A Tale of the Palestine Archaeological Museum

Abdullah Jaddallah was a native of Jerusalem. He was a devoted husband and father to seven children. Highly favored for his education, Jaddallah was employed by the British army during the years of British Mandate rule in Palestine. Following a successful career with the British military, in which he traveled across the Middle East on various assignments, Jaddallah permanently settled in Jordan. Jaddallah enjoyed drinking his black tea with milk, a ritual adopted during his tenure in the military; tea with milk would become a fond family tradition upheld by successive generations. Two generations later, and from a much farther distance, I was transfixed by the story of my grandfather, a man that I barely knew. Immersed in his memory, my practice as an artist evolved into one that traced lineage, familial histories, and, subsequently, the geopolitical forces which catalyzed our migration. I was left to wonder: What historical circumstances created these conditions? What constraints did he endure, and how did it impact his movement? How am I implicated within this meshwork of history, chance, and fate? Meditating on his story and the complexities of these intersections, a larger research project unfolded; while its major thrusts are historical, it still resides between the poles of fact and fiction.

In 2014, I stumbled upon the story of the Palestine Archaeological Museum; however, the brief history that I encountered felt wholly insufficient. While the Israel Antiquities Authority foregrounds central figures who oversaw the erection of the museum (like John D. Rockefeller and Henry Breasted, whom I introduce later in this essay), these historical ac-counts neglect to acknowledge the violent seizure of land that altered the fate of this institution. It is through colonial theft that a more complex picture emerges of the Palestine Archaeological Museum; however, extant histories proffer a depoliticized image of the museum impacted by the occupation of Palestinian land. Meditating on the erasures in the museum’s history, I could not help but feel that this story was an allegory for larger, more persistent efforts to suppress Palestinian history.

This spurred the creation of A Partial Restoration of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (2014–19), a multimedia project that restores the memory of the former Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, an institution entrenched in geopolitical turmoil and precarity. A Partial Restoration of the Palestine Archaeological Museum is presented as a museological installation, with an exhibition space formerly held online. Before embarking on this project, I had never been to Palestine, nor to the museum, and so my research and art making was carried out at a distance. Due to these constraints, imagination served as a vehicle that stitched together an otherwise fragmented history. Suddenly I stepped into the role of a collector, driven by an impulse to salvage any valuable material I could find. This collection became a bridge to a site that I could not physically access.

A Partial Restoration of the Palestine Archaeological Museum is composed of this makeshift archive; the collection also contains personal, familial heirlooms. By juxtaposing these intimate mementos with historical ephemera, I reclaim authority over personal experience, validating its role in the pro-duction of knowledge. Furthermore, it is through these personal histories and experiences that cultural memory is shaped and transmitted. Hours were spent mining and excavating hidden corners of internet marketplaces. I purchased photographs, stamps, and pamphlets from independent eBay and Etsy merchants. Some merchants sold aged books and press clippings as their official business line. Others sold more sporadically, auctioning off junk culled from drawers and cabinets. This collection does not, in fact, belong to the Palestine Archaeological Museum proper; however, it became a speculative archive for the “restored” iteration of the museum that I introduced to the public. Digitized portions of this collection were shared on an exhibition webpage [no longer online]. This website played an integral role in the afterlife of the installation, connecting me to other Palestinian artists, researchers, and writers, all producing their own unique historical and archive-based research projects.

(In 2019, I received a note from Yazan Kopty, a writer, oral historian, and National Geographic Explorer. Kopty is currently the lead investigator on an archive- based research project titled Imagining the Holy, which examines images of historic Palestine from the National Geographic Society archive. Kopty makes space for the Palestinian community, providing opportunities to collaborate and restore Indigenous knowledge and narratives to the images in the archive. The photographic archive can be accessed on Instagram via @imaginingtheholy.)

The story of the Palestine Archaeological Museum begins with its founding mission: preserving and recording the diverse cultures of the region. However, this vision was stymied in its infancy. By engaging the fraught trajectory of the museum, my project questions the ways that didactic institutions are implicated in the erasure of subjugated peoples and histories. Furthermore, the project confronts the colonial legacies of the institution as we know it. A Partial Restoration of the Palestine Archaeological Museum considers the rich possibilities in creating our own imaginative histories, institutions, and archives to bridge gaps in history and distance.

Ruminating on my grandfather’s story and the course of his career, it became more pressing to consider how colonial entanglements played out across personal, political, and cultural registers. This led me to broader questions about archaeological practice, soft power, and Western cultural hegemony, and how this impacted Palestine in particular. These forces undoubtedly led to the erection of the Palestine Archaeological Museum. This museum was only one chapter within a larger history of extractive archaeological projects taking place in the Middle East at this time, initiated under the jurisdiction of colonial governments. James Henry Breasted, America’s first formally trained Egyptologist and a professor at the University of Chicago, spearheaded the birth of the museum. Breasted also founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, with generous philanthropic support from John D. Rockefeller. Breasted and Rockefeller formed a mutually beneficial relationship; between 1924 and 1927, Rocke-feller supported Breasted’s archaeological projects in the Middle East. Breasted insisted that archaeological artifacts had a home in the heart of Jerusalem. Following an unsuccessful attempt to open an Egyptian antiquities museum and research center in Cairo, Breasted proposed opening the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem. In January 1927, Rockefeller approved the museum’s initial development plans, allotting two million dollars to subsidize construction costs and operating expenses. The British government provided necessary approvals for Breasted and fellow organizers to erect the museum. Austen St. Barbe Harrison, the architect at the helm of the project, combined contemporary European design with local architectural traditions, a style later defined as Mediterranean Modern-ism. The fusion of these aesthetics asserted British cultural prestige and further expressed its paternalistic role as a colonial occupier. The Palestine Archaeological Museum was built on a hill overlooking the northeast corner of the Old City, officially opening to the public on January 13, 1938.

The museum endeavored to catalog and preserve the rich diversity within the region. But as political tensions heightened, the museum’s mis-sion was further out of reach. On April 1, 1948, the British government closed the museum to the public. The high commissioner assembled an international board of trustees to preside over the institution. The makeup of the board traced back to Britain and France, with members also recruited from various antiquities departments across Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, among others. The international board remained effective until November 1966, when King Hussein of Jordan nationalized the museum. During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli military forces seized control over the Old City of Jerusalem, and, as a result, the Palestine Archaeological Museum was captured and relinquished to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Bullet holes still line the library walls, serving as a memento from the battle. Following the end of the war, the institution was officially renamed the Rockefeller Museum. It remains unclear who authorized changing the identity of the museum. However, the decision to rename the museum has remained a point of contention. The Rockefeller Museum continues to operate today, instilling a new collective memory throughout the region, one that undermines histories of Palestinian indigeneity.

In 2017, I left Ohio and journeyed to the Rockefeller Museum, which still stands on that hill overlooking the Old City. The edifice is officially deemed a historical landmark; old etchings, markings, and carvings on the muse-um’s facade reveal its conflicted past. Exterior entrance halls direct visitors to the Government of Palestine Department of Antiquities offices. Upon entering through the front doors, patrons encounter the building’s floor plan, guiding them to the exhibition halls. Above the map reads “Palestine Archaeological Museum,” its maiden name hand-carved into the limestone wall. Wandering through these hallways, the museum felt virtually untouched—its interior halls unfixed and unchanged from the photographs I examined in the archives. While these appearances remained frozen on the surface, the wall text was quietly confrontational, promoting a narrative positioning Palestinians as “visitors” of their native land. The story of the Palestine Archaeological Museum is a painfully layered one, replete with the haunt-ings of colonial power and historical erasure. In many ways, its story is only a modicum of the more pervasive effacement of Palestinian historical and cultural memory that occurs ad infinitum. This institution was born out of a deep entanglement with colonialism and Western expansion, only to become the spoils of its new colonial occupier. Palestine was forcefully re-moved from its name, much like our names on villages, streets, and maps effectively erased by the violent workings of a settler-colonial regime. Re-claiming this institution’s fraught history opened a pathway to creating A Partial Restoration of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, an imaginative space that reclaims and resuscitates the elisions of history.

Dareen Hussein is a writer, curator, and multimedia artist based in Ohio. She is a PhD student in the Department of History of Art at the Ohio State University. This essay appears in FUTURE/PRESENT. Arts in a Changing America, Duke University Press (2024).


