. . . 1 > Prehistoric Preamble
For a million years now, more or less, the human race has lived and died within the context of the much larger struggle to survive. The world then, and until very recently, was a very different place from the comfy and cozy civilized world we all enjoy today. Only slowly, oh so *very* slowly, inch by agonizing inch, did humankind gain ground in the never-ending war against this sometimes hostile, always uncaring, and often frightening world that constitutes the universal boundaries of all human life. Only by developing their prehistoric languages, cultures, and technologies did those small bands of hunters and gatherers increase their practical knowledge of nature and the cosmos. There was much nonsensical "filling in of the blanks", to be sure, but every reliable gain in thought or technique helped enormously to improve the general quality of life. Reliance upon mere luck and chance (ie. the awesome capriciousness of the natural world) decreased as human beings became more and more adept at dealing with this surprisingly complex world.
Therefore knowledge (as Hobbes so rightly observed) is power. For the human race in prehistoric times, true and practical knowledge (born of reasoning and necessity) meant the power to survive, to understand the strange ways of the world, to predict events and processes, even to control things somewhat, and even (in some small measure) to subdue nature. And finally, knowledge gave the power to thrive and prosper; even in the face of 'nature red in tooth and nail and claw'. But it took hundreds of thousands of years for men to gain enough knowledge to realize that there was an alternative to the nomadic and predatory way of life that was the alpha and omega defining all the possibilities of our prehistoric predecessors.
. . . 2 > On History as Collective Memory
And once people finally settled down and began to cultivate the land in earnest, knowledge also began to grow in abundance, with the result that culture and technology advanced and developed at an ever-increasing rate. Villages became towns, and towns became cities, and in those small and fortified cities languages grew in complexity, and soon words, numbers, objects (and even ideas) came to be expressed in non-verbal signs and symbols. And with the emergence of writing, History was born; at first with little or no awareness of its ultimate meaning or potential.
But even then History functioned as the eyes and ears (and memory) of the human race. At first its vision was weak and limited, for it could not see much more than lists of names of kings and conquerors, of battles and conquests, and tallies of slaves and prisoners and booty gained (or stolen) on the points of swords and spears. And then, after the ancient cultures and societies had grown sufficiently complex, and the time was ripe for something new to emerge ... then, out of the misty gray unknowing of prehistoric darkness, distinct individual human personalities began to enter into the realm of remembrance. And the first man to emerge into the still feeble light of History was ... a prophet!
. . . 3 > The Black Pharaoh
The pharaoh Amenhotep IV was hidden from the sight of historians for over two thousand years, thanks to the efforts of priestly curses and subsequent pharaohs to blot him out of history forevermore. So it was not until 1714 that the darkness of willful-ignorance was finally broken, when a Jesuit named Sicard made copies of the king's boundary-stelae. But information was slow in coming forth from the ancient sands, and even from the beginning, confusion surrounded Akhenaten. At first the scholars were uncertain whether the king was male or female. Opinion regarding the vanished-pharaoh himself would remain divided among the scholars from that point on. But by the mid-nineteenth century the importance of the Amarna Period began to be felt; and it was soon understood as a vital time when "ancient Egyptian culture and religion were fundamentally transformed for several years, and which even witnessed the introduction of a new literary language, and during which a religion was *founded* for the first time in the history of the world" (E.Hornung, 'Akhenaten and the Religion of Light', p.2).
By the mid-twentieth-century Akhenaten was known as the heretic-king, an enlightened despot, a religious fanatic, a rationalist, and so forth. Some of those scholars with a more positive attitude toward the king could even conclude that "Akhenaten seemed to have been the prophet of a religion for which his time was not yet ripe" (R.Anthes). And in this statement the scholars come very close to touching the essence of true prophecy. But a few decades prior to this scholarly insight, the vision of the artist already made the prophetic connection between Akhenaten and Jesus; as in the novel 'Joseph and his His Brothers' by Thomas Mann, where the author "attempted to categorize Akhenaten as an early Christ figure" (Horn, p.14). The scholar sees deep, but the artist sees deeper still!
In any case, the recognition of pharaoh Amenhotep IV as the earliest personality known to historical-science was perhaps even more important. It is easy to see why he stands out as a unique individual, even in the 'heroic' ancient-near-east (ie. the mythic-world is home to gods and glory, great kings, warriors, and heroes that lie just beyond the dawn of history). But here was a man who was both a king and a prophet! Such a thing was unthinkable in the ancient world, where mythic concepts ruled; such that everyone knew (without a shadow of a doubt) that kings were divine beings. To just say 'no' to all *that* is to announce nothing less than the end of the age-of-myth (ie. of all mythical thinking), and to introduce the beginnings of the age-of-religion (ie. a more rational and theological way of thinking about the cosmos, and everything else).
. . . 4 > The Turning Point
If we were rational in our way of thinking about things, we would mark the beginnings of the common-era from the moment that this 'no' was first uttered by the pharaoh-prophet Akhenaten. So it's kind of hard to just forget someone who shakes the pillars of the world; even when it was forbidden to even speak his name. You may curse his name, and blot it out of egyptian-history for a dozen centuries and more, but that first 'no' is still out there, sitting quietly in the minds of the peoples of the nation. A heretic is one who challenges tradition, but a prophet brings the entire structure of mythical thinking crashing down around your ears. Very slowly, to be sure, but inevitably, the consequences of the first historical rebellion began to be felt.
