Archive for the ‘Ancient Superstition’ category

Did Doomsday Predictions Give Rise to Christianity?

July 21, 2012

Richard Carrier’s speech from Rapture Day in Witchita .

Is the “Durupinar Object” Noah’s Ark?

December 10, 2011

Heard of the Durupinar Object? I hadn’t until recently. But, here it is.

The "Durupinar Object'

The "Durupinar Object' (WikiCommons photo)

It’s a large clod of mud. Which, can be fun in and off themselves. But, the reason why this clod of mud is interesting was because it was mistaken for the remains of of the mythical ‘Noah’s Ark’ by a very silly creationist.

It does look vaguely boat like. Even more so from the other side, where the water that carved it rushed by either side and cut a bow like front end.

The young earth creationist in question is Ron Wyatt. And, when he first learned of this mud clump, he really thought it looked like a boat. And, since in the region of Mount Ararat, it couldn’t be just any boat. It’s Noah’s Ark! And, when he found large ancient stones with holes in the top ‘nearby’, he couldn’t resist calling them for what they were. Anchors! Only, yeah, the stones weren’t right by the “ark”. They were in a nearby village a few miles away. And stones similar to them are to be found all over the region. And they’re carved out of the local rock. And they are engraved with ancient pagan religious texts. Enough to make you think they might just be religious markers.

Other creationists Wyatt contacted  didnt’ seem to be as interested in the object, as Ron was.  The geologist that he invited to investigate the site concluded that it was a natural structure, going so far as authoring a paper called “Bogus ‘Noah’s Ark’ from Turkey Exposed as a Common Geologic Structure”.

A more sane conclusion to draw would be that the Durupinar object may be the natural object that inspired the story of Noah’s Ark. You know, some ancient peoples walking around the desert stumble upon the object and say, “Hey, look, a boat. How’d it get here?”, and hilarity ensues.

That is a more realistic conclusion. But, do we have any evidence of this? Well, not really. Some claim the length of the object, around 300 cubits, is pretty close to what’s stated in the Biblical account. But, there always has been a question if the Biblical ‘cubits’ is the same as the Egyptian ‘cubits’. If it isn’t, then we’re completely out of luck, since that’s the only ‘cubit’ we know the length of. So, big question mark on that.  In fact, we d0n’t even know if the object was visible to anyone before the 20th century. Or, if it even existed in any state. It was uncovered by a heavy rains in 1948. It might have existed, covered or uncovered, a few thousand years ago. But, it might not have.

It is near Mount Ararat, the dormant volcano often thought to be the resting place of the Ark. Though, the Bible story actually says ‘the mountains of Ararat’, referring to the entire mountain chain. And the sequence of events says the ark came ‘to rest’ on the 7th day of the 7th month, then, on the 1st day of the 10th month, the water receded enough for the tops of the mountains to become visible.  Which doesn’t really make much sense, but  makes it sound like the ark would be at the very tippy top of the mountain, which this object is not.

So, yeah, someone might have said that ‘up there by the Ararat mountains there’s this big boat” at some point, and myths might have been written about it. But, we don’t have anything outside of that hypothesis saying that the object was even visible. Or existent.

Lock Jaw

October 3, 2011

Archaeologists claimed to have uncovered the remains of a woman accused of practicing witchcraft. And, on no more evidence that her unconventional method of burial.

The bones found at Piombino, near Lucca in Tuscany, were surrounded by 13 nails, were not wrapped in any burial shroud and the woman was not buried in a coffin, Daily Mail reports.

The nails, driven into the woman’s jaw, may have been placed there to prevent her from rising from the dead.

Ok, sure, on first sight this may look bad. But, people do have bizarre burial requests sometimes. Perhaps she wanted to be buried in a remote unmarked grave with her jaw nailed shut by 13 nails. It’s not more bizarre than having Free Bird played at your funeral when you think about it.

I intend on having Lark’s Tongue in Aspic, part 2 played at my funeral.

