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Judaism encompasses the religion, philosophy, culture and way of life of the Jewish people. Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion, with the Torah as its foundational text. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenantal relationship that God established with the Children of Israel. For more of this introduction to Judaism go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism
Jewish philosophy includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or in relation to the religion of Judaism. Until modern Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, and the Jewish emancipation, Jewish philosophy was preoccupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition ofRabbinic Judaism; thus organizing emergent ideas that are not necessarily Jewish into a uniquely Jewish scholastic framework and world-view. With their acceptance into modern society, Jews with secular educations embraced or developed entirely new philosophies to meet the demands of the world in which they now found themselves.
Medieval re-discovery of ancient Greek philosophyamong the Geonim of 10th century Babylonian academies brought rationalist philosophy into Biblical-Talmudic Judaism. Philosophy was generally in competition with Kabbalah. Both schools would become part of classic Rabbinic literature, though the decline of scholastic rationalism coincided with historical events which drew Jews to the Kabbalistic approach. For Ashkenazi Jews, emancipation and encounter with secular thought from the 18th-century onwards altered how philosophy was viewed. Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities had later and more ambivalent interaction with secular culture than in Western Europe. In the varied responses to modernity, Jewish philosophical ideas were developed across the range of emerging religious movements. These developments could be seen as either continuations, or breaks, with the canon of Rabbinic philosophy of the Middle Ages, as well as the other historical dialectic aspects of Jewish thought, & resulted in diverse contemporary Jewish attitudes to philosophical methods. For more on Jewish philosophy go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_philosophy
THE STORY OF THE JEWS
The Story of the Jews is a television series in five parts. It was presented by historian Simon Schama & broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two in September 2013. It is based on Schama's book of the same title. It is in two volumes. The first volume was published in September 2013, and the second volume will be coming out later in 2014. I watched three of the parts on SBSONE TV here in Tasmania on 23/3/'14, 30/3/'14, and 6/4/'14. Arifa Akbar, of The Guardian, said: "Simon Schama’s story was as much an investigation into identity as it was the beginning of a difficult history".
Simon Schama(1945- ), historian, writer & presenter of this ambitious five-part BBC series, The Story of the Jews, has admitted he was "daunted" by the immensity of the project. But this London-born Professor, who teaches history and art history at Columbia University in New York, added that he was "enriched" by the experience, saying: "It has made me clarify the relationship between Jewish culture and traditions." He went on to say that making this TV series "made me think again about the relationship between Jewish life and the wider world which is inhabited by Jews. It also made me rethink the norms of what Jewish life was like." Scharma first came to popular public attention with his history of the French Revolution titled Citizens, published in 1989. Back in 1989 I was far too busy with a 60+ hour a week lecturing job, a job that also required preparation and marking, attending formal staff meetings and informal meetings with students. With my life as a father and husband, as well as the secretary of a local Baha'i community with various social & community responsibilities my waking-life was filled to overflowing. My lecturing job did not involve teaching history, at least not until the 1990s.
In the United Kingdom, Schama is perhaps best known for writing and hosting the 15-part BBC television documentary series A History of Britain broadcast between 2000 and 2002. The first episode of this 5-part series on the Jews took in a dizzying tour around the Jewish world, from Sigmund Freud to the Elephantine Jewish garrison in Upper Egypt, from present-day Israel to Titus's Arch in Rome. For a more detailed review of this series by Jenni Frazer "Making a history of UK Jews for the BBC" in The Jewish Chronicle Online, August 28, 2013 go to: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/110763/making-a-history-uk-jews-bbc-was-so-daunting-reveals-simon-schama
"What a Saga!" is a review by G.W. Bowersock, on 24 April 2014 in The New York Review of Books of the 500 page Volume 1 of The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BC–1492 AD. Simon Schama’s book is a “story” & bears the subtitle “finding the words.” From his huge oeuvre we know him to be a natural storyteller who is never short of words. The size and complexity of great stories from the past, such as the empire of the Dutch republic, the French Revolution, or the rise of the Rothschilds, have held no terrors for him. Despite his preference for a big canvas, he once showed himself an excellent miniaturist in the partly fictional tales he told in his shortest and most adventurous book, Dead Certainties—a novelistic reconsideration of two deaths, in eighteenth-century Quebec and nineteenth-century Boston. This talent comes through in the details and vignettes that enrich his other work. But even for Schama this latest book is a stretch. No story is so immense and so profoundly freighted with implications for the modern world as the evolution of the Jewish people from antiquity onward. At the same time as publishing a book on this vast theme, Schama is launching a related television series and producing a second volume that will carry his account forward from 1492 to the present. For more of this review go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/apr/24/story-of-jews-what-a-saga/?page=1
THE JEWS ANDTHE BAHA'IS: SOME PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES
Over the last decade, 2005 to 2014, since my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer work, after an employment-and-student life of half a century, 1954 to 2004, I have often written about the Jews and Judaism with comparisons and contrasts to a people and a religion I have now been associated with for more than 60 years, the Baha'is and the Baha'i Faith. The following 27 pages and 12,000 words provide a series of items containing, as they do, some of these comparisons and contrasts, among other aspects of both the Jewish world and the Baha'i world.
I put the following compilation together after watching the first two episodes of Simon Schama's "The Story of the Jews" on SBSONE TV in Tasmania, on 23/3/'14 and 30/3/'14, 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. His interest in the identity of the Jew, now and in history, stimulated my own interest in the identity of the Baha'i, now and in history.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Five Epochs, 24/3/'14.
OUR FRESHLY MINTED TEARS
The longer I have been a Baha’i the more and more I have seen parallels between the Baha’i experience and the Jewish experience, between what it means to be a Baha’i and what it means to be a Jew. While individual experiences, inevitably, vary greatly, certain overall themes are common between the two religions: a history of persecution; a body or writings and myths that separate the believer from non-believers and that give adherents a foundation of meaning and identity in their lives; a spiritual homeland of holy places and holy men and women who act as models and metaphors for living; the importance of written history and a transcendent Being as a source of order for man and society; the importance of Torah, or Law, written law, to bring daily life into conformity with the original teachings; a foundation in charismatic revelation and a transition to an institutional theocratic state; the place of vision and a sense of the future in history and; finally, the crucial interrelationship between the individual and the community.
I have found my Baha’i experience has been helpful in understanding general social and moral issues. I felt deeply conscious of being a Baha’i, and active in spelling out what it meant. Part of the effect of this consciousness has been to make me feel out-of-place, and separate; part of the effect, too, has made me feel integrated with, at one with, the social setting wherever I went. Another effect has been to give me many definitions of homeland: house, land, word processor, place of birth, the planet and a range of serendipitous locations where chance and circumstance has brought me to be. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Five Epochs, 2014.
This Baha’i business
plays a role at so many
different levels, and in
such varying intensities.
We have our holocaust
on a much smaller scale,
and our freshly minted tears,
from innocent, bewildered
eyes; the world’s forgetfulness
will not debase this coin of gold
which enters through a portal
from which no man returns.
We have our prophets
who came to this same
grainy, parched, landscape
and its unquenchable sun,
and the crazed hot wind
which mutters so very, very
apocalyptically. They were
placed in this oven where
the heat consumes every
thing but compassion.1
Our combustible souls, too,
vanish in a puff, but not before
those prophets, speaking
redemptive words of glacial
austerity and honey-dew
from an unseen world
viewing the entirety of
complex human history.
1 Roger White, “A Desert Place”, Occasions of Grace, George Ronald, Oxford, p.97.
It is a stupendous paradox that a god does not only fail to protect his chosen people against its enemies but allows them to fail....yet is worshipped only the more ardently. This is unexampled in history and is only to be explained by the powerful prestige of a prophetic message..-Max Weber, Ancient Judaism, The Free Press, Glencoe, 1952, p. 364.
The following quotation is from Anthony Andrewes, a classical scholar and historian in his book Greek Society:1 "It was the very instability and incoherence of Greek political institutions during the Mycenean and Dark Ages, 1600 to 800 BC, that led to a political evolution which was denied to other cultures." This quotation aroused my interest in Jewish political institutions.
"The return of the Jewish people to full participation in history through the reestablished Jewish commonwealth of Israel," writes Daniel J. Elazar in the journal Jewish Political Thought, "made it imperative that Jews everywhere reconsider the political teachings of Judaism......The crises of the past few years have generated renewed interest on the part of committed Jews in the character of Israel as a Jewish state, the various diaspora Jewries as communities in the historical tradition of their antecedents, and in the Jewish people as a corporate entity. As a consequence, the modern Jewish search for roots and meaning has been intensified.2-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Anthony Andrewes, Greek Society, Penguin, Melbourne, 1987, p. xxiii; and 2 D.J. Elazar, "The Jewish Political Tradition as the Basis for Jewish Civic Education: Pirkei Avot as an Example", Jewish Centre for Public Affairs: Jewish Political Thought.
"The process whereby its unsuspected benefits were to be manifested to the eyes of men was slow, painfully slow," writes Shoghi Effendi speaking of the life-long exile of the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, "and was characterized, as indeed the history of His Faith from its inception to the present day demonstrates, by a number of crises which at times threatened to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered." -Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, USA, 1957, p.111.
You came from the plains and the mountains
with nearby river civilizations to fertilise your soil.
Perhaps you went into Egypt back when
horse and chariot were first used in warfare1
and lived for half a millennium there.
Then your lands slipped out of Egyptian rule;
you left for Canaan and fought as an armed
group with the Philistines, and Midianites,
Moabites, Ammonites, Aramaeans. And you
fought among yourselves in your tribal and
family groups until that United Monarchy
under Saul, David and Solomon(1030-930 BC)
It has, been a long journey that's for sure.
Things fell apart again and tensions with the
nomadic Bedouins continued a political and
economic warfare. Extended kinship groups
and warriors quibbled & quarrelled for land;
land has always been a problem of criticality.
Rural herdsmen and the settled, urban
population had sharp clashes, as did
stock-breeders and peasants in those
long lasting historical antagonisms.
peasantry, herdsmen and artisans.
Town life took the place of country
and with the towns the urban landlords
and Kings replaced those old chieftans.
It was not without a long struggle; it
always seems to have been a struggle.
Under Solomon(971-932) this ancient
Jewish state began to take its part on
the world political stage as a kind of
oriental despotism like Egypt with a
central administration and an all-
powerful king: so it seems to me.
For the next four hundred years(922-538)
Israel took part in a series of long
political and military catastrophes
ending in the Babylonian captivity
and a diaspora: you got used to them.
During those long years oracles
of a classical prophecy told of
the terror of the Assyrians,
the time honoured ‘law’ of
the confederate tribes, and the
voice of doom, righteousness
and that distant utopian vision.
They made the moral precepts
of everyday life a duty and the
direction of society intimately
connected with a way of life in
a spirit of constant expectation
and the powerful prestige of a
prophetic, a historical message.
And so it was that prophets, psalmists,
sages and priests inculcated the Torah
for generations, mostly without success
until the Judean theocratic state in the
5th century BC gave a definite direction
to Jewish history through that Torah.
A common, universal way of life emerged
in this Hebrew Commonwealth as Greece
emerged into its golden age after its long
and formative age, for formative ages are
long & tortuous: history seems to confirm.
26/7/'96 to 23/3/'14.
A NOTE ON THE JEWS: IN THE MEDIA
Aborigines in Australia, Indians in America, Armenians in Turkey, Tutsis in Rwanda, Iraqis by ISIS, Syrians by their own kind, Russia, Europe, Africa, and the list goes on. But the media emphasizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so often. The political focus is on the Jews, the Jews, yes, the Jews. Perhaps this is all some see. For more on this story go to:http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/08/10/why-my-brother-really-died/
JEWS and LAWS, CHRISTIANS AND BAHA'IS
The following is part of an article "The Pharisaic Phenomenon and the Dynamics of Denial" by Susan Stiles Maneck, Associate Professor of History at Jackson State University. Since my experience was so very much like Susan Maneck's when I was growing up in a Christian home, I have drawn on her following essay. "My understanding of the Gospel story went something like this," Maneck begins, "God had expressed Himself through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, a simple man, whose sympathies lay with the common folk. He was opposed by the stuffy, legalistic Pharisees who sought to destroy Him for not abiding by their minutiae of rules. The battle between Jesus and the Pharisees was the battle between spirit and law, between common folk and the elite, between simple truth and hypocrisy. These were the demarcation lines that separated good from evil in my young mind, and having been raised in one of the more liberal wings of the church, it was easy for me to imagine that the demarcation line ran between conservative and liberal as well. I remember my pastor at the time proudly asserting that while Judaism had some seven hundred and some odd laws, Jesus had reduced them to essentials such as, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
When I discovered the Baha'i Faith in my early teens and became a member at the age of fifteen, like Maneck, I developed a new appreciation for religious law, which was quite different from the attitudes with which I had been raised, but it wasn't until I started university in 1963 that I came to realize what the Pharisees actually stood for and that, far from representing the exact opposite of Christianity, the Pharisees' teachings were closest to Jesus. This was opposed to the Sadducees who were the most literal-minded and conservative faction among the Jews.
