Showing posts with label Jerusalem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jerusalem. Show all posts

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dogs in God's city

Dogs, in the context of conventional religions, have often had a hard time. An antiquated version of Revelations, on the very last page of my ugly King James Bible, states:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
So, in a heavenly context, dogs would be "without" (along with perverts, sorcerers, fornicators, murderers and idolaters)... just like the body of Jesus with respect to his tomb in Jerusalem. [One of my favorite jokes. A pious lady visiting the ornate tomb of the Holy Sepulcher asks her guide, a priest: "Is there anyone inside?" Priest: "Lady, if He's in, then I'm out."]

All this Biblical stuff is most smelly dogshit.

I remain astonished—as I said in my blog post entitled Is the Bible good English literature? [display]—that a great evolutionary zoologist such as Richard Dawkins might seriously appreciate the alleged literary qualities of this kind of antiquated twaddle.

Within Buddhism, of course, the situation for dogs is not much better. If I understand correctly, Buddhists place dogs at the extreme lower end of the spiritual scale (or whatever it might be called). I evoked this horrifying canine disparagement in my blog post entitled Tea for two expats [display].

In God's Own City, Jerusalem, the authorities are fed up with those nice droppings of angels, commonly referred to as dog shit. And they plan to use a genetics database to identify culprits.

Translation: "If you didn't clean it up, then it's you who left the shit."

This means that all dogs in Jerusalem will be required to supply their DNA specifications (a fine idea in the perspective of future yet-undefined biological research). Then a squad of turd inspectors (employment conditions and salaries not yet specified) will spend their working days gathering biological data on the Holy City's latest dog shit. And dog-owners will be fined whenever their animals are found to have defecated on the municipal territory.

I laugh out loud at the image of Israeli turd inspectors sticking their noses inadvertently and unknowingly into UFOs [unidentified fallen objects] such as non-canine excrement (including human shit). Within the category of possible turds, we have no theological right to exclude the possibility of authentic angels' poo (bearing small white wings), or even (God be blessed!) a tiny turd or two from the good old Holy Ghost himself. All these possibilities are based, of course, upon the predictions of high-quality Byzantine science.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Magic images

When I was a ten-year-old child in South Grafton, an older boy named Ervin McNally, living on a farm on the other side of the road, gave us a demonstration of an amazing device called a magic lantern.

The light source was a small candle burning inside the copper-plated receptacle. Images were painted in transparent colors on glass bars that could be inserted in a slot between the lamp-house and a simple lens. This gave rise to large images projected onto a white sheet tacked to the wall. Since the candle flame flickered constantly, spectators had the impression that the projected images were vaguely animated. To create a show, the projectionist related a story that was illustrated by his stock of painted images. And he could call upon an archaic gramophone to provide background music. It wasn't exactly home cinema. To me, though, a wide-eyed boy of ten, it was marvelous.

Today, the Gallica online service of the national French library offered us a collection of magic-lantern slides created during the 19th century. This one presents the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem:

Here's a recent unusual image of that same place, produced by means of a fish-eye lens.

At first sight, the following photo evokes a vision of hell. In fact, it's a Greek Easter Sunday view of the annual ritual of the so-called miracle of the Holy Fire, which descends from heaven—with the help of a few ecclesiastic friends—and falls directly onto the tomb of Christ.

Down in the vicinity of the Holy Sepulcher, human forms are floating around in a blaze of flickering candles.

The scene strikes me as the inside of a gigantic magic lantern.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Flowers from Jerusalem

There are unusual things in my archives. This old card presents a hybrid "tree" composed of six tiny wildflowers from sites in the Holy City.

I've wandered through each of the first five places, but I'm incapable of recognizing any of the dried wildflowers. As for the monastery of St John in the Wilderness, my wanderings never took me as far south of the city as that. On the back of the card, the unknown pilgrim provides us with a brief explanation:

Christine came upon this card in one of her old books and, knowing that I'm an ardent admirer of the Holy City, she gave it to me. And it's the sort of thing that merits display on an Easter blog.

Talking of Easter, rather than evoking antiquated beliefs that have become totally obsolete by now, it would be better if we were to celebrate the men and women who once built the cathedrals.
Then Joshua called the twelve men […], out of every tribe a man: […] Take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder […] that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them […] and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
Joshua 4 : 5-7
Last night, on the Arte TV channel, there was a fabulous French documentary concerning the construction of the Gothic cathedrals. For years, I used to walk several times a week in front of the great cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

In these old photos, the façade was still grimy… as I remember it when I first arrived in Paris, before Malraux got around to scrubbing it clean. I was fascinated above all by the leftmost of the three pairs of doorways, designated as the portal of the Virgin.