In any case, there was/is considerable variety among the egyptologists, historians, and scholars as to what is meant by a 'pharaoh-prophet'; and the latter term is especially fluid in meaning and precision. And while both terms are important, only the first is deemed necessary. Akhenaten could not have been a prophet-of-influence had he not been the king of Egypt first; ie. only a king had the power to put his ideas into effect so as to alter and influence and affect the whole course of the nation (and even the larger civilization of the ancient near east). It's true that Egypt itself swiftly rejected Akhenaten and his strange new religion, but in the long run even that didn't matter.
The proof of his lasting influence and staying power in the collective memory of the people is found not only in the actions of subsequent pharaohs, but also with a certain Egyptian prince named Moses. It was this man who (following in Akhenaten's footsteps) became a prophet of the one-god, left Egypt with a small group of followers and former-slaves, and basically created a new theocratic society on the other side of the desert (based upon the Black Pharaoh's insight / invention of monotheism). Thus Akhenaten in effect changed the entire course of history; not least because there could have been no 'Moses & Torah & Israel' had he not prepared the way in so timely a fashion by bringing the first light of reason to a myth-soaked world.
. . . 5 > The Three Ages of Man
Therefore Sophiology sees History as the dynamic and ongoing conflict and interaction of three human-generated forces or world-views myth, religion, and reason. These three different ways of thinking and being-within-the-world first appeared at different points in time, and have co-existed now for well over 2000 years. Today most people still opt for the religious way of viewing life, the universe, and everything. We can thus designate these ways of being-in-the-world as the three chief "ages" or "forms" of human-being
age of myth > gods, heroes, signs and symbols, totems, mythic-concepts, and polymorphic-polytheism. consciousness is here characterized by an overwhelming excess of magical-thinking, and a basically emotional reaction to all things and events.
age of religion > Moderation only begins with Akhenaten the one-&-only-god = men are NOT gods! Belief (and/or faith) is the cognitive quality most characteristic of religious-thinking, and thus most prevalent in this age. the major world-religions are (in 21C) a confused mixture of magical-thinking, belief and faith, and reason. And all of it is expressed through the various traditions relating to all manner of things ritual, myths and sagas, teachings, art, wisdom, etc, and all in varying degrees (according to historical circumstances). For wisdomology, age-of-religion is basically just a broad neutral-ground between magical-irrationality on one side, and the more critical and aware tones of rational-thinking on the other. Accordingly, this is the perfect place for the majority of people to dwell (eg. because of the large built-in comfort-zone).
age of reason > begins with the early greek philosophers, and quickly peaks with the prophet Socrates, and his two spiritual sons, Plato and Aristotle. From this point on all three ages (or world-views) co-exist in competition and uneasy alliance. But the age of reason was born just as the age of religion was sweeping triumphantly across the east and the west, sweeping away much (but not all) of the older mythic ways and perceptions.
But the world was not then ready to embrace the age-of-reason, and so philosophy was more or less held in stasis (in a role subservient to religion (as with Augustine and Plotinus)) until the Enlightenment gave it a renewed impetus; in partnership with a newly invigorated science (stemming from the "rediscovery" (thanks largely to Islam) of the classical literature of ancient greece and rome). The so-called Renaissance - the 'rebirth' or 'awakening' - that set the stage for the birth of the modern world (following the Reformation), was a critical historical event caused chiefly by the dissemination of books and literacy and knowledge. The Renaissance also clearly demonstrates the power of literature as an active element in driving human history forward.
. . . 6 > Akhenaten's Revolution Defeats the Ancient World
The religion of Akhenaten failed in Egypt because it could find no soil for its roots in the disorganized and chaotic minds of prehistoric humanity; as evidenced in the tradition-bound bronze-age culture of ancient Egypt. But the insights that empowered Akhenaten's 'religion of light' were not forgotten or banished or blotted out of history, but merely (and quietly) exported out of the nation by way of the egyptian prince called Moses (as also suggested by Freud in 'Moses and Monotheism'). Akhenaten re-interpreted the traditional signs and symbols of egyptian religion thusly The solar-deity, Re-Harakhty, whose visible form was a man with a falcon's head, was transmuted within Akhenaten's heart and mind into the sun-god Aten, the one and only deity, whose only visible form is the sun-disk. The falcon thus defaults into a symbol, not of the god himself, but of the prophet, who acts as the intermediary between the sun-god and his creation. The full meaning of the falcon symbol therefore has more to do with Akhenaten's role as prophet, than with his role as pharaoh. Thus the prophet has a special role to play in society and history (and one a king can perform very effectively), but he is still only a man.
So the idea that a man (not just any man, but usually the hero or king or emperor) is a living avatar of a god, or indeed is himself a god, or is otherwise a divine being, is a purely mythic concept direct from the prehistoric age of myth. It is merely a hold-over from the glory days of the heroic period, when a mighty warrior with a bloody sword could earn divinity by conquest and slaughter. But this idea is important because it lasts up to the roman-emperors, where it comes into conflict with Akhenaten's radical and liberating idea (that 'men are not gods') in the form of the early christian martyrs; who refuse to compromise their faith and beliefs (even at the cost of their own lives). The martyrs (like the prophets) make a clear distinction between men and god; and they do this because they know there are no gods, but only the one-god.
