A Boy and his God:
When Science meets Religion
The rains were unrelenting upon the normally parched lands of the Levant. Day after day, night after night, it poured. Towns were inundated, villages simply disappeared from the face of the Earth. Whole families were destroyed, and extended clans were decimated. The world had turned upside-down in the blink of a cosmic eye.
Kings and queens, and peasants alike, suffered the same ignoble end. Where once there had been people, goats, and numerous other things, now there was only water, mud, and the putrid smell of death. The few who survived wandered around aimlessly amid a landscape littered with the trinkets of a wealth lost. They ignored these treasures in the hope of finding much more valuable things such as food, potable water, and loved ones.
The shock of this disaster weighed heavily upon their minds. What just happened, and why did it happen, were the only two reflective questions. No one knew, and no answers were forthcoming. But, Man is not without his capacities. When obvious knowledge is lacking, he will undoubtedly explore the creativity of his imagination. One man, a boy in fact, explored it as no other. He was born Hozai; and that which he so deeply contemplated led to the creation of a new way of living, an era befitting of his Aramaic name – “Prophet.”
Hozai was emaciated and near death after weeks of struggling to survive. Just when it seemed his body could endure no longer, a ray of sunshine pierced the thick dirty fog. In the distance, he could see a rocky outcrop with many birds circling above. Something told him to get there quick, that there might be fresh water at least to drink. Get there he did, staggering, crawling, and climbing along the way. A pool of crystal clear water rippled in a smooth granite depression. He rolled down the slope and drank heavily, immersing his filthy head in its cleansing waters. Lifting up in glee, he noticed a small swarm of grasshoppers scurrying under a bush. He grabbed one and consumed it. The poor creature made no attempt to escape. He ate another, then another until his shrunken belly could hold no more.
Hozai was euphoric and could not believe his fortune. He laid on his back and thought that Baal Hammon (the god of fertility and renewal) had blessed his soul. Drifting off into slumber, he wonder why El (the god of the most high) had allowed Ba’al Hadad (the god of storms) and Mot (the god of death) to wreck such destruction upon his people. “What had we done?” he asked himself. “Why were we punished?” he pondered. Soon, his prolonged sleep was filled with incredibly vivid dreams fed by the psychoactive substances ingested by the grasshoppers he had eaten. Minutes would seem like hours. Hours would seem like days. His mind was a prolonged blur of conflicting images and incoherent thoughts while his physical body rested and regenerated.
In the morning, Hozai awoke very cold and stiff. He felt aches and pains all over his body. His eyes opened and saw two people sitting next to him. He was momentarily startled, but quickly realized they posed no danger. He grunted and tried to lift himself up.
“Pardon us, friend. We needed water,” the woman said.
“Yes, well… drink,” he replied. “Who are you?”
“I am Marfa, and my daughter is Talitha. We are from Hebron. What are thou called?”
“Hozai of Jericho.”
“How old are thee, Hozai?”
“Fifteen, but father proclaimed me ‘man’ upon completion of my rite of passage.”
“Man, mine eyes do see. Thou look famished. Have some of this láfa, if thou please.”
Hozai accepted the hard, moldy flatbread. It was quite unappetizing, but he badly needed the nourishment. Marfa smiled while he ate it.
“We are lost, Hozai. We must find people or we shall surely die. Will thou join us?”
“I shall. To the northwest, I believe we’ll find the City of Shalem.”
“Then, it is Shalem where we shall go,” she declared.
The threesome gathered what water and provisions they could carry and set out on an arduous journey across a broken, inhospitable land. Along the way, they discussed their former lives and family members who surely had suffered a similar ordeal or worse. Hope of relocating them anytime soon was remote at best as the immediate concern was simply survival. Human bonds are often fleeting, but in times of necessity they can be very strong. Hozai, Marfa, and Talitha were family now.
When the subject of how Hozai found that isolated pool of fresh water – which had saved them all – was brought up, it was Talitha who suggested a reason.
“Asherah smiled upon you,” she exclaimed, referring to the queen consort of El.
“Come now, child. It was El his-self who shone the way with a ray of illuminating sunshine,” Marfa retorted.
“I don’t know,” Hozai responded. “Why are there so many gods?”
Marfa and Talitha looked at him with puzzlement.
“You see,” he continued. “I had a vision last night. A god with no face and no name visited me. It said my salvation would come in two parts. First, that I would be given sustenance; and second, that I would be given direction. In return, I am obliged to spread His word – the word that He alone is the master and creator of all things, and that all other gods shall fall before him.”
“He spoke with thee?” Marfa inquired.
“Not with speech nor sound. He made his thoughts known to my mind.”
