Posted in Books, Pop Culture, Religion

John C. Wright on the Genius of Robert E. Howard

Fascinating essay:

Conan is somewhat more deep and complex than the cartoon image of a brute in a bearskin loincloth found the popular imagination, with a dancing girl clutching his brawny thigh and a devil-beast dying under his bloody ax. The theme and philosophy he represents is not the product of adolescent neurosis (as certain bitter critics would have us believe) but of somber, even cynical, reflection on the age of the world, the costs of civilization, and the frailty of man.

You really have to read the original Conan stories to understand what there was about the character and the stories he enlivened to make him still a household name, 80 years later. For my part, the more I have read them, the more I have come to appreciate the vitality of them, and the flexibility of the character:

Conan is, in Wright’s estimation, a product of Theosophy’s pagan theories of eternal recursion:

the world of successive cataclysms captures the grim mood of the Hindu mystic, where a Kali Yuga routinely wipes out all life in the universe, only to have it start again. The Ecpyrosis of the Roman Stoics was the same idea, and said the whole cosmos periodically burned to ash and was reborn. And the successive destructions whispered in Aztec legends, where different generations of man and god alike are obliterated, all these and others capture the pagan spirit and atmosphere needed for the Hyborian Age of Conan.

In this way, Conan is something like an avatar of Shiva, or at the very least of Ares, the Greek troublemaker and brawler.

I recently picked up Wright’s Count to a Trillion, the start of one of his spacefaring trilogies. I haven’t cracked it open yet, but I hope to soon.

Read the Whole Thing, obviously

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”.

sciarius

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 Religion

The Biblical Game of Thrones

One of the most interesting things about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is the all-to-human snapshots it gives of life and politics of the Bronze Age. While the Gospels spreads a moral vision of a perfected humanity, the OT spares us none of the warts and horrors we have come to expect of ourselves.

For example, consider the Books of Kings. Historians have called into question whether Solomon really ruled over the resplendent realm that Scripture describes, but the fall from power that Solomon and his heirs experience has a powerful truthfulness to it. Basically, Solomon grew old and arrogant, taxed too much, married too often, and began to idolize himself. He became the thing that the prophet Samuel warned Israel about when they asked him for a king. And then, under his heirs, the northern part of the realm broke away and formed its own kingdom, worshipping the Golden Calf (because nothing is new under the sun).

The House of David after Solomon, ruling the southern kingdom of Judah, was a mixed group, according to the two Books of Kings. We see some genuine reformers, some hardened idolators, and some in between. But they hung on to power until the Babylonians came calling.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, was a soap opera out of George R.R. Martin’s most lurid imagination.

The leader of the revolt against Solomon, who became king of the Northern Tribes, was Jeroboam I. He build the Golden Calves, an idolatry the Biblical authors never miss a chance to remind us of and condemn. His son and successor, Nadab, was murdered by Baasha, a captain in Nadab’s army, who stole the throne. As Justice would have it, Baasha’s son and heir, Elah, ruled barely a year before a commander of chariots, Zimri, murdered him while he dined in the house of a steward.

Zimri was king for all of seven days. Apparently he’d neglected to check if the army was really behind him. As soon as the word got out that Elah was dead, the soldiers nominated another commander, Omri, to be king, and Omri laid siege to the palace in Tirzah. Zimri perceived that all was lost and set fire to the palace, burning it down over his head. Omri thereafter ruled from Samaria.

After this, we get a period of relative dynastic stability. Omri’s dynasty rules for three generations. They are followed by the dynasty of Jehu, which manages four generations. Then the old pattern re-emerges. Shallum murders King Zechariah, and rules for a month before being killed by Menahem. Menahem rules ten years, and his son Pekahiah for two, whereupon Pekah assassinates Pekahiah (yeah, there’s a difference). Pekah rules for twenty years before being assassinated himself, by Hoshea. Hoshea was a puppet of the Assyrians, and when he made the mistake of rebelling against them, the Assyrians did what they were famous for, and wrecked the place, brought in foreign tribes, and resettled the Israelites in other parts of the realm. So began the legends of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

genealogy_of_the_kings_of_israel_and_judah

There’s a novel in here somewhere, is all I’m saying…

Posted in Books, Religion

New Fiction – The Devil Left Him: A Retelling of the Temptation of Christ

A bit ago, I happened to rent Last Days in the Desert, an indie film with Ewan McGregor portraying both Jesus and Satan during Jesus’ forty days in the desert (Matthew 4). It was an interesting take on the idea, but the script wasn’t quite up to snuff, being primarily concerned with a family Jesus encounters while on his way back to Jerusalem.

