Nearby the Candi Sukuh is a (Hindu?) temple, “Candi Ceto”, also high up in a mountain region.
Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science
Nearby the Candi Sukuh is a (Hindu?) temple, “Candi Ceto”, also high up in a mountain region.
I was recently holidaying in central Java and one “ancient” temple I had hoped to see was Candi Sukuh. I had heard it was very different from the usual run of the mill temple complexes at Borobudur and Prambanan, which I also had to see of course, and I hoped a first-hand look would help me understand a little more about the culture and people that built it, and a little more about what we (humanity) are.
I had not realized that there was more to Jogyakarta than Borobudur and Prambanan. There were also other smaller but no less interesting temples (candi) – Plaosan and Sewu. And nearby Solo’s Candi Sukuh was neighboured by a somewhat similar Candi Ceto. It will take me time to sort out and label the photos I took of all of these, but I have completed my Flickr set of the Sukuh photos.
Some of my labels and descriptions are really questions begging for more knowledgable persons to enlighten me to the meanings and stories behind them.
It was no easy task finding and reaching the Sukuh temple. The locals I asked at Jogyakarta seemed never to have heard of it. At one point I was told to change buses just outside the city, but there I was put on a bus that returned me to my starting point! Another generously took me on his motorcycle to what he thought was where I wanted to go, but I had to tell him he had taken me to the wrong temple. Finally I was told that the temple I wanted to see was way over in east Java towards Bali, and it was impossible to see it from Jogyakarta.
After all that I finally gave up any hope of seeing it, but a chance meeting at the Prambanan complex with an architecture student from Solo university was my lucky breakthrough. I owe Vava much — he very kindly offered to take me out to the sites on his motorcycle the next day. All I had to do was catch a train from Jogyakarta to Solo and meet him the following morning. I drove him mad with my incessant photographing, I’m sure. But he was responsible for the best part of my holiday, enabling me to see not only temple complexes too rarely seen (or even known) by outsiders, but also so much of the central Java countryside and people.
A major feature of the Candi Sukuh complex, a two-meter high phallus or lingga, has been removed and placed out of public view in a back workroom of the National Museum. At first I thought it might be on display in the museum, but I soon had doubts about that when I visited the museum to find it quite small and flooded throughout with classes of happily noisy and mobile young schoolchildren. But I eventually found the two-meter lingga through a smudgy window to an out-of-bounds workroom.
Presumably, Muslim sensibilities are at work here, both at the official and local levels.
But the temple does certainly raise interesting questions about our religiosity when contrasted with the far more modest and widely known temple complexes of central Java. The similarity with the Mayan structures is also remarkable.
My Candi Sukuh photos are now on Flickr. Links to Wikipedia and other information about the temple are also included there.
A few of them here —
There is a mind game I sometimes play when assessing claims that the gospel authors used eye-witness reports as their sources. The game is to attempt to position oneself in the mind of the author as one reads, and to imagine with each word picture the author actually recalling the words of a reporting eye-witness. It is only a mind game and not a fool proof methodology, but it nonetheless can help one ask important questions in response to specific arguments for eye-witness sources.
Playing the mind-game
Take, for example, Mark 6:45-53, where Jesus walks on water:
And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.
And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.
And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.
For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore.
When I read the first verse, “And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people”, I find no difficulty at imagining that it could have come from an eye-witness. Someone, a disciple presumably, was there with Jesus and the others, heard and saw Jesus tell him and his companions to get into the ship and row to Bethsaida, while he explained to them that he was going to send the crowds back home. One can imagine an author recalling the message of an eye-witness to all of this.
But with the next verse the game runs into a difficulty. How did that eyewitness, after having been sent off by Jesus with the other disciples, know that Jesus then went to a mountain, and went there to pray? The way it is written does not follow easily from my initial image of that eyewitness telling his story to the author. The only way I can make it work is to imagine that the eye-witness told the author that Jesus also said to them that after they left he was going to go up into yonder mountain for a bit of quiet prayer time. Possible, of course, but my initial image of clear-cut reporting to author is smudged a little to make it work.
Then in the opening of the third verse, I can again return to my image of the eye-witness relating how he was in the “ship” at “sea” when it grew dark. But the last part does not work its way easily into that same image. The eye-witness reports from his perspective what he sees and knows. The image of Jesus “alone on the land” does not come from an eye-witness in the boat at sea in the dark. The last this witness had seen of Jesus was when he was with crowds and ordering him to launch out and row to Bethsaida.
The image of Jesus alone on the land comes from the imagination of the author. He adds it into what he recalls from the eyewitness. But for him to do that, he must have some distance from what the time of the eye-witness’s narration and time to reflect to imagine a broader picture. The author had no reason to think Jesus was alone apart from what his own imagination suggested or inferred from what he had heard.
Next, it gets worse for maintaining the mind-game of imagining the author recalling his eye-witness account. He writes, “And he saw them toiling in rowing“. Now this is a clear instance of the author’s creativity. No eye-witness saw Jesus watching them row.
Continuing, the author wrote that Jesus “would have passed by them“. Again, this does not come from an eyewitness. An eyewitness witnesses actions, not intentions of the mind, least of all from a distance in the darkest morning hours. An eyewitness report might say that he walked past them, or appeared to be walking away from them, but not what he would have done. Again, we have authorial creativity at work here.
Finally, did the eyewitness really think at the time, or even afterwards at the time of his reporting to the author, that his and his colleague’s fear was the result of failing to understand the miracle of the loaves? It is hard to imagine. Otherwise, we should expect the same eyewitness to have explained the connection between that miracle and the water-walk, and for the author to have passed this on to his readers.
Conclusion of the author mind-game
This line is in fact a giveaway that the author is creating his own story with a cryptic moral for insiders to understand. It throws into sharper relief the earlier passages that had to have originated in the same author’s imagination.
The story, as it stands, does not come from an eye-witness. It is a bird’s eye narrative that contains images that could only come from the mind of a creative author.
Such a game does not, of course, prove there was no eye-witness involvement at any stage. But it does demonstrate that an eye-witness theory of origins of this story must also find a way to account for non-eyewitness data getting into the mix.
The more interesting play
It gets much better, however, if we attempt to imagine ourselves being interviewed for our public claims to have seen a ghost at sea turn into Jesus.
If the original author ever toyed with such a mind-game himself he had enough sense to keep the narrative to the bare bones of what was required to teach the moral.
I will not be accepting an invitation I recently received to attend a lecture by creationist Jonathan Sarfati. I looked at Creation Ministries website and found an online book of his there, and dashed off my responses to it chapter by chapter and pasted it in Google Docs: http://tinyurl.com/jsarfati. Will respond to my invitation by directing my inviter to this page.
I’m sure someone more knowledgeable could write a better response, and I’m willing to take suggestions for improvement on board. But I had to start somewhere.
From Memories of Ancient Israel: An Introduction to Biblical History — Ancient and Modern, by Philip R. Davies. . . . . .
1 and 2 Kings detail corresponding years of ascensions and deaths between kings of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and the lengths of reigns of each. The refrain goes like this:
In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, became king. He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 15:1-2)
It’s all very precise. So we can be confident that the authors were not speaking in rough generalizations when they said David ruled for 40 years as did his son Solomon. Their interest in detailed matching informs us that they were interested in precision. So we can accept that when they said 40 years they meant literally 40, not some vague “generation”.
But the scribes who authored and edited these books never expected a generation would come when every Tom, Dick and Harriette would have a cheap copy and spare pen and paper and the ability to take time to work out the details of how the reigns looked in a nice chart or table.
Probably most bible-buffs have tried it and found there are problems. When one plots on paper the years each king came to power in relation to his neighbouring dynasty, and the length of each reign, there are gaps. The figures don’t add up.
Take the king Amaziah and his successor Azariah (also called Uzziah for some reason left unexplained):
In the second year of Joash the son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel, Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 14:1-2)
Joash of Israel happened to reign for 16 years (2 Kings 13:10) and was succeeded by Jeroboam II. Jeroboam’s 27th year is said to be the starting year of Azariah (see the 2 Kings 15 citation above). But if Azariah’s father reigned 29 years from the second year of Joash’s 16 year reign, then Azariah should have begun his reign around Jeroboam’s 15th year. But no, we are told in 2 Kings 15:1-2 that it began in Jeroboam’s 27th year.
There is a gap of twelve years here. No king seems to have ruled Judah in the twelve years between Amaziah’s death and Azariah’s ascension.
So an easy solution is commonly applied to explain such discrepancies. Co-regencies. If we can juggle the figures so that certain reigns overlap, and certain ascension years are really the years a prince began ruling with his father before assuming sole authority. That can be done to make the figures work out. But the trouble with this as a solution is that there is no evidence that Israel and Judah had any custom of co-regency. It is simply a made up ad hoc guess. (The precise numerical details applied by the authors would, moreover, suggest that they were conveying precise times and years, and were not likely to be so slapdash as to omit vital details like co-regency data if it did exist. Further, texts such as 2 Kings 8:16 and 15:5 are shown on close examination not to point to co-regency as is sometimes casually — wishfully? — assumed.)
There is another very strange detail in the chronology of the kings:
Saul was a year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel. (1 Sam.13:1)
“This is what the canonical (Masoretic) Hebrew text says.” (p.22) Other manuscript evidence either omits it or attempts to re-write it into something more intelligible.
But when we add the total years of the kings of Judah as given in the sometimes seemingly gap-ridden narrative, we come a step towards understanding what the authors/redactors of these figures were thinking.
When totalled, the period from the building to the destruction of the first temple is 430 years.
By keeping Saul’s reign short as writ, the period from the Exodus to the first temple is 480 years.
Most readers of the Bible are familiar with these numbers. But what is their significance in the larger scheme of things?
Counting back from the Exodus to the birth of Abraham we total 720 years, hence 1200 years from the birth of Abraham to the First Temple.
But to cut to the chase (with an acknowledged debt to Thompson):
Creation to the Flood: 1656 years
Creation to the birth of Abraham: 1946 years
Creation to the Exodus: 2666 years (= two thirds of 4000)
Creation to the First Temple: 3146 years
Creation to the destruction of temple: 3576 years
Creation to the edict of Cyrus (538 b.c.e.) to build second temple: 3626 years
and finally finally, by adding a “remaining” 375 years . . .
Creation to the rededication of the temple (163 b.c.e.) by Judas Maccabee: 4000 years
(The Book of Jeremiah contains a different chronology from this one, since it assigns 70 years of exile instead of 50. There is evidence that different schools of redactors have attempted to introduce varying chronologies.)
The artificial design of the numbers of kings and their reigns in the biblical history is further underscored by the fact that
The books of Kings list twenty kings after Solomon in each of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Now, the kingdom of Judah lasted over a century longer than Israel, which makes this equivalence very curious, not to say suspicious. (p.26)
(Davies also observes that in each dynasty it was “coincidentally” the 7th reign that introduces an evil woman.)
I have just completed Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution. Loved just about all of it, but a few particular themes have left their mark in my mind more than others.
1. The idea of essentialism. We think of dogs and pigs and fish as having an essential character of dogs and pigs and fish. This is, after all, at the very heart of basic concept building from our earliest years that equips us with the tools we need to get by in the world. (Dawkins traces the notion back to Plato — who was of course the arch essentialist with his theory of Ideas (Essences?) — but I see the idea as having a more immediate necessity for our mental makeup.)
But we are like a mayfly trying to make sense of the world in its short 30 minute to 24 hour lifespan. While we can see changes in dog shapes we cannot expand our faculties far enough to see how what appears to be essentially a dog now was a million years earlier something we would not call a dog at all. Yet in the meantime, the chain from that earlier non-dog to our “essential” dog is smooth and we could never find a spot where one animal was a dog and the preceding one wasn’t. Every animal next in line would be classified as a natural offspring of its parent. The differences from one generation to the next would never be so great as to prove otherwise. It is only when we look back through incomprehenible millions of years that we can see that there have been such dramatic changes. Slightest changes (that would never be so great as to enable us to say a parent gave birth to a different species) accumulated over millions of years really can lead to the appearance of something quite different from what was in the family tree at the beginning.
The corollary of this concept is that change does not occur at the outward level of appearance, but at the embryological level. So a lizard like thing 50 million years ago might have two offspring, and each one of those another offspring, and no-one would have been able to see anything about them that made any of them a different species. But one of those final offspring would be the progenitor of what was to become a new species. But for this to occur there would have to be a geographical separation of some of that offspring’s descendants in order to narrow the range of genetic mix — either by being swept on a log to another land mass, or changes from earthquake etc.
But getting around our presumptions that each species has a certain “essential” character to it that sets it within the boundaries of that species is something that one can understand makes the idea of evolution difficult for anyone not familiar with the evidence.
