The Holy Bin
❧ in which Moe has a literary vision that could provide his people with a clear path, a reliable and omnipotent God, and an alternative to the grim afterlife visions of his fellow Mesopotamians ❧
Author! Author! - A Better Way - Alternatives on Offer
Then Moe had a vision: in the wide volume of his brain he saw a reworking of the old stories, grouped into one epic, and bound together with leather straps in a bin three cubits long. The Holy Bin!
Once Moe's vision faded, he realized how big the task was. How on earth could he get people to read about his God and forget about the adventures of Shamash? For there he was, on every market stall and street corner: the bright god who fired up Gilgamesh to defeat the monster Humbaba, and who dispensed justice at the highest level. The god the merchants came whining to whenever they wanted other people to treat them honestly.
The Saga was so famous that most of the time, people didn't even write The Saga. They just wrote in the story or in the text. Moe was sure there would never be a time when grandmothers didn't recite its sacred verses to their sleepy grandchildren around the family hearth. He was sure that even in another five thousand years from now schoolchildren would sing its merry poems while playing hopscotch in the dusty street. And philosophers would brood on its deeper passages -- and like all Mesopotamian stories, this one had passages so dark that people were afraid to read them after the sun went down. Moe picked up his stylus and inscribed:
The old men brooded
thinking of the inexplicability of it all;
as they watched the boats passing oceanward
along the dark waters of the Euphrates
to be met in the end,
at the bottom
serpent-laden Goddess of the Deep.
Was it possible to make people forget about those gods and all their dark dealings? All those snakes! All the dark nothingness of their endings?
A Better Way
If only he could replace their lawless deals and politicking -- and their grim visions of being battered by the wayward forces of the universe -- with a clear Ruler, one who was always in control and who made it clear what he expected from the human race. One who, once challenged, would smite his enemies like so many apple-merchants from Kashmir! Like so many homosexuals from Sidamu and Emar! What his people needed was a clear protagonist and a clear antagonist: one angry God with family values against one foreign Devil who lusted after nothing but wine and Hindu porn.
His story might also give his family a much-needed direction. Ever since the iron, apples, and foreign peoples poured across the frontiers, Moe worried that they were starting to lose their way. They had themselves arrived as immigrants from southern Egypt, landing in Uruk decades ago, and had made Babylon their home. Yet in many ways they had never stopped wandering. Before Egypt it is was the Caspian Sea, and before the Caspian Sea it was India, and before India it was the great valley of the Yellow River. But the wandering wasn't just literal: they were also starting to wander in their allegiances, drifting toward a belief that was popular and that connected them to the Assyrian masses. In brief, they were starting to assimilate.
Moe felt that wandering was part of their nature. But how to keep this wandering and yet retain a system of belief that would sustain them in their journey? What about their recent commitment to worship one God, and to follow his commands until the day they became one with the dust beneath them?
Alternatives on Offer
Some of his people were even lending their ears to the wandering sadhus, who told them that they would be reborn in a colourful paradise or in a wonderful mansion, if only they did puja to Lord Shiva. The next world would be like this one -- they would get to fish and hunt again; they would get to drink and have sex, and listen to the old stories -- only it would be even better.
Their desire to believe in a different afterlife was understandable. His One True God only offered some vague underground existence, or at the best some vague Garden or World to Come -- all lacking everything people had come to enjoy in their lives. The One True God's afterlife was only slightly better than what was on offer around them. For instance, in the ancient tale of Gilgamesh the soul flits like a broken bird in the dust. The great warrior Enkidu has a dream in which he gets dragged by a terrifying bird-man into the dark chambers of Ereshkigal, Queen of Darkness. It was all just so unendingly grim!
The one most people liked -- because of the sleazy cabaret aspect, Moe suspected -- was the story about Ishtar descending to the underworld to ask for the return of her lover Tammuz. At each gate she passes, she drops one piece of her clothing. Cloak, lingerie, drop piece by piece as she got closer, lower, darker down in the torchlight gloom to arrive at the feet of Ereshkigal.
But of course, Ishtar doesn't get what she asks for. No one seemed to.
In yet another grim vision, Gilgamesh makes an arduous journey to a faraway garden of eternal life. Yet when he finally gets there he's told that no one else will be allowed to travel to this happy place.
The grimmest vision of all involves the boat of Magilum. At the end of life, everyone gets on this boat, which then drifts onto the river and sinks. Slowly, inexorably, fatefully (all the words that suggest the futility of it all) the water creeps to the knees, the hips, the chin, until a few frail hairs drift in the current that sweeps everything away. Moe could imagine the look on the faces of the travellers as the water spilled over the gunwale.
Next: Final Judgments