Sunday, November 30, 2008

Atonement as covering?

The Ark of God Carried into the Temple
Musée Condé, Chantilly
Place of the Kaporet
(Image from Wikipedia)

Last Sunday during Bible study, the topic of "atonement" came up in discussion, and one of the participants noted that the word literally means "at onement" and that the word "atone" is a back formation from the word "atonement."

I was skeptical and wondered if this were a folk etymology, but I'll be damned if it isn't right!

Or at least partly right. The Online Etymological Dictionary says this about "atone":
1555, from adv. phrase atonen (c.1300) "in accord," lit. "at one," a contraction of at and one. It retains the older pronunciation of one. The phrase perhaps is modeled on L. adunare "unite," from ad- "to, at" + unum "one." Atonement is 1513; theological sense dates from 1526.
This implies that the verb "atone" is no back formation from the noun "atonement" but has its origin in the adverbial phrase "atonen" -- which, by the way, doesn't look like a phrase to me, but I suppose that the lexicographers meant that "atonen" is an adverb formed from the prepositional phrase "at one."

As for the word "atonement," it seems to have been coined by William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) for his 1526 English Bible to translate the meaning inhering in the Hebrew word "kaphar."

According to the online Blue Letter Bible, "kaphar" has the following meanings:
כפר kaphar

1) to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation, cover over with pitch
a) (Qal) to coat or cover with pitch
b) (Piel)
1) to cover over, pacify, propitiate
2) to cover over, atone for sin, make atonement for
3) to cover over, atone for sin and persons by legal rites
c) (Pual)
1) to be covered over
2) to make atonement for
d) (Hithpael) to be covered
Also at the Blue Letter Bible site is the Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, which gives the basic meaning of "kaphar" as "to cover, to cover over."

According to Wikipedia's entry on "atonement" (as of November 30, 2008), "Tyndale thought that if [the meaning behind "kaphar" were] translated as "reconciliation," there would be a pervasive misunderstanding of the word's deeper significance to not just reconcile, but "to cover," so the word ["atonement"] was invented."

I confess that I do not understand this. The word "atonement" does not convey any sense of "covering" -- not so far as I can see. Either Wikipedia is wrong (which is definitely possible), or I am wrong (also possible, for I was wrong about the etymology of "atonement").

Perhaps some of the Bible experts who occasionally visit this blog can help me out on this rather puzzling choice of "atonement" to capture the sense of "covering" inherent in the Hebrew term.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Center of the Bible?

King James Bible
Divinely Inspired Translation?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Recently, a friend forwarded to me an email with a message and a prayer that might be called a chain-letter prayer (for one is supposed to email ten more people). I liked the stunning images of nature, and also the accompanying music borrowed from Irish musician Enya, but felt a bit skeptical about some of the claims.

What did the message claim?
That Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible. That Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. That 1188 chapters make up the Bible. That Psalm 118 is the middle chapter of the Bible. That Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible.
What does that exact verse state?
"It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men."
I thought that these coincidences sounded too good to be true, so I asked my friend about it, and she told me that she actually "thought the exact verse idea was kind of hoaky." I checked into the matter and then reported to my friend:
Yeah, it is kind of hoaky -- and too good to be true . . . so, it isn't.

Psalm 118 is not the middle chapter of the Bible; Psalm 117 is, for the Bible has 1189 chapters in all, and Psalm 117 is number 595.

Psalm 118 also does not contain the middle verse of the Bible. If we're using the King James Version, which has an even number of verses, at 31,102, then the two middle verses are Psalm 103:1-2.

That's what Wikipedia says, at any rate.

I [had been] . . . skeptical, so I searched the internet . . . though I'm usually also skeptical of Wikipedia. But there's more here, and it looks valid.

Of course, we could also ask why the King James Version is used. Is it supposed to be a sacred translation? And why use a translation? Why not the original? And which 'original'? With or without the Apocrypha? But originally, there were no chapters or verses -- these were added in the 8th or 9th centuries AD by the Jewish Masoretes.

I could go on and on . . . but I won't, and you will bless me for that.
As will my faithful readers -- and I am thankful for all my blessings.

As for the music and images, I've searched the internet for what I received by email, though without success. The same message but with less impressive images and utterly unimpressive music can be endured on You Tube.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Priceless Pureblood?

A Genuine Pure-Blood Australian
Despite Mixed Appearance
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over two years ago, on April 24, 2006, I posted a blog entry on "The Very First Half-Korean," in which I noted some of the prejudice encountered here in Korea by my children -- who are half-Korean from their mother's side and various mixed-other-ethnicities-adding-up-to-half from my side.

In that same post, I noted that Koreans generally place great emphasis upon their being a "pure-blooded race" despite the irony of the very first Korean having reputedly been half-divine and half-bear-woman, and I asked, "So . . . what's the big deal about Korean purity of blood, anyway?"

That was, more or less, a rhetorical question, but an anonymous gentleman from Australia bothered himself to answer it:
Korea should remain pure blood, mixed race civilization all perish in the past.

Germans, Japanese and now Koreans; all have one common thing, the pure bred. It's priceless.
I say 'gentleman' from Australia, but I suppose that the one posting the comment could have been a 'lady' from Australia . . . and possibly not a native speaker of English, given the errors. Anyway, I replied:
Anonymous, if "pureblood" Koreans don't want to perish, they'd better start reproducing again. Currently, the birthrate is too low for replacement.
I could have added that such is also true of the 'pureblood' Germans and the 'pureblood' Japanese, who are both currently failing to reproduce at replacement rates and are therefore fated to perish from the earth. Meanwhile, the mixed-blood Americans are reproducing at a rate slightly above replacement.

Anyway, comments are welcome, but let's all be polite.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Speaking of Saudi Arabia . . .

"Rock the Casbah"
(Image from Wikipedia)

Music from The Accolade isn't the only sound emanating from Saudi Arabia these days. We also hear remarks about fighting terrorism.

For example, in its Special Dispatch Series, Number 2130 (November 26, 2008), MEMRI informs us that on October 2, 2008, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Na'if bin Abd Al-'Aziz -- who happens to be a 'Prince' -- spoke in his Jeddah home to senior officials of the Saudi Ministry of Interior about terrorism: "I appeal to the clerics, the intellectuals, and to all my compatriots -- each according to his position and ability -- to help [fight terrorism]."

A couple of weeks later, on October 15, 2008, Prince Na'if spoke at a symposium on "ideological security," stating that "in combating ideological extremism, the Saudi mosques had failed to fulfill the task expected of them -- that is, preaching tolerance. He contended that the global increase in crime demanded close cooperation between security [apparatuses] and educational institutions."

About a week later, Prince Na'if described "the damage that terrorists had caused Saudi Arabia, explaining that not only had their activities harmed the country's reputation worldwide, but that terrorism had come to be regarded as an integral part of Islam and to be attributed to all Muslims." He added "in this regard that various crimes, including bombings, kidnappings, and terrorizing people in the Saudi Kingdom, were crimes of haraba. Such crimes, defined in the Koran as acts of 'spreading corruption and chaos around the world,' are characterized by the shari'a as especially grievous, and as punishable by death."

I suppose this Na'if's remarks should be welcomed, but he's truly a 'naif' if he thinks that a substantially more tolerant form of Islam can be fostered through Saudi Arabia's normative Wahabism, for Wahabi Islam is one of the world's most intolerant forms of Islamism. At best, Wahabism can be made only marginally more tolerant.

I know, I know, I ought to provide evidence for my harsh judgement, but that would take too much time this busy morning (though readers can search my blog for more on Wahabism, and Salafism generally), so I'll leave my judgement dangling without a support net below.

Meanwhile, I'm placing my bets on cultural phenomena linked to the younger generation to which that girl band The Accolade belongs. Incidentally, one of this blog's regular readers, "Conservative in Virginia," reminds us that The Clash predicted way back in 1982 that music would "Rock the Casbah":
Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin' to the top
The sheik he drove his cadillac
He went a cruisin' down the ville
The muezzin was a standing
On the radiator grille


The shareef don't like it
Rockin' the casbah
Rock the casbah
The shareef don't like it
Rockin' the casbah
Rock the casbah

By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy casbah sound
But the bedouin they brought out
The electric camel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar pickin' thumb
As soon as the shareef
Had cleared the square
They began to wail


Now over at the temple
Oh! they really pack em in
The in crowd say it's cool
To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction
The temple band took five
The crowd caught a wiff
Of that crazy casbah jive


The king called up his jet fighters
He said you better earn your pay
Drop your bombs between the minarets
Down the casbah way

As soon as the shareef was
Chauffeured outta there
The jet pilots tuned to
The cockpit radio blare

As soon as the shareef was
Outta their hair
The jet pilots wailed


He thinks it's not kosher
Fundamentally he can't take it.
You know he really hates it.
Yes, yes -- more of this, please. If you missed it, try You Tube.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Accolade: A Girl Band in Saudi Arabia?

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
(Image from Wikipedia)

I often write about religious issues on this blog, and since one of the central issues in religion these days is Islamist terrorism, many blog entries have dealt with this big issue, but countervailing forces are also moving in the Muslim world.

The two posts prior to this one, for instance, have investigated 'Muslims' returning to their Christian 'roots' in Kosovo. An earlier post reported on a Christian television program in Arabic that is spawning debates among Muslims about early Muslim texts. Also in that same post -- which concerned the broader topic of change in the Arab world -- was a portrait of Muslims working in Dubai who are less interested in religion than in making money.

I suspect -- and not being an expert, I can only suspect -- that the history of Islam's spread cannot be readily extrapolated from its early religious texts. Islamists may like to ground their version of Islam in terrible certainties about rigid puritanical conformity, jihad against unbelievers, and humiliation of the conquered, but we see from the historical reality of Islam's spread that the full story is more complex, Islamization occurring rather slowly over centuries in a gradual process even resisted by Islamic political authorities themselves, who were fearful of losing their tax base if the higher-taxed Dhimmi population were to convert to Islam.

And in our modern times, powerful forces are gathering in even the Muslim world that can turn people against Islamism, particularly those who have to live with it firsthand, especially the young. While young Muslims living in Europe turn to Islamist radicalism, young people in the Muslim heartland, Saudi Arabia, are turning to rock music. A recent article in the International Herald Tribune by Robert F. Worth, "A Saudi girl group that dares to rock" (November 24, 2008), tells of a girl band in Jeddah (or Jidda) -- calling itself The Accolade -- whose three members are pushing at the boundaries of the acceptable for Muslims, especially for female Muslims:
Dina and Dareen wear their hair teased into thick manes and have pierced eyebrows. During an interview with the band at a Starbucks here, they wore black abayas -- the flowing gown that is standard attire for women -- but the gowns were open, showing their jeans and T-shirts, and their hair and faces were uncovered. Women are more apt to go uncovered in Jidda than in most other parts of the country, though it is still an uncommon sight.
And the inspiration for their music is hardly Islamic:
The band gets together to practice every weekend at the sisters' house, where their younger brother sometimes fills in on drums. In early November, Dina, who studies art at King Abdulaziz University, began writing a song based on one of her favorite paintings, "The Accolade," by the English pre-Raphaelite painter Edmund Blair Leighton. The painting depicts a long-haired noblewoman knighting a young warrior with a sword.

"I liked the painting because it shows a woman who is satisfied with a man," Dina said.

She had thought of writing a song based on the "Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci but decided that doing so would be taking controversy too far. (In Saudi Arabia, churches are not allowed, and Muslims who convert to Christianity can be executed.)
The reporter, Robert Worth, doesn't shy away from adding that parenthetical remark about Saudi repression -- and I'm glad for the honesty -- for he wants to remind readers that pushing too hard against the boundaries in Saudi Arabia can have harsh consequences even if "more than 60 percent of Saudi Arabia's population is under 25, . . . [with] many younger people . . . pressing for greater freedoms."

The reality is complex:
[T]his country's harsh code of public morals has slowly thawed, especially in Jidda, by far the kingdom's most cosmopolitan city. A decade ago the cane-wielding religious police terrorized women who were not dressed according to their standards. Young men with long hair were sometimes bundled off to police stations to have their heads shaved, or worse.

Today, there is a growing rock scene with dozens of bands, some of them even selling tickets to their performances. Hip-hop is also popular. The religious police -- strictly speaking, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice -- have largely retreated from the streets of Jidda, and they are somewhat less aggressive even in the kingdom's desert heartland.
The reporter attributes these changes to reform in the wake of 9/11:
The change has been especially noticeable since the terrorist attacks on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Saudis confronted the effects of extremism both outside and inside the kingdom.
I'm not so sure that the Saudis have genuinely confronted extremism, which is well-entrenched in Sauid institutions, including the education system. Saudi textbooks for middle and high schools reportedly still admonish students to "hate" non-Muslims. Rather, I think that the push for change is coming from below, from a younger generation that -- like the younger generation in Iran -- wants more personal freedom.

I hope that they get it, too, and perhaps they will . . . even if incrementally.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crypto-Catholics among Albanians

Roman Catholic Church
Village of Kravoserija
Southern Part of Independent Kosovo
September 8, 2008

Following up on yesterday's post on the report by Fatos Bytyci, "Out of hiding, some Kosovars embrace Christianity" (Reuters, September 28, 2008), I found an article by Maurus Reinkowski, a professor at Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg: "Hidden Believers, Hidden Apostates: The Phenomenon of Crypto-Jews and Crypto-Christians in the Middle-East" (Dennis Washburn et al., editors, Converting Cultures: Religion, Ideology of Transformations of Modernity, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2007, pages 409-433, pdf article).

In this article, Reinkowski has a bit on crypto-Catholic Albanians:
[Page 420:]

Certain regions of Albania and Kosovo show from the 17th through the 20th century a prominent occurrence of crypto-Christian groups. Their existence can also be related to the historical conditions of that region. In order to shake off Ottoman rule Albanian leaders forged frequent alliances with European powers -- with Venice in the middle of the 17th century, (Footnote 37) and from the late 17th century onwards with Austria and Russia. Ottoman authorities responded in certain strategically sensitive regions by transferring populations and laying greater emphasis on conversion. Steadily increasing tax obligations, due to the financial malaise of the Ottoman state, may have added to the pressure to convert (Footnote 38). The greater part of conversions in that region seems to have taken place for anything but reasons of conviction. A crypto-Christian (or to be more precise: Crypto-Catholic) culture developed in parts of the Albanian lands. Crypto-Christians had double names, Christian names in their domestic, circles, Muslim names in public; they went both to church (mostly in their villages) and to the mosque (when visiting the cities); they had their children christened and confirmed, but also circumcised; they got married using both the Christian and the Muslim rites; they observed Christian fasts, but also went to the Mosque during the Muslim month of fasting (Ramadan); they asked for the last rites and anointment by a Catholic priest, but were buried in a Muslim graveyard. In some villages the Ottoman tax collector encountered only Muslims (since they had to pay less taxes than Christians), but a commission seeking to levy in the same village recruits for the Ottoman army would meet only Christians (since they did not have to serve in the Ottoman army). (Footnote 39) One's religion could also change accord-

[Page 421:]

ing to altitude. During their stay in the plains in the winter months the crypto-Christians were Muslims, but in the summer on the mountain meadows, out of reach of the state, they were Christians (Footnote 40). Christian and Islamic practices were accessible to both religious groups and easily imitated. Christening, which was seen as a magical protection against spirits, sorcerers, wolves and the like, was used not only by Christians, but also by Muslims (Footnote 41). Catholic priests in the northern Albanian mountains enjoyed great respect with Muslims (Footnote 42). Pilgrimage sites and holy graves were shared by Christians and Muslims (Footnote 43). Islamic dervish sites, in Albania primarily maintained by the Sufi order of the Bektashis, were important for the Islamization of the Balkans and Anatolia, since they integrated old Christian pilgrimage sites into the Muslim cosmos. Christians were not kept away from these places of pilgrimage; the Bektashi holy sites seem even have to been made deliberately compatible to Christian pilgrims (Footnote 44).

How is this relatively high concentration of crypto-Christians in the Albanian lands to be explained? It would seem that the people of Albania were somehow prepared by their previous historical experiences for crypto-religious strategies. With the frequent shifting of this region between Catholic powers and the Greek-Orthodox Byzantine empire the local Albanian notables and population may have, already in pre-Ottoman (and thus pre-Islamic) times, acquired the experience of changing their affiliation to opposing confessions according to the given situation.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, on her journey in 1717 through the Balkans to Istanbul, met Albanians and expressed a kind of benevolent surprise at their lack of decisiveness in questions of religion:

[Page 422:]
But of all the Religions I have seen, the Amounts [i.e. the Albanians] seem to me the most particular. (. . .) These people, living between Christians and Mahometans and not being skill'd in controversie, declare that they are utterly unable to judge which Religion is best; but to be certain of not entirely rejecting the Truth, they very prudently follow both, and go to the Mosque on Fridays and the Church on Sundays, saying for their excuse, that at the day of Judgement they are sure of protection from the True Prophet, which they are not able to determine in this World. (Footnote 45)
(37) Noel Malcolm, Kosovo. A Short History (London: Macmillan, 1998), p. 118.

(38) N. Malcolm, pp. 118, 126, 131, 165. The Greek-Orthodox clergy was repeatedly authorized by the Ottoman state to collect church taxes from the Catholic population
as well.

(39) This anecdote is so popular that it may be found in several works such as R. Dawkins, Crypto-Christians 1933, p. 271; and Bardhyl Graceni, "Le crytpochristianisme dans la region du Shpat au cours de la derniêre periode de la domination ottomane," Studia Albanica 26.2 (1989): pp. 92-102. The principle source for these reports seems to be Edith Durham, The Burden of the Balkans (London: Nelson, 1905).

40. A. Bryer, Crypto-Christians (1983), p. 22.

41. Speros Vryonis, "Religious Change and Continuity in the Balkans and Anatolia from the Fourteenth through the Sixteenth Century," in Islam and Cultural Change in the Middle Ages, ed. Speros Vryonis (Wiesbaden; Harrassowitz, 1975), pp. 127-140; N. Malcolm, Kosovo, pp. 129, 132; Isa Blumi, Rethinking the Late Ottoman Empire. A Comparative Social and Political History of Albania and lemen 1878-1918 (Istanbul: The Isis Press, 2003), p. 146.

42 P. Bartl, Ktyptochristentum (1967), P. 125.

43 Ger Duijzings, "Pilgrimage, Politics and Ethnicity: Joint Pilgrimages of Muslims and Christians and Conflicts over Ambiguous Sanctuaries in Former Yugoslavia and Albania," in Power and Prayer. Religious and Political Processes in Past and Present, eds. Mart Bax, Adrianus Koster (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1993), pp. 80-91.

44. G. Duijzings, Joint Pilgrimages, pp. 85, 88.

45. The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Compiled by Robert Halsband, vol. 1: 1708-1720 (Oxford, 1965), p. 319.
Despite Reinkowski's statement that "Certain regions of Albania and Kosovo show from the 17th through the 20th century a prominent occurrence of crypto-Christian groups," he later notes some doubts about this:
[Page 429:]

Two historians of the Balkans, Georg Stadtmueller and Stavro Skendi, have even gone so far as to claim that one would have been able to find crypto-religious groups everywhere in the Balkans where conversion to Islam took place. (Footnote 73) In opposition to this sweeping judgement, Ger Duijzings puts forward the strong argument that crypto-religious groups cannot persist over long periods. Kosovo's crypto-Catholics in the 19th century completely lost their knowledge of Christian dogmas and any consciousness of having been originally Christians due to the lack of a church infrastructure. Emissaries of the Vatican missionary institution Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, which intensified its activities in the 19th century maintained that these groups had persisted as crypto-Christians continuously from the 17th century onwards. But indeed, only after these crypto-Catholics had been discovered by European emissaries, travelers and missionaries, did these people begin to perceive themselves in these terms. (Footnote 74)

73 Georg Stadtmueller, "Die Islamisiertmg bei den Albanern," Jahrbuecher fuer die Geschichte Osteuropas 3 (Munich, 1955), pp. 404 -429; S. Skendi, Crypto-Christianity (1967), pp. 227-246.

74 Ger Duijzings, Religion and the Politics of Identity in Kosovo (London: Hurst, 2000), pp. 87, 92, 103.
Such is the state of the scholarship on this issue -- or at least the state of this scholar's scholarship. Crypto-Catholics did continuously exist at least as late as the 17th century but may have lost their memory of having once been Catholic between the 17 and the 19th centuries, until reminded of this fact by a late-nineteenth-century re-Catholization effort that got interrupted by the twentieth century. On Reinkowski's evidence, crypto-Catholicism may be a discontinuous phenomenon but nevertheless a phenomenon.

Apparently, the 'crypto-Catholics' are remembering again, and yesterday's blog entry recorded a mild complaint in the form of this comment by a Muslim calling himself "Ipi" who posted from Canberra, in Australia:
Christian mercenaries come to Kosova full of cash, bearing gifts and are targeting the poor and vulnerable . . . pathetic and sad (May Allah have mercy on my brothers and sisters, for money has poisoned their spirit).
Ipi later deleted the comment, perhaps after re-reading the post and deciding that former Christians who pretended to take on the guise of Muslims to obtain relief from the high taxes levied on Dhimmis could hardly be blamed for shedding that guise because of cash or gifts . . . if that's even what is happening.

Anyway, Ipi offered no evidence for this accusation, but if it were true, might not this make these 'reverts' to Catholicism crypto-Muslims?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Revival of Catholicism in Kosovo?

Crucifix in Roman Catholic Church
Village of Kravoserija
Southern Part of Kosovo
September 8, 2008

We seem to be living in a time of large ideological transformations, including the shifting of religious beliefs. In much of Europe, one notices the spread of Islam, mostly due to an influx of Muslim immigrants but also to the tendency of these immigrant communities to have large families.

Conversions also occur, as some native Europeans also turn to Islam.

The picture, however, is more complex, for quiet conversions from Islam to Christianity are also occurring. An interesting development in Kosovo that illustrates an unusual case of a potentially large-scale movement from Islam to Catholicism among Albanian Kosovars has been reported by Fatos Bytyci in an article, "Out of hiding, some Kosovars embrace Christianity" (Reuters, September 28, 2008):
The majority of ethnic Albanians were forcibly converted to Islam, mostly through the imposition of high taxes on Catholics, when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans.

For centuries, many remembered their Christian roots and lived as what they call "Catholics in hiding". Some, nearly a century after the Ottomans left the Balkans, now see the chance to reveal their true beliefs.
I recall reading over ten years ago about Islam in the Balkans, and a point made by the writer was that many Christians there living under Ottoman rule pretended to convert to avoid the high taxes. They used two names, a Muslim one for the Ottoman rulers and a Christian one among Christians.

Over time, I suspect that religious beliefs would tend to conform to the religious ideology of those holding power, with Balkan crypto-Christians gradually becoming Islamicized.

The case of Albanians might be even more complex, however, for I recall reading in yet another article that in Albanian families, one member would 'convert' to Islam to protect the family property, but the rest would remain Christian. The Bytyci article would appear to confirm this:
In staunchly Catholic families, often in villages with a strong social network, men converted publicly but continued to practice Christianity at home. Women and daughters often kept the faith, meaning it was transmitted to children.
I don't know the historical scholarship on these points, for I read these things in news reports -- albeit in such publications as The Guardian and The International Herald Tribune -- but this Bytyci article would tend to confirm what I've previously read, especially given statements by Kosovars themselves:
"We have been living a dual life. In our homes we were Catholics but in public we were good Muslims," said Ismet Sopi. "We don't call this converting. It is the continuity of the family's belief."
Consequently, one finds Catholic churches being constructed and Catholic believers emerging, as with the "hundreds of Kosovar Albanians gather[ing] on Sundays to attend religious services in a still unfinished red-brick church in the Kosovo town of Klina," which Bytyci claims is "part of a revival of Catholicism in the newly independent Balkan state."

But we might need to take Bytyci's report with a grain of salt:
Inhabitants of Kravoserija in the south of the country have had their own church since 2005, with the help of the Kosovo Catholic Church. Beke Bytyci is one of five villagers who has the keys to it, since chancellor Zefi only comes to celebrate mass every few weeks.

Opening the wooden door, he crossed himself: "I will be baptized next week," he said.

More than half the 120 village families attend the ceremonies, and the small church is always full.

"My dad made a mistake in not raising me as a Christian," said Ferat Bytyci, a 35-year-old merchant in the village and a relative of Beke. "Now things have changed and I don't make the same mistake."
I note that Fatos Bytyci shares the same surname as Beke and Ferat. Perhaps "Bytyci" is a common name, but also possible is that Fatos Bytyci is one of the Catholic reverts. That wouldn't mean that the report of conversions is exaggerated, but it would mean that anyone interested in the phenomenon should seek out more sources.

Perhaps some readers will happen to know of other articles on this issue.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Uncle Cran done brang us another big tale...

Brangus Steer
(Image from Wikipedia)

Uncle Cran has finally sent in a farm report on his tussle with that ornery steer, which he identifies for us:
The steer is known as a "Brangus," a cross between a black Angus and Brahaman. He was probably mostly Angus, but had the drooping ears of the Brahama. Local Hill Billys call the Brahama a "Brahmer," from our Scotch-Irish heritage. He got his speed and dangerous temperament from that side of his lineage.
For those interested in learning more about this fascinating creature, go to either of two Wikipedia entries and get started. You'll discover that Brangus come in two colors -- black and red -- and that they thrive in hot, humid, tick-infested places like the Ozarks, primarily due to their Brahman heritage. The breed was developed in the early 20th century in the US, but also a bit later in Australia, and has stabilized at three-eighths Brahman and five-eighths Angus. The black Brangus in the image above is an Australian Brangus and may look somewhat different than the one that attacked Uncle Cran, but as you can see, the Brangus steer is formidable, well-muscled for an emasculated creature.

But on to Uncle Cran's story, to which we should listen solemnly, utterly refraining from any disrespectful interruptions at the ridiculous and unbelievable parts:
In retrospect, the whole episode was unneccessary, and in the final analysis, kind of stupid on my part. However, out of kindness, you may keep your opinions to yourself . . . (or not!).

Solution one:

1. Notice a neghbor's livestock in your field.
2. Notify neighbor.
3. Sit down, relax, wait for neighbor to remove livestock.
4. End of story.

Solution two:

1. Notice livestock.
2. Call neighbor, curse and threaten.
Follow steps 3 & 4.

Solution three:

Follow steps 1, 2, 3.
4: Help neighbor
Uncle Cran doesn't specify if a man should "follow steps 1, 2, 3" of solution one or of solution two, but I suppose that he meant solution one since cursing and threatening a neighbor, as in solution two, probably wouldn't lend itself to the friendly relations that usually serve as a precondition to helping that neighbor. But even opting for "steps 1, 2, 3" of solution one poses difficulties for solution three, for how can a man sit down, relax, and wait for his neighbor to remove livestock, yet also help that same neighbor? Uncle Cran doesn't clarify this point, possibly due to the medication having dulled his ordinarily razor-sharp mental acuity. But lack of clarity should never stop a story, so let's not interrupt Uncle Cran but instead listen quietly and respectfully to the tale of "too-dumb critters":
But being the resourceful individual I am, I came home Friday evening, and decided to solve the problem myself. Getting out my 250 Yahama Bruin ATV, I opened the gate, surrounded the two steers . . .
Already, this tale is getting tall, for how can one man "surround" anything, let alone two big Brangus steers? But let's not interrupt.
. . . and began herding them, roaring up to them on the ATV, yelling and screaming. Naturally, no cursing, just normal intellectul phrases such as, "HEY!" -- "HO OUT HERE!" -- with accompanying whistles and gestures.

After a few rounds of circling the field the two ran up to the corner by the road, the bigger one jumped the fence and headed home. The smaller one (maybe 600 lbs of beef on the hoof), turned back and headed for the back of the field. Determined not to be defeated, I revved up the ATV, outran him to the back of the field, and after a few minor skirmishes and trips around the field, I finally got him through the gate, and shut same.

At this moment, I could have declared victory, put up the ATV, and followed step 3 & 4. NOT THIS COWBOY!!!
Good thing, too, Uncle Cran, or you wouldn't have much of a story to tell. But steps 3 and 4 of which solution? Oh, let's not interrupt for clarification at this exciting moment.
The steer ran into the shrubbery on the east side of my house, and stood there. I was determined to finish the job and send him on his way. Driving up to the corner of the house, I yelled and waved, but he just stood his ground. Then I got the bright idea of getting off the ATV, picking up some rocks and getting him on the move. I got off, picked up a couple of rocks, looked up, and 600 pounds of murderous hate . . .
Uncle Cran might be projecting his own emotions onto the steer . . . but let's not interrupt.
. . . was headed straight for me, He rammed me full speed, knocked me flat. I grabbed his head, shoved it to one side, and he ran off to the tractor shed.

When I tried to get up, my leg was kind of twisted, and I thought my hip was dislocated. Getting back on my ATV, I followed him to the shed, and made a few more feeble attempts to get him to go, but he was ready to fight. I got off the ATV again, tried to walk, and my leg collapsed under me, and I heard a dull pop. The broken femur shifted, and I had to crawl to the ATV, drive to the back door, hobble into the house, and wait for Linda Gay to get home. Off to the hospital, . . . and the rest is history.

Now as I reflect on the fiasco, I feel my subtitle is apropos -- WHEN TWO DUMB CRITTERS MEET -- the biggest and meanest one wins. Please, do not bring up topics such as IQ levels, or other meaningless subjects.
Well, I promise not to bring up the issue of IQ because I don't have to. You already did, so I'll just satisfy myself with affirming my complete and solemn agreement concerning the subtitle that you yourself have proposed.

But I do wonder if that Brangus steer should be called a "dumb critter" since he . . . uh, 'it' . . . had smarts enough to recognize when it had the advantage over you and attacked at the right moment. So . . . maybe that subtitle needs some adjustment.

But I'll say one thing -- this story wasn't a lot of bull.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Milton's 'Satanic' Serpent: How Big Was It?

Paradise Lost by John Milton:
Parallel Prose Edition
Dennis Danielson
Cover Art by Kirsten Behee

Milton scholar Dennis Danielson has published a parallel prose edition of Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. By "parallel" is meant that on the lefthand page appears the original poem and on the righthand page appears Danielson's prose 'translation'.

That ought to be useful for some readers, but I have a question or two concerning the serpent depicted on the cover, so I posted a query at the Milton List that I'll also post here:
Concerning his parallel prose edition of Paradise Lost, Dennis Danielson wrote:
"For a look at Kirsten Behee's original cover art, which Amazon hasn't yet posted, please see link."
I finally clicked to see this cover art and was impressed. I also have a question that derives from that cover image:
How large was the serpent that Satan chose to possess for Eve's temptation?
The artwork shows the serpent as pythonesque -- perhaps large enough to swallow Eve . . . and Adam. Does this depiction of the serpent's size represent Satan as serpent during the punishment inflicted upon him annually for his crime?
His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare,
His Armes clung to his Ribs, his Leggs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,
Reluctant, but in vaine: a greater power
Now rul'd him, punisht in the shape he sin'd,
According to his doom: (PL 10.511-517)
Or does Kirsten Behee's original cover art depict the serpent possessed by Satan?
So spake the Enemie of Mankind, enclos'd
In Serpent, Inmate bad, and toward Eve
Address'd his way, not with indented wave,
Prone on the ground, as since, but on his reare,
Circular base of rising foulds, that tour'd
Fould above fould a surging Maze, his Head
Crested aloft, and Carbuncle his Eyes;
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold, erect
Amidst his circling Spires, that on the grass
Floted redundant: (PL 9.494-503)
Since the rising folds tower fold above fold, up to a head held aloft, his serpent also appears to be large . . . but how large?

This isn't an especially important question, I suppose, but I am curious.

(Quoted PL Passages: Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room, November, 2008)
If any readers of this blog know the answer to my curious question, please weigh in with comments.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Referencing the Bible: Multicolor Edition

Reference Rainbow
Graphic by Chris Harrison
Carnegie Mellon University
(Image from Christianity Today)

In "Reference Rainbow," Christianity Today (November 20, 2008) links to the above image of cross-references among the Bible's 1,189 chapters.

I'll let the Christianity Today provide the brief explanation:
When Christoph Römhild, a Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, Germany, sent Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student Chris Harrison a list of 63,779 cross-references between the Bible's 1,189 chapters, the two became enthralled with elegantly showing the interconnected nature of Scripture. Each bar along the horizontal axis represents a chapter, with the length determined by the number of verses. (Books alternate in color between white and light gray.) Colors represent the distance between references. The graph won an honorable mention in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Science journal.
I presume that "[e]ach bar along the horizontal axis" refers to each of the vertical bars hanging like stalactites from the horizontal line that serves as the base for the reference rainbow. Each stalactite is a chapter whose length correlates to the number of verses in that chapter with cross-references to other chapters in the Bible. These chapters belong to books in the Bible, of course, and the dividing line between books is indicated where the stalactites change from white to light gray (which cannot be seen here but can be viewed perfectly well at Chris Harrison's website Visualizing the Bible). The varying colors of the various arcs represent distances between the cross-referenced chapters, but I haven't quite figured out the color sequence . . . though I suppose that it follows the color spectrum.

The result is rather beautiful, but I'm not quite sure what it truly represents, for I don't know how "cross-reference" was defined, so I don't know what the 63,779 cross-references signify.

Direct quotes should be fairly simple to cross-reference -- but what about the synoptic gospels? If one accepts that Matthew and Luke used Mark, then arcs need to indicate links between Matthew and Mark and between Luke and Mark, but what about between Matthew and Luke? If these two texts were composed independently, then neither one was cross-referencing the other. To draw arcs between them, in that case, would mean that the graphic represents not authorial cross-referencing but reader cross-referencing.

If non-quotes are also cross-referenced, then the graphic becomes even more subjective and therefore obscure in significance.

Let me explain one problem by refering to one of the illustrations. Look at that longest stalactite, the one near the center of the horizontal line. Which book of the Bible does that chapter belong to? What does its great length mean? Quotes? Also paraphrases? Even vague allusions?

Another problem that occurs to me is the sequence of books. Does this follow the biblical order? Which Bible? Does it include the Apocrypha? And what about Jude's reference to the Book of Enoch?

The questions just pile up . . . and perhaps deserve a graph of their own.

But maybe I'm being a quibbler here, for the result is quite lovely to contemplate.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Al-Qaida's 'Charm' Offensive Against President-Elect Obama

Using the N-Word?
(Image from MSNBC)

MSNBC supplies an Associated Press release reporting on al-Qaida's ever-charming Ayman al-Zawahir and his view of President-Elect Obama: "Al-Qaida No. 2 insults Obama with race epithet":
In al-Qaida's first response to Obama's victory, al-Zawahri also called the president-elect -- along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice -- "house Negroes."

Speaking in Arabic, al-Zawahri uses the term "abeed al-beit," which literally translates as "house slaves." But al-Qaida supplied English subtitles of his speech that included the translation as "house Negroes."
Al-Qaida supplied that subtitle because even though the Arabic word "abeed" literally means "slave," it is also commonly used to refer to black Africans, an idiomatic legacy from 1400 years of Arab Muslims enslaving black Africans.

Why doesn't Zawahiri like Obama? Because Obama wants to go after Al-Qaida in Afghanistan (and possibly also in Pakistan), and Zawahiri thinks that this military policy is a bad idea:
He said Obama's plan to shift more troops to Afghanistan is doomed to failure, because Afghans will resist.

"Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them," he said.
Am I misreading this, or does Zawahiri's expression "the dogs of Afghanistan" refer to those "Afghans [who] will resist"? Apparently, Zawahiri is so accustomed to speaking in insults that he inadvertently insults his own allies.

Thanks for the own goal, Zawahiri.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reynolds Price: Eve as 'Hero' of Paradise Lost?

Reynolds Price
Teacher of Milton
(Image from Duke Magazine)

Novelist, poet, and Miltonist Reynolds Price has written a short, personal piece of his experience of teaching Milton at Duke University since 1958, and in the penultimate paragraph, he makes an intriguing suggestion:
A majority of my students today lack certainty about the literal truth of the Genesis story of a fall or the scar of original sin, but I think I convince many of them of the gravity with which Milton advances the old story and his conviction of our ongoing guilt as the children of Adam and Eve. And in recent years, I've found my own answer to the long-unsolved question of the identity of Milton's hero in the poem -- is it Satan (as so many believe), Adam, or the Son of God Himself? Surely, though, we gradually learn that the hero of the poem is Eve, when she concludes that salvation for herself, and the husband whom she has cheated, lies in her falling suppliant and imploring Adam's forgiveness. Milton sees that the human race could literally not have continued without her generous gesture. (Reynolds Price, "Teaching Milton," Duke Magazine, Volume 94, No. 6, November-December 2008)
Perhaps we should take a look at the scene, which follows Milton's depiction of the lowest depths to which Adam and Eve have fallen in their postlapsarian corruption, a state in which they have spent fruitless hours in mutual accusation, neither one self-condemning, in a vain contest that appears to have no end (PL 9.1187-89) . . . but it does have an end, for at their lowest point, where Adam calls Eve a "Serpent" and thrusts her away, Eve acknowledges her own guilt:
Forsake me not thus, Adam, witness Heav'n
What love sincere, and reverence in my heart [ 915 ]
I beare thee, and unweeting have offended,
Unhappilie deceav'd; thy suppliant
I beg, and clasp thy knees; bereave me not,
Whereon I live, thy gentle looks, thy aid,
Thy counsel in this uttermost distress, [ 920 ]
My onely strength and stay: forlorn of thee,
Whither shall I betake me, where subsist?
While yet we live, scarse one short hour perhaps,
Between us two let there be peace, both joyning,
As joyn'd in injuries, one enmitie [ 925 ]
Against a Foe by doom express assign'd us,
That cruel Serpent: On me exercise not
Thy hatred for this miserie befall'n,
On me alreadie lost, mee then thy self
More miserable; both have sin'd, but thou [ 930 ]
Against God onely, I against God and thee,
And to the place of judgment will return,
There with my cries importune Heaven, that all
The sentence from thy head remov'd may light
On me, sole cause to thee of all this woe, [ 935 ]
Mee mee onely just object of his ire.

She ended weeping, and her lowlie plight,
Immovable till peace obtain'd from fault
Acknowledg'd and deplor'd, in Adam wraught
Commiseration; soon his heart relented [ 940 ]
Towards her, his life so late and sole delight,
Now at his feet submissive in distress,
Creature so faire his reconcilement seeking,
His counsel whom she had displeas'd, his aide;
As one disarm'd, his anger all he lost, [ 945 ]
And thus with peaceful words uprais'd her soon. (
PL 10.914-45)

(Thomas H. Luxon, ed.
The Milton Reading Room, March, 2008.)
Of this scene, Price observes, "The scene of Eve's begging and Adam's raising her to upright forgiveness is as moving as any in Shakespeare's tragedies." Perhaps it is, though the degree to which it moves a reader depends on subjective response, but Price's suggestion that Eve is the 'hero' has opened up a way of looking at the poem that I had never before noticed.

Let me briefly explain. By the time that Milton wrote Paradise Lost, he was no longer a Calvinist and is generally considered an Arminian -- the difference being that the former emphasized divine predestination but the latter human choice. Arminius had broken with Calvinism on this issue, and Milton's soteriology generally agrees with that of Arminius.

Yet, there is a subtle difference . . . I think. Arminius believes that God grants to human beings a grace prior to saving grace, and the earlier grace is called "prevenient grace." Without this prevenient grace, human beings would not be capable of seeking forgiveness, for they would be as "totally depraved" as Calvinist anthropology claims. Prevenient grace restores human free will and is -- in Arminian theology -- extended to all humans. Where Milton seems to differ even from Arminius is in the fact that Eve is capable of freely offering herself as the one alone on whom God's condemnation should fall, for her generous act takes place prior to God's gift of prevenient grace, which takes place only subsequent to this (PL 11.1-8).

This implies that even prior to the gift of prevenient grace, Adam and Eve were not "totally depraved" but retained some degree of freedom, perhaps by virtue of having been made in God's image . . . but I am simply speculating on this point.

Perhaps this is worth investigating.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Toward a European Islam?

Professor Muhammad Sven Kalisch
Not what Tariq Ramadan had in mind . . .
(Image from Wall Street Journal)

Tariq Ramadan has famously called for a European Islam, but he probably didn't intend someone like Münster University Professor Muhammad Sven Kalisch -- a convert to Islam at age 15 and now Germany's first professor of Islamic theology -- who doubts that Muhammad ever existed.

He didn't start out with such radical ideas and in fact appeared to adhere to rather conservative views on Islamic law . . . but that impression was superficial:
In private, he was moving in a different direction. He devoured works questioning the existence of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Then "I said to myself: You've dealt with Christianity and Judaism but what about your own religion? Can you take it for granted that Muhammad existed?"

He had no doubts at first, but slowly they emerged. He was struck, he says, by the fact that the first coins bearing Muhammad's name did not appear until the late 7th century -- six decades after the religion did.

He traded ideas with some scholars in Saarbrücken who in recent years have been pushing the idea of Muhammad's nonexistence. They claim that "Muhammad" wasn't the name of a person but a title, and that Islam began as a Christian heresy.

Prof. Kalisch didn't buy all of this. Contributing last year to a book on Islam, he weighed the odds and called Muhammad's existence "more probable than not." By early this year, though, his thinking had shifted. "The more I read, the historical person at the root of the whole thing became more and more improbable," he says.

He has doubts, too, about the Quran. "God doesn't write books," Prof. Kalisch says.
This is interesting to hear about, and it's useful for opening up academic debate as well as for raising the level of scholarly discourse among Muslim intellectuals in Europe -- unless Kalisch is beheaded for apostasy, which tends to have a silencing effect on discussion -- but I have to admit to maintaining skepticism about the good professor's arguments for Muhammad's supposed nonexistence.

Not that I know his specific arguments . . . and he's the scholar, not I.

But I do have one arrow in my quiver, the famous "criterion of dissimilarity," popularly known as the "criterion of embarrassment," which roughly says that any 'embarrassing' statement about or by a respected religious founder occurring in a pious work written at an early period in the history of the religion is probably true. The sira (biography) and sunnah (deeds) contain so many 'embarrassing' reports of words and deeds attributed to Muhammad that I find difficulty in accepting that such words and deeds were later invented by pious Muslims. The more likely conclusion is that Muhammad really existed and that he said and did some 'embarrassing' things.

The most famous of embarrassments is the disputed "Satanic Verses" incident, in which Muhammad is reported -- in the early, pious Muslim literature -- to have recited Satanically inspired verses praising three pagan goddesses as daughters of Allah. Of this report, one eminent scholar of Islam has written:
"Muhammad must have publicly recited the satanic verses as part of the Qur'ān; it is unthinkable that the story could have been invented by Muslims, or foisted upon them by non-Muslims." (William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 103)
Since such an embarrassing story exists in the early Muslim literature, and since this literature was written from pious motives, then the story would not have been invented. Muhammad must really have recited such embarrassing verses, and he could only have done so if he had existed. Therefore, Muhammad really did exist, despite the scholarly opinion of Professor Muhammad Sven Kalisch.

This, of course, is the simple argument. Scholars of Islam may widely disagree.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Uncle Cran injured in cattle stampede

A Young Uncle Cran in the Navy

I do have a few, more recent photos of Uncle Cran, though none on my computer, but I thought that I at least ought to include some photo of Uncle Cran -- even if only this previously posted one -- along with the news of his injury, which he sustained while working cattle on his Ozark farm:
Just got the word from Aunt Pauline that Cran broke a hip (well, he was ran over by cattle and they broke his hip). Pauline's email advised he had surgery today to replace the ball joint, which sounds painful and will undoubtedly put him out of commission for a few weeks.

Pauline, when you and Woodrow see Cran tomorrow be sure and tell him that he is in our prayers. I called the folks to tell them about the accident.
This is the message sent from Cousin Bill Hodges in his newsletter "Weekly Ramblings." I'm certain that every fan of the 'Ozark Tales' that Uncle Cran has lent me to post on this blog will want to offer condolences, get wells, prayers, or the like in comments that he will, eventually, hobble around to reading.

Just post your messages in the comments, and I'll make sure that he sees them.

UPDATE: Aunt Pauline has supplied details from Uncle Cran himself:
Hello all. Linda Gaye[, Cran's wife,] wanted me to update you all. We just got home from the Hospital from seeing Cran. They say he is doing all right but he said he had a rough night and was running a one hundred and two temp when we left and we got home about five thirty.

He told of his experience. This stubborn steer was not responding, and Cran got off the wheeler to get a rock to throw, the steer charged, and as he hit[,] Cran . . . grabbed his head and wrestled it sideways, and I understand he pushed the wheeler to ward him off and he ran or something like that. He got back on [the] wheeler and guess his hip came apart. Linda Gaye got home about fifteen minutes later and went to pieces like I probably would have, but he scolded and calmed her and she got him to the car and hospital. Well that's it for tonight.

I took him some books to read when he is not hurting and Kevin's inlaws brought him some, so he will have some reading, but he was wore out and dozing off, so hope he rests better tonight.
Kevin is one of Uncle Cran's three sons, the other two being Mark and James, who are likely all informed and concerned for their father.

I'm not entirely clear on the sequence of events, but I'm guessing that the injury occurred when Uncle Cran was tussling with the steer but remained unnoticed until after he had climbed back onto the wheeler, when the adrenalin's effects began to wear off.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Alawite women lack souls?

Michael J. Totten's Outlook on Life
Or maybe it's a lookout?
(Image from Michael J. Totten)

I'm typing this on a not-so-early Sunday morning following a long Saturday working as a TESOL interviewer at Ewha Womans University, and since my family is down in Daegu this weekend, leaving me responsible only for myself, I'm not heading off to church this morning but am instead staying home to recuperate from yesterday and from what had already been a hard week.

But I'm not totally without religion this morning, for I read a short article by Michael J. Totten, "Killing a Crocodile," which he has published online in the magazine Commentary, and I picked up some a couple of things that I didn't know about the Alawites:
Syria's ruling Baath Party is a secular nationalist regime made up overwhelmingly of minority Alawites, whom the likes of Al Qaeda would like to see murdered en masse. Alawites are one of the Middle East's relatively obscure religious minorities -- like the Arabic Druze and the Kurdish Yezidis -- who exist well outside the theological mainstream of the region. They're a secretive and heretical offshoot of Twelver Shiism, and their beliefs are fused with Christian and pagan elements. Some of their rituals resemble those of the indigenous and ancient Phoenicians. They drink wine in a rite that resembles communion. They believe women do not have souls. Unlike Christians and Muslims, Alawites do not proselytize. Outsiders are not even allowed to convert. They make up around ten percent of Syria's population, and can only rule the country through the brute force of an oppressive police state.
I knew some of this already, for when I lived in Germany, I was friends with a Kurdish man who belonged to the Alawite religion, and he told me some things, but I didn't learn from him that the Alawites believe that women lack souls! In fact, I recall him telling me that his father had made some remark about women in the afterlife, which leads me to wonder if the Alawites have various opinions on this point.

And on that note, I retire for today.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anahit Vart: Artist

Anahit Vart, Green Knight

In my post of November 10th, I noted that I had been looking for an image of a painting by Guillermo Pérez Villalta showing "a naked green man astride a green horse" -- for I was wondering if the artist were depicting the antagonist in the Pearl Poet's strange poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -- and I learned of a different 'knight', the Moor Alfatami, who also had a green horse (but was himself not green), and while looking for a possible depiction of this Moor and his green horse, I Googled onto the above image of a green knight on a green 'horse' painted by Anahit Vart.

A commercial website that also shows an image of this painting suggests that the scene is connected to the "Arthurian legend," but the site offers no substantiation. Taking a slight risk, I emailed the artist to inquire:

I am curious about your painting Green Knight (2001?). Is it inspired by the Pearl Poet's 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? I hope that you don't mind that I posted an image of your painting on my blog . . . . There, I speculate that there might be a source other than the Pearl Poet's poem, for the imagery in your painting looks different than what is found in the poem. Are you drawing upon Armenian legends? Or possibly Russian ones?
Today, Ms. Vart replied:
Your email was nice surprise for me and I'm very happy see my painting on your blog. My painting is my interpretation of a story about "Sleepy Beauty", but I painted some elements from Armenia like [the] mountain Ararat (on a left bottom corner). You have very interesting site, I think I will get a lot new information from there. I'm sending to you my late artwork image inspired by Spain where I traveled last year.
I wonder if Sleepy Beauty is the same story as Sleeping Beauty. Anyway, the painting seems to come from a different cycle of Romance fiction than the Arthurian legends. For yet another image of 'romance', I'm posting the artwork inspired by Ms. Vart's trip through Spain:

Anahit Vart
Scene from Spain
(Image sent from Anahit Vart)

I don't know if this depicts a scene from Carnival or one from a masked ball. Perhaps if Ms. Vart visits again, she can inform us. Whether the painting is of Carnival or a ball, the verdant branch borne by the lady leads me to wonder about possible symbolism. From what I've seen at Ms. Vart's website, many of her paintings have a mysterious quality that suggests to me larger meanings drawn from stories. Possibly, she might tell us about this as well.

Or perhaps all will remain a mystery.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Preacher Roe: On Jackie Robinson and Integration

Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Preacher Roe
Together in the Early 1950s
(Image from New York Times)

Yesterday, I included an update on Preacher Roe that showed where he stood on the integration of African-Americans in baseball and in American society.
Fast as you can say "Jackie Robinson," I got a link from Herschel to a statement that Preacher Roe made in 2003 when he was asked what he thought about playing on that Dodgers team with the first African-American in major league baseball, Jackie Robinson:
Well, I'm kind of proud of my career at that time. I feel like it was a change in the way of life. It was a step in our civilization, and I'm part of it. I'm really proud of it. I just felt if Jackie hit a home run while I was pitching, it counted just as much for me as if Pee Wee Reese hit it or some of the other guys that were white. It didn't matter to me. People asked me if Jackie could play baseball, and I'd say, "You never have seen a good ballplayer until you've seen him". He was that good. He was just outstanding. I can say I have no regrets about it, and I'm proud of my space in history right there.
I wonder what the Preacher thought this past election day. I reckon that he might have said, "We've come a long, long way."
Preacher Roe and his wife must have agreed on integration being "a step in our civilization," for here's a photo of his wife, Mozee, sitting to the right of Jackie Robinson's wife, Rachel, with Pee Wee Reese's wife, Dorothy, on the far left:

The photo is noteworthy, as explained on the Preacher Roe Official Website:
This photo shows the wives of Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Preacher Roe sitting together during a game. Though common place today, this is is an important picture taken during an era when Jackie Robinson was still dealing with racism from both the players and the fans.
Keep in mind that both Preacher Roe and his wife Mozee were from Arkansas, a Southern state, at a time when African-Americans were strictly segregated by law throughout the South. I would bet that the Preacher and Mozee received some criticism among Southerners for their public affirmation of integration in baseball . . . and in society.

I don't have any stories on this, however, but perhaps somebody does, and I imagine that they'd be interesting ones since Preacher Roe and his wife themselves must have undergone some changes in their views on racial relations over the years, for they were Southerners themselves, albeit from the Ozarks rather than the Deep South. Apparently, the Preacher had a flexible mind. The sportswriter Roger Kahn, in his book The Boys of Summer, had some praise for Preacher Roe as a thinker:
"When I went forth to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952, the most cerebral Brooklyn pitcher was a tall, skinny hillbilly named Elwin Charles 'Preacher' Roe."
The Preacher liked to play up his hillbilly persona, but he was a college-educated man who put off a career in baseball to finish his education. Perhaps his mind and education enabled him to see racial relations with more breadth, but I'm just guessing on that point.

In a later epilogue to his Boys of Summer baseball classic, Roger Kahn quotes the Preacher on his view of the afterlife:
"I know one of these days the good Lord is going to come calling," Preacher says, "and when that happens I certainly hope he sees fit to send me up to heaven. But heaven will really have to be something to be better than what we all had long ago in Brooklyn."
I guess that Preacher Roe has found out about that, for he was buried today. Rest in peace, Preacher.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Preacher Roe: Obituary . . . and a story

(Image supplied by Herschel Ducker)

One of my old Ozark hometown boyhood friends, Herschel Ducker, has informed me about the death of his cousin, Preacher Roe, who grew up in our part of the Ozarks but went on to pitch in major league baseball and was considered very good at a variety of pitches . . . but especially good with a spitball.

I'd always wondered how Preacher Roe got the nickname "Preacher," and Herschel included a link to explain:
Roe got his nickname at about three years of age when his family lived in [the Ozark town of] Wild Cherry. Although Roe has given various versions of how the nickname came about, his response in an interview in the West Plains Gazette is likely the closest to the truth: "I had an uncle that came back from the first World War who hadn't ever seen me. He said, 'What's your name, young man?' And for some reason I said, 'Preacher.' . . . My mother said maybe it was because I liked the preacher we had at our church so well."
For those who've never heard of Preacher Roe and wonder if I'm exaggerating when I say that he was a great pitcher, go read the obituary in the New York Times, which says this:
In the late 1940s and early 50s, when the Dodgers teams that became known as the Boys of Summer largely dominated the National League, Roe emerged as one of baseball's leading pitchers.

Roe led the league in winning percentage in 1949, when he was 15-6 for a mark of .714, and in 1951, when he was 22-3 for .880. He won 44 games and lost only 8 between 1951 and 1953. He pitched for three Dodger pennant winners and was an All-Star every season from 1949 to 1952.
And he wasn't even a young man at that time, for he was born in 1916 and had reached his thirties by the time that he had the chance to become great. Of course . . . some of those wins were probably due to his fine spitball (using bubble-gum spit!). For some, that might put an asterisk on his statistics, but the Preacher had a response:
"It never bothered me none throwing a spitter," he said. "If no one is going to help the pitcher in this game, he's got to help himself."
But Preacher Roe was a philanthropist and believed in helping others, especially other 'pitchers' . . . as Herschel tells in this tale about his cousin (whom he called "Uncle" due to the great difference in their ages):
When I was playing Little League, Preacher was down, he and Dad were having "a good ol' time." Preacher and Dad were going to come watch me play. Unfortunately Dad had too good a time. So Preacher took me to the field.

My coach was Ruford Howard and Preacher kept nagging him to "let the kid pitch." Of course [me] being the runt of the entire Salem Little League, Ruford didn't want [me] to. I wasn't aware of all the machinations but Preacher had, earlier in the day given me some "pointers." I normally played second base 'cause Ruford had seen my "arm" -- should someone manage to hook one to left field, I couldn't get the ball to the infield without a relay of some sort. Actually the only advantage to a coach for having me on the team was because, at bat, when I hunkered down, the stike zone was about "plate wide and baseball thick."

Anyway, ninth inning --Ruford calls me to the mound. I hadn't had any action to speak of so I wasn't sweating. I did get my bubble gum out and was chewing the hell out of it but I couldn't manage to work up any spit to speak of. I was so scared I was gonna let my "Uncle" cousin down. I probably had about an eleven mile per hour fastball.

But I'll be damned. The one and only time I ever pitched in a Little League game, I got a strikeout. My "kind of" practiced spitball wasn't necessary. Actually it's a good thing because I never did manage to get the necessary amount of spit worked up. I just hope I didn't cause any undeserved psychological harm to an otherwise aspiring and deserving major league prospect.

Preacher and me got into Dad's pickup. He was exultant. Ever so slightly drunk too, I think. He told me, asked me to "Name your favorite ballplayer and I'll get you an autographed baseball."

I wasn't really much of a professional fan so I said, "Mickey Mantle."

"God . . . damn kid!" I wondered why he had a sudden but thankfully short mood swing. Thank whatever's holy it was a short trip from the ball park to the house.

But I got the ball. His and Mantle's signature. Still have it.

A few years ago Preacher came to visit Mom. He and I were talking about baseball in general and I got up the courage to ask him why he'd gotten so pissed off that I'd asked for Mickey's signature. Seems a young Mantle homered off him to "rob" him of his only real chance to win a World's Series.

But Preacher said he wished he had the ball from my Little League game.
Great story. I remember that game because I distinctly recall watching Herschel, of all kids, called by Ruford to the mound to pitch. I was playing for the Tigers, and the year was sometime in the latter 1960s (but Herschel can perhaps provide the exact date). I think that I even heard that Preacher Roe was attending the game, but that wasn't too unusual. Our baseball field was named after him: "Preacher Roe Ballpark." Not much of a 'ballpark', actually, but the naming was meant in his honor.

I wish that I knew more about the man because there must be a lot of great stories . . . but go read the NYT obituary, for it has some of those stories and also a great photo of Preacher Roe with Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson back when all three were playing for the Dodgers and feeling supremely happy as the "Boys of Summer."

UPDATE: Fast as you can say "Jackie Robinson," I got a link from Herschel to a statement that Preacher Roe made in 2003 when he was asked what he thought about playing on that Dodgers team with the first African-American in major league baseball, Jackie Robinson:
Well, I'm kind of proud of my career at that time. I feel like it was a change in the way of life. It was a step in our civilization, and I'm part of it. I'm really proud of it. I just felt if Jackie hit a home run while I was pitching, it counted just as much for me as if Pee Wee Reese hit it or some of the other guys that were white. It didn't matter to me. People asked me if Jackie could play baseball, and I'd say, "You never have seen a good ballplayer until you've seen him". He was that good. He was just outstanding. I can say I have no regrets about it, and I'm proud of my space in history right there.
I wonder what the Preacher thought this past election day. I reckon that he might have said, "We've come a long, long way."

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

John Milton: "Knowledge, free will, etc."

Gustave Doré, The Heavenly Hosts, c. 1866
Illustration to Paradise Lost
(Image from Wikipedia)

One of the Milton scholars over at the Milton List posed approximately two or three questions about free will in Paradise Lost, so let's return to Paradise in today's blog entry, for I posted a response to the questions.
Michael Grattan asked a couple of questions. Here's my response to the latter question first [-- after introducing the question, of course]:
I have another question regarding freewill. When God relates to Jesus,

Such I created all th' Ethereal Powers [ 100 ]
And Spirits, both them who stood and them who faild;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

Is Jesus included in "Ethereal Powers," and if not, does he have freewill (or does God)? Obviously he exercises "freewill" when offering to suffer death for man's salvation, but as a manifestation of God, wouldn't he be somehow separate from other Ethereal Powers?
Jeffery Hodges responds:

First, I doubt that we should be using "Jesus" to name the Son at this point, for Jesus doesn't appear until Paradise Regained, so far as I know. This is the pre-incarnate Son.

Second, I suppose that the Son is one of the ethereal powers because Milton's theology is Arian. The Son is that one of the ethereal powers who has been elevated to Sonship. Could he have freely fallen prior to his elevation? That would seemingly follow logically -- unless he came into existence in the ceremonial moment of elevation. Could he freely fall after the elevation to Sonship? As the divine Son of God, he could no longer fall at all, freely or otherwise -- or so I would infer.

As for the first question, which is actually two questions, Matthew wrote:
I have wondered just what was the point of God offering any kind of punishment for disobedience, and especially one he knows is foreign to Adam.

. . . of all the Trees
In Paradise that bear delicious fruit
So various, not to taste that onely Tree
Of knowledge, planted by the Tree of Life,
So neer grows Death to Life, what ere Death is, [ 425 ]

Regardless of the level of God's complicity in letting Satan tempt Adam and Eve (or more accurately, just Eve), it seems that God mentions the punishment of death as a necessary element for Adam to choose obedience. I always thought that the threat of losing Paradise would have been more persuasive.

To me it raises a sticky issue of motives for obedience: does one obey out of love and loyalty or out of fear of punishment? A student asked if God preferred one kind of obedience to the other. I'm not sure.
I had better let others reply to this in more depth -- since I'm out of mine -- but my understanding of Milton's thought is that disobedience to God is a free choice to deliberately cut oneself off from God, who is the source of life, such that death follows . . . whatever thing death may be. In Milton's view, free obedience is better than "mechanical necessity" because the latter is not really obedience at all, so -- Milton argues -- God creates free beings who can make the fruitful, fateful choice to obey or disobey. The point is to obey out of love, but disobedience sets in motion the 'natural' consequence of cutting oneself off from God as the source of life.

The question that arises -- for me anyway -- is this: why could God not have created free beings whose choice of disobedience did not cut them off from the source of life, but rather resulted in a lesser punishment, e.g., expulsion from the Garden. On this point, I don't know enough about Milton. Perhaps he thought that a fateful choice was necessary for a truly free individual, namely, that to be radically free, an individual must be able to utterly reject God, damn the consequences.

What do others think?
Such were Matthew Grattan's queries and my responses. Perhaps others with a knowledge of Milton's thought and of Paradise Lost can offer their opinions.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Greenery . . .

Green's Spectral Coordinates
It's all so complicated . . .
(Image from Wikipedia)

Searching for more on that green knight on a green horse, I came upon an interesting fact. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, "green" is related to the word "grow":
O.E. grene, earlier groeni, related to O.E. growan "to grow," from W.Gmc. *gronja- (cf. O.Fris. grene, O.N. grænn, Dan. grøn, Du. groen, Ger. grün), from PIE base *gro- "grow," through sense of "color of living plants."
Compare with the entry for "grass":
O.E. græs, gærs "herb, plant, grass," from P.Gmc. grasan (cf. O.N., Ger., Goth. gras), from PIE *ghros- "young shoot, sprout," from base *gro-/*gre- "that which grows" (cf. L. gramen "grass"); related to grow and green.
And we might as well check out "grow":
O.E. growan (of plants) "to flourish, develop, get bigger" (class VII strong verb; past tense greow, pp. growen), from P.Gmc. *gro- (cf. O.N. groa, O.Fris. groia, Du. groeien, O.H.G. gruoen), from root of grass (q.v.).
These dictionary entries inform us only about the etymologies for the English words "green," "grass," and "grow," but the proposed etymology for "verdure" suggests a parallel in the Romance languages:
c.1300, "fresh green color," from O.Fr. verdure "greenness," from verd, variant of vert "green," from L. viridis (cf. Sp., It. verde), related to virere "be green," of unknown origin. Perhaps ult. from a root meaning "growing plant" and cognate with Lith. veisti "propagate," O.N. visir "bud, sprout," O.E. wise "sprout, stalk, etc."
That, however, is speculation.

So is this: perhaps green is subtly associated with a 'supernatural' ability to regenerate. That might explain the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has the supernatural power to survive having his head chopped off:
The green knight got ready, feet firm on the ground;
leaned his head a little to let the cheek show,
and raised the rich riot of his hair
so the nape of his neck was naked and exposed.
Gawain held the ax high overhead,
his left foot set before him on the floor,
swung swiftly at the soft flesh
so the bit of the blade broke through the bones,
crashed through the clear fat and cut it in two,
and the brightly burnished edge bit into the earth.
The handsome head fell, hit the ground,
and rolled forward; they fended it off with their feet.
The red blood burst bright from the green body,
yet the fellow neither faltered nor fell
but stepped strongly out on sturdy thighs,
reached roughly right through their legs,
grabbed his graceful head and lifted it from the ground,
ran to his horse, caught hold of the reins,
stepped in the stirrup, strode into the saddle,
the head dangling by the hair from his hand,
and seated himself as firmly in the saddle
as if he were unhurt, though he sat on his horse without
a head.

(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Stanza 19, translation by Paul Deane)
Rather gruesome, but it makes my point. The Green Knight survives decapitation. Also noteworthy is that he appears in the dead of winter but at the new year's beginning, when the darkest days are just being left behind, bearing -- in an earlier stanza -- a sprig of the evergreen holly, a winter promise of life in the coming springtime.

I've written "supernatural," but I'm not entirely satisfied with the term, for the growing of green grass -- as with all greenery -- is a purely natural process, presumably not just for us Moderns but also for Medieval people. But what does "natural" mean in such a context? Perhaps the green growth of springtime was considered natural but also mysterious, even uncanny.

A natural miracle.

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