2. Dating the rocks and fossils. I once was led to believe that evolutionists were so dumb that they failed to acknowledge that their methods of dating were circular. Rocks were dated by the fossils in them and fossils were dated by the rocks that housed them. Dawkins trashes this nonsense completely by discussing lucidly the wide range of dating techniques used by archaeologists and paleontologists, and how they are used for cross checking and correcting each other. For God to have somehow changed so many laws of nature after the flood to make the whole gammut of these different clocks all get out of whack to mislead us to thinking that the earth’s age is in billions of years is a bit much to swallow.
I had not fully appreciated the UNimportance of the fossil record for establishing the fact of evolution. Not that there isn’t an abundance of fossil evidence, especially for humans. But even if there were no fossils surviving we would be compelled to believe in evolution nonetheless. By comparing the structures of species around the world, and examining their geographical locations, it is clear that the evidence points to common ancestors of species (and a common ancestor of all life) and non-random natural selection. (Fossils are still important, of course, for understanding the pathways of evolution.)
One creationist in the film, Voyage that Shook the World (link is to my earlier blogpost), argued that because some finches on Galapagos Islands changed very rapidly, we ought to see them as evidence for a young earth and recent creation. Yet Dawkins cites several examples of rapid evolution alongside more common glacial changes.
Gilad Atzmon’s analysis of the Zionism strikes harmonious chords with other analyses of the psychology of fundamentalist Christianity, in particular with the latter’s self identity being grounded in a sense of natural worthlessness (consequence of sin) and in their belief that they can only become “whole” through fantasies that view others as inferior or worthless or evil. Compare the founding “ideals” of Zionism which include a desire to become “ordinary humans”, as if their self identity does not otherwise permit them them to see themselves as such.
Gilad Atzmon – the Wikipedia article
Gilad Atzmon’s website (including other articles)
Interpreting the Zionist Dream
By Gilad Atzmon
Early Zionism was indeed a cheerful dream, it was all about the transformation of the ‘Jew’ into a ‘civilised, respectful and authentic human being’. The founders of Zionism were inspired by the notions of ‘people like any other people’ and ‘nation amongst nations’. Reading early Zionists such as Nordau, Borochov and Gordon provides us with some very contemptuous references to Jewish character and identity that would make Nazi ideology look mildly liberal.
However, one is advised to take a short break for a second and to contemplate critically over the above Zionist dream. One may wonder what kind of people dream of ‘becoming human beings’. Can anyone imagine a French, English or Chinese man or woman who dreams of becoming an ordinary ‘human’? We can easily think of oppressed human beings who demand to be treated as humans (Palestinians, Civil Rights movements, anti Apartheid and so on). Yet, the Zionist dream is rather different. It is not just about the desire for recognition or equality, it is not just about being treated appropriately, it is also a dream of ‘self-transformation’. In fact, it is all about a miraculous metamorphosis from a morbid ‘abnormal’ state of being into an acceptable decent human form.
Within the context of a fictional fable we can easily imagine a cow that fantasises to become a dairy farmer, a pig who ‘dies to’ become a Kosher schnitzel, a snake who aspires to take over the Labour party and then to launch a new Zionist illegal war. And yet, it is pretty unusual to think of people who have managed to develop an aspiration to become ‘ordinary humans’.
An intelligible way to explain or interpret that very unusual dream is probably to assume that those who succumb to the Zionist dream are those who happen to believe that, as far as their natural state of being is concerned, they are indeed remotely human. One would rightly assume that those who dream to become humans must be convinced that humanity is somehow not exactly a characteristic that they happen to possess.
Yesterday during a talk at Librairie Résistances, Paris (a fund raising event for Gaza) I was asked for my interpretation of Israeli ‘evolving barbarism’, how is it possible that 84% of the Israelis supported the IDF genocidal crime in Gaza last December. “In order to understand how these Israeli murderous practices emerged” I said, “all we have to do is to trace back and reread the early Zionist ideologists.” We can easily learn from Zionist thinkers about their ‘dream’ and their vision of their fellow brothers. They, the founders of modern Jewish nationalism happened to admit somehow that something was totally corrupted within the Jewish identity, culture and character. However, they genuinely believed that it was amendable.
