Uh-Oh

Apparently the guy who shot up the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand had “Charles Martel” emblazoned on his gun, and designated Anders Breivik a “Knight Justiciar.”

Get ready for another round of accusations that the study of the Middle Ages is inherently racist.

Not that I approve of shooting people as they’re going to Friday prayers. Even Charles Martel fought like a man, on the field of battle. If you simply must participate in some counter-jihad, go where the actual wars are, like in northern Nigeria or northern Iraq. Or do a stint in the IDF.

Note to the Sun: a masjid is a mosque. It makes no sense to talk of “Masjid Al Noor Mosque” or the “Linwood Masjid Mosque.”

A friend of mine suggests that the shooter deliberately picked Christchurch as the place for his massacre, because it highlights the irony that there are mosques in a place called Christchurch. But there are Christian churches throughout the Dar-al-Islam! Why not live and let live? Sheesh.

Curt Lindquist is Retiring from Reinhardt

Curt Lindquist and his extensive office door cartoon collection.

When I arrived at Reinhardt in 2004, religion professor Curt Lindquist was serving as dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, and was very welcoming and supportive of me. I was especially pleased that he accepted me as a member of the Fulbright-Hays seminar that he organized, “Examining China’s Great Western Development Program: the Social and Cultural Effects upon Ethnic Minorities and the Han Majority” – a topic that remains relevant.

Peg Morlier, Curt Lindquist, and Al Carson.

Ken Wheeler organized a get-together for Curt this Tuesday in the Lawson-Tarpley atrium, when people shared their memories of his time here.

I have enjoyed Curt’s presence across the hall these many years and am sad that he will no longer be teaching at Reinhardt. But I wish him and Mary all the best in the years to come.

Sister of a God

I teach the same material year after year, and it never gets old, in part because I like it so much, and in part because I’m always discovering new things. This year, during a discussion of the Code of Hammurabi, my students fixated on the laws in that dealt with the concept of the “Sister of a God.” I had to confess that I didn’t know exactly what was going on with this expression, and had to retreat to my spiel about how there are no right answers in history and even professionals are often deeply divided on what documents mean. On the surface, “sister of a god” would suggest something equivalent to our own concept of a nun – that is, a woman dedicated to the service of a god, who acquires a certain social capital in return for accepting restrictions on what she can do. This is seemingly reflected in law 110:

If a “sister of a god” open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.

Taverns being disreputable places, and religious women thus forbidden to associate with them. See also law 127:

If any one “point the finger” (slander) at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and cannot prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked. (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair.)

Here “sisters of a god” are on the same level as wives, with their honor (presumably their reputation for sexual continence) entitled to legal protection.

But then there is the strange case of law 179:

If a “sister of a god,” or a prostitute, receive a gift from her father, and a deed in which it has been explicitly stated that she may dispose of it as she pleases, and give her complete disposition thereof: if then her father die, then she may leave her property to whomsoever she pleases. Her brothers can raise no claim thereto.

What is going on – nuns on the same level as prostitutes? Is this a law applying to “unmarriageable” women, whether for an honorable reason or a dishonorable one? Or does “sister of a god” actually mean something else? (The Mesopotamian practice of temple prostitution allegedly featured people having sex on the top of the ziggurat, so that the god would get excited and send rain. This is probably an urban legend, but always makes students sit up and pay attention! I suppose that it’s possible that women devoted to the god were not required to be celibate the way that nuns are).

Other laws refer to temple-maids and temple virgins (181), and to a “wife of Mardi of Babylon” (182). Are these then different from the “sister of a god”? Are these the real “nuns,” in our sense of the term, with “sister of a god” being a euphemism for prostitute – and the prohibition of them entering taverns was a law to prevent taverns from becoming even more disreputable than they already were? Or do we embrace the power of “and” – that prostitution was indeed a sacred profession, and a “sister of a god” could not sell her product to just anyone?

It seems that that might indeed have been the case. I’ve looked through what books I have and the best answer I can find is provided by Georges Roux (Ancient Iraq, third edn., 213-14):

Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about the temples of female deities. There is no doubt, however, that the temples of Ishtar, the goddess of carnal love, were the sites of a licentious cult with songs, dances and pantomimes performed by women and transvestites, as well as sexual orgies. In these rites, which may be found shocking but were sacred for the Babylonians, men called assinu, kulu’u, or kurgarru – all passive homosexuals and some of them perhaps castrates – participated together with women who are too often referred to as “prostitutes.” In fact, the true prostitutes (harmâtu, kezrêtu, shamhâtu), such as the one who seduced Enkidu, were only haunting the temple surrounds and the taverns. Only those women who were called “votaress of Ishtar” (ishtarêtu) or “devoted” (qashshâtu) were probably part of the female clergy.