Maneck continues: "The Pharisaic school, with its synthesis of the best of Jewish thought with perhaps a sprinkling of Zoroastrian concepts, represented the finest fruit of the two most profound religious traditions of Jesus' age. How is it then that Jesus is said to have addressed them in such harsh words as these?"
These are the words from Matt. 23:13-35: "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widow's houses, and make for a pretense long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. . . . Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes an Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. . . . Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. . . . Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify: some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth . . . "
It has usually been the case that those who oppose a new message from God will invariably be the ones who, to outward seeming ought to be closest to it. Hence the Pharisaic school rejects Jesus; the Jews of Medina, the only people with much knowledge of prophet-hood, oppose Muhammad; the Shi'ite Muslims prove the most intolerant of Baha'is. Conflict and opposition seem to be the bread and butter of religious history.
What Maneck does in her essay is to examine very carefully what the dynamics of that denial of that denial to which I refer above. It is her hope that, in the process, we can understand what is it that causes those, whom one might expect to be the first to embrace a new message from God, to be instead its most vigorous opponents. She attempts to draw out a number of interrelated aspects of this denial: "the tendency human beings have to want to control, systematize and contain revelation in manageable categories usually by taking a part for the whole in religion, the role played by the imagination in rejection, the tendency to confuse rigidity with firmness, the specific type of learning which tends to be encouraged within a religious context, the role played by pride and arrogance, the particular temptation of power and leadership, and finally the manner in which religion so often becomes a mask for the genuinely evil and hypocritical."
"There is a story about a child who was busily occupied drawing a picture," continues Maneck. "Her mother asked her what she was doing "I'm drawing God," she answered. The mother said, "But honey, no one knows what God looks like." Unperturbed the child answered, "They will when I'm finished." This child obviously had a big imagination. Many places in the Writings, do not seem to look too kindly on the imagination. Imaginings tend to be paired with adjectives like "vain," "corrupt," and "idle." As an adolescent who daydreamed a lot these references used to bother Maneck a great deal. This, of course, was not what Baha'u'llah was talking about. Rather, He was speaking about those who allow their own wishes in regards to what ought to be stand in the way of recognizing what God reveals of His Will. Baha'u'llah asserts that people, "deprive themselves of the inner reality and by clinging to vain imaginings they are kept back from the Dayspring of heavenly signs. God grant you may be graciously aided under all conditions to shatter the idols of superstition and to tear the away the veils of the imaginations of men." It is when our images stand between us and reality when we have a problem." For readers with an interest in this essay of Susan Maneck's go to this link:
http://bahai-library.com/author/Susan+Maneck This link has 19 of Maneck's essays and the one above is number 10.
LEGAL AND POLITICAL IDEAS IN THE BIBLE
The Ways of a King: Legal and Political Ideas in the Bible is a 300 page book by Geoffrey P. Miller. The book was reviewed in the summer 2014 edition of The Independent Review. I post here the first paragraph of the review and leave it to readers to access this useful discussion of political philosophy in The Bible. The text of this holy book of the Jews has implications beyond its theological & moral principles. Joining a burgeoning recent literature, Geoffrey P. Miller, the Stuyvesant Comfort Professor of Law at the New York University Law School, turns to analyzing its underlying legal and political ideas.
Miller’s analysis of The Hebrew Bible has two basic theses. His first thesis is “both simple and far-reaching: the great history of Israel presented in the books of Genesis through Second Kings contains a systematic, comprehensive, and remarkably astute analysis of political obligation and governmental design—in short, a political philosophy that may have been written earlier than the works of Plato and Aristotle” (p. 7). “The Bible,” he argues, “not the Greeks, may be the West’s oldest political philosophy” (p. 11). The reviewer of this book does not agree with the book's author and you can read this review at:http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?a=1006
GENOCIDE AND ME
Ben Kiernan tells us that “genocide” is a very new word, invented in 1944 by a Polish Jew named Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, and given legal definition by the United Nations in 1948 through The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. That convention defines the crime of genocide as “an attempt at extermination through acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial, ethnical, or religious group.”
My life beginning, as it did, in that same year 1944 has seen many an example of genocide which I won’t list here or cite in any detail, but there is one group with whom I have been personally associated and this simple prose-poem deals with that group.–Ron Price with thanks to Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur by Ben Kiernan, Yale University Press, 2008.
I will say, though, that
the religion I have now
been associated with for
nearly 60 years has also
been associated with the
word genocide in the land
of its birth and it has been
this fierce opposition and
hatred that has been the
chief instrument for the
spread of its organizational
form to every corner of the
planet. I have seen this in my
lifetime since the beginning of
the second century of the Baha’i
Era while I have lived and had my
being-& the story is far from over!
20/11/'11 to 29/7/'14.
Poetry After Auschwitz
The Knesset made Yom Hashoah a national public holiday in 1959. The Knesset, the legislative branch of the government in Israel, enacts that country’s laws. In 1961 the Knesset passed a law that closed all public entertainment on Yom Hashoah. At ten in the morning, a siren is sounded, everyone stops what they are doing, pulls over in their cars, and stands in remembrance. Yom Hashoah is known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day or Holocaust Day. It is observed as Israel's day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany. It is a national memorial day and public holiday.
In the same year that Holocaust Day was inaugurated, 1959, I joined the Baha’i Faith. I knew nothing of Yom Hashoah back then at the age of 15. Immersed as I was in affluent post-war North American culture, in sport, in school and in entertainment in its many forms, I was hardly aware of the Holocaust or of the events of WW2. –Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 July 2010.
I was comfortable in the smalltown
smugness of my childhood born, as
I was…into salvation’s complacent
trinity of Catholic, Protestant & Jew.(1)
My world was small, safe & familiar.
Indians were the bad guys who always
got licked in the movies amidst candy
wrappers and the popcorn-smell of
matinees at the Roxy theatre in a life
that feels now as if it belongs to some-
one else in a dream with those little
streets and the little houses of a youth.
I did not strive against acne or Auschwitz,
although I did have my fears, for all was
not smooth sailing by any means in those
small rooms where I grew-up and had my
being before a cold winter set in about the
age of 18, a winter I had never felt before.
I did come across Yom Hashoah fifty years
later when, in 2009, I was in Haifa visiting
my son at the Baha’i World Centre. I still
heard that song which I had first listened to
in ’59; it had arisen from the Siyah-Chal &
echoed through the palaces of Europe.....
It has now flooding the earth with its felicity;
this new song—this Godsong........And now,
dear Lord, I falter, yet sing; there is poetry
after the Holocaust, after Auschwitz: and I
make it and have been doing for decades.
(1) Roger White, “New Song,” Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, pp.116-118.
31/7/'10 to 23/3/'14.
It was comfortable in the small town smugness
of your childhood. You were born securely into
salvation's complacent trinity: A Catholic, and a
Protestant or Jew.
So begins a delightful poem by Roger White. He seems to describe the tone and texture of my childhood and adolescence. He continues:
The world was small and safe and familiar.
And very white. No red or black offended
our prim steepled vaults of self-congratulation.
Indians were the bad guys who got licked in the
movies, dying copiously amid candy wrappers
and the popcorn smell of Saturday matinees.
Yes, it was comfortable then.
When you heard that God had died, you wondered
Whether it was from sheer boredom--
The tempest came in your twelfth or fifteenth year,
a clean cold wind and you were left like a stripped
young tree in autumn with a cynical winter setting in
and nothing large enough to house your impulse to believe.
The need lay as quiet, unhurried and insidious as a seed
Snow-locked in a bleak and lonely landscape.
So White describes my personal condition from about the age of ten or twelve to fifteen, the years 1954 to 1959. "The need" was there to believe. It "lay as quiet" as a seed and grew, germinated. The tempest blew into my life at eighteen, a little later than it did in White's poem, in his life. But, in the years 1959 to 1962, fifteen to eighteen, I caught a glimpse of the Bab “in the clearing smoke of the rifles in the barrack-square of Tabriz." I heard His "new song./Up from the Siyah-Chal it rose." .....enough, yes, I have heard lots of stuff in my life amidst all sorts of other stuff and somewhere between the noise and the silence other stuff entered.
THE MUSIC OF THE LOVE GENERATION
Late at night, after midnight and before I go to bed, I often watch the TV. It helps me turn my brain off, get into a somnambulant state. For me, TV watching has always been the best form of meditation late at night after my mind has been active for many hours, usually about 12 during the day. Many practitioners of the diverse art of meditation emphasize that one of the main aims of this discipline is the achievement of a no effort attitude, of a remaining in the here and now, an avoiding of cognitive analysis, a stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, a relaxing of muscular tension. I achieve this watching TV, but only sometimes. In recent years, with the aid of anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications, the light in my brain is switched completely off by midnight.
From time to time there are ads by Time-Life Inc. for a set of CDs. Last night I watched the ad “Flower Power: Music of the Love Generation.” Those who watched the ad could buy 8 CDs, 164 hits, digitally remastered for $150 all up. As much as I had enjoyed the music of that generation of flower-power hits--and during those years had bought many of the records from the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s---raising children on the salary of a teacher from about 1976/7 on had made buying records too expensive. I had no intention of buying this package of music. On a disability pension in the early evening of my late adulthood, I was in no position to make this purchase.
The short segments of a few seconds of songs from many artists-musicians, singers-songwriters from the 1960s and 1970s were stimulating, I must say. I was 15 in 1960 and 36 in 1980--the generation of the first of the baby-boomers, children born in and after 1945--the first of the rock-‘n-roll enthusiasts. Music was an integral part of my life in those years, although listening to music slipped back a few notches as I came to focus on: (a) career, family and community life and its responsibilities, (b) health and the quixotic tournament of issues in the wider society as well as (c) TV and radio programs and my life in the last years of early adulthood and middle age from the late-1970s until my retirement from FT, PT and casual/volunteer work in the years 1999 to 2005. Now in my early sixties I am rediscovering music in its many forms.-Ron Price with thanks to Time-Life Inc on WIN TV at 1 a.m., 15 July 2008.
Where did it all go all those
sounds beginning in the ‘50s
on that little blue radio in that
little bedroom in that little house
in that little town in that little world
that exploded all that small town
smugness all its complacent trinity
of Catholic, Protestant and Jew
and their genuine One True Faiths.
That world was so safe and so
familiar. Indians got creamed
at the movies on Saturdays, yes,
dying copiously amidst popcorn
and candy wrappers. Canadians
like me were always good guys
who did not start wars, were thrifty
and had virtuous sunlit wheat-fields.
Ours was a good town; the Chamber
of Commerce told us in the newspaper.
I played baseball in the summer and
hockey in the winter and then a real
winter hit my life in my teens, the cold
was surrounded by music everywhere,
but the music did not warm the winter
cold as it stripped my young tree with
its blasts from the north and the west.
The music was not large enough to house
my impulse to believe—a need which lay
quiet, unhurried and insidious as a seed.
21/7/' 08 to 23/3/'14.
Eight months before he died in April 1993, Roger White sent me by snail-mail a copy of Rollo May's The Courage to Create with the words "all that Rollo May says about 'the experience' of creativity has been true of my encounters." I plan, then, to weave throughout this section on poetry many of May's ideas. White gave me this book of May's, published in 1975, in appreciation for my friendship and for the collection of essays I wrote on his poetry and to which he gave his approval in a letter before he died. I extended these original essays ten years later, and they are now in a book: The Emergence of a Baha'i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White, Juxta Publications, Hong Kong, 2003.
Five years before he died Roger White wrote an essay entitled: "Deft Adjustment, The: English-language poetry in present-day Israel". The essay appeared in dialogue magazine, 2:2-3 (1988). The essay is a discussion of Israeli and Jewish poems. White also reviews the books: Voices Within the Ark, Modern Hebrew Poetry, Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, Seven Gates: Poetry from Jerusalem, and Voices Israel. To read this essay go to this link: http://bahai-library.com/white_deft_adjustment
ETIOLOGY OF A POEM
The point to which the will is directly applied is always an idea. There are at all times some ideas which I shy away from or try to, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, the moment I get a glimpse of their forbidding profile upon the threshold of my thought. Volition is primarily a relation between my Self and my own states of mind. The holding of an idea before the mind, the filling of the mind with an idea is due to volition and attention, the affirming and adoption of a thought, keeping the attention strained on an object or idea until at last it grows so as to maintain itself before the mind with ease, is the first fundamental with respect to volition. My poems begin here.
