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God
the Bible says that God is logic.
And science tells us the whole universe is an expression of logic.

Summary

About Bible scholarship

Most Bible scholars are interested in what people believed. I am not. I am interested in the logic of God. Those are different questions.

The Bible contains many books, and some are more logical than others. If a writer seems to respect logic (as Mark and John seem to) then they interest me. But if a writer openly rejects logic (what Paul dismisses as "the wisdom of the Greeks") then that writer loses my interest.

'God' defined

John is the only Bible writer who defines the word God. He does so in his first verse:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

'Word' is the Greek 'logos' meaning logic. Later Christians gave it a special supernatural meaning, but when John wrote it still had its normal Greek meaning. It was a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus, circa 535-475 BC. Aristotle confirmed the meaning of logos in his 'on rhetoric'. We persuade people using 'logos' (logic), 'pathos' (emotion) and 'ethos' (our reputation). The modern word logic is derived from logos.

"Logos" is a principle of order and knowledge (see the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd edition):

Logos: The Greek term for 'reason' for 'giving an account' (Plato). "The verb lego both to speak and to put together. Thus Plato's emphasis is on the living dialogue as the only context for the unveiling of logos. Socrates claims that the logos speaks through him in the Platonic dialogues. The Latin translation is ratio, and this had led to a more strict use of reason in the confines of mathematics, science and logic." (glossary of Greek philosophical terms by Nick Gier, professor of Philosophy, University of Idaho).

'With' is the Greek 'pros', as in the modern usage "pro -something", meaning 'to the advantage of'. So John 1:1 could be translated:

"In the beginning was logic,
and logic was with (on the side of, to the advantage of) God,
and logic was God."

So logic (in the Greek sense of the word) is God. The most learned of the early Christians and Jews seem to agree. For example, Philo of Alexandria wrote that "The imperfect have as their law the holy Logos [logic]" (see "The Sacrifice of Abel", 38)

Intellectual sophistication

It is important to remember that ancient people were at least as intelligent as us, and possibly more so. This is why:

  1. They could not afford to be dumb.
    The further back we go in history, the harder their lives become, so they could afford to make fewer mistakes. If you or I today make a mistake we don't starve to death. If we eat the wrong thing we don't die in agony. If we upset a neighbouring village we don't suffer genocide. A rustle in the bushes is unlikely to be a lion that will eat our family. We can afford to be dumb.
  2. They had broader experience.
    Our ancient ancestors needed a broader understanding of all human knowledge. Modern man ca affor4d to specialise, but ancient man needed to know everything necessary to survival: where to find raw materials, how to turn them into tools, how to hunt and cook and make cloehtes and build houses, how to farm and avoid famine, personally deal with complete strangers who want to kill you, and so on. Unlike us they could not afford to be ignorant of anything.
  3. Memory.
    They had to carry all their knowledge in their heads.
  4. What they achieved.
    The best of them invented everything we take for granted: writing, cities, economics, philosophy, mathematics, science, etc., and they did it all with far fewer tools. True, we make faster progress now, but we also have a thousand times more people, and thanks to their earlier discoveries we have the ability to record everything (so we don't have to discover anything twice). So there is no evidence that as individuals we discover things any faster than they did. Since their time we have only made small incremental changes: better writing, more comfortable cities, more science. But we are standing on the shoulders of giants.
  5. A clearer view.
    Society was simpler, so they had a clearer view of human nature. Life was brutal, suffering was obvious and first hand, and elites did not need to hide behind public relations experts. They saw life in the raw and constructed their ideas accordingly.

In short, modern man can afford to be stupid, and ancient man could not. Perhaps this is why our ancient ancestors had bigger brains than we do: brain size peaked before the discovery of farming and has been in decline ever since, according to measurements of skulls found in French caves).

This is not to say that every ancient farmer was a philosopher. But it is naive to think that they were not as smart as us, or that they were less happy.

Now back to the topic of gods.

Since God is logic, the first verse of the Bible now becomes clear:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Science has shown that the universe and the earth are created by logic. This is not a new idea: Pythagoras said that everything is math, and Plato said the real universe is abstract logic, and the physical world is just its shadow. Later we shall see that Greek and Hebrew thought were much closer than most people realise.

The name of God

When Moses described his conversion at the burning bush, he asked for God's name (how God talks will be discussed later):

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM : and he said , Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (Exodus 3:13-14)

Here God seems to be defined as the first, self existent principle: "I am that I am". Again this only makes sense if God is logic itself: the self-existent abstract principle that makes existence possible. Without logic we can know nothing about anything, so the first principle of any philosophy must be the existence of logic.

It was essential to Moses that people understood that God is abstract, not a person or thing.

"Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven." (Deuteronomy 4:15-19)

Making no graven images was the second of the Ten Commandments. The first is to put God (logic) first. It is that important.

It is sometimes assumed that God must have arms and legs (other than our arms and legs of course), because of passages like this:

"Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea." (Exodus 15:4-8)

The context however shows that this is metaphorical: in Exodus 14, the crossing of the "red sea", there was no mention of a great hand coming out of the sky to hit the Egyptians. And if God had literal nostrils they must have been very large to blow the waters away, and his lungs must have been even larger to keep up this breath for many hours! Later passages also say that God has wings and feathers:

"He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust" (Psalm 91:4 etc.)

