Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Aristotle's Final Resting Place

Part of the ancient wall of Stagira

The Greek archaeologist Konstantinos Sismanidis excavated Aristotle's birthplace in northern Greece in the 1990s. He believes that a ruined structure he found may have been the final resting place of Aristotle. Sismanidis admitted that he has no solid evidence, but he quoted medieval references that speak of Aristotle’s remains (ashes or bones?) being interred in his hometown of Stagira.

Stagira is located in central Macedonia, near the eastern coast of the peninsula of Chalkidice.

Sismanidis notes that the vault, with its marble floor, dates from classical Hellenistic times, as do the coins and ceramics found there. He envisions it as a stone mausoleum with an altar outside the entrance, as show above. (Read more here.)

Another theory is that Aristotle's ashes were transferred to Stagira from Chalcis on the island of Euboea (Chalkida on Evia) where it is believed he died.

Some sources assume that Aristotle was cremated and that his ashes were brought to Stagira. Others speak of secondary burial, which means that his bones were reburied in Stagira. 

It is possible that Aristotle was first buried near Athens. He asked to be buried with his wife Pythias, a woman of the nobility. Pythias died in 335 BC and was buried near Athens. Aristotle died near Athens in 322. 

In his last years, Aristotle had a relationship with his concubine Herpyllis, who bore him Nicomachus, the son for whom his great treatise on Ethics is named. 

In his will, Aristotle made provisions for Herpyllis, and directed that Pythias' bones be moved to his grave. If that happened, it can be assumed that the remains of husband and wife rest together. But where? 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thoughts on Gender Equality

Alice C. Linsley

When people speak of "gender equality" I am curious about their beliefs and conceptions of reality. For some, the equality of male and female is simply an extension of their dualistic worldview. They embrace the philosophy of Yin-Yang, a soft egalitarianism that offends no one in contemporary Western societies. It is posed as the way of harmony.

Some people are influenced by the feminist conception of gender. I am speaking of ideological feminism which is rooted in Marxist thought, not equal pay for equal work. Ideological feminism gained momentum in the 1960s with the writings of Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Ideological feminism limits women by requiring them to compete with men in every area of life. This works by shaming, so that women feel bad about themselves when they don't enter the game.

Some views on gender are shaped by the person's religious beliefs. I've had numerous conversations with proponents of the idea that male and female complement each other. That is, they supply for the other what the other may lack. In this conception there is more than inter-dependency; there is absolute need. This notion gained popularity during the 1990s when Evangelicals were elevating the married state above singleness. This too involved shaming until the pendulum swung the opposite direction and Evangelicals started to talk about the blessedness of being single and celibate.

In Evangelical circles the conception of gender complementarity was coupled with the doctrine of headship. While men and women have different and complementary responsibilities in marriage, family life, and church roles, the husband has the final authority.

For Evangelical churches this meant that women clergy could serve only under the leadership of a male head pastor. However, Anglicans ordained women as priests, an action that was predicated upon the feminist conception of gender equality. Though that conception is far removed from the biblical view of gender, the practice continues even within conservative Anglican jurisdictions.

The biblical view of male and female entails binary distinctions and hierarchies. The gender distinctions reflect what the ancients observed about male and female in the natural order. Males are larger and stronger than females. Females are more attuned to potential ruptures in their social fabric. When threatened, males go on the defensive and assert their rights. Fear in females tends to make them clingy. This dynamic in the male-female relationship was articulated by Dr. Carol Gilligan, Harvard Professor of Psychology, in her seminal work In A Different Voice (1982).

We may dismiss these statements as generalizations, but generalizations are grounded in observation. I spoke to Dr. Gilligan about her book soon after it was published. We discussed the effects of fear and how these are expressed differently in men and women. Genesis 3:16 is a succinct description of the dynamic. Fear having entered their relationship (Gen. 3:10), God explains to the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

I speak on this topic and find that many people cannot hear what I am saying. The voices of dualism and egalitarianism completely drown the voice of the ancients. The term "binary" has become a bad word.

The distinction between the male and the female has become so blurred that none consider it odd that women serve in combat or as priests. Mothers kill their babies. Fathers abandon their children and abuse their wives. Men have sex with men. God is cast as goddess, and the fact that Jesus was born a man, and called the "Son" of God the Father, is dismissed as patriarchal language.

