Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Did Religion Destroy the Alexandria Library?

There's a new meme running around among Progressives and militant atheists that says, "Religion is responsible for burning the famous ancient library at Alexandria, Egypt."  The story goes on that Christians burned the library and that if they hadn't we'd be living on other planets and driving flying cars today. It's easy to say what would have been from the safety of a millennium and a half distance in time and easy to assign blame when you don't have to string up crime scene tape.

It's a lot of balderdash, besides, but why "waste a good lie" to paraphrase a former White House Aid - especially when you can use it to make your enemies look bad. 

The truth is rather different.  The Alexandria library actually suffered several fires during it's history. Julius Caesar more or less accidentally set fire to it in 48 BC during a battle for the city.

Roman Emperor Aurelian lit it up again around 270 AD during the sack of Alexandria during his war with Queen Zenobia. Troops got a bit enthusiastic and burned a goodly bit of it.

The one ostensibly Christian foray into library burning was instigated under Coptic Bishop and later Pope Theophilus.  After a spate of pagan, Muslims and Jewish attacks on Christians and a couple of riots in which everyone participated, Theophilus ordered reprisals and then promptly died. Stories have it that he had the cheeky female chief librarian, Hypatia assassinated, but he was dead well before Hypatia's murder so is not likely the culprit. In all the kerfuffle the restored library was burned in 391. It was done mostly for political reasons, but why ruin a good anti-religion story.  The Bishop at the time apparently thought all that book-learning was making it difficult to subjugate the Egyptian pagans and Jews.  Typical government thinking.

The Muslims finished off what was left when they conquered Egypt in 642.  So the idea that Christians or even "religion" destroyed the library is absurd. Virtually every decision to torch the scrolls was a political one, even those made under the guise of religion. Keeping people ignorant is a technique most frequently used by governments to insure the peons are too stupid to make trouble.  Religious people tend to revere the written word.

The only written words revered by governments are found on the Tax Rolls.

© 2013 by Tom King

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