The Bible As The Oldest Egalitarian Document In History - Poem by Lonnie Hicks
The bible, usually thought of in religious terms actually has far more dimensions other than the religious one. The bible in 'Lilith, ' as well as in the NOVA special on these topics, makes the point that the document was written over hundreds of years, was and is, the attempt to institute a radically new kind of society, one which had been previously unknown in the world.
Conflict over the bible's religious aspects has obscured, its, perhaps, greatest contribution to Western thought-if not to world history-ideas revolving around egalitarianism, freedom, justice, moral righteousness, social organization and the place of hierarchies in human society.
I have argued above in the blog 'How to Write the Great American Novel' (see the blog above) precisely these points and illustrated them in the 'Lilith' novel.
We see that the ancient Israelites existed in Canaan for centuries as slaves, serfs and vassals of the Canaanite puppet rulers who, in turn, were ruled by Egyptian overlords. The Canaanite puppet rulers fell when Egypt was preoccupied with the Hittite and Assyrian wars, circa 1250 BC and their Canaanite underlings suddenly found themselves free, without overweening power directing their lives.
They set out with nothing less than the objective of creating an an entirely new society to replace the oppressive ones they had known under Egyptian rule- a society which had a central premise and requirement-strict equality.The details and the archeological evidence are in the NOVA special (see links to that special above) and is the premise of my novel 'The Gospel According to Lilith.' Original sin, historically, and in the novel, is violation of the 'Rule of Strict Equality'
The bible was written by these former slaves and vassals who undertook to implement this totally new societal concept- one the opposite of life as they knew it under the Egyptian proxies. This new Canaan was to be free, egalitarian and morally upright; and interestingly, this new egalitarianism included women.
These ideas were by no means common at the time and it took the Canaanite-Israelites hundreds of years to work these ideas out and are part of the Israel's tortured history. However, note too, these themes were happening simultaneously in other parts of the world driven by the break-down of the divine king system. (See points on this in 'How to Write the Great American Novel' in the blog.)
These critical ideas of these ancient Israelites, therefore, have been obscured but they can yet be seen to be at work all throughout western history to the present day. When the Founding Fathers sought to create a free society, free from English rule, they used the political ideas in the bible as a source of inspiration and guidance.
Let's take these threads from ancient Israel down the centuries to the Enlightenment and see how they have played out over the centuries and are familiar ideas to most of us.
The first idea that these ancient Israelites adopted was the notion of strict equality. The archeology reveals that their buildings were configured in circular configurations where there were no grand palaces, no elaborate dwellings, or highly decorated pottery. Meals were likely communal and work was shared equally. These were deliberate tacts taken by a people who had seen that hierarchy, kings and Pharaoh-ruled societies brought tyranny. They wanted no part of that way of life, in which they were victims. They, in their society-building, went in the opposite direction.
Strict equality was to be the basis of the new Canaanite societies. The freed Canaanites were to be a new people, and they gradually over hundreds of years saw themselves as a new people-the Israelites. These very same values are seen to be at work in the bible and become the foundation of what the bible views as good and evil.
This strict equality, note, included women, and I think probably had many of the underlying ideas we find in the Essene faith and were likely reflected in the teachings of Jesus. The details of this faith are worth noting and are detailed in 'Lilith' for those wanting more information in relation to Jesus specifically. (Note Essence connections are and were made more clear by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
So what is to be the nature of this new egalitarian, anti-authoritarian society? The ideas they developed can be illustrated in the following Essene prayer:
“Bless us, oh Lord, that we might be humble in all we do, each day;
May we not harm any creature, man, woman, child or animal;
May we seek Justice for all; may we seek not, nor participate in, the belittlement of any person or thing;
May we be given the strength to refrain from displaying superior prowess, mental or physical at the expense of no one;
May our very souls stay free of worldly gains and their pursuits.
May we never seek dominion over any man woman or child and we shall not seek or participate in any form of slavery, serfdom or the servitude of others.
May anger never cross our hearts and may we not indulge in unkind emotions.
May we seek moderation in all things and keep our silence among those outside the Brotherhood and speak softly.
We shall only participate in the peaceful trades, carpentry, planting, and merchants;
May we Lord relinquish all our worldly goods and gains to provide for the sick and the poor, the stranger and the downtrodden, for this is our mission in this world.”