War as an Object of Study in French Political Philosophy

Introduction

Hopes for a peaceful development of mankind in the 21st century have not come true, and the predictions of polemologists led by Gaston Bouthoul have largely become the reality of today. In this regard, theories that have not recently had a wide reception, as they chose war as the object of research, are now coming to the fore. Among them we should mention the area of the “philosophy of war,” which has found numerous proponents among French political philosophers.

Continuing the French tradition of viewing war through the prism of philosophy, a study by the renowned French philosopher Henri-Paul Hude, A Philosophy of War, was published in France, in November 2022, and in English in 2023. In it, Hude poses the problem of the emergence and the possibility of eliminating war from the life of mankind in our time. On April 11, 2023, at the Department of Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov Moscow State University, a discussion of this book was held online with the participation of the author of the book. The event included a fruitful dialogue on the causal links between war and politics. The French professor presented his point of view on the importance of penetrating into the essence of war through its philosophical interpretation. Obviously, his views are based on a solid foundation created by French political philosophers and thinkers over several centuries, which I would like to describe in this article.

Philosophical Understanding of War: The Emergence of the Term, “Philosophy of War”

Since ancient times, philosophers have tried to understand the meaning of war and the reasons for its emergence. The philosophical approach fundamentally differed from other forms of understanding this phenomenon: mythological, religious, historical. Rational comprehension of this phenomenon allowed us to identify its essential features and thereby understand the cause-and-effect relationship between the factors that give rise to it and the coming consequences. We find such attempts in European antiquity in Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and others. War as an essential part of the life of society was reflected in the works of military leaders, thinkers, philosophers, but for a long time there was no separation of the field of knowledge about war into a separate branch.

One of the first to speak of a “philosophy of war” was Marquis Georges de Chambray, a participant in the Russian campaign of 1812. In the preface to his work called Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War), (first published in 1827, then continuously reprinted), he explains in what sense he treats the concept of “philosophy,” which he connects with the concept of “war” to penetrate into the essence of this phenomenon:

As the word “Philosophy” has several meanings, I feel I must make known the one I have given it in the title of this work.
There are four stages in the exercise of human intelligence: 1. Craft; 2. Art; 3. Science; 4. Philosophy. Craft is a routine or skill acquired through practice, without knowledge of principles and rules; art is subject to rules or principles; science is a system of knowledge about a useful object; philosophy is the background, the positive, the essence or even the generalities of a science.
I have used the word Philosophy in this sense: (a) Linné, (b) Voltaire, (c) Fourcroy, (d) Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and many other authors have used it in the same sense (Philosophie de la guerre, pp. v-vi).

It should be noted that the Marquis de Chambray’s book was published several years earlier than Carl von Clausewitz’s work, On War, in which the Prussian military thinker did not use this term. Of course, this does not indicate that his work had no philosophical significance. Clausewitz is rightly written about as a representative of the philosophy of war, but the priority in the creation of the term does not belong to him.

Formation of the Field of the “Philosophy of War”

It is noteworthy that at the initial stage of the emergence of the philosophy of war, a significant contribution to the formation of this field was made by professional military men (von Clausewitz, de Chambray). The continuator of this tradition was the French author, Captain R. Henry, who wrote another book on the philosophy of war. It is not by chance that his work is referred to by the Russian and Soviet military commander Andrei E. Snesarev, who created a training course on the philosophy of war for officers-in-training at the Military Academy of the Red Army, of which he was the head from 1919 to 1921.

On the eve of the 19th century, pacifist sentiments prevailed in European philosophical and socio-political thought. In France, as in other European countries, there were illusions among intellectuals that war would be replaced by a new system of relations between states, when wars would become unnecessary because an adequate substitute would be found. In this case, war becomes pointless, as it is replaced by other ways of conflict resolution: diplomatic, economic, expansion of cultural contacts, etc. Among those who did not share optimism about the peaceful development of mankind was the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who doubted that war could be done away with. In his two-volume study, War and Peace (La guerre et la paix), he comes to the conclusion that war is inseparable from the life of society and that it is a necessary condition for its existence:

In my own view, it is plain that war has deep roots, scarcely discernible, in the religious, juridical, aesthetic and moral sentiments of peoples. It might even be argued that it has its abstract formula in dialectics. War is our history, our life, our very soul; it is legislation, politics, State, homeland, social hierarchy, the rights of people, poetry, theology; it is, once again, everything. We hear talk of doing away with war, as if it were some sort of toll or tariff. And there is no appreciation that if we discount war and its
associated ideas, nothing, absolutely nothing remains of humanity’s past and not a single atom upon which to build its future. Oh, I may well say to these clumsy peace-mongers, as I myself was once told in respect of property: How do you envision society, with war abolished? What ideas, what beliefs are you offering? What literature, what poetry, what art? What would you make of man, that intelligent, religious, justice-dispensing, free, individual and, for all of those very reasons, a warring creature? What would you make of the nation, that independent, outgoing, autonomous collective? What becomes of the human race in its eternal repose?

Proudhon was not satisfied with the superficial reasons by which wars are usually explained; he wanted to penetrate into the essence of the phenomenon. Another French author, François-Odysse Barot, reflecting on the philosophical problems of history, in particular on the paradoxes of war, noted:

Above all these numerous species of animals is man, whose destructive hand does not spare anything living. He kills to feed.He kills to clothe.He kills to dress up.He kills to attack.He kills to defend.He kills to educate.He kills to have fun.He kills to kill. An arrogant and formidable king, he needs everything, and nothing resists him. However, what creature would destroy the one who destroys them all?He himself?. It is upon man that the killing of man is entrusted.

In doing so, he points to the cause of wars, which lies in man himself. The illusions inspired by optimistic authors were not justified. The First World War, which the French called the Great War (La grande guerre), was a severe test for the participating countries, showing the depth of contradictions that became the real cause of the cataclysm, and gave food for more realistic assessments of this phenomenon.

Teilhard de Chardin, who participated in this war as a medic, in his free time from duty kept notes, which were later included in a collection under the general title, Writings in Times of War. In them, musings on various topics are interspersed with thoughts about the war. Life on the front line gave, strangely enough, rich food for philosophical reflections on war and peace. And it is quite natural, as it is difficult to separate one from the other. It is noteworthy that the observations of an eyewitness, a participant in the events and at the same time a thinker and philosopher give this collection a special value. In one of the essays in this collection, entitled, “Nostalgia of the Front,” he writes:

And so, when the desired peace of the nations (and of me first of all) comes, something like a light will suddenly be extinguished on earth. War had torn through the crust of banalities and conventions. A “window” had opened onto the secret mechanisms and deep layers of human becoming. A region had opened up where men could breathe air charged with heaven. With peace, all things will be covered by the veil of monotony and ancient pettiness.

He contrasts this with war, which reveals to the participants a superhuman reality:

Happy, perhaps, those whom death will have taken in the very act and atmosphere of war, when they are driven, animated by a responsibility, a conscience, a freedom greater than their own, when they are exalted to the very edge of the world—very close to God!

Thus, war becomes for him an encounter with the Absolute.

Henri Bergson, a representative of intuitionism and philosophy of life, published a text in November 1914 in the Bulletin des armées de la République, in support of France and its soldiers. In the first line, he declares that the end of battle is beyond doubt: Germany will fall. This is not really a foresight; it seems like a prophecy. Jean-Philippe Cazier evaluates this short address to the French soldier:

Thus, Bergson’s text carries out a series of shifts from the very beginning: history and politics overlap there with metaphysics, chance is shifted to a higher necessity, the singular is placed in the category of the political and the moral, as well as the vital, which embraces the individual and the subject, defined as the means of this order. The soldier becomes a kind of antique hero, and France becomes both a mythical and metaphysical figure.

