Posted by: ken98 | January 27, 2010

Private Death Squads, Rebuilding the Temple, and Disneyland

Day 138 – Ken here (W)(1-27-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.23, pp.880-890)

I’m currently reading Gore Vidal’s Julian (as I am reading Gibbon’s Julian (chapters 22,23,24) – and in fact Gibbon is one of Vidal’s short-listed bibliographical entries) – which is definitely Vidal’s voice/take on Late Roman Paganism, but is well-researched and an interesting read.

I’m feeling a little unwell at the moment, so the blogs may be getting a tad shorter in the near future – but we’ll see…

We continue with chapter 23 and Julian’s religious reforms – i.e. the Resurrection of Paganism, the Tweaking-of-the-Nose of Imperial Christianity, and Julian embraces the Jews (to really irritate the Christians, and because it was the right thing to do).

The Story
 
Julian and the New Priesthood of Philosophers

  • Julian is susceptible to magic, divinations, prophecies. Philosophy and magic are intertwined at this point – philosophy is theory/science (like physics), magic is a kind of practical, working cosmology (like engineering). Miracles are commonplace
  • Julian relies heavily on the philosopher/teacher/magician Maximus of Ephesus
  • Magician/Philosphers become outrageously wealthy – and Julian’s reign is the last boomtime Las Vegas highpoint of Hellenistic Paganism
  • Julian rewards converts from Christianity to Hellenism outrageously also – Gibbon wonders about this – and deprecates the number of conversions – but mass conversions will take place again in just 300 years the entire Eastern Church will be wiped out by an militantly unapologetic religion which will change the face of Africa/Asia/Europe forever – Islam
  •  
    Jews, Jerusalem and Disneyland

  • Julian embraces the Jews – ends the persecution of Jews in the empire
  • Gibbon writes some unfortunate Anti-Semitic passages – which make him appear foolish and biased
  • Julian seeks to end the Disneyland atmosphere in Jerusalem and the Holy Land (pilgrimages, new churches, inns, tourists, baths, prostitution, etc) – by re-asserting the rights of the Hebrew nation in their ancient lands – and irritating the arrogant Christian bishops who have ruled without restraint for the last 40 years or so
  •  
    Julian Decides to Rebuild the Temple

  • Julian promises to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after his Persian campaign
  • The Rebuilding: Jews are delighted, Christians appalled – as it requires the destruction of churches and is intricately interwoven with the end times and the Apocalypse. Julian (who knows his John like the back of his hand) knows exactly what he is doing
  •  

    Modern photo of Disneyland - Jerusalem became the Disneyland of the East in the years after Constantine converted to Christianity.  But unlike the family-theme park of today, Jerusalem in the 300's was a tourist mecca offering the pilgrim all the delights of the spirit and the flesh - all in one city

    Modern photo of Disneyland - Jerusalem became the Disneyland of the East in the years after Constantine converted to Christianity. But unlike the family-theme park of today, Jerusalem in the 300's was a tourist mecca offering the pilgrim all the delights of the spirit and the flesh - all in one city

     
    Strange Anti-Semitism of Gibbon Again, the True Cross, and more Schizophrenia

    It is almost as if there are multiple Gibbons writing simultaneously in these last couple of chapters, especially if the subject is Christianity.

    Page from traditional layout of the Mishnah - the written commentary of the Oral Law, reduced to writing between 70 BCE and 300 CE - an amazing living document, and one which was a modern endeavor (for Julian), being completed just prior to Julian's reign

    Page from traditional layout of the Mishnah - the written commentary of the Oral Law, reduced to writing between 70 BCE and 300 CE - an amazing living document, and one which was a modern endeavor (for Julian), being completed just prior to Julian's reign

     
    Anti-Semitic Vocabulary of the Pogrom

    Sometimes Gibbon uses questionable (to say the least) reasoning in narrating events relating to Jews in the Decline and Fall:
     

    The blind superstition and abject slavery of those unfortunate exiles must excite the contempt of a philosophic emperor, but they deserved the friendship of Julian by their implacable hatred of the Christian name. The barren synagogue abhorred and envied the fecundity of the rebellious church; the power of the Jews was not equal to their malice, but their gravest rabbis approved the private murder of an apostate, and their seditious clamours had often awakened the indolence of the Pagan magistrates. …but the edict of Hadrian was renewed and enforced, and they (the Jews) viewed from afar the walls the holy city, which were profaned in their eyes by the triumph of the cross and the devotion the Christians.

