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The True Story of Chanukkah
December 21, 2008 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Chanukkah is the story of a group of warriors (the Maccabees, later the Hasmoneans, led by Mattathias) who rose up against the Greeks (the Seleucids), united the Jews, reclaimed the Temple (Beit HaMikdash), and then lit one day's supply of oil which miraculously lasted for eight days, started a brand new holiday called Chanukkah, and brought Jewish sovereignty and peace to the land of Israel. Except that almost every part of that story is either wrong or completely misleading.

1) Chanukkah as a Civil War Between the Jews
To start with, Chanukkah is just as much about a civil war among the Jews as it is about a war between the Greeks and a solidified Jewish force (wikipedia):
Many modern scholars argue that the king may have been intervening in an internal civil war between the traditionalist Jews in the country and the Hellenized elite Jews in Jerusalem. These competed violently over who would be the High Priest, with traditionalists with Hebrew/Aramaic names like Onias overthrown by Hellenizers with Greek names like Jason and Menelaus. As the conflict escalated, Antiochus took the side of the Hellenizers by prohibiting the religious practices the traditionalists had rallied around. This may explain why the king, in a total departure from Seleucid practice in all other places and times, banned the traditional religion of a whole people.
The Maccabean uprising itself began with a Jew killing a Jew. ("After Antiochus issued his decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice, a rural Jewish priest from Modiin, Mattathias the Hasmonean, sparked the revolt against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship the Greek gods. Mattathias slew a Hellenistic Jew who stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Mattathias' place. He and his five sons fled to the wilderness of Judea.")

Ironically, although the Hasmoneans started out at war against the Hellenizing and secularizing Jews, as they solidified power they got into another conflict, except this time "the Hasmoneans sided with the Sadducees, the priestly advocates of the authority of Temple Sacrifice, against the Pharisees, the forerunners of the rabbis and the form of rabbinic Judaism we continue to practise today."

So when the Orthodox in Israel and the secular Jews in American celebrate Chanukkah, they are both commemorating a military victory by a group that tried to destroy them.

For more on Chanukkah as a civil war, see this article in Slate Magazine "The Maccabees and the Hellenists"

2) The Miracle of the Oil that Burned for Eight Days
For people who don't believe in miracles, then obviously there wasn't any Chanukkah miracle. But even for those people who do believe in miracles, there is much evidence that there wasn't any magical oil that burned for eight days. The most obvious reason to discount the idea of magical oil burning for eight days is that this supposed miracle isn't referred to in the Book of Maccabees, the most contemporaneous account. The section on the rededication of the Temple merely reads "And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days" with no mention anywhere of miraculous oils. Similarly, al hanissim, the special prayer said during Chanukkah refers to a miracle, but it's the miracle of a military victory, not of oil that burned for 8 days. The first mention of the magic oil appears in the Talmud, roughly 600 years after the rededication of the Temple.

