Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A theological review of The Mummy Returns and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Jewish date:  19 ’Adhar Ri’shon 5774 (Parashath Wayyaqhel).

Today’s holidays:  Chaoflux (Discordianism), Feast Day of St. Señor Wenches (Church of the SubGenius), Narconon Day (Scientology).


Given how bad The Mummy was—theologically and otherwise—I considered not reviewing its two sequels.  (Seriously.  That movie would have been noticeably more theologically accurate had they had the Egyptian priests pray “Hail to the Sun God! / He really is a fun god! / Ra!  Ra!  Ra! / Ra!  Ra!  Ra!”, which is silly, but at least contains some authentic Egyptian theology.)  I watched them anyway.  The people who made them seem to have tried to make them less obviously stupid and more entertaining in the style of the Indiana Jones movies, but both sequels still have stupidity problems.  

WARNING:  MERCILESS SPOILER ALERT! 

The problem is not merely that people who accidentally revived a mummy and had to deal with killing it again would be well advised to keep away from Egypt and everything even remotely Egyptian for life.  These sequels both share the original’s serious flaw that rising of dead rulers who might bring about the end of the World as we know it could have easily been prevented.

The Mummy Returns makes an attempt at constructing a theology for this series.  Long ago, a defeated warrior, the Scorpion King, pledged his soul to the Egyptian god Anubis in exchange for victory and revenge against his enemies.  Anubis accepted his bargain, and when the Scorpion King was victorious, He took the Scorpion King and his army.  And now the threat is that the a cult led by Meela Nais, the reincarnation of Anck-su-namun (the love interest of the bad guy from the last film), will resurrect Imhotep (the bad guy from the last film), and Imhotep will defeat the awakened Scorpion King and gain the latter’s powers, thus letting him bring about the end of the World as we know it.

Authenticity check:  I am not an expert on ancient Egyptian religion by any means, but this sounded wrong, so I looked up Anubis.  It turns out that Anubis was the god of the afterlife, not the counterpart of Satan.  A Faustian bargain with Anubis makes no sense, as the Scorpion King’s soul was destined to be delivered to the care of Anubis no matter what.  And since all mortals must eventually go to Anubis, unless he turns into a pathological over-worker, He has no real motivation to drum up business by getting more humans killed in the short term.  A better choice for an evil god would have been Set, who, if memory serves correctly, came to be identified as evil.  As for Anubis or any other god making it possible for any mortal to gain end-of-the-World powers of destruction, I cannot recall anything like that happening in the stories of any religion.  (If anyone has an example of this, please let me know.)  Such power belongs to gods and beings operating on the level of gods alone, and for them to make in attainable by mortals is to confer godhood.  As Imhotep and the Scorpion King, unlike the Pharaohs, have no claim to godhood, such power is inappropriate for them.

I would also like to note that reincarnation is not something I have ever heard about the ancient Egyptians believing in.  I am aware they seriously believed in the afterlife and made preparations for it.  If anyone is aware of the ancient Egyptians believing that we come back, please let me know.  The form presented, in which Anck-su-namun somehow requires her original soul being restored to her despite being reincarnated, makes no sense.

In obvious symmetry, it was not just Anck-su-namun who was reincarnated.  Evelyn O’Connell, the female lead, is the reincarnation of Nefertiri, daughter of Seti I, and she spends a nice chunk of the film regaining memories from that previous life.  Anck-sun-namun and Nefertiri did not like each other at all, to the extent that they fought in some sort of combat for entertainment of Seti I’s court (or more likely, given how they were dressed, the entertainment of emotionally immature male viewers) and took what they were doing as something more serious than a friendly match.  Likewise, Meela/Anck-sun-namun and Evelyn fight extremely seriously and try to kill each other.

If the name “Nefertiri” sounds familiar, you probably have seen The Ten Commandments, where she is wife of Pharaoh Raameses II.  Pharaoh Seti I is mentioned by name in The Prince of Egypt, where he is the father of Raameses II.  Nefertari (correct spelling), Raameses II, and Seti I were all real people, though I cannot confirm at this time who Nefertari’s father was.  As the writers of this film show no theological or historical sophistication, Nefertari was most likely co-opted as someone convenient and preexisting to oppose Anck-su-namun rather than for deeper reasons.  There was also a real Imhotep, but he lived much earlier than Seti I and company.

Pretty much everything else religious in The Mummy Returns is minor, such as small prayers asking for protection.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, while retaining many of the same characters as The Mummy Returns, changes the setting to China, thus throwing out alleged theological connections to Egypt.  The only real connections to religion in this film are some Buddha sculptures.  I would like to mention, however, that Shangri-La appears prominently in this film.  From popular culture, one might think that Shangri-La is a place from Buddhism or Chinese traditional religion.  It is not.  Shangri-La is a purely fictional place from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, published in 1933.  Shangri-La may be inspired by Shambhala, a place from Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but that is a topic for me to research another time.

