Monday, October 21, 2013

Feeling the Elephant

Ur-Zababa King of Sumer
Ur-Zababa King of Kish
Ur-Zababa had a nightmare
Ur-Zababa had a dream
Sargon in a raft of rushes
Sargon of the floating basket
Pours the wine for Ur-Zababa
One last time.

The parallels between the literature that eventually became the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and other ancient legends in all their versions are inescapable, even for a beginning student of ancient history:  the eye for an eye of Hammurabi, the Story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, the story of the infant Sargon found floating in a basket on the Tigris, like Moses on the Nile.  Such observations are striking at first glance to the untrained eye, but sometimes that untrained eye may also be the unprejudiced eye.

 Does anyone not recall the first time they saw a globe, how obvious was the fit between the European and African coast of the Atlantic?  Studying Geology ages ago, we were taught that it was only a coincidence and Plate Tectonics was a radical, almost heretical concept.  The world, of course was still just as it was made, only cooler and with mountains perhaps thrust up by contraction. Of course, Eppur si muove, as Galileo may or may not have said about the 'stationary' Earth. And still it moves, or at least the continents do. Did that plucked turkey look like a dinosaur?  Coincidence. That ape like a man?

Was the Moses Story embellished with older folk tales?  There are so many other examples of plots and even phrases in Bible stories that it's tempting to say so and it's hard to say that it isn't so.  It's hard, at least for history buffs and students of ancient literature to deny it and yet easy, if perhaps the desperation shows a little, in the always condescending and often irrelevant or fallacious dismissals written by Biblical certainty advocates.

Yes, there are minor differences.  Moses' mother was not a princess; he was adopted by one. The Tigris is a fast river, the Nile is a slower one. the Atlantic coasts do not exactly mesh. Jesus is not an exact copy of Mithras or Osiris or Ganesh or any of the many other Biblical or extra Biblical sons of gods or resurrected saviors of nations or souls. Noah and Ut-Napishtim are different.  None of the myth makers whose stories appear in the Bible could have read the Popol Vuh with it's resurrection of Hun-Hunahpu -- but as Joseph Campbell said, when you get down to the deepest well of myth you find a deeper one at the bottom.  Such stories are archetypes perhaps; rooted in our basic human desire or propensity to concoct explanatory stories about what we cannot know or understand. Each culture creates the same stories in its own image.

Perhaps the Sargon story, in it's obviously mythologized form, comes from the same instinct or from the same primordial urge or instinct we all share that produced the obviously mythologized Moses tale.  We do have hard evidence for Sargon of Akkad, conqueror of Sumer, scourge of Elam. We have none whatever for Moses and we have so many contradictions and no evidence whatever in that story. yet look at how fiercely we defend it's inerrant accuracy!

All this is just another stanza in my long lament about the illusion of reason and truth and objectivity in the way we humans see reality.  Some of us do so more than others; more often that others do and about more things, but we are what we are. Like the blind men and the elephant we see dimly if at all, but the tragedy is not in our blindness, but in the fact that in gaining sight, we cling to the things we became comfortable with back when we were blind, even as the elephant laughs.

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