“Sustenance, thou did receive. Has thou received direction?” she asked.
“No. He told me that, when seen, it would be obvious to me like a ‘bright distant campfire on the darkest of nights.'”
The trio ventured on; but, with only the sun to guide them, they meandered erratically avoiding obstacles and losing track of their intended path. By sunset of the third day, they were exhausted, confused, and out of food and water.
“Worry not, my child,” Marfa comforted Talitha while giving Hozai an expression of concern. “We shall find Shalem tomorrow. There will be cold spring water to drink. There will be fishes and breads aplenty in the market… and crisp, sweet muskmelons!”
As dusk turned to darkness, a chill descended upon them. Shivering, they huddled together to conserve body warmth. Marfa knew that unless they found help by tomorrow, they wouldn’t have the strength enough to continue.
Hozai, weak and trembling, caught a glimmer of light in the corner of his eye. Turning to the west, he saw a piercingly bright shimmering point above the horizon. He studied it for a moment. It appeared too bright to be a star, and it did not look like any of the heavenly wanderers his father had said were the “movements of the gods.”
“What does thou see?” Marfa asked.
“That light over there,” he answered. ” Brilliant, is it not?”
“Yes, very. Does thou suppose it could be…”
“It is!” blurted Talitha. “It is the ‘bright distant campfire’ told by He in Hozai’s vision!”
“It does seem so,” Marfa acknowledged. “Shall we follow it, Hozai?”
“If we do, we need to be quick for it will fall out of sight before long.”
“Yes, thou are right. Come Talitha, we shall go.”
The light did fall out of sight two hours later. Before it did, the trio pinpointed the outline of a distant hill in the same direction to mark their path. By dawn, they saw a caravan of about forty refugees preparing to leave their overnight camp. Hozai ran as fast as his tired legs could carry him. He got their attention, and soon four of the men climbed up the hill to assist the struggling mother and daughter.
Aqhat, leader of the caravan, ordered food for the threesome and agreed to delay departure so they could get some badly needed rest. He said his caravan was headed towards the coast where rumor described a large gathering of survivors. He also said they had come from Shalem and that the city had been destroyed by the deluge.
The caravan arrived on the Mediterranean coast a few days later. The rumor was correct, several hundred survivors had established an encampment which would eventually become the city of Ashdod. By this time, news of the trio’s miraculous journey had spread like wildfire thanks mostly to Talitha’s energetic imagination. Hozai was increasingly portrayed as a divine messenger for an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful god who superseded all other deities. This new idea, that a single iconic entity was the overseer of all things, was quite appealing to a devastated people who were losing faith in their pantheon of bickering, humanlike gods. When people are most distressed, when their salvation seems most forlorn, the last vestiges of hope will always seek out the most promising and most mighty of saviors.
At first, Hozai was enamored by the adulation he was receiving but later felt uncomfortable with it. As the waters receded and purified, as the skies cleared and beautified, as the bounty of life rebounded and flourished, the townsfolk placed him on a virtual pedestal of monumental glorification. He was no longer a boy. He was no longer just Hozai. Now, he was Hozai the Herald – the Deliverer of God.
It was Aqhat who most relished in Hozai’s discomfort. For it was he who leaped from that pedestal onto the future wealthy throne of Ashdod. The astute political creature that he was knew well the opportunistic value of a people unified around a single concept. A boy and his god had served him most preciously.
The ancient mythology of Hozai was celebrated well beyond the 20th century despite scientific research and discoveries which explained the two most important events in the story. The disastrous flood was caused by a half-mile wide dense rocky asteroid which impacted 800 miles away in the Black Sea releasing energy equivalent to 6.11 x 10^4 megatons of TNT. It instantly vaporized and ejected a volume of water so great that an initial crater 10 miles in diameter formed in the sea which extended 3 miles in diameter and 1 mile deep into the underlying bedrock. Once in the atmosphere, this water condensed and fell back to earth as particulate-laden rain inundating a huge area.
Researchers calculated the celestial map for the time of that impact event and found the star Sirius (actually a double, or binary star) to be prominently visible after sunset. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky with an apparent magnitude of −1.46.
Aqhat, conversely, was recorded in history books only as minor secondary figure – a rich regional king who had aided Hozai, Marfa, and Talitha in their time of need. However, the religion he founded in the early days of Ashdod has endured to the present day and has given birth to three of the world’s most prominent religious institutions. That his relevance is not widely acknowledged today would’ve suit him just fine, for lasting fame was not his desire. All he ever wanted was to enjoy a life adorned with wealth and power.
A Boy and his God: When Science meets Religion. Copyright © 2018 by Robert A. Vella. All rights reserved.