Oh, I would like to note that ancient booby-trapped tombs, such as those portrayed in this series and the Indiana Jones series, do not exist.  I looked it up.  Over time they would break down and stop working, and the ancients never mentioned creating such things  Instead, ancient Egyptian tombs were frequently broken into soon after they were sealed.  One can argue that booby-trapped tombs make for a good action sequences, which is fine if they are backed up with a story good enough to counterbalance historical inaccuracies—just so long as one does not take such things seriously.

Overall classification:  Action movies with Indiana Jones envy.


Theological rating:  D- for The Mummy Returns (for recognizing that the ancient Egyptians had gods who interacted with humans, but still screwing up massively) and I for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (for lack of theological content and failing to deal with the wretched lack of theology in its predecessors).

Monday, February 17, 2014

A theological review of The Mummy (1999)

Jewish date:  18 ’Adhar Ri’shon 5774 (evening) (Parashath Wayyaqhel).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of St. Isaac Asimov (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Giordano Bruno the Martyr (Thelema), Quirinalia (Celtic Neopaganism).

It has been pointed out to me that I often give negative reviews.  This being Divine Misconceptions, the blog in which I look at religious fallacies and misinformation, that is to be expected regularly.  However, the other day a friend of mine lent me a disk-on-key which had The Mummy Trilogy on it (among other things), and I watched The Mummy this morning, at it is of such quality that I must apologize to the reader (but not the people who made it) for the tone of what I am about to write.

WARNING:  SPOILERS AHEAD.

To put it bluntly, The Mummy is a stupid movie.  Now, there is material which, despite being stupid in some aspect, nevertheless is very enjoyable.  For example, Gilligan’s Island is considered a stupid show, but the humor holds up well enough that it is still enjoyable, especially when humorous.  Or consider Galaxy Quest, which has obvious holes in the plausibility large enough to fly a starship through, but nevertheless is a hilarious parody of Star Trek and related material.  

Unlike such material, The Mummy is stupid to the core, starting with the basic premise.  Yes, it is conceivable that the high priest of Egypt Imhotep might have an affair with the mistress of the Pharaoh Seti I, Anck-su-Namun, but that is dangerously stupid, especially since they do not have the sense to carry on their meetings somewhere no one would see them together.  And it would stupid of them to murder Seti I when he confronts them; that is asking for retribution.  And it would be stupid for Anck-su-Namun to commit suicide, expecting Imhotep to resurrect her, as he might fail.  And it would be stupid for Seti’s guards, once they catch Imhotep and stop him from resurrecting Anck-su-Namun, to put a horrible curse on him which there is even the slightest possibility that he might escape and cause the end of the World as we know it.  And even more stupid, the guards did not even have the sense to destroy the book that could be used to free Imhotep, the key to open the book, and the map to find him.  And because of all this stupidity, Imhotep gets accidentally freed, people get mutilated and killed, and there is the very real threat of disaster.  This is made even worse by the characters sometime in the 1920s, seeking Imhotep’s treasure, also acting stupidly.  Such a huge mass of stupidity, untempered by anything which could mitigate it (such as making it a parody of monster-of-the-week films or imbuing it with dead-on psychological fidelity), utterly wrecks suspension of disbelief and wrecks the entire film.

This weapons-of-mass-destruction-grade stupidity is clearly reflected in The Mummy’s approach to religion:  complete incompetence.  There is no attempt whatsoever at theology or plausible depiction of religion.  Despite Imhotep being a high priest of the ancient Egyptian religion, one would never know it from his speech and behavior.  He does not speak in religious terms, nor does he perform any religious practices; the nearest he comes is to try to resurrect Anck-su-Namun magically.  His priests, who were mummified alive for no apparent reason, act no more religiously; they are just so many extras to be controlled by other mortals.  To be sure, God and Allah are mentioned by other characters, but only in minor prayers wishing others success.  The most religious action in the movie is when Imhotep rises, a total idiot starts praying to the gods of a number of religions (and Buddha, who is not properly a god), hoping that at least one will answer him.  The freeing of Imhotep also unleashes the Ten Plagues; this is a bizarre misreading of Exodus, where they are a punishment on the Egyptians (including their priests) from YHWH, not something unleashed by an Egyptian priest.  The writers are also unaware that the magi are the priests of Zoroastrianism, not a secret society meant to keep Imhotep from being freed.

Your humble blogger would also like to note that whoever wrote this film has no idea what a mummy is.  Real mummies (at least in Egypt) were meant to let the dead have an afterlife.  The internal organs of bodies were removed, and the bodies carefully preserved so that they would not decay.  The souls of the dead could then dwell within their bodies indefinitely.  The dead were thus provided with all the necessities of life (or afterlife), including food.  The Mummy, on the other hand, inverts the original intent and treats mummification as torture.  Hence Imhotep’s priests are mummified (incorrectly) alive and Imhotep is sealed away to be tortured by beetles forever.  If Seti’s guards really wanted to do something horrible to him, they should have killed him and destroyed his body so his soul would have nowhere to go.

Overall classification:  Stupid horror film with weak attempts at humor.

Theological rating:  F (like the rest of the film, stupid).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Notes on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians

Jewish date:  20 Ṭeveth 5774 (evening) (Parashath Wa’era’).

Today’s holidays:  4th Advent (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Bootsy Collins (Church of the SubGenius), Yule Feast (Heathenism).