As an anthropologist, I have been researching the social structure of the biblical Hebrew for more than thirty-five years. In that published research I have demonstrated that the Hebrew did not have a patriarchal social structure. The feminist claim is false and unsubstantiated.

The Hebrew had a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern that has been identified through anthropological research using kinship analysis. Though the wives are not always named in the king lists, their presence is evident in analysis of the social structure of the ancient Hebrew.

Before Israel existed, the wives and daughters of the Hebrew rulers listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 ruled over large royal households, arranged royal weddings, owned property, and assisted in the building of kingdoms. Among the biblical Hebrew all movable property such as tents and flocks belonged to the wife who ruled over her settlement.

Hebrew wives were essential to the establishment of a territory. The ruler-priest had two wives living in separate settlements at the northern and southern boundaries of his territories. Without these wives, there was no way to establish his kingdom and maintain his territorial boundaries. Abraham's territory extended between Sarah in Hebron and Keturah in Beersheba. Before his son could take the reins from Abraham, Isaac had first to marry his cousin bride. The cousin bride was always the second wife, taken later in the heir's life in preparation for his rule.

Among the biblical Hebrew, wives exercised considerable influence over the affairs of their settlements. Sarah ordered her servant Hagar to leave the settlement and Abraham had to concede. 

Cousin brides named their first-born sons after their fathers. Those sons belonged to the households of their maternal grandfathers. The biblical Hebrew had a double unilineal descent pattern. This pattern pertains to more than descent. It reflects the rights and responsibilities of the matriarch and the patriarch. In a double unilineal descent pattern, both the patrilineage and the matrilineage are recognized and honored, but in different ways.

For healthy conversations to take place about gender, there must be talk about patterns of relating that honor the dignity of males and females without imposing ideologies and shame.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Challenge of Heidegger's Terms

In a sense, Dasein is the philosophical troll under the bridge that makes us fear crossing, lest we have an encounter. 

Alice C. Linsley

In our study of ontology, we have investigated Martin Heidegger's early thought and attempted to understand his contribution to the philosophical project. As with all contributions to the philosophical project, he builds on the work of others, especially Aristotle and Husserl, and he reacts against the work of other philosophers, namely Descartes. Heidegger's replacement for terms such as subject, object, consciousness, and world is "Being-in-the-world", a term he created to avoid the subject-object (mind-body; extended-not extended) discourse that had dominated Western philosophy. He also exposed the weaknesses in Husserl's approach to consciousness.

Heidegger's Being and Time (Sein und zeit) is one of the most important philosophical works of the twentieth century. It is both a systematization of the existential insights of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and a radicalization of Husserl's phenomenological account of intentionality. It is an original interpretation of the human condition expressed through Heidegger's unique use of terms. Because of the challenging vocabulary, Being and Time is one of the most difficult books to read. The fact that we are reading an English translation of a work written originally in German adds to the challenge.

Being and Time represents Heidegger's attempt at Destruktion of the Cartesian tradition that he believed was "ossified" - a rigid fossil. Or perhaps the Cartesian tradition is a stagnant pond covered with a film of algae so that everything important is hidden. That is how I would express Heidegger's concern, but by using this analogy, I run the risk of reimposing the very subject-object discourse that Heidegger sought to get beyond. I (subject) observe the pond scum (object). We can move away from this a few steps by speaking instead of Dasein's consciousness of water concealed by something. My awareness of the water is not based on my observation of the water, but on my prior experience that a pond holds water and algae grows on the surface of the water. There is something prior, as Heidegger notes in his understanding of being-in-the world. He has oriented ontology to Dasein rather than to objects. However, one must wonder how far we can move from the subject-object/mind-body discourse. (We do keep coming back to this binary feature, to merisms. In telling the story of ontology, we cannot escape it. Think Mobius strip: two edges, a single, indivisible unit.)

As we wrap up our study of Heidegger, it is helpful to review some of the neologisms that appear in Being and Time to see how Heidegger employs them.

Aletheia: Heidegger's German word for aletheia (truth) is Unverborgenheit, meaning unconcealment.

Attunement: Mood, neither knowledge nor contemplation. It is like background music that compels us to act according to the beat. Mood is the background of discourse in which we are already engaged and are expressing in our situation. Attunement arises from being-in-the-world. A mood manifests how one is and how one is faring; having a mood signals attachment (concern/care) to Dasein. Mood is why "being there" matters.

