2021-08-08

Climactic Advent of the Messiah (Charbonnel contd)

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by Neil Godfrey

Nanine Charbonnel’s next chapter addresses the Jewish origin of the Passion of Jesus, or the climax of the gospel narrative: “sacrifice and the glory of the cross”. Here much material I have covered in other posts is discussed so this will be a quicker write up for me than the previous three posts.

The coming of the messiah was understood to be the sign that evil had reached its climax and with the messiah’s arrival the world was to begin being turned back to righteousness.

End-time geography

NC speaks of the gospel setting of the “eschatological geography”: Bethlehem is necessary as the birthplace of the messiah according to the prophet, and it was from there that the first David was anointed, but Jerusalem, the “city of peace”, was the prophesied focus of the final battle. The reference to “beyond the Jordan” at the opening scene brings to mind the deliverer named Joshua/Jesus, the one to whom YHWH says, “Moses my servant is dead, it is up to you to cross the Jordan and bring the people into the Promised Land.” Twelve men were chosen to open the way and the moment was memorialized by twelve stones (Joshua 1:2; 3:12; 4:3)

Subsequently in the narrative we find Jesus crossing the lake or “sea” of Galilee which has been understood to represent Jesus taking his salvation to the gentiles and bringing Jew and gentile into a unity. (Cf an earlier post, The story of Jesus: History or Theology?). Galilee itself has significance as an end-time setting being the place of prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2, as made explicit in Mathew 4:13-16.

End-time Elijah and miracles

Other signs of the end-time setting of the gospels: John the Baptist is depicted as the new Elijah prophesied to appear at the end times. The miracles of Jesus themselves are the signs of the new age e.g. Isaiah 35, in addition to repeating the miracles of Moses, Elijah, Elisha. Certainly it is evident to readers of Isaiah 35 that we are reading metaphors of spiritual revival but it is also not difficult to see many of the miracles in the gospels being symbolic of conversions of the gentiles, spiritual awakening and salvation, and so forth. Even more mundane events such as the controversy over the plucking of wheat on the sabbath cease to pose any historical problems when we read them as metaphors (e.g. the removal of legalistic boundaries to the partaking of the bread or law/word of God.) Several of the miracles point to the healing or salvation of gentiles (e.g. the leper, the child or servant, the centurion).

The Lord’s Prayer is another eschatological passage. The sanctification of the name of God is an end-time event (Isaiah 30:27; 59:19) and the request for daily bread speaks of the time when the new manna, the spiritual law of God, will be delivered daily. The Kingdom to come has begun to arrive already with the advent of Jesus.

End-time entry into Jerusalem

Continue reading “Climactic Advent of the Messiah (Charbonnel contd)”


2021-08-07

Only One Explanation: Paul Believed in a Divine Christ “Before Jesus”

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by Neil Godfrey

There remains only one explanation: Paul believed in such a celestial being, in a divine Christ, before he believed in Jesus. Paul, by William Wrede

I found this little book of particular interest not because of the ideas themselves but because of who wrote them. William Wrede is best known for his study of the Gospel of Mark, The Messianic Secret. I was unaware until recently that he also wrote a book about Paul. It’s available on archive.org — http://archive.org/details/Paulpaulus The link is to the English language translation. (It’s not a long book: 180 somewhat small pages only a light population of words on each.)

Wrede cannot accept that Paul himself arrived at all of his concepts and theology relating to Christ simply from meditating on what he knew of the historical Jesus. Even the ethics that Paul teaches derive from Judaism and not from Jesus, he explains. From the reports of the life of a man who existed only a few years earlier it is inconceivable, Wrede argues, that Paul could have arrived at his vision of the celestial pre-existence of the risen Jesus or so magnified the stories of the mortal man that he imagined him as a “superhuman Son of God”.

There remains only one explanation: Paul believed in such a celestial being, in a divine Christ, before he believed in Jesus. Until he became a Christian it seemed to him sacrilege to call Jesus the Christ. This man did not answer at all to the divine figure of Christ which Paul bore within him. But in the moment of conversion, when Jesus appeared before him in the shining glory of his risen existence, Paul identified him with his own Christ, and straightway transferred to Jesus all the conceptions which he already had of the celestial being—for instance, that he had existed before the world and had taken part in its creation. The man Jesus was really, therefore, only the wearer of all those mighty predicates which had already been established; but the bliss of the apostle lay in this, that he could now regard what had hitherto been a mere hope, as a tangible reality which had comeinto the world. Here again we see the great importance ofthe fact that he had not known Jesus. Intimate disciples could not so readily believe that the man with whom they had sat at table in Capernaum, or sailed on the Lake of Galilee, was the creator of the world. But in Paul’s way there was no such obstacle.

If Paul was acquainted with this divine Christ before his conversion, there must have beencircles in Judaism which held the same belief. But can such a belief in this field be really authenticated? So much is certain, that Jewish apocalyptic books are really cognizant of a Messiah, who before his appearance lives in heaven, and is more exalted than the angels themselves. This is a datum of the highest importance. Whether, however, every feature in the Pauline Christ can be explained by means of the extant apocalyptic accounts of Messiah, is a question we shall not here attempt to decide. Investigation is only now beginning to master the problem aright. The immediate point of supreme importance is the perception of this fact: that the Pauline Christ cannot be understood unless we assume that Paul, while still a Pharisee, possessed a number of definite conceptions concerning a divine being, which were afterwards transferred to the historical Jesus?

So how did it all happen in Wrede’s view?

First comes the idea of Christ. On this the whole conception of the redemption rests. For the death and resurrection of Christ are not regarded as the experiences of a man, but as the experiences of an incarnate divine being. It is upon this that their universal, world-redeemed significance depends. The key to the problem, in itself so enigmatical, why the Son of God became a man, was found by Paul in this twofold event. The idea of the redemption itself was again determined by the conceptions which the apostle brought with him. He expected his Christ to vanquish the evil powers of the world, including the demons, and to inaugurate a new condition of things. The accomplishmentof this task was found, where but in the two events of salvation? How Paul came to find it there must remain an open question. Probably these thoughts had long been definitely formulated in his mind before he was led by polemical exigencies to mint the doctrine of justification.

Not that Wrede was allowed the last word. As we would expect, others disagreed. For a two-part critical engagement with Wrede’s ideas see

Morgan, W. “The Jesus Paul Controversy 1.” The Expository Times 20, no. 1 (October 1908): 9–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/001452460802000102.

———. “The Jesus Paul Controversy 2.” The Expository Times 20, no. 2 (November 1908): 55–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/001452460802000202.


2021-08-06

Apophenia — perceiving patterns that don’t actually exist and more

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by Neil Godfrey

 

Klaus Conrad (1905-1961)

The German psychologist Klaus Conrad called this premonitory state apophenia, defined as perceiving patterns that don’t actually exist and referring them back to an unseen authority who must be pulling the strings. It’s a theory he developed as an army medical officer specializing in head traumas under the Third Reich.

Today, it’s analogized to political conspiracy thinking.

. . . leading us to….

The conspiracy theorist will believe that institutions can be understood completely as the result of conscious design; and as collectives, he usually ascribes to them a kind of group-personality, treating them as conspiring agents, just as if they were individual men. As opposed to this view, the social theorist should recognize that the persistence of institutions and collectives creates a problem to be solved in terms of an analysis of individual social actions and their unintended (and often unwanted) social consequences, as well as their intended ones.

