Homer and the Hebrew Bible

April is National Poetry Month (all who knew that please give a show of hands). As postmoderns, we are poetically illiterate. We have exchanged poetry for technology, finding an almost romantic inspiration in the great god html. I would ask this question fist, for those who would be willing to respond in the comments section: who still composes with a pen? I don't. I write everything (except notes, and the occasional journal entry) digitally, and find when writing longhand that I'm dealing with an awkward medium. For me, there is an added element of creative editing when being able to delete obtuse nonsense that has just vomited out of my head.

Nevertheless (getting back to my point), if you were to give a sweeping title to western culture, it could be something like The Muse and the Poet. Abraham and Moses had Yahweh, Homer had Zeus and Achilles, and later poets played with the great ideas of Reason and Beauty to describe the complex relationship between their words and their inspiration. Without a doubt, the origin of western verse lies with the ancient god of the Levant and the scribe of the fall of Troy, and their memesque swimming through the rivulets of the occidental stream.

Both Yahweh and Homer would take center stage in any play depicting the protagonist of western verse, the hero of writ and wit. One could readily imagine a tragedy by Aeschylus or Sophocles that pitted Homer against YHVH, as if one were enlightened reason and the other were strict faith. But the Tetragrammaton wasn't entirely faithful, and Homer was but a minstrel, orally memorializing the past. And yet, because they both continue to intrigue our collective imagination so many thousands of years later, they must have symbolized some internal process that we all are looking for: the meeting of the lover and the beloved.

So, in recognition of the long and complex history of western verse, and the end of National Poetry Month, I'd like to offer another example of the simple but intriguing process of inspiration (this time with a bit of political garnish). Without further adieu.
fish and wine

the sickness,
came slowly; day in and day out the nine and eleven
made war. the eleven and nine roared with lungs, loud;
the thickness of their tone,
the fire and the smoke, they allowed.
the breaths we take, we thank nine and eleven;
three and three multiplied;
one and ten, acting
terrified: it is a mental sickness,
like heaven.

she drank wine.
and smoked a fish for her trek.
she could almost taste the fish as it smoked;
the wine went well with the fish smoking.
the fish lived once.
and once caught the taste of wine from wine coated cheese.
it was on a hook, the wine coated cheese.
there was hope,
before, then.

the path,
she would take,
on her trek,
would take her by the river,
on a certain day,
when nine and eleven worked;
we can almost remember her,
but for all those
who she is a symbol for.
but oh the fish and wine!
and wo! the hook.

rr zollinger c2007


Poetry in Synchrony

Guest Poet: Shari Z.

In the triskaidekaphobia post, I brought you the poetry of the illustrious RR. Now, I would like to share with you the work of one of the few people I know who has her ear to the pulse of the planet, Shari Z. Following are two recent compositions that she was so generous to share.

The first is Pantoum, and has its stylistic origin in Malaysian poetry. In a Pantoum, the second and fourth lines of each stanza are reproduced as the first and third of the next. The second poem We Never Did Become Friends is more subtle, and seemed to me like an arrow rushing through a small golden hoop. My ears were left ringing.


Her pain was so purple, the daughters cried.
And father fell white like blossoming plum.
She bloomed thistle from an organ
that a wetland wouldn’t waltz.

And father fell white like blossoming plum
into a tumble that forced bend and snap;
that a wetland wouldn’t waltz.
We climbed through the forsythia for help.

Into a tumble that forced bend and snap
she coiled her belly and whimpered distress.
We climbed through the forsythia for help
to green grass doctor and hyacinth nurse.

She coiled her belly and whimpered distress,
calling for opium’s cloud and thunder
to green grass doctor and hyacinth nurse.
They pulled the weed and planted daffodils.

Calling for opium’s cloud and thunder
she bloomed thistle from organ.
They pulled the weed and planted daffodils.
Her peace so pointed, the daughters cried.


We Never Did Become Friends



Like sevens
back doors

Unlike evens
I un-enter you


Shari Zollinger, ©2007


Anglo-Saxons and the Pirates of Vin

The Anglo-Saxon response to the Viking invasions.

The story of England in the Middle Ages is an enchanting one. It’s a long, complex poem—illustrated in a few of the surviving manuscripts from that age—and traces in an undulating parabola the rise and fall of the ideas of men. Just a generation after the Venerable Bede’s death, in the late 8th century, the Vikings orchestrated their first strike. That famous raid, of course, was the initial act in what was to become a symphonic litany of incursions onto British soil.

It is difficult to gauge the exact effect of the Viking invasions upon the Anglo-Saxons, and while this essay will set out to bring some sense to that very topic, I concede at the outset the lack of space and time to adequately answer the question. In that vein, I would like to narrow my argument to concentrate on only a few of the primary events during this period (793-1066), and see if or how those events helped shape the overall Anglo-Saxon response to the Vikings.

The author through whom we can most closely conceptualize the early Norse invasions is Alcuin (735-804), the great displaced Northumbrian teacher and thinker at the court of Charlemagne, and so it is there that the story begins.

One immediately wonders upon reading the Letter of Alcuin to Ethelred, king of Northumbria, what darkness has come over the face of England. “Behold, judgment has begun, with great terror, at the house of God,” he chides—referring here to the Viking raid on Lindisfarne in the year 793. “God chastiseth every son whom he receiveth; and thus he perhaps chastised you more harshly, because he loved you more.”(1) In the eyes of Alcuin, the suffering of his kinsmen was a kind of Biblical scourging, a wrath of God’s making solely designed to test the weak faith of his children.

To be fair, Alcuin’s language should put in context. He is referring here—with intended irony—to the likeness between the sufferings of his kinsmen and those of Israel (one almost sees Alcuin as the Deuteronomistic historian in the foreign court), God has forsaken you, because you turned away from him. Alcuin’s religious advise to the paling faith of the English was not an isolated event. His clear message of ‘faith determines fate’ was foreshadowed in Gildas’ The Ruin of Britain. Gildas, like Alcuin centuries later, framed a geopolitical event in Biblical terms, and those terms were very stark indeed.