The whole drama is a mental one. The idea must be kept from flickering and going out. I must hear the still small voice unflinchingly and keep hearing it. I must be unwaveringly firm to withstand the pressing thoughts that take me from the task. It is to be preferred, indeed, it is essential, that firmness and effort of attention fill my mind as exclusively as possible. The result is consent to the task: the writing of a poem, the avoidance of some risk, et cetera. The result is also the extraordinarily intimate and important character which the phenomenon of effort assumes in my eyes; the result is the searching of my heart and mind, the dumb reigning in and turning of the will and a tightening of the heartstrings. -Ron Price with thanks to William James, The Principles of Psychology, University of Chicago,1952, p.826.
Here is where my poem begins:
a level of commitment, a level of
principle, some inner state, some
attitude, will, dynamic, aspiration,
unshakeable consciousness, and
a filling of the mind.....something
intimate that pulls heartstrings &
turns will, flickering, flickering &
then it goes out. Will has done its
job, one of 1000s, at least for now.
28/1/'02 to 23/3/'14.
Yesterday, 13 January 2006, I listened to an interview with Norman Mailer. The interview was done at the Edinburgh Writers’ Festival in 2005. Mailer made a number of comments that were relevant to my life as a writer. I summarize those comments here before completing this prose-poem. Mailer said he thought truth was like a space station. It was a place from which to launch out into the world of greater truth. One is always approaching truth, but never arriving said Mailer. It was essentially a journey. Mailer went on to say he was a Jew, but in blood only, not a practicing Jew, not a believing Jew.
I, on the other hand, am a believing Baha’i in mind and heart, but not in blood. Although my parents were Baha’is, the first generation in my family to identify with this new movement/religion, I do not see my belief as a question of blood, genetics, race, et cetera, socialization perhaps, indeed, unquestionably. Mailer was asked if he considered himself wise. He said yes. Any wisdom I have acquired I see in terms of this belief system, Baha’i, that is the primary source of my wisdom, my meaning, my very survival as a human being.-Ron Price with thanks to “Interview With Norman Mailer,” ABC Radio, 11:05-12:00, January 13th 2006.
My first memory was making
mud pieces in about 1947/8
when your life was transformed
with The Naked and Dead. It was(1)
your therapy, your self-indulgence,
your self-absorption, preoccupation.
This was the beginning, you said, of
the punishing monotony of writing.
You kept bringing yourself back in
book after book, getting yourself in
shape day after day--not in a fitness
studio, but at your desk:3 or 4 hours
of putting words down--6 or 7 hours!
Reading and pondering, working out
the cerebration, the capacity to take
chances, occupying thematic places,
territories, for the most part familiar,
implementing old thoughts in new
contexts--and then the brain is tired
and contemplates nothing happily.
I did not have your early success,
but I still perceived it all through
the mirror of my soul; I punished
myself differently than you did,
Norman, discarding roles, and
calcifying selves, inventing new
personas with self-dramatizating
talent in the theatre of life...for it
is indeed a performance enacted
before an audience with a plot &
a script composed of details from
history, psychology, & sociology.
With the power of the director,
with some fidelity to the script,
I have set this actor in motion
resolutely and unreservedly,
to play my part, however small,
in this the greatest drama in the
world’s spiritual history, vision
widening, and deepening my
comprehension of the story.
(1) Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead is a 1948 novel. It was based on his experiences with the 112th Cavalry Regiment during the Philippines Campaign in World War II. It was later adapted into a film of the same name in 1958.
14/1/'06 to 26/3/'14.
AN ESSAY BY SUSAN MANECK
"The Conversion of Religious Minorities to the Bahá'í Faith in Iran: Some Preliminary Observations" is an essay by Susan Stiles Maneck. Here is the abstract:
In the period between 1877-1921 significant numbers of non-Muslims converted to the Bahá'í Faith in Iran. This was an essential development for the emergence of the Bahá'í Faith as an independent religion possessing a distinct identity apart from Islam. These conversions were largely confined to the Zoroastrian and Jewish communities and did not involve Iran's largest religious minority, the Christians. This study attempts to address some of the factors that were involved in this conversion process. These will include the manner in which Bahá'ís made the transition from Islamic particularism to a universalism that would attract non-Muslims, as well as the manner in which actual conversions took place and the factors surrounding them. Major emphasis will be placed upon examining what factors may have inclined certain minorities rather than others to convert.
"The Jewish conversion movement began in Hamadan around 1877", writes Maneck, "and by 1884, according to the historian of Persian Jewry Habib Levy, involved some one hundred and fifty of the eight-hundred Jewish households there (Levy, Tarikh-i-Yahud-i-Iran, p. 657). From there, the Bahá'í Faith spread to the Jewish communities of other Iranian cities, including Kashan (where half of the Bahá'í community was of Jewish origin), Tehran, Isfahan, Bukhara, and Gulpaygan (where seventy-five percent of the Jewish community was said to have converted) (Curzon, Persia, p. 500). According to Dastur Dhalla, the eminent Zoroastrian theologian, roughly 4000 Zoroastrians converted to the Bahá'í Faith in Iran, with an additional 1000 in India (cited in Dhalla, Dastur Dhalla, p. 703). This conversion movement involved a significant portion of the educated merchant elite of the Zoroastrians in Yazd (Stiles, "Early Zoroastrian"), all of the Zoroastrians of Qazvin (Dhalla, Dastur Dhalla, p. 726), and a significant number in Kashan and Tehran as well. The accuracy of all these figures, being based largely on the impressions of outside observers, is open to question. Neither the Bahá'ís nor the minorities from which the conversions were occurring kept membership records at this time. Go to this link for the rest of this essay: http://bahaistudies.net/susanmaneck/conversion.html
HEROIC: COLD FIRE
An outstanding singer, long forgotten now, one Max Lorenz(1901-1975), was Hitler’s favorite tenor. He was married to a Jewess and he was also a homosexual. Last night I watched the last half of a biopic of his life.(1) I had finished my day of writing, reading and my evening walk, my attending to several domestic tasks and of chatting with my wife. I had taken my meds and was utilizing TV to send me to sleep within the hour. I never knew Lorenz; he retired in 1962 when I was just 18 and starting out in life, travelling and pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community.
I have never been an opera fan although, occasionally, my spirit has been lifted by a chance listening to a tenor voice such as the likes of: Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo. Other classical singers like Enrico Caruso and pop singers like Elton John and Stevie Wonder have also lifted my spirits with their tenor voices. In the Mandarin pop scene, JJ Lin Junjie and Jay Chou would probably be considered tenor voices as well. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) ABC1 TV, “Wagner’s Mastersinger: The Life and Times of Max Lorenz,” 11:20 p.m.-12:15 a.m., 27/28/6/’10.
What a sad ending your life had, Max,
after all that adulation, fame and glory
through those entre deux guerres years!
I had no idea of your life or death, Max,
spaning as it did the first three-quarters
of the 20th century.Your last dozen years
had nothing to take the place of those rich
years on the stage of opera across Europe
and Middle and South America. They say
you satisfied that German need for heroic
voices with your cold fire sound at a time
when the heroic was being played for all
it was worth in your German homeland.
28/6/’10 to 20/5/’13
Some of the story in 1936 and from 1913 to 2013
This prose-poem is a personal analysis of some of the ideas of Walter Benjamin(1892-1940). Benjamin was a German literary critic, philosopher, social critic, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist. In his writing he combined elements of romanticism, historical materialism and Jewish mysticism. Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory and Western Marxism. He was associated with the Frankfurt School, a school of interdisciplinary social theory I came to teach in the last decade of my teaching career in the 1990s.
The ideas I am most concerned with here are found in his essay, The Storyteller, published in 1936.1 He was concerned, among other things in that essay, with the incommunicability of experiences in the modern world. The storyteller, said Benjamin in that essay, had served the role as the guardian of tradition, part of a chain of tradition which passed a happening, an event, on from generation to generation.
“Through the storyteller,” writes Miguel Santos-Neves, “memory leaves the past to be morphed into and in the present.”1 That is no longer the case or, it is more accurate to say, that there are dozens, even hundreds, of traditions, which are being preserved for modern man in a cacophony of languages, voices, myths and traditions. In some ways, the storyteller has only begun his journey through the lives of the billions of people who have and who now inhabit the planet.
In the 20th century, the theme of incommunicability, though, is often found in such places in the literary and philosophical world as: the theatre of the absurd, nihilism, deconstruction and post-modernism, as well as some varieties of existentialism, inter alia. Benjamin’s essay attributes the fall of the storyteller in the last century, the years after WWI, to the problem of sharing experiences.
While I find the writings of Benjamin provocative, and often reflect my own experience and views, I often find that what he says is, when viewed from another perspective, an inaccurate perception of the society I now live in. If what he says is accurate, it is often only a partial truth, a partially accurate reflection and analysis of the world I live in, analyse and observe. This is especially true of the storyteller and storytelling.
His essay, The Storyteller, is an example of what for me is one of Benjamin’s partial truths. Benjamin states that after WWI people became unable to reflect accurately upon their experiences, in part because of the dramatic influx, and rapid distribution of information. He asserted that the rise of information, the information overload, was incompatible with storytelling, and contributed to the diminished efficacy of the storyteller. Before World War I, people received information locally. Rumours and information were spread verbally, from person to person, not read or watched. People’s knowledge of the outside world in 1913, compared with 2013, was scarce and nowhere near as graphic.
Benjamin asserted that World War I crystallized a change in the perception of many things.2 He believed that societal norms were transformed, not suddenly but progressively, slowly, over time, as knowledge seeped into people’s lives, as technology expanded and events like WW I took place. After World War I, people struggled to communicate their experiences. World War I was one of the most traumatizing events in human history. It had significant cultural, political, and social ramifications. Traumatizing events have continued, seemingly unabated into the 21st century, and communication has remained a problem.
In The Storyteller Benjamin focuses mostly on the social consequences of the Great War. According to Benjamin, when the soldiers returned from World War I, they were simply unable to communicate their experiences. They returned to a world transformed by the war. This transformation, of course, has been happening, a fortiori, as the decades of the 20th and 21st centuries have succeeded one another. For millions, modern technology, the mass media and mechanical warfare have changed everything. This was not true for large segments of our global society whose lives remained relatively unchanged until the last decades of the 20th century since most of modern technology did not reach many of the hunting and gathering communities and much of the third world, and when it did reach them it was oh so slowly.
Benjamin communicates his conception of the changes as follows: “A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar stood under the open sky, after WWI, in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of forces of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human life.” Many soldiers had grown up knowing a slow-paced, effectively unchanging lifestyle. But after the war, this kind of lifestyle was ripped from their grasp. The world was immediately affected by the great quantities of information and this led to a metamorphosis of the greater society. Life became fast-paced and information-driven. While some were reaping the so-called benefits of the new age, many were left behind and this dichotomy between rich and poor, advanced and underdeveloped, peoples is still with us.
Benjamin correlates the dramatic increase in the dissemination of information with the quick decline of the storyteller. According to Benjamin, the beauty of the storyteller was his ability to communicate a story and allow the audience to integrate that story into their own experience. Critic Peter Brooks expands on this idea, stating that the storyteller gave the narrative “a chaste compactness that commended it to people’s memory.”3 The story sank into the listener, and the experience made the storyteller and the reader one. In turn, according to Brooks, a type of wisdom was imparted to the listener. Through narrative and discourse, people were able to reflect upon experiences and share them with others. Ultimately, it was the integration of experience by the use of open narrative, of storytelling, that led to wisdom.2–Ron Price with thanks to 1 Miguel Santos-Neves, Reflections on Walter Benjamin’s The Storyteller in Texas Theory Wiki, 2Leo Hall, The Modernism Lab, Yale University; and 3Peter Brooks, Psychoanalysis and Storytelling, Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994, p. 81.
Well, Walter, 80 years after your
essay, I think the picture is so very
different from the one you saw far1
back in the 1930s….People are now
drowning in stories, & sharing them
more wisdom than ever in history…
The world has been transformed just
about out of all recognition except for
those clouds in the sky and the ground
beneath our feet over those 100 years.2
Back in 19361 the Plan was activated and
systematically, for that world, that field of
forces and their destructive torrents, all the
explosions, on the tiny, fragile human lives…
You got that right Walter-yes sir-ee-bob!!!