Vatican Ships Magic Blood to Mexico

August 23, 2011

Well, isn’t this fucking Sophisticated Theology. As he was lying in bed dying, the Vatican took viles of blood out of John Paul II’s body to use for blood magic. Not even making this up. Take a look.

From the Freethinker:

A report today says that a vial containing the late pope John Paul II’s blood will soon be winging its way to Mexico in a bid to help bring down crimes rates in the largely Catholic country.
An episcopal conference in Mexico has requested that the relic be sent over and, according to Vatican Radio, the “relic”will arrive in the country on August 17 before being taken to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
A week later the vial of blood from the “blessed” Pope John Paul, a title he acquired posthumously after his successor Benedict XVI beatified him in May, will be taken on a pilgrimage to other Catholic dioceses around the country.

This makes Apollo worship look like astrophysics. No wonder these people can believe that the death of a god/man “saved the world”.

So, Dragons Did Exist!

June 9, 2011

Ok, they didn’t. But, get some bones, some imagination, and a lot of skill and you too could build your own.

The Dragons of Malaysia at Mad Art Lab

Will Doomsday Predictions Ever End?

May 22, 2011

So, the Rapture has come and gone, without, as far as we know, a single person actually being raptured. Doomsday predictions come and go. And, while they are fun at the time, after they are gone people seldom remember them once they’re past. I’ve compiled a short list of doomsday predictions throughout history (and this is a very short list). But, more will come. It seems to be as undeniable as the tides.

One of the best documented cases of a failed doomsday prediction by the actual group members making the prediction was recored by social scientist Leon Festinger. In 1954, Festinger infiltrated a doomsday cult, a group that believed that UFOs were going to cause a great flood that would decimate the planet and wrote about it in the book When Prophecy Fails. The group received their information in a manner very similar to the divine revelation of a lot of doomsday predictions; “automatic writing” received by the groups leader “Marian Keech”. Mrs Keech would go into a trance in which she believed she was communicating telepathically with the aliens. As with other forms of alleged supernatural knowledge, there is no way for any other member of the group to investigate the claims or double check the results. They must merely accept or reject the claims on faith alone.

Once the UFO group’s date came and went without any UFO related destruction to speak of, they justified their beliefs. They theorized that the event would have happened, had it not been for their involvement. They had been responsible for delaying the event. Most failed doomsday prediction are met the same way. The Christian group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicted the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ in a much publicized event in 1975. They later claimed that Jesus had come, only invisibly. In 1994, Harold Camping’s failed prediction of the Rapture was justified by claiming that the prediction actually predicted the end of the “Church Age”, a rationalization that is unclear enough to be unfalsifiable, as well as completely useless. What Camping will say, if anything, about the May 21, 2011 event remains to be seen. But, there is one thing for certain: there will be more doomsday predictions to come. So, be skeptical, but go ahead and enjoy them.

Seventh Heaven

May 21, 2011

Ever wonder where the term “Seventh Heaven” came from? Well, it’s not just a meaningless phrase and a sorry ass TV show. Heaven (literally, “the sky” in the Bible), was once thought to be a multi-layered domain. And it was all based on real honest to goodness astronomy … mixed with a whole lot of misunderstanding, pre-science ignorance, and superstition, of course.

The Babylonians were the first to develop an organized astronomical method in the 8th century BCE. (Or earlier. Their records of the motion of Venus may go back another thousand years). They tracked the motions of the heavenly bodies, figured out that they moved in predicable patterns, and developed a table of omens they thought the stars predicted. Though almost none of their original records survive, they were famous enough in the ancient world to make the Babylonian astronomers legendary, as well as very mystical sounding.

