The Magic of Reality!

The philosophical treatise ‘Octavious’ was written by the Christian apologist, Muncius Felix, in the 2nd-3rd century.  It offers valuable insight into the debates that raged in the Roman empire between early Christians and their pagan neighbors.  Muncius Felix gives a lot of space to the views of his opponent and I think he tries to present their views as fairly as possible before offering a refutation of them.  Here is one example in which the pagan (Caecilius) explains to the Christian (Octavius) the beginnings of all things.

The seeds of all things have been in the beginning condensed by a nature combining them in itself— what God is the author here? Let the members of the whole world be by fortuitous concurrences united, digested, fashioned— what God is the contriver? Although fire may have lit up the stars; although (the lightness of) its own material may have suspended the heaven; although its own material may have established the earth by its weight; and although the sea may have flowed in from moisture, whence is this religion? Whence this fear? What is this superstition? Man, and every animal which is born, inspired with life, and nourished, is as a voluntary concretion of the elements, into which again man and every animal is divided, resolved, and dissipated. So all things flow back again into their source, and are turned again into themselves, without any artificer, or judge, or creator. Thus the seeds of fires, being gathered together, cause other suns, and again others, always to shine forth. Thus the vapours of the earth, being exhaled, cause the mists always to grow, which being condensed and collected, cause the clouds to rise higher; and when they fall, cause the rains to flow, the winds to blow, the hail to rattle down; or when the clouds clash together, they cause the thunder to bellow, the lightnings to grow red, the thunderbolts to gleam forth. Therefore they fall everywhere, they rush on the mountains, they strike the trees; without any choice, they blast places sacred and profane; they smite mischievous men, and often, too, religious men.

Substitute “random mutation” for “fortuitous concurrences” and you might have something Dawkins would be happy with.  This is because the philosophy expounded by Caecilius is consistent with natural religion of all stripes.   Both Dawkins and Caecilius belong to a long line of natural philosophers who can trace their ideas to some of the very earliest creation epics.  According to the Enuma Elish (late 2nd millenium BC?), the world began when the salty water (Tiamat) mingled with sweet water (Apsu) and there came forth silt (Lahmu and Lahamu?).  Then, after many ages passed, there arose Ansar and Kisar – the twin horizons, etc, etc.  And so it goes.   The Enuma Elish states that this occurred, “before any of the gods had been called into being”.  The world of the Enuma Elish was a magical world before it was a supernatural one.  If a shaman knows the secrets of the natural ‘powers’, he may try to manipulate them and bypass the gods entirely.

While modern man may not believe in magic, his outlook is compatible with it.  Ultimately, he believes that nature assembled itself.  He may confine this event to a singularity, or distance himself from it by theorizing an infinite number of parallel universes – but his world is ultimately material and magical.  It is, therefore, supremely ironic that Dawkins would call his children’s book “The Magic of Reality”!  Dawkins is simply giving a ‘scientific’ spin to the philosophy of Caecilius and the myth of the Enuma Elish.  The mingling of the waters has become the primordial soup.

There is only one alternative to this magical world.  It is the one described by Octavius in his response to Caecilius:

Wherefore the rather, they who deny that this furniture of the whole world was perfected by the divine reason, and assert that it was heaped together by certain fragments casually adhering to each other, seem to me not to have either mind or sense, or, in fact, even sight itself. For what can possibly be so manifest, so confessed, and so evident, when you lift your eyes up to heaven, and look into the things which are below and around, than that there is some Deity of most excellent intelligence, by whom all nature is inspired, is moved, is nourished, is governed? 

There can be no compromise between Caecilius and Octavius.  Their differences cannot be measured on a scale.  They live in different worlds.

The the Audacity of Desperation and the Obliteration of Thrift

May the people of Ashur buy 30 kor of grain for one shekel of silver!
May the people of Ashur buy 30 minas of wool for one shekel of silver!
May the people of Ashur buy 3 seah of oil for one shekel of silver!

I came across an interesting little book the other day that I think sheds some light on what happening in the world of finance.  It is a history of money during the French Revolution.  The book was written in 1896 by Andrew White, an American historian at Cornell University.  It is a simple little book that doesn’t require an economics degree to understand it.  The fact that it was written more than 100 years ago makes it all the more interesting in light of recent events.

One of the results of the French Revolution was that all income producing land that belonged to the church was seized by the Republicans in order to be distrubuted among the people.  The problem was that ‘the people’ didn’t have enough money to purchase the land.  The solution was to issue assignats – a paper currency that was backed by the land.  Each piece of paper represented a portion of land owned by the issuers of the currency.  As the land was purchased, the assignants would be removed from circulation.  The first issue was for 4 million livres and the notes paid a 3% interest.     This appeared to be a very sensible policy.

