The Convergence of Spiritual Knowledge and Divine Influence

In its modern understanding, technology is often limited to machines, gadgets, bioengineering, nanotech, algorithms, code, AI, etc. However, technology has ancient origins that encompass much more than mere materialistic or purely scientific endeavors.  

It's vital to understand this ancient conception of technology as we approach the exponential acceleration of AI's capabilities because it's probably the only way to approach the critical question of whether to adopt or participate in any of the new and unprecedented technological advancements that are now months, rather than years away.  

This article delves into the ancient origins of the concept of technology and its intertwined relationship with divine influence, examining the religious origin stories of various ancient civilizations and their attribution of different technologies to their respective gods.

Technology: An Ancient View

In its most basic and ancient conception, technology refers to a discourse or treatise on an art or arts. As art, ancient notions of technology were not a materialistic approach to overcoming the world but a mystical participation in it, albeit at a greatly-empowered level. To properly orient ourselves toward modern technology, we should understand it within its ancient context.

At the outset, we must recognize that technology is not a passive human discovery or development; it's a form of active spiritual knowledge that, once acquired, can be wielded as primordial power. Technology is far from purely neutral or innocuous; it's a raw superpower that invariably increases the nature and magnitude of our actions physically and spiritually.

Technology is not a passive human discovery or development; it's a form of active spiritual knowledge that, once acquired, can be wielded as primordial power.

Technology is not magic or divination, by which man can contact, exert influence over, or subject the spiritual realm. Instead, it's the acquisition and possession of spiritual knowledge which mankind, the connection between the heavens and the earth, can apply within the physical and spiritual worlds.  Think of it this way: magic and divination are man-initiated, but technology is god-initiated.  One is oriented up, the other down.

Ancient peoples were universally religious, and their religion was not just some tiny, siloed aspect of their lives; instead, religious practice completely defined the nature and cycle of human life. As a result, ancient technology was understood within the greater context of religious practice and the cultural norms and structure of a given community or polis. Therefore, the ancient technological arts are infused with religious structures, morality, and fundamental philosophical underpinnings of the culture in which they were practiced.

In other words, for ancient cultures, technology was universally viewed as a corpus of knowledge about a specific art, skill, or craft intimately connected to and descended from the divine.

Technology is Distributed, Not Created

In ancient pagan religious origin stories, the gods are not only glorified for their creation of the world and man but are also attributed as integral to humanity's progress. The association of technology with divine figures elevated crafts to sacred and respected professions and the progenitors of new technologies were often seen as intermediaries between the earthly realm and the divine.

Throughout ancient history, the concept of technology rooted in divine influence extended beyond specific crafts. In the ancient Near East, the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation myth, described how the god Marduk created the world and all its elements, including various technologies, to establish order and maintain the divine balance. The creation of humans was attributed to the gods, who bestowed upon them the knowledge and tools necessary for survival.  See Dalley, S. (1998). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others.

The ancient Egyptians, renowned for their architectural marvels such as the pyramids and temples, displayed a sophisticated understanding of mathematics and employed unknown but certainly advanced technology.  The Egyptians attributed their architectural expertise to the divine wisdom of the gods, who guided and inspired them in their endeavors. See Lehner, M. (2008). The Complete Pyramids. Thames & Hudson. In Phaedrus, Plato describes the ancient Egyptian god, Theuth, who was the origin of numbers, calculation, geometry, astronomy, dice, and above all, the technology of writing.

Similarly, the Mesopotamian civilization, known for its advanced cities and agricultural practices, believed that Enki, the god of wisdom, provided them with knowledge of irrigation and agriculture. This divine association elevated technology to sacred art, reinforcing the notion that the gods' intervention was necessary to augment human capabilities. The gods were seen as the ultimate source of wisdom and guidance, and their favor was sought to ensure prosperous harvests and abundance. See Liverani, M. (2013). Uruk: The first city.