Clearly these are metaphors for the power that saved the Israelites. They were saved by logic: that is, by a very intelligent leader. Nostrils and feathers are metaphors. The idea of God in physical form was completely alien to Judaism. In the years before the New Testament, the Septuagint translators did their best to choose words that would not give the slightest hint that God had a human form in any way. E. g. the "image" of God was changed to the "glory" of the Lord and the "mouth" of God became the "voice" of the Lord (see the Jewish Encyclopedia: Anthropomorphism). Jesus put it succinctly:

No man hath seen God at any time (John 1:18)

But Jesus went on to say that God (logic) can be revealed through people. This was hardly a new concept: in the Old Testament the word for God was "Elohim", a plural word, and meant (according to Strong's Hebrew concordance)

"rulers, judges, divine ones, angels [i.e. messengers of gods], gods, god, goddess, godlike one, works or special possessions of God. "

Hence the Bible refers to Elohim (plural) walking in the garden of Eden, having dinner with Abraham., etc. These Elohim would have been people who claimed to have logic (God) inside them, and therefore must be obeyed.

Personification: logic is conscious

Theoretical physics is hard work. We can show mathematically that logic can create everything, logic has rules, logic prefers some outcomes to others, and so on, but it takes a long time, Also, it does not capture how it feels to be part of the universe, and to rely on it for our needs. So it helps if we personify logic: to say "logic says this", or "logic wants that".

This is exactly the same reason why we personify ourselves. What, after all, is a person? A person is a pile of atoms interacting in vastly complicated ways. But the only practical everyday way to think of ourselves is by describing feelings and desires.

Highly complex systems are best understood in terms of emotions and needs. This is true of any complex system. Take computers for example:

[M]ost hackers anthropomorphize freely, frequently describing program behaviour in terms of wants and desires. Thus it is common to hear hardware or software talked about as though it has homunculi talking to each other inside it, with intentions and desires. Thus, one hears The protocol handler got confused , or that programs are trying to do things, or one may say of a routine that its goal in life is to X . Or: You can't run those two cards on the same bus; they fight over interrupt 9. One even hears explanations like ... and its poor little brain couldn't understand X, and it died. [...]

As hackers are among the people who know best how these phenomena work, it seems odd that they would use language that seems to ascribe consciousness to them. [...H]ackers who anthropomorphize are expressing not a vitalistic view of program behaviour but a mechanistic view of human behaviour. Almost all hackers subscribe to the mechanistic, materialistic ontology of science (this is in practice true even of most of the minority with contrary religious theories). In this view, people are biological machines - consciousness is an interesting and valuable epiphenomenon, but mind is implemented in machinery which is not fundamentally different in information-processing capacity from computers.

Hackers tend to take this a step further and argue that the difference between a substrate of CHON atoms and water and a substrate of silicon and metal is a relatively unimportant one; what matters, what makes a thing `alive', is information and richness of pattern. This is animism from the flip side; it implies that humans and computers and dolphins and rocks are all machines exhibiting a continuum of modes of `consciousness' according to their information-processing capacity.

Because hackers accept that a human machine can have intentions, it is therefore easy for them to ascribe consciousness and intention to complex patterned systems such as computers. If consciousness is mechanical, it is neither more or less absurd to say that The program wants to go into an infinite loop than it is to say that I want to go eat some chocolate - and even defensible to say that The stone, once dropped, wants to move towards the centre of the earth .

This viewpoint has respectable company in academic philosophy. [The quote then refers to the teachings of the influential philosopher Daniel Dennett.]
(From The New Hacker's Dictionary,
www.pvv.ntnu.no/diverse/jargon/jargon.html#Anthropomorphization)

Those who understand computers the best are most likely to treat them as being conscious. Similarly, those who know humans best are most likely to treat them as conscious, even though consciousness is "nothing but" chemical processes. Consciousness is the most useful and therefore the best way to understand people, computers, and all complex systems, including (and especially) the logic of the universe itself.

Logic's personality

Logic creates

Logic takes one condition and makes another: "if A and B, then C". Just study theoretical physics (and then biochemistry) to see how simple initial conditions logically create an entire universe.

Logic has arms and legs

Logic created the universe. The universe is an expression, or embodiment of logic: everything in the universe is a physical manifestation of logic. So every person, every part, every head and arm and leg is logic made flesh.

(Of course, each of us is only a small part of the big picture. So we can appear to be wrong about things, just as one side of an equation is unbalanced.)

If a person talks and acts in a logical, then we say "that is a logical person." So that person is a part of logic, and logic is part of the person. Jesus said something similar about God (see below)

Logic has desire

When a person or other complex system tends to move in a certain direction we say it has a desire to do so. For example, logic leads to its conclusions, and we say a graph "tends toward" a particular direction. Even the simplest particle of matter has inertia: a desire to continue at its present velocity. So everything has desire.

Logic has morality

Logic creates the universe, including living things. Living things must logically want to survive (otherwise they would be quickly replaced by those who do). Logically, we survive best through cooperation. Methods of cooperation are known as morality: we see the other person's point of view, help the tribe, do not kill or cheat, etc.

Logic cares for us

For us to exist, the universe (a creation of logic) has provided for all our needs. Giving someone al they need is called caring for them.

Logic is love

The first letter of John contains this extra definition of God:

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  (1 John 4:8)

'Love' is the Greek "agape" meaning brotherly love: that is, treating others like ourselves. That fairness makes a society stronger because they enable the most efficient use of resources. In other words, "agape" is logic: the logic of survival (and its bi-product, a happy society).

Logic will answer our questions

If you have a question use logic and you will get the best possible answer.

