How I see the Abrahamic religions (part 1)
Part of the series Perceiving complexity
When starting the series Perceiving complexity, the initial idea was to unfold separately how I see the mindset of each cultural area that is relevant for me. As I write, this would make more clear how a general part about the sense of identity would look like. I started with the populations of Siberian origin, but soon I had to switch to the general part that grew in time for me from the real life applications of these specific cultural areas. I had to explain how I see some human mentalities in general. And this in turn required some explanations about some aspects in other (non-Siberian) cultural areas of importance for me.
Normally, I should have continued like this, complete the part with the populations of Siberian origin and then continue with writing about the other cultural areas. Most likely it would be a to and fro movement of continuous improvement between these texts as I keep noticing new aspects from the different cultural angles. And this would also make more consistent the general part, which in the final form would be a stand-alone part. But who knows how many years this would take, I already spent about twenty years pondering about these issues without publishing anything about them.
So I published the part about the populations of Siberian origin (this itself is unfinished at the time of the initial publishing) and a general part by the beginning, also unfinished. In that part I wrote something about the Jewish mindset, but it got too long as I did not have already a separate text dedicated to this topic. And, in order to create some consistency for what I already wrote there, I should add a sketch about how I see the Abrahamic religions. In the future, I intend to write a text specifically about the Jewish people, as for the moment aspects around this topic ended up scattered in many texts.
In that general part I wrote about what I see the catalyst of the specific cultural aspects in the Middle East, namely the feminine approach to masculine absolutism, “if you think you are so great, then I am going to think too that you are so great”. The feminine version about the masculine greatness stems from a fluid raw reality perspective. Usually, in the classical human mindset, this seeps unnoticed in the masculine self-image, giving the woman a stake in that man’s life. In the Middle Eastern approach, this feminine version is developed as a rather independent endeavor, creating a self-image of the man rather distinct from the one the man creates about himself. This gives the woman the possibility to not get entangled in the masculine control of the situation.
The man tends to like this alternative self-image, as it is so vivid and fluid from the raw reality perspective. Still, he may not like that the woman wants to move his self-image in a direction he does not have much control and the situation can unfold like in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu, as the part of the alternative self-image developed by the woman that the man has control of, can advise Gilgamesh they should kill Humbaba, the part they have no control of. When the woman learns about the murder, she retreats her support and Enkidu dies. The retreat of support shows the man the real complexity of raw reality the vivid alternative self-image grew from (until that moment the woman assumed psychological responsibilities for it). The man realizes how perishable are his mental structures as control of the situation.
The Jewish take on this situation is that the man wants to be more independent and with his own personal organization in relation to this specific Middle Eastern feminine approach. But this only makes him face squarely the masculine self-image the woman developed about him. Until that moment he was leaning on the woman and she assumed responsibilities for the functioning of that self-image. When the man assumes responsibilities to be psychologically independent, he suddenly has to face all the raw reality mental abyss that is inherent in that self-image. This turns into the sense of the monotheistic God and, as later on it was obvious they can’t organize something reliable to support their independence, into that of the Messiah.
The monotheistic God is the feminine image about masculinity, growing from the mental abyss of the raw reality perspective, but without adequate masculine mental tools to make it effective in real life. It feels great, tremendous, but it is largely inefficient in real life if you consider it from the prism of the classical masculine mental tools. The Messiah is the classical feminine crisis management approach, there must appear a man capable of solving the situation.
The ancient Jewish view was that the woman was wrong in developing that alternative self-image, as that threw him out of the paradise he was living in until that moment. In the earlier Epic of Gilgamesh, the approach was that the woman was right in doing that. When the real complexity of life and the perishability of the static mental plateaus was revealed through the death of Enkidu and when subsequently Gilgamesh failed to obtain immortality, the reaction was something like, well, this is how things are, we are just going to live with this awareness of the perishability of classical masculine static mental structures.
The Jewish story of Adam and Eve is like a rewriting of that part. It is a resurgent masculinity that rediscovers the possibility to have its own point of view, but it cannot return to the classical masculine blissful ignorance regarding the raw reality complexity the masculine organization is based on. It finds difficult to face that complexity, it does not have adequate mental tools and it blames the woman for revealing it. All that complexity feels unwarranted, not really getting the basic gist that it always existed there and that it has some coherence.
The tradition about the initial Jewish history is about people living psychologically in the shadow of that tremendous masculinity developed from the raw reality perspective, which feels so great and with such potential, but yet with no specific organization of its own in sight. The breakthrough appeared when facing the Egyptian domination. For the moment, there are no clear historical or archeological sources to corroborate with the story around Moses, but in practice this is what is important in the Jewish religion, with serious consequences.
