Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ruled by Fear

Rush has a series of songs which explores the theme of fear: the idea that we are ruled by fear more than hope. This has become known as the "Fear Trilogy", though since the band's 2002 album it has been expanded to a quartet. The first three songs were written in reverse order -- in the order they were easiest to grasp, according to Neal Peart, the songwriter -- with the fourth written two decades later. Here they are:

Part I: The Enemy Within (Grace Under Pressure, '84) -- how fear works inside us
Part II: The Weapon (Signals, '82) -- how fear is used against us
Part III: Witch Hunt (Moving Pictures, '81) -- how fear feeds the mob mentality
Part IV: Freeze (Vapor Trails, '02) -- how fear is evaded and confronted

Back in 1994, Peart described the genesis of the series as follows:
"The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn't think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness -- but by fear. This smart-but-cynical guy's position was that most people's actions are motivated by fear of being hungry, fear of being hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being robbed, etc., and that people don't make choices based on hope that something good will happen, but in fear that something bad will happen.

"I reacted to this the way all of us tend to react to generalities: 'Well, I'm not like that!' But then I started thinking about it more, watching the way people around me behaved, and I soon realised that there was something to this viewpoint, So I sketched out the three theaters of fear, as I saw them: how fear works inside us (The Enemy Within), how fear is used against us (The Weapon), and how fear feeds the mob mentality (Witch Hunt)."(From The Rush Backstage Club Newsletter, January 1994)
There's plenty of truth to this. People may talk more about hope, but they live mostly by fear. (If you have any doubts about this, start really paying attention to the behavior of your family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.) Hope allows us to live in denial, as it were, and keep fear at bay and from suffocating us. That may be anti-religious, but it's at least scientific.

But back to the songs. The ingenius thing about them is that while explicating the fear theme, they also tie back to the theme of their respective albums (on which see here). The Enemy Within is about internal fear as a response to external stress. The Weapon is about the way people exploit the fears of others, resulting in communication breakdown. Witch Hunt is a "story" of Salem, a portrait exemplary of mob fear. Freeze is about facing fear, and then moving on. It's neat how all of this fell into place, and I enjoy listening to the songs sequentially in their proper order. (I burned a special CD so I can do this.) Not only are they philosophicaly stimulating, they just plain rock.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Heard on The God Delusion

Chris Heard reviews chapter 2 of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and nicely at that. It's trademark Heard -- balanced, lengthy, and critically astute. He gives Dawkins his due while showing how he too often misses the mark and begs questions.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Rush Tribute

Welcome to my Rush tribute, in celebration of the band's new album to be released this spring. These three guys -- Neal Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson -- are just amazing, still going strong after three decades, still evolving in creative ways. Peart is sheer legend, a powerhouse drummer and brilliant lyricist; Lifeson still revered for what he can do with the guitar; and Lee's voice, well, it's as high and defining as ever.

They gave us four distinct eras of music -- hard rock ('74-'76), progressive rock ('77-'81), synthesizer rock ('82-'87), alternative rock ('89-'96) -- and are now in the middle of a fifth ('02+), defining itself as we watch it unfold. Four albums belong to each era, save the unfinished last, for a total of 18, or soon to be 19. (And that's not including live and compilation albums.) The question of the best era -- let alone the best albums from any era -- is fiercely contested battleground, as you can glean from some of the bickering over at The Rush Forum. That's a fun forum to browse if you ever liked Rush.

With the exception of one, every Rush album is dominated by a theme represented by the title, and all songs on an album point to the theme in some way -- a testimony to Peart's lyrical smarts. Here are the albums in chronological order, grouped by era, with their respective themes listed. The links point to the excellent Power Windows site, where all of the albums are displayed, with the lyrics to each song. The lyrics are worth reading for poetry alone, even if you don't know the music.

The Hard Rock Era ('74-'76)

The fledgling years. I'm not wild about this era, though a lot of Rush geeks love it. I can tolerate the albums if I'm in a rare Zeppelinesque mood, but none have found their way into my CD collection.

Rush ('74). Theme: getting a "rush" from rock n' roll.
Fly By Night ('75). Theme: the spirit of the moment.
Caress of Steel ('75). Theme: swords, guillotines, midway rides.
2112 ('76). Theme: freedom and independence; anti-collectivism.