. . . . The social theorist is a public thinker, oriented toward improving society; the conspiracy theorist is a victim of institutions that lie beyond their control.

Edward Snowden, from Conspiracy Part 2

We talk about conspiracy theories in order to avoid talking about conspiracy practices, which are often too daunting, too threatening, too total. — Conspiracy Part 1

2021-08-04

Jesus: Incarnation of Written and Oral Torah. part 3 of 3 (Charbonnel contd)

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by Neil Godfrey

3. The Incarnation of the two forms of the Torah, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah

Nanine Charbonnel stresses the Jewishness — the “Jewish rootedness” — of the interpretations that have been discussed in this series of posts. In the words (translated) of Jacqueline Genot-Bismuth,

The principle of the dissociation of the Message and the Messenger at work with Moses (Moses receives a text to be transcribed and transmitted: the  “Law of Moses” is the Law or Torah written by the intermediary Moses) is substituted by a new logic of the combining of the Message and the Messenger: according to the teaching of Jesus written by John, God does not send a new revealed book, a new written text, but a revealed man-book, a revelation in act and not in writing, rather like having a materialization of that prophetic dream of Ezekiel [. . where the prophet ingests the megilah [scroll], thus making it his living substance, his … “flesh and blood”.

(Genot-Bismuth, Un homme nommé Salut, p. 222. My highlighting in all quotations)

Jesus is not the bearer of the new revelation; rather, he is himself, in person, the revelation. Jesus/Joshua means “Yahweh saves” and the Word of “Yahweh Saves” is the totality of the word of God in one’s being, life and acts.

We have seen that there is nothing novel about the idea of the incarnation, in some manner, of the Torah in Jewish thought. So what makes Christianity distinctive? The answer that NC offers is the incarnation of the two types of Torah, the written and the oral.

In Pharisaic Judaism great emphasis was placed on the inseparability of the Oral and Written Torah. For the Pharisees (we are going back into the BCE era) it was necessary for an Oral Torah to explain how to apply the Written code in concrete situations of everyday life. The Oral Torah was a way of maintaining the relevance of the Written Torah. The Oral Torah, it can be said, “manifests” or renders “visible” the Written law in daily life, making it a living code of conduct. In this way we find in rabbinic writings that every Jew was encouraged to become “a living Torah”. Indeed, when the Torah enters the flesh in Israel then the word of God finds its fulfilment. (Lorsque la Torah prend chair en Israël, elle accomplit le dynamisme de la Parole. — Massonnet, p. 286)

We have evidence that the relationship between Oral and Written Law was being debated in Palestine in the decades around the turn from BCE to CE. One example is a story of two sages from that era, Hillel and Shamai (only indirectly referenced by NC via Jean-Christophe Attias in Les Juifs et la Bible):

The Sages taught: There was an incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai. The gentile said to Shammai: How many Torahs do you have? He said to him: Two, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The gentile said to him: With regard to the Written Torah, I believe you, but with regard to the Oral Torah, I do not believe you. Convert me on condition that you will teach me only the Written Torah. Shammai scolded him and cast him out with reprimand. The same gentile came before Hillel, who converted him and began teaching him Torah. On the first day, he showed him the letters of the alphabet and said to him: Alef, bet, gimmel, dalet. The next day he reversed the order of the letters and told him that an alef is a tav and so on. The convert said to him: But yesterday you did not tell me that. Hillel said to him: You see that it is impossible to learn what is written without relying on an oral tradition. Didn’t you rely on me? Therefore, you should also rely on me with regard to the matter of the Oral Torah, and accept the interpretations that it contains.

(Shabbat, 31a)

Among these Jews the Oral Law was deemed to be a divine revelation that Israel alone had the privilege of receiving; the Written Law was said to be a sealed book to anyone who does not read it by the lights of the Oral Law; and the Oral and Written Law are not two Laws but one and the same law of which only Israel holds the key. (Attias, p. 140)

The Qumran library yields further evidence of discussion of these concepts. In the Damascus Document we read of an eschatological figure who appears to have prophetic and messianic traits, one called Interpreter of the Law, who :

The books of the Torah are equivalent to the booth of the king as it says, And “I will raise up the fallen booth of David” (Amos 9:11). The king refers to the <prince> of the congregation and the Kiyyun of their images are the books of the prophets whose words Israel has despised. The star is the Interpreter of the Torah who is to come to Damascus, as it is written, “A star has stepped forth from Jacob and a scepter has arisen from Israel” (Num 24:17).

(CD 7:15-20)

Some have interpreted this figure as one comparable to a new Moses who gives interpretations of Torah in his lifetime and again as an end-time Elijah who will return to teach righteousness.

Again from Qumran, the Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4

[But the righteous shall live by his faith] (2:4b).

…. Interpreted, this concerns all those who observe the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of judgement because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness. . . . (The words of the prophet are understood in terms of a qualified relationship to an exceptional person, the supreme guide of the “community” or Teacher of Righteousness (probably a fictitious figure).

(André Paul, Qumrân et les Esséniens, p. 102)

NC follows André Paul and others who view the Teacher of Righteousness as a personification of the pious study of Scriptures or Torah. The process followed is midrash, built upon new understandings emerging from interpretations of the Law. Such a process would make a strictly legalistic application of the Torah impossible, as we see in the example of Hillel who is reputed to have taught a merciful application of the Law.

Personification … of Exegesis Itself?

NC refers to the insights of the Jewish scholar Armand Abécassis who, while believing in a historical Jesus, ironically provides insights that offer every reason to understand Jesus was a midrashic fabrication. Abécassis explains that the Voice at the Revelation at Mount Sinai was needed to render God’s meaning in language in order to be understood. Moses was not the voice nor the language, otherwise he would be a prophet like any other. Instead, Moses is the mediator or link between the voice — he is neither the voice nor the message of the voice.

Contrast Jesus (continuing the exposition of Abécassis): As a divine figure he is necessarily beyond all human language and would himself be the voice itself. But he is also a human figure, and so he translates the divine voice into human language and meaning so that his message can be understood.

What would his listeners hear when they heard him speak?

Continue reading “Jesus: Incarnation of Written and Oral Torah. part 3 of 3 (Charbonnel contd)”


2021-08-03

Jesus: Incarnation of Written and Oral Torah. part 2 of 3 (Charbonnel contd)

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by Neil Godfrey

Nanine Charbonnel’s thesis: Jesus of the gospels originated as a natural product of Jewish interpretation of their Scriptures and belief that the Divine Presence was to be found in the words of the Torah. The Oral Torah was understood to teach how to apply the Written Torah and Jesus was created as the personification of both. Jesus was also the personification of Israel, as earlier posts have demonstrated. Further, if the body of Israel itself was understood in certain quarters to have embodied the Torah (as there is some reason to believe) then the events of 70 CE have significant power to explain the death and resurrection narrative.

