HistoryBits: Judaism

HistoryBits: Judaism

Bits and Pieces of History

Society

Society/Separateness

The Hebrew experience produced a strong sense of separateness from the rest of humanity. What accounted for the persecution and genocide of the Jews was their refusal to integrate with the culture of their host communities. Consider the annihilation of the American Indian, as a result of the utter impossibility of integrating their way of life into the mainstream white American lifestyle; of the Muslim minority by the Slavic majority of the Balkans; of the overseas Chinese by host-country Indonesians, Malays, and Filipinos—while here in modern America, immigrants of diverse cultural provenance get along as well as they do because everyone more or less subscribes to the same American Dream and cultural standard. Nothing sows such terror and savagery in the human breast as the enemy within—the perceived threat of a society that stands apart from the shared values that form culture and the rules by which the host culture safeguards itself.

Society/Family/Marriage

One could not be faulted for concluding that the lopsided primacy of the husband in the Jewish marriage (as well as the lopsided primogeniture of the eldest son) was reflective of the covenant that the Jews themselves entered into with Yahweh for salvation, sanctuary, and earthly supremacy… very much of an all-or-nothing bargain.

Culture

Culture/Calendar

The calendar is the foremost regulator of the rhythms of community life, and for the Jews to have withheld their observance of the calendar that governed the life of their host communities went a long ways to mark them as outsiders—and therefore suspect. But in many other ways as well, the Hebrew experience produced a strong sense of separateness from the rest of humanity. The Jews have nurtured certain tenets of faith that have seen them through enslavement, Exodus, diaspora, and persecution from more than two thousand years ago. Their covenant with Yahweh led them to regard themselves as God’s chosen people who would be led to triumph and salvation in the Promised Land in exchange for their fidelity to Him only. It was Yahweh’s promise to keep the Jews together that held them intact through the diasporas initiated by first the Assyrians (the Babylonian captivity) and then the Romans, and through the Nazi Holocaust. In a sense, this belief was a self-fulfilling prophecy; it produced a strong sense of separateness from the rest of humanity. What accounted for the persecution and genocide of the Jews was their refusal to integrate with the culture of their host communities. Consider the annihilation of the American Indian, as a result of the utter impossibility of integrating their way of life into the mainstream white American lifestyle; of the Muslim minority by the Slavic majority of the Balkans; of the overseas Chinese by host-country Indonesians, Malays, and Filipinos—while here in modern America, immigrants of diverse cultural provenance get along as well as they do because everyone more or less subscribes to the same American Dream and cultural standard. Nothing sows such terror and savagery in the human breast as the enemy within—the perceived threat of a society that stands apart from the shared values that form culture and the rules by which the host culture safeguards itself.

Religion

Religion/Ark of the Covenant

The purported contents of the Ark–the stone tablets of Moses, Aaron’s rod (which sprouted, somehow), and a golden pot of imperishable manna–would surely be enough, if found, to galvanize an endless and calamitous religious war. Perhaps it’s better if it stays lost. 🙂

Religion/Concept of God

The Hebrew concept of an all-in-one God was revolutionary, and like most revolutions, it put a lot of guys out of work—most notably the myriad deities whose specialized functions answered to man’s every need and purpose. This lent enormous significance to the leap from the fractious mayhem of warring tribes to the social and philosophical unity required of modern society. It helps to have everyone on the same page for different cultures and societies to weld themselves into a cohesive nation. I realize that we’re treading on the most intimate and deeply held sensitivities when we talk religion, and I must say that I have nothing but respect for whichever path a person adopts in his or her quest for God, whether by way of some panoply of Egyptian deities, the Mesopotamian Moon-God, the God of Abraham, or simply personal reflection. The important thing is that he finds Him—All That Is–on whichever terms make the most sense to the individual in his cultural context. I’ve come to understand that there really isn’t any such thing as objective reality. Reality is personally construed, and what you imagine, believe, and expect is what you get. Imagine… above all—that’s the key word, for imagination is the precursor of personal reality, and in order for something to become material, it must first be imagined, then progressively invested with the emotional force that puts the meat on the bones, so to speak. In societies—ancient or modern–that are ordered around divine authority, myth serves that all-important purpose of expressing collective imagination in building culture. Myth is imagination writ large by culture and society, essential to forming the emotional precepts of culture—much as Paul Bunyon signifies the American spirit of man’s primacy over nature, or as the Sun God may have signified the congruence of the Egyptians’ desert environment with the otherworldly Realm of Light.