The theme of war, although not explicitly expressed, is also constantly present in Bergson’s work, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, published in 1932. We find elements of nihilism and mysticism in the conceptualization of war Georges Bataille’s works Inner Experience, The Limit of the Useful. The theme of war in Marcel Proust acquires a real philosophical resonance in his work In Search of Time Lost. Philippe Mengue argues that Proust has two types of understanding of war: orthodox, integrated into the state apparatus, and the second, original, anticipating the views of Gilles Deleuze, showing the existence of “war machines,” independent and external to the state. The war also influenced the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, who participated in the Second World War. The period at the beginning of German hostilities against France was called the Phoney War (in French, “Funny” or “Strange War”). During this time, the French philosopher served as a private at a surveying station in the Vosges. There he had the opportunity to devote his leisure time to writing diaries in which he described the events around him. These entries were later published under the title, War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War, 1939-40. The war was a turning point in Sartre’s destiny: a break with pacifism and a transition to active citizenship.The time spent in captivity and participation in the Resistance also played an important role in his philosophical formation. His diaries have a syncretic character. They contain observations, reasoning and inferences of a socio-philosophical nature. In War Diaries, Sartre applied the experience of his philosophical novel, Nausea (1938), where he had already used the genre of diary entries kept by the protagonist Antoine Roquentin. The influence of previous philosophical works is also evident. His observations on the “world of war” are not yet philosophy, but they are no longer mere eyewitness notes:

Man—I want to say, the enlisted herd? The messiness of war and the ambiguity of the warrior’s nature stem from the fact that man is treated simultaneously as a machine and as a psychic being sensitive to ceremony.
1) Like a machine. Like the worker, the soldier provides work. But it is unproductive work. Its ultimate purpose is to destroy, and when it is not actually destroying, it is nothing more than a simulacrum—firing blanks, big maneuvers, endless drills. So, you cannot rob him of his labor, because his labor doesnot provide value, in the Marxist sense. It is a naked effort. A soldier is not exploited, but even more than the worker, we maintain him like a machine.
2) Like a ceremonial being. Yesterday’s gathering emphasized “the high significance of saluting.” We see the conservative thinking process: the salute as ceremony. Then there is the search for a higher meaning. This is the thinking of Maistre and Bonald. We are bound by ceremonies and dances; we are captives of military politeness. The men of Verdun were forced to exercise during their rest periods, to “keep them well in hand.” Here, Alain’s analysis is perfectly accurate. It is obvious, however, that he is far from complete. The ambiguity is that command, in its representation of the enlisted herd, cascades endlessly from the material to the ceremonial and from the ceremonial to the material. And, of course, following the command in his representation of himself, the man himself jumps?

In his Dairies, Sartre’s reasoning about freedom, democracy, fascism, civilization, values is close to political philosophy:

One should not confuse the origins of this war, which may be clear to the historian, with the motivations that drive us to fight, which, as I indicated above, are unclear. Indeed, one should try to think of this war as an event, as a meaningful reality and as a value. It is precisely the value of this single war that is elusive.

The widespread assertion that the phenomenon of war is a common theme for twentieth-century intellectuals is well-founded. Many French writers, politicians, and thinkers wrote about this phenomenon. Among the famous names is Raymond Aron, Sartre’s friend at the École Normale Supérieure, who later became his opponent and ideological adversary. Aron’s versatile oeuvre did not ignore the fundamental theme of modernity—war. As a prominent theorist of international relations, Aron paid great attention to the phenomenon of war.

Among Aron’s significant works in this regard are, The Century of Total War (Les guerres en chaîne), Peace and War (Paix et guerre entre les nations), and Clausewitz: Philosopher of War (Penser la guerre, Clausewitz). In The Century of Total War, Aron emphasizes the idea of the ratio of quantity and quality in the process of creating a “critical mass.” Wars can reach it, thus creating the conditions for the emergence of a “chain reaction.” Thus, the First World War developed into the Second, and has the possibility of moving into the Third. Another of his works, Peace and War, published in 1962, is devoted to the justification of the theory of international relations. In an extensive article on the publication of this book, the French historian and political scientist Jean-Baptiste Duroselle elaborated on the contribution made by Aron to the development of the theory of international relations:

This abstract theory, which consists in conceptualization, presupposes, naturally, a second part: the search for determinants. Theory suggests what elements are to be analyzed; sociology influences these elements. The sociologist’s task “lies between that of the theorist and that of the historian.”The historian interprets the totality of the particular, the singular. The sociologist looks for judgments of “some universality.” So, there are two categories of possible determinants. One is physical or material: space, population, resources; the other is of a social nature: the nation and its regime; “civilization,” a phenomenon of the future whose relatively stable features (regularities) and transformations must be comprehended; and, finally, humanity, that is, a regularity related to the essence of human nature. The great problem relating to the last concept is to know whether man is aggressive by nature, whether there is biological aggressiveness or whether war is a consequence of the social condition. “The difficulty of peace refers rather to the human essence than to the animal beginning of man.”

In our opinion, this part of the task belongs not only, and not so much, to the competence of a historian or sociologist, but to the competence of a philosopher. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to talk about Aron’s contribution to the philosophy of war, but not only. At the same time, in his work he tries to reflect on the future of humanity. To an even greater extent, Aron reveals himself as a proponent of the philosophy of war in one of his later works, Clausewitz: Philosopher of War. André Glucksmann, who was influenced by his teacher during his tenure as an assistant to Aron, published his first book, Le discours de la guerre (A Discourse of War), in December 1967, which he characterized twenty years later as a mixture of philosophy, military strategy, nuclear deterrence and game theory. Nevertheless, it determined his interest in military issues, conflicts, the problem of violence, and terrorism.

At this time in the study of the phenomenon of war was developed polemology—”a new science of war”—in the words of creator Gaston Bouthoul. This field aroused interest in scientific and political circles in France. The French Institute of Polemology in Paris (Institut français de polémologie) has been under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of State for Scientific Research. Although Bouthoul believed that polemology was the sociology of war, this field was characterized by interdisciplinarity in the study of the phenomenon “war-peace.” Polemologists widely used heuristic possibilities of related disciplines. The fundamental works of the founder of polemology often contain reasoning that is philosophical in nature. This is noted by Alexis Philonenko in his Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre (Essay on the Philosophy of War), identifying the philosophy of war and polemology. He highlights the philosophical orientation of the reflections in the works of Bouthoul, who felt the urgent need to move away from the sociologism of his theory andtoward generalizations of a philosophical nature. A similar idea is formulated by the Romanian author Vasile Secăreş: “The ideas of the father of polemology, which are controversial, no doubt returning unexpectedly for our days to Durkheim’s sociologism, nevertheless have the merit of emphasizing the need for a holistic view of man and his past.”

Philosophical Paradigm for the Study of War

Since the emergence of the “philosophy of war,” its representatives have sought to consider war within the philosophical paradigm. Thus, the above-mentioned R. Henry in his essay tried to depart from the established standards of considering war from the point of view of military science. He wanted to give his study a philosophical character. His book in structure and style resembles the work of Carl von Clausewitz, On War. Henry combined philosophical and political reasoning about the phenomenon of war with military-strategic inferences. In a number of instances, he managed to find a connection between war and other areas of human activity. He points out that war “…is linked to politics and social science by its causes and results; it combines all the knowledge accumulated by mathematics, physics, and the natural sciences to increase man’s strength a hundredfold and to raise the intensity of his collective action.Finally, it gives rise to a real philosophy through the consideration of simple principles and natural laws with which the thinker can relate all the social, moral, and technical questions put at stake by these conflicts, in which the mind and vitality of the human race are periodically tempered.”

The Dutch ethnologist and sociologist,Sebald Rudolf Steinmetz, writing on the eve of the First World War, devoted his work (Die Philosophie des Krieges) to a philosophical consideration of war as a phenomenon inherent in the human race.In it, he analyzed the causes, consequences and trends of this phenomenon. Relying on a solid base of sources, he paid tribute to the contribution of researchers who devoted their research to the study of war. Among them he mentioned the names of French colleagues: Gustave Lagneau, Charles Létourneau, Ernest Lavisse, Alfred Nicolas Rambaud, Jean Lagorgette, Maurice Loir. Later, Emile Ollivier devoted his work to this problem. Following Loir’s example, he analyzed the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 in his book, Philosophie d’une guerre: 1870 (The Philosophy of One War: 1870). In the context of sociology’s offensive against philosophy, the position of the philosophy of war was weakened. However, the outbreak of the First World War brought philosophy of war to the fore. Paul-Louis Landsberg published an article entitled, “Réflexions pour une philosophie de la guerre et de la paix” (“Reflections on the Philosophy of War and Peace”) in the October 1939 issue of Esprit, a journal aimed at French-speaking intellectuals. He writes at the very beginning of the article: “…philosophical thought must remain clear and pose problems in its own way.”

