Tuesday, 4 September 2012
Eutopia And Sorrows
Alexander the Great recovered from his fever in Babylon;
chastened by it, he spent the rest of a long life strengthening his empire;
they had a scientific revolution back then but retained religious tolerance;
thus, the world was spared the Roman Empire, Christianity and the Dark Ages.
It sounds like a good timeline although the shock ending of the story is that, in the modern period, they practice child abuse. (There is always something wrong.)
In the timeline of Anderson's "The House of Sorrows":
the Jews did not return from Babylonian Captivity;
there was no post-Exilic Judaism or Christianity;
lacking a unifying monotheist ideology, Europe centuries later remains divided between warring polytheist factions.
I don't buy that one. Yes, the Roman Empire needed a monotheism but no, they did not need to receive it from Saul of Tarsus. They could have got it from Greek philosophy. The philosophers and the priests had become monotheists surrounded by popular polytheism. Jupiter-Zeus-Thor would have become the One God. The other Olympians and other pantheons would have been demoted to lesser/angelic roles. The word "deus/god," uncapitalized, could have been retained with a changed meaning.
With inputs from Homer, the dramatists, the Mystery religions, the philosophers, Virgil and local pantheons, there might have been a European equivalent of Hinduism: academic debate between proponents of monotheistic, monistic and materialist philosophical systems co-existing with continued polytheist practice at the popular level. Socrates and Caesar are two strong candidates for a sacrificial victim role. In fact, they are complementary: Greek spiritual/philosophical as against Roman military/political. Christianity, of necessity, changed its Messianism from military to spiritual ("not of this world") but Caesarism remained militaristic.
In our history:
the Jewish scriptural canon is the Law, the Prophets and the Writings and that third section includes the Wisdom literature;
the Christian Old Testament is the Jewish canon rearranged and reinterpreted;
the New Testament is new documents, the Gospels etc;
"Homer and the poets," essentially a Pagan canon, i.e., divinely inspired authorities on theology and morality, instead became the beginning of secular literature;
Homer and the poets, i.e., the dramatists, were followed by the philosophers, "lovers of wisdom," Plato even continuing the dramatic form, and by Virgil, essentially presenting a "New Testament" about Rome as the new Troy.
In my proposed alternative history:
the "Old Testament" would be Homer, the Poets and other Writings, including "love of wisdom";
the "New Testament" would be Virgil etc.
Strangely, Babylon plays a crucial role in both of these alternative histories imagined by Anderson. The Jews returned from Babylon in our history but not in Anderson's. Alexander returned from Babylon in Anderson's history but not in ours.