(This passage is from 'Lilith.')
What is striking here is the radical egalitarian nature of their beliefs. Jesus, many believe, was an Essene and adhered to these views. (We are reminded of the Sermon on the Mount.) At the very least many of his preachings and ideas are consistent with Essene beliefs.
There is more to quote from 'Lilith.'
“None will be wealthy and none will be poor, and all shall work together in the gardens of the Brotherhood. Yet all shall follow his path, and all shall commune with his heart.'
“Keep our faith and avoid the blood sacrifice because that is not the way of the Essenes. Do not eat the flesh of animals, thereby keeping your bodies clean. Spread God’s new message that love not curses in the loving God’s true way.”
Spread God’s new message, ” Joseph continued “one which is one of blessings, not curses and destruction; one where you are called upon to love those that hate you-not war upon them. Blessed are the scribes and meek for they shall inherit the Earth.”
“Spread God’s message, ” Joseph said, “that the meek shall be received in heaven by way of the purity of their souls, not by wealth or power. Keep you to the path of the Messiah. Remind all that the soul immortal is salvation from the physical bondage of the sufferings of this Earth.”
(The speaker here is Joseph, an Essene leader in the novel.)
Note also the scribes are to be included along with the meek in inheriting the Earth. These scribes wrote down the bible and were revered.
My argument is that these ideas were the ideas of the ancient Israelites and that Jesus, representing those earlier ideas, railed against the Jewish establishment of his time. He claimed the Jewish establishment had abandoned those earlier ideas and ideals. He sacked the temple because of blood sacrifices, the eating of meat, and the hierarchy of the Rabbi's etc. He correctly stated that he came to fulfill prophecy and to bring the Israelites back to Essene views. In the mind of Jesus, they had become like the Egyptian puppet rulers of the past. This was their real sin, and this was The Original Sin in the Essene view
“None will be wealthy and none will be poor, and all shall work together in the gardens of the Brotherhood.'
This prayer of the Essenes makes the point around egalitarianism succinctly. The pursuit of wealth, power, was to be eliminated and in its place was a communal society of equals. Hierarchy was to be eliminated among the brotherhood and women were welcome. Seeking dominion over man, woman or child is to be avoided and slavery, serfdom and the servitude of others was expressly forbidden.
Now these are very radical ideas. Moreover, the early Israelites built their small towns and compounds with these ideas in mind. Of course, with the institutionalization of the Jewish religion later these points were lost in the larger society; but note they did not die among smaller groups in the society. The Essenes are the example here. Now the practical ability to maintain this radical equality beyond small groups is highlighted here, but, the fact remains the Essenes did so for hundreds of years and made the communal model of living a reality. Of course this life style has continued to the present day, mostly among monks and nuns.
Note, too, that many of the strictures of these early society-builders are personal. The believer is to speak softly, be humble, never display mental or physical prowess at the expense of others. Anger is not to be displayed and one is to speak quietly. These later become personal sins of pride, anger etc. They, in fact, along with greed become the seven deadly sins which later become part of the church lore.
Conduct in the world is also covered in these restrictions. One is not to participate overtly in civic life; there is to be no war against God's creatures, no animal sacrifices, no participation in human wars and a belief that the meek shall inherit the Earth. All worldly goods have to be surrendered upon joining the brotherhood and are to be distributed to the poor. Travelers are to be welcomed. The washing of feet of strangers maintains the notion of humility among them as well.
These are powerful themes but note that scribes, too, shall inherit the Earth. Scribes write down the holy words and thereby perpetuate the great ideas that these innovators sought to preserve. In fact, it was Jewish scribes, who, in essence, kept the faith alive in the Jewish Diasporas where the homeland and the temple were destroyed by invading hordes. Literacy, writing and scholarship, by implication, have religious overtones in the modern and ancient Jewish traditions.
The special place of scribes is evident here, but a critical follow-on point is the role of writing itself. Writing is wrapped up with a holy mission and that mission has not only has to do with the religious ideas but the social ideas as well. Writing things down is to preserve the very well-springs of society-building, something these early egalitarians sought to preserve and perpetuate via writing. The importance of the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice were inextricably woven into the religion but also the warp and woof of the fledgling Israelite nation. In my blog 'How to Write the Great American Novel' I make a similar point and argue that this sense of the mission of the writer has a place today. It is the duty of the writer, seeking to write for the ages, to keep the best ideas humanity has produced alive.