Being-in-the world: the basic and inescapable state of Dasein

Dasein: Human existence; "being there" in the sense of daily existence; being with
When a particular Dasein talks about its Being, it is as the self-evident "my Being". Dasein has two modes: authentic and inauthentic. Inauthenticity is expressed when Dasein flees in the face of its Being, its search for one's possibilities of Being; that is of not facing up to and acknowledging the meaning of one's existence. Authenticity requires facing the reality of our extinction/negation and coming to grips with the anxiety posed by our mortality. In a sense, Dasein is the philosophical troll under the bridge that makes us fear crossing, lest we have an encounter.

Discourse: The articulation of the situation in which we currently find ourselves. The manifestation of our everyday existence. Called "uncovering" by Aristotle. Discourse in not simply articulation of Dasein's situation. It is also being-in-the world.

Clearing:  Heidegger uses the German word Lichtung, which relates to a clearing, as in a clearing in the woods. Since its root is the German word for light (Licht), it is sometimes also translated as "lighting," and refers to the necessity of a clearing in which anything at all can appear, the clearing in which some thing or idea can show itself, or be unconcealed. Hubert Dreyfus writes, "things show up in the light of our understanding of being." ( Being-in-the-World. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995. p. 163)

In the Eucharist, when the consecrated bread is broken in half and the two sides set apart, there is a clearing made for those who come to receive Christ.

Covering up: hiddenness, concealedness, disguise, buried

Ontic:  Heidegger often uses the term ontic in contrast to the term ontological. Ontological pertains to existence in general, whereas ontic is descriptive of a the plain facts of an entity's existence. What is ontic is what makes something what it is.

Present-to-hand:  There are three kinds of presence-at-hand:
  1. Entities within the world understood ontically 
  2. Dasein as Being-in a situation or a context 
  3. Understanding of Dasein which a particular Dasein already has. Dasein is always something "pre-ontological" in that it signifies being in such as way that one already has an understanding of Being.
Ready-to-hand:  Dasein's use of equipment, like a hammer, and our discovery or (uncovering) of the hammer's equipmentality. An object in the world with which we have meaningful dealings.

Towards-which: What our activity is directed toward, the goal of an action; for the sake of

Unheimlich : not being at home, unsettledness, existential groundlessness

Related reading: Glossary of Terms in Heidegger's Being and Time; Heidegger's Later Thought; George Pattison on Martin Heidegger; Merisms in Genesis; Heidegger and Aristotle; Heidegger in Plain English by Joshua Broggi

Wise Women Throughout the Ages

For many female philosophers there is little textual evidence for their philosophical work. Hypatia and Theistoclea are examples. Much speculation surrounds them. Were they philosophers, prophets or priestesses?

They certainly were not priests in the sense that they offered blood sacrifices. The famous women of the Greek and Alexandrian temples did not. Rather, these were seers and "wise women." Diogenes calls Themistoclea a "priestess" while describing her as a philosopher.

Theistoclea was the Pythia of Apollo at the Delphi temple in the 6th century B.C. She was reputed to be wise in math, natural science, medicine and philosophy. She was one of Pythagoras' teachers. Diogenes stated that "Aristoxenus asserts that Pythagoras derived the greater part of his ethical doctrines from Themistoclea, the priestess at Delphi."

Themistoclea has a later parallel in Hypatia who was at the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria. The Church Father Tertullian wrote in AD 197 that the temple housed a great library which contained the Old Testament in Greek (Septuagint). Hypatia was the daughter of the famous mathematician Theon Alexandricus (AD 335-405). Like Themistoclea, she too was a mathematician as well as an astronomer and philosopher. 

Around AD 400, Hypatia became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria. She imparted knowledge to people who came to Alexandria to study. One of her students, Synesius of Cyrene, became bishop of Ptolemais in AD 410. He was an exponent of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, women have been acknowledged as fountains of wisdom. Deborah served as judge over the people of Israel. Huldah of Jerusalem was consulted by the King's advisers. She is mentioned in 2 Kings 22:14–20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22–28. According to Jewish tradition, she was one of the "seven prophetesses", with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther.