In ancient Indian mythology, the divine architect Vishvakarma was revered as the bestower of knowledge in various crafts, including metalworking. Vishvakarma was considered the ultimate artisan and architect responsible for creating divine weapons, celestial vehicles, and magnificent cities. The Rigveda, one of the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, contains hymns dedicated to Vishvakarma's craftsmanship and his role in advancing technology.

Finally, the Greeks attributed the creation of various arts and crafts to their pantheon of gods, such as Athena, the goddess of wisdom and craftsmanship. According to ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus, the Titan god of fire, whose name means "forethought," introduced the technology of fire and metalwork to man. In Greek mythology, the technology of fire was considered an act of benevolence by Prometheus from the human perspective. However, they also understood that Zeus found this distribution of technology to man worthy of eternal torment.

Technology: A Biblical Perspective

Unsurprisingly, the Pentateuch provides a similar story to those mentioned above. Some cynical readers may view this as syncretism, but it's just how reality lays itself out. Ancient peoples weren't stupid; they all understood it similarly because of their common experience.

According to Genesis, in the beginning, God created man and distributed to him the first technology: naming. Naming is the most basic technological art form. Giving a name provides an identity and ontological purpose expressed in that which is named.  Here's an article that helps explain this concept more fully.

But compare this technology to that of the serpent, the emblem of cunning and wisdom, the masquerading as an angel of light, who approached the woman and bade her eat the forbidden fruit (this sounds an awful lot like Prometheus to me). He affirmed that he and God already possessed this knowledge and claimed to be offering it to her (Genesis 3:5).

Here, we see that at least some spiritual knowledge is universally known and that what matters most is who distributes it to us and why.

The Fathers of the Church teach that God would have eventually allowed Adam and the woman to eat the fruit of this knowledge once their souls were ready for it. The knowledge wasn't evil, but twisting its purpose and timing was. Just as Prometheus took it upon himself to provide technical knowledge, the evil one, out of pride, took it upon himself to offer mortal knowledge that didn't belong to him to those he knew were incapable of possessing and wielding it properly.

But The Fall was just the beginning. To the line of the murderous Cain, all sorts of technology were subsequently distributed by the evil one and/or his minions, which only served to facilitate an exponential increase in depravity and death.

Technology Distributed to the Line of Cain

So, how do we know that some technological discovery was initiated by the evil one rather than God?

From the context and the pattern outlined in scripture. When God distributes spiritual technology, He provides clear and specific instructions on how/when/where to employ it (Genesis 6, Exodus 25-31, etc.). But when the evil one distributes technology, he does so without any context to those he expects to misuse it.

This is illustrated in the two lines that emerge from Adam and Eve.

In Genesis 4, after Cain killed Abel, the earth cursed him (v. 11) such that he would find no solace in the land. He responded by building the first city in the land of Nod ("wandering") to the east (in front of) of Eden (v. 16). City building is a form of technology that Cain first expressed.  He even names the first city Enoch, which means "dedicated" (v. 17).  This is important because, according to St. Augustine of Hippo,  it stands in contrast to the heavenly city, whose maker and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10). Enoch's great-great grandson, Lamech ("powerful"), an avowed murderer, has several sons by multiple wives who are attributed as the fathers of ancient technology, which Lamech uses for his glory.

Genesis 4:21 lays out the process pretty clearly. It tells us that Jubal was the inventor of the psaltry and harp. Most English translations render this as "the father of," which is consistent with the Vulgate and the Masoretic text. But the Septuagint renders it with a unique Greek word:  καταδείξας (katadeixis). This is a combination of two words:

  1. κατα (kata) - down; downwards, and
  2. δείξας (deixis) - to bring to light; to show; to demonstrate.

This word appears (to the best of my knowledge) only one other time in the Septuagint (Isaiah 43:15), where it refers to God as the "creator" of Israel. So, yes, Jubal was the "father" of music. He received the knowledge of this technological art from above and brought it to light so that it entered the world to augment the human voice.

These technologies resulted in increased death, carnage, and eventually, the mixing of mankind with demonic powers (Genesis 6:1-5). The takeaway is that these technologies were developed or received by men who were not seeking redemption from God but in spite of Him. They augmented their God-given powers by self-reliance, walking  "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." (Ephesians 2:2)

Technology in the Line of Seth

While the genealogy of the line of Cain explicitly mentions the invention of particular technologies, the narrative of the line of Seth does not. At least, that's how it appears at first glance. In Genesis 4: 26, we're told that when Enosh ("man") was born, "then men began to call upon the name of the Lord. "  St. Augustine of Hippo explains what's going on here:

The reason for this break in the narrative [in the description of the genealogies to the flood] was, I take it, that the writer, as though bidden by God, was unwilling to have the beginning of world chronology reckoned from the earthly city (that is, from the generation of Cain), and so he deliberately went back to Adam for a new beginning... The other city begins with the man who hoped to call upon the name of the Lord God, for the invocation of God is the whole and the highest preoccupation of the city of God during its pilgrimage in this world. It is symbolized in the one “man” (Enosh) born of the “resurrection” (Seth) of the man who was slain (Abel). That one man in fact is a symbol of the unity of the whole heavenly city, which is not yet in the fullness that it is destined to reach and which is adumbrated in this prophetic figure.

So, the line of Seth turned back to God, which resulted in the development of the one needful technology in the fallen world: prayer. St. John Climacus says:

Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together."

According to The Orthodox Faith, Vol. II, Fr. Thomas Hopko says that in the Orthodox Church, the ancient and traditional definition of prayer is:

[T]he lifting of the mind and heart to God, the standing in his presence, the constant awareness and remembrance of his name, his existence, his power and his love. This is the kind of prayer which is also called 'walking in the presence of God.'”

Lamech of the Line of Seth  

Just as in the line of Cain, the line of Seth eventually produces a Lamech (Genesis 5: 25-31). But instead of using his "powerful" nature for evil, this Lamech produced Noah, whose name means "rest."

St. Ephrem The Syrian says of this:  

Lamech begot Noah (whose name means “relief” in Hebrew and Syriac). Lamech prophesied about his son and said, “This one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands and from the earth which the Lord cursed.” His offerings … will be pleasing to God who, because of the sin of the earth’s inhabitants, will destroy in the waters of wrath the buildings that we have made and the plants over which our hands have toiled.  

Noah mastered, as much as possible, the technology of his forefathers. Genesis 6:9 tells us, "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God." Not only did Noah pray, but through his prayer, God instructed him how to use worldly technology to save a remnant of creation (Genesis 6-8).

Prayer is Technology

St. John of Damascus, in the “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” writes:

Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God. But when you pray, you should seek with your whole heart and not be slothful, employing a certain skill (techne) in the art of prayer.”

According to the Saints, prayer fits the ancient paradigm for technology.

First: Prayer originates in God.

Prayer does not originate in us. St. John of Kronstadt says:

Prayer is not a human invention; rather, it is a gift of God and a grace of the Spirit. The soul does not know how to pray as it ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

Rather, according to St. Theophan the Recluse:

Prayer is a gift from God and not a work of ours. It is granted to those who have been cleansed by the grace of the Holy Spirit and have been united with God."

Second: Prayer empowers faithful man far beyond his natural strength.

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4

Saint John of Kronstadt says:

Through prayer, we enter into the divine presence and are filled with the uncreated energies of God."

Saint Macarius of Optina says:

Prayer is the most valuable treasure and the greatest power a person possesses."

The result of participation in God’s uncreated energies is outlined beautifully in Orthodox hagiography (The Lives of the Saints) and the Holy Scriptures:

David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. Hebrews 11:33-37

Third: Prayer is uniquely designed for human participation.

According to Saint Nektarios of Aegina:

Prayer is the means by which we unite ourselves with God, participate in His divine life, and receive His blessings."

God did not make the Angels in His image, so their life is not like ours. They do not participate in God’s energies as do humans. And while they perpetually stand before the throne of God, they do not share in the divine nature of Christ. Angels, who are minds, understand spiritual technology, but without bodies like ours, they cannot employ it.

Yes, prayer is indeed technology in an ancient sense. We actively engage in prayer, but God grants us the capacity to pray and establishes the connection between us. Prayer allows mankind to enter into God's presence and come to a knowledge of Him by participating in God's divine power in the form of His uncreated energies. By participating in the uncreated energies of God, man becomes a partaker in God's divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4).

This is not transhumanism; prayer is the technology of true humanity since Christ, the Theanthropos, is both fully God and fully man.

Because prayer is technology, there is an art and form of prayer that one must learn. Christ Himself taught prayer. See Luke 11:1-13; Matthew 6:5-15; Mark 11:22-25.  There is a right and wrong way to do it.

Prayer is not merely a recitation of words or a petition for divine intervention. It is a dynamic process that involves the whole person—mind, body, and spirit connecting to God. Prayer aims to establish direct contemplation of God and communion with His divine energies. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, "Prayer is the highest work of the intellect." Therefore, prayer is a very difficult technology to master by a fallen man.

Prayer is the Ultimate Technology

Prayer is the ultimate technology because it is the first and last technology.  In Genesis, Adam “walked with God.” In Revelation, it is foretold to the saints that the New Jerusalem has “no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light...” Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk says:

Prayer is a conversation with God, a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom, a ladder to the stars."

Prayer is also the most powerful technology. When the world became so corrupted that the flood was necessary to cleanse it, it fell to Noah, who also walked with God, to use technology to save the remnant. And when the Protomartyr Stephen was stoned, he obtained his crown by petitioning God’s forgiveness for his murderers. According to Saint Isaac the Syrian:

Prayer is the door to God’s treasury. It is a weapon for repelling enemies. It is the medicine for sorrow. It is the tree of miracles, and the key to the heavenly kingdom."

And Saint John of Damascus says:

Prayer is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all good things."

Prayer Re-orients All Technology

Technology is everywhere. You cannot get away from it. And it's clear that the pattern outlined in Genesis still holds. Technological advancements are, by and large, brought about by people seeking worldly power, whether in the form of wealth, influence, glory, status, convenience, political power, or some combination thereof.

So what can you do?  

The answer is both simple and very difficult. We must learn to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

The only way to interact with technology in a way that isn't ultimately destructive to yourself or others is through true prayer. St. Gregory Palamas teaches that:

Prayer is the true foundation of every good and the summit of spiritual perfection."

And St. Theophan the Recluse reminds us:

Prayer is a gift from God, and not a work of ours. It is granted to those who have been cleansed by the grace of the Holy Spirit and have been united with God."

Prayer comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit working within us and energizing us through the grace of God.  

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Self-reliance can play no part in the life of the Christian. In Chapter 2 of The Unseen Warfare, St. Theophan the Recluse teaches that we must have no regard for ourselves. He warns that self-love and vainglory are abhorrent to God, who wants us to rely on Him alone. Rember the words of Our Lord:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34

In the West, we tend to ignore this admonition because we value our rational intellect.  We say to ourselves that God gave us a brain to use, but we have been sorely misled. We must remember that God is not rational in the limited way we are. He chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).

In one sense, technology itself is indeed neither good nor evil, but it does not follow that we alone can direct its use toward what is ultimately good. By trusting in ourselves to discern its use, we fall into the same trap set in the garden, which always leads to death.  Technology is created by God, but as you see, most of it was and is subversively distributed to mankind through the line of Cain.

So, we must remain ever-vigilant. The only way to use technology properly is through prayer, not just our supposed 'good' intentions, which can be manipulated or hidden from us.  Only then, by participating in God's uncreated energies,  can we possess the wisdom to discern whether to utilize or refuse a specific type of technology according to the will of God. This is not something we can change overnight. Still, we must strive for it as we approach what will undoubtedly occur with the rise of technology that will inevitably require our complete submission.