Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some Thoughts on Jonah

[ Originally written and posted on December 25, 2011 ]

It is appropriate to look at Jonah on this day. Halley's Bible Handbook maintains the historicity of Jonah, citing Christ's reference to it in Matthew 12: 39-41. Central to the book is the theme of entombment and resurrection. Looking at Jonah as a parable, however, it offers much for analysis. The whale has always stolen the show, of course. Halley calls it a "sea monster," not truly a whale. As a beast more serpent-like than mammalian, it is central to the axis of falling into darkness and rising again to the light.

There is another axis within the book of Jonah, that of east and west. Jonah flees the Lord's command to go east to Nineveh, He boards a ship at Joppa and seeks to go as far west as possible in the then-known world, to Tarshish. According to Wigoder's dictionary of the Bible, Josephus interpreted Tarshish as being Tarsus in Celicia. Smith's dictionary of the Bible maintains that Tarshish is the Aramaic name for Tartessus, in Spain. If one dares to contradict Josephus, it is intriguing to think of Jonah as seeking to flee to Spain. Paul announced his intention of going to Spain.

The meaning of the whale is too big to take on as a topic of speculation here. Better it is to linger over that mysterious plant (4:6-10) that gives shelter to Jonah. The New Revised Standard Version calls it simply "a bush," but offers a footnote: "Heb. qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." Smith translates that Hebrew term as Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant. He notes that this grows to be a tall tree in India, but is only a bush in England, at most 3 or 4 feet in height. Luther's Bible translates the plant as "Rizinus," an obvious Germanization of the Latin name for the plant. In the New International Version, it is only "a vine." The King James Version preserves something of grandeur. Therein, it is "a gourd."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Ending of "Gorgias"

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on  June 22, 2008 ]

In Plato's dialogue "Gorgias," Socrates inquires of the Sophist Gorgias as to the meaning of rhetoric.  This, however, is but one of at least two topics in the dialogue.  Very quickly the focus of inquiry shifts, when Callicles comes on the scene.  Callicles defends the tyrant and usurper Archelaus.   For Callicles, right is might.  The long winding argument of Socrates leads in an opposite direction.  Socrates argues that men are good by nature, but do evil through a lack of knowledge of the good.   Those who really know the good will not do evil because the attractions of evil will not possess their souls.  (This is a somewhat cursory synopsis of his argument.  I am the first to admit that I may not be presenting it adequately.)

What I find most compelling in "Gorgias" is the end.   First, Socrates relates what he calls a myth regarding what happens to our souls after our death, the myth of the Blessed Isles, the abode of the good, and of Tartarus, the prison of the damned.  All men upon their deaths are judged and sent to one place or the other.  In the last paragraph of the "Gorgias," Socrates urges us not to return evil for evil.   Even if we suffer evil, our good will live within us.   His words suggest something of the Sermon on the Mount, although he lived more than three centuries before the time of Christ.   The following, taken from Benjamin Jowett's translation, is the last paragraph of "Gorgias":    

    " Follow me then, and I will lead you where you will be happy in life and after death, as the argument shows. And never mind if some one despises you as a fool, and insults you, if he has a mind; let him strike you, by Zeus, and do you be of good cheer, and do not mind the insulting blow, for you will never come to any harm in the practice of virtue, if you are a really good and true man. When we have practised virtue together, we will apply ourselves to politics, if that seems desirable, or we will advise about whatever else may seem good to us, for we shall be better able to judge then. In our present condition we ought not to give ourselves airs, for even on the most important subjects we are always changing our minds; so utterly stupid are we! Let us, then, take the argument as our guide, which has revealed to us that the best way of life is to practise justice and every virtue in life and death. This way let us go; and in this exhort all men to follow, not in the way to which you trust and in which you exhort me to follow you; for that way, Callicles, is nothing worth. "


Friday, November 23, 2012

A Question About Origins from H. G. Wells

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 16, 2008 ]

A battered, old, two-volume set of H. G. Wells's The Outline of History (1920, and subsequent editions up to 1949) is among one of the few books which I still own from more than 50 years ago.   Back then is when I read The Outline of History, and I am just beginning now to read portions of it for a second time.   Wells is today condemned by those on the right because he was a Fabian socialist (which was something quite other than being a Marxist) and condemned by those on the left because he favored eugenics and recognized inherent racial differences.   He remains, despite these foes, in my opinion, the Voltaire of the 20th century.   He was, though not infallible, a clear thinker as well as a freethinker.  Consider, for example, the following question which he raises at the beginning of The Outline of History:

