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What is religion? Most people in the Western world today would identify one or more of three things: a moral code, a faith in a supreme being, and an obedience to the Church. Or, to state it succinctly: morals, faith and obedience. But should there not be something more to religion?

It is a fact that the word 'religion' stems from the word religare, which means literally 'to bind back'. In the Latin language, this term was equated with the mooring fast of a boat, as if to emphasise that religion should somehow provide a mooring post or anchor for our existence - a kind of safe haven, not just in this life but also in the next. Strictly speaking, then, religion should not only be instilling in us essential moral values, but should also be binding us back to where we came from, in order to give us some sense of who we are and why we are here. Or, to put it succinctly once again, religion should also be teaching us about ancestry, history and, ultimately, origins.

Does the Bible do this? Well, yes, but only in a manner of speaking. We are told that God created Adam from clay (or soil) and then created Eve from the rib of Adam, and that finally God expelled both Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But even if we understand this tale as an allegory for a paradise lost, it does not tell us where this paradise was, and it provides us with only the barest details concerning who our ancestors, Adam and Eve, actually were. Thus the biblical story, as it stands, fails to satisfy our yearning to know who we are and where we came from. And it leaves us with no alternative but to suspend our disbelief concerning Adam and Eve, and place our faith in the 'fact' that the first man was created from clay by God. It is thus God who should be regarded as our ultimate ancestor, mooring post and safe haven.

But who, or what, is God? It is at this point that faith traditionally enters the equation. We are not supposed to know who or what God is, or where he came from, for God is supposed to be a mysterious and unknowable being. Instead, we are told that the essence of religion is to have faith in this elusive being, and faith, too, in the Church as the sole intermediary between man and God. Thus we are steered away from the knowledge of origins, and are instead sold faith as a substitute for it.

Ironically, as we enter the 21st century ad, it is science rather than religion which is providing the necessary insights into our past. It is science which has determined the age of the Earth as 4.6 billion years. It is science which has explained how we evolved from earlier creatures by a process of natural selection (now accepted by the Church after a 140-year period of reflection). It is science which has dated the first hominids to several million years ago and Homo sapiens to less than 200,000 years ago. And it is science which has introduced us (via genetic studies) to a 'most recent common ancestor' of all mankind, known as 'mitochondrial Eve'. In all of these matters, science has begun to bind us back to our long lost past, and has thus become more religious than religion itself.

The Church, in contrast, binds us back only to the mystery of God. There is the mystery of how he created mankind and then destroyed mankind with the Flood of Noah; there is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ within the womb of the Virgin Mary, and there is the mystery of how Christ's body rose from the tomb after three days. All of these mysteries are supposed to be beyond the human ken - unfathomable and irresolvable. And logic thus dictates that faith in God is the 'be all and end all' of the religious quest.

This combination of faith and mystery has worked extremely well for the Church during the past two thousand years, but only because of poor education and superstition among the masses. As Isaac Newton once famously remarked: 'tis the temper of the hot and superstitious part of mankind in matters of religion ever to be fond of mysteries, and for that reason to like best what they understand least.'

But such simple-mindedness is no longer in the ascendancy today. On the contrary, the 21st century attitude - even among regular Churchgoers - is one of rationality, scepticism and materialism. In this consumer age, everything is seen as a commodity to be purchased - even religion - and we will buy nothing unless we know what it is and where it came from. For example, when we go to buy a new car, we expect to be told what type of engine is under the bonnet, where it was manufactured and how it works; we do not expect to be told "sorry, but it's a mystery."

The Church, then, has a 'product' which is becoming increasingly difficult to sell to a sceptical public - a public which sees no need for further lessons about morals but instead demands that religion live up to the literal meaning of its name and bind us all back to our origins. The rational man of the 21st century wants to know who he is and where he came from, and he expects to be told exactly how God created mankind. He does not want to be told "sorry, but it's a mystery".

At issue here are the mysteries which lie at the heart of the Church, the Bible and God. Rational man is no longer prepared to buy into these mysteries on the basis of faith alone. He wants to know how the Church was founded, when the Bible was written, and how the ideas therein evolved during the many centuries which preceded the writing of it.

This is where this book enters the equation. Although I am not an apologist for modern consumerism, it is right in this instance that one of the world's most sacrosanct religious texts should be regarded as a product to be inspected with all due diligence. The Bible is, after all, only a 'fragment of the writings of the Bible World', as the eminent scholar Cyrus H. Gordon once put it, and its roots can be traced back to the earlier religions of the ancient Near East - in particular to the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, who founded civilisation as we know it some six thousand years ago.

In 1956, Samuel N. Kramer, one of the world's foremost translators of the Sumerian texts, listed thirty-nine Sumerian 'firsts' in man's recorded history, including the first cosmogony (similar to Genesis) and the first 'Noah'. In his book History Begins at Sumer, Kramer spelled out in no uncertain terms just how important was the connection between the Bible and the earlier writings of the ancient Near East:

    Archaeological discoveries made in Egypt and in the Near East in the past hundred years have opened our eyes to a spiritual and cultural heritage undreamed of by earlier generations... a bright and revealing light has been shed on the background and origin of the Bible itself.

    We can now see that this greatest of literary classics did not come upon the scene full-blown, like an artificial flower in a vacuum; its roots reach deep into the distant past and spread wide across the surrounding lands. Both in form and content, the biblical books bear no little resemblance to the literatures created by earlier civilisations in the Near East.

According to this paradigm - of a religion conceived by the mind of man - it should be possible to trace the roots of Judaism and Christianity back to the earliest known religions of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and thus shine a light on the origins of the Bible. Our quest in this book, in a nutshell, is to understand the Bible by standing under it.

This, it must be said, is not a new approach, but rather a redoubling of the efforts made by many earlier scholars. It must be stressed, however, that earlier scholars hit a stumbling block which could not be overcome, namely a preponderance of obscure metaphors and idioms in the ancient Egyptian and Sumerian texts. This book is different in the sense that these metaphors and idioms can now be decoded, thus allowing us to see the world through the eyes of the ancients for the first time. The result, I am pleased to report, is a religion which not only makes perfect sense but was also truly religious, for it bound the ancients back to the place whence they said they had come - a great mooring post in the Sky which we today know only vaguely as 'Heaven' or 'God'.

In the chapters which follow, you, the reader, will learn all about the Heaven of the ancients, and you will learn exactly how and why the writers of the Old Testament occulted the secrets of mankind's oldest known religion. Furthermore, you will see why the New Testament story of Jesus Christ marked a renaissance of the old pagan philosophy, and you will come to understand why this story was written in the form of an ingenious esoteric parable - a parable which only made sense to those who had been initiated into the secrets of the ancient Mysteries.

Finally, I would remind readers that it does not follow automatically that the beliefs of the ancients are necessarily true, scientifically, and we must therefore try to moderate our excitement at the revelations in this book. Ultimately, it is to modern science that we must turn if we are to judge whether the secret 'truth' of the ancients is, or is not, a Truth with a capital 'T'. It is in the depths of space that NASA and the Vatican must seek scientific knowledge concerning the lost paradise of man and the fingerprints of God.

ALAN F. ALFORD, Walsall, England, April 2000.

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'These pages are the copyright of Eridu Books 2004. The images and diagrams are the copyright of Alan Alford or of other photographers, where indicated. Eridu Books welcomes the reproduction and dissemination of these pages, in original, unaltered form, for non-commercial purposes, but permission must be sought for any other usage, other than 'fair dealing' quotations.'

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