Research Ventures

Not only have I been busy lately, but also feeling dry of good ideas for blog posts. So I decided that I could perhaps write on the saga of my biggest research paper this semester, which is on the vague topic of religious crossover between Ancient Egypt and Greece.

As a part of my venture in this area, I have picked up some Old Persian and Luwian, in my attempts to expand my knowledge eastward, so I will probably post some updates on that soon. Luwian will be very time consuming since it is based on mostly pictograph symbols and a few phonetic symbols, but memorizing the syllabary for Old Persian shouldn’t be terribly daunting. This is all a part of my attempt to understand how some ideas were translated from one culture to another over time. Persian religion, particularly Zoroastrianism, had a sacred text called the Avesta which was written in Old Persian, and it seems to derive some of its ideas from Jewish religion. It is monotheistic in character, with its supreme creator god Ahura-Mazda and a Satanic figure called Ahriman who are opposed, almost in a Manichean dark-vs-light dichotomy. According to the famous Behistun inscription in what is now Afghanistan, Persian emperor Darius set himself up as the messiah of Zoroastrianism by claiming to be the chosen one of Ahura-Mazda, who would conquer the world and turn it into one enormous garden, after vanquishing Ahriman. (The word “paradise” is derived from a Persian word which means “garden,” which brings to mind the original garden of Eden, which the Persians may have liked and sought to create in their empire). The parallels to the Christian narrative are interesting, and I wonder if some of these ideas may have been taken from Judaism during the time of Nehemiah, when Artaxerxes allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their walls. If I ever get around to reading the Avesta, I wonder if there would be more parallels. If I could read the Avesta in Old Persian especially and not in translation, I may find more linguistic parallels.

I am also learning more about Egyptian religion and a notion I have found in Herodotus that seems prevalent through Book 2 of the Histories, which is that all the gods are the same and have different names in different cultures. For example, Zeus is Ammon in the Egyptian pantheon, and has similar functions. But it is probably not nearly that simple, and it appears that many of the previous religious identities were subsumed under Greek gods later on, not just in Egypt but in other cultures as well. For example, there is a Phoenician temple that is apparently dedicated to Heracles, but was originally dedicated to a now mostly-unknown Phoenician deity named Melqart. This sort of thing happens all of the time, as other cultures gain ascendancy and ideas of other religions slowly begin to seep in, which is one of the basic tenets of sociological theory (thinking of a sociologist named Peter Berger, who is one that I have actually read who develops this idea). Over time, it becomes impossible to maintain the purity of one’s own religious beliefs when there is constant contact between different people groups (speaking of pagan religion only in this case, because Christianity is manifestly different). This is especially the case if there are no sacred writings, in the sense that the Avesta or the Torah are sacred. The Greeks had Homer and Hesiod, but these are not given nearly the amount of reverence that other texts are.

Other interesting quirks in this area of pagan religion are the presences of characters like Cadmus, Melampus, and Linus, who all appear in Greek mythology as minor but still impotant figures. They also exist in Egyptian mythos as well, so I hope to uncover some more information about how those identities entered Egyptian culture and how they appropriated them for their own use, especially in citing them as the causes (aitia) for some of their customs.

Information on those specific characters is sparse so far, but they are important enough to merit citation in Herodotus’ work, so I am curious why I cannot find more information. But on the other hand, there could be a relatively interesting discovery yet to be made that perhaps has not been made yet. This area is very messy and multi-faceted, so it is hard to tell at this point.

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