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Q – It’s okay to be uncertain

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve – Wikipedia

The Catholic Monk Thomas Merton once said that the Bible is a difficult, perplexing work. It doesn’t make sense. It has contradictions. And its Old Testament often portrays God as an immature, violent ogre. But with his hallmark Christian optimism, Merton says that’s exactly why he likes the Bible. It’s not fake or flaky. It portrays life as it really is.

Warts Exposed

I admit that some New Age websites telling us that “love is all around” give me the feeling that something not too loving is brewing underneath the surface of all that sugary sweetness. So I tend to agree with Merton. The Bible doesn’t cover up but exposes warts. Its compilers didn’t edit out apparent inconsistencies but left them in. Note the two different accounts of Creation in Genesis, for instance. Or Jesus saying we need to hate our parents, spouse, kids and siblings to follow him (Luke 14:26).

In the New Testament you’d think these difficulties and contentious scenarios would have disappeared. After all, many years had passed since Old Testament times and the relatively modern people around Jesus’ day could have edited everything into a nice, neat package. A package without contradictions.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

What about Q?

Most scholars agree that the New Testament was formed from an oral tradition. Christ lived his life, sometimes solitary, other times with his followers. People told stories about Christ and the Gospel writers collected those tales, probably according to their political and pastoral needs.

Some Gospel writers likely borrowed from existing texts. The words didn’t enter directly into their minds as some fundamentalists would say. At least, that is how it seems from the textual evidence.

10th century CE Byzantine illustration of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia

No one can say for sure. It is possible that the Gospel writers were divinely inspired to say the same things the same way. I considered that perspective soon after my conversion to Christianity. But years of study have tempered my thinking… for better or for worse.

One obvious feature of the Gospels is the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent in Mark.

Different theories try to explain this.

A prevailing idea is Q theory. Q sounds hip and cool but I doubt that’s why religious scholars chose it. The theory cropped up in the early 1900s and, as far I know, marketing wasn’t a burning academic issue at that time.

Johannes Weiss was a German Protestant scholar who first coined the name “Q.” He used Q to refer to some of that shared material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. For decades most scholars assumed that Q alluded to the German word quelle, meaning “source.” But recent studies indicate that “Q” might have been chosen on a whim.

So maybe Weiss and his followers were trying to be trendy. Who knows. Before the word Q caught fire, researchers called this material the logia, calling to mind images of stony faced scholars sifting through weighty volumes in dusty old libraries.

What is most important to remember about Q is that it is a purely hypothetical document. Archaeologists have never discovered evidence that it actually exists. Not even a scrap or fragment. Despite this, some scholars carry on as if it were fact.

For and Against

Elaine Pagels is a religion writer who rose to prominence with her 1979 bestseller, The Gnostic Gospels. Pagels believes in Q because, as she points out, Jesus spoke in Aramaic. He, himself, wrote nothing. So Jesus’ actual sayings come to us through translated sources. But not only that. Our earliest existing sources are in Greek

New Testament apocrypha – Wikipedia

Whatever Jesus did say, our version has been translated at least once by somebody else. The fact that Jesus’ sayings are so strikingly similar in Matthew and Luke points to the existence of a textual source from which they were copied—namely, Q.²

Opponents of Q theory say the early Christians would have revered such an immediate record of their savior’s sayings, not allowing it to be misplaced or destroyed.

So where is Q? If Q did exist, how could the early Church have lost a document so important and essential to its formation?

Detractors have a simple answer. The early Christians would not have lost it. Q never existed.

For me it doesn’t really matter if Q existed or not. It is a compelling idea but as Pagels suggests, quite a few links were forged over the centuries from the era of Jesus and the occupying Romans to current, 21st century versions of the Bible. With much uncertainty accrued over two millennia, it would be unwise to fixate on any particular explanation without hard proof. Proof we may never discover.