By exchanging the rhetoric of Alcuin for the insights of modern scholar and author Peter Hunter Blair, we might explain how the Anglo-Saxons (indeed, the whole of Europe) were unprepared to sustain the damage that they themselves (as invading Germans) inflicted only centuries previous.
The success of these expeditions [Viking] was mainly due to the complete unpreparedness of Britain to meet such attacks and it was this factor more than any other which led to the ultimate conquest of large parts of the British Isles. Once the most vigorous phase of the Germanic migrations was over, western Europe seems to have been so fully engaged in adapting itself to the resultant changes that the seas and their opposing shores were left undisturbed for a long time…The English themselves seem largely to have abandoned seafaring once they had become established in Britain….(2)
The causes, as Hunter Blair illustrates, really had nothing to do with faith and everything to do with the vacuous space left trailing in the wake of the Germanic invasions, a space capitalized upon by the Vikings, just as the Anglo-Saxons had benefited themselves from on the collapse of Roman culture. This is obvious now, and one wonders why it wasn’t so obvious to Alcuin residing in the court of Charlemagne. Alcuin must have, in some sense, aided in the geopolitical awareness of the court of Charles, thus it seems even more strange that he wouldn’t tell them to do the obvious: build yourselves a navy!

The Vikings were great seafarers and traders; their skill at maneuvering through rough northern seas gave them an obvious advantage. Donald Logan writes in his work The Church in the Middle Ages, of the Viking age:
Out of the fjords and viks (inlets) in their homelands, they sailed westward to the British Isles and further west to Iceland, Greenland, and the shores of North America…They sailed as pagans, as worshippers of anthropomorphic deities like Thor, the thunder god, Odin, the god of the spear, and Frey, the god of sexual pleasure.(3)
Fierce and feared, they rolled across the waves westward, taking different approaches to their plundering. At first, the raids were an entirely economic operation, sacking monasteries on the coast of England in the summer, and returning back home in the winter. Monasteries were easy targets, offering the Vikings high return for little risk, no doubt emboldening them to do it over and over again. Had Alcuin known that the Viking raid on Lindisfarne was only the precursor of a centuries long event (known as the Viking age, 793-1066), perhaps he would have offered more strategic and practical advise. As it was, he didn’t, and it took nearly another century for the Anglo-Saxon kings to birth a soul determined enough to deal with the issue, in the character known as Alfred the Great.

During the reign of Alfred (871-899), we begin to understand not only the psychological effect of the previous centuries attacks, but the fallout and disorder that those attacks produced. The political and religious confusion was so great that, upon success in defending the attacks of Guthrum in 878, Alfred spent the next 14 years designing a vast cultural and educational reconstruction program. It is difficult to know whether this lapse in cultural and literary knowledge was due to the loss of the libraries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and other religious-cultural sites around England, or whether it was just a general slip in education. Either way, by Alfred’s time the renaissance of the Northumbrians, the age of Bede and Biscop, was nearly forgotten.

But Alfred was a clever king, and his treaty with Guthrum created a clear demarcation to the acceptable wave of the Viking hoard. The treaty begins:
First concerning our boundaries: up the Thames, and then up the Lea, and along the Lea to its source, then in a straight line to Bedford, then up the Ouse to Watling Street.(4)
Geographically, the Norse invaders had control over most of eastern England, and much of the north. That Alfred and his progeny were able to wrest this tidal movement remained temporary at best; perhaps he understood that, and set out to make certain he brought a renewed cultural understanding in their language and ideas. It seems likely he did understand that his culture was itself at stake. One must act, sometimes with the sword, but most often with the word.

Alfred’s life and times mirrors a court already mentioned, that of Charlemagne. Alfred penned law codes (mostly Anglo-Saxon variations of Mosaic Law), translated numerous works including Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy and Pope Gregory the Greats Pastoral Care. There were seven works in total (described by Alfred as certain books all men should know), and translated from Latin into the local vernacular. Alfred’s great work was codifying law, history, and religion together, and writing it all down in Old English. But his project, despite procuring lasting cultural effects, only bought the Anglo-Saxon’s another century of security, and in the year 981, the Vikings, as if propelled by some epoch clockwork, returned.

In the 82 years between the death of Alfred and the new wave of Viking raids, the Anglo-Saxons (as a nation) had a chance to solidify themselves. They did that relatively well, and I might be tempted to say here that Anglo-Saxons won the long fight in the battle for England. Through the efforts of Bede, Alfred, and the voluminous work of medieval manuscript engineers, cultural ideas bent their way northward for much of the middle ages. The Anglo-Saxons represented a repository of western cultural evolution, and the Vikings had little choice but to submit to that dominant culture.

Just a decade after the raids of 981 occurred the Battle of Maldon. Led by Byrhtnoth, Ealdorman of Essex, the battle was fought near Northy Island. Memorialized as the last heroic Anglo-Saxon poem, it clearly shows the arrogance and determination on the side of the Vikings, and the conflict between cowardice and bravery on the side of the English. Byrhtnoth delivers a stirring rally to his forces, before dying in battle:
Can you hear, you pirate, what these people say? They will pay you a tribute of whistling spears, of deadly darts and proven swords, weapons to pay you, pierce, slit and slay you in the storm of battle. Listen, messenger! Take back this reply: break the bitter news to your people that a noble earl and his troop stand over here—guardians of the people and of the country, the home of Ethelred, my prince—who will defend this land to the last ditch.(5)
History has tended to look harshly on king Æthelred, enough to give him the honorific Æthelred the Unready for his apparent unsuccessful attempts at dealing with the impact of the Danish army. The Battle of Ashington (1016) pitched the last stroke against the head of a very determined nail. Cnut, son of the great Viking leader and military commander Swein Forkbeard, struck a deal with Æthelred’s son Edmund Ironside, allowing Edmund to remain king of Essex. Edmund died a year later, leaving Cnut as undisputed king of England for the next 26 years (1016-1042).