The Progressive Rock Era ('77-'81)

The era for which the band is renowned, especially the tail-end. Moving Pictures remains their most popular album. Who hasn't heard Tom Sawyer and Limelight played left and right on the radio? Other landmark songs include Closer to the Heart (Farewell to Kings), and Spirit of the Radio (Permanent Waves) -- two of the most pristine hits the group ever came out with. Spirit of the Radio, moreover, is listed as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock.

A Farewell to Kings ('77). Theme: the doom of monarchies.
Hemispheres ('78). Theme: subconscious drives; the duality of the mind (reason/emotion).
Permanent Waves ('80). Theme: the relationship between nature and technology; being true, and outlasting fads and fashions.
Moving Pictures ('81). Theme: musical portraits (each song a mini-movie); the effect of the spotlight.

The Synthesizer Rock Era ('82-'87)

The era loved or despised. Most 70s bands trying to adapt in the 80s went nowhere, but Rush soared to new heights (I obviously like this era). Hard-sounding guitar gave way to tight, stylish keyboard performances and a darker tone to the music overall. Noteworthy songs include the addictively minimalist Subdivisions (Signals), the bleak Distant Early Warning (Grace Under Pressure), the hard-hitting Big Money (Power Windows), and the ethereal Time Stand Still (Hold Your Fire).

Signals ('82). Theme: new generations vs. the old; the success and failure of communication.
Grace Under Pressure ('83). Theme: surviving horrors and learning from them; the human response to external stress.
Power Windows ('85). Theme: the power of money, government, emotion, dreams, mysticism.
Hold Your Fire ('87). Theme: time and events; turning dreams and goals into reality; controlling instincts ("fire" = "instinct"; thus "hold your fire").

The Alternative Rock Era ('89-'96)

The difficult era to define, when the band tried returning to its roots while also breaking new ground in an alternative direction. Foes of the synthesizer period rejoiced to hear more guitar and less keyboards. The era was marred by the widely hated Roll the Bones (a truly horrible album), then saved by the raging comeback, Counterparts. The emotional Pass (Presto) and sharply acoustical Nobody's Hero (Counterparts) are examples of what makes this era almost (if not quite) as strong as the others.

Presto ('89). Theme: appearances vs. reality; illusions; the ways we pretend to be magical (problems don't vanish with the "wave of a wand").
Roll the Bones ('91). Theme: fate, chance, taking risks. (Ironically fitting: the album itself was a risk -- there's not a single decent song on it.)
Counterparts ('93). Theme: opposites and pairs; the "nuts and bolts" of human life; the mysteries of relationships.
Test for Echo ('96). Theme: the importance of communication and the need for feedback [thanks to the anonymous commenter].

Rush in the New Millenium ('02+)

Soon after the Test for Echo album, Neal Peart lost his daughter (and only child) in a car accident, and then his wife to cancer ten months later. That resulted in a six-year hiatus, and no surprise, the new album (Vapor Trails) centered on themes of loss and tragedy. A couple years later the band did a tribute to their favorite bands from the 60s and 70s (Feedback), with songs by artists like Eddie Cochran, The Who, and Robert Johnson. In a few months we'll get to hear the next album, which is apparently about religious faith. Time will tell how this new era is categorized.

Vapor Trails ('02). Theme: vivid memories; loss, finality, and finding the determination to carry on in an uncaring world.
Feedback ('04). (Rush's tribute to other rock bands.)
Snakes and Arrows ('07). Theme: the good and bad sides of religious faith.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rush Finds Religion and Faith

I'm eagerly awaiting Rush's new album -- their 19th, no less -- slated to be released this spring. The title hasn't been announced yet, but it appears that a spiritual theme dominates the songs, exploring the good and bad sides of faith. Drummer and songwriter Neal Peart is cited as follows:
"Reflections on faith emerged as a clear theme from the very beginning. 'I tried hard to look at it as a subject -- what's good about it -- and tried to balance that against what I saw as not being a good thing,' said Peart, noting his experience as a Canadian living in the United States for the past six years has given him a unique perspective on world events. 'All we're seeing, especially in the world today, is a very malevolent kind of faith, in fundamentalism of all kinds, on both sides. One of the lines I use in the new songs equates Middle East and Middle West, because this stuff is going on in both localities, although both would probably be insulted by the comparison.'" (Macleans, Oct 19 '06)

