I recently spent a relaxing afternoon exploring online my kind of Atheist Church, namely the beautiful libraries and educational institutions we have around the world.
What made me take a wander you may ask? It was a conversation by a group of atheists on the beauty of religious houses. I had initially intended to share a few of my favourite modern libraries around the world, but as usual my search took me on a journey and I found myself exploring their historical counterparts.
So without further ado let me introduce or re-acquaint you with a few of my favourites:-
THE ROYAL LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA
The most famous library of antiquity formed part of the Research Institute and was founded in the 3rd Century BCE.
Followers of Aristotle who migrated to Alexandria were the initial organisers including Demetrius of Phaleron under the patronage of Ptolemy. The library is said to have encompassed an area in which to walk, gardens, a dining hall, a reading room, lecture halls and meeting rooms.
Over the centuries the library of Alexandria became one of the largest and most significant in the world. The great thinkers of the age, scientists, mathematicians,poets from all civilisations came to study and exchange ideas. It is said as many as 700,000 scrolls were housed within its walls.
Sadly, one of the greatest tragedies was its destruction, of which there are differing accounts. According to several authors the library was accidentally destroyed by Julius Caesar during the Siege of Alexandria in 48 BC.
“when the enemy tried to cut of his fleet, he was forced to repel the danger by using fire, and this spread from the dockyards and destroyed the great library (Plutarch, The Life of Julius Caesar, 49.6)”
However, the Museum of Alexandria situated right next to the Library is mentioned by the geographer Strabo 30 years later. Nevertheless, Strabo does not mention the Library at all, which would seem odd if it was still there.
The Second possible culprit would be the Christians, of the 4th Century AD. The Emperor Theodosius issued a decree in 391 AD that outlawed pagan practices, which would have included the library which was attached to the Temple of Serapis, although there is no mention of the library at all at this time.
The third possible culprit would be the muslim Caliph Omar. John Grammaticas (490-570 AD) asks Omar for the books from the library, Omar replies
“If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them, and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them”
Firstly, there is of course no mention of a library only books, Secondly this was written by a Syrian Christian writer, who may have wished to transfer the blame of the destruction of the library.
Unfortunately, Archaeology has not been able to solve this mystery as the ruins of Library of Alexandria have to date never been found
THE ROYAL LIBRARY OF ASHURBANIPAL
The oldest surviving royal library is that of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria ( circa 668 BC).
He established his famous library of almost 30,000 clay tablets at Ninevah. Among the works found were the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation myth) and the great Epic of Gilgamesh ( the original story of the Great Flood Myth) which pre dates the Bible stories the Abrahamic religions tell us are their own. The Gilgamesh tablets were found in the 19th Century and are considered the most important finds in history. Ashurbanipal claimed to be a great scholar :-
“I, Ashurbanipal within the palace, understood the wisdom of Nabu, (God of learning). All the art of writing of every kind, I made myself master of them all. I read the cunning tablets of Sumer and the dark Arkkadian language which is difficult to rightly use; I took my pleasure in reading stones inscribed before the flood, the best of the scribal arts, such works as none of the kings who went before me had ever learn’t, remedies form the top of the head to the toenails, non canonical selections, clever teachings. I wrote on tablets, checked an collated and posted within my place for perusing and reading”
During his reign Ashurbanipal oversaw renovations in Babylon and Ninevah, grew his library and ran his empire. When the king died his empire broke apart in civil war.
Between 627 and 612 BC the Empire steadily dissolved as Medes, Persians, Babylonians, Cimmerians, Scythians and Chaldeans burned and sacked the Assyrian cities.
In 612 BC, Ninevah was destroyed and Ashurbanipal’s library was buried beneath the burning walls of his palace and was lost to history for over 2,000 years.
Excavations in Ninevah in the 19th Century shocked the world, it changed the way we would understand ancient cultures. Prior to this discovery the Bible had been considered the oldest of the flood stories and had been thought to have precedence.
Old Persian traditions indicate that Alexander the Great, upon seeing the great library of Ashurbanipal was inspired to create his own library. Alexander died before he was able to create his dream, but his friend and successor Ptolemy, oversaw the beginnings of Alexander’s library, it was to grow into the Library of Alexandria.
THE ANCIENT LIBRARY OF CELSUS IN EPHESUS
In the land we now know as Turkey, a wide marble road slopes down to one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. Between 12,000 and 15,000 scrolls were once housed there in the grand library of Celsus in the Roman City of Ephesus.
Designed by the Roman architect Vitruoya, the library was built in memory of Celsus Polemeanus, who was a Roman Senator, General Governor of the Province of Asia, and a great lover of books.
It was built in 117 AD and in fact the grave of Celsus lies beneath its floor, across the entrance with a statue of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and was the third richest library in the world after the Library of Alexandria and the Library of Pergamum.
The library is a typical example of the architectural style of the period and stands at the corner of Curetes Street and the marble road at the very heart of the city, just to the left of the Agora, near its monumental arch.
Sadly the interior of the library was destroyed by fire in the an earthquake in 262 AD and the facade by a later earthquake in the 10th or 11th century. It lay in ruins but has since been re-erected by archaeologists in 1970-78.
The building is important as one of the few remaining examples of an ancient Roman-influenced library. An engraved stone was found with the rules and opening times of the library.
Open from dawn to midday
Religion through the ages has tried to stifle learning, tried to close science and reason to the eager mind but here we stand, let us not allow the world to go back.
In the news this week in the States we see texts in schools that fill children’s head with the creationist theory as fact, and even to refute the big bang theory and Darwin’s evolution etc.
If ISIS gets its way every library and centre for learning would be crushed, women would be sent back to the middle ages where we would not be allowed simple schooling.
Religion should not be taught to young minds and should be left until they are able to rationalise it as mythology.
The best churches are those that have been given over to libraries… lets keep it up
Find out more about SON and the shows that make up the network at Secular Outreach.com