“Genesis, Zen and Quantum Physics: A Fresh Look at the Theology and Science of Creation,” Jeff A. Benner and Michael Calpino, 2011. Virtualbookworm.com Publishing
Benner and Calpino desired to present their version of Genesis as it was originally written. To do this, hey used a computer to translate the pictographs of ancient Hebrew. Based on their conception of the culture of the ancient Hebrews, the two authors then determined how accurate their translation was. (Note 1)
According to the authors, since the Hebrews were nomads, they received divine revelation from God regularly. Benner and Calpino explained that the experiential aspects of the nomadic culture allowed for this. In contrast, modern people received their world view (and theology) from the Greek and Romans. (Note 2) The settled lifestyle of these urban peoples prevented modern people from fully understanding Genesis. Moreover, the authors stressed that in most translations that the text usually reflects the current theology. Therefore, what people read in translation is not what the nomadic Hebrews meant.
In their appendix, the authors explain why only nomads receive regular visions and encounters of God. (The inverse is that urban people do not know the Gods. (Note 3)) They write that “the nomadic lifestyle is key to the success as a person of God.” Benner and Calpino conclude that the lifestyle creates the spiritual and world view of the people. (Note 4)
Benner and Calpino write that nomadism “is a lifestyle that develops godly character and puts us in touch with that which is beyond us.” The authors cite the following elements of this lifestyle that creates such spirituality. 1. Nomads are removed from the dominant cultures of their time. 2. Nomads need to be self-reliant. 3. Nomads are always immigrant and outsiders. 4. Nomads are pastoral. 5. Nomads demonstrate strong decisive leadership. 6. Among nomads, the overriding legal responsibility is hospitality.
Reading deeper, I found the authors contradicting themselves. They write, “in fact, while the outward expressions of the religious traditions of the world may be very different, the mystical subsets of each bear striking similarities in both theology and practice… the truly striking thing is that these ‘mystical’ practices gave rise to similarities in theology that are difficult to explain given the divergent history and geography of the traditions from which they have risen… and irregardless of the forms and rituals of religion, there is singular ‘method’ of making that connection. It is the journey that results in that connection that will reveal the truth about the world, God, and ourselves.”
Edward Butler in his essay, “The Polemic Against Polytheism,” expresses what I found troubling in Benner and Calpino’s book. He writes, “translating the most important concepts in a civilization’s philosophical tradition into another, alien set of terms can never be regarded as a simple, nor a transparent process. This is all the more true when a clash of civilizations, and a veritable war of religions, has been in progress for centuries.” Further, he writes, “The idea of a so-called ‘natural theology,’ a primordial monotheistic revelation granted to all peoples was crucial in this effort.” He is referring to the sense of monotheism being the natural order of things. “The notion of a pure and original monotheism, an idea state of spirituality which existed naturally in the distant past and would be reestablished through human action in the future, was and remains perhaps the single most powerful tool of the colonial project.”
I think Butler has stated what I thought of this book. The authors have colonialized the Hebrew past as being monotheistic instead of polytheistic. They assume a mythic past of “ a pure and original monotheism.”
The subtitle “a fresh look at the theology and science of creation” gives the authors’ actual world-view. Benner and Calpino are modern people with modern monotheistic ideas. They fail to understand the actual polytheism of the ancient Hebrews. As modern people often do, Benner and Calpino assume that the ancients really think the same as they do.
The two authors do make one important point. The theology should not come from the lifestyle or culture. The theology should come from the myths themselves. The myths lead people into deeper connection with the Gods.
Note 1. Benner and Calpino referred to what they did as “mechanical translation.” In his article, “About the Mechanical Translation,” Benner explained “each word would be translated faithful according to its original linguistic and cultural perspective.”
Note 2. What the authors are alluding to is “written” versus “oral” cultures. Written cultures allow for abstractions, while oral cultures reference ideas through the speaker and listener.
Note 3. As a Roman Polytheist, I disagree with the authors’ assertion about urban peoples. Romans experienced the Gods, daily in various ways. Also, I believe that the authors’ own version of monotheism prevents them from understanding polytheistic thinking.
Note 4. Benner and Calpino both live settled lives. However, Benner writes in his various essays how a settled person can have a “migratory journey on God’s road.”
Edward Butler, “The Polemic Against Polytheism.” https://www.indica.today/long-reads/the-polemic-against-polytheism/
Jeff A. Benner, Ancient Hebrew Research Center, https://ancient-hebrew.org/