Posted in Books, History, Publishing, Religion

Barabbas was a Terrorist?

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Today, with The Devil Left Him out and available, I’d like to talk a little about the connection between Jesus and Barrabbas, and the latter’s role in the Biblical story.

1st Century Judea had a number of divisive sects vying for control of what Judaism meant. The Sadducees, the priests, were the most Hellenized, the most docile with regard to the Roman occupation. The Pharisees, the scribes, were most determined to emphasize their Jewishness, and to appeal to Rabbinical authority and black-letter Mosaic Law. The Essenes were the proto-monastic mystics who hungered for God in the desert. They were most connected to John the Baptist, and according to some New Testament Scholars, to Jesus himself.

Then you had the Zealots, who imagined themselves as the successors to the Maccabees who had thrown off Greek rule and in the previous century and briefly established Jewish independence before the Romans showed up. They favored a violent overthrow of Roman rule, and believed that Divine aid would secure this goal as it had secured the Promised Land for Israel in Joshua’s time (Linguist’s Note: “Joshua,” “Yeshua,” and “Jesus” are all the same word as expressed in English, Hebrew, and Greek). A subset (or ally, depending on which source you rely upon) were the sicaroi, or “dagger-men”.

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Sicaroi were literal terrorists, they would practice stealth assassination with their sicarii, or short-bladed daggers, and then blend back into the crowd. They practiced this not only against Romans, but against Jewish collaborators.

What has this to do with Barabbas?

Well, the Gospels have it that Barabbas was an unsavory character. Matthew refers to him as a “notorious prisoner” (Mt 27:16), and Mark (15:7) and Luke (23:19) say that he took part in a riot, and committed murder. John 18:40 calls Barabbas a “bandit”, using a Greek word (“lestes”) that the Jewish historian Josephus later used to refer to rebels.

Is that enough to justify my headline? Maybe not. Some historians say that the sicaroi were active in the run up to the Jewish Revolt of the 60’s AD, not during the 30’s.

But there’s an even more interesting link between Jesus and Barabbas. “Barabbas” in Hebrew means “son of the father”, and early editions of the Gospel of Matthew refer to Jesus as “Jesus Barabbas”. It may have been changed to avoid confusion.

This presents an interesting contrast between the two guys Pilate had on hand to execute on Good Friday: there’s the Messiah that Jesus claimed to be and the more direct,  political type that Barabbas could well have been. The Messiah of God vs. the Messiah of Man, as Augustine might have put it.

Which is why The Devil Left Him has a tragic, dagger-wielding Barabbas encountering Jesus prior to their more famous meeting. Check it out.

Posted in History, Letters, This Modern Life

After the Party

In RakeMag, a fascinating life of the man behind a poem I discovered and have read voraciously, The Wild Party.

If you were looking for a young man with a great literary life in front of him in 1928, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a better candidate than 29-year-old Joseph Moncure March. His narrative in verse The Wild Party, a tale of Manhattan hedonism and the tragic hipsters who indulge in it, had been published that spring in a limited edition, achieving an immediate following and brisk sales. (A musical adaptation will open this month at the Fitzgerald Theater). The book even got banned briefly in Boston, bringing March something every writer craves—a prominent but not damaging censorship battle.

Read the Whole Thing, as they say, but in a nutshell, after The Wild Party and a sequel, The Set-Up, he made the move to Hollywood and that did not turn out as planned. He ended up working in a shipyard, managing a sheet metal plant, and then writing and producing industrial films during WW2 (in the first war, he’d been an infantry private). That led to a second career making films for big firms that lasted through the 1960’s.

Many of these can be found in the Rick Prelinger archive of industrial films, and two inparticular— Design For Dreaming and A Touch of Magic , both Technicolor spots for the General Motors Motorama starring industrial films icon Thelma “Tad” Tadlock— have become favorites among the sort of ironists who think it’s the height of wit to mock the styles and affectations of a half-century ago. One couplet from Design, “Girls don’t go to Motoramas dressed in a pair of pink pajamas, ” has been picked up by fans as a tagline for all that was corny and square in the fifties. Do these sneering hipsters realize that the author of Design For Dreaming was once a sneering hipster like themselves?

The question is, if they did, would it stop them?

The Wild Party got a 1994 revamp with Art Spiegelman cartoons, but The Set Up is hard to come by. I’d like to read more, and I’d like to revive the concept of a narrative poem. Something to aspire to, anyway.