Religion/Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls threw new light on various tenets of the Hebrew faith, including the role of the Messiah. In his earliest iteration, the Messiah may well have been what he later became: the hoped-for redeemer of man from his sinful condition. But there’s always someone who presumes to speak for God… and usually in furtherance of some political agenda or self-aggrandizement scheme or another. Such were the Zealots, who contrived the Messiah to be not merely the savior of man from himself, but the deliverer of the Hebrew nation from oppression, and into their destined role as masters of their fellow creatures on earth as well. It’s preposterous enough for man to presume to speak for God, but this, of course, is the kind of thing that gets one into trouble with the authorities if it gets mixed up in politics, which it so often does. In this case, Rome did not take kindly to this rabble-rousing in what had become the most contentious province in the empire. And it was on the shoals of political ambition that the Jews once again came to grief, scattered in their second diaspora by their Roman overlords. It was one of those moments that defined the Jews as an outcast people whose hopes would always hinge on their deliverance by a Messiah.

Religion/Messiah

In his earliest iteration, the Messiah may well have been what he later became: the hoped-for redeemer of man from his sinful condition. But there’s always someone who presumes to speak for God… and usually in furtherance of some political agenda or self-aggrandizement scheme or another. Such were the Zealots, who contrived the Messiah to be not merely the savior of man from himself, but the deliverer of the Hebrew nation from oppression, and into their destined role as masters of their fellow creatures on earth as well. It’s preposterous enough for man to presume to speak for God, but this, of course, is the kind of thing that gets one into trouble with the authorities if it gets mixed up in politics, which it so often does. In this case, Rome did not take kindly to this rabble-rousing in what had become the most contentious province in the empire. And it was on the shoals of political ambition that the Jews once again came to grief, scattered in their second diaspora by their Roman overlords. It was one of those moments that defined the Jews as an outcast people whose hopes would always hinge on their deliverance by a Messiah.

Religion/Monotheism

The Hebrew concept of an all-in-one God was revolutionary, and like most revolutions, it put a lot of guys out of work—most notably the myriad deities whose specialized functions answered to man’s every need and purpose. This lent enormous significance to the leap from the fractious mayhem of warring tribes to the social and philosophical unity required of modern society. It helps to have everyone on the same page for different cultures and societies to weld themselves into a cohesive nation.

Religion/Prophets

The prophets of Israel embodied the belief that government derived its sanction from God. The prophets were speakers for God and their words were the inspiration for the models of governance and moral conduct. These days, while the state is separated from church, the teachings of the prophets still form the basis of much of the Judeo-Christian legal tradition, in the realization that the letter of the law is a poor substitute for its spirit.

Religion/Tenets of Faith

The Jews have nurtured certain tenets of faith that have seen them through enslavement, Exodus, diaspora, and persecution from more than two thousand years ago. Their covenant with Yahweh led them to regard themselves as God’s chosen people who would be led to triumph and salvation in the Promised Land in exchange for their fidelity to Him only. It was Yahweh’s promise to keep the Jews together that held them intact through the diasporas initiated by first the Assyrians (the Babylonian captivity) and then the Romans, and through the Nazi Holocaust. In a sense, this belief was a self-fulfilling prophecy; it produced a strong sense of separateness from the rest of humanity. What accounted for the persecution and genocide of the Jews was their refusal to integrate with the culture of their host communities. Consider the annihilation of the American Indian, as a result of the utter impossibility of integrating their way of life into the mainstream white American lifestyle; of the Muslim minority by the Slavic majority of the Balkans; of the overseas Chinese by host-country Indonesians, Malays, and Filipinos—while here in modern America, immigrants of diverse cultural provenance get along as well as they do because everyone more or less subscribes to the same American Dream and cultural standard. Nothing sows such terror and savagery in the human breast as the enemy within—the perceived threat of a society that stands apart from the shared values that form culture and the rules by which the host culture safeguards itself.

Religion/Torah and Hammurabi’s Code

Laws are designed to keep everyone on the same cultural page, so to speak, and tuned into the same values that serve to weld everyone into a cohesive society. The Hebrew concept of an all-in-one God which underwrote much of the Torah was revolutionary, and like most revolutions, it put a lot of guys out of work—most notably the myriad deities whose specialized functions answered to man’s every need and purpose. This lent enormous significance to the leap from the fractious mayhem of warring tribes to the social and philosophical unity required for society to be viable. The priorities reflected in Hammurabi’s Code were different, and the notions of equal justice (“an eye for an eye”) generally gave way here to the primacy of commercial value (as in paying half a slave’s value in the event of injury to a slave) and family cohesion. So much of Hammurabi’s Code is concerned with property rights, slavery, taxes, prices, dowry, and child support. In an age of high theocracy, it still seems that the bottom line was the one with the dollar sign next to it.

