Month: July 2010

Did Abraham Borrow God?

Recently, the Institute received an email from a concerned Christian. His name was Dylan. In the email was the transcription of a video on YouTube. Rather than link to the boring and tedious video, I’ll paste the transcript:

“God declares in the Holy Bible that his priests will daily prepare his food and drink for his consumption. The feeding of God begins at Mount Sinai with the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood. As is quite clear from the prophet Ezekiel God is to be fed by his priests for all of eternity upon the return from Exile.

Why does God “need” to consume food and drink? This question is never asked in the Bible. The purpose of food and drink is to sustain mortal life. Mortals will die if they have nothing to eat and drink, but a God presented as being immortal shouldn’t “need” food and drink daily to survive. The answer to this “mystery” is surprising: Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia and in this region it was believed in myths that the god had made man to care for their city-gardens in the Edin of Sumer and present them daily in sacrifices at temples the harvested food for the gods to dine upon.

But wait a minute you say, aren’t the gods immortal? They shouldn’t need to eat in order to stay alive, should they? Wrong! The early myths have the gods possessing bodies of flesh, they can be killed and wind up after death in Edin-the Underworld. While alive in the Edin of Sumer, they need to eat to keep their fleshly bodies alive. Hence the reason they created their gardens of Edin and placed in them fruit trees, vegetables, and grain for bread.

Later, tiring of the work in caring for their gardens they create man. Man will care for their gardens and raise animals to be slaughtered and fed to the gods like fowl, sheep, and cattle. The Hebrews never question “why” their God, Yahweh-Elohim, had to be fed a meal twice a day, they just accepted the Mesopotamian (Sumerian) not that one of man’s duties was to feed the gods.

Christians understand that after their deaths the resurrected righteous will dwell with God in Eden and eat and drink once again. According to Christian belief the resurrected righteous will be given eternal life, they will be immortal like God. If they are immortal why should they need to eat and drink? This makes no sense and is but another example of religious nonsense!

The Christian notion that after death, man will eat and drink once again is not a new concept. The Mesopotamians understood that after death the dead, good and evil, who dwelt in Edin-the-Underworld would continue to eat and drink (eat clay and drink muddy water in the underworld). Ezekiel describes in great detail the feeding of God in the post Exilic Messianic Age at the Temple (Ez 37:21-26; 44:7, 15).”

Of course, I completely disagree with the conclusions drawn in the video. Before I go into detail, here are a few obvious flaws:

1) Let’s suppose that, at mount Sinai, Moses really did command Israel to feed their god, Yahweh (which he did not). If Yahweh was in fact a Sumerian deity borrowed by Abraham, how on earth would Moses, hundreds of years later, have known what a Sumerian deity needs? Abraham certainly hadn’t seen a need to feed his god; Why now suddenly with Moses? Besides that, hadn’t Israel just left Egypt? It seems more likely that Yahweh would mimic the Egyptian gods rather than the gods of Ancient Ur.

2) Yes, the Mesopotamians believed that the dead, like the gods, did need to eat and drink. Thus offerings of food were ritually given to the dead (i.e. hungry ghost festival). Is the Christian concept of eating at the marriage supper of the lamb on the new earth really a parallel with this concept? Apparently not:

“Never again will they hunger;  never again will they thirst” – Rev 7:16a

Right away, the arguments collapse. Aside from the obvious fallacies (like the “genetic” fallacy used here) and the vaguely similar comparisons (mentioned above), there is an overarching narrative: That Yahweh, despite the changes from Ur to Egypt, is still a borrowed Sumerian deity. In the longer explanation following, I’ll make my case against this.

I’ll begin by summarizing the arguments in the video:

1) Yahweh, beginning at Mount Sinai, demanded to be fed.
2) The ancient gods and goddesses of Ur, as their stories tell us, also needed to be fed.
3) The gods of ancient Ur need to be fed because they had physical bodies to maintain.
4) Therefore the ancient version of Yahweh needed to be fed because he also had a physical body.

The unstated final conclusion is that Yahweh, the god of Israel, was merely an idol from ancient Sumeria.

This line of reasoning is similar to how Christians argue against the god of Islam:

Allah, the Muslim “god”, was originally the god of Muhammad’s tribe. Allah was the moon god (thus the symbol) and was part of a nearly countless pantheon of deities worshiped in the Arabian peninsula. After his military victory over Mecca, Muhammad destroyed all the other idols, leaving only the god of his tribe.

In a similar way, people imagine Abraham, as an idol worshiper along with his father, becoming deluded into believing that one of the idols was speaking to him. I can completely understand why someone would try and compare the two, especially a skeptic.

However, in order to make this line or argumentation work, one must assume that the biblical account of ancient history is totally wrong. In fact, one must reject Abraham’s account of ancient history altogether. Instead, the patriarch was merely an idol worshiper (Jos 24:2) passing on stories and legends he’d heard in Ur. For example: the Biblical flood account was spawned from Sumerian story of Atrahas.  On the other hand, if stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of Atrahas and the Biblical account had a common source (actual history) then Abraham’s account could be accurate.