This was the great foreshadowing of the Norman invasions of 1066, leading to the famous Battle of Hastings. The Vikings had succeeded at barraging the Anglo-Saxons long enough that they relented the throne, abdicating a long line of familial kingships, marking the end of their state.

It seems fitting somehow to close mimicking the diatribes of Alcuin with the Sermon of the Wolf to the English, by Wulfstan (written in the early 11th century). Perhaps unstoppable change drives men to stretch their imaginations about the nature of change, the cause of cause: regardless, for Wulfstan, and Gildas and Alcuin before him, an old tradition of uttering apocalyptic reasons to geopolitical events is entertainingly potent. Wulfstan begins his sermon on a sour note:
Dear men, understand that this is true: the world is in haste and it approaches the end, and because it is ever worldly, the longer it lasts, the worse it becomes; and so it must necessarily greatly worsen before the coming of Antichrist because of the sins of the people, and indeed it will become then fearful and terrible throughout the world.(6)
God’s chosen people, again, being brought under the hammer of love and justice. It is a deal with the devil, in a way, to tie ones ship to the sails of the Tetragrammaton. For Wulfstan, this is the reality of Gods punishment. For modern scholars, it remains a poignant lesson of the rise and fall of empires and human ideal. Like the numerous other Germanic invasions before them, those of the Vikings ended in a similar fashion. They had the strength to attain the thrones of other states, but not the cultural strength to maintain rule under pagan practices. In nearly all cases, conversion was immediate and final.

In that sense, I repeat my earlier sentiment that it appears the Anglo-Saxons won the penultimate battle, while loosing the military one. Their culture was well dug in by 1066, and the only choice left to the Vikings was to embrace it.



1. Whitelock, ed., English Historical Documents, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (London, 1979), pp. 843.
2. Hunter-Blair, Anglo-Saxon England (New York, 2006), p. 63.
3. Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages (London, 2003), p. 80.
4. Keynes, Lapidge, Alfred the Great (London.2004), p. 171.
5. Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford, 1982), p. 12.
6. Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford, 1982), p. 294.


Reese 4.24.07

The above essay was written yesterday, and submitted this morning to my professor. I put it off to the last moment, and then had to spend the entire day composing it...but, as I've often thought, stress is inspirations inebriant. I enjoyed writing it, here's hoping you'll be entertained reading it.

Fair use of above material.


Political Theatre

Barney Frank goes to Washington.

Frank (D-Massachusetts) really delivers here, you have to watch the whole bit to understand exactly how. His parliamentary procedure about whining caused the house to roar...and more, much more.

Thanks to thinkprogress for posting it.


Gore Vidal and the Minuscule W.

“Hail and Farewell: the End of the American Empire."

Vidal published his latest reflections on hubris and empire at truthdig.com, and the site has the audio up of Vidal reading the article. He begins,
Whenever The New York Times finally gets the point to what is going on in our native land a celestial choir can be heard in Times Square, shouting hosannas.
and slowly absolves our doubts concerning entirely more important issues.

I considered quoting more of the article here, but thought it would be better to encourage you to visit truthdig and listen to Vidal's recitation of the essay. His voice inflects well with his thoughts, giving them a particular gravity.

(picture from wikipedia of a youthful Gore Vidal, found here)


Linguistic Ginko

In the tradition of early Graeco-Roman humor, Symposius, a fourth century aristocrat, composed in Latin a series of 100 riddles. Symposius, whose name suggests a heavy inclination to dine with Bacchus, popularized what was to become an enduring tradition, composing the perfect riddle...
"Letters sustain me--yet I know them not,
I live on books, and yet I never read,
The Muses I've devoured and gained no knowledge."
Easy enough, but others are woefully obscure.
"You can behold what you can scarce believe
There is but one eye, yet a thousand heads,
Who sells what he has, whence shall he get what he has not?"
Most of Symposius' riddles are three lines long, and no doubt reach at capturing the typical scenes of daily life in the Empire. To a degree, his work inspired a host of later plagiarisms and copycats, yet the riddles themselves became more nuanced and acculturated over time.

The literary work of the Anglo-Saxons is highly treasured. One would expect to find obscure poetry and prose mixed in with the overwhelming amount of beatific work. And in fact, we do. Aldhelm was the first Anglo-Saxon to produce a book of riddles. Titled Aenigmata ex diversis Rerum Creaturis composita it closely follows Symposius' earlier work by being composed in Latin and numbering also 100.
Dudum compositis ego nomen gesto figuris :
Ut leo, sic formica vocor sermone Pelasgo
Tropica nominibus signans praesagia duplis,
Cum rostris avium nequeam resistere rostro.
Scrutetur sapiens, gemino cur nomine fingar!

I long have borne the name of hybrid form:
Both ant and lion I am called in Greek
A double metaphor, foreboding doom;
My beak cannot ward off the beaks of birds.
Let wise men search out why my names are twain.

(The Riddles of Aldhelm: Text and Translation by James Hall Pitman)
Unlike Symposius, Aldhelm's riddles varied in length, with the shortest line count at four, and the longest at around 80. Continuing the tradition after Aldhelm was Tatwine, who followed earlier patterns of composing in Latin. In the 8th century Eusebius, a monk at the Wearmouth-Jarrow complex in Northumbria, wrote a series of his own, albeit numbering less than his predecessors.

Within the largest single collection of surviving English poetry--The Exeter Book--is a collection of 10th century riddles composed in the Old-English vernacular (as opposed to Latin), which makes the tone of the verses somehow more real, and critical. For your amusement and frustration, I'll post a couple of examples here to challenge the extent of your patience.
A lonely wanderer, wounded with iron, I am smitten with war-blades, sated with strife, Worn with the sword-edge; I have seen many battles, Much hazardous fighting, oft without hope of comforts or help in the carnage of war Ere I perish and fall in the fighting of men. The leavings of hammers, the handiwork of smiths, Batter and bite me, hard-edged and sharp; The brunt of the battle I am doomed to endure. In all the folk-stead no leech could I find with wort or simple to heal my wounds; But day and night with the deadly blows the marks of the war-blades double and deepen.