Logic loves you personally

For the best chance of survival, every member of the tribe (or family) matters. So logically you matter, personally. (And if you sacrifice your life for your tribe or family and that is the logical thing to do, don't worry: your consciousness will survive. See part two of this book.)

Logic has a sense of humour

Humour is that which provokes laughter: usually through combining the unexpected or absurd. The universe is full of such humour.

Hunter gatherers, who live close to nature, laugh frequently. Scientists who truly love their field often laugh at the pleasure of some unexpected thing. Devout skeptics like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett made a career out of laughing at the universe. Even mathematicians take a childish delight in particularly pleasing discoveries: Logic is always throwing up the unexpected: it loves to play tricks. So logic has a sense of humour.

Logic gives moral certainty

Logic is always constant and unchanging. In contrast, any current evidence, such as scientific findings or interpretation of a holy text, is subject to the possibility of change. If we base our ideas on anything except logic then our ideas are relative to something that might change. But logic itself does not change: it is the standard by which everything else is judged. Logic is the only sure foundation.

Different logics (different gods)

Today we don't just talk of one logos, but many. We have the logos of the biome (bio-logy), the logos of society (socio-logy), the logos of the physical body (physio-logy) and so on. It was no different in ancient times, except they personified each logos to make it easier to remember.

The Greeks and the Hebrews

The Greeks are better known than the Hebrews for respecting logic. So in this part of the book I will often compare Greek and Hebrew religion.

The Greeks had many logics (or logoi). For example the Greeks had the logos of the endless oceans embodied in the Titan Oceanus, and the logos of nearby seas embodied in the god Poseidon, then various nymphs to represent the different characteristics of local waterways. Oceanus was unfathomable and distant and eternal, Poseidon was unpredictable and to be treated with great respect, and the nymphs were helpful or treacherous depending on the waters. Thus the Greeks simplified complex topics through personification.

For ancient Greeks the council of gods was the Olympians. When they wished to refer to something that was generally agreed they could refer to "the gods" rather than a particular god.

For most peoples of the near east the council of gods was called "il" or "el". The ancient Hebrews also had a council of gods, or divine council, called "Elohim" (the ending "-him" means plural).

The Hebrews decided that only logic mattered, so in their divine council the other gods to be just messengers (angels), but they are still referred to as "Elohim", e.fg. in Psalms:

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels [Elohim, literally "gods"], and hast crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:4-5)

So whereas the Greeks had Zeus (head of the gods), Ares (god of war) and Hermes (messenger god), the Hebrews had Yahweh (the one god), Michael (angel of war: see Daniel 12:1, Revelation 12:7), and Gabriel (for the most important messages).

Battles between logics

As generations pass, different logics (logoi) gain and lose status. For example in modern times, phreno-logy (the logos of reading bumps on the head) lost ground because it failed in real world tests, whereas psycho-logy (the logos of thoughts) was more successful. We see the same battles in the earliest history of the Hebrews, in the battle between Baal and Yahweh.

Ball and Yahweh were originally "storm gods". The lands of the near east were very dry, so survival depended on understanding the logic of rain. Obviously that meant irrigating where possible, and using the best crops, but how do you organise the people? How do you respond to needs? There were two competing theories, represented by the Yahweh and Baal.

Baal's logic was strong leadership: a strong ruler can have good advisers and tell people what to do. This seemed rational. but whether or not it led to better harvests, one obvious result was that cities that followed Baal tended to have a wealthy king who owned all the land.

Yahweh's logic (in the books of Moses) was to have no king, but share the land equally, and teach the people correct principles (do not steal, care for the poor, etc.). The thinking (as later explained in the first book of Samuel) is that kings tend to be out of touch and yet they take all your resources. So the cities that followed Yahweh leave fewer grand monuments for archaeologists, but they treated their written law as sacred.

The logic that won

Which logic was more correct? For centuries the two approaches lived side by side, but gradually Yahweh's equal-land, sacred law approach gave better economic results. So Yahweh replaced Baal. See part five of this book for details.

Yahweh became so successful that he was treated as "the one" god. because once you have rain, justice and wealth, all other concerns seem trivial in comparison. But of course wealth brings envy, and soon Israel had kings and central control again, and the economy went into relative decline. Again, see part five for details.

Sacrifice

It may be hard for modern people to see ancient religion as logical. After all, didn't these gods demand animal sacrifices? Yes, and there was good logic behind it.

For a nation to run you need communication. This is easy in modern times: technology makes it easy to communicate. But in ancient times it might take weeks or months for messages to spread, and sophisticated detail was almost impossible. So how do you know that the people are really committed to your message? If you send out a message how do you know they are not just nodding their heads and then forget you once you go?

Almost every ancient culture solved the communication problem in the same way: through sacrifice. If people do more than they have to, if they are willing to sacrifice the best of their (scarce) possessions, then you (and their neighbours) can be sure that that they are committed to the cause.

In modern times we still sacrifice for the same reason. For example, we spend more than we need to on a home, to demonstrate that the home is very important to us. If we just bought the cheapest possible goods then those around us would question our commitment. Much of the modern economy is based on this kind of sacrifice: people spend more than they have to, in order to send a message about their values. This communication is the glue that holds society together. So sacrifice is logical.

Religion

Religion literally means a study of logic. Cicero explained religion in his book "De Natura Deorum" - "The Nature of the Gods" (in book 2, part 72). He wrote that Religion originally meant "relegere", from "re- legos" or "re-logos", meaning to go through the logos (or reasons) for something.