2. Personification of the Torah

Making the Voice Visible — and Personified

How can one “see” a voice? We know that at Sinai the Israelites were said to have “seen” the voice of God. Here is a later rabbinic account of what the Jewish exegetes made of this passage in Exodus:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the Torah at Sinai, He showed wonders of wonders to Israel. How is it? The Holy One, blessed be He would speak and the voice would go out and travel the whole world: . . . . And it is stated, “And all the people saw the sounds (literally, voices Exodus 20:18)” – it is not written, “[voice],” here, but rather, “[voices].” Rabbi Yochanan said, “The voice would go out and divide into seventy voices for the seventy languages, so that all the nations would hear. — Exodus Rabbah 5:9

We recall Pentecost in Acts 2. We also recall the play on hearing and seeing when Paul hears a voice but does not see and when the Emmaus disciples hear the voice of Jesus but only “see” him as he vanishes.

For Nanine Charbonnel and her sources, there is nothing remarkably strange about Jewish interpreters imagining an incarnated voice or inventing a character to represent the word (and law and wisdom) of God.

A passage in Numbers may at a glance seem straightforward to many of us but it evoked serious commentary among Jewish exegetes:

When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim — Numbers 7:89

The earliest Jewish commentary (Sifre) on this passage found much room for interpretation. God is obviously meant by “the voice” but the context of this verse is far removed from the mention of God. Azzan Yadin, cited by NC, explains:

Ha-katuv is essentially a rabbinic synonym for torah but with the difference that here it refers to Scripture as an agent that “acts” in a manner or “does” something in a way we imagine a person acting or doing — in this case “teaching” those it meets through reading and hearing.

The isolation of Numbers 7:89 from any context makes it impossible to link “with him” to God in a direct, grammatical sense, since God was last mentioned in Numbers 7:11, almost eighty verses earlier and is not the preceding noun. Since, grammatically speaking, neither the voice nor the pronominal “with him” necessarily refers to God, the assertion that the speaker in Numbers 7:89 is God is ultimately theological, not grammatical. The assertion is also common sense; after all, who but God would be speaking to Moses in the Tent of Meeting? But common sense is not always the best guide in these situations, so it is worth noting that from a strictly grammatical perspective, it is possible to read Numbers 7:89 as claiming that Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the same entity that spoke to him, namely “the voice,” understood as a divine intermediary.

Whether or not this is a plausible interpretation of Numbers 7:89 is not relevant to the present discussion. The argument is that (plausible or not) this is the interpretation found in the Sifre Numbers. Note how the biblical “voice” is picked up by the Sifre’s gloss:

Numbers 7:89 “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice …”
Sifre Numbers “HA-KATUV [see box insert above] states that Moses would enter into the Tent of Meeting and stand there, and the voice descended from highest heavens to between the cherubs, and he heard the voice speaking to him from within.”

The Sifre Numbers is alive to God’s absence from Numbers 7:89 and reproduces this absence in the gloss — Moses hears “the voice” speaking in the Tent. More importantly, the Sifre provides additional information on the voice, information unrelated to the contradictory verses: upon Moses’ entry into the Tent of Meeting, the voice “descended from the highest heavens” — where it presumably resides at other times. If the intention of the [passage] were merely to argue that Moses encounters God inside the Tent of Meeting, why use a prooftext that does not mention God but only a voice, and then — compounding what should be an unfortunate omission — make no reference to God in the [passage] but rather pick up on the voice leitmotiv? Because that is precisely the point of the [passage]: a voice, a divine voice that regularly resides in the highest heavens, descends to speak with Moses in the Tent of Meeting, serving as an intermediary and thus allowing God to remain divorced from human affairs.

Can we imagine a voice, a voice alone, descending and speaking as a mediator with Moses? That is what is understood here.

The Incarnation as the Personification of Scripture

Azzan Yadin is discussing the midrashic method of interpreting Scriptures that was practised by the rabbis from the late first to early second centuries CE, or from the era when the New Testament literature was in development. The name associated with this method was Rabbi Ishmael and Yadin’s discussion is found in Scripture as Logos: Rabbi Ishmael and the Origins of Midrash. I quote some interesting sections directly related to the personification of the Voice and Scripture.

The following section demonstrates how the rabbinic personification of the Law as a Teacher has remarkable affinities with the NT idea of Christ being the representative and teacher of the Law. What is most noteworthy here, for me, is the support for Nanine Charbonnel’s case that early Christian interpretations of Scripture grew out of Jewish interpretations that personified Scripture.

Thus Clement writes: “With the greatest clearness, accordingly, the Logos has spoken respecting Himself by Hosea: ‘I am your instructor’ (Hos 5:2).” Moreover, it is worth noting that Clement’s terminology is also similar to Rabbi Ishmael’s. For instance, Clement states that Christ’s coming could be known to the reader of the Hebrew Bible prior to the event since ή γραφή παιδαγωγήσει “the written [Scripture] will instruct [you].” The use of ήγραφή (the written) for Scripture is not common among early Christian writers. The singular η’ γραφή usually refers to a verse or phrase while the plural form at άι γραφαί (or άι’ιεραί γραφαί, the holy writings) refers to Scripture as a whole. Clement, however, regularly uses ή γραφή as Scripture. Coupled with the verbal predicate παιδαγωγήσει (will teach, or, will instruct), the result is strikingly similar to the “Ishmaelian” “ha-katuv [the written] teaches” ( הכתוב מלמד ).

The issue of Christ does, of course, represent a formidable theological boundary between Rabbi Ishmael and Clement, but should not obscure the very significant hermeneutical similarities. Clement’s full and consistent identification of the instructor with Christ marks him as the apogee of the Christos Didaskalos tradition; Rabbi Ishmael’s identification of the instructor with personified Scripture suggests a structurally similar Nomos [=Torah] Didaskalos tradition.

* * *

In his important article on Jewish binitarianism, Daniel Boyarin argues against the venerable idea that the Rabbis rejected divine intermediation in general and the Logos in particular. More accurately Boyarin shows that the eventual rejection is best understood against the backdrop of earlier shared theological traditions and language, largely excised from rabbinic literature, but still visible as a palimpsest beneath later editorial strata, or in rabbinically marginal works such as the Targumim. I would argue that the parallel between the understanding of Christ in the Christos Didaskalos tradition and Rabbi Ishmael’s representation of Scripture as personified teacher — Nomos Didaskalos — is part of such a shared reservoir of theological language and imagery.

Continue reading “Jesus: Incarnation of Written and Oral Torah. part 2 of 3 (Charbonnel contd)”


2021-08-02

Jesus: Incarnation of Written and Oral Torah. part 1 of 3 (Charbonnel contd)

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by Neil Godfrey

Back to blogging. I have been working for some time on tracking down sources behind several publications, one of them Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier. This post is the first of three that wrap up the third chapter of part 2; it is in this chapter that NC brings out the full meaning of the title of her book — figure de papier — the full meaning of which the English translation “paper figure” fails to impart.

1. Incarnation and Transforming Figures of Speech into “Real” Persons

Wisdom in Person

Most of us are well aware that in the Bible Wisdom is often portrayed figure crying out to a deaf humanity to rescue it from its folly. In the first nine chapters of Proverbs we read that Wisdom is begotten rather than created, just as another figure in the New Testament will be said to be begotten of God. More than that, Wisdom is portrayed existing alongside God before creation itself. She stamps her mark on all of creation.