Fascinating stuff – although I would not be surprised if there are competing theories out there.

Hebrews and Egyptians

Four statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel. Wikipedia.

The traditional date of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt is 1250 BC,* which would place it during the reign of Ramesses II, the greatest pharaoh of New Kingdom Egypt. Ramesses II is famous for his lengthy reign of sixty-six years, and for siring nearly a hundred children (between 48 and 50 sons, and 40 to 53 daughters).** He is also remembered for his numerous military campaigns both against the Nubians in the south, and the Hittites to the north – and for being a signatory to the world’s first peace treaty.

In another attempt at linking up Biblical with Egyptian history, people have also claimed that the Hebrews settled in the Nile Delta during the second intermediate period under the Hyksos, but then “there arose a new pharaoh who knew not Jacob” – perhaps this was Ahmose of Thebes, who reconquered the Delta around 1550 BC, reunifying Egypt, founding the New Kingdom – and enslaving the Hebrews, who remained in this condition until Moses led them out of Egypt some three hundred years later.

(Then there is Sigmund Freud’s theory that Moses himself was a priest of Atenism, Akhenaten’s failed attempt at introducing a monotheistic religion in the 1340s and -30s. The Hebrews got their idea of one God from the Egyptians!)

Of course, this all doesn’t quite work. New Kingdom Egypt controlled Palestine – the border with the Hittite Empire was established at Kadesh, in what is now northern Lebanon. In fact, Ramesses II himself was still on the throne, if the Hebrews left Egypt around 1250, and spent forty years in the Sinai desert, before beginning their conquest of Canaan under Joshua in 1210. The Bible records no fighting against any Egyptians during this time, however; certainly not against Ramesses II. The Wikipedia article on The Exodus says that Biblical details:

point to a 1st millennium BCE date for the composition of the narrative: Ezion-Geber (one of the Stations of the Exodus), for example, dates to a period between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE with possible further occupation into the 4th century BCE, and those place-names on the Exodus route which have been identified: Goshen, Pithom, Succoth, Ramesses and Kadesh Barnea – point to the geography of the 1st millennium BCE rather than the 2nd.

It is possible that a group of people that later merged into the Hebrew nation had Egyptian origins in the late Bronze Age, and whose story was elaborated and then incorporated into the overall narrative. But apart from some ambiguous references to the Habiru, no non-Biblical evidence has yet come to light about such a group.

* Coincidentally also traditional date of the Fall of Troy.

** That a brand of condom was named “Ramses” seems hugely ironic.

A Recent Local Event

Near where I live is a mosque, called the “Masjid Quba.” It is in a strip mall on GA-20, off I-75. They have a sign over their storefront, and a two-part sign on the strip mall index by the road. The top reads “Masjid Quba” and the bottom is in Arabic script.

Or rather, was. As I drove by today I noticed that “Masjid Quba” had been removed, and only part of the Arabic script sign remained.

And on the other side, the Arabic was completely gone, although “Masjid Quba” remained.

Were they moving out? Probably not – Pakiza Grocery and Chuska Restaurant are no longer in the strip mall, yet their signs are still up.

The broken sign at the foot of the index indicates violent removal.

Could it have been the wind? Not likely – for the wind to take out both sides of the same sign, while leaving everything else intact, would make for a very freak wind.

The fact that one broken part of the fallen “Masjid Quba” sign was placed directly in front of the mosque’s entrance suggests that human agents were responsible, and that this represents an act of vandalism. The metal pole in the photo above was likely the instrument used.

So what is going on? A friend thinks they did it to themselves to get sympathy. Another posits that it was intra-Muslim factional violence, or that they may have owed money to someone.

But given the fact that this was directed against a mosque, in a part of the country where the overwhelming religion is evangelical Christianity, suggests that it is an example of what the newspapers call a “hate crime.” If so, it is rather disappointing.

And, I regret to say, it’s not first time that the Masjid Quba has been targeted:

Mosque Vandalism Includes ‘Racial Slurs’

The Bartow County Sheriff’s Office and FBI are investigating possible hate crimes.