    "  The idea that life appeared on the earth as a natural and necessary chemical and physical process, without the intervention of any miraculous factor, seems to be very repugnant to many religious minds.   But that repugnance is due, perhaps, rather to a confusion of thought in these minds than to any essential irreligiosity in the conception itself.   They think of 'life' as being in a way already 'soul,' they ascribe all sorts of moral qualities to it; they side with it against 'dead matter.'   But it is difficult to see why a slug or a toadstool, a louse or a cancerous parasite growth upon the bark of a tree, should be treated as though it and the processes of its existence were in some mysterious way 'higher' than, for example, the beautifully marshalled elements in a crystalline group, or in a gem, or in a slab of patterned marble, or the lovely patternings of rippled water in the sunlight, or the undulations of wind-blown sand.   Why should the maker of the universe take sides between the almost inanimate and the altogether inanimate?  "

Similarly, here in the Bible Belt, one often hears the objection that Darwin taught that we are descended from the apes.   The fact is that Darwin maintained only that apes and humans have a common ancestor.   Far from being ancestors of humans, the apes might be considered to be a regression from that common ancestor.   At best, apes might be in a kind of evolutionary cul de sac, but one might suspect that such is also the situation of humans.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Anticipations by H. G. Wells Back in Print

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on September 1, 2008 ]
Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought, a book by H. G. Wells which was first published in 1901, has been reprinted by Dover Publications with an introduction by Martin Gardner.   Anticipations is an attempt to predict major developments, both sociological and technical, to come in the 20th century. 

In some areas, Wells seems to be overly cautious, writing that "long before the year A.D. 2000, and very probably before 1950, a successful aeroplane will have soared and come home safe and sound.   Directly that is accomplished the new invention will be most assuredly applied to war."  He foresaw little future for use of the submarine in warfare or otherwise.

Also, Wells did not foresee the computer.  He does, however, predict that there will be a device in most homes which will enable people to receive updated news every hour:  "One will subscribe to a news-agency which will wire all the stuff one cares to have . . . . into a phonographic recorder perhaps, in some convenient corner.  There the thing will be in every house, beside the barometer, to hear or ignore."

Wells also foresees what James Burnham, writing in 1940, calls "the managerial revolution," though he does not use that term.   He believes that the educated people -- scientists, engineers, doctors -- will rise to become the new ruling class.  Again, this has not come to pass, at least not in the USA, a nation still largely run by lawyers and financiers.  It will become apparent, one day, he writes, "that the whole apparatus of power in the country is in the hands of a new class of intelligent and scientifically-educated men."  If it has become so apparent, the implications of that fact have not become apparent to much of anyone.

H. G. Wells was a socialist, but he was a Fabian socialist, not a Marxist.  As such, he believed that the new discoveries of science should be incorporated into the understanding of humanity.  He stresses the significance of Malthus's population studies and Darwin's theory of evolution.   He explicitly rejects the Marxist dogma according to which all individuals and groups of people will become equal in their intellectual abilities once they are all subjected to a uniform environment.    Wells also supports eugenics, a stance for which Gardner upbraids him in his introduction. 

One must wonder what Wells would say about China today.  China is approaching being a state in which the apparatus of power is in the hands of scientifically educated men.   The evidence is just not there that China is about to become simply one more capitalist-dominated state.  China, moreover, now has a eugenics program established by its government.

Wells believed that a world state would emerge sometime after 2000.   It seems more likely, however, that for many more decades the world will be dominated by great powers. My surmise is that those great powers will include Germany, Russia, China, and Japan.   The survival of the USA, at least as one nation, is in doubt. 

Wells, of course, offers no such predictions.   He believes that the USA and Britain will draw more closely together, but does not predict a merger of the two countries. While it is true that the USA and Britain were allies in two world wars, both nations seem to have been drifting apart for at least sixty years.   Of all the foreign nations of the world, the USA now seems to be most closely linked to Israel.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe on America’s Name

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on November 9, 2008 ]

Among the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the "Marginalia" are all but forgotten.   These straightforward non-fiction prose pieces present Poe's thoughts on various books that he has read.   The "Marginalia" are much more readable than the sketches in his "Literati," mostly commentary on contemporary authors long ago forgotten.   Not infrequently, the "Marginalia" address questions that are still unanswered today. 