It’s okay to not know everything

In a way, uncertainty is good. It can help to deflect the kind of fundamentalism that fuses zealous patriotism with a specific, dogmatic take on religion.³

Normally, I wouldn’t care about fundamentalists too much. But the visibility of some sectarians and their facile claims can make it more difficult for the rest of us thoughtful Christians, especially when trying to convey the beauty of Christ. Most caring, sensible people react adversely to fundamentalism. And if they haven’t really explored Christian religious differences, some otherwise good people lump all Christians together into one narrow-minded, authoritarian group.

Trying to explain the difference between the goodness of Christ and religious zealotry isn’t always easy. One has to get the listener past the image of aggressive, finger-wagging individuals.4

Worldly people, on the other hand, sometimes say that Christian religious experience is generated by body chemistry. For them, the Christian cannot discern the difference between an endorphin rush, sugar high or caffeine hit as opposed to the indwelling of spiritual graces.

To me, that only serves to tell me something about the mindset of the spiritually ignorant. Hard-boiled skeptics often don’t realize that while they’re looking at us, we’re looking at them.

At the other end of the spectrum, some fundamentalists say mysticism is nothing more than a devilish deception. There’s no talking to these people. They love to cherry pick Bible verses to support – while ignoring anything that challenges – their particular outlook.5

When folks, be they worldly or religious, are so entrenched in a limiting worldview my proverbial b.s. detector often goes from yellow to red. It may be a pastor. A blogger. A doctor. It doesn’t matter who. At those times I find the best thing is to politely withdraw and later on, when the time is right, redirect my thoughts into action.

¹ Some even believe in an original Aramaic New Testament that has been lost in the sands of time.

² See From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion. Most agree that we have no original New Testament documents. So this would make our present version of Jesus’ sayings third-hand, at best. » 1 » Original Aramaic »  2 »  First but now lost transcriptions into Greek »  3 »  Surviving copies.

³ To me this is like the old Roman Empire championing its state gods.

4 We’ve probably all lived through or heard a story about offensive, overbearing Christians.

5 See Religious people have a brain so why don’t some use it?

For more on Q, see my highlights at LINER.

 Who Is Jesus? (3) (vanguardngr.com)

 Ghetts announces Ghetto Gospel: New Testament album, listen to new single “Slumdog Millionaire” (thefader.com)

 The Reformation Rolls On: (brothersjuddblog.com)

 Just listen (takeaminute.net)

 Sean Carvajal Steps in for Victor Rasuk in JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN at Signature Theatre (broadwayworld.com)

Hug(thedistinctdot.com)

 Is this blasphemous? (quinersdiner.com)

 

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Pythagoras – A lot more than a triangle

Angels

Angels – “In this theater of man’s life, it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers-on” – Pythagoras by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr

We’ve probably all heard of Pythagoras. In junior high the Pythagorean theorem is a mainstay of math class.

For a right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides.

Some might not know, however, that Pythagoras is one of those characters where it really is difficult to separate the myth from the man.

He existed, no doubt. That’s not the issue. But it is uncertain just how much he really knew; what the man actually said and did.

Part of the difficulty in sorting through all the legends is that his followers did, in fact, create a story – actually stories – about him. And those stories, replete with potential errors, fibs and embellishments, were passed on through the centuries, mistakes probably magnified at every turn.

Pythagoras in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy via Wikipedia

One could say the same about Jesus Christ or Buddha.¹ Or any aspect of the Bible and most religious scripture. That doesn’t necessary detract from the overall message but it does make us think.

Hopefully…

Having said this, most see Pythagoras as a Greek philosopher and scientist born on the island of Samos around 570–495 BCE.

He is credited with discovering how musical intervals relate to mathematical proportions, the Pythagorean theorem and a complex system of portraying the universe through numbers.

Pythagoras’ moral teachings include asceticism and a belief in the transmigration of souls–that is, reincarnation. He founded a religious school in Crotona but was forced to move to Metapontum due to prolonged persecution.