By Brande Poulnot, Patch Staff | Apr 15, 2011 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has stepped in to assist detectives in determining whether acts of vandalism at the are hate crimes, which are federal offenses, Sgt. Jonathan Rogers said.

The mosque twice has been the target of vandals in the past few weeks. The first incident, on March 18 or 19, involved messages such as “Muslim Murders” and what deputies called racial slurs.

The morning of March 19, a worker at an adjacent business noticed several windows had been smashed along the front of the building on Merchants Square. Two messages, including a drawing of the Star of David, had been written on the windows, and concrete and bricks that had apparently been thrown through the windows contained “racial slurs,” according to the incident report.

In the second incident, deputies Tuesday retrieved four large rocks used to damage the center the previous night or early that morning. Four glass doors and windows in the front of the building were damaged.

Of course, this is pretty small potatoes on the grand scheme of things. Muslims in Cartersville, Georgia do not have nearly as much to worry about as, say, the Copts in Egypt do. But it’s still an ugly and shameful incident. It’s a free country, dammit! Their rights are your rights. Don’t do stuff like this!

ADDENDUM

I snapped this picture in 2015, of a church sign on GA-140, illustrating an attitude that (I guess) is all too common around here. Of course, the fact that Muhammad is dead is the entire point of Islam, and I still maintain that you don’t need to run down someone else’s religion in order to promote your own, especially in a place where the only presence of that religion is single mosque in a strip mall.

In a Stable, ‘Tis a Fable

From Psephizo (hat tip: Cory Schantz):

*****

Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable

December 3, 2018 by Ian Paul

I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.

So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: traditional elaboration; issues of grammar and meaning; and ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture.

The elaboration has come about from reading the story through a ‘messianic’ understanding of Is 1.3:

The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept? (Answer: not necessarily!)

The second issue, and perhaps the heart of the matter, is the meaning of the Greek word kataluma in Luke 2.7. Older versions translate this as ‘inn’:

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (AV).

There is some reason for doing this; the word is used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, LXX) to translate a term for a public place of hospitality (eg in Ex 4.24 and 1 Samuel 9.22). And the etymology of the word is quite general. It comes from kataluo meaning to unloose or untie, that is, to unsaddle one’s horses and untie one’s pack. But some fairly decisive evidence in the opposite direction comes from its use elsewhere. It is the term for the private ‘upper’ room where Jesus and the disciples eat the ‘last supper’ (Mark 14.14 and Luke 22.11; Matthew does not mention the room). This is clearly a reception room in a private home. And when Luke does mention an ‘inn’, in the parable of the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10.34), he uses the more general term pandocheion, meaning a place in which all (travellers) are received, a caravanserai.

The difference is made clear in this pair of definitions:

Kataluma (Gr.) – “the spare or upper room in a private house or in a village […] where travelers received hospitality and where no payment was expected” (ISBE 2004). A private lodging which is distinct from that in a public inn, i.e. caravanserai, or khan.

Pandocheionpandokeionpandokian (Gr.) – (i) In 5th C. BC Greece an inn used for the shelter of strangers (pandokian=’all receiving’). The pandokeion had a common refectory and dormitory, with no separate rooms allotted to individual travelers (Firebaugh 1928).

The third issue relates to our understanding of (you guessed it) the historical and social context of the story. In the first place, it would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives. Kenneth Bailey, who is renowned for his studies of first-century Palestinian culture, comments:

Even if he has never been there before he can appear suddenly at the home of a distant cousin, recite his genealogy, and he is among friends. Joseph had only to say, “I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar, the son of Eliud,” and the immediate response must have been, “You are welcome. What can we do for you?” If Joseph did have some member of the extended family resident in the village, he was honor-bound to seek them out. Furthermore, if he did not have family or friends in the village, as a member of the famous house of David, for the “sake of David,” he would still be welcomed into almost any village home.

Moreover, the actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story. As Bailey explores in his Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes, most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with hay, in the living area, where the animals would feed.

This kind of one-room living with animals in the house at night is evident in a couple of places in the gospels. In Matt 5.15, Jesus comments:

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

This makes no sense unless everyone lives in the one room! And in Luke’s account of Jesus healing a woman on the sabbath (Luke 13.10–17), Jesus comments:

Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the manger [same word as Luke 2.7] and lead it out to give it water?

