Shlain’s Thesis, third part: Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Feb. 28: Western Monotheism: Judaism and Christianity

Shlain, 202-260.

Mar. 1: Islam

Shlain, 261-291.

These three religious traditions make up the backbone of western religious culture, but why? What about them made these religions dominate western thought and culture, according to Shlain. How intertwined were they with one another?

  • 3 factual errors and where the correct information can be found
  • 3 omissions (things you needed to know to evaluate his argument)
  • 3 areas of logic or reasoning with you agree or disagree and a brief explanation as to why (see instructions for the Second Project, below)
  • 1 book or article on the week’s topic written after 1990 that he could have cited in his bibliography but did not.

29 thoughts on “Shlain’s Thesis, third part: Judaism, Christianity and Islam

  1. Religions emerged from early human societies in the form of polytheism, gods and goddesses ruled these early civilizations. For millennia the orchestra of deities played their various instruments of power within the mythology of ancient civilization. These powerful beings demanded worship and occasional sacrifice, both done to appease and sooth their infinite egos. But a sudden change occurred which has trickled down into modern society. The worship of one supreme being has become dominate among western culture. Christianity, Judaism and Islam represent the three major western religions and thus enjoy a widespread appeal. According to Slain, these three religions arose due to the development of writing. Although an argument can be made that Christianity became popular due to political motives, Slain attributes the worship of a single male deity to writing. But is this the only reason for their rise? Muslim writing is extremely artistic and can be compared with calligraphy. The smooth strokes that emanate from the hands of Muslim scribes are a delight to the visual senses. From the above example, it is easy to see that their are more things to consider while researching and backing up a theory regarding the emergence of monotheism. Three things that Slain has omitted from his argument are as follows: what the affect of religious art during the renaissance had on the people, why is Judaism still considered a matriarchal religion if writing enhances the male aspect of the brain and finally how politically influenced was the legalization of Christianity in Rome. Utilizing and these three omissions, Slain could have made a more substantial argument to justify his theory. These three omissions would also benefit the reader as they would assist the reader in understanding the sudden switch to monotheism in western culture. One work that would have made an excellent addition to Slain’s book is “A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” This book explores the political as well as spiritual development of the three western religions and provides an excellent source of information for the cultural impact of the emergence of western monotheistic religions.

  2. The three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism discussed in this part of Shlain’s book represent Westernized religions that focus in the worship of one main deity. I would definitely agree with Michael that it would be helpful if Shlain explained how politically influenced Christianity was in Rome. Another omission I found on page 206 was when Shlain described how Pax Romana lasted much longer than the Greek experiment did. Shlain failed to explain what Pax Romana was in the first place. While doing research I found that the period of Pax Romana was often known as the time of Roman Peace. Even though the translation of Pax Romana may be misleading, it was the time where Romanization occurred in the Western world. Although there were still foreign wars, this was a time where the internal empire was free from invasion, piracy, and social disorders. (Information found at On page 213, Shlain stated that in 43 BC Rome appointed a local non-Jew, Herod to oversee the district, but never explained why he was chosen, or why he took on the task to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. It would definitely make the text more clear if Shlain described these points to the reader before going on to make his arguments.
    I would have to disagree with Shlains statement on page 220 that states that “Everyone knows his or her personal time, this life, will end some day.” I know that Shlain states that nowhere in the diverse range of belief systems had anyone embraced one in which time itself was coming to end, but at the bottom of 221 he wrote that there were a few Greek thinkers who believed in the ultimate destruction of the universe, but their ideas were not “mainstream.” To me it is confusing that he states this because he clearly contradicts his own point being made. I don’t agree with Shlain’s statement on page 258, which states “Christianity was not a mad religion, but the awful sacrifices some Christians were willing to make for it in those early years could be considered mad… If children today decided to sacrifice their lives for a new religion parents would declare that behavior mad.” To me this statement makes no sense in its context. I understand that Christianity was not technically a mad religion, but people would make sacrifices that were considered mad. What I don’t agree with is the second statement, which was located at the bottom of the page. I don’t know if at today’s day in age, parents would care as much as they did in the past to what religion they chose to take part in. I would agree with his statement that the reason why most Egyptian statues have their noses off due to people knocking them off, but I would have to bring up the fact that it is a fragile part of the statue that could have been broken off simply from being so old.

