December 25, 2013

"If one could nominate an absolutely tragic day in human history, it would be the occasion..."

"... that is now commemorated by the vapid and annoying holiday known as 'Hannukah.'"
For once, instead of Christianity plagiarizing from Judaism, the Jews borrow shamelessly from Christians in the pathetic hope of a celebration that coincides with “Christmas,” which is itself a quasi-Christian annexation, complete with burning logs and holly and mistletoe, of a pagan Northland solstice originally illuminated by the Aurora Borealis. Here is the terminus to which banal “multiculturalism” has brought us.
From Christopher Hitchens's "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."
But it was nothing remotely multicultural that induced Judah Maccabeus to reconsecrate the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC, and to establish the date which the soft celebrants of Hannukah now so emptily commemorate. The Maccabees, who founded the Hasmonean dynasty, were forcibly restoring Mosaic fundamentalism against the many Jews of Palestine and elsewhere who had become attracted by Hellenism. These true early multiculturalists had become bored by “the law,” offended by circumcision, interested by Greek literature, drawn by the physical and intellectual exercises of the gymnasium, and rather adept at philosophy. They could feel the pull exerted by Athens, even if only by way of Rome and by the memory of Alexander’s time, and were impatient with the stark fear and superstition mandated by the Pentateuch. They obviously seemed too cosmopolitan to the votaries of the old Temple—and it must have been easy to accuse them of “dual loyalty” when they agreed to have a temple of Zeus on the site where smoky and bloody altars used to propitiate the unsmiling deity of yore. At any rate, when the father of Judah Maccabeus saw a Jew about to make a Hellenic offering on the old altar, he lost no time in murdering him. Over the next few years of the Maccabean “revolt,” many more assimilated Jews were slain, or forcibly circumcised, or both, and the women who had flirted with the new Hellenic dispensation suffered even worse. Since the Romans eventually preferred the violent and dogmatic Maccabees to the less militarized and fanatical Jews who had shone in their togas in the Mediterranean light, the scene was set for the uneasy collusion between the old-garb ultra-Orthodox Sanhedrin and the imperial governorate. This lugubrious relationship was eventually to lead to Christianity (yet another Jewish heresy) and thus ineluctably to the birth of Islam. We could have been spared the whole thing.

24 comments:

madAsHell said...

Sadly, most of what I know of Judaism was learned in a Methodist Sunday School. I learned about the 9 branch menorah, the miracle of the oil, and a military revolt.

Within the last few years, I learned that there is a 7 candle menorah, and it has nothing to do with a military victory.

oy vey!!

rhhardin said...

Imus unscrews one menorah bulb when he finds one on display.

Terry said...

Hitch was an odd sort of 'atheist'. He stated explicitly that he believed in the numinous, a word which has a precise meaning that would include the God of the OT.
What Hitch didn't believe in was a God who was superior to him in intelligence or moral sense.

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

Christian morality comes from Judaism.

"Who takes on the suffering of the other but the person who says 'I'?"asks Levinas. "Everybody is the Messiah."

- somewhere in Difficult Freedom.

The underlying idea being that there is no "I" until it does that.

YoungHegelian said...

These true early multiculturalists had become bored by “the law,” offended by circumcision, interested by Greek literature, drawn by the physical and intellectual exercises of the gymnasium, and rather adept at philosophy. They could feel the pull exerted by Athens, even if only by way of Rome and by the memory of Alexander’s time, and were impatient with the stark fear and superstition mandated by the Pentateuch.

And dear old Hitch, bless his immortal soul (which he never thought he had), knew this exactly how, since sources for this period are spare on the ground? I think Hitch speaks here of Alexandrian Hellenic Judaism and reads it back into the Hellenizers of the Maccabean Revolt.

Rather than an attempt to go all medieval on Hellenic pluralism, probably the revolt of the Maccabees was a last gasp attempt to maintain the delicate balancing act between the Seleucids & the Ptolemies that kept Judea more or less independent. The Hellenizers saw the future as being with the Seleucids; the Maccabees didn't. Both turned out to be wrong soon enough in any case, as the Romans took out the Seleucid & Ptolemaic empires in their turn. With no big brother to patrol the neighborhood, Judea too fell under Roman domination.

Ellen Guon said...

That's Hanukkah here in the States. In Israel, where most of my family live, it continues to be the minor but fun holiday that it always was. And the sufganiot (traditional Jelly donuts) still are hard to find here!

EDH said...

...the scene was set for the uneasy collusion between the old-garb ultra-Orthodox Sanhedrin and the imperial governorate. This lugubrious relationship was eventually to lead to Christianity (yet another Jewish heresy) and thus ineluctably to the birth of Islam.

Oh, what could have been had women just worked outside the home!

Illuninati said...

Hitchens conveniently omitted the role played by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his slaughters of Jews which accompanied the altar to Zeus.

Obviously, Hitchens sides with the Pagans against the traditional Jewish monotheistic worshippers. Since the heart of the left is pagan that makes perfect sense.

Hitchens' portrayal of the Jewish worshippers is extremely prejudicial at best:
"They could feel the pull exerted by Athens, even if only by way of Rome and by the memory of Alexander’s time, and were impatient with the stark fear and superstition mandated by the Pentateuch"

Hitchens like all lefties imagined himself a man of enlightenment and science as opposed to the Christians, Jews, and Muslims (like all lefties in this statement he made facile comparisons between the three as if they were all the same.) The greatest scientist of them all, Sir Isaac Newton, who did more than anyone else to make modern science as we know it possible was a devout Christian who shared the Jews' "superstitious" attachment to the Bible. I'm not sure where Hitchens got the idea that the Jews lived in fear of their god. If anything their god seems to have given them courage and hope to stand up against incredible odds.

great Unknown said...

What is more bitterly ironic is that one of the reasons for assimilated Jews not practicing circumcision was their participation in Greek athletic events. These competitors were nude, and the Jews stood out by their being circumcised.

So when modern Israel instituted their private version of the Olympics - precisely what the Maccabeans fought to eliminate - they named it the Maccabiah.

YoungHegelian said...

What's even stranger is that First, Second, & Third Maccabees aren't even in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible). They're consider apocryphal works in rabbinic Judaism. The Christians took them over as canonical because they are in the Septuagint.

Anglelyne said...

...which is itself a quasi-Christian annexation, complete with burning logs and holly and mistletoe, of a pagan Northland solstice originally illuminated by the Aurora Borealis.

There's nothing like the professional atheist for getting a yule log up his butt about something everybody already knows and nobody else, believer or non-believer, is bothered about - the syncretistic (that is, naturally-occuring, non-fiat "mutlitcultural") aspects of Christmas celebration.

YH: Rather than an attempt to go all medieval on Hellenic pluralism, probably the revolt of the Maccabees was a last gasp attempt to maintain the delicate balancing act between the Seleucids & the Ptolemies that kept Judea more or less independent. The Hellenizers saw the future as being with the Seleucids; the Maccabees didn't. Both turned out to be wrong soon enough in any case, as the Romans took out the Seleucid & Ptolemaic empires in their turn. With no big brother to patrol the neighborhood, Judea too fell under Roman domination.

Yeah, that's all very interesting YH, but the important thing here is that religion made somebody murder somebody else because religion!, and the amped-up emphasis on Hannukah re Christmas that has developed in recent times annoyed Christopher Hitchens.

YoungHegelian said...

@Angelyne,

Yeah, that's all very interesting YH, but the important thing here is that religion made somebody murder somebody else because religion!, and the amped-up emphasis on Hannukah re Christmas that has developed in recent times annoyed Christopher Hitchens.

Angelyne, I accept your implied criticism of my pedantry in the spirit of Christmas charity in which it's given.

I think we're on the same page here, though. Hitchens, for someone who went after so many others for being fabulists, sure seemed to be awful good at just plain out & out making shit up when it served his literary purposes. The quotation I excerpted is just such an example.

Illuninati said...

I see Young Hegelian is here. Since you have studied philosophy, perhaps you would be willing to share your thoughts. Do you think there is a connection between Philo of Alexandrea with his teachings on the logos and the book of John? If there is, would it be possible to say that Christianity adopted Greek philosophy very early before the apostolic age ended?

Anglelyne said...

YH: Angelyne, I accept your implied criticism of my pedantry in the spirit of Christmas charity in which it's given.

I wasn't criticizing you in the least, YH. I thought your explication was interesting and erudite, and I enjoyed reading it. I just shamelessly used it as a hook to criticize Hitchens, for which I hope in the spirit of Christmas charity you will forgive me.

YoungHegelian said...

@Illuminati,

Do you think there is a connection between Philo of Alexandrea with his teachings on the logos and the book of John? If there is, would it be possible to say that Christianity adopted Greek philosophy very early before the apostolic age ended?

Ain't exactly my area of expertise, but here goes.

I can't really speak to the use of the term Logos in John vs Philo because there is simply so much Philo, the Logos is central to his thought, and I don't know most of it. I think that there's an underlying source for both Philo & John's logos language, and that's the Targums. In the targums, the authors will replace the name of God with an Aramaic term used in a metonymous fashion (e.g. Shekinah, "the presence", Memra "the word", Kavod, "the glory"). For example, a targum on Genesis speaks of the Memra of God closing the door of the Ark. The question is, within inter-testamental Judaism, how does one speak of the earthly manifestations of the eternal, unchangeable God without idolatry or contradiction. Well, the use of "aspects" of God is one such attempt to finesse those problems. Some scholars think that, by the time of Jesus, Judaism had evolved an incipient "binitarianism" with Yahweh being whatever "appears" in history, but there also being the unchangeable, impassive, "Lord Most High" (El Elyon). It is this "binitarian" tradition that Paul & then John develops. I think Philo's logos is also basically a development of the targumic term Memra, adorned with Platonic overtones.

When the Church Fathers, even the early ones like Justin Martyr, had Greek "edjamakation", they weren't afraid to trot it out. I think that if the Gospel authors knew high-falutin' Greek stuff, it would be clearly referenced as such. Is Paul ashamed of either his training under Gamaliel or the fact that he, not you, you schlub, is a Roman citizen? No, not at all. So, I think that the development of Gospel theology (including John's Logos) develops in a mostly Jewish framework. It's just a Jewish framework that's broader & different than later rabbinic Judaism.

Needless to say, this view, like everything within Bible studies is controversial. I can recommend some authors to read, but there's just so little source material. We won't know the truth of it until we stand before the face of God & ask, I'm sure.

You really asked for the pedantry, didn't you? Maybe PaddyO will come along and give us the professional pedant's view.

YoungHegelian said...

@Angelyne,

I wasn't criticizing you in the least, YH

I know, and I was joshing right back.

After your response to sunsong the other day, I'd forgive you for dropping a brick on head, much less a comment.

Elise Ronan said...

How could anyone pay any attention to the sort that was Hitchens? He had what to say on the celebration of Hanukkah and what it has morphed into in the USA yet himself did not know that the area was called Judea by the Assyrian-Greeks (the Romans to follow) and was not renamed Philistina (later anglicized to Palestine by British Arabists of Oxbridge) until after the Jewish revolt of 135 AD. If he had had any honesty in his analysis he would have at least used the appropriate area dialectic when discussing the time period.

P..S if you inclined to quote Herodutus' "The Histories" on the issue that was a reference to the geographical demarcation of Syria having nothing to do with the are of the Levant in question today. Nor an acknowledgement of the name of the one independent state that existed in the area, which of course was alternatively Judea and Israel.

Illuninati said...

YoungHegelian said...
"I think that there's an underlying source for both Philo & John's logos language, and that's the Targums."

Thank-you for the information. I appreciate your thoughtful posts.

There is a lot of Philo which I understand we have because the early Christian church valued it highly and preserved it. As you know, Philo was very much interested in Greek Philosophy and apparently developed the logos to explain Judaism to the Greeks. As I understand Philo, the logos was part of God himself who was the creative part of God.

The reason I brought it up is because the Roman church seems to be the institution which preserved learning after the invasion/immigration of the Germanic tribes into what we now call Europe. Instead of serving as the source of ignorance and superstition, like Hitchens claims, the church actually preserved Greek and Roman culture as best as they could and slowly tried to reestablish a common civilization which embraced all of the different tribes.

Bob Ellison said...

Way too much Christian amity around here! And too much philosophical analysis! Let's get back to insulting each other for voting one way or another!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Lydia said...

Poor Hitch never got over his beloved mother's death, in Israel in the arms of a defrocked Anglican priest in what was a mutual suicide pact.

Lydia said...

Edit: his mother killed herself in Athens, but had recently spent time in Israel, a place she much admired.

n.n said...

Wow. Hitchens really was a rebel with a cause and without a clue. He rejected theism because of a personal discomfort with articles of faith. He rejected religion because of a disagreement with a philosopher. Perhaps following a disagreement with his wife or girlfriend. He also rejected culture and traditions associated with anything he disagreed. This is a model followed by children as they transition from blind faith to developing a superiority complex to moderating their egos as adults. It seems that Hitchens was a Peter Pan prodigy captured by his teenage years.

As for the great historical tragedies, under atheistic regimes, over one hundred million people were murdered in the 20th century alone. Under secular regimes, liberal civilizations have normalized state-sponsored capital punishment of wholly innocent human lives through lethal injection or physical assault. In America alone, this accounts for over one million human lives terminated ever year for money, sex, and ego.

He could have legitimately criticized Islamic imperialism, but he did a great disservice when he failed to note the secular and atheistic competition, and the diverse "moral" motives.

David said...

If the Maccabees had been socialist, Hitch would have been okay with everything they did.