A great contribution to the formation of the philosophy of war was made by Charles de Gaulle. His political and philosophical thought covered the most diverse aspects of the development of the French state and nation. Military and national security issues were not the least important. His concept of “defense in all directions” was influenced by the French philosophers Jean Bodin and Montesquieu, who attached great importance to the geographical and psychological factors in the political development of nations. The concepts of “nation” and “national interest” became the axis of the policy pursued by de Gaulle during his presidency. French military policy became a derivative of these determinants. The problem of national interest remains very important to this day, although it is interpreted differently by some theorists (Raymond Aron, Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Régis Debray, Thierry de Montbrial). The realistic approach of a number of French political thinkers, philosophers and sociologists to the interpretation of the concept of “universal values,” which under certain circumstances can cause conflict situations at different levels, deserves attention. The position of the famous French polemologist Julien Freund, who warned about the danger of fighting for mythical “universal values,” which he perceived as an acceptance of political dependence, is interesting in this regard.

Philosophy of War and Modernity

Years and centuries pass, but the relevance of the philosophy of war does not diminish. The French philosophical community has reacted vividly to the military conflicts and wars that periodically arise in various corners of our planet. Publications devoted to this problem are multiplying. Alexis Philonenko’s work, Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre is a large-scale work on the coverage of problems and personalities. The author refers to the concepts of such thinkers and philosophers as Machiavelli, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Just, Clausewitz, Proudhon, Tolstoy, and de Gaulle. The comparison of Tolstoy’s and Clausewitz’s views on war is certainly unexpected.

Philonenko’s reflections on the correlation between language and war, logic and strategy, respectively, are interesting. The philosophical tradition in discussing the phenomenon of war continues in the socio-political and professional philosophical thought of France, and the 21st century has convincingly proved it. The debate involves members of the public and professional philosophers. Lecture-debates such as those organized by the Philosophical Society of Nantes in 2003-2004 around the theme of “Philosophy in the Face of War” demonstrated the interest in the philosophical treatment of the phenomenon of war in relation to modernity. During the debate, presentations were made by well-known French philosophers J. Gobert, Thierry Ménissier, B. Benoit, and P. Hassner. In addition to the already mentioned experts on this problem, we should name P. Gallois, J. Guitton, D. David, Régis Debray, A. Joxe, Roger Caillois, E. Murez, P. Lelouch, C. Le Borgne, D. Herrmann and others. The philosophy of war has attracted the attention of many French philosophers. In particular, the work of Clausewitz was the subject of research both by Raymond Aron and René Girard.

The views of the French philosopher and political scientist Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer on the problems of modern wars are of interest. In his book, La guerre au nom de l’humanité (War in the Name of Humanity), he considers a whole set of problems affecting the basics of understanding the phenomenon of war. His multifaceted education (philosophy, law, political science) allows him to consider war in a political-philosophical way with the knowledge of legal issues. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, in the “Introduction” to this book, notes his commitment to realism, a sense of proportion, balance, without any theoretical excesses or dogmatic simplifications. Early 2019 saw the publication of a book by the French engineer, philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, La guerre qui ne peut pas avoir lieu: Essai de métaphysique nucléaire (The War That Cannot Happen: An Essay in Nuclear Metaphysics). It would seem to be a return to the old theme of the inadmissibility of nuclear war. One recalls the statements of progressive scientists who put forward pessimistic predictions of the fate of humanity after nuclear war, about the possibility of a “nuclear winter.” Dupuy is concerned that the world has come even closer to the brink of nuclear war than during the Cold War, but most people ignore the danger. He discusses the possibility of war breaking out uncontrollably regardless of the will of politicians, because of the triggering by “apocalyptic machines.” He raises in a new way the problem of the effectiveness and morality of nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

Given the presence of competing approaches to the cognition of war, there have been and are different points of view on the way to penetrate to the essence of this phenomenon. At the present stage, we can say that none of the paradigms has clearly proved its superiority in the realization of the epistemological goals set by the supporters of one or another direction. Apparently, mutual complementarity remains the fundamental principle of truth comprehension. In this respect, there are proposals to create a “new science of war.” Here, however, conceptual questions arise. One of them is the question of what a “new science” is. For example, the Russian military scientist Nikolai N. Golovin meant by this “the sociology of war,” as Gaston Bouthoul later did (though with significant inclusions of philosophy). Andrei E. Snesarev called the “philosophy of war” a universal tool for understanding the phenomenon of war. Gustave Le Bon considered war from the standpoint of psychology. The need in our time to create a “new science of war” requires combining different approaches, which can give a positive effect of understanding this phenomenon and the influence upon it.

This is all the more relevant now, since terrorism is gaining such a scale that a number of authors consider it as a kind of war. In the complex of methodological approaches to the study of wars and military conflicts, philosophy occupies an important place, as it perceives and conceptualizes this phenomenon in the most general way, which allows us to get close to its essence and find methods and means of counteraction. It is philosophy that can answer the following questions: what is war? What are the causes of wars? What is the relationship between human nature and war? Are there just wars, etc.?

The Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, in the Faculty of Philosophy, at the Lomonosov Moscow State University does a lot to study the phenomenon of war in keeping with the times: special courses devoted to this problem are offered, such as “The Philosophy of War” (since 2009), “Fundamentals of Polemology” (since 2016); numerous articles devoted to polemological problems have been published; members of the department have participated in various conferences on the problems of wars and military conflicts. One of the features of the departmental approach to the study of the phenomenon of war is the focus on the comparison of different points of view on this problem. As a result, we have formed the opinion that the concepts of French philosophers writing about war, in the paradigm of the “philosophy of war,” are characterized by originality and deserve careful study in the context of the dominance of Anglo-American theories.

Complete references are found in the Russian original.


Alexei V. Soloviev is Associate Professor in the Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov, Moscow.


Featured: Le siège de Paris (The Siege of Paris), by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier; painted in 1870.


Napoleon’s Gut by Ridley Scott

Directed by an Englishman who has not forgotten that Napoleon was his enemy, and who attacks his posterity through the means of propaganda—cinema—Ridley Scott’s film is heavy-handed to the point of ridiculousness. And it struggles, to say the least, to find its tone. The tragedy of the story eludes him, and some of the great protagonists are conspicuous by their absence. But why do we leave it to Hollywood to paint our great characters? And what is left of France after Napoleon? This article is both an analysis of the film and a more general historical reflection.

Expectations were high, but we were disappointed all the same. One might have imagined that Ridley Scott, a lover of history and blockbuster frescoes, would find the inspiration and form to tell the story of Napoleon, Emperor of the French. His first film, The Duelists, an adaptation of Conrad’s short story, set during the Empire, is as hard, incisive and sharp as steel, not to mention Gladiator, which regales us with sandy virile combat. Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner; the list goes on and on.

The film’s main flaw is Ridley Scott himself: he is English. His entire film is an indictment of Napoleon. In his endeavor to demythologize and demystify the Emperor, a dazzling victor in the sunshine of Austerlitz, a grandiose force with the will of Destiny, romantic even in the fall of Waterloo, and the dark melancholy of St. Helena, Scott portrays an irascible little, fat man, traumatized by women and complexed by his mother, who to compensate for his weakness gets drunk on the blood of men, taking pleasure in killing. It is the kind of barroom psychology that would make Chateaubriand, the Emperor’s enemy biographer, pale, and Zweig, a portraitist in his own right, a surgeon of consciences and wills, feel sorry for him. The man’s flaws and failings are strung together like a string of bad apples: virile, toxic, macho, violent towards his wife, sexually obsessed, a pedophile, a liar, a narcissistic manipulator, a conspiracy theorist and an exaggerator. What the vulgar press lends to Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin is offered to us throughout. We start with the revolution, celebrated with the death of the Queen—the dark hours of our history—and end with a little moral lesson worthy of a Bertrand Tavernier thesis film: Napoleon is responsible for the death of millions of people, and he is revered as a legend.

