Here I bring together different scholarly views on the sources cited in the Old Testament books of Kings directing readers to other writings for further information about a particular monarch. I conclude with a new perspective on one of those sources (the chronicles or annals of the kings of Judah) that would actually subvert the biblical narrative it is meant to support. This new interpretation comes from Russell Gmirkin’s chapter, “‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom”, in the Thomas L. Thompson festschrift, Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity.
So the Lord routed them before Israel, killed them with a great slaughter at Gibeon . . . And it happened, as they fled before Israel . . . that the Lord cast down large hailstones from heaven on them . . . . There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword. Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon; And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still, And the moon stopped, Till the people had revenge upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel. . . .
But these five kings had fled and hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah. And it was told Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.”
So Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them. . . . And afterward Joshua struck them and killed them, and hanged them on five trees . . . . So it was at the time of the going down of the sun that Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, cast them into the cave where they had been hidden, and laid large stones against the cave’s mouth, which remain until this very day.
For other references to landmarks that are said to be visible “to this day” see Josh 7:26; 8:28, 29; … Judg 6:24; 15:19; 1 Kgs 8:8; 10:12; 2 Kgs 10:27; 2 Chr 5:9. — Stott, Why Did They Write This Way? p, 55
The Hans Christian Andersen citation
Given that Gmirkin uses “methods allied to those of Thompson, although [his] efforts rely more heavily on documentary sources” (p. 76), let’s open this post with Thompson’s view on particular attempt by a biblical author to “prove the truth” of his account by pointing to external evidence:
In Joshua 10, Jerusalem’s king, Adonizedek, the leader of five Amorite kings, was defeated by Joshua and his army in a running battle. Yahweh killed more enemies than Joshua did by throwing huge stones down on them from heaven. The kings were captured hiding in a cave and executed by Joshua. To endorse this story, the author tells us that five of these large stones are laid at the entrance of the cave ‘to this day’.
The humour of this closing ought not be missed. The author is very aware of the audience’s critical sensibilities. Just as Yahweh is hurling the large stones down from heaven, killing the enemy, the dead are described as having been killed by ‘hailstones’. After all, everyone knows – even the minimalist – that God sends hailstones. And this is where the author traps his listeners! The memorial set up at the cave, five of Yahweh’s stones, is an obvious argument for the story’s historicity. Such an argument is a common folktale motif, quite like the closure of Hans Christian Andersen’s story of ‘the princess and the pea’ with its historicizing details that the pea is still in the museum . . . ‘that is, if someone hasn’t stolen it’.
(Thompson, Mythic Past, 44)
Are they not written in the book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?
It is happening again. A curtain of dread hangs over the United States. Will we have yet another election in which millions of votes by American citizens go for naught simply because they live in the wrong states? Or will Joe Biden manage to win by a big enough margin to overcome structural deficits in swing states like Florida and Ohio?
And for heaven’s sake, how did we end up with such a bizarre system in the first place? On the right side of the political spectrum, an unending stream of purple punditry with its requisite wailing and garment-rending would lead one to believe that both the Senate and the Electoral College arose solely from the Founders’ belief in republicanism. The brain trust assures us that we have “a republic, not a democracy,” and (gasp!) if we degenerate into a democracy, all hell will break loose.
After crossing the river, Caesar famously said Alea Eacta Est [sic], or the die is cast. Thus crossing the Rubicon is now considered a revolutionary act that aims to destroy the status quo, structure, and balance, from which there’s no return. The only way forward is through chaos.
The current Democratic presidential frontrunners, with their war cries of Electoral College abolition and reduction of the voting age, signify another crossing the Rubicon moment. That’s because without the Senate, and without the Electoral College, there would be no states in the United States of America. Essentially, there would be no republic anymore. And if history is a good teacher, every time there was direct democracy, it has led to a Caesar—or worse.
I refer to this essay as a nearly perfect example, not only because it typifies modern bombastic, pseudointellectual conservatism, with its requisite citations of irrelevant historical precedents (while in this case, hilariously misspelling alea jacta est), but also because it consistently fails to define its own terms. To evaluate whether the removal of the Electoral College would destroy the republic and somehow create, as Maitra warns, a “direct democracy,” we would need to understand what the founders meant by a “republic.”
Excerpts to whet the appetites of those who have not yet read it:
Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.
. . . .
Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. . . .
The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.
. . . .
. . . . But what surely does [stand out as a turning point in history] is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.
In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.
For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington.
. . . .
More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose.
. . . .
Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent. As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. . . .
. . . .
American politicians dismiss the Scandinavian model as creeping socialism, communism lite, something that would never work in the United States. In truth, social democracies are successful precisely because they foment dynamic capitalist economies that just happen to benefit every tier of society. That social democracy will never take hold in the United States may well be true, but, if so, it is a stunning indictment, and just what Oscar Wilde had in mind when he quipped that the United States was the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.
. . . . But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it’s not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time.
The end of the American era and the passing of the torch to Asia is no occasion for celebration, no time to gloat. In a moment of international peril, when humanity might well have entered a dark age beyond all conceivable horrors, the industrial might of the United States, together with the blood of ordinary Russian soldiers, literally saved the world. American ideals, as celebrated by Madison and Monroe, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, at one time inspired and gave hope to millions.
If America’s first president, George Washington, famously could not tell a lie, the current one can’t recognize the truth. Inverting the words and sentiments of Abraham Lincoln, this dark troll of a man celebrates malice for all, and charity for none.
This post is based on Russell Gmirkin’s chapter, “‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom”, in the Thomas L. Thompson festschrift, Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity. All posts addressing the same volume are archived here.
Russel Gmirkin’s conclusions (p. 77):
• That the area later known as the kingdom of Judah was under direct rule from Samaria from c. 875 to c. 735 BCE. • That Yahweh worship was also centered at Samaria during this early period and only appeared at Jerusalem as a result of Samarian regional influences. • That Judah only emerged as an independent political entity in the time of Tiglath-pileser III under Jehoahaz of Judah in c. 735 BCE. • That the Acts of Solomon originated in the Neo-Assyrian province of Samaria to celebrate Shalmaneser III as legendary conqueror and founder of an empire south of the Euphrates. • That old local monumental architecture that the Acts of Solomon attributed to Shalmaneser III, including Jerusalem’s temple, is best understood as reflecting Omride building activities c. 875-850 BCE.
A typical chart illustrating the Old Testament chronology of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah is Jonathan Petersen’s on the BibleGateway Blog. I have copied that chart complete (left). If we use contemporary archaeological sources to determine what the kingdoms of Israel and Judah looked like and make adjustments to that chart we end up with something like the following. The United Kingdom disappears entirely. The Kingdom of Judah only emerges after the Assyrians have hamstrung the Kingdom of Israel in the time of King Menahem in the 730s. Before then the area we think of as the kingdom of Judah had been dominated by the kingdom of Israel.
Russell Gmirkin does not use the above chart but he does seek to reconstruct the historical origins of the kingdom of Judah, its Temple and Yahweh worship by means of the contemporary archaeological sources and comes to much the same conclusion as illustrated on the right side of the above chart. In an effort to get a handle on the archaeological sources and their relation to what we read in the biblical texts I made up my own rough grid based on Gmirkin’s list of archaeological sources. Dates and scale are only approximate. Many of the sources are available online for those interested in that sort of detail.
The kingdom of Judah does not register a mark on the world scene until after the Samaria based kingdom of Israel has been weakened by Assyria and on the brink of final collapse. For earlier Vridar posts on this order of events see
Interview with Jonathan Silvertown Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Edinburgh. First thing of interest was to learn that other animals do laugh. Even mice, though at a pitch we cannot hear. I have sometimes seen acts by animals or birds that I have immediately wondered if they were done in some sort of jest, but my mind, aspiring to be totally rational, tries to dispel that thought. Has the professor has given me licence to revisit those thoughts? I don’t know. Perhaps if I read his book, The Comedy of Error, I will find out.
When Philip suggested laughter is cathartic Jonathan Silvertown pointed out that if that were the evolutionary motor that led to it then once the cathartic effect of, say, a Marx Brothers movie, had been accomplished after, presumably, the first 15 or so minutes then we would not find the rest of the film funny. Interesting.
The evolutionary driver that Silvertown hypothesizes is that laughter was primarily a sexual attraction, like the peacock feathers. So that’s why “must have good sense of humour” is always listed as a desirable attribute by those seeking a mate.
This one was with Kate Summerscale about her book The Haunting of Alma Fielding. Ghosts and seances were very popular post World War and through to the Second World War and Summerscale’s study focuses on the investigations of one “sceptic” (though a sceptic in a positive sense since he really did hope to prove the existence of the paranormal but only by rigidly honest means) Nandor Fodor, chief ghost hunter at the International Institute for Psychical Research.
I was intrigued enough to find an inexpensive electronic copy of the book online in order to find out what tricks Alma Fielding used to convince so many that poltergeists were responsible for moving and smashing things.
This one struck a little closer to home. I knew some of those who had been arrested and put on trial for entering the Pine Gap US satellite surveillance base and assisted with them publicizing their experiences afterwards. Further protest actions followed. Kieran Finnane has written a book about Pine Gap and the more recent protests. It would be easy to think that nothing was achieved by those efforts. The protesters were treated with utter contempt in court and even by some of the media. But a book has been written about the base they were protesting against and their efforts, and those efforts, though small, demonstrate quite vividly the extremes to which Australian governments have gone to hide all knowledge of the functions of the bases from the public.
In our camp the strong looked after the weak; the young looked after the old; the fit looked after the sick. — Tom Uren
‘Humanity which we love so much—I know many of you are fearful of using that word “love”—but our struggle is a commitment of love of our fellow humans. It inspired our people in their early struggle against oppression and exploitation’.
