Feb 032016
 
possibly Leonardo Flores (Bolivian, active 1665-1683), Archangel Rafael, 1670s, oil on canvas, Bequest of Elvin A. Duerst

possibly Leonardo Flores (Bolivian, active 1665-1683), Archangel Rafael, 1670s, oil on canvas, Bequest of Elvin A. Duerst

I saw this at the Portland Art Museum. Its goofy, isn’t it? Here’s the description

 Art from the Andes features distinctive religious paintings that illustrate the creative melding of cultures in the Andes following the Spanish conquest.

There are a lot of these pictures around.

This says: Following the Spanish conquest of the Inka empire in 1532,the native people were obliged to recognize the king of Spain as their ruler and to accept the teachings of the Christian faith. In this illuminating study, author Carol Damina reveals how the artists of post-conquest Cuzco combined European styles of painting and iconography with anciet Peruvian traditions…

 

armed angel

Master of Calamarca, Archangel with Gun, Asiel Timor Dei, before 1728, oil on canvas and gilding, 160 x 110 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, La Paz, Bolivia)

 

 

 

 

 

There is a longer description of the form here, which describes the genre of angels with guns, another European artifact that was introduced to South America at about this time

The pictures look pretty strange to our eyes. The artist followed European styles, including the practice of portraying biblical characters in the dress of the aristocracy. Just, different aristocrats.  Catholic theology was, and is, strange in its own right, in comparison to the life and teachings of Jesus. The Andean picture does not depart any more from biblical sources than something like this

Melozzo da Flori (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) Angel from the Vault

Melozzo da Flori (Italian Renaissance artist, 1438-1494) Angel from the Vaul

 

 

My own personal favorite depictions of angels are Islamic, at Aya Sophia, in Istanbul.angle1

 Posted by at 1:50 am
May 022015
 

solomonThe phrase, “cut the baby in half.” is today shorthand for a type of compromise, and refers to one of the most well known, if not well read, passages of the bible.

The thing to know about Solomon is that he was a king in the oriental style, and that he was probably a prick. He was born into royalty, got where he was through his mother’s palace intrigue, obscenely rich, giant palace, eunuchs, slaves, a huge harem, gaudy displays of superiority to his subjects. Much more like an Ottoman sultan than what we think of as the Old Testament. And he was a bad king. He taxed the populace into penury and was the first Hebrew king to require forced labor of free citizens. He put the kingdom deep into debt, largely to fund his extravagance. When he died, the regions outside of the capital revolted. The kingdom split in two and was never really reunited. His queen’s name is an eponym for a shameless, wicked woman to this day: Jezebel. Justice was not really this guy’s strong suit.

Solomon gets treated very well by the guys who wrote the bible 300 or so years later, because he built the temple; and those writers were all about the temple. But even they couldn’t just leave out that he was a fuck-up.

The job of a king in those days consisted to a great extent of sitting in judgment in a way that would compare pretty closely with our experience of Ex Parte, only with no motions to revise.

The passage about his great wisdom as a judge, 1 Kings 3:16-28, begins with the words “Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.” This is almost never referenced, that the litigants were unclean, and the child in question had no father. In the ethics of the day, these were worthless people, the baby most of all. And, I’m guessing their presentation lacked the usual decorum, the disputants being unlettered members of the underclass. Think: Jerry Springer. There is nothing in the passage that suggests other than that Solomon fully intended to dismember the baby. I think he mostly wanted to get these no-name yahoos and their creepy dispute out of his courtroom; and to send a message to similarly situated people to keep their petty arguments to themselves.  That the one woman spoke up and ceded her child to the other was, I think, unforeseen. Anybody could have figured that one out. He was not so much wise as lucky.

I think that it was Solomon whom the author of First Samuel, chapter 8:10-22 had in mind. This is my favorite passage in the Bible, so far. The passage describes one step in what was a transition from a culture based on tribal organization to a centralized state. God, through Samuel, sets out the downside:

And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground°, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.

And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

Saul was made king, succeeded by David, succeeded by Solomon. Bet you never heard of Solomon’s successor. Rehoboam.

