The Evolution of God (Back Bay Readers' Pick)
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In this sweeping, dazzling journey through history, Robert Wright unveils a discovery of crucial importance to the present moment: there is a pattern in the evolution Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and a "hidden code" in their scriptures. Through the prisms of archeology, theology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology, Wright repeatedly overturns conventional wisdom to show how and why religion can strengthen the social order-even in an age of globalization-and explains why modern science is not only compatible with religion, but actively affirms the validity of the religious quest.
Vast in scope and thrilling in ambition, The Evolution of God brilliantly alters our understanding of God and where He came from-and where He and we are going next.
infidel cities is all-out genocide—kill all men, women, and children, not to mention livestock. There is nothing in the Koran that compares with this, arguably the moral low point of the entire body of Abrahamic scripture. Still, if Muhammad never countenanced the killing of women or children, he did countenance a lot of killing. At least, he expressed approval of it quite a few times. In sheer numbers, such expressions in the Koran may not exceed those in the Bible. (Deuteronomy alone
to the late Medina period—and, for all we know, in fact dating from later—when God tells humankind that he has “made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” 13 Compare this to the Bible’s story of the Tower of Babel, written well before the exile. Here God’s plan is for the world’s nations to always have trouble getting to know one another. Of course, if the existence of empire conduces to harmony, the expansion of empire—the process of actually conquering new
to the heartland of El worship. 52 Wellhausen’s scheme doesn’t enjoy the near universal esteem it had in the mid-twentieth century, 53 but there’s no denying that the Bible features different vocabularies for Israel’s god. And if indeed the Hebrew god was the result of a merger—perhaps between a faction whose main deity was a creator god named El and another faction that worshipped a war god named Yahweh 54 —this would be nothing new. As we’ve seen, the ancient world was full of politically
down by a deity that isn’t a moral beacon to begin with. Radcliffe-Brown had come from a culture in which “god” meant good, but that equation is hardly universal, and among hunter-gatherers it’s just about unknown. Thus, Kmukamtch, the Klamath sun god, harbored petty resentment of his handsome adopted son, Aishish, and so spent much time and energy stealing Aishish’s clothes and trying them on. (This explains why the sun is sometimes surrounded by small puffy clouds—Aishish’s beaded garments.)
their religion. Caligula declared in Philo’s presence that, though the Jews are “foolish in refusing to believe that I have got the nature of a god,” they are, at bottom, “unfortunate rather than wicked.” 19 Caligula’s sanity has been much debated, but for the moment, at least, he was being rational. This grudging tolerance made sense. Whatever the theological differences between Caligula and the Jews, his relationship with them was, at bottom, non-zero-sum. They were a productive people, and