Sigmund. You have said that Primitive Materialism might have been subtitled The Foundation to the Atonement. Could you explain this?
Melampus. The evidence indicates that the ancient world was shamed by its past and wished to atone for it.
Sigmund. But surely, that is not the same as the dogma of the atonement, which presumes the incarnation of Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God and claims that through His crucifixion and victory over death Christ redeemed Man from original sin?
Melampus. They are not the same, but they are connected nonetheless.
Sigmund. But isn't this precisely the problem for contemporary people? How in a world of scientific facts, can any one rationally believe that Jesus is literally the Son of God, that he was literally resurrected, and that by His resurrection, literally, Man was saved? Besides, if I understand your work correctly, you yourself do not accept the dogma of original sin, so what kind of atonement was required? What was it that Professor Grayling replied to Professor Eagleton, when Eagleton dared to critique The God Delusion? “Religion … is the pre-scientific, rudimentary metaphysics of our forefathers, which (mainly through the natural gullibility of proselytised children, and tragically for the world) survives into the age in which I can send this letter by electronic means.”
Melampus. None of that precludes a revitalised and transformed understanding of all such concepts within the framework of an alternative way of thinking. Christianity would benefit from a reconstruction.
Sigmund. Well, I agree.
Melampus. I hope you are not turning into one of those characters in Plato's dialogues who agree with everything!
Sigmund. I hope not!
Melampus. You've been playing the part of Devil's advocate.
Sigmund. Yes, let's begin again. Explain to me your view of the atonement in your vision of a revitalised Christianity.
Melampus. That won't be easy. The reconstruction depends on transcending the limitations of what I have dubbed "Ionian consciousness" and progressing into "Kantian consciousness", and I doubt if I will be able to communicate that in one step. However, we could at least begin by understanding the historical perspective, and what it was that shamed humanity at the time of Christ's incarnation.
Sigmund. Please begin.
Melampus. The earlier epoch conceived it as a matter of religious duty to ritually sacrifice grown men and male children, not just a theoretical duty, but a grim practice too. The ancient world knew this, and was ashamed of it. They wished to atone.
Sigmund. You mean, "in your opinion" they did.
Melampus. Certainly, it would help if the academic world had not obscured the issues. Yes, for every thesis, there is an antithesis. Thesis: they committed human sacrifice. Antithesis: they did not. So, there is an antithesis. Nonetheless, I think it as certain as any historical "fact" could be that the ancient world committed human sacrifice, and that the evidence is everywhere, and overwhelming.
Sigmund. Well, explain!
Melampus. It is certain that the Celts committed human sacrifice. Not only do we have authors who give descriptions of those sacrifices, we've actually dug up the bog bodies. We know that the victims were "kings", or some such, and that they were ritually tortured, and sometimes cut in half in the process.
Sigmund. If I'm playing Devil's advocate, the rejoinder is - that's just the Celts.
Melampus. Not so fast! It nails the argument we find in some authors that the Indo-Europeans did not and could not commit human sacrifice. The Celts were Indo-Europeans, yet they assimilated to the culture of "old Europe", and just like other Mediterranean peoples, ritually slaughtered men in propitiation of the Goddess. It refutes the argument that the "good Indo-Europeans" did not sacrifice men, but the "bad Mediterraneans" did.
Sigmund. Then, did both the Indo-Europeans and the Mediterraneans commit this sacrilege?
Melampus. Yes. By the first millennium the distinction between Indo-European and Mediterranean is scarcely significant as to significant aspects of shared culture. Also sacrilege is the right word, and it is too often omitted in the discussion. That's the right way to look at it, and the way a Christian should see it. But, to continue the narrative - the peoples of the Mediterranean world - the Phonecians, the Canaanites, the Carthaginians and the Hebrews did slaughter children. The case of the Carthaginians is the clearest - not only do we have ancient contemporary authors who report it, but the French archaeologist Paul Mosca uncovered 20,000 urns from the ruins of Carthage containing the ashes of children ritually incinerated alive.
Sigmund. I thought he denied it afterwards.
Melampus. How does one get something like that wrong? Were they the ashes of little children or not? But the matter is firmly settled by the ancient authors themselves. Cleitarchus reports that the children were burned alive. The Carthaginians constructed special ovens for the purpose. They had a statue of Cronos, their Baal Hamon, which was also an oven. First-born male children of the aristocracy were sacrificed as a duty. As for the rest, the evidence is also overwhelming, and the Bible itself makes it clear that the Hebrews did it too.
Sigmund. How does that impact upon the Greeks and Romans?