What happened, we might ask, in the case of the structure of religion in Israel by the time of Jesus? Things by that time had strayed from this early model and that is what motivates Jesus to many of his actions against the then Jewish establishment. His was a call to repent of their sinful ways-sins which went way beyond sins of the flesh to include the corruption of the social structure the early framers of the bible sought to establish.
It also explains the ambivalency Jesus displayed often not seeming to be able to make up his mind as to whether he came to deliver the Jews from Rome by armed rebellion or whether he was, in fact, a pacifist and was urging his follows to render unto Caesar the things which belonged to Caesar. (This is explored in Lilith)
Finally, a last point here is that these early ideas of the writers of the bible are present in both the old and the new testaments. A careful read reveals that the real sin of Lucifer was his advocacy of the life of hierarchy, power, wealth and city temptations which brought slavery, inequalities, serfdom and war. The most powerful messages in the bible, in my view, are its strictures and warnings against social structures which imprison men and women and are, in this biblical view, the true original sin.The simple life of equal brothers in the pastoral context was a consistent message from God in the old testament especially. This message changed in both the old and new testaments as God sought ways to blunt human-kinds apparent attractions to the sins of the city. But the life style argument was one Thomas Jefferson was to repeat centuries later in advocating for the citizen solider and small farmer as the best model for America.
This is also the message of 'Lilith' as the novel takes us through biblical events denoting how this seminal struggle actually forms the underpinning of the true meanings being conveyed in both the old and the new testaments and the events they chronicle. They underpin the bibles basic notions of good and evil, their causes and manifestations.
The power of these ideas and the model they represent, while having their ups and downs in history, have nonetheless persevered, albeit changed in many respects, in their march to the present day.
Lets have a look at the list:
a. All men and women are equal as an ideal and goal before God and in society.
b. All people should govern themselves and societies ought to be democratic
c. Peacemakers, writers and scholars are and ought to be at the highest levels of society.
d. Nature is not the enemy; it and its creatures ought to be respected.
e. Slavery, serfdom and vassal relationships are morally wrong.
f. City life, as anonymous living, breeds wrong-doing and is not a sustainable model for living.
g. The soul is prepared for the afterlife by positive actions and personality traits, restraint, and respect for the feelings and inner life of others.
h. The nation-state is to be avoided if possible.
i. Worship is communal, not individual, like the pagans did it.
This is quite a list and we can compare it to the Roman values these ancient Israelite virtues overcame. The Roman model of the million-plus city, values of domination, cruelty, war, disrespect for the individual, slavery and serfdom, were ultimately overcome in the four hundred years after Christ. Of course, the downfall of the Empire was not only due to these Essene ideas but the latter were certainly prominent in Constantine's decision to recognize Christianity as the official religion of the Empire.
The journey of these notions thorough American life and literature is the subject of an upcoming book.
Ah, some of you have said in your emails, 'none of this in the bible.' Where do these ideas appear? So I cannot leave the topic at this point, nor in staying with it, can I go into great detail. (That will be in an upcoming book) But for now lets explore some of the themes I outline above and demonstrate them as underlying events and the actions of major players in the bible. Let's start with God.
1-God states he is a jealous god-jealous of other gods because indeed the ancient Canaanite world has many gods and the Israelites wanted the pagan Canaanites to give them up. One most prevalent, aside from Baal, was Asherah, a goddess I include in my novel. The creators of the bible had to compromise with their Canaanite prospective converts and allow that their new God was to have a wife, the pagan fertility god- Asherah. The archeological evidence here is irrefutable. Asherah became God's wife for hundreds of years in ancient Canaan. After establishing itself as the major religion, the Jewish fathers banned her worship and you can see many many passages in the bible from genesis onward, hostile references to Asherah as pagan and association with her was deemed to be sinful. Asherah, in my novel becomes Lilith.