    • Re: the madness of Christianity. Shlain may not have explained his view well, but other writers have noted the same thing. Today when young people join communal organizations to whom they give all their money and where they believe in a charismatic leader with some new view of the future, we call it a cult, and parents frequently think their children are crazy. What Shlain misses is that parents thought that in the first century too. When daughters wanted to remain virgins instead of marrying that seemed unnatural; when they willingly went to their deaths as martyrs, that seemed insane to the unconverted. Any scholar of religion will admit that Christianity differed from pagan religions, but as Robin Lane Fox has pointed out in Pagan and Christians, it was not over pagans’ lack of piety or their unconcern about what happens after death. It mostly seems to be over the concept of sin, the fall from grace, and the means of redemption.
      In answer to why the Church thought it necessary for priests to be celibate: there had always been a streak of that, derived mainly from Paul, who emphasized chastity and the unmarried state as more pure. But married clergy were also presumed not to put God first, and there were corruption problems. Mostly, the idea that one should act “in imitation of Christ” (see Thomas a Kempis) meant that the highest state of an individual man was celibacy and monastic contemplation.

  3. This reading was very interesting because in the beginning, the book talks about how the Greeks and the roman worshiped gods and they had sacrament to worship them. What i found interesting was that the god Dionysis and Oprhis was much like Christianity with Christ and hell. Judaism was also a major religion coming to form at that time. The reading stated that many jews fought in the roman army, but if the romans persecuted the jews, then how were they allowed in the army if they were possible plebians? When Jesus came from Nazareth to preach to people, he spoke about mercy and compassion. When Jesus preached, he liked to use Genisis, but why did Jesus like the “E” version more than the “J” version of Genisis? what was the difference? In the reading, it states that the Romans were very interested in Judaism and that many people liked the Jews. i disagree with this because the jews were only slaves in the Roman empire and werent liked. They were prosecuted for their beliefs, not praised for them. On page 219, Shlain states that Jesus had no doctrine and that he wanted his followers to believe in him. i disagree with Shlains statemnet because Jesus wanted his followers to believe in him, but he wanted them to believe in his words about god and what god had said, aka the Torah and the commandments. King Arthur was a Christian man during the Dark-ages into the age of Chivalry. A code of conduct transferred orally stated that men who are perfect lovers always is obedient and pleasures their mistress. I found this to be a very strange code of conduct, since chivalry i always thought was to have honor and to serve a lady. What i never knew was how Chivalry started? Shlain states that knights who dont live up to the code of honor and morals doesnt affect the code. I disagree with that because many knights based their honor and lives off of chivalry, to protect women and fight for them and the lands. If a knight doesnt live up to this, then that man is not a knight and doesnt deserve the honor of having that title. Chivalry played a big part in the laws of that time and knights who didnt follow those laws werent respective knights or Christians.

    • What is your source that Jews were only slaves in the Roman Empire, John? For example, Paul (the Apostle) had a father who was a Roman citizen and a mother who was Jewish. He wasn’t unusual. In a conquered culture, this mixing of peoples occurs frequently. Most Jews were not enslaved by Romans, although some who committed crimes were.
      Brent D. Shaw, “Bandits in the Roman Empire,” Past & Present, No. 105 (Nov., 1984): 3-52.

    • George Rados

      Setting aside our discussion in class about the fact of Herod being (or not being) Jewish, I find that the statement by Shlain that the Romans were protecting the Temple using (obviously-as his wording suggests) their troops. First and foremost, the Roman government would not (and did not) spend money and manpower protecting temples of their conquered peoples. They had re-enforced guard in Jerusalem during Passover time, that is true, but for the civic security within the city and its environs, as if it was often at a temporal/seasonal seat the Roman governor(s). The temple had a guard for its own “protection”, which was mainly functioning as a show of power by the priesthood and it was manned mostly by Syrians rather than Greeks. As for the Roman legion of the area, again, for financial and stationing reasons of convenience, the majority of legionnaires were Aramaics speaking Syrains under Roman officers. Further, Greeks of the region and not long ago subjects and part of the anti-Jewish Seleucid rules of the last Seleucid monarchs before Rome, neither would have any interest, nor would they have been accepted especially by the (image eager) priesthood to serve as guards of Yahweh’s Temple.