Time was when I was weapon and warrior; Now the young hero hoods me with gold, and twisted silver. At times men kiss me. At times I speak and summon to battle Loyal companions. At times a courser, Bears me o'er marchland. At times a ship Bears me o'er the billows, brightly adorned. At times a fair maiden fills me with breath; At times hard and headless I lie on the board, Bereft of beauty. At times I hang Winsome on wall, richly embellished, Where revelers drink. At times a warrior Bears me on a horse, a battle adornment, And I swallow, bright-shining, the breath from his bosom. At times with my strains I summon the heroes, Proudly to wine. At times I win back spoil from the spoiler, with sounding voice, Put foemen to flight. Now ask what I'm called.

(Charles W. Kennedy, translator)
Here's another riddle, if those above were too easy. This is from a translation by Kevin Crossley-Holland in The Exeter Book Riddles (London, 1979.)
Favoured by men, I am found far and wide,
taken from woods and the heights of the town,
from thee downs and thee dales. During each day
corbiculas carried me through the bright sky,
with care they brought me to a safe shelter.
Then men bathed me in a tub. Now I blind
and chasten them, at once throw a young man
to the ground, sometimes an old churl too.
He who struggles against my strength,
he who grapples with me, will find
he must hit the hard floor with his back
unless he forgoes such a foolish fight.
Robbed of his strength, but not of his tongue,
he has no say over his mind
or his hands or his hands or his feet. Who knocks
young men stupid, and as his slaves binds them
in broad, waking daylight? Yes, ask me my name.



MC in the house.

The initial inspiration for my interest in video was MC. Death Cowboy (which alone was legendary, a kind of Huck rider who follows the sunset of life western; a cowboy encountering the skullcap of reckoning), also named the worlds first perfectly hand-rolled cigarette, was like finding a new appendage, suffering from atrophy. He forwarded me this short entitled selfsimulation.

More words would ruin the experience...


An Interesting Life

'he led an interesting life'

The video in this clip was taken a couple of years ago while vacationing in San Francisco. The figures are from a Krishna exhibit at golden gate park, showing the stages of one mans life. When I saw it I was compelled to take this extended video tour.

It is mixed here with an audio recording of Dylan Thomas reciting light breaks where no sun shines, a hauntingly obscure poem. Here is the product of their interaction.




Or Paraskavedekatriaphobia, if you dare.

Happy Friday-the-13th, a Triskannual first here at Esoterica Obscura. I hope to stimulate your metaphysical appetite, and make you want to dine with the very man who started this 700 year-old Fri-13th cottage industry, Jacques De Molay, once Grand Master to an obscure kind of warrior monk of the middle ages. De Molay is blamed for wedding the young lovers, Friday and 13. Not much is
known of Jacques DeMolay's childhood, except that he was born in the year 1244 in an area called Vitrey, Department of Haute Saone, France. but what is known is that in 1265 at the age of twenty-one, he joined the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were an organization sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1128 to guard the road between Jerusalem and Acre, an important port city on the Mediterranean Sea. The Order of Knights Templar participated in the Crusades and earned a name for valor and heroism.
The Templars, who I really don't want to elaborate on presently, were a band of medieval knights who defended pilgrims on their journey to and from the holy land. Much has been published on their supposed connections to the holy grail, and their foreshadowing of late medieval groups like the Scottish Rite and or course the Masons. While there is some truth to these ties, the actual history is relatively obscured by the enormous amount of conjecture being peddled like nickel t-shirts at the corner market...so engage the filters when researching this stuff.

But, we do know that on Friday October 13, 1307, an order was put out by the Pope via the King of France to seize and capture the individuals and assets of the Knights Templar. On that day Molay was arrested in Paris. Reportedly, while being burned at the stake Molay cursed: Pope Clement, Chevalier Guillaume de Nogaret, King Philippe, before a year, I am ordering you to appear before the tribunal of God. Cursed you will all be! Cursed until the 13th generation!'
But the story doesn't stop there. Legend has it that during the days of the French Revolution, nearly 500 years after de Molay's death, an anonymous man from the crowd jumped onto the guillotine just as Louis XVI had been decapitated, dipped his hand in the king's blood, and cried: 'Jacques de Molay, tu es vengé!' (you are avenged).

Western culture has since developed a complex mythology surrounding Friday-13th, that much is certain.

So what of the day itself? Friday is an Anglo-Saxon word derived from the Goddess Frigg (the word in Old English is frigedæg). Frigg was the Germanic Goddess of beauty, and as the Anglo-Saxons were of Germanic origin so kept the mythology of the tribes out of which they originated. Another example of this use of Germanic pantheistic figures in days-of-the-week is the god Woden, who presides over the middle of the week, namely Wednesday.

The number 13 has historically been associated with the feminine, though I'm not entirely sure why. It is considered unlucky in part because of Judas being the 13th guest at the last supper. I would assume that the taboo has a much longer history than is seen through Christianity, regardless it remains obvious Christianity played a large role in popularizing the darkness and enigma that now surrounds, like a Grecian death mask, this number.