So here is where we return to the Bible, a proven, reliable source of historical information. According to the Bible, Noah’s son Shem outlived (or nearly outlived) Abraham. He survived both the flood and the tower of Babel. Considering how fragmented the knowledge of the ancient world must have become after Babel, it’s not surprising that myth filled in the gaps. From thunder gods to gods of the spring rain, deities arose like weeds in the spiritual knowledge gap. That said, in the memories of a few very aged men, the one true god (Elohim) was not entirely forgotten. Considering their life spans, Abraham (and anyone else for that matter) could have spoken with Shem (or earlier, Noah) directly and obtained an accurate account of the ancient world first hand.

As an example of why this is a much more plausible scenario than Abraham borrowing from legendary accounts: compare the unrealistic flood legend in the Epic of Gilgamesh (tablet XI) or story of Atuahas with the much more scientifically sound and spiritually consistent Biblical account. In the Epic, the gods become capriciously angry with man and flood the earth; Utnapishtim survives the deluge in a giant cube. Strangely, he brought gold along. Was he expected to buy something afterward? In the story of Atuahas, man is destroyed because he is just too noisy (seriously?). On the other hand, the Biblical account has Elohim condemning a world full of violence, ruled by wicked men; Noah, his family and representatives of the created animal kinds survive the flood in a giant, unsinkable barge. Considering a pre-christian era flood story survives in many cultures world-wide, I’ll let you decide if this was a local legend or a real event and which version is more plausible.

The point I’m making is this: If the knowledge of Elohim predates Sumeria and its many gods, He could not have been a Sumerian idol that Abraham heard speak. One must assume that Elohim does not predate Sumeria and deny Biblical history (flood, Babel) for the rest of the video’s argument to make any sense.

That said, why did Yehweh “demand” sacrifices and offerings? In ancient Ur, idols were served meals fit for a king with music and incense; The food afterward being given to the priests and the king. The idols needed daily food, like humans, to survive. Was is because Yahweh was hungry that He demanded offerings? Did Yahweh “eat” the offerings?

Hebrews 9:22 says it best, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” From the beginning (Cain and Abel), a sacrifice of an animal’s life was required to cover sins. Leviticus makes this clear:

“He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” – Leviticus 1:4

“It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD” – Leviticus 1:9b

What about the offerings? Wasn’t grain offered to the Lord as well?

“Bring the grain offering made of these things to the LORD; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar. He shall take out the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings made to the LORD by fire … Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings” – Leviticus 2:8-10, 13

Apparently, the burning of the offerings created a “sweet aroma” for the Lord. It also showed their subjection to their god, offering first to Him before taking for themselves. That said, He didn’t seem interested in eating at all. Apparently, the sacrifice was intended to cover sins (as it was in the beginning) and to feed the priests serving Him.

This explains the elaborate system of washing, boiling and burning. God wanted the best parts and first fruits to be offered as a reminder to Israel that Yahweh was their king; In this way, he also supplied the best food for His priests and Levitical servants (not Himself). Unlike the Sumerian deities, Yahweh has never claimed to exist in a physical body (think: Moses seeing Yahweh at mount Sinai). He has always been a non-physical deity (rejecting idols completely).

That said, from the very first sentence the author makes obviously untrue assumptions like: “God declares in the Holy Bible that his priests will daily prepare his food and drink for his consumption.” This is nowhere stated in the Bible. Here we have a clear assumption that burning on the altar as a pleasing aroma is equivalent to eating.

Take this next section as another example:

“Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia and in this region it was believed in myths that the god had made man to care for their city-gardens in the Edin of Sumer and present them daily in sacrifices at temples the harvested food for the gods to dine upon.”

Ancient Ur has been excavated. A temple to the god “Enki” was found. On the walls are stories roughly similar to Biblical accounts (creation, first man, the flood, babel, etc). The question is: did the Sumerians recast real history into stories attributed to Enki or did Abraham recast the unrealistic and often conflicting Sumerian legends to a realistic (and scientifically probably) story attributed to Yahweh? If Biblical history is real, then it was the Sumerians who, through either ignorance or purpose, altered the stories.

One must assume that Biblical history is not true in order to come to the conclusion that Abraham borrowed legends from the ancient Sumerians; This in turn proves that the Bible’s history (and Yahweh) are both false. However, you can’t assume the fact you’re trying to prove before you even begin your argument. That is called, “begging the question” and leads to storytelling.

In fact, that is all this video is: Storytelling. The author is attempting to offer an alternative explanation for the origins of Yahweh by comparing Yahweh with the ancient gods of Ur. He is not offering any rebuttal for the accuracy of the Biblical account or why it is so much more realistic than the accounts of Enki and Gligamesh. If the Biblical account of history is true, the author’s arguments are meaningless, since it was the Sumerians who legendized real history. If the Biblical account of history is false, then the arguments are still only educated assumptions and storytelling.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more plausible: Biblical history (proven again and again by archeology) or Sumerian myths. Abraham did get his history from somewhere, but it wasn’t the false gods of Ur.