  4. There are a couple of omissions that have a factual error element in them in Shlain that I found. On page 71 he wrote, that once Moses came down from Mount Sinai that no one was above the law. However, on page 203 he states how the Roman Emperors were above the law, and were even considered divine. On page 207 Shlain states that Romans “out of respect for the Jewish proscriptions against images….Roman troops would cover the flags emblazoned with the effigy of the emperor.” Shlain gives no source as to where this information came from. If this is true, I would like to read the source myself instead of just blindly believing what Shlain writes. A factual error/omission can be found on page 210 when Shlain stated that. “Judaism was the only monotheistic system at the time.” Except Shlain leaves out Zoroastrianism which is a monotheistic religion that was practiced as early as 600 BCE, so, by the time Rome was an Empire it’s safe to say there were those who still practiced Zoroastrianism. I don’t know if this is more of a factual error or just an omission of the facts to carry his thesis, but either way Shlain cites no source for this statement. My last omission/factual error I found was on page 280. Shlain states that Muhammad read passages from the angel Gabriel, however, in Dr. Boyle’ s Islam class, I learned that Muhammad was an unlettered man from the Muslim author Muhammad Rashid Rida in his famous book The Muhammadan Revelation . Rida in many parts of his book claimed that Muhammad’s message is the true message of Allah (God) because Muhammad could read or write. Therefore, Muhammad’s message to him and other Muslims must be the word of God because how could an unlettered man come up with the usage of reason and logic found in the Qur’an. Also, on page 281 Shlain writes that the Angel Gabriel’s presence made Muhammad literate, and “enabling him to read the sacred words.” Shlain continues, “An unlettered man was given the gift of literacy by the grace of God.” Shlain yet again cites no source to back up his statement. This omission of fact about the Prophets ability to read and write goes against most Islamic perceptions of the Prophet Muhammad.
    Rida’s The Muhammadan Revelation, was translated to English in 1996 by a graduate student, and could have been used by Shlain as a source for his Islamic chapters. Rida’s book has many verses from the Qur’an and disputes and refutes views of the West about Islam.
    Rida, Muhammad Rashid. The Muhammadan Revelation. 1st ed. Al-Saadawi Pubns, 1996.

  5. Reading Shlain’s theory on how the development of writing has subconsciously altered our minds is getting more ridiculous as I read through his reasoning in terms of religion. Not every culture was documented as a polytheistic religious society. And when many cultures converted to monotheistic ways, it is more plausible that this happened because of Western society becoming more political and modernized. If you think about it, Christianity, the religion that consumes an individual to One Man, wasn’t a choice; it was literally threatening societies to convert. I don’t see how he assimilates the development of writing with the change of religious beliefs from many gods/goddesses, to one male god. In many cases, monotheism was forced on societies because one individual (a king, leader, ruler) wanted to be the main worship, like the Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaton in the 14th century who died because he attempted to fashion “one-true-god”. What about Persia and Zoroastrianism? Which spread to India and China fairly quick. Shlain should have read “God against the Gods: the History of the War between Monotheism and Polytheism” by Jonathan Kirsch. Then Shlain would be able to argue that the consolidation of power spread across many gods was a form of social cement. That the conversion from polytheism to monotheism was a means of nullifying opposition powers. This consolidation elevated the position of priests in both social and political structures so that societies had concrete foundations; it simplified things for rulers and kings. The West didn’t convert because of the development of the alphabet.

    Also, his footnotes have no connection to his bibliography, there’s almost no way to connect his connotations to his sources. And his footnotes sound more like opinions rather something that has come from a source. For instance, “There were a few Greek thinkers who believed in an ultimate destruction fo the universe but their ideas were not in the mainstream.” He contradicts himself, he also leaves out many important factors when he’s trying to argue a point but doesn’t explore the other side of it.

    Page 225: “Only one religion in the entire Mediterranean region was not based on this vision: the early Israelites did not subscribe to the idea that a deity had to die so others could live.” Then look down at his footnote. He writes about Prometheus. Are you serious?

    Bottom of Page 225: “Another factor contributing to the rapid spread of Christianity involves fish.” !!!!!! That argument was humorous.

    • Kyrstin, does what Kirsch wrote nullify what Shlain wrote? I don’t see these as incompatible theories, and I have read both. The elevation of (male) priests in social and political structures was directly related to the pushing down of women. Is it possible the use of the alphabet facilitated this?

      I do want you to think critically about Shlain’s theory, and of course one may think negatively about it as well. I am responding to several comments here when I say that we must be careful not to refute a Shlain assumption with one of our own assumptions. Part of the exercise (implicitly) is to challenge not only his assumptions but ours too.

      That said, you all have raised interesting questions and I look forward to discussing them in class.

  6. The author makes a number of mistakes with in this reading. The first of his mistakes is when he claims that “The Dark Ages was a black hole out of which not a single significant scientific, literary or philosophical idea emerged.” This is clearly untrue there were philosophical and mathematic developments according to Chris Lowney book, A vanished world: medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment or Ruth Glasner book, Averroes’ Physics: A Turning Point in Medieval Natural Philosophy. Later Shlain counters his own statement when he says the one thing that did come out of the dark ages was cathedrals. The next mistake he makes is claiming that the color red is wired in to male brains meaning sex. While searching for whether this statement is true found nothing to deny or even verify this claim. I accept that lack of findings for this concept to be proof that he can’t back up this claim. Another claim was that all monasteries practiced vows of silence. This is also an untrue statement.