Maybe even it was a small group that went through an experience that in time was transmitted as the story from Torah and its depth and the organizational opportunities it offered won the day among the proto-Hebrews. I remark details that show the writers really thinking about mundane aspects by referring to the Egyptian perspective, like in Deuteronomy 11:10–12, where the writer reminds the people that the agriculture in the land of Israel is not based on natural irrigation like in Egypt, it depends instead on rainfall.
I notice some cultural differences between Egypt and Mesopotamia of those times that appear to have a role in the Jewish organization harking back to Moses.
The Egyptian mindset was influenced by the predictability of the Nile, each year with regular beneficent flooding easy to harness for irrigation (occasionally, some years had less flooding, with potential for famine). The ancient Egyptian culture was permeated by a sense of order in the world, with stable norms. The concept of maat gathered this sense of obvious harmony in the world, from which it derived a sense of justice, truth, morality.
It is simply easier to conceive such a straightforward impression of order in the world, with all its organizational implications, when you live in such a regulated environment. This impression can give lots of peace of mind to let you focus on social organization as a mental plateau. It has a connection to the mental abyss of the raw reality, as it is based on the human concept of sacrality, it was not an environment they really controlled. They just watched every year how the waters of the Nile were going up and down at about the same time, it was a colossal unfolding, obviously beyond their own possibilities to affect the nature.
The Mesopotamian mindset was influenced by the unpredictability of the two major rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, with unexpected devastating floods. No such sense of predictable coherence of the world like in Egypt. I notice how the Sumerian mindset developed around following the continuity in time of a variety of specific cultural aspects (rather than a focus on an overall plateau of maat order like in Egypt). They were conceptualized as me, decrees of gods laying the foundations for the respective cultural aspects. Dozens of such me, like godship, kingship, shepherdship, ladyship, truth, falsehood, flood, sexual intercourse, prostitution, law, art, power, enmity, lamentation etc.
The Sumerian mindset was focused on a rather diachronic perspective, by paying attention to what is still coherent when the passage of time brings such unexpected changes, while the Egyptian one was focused on a rather synchronic perspective, by paying attention to the plateau of interconnected coherence between all cultural aspects at a certain moment. Like, for example, the difference of perspectives in economy. If you study a currency, you need to pay attention to the synchronic perspective, as that currency relates to the other currencies at a certain moment in time and the level of value it derives from these interconnected comparisons. But you also need to pay attention to the diachronic perspective, as the valuations of all these currencies change in time.
Or like in the structural linguistics, with a synchronic view of how the linguistic units are interconnected at a certain point in time and with a diachronic view of how they change over time. Or like in snooker, where the red balls are like the predictable synchronic effect and the colored balls are like the complex diachronic effect, not so easy to predict.
The human mindset has a propensity to see the world from a static perspective as a result of relying on the sense of being in control of the situation, rather than paying attention to the deep complexity of the world. This is likely something that enabled the psychological evolution of the humans, as otherwise it would have been a too steep learning curve. Enabling nevertheless, if people want to make more sense of the world, they need to go beyond this static perspective, but in a way to also make sense of what they perceive.
The Egyptian mindset was based on a sense of static equilibrium in the world, with an impression of inherent justice, it had a moralizing approach, exhorting people to do good in their lives and proceed with righteous actions as a matter of personal conduct. With this self-centered worldview, they interpreted occasional disturbances in each years’ Nile flooding or other disturbances like locusts and other pests as originating in some personal faults. They must have done something wrong to warrant that. In general, for the Egyptians, the disturbances in this equilibrium where chaotic times that were solved by finding again the static balance, like in the Osiris myth. The woman is seen in this myth as someone that can support the man in finding back his static organization.
The Sumerian mindset was facing much more directly the real life complexity, but without finding ways to make more sense of it, it just could not help noticing it. Those me were a direct view at a mixture of good and bad aspects of the human civilization. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the woman is making the man aware of this real life complexity. The man realizes how fragile and perishable are the mental constructs he builds in his mind and derives self-esteem from. He notices the diachronic point of view of real changes beyond the usual masculine sense of being in control of the situation. Death appears as such a mental abyss. He wants to achieve immortality, but he fails. The moral of the story is something like “these are the circumstances of the world we live in, what can we do as simple mortals?” The Egyptians did not have this diachronic awareness, they were under impression that a loss of coherence must be temporary and the order will be restored. Death was not seen as such a mental abyss.
