A GOD OF BLACK EMOTIONS - the birth of Monotheism

Discussion in 'Abrahamic Religions' started by Penelope, Nov 27, 2009.

  1. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    [highlight]horizon event[/highlight]


    Monotheism was born in Babylon (not Jerusalem), 26 centuries ago.

    This was a God of Hate. A God of Retribution. A God of Punishment.

    & & &

    The polytheistic gods of Sumer and, later, of Egypt ... were temperamental. They had their good days and their bad days. But humans could approach these gods, ask favors, make promises. Even debate with them, chastise them, make deals.

    In the imperial courts of Mesopotamia, a king and his advisers ruled the roost. Clerks and messengers sat at the bottom of the public hierarchy. In the Mesopotamian pantheon of gods, a king-god and his advisor-gods ruled the roost of the heavens. And there were clerk-gods and messenger-gods at the bottom of the heavenly hierarchy.

    After a time, city-states in Mesopotamia would raise up their favorite god as superior over all others. Ur lifted up Nanna (Moon god) as its protector, Babylon raised up Marduk (Solar Calf god). When Hammurabi conquered the Tigris-Euphrates valley, Marduk became the empire's supreme god (well, eventually - it took a 1000 years). Likewise in Egypt, Akhenaton demoted all of the Egyptian pantheon, elevating the sun-god Aten far above the others (which lasted less than 100 years).

    This is henetheism (not monotheism) - the desire to worship one god as superior to all other gods. But this trend, in the middle east of 2nd millennium bce, did not pass Canaan by. Living there were a conglomeration of Semitic tribes, with genetic and linguistic commonalities. Trouble is, they worshipped a number of different gods. Originally the sky-god/mountain-top-god Baal, with his thunder and lightning, was supreme. The more settled tribes of the north, with their patriarch Jacob, preferred the creator-god El. The more free-ranging tribes of the south, with their patriarch Abraham, preferred their own but different mountain/sky/war god Yahweh. (Yahweh eventually, in Canaanite/Judaic mythology, eats Baal - and goes on to perform each and every powerful deed which Baal performed, except much better. "Anything you can do ... ")

    This situation of competing gods did not end even when David united the tribes of the north (Isra-El) and the tribes of the south (Judah) at the beginning of the 1st millennium bce. The first two writers of the Torah emerged shortly afterwards to pen the E-source (writer from the north) and J-source (writer from the south) of the ancient Bible.

    (Scribal editors, after the Babylonian captivity, would weave the two stories together, and add details from other sources - or invent them from their own imagination. These scribes, as the centuries wore on, would tend to find all the mythology embarrassing and edit the polytheistic tales out, almost completely, leaving only slight reference to battling deities.)

    Only after a major defeat of the northern tribes by outsiders, a couple centuries after David, did the southern tribes - and their god Yahweh - become preeminent. And with this, came the literary/cultural need for Yahweh to absorb El into his being (or to eat El, as he did with Baal) ... for the united Canaanite peoples of Isra-El and Judah to have one single preeminent god. Since such a henetheistic deity would appear to have made neighboring empires powerful, hopefully this would bring Canaan to its wonted destiny - to become a powerful empire too (something it glimpsed for the blink of an eye under David and Solomon).

    & & &

    But the reverse happened.

    In the sixth century bce, the best and brightest of the Jewish nation were carried off to Babylon. Soundly defeated in war, the Jews were bitterly chastened.

    This must have been deeply traumatic, living as servants to the Babylonian king. As if their god, Yahweh, has slapped them down hard. The oral-tradition poems of the prophets begin to take on new meaning. Yahweh is no longer a jealous god - "worship me and not those other gods." Yahweh is an exclusive god - "I alone exist. Do not act like children with one's dolls, and try to spin deals with idols. Talk only to me." And now Yahweh is angry, and insulted by Jewish arrogance - by their imperial ambitions, by their aimless materialism. The people cringe.

    A god of black emotions ...
    Yahweh appears (to these exiles) as vengeful, but righteous in His vengeance.

    Humbled, the only wish these Jews now have is to return home, to their homeland in Canaan. To accept this exile, as a punishment from Yahweh, to regain (to earn again) Yahweh's favor. To make amends. To live a righteous life under one Law, Yahweh's law.
    Bow down before only one master. This master who can, if He wishes, inflict the deepest hurt upon His people. But perhaps, someday, Yahweh will be forgiving too.