2-In the bible God is not infallible but makes decisions, changes his mind, cajoles, compromises and laments that he losing in the battle with the devil, whose city-life temptations tempt mankind and they, in God's view, abandon his strictures. God's word is being re-written to match the needs of particular time and compromises were made from the very beginning all the way to Paul who allowed Gentiles into the faith, but the seminal Essene ideas remain through out the document mixed with new revisions, giving the bible its sometimes confusing construction.
Now the bible, written by at least four different writers, and probably many more, stresses obedience to these strictures but we now can say why. Why is it so important to be obedient to God's commandments?
Here are a few instances of God's decision making process and the underlying rationales he used in the bible.
1. He created man and woman twice- the first time the woman (Lilith) was rebellious and presumably this was corrected with Eve. But free will was the underlying issue and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the critical decision made by Adam and Eve. Why was it so important not to have knowledge of good and evil and why was it represented by a tree? The pagan Goddess Asherah's symbol was a pole or a tree. Adam and Eve were being forbidden symbolically to 'know' or consort with pagan gods and goddesses.
But underlying that stricture was the deeper one of knowing good and evil is tied to the life style of the city, presumed to be evil and indeed the realm of the devil. (This is still held to be the case in modern day American ethos.) But even more importantly here God is saying that knowledge of things like metal, cosmetics, astronomy, magic, etc., was bad for mankind. Why? Because the Egyptian overlords had or practiced all those things, and moreover the acquisition or knowledge of those things led to war, slavery etc., and even more importantly, that life-style was unsustainable and liable to genocide and collapse in the long run. Better to stick to a small, sustainable life style of self-sufficiency. The biblical writers would say of our modern day life-style of progress-'Where has all this progress gotten you- war, grief and the potential destruction of the planet. Better not to have some much of this progress.
This is their view and it is a view which continues to this day among many groups. Finally, many of God's decisions in the old and new testament were made with these values in mind. Cain's gift was not acceptable because it was grain, produced with settled agriculture, a development the framers associated with Egypt and city-states. It was rejected in the bible early on.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the serpent are allusions to Asherah the major female goddess of fertility in the original Canaanite pantheon. Asherah's symbol was a tree and the serpent is a symbol of fertility in ancient times. This allegory is warning the new Israelites to avoid city life and not to listen or worship pagan gods.
All through the old testament from Enoch, Noah to Abraham, God rejects those who hanker after the things of the city, warns the Israelites and brings down upon them mayhem and destruction for not following the strictures. The devil is winning in the old testament. Man appears to choose, wine, women, wealth, city life, and power time and time again.
On a still deeper level the second generation biblical writers then inaugurate the prophets of doom who predict that nothing good will come of Mammon and straying from the values of the Essenes; of course in doing so, they added some pretty extreme new strictures and new threats and punishments to the mix giving the bible a bewildering array of rituals, requirements, observations, laws and commandments such that the document did not retain the consistent message it started with. This involved constant tinkering in the form of the Midrash, commentaries and other 'editorializations' on a more or less a continuous basis for hundreds of years.
The writers too, had another goal for the document: they had to put into it sufficient mythical content to attract the Canaanites from the old religion. It is not a easy thing to create an entirely new society whole-cloth. Moreover, as we have seen, the human element can turn even the most pure of beginnings into crass self-aggrandizements and that surely also happened with the evolution of the religious structures in Judah, long after the original framers had left the scene. All of this is the cauldron in which the biblical stew is stirred. We see calls to repent and calls to go back to the original roots and values and then followed by another cycle of falling away from those beginnings. It happens in most societies.
The task of myth-building alluded to above is something every new society, or nation-state has to accomplish. Here myth-building means stories every people tells its self which explains their origins, give explanations of the great issues in life and explains what is special or significant about their people. This involves, as well, hero-building, flags, and special social structures which will elaborate upon and evolve the myth-hero structure.
The founders in ancient Canaan had this exact same problem. So did, to take another example, the founders of the fledgling United States of America. The same processes are and were at work.
Lets look at some of the aspects of myth-building the ancient Israelites wove into their new society. Many of them, if not most, were clearly borrowed from Egyptian sources.
1. Monotheism was introduced into Egypt in 1336 BC by Akhenaton, Pharaoh of Egypt, a mere two or three hundred years before the bible society makers started their task. They were familiar with this idea, at the very least.