The basics of the Jewish mindset are Mesopotamian, with this diachronic awareness of the real life complexity, but it has also a concept of inherent order and justice in the world in the Egyptian manner. The latter is secondary, it simply does not have the psychological depth of the diachronic awareness, but it offers an idea that there is still coherence in the world. The overall Jewish view is from a Mesopotamian diachronic perspective. The Jewish approach at the discovery of the Egyptian sense of coherent justice and morality is rather a rediscovery of the possibility to still have such a coherent worldview, a sense of overall control, order, justice for the complexity revealed by the Mesopotamian perspective (the original Mesopotamian perspective was rather resigned to the idea that you can’t have that).
It does not feel like just happening to stumble upon a new view relevant for the Mesopotamian situation, but more like in the story from Torah, as being stuck in the Egyptian worldview and finding back the psychological depth of the Mesopotamian perspective. Living immersed in the seemingly natural vibe of the Egyptian sense of order and justice from that society, but seeing it from the perspective of the Mesopotamian psychological depth and noticing how hollow is in fact all that Egyptian pretense of justice.
This while not really being able to return to the rather resigned Mesopotamian view of the world. The basic Egyptian sense of order and justice remains relevant, but seen from the abyssal depths of the Mesopotamian perspective. This determined some changes in the sense of masculinity, which recovers a feeling that it can make sense of the world, it can be in charge of its own life. But this feeling has also to take in consideration the Mesopotamian diachronic abyssal perspective on masculinity as revealed by the woman to Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The result was a sense of being in charge of your life, but with a fluid masculinity from a diachronic perspective that you don’t really have good mental tools to work with as a man. You see the complexity of the world, the complexity of the human societies, you realize how superficial is the sense of justice in many cases. On the one hand, you have this sense of order in the world and you have the tendency to chase a real justice, but without the adequate mental tools at disposal. On the other hand, all this complexity you have no idea how to tackle may feel so unwarranted, you feel how the woman with all her behavior keeps revealing the complexity to you, a complexity that is not accompanied with any explanatory approach about how to tackle it.
You are not a resigned Mesopotamian man anymore, you feel a sense of order in your life, you assume this tremendous fluid masculinity, the sense of order feels great. Only if it weren’t this complexity that is so disconnected from the usual masculine organization and thus it feels so unwarranted. Thus the Mesopotamian acceptance of what the woman revealed to Enkidu turns into the woman’s fault in the Jewish story.
The religious view continued to be shaped by the interaction with these two cultural areas, but with a focus on the unexpected new way that can make sense of and move beyond those two different psychological approaches. It has Egyptian tropes focused on morality and wisdom, on “helping the widow and the orphan”, on feeling personally guilty for any failure in the sense of order (but with a much deeper sense of guilt than the ancient Egyptians, due to the awareness of the complexity of the world). It also has reinterpretations of Mesopotamian cultural aspects, like the woman’s temptation, the devastating flood, lamentations in Sumerian style, debates/disputes in Sumerian style like in the story of Cain and Abel or that of Job. The codification of laws is also more in the Mesopotamian manner, but by drawing authority from God, not from the king as at the Mesopotamians.
Was there already some change that determined a sense of masculinity with its own point of view not dependent on the woman that occurred at the Jewish ancestors when they were still living in Mesopotamia? The tradition registers that the emergence of this masculinity happened in Mesopotamia and this in fact determined the migration, as the proto-Jews were feeling they need to go out in the world and unfold this masculinity. The tradition continues with them along generations just living with the promise of great things to come, with no mental tools to put them in practice, until the confrontation with the Egyptian sense of justice opened a way for self-organization and for manifesting more clearly this masculinity in the world. The initial change in Mesopotamia may have been something vague and the psychological liberation from the Egyptian mindset may have opened the way for a more clear manifestation.
It may have been as well a retroactive dating of this new masculinity to the moment of leaving Mesopotamia, to make clear the psychological separation from the Mesopotamian ethos. But the Jewish mindset, while it can be liberal with fantasizing about sideline aspects, tends to feel suffocating deep responsibilities around core issues. This dating of the start of being Jewish is a core responsibility. I don’t get yet a sense of what was more important for the writers of those times in terms of such a core responsibility: really dating the start of this masculinity or the clear separation from the Mesopotamian mindset? At this moment, for me the balance of probabilities inclines towards some initial change in Mesopotamia, but I entertain as well the possibility of a retroactive dating. The retroactive dating might have been as well based on the feeling that the intention for masculine independence was always there.