Sunday 3 June 2012

Refutation of a rather silly review

I recently read a review by Mike Gleason for the book 'Whisper of Stone' by Tess Dawson.

Let me just delve into this so we can begin to see how ridiculous it really is:

"Scholars have disagreed about translations and details almost from the first moment of discovery of the clay tablets, and the controversy shows no signs of dying down any time soon"

This is no different to any religion really.  As an example, archaelogists in India are still studying early Indian civilizations in order to understand just how exactly Hinduism developed into the religion that it did today.  Some key questions for them are questions such as where Ganesh, Hanuman, reincarnation and the Trimurti originally came from since they aren't even in the Vedas.  And Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world today!  Another example is Zoroastrianism, another major religion.  Again the opinions are divided in the Zoroastrian community as to whether Zarathustra opposed the worship of Mithra and Anahita or not, with many favouring either approach (there's evidence to support either).  Keep in mind though that Ugaritic and other Canaanite dialects are very close to Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, and so more and more of the recent translations are probably fairly accurate and at least give a vague idea of what's going on.

"With the scarcity of information regarding Canaanite rituals, god forms, and priestly functions, and organization it seems highly likely to me that offense (even if unintentional) may be given to the deities involved."

From Ugarit alone we have tablets detailing rituals, priesthoods, deity-lists and offering-lists etc. numbering into the thousands.  And then we have the ones from Ebla, and from Sidon, a few from Tyre and Qart-Hadasht, and some from other areas as well.  And then we can draw inspiration from early Israelite, Egyptian, and Babylonian or Sumerian polytheism as well.  After all, many of these cultures compare well with the Canaanites.  It's not like the Canaanites are some sort of 'lost civilization'.  There's plenty of information out there, granted much of it inaccurate- but it's certainly there.  With Norse and Celtic religions there is far less information.  In the Norse community for example, there's debate as to whether you're even 'allowed' to worship Loki or not.

"And these are deities who, like the orisha and lwa of the Afro-Caribbean religions, are considerably less "civilized" and forgiving of mistakes."

What do you mean by civilized?  You're starting to remind me of Eurocentric scholars who at one time thought that civilization didn't exist until the Greeks just 'invented' it one day.  Our deities were ruling over cities as kings and queens since before many other civilizations were even around.  What about Melqart, the demigod who sailed across the seas and colonized the west, ending savagery and bringing civilization as he went?  He was the king of Tyre.  Also, our gods don't compare really well to Afro-Caribbean deities.  They have far more in common with the Sumerian, Egyptian, Hittite, Hurrian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Arabian, and later Persian, Greek, and Roman deities.

"Since many of the rituals refer to the king performing the ritual actions it may be taken as presumptuous for a "commoner" to perform them."

Gods forbid!  'Commoners' performing rituals!  Please answer this- how are 'uncivilized' people supposed to have kings or leaders anyway?  Everyone worships gods, and we know about household cults because of the small idols found in houses, worshiped by families.  Not only that but often in festivals the king represents his whole kingdom and all it's people i.e his desires are his people's desires.  It's not a religion where people just do what they want, you know.  Community and having leaders forms a massive part of it, both then and in the present day.  I personally see no reason to change that, but apparantly you have a problem with 'uncivilized' religions having any sort of structure.

"If a deity is accustomed to a living animal being sacrificed at its altar, with the attendant butchering and preparation for feasting (with specific spices, ritual gestures, or prayers), offerings of fruit, vegetables, or previously prepared meat may be seen as insulting."

People gave, and give, what they have.  Giving previously prepared meat is not at all insulting because it's not intended to be insulting.  People give what they have, and we can see that richer people probably gave more extravagant offerings than poorer people.  And aside from animals, there are also other offerings like wine, water, poetry, hymns, music, sandals, weapons, fruits.  These are ancient offerings, by the way.  People didn't sacrifice animals every time they wanted to pray.  Farmers tended to save only one or two of their flocks or herds to be fattened up and given to a temple for a major festival.  As for most people, most didn't have animals running around their homes.  A few had a small sheep, cow, or goat, to provide wool and milk etc.

"Furthermore, since Canaanite (like other languages in the linguistic family) was written without vowels, we are not even sure of the proper spelling (let alone pronunciation) of deity names."

But those languages are similar to Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic, so we can get most of the vowel structure right.  Furthermore, a lot of Semitic languages tend to be rather flexible with vowels.  It's not uncommon to see a word with a different vowel spelling depending on region, but it's still pronounced the same regardless.

"If a deity expects prostration and gets a simple bow, that MAY be perceived as an intended mortal insult"

You seem to have the wrong impression.  It's not like the gods just sit around vainly 'expecting' mortals to 'do' things for them exactly as they want it or else they're going to attempt to wipe out the entire human community.  I can't think of a single deity who'd honestly be 'offended' by someone bowing, yet alone taking bowing as 'intended mortal insult'.

"and what little is actually known about the ancient Canaanite religion."

But once again, they aren't some sort of 'lost civilization'.  Many Canaanite cities are still inhabited, and even a lot of their religious practices have survived today in modern Near Eastern folk custom.  A lot is known about the religion from primary sources.  We have religious texts.  We have just about as many as Egypt or Babylon, for example.

"Unfortunately, the more I read of this work, the more I could "hear" the Canaanite deities saying: "This is NOT our way. We are not pleased.""

You're thinking illogically then.  Just because you 'feel' a certain way doesn't make it true.  I would look into facts first, rather than just relying on emotion all the time.

"The suggestion that vegetarian offerings may be made in place of animal offerings may be politically correct, but I seriously doubt if deities used to receiving regular offerings of sheep, ram, and oxen are going to be amenable to changing their diet for the comfort of the worshippers."

In India, certain schools of thought began to promote vegetarianism as a non-violent way of life, and while animal sacrifices do go on, a lot of Indians are vegetarians.  And in both cases, cows aren't sacrificed anymore like they once were.  Since Indra hasn't done anything about it (and the one time he did, Krishna revealed to him to extent of his arrogance), then I think most Hindus would feel confident in assuming that they are worshiping their deities correctly.  In actual fact, Krishna teaching Indra a lesson and showing that cow sacrifices are not nessecary is part of a tradition similar to ones found in Egypt and Greece- and yes, even Canaan- when a divine or demigod hero (such as Osir, Herakles, and Melqart) 'bans' or 'outlaws' supposed earlier practices such as cannabilism and human sacrifice.  Both Egyptian and Roman religion later rejected human sacrifice and offered dolls or statues instead.  Religions change.

"Comparisons to other religions in the region may offer only limited value. If one compares Judaism, Christianity and Islamic beliefs (all allegedly stemming from the same source [Abraham]) you can see that the similarities are not necessarily as strong as you might expect. Such comparisons MAY offer insight, but that may reflect your expectations as much as, or more than, any true similarities."

The difference is that those Abrahamic religions split off from each other due to differences in belief.  Christians were once Jews but broke away after they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, and Muslims were once Christians who broke away when they accepted Muhammad as the final prophet who brought the complete revelation from God.  They differ based on those beliefs.  Religions such as Canaanite, Babylonian, and Egyptian on the other hand, differ due to being the native religions of different cultures.  But when they came into contact with one another, a casual glance over history will prove that they did in fact share ideas and religious concepts with one another.