The film’s tone is constantly ambiguous. Burlesque and self-mockery combine with the pathology of a killer’s itinerary. We have the worst of Nicolas Sarkozy, a nothingness on two feet. This is L’Histoire d’un mec meets Faites entrer l’accusé. Napoleon is sometimes ridiculous, sometimes as cold as a sociopath, sporting the same hard, constipated face under increasingly pasty features. This in-betweenness between farce and tragedy is uncomfortable throughout.

The film focuses solely on Napoleon and Josephine. Talleyrand is barely sketched in, Fouchet appears in a single shot, and Marshals Ney, Murat, Lannes and Masséna are nowhere to be seen. We can recall Claude Rich, John Malkovich and Guitry as the lame devil and our own Depardieu as Fouchet. The acting leaves much to be desired. Joaquin Phoenix can’t seem to get out of his role as the Joker, drawing mimicry, breathlessness and fragility from it. Both characters share common traits: an infirmity of the soul, a violence within them, a pathological coldness, a strange laugh and the behavior of a mental hospital escapee. It is hard to believe that the actor has remained locked into his role as a buffoon. Vanessa Kirby is unbearable, appearing disheveled all the time, bland and tasteless, laughing uncontrollably at the announcement of her divorce, sad as rain at Malmaison.

The relationship between the emperor and empress takes up a place that spoils the film. The viewer could not care less about this conflicted, friendly relationship; the passions that end up in ashes, the upscale domestic scenes in the Tuileries, to put it politely. No, the viewer could not care less. Scott has no idea how uninteresting the subject is. Napoleon, like all great figures in history, is solitary. To show him held, entrenched, locked in by his wife, is pathetic.

The chronological progression of events in the form of key dates is lazy. The Egyptian expedition is as uninteresting as it gets; and the Italian campaign, with the Pont d’Arcole and Marengo, is skipped. Jena, Wagram, Eylau, all three, are silent. The war in Spain does not exist. The campaigns in Germany and France are forgotten. All these disappointments fail to explain the geopolitical stakes of the moment. Napoleon was a pragmatic and deliberately authoritarian politician. His work as a reformer, too. So be it. What we are left with for over two hours is a distressing portrait of a mad, megalomaniac killer. As a backdrop, we would have preferred to see Napoleon in exile, in his last days, going over in his memory the important events of his life as Emperor, confronting his demons, introspecting his character, in the depths of his solitude and in the face of his intimate weakness.

But there is more to this film than meets the eye. The battle scenes, the ones that remain, are well realized. The assault on Toulon is dynamic, while Austerlitz, without sunshine or triumph, is shown in all its cruelty and violence. The death of those Austrian and Russian soldiers on that icy lake delivered to the cannonballs is implacable. Even Waterloo is not lacking in interest. The film’s cold, gray photography is chiseled; the sets, outfits and palaces are well laid out; the music, from Piaf to Haydn’s Creation, via a Mozarabic Kyrie Eleison played by Marcel Pérès, is welcome. The aesthetic side of this film does do the job, and lives up to its director’s reputation.

Do we really think that the Englishman Scott wanted to deconstruct Napoleon? This verb is often used to denounce a political attempt, driven by a certain ideology, to wipe the slate clean, to cancel, to destroy. I do not believe that the director is so committed to Wokeism as to ideologically undermine the Emperor. He reacts as a subject of perfidious Albion, France’s eternal enemy, and attacks his posterity through the means of propaganda: cinema. Yet to place the Emperor in a harsh light, to be on the other side, opposite, with those who suffered the Corsican ogre, is not entirely without interest if things had only been done well. The problem is, they are not. We did not wait for Scott to shoot Napoleon. Let us sting and provoke a little. Let’s play devil’s advocate.

Napoleon was the strongest armed force of his generation, and came at just the right moment to support the party of order. A leader was needed to avoid chaos and put things right. The bourgeoisie took power, replacing the old nobility, and chose its foal: Bonaparte, a man of action, a military man, a man of the center, neither revolutionary nor backward-looking. Napoleon was a man overtaken by the force of things he had taken on. His talent lay in his ability to synthesize the old and the new: royalism and the republican adventure inherited from Rousseau. Napoleon did not go backwards; he did not make a break; he made a synthesis that worked. If we were to be more provocative, we would dare say that Napoleon was the very product of that social mobility capable of bringing novices, parvenus and boors to the top. The late Ancien Régime was full of these energetic types, moving from chamber pot to chamber valet, from valet to minister, right up to the head of the Directoire.

Action française thinkers such as Bainville were not kind to La Paille au nez. Léon Daudet summed up their ideas on Napoleon in one phrase: “a crusade for nothing.” Yes, Napoleon meant twenty-two years of war (out of the fifty-one years of his existence) to protect France’s borders, respond to the aggression of Europe’s dynasties, impose a continental blockade against the English and a revolutionary ideal on the rest of Europe. While Napoleon’s gesture has greatness, and the sun of Austerlitz still burns every December 2 for over two hundred years, this perpetual war ravaged Europe. Napoleon slashed his map with a saber, closed abbeys and congregations, and abolished feudal systems in southern Germany; he abrogated the Holy Roman Empire; he plundered the whole of Italy, ravaging Venice, which saw its last doge. History forgives the victors and kills the vanquished twice. So much for the great European dream we have heard so much about! Behind the laurels of war, the living blood and the tears, these victorious battles, motivated by a confused maneuver to stifle the English, border on absurd glory. Scott ends his film with this assessment: three million men died in Europe on the battlefields. That is a lot. But as Henri IV’s marshal Montluc would say: “Lords and captains who lead men to death; for war is nothing else.” Napoleon is shown in caricatures pampered by the devil, playing cards and betting men, throwing up troops and cannons. He was a soldier who knew only perpetual war, enlarged an empire that had no geographical sense, and took it upon himself to oust Bourbon from the thrones of Europe.

Some have drawn a comparison, mutatis mutandis, with Adolf Hitler. Of course, the latter’s genocide and biological racism severely limit the comparisons that should be made. Notwithstanding these caveats, both were propelled by a well-defined social class, concerned with its economic interests in the face of the messy revolution, to replace the corrupt Directoire on the one hand, and the limp, dying Weimar Republic on the other. One became consul, the other chancellor; both for life. One became emperor and the other, Führer, took possession of all institutions. Both empires collapsed because they were based on war. For an empire to survive, you need to substitute economic peace for war, as the Romans understood. An empire whose only horizon is war is doomed to disappear quickly. Ten years for the first, twelve for the second. Foreign countries waged war against them. The war waged in Europe was waged against England. It was made possible by the general mobilization of youth, supported by a formidable demographic. The same thirst for power led them to open two fronts, in Western and Eastern Europe. Both went astray in Russia, suffering the invincible General Winter. The Grande Armée was broken, while the death of twenty million Russians broke the Wehrmacht. This Russian failure set in motion the mechanics of defeat and precipitated the collapse of both empires. If France was politically dead in 1815, Germany, which was already a ghost with Hitler, the ghost of a dead 1918, was completely reduced to zero and never really recovered.

Napoleon is partly responsible for our disenchantment. France was grandiose, then ceased to exist after Waterloo. I am one of those people who re-enact the battle a thousand times a year, cannot accept defeat and, in front of Scott’s film, could not watch this drama without bowing their heads in shame and sadness. With Waterloo, France was buried. I cannot deny that the defeat at Waterloo, which signaled our submission to foreign powers and those of money, was followed by a half-hearted Restoration, a bourgeois King of the French, a frilly Second Empire and a republic of bacchantes, rigid and progressive, and allowed for the worst of politics and its choices, but the best of literature and the blossoming of an astonishing painting of the salons. Waterloo, when did we become great? Under de Gaule, some would say, for a while, a little over a decade, and then some. Even now, we are still immersed in this malaise, this melancholy and this hope for greatness. We are waiting as some wait for the man who will save us. Our formidable paradox was revealed when the film was released: we are throwing up the man we are waiting for to emerge from his tomb at Les Invalides.

There was Abel Gance’s great film with the unforgettable Albert Dieudonné; later, by the same director, Austerlitz, with the serious and virile Pierre Mondy. Why on earth is no one in France capable of producing and directing, with substantial resources, a real film about the Emperor, while we leave the matter to those who are hostile to us? I would like to know.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.