Interestingly, none of Jesus’ critics respond, ‘No I don’t touch animals on the Sabbath’ because they all would have had to lead their animals from the house. In fact, one late manuscript variant reads ‘lead it out from the house and give it water.’

*****

More at the link.

A Post

Apologies for my blogging silence of late. A cartoon shared by Kennesaw State’s David Parker sums it up well:

Although, I am pleased that I got to have dinner tonight with Dan Audia ’08, who has recently been promoted to Assistant Director of MBA Programs at the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Dan says that he:

currently manages enrollment for the KSU MBA and WebMBA programs, specifically the areas of admissions and academic advisement. Our team provides top-notch customer service from prospective student inquiry to current student graduation. Our efforts for recruitment, retention,and progression to graduation are aimed at maintaining the high quality of the programs as demonstrated by several national rankings.

Dan told me about an interesting blog entitled Faith and History: Thinking Christianly about the American Past, run by Robert Tracy McKenzie, professor of history at Wheaton College in Illinois. He hasn’t updated it in a while, but I quite enjoyed perusing his back catalogue, including this post:

The belief that the Pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom is inspiring, but in the sense that we usually mean it, it’s not really true. I’ve shared this reality numerous times since writing The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History, and I almost always get pushback from the audience. That’s understandable, since most of us from our childhood have been raised to believe quite the opposite. But if we’re going to really learn from the Pilgrims’ story, we need to be willing to listen to them instead of putting words into their mouths.

One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Democracy in America where Alexis de Tocqueville observes, “A false but clear and precise idea always has more power in the world than one which is true but complex.” The Pilgrims’ motives for coming to America is a case in point.

The popular understanding that the Pilgrims came to America “in search of religious freedom” is technically true, but it is also misleading. It is technically true in that the freedom to worship according to the dictates of Scripture was at the very top of their list of priorities. They had already risked everything to escape religious persecution, and the majority never would have knowingly chosen a destination where they would once again wear the “yoke of antichristian bondage,” as they described their experience in England.

To say that the Pilgrims came “in search of” religious freedom is misleading, however, in that it implies that they lacked such liberty in Holland. Remember that the Pilgrims did not come to America directly from England. They had left England in 1608, locating briefly in Amsterdam before settling for more than a decade in Leiden. If a longing for religious freedom alone had compelled them, they might never have left that city. Years later, the Pilgrim’s governor, William Bradford, recalled that in Leiden God had allowed them “to come as near the primitive pattern of the first churches as any other church of these later times.” As Pilgrim Edward Winslow recalled, God had blessed them with “much peace and liberty” in Holland. They hoped to find “the like liberty” in their new home.

More at the link.

Jim Jones and Harvey Milk

In City Journal, a review of an interesting new book: Daniel J. Flynn’s Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco. Excerpt:

Having moved his flock to northern California in the 1960s, [Jim] Jones began leveraging their labor toward political ends, volunteering them for protests or electioneering on behalf of friendly aspirants to public office. Gaining the respect of San Francisco’s political class, Jones became a player in his own right. Many gave him credit for Moscone’s tight victory in the 1975 mayoral runoff, and he was appointed head of the San Francisco Housing Authority. Praised as a hero of social justice and a crusader for racial equality, Jones became an important figure in Democratic politics.

Among his advocates was Harvey Milk, also a newcomer to San Francisco. Milk, formerly a Goldwater Republican, became politically radical in California and repeatedly sought election to office as an outsider to the political machine. Milk attended services at Peoples Temple dozens of times, and wrote effusive letters to Jones. “Such greatness I have found in Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple,” Milk proclaimed.

Milk wasn’t Jones’s only fan. Many powerful people—Governor Jerry Brown, columnist Herb Caen, and Vice President Walter Mondale, to name a few—sought Jones’s blessings and expressed admiration for his dedication to racial equality and a better world. Flynn does a good job of laying out the social and political landscape of the Bay Area in the late seventies and situating the bizarre respect that the Jones cult received within the general fruitiness of the era. Jim Jones’s Bay Area was the same milieu that gave rise to the Zodiac killer, the lost-in-time Zebra murders, and the depredations of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In that context, a wacky preacher who healed the sick and ran drug-treatment centers while promising a racially unified heaven on earth seemed like a salutary influence by comparison.

Read the whole thing, or buy the book.