For Nanine Charbonnel, passages like these about Wisdom very likely point us towards understanding the way gospel figures were invented and the way Christ is represented in the New Testament epistles and book of Revelation.

Compare Wisdom in Jewish Scriptures and related literature with the way Christ appears in the gospels.

The Gospel of John opens with Jesus “tabernacling” or “tenting” among his people, with the tent being a metaphor for flesh. Similarly in Sirach 24:8 we find that Wisdom comes to dwell in a tent in Israel:

Then the Creator of all things gave me [=Wisdom] a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.’ — Sirach 24:8

In Baruch 3:38 Wisdom dwells among men:

Afterwards he was seen upon earth, and conversed with men. — Baruch 3:38

Compare John 1:14

And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle [or dwell] among us . . .

The concept of pre-existing Wisdom, the chief of God’s beings, living or “tabernacling” among her people Israel, reminds us of Jesus Christ, of course. The motifs associated with personified Wisdom are carried through and applied to the figure of Jesus.

Wisdom and the Word of God

Wisdom is not only personified but it is also identified with the divine Word. Like Wisdom, the Word sits on the throne of God; if the Word touches the heavens he/it also moves with the same power on earth. Continue reading “Jesus: Incarnation of Written and Oral Torah. part 1 of 3 (Charbonnel contd)”


2021-07-01

a little break

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by Neil Godfrey

Will be posting here again soon, and regularly again, too. Have been catching up on books and articles that I’ve acquired faster than I can read them — biblical, aboriginal, political, and other. When various changes happening all around settle down I’ll be relaxed enough to sit down and organize more regular posts. So don’t go away thinking I must have died.


2021-06-22

The Incarnation of The Name – Continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Sublime Paper Figure Jesus Christ

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by Neil Godfrey

All posts in this survey of Nanine Charbonnel’s book are archived at  Charbonnel: Jesus Christ sublime figure de papier.

Getting Real

The striking difference between pre-Christian Jewish concepts and those of Christianity is that the latter eschewed abstract notions of messiahs and divine messengers and fleshed them out with names and personalities. Where we read in the Qumran scrolls about a “Teacher of Righteousness”, Priests, Messiahs, Overseers, in the early Christian literature we meet personal names (Jesus, John) and titles (Christ, Baptist) and even signatures (Paul et al.) The new ideas were conveyed as stories, not merely abstract doctrines. Charbonnel cites André Paul, page 84, Qumrân et les Esséniens : l’éclatement d’un dogme:

We were no longer in the theoretical but in the real. We are talking about concrete people, who, moreover, have names. (Original: On n’était plus dans le théorique mais dans le réel. Il s’agit de personnes concrètes, qui de surcroît ont des noms.)

The question is: Were these the names of real people or were they the names of personifications of things to do with God and Israel and that pertain to salvation. Does the name of Jesus enter our history because it was the name of a historical figure or was it born as a personification of the Name of God? In the earlier posts, we saw how Jesus was made the personification of the People of God and of Yahweh on earth, and of the Temple and Glory of the Divine Presence (Shekinah).

Veneration of the Name

Within the heart of the Judaism of the Second Temple was the veneration of the name of God.

The name Jesus, as we know, derives from the Hebrew meaning “It is Yahweh who saves”.

The Jesus of the New Testament, Charbonnel posits, is developed in part from the two other greats named Jesus in the Old Testament.

Jesus I

First, we have Joshua (= Jesus) who led Israel into the Promised Land. Today few of us would connect God’s instruction to Moses about his messenger (commonly translated “angel”) bearing the divine name with Joshua, but we know from the second century Justin that early Christians did make that connection.

Exodus 23:20-21

See, I am sending an angel [= messenger] ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.

Here is Justin’s understanding taken from his Dialogue with Trypho, 75:

Moreover, in the book of Exodus we have also perceived that the name of God Himself which, He says, was not revealed to Abraham or to Jacob, was Jesus, and was declared mysteriously through Moses. Thus it is written:And the Lord spake to Moses, Say to this people, Behold, I send My angel before thy face, to keep thee in the way, to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Give heed to Him, and obey Him; do not disobey Him. For He will not draw back from you; for My name is in Him.Now understand that He who led your fathers into the land is called by this name Jesus, and first called Auses(Oshea). For if you shall understand this, you shall likewise perceive that the name of Him who said to Moses, ‘for My name is in Him,’ was Jesus. For, indeed, He was also called Israel, and Jacob’s name was changed to this also. 

Justin is writing in the second century but his explanation of the choice of the name Jesus does have a “midrashic” rationale.

Jesus II

Then there is another Jesus or Joshua, the high priest who, on his return with his people from the Babylonian exile led them in the reconstruction of the temple.

Zechariah 6:9-11

Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two [roles – Priest and King].’”

Jesus III

The third Joshua/Jesus inherits the roles of the first two.

Acts 2:21

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:13

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Both are quoting Joel.

Joel 2:32

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

To paraphrase Charbonnel, the essence of Christianity is the affirmation that the Lord, the Name of the Lord, and Jesus Christ, are one. In Joel, the call was to invoke the name of the God of the Covenant. This invocation now passes to Jesus because Jesus himself is recognized as the one with the name of God.

The narrative of the Gospel of Luke begins with the name given to the messiah. He was (literally) “called the name” Jesus (Luke 2:21– interlinear). We find the same “called the name” formula for the Davidic Messiah in the Qumran scrolls:

4Q381, fr 15

And I, Your anointed one [=messiah], have come to understand . . . will tell others about You, for You have given me knowledge, and indeed You have endowed me with great insight . . . for I am called by Your name, my God, and for your deliverance . . . . [7-9. Wise, Abegg, Cook]

In 1 Enoch we read that the Name had a pre-existence:

1 Enoch 48:3, 6

Even before the sun and the constellations were created, before the stars of heaven were made, his name was named before the Lord of Spirits. . . . He was chosen and hidden before him before the world was created, and for ever [or, until the coming of the Age].

Paul writes from deep within this cult of the name. See 1 Corinthians 1:2 and in particular,

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus, we recall, was also the personification of the Temple, and also identified with its cornerstone. We find the Name of God at the heart of the Temple and its cornerstone in a later Jewish text that is widely interpreted as an attack on Christianity, the Toledot Yeshu. I quote the relevant passage of the Toledot from Frank Zindler’s The Jesus the Jews Never Knew:

The Robbing of the Shem (the Shem = the Name, the ineffable name of God)

. . . And there was in the sanctuary a foundation-stone — and this is its interpretation: God founded it and this is the stone on which Jacob poured oil — and on it were written the letters of the Shem, and whosoever learned it, could do whatsoever he would. But as the wise feared that the disciples of lsrael might learn them and therewith destroy the world, they took measures that no one should do so.

Brazen dogs were bound to two iron pillars at the entrance of the place of burnt offerings, and whosoever entered in and learned these letters — as soon as he went forth again, the dogs bayed at him; if he then looked at them, the letters vanished from his memory.

The name of Jesus may have been changed to Jeschu to rob him of the letters that would identify the name with that of the Name of Yahweh.