Cicero contrasts the religious (those who understand reasons) with the superstitious: from the word "superstes" meaning survivor. The superstitious are those who think they will be blessed (i.e. they or their children will survive the harsh world) simply because they believe the right things or obey the right rules. That describes modern religion, but it is the opposite of ancient religion.

However, later Christians (such as Augustine) changed religion to mean "religare" or "to bind fast", in the sense of "place an obligation on". (See the Online Etymological Dictionary). A system of logic (re-logos) was gradually replaced by a system of blind obedience (religare). This process is covered in parts eight and nine of this book.

The kingdom of God

A kingdom is an economic unit: that is, laws for how people interact, how they give and take. Moses and Jesus offered a template for the kingdom of God: that is, a template for the kingdom of logic. This template is based on land rent: it has no taxation, but is based on clear laws, and judges when needed, but no hierarchy: no human kings. See parts five and six of this book.

Prophets and priests

At this point it is probably worth mentioning the difference between priests and prophets, and the great danger of confusing the two roles.

Priests and prophets are opposites. The nation of Israel had priests to carry out day to day work. It also had prophets: from time to time: men who would arise and speak logic, and their actions would prove their logic.

Priests are necessary bureaucrats, insiders. Prophets are troublemakers, outsiders. A prophet is known only by his results, not his position. "By their fruits ye shall know them".

If a prophet arises and speaks great truth then the worst thing we can do is give him an administrative position. Position brings power, and power is an incentive for corruption (and the self deception that goes with it).

For more about hierarchies see part five (about kings and economic health) and part six (especially the commentary to Mark 10:42-44).

Greek and Hebrew religion

Greeks and Romans

Earlier I referred to Cicero's view that religion means re-legos, or repeated study of logic. This was not some minority fringe opinion. If Cicero said it, it counts. "The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language" (according to classicist Michael Grant).

The religion definition comes from Cicero's book "gods". Gods was a summary of the full range of religious views, represented by the Epicureans (who thought life was to be enjoyed), the Stoics (who thought life was to be suffered), and the skeptics (who thought life was to be questioned).

Epicureans followed the teachings of Epicurus, who rejected anything that sounded supernatural. The Stoics did believe in gods, but they were metaphors for ideas: a god of war, a goddess of love, and so on.

But did they believe?

There is plenty of evidence that the average Greek was just as superstitious as anybody else: just read "the Greeks and the Irrational" by Dodds if there is any doubt. But once again I return to the methodology of this book. I am not interested in the views of people who thought it was all magic. I am interested in the views of those who's views made rational sense. In every age there were many who saw through the metaphor and saw the logic beneath. There was always a Plato or a Cisero or a Philo.

Myths are true

Another vital point, perhaps the most important, is that myths matter. Myths decide how we treat facts. Here I use "myth" in Roland Barthe's sense. Myth does not mean lie, myth means the story that allows us to make sense of the universe. For example, every "good guys versus bad guys" story is a myth: to the bad guys they are the good guys. but "good guys versus bad guys" lets us communicate values and conclusions more efficiently than a lengthy argument.

Ancient readers seemed far more comfortable with myth than we are. The Greeks did not care if Hercules was a real man who lived at a certain date: Hercules represented their values and concerns. Hercules was a means of communication.

"Myth is truthful, but figuratively so. It is not historical truth mixed with lies; it is a high philosophical teaching that is entirely true, on the condition that, instead of taking it literally, one sees in it an allegory. Two schools exist then: the criticism of legends by historians and the allegorical interpretation of legends by the majority of philosophers, including the Stoics. From this will emerge the allegorical exegesis of the Bible destined for fifteen hundred years of triumph. " (Paul Veyne, "Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?" p. 62)

Now back to the more educated readers, who were well aware of the value of logic and metaphor.

Christians, before Paul

For the earliest Christian view of God, read Philo of Alexandria. He discussed the topic at great length. Philo was a contemporary of Jesus (actually twenty years older), and was very popular with the early Christians. Jesus quotes Philo in the gospel of Thomas (in saying 19, see part eight of this book). Unlike most first century books Philo's are still available: they were carefully preserved, because nearly all sides of Christianity agreed on them. St Jerome even called Philo one of the fathers of the church.

Modern critics argue that Philo was merely adding Greek ideas to Moses, and Moses saw God as anthropomorphic. But Moses taught the opposite: God is purely abstract, and cannot be represented by any graven image.

Old Testament Judaism

Old Testament Judaism was about wisdom, not supernatural belief. There is no practically no mention of life after death in the supernatural sense (see part two of this book), but there are whole books full of proverbs and wisdom.

There is no requirement in the Old Testament to believe anything in particular, except to love logic. The law of Moses was not supernatural, but was a set of laws for running a state, like the laws of Hammurabi, or Solon of Athens, or any other great thinker-leader.

Moses' miracles were not supernatural either, but were evidence of his intellect: see part four of this book.

Greek and Hebrew religion compared

Scholars routinely draw a contrast between the later Jews (with their concrete teachings and appeals to holy texts) and later Greeks (with their abstract ideals and appeals to logic). But in the early days their religions were remarkably similar:


Phoenicia: the Hebrew link with Greece

The earliest Hebrews and Greeks were almost neighbours and shared ideas. Most people do not make the connection because the Hebrews who dealt with the Greeks were known by a different name: Phoenicians.

"Phoenician" is not a term the Phoenicians used: it is simply a name for people from the cities of Tyre and Sidon on the coasts of Canaan (and later their colonies in Carthage and elsewhere). Historians are unable to find much of a distinctive culture: there are no Phoenician legends or books for example (see the BBC radio four "in Our Time" episode for a good overview). The early Phoenicians were simply the seafaring Canaanites.