November 5

On November 5, 1605, the House of Lords was supposed to have been blown up by a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who were disappointed that the newly-crowned King James had not relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth. Had the plot succeeded, James would have been killed at the State Opening of Parliament, along with a good many other English grandees. But the plot was exposed, and the principal conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the House of Lords, were all arrested, convicted, and executed.

“A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot.” Wikipedia.

Since that time, the Fifth of November has been celebrated as a triumph of British Protestantism against the wicked forces of papistry. To this day, it serves an excuse to throw a stuffed “Guy” (or even a pope) onto a bonfire, or at least set off fireworks (I lived in London once, and can attest to this). I assume that the anti-Catholicism of the celebration has been downplayed in recent years, and that the fifth of November is simply the British equivalent of Hallowe’en – an occasion of autumn revelry.

“A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and Tresham.” Wikipedia.

I have always been curious why the Fifth of November fell out of favor in the American colonies. Why don’t we celebrate it here anymore? Why did the Irish custom of Hallowe’en take off in from the nineteenth century? Apparently George Washington found it embarrassing. As he wrote in 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Alas, such consideration was not enough to win the French colonists to the cause of Revolution (thus does Canada exist today!), but apparently it had a permanent effect.

But as I wrote before, the casting of Guy Fawkes as a sort of anarchist freedom fighter has been one of the more remarkable transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

Sacraments

I thought of something today while lecturing. Over the course of the Middle Ages, the church tended to downplay the importance of relics, and to play up the importance of the sacraments. I suppose the obvious fraud involved in the relic trade might have been embarrassing, but the main reason for the shift is because sacraments were performative, and required a priest to deliver them. Thus, they were easier to control than relics. You could cut someone off from the sacraments in a way that you could not prevent him from acquiring relics, or gifting (or selling) them to someone else.

It reminded me of the current movement to digitize everything and to deliver it wirelessly. If I buy a codex, the publisher and the author get their cut. But the book, as an object, is mine forever – or until I sell it on to someone else, at which point originators don’t get a cut at all. CDs and DVDs are dead media – songs and movies now exist mostly in cyberspace, and you have to pay to download them – and you can’t sell them on, and they can disappear from your “library” if you’ve watched or listened to them too many times, or you somehow violate the terms of service. My hunch is that the secondary market for content has always been highly annoying to its creators, and they will do anything they can to delegitimize it. Having everything electronic, and under their control, must be a godsend to them.

Mass was probably the most important sacrament, since it represented spiritual sustenance. The medieval Catholic understanding of this was that “this is my body” meant exactly that: that when a priest uttered these words in a liturgical context, the bread transubstantiated into the actual flesh of Jesus, and the wine into his actual blood. Even though these elements retained the forms of bread and wine, their essences had been fundamentally altered, and to consume them meant that you were physically united with your lord and savior. It also meant that wine was optional: if you were to tear off a hunk of your flesh, it would have some blood in it. Thus does the consecrated bread “count” in a way that the wine doesn’t (although I’m sure there was also a practical, cost-saving impulse behind this custom).

Since consuming bread and wine “in memory of me” had been instituted by Jesus himself, Protestants are not free to disregard it, as they did monasticism and extreme unction. However, what it actually meant was a topic of great debate during the Reformation. Generally, the more Protestant you were, the less frequently you took it, and the less miraculous it was. This has led to a great variety of Christian customs, which I have jotted down. When you go to consume bread and wine as part of a church service:

What will you call it (Mass, Eucharist, Communion, Lord’s Supper, etc.)?
What is the nature of the bread and the wine once consecrated?
Will your altar be made of stone or wood? Will you even have one?
Will you take it standing, kneeling, or sitting?
Will you take it at the altar, or in your pew?
How often will it be served (weekly, biweekly, quarterly, etc.)?
Will you take bread alone, or both bread and wine?
How old will you need to be before you can take it, and will you have to pass through some other rite (e.g. confirmation) before you can?
Will your bread be leavened or unleavened?
Will wine be served, or grape juice?
Will the wine/grape juice be served in a chalice, or in little cups? Will you allow these things?
If you serve wine in a chalice, will you allow intinction (dipping the bread in the wine)?
Is it an expression of sectarianism, i.e. do you have to be a formal member of the denomination in question, before you can take it?

Some of these are arbitrary, but others are of great significance indeed.