2. Yaweh is likely derivative from the Midian God named Yahoo who the early framers became familiar with from Canaanites having traveled through the region and they brought the new Yaweh back imitating what they had seen among the Midianites.
The NOVA special argues that Canaanite slaves returning from Egypt around the time of the fall of the Egyptian vassal states brought this new concept of God to the newly liberated Canaanites and this became Yaweh. The story of Moses and a mass exodus becomes the mythical version of all this. The bible itself, NOVA notes, places Moses in Midian at the same time.
The import, I would argue, of all of these various biblical stories, and I can't go into all of them, is that these myths and hero-creation activities were designed to emphasize not only religious points but political and society precepts we see in the Essene canon above. Moses and the Exodus make him the hero of Freedom, something the Canaanites themselves were in the midst of enshrining.
Seen this way, many of the stories seek to buttress the new values which the framers sought to enshrine, not just religious points.
Now of course, these values become re-interpreted over time and freedom and its pursuits become compromised with the needs of the Jewish religious state and a Jewish nation-state which was at war often, and where defeat was devastating. How can one be a pacifist when the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Romans burn the temple down, ransack the city, rape your women and children and sell them into slavery? How can Essene values survive in the midst of these realities?
Ah, but that is the story of the holy land, and for that matter many, many other societies.
A follow-on question here is how exactly do themes in American literature interface with those themes I have identified as having originated in the bible?
Let's us take a few themes in American literature and see what might be the nature of the interface.
American Literature themes have included:
1. Who is a hero in society and why
2. The meaning of Freedom, Justice and Equality
3. What is the role, place and rights of the individual in society vs. the government and authority?
4. The role of death, the meaning of life and after-life; religion and faith
5. The nature of human nature and the human condition
6. The nature and aims of community
7. Morality, Guilt Sin and Innocence
8. Friendship, Family and Love
9. Choices, Challenges and the definition of success in life
10. The Nature of the American Dream
We can quickly see that most of these themes are spoken to in the bible and answers are given to those great questions. We see that also that these themes are not strictly American at all, except for number 10. These are themes that most societies and society-builders confront. Who is to be hero in the society: The Romans choose the gladiator, solider, warrior who fought for personal glory and the Roman state. The Greeks choose the warrior fighting for glory, and the 'demos', itself civil society. The American hero has been military in nature and the self-made millionaire, mixed in with the citizen farmer. I have made the point that of all these notions the one most prevalent in early America was the latter, which closely resembles the hero we find in the bible. There the Essene brotherhood mistrusted authority and sought to withdraw from society. Jefferson mistrusted government and at one point recommended revolution every twenty years if necessary to keep authority responsible.
If we compare all of the above points we see that while the answers may vary, and at points even conflict, they reveal that society-builders have taken the questions of the nature of society and its relationships to the individual from the agenda set thousands of years ago in the bible; and society after society seeking to build itself has taken up those questions first written down in the ancient settings we have described.
Now I have also stated that this necessity to build societies from the bottom up and upon different premises was made necessary by simultaneous developments in much of the world at around this same time period,1250 BC. The ancient Israelites were not the only ones confronted with the task. It was occurring in much of the known world at the time as many of the traditional divine king systems broke down in the face of the development of large massed armies, replacing essentially small chariot based armies and palace guards. Feudal systems with fragmented warlords were no match for massed invading armies. Warfare had become big business, requiring huge investments of time and effort and there was the need for the cooperation of the masses. Classes developed, especially trading classes, which helped to fund these new massive wars. Kings had been shown to be ineffective in protecting the nation and the population lost faith in the Divine King system. The Gods and the King had failed them and now they demanded a role in the state, often as paid, or free men. It was a revolution in political systems and the Israelites are but one example.
The inclusion of classes and the masses has been a hall mark of of developing civilizations ever since, despite periods like the middle ages when a serf and vassal systems made a re-appearance. So we see that the bible, as having set this process to writing actually is extremely important in understanding what is and what was involved. This process and its confluence with religious issues has obscured the formers importance.