It also fell victim to the difficulties of writing Jesus as a literary character. In a story, a protagonist needs to have some kind of arc, a progression from a lower to a higher state. But the Godhead of the Christian faith is whole and complete from the moment of his birth – he has no need of growth or understanding. That’s the whole point of his being here.

So what ends up happening in non-religious films is Default Arianism – Jesus is some kind of demigod, at best, with limited understanding. At one point in Last Days in the Desert, Jesus asks the Devil what being the Presence of God is like. The Devil’s response is interesting, but I was unable to stop thinking “Oh, come on!”

I can quite understand the need to do that, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to swallow.

Moaning about someone else’s creative work is easy. It’s better to try my own hand at such a tale.

Behold, the first chapter:

thedevillefthim Yeshua was fourteen days in the desert when the Devil came to him. He had reached the point where the hunger inside of him could no longer be fooled by the drinking of water – for water had to be consumed in the desert, daily. It was no longer an experience that his tall, lean body underwent without protest. His body was screaming at him to eat.

He felt the pain as a reality, as the raw nerve transmitting the signal – this is wrong, this is wrong – and did not deny it. He understood at last the way hermits sought to transmute this pain into pleasure. That was a way to allow the brain to survive the pain, the monotonous stab of it. But it was a lie. Yeshua had no patience for lies.

Read the rest for free at Tablo.

Posted in Letters, Religion

On the Fear of Hell

Bad Catholic for the win, as the kids don’t say anymore:

Unless we have an assurance that the people we love will never suffer and die, to accept an invitation to love is to accept an invitation to fear. Love does not comfort, then, but “ups the ante” of human existence, making higher the highs and lower the lows. It makes life ginormous. It widens our capacity for sorrow just as it widens our capacity for joy. It increases our possible pain just as it increase our possible pleasure. It broadens the total scope of existence.

The person who fears Hell, then, has opted for the largest life, the broadest possible scope of feeling, the highest high and the lowest low. He accepts the invitation to the greatest possible love and thus the invitation to the greatest possible fear.

Something something unexamined life something something.

 

Posted in Politics, Religion

The Pope is Not a Communist

So Sayeth Thomas Williams over at Breitbart.

Rather, the Pope is a critic of the spiritual malaise involved of the worship of Mammon. As he should be. But he never has said, or even suggested, that the free market be replaced with another economic system.

Francis’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, famously distinguished between capitalism as an ideology of lawlessness and capitalism as a system that promotes free exchange and creativity.

“If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative,” he wrote.

This is a summary of how Pope Francis thinks.

Read the whole thing, and observe the regularity with which the progs who write for the mainstream media shoehorn papal statements into things which confirm their bias.

Because the media – especially the American media – do not understand Catholicism. They never will.

Posted in Religion

A Sane, Sensible Discussion of Laudato Si, the Pope’s Environmental Encycical.

Over at Ace of Spades.

To summarize:

  1. The Pope is not infallible on matters of science. Anyone, even Catholics, are free to disagree with his assessment of scientific knowledge. The Holy Spirit does not assist with that.
  2. The Pope’s theology in this encyclical is solid. Ultimately, we cannot damage the earth without damaging ourselves, and our relationship with God. We are of the earth: “Dust thou art, and to dust thous shalt return.” That remains true even if everything an AGW skeptic says is true.
  3. The Pope is Catholic. In the encyclical, the Pope points out that “abortion, “coercive means of population control, experimentation on embryos, and other offenses against the sanctity of life are part of the very same callous stance towards the natural world that the environmentalists deplore.” So everyone who got themselves excited about the Environmentalist Pope should take these words seriously, and not just relegate them to a paragraph that starts with “The document isn’t perfect….”, right?

Best part of this post:

This is really the basic point about this faith — you can’t pick and choose what bits of it you like to believe. Catholicism is a faith that generally takes the middle path. This is why the sophomoric “What would Jesus do?” rejoinder to any political argument is laughable. Jesus wasn’t a politician. Jesus would forgive sin…then he would tell you to go forth and sin no more. See? The touchy-feely Jesus co-exists with the judgmental Jesus. It’s not like Highlander. People are quite fond of confirmation bias when it comes to Jesus Christ.

Everyone loves the Sermon on the Mount. Everyone ignores the parts about cutting off your left hand to avoid sin and coming not to bring peace but the sword.