"Peart says he was struck by the ubiquity of religious billboards that have sprung up on America's highways, which got him thinking about some weighty topics...'I looked for the good side of faith,' Peart says. 'To me it ought to be your armor, something to protect you and something to console you in dark times. But it's more often being turned into a sword, and that's one big theme I'm messing with.' Musically, the new album is continuing in much the same vein as 2002's 'Vapor Trails,' which returned Rush to a more guitar/bass/drums-driven sound. But Peart is quick to add that the music is 'remarkably organic in a way that I haven't heard before. We spent a month together in May working on those songs and developing our individual instrument parts for them. It's early to characterize it, but it's definitely fresh and different and that's certainly satisfying.'" (, Sept 11 '06)
Rush is one of my favorite rock groups of all time, and I had fun listening to some of their CDs over the holiday. There sure aren't many musicians like this anymore. After over thirty years and 18 albums, the band has evolved -- sometimes quite dramatically -- without sacrificing any intelligence or originality; and damn, do they have an ear for catchy tunes. (In my view, only Peter Gabriel tops their talent, even if he has less albums to boast.) This week I'm going to post a special Rush tribute. It's something I've been meaning to do since being inspired by one of Tyler Williams' U2 blogposts.

I figure it's time for some fun with music. After the New Year, it's back to biblical studies and the crusades.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Quote for the Day: The Foreign Past

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." (L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between, p 1)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Crusading Distortions (III): The Children's Crusade

The story of the Children's Crusade (1212) is a mixture of history and romantic myth, telling of two boys who had independent visions of marching to Palestine with "armies" of pacifist children, and shaming the Muslims into giving up the holy lands. This march of peace would supposedly succeed where warfare had failed. The boys attracted large followings in Paris and Cologne and began their respective marches to the Mediterranean coast. When the French group came to Marseille -- apparently expecting God to part the seas so they could continue -- local merchants offered to transport the children in seven ships; two of these ships were lost at sea, while the others went to Africa, where the duped kids were sold into slavery. The German group made it as far as Rome -- many having died en route in the Alps -- but dispersed when the pope refused to see them. Some persisted in trying to secure passage to the holy lands, and, like the French children, were shipped to brothels and slave markets, this time in the Mediterranean. A few did reach Jerusalem by joining groups of overland pilgrims; they naturally had no impact on arrival. No one paid any attention to children.

The Children's Crusade may have been a pathetic tragedy, but it's difficult to separate the fact from fiction. There may not have even been a French movement: based on the evidence it seems more likely that it was dismissed as soon as it was born in Paris (the king sent the children home). The German movement, on the other hand, did get under way, and made it through the Alps to Genoa. From there it may have been a small part of this group which went to Marseille (instead of the entire French group), though most proceeded to Rome, and dispersed from there, illusions shattered.

Perhaps the most mythological aspect involves the idea that this crusade consisted exclusively of children (pueri). That makes for stirring legend, but it was doubtfully the case. Says Christopher Tyerman:
"In fact these pueri may have been less juvenile than the name implied. To a Cologne chronicler, the pueri 'ranged in age from six years to full maturity'. Norman and Alpine monks recorded that the marchers were adolescents and old people. Accounts indicated that participants came from outside the usual hierarchies of social power -- youths, girls, the unmarried, sometimes including even widows -- or economic status: shepherds, ploughmen, carters, agricultural workers and rural artisans without a settled stake in land or community, rootless and mobile." (God's War, p 609)
Perhaps the Children's Crusade would be better called the Simple Folk's Crusade. Dissatisfaction with the inability of kings and nobles to secure military victory in Palestine led to a popular crusade which insisted on a return to apostolic simplicity and leaving victory to God. Interestingly, even though this pacifist-crusade had no clerical backing, it was never officially condemned by the church.