13 is our alter-ego, our pandering tiptoe over the darkness of life. 13 takes from us our banishing, and most of the time keeps them well entertained. But we chuck our baggage into that dark corner knowing full well that every now and again we'll be reminded of it, like every Friday the 13th, and that's why this is an auspicious day; we don't let ourselves face the shadow often enough. So, in celebration of facing the grist and ripping it with your canines like the jerky it is, I offer you a contextually perfect poem, composed by the illustrious RR.
earth. worms. contexts.

what is that?

over there beyond that obstacle, beyond that obtrusion?
where is it at specifically in relation to the present location?
how could i measure that,
taking also a measure of the context of it?
"i know that beneath that is something solidified."
"i think that defines its own category;"
"do you think that?" that said.

ultimateification: "when hegel missteps to avoid nietzsche tripping."

that thirteenth day in the sequence of days.
on that day the certain earth,
understood, and occurred tersely,
intensified by taciturnacity, and
perspicacity. i could have said it happened rapidly;
as morning broke breadge, like a bread which doubled as a bridge,
quite quickly like the quivering hummingbird wing, in a wedge.
like cutting warm mayonnaise with a long slice of frozen butter-
the set of sub variables in a category, with an edge.
(one can not ultimateificate and not speak of quivering wings, nor pledge:)
like a black cat or a hedgehog in the morning on the ledge.

a cup of coffee on a table. a white plate with warm toast not on a table.

four billion years and thirteen days ago: a vista of stark simplicity,
the faintest image blasts its way across the vast vista:
a tumble weed the size of a speck of sand seen from the moon,
with binoculars,
like nocturnal wading birds on the edge of a dark sea:
the faintest image of a white plate of warm toast on the black canvas of
the night sky.
there is a white cloud in that sky making the perfect likeness
of drifting steam from warm toast on a white plate.

the view of earth from a place by a thing not capable of conceiving of a place like

a thing sees, because it can see,
though not beyond that obtrusion,
because it is an obstacle.
though in relation to the obstacle, on a certain day,
it may use the obstacle to bend light
and see things beyond the obtrusion,
relate said thing to its present location.
it is so far away, but it is constant.
sometimes it glows green.
"what is the color green, that it should glow in such a state?",
i thought on it's behalf.
"alkd twe skeiroqw[ tyopaeqiunse" it said.

a cloudy day in context.

it could have been beneath a big montana sky,
or any other sky just as large
in any other place.
it could have been on any day where not a cloud in the sky was seen.
on just such a day,
an earthworm made its way nonchalantly through a good patch of soil,
and sort of had an epiphany.
encouraged, the worm wended its way through the rich loam...
and composed a poem.
at the end of the poem,
there was a new category for poems, defined by the worm's understanding.

true blue

true blew true-blue to who knew true blew true to.
true-blue flew true to who flew true to true-blue.
who flew to true blue?
who blew true blue?
who knew true blue?

ultimate realifying is a pot roast in the oven.
a riddle tinctured in a clue. the rind of a watermelon latent in a seed.
a coriolous storm. today it is the subtraction from context,
of earth and the worm thirteen strands woven
to a game a glass and a beade.

copyright 2007 rrz

Enjoy, and don't let the ghouls get you down.


King David?

Historical Minimalism and the United Monarchy

Much of today’s debate regarding the Bible's historicity can be observed, generally speaking, as taking place between two ideologically driven camps: the maximalists, represented in part by the writings of William Dever, and minimalists, popularized recently by the author Philip Davies (you can read the exchanges between the two scholars here). Biblical minimalism rejects a history of Israel based solely upon the writings in the Old Testament, and seeks to devise a historical chronology principally from the archaeological record.
Opinions differ among the minimalists about when ancient scribes wrote the bible—from the Persian to the Hellenistic period. (1)
Maximalists, on the other hand, are unfairly narrowed into their camp through comparison, not, as is generally the case, by the similarity of their arguments. Though division exists, most scholars (despite their persuasion) agree on a limited set of data, primary being the existence of some later redactor, usually called the Deuteronomistic historian.

To begin, I must confess that in researching this I’ve found myself getting pulled deeper and deeper into a world of faulty science, political motivation, and religious conviction. Believers see evidence where there is none, and skeptics deny evidence when it is clearly present. The debate, which I will define in greater detail shortly, has become somewhat manic presently, with both parties standing furtively on their mutual turf.

The Bible sits atop a cavernous pile of historically important documents. It is, for 33% of the humanity, quite literally the word of God. Biblical stories have influenced western culture for over two thousand years, helping shape our morality and law, our cultures, our internal beliefs and spiritual lives. Questioning this history should be undertaken with great care. Archaeology, literally meaning the study of the ancient word/discourse, should be playing arbiter, as it is scientific and therefore open to criticism and closed to dogma (ideally). But laced through the work of popular archaeologists are ideological bridges that piece together otherwise separate and, honestly, not very convincing facts.

Take away the bible and the ancient Hebrews would today be nearly smudged from the annals of history, so little evidence exists. We would know nothing of Moses, of the Exodus, of David and Solomon and the united monarchy, because there isn’t a record in the earth, such as a grand tomb with etchings, that so clearly defines them.

The position of the minimalists would be that the Iron Age united monarchy of David and Solomon was a literary augmentation of some priests or scribes, writing at a later date. The opposition reacts that the evidence is there, naturally influenced by their faith of it being there. Noting the increasing hostility between minimalist assertions and fundamentalist distillation is author and archaeologist Israel Finkelstein. Writing for the Smithsonian Magazine, Jennifer Wallace in her celebrated article Shifting Ground in the Holy Land notes that Finkelstein “occupies the middle ground between the literalists and the minimalists.” She shows how he
cites the fact – now accepted by most archaeologists – that many of the cities Joshua is supposed to have sacked in the late 13th century B.C. had ceased to exist by that time. Hazor was destroyed in the middle of that century, Ai was abandoned before 2000 B.C. Even Jericho, where Joshua is said to have brought the walls tumbling down by circling the city seven times with blaring trumpets, was destroyed in 1500 B.C. Now controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Jericho site consists of crumbling pits and trenches that testify to a century of fruitless digging.
Wallace stresses that “more and more archaeologists have accepted the idea that the Joshua invasion as it is described in the Bible was never really a historical event. But they disagree about the exact nature and origins of those who built the ancient hilltop settlements on the West Bank.” (2)

Finkelstein and coauthor Neil Asher Silberman published a book last year (2006) entitled David and Solomon. It details what archaeological evidence exists presently for their united kingdom. In Appendix 1 they introduce the reader to the recent discovery of a stone inscription at the archaeological site Tel Dan. The inscription, reading in part “king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram Kin-], g of the House of David (3)," appears to be the first mention of the House of David in the Archaeological record, and so has the community of historiographers entering a new round of biblical fencing. “In short,” write the authors, “the Tel Dan inscription provides an independent witness to the historical existence of a dynasty founded by a ruler named David, from just a few generations after the era in which he presumably lived.” (4) Though disputed, this is at least some evidentiary record of a kingdom that the Israelites believed, recorded even, had existed. But the Solomon empire? The city of David itself, or early Jerusalem, during this period in history?