Greetings.

I really need to learn to post more often.  Below you will find notes on another four epistles from the New Testament.  Sadly, Paul’s religious thinking has not gotten any better.  (I also feel like I should start looking for Bibleman episodes on YouTube.  I ran across the source of something I remembered from the three Bibleman episodes I have seen in Ephesians, and since Bibleman periodically quoted the New Testament, I could probably squeeze quite a lot of the show.  And for the uninitiated, I am certain the show merits attention; it was popular enough that people made fun of it.)

I also am now very slowly working may way through The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a Neopagan retelling of the legend of King Arthur.  In the introduction, Bradley reports that while she wrote fiction, she used a virtual who’s who of major figures in Neopaganism as sources.  So far it really shows in how the fictional setting is structured and how the characters think and behave.

Peace.

’Aharon/Aaron



GALATIANS

Galatians 1:1-5—Paul greets the Christians of Galatia, claiming Jesus died to save them from their sins according to God.

Galatians 1:6-10—Paul preaches holding by the “accepted” gospel rather than other gospels. (Why any gospel is accepted is not stated.)  Paul emphasizes the principle of trying to win God’s approval rather than human approval.

Galatians 1:11-24—Paul says that he was called by God and notes his conversion on the road to Damascus and subsequent history.

Galatians 2:1-10—Paul emphasizes his belief that he is the apostle to the gentiles, while Peter and company are supposed to be apostles to the Jews.  Paul seems to believe in something of a conspiracy against him.

Galatians 2:11-21—Paul claims to have publicly clashed with Peter, arguing that Peter is a hypocrite and emphasizing justification through faith alone and the death of Jesus.

Galatians 3:1-14—Paul argues for justification by faith by citing various verses from the Hebrew Bible out of context.  He cites Genesis 15:6 as if YHWH justified ’Avraham by faith, completely ignorning all the deeds ’Avraham did.  Some botched form of Genesis 12:3 or 18:18 or 22:18 is taken as a prophecy of justification of non-Jews by faith, even though such justification is mentioned at all.  Paul misquotes Deuteronomy 27:26 as if it says that whoever does not do everything in the Torah is cursed, rather than one who fails to uphold the words of Torah, which actually takes into account human failing, repentance, and forgiveness.  Paul takes Habakkuk 2:4 as if it means that a righteous person is justified by faith, when in means that he/she lives by his belief—and by implication all the behavioral requirements of that belief.  Leviticus 18:5 is misquoted as if it supported justification by faith, when it actually is a strong demand for proper behavior.  Deuteronomy 21:23 is mangled and ripped out to context so it can be treated as if it refers to Jesus, when it actually refers to any executed criminal who is hung on a tree after execution.

Galatians 3:15-25—Paul, while maintaining the involability of covenants (in contradiction with the doctrine of supercessionism), maintains that the promises YHWH gave to ’Avraham (Genesis 13:15 and 24:7) as applicable to Jesus, Jesus being the “seed” spoken of; this is untenable, as Jesus  did not inherit the Land of Yisra’el.  Paul feels free to rant on about his recurring absurd claim that the Torah was given to make people guilty so that they could be saved through faith.

Galatians 3:26-4:7—Paul claims there are no distinctions in Jesus and that through him all become the seed of ’Avraham and heirs of the promises to him—clearly not what the original promises claim.  But Paul does not have much respect for the simple meaning of the Hebrew Bible in the first place.

Galatians 4:8-20—Paul is in anguish that the Galatians are too observant and that they do not fully accept his ways.

Galatians 4:21-31—Paul allegorizes the story of Haghar and Sarah, stripping it completely of its original meaning.  Haghar and her descendarts are made symbols of the covenant of Sinay and labeled as slaves, while Sarah and her descendants are made symbols of the “new covenant” and labeled as free.  Isaiah 54:1 and Genesis 21:10, both misquoted, are cited in an attempt to give the apperance that this allegory has any support.

Galatians 5:1-12—Paul again pushes justification by faith.  He claims that that the circumcized should keep the Torah, but sees this as an inferior path.

Galatians 5:13-26—Paul sums up the Torah with Leviticus 19:18.  (What?  If the Torah demands love and Paul repudiates keeping the Torah, does Paul repudiate love?)  Paul promotes living by the Spirit and contrary to one’s sinful nature.  This suggests that Paul makes a distinction between not violating the Torah and not acting sinfully, strange as that sounds.  Paul may also be thinking in very much emotional rather than rational terms.  Paul promotes love, as if it were something the Torah is against.  (It is not.  He is not particularly logical in this chapter.  He seems more interested in proclaiming how great his new ideology is, honesty be damned.)

Galatians 6:1-10—Paul promotes living by his ideas and the Spirit.

Galatians 6:11-18—Paul believes that those who promote circumcision are trying to avoid being persecuted and so that they can boast.  The idea that Jews may genuinely believe that keeping the Torah and thus circumcision is the correct thing to do escapes Paul completely.


EPHESIANS

Ephesians 1:1-2—Greetings.

Ephesians 1:3-14—Paul gives a summary of his Jesus-centered theology of salvation and grace.  Notably Paul speaks of the believers as being predestined.

