Monday, December 28, 2015

"The Appalachians are slump-shouldered and low by alpine standards, dwarfed by the Rockies, mere hills next to the raw and knife-edged heights of the Andes or Alaska Range ... they've dwindled to their present size simply because they've had the time to ..." -- Earl Swift, The Tangierman's Lament.

In Europe and in South America, mountains divide. Cross a mountain in South America and although you might still hear the language of the conquistadors, you'll likely be in a different country. Cross a mountain range in Europe and you'll likely have not only a new country beneath your feet but a completely different language ringing in your ears.

Why not in what we call the United States of America? How did it happen that one nation and one language stretches from the Olympics of Washington State to the Appalachian foothills of Georgia? Was it the speed and intensity of settlement? Was it because it took place during a technological revolution, first with trains and then automobiles breaking down barriers of distance and difficulty?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Often the lone-dweller waits for favor,
mercy of the Measurer, though he unhappy
across the seaways long time must
stir with his hands the rime-cold sea,
tread exile tracks. Fate is established!"

Thus wrote the ancient Anglo-Saxon "wanderer," in words whose poignancy has never been equaled, of the pain of exile. Does it matter if it is voluntary or imposed?

Today I ponder Louis Adamic, a gifted 20th century writer who is not well known these days. Of Slovenian birth, 1899, he emigrated to the United States and threw himself with an immigrant's passion into his new land, becoming known for advocacy of the labor movement. But something must have pained him, some sense of the lost homeland. Two of his books, Native's Return and My Native Land, touched on the subject.

Perhaps that sense of never quite belonging in the new place, of being a stranger even among friends, fueled his founding of the Common Council for American Unity, a group aimed at strengthening ties of human brotherhood.

In one terse line of his entry in Collier's Encyclopedia, the end of his life is summed up: he died an apparent suicide, in 1951. The pain of exile triumphed, albeit in phyrric victory.

Rest in peace, Louis Adamic. You have returned to the homeland from which we never leave again.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Continuing with the Sibylline Oracles ... Book 8

So I continue my slow re-read of these strange pseudepigraphical books -- a great heap of supposed prophecies with nothing to unify them except their pseudepigraphical connection to the mythical, ancient Sibylline Oracles, thus their titles. They are a mixed up salad bowl of Jewish, Christian and pagan concepts -- sometimes impossibly obscure, now and then clear and beautiful.

Sibylline Oracles, Book 8:

This “book” is two writings fused together:
1) Verses 1-216 with exceedingly uncertain (but probably singular and Jewish) authorship dating to around 175 A.D., excepting 131-138, which are the work of an Egyptian Sibyllist. The latter were probably inserted, being pro-Hadrian, by an editor seeking to lessen the earlier attack on Hadrian.
2) Verses 217-500, by a Christian author, before the 4th century.

It is difficult today, when Rome is a tourist destination with all the political power of Lisbon, to fully grasp just what an entity it once was, inspiring fear and absolute loathing hundreds of miles away.

But this is a literary example of this phenomenon. In the era of Marcus Aurelius, the author is one of many who repeats the legend of the dreaded Nero’s return to life and power. One would think that such a loathsome and craven wretch as Nero would have been securely dead and buried in the popular imagination – but apparently not.

The hope and theme of this author is summed up in v. 125:
“No longer will Syrian, Greek, or foreigner, or any other nation,
place their neck under your [Roman] yoke of slavery.”

In the second half, the life and Passion of Christ is retold, the one who on the cross will “stretch out his hands and measure the entire world.” v. 302.

“I myself proposed two ways, of life and death ...” (399)

God as “self-begotten, everlasting, undefiled and eternal (429),” per our editor, is also found in pagan writings. He is Master of the Cosmic Treasury. And with the Word He counseled before Creation.

Several times in this work, the author expresses anti-temple sentiments, especially in the last stanza: saying we are never allowed to approach the sanctuaries of temples. Paul, who risked his very life to attend the Jewish temple, might have raised an eyebrow at that.


Why should anybody, in 2015, care about the musings of some anonymous, anti-Roman scribe from nearly 2,000 years ago?

Perhaps because there is utility in understanding the common psychological thread that runs through humanity, from earliest history to today. We look at awful, human-caused tragedies and vow, Never Again – but it WILL happen again until we understand why it ever happened, why it keeps happening.

And perhaps it is also useful to realize that humankind has always grappled with the same issues: we long for ourselves and our loved-ones to avoid the inevitable, the Reaper who comes for all. From one of the oldest books in the world, the Epic of Gilgamesh, through the pages of the Bible and in today’s science fiction, writers have pondered that deep-rooted concern and woven their words around it.