By adopting Christianity as the official religion of the mighty Roman-Empire, the emperor Constantine in effect conceded the right of kings and emperors to henceforth claim divinity for themselves; which is not to say that they gave up all claims to divine authority. Nevertheless, the distinction was made (because the distinction was critical), and once made could never again be reversed. This was also the point in history where politics and religion were in direct conflict, where the age of myth and the age of religion met to wrestle for dominance in the arena, and where reason and unreason collide head-on to determine the fate and future of all humanity. And so Akhenaten's long-delayed revolution (and the fulfillment of his dream, which he could not achieve in Egypt, the triumph of religion over myth), finally ended the supremacy of magical-thinking, at least in the west (although it lingered on for many more centuries in the far-east).
Fascinating essay, textman. It’s sort of surprising how little attention ends up being paid to the vast cultural revisions Akhenaten managed to attain, even if many of them were only temporary.
You touch on the transition between oral-tradition and early writing. Would you say that very early writings were almost by necessity (since they lacked human personality and other subtlety as well as formal complexity) clumsy and unwieldy, introducing much error into myths of various cultures? In other words, does it seem to you that spoken subtlety, when it was translated into written words, suddenly (comparatively speaking) needed precision akin to mathematics—and that the precision itself tended to remove the subtlety?
] on 16Apr homunculus say Fascinating essay, textman.
textman say thx, homunculus.
I never get tired of hearing those three most-beautiful words! D
] h It’s sort of surprising how little attention ends up being paid to the vast
] cultural revisions Akhenaten managed to attain, even if many of them were
] only temporary.
tx I agree. the scholars have yet to fully appreciate the black-pharaoh’s
rightful place in history. he started something that is still being played-out.
] h You touch on the transition between oral-tradition and early writing.
] Would you say that very early writings were almost by necessity
tx ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, yes.
] h (since they lacked human personality and other subtlety as well as formal
] complexity) clumsy and unwieldy,
tx yes. again, necessarily so, since simple-signs and symbols are very basic
compared to a flexible, yet useful, written-language.
] h introducing much error into myths of various cultures?
tx no, not really. the early-writings merely expressed the thinking that was
done by those who used the larger spoken-language. writing itself is simply a
tool. it can help us to clarify our thinking, if we approach things rationally, or
it can be used to express imaginative flights of fancy. Today we call this kind
of literature ‘science-fiction’, but in the age-of-myth mindset such literature is
taken very seriously, and called sacred-scriptures and holy-texts. Of course,
some languages are better suited to rational thinking than others.
] h In other words, does it seem to you that spoken subtlety, when it was
] translated into words, suddenly (comparatively speaking) needed precision
tx well, precision is always helpful, but that was a relatively late development.
I’d say that real precision did not emerge until the rise of classical greece and
the greek-alphabet. this is why philosophy and science first appeared among
the ancient greeks. language has an awful lot to do with *how* people think,
as well as with the *way* people think. thus the bronze-age languages were
far more supportive of priestly and mythic ways of thinking, than of more
rational ways of thought. and this only makes all of Akhenaten’s achievements
that much more remarkable.
] h akin to mathematics
tx If I recall correctly, i think that the first systematic use of signs (ie. a row of
“dots” or tiny holes carved into bones and antlers) was as an aid to counting and
remembering. thus written language may well have gotten its initial impetus
from mathematics. hence the lists-of-kings and tallies-of-booty are a natural
extension of the stone-age row-of-dots. all this would suggest that written-
language was born a child of rational-pragmatism, and only later was side-
tracked for the exclusive priestly-usage. in ancient-egypt, to be a scribe meant
that you were part of the religious-elite. The ancient-egyptian god Thoth was
the special deity for this small, yet wise, class of citizen. yes, you just know
you’re special when you have your own exclusive god looking out for you, eh?
] h—and that the precision itself tended to remove the subtlety?
tx in a sense, that’s true. symbols and myths seem to carry more “weight”
than a ‘how-to build a table’ pamphlet. being ambiguous allows you to import
and hold more meaning than purely technical how-to instructions. everything
depends on what you want to do with the language. this is why english is the
number-one language in the world there is none other that is so flexible.
btw I sure would like to know what waltercat thinks of S&H ... as much of
what is to follow depends rather heavily upon one particular quality whose
presence or absence can make or break sophiology even before it is fully
birthed. And that quality or characteristic is its ... ummm ... [insert much head-
scratching here] ... its solidity? okay, let’s try that. so, dude, would you say
that S&H is a solid foundation from which to launch an inquiry? or not?
speak now or forever hold your piece ...
Sorry, i mean ‘your peace’, of course. shock
. . . why the pen is mightier than the sword
I shall pass quickly over the Hebrew prophets of the Old-Testament period
since no one is foolish enough to deny that these many and strange men had
an enormous impact upon the religion, culture, and society of ancient Israel.
What is less well known is that other prophets began (at about the same time)
to appear in other societies, and some of these were also to have a very strong
and long-lasting influence 4X, the Buddha in India (and other points East),
and an assortment of odd Greek philosophers, including the obscure-one,
Heraclitus, and another of anti-sophist tendencies, named Socrates.