Finkelstein becomes pragmatic here. During the span between the sixteenth and eighth centuries, “Jerusalem shows no archaeological signs of having been a great city or the capital of a vast monarchy. The evidence clearly suggests that it was little more than a village…Jerusalem, through those intervening centuries—including the time of David and Solomon—was probably never more than a small, relatively poor, unfortified hill country town, no larger than three or four acres in size.”(5) So what of the evidence? Is a scribble on the walls at Tel Dan going to once and for all establish the reality of a Monarchy and great Solomon empire?

Barry Bandstra in his academic work Reading The Old Testament observes that because of the inscription at Tel Dan, “the existence of a ruling force connected to the figure of David cannot be called into question. The issue then becomes why the biblical portrayal of the united monarchy of David and Solomon took shape the way it did.”(6) Bandstra develops an argument for the editors need to place strong leadership in his compiled histories. The Deuteronomistic historian, an exiled Judean in Babylon, must have “thought that reexamining the period of the development of kingship might prove some answers to these pressing questions, and additionally might provide some needed instruction for any new leaders that might arise.”(7) Despite meager archaeological finds, the historian/redactor is all we have presently (in literary history) and as such does not complete the story for modern historiographers.

According to Dever, notwithstanding a century-old hunt in modern Israel, “Palestinian and Biblical archaeology have been surprisingly silent regarding the United Monarchy.”(8) This confession, albeit coming previous to the discovery of the inscriptions at Tel Dan, should, for any archaeologist worth his trowel, be the defining point. Until further evidence is discovered that points conclusively to such a kingdom, one has to assume that the Deuteronomistic historian elaborated the account for political, and wholly present (remember the exile) reasons.

For believers and nonbelievers alike, the scientific method should be mutually shared turf. That no overwhelming evidence remains of a united kingdom during the 11th and 10th centuries BCE should be recognized, because it isn’t politics or religion that makes it so, only research. Tel Dan seems to support the actual existence of an historical figure called David, but does nothing to validate his empire being as vast as the Bible makes it out to be.

Because of its [insert litany here] significance, a great deal of exaggeration exists in substantiating the Bibles historical accuracy. The world of Biblical archaeology is a tempting but acrid environment, and this brief look into that environment has made me a little less hopeful in the process of archaeological substantiation. I would like to believe that we would withhold judgment until evidence is discovered, but for billions of Christians and Jews, the evidence is the book itself. That unfortunately does not make it true, only more difficult to find where the truth lies.


(1) Finkelstein, Silberman, David and Solomon (New York, 2006), p. 261.
(2) Wallace, Jennifer, as cited here.
(3) Finkelstein, David and Solomon (New York, 2006), p. 265.
(4) Ibid, p. 266.
(5) Ibid, p. 274.
(6) Bandstra, Reading The Old Testament (Toronto, 2004), p. 266.
(7) Ibid, p. 266.
(8) Dever, Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research (Seattle, 1990), p. 88.


Fair use of above material.

This essay was written recently for a class in Biblical Studies, and as such is somewhat pointed in its aim. I would recommend researching the above bibliography for the more convoluted story.

The Sirens of Titan

Goodbye Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), you'll be missed. From this mornings Guardian online.
The phrase "So it goes" became famous when it appeared in the novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) every time a death was reported. Its author was Kurt Vonnegut, who has died aged 84, following brain injuries incurred several weeks ago in a fall. Vonnegut, who wrote 14 novels, managed to combine an exceptional humanity with a remarkably blasé pessimism, and presented his despair at human life in such engagingly simple terms that even Charlie Brown would have found it persuasive.
More later...


Ricky Gervais & The Serpent

Gervais pontificates on the Bible and creationism.

I had to post this....



Ranting @ The Blur

A persistent question I get these days is:

What are you going to school for?
To which I usually reply, good question.

It is, when considered carefully, a damn fine question. One I keep asking myself, never finding a totally satisfactory answer to. Certainly I am there to learn, as that's the university's trade. I could answer, I am correcting the blur of my painful and persistent ignorance, but most folk would scoff at the unnecessary poetics involved here, so usually I just reply my standard refrain, good question.

I, like many people in this postmodern-hypersyntheticized on-the-cusp-of-it culture, am staring up into the gilded eyes of the ancestors, and asking them why. While I'm finding answers to that question by going to school, it (my hypothetical trial by jury of past civilizations or my simple question why) remains painfully obscured by my own personal involvement in the the same social strand, and thus is difficult to chart.

Imagine your reading a book, but you want to be closer to the words, to be more involved, so you put your nose up to the page, and suddenly realize that you can read very little, if anything at all; that is the blur which I am seeking to correct. But I can't step out of my life and observe the universal dance from some third party position, like the dark side of the moon, so the question then is how does one really correct that blur. I can talk about detaching my nose from the pages of life, of becoming more impartial and less specific, but the process of that means destroying (or transmuting in some way) the litany of meme's I've inherited, the very ones even now surging through my nervous system determining action without my total conscious involvement.

So don't stick your nose too close to life, that's a good start. Remain somewhat detached, but not too detached. If you push the book out too far, it has the reverse effect, again detachment. There is that perfect zone of distance when reading a book that allows for an almost otherworldly experience, when the words themselves are not just scribbles on white but animated images in their own right. That same distance is what I think I mean when I say correcting the blur.