And who were the Canaanites? Later Hebrews tried to emphasise a big difference between themselves and the Canaanites, but the earliest texts (e.g. the book of Judges) and archaeology agree that they were culturally mixed, with shrines to Baal and YHWH side by side. While some Israelites may have spent time in Egypt (the story of Moses), they were originally from Canaan, and when they returned they rejoined their former people.

How the Hebrews influenced the Greeks

Most scholars are familiar with how later Greeks influenced Jewish thought. But less well known is how the earliest Hebrews influenced Greece.

It is well known that the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians. Some argue that Thales, the first Greek philosopher, was Phoenician. Certainly the Phoenicians, the great seafarers and traders, would be best placed to share ideas.

Josephus claimed that the Greeks were greatly influenced by the ancient Jews:

"Pythagoras, therefore, of Samos, lived in very ancient times, and was esteemed a person superior to all philosophers in wisdom and piety towards God. Now it is plain that he did not only know our doctrines, but was in very great measure a follower and admirer of them. There is not indeed extant any writing that is owned for his (15) but many there are who have written his history, of whom Hermippus is the most celebrated, who was a person very inquisitive into all sorts of history. Now this Hermippus, in his first book concerning Pythagoras, speaks thus: 'That Pythagoras, upon the death of one of his associates, whose name was Calliphon, a Crotonlate by birth, affirmed that this man's soul conversed with him both night and day, and enjoined him not to pass over a place where an ass had fallen down; as also not to drink of such waters as caused thirst again; and to abstain from all sorts of reproaches.' After which he adds thus: 'This he did and said in imitation of the doctrines of the Jews and Thracians, which he transferred into his own philosophy.' For it is very truly affirmed of this Pythagoras, that he took a great many of the laws of the Jews into his own philosophy. Nor was our nation unknown of old to several of the Grecian cities, and indeed was thought worthy of imitation by some of them. [Josephus then gives examples.]" (Flavius Josephus Against Apion, book 1)

For a brief overview of Jewish influence on the early Greeks, see Yehuda Shurpin at chabad.org/ library/article_cdo/ aid/1586152/jewish/ Jewish-Impact-on-Greek- and-Western-Philosophy.htm For a more detailed scholarly view of similarities, see "Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece: Religion, Politics, and Culture", by John Pairman Brown.

God and lower gods

The key to understanding Geek and Hebrew ideas of God (as well as God in other cultures) is the distinction between ultimate truth (logic) and all the people, both real and fictional, who have claimed the title god. For example, in the Old testament the Hebrew word "Elohim" applies to all gods, including people or judges acting in the name of God.

In Greek and early Christian thought (and Jewish thought, as the earliest "gnostic" texts probably predate Christianity) these lower gods were called "skilled workers", or in Greek, "demiurge."

Plato's Timaeus

To explain the difference between the lower gods and the higher logic or logos, Plato wrote his dialogue "Timaeus." It is a dialogue about the nature of the gods. It reconciles the different gods of (e.g.) Hesiod's Theogony with the abstract arguments of Plato.

Timaeus explains that a god is like a skilled worker (a "demiurge"): very capable, very powerful and clever, and usually (but not always) benevolent. But the demiurge is not the logos.

Genesis and the demiurge

Genesis teaches the same principle as Timaeus. It tells of fallible rulers (gods) who are gradually replaced by the higher concept of logic. Genesis teaches of local gods who might visit you in the garden (Eden) or they have dinner with you (as they did with Abraham). These gods might tell you to do troubling things: like do not eat of knowledge, or sacrifice your first born son. Genesis teaches that a higher truth, reason, can override this.

Part three of this book discusses the Eden episode in depth. As for Abraham, his gods told him to sacrifice Isaac, but he decided not to, and later Israelite prophets condemned their neighbours the other Canaanites for "passing their children through the fire" (child sacrifice). Gradually, tradition and local rulers were replaced by a higher law: logic.

The most learned early Christians discussed the demiurge at length, contrasting the lower gods of Genesis with the higher god, logic. For more about the learned Christians see part eight of this book.

Genesis and polytheism

Most scholars accept that the earliest Hebrews were polytheists. There is plenty of evidence for this: e.g. the word "Elohim" is plural, there are many references to the divine council, worship of Yahweh and Baal existed side by side for centuries, and polytheism was the normal form of religion everywhere. Traditionally, Abraham is credited with shifting the emphasis to monotheism: saying that the true ruler, the true Yahweh, was logic and not any earthly king. But Abraham's father Terah was a polytheist, as were Terah's fathers before him: these were the great patriarchs of the Genesis. They all worshipped "Elohim", the gods, plural.

Genesis and the Greek creation story

The Genesis creation story appears to be based on earlier Sumerian (and later Babylonian) story, the Enuma Elis. The Greek creations story appears to be based on the same account, though the accounts focus on different aspects. It is possible that the Greek version (best known through Hesiod's Theogony) is a descendant of the Sumerian version, perhaps via the Hittite "kingship in heaven" myth: "similarities between this myth and the Theogony are striking." (classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/hesiod)

More about God

The face of God

Moses' followers wanted to see something. But how do you show an abstract idea? Moses needed to physically show the concept of ideas.