    (DEF v.2 ch.23, p.885)

    This is typical program talk: Jews “hate” Christians as a matter of course, Jews have secret laws and societies and “kill” secretly (esp. Jewish converts to Christ), Jews envy the Christians and are jealous of the power and might of the Christian church, etc etc. The phrases Gibbon uses are revealing: “blind superstition”, “abject slavery”, “barren synagogue”, “private murder”, etc Where does all this bile come from (it’s even more jarring when you contrast the eminently reasonable and un-fanatical history these solitary paragraphs are embedded within).

    and buried in a footnote:

    The Misnah denounced death against those who abandoned the foundation. The judgment of zeal is explained by, Marsham (Canon. Chron. p. 161, 162, edit. fol London, 1672) and Basnage (Hist. des Juifs, tom. viii. p. 120). Constantine made a law to protect Christian converts from Judaism. Cod. Theod. l. xvi. tit. viii. leg. 1. Godefroy, tom. vi. p. 215.

    (DEF v.2 ch.23, p.885, fn.55)

    The idea that Jews were murdering/executing their fellow Jews who were converted to Christianity seems nothing short of fantastic – and shows Gibbon in a bad light. I did some slight research in the Mishnah (see here for an interesting Daily Mishnah Online Study Course, and here for an overview of the Mishnah in Wiki) (fascinating) – and as Gibbon did not even bother to reference his Mishnah revelation, I can only assume he is talking about the death penalty for idol worship (which is a strong part of the whole Old Testament as well). In a Christian empire, that builds churches on top of the most holy Hebrew sites, where Jewish persecution by Christian bishops is an accepted part of the new Christian society, and Jews are forbidden the practice of certain parts of their religion, it is little short of incredible to maintain that converted Jews had to be protected by an imperial law of Constantius from private Jewish execution squads. Shame on you Gibbon.

    True Cross - One of the largest fragments of the True Cross at Santo Toribio de Leiebana, Spain (Lignum crucis - latin for wood of the cross)

    True Cross - One of the largest fragments of the True Cross at Santo Toribio de Leiebana, Spain (Lignum crucis - latin for wood of the cross)

     
    The True Cross and Schizophrenia

     
    Schizophrenia

    Sometimes Gibbon writes embarassingly purple Christian prose which would be more at home in an anthology of sermons than a book of history. He does this with regularity – pious preaching followed by scandalous scepticism. Maybe that’s the price of being an English Protestant Enlightenment historian – Gibbon feels free to attack with abandon the “unreasonable” Catholic “Christians”, but withdraws into the secure citadel of Anglican Christian platitudes when describing general Christian theories and systems. It’s almost painful to see him dancing around the Nicene Creed, the Trinity, and the heresies of the Early Imperial Church – alternating between humanistic scorn and blind Christian evangelism. It must have been much easier to be Voltaire, ex-Catholic, French, and an man of the Enlightenment.

    Reliquary of the True Cross and a nail of the Crucifixion - Notre Dame de Paris

    Reliquary of the True Cross and a nail of the Crucifixion - Notre Dame de Paris

    Here is Pious-Gibbon, describing the history of Jerusalem and the temple after the war and destruction of Titus and Hadrian:
     

    The holy places were polluted with monuments of idolatry, and, either from design or accident, a chapel was dedicated to Venus on the spot which had been sanctified by the death and resurrection of Christ. Almost three hundred years after those stupendous events, the profane chapel of Venus was demolished by the order of Constantine, and the removal of the earth and stones revealed the holy sepulchre to the eyes of mankind. A magnificent church was erected on that mystic ground by the first Christian emperor, and the effects of his pious munificence were extended to every spot which had been consecrated by the footsteps of patriarchs, of prophets, and of the Son of God.

    (DEF v.2, ch.23, p.886)

    Another Reliquary - Enamelled silver Reliquary of the True Cross (circa 800) from Constantinople

    Another Reliquary - Enamelled silver Reliquary of the True Cross (circa 800) from Constantinople

    Then, as a good Protestant(?) he attacks the proto-Catholic Church with undying scorn in the next paragraph:

    (Gibbon talking about the True Cross, Empress Helena, and the miraculous discovery and regeneration of the True Cross as bits and pieces of the wood were scattered over the empire as gifts from the emperor)

    Such miracles as seemed necessary to account for its extraordinary preservation and seasonable discovery were gradually propagated without opposition. The custody of the true cross, which on Easter Sunday was solemnly exposed to the people, was intrusted to the bishop of Jerusalem; and he alone might gratify the curious devotion of the pilgrims by the gift of small pieces, which they enchased in gold or gems, and carried away in triumph to their respective countries. But as this gainful branch of commerce must soon have been annihilated, it was found convenient to suppose that the marvellous wood possessed a secret power of vegetation, and that its substance, though continually diminished, still remained entire and unimpaired

    (DEF v.2, ch.23, p.887)

    Another fragment of the True Cross - Fragment of the True Cross in the Schatzkammer of Vienna (Weltliche Schatzkammer Wien).  I've actually seen this in the Hapsburg Treasure Vault in Vienna

    Another fragment of the True Cross - Fragment of the True Cross in the Schatzkammer of Vienna (Weltliche Schatzkammer Wien). I've actually seen this in the Hapsburg Treasure Vault in Vienna

    In fact, (in a move to control the “spin” of the whole True Cross story), imperial Christians didn’t refute the idea that the Cross was still much the same size, although pieces of it had been given out all over the empire – they gloried in it – and proposed a miracle – the self-re-generating True Cross.

    This multiplication is asserted by Paulinus (Epist. xxxvi.; see Dupin. Bibliot. Eccles. tom. iii. p. 149), who seems to have improved a rhetorical flourish of Cyril into a real fact. The same super-natural privilege must have been communicated to the Virgin’s milk (Erasmi Opera, tom. i. p. 778, Lugd. Batav. 1703, in Colloq. de Peregrinat. Riligionis ergo), saints’ heads, etc., and other relics, which are repeated in so many different churches.

    (DEF v.2, ch.23, p.887, fn 66)

    Another piece of the True Cross - Fragment of the True Cross from the former Premonstratensian Abbey in Ruti Switzerland - Ortsmuseum - Klosterschatz -Kreuzpartikelmonstranz

    Another piece of the True Cross - Fragment of the True Cross from the former Pre monstratensian Abbey in Ruti Switzerland - Ortsmuseum - Klosterschatz -Kreuz partikel monstranz

     
    The True Cross

    The reformer Calvin famously summed up the Renaissance’s attitude towards the miraculous multiplication of relics and martyrs remains:

    “There is no abbey so poor as not to have a specimen. In some places there are large fragments, as at the Holy Chapel in Paris, at Poictiers, and at Rome, where a good-sized crucifix is said to have been made of it. In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.”

    — Calvin, Traité Des Reliques.

    (See here in Wiki for a short overview of the meaning and history of the True Cross)

    True Cross - Reliquary of the True Cross and a Nail from the Crucifixion - Notre Dame de Paris

    True Cross - Reliquary of the True Cross and a Nail from the Crucifixion - Notre Dame de Paris

    Disneyland

    The empress Helena (mother of Constantine, grandmother of Constantius) took a tour of the Holy Land in the early 300’s as a new convert and was shown all the “discovered” relics of Christ by local guides, 40 or so years before Julian took the throne. In the early 300’s, with a Christian emperor, the money taps were spouting gold in the Holy Land like there was no tomorrow – Jerusalem was the new Disneyland – filled with tourists, inns, whores, baths, money, and all the diversions money could buy. It is this carnival atmosphere (as the empire devoured Christianity whole and re-shaped Christianity in the image of Late Roman institutions), and in the midst of the vicious Trinity-Wars of the Arians/Athanasians that Julian converts to Hellenism, paganism, and the philosophic life.

    True Cross - Reliquary of the True Cross at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

    True Cross - Reliquary of the True Cross at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

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