Monday, October 18, 2010

The Jell-O dome

Edski is like one of those dolls where you pull a string to play a prerecorded message. He lacks adaptive intelligence. Every conversation with him goes the same way.

Or, to vary the metaphor, have you ever seen a bug that fell into the bottom of a bucket, or bathtub, or sink? It can’t get any traction on the slick, steep sides, so it just keeps going round and round the bottom of the bathtub or bucket. Well, talking to Edski is like watching one of those ill-fated bugs.

Before I comment on his latest inanities, I’d like to make a general observation which ought to be fairly obvious to anyone who didn’t suffer from Edski’s insectival outlook. Scholars work with ancient texts. Archeologists also work with coins, pottery, and so on.

One can glean a lot of useful information this way. But you can’t know what it’s like to be alive at a certain place and time except by being alive at a certain place and time. There’s no substitute for the actual experience.

Ancient texts don’t attempt to exhaustively describe how people viewed the world. So much was taken for granted. Subconsciously registered. And even if they did attempt to be exhaustive, there are aspects of experience remain resistant to literary reproduction. There are things you can’t capture in words on a page. Moreover, it’s not as if ancient texts go into Proustian detail about what it felt like to be alive at a certain time and place.

The scholars that Edski is fond of quoting or misquoting didn’t live in the ANE. They’re simply working with ancient texts. Suppose you study a photograph of roast pheasant. You could learn a lot from pouring over every detail of the photograph. But you’ll never know what roast pheasant tastes like by seeing a color photograph of roast pheasant.


“Actually that's exactly what I want you to think concerning NT writings, all of which appear to have retained the assumption of a flat earth just as older Scriptures did. The people who wrote the NT appear to assume a flat earth even in a world in which the spherical earth belief was the majority view among educated philosophers.”

Two problems:

i) Suppose NT writers shared the viewpoint of “educated philosophers.” Even if that were the case, we wouldn’t expect them to depict the earth in spherical terms, for NT writers reflect a literary tradition. Their imagery is frequently a carryover from OT imagery.

To see the typical stupidity of Edski’s inference, suppose we applied his reasoning to the imagery we find in Dante or Milton. Both poets resort to the furniture of Classical mythology. Yet that hardly means they share the viewpoint of Greek and Roman pagans. Dante was a Thomist, while Milton was a Puritan.

ii) Moreover, Edski’s inference is typically stupid in another respect: I could just as well say that, to all appearances, C. S. Lewis though Venus was a tropical paradise with floating islands. But minimally intelligent readers (unlike Edski) appreciate the fact that you can’t tell what Lewis really thought Venus was like by examining the terms of his depiction. For that doesn’t tell us what he intended to do with his depiction. To know what Perelandra means, you have to go outside the narrative. You have to know something about Lewis. The story won’t give you that. You can’t truly understand the writing unless you understand something about the writer.

“So, YES there was diversity in biblical times. But there is no evidence of such diversity in the Bible, not in the OT nor the NT which continued to reflect phrases and ideas and assumptions of a flat earth throughout.”

Once again, imagine if we took that approach to The Martian Chronicles.

“Second, can you cite some writings from the ancient Near East that demonsrate a spherical earth? Or that they debated the earth's shape?”

That’s an argument from silence.

“There was no debate back then, the earth appeared flat.”

As I’ve illustrated on multiple occasions now, it’s simplistic to say the earth appears to be flat. There are various clues to the contrary, which any thoughtful and observant percipient can “see” for himself. But talking to Edski is like pulling the string on a doll. All you get is the prerecorded message.

Mind you, I have no doubt that if everyone living in the ANE was as gullible as Edski, then the earth would appear to be flat. Of course, if everybody back then was as gullible as Edski, we’d still be eating raw meat.