In Hebrew, ideas are in words or breath, the word "ruwach". It can be translated both as air and as spirit. The same is true in Greek: 'pneuma' means both breath and spirit. So Moses needed to show the breath of God: air itself. But how do you show air? Air is invisible. So you have to show a manifestation of air:

  1. Fire: God appeared as a burning bush, or a pillar of fire (presumably from offerings or incense burned by the priests).
  2. Cloud: (from the same burning incense) or smoke on the mountain. For more about God and cloud, see the commentary to Mark 13:26 in part 7 of this book.
  3. The heavens: When we look up we look through the air, and for all Moses knew the air continued right to the stars.

Seeing God "face to face" meant smoke, or fire, or looking upwards:

The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire, (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) (Deuteronomy 5:3-6; see also Exodus 18:12)

The people who advised Moses

Since a "god" meant a ruler or representative of the ultimate God, sometimes Moses was a god to others:

And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. (Exodus 7:1)

And when Moses took logical advice from his father in law, Jethro (Exodus 18), Jethro represented God. But to Moses it was important not to identify God with an individual, to avoid the worship of individuals or things (see Deuteronomy 4:15-19). So a person was never called a god in front of others.

Whoever spoke for God, he hid behind smoke (as on Sinai), or in this case he simply told Moses to look away:

Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:20-23)

Centuries later the Catholic church used the same principle: when confessing to a priest the priest is hidden.

It is fun to speculate who might have advised (i.e. acted as a god to) Moses: Jethro again? One of the priests of Midian, where Moses learned his religion? Or perhaps a woman? Is that the subtext of Numbers 12? The people were very sexist and would not accept Moses taking orders from a woman:

And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)  (Numbers 12:1-3)

"Ethiopian" in Hebrew just means from Cush - that is, she could have been from anywhere in Africa. The reference to being meek suggests that Moses was taking instruction from somebody. Aaron and Miriam (Moses' sister) say that God can speak through them, so speaking through a woman is accepted. Why does marrying the African woman raise the question of Moses' authority? Was he taking her advice? It would be strange for a wife not to offer advice to her husband.

Yet another possibility is that Moses had brought advisers from Egypt. Some scholars have pointed out similarities between the monotheism of Moses and of the apostate Pharaoh Akhenaten. Given that Moses' message was "escape from slavery to Egypt" it would make sense to keep Egyptian advisers secret from whoever wrote Exodus.

But all of this is idle speculation. Whoever advised Moses does not matter: only what they said matters. The truth of logic is contained in the logic, not in who says it.

The voice of God

Moses' decisions were called God's decisions, and Moses' words were called God's words (Exodus 18:15-16). The spirit (literally the breath) of God filled Moses and gave him all wisdom and understanding (Exodus 35:31). Why? Because Moses' words were logical (see parts three and five of this book for details).God talks to us

When Moses came down from the mountain, it is said the Lord passed in front of Moses and then spoke. Given that the people were not permitted to see God other than as smoke, this probably indicates that God's voice was the voice of Moses (Exodus 34:5-7) or of a priest.

Most of the time (e.g. when routinely acting as judge to his people) Moses just received God's words in his mind. This is how later prophets usually experienced God: as ideas in the head. That is, "a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13).

During the time in the wilderness God appeared to Balaam (Numbers 22-23) but it appears that means God put words into Balaam's mind (Numbers 23:5).

God the Father

Isaiah refers to God as "father" because he redeems us when others forget us:

Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Isaiah 63:16)

In ancient Israel a redeemer was a person, usually a family member such as a father, who paid (redeemed) any debts and ensured justice after we died or got in trouble. (For more about redeemers see part two of this book.) This is a good personification of logic: if we do the logical thing then even if we die things will work out for the best.

Jesus often referred to God as father. According to Strong's Greek concordance, the word for father ("pater") can also mean the originator and transmitter of anything. Logic causes everything, so "father" is a very good word. But Jesus' followers did not understand the concept of personification.

Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? (John 14:8-9)

Jesus was personifying logic, and did not refer to a supernatural being, as we can see form the verses that followed:

Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? [...] Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. [...] At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:10, 11, 21)

God can be inside a person while a person is inside God. This is only possible of God is logic. (And note that human identity, our spirit, is our ideas: see part two of this book.)

Jesus had logic inside him. For the evidence, see parts six and eight of this book.

Christianity and atheism

The more intellectual Christians rejected all supernatural gods, and so were called atheists by the Romans. This is from Justin Martyr, who loved Greek philosophy and understood that God is the logos:

And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue. Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. (Justin Martyr, first apology, chapters 5 and 6)

Jesus as God

After saying that God is logic, John continued:

And the Word [logos: word of logic] was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

'Glory' is the Greek word "doxa": literally God's opinions, i.e. logical ideas.

'Only begotten' is the Greek word "monogenes", meaning the most important one (mono) of the family (genes). This comes from Plato's Timaeus:

"the sensible [i.e. visible to the senses] God who is the image of the intellectual, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect-the one only begotten heaven." (Timaeus 92c)

To Plato, the world of logic is the real world and the physical world is like shadows of that real world. The best possible example in any group or family (monogenes) is the one that is closest to the abstract logical ideal. John is saying that Jesus is the ideal man.

'Grace' is the Greek word "charis". In Greek mythology the graces are women who represent splendour (the grace called Aglaea), mirth (Euphrosyne), and good cheer (Thalia). That is the kind of person Jesus was, according to John.