So why was a story invented about oil burning for eight days? Possibly, as a post-hoc explanation to explain why the holiday was eight days long (more on this shortly). Just as likely, to change the tone of the holiday from one of military conquest to God's presence:
So what happened to the story of the oil and the miracle of the lights? Well, that's where the rabbis come in. In the rabbinic sources, we find virtual silence on the topic of Chanukah in the Mishnah. It is only in the Gemara (the later rabbinic material which, along with the Mishna makes up the Talmud) that we find the new story about the oil and the miracle of the lights. By the time of the development of the Talmud, around 200-500 C.E., the Jews were living under Roman rule in Israel and under Persian rule in Babylon. In these circumstances, celebrating stories about military rebellion might not be viewed in too positive a light by the authorities, and the sages also feared that some Jewish hotheads might stir up trouble and cause all kinds of problems for the Jewish community. So the Talmudic sages put a new spin on the established holiday: God wrought a great miracle for the people, enabling the few to triumph over the many, and God showed the people another miracle in the oil, when a flask of ritually pure oil sufficient for one day lasted for all eight days.
3) Chanukkah as the Late Version of Sukkhot
So if there wasn't magic oil that burned for eight days, then why is Chanukkah an eight day holiday? Because of what happened after the Maccabean revolt succeeded:
When they took over the Temple and cleaned out all the remnants of the idolatrous Greek worship, they rededicated the Temple and then immediately held a late observance of the eight day festival of Sukkot, the most important festival of Temple times. The next year, to commemorate their victory and the rededication of the Temple, a "late Sukkot" was held again, thereby giving birth to our eight-day celebration of Chanukah - which means "dedication".
And you want to guess what they called this new holiday?
As a result, they celebrated Sukkot late that year — in December, during the Hebrew month of Kislev. In fact, the book of Maccabees doesn't even call the festival Hanukkah. Instead, it refers to the celebration as Sukkot B'kislev — December Sukkot.
4) Additional Chanukkah Trivia About Herod the Great
After the Hasmoneans seized power in Israel, they continued their civil war against other Jews. They also began forcibly converting other people in the land to Judaism:
Yet what was most devastating about Hasmonean rule was its retreat from the principles of the Maccabean rebellion. It was the Hasmoneans who introduced into Jewish history the infamous policy of coercive conversion by compelling pagan residents of Galilee and of Idumea either to accept conversion to Judaism or to be killed. This forcible conversion policy, so notorious in later Jewish history, unfortunately was introduce by the Jews themselves.
Then, along comes King Herod, but "since Herod's family had converted to Judaism under duress, his Jewishness had come into question by some elements of Judean society." And if you go on the Western Wall Tunnel Tour in Jerusalem, the tour guide will tell you that Herod rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem to try to prove his commitment to Judaism, but even after all his efforts the Temple Priests refused to recognize his Judaism and would not let him enter the Temple that he built.

And don't even get me started on potato lattkes...
posted by andoatnp (66 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gefilte fuck.
Yidcore.
Zydepunks.
posted by gman at 12:09 PM on December 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Does all this mean that the holiday is all a fake and not real history the way the parallel story of Christmas is? Why do the kids think Xmas and Channukah are both true and the same thing?
Does the Jewish lobby in America and the neo-cons know about this?
posted by Postroad at 12:14 PM on December 21, 2008


Thank you for the incredible post. We touched on these themes when I was going through my conversion classes, especially the late Sukkot story. It was interesting to watch how the converts really got into the historical part of the story while our "natural born" Jewish partners got a little uncomfortable. By the end of it, we all had a great new foundation for the festival.

I will be retelling much of this tonight when we light our menorah.
posted by extraheavymarcellus at 12:15 PM on December 21, 2008


Postroad - I have not a fuckin' clue what you're talking about, but I'll say 'yes'.
posted by gman at 12:16 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Another true fact: As a holiday, Hannukah fucking sucks.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:21 PM on December 21, 2008


If you believe Christopher Hitchens, Chanukkah is the point in history where it all went wrong:

”--- the moment when I think everything went wrong is when the Jewish hellenists were defeated by the Jewish messiahs, the celebration now benignly known as Hanukkah [---] that’s when the human race took its worst turn. The few people, they reestablished the animal sacrifice, the circumcision and the cult of Yahweh over Hellenism and philosophy, and Christianity is a plagiarism of that. Christianity would never have happened, nor would Islam. No doubt there would have been other crazed cults and so, but there might have been a chance to not destroy Hellenistic civilization. Well, it’s not a matter of numbers.”

From his videotaped conversation with Dawkins, Dennett and Harris (”The four horsemen”). See also his Slate piece Bah, Hanukkah.
posted by Termite at 12:23 PM on December 21, 2008 [12 favorites]


You know, I've heard pagans and feminists say that patriarchy began with Jews killing the mother goddess in favor of a patriarchal monotheism. Somehow, it's always the Jews' fault.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:24 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Somehow, it's always the Jews' fault.

Who the hell do you think is repsonsible for the current economic meltdown?
posted by gman at 12:27 PM on December 21, 2008


Hanukkah?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:28 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hanukkah Harry?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:30 PM on December 21, 2008


who is responsible for the current economic meltdown>


The New York Times thinks it is this guy
posted by Postroad at 12:41 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Does all this mean that the holiday is all a fake and not real history the way the parallel story of Christmas is?