S. G. F. Brandon says this persecution probably arose because of Pythagoreanism’s similarity to Orphism

Italiano: Busto di Pitagora. Copia romana di o...

Bust of Pythagoras. Roman copy of the original Greek. Capitoline Museums, Rome – via Wikipedia

On this point social psychologists and sociologists propose an “in-group/out-group” theory of conflict. According to this view, persecution arises when a minority group shares too many qualities with the powerful, orthodox group it threatens or challenges.

Nobody cares if the two groups are entirely different. But when they share some key concepts and practices, that’s when the dust flies.

And as history reveals, the two groups’ respective clout need not be dramatically skewed for this dynamic to take place: Jews and Muslims; Christians and Jews; Christians and Muslims; Liberals and Conservatives; Democrats and Rebublicans; Communists and Capitalists.

The list goes on.

Not just a dry philosophy, Pythagoreanism was a practical guide to living a valuable life. Pythagoras is also credited with providing a threefold theory of the soul. One that combines mysticism and practicality.³

Pythagoras maintained that the soul has three vehicles: (1) the ethereal, which is luminous and celestial, in which the soul resides in a state of bliss in the stars; (2) the luminous, which suffers the punishment of sin after death; and (3) the terrestrial, which is the vehicle it occupies on this earth.4

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The s...

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The sum of two squares whose sides are the two legs (blue and red) is equal to the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (purple) – Wikipedia

Muslims believed that Pythagoras was initiated into the sacred mysteries by Hermes (Egyptian Thoth). His thinking, and that of his followers, also had a profound influence on the work of the mystically inclined Plato.

Some maintain that Plato’s Republic, which outlines the ideal community, is based on a Pythagorean community established in Croton.

Pythagorean ideas resurfaced in Rome and Alexandria from the 1st century BCE onward. Many have written about Pythagoras.5 But again, this only confuses the story. Are we hearing about the man or the myth?

¹ Christians are often criticized for this; Buddhists, rarely. Christianity, after all, is the most persecuted religion in the world today.

² S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 520.

³ Most mystics would dispute this distinction, arguing that mysticism is supremely practical, given the eternal or everlasting nature of existence and the prospect of a favorable or unfavorable afterlife.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras#Timeline_of_sources

Related » David Bowie, Music of The Spheres, Numerology

For more see my highlights at LINER


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The Pyramids – Afterlife portals or symbols of worldly power?

Inside the Pyramid

Inside the Pyramid: Ricardo Liberato via Flickr

Pyramids are really just a big billboard that says “the richest guy in Egypt is buried here” – Quora

In the 1976 playoffs the Toronto Maple Leafs made it to the semi-finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. This was pretty rare back then because the Leafs had been floundering for years. The fad at the time was pyramid power. All along the Leaf bench pyramids could be seen. The club thought it was bringing them good luck. They lost anyhow.

A couple of years later the British musician Alan Parsons released an album called Pyramid. Pink Floyd had already released Dark Side of the Moon (1973) with a prism – a miniature pyramid – on the album cover.

Pyramids had taken off in pop culture. They moved from an esoteric curiosity to a commercially viable symbol.  Soon after, the 80s New Age movement put a new spin on everything weird and wacky associated with the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids. And whatever was said, there was always a price tag on it. That is, something to buy—a workshop, book or cassette tape.

Louvre – Paris

A whole new mythology about the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids was born in the 70s and 80s. It was a myth intricately linked to consumerism, as we find today.

We only have to turn on the TV or search the web to find out how ETs built the pyramids with special tech unavailable even in the 21st century. Or we might discover some elaborate theory about the End Times, allegedly predicted by the geometry and placement of the pyramids.

Fantastic scenarios aside, it is true that nobody is entirely sure how the Egyptians moved those huge stone blocks. A prevailing theory maintains that wooden sleds were hauled over wetted sand, the added water reducing friction.

