Open thread for episode #945: Matt and Tracie

I (Tracie) will do a brief reading from Bulfinch’s Mythology, for a passage on the Greek tale of Agamemnon and Iphigenia, as follows:

After two years of preparation the Greek fleet and army assembled in the port of Aulis in Boeotia. Here Agamemnon in hunting killed a stag which was sacred to Diana, and the goddess in return visited the army with pestilence, and produced a calm which prevented the ships from leaving the port. Calchas, the soothsayer, thereupon announced that the wrath of the virgin goddess could only be appeased by the sacrifice of a virgin on her altar, and that none other but the daughter of the offender would be acceptable. Agamemnon, however reluctant, yielded his consent, and the maiden Iphigenia was sent for under the pretense that she was to be married to Achilles. When she was about to be sacrificed the goddess relented and snatched her away, leaving a hind in her place, and Iphigenia, enveloped in a cloud, was carried to Tauris, where Diana made her priestess of her temple.

The earliest references to Agamemnon appear to date back to the 14th C BCE. The story of Iphigneia is reminiscent of the Binding of Isaac, told in the Biblical book of Genesis, which dates back to approximately the 5th or 6th C BCE. In both tales, a god demands the human sacrifice of an adherent’s child, stays the execution, and then supplies a substitute sacrifice after the rescue. Iphigenia’s tale has alternate endings, one of which expresses the maiden is actually killed. Likewise, scholars have suggested there is evidence the story of Isaac has a similar alternate ending that likely predated the modern tale in which he is ultimately rescued from death.

it is important to note that similarities in mythologies may or may not be evidence of prior cultural connections. And sometimes themes are simply “human” and follow a common thread, despite a lack of cultural connection. I have not researched connection in this case. I just read the story of Iphigenia this week, and was struck by the similarity to the Bible story from my youth. I found it interesting and wanted to share. If others would like to expand on research for either or both of these subjects in comments, I encourage you to do so.


  1. adamah says

    Great show, guys!

    Re: similarities between Agamemnon and Abraham stories, the current thinking in academia is that significant sharing of old traditional legends and myths occurred amongst the educated ambassadors who served as delegates under the Persian Empire, circa 6th cent BCE.

    Of course, the Hebrews were liberated from captivity by the Persians (Cyrus the Great was even hailed as a messiah), and sent representatives to serve in the Persian Royal Court, which is likely where the cultural cross-feeding occurred (there also was significant international commerce occurring amongst the cities along the Silk Road, and tradespeople shared their legends).

    Google for ‘Persian Imperial Authorization’ to read the scholarly consensus on the motives behind the Torahic law being set into papyrus as a requirement to be considered as a member state.

    Fun fact: the 1st religion in the World to prohibit slavery was Zoroastrianism, which is exactly why Cyrus freed the Jews held captive in Babylon (587 BCE) and allowed them to return to Israel.

    Irony of history is when the Persian Empire was later defeated by the Greeks, the Jews quickly reestablished the practice of slavery in Israel, and even justified it via redaction of the Torah.

    Another fun fact: the word ‘slave’ first appears in Genesis 9, when it is spoken by Noah (in the only words recorded as spoken by him) in the infamous “Curse of Ham”.

    God clearly approved of slavery, since in Bible-speak, both blessings and curses a prophet’s request for God’s action, and God clearly approved of the request of ‘righteous’ Noah.

    Another fun fact: the New Testament features instances of Jesus using parables which referred to slavery, with him speaking of slashing the unfaithful and indiscrete slave into pieces, as if murder was acceptable behavior for a slaveowner to commit (after all, as Exodus proclaims, a slave is the master’s money).

    Odd: you’d almost think that Jesus actually approved of slavery, since he used it as a teaching device…

  2. OrphanBlackOps says

    Great show. Top two hosts. Love the expressions on Tracie’s face when listening to ridiculous points from callers.