Ephesians 1:15-23—Paul has prayed for the faithful Ephesians.

Ephesians 2:1-10—Paul holds that nonbelievers are “dead” in their sins, while the believers are “alive” in Jesus.

Ephesians 2:11-22—In keeping with his supercessionist theology, Paul holds that non-Jews can become one in Jesus, as if the church were one man.

Ephesians 3:1-13—Paul admits that the “mystery” of Jesus in his posession was not given to anyone before him, and that he is the one to preach to the non-Jews.  I.e., what he is doing is something different from what Christians have been preaching and doing before.  It is no wonder that Paul was in conflict with the Apostles.

Ephesians 3:14-21—Paul prays for the Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:1-16—Paul again pushes the idea of the believers being one in Jesus, along with other onenesses.  He cites Psalms 68:19 in a botched form to implausibly claim support to the idea of grace as apportioned by Jesus.

Ephesians 4:17-5:30 —Paul urges his followers to behave morally.  Despite his general attitude of antinomianism, he does not take it to its logical conclusion.  Believers are said to be “children of light”.  Paul uses a fabricated quote to support his position.

Ephesians 5:21-32—Paul holds that just as Jesus is the head of the church and the believers the body, in a couple the husband is the head and the wife the body.  The wife must submit to the husband, and the husband must love his wife.  This may not be modern equality (or even something really approaching it anywhere people these days would like), but it is not the most extreme sexism either.  Paul cites Genesis 2:24 to support that a man should love his wife (not quite correctly), though he has no support for the inequality. 

Ephesians 6:1-4—Paul exhorts children to obey their parents, citing Deuteronomy 5:15.  He also wants parents to train their children.

Ephesians 6:5-9—Paul commands slaves to obey their masters  like God.  He also commands masters to treat their slaves well.

Ephesians 6:10-20—Paul exhorts his followers to put on metaphorical “armor of God”.  This is given a twist in Bibleman, in which the superhero Bibleman wears literal armor of God.

Ephesians 6:21-24—Paul wraps up his letter.


PHILIPPIANS

1:1-11—Paul greets the Philipians, thanks God for them, and prays for them.

1:12-30—Paul strongly identifies with his mission and his longing for Jesus.  He wants the Philipians to be so dedicated, too.

2:1-11—Paul promotes imitation of Jesus, emphasizing humility.

2:12-18—Paul wants his followers to be pure, in contrast with the rest of that generation, which he characterizes as evil.

2:19-30—Paul plans to send to the Philippians two men he considers comendable.

3:1-11—Paul denigrates circumcision and following the Torah in favor of believing in Jesus and seeking to imitate him.  Do note that Jesus according to the Gospels, while heretical, is not antinomian.  Paul’s idea of Jesus, on the other hand, is clearly antinomian.

3:12-21—Paul encourages his followers.  He characterizes his opponents as materialists interested only in their own pleasure and his followers as anything but.

4:1-9—Paul encourages his followers to behave themselves.

4:10-23—Paul thanks God and the Philippians.


COLOSSIANS

1:1-14—Paul gives thanks and prays for the Colossians.

1:15-23—Paul gives a summary of his views of Jesus as extremely important and supreme over every other being—except God.  Jesus is God’s “image” and “firstborn”.  Paul does not seem to hold by trinitarianism.

1:24-2:5—Paul believes he is on a Divine mission to bring the mystery of Jesus to others.  He admits this mystery was previously unknown.

2:6-23—Paul pushes dedication to Jesus.  Paul becomes explicitly antinomian, even denying Divine origin of the rules.

3:1-17—The problem with antinomianism is that if there are no rules, then anything goes—a potential disaster for society.  Paul therefore promotes his own idea of morality, a split between body and soul and an explicit aversion to undesirable emotions.  Contrast with the Torah, which promotes good behavior but does not emphasize emotions.

3:18-4:1—Paul lays out rules for households.  Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, children to their parents, and slaves to their masters.  Note that these relationships are not meant to be one-way.  Husbands are supposed to care for their wives, parents for their children, and masters for their slaves.

4:2-6—Paul asks for prayer and care in conversation.


4:7-18—Paul concludes with greetings to specific people.

Friday, September 27, 2013

מכתב פתוח לממשלת ישראל • An open letter to the government of Israel

Jewish date:  23 Tishri 5774 (Parashath Bere’shith).

Today’s holidays:  Vincent de Paul (Roman Catholicism), Feast of Cosmus & Damianus (Thelema), Feast Day of St. Hieronymous Bosch (Church of the SubGenius).

Note:  The following letter has been sent to the office of the Prime Minister of Israel and (I hope) every member of the Keneseth.  The English version follows the Hebrew version.



פקידי ציבור נכבדים:

ביום הרביעי של חול מועד סוכות ניסיתי לבקר בהר הבית, וסירבו אותי משתי סיבות.