Melampus. The question that Primitive Materialism addresses is Greek practice. Later, in the second volume, Ionian and Cartesian Consciousness, I go into the Roman case. In both cases their language was Indo-European, but their culture was mixed, and predominantly derivative from Mediterranean culture. The evidence is archaelogical, literary and from interpretation of the layers in the myths themselves.
Sigmund. I'd like to ask you to go into all of those points separately, but, firstly, what do you mean by "layers in the myths"?
Melampus. I mean that a myth is like an archaeological site - a myth, such as that of Heracles - I go into that at some length - is a complex narrative that has been constructed over successive centuries. While it is interpretation to be sure, it is possible to deconstruct the narrative to recover the layers and correlate them roughly to the time in which they were made. When we look into Greek myth, we discover as a rule that the earliest layers derive from a time when there was a universal worship of a Mother Goddess to whom a male man-god was ritually sacrificed. This motif is general: it is found in every myth of a hero whatsoever. It seems that the original prototype of every myth of a Greek hero is that of the ritual dismemberment or murder of the man-god, Dionysus. The murder appears to be a later development; at first, it is the motif of rending limb from limb and a cannibalistic feast conducted by the women, the queen, priestesses and handmaidens of this man-god. In this respect, even Zeus, the sky-god of the Indo-Europeans, submits, though later he was to be metamorphosed into the archetype of divine justice, the Sky-father and controller.
Sigmund. Tell me about the archaeological evidence.
Melampus. Consider Jacob Burkert's Greek Religion. As a sample, Burkert tells us that at Knossos there are deposits of children's bones with knife marks indicating cannibalism.
Sigmund. And the literary evidence?
Melampus. It is abundant and overwhelming. Roughly, it takes three forms. Firstly, there is commentary from historians or essayists, such as Herodotus, Plutarch or Pausanias as to actual human sacrifices recorded in historic times. Secondly, there are references in literary works ranging from poets Hesiod, Homer and Pindar to explicit discussions of human sacrifice and religious revolution in the work of Aeschylus and Euripides. Of these, I mention two in particular. Firstly, Hesiod laid down the general cosmological succession myth whereby we are told that the Olympians supplanted an earlier religious hegemony of the Titans. This is an allegorical account of the religious transformation that took place in Greek society - clearly supported by later literary references to the same - that the Greeks commonly understood that their Olympian religion was not the original religion of Greece, and supplanted one in which Cronos, as ruler, devoured his own children. Behind Cronos, emerges the figure of the Goddess. The evidence indicates that Minoan-Mycenaean culture was a matriarchy. Secondly, the work of Euripides: several of his plays explicitly discuss the practice of ritual human sacrifice, such as Iphigenia at Tauris, Iphigenia at Aulis, and, of course, The Bacchae. It is the entire accumulation of evidence that is so compelling, no single piece of evidence, but the whole lot.
Sigmund. When did this all take place?
Melampus. This can be inferred from the myths themselves, but is also a conclusion of logic. We can see that by the C6 BCE Greek culture had predominantly given up the practice of human sacrifices. There were notable exceptions, such as the occasion when Themistocles sacrificed three Persian prisoners in public prior to the battle of Salamis as late as 480 in the historical record. The sacrifice was made significantly to Dionysus Carnivorous. This event, or some event like it, is surely alluded to in works of Euripides such as Iphigenia at Aulis or The Children of Heracles, in which a "leader" presents himself as powerless to prevent the lust of the masses clamouring for blood-sacrifice. The interpretation of Minoan-Mycenaean religion makes human sacrifice the cornerstone of their ritual observance, about the C12 BCE. Therefore, it follows that it was during the Greek Dark Ages that a religious revolution or reformation took place, and that the Greeks in principle gave up the practice and transmuted it into symbolic rites or projected it onto animal scapegoats. It is this reformation that gave rise to the religious movement of Orphism, of which Christianity is a product.
Sigmund. How much of this is new?
Melampus. The theory of the layered nature of Greek myths appears to be new to my work - I have not seen it anywhere - but the rest of it is an excursus on the work of others. For example, J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough explains the religion of the Goddess and provides overwhelming evidence in favour of the conclusion that Adonis was sacrificed to Astarte, or some such. To Jane Ellen Harrison we may attribute the thesis that there was a reformation of Greek religion during the Dark Ages. I surmise that the Greeks lost the ability to write during that period from the C12 to the C8 BCE precisely because they were engaged in religious conflicts that shook the whole fabric of their society. This interpretation may extend to the entire Bronze Age Collapse. There is plenty of evidence, too, that such conflicts often took the form of outright wars, with battles between male and female warriors too, for example, in The Iliad.