    Great to have some theist callers on. I am almost positive that the Australian caller has been on before. Think he was on one where he was reading off a list of questions for Matt and whatever Matt said he would ask the next question as if Matt answered like he wanted him to.

    The Nigerian caller could have been a crank but then again these are the kinds of arguments one usually hears from Christian callers that regurgitate what they are told by their apologist leader.

    Glad that first caller found his way at such a young age. Wished there was an Internet around when I was young. The internet opened up a vast amount of information that is easily accessible.

  3. Wiggle Puppy says

    This isn’t strictly on mythology, but I’ve long been struck by the ubiquity of human sacrifice in human history. Myriad peoples – Phoenicians, Celts, Germanic peoples, Slavs, Chinese, Indians, Aztecs, etc, etc – practiced human sacrifice to appease various deities. It’s clearly the mindset of primitive people who think that sun/river/Earth deities would have some use for receiving the souls/spirits of dead humans on a regular basis. To me, Xtianity just seems like a silly thought experiment about what would happen if a deity took human form and was sacrificed and therefore amplified the value of the sacrifice, with the incoherent result that the sacrifice forever appeases the wrath of the deity’s father-self. Somehow Xtians seem so unable to see the ridiculousness of it all, which I find baffling. Take a cultural anthropology class in college, kids.

  4. Monocle Smile says

    The caller from London kicked off with assorted buzzwords and then demonstrated that he was utterly clueless about the subject matter. Fun fun. Funny how apologists can’t manage to email a cosmologist to maybe get anything correct about the early universe. Oh, wait..that’s because our understanding of the early universe actually flies in the face of most of their nonsensical talking points.

    Tracie hit him right at the root with her statement about the rain creating nonsense being indistinguishable from spelling out “Matthew.” It’s the same thing as Matt’s typical analogy of getting dealt a particular card hand. The only reason a royal flush means more in poker than a shitty five-card draw is due to pre-existing information that we’ve arbitrarily associated with cards and poker. I typically split the difference and ask about rain streaks spelling out Kanji symbols. I point out that the person I’m talking to (as long as they haven’t taken Japanese or are Japanese) wouldn’t be able to distinguish the Kanji streaks from random streaks and thus they wouldn’t see them as designed. This typically ends with baffled silence.

    Wow, that caller got a bit weird. I’m glad Matt got a bit cross, because the unbelievably stupid level of dishonesty with callers like John from London is extremely tiresome. Prophecy especially is one of the silliest parts of religions, second only to the concept of an afterlife (at least one that preserves everything that makes me “me.”), IMO.

    Holy shit, the prophecy of 2nd Timothy? Are you fucking kidding me? And then he brings up the ubiquitously debunked earthquake nonsense? Yeah, I’m not convinced that John is sincere. Ending with the hilariously nutty conspiracy bullshit was the perfect horrible ending.

  5. Chaz Russell says

    The last remarks from the English caller from London really brought me back. Jehovah’s witnesses believe exactly that sort of thing about the UN and throw around words like “christendom” pretty casually. Now that’s a religion that focusses on controlling its cult members.

  6. DampeS8N says

    The show is starting to look really great, guys. Better than it ever looked in the old studio. Richer, and less sterile.

  7. Martin Zeichner says

    To Wiggle Puppy @4:

    I also have been fascinated by the concept of sacrifice. It’s not just human sacrifice that has had a place in many human societies, but also sacrifice of livestock, crops, almost anything that a society produces. Even our own society has such practices. I remember that in the 1960’s there was a great deal of disapproving talk about how farmers were paid subsidies to destroy produce, milk and crops in order to stabilize prices. I even sometimes wonder if sending troops to war or executing criminals are forms of human sacrifice.

    Given that it’s so prevalent I have to wonder if sacrifice serves some function. For instance, in a society that has limited food storage technology it might serve as a form of surplus control.

    I suspect that such practices are extremely ancient. They might have been invented long before the stories arose to justify the continuation of the practices.