However historical, however legendary, the simple folk's pacifist march of 1212 stands as a testimony to the malleability of crusading as it was becoming ubiquitous under the papacy of Innocent III, influencing the laity like never before.

In the next post we'll try defining the crusades, a task which has eluded the best of scholars.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Tyler Williams has a nice review of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. He neither liked nor disliked the movie, which sums up my attitude, though I was nonplussed for different reasons.

Let's get the supposed interfering Catholicism out of the way. I agree with Tyler that charges of apologetics are misguided. While Gibson certainly believes the Mayan civilization needed to be destroyed -- and that the Spaniards who arrive at the end of the film represent something better in the long run -- those beliefs do not intrude on the integrity of the story. Tyler notes:
"If anything is elevated in this film it is the notion of the noble savage: Jaguar Paw and his forest dwelling clan are presented as an ideal (this seems to me to be the meaning from the last line of the film where Jaguar Paw says to his wife that they shouldn’t go to the Spaniards, but 'we must go to the forest. To seek a new beginning.'"
Jaguar Paw's realistic refusal to want anything to do with the Spaniards is what keeps the film clean of apologetics. Gibson is thus able to hint at "better things to come" (in his view) while remaining true to his protagonist who wants nothing to do with whatever those things might be. This is a Catholic film in signature only, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But if Gibson is clean on the religio-political side of things, he misses the mark in artistry. I'm not complaining about the violence, which has frankly been way overblown. Spielberg got more graphic with human sacrifice in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (where you actually see the priest’s hand going into the heart, and the camera lingers on the pulsating heart much longer), and Peter Jackson showed more close-ups of decapitated heads being catapulted over the walls of Minas Tirith in Return of the King (Gibson keeps the rolling heads in distance-shots). The film left me nonplussed not on account of its violence (I was expecting more), but its pedestrian second half, which was essentially an extended chase sequence -- almost an ancient version of The Fugitive -- thoroughly predictable, knowing that the protagonist would rescue his wife and son at the last possible instant. But I liked the first half of the story for the glimpse we catch of the Mayan civilization.

In sum, Apolcaypto isn't the achievement Passion of the Christ was, more like Braveheart: historically engaging in some parts, boring and predictable in others, competently enough directed, yet marred by Hollywood formula.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chris Heard on Pretentious Words

Kudos to Chris Heard for taking after pretentious-sounding words. He objects to scholars' use of the words "pericope" and "praxis":
"Why do biblical scholars use, and teach their students to use, the word 'pericope' when the simple English word 'passage' means the same thing and will do just fine? I can discern no valuable semantic reason for using 'pericope' instead of 'passage.' Ditto for using 'praxis' instead of 'practice.'"
In comments on Chris' blog, I responded as follows:
"The problem isn't confined to academia. Take the word 'utilize': 'use' can be substituted 99.99% of the time for this pretentious-sounding word. But some people say (or write) 'utilize' all the time, instead of the rare .01% cases where it's necessary.

"I suspect that 'pericope' and 'praxis' are analogous to 'utilize'. They work better (or with more precision) than 'passage' and 'practice' only .01% of the time, but people use them 85% of the time anyway, because it makes them sound smart and scholarly."
For instance, "utilize" works better than "use" when one is trying to convey profitable or practical use for something. The term "praxis" (which I admittedly loathe) is supposed to carry an emphasis of theory in conjunction with practice. As for "pericope", I've no idea how this improves on "passage", but it probably does in a way that warrants its usage once in a blue moon.

Pretentious-sounding words have reasons for existing, but perhaps they wouldn't sound so pretentious if they were used as judiciously and rarely as warranted.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenters below for distinctions between "pericope" and "passage". On Chris' blog, Jack Poirier comments further as follows: "I use 'pericope' when I mean... a unit delimited by a narrative change of some sort, and I use 'passage' when I mean... just the words in question, and, as far as I can tell, that's what everyone else does. I don't even think the two terms (at least as commonly used) are close to being synonyms." So I guess "pericope" is a bit more useful than either "utilize" or "praxis".