Moreover, it was during these pivotal centuries (ie. Jasper’s ‘Axial Age’) that,
along with the outcropping of prophets, writing had developed into full-blown
literature; and not insignificantly also saw the birth of the concentrated study
of History in its two most basic forms (1) in the traditional saga or story form
(a la Homer) which still survives so well in ‘The Histories’ by Herodotus. And (2)
in the amazingly modern or realistic form found in the ‘History of the
Peloponnesian War’ by Thucydides. So Just as Philosophy had its two literary
giants (in Plato and Aristotle) who set the standards and the course of
subsequent philosophers, so did History have its dual trend-setters in Herodotus
and Thucydides. Alas, too few have been able to reach the heights of the latter.
. . . paper covers rock
I mention all this only to emphasize the idea that literature is both the
expression and repository of the collective memory and imagination of the
human race. And this is why the story of Akhenaten is so interesting. He arrived
on the scene *before* literature had developed into a sufficiently complex and
useful form; ie. in its “modern” form of words in ink on pages gathered into
books. In the ancient world before the advent of literature, memory and history
were literally carved into stone (mostly stylized pictures and/or symbols). So
instead of the customary ‘book-burnings’ of later times, the priests and carvers
had a little “war of the stone-carvings”. Akhenaten blotted out the names of the
gods in the temples and wherever they could be found, and after his demise,
the priests erased his name (and anything directly associated with it), and then
tore down his new city for good measure.
In doing this, both sides in the chisel-war hoped to erase a specific set of
memories out of mind and history forevermore. Needless to say, both sides
were wrong. Egypt’s traditional gods survived Akhenaten’s “purge”; only to die
a slower death in later centuries. But the priests victory was also shallow and in
vain, for it only meant that Akhenaten’s legacy was more felt than spoken (at
least in Egypt). And the priestly purge of Akhenaten’s memory was ultimately
also temporary; for in using his blocks (from the heretic’s temples and buildings)
as filler for their own constructions, they only ensured that the carvings upon
those blocks would survive to eventually see the light of Aten again. That is,
thanks to the eager-eyes of history’s favorite specialists, the archeologists (or
. . . more prophets & literature
So History can be manipulated and abused, and even toyed-with for a time, but
in the long-run all are judged according to the principle of Ma’at (or the light-of-
reason and justice). But now we must stop at another crucial turning-point in
the history of western civilization. In the centuries leading up to the beginnings
of the Common Era the original five books of the Hebrew Torah had grown and
developed and changed (eg. with the addition of stories and sagas, histories and
pseudo-histories, poetry, and an abundance of prophetic literature of all types).
Moreover, many of the latter-writings began to appear in Greek (a major
commercial and international language in those times), and in due-course all of
the sacred-writings were translated into Greek. In fact, by the first century there
was such an abundance of religious and secular literature (in various languages)
circulating throughout the Mediterranean-Basin (and the Roman Empire) that it
became a serious problem. And one that had to be addressed by Judaism after
the loss of the Temple; and thus the loss of the old-way of practicing religion in
the Ancient Near East (ever since the Bronze Age and before).
Thus the People-of-the-Book were firmly caught between a rock and a *very*
hard place. The options were simple adapt or die. Nothing focuses the mind
so clearly as a clear and present danger. And so the rabbis gathered to discuss
the challenge. They were well-motivated, and became even more so out of the
simple necessity of not perishing through assimilation. Keeping the Holy-Books
pure, and of a manageable size, were also of prime importance. And so the
Rabbis decided to exclude all the Greek-texts from the new canon. Sticking
to the traditional and accepted Hebrew scriptures was a wise and necessary
action. From then on the three-part Tanakh was set, and for the Jews, the only
literature of secondary-authority are the collaborative-commentaries on those
now-established sacred-texts. By this bold and innovative move a Bronze-Age
culture survived the shift into the Common-Era by way of a radical spiritual
transformation achieved via a new focus upon the literature itself as the source
of memory and identity and purpose. Thus the sons and daughters of the
ancient Israelites passed into the New World even as all the other ancient
religions faded away into oblivion under the gradual pressure of social, political,
and cultural change brought about everywhere by the inexorable advance of
human civilization (eg. through the ongoing accumulation of knowledge found
and gathered and expressed in and through books).
. . . how the modern world was made
So let me state this plainly for philosophy (and sophiology, of course) books
are NOT mere irrelevant ‘throw-offs’ of the ongoing economic and materialistic
dialectic which provides the basic substance of every culture’s activities. Rather,
they are the means by which knowledge and reason live and grow in influence
over the lives of more and more human beings. Thus the single greatest human
achievement since the appearance of the cities is the invention of books. This is
because books not only allow minds to transcend time and space (thus creating
a kind of eternal platonic realm wherein a communion of minds dwells), but
also allows for the existence of tangible spiritual realities and processes, such
as ... History and Philosophy! )
Of course, the first-century Rabbis cared nothing for history and philosophy (ie.
as far as the pagans understood these things); they only cared for their own
people, and the religion that gave their lives meaning. But this unique trans-
formation of an ancient society was to have a profound effect upon the future
course of western-history. Indeed the next two thousand years are largely
the tale of the repercussions and reverberations of this pivotal event (ie. the
creation-by-definition of the Tanakh), an event caused by the Roman Empire
itself through the destruction of Jerusalem (in 70CE). Thus it was not the loss
of the Temple that mattered in the long run; it was the creation of the Tanakh
that was the one event marking the separation of the old world from the new.