The context of American development has, of course, influenced how biblical themes played out on the ground. Each country has exactly this same process at work. Therefore, the history and circumstances of each country has influenced how these ideas were worked out concretely. But note today most countries of the world profess democratic values; even the most tyrannical of these nonetheless profess to being democrats. This is an example of the power of these ideas.
In the American context there were and are four contextual factors which have greatly influenced the themes we have argued came down from the ancient Israelites.
The first of these is that America was founded upon the ideals of freedom, liberty and justice-similar circumstances to those for our ancient example. However, an additional factor was at play. America was an isolated society, surrounded on both sides by an ocean and a huge, largely unexplored, land mass. Americans lived for over 200 years as a frontier society. A frontier society creates unique influences upon, for example, the notion of freedom.
What is and tends to be the notion of freedom in such societies, specifically in the American example? Freedom becomes the right of the individual to own property, to be mobile and not be tied to the land as a vassal; the right to accumulate wealth, and to assert one's own individual personality. Note this is different from the notion of Freedom implicit in the Essene ideas we have examined above. Freedom for the Essenes was the freedom of equals working together, eating, and living in a group. Individualism in expression, and in 'standing out' was patently discouraged. American notions of freedom therefore, were and have been clearly influenced by the existence of the frontier. But both notions start with the premise of freedom and not being under the control of the other even as they diverged ultimately.
Justice is a complex of ideas with a long history in western thought. Plato's notion of justice centers on each person or class and city-state fulfilling a specialized role with the outcome being harmony in the just state. Today we have notions of justice intermixed with economic justice, legal justice, moral justice, social justice and many other variations.
Today we look at the notion of Justice in the Essene view and contrast that with the ones we see manifesting in American literature and history.
The Essene view had several components in the notion of Justice. Justice was similar to equality in that all people were equal before God, and that was a just arrangement and had the force of the moral authority of God himself. Justice was bound up with each person having a say or even vote in brotherhood matters. Justice was related to the condition of the soul because the condition of the soul and the conduct of an individual in this life was to be weighted by God himself who would in the afterlife make the final judgment of who had led a just life and who had not. There is a notion of economic justice in that the Essenes were very clear that all wealth was to be shared by the Brotherhood and distributed to the poor. None shall be rich and none shall be poor.
As we can see there are many factors at play in the conception and administration of justice on the material as well as the spiritual plane. Interesting, Justice and its complexities and instruments (judgment by peers and a judge and legal systems; 'equal justice under the law' all stem from the rudimentary ideas which have come down to us virtually intact over the centuries.
In the American context Justice as 'an eye for an eye' is seen to be at work as well. Where, we may ask does this notion of justice come from. It too, comes from the bible but was not part of its original credo as we can see above. Rebellion against civil authority also was not a part of the Essene credo. These aspects were added later at Jewish stalwarts sought to include in the document justifications for rebellion against various invaders.
Therefore, given these antecedents we see some real confusions around the concept. For example, can one can have justice and inequality at the same time? Apparently. Justice defined as treating everyone equally can occur in a slave system. Justice is equal treatment. Justice and economic equality flies in the face of American notions of getting rich and being as unequal as possible economically. Yet we know that a society dominated by the super rich can and most often is an unjust society. 'Equal Justice under the Law' as is stated on the Supreme Court building in Washington DC. has the same dilemma. Here justice is equal treatment and equal Justice meted out by men called judges. Who judges the judges and ensures their solutions are 'just? ' And finally, even if such justice is equal what does that mean? Are these judges to ensure that 'none shall be rich and none shall be poor' or we may ask who is equal to the judges themselves who are making these determinations?
Justice as Re-distribution
Whatever the short falls of administered Justice by judges, the idea of taking worldly assets and re-distributing them to the needy is an idea of the functioning of the brotherhood which in later centuries becomes the hallmark of the nation state. One critical function of the state is to re-distribute the wealth via taxes and other means, such that 'none shall be rich and none shall be poor.' Justice here is served in that inequities created by other aspects of society, ie, capitalist accumulations of wealth, can be righted. Socialism, Communism and even Capitalism take this notion of Justice as central themes and a legitimate function of the state.
This in turn has an entire judge-dominated administrative component where rights and wrongs are to be weighed on the scales of justice. All were equal among the Essenes before God and in America, for example, all are equal before God and the law.