    A book he could have used to further his bibliography is
    Crown and veil: female monasticism from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries / edited by Jeffrey F. Hamburger and Susan Marti ; translated by Dietlinde Hamburger ; foreword by Caroline Walker Bynum
    New York : Columbia University Press, c2008

  7. Reading yet another section of this book and were almost done. Unlike a lot of the people in the class I do enjoy reading this book. Yes it is a different style book than what we are used to but we shouldn’t shut it down so easily. He is someone interested in the material and wrote about it. I am reading a book now about the mission Seal Team Six took part of in the killing of Osama Bin Laden. There are no footnotes or anything yet all of this information is correct and he has sources, because he had information told him to firsthand. I just don’t believe that every book needs to be so critically taken apart, but that’s just my opinion.
    Anyways the items of this sections I found this week that I wanted to discuss were just like many other people are writing and how Schlain does seem to contradict himself.
    On page 257 how was it that Christianity was the first alphabet based religion? I beg to differ with this fact. With the Greek and Romans turning to left sided brain values, what drove them was their alphabet.
    Something that I want to understand more to further his thesis is how he writes that as the new testament grew women rights were curtailed and imagery was eliminated. Then all of a sudden Hypatia a women mathematician was stripped from what she had because Cyril resented her position. This story makes me agree with his thesis that the alphabet brought women down. She was intelligent and someone didn’t appreciate it.
    On page 262 when the Dark Ages are talked about and were said to be a time where not a single significant scientific, literacy, or philosophical idea emerged, I would love to learn more about this to connect it to the thesis. The light at the end of the tunnel for the dark ages what the act of chivalry and I believe this was a positive of the dark ages because it came about. It was a time where women were once again appreciated.
    How did Jesus become a man with no face, where now he does? This is another unanswered question I have. I understand the idea became, but when did his face emerge?
    Reading this book I am learning a lot of basic facts I have never knew about many religions, and enjoy it, even though it is not what us history majors are used to. I view it as just a book to read to get some basic knowledge.

    • We need to probably discuss chivalry and what exactly honorific codes do for or to women in society. “Good” is subjective. Honorific societies are typically violent ones, and while there may be much praise of women, day to day relations are often quiet different. One thinks not only of the chivalric age, but the Old South.

      See for comparison this review: “The Code of Honor in the Old South,”
      Orlando Patterson
      Reviewed work(s):
      Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South by Bertram Wyatt-Brown
      Reviews in American History
      Vol. 12, No. 1 (Mar., 1984), pp. 24-30

      But back to the Middle Ages and Chivalry. It is something several people have raised. A more recent article discusses it in the 12th century, disputedly referred to as the twelfth century renaissance:
      Tristan and the Medieval Renaissance
      Author: Lewis, Michael
      Type: Article
      Major Paper
      Keywords: Courtly Culture; Vernacular; Noble Women; Education; 12th Century Renaissance; Medieval Renaissance; Gottfried von Strassburg; Tristan
      Abstract: Historians have identified a medieval renaissance which occurred during the twelfth century. Developing first in the ducal courts of Southern France was the new vernacular poetry of the Troubadours, which challenged Christian beliefs and advocated a refined courtly image. Contemporaries of this movement such as the Minnesingers of Germany ensured the spread of these ideals across Western Europe over the course of a century, which would become the foundations for an evolving courtly culture. There was a greater appreciation for knowledge and individuals were encouraged to attend the new Universities and obtain a higher education. The role of women becomes much more prominent as the women of the nobility take on a dominant role in both the literature of the period and in refining the culture of the courts. Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan was written at the end of the twelfth century, regarded as a masterpiece this fiction exemplifies the evolving courtly culture of the period, serving as a tool through which the values of the medieval courts of France and Germany can be assessed.

      Yet many women, including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, probably could not write. It’s a very complex subject.

  8. I took to heart what Kyrstin said in class and wanted to read some book reviews on Shlain’s book, by those who KNOW history. First off, I want to say that I respect Shlain’s theory and his work in this book. I want to be a teacher, but I would consider it a great accomplishment if I am someday able to write a 500 page book on the causes of Cancer in African American males born between the years of 1980 and 1981 and who were below six feet tall at age 30. SHLAIN IS A BRAIN SURGEON. Give him some credit. Yes, there are some glaring misconceptions and false statements, but hey, who is perfect? So….I would like to share with you the first sentence of the first book review I read about Shlain’s book (from EBSCOHOST):

    “For me this book is, more than anything, a cautionary tale for those of us who delve into fields other than our own, to beware lest we indulge a pet theory to the exclusion of any inconvenient facts that might not support our a prior conclusions.”
    OUCH! – Written by Tim Callahan

    Callahan goes on to rip Shlain apart with:
    “Starting from the shaky premise that there was originally “the Goddess” he then proceeds through sloppy scholarship and his own personal gloss on history to some rather bizarre conclusions as to the status of women in various ancient civilizations”

    My feelings were correct in that actual historians or scholars were going to rip Shlain apart. Callahan, like our class, goes on to list many of the inconsistencies and factual errors he has found in the book.