The parable of the book reader closely charts my own life. Starting from a correct distance, I moved closer to an idea, an ideology if you will, and found myself not being able to understand anything except the small-print of that message, which was about nothing special in particular, just something that a lot of other people were also focusing on. I lost my innate position of equanimity, that perfect distance from life had been channeled into some thing, some particular, and judgement of the rest of the universe was impaired because of it.

And then I retreated, away from the book entirely, considering it a waste of time because it had tricked me into narrowing my gaze so far that it blurred in the first place; detachment was the only choice at the time. School then, to round out my point (not that rants need points), is bringing me back into equanimity with the world, helping me find some moral equivalence to my own experience, showing me that its been much better, but also much worse in past times, and those who were the happiest were the ones who learned to keep their distance only enough so as to not get burned when the fires started.

Maybe that's just fence-sitting, I don't know. I think of it more like being a pragmatist, a scientist, a rationalist. Don't become too emotionally wedded to one position, because that is the threshold to the wonderland of ideology, an exclusive and very dangerous place. But don't throw it all out either, as a lot of work has gone into to trying to figure out what exactly is going on here.

The middle path. The Buddha had it right, and it took 3000 years to successfully obscure that simple message behind the words of ten thousand books.


Science debates Religion

Richard Dawkins interviews the Bishop of Oxford

This kind of dialogue is sorely missing in todays socio-religious debate.

A must see!


Ultraculture Journal One

Era Vulgaris and editor Jason Louv have published Ultraculture Journal One, what many of us in the marginal community hope will be the first in a long series of journals devoted to some of the most important esoteric ramblings presently available. From the authors...
Ultraculture Journal One collects under one cover the most volatile
and direct magickal writing currently available in the English language. It will change you at the cellular level. You have been forewarned.
Bold assertions, to be sure. I have been perusing the articles, and with my limited understanding about this material must say that much of it is highly advanced, hence the above warning that it "will change you on a cellular level."

Check out the review section toward the end, where Louv covers some recently published books. He gives a good overview of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck. For those who haven't heard of his work, you can see an amusing interview of Pinchbeck by the illustrious Colbert here. Colbert gets his grill on, as usual, but Pinchbeck dodges the fire well enough. Be sure to check out part two of the interview here.

Also in the review section is a fascinating look at Victor & Victoria Trimondi's detailed exposé of the Myth of Shambhala and the politics of Tibetan Tantra, as seen in the life and times of the current Dalai Lama. The work is titled The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic, and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism", and was published in Germany in 1999 by Patmos Verlag. Though not yet published in book form in the English language, it is available in English online. I must say, beware the writing, as it might shake your faith in Tibetan Buddhism (being a acolyte historian, I am still trying to independently check some of their sources). From the introduction...
The practice and philosophy of Buddhism has spread so rapidly throughout the Western world in the past 30 years and has so often been a topic in the media that by now anybody who is interested in cultural affairs has formed some sort of concept of Buddhism. In the conventional “Western” notion of Buddhism, the teachings of Buddha Gautama are regarded as a positive Eastern countermodel to the decadent civilization and culture of the West: where the Western world has introduced war and exploitation into world history, Buddhism stands for peace and freedom; whilst Western rationalism is destructive of life and the environment, the Eastern teachings of wisdom preserve and safeguard them. The meditation, compassion, composure, understanding, nonviolence, modesty, and spirituality of Asia stand in contrast to the actionism, egomania, unrest, indoctrination, violence, arrogance, and materialism of Europe and North America. Ex oriente lux—“light comes from the East”; in occidente nox—“darkness prevails in the West”.

We regard this juxtaposition of the Eastern and Western hemispheres as not just the “business” of naive believers and zealous Tibetan lamas. On the contrary, this comparison of values has become distributed among Western intelligentsia as a popular philosophical speculation in which they flirt with their own demise.

You can find the Trimondi's resume here. As the authors were saying, this stuff might start morphing your nerves, so beware the words, as they have a tendency to become swords. Here is Louv's assessment of the book...
1. The entire PR campaign of Lamaism in the West masks, and furthers, the goal of the fourteenth Dalai Lama to become the Adi Buddha, the totalitarian ruler in which all secular and spiritual power is concentrated.
2. The Kalachakra Tantra (the central practice of Vajrayana) focuses on the concentration of the universe (both sexes, all planets, time and space) within the androgynous body of the Adi Buddha, so that literally all internal processes of the Dalai Lama thereby effect world events (as above, so below—and how!).
3. Sexual and ecological politics in Tibet have always been far away from what is publicly presented (Mahayana “peace love tolerance” public mask, Vajrayana “dominate the world” reality). Sexual politics have been the systematic oppression and hatred of women and their continual use as power batteries, with their energy being farmed and alchemized into political power via sexual magick. Ecological politics have been the same—the suppression and violation of the mother earth goddess (srinmo).
4. Tibet and Nazi Germany, or Esoteric Hitlerism as it is today, were and still are bedfellows. (Hitler as Kalki as Kalachakra.)
5. The Kalachakra is a process by which the entire world (especially Islam) will be purified by fire and transformed into a Buddhocracy by the twenty-fourth century. (Same old scheme that Christianity, Islam, etc. are running and that the Dalai Lama pretends to be above.)
Yes, beware, but also be amused. You can download the entire 419 page Ultraculture journal from the like above. Happy reading!



Chocolate Jesus

(Or why the Jesuits love Tom Waits)

The Largest Minority unearthed a great article from the Times Online entitled Drugs, alcohol and sex: why the Jesuits like Tom Waits.
At last the Vatican has found a rock oddball who embodies the softer side of Christianity.

