Did Jewish ancient legends and myths help precipitate the Israelite’s destruction in 70 AD? And more generally do dogmatic beliefs hold cultures captive, and thus have the potential to be used against them?
Consider the Inca Empire, probably the most powerful in all of Mesoamerica from about the fourteenth to sixteenth century AD. Their religious narrative included the divinity of their leadership and the necessity of offerings (including human sacrifice) to their gods. Also spread throughout Mesoamerican cultures was the legend of the ‘light-skinned man’ coming from across the sea to teach them farming, astronomy, and mathematics, a true savior to the Inca people. When the Spaniards arrived from across the sea, they were at first viewed as returning gods and were welcomed. The Spaniards used this legend against the Inca, gaining their trust. The Spaniards also had advanced weapons technology, which the Inca viewed as powerful magic. A mere handful of Spaniards were able to take control of the vast Inca empire, kill the leadership and tens of thousands more, and then get to their main goal, which was to strip the empire of gold and other precious metals. They destroyed the Inca religion and replaced it with Christianity. The Inca were heathens, after all, and bound for damnation and hell, so whatever the Christian Spaniards did to them was in the Spaniard’s eyes completely justified and not in the least bit immoral.
This is just one of dozens of historical examples of how the codified religious beliefs of a people were utilized to destroy them. While religious rules were often the glue that held a society together, they nonetheless were the Achilles Heel that contributed to their ultimate destruction. As stated in the first column of this series, legend, myth, and the work of gods in most every early culture became accepted, unquestioned, and sacrosanct ‘Truths’. Understand that these people did not possess any real knowledge of what objective truth was. Everything was determined by gods, spirits—good and bad, and those unseen entities must at all times be appeased through sacrifice and offerings lest they bring down their wrath upon the people. These views were not questioned because from their limited knowledge about the underpinnings of the Natural world these were absolute truths just as real to them as modern biology, physics, medicine, genetics, space exploration, etc. are real to us. From our vantage point we see this as primitive thinking but it was all they had. The first spark of logic and reasoning began in Greece in the last centuries BC, but it was hardly accepted by the human population at large. Nearly all people clung to the old beliefs, the spirits, gods and their appeasement and sacrifice remained die-hard, and in some circles survive unchallenged to this day.
Consider the story of Moses and his flight from Egypt. Consider that according to legend the Jewish God intervened to save the Jewish people in several different ways. And throughout Jewish history many stories developed that all had the same underlying message: Absolute obedience to God was mandatory or God would bring down his vengeance upon them. But if the people were righteous and practiced the animal sacrifices according to Scripture, then God would protect them no matter how dire the circumstances. God was absolute and all-powerful, and no practicing Jew doubted it for a moment. It was absolute Truth.
Old Testament legend tells us that 600,000 Jewish men and their families left Egypt with Moses. Add to that tens of thousands of sheep and goats and the number of the living, both human and animals, could be estimated at from two to six million, a huge one-time migration by even today’s standards. According to legend, they wandered the desert for forty years until they reached the ‘promised land’. Surely such a large group of people and animals would have left a trail of temporary campsites and human debris, pottery shards, animal bones, grave sites and rock-cut tombs, and so on, but researchers have never found any tangible evidence of such a large migration. There is also no record in Egyptian writings or in any other cultural writings of the time to substantiate the Exodus. Only Jewish writing includes this legend. There is no physical evidence that the miracles of Moses ever happened. The parting of the Red Sea is now known to be a mistranslation of the Reed Sea. While the Red Sea is definitely a large body of water, the Reed Sea is an area of mostly swampland. It is conceivable if some Jewish people did flee from Egypt they could have escaped through the marshes on foot while the Egyptian horses and chariots became bogged down in the mud. Behind many embellished legends there is a kernel of fact.
The larger point here is that the stories of God always coming to the rescue of ‘His chosen people’ became an absolute Truth and accepted by the Jewish people as being as real as gravity. When under Roman occupation, the various messiahs that emerged from the population always believed that the Jewish God was with them and would add his miraculous powers to the ultimate defeat of the Roman army. Even when surviving Jews were holed up in Jerusalem in 70 AD almost all expected God to come to save them. After all, hadn’t He always done so in the past? But God remained on the sidelines during those traumatic times, and the Roman general Titus did everything he could to destroy the Jewish culture, their God, and its people.
An explanation may be that the legends passed down were not to be taken literally, but they became literal truths to subsequent generations. Like the Incas and so many other decimated cultures, the legends became both the glue that held a people together but also the Achilles Heel that brought about their downfall.
From the ruin of the Jewish homeland and dispersing of its people in the first century AD, there arose another legend, one that would supplant Jewish law and reinvent their deity from a vengeful war-god to a god of peace and forgiveness. This one hundred eighty degree turn in the basic nature of God (that was always advertised as being everlasting and unchanging) could not happen without the introduction of legends of its own.
To be continued…..