 Posted by at 3:25 am
Dec 192014
 

After writing the great “Out of the Silent Planet“. a pioneering work of science fiction, and before writing the famous “Chronicles of Narnia”, CS Lewis wrote a thin volume called, “The Screwtape Letters“, published in 1942. I consider it to be on a par with “The Prince”. The letters are written from Hell by Screwtape,  a veteran demon giving advice to his young nephew, a novice tempter. Lewis took an explicit and conventional Christian belief system as his starting point. In spite of that (says I) the book is full of insight into human character.

Substitute “irony” for “flippancy” in the following, cited by Screwtape as an aide to exploiting human frailties:

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it,

Your affectionate uncle   SCREWTAPE

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

 

Lewis dedicated Screwtape to his good friend and fellow Oxford don, JRR Tolkien. I think Tolkein may have based Bilbo Baggins on Lewis, who gave Tolkein a lot of encouragement to write about Middle Earth.

 

 Posted by at 4:42 am

Ephesus

 Essay, Legal Stuff, Religion, Turkey  Comments Off on Ephesus
Apr 282014
 
20140428_113924This was the largest theater in Ionia, the part of ancient Greece that was in Turkey.  Paul the apostle had a gig here that did not go well.As a change of pace, Paul was chased out of town by an angry mob of pagans rather than of Jews. It seems he violated the precept set out best by Guido the killer pimp in the movie “Risky Business” (played by the great Joe Pantiolano): in uncertain times never fuck with another man’s livelihood. Here is Pauls account, from Acts. (I have a long book report on Acts of the Apostles here .)
19:23 About that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way. 19:24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen, 19:25 whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, “Sirs, you know that by this business we have our wealth. 19:26 You see and hear, that not at Ephesus alone, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands. 19:27 Not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be counted as nothing, and her majesty destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worships.”

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19:28 When they heard this they were filled with anger, and cried out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 19:29 The whole city was filled with confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel. 19:30 When Paul wanted to enter in to the people, the disciples didn’t allow him. 19:31 Certain also of the Asiarchs, being his friends, sent to him and begged him not to venture into the theater. 19:32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly was in confusion. Most of them didn’t know why they had come together. 19:33 They brought Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. Alexander beckoned with his hand, and would have made a defense to the people. 19:34 But when they perceived that he was a Jew, all with one voice for a time of about two hours cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
19:35 When the town clerk had quieted the multitude, he said, “You men of Ephesus, what man is there who doesn’t know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great goddess Artemis, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? 19:36 Seeing then that these things can’t be denied, you ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rash. 19:37 For you have brought these men here, who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. 19:38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a matter against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them press charges against one another. 19:39 But if you seek anything about other matters, it will be settled in the regular assembly. 19:40For indeed we are in danger of being accused concerning this day’s riot, there being no cause. Concerning it, we wouldn’t be able to give an account of this commotion.” 19:41 When he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.
20:1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, took leave of them, and departed to go into Macedonia.

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 Posted by at 5:35 am

Acts

 Essay, Religion  Comments Off on Acts
Jan 252014
 


I’ve been reading Acts of the Apostles. I read somewhere that this is the only source on the first 50 or so years of the Jesus Movement. I use that term because the book itself marks the time and spot where the term “Christian” was coined. Antioch or Corinth, I forget.
One thing I notice is that they take a lot of boats. Every episode begins with someone making landfall, doing stuff, then taking passage someplace else, sometimes one step ahead of an angry mob. These were merchant vessels, of course. I wonder what they were like and what the travel times were. I always wondered where these guys got enough money to support all this travel. I think I figured that out.
The book begins pretty much the day after the Resurrection. In this telling, the Jews killed Jesus. Pilate found no fault in him, after all. Jesus does not do much. he hangs out being Risen and therefore the Messiah, but there are no memorable parables or confrontations. Throughout the book the main point the Jesus people make is “He rose from the dead so he is the Messiah”. That’s the pitch. And they say over and over that he revealed himself to Mankind; Mankind being, well, his followers. They make no claim that anyone outside the movement ever witnessed the risen Jesus.
Now, I have always wondered about the healing ministry of Jesus. That term healing ministry is one I got from a documentary about evangelical faith healers in the US in the 20th century, “Marjoe”. And, like Oral Roberts and the early Billy Graham and legions of “put you hand on the radio” tinhorn preachers, Jesus was a faith healer. Assuming Jesus existed, its seems the most likely explanation for his after-crucifixion popularity was that he was a really good preacher. These days, by which I mean the last 500 years or so, not a lot is made of Jesus’ career as a faith healer, beyond a couple of the more impressive miracles, which are treated as anecdotes.
In the first sections of Acts, we follow Jesus’ protegee, Peter, for a while, and it is plain that Peter has taken over the ministry. He goes around healing people, including raising one person from the dead. Always, just as the faith healers in the modern era, saying he has no special power, it is in Jesus name that people are healed. The healings got Peter big crowds to whom he could deliver the Big Message: Jesus rose, so he is the Messiah and by believing in Jesus your sins can be forgiven, all of this was foretold in scripture, there is an afterlife, and these are the end times. Better get right with God, time is running out.
Entirely absent from the book is any component of Jesus’ message: nothing about not casting the first stone, loving enemies, accepting sinners, turning the other cheek, visiting the imprisoned, the meek/mourning/poor in spirit/peacemakers  inheriting anything, or any of the stuff that by my lights make the New Testament worth reading. No virgin birth, no voices from the sky proclaiming fatherhood.  No glowing doves. Nothing against money changers, for sure.

