Wednesday, 29 April 2020

The Flavian Hypothesis

Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (30 December 39 AD – 13 September 81 AD)


I’m going to freewheel through this, which is often a good way of developing a frame for a more detailed discussion. Hard to know where to start, since there are several possible starting points.

I’ll start with Eusebius. You suggested to me that we did not know why Eusebius wrote his works. But we do know why he wrote what he did, since the texts contain the motive and purpose of his writings, from his own pen. The title of his Preparation for the Gospel says exactly what it is for. It is based on the idea that all ancient peoples, and all ancient religions, were in darkness, and struggling for the light before the arrival of Christianity. And the Christian gospels (and other related writings) represent the final arrival of the human race at a point where their engagement with God is soundly based. Christianity is a religion in which it is possible to live a good and moral life, unlike former religions, which embraced barbarity and sin, on a daily basis.

Few now read Eusebius apart from historians of Christianity, since most of the quotations and summaries of earlier works have been extracted, and collected together elsewhere (Isaac Preston Cory was one of the first to produce a collection of ancient fragments in the early nineteenth century). We have evidence however that he was not making these earlier documents up (He quoted from the Babyloniaka, a three volume work by the former high priest of Bel in Babylon, who moved to Athens in the fourth century BCE. These quotations are consistent with what we find in the tablets from Mesopotamia. So Eusebius had access to either the Babyloniaka itself, or summaries of its contents, as late as the early fourth century CE), though the use to which he put them was to suggest that Christianity was on the way, and that these earlier works were foreshadowings of the gospels, and of the Christian church. That interpretation of the worth of earlier documents was something which Eusebius (and other scholars)  constructed, and which was used as a frame  to select the relevant evidence.

I came across the detail of the Flavian hypothesis relatively recently, but I find the concept that the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus were written by Roman and Greek scholars credible, and that they were written in order to counter messianic Judaism, which was almost out of control at the time the gospels were composed. And that this was to be achieved by creating a messianic figure who urged peace, ‘turning the other cheek’, and ‘rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s’. And furthermore, one who had already lived, rather than one who was yet to arrive.

Joseph Atwill’s paralleling of Titus’s campaign’s in Judaea (which appear in the writings of Josephus, who was an adopted son of the Flavian family) with the movements of Jesus is particularly compelling.
So it can be understood as a very sophisticated piece of propaganda to further the ends of the Imperial family, and of Rome. The Flavian propaganda used techniques similar to those familiar to religious scholars and priests, particularly in Judaea, where later compositions used earlier writings and stories as their basis. The earlier writings, when paired with the later ‘types’ in the later writings, communicated information about the meaning of the more recent texts (if you have a polyglot Bible, you can see the lengths to which this procedure can be taken). That’s what the authors of the Gospels and other New Testament books were doing. And in a sense, that is also what Eusebius was doing, but without much reverence for the pagan past.

 Stepping a little sideways for a moment, when I was fifteen I attempted to read Isaac Asiimov’s Foundation trilogy. I got the general idea of the human race experiencing a cultural crisis from which they needed to be shielded, but it was hard to understand why the psychohistorians did this by restructuring history and culture. And why Asimov had written these books. Asimov is known mainly for his science fiction, but he also wrote many books on history. I did not find that out until recently also. And then I came across a quotation from him, concerning the writing of the trilogy. He said that at the time he was ‘cribbin’ Gibbon.’

Suddenly everything lit up. Asimov had read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and understood that Gibbon’s account of the interaction between the Roman Empire and Christianity (in particular) contained materials which suggested a sophisticated set of fabrications, and literary and cultural manipulation. A historical fraud of immense proportions.

I haven’t read the entirety of Gibbon’s epic work ,so I don’t know whether Asimov figured this out himself from Gibbon’s account, or whether Gibbon himself knew. I suspect that the latter is the case, since his account portrays the rise of Christianity in negative terms (He regarded all forms of religion as contrary to reason).