Jesus was the opposite of supernatural

John 1:14 said Jesus was full of truth. This is the Greek "aletheia" or opening up: the most commonly used Greek lexicon defines the word as "objectivity". The philosopher Heidegger spoke at length about the word:

"Heidegger gave an etymological analysis of aletheia, and drew out an understanding of the term as 'unconcealedness'. Thus, aletheia is distinct from conceptions of truth understood as statements which accurately describe a state of affairs (correspondence), or statements which fit properly into a system taken as a whole (coherence). Instead, Heidegger focused on the elucidation of how an ontological 'world' is disclosed, or opened up, in which things are made intelligible for human beings in the first place, as part of a holistically structured background of meaning." (Wikipedia, aletheia)

In short, this is not supernatural truth. Aletheia provides the metaphysical basis for any understanding of the real world. God is the opposite of supernatural: he is the logic that makes everything visible. Hence:

The rise of the supernatural

If God is logic, why do so many people treat him as a supernatural being? It works as a metaphor, but why don't more scholars see through it? The simple answer is history. Scholars respect history, and throughout history would-be kings and priests have promoted the idea of a supernatural God. It's the easy way to get power.

Kings favoured the supernatural

Logic does not favour kings. Logic lets us see our king's mistakes. But a supernatural God is different: anybody who wants power can say "I am chosen by God" and nobody can prove they are not. It worked for Pharaoh, it worked for Saul, and it has worked for kings and priests throughout history.

The poor and weak believe the king: they have little choice if they want to eat. Some scholars make a good living by not rocking the boat, while other scholars make trouble by saying the emperor has no clothes and the true God is logic.

How kings first gain power

Moses opposed kings. Moses told the people to always remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt. To ensure it could never happen again he created a society where land was shared out equally and decisions were made by judges. But eventually kings returned. The prophets warned against kings (see for example 1 Samuel 8) but the would-be kings used the same argument they always use: "you are surrounded by dangers! You need a strong leader to keep you safe!" For priestly elites the argument is similar: "you are in great danger after death, you need my religion to save you!"

History and logic show that this argument is false. Elites take resources while adding nothing (they are no smarter than a cheaper, elected official). So monarchies and theocracies are weaker than democracies. And kings like to start wars, not end them. But people are easily swayed by fear, and so elites gain power.

How the Jews embraced the supernatural

Once the Jews accepted kings to rule over them the rejection of logic was clear. Most people were uneducated anyway, so the kings merely had to undermine or ignore the educated people. We see this in the book of 1 Samuel: the prophet warned against kings, but this particular prophet (Samuel) had bad children. So Saul, a man who would be king, just had to say "look at his children! This man is no moral authority. You can ignore him." So Saul became Israel's first king. From then on the prophets were either lone voices in the wilderness, or (in the case of Isaiah) on the king's payroll. Logic was no longer king.

Later scholars (such as the great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides) looked back and saw the intellectual decline:

"In common with many medieval writers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, Maimonides is of the opinion that Jews in antiquity once cultivated the science of physics and metaphysics, which they later neglected for a medley of reasons, historical and theological" (R. Isadore Twersky, "Some Non-Halakic Aspects of the Mishneh Torah" in R. Alexander Altmann, quoted in hirhurim.blogspot.co.uk)

How Jesus' followers embraced the supernatural

Jesus taught logic and rejected hierarchies (see part six of this book) and his more educated followers, such as John, openly stated that God is logic. But immediately after that he noted that this was a hard concept for most people to grasp:

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5)

The men on whom the light shone, the men who listened to Jesus' words, did not understand. Part nine of this book give the details. Part eight focuses on Paul, a man who saw Jesus when Jesus was supposed to be dead, and spent the rest of his life promoting a supernatural theology.

Anti-intellectualism in the Bible?

How do we reconcile "God is logic" with this verse?

Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do ? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? (Job 11:7-8)

Many people take this as gospel. For example, Matthew Henry says:

"He is an incomprehensible Being, infinite and immense, whose nature and perfections our finite understandings cannot possibly form any adequate conceptions of, and whose counsels and actings we cannot therefore, without the greatest presumption, pass a judgement upon." (Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Job 11:7)

But there is one problem: Job 11 is an example of a false belief. It is spoken by Zohar, who speaks against the prophet Job, and calls him a liar:

Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, Should not the multitude of words be answered ? and should a man full of talk be justified? Should thy lies make men hold their peace? (Job 11:1-3)

In the next chapter Job answers, and says Zophar is completely wrong. Can a man by searching find God? Yes! Through asking questions of nature:

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. (Job 12:7-8)

Wisdom versus foolishness

The last few chapters of Job are God saying that his evidence is in physical things: in the origin of the earth, natural processes, and the living world.

Job does not have access to those observations, so rationally concludes that he does not know everything. Job shows wisdom: that is, reasoning ability. In contrast, Zophar said a man cannot know. That is not wisdom, and Zophar and the others are condemned.

In summary:

Like Socrates and Plato and all great philosophers, Job taught by means of dialogue. Chapter by chapter, Job would make a case, his opponent will give an alternate view, and Job would respond.

In the examples from Job, Job argued the evidence of God is in physical things. In other words, the philosopher is appealing to what modern people call science.

For more examples of prophets using reason and opposing the supernatural, see parts three to five of this book.

Jesus agrees

Can man by searching find God? Yes.

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (Luke 11:9)

Is God unknowable? No.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God... (John 17:3)

Do we find God through logical debate? Yes. That was Jesus' main teaching method. See the commentary to Mark 1:22 in part six of this book.

