View Full Version : Colonising a metaphor

lord patch
12-12-2007, 03:05 PM
Colonising a metaphor
The Bible tells me so. Lurking behind the Middle East's problems --
and not only -- these days is the misuse of the Bible to further
unscrupulous political ends, argues Eric Walberg

Colonising a metaphor
Eric Walberg

"There is a cry of anguish from the depth of my heart, to my spiritual
relatives. Please, please hear the call, the noble call of our
scripture," Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize
beseeched Israelis at "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel"
conference sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian
Palestinian group in Boston recently. "Don't be found fighting against
this god, your god, our god, who hears the cry of the oppressed," Tutu

For more than a century, archaeologists and historians have attempted
to confirm beliefs of both Christians and Jews about their common past
using the Old Testament (OT) and New Testaments (NT) as starting
points. Christians, while embracing the OT as a harmless precursor of
the NT, insist that the combined texts prove the truth of Judaic
monotheism, with its covenant with God, a covenant that was renewed
with the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. Jews, of course, stick
with the basic OT texts, insisting they alone prove their role as
God's Chosen People and their right to create a Jewish state, Israel,
in the Holy Land. This Jewish state was first grudgingly accepted by
the Christian West, and now is enthusiastically embraced by some
Christians based on their own misreading of the Bible. The Bible
supposedly predicts that the Jews will return to their supposed
promised land, and the messiah will (re)appear, signalling either the
end of the Earth or the reign of God.

So what are the "facts"? What do modern archaeology and other sciences
have to say about the Bible? Does it help us resolve the question of
the validity of Jesus as a legitimate messiah, one who would end
Judaism and found a truly universal religion for all mankind? Does it
allow Judaism a new lease on life, providing proof of the existence of
a Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates, with a spectacular
and ancient history? And are we fated to die in a fiery apocalypse as
predicted in Revelations?

While archaeologists cannot help us answer the latter question, it can
tell us something about the past. Biblical archaeology has expanded
rapidly in the past half-century as a new academic field in search of
both justification and funding. Unlike Muslims, for whom the Biblical
legends are accepted as the legacy of all mankind and require no
shards or inscriptions to prove this, both Christians and Zionists
have tapped them to fuel their respective politico-religious agendas
and have produced mountains of studies. But it is now clear to the
most respected Christian, Jewish, Muslim and/or secular archaeologists
that this supposedly scholarly, rigorous and objective discipline,
with its methodology of taking biblical passages and digging and
poking away in likely places, looking for proof of what they say, has
been a big failure, if not a hoax. While the financial benefits of
tying the Bible to archaeology have increased, historical and
intellectual benefits have just as rapidly diminished.

Two egregious flaws lie behind this. Firstly, it is somehow overlooked
that both the Old and New Testaments were first written down only in
the fourth c BC (mostly from the third c BC) to the first c AD by
Hellenised Jews, i.e., over a relatively short historical period of
approximately four centuries, the culmination of Hellenism as it
flourished in the Middle East up to and including its manifestation
under the Roman empire. The references to "old Israel" of the distant
past are directed at the enlightenment of people living at that time,
and have much more to do with events at that time than some distant,
mythical history which was never recorded in stone, so to speak, but
was rather passed down from generation to generation much like other
peoples have passed down the legends of their origins -- orally,
embellished by talented composers and poets. Furthermore, the OT and
NT are closely integrated in structure, themes, and underlying
philosophy, and to reject one part as heretical (as the Jews do the
NT) or another part as a mere harmless introduction to the real text
(as do the Christians concerning the OT) is not only unprofessional,
but foolish and even subversive.

Secondly, the worldview of those recording the Biblical legends,
stories, poems, philosophical essays, etc differs radically from ours.
It was a product of Hellenism, where true reality is a Platonic ideal,
recognising the ineffable quality of life, our overwhelming ignorance,
and the fractured, shadowy nature of daily life as experienced by our
senses. Our Aristotelian, materialist outlook, sees reality in hard,
cold facts which we directly perceive and duly record, where the only
truths are what can be physically demonstrated and/or refuted. This is
quite alien to the mindset of the Biblical composers, writers and
scribes. Taking the Bible literally, as a materialist recounting of
"history" is a classic example of misplaced concreteness. To its
credit, there is no word for history in ancient Hebrew, reflecting its
origins in the pre- Aristotelian worldview.