    Callahan ends his review with this final nail in the coffin:
    “From beginning to end, this is a thoroughly silly book. It ranks with such “masterpieces” of pop-schlock as The Celestine Prophecy. And, like that dreadfully written book, it is sure to gain a sheep-like following.”

    a link to this review is :

    I read 12 book reviews of Shlain’s book, every single one was like this one. There were, however, reviews with some mixed emotions. A review of the book by DorOthea McEwan, from a feamal theology journal, gave Shlain’s book some much needed support.
    “As I said, it is not so much a book on the fascinating topic of alphabets and their supposedly secret messages, but a book giving reasons for the fact that women underachieved and were undervalued in recorded history. A burning topic, hon- estly tackled, if not convincing in many details, a true example of the Popperian tenet, that any thesis put forward is a hypothesis, waiting to be knocked off its pedestal by the next scholar who engages with it critically. No doubt, this will hap- pen.”
    This is the truth. Everyone has the right to write what they want, think and believe. This is what Shlain did. No matter how much someone agrees or disagrees with him, it is only a theory. The bottom line is that theories are what makes history classes FUN. They give someone a leg to stand on or a hole to fall in to. They allow for great arguments and discussions. This book could serve as a poster child for discussion filled writing.

    A book that I found that could help clear up some errors or questions people may have is called “The Alphabet Effect”, by Robert K. Logan of University of Toronto.
    “This book has a message: the rise in the West of codified law, monotheism, theoretical science, logic, and individualism was fostered by the phonetic alphabet.”
    I have not read this book, but I have read some reviews. BEWARE: SOME REVIEWS ARE MIRROR IMAGES OF SHLAIN’S REVIEWS. I have not been able to get my hands on a copy yet, but some of the chapter titles include a wide array of topics that seem interesting and in line with the topics discussed by Shlain.

    • Thank you for the reviews, Nick. “Popperian tenet” comes from Karl Popper, Austro-British philosopher and professor at the London School of Economics. Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century.

  9. As we continue through “The Alphabet versus the Goddess,” Leonard Shlain continues to build upon his theory that literary and the alphabet led to the creation of a patriarchal society. In this week’s reading Shlain begins to tie in the major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to demonstrate how they played a part in the decline of the Goddess. All three of these religions are based around the teachings and worship of one main male god YHVH, Jesus or Allah. Due to Shlain’s non-historian profession and biased conclusions he once again omits a few facts and presented some things people may disagree with. One omission that Shlain made was in reference to the fall of the Eternal City in A.D. 410 and the collapse of Rome in A.D. 476. Though the Western Empire did fall Shlain forgets to mention that the Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople at its heart continued to exist for another thousand years after the fall of the West. Another fact the Shlain omits is in regards to the rise of universities through out Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Shlain makes the point that the great accomplishment was the construction of four Gothic cathedrals that were dedicated to “Our Lady.” The fact that education was on the rise and students were being taught the alphabet and law at universities during these church’s construction works against Shlain’s main argument.

    Shlain points out that after the fall of the Roman Empire there was a period of 500 years referred to as the “Dark Ages” in which not one idea of sciene, philosophy or literary knowledge emerged. I completely disagree with this statement because though there may have not been massive gains in knowledge, there were still written documents from monks that demonstrate progress in the fields of medicine and astronomy during the dark ages. Another point in which I disagree with Shlain is his notion of Chivalry amongst men following the Dark Ages. Though his point is well taken that women among a noble class were though very highly of by other men, this sense of chivalry and women’s equality did not extend down to the peasants. Similar to any feudalist system the upper class aristocrats were extremely well of, including women, but the women peasants and farmers were very much still oppressed. One final point in which I disagree with Shlain is in his portrayal of Mary in the Christian Bible. Shlain states that Mary was only important in the events of Jesus’s birth and death. I believe that those are her portrayed roles, the ultimate purpose of Mary in the Bible was to demonstrate that even though Mary was a sinner, Jesus, the savior, came down and was able to cleanse her of her sins and make Mary holy. This act demonstrates one of the main concepts of the Christian Church that Jesus will forgive people of their sins.

    • You make several good points, Tim. I want to address one, though, and that is the role of Jesus’ mother Mary. Christians view her in different ways, depending on what branch of Christianity or particular sect they belong to. The debate about whether Mary had original sin was very contentious. Some theologians argued that Mary was born without original sin (The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception) and was the only human since Adam and Eve to be born “clean.” This doctrine was not by any means universally accepted, but it was widely held and in various Catholic “cults of Mary” was accepted as true. The Protestant Reformation rejected this doctrine, but it is now an accepted doctrine of the Catholic Church. If Jesus was born to a mother who had no original sin, then he did not have to “atone” for her as he did for all other people. I will also add that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is often confused with the Virgin Birth. All orthodox Christians believe that Mary was a virgin and accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

  10. Shlain makes arguments and puts forth logic that I can agree with in the section for this week. The three areas are as follows: The first is on page 219 where he puts forth an opinion on why Jesus never wrote anything down himself. The rise of literacy was taking affect during Jesus’s time but as Shlain mentions, you can lose meaning or power when you write something down rather than force people to listen to it orally. The second logical agreement is that the Orthodox took hold because the Gnostic books were eradicated from the earth. With the other ideas buried and never to be seen it is easy to make the logical connection that the Orthodoxy could gain a monopoly and control the direction of Christianity. Referring to page 241. Finally, on page 256 he discussed the influence Pax Romana had on religion. The peace experienced was not heard of in this tumultuous time, which gave religion and tolerance the ability to flourish.