The idea that the Bible is anti-intellectual can be traced to Paul. Paul's only experience with Jesus was dramatic: Paul (then called Saul) thought that Jesus was dead, the Jesus appeared to him and was alive. This changed Paul's life. He decided that Jesus was supernatural. So he went looking for scriptures to support his view. This is the only one he could find:

"For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." (1 Corinthians 1:19)

This appears to refer to Isaiah 29:

For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:14)

But it is taken out of context. The complete quotation praises the wise and condemns the foolish:

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish , and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:14)

Isaiah 29 is about the threat of Assyria invading in 722BC. Political counsellors (wise men) were negotiating with Egypt for protection, but that was short sighted: Egypt would take Israel's freedom in return. Isaiah condemned this (see Isaiah 19:11-17, Isaiah 20:5,6, Isaiah 30:1,2, etc.). Isaiah promised that if the nation instead returned to the land laws of Moses they would be economically strong, and eventually they would be free on their own: (that is the "marvellous work"). So Isaiah was condemning certain politicians, and not wisdom. Indeed, Isaiah himself was a wise and learned man, probably the most learned of the prophets.

The foolish counsellors were condemn they "have removed their heart far from me." In ancient times the heart was considered the centre of life and of thought. Contrast this with the bowels which were the centre of emotion (Isaiah 16:11; 63:15; Song of Solomon 5:4;etc.) Far from condemning intellectuals, Isaiah condemns people for not thinking clearly!

In short, God is logic. If someone "lacks understanding" they should ask God (see James 1:5) and they will get answers. Logic is like that: appeal to logic, and you get answers.

If God is logic, why not just call him logic?

Why use the word "God"? For accuracy.

God is logic in the ancient sense, the bigger sense. The modern definition is very narrow: simply the fundamental abstract rules. But the ancient definition of logos was "the word" in the sense of rational discussion. It meant ultimate wisdom and its implications: the powers of nature. Logic and logos are two concepts, so they require two words.

Logic alone (in the modern sense) may leave us thinking this is a cold and meaningless universe. But trace the implications of logic - how it creates the universe, how it creates consciousness, how morality helps us survive, and we see the opposite.

The need for humility

Using the word "God" for logic emphasizes humility. It reminds is that logic should rule us, even when our feelings say we know better.

It is easy to be ruled by feelings, and usually this is a good thing: feelings exist in order to make complex decisions very quickly, and most of the time they are more or less right. But when a question is very important we need to take whatever time it needs and trace the logic instead.

Ironically, those who use the narrow modern definition of logic often use it to support an appeal to emotion. Here are some examples:

History: emotion versus logic

The Bible is sometimes dismissed as a bronze age document. This is an appeal to emotion. It is true that they had far fewer scientific discoveries, but it does not follow that they knew less about concepts like power and land ownership. If anything, a simpler society means human nature should be easier to see.

Moses and Jesus taught that work should not be taxed: we should pay rent on land instead. These lessons were learned the hard way, by seeing how people try to grab resources, and the misery and weakness this creates. Land rent is economically and socially more advanced than our present system of taxing work. It can be demonstrated both logically and empirically (just read Adam Smith). It is not logical to reject an observation just because it was first made long ago.

Politics: emotion versus logic

The Bible is sometimes dismissed because so much evil has been done in the name of religion. This is another appeal to emotion. Logically it fails because there is no evidence that atheism is any better for humanity. The list of modern atheist states is not encouraging: Soviet Russia, Communist China, North Korea, etc. They are not models of tolerance. Of course, atheists argue that these states are not really atheist. Likewise, Christians point out that hateful people are not following Christ, and moderate Muslims say that extremists are not following the Koran. This is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.

Statistics: emotion versus logic

Another appeal to emotion is the anecdotal one: "no atheist ever burnt somebody for their beliefs!" Even if this were true, it does not follow logically that atheism is a better course: for that claim to be statistically valid we need to look at all deaths, all suffering, all benefits, all happiness, and adjust for population, historical norms, etc. but in general, the idea that atheists do not persecute is false. The Soviet Union for example was an atheist state and persecuted plenty of people for their beliefs.

"Estimates of the total number all Christian martyrs in the former Soviet Union are about 12 million.” (James M. Nelson, “Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality”, p.427)

If we want to restrict our search to just burning people alive, we could note that the atheist North Korean leader burnt his enemies alive because they did not have the correct political beliefs (in Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day Stadium, reported in the Daily Telegraph, 13 June 2004). Of course, this was for political and not religious belief, which must have been a great comfort to those being burned. But killing is never for beliefs, that is always just a cover. Look at any group that has been killed for "religious" reasons: Cathars, Jews, "witches" or anybody else. In every case they had the same beliefs for centuries before and centuries after. Nothing changed in the period of persecution other than politics. The persecutor held political power, felt that power was threatened, so found it useful to blame a dissenter. Or once the process was normalised, found this a convenient way to steal somebody's money. belief did not matter too much: you could just as easily be targeted for political views, or just being an outsider or somebody convenient to blame. Persecution is always about power, never belief.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, what ancient people believed is of itself of little interest. What matters is what (if anything) a belief in God can offer here and now that cannot more easily be obtained some other way.

An understanding of history is one answer. The ability to connect with billions of other believers is another. An understanding of life after death is another. But for me, it is the economic teachings of Moses and Jesus: land rent offers is a better economic system than one based on taxing work: and governing by consent (Jesus' method) is a better system than ruling through a monopoly on power.

But to be certain of these economic and political advantages we need to study the Bible as if it is an economic and political history, and an economic and political text book. That is what I intend to do in this book.

 

Part two: life after death
(or, "and God created man")