Sigmund. What about the Roman case?
Melampus. This is dealt with in the second volume, but should be mentioned now. It is a conclusion that I found surprising, even shocking, when I uncovered it. The Romans did not start to record for themselves their "history" until the second century BCE, and it is generally agreed that much of this history is a fabrication. However, when we look into Roman religion in depth, there is plenty of evidence that like the Etruscan religion on which it was based, it was also matriarchal and routinely involved ritual human sacrifice. If this be so, then it follows that the Romans, like the Greeks, must have reformed their matriarchal religion at some stage. The thesis is that this reformation came very late in Roman history, as late as the period of the second Punic war, or later, since they were still sacrificing humans during that war in propitiation of chthonic (meaning "of the earth"), that is maternal, deities. It therefore follows that the entire Roman history of legend is more and not less a complete fabrication, and it seems likely this was a deliberate fabrication in the wake of a usurpation of power by patriarchy. This also accounts for what has been called the "Roman anomaly" - namely, the surprising fact that the Romans do not appear to have any mythology whatsoever. They had no mythology because they deliberately erased it, for it was too explicitly a religion of the Goddess, and usurping male power could not tolerate it.
Sigmund. How does all of this relate to the Christian doctrine of the atonement?
Melampus. We have been uncovering the historical-religious background to that dogma. I take it that it detracts not one iota from a dogma that it can be shown to have a history, or in this case a pre-history, and to have been laid down and prepared in the many centuries that preceded its first explicit historical appearance.
Sigmund. But surely the people of the period of Christ did not consciously know or remember these things, which I must remind you are suppositions of yours, however much I respect your arguments for them, and the evidence you adduce.
Melampus. I agree! Let the intelligent reader judge for him or herself. But there are really two questions you are asking. Firstly, how does the crisis of religion in which the practice of ritual human sacrifice was reformed relate to the emergence of the doctrine of the atonement? Secondly, supposing that there is a relationship, how conscious were the contemporaries of Christ, and people in the first century CE, of it?
Sigmund. Then, please do deal with each question in turn.
Melampus. When dealing with historical processes, what we see are patterns mainly, rather than causes and effect, but here I will use an analogy with the mechanical concept of momentum. Let us posit an initial shock or impulse, occurring at the onset of the Greek Dark Ages, as a primal revulsion against the practice of human sacrifice. There is historical evidence for this as well - reports, for example, of conflicts or wars within Sparta - which like all later bastions of patriarchy, were originally places where human sacrifice in the service of the Goddess was normal. The men just did not want to give up their lives any longer. They were revolted by it. The pattern of history took a new form, and everywhere male power was rising into dominance, submerging female power. This primal revulsion took the form of a disgust with everything to do with the flesh, with fertility, with sex, with all those material forces that manifested the primacy and power of the Goddess. This was the impulse to Orphism. It is also well-established that Christianity lies in direct descent from this movement; furthermore, this movement was not unique to Greece, but widespread throughout the orient, in Persia, for example, where it gave rise to Mazdeism. A certain train of emotional and cognitive thinking was set in motion that century by century gave more and more force to the conclusion that there was something disgusting about the body.
Sigmund. Is there something disgusting about the body?
Melampus. I don't think so. But that does not mean that this idea was not powerful in the psyche of Hellenistic-Roman civilisation, and acquired a life and momentum of its own. Furthermore, that human nature inherited from its Neolithic pre-history something disgusting is true. Hence, shame, remorse and the longing for atonement. We see the psychological and spiritual validity of such a movement. The disgust at what mankind had come to regard as the sacred duty to spill the blood of fellow men and children was projected onto the body entire. Not Man alone, but the Flesh was seen as evil. This was eventually enshrined in a historic notion - the idea of an original state of primal innocence, and the corresponding idea of a Fall from that state into sin. It is a gift of our age that we are able to revisit the logic, and change it, taking from the situation that which is fitting, and modifying what is not. Hence, we can have atonement without original sin. Alternatively, the original sin is precisely what was original to the historical situation from which our religion emerged: the sin of ritual human sacrifice.
Sigmund. If they had given up the practice, then how is it possible that it would have the force to constellate a religion such as Christianity?