    For my second comment for the section on Islam and the Dark Ages I elected to find an article to prove that the Dark Ages were not so dark.

    This short article from insists on complex social organization as well as a complex mingling of Christian and Pagan religion. Had Shlain seen this article and dug a little deeper (and written the book after the Dark Ages were refuted) his argument could have had more affect this section.

    • Provide the logic for why one should agree with Shlain. It is not enough to say, “OK, now I can agree because I happen to think this too.” What if you are both wrong? On what factual basis do you think he is reaching the right conclusions?

  11. Shlains depiction of the three abrahamic religions is interesting but missing pieces. For instance when discussing judaism/christanity he covers in detail the Gnostic vs orthodox debate however it left out several historic or cultural elements I believe are important to understanding the gender rolls that developed. For instance the old testament and who it was written by culturally. I would suggest more information on agriculture vs herding styles of food production and how they affected Jewish perspectives on morality, laws, and concepts of fertility and femininity. The imagery of the fertile female would almost certainly have a greater impact on farmers who grew life in the soil. The old testament which orthodox Christians refused to throw out had a great deal of paternal teachings that regulated women to a subservient

    Another problem I had with with Shlains discussion on the fall of the Roman empire was his lack of context discussing the fall of the Roman empire in which he glosses over the rise and expansion of the Hun empire into Europe driving Gothic peoples further into the decaying empire. (Heather, Peter. “The Huns and the End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe”)

    In these chapters I really feel as though Shlain makes the argument againsth is own hypothisis by recounting the spread of orthadoxy as the root of patriarchal hierarchies, especially when he discusses the Gnostics and how they had both writing and alphabet and lacked these patriarchial tendencies. This seems to imply that the problem lies in which idea of concept prevailed politically and militarily rather then a direct root with the alphabet. In fact Shlain points out that deviants of orthodoxy such as Marcion were intellectuals and educated. (pp. 242-243)

    When discussion Islam, Shlain talks about the life of Mohammed and the formation of the Quran. I think it is important to know who wrote the laws and what their perspective. I would be curious to know more of Muhammad life in this regard and interested on the merger of the various cultures that made up the Islamic world spanning from Morrocco to Arabia to Persia and as far east as India and Indonesia.any one of these cultures could have attributed their own perspectives including that of women into Islam over time.

  12. I see where Shlain is going with the chapter on Christianity. He talks about Judaism and later the rise of Jesus very much. He fails to really mention Mother Mary when he talks about Jesus. It seems he is trying to omit her, in order to prove his point that women lost their power in more modern religions/culture. She is a large part of Christianity, probably second to God/Jesus. He power is not much different than some women in Greek mythology. I would compare her to Demeter of Greek mythology. She is seen as a figure of new life. In Greek Mythology Zeus (the male God of all) and his son Hercules (similar to Jesus in a way), are similar to Christianity. What happened was there are just less random deity’s to worship. The religion is condensed down. Women’s power was not lost any more than it had been thousands of years before Christianity. Shlain never mentions Zoroastrianism, which was a major religion before Christianity. Shlain also fails to mention many ideas within Christianity area taken from older religions. He acts as if it’s all true events that happened, and its completely original. Shalin just skips over religions he should have included. He fails to mention the birth of Christ is not an original idea, and is actually bits and pieces of stories from other religions at the time. He gives an overview in which regular readers will immediately agree with, and not question further.

    Shlain could have included- Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions by T.W. Doane. This book examines what elements of Christianity are taken from other religions. Many elements of the religion are taken from such things as paganism. Something the Christian church was very against. This book would have given Shlain much more to talk about with the Bible and other religions. He could have shown that religions were taking many of the same idea from one another as time went on. Shalin seems to act as if each of these new religions he talks about are founded on new ideas that are completely original.