In the tympanum, the upper triangle presents one of the most amazingly Oedipal images in Christendom: Jesus is crowning a youthful female, about his own age, who gazes at him in adoration. That woman was in fact Mary, his alleged biological mother.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cute religion

When referring to religious beliefs, people generally use adjectives such as "ancient", "sacred", "profound", etc. To my mind, the fabulous American belief system known as Mormonism is simply cute. There's no better adjective to describe it. Compared to old religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Mormonism is cute in the same way that babies are cute, in the same way that this old Kodak poster is cute:

And here's a terribly cute video presentation of Mormonism that I found on the web:



I ignore the origins of this video. Was it really produced by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If so, they're dauntless folk. There's a French proverb: "Ridicule kills." What it means is that, once somebody has acquired a reputation as an object of ridicule, he's basically dead. It's almost impossible to recover his status as a person to be taken seriously. So, from that point of view, it could be said that the Mormons don't seem to fear death.

I've had two kinds of personal contacts with Mormons. Whenever I visited Jerusalem, back in the '80s and '90s, I invariably ran into small groups of cute Mormon girls from Utah, who were exceptionally friendly. Later, in Grenoble, LDS church members helped me enormously in my genealogical research by lending me precious microfilms of English census data. These days, I continue to use constantly their splendid Family Search website:

If ever a miracle were to occur and the voice of God were to boom out from the heavens above Gamone, informing me that it was time for me to choose a religion and pay up my church membership fees, I think I would become a Mormon. To borrow the language of Some Grey Bloke in my earlier article entitled Nasty stuff, should be censured [display], I like their options. I mean, those laid-back Utah spirit-chicks in Jerusalem were really angelic, in a cute way. Besides, at a deeper spiritual level, if you were to ask me to sum up my impressions of the fabulous theology of Mormonism in a single word, I would not hesitate in saying that it's truly... cute.

Clearly, if I'm going to spend Eternity in nice company, while pursuing my favorite hobby of computer-assisted family-history research, then the Mormons sound like the right people to get mixed up with.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Place of the skull

All four evangelists agree on the name of the place where Jesus was crucified. It was called Golgotha, which is a Hebrew term meaning the place of a skull. Note that the word "skull" is singular. There's no suggestion whatsoever that Jesus might have been crucified in a place strewn with skulls, in the plural. Golgotha may have got its name because it was a small hill that looked like a skull. In other words, a skull-shaped mound. Look at the following photo:

Does that image correspond to your vision of the place where Jesus and the two thieves were nailed to crosses? Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you prefer), that curious mound does not lie in the Holy City. In fact, it's a limestone outcrop located in a corner of the cemetery of Saint-Romans, a village about twenty minutes away from where I live, on the road between Pont-en-Royans and Saint-Marcellin.

Many Christian pilgrims who visit Jerusalem are frankly disappointed by the place that is alleged to be the real Golgotha. It simply does not correspond to what most people imagine as the place of the Crucifixion. Visitors are astonished to discover that, to reach Golgotha, they have to enter a dull-looking church and then walk up a tiny narrow staircase. It's as if a tourist in New York were to be told that the Statue of Liberty is in fact hidden away in a basement zone of Rockefeller Plaza.

In the Greek gaudiness of the official Golgotha, there's nothing in particular that might remind us of a skull. It's no more nor less than a kitsch bazaar. If ever you approached the site with surging thoughts of the terrifying tales of the final hours of Jesus as related in the Gospels, these mental images are soon chased away by the omnipresent garishness, and the bustle of excited Orthodox pilgrims who must find the atmosphere just right. It's a question of culture and sensitivity. Nobody brought up, like me, in the subdued harmonious ambiance of Anglican traditions could feel at home in the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. On the other hand, I have no trouble envisaging their Golgotha as a great place for a good Christian fight.



In another corner of the Holy City, there's a place known as the Garden Tomb which corresponds more closely to the legendary image of Calvary on the top of a small hill. With a little imagination, the rocks at this place might be seen as skull-shaped... except that they're half-hidden behind an Israeli bus depot.

That faded photo, attached to a pole, is intended to show Protestant pilgrims what this particular "place of the skull" once looked like, at an unspecified date in the recent past, when the surroundings of the Garden Tomb might indeed have reminded passersby of a skull.

Frankly, between the Scylla of having a brass lamp thrown at me by an Orthodox monk, and the Charybdis of having a bus back over me while meditating religiously in the vicinity of a Byzantine rock tomb, I would find it far more fulfilling to embark upon a research project aimed at revealing that the real Jesus was whisked away at the last moment by CIA operatives and brought in chains and an orange jumpsuit to the village of Saint-Romans, where he died in mysterious circumstances.