“They didn't have telescopes and a Babylonian map of the world agrees with Sargon's geography concerning how limited their knowledge was of the earth's geography. The horizon spread out 360 degrees around them, and they imagined that was the earth, the flat circle of the earth. Isaiah agreed. Job agreed.”

i) Ancient maps naturally describe the known world, not the unknown world. However, any traveler would know perfectly well that the world didn’t come to an end at the point where he stopped sailing or walking or riding a donkey. It’s not as if travelers hit a barrier or event horizon. It’s not as if ancient mariners came to a point where the ocean either poured over the edge of the flat earth or else bumped up against the side of the cosmic fishbowl. Likewise, it’s not as if travelers by foot or donkey came to a point where the land petered out into nothingness. Just a blank.

They could always see additional land and sky beyond the point where they chose to stop. To have an empire, you have to have traders and soldiers. Armies to police or occupy the outposts of the empire. But armies know full well that political borders don’t coincide with the outer limits of the world. However vast the empire, there is always more land or sea beyond the national boundaries.

But it’s incomprehensible to Edski to put himself in the situation of men and women who lived every day in the real world. He keeps his eyes confined to an ancient text, as if an ancient author or reader didn’t interpret a text in light of his real world experience.

ii) Isaiah and Job don’t say the earth is a “disk.” And how could a disk have “corners”? A square disk?

To any halfway intelligent reader, that would be a clue regarding the figurative nature of the discourse. But, of course, Edski is a rationalist who never permits reason to contaminate the purity of his rationalism.

“Daniel and Matthew agreed that from a "great" height you could see or be seen to the ends of the earth.”

i) Once again, Edski is too credulous to put himself in the position of people actually living back then. Anyone could know by personal experience that there was more to the world than what you could see from climbing the nearest mountain. People frequently traveled well beyond what was observable from a mountaintop. They knew from firsthand experience that there were rivers and hills and valleys on the other side of the visible horizon. They knew the world didn’t only go as far as the eye can see, then suddenly terminate. Just take the far-flung travels of Abraham or Paul. Edski keeps imputing his own stupidity to the ancients.

ii) Indeed, at the risk of stating the obvious, and one must always belabor the obvious when dealing with Edski, one reason that hikers climb hills and mountains is to get their bearings. Which direction should they go? What’s the best route? What’s nearby or far away? How’s the terrain?

They use that as a temporary frame of reference to proceed on their journey. A hiker will do this periodically. He will see as much as he can from one hill. He will use that information to chart a path. He will move beyond the visual perimeter of that particular vantage-point, then climb another hill to reorient himself.

Of course, someone with Edski’s mentality wouldn’t survive very long in the bush.

“That the sun traversed the sky from one end of heaven or end of the earth to the other, just as Babylonians and Egyptians pictured it doing.”

And if that’s what they really thought, then we’d expect the sun to alternate course. To set in the west, then rise in the west and set in the east–back and forth, back and forth.

But it doesn’t do that. Instead, it always sets in the west and rises in the east, as if it…you know…went around the earth. A circular trajectory.

“I invite bloggers to consider the evidence, not to invent evident of a ‘diversity of views’ in the ancient Near Eastern world.”

The “evidence” ought to include what was evident to observers. Such as annual variations in the position of the sun along the horizon, at sunup and sundown.

“They knew little back then, so the way they ordered the cosmos and spoke about it seems to have made perfect sense--flat earth sense.”

Once again, talking to Edski is like pulling the string of a doll. Always the same prerecorded message.

But as I’ve illustrated, a flat earth doesn’t make “perfect sense” of the phenomena–even from the limited perspective of a prescientific, earthbound observer.

I have no doubt that this would make perfect sense to Ed Babinski, if he were living in the ANE. But not all denizens of the ANE were as dimwitted as he.

“Steve, I also AGREE with you that the book of Revelation is a mashup of OT and Intertestamental works, Ezekiel and the Book of Enoch being among them.”

Needless to say, I disagree with that pejorative description.