From this point on nothing could ever be the same again, for out of this single
isolated and unnoticed occurrence in some tiny corner of the Empire came not
just one new religion, but three Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
. . . the 3 books that shaped the modern-world
There are three chief forces driving the progressive development of human
cultures and civilizations War, Religion, and Reason. There is no reason to
suppose that these forces or activities were not present from the time of the
earliest homo-sapiens, and every reason to suppose that they were active within
our hominid ancestors for millions of years before that. In this regard, human
beings have changed not at all over the last million years. The post-modern
global world of the twenty-first century is still shaped largely by the processes
and interplay of war, religion, and reason. Indeed these three activities more
or less define what human beings are, and why they do the things they do.
All three of the major world religions that have a book at its core are essentially
prophetic in origin or character. The Tanakh (or ‘old-testament’ for christians)
is the oldest; its writings were written over a span of almost a thousand years.
Much of its material was written by prophets, and it only reached its final form
near the end of the first century of the common-era. The next oldest is the greek
new-testament, which was written over the span of about a century (50-150CE).
Most of its texts were also written by prophets (including paulos, silvanus, mark,
jacob, and jude). This collection of sacred texts reached its final form much
more quickly (about 325CE). And the last and youngest sacred book is the koran
written by the prophet muhammad (in the seventh century ce) over a span of
months (or a few years at most), and reached its final form almost immediately.
Do you see the trend here? The first book had many authors, and took a long
time to compile, the second had only a few authors writing over decades (rather
than centuries), and the third was written by one man (more or less) over a
span of months. The chief characteristic of all three is the element of mono-
theism, and the basicly prophetic nature of the literature itself. Apart from that,
the three books (and the three corresponding religions that go with them) are
very diverse in their practices and ideas. But they are all linked together by
History; and Christianity was born as the direct offspring of Judaism, and (at
first) defined itself in just those terms (especially in the older documents).
. . . more pious blind spots
So it is no surprise that the New Testament (like the Old) is not shy to speak
about prophets, and contains - again like the OT - much in the way of various
types of prophetic literature; all of which was written (of course) by different
kinds of prophets (who by this point in history came in many forms, including
writers and non-writers). But while Judaism and Islam celebrate their own
prophets, Christianity seems intent on rubbing out hers. And yet among the
Greek-speaking believers of the first two centuries of the common-era, prophets
were plentiful and had various “names” attached (such as ‘apostle’ and ‘slave’).
And here our colossal blind-spot surfaces once again, and must now be
addressed, for it reveals itself here in a startlingly virulent fashion. I would
draw the Reader’s attention to but two crucial aspects of the problem
(1) If one were to ask the average Christian how many of the 27 ‘books’ within
the New Testament are “prophetic” in nature, or can be called prophetic-
literature, the answer would invariably be the same only one, namely the book
of Revelation, the last book in the canon. But this is all wrong; in fact, the
majority of the gospels and epistles are prophetic literature. Thus the NT texts
can be divided into two main groups the meat and potatoes (those written by
prophets), and the milk and pabulum (those not written by prophets (eg. priests
and ex-pharisees)). The curious feature here is that although this second group
is numerically small (chiefly Lk/Acts and the pastoral-epistles) it nevertheless
takes *more* pages to contain them.
And yet, despite the greater bulk of the priestly-literature, if you were to remove
them from the NT, nothing of any great significance would thereby be lost. On
the other hand, remove the earliest and most potent prophetic books (Mark &
Paul), and the loss would be dramatic indeed. Kierkegaard thought that even
if we had only the gospel of Mark, that alone would be enough to ensure the
survival of Christianity. That’s a rather extreme way to state an otherwise astute
observation the textual core of the faith resides in its best prophetic literature.
And this applies as much to the Tanakh and Koran as it does to the NT.
So why is it that Christians are now so unable to recognize the prophets in their
own sacred texts and traditions? Many believers today are fanatically devoted
to keeping the NT at the core of their faith, and zealously study and pursue
the scriptures with vim-and-vigor, and yet they do not even recognize the
essentially prophetic nature of their own sacred texts? What is going on here?
The answer is actually very simple it’s because the priests (and the scribes and
scholars who follow after them) wish it so. Thus when christians read their NT,
and come across words like ‘messiah’, ‘apostle’, and ‘slave’, whatever these
words may bring to mind, you can be sure that ‘prophet’ is nowhere to be found
among them. Indeed, most popular English translations deliberately help the
confusion and ignorance along by refusing to translate the Greek word for slave
as ‘slave’ (perhaps for fear of offending delicate Christian sensibilities). [See the
opening verses of James, Jude, and 2Peter for dramatic examples of the need
to keep believers ignorant of the prophetic nature of their own scriptures.]
(2) Our next colossal blind-spot concerns the status and nature of jesus-christ.
A careful (or even careless) reading of the texts will show that the NT describes
Jesus as a prophet in many and various ways, and also calls him a prophet
hundreds of times (directly and indirectly, explicitly and implicitly). And yet if
you ask Christians who and what Jesus was, they will answer with things such
as ‘messiah’, ‘son of god’, or maybe even ‘son of man’; but never will you hear
them say ‘he was a prophet’. This despite the clear testimony of their own ‘new’
testament! Is this odd? Oh surely. Is this a mystery? Not at all; for the plain
truth is that believers do NOT think Jesus was a prophet. This is not to say that
the texts are wrong, or that they willfully disbelieve the texts whenever they say
that Jesus is a prophet. Rather, it’s more a case that all such assertions and
declarations are Incidental & Irrelevant, owing to the fact that christians “know”
that Jesus Christ is “really” God-Incarnate. Thus because Christians know better
than the inspired-authors, all such claims and observations wizz right on by;
and, failing to register, they save the Reader the bother of having to think
about such obscure and confusing terms, and what they might have meant.