 I think a likely explanation for this is that Acts is the last book of the Bible, but was the first New Testament book to be actually written down. The propagandists had not yet made up all those stories about Jesus. Or maybe more precisely, had not yet re-purposed Greek, Roman and Egyptian legends that were already floating around to the Jesus movement.  Also there are a lot of explicit references to prophecy in the New Testament. For example, Jesus riding an ass into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, refers back to Zechariah 9:9, saith the internet. Much of the action between the Apostles and the various Jewish communities in Acts involves the Apostles wanting to sit down with the scholars and prove their case for Jesus by reference to prophetic scripture. Again, just like evangelists to the present day. Jesus was of the house of David, as foretold, and so on. For the most part they failed to convince the rabbis, and the book is pretty harsh to the Jews as a result. Acts is not all that specific about the references, and the NT fixes this in a way that remained, it seems, unconvincing to the rabbis.

The financing of the Jesus movement is well explained, as it was not in the New Testament. The arrangement was: you get converted, you sell everything you have and lay it at the feet of the apostles (they use that phrase repeatedly) and you join the commune. Not that different from the Rajneeshees. And it makes sense, because Jesus, the Messiah, will be right back, he is just giving the Jews time to get their shit together. The end is near so we do not need land and possessions or money. There is one incident where a particular couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold everything, but held some back for themselves when they went to lay it at Peter’s feet. Peter gave them a hard stare and they dropped dead on the spot, first one and then later the other.


The Death of Ananias, by Raphael

No indication that he asked himself, “What would Jesus do?”  Except, probably he did think about that. Given that this is how the ministry was conducted right off the bat, it seems likely that this was the blueprint created by Jesus before his death. If Jesus was Billy Graham, Peter was Jim Jones.

The worship services were very tent revival type affairs. The samples of Peter and Paul’s oratory are pretty well crafted, and one can just about hear the evangelical cadences (“Ju-ee-zus sa-yez..ah!”). The Holy Spirit would come upon the people, they would be swept up in ecstatic prayer, they would roll about speaking in tongues. Lots of complaints from the neighbors, especially among the Jews. The Gentiles ate it up. Women were plainly full participants in the services, not very Jewish, but very Roman.
So, whether the apostles were honest believers or not, they conducted themselves pretty much exactly like the shitheels of today who bilk vulnerable people out of their life savings with nutty, emotional religious appeals. As proof here is an incontrovertible fact: the world did not end.
Absent also from Acts is the suggestion that Jesus was God. Makes sense, the traditional notion of the Messiah was never that he would be God incarnate, I don’t think. The Holy Spirit makes many appearances, but is never referred to as a deity, or even necessarily as a specific actor like, say, a particular archangel. As I read it the term is more like the Irish  “craic”, the good energy generated by the people in the room. The early Christians had very good craic.

Jesus was, according to Acts the Son of God, but he was not God, the Son. The dominant religion of the day, paganism, had lots and lots of sons of gods, so that was anything but a tough sell. Here’s a list.

 Posted by at 11:09 am

First Samuel Chapter 8

 Religion  Comments Off on First Samuel Chapter 8
Aug 122012
 

10 And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.
22 And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

 Posted by at 8:47 pm