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blogging Will Soon Peak

Here's an interesting forecast from the BBC: blogging is supposed to peak in the middle of next year. Read the report here.
"The analysts said that during the middle of next year the number of blogs will level out at about 100 million. The firm has said that 200 million people have already stopped writing their blogs... Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer said the reason for the levelling off in blogging was due to the fact that most people who would ever start a web blog had already done so. He said those who loved blogging were committed to keeping it up, while others had become bored and moved on."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Quote for the Day: Whom History Teaches

"History can teach only those who listen to it, not those who want to tell it something." (Friedrich Paulsen)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Quote for the Day: Procedural Agnosticism

"Doctrinaire atheism is no more objective than doctrinaire Calvinism or Hinduism. A student of ritual who insists that communication with gods is impossible is like a physicist who insists that magnetism is impossible -- he will always be trying to explain the evidence away. The truly objective stance is what may be called 'procedural agnosticism'... To study people at worship, then, one does not have to believe what they believe. One may well believe that the things they do are primarily caused by political or economic factors the worshippers themselves do not fully perceive. But one must grant in principle the validity of their experiences; otherwise, one has no hope of understanding what they are doing or of making legitimate comparisons with other cultures or historical periods." (Peter Jeffery, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled, pp 59-60)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Intolerant Gospel

Library Journal reviews Gerd Ludemann's Intolerance and the Gospel, Prometheus. Dec 2006. ISBN 1-59102-468-4.
"Ludemann challenges the gradual move to toward liberal theology in the 20th century. Specifically, he critiques pluralism and the need for tolerance in social thought while employing historical-critical methods of biblical scholarship... A solid and compelling piece of scholarship, the book often reads as an apologetic treatise, with Ludemann engaging what he sees as an incongruousness between religious pluralism, which champions tolerance, and the biblical text, which is inherently intolerant." (12/06, p 131)
This sounds like a sequel of sorts to the author's Resurrection of Christ, which argued against liberal interpretations of the resurrection (as much as conservative ones), urging that Christianity is obsolete and should be abandoned. Sure to be controversial, like all of Ludemann's writings.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Relax... and enjoy this

Morton Smith was a riot. The more you read The Secret Gospel, the more his disingenuity, masked confessions, double entendres, and obscene jokes leap out at you. Stephen Carlson recently noticed one here (a veiled confession). I'd like to focus on Smith's account of being so moved by the "disorienting" power of the Greek Orthodox liturgy.

Smith's memoir has been recently invoked by Dale Allison in The Luminous Dusk, which laments the loss of silence and twilight in our modern age. Allison cites Smith's recollection of Mar Saba during his first visit in 1941:
"In the enormous church, lit only by the flames of scattered sanctuary lights and candles, there were no visible walls, floor, or ceiling. The few small flames far above, like stars, burned again on the polished marble of the nave, as if other stars were an equal distance below... The painted walls reflected the dim light as if it came from a remote distance, and in the vast, vaguely luminous space thus created the huge black frescoes of the saints and monks of old stood like solid presences all around, the great figures of the eternal and universal Church, present in this realm among the stars, above space and time, the unchanging kingdom of the heavens, where the eternal service was offered to eternal God." (The Secret Gospel, pp 5-6)
In between his 1941 and 1958 visits, however, the monks replaced the candles with electric lights, and for Smith (supposedly) the magic was gone. Allison: "With the harsh, steady, cold light of electricity, the mystery was dispelled. Unbelief was no longer shadowed by doubt. Bright light squashed all feelings of the transcendent." (The Luminous Dusk, p 61) I agree, incidentally, with Allison: things are far too noisy and bright (and garish) these days. But how honest was Smith being about all of this?