    Monotheism produced a modern, unified outlook upon the world. A brain that can see past-and-future as a single point-to-point line. A brain which is not fuzzy. The first such outlook upon this planet. A honed-down, singularity of vision. A singularity which Greek intellectualism would match ... but not for two more centuries. And this first hint of the modern world was hammered out and forged here, in Babylon. 6th century bce. Born of deep cultural trauma.

    & & &

    Babylon was the searing furnace which crafted Jewish monotheism ...

    Which, in turn (for better and for worse), engineered the modern world.
     
  2. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Hi Penelope, and Happy Thanksgiving to you !!:D

    Thanks for the entertaining review of monotheism.

    However, I think there is a little mathematical error in your numbers. By my calculations, Abraham lived around 1800BC which puts him around 38 centuries ago (not 26), what is a thousand years amongst friends :D !

    Your reflection also made me think at little bit about how great were the Greek contributions that you refer to. Socrates birth is listed as 469BC and other than the progress in monotheism, which you describe, one could argue that little progress in rational thinking did not occur until Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. This observation is rather remarkable in itself.

    I think perhaps we also underestimate many of the accomplishments of the early Egyptians, with their pyramids, waterways and other achievements as well.

    It seems that early advances in providing food, water and shelter to people came well before they started to think about things like god(s), the age of the earth and how humans evolved.
     
  3. Amica

    Amica Member

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    Depends what kind of "monotheism" you are looking at. Sun was worshipped in Egypt for a while and that was in a way a 'monotheistic' faith because it raised up one 'deity-the Sun' above others. The same thing happens with satanism, mithraism, etc.

    So, if you are trying to say that Christians, Muslims and Jews :) who worship One True God, are in the same way, you are wrong. Because according to the Message of Abraham pbuh (and which all other prophets confirmed in the Bible and Qur'an) there is NO other God but One and Only who created everything, good and bad, and who rules all! The God of Abraham pbuh-- you cannot "shrink" Him into one thing (i.e. an idol, a person, a creature or whatever else of His Creation) because He is above all. There were never any other gods that humanity has invented. Now, that is true monotheism.
     
  4. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    Hi Avi

    I don't mean to disillusion you ... but most credible historians put the actual birth of Monotheism ... long after Abraham's time of 1700bce or thereabouts. Some (including amateur historian Penelope) claim that true Monotheism (not henetheism - one god above all other gods, where these other gods are acknowledged to exist) - did not finish gestation till the time of the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews 26 centuries ago.

    Abraham was not a Monotheist. He was, at best, a henetheist. If you read Genesis with a scholars eye, you will notice how often the god talking to Abraham uses the plural "we" - just as do Sumerian texts and all other Polytheistic texts from long before and quite awhile after Abraham's era.

    Abraham, if he did in fact (as written) come from Ur, he likely began as a worshipper of the Moon god Nanna. In Canaan, he might have flirted with the worship of the Canaanite's ancient god Baal. But, eventually, Abraham latched instead onto Yahweh, a mountaintop sky-god/war-god (another god native to Canaan, not one he brought with him from Ur). Abraham's band lived largely in the desert and probably signed on as mercenary soldiers to swell the Egyptian ranks during times that Egypt was fighting its neighbors. And in times of peace, Abraham's band raided Egyptian settlements and were a thorn (one amongst many footloose tribes) in the Pharaoh's side. When the Pharaoh got mad enough to send out a punishing expedition, Abraham's band retreated into the hills of Judah, where they and their flocks would be safe. Abraham's descendents eventually settled there, and started living in towns. They began alliances with their more developed neighbors to the north, with whom they shared a language and common mythology (polytheistic) - even though the north favored their creator-god El over others in the pantheon. The patriarch of the north (Isra-El) was a man named Jacob. Later storytellers, after David united the two regions (two "kingdoms"), needed to metaphorically unite the two separate peoples (with their separate history) into a single line with a single story. Thus Jacob's story is spliced into the southern lore and becomes Abraham's grandson.

    Recent discoveries of Canaanite tablets give a good written picture of the ancient religion of this region. These same folk tales existed in Israelite lore, and the remnants can be found in the Torah. But the Redactor and other scribes, embarrassed by all the mythological stories (all the gods and their peccadilloes), edited most of this material out of what would become the official Jewish scripture in the days of the Second Temple. Post-Babylon-Captivity, the Jewish people had become serious Monotheists. And they needed their sacred texts to stay on-point, with a singular message. Embarrassing as their (polytheistic) childhood was, their childhood is now over. They are a serious people with a serious purpose.