  13. As Shlain continues I still see the argument leading more towards how religion took women’s importance. I could be wrong and there could be deeper meaning leading towards the alphabet but some of the men who started these religions did not write anything down. Jesus as well as Confuscious did not write down any of their teachings so how does this prove his thesis? I am also confused about how Christianity is considered the first alphabet based religion when Greek and Romans created their religions and societies prior to this? Also I said before Jesus did not write down any of his teachings. He required his followers to memorize what he said. Something else that I disagree with is when Shlain says that Christianity is the first religion to discuss what happens when you die. Greek religions talked about going to Hades in death. Something I would like to further read about would be the discussion of why some men joined monasteries. At a time when government was pretty much ruled by the church why were men able to move up in the church but stayed in whatever class they were in even if they were intelligent? And another question I would want to know the answer to that Shlain doesn’t offer too much information on is why did celibacy suddenly become so important in a world that pretty much frowned upon it prior to that? He offers the effects of the situation but not why they suddenly thought it would be a good idea.

  14. I found this reading to be a bit much. Shlain writes many things that would make more sense if he delved further or explained a bit better. On page 206 Shlain discusses the Pax Romana and how it lasted much longer than the Greek experiment. In this entire passage I see nothing explaining what the Pax Romana is. I knew from a previous class that the term “Pax Romana” refers to the period of time ranging from is deceiving it refers not to a peaceful empire but one while relatively peaceful and held major expansion of the Roman Empire which expansion is not always peaceful. I think instead of just talking about it Shlain could have given a little background on the term and its historical significance.
    The second thing that I found confusing was on page 220 and Shlain said that everyone knows their personal time, this life will end someday. While I understand he was trying to tie it into a prophesy that Jesus made, that all time would end I felt he could have explained it in a better way. For example, I would have said that most people understand that their time on Earth is limited and their life on Earth will end someday in the future but Jesus prophesized that not just would everybody’s lives on Earth end but so would this plane of existence end giving way to a different type of time called Eternity.
    I really tried not to critique everything Shlain said mostly because it would take way too much time. Things that confused me or I really felt needed to be brought to light I discussed in past blog posts. The last thing that I think is an omission/factual error because it can be counted as both is what Shlain says on page 262 in regards to the Dark Ages. To say the “Dark Ages was a black hole out from which not a single significant scientific, literary, or philosophical idea emerged.” I feel is taking it a step too far. While perhaps his thesis that most people could not read or write is correct. I doubt the classical knowledge did not just disappear from Western Europe. There is evidence gathered from monastery records that there were significant advances made in medicine and astronomy, which would prove that the knowledge was not lost but was scattered to the monasteries all over Europe for safe keeping.
    Two books I think Shlain should have used for the Dark Ages section are:
    Evans, Gillian Rosemary. The Church in the Early Middle Ages. London: I.B.Taurus & Co. Ltd., 2007. (This one can be found on Google Books)
    Olson, Lynette. The early Middle Ages: the birth of Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
    An article on Western Religons I found interesting:
    Value Priorities and Religiosity in Four Western Religions
    Shalom H. Schwartz and Sipke Huismans
    Social Psychology Quarterly , Vol. 58, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 88-107

  15. Shlain makes the claim that the dark ages were a period of “extreme disorder and gloom.” yet, “equality of the sexes reached near equilibrium.” The book Shlain cites, by Suzanne Wemple was written in 1981 and while since then there has been little written about the dark ages, a source Shlain could have consulted was the concept of woman: the Aristotelian revolution, 750 BC-AD 1250, written by Prudence Allen in 1997. Many of Shalin’s sources for this part of the book, as we have seen in previous sections were written in the earlier part of the 20th century when even less was known about the Dark ages. I can applaud Shlain for attempting to make sense of the dark ages but in doing so I feel that he was relying on what might have been dated scholarship.
    In his chapter on Islam, Shlain makess a small but rather obvious error on page 280. Shlain claims that one of the five pillars of Islam is that Muslims make a yearly pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca. While this is a small error, it is commonly known that Muslims are required to make this pilgrimage once a in their lifetime. Another error is Shlain’s claim on pages 290-291 that there was no mention of female circumcision prior to Islam and thus this was a creation of Islam. However, there are recorded instances of Egyptians and Greeks witnessing female circumcision, Herodotus (whom Shlain states never wrote about this subject), witnessed Male and Female circumcision in Egypt according to an article in the African studies review journal titled “Female Circumcision in Africa: An Overview.” This Journal was published in 1985, 13 years prior to the publishing of Shlain’s book. Shlain’s source for this piece of information, Bruno Bettleheim was a child psychologist. Much of Bettleheim’s work has been discredited, most notably his belief that Autism was in part caused by “refrigerator mothers.” I feel this another example of Shlain using sources to justify his thesis no matter how untrue they may be.

