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Convenient Myths

The Axial Age, Dark Green Religion, and the World That Never Was

Iain Provan

Publication Year: 2013

The contemporary world has been shaped by two important and potent myths. Karl Jaspers’ construct of the “axial age” envisions the common past (800-200 BC), the time when Western society was born and world religions spontaneously and independently appeared out of a seemingly shared value set. Conversely, the myth of the “dark green golden age” as narrated by David Suzuki and others asserts that the axial age, and the otherworldliness that accompanied the emergence of organized religion, ripped society from a previously deep communion with nature. Both myths contend that to maintain balance we must return to the idealized past. In Convenient Myths, Iain Provan illuminates the influence of these two deeply entrenched and questionable myths, warns of their potential dangers, and forebodingly maps the implications of a world founded on such myths.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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p. 1-1

Half Title Page, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

A word of explanation may be in order as to how a professional biblical scholar came to write a book that strays so far outside the area of his professional expertise. I first became interested in the two myths that lie at the heart of this book when I came across some of the writings of their propagators, ...

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pp. xi-xii

This book and a closely related one—Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters (Baylor University Press, 2014)—were written over a period of several years, and I need to note my appreciation for both the institutions and the individual persons who offered me support and help as I was writing it. ...

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pp. 1-6

We all believe at some level in world peace. That is why young women in beauty pageants worldwide have so often asserted their own firm commitment to it, as they have sought the judges’ approval. It is such a cliché that the 2000 film Miss Congeniality can exploit it for laughs— among the many other aspects of beauty pageants that the film mocks. ...

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1. The Turning Point of History: The Axial Age

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pp. 7-18

The myth of the axial age has been widely embraced throughout the world in the course of the last several decades, whether consciously and at first hand or more unconsciously and at a distance, as its core message has seeped out into both serious and popular culture. ...

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2. Serious People, Bad Ideas: An Inquisition on the Axial Age

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pp. 19-28

As a way into the discussion that follows, we may begin with a significant, fairly recent critique of Karl Jaspers’ thought by Johann Arnason.1 Ironically, in view of Jaspers’ appeal to observable or recorded fact, Arnason criticizes Jaspers precisely for a lack of careful attention to empirical historical data in his theorizing. ...

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3. Procrustes and His Bed: Mutilating the Facts to Fit a Theory

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pp. 29-40

Two writers more than any others have probably been responsible for the popularizing of the Jaspers thesis: John Hick and Karen Armstrong. In this chapter we shall explore their presentations of the thesis and note the serious problems that arise. In their midst we shall set a more academic contributor to the discussion, ...

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4. Happy Hunting (and Gathering): The Dark Green Golden Age

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pp. 41-56

Many of the authors I have discussed in chapters 1–3 embrace the notion of an axial age by way of advocacy. They not only believe in the existence of such an age; they look back to it for inspiration, and they ground in it proposals about our human and planetary future. This is not the case with all the believers, however. ...

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5. Hard Times in the Paleolithic: Constant Battles and Unequal Rights

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pp. 57-68

Where is the evidence of an earthly paradise just prior to the rise of agriculture, hierarchy, patriarchy, and monotheism? Why should we believe in such a dark green golden age, just prior to “civilization,” in which humans lived in harmony with nature, possessing untold wisdom that we moderns do not possess ...

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6. Ecologically Noble Ancestors? Why Spiritual People Don’t Necessarily Look after Their Living Space

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pp. 69-82

Would the lives of modern “primitive peoples” suggest anything like an Edenic dark green golden age in the Paleolithic period? In chapter 5 we considered this question from the perspective of peace and equality. In this chapter we shall consider it from the perspective of ecological wisdom and useful religion. ...

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7. You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Desire (and Need) and the Past

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pp. 83-94

I have no doubt that many readers will have found the contents of chapters 2, 3, 5, and 6 surprising—even shocking. The stories that we have examined thus far in this book are widely believed to be true. It can be disconcerting (to say the least) to discover just how little they are based on evidence ...

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8. The Past Reloaded: A Brief History of Ancient Time

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pp. 95-106

If “the world that never was” has now been revealed in all its glorious nonexistence, at least to the readers of this book, and the reasons so many other people nevertheless fervently believe in it have been identified, the next question is: How was it, then? If the true story of the past involves neither an axial age nor a preaxial golden age, what does it involve? ...

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9. On Loving Your Dead Neighbor: Violence, Knowledge, and History

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pp. 107-120

The story about our ancient human past that I have just recounted is, I believe, true. Although it is brief, it is consistent with the evidence. Specifically, it is true (albeit brief) in its presentation of ancient religion and philosophy. It attends to what can and cannot be known about ancient religions and philosophies, ...

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10. On Truth and Consequences: Why Myths about the Past Matter

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pp. 121-128

The mythmakers behind the myths of the axial age and the dark green golden age do violence to the ancient religions and philosophies they claim to describe. They do so in the course of distorting the past in general. This is problematic in terms of ethics. It matters, because it is morally wrong. ...


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pp. 129-144


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pp. 145-154

Author Index

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pp. 155-157

Subject Index

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pp. 157-159

E-ISBN-13: 9781602589933
E-ISBN-10: 1602589933
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602589964
Print-ISBN-10: 1602589968

Page Count: 170
Publication Year: 2013