Tag Archives: God

Mythological fake news: 3000-year-old Babylonian tablet that inspired biblical Noah is based on trickster god

The tablet, which currently lies in the British Museum, is one of the most famous clay tablets in the world. In served as inspiration for the biblical Flood survived by Noah and his family — but it also involves quite the trickery.

The Adda Seal featuring the god Ea second from the right. Image credits: The Trustees of the British Museum.

Noah and his Ark play an important role in Christianity. In addition to being one of the most remarkable biblical tales, it inspired countless events and stories. But a discovery in 1872 showed that it too was inspired from an older story — a Babylonian story. The tablet uncovered by archaeologist George Smith almost 150 years ago tells a story that’s remarkably similar to Noah’s Flood.

In the story, the gods were angry with mankind and decided to flood and destroy the Earth. But one god, Enki (later known as Ea) decides to save mankind. He revealed the plan to Utu-napishtim, instructing him to build a large boat in which to save himself and his family. The God orders him to take into it birds and beasts of all kinds. Utu-napishtim obeyed, and when all were aboard, a huge flood started, covering everything in sight. After 12 days, Utu-napishtim opened the hatch to the boat, seeing Mount Nisir. He rested the ship there, releasing birds to see whether they would come back or not. When a raven did not return, it meant that the waters had receded and the bird found a place to rest, so the flood had ended.

If all that sounds horribly familiar, it’s because it’s almost exactly the way the Flood is described in the bible. The story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the 4,000-year-old epic Mesopotamian poem.

Image credits: The Trustees of the British Museum.

The key element in this story (and pretty much the only difference to the bible) is the god Ea. Ea was the god of water, knowledge, crafts, but he was also the god of mischief; yes, Ea was also a trickster god. Although Utu-napishtim was cherished by all gods at the end of the flood and granted immortality, Ea would claim that he did not tell Utu-napishtim about the flood. Instead, the god claims he only made a large body of water appear in a dream — a claim which contradicts the earlier narrative of the poem and reveals an alternative telling.

This claim is discussed by Dr. Martin Worthington, who’s new research describes a wordplay in the story. This wordplay reveals the duplicitous language of the Babylonian god, who was motivated by self-interest. Dr. Worthington, a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, said:

“Ea tricks humanity by spreading fake news. He tells the Babylonian Noah, known as Uta–napishti, to promise his people that food will rain from the sky if they help him build the ark. What the people don’t realise is that Ea’s nine-line message is a trick: it is a sequence of sounds that can be understood in radically different ways, like English ‘ice cream’ and ‘I scream’.

“While Ea’s message seems to promise a rain of food, its hidden meaning warns of the Flood. Once the ark is built, Uta–napishti and his family clamber aboard and survive with a menagerie of animals. Everyone else drowns. With this early episode, set in mythological time, the manipulation of information and language has begun. It may be the earliest ever example of fake news.”

Ea’s lines use a verbal trick. It sends a message which can be understood in different ways that are phonetically identical. So while it could seem that Ea is foretelling a “rain of food”, there are several insinuations hinting at impending catastrophe.

“Ea is clearly a master wordsmith who is able to compress multiple simultaneous meanings into one duplicitous utterance.”

It’s hard to discuss wordplays in other languages, but here is an example of what’s involved:

The Babylonian lines go:

ina lilâti ušaznanakkunūši šamūt kibāti

ina šēr(-)kukkī

The positive-sounding “plain” interpretation sounds like this:

At dawn there will be kukku-cakes,

in the evening he will rain down upon you a shower of wheat.

But the same thing could be interpreted thusly:

By means of incantations,

by means of wind-demons, he will rain down upon you rain as thick as (grains of) wheat.

or:

At dawn, he will rain down upon you darkness,

(then) in (this) pre-nocturnal twilight he will rain down upon you rain as thick as (grains of) wheat.

Simply put, the positive reading is ‘at dawn there will be cakes’, and the negative reading warns of the flood.

Worthington is an Assyriologist who specialises in Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian grammar, literature and medicine. In his new book titled Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood story, he explores the tricks of ‘wily Ea’.

But there’s still one question left to answer: why would Ea go through all this trouble? Well, the gods were decided to wipe humanity clean off, but gods are often reckless. In Babylonian mythology, gods also need people to survive. Ea may have been a trickster, but he realized that simply destroying humanity was a bad decision, so he decided to take matters into his own hands, while also denying involvement.

“Babylonian gods only survive because people feed them. If humanity had been wiped out, the gods would have starved. The god Ea manipulates language and misleads people into doing his will because it serves his self-interest. Modern parallels are legion!”

What Einstein thought about God, the Universe, science and religion

Albert Einstein is one of the world’s greatest scientists, but his legacy goes even beyond science. To this day, his views are highly influential, and his beliefs inspire people from all around the world. But Einstein is also often misinterpreted and even misquoted. So what did the brilliant man think of the Universe?

“God does not play dice with the Universe”

Image in public domain.

Perhaps one of the most famous quotes in history, Einstein’s statement is often taken out of context. People usually see it as an expression of faith that a God exists — and even more, that he is somehow taking care of the world. Yet that’s hardly the case here.

The quote stems from a letter EInstein addressed to Max Born, one of the fathers of Quantum Mechanics. The full phrase is:

“Quantum theory yields much, but it hardly brings us close to the Old One’s secrets. I, in any case, am convinced He does not play dice with the universe.”