An additional function of this notion of Justice is obvious: Allow disproportionate accumulations of wealth, or land or other necessities of life and you invite social disruption if not revolution. In the end a society lacking in justice is an unstable society-another point which is being made not only by the Essenes but one I argue is being made in the bible itself. Sustainability over the long-haul is the reward of the just society. Tyranny fails because tyranny is de-stabilizing.
Given these notions of Freedom and Justice we have seen, and their relation to the frontier character of early American society, we may now ask what other features on the American landscape can be mentioned.
The view that nature is not the enemy did not play well in a frontier society where subduing the land to make it productive seemed necessary. In a land rife with hostile elements, from the settlers point of view, a friendly nature seemed not to fit the facts of their existence. Of course, there was a reaction to this point of view, especially as the frontier receded and new nature-friendly ideas emerged in American thought and literature, as well as new ideas of Freedom and Justice. Interestingly these new strains, were not so new. They hearkened by to some of the original ideas identified in the ancient viewpoints I have identified above.
The availability of cheap labor, in the form of immigrant and slave labor in the American scenario had the effect of distorting the ancient prohibitions against slavery and serfdom resident in the bible. Subsequent writers sought to justify the above practices as the developing Jewish state tolerated servant-hood and indeed slavery itself for expedient reasons.
An 'Enslave or be enslaved' ethos developed and was countenanced in the name of expediency. These passages in the bible were utilized in the the American example to justify slavery in the United States and virtual serfdom in the form of immigrants and children and Africans. But note this rationalization, driven by economic and later social prejudice factors which had at their core, then and now, purely economic drivers. It paid to have cheap labor with which to tame the frontier and build the industrial empire that America sought to establish. Without this cheap labor the American development vector would have been very different.
Note, however, even in this environment the ideas of freedom and equality have ultimately triumphed, however, weakly, as was true in the Roman example. Much of American history can be seen to be the 'cheap labor' components of American society demanding their fair share of the pie and insisting upon reinstalling the original ideas underlying the bible. These movements triumphed because they re-surfaced the moral tenets against slavery and economic domination discoverable in the bible despite these tenets having been obscured by social re-interpretations and obscurations.
Cheap food also has been a pillar of American strength. Every society must feed itself. Note, however the bible's early framers had notions about food. See above where they were vegitarians and sought to eliminate meat in the diet. But less known is the stricture against animal sacrifices, a practice which the framers had seen replace sacrifices from Pharaohs and Kings which were human in nature. Imagine a world where the King as Divine Messenger of the Gods would sacrifice human beings telling the populace that such sacrifices were necessary to appease those Gods. This human sacrifice component was very common with those king-ship systems.
The request of Abraham to kill his son is not an aboration. It was common practice in societies from Egypt to the Americas. The reaction of the framers and others was to substitute animal sacrifices in place of humans ones. The framers went one step further and sought to ban animal sacrifices altogether and to distinguish their new Yaweh from pagan gods and their demands for sacrfices.
But animal sacrifice continued to the time of Jesus, who also sought its elimination. Note here that this is true even as some have interpreted passages in the bible where Jesus seems be asking his disciples to eat of his body and drink his blood, in the nature of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. But this is in error, according to at least one scholar who argues that the translation from the original Aramaic was faulty. Blood and body refers to 'self-sacrifice' not an analogy to animal sacrifices.
We are seemingly far afield from cheap food, but note that food is an issue and what kinds of animals is it ok to eat or sacrifice. In America grain crops and meat have been the staple. One wonders what the Essenes would think of this American diet. So is the meat and potatoes diet of America 'sinful? ' The answer is that the framers would likely consider it unsustainable. A vegetarian diet is less costly, and spares the lives of animals would be their conclusion and, they would say, more sparing of the environment. This is not to comment on the Jewish dietary restrictions and later permissions to eat meat. These came later in the bible and were not necessarily present as allowable among the earlier framers.
To be continued.
For those interested in poetry can visit my poetry site which is www.poemhunter.com. Search on lonnie hicks. The site has over 460 poems, short stories, and essays. There is work there, some of which became books.
Lilith began with a poem call 'Asunder' which is on that site.
Comments about The Bible As The Oldest Egalitarian Document In History by Lonnie Hicks
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