01 December 2020

Quote for the day -- they've been pulling this stuff for a long time

From Broca's Brain by Carl Sagan:

In Greece of the second century AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, there lived a master con man named Alexander of Abonutichus.  Handsome, clever, and totally unscrupulous, in the words of one of his contemporaries, he "went about living on occult pretensions."  In his most famous imposture, "he rushed into the marketplace, naked except for a gold-spangled loincloth; with nothing but this and his scimitar, and shaking his long, loose hair, like fanatics who collect money in the name of Cybele, he climbed onto a lofty altar and delivered a harangue" predicting the advent of a new and oracular god.  Alexander then raced to the construction site of a temple, the crowd streaming after him, and discovered -- where he had previously buried it -- a goose egg in which he had sealed up a baby snake.  Opening the egg, he announced the snakelet as the prophesied god.  Alexander retired to his house for a few days, and then admitted the breathless crowds, who observed his body now entwined with a large serpent:  the snake had grown impressively in the interim.

The serpent was, in fact, of a large and conveniently docile variety, procured for this purpose earlier in Macedonia, and outfitted with a linen head of somewhat human countenance.  The room was dimly lit.  Because of the press of the crowd, no visitor could stay for very long or inspect the serpent very carefully.  The opinion of the multitude was that the seer had indeed delivered a god.

Alexander then pronounced the god ready to answer written questions delivered in sealed envelopes.  When alone, he would lift off or duplicate the seal, read the message, remake the envelope and attach a response.  People flocked from all over the Empire to witness this marvel, an oracular serpent with the head of a man.  In those cases where the oracle later proved not just ambiguous but grossly wrong, Alexander had a simple solution:  he altered his record of the response he had given.  And if the question of a rich man or woman revealed some weakness or guilty secret, Alexander did not scruple at extortion.  The result of all this imposture was an income equivalent today to several hundred thousand dollars per year and fame rivaled by few men of his time.

o o o o o

One can only wonder how many of the world's respected religious and "spiritual" beliefs, including those which still have adherents today, had their true origins in something like this.  Alexander's phony snake god actually became the focus of a cult, though it proved short-lived.


Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Every televangelist today owes him a debt of gratitude.

01 December, 2020 06:12  
Blogger Mary said...

They. Oils t exist without the gullibility and stupidity of man

01 December, 2020 10:08  
Blogger Mike said...

Was Alexander of Abonoteichus a distant relative of tRUMP?

01 December, 2020 11:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra: They've gone him even better, I think. These days you don't even need a snake.

Mary: Unfortunately, stupidity is an inexhaustible resource.

Mike: I kind of doubt it. The story says he was handsome and clever.

01 December, 2020 12:18  
Blogger Tommykey said...

I've long thought that Mormonism, which arose so recently that its history is well documented, provides a useful analog as to how many ancient religions centered around a charismatic prophet got started and gained adherents.

01 December, 2020 12:41  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

don't give trump any ideas.

01 December, 2020 15:54  
Anonymous NickM said...

This is somewhat OT wrt the OP but I thought it rather up your street...


Ya see we have ultra-hypocritical religious bigots over here in Europe as well!

01 December, 2020 16:48  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

It sounds like a parable about modern American religions: Mormonism, Scientology, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

02 December, 2020 06:45  
Anonymous Sam 240 said...

@Tommykey - I, too, thought of Joseph Smith immediately upon reading this article. In 1826, Smith was convicted of fraud in a trial in Bainbridge, New York. Specifically, Smith claimed to use a seer stone to locate gold, but the gold did not exist. He was fined $2.68.

@Shaw Kenawe - The Jehovah's Witnesses appear to have come about from Charles Taze Russell's attempt to rationalize the failure of Nelson H. Barbour's 1878 Rapture prediction. Russell later claimed that the end of the world would take place in 1914. He later rationalized that failure by claiming that World War I was merely the start of Armageddon. As far as I can tell, Russell did not claim to be a miracle worker.