Peter Jeffery thinks Smith was being disingenuous in the above passage, and cites the paragraph which follows immediately after. Smith went on:
"The words of this worship, too -- the enormous hymns of the Greek monastic offices -- were unmistakenly hypnotic, interminably ringing the changes on a relatively small number of brilliant, exaggerated metaphors, dazzling the mind and destroying its sense of reality. I knew what was happening, but I relaxed and enjoyed it. Yet at the same time I somehow came to realize that I did not want to stay. For the monks, it was truth, for me it was poetry; their practice was based on faith, mine on a willing suspension of disbelief." (The Secret Gospel, p 6)
Two things from this paragraph cry out. First is the statement, "For the monks, it was truth, for me it was poetry; their practice was based on faith, mine on a willing suspension of disbelief". Jeffery writes:
"It is improbable that Smith actually felt that way in 1941, when he was officially a student from Harvard Divinity School, preparing for ordination. In fact he was ordained an Episcopalian deacon only four years later (July 1945) and a priest not long after that (March 1946). To believe Smith's 1973 memoir, then, we would have to suppose that he had faith while studying at Harvard, somehow lost it in Jerusalem despite the glorious Byzantine services, then regained it again after he returned to Harvard and was ordained, but had lost in permanently by the time of his second trip to Mar Saba. That is more or less the opposite of what many people would do, which is find faith in Jerusalem and lose it at Harvard. The evidence reviewed in the next chapter suggests Smith lost his faith during the early 1950s." (The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled, p 127)
The second item is a howler. In his new understanding of "worship as a means of disorientation" (supposedly the kind of worship practiced by Jesus and his disciples), Smith says he was dazzled by the Greek hymns, but that although "he knew what was happening, he relaxed and enjoyed it". Jeffery notes the obscene double-entendre:
"The phrase 'relax and enjoy it' is the punch line of an obscene joke, well-known in English-speaking countries, which also circulates as 'lie back and enjoy it'. In the joke, Confucious offers this advice: 'If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.'" (The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled, p 128)
Smith was thus having a raucous laugh at his own crackpot thesis -- that Byzantine hymns somehow pointed to Jesus initiating his disciples through hypnotic rituals culminating in gay sex. His memoir of Mar Saba is deliberately dishonest and obscene, "shaped to persuade us that what he discovered there reveals a remarkable truth about how Jesus initiated his disciples" (Jeffrey, p 130) -- disorienting them with worship, and then banging them up the you-know-what. "Relax and enjoy it", indeed.

The Six Kings of Jerusalem

This part of my series is an exercise in self-indulgence, reflecting my passion for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1100-1187 CE) and the crusader kings in all their colorful personas. They included a bigamist homosexual, an unbeliever, and a leper who dissolved defiantly before the eyes of his subjects. These sovereigns had their hands full constantly, not only with Muslims on the border but with troublemaking Christians at home. I have a place in my heart for all of them. So without further ado, here are their bios.

1. Baldwin I (1100-1118). Ambitious and cunning, the most militant of the six kings. Married three times, once bigamously, but never having any kids. Actually homosexual, one of his favorite lovers being a converted Muslim who accompanied him everywhere (even to the toilet). Marked his reign by an impressive conquest of the coastal Palestinian ports and territory south of the Dead Sea, both necessary for control of the kingdom. Died on a military expedition in Egypt, in the 18th year of his reign. Proclaimed on his tombstone as a "second Judas Maccabeus" whom everyone dreaded.

2. Baldwin II (1118-1131). A cautious, systematic administrator, nicknamed "the Goad". Dutifully chaste, faithful to his wife to the end of his days. Overly pious, at his prayers so often that his knees were covered with calluses. Captured and imprisoned by the Muslims until released a year and a half later for a ransom. Having only daughters, married his eldest Melisende to Fulk of Anjou (who had come to Palestine in 1120). Tried conquering Damascus twice to no avail. Died of typhus in Jerusalem in the 13th year of his reign, the second and last of the kings to have fought in the First Crusade.

3. Fulk (1131-1143). Quick and decisive, the most intelligent of the six kings. Resented at first by those who had grown up in the holy lands since the First Crusade. Battled continually against Zengi of Aleppo, who was slowly getting a jihad under way. Eventually cemented an alliance with Unur of Damascus (who feared Zengi more than the Christian crusaders). Died on a hunting accident in Acre in the 12th year of his reign, leaving two children, Baldwin (age 13) and Amalric (age 7).

4. Baldwin III (1143/53-1162). A statesman and scholar in equal measure, the most loved of the six kings. Had the gift of command tempered with kindness. The first king born in the holy lands and to cultivate Oriental ways of thinking. Under the regency of his mother, Queen Melisende, aided/led the Second Crusade after Edessa fell to Zengi in 1144 (which ended in embarrassing failure). Wrested control of the kingdom in 1153 from his mother. Died in Beirut from being poisoned in the 19th/9th year of his reign. So admired, even by his Muslim foes, that Zengi's son Nur al-Din refused to attack the kingdom during Baldwin's funeral processions, saying, "We should pity them, for they have lost such a prince as the world no longer knows."