This Jeschu [Jesus] came, learned them, wrote them on parchment, cut into his hip and laid the parchment with the letters therein — so that the cutting of his flesh did not hurt him — then he restored the skin to its place. When he went forth the brazen dogs bayed at him, and the letters vanished from his memory. He went home, cut open his flesh with his knife, took out the writing, learned the letters, went and gathered together three hundred and ten of the young men of Israel. (pp. 428ff)

Here, in an accusation against Christianity, we see Jesus literally “embodying” the perfect Name, although he does so illegitimately. Celsus records a Jew saying something similar — that the name of Jesus had magical power although it was at the behest of demons.

Origen, Contra Celsus, I.6

After this, through the influence of some motive which is unknown to me, Celsus asserts that it is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of [miraculous] power; hinting, I suppose, at the practices of those who expel evil spirits by incantations. And here he manifestly appears to malign the gospel. For it is not by incantations that Christians seem to prevail [over evil spirits], but by the name of Jesus, accompanied by the announcement of the narratives which relate to Him ; for the repetition of these has frequently been the means of driving demons out of men, especially when those who repeated them did so in a sound and genuinely believing spirit. Such power, indeed, does the name of Jesus possess over evil spirits, that there have been instances where it was effectual, when it was pronounced even by bad men, which Jesus Himself taught [would be the case], when He said: “Many shall say to me in that day, In Thy name we have cast out devils, and done many wonderful works.”

Bernadino of Siena with the IHS Christogram

This veneration of the name of Jesus continued throughout the subsequent centuries as witnessed in the lives of saints and the Christian Kabbalists. (See also the history of the name YHSWH – making the divine name pronounceable as Jesus — and the Sator square). Much has been written about the mystic analyses and plays with the divine name YHWH in later times but the point here is that a few of these ideas can be traced back to late antiquity and it is not unreasonable to think that their origins began in at least the gnostic forms of earliest Christianity and early elements of the Jewish religion. I may post some more details about these arcane ideas in a later post or two.

Till then, it is worth noticing that Moses created the name “Joshua” by changing the name of Hoshea to Joshua by placing at its beginning the first letter of the Tetragrammaton, God’s name. (Recall that in the earlier posts of this series that early Jewish scribes (and not only Jewish ones) found mystical significance in letters, their numerical values, puns, and so forth.) It was with the placing of this part of God’s name to Hoshea that the name Joshua was created by Moses to name the man who was to be imbued with the power of God to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

Jesus means “Yahweh saves” but such a form is not unique: the first of the minor prophets, Hosea, means “Yah saves”; Isaiah means “God saves”. We can find other instances, including Jesse and Josiah. Even Judas, from the Judah who sold Joseph, is set against Jesus by the addition of a letter at the end of the letters making up the Tetragrammaton.

The Incarnation as the Descent of the Name of YHWH

To worship YHWH was to worship his Name. The Temple was the dwelling place of his Name – 1 Kings 8:16; Deuteronomy 12:11. YHWH is even called the Name. The leading Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, is a praise of the Name of God: “Hallowed be thy Name”. The name of Jesus is: It is YHWH who saves — the lead figure in the narrative is the one who saves.

The High Priest’s function is to manifest the Name that Saves

Hence Malachi 1:11

My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord Almighty.

On the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur, the day of the Great Pardon, the high priest was said to pronounce the otherwise forbidden name of YHWH in order to remove all sins from Israel. Jesus himself is modelled on the high priest — as we also read in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Citing Christian Amphoux’s La Vie de Jesus, dialogue avec Renan, Charbonnel points out that it was through Joseph that Jesus was descended from David and thus a rightful king who had the potential to replace Herod’s dynasty, while through his mother Mary Jesus was related to John the Baptist, the son of a priest. Hence Jesus had the heritage to become both a political and religious leader. As a future king, he could be seen as a threat to Rome; but if he could also be a high priest then he posed a danger to Herod and his high priest. Machine-translating Amphoux,

James, leader of Jerusalem community: 40s – c 63
Simon, leader from 71 to c 110
Jude, driven from Jerusalem in 135

The dynastic lineage of John and Jesus was well constituted: the brothers of Jesus (Mt 13:55 / Mk 6:3) bear the names of the leaders of the Jerusalem community: James, from the 40s to his death, around 63; Simon, James’ cousin, from 71 to his death around 110; and Jude, driven out of Jerusalem in 135 with the other Jews. “‘

Continuing with Amphoux, at the baptism of Jesus the portrayal of the descent of the dove involves another wordplay if there is a Hebrew source behind it. Again a machine translation:

The image of ‘the descent of the dove’ is a play on the two proper nouns of the narrative: to descend is said in Hebrew y-r-d, and the name of the Jordan comes from this verb; and the dove is y-w-n-h, which gives the name of Jonah, which is an anagram in Greek of the name John (Iôna- / Iôan-). Thus, the two proper names in the story carry a message that is taken up in the image of the dove that descends. But what does this message say? John and Jonah refer to a third name, Onias, which designates the legitimate high priest, deposed in 175 B.C.; and the descent expresses the movement from heaven to earth, by which Jesus is invested with the function of which Onias was robbed. In other words, Jesus is invested as the new legitimate high priest, who is to restore to the Temple the priesthood that has been lost for some two hundred years.

Thus Charbonnel suggests the possibility midrashic elaborations on the Name contributed to the very belief in incarnation itself. We know gematria, finding significance in numerical values of the letters of a word, was a special interest among scribes. One scholar who has delved into possibilities here is Bernard Dubourg. In the first volume of L’invention de Jésus he notes that the Hebrew words for “son” and “messiah” have the same numerical value (52) as that of YHWH when the Tetragrammaton is read with the letters themselves spelled out with their names. The Hebrew form of the name “Jesus” likewise has the same value of 52 but only through “the descent of the vowels” (as the ancient scribes would say), or through the “voice” or “the spirit that gives life” to the consonants.

Another midrashic hypothesis relates to the titulus crucis.

John 19:19-20

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

Charbonnel suggests that here we find another test of the midrashic hypothesis, given that the hypothesis leads us to expect to find clues in the text to alert readers to its midrashic interpretation. One intriguing possibility emerges when Luke’s version is translated into Hebrew:

Luke 23:38

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

In Hebrew: zéh hou’ mélech hayehoudyim.

Now the expression ZéH Hou’ is unique in the whole of the First Testament and is found in 1 Samuel 16:12, when Samuel is to designate the king of Israel as the successor of Saul . . . : Jesse sent for him: he (David) was red-haired, with a beautiful look and a beautiful face. And the Lord said, “Go, anoint him: this is he/the one” . . .  For Luke, this sign declares to those who are willing to understand that Jesus is the king of the Jews designated by God, like David…

Or one can examine the possible Hebrew behind John’s description:

John 19:19

. . . . It read: JESUS  OF NAZARETHTHE KING  OF THE JEWS.

In_Hebrew: Yehôshoua’ Hanazir Wemelekh Hayehoudim
Y H W H

e

 

The name of Jesus is developed from YHWH, and perhaps even the sign on the cross identified YHWH.