This question raises quite an interesting issue, although one that was outside the scope of this post. Put simply, how should Jews respond if they have been celebrating a holiday in a way that isn't necessarily historically accurate?

And although it is a complicated and difficult issue, one Jewish approach has been to value tradition, even if that tradition has changed. A recent teacher described this to me as the difference between what is "true" and what is "real".

And if you want to know how this relates to Chanukkah, I didn't include a link to this article, but it deals with how we should respond to the difference between the current mythology of Chanukkah and the historical reality, "The real story behind Chanukah illuminates its rich heritage"
The story of that miraculous little oil can transform what was once a holiday celebrating the trouncing of our enemies into a celebration of God's miraculous presence in our lives.

"Rabbi," people often respond upon learning this, "do you mean that the Hanukkah story I've always heard isn't true? You ruined it for me!"

Well, if a story of how a people transforms a war story into a religious epic, of how a people sees in the heroic acts of human beings the vast power of God's presence, too, of how a people refuses to celebrate a military victory even when we would have every right to do so ... if this ruins it for you, then there isn't much I can do to help.

But for me, the story of the story of Hanukkah doesn't ruin it at all.

Instead, it teaches some fundamental truths about what it means to be a Jew, and it makes me even more eager to celebrate once again this beautiful festival of light and miracles.
posted by andoatnp at 12:43 PM on December 21, 2008


Hanukkah Harry?

No, the Hanukkah Fairy. And here she is telling the story of Hanukkah at an Aimee Mann concert from last year. The story is told through song starting around the 3:15 point.
posted by flarbuse at 12:45 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Who the hell do you think is repsonsible for the current economic meltdown?

That's just six Jews in the bunker in Switzerland, not every Jewish person. You should subscribe to Steve Carlton's newsletter so you can keep that stuff straight.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:46 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


It would be awesome not to turn this post into random yelling about The Jews, folks.

Nice work, andoatnp. This is a great first post.
posted by cortex at 12:48 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Chappy Chanukkah!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:50 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Put simply, how should Jews respond if they have been celebrating a holiday in a way that isn't necessarily historically accurate?

I'm not Jewish, but I think holidays are supposed to be celebrations not just of a historical event but what it stands for. There are plenty of holidays I celebrate that stand on perhaps historically shaky ground, but it doesn't make me celebrate the concepts they represent any less.

Great first post, by the way.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:54 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was in a Woody Allen movie where a rabbi said, "If I had to choose between the truth, and God, I would pick God."

It's an important thing to remember when dealing with people, religious or not.
posted by Xoebe at 1:03 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


GreatAwesome first post, by the way.

I guess this would be an acceptable use of "fixed that for you"?
posted by DreamerFi at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are there any holidays that are historically accurate?
posted by shetterly at 1:07 PM on December 21, 2008


P.S. Agreeing on the awesomeness of the post. I love holidays, but I love them more when people know the truth behind them.
posted by shetterly at 1:10 PM on December 21, 2008


As for the distinction between what's true and what's real, too often, people who use that rationalization end up obscuring what's truly true. A "truth" that denies facts is a lie.
posted by shetterly at 1:12 PM on December 21, 2008


P.S. Unless the facts in the case are a lie, of course.

Now I'll stop with the afterthoughts.
posted by shetterly at 1:13 PM on December 21, 2008


wow. this was indeed a mini-class in jewish history.
lurved it!
posted by liza at 1:24 PM on December 21, 2008


Totally rockin' post. I would just like to say that as a gentile, I appreciate Chanukkah as the first holiday to venerate fuel economy, and see the Maccabees as the true fathers of the green movement.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:27 PM on December 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


National Geographic just had a good article about Herod:

King Herod Revealed: The Holy Land's visionary builder.
posted by homunculus at 1:32 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


OMFG, Emperor SK, i almost choked on my drink with that comment of yours.
WIN!
posted by liza at 1:33 PM on December 21, 2008


Totally rockin' post. I would just like to say that as a gentile, I appreciate Chanukkah as the first holiday to venerate fuel economy, and see the Maccabees as the true fathers of the green movement.

well, you know who sells oil...