What we do have is clear archaeological evidence, through graffiti, that real human work gangs with specific names – like Toronto Maple Leafs or Philadelphia Flyers – not only did the hauling but took pride in their achievement.

So much for ETs and their laser beams.

Aztec human sacrifice, art circa 16th century – Wikipedia

New Age pundits glorifying the pyramids also tend to overlook or rationalize the fact that in Mesoamerica these structures were used for human sacrifice. Moreover, pyramids in Egypt were built for the Pharaoh, not the common people. Egyptian rulers believed a pyramid would facilitate their transit to the afterword. But commoners didn’t get a pyramid of their own. Only those with money could afford such a royal link to the afterlife.

So much for the glory.

Admittedly, the pyramids are impressive. But so is the Roman Colosseum. And we know what went down there. Feeding live Christians to lions. Sickening… nay, horrifying.

The pyramids were mostly about two things: Worldly power and a selfish desire to attain personal immortality. Foreign visitors to Egypt wrote that the pyramids inspired not only awe but fear. These structures spoke clearly about who had power and what would happen if the average gal or guy stepped out of line.

Carl Jung, a Swiss depth psychologist, tends to gloss over the cultural context of historical symbols like the pyramids in favor of developing his theory of the collective unconscious. This isn’t necessary wrong but I think it is incomplete.

Jung believes the architectural similarities among the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids support his concepts of the archetypes and the collective unconscious. However, Raymond Firth questions Jung’s archetypal theory. Firth says any symbol, be it a pyramid, a totem pole or a national flag, conveys as many possible meanings as there are individuals to interpret it.¹

This debate brings to mind the philosophical problem about innate psychological structures vs. regional and individual forms of creativity. Jung had his own way of resolving this issue by differentiating the archetype proper (common, underlying structure) from the archetypal image (cultural expression of that structure). But something still seems a bit too easy with his theory.

Jung, himself, admitted that he didn’t have it all figured out.

So full marks for his honesty.

¹ An anthropologist, Firth emphasizes the immediate, sociological aspects of symbols while not negating the possibility of deeper levels of meaning. See Raymond Firth, Symbols: Public and Private, New York: Allen and Unwin, 1973. Postmoderns like Jacques Derrida would agree with Firth on multiple interpretation. Symbols connote countless meanings. Rarely is anything actually denoted. And even if it is, there is always room for connotation.

Related » Alien Possession Theory, Archaeology, Atlantis, Aztecs, Mythic Identification, Mythic Inflation, Mythic Subordination, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie


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Plotinus – Is “The One” really God?

Plotinus

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Plotinus (205-70 CE) was an ancient Greek speaking philosopher thought to have been born in Egypt. He established a branch of philosophy that, since the Renaissance, has been called Neoplatonism.

At Rome in 244 CE he became a prominent teacher of asceticism, encouraging the introspective life. Later, he founded a short-lived community in Campania, based on an ideal society outlined in Plato‘s Republic.

Plotinus’ works were edited by his disciple Porphyry and put into six groups of nine, called the “Enneads.”

Perhaps Plotinus’ most important contribution to the history of ideas is his notion of the One. For Plotinus, the One is Goodness and Beauty existing before, and the ultimate source of all observable differences found in, our world of becoming. Our world emanates from the One, this process setting up a complicated and hierarchical series of arrangements, or dyads, all leading back up to the One.

Psycho-spiritual liberation is best found in personal union with the One, described as an ephemeral experience of pure, insurmountable delight. According to Porphyry, Plotinus had four of these ecstatic experiences during the time these two men knew each other.

Plontinus’ work has been widely influential. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung mentions the term “Word Soul” (anima mundi) when speaking of the archetype of the self. And New Age and Gnostic circles have adapted his legacy in countless ways. Artists, musicians and poets have also tried to capture or develop the essence of his thought.¹

Plotinus

An anachronistic portrait of Plotinus – Wikipedia

Basically, Plontinus believes we can become one with God. By way of contrast, most monotheistic religions believe that we can have a relationship with God but never actually be the same as God.