The world of the story-teller has just begun;
he has returned to us with a vengeance in so
many more ways than one: read that thesis of
Areti Dragas, his PhD thesis at Durham Uni.3
1 In 1936, Benjamin’s essay was published and the Baha’is of North America were asked to implement Abdu’l-Baha’s teaching Plan for the extension of His Father’s faith throughout the world. See Shoghi Effendi, 30/5/’36, in Messages to America: 1932-1946, Baha’i Pub. Committee, Wilmette, 1947, p.7. The translation series Selected Writing contributes to an effort, intensified in recent years, of presenting unfamiliar facets of Benjamin's work in the English language. This third volume of the series presents selected writings from the years 1935-38.--Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, eds.: Walter Benjamin: Selected Writing: Vol.3 1935-1938, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2002.
2 1913 to 2013
3 Areti Dragas, The Return of the Storyteller in Contemporary Literature, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/2877/ , 2007.
13 & 14/1/’13.
Philip Roth and Me
Philip Milton Roth(1933-) is an American novelist who first gained fame with his 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus. The book was an irreverent and humorous portrait of Jewish-American life and it earned him a National Book Award. I was only 15 at the time, in grade 10 in a small town in southern Ontario, had just joined the Baha’i Faith, and only read what I had to as part of my school curricula. I memorized everything on the several syllabi because that was the way, back then, to get the highest possible marks at high school. I was an ace in my studies as well as in baseball, even a home-run king back in the pee-wee baseball league in the little town of my childhood and adolescence.
In 1969 Roth became a major celebrity with the publication of the controversial Portnoy's Complaint, the humorous and sexually explicit psychoanalytical monologue of "a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor," filled with "intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language." By 1969 I had had my own experiences of lust as well as psychiatry due to my bipolar disorder. But I was no longer a bachelor, having got married in 1967. In that same year I moved to Baffin Island to teach Inuit children.
Since those late 1950s Roth has become one of the most honoured authors of his generation. His books have twice been awarded the National Book Award, twice the National Book Critics Circle award, and three times the PEN/Faulkner Award. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel, American Pastoral, which featured his best-known character, Nathan Zuckerman, the subject of many other of Roth's novels. His 2001 novel The Human Stain, another story of Nathan Zuckerman, was awarded the United Kingdom's W.H. Smith Literary Award for the best book of the year.
Roth’s fiction is set frequently in Newark New Jersey. It is known for an intensely autobiographical character, for a philosophical and formal blurring of the distinction between reality and fiction, for a "supple, ingenious style," and for its provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity.1
Since those late fifties and those late sixties, I have become a successful, but quite ordinarily ordinary, teacher and lecturer of my generation. I have received no honours for my writing although, in the last three decades, I have written and published several million words in cyberspace. My writing is also intensely and extensively autobiographical, but the main character in my writing is me and I do not blur the line between reality and fiction. I would like to think my writing is, like Roth’s, supple and ingenious in style and provocative in its explorations of life, mine and society’s. I would like to think that, but I must of course leave such judgements to readers. It is very difficult to assess one's own work. That is the job of readers.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Charles Simic, “The Nicest Boy in the World,” The New York Review of Books, 9 October 2008.I’m intensely autobiographic, too,
Philip; but I go about it in a very
different way that you. And fame
is not part of my story…..my life-
narrative…..We go after reality in
our own unique ways, and I went
after it in writing much later in life
than you. I was just getting into my
profession in my twenties, and you
were on your way to fame and glory.
12/11/'11 to 25/3/'14.
Iran's Outcast Religion
Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians have rights under the constitution. Not Bahais.
By FIRUZ KAZEMZADEH
Mr. Kazemzadeh is professor emeritus of history at Yale and a former commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He begins his article in the Wall Street Journal as follows: "In some 40 years as a university professor, I have been privileged to teach students who went on to serve their people as senators, ambassadors, prominent scholars and even U.S. president. None of this would have been possible had I lived in my family's homeland of Iran. As a member of the Bahai faith, I would have been barred from teaching freely—and I might even have been imprisoned, as seven Bahai educators now are.
While many Iranian citizens are targets of repression by the current regime, the t reatment of Bahais, the country's largest non-Muslim religious community, is a special case. Unlike Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, who have certain limited rights under the Islamic Constitution, Bahais were declared unprotected infidels immediately following the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Bahais have faced persecution in Iran since their religion was founded more than a century and a half ago, but it was never as systematic as in the last 30 years. Since the Islamic Revolution, more than 200 Bahai leaders have been put to death. The regime has outlawed Bahai institutions, confiscated their properties, desecrated their cemeteries, demolished their holy places. Bahais are subject to constant state-sanctioned pressure to recant their faith. For the rest of this article in the Wall Street Journal 11 October 2011 go to: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424053111904875404576528761693875134
A PRIMORDIAL PERSPECTIVE ON PIONEERING
The call of Abraham and of his subsequent pilgrimage has become part of the primordial journey of the Jewish people.. "It is part, too, of that theophany, that appearance of God to man, that has been sedimented in narrative" writes George McLean and has become part of that biblical "primordium around which a people" has been shaped.1 This primordium, Peachey says, needs interpretation and application in the changing circumstances of time and place, our time and place. And that is what I am doing here in this bief comment.
Having embraced a new theophany and become a part of a new Faith community which claims descent from this original Abrahamic experience, I am in possession of a new tradition, now in its second century, which possesses a richness of detail that was scarcely perceptible in that first primordium, but which has been enacted again in the life of Baha'u'llah. This new narrative, not unlike Abraham's, is of immense value to the international pioneer in the Baha'i community, a pioneer who has now spent half a century engaged in community building.
Most of us are involved in community-building in some form or another around: family, tribe, a town orcity, a nation state. In the last century or so a new community has emerged: the global community and the Bahá'í Faith has been involved in building this global community, a global community within the larger global community.
Contemporary religious practitioners usually have little direct engagement--historical, archeological, sociological--with that seminal Abrahamic-primordium of community about 2000 BC. Tradition and its institutional configurations overshadow this ancient narrative and, to a lesser extent, are animated by it. But, for me, in the Baha'i community, Abraham's story has found eschatological and apocalyptic significance in what you might call a contemporary rerun. In this globalizing, individualizing, pluralising world, a prophet, a manifestation of God, has been forced, not called, out of his country, taking his kindred with him on the journey. I find in my life and in pioneering over four epochs, that the narrative of Baha'u'llah's exile, his journey-narrative, is one I can shape as I become more familiar with it and as it shapes me.
"Learning the existing story, its language and its logic," says Peachey, "enables individuals to experience on their own in the terms of that story or to use it as a foundation for new and expanded experience."2 Learning the story is like learning a language. Learning and becoming a part of a religious tradition is also like learning a language. Learning this language is essential if one is to function within that religion's parameters. The story of Abraham is the beginning, the first chapter, of the Israelite narrative; the story of Baha'u'llah is the end, the last chapter, of this same narrative extended into our time, our age.
This idea of learning the language of community has similarities to anyone’s efforts to build community: a football club, a family, the people in a work-place even a loose and informal group of friends. “You pays your money and you make your choice,” as they say—and you spend your days building community in some shape or form—and then you die and you leave behind you whatever community with whom you have been engaged .
From the father, the first patriarch, the birth, of the Hebrew people about 4000 years ago, if not before, right up to our time, our modern age, in the person of Baha'u'llah, this pattern of leaving one's country and going to another land is, in some ways, the basic myth, model, metaphor, for the international pioneer. The Baha'i pioneer goes and makes his home "to develop the society God calls"3 Baha'u'llah's followers to build. "I will make of you a great nation,"4 God says to His people in The Bible. The international pioneer is also in the same position, only he is at the beginning of a global, a planetary, system, a world Order, that he is helping to establish. This is the core of that pioneer's service to humanity. God will train both the pioneer and the Baha'is, it would appear, following the metaphor right back to Abraham, in a series of sacred-historical events different from, but similar in other ways to, the great literary-metaphorical history that is The Bible. Abraham's leap of faith is ours, too, as we walk into history.
Baha'u'llah's exile over forty years(1852-1892) took place only once, as did Abraham's journey, but each inaugurated the history of a divine-human relationship which will go on unfolding for centuries, millennia to come—such is the belief of those who call themselves Baha’is. Just as Abraham had little comprehension of the nature of his call or of his destiny at the beginning, so, too, are we in a similar position, although we do have some glimmering, indeed, much more than a glimmering, of the future given to us in the Baha'i writings. At the very start of the building of this World Order of Baha'u'llah, of community building, it is difficult to fathom the process, the reality, the meaning. The narrative takes unexpected turns; uncertainty enters in from time to time. Faith is at our core, in the centre of our narrative, as it was for Abraham.
But history, for the Jewish people, and for the Baha'is, is seen as an extended course of instruction filled with lessons and tests by which God seeks to educate us for our redemptive work. In this narrative is found the meaning and purpose of our lives. To help establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Just as Abraham went from his country, kindred and father's house so does the international pioneer, launched on a mission to other people, to all people, wherever he goes. The journey has gone on in our own time in the life of Baha'u'llah. That great journey of the Abrahamic peoples is the paradigmatic, the metaphorical, vehicle, that the pioneer takes on board as he becomes a part of a wondrous tradition that weaves its way through the holy Scriptures of four of the world's religions. For the pioneer's story is the story he will find there in that holy writ. Therein will he find his life's meaning and purpose.
1 Paul Peachey, "The Call of Abraham," in Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change, Series 1, Vol.7., George McLean, editor.
4 Numbers 23:9.
8 April 2010
The following comes from an online journal of opinion, The Nation, 14 May, 2007,"Cafe Society," William Deresiewicz. It is a review of Clive James book Cultural Amnesia.
The sociology comes first. Before he launches his symphony of voices with Anna Akhmatova, James gives us an "overture" on the cafe culture of prewar Vienna. It is the place where his imagination seems most at home, precisely because it was a time when the life of the mind was lived collectively and interconnectedly, by an astonishing array of wits and polymaths and artists and journalists (like Friedell and Polgar and Peter Altenberg and Stefan Zweig, who fittingly bookends the alphabetical procession). The cafes were their clubhouse, their debating society, their stage, sometimes even their mailing address. They were there, for the most part, because they were Jews, and as Jews they were excluded from the universities. The situation was humiliating for many, but the result, James says, was that "whole generations of Jewish literati were denied the opportunity of wasting their energies compiling abstruse doctoral theses."
By a lucky chance, I started reading Cultural Amnesia on my way down to the annual convention of the Modern Language Association, the professional organization of literary academics. Nothing in a long time has focused my discontent with academic life more pointedly than James's assertion that "Vienna was the best evidence that the most accommodating and fruitful ground for the life of the mind can be something more broad than a university campus." In James's cosmology, the university is the infernal (and infertile) counterpart to the paradise of the cafe. Humanism means interconnection, and the cafe gives that interconnection social form. Academia necessitates specialization and incessantly discourages intellectual breadth (now more than ever, no matter how much lip service is paid to "interdisciplinarity"). The academic conference, where small groups of identically specialized professionals meet to debate narrow questions of interpretation and doctrine, is the cafe's demonic double.
But James's evocation of Viennese cafe society is elegiac, and not just because that society was destroyed by Hitler. James, too, has been a denizen of cafes, but he has haunted them alone. Friedell and Polgar and Altenberg were sitting on the table, not around it. Though James's life has been richly social, as he hints from time to time, still, "most of [my] listening was done by reading." For a host of reasons--the expansion of universities, of suburbs and of telecommunications, to name three--the kind of face-to-face intellectual-artistic life that Vienna exemplified, and that flourished in other twentieth-century cities, simply no longer exists. James's answer to this bereavement is the book itself. Here is the cafe he has created in his mind, a convocation of voices that respond to one another across the barriers of language, outlook, expressive form and, most of all, time.
If, for James, the cafe is humanism's ideal social context, its necessary political one is liberal democracy. The civilized life that humanism seeks to embrace in its totality is by its nature "provokingly multifarious" and "bewilderingly complex." Its preconditions, James believes, are pluralism, tolerance and freedom, the values that liberal democracy enshrines. All else, he implies, is totalitarianism, whether of the right or the left. For James, totalitarianism's essential intellectual structure is ideology (which, when it travels in the academy, goes by the name of "theory"): the belief that you possess an idea that explains everything. With such a key in hand, you can stop learning, stop doubting yourself, stop listening to other people--all the activities that humanism most requires. If your ideology is salvationist (and which of them isn't?), you will even feel justified in shutting those other people up--if necessary, by killing them.
The twentieth century's two great totalitarian ideologies were Nazism and Communism, and James devotes a large number of his essays to figures involved with one or the other--as perpetrators, apologists, resisters or victims. If James's cultural imagination is rooted in Vienna, his political imagination is rooted in the decades when Hitler and Stalin forced European intellectuals into the direst of moral choices. The cumulative message of these entries is that history has a way of waking up and finding you out. And so the reason to read history, James quotes Zweig as saying, is "to see how other men had acted" when tested by events, and to measure oneself beside them. Faced with Hitler or Stalin, some, like the saintly Sophie Scholl, executed at the age of 21 for refusing to renounce her nonviolent resistance to the Nazi regime, martyred themselves in the cause of righteousness; some, like Nadezhda Mandelstam, survived to bear witness; some, like Ernst Robert Curtius, the great romance philologist, withdrew from public life; and some, like Jean Cocteau, openly collaborated.
And then there was Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre is the book's antihero, who "looms in the corner...like a genius with the evil eye." For James, Sartre's response to both Nazism and Stalinism was just about the worst an intellectual can do. After largely acquiescing in the occupation, Sartre retroactively co-opted the Resistance by placing himself at the head of the "post-Liberation witch-hunt" that "called down vengeance on people whose behavior had not really been all that much more reprehensible than his own." After the war, he became a paragon of the ideologically committed leftist intellectual, James's bête noire, and it is a major project of Cultural Amnesia to impugn the credibility, intellectual as well as moral, of him and everyone like him. James's own political heroes are liberal intellectuals like Sartre's great nemesis, Raymond Aron, who exposed Communism and defended the sanity, strength and value of liberal society.
But Sartre's sins were stylistic as well as political, and they bring us to James's humanist aesthetics and its connection to his humanist politics. For James, Sartre's abstruse, impacted philosophical style was designed to conceal more than just the vacuity of his thought: "If Sartre wanted to avoid examining his own behavior--and clearly he did--he would need to develop a manner of writing philosophy in which he could sound as if he was talking about everything while saying nothing." And it's not just Sartre; it's also Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida and the rest of the Obscurantist International. Clarity is the enemy of self-deception, and of the larger deception known as ideology. Style is not an ornament of thought but its very substance, and thinking is an ethical act. Humanism, which seeks a complex integration of disparate experience, requires the most difficult kind of style: a simple one. "Great writing," James tells us, "is not just writing," because to become great it must respond to, and thus forces us into an awareness of, the whole of reality. The crabbed, pedantic cant typically favored by academics responds to only a tiny crumb of reality; the abstract bombast of ideologues responds to no reality whatsoever.
One of the central purposes of video,TV and Broadway productions of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ was to encourage viewers to relate the film to their own lives. This I have done in the following prose-poem:
TAKING OUR WORLD BY STORM
On August 1st 1944, nine days after I was born, Anne Frank made her last entry in what has become one of the famous books of our time: The Diary of Anne Frank. The book is now said to be the largest selling non-fiction book after The Bible. Anne died just before her 16th birthday in March 1945 in a German concentration camp. But Anne lives on in her diary, arguably the major, the popular, voice of the Jews from the Holocaust of WW2. The first edition of her diary came out in 1952; the first Broadway production in 1955 and the first movie in March 1959. This Dutch Jewish teenager also lived on in several television productions. One of these I saw last night. -Ron Price with thanks to “History Thru The Lens: The Diary of Anne Frank: Echoes From the Past,” Southern Cross TV, 12:30-2:30 a.m., 20 January 2006.
You were just becoming known
to a wider public, to any public,
at the same time as this new Faith
was becoming known to me and to
a wider world right back at the start
of what He and we have called
the Kingdom of God on Earth.1
Your diary went on Broadway
in the midst of that crisis in ’55.
Of course, there are always troubles
in Iran; like the Jews it seems, people
of endless struggle. Not that it meant
much to me back then when I was 15.
Your diary became a movie--in 1959,
released two days before that Naw Ruz.
I was playing baseball and hockey then
trying to make it with girls and school
and just having entered the outer fringes
of a Movement that was becoming the
greatest drama in religious history and
it certainly provided the greatest drama
in my life just beginning in that spring
and summer of ’59 so very unobtrusively.
The world understood more of its enormity,
its tragedy, its unbelievable horror through
your eloquent voice from the past & death’s
corridors for those who never speak any more.
And I came closer and closer to a Force
that took my life by storm, as I say, so
unobtrusively, so quietly, so seductively,
inch by inch, increment by increment.
1 God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi, p. 351.
revised for Hadie MacLeod:
On 1 June 1962, as I finished my high school exams in Canada and about 12 weeks before my Baha’i pioneering life began near the end of August, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi boss responsible for transporting 100s of thousands of Jews to death camps, was executed. Research Professor of history and specialist in Jewish history, David Cesarani, argues that Eichmann had a corporate mentality and that he made a conscious career decision to do what he did within the immense bureaucratic wheel of the German totalitarian state.
He was not an embodiment of evil, not a brutal, depraved, an ideologically-driven psychopath. These popular views are a myth, Cesarani argues. He learned to be an anti-semite; he learned to hate and chose to be part of the genocide process. He was part of a “paperwork-based collapse of morality.” He was in many ways a detached, passionless administrator, as Max Weber describes such men so well; he was an ordinary, common, far from atypical man, a graduate in mechanical engineering. He could have been, so argues Cesarani, you or I.-Ron Price with thanks to David Cesarani, Eichmann: His Life and Times, Vintage, 2004.
You can get a man’s life so
wrong, even if you study him
for years; and you can get your
own life quite wrong even though
you live it decade in and decade out,
for man, it is said, is God’s mystery.
You certainly found as the decades
rolled insensibly and sensibly by
some bad, false wretched fame,
notoriety, a failed celebrity,
mortifying failure, a career move
in the wrong direction, a socio-historical,
ideological apparatus and a psycho-social
profile that manufactured you
as they manufacture us
with enough autonomy thrown-in
so that we can call ourselves free
even if we are everywhere in chains
in the Most Great Prison that is our life,
in which we can not walk away but
in which there is always a degree of
voluntarism, there are always half-truths
and we must manage our lives within
a new structure of freedom for our age.
December 23rd 2005
For someone like myself who has an archive of over 3000 letters, the archaeological research in what has come to be called the Cave of Letters, has a special interest. The first research was done in this cave near the Dead Sea in Israel in 1960/1 and the letters which were found came from 132 AD(ca). No research was done again until 1999. My own cache or cave of letters was amassed during this time(1960-2005) and can be found, not in a region of karst topography, but in a small room in a small town at the end of the Pacific rim, the last stop on the way to Antarctica. Like those ancient cave documents from the period of time of the Second Revolt of the Jews against the Romans just one century after the crucifixion of Christ which chronicle what life was like two millennia ago, my letters document the life of an international pioneer at another important time in history, the first four epochs at the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth(1953-2021).
These letters in the Cave of Letters from nearly 1900 years ago are part of a priceless collection of artefacts. State-of-the art archaeological technology has enabled historians to add a substantial amount of new information to the existing bases of knowledge from the second century AD. It is difficult to see how my letters can provide anything like the same function given the multitude of sources of information about our contemporary way of life or, more particularly, the way of life of the international Baha’i in the first century of the evolution of Baha’i administrative institutions.-Ron Price with thanks to “Lost Worlds: Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land,” SBS TV, 7:30-8:30 pm, September 4th 2005 and “2000 Excavation of The Cave of Letters,” Internet Site, 2001.
I wonder if azimuths, inclinations,
station sketches, computer programs,
cross-sectional maps, survey data,
archaeological and geophysical analyses,
digital pulseEKKOTM100 and 1000 GPR
systems and their resulting profiles using
antennae frequencies of 100 and 450 MHz
and a backpack transport system…….
..….and radar stratigraphic analysis
to investigate both lateral and vertical
geometry of reflection patterns;
archaeological probes using endoscope,
metal detector and other excavation
techniques. Two dimensional electrical
resistivity and tomography analysis----
…all of this just might reveal something
that the present generation of analysts
would not be inclined to even examine.
For the meaning of history is not so much
in the living but in retrospect as new fields
emerge, new meaning systems have their day,
and this earthly life finds its ultimate perspective.
September 5th 2005
MORE THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT
There is no "Christian civilization" or "Christian culture" in the way that there is an "Islamic culture," which you can recognize from Pakistan to Tunisia to Morocco. As the Christian Church took shape historically in new and various social forms over the centuries so, too, is the world order of Baha’u’llah taking shape in a variety of social forms. Cultural diversity was built into the Christian faith with that first great decision by the Council in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, which declared that the new gentile Christians didn’t have to enter Jewish religious culture. A similar decision of an Egyptian Court in 1926 acknowledged the independence of the Baha’i Faith from Islam. Just as people no longer knew what a Christian lifestyle looked like after it was established as a non-Jewish religion; just as the converts had to work out, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a new way of being Christian, so too have Baha’is in these four epochs had to work out, with a great deal of guidance from the Central Figures of their Faith, from Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, what constituted a Baha’i way of life.--Ron Price with thanks to Andrew Walls, “The Expansion of Christianity: An Interview with Andrew Walls,” The Christian Century, August 2-9, 2000, pp. 792- 799.
We’ve got so much to define
and shape our life and ways,
a calendar, feasts and fasts,
forms to order our complex
days, tools to instruct,
massive, eloquent exegisis
translated into deeds, action,
heroic and otherwise,
messages, more praise,
exhortation, censure, advice
than you can shake a stick at--
and we’re only in the second century.
And all of this serving the need
of the moment: the future and
the present in our individual,
collective life--and all of this
forges, directs and guides
our community, brings system
to a sea of fragments in
a continuous crucible
of transformation free from
the drastic consequences
January 2, 2005.
THE HISTORY OF JUDAISM: A BAHA'I PERSPECTIVE-Part 1
A history of Judaism from a Bahá'í Perspective was prepared by the Director of the Wilmette Institute Robert Stockman for the Wilmette Institute. The Wilmette Institute, an agency of the Bahá’í Faith in the United States, offers online courses on the Bahá’í Faith, and courses from the perspective of the Bahá’í teachings in the following areas: Religion, Theology, History, Biography, the Bahá’í Scriptures and Authoritative Texts, and a Survey of the Bahá’í Teachings. The outline of that history of Judaism, as prepared by Stockman, is as follows:
1. Chronology of Judaism
1.1 2000 to 1000 BCE(before the common era or the Christian era)
2000-1700 BCE Abraham and the Patriarchs (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph)
1250(circa) Moses and the Exodus. 40 years in the wilderness.
1200-1000 The period of the League or the Confederacy. Reign of the Judges such as Gideon, Deborah, and Samson.
1020-1000 Saul, the first king; Samuel, the first prophet
1.2 1000 BCE to 500 BCE
1000-961 David. Defeat of Philistines. Jerusalem is capital
961-922 Reign of Solomon, son of David. Kingdom of Israel reaches its zenith. Temple is built. Yahwist writes "J". After his death Israel splits into northern and southern kingdoms.
c. 900 Elohist writes "E" as the national epic of Northern Kingdom.
869-850 Reign of Ahab and Jezebel in Northern Kingdom. Baal, Melqart, Asherah are worshipped. The prophets Elijah, then Elisha, campaign against corruption.
722 Assyrians destroy the Northern Kingdom. Many flee south, probably bringing Temple practices that were written up in the Book of Deuteronomy.
640-609 Josiah extends the Southern Kingdom to a large size and reforms Temple worship using Deuteronomy.
587 Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. The Exile begins. In the exile J, E, and Deuteronomy are rewritten into the Pentateuch. Judaism emerges from Yahwism.
c. 550 The Persians conquer the Babylonians and allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it, build a new Temple, and establish a vassal state.
1.3 500 BCE to THE BEGINNING OF THE CE(THE BCE)
323 Alexander the Great conquers the Persian Empire, including Palestine, then dies. The area is divided among four Greek generals; the Seleucids control Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon.
168-64 The Jews revolt under the Maccabees. Judea independent again.
4 BCE Herod the Great dies. Judea comes under increasing Roman control.
67-69 CE The Jewish War; The Romans destroy Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The Second Exile begins.
1.4 THE BCE to 1948 A.D.
1948 Establishment of State of Israel; Second Exile ends.
There is much more to add here in all these four sections 1.1 to 1.4 but the above will suffice. Readers wanting more details should go to the following link among others of their choice for this 4000 year history.
THE FIRST 11 CHAPTERS OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS
The following comes from a review of these two books: (i) Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
by Jon D. Levenson, Princeton University Press; and (ii) Jacob: Unexpected Patriarch by Yair Zakovitch, translated from the Hebrew by Valerie Zakovitch, Yale University Press. This review is found in The New York Review of Books, 23 May 2013. The review is by Adam Kirsch an American poet and literary critic. The review is entitled "One Abraham or Three?"
As Kirsh writes in beginning his review: "The first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis are an almost unrelieved chronicle of human evil, corruption, and malice. The first human beings, Adam and Eve, are given a single commandment by God, not to eat of the tree of knowledge; but they listen to the serpent, transgress God’s order, and are expelled from Eden. In the next generation, Cain murders his brother Abel and is sent to wander the earth. By chapter six, “the Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time.” Regretting that man was ever made, God sends the Flood to wipe out His creation, sparing only Noah and his family."
"But no sooner do the waters recede than Noah gets drunk and falls asleep naked, whereupon his son Ham “saw his father’s nakedness”—a profound violation that earns Ham a perpetual curse. This is followed by the story of the Tower of Babel in which human beings try to build a heaven-storming tower, only to be scattered and divided by God. By the time we reach the twelfth chapter of Genesis, it is hard to see how human beings could be any worse, or any more incorrigible. Divine threats and punishments seem to have no effect on mankind; God has bound Himself not to send a second Flood, but if He did, no one could say He wasn’t provoked. It seems as if the human story has reached a dead end in wickedness."
"And then comes Abraham—or, as he is still known at this point in the story, Abram. His name appears first in a long genealogy, along with a dozen other names—Arpachshad, Peleg, Serug—that now mean nothing to us. There is no reason to expect that Abram will be singled out in the story to come. Yet chapter 12 begins with God plucking Abram from obscurity and making him, spontaneously and for no clear reason, a tremendous promise:
Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
And curse him that curses you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you."
"As Jon D. Levenson writes in Inheriting Abraham, the “call and commission” of Abraham represents “a new beginning” for the human story. So far in Genesis, we have read of exile, destruction, scattering; now, for the first time, we hear of homecoming, flourishing, covenant. It is, in fact, several new beginnings. In the near term, it begins the story that will take up the rest of Genesis: the epic of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which begins in Mesopotamia, and meanders......" The story meanders through the Bible as well as the Koran, to say nothing of the literature of a religion that claims to be the newest of the Abrahamic religions, the Baha'i Faith.
THE HISTORY OF JUDAISM: A BAHA'I PERSPECTIVE-Part 2
2.1 Overview of Judaism Beginning After the Last Ice-Age
Perhaps no history on the surface of the earth is more remarkable than that of the Jews. They can trace their ancestry back to bands of wandering herders, with names like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca. They first emerge as a people separate from the other peoples of the Mediterranean world as a result of Moses and His teachings, which sharply distinguished them from their polytheistic neighbors. They conquered a land—Israel—and established a great empire, then declined in power and were vanquished. Their Temple was destroyed and their leadership was sent into exile until a subsequent empire allowed them to return home; they rebuilt their temple and then subsequently obtained, lost, obtained, and lost again their freedom. Roman domination led to another war of attempted liberation; it failed, the temple was destroyed a second time, and a second exile began, which only ended with the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.
Few peoples can trace their history continuously over thirty-two centuries. But even more remarkable is the fact that so much of the history of the Jews is embodied in one book- -the Hebrew Bible (it is not called the Old Testament by the Jews because it is their entire Bible). Thus the Hebrew Bible is the history of a people as well as a sacred scripture. In describing the development of a single people, representative of the entire human race, the Bible makes sacred the history of all humanity.
The history of the Jews actually starts in the prehistory of a people called the Semites. This people emerges in the Middle East some time after the last Ice Age. They are defined linguistically; some modern languages, such as Arabic, Syriac, and Hebrew, as well as ancient languages, such as Aramaic, Ugaritic, Akkadian, and Assyrian, are descended from the original Semitic tongue. Closely related are other languages such as modern Ethiopic and ancient Egyptian. The term "Semite" is of modern coinage and derives from the name Shem, one of Noah's three sons; for it was traditionally believed that the Semitic peoples sprang from him (Gen. 10:1, 21-31). For a review of a new book on the origins of Judaism and other religions go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jan/14/can-science-explain-religion/
2.2 The Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible begins with Adam and Eve, then describes the life of Noah. Biblical scholars are fairly sure that these stories are mythological, that is, they are stories that are not based on actual historical events. The stories of the Patriarchs, however, are viewed as legendary, that is, stories that are built up around actual, historical, people and places, though the details of the stories may not be historical. The first patriarch was Abraham; his son was Isaac, who had a son named Jacob, who in turn had a son named Joseph. There is a cycle of stories about each of these men and their families. Some biblical scholars suggest that perhaps these stories initially were separate, and were brought together by making the men successive members of the same clan; but this is speculation. The Patriarchs collectively are called Hebrews. The term Israelites does not apply to them; it applies to the people of the Hebrew Bible who lived after the coming of Moses. After the first exile one can use a third term, Jew, which referred originally to a person who was a member of the tribe of Judah, one of Israel's twelve tribes (by then, the other tribes were lost).
In 1979, shortly after the signing of the peace treaty between their two countries, President Navon of Israel presented President Sadat of Egypt with a copy of The Guide for the Perplexed, composed in Egypt in the 12th century by the Jewish scholar Maimonides. Navon remarked on the book’s language – it was written in Arabic, but in Hebrew script – and stressed the kinship between Hebrew and Arabic, while Sadat spoke of the long history of co-operation between Arabs and Jews, and noted that Maimonides had drawn inspiration from Muslim philosophers. Both men agreed that Maimonides was a bridge between their countries.
Mosheh ben Maimon, called Moses Maimonides was a preeminent medieval Spanish, Sephardic Jewish philosopher, astronomer, and one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages. He was born in Córdoba, present-day Spain, Almoravid Empire on Passover Eve, 1135, and died in Egypt on December 12, 1204. He was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt. For more on Maimonides go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides For more of this review of Maimonides in His World by Sarah Stroumsa(Princeton, 222 pages, 2009) go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n18/david-nirenberg/double-game
2.3 Some Baha'i and Islamic Perspectives
There are some Arabic legends quoted by Bahá'u'lláh, though not necessarily endorsed by Him as historically accurate. They tell the early history of the Semites in terms of religious allegory. Noah is described as having "prayerfully exhorted His people and summoned them to the haven of security and peace" (Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 7). In reply, Noah's people persecuted Him. Bahá'u'lláh also says that Noah "several times promised victory to his companions and fixed the hour thereof. But when the hour struck, the divine promise was not fulfilled," which "caused a few among the small number of His followers to turn away from Him" (ibid, 7). Specifically citing "books and traditions," Bahá'u'lláh says that "there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers" (ibid, 8). I mention the Person of Baha'u'llah here because as a Baha'i I accept the authority of Baha'u'llah and His legitimate successors, appointed and/or elected, to provide a central core for my own beliefs and values, attitudes and approaches to Biblical questions.
The limited information in the above description does not contradict the general picture of the Middle East in the third, fourth, and fifth millennia B.C.E. The land was sparsely settled with wandering herdsmen and agricultural villages; towns and cities were small and rare and were found in only a few areas, such as Mesopotamia. Technology was simple. Literacy, when it arose in the late fourth millennium, was confined to a few priests and palace scribes at best. Trade was conducted over a large area, but on a very limited scale; roads and money were nonexistent. Religion was polytheistic and mythic. Under such circumstances one could expect that a Manifestation of God, a Baha'i term for Individuals like: Moses, Jesus and Muhammed, among Others---would reach only a limited area, perhaps a group of villages or a region; and He would probably have a small following. It is interesting to note that Bahá'u'lláh's account does not mention Noah teaching the oneness of God. One can speculate that any Manifestation of God who appeared in such primitive times might have emphasized morals and taught religious truths through stories which were understood by the people as myths.
Arab legends mentioned in the Qur'án describe Húd as a Manifestation of God after Noah. He, too, exhorted His people but received rebelliousness in return (ibid, 9; Qur'án 11:50-60). He was succeeded by Sálih of the tribe of Thamúd, whom some identify with Shelah in Gen. 11:13-14. The Qur'án attributes to Him a warning to "worship God," but the people are said to have replied "O Sálih, our hopes were fixed on Thee until now; forbiddest thou us to worship that which our fathers worshipped? Truly we doubt that whereunto thou callest us as suspicious" (Qur'án 11:61-62; translation in Kitáb-i-Íqán, p.10). As a result the people fell into perdition.
2.4 Some Personal Thoughts and Experiences
The following poem comes from the Psalms. The Old Testament offers many helpful perspectives for those who struggle on Earth. I introduce some comments on my life with these words from Psalms:
Our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years
Or perhaps eighty, if we are strong.....
They are soon gone and we fly away.
In this context much of life is remembering. In some ways this remembering is a disease of the graying and the balding. To go back is to bore and to praise the good old days, to bask in the past, to enter an Eden that never existed, a paradise as legendary as Atlantis. In other ways to remember is to start dieing. The opposite is also the case for many. Much of religious literature can be summed up in a single word: remember. The Baha'i religion is, in some ways, like that of the Judaism of ancient Israel, at least insofar as it is embedded in history. To forget one's history is a crime, a crime against yourself and your memory. You become the accomplice in your own demise. To forget the life of Baha'u'llah is to partly dismantle your own life. To remember His history is to start living.
I had lived more than half of my life, age 26 to 55, in Australia when I retired from full-time employment at the age of 55. I had left Canada at the age of 26. In February 1973 I had the best job I had had in my life, until then, in South Australia's first open plan secondary school. I was just beginning the years of great success in my teaching career in primary and secondary teaching, but my marriage was in its last six months, little did I know it at the time. The Universal House of Justice, the international governing Body of the Baha'i community, wrote in April 1973 that the Baha'is were raising "on this tormented planet the fair mansions of God's Own Kingdom wherein humanity may find surcease from its self-induced confusion and chaos and ruin."
I had just begun to serve on the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Gawler, a small town outside Adelaide, where there had been a Baha'i community for less than twenty-five years. That was the case nearly everywhere I lived in the first 6 decades of my Baha'i experience (1952/3-2013/4). The two dozen towns I lived in all had very young Baha'i communities of less than a quarter century--with the exception of Hamilton Ontario where I lived from 1944 to 1946, as well as in 1963 and 1966. Toronto also had had a Baha'i community since as far back as 1910.(1) I lived in Toronto in 1969. In Toronto I served briefly on its Assembly, an Assembly which first formed in 1938(1); the Baha'i community in that city went back as far back as 1910, and perhaps earlier in the first decade of the twentieth century.(1) See The Origins of the Baha'i Community of Canada: 1898-1948, Will C. van den Hoonaard, Wilfrid Lauier University Press, Waterloo, 1996, p.62.
The Nine Year Plan, the first one of the Universal House of Justice, an institution that has now been at the apex of Baha'i administration for more than half a century, ended in that April of 1973. That Plan had seen an "overwhelming victory." It had been the second global campaign of the world Baha'i community. I had certainly been the recipient of Baha'u'llah's "unceasing confirmations," at least that was how I saw it and how I have come to see it with even greater clarity in the following decades. A little more than four years before I had just left my fourth mental hospital due to a serious episode of bipolar disorder. I was at the bottom of yet another of those proverbial barrels or pits we go down in life. Baha'u'llah had raised me from the depths of a mental sickness that had completed bewildered me and placed me in an educational environment, a professional teaching job which was at the top of my field---at least form my point of view. Obviously I had to initiate the action, apply for the jobs, move to Australia, et cetera. God only helps those who help themselves, as it is said. But there is an element of serendipity, happy chance, perhaps the mysterious dispensations of Providence, as the famous historian Edward Gibbon once put it.
Some posts below ON THE INTERNET on Judaism, religion, and the Baha'i Faith
For a brief and reasonably comprehensive history of Judaism readers are advised to google, to go to Wikipedia and many other sites which offer excellent overviews of Jewish religion and its history, its teachings and theologies. But first some comments here from a Baha'i perspective:
A HISTORY OF JUDAISM: A BAHA'I PERSPECTIVE-Part 3:
A.1 Abraham and A.2 the Patriarchs
A.1 Abraham is an archetypal figure, and His life has been interpreted many ways by succeeding generations. The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament sees Abraham as the archetype of true faith, because of His willingness to sacrifice His son at God's command. Muslims view Abraham as the first Muslim and emphasize His defense of monotheism in a completely polytheistic world. They attribute the first construction of the Kaaba in Mecca to Him and His son, Ishmael.