I've always been jew enough for hitler but never jew enough for the jews... let me into that secret bunker, dammit.
posted by geos at 1:38 PM on December 21, 2008 [7 favorites]


Emperor SK and liza: You might be interested in this article:
True meaning of Chanukah is not green
Excerpt:
The holiday hijackers are at it again. First, Passover was transformed from an inspiring commemoration of the birth of the Jewish nation during the Exodus from Egypt into a catchall festival that celebrates the rights of every afflicted minority and fashionable cause imaginable.

Now, it’s Chanukah’s turn.

This year more groups are again seeking to use the Festival of Lights to force-feed the Jewish public whatever cultural or political theme appeals to them.

Some who have jumped on the ecology bandwagon, now so pervasive in American culture, want to reinvent Chanukah as a green holiday, in which energy conservation and activism against global warming are foremost in our minds.
posted by andoatnp at 1:46 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's also some (tiny amount) of evidence that Chanukkah has roots related to Solstice*:

When primitive Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!' So he began keeping an eight days' fast. But as he observed the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, 'This is the world's course', and he set forth to keep an eight days' festivity. In the following year he appointed both as festivals. (Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a)

There's more spiritual-y musing about it here.

*of course, there is the problem that the Jewish calendar is lunar, so it doesn't line up consistently...
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:53 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, 'tis the season to be jolly, alright. Leave it to several Metafilter posters to try and invlidate both Christmas (in the Christian belief sense, as per Postroad's comment here, and a few others past) and now Hannukah. This place never seemed that anti-spirituality or anti-religion a few years ago. What's up with that? (Never mind. I don't feel like reading long, semi-irrational diatribes about it anyway. There's plenty of those on the internets. Snark away if you must, but for what it's worth, I'm just making a point that I'd bet at least one or two folks might agree with.)
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 1:58 PM on December 21, 2008


Holy crap, andoatnp, I had no inkling that someone would seriously make such a claim.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:06 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think exploring the historical roots of a religious practice through a secular lens invalidates anything, it just adds another interesting dimension and encourages people to learn more.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:17 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


In NYC, or at least in my own circle, Jews tend to fall into two camps: Extreme Orthodox and Completely Non-Practicing "Reform". Except for one actor I know.

He's actually pretty observant and devout ...ish. More so than anyone else anyway. So I asked him if he was doing anything for Hanukkah and he stopped, turned, looked me in the eye, and said "No. Because Hanukkah is fucking bullshit."
posted by The Whelk at 2:19 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh! And don't get him started on the origin of the word "Philistine". You will never escape.
posted by The Whelk at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


1) The latkes tonight are going to be deeeeeelicious. Oh yeah.
2) Shalom, you honkies.
3) T-12 minutes till sunset on EST Go!
posted by cavalier at 2:24 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Excellent post! Do Masada next.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:43 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by Artw at 2:47 PM on December 21, 2008


Related(ish) AskMe
posted by Artw at 2:52 PM on December 21, 2008


tracing back the stories or myths if yhou will that are behind holidayhs and religious things is of some interest and importance and seems to me preferable than buying the stories as thugh revealed truth! I have just had my latkes, I observe the Jewish holiday. But that does not mean I have to buy the biblical story as the whole truth. I am not a Christian, but I suspect that there are many among my friends who do believe that Jesus was born via virgin birth, died and was reborn etc etc...does that mean they do not celebrate Christmas? Of course not. Why then badmouth those of us who care for a bit of historical accuracy rather than simple belief handed on by tax exempt institutions?
posted by Postroad at 3:17 PM on December 21, 2008


Wow, nice post. I knew, from way back, about the late Sukkot observance, but not much more than that.