5. Amalric (1162-1174). A lecher and unbeliever, with none of the ease and affability of his brother (Baldwin III). Full of self-importance, with a princely air, and rarely at ease with people. The most reflective of the six kings, with an insatiable curiosity about Muslim culture. Scoffed at the doctrine of the resurrection. Militarily preoccupied with Egypt, sometimes as an enemy, other times as an ally against Nur al-Din, until finally Nur al-Din's general Saladin crushed the Fatimids, bringing Egypt under Sunni rule (1169-1171). Died of dysentery in Jerusalem in the 12th year of his reign, succeeded by his son Baldwin (age 13).

6. Baldwin IV (1174-1185). "The Leper King". The bravest of the six kings, fighting impossible odds throughout his life -- the Muslim world gaining an upper hand under Saladin, backbiting within the royal family, and his own disease. Defeated Saladin's army once, outside Ramleh in 1177, but never afterwards. Toward the end of his reign, had to be carried on a litter into battle. Died in Jerusalem in the 11th year of his reign -- blind, faceless, and with his hands and toes eaten away, yet regal to the very end. A Muslim chronicler wrote that "the leper child knew how to make his authority respected".

Robert Payne says that the leper king "was the last of his dynasty and of his kind; after him, the little men came out from under the stones" (The Dream and the Tomb, p 196). He's right. Jerusalem fell to Saladin two years later (1187), calling forth the Third Crusade and a fervent desire in Europe to take back and preserve the crusader states. But the Kingdom of Jerusalem would never be re-established. Richard the Lionheart regained some coastal territory (1191-92), and there was more taken back in 1197, but the future "kings of Jerusalem" proved to be ineffectual parodies of the above six, ruling from the city of Acre -- until the crusaders were finally expelled for good in 1291.

In the next post, we'll look at how the crusades evolved over the centuries, particularly through canon law.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Amy-Jill Levine's Decree for Interfaith Dialogue

Amy-Jill Levine concludes The Misunderstood Jew with an A-Z list of suggestions for interfaith dialogue between Jews and Christians (pp 215-226):
A. Be cautious of any statement beginning "All Jews think..." or any stereotype that asserts "All Jews are..."

B. Recognize that both Jewish and Christian sources contain ugly, misogynistic, intolerant, and hateful material.

C. Avoid selective use of rabbinic sources, especially if they are used as a foil for something in the New Testament.

D. Avoid comments that create the picture of a Jesus divorced from his own people.

E. Avoid the immediate association of Judaism with the Old Testament. Judaism is based on ever-evolving interpretations of the Tanakh.

F. Recognize that the gospels are not objective reports. They are sectarian, reflecting the separation between the majority Jewish body and the members of it who chose to follow Jesus.

G. Remember that the "bible" of the church is not the "bible" of the synagogue.

H. Do not seek artificial connections in interfaith dialogue, and do not be afraid of disagreement.

I. Don't be a Marcionite. I.e. Don't juxtapose an "Old Testament God of wrath" with an "New Testament God of love".

J. Learn about the history of Christian tradition before engaging in interfaith dialogue.

K. If possible, read the scriptures in an interfaith setting.

L. Speak out when you hear negative comments about your neighbor, and if necessary, speak out in a public forum.

M. Watch out for anti-Judaism in the hymnal.

N. Watch out for anti-Judaism in lectionary readings.

O. Address why Jesus died without appealing to explanations which rely on negative stereotypes of Judaism and Jews.

P. Park guilt and entitlement at the door before engaging in interfaith dialogue. Neither Christian guilt, nor Jewish entitlement, over the legacy of anti-Semitism is helpful.

Q. In public prayer, invoke your deity in a way that affirms your distinct confession and yet recognizes the existence of alternative truth claims.

R. Don't overplay the significance of Galilee over Judea in order to understand the conflict between Jesus and his fellow Jews. There were many Galileans who didn't follow Jesus; and the early church was based in Judea.