The account of Abraham in the Qur'án and the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá parallel that of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 12-25) but with some significant additions based on Arabic legend. The Hebrew Bible speaks of Abraham leaving his home city of Ur (in southern Mesopotamia) for Haran (in northern Mesopotamia) and then for Canaan (modern Palestine), but it does not say why He left; it only explains that God commanded it (Gen. 12:1) and focuses on God's promise to Abraham that "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great" (Gen. 12:2). `Abdu'l-Bahá, alluding to Qur'ánic passages, states that Abraham had to leave Ur because of persecution for His beliefs:
He was born in Mesopotamia. . . of a family who were ignorant of the Oneness of God. He opposed His own nation and people, and even His own family, by rejecting all the gods. Alone and without help He resisted a powerful tribe, a task which is neither simple nor easy. . . . therefore they all arose against him, and no one supported Him except Lot, His brother's son, and one or two other people of no importance. At last, reduced to the utmost distress by the opposition of His enemies, He was obliged to leave His native land. . . . But Abraham stood fast and showed forth extraordinary firmness—and God made this exile to be His eternal honor until He established the Unity of God in the midst of a polytheistic generation. This exile became the cause of the progress of the descendants of Abraham, and the Holy Land was given to them. . . . Finally, in consequence of His exile the whole of Europe and most of Asia came under the protecting power of the God of Israel. (Some Answered Questions, 12-13)
Abraham's mission is described in terms of championing God's truth—in this case, the teaching of the Oneness of God to a polytheistic world. The story reiterates the theme of opposition to the Manifestations. Abraham's message is described in a manner to make it a fitting precursor of Moses's, for one must believe in the One God before one can be taught how to relate to that God through prayer, sacrifice, and lawful behavior.
The Hebrew Bible itself preserves some details of the religion followed by Abraham's descendants. Unlike other sections of the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis God is called by various names: El `Elyon, "God Most High" (Gen. 14:18-22); El Ro'i, "God of seeing" (Gen. 16:13); El Shaddai, "God Almighty" (Gen. 17:1, 43:14, Ex. 6:3); El `Olam, "God the Everlasting" (Gen. 21:33); El Bethel, "the God of Bethel" (Gen. 31:13). This suggests that the Patriarchs worshipped God under various attributes. Whether they were understood to refer to the same God is unknown. God is also referred to as the God of a particular clan, as in "God of Abraham" (Gen. 28:13, 31:42, 31:53), the "Kinsman of Isaac" (Gen. 31:42, 31:53), and the "Champion of Jacob" (Gen. 49:24). Perhaps the best example is Gen. 31:51-53:
Then Laban said to Jacob, "see this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.
Here two wandering clans fix the border separating their lands by erecting heaps of stones and by swearing by the god of their own clans; Jacob by the "God of Isaac" (the god of his father) and Laban by the "God of Nahor" (the god of his father, Nahor) (Gen. 29:5). This suggests that the Patriarchs worshipped a clan god, who was not always necessarily identified with the god of another clan, nor necessarily with the high God. This form of worship is called henotheism, worship of one god who is not necessarily seen as the only God; it appears to be a common intermediate step between polytheism and monotheism.
Another important aspect of Abraham's teaching apparently was the establishment of the rite of circumcision among the Hebrews (Gen. 17:11). Circumcision had already been practiced by the Egyptians and probably the Canaanites, but now it became a religious act denoting one's acceptance of God.
Abraham is important to Bahá'ís because of His three wives, and the descendants He had through them. Through Sarah He fathered Isaac, the legendary ancestor of the Israelites and of Jesus. Through Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian maid, He had Ishmael, legendary father of the Arabs and ancestor to Muhammad and, therefore, of the Báb. Through Keturah, Abraham's little-mentioned third wife (Gen. 25:1-4), came numerous children, from whom Bahá'u'lláh is said to have descended (Some Answered Questions, 213). All the genealogies, even Bahá'u'lláh's, are probably legendary—no human being can trace a complete genealogy through thousands of years. Furthermore, simple mathematics shows that after almost four thousand years, everyone in the Middle East should be descended from Abraham, so the claim is not genetically significant. This point is reinforced by the biblical promise that from Abraham would come many nations. However, the spiritual point of the genealogies is unmistakable: Abraham was the father of all the later Semitic revelations.
Archaeology and modern biblical scholarship can not confirm the details of the stories of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) in the Hebrew Bible. However, they can corroborate enough information to suggest that the general lines of the stories are feasible and contain some history. No identifiably historical figures—such as a specific Pharaoh— are mentioned in the stories, nor are any of the Patriarchs mentioned in inscriptions or tablets uncovered by the archaeologist's spade, hence it is difficult to assign specific dates to Abraham and His descendants. However, the cultural details in their stories fit the period of 2000 B.C.E to 1700 B.C.E, and northern Mesopotamia, well.
A.2 The Patriarchs
The names found in the stories of the Patriarchs are typical of the period and place, as attested by numerous inscriptions. Marriage and inheritance laws known from clay tablets found in the northern Mesopotamian city of Nuzi match details in the story of Abraham, yet contrast with later Mesopotamian and Israelite practices. The description of the patriarchal way of life—wandering the grassy parts of the Fertile Crescent as stock breeders—agrees with the conditions of the time, including the important detail that the Patriarchs do not have camels (which were domesticated later in the second millennium B.C.E.). Even most of the towns and cities mentioned in the accounts existed at the time, except the Philistines, who apparently reached the land of Canaan after the Israelites. Finally, biblical accounts of the creation and flood bear many similarities to Mesopotamian legends, and the law codes of Moses's day draw on a Hebrew legal tradition that reflects earlier Mesopotamian practices. One conclusion, thus, seems firm: the ancestors of Israel came from the same region, at about the same time, as the legends of Abraham describe. Consequently there is no reason to assume that Abraham was not the head of a clan that traveled from Ur to Haran, where it settled and was augmented in numbers, and then journeyed to Canaan.
From Palestine, some of the wandering Hebrew clans wandered south to Egypt; others would have remained in Palestine. The story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, and then rising to a position of prominence under the Pharaoh, demonstrates that many trade connections existed between Egypt and Palestine, and suggests that Semites could be assimilated into Egyptian culture. But at some point some of the Hebrew clans in Egypt were enslaved and forced to work on royal construction projects. The Hebrew Bible says the period of slavery in Egypt lasted four hundred thirty years (Ex. 12:40), but the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which contains many variant readings of great antiquity) says that the four hundred thirty years included the time of the Patriarchs as well. In either case, the Hebrews were enslaved for at least two centuries before Moses arose to free them.
B.1 For the story of Moses from a Baha'i perspective, the following paragraphs are helpful:
Armed with the rod of celestial dominion, adorned with the white hand of divine knowledge, and proceeding from the Párán of the love of God, and wielding the serpent of power and everlasting majesty, He shone forth from the Sinai of light upon the world. He summoned all the peoples and kindreds of the earth to the kingdom of eternity, and invited them to partake of the fruit of the tree of faithfulness. Surely you are aware of the fierce opposition of Pharaoh and his people, and of the stones of idle fancy which the hands of the infidels cast upon that blessed Tree. So much so that Pharaoh and his people finally arose and exerted their utmost endeavor to extinguish with the waters of falsehood and denial the fire of that sacred Tree, oblivious of the truth that no earthly water can quench the flame of divine wisdom, nor mortal blasts extinguish the lamp of everlasting dominion (Kitáb-i-Iqán, 11).
The Bahá'í writings discuss various details in the life of Moses, especially those that seem to undermine the view that Moses was a manifestation of God. `Abdu'l- Bahá notes that Moses exerted His great influence, in spite of His lack of education— He was a shepherd—and in spite of a stammer, because He was "assisted by divine power" (Some Answered Questions, 15). Both Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l- Bahá mention the charge that Moses was a murderer; `Abdu'l-Bahá states that He killed a man "to prevent an act of cruelty" (Some Answered Questions, 15) while Bahá'u'lláh adds the murder occurred before Moses was called to His prophetic mission, and emphasizes how great God's power is, that a man known as a murderer could become accepted as as embodiment of God's truth (Kitáb-i- Iqán, 55-58). Finally, `Abdu'l-Bahá comments on Deut. 3:26, "The LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not hearken to me"; He explains that God's anger was caused not by Moses's sins, but the sins of the Israelites, whom Moses represented before God.
Bahá'u'lláh did not comment on Moses's miracles directly, but in the above quotation He mentioned the "rod of celestial dominion," the "white hand of divine knowledge," and "the serpent of power and everlasting majesty" (Kitáb-i- Íqán, 11), referring to the rod that became a serpent (Ex. 4:2-4) and the miracle of Moses's hand turning white (Gen. 4:6-7). This suggests that Bahá'u'lláh interpreted Moses's miracles before Pharaoh symbolically; that the miracles Moses performed were demonstrations of the power, majesty, and dominion of God, and of the knowledge of God. This interpretation is also implied when Bahá'u'lláh says the voice of God speaking in the burning bush bade Moses to "shed upon Pharaohic souls the light of divine guidance; so that, liberating them from the shadows of the valley of self and desire, He might enable them to attain the meads of heavenly delight" (Kitáb-i-Iqán, 54).
Of course, the Hebrew Bible understands the miracles quite literally. When Moses turned Aaron's rod into a serpent before the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh's magicians turned their rods into serpents as well; however, Moses's serpent swallowed up the others, suggesting that His magic was more powerful than theirs (Gen. 7:8-12). Moses turned the water of the Nile into blood, but the Pharaoh's magicians performed the same trick (Gen. 7:19-22). Moses filled the land with frogs, and the magicians repeated His feat again (Gen. 8:5-7). It was only when Moses filled Egypt with gnats that the magicians failed to execute magic equally powerful (Gen. 8:17-18). Yet the Pharaoh remained unconvinced. Additional miracles by Moses failed to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites; it was only when the Pharaoh's first born son died that he agreed to let the Israelites go. If nothing else, the biblical account is an allegory about the ineffectiveness of miracles as proofs of God's power.
Yet the stories, in their own way, speak of Moses's divine power. The book of Exodus portrays Moses primarily as a magician, perhaps because in His day there was little else to which He could be compared. This observation is easiest understood when one considers the manifestations of God who came after Moses. Of all the figures to whom Bahá'ís apply the title manifestation, Bahá'u'lláh fits the description best, because he is the most recent. Muhammad, appearing among an idolatrous people and succeeding a manifestation hailed as the Son of God and as part of the Godhead Itself, stressed His humanity. Because Jesus's contemporaries made no distinction between the station of Moses and Abraham and the station of such minor prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the Jewish concept of "prophet" was vague and any comparison between Jesus and Moses would have been confusing. Perhaps this explains why Jesus did not compare Himself to any previous figures. Rather, He seems to have left His station an enigma, referring to Himself by the obscure biblical title of the Son of Man. For Moses's people, there was no one with whom to compare their deliverer. The memories of Abraham were too indistinct. In a world that believed in magical powers, demons, a plethora of gods who interfered in human affairs, and human beings who were divine by their magical birth or royal sovereignty, there was no distinction that could be made between a manifestation and an ordinary human being who had learned spells or experienced visions. Thus Moses was remembered in ways that best reflected the understanding of His people: He was miraculously rescued after birth, held direct conversations with God, and demonstrated God's power in miraculous acts of magic.
When the Pentateuch attempts to describe Moses's station, it uses the only word available to it: n_bî, "prophet." However, it qualifies the word in a significant way. After Moses's death, the book of Deuteronomy concludes that "there has not risen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 34:10-11). Since, according to biblical scholars, the book of Deuteronomy was written in the seventh century B.C.E., after such "prophets" as Amos, Micah, and Isaiah, this passage seems to make a distinction between Moses and lesser prophets; one might say that it describes Moses as a greater prophet, or, as Bahá'ís would say, a manifestation of God. This usage of the word prophet appears to be found in the promise of Deut. 18:15 as well: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like unto me from among you, from among your brethren—him you shall heed."
A similar distinction between Moses and lesser prophets is also made in the Book of Numbers, although in that book the word prophet is used to describe the latter: "If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the LORD" (Num. 12:6-8). Thus, regardless how the word prophet is used, the Hebrew Bible makes a distinction between Moses and those figures whom Bahá'ís call lesser prophets.
B.2 For the following sections: (a) Wandering the Wilderness and the Conquest of the Promised Land, (b) Establishment of the Confederation, (c) Establishment of a Monarchy: Samuel and Saul, (d) Israel's Zenith: The Reign of Solomon, (e) Israel's Schism, (f) The Rise of Prophets: Elijah and Elisha, (g) The Destruction of Israel, (h) Judah as an Assyrian Vassal State, (i) The Deuteronomistic Histories, (j) The Destruction of Jerusalem, (k) Return from the Exile, proper observance of Judaism, and (l) The Arrival of the Greeks readers are advised to google or go to Robert Stockman's outline prepared for the Wilmette Institute.
