Sunday, November 16, 2014

Angelus Novus, and other scraps from the heap.

"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm."
Walter Benjamin's Theses on History

Doing a scrapyard thing.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

torn and drawn figures

Sunday, November 02, 2014

notes on the apocalypse of Jesus

Matthew 24

"Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’"

I agree with Elaine Pagels that it is likely Jesus did predict the destruction of Herod's Temple, and that this isn't one of those prophecies most likely written after the fact. I think it was this prophecy, as well as his guerrilla theater in the Temple, that was identified with him and that was the basis of the movement, especially after the Temple was destroyed (although some stones still remain upon stones). Back at the Mount of Olives, his disciples ask for details and the prophecy he gives them refers to events of the Jewish war with Rome that Matthew's generation had experienced, and that had culminated with the siege of Jerusalem, but it also points to the future ("immediately after the suffering of those days") end times and the coming of the son of man on the clouds. The capitalization of "son of man" by the English translators is an interpretation of the text. This convention of capitalizing isn't in the original text. The phrase "son of man" means "human being," but Christian interpretation reads or misreads "Son of Man" to mean Jesus as Messiah. Jesus told his disciples that all this warfare and persecution would continue until the news of the transcendent community he called the "kingdom of heaven" had spread to all nations, and THEN the end would come.
Jesus' apocalyptic discourse draws on the prophets, especially Daniel. Daniel's prophetic writing is understood to be "after the fact" and to interpret history up to his time.
 The meaning one finds in any text depends on one's existential relationship with its perceived message. So the meaning of apocalyptic texts can be amplified emotionally when you are in the center of a crisis that demands too much emotionally and practically and ultimately is going to change you and your world, which is why a lot of people avoid apocalyptic prophecy/poetry like Ebola, and why they are dangerous in the hands of paranoids, but they can also provide you with a symbolic language to talk about current events. The parables Matthew attaches to the prophecy here confront the listener with questions.  Are you taking care of the people you are supposed to take care of? Are you prepared for the ceremony you are going to take part in?  Is there oil for your lamp? Have you invested your talents and realized their potential, or have you hidden your gifts away? Think of these parables like vivid dreams that seem to be telling you something, to draw attention to aspects of your present situation you have been putting out of your thoughts. The prophetic call to responsibility and righteousness goes the individual as well as the community, and this is how parables act like dreams to disturb your complacency, like a thief in the night.
Well, Jesus was speaking in code in the parables, but everyone knew, I think, what he was talking about. Was it simply so he wouldn't say anything incriminating? The "abomination of desolation in the holy place"  or "desolating sacrilege" (let the reader understand) quotes the prophet Daniel. Daniel's prophecy is thought (by the secular humanist critical bible scholars I rely on) to be "after the fact" and to be about a specific invader impressively named Antiochus Epiphanes who lived centuries after the time Daniel is supposed to be set in, and over a century before Jesus. I think Daniel's prophecy is a symbolic interpretation of historical events, putting them in the mythical history of Israel.

Matthew 25 1-30
And this is the end times part of Jesus' discourse in the Mount of Olives. He is clearly telling his disciples that things are going to get bad, but ultimately each nation (or individuals within each nation?) will be judged according to whether they fed the hungry, clothed the poor, took care of the sick, welcomed the immigrant, and was compassionate to those in prison. So, if you are unclear about what a real "christian" nation might be, there it is in Matthew 25: 31 - 46, and it has nothing to do with manger scenes in front of City Hall or ritual prayers in public schools, but this is what Jesus meant by righteousness. These righteous individuals belong to the potential transcendent community
"prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

Here are some passages from the book of Daniel that are relevant to these chapters in Matthew:

Daniel 7:13-14
13         As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being 
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
    and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

9: 25 - 27
25 Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”

12: 1-4  
There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky,[b] and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

12: 8 -13

I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. 11 From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days. 12 Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days. 13 But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


If from stardust you come and to stardust you return,
the very elements of your being,
in the cosmic solution, 
micro and macro,
to that within you, 
from which you become, 
what you already are,
extraterrestrial and infinite, 
and kind of angelic, 
like a star in the sky,
or in the mind-eye, 
If from that which is,
before the beginning,
which holds the seed, 
that imagines you,  
as you are and will be, 
like a seed of a universe,
spilled in the womb
of the initial situation,
and from this unconditioned condition,
I guess,
of that which is,

Thou Art That?
That Thou Art?
That Art Thou?
Art That Thou?
Art Thou That?
Thou That Art?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

this week, so far

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jesus against the Pharisees, continued

                                                             Model of Herod's Temple


"Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."
If Jesus was referring to the his disciples' generation in this prophecy, is it after the end of the world? Are we now living in a different world? This is a question I'm asking as I look at the last chapters of Matthew's gospel.
Let our eyes be opened.