As a former conservative Jew, I'd go along with the Hassidic/Reform split. When I pretty much left the fold, it seemed to me that the conservative movement was falling all over itself to be more religious, that people in the conservative movement were adopting Hassidic practices as a form of one-ups-manship. It was pretty sad to me. I mean, the conservative movement had solid practices and rules, but through whatever kind of insecurity, or keeping up with the Lipschultzes, they were just throwing it away. As someone who had, at one point, deeply believed, yet struggled with certain things (keeping kosher, no TV on Saturday), it was another thing (of many) that pushed me away from Judaism.

A youth group I was in had a special, super-duper religious sub-section, for truly observant teens. They had an open meeting at one event a year, where anyone could come, and there would be a talmud discussion. While it's odd to say it, I kicked ass at talmud. Liking pepperoni on my pizza, however, kept me from being allowed into the club, though. That, and not wearing a kippah full time, among other things...

Still, latkes tonight! (I actually bring latke mix back with me when I visit home. How else can I make potato kugel?)
posted by Ghidorah at 3:21 PM on December 21, 2008


I'm with Alvy on this one. Learning some fascinating historical facts behind a holiday should only enhance your appreciation, if anything. Since Christmas was brought up, Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25, but learning the historical, pre-Christian significance of that date can for example teach us a lot about what the birth of Jesus meant to people at that time. And I doubt anyone learning that Jesus wasn't a Capricorn decided, "What? Well, screw this, then."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:23 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I CAN STILL HAZ LATKES, YES? Because we made, like, a quadruple recipe last night, and I do my best celebrating of misconstrued holidays at the altar of the fried potato.

Fascinating post, andoatnp. I'm forwarding this to my brother (the rabbi), to see if this jibes with what he learned at HUC.
posted by mosk at 3:25 PM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Fantastic post (if a little longwinded). A Jewish friend of mine once told me that he didn't celebrate Chanukah because the wrong side won, and I was likely drunk or stoned at the time and could never remember what he meant. Now I know.

Thanks again for the information overload. Fwiw, I'm not much of a fan of Chanukah or Christmas, despite the positive elements (giving to charity, reuniting with family, etc.). Both holidays seem like a fat load of bullshit, and not just because parents lie to their kids for their own amusement. (No offense intended. Most of my family and friends are fans of Christmas.)

Happy Winter Solstice!
posted by mrgrimm at 3:30 PM on December 21, 2008


"There's also some (tiny amount) of evidence that Chanukkah has roots related to Solstice*."

Winter Solstice is the root of lots of religious celebration. If you are going to make religious holiday, why not line it up with the one people have already been celebrating for millennia, for both deeply religious and non-religious reasons (why not have a big celebration since there's not much you can do on the farm this time of year anyway?).
posted by eye of newt at 3:32 PM on December 21, 2008


Ghidorah: I also love pepperoni and don't wear a kippah and I too love studying talmud, and luckily there is a place out there that will let me eat pork and and otherwise not observe the Jew-rules but still learn about Torah and Judaism with other Jews.

shetterly: "Are there any holidays that are historically accurate?"

Well, speaking from a Jewish perspective, probably not Purim or Passover...
posted by andoatnp at 4:08 PM on December 21, 2008


Thanks for the informative and thought-provoking post andoatnp. (among several other things, this thread has me thinking more about parallels between certain aspects of the green movement and religion)

it just adds another interesting dimension and encourages people to learn more.

Indeed.
posted by scheptech at 4:10 PM on December 21, 2008


eye of newt, there are a lot of celebrations around winter solstice, but it was interesting (to me) to see something that actually connects the days starting to grow longer to Jewish lore/holidays.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:44 PM on December 21, 2008


andoatnp - Perfect occupation for the post.
posted by gman at 4:55 PM on December 21, 2008


Fantastic post (if a little longwinded).