The Name in Prophecy

Continue reading “The Incarnation of The Name – Continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Sublime Paper Figure Jesus Christ”


2021-06-19

A Civilisation Quite Unlike Any Other

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by Neil Godfrey

The concluding words of Peter Sutton in his critical response to Dark Emu could have been addressed directly to me:

People keep telling us, even those who are aware of Dark Emu’s many flaws, that at least it has got people thinking about an important subject. We hope their interest continues, and that the tens of thousands who have read the book go beyond it and keep learning more from other sources. So long as Dark Emu is not the agent of their entrenchment in a dogmatic view, that is good. So long as we remain open to debate and a respectful exchange of views, in a shared space and not from behind walls, it is more than good. It is in that spirit that we offer this book to the reader. — Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? p. 201

I confess I was one of the readers of Dark Emu who felt a bit edgy over some of its emphases and its “slightly misdirected” ideological focus but for all of that still found myself saying “I’m glad I read it” and commending it to others. Two scholars, Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, have been much more clear-headed and confronted head-on the book’s often misleading emphases and “quite misdirected” ideological focus.

There is no better condition for relationships than truthfulness. We have tried here to set part of the record straighter than it has become through the popularised mythology of history of the kind found in Dark Emu. We have done so in a positive spirit, but also a corrective one. The Old People—the First Australians—and all of us deserve better than a history that does not respect or do justice to the societies whose economic and spiritual adjustment to their environment lasted so well and so vigorously until the advent of the colonies and the subsequent degradation of much of that environment through land clearing, pastoral stocking, and the spread of feral animals and plants.

Pascoe, by consistently gilding a lily that needs no gilding, suggests that he sees a foraging way of life as inferior. . . . 

. . . .

In this book we have grappled with Dark Emu’s mixture of positive factual information and its tendency to trim the evidence to fit the author’s model, its lack of true scholarship, its ignoring of Aboriginal elders’ knowledge, its disturbing social evolutionist philosophy, and its overwhelming attention to the material aspects of Aboriginal food production to the exclusion of the rich spiritual propagation philosophy of the Old People’s culture. (p. 200)

Years back I found myself impressed with an exhibition at Melbourne’s Museum of Victoria that showed a diorama of Aborigines apparently living in a settled life in stone houses and engaging in complex aquaculture in a part of western Victoria. I have been out of date for many years, not realizing that the message of that exhibition has long been superseded. A chapter by Keryn Walshe reassured me that I was not mistaken in my initial impressions but also made it clear that my source was wrong:

The vision of ‘hundreds of people living in villages’ had gone unquestioned and become all-pervasive, as witnessed in a former diorama at the Museum of Victoria that depicted a scene at Lake Condah with the caption: ‘The Kerrup-Jmara did not need to move house, and their villages of stone were probably permanent. Several hundred people lived in some villages.’ This exhibit was complemented by educational resources designed by VAS, conveying the same image of permanent stone houses set out in villages. (p. 183)

Further studies have shown that stones were used for a few dwellings but only as supports for wooden posts, and the dwellings were not occupied permanently either. One of the main criticisms of Sutten and Walshe is that Bruce Pascoe, the author of Dark Emu, has singled out the exceptional that has been found in one or two places and presented it in such a way as to hide what was far more typical of Aboriginal ways of living.

Pascoe’s quotations from explorer diaries were some of the most interesting highlights of Dark Emu. It was disappointing, therefore, to learn from chapter 11 of Farmers of Hunter-Gatherers? that some of those quotations trimmed off sentences gave a somewhat different picture from the one Dark Emu painted. Similarly for some of his quotations from more scholarly articles that pointed to certain objects (a hoe, some dwellings), with good reason, not being of Aboriginal origin at all.

The term “village” is itself problematic. Pascoe quotes from explorer diaries records of coming across large clusters of dwellings. In my own mind, I reconciled these accounts with what I knew of at least some sort of nomadic or wandering existence by noting that the same descriptions appeared to assume that their dwellers had gone elsewhere at the time. Sutten and Walshe make it clear that the word village implies a permanent settlement, and even a permanent settlement plus, with markets, special public purpose spaces, etc. A more correct term would be “encampment”. Ditto for the storages of food that the explorers tended to come across. Such storages were far more likely to be kept for occasions when multiple tribes visited the site for, say, annual ceremonies.

I found myself nodding in full agreement when Sutton and Walshe drew attention to Pascoe’s implications throughout Dark Emu that the image of Aboriginal life as “merely” “hunters and gatherers” suggests to us today that they were inferior to other peoples. Pascoe appears to be trying to rebut a pervasive racist view of Aboriginal inferiority but does so by trying to show how “like white Europeans” or “like Chinese” they were technical nous. As Sutton demonstrates most thoroughly, Pascoe is charging a windmill:

How, then, can Pascoe defend his argument that Aboriginal people in popular imagination subscribe to ‘a belief in the brutish description of Aboriginals that Australian history insists we accept’ (page 100)? Who are these insisting ogres? Isolated pub racists? So-called ‘culture warriors’? Australian history writing, including the TV versions of it, moved way beyond that colonial-era delusion long ago. The multiple volumes of historical correctives to colonial frontier ‘pioneer’ mythology published by Henry Reynolds and other historians since the 1970s are in thousands of households. Their role in correcting the jingoistic settler histories of the past, in which ‘brave pioneers’ battled against ‘a harsh environment’ and ‘troublesome blacks’, was recognised and summarised accurately by Marcia Langton in her prologue to First Australians in 2008:

In the past half century; as a new generation of historians has interpreted the records, a dazzling view of Australian life has emerged. Instead of the drudges who peopled the pages of the old books, convicts, women, children. African-American slaves, adventurous European aristocrats, artists, con-men, bushrangers and thousands of Indigenous people have assumed more detailed, nuanced and intriguing personas, and their endeavours have become better understood. The ridiculous and audacious, as well as the common or garden, activities of ordinary and extraordinary’ people have replaced the monotonous tales of the March of Civilisation.

Langton then added that only ‘a handful of historians, mostly amateurs, persist in vilifying all the original inhabitants of this continent and their descendants’, but she also said their works were very popular with those who ‘prefer to imagine the Australia of the old school books’. (pp. 139f)

Dark Emu sends the message that readers must think in dichotomous terms: either “mere” hunting and gathering or farmers and agriculturalists. The label “hunter-gatherer” in the context of the debates arising from Pascoe’s book (with its “culture war” opponents) is misleading, as Sutton explains:

Dark Emu sets up a simple distinction between agriculturalists living in ‘permanent housing’ and the ‘hapless wandering’ of the ‘mere hunter-gatherer, choosing to conclude that the former is the truth and the latter a widely accepted he about Aboriginal Australia before colonisation. There seems to be an assumption here that subsistence based on hunting and gathering is itself not complex. This is far from the truth.

Setting aside the various proactive ways in which Aboriginal people at conquest modified their environment and its resources, the hunting, fishing and gathering economy was far more complex than might be imagined from the word ‘mere’. As an economic process it was at least as complex as gardening or farming, if not much more so. Agriculture can get by with knowledge of a small range of flora and fauna. Hunting and gathering can’t.

Hunting and gathering in pre-colonial Australia required fine-grained knowledge of hundreds of species and their habitats, annual cycles, names and generic classifications; of methods for processing them and for preparing them as food, as tools, as bodily decoration, and as ritual paraphernalia. It required what repeatedly seemed to colonial newcomers to be almost supernatural eyesight, seeing things in the far distance or among foliage that no colonial could see.