Einstein’s disagreement with quantum mechanics is well known. Indeed, his own Theory of General Relativity has an entirely different way of describing the universe, and reconciling this theory with quantum mechanics would be a Holy Grail of physics. At the very core of the disagreement is the fact that quantum mechanics implies an inherent randomness to nature.

One basic tenet of quantum mechanics is ‘Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle‘, which states that one cannot simultaneously measure the position and the momentum of a particle. The more you know about one, the least you know about the other. For the observer, this implies an element of randomness, and Einstein just didn’t agree with that. He yearned for a simpler, elegant, and explicit way of describing nature. His “God does not play dice” isn’t an expression of faith or destiny, it’s the expression of a need for the math to be stricter. Einstein was basically saying that it just doesn’t seem right to not be able to measure a particle’s properties with certainty. He believed that there must be an underlying physical law which can allow us to do so.

To this day, while we know that quantum mechanics works (we see it in very practical applications such as transistors, MRIs or nuclear energy), we don’t know how to fit it with the rest of physics. Einstein may yet be right and there may be an underlying law we just haven’t discovered yet. In his letter to Born, Einstein added:

“You believe in a God who plays dice, and I in complete law and order in a world which objectively exists, and which I in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. I firmly believe, but I hope that someone will discover a more realistic way, or rather a more tangible basis than it has been my lot to find.”

What Einstein believed

Etching of Einstein by F. Schmutzer.

If you’re still not convinced, Einstein himself cleared things out — several times. In his Autobiographical Notes, he writes that his religious beliefs came to an abrupt end during childhood.

“I came—though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents—to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true.”

In a 1947 letter, he dismissed the idea of a God that concerns himself with mankind.

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously.”

In a letter to Beatrice Frohlich five years later, he reiterated this idea, being dismissive of the religious understanding of a God.

“The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.”

Still, Einstein wasn’t really an atheist. According to Prince Hubertus, Einstein hated being misinterpreted as such:

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”

He considered himself more of an agnostic (nothing is or can be known about the nature of God), and in a way he did believe in a God. He believed in ‘Spinoza’s God.’

Einstein, like Spinoza, believed that God is a manifestation of everything that is harmonious in the Universe. Image via Pexels.

Baruch Spinoza is one of the world’s most influential philosophers, his views of metaphysics being hotly debated to this day. Spinoza proposed that God is not a personal manifestation, not one being, but rather a manifestation of everything that’s harmonious. In a way, God is Nature.

But this wasn’t a religious view. Instead of being a conscious being, God is a manifestation of the beauty of the Universe. This is the so-called Spinoza’s God.

“I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Science is Religion?

To Einstein, science was more spiritual than religion, because science allows us to better understand the Universe. While our minds are not yet capable to fully understand its wonders, an attempt to do so brings us closer and closer to God. As we understand more about the Universe, we become closer to it.

“We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”

In 1930, Einstein published one of the most discussed essays of the time. In The New York Times Magazine, he discussed his cosmic religion. He declared himself averse to the idea of heaven and hell, but he also discussed the connection between religion and science. He asserted that “even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other” there are “strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies.” Perhaps most intriguingly, he states that in the way he sees things, there can be no conflict between science and religion. The two are distinct, but sometimes intertwined.

“A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value. [..] Accordingly a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance of those super-personal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. [..] In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be.”

Einstein was a complex man with complex views which are not always easy to understand. However, the belief that he followed Christianity, Judaism, or any religion, is baseless. He said it so himself numerous times. He found the Universe beautifully harmonious, and he believed that to be an expression of God.

Where do you stand on this? Do you need an anthropomorphic God? Are you on board with Einstein? Leave your opinion in the comments.

Religious attendance in the US follows the same trend as everywhere else — downwards

Religiousness in the Unites States is on the decline, mirroring patterns seen across the western world a new study from UCL and Duke University finds.

Image credits Ang Kim/ publicdomainpictures.net

For many years now the United States seemed to go against the rest of the western world as far as religion is concerned. Many Americans remained dedicated to their faith and houses of worship — even as church attendance rates around the globe dropped.

A new study has now found a slow, steady drop in the number of Americans who regularly go to church, believe in God or claim religious affiliations. It also suggests that this decline is driven by inter-generational differences.

“None of these declines is happening fast, but the signs are now unmistakable,” said David Voas, a social scientist with UCL and co-author of the study.

“It has become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades, and the decline is driven by the same dynamic — generational differences — that has driven religious decline across the developed world.”

The study analyzed data obtained from the General Social Survey which is conducted every two years. This information was compared to surveys of similar scope from Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Australia. Across the globe, people have slowly become less religious over time, but in the US the decline has been so incremental that researchers didn’t have enough data to know they’re looking at a trend, says Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, divinity and religion and co-author to the study.

Religiousness as a whole was surveyed, without drawing lines between religions or religious denominations. They found that while 94 percent of Americans born before 1935 claim a religious affiliation, that number drops to 71 percent for those born after 1975. Similarly,  68 percent of Americans aged 65 and older said they believed God exists, but just 45 percent of those aged 18-30, hold the same belief. As for church attendance, 41 percent of people 70 and older said they participate in services at least once a month, compared to just 18 percent of people 60 and younger.

“If you look at the trajectory, and the generational dynamic that is producing the trajectory, we may not be an exception after all,” Chaves added.