In the 4rth century BCE, Aristotle theorized that the upper most reaches of the sky must be the domain of god himself, since the lowest parts of the heavens, the planets, appeared to move all over the place in little loopty loos, and the outer parts appeared to stay very still. So, since the highest part of the heavens was motionless (unchanging, therefore eternal), and god is eternal, god must reside there:

“… all who believe in the existence of gods at all, whether barbarian or Greek, agree in allotting the highest place to the deity, surely because they suppose that immortal is linked with immortal and regard any other supposition as inconceivable … For in the whole range of time past, so far as our inherited records reach, no change appears to have taken place either in the whole scheme of the outermost heaven or in any of its proper parts.”
– Aristotle, On The Heavens, Chap 1, Section 3

All this was explained by the idea of a bunch of interlocking spheres of exact circular orbits, the Earth being in the center. The further out the spheres went, the more perfect and uniform things became. Which leads to us.

In the 2nd century BCE, a Greek named Hipparchus took what the Babylonians started and ran with it. He even invented Trigonometry to develop a better model of the motion of the sun moon and stars. Even though modern astronomy was being born, there were still loads of mythical and superstitious beliefs tied to the heavenly observations.

The observations of the heavens, coupled with the superstitions of the times, lead to a theory that the heavens were layered; in successive domes. The inner most layers would be the earth and the sublunary realm, a place of impermanence and imperfection;  The next layers would be the planets. They where believed to have an intelligence of their own and garner an effect on earthly affair.

This theory was well accepted in the first century CE, when Paul of Tarsus, who mentions a traveler to the “third heaven” in his letter his second letter to the Corinthians.

I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
-2 Corinthians 12:2 (ASV)


Flavius Josephus mentions the belief system in his history the Antiquities of the Jews (93-94 CE) :

Over against this table, near the southern wall, was set a candlestick of cast gold, hollow within, being of the weight of one hundred pounds, which the Hebrews call Chinchares, if it be turned into the Greek language, it denotes a talent. It was made with its knops, and lilies, and pomegranates, and bowls (which ornaments amounted to seventy in all); by which means the shaft elevated itself on high from a single base, and spread itself into as many branches as there are planets, including the sun among them. It terminated in seven heads, in one row, all standing parallel to one another; and these branches carried seven lamps, one by one, in imitation of the number of the planets. These lamps looked to the east and to the south, the candlestick being situate obliquely.
-Flavuis Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, chapter 6, section 7


Flammarion Woodcut


In the 1st century Christian apocryphal work, The Ascension of Isaiah, Jesus descends from the 7th heaven down to Earch, disguising himself at each level so no one recognize him.

Following is a Synopsis of Isaiah’s climb through the heavens (Chap 7 to 9)

… he caused me to ascend (to that which is) above the firmament: which is the (first) heaven.

14. And there I saw a throne in the midst, and on his right and on his left were angels.

…18. And again, he made me to ascend to the second heaven. now the height of that heaven is the same as from the haven to the earth [and to the firmament].

19. And (I saw there, as) in the first heaven, angels on the right and on the left, and a throne in the midst

24. And he raise me to the third heaven, and in like manner I saw those upon the right and upon the left, and there was a throne there in the midst; but the memorial of this world is there unheard of.

…28. And again he raised me to the fourth heaven, and the height from the third to the height from the third to the forth heaven was greater than from the earth to the firmament.

29. And there again I saw those who were on the right hand and those who were on the left, and him who sat on the throne was in the midst, and there also they were praising.

…32. And he raised me to the fifth heaven.

33. And again I saw those upon the right hand and on the left, and him who sat on the throne possessing greater glory that those of the forth heaven.


16. And he raised me up into the sixth heaven, and there were no (angels) on the left, nor a throne in the midst, but all had one appearance and their (power of) praise was equal.


AND he took me into the air of the seventh heaven, and moreover I heard a voice saying: “How far will he ascend that dwelleth in the flesh?” And I feared and trembled.

The Ascension of Isaiah is not a terribly exciting book, true. It is very interesting, though. Ancient works such as these do give us a good insight into the understanding the ancients had of the world around them. Which in turns gives us insight into their belief systems, myths, superstitions, and religions.