Conversely, our nightmares are haunted by the possibility of those whom we don’t love, succeeding at immortality. If the writer of this Oracle speculated on the possible return from supposed death, of Nero; so not too long ago people speculated that the madman Adolf Hitler had somehow survived WWII and was still hiding out somewhere. And of course, the endless return of villains, from supposed annihilation, is a staple of the horror genre.

Finally, the author of at least the second part of this work was familiar with the Apocalypse of John, i.e., the Revelation of John, living just a generation or so after it was written – so this book might be of importance to scholars of the New Testament seeking to understand the milieu, the theme, the motivation of the writer of said Revelation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The story is a little old now, but so beautifully written it is worth sharing:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pseudepigrapha continued: The Sibylline Oracles, Book 2

Book Two:

The original Jewish text was probably written between 30 B.C. to 250 A.D., with the hated Roman Empire singled out for destruction.

The oracle begins with grim prophecies of the future in the “tenth generation,” followed by a Messianic recovery. A time of deep peace and understanding.

Our writer envisions “a great contest for entry into the heavenly city.” Notes to the passage suggest affinities to the Apostle Paul’s manner of writing, the “agon-motif.” Similes of athletic prowess are found, that the modern editor links to Stoic thought, (2:40-55) with which Paul would have been familiar.

The winners of this contest adhere to rules of piety, such as those detailed herein from a passage of Pseudo-Phocylides.
In the end-times, the Hebrews will have vengeance upon their enemies and rule triumphant, accompanied by the returning Elijah in his chariot.

The earth will then be cleansed by a river of fire -- a fire through which all souls must pass at Judgment Day. Passage through a river is an ancient motif, found in Psalm 18:5 and 69:2 -- but through fire is a Persian concept. The idea of hell eternally on fire seems to be a Jewish development (fn. p. 352).

A jarring Judgment Day scenario is detailed, clearly with Christian interpolations – as it condemns “all the Hebrews after Jeremiah.” Certainly that is at odds with the previous passages.

The sins of the wicked are detailed, including the Hesiodic abandonment of parents (W&D 186). But there is intercession for the condemned – an idea which some medieval editor found abhorrent, along with Origen’s idea that there is a limit to God’s punishment.
But the celestial earth is a glorious place of rest, beauty and equality -- no poor among them.

Excluding the interpolations, I see this writing as a vision of hope by some ancient, pious Jew, building upon his understanding of Jewish scripture as well as mythological concepts. It has never been easy to be Jewish, and meditating upon a future free of persecution and suffering, with the wicked divinely punished, certainly brings some comfort.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I'm no lover of the mall ...

"I came down from the misty mountains,
and I got lost on the human highway." -- Rebecca Frazier.

My beloved sent me into the mall today for something, so I went, but it is not a place I love to linger.

We humans evolved to feel the contours of the earth beneath our feet -- the spongy moss, the forest humus, the ups and downs of slopes and plains, the occasional stone or thorn that reminds us to tread lightly.

We are meant to hear the song of birds, the whir and buzz of insects and the rush of the wind.

But this place -- this place is a gaudy coffin. Walking on these polished tiles will flatten your arches -- it's not what your feet were meant to do. Canned music is a poor replacement for what human ears were designed to hear.

We need food, clothing, shelter -- everything else is trinkets and toys. You can get food here, slapped on a plastic plate, served up by strangers for a price. The clothing they sell wouldn't last a day in the wilderness.

This place has no soul, though it tries through noise and ads and a cacophony of peddlers selling vapor cigarettes and bamboo pillows and other trash, to distract you from discovering that fact. It's all flash and color and fakery -- perfume on a corpse.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

We missed you!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Great Soul Unheeded: Nicholas of Cusa

Learning this morning about another forgotten great-soul, whose ideas, had they not been buried in the avalanche of chaos following the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, might have helped to prevent centuries of persecution and factional fighting in Europe.

Nicholas of Cusa, who lived in the 15th century, believed that God is unknowable. To a certain extent, all people of faith believe this to various degrees. Building on that, he suggests that it is absurd to argue, fight and even kill each other in the name of God, when none of us fully comprehend Him.

He "imagined a concord among religions that celebrated what they had in common and still accepted their ongoing independent existence."

Quoted line from James Carroll, "Constantine's Sword," p. 353.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hero of the Everglades

What the late John Muir was to Yosemite -- its greatest cheerleader, its devoted defender -- the late Ernest Coe was to the Florida Everglades. Like Muir, he was far ahead of his time, waging a long, lonely and not entirely successful war against the forces of development and destruction.