I am proud that your organisation has similar ideals. Peter Jennings said to me in his letter:
‘We are the overseas aid arm of the Australian Trade Union Movement. With the support of Australian unions and many individual union members we assist vocational skills training of men and women workers in developing countries as well as strengthening their trade union so that any job they get will be a decent job—paying just wages with reasonable conditions and safety standards’.
So I am here in solidarity with all those ideals.
I was elected to the federal parliament by the Australian people 49 years ago. I have always tried to meet the ideals that Peter set out in his letter. I have written two books on my life – Straight Left, published in 1994/1995 and gone into four prints, and more recently I co-authored a book, The Fight: a portrait of a Labor man who never grew up, with Martin Flanagan, whose father served with me on the Burma/Thai Railway during the war. Excuse me for talking about the evolutionary development of my life, but my war experience had a great influence on me.
There are many people and experiences that have nurtured my life. But my experience serving under Weary Dunlop has had a lifelong and lasting experience on me. We were at a place called Hintock Road Camp or, as Weary called it, Hintock “Mountain” Camp. “Weary” is a name of respect. He would tax our officers and medical orderlies and the men who went out to work would be paid a small wage.
We would contribute most of it into a central fund. Weary would then send some of our people out into the jungle to trade with the Thai and Chinese traders for food and drugs for our sick and needy. In our camp the strong looked after the weak; the young looked after the old; the fit looked after the sick. We collectivised a great proportion of our income.
Just as the wet season set in a group of about 400 British camped near us for shelter. They had tents. The officers took the best tents, the NCOs the next best and the ordinary soldiers got the dregs. Within six weeks only about 50 of them marched out—the rest died of dysentery or cholera. In the mornings when we would walk out to work, their corpses would be lying in the mud as we passed them. Only a creek separated our two camps. On the one side the survival of the fittest – the law of the jungle – prevailed, and on the other side the collective spirit under Weary Dunlop. That spirit has always remained with me.
Years ago when I was a devout member of a Christian cult I got a visit from a local public hospital rep asking me why I had not let my infant child be vaccinated against whooping cough. My child survived a severe attack of whooping cough by luck or chance but I thanked God for not letting him die. One of the great evils of some religious cults is that they reject science and choose to trust their distinctive world view to see them through any life and death crisis. In some places civil authorities intervene for the welfare of children who are endangered by their parents’ beliefs. Compare a Trump follower:
And what about the 11-month-old baby of Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s press secretary? McEnany has tested positive after again and again showing her fealty to the imaged great leader by going mask-less. Does anyone doubt that if McEnany were a poor black or brown woman—or a Jew or Muslim in a Bible Belt county—that child protective services would be investigating whether to remove the infant Blake for her own safety?
Norman Swan: What’s your analysis of what’s going on in the Centres for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration? I mean, the Centres for Disease Control wrote the textbook on pandemic control.
Eric Topol: Well, somehow that textbook got lost or got thrown away. The reason why we failed so much is because both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration were basically taken out. This has been a White House Trump-run response to the pandemic. Robert Redfield who runs the CDC has not had any presence. There are things, as I think you know, that are just extraordinary, just despicable how the weekly morbidity mortality report that the medical community relies upon was manipulated and censored. There were guidelines put out about not doing testing, not doing testing on people without symptoms but exposed. I mean, all sorts of things that were done to the CDC by Trump in the White House, by ill-informed advisors, a neuroradiologist that Trump brought in to crowd out Tony Fauci.
So we are in disarray. The agencies who we would depend on totally are not even being able to do what they need to do. The FDA has issued emergency use authorisation for convalescent plasma, claimed that it reduced mortality by 35%, which it has no data to support that, and made it in a so-called very historic breakthrough on the evening before the national convention for Trump. So we are seeing things that…you just can’t make this stuff up, it’s nightmarish.
This is what happens when a cult arises. The leader is special and believers most demonstrate without even being asked that the messages the leader conveys have been internalized. And if he uses tricks and deceits to fool the public you must go along to remain in his good graces even if it exposes you and your newborn to sickness, lifelong health problems and even death.
The reason, rationality and civil debate envisioned by our Founders and Framers have no place in Trump’s anti-democratic cult. All that matters is loyalty to the leader, a loyalty that runs only one way.
Trump devotees do not believe in faith healing but as a movement they do believe in maintaining their political faith in living by anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-modernist pronouncements of their leader. They justify their stance the same way each religious asserts and justifies its difference from other cults that have the same type of faith: appeals to special knowledge of their leaders not widely known to the public.
I recall Tamas Pataki’s description of fundamentalism as it applied not only to religious but also to political groups. Some of his points:
1. They (fundamentalists) are counter-modernist. It (fundamentalism) manifests itself as an attempt by “besieged believers” to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that “golden past”.
2. They (fundamentalists) are “generally assertive, clamorous, and often violent”.
3. They are “the Chosen”, “the Elect”, “the Saved”. And as such, they are “privileged” or “burdened” with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world.
4. Public marks of distinction are needed to maintain their sense of superiority and distinctive identity. Not only for the purpose of maintaining that distinctive identity but also as “part of the narcissistic struggle to be considered unique and special.”
5. There is only one true religion; there is only one correct way of life; and these must be defended against inroads from other religions and secularism.
6. There is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory.
In the world of political populism the followers embrace the vision of their leader. Their whole sense of reality begins and ends with the pronouncements of their populist leader.
I never expected to see anything so retrograde taking over the United States, least of all at a time when following science and professionals is more necessary than ever to understand, admit and tackle so many major challenges. (Nor did I ever expect to see the “dear leader” propaganda videos that are undeniably a par with what we associate with totalitarian regimes, past and present.) The total denial of reality, the calling truth lies, calling dishonesty honesty, belief in bizarre conspiracy theories, it does look very much to me as though much of the United States has indeed broken itself off from reality and closeted itself in a cult fantasy world.
My god, if Biden-Harris win the coming election they better take on the root causes of all of this total madness:
Trump draws crowds because the majority of Americans have real economic grievances, as I’ve written about for decades including these recent DCReport pieces. Indeed, Trump ran for office using many of the phrases he heard me say on television about how Washington policies hurt 90% of Americans.
While he pledged in his inaugural address that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer” his actions documented by DCReport show that he never gave them a thought.
Rather than try to cover for now the many sides to the racism question that Reni Eddo-Lodge raises in her book Why I’ve Stopped Talking to White People about Race, I’ll just mention one thought that has lodged uppermost in my mind as I think back on my reading.
I know the Australian situation better than either the British or American experiences and for the first time, at least as far as I can remember, I paused to try to imagine what it might be like being born into an aboriginal family. Healthwise, what are their chances compared with a white person’s? We know the expected life-span of aboriginals is significantly less than it is for whites. What sorts of supports do children have at home with their schooling and how likely is it that aboriginal adolescents will escape brushes with the police — and what are their chances of seeing the inside of a prison compared with white people? And then why is it that we keep hearing of deaths in custody? Having lived for some years in the Northern Territory did make me far more aware of aboriginal conditions and experiences than I would have had had I never left the major urban areas on the east coast of Australia.
Poor comparisons can also be made with suburban areas where first and second-generation non-English speaking immigrants tend to live. Would a white person feel comfortable imagining being born into one of those communities as opposed to a stable white one?
Thinking of it like that drives home, at least for me, the reality of what is meant by systemic racism. We can expect that Australians would be outraged and governments would act the highest priority reforms and assistance packages to make the lives of (white) people in such communities on a par with the rest of the population with respect to genuine equality of opportunities in life. The rest of the (white) population would, in the main, surely expect the government to take those urgent measures.
What dismays me is when I hear some white Australians, including elected representatives, complain about unfair welfare “handouts” to aboriginal and other minority groups. Those complainants demand “equality” and “fairness” for all — and call for policies to be colourblind as the way to being truly fair and equal. Those calls fail to understand — as Reni Eddo-Lodge makes readers all the more starkly aware — that being colourblind in the current situation is only perpetuating a system that sets aboriginals at a disadvantage from the moment of their birth. And that’s where the anger and hostility start: with the failure to recognize the currently unequal experiences of whites compared with black and brown races. The anger surfaces when there is blindness to the white experience of privilege in what is touted as a multiracial society.
I see from some of the comments on the earlier posts that I am happily not alone having these thoughts. It’s something a white person has to make an effort to understand, I think.
We have moved on from the days of racial hostility but we are still in a state of acute discomfort about racial difference. . . . There are far less interpersonal bigotry and abuse. People don’t hate other people because of their colour, as would have been the case 50 years ago. But that is different to saying: ‘Do I feel comfortable in the company of a lot of people who are not like myself?’ — Trevor Phillips, The Guardian 2014
Reni Eddo-Lodge in her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race makes it clear that racism today is not mostly about malicious and ignorant people who hate others who are different from themselves. That kind of racism still exists but it is easy to identify and condemn: it is continued in white supremacist, anti-immigrant and far-right groups. Further, when Reni Eddo-Lodge speaks of white people she is not referring to every individual white person but to whiteness as a political ideology or identity. I believe that concept sounds bizarre to most white persons when they first hear it. It is only after reading the details of how persons of colour are handicapped at every stage of their lives that one can begin to become conscious of the privileges we white people take for granted. The challenges facing coloured people from infancy and on throughout their lives all too rarely make themselves known among whites in a white society. The problem is not white hostility so much as white ignorance. I think white people do have a responsibility to make the effort to listen to the experiences of minorities in their midst.