Proelio apud Bannockburn

This account of the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) was written during the reign of King Edward III (1312 – 1377). It is found in Cotton. Titus, A. XX., fol. 68.

Quomodo comes Gloverniæ fuerat occisus apud Strivelyn, et Anglici victi.

Me cordis augustia cogit mira fari,
Scotiæ quod Anglia cæpit subjugari:
Nova jam prodigia dicitur patrari,
Quando matri filia sumit dominari.
Regionum Anglia plurium matrona,
Cuï tributaria jam dabantur dona,
Proth dolor! nunc cogitur nimis esse prona
Filiæ, qua læditur materna corona.
Exiit per Angliam edictum vulgare,
Admonendo quempiam arma præparare,
Ut adiret Scotiam phalanx vendicare
Jura, vel injuriam posse vindicare.
Ad quod thema debeam nimis protelare:
Rex cæpit militiam suam adunare,
Inconsultus abiit Scotos debellare.
Ira sponte rediit nolens plus obstare.
Erant in excercitu plures generosi,
Milites in exitu nimis et pomposi;
Cum ad bellum venerant tot impetuosi,
Satis promti fuerant hostes animosi.
Animosi fuerant et hoc apparebat;
Cum partes certaverant, illa permanebat
Stabilis, sed fugiit quæ superbiebat.
Inproba succubuit, astuta vincebat.
Inauditus ingruit inter hos conflictus;
Primitus prosiliit Acteus invictus,
Comes heu! Gloverniæ dans funestos ictus;
Assistens in acie qui fit derelictus.
Hic phalangas hostium disrupi coegit,
Et virorum fortium corpora subegit;
Sed fautor domesticus sibi quem elegit,
Hic non erat putitus quando factum fregit.
Hic est proditorius vir Bartholomeus,
In cunctis victoriis quem confundat Deus!
Domino quod varius fit ut Pharisæus.
Hinc Judæ vicarius morte fiet reus.
Videns contra dominum hostes desævire,
Fingit se sex seminum longius abire;
Domino quod renuit suo subvenire,
Proditor hic meruit tormenta obire.
Plures sunt quem perperam comes est seductus,
Ut ovis ad victimam et ad mortem ductus,
Qui [sunt] per quos oritur tam vulgaris luctus,
Hoc satis cognoscitur per eorum fructus.
Quorum virus Anglia tota toxicatur;
Vulgaris justitia sic et enervatur;
Regale judicium per hos offuscatur;
Ex hoc in exilium fides relegatur.
Victa jacet caritas, et virtus calcatur;
Viret ingratuitas, et fraus dominatur;
Quicquid in hiis finibus mali perpetratur,
Dictis proditoribus totum inputatur.
Iste deceptorius vir non erat solus,
Per quem proditorius jam fiebat dolus;
Alter sed interfuit, quem non celet polus,
Et fiat ut meruit infernalis bolus.
Hujusmodi milites, regno pervicaces,
Sathanæ satellites, sunt nimis rapaces;
Regis si sint judices undique veraces,
Destruent veneficos suos et sequaces.
Capitis sententiam pati meruerunt,
Cum sponte militiam talem prodiderunt;
Qui fuerunt rustici, sicut permanserunt,
Comitis domestici fugam elegerunt.
Hii fraude multiplica virum prodiderunt,
Inpia gens Scotica quem circumdederunt;
Ipsum a dextrario suo prostraverunt,
Et prostrati vario modo ceciderunt
Fideles armigeri qui secum fuerunt;
Milites et cæteri secum corruerunt;
Cum sui succurrere sibi voluerunt,
Hostibus resistere tot non valuerunt.
Sic comes occubuit præ cunctis insignis,
Qui sua distribuit prædia malignis;
Sibi quisque caveat istis intersignis,
Jam fidem ne præbeat talibus indignis.
Ex hoc illi comites actibus periti,
Adhuc qui superstites sunt, fiant muniti,
Alias in prælio cum sistant uniti,
Ne sic proditorio telo sint attriti.
Cruciatur Anglia nimio dolore,
Tali quod versutia privatur honore,
Muniatur cautius mentis cum labore,
Error ne novissimus pejor sit priore.
Consulo comitibus adhuc qui sunt vivi,
Quod sint proditoribus amodo nocivi;
Sic et per industriam omnes sint captivi:
Anglici ad Scotiam fiant progressivi.
Credo verum dicere, non mentiri conor;
Jam cæpit deficere nostri gentis honor;
Comitem cum lividus mortis texit color,
Angliæ tunc horridus statim crevit dolor.
Nostræ gentis Angliæ quidam sunt captivi;
Currebant ab acie quidam semivivi;
Qui fuerunt divites fiunt redemptivi;
Quod delirant nobiles plectuntur Achivi.
Mentes ducum Angliæ sunt studendo fessæ,
Nam fœdus justitiæ certo caret esse;
Ergo rex potentiæ stirps radice Jessæ,
Fautores perfidiæ ducat ad non esse!
Quando sævit aquilum, affricus quievit;
Et australi populo dampnum mortis crevit.
Anglia victoria frui consuevit,
Sed prolis perfidia mater inolevit.
Si scires, Glovernia, tua fata, fleres,
Eo quod in Scotia tuus ruit hæres;
Te privigni capient quorum probra feres;
Ne te far … facient, presens regnum teres.
Facta es ut domina viro viduata,
Cujus sunt solamina in luctum mutata;
Tu es sola civitas capite truncata;
Tuos casus Trinitas fæcundet beata!


Featured: The Battle of Bannockburn, by William Allan; painted in 1850.


The Battle of Sempach

Robert Walser (1878-1956) is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the modern era whose work has had a wide impact. However, during his lifetime he was largely ignored and struggled with poverty all his life, which resulted in a mental breakdown in 1929; he spent the remainder of hus life in insitiutions and anonymity. His work was rediscovered in the 1970s. The Battle of Sempach was published in Berlin, in 1908. It describes the deed of the Swiss legendary hero, Arnold von Winkelried, whose self-less deed brought victory to the Swiss confederates over Austria at the Battle of Sempach.

One day, in the middle of a hot summer, an army column slowly made its way along the dust-covered country road into the Lucerne region. The bright, actually more than bright, sun glared down on the dancing armor, on armor that covered human bodies, on dancing steeds, on helmets and bits of faces, on horses’ heads and tails, on ornaments and plumes and stirrups that were as big as snowshoes.

Meadows with thousands of fruit trees spread out to the right and left of the gleaming procession, up to the hills that waved and looked like softly and carefully painted decorations from the blue-scented, half-blurred distance.

It was an oppressive heat in the morning, a meadow heat, a grass, hay and dust heat, for dust was thrown up like thick clouds that sometimes wanted to envelop pieces and parts of the army. The heavy cavalcade moved forward, sluggishly, ploddingly and carelessly; it at times resembled a long, iridescent snake, at times a lizard of immense size, at times a large piece of cloth, richly embroidered with figures and colorful shapes and solemnly trailed, just as ladies, especially elderly and imperious ones, are accustomed to trailing trains.

In the whole manner of this army, in the stomping and clanking, in this sober, beautiful rattling, there was a single “Because of me” attitude, something cheeky, something very confident, something overpowering, something lazily pushed aside. All these knights conversed with each other, as best they could through their steely mouths, in a cheerful exchange of words; laughter rang out and this sound fitted in perfectly with the bright sound made by the weapons and chains and golden pendants. The morning sun still seemed to caress many a plate and fine metal, the sounds of pipes flew up to the sun; now and then one of the many servants on foot handed his riding master a delicate morsel, stuck on a silver fork, up to the swaying saddle.

Wine was drunk fleetingly, poultry was eaten and non-edible food was spat out, with a light, carefree disposition, for it was not a serious, chivalrous war, it was a matter of punishment, of breeding, of bloody, mocking, theatrical things; so everyone thought; and everyone could already see the mass of severed heads that were to color the meadow bloody. Among the warlords were many a wonderful young nobleman in splendid clothes, sitting on horseback like a manly angel flown down from the blue, uncertain sky. Some of them had made themselves comfortable and handed their helmets to a defiant boy to wear, thus showing the open air a strangely beautiful face marked by innocence and exuberance.