Allied to this, it required the ability to track game using often infinitesimal traces left on the ground or in foliage. It required tremendous spatial and narrative memory, of the kind many of us now have very much lost through reliance on paper maps, written records and Google Maps. It required high skills in lithics (stone tool manufacture) in order to reveal from within the rough stone the elegant tools now found in museums and in the bush. And it required deft and precise skills in using weapons and wielding digging sticks, nets, lures and traps. Spearing fish required the ability to calculate instantly how refraction through water needed to be corrected for during the throw.

Even ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers would have been resource experts on their own ground, but Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers-plus.

It might have been better if labels like ‘hunter-gatherer’ and ‘horticulturist’ and ‘agriculturist’ were not so prominent in these debates, as Harry Lourandos has proposed. They can sometimes attract outdated evolutionary schemes that operate on the discredited ‘primitive’ versus ‘advanced’ scale, also known as social evolutionism. (pp. 8ff)

Tom Griffiths

Aborigines did not attempt to “work against” and re-make their environment. Sutton and Walshe drive home the strong reminder that they learned to live with it, to adapt to it. They also remind readers of the importance of the Dreamtime in Aboriginal ways of thinking. The spiritual life of the First Settlers has to be appreciated in order to understand their responses to their environment and their resistance to white invaders who deliberately replaced them. It is wrong-headed to apply our standards of civilization to a world that has moved in a totally different direction. Sutton quotes Tom Griffiths:

I think it’s a mistake to treat the concept of agriculture as a timeless, stable, universal and preordained template, to apply a European hierarchical metaphor, an imperial measure of civilisation, to societies that defy imported classifications. One of the great insights delivered by that half-century of scholarship is that Aboriginal societies produced a civilisation quite unlike any other, one uniquely adapted to Australian elements and ecosystems. (p. 70)


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.



2021-06-17

The Etiquette of Modesty among the Naked Aborigines

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by Neil Godfrey

We have seen early photographs of Australian aborigines completely naked but I did not understand their modesty. Paradoxical, but explained by anthropologist Peter Sutton:

People were not prudish about nudity but valued modesty, expressed in sitting positions and in averting the gaze, for example. An early record of this etiquette is from First Fleet member David Collins at Port Jackson: ‘… and although entire strangers to the comforts and conveniences of clothing, yet they sought with a native modesty to conceal by attitude what the want of covering would otherwise have revealed’.

Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2021. p. 97

He goes on to show how items of clothing that were worn by some Aborigines some of the time were for embellishment or served symbolic purposes rather than for comfort or covering.

In another place he quotes James Dawson noting that a local tribe in winter wore large kangaroo skins with — contrary to our fashion-oriented expectations — “the fur side inwards”.


2021-06-16

Spiritual Management of the Cosmos: Aboriginal and Christian

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by Neil Godfrey

To make rain

The first was a rainmaking site in Kabi Kabi country. A clever man would cut pieces of the stem of a rare vine growing next to a cave on Mount Urah, and talk to Biral (the ‘all-father’). He would then throw a piece of the vine stem in the direction of the territory of friendly neighbouring tribes, calling their names as he did so. (Sutton and Walshe, p. 32)

To ensure a replenished food supply

. . . spiritual maintenance sites were called mowar, and Gaiarbau recorded details of maintenance rites for rain, kangaroos, carpet snakes, honey and eaglehawks:

‘All such ceremonies used to be performed a few days before they moved camp; and they expected, when in due course they returned to this old camping ground, that their requests would have been granted, and food would again be plentiful.’ (p. 33)

If you really want something to eat. . . .

Early Northern Territory missionary Father Francis Xavier Gsell recalled local reactions to the first establishment of a mission garden on
Bathurst Island . . . : Watching us sowing, they grumbled:

‘What a pity to lose all this food, these potatoes, yams, and ground-nuts. In the earth they will go bad and be of no use to anybody. If,’ they said finally, ‘you really want something to eat, sing a song to the spirits, dance a dance, and you’ll get all the food you want.’  (p. 63)

Ancestral Beings left them for us

An Arnhem Land woman once said, in effect, rather patronizingly, as she watched a Fijian missionary’ working in his mission garden, anxiously concerned because a few of the plants had died:

‘You people go to all that trouble, working and planting seeds, but we don’t have to do that. All these things are there for us, the Ancestral Beings left them for us. In the end, you depend on the sun and the rain just the same as we do, but the difference is that we just have to go and collect the food when it is ripe. We don’t have all this other trouble.’  (p. 64)

He grow himself

In 1974,1 participated in a field trip to map Johnny Flinders’ country and its neighbours in eastern Cape York. Flinders spoke with a briefly visiting geographer, David Harris of University College London, who asked him why his people did not sow plants to make food. Flinders’ brief reply was:

No, he grow himself!(p. 64)

Storm and Solstice

The earthly environment was not the only target of Aboriginal spiritual management. Nicolas Peterson witnessed a Warlpiri winter solstice ceremony in July 1972. The people sang songs before and after sunset:

‘The explicit purpose was to get the Milky Way to move across the sky more quickly and so reduce the length of the night.’

And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, . . .  Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea . . . (Matthew 8:23ff)

I was once in a bush camp south of Cape Keerweer, CYP [=Cape York Peninsula], where we were sleeping in the open, and an unseasonal thunderstorm began to break out during the night. The senior Wik man in the camp, Billy Landis Gothachalkenin, harangued the lightning and storm in no uncertain terms, to get it to stop. His sister Isobel Wolmby, on fearing approaching lightning during the wet season we spent based at Watha-nhiin Outstation in the same region, would take a sharp knife and slash the air in its direction, ‘cutting’ the dangerous flashes to make them stop. (p. 44)

Pan now across to the European past and its legacy today . . .

Monotheistic prayer

In the deeper European past, species fertility was also heavily reliant on religious acts, such as sacrifices to the gods of various crops and domestic and wild animals, or monotheistic prayer. These mostly survive now only as folkloric memory gestures in the case of crop gods, or, more sincerely, in the case of, for example, Lutheran wheat farmers praying for rain. (pp. 44f)

. . . o 0 o . . .

Not that the Aboriginal people lacked a life of serious complex mental engagement. While working in the Northern Territory on a project to help preserve Aboriginal languages a colleague attempted to explain a little of the “webs of kinship” and I was soon lost, mystified, trying to take in the finest gradations and depths of their “webs of kinship and social structure” . . .

If you’re looking for ‘sophisticated’ complexity in classical Aboriginal society, you will find it above all in the intricate webs of kinship and social structure in the richness of the grammars of the languages; in the innumerable mythic narratives that bind place to place and engage the full range of the emotions; in the thousands of song series and the prodigious feats of memory by which they have been locally maintained; and in the elaborate intertwining of totemic religion, linguistic group organisation and land tenure systems. (p. 44)


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.