  8. Mobius says

    Re: Mythology. It was the similarities I saw between Greek myths, as well as other mythologies, and Bible stories that helped lead me away from Christianity. After all, we know the myths were fictional stories. So what does that say about Bible stories?

    Re: John from London. When he said that he was convinced by Bible prophecies that had not yet been fulfilled, it was [facepalm] time for me.

    Re: the Nigerian (whose name I don’t recall). He was getting frustrated with Matt’s questions, and that seems to happen a lot with theists. It really shows that they take it all on faith and really have no reasons for their beliefs. When pressed to give actual, acceptable reasons for why they believe, they become discombobulated.

  9. Robert,+not+Bob says

    @ Martin, #8: I doubt sacrifice has ever had a physical benefit. Violent death-especially in a noncombat situation-is shocking, and I can imagine people (usually in groups) getting a kind of catharsis out of it. So, of course, it has to be magic.

    From what I’ve heard, executions are usually very ritualistic, and the analogy with human sacrifice could be very astute.

    The English caller was definitely going from a script, and kept jumping subjects when he was thrown off it (which is SOP for theistic arguers).

  10. Wiggle Puppy says

    @ Martin Zeicher #8 Yeah, there were some ancient societies that would send the elderly up into the mountains or whatever to conserve limited resources and save them for the young. I think it also has to do with how easy it is to construct an un-falsifiable proposition.

    Year 1: Oh, we had a bad storm that destroyed many of our crops. The gods must be mad at us. Let’s sacrifice some people to appease the gods.
    Year 2: No bad storm. Guess the gods must be happy, but let’s sacrifice some people to keep them that way.
    Year 3: Bad storm. We need to sacrifice some people to the gods, more than last year, because they’re clearly not happy.
    And so on…

  11. geoffozzy says

    I think that comparative mythology might be a more compelling case to make for us Atheists to show that ALL religions are indeed made up. Many Theists might surprise you, I certainly would have when I was a Christian.

  12. kudlak says

    Wiggle Puppy # 12
    I lived amongst the Inuit and the elders weren’t “sent” to die in times of famine, they went willingly when they calculated that they were more of a burden than an asset to their families. Who wants to live with the knowledge that they’re hanging on for a little while more would cost a grandchild?

  13. KsDevil says

    Am I wrong to hope that one day some theist will present an amazingly brilliant argument?
    It seems, I keep hearing the same set of arguments and their variations but those arguments always seem to end in a ragged and unfulfilled conversation.
    Certainly theists must have noticed the repetitive nature of the arguments and would try to avoid repeating them. Wouldn’t silence be the standard position to take to avoid the repetition?
    Since there are so many religions with so many different edicts, I still expect that ability to be creative would spark some fantastic linguistic creation.
    I stand disappointed at Xerographic theists.

  14. Wayne Keller says

    Episode 945 is now marked private by YouTube. Any idea why? I was halfway through it just before leaving for Dallas for T-Day with the relatives. Now I can’t finish watching. :o(

  15. Martin Zeichner says

    Robert,+not+Bob @#11 said:

    “I doubt sacrifice has ever had a physical benefit.”

    I understand why you would say this. The alternative has implications of group selection and evolutionary psychology. Unless a benefit for the sacrificial victim could be identified such a conclusion would not sit well. Nevertheless, the stories do exist. We have examples of soldiers sacrificing themselves for their compatriots, parents sacrificing their comfort and even their lives for their children. Calling such behaviour “altruistic” puts a label on it but doesn’t really explain it. Even the stories about Jesus’ sacrifice are still believed which, I tend to think, implies that even a quad-omni god is not exempt from the necessity to make a sacrifice.

  16. Martin Zeichner says

    Sunday Afternoon @#15

    He also made me think of Beyond the Fringe. I think it was the accent.

  17. geoffozzy says

    VIDEO IS PRIVATE for me too now, wonder if they got false flagged by pissed-off Theists who don’t believe in freedom of speech?

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To geoffozzy
    I’d say the anti-feminist freeze-peach atheists are a more likely culprit. And that makes me sad.

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