הסיבה הראשונה היא שאני יהודי דתי בעליל. והנה ידוע שהמשטרה מפלה ביהודים שומרי מצוות בהר הבית.  כל יהודי מנסה לבקר כפוף לביקורת הרבה יותר מכל נכרי, גם לפני וגם בהר הבית.  השעות שבהן עליה מותרת מוגבלות.  את מי שהמשטרה מאפשרת בהר הבית אחריו הולכים שוטרים ואנשי וקף במאמץ כדי לוודא שלא יבצע כל פעילות דתית.  זוהי הפרה ברורה של חופש הדת וכבר נקבעה שוב ושוב לא־חוקית.

הסיבה השנייה היא שכאשר מוטי גבאי, קצין המשטרה האחראי, ואמר אלי ואל יהודים אחרים המנסים לבקר בהר הבית, שאסור ליהודים להתפלל בהר הבית, ציינתי במאמר (http:// lifeinisrael.blogspot.com/2013/09/police-chief-says-jewish-prayer-is.html) המצטט את מפכ״ל המשטרה יוחנן דנינו טוען כי תפילת יהודים בהר הבית מותר באופן מפורש.  במקום לאשר או להכחיש כי דנינו או הכתב שיקר, גבאי צעק עליי לעזוב.  התנהגות כזאת היא מגונה לקצין של החוק, כאילו קצין המשטרה עובר על החוק במקום הראשון היה הגון לסלוח.

הסיבה תמיד ניתנה לאפליה אי־חוקית נגד יהודים בהר הבית היא שהמוסלמים הם כל כך לא־סובלניים של דתות אחרות שהחשיפה הקטנה לפעילות יהודית דתית עלולה לגרום למהומות.  זה הוא מטבעו  נגד הדין.  אם המוסלמים הם תמיד אלה שמשתגעים ומתנהגים באלימות, מדוע היהודים נענשים? למה אין המוסלמים שעוקבים אחריהם למאן אותם מעשיית כל דבר אי־חוקי?  למה אין למוסלמים שעות מוגבלות על הר הבית?  למה אין אוסרים את המוסלמים  מעלות אל הר הבית?  הפרקטיקה של הגבלת יהודים למען שהמוסלמים יהיו בשליטה היא גם מוטעה מהיסוד:  מוסלמים מעת לעת משתוללים בכל מקרה, בפעם האחרונה ביום רביעי שעבר, במקרה שבו הם תקפו את המשטרה.

אין שום סיבה כשרה למשטרה לפעול באופן בלתי־חוקי ובלתי־מוסרי; כל מטרתם היא לאכוף את החוק ואת הסובלנות, לא משנה כמה קשה המשימה.  אם המשטרה לא יכולה לעשות את התפקיד שלהם, אתם חייבים לפטר אותם ולשים במקומם מי שיכולים.

תודה על תשומת הלב שלך.

אהרן שלמה אדלמן
אזרח ישראל




Honored public officials:

On the fourth day of Ḥol hamMo‘edh Sukkoth I attempted to visit the Temple Mount, and I was refused for two reasons.

The first reason is that I am a visibly Orthodox Jew, and it is well-known that the police blatantly discriminate against observant Jews on the Temple Mount.  Those who attempt to visit are subject to much more scrutiny than any non-Jew, both before and on the Temple Mount, and the hours during which ascents are allowed are limited.  Those whom the police allow on the Temple Mount are followed around by police officers and Waqf officials in an effort to make sure they perform no religious activities.  This is an obvious violation of freedom of religion and has been repeatedly ruled illegal.

The second reason is that when Moṭi Gabba’y, the police officer in charge, told me and a number of other Jews attempting to visit the Temple Mount that praying on the Temple Mount is forbidden, I pointed out an article (http://lifeinisrael.blogspot.com/2013/09/police-chief-says-jewish-prayer-is.html) which quotes police commissioner Yoḥanan Danino as claiming that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount is explicitly permitted.  Rather than confirm or deny that Danino or the reporter lied, Gabba’y yelled at me to leave.  Such behavior is indecent for an officer of the law, as if a police officer violating the law in the first place was excusable.

The reason always given for illegal discrimination against Jews on the Temple Mount is that Muslims are so intolerant of other religions that the least exposure to Jewish religious activity may cause a riot.  This is inherently unjust.  If the Muslims are always the ones going crazy and acting violently, why is it the Jews who are punished?  Why is it never the Muslims who are followed around and constantly monitored?  Why is it never the Muslims who have their hours on the Temple Mount limited?  Why is never the Muslims who are wholly banned from the Temple Mount?  The practice of restricting Jews to keep Muslims under control is also fatally flawed:  the Muslims periodically riot anyway, the last time being last Wednesday, in which case they attacked the police.

There is no valid reason for the police to act illegally and immorally; their whole purpose is to enforce the law and tolerance, no matter how difficult the task.  If the police cannot do their duty, they should be fired and replaced with those who can.

Thank you for your attention.

Aaron Solomon Adelman
Israeli citizen

Friday, August 9, 2013

Women of the Wall and a Temple Mount protest

Jewish date:  3 ’Elul 5773 (Parashath Shofeṭim).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Teresiae Benedicta of the Cross (Roman Catholicism), Day of Rey Radbod (Germanic Neopaganism), Feast Day of St. Rozencranz/St. Gildenstern (Church of the SubGenius).