    A purpose sanctioned by their Deity. No longer 'one deity equal amongst many.' No longer 'one deity superior to all other deities in the pantheon.' Now 'the one only Deity.'

    & & &

    The history of this process ... is the history of the evolution of human consciousness. A maturation process.

    There is a lot of good archeology and textual scholarship out there, which describes the stages of this development.

    While much is still debated, and some of the above is speculation, scholars today have a pretty good picture of this time and place. Abraham's world stretching 1100 years all the way thru the Jewish return to Palestine from the Babylonian Captivity.

    If you are interested, Avi, I can give you some references to check out. Good scholarship. Fascinating stuff.

    & & &

    Religions have a powerful effect on human destiny ...

    But often this stems from a very different reason than our naive self would lead us to assume.
     
  5. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    Avi

    A note on the Egyptians:
    The Israelites got circumcision and many other notions of hygiene from the Egyptians, as well as many of their ethical principles (much of Mosaic Law, in fact, is Egyptian in origin).

    But much of Israelite legend and lore originates from Sumerian and Babylonian literature (Garden of Eden, Noah's Flood, and likely other stories as well).

    The Sumerians, long before the Egyptians, produced a highly organized society that took care of people's "food, water, and shelter" needs. (And they invented writing and irrigation, and everything else we think of 'civilization.') But these human advances did not precede the development of religion. No. "The gods" came hand-in-hand with these developments ... and 'the gods' may, in fact, have come first. Religion may well have preceded these material developments.

    Religion is a powerful tool (for good and for ill) in shaping a world.
    Always has been.
    (This was true ... well before Monotheism.)
     
  6. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Hi Penelope, on a slightly different topic, but I think right up your alley, could you please give your opinion on the following writing styles, and which you think are the most affective and which you prefer to use :

    Narrative, Argumentative, Descriptive, Expository, Summaritive, Introspective, Recollective, Sensative, Emotive, Active, Transitive. :)

    Could you also tell us a little about you your theory of writing ? What are your goals, objectives, strategy, etc. ? :)
     
  7. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    Part of the mission of the monotheists was to eradicate all traces of the other gods, which they did with great zeal.
    This has deprived us today of many valuable archeological records which would have painted a far more accurate picture of ancient times.
    Isn't destructive censorship wonderful.:rolleyes:
     
  8. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    i love it when you get all even-handed and equivocal!

    that is, if you ignore all the arguments to the contrary, or the teaching functionality of the text, or indeed the way the text itself works, let alone the way we actually understand and use it! it is in fact astonishing how the "editors" made such a hash of their exculpatory whitewash in their rush to render the texts "non-embarrassing", you know, the bits about incest, adultery, murder, lying, prostitution, theft - the ones that show the patriarchs, kings and prophets in a poor (or at very least controversial) light, shall we?

    at least, that is what a hegelian view of history would say, which is presumably why judaism at its earliest and most childish managed to come up with:

    yes, truly black emotions, those of retribution and punishment all right.

    i don't mean to disillusion you, but assertion is not the same thing as backing your assertion up from the text.

    in the same way that abraham expected G!D to require sacrifice (and human at that) abraham would also have expected this plural as a Divine mode of address. it's also used by kings, not just "gods", as abimelech does in genesis 20:9:

    just because text A, associated with circumstance X, is formulated one way and text B appears to be formulated the same way, it does not therefore follow necessarily that it could *only* therefore be associated with circumstance X and no other explanation is possible. this is what is known as a "proof by example" fallacy. however, it suits your preconceptions, so go ahead.

    ah, the combination between the "bare assertion" fallacy and the "proof by example fallacy" - of course it would be impossible for a good idea to occur to more than one person, wouldn't it?

    i couldn't agree more.

    as is the argument that the eradication, resulting in the absence of evidence, proves that the evidence must have been there in the first place, because it must have been eradicated!

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  9. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    Reading in many places in the scripture there is lots of reference to the cutting down of the groves and the destroying of the places of worship to the other gods.
    So are you saying that such things did not happen?
     