Melampus. But that is precisely the point. They both did and did not give it up. And it is this which is so important for the understanding of our own modern age, in which we also both do and not practice human sacrifice. Let me clarify what I mean in the Roman case. The Romans made it a cornerstone of their policy not to overtly practice human sacrifice; they passed laws against it, they used it as the moral justification for their wars against the Celts. It was the hallmark of their civilisation - that they were not barbarians. But the Romans inherited from their Etruscan forebears a particularly cruel streak. The Etruscans were very nasty in this respect; and the Romans almost as much. Both Etruscans and Romans revelled in the spectacle of spilt blood. The gladiatorial contests that were the mainstay of their popular entertainment are relics of sacrificial practices, both as to origin and as to practice. They were particularly cruel in their punishment of criminals and anyone not persona-grata. The Romans adopted the practice of crucifixion from the Carthaginians and Etruscans. Around the C6 BCE it became standard practice throughout the Mediterranean world. Alexander the Great also thought it was a great idea. This adoption of cruelty has a history and a self-perpetuating aspect, in the way that one bad idea begets another. When the rich and powerful men rejected the idea that they should be sacrificed, the ideological thinking that lay behind human sacrifice, the apparent need for it, the cognition that is primitive materialism, was not overthrown at the same time. So, they looked about for scapegoats: animals; any man not of their party, such as a criminal, a captured foreign soldier or a stranger; and their own dearly-beloved little first-born boys were the scapegoats, the legitimated objects of sacrifice. The habit of cruelty did not cease with the reformation. The incomplete and poorly understood reformation of the practice of human sacrifice only gave impetus to yet further cruel and poorly understand rituals. By the time of Christ, the Western world was so steeped in the guilt of such practices that it was riddled with shame and remorse. Imagine what it was like everyday on your "way to work" to pass by the crucifixions at Golgotha, to watch those men dying so cruelly. It was revolting. And you could not be unaware of your shared common guilt, if only it was on the basis of "I am human too", or "Thank God, that's not me!"
Sigmund. But they had given up child-sacrifice by this time.
Melampus. For the most part they had, but rumours of secret practices could not be wholly stifled. But, you are right - no evidence of widespread incinerations of the first born, once Carthage was thoroughly destroyed. However, all the more need to project cruelty onto the so-called criminal elements, and furthermore, the traces of their historical past were not, nor could not be, wholly eradicated. Which brings us to the second of your questions - how conscious of this were they?
Sigmund. How conscious were they?
Melampus. In some cases, very conscious. For example, the Book of Wisdom, attributed to Ben Sirach in the first century BCE makes explicit reference to the sacrifice of children. This is very close to the time of Christ, and illustrates that it was well-known that in the past the old inhabitants of Canaan committed such sacrileges. Sirach says that parents slew their children with their own hands.
Sigmund. That's only one.
Melampus. The whole theme of the Bible is the guilt experienced by the Hebrew people regarding their past and past practices, from which they developed the idea that they were apostate to their original religion, and fell into evil practices as a result of foreign influence. Each reader will make up his or her own mind as to how much truth there is in that claim, but my personal view is that Christianity would not be affected one iota were it to be concluded that the entire story was a later fabrication. Indeed, from the spiritual point-of-view, which is the same as the moral, God could not ever have required anyone to commit human sacrifice, so any society in which this became normal was apostate to the original divine command. The Bible makes in absolutely clear that ritual sacrifice of adults and children was normal in the Hebrew religion until the time of the deportation to Babylon. It was not possible for them at least to deny complicity in the practice, for it was made clear to them every time they read their own sacred texts. It could be argued that this did not extend to the Romans themselves, though by doing so we forget that the Jews accounted for almost 10% of the population of the Roman empire, and conversed with pagan Romans on a daily basis. But in principle, an idea becomes more powerful, not less, when it is constellated as an unconscious force. The more conscious we are of guilt the better we are equipped to "deal" with it. Hence, the idea of a momentum, a prodigious momentum in recoil from the horrors of the established cruelty of the past millennium, all welling up into an overwhelming desire for atonement.
Sigmund. I must revert to my original point: that does not entail that Jesus of Nazareth literally was the incarnation of God.
Melampus. But why should we be looking for literal answers? It is difficult to communicate everything in one step. The question you are posing is framed in what I have called Ionian consciousness. It is a statement of the very inability to solve a problem because one's system of concepts makes the problem insoluble. For an understanding of what the real incarnation of God in Man means, we must step outside the framework of that cognition, into Kantian consciousness. That is not simple, and cannot be done in one step. I shall think my work well-done if in one conversation I establish, at least as a thesis, the idea that humanity experienced a powerful collective feeling of guilt, which if experienced in an individual would lead to a desire for repentance and atonement.
Sigmund. Then let us postpone that topic to a second discussion. Now, I think, it is time for a glass of wine.