Showing posts with label Judaism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judaism. Show all posts

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jesus update

Throughout my life, attitudes towards the Jesus phenomenon have been evolving constantly.


As a child, I was led to believe that Jesus was an utterly magical guy in the sky who could perform miracles, answer our prayers, and channel us off (later on, after our death) to Heaven or Hell. As a normally-indoctrinated child, I absorbed all that shit and believed it (more or less). You don’t fuck around with such a powerful personage. Today, retrospectively, I would be inclined to say that I probably never really believed an iota of all this nonsense… but I was neither smart nor courageous enough to admit so, at the time. So, like everybody else in town, I carried on playing stupidly and superficially the Jesus game.

My first shock, at the age of 15, was an English translation of a book by the Breton author Ernest Renan [1823-1892], Life of Jesus, first published in French in 1863. Renan dared to consider Jesus as a human male, albeit an extraordinary personage, and his book was immensely popular throughout the western world.


I remember being greatly impressed by the revelations and tone of the Renan book. The English translation of 1897 by William Hutchison can be downloaded freely from the web. I decided to reread it, for the first time in well over half a century, to find out to what extent the document might still interest and impress me today. Alas, as often happens in such situations, the respective ways of Renan and me have parted to such an extent that I found the book boring and irritating, particularly when the author was trying to convince his readers that Christianity was a fresh and pleasant alternative to Judaism, “which first affirmed the theory of absolutism in religion, and laid down the principle that every reformer turning men away from the true faith, even if he bring miracles to support his doctrine, must be stoned without trial”. Not surprisingly, at the other end of the monotheistic spectrum, Renan detested “the evil spirit of Islamism”, and evoked “something sordid and repulsive which Islamism bears everywhere with it”.

                                                                         — cartoon by Leunig

Many pious Christians were shocked by Renan’s cavalier attitude towards the cherished phenomena of supernatural healing operations and miracles of all kinds. I was amused by Renan’s allusion to the pharmaceutical power of a “gentle and beautiful woman”.


Many years ago, I recall vividly that I was cured miraculously of a painful infection of the ear by the unexpected visit of one of my wife’s girlfriends. On the subject of Christian miracles, I like to think that Ernest Renan would have appreciated this sermon by the Reverend Rowan Atkinson.


More seriously, in the late 1990s, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon was determined largely by my contacts with Israel, Jewish history and the Hebrew language. My novel All the Earth is Mine remains a personal memento of those brief but fascinating encounters.


More recently, I was intrigued by findings associated with the Talpiot tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and the convictions of the Canadian film-maker Simcha Jacobovici, seen here alongside the tombstone of the Roman soldier Pantera, alleged to be the biological father of Jesus.


Then, in 2012, there was the fascinating affair of a papyrus fragment that seems to refer to the alleged wife of Jesus.


All in all, I had ended up believing that an incredible fellow named Jesus had indeed made a name for himself, even though we know next to nothing about his authentic achievements. He may indeed have been crucified in Jerusalem, and the disappearance of his corpse would have been a major factor in his posthumous rise to religious stardom.

Recently, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon has made another giant leap forward. In a nutshell, I’m starting to wonder whether this celebrated personage ever existed at all. In other words, he may well have been a character of fiction, composed over a long period of time by a vast but vague community of tale-tellers, authors and editors. Without going into details, I might say that I’ve been greatly impressed by explanations provided by a young US scholar named Richard Carrier, who is a leading proponent of the Christ myth theory.


When all is said and done, there is no great difference, in fact, between the case of a real historical individual named Jesus about whom we know almost nothing, and an equivalent personage of a totally fictional nature. In both cases, it is quite ridiculous to imagine the individual in question as having supernatural powers enabling him to be thought of as the son of a mysterious god.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God's green bubble gum

This fascinating photo shows a throng of pious women (?) in God-only-knows what land.


The rounded forms and pleasantly harmonious hues of this image reminded me immediately of delightful scenes from a famous French religious movie: The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.




I Photoshopped those images a little, to give them a more spiritual shade of green. In the movie, the faces were veiled by fluorescent green bubble gum. Miraculously, Rabbi Jacob (played by the great Louis de Funès) managed to get his face cleaned up before being called upon to execute his celebrated dance in the Rue des Rosiers (where I used to err regularly during my many years in the Marais quarter of Paris).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Royals

There may be readers who fail to understand how I can be irritated by the present-day practice of religion (disgusted at times, as in my previous blog post) but simultaneously fascinated by the history of religions. I ask such readers, rhetorically: To be fascinated by the burial rites for pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, is it necessary to believe in reincarnation? Does one have to worship the goddess Athena in order to appreciate Homer's Odyssey and Iliad ? Of course not. Historians remain personally detached, thankfully, from the subjects they examine, just as a brilliant actor can take on the role of a detestable individual with whom he shares nothing. I trust that I don't need to insist any further upon this question. To call a spade a spade: When I evoke Judaism (a fascinating subject), that doesn't mean that I've ever imagined for an instant the crazy idea of getting my penis butchered and embracing personally this archaic religion. Whenever I talk about Jesus, that doesn't mean that I might believe for an instant that this fellow was the son of God, that he performed miracles, and that he survived magically the horrible execution method of crucifixion.

