No, Islamic Spain was Not Tolerant

So sayeth this review of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. (h/t Vox Populi)

And yes, the reviewer is an Orthodox priest, if you want to ready your ad hominems, and he is positively scathing regarding the myth, even working in a Gone With the Wind reference.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Now, the fact that medieval Muslims forcibly oppressed Christians in their lands does not and should not surprise. Religions, if they’re worth anything, are totalizing, thus religious tolerance always has the tendency to border on being a contradiction in terms. So the status of Christian dhimmis in Muslim Spain as fifth-class subjects should not really be a revelation.

But it is, and this indicaes a broader problem, of a spiritual cancer at the heart of the West. There are those among us who are prepared to believe, and repeat, anything, if it makes our own culture look bad. The same people who tut derisively about the Crusades train themselves not to notice the wars of conquest by which Arab Muslims destroyed Christian Visigothic Spain in the eighth century. Their stunted ideology requires them to deplore the first thing and attack anyone who mentions the second thing as a racist (because, you know, Islam is a race. Oh, we know that it isn’t, but you’re too dumb to make that distinction). Attacking your own culture makes you virtuous, you see.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

Given that the early Middle Ages were the time when Muslims attacked other lands specifically in the name of their religion, this statement beggars belief. I’d be hard pressed to think that Tony Blair even really thought this was true. It’s just the sort of thing we’re expected to say, a reading from the Catechism of the Blessed Dictatorship of Post-Cultural Relativism.

John C. Wright on The Grand Christian Conspiracy

Which is always assumed, but somehow never demonstrated.

Paul got wealth and prestige and money by spreading the doctrine of Jesus, and the Jewish and Roman authorities anointed him with honors. Peter likewise was exulted and died a wealthy man, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and John retired to a small island in the Mediterranean in his leisure years. Thomas traveled to India, sightseeing, and was well received by the natives. Bartholomew made a fortune in the tanning business. So the Church was a moneymaking juggernaut in Nero’s time, and many Christians in Rome went into business lighting the public streets. Others when into the entertainment industry. Perpetua and Felicitas  are still remembered for their animal act.

“lighting the public streets” That’s just funny, that is.

Watching Wright disembowel rhetorical commonplaces is always a pleasure.

Myths of the Great Library

In History, the details are always hard to catch, yet always worth knowing. This long post at History for Atheists, worth absorbing in full, makes a number of discordant points about the Myth that the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by a Christian mob in 390 AD, thus setting science and technology back a thousand years. I will state them below in brief, and you may read the post in full.

  1. The Great Library of Alexandria was not the only Great Library of the Ancient World. It did not “contain all the wisdom of the ancient world”.
  2. The Great Library of Alexandria was a research institution, a Mouseion, devoted to the Nine Muses, which is to say, they were a product of Pagan religious inspiration, the worship of the gods.
  3. Consequently, most of the scholarship done at the Mouseion was focused on textual criticism and poetry, and not very much on what we moderns would call science.
  4. The Ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t really do science as we understand it today. Which is to say, their natural philosophy was largely inductive, not empirical, and they did not apply this philosophy to improving the technology of their culture.
  5. The Mouseion had almost certainly ceased to exist by 390 AD. A series of sackings of the city by Romans, beginning with Julius Caesar, greatly diminished the value of the place.
  6. What was destroyed in 390 AD was a daughter library, the Serapaeum. As with the Mouseion, the Serapaeum was first and foremost a pagan temple, devoted to the worship of the hybrid Greek-Egyptian God Serapis. It’s destruction in 390 was the result of a long series of hostilites between the pagan and Christian populations of the city. Which is to say, it was the result of a war between rival religious traditions, and not a war between religion and science. And according to primary sources, there may not even have been a library in the Serapaeum at the time.

Again, Read the Whole Thing (Hat Tip: Vox Populi)

When Creation Stories Sync – Veda and Bible

Doing a bit of research for a later novel set in a fantasy world of my own devising, I finally got my mitts on a cheap translation of (selections from) the Rig Veda. I do this because my world has a Trimurti of deities in differing similar roles to Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The written-but-unpublished first novel from this world, The Island Prince, makes mention of them.

Anyway, I’m reading the hymn known as the Golden Embryo, or the Unknown God, and I do find some striking similarities in the phrasing between it and the first chapter of Genesis. Both start with “In the Beginning”, both reference a “dome of the sky” and both speak to a mastery over the waters.

The difference lies in the Vedic uncertainty of which god did it – each line ends with “who is the god whom we should worship with oblation?” – when the Bible is quite certain who did it and in what order. Also there’s no mention of living things. Whoever this originator of creation – named Prajapati (“Lord of Creation” in Sanskrit) – might be, he’s not here connected with lower beings, save by the act of worship.

I rather enjoy the rhythm of the hymns as well. Stuff to absorb for later works.

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

Barabbas was a Terrorist?

give-us-barabbas-970x531

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.

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…