S. Be aware that the desire to convert Jews to Christianity, while perhaps natural, will never be greeted with warmth.

T. Be careful in discussing the Middle-East. Don't equate Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of the Jews, and don't equate Palestinian discontent with the violent few.

U. Double-check that Sunday school and religious education teachers are informed about the history of their own tradition and the history of the other.

V. Learn Hebrew and Greek if possible and read the scriptures in their original language.

W. Look out for anti-Semitic internet sites.

X. Practice holy envy: look at the other tradition with generosity and try to see the good.

Y. If all else fails, manipulate people psychologically: remind them of feelings that will be potentially hurt when another religion is portrayed negatively.

Z. Imagine Amy-Jill Levine herself sitting in the back of a church with her eyeballs on you. (She boasts that she has interrupted church sermons in which Jews are used as foils, gays are bashed, etc.)
Levine elaborates on each of these at length in the book (which, incidentally, is a decent one).

For the most part I think this amounts to good advice. One might even guess that a Unitarian wrote it. I would underscore the importance of commandment H. -- "Do not seek artificial connections in interfaith dialogue, and do not be afraid of disagreement" -- because it's all too easy to forget this one when putting the others into practice. Genuine dialogue comes through lively disagreement, respecting that disagreement, and being animated by it. If we get too concerned about "hurting people's feelings" (see the amusing Y. in particular), dialogue becomes disingenuous.

Different Breeds of Readers

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Book Snob

You like to think you're one of the literati, but actually you're just a snob who can read. You read mostly for the social credit you can get out of it.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Dedicated Reader
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

I see that Stephen Carlson is a Book Snob too, and that Jim West, Rick Brannan, and Tyler Wiliams are Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworms. Mark Goodacre isn't as aloof as the rest of us -- a Dedicated Reader.

Ten Commandments for Discussion Groups (Revisited)

It dawned on me that Robert Price's Ten Commandments for Discussion Groups are much better when sarcastically inverted:
1. Get to your point as cryptically and convolutedly as possible. If people need to be spoon-fed what you're trying to say, they don't deserve an easy time of it.

2. Make no effort to stay on topic. Bombard your audience with red herrings and non sequiturs which parade your knowledge but bear little relevance to the subject at hand. People need to appreciate your genius.

3. Grind political axes at all opportunities.

4. Pay no heed to the person talking. Be planning your soliloquy as he or she speaks.

5. Remind yourself that the opinions of others are worthless. Don't take them seriously.

6. Fracture the group discussion, and foment discord. Pit people against each other, and get them to play "Us vs. Them" (even while knowing all along that it's really "You vs. Everyone").

7. Grandstand. Remember: it's all about you.

8. Convert as many people as possible to your own beliefs. They're the right ones, after all.

9. Put people down when they speak. Ridicule them, insult them, and then tell them to shut up.

10. Interrupt people. They need to listen to you more, and gab less.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Robert Price's Ten Commandments for Discussion Groups

I'm not a fan of Robert Price, but I did get a kick out of his ten commandments for discussion groups in The Reason Driven Life, pp 186-189:
1. Thou shalt get to thy point as quickly and succinctly as possible.

2. Thou shalt try to stay on topic at least for a while.

3. Thou shalt avoid politics like the plague.

4. Thou shalt give heed unto the person talking. Neither shalt thou merely wait till they're done so that thou mayest launch into thine own planned soliloquy.

5. Thou shalt esteem individual persons above their opinions and beliefs. In this manner thou mayest abstain from personal enmity and avoid waxing wrathful.

6. Thou shalt not fracture the group discussion into two or more. But thou shalt all have one conversation going on until the informal aftermath of the main event.

7. Thou shalt not grandstand.

8. Thou shalt not aim to convert the group to thine own faith or opinion.

9. Thou shalt make sure all present know that they are not expected to speak, though their participation is most welcome.

10. Thou shalt not interrupt thy brother or thy sister.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Blogger of the Month: Guess Who?

I want to thank Brandon Wason again for interviewing me over on (Check out my mugshot: it looks a bit different from the hobbit-avatar on my amazon site.)

Biblical Studies Carnival XII

The twelfth Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Jim West's blog.