. . . on giving them walking-papers
Anyway, after all the controversies and misadventures of the second century ce,
the priests and scribes and ex-pharisees decided to rid their new religion of all
these bothersome prophets, and set about doing just that. Even then the word
‘heretic’ was a powerful weapon. And after they succeeded in purging the Faith
of its sole source of vitality and intelligence, they were free to grant Christianity
the blessings of their pious priestly wisdom and leadership. Top priority was
swiftly given to the important business of theology, so as to declare Jesus
nothing less than god-himself. In doing so the priests ensured that no believer
could henceforth take Jesus seriously for what he really was (ie. a prophet).
The priestly corruption of the early prophetic faith did not go unnoticed,
however, and some believers did not care for the direction the Faith was taking
under the guidance of the clerical anti-prophets. These few men accordingly
walked away from the cities with their fancy-churches and pious priestly ways.
They were looking for another way. These were the desert-fathers, and they
soon attracted other like-minded believers, and together they formed the new
monastic communities that would latter ensure the survival of Christianity (and
literacy in the West). After the Empire collapsed, the monks moved into Europe,
and cleared away much of forests there; thereby making western-civilization a
real possibility, and unwittingly paving the way for the future.
In due course the monasteries were all gathered up into the ample bosom of
the now well-established clergy-driven-church, and the prophetic-spirit was once
again forced to look elsewhere for a means of life and expression. Since there
was no longer any place or welcome for prophets within the “universal”
medieval-church, it was only in the heretical movements of the middle ages
that christian-prophecy could find a temporary abode. These were, of course,
ruthlessly stamped out as fast as possible. In the meantime, the priests were
not idle; they continued to magnify their own glory and importance as the
undisputed-masters of all Christianity; thanks to the generous assistance of
Theology (and Her humble-handmaiden, philosophy). But eventually even some
monks and priests could no longer stomach the excesses of evil and corruption
emanating from the leadership in Rome; and with the arrival on the scene of
gun-powder and printing-press, these “vile and heretical malcontents” were
actually able to do something more than merely grumble and complain about it.
With the Renaissance and these new technologies the stage was set for the
Reformation, and once underway prophets began to appear singly and in
bunches. All this was fueled chiefly by a renewed emphasis on scripture as a
vital element of the Faith; and this was made possible by the availability of new
translations (brought about by the printing press and fresh scholarship). The
scientific pursuit of biblical-studies was developed as early as Origen in pre-
constantine alexandria, and gained a considerable boost from various muslim
and renaissance scholars. But where the chief leaders of the Reformation (such
as Erasmus, Luther and Calvin) retained their priestly loyalties and biases (ie.
they were content to merely trim a little excess fat of corruption off of the
morbidly obese body of the now sick and perverted Faith), the Radical-
Reformers clearly saw the need for a complete and thorough-going overhaul
of the entire Christian religion.
According to the latter’s new understanding of the NT-texts, they were able
to throw out much of the priestly apparatus that had grown up (for centuries)
around the faith of the earliest believers; choking it, and distorting it, and all but
crushing all of the spiritual-life right out of it. And yet the priestly vision-of-all-
things was so powerful and pervasive by the sixteenth century that few
reformers could set it aside long enough to see the scriptures unfiltered and un-
obscured by sundry theological-imperatives. The priestly way of faith held things
that Luther and Calvin simply could not bear to part with. And so because they
could not abide these “heretical-extremists” (ie. the RR; who did what they could
not), they joined the romish-church in responding to the Radical-Reformers with
oppression and persecution (always sure-signs of the presence of prophetic-
faith). New ideas and non-priestly ways of practicing the Faith were sought for
everywhere, and destroyed whenever they could be found.
The separation of Church & State, and the liberty of the individual’s conscience,
are but two radical ideas that these “evil-heretics” lived and died for. These are
ideas that today’s Christians take for granted. Ideas that today’s Christians dare
take credit for, even while remaining loyal to those traditions that joyfully
murdered the freedom-loving prophets of the Radical Reformation.
In the following century, another small band of radical and prophetic believers,
the Quakers, also took their new Christian faith so seriously that they too
challenged the divine and eternal order governed and defended by the priests
and nobles, and their “divinely-ordained” traditions. In the case of the Quakers,
it was the age-old institution of slavery that they dared to challenge, that they
spilled their blood for, and even died resisting. But eventually they saw their
epic struggle bear fruit with the destruction of that profitable business. And
here again today’s Christians take pride and credit for an achievement that
came not from believers like themselves, but from believers fired by the
prophetic-spirit, believers that they would gladly scorn and dismiss, and
perhaps murder in their beds, even now (if only they could get away with it).
. . . why some men are philosophers
Even in these supposedly enlightened modern times, the prophets continued to
defy the status-quo, the comforting illusions, and the established traditions that
still make Christianity an easy and bother-free zone of conservative self-right-
eousness. Even after the Enlightenment and the scientific-revolution, it was the
prophets that continued to blaze new trails; going where no man has gone
before. In the realm of the christian religion History notices the influence of
talented outsiders who reject the faith of the majority. Men such as G.B.Shaw
and Leo Tolstoy; where once again we find the experts and critics claiming that
their “prophet-status” is entirely incidental and irrelevant, and an altogether
unfortunate (not to mention embarrassing) business.