The point here is that the idea that there is fabrication at the root of Christianity is not a new one. The Flavian hypothesis puts a lot more flesh on the bones however. If Gibbon did know (and he read all of the relevant materials, including Josephus) it would have been difficult or even impossible for him to publish his book. There is a Ph.D thesis in it for someone to critically examine Gibbon’s text for clues as to whether or not he was writing around something that he dare not say.

I will write a little later about ‘chrest’ and Roman imperial ideas of the divine.

Hope you are well,



Saturday, 28 March 2020

Do Western Academic Philosophy Departments Teach the History of Philosophy?

Greeks fighting in the service of the Assyrian Empire at the Siege of Lachish, 701 BCE

At first sight the title of this article may seem to be provocative, and even slightly daft. However if you study the history of philosophy, including those writers who wrote just before the close of the ancient world, if you are paying attention, you find that the detail of philosophy's course through history is not as it represented in post European Enlightenment writing. The way that history is discussed and understood, suits modern preconceptions. But those modern preconceptions make it almost impossible for us to understand thought in the ancient world, both in the classical period, and in more ancient times.

I've spent much of the past thirty years unpicking questions relating to what that history actually is, beyond the received view in the academy and beyond. The Greeks did not in fact pioneer philosophical thought, and were very far from doing this. Almost everything about the history of philosophy since the Enlightenment is based on the idea that the Greeks did pioneer philosophical thought. This is wrong, and demonstrably wrong.

That is the basis of my project. My intention is not however to just pull these false constructs down, but to also attempt an evidence-based reconstruction. This is skeletal in places, but there is a great deal which can be substantially reconstructed once modern preconceptions are shown to be inconsistent with the ancient evidence.

I've been attacking this idea from a number of different angles, mostly (but not entirely) focussing on the unwarrantable assumptions which are made by scholars about ancient evidence.There are many instances of this, which I've written about extensively. I've also attacked this idea from the point of view of what ancient writers actually said. These remarks are often disregarded, because they do not fit with the generally received view of the history of philosophy.  When read closely, it is often the case that a different picture of our intellectual past emerges.

This is the most recent overview of my project: An Appetite for Knowledge, which points to various articles on my blog, and chapters in my books.  A good place to start for those unfamiliar with my work.

In addition to this approach, I've been contrasting the cultural outputs of both Greece and Ancient Assyria for the purpose of showing that the Greeks borrowed much of their philosophical invention from Assyria and Babylonia, as well as Egypt. Clement of Alexandria listed ancient nations and cultural groups who practised philosophy, and attached the Greeks to the list explicitly as the last of the cultures who embraced philosophy. I sometimes create gazeteers on the basis of articles and chapters, and this is one of those: Transcendental Thought in Ancient Assyria Very few Assyriologists so far argue for the existence of a transcendentalist perspective in Assyria. But...

Between the late ninth and late seventh centuries BCE,  the State of Assyria is the best documented culture in antiquity. The records are voluminous, and many still wait for publication and close study. From what has been published however, the evidence is clear that the Assyrians embraced a transcendental understanding of the nature of the world. For those unfamiliar with the details of the cultural parallels between Greece and Assyria, this gazeteer is a good place to start.

I came to much of this work by studying writers from the third and fourth centuries CE, who are still poorly regarded, and generally ignored in the academic teaching of philosophy. That's our problem, not theirs.

Why did I undertake this project? Sometimes people take on strange tasks. The composer Arnold Schoenberg, once he emigrated to the USA, was asked by a journalist why he took up the unpopular cause of serialist composition. He answered along the lines of: 'someone had to do it. I thought it might as well be me'. My attitude is pretty much the same. I didn't need to do this, and could have chosen to do something else.  But the job needed to be done.

Thomas Yaeger, March 28, 2020.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Transcendental Reality in the Ancient World (Writing to Marie aux Bois)

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 16:24:58 
To: Marie aux Bois
From Thomas Yaeger


Re: the paper on the mathematics of the megalithic yard - there's been a lot of movement since I wrote it in the middle of February, and I will write several other articles on the back of it. One of the objections to the argument will be that arriving at Euler's number would have been impossibly complicated for them to do (quite apart from the general case I'm making as to the sense it made for them to want do this). But it isn't true that this is complicated to do, particularly if you work it out geometrically, and use the right kind of exponentiating series (i.e., ones which arrive at the limit of the series in the shortest number of steps). I've already drafted this one.