Greetings.

I would like to note what happened on Wednesday, or rather what did not happen.  Two events were scheduled:

  1. Wednesday was Ro’sh Ḥodhesh, the start of a new month on the Jewish calendar, in this case ’Elul.  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh is traditionally an extra day off for women.  As such, it has been chosen as the day for a Reform “feminist” group, Women of the Wall, to descend on the Western Wall and to hold services according to Reform norms (women leading services, wearing ṭallithoth and tefillin).  Now, I have witnessed people praying at the Western Wall who were clearly not Orthodox Jews, but always with respect for the other people there and the holiness of the site; in such cases, no one, even Ḥaredhim, complained.  The Women of the Wall are different.  On Ro’sh Ḥodhesh Tammuz (two month ago), the police (in their tradition of sucking when it comes to freedom of religion) evicted many Orthodox Jewish women doing nothing offensive from the women’s section so the Women of the Wall could enter and hold a service, very loudly and trying to get the attention of reporters and promote imposing Reform norms at the Western Wall.  Needless to say, there were a lot of complaints about this.  They also did not have much local support, as nonreligious Israeli Jews tend to be honest about their not being religious rather than try to dress it up as being “Reform”.  A new group was formed of Orthodox Jewish women in opposition to the Women of the Wall:  Women for the Wall.  On Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Av (one month ago), the Women for the Wall collectively got up early and got to the Western Wall first, filling up the women’s section.  This time the police actually respected the few thousand women who were already there, and the 150-200 Women of the Wall were forced to be ostentatious and complain in the back of the Western Wall plaza.  I thus wanted to see what would happen in the next round.
  2. The police closed the Temple Mount to Jews for the second half of Ramāḍan, the closure lasting until this coming Sunday.  This was simple caving into Muslims getting violent over Jews on the Temple Mount again, something which I have complained about frequently in the past, both on this blog and on Facebook.  Thus there was a protest scheduled at the (locked) entrance for Jews to the Temple Mount at 7:30 AM.

So what did I see?

  1. I got to the Western Wall around 8:30 AM.  The women’s section was filled with women praying respectfully.  There was no sign of Women of the Wall.  Reportedly pretty much what had happened on Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Av had happened this month, too:  Women for the Wall got to the Wall first, and the Women of the Wall had to pray in the back and grumbled about lack of support from other women.
  2. The protest at the entrance to the Temple Mount was going strong at the time and continued for about another hour.  Several dozen Orthodox Jews were there.  Many were praying.  Others had protest signs.  There were a over a dozen police officers there, but they did little but stand around, remove a Torah scroll which had been brought in to read, and ask the protesters not to block foot traffic.  Why there were so many police officers was not explained.  See “Jews protest visitation restrictions at Temple Mount during Ramadan” and “Activists Protest Closure of Temple Mount - Inside Israel” for more details.

In short:  Not much happened.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

’Aharon/Aaron

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness, The Key of Solomon the King, and Save Me

Jewish date:  24 ’Av 5773 (Parashath Re’eh).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Ignatius of Loyola (Roman Catholicism), Lughnasadh Eve in Northern Hemisphere/Imbolc Eve in Southern Hemisphere (Neopaganism), Feast Day of St. Bill Gates (Church of the SubGenius).

Greetings.

I know posting on this blog has gotten irregular. Sorry about this.  Life is busy.

I would like to comment on a number of different things relevant to this blog:

1) Star Trek Into Darkness:  Preemptively, your humble blogger would like to note that he eventually wants to write a great grand review of religion in Star Trek, all series and movies, but as he saw it recently, he would like to jot down some thoughts on it now so they do not get forgotten.

Much ink (or rather the electronic equivalent thereof) has already been spilled on what is right and wrong with this film.  Considering the focus of this blog, I will note that what Harrison did with the photon torpedoes is such an obviously bad idea that he should never even considered it (duh!) and proceed to discussing religion.  This is not an especially religious film, but like Star Trek in general, it touches on it.  The movie starts out on the planet Nibiru, which is inhabited by humanoids who have not yet developed warp technology and thus, according to the Federation’s Prime Directive, must not be contacted at any cost.  Spock gets quickly trapped in an active volcano with a device meant to freeze the molten lava so the volcano does not erupt and kill the natives.  Due to the Enterprise being hidden under water—something which everyone says makes no sense—Kirk faces the dilemma of whether he uphold the Prime Directive, in which case Spock dies, or get the Enterprise out of hiding and where the transporter will work properly to save Spock, in which case the natives will probably see the ship—a clear violation of the Prime Directive.  Kirk being Kirk, the natives see the Enterprise rising out of the ocean.  The natives’ behavior soon afterwards suggests they believe they have seen a divine being or have had a prophetic vision.  To say the least, Admiral Pike is not happy.  

Religious misinterpretation of Federation activity actually has been done at least once before in the Star Trek universe.  The Star Trek:  The Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers” revolves around someone on a technologically primitive planet inhabited by Vulcanoids mistaking Captain Jean-Luc Picard for a god known as the Overseer.  That episode deals with the consequences of such a mistake and how to deal with it—not to mention religious epistemology—in far greater length and detail than Star Trek Into Darkness, which says nothing about what, if anything, Starfleet does to clean up the mess on Nibiru.

