God/heaven/etc. was originally somehow human, or defined in human terms.
  • And was also an androgyne (male and female at the same time).
  • Christ: only seemed to have a material body (docetism); was an example or teacher rather than a savior; and did not atone for human sins.
  • Humans have divine or godlike powers; human imagination has the power to create material reality; therefore magic, divination; and astrology are OK.
  • Souls are reincarnated or transmigrated; this life (and sometimes, processes in the life beyond) acts as a purging fire to get rid of the soul’s imperfections.
  • Following from all this, salvation is understood as “self-knowledge, self-realization, or self-integration” (p. 1070). Therefore, “love, not law.” Strict justice is understood as mean and unenlightened.
  • Spiritual elitism: the good people are not those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in God, but those who have secret knowledge. Hence, we do a lot of allegorical and other nonliteral readings of the Bible, and we make authoritative religious claims based not on the text but on “visions, dreams, or supernatural encounters” (p. 1070). (What could go wrong?)

I hope I don’t need to point this out, but … none of these doctrines are remotely Judeo-Christian. They cannot be reconciled with the picture of reality that is painted, both explicitly and implicitly, in the Old and New Testaments, unless we are willing to do violence to the text by reading it in an arcane, “symbolic” way which allows us to import our own esoteric doctrines. Esotericists, of course, are completely willing to do this, because they don’t like doctrines or definitions anyway.

Making things even more confusing, many of these ideas are alluded to by the New Testament writers, because they were “talking to” the estoeric philisophies that were already popular in their day. For example, John begins his gospel with “In the beginning was the Word [ho Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In first-century Gnostic and Platonic thought, the Logos was a character which was sort of embodiment of the organizing principles of the universe. John is saying, by implication, that these thinkers were close, but not quite right in their cosmology. The Logos, for John, is an actual person, namely Jesus, who is also actually a member of the godhead as God was understood by the ancient Israelites. He is not immanent nor present in everyone, and rather than there being inherent conflict within the godhead, He and the Father are one. John does all of this in just a few phrases. But if we bring esoteric assumptions to the gospel of John, it will be easy for us to “prove,” from this and other lines lifted from this gospel, that John supports our Hermetic or Mormon or New Age theology.

Next week, we will see how the apostle Paul upbraids esotericism directly in just one short, beautiful paragraph.

Hermeticism: The Awful Truth

Discovering the Extent of the Problem

I learned the word Hermeticism recently.

Here’s an extended simile of what my experience was like in doing a deep dive on this word.

Imagine that your drain keeps backing up. You take a look, and discover a root. You have to find at what point the roots are coming into the pipe, so you do the roto-rooter thing. It turns out that the roots are running through the pipe all the way down to the street and across the street and into the vacant lot, where there is a huge tree.

And oh, look, it’s already pulled down the neighbor’s house!

That’s what it was like. (Oh, no! It’s in my George MacDonald pipe too!)

What Methought I Knew

I’ve listened to a number of James Lindsay podcasts, and he talks a lot about Hegel. In discussing what exactly went wrong with the train wreck that is modern education and politics, James has to dive deep into quite a few unpleasant philosophers, among them Herbert Marcuse, Jaques Derrida, Paolo Friere, and the postmodernists. And Hegel.

I had heard James describe before how Hegel saw the world. Hegel had this idea that progress is reached by opposite things colliding and out of them comes a new synthesis, and then that synthesis has to collide with its opposite and so on until perfection is reached. This process is called the dialectic. Marx took these ideas and applied them to society, where there has to be conflict and revolution, but then the new society that emerges isn’t perfect yet and so there has to be another revolution and so on until everything is perfect and/or everyone is dead.

Obviously I am simplifying a lot. James can talk about this stuff for an hour and he is simplifying too, not because these ideas are themselves complicated but because Hegel produced a huge dump of words, and he came up with terminology that tried to combine his ideas with Christian concepts so that they would be accepted in his era. Anyway, the word dialectic is still used by postmodern writers like Kimberle Crenshaw, and it is a clue that they think constant revolution is the way to bring about utopia.

So, I was familiar with Hegel through the podcasts of Lindsay, and I was also familiar enough with Gnostic thought to at least recognize it when it goes by, as it so often does. For one thing, you kind of have to learn a little bit about Gnosticism if you are a serious Christian, because gnostic (or at least pre-gnostic: Platonic, mystery religion) ideas were very much in the air in New Testament times, and many of the letters of the New Testament were written to refute these ideas. Also, Gnosticism, particularly the mind/body duality, has had such an influence on our culture that it’s hard to miss. It’s present in New Age and neopagan thought, and it’s called out in Nancy Pearcey’s book Love Thy Body for the bad effects it has had on the way we conceive of personhood.

So that’s the background.

Several months ago, I was listening to Lindsay give a talk summarizing his recent research to a church group. He was talking about theologies: systems of thought that make metaphysical and cosmological claims, and come with moral imperatives. And he dashed off this summary, something like the following:

“You could have a theology where at first all that exists is God, but He doesn’t know Himself as God, so in order to know Himself he creates all these other beings, and they are all like pieces of God but they don’t know it, and their task is to become enlightened and realize that they, too, are God, and when they realize this, eventually they will all come back together, but now God is self-conscious because of the process of breaking He’s been through.”

And I’m thinking, Sounds like Pantheism, or maybe Gnosticism.

And James says, “That’s the Hermetic theology.”

And I’ve got a new word to research.

Kind of a Weird Name

So, why is it called Hermeticism? Does it have to do with hermits?

My first foray into Internet Hermeticism immediately showed that the school of thought was named for a guy named Hermes, as in this paragraph from wiki:

Hermeticism, or Hermetism, is a label used to designate a philosophical system that is primarily based on the purported teachings of Hermes Trismegistus (a legendary Hellenistic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth).[1] These teachings are contained in the various writings attributed to Hermes (the Hermetica), which were produced over a period spanning many centuries (c. 300 BCE – 1200 CE), and may be very different in content and scope.[2]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism

One of my search hits, I can’t remember which one, said that Hermeticism is “often confused with Gnosticism.” O.K., so if it’s not Gnosticism, that means I know less than I thought and it’s all the more reason to research.

I also found avowedly Hermetic web sites like Hermetic World, whose “summary” is actually more of an attempt to draw you into their movement:

Hermeticism – The secret knowledge

Hermeticism is an ancient secret doctrine that dates back to early Egypt and its innermost knowledge has always been passed on only orally. In each generation there have been some faithful souls in different countries of the world who received the light, carefully cultivated it and did not allow it to be extinguished. Thanks to these strong hearts, these fearless spirits, truth has not been lost. It was always passed on from master to disciple, from adept to neophyte from mouth to ear. The terms “hermetically sealed”, “hermetically locked”, and so on, derive from this tradition and indicate that the general public does not have access to these teachings.

Hermeticism is a key that gives people the possibility to achieve everything they desire deep in their hearts, to develop a profound understanding of life, to become capable of decision making and responsibility; and to answer the question of meaning. Hermeticism offers a hidden key to unfolding.

Nobody can teach this knowledge to himself. Even in competent books like Kybalion, the teaching is only passed on in a veiled way. It always requires a master to pass on the wisdom to the able student. Today, as in the past, authentic mystery schools are a way to acquire this knowledge. The Hermetic Academy is one of these authentic schools.

https://www.hermetic-academy.com/hermeticism/

This is certainly the genuine article, but it is perhaps not the first place to go. I wanted to learn about the basic doctrines from a neutral source, simply and clearly described. I didn’t want to have to wade through a bunch of hand-waving to get there, at least not at first. Still, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Hermetic World tries to cast a mysterious, esoteric, yet somewhat self-help-y atmosphere on their first page. After all, it is a mystery religion.

Well, at least now I know why it’s called Hermeticism. It’s basically an accident of history, due to the name of the guy to whom the founding writings were attributed.

Time to move on to a book.

Moving On to a Book

I am fortunate to be descended from a scholar who has a large personal library, heavy on the theology.

I asked my dad.

Serendipitiously, he had just finished reading Michael J. McClymond’s two-volume history of Christian universalism (the doctrine that everyone is going to heaven), and he remembered that Hermeticism entered into the discussion. He was happy to lend it to me. You can see all the places I’ve marked with tabs. Those are just the ones where Hermeticism is directly mentioned. I hope you now understand my dilemma.

In McClymond’s Appendix A: Gnosis and Western Esotericism: Definitions and Lineages, I found at last the succinct, neutral summary I was looking for:

[“Hermetism”] as used by academics refers to persons, texts, ideas, and practices that are directly linked to the Corpus Hermeticum, a relatively small body of texts that appeared most likely in Egypt during the second or third centuries CE. … “Hermeticism” is often used in a wider way to refer to the general style of thinking that one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and other works of ancient gnosis, alchemy, Kabbalah, and so forth. “Hermeticism” sometimes functions as a synonym for “esotericism.” The adjective “Hermetic” is ambiguous, since it can refer either to “Hermetism” or “Hermeticism.”

McClymond, p. 1072

O.K.

So it isn’t that different from Gnosticism after all.

“Esoteric,” by the way, means an emphasis on hidden or mystical knowledge that is not available to everyone and/or cannot be reduced to words and propositions. “Exoteric” refers to the style of theology that puts emphasis on knowledge that is public in the sense that it is written down somewhere, asserts something concrete, can be debated, etc.

Even though I have literally just found an actual definition of the word that is clear enough to put into a blog post, in the time it took me to find this definition I feel that I have already gotten a pretty good sense of what this philosophy is like. Perhaps it helps that it has pervaded many, many aspects of our culture, so I have encountered it many times before, as no doubt have you.

I began to peruse the tabs in the volumes above and read the sections there, in all their awful glory.

Yep, James Lindsay in fact did a pretty good job of explaining the core metaphysic of Hermeticism. Of course, this philosophy brings a lot of things with it that he didn’t get into. If we and all beings in the universe are all made of the same spiritual stuff as God Himself, it follows that alchemy should work (getting spiritual results with physical processes and the other way round). It follows that astrology should work (everything is connected, and the stars and men and the gods not only all influence each other, but when you get down to it are actually the same thing). It follows that reincarnation should be a thing (the body is just a shell or an illusion that is occupied by the spirit, the spark of God). It follows that there are many paths to God, since we are all manifestations of God and will all eventually return to Him/It. It follows that the body is not that important (in some versions of this philosophy, matter is actually evil). Therefore we should be able to physically heal ourselves with our minds. Our personhood should be unconnected to (some might say unfettered by) our body, such that we can be born in the wrong body, or we can change our sex or our species if we want to. There might also be bodies that don’t have souls yet (such as unborn babies), and so it would be no wrong to destroy them. Also, since matter is not really a real thing, it follows that Jesus was not really incarnated in a real human body and that He only appeared to do things like sleep, eat, suffer, and die. Also, since we are all parts of God like He is, He is not really one with God in any sense that is unique, but just more of an example of a really enlightened person who realized just how one with God He was.

I imagine that about twenty pop culture bells have gone off in your mind as you read that preceding paragraph. You might also have been reminded of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, which teaches that we were all pre-existent souls literally fathered by God out of some sort of spiritual matter before we came to earth to be born.

So, What the Heck Is It?

Hermeticism is not just one thing. It’s a whole human tradition of thought. It had a lot of streams flowing into it, like Plato, first-century mystery religions, Gnosticism, and early attempts to reconcile Christianity with these things. It has a lot of streams flowing out of it, like many Christian mystics of varying degrees of Christian-ness; Origen; Bohme; Hegel; medieval and Renaissance alchemy; the Romantic literary movement; Mormonism; New Age thinking; identity politics; transhumanism; Shirley McLaine; The Secret, and the movie Phenomenon.

Not all of these thinkers hold to the exact same set of doctrines. In a big philosophical movement like this, almost every serious thinker is going to have his or her own specific formulation that differs from everyone else’s in ways that seem really important to people on the inside of the system. So anyone who is an insider or who has made it their life’s work to research any of the things I mention above (and many others besides) could come along and point out errors or overgeneralizations in this article and make me look like I don’t know anything. That’s partly because it’s a huge historical phenomenon and I actually don’t know much of all there is to know. It’s also partly because these mystery religions delight in making things complicated. They love to add rituals and symbols and secret names and to discover new additional deities that are personifications of abstract ideas like Wisdom. It’s supposed to be esoteric. That’s part of the fun.

Another reason it’s difficult to describe Hermeticism accurately is that when all is one, it is really difficult to talk about anything. In this view of the world, when you get right down to it there is no distinction between spirit and matter, creator and creature, man and woman, conscious and inanimate, and the list goes on. I called it Hermeticism at the beginning of this paragraph, but I was tempted to write Hermeticism/Gnosticism, or perhaps Hermeticism/Gnosticism/alchemy/mystery religions/the New Age/Pantheism/postmodernism. If you’ve ever read any New Age writers, you’ll notice that they tend to write important terms with slashes like that (“Sophia/the divine feminine”). That’s because it’s all one. They don’t want you to forget that. They don’t want to forget it. Even if these ideas do not go very well with the human mind, and they tend to break it if you keep trying to think them.

In a sense, Hermeticism and all these other related movements are very diverse and not the same at all. In another sense, it’s all … the same … crap.

The Pergamum Altar, the Gigantomachy, Madam Blavatsky, and Other Scary Stuff

In this video, a pagan “altar” (actually a whole temple), which was once called by Jesus “where Satan has his throne,” is sold by Turkey to Germany, shipped there in pieces, reassembled, and has a museum built around it. It inspires a certain young man whose name starts with A to make some very bad life choices. This young man, in his later, even darker years, has to take pills in order to sleep at night because otherwise he is visited in his dreams by the “Uberman” who “torments” him.

Plus, giants!

The Book About Human Dispersion I’ve Been Waiting For

… I was going to put, “… I’ve been waiting for all my life,” but it hasn’t been quite that long.

[T]he scientific community selected father-son pairs (or other male relatives of known genealogy) and sequenced their Y chromosome DNA. Then they counted the number of differences between the relatives. The number of Y chromosome DNA differences between them revealed how many copying errors occurred each generation. These differences told them how fast the Y chromosome clock ticked.

One of the first studies to measure the error rate was published in 2009. Two Chinese men of a known genealogical relationship going back to the 1800s had their Y chromosome DNA sequences determined. The resultant rate of copying errors was slow. It fit the existence of a “Y chromosome Adam” (the ancestor of all living men) about 200,000 years ago. In 2015, a study of hundreds of Icelandic men produced the same result.

So far, these results would leave the mainstream time scale as is.

However, due to financial and time constraints, these earlier studies were based on low quality DNA sequence. Then, in 2015, another research group compared father and son Y chromosome DNA sequences. This time, they used high quality methods. The result was a copying error rate that was much faster than the previous, lower quality studies: “The number of [father-son Y chromosome] differences was approximately 10-fold higher than the expected number … considering the range of published [Y chromosome copying mistake] rates.”

In fact, the data from this study implied that “Y chromosome Adam” lived just a few thousand years ago.

What was the mainstream scientific community to do? Oddly, they filtered their results, removing data that contradicted the 200,000-year timescale. They did so until the Y chromosome copying error rate matched their expectations.