However, as France continued to suffer economicaly, it was decided to continue printing the asignats.  16 million livres were printed and this time the notes paid 0% interest!   In good, populist fashion, the justification for this governnment policy was that it ‘served the people’.   And indeed, the issuance of paper stimulated manufacturing as “every one endeavors to invest his doubtful paper in buildings, machines and goods, which, under all circumstances, retain some intrinsic value.”  The merchants and the poor alike clamored for the printing of more bills.  According to White, ”France was now fully committed to a policy of inflation; and, if there had been any question of this before, all doubts were removed now by various acts very significant as showing the exceeding difficulty of stopping a nation once in the full tide of a depreciating currency.”

Uncertaintly over the value of the currency resulted in what White calls the “obliteration of thrift.”  Why save money if you are not sure it will maintain its value?   It also resulted in a speculative frenzy in which “the purchase of every article of supply became a speculation – a speculation in which the professional speculator had an immense advantage over the ordinary buyer.”  According to one observer, “Commerce was dead; betting took its place.”

Moreover, the printing of money stimulated over production and left “every industry flaccid afterward.”   Because of the the devaluing currency, “businesses found it increasingly difficult to forecast input costs.  This climate of uncertaintly resulted in businesses laying off workers.  The rise of unemployment meant that as prices for goods rose, wages stagnated.”  Worst of all, the specter of inflation gave rise to a “class of debauched speculators, the most injurious class that a nation can harbor – more injurious indeed than professional criminals whom the law recognizes and can throttle.”   

The takeaway message from the book is that inflation is worse than deflation because it destroys the moral and social fabric of society.

Since time immemorial, one of the most important tasks of the king was to maintain the purchasing power of money.  In our enlightened era, we have delegated that task to a select group of central bankers who operate outside of national interests.   They get to deal and play our cards and since 2008 they have gone all in.   At stake is not the assignats of Revolutionary France but an entire global system of finance.

The book can be downloaded for free from here:

The Conquest

One of the major arguments against the historicity of Joshua and Judges is that archaeology has revealed a significant Egyptian presence in Canaan in the 12th – 11th centuries, something that is not reflected in the Bible.  Nadav Na’aman has gone so far as to argue that the Biblical account of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt is really just a dim recollection of Egypt’s oppressive imperialistic polices in the land of Canaan at the time when ‘Israel’ began to emerge as a distinct entity in the highlands of Canaan.  I was interested to come across an article by J.M. Weinstein that offers a completely different view of Canaan during the New Kingdom period.  According to Weinstein, the bulk of the evidence for a significant Egyptian presence in Canaan in the 12-11th centuries BC comes from two places – Bet Shean and Timna – cities on the periphery.   Furthermore, very little identifiable pottery from Egypt has been found in Late Bronze / Iron Age 1 Canaanite cities –  a period when Naaman argues that Canaan was a virtual colony of Egypt!  (actually, archaeologists cannot seem to find anything from that time period but that is another story)

But what I find even more interesting is the lack of evidence for an abiding Egyptian presence in Canaan at the end of the Middle Bronze age.    The Middle Bronze age cities in Canaan where massive, with walls ‘fortified to the heavens.’  The destruction of these cities was epic.  Weinstein states,

“It would appear that at the end of the Middle Bronze Age or very early in the Late Bronze Age, a large series of destructions occurred in a geographical arc stretching from southwestern Palestine eastward across the southern part of the country, up through the Judean hills-with at least one destruction in the Jordan Valley, at Jericho-and then north past the Sea of Galilee and westward across the Plain of Esdraelon at least as far as Tacanach.” (Weinstein 1981)

Here is a list of cities compiled by G. Wright and W. Dever where evidence has been found of destructions or abandonments at the end of MB IIC or early in the Late Bronze Age (taken from Weinstein 1981) :

1.Tell el-’Ajjdl (City III and Palace I)
2.Tell el-Farcah (South)
3.Tell el-Hesi
5.Tell Beit Mirsim [Debir] –
8.Shechem (two closely-spaced destructions)
9.Tell el-Farcah (North)
10.Beth-shan (?)

Weinstein adds another eight cities to the list.

13.Tell en-Nagila
18.Gibeon (?)

The standard narrative is that the Egyptians laid waste Canaan after they expelled the Hyksos from Egypt (1530 BC).  If so then we should expect to find records in Egypt of significant military campaigns in Canaan.  But the opposite is true.  The Caananite cities listed above (with the exception of Tanaach) are absent from Egyptian monuments.  It is not even clear whether Thutmose III destroyed Megiddo.

According to the internal Biblical chronology – the beginning of the Israelite conquest dates to around 1400 BC… later than the date assigned to MBIIC if we go by the standard chronology.   Of course, if archaeologists give the Exodus any historical significance at all, they date it to 1250 BC, and so Israel is never considered to be a possible cause for the destruction of the Canaanite cities at the end of the Midde Bronze period.   But it seems to me that the destructions commonly assigned to the end of the Middle Bronze age are worth considering in light of the Israelite conquest.