Your humble blogger is not aware of anything quite like either of these fictional incidents happening in reality, though cargo cults approximate them to some degree.

Also noted is a little peek into the Vulcan belief system.  Whether Vulcans believe in the supernatural or not has never been discussed, albeit Mr. Spock once claimed to specifically not believe in angels.  However, the Vulcan belief system includes things like monasticism and mysticism which would normally be religious on Earth.  There is some arguing in this film over whether the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the one (reflecting Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock).  Also, Spock claims that war is “by definition” immoral, which sounds like an all-too-human attempt to skirt the problem that morality is intrinsically a matter of opinion.  Certain properties, such as weight and temperature, are matters of objective fact.  But whether an action is good or bad cannot be objective in the same way; no matter how hard one looks, one will never find goodness particles or evilness waves.  Spock seems to be trying to make morality objective by defining what is and is not moral.  One can argue about whether some action objectively fits this definition.  (And your humble blogger assumes that Spock, being no mental slouch, has a definition for war and every other relevant term.)  However, since the definition is not rooted in objective reality, it remains an opinion.  Klingons just as easily can claim that war is by definition moral (and act on this presumed morality, too).  Defining what is moral or immoral does not make it objectively so.

Also:  Considering that Vulcans have been depicted at times waging war, the Vulcan belief system appears to have a priority system.  Vulcans may consider war immoral, but they may well consider other things, such as being murdered by enemy soldiers, to be worse, thus making war the lesser of two evils.  Real humans tend to agree on this issue, though there are a few true pacifists.

2) The Key of Solomon the King (Clavicula Salomonis) translated by S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers:  This is a grimoire repeatedly mentioned as source material in your humble blogger’s previous reading on Neopaganism.  It certainly looks like the source for Gerald Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid, the procedures for working magic being largely the same.  Unlike High Magic’s Aid, The Key of Solomon deals with working magic in a Jewish (or pseudo-Jewish) context.  There is none of the Neopagan business of duotheism, polarity of the sexes, or ritual nudity.  Magic instead is presented as an exercise in manipulating spirits for one’s purposes.  Much emphasis is put on the necessity of piety to work magic.  Consistent with this is the lack of any procedure for divination; after all, the Torah explicitly forbids several kinds of divination.

And, no, there is no convincing reason to believe that King Shelomoh (Solomon) actually wrote this book.  There is nothing in the Hebrew Bible to suggest he practiced any form of magic.

3) Save Me:  This gem of a show showed up recently on Hulu.  It is story of a woman with poor moral habits (such as drunkenness, petty theft, and embarrassing behavior) named Beth who accidentally chokes.  She survives, though feeling like she died in the process.  Reborn, she finds herself religiously moved and believes that God communicates with her.

One major issue that this show deals with is how would someone who experiences a sudden conversion would behave.  (This sort of thing does happen in real life at times.  See The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.)  Given the profundity of Beth’s conversion, she tends to go to extremes—absurd ones, as this is a comedy.  Having no previous religious experience, Beth frequently has no idea how a religious person is supposed to behave and makes some very strange mistakes.  For example, in one episode she prays constantly.  She also embraces love for her fellow humans and other creatures to the point of loving her husband’s ex-mistress Carlise and a spider.  At one point, she decides to read the (Christian) Bible, but finding the King James Version too hard, she turns to The Children’s Bible and proceeds to misinterpret the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Come to think of it, she never seems to get very far in either version.)  In another, she “honors” her parents by calling them excessively.  Trying to “honor” her daughter Emily into honoring her back proves socially embarrassing for the latter.  Despite everything being played for laughs, religious behavior Beth undertakes on her own really is no stranger than what a lot of converts do.

(And to be fair to Beth, none of the other main characters displays much knowledge of Christianity or religion in general, which is sadly normal for Americans these days.  (See Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero.)  Emily even hollows out a Bible to hide marijuana in.)

The other major issue is the nature of prophecy.  For Beth, this is something in the way of a comedic version of the sorts of things one would expect in Ezekiel and Jonah (or Evan Almighty):  She is told to do all sorts of strange actions in a gender-neutral voice, and she is not allowed to shirk her duty.  Refusing to do what God demands only results in pain for Beth, and compliance is quick.  Beth is assumed to be some sort of crackpot for claiming prophecy, though with the lack of theological sophistication of the characters, none of them ever thinks about empirically testing whether she can consistently make correct predictions.  This is despite that around Beth periodically occur unusually well-timed events (lightning striking Carlise, Beth’s car hitting a squirrel, various injuries to Beth, rain falling, the power in various houses going out, etc.) which serve to progress the plot, tie up loose ends, and bring Beth together with her family and friends.  Beth’s husband Todd is unusually generous in interpreting what happens to Beth and chalks her prophecies up to intuition.  Untraditionally, Beth prophetically has access to knowledge about people which she should not have.  Semi-traditionally, she actually has two visions of God, once in the form of Betty White(!) and the other as a black man.  (For comparison, YHWH or some suitable representative has a form which looks like it is practically on fire in Ezekiel.)  Less traditional is God claiming to have taken corporeal form when Beth was a child and played friend with her; while Christians generally regard Jesus as God somehow become corporeal, your humble blogger is not aware of them promoting the idea that He has made a habit of pretending to be human.  Then again, God in this series never claims to be the god of Christianity or any other religion, so some flexibility is warranted.

