Day 1073 – Ken here (M)(08-22-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.170-180)(pages read: 2210)
Day 1073. How did I get to this evening, having started out in those hopeful, optimistic days of Day 1 or 10 or even 200, lo these many years ago – when the original plan was to get Gibbon completely read and blogged-out in just over 12 months?
And why am I reviving the whole Gibbon-obsession all over again after almost a year of silence?
All very good questions – but like a bad habit, reading Gibbon is hard to quit cold turkey. Just try it sometime yourself. I made the mistake of picking him up again first thing this morning and now I find myself writing on this blog late into the night, once again. He has a way of getting under your skin.
Besides, I like the guy. Well, most of the time.
And I respect him. He fought for what he thought was reasonable and rational, often in direct conflict with the popular common-sense opinions of the 1780’s (ex. his loathing of the early Christian church, and even his pro-Islam stance in the reading from today’s pages). He fought even though his personal life and his health was in shambles and was getting worse. He did it, even though many, including himself, questioned the foolish arrogance of one man, alone, being able to write a competent 2000 year narrative of the most famous city in European history.
But arrogance is a requirement of artists. And Gibbon had it in abundance. He was an intelligent, well-read, and rebellious man with an attitude and a burning desire to be heard – a potent and unusual combination of traits for an eighteenth century historian, especially an English classical historian who would normally lean more towards tones cautious, conservative, and appropriately respectful. Gibbon, as you’ve probably already figured out was none of those.
Gibbon, like Marvin the Android above and below, considered himself to have a brain the size of a planet, at the very least that of a dwarf planet (say Ceres or Haumea), and he persevered in finishing his 3000 page history of Rome DESPITE having an embarrassing medical condition which left him incontinent and odoriferous yet suffused with the compulsion to make surgically precise literary bombing raids on imperial Roman history and imperial Roman historians.
Today, Gibbon focuses his considerable analytical talents and wit on the beginnings of Islam – and surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising for such a famous or rather infamous contrarian) he militates for a gentler, kinder European view of the prophet of Islam – Mohammed.
In the long annals of literary battle between Christians and muslims much ink has obviously been spilled on both sides. But I had never heard of this before.
The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete in Greek – the Comforter – from para + kletos (called to help) (see Wiktionary). Para + klutos (called to fame) was the (mistaken) reading when translated into Arabic – a simple substition of the Greek letter e (η, eta) for u (υ upsilon). Thus, the name Mohammed (based on the word “praise” in Arabic) finds a prophetic precursor in the Christian gospels.
This from Gibbon:
During six hundred years the gospel was the way of truth and salvation; but the Christians insensibly forgot both the laws and example of their founder; and Mahomet was instructed by the Gnostics to accuse the church, as well as the synagogue, of corrupting the integrity of the sacred text. (89) The piety of Moses and of Christ rejoiced in the assurance of a future prophet, more illustrious than themselves: the evangelical promise of the Paraclete, or Holy Ghost, was prefigured in the name, and accomplished in the person, of Mahomet, (90) the greatest and the last of the apostles of God.
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180)
and the footnote
Among the prophecies of the Old and New Testament, which are perverted by the fraud or ignorance of the Mussulmans, they apply to the prophet the promise of the Paraclete, or Comforter, which had been already usurped by the Montanists and Manichaeans, (Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manicheisme, tom. i. p. 263, etc.); and the easy change of letters, for affords the etymology of the name of Mohammed (Maracci, tom. i. part i. p. 15 – 28.).
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180, fn 90)
Gibbon makes the un-surprising (from a Gibbonian, Anglican point of view) that Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not only suspect, if not entirely false (obviously, since it’s Catholic and originates in the Latin Church), but that it actually stems from an Arabic, Islamic tradition. Well, at least Gibbon finds “dark hints” of an Islamic tradition.
This from Gibbon:
The miraculous story of Moses is consecrated and embellished in the Koran; and the captive Jews enjoy the secret revenge of imposing their own belief on the nations whose recent creeds they deride. For the author of Christianity, the Mahometans are taught by the prophet to entertain a high and mysterious reverence. “Verily, Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, is the apostle of God, and his word, which he conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from him; honourable in this world, and in the world to come, and one of those who approach near to the presence of God.”
The wonders of the genuine and apocryphal gospels are profusely heaped on his head; and the Latin church has not disdained to borrow from the Koran the immaculate conception (87) of his virgin mother. Yet Jesus was a mere mortal; and, at the day of judgment, his testimony will serve to condemn both the Jews, who reject him as a prophet, and the Christians, who adore him as the Son of God. The malice of his enemies aspersed his reputation, and conspired against his life; but their intention only was guilty; a phantom or a criminal was substituted on the cross; and the innocent saint was translated to the seventh heaven.
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180)
and the footnote
It is darkly hinted in the Koran, (c. 3, p. 39,) and more clearly explained by the tradition of the Sonnites, (Sale’s Note, and Maracci, tom. ii. p. 112.) In the xiith century, the immaculate conception was condemned by St. Bernard as a presumptuous novelty, (Fra Paolo, Istoria del Concilio di Trento, l. ii.)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180, fn 87)
I had totally forgotten how exhausting getting all this together for a blog could be – let alone getting the old dusty, forgotten corners of my mind interested in arcane historical trivia up and running and in good working order again.
Its funny how distant history can seem to the everyday happenings of our ordinary work-a-day world, let alone the opinions of historians dead for two centuries. But its worth it, just for the physical and emotional pain of getting the whole mental process started again. Like running an hour on a treadmill, or doing a long day on the benches in the free-weight room – it’s just good for you. And then getting your thoughts out through the keyboard and into the Edit pane of your WordPress Blog screen – well, I tell you – its a growth experience. Gibbonian Exposition: it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
The real hero of course, isn’t the writer writing it, it’s the person reading it. Meaning you.
till next time…