And if it’s not bad enough that prophets now dare to be great writers, novelists,
composers, and playwrights, how much worse it is that they also dare to be
great philosophers as well. Surely that is the gravest insult of all. And yet two
quite recent prophets stand out clearly, even against the confused backdrop of
the nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, one is a very committed christian, and
the other is an equally committed non-christian! Yet Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
are both widely recognized, not for being prophets, but for being the two chief
founding-fathers of the philosophical movement latter known as Existentialism
(ie. a new philosophy is generally just a new way of thinking about *many*
things in a somewhat similar fashion).
Therefore because they are so-nicely labeled “existentialists” no one need ever
think that they are (or even could) be prophets. Thus most philosophers (and
historians of philosophy; whom one would think ought to know better) are quite
content to call these two alpha-class prophets ‘philosophers’; and the world is
more than happy to go along (seeing as how philosophers are *extremely*
ignorable). But all of this can only be done by passing over (in an embarrassed
and deafening silence) the unacknowledged fact that being philosophers is
incidental and very secondary to the primary occupation of *these* men!
It’s really quite funny, when you consider the implications of this ‘conspiracy of
willful-blindness’ that is especially obvious in the case of Existentialism and its
original trail-blazers. Kierkegaard had the love and passion of the greatest of
saints for Jesus and the Faith. He was a warrior for the Lord, who fought for the
Faith to the final breath. And he was a brilliant writer and thinker as well, who
wrote a variety of prophetic literature (all of it of top quality). What could be
more obvious? Do I really need to draw a map for this “possible prophet
candidate”? Maybe I do, seeing that it doesn’t seem to add up for Christians;
including even most of the educated ones. Accordingly, Kierkegaard’s influence
upon the current condition of the Christian religion is almost nil, mostly
because the believers can’t even see him! Now ask yourself why this is so.
And as for Nietzsche, he would surely despise being labeled an “existentialist”
and summarily thrown into the same pot with guys like Kierkegaard and Satre!
So there’s that. And there’s also (yet again) the evidence of the texts themselves.
Among the writings of both men we find prophetic literature in abundance; in
both its most refined and distilled forms, and also in all its original overheated
rawness. And with Nietzsche we even find a whole book about a prophet (aptly
named Zarathustra); as if Nietzsche knew in advance that the modern world is
so blind to the prophets that even one clearly labeled as such, and dangled right
in front of the People’s eyes, will NOT be recognized!
Surely all this is a bad-joke taken to the very extremes of outrageous absurdity?
And yet Nietzsche, as far as the modern world is concerned, is just another
philosopher the one who had a “thing” about Christians. But each of these
“philosophers” was a believer-with-a-mission, a man with a purpose and a goal,
and both were powered by a vision (not the same vision!) that drove them
forward while the entire world lagged behind concerning itself with petty 19th
century trivialities that could not last for decades, let alone centuries. Yet there
they were, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, two prophets with radically different
values and visions, together building a road into the future that others could
walk on and extend even further into the present and future by expanding upon
the new possibilities that were now presenting themselves. And despite some
major setbacks (eg. Sartre and Camus) Existentialism remains basically an
ongoing prophetic-enterprise. It is also the first organized and systematic
attempt to generate wisdom that is actually useful and relevant to all people!
Sorry, textman, tricks are for kids. I don’t hang out at this forum to be evangelized about the next great “miracle cure” or “universal wisdom”. Such a system or cure, should it actually appear, is in no need of “prophets” to go around selling it.
Sure, it’s an ongoing “prophetic enterprise”. But an enterprise it is, a cottage industry, a pyramid scheme, a shell game, a scam, a grift, a trick.
I actually appreciate existentialism, textman; it’s poetic, bittersweet, a kind of naked, shivering nymph stepping out of her lily pond to dry off. But if you try to catch her, she vanishes, poof, in a puff of mist.
] tx previously say: [snip] despite some major setbacks (eg. Sartre and Camus)
] Existentialism remains basically an ongoing prophetic-enterprise. It is also the
] first organized and systematic attempt to generate wisdom that is actually
] useful and relevant to all people!
] on 28 apr Salt Creek replied: Sorry, textman, tricks are for kids. I don’t hang
] out at this forum to be evangelized about the next great “miracle cure” or
] “universal wisdom”.
tx say: hey, Salk Creek. i respect your skepticism. if i were not in the driver’s
seat, i too would be somewhat skeptical about all this. and i don’t mean to
come across as one who is trying to evangelize people into a position that they
really don’t want to assume. This is no miracle-cure that i’m offering here.
philosophy and wisdom both require determination and hard work; but i
would like you to reconsider your inflexible opposition to the notion of
] sc: Such a system or cure, should it actually appear, is in no need of
] “prophets” to go around selling it.
tx: who then should go around selling it? who has sufficient authority to get
people’s attention long enough to realize that there’s something of value here?
a scientist maybe? but scientists can’t measure wisdom. a philosopher maybe?
but philosophers don’t believe in wisdom. perhaps Einstein could indeed pull
it off, but he is no longer available for such duties, alas.