Posted in History, Politics

Assassination is Not Your Friend

I don’t know if  Glenn Beck is really talking about what he sounds like he’s talking about here. As I read it, he was speaking hypothetically, like “what do we do if?…” The sentiment, however, is common enough to be talked of. Sometimes people feel like killing a President. But it’s been a while since someone killed a president out of patriotic obligation, out of the need to dispatch a tyrant. In fact, I’m pretty sure the last one to do that was acting out of patriotic obligation to an abhorrent rebellion aimed at using the rhetoric of liberty in order to keep men in bondage.

But let’s say that Trump, or Hillary for that matter, becomes the caudillo/caudilla of our worst nightmares. Is assassination the way to deal with him/her?

No. Here is why:

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If classical references are lost on you, this is the Death of Caesar. Julius Caeser was assassinated at the beginning of a public meeting of the Senate by 12 Senators who had decided that Julius Caeser was a threat to the Republic, that his becoming Dictator  Perpetuus was the latest in a string of unconstitutional excesses that would end in Rome becoming an authoritarian state.

In this, they were almost certainly correct.

But in assassinating them, they made that state certain. In assassinating Caesar, they made him a martyr, and themselves – and the cause they espoused – the enemies of good order. Within a few years, the Roman imperium is divided among Caeser’s heirs. Within 20, Octavian has legally obtained from a tame Senate all the authority that matters. And the Roman people stood mum as long peace obtained.

Brutus and Cassius failed. John Wilkes Booth failed. Assassination is not a path to liberty.

Posted in History, Politics, Pop Culture

Trumbo Should Not Be Seen By Anyone

As my wife belongs to SAG, we get SAG screeners. One of them is the new Bryan Cranston movie Trumbo, a biopic of one of the Hollywood Ten. I’ve decided that I’m not watching it. Yes, that’s right, I’m judging a movie before I’ve seen it, phillistine that I am.

Here is why:

  1. How many Blacklist pietas Does Hollywood Need to Make? Joe McCarthy is dead. The blacklist is over. It was over almost as soon as it began. Anyone who was aware of the blacklist while it was happening is old enough to be collecting Social Security. So why does Hollywood need to keep going back to this well? Are they this desparate to testify to their martyr’s righteousness and political relevance?Keep in mind, this schtick whs already become risible, and was so even a decade ago. Back in 2005, Iowahawk responded to the ocean of self-congratulation released by Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck with a satirical stab at how Hollywood was planning to rebound from terrible box office numbers that year with more smug, preachy dreck, such as:

    Silenced Wood: George Clooney stars and directs in this drama about the climate of fear among ventriloquists during radio’s notorious Charlie McCarthy era.
    Fearful Silence: Courageous What’s My Line? contestant (Leonardo DiCaprio) refuses to answer panelist questions in this gameshow drama set against the McCarthy-blacklist era. With William H. Macy as Bennett Cerf and Kevin Spacey as Kitty Carlisle.
    Fearful Deadly Fear: Blacklisted 1950’s screenwriter Damon Runyan (Tim Robbins) writes a secret screenplay about the the McCarthy-era blacklists, in this 1950’s blacklist drama set against the background of the McCarthy era blacklists.
    Silence 1984: Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris interviews the survivors of Hollywood’s notorious Reagan era ‘Year of Fear,’ when only three McCarthy-themed movies were released.

    How many different cuts of the same bloody shirt are they going to wave?

  2. Trumbo was No Martyr for Free Speech. Ron Radosh, co-author (with his wife, Allis) of Red Star over Hollywood, has documented that Dalton Trumbo had no problem silencing others for ideological reasons. He was more than prepared to use his influence to prevent films and books that attacked the Communist Party from being distributed.

    As he explained in 1954 to a fellow blacklisted writer, the Communist party had a “fine tradition . . . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms.”

    Goose. Sauce. Gander. Some assembly required.

  3. Even Trumbo got over the Blacklist. According to Radosh, Trump broke ranks with the Party – and the orthodox narrative of the blacklist —  not long after the blacklist went down. In a 1958 unpublished article, he contradicted much of the established story on why the blacklists happened:

    He concluded that the blacklist took place not only because of the Committee, but because of the antics of the CP itself. In this article, he wrote that “the question of a secret Communist Party lies at the very heart of the Hollywood blacklist,” which is why Americans believed the Communists had something to hide. They lived in the United States, not Stalin’s U.S.S.R., and should have openly proclaimed their views and membership so that the American people could judge them for what they believed. Instead, they formed secret Leninist cells. The CPUSA should have been open and its members all known, he wrote, or the Communists in Hollywood should “not have been members at all.”

    Moreover, Trumbo also wrote that his fellow Red screenwriters failed to get work not because they were blacklisted as Communists, but because they were “mediocrities,” who failed to show “competence, ability [and] craftsmanship.” And as for the informers shown as pitiful reactionaries in the movie, he acknowledged that many of them in fact testified against the Communists because the Party tried to “meddle with the ideological content” of their screenplays, which gave them good reason to oppose the Party.

If the new film covered any of this, it would be a welcome reappraisal of the old tired morality play. Since it doesn’t, it’s selective reading of history can be dismissed as mere propaganda. As P.J. O’Rourke put it, the dog is dead but the tail still wags.

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Posted in History, Politics, Pop Culture

So, Germans Are Making Nazi Sounds Again…

So sayeth the Telegraph (h/t Vox Day).

One recording purports to show a uniformed security guard speaking of getting “swastikas in my eyes”.

“In two years, there will be a revolution here and there will be no more of all this s***. We’ll clean it all out,” the guard, who has not been named, appears to say.

“We have plenty of summer camps, and I swear to you they can be used again. On the gate: work makes you free,” he says.

That’s one side of the extreme, of course. It’s not like the artists and cultural leaders have reined in their proper horror about Ol’ Shouty Pants?

Oops.

And it’s a movie, too:

Do you know what it sounds like when taboos get broken? Because this is what it sound like when taboos get broken.

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Posted in History, Links, Music, News

New Content: Demon-Killing and Caliphates

I have long been fascinated by the Crusades, the Crusader states, and the military orders. Piers Paul Read’s The Templars is a magisterial book that fits in well with the newer generation of Crusade historians (good-bye, “ambitious younger sons”, hello “pious armed pilgrims”). The Templars, of course, met their brutal end before the Middle Ages were over, but the Knights Hospitaller survived, first on Rhodes, then on Malta, where they became the great anti-Turk sea-lords of the Mediterranean. They survive today as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a charitable organization with knightly flavor.

That history and a few viewings of Hellboy has inspired a piece of fiction, perhaps the stepping stone of a larger work:

View story at Medium.com

On a related note, the claim of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to the Caliphate of all Islam let me down the rabbit hole to learn one or two things about what went down in the Mid-East in the 20th Century. Most interestingly, I learned that the House of Saud has been ruling in the Arabian Penninsula for a long time. Check out the rest at my new svbtle.com blog, Histeria. A relevant quote:

The Caliphate is imperial by nature: it’s godly goal is to expand the ummah. Every Caliphate has stagnated and collapsed when it hit its military limits. That was true of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abassid Caliphate, and the Ottoman Empire; it will be true of ISIL.

Where exactly those limits are is the question of the hour.

from “Monarchy, Legitimacy, and the ISIL Caliphate

And of course, there’s my music tumblr, Every. Damn. CD. I just finished up with Led Zeppelin. Rockabilly to follow.

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Posted in History, Politics

The Secretary of State Ain’t What it Used to Be…

There was a time when being picked as Secretary of State was tantamount to being flagged as the frontrunner for the next Presidential election. Six Secretaries of State have gone on to become President. However, the last such was James Buchanan in 1856. Since then, we see far more failed Presidential Candidates (William Jennings Bryan, Charles Evan Hughes, Edmund Muskie, John Kerry) than Presidents in that slot.

I suspect that Hillary Clinton viewed the position as one of sufficient prestige to make her the Designated Successor after a successful eight-year Obama Presidency. If she can pull it off, being the first Secretary of State to be elected President since the collapse of the Whig Party will be almost as impressive as being our first female President.

However, that might not work out so well:

Only 43 percent of U.S. voters hold a favorable opinion of the former secretary of state, while 41 percent of voters have a negative view, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Tuesday. That’s a significant shift from the same poll taken in Jan. 2013, just before she left her post with the Obama administration. Back then, 56 percent had favorable views compared with just 25 percent who had negative views. A Feb. 2009 poll showed Clinton’s approval rating topping out at 59 percent.

Maybe Buchanan just left a curse on the job, but I suspect that foreign affairs are a lot more fraught with controversy today than in our splendid isolation before the First World War. When American foreign policy could be summed up as Monroe Doctrine + Manifest Destiny, the job was easy. Today, it’s very much something you can screw up, and I feel as though Clinton’s numbers would be better if Obama’s foreign policy was less in tatters.

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