This difference is key and, I think, could influence how we understand and experience our world.

Consider an analogy: If an ant falls into a sugar jar it might eat tons of sugar and become totally absorbed with the sweet substance. For the ant, this is Heaven on Earth and nothing is greater.

Likewise with some people. One experience of extreme absorption and they assume they have found the ultimate. This could be unfortunate because that presumption might prevent them from encountering even greater perspectives and experiences.

¹ Although Elton John’s 1992 song “The One” is really about meeting a soulmate, I think one could argue that Plotinus’ ideas, along with the notion of chakras, have an indirect influence. See https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eltonjohn/theone.html

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Oct 6 2017  Highlights with LINER

_____

His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics

_____

Plotinus had an inherent distrust of materiality (an attitude common to Platonism), holding to the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry (mimesis) of something “higher and intelligible” [VI.I] which was the “truer part of genuine Being”. This distrust extended to the body, including his own; it is reported by Porphyry that at one point he refused to have his portrait painted,

_____

From all accounts his personal and social life exhibited the highest moral and spiritual standards.

_____

Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent “One”, containing no division, multiplicity or distinction;

_____

Plotinus identified his “One” with the concept of ‘Good’ and the principle of ‘Beauty’.

_____

The “less perfect” must, of necessity, “emanate”, or issue forth, from the “perfect” or “more perfect”. Thus, all of “creation” emanates from the One in succeeding stages of lesser and lesser perfection. These stages are not temporally isolated, but occur throughout time as a constant process.

_____

The One is not just an intellectual concept but something that can be experienced, an experience where one goes beyond all multiplicity.

_____

Plotinus writes, “We ought not even to say that he will see, but he will be that which he sees, if indeed it is possible any longer to distinguish between seer and seen, and not boldly to affirm that the two are one.”

_____

Plotinus never mentions Christianity in any of his works.

_____

Henosis is the word for mystical “oneness”, “union”, or “unity” in classical Greek. In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One (Τὸ Ἕν), the Source, or Monad.

_____

As is specified in the writings of Plotinus on Henology,[note 1] one can reach a state of tabula rasa, a blank state where the individual may grasp or merge with The One.

_____

For several centuries after the Protestant Reformation, Neo-Platonism was condemned as a decadent and ‘oriental’ distortion of Platonism.

_____

Plotinus seems to be one of the first to argue against the still popular notion of causal astrology. In the late tractate 2.3, “Are the stars causes?”, Plotinus makes the argument that specific stars influencing one’s fortune (a common Hellenistic theme) attributes irrationality to a perfect universe, and invites moral turpitude.[clarification needed] He does, however, claim the stars and planets are ensouled, as witnessed by their movement.

_____

One of his most distinguished pupils was Pico della Mirandola, author of An Oration On the Dignity of Man. Our term ‘Neo Platonist’ has its origins in the Renaissance.

_____

Plotinus was the cardinal influence on the 17th-century school of the Cambridge Platonists, and on numerous writers from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to W. B. Yeats and Kathleen Raine.

_____

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought.

 Elton John is the muse for Gucci’s latest maximalist mille-feuille collection (telegraph.co.uk)


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Platonism – The one and the many

Platonism refers to beliefs and theories based on the metaphysical ideas expressed in Plato‘s dialogues.

These usually include Plato’s division of

  • an ideal realm of the Forms that is unchanging eternal truth

and

  • an ordinary realm of the so-called external world of change

Neoplatonist thinkers like Plotinus argued for the “One” from which all else proceeds, and which is comprehended only through mystical union. This is linked to the term “world soul” or anima mundi which depth psychologists and occultists tend to mention.¹

Platonism takes many different forms. It spans from the early Church Fathers (especially those inclined toward gnosticism like Origen and Clement of Alexandria) to the European Middles Ages² and 17th century theologians (known as the Cambridge Platonists), right into New Age philosophies, academic philosophy and maths.