 


2021-06-15

Australian Aborigines: “Complex Hunter-Gatherers, Not Simple farmers”

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by Neil Godfrey

I enjoyed reading Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu — drawing on Australia’s early explorer diaries to portray Australia’s Aborigines as living in “villages” of huts and practising agriculture and aquaculture — but with some caveats. I found myself constantly adjusting what he was depicting with what I already knew to be true so that I came away not with a totally new understanding but a revised one. I could not accept on the basis of the argument he presented that Aborigines practised democracy or that they lived as settled farmers. I have heard and seen too much from “primary sources” to dismiss the notion that they were also hunters and gatherers. Besides, I found myself wondering, why is it so important to stress agriculture as an indicator of civilizational advance? Sure, agriculture was important in our tradition, but is it really a universal marker of progress? Progress towards what? I have been fascinated with the Aboriginal concepts of the Dreaming or the Dreamtime. Even in Dark Emu one reads little reminders that technologies practised by Aborigines were performed with a cultic or Dreamtime mythological association or impulse.

Now a new volume has been released that I think will restore some balance to Dark Emu‘s image of the First Australians. Others have commended Pascoe for popularizing views of Aborigines that have long been known among specialists and experts. It would be a mistake, however, to replace the hunter-gatherer view with a settler-farmer construct. So we now have Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe’s Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. I have only begun to read it but already a couple of sections can be quoted:

Pascoe contradicts the false belief, perhaps held by some, that all Aboriginal people were naked all of the time. Some Aboriginal people sewed animal skins into cloaks (page 89).

He criticises the uninformed view that classical Aboriginal society consisted of constantly nomadic people who simply lived off nature’s bounty, were not ecological agents, did not stay in one place for more than a few days and did not store resources (for example, page 12).

And he gives considerable attention to the storage of foods (pages 105—14), this being a useful corrective to ignorance of Aboriginal storage methods.

(Sutton, p. 5)

And in particular:

Pascoe’s message is built on a simple distinction between what he calls ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers, on the one hand, and farmers; or between ‘mere’ hunting and gathering on one hand and ‘agriculture’ on the other. We consider that the evidence, in fact, reveals a positioning of the Aboriginal people of 1788 somewhere between these two extremes: they were complex hunter-gatherers, not simple farmers. The Old People in 1788 had developed ways of managing and benefiting from their landscape that went beyond just hunting and just gathering but did not involve gardening or farming. They were ecological agents who worked with the environment, rather than, usually, against it. They frequently used slow-burning fires to make their landscapes more liveable. However, they did not cut down bush to clear the land, plough and hoe the soil in preparation for planting, or then sow stored seed or tubers or rootstock in gardens or in fields.

(p. 7)

For the Andrew Bolts who have savaged Dark Emu as “a hoax” whose purpose is supposedly to accuse white settlers of ignorant and cruel treatment of the first inhabitants here, I further note that Sutton and Walshe share Pascoe’s assessment that white occupation is more accurately described as a “conquest” of the land and not at all “the first settlement”.


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.

Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu. Black Seeds : Agriculture Or Accident? Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books, 2014.



2021-06-06

Ancient Philosopher Traditions Pave the Way for Jesus and Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

Let this post complement the last.

Private teachings and efforts to avoid crowds

Stilpo

When Crates asked him whether the gods take delight in prayers and adorations, he is said to have replied, “Don’t put such a question in the street, simpleton, but when we are alone!” It is said that Bion, when he was asked the same question whether there are gods, replied: Will you not scatter the crowd from me, O much-enduring elder?

Plato

Plato has employed a variety of terms in order to make his system less intelligible to the ignorant

Chrysippus

Again, when somebody who had a question to ask was steadily conversing with him in private, and then upon seeing a crowd approaching began to be more contentious

Pyrrho

He would withdraw from the world and live in solitude,

he would leave his home and, telling no one, would go roaming about with whomsoever he chanced to meet.

Staff, cloak and wallet

Bion

Then he adopted the Cynic discipline, donning cloak and wallet

Antisthenes

And he was the first, Diocles tells us, to double his cloak and be content with that one garment and to take up a staff and a wallet. Neanthes too asserts that he was the first to double his mantle. Sosicrates, however, in the third book of his Successions of Philosophers says this was first done by Diodorus of Aspendus, who also let his beard grow and used a staff and a wallet.

Diogenes (also one of several who “had nowhere to lay his head”)

He was the first, say some, to fold his cloak because he was obliged to sleep in it as well, and he carried a wallet to hold his victuals, and he used any place for any purpose, for breakfasting, sleeping, or conversing. And then he would say, pointing to the portico of Zeus and the Hall of Processions, that the Athenians had provided him with places to live in. He did not lean upon a staff until he grew infirm; but afterwards he would carry it everywhere, not indeed in the city, but when walking along the road with it and with his wallet; so say Olympiodorus,13 once a magistrate at Athens, Polyeuctus the orator, and Lysanias the son of Aeschrio. He

That famous one who carried a staff, doubled his cloak, and lived in the open air.

Menedemus

and he wore a very long beard and carried an ashen staff in his hand.

The Magi

Their dress is white, they make their bed on the ground, and their food is vegetables, cheese, and coarse bread; their staff is a reed

Many called but few chosen

Bion

And hence it came about that he is not credited with a single disciple, out of all the crowds who attended his lectures.

Diogenes

He was returning from Olympia, and when somebody inquired whether there was a great crowd, “Yes,” he said, “a great crowd, but few who could be called men.”

Despised

Zeno

And he had about him certain ragged dirty fellows, as Timon says in these lines: The while he got together a crowd of ignorant serfs, who surpassed all men in beggary and were the emptiest of townsfolk.

Crates

Zeno of Citium in his Anecdotes relates that in a fit of heedlessness he sewed a sheepskin to his cloak. He was ugly to look at, and when performing his gymnastic exercises used to be laughed at. He was accustomed to say, raising his hands, “Take heart, Crates, for it is for the good of your eyes and of the rest of your body. You will see these men, who are laughing at you, tortured before long by disease, counting you happy, and reproaching themselves for their sluggishness.”

All things in common

Bion

He was extremely selfish and insisted strongly on the maxim that “friends share in common.”

Diogenes

The wise are friends of the gods, and friends hold things in common. Therefore all things belong to the wise.”

He maintained that all things are the property of the wise, and employed such arguments as those cited above. All things belong to the gods. The gods are friends to the wise, and friends share all property in common; therefore all things are the property of the wise

Zeno

Friendship, they declare, exists only between the wise and good, by reason of their likeness to one another. And by friendship they mean a common use of all that has to do with life, wherein we treat our friends as we should ourselves.

Pythagoras

According to Timaeus, he was the first to say, “Friends have all things in common” and “Friendship is equality”; indeed, his disciples did put all their possessions into one common stock.

Epicurus

He further says that Epicurus did not think it right that their property should be held in common, as required by the maxim of Pythagoras about the goods of friends; such a practice in his opinion implied mistrust, and without confidence there is no friendship.

Some went further and taught that wives and children should also be “in common”.

Criticizes a host at dinner

Menedemus

Not being able to curb the extravagance of someone who had invited him to dinner, he said nothing when he was invited, but rebuked his host tacitly by confining himself to olives.

Empedocles

With this Timaeus agrees, at the same time giving the reason why Empedocles favoured democracy, namely, that, having been invited to dine with one of the magistrates, when the dinner had gone on some time and no wine was put on the table, though the other guests kept quiet, he, becoming indignant, ordered wine to be brought.

Wrote Letters that were preserved by disciples 

Not all, but some “wrote a few letters”. Example: Continue reading “Ancient Philosopher Traditions Pave the Way for Jesus and Paul”