The Gallica website, operated by the BNF library (Bibliothèque nationale de France), offers us this amusing image of the Hebrew monarch David, attired in a basic robe, wearing a crown and gaily strumming his harp.


The image comes from a 9th-century Bible that Count Vivien, abbot of the Basilica of St Martin in Tours, presented to the king Charles the Bald [823-877]... who may have acquired his nickname ironically because of his exceptional hairiness.

I have the impression that David, the killer of Goliath, is prancing along at the head of a regal Gay Pride procession. I notice that the Wikipedia article on David describes him as a "culture hero", which is a way of saying that we don't know if such an individual ever truly existed, let alone being a biological ancestor of Jesus. In Biblical history, David was a charismatic figure: a shepherd armed with a sling, a musician and poet (author of many Psalms), who went on to found the Hebrew kingdom. At the origins of that history, David was such a spectacular and essential personage that, if ever he hadn't existed, we would need to invent him. And that appears to sum up exactly what has happened.

In my article of 23 September 2010 entitled Better than the Bible [display], I drew attention to a fascinating book: David and Solomon by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.


Recently, in my article of 9 September 2012 entitled Jesus [display], I mentioned the fine work of a present-day Biblical archaeologist and author, James Tabor, who has been in the middle of stories concerning a pair of controversial tombs located in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem.


This North Carolina academic has become a familiar participant in several excellent documentaries (which I've watched on French TV) on the history of monotheism. Like the books of Finkelstein and Silberman, Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty is required reading, to my humble mind, of anyone interested in the historical Jesus.

People tend to forget that many of the initial supporters of Jesus of Nazareth saw him primarily as a pretender to the throne of David. And this claim depends of course, for its validity, upon genealogy. How could Jesus possibly be considered, as the evangelist Matthew put it, a "son of David" ? Now, if there's one thing that most New Testament readers skim through hurriedly and superficially, it's all that boring "begat" stuff about the genealogy of Jesus... and yet it's fundamental, all important, because it indicates the underlying reasons for which the fellow was finally crucified. He wasn't executed because of all his vaguely magical work as a healer, or the splendid moral assertions of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to die because of his seditious claim to the throne.

Evangelist Matthew (with an angel looking over his shoulder)

Matthew's genealogical approach—which occupies the opening chapter of the New Testament—starts with Abraham and moves down to David. Then the Davidic lineage moves down from Solomon to Joseph, the husband of Mary. Within this would-be paternal lineage, there are four or five cases of female links, which is quite unorthodox in the presentation of an alleged royal descent. Matthew says that Jesus "was fathered" from Mary, which clearly suggests that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. So, all in all, Matthew's genealogy is not a particularly convincing demonstration that Jesus might be the rightful heir to the throne.

Evangelist Luke (with a symbolic bull looking over his shoulder)

The evangelist Luke begins with Jesus, and presents his paternal ascent all the way back to Adam. See Luke [3:23–38]. But he starts in a fuzzy manner by describing Jesus as "the son, as people thought [my italics], of Joseph son of Heli". Apart from the fact that both evangelists consider Joseph as merely the adoptive father of Jesus, there's an obvious problem concerning the identification of the grandfather of Jesus. Matthew said that Joseph's father was named Jacob, whereas Luke now says he was named Heli. Why this discrepancy?

Parenthesis : I'm amused by the portraits that accompany my remarks. Nobody even knows whether individuals such as the New Testament authors Matthew and Luke really existed. Consequently, common sense dictates that these charming portraits are totally fake, indeed absurd. But we've grown accustomed to such monstrous absurdities in the domain of so-called spiritual art. Indeed, centuries of artistic expression have been founded upon factual falsity, but we've all learned to live with such silly stuff. It's highly probable that future creators will put an end to all this crazy religious bullshit, and affirm that art should rhyme necessarily with scientific reality.

Concerning the genealogy of Jesus, James Tabor provides a subtle explanation of what has happened. Insofar as Luke knew perfectly well that Joseph played no role in the biological heritage of Jesus, he decided to deal solely, from the outset, with the lineage through Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, he has performed a subtle substitution operation. Heli was no doubt the father, not of Joseph, but of Mary, and therefore the maternal grandfather of Jesus. Heli was short for Eliakim, and this was a variant of Joachim, which is the traditional name of Mary's father. This lineage of Jesus, through his mother, went back to David, but through David's son Nathan rather than Solomon.

