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How Else Could They Account for the Flight of a Bird?

 

 

 

How Else Could They Account for the Flight of a Bird?

 

   The might of antiquity, paired with religious belief, creates a fruitful ground for dogmatic claims regarding the truthfulness of ancient sacred texts. The notion that the texts are fully reliable has persisted for a variety of reasons; sacred texts are old and they are still around (some perceive this fact as divine approval); sacred texts are, by definition, sacred and should not be questioned; as an extreme case of zealous religious belief, popular belief still attributes some texts to a Deity, or its direct scrivener.

    An attempt to clarify the mystery engulfing the writing of sacred texts is made by historians that shed some light on our lost past. Richard Friedman reveals that the first five books of the Bible, contrary to popular belief, were not written by Moses, but by at least two sources. The two main sources came from two opposite centers of religious power in a divided kingdom. The two main sources were not only divided by a Judean-Israeli border, but by two opposing claims for religious power: the house of Moses versus the house of Aaron. The existence of motives in the ancient world is revealed.

    The New Testament, as Rodney Stark examines it, was written within a considerable distance from the actual Jesus; therefore, it is based on second hand testimony. The Jesus Movement at its origins was divided into those who strived for fully open enrollment (such as Paul), and those who endeavored to create Christianity as Reform Judaism. Paul might have won by default, for the Judeo-Roman war temporarily eliminates the Jewish hold over Israel. Furthermore, contradicting gospels have been found that were simply omitted from the canonical New Testament.

    All of the above reveals new important issues to consider. We can now know, with greater accuracy, not only who wrote the sacred texts, but we can understand the circumstances that gave rise to the movements that produced those texts; we know that timing had a lot to do with it (such as a Judeo-Roman war possibly preventing a Judeo-Christian merger?); we know that personal motives played a major role too.

    Contrary to how it first seems, the above claims do not tarnish our religious ancestors at all. On the contrary, they shed a new light on the context in which we perceive them; it reveals them as painstakingly human. That is, human to the core, with all the fear, confusion, and the need for answers that faces vast ignorance, all that being human entails. The new context I am arguing for is that of mere human beings, faced with a world and a life that do not come with an instruction manual, trying to make some sense of it all.

    For the sake of argument, I shall disregard the minor malevolent motives and personal interests that might have polluted the earnest attempts made by the honest majority. That is, the writers of the sacred texts were not conniving conspirators, but rather serious and dedicated people, bound by the understanding of the world as it stood over two millennia ago.

    Now consider the world they confronted; cruel enemies from beyond the horizon randomly rise up to destroy them in a world that is not too keen on diplomacy or human rights; capricious natural disasters ruthlessly strike down (literally down in some cases) on them and uproot their world; sickness, hunger, wild beasts, and the list of horror goes on. How can a mere human, confronted with such awesome power, yet lacking the understanding of gravity physics and basic cause-and-effect, interpret or explain such might?

    In such a harsh state of reality, people need explanations. And so they create them. What at first starts as psychological self-centeredness that perceives humans as the center of all (such as the classic psychological case in which a child attributes his parents divorce to his own wrong doings), gradually evolves to become a sophisticated social contract; one that ensures social cohesion and equips its followers with the best known weapons against bad luck.

    On the whole, an historic explanation regarding the emergence of sacred texts does not provide a richer context in which to appreciate its writers, but a whole new context in which the religious claims can be estimated as what they, in historical context, actually are: early attempts to clarify our world; honest and serious attempts, yet nevertheless limited by common ignorance in a time where aerodynamics were far beyond human grasp, a time that by virtue of that general ignorance was such a fruitful ground for so-called miracles, marvels, and myths.

    While a first step is to understand how our ancient ancestors came to believe in a Deity-centered reality, the next step is to evaluate their findings based on our present perception: volcanoes erupt and earthquakes occur according to geological pressures;
food and shelter can be rather successfully manipulated; enemies can be appeased.
Though it is true that our present scientific knowledge is no more than a deeper observation that still does not yield the source of life and existence, it enables us to consider our existence to be a series of random events with touches of human intervention.


Ohad Maiman