I don't find any problem in its length, it was well structured and the heart of it is after the fold, so it didn't destroy the front page. Good work, I'd say. Long informative, well put together posts are not something we should shun.
posted by Elmore at 4:56 PM on December 21, 2008


Neil Gaiman: Hanukkah with bells on
posted by Artw at 5:17 PM on December 21, 2008


The New York Times thinks it is this guy

George Bush is Jewish?
posted by nax at 5:21 PM on December 21, 2008


Furthering the CHristmas/Hanukkah connection, Maccabees totally sounds like something from a Dickens novel, and there's nothing more Christmasy than Dickens.
posted by Artw at 5:25 PM on December 21, 2008


I thought Maccabees was a chain restaurant...
posted by five fresh fish at 5:39 PM on December 21, 2008


You're thinking of T. G. I. Sabbath's.
posted by cortex at 5:42 PM on December 21, 2008 [10 favorites]


To be pedantic, since we're talking Jew, it's T.G.I. Shabbat
posted by andoatnp at 5:50 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Does all this mean that the holiday is all a fake and not real history the way the parallel story of Christmas is?

Well until someone posts a 3 page paper to the blue about how Christmas isn't the day Santa defeated Jesus, I'm gonna stick with what I know.
posted by inigo2 at 7:12 PM on December 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Killer post. Well done.
posted by Amanojaku at 7:52 PM on December 21, 2008


Does all this mean that the holiday is all a fake and not real history the way the parallel story of Christmas is?

Yeah because the story about the demi-god carpenter being born from a 12-year old virgin underneath an exploding supernova is totally historical.
posted by Avenger at 8:24 PM on December 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is quite historically interesting! However, if this was supposed to seem outrageous to me, it didn't. I think most holidays are based on stories that are inaccurate or complete fabrications - Hanukkah is no exception. It's fun to read theories about the true story though, since they're often much more colorful and interesting than the traditional one.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:26 PM on December 21, 2008


Er... so... how to ask this delicately... Is religio-historical research on this period any good? Serious and evidence based? Carbon dating of latkes?
posted by ~ at 9:00 PM on December 21, 2008


HA!! my first reaction was, immediately and instinctively, "DO NOT CARE. LATKES, COLD DEAD GREASY HANDS." I love how like a dozen people beat me to it.

Still, fantastic post, it's amazing how history is just one big game of telephone. The fact that everyone has the latke reaction is telling though: Jewish holidays really are about family, fun, and most of all, food. (brb, calling parents...)
posted by jake at 8:31 AM on December 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Screw history. It's all about the presents. Just like that other holiday where the Easter Bunny risess from the pumpkin patch to deliver green beer to all the good little boys and girls of the world.
posted by happyroach at 10:03 AM on December 22, 2008


Meh. My favorite holidays are the secular ones. But that's primarily because I work at a church. And that means that for me, holidays are the opposite.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2008


If you believe Christopher Hitchens, Chanukkah is the point in history where it all went wrong:

”--- the moment when I think everything went wrong is when the Jewish hellenists were defeated by the Jewish messiahs, the celebration now benignly known as Hanukkah [---] that’s when the human race took its worst turn. The few people, they reestablished the animal sacrifice, the circumcision and the cult of Yahweh over Hellenism and philosophy, and Christianity is a plagiarism of that. Christianity would never have happened, nor would Islam..."


Yes, if not for just those few people, all of humanity would have been rational, secular, scientifically minded and accepting of the simple facts that life is brief, unfair, and ultimately meaningless. Nothing to do with psychology or desire, just a weird twist of history!

Come on, christopher hitchens. Religion is part of human nature, for many reasons. Plato and Aristotle themselves recognized that their writings were not "popular" works - and they wrote about what should be used to help the ordinary person deal with life, because the ordinary person isn't going to have the time or inclination to be a serious philosopher. Mythologies were the old-fashioned way but we're kind of growing out of those.

I think the mythologies of the present are probably pop-culture. Mythologies of the past were metaphorical in large part, the same way that pop-culture is metaphorical now (in ways not always recognized consciously). Hitchens getting all pissy about gods makes me think of columnists in the future getting rabid over whether the characters of Star Trek were real... In a sense they are real; in another sense they were never meant to be real, not in the same sense that reality is.
posted by mdn at 2:43 PM on December 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the excellent education.
posted by nickyskye at 12:22 PM on December 23, 2008


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