To go a step further and assume that this bogus history is the "real"
history of mankind, with the history of the thousands of other peoples
taking a back seat, is just not on. The reality of the Bible is
transcendent, universal, traditional, intuitive and emotional. To
profit from it, we must rediscover this worldview, where myth is the
"reality" and very essence of our lives, and the dunya is a lame, pale
version of the sacred myths guiding us. Karen Armstrong, who has
written widely on the monotheisms and the loss of myth as a vital part
of our worldview, argues in The Bible: a biography (2007) that
fundamentalist religion, be it Islamic, Christian or Jewish, is a
response to and product of modern materialist culture, which
undermines the role of myth as a vital element in the social matrix.
Myth is reduced to its literal meaning, i.e., Jerusalem is a physical
location at a fixed point in time, not a metaphor for the City of God,
transcending the limitations of the physical world.
This concurs with the conclusions of the so-called minimalist school
of Middle East archaeology, especially the works of Thomas Thompson,
Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, who argue that the OT and
NT say much more about the politics of the third c BC to the first c
AD than about any distant, ahistorical past. Think of the 19th c
Parisian Jewish composer Jacques Offenbach penning his operetta La
Belle Helene, which refashions the Iliad to poke fun at the 19th c
authoritarian regime of Louis-Napoleon Boneparte. The political
battles of the time during which Alexandrian Jewish scribes penned the
OT/NT similarly inspired the versions of the Biblical legends we
inherit today. References in the Bible to the destruction of "the
temple" and stories about past tyrants really refer to ongoing
struggles and current tyrants. This is in sharp contrast to the
general view of the Bible, which sees the process of composition
culminating in the sixth c BC, with many legends recalling real events
dating from possibly as far back as the 10th c BC.

Whatever the true origin of the Jews, the Bible talks of an "old
Israel" -- a United Monarchy which supposedly flourished from 1000-600
BC in present-day Palestine, with Saul, David and Solomon as great
kings of a magnificent empire, and a spectacular temple, built by
Solomon, as the centre of worship of the Jewish god Yahweh. What do
archaeologists tell us? A century of sifting, scrubbing, sorting and
debate has produced no evidence of Jerusalem as a large city, let
alone the centre of an empire. It was at most a minor trading and
olive growing town. No doubt a small state existed in the ninth c BC,
one of several -- Moab, Edom, Ammon, even one we could call Israel,
with Samaria as a likely "capital", and with the revival of Phoenician
shipping, Palestine indeed began to flourish for the first time, but
on a modest scale, as an inter-empire outpost, the home of many
Semitic and non-Semitic tribes.

Not surprisingly, all of these tribes had similar religions. Adopting
ancestral gods was an Assyrian imperial policy intended to create
religious ties between societies around regional and local deities.
They combined this policy with legends about the return of the old
forgotten gods, which assisted the imperial policy of forced mass
population transfers and unwittingly contributed to the development of
monotheism, as all these gods were understood to be merely expressions
of a single concept representing the divine. From the Bronze Age on,
El became the father of gods and creator of heaven and earth, with his
consort Asherah or Astarte, the queen of Heaven. Ba'al was his chief
executive accompanied by the same generic Asherah (theoretically his
mother), mother of all living things and goddess of fertility and
mourning. Hints of these gods can be found in Genesis.

The flourishing of Palestine supposedly ended with God's punishment of
Israel and the destruction of Samaria. The goodness of the Judean
kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, delayed Yahweh's anger and Jerusalem's
destruction. But the day of wrath, so it goes, brought the Babylonian
army to destroy Jerusalem, marking the end of old Israel in the sixth
c BC. What do archaeologists tell us? Again, there is no historical
evidence for this lovely story -- Palestine was all the time just a
backwater, subject to division between Assyria, Mesopotamia and Egypt
as their empires ebbed and flowed.

Yes, Assyria annexed Jezreel valley and Samaria. But in the Bible,
this waxing of the Assyrian empire was dressed up as the destruction
of the false (old) Israel by an angry, vengeful god. This however is a
theological, not a historical statement -- even given likely
population transfers, not everyone would have been deported, and
Samaria continued to exist. Assyria slowly expanded its empire
southward, yes, eventually taking Jerusalem, which it appears was a
willing client city rather than a heroic, defiant remnant of some old
Israel. Jerusalem actually began to grow and prosper as an economic
and political centre under the Assyrians. It certainly was not
destroyed. Eventually the Babylonian Nebuhadnezzar invades and
(Assyrian) Jerusalem surrenders in 597 BC. But again, Jerusalem was
not destroyed, as the prophet Jeremiah "states".