Zionism was there to bring about a new Jew, a civilised productive human being. It was indeed a very wet and epic dream. As an Israeli youngster I myself succumbed to this dream. I tended to believe that Israel was ‘my’ historic land, I regarded the Biblical protagonists as my direct ancestors. I was sure that, at least in the case of the so called ‘first Israelis’, the ideological transplant operation was a great success. We, the young Israeli natives tended to believe that we were all nothing less than a success story of ‘modified-civilised-humanist-secular-beings’.
Needless to say that the history of Palestine, the Palestinians and the Nakba was totally hidden from us. We didn’t see the Palestinians around us either, we were hardly aware of their suffering not to say their cause. We were in fact totally blind. We tended also to believe that our army was the ‘most humanist army around’. We grew up with the ‘1967 Victorious Diary’, a legendary chunky photo album every Israeli held in a prominent location on his book shelve. There in that glossy propaganda book an Israeli soldier was giving his water to an Egyptian prisoner. We regarded him as a symbol of our people’s endorsement of universal humanism. We were obviously not aware of the horrendous fact that the Sinai Desert was actually a slaughter field for hundreds of Egyptian POWs. Why didn’t we know? This in itself is a very good question. Our fathers who fought in this war must have known something but they kept quiet. Our parents who witnessed the 1948 convoys of Palestinians refugees should have known something about the Nakba but they somehow kept quiet. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t just our parents, we followed the exact same pattern. Once we ourselves matured into IDF soldiers, we did exactly the same, we turned a blind eye (1982 in Lebanon). And this has never changed. The Israeli moral awakening has never happened. By now I allow myself to argue that it won’t happen. The Zionist dream is just too comfortable. After more than one hundred years of moral phantasmic delusion the Israelis are deeply stuck in an ethical coma.
The Zionist dream of a ‘humanist metamorphosis’ has never matured into reality or practice. Quite the opposite, Israelis and Zionists have learned to see themselves through a phantasmic illusionary prism. Rather than being transformed into humanists for real, they have become ‘leading humanists’ in their own extreme judeo-centric dream.
Freud taught us that the dream is there to prolong the sleep: a siren, a baby cry and a dripping tap that takes place in the outside would be incorporated into the dream so we can keep snoozing. The ‘Israeli humanist dream’ operates in a similar manner, it is there to prolong the Zionist snore, it is there to keep Jews aloof to the crimes that are committed by their state, and in their names. The disturbances that come from the ‘outside world’ such as the Goldstone report or Ahmadinejad’s valid criticisms are incorporated into their dream as ‘white noise’ motivated by ‘pathological antisemitism’. Though in reality the Jewish state is barbarian with no comparison, in their dream, it is nothing but ‘business as usual’.
The daily reality of Israeli barbarism in Palestine should bring us back to elaborate over the Zionist dream of transformation. In spite of the great promise, the Jewish state has failed to become a ‘nation like other nations’. Similarly, the Zionist people are not exactly ‘people like other people’ for no other people approve genocide collectively.
The Jewish state that was supposed to be a celebration of identity transformation became instead the ultimate embodiment of the morbid symptoms Zionism was there to heal. Israel has already managed to surround itself by gigantic ghetto walls, it spits fire and WMD on its indigenous population. It locks millions in concentration camps and starves them. As bizarre as it may be, only in the face of Israeli colossal barbarism, can one adequately understand the full meaning of the irony of the Zionist dream of humanist metamorphosis.
Zionism was doomed to fail: it is a blood related project, it is racially orientated and it is supremacist to the bone. The Zionist dream has become a true devastating nightmare for real: the Golem* Jewish State wakes up every morning to commit more and more crimes in the name of the Jewish people. With an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear bombs and motivated by a phantasmic Holocaust religion that preaches nothing but vengeance, there is no greater danger to humanity, humanism and our civilization than Israel and its lobbies around the world.
All I have to say is beware!
*Golem – a Yiddish Frankenstein
It is encouraging to be reminded that Christianity is not uniformly pro-Zionist-Israel. I would rather that those opposed to it pushed more substantial flesh and blood reasons for their critique than the medieval notion of religious heresy, but at least tiny glimpses of some of the flesh and blood human reasons for opposing it are captured in Charles’ Carlson’s article, The Unacceptable Cost of Judeo-Christianity; Its Legacy of Pain.
Gosh darnit, it is really is gobsmacking to read how so very slight, narrow and US-centric are the human costs cited in this article. But any effort from within “the belly of the beast” addressing an audience with little access to an international perspective probably should be applauded. (My personal energies will be directed in support for the likes of the ISM.)