Even if Tom Waits’s songs, which include Dragging a Dead Priest, are sung in a rasping voice that seems to have been soaked in a whisky barrel, he has won over friends in the Jesuit order. Barely a week after Pope Benedict XVI disclosed his dislike for the “prophets of pop” and Bob Dylan in particular, the Jesuits in Rome have embraced Waits as a Christian role model.
Of course, the Jesuits are famous for their radical, progressive tendencies. Anyone staying in touch with Christian dialogue will know that their opinions don't often represent the majority of Catholics, and even less Christians in general. It is all the more entertaining though when they genuinely surprise, as with their warming to Waits.
The latest issue of Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal, the contents of which are subject to Vatican approval, says that Waits represents “the marginalised and misunderstood.” He therefore understood “the lower depths” of society, and was able to convey the desperation of those on the margins. His past also enabled him to express their “capacity for hope and instinct for happiness” in “authentic songs devoid of vanity and false illusions”, Father Spadaro said.
Father Spadaro may be in the minority, skirting the margins himself, but it is a refreshing look at the world when compared with the work of the President of the Catholic League, William Donahue, who more often represents a xenophobic view of popular culture.

Speaking last week, retired professor Henry Ansgar Kelly (University of California, Los Angeles), himself a professed Jesuit, delivered an inspiring lecture entitled Infernal Ideas: Hell from the Bible On, with Stops in Limbo, Purgatory, and Another Limbo. Kelly reasons (as only Jesuits can do) that hell and Satan are nothing like what the medieval Christians made them out to be...they've been given a bum rap. In his recently published book Satan: A Biography, Kelly notes how hell and such have been eternally misunderstood. From the Guardian,
Kelly can hardly write a biography because Satan, as he demonstrates, does not have a life. He was never a person, and is absent from the Old Testament, where there are no fallen angels and the serpent is a wily, beguilingly articulate worm, not - as in Milton's Paradise Lost - a metamorphosed demon. At best Satan is a principle, an idea of intellectual resistance; he was personified, and retroactively inserted into the Bible's account of creation and the fall, as the fall guy for God.
Kelly's ideas, like those of Father Spadaro, are radical, to be sure. But in the current atmosphere of religious intolerance, we could use more of this kind of progressive radicalism.


The World of Bede

The impact of the Anglo-Saxon migration upon England’s socio-religious history is undisputed. What is perhaps surprising in the Anglo-Saxon case is how rapidly their religious conversion took place. We hear from the Venerable Bede (c.672-735), writing shortly after the Northumbrian conversion, how when King Edwin (son of Ælle) converted in 625, a pagan priest named Coifi rushed off to desecrate his own temple by throwing a spear into it. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxons appeared only too eager at times to take up the religion they so often defeated.

Bede was the father of English history. He gives us the history of his people; we see the life of Cuthbert, the Synod of Whitby, the life of Aidan, letters from Gregory to the new mission in Kent headed by Augustine; indeed Bede exposes for us dates and names, primary sources of current events. His accuracy is astounding, his learning triumphal. In the preface to his celebrated work the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he warns that “should the reader discover any inaccuracies in what I have written, I humbly beg that he will not impute them to me, because, as the true law of history requires, I have laboured honestly to transmit whatever I could ascertain from common report for the instruction of posterity.” This preface, notes Donald Logan, “has almost a modern ring to it.” It is sincere to a scientific method, surprising in the current early medieval atmosphere.

While residing at Biscop’s monastery in Jarrow, Bede had access to a phenomenal body of work which he used to write his Ecclesiastical History and numerous other scholarly, historical works. It was in Jarrow that Bede lived the bulk of his life, and it was there that he popularized the anno Domini system of dating, ending the older Diocletian reference which was outdated, as it established time from a point of persecution. “It is one measure of Bede’s greatness that he was the first writer to adopt it as the regular chronological basis of a major historical work.” Indeed this system of dating can perhaps be viewed as one of the greatest and most lasting achievements to come out of Jarrow, again because of Bede. The way we consider time influences the way we relate to it; marking zero with the point of Jesus’ birth was likening history itself to the life of one man, or God if you see it that way. It was a constant reminder of the consciousness they shared.

The ‘renaissance’ surrounding Bede’s world was the culmination of numerous factors. Its primary influence was Roman, but the Celtic/Germanic force acted like Wayland himself, forging a new ring out of the gold of nations. This new ring was the prodigious nature of Bede’s work; it was the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. It was the interlaced birds, as Hunter-Blair pointed out, surrounding the illuminated gospels. It was Bede’s life of St. Cuthbert, in 46 chapters, representing a perfected hagiography.

Of course, it wasn't Bede who produced the illuminated manuscript called the Lindisfarne Gospels, but its creator, a monk named Eadfrith, was his contemporary and lived only a few miles north of Jarrow on the isle of Lindisfarne. Here are some sample pages of the text itself.

For more about Bede and the Northumbrian renaissance, check out the work of Bede himself, as he is the primary source for the events of his age. His Life of St. Cuthbert is extremely enjoyable, and is highly recommended.

Book of Hours

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Numerous illuminated manuscripts survive from the Middle Ages, but none have the charm and artistic precision of the 'Very Rich Hours' of the Duc de Berry. For three hundred years, from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth, Books of Hours were the pulp paperbacks of Europe's literary elite. Most were artistically simplistic and utilitarian, performing the function of prayer manual and designed to conform to the canonical hours of the day. Those hours were:

1. Matins
2. Lauds
3. Prime
4. Terce
5. Sext
6. None
7. Vespers
8. Compline

In the case of the Très Riches Heures, this was only the beginning. The paintings contained in this illuminated manuscript go well beyond the traditional measure used by most artists of the middle ages, and included some of the brightest and most beautiful work of the middle ages. A few examples.

This picture is heavily influenced by zodiacal symbolism. You'll notice rising through the body of the facing female the twelve signs, and surrounding the picture, we see these twelve signs again dispersed through the calender.

Color and symbolism are seen throughout the work, as is evidenced here in the Baptism of Christ.

Typically in medieval manuscripts, one artist was responsible for the text, and another for the imagery.

You can explore the manuscript further here