Unlike Muir, he is almost entirely forgotten today, for the place he loved is no grand vista of mountains and waterfalls, drawing millions of awed tourists with cameras clicking. The Everglades are tougher to love -- flat, hot, buggy, even boring in the eyes of some -- and yet every bit as much a national and natural treasure as Yosemite and our other national parks.

Resource: National Geographic, April 1994.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2 and 3 Enoch

2 Enoch (Slavonic)
I cannot picture a home more different for this text, from that of 1 Enoch. We travel from the heat and savannas of Africa, to the boreal forest and bitter winters of the Slavic heartland in Eastern Europe. The guardians of this work are Russian Orthodox Christians. However, although they thought enough of this work to preserve it and copy it, it has never been a part of their canon – an altogether different fate than that of 1 Enoch.

Historically, the fledgling Russian Orthodox Church (Slavonic), took in and translated many writings of Greek (Byzantine) composition, and this may be an example. We are indebted to the anonymous monks and scholars who did so, as the work has not survived in a Greek form.
It is a peculiar and happy phenomenon that many such “rare works survive on the fringes of civilization (p.94).” But as with 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch remains an artifact divorced from its original context – we cannot be sure of its original language, composition date or provenance. We don’t even know what group of people first revered it, as it neither presents the Christian concept of Jesus Messiah, nor any specific Jewish ideas beyond monotheism.

However, “now that it is known that parts of 1 Enoch existed in Aramaic in pre-Christian times, it is more credible that 2 Enoch stands in another stream of Enoch traditions stemming from similar sources, and perhaps even of comparable antiquity (p.94).”
The oldest manuscript we have, dates to the 14th century.

The titles of the manuscripts vary, generally declaring this “The Book of the Secrets of Enoch,” with one appending to that “from the Pearl of Great Price [!] (fn. 1a).”

In the work, reference is made to books that Enoch wrote in heaven; 2 Enoch may tell the story of those books, which may constitute 1 Enoch and were apparently available in the community that wrote 2 Enoch – but they were meant to be hidden away until the end-time, with a key role for the last generation.

Enoch dreams, a dream that leaves him weeping – part of a tradition that apocalyptists are upset by evil in the world. Two celestial beings then visit him, standing at the head of his bed and calling him by name, accepting his obeisance. That would be at odds with Biblical norms. (cf. JSH 1:,30, 33.) Angels traveling in pairs is an ancient concept. But not immutable – consider the NT Gabriel.
I am intrigued lately by the peculiar image of celestial beings issuing fire from their mouths – a power even given to some mortals, as in Rev. 11:5.

The angels announce Enoch’s upcoming journey to heaven. No one must search for him until he returns. Cf. 2 Kings 2:16.
They lift him up to the first heaven, through the atmosphere and then past (?) the ether, or stratosphere. As far back as Homer (what reference?), this stratification of the heavens was recognized – and the canonical Paul suggests a belief that the ether was Satan’s realm (Eph. 2:2). Yet Paul elsewhere uses the same Greek word for the realm where the saints will be caught up to meet Christ at His coming.

In this place is an ocean much vaster than its earthly counterpart. It is also the storehouse of snow, ice, dew and clouds. (J, 5).
In the second heaven, fallen angels are confined. From the third, he can see Paradise, with the Tree of Life, where the Lord walks. Paradise linked to the Garden of Eden is a Jewish, not a Christian tradition. There seem to be similarities between this part of the journey and the story of Gilgamesh, particularly the visit to Utnapishtim (cf. fn. b, p. 115.) Might we suppose a common ancient tradition lies behind both these passages?

To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the fallen, etc – apparently this and similar combinations of pious injunctions may have been a stock theme in the Hebrew milieu. Per our editor, Matthew 25 presents a “radically Christianized version.” (p. 119). So Mosiah 2:17 and 4:14, rather than being signs of Christian anachronism, may draw from this earlier tradition.
In a place of torture (the third heaven?) writhe the souls of the worst of men, their sins being virtually identical to the list Paul gives in 1 Timothy.

Interesting that our editors note the title by which Enoch is several times addressed – youth. Cf. Moses 6:31, “I am but a lad ...”

11: Fourth heaven: Home of the solar and lunar tracks. The footnote is rich in detail on the concept of heavenly bodies and their contemplation as living beings, an old tradition. Origen (On First Principles 1.7.3) cited the precision of their movements as proof of the highest reason. Later theologians such as Jerome attacked this idea and “it become unorthodox.”
12: Enoch sees “solar elements” – phoenixes and khalkedras, the latter being some kind of brass serpent. Some connection to nehushtan?
15: Song of the birds at sunrise.
18: In the fifth heaven, the unfallen Watchers mourn their fallen colleagues.
20: From the seventh heaven [in the tenth heaven?}], the Lord is seen afar off.
21: Ninth heaven, Kukhavim. [Kokaubeam?]
22: Carried to the tenth heaven by Michael, Enoch beholds the face of the Lord, in quite vivid language that apparently made later scribes, with their Hellenistic, unseeable God baggage, uncomfortable. Our writer did not consider God unknowable or inconceivable but indescribable, because to do so is forbidden.