More quotes from Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book:
But this isn’t about good and bad people. The covert nature of structural racism is difficult to hold to account. It slips out of your hands easily, like a water-snake toy. You
In the same year that I decided to no longer talk to white people about race, the British Social Attitudes survey saw a significant increase in the number of people who were happy to admit to their own racism.4 The sharpest rise in those self-admitting were, according to a Guardian report, ‘white, professional men between the ages of 35 and 64, highly educated and earning a lot of money’.5 This is what structural racism looks like. It is not just about personal prejudice, but the collective effects of bias. It is the kind of racism that has the power to drastically impact people’s life chances. Highly educated, high-earning white men are very likely to be landlords, bosses, CEOs, head teachers, or university vice chancellors. They are almost certainly people in positions that influence others’ lives. They are almost certainly the kind of people who set workplace cultures. They are unlikely to boast about their politics with colleagues or acquaintances because of the social stigma of being associated with racist views. But their racism is covert. It doesn’t manifest itself in spitting at strangers in the street. Instead, it lies in an apologetic smile while explaining to an unlucky soul that they didn’t get the job. It manifests itself in the flick of a wrist that tosses a CV in the bin because the applicant has a foreign-sounding name.
The national picture is grim. Research from a number of different sources shows how racism is weaved into the fabric of our world. This demands a collective redefinition of what it means to be racist, how racism manifests, and what we must do to end it.
Those points in a black person’s life where the difficulties start:
Black students are far more likely to finish their university education with a lower ranking pass than white students; (Recall that black students are more likely than white students to move into higher education so it is not likely that the gap is due to “lack of intelligence, talent or aspiration.” Almost 70% of university teachers are white, “a dire indication of what universities think intelligence looks like.”
Black people are far morelikely [links are to PDFs] to be unemployed than white people;
“black people are twice as likely to be charged with drugs possession, despite lower rates of drug use. Black people are also more likely to receive a harsher police response (being five times more likely to be charged rather than cautioned or warned) for possession of drugs” (Report – PDF);
Commenting on the above hurdles (with my own highlighted emphasis),
Our black man’s life chances are hindered and warped at every stage. There isn’t anything notably, individually racist about the people who work in all of the institutions he interacts with. Some of these people will be black themselves. But it doesn’t really matter what race they are. They are both in and of a society that is structurally racist, and so it isn’t surprising when these unconscious biases seep out into the work they do when they interact with the general public. With a bias this entrenched, in too many levels of society, our black man can try his hardest, but he is essentially playing a rigged game. He may be told by his parents and peers that if he works hard enough, he can overcome anything. But the evidence shows that that is not true, and that those who do are exceptional to be succeeding in an environment that is set up for them to fail. Some will even tell them that if they are successful enough to get on the radar of an affirmative action scheme, then it’s because of tokenism rather than talent. enough to get on the radar of an affirmative action scheme, then it’s because of tokenism rather than talent.
Structural racism is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather, it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity.
Eddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London Oxford New York New Delhi Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Serendipity in a local bookstore led me to read a new book on a subject I have been slow to understand for much of my life. I grew up with parents who deplored racism (they said so themselves) yet at the same time explained to me that the removal of aboriginal children from their families and placing them in missionary institutions was for their own good. At school we learned that the White Australia Policy at the time was not racist but was introduced to protect the wages and living standards of Australians.
We know our histories have been bloodied with racism for centuries yet we seem so easily to think that our generation today is not widely racist. I wonder if some slave owners would have said they, too, were not at all racist because they believed they treated their slaves well.
Today, racists are easy enough to spot among fringe extremists. They advertise their hatred. Yet so often I have heard minorities speak of problems they face with racism in our society and fellow whites reply indignantly that there is very little racism. How there can be such opposing perceptions is something that has intrigued me and obliged me to dig deeper over the years into what, exactly, racism is.
Enter Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Reni writes from the heart of both her own experiences and background history she has read to understand what has brought us to today. I found many old thoughts and experiences of my own expressed in novel ways that set me on spirals of rethinking so much of what I have so long taken for granted.
The Preface alone pulls the reader up with a start (at least it did for this reader):
On 22 February 2014, I publisheda post on my blog. I titled it ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’. It read:
I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us.
This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm and all others deviate from it. . . . I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do. They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.
. . . . Even if they can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave our mouths and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further.
. . . . Watching The Color of Fear [a 1994 documentary about race] by Lee Mun Wah, I saw people of colour break down in tears as they struggled to convince a defiant white man that his words were enforcing and perpetuating a white racist standard on them. All the while he stared obliviously, completely confused by this pain, at best trivialising it, at worst ridiculing it.
. . . . So I can’t talk to white people about race any more because of the consequent denials, awkward cartwheels and mental acrobatics that they display when this is brought to their attention. Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?
I can no longer have this conversation, because we’re often coming at it from completely different places. I can’t have a conversation with them about the details of a problem if they don’t even recognise that the problem exists. Worse still is the white person who might be willing to entertain the possibility of said racism, but who thinks we enter this conversation as equals. We don’t.
. . . .
Amid every conversation about Nice White People feeling silenced by conversations about race, there is a sort of ironic and glaring lack of understanding or empathy for those of us who have been visibly marked out as different for our entire lives, and live the consequences. It’s truly a lifetime of self-censorship that people of colour have to live. . . . .
So I’m no longer talking to white people about race. . . . Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo. I’m not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to. If there’s something like a media or conference appearance that means that someone might hear what I’m saying and feel less alone, then I’ll participate. But I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and, frankly, don’t deserve it.
Part 2 on Łukasz Niesiolowski-Spanò‘s chapter, “The Abraham and Esau-Jacob Stories in the Context of the Maccabean Period”, in Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson.
The title of this and the previous post may read as declarative but my intent is to share thought-provoking explorations rather than state dogmatic conclusions.
. . .
The Genesis portrayal of Jacob is unlike other biblical narratives in which a heroic figure chosen by God momentarily falls from favour among his peers only to rise again to a more highly exalted status (e.g. Joseph, Gideon, David). In Genesis, Jacob is the second born and cheats his way to take the position of the older sibling.The second part of Łukasz Niesiolowski-Spanò’s [NS] chapter focuses on the Jacob-Esau narrative in Genesis. It does so by comparison with the parallel account in the Book of Jubilees, a book generally dated to the late second century BCE. The Genesis story of the two brothers, we well know, ends with their unexpected reconciliation. In Jubilees (chapters 37–38), though, Jacob kills Esau. Jacob’s sons then attack and subdue Esau’s people making the Edomites tribute-paying subjects of Israel “until this day”. How could such opposite narratives come about?
Jacob depicted in Genesis is not the hero who falls, and loses, to rise to a triumphal victory. He is rather described as the lucky dodger. The stories about Jacob struggling with an angel, staying at Laban’s house and especially competing with his brother do not represent the typical plot of the falling-and-rising hero. (p. 55)
NS suggests that the author of this Genesis tale was inviting his audience to appreciate Esau and not to think poorly of him even though they identify with Jacob.
Readers obviously sympathise with Jacob, yet it might have been Esau who was intended to be the central figure of this part of the story. Therefore, the story allows the interplay of the protagonists’ successes and failures. In this way, the narrative’s attractiveness and the intellectual value of the story are proportionally higher since the story is less straightforward. The demanding reader needed more sophisticated accounts. (p. 55)
But what are we to make of the Jubilees’ version with its conclusion so opposing the drama in Genesis? In Genesis we are reading an adventure that presumably explains a friendly relationship between peoples, the Jews and the Edomites, while in Jubilees we find an etiological explanation for Jewish conquest of Edom. Genesis dialogue leaves no question that the story is etiological: God explains to Rebekah at the moment she was giving birth to the twins,
The LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb . . . one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.’ – Genesis 25:23
In NS’s view, the Jubilees story with its violent conclusion has a simpler and “more natural” coherence. In Genesis, Jacob’s fear for the safety of his family and his placing his most loved ones in the farthermost positions for their comparative safety,
The version in Jubilees seems to be better-constructed in regard to the narrative’s dynamics: Jacob’s fears, leading him to protect the most beloved ones by placing them at the end of the caravan (Gen. 33:1-3), does not find a logical culmination in Genesis. The canonical version, in which two brothers hug one another (Gen. 33:4), is dramaturgically less natural than the version in Jubilees, where the tension ends with war as the narrative climax . . . (p. 56)
Perhaps. I do like the sophistication of the literary structure here and see in it a masterful buildup of suspense and fear that makes the reconciliation all the more dramatically overwhelming. NS had already spoken of the sophistication of the Genesis narrative in the context of the complex position and character of Jacob and his fall from grace.
One thing is surely evident, as NS points out: At the time of the writing of Jubilees, apparently in the late second century BCE, the status of the Genesis stories had not had time to become canonical. There was still room for debate. Continue reading “Origins of the Jacob-Esau Narrative”
Let’s return to having a closer look at some of the chapters in the book I described back in August this year. (Actually my recent post History. It’s Long Lost Dead and Gone began as a closer look at Niels Peter Lemche’s chapter titled “What People Want to Believe: Or Fighting Against ‘Cultural Memory'”, but since I’ve discussed the samethoughts of Lemche in many earlier posts I somehow ended up with my own little bottom-line spiel instead.)
In the chapter “The Abraham and Esau-Jacob Stories in the Context of the Maccabean Period”, author Łukasz Niesiolowski-Spanò [NS] seeks to understand the most plausible context from which those stories originated. I know some readers will be as interested as I am in his approach. I address a few — not all — of the arguments in the chapter. I will cover the stories of Jacob and Esau in the next post.
NS points out that in the book of Genesis Abraham is “depicted as a figure disconnected from any historical realities, by being alien and of a nomadic way of life.”
The stories connected with Abraham are set within the mythical illo tempore, in the same way as Greek heroes are described in un-historical realities of the tragedies or Homeric epic for which a coherent historical background does not exist. (NS, p.50)
NS zeroes in on two moments in the Abraham story that he considers the most important:
the covenant between God and Abraham promising Abraham multitudes of descendants who become God’s chosen
the sacrifice of Isaac (the Akedah)
Begin with that second episode. NS views it as dramatizing the kinds of complex theological questions we elsewhere encounter in books like Job and Ecclesiastes. To what extent is the pious person expected to obey and trust God? Is the reward expected to be in this or the next life? The problems facing Abraham point to sophisticated philosophical (or theological) quandaries of the sort that preoccupy intellectual elites. The story does not come from popular folklore, surely. Rather,
it is a reflection of the Jewish elites of the late Hellenistic period (second-first century BCE), an expression of their intellectual, highly sophisticated interest. (p. 51)
* de Pury, A. 2000. “Abraham: The Priestly Writer’s ‘Ecumenical’ Ancestor.” In Rethinking the Foundations: Historiography in the Ancient World and in the Bible : Essays in Honour of John Van Seters, edited by Steven L. McKenzie, Thomas R. Mer, and Thomas Romer, 163–81. Berlin ; New York: De Gruyter.
On the first of those two key moments, NS observes that Abraham is a rather “pure in nature” figure unlike his progeny — Ishmael, Isaac and the sons of Keturah — who are all coloured with distinctive features that clearly associate them with certain historically known peoples: the Ishmaelites, the Jews, the inhabitants of Arabia. NS points readers to an article elsewhere by de Pury showing us that Abraham serves as an “ecumenical figure” serving as a unifying focus for both Jews and certain of their neighbours. Though descendants of Isaac will the “the chosen”, the narrative demonstrates God’s love for all of Abraham’s descendants. (de Pury remarks on the way Abraham must give up both sons — Ishmael exiled into the wilderness and Isaac sacrificed on the altar — only for God to miraculously intervene to save each of them.)
But if the narrator merely wanted to demonstrate that the sons of Isaac were to be the most favoured ones, why did he make the plot so complicated by having Isaac born after Ishmael? If the message for Jews was that they should embrace the descendants of Ishmael, Hagar and Keturah, why the “twisted narrative device”? NS sees two possible reasons:
Firstly, it might have served as inter-propaganda directed to members of the Jewish community, with the statement about Arabs, who shall not be treated as aliens. This may have served certain political needs.
Secondly, the Abraham-Isaac-Ishmael tradition might have been addressed to the Arab population with the same friendly information. In this case, we would be dealing with the declaration of friendship, which in the reality of politics might have been understood as an invitation toward the Arab population to join the political unity of the Jews. (53)
During his September 10 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, [Roger] Stone declared that the only legitimate outcome to the 2020 election would be a Trump victory. He made this assertion on the basis of his entirely unfounded claim that early voting has been marred by widespread voter fraud.
Stone argued that “the ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshalls and taken from the state” because “they are completely corrupted” and falsely said that “we can prove voter fraud in the absentees right now.” He specifically called for Trump to have absentee ballots seized in Clark County, Nevada, an area that leans Democratic. Stone went on to claim that “the votes from Nevada should not be counted; they are already flooded with illegals” and baselessly suggested that former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) should be arrested and that Trump should consider nationalizing Nevada’s state police force.
Beyond Nevada, Stone recommended that Trump consider several actions to retain his power. Stone recommended that Trump appoint former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) as a special counsel “with the specific task of forming an Election Day operation using the FBI, federal marshals, and Republican state officials across the country to be prepared to file legal objections and if necessary to physically stand in the way of criminal activity.”
Stone also urged Trump to consider declaring “martial law” or invoking the Insurrection Act and then using his powers to arrest Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, “the Clintons” and “anybody else who can be proven to be involved in illegal activity.”
Two days later Trump appeared to respond to Stone’s call:
Jeanine Pirro: (09:05)
What are you going to do … Let’s say there are threats, they say that they’re going to threaten riots if they lose on Election Night, assuming we get a winner on Election Night. What are you going to do?
Donald Trump: (09:17)
We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that.
Jeanine Pirro: (09:18)
How are you going to do that?
Donald Trump: (09:19)
We have the right to do that, we have the power to do that if we want. Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send them in and we do it very easy. I mean it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes, within minutes. Minneapolis, they were having problems. We sent in the National Guard within a half an hour. That was the end of the problem. It all went away.
Stone, further, in his call to Trump on The Alex Jones Show:
[Stone] also said: “The ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshals and taken from the state. They are completely corrupted. No votes should be counted from the state of Nevada if that turns out to be the provable case. Send federal marshals to the Clark county board of elections, Mr President!”
Trump again responded:
Nevada has not gone to a Republican since 2004 but is shaping up to be a crucial contest this year. Biden leads there, but polls have tightened. On Saturday, after a planned rally in Reno was cancelled because of coronavirus restrictions, Trump staged an event which disregarded such strictures in Minden. His rhetoric was not far removed from that of the man [Roger Stone] he spared prison.
Attacking the Democratic Nevada governor, Steve Sisolak, Trump said: “This is the guy we are entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, and we’re supposed to win these states. Who the hell is going to trust him? The only way the Democrats can win the election is if they rig it.”
Stone said: “Governor Sisolak is a punk. He should not face down the president of the United States.”
On Sunday, on ABC’s This Week, senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller also attacked moves to facilitate voting by mail in Nevada. He also called Sisolak a “clubhouse governor … who, by the way, if you go against him politically … politically speaking, you’ll find yourself buried in the desert”.
Stone knows what Trump should do:
Trump and his campaign have also consistently claimed without evidence that “antifa”, or anti-fascist, activists represent a deadly threat to suburban voters that will be unleashed should Biden win. Commenting on a Daily Beast report about leftwing activist groups planning what to do “if the election ends without a clear outcome or with a Biden win that Trump refuses to recognise”, Stone told Jones the website should be shut down.
“If the Daily Beast is involved in provably seditious and illegal activities,” he said, “their entire staff can be taken into custody and their office can be shut down. They wanna play war, this is war.”
Stone also advocated “forming an election day operation using the FBI, federal marshals and Republican state officials across the country to be prepared to file legal objections [to results] and if necessary to physically stand in the way of criminal activity”.
Stone is no stranger to interfering in elections. He was reportedly an organizer of the so-called “Brooks Brothers riot” during the 2000 presidential election that led to vote counting being suspended in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
In late November 2000, hundreds of mostly middle-aged male protesters, dressed in off-the-peg suits and cautious ties, descended on the Miami-Dade polling headquarters in Florida. Shouting, jostling, and punching, they demanded that a recount of ballots for the presidential election be stopped.
The protesters, many of whom were paid Republican operatives, succeeded. A recount of ballots in Florida was abandoned. What became known as the Brooks Brothers riot went down in infamy, and George W Bush became president after a supreme court decision.
In 2020, fears are growing that the US could see an unwanted sequel to the Brooks Brothers debacle –but with more violent participants.
After a year in which armed Donald Trump supporters have besieged state houses across the country and shot and killed Black Lives Matter protesters –and in which Trump has said he will only lose if the election is rigged –a 2020 reboot of the Brooks Brothers stunt could be dangerous.
“Everything is far more amplified or exaggerated than it was 20 years ago,” said Joe Lowndes, professor of political science at the University of Oregon and co-author of Producers, Parasites, Patriots, a book about the changing role of race in rightwing politics.
“In terms of party polarizations, in terms of the Republican shift to the far right and in terms of the Republican party’s open relationship with and courting of far-right groups. This puts us on entirely different grounds.”
Trump supporters have been fed a “steady diet” of misinformation that the election is likely to be stolen by Democrats, Lowndes said. Trump has encouraged supporters to go to voting places to act as “poll watchers”, and on Sunday a group of Trump supporters intimidated early voters at a polling location in Fairfax, Virginia.
“You’ve got thousands of armed vigilantes on the streets this summer, first around these reopen demands protests clamoring for coronavirus lockdown restrictions to be lifted] at state capitols.”
“As a political scientist, I am sounding the alarm that America’s political institutions are at their weakest point that I have ever seen or read about in my life,” he said.
“In the backdrop of not having the protections of the Voting Rights Act, it is highly conceivable that armed militias show up at polling stations in an effort to eliminate voting.”
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, an elections watchdog group, said she believes disruption of the voting process is unlikely, but she shared the concerns of others that the counting process could be at risk.
“There are strong laws on voter intimidation,” said Albert. “Counting comes into regular laws around disturbing the police or being in a group; there’s nothing specific on that issue. That’s not to say laws don’t cover it, they do –various laws cover being a nuisance but how that’s interpreted in the situation is going to vary by location.”
Albert stressed that she did not believe it was probable there would be altercations at vote-counting sites, but she said: “I’m fearful of violence in a way that I was not in 2000.”
“We have seen that the rhetoric on the right, both from the president and Republican lawmakers, has encouraged people to take up arms. And whether directly or indirectly, encouraged violence. And that was not happening from George Bush.”
I think today was the first time I’ve watched a presidential debate; at least I can say I don’t remember watching any others. What did everyone else think? I was fairly dismayed at the way Trump behaved and Wallace failed to control him, especially in the early part. But in hindsight, putting it all together with what I’ve learned about Trump, I have to concede it went exactly as Trump wanted. His supporters, no doubt, will think he did a wonderful job of taking on not just Biden but the “grossly unfair media” in the person of Chris Wallace, too.
For the rest of us, Trump put to rest any possible debate over whether he winks at the activities of white supremacists and even over whether he was referring to some new technologies when he spoke of injecting bleach to fight coronavirus. On that latter point he said he was “joking”, so he was not speaking of some new technology after all (and the video of him saying it clearly shows he was not joking). But on the racism point, the Proud Boys listened to Trump’s words of support and added them to their logo:
I would love to learn I am wrong on this one, but I can see the Proud Boys and other white militia groups coming out fully armed into the streets again when Trump, crying foul and a rigged election, calls a halt to the counting of the ballots. Are my fears reasonable?