  10. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    no, you misunderstand me. i'm not saying that that wasn't what happened, i'm just saying that there is a certain disagreement (to put it mildly) over what was destroyed, how much was destroyed and why. needless to say, the spectrum of opinion runs from:

    1. a festering idolatrous mass of cruelty, bloodshed and sexual immorality was rightly swept away by clean-living, clear-eyed Divinely guided pioneers of monotheism in the teeth of underhand tactics and overwhelming odds, which we know because it's in the bible and anyway it stands to reason

    to:

    2. a gentle, feminist agrarian utopia where all things were held in common, the main production was of arts, crafts and rather good poetry and we lived in harmony with the natural cycles of the earth, was swept away by a bunch of bloodthirsty, cruel, patriarchal bearded goat-herding fanatics who destroyed all evidence to the contrary, which we know because it's in the bible and anyway it stands to reason

    personally, as far as i can see, the bible appears to support neither version especially well because, depending on who you listen to, the israelites got far too quickly corrupted by the local cults, or the local cults were rather inefficiently destroyed. either way, it seems that the one thing that the bible and archaeology appear to agree is that the destruction was spectacularly inefficient and the orders from G!D appear to have been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. whether you think this was a good or a bad thing therefore depends to a rather large degree on the perspective you wish to convey.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  11. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    Bananabrain

    I will argue concepts with you.
    But I will not argue details. It's petty.

    If you are genuinely interested in seeing the parallels between Egyptian religious rites and early Israelite practices, I suggest you look at the Byron Shafer ed. Religion in Ancient Egypt (1991, many authors). It may not be the best book on the subject, but is the one I am familiar with.

    The Mayan civilization in North America built buildings and developed cultic practices very similar to those of the Sumerians from several millenniums earlier. Were the Mayans influenced by the Sumerians? Not a chance. The point of commonality is their developing post-Neolithic consciousness.

    Ideas do develop independently. Yes.
    But when two cultures are part of the same trading network for centuries, ideas are also one of the commodities that get traded. Since the Egyptians developed their cultic practices and their ethical guidelines earlier than the Israelites, it does not take a genius to realize where the good ideas originated. That the Israelites got many of their best ideas from other cultures does not diminish the value of those ideas. It says to me, that the Israelites were smart people - they see a good idea and adopt it as their own. This is a cultural strength, not a weakness. (In my book, anyway.)

    Both Babylon and (briefly) Egypt raised up a Sun-god above all other gods in their pantheon (as did Abraham with his mountaintop-god Yahweh).
    The point is, Bananabrain...
    Neither Babylon nor Egypt progressed from there to develop a genuine Monotheism.
    It was the Jews - in the 6th century bce - who were the ones who invented Monotheism. A monumental invention.

    And that is what matters, here.
     
  12. Eclectic Mystic

    Eclectic Mystic Member

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    Can someone please summarize this thread for me. I tried reading it but fell asleep 2 paragraphs in.
     
  13. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Mysti, your style reminds me of another poster in this forum, but I cannot put my finger on it yet.

    Which city in Scotland did you say you live in :D ?
     
  14. Eclectic Mystic

    Eclectic Mystic Member

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    I'm Scottish American. I can't tell you much else though- I've had my heritage concealed from me, my inheritance usurped and my heredity denied.
     
  15. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Penelope, it does seem that circumcision was used as an early Egyptian custom. I can also imagine that this custom might have been developed by early Canaanites or even Mesopotamians and the idea carried between societies by travelling traders. Many customs were exchanged this way in the ancient world.

    I have been studying the technical advances for ancient Egypt and finding some interesting things. It is well known that the Egyptians knew a lot about structural engineering (pyramids), preservation (mummification), hydraulics (water storage and transport). They were a remarkable society.
     
  16. Raksha

    Raksha New Member

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    BB,

    Yeah, I think we can agree on that! But there seem to be places where the Bible is neutral, not making any kind value judgment either way. When we're told for example that "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," presumably including their religious and magical practices, that doesn't seem to be a put-down. If anything it seems slightly complimentary, although basically it's just a neutral statement of fact.

    The book of Daniel is my favorite of the prophetic books, because Daniel comes across as a real person, and a very likeable one. The details of his youthful training as one of the king's hand-picked Israelite proteges are one of the elements that make him "read" like a real person. Presumably that training was in the magical arts of Babylon--astrology included, of course. Again there is no value judgment either way concerning the allegedly non-kosher activities he was engaged in...only the non-kosher food which he refused to eat.

    So I have to assume it was considered perfectly kosher for Daniel to learn astrology and the other divinatory arts of Babylon. Of course he's unequivocally praised for excelling at them, for being a superior prophet to any of his peers whether Babylonian or Israelite.

    B'shalom,
    Linda
     
  17. jahway

    jahway New Member

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    I would be very interested in the references. I am always interested in researching more.
    Very interesting things you have presented. It becomes difficult though, we must remember, to accept these things as truth. I have read historical/theological books as well that present alternative perspectives and evidence. So I believe its important to always inform ourselves further.
    Thanks!
     