In contrast to works directly linked to Plato’s ideas, small-p platonism refers to any theory that affirms the existence of abstract concepts, as opposed to nominalism.

Small-p platonists may or may not believe in Plato’s general outlook.

A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion engraving – Wikipedia

It should be noted, however, that the distinction between small-p platonism and large-p Platonism is not universally applied. A bit confusing but, considering the vast and varied influence of Plato, not surprising.

Plato’s ideas have been so incredibly influential that A. N. Whitehead said all of European philosophy is a “footnote to Plato.”³

A modern example of platonism can be found in the notion that mathematical truths have an independent existence, as opposed to being mere products of the human mind. According to this view, “Mathematical truths are…discovered, not invented.”4

¹ Sometimes in arguably muddled, undifferentiated theories about spirituality.

XXI: Azathoth Pleroma

XXI: Azathoth Pleroma: Arenamontanus / Anders Sandberg

² S. G. F. Brandon notes that Platonism in the Middle Ages was temporarily “eclipsed” by the ideas of Aristotle.  See Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 505.
However, some like the Anglican A. E. Taylor maintain that St. Thomas Aquinas’ work, which adapts Aristotelian arguments to Christianity, is fundamentally based on Platonism. See “Platonism.” Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 1300.
Whether or not Plato’s idea of eternity is on par with Aquinas’ is open to debate. Is an ancient Greek view of eternal truth, beauty and justice equivalent to the Christian understanding of heaven? For that matter, do all Christians agree on what the word heaven means? And what about hell? How would Plato and Aquinas stack up there?

³ For more, see my highlights at LINER http://lnr.li/HTRX8/

4 See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/

Related » NeoPlatonism, Proclus


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Philia – One of many loves

Brotherly Love Series via Wikipedia

Philia is a Greek term usually translated as brotherly or friendly love.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle says there are three types of philia:

  1. Love for what is of practical use
  2. Love for what is pleasing
  3. Love for the good

Aristotle is a powerful thinker but, unlike Plato, not a mystical one. And he himself realizes that his three types of philia are not watertight categories.

Believing that good relationships are important to the development of virtue, Aristotle says we get something from our friends, and vice versa. Friends please each other and if they are excellent friends, they mutually help one other to grow toward the good.

Aristotle by F. Hayez via Wikipedia

So Aristotle’s view of philia could mean that by helping and enjoying others, we help ourselves. Superior friendships maximize the good, contributing to a win-win situation. And this, one could argue, approximates the idea of agape.

Again, Aristotle was not a mystic and some believe that mystical experience is essential to learning about love.

Although upheld as one of the great thinkers in the Western tradition, Aristotle doesn’t appreciate how some saints, Christian and otherwise, have no need for human friendship.¹ Saints of the highest order say they are completely fulfilled by God, making other people mere distractions or burdens to intercede for.

Sweet Solitude by E. B. Leighton via Wikipedia

This is exceptional but there are first hand accounts. These narratives are often overlooked or trivialized by materialists yet they are worth considering. So much emphasis today is placed on being “social.” If someone prefers solitude over society they’re usually regarded with suspicion, or worse. Emily Dickinson, who lived a life of solitude, put it this way:

MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,-you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.²

Emily Dickinson – Sharon Brogan via Flickr

The term philia is sometimes interpreted by Christian theologians to mean a superficial, transitory and contingent kind of love (I have also heard a priest in homily extol the virtues of brotherly love as found in the New Testament).

Likewise, Catholics give secondary status to eros, or romantic love, especially when taking place outside of marriage.

Similar to Aristotle’s merging of different types of philia, however, Christian theologians also believe the Holy Spirit strengthens married couples so as to properly align their physical and emotional desires (eros) with agape.

For most Christians, the sacrificial love of agape stands above all as the permanent, noblest and highest type of love. Perhaps some of us only discover agape after journeying through many relationships filled with the pleasures of philia and drama of eros.