One of the latter is what should be the name of the United States of America.   While the United States of Mexico refers to Mexico, and the United States of Brazil to Brazil, does it make sense to say that the United States of America refers to America?  Poe points out that "America" refers to the entirety of the Western Hemisphere.   It lacks specificity, although most of us sensed that we knew to what Sarah Palin referred when she expressed her delight in visiting the "pro-America" areas of the USA.  For Palin, "America" is something much less in its extent than the USA, a kind of counter-expression to "America" as an entire hemisphere.

What is fascinating today is Poe's election of Appalachia as a name for the USA.   Appalachia has accrued all sorts of negative connotations since Poe wrote more than 160 years ago.   Today it is the region of the USA which proved to be most opposed to the election of Barack Obama.  It is also the one region which is ridiculed in the mass media.   Does anyone still recall the name of the young woman who was blamed for the irregularities which occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in USA-occupied Iraq?   She was characterized as a trailer-dweller from Appalachia. 

The following is Poe's argument for Appalachia as the true name of the USA:

    It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about "Appalachia." In the first place, it is distinctive. "America"* is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right--but to us it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is "America," and will insist upon remaining so. In the second place, "Appalachia" is indigenous, springing from one of the most magnificent and distinctive features of the country itself. Thirdly, in employing this word we do honor to the Aborigines, whom, hitherto, we have at all points unmercifully despoiled, assassinated and dishonored. Fourthly, the name is the suggestion of, perhaps, the most deservedly eminent among all the pioneers of American literature. It is but just that Mr. Irving should name the land for which, in letters, he first established a name. The last, and by far the most truly important consideration of all, however, is the music of"Appalachia" itself; nothing could be more sonorous, more liquid, or of fuller volume, while its length is just sufficient for dignity. How the guttural "Alleghania" could ever have been preferred for a moment is difficult to conceive. I yet hope to find "Appalachia" assumed.

    * Mr. Field, in a meeting of "The New York Historical Society," proposed that we take the name of "America," and bestow "Columbia" upon the continent.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Stupid Question About Machiavelli

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on September 14, 2008 ]

The current issue (Sept. 15, 2008) of The New Yorker has an interesting review of a new translation of the major works of Machiavelli.   The reviewer presents salient biographical facts about the notorious political theorist and also points to the significant differences among translations, especially the often-quoted chapter 17 of Machiavelli's best-known work The Prince.

Reading this chapter again and comparing translations forces one to think again about what Machiavelli really advocated as an answer to the question of whether a prince should seek to be feared or to be loved.   The prince, Machiavelli advises, should seek to be feared if only because of the deficiencies of human nature.   People being what they are, they will not appreciate a ruler who has the reputation of being easygoing and permissive (to employ contemporary terms not appearing in any of the three translations at hand).

The reviewer closes The New Yorker article by indicating the wide range of reactions to Machiavelli.  Not everyone saw in him a villain.   The reviewer cites Leo Strauss as a defender of Machiavelli.  I must doubt this, after having read Strauss's Thoughts on Machiavelli.   In that work, Strauss argues effectively that it was Machiavelli  who overthrew the tradition of classical political philosophy, that he was the founder of evil modernism in political thought.

Of all the books that have been written on Machiavelli,  one well worth reading again is James Burnham's The Machiavellians:  Defenders of  Freedom, especially in its original edition of 1943.  There,  Burnham demonstrates that Machiavelli was the founder of a scientific approach to the study of political phenomena.  The idealist Dante, on the contrary, is derided by Burnham as a scheming hypocrite.

Burnham maintains that Machiavelli and the theorists of elitism who followed him, such as Pareto, Mosca, and Michels, are defenders of  freedom because they warn one and all against the evil lurking within even those princes who may claim to be benign idealists.

I find Burnham's reading of Machiavelli to be convincing because it provides the best answer to another of his stupid questions; i.e. for what readership was Machiavelli's The Prince intended?   Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo di Medici, a prince, of course, and expected that other princes would read it.  It was, however, published as a book in the language of the common folk, Italian, not Latin.  Certainly, it was intended by Machiavelli to have a readership far beyond the ranks of princes.  Assuming a print run of only a thousand copies, the book would obviously circulate far beyond the ranks of all the princes of Italy.   Had he intended a more cosmopolitan readership, Machiavelli would have written in Latin,  a language known to all the educated people of Europe.  Obviously, the book would come into the hands of a goodly number of common folk, a fact that Machiavelli must have realized.   Was Machiavelli, in fact, writing a warning against the tyranny of princes, as Burnham maintains?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some Thoughts on Lovecraft

 [ Originally written and posted on MySpace on November 7, 2008 ] 

As best I can recall,  I first heard of H. P. Lovecraft back in 1956 when a friend recommended to me a reading of his tale of horror "The Rats in the Walls."   He believed that Lovecraft was better than Poe, whom we had read a year before.  At the time, I sensed that he meant that Lovecraft was more horrifying than Poe, perhaps the reason that I delayed reading Lovecraft until 1962.   Even as early as 1956, I had the sense that some authors had more literary merit than others and somehow sensed that Lovecraft did not have greater merit than Poe.

