An Open Notebook

The Mimetic Desire of ‘Brothers’


Assyrians and Hittites grew accustomed to calling themselves ‘brothers’ in their letters to each other, even when only (or not even), distantly related. To be ‘brothers’ is a bond often tied with blood. But, not always, of course.

Christians make use of this familial language all the time, calling our fellow believers ‘brothers and sisters.’ In Song of Songs, the Solomonesque persona speaks of his lover as ‘sister’ (Canticles 4:9).

Many stories in the Ancient Near East revolve around the theme of brothers (and, more rarely, ‘sisters’). The Egyptian saga, Tale of Two Brothers (c. 1000), and the documented life of Esarhaddon (an Assyrian general-king, c. 670) reflect the tendency of brothers to be one moment quite close, and the next far apart. 

These, of course, parallel the biblical account of brothers in many ways, though no one knows absolutely by what process the other stories may or may not be connected (brotherhood is such a common phenomena it would not be out of the ordinary for these stories to spring up independently).

In the Scripture, the story of Cain and Abel serves as the ultimate ‘brother’ story, and it is mirrored, replayed, time-and-time again in the lives of Jacob-Esau, Rachel-Leah, and Joseph-Judah…

The list goes on. 

Brothers and sisters are so close that they often share the same interests and habits. When one desires what the other has, the former is prone to take it. Maturity, and time, can dull this emotion, but in extreme moments of lust or fervor, brothers will take from the other for their own gain. 

So, to avoid such strife, do we all move away from one another? No. The Bible’s first comments are that ‘it was not good for man to be alone’ (which refers to marriage, and mere companionship of friends and children). Extended physical loneliness is not good for people, but relational loneliness might be even worse.

When everyone chases their own idols how can society come together?

These ancient stories seem somewhat  fairly reminiscent to the kinds of idolatry Tim Keller typically speaks against, using twenty questions to diagnose what kinds of idolatries people obsess over in their own lives.

  • I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
  • I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
  • I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
  • People are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
  • Someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
  • I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
  • I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
  • I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
  • I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
  • I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
  • This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
  • I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
  • My race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  • A particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner-ring idolatry)
  • My children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
  • I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
  • My political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)

When brothers begin to compete over these same things, or follow the independent idolatries of their hearts, it ultimately leads to ‘murder.’ First, murder of the heart. And, if left unattended, the final trajectory is physical ‘murder.’

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