So, whichever way you look at it, Jesus did indeed seem to be an heir—to a certain degree—to the kingdom of the Jews. His claims to that title were apparently sufficiently genuine, widely publicized and potentially disturbing to lead to his arrest and execution. It was the death of a royal pretender...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Belief in an afterlife is a substitute for wisdom

I've just been watching an interesting video of a debate on a Jewish TV network on the subject of an alleged afterlife. The celebrated atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris converse with two US rabbis, David Wolpe and Bradley Artson Shavit.

[Click the portraits to access the video.]

Not surprisingly, within the group of four, the star was Hitchens. He really is a brilliant thinker and speaker. As for the rabbis, they come across as friendly guys, and far removed from familiar caricatures of crazed and biased religious fanatics. But their superficial friendliness doesn't make them one iota more credible at the level of their beliefs.

I've always felt that the historical and cultural foundations of Judaism (which have always interested me enormously, and still do) are so rich and dense that it must be difficult—well nigh impossible—to ditch them overboard, even in the name of common sense and/or science. For a goy (such as me), on the other hand, brought up in a typical Christian environment, it's much easier to rid oneself of all religious beliefs, mainly because many of the fairy-tale tenets of Christian theology (virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, Heaven and Hell, etc) are frankly ridiculous, and much of Christian ecclesiastic history (handling heretics, conflicts with non-Christians, crusades against infidels, immorality of the clergy, pomp and vanity of the Catholic church, conflicts between different branches of Christianity, sects, etc) is quite nasty, and best forgotten. A Jew who turns to atheism might say to himself: "Am I committing an irreparable error is abandoning my great family?" A Christian, devoid of nostalgia, is likely to exclaim: "Thank God I've been able to move away, at last, from that ugly mindless herd!"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kippa

I'm fond of my Jewish skullcap, which I bought long ago in the extraordinary Holy City of Jerusalem. I used to wear it momentarily when visiting synagogues in Israel. I've always had a profound respect for the Jewish people, the legends and myths of the Torah and the modern state of Israel. There were even times when I dreamed vaguely about the crazy idea of settling down in that amazing and exciting nation, both profoundly archaic and terribly modern, but this kind of project would be senseless, indeed unthinkable, for a goy. In any case, I've always been a supporter of the Jewish state: a friend of Israel.

The recent beating in Paris of a lad wearing a kippa was initially presented as a case of anti-Semitism, but it now appears possible that it was merely an instance of regular fighting between youth gangs in the Buttes-Chaumont park in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Poisonous books

Often, on the Franco-German Arte TV channel, an entire evening is devoted to a particular theme. Last night, a pair of excellent documentaries, aired for the first time, tackled the theme of two poisonous books: Hitler's notorious Mein Kampf and an abominable fake entitled Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was a good idea for Arte to deal with the two books, one after the other, because they can be thought of as complementary specimens of poisonous trash. In a nutshell: Hitler's opus was a terribly veridical document, in that it offered a precise account of all the horrors that were about to be enacted. But retrospectively, one has the impression that the world at large failed to take the book or its author seriously... otherwise, steps would have surely been taken to curb Hitler's demoniacal dreams. On the other hand, the ugly thing called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is exactly the opposite of a veridical document, since this book is a mindless fable. Curiously, though, hordes of silly people would still appear to be taking it seriously.


Once upon a terrible time, Hitler's My Combat was indeed a best-seller. Up until 1945, some 12 million copies had been in circulation. Today, the heritage of this literary and societal muck is characterized by two disturbing observations. First, the book is banned in Germany, as if the authorities were afraid that Hitler's ravings might still stir up Fascist enthusiasm. Second, it would appear that this antiquated book still has a significant readership in a nation that would like to become a member of the European Union. I'm referring to Turkey.

Click the image to see what Wikipedia has to say about this extraordinary and obnoxious fake document, which develops the crazy idea that planetary Jewry has been conspiring to take control of the world. Indeed, the Protocols might be considered as the grandaddy of all the conspiracy theories of the 20th century, right down to all the rubbish that has circulated concerning the events of 9/11.



A recent article in the excellent New York Times [display] drew attention to the fact that Putin has been favoring the Russian Orthodox church as a kind of unique Christian faith, at the expense of all others, particularly Protestants. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm quite happy to see that Putin's state apparatus aims to create a nice official kind of old-fashioned religious phenomenon, starring primarily, if not uniquely, the Orthodox church. Why not? This quaint time-honored image of saintly Russia will be good for tourism and public relations, not to mention foreign affairs of a political kind, and might help us to forget about Stalin. But things get more disturbing when we learn that the new generation of Russian ecclesiastics would appear to believe in, and propagate, the anti-Semitic shit promulgated by the Protocols... once authored by a Russian faker named Matvei Golovinski [1865-1920]. The circle is ignominiously closed.

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.