  18. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    Hi jahway

    Reality is fascinating and revealing, far more so than the fairytales we all grew up with, as delightful as some of those are.

    For you, or anyone intent upon diving into the subject of how Judaic monotheism actually developed, I've listed (below) a few books. (Some are better than others, some only a chapter, or line of analysis, or a good counter-argument.)

    But if you wish a quick study, I (enthusiastically) suggest two books:
    - The Bible Unearthed (2001 - Finkelstein & Silberman),
    - Who Wrote the Bible (1987 - Richard Elliott Friedman).

    If you wish a super-quick ('one evening') study:
    - check-out from your local library the Icarus Films 4-part (208 minute, 1-DVD) documentary The Bible Unearthed (2005) based upon the Finkelstein/Silberman book of the same title,
    - skip over to Harold Bloom's very literate synopsis of Friedman's analysis (and that of Friedman's predecessors over the last 200 years) in The Book of J (1990) - "Enfolding an Author" (and subsequent chapters).

    & & &

    ARCHEOLOGY / HISTORICAL ANALYSIS

    Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts (2001)
    & the Icarus Films documentary based upon their book and also titled The Bible Unearthed (2006),
    & Finkelstein and Silberman's David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (2006).

    Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazur The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel (2007, ed. by Brian Schmidt).

    William Dever Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (2003).

    Morton Smith Palestinian Parties and Politics that Shaped the Old Testament (1987) - the 'Yahweh-alone' movement.

    Baruch Halpern The Emergence of Israel in Canaan (1983)
    & Halpern's essay in Joseph Neusner et al Judaic Perspectives in Ancient Israel (1987).

    Mark S. Smith The Early History of God: Yahweh and the other deities in ancient Israel (2002),
    & Smith's The Origins of Biblical Monotheism (2000).

    Frank Cross Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (1973).

    Patrick Miller The Religion of Ancient Israel (2000),
    & Miller ed. Ancient Israelite Religion (1987).

    Ziony Zevit The Religions of Ancient Israel (2000).

    Yehezkel Kaufmann The Religion of Israel: From its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (1972, trans. Moshe Greenberg).

    H.W.F. Saggs The Encounter with the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel (1978).

    Lowell Handy's wonderful little book Among the Host of Heaven: the Syro-Palestinian Pantheon as Bureaucracy (1994).
    & Hardy's "The Appearance of Pantheon in Judah" in Diana Edelman ed. The Triumph of Elohim: from Yahwisms to Judaisms (1996).

    Eric Hornung Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: the One and the Many (1996, trans. John Baines),
    & Hornung's Akhenaten and the Religion of Light (1999, trans. David Lorton).

    E.A. Wallis Budge's 1926 The Dwellers on the Nile - life, history, religion and literature of the ancient Egyptians can (rightly) still be found in print, a wonderful quick-study.

    Bryon Shafer ed. Religion in Ancient Egypt (1991).

    Richard Gabriel Gods of Our Fathers: the Memory of Egypt in Judaism and Christianity (2002).

    Donald Redford Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (1992).

    & & &

    LINGISTICS / LITERARY ANALYSIS

    Richard Elliott Friedman Who Wrote the Bible (1987),
    & Friedman's The Hidden Book of the Bible: the Discovery of the First Prose Masterpiece (1998),
    & Friedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed (2003).

    Harold Bloom's interpretation, and David Rosenberg's lovely translation, of The Book of J (1990).

    Jaroslav Pelikan Whose Bible Is It? - a short history of the Scriptures (2005).

    & & &

    A quick summation of most of the issues involved here is found in Robert Wright's synopsis/analysis of the most up-to-date scholarship on the subject:

    "The Emergence of Abrahamic Monotheism," 2nd section of Wright's smart book:
    The Evolution of God (2009).

    Wright utilizes (invents?) the word 'monolatry' rather than the normal term 'henetheism' to mean 'believing in other gods but idolizing one god above, or to the exclusion of, all others' - as a transition state ('Yahweh-alone' movement) between 'polytheism' and the arrival of true 'monotheism.'

    & & &

    ... Enjoy!
     
  19. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Penelope, it looks like you have found your box of your old college books !! :D

    I guess we are in for some real treats coming up now !! :)
     
  20. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    Mmmmm....fruitcake:D
    You know I am kidding;)
    I like all these speculations, that is what brainstorming is all about.
    If we keep thinking about things we eventually will get somewhere.
     

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