“Ancient logistics? How ancient? And how sophisticated? Basil and Augustine lived 200 years after the NT was already completed, and in a sophisticated Roman center of North African civilization. They had books galore. I assume they read Greek (or Latin translations of Greek) philosophers some of whom were the fathers of science itself. The Romans were also great architects, greater than the Hebrews in countless ways. Aquaducts, heated bath houses, and many feats of mechanics and engineering previously unknown. Even the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem was no Coloseum. So of course Basil was questioned by his pagan neighbors how the waters of the firmament in Genesis 1 remained above a solid inverted bowel-shaped firmament. "With admirable ingenuity Basil suggested that the firmament, which appears hemispherical on the underside, may, like a building enclosing a dome-shaped bath, have a flat roof." Both Basil and Augustine interacted with other educated people in a world of early science and Roman architecture. Educated peers, pagans and fellow Dhristians asked them questions about how to interpret Scripture concerning the truth of Genesis 1. However, the questions Basil and Augustin were being asked at this much later date were not the same questions that prompted the composition of Genesis 1 in the first place. No mechanical or engineering concerns were essential in the world of the OT that already shared with its neighbors some basic concepts concerning the creation and overall structure of the cosmos.”

Notice that Edski is moving the goalpost. He originally said things like:

“The ancients did not have your knowledge of modern physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, etc.; Today the geography of the earth and heavens is observed and measured more deeply than ever before via telescopes…But the ancients did not have the means we do today to test out such ideas. They couldn't see what lay beyond the clouds or beyond ‘the waters’ which they believed lay ‘above the highest heavens’; Today I assume there are no more flat earthers--at least none willing to take up the challenge of defending such a view in public, possibly because we now have photos and videos of what the earth looks like from space.”

Now, however, he’s appealing to how scientifically astute Greco-Roman pagans were. How they could raise mechanical/engineering objections to a triple-decker universe. Yet by his own yardstick, Greco-Roman pagans didn’t have telescopes or “photos and videos of what the earth looks like from space,” or our knowledge of “modern physics, astronomy, geology,” &c.

When confronted with obvious counterexamples, Edski changes the rules.

“In fact, I doubt that ancient Mesopotamians went round trying to pose scientific types of questions to each other's cosmic geographies at all. They were more interested in which god or gods were in charge and trying to make that god's feats appear the most marvelous.”

Actually, the Mesopotamians took a very keen interest in technological challenges:

Mesopotamian engineers had to worry about water storage and flood control as well as irrigation… Mesopotamian engineers built very large weirs and diversion dams, to create reservoirs and to supply canals that carried water considerable distances across the flat countryside. The scale of their irrigation was larger than in Egypt, and Mesopotamian irrigation was interventionist and active. Almost certainly the idea of diversion dams was brought to Mesopotamia from the hills, since the rivers are mostly perennial. Mesopotamian tradition suggests so: Sargon of Assyria, probably learned it from the ancient nation of Urartu. The scale and ambition of early Iron Age Mesopotamian projects was matched only in China and Egypt.

Continuing with Edski:

“What's strange is that you should bring this up as highly relevant to the point of ancient cosmic geography. You offer no evidence that the ancients shared the same concerns or thoughts as Augustine and Basil. No proof that the Qumranites did either in the first century, who had copied The Book of Enoch among other holy books.”

I don’t have to offer evidence for that. Rather, I’m answering you on your own terms. You were the one who framed the issue in terms of what prescientific people could know. I’m merely countering you own your own grounds by pointing out what prescientific people were in a position to know. You’re too muddleheaded to keep track of your own argument.

“There is no inherent incompatibility between being taken somewhere in the spirit (leaving one's body behind) and being taken literally upwards to heaven, multiple heavens if Paul is right. *smile*”

Paul doesn’t say he was taken “literally upwards.”

“The ancients certainly saw no incompatibility when it came to imagining spirits descending downward beneath the earth (again, leaving their bodies behind, at death).”

All you’re doing is to repeat the same mistake. You can’t very well prove that “ascending” imagery is literal by appealing to “descending” imagery, for to make the argument go through, you must first establish that “descending” imagery is literal.

Like the bug at the bottom of the bathtub, you just keep going round and round. You haven’t advanced the argument. You’re too obtuse to even grasp the question at issue.