Are We Solely Products of Our Environment?

Originally posted by IBD Vice President Matt Coombe on mjcoombe.com

I recently received this email and thought it would profit more than the sender. Here is the email in its entirety:

“I have a very intriguing question and no one has ever given a satisfactory answer. Will you please? Are you born by own will? Not certainly. I am a Muslim because I have been born among Muslims and those who have been born among Christians, Jews, and Hindus etc. become what ever teachings and knowledge they get from their parents, teachers or society.

It is a common belief among Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus that only members of their sect will be rewarded by God and people of other religions will go to hell. When a person does not have any control on birth and adopts religion where he has been born by God, why God will punish or reward on the basis of religion?

Kindly guide me. Thanks.”

This is a great question. In a world where post modern thought has pervaded every level, this question is an excellent example of the conflict between post modernism and traditional theism. According to post modernists, all truth is relative and subjective. One culture has their truth and another has an equally valid truth that is true for them. This question approaches the same subject: If each person adopts the “truth” of their culture, why does God condemn one and not another? Wasn’t it God who caused them to be born there?

We are, after all, not born of our own will. Can we control the environment we’re born into? Are we supposed to somehow see beyond the culture we were raised in; The culture that compels us to act, live and think in certain ways? How can a Muslim, Hindu or Christian be condemned by God when they are only acting in accordance with their own environment? It all seems so unfair.

For example, some environmentalists hate the loss of even a single tree, yet is the Beaver condemned by God for destroying a stand of trees to make its home? Does the Raven stand in judgment for feeding on the robins’ young? Should the Lion feel guilt because he has feasted on a fawn? Of course not, in these examples each animal is acting in accordance with their nature. The beaver in his beaver nature, raven in raven and lion in lion. Are humans any different?

Let’s suppose that you knew absolutely nothing about me. If you looked at my house, saw my clothes and peered in the windows of my car,  you could discover alot about me just from the outside; Police do it all the time. You could see the DVD’s I own and determine what type of movies I like. You could see my small and fairly modest library and probably draw some firm conclusions about what I believe. And each new thing you learned would reveal a little more about me; At the same time, the culture I come from would also be revealed, since I am, after all, a product of it.

That said, the question remains: Is man defined by his environment and merely a product of it, or do humans, unlike animals, posses the ability to make decisions despite their culture? I believe it is the latter. The culture I was born into had a definite Christian slant. The Christian religion was always nearby to influence my decisions, thoughts and actions. Does this mean that the only possible choice for me was a Christian one? Of course not. Differing from the raven or lion who act on instinct, in accordance with their nature, I can choose to shun my own culture and turn against it. It happens all the time.

However, if the premise of the question is true, then being born into a culture that follows one particular religion will always lead to the children following that same religion. As a result, those who follow the religion of their culture can not be condemned; They had no real ability to choose anything else. God placed them there and thus their fate was determined.

Nonsense! Take the acorn for example. Depending on the environment, an acorn has two options: It will either rot away or grow into an oak tree. Certainly the tree may be a different size or shape than the ones around it, but there is no doubt, no wavering, an acorn that grows will always produce an oak tree. If for whatever reason the acorn does not produce an oak, it is not considered normal. That is how an acorn works.

Is a human an acorn? If he is left to grow in the same environment, will he produce the same results every time? If the premise of the question is true, namely that each person born into a religion, then they have no option other than to embrace that religion. This leads to at least two conclusions:

  1. Man is like an acorn . Despite any intervening situations, he will become what his environment demands.
  2. If the first premise is true, then there can be no counter examples. A counter example would be a person who is born into a religion and, for whatever reason, did not embrace that religion.

In the case of the email’s author, consider Muhammad. Was he merely a product of his environment? Did he blindly follow the religion of his father and those before him? What about Jesus? Was he not mocked and beaten because the religious leaders of his day thought he was acting contradictory to the religion of his father? And these are just two examples. There are many counter examples to the premise.  A human need not always become merely the product of his environment.

Even in my own experience, I can think of people born into atheist homes who became Christians, Christians that became atheists, Muslims who became Christian and Christians who became Mormon. Humans are inherently religious. Humans also have a tendency to fall in line with their own culture, becoming indoctrinated at the earliest of ages. Many have never known any other culture. That said, at any time, any man can make any decision; This is called Free Will.

So, although a man is born into a culture and is indoctrinated thoroughly, it is the duty of all men to seek the truth. The ability to reason and to know is one of the greatest gifts given to man. So although God does place each man into a culture, He also gives every man the ability to examine, reason and to think for himself. Man is free to embrace or to reject his environment and culture.

In my case, if the culture a man is born into denies the God of Biblical Christianity, then that environment and culture should be rejected. Of course, some cultures make this is much harder to do than others. As a man who has studied the pertinent historical and biblical accounts, and spent years seeking the truth, I believe I’ve found it.

It is my prayer, then, that all people seek the truth and make it their goal, for then they will understand the words of Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the father but through me.”