THE OLD TESTAMENT and ME
The Hebrew Bible, called The Old Testament by Christians, is an extraordinarily difficult sequence of books.(1) This difficulty, too easily underestimated, is greater now than it ever was, partly because no contemporary reader, however specialized, shares in the psychology of the original readers and writers of The Bible. The first millennium in which anyone read any of the words in any of the books in the Hebrew Bible which did not exist in anything like its present form, was from about 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.(2)
My first memories of The Old Testament come from Bible readings in grade six when I was 11 and my mother reading passages from little booklets from the Unity School of Christianity as early as the mid-1950s. Although some of the quotations had a broad ethical appeal to me even as a boy in my late childhood and early teens, I found the stories abstruse and distant: goats, sheep, tribes, and curious names like Balthazar and Nebuchadnezzar. They all occupied another universe far removed from my little town of 5000 in Ontario in that post-WW2 world of the 1950s. This distance existed then, as it does now, nearly 60 years later.
My individual understanding of The Bible, my biblical interpretations, rely primarily at the age of nearly 70 on my experience of nearly 60 years of association with the Baha’i Faith. My interpretations and those of the Baha’i teachings are provocative, if nothing else. But I have always found there to be a vast distance from the psychic universe of the biblical writers beginning as early as, say, 900 B.C.(2) and the contemporary society that is my world. I know I have lots of company; indeed I rarely meet anyone who actually reads The Old Testament any more.
However abstruse the language of biblical prophecy and eschatology, the prophets of The Old Testament, I believe, were given a foreknowledge of the events of our times in their visions, visions which I’m sure they hardly understood themselves. Still, there lies a sure presentation of the times we are living-through, as long as one does not take those prophecies literally. Yahweh's choice of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants as part of the Chosen People story was a permanent decision, intended to prevail into a time without boundaries, into our time.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Harold Bloom, “Prose and Poetry,” in The New York Times, 17 October, 1982: a review of Dan Jacobson’s THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God, and (2) the final editor, or redactor, after the return from the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC, put all the books of The Old Testament into something like their present form.(3)
When this review appeared in(1)
The New York Times I had just
arrived in Australia’s Northern
Territory & the heat of summer
was just beginning to make me
run for cover to air-conditioning
in my office, my home & the cool
air of the car....The Old Testament
was on my universe’s far-periphery.
There it had always been in heat and
cold since those first stories when I
was in grade six in that little town in
Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe where
everyone I knew was Catholic or Jew
or Protestant, or nothing; yes, mostly
nothing and there they have remained
with that Old Testament far removed
from everyone’s everyday life. Still…
I have time now to try to get into it in
this the evening of my life; however
complex and abstruse it may be, I want
to make-up for the decades when it had
to remain far out on my life’s periphery.
(1) Harold Bloom, “Prose and Poetry,” in The New York Times, 17 October, 1982: a review of Dan Jacobson’s THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God.
(3) See Frank Kermode, “God Speaks Through His Women,” in The New York Times, 23 September 1990: a review of Harold Bloom’s The Book of J.
5 July 2012
INTERPRETATIONS OF AN OLD TESTAMENT STORY
The Canadian Journal of Philosophy and the Humanities, Animus, often contains useful biblical analysis, useful to me anyway. The following article "Sacrificing The Text: The Philosopher/Poet At Mount Moriah" by Dorota Glowacka appeared in 1997 two years before I retired from a fifty year student-and-employment life: 1949 to 1999. My formal study of both religion & philosophy as a student and as a teacher in educational institutions whetted my whistle, so to speak, for a more intensive study when I retired. I have now been out of paid employment for a dozen years but, being the generalist that I am and have been since high school and university in the 1950s and 1960s, I am now an inveterate dabbler in many disciplines. this website is a reflection of that dabbling.
To appreciate the above article readers at this site are advised to read a little about the philosopher Kierkegaard(1813-1855) at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%B8ren_Kierkegaard Kierkegaard was the first philosopher to be called an existentialist. Perhaps the reason for Kierkegaard's singling out Genesis 22 from many a blood-curdling biblical episode, lies in the unique nature of Abraham's plight. As Kierkegaard points out in his Fear and Trembling, the human imagination cannot possibly plumb the depths of Abraham's suffering when he had to sacrifice his long-awaited, beloved son, the only comfort of his and Sarah's old age. Both Abraham's love for his son and the pain of the imminent loss are absolutely great, beyond the pale of what an average human can bear. It is the pain that he has to suffer alone, and indeed Abraham is the Bible's most remarkable loner, self-banished from the human community. Abraham's solitude is unredeemable because it results from the terrible secret he harbors in his heart when he sets off on his journey to Mount Moriah. The secret cannot be shared: Abraham's readi ness to obey his God and perform the dreadful duty thwarts human comprehension and silences speech.
By writing about Abraham, Kierkegaard can perform a pantomime of walking along the patriarch's path, but he will remain incapable of the leap of faith that was necessary to accomplish the sacrifice. The poet can attain to the movement of infinite resignation, performed by tragic heroes such as Agamemnon who sacrificed his daughter to placate the gods, but this gesture will forever remain only a surrogate of Abraham's absolute faith.
Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd, whereby the impossible will happen and all human calculation is abandoned. The commentator strains to approximate the knight's gesture of the absurd, yet lacking faith, he is forbidden to effectuate the transcendent leap. In his necessary reliance on the mediation of concepts to tell the story, the exegete cannot aspire to the uniqueness of Abraham's condition. Versions two and four of
Kierkegaard's account state explicitly that, in contradistinction to the biblical model, the imagined Abraham returns home. The patriarch from the Book of Genesis does not even glimpse back towards home but moves on to live in a foreign land. As Kierkegaard remarks, were he merely
human, he would weep and long for what he had left behind. When he settles in Beersheba and buys a burial plot there, he avows: "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you". (Genesis 23.4) He renounces all of his possessions, his family and neighbours, and, sustained by faith, he never mourns his loss.
My own skepticism notwithstanding, the belief is widespread that knowledge about the personal characteristics of ancestors who have never directly entered into our lives is relevant to our own formation. Moreover, that relevance is seen not simply as arising from our conscious knowledge about those ancestors, but from a deeper source, our genetical inheritance, which also would operate to form us in part, irrespective of our consciousness of the past. That belief is summed up in the title of Harry Ostrer’s book, Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People. It is also implied in the title of a book by Raphael Falk, Zionism and the Biology of the Jews, whose English translation from the Hebrew original has yet to appear. While the term “race” is not used explicitly in these titles, in large part because the term is so loaded, there is considerable discussion of the Jews as a race or, using a less charged word, as a “people.” For more on this theme go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/06/is-there-a-jewish-gene/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=November+20+2012&utm_content=November+20+2012+CID_0c53cf9d1df1a08c4ba18828a364fc44&utm_source=Email%20marketing%20software&utm_term=Is%20There%20a%20Jewish%20Gene
Some of MY WRITING: my prose-poems, statements and comments on Judaism below:
The history of my study of the Judaeo-Christian religion is a long and complex one, too long to try to summarize here except in the broadest of outlines. My first memories of any stories and content from the Old Testament come from the 1950s, from the brief time I went to Protestant Sunday schools during my years of middle-childhood(age 6 to 8: 1950 to 1952 circa) and from my mother's knee, so to speak. The origins and development of the notes gathered in my current files, though, can be easily summarized. In the mid-1980s I took a course in religious education at a College of Advanced Education in South Australia. The sections of the notes I currently possess on Judaism and Christianity come from this period. The section on prophecy in my notes I began to collect shortly after retiring in 1999. By mid-2003, four years after beginning an enjoyable post-employment with even casual/part-time work jettisoned into history, I could devote much more time to writing and study. It was in 2003 that I began my separate file on the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
Now in 2012, nine years later, I have added a substantial body of work and content to a subject with limitless boundaries as so many subjects have become in this age, this age of a burgeoning literature in all fields and this age of easy access to this literature due to the world-wide-web. I find that, thusfar, I have really not focussed on the Judaeo-Christian tradition to any depth. My interest in it has become part of a very wide learning spectrum, a spectrum in evidence at this website in this second decade of my retirement from FT, PT and most casual-volunteer work. The scope of my academic and literary interests is now so wide that there is little hope for any one branch or discipline of learning to become deep and specialized.
20 April 2008 to 20 November 2012.
THE SENSE OF EXPECTATION
The Prophets of the Old Testament enjoyed the gift of interpreting the mind of God at least that was the way the idea was expressed for centuries in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Even though they were essentially men of the world, practical men, they seem to have been called to put a complex idea simply. They also had a sense of expectation and of history. For several hundred years the Hebrew prophets maintained a virtually continuous sense of high expectation and salvation. -Ron Price with thanks to Isidore Epstein, Judaism, Pelican, 1959, pp. 55-64.
You grew up in a time when Teheran,(1)
Shiraz and Hamadan were just words
on the periphery of everything(still are!),
like grandparents, Antarctica and Australia.
The bad guys were Indians and Communists.
You could see the former at the movies and
the latter were unseen like bedbugs, bacteria,
amoebas and atoms and you could never be
sure why it was exactly they were really bad.
Later, you lived above a restaurant, later
still in a big apartment building across
from a whisky distillery which had a smell
that would give urine & faeces a run for their
money. Here, in Canada’s most southerly city,
you met with the Arctic Branch of the National
Teaching Committee many times and learned
about those Tablets of the Divine Plan, and the
military metaphor, as well as pioneering north
but not to Alaska, to places you’d never heard
of like: Pangnirtung, Inuvik, and Igloolik.
It was about this time, too, that a sense of
urgency, begun in ’62 when we got as close
as we would get to a nuclear exchange, began
and matured with talks about being precisioned
instruments of the Universal House of Justice.
Listening to Nancy Campbell talk about hair’s-
breadth deviations and with a socio-climate we
now call the sixties. Over 40 years later it just
takes a different form--expectation is as high as
ever..............I remember reading how those Old
Testament prophets kept the Jews in a state of
expectation for several 100 years. And we too?
How long? How long? We too? How long now?
(1) The 'you' here is, in fact, myself. Much of my poetry has a strong autobiographical flavour.
13 January 1998 to 10 July 2011
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The Hebrew tribes on a spring day in the year 1447 BC made a hasty departure from Egypt. -Isidore Epstein, Judaism, Pelican, 1959, p.16.
The Egyptian emperor Thothmes(1490-1936 BC), the secular Imperial Power, organized the priests into an Imperial Pan-Egyptiac ecclesistical corporation under the presidency of the Chief Priest, the supreme pontiff, of Amon-Re at Thebes.--Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol.7A, Oxford UP, NY, 1963, pp. 188-189.
One of the many implications of the conception of history that informs the Baha’i perspective is that a Revelation from God, the appearance of a manifestation of God, in history is a cause, a causative factor, a generating principle, a centrepiece, in attempting to understand the meaning of history’s complex and mysterious journey. If His appearance is cause, then the events of history are effect. The process, the way it is all played out is immensely complex and leaves the average person to prefer movies, sport and gardening.-Ron Price
From Adam, to Noah, to Abraham,
to Isaac and Jacob, generation after
generation, millennia after millennia,
the brightness of the light of the Unseen
did shine above the horizon celestial.(1)
Nearby, just down the road, around the
corner of that sea world, the home of
the ancients, a civilization arose so imbued
with the sacred as to astonish our modern
eye........The triumph of life over death, the
epic journey over the heavenly Nile, the
descent into an underworld, the victory
of order over chaos, the Book of the Dead,
guidebook to life-after-death, a pantheon
of gods, goddesses, demons, ancestors
worshipped, resurrection, temples, pyramids,
an endless communication between this
life and the next with more gold than
any civilization has ever known.(2)
(1) Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, USA, 1970(1931), p.4.
(2) This vahid or nineteen line poem, tries to capture the essence of a civilization lasting for as many as five millennia. My poetry tries to elaborate, from time to time, on this theme of spiritual cause and material effect in history.
30 November 1998 to 10 July 2011
JEWISH DIASPORAS AND POETRY
Harold Bloom, the American writer and literary critic, and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, counts at least seven great Jewish Diasporas: Babylon-Persia; Hellenistic Alexandria; Muslim and Christian Spain, including Provence-Catalonia; Renaissance Italy; Eastern Europe– Russia; Austria-Hungary together with Germany; the United States.
Peter Cole’s The Dream of the Poem devotes itself to the crown of Jewry’s literary achievement in Muslim and Christian Spain: the blooming of a Hebrew poetry in that 3rd diaspora. At the very best, writes Bloom, this poetry could rival the magnificences of Scripture such as “Song of the Red Sea” (Exodus 15:1b–18), the “War Song of Deborah and Barak” (Judges 5:1–31), and “David’s Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan” (2 Samuel 1:19–27). For more of Bloom's commentary on The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950–1492 translated, edited, and with an introduction by Peter Cole, Princeton University Press go to: