Monday, September 30, 2013

Codex Vindobonensis Bibl Nat Lat 15

-- or in English: the Vienna Codex, Austrian National Library, Latin manuscript #15. (Or in German: Die Wiener-Kodex, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, lateinische Handschrift Nummer 15.) It's the single known source for books 41-45 of Livy. It was written in the 5th century. Notes at the end of the text let us deduce that originally the volume contained books 41-50, and that by the late 8th century it had somehow been split in half, and that this half, books 41-45, had come into the possession of Theodard, who as we know from other sources was the Bishop of Utrecht from 781 to 790. Or possibly Thiatbrat, who worked at the monastery of Utrecht under Theodard, but in all likelyhood it belonged to Theodard. Notes written in the margins in handwriting characteristic of Anglo-Saxon England indicate that the manuscript may have come to Utrecht from England, perhaps one of the books brought to the continent by the famous English scholar Alcuin, when Charlemagne invited him to Aachen help start the Carolingian Rennaissance. Utrecht may very well have been on Alcuin's way to Aachen. If a bigshot like Alcuin were passing through Utrecht it wouldn't have been unusual for him to meet the local bigshot, Bishop Theodard, and for the two of them to have exchanged gifts, such as books. John Brisco, in his 1986 edition of books 41-45, mentions that the 19th-century scholar Michael Gitlbauer brought up the possibility that Alcuin gave the book to Theodard, and that he, Briscoe, also thinks it could have been that way. Gitlbauer and Briscoe are bigshots in Classical Studies, and Briscoe, especially, in not given to wild irresponsible speculation, so if he thinks it's possible, then, well, I've got to consider it as a possibility.

Was it Alcuin who separated the the original volume containing books 41-50 in half, giving the first half to Theodard and taking the other half, books 46-50, with him on to Aachen? Everyone agrees that Codex Vindobonensis Bibl Nat Lat 15 is a particularly bad copy, badly made, full of copying mistakes, the work of a less-than-world-class scribe. Alcuin was a world-class scholar. Did he have another copies of books 41-45, which he preferred to keep as his own?

Nobody knows. As far as I know, nobody has been able to make so much as a responsible guess. And of course, everything in the previous paragraph assumes that Alcuin gave Codex Vindobonensis Bibl Nat Lat 15 to Theodard, which we shouldn't assume. It's a possibility, not a certainty. Also, nobody knows what happened to Codex Vindobonensis Bibl Nat Lat 15 between the 780's and the 1520's, when it was found on a shelf in a monastery in Switzerland. A few years after that it was printed, and many, many editions have been printed since.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Arnold Drachenborch, Renowned Editor Of Livy

I continue to have no luck finding any comprehensive lists of manuscripts of Livy, while continuing to find all sorts of information about editions of and commentaries on Livy, and these of course in turn very often have some information about manuscripts, so I'm getting some of what I wanted, a little bit at a time instead of all at once as I'd like. One thing which has become very clear is the dominant position of one Arnold Drachenborch (1684-1748) among Livy scholars from the time he published his edition of Livy between 1738 and 1746, until at least a half century later. Edition after edition of the mid and late 18th century either sez something to the effect of "ex rec Drachenborchii" or "ex ed Arn Drachenborchii" on its title page, "from the recension of Drachenborch" or "from the edition of Arnold Drachenborch," or if it's not on the title page, a manual or Handbuch of Classical Studies informs you that a particular edition follows Drachenborch -- and screws Drachenborch up, or makes minor improvements on Drachenborch with the aid of manuscripts not available to him, or whatever, as the case may be. For decade after decade, it seems relatively few editions of Livy -- very few, actually -- were not essentially versions of Drachenborch's text. Drachenborch's edition, as it informs us on its title page, quotes remarks on Livy by Valla, Sabellico, Rhenanus, Geleneus, Glareanus, Sigonius, Ursinus, Sanctius, Frederick Grovonius, Fabrus, Valesius, Parisonius, Jakob Gronovius -- and others, besides the learned remarks of Drachenborch his own bad self. Iss a Ding! And for a while, it seems, Drakenborch was -- posthumously -- the Big Kahuna of Livy Studies, although today he's probably not as well known as either (Jacob) Gronovius or our own contemporary John Briscoe, who has just recently published his commentary on books 41-45. It has been well-received, like his earlier volumes on other of Livy's books, but that's about all I can tell you for sure right now, because iss a expensive Ding.

Friday, September 27, 2013

One Question, Sarah Klein:

Did you write those bizarre new commercials for Planet Fitness? I ask because you seem to work out at a gym and hate almost everyone else who does. A bizarre combination, and, apparently, Planet Fitness' newest target demographic.

And by the way -- Planet Fitness is too a gym, duh! How is this No Lunks, No Gymtimidation supposed to work, anyway? That's kind of a rhetorical question. I really doubt that Planet Fitness will be throwing people out and cancelling their memberships because they talk about hot bodies or feeling the burn. If this new series of commercials has any effect at all, it will probably be a wave of new memberships bought by ultra-judgmental, anal-retentive insecure neurotic unbearable people. Guess which fitness-club franchise I don't intend to touch with a 10-foot barbell in the foreseeable future?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Biblical Archaeology, And Several Ways To Do It Wrong

Two recent stories in HP give examples of what I would call poorly-done Biblical archaeology, and a third, a poor response to soundly-done archaeology. The problem in all three cases is a premature assumption of the accuracy of Biblical texts. In one story, Dina Avshalom-GorniIn says she may have found the place where Jesus met Mary Magdalen She assumes that the New Testament story of Jesus meeting Mary Magdalen is accurate, and then speculates about a find based on that assumption.

Then there's this story about a recent find by James Tabor. Tabor is speculating that the find may have belonged to Sadducees. That speculation is based in part on the assumption that the Sadducees were enemies of Jesus and conspired to bring about his death, just as described in the New Testament. I think that all that the NT tells us for certain about the Sadducees is that its authors were hostile to them.

In the third case, archaeologist Ken Dark's speculation that he may have found the town of Dalmanutha, mentioned in the Gospel of Mark and no other known text of the era of Jesus, who's rushing to conclusions: Dark, or Joel L Watts, who insists that Dalmanutha never existed, based in large part upon his conviction that every single deviation from literal geographical accuracy in Mark has been corrected by the author of the Gospel of Matthew? I'd say it's Watts. Not that Watts even distrusts Mark's accuracy, strictly speaking: he speculates that Mark is not so much making mistakes as taking artistic license, and that making up the place-name Dalmanutha is an example of this license. It seems much less farfetched to me that Dalmanutha may have existed, regardless of whether Mark was right that Jesus traveled there, or, as Watts says, Matthew was right in saying that journey was to Magdala, or neither of the above.

In any case, between Dina Avshalom-GorniIn, James Tabor, Joel L Watts and Ken Dark, Dark is the only one not making speculations based upon the assumption of the accuracy of Biblical texts.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Example Of How I Won't Be Looking For The Lost Books Of Livy

From Philological Inquiries, an alarming random collection of stuff written by James Harris, who is perhaps not to be held solely to blame for it, as he lived from 1709 to 1780, and it was published in 1781. Pp 553-556:

Concerning the Manuscripts of Livy, in the Escurial Library.

It having been often asserted, that an intire and complete Copy of Livy was extant in the Escurial Library, I requested my Son, in the year 1771 (he being at that time Minister Penipotentiary to the Court of Madrid) to inquire for me, what Manuscripts of that Author were there to be found. He procured me the following accurate Detail from a learned Ecclesiastic, Don Juan de Pellegeros, Canon of Lerma, employed by Monsr. De Santander, his Catholic Majestiy's Librarian, to inspect for this purpose the Manuscripts of that valuable Library. The Detail was in Spanish, of which the following is a Translation.

Among the MSS. of the Escurial Library are the following Works of T. Livy.

1st. Three large Volumes, which contain many Decads, the 1st, 3d, and 4th (one Decad in each Volume) curiously written on Parchment, or fine Vellum, by Pedro de Middleburgh, or of Zeeland (as he stiles himself).

The Books are truly magnificent, and in the Title and Initials curiously illuminated. They bear the Arms of the House of Borgia, with a Cardinal's Cap, whence it appears that they belonged either to Pope Callixtus the third, or to Alexander the sixth, when Cardinals.

2d. Two other Volumes, written by the same Hand, one of the first Decad, the other of the third; of the same size, and beauty, as the former. Both have the fame Arms, and in the last is a Note, which recites : This Book belongs to D. Juan de Fonseca, Biship of Burgos.

3d. Another Volume of the same size, and something more antient, than the former (being of the beginning of the fifteenth Century) containing the third Decad entire. This is also well written on Parchment, tho' not so valuable as the former.

4th. Another of the first Decad, finely written on Vellum. At the end is written as follows — Ex centum voluminibus, quce ego indies vita mea magnis laboribus hactenus jcripfffe rnemini, has duos Titi Livii libros Anno Dni. 1441. Ego Joanes Andreas de
Colsnia feliciter, gratia Dei, absolvi — and at the end of each book — Emendavi Nuomaehus Fabianus.

In the last leaf of this Book is a Fragment either of Livy himself or of some Pen, capable of imitating him. It fills the whole leaf, and the Writer fays, it was in the Copy, from which he transcribed. It appears to be a Fragment of the latter times of the fecond Punic.War.

5th. Another large Volume in Parchment, well written, of the same Century, viz. the fifteenth containing three Decads — 1. De Urbis initis. 2. De Bella Punico. 3. De Bella Macedonia). In this last Decad is wanting a part of the Book., This Volume is
much esteemed, being full of Notes and various Readings in the hand of Hieronimo Zunita, its former possessor.

6th. Another very valuable Volume, containing the first Decad, equal to the former in the elegance of its Writing and Ornaments. This also belonged to Hieronimo Zunita; the age the same.

7th. Lastly, there is another of the first Decad also, written on Paper, at the beginning of the fifteenth Century. This contains nothing remarkable.

In all, there are ten Volumes, and all nearly of the same age.

Here ends the Account of the Escurial Manu- scripts, given us by this learned Spaniard, in which Manuscripts we see there appears no part of LiVY, but what was printed in the early Editions.

The other Parts of this Author, which Parts none of the Manuscripts here recited give us, were discovered and printed afterwards.

As to the Fragment mentioned in the fourth article, (all of which Fragment is there transcribed) it has, tho genuine, no peculiar rarity, as it is to be found in all the latter printed Editions. See particularly in Crevier's Edition of Livy, Paris, 1 7 36, Tome 2d, pages 716, 717, 718, beginning with the words Raro simulhominibus, and ending with the words increpatis
risum esse, which is the whole Extent of the Fragment here exhibited.

From this Detail it is evident, that no intire Copy of Livy is extant in the Escurial Library.


My first impulse is to laugh at these 18th century rumors of entire editions of Livy laying around cataloged in some great library or other. On second thought I must acknowledge that I have the benefit of hundreds of years' worth of hindsight, and as ridiculous as those rumors seem to us today, it was good of the Harrises, father and son, to go to the trouble of putting one of them to rest, and that although we chuckle over it today, it did us no harm when Lord Charlemont, visiting Constantinople in 1749, inquired as to whether the Seraglio library might by any chance have a complete copy of Livy lying around somewhere. See his Travels in Greece and Turkey, 1749,p 179, n 1.

There seem to have been all sorts of wild imaginings about the contents of the Seraglio library in the 18th century. They remind me of some of the silly speculation today about the contents of the Vatican library.

No, I don't believe that all 142 books of Livy are sitting around, cataloged, in some great library or other, because someone would've noticed such a thing by now and informed the rest of us. It's somewhat more likely that some little pieces of the lost books may be hiding around somewhere, bound together in a volume with other things in the attic or study of some non-scholar, someone who has no idea what it is or how valuable it is, but I'm about as likely to stumble across such a thing as I am to win the Powerball jackpot. It's not impossible that some such fragments may be mis-cataloged in a library somewhere, but libraries big and small have been combed over for such finds and, in Livy's case, his missing texts have been hunted with extraordinary vigor for centuries now. It may well be that the last find in a great library was that palimpsest from book 91 found in the Vatican library just a little before Harris sent his son to inquire at the Escorial. The finds of Livy's texts since then have been dug up by archaeologists, little scraps of papyrus with a few words here, a few there, and I think that future finds will most likely resemble those more than the palimpsests, or our one copy of books 41-45 -- written in the 5th century, found on a shelf in a monastery in the 16th century. More finds like the latter would be nice, of course. In the same way that it would be nice if I won the MacArthur genius grant and the Nobel prize for literature and got engaged to Reese Witherspoon all within the next couple of years. Fingers crossed on all of the above, of course, but you should keep in mind not only that I expect future finds of Livy to be mostly or all scraps of a few words at a time, buried, covered with thousands or years' worth of dirt and/or halfway-decomposed, requiring the most careful and expert care in order to survive, but that many people who know about such things would consider me a nut for expecting even that much.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Joseph William Moss' Manual

Schwabii Vindiciae credulitatis Livii -- whatever that is, I found a reference to it in A Manual of Classical Bibliography: Comprising a Copious Detail of the Various Editions, Commentaries, and Works Critical and Illustrative; and Translations into the English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and, Occasionally, Other Languages, of the Greek and Latin Classics, vol 2, by Joseph William Moss, BA of Magdalen Hall, Oxford, published in London, 1825. They still write book titles like they used to, but only rarely, and that's a shame. The title of Schwabii Vindiciae Credulitatis Livii, published in 1773, also intrigued me, and I went looking for a copy of it. I didn't find one. Only references to it, in Moss' Manuel, in the 1st volume, libri I-VI, of Kreyssig's 1829 edition of Livy, published in Rome, in Baehr's Geschichte der römischen litteratur, 3rd ed, vol 2, Carlsruhe (sic!), 1845, and in the first volume of Le sette cose fatali di Roma antica by Francesco Cancellieri, Rome, 1812.

Schwabii Vindiciae credulitatis Livii, I will have you one day!

In the meantime, though, Moss' Manual iss a Ding! as Kreyssig, or perhaps more likely Kreyssig's landlady, might have said, if she were interested in such things -- and why should we leap to the conclusion that she couldn't have been? The selection on Livy alone, pp 186-222, iss a Ding. I'm still looking for a list of manuscripts of Livy, and here I've stumbled across a beautifully annotated list of everything Liviana (up until 1825) except the manuscripts. Look for India and you'll find America, as they say. "Sed longe praestantissimam editionem debemus Arnoldo Drackenborchio Prof. Trajectino. Sex priora Voll. habent Livii textura et Suppl. Freinsh. aeptimum varies primum libellos ad Livium ipsum, ejus historiam et loca quaedam Liviana pertinentes, ut Thomasini T. Livium, Morhofii de Patavinitate Liv. Sigonii Chronologiam et defenaionee, lac. Oronovii Epp. super locis Livii, Excerpta e lac. Perozinii Animadv. hist, et I. Fr. Gronovii Obs. L. IV. Dodwelli Diss, de Fragm. Liv. Bulialdi Ep. super XXXVII. 4. Aegyptii de SCto de Bacchanalibus etc. Praefationes edd. praecipuarum. Praeterea Catalogum MSS. quibus ipse usus est[...]"

Will We Ever Have Any Idea How Widespread Medieval Atheism Was?

I've long wondered whether atheism has not become much more widespread in Christendom since the 17th century, as it sometimes seems, but whether what has changed has been first and foremost the acceptability of publicly expressing doubts about God's existence, doubts which were there all along. Sometimes people don't see something, not because it's hidden, but because it's been there in plain sight for so long that they no longer think about it. The fact that "early" atheism, from the 17th century on into the 18th, seems not to have developed so much as to have suddenly appeared, fully formed, without a long process of individual people wrestling with the issue, being torn between faith and atheism and going back and forth between the two, and atheist positions gradually developing theough this process, suggests that atheism was there all along and waited only for permission to record its existence in published writing. Who knows how much it had previously circulated in private letters and conversation.

But just recently some other things have struck me, things not at all hidden, facing me the whole time in plain sight, just waiting for me to notice: medieval proofs of God. For instance, the Quinque viæ or Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas in his magnum opus Summa Theologiae.

The argument of the unmoved mover, the argument of the first cause, the argument from contingency, the argument from degree, and the teleological argument: Aquinas' five proofs of God, as beloved today as ever among many theologians and as tedious as ever to the rest of us.

In Aquinas' day Latin was the primary written language from Iceland, to Lithuania, to Hungary, to the non-Muslim half of of Spain, and everywhere in that Latin-writing region Catholicism was firmly in control, and from Aquinas' time no piece of Latin writing has survived containing anything even remotely resembling something which could even be misconstrued as an atheistic sentiment. Among the Catholics were a few Jews, as monotheistic as they were. And on the borders of this Latin world were territories controlled by Greek Orthodox Christians and Muslims who were all every bit as monotheistic as the Catholics and Jews. And Aquinas wasn't writing for an audience in China or southern Africa.

So who was Aquinas arguing with?

Can it be that he and the many other Medieval theologians who constructed proofs of the existence of God were arguing above all with themselves, because subconsciously even they knew how ridiculous religion was?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lucan (The Roman Poet) And Mark

Joel L Watts writes,

"Is it unusual to have Mark associated with bad geography, leaving skeptics fodder and archaeologists searching? Hardly. I maintain Mark is not simply wrong or misinformed, but follows stylistic writing patterns developed shortly before the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt but [sic!] Lucan, a Latin poet. If we understand this, we will have no need to search for non-existent towns or wonder how Jesus may have crossed the Sea of Galilee so often and in so short of time."

I assume that Watts means "patterns developed BY Lucan." I was unimpressed by Watts' assertion of Lucan's influence on Mark, but I went searching for similar assertions by others, assuming I would find many. To my surprise, so far I haven't found a single one. However, that certainly doesn't mean that many others don't share Watts' opinion. There is a very unfortunate coincidence at work here: "Lucan" is both a proper noun, the name by which the poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus is best known in English, and an adjective meaning "pertaining to the Gospel of Luke." Naturally, when you go searching for references to the influence of the poet on the Gospel of Mark, any mentions of the poet are going to be needles in the haystack of references to Luke.

So I don't know yet whether Watts is out on his own here, claiming Lucan influenced Mark, or in the middle of the mainstream, or somewhere in between. I also don't know what sort of influence Watts has in mind here: does he think that the author of Mark read Lucan in Latin? or a Greek translation of Lucan? or some other Greek work which was influenced stylistically by Lucan? In any of those cases, it seems to me, the influence of Lucan (AD 29-65) would have to have traveled very quickly from the city of Rome to the remote provinces of Judea and Galilee in time to have influenced the Gospel of Mark, written ca AD 70.

Or does Watts have in mind an influence by Lucan on one or more of the revisers of the Gospel of Mark some time before the text was fixed in the 3rd century?

I think Watts means that the author of Mark was influenced, ca AD 70, either directly by Lucan or by an intermediary or intermediaries who were influenced by Lucan. And that sounds a little bit cuckoo to me, but what do I know about it? The answer is: squat, so far. Perhaps there's a mention of Lucan in Dennis R MacDonald's book The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. [PS, 25. November 2016: There is not.]

The whole topic of the imitation of other authors by the authors of the New Testament is brand-new to me. No reason for Watts to be ruffled because I can't quite follow his proposed connection between Lucan and Mark. I'll bone up on the subject and get back to y'all.



Ken Dark Said That PERHAPS Dalmanutha Has Been Found

Dark mentioned here that his archaeological team may have found the town of Dalmanutha, a town known until now only from a mention in the Gospel of Mark.

Joel L Watts thinks Dark is full of it. In a commentary on Huffington Post, Watts seems to be making some rash assumptions: that Mark's style follows Lucan's. (Lucan's only surviving work, his poem on the Roman Civil War, was left unfinished at his death in AD 65, and Mark's Gospel was written within a dozen years of that. Lucan was popular, but did his influence on other writers extend as far as Judea and Galilee that fast? Hmm.) That Matthew not mentioning Dalmanutha argues against its existence. That Dark is affected by a compulsion to "to locate everything mentioned in Holy Writ." Pardon me, but Watts seems to suffer from a compulsion to dismiss Dalmanutha right away as a fictional literary device. What's wrong with saying that for the moment we don't know whether the newly-excavated site is Dalmanutha or not? I'm perfectly comfortable not knowing for sure yet, just as comfortable as I am not being sure yet whether there was an historical Jesus. Sometimes -- many times -- the only responsible position an historian can take is to say, it could have been like this, or like this, we don't know, so why not try to learn more about the subject, and in the meantime keep an open mind?

I see a widespread compulsion to oversimplify things. For example, in the comments on Watts' Huffington Post article, one reader declares: "The Bible is FICTION!" This simpleminded compulsion to reduce all 2000 pages or so of the Bible to one two-syllable all-caps word is often to be seen these days, and this particular instance wouldn't have been worth mentioning except that it comes from a HuffPost blogger. That's depressing.

Of course, neither Watts nor HP's simpleminded new atheist blogger betrays any particular interest in archaeology per se. Watts is a Christian theologian, still insisting, here and now in the 21st century, that The Answers Are In There (in the Bible that is), and the new Blogger appears to be a professional atheist with no other notable qualifications for employment. Dark is the only one of three with expertise in the field of archaeology -- and the only one of the three who seems to have an open mind about whether the site in question is Dalmanutha or not. The only one of the three who appears to intend to investigate the matter further before coming to a conclusion. The only one of the three whose motives for investigating the matter appear to be actually archaeological and not theological. Regular readers of The Wrong Monkey know that I have a very low opinion of theology. Let me just take the opportunity to point out that my opinion of atheists who have nothing better to do than to endlessly and fruitlessly argue with theologians is about as low. There are much more interesting, much more substantial things in the world, much more rewarding topics of conversation. (Archaeology, for example.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Skyscraper Construction In New York City Since 1997

Why since 1997? Because I haven't been in NYC since 1997. I lived there for a few years. It hurts, hurts, hurts to think of seeing the city without the twin towers, which were there every time I was there, beginning in the 1970's when they were still pretty new. Besides being huge they are... They were. It hurts. They were unmistakeable, grabbing the eye from tremendous distances away when the view wasn't obstructed by other buildings -- in many places in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn the only far-away thing you can see is the sky -- or weather or hills.

But I gather that that loss isn't the only great change in the skyline which would confront me if I went back. On the first page of the 2010 edition of the AIA Guide to New York City, a terrific book by the way, Norval White and Fran Leadon inform us that "September 11 was followed by an unprecendented building boom." I hadn't known that. But I've surfed around and seen some recent photos of Manhattan and, yes, things do look a bit different. On Skysraperpage.com, a nifty site with lots of drawings of the world's tallest buildings, already built, under construction, proposed and more, drawings all to scale next to one another, I refined the search to buildings in New York City, New York, United states, since 1997, and I see that since I've been gone, 3 buildings over 1000 feet tall have gone up in the city (2 according to this website, but I'm counting One World Trade Center as done and they're not counting it as done yet.), 7 over 800 feet, more than 25 over 600 feet, more than 50 over 500 feet. If we expand the search to include buildings under construction we see 6 buildings over 1000 feet, 13 over 800 feet, 37 over 600 feet and Ohmygosh over 500 feet. Yes, things have been happening. The AIA (American Institute of Architects) Guide gives pointed and interested opinions of buildings, but not necessarily always much idea of their size, so the Guide and Skyscraperpage.com sort of compliment each other.

They Put It Back

I've never seen anything like this: yesterday a comment of mine on Huffington Post was deleted for "violating Huffington Post's guidelines," and this morning it has re-appeared. In the meantime the replies to my comment, and the replies to those replies, remained on the website, which was also a bit strange. In a blog post yesterday I attempted to give the gist of my offending comment from memory. The comment which prompted one reader to call me "as bad as the fundies[...]a jerk, as ugly as a fundy[...]as repulsive as a fundy[...]You hurt, not help the liberal cause[...]You are an embarrassment to our side. My wish is for you and Pat Dobson to be stranded on a remote island together for the rest of your lives." and another to declare, "[...]how dare you tell me what to think and what to feel. If I wanted that, I'd go to a fundamentalist church." Now that my original comment is back, I can give it to you word-for-word in all of its gruesome, unbearable ruthlessness, or whatever it was which upset some people -- which I wrote in response to this article by David Michael McFarlane, whose gist is summed up very well in its title, "Christians, Can We Drop This 'Creationism' Thing Already?" Here comes my deleted and now resurrected comment. Clutch your pearls:

"How about if you just drop the whole "Christianity" thing, already? You religious moderates spend so much time and energy insisting how completely different you are from the fundies, but you still believe in God, a God who sent his Son to Earth to be a human sacrifice to save the world from Himself. As long as people believe all of that, some of them will still go the rest of the way and believe the parts you don't like anymore. It's not such a long distance from your beliefs to theirs. It's NOT."

That sort of talk, apparently, is repulsive, a disastrous disgrace to liberalism, an attempt to control the thoughts and feelings of others, and who the Hell is Pat Dobson anyway? The only Pat Dobson I can find was a Major Laegue Baseball player decades ago, has been dead for a few years and didn't seem to be well-known for either his religious views or his views on religion. You know what? I bet the guy meant to say "Pat Robertson," and was in such a towering rage that he typo'd "Robertson" down to "Dobson."

I'm biased, of course, but I don't think my comment is extraordinarily atrocious or repulsive. I think what happened is that I hit a nail on a head, hit a few religious moderates square athwart a big subconscious blind spot. Having some denial deftly ripped away can be quite traumatic.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

White 1202 -- Black 1249, 5-0 blitz

1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♕xd4 ♘c6 5. ♕d1 d5 6. exd5 exd5 7. ♗b5 ♘f6 8. O-O ♗e7 9. ♘d4 ♗d7 10. ♘c3 O-O 11. ♗xc6 bxc6 12. h3 ♖e8 13. a3 c5 14. ♘f3 d4 15. ♘a2 ♗c6 16. ♘e5 ♗b7 17. b4 ♕d5 18. ♘f3 ♖ad8 19. bxc5 ♗xc5 20. ♘b4 ♗xb4 21. axb4 a6 22. ♗b2 d3 23. ♕xd3 ♕xd3 24. cxd3 ♖xd3 25. ♖fd1 ♖ed8 26. ♖xd3 ♖xd3 27. ♘e5 ♖d2 28. ♗a3 ♘e4 29. f3 ♘g3 30. ♔h2 ♘f5 31. ♔g1 f6 32. ♘c4 ♖c2 33. ♘a5 ♗a8 34. ♖d1 ♔f7 35. ♖d7 ♔e6 36. ♖a7 ♗d5 37. ♖xa6 ♔f7 38. ♖a7 ♔g6 39. ♘b7 ♘e3 40. ♘d8 ♖xg2 41. ♔h1 ♗xf3 42. ♘e6 ♖e2 43. ♔g1 ♖e1 44. ♔f2 ♘c2 45. ♔xf3 ♖xe6 46. b5 ♖b6 47. ♖a6 ♘xa3 48. ♖xa3 ♖xb5 49. ♔f4 ♔f7 50. ♖a7 ♔e6 51. ♖a6 ♔f7 52. h4 ♔g6 53. ♔g4 ♖b4 54. ♔g3 1-0 {Black forfeits on time}

I played White. My two previous opponents had been rated 1310 and 1457, I'd lost both of those games but they hadn't been blowouts, so when I saw a 1249 rating across the board I felt rather cocky. 4. ♕xd4 would usually be annotated with at least one ? behind it, but I wanted to shake things up early. By 9. ♘d4 I felt that the risk had paid off. By 23. ♕xd3 I was over a half-minute ahead, 3:03 to 2:31, and cruising. Maybe cruising too much, maybe too cocky, because that time cushion shrank and shrank, and when Black finally ran out of time I had less than 1 second left. That was very, very close. Too close. When I started to cruise I should have been bearing down, focused on crushing Black, finishing him off. Over. Confidence. Kills. You. In. Chess. Every. Time.

Immoderate Huffington Post Moderation

As I have mentioned before, I suspect that some HP readers have attained Community Moderator status, with the power to remove comments by other readers, and are busily demonstrating that Community Moderators are a bad idea, because they have attained that status by spending all of their time on HP, and not by being possessed of moderation or good judgement. (Indeed, spending all day every day on HP is a much surer indication that someone is NOT particularly well-balanced or wise.) (Yes, I am aware that I'm venturing into throwing-stones-in-my-glass-house territory here. But it's really not all day every day in my case.)

A comment of mine appeared this morning, in response to this article by David Michael McFarlane, entitled "Christians, Can We Drop This 'Creationism' Thing Already?" In the removed comment I took McFarlane and other moderate Christians to task for the absurdity of his attack on fundamentalists for their creationism, while they still believe in God, and Jesus, and the Immaculate conception, and the Resurrection, and so forth. I know, not all moderate Christians believe in the Immaculate conception or the Resurrection, but those whose do are not assailed for these beliefs by their fellow moderates, while the fundies are constantly assailed for rejecting evolution. My contention in the removed comment was that the moderates believe much of the superstitious nonsense in the Bible and are attacking the literalists for believing other superstitious nonsense, and that the distance between them and the fundies is not so great at all. I also said that I reject their portrayal of themselves, of the religiously moderate, as the true enlightened sages of our time, and of atheists and fundies as closely resembling each other, raving fanatics on either side of the calm, wise, moderate middle. Why not just drop Christianity altogether? I asked them, and bringing it to such a fine point seems to have enraged a few people. I wonder whether they were thrown into a similar rage by Rev Lovejoy talking about a cult, and saying something to the effect that it was

"[...] a bunch of mumbo-jumbo designed to separate fools from their money. And now, let's sing the 'Doxology' twenty-three times while we pass the collection plate."

And now my comment has been disappeared for "violating Huffington Post's comments guidelines."

Perhaps I should just be grateful. It may be slightly less pointless for me to write here in my blog than to write comments on HP, even if I'm writing here about the little goldfish-bowl world of HP comments. The removal made me angry, and as the Clash sang, "anger can be power." It can energize you.

James Tabor Continues To Make A Fool Of Himself

Another sensationalistic headline in Huffington Post Religion: Bathtub Unearthed In Jerusalem May Have Belonged To One Of Jesus' Enemies (PHOTOS). Another headshake-inducing interview with Professor James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, infamous for suggesting that the "James Ossuary" once held the bones of the brother of Jesus Christ and giving some undeserved appearance of credibility to that charlatan and non-archaeologist, the Naked Archaeologist.

You really ought to expect this sort of thing from HP. It is what it is and its standards are what they are: pretty low. More, quite a bit more is usually to be expected from a full professor and department head at a major university, even if it is only the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte.

(Did Tabor very simply agree to say a certain amount of nonsensical things in exchange for a suitcase full of cash from the Naked Archaeologist? It wouldn't surprise me, and in a way it would be much less sad than if he really has lost his grip on certain realities.)

If HP didn't put "Jesus" in the headline they wouldn't get all these clicks from people who don't know or care about archaeology or ancient history and just want to argue about religion. ("Jesus is a myth." "Stay tuned... rumor has it Pontius Pilates' toilet has been excavated in the neighboring house." "I thought Jesus didn't have any enemies. You know, because he loved everybody right?" 3 actual posts, 3 of the 1st ones, quoted in their entirety. Oh, ha ha ha. Hee hee heee. Ho. Ho. Ho.) Tabor, a professor of Religious Studies, ought to be a bit more disciplined with his statements, but his own words give him away: ""From what we get in the Gospel, the Sadducees, or the aristocratic priestly class, they were [...]" etc etc. He begins by assuming the accuracy of Bible passages, and then trying to make the archaeological evidence for them. It should be closer to the other way around. I'm not saying that the Bible should be disregarded altogether when investigating history. Of course not. People who declare, "The Bible is fiction," and then stand there like they think they've said something profound which is all that needs to be said on the subject of the Bible and history, are clowns, every bit as silly as anyone else.

We possess a few different written sources on the history of Western Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries. Not very many, but more than one, from independent sources, and so we can compare them with each other. If the Nibelungenlied were the only one we had, it would be tremendously important for the study of that history. (It's not entirely without importance as it is.) Analogously, the Bible, because it is the only written source we now possess for many episodes of history, is of tremendous historical significance.

But of course we can't read any piece of writing uncritically, whether it's the Iliad or Genesis or the Gospels or Gregory of Tours or Beowulf or the Nibelungenlied or Edward Gibbon or even The Wrong Monkey. It may be that the Gospel portrait of the Sadducees is accurate. But Tabor well knows that the Gospels were written by enemies of the Sadducees, and that enemies in all times and places have had a tendency to be unfair to one another, and that in ancient writings, by and large, this tendency was quite strong, and that the authors of the Gospels were not an exception to this rule.

Or at least he ought to know all of this very well, and constantly keep it in mind when sifting through texts such as the Gospels and wondering what parts of them might be true or partly true.

And he ought to make all of this especially crystal-clear when talking in an interview to be used in a piece of news presented to a lay audience. When referring to Gospel accounts of the Sadducees, a warning to take possible bias into account ought to be the first thing out of an expert's mouth. Communicating things like that are a very important part of Tabor's job, and he hasn't been doing it. His standards should be much higher than those of some outlets like the Huffington Post, and lately, they haven't been. Great for sensationalism, terrible for the advancement of learning. In a typical piece about archaeology in the Huffington Post or USA Today, it can be pointed out that the sensationalistic headline doesn't actually reflect what the expert is quoted as saying. Tabor is supposed to be the expert here. The grown-up, the authority. He's anything but these days, but he worked his way up to his current position by behaving in quite a different manner, and tenure is a bitch.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Return Of The Son Of Arguing With Idiots

(All dialogue guaranteed etc etc)

HUGE FRIGGIN IDIOT: Man (Western culture) overthrew Mother nature ,the closest thing to "God" we'll ever know, 10-12 Thousand years ago and has been "in charge" of the Earth ever since. How's it working out for you ?

ME: Western culture has not existed for anywhere close to 10,000 years and has never been as close to "in charge" of the entire planet as many Westerners have liked to think. The two cultures which have come closest to ruling the entire planet both came from Mongolia.

HFI: Take "our" culture back to it's roots in what is now Iraq The "agriculturist" (10,000 yrs ago) that started in the Golden Crescent with their new ability to gain more from the soil than the hunter gatherers built cities and armies that have slowly but surely expanded, defeated ,destroyed or enslaved every "primitive" culture of hunter/gathers they have contacted since. Their/our curse that goes with the agri-culture is overpopulation and need for constant expansion. We, the agriculturist , rule the world. At least we will until we destroy the planet's ability to sustain us. Not a problem though, Mother has many children and lot's of time.

ME: More than a few Iraqi's are annoyed by Westerners claiming ancient Mesopotamian culture as their own. (And who can blame them?) While farms and cities were being organized in Mesopotamia, the people of Europe were still living in caves.

And besides Mesopotamia not being Western civ, it was not the only origin point of large-scale agriculture and cities, which also were to be found 10,000 years ago in present-day Mexico and on the north-west coast of South America. Your conception of Western civilization and its supposed dominance is wrong, just spectacularly wrong.


(And after I posted that I was thinking: where does he get all this? And then it hit me: Rousseau. White man: civilized, rest of world: savage, civilization: bad, savagery: noble. I figured HFI would ignore what he was ostensibly answering and just triple down, and sure enough -- )

HFI: You mean we're not an agriculturaly based war machine that conquers every thing that get's in it's way including Mother Nature like all our predecessors ? Mesopotamia>Greece>Rome>Northern Europe> England >America/Western Culture. No?
Resistance is futile , the primitives will all be assimilated.


(A hermetically-sealed mind, not responding to, by all appearances not even noticing the points I'm making. At this point nothing remains for me but to repeat myself that, as the saying goes, insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Whether the saying was formulated by Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Rita Mae Brown or someone else appears to be controversial.)

(Beware, beware of the evil agricultural Borg!)

(Who is not insulted by this Bizarro-World of HFI's? Middle Easterners, the descendants of prehistoric city-dwellers, are denied their birthright when it is insisted that those city-dwellers, somehow, were white men. And white men, it is insisted, are evil, and all-powerful, relentlessly crushing all in their path -- why? Because they invented farming. [Actually because Jean-Jacques Rousseau had huge unresolved Daddy issues, obviously.] Nevermind that they didn't, and that Mesopotamians weren't the only ones who invented it, and nevermind that the two largest empires in human history were those of Mongolian hunters, nevermind the thousands of years of civilization, of cities and farms [aarrghh! helphelp, cities and farms!] in East Asia and in Africa and in the Western Hemisphere, sorry, none of that jibes with this Bizaaro-World and so none of it exists, and nevermind that it's kind of a stretch to include even Greece in Western civilization, let alone Mesopotamia -- why? Because, as has been pointed out by some people, some of whom, very strangely, insist that Western civilization is the only one there is, it began to take its contours when the residents of the former Western half of the Roman Empire began to lose their knowledge of Greek. The people who are so proud of this civilization don't put it that way, they say Western civilization began when Christianity took over Western Europe, but it all happened at once: collapse of the Western Empire, takeover of Christianity, losing touch with Greek culture. Greek culture stayed alive, of course. But only among Greeks and Muslims and a teeny-tiny handful of Westerners, until Greeks and Muslims taught Greek to Westerners who, in obscene, absurd arrogance, called it the Renaissance. Sometimes things get so stupid it makes me want to spit. Ptui!)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ihr Seid Alle Eitel Und Nicht So Gescheiht Wie Ihr Denkt. Oder Vielleicht Doch. Ich Werde Muede

"Jener Reisende, der viel Länder und Völker und mehrere Erdteile gesehen hatte und gefragt wurde, welche Eigenschaft der Menschen er überall wiedergefunden habe, sagte: sie haben einen Hang zur Faulheit. Manchen wird es dünken, er hätte richtiger und gültiger gesagt: sie sind alle furchtsam[...]"

So Nietzsche zum beruehmten Beginn seiner beruehmten unzeitgemaesse Betrachtung ueber Schopenhauer als Erzieher.

Aehem, nee. Die meisten vielleicht, aber nicht alle Menschen sind faul. Meine gute Mutter zum Beispiel ist es wirklich gar nicht, im Gegenteil, sie hat mit jetzt fast 80 Jahren soviele Energie dass es mir, der ich ein viel eher durchschnittliches Mass an Faulheit besitzte, gar muede and schlaefrig macht, auch nur daran zu denken. Man mag meinen, Alle waeren feig, und zwar sind die meisten, aber auch da habe ich ganze Ausahmen gekannt.

Vielleicht ist das, was wir alle, ausnahmslos, besitze -- Eitelkeit. Wer ist denn nicht im heimlichen -- gewoehnlicherweise im heimlichen -- ueberzeugt, er sei was Besonderes? Zwar nicht immer auf derselben Weise. Manche wissen, dass sie nicht schoen sind, zum Beispiel. (Einige nehmen zu unrecht an, dass sie nicht schoen sind.) Aber wer glaubt dass er dumm ist? So gar viele Leute die dumm wie Klumpen Pudding sind, und keiner davon der bereit waere es zuzugeben. Vielleicht ist das Universal-Menschliche spezifischer als bloss Eitelkeit, vielleicht ist es Eitelkeit in Bezug auf dem eigenen Gehirn, der sich selbst gar goettlich vorkommt, und wenn es jedem anderen schwierig waere vorzustellen, wir man denn es auch nur fuer durchschnittlich halten koennte.

Andersherum aber ist dann und wann solche Eitelkeit ueber die eigene Klugheit berechtigt. Wie in meinem Fall, natuerlich. Wie? Ich habe das auf einer Sprache gesagt, die eher weniger von meinen Lesern beherrschen, um mich weniger Hohnlachen preiszugeben? Bist du aber schlau!

Aber mal im Ernst -- eine sehr kurze Zetlang nur, and dann ist es wieder mit dem Ernst vorbei -- ich denke, das Universal-Menschliche ist dieser alberne Hang, Universales in den Menschen zu finden und den Fund eitel-moechtegernklug zur Schau zu stellen. Was nutzt es eigentlich, zu wissen oder zu glauben zu wissen, dass alle Menschen oder aber fast alle waeren faul oder feig oder eitel oder dumm wie Stroh? Hat man denn staendig mit allen Menschen auf einmal zu tun? Siehstu? Na denn. Ich geh und hol mir mal ein Nickerchen, dies war fuerchterlich anstrengend.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Derek Flood And Søren Kierkegaard



Two theologians, but only one philosopher between them. I thought long and hard about how best to describe Derek Flood here, but it's hard to top his Huffington Post author bio:

A longtime voice in the post-conservative evangelical movement, Derek’s focus is on wrestling with questions of faith and doubt, violence in the Bible, relational theology, and understanding the cross from the perspective of grace and restorative justice.

Yeah. Stick that in yr pipe and smoke it. In his HP icon Flood's mane of hair looks a bit like Kierkegaard's. Like Kierkegaard in that one portrait of him we all know, Flood stares at you earnestly, but while Kierkegaard has a twinkle in his eye and the hint of of a smile, Flood looks deadly dull. Kierkegaard looks like he might actually be interested in you and what you have to say. Flood looks like he thinks that what he has to say to you is so important that it may not even have occurred to him to listen to you unless it's to see whether or not you've understood him. In every piece I've read by him, Flood can't go for 2 sentences in a row without being unmistakeably Christian. Kierkegaard talks about all sorts of things other than Christianity without constantly distorting them in that theological way we all know and love. Not only does he quote many pre-Christian Greek authors, he clearly also likes them the way they really are. No distortion required. He sometimes goes dozens of pages at a stretch without giving the slightest sign that he's a Christian theologian. This of course is what makes Kierkegaard the most appealing of all Christian theologians: he's the one who least resembles a Christian theologian. All the others have no end of urgent things to tell you, such as how they understand the cross from the perspective of grace and restorative justice. Kierkegaard's interests are much wider. He's receptive.

Of course, autistics, such as myself, are not receptive so much, that is to say: one of the major ways you can tell we're autistic is that we have a hard time switching from telling everybody what's what, to listening. At least when it comes to face-to-face conversation. We may be good at absorbing written communications -- although there can be problems there too -- but that often breaks down in face-to-face communication. "Face to face" is even a misnomer in some conversations with autistics, because some autistics have a very hard time maintaining normal amounts of eye contact. I pretty much can't do it with most conversation partners. Don't take it personally, I have a problem.

But at least I know that it's a very serious problem. And I know that a lack of eye contact is just one of the ways in which I routinely fail to achieve what most people think of as the normal back-and-forth and give-and-take of conversation.

But that doesn't mean that I don't want to have more give-and-take with you. I doesn't mean I don't care. I realize that it often looks like I don't care, if it doesn't look even worse, as if I'm hostile or something like that. It's a technical problem with the interface. Don't worry, people are working on this.

Monday, September 16, 2013

I Am Clicheoclast, Hear Me Roar

LISA: You shouldn't make generalizations about people who live in places you've never been.

BART: Yeah, Dad. That's what they do in Russia.
[QUOTE NOT GUARANTEED EXACT, BUT THAT'S THE GIST OF IT]

Ah, if only the problem were limited to places people have never been. A story has hit concerning 2 Russians in their 20's arguing about Kant, an argument which escalated from words to fists to gunfire.

Predictably, and sadly, some people are responding to the story with cliches, such as: "This would never happen in the US, because you'd have to search far and wide before finding 2 Americans in their 20's who know who Kant is."

Not if you searched in university philosophy departments, that much is certain.

But of course you wouldn't have to resort to going to the nearest university.

It's typical -- sadly typical -- that such remarks are routinely made in the midst of Americans who are not asking questions such as, "Who is Kant?" because they already know who Kant is, but that doesn't stop the people who are delivering the cliches from considering themselves to be wise, nor does it stop many many people -- Americans, mostly -- from chiming in and agreeing, and somehow failing to see, although it's hard to see how anything could be much clearer, that they themselves are a refutation of the cliches with which they are agreeing.

Sadly typical as well is how few people seem to grasp that this particular cliche about Americans never having heard of Kant is nonsense. So far I've seen just one person challenge it. Me.

This is a particularly striking example of the power of cliches to blind people and switch their brains off.

PS: There may be one way in which Russians actually have an advantage over Americans when it comes to studying Kant, a significant advantage: it may be that more Russians than Americans have read Kant untranslated. That's just a guess on my part, but it rests partly on the sad fact that the cliche about proud smug American monoligualism is not entirely unfounded, and partly on the rather large physical presence of German scholars in Russia going back to before Kant's time, and a correspondingly large knowledge of the German language among Russian academics. And, well, #3: Karl Marx.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just In Case Some Of You Haven't Noticed Yet: Theologians Don't Play Fair

Here are just a few of a countless number of instances:

I think maybe every single one of my comments on Nathan Schneider's non-mind-blowing essay 10 Proofs That Will Change How You Think About God on Huffington Post Religion may have been removed, because of "violations of our guidelines," ie because some holy roller has achieved Community Moderator status. A time-honored Christian approach to inconvenient criticism is to pretend it never existed.

From Aristotle's prime mover to the "endgueltigem Beweis Gottes" Schneider says Hegel was working on at the time of his death -- perhaps it's very good for Hegel's rep that he died when he did -- Schneider's 10-point stroll through thousands of years of Western philosophy resembles a walk through a minefield which the perambulator survives, in that not one of the many bombs of skepticism in Western philosophy was set off by the merest hint of a mention. If one's only source of info about Western philosophy has been Huffington Post Religion -- and I fear that it is some people's only source, and that many have only seen Western philosophy through similarly-filtered lenses -- then one definitely could get the impression that philosophy and theology are synonymous to a great extent.

In any case, the assumption that they are in harmony seems to be very widespread among both theists and atheists. The former love to trot out their favorite quotes from Augustine and Aquinas, they often assume that Spinoza and Einstein were on their side. The atheists generally dispute the subject of Einstein's religious view much too much -- his religious views are unclear, that's about all there is to say about it -- and the case of Spinoza not nearly enough. If they have looked at all at the actual words of Spinoza, they immediately notice all the theological-looking phrases, up to and including the 2nd word in the title of Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,
and often they discard Spinoza long before they have begun to suspect that what looked at first glance like theology could have been camouflage for atheist arguments in the 17th century when plain spoken atheism was not allowed. (The same may also have been true for Descartes, whom Spinoza regarded as the greatest of his immediate predecessors in philosophy, although to assume atheism in Descartes' case is a bit more of a stretch. But even a century after Spinoza, even the plainly-atheist Hume never actually said in so many plain words that he doubted the existence of God.) Just as I myself discarded Spinoza after my first contact with him, and only returned because Nietzsche praises him so often and so highly.

But of course the theists (especially those tedious 21st-century pantheists) cite Spinoza as if he had been perfectly free to say plainly and literally whatever it was that he really thought about the idea of God.

Among other absurdities which theists present with maddening smug stupidity as fact, such as that Biblical literalism was invented in 19th-century America, that fundies have much more in common with atheists than with them, the religious moderates, the truly enlightened, and that the "conflict thesis" has been thoroughly refuted and discredited among historians (How many people who have not read much more theology than is good for anyone have ever even heard of the "conflict thesis"?) is this version of the Western philosophy absent its religious skepticism. Democritus, Lucretius, Seneca (Seneca was an idiot but even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then), Boethius, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hobbes, Hume, Feuerbach, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Even worse than behaving as if all of these people had never existed, the theists, the theologians often go one disgusting shameless step further and cherry-pick them for quotations to take out of context and make these thinkers seem quite different than the critics of religion (/spirituality, po-TAY-to/po-TAH-to) which they were, just as they cherry-pick Augustine and Aquinas to make them look tolerant and urbane and not like the bloodthirsty Bible-thumpers they were. If you want to learn about the integrity and reliability of a philosopher or theologian, read an entire book by someone they've quoted, and compare the impression you've gotten from that entire book with the impression you got from the citation.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

17th-Century Monarchs Conversing In Latin

So I'm reading The Siege of Viennaby John Stoye, and I'm at the very dramatic point after the siege (by the Ottoman Turks, in 1683) has been successfully repulsed, and the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, whose capital city, Vienna, has just been saved, is riding out east of the city with his staff to greet the Polish King John III Sobieski, whose army has played a large part in the victory. Page 269 in the 1965 Holt, Rinehart and Winston edition. The thing is that already, this Monday, the 13th of September, 1683, one day after the victory, the bickering over who owes whom how much respect and gratitude, with consequences affecting how the war will proceed as the united Christian forces chase the fleeing Turks across what had been the Ottoman frontier for some time, and questions such as who will be owed what newly-won land and booty, and all of this intimately tied up with what seem to us 300 years later to be bizarrely petty matters of address and manners -- the bickering is well underway. A word or a gesture on the part of the Emperor or the Polish King could be -- would be -- seen as an acknowledgement that the other was the Official Big Shot of the Day, to whom belonged the glory each regarded as his own. "The two men faced each other on horseback. There could be no question of either claiming precedence by being on the other's right, which was the crux of the ceremonial problem. The King remained uncovered for just as long as the Emperor, and no longer. They conversed in Latin for a few minutes --"

And with that, of course, I no longer cared about the precedence and ceremonial problems or how the war was going to proceed or even about the crazy gi-normous Louis XIV wigs one or both or them may have been wearing, because Stoye wrote "They conversed in Latin for a few minutes." And so from then on I was on a mission: are we SURE they spoke Latin? Could it be that they spoke French or German interspersed with a few Latin phrases? Was it a stiff and halting, artificial conversation, or was it entirely fluent Latin spoken as naturally as anything? A couple of centuries earlier you'd expect all the European royalty and high nobility -- anybody with any chance at all of becoming royalty -- to speak Latin. I searched Stoye's book for more mentions of language -- nothing. I couldn't find Stoye's source for the incident, Acta Regis Johannis III. ad res anno 1683, online. But I found other collections of primary materials on the Kingdom of Poland. My first impression is that Poland's governmental business in the late 17th century was conducted more in French than in Latin. The documents from the very early 16th century were mostly in Latin, as I expected, but there was also some German. Early-16th-century German is bizarre in its spelling and wording from a 21st-century perspective, but still comprehensible to a German-speaker, as you know if you're fluent in German and have read some German by Luther whose orthography has not been brought into conformity with contemporary usage.

Of course, if you're Polish, and quite possibly even if you're not, at this point what may be occupying your thoughts much more urgently than any of these matters of Latin and French and German, is: at what point did the rulers of Poland actually begin to conduct their affairs in Polish? It's a perfectly reasonable question, and I'm sorry that I have no idea when they did. I'm concerned with Latin and with how long it lasted in populations of what size. Certainly, European royalty retained a fluency in Latin until quite recently; in fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if some or even most of what is left of European royal families can carry on conversation in Latin to this day. Knowledge of Latin was even more lively for even longer in the Catholic Church, and despite the huge changes made by Vatican II, huge and catastrophic in this one regard of language, there are still a lot of Latin speakers in the Church today, maybe more than in Classics Departments, maybe not, but a lot. A century after Leopold and Sobieski sat their horses and -- possibly. Probably -- chatted for a while in Latin, Tom Paine looked at royalty and the Church and the way they still cultivated Latin, and urged throwing the language away -- urged it with a disastrously huge influence and effect. I'm every bit as anti-royal and atheist as Paine, but I look at Latin and draw exactly the opposite conclusion: why should royalty and clergy have all the fun? And also: who's going to keep an eye on the royals and clergy if we can't understand what they're saying? Two of the many reasons why Paine was wrong, and a much less effective opponent of the ancien regime than he could have been. And an idiot.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quid Enim Mali Est Oxono?

Si credas latina lingua mortus sit, plus saepe unter homines vagare debes, ubi vita lepidus est. Latine loquo et scribo et lego, et non solum ego.

Sed cur hoc editoribus Clarendoniana non credent? Quamobrem nunc omnes praefationes editionum eurorem in lingua anglica sunt? Etiam cum editor Batavus vel Hispanum est. Falso et delirus est.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Question For You Logistics Experts --

-- if a US Postal package being sent from California to Michigan has started off in Coarsegold, CA, and gone from there to Fresno on Tuesday, and from there to Bell Gardens, and then on to San Marcos where it arrived yesterday, on Saturday, and by now, by Sunday, has gone from San Marcos to San Diego... does that mean it's about to get on a boat bound for the Panama Canal, and from the Canal to New York City by boat, maybe the same boat, maybe a second one, and from NYC up the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and eventually on to Detroit?

Why do I ask? Oh... no reason, really. Just wondering about a hypothetical package. Not a large package, not a bulldozer or a railroad locomotive. Just a book. An entirely hypothetical package containing a book. Couple of pounds.

There's a big port in San Diego. I'm not sure if it's a big rail or air freight hub as well. Maybe it is... *sigh*

PS, 9 Sept 2013, 10:05 AM: If that same small package -- still an entirely hypothetical package, you understand -- which had been in San Diego, California, yesterday, on Sunday, was processed through a USPS sort facility the same day, late yesterday, I think that might tend to indicate that it did not, in fact, travel by boat from San Diego to Michigan. Sounds more like a situation where it had been sent from Coarsegold, California, to Fresno, to Bell Gardens and then to San Marcos, because for some reason it had been put into a bag of mail to be delivered in San Marcos, and then when someone saw that it was addressed to be sent to Michigan, they sent it on from San Marcos to San Diego, a couple dozen miles away, and there put it on a plane to Michigan. In a hypothetical situation like this, I'm guessing maybe the USPS might now be expediting the rest of the delivery to make up for the mix-up which sent the parcel to San Marcos.

I wonder whether any US Mail sent from one part of the US to another part of the US really ever does go through the Panama Canal. I'm sure a lot of it was in the period immediately after the canal was completed in 1914, and I'm sure that before 1914 a lot of it was sent all the way around South America. I'm just not sure whether that route is still taken for any US Mail from the US to the US. But what do I know? nothing, that's what. Like I said, even this route from Coarsegold to Michigan with a detour to San Diego is entirely hypothetical. Makes you think, though. They say that before the US had a transcontinental railroad, the route by sea from New York all the way around South America to San Francisco took far less time than any direct overland route. San Francisco was a bigger city than Los Angeles for a while, and certainly the biggest US west coast port as late as 1900, but how long after that it was bigger than LA, I couldn't say. The movie Chinatown (great, great movie) had given me the impression that by the mid-30's SF was still California's biggest city, and that LA was still waiting to be transformed into a juggernaut by the city's Department of Water and Power. Jake Gittes, the film's protagonist, even says at one point, and I quote: "LA is a small town." However, some historical population figures I randomly grabbed of of the Internet without having a clue how reliable they might be say that LA's population exceeded SF's by 1920, and was almost double SF's by 1930. Could this be yet another example of Hollywood screwing over our historical perceptions in order to sell popcorn?

Any, I'm rambling. And it was just a hypothetical package anyway! How many times do I have to say that?! I'm not the one who's on trial here! ATTICA! ATTICA!

Manuscripts Of Livy In Romania And Moldova?

I don't know whether Romania and Moldova are good places to look for manuscripts of Livy. (At some point I really need to talk to some pros about how to do this Quixotic thing, searching for the lost books of Livy.) I don't know whether the area is a particularly good place to look for old manuscripts of any kind: much of its history, sadly, is a history of domination and occupation by foreign powers, and it's only since the 19th century that things such as the systematic collection of artifacts such as manuscripts has been allowed to thrive in public institutions belonging to Romania and Moldova themselves.

So why look there? (It's a twofold search, actually: looking for manuscripts which are currently in Romania and Moldova, and for evidence of manuscripts written there which now are somewhere else.) Because the area is unique in having a language based on Latin, but very few historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Dacia, the area of present-day Romania and Moldova, was abandoned by the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, and when it was Christianized in the 9th century it became a part of the Orthodox Church. If manuscripts of Livy were made by Romans in Dacia, and/or later by Dacians who had retained the Latin language, and if the lost books were victims of a concerted campaign by Catholics to destroy them beginning in the 6th century, any manuscripts in Dacia-Romania/Moldova would've escaped the reach of that campaign.

It's an absurdly thin thread of a hope, but absurdly thin threads are all I have so far. Of course, if manuscripts of the lost books had already been found in Romania or Moldova, or if Romanian or Moldovan manuscripts had been found elsewhere, the whole world would have heard about it by now. What I'm trying to do now is find out whether there are any manuscripts of the known books which are believed to have been written there. Those could possibly turn out to be clues to the whereabouts of the lost texts.

And, of course, that's true of manuscripts of Livy written anywhere. And, of course, it's true of manuscripts of other ancient writers who read Livy, and of biographical information about those other writers. I badly need to find a list of Livy manuscripts which is somewhere close to comprehensive. A recent and very comprehensive list would be the best, of course, but even a list made in the 19th century which was only halfway-comprehensive back then would be a tremendous help. Also by now I probably should have read every single commentary on Livywhich has ever been published, but, for whatever reason, every single one of those commentaries I've seen is, quite frankly, ridiculously expensive.


It would also be a tremendous help if my reading skills in Romanian and Moldavian were a little better. (For things like reading Romanian and Moldovan library catalogs.) These are Latin-based languages, and so I have a leg up with my knowledge of Latin and French and Spanish and Italian, but because they were cut off from the other languages over 1800 years ago, more than a few differences have crept in, and that means that it's harder for me to read Romanian than, for example, Portugese or Provencal. I am given to understand that the influence of Slavic language in the formation of Romanian and Moldovan has been especially strong, and that in the modification of the original Latin the indiginous Dacian language, Hungarian, Greek and other languages have all played a part. Oh well. High time I started to get serious about learning Hungarian anyway.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fear And Trembling Have Their Place, But Not Before Imaginary Beings

In the course of discussing Genesis 22, wherein God commands Abraham to make a burnt sacrifice of Isaac, and Abraham is going to obey but at the last second God says Never mind, I was only testing you, you passed the test, we're cool, Søren Kierkegaard came up, and how, in his book Frygt og Bævenhe asserted that God's commandment that Abraham kill Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice, and Abraham's decision to comply, cannot be understood rationally. I disagree. The story itself, like all religious stories, is irrational. But like all religious stories and precepts it can be understood rationally, but only from an atheist point of view. Abraham might never have existed, this story of the human sacrifice which almost was clearly sends the message that God must be obeyed, always and unquestioningly. The tale also seems to point to a time in the ancestry of the people telling it when a transition was made from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. This is subject matter for anthropology, not theology. Kierkegaard was brilliant, except when he was Christian, and vice-versa. Thank goodness in a lot of his writing the voodoo does not interfere with the clarity of thought. If only he could've stopped fearfully trembling before That Which Is Not. The story of Abraham can be understood rationally, but not while sharing Abraham's irrational belief in a big meanie in the sky who runs the universe.

I don't think religious beliefs are defensible. That sounds very harsh, but I don't think we should tiptoe around such issues. Thousands of years' worth of tiptoeing has been more than enough. Kierkegaard is much less irrational then many other theologians who claim that belief is rational and produce reams of the most appalling nonsense to buttress that claim, but not quite as rational as his many atheist fans who decline to accept ancient irrationalities.

Of course, it sometimes benefits people -- real, non-imaginary people -- when their fellow humans fear and tremble before an unreal deity. It distracts them from fear and loathing which would make sense -- fear and loathing of powerful rulers who claim to act in the public interest but do not, for example. (Of course, it's much more admirable to stand up to tyrants than to tremble before them, but it's also heroic, and let's face it, the vast majority of people simply aren't heroes. Maybe that sounds harsh too, but it's plainly true.) It's no coincidence that the worst tyrants appear to be very religious, whether they actually are or merely find it useful to have their subjects distracted by an imaginary tyranny. I don't doubt that many rulers sincerely believe in God, when they're told from infancy that they have been selected by God to rule -- for the good of all, of course. Most of us are susceptible to flattery, and the temptation to believe it grows as the flattery grows more constant and extreme, and what could be more flattering than being told your entire life that God has chosen you to be one of the leaders of His creation?

Sincere or cynical, promotion of religion is very practical for rulers. Most of us don't have such an excuse for holding on to religious belief.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Abraham And Isaac And Religion And Sanity

In HP Religion, James Goodman addresses the Biblical story in which Abraham is commanded by God to make a human sacrifice of his son Isaace, and almost goes through with it, and at the last minute God says, Okay, stop, I was just testing your obedience, we're cool. Goodman reacts with horror to this story -- but not with enough horror. He draws parallels between Abraham's painful situation and tough decisions which must be made in war. He mentions people who have wrestled with this Bible passage (chapter 22 of Genesis), including Kierkegaardand, according to Goodman, Bob Dylan.

"The ritual sacrifice of a child should and would be universally condemned," Goodman states. (Not really going very far out on a limb there.) But he continues: "But[...]"

But nothing. Goodman's trying to have his cake and eat it too. For one thing, as we can see from many of the comments on Goodman's story, prattling on in a quite unbearable manner about how this horror story of Abraham being commanded to tie his son up, slit his throat and burn his body demonstrates God's perfect and infinite love, anything at all will be far from universally condemned, if it's seen as "God's will." For another thing, there is a difference between human sacrifice and war. Sometimes war is waged in an injust way which is indefensible; and sometimes it is a tragic choice which must be made to oppose injustice. For a third thing, Kierkegaard was sometimes brilliant and sometimes Christian, but never both at the same time. And for a forth thing, in "Highway 61 Revisited" Dylan doesn't portray the story of Abraham and Isaac as a deep and awesome mystery, he doesn't "wrestle" with it. He reacts to it with appropriately unambiguous horror and disgust. He portrays god as a cosmic bully and Abraham as a coward who almost instantly knuckles under to a bully in the most despicable way imaginable. In Dylan's song Abraham is just one more scoundrel in a row of jerks who are described about 1 every 15 seconds.

If Sir James Gearge Frazerwas correct, then nearly every single human civilization has passed through a stage of human sacrifice, and that stage was much more recent in the case of Frazer's beloved Romans than he or other Classicists had thought. He reacted with horror to his discovery that polished and urbane Classical Latin poets lived at the same time as priests and priestesses who made ritual sacrifices of people. I can only think of one way to see Genesis 22 in a positive light: as a story of a people leaving human sacrifice in the past, and in fact in a far more remote past than did, among many others, the Romans.

But of course it is interpreted in quite another way by many practicing Jews and Christians and Muslims. Nauseatingly, they twist the story until it looks (to them) like an illustration of pure perfect cosmic infinite Love. If a head of state demanded that one of his subjects kill his own son to prove his loyalty, no sane person would call it an act of love on the part of the ruler. It would be considered an act of extreme tyranny and grounds to overthrow the ruler. If I were married and my wife demanded that I kill our son to prove my love for her, as long as I could prove she made that demand, not only would I have absolutely no trouble getting a divorce, and custody, and a very strongly-enforced restraining order, but my ex-wife would very likely also spend some time in prison or a hospital for the criminally insane. Not to mention the utter contempt and horror, and criminal prosecution, which that hypothetical subject of a tyrant, or I in that hypothetical marriage, would deserve, if we showed the slightest sign of complying with that despicable request, which Abraham was willing to do. Believers are making ridiculous excuses for their imaginary friend who rules the universe, excuses which they would never make for a real human being. Oh the mental gymnastic believers go through to defend their god.

Imagine if people expended a fraction of that energy to protect other real living breathing human beings.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Idea That Stories In The Bible Are Metaphors Is A Contemporary Myth

Nota bene (That's Latin. It means "note well."), I'm not saying that I believe that Noah built an ark and saved all those animals, or that Samson killed all of those people with the jawbone of an ass. I'm saying that the authors of the Bible, and ancient Jews and Christians, and also most Jews and Christians and Muslims until pretty recently, believed those things happened. Of course, the fundies still believe it. But there has emerged this other group within these religions which still believes in God, and still believes that the Bible is the most important book in the world, but not only no longer themselves believe things like the stories of Noah actually happened, but also are insisting, not only with straight faces but also with advanced degrees in theology and sometimes, unfortunately, in other fields as well, such as Biblical Studies or even ancient history in general, that those stories were ORIGINALLY WRIITEN AND UNDERSTOOD as metaphors, and that literalism and fundamentalism are aberrations from the main traditions of these religions, when, in plain fact, they are not aberrations but holdovers, continuations of the old beliefs.

Where does this recent belief in the non-literal intent of the Bible authors come from? Like other irrational religious beliefs, it comes from an unwillingness to face certain realities. In this case it's an unwillingness to see the ancient world for what it was, the unwillingness to see the similarities between the Abrahamic religions and other ancient beliefs, and the unwillingness to see how much primitive ancient mentality has been brought into our own time by those religions.

Some people believed that Hercules actually existed before Christianity came into the Graeco-Roman world and stomped all over the local religions of which the tales of Hercules and Zeus and Athena and Hermes were a part. In the case of metaphors and fiction, it's clear to both the authors and the audience that the stories are made up. Not so in the case of myths and religion. The Greeks and Romans, many or most of them, believed that lightning and thunder were giant spears hurled by Zeus (whom the Romans called Jupiter), that when the seas became stormy it was because Poseidon (Neptune to the Romans) was agitated, that Aphrodite (the Roman Venus) looked after people in love, and so forth. The Greeks and Roman pagans were much more tolerant when it came to open discussion of religion than were the Christians who wiped their religions out, and so every now and then an ancient Greek or Roman philosopher would express his opinion that all the stories about the gods were nonsense and that no rational person should believe they existed -- but these philosophers were expressing minority opinions, they were going directly against the grain of their society at large. There's no reason to believe that most pre-Christian Romans and Greeks didn't believe in the literal existence of many, many gods and goddesses. The city of Rome in particular was famous as home to a vast number of religions collected from all over the Empire, and many individual Romans each worshiped many different deities. Some of them worshiped Jesus along with many other deities, before Christian authorities made it very plain that to properly practice Christianity meant no longer worshiping deities of any other religions, and, in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, destroyed the many temples of other religions which stood all over the Empire.

There's no RATIONAL reason to believe that the tales of the supernatural in any ancient religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, began as anything other than stories which were believed to be literally true. An irrational reason to believe that they began as fiction and metaphor, with everyone understanding that's what they were, is to deny the distance between the literal belief in them on the one hand and modern knowledge of how the world works on the other, and to insist that the Bible and the Koran are full of "timeless wisdom," and do not merely reflect the worldview of people who believed -- really, literally believed -- that what happened to them was the result of the actions of a huge supernatural Being, and that angels, actual winged angels, watched over us, and that after we died we would be judged and sent to a paradise to live in joy forever or to a pit to be tortured forever, a pit run by an evil angel who'd been expelled from the paradise, and so forth. It's as clear as can be that the founders of these religions and the authors of these holy texts literally, unmetaphorically believed all of that, just as the Graeco-Roman pagans literally believed that their gods lived on Mount Olympus and frequently came down in disguise from the mountain to take part in human affairs. One thing which these ancient books actually can tell us is how far we've come in our understanding since the time when they were written.

That is, of course, some of us. Clearly, others can't get through a single day without making things up. Luckily for very many of them, today just as thousands of years ago, religion offers them jobs.

Over And Over I Hear Atheists Saying They Wouldn't Have Any Problems With Christianity "As Long As The Christians Kept It To Themselves"

When did Christians ever keep it to themselves?

I would go so far as to say that a Christian who keeps his or her religious views to him- or herself is barely a Christian anymore. We all know that some Bible passages contradict others to the point that some selection is necessary, but no passage seems to have been anywhere nearly as consistently and tenaciously followed as the last 3 verses of Matthew. I'm talking about Matthew 28:18-20:

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.


Amen, indeed! Hallelujah, good night and pass the ammo! Of course, because of the necessary selection which I just mentioned, what they teach will vary wildy, but the missionary spirit has been remarkably consistent for the last 1950 years or so.

But yeah, sure, that's the past! To paraphrase Sam Kinison, just because you lied to me the last 9 times, why would would anyone expect ya to lie to me 10 FUCKING TIMES IN A ROW?! YAAARGGHH!! Why would anyone expect things to go on as they have in the past for thousands of years without a pause? "Okay, Mr Tiger, we're going to put you into this enclosure with all these lambs and calves and little baby ducks and piglets -- as long as you promise not to hurt any of them! You promise? Okay then! What could possibly go wrong?"

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Where Did The Old Testament Ban On Images Come From?

That question only occurred to me today. The Israelites were surrounded by cultures which made many images. If you look at the other cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean in the first millenium BC and earlier, the 2nd Commandment looks very unusual indeed.

Could it have anything to do with the Hebrew alphabet, and the contrast between it and hieroglyphs? Just as we don't know for sure when the 10 commandments originated, and whether they originated in oral or written form, and to what extent they may have been modified before taking the form with which we are familiar, we also have no definite idea at all about how old the Hebrew alphabet is, and what exactly the relationship was between various alphabets, Hebrew, Phoenician, Greek, and others, while they were forming. It's clear that those 3 alphabets and others, including the one we're using now, are closely related. It's clear to us now. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it was clear to the Hebrews when the 2nd Commandment was being formed -- whenever that was: 1000 BC, or earlier, or 600 BC, or later. One thing we do know is that hieroglyphs and cuneiform and alphabets were used side by side in the ancient middle East for a very long time. It seems entirely conceivable to me that, to the Hebrews, when they were making their 10 Commandments, their alphabet was the only one they had ever heard of. Perhaps they associated that alphabet with what was domestic, familiar, comforting and good, and hieroglyphs with everything which was foreign, unknown, foreboding, frightening and evil.

Could it be that the ban on graven images began as a rejection of hieroglyphs? Further, is it possible that the Israelite God with His omnipotent power and unpronouncable name and unfathomable ways came from the abstract nature of the Hebrew script, which contrasted with the much more concrete and comprehensible nature not only of the pictures of the pictures of of the deities of the polytheists all around, but also with the pictoral nature of their writing?

Or was it the other way around, did an awesome and unapproachable Supreme Being, whose appearance and name were unknown, give rise to the abstract system of alphabetic writing? Chicken or the egg?

Religious Images And The 2nd Commandment

I love a lot of religious images, I love them a lot. Byzantine mosaics, stained glass -- fugettaboutit. I'm sometimes almost tempted to say that the whole religious fooferah was worth it for the art, and music. Actually I'm not, that was an attempt at a joke. My actual attitude is that what happened happened, and that a lot of the art which has happened was made for religious institutions because they were running the entire society at the time, and the choice for artists was sell religious art or not sell anything. Can we really even say that the work of, for example, Fra Filippo Lippi really is religious art, from Filippo's point of view? He didn't become a monk because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, but because as a baby he was abandoned at the door of a monastery, and he didn't behave at all the way a monk was supposed to, having a stupendous number of love affairs, many of them with nuns, and his paintings have religious themes because the Church was who was paying for paintings. I don't think you can tell by Fillipo's paintings that he was less than pious, and I don't think you have to be a believer to fully appreciate any painting on any subject.

In fact, as we know, religious belief can and often does interfere with all sorts of enjoyment, and in the case of visual art there is the 2nd Commandment. Someone said that the Roman Catholic Church simply eradicated that Commandment from all texts "for many centuries." I really don't think they struck that passage for any length of time, even though Pope Gregory II immediately denounced iconoclasm as soon as the Byzantine Emperor Leo III proclaimed it. If they struck or suppressed the 2nd commandment at any time, it seems to me that this would have been the time, in the 8th or 9th century. But I don't know of a single manuscript of the Vulgate, Catholicism's official version of the Bible from the early Midlle Ages until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's, in which Exodus 20:4 is missing or altered from "non facies tibi sculptile neque omnem similitudinem quae est in caelo desuper et quae in terra deorsum nec eorum quae sunt in aquis sub terra," If anyone knows of such an altered manuscript I'd be sincerely very interested in hearing about it. Likewise if you know of a Breviary or piece of stained glass or something else which contains an altered version of the 10 Commandments.

I don't want to ask the person who asserted that this change was made "for many centuries" where he got that. Experience has taught me that people making such claims tend not to tell you where they got their info, and they do tend to get very unpleasant instead and accuse you of being an undercover Catholic spy, and I'm really over it. (Maybe I need to come up with a less unpleasant way of asking than "Where on Earth did you get that?!") But if anyone does happen to come across something which looks like a source for a "the Catholic Church struck the 2nd Commandment from the text of the Bible for" many centuries, or for a shorter period of time, I'd very much appreciate being told about it. Primitive superstitions fascinate me, whether held by religious people thousands of years ago or by atheists today. (Oh yes I did.)

Now of course, the RCC greatly decreased literacy rates among laypeople during the Middle Ages, which was probably much more effective in dealing with inconvenient Bible passages than altering them would have been.

And of course there was the very famous period of iconoclasm in the Orthodox East, although it didn't last as long as some people seem to think. Government-approved iconoclasm in the Orthodox territories actually only lasted a few decades, staring some time between 726 and 730 and ending in 787, and then being reinstated in 814 and lasting until 842 until it disappeared forever -- at least as far as Eastern Orthodoxy is concerned, and thank Euphemism, because, as I said, mosaics. There were sporadic, minor, localized tendencies before and after that to follow the 2nd Commandment, but that's been true of Christian groups in all regions and eras. Calvinists churches come to mind. By now, almost 5 centuries after Calvin, they represent a rather wide range of practices, but some of them to this day are very very free of images.

I wonder whether it's more than a coincidence that a little over a dozen years after the first period of official iconoclasm ended in the East that the Pope crowned the first Western Emperor, the first ruler of what eventually would be called the Holy Roman Empire. Could the Catholics have looked on aghast at iconoclasm, and thought, Okay, these guys are getting fanatical and crazy and it's time to break away from them? Just a thought. Maybe the timing is no more than a coincidence. Maybe Byzantine iconoclasm was just a symptom of a greater, broader social or political tendency. This is a job for a new Steven Runciman! and I'm not him, and I don't see any new Steven Runcimans anywhere, which is a real shame.

What is not a shame is that most of even the most pious Christians have just pretty much ignored the 2nd Commandment, along with many more of even the most pious Jews and Muslims than many people realize.