In 1962 I was favorably impressed by the presentation of Lovecraft in the introductory pages to Colin Wilson's The Strength to Dream:  Literature and the Imagination, which had been published that year.   Wilson revealed an entirely different side of Lovecraft, portraying him as a combatant against facile and superficial rationalism.   Lovecraft, moreover, was, according to Wilson's account of him, among those who later would be deemed "politically incorrect."   Lovecraft belonged to the right end of the political spectrum,  a position he occupied for reasons quite other than veneration of the so-called free market economy.

I immediately began reading Lovecraft beginning with the tales in the collection which August Derleth edited entitled The Outsider and continuing with the little black books published by Derleth's Arkham House press in Sauk City, Wisconsin.   I eagerly awaited each new title and found of greatest interest the volumes of Lovecraft's selected letters which Derleth began to publish.   Lovecraft was slowly gaining attention outside the ranks of the enthusiasts for fantasy and science fiction.  Even then, however, his recognition seemed to be belated and lacking much significance.

Now, however, Lovecraft has arrived, perhaps assisted by the favorable reaction to his work by Jorge Luis Borges.   Today, S. T. Joshi has edited a series of five volumes of the essays of Lovecraft.  There are more volumes of his letters.   Barnes & Noble has recently published a weighty volume of his tales.  More significantly, Lovecraft's Tales now constitute a volume in the Library of America series.  Even specialized volumes of his letters have begun to appear.  In 2007, the University of Tampa Press published O Fortunate Floridian:   The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow

The late Samuel T. Francis, who was the most significant paleoconservative writer in the USA, is said to have left in manuscript some noteworthy essays on Lovecraft.   I can only hope that they will one day be published.   Francis appreciated Lovecraft both as a creative writer and as a combatant against what is today known as "political correctness."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Some Thoughts Occasioned by Zechariah 14:21

 ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 22, 2008 )

The final clause of Zechariah 14:21 has had various translations.   Thus, according to the King James Version, it is "And in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts."  According to the New Revised Standard Version, it is "And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day."  Martin Luther's translation agrees with this in translating Canaanites as "traders" or "merchants":   "Und es wird keinen Haendler mehr geben im Hause des Herrn zu der Zeit."

William Smith in his classic A Dictionary of the Bible notes that "The Canaanites were probably given to commerce; and thus the name became probably in later times an occasional synonym for a merchant."

Carroll Quigley in his The Evolution of Civilizations:  An Introduction to Historical Analysis (1961), a book highly praised by Bill Clinton, has some thought-provoking observations  regarding the Canaanite civilization.  He asserts that "The Canaanite instrument of expansion seems to have been commercial capitalism.  Thus it is similar to the instrument of expansion that gave our Western civilization its second age of expansion in 1440-1690."  (This is on page 240 of the 1979, Liberty Press edition.  The pages following expand on this observation.)

Quigley, then, avers that capitalism began with the Canaanites.  Karl Marx believed that capitalist societies, bourgeois civilization, began only much later, in the period of 1440 to 1690, but Quigley argues that Canaanite civilization was formed by commercial capitalism, indeed, stagnated as such.   Thus, Quigley is another dissenter from Max Weber's theory that capitalism began with the Protestant ethic.  His view is closer to that of Werner Sombart, who finds capitalism's origin in Jewry.   Did Jewry absorb the capitalist method from the Canaanites?      



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weird Account of Early Christianity; Professor X in the Basement of the Ivory Tower

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  June 14, 2008 )

Weird Account of Early Christianity

Most of the books in my home library I have obtained by not paying the full price for them.  They were given to me as review copies, copies bought at a used bookstore, or remaindered books.   Often, a hardback book is remaindered when the paperback edition is published.   Other books are remaindered because they are slightly damaged.   I was leafing through one of my remaindered books yesterday, Robert Wolfe's  Remember to Dream: A History of Jewish Radicalism, and came across this strange account of the origin of Christianity:

    "Like all the other Middle Eastern peoples, the Judeans were eventually subjected to Roman rule.   The Romans treated all their subjects harshly, but they were particularly cruel and vindictive in their relations with the Judeans because they associated Hebrew law with slave revolts.   The Romans relied heavily on slave labor and imported literally millions of slaves into Italy to work in the fields and mines.   They were aware that Hebrew law was basically hostile to the institution of slavery, and therefore sought to suppress all manifestations of Hebrew culture in Judah.   When the Judeans rebelled against these policies, the Romans put down the uprising in a genocidal manner, killing over 1 million Judeans in the First Jewish War alone, which ended in 73 CE.   This unprecedented act of mass murder gave rise to a widespread movement of sympathy with the martyred Judeans.   Within the Roman empire itself, this movement assumed the form of a strange, cannibalistic cult of a martyred Jew, whose flesh and blood was eaten in effigy by the contrite but still bloodthirsty Romans.   This same movement of sympathy expressed itself in a more positive way outside the Roman world in the form of a number of new kingdoms which sought to pattern themselves after the laws and culture of Judah.  Kingdoms of this type were established in Ethiopia, Yemen and the coast of North Africa during the period from the 3rd to the 7th centuries CE.   These kingdoms called themselves Jewish and many of their subjects called themselves Jews.   In Ethiopia they spoke Ge'ez, in Yemen Arabic and in North Africa Berber" (pp. 326-7).

Wolfe's book was published in 1994 at New York City by the Jewish Radical Education Project.   During the 1960s, the Students for a Democratic Society set up a number of urban-based "radical education projects."   Wolfe's book comes out of this tradition.   It makes interesting reading because it reveals that Communism and Marxism both in Russia and in the United States have been virtually created and sustained by the Jews.   This is an assertion sustained by the research of almost innumerable other Jewish authors.  However, Wolfe's interpretation of Christianity as an early Jewish movement of protest against the Roman genocide of the Jews is rather remarkable.   Supposedly, if one accepts this theory, this means that Christianity, when it developed into a European-based faith, had somehow "forgotten" this aspect of its origins.   This theory is even more fantastic than Sigmund Freud's account in  Moses and Monotheism   which represents Moses as having been a renegade Egyptian.     

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on May 22, 2008 )

"In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," by Professor X

The June 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly has a revealing article about a two-sided collapse of standards in large areas of higher education.   The author is identified only as Professor X, self-described as teaching as an adjunct at a private college and a community college somewhere in the northeastern USA.  Adjuncts, part-time instructional appointees who usually work on a semester-by-semester basis and who also usually lack all benefits and earn very low pay, have become the industrial reserve army for postsecondary education.   The number of students taught by adjuncts steadily grows.

Professor X teaches English composition.  He dwells on the difficulty in working with students of this subject.  Objective tests are not involved.  Moreover, there is the problem of showing students with abysmal writing (and thinking) skills what their shortcomings are.  As if that were not daunting enough, Professor X has come to the firm conviction that American higher education with its mania for ever-growing enrollments of students, capable or not, is debasing itself and deceiving the hapless students who hope to acquire skills that will be forever denied to them because of their own lack of inherent ability.

I see this sad situation as an outcome of two seemingly contrary forces:  (1) the unrealistic egalitarianism of academic people in the humanities and the social sciences and  (2) the  capitulation of college administrators to the Chamber of Commerce's expectation that more is always tantamount to better.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A READ Poster From Hell

  ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 3, 2008 )


The following is excerpted from a review, which appears in the December 1, 2008, issue of The New Yorker,  of Timothy Ryback's new book Hitler's Private Library:

    " Hitler was a voracious reader, finishing a book every night, either at his desk or in his armchair, always with a cup of tea in his hand.  His library at one time contained more than sixteen thousand books, of which some twelve hundred survive in various archives. . . . "

Suddenly an image of an American Library Association READ poster from Hell flashed across my mind.  The A.L.A. posters always feature some politically correct celebrity.  Hitler would be a celebrity, of course, but the antipodes to everything that is politically correct. 

On second thought, however, he would not be totally 180 degrees away from political correctness.  In some history of the Third Reich, I recall reading of the expression "politically right-thinking," which was applied to those who supported the Nazi regime.  Also, not so incidentally, the Nazi regime was formally the National Socialist government.  National Socialists never called themselves Nazis.  Though they were anti-Marxists, they always insisted that they were socialists.   Hitler was as much a man of the left as of the right.

But all this is beside the real point, which is how the image of Hitler as a reader clashes with the easy assumptions of the kind of facile liberalism which prevails among librarians.   They "know" that politically right-wing people never read.  What will they make of this revelation that Hitler, who in their minds epitomizes the right wing, was a voracious reader?

I have the greatest problem with envisioning Hitler the German sitting there reading a book with a cup of tea in his hand.   A typical German would be swilling down a mug of  Bier.   One finds it difficult to visualize a German man drinking a cup of tea.   Originally from Ohio, one of the most German American of the states, I do not in fact remember seeing a single German American neighbor drinking a cup of tea, the quintessentially English drink.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Not a Mormon, But . . . .

  • Not a Mormon, But . . . .
    I am not now nor have I ever been a Mormon, but I do think it is unfortunate that so many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians attack Mitt Romney by saying that he is not a Christian because he is a Mormon. Although I do not defend the Book of Mormon, it is not inconceivable that there could be other gospels of Christ. Indeed, many gospels were written which go back almost to the time of Christ, but they have not been accepted as canonical. The gospel according to Thomas is probably the best known of these and was recently reprinted in a popular edition.

    The very last verse of the gospel according to John is as follows:

    " And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen. "

    John 21:25, to give chapter and verse to this quotation, also reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges's famous surmise that " I have always imagined that Heaven will be a kind of library. "

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

More on Resurrection versus Soul Survival

( Originally written and posted on on June 2, 2008 )

The following two paragraphs quoted from Samuel H. Hooke's book  The Siege Perilous:  Essays in Biblical Anthropology and Kindred Subjects (1956) neatly sum up the difference between Semitic and Ancient Greek concepts of human survival:
    "The form in which the Church received and has continued to hold the belief in resurrection was, and has remained, Jewish.   The late Professor H. Wheeler Robinson has well remarked in this connexion: 'It is a life on earth, however new its conditions, and it is a resurrection-life, involving the restoration of the dead body.   This form of belief is seen to have been inevitable, once we have grasped the Hebrew idea of personality; a resurrection of the body was the only form of triumph over death which Hebrew psychology could conceive for those actually dead.   Even St. Paul shrinks from the thought of  'bodiless existence.' (Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, p. 101-2.)
    "The Greek doctrine of immortality, which finds its first Jewish expression in the Wisdom of Solomon, and which conceives of an immortality of the soul apart from the body, does not occur in the New Testament, nor in the Creeds.   Even the Alexandrian Fathers appear to assume the identity of the 'spiritual body' spoken of by St. Paul with the earthly body, without, however, explaining the nature of the identity.   The permanent value of this element of the Jewish heritage is, to say the least, open to question, and the Fourth Gospel seems to represent an attempt to reinterpret early Christian eschatology, and especially the Parousia expectation, in such a way as to remove some of its less desirable aspects" (pp.201-2).

The difference is striking.  In the case of the monotheistic or Abrahamic faiths, originating among the Semitic peoples, the human individual survives only when he is resurrected by the one god, Jehovah or Allah.  The Greeks, however, as well as all the other ancient Indo-Europeans (Celts, Teutons, Romans, etc.),  believed that the soul survives death because it is detached from the body at death.  This is what Socrates teaches according to Plato's account in the dialogue "Phaedo."  

There is a vast difference between the individual surviving only at the behest of a god and the individual surviving death because his soul, immortal and imperishable, survives the death of his body.  This also explains why the Semites favored burial of the body while the Indo-Europeans favored cremation.  Carroll Quigley notes this difference in his book The Evolution of Civilizations (1961).   We suspect that this difference has a political significance.  The belief of the Semites reflects Asiatic despotism, but the belief of the Indo-Europeans, the belief in soul survival without the intervention of a higher power, is the belief of a fundamentally free people.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Bishop of Durham Affirms Physical Resurrection

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on April 24, 2008 )

Among Web sites that feature the full text of various books,  one of the more interesting is offers a wide collection of theological tracts, mostly from the 19th century,  most of them on the afterlife.   The preface to one of these, John Kent's "Eternal Burning," which is a refutation of the concept of the eternity of suffering in Hell, contains this interesting summation of a fundamental difference in views of the afterlife:   " [A]lthough the intrinsical immortality of man was, even in Bible times, believed and thought by all other nations, the Jews, the people of God, did not believe in the immortality of man, except through the resurrection; and, also, that Christ and His Apostles taught and proved that upon the resurrection only, depended the future existence of those who had passed away."

In other words, the Indo-European peoples, the ancient Aryan Indians, the Greeks, the Celts, all believed that the soul survives death and develops on its own.   Typically, the belief is that the eternal soul will be embodied again in a future earthly life.   This view of the afterlife is totally opposed by that of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which teach that any future life is dependent upon resurrection by the deity. 

A freethinker may well see in this chasm between the Indo-European and the Semitic concepts an evidence of the difference in values of the two great groupings of peoples. The Semites, inured to despotism, beseech a higher being to give them an extension of life.   The Indo-Europeans believe that the soul survives in its own right, needing no deity or god to preserve it.  Most contemporary Christians have forgotten this great difference.   Indeed, it is likely that the primordial Indo-European concept now has primacy among Europeans and European Americans.  The belief in a physical resurrection as essential to human survival has been forgotten except when the creeds are uttered.

The British publication New Statesman, in its April 14, 2008, issue, reports an interview with the Reverend Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, the fourth-ranking among the bishops of the Church of England.   Reverend Wright has given a new emphasis to the resurrection.  Following are a couple of paragraphs from the New Statesman article:

    " The day will come, he says, when Christ will come to join the heavens and the earth in a new creation and the dead will rise. All those who think of heaven as the endpoint are wrong, especially if they're thinking about 'sitting on clouds playing harps'. According to him, heaven is less a location, more a state: a kind of first-class transit lounge whereby our physical bodies sleep while the 'real person' continues in the presence of Christ. What we will be waiting for is what he calls 'life after life after death': the Second Coming and the Day of Judgement, when we will be not only physically re-embodied but transformed, on a new version of this earth with plenty of room for everyone.
    " Wright argues that, over the centuries, the influence of Greek culture and philosophy, in particular the theory of Platonic dualism - that the body is imperfect and destined to decay, whereas the soul is superior and continues after death - led to the language of heaven being 'hijacked'. He mentions a cathedral near Rome where there are frescoes 'quite explicitly about resurrection, skeletons coming up from the earth, being clothed with flesh and becoming human again. Contrast that with the Sistine Chapel, where you have this great heaven and hell scene. It is sort of assumed that heaven is a disembodied state where immortal souls go to live, and then it becomes very difficult for the word resurrection to be anything other than a rather flowery metaphor for that state. But the whole point is that is what the Bible in the first three or four Christian centuries took for granted. We need to recapture that.' "

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Some Thoughts on Daniel, Isaiah

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 10, 2008 )

Darius, Daniel, Darwin

Probably more has been written about the Old Testament book of Daniel than about any other book of the Bible save the book of Revelation.   Both books employ imaginative symbolism to offer predictions of future events, not the least of which is the rise and fall of world-ruling empires.   The technicolor imagery of world-wide carnage is especially striking in the book of Revelation.

Everyone knows the story of how Daniel, the faithful Jew, was cast into the lions' den when he was falsely denounced to Darius the king by those who were envious of him.   Miraculously, Daniel is saved by an angel of the Lord.  Darius sees that the god of Daniel has indeed saved him and immediately orders Daniel to be released and to be made his right-hand man.   Darius also passes sentence on Daniel's false accusers:

"And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den." (Daniel 6:24)

At first, one sees in this yet one more evidence of what Karl Wittfogel called "Oriental despotism,"  the regime under which the entire extended family of the guilty is executed along with the guilty.   For some reason,  Bible commentaries never linger over this event,  never raise the question of why Daniel did not intercede to beg clemency on behalf of at least the children of his false accusers.  It was understood, in that day and place, that the men's children would seek vengeance against Daniel if they were allowed to live to adulthood. 

This practice of killing the wives and children of the defeated appears throughout the Old Testament.   Israel spares none of the children of Amalek.   All this might be explained as the practice of an age of barbarism, but that explanation is not complete.   From a Darwinian standpoint, it makes sense that the survivors seek to obliterate from humanity's gene pool all traces of the biological heritage of the defeated.   One thinks of the continuing failure to find any evidence of extensive cross-breeding between the Neanderthals and modern humans.   The Neanderthals just disappeared, for some reason.

( Originally written and posted on on July 26, 2008 )

Intriguing Images in Isaiah

Of all the books of the King James Version of the Bible, I have found some of the most striking images in the book of Isaiah.  These are places in the text where one is brought to a halt before the question of what is being written about.  For example, consider the images in Isaiah 1:8:  "And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."

Two homely similes are presented in parallel to a besieged city.  William Smith, in his Dictionary of the Bible, sheds some light on this, explaining that the lodge is "a rude temporary shelter erected in the open grounds where vines, cucumbers, gourds, etc. are grown, in which some lonely man or boy is set to watch, either to guard the plants from robbers or to scare away the foxes and jackals from the vines."

Another intriguing image appears in the second chapter as a series of references to caves and grottoes:

    2:10   Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, . . . .

    2:19    And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

    2:20    In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

    2:21    To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Verses 19 and 21 seem to refer to earthquakes.  Isaiah 29:6 explicitly refers to "earthquake" as a manifestation of the wrath of the Lord.   (Incidentally, Charles Wesley's famous sermon on earthquakes also saw in them the wrath of the Lord.  Voltaire's reaction to the great Lisbon earthquake was somewhat dissimilar.)

The habitation hewn out of rock reappears in Isaiah 22:16 as a series of questions:  "What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou has hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock?"

If an earthquake is feared, why would one go into the clefts of the rocks, into the holes of the rocks, into the caves of the earth?   Would not that be the most dangerous place to which to retreat?


What Neoconservatives Are Reading

Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews. Princeton University Press, 2010. 272 pages. $24.95.

Although the author, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America, does not openly identify with neoconservatism, his book has received favorable reviews in the major journals of that persuasion. Since neoconservatism, the belief that capitalism can be saved even if all other cultural markers are erased, has become the prevalent ideology in national Republican circles, Capitalism and the Jews is a book that even paleoconservatives should read, at least in part. (This reviewer recommends, however, borrowing a library copy, not buying it.)

Capitalism and the Jews
, less comprehensive than the title suggests, is a collection of four essays, all but one of which of which are especially noteworthy. (The last essay, "The Economics of Nationalism and the Fate of the Jews in Twentieth-Century Europe," takes Ernest Gellner's concept of nationalism and uses it to supplement the work of Hannah Arendt.)

"The Long Shadow of Usury" explores the belief that while industry and farming are productive, commerce and finance are unproductive, even parasitic. This is tracked back to the medieval period, but found to be alive in all following epochs. In Muller's words, "The economic value of gathering and analyzing information went unrecognized, and not only by those who lived off the land or worked with their hands" (p. 116). This attitude was so ingrained as to find its way even into the early writings of Marx. (Muller mentions more than once that Marx was born into a family of Jews who converted to Christianity, but all of his biographers agree that he was fundamentally an atheist.)

"The Jewish Response to Capitalism" addresses the apparent paradox, noted by Milton Friedman, that Jews have been the foremost critics of capitalism despite their having been liberated and empowered by it. Muller disagrees, adducing evidence that the Jews, all the way back to David Ricardo, have been among the primary defenders of capitalism. Friedman himself was the most prominent of American academic defenders of capitalism, while Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises were its foremost publicists.

"Radical Anticapitalism" is the chapter which will be most interesting to paleoconservative readers. Muller goes into a detailed examination of the disproportionate representation of Jews in the Communist leadership in Eastern European countries. He notes "the inverted pyramid pattern" (p. 147) by which Jews were more represented in the higher and highest ranks of the various Communist parties.

Muller considers only Eastern Europe, not the United States, where half of active Marxist-Leninists have always been Jews. He also favors the theory that the Jews rushed into the ranks of Communism as a reaction to anti-Semitism. The fact should be taken into consideration that Jews were disproportionately represented in the radical left long before 1879, the year when Wilhelm Marr coined the term "anti-Semitism." This fact, however, does not justify the assumption that the overrepresentation was the result of a conspiracy.

The most reasonable explanation for the overrepresentation of Jews in the Marxist ranks is that these Jews had become convinced that capitalism was a system that would soon come to an end. Instead, capitalism finally triumphed even in Russia, where 6 of the 7 "oligarchs" who owned most of Russia's natural resources were themselves Jews.

Once again, fairly or not, Jews are identified in the mass mind with usury capitalism, an economic system that has been plunged into crisis. Muller offers no speculation on that topic, but he does note that Jews are most threatened by "integral nationalism," the type of country where national identity is sharply defined in ethnic and cultural terms. The U.S.A., which Jewish publicists have propagandized as "a nation of immigrants" (i.e., not a nation at all), has drifted far away from integral nationalism. That makes the U.S.A. a place that is good for the Jews, but will their luck hold if usury remains in crisis? The masses of working class gentiles may grow increasingly impatient with the endless chatter about capitalism versus socialism. Are they not losers under either system?