Religion/Dead Sea Scrolls

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls brought to life questions that had been long buried beneath the weight of canon and tradition. Regrettably, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support much of what we have come to believe we know about early Christianity, leaving many accounts wide open to interpretation and misunderstanding. One point that shines through it all is that ambiguity has admirably served the purpose of political manipulation, and if you want to get to the bottom of it, you’d need to ask yourself what political purpose is served by the story. And speaking of misunderstanding, the tone of bloodthirsty vengefulness that pervades much of the Old Testament seems almost calculated to arouse the antipathy of the reader, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. In reading the Bible, I must say that I was struck by the feeling that for many readers, much of the Old Testament is just not believable, and even more by the suspicion that the New Testament is largely misunderstood—ironic, given that the Good Book forms the basis of what may be the world’s highest-profile religion. I have heard it said that when Christ counseled his followers to turn the other cheek, what he meant was that in a world that is the product of each person’s perception, violence ignored is violence that does not exist. I have no idea, except that the more I come to know, the more I realize I don’t know.

Religion/Jerusalem/Dome of the Rock

As the nexus of two of the world’s three great religions, the Dome of the Rock symbolizes the prospects for peaceful and productive co-existence of Islam and Judaism (and by inference, Christianity), and will triumph in this purpose only when the time comes that members of each religion enjoy peaceful and unfettered access to their most sacred shrines in Jerusalem, the holiest of cities.

Religion/Jerusalem/Temple

The Temple is emblematic of the sense of separateness that has girded the Jewish faith and seen them through enslavement, Exodus, diaspora, and persecution from more than two thousand years ago. Their covenant with Yahweh led them to regard themselves as God’s chosen people who would be led to triumph and salvation in the Promised Land in exchange for their fidelity to Him only. It was Yahweh’s promise to keep the Jews together that held them intact through the diasporas initiated by first the Assyrians (the Babylonian captivity) and then the Romans, and through the Nazi Holocaust. In a sense, this belief was a self-fulfilling prophecy; it produced a strong sense of separateness from the rest of humanity. What accounted for the persecution and genocide of the Jews was their refusal to integrate with the culture of their host communities. Consider the annihilation of the American Indian, as a result of the utter impossibility of integrating their way of life into the mainstream white American lifestyle; of the Muslim minority by the Slavic majority of the Balkans; of the overseas Chinese by host-country Indonesians, Malays, and Filipinos—while here in modern America, immigrants of diverse cultural provenance get along as well as they do because everyone more or less subscribes to the same American Dream and cultural standard. Nothing sows such terror and savagery in the human breast as the enemy within—the perceived threat of a society that stands apart from the shared values that form culture and the rules by which the host culture safeguards itself.

Power


Power/Jerusalem

The plight of the Jews in biblical times, as well as the plight of Israel’s present relations with the Arab world, leads directly to present-day Jerusalem. Israel was created by the United Nations after World War II as a haven for survivors of the Holocaust. The land that was taken from Palestine for creating the new state of Israel ironically left the Palestinians homeless, and offers us one of history’s best examples of “blowback”—reaping the consequences today of acts committed even long ago. But history has a very long fuse, and understanding history can help us manage its modern-day consequences; the resumption of Jerusalem’s historic role as the nexus of the three great religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism–that underpin today’s conflict must figure in its resolution.

Power/Solomon

Human nature is the great constant of history, and whether with King Solomon or Bill Clinton, it is seldom more predictable than with the propensity for men of wisdom and power to squander their political capital and public esteem on carnal folly.

Power/Zionism

Theodor Herzl’s call for the establishment of a Jewish homeland seemed to many to be the best answer to the timeless persecution of the Jews. But the land that was taken from Palestine for creating the new state of Israel ironically left the Palestinians homeless in turn, and the consequences of this disruption provide us with one of history’s best examples of “blowback”—reaping the consequences today of acts committed even long ago. History has a very long fuse, and understanding history can help us manage its modern-day consequences; the resumption of Jerusalem’s historic role as the nexus of the three great religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism–that underpin today’s conflict must figure in its resolution.


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