In 2017, researchers compared the DNA sequences between 50 parent-offspring trios — i.e., they obtained DNA from father, mother, and child. Again, they did so by using high quality DNA sequencing methods. The researchers published detailed analyses of the copying error rate in these people. But conspicuously absent from their published results was a statement on the father-son Y chromosome copying error rate. Why?
From the raw data that did make it into their published study, a potential answer emerged. From this raw data, the father-son Y chromosome DNA copying error rate could be extracted. The results were consistent with the 2015 high-quality study. The 2017 Y chromosome copying error rate again implied that “Y chromosome Adam” existed about 4,500 years ago.

Traced, pp. 67 – 68

Jeanson, the author of this book, is a geneticist who works for Answers in Genesis. In this book, written for the lay person, he explains the study of genetics and its often counter-intuitive results. For example, early in the book he covers how, if all of your ancestors were unrelated to each other, by the time you go back about a thousand years you have to have had more great-grandparents than the population of the world at the time. Obviously that can’t be right, so in the deeps of the past, you must have had cousins or second cousins marrying each other. Also early in the book, he walks us through a simple thought/mathematics experiment to show how a minority population moving into a new area could make their genes the majority in that area after several generations by dint of simply having a few more children per family than the native population. This has actually happened in Europe with a Central Asian population that apparently came to Western Europe fleeing the Mongols.

Having oriented us and laid some foundational principles, Jeanson moves on to looking at specific branches of the human family tree as it has been reconstructed through geneticists looking at Y chromosome data. Using this data, we can “see” historical events like the population collapse that happened in the Americas in the few centuries after the arrival of Columbus; the massive people movements out of Central Asia in response to the Mongols; and the dispersion of certain haplogroups from East Africa into the rest of Africa in response to the Muslim expansion. Going deeper in the family tree, we can reconstruct the movement of certain haplogroups: for example, one group that started in Central Asia, split, and moved into India and into Europe, without meeting up again. Jeanson has a method, which he explains, to convert conventional dating for these events to his young-earth dates. In some cases, historical records like the ones mentioned above corroborate his method. If you look at the pages of his book end-on, the middle third of them are thick, high-quality, glossy paper. These are the diagrams, illustrations, and numerous maps to which Jeanson is constantly referring his reader. It really is important to be able to reference these in order to follow his arguments, so that you can visualize geographic dispersion and understand the different branches on the human family tree. (Being named by scientists, the branches have names like R1a and R1b, so it is really helpful to have a visual, where they are distinguished by different colors, to help you keep them all straight.)

Everyone likes to imaginatively trace the footsteps of their ancestors, but this book is a special treat for me. I am the kind of person who can get story ideas just from staring hard at a map. Give me a multigenerational migration story to go with it, and I’m in my element. This gets even more so when you start trying to use it to peer into the deep past. Bearing in mind that the world population was much smaller in past ages than it is now, when we look at these branches of haplogroups we are, in most cases, not seeing entire nations as we would now conceive of them. We are “seeing” clans, maybe in some cases individual families.

Traced is a real gift to people like me who want to write novels about early human dispersion. Of course, Jeanson is a good enough scientist to tell us that it is not the final word. Some haplogroups have been identified, but the sample size has been small. There are probably more out there, waiting to find their places on the big family tree. There are probably also haplogroups that have been completely wiped out, that will never be found no matter how many currently living men we sample.

Now, THIS is how you bring down inflation!

Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.

… Elisha said, “Hear the word of LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha. “but you will not eat any of it!”

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’ — the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there, for the LORD had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp and entered one of the tents. They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

Then they said to each other, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and not a man was there — not a sound of anyone — only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace.

The king got up in the night and said to his officers, “I will tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, thinking, ‘They will surely come out, and then we will take them alive and get into the city.'”

One of his officers answered, “Have some men take five of the horses that are left in the city. Their plight will be like that of all the Israelites left here — yes, they will only be like all these Israelites who are doomed. So let us send them to find out what happened.”

So they selected two chariots with their horses, and the king sent them after the Aramean army. He commanded the drivers, “Go and find out what has happened.” They followed them as far as the Jordan, and they found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So the messengers returned and reported to the king. Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the LORD had said.

Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold when the king came down to his house.

2 Kings 6:24 – 25, 7:1 – 17