Mythemes II

June 28, 2020 Category: History

APPENDIX 2: The Pitfalls Of Mytheme-Milking

The prevalence of mythemes across cultures around the world (i.e. across epochs and geographies) is usually taken to mean that there is a universal proclivity to think of things in certain ways.  This is true.  But it can also indicate the presence of machination–as this universal proclivity can be exploited to serve a purpose.  Sometimes, then, the incidence of a mytheme is due to UTILITY.

Case in point: The great Filipino epic, “Corrido and the Life of the Three Princes; children of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana of Berbania” (a.k.a. “Ibong Adarna”) was composed by José de la Cruz (a.k.a. “Huseng Sisiw”) c. 1800.  The author claimed that the tale was not his own, but originated in Europe…and was transmitted to the Philippines by the Spanish in the 16th century.  He did this in order to give the story a sense of mystique “from long, long ago”…and thus a manufactured legacy.  He pulled this off by giving it a European (read: ROMAN CATHOLIC) pedigree.  The stunt worked.

Memes: do not colonize our minds by force.  Rather, they finagle their way in.  In this respect, every catchy meme is a Trojan horse.

The cooptation of extant mythemes is almost never done wittingly.  There is rarely any deliberate appropriation going on (“motif-poaching”).  For, whenever people engage in memetic repurposing, they like to think of their own version as authentic, not derivative.  That is: Everyone is apt to consider THEIR instantiation of the mytheme to be SUI GENERIS.

Narrative embellishment typically exhibits a ratcheting effect–in that memetic accretion is sometimes irreversible.  For once a nifty tidbit is incorporated into the memeplex, everything that happens thereafter is–at least in part–built upon it.  That is to say: The integrity of the structure comes to depend on its BEING THERE. 

And so it goes: Once a memeplex begins to calcify, it is rendered sacrosanct–if for no other reason than its architecture is like a house of cards.  Even iconography dies hard.  This is why Muslims still use the symbol that the pre-Islamic Arabians used for their moon-god, Hubal (the crescent).

The repetition of a signature idiosyncrasy / flub is an incontrovertible signs that mythemes have been appropriated.  (For the same reasons, it is a sure sign that someone has cheated on an exam by copying a neighbor’s work.)  The authors of the Koran make several glaring mistakes concerning Christian folklore.  For example, in 19:28 they refer to the mother of JoN as the “sister of Aaron”, thereby confusing Mary of the New Testament with Miriam (sister of Moses) of the Old Testament.  (Both 3:35-36 and 66:12 reinforce this mistake by identifying Mary, mother of JoN, as the daughter of Imran–who was, in fact, the sister of Aaron and Moses, Imran’s other children.)

In 20:90-100, we’re told that a Samaritan helped build the golden calf…when Samaritans did not exist as a people until over 1,000 later.  Oops.  66:12 refers to Jesus as the nephew of Moses. Oops.  7:124 stipulates that the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt used crucifixion when that method of execution was not used until the Assyrians / Babylonians / Phoenicians introduced the sadistic practice many centuries later.  Oops.  (The practice was later adopted by the Persian and then Roman Empires).  This last mistake is made even more comic, as the crucifixions were allegedly done AFTER the Pharaoh had the people’s hands and feet cut off.  (So they were evidently MAGICAL crucifixions.) 

The Koran also claims that the Jews think Ezra (“Uzayr”) is the son of god (9:30) and that the Christian trinity is comprised of the godhead, the son (Jesus qua Christ), and Jesus’ mother, Mary (4:169-171 and 5:116).  And on and on.  Such glaring mistakes are embarrassing because they concern such elementary things.  This raft of erroneous statements reveals the many misconceptions Arabian Bedouins had about Abrahamic lore during the Dark Ages.  But this is unsurprising, as Arabia–nestled as it was betwixt the Byzantine / Roman (Christian) Empire and the Persian (Zoroastrian) Empire–wound up with a farrago of partially-digested, obliquely-understood tidbits of Judeo-Christian theology.  In aspiring to its own brand of monotheism, the Arabian version couldn’t help but be comprised of an adulterated hodgepodge of memes, cobbled together so as to yield a uniquely Arab religion.

The piecemeal appropriation of Abrahamic lore is further testament to the Koran’s fallibility.  Indeed, the book repeats the Torah’s myths of:

  • The Fall (7:16-28 and 20:115-123)
  • The Flood (11:36-49, 21:76-77, 23:23-29, 25:37, 26:105-121, 37:76-82, 54:11-15, and 71:1/11/25-26)
  • Jonah’s aquatic escapade (37:139-147)
  • Exodus (2:49-55, 7:103-153, 10:90, 17:101-104, 20:56-80, 26:10-68, etc.)