The latest jokes were told and the latest stories of gallant women were discussed. Those who remained serious were considered the best; a thoughtful expression seemed to be considered indecent and unchivalrous that day. The hair of the young men, who had taken off their helmets, shone and smelled of ointments and oil and fragrant water, which they had poured on themselves as if they were riding to a flirtatious lady to sing charming songs to her. The hands, from which the iron gloves had been removed, did not look warlike, but rather well-groomed and pampered, narrow and white like the hands of young girls.

One man alone in the frenzied procession was serious. Even his appearance, a deep black suit of armor interspersed with delicate gold, indicated what the man it covered was thinking. It was the noble Duke Leopold of Austria. This man did not speak a word; he seemed completely absorbed in anxious thoughts. His face looked like that of a man who is being bothered by a pesky fly around his eye. This fly must have been his evil foreboding, for a perpetual contemptuous, sad smile played about his mouth; he kept his head bowed. The whole earth, as cheerful as it looked, seemed to him to roll and thunder angrily. Or was it only the trampling thunder of horses’ hoofs, as they were now passing a wooden bridge over the Reuss? In any case, something ominous wove eerily around the Duke’s figure.


The army stopped near the little town of Sempach; it was now about two o’clock in the afternoon. Perhaps it was even three o’clock; the knights did not care what time it was; for their sake it might have been twenty o’clock: they would have found it all in order. They were already terribly bored, and found every slightest trace of martial measure ridiculous. It was a dull moment; it was like a mock maneuver, the way they now jumped out of their saddles to take up their positions. The laughter no longer wanted to resound; they had already laughed so much, a weariness, a yawn set in. Even the horses seemed to realize that all they could do now was yawn. The serving foot soldiers went after the remains of the food and wine, drinking and guzzling whatever was left to eat and drink. How ridiculous this whole campaign seemed to everyone! This ragtag town that was still defiant—how stupid it was!

Suddenly the call of a horn sounded in the terrible heat and boredom. A peculiar announcement that made a few more attentive ears prick up: What could be there? Listen. Again. There it sounded again. Yes. And you could have generally believed that this time it sounded less far away.

“All good things come in threes,” lisped a cheeky joker. “Sound again, horn!”

A while passed. They had become somewhat thoughtful; and now, all at once, terribly, as if the thing had got wings and was riding along on fiery monsters, flaming and screaming, it began once more, a long cry: “We’re coming!”

It was indeed as if an underworld had suddenly been given the air to break through the hard earth. The sound was like a dark abyss opening up and it seemed as if the sun were now shining down from a dark sky, even more glowing, even brighter, but as if from a hell, not a heaven.

People were still laughing even now; there are moments when people think they should smile while they feel gripped by horror. After all, the mood of an army of many people is not much different from the mood of a single, lonely person. The whole landscape in its brooding, whitish heat now only seemed to make more and more noise; it had become the sound of horns; and now, as if from an opening, the heap of people who had been preceded by the call immediately threw themselves into the sound space. Now the landscape no longer had a contour; sky and summery earth blurred into a solid; the season, which had disappeared, had become a place, a fencing ground, a warlike playground, a battlefield. In a battle, nature always perishes; the cube alone rules—the fabric of weapons, the heap of people and the other heap of people.

The throng of people rushing forward, apparently heated, came closer. And the knightly band was solid; they seemed to have suddenly merged together. Men of iron held out their lances so that one could have ridden a break-carriage over the lance bridge without breaking it; the knights were wedged in so tightly and lance after lance stabbed forward so stupidly, immovable, unshakeable, just something, one would have thought, for a pressing, rushing human breast to impale itself on. Here a stolid wall of lace; there people half covered with shirts. Here the art of war, of the most innate kind; there people seized by impotent rage.

Then one and then the other, boldly, in order to put an end to this disgusting displeasure, rushed into one of the spearheads, mad, crazy, thrown down by anger and rage. Onto the ground, of course, without even having hit the helmeted and feathered lout of iron with his hand weapon, bleeding miserably from the chest, rolling over, his face in the dusty horse droppings left behind by the noble steeds. So it was with all these almost unclothed men, while the lances, already reddened by the blood, seemed to smile mockingly.


No, that was nothing; on the side of man, one felt compelled to use a trick. When confronted with art, art became necessary, or some high thought; and this higher thought, in the shape of a man of high stature, came forward at once, strangely, as if advanced by a supernatural power, and spoke to his countrymen: “Take care of my wife and my children, I will make a lane for you;” and threw himself with lightning speed into four or five lances, so as not to weaken in his desire to sacrifice himself, and pulled down several more, as many as he could grasp while dying, to his chest, as if he could not embrace enough iron spikes and press them against him, so that he could really sink into the throng, and lay on the ground and had become a bridge for people who stepped on his body, on the high thought that just wanted to be stepped on.

Nothing will ever again resemble such a smashing as now the light mountain and valley men, pushed and lifted by the fury, smashed into the clumsy, wicked wall, and tore it apart and beat it to pieces, like tigers tearing apart a defenseless herd of cows. The knights were now almost completely defenseless, as they could hardly move to one side, wedged into their confines. Whoever was on horseback was thrown down like paper, so that it cracked like bags filled with air when they are smashed together between two hands. The weapons of the shepherds now proved terrible and their light clothing just right; the armor was all the more troublesome for the knights. Heads were grazed by blows; only seemed to be grazed but really had been bashed in. There was a constant thrashing; horses were overturned; the fury and strength increased; the Duke was killed; it would have been a miracle if he had not been killed. Those who struck shouted about it, as if it were the right thing to do, as if the killing was still too small a destruction, something only half done.

Heat, steam, the smell of blood, dirt and dust and the screaming and shouting mixed into a wild, hellish turmoil. The dying barely felt their deaths; they died so rapidly. They often suffocated in their boastful iron armor, these aristocratic flails. What good was an opinion now? Everyone would have gladly given a damn, if they could have given a damn at all. About a hundred beautiful noblemen drowned; no, drowned in the nearby Lake Sempach; they drowned because they were thrown into the water like cats and dogs; they tumbled over and rolled over in their elegant beak shoes; it was a real disgrace. The most splendid iron armor could only promise destruction and the realization of this premonition was terribly the right one.

What was the point of having a castle, land and people at home, somewhere in Aargau or Swabia, a beautiful wife, farmhands, maidservants, orchards, fields and forests, taxes and the finest privileges? That only made dying in these puddles, between the tightly drawn knee of a mad shepherd and a piece of ground, even more bitter and miserable. Of course, the magnificent steeds trampled their own masters in a wild flight; many gentlemen, too, in their haste to dismount, got caught in the stirrups with their stupid fashionable shoes, so that they kissed the meadows with the bleeding backs of their heads, while their terrified eyes, before they went out, saw the sky above them burning like a fierce flame. Of course, shepherds also collapsed, but for every naked and bare-chested one there were always ten covered and wrapped up in steel. The Battle of Sempach actually teaches us how terribly stupid it is to wrap oneself up like that. If they could have moved, these puppets—well, they would have moved; some of them did, as they had finally freed themselves from the most unbearable things they had on their bodies. “I fight with slaves, O the shame!” cried a handsome boy with yellowish curls streaming down from his head, and, struck in the dear face by a cruel blow, sank to the ground, where, wounded to death, he bit the grass with his half-shattered mouth. A few shepherds, who had lost their murder weapons from their hands, attacked their opponents from below with their necks and heads like wrestlers on the ring, or, dodging the blows, threw themselves on the necks of the knights and strangled them until they were choked off.


In the meantime, evening had fallen, the dying light glowed in the trees and bushes, while the sun sank between the dark foothills like a dead, beautiful, sad man. The grim battle had come to an end. The snow-white, pale Alps hung down their beautiful, cold foreheads in the background of the world. The dead were now being collected, and for this purpose they went about quietly, picking up the fallen men lying on the ground and carrying them to the mass grave that others had dug. Flags and armor were gathered together until it became a stately pile. Money and valuables, everything, was handed over to a certain place. Most of these simple, strong men had become quiet and good; they looked at the looted jewelry not without wistful contempt; walked around the meadows, looked into the faces of the slain and washed off blood where it tempted them to see what the guilty features might still look like.