“In fact if you want to also have the "city of Jerusalem" descending purely spiritually to earth, that's fine too. What would mean the Bible begins with a myth about a Temple Cosmos in chapter 1, and ends with another myth, about a descending city of God.”

That brief statement contains so many layers of incompetence that it will take a potato peeler to correct you:

i) Viewing the world in Gen 1 as a cosmic temple is hardly synonymous with myth. It means the (unfallen) world was sacred space. That’s not inherently mythical.

ii) Ontologically speaking, the cosmic temple isn’t modeled on the tabernacle (or Solomon’s temple). Rather, the tabernacle is modeled on the cosmic temple. That’s the order of being.

iii) Literarily speaking, the depiction of the cosmic temple may make use of architectural metaphors drawn from the tabernacle. That’s the order of knowing.

iv) The Apocalypse is a different genre than Genesis. The Apocalypse is basically an allegory about world history. An allegory about real-world people, places, institutions, and events–past, present, and future. The symbolic imagery, such as the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem, stands for something that happens in real space and time. But one needs to distinguish the symbol from the literal referent.

There’s nothing “mythical” about any of this.

“Steve, Chiding me for not mentioning exactly how many levels of heaven the Mesopotamians believed in (which varied) makes little sense.”

You misrepresented your sources.

“Secondly, attempting to cite the "political" rise and fall of particular gods to try and explain away "Mesopotamian cosmic geography" makes as little sense as citing modern day politics to explain away modern day cosmologies.”

That comparison only works under the assumption that Mesopotamian cosmographies had the same function as modern-day cosmologies.

“Beale in his book, The Erosion of Inerrancy, attempted to argue that not even the Egyptians and Babylonians believed in a firm sky. For instance he cites someone who argues that the Egyptian god's hands are not shown touching the sky to hold it aloft, the hands are merely "raised," and it was an "air god" so maybe, he argues, it's only saying that the sky is held up by air. But this type of argument propsed by Beale missed the fact that the sky is alread held up by her toes and fingers at opposite horizons, and the air god's head has the mountains on it which are also in direct contact with the sky (goddess') belly, suggesting as Keel says that the mountains at the far ends of the earth are holding up the sky. Pyramid scolls state the same thing. And there's passages about the sky being held up by pillars at the earth's four corners. And there's a wall-ring representation of the Egyptian sky above the earth. Beale mentions none of that to his readers.”

So according to Babinski, the Egyptians thought the structure of the world was literally a combination of a disk with “corners,” along with body-parts of a goddess. A round square with fingers and toes.

It doesn’t even occur to Babinski that this incongruous imagery might be a case of mixed metaphors.

“The same goes for his discusssion of Enuma Elish in which he ignores passages that say Tiamat's skin was stretched out, and she was raised aloft kind of like raising a tent, and guards were placed to keep her waters from escaping, and he neglects other passages that mention the heavens being made of stone, abodes of the gods.”

Hmm. Did Mesopotamians really believe the sky made from the bisected corpse of a sea goddess? How could a “solid dome” be made from the raw materials of a sea goddess? If a sea goddess is a personification of the sea, then wouldn’t she be made of salt water? Seems like a better candidate for a Jell-O dome.

1 comment:

  1. I must be thick, because I'm not sure I understand just what Ed is trying to convey with his insistence that ANE writers believed the earth was flat.

    So what if they did? When I was little, I thought my dad could beat up all the other dads. That's what I knew, based on my perception of him. I learned the truth, though, that there has to be at least one dad out there with a black belt in tae kwon do, and my dad wouldn't do well in that fight.

    If people in the ANE believed X, so what? We don't believe it now, if we have any sense, because we've learned otherwise. But why should that change the meaning I receive from a text about the corners of the earth? If ANE writer Y wrote about going into the corners of the earth, why can't I read that and say, "Hmmm... I reason that he means he went as far as they knew to go."

    Am I thick, or is Ed? One of us is missing a point...