…presenting all tales as actual history.  29:14 even notifies us that, at the time of the (non-existent) global alluvion, Noah was 950 years old. (!)

Of course, the authors of the Hebrew Bible themselves appropriated many of the tales that were featured in their scripture–most notably: the Flood story.  Meanwhile, the Exodus story was likely based on the Hyksos of Avaris (who ruled the area during the 16th century B.C.), where the heroic figure was Osarseph (rather than Moses) and the Pharoah was Bakenranef of Zau, who ruled in the 720’s B.C. *  Zau [Coptic: “Sai”] was the temenos of the Creator goddess, Neit[h].  Avaris was later re-cast as Goshen in Abrahamic lore.  The Semitic peoples there at that time were Qedarites (that is: Arabs, not Hebrews); and were eventually exiled to Canaan.  (Ring any bells?)  Even more telling, the names “Moses” and “Aaron” seem to have Egyptian etymologies. **  Plutarch held that even “Juda” was a name from Egyptian lore. (!)

There is also a recycling of Hebrew references to “Gog and Magog” (18:94 and 21:96).  (I discuss the slew of antecedent lore recycled in the Koran in my essay: “Syriac Source-Material For Islamic Lore”.)

The regurgitation of Abrahamic folklore by the Ishmaelites is not surprising.  Indeed, the appropriation of extant folklore by new-fangled cults has always been commonplace.  The fact is that those who compiled the Koran (as well as Mohammed himself, for that matter) were passing old Hebrew legends off as literal history.  Why?  Because they didn’t know any better.

As far as the Koran’s authors’ credibility goes, the confusion of myth with historical fact is somewhat incriminating.  These are stories that we now know are not historically accurate.  In fact, we now know them to be entirely fabricated.  (Homo Sapiens did not originate from one particular male in a lush garden in Mesopotamia; the planet was never flooded; the events in Exodus never happened; etc.)  YET…the authors of the Koran opted to include those primitive stories in god’s infallible account of the past.  (The Koran does not present such re-tellings as mere parable.)

There are only two possible explanations for this–neither of which bodes well for the credence of the Koran.  The authors were either (knowingly) making things up…or they were, shall we say, innocently naive.

The former explanation entails duplicity: If the authors were making THAT stuff up, then we must ask, “What ELSE were they making up?”

The latter explanation prompts the question: “If the authors were (accidentally) mistaken about THOSE things, then which other things might they have been mistaken about?”

As it turns out, not only were the authors peddling fiction as fact, they were hawking a deranged re-vamping of Abrahamic theology–as we see, for example, with pre-destination (most notably in Islam and Calvinism).

A defense of this fraudulent historiography is that the early followers didn’t really take any of it literally, so WE shouldn’t either.  The problem with such special pleading is that Koranic verse was clearly not meant to be taken “just figuratively”.  The Koran is emphatic that it is a CLEAR EXPLANATION (as discussed elsewhere).

The fact is that the authors–and most likely MoM himself, insofar as he existed–were purveyors of myth who didn’t admit that they were purveying MYTH.  In their defense, they may not have even KNOWN that what they were relaying was just a set of recycled fables.  But whether they were doing so wittingly or unwittingly, the verdict is the same.  They were WRONG.

As we’ve seen, the Flood tale has been milked over and over again.  And the tale of an auspicious figure receiving a revelation in isolation has been milked ad nauseam (as I discuss at length in my essay on “The History Of Exalted Figures”).

Oftentimes, the mytheme is put in the service of an agenda (i.e. as a way of promoting an ideology), as with the Horatio Alger myth (a version of the “rags to riches” tale that gives working-class people false hope when trying to succeed in a capitalist system).  Ideologues are invariably addled by an abiding need to cling to antiquated myths–a case-study of which I explore in “The Forgotten Diaspora”.

For more on this, see “The Enigma of Reason” by sociologists Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier.  Also note “Denying To The Grave” by Jack and Sara Gorman; as well as “The Knowledge Illusion” by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.

{*  Reference Carol Meyers’ “Exodus” (2005); as well as Erich S. Gruen’s “The Use and Abuse of the Exodus Story: The Construct of Identity in Hellenistic Judaism” in Essays on Early Jewish Literature and History; p. 197–228 (2016).  Also reference Manetho’s “Aegyptiaca”.}

{**  Carol A. Redmount’s “Bitter Lives: Israel In And Out of Egypt” in The Oxford History of the Biblical World; p. 58-89 (2001).}

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