Jim Forest via Flickr

Surprising enough, or maybe not surprisingly, the popular Catholic monk Thomas Merton, whom some see as a great mystic, had a romantic relationship with a student nurse whom he met while in the hospital, away from his monastery.³ Ultimately Merton came to reject the relationship, seeing it as a temptation that obscured his higher purpose and fulfillment.

That is, Merton let go of philia and eros in favor of agape. For most of us, however, it’s a mix. And to pretend otherwise when one isn’t really “there” is, I think, unwise.

¹ Some Christians might say, well yeah… Aristotle lived before Christ. But Catholics claim that Christ exists through all time, making it conceivable that some knew him intimately before his earthly appearance.

² Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Part 1: Life (XI), Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000.

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton I don’t think Merton was a great mystic but I do see him as a sincere seeker. See http://wp.me/p5W8j-7Yq

 Obasanjo says Jesus is coming, end of the world near (vanguardngr.com)

 His art is a way of ‘meeting with the divine,’ iconographer says (thegazette.com)


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Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie – Eccentric, Genius, Innovator

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) was a groundbreaking archaeologist. He was the first to precisely measure the Egyptian pyramids.

Pink Tutu by Chris Millett via Flickr

Historians love telling the fact that he wore a pink ballerina’s tutu while surveying the Great Pyramid. Some say he donned the tutu to avoid being stoned by “local religious fanatics.”¹

Appearing insane might have put the hostiles off guard. Others think he might have been a little bit touched.

There is no record of Petrie being gay so it seems dubious that he was trying to come out.²

In the Holy Land Petrie recognized the significance of earthen mounds which, due to his work, are now known as tells.

Unlike his plodding contemporaries, Petrie saw the mounds as records of successive settlements because each layer contained a distinctive style of ceramics.

Other conventional archaeologists had assumed the tells were natural phenomena.

From his keen observations Petrie developed a method of historical dating called sequence dating. The method is to dig down into layers of earth, thus reconstructing ancient chronology not from fable and abstracted history but from hands-on evidence.

This new dating technique earned him the title ‘Father’ of Palestinian archaeology.

Petrie’s unusual story doesn’t end with his wearing a pink tutu at the job site. He clearly had a very positive self-image. He arranged to have his head removed at death, hoping that his brain and all that it contained would be inherited by posterity.

Apparently the head was preserved in a jar and stored in a basement at the Royal College of Surgeons of London. The jar’s label fell off during WW-II, making it anonymous for a while. Later the head was identified and is currently stored but not on display at the Royal College.³

English: Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1...

Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1903 via Wikipedia

While his preserved brain might not be his most important legacy, Petrie trained a whole generation of “new style” archaeologists, to include Howard Carter. And his son went on to become a remarkable mathematician, discovering the Petrie Polygon.

Bottom line?

Sometimes genius and eccentricity go hand in hand.

¹ 1.1. Introduction to Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), 2007.

² Also: https://www.google.ca/search?q=petrie+pink+tutu&oq=petrie+pink+tutu&aqs=chrome..69i57.2660j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flinders_Petrie

 Egypt archaeologists unearth 3,500-year-old tomb in Luxor(telegraph.co.uk)

 Well-Aged: Oldest Traces of Italian Wine Discovered(livescience.com)

 A student found an ancient Canadian village that’s 10,000 years older than the Pyramids(businessinsider.com)

 Henry VIII’s lost palace found (foxnews.com)

 Egypt announces discovery of 3,500-years old tomb in Luxor (stripes.com)

 Turkey bones may help trace fate of ancient cliff dwellers (bostonherald.com)

 Finally, a tantalising YA book (for adults too) that uses archaeology to recount Indian history (scroll.in)

 Italians Have Been Getting Blitzed on Wine for a Very Long Time (gizmodo.co.uk)

 Egyptologists go high tech to unlock ancient mysteries (rappler.com)

 Stone Age Cannibals Decorated Human Bones While Butchering Them (ibtimes.com)