  16. While reading the third week of reading I came across a few statements on page 257 that are factual errors that I believe need to be corrected. Firstly the idea of Pax Romana while literally meaning Roman Peace is a false statement because while the actual city of Rome was free from any real threats such as piracy or foreign invaders the empire itself was still not at peace. Also when Shlain states that Christianity is the first alphabet based religion, he may mean that it’s the first alphabet using the modern Roman alphabet but many other cultures and religions before Christianity had alphabets such as the Jews and Hebrew or the Persian and Arabic. The third factual error I found in this section of the book is on page 280 where Shlain states, that the angel Gabriel had Mohammed read the revelations that would be the Qur’an, but Mohammed was an illiterate man and thus could not read.
    To answer the questions u posted on the top of this blog, the big three monotheistic religions make up the back bone of western society for different reasons. Christianity became such a powerful religion because once the Roman Empire became a catholic state they had the ability to crush any competition in terms of being the dominant religion and one the empire fell many of the new kingdoms that sprang up had Christianity as the state religion. Judaism isn’t so much a backbone of western culture as it survived in big enough numbers because the Jews knew when they were fiercely outnumbered and would either let the other cultures walk over them, or if they were being executed they would run to another country that would not execute them. For example the Persians allowed the Israelites to return home after the Babylonian exile as long as they did what the Persian government told them to. The Muslim became a powerful religion because they also used military force to conquer other cultures in the Arabian Peninsula and spread their religion into the conquered territories. These religions are intertwined because the three religions are based off the older one for example much of the biblical old testament is the Jewish Torah. The Islamic Qur’an views Jesus as a prophet to the religion.

  17. Islam, Judaism and Christianity all make up the back bone of western religious culture. One thing that they all have in common is that they are all based around a single male god whether it be Allah, YHWH, or Jesus.
    I have to disagree with Shlain when he says that belief in Jesus took precedence over the law of Moses on page 220. The reason I don’t believe this makes sense is because Christians today still learn about the Ten Commandments and the laws Moses presented. In one was of the first thing I was taught about when I was raised younger as a Christian by my parents.
    Shlain also attributes the worship of a single god or deity due to writing. However, I think it is hard to compare literacy and writing to religions, because I have learned in previous classes that one reason religion had going for it was that you didn’t have to be educated and didn’t have to be able to read or write.
    Another place where I disagree with Shlain is when he discusses how Muhammad was an orphan and he later said that Muhammad took in orphans. He makes it seems that Muhammad had no parents. However, my professor brought to our attention in my history 470 class that Muhammad’s father was the only one that passed away when he was two, but he still had a mother. However, during the time the father was considered the money, so that is why he was considered an orphan. I think this is one thing that he could have clarified.
    There were also some omissions and thing that I needed to know to evaluate his argument. It would be better to have a general knowledge of Greek and Roman history to make these passages easier to understand. Shlain discusses these a lot in the reading however I know very little about these civilizations. It would also be good to know about the influence of any that they had on Christianity.
    Another omission is that on page 281 he says in reference to Muhammad that he was given the gift of literacy by the grace of god. However, in my Islam class we learned the exact opposite -that Muhammad could not read and write. Shlain doesn’t use anything to back this statement up. In The Muhammadan Revelation, by Muhammad Rasid Rida, on page 25 it supports Muhammad not being able to read or write. Shlain could have also used this book in his bibliography in reference to his sections of the book about Islam.

  18. Blog for Chapter 30 -Protestant/Catholic

    Shlain ascribes the God of Islam as being a “male deity” (Shlain, 324). This is a factual error because Muslims do not describe god as being male or female. The word for God in Arabic is in its self, unique, where it cannot be stated in plural or gendered form.
    The article titled “Translations of Monotheisms” by Fethi Benslamaa and Nancy explain the root of the Arabic word, Allah–”this operation finds its ultimate origin in the fact that, in Arabic, “Allah” comes from “ilah” which designates “god,” to which the definite article, “Al,” has been added. Grammarians emphasize that the elision of the “i,” or its contraction, makes Allah into “the god” (which one could write all at once as Thegod). Outwardly we have the same name, but the passage from Allah the supreme god and Allah as unique “Thegod” is a hollowing out of the name, in the sense that the sound “Allah” no longer possesses any conventional signification”(Benslamaa and Nancy, pg. 7-8)

    Martin Luther had not run away to a monastery to escape from his disciplinary parents, as Shlain states “Luther came to hate him (his father, Hans), and, by his own account, entered the monastery to escape him” (Shlain, 338). In actuality he respected his parents by fulfilling their aspirations and going to the University at Erfurt to become a lawyer. A spiritual experience had inclined Martin Luther to join the monastery. Though his parents were strict, martin was wise enough to know that they loved him and wanted him to become an educated man. Martin later recalled, “My father once whipped me so hard I ran away – I hated him until he finally managed to win me back”.

    Shlain states that the “childhoods of Calvin and Luther might shed light in their dark views of human nature”. Though these views may seem dark today, I wonder how people may have perceived them at that time and place. Also I would like to point out that Luther treated his wife very well and that is sort of unusual for a person with a so called abusive childhood. Shlain has omitted the cultural standards of that era and location.

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