Since last week I have come upon some other  interpretations of last week's material relating to taxes: yeshuajesus. Jesus' response to the question about the tax may have been a trap to expose the hypocrisy of the inquisitors. Since they were in the temple precincts, the presence of a coin bearing the god/emperor's image was an abomination. Waddaya doing with this pagan coin, hypocrite? Jesus' earlier questions to Peter about whether a king would tax his own sons, imply that he doesn't owe the tax, being the son of God, or that his followers, also being children of god - and his brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, as he had declared - also did not owe the tax, at least not in the kingdom of heaven where they are all family.

The nature of this kingdom is shown in his statements on the greatest commandments. I have read that his position here has precedents in rabbinical thought - Hillel, for example - but you wouldn't know that from this gospel. Compare Matthew's version Matthew's version of the question about the greatest commandment and note the difference from Mark's. Matthew said "the lawyer" asked the question to tempt him and left out this exchange: 

"Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The wise scribe's commentary sums up the teaching of the biblical prophets. For me the gospel is inspiring when someone expresses this prophetic message. It is remarkable that Matthew cuts it out so it won't dilute Jesus denunciation of the Pharisees which he pasted in right after Jesus' puzzler about Psalm 110.

Read the Wikipedia article on the Siege of Jerusalem and also read Psalm 110, a psalm assuring victory to a priest king. This "Psalm of David" was believed to be about the Messiah and believed to have been written by David the king. So if the messiah is a son of David why would David call him Lord? I think Jesus'  argument is that the messiah is not a nationalist hero, but a universal messiah for all nations, although the last few verses of Psalm 110 are disturbing: 
"The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
    filling them with corpses;
he will shatter heads
    over the wide earth."

I am sure that this kind of conquering warrior king is what many of the nationalists had in mind, and its what many have in mind today, but the Second Temple wasn't destroyed by the messiah, and it wasn't destroyed by the Pharisees. It was destroyed by Titus' army, probably by mistake. According to Josephus, I think, Titus wanted to turn it into a temple to Jupiter and thought that he was God's instrument in the war with the Jews, but God used pagan conquerors to strike Israel in the past and I'm sure popular as well as rabbinical debate after the temple's destruction was centered on What is God telling us, or Why has God abandoned us, or Who is to blame? The scenes in the temple are largely anti-rabbinical propaganda. So much of this gospel is uninspiring, and even depressing, because of it anti-  Pharisee propaganda, but it reflects the situation of Matthew's community soon after the destruction of the temple, and decades after Jesus' crucifiction, when his followers were accused of heresy and spreading propaganda about their dead messiah. I wonder if the real point of Matthew's attacks on the Pharisees is to discredit their claim that Jesus' disciples had stolen Jesus' body and lied about the resurrection. The Jesus movement was based on a small group of followers  who claimed to have witnessed the resurrected Jesus and to have been called by him to spread his message until the messiah returns and the messianic age is realized, utopia now. The scribe in Mark's gospel wasn't far from the kingdom of God, because Jesus' teaching of that kingdom comes out of the scriptures held sacred by the rabbinical tradition. For two thousand years  Christians have spent too much time preaching that Jewish scriptures are "fulfilled" in the canonical Christian texts, when they should have been learning what Jesus was talking about by studying the texts he studied.

As I said before, many of us don't see the historical Pharisees when we read this, we see the hypocrite celebrities of our own time, who con money out of the faithful, and demand conformity to bizarre beliefs.
Matthew created a rhetorical masterpiece when he edited this. Jesus' "O, Jerusalem" speech concludes with an echo of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the crowd thought their conquering messiah had arrived.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

torn board