A Judean queen named Salome Alexandra ruled from 76-67 BC. She was one of two women to exercise sole rule over Judea. Archaeologists have uncovered her palace in Jericho. Salome is the only woman mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the religious reforms that shaped second-Temple Judaism were implemented under her rule. Her reign is viewed as a golden age in the Talmud. Queen Salome Alexandra was so admired that generations of mothers named their daughters "Salome" in her honor.

Peter Adamson, Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at Ludwig Maximilians Universität, has written an interesting piece about women philosophers in which he explores the role of wise women in the ancient world and in Christianity. Here is an excerpt:
The place of women in ancient philosophy looks rather different, though, if we turn our attention to late antiquity. Especially among Christian authors, we have texts by men that present women as full-blown philosophers, without implicitly tying these women to household tasks. 
The two best examples of this are Augustine, writing in Latin around the turn of the 5th century AD, and Gregory of Nyssa, writing in Greek a generation or two earlier. Both of them exalted female members of their immediate family for their wisdom. In Augustine’s case this was Monica, whose patient and pious influence helped bring him to Christianity, and who appears as an interlocutor in the philosophical dialogues that are among Augustine’s earliest works.
But it is Gregory of Nyssa who gives us the most remarkable yet little-known portrayal of a female philosopher from all of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Christianity and Evolving Worldviews in the West

The author is Joel Edmund Anderson who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Teaching has taken him to many places in the U.S. and around the globe. He spent 16 years teaching English and Bible in various high schools, and is now an adjunct professor in college. He has a BS.Ed. in English, a M.A. in Theological Studies, a M.A. in the Old Testament, and a PhD in the Old Testament.

His book Christianity and the (R)evolution of Worldviews in Western Culture was reviewed by Sy Garte, a former Division Director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

This is a delightfully written and comprehensive but also highly accessible treatise on philosophical ideas regarding Christianity and religious faith and the historical contexts in which they arose. Anderson covers pretty much all the main threads in Western philosophy and historical viewpoints, going back to ancient Greece. His chapters on the “so-called” Enlightenment and the 19th century contain valuable insights into the origins of many of our modern ideas about the place of religion and Christianity in particular.
I found the descriptions of the major philosophical views and their authors to be refreshingly candid, highly readable, and engaging. If you (like me) tend to fall asleep at the mere mention of the name Kant or Hegel, this book is for you. Not only is the writing clear and jargon-free, but the essences of the ideas are presented in a way that allows for easy understanding of often difficult concepts. The book also goes into scientific history and the relationship of science with the historical and philosophical trends in Europe. 
This is a book for everyone, especially those who are looking for an accurate and insightful depiction of how our worldviews emerged from the thinking of the best and brightest philosophers throughout the ages.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Robert Grosseteste, Philosopher

In many ways, Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253) is the epitome of the high Middle Ages. He was a philosopher, theologian, mathematician, and scientist. In his role as a churchman, he was known for three beliefs: (1) the supreme importance of the cure of souls, (2) a centralized and hierarchical church structure, and (3) the superiority of the church over the state.

Born of humble parents at Stradbroke in Suffolk, he became Chancellor of Oxford University (c.1221) and Bishop of Lincoln in 1235. He served in the latter office until his death in 1253. Using the authority of his office, Grosseteste attempted to stop corruption among his clergy and urged them to be content with their incomes from the parishes they served and not to "double dip."

In his position as Chancellor of Oxford University he encouraged the tendency to conservative metaphysics as well as empirical studies. Frederick Copleston writes, "the combination of these two factors would afford some reason for tracing the course of philosophy at Oxford from Robert Grosseteste to Roger Bacon in a continuous line." (A History of Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Vol. II, p.228)

Grosseteste's philosophical and theological approach blended elements of Aristotelian and Augustinian Neoplatonism. During the Renaissance of the 12th century, ideas on scientific methodology, including Aristotle's works and the experimental approaches of Alhazen and Avicenna, were introduced to Europe through Latin translations of Arabic and Greek texts. These Latin translations provided Grosseteste with the sources he needed to grasp Aristotle's approach to understanding the world.

Grosseteste sought rational explanations of natural phenomena and patterns in creation. He wrote a commentary on the Genesis creation account called the Hexaemeron (following the work of St. Basil by the same title). Grosseteste's Hexaemeron combines the learning of East and West in a manner consistent with early English rationalism.