The Seventh-Day Adventists also came about from a failed end-of-the-world prophecy in 1844 - they rationalized that their faith had delayed the outcome.

@infidel753 - You might be interested in how another failed end-of-the-world prophecy, this one based in the Chicago suburbs in 1954, led to the modern theory of cognitive dissonance.

02 December, 2020 11:54  
Blogger Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Right, Infidel?! And Christianity - I mean, do we even have proof that Jesus existed? Why do Christians worship a Jewish man they turned into a child of their god (this Jewish man's father)? I best stop before I get banned from the Internet.

02 December, 2020 12:51  
Blogger CAS said...

Hence the saying, "one man's Jim Jones is another man's Jesus." Or something like that.

02 December, 2020 18:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tommykey: I've thought that too. It was recent enough that we know Smith was a con man.

JackieSue: I don't think he takes them.

NickM: Yours seem to be funnier, though.

Shaw: It's striking how alike those stories all are -- and not only the modern ones.

Sam: These cults do arise from the oddest of things. Maybe Trumpism will devolve into a religion too.

Robyn: I don't believe Jesus existed. There are way too many things in the Bible stories that don't add up.

CAS: Jim Jones is a good reminder -- anything that produces such fervor of belief can be dangerous.

03 December, 2020 02:55  
Anonymous NickM said...

The thing with the Mormons is that their faith is based upon something that is demonstrably false. Joe Smith finds these gold tablets covered in gibberish which only he can decipher... This is drivel. My wife is a professional traslator. I'm a recovering mathematical physicist (now IT) and it is just drivel to state a text can only be understood by one person. Moreover bits of the English text contain verbatim passages from a delinquent edition of the King James Bible with mis-prints and all...

I'll rest the case there.

03 December, 2020 03:57  
Anonymous NickM said...

I think Jesus did exist - certainly there was is no reason to think not. The Roman province of Judea was packed to the rafters with assorted preachers/ranters/mystics/nutters/shysters... Of course what precisely Jesus was is another matter. I think it is signficant that Jesus is mentioned in passing by the Romanized Jewish historian Josephus.

03 December, 2020 04:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

There's no evidence suggesting that Jesus did exist, despite a substantial number of surviving records discussing that area and period. The "mention" in Josephus is generally considered an interpolation added later by Christian editors, not something Josephus actually wrote.

03 December, 2020 12:01  
Anonymous Sam240 said...

@Robyn - Tim O'Neill, who's an atheist, writes

As already noted in relation to Myers’ rather different form of “agnosticism” on the question, historical analysis of pre-modern evidence simply cannot arrive at definitive answers and can only make structured, evidence-based but subjective assessments of what is most likely. Carrier has done that and decided it is most likely Jesus did not exist. I and, more importantly, most of the expert scholars have also done it and decided he most likely did exist.

In other words, there's no "proof" either way.

However, O'Neill is a good source for how historians work with centuries-old evidence.


The evidence leads me to believe that (a) there was a historical Jesus, (b) he was an ordinary mortal who went around claiming that the end of the world was near, (c) performed no miracles, and (d) got himself crucified by the Romans. There's enough time between Jesus' life and the earliest gospel (Mark) for oral traditions, including claims of miracles, to build up - and for rationalizing how the "end of the world" failed to happen.

All of the Gospels have Jesus coming from the small village of Nazareth. If there were a real Jesus of Nazareth, this would make sense. If Jesus were made up, we would have a problem: the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth, and the made-up stories would reflect this. Only two Gospels do this, but they disagree on what happened there, and both of them have Jesus growing up in Nazareth anyway.

The Bethlehem birth makes sense as a mythical add-on as oral tradition added to reality. The Nazareth hometown does not make sense as part of a totally fictional story.

03 December, 2020 12:16  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

This sounds like every clergyman who ever existed.
It also sounds like IMPOTUS, sans the ‘handsome’
A fool and his money.....


03 December, 2020 14:39  

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