First Segment. What is the Primary Ingredient of Gnosticism?
We've all heard the saying: Life's hard. And it's not just a saying. It's a fact. We must constantly struggle. Pain is frequent. And when we have no pain and no struggle, we have the constant threat that both are coming any moment now.
And on top of that, we have death waiting for us. And during life, we face all sorts of “little deaths,” screw ups, sins, things we regret.
You might say, existence is hard. Not just life. But the very fact that we exist is hard. To be is hard.
This is where Gnosticism comes in.
I'm afraid I've been a bit coy when introducing or talking about Gnosticism. I think I hit it kind of hard in Episode 61 by saying Gnosticism is Christianity's evil twin, but in case it still wasn't quite clear, let me be as blunt as possible:
Gnosticism is a fake religion. “Ersatz religion” is how one mega-thinker described it.
You can divide religions into two types: Compact and Differentiated. “Compact,” roughly speaking, is “primitive.” It's a world full of gods: god and earth, together. Zeus banging your wife. The totem pole, tree worship.
Differentiated is “de-divinization” of the world. This was, in short, the work of the Old Testament authors and the philosophers of ancient Greece. It located the divine creative force outside of the world . . . outside of the mundane. Through revelation and contemplation, reasoning and contemplation, the Old Testament authors and ancient Greek philosophers removed divinity from the world and put it “out there” . . . in the heavens, transcendent.
The Jewish and Greek writings were far more compelling on every level–logic, contemplative, believable revelation–than the compact god world of Thor and the Druids.
It's a big freakin' deal.
In the compact world of gods, people could take immediate comfort: if I placate the god of booze, I won't get hungover. I read these goat entrails, I know what will happen next week. As some anthropologists have pointed out, it was also a terrifying world of superstitions, where people often cowered over the slightest transgressions that might irritate, I don't know, the ant godling of the pine tree, but it was certain, tangible, immediate.
When mankind started to wake up from such compact thinking, it was disorientating. They were standing in a weird position: mundane beneath, transcendent above. Man occupies an in-between space. Plato called it the “metaxy.” It results in intense existential tension. It's uncomfortable, to the say the least.
Combine this with the age of ecumenical empires we discussed in Episode 61. Huge population movements, villages destroyed, families torn apart. In short, compact societies ripped apart, in the same era that the Jewish prophets and Greek philosophers had been tearing apart compact theology.
It's no wonder that “pneumapathological disorientation” set in. People wanted the comfort of a compact existence, one that was certain, secure.
It was in this setting that Gnosticism first appeared. Gnosticism is the attempt to regain the footing that came with the compact religious existence that Moses, Plato & Isaiah, LLC destroyed, further fueled by the disruptions of the Age of Ecumenical Empires.
It is the religious urge to regain certainty, even though we know from revelation and philosophical truths that no such certainty is possible. The Gnostic doesn't want to live in the metaxy. The militant Gnostic won't live in the metaxy. He wants control. He wants certainty. And he sure as heck doesn't want that unpleasant existential tension. He wants it gone, and the best way to get rid of the tension is get rid of the one of the poles that stretches out mankind. By eliminating one the poles, the tension is eliminated . . . he is no longer stretched between the two, anguished.
The ancient Gnostic eliminated the mundane pole.
Later Gnostics would eliminate the transcendent pole.
But both have the same psychological make-up. A spiritual disease (nosos). In fact, instead of calling it a “fake religion,” it might be more appropriate to call Gnosticism “a diseased religion.”
Second Segment: Lightning Segments. Prometheus Bound, Melissa Chen, Other.
Third Segment: 1300 BC: Moses
I'm not recounting the Biblical narrative, but it doesn't seem to be terribly different than the professional historian narrative, though much of it is uncertain.
We know many Semites had been migrating to Egypt for over a thousand years. They came as workers, driven by hunger. Some came as slaves. Many became slaves.
At the time of Moses, we are dealing with the third and last great Egypt Kingdom. There's the Old Kingdom (the one that built the pyramids), then a Middle Kingdom, and this one, the New Kingdom. We know Rameses II was a great builder. He lived from 1304 to 1237 BC. He had to crack the proverbial whip to get his projects built. The whip most often fell across the back of the Semites. They revolted and fled.
That's Moses. He was the leader of the Israelite revolt.
He took the Israelites to the border of Egypt but he didn't live long enough to go in.
After Moses, Joshua took over. He was a military leader. Under him, the Israelites beat the Canaanites and took much of Israel. The conquest, however, took over 200 years. By 1000, the Promise Land was completely taken.
But it was threatened mortally by the Philistines. Now, these guys were bastards. They were part of the most predatory race of peoples of the 1000s BC, The Peoples of the Sea. These appear to be the Vikings of the 1000s BC, but swarthy, not pale. They're a mystery of history. We just know they wrecked civilizations and built nothing of their own. They just invaded, raped and pillaged, and moved on. They almost took over Egypt, but Rameses III drove them out, so they went up the coast and settled along the coast of Israel and constituted a mortal risk.
In response, the Israelites unified under a king: Saul. About 1000. Then David. Then Solomon, who died in 926. Then the country split into two countries: Israel to the north; Judah to the south.
Israel fell to the Assyrians (arguably, the first ecumenical empire, but no) in 721.
Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586, which would take us to next week's episode.
Anything besides Jewish history in this period?
Keep in mind: By branching out from 1300, you know the greatest first civilization: Egypt, which was in its third, and last, flowering (Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom). You also know about the greatest empire before the old Persians: Assyria, the folks who crushed Israel, the northern kingdom after Israel split into two after the death of Solomon.
There's nothing to report on Rome yet. Somewhere between the fall of Israel to the Assyrians and 721 and the fall of Judah to the Babylonians in 586, Rome started as a kingdom. That's all for Rome in this time period.
In Greece, there's a little bit, though it's shrouded in mystery and myth.
When Moses started the revolt, the Greek heroic age was in full swing. Jason and the Argonauts, Perseus, Hercules. Those figures, if they existed at all (and they probably did, albeit in some greatly watered down version . . . Jason was possibly just a pirate), lived prior to Moses and during the life of Moses.
When Joshua first slammed into the Promised Land (1200ish), the Trojan War was probably going on.
About the time Israel fell to the Assyrians (721), Hesiod and Homer were writing their stories.
As the Babylonian menace grew and threatened Judah, Draco was the lawgiver in Athens. His laws were so harsh, we still use the term “Draconian” to describe them.
After him came Solon, a wise lawgiver. About the same time, you had Thales, the father of western philosophy, so right about the time Judah was falling to the Babylonians, you had the birth of philosophy as we know it.