All in all, an enjoyable effort in theological fiction.  I am saddened that its run seems limited to just seven episodes.  I hope NBC changes its collective mind and continues the series.

’Aharon/Aaron

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thoughts on the Fast of ’Av

Jewish date:  9 ’Av 5773 (Parashath Wa’Ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  The Fast of ’Av (Judaism), Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Roman Catholicism), Display of the Embarrassing Swimsuits (Church of the SubGenius).



Today is the Fast of ’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, marking some of our worst tragedies.  When one reviews the laws for fast days, one of the first things one reads is that fasting and associated practices, while obligatory on certain days, are not an end in themselves.  Thus to spend a fast day touristing or playing video games is forbidden. because that would be missing the point.  Fasting and suffering are a means to the end of repentance.  This post is meant to comment on a contemporary mistake that we have yet to correct.

In previous generations, our ancestors saw fit to act on what they believed was going to happen soon.  YHWH forbade King Dawidh to build the First Temple, but since Dawidh’s son Shelomoh was supposed to build it, Dawidh made all the preparations he could ahead of time.  When many thought that Shim‘on “bar Kokheva’” bar Koziva’ was Mashiaḥ, many took up arms against the Romans to fight the wars that Mashiaḥ is supposed to fight.  And when many thought that Shabbethay Ṣevi was Mashiaḥ, many repented their sins and prepared to move to Israel.  The attitude was that one should act to move events along.  The fact that Mashiaḥ did not actually come at those times is irrelevant to this point.

We are closer to the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies now than at any time in the past 2,000 years.  Not only have we reestablished the Jewish state, but it has survived despite the constant hostility of its neighbors, including terrorism and unprovoked warfare.  All three of the major Abrahamic religions are scrambling to deal with this unprecedented historical change, with adherents trying to adjust their beliefs to the altered situation on the ground or rationalize their way around it.  And while we Jews have been a big winner in this new era, for too many of us the consequences of this new era have not sunk in.

As happened at the start of the Second Temple Period, few of us have returned home to Israel voluntarily, preferring to remain in the Diaspora.  Many of us who did come came because they had little choice in the matter.  Persecution and genocide, both before and after the formation of the State of Israel, have given Jews every reason get out of Europe and the Muslim world.  Those living in places of tolerance, such as the United States, have felt less motivated to make ‘aliyyah.  In such comfortable places, it is very easy to claim to be a Zionist but never act upon it.  Moving to Israel may be a dream or an ideal, but “maybe sometime in the future” very easily becomes “never” in practice.  I myself was guilty of this error until YHWH coerced me into reconsidering.  It is one thing to say one believes that Israel is where Jews belong; it is an entirely different thing to live it.

Even among those of us who live in Israel, the consequences of what we are supposed to be doing have generally not sunken in completely.  Yes, we tithe our produce, and we do not celebrate an extra day of major holidays.  But ever since the destruction of the Second Temple, we have not been able to fully practice Judaism.  Without the Temple, or at least proper access to the Temple Mount, many of the rites that are supposed to performed daily, on Shabbath, and on major holidays cannot be performed.  Part of the problem is the government, or to be specific, every government Israel has had, starting in 1967.  Almost immediately after the Temple Mount was liberated, Mosheh Dayyan returned it to Islamic control, where it has remained, aided and abetted by the police.  The police would rather violate freedom of religion to keep Muslims relatively happy in the short term, even though it is their job to enforce religious tolerance and pandering to violent Muslims never works in the long term.  Muslims are essentially allowed to do anything they want up there, even blatant violations of Israeli law, such as destruction of antiquities, while Jews are openly discriminated against.  Many Jews are turned away for no valid reason, while those who do ascend are warned not to pray and may be harassed by the police and Muslims.  Bringing sacrifices is something the police cannot conceive of permitting at all.

The strange thing is a general lack of concern, even among the observant, for the Temple Mount and the Temple service.  Many of us pray for complete redemption and sing about how we want Mashiaḥ now, but we expect YHWH to do everything and ourselves to do nothing—unlike what our ancestors did.  Very few of us bother to visit the Temple Mount.  Very few of us protest against Muslim desecration of our most holy site.  And very few of us have done anything to get ready for restarting the Temple service.  When confronted with their indifference, many will make excuses based on ritual purity (in contrast with what Jews did in earlier times or that certain sacrifices can be made even while ritually impure) or feign fear of Muslims should Jews reclaim the Temple Mount (despite Muslim complaints about Jews having little to do with reality).  Simply ignoring a large chunk of our religion is irrational, and I can see no way around the problem other than to reclaim the Temple Mount.

May YHWH help us get past the delusion that the status quo must be preserved and lead us to repent.


Various relevant articles:

Also note the Temple Institute, who are working to get ready everything needed for the next Temple.