Never was there an ethnically coherent Israel, and according to
Thomson, neither Jerusalem nor Judah ever shared an identity with
Israel before the rule of the Hasmoneans in the Hellenistic period of
the 3rd-1st cc BC, coincidentally, when the legends were first written
down. Ironically, the Samaritans, scorned by Ezra's (and today's)
Jews, are the most likely Semitic ancestors of the historical Israel.

Palestine and Syria were first formed into a province under Alexander
the Great in fourth c BC with Samaria as capital, and began to develop
true cities for the first time. Alexander founded Alexandria as his
intellectual and political centre of east Mediterranean territories.
Continuing imperial policies of deportation, he transported a portion
of Samaria's population to form the nucleus of what later came to be
known as an important Jewish centre of learning, whose scribes would
soon begin their work of fashioning their legends into a politically
motivated saga of exile and return.

After Alexander died, Palestine reverted to its old role of land-
bridge between Egypt and Asia, disputed territory between the Egyptian
Ptolemies and the Asian Seleucids. The Romans defeated the Seleucids
in 190 BC, prompting the Maccabees to revolt against the harsh
Seleucids to assert the political independence of Jerusalem (supported
by the Ptolemies and Romans). This revolt came to be identified as the
rebirth of Israel (celebrated today as Hanukah), though, again, there
was no nation or Maccabean control of Palestine even then, since the
Jews were dependent on Rome's patronage, though this revolt against
the Seleucids became the inspiration behind the legends being recorded.

Prior to this Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids in 167 BC,
religious tolerance was widespread. The Jews were never persecuted
because of their religion -- rather because of their political
aspirations, or because they were in the path of conflicting empires.
Their periods of exile are typical of the experience of countless
other populations, the fallout of imperial policies. Their traditions,
even their monotheism, are derived from the great mix of cultures in
the Middle East at the time, and are close to Egyptian, later
Hellenised, traditions. Interestingly, the Jewish practices of
circumcision and Sabbath derive from Egypt, and even Freud argues that
Moses was Egyptian, giving added ammunition to the hypothesis that the
Jews are actually the Hyksos.

This turbulent period of the 3rd-1st cc BC is the historical
environment in which II Kings portrays Jeroboam and Ahab as evil
kings, an allegory of the Seleucids' rejection of the true successors
of Alexander -- Egypt's Ptolemies (not surprisingly, since the texts
are recorded by Jewish scribes in Alexandria). Antiochus IV of Syria
is the model for Ahab, bringing false gods to Israel, redeemed by the
rededication of Jerusalem's temple in 164 BC. This is the turning
point of Chronicles' story of renewal via the ancient Persian king
Cyrus. These national epics of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles were
clearly inspired by the events swirling around the second c BC OT
Jewish authors, dressed up in the literary tradition of national,
ancient epos.

The Jews of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Babylon were thoroughly
Hellenised and were among the leaders of the intellectual life there.
The Bible itself is recorded definitively in this Hellenised
environment in Greek and Hebrew, systematically structured along the
classical imperial form of a universal chronology, ordering tradition
in the form of universal history from the beginning of time to the
present, with systems of commentaries and discussion, achieving a
moral and philosophical quality akin to Homer and Plato. The Jewish
culture that had developed was an Asiatic form of Hellenism, a culture
which ranged from Babylon to Rome and which had developed from the
imperial world-views of the Babylonian and Persian periods.
It is impossible in the confines of an article to trace the
transformation of post-Christian Talmudic Judaism, which is very
different than pre-Christian variant. Though Jews continued to live in
Palestine, Diaspora became its defining feature along with the ritual
prayer to "return", though post-Christian Jews have no more right to
immigrate and live there than anyone else. Christians also continued
to live there happily until the Catholic pope decided they must be
liberated in the 10th-12th cc and raised a European army to invade
Palestine not once but four times. But after that fiasco, Christians
learned their lesson and have left Palestine in relative peace,
satisfying their spiritual urges by living quietly as monks in
desolate caves, making pilgrimages, and collecting souvenir bones and
bits of wood which they cherished as holy relics -- again guilty of
misplaced concreteness, but usually harmlessly so. This blessed
peaceful period in Palestine only changed with the ascendancy of the
Jews in the 19th c, who all this time had been nurturing their tribal
Yahweh and their dream of concretising the metaphorical promises he
supposedly made millennia ago, a misplaced concreteness far from
harmless, as they set about invading and colonising a metaphor.

With the eclipse of the Socratic worldview and of myth as central to
society, and the ascendancy of Judaism after the reformation, the myth
of "returning to the promised land" took on a new concrete meaning.
The actual prospect by a wealthy cosmopolitican Jewish elite of
engineering a physical takeover of Palestine and populating it with
Jews became an Aristotelian reality. Today, with Rome (the Catholic
Church) now in disarray, a rebuilt Third Temple could become the chief
shrine, not only for Jews but for Christians too, the icing on the
Zionist victory cake, confirming irrevocably the cultural shift in the
Western world as a whole from Hellenism to Hebraism, as argued by SGF
Brandon in The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (1951). Pope
John Paul II reconciled the Church with Judaism and Israel, and
Christian Zionists welcome the Jewish colonisation of Palestine .

The Zionists reconvened the ancient Jewish supreme court, the
Sanhedrin (which condemned Jesus), in 2005 for the first time since
425 AD, and have been plotting virtually since the creation of Israel
to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild a replica of Solomon's
temple there. Just recently, Israeli archaeologists "found" remains of
a temple under the mosque, yet another astounding victory for this
bogus science. Reconstruction plans are in place for the mythical and
no doubt magnificent temple of Solomon, a temple that never existed
except in the imaginations of dreamy-eyed Jewish scribes in third c BC
Alexandria. Truly a breathtaking prospect, however mad. But
nonetheless the logical culmination of the Zionist project, eagerly
fuelled by the official Israeli archaeological establishment.

Then there's the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which sets
out just such a programme in albeit an overtly grotesque form and is
solemnly disowned by Zionists as a forgery, though a forgery of what
is never made clear.

What is behind the Bible is not simply a record of historical facts or
of even doctrines, but ultimately, the presence of God. There is much
self-reference of symbols within the Bible for which the only "proof"
that, say, the gospel story is true is that it fulfils the prophecies
of the OT, and the only "proof" that the prophecies of the OT are true
is that they are fulfilled by the gospel. This has absolutely nothing
to do with digging up shards to establish some self-referential
"event" in one of the Bible's many tales. There is no temple out there
(or under there, where "there" happens to be the very real Al-Aqsa
Mosque). The real temple exists in one's heart, though it is very
unlikely that one can find it in the scheming Zionist's inflamed and
secular heart. And by murdering and tormenting peaceful natives in
order to scrounge some bits of a previous building and call it God's
temple is unspeakable in its evil. The Naturei Karta heart has the
temple in it, but for such a Jew, physical Israel itself is an
abomination, and should be dismantled forthwith, or to borrow a
particularly colourful metaphor of recent vintage, wiped off the map.

It is not possible here to delve into the fascinating Biblical myths
and metaphors themselves -- the many rival siblings (Cain vs Abel,
Isaac vs Ishmael, Jacob vs Esau), the tower of Babel (door of God),
the trials of Job, the many miraculous births culminating in Jesus,
which continue to inspire, even in our age of disbelief. The God of
Job, Ecclesiastes, Jonah, Saul, the flood, etc is unknowable -- he
decrees both salvation and destruction for Israel, not for justice's
sake, but for his own good, for his own unknowable reasons, consistent
with the philosophy of scepticism as propounded by Diogenes, popular
at the time: we must recognise that our beliefs about reality are not
necessarily valid to achieve peace of mind. The great epic of Job is
inspired by Hellenistic stoicism: we achieve happiness by attuning our
lives and character to the Logos or universal reason which orders all
things. Freedom is to live in conformity with God's will. Ironically,
the minimalists end up maximising the power of these legends by
liberating them from the here and now.

The overriding metaphor of the Bible is the contrast of the old Israel
of angry rejection (i.e., the past) vs the new Israel of hope and
renewal (i.e., the present and future), ahistorical concepts, relating
to the ever-shifting present of the epic writer's point of view. They
are universally valid, whether sung or recited 5,000 or 2,000 years
ago or today. We all must leave behind the mistakes of the past and
greet tomorrow with hope. There is absolutely no need or justification
for taking "old" and "new" literally to refer to some purportedly
historical event. Every day is the first day of your life.

And if there is any doubt left at this point that the Bible is the
"gospel truth", to be taken literally, consider one of many such
"instructions" from Yahweh to his "chosen people":
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to
possess and drives out before you many nations and when the Lord your
God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then
you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them
no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to
their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn
your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's
anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. In the
cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an
inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely
destroy them. (Deuteronomy 7 and 20).

Is this the God of mercy and compassion that Bishop Tutu referred to
in his appeal in Boston? Or is this the template of an ideological
monster dreamed up by a scribe sitting in the Alexandrian Library, and
eagerly adopted by bigoted fanatics applying it verbatim to the land
of Palestine today?

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. You can contact him
at www.geocities.com/walberg2002

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