Grosseteste worked on geometry, optics, and astronomy. He experimented with mirrors and lenses. In his De Natura Locorum he provides a diagram which shows light being refracted by a spherical glass container full of water. In his work De Iride he writes:
This part of optics, when well understood, shows us how we may make things a very long distance off appear as if placed very close, and large near things appear very small, and how we may make small things placed at a distance appear any size we want, so that it may be possible for us to read the smallest letters at incredible distances, or to count sand, or seed, or any sort or minute objects.
Grosseteste realized that the hypothetical space in which Euclid imagined his figures was the same everywhere and in every direction. He then postulated that this was true of the propagation of light. He developed his ideas the treatise De Luce.

Grosseteste was first lecturer in theology to the Franciscans (1229-1235) and his work had a great influence on the development of Franciscan thought.

Grosseteste's written works include a commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and Physics, treatises on scientific subjects, and commentaries on the Bible. His commentary on the Posterior Analytics places him among the first European thinkers to understand Aristotle's vision of the dynamic nature of scientific reasoning. This involves concluding universal laws from particular observations, and then from universal laws to prediction of particulars. Grosseteste called this "resolution and composition" and he insisted that both paths should be verified through experimentation and empirical observation. In this, he prepared the way for another Franciscan;Francis Bacon, and the development of the scientific method.

In the Questiones altere super libros prime philosophie Aristotelis, Bacon develops Grosseteste's treatment of knowledge, science, and intuition. Bacon articulated something that Grosseteste believed, namely that knowledge of scientific principles is innate because “by nature we argue and demonstrate and prove without labor, but to argue and demonstrate are modes of knowledge.” Bacon's account of sense, memory, and experience is more systematic than that of Grosseteste's Commentary, but it clearly owes much to Robert Grosseteste.

Related reading: The Not-So-Dark Ages; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Robert Grosseteste; Robert Grosseteste, Medieval Scientist

Monday, May 6, 2019

On Blood and the Impulse to Immortality

Some anthropologists believe that burial in red ocher symbolizes return to the womb of Mother Earth. The evidence does not support this view.

Alice C. Linsley

The question of immortality or "life after death" has drawn the attention of philosophers through the ages: Plato, Porphyrus, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and many more. However, these philosophers hardly agree on what it means to be immortal. Nietzsche's immortality is in his madness, of which Michel Foucault is the most profound observer.

Plato believed the soul to be indestructible even when it is separated from the body. He conceived of the soul as an indivisible whole and "the destruction of a thing consists in separating from each other its parts." (Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2005, p. 423.) Plato's belief in the transmigration of the soul follows logically. The soul must continue to exist in some way or form. It is also likely that he was influenced by the shamanic belief in soul migration that pervaded ancient Eurasia.

The Tyrian philosopher Porphyrus (233-305) was a student of the Neo-Platonic philosopher Plotinus. According to Augustine, Porphyrus believed that "the soul, to be happy, must avoid all bodies." (Paul Edwards, ed. Immortality, Macmillan, 1992, p. 96)

Augustine recognized that among the ancient peoples only the Egyptians believed in bodily resurrection and that is why they took geat care in the preservation and burial of their rulers. (J. Davies, Death, Burial, and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity, Routledge, 1999, p. 27) By means of the skillful mummification of their rulers, the Egyptians hoped to avoid the "second death" which results when the soul and body become separated.

The only reference to the second death in the Bible is found in Revelation 2:11 where John encourages those who face persecution: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." Is the context of John's statement Nilotic or Greek? It is possible that this emerges from both contexts as much of classical Greek thought hangs on Plato who studied for thirteen years in Egypt. If the second death concept is found in both contexts, we have evidence of an ancient consensus.

The Egyptians and Augustine believed as did St. Irenaeus that "the resurrection body will have the same shape as the physical body." This was critical to Irenaeus' opposition to Gnosticism.

St. Paul believed that the resurrection body is to the temporal body what the mature kernel of grain is to the wheat seed. In other words, there is a teleological feature that directs the transformation of the mortal into the immortal. Paul qualifies this by saying that this is true for those who are "in Christ" or for those who have died with Christ, a reference to Jesus' statement about his own death that "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

The Cartesian approach to the body-soul relationship supported the belief that the soul, being immaterial and extended, can live after death and is indestructible. Descartes wrote, "our soul is of a nature entirely independent of the body, and thus not liable to die with it..."