The argument of the article is fine I think, but at various points it trades on what I know, and what I've written about elsewhere. So I'm going to write another article which brings the relevant information together.

I can make a list of the most significant things in the article:

1. It brings together concepts which were present in Greek civilization and philosophy, as well as in Mesopotamia. So the same ideas are going on in their heads, even if on the face of things the cultures are quite different. For the neolithic case, they are writing in terms of number and geometry.

2 If this argument is sound, it pushes the development of sophisticated mathematical and geometric thought back to the middle to late 4th millennium (3500 -3200 BCE).

3. The argument shows that, on the basis of the mathematics and geometry in the stone circles, that the builders had the same general concept of the existence of a transcendent level of reality which we know for certain the Greeks had. Indeed, historians of ideas pick the Greeks as the originators of the idea of a transcendent level of reality, and behave as if all the other religions in the world did not, before this time.

4 This transcendent level of reality was in fact infinity itself. They came to this conclusion in the Neolithic on the same basis as the Greeks did much later. Which is that the version of reality we inhabit isn't reality at all, but a poor copy of it (I echo Plato's words here). This was established on purely logical grounds, and on the basis of puzzling things about the physical universe (why is there something rather than nothing? If reality itself is necessarily one, otherwise it breaches its nature, how is it possible that there is multiplicity?)

5. And how is it that there are irrational numbers? Again, historians of ideas argue that before the Greeks, and the Pythagoreans in particular, people had no knowledge or understanding of irrational numbers, and when the Pythagoreans discovered their existence, they tried to keep this secret. In fact *the entire basis of Pythagorean thought, both in Greece, and the protoPythagorean megalithic culture was based on the existence and significance of irrational numbers.* I've talked around this issue both in SHB, and in "Understanding Ancient Thought", firstly by discussion of how ancient people conceived that commerce between the Gods and Man was possible, and by discussion of the logical modality that Plato discusses in the "Timaeus", which is based on irrationals.

6. The esoteric core of ancient religion was often kept secret. We know this for sure about the Pythagoreans, the Spartans, the Athenians, and also the ancient Romans. Plus the Assyrians and Babylonians. Modern historians assume that a transcendentalism isn't involved, but rather a doctrine which serves societal and political functions. But what if the esoteric core is too difficult and too dangerous to  convey outside a tight circle of those who understand?

7. Plato discusses how the disagreements about the nature of reality in antiquity might be resolved, in more than one place in "The Sophist". The position  which must be accepted (he says) is that *Reality is both One and Many at the same time*. In other words, the esoteric core of religion, based on the consideration of natural puzzles and the reality of irrational numbers, is that transcendent reality is necessarily paradoxical in nature.

8. Hence the common representation of the transcendent reality as *the inversion of ours* (look up 'Seahenge'). It is the same as this one, but it has different properties. In that transcendent reality, all things are commensurate.

9. Finally, this argument offers the possibility of proving that  transcendental thought did exist at the close of the 4th millennium around a number of cultures. If transcendental thought about the nature of reality was expressed mathematically and geometrically, and  necessarily involved irrational numbers, we should be able to find such references to transcendentalism in many of the architectural and engineering achievements of the ancient world. These have been noticed already in a number of structures, long before I started pursuing this question, but (for example) the golden section, clearly present in a number of Egyptian structures, is written off as a coincidence, or as consequence of the way the structure was laid out in practical terms, and that the builders had no knowledge of  its presence, and did not think the proportion had any significance in itself.

We know the measures the Egyptians used. Scope I think for a nifty little computer programme to number crunch all of these, to look for the presence of Euler's number, and other irrationals.

Best, Thomas

The paper 'The Mathematical Origins of the Meglalithic Yard' is at: