31 March 2014

Precursors to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity

The Holy Trinity is one of the “great mysteries” of the Christian Church.  What this usually means is that no attempt at explanation makes sense, not to the speaker nor even to those who formulated a given doctrine.  The Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, defined at the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325 CE) and Constantinopolis (381 CE), did not simply erupt in the 4th century.  Its antecedents lie at least as far back as the early Hellenistic period.

Contrary to the myth of Patrick of Armagh using a shamrock to teach the poor, ignorant, simple Irish about the Trinity, the reverse is more likely.  The Irish pantheon had several trinities, most notably the battle goddesses Macha, Badb, and Nemain, who collectively made up the battle goddess Anann, better known as The Mor Rhioghan, or Morrigan, the Great Queen.  My putative ancestor Tuireann Delbaeth (Delbha na Aodh, “Producer of Fire”) mac Ogma of the Tuatha De Danaan begot not only the Morrigan trinity but two others as well: the smith trinity of Creidne, Luchtaine, and Giobhniu and the male war and fertility trinity of Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba.

Isis and some of the other Great Mothers of the Mediterranean and West Asian world had three forms also: as a virgin, as a mother, and as an old woman.   These existed not linear in time but simultaneously throughout the sphere that is spacetime.  Some writers have even speculated that this is the framework behind the three separate Marys (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James) reported in the Gospels to have visited the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week following the Crucifixion.

The Mystery Cults in this wide region likewise had their own trio of figures in what could be seen as a “Trinity”.  For example, Isis, again, formed a trinity with Serapis (a syncretic deity merging the Egyptian Osiris and Apis with the Greek Asclepius) and their son Harpocrates (a Hellenistic form of Horus).  There were others such trinities for the Mystery Cults of Mithras, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, etc.  The Mystery Cults, or rather Mystery Cult, was not so much a continuation of the classical national religions as a new form of religion adapting clothing from these older religions and thereby taking on local peculiarities.

Jews and Samaritans of the Diaspora already formed the overwhelming majority of Hebrews in the world at the beginning of the 1st century CE.  Of the 4-4.5 million Hebrews then alive, only 500 million (roughly 250 million each) lived in Palestine.  The rest were scattered throughout the Hellenistic world, save the four groups in the southern Arabian peninsula.

In the thought of the more traditional teachers of Judaism (not sure about Samaritanism at the time; currently all the old hypotheses are being tossed out), a sort of proto-Trinity had begun to form.  Proto- rather than full because what might or would later become the full-blown Trinity of the Christian Church remained in Jewish thought a single Godhead with emanations.  Two were universally recognized among Jewish theologians and philosophers.

First, the Memra, or D’var (Word, in Aramaic and Hebrew), was considered to be that through which God created the Universe and exerted his power.  The Memra in Jewish thought, perhaps at the time though probably later, was identified with Hokhma (Wisdom).

Second, the Shekhinah (“Presence”), was equated with the Yekara (“Glory”) of God, and later also identified with the Ruach ha-Kodesh (“Holy Spirit”).

Among Hellenistic Jews, most notably Julius Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, adapted the Stoic concept of Logos to Jewish philosophy, equating the Logos with the Memra (the two terms both mean “Word”, after all).  In other writings, he equated the Ruach ha-Kodesh with the Hellenistic concept of Sophia (“Wisdom”) and therefore with Hokhma while his uniquely Jewish concept of Logos he identified with Binah (“Reason” or “Understanding”).

I don’t know of anyone having traced the development of thought regarding the Christian Trinity directly from these three main sources (Mystery Cults, Palestinian Judaism, Hellenistic Judaism) through its getting mixed up with Gentile Hellenistic philosophies such as Neoplatonism to the afore-mentioned Ecumenical Councils.  But should that ever happen, I would be very interested to see it.

These ideas, while widespread, are not universal among Jews, then or now, though all consider the Shekhinah or Ruach ha-Kodesh feminine, as was Sophia by ancient Greeks.  So too is Binah, incidentally.  Some Jewish philosophers, in contrast to the above, equate Memra with Shekhinah.  For Moses Maimonides, the preeminent philosopher and theologian produced by the Sephardic Jewish community in Al-Andalus and later of Alexandria, Egypt, the Shekinah, Memra, Yekara, and Logos were all separate and equal emanations of the One God.

Doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the Early Church:

The sole explicit mention of the Holy Trinity in the New Testament comes in the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19), in which the apostles are exhorted to baptize them “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.  This is in direct contradiction to Peter’s call to the crowd in The Acts of the Apostles 2:39 to be “baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”, as well as every scene in which a new convert is baptized elsewhere in the New Testament.

This and other factors argue the case that this particular passage is a later interpolation, a “pious fraud”.  Were this passage in the original Matthew, Arians might have never become such a threat to the Athanasians (or perhaps the reverse was the case).  Incidentally, both theologians were from the church in Alexandria, a factor that often gets overlooked in accounts of the whole controversy that led to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 CE.

Another factor is that no Early Fathers talked about it.  The first to mention anything related to the Trinity was Justin Martyr, around 110 CE, when he exhorted “obedience to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit”.  The correct three “persons”, but not exactly a Trinitarian formulation either.   In the later 2nd century, Theophilius of Antioch was the first to use the word “Trinity”, which he defined as God, his Word, and his Spirit.  Tertullian, later declared a heretic, was the first important apologist for the Doctrine of the Trinity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in an early 3rd century dispute with a theologian named Praxeas, who advocated the doctrine of monarchianism, which opposed division of the Godhead into different persons.

22 March 2014

Prologue of John's Gospel, an alternative

In chapter 1 of the Gospel of John, the writer introduces his story with a prologue which reads (in the Authorized Version of James I, King of England and head of its Church):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The word here in the original Greek is “Logos”.

Unlike some others in Greek, the word Logos can be translated several ways.  Logos can be translated as “study of”, like in “gelogia” (geology), or “study of earth”.  Logos can be translated as “word”, like in the opening of the work known as the Gospel of John.  Logos can also be translated as “Reason”.

Another word, this time in the KJV, needs to be translated into modern English.  Few people, especially among American fundamentalist Christians, who try to interpret the meaning of the word “comprehended” understand that in the 16th and 17th centuries “comprehend” did not mean “to understand” but “to overcome”.

Now the early modern translators of the Bible into English could have validly rendered Logos as “Reason” instead of “Word”, producing the following, in modern English:

In the beginning was Reason.  And Reason was with God and Reason was God.  Reason was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Reason, because nothing could be made without it.  In Reason was life, and that life was the light of humanity.  The light of that Reason shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. 

Imagine that.

21 March 2014

Jesus and Satan, same person? Not far-fetched after all

Several years ago, 1997 to be specific, I wrote a poem with a rather lengthy title (link below) at the end of which I suggested, after drawing a few comparisons from passages in the Bible referring to each of them separately, that perhaps Jesus and Satan were the same person.  It had nothing to do with Process Theology, about which I know very little except that it makes the same claim, as I found out later.

However, I just recently learned that such a comparison is not necessarily unheard of, at least not in the realm of Qabbalah, Jewish mysticism.

There are two words translated into English as “serpent” in the Tanakh/Old Testament:  Seraph, or “Fiery One”, and Nachash”, or “Shiny One”.  Yes, seraph as in singular of seraphim, the highest order of angels; it’s the same word.

The first scene in which the word Nachash appears is in the Garden of Eden, as the tempter of Eve while Adam is standing immediately by her side.  Here, he invites Eve to eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  In this case, “Knowledge of Good and Evil” does not mean being able to discern the difference between Right and Wrong or to see the line between the Light Side and the Dark Side, but is rather an idiom in Hebrew with the meaning “Infinite Knowledge”.  The counterpart of the Tree of Eternal Life.

Keep in mind that this whole story is an allegory, not a historical account.

Christianity identifies the Nachash of the Garden of Eden with Satan, aka the Devil.  Judaism does too, at least in a roundabout way, but with an entirely different outcome.

Remember, Judaism lacks the dualism of Christianity.  It does not have two sides, one light, one dark, one good, one evil, one ordered, one chaotic.  In Judaism, all things come from God and are of God.  Satan is not the nemesis of God and humanity, but is in fact God’s most loyal servant and humanity’s best friend.  In brief, his purpose is to test humans strength of character and thereby provide them with choice, making free will possible.  Satan does these things not in opposition to God but in obedience to him.

Another Nachash makes a significant appearance in the passage known in Judaism as Parashah Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1.  This includes the story of God sending fiery snakes (nachashim in the passage) to plague the Israelites after they complain about being hungry.  When Moses appeals, God has him make a bronze pole serpent (Nachash Bareach) to hold up before the whole nation when the seraphim attack, so that all those bitten who look at it will not die.

The Sefer Yetzirah, the earliest full Qabbalistic work (the Merkava, with which St. Paul was familiar if not adept, was earlier but not fully Qabbalistic) mentions the “Teli” around which the stars and everything in space revolves.  The rabbis identified the Teli with the Nachash Bareach.  A later Qabbalistic tract, the Bahir,  further equates the Teli to the Moshiach (Messiah), who is often called Nachash ha-Kodesh (Holy Serpent), which is the same entity as the Nachash Bareach.

Moshiach is the Hebrew word for the more commonly known, among Christians anyway, title of Christos, meaning “Anointed One”.

It is not too difficult to draw a line from the Nachash Bareach to the Nachash of Eden.  Gnosticism did, in fact, make that analogy, for its adherents saw the Nachash as the Redeemer.

Various midrashim equate the Nachash with the Tanakh figure called Leviathan and with the Shekinah, the Divine Presence in the world, the latter also identified in several places with the and the Moshiach (Messiah).

Credit for much of this info belongs to: http://www.ha-nachash.info/

See the poem to which I referred above, “Random Thoughts: the day after a really weird night that I spent at Kilroy's Coffeehouse, and no, I'm not on acid”, at: http://notesfromtheninthcircle.blogspot.com/2011/08/random-thoughts-day-after-really-weird.html

20 March 2014

The true "Marriage Supper of the Lamb"

American fundamentalist Christians love to bask in the thought of the great banquet that is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb mentioned in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, aka the Apocalypse.  They dream of all the delicious foods there will be to eat, the desserts to devour, the drinks (non-alcoholic of course) there will be to be imbibed.

Besides the fact that the entire Apocalypse was written specifically aimed at Christians familiar with actual 1st century Judaism (which only a minuscule fraction of American fundamentalist Christians are), this is, as its name implies, an apocalypse, a classic example of Jewish-style apocalyptic literature in which nothing is meant to be taken literally.

Even were this an actual prophecy spoken in literal terms, American fundamentalist Christians have clearly not read the text.  They have just seized on the name “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” as an event at which their self-degradation and self-mortification of their lives on planet Earth is rewarded with a triumphal banquet at which they, their families, and their fellow “saved and born again” and “Bible-believing” religious compatriots feast, drink, and make merry to the music of the screams of untold billions thrown into an eternal lake of magma and brimstone to be savagely tortured for infinity.

The mistakes in belief about being with their families and about the timing of their ascent into heaven are subject for another essay.  This is about their utterly erroneous fantasy about the real nature of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

A careful reading of the relevant passage reveals (hahaha) that the only ones invited to (Revelation 19:17-18 ) and eating at (Revelation 19:21) the Marriage Supper of the Lamb are carrion birds such as vultures, crows, and ravens after receiving the invitation, “Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.”

So, American fundamentalist Christians, fell free to belly up to the metaphorical table, as long as you don’t mind engaging in a bit of actual literal cannibalism.  Except that you’ll have to crash the party, because you are not invited.  This invitation is only addressed to “all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven”.

16 March 2014

Four Horsemen from Four Craftsmen

The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” have become a widely recognizable motif in American popular culture, even being featured on TV shows such as “Sleepy Hollow”.  They are most commonly known by the names or titles of Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, but would more accurately be called Tyranny, War, Famine, and Plague.

Conquest is almost synonymous with War.  To merit the distinction of being a separate Horseman, the first rider must represent something more distinct, something more than just a synonym of the designation of the second rider.  Death is what Hades, the Greek god of the underworld where the dead go (the actual god of death is Thanatos), who follows after the fourth rider represents, and the sickly green horse of that rider reveals his true nature.

Speaking of the “Apocalypse”, though the word has come to be  used to refer to a catastrophic event bordering on or actually being the end of the world (as in “zombie apocalypse”), it is really just the Greek word for “revelation” anglicized.

The Apocalypse in question is the Apocalypse of John the Divine, whom many mistakenly equate with Yohanon (John) bar Zebedi, the brother of James the Great and the “disciple whom Jesus loved”.  Revelation, as it is more commonly known in America, almost didn’t make it into canon and remains outside the lectionary of all the Eastern churches.  It was also not the only Christian “apocalypse”; the others included the Apocalypse of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, the Apocalypse of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Stephen, the First Apocalypse of James, and the Second Apocalypse of James.

There were scores, perhaps hundreds of apocalypses among the Jews of the Hellenistic period, but only one made it into the accepted canon, the Book of Daniel.  Certain parts of that work as we have it were written in the 2nd century by the same author who composed 1 Maccabees.

Back to Revelation, aka the Apocalypse of John the Divine.

Written in the period straddling the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, this apocalypse presents numerous symbols as motifs which would have been instantly understood by the readers at the time but which are opaque to us in the 21st century without a bit of research.  The Seven Seals, for example, represent the number of seals on a will under Roman law.  The Two Witnesses, whom Christian writers variously identify as Elijah and either Enoch or Moses, represent the number of witnesses necessary in a Jewish court of law.

The Four Horsemen are another motif mirroring a counterpart in Judaism.  In Jewish midrash, there are Four Craftsmen on the side of Yahweh and his people in the events that bring about the end of the old world and the birth of the new.  These Four Craftsmen are Elijah, the Messiah ben Joseph, the Messiah ben David, and the Righteous Priest.

Elijah is, as always, the Forerunner.  The Messiah ben Joseph is also called the Messiah ben Ephraim.  The Messiah ben David is also called the Messiah ben Judah.  The Righteous Priest is sometimes identified with Melchizedek and sometimes with Moses, and exists in some documents as the Messiah ben Levi or the Messiah ben Aaron and Israel.

The foretold function of each of these eschatological figures, or what designation a particular writer gave them, is not as important as the fact that these four figures would have immediately sprung to mind of a reader of John the Divine’s Apocalypse.  So, if you have ever wondered why are there Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and not Five Horsemen or Seven Horsemen or Twelve Horsemen, now you know.

Jesus the Nazarene, incidentally, is at various places by different authors identified as three of these figures. 

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke imply that Jesus was the Messiah ben David, and in the accounts of the entry into Jerusalem in Matthew and Mark the crowds refer to Jesus as (the Messiah) ben David; though, in contrast, Matthew, Mark, and Luke in the chapters following that account (Luke’s does not call him “Son of David”), Jesus denies that the Messiah is David’s son.

Almost without exception, the prophecies of the Tanakh/Old Testament he is reported to fulfill are prophecies, among them most notably the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52 and 53, that Judaism identifies with the Messiah ben Joseph.

In the anonymous work known as the Epistle of the Hebrews, Jesus is compared to the mystical Melchizedek, who is identified with the Righteous Priest/Messiah ben Levi/Messiah of Aaron and Israel.

The only figure of Jewish eschatology with whom no Christian writer has ever identified Jesus is the prophet Elijah.  In Jewish midrash, Elijah has become the archangel Sandalphon while Enoch, the other Tanakh figure assumed into heaven, has become the archangel Metatron.  In Qabbalah, the two archangels stand at either end of the Tree of Life made up of the ten visible and one hidden sefirot, Metatron at the Crown and Sandalphon at the Kingdom (or Shekhinah, “Presence”), the sefirah which emanates from Creation.

(NOTE: In each of the sefirot, the name of God assigned to a particular sefirah comes first, followed by the archangel of that sefirah, followed by the order of angels for that sefirah.  For the invisible sefirah of Da'at, the divine name is Yahweh Elohim and the archangel is Uriel; the choir of angels for Da'at is Seraphim M'opheph, or “Flying Serpents”.)

14 March 2014

The Ten Misnomers

The “Ten Commandments” so beloved by American fundamentalist Christians are, in truth, anything but.  Well, there are ten of them, but they are not “commandments”, not really.  In fact, the idea that they are “commandments” dates no earlier than the Reformation.

In Hebrew, they are known as “Asereth ha-Devarim”, or the “Ten Words”, “Words” here meaning “Statements” or “Sayings”.  This same meaning is reflected in the Greek word “Dekalogous” and the Latin word “Decalogi”.  The first time that the Ten Statements are referred to as “commandments” in any language came with the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, translated under the supervision of Anthony Gilby and William Whittingham. leaders of a team of Calvinist scholars in Geneva exile from England.

Actually, there are not merely 10 “commandments” (“mitzvot” in Hebrew) in the Jewish and Samaritan Torah (usually translated as “Law” in English, or “Pentateuch” in Greek), but 613 altogether.  The Ten Statements, used in the temple until its destruction in 70 CE and in synagogue prayers until the 3rd century CE, were meant to summarize all the mitzvoth in the Torah.  A Summary of the Law, like that in the Gospels of Matthew (22:35-40), Mark (12:38-41), and Luke (10:25-28).

In the first two Gospels, this Summary of the Law is presented as the answer of Jesus to a Pharisee inquiring which of the commandments of the Torah is greatest; in the third, it is the reply of the Pharisee after Jesus turns the question back on him.  The text in Mark is best because it includes the full text of the Shema (from the KJV): “ The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

Interestingly, all three Gospels misquote Deuteronomy 6:4, which reads:  “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

A better translation, in modern English, of the text in Mark would be: “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: Yahweh your God, Yahweh is One.  Love Yahweh your God with all your hear, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these two.”

One wonders why American fundamentalist Christians hold out the Summary of the Law given in the Torah and ignore the Summary of the Law given by the one whom they claim to follow, especially since most of those would describe themselves as Dispensationalists.

13 March 2014

Yahweh, Creator of evil

One of the more intriguing verses in the Bible is Isaiah 45:7, which answers the age-old question from whence does evil come.

In the Authorized Version of James I, King of England, this verse reads: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

The Three Isaiahs

This verse is part of the section of the Book of Isaiah known as Second Isaiah. 

“What do you mean, ‘Second Isaiah’?”, you ask.

Biblical scholars have known for quite a while that the Isaiah as we have it today was written in three stages stretching across four or more centuries. 

First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) is generally considered to be the words of the prophet Isaiah himself, with the exception of chapters 24-27, which are a later interpolation. Isaiah’s time as a prophet began in the final days of the northern kingdom called Samerina and Bit Humria, witnessed the fall of Samaria, and ended in the early days of direct Assyrian rule.

Second Isaiah (chapters 40-54) was written by an anonymous author, possibly a prophet, living in exile from the southern kingdom, which was first known in Samerina as Teman, among its other neighbors as Bit Dawid, and later as Yehud.

In the Jewish Tanakh, the two kingdoms are called Israel and Judah, at least in their English translations; the transliteration of the Hebrew produces Yisrael and Yehudah.  While the northern kingdom was established by the dynasty ruling the semi-nomadic Canaanite tribe called Israel, it was known as Bit Humria, or House of Omri, and as Samerina.  It was, in fact, the senior of the two, senior in age and in importance.  The southern kingdom, founded later, was at first simply known as Teman (the South), and sometimes as Bit Dawid, or House of David.  The name Yehud first appears at the time of the Babylonian conquest.

Third Isaiah (chapters 55-66) is the work of several anonymous prophets after the return to the southern kingdom from Babylon.

When these three bodies of work became one, we do not know, but most scholars agree that the Book of Isaiah achieved its present form around 70 BCE, during the reign of Salome Alexandra of the Hasmonean dynasty, as Queen of Judea, which at the time included the conquered lands of Idumea, Philistia, Samaria, Galilee, Iturea, and Perea.

WHO created evil?

The reason this particular verse of the amalgamated Book of Isaiah is so intriguing, and vexing to Christians, Samaritans (yes, there are about 750 left), and Jews, is that it answers the age-old question of “where does evil come from” by quoting God (portrayed as referring to himself as ‘Yahweh’) saying “I create it”.

I think because this particular verse that Second Isaiah belongs to the early Persian period of the Levant, and Third Isaiah to the later Persian and/or early Hellenistic period.  What’s more, I think this section was likely written in the same period as the Book of Deuteronomy, or at least that of its Chapter 6 (especially Deut. 6:4, the verse known as the Shema: “Hear O Yisrael:  Yahweh your God, Yahweh is One.”), since the themes of these two passages fit together so well.  Both passages deal with the unity of God.

Given the ample architectural evidence (compared to the dearth testifying to the contrary) there is no doubt that the inhabitants of both the northern kingdom (Samerina, Bit Humria) and the southern kingdom (Teman, Bit Dawid, Yehud) were polytheists before the conquest by the monotheistic Iranians in the later 6th century.  There is anecdotal evidence of this even in the Bible, including in that part most sacred to American fundamentalist Christians, the so-called ‘Ten Commandments’, which are more accurately the ‘Ten Statements’.

Note that this polytheism existed only in the henotheistic form, which may acknowledge and even worship several gods but holds one (the national god Yahweh in this case) up above them all, as early as the 9th century BCE.  In the case of Samerina and Teman (the name Yehud only surfaces later), this deity was Yahweh.  At several pre- Exile archaeological sites in Palestine, Yahweh’s consort is Asherah, while at the Hebrew colony at the island of Elephantine in southern Egypt that existed from the mid-7th century, his consort is Anath.

By the end of the 5th century, under the influence of their monotheistic occupiers, the inhabitants of Samerina and Yehud and their cousins of the colonies in Egypt (Elephantine, Memphis, several others) had traversed theologically from henotheism to monolatry (acknowledgement of several deities but worship of only one), and finally to full-fledged monotheism.  Though the people of Samerina and Yehud adopted its monotheism, they kept their own god and at least officially shunned the dualism that is an intrinsic part of Zartosht’s teachings.

Emphasizing this unity, the oneness of Yahweh, is the idea underlying both the verse in Isaiah and that in Deuteronomy, the former more explicitly denying Zoroastrian dualism.  This is why the writer of Second Isaiah puts the words into the mouth of Yahweh that both light and dark, and both good and evil, come from him.

A more correct translation

A better translation would be: “I form light and create darkness, I make good and create evil: I, Yahweh, do all these things.”

In the Orthodox Jewish Bible, the Isaiah 45:7 verse is rendered: “I form ohr, and create choshech; I make shalom, and create rah; I, Hashem, do all these things.” 

Where Christians translators often render the YHVH as “LORD”, Jewish translators substitute “Hashem”, meaning literally “The Name”, which becomes “Shema” for Samaritans.  “Ohr” means light and “choshech” means darkness, but the other two terms are a bit more problematic. 

“Shalom” is usually translated into English as “peace”, but can also be translated as “prosperity”, while “rah”, usually translated as “evil”, can also mean “adversity”, and if “rah” were to be translated this way, “shalom” as “prosperity” would clearly not mean a capitalist’s fantasy but the polar opposite of adversity.  Various English translations use one or the other set of translations.  However, we find a clue to the most correct translation in the rendering of the verse as used in the Shacharit (morning) prayers in Judaism.

The two chief sets of prayers revolved around the Shema and the Tefillah.  The latter is an ancient set of benedictory supplications dating two millennia.  The first is based on the afore-mentioned verse in Deuteronomy, 6:4.  It is actually three separate passages, the first passage being the most important, Deut. 6:4-9.

In modern English, this would read: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One.  Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words in your heart, and teach them diligently to your children.  Discuss them sitting in your house and walking down the road, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, and wear them as an ornament between your eyes.  Write them upon your doorposts and upon your gates.

In Shacharit, there are two blessings, or prayers, before the recitation of the whole Shema, and one after.  The first of these is taken directly from Isaiah 45:7.  In the prayers, the Hebrew word “Adonai”, meaning “Lord”, is substituted for the actual name. 

In English, this benediction, which is called Yotzer ohr (“Creator of light”) in Hebrew, goes: “Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all things. Blessed are you LORD, who forms light.

Note that whichever rabbi wrote this benediction could not being himself to write that God creates evil, instead felt the need to whitewash the “evil” in the original verse completely out of existence as if God himself were not saying he creates it.  That is why so many “translators” render “shalom” as “prosperity” and “rah” as “adversity”.  In doing so, however, all of them ignore the intent of the writer to show that ALL things come from Yahweh.

Yes, “shalom” and “rah” can be validly translated as “prosperity” and “adversity”, but in other contexts than this one.  In this verse is a dual dichotomy, and for the dual dichotomy to be valid, it has to balance out all the way around.  “Prosperity and adversity” just does not carry the same weight vis-à-vis “light and darkness” that “good and evil” does.

Neither belief nor disbelief are relevant to the true translation of this passage, but it is clear from the widespread attempts to whitewash the evil out of this verse, so to speak, that belief has been getting in the way and hindering rather than helping.

I use the actual name Yahweh rather than any of the oft-substituted euphemisms because the fear of using the name derives from superstition rather than any real spiritual motivation.  Most of those avoiding its use have no qualms about using it in vain with their actions.

ADDENDUM: In the second chapter of Genesis, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (or ‘Etz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah’, where ‘tov’ means ‘good’ and ‘rah’ means ‘evil’) symbolizes in reality the “Tree of Infinite Knowledge”.  In that scheme, ‘shalom’ and ‘rah’ together could mean ‘all things’.  Alternatively, ‘rah’, which can be translated as either ‘evil’ or adversity’, is best translated also as ‘dysfunction’, i.e. ‘chaos’; in this case ‘shalom’ might be translated as ‘order’, i.e. ‘cosmos’.  In other words, the meaning of what Second Isaiah has Yahweh say in Isaiah 45:7 is that “I create everything”, i.e. light and darkness, good and evil, order and chaos, prosperity and calamity.  Note the current, not the past, tense, by the way.

07 March 2014

The Folly of Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism is based upon a lie told by John Nelson Darby, which led to Jewish Zionism, which led to the colonization of Palestine by the Ashkenazim, which led to a State dominated by a single ethnic group at the expense of all others, making Darby father of much of the misery in West Asia today.

Darby was a Church of Ireland priest who had an epiphany after falling from his horse and hitting his head.  Part of that epiphany was that the predictions in the Mt. Olivet discourse were yet to be.  Specifically, the sign of when those things predicted in the discourse were to take place, at least in Luke: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies…”. 

As Nelson’s predecessor in the Church of Ireland, Archbishop James Ussher, was well aware, the events in the Mt. Olivet discourse came to pass in 70 CE at the height of the Great Jewish Revolt, which began in 66 CE.  The defenders of Jerusalem were too busy fighting each other in a four-sided conflict (Temple garrison & Idumeans vs. Galilean Zealots vs. Judean Zealots vs. Sikarii) to make an effective defense once the Romans arrived.

Fundamentalists love to ignore history and are thus ignorant of these historical facts.  Ussher, however, was well aware of the Great Jewish Revolt and ends his lengthy history based on the timeline of the Bible with those events.  Since Ussher’s timeline was well known, especially in the British Isles and certainly in the Church of Ireland, the only way Darby could miss that is by deliberately ignoring it because it didn’t fit the ideas convenient to him.

It certainly didn’t help that the Sikarii burned all the food, which brought about the fall rather quickly, after which the city was leveled completely.  The Temple Mound was completely dismantled by prisoners in order to recover the gold that had melted and oozed through the cracks into the base when the temple was burned.  Darby is not the only liar here, after all, three centuries before him, the Ari “saw” that the last remaining wall of the Roman compound of the temple to Jupiter was the Western Wall, another lie.

The “prediction” in the Olivet discourse according to Matthew and Mark is a bit ridiculous since the events it “foretells” (‘when you see the abomination of desolation…’) had taken place two centuries before, in 167 BCE.  As related by Josephus and in the books of Maccabees which were canon until the Reformation (and still are in the Roman, Eastern, and Oriental Churches), the abomination of desolation occurred when Antiochus IV allegedly set up a statue of himself in the Holy of Holies on his way back to Damascus from Egypt. 

What actually occurred was that Antiochus put down a revolt against Seleucid rule in sympathy with the similar revolt in Egypt, the latter strongly supported by the Republic of Rome.  As part of his punishment, Antiochus took the temple treasury, to the priests far more of a sin than the alleged statue.  When the Hasmoneans rebelled against the Oniad dynasty and their Seleucid supporters later that year, they had Rome as their ally and were never less than clients of Rome.

In Darby’s concussed and historically ignorant epiphany, for the predictions of the Olivet discourse to come true, Israel had to reconstitute in order to be set up as a fall guy, a pawn, a sacrifice for the glory of Christianity.  Thus the mistaken identification of Israel’s return with the Second Coming, which gave birth to Christian Restorationism, which gave birth to Jewish Zionism, which gave birth to Christian Zionism.

01 March 2014

The U.S.A.'s oldest ally

Who is America’s oldest continuing ally? 

France?  Sorry, Francophiles, the first Franco-American Alliance ended in 1798 when the naval Franco-American War began (it ended in 1800).  The temperature did not warm up until after the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of Napoleon III in 1870 following the collapse of the French intervention in Mexico.  France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the USA in 1884, and in his original draft Francis Bellamy included the French revolutionary values of “liberty, equality, fraternity” in his Pledge of Allegiance.

England?  Sorry, Anglophiles, even though our two countries traded ambassadors as early as 1785 and began trading as early as 1783, relations were still shaky. 

In fact, when England went to war with France in 1793, over King Louis getting his head cut right off and thus having his constitution spoiled (for Edmund Burke, the greater outrage was his wife’s death), the United States and Great Britain almost went to war as well. 

With the War of 1812, numerous border disputes, the actions of the British Empire during the Civil War, the Fenian invasions of Canada from America in 1866 and 1867, things didn’t thaw until the late 19th century.  There was what might be called a “cold war” until the Great Rapprochement, the period from 1895 through 1914 that coincided with the Progressive Era in the U.S.A. and the Belle Epoque in the U.K.G.B.I. (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) and the rest of Europe.

Israel?  Sorry, the State of Israel didn’t exist until 1948 and the land upon which it was erected that year, Palestine, had been part of the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century, and other empires before that since about 587 BCE.  Besides, even with the urging of Harry Truman’s best friend, our President did not acknowledge that country until the Soviet Union did so first.  It wasn’t until after the Six Day War in 1967 (which included the attack by Israeli air forces upon the USS Liberty) that US-Israel relations began to thaw.

No, the answer lies at the far western end of North Africa.

The first ruler in the rest of the world to recognize the United States as a legitimate nation in its own right was Mohammad III of the Sultanate of Morocco in 1777.  A decade later, the two countries cemented a formal alliance that has continued unbroken down to the current date in the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1786 and ratified in July 1787.  The alliance held even while Morocco was a protectorate of France between 1912 and 1956. 

Today our oldest ally, a Muslim majority country, is known as the Kingdom of Morocco, its current ruler being Mohammed VI.  With a population 99.1% Berber and Arab, the former being the clear majority, the country borders both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and includes the autonomous region of Western Sahara and the major cities of Casablanca, Marrakesh, Tangier, and several others in addition of the capital at Rabat.  Its king belongs to the Alaouite dynasty, which has been ruling since 1666.