When you think about, that name is surely a code that starts to explains various loose ends: Saint, because Jesus was saintly, and Romans because Pontius Pilate and his Roman employers were behind this whole execution affair. Admittedly, there are quite a few details that have to be filled in before we can expect hordes of pilgrims to start thronging to the cemetery of Saint-Romans. But I'm sure the local tourist authorities will help me to assemble the missing facts. Maybe a local stone mason and sculptor might be employed in remodeling a little that limestone façade, to make it look even more like a human skull. Here's a view of this fabulous site as it would be seen by approaching pilgrims, gazing with fervor across fields that have been plowed by humble pious peasants ever since Biblical times (which could be transformed at little cost into a vast parking zone):

The convenient thing about religious beliefs and traditions is that nobody ever expects you to be overly concerned about reality, or even plausibility. On the contrary, the taller the tale, the better it generally goes over.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peace and love... and entertainment

In the Holy City of Jerusalem, there have often been nasty conflicts between various lovable and charitable Christian neighbors who happen to have inherited significant chunks of real estate at the Crusader-built church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus is alleged to have been crucified and buried. The latest popular punch-out involved the major proprietors, Orthodox Greeks, and their Armenian fellow travelers. In the following video coverage of the event [turn up the audio volume], you can see Israeli policemen trying vainly to intercept the blows, which symbolize gloriously the power of the Lord.



It goes without saying that this free-for-all is taking place at the holiest of holy places in Christendom, and that the pious pugilists appear, through their robes, to be ecclesiastics of various kinds.

I can't tell you much I love this great stuff. What a pity it doesn't happen more often. I can imagine a sort of regular world series of all-out brawls between Christian groups of all denominations. Matches would be organized, not only in Jerusalem, but in all the planet's great cities where the religious fighting spirit lives on: Rome, Paris, Belfast, Salt Lake City, etc. Onward Christian soldiers! Later, the international organizing committee might explore the interesting idea of inviting teams from other faiths—such as Judaism and Islam—into the tournaments. The shows might be enhanced by bouts in feminine categories, maybe mud-pit wrestling matches between Western nuns and blue-shrouded Taliban females. To my mind, religion must become a synonym of fun. And why not fighting fun?

I love to invent names. This planetary sporting/entertainment affair could be called the World Crusader Tournament.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Innocence

The word "innocence", incorporating the Latin verb nocere (to harm), means "doing no harm". It's a far stronger notion than mere harmlessness. The state of innocence evokes a total incapacity for hurting one's fellow men. Although my knowledge of Judaism is superficial, and regardless of the fact that I consider all Bible-based religions as a bunch of myths and legends, I would imagine that young Jewish students of the the Tanach and Rabbinic literature are particularly innocent individuals, in the sense I've just defined, because Judaism is an immensely humanistic philosophy, and its adepts have an unbounded respect for all the planet's men, women and children. Normally, a fellow who decides to enroll in a yeshiva to study these ethereal subjects in depth, maybe with a view to becoming a rabbi, can have no place in his heart for hatred.

The Hebrew word Mercaz means "center", and HaRav is literally "the rabbi". Many Israelis think of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem, founded in 1924 by the great Zionist rabbi Avraham Kook, as the national yeshiva of the modern state of Israel. The Palestinian terrorist who selected this place to vent his hatred was probably aware of its prominent status... or maybe he simply decided to strike this school because he happened to be employed there as a chauffeur.

Eight students died and nine were wounded before the terrorist was killed.

In Gaza, certain people danced with joy when they heard of this attack, and Hamas authorities said: "We bless the operation." In that trite declaration, I'm curious to know the meaning, if any, of the verb "bless". One thing is certain: it has nothing to do with innocence.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Memorable façade

I return to the fascinating subject of the work of Simcha Jacobovici concerning a tomb at Talpiot, to the south of Jerusalem, that contained a bone box labeled "Jesus son of Joseph". [Click here to visit the official website of this affair.] Uncovered accidentally by an earth-moving machine on Friday, 28 March 1980, the tomb and its ossuaries did not attract much attention during the brief period of time that the façade remained visible. But photos were taken, and a detailed diagram of the tomb was drawn by a young archaeologist named Shimon Gibson, who was intrigued by the carvings on the façade.