] sc: Sure, it’s an ongoing “prophetic enterprise”. But an enterprise it is, a
] cottage industry, a pyramid scheme, a shell game, a scam, a grift, a trick.
tx: i fail to see how you can call wisdom (or philosophy) a scam. is the idea of
the supremacy of individual conscience in all matters of religion a trick? is the
ideal of the separation of church and state a grift? is the observation that man
is basically an irrational-creature a pyramid scheme? is the idea of rule-by-law
a shell game? is philosophy itself a con-job? if so, that’s a rather bleak and
cynical view of philosophy; and one that i am not much disposed to accept.
so while it’s true that philosophers have made a mess of things lately, i think
that the potential is still there to work through it, and maybe even to give
philosophy a sense of purpose and direction.
] sc: I actually appreciate existentialism, textman;
tx: i’m very glad you said that, because my “sophiology” ought to be of
considerable interest to anyone concerned with existentialism. it is easily my
favorite philosophical “system”, but it is certainly not the only kind of philosophy
that interests me. i also notice that you did not actually deny my notion that
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are both prophets. if i have sold you on that idea,
then perhaps there is more to this confusing business about prophets than what
most people suppose. all i ask is that you keep an open mind. one of the main
ideas i am trying to establish here is that while wisdom is wherever you find it,
it is nevertheless the prophets who - historically - have been the main carriers
and disseminators of new and radical ideas (ie. wisdom).
] sc: it’s poetic, bittersweet, a kind of naked, shivering nymph stepping out
] of her lily pond to dry off. But if you try to catch her, she vanishes, poof,
] in a puff of mist.
tx: i know what you mean. existentialism is rather vague and ill-defined when
compared to mathematics and the hard-sciences. on the other hand, so is
wisdom. and so are the prophets. flexibility appears to be essential to all three
of these things, and just because they are hard to grasp onto doesn’t mean that
their reality is in doubt. it only means that science is ill-equipped to properly
handle them. moreover, wisdom is not a minor or esoteric subject; it is a matter
that ought to concern everyone ... especially philosophers. this is why a rational
understanding of wisdom within the context of a sustained and disciplined
philosophical investigation is so important at this stage in history.
. . . on biting the hand that feeds
I don’t think it would be going *too* far off-the-mark to say that almost every
lasting idea, value, or ideal (of a spiritual nature) comes, almost without
exception, directly from the hands of the prophets. People gather up these
freely-given but intangible gifts of wisdom, claim them as their own, then
promptly take them for granted, and then never again think about them, or
where they came from. And how do these ignorant and ungrateful People thank
the prophets for their critical contributions to the advancement of civilization?
The most popular way by far has always been by simply killing them; so as to
“dispose themselves of the bother” as fast as possible (so that they don’t have
to think about the past and the future). And also by biting the hands that feed
them; by insulting and belittling them, by heaping scorn and abuse and very
heavy stones, upon them. They have a thousand different ways of killing them
(it’s a skill don’t you know). And when they’re not busy with *that*, by always
and everywhere ignoring them as much as possible; because everybody knows
that the prophets are obviously incidental and irrelevant. Same like always.
Thus the good-news today is that the prophets are still with us after three and
a half thousand years of endless abuse and neglect! Even here and now in the
“secular” and “enlightened” 21st century they can be found all over the globe
(and even on the net). The bad news is that because no one believes in prophets
anymore, there is no one left who is able to recognize them in ANY of their
various roles and literary-expressions. That’s a rather amazing fact when you
consider some of the implications of this. And why? Because people want to
believe - almost desperately it seems - that they do NOT need the prophets to
show them the way ahead. And so this refusal to accept the way-things-are
generates a colossal-blind-spot that is rooted in what is essentially a mistaken
perception, a simple oversight; and a thing easily rectified by a simple act of will.
Yet Christianity, the one Faith among all the world-religions that ought to
most eagerly champion the cause of the prophets, is (paradoxically and self-
destructively) the one most determined to do away with them altogether, to blot
them out of History (as the priests did to Akhenaten). And why? For exactly the
same reasons; then as now, because tradition (Glorious Tradition) tells them
that they can rely on their ‘Kings & Priests’ (and on their own judgment/reading
of the sacred texts) for all the power and authority that they’ll ever need, now
and forevermore, amen.
And yet the entire course of History as it is known today can hardly be under-
stood as anything other than the story of the refutation (not to mention the
consequences of the rejection of this refutation) of this totally-lame notion
that prophets aren’t real, and therefore can’t possibly exist. But the prophetic
tradition, right from the very dawn of recorded history, says that they do exist!
Akhenaten, Moses, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Muhammad; these are the men
that changed the course of history and stamped their influence into the minds
of billions of people all over the world.
And these are just the tip of the prophetic iceberg. The prophetic tradition also
includes many of the greatest writers and thinkers known to history (both secular
and religious). Christianity alone has seen hundreds of them throughout church-
history; from Paul to Augustine to Aquinas to Tolstoy. What is there about all
this that doesn’t add up? It is, after all, an awful lot to just ‘overlook’ or casually
misplace. But if the prophets are, even so, so hard to see, it’s certainly not their
fault. They are not being coy; they are not shy to communicate their vision to
anyone and everyone. No, you have to *really* want to NOT see them; and you
have to want it BAD!
[end of essay]
Very nice. Excellent essay. I can’t wait to hear the response.
thx beach. and don’t forget to check out the sequel to this essay in the
christianity forum, in the thread ‘universal-church claims to be prophetic’.
and also, i’ve finished uploading the updated files, so my new website
is also ready for your comments. let me know what you think of the new
and improved format. chao—tx