Arthur Schopenhauer believed that death of the body is not the end as long as the will survives. The will is sufficient to gain bodily objectification, as in reincarnation. Schopenhauer contended that belief in reincarnation was nearly universal among archaic populations, but anthropologists have found no evidence to support his view.

Rather, for ancient populations the hope of life after death was connected to what happened to their ruler in death. It was believed that should he rise from the grave, he would lead his people to immortality. The hope for immortality was not an individual prospect.

The conversation about immortality is further complicated by the fact that Western Philosophy and Eastern Philosophy approach the question from different worldviews. Generally, in the West the physical body has greater importance. This is sometimes taken to the extreme in movements said to guarantee biological immortality through technology and medicine. In recent news, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel has advocated the possible advantages of blood from young persons to slow the aging process.

Immortality as Human Impulse

Given the wide range of thought on this question, it is necessary to begin by defining the term "immortality" as it will be used here.

Immortality pertains to personal existence, not as an old or young person, but as a whole person. Therein rests the true value of the immortal life.

Immortality pertains to a life beyond this temporal realm, but not a pie-in-the sky heavenly existence. There is no risk in immortality of being bored. There is no tedium in living as a whole person.

The immortal nature of angelic beings will not be addressed here. That takes us into idle speculation. (Colossians 2:18)

Since inanimate objects such as rocks never die, they do not enter into the conversation except to note that the Caingang of southern Brazil "at the end of the funeral of one of their people, rub their bodies with sand and stones because these things do not rot." They say "I am going to be like stones that never die." (Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, p. 149).

Immortality does not require that the soul and body be separated after death.This was the great fear of the ancient Egyptians who hoped to cross through Sheol (the realm of shadows) and avoid the second death (the permanent separation of body and soul).

Immortality does not pertain to an immortal soul separated from the body. This is a Gnostic conception which has more in common with Asian dualism than with the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Immortality, as the term is used here, does not include the Hindu and Buddhist conception of non-material escape from samsara. Unlike the religions that seek to escape the material world, the Judeo-Christian tradition values the body and holds that it should not to be destroyed beyond the processes that are natural to death. In Eastern philosophy, the hope of escaping the material requires a level of asceticism that most Asians do not attain, and explains why they hold the monks in such high esteem.

Immortality is a hope expressed by humans. As far as we know, no other living organisms aspire to immortality. It is for humans a yearning. Augustine believed that the yearning for immortality expresses itself in perseverance. He wrote, "It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised [resurrection of the body], and when yearning is over; then praise alone will remain." (Discourse on the Psalms)

Paul likens the yearning to an ambition to win something of great value. He speaks of an impulse to run a race in the hope of winning the prize of the "the unsearchable riches of Christ." He wrote,
"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should embrace this point of view." (Philippians 3:13-15)
In this paper, immortality will be considered in the context of a human impulse that is far older than the world religions. This impulse is evident in the widespread practice of burial in red ocher, a symbol of blood.

Red ocher burial has been traced from as early as 100,000 years ago (Qafzeh Cave in Israel) to as recently as 500 years ago (Glacial Kame Culture). The practice is found primarily among Old World populations in Macro-haplogroup L (Mt DNA) and Haplogroup R (Y-DNA). L represents the most ancestral mitochondrial lineage of all modern humans, and R is a widely dispersed Afro-Asian group. There is a high density of R1b in Europe and central Africa.

Dispersion of Haplogroup R1b

Evidence of Immortality

Divergent views on immortality continue into recent times. Consider the philosophers Peter Geech (1916-2013), a devout Roman Catholic, and A.J. Ayer (1910-1989), an atheist and Logical Positivist.

Geech wrote:
"The traditional faith of Christianity... is not going to be shaken by inquiries about bodies burned to ashes or eaten by beasts; those who might well suffer just such death in martyrdom were those who were most confident of a glorious reward in the resurrection." 
In his 1988 article for The Sunday Telegraph, Ayer recounts his near death experience and reflects upon its possible implications. Ayer wrote:
"The admission that personal identity through time requires the identity of a body is a surprising feature of Christianity. I call it surprising because it seems to me that Christians are apt to forget that the resurrection of the body is an element of their creed."
Ayer goes on to speculate how it might be possible for there to be "a reunion of the same atoms" and states that the fallacy of Christian belief in an afterlife is the assumption of the existence of a deity. From a strictly philosophical point of view, evidence of immortality does not prove the existence of God. God is one of various possible explanations.