The bulky stone chevron (inverted V), whose triangular form resembles the gable of a roof, houses—as it were—an embossed stone circle. An observer is tempted to ask whether these forms might be symbols enabling us to determine the likelihood that this was indeed the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. In fact, this approach is not particularly rewarding, for several reasons. First, for all we know, the chevron and the circle could be purely decorative. Maybe the carving work was interrupted before its completion. Besides, we cannot know whether these forms were created prior to the burial of the individuals associated with the ossuaries, or after their inhumation. (Only in the latter case might the forms help us in identifying the deceased.) Even if we were convinced that these forms play a symbolic role of some kind, this would not enable us to prove or disprove possible links between the Talpiot tomb and Jesus of Nazareth. For example, somebody recently affirmed that "the pointed gable over the rosette is a pre-Christian Jewish symbol that referred to the Temple", and that this pattern can even be found on Hasmonean coins. Well, that doesn't affect the issue of whether or not this particular tomb did in fact house the remains of Jesus and his family.

There is, however, a subtle way in which the forms on the façade of the Talpiot tomb might have a bearing on the question of the identity of the incumbents. Imagine, for the sake of the explanations that are to follow, that the Talpiot tomb was indeed the place where the body of Jesus of Nazareth was laid to rest. In that case, we can assume that a certain number of early Christians were aware of this site, and had visited it. For such people, it seems reasonable to assume that the façade was memorable, because of its chevron and circle... regardless of whether or not these forms actually meant much to those who saw them. We might imagine that the façade served as a visual indicator for pilgrims, who probably spread the information, by word of mouth, that Jesus was buried in tomb to the south of Jerusalem adorned with a sculptured triangular form above a circle. In this way, the forms on the façade of the Talpiot tomb would have been transformed into a symbol of the tomb of Jesus, even if this had never been their initial raison d'être. Now, if this kind of reasoning is valid, there should be cases of the presence of this symbol, later on, in Christian contexts. Here is the most explicit case of such a symbol:

This celebrated Supper at Emmaus (depicting the resurrected Jesus) was painted in 1525 by Jacopo Carruci, known as Pontormo, whose work was greatly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Above the head of Jesus, a curious visual image is composed of an eye at the center of a triangle. Is it thinkable that this round object on a triangular background might be intended to evoke the façade of the tomb at Talpiot? If so, this would mean that the 16th-century Florentine painter was aware—in ways that are hard to fathom, but plausible—that Jesus had been buried in a tomb that bore an image of this kind.

More recently, this image of an "all-seeing eye" (as it is often termed) has been adopted as a masonic symbol, and it is construed today as a coded sign that might have come from Ancient Egypt. As I said earlier on, this discussion about possible signs and symbols cannot be used to prove anything, but it provides us with interesting guidelines.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Spirit of place

For Nancy and Natacha

Many people persist in believing that any two places on the planet could be made to resemble each other, provided that enough transformation work were to be carried out at both ends. A couple of months ago, I joked about this style of thinking in my post entitled Mediterranean Bondi. [Click here to see this post.]

In fact, many spots on the planet Earth would appear to be unique and inimitably specific. Surely one of the most celebrated places of this kind is the sacred mountain at the heart of the Holy City, adorned by the Moslem Dome of the Rock.

If only this majestic site could be duplicated magically at other spots on the globe, this might end many ancient quarrels. American Jews could then have their own holy mountain, say, in an isolated corner of Colorado. Certain Christians might admire a copy in Salt Lake City. And Moslems would be free to recreate the spirit of Jerusalem's splendid es-Sakhra, the Rock, in every Arab corner of the globe.

But that's not at all the way the cookie crumbles. Places are unique. They are not swappable. We cannot rebuild Paris, as somebody once suggested, out in the country.

Why is this so? What does it mean to say that places are unique? It means that certain places have a spirit. A spirit of place. As the Romans put it: a genius loci.

Probably the most extraordinary machine on Earth is the human brain. And, if any known machine is capable of detecting the ubiquitous spirit of place, it's surely our extraordinary human wetware, about which we still know so little. Our brains react to the specificity of a place.

I was thrilled this morning, when phoning Nancy to wish her a happy birthday, to learn that she had recently ventured by accident into the place of our ancestors in New South Wales: the tiny country town of Braidwood. And that my aunt had been engulfed in a curious spiritual cloud that Nancy described naively as happiness. Why not?

I know that such things happen, that such mysterious feelings arise unexpectedly from time to time. But I don't know why. No more than Nancy does. Nor even Natacha, who's attached profoundly to the spirit of certain places in her beloved Provence. It's obviously a matter of the ways in which our respective cerebral mechanisms interact with tellurian memories stored away in specific places, in ways we don't yet understand. In a nutshell, we're sensitive to the spirit of place. For the moment, that's all we can say. But let's say it with joy!