In Jewish circles, Michael was the favored angel, as here; the early Christians favored Gabriel.
The Lord consults His assembly; Enoch to be made an angel, that he might be forever in the presence of the Lord. Humans as such, acc. to the ancient Mesopotamians, could not gain permanent access to the community of divine beings. Our editor believes that the early Hebrews inherited this same belief; thus, Psalm 115:16-7.
But Enoch, stripped of his earthly clothing, and anointed and clothed in glorious garments, can now remain in the presence of the Lord.
23:6: A nod to pre and post-earth existence. One angel tells Enoch all the secrets of creation and life, and commands that he write it. Then, God Himself tells all.

24: Presents the striking doctrine, eschewed by later Christianity, that certain “invisible things” co-existed eternally with God before He made from them the visible. Cf. D&C 131.
He was restless, with the need to create.

Per the fn. p. 143, this section could be one of the earliest attempts to reconcile the Creation story with science (as it was then understood).

At this point, p. 149, the fn. refs. The Gospel of Bartholomew, a Gnostic work with strong affinities for this text, such as a role for Enoch and the creation of the angels from fire. That gospel (4:24) also preserves the notion that Satan fell because he refused to adore Adam – a concept which passed into the Quran. Overall, in 2 Enoch, the role of Satan is contradictory and confused – “fragments of Satan stories loosely mixed.”

There seems to have been a belief among some Christians that the Garden of Eden (Paradise) was in a heavenly realm, from which Adam was thrust down to earth (32). Again, this passed into the Quran (Sura 2:35-26).

36: Enoch to return to earth for a time, to reveal what he has learned.
He describes hell and its ghastly gate-keepers, comparable, per our editor, to the Scorpion Men of Gilgamesh 9:2 (p. 98 in my edition). Continuation of the strictly legalistic theme of this text.

44: A beautiful chapter: We are all made in God’s image, by His own two hands, and to malign each other is to malign Him.

Moral exhortations follow, including the dictate to be kind to animals. (58-9).
Enoch prepares to return to heaven; offers final counsel. The Lord is in the heights and in the depths (cf. Psalm 139).
Methusalem now takes on the role of priest for the people. Then Melchizedek.

3 Enoch (aka The Book of The Palaces and The Chapters of Rabbi Ishmael).

This work opens a window into the world of an extinct school of Jewish mysticism, called Merkabah – recast today as Kaballah. Although some orthodox scholars studied Merkabah, it made many uncomfortable, could be a danger to rabbinic Judaism and “strong efforts were made to contain it. (p. 234.)” It proposed alternate means of revelation besides Torah; and in some cases, seemed to unduly exalt such figures as Metatron and Enoch. Enoch, on the other hand, is not mentioned in Talmud, and with hostility in Midrashim.

Merkabah delves very little into eschatology or cosmology. It may have had its origin just prior to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70., when a “powerful symbol of the divine presence was removed” and “eschatological hopes were dampened.”
Has affinities with Gnosticism.

This work was written in Hebrew circa the 5th or 6th Century A.D., though attributed to the earlier Jewish scholar, Rabbi Ishmael (d. before the Bar Kokhba War A.D. 132).

Literary style includes “extreme redundancy,” typical of Merkabah literature, meant to induce ecstasy.
Its God is transcendent and virtually unapproachable, like a monarch of that era. It also suggests that souls are pre-existent to mortality, descending from a storehouse in heaven. (p. 245). Teaches that Enoch was translated.
May present parallels to the New Testament-era Colossian heresy of “Gnosticizing Judaism.”
Numerous texts exist, from the Vatican to the British Museum.

Synopsis: R. Ishmael journeys to the highest heaven, passing the angels (archons) that stand as sentinels, reciting a certain formula and showing a symbol (p. 237); and is graciously welcomed into the presence of God.

Reaching the seventh heaven, R.I. must enlist the aid of Metatron against the sentry angel Qaspiel, who would bar him entry. The Holy One sends Metatron. [Does He not have the ability to restrain that one Himself?]
Metatron, i.e., Enoch, addressed as “youth.” (2)
What qualifies R.I. for entry into heaven? Psalm 144 is invoked: the Lord is his God.