Considering the wide range of thought on the question of immortality, it is obvious that we are dealing with opinion, speculation, and perhaps a good deal of wishful thinking.

There is no empirical evidence of life after death unless we credit as true the resurrection of Jesus who was called "son of God." According to the New Testament Jesus appeared over a period of forty days to more than five hundred people in his immortal resurrection body. Christian apologists have written volumes about this so I will not delve into the textual evidence of those witnesses.

In reference to the resurrection of Jesus, I wish to point out that the expectation of a divine son who would overcome death and rise on the third day is older than the New Testament and most of the Old Testament. It is found in ancient Nilotic writings such as the Pyramids Texts and the Coffin Texts. This does not prove that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. It simply verifies that there was an expectation of an event such as described in the New Testament resurrection narratives.

The difficulty in proving immortality by any empirical approach is evident in the fact that Ian Ramsey never mentions the word in his book Religious Language: an empirical placing of theological language. One might consider this odd for an Anglican bishop, but Ian T. Ramsey (1915-1972) was very much the British empiricist.

Evidence of Belief in Life After Death

Though we cannot set forth evidence of immortality that meets the requirements of empirical investigation, employing "positivist tools" we are able to establish substantial evidence of belief in life after death. The evidence comes from archaeological and anthropological studies of human burial practices, and it involves understanding what blood represented to archaic populations.

For at least 100,000 years humans have been buried in red ocher, a naturally occurring ore composed mostly of iron oxide. This was ground to a powder and sprinkled, sometimes copiously, over the body after it had been placed in the grave. Archaeologists and anthropologists agree that the red ocher dust is a symbolic blood covering. However, they do not agree on whether the red ocher is the covering of placental blood or the blood covering of a sacrificial victim.

Placental blood speaks of rebirth from the earth. This is a logical interpretation for populations that believe that their ancestors came to the surface from the depths of the Earth. It is possible that cave burials involving red ocher symbolize a return to the womb, but this has not been proven.

I would be inclined to this view were red ocher burial typically found among populations that held an autochthomous view of human origins. Instead, the red ocher burial is most common among Old World populations and populations that arrived in the New World from Siberia (Clovis) and Northern Europe (Miqmac).

The oldest known burials in red ocher in the Americas date to only 12,000 years before the present (BP). The Red Ocher Complex in southern Wisconsin dates to only 5000 BP. New World populations do not have a long tradition of red ocher burial.

Lévi-Strauss found that the Bororo of central Brazil bury their dead twice, first in a pit in the village plaza where the family members lavishly wash the corpse to hasten the process of decomposition. Once washed of the decaying flesh, the bones are painted red and placed in a basket which is ceremoniously dropped to the bottom of a river. (The Raw and Cooked, p. 192) For the Bororo, however, the most significant symbol of life is water, not blood.

The Mayans practiced secondary burial also and painted the bones of the deceased red. However, the gathered bones were buried on land in ossuary vaults or ollas (funeral vessels), not in water. In arid regions the caves were sources of water and not to be polluted with corpses.

The autochthomous origin of humans also refers to humans being made of the soil (humus), as in the Genesis account of the Creator molding Adam from the adamah (soil). Both words have as their root DM (dammu in Akkadian), which refers to blood. The name Adam is derived from the Hebrew root אדם (A.D.M), which means "to be red or ruddy" (Strong’s #119). The biblical narrative makes a clear connection between red soil pigment and blood.

In Genesis 4:10, we read that the blood of Cain's murdered brother cries out from the ground and is heard by the Creator. The implication is that the ancients believed that the blood of the slain has a voice that calls to God, imploring justice. This may be the deeper meaning behind the biblical phrase: "For the life of a creature is in the blood..." (Leviticus 17:11)

Blood from a sacrificed animal was placed in the holes of Roman boundary stones, and the deity Terminus was called upon to hold the owners of adjacent fields accountable for honoring the boundaries. (Adkins, Dictionary of Roman Religion, p. 221)

Similarly, when chiefs of the ancient Near East met to negotiate land treaties, an animal was sacrificed and a boundary stone was erected. The sacrificed animal became part of the meal that the parties to the treaty ate together.

At ancient Emar in Syria there were three principal festivals involving sacrifice and standing stones. All three involved rubbing the stones with blood from the sacrificial victim and feasting on the sacrificed animal. (Patrick Maxime Michel, "Ritual in Emar" 2013)

Given the evidence, it is a justifiable supposition that red ocher burial among ancient and archaic populations symbolized sacrificial blood, not placental blood.

The relevance of blood to the human impulse to immortality becomes evident when we consider the ontology of the world religions. The soul in Hinduism is the divine Self (Atman). On the rare occasions when an animal is sacrificed it is to enhance the power of a ruler.

The soul in Buddhism is the product of conditions and causes and ultimately is not real. Buddhists do not offer blood sacrifice.

In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the soul is the real core of the individual person and is perceived to be blemished or fatally diseased. The cure requires a contrite heart and a ritual involving water, as in baptism, and/or blood sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews makes the connection: "According to the Law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Hebrew 9:22)

In Christianity, historically there is an order to acting on the impulse to immortality. Baptism precedes reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 A.D.) describes the consecrated Bread and Wine as "the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, rather that we should live forever in Jesus Christ." (Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 20).

Blood and Immortality

The question remains as to why the buried body was not sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificed animal? Why use red ocher as a substitute? Among those who believed that humans came from the earth, or are constituted of earth dust, the use of an earth pigment makes sense.

The same conception is found among Christians who observe Ash Wednesday. When imposing the ashes, the priest reminds the recipient, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."

Another explanation is the primitive anxiety about blood. Blood was viewed as both a polluting and a purifying agent. After combat warriors underwent a purification ritual overseen by the priests. This is likely the context of the story about Abraham receiving the ruler-priest Melchizedek after the battle of the kings (Genesis 14). Note that Melchizedek came to Abraham with bread and wine.

The connection between blood and purity is evident in the linguistic connections between the words for blood, pure, and holy in the Afro-Asiatic languages. Consider the relationship of these words: Hebrew thr - to be pure, Hausa/Hahm toro - clean; Tamil tiru - holy, Dravidian tor - blood, and ancient Egyptian tr - blood.

Blood anxiety has been observed by such prominent anthropologists as Lévi-Strauss and Colin Turnbull. Lévi-Strauss notes that the Timbira of Brazil have a taboo against eating roast meat with fingers stained with blood from the hunt. (The Raw and the Cooked, p. 151)  The Bororo share this repulsion to blood, believing themselves to be polluted whenever they become stained with blood. (Ibid, p. 152) Turnbull notes that the Pygmies view blood as dreadful, but recognize it as pertaining to both death and life (The Forest People, p. 186).

Blood anxiety is expressed in many cultures in regard to menstrual blood. The woman or girl in menses is required to live apart from the community during her period. The same isolation is required with birthing. The woman giving birth is attended only by other females in a place apart.

Colin Turnbull writes about blood anxiety among the BaBira villagers of the central African plains.
“Blood of any kind is a terrible and powerful thing, associated with injury and sickness and death. Menstrual blood is even more terrible because of its mysterious and regular recurrence. Its first appearance is considered by the villagers as a calamity– an evil omen. The girl who is defiled by it for the first time is herself in danger, and even more important she has placed the whole family and clan in danger. She is promptly secluded, and only her mother (and, I suspect, one or two other close and senior female relatives) may see her and care for her. She has to be cleansed and purified, and the clan itself has to be protected, by ritual propitiation…” (The Forest People, p. 185)

However, among one of the oldest known human populations, the forest Pygmies, first menstrual blood represents life and the girl is secluded for a month with her friends in what might we considered an extended slumber party. Turnbull writes, "The girl enters seclusion, but not the seclusion of the village girl...In the house of the elima the girls celebrate the happy event together." (Ibid., p. 187)

Blood anxiety is a reason to avoid blood, especially in burial with the hope of life after death. In that context red ocher is a safe substitute and a sign to the invisible powers that the buried person is under a propitiatory blood covering.

From the data collected, this researcher concludes that the 100,000 year practice of red ocher burial speaks of a hope for immortality, and that the blood symbolism testifies to a propitiatory impulse among archaic and ancient populations, an impulse that is preserved most intact in the Messianic faith called “Christianity.”

Related: The Sting of DeathPlato's Image of Immortality; Sheol and the Second Death; The Question of ImmortalityAn Early Case of Color Symbolism: Ochre Use by Modern Humans in Qafzeh Cave (Harvard Library); Adam Was a Red Man; Why Women Were Never Priests