Two young men with faces so young and bright, with lips still smiling in death, were found embraced on the ground at the foot of a bush. One of them had had his chest beaten in, the other had his body cut through. They had to work late into the night; then they searched with torches. They found Arnold von Winkelried and shuddered at the sight of his body. As the men buried him, they sang one of their simple songs in dark voices; there was no more pomp. There were no priests; what should one have done with priests? Praying and thanking the Lord God for the victory that had been won—that could be done without any ecclesiastical fuss. Then they went home. And after a few days they were scattered back to their high valleys, working, serving, farming, looking after the stores, doing what was necessary and sometimes saying a word about the battle they had experienced; not much. They were not celebrated (well, perhaps a little, in Lucerne at their entry). The days went by, for the days must have been harsh and rough even then, in 1386, with their manifold worries. A great deed does not erase the arduous succession of days. Life does not stand still for a long time on a battle day; history only takes a short break until it, too, has to hurry forward, urged on by imperious life.


Featured: Winkelried at Sempach, by Konrad Grob (1828-1904); date of the painting unknown.


George Frideric Handel

I.

To the modern Englishman Handel is almost a contemporary. Paintings and busts of this great minstrel are scattered everywhere throughout the land. He lies in Westminster Abbey among the great poets, warriors, and statesmen, a giant memory in his noble art. A few hours after death the sculptor Roubiliac took a cast of his face, which he wrought into imperishable marble; “moulded in colossal calm,” he towers above his tomb, and accepts the homage of the world benignly like a god. Exeter Hall and the Foundling Hospital in London are also adorned with marble statues of him.

There are more than fifty known pictures of Handel, some of them by distinguished artists. In the best of these pictures Handel is seated in the gay costume of the period, with sword, shot-silk breeches, and coat embroidered with gold. The face is noble in its repose. Benevolence is seated about the finely-shaped mouth, and the face wears the mellow dignity of years, without weakness or austerity. There are few collectors of prints in England and America who have not a woodcut or a lithograph of him. His face and his music are alike familiar to the English-speaking world.

Handel came to England in the year 1710, at the age of twenty-five. Four years before he had met, at Naples, Scarlatti, Porpora, and Corelli. That year had been the turning-point in his life. With one stride he reached the front rank, and felt that no musician alive could teach him anything.

George Frederick Handel (or Handel, as the name is written in German) was born at Halle, Lower Saxony, in the year 1685. Like German literature, German music is a comparatively recent growth. What little feeling existed for the musical art employed itself in cultivating the alien flowers of Italian song. Even eighty years after this Mozart and Haydn were treated like lackeys and vagabonds, just as great actors were treated in England at the same period. Handel’s father looked on music as an occupation having very little dignity.

Determined that his young son should become a doctor like himself, and leave the divine art to Italian fiddlers and French buffoons, he did not allow him to go to a public school even, for fear he should learn the gamut. But the boy Handel, passionately fond of sweet sounds, had, with the connivance of his nurse, hidden in the garret a poor spinet, and in stolen hours taught himself how to play. At last the senior Handel had a visit to make to another son in the service of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, and the young George was taken along to the ducal palace. The boy strayed into the chapel, and was irresistibly drawn to the organ. His stolen performance was made known to his father and the duke, and the former was very much enraged at such a direct evidence of disobedience. The duke, however, being astonished at the performance of the youthful genius, interceded for him, and recommended that his taste should be encouraged and cultivated instead of repressed.

From this time forward fortune showered upon him a combination of conditions highly favorable to rapid development. Severe training, ardent friendship, the society of the first composers, and incessant practice were vouchsafed him. As the pupil of the great organist Zachau, he studied the whole existing mass of German and Italian music, and soon exacted from his master the admission that he had nothing more to teach him. Thence he went to Berlin to study the opera-school, where Ariosti and Bononcini were favorite composers. The first was friendly, but the latter, who with a first-rate head had a cankered heart, determined to take the conceit out of the Saxon boy. He challenged him to play at sight an elaborate piece. Handel played it with perfect precision, and thenceforward Bononcini, though he hated the youth as a rival, treated him as an equal.

On the death of his father Handel secured an engagement at the Hamburg opera-house, where he soon made his mark by the ability with which, on several occasions, he conducted rehearsals.

At the age of nineteen Handel received the offer of the Lübeck organ, on condition that he would marry the daughter of the retiring organist. He went down with his friend Mattheson, who it seems had been offered the same terms. They both returned, however, in single blessedness to Hamburg.

Though the Lübeck maiden had stirred no bad blood between them, musical rivalry did. A dispute in the theatre resulted in a duel. The only thing that saved. Handel’s life was a great brass button that shivered his antagonist’s point, when they were parted to become firm friends again.

While at Hamburg Handel’s first two operas were composed, “Almira” and “Nero.” Both of these were founded on dark tales of crime and sorrow, and, in spite of some beautiful airs and clever instrumentation, were musical failures, as might be expected.

Handel had had enough of manufacturing operas in Germany, and so in July, 1706, he went to Florence. Here he was cordially received; for Florence was second to no city in Italy in its passion for encouraging the arts. Its noble specimens of art creations in architecture, painting, and sculpture, produced a powerful impression upon the young musician. In little more than a week’s time he composed an opera, “Rodrigo,” for which he obtained one hundred sequins. His next visit was to Venice, where he arrived at the height of the carnival. Whatever effect Venice, with its weird and mysterious beauty, with its marble palaces, façades, pillars, and domes, its magnificent shrines and frescoes, produced on Handel, he took Venice by storm. Handel’s power as an organist and a harpsichord player was only second to his strength as a composer, even when, in the full zenith of his maturity, he composed the “Messiah” and “Judas Maccabæus.”

“Il caro Sassone,” the dear Saxon, found a formidable opponent as well as dear friend in the person of Scarlatti. One night at a masked ball, given by a nobleman, Handel was present in disguise. He sat at the harpsichord, and astonished the company with his playing; but no one could tell who it was that ravished the ears of the assembly. Presently another masquerader came into the room, walked up to the instrument, and called out: “It is either the devil or the Saxon!” This was Scarlatti, who afterward had with Handel, in Florence and Rome, friendly contests of skill, in which it seemed difficult to decide which was victor. To satisfy the Venetian public, Handel composed the opera “Agrippina,” which made a furore among all the connoisseurs of the city.

So, having seen the summer in Florence and the carnival in Venice, he must hurry on to be in time for the great Easter celebrations in Rome. Here he lived under the patronage of Cardinal Otto-boni, one of the wealthiest and most liberal of the Sacred College. The cardinal was a modern representative of the ancient patrician. Living himself in princely luxury, he endowed hospitals and surgeries for the public. He distributed alms, patronized men of science and art, and entertained the public with comedies, operas, oratorios, puppet-shows, and academic disputes. Under the auspices of this patron, Handel composed three operas and two oratorios. Even at this early period the young composer was parting company with the strict old musical traditions, and his works showed an extraordinary variety and strength of treatment.

From Rome he went to Naples, where he spent his second Italian summer, and composed the original Italian “Aci e Galatea,” which in its English version, afterward written for the Duke of Chandos, has continued a marked favorite with the musical world. Thence, after a lingering return through the sunny land where he had been so warmly welcomed, and which had taught him most effectually, in convincing him that his musical life had nothing in common with the traditions of Italian musical art, he returned to Germany, settling at the court of George of Brunswick, Elector of Hanover, and afterward King of England. He received commission in the course of a few months from the elector to visit England, having been warmly invited thither by some English noblemen. On his return to Hanover, at the end of six months, he found the dull and pompous little court unspeakably tiresome after the bustle of London. So it is not to be marveled at that he took the earliest opportunity of returning to the land which he afterward adopted. At this period he was not yet twenty-five years old, but already famous as a performer on the organ and harpsichord, and as a composer of Italian operas.

When Queen Anne died and Handel’s old patron became King of England, Handel was forbidden to appear before him, as he had not forgotten the musician’s escapade; but his peace was at last made by a little ruse. Handel had a friend at court, Baron Kilmansegge, from whom he learned that the king was, on a certain day, going to take an excursion on the Thames. So he set to work to compose music for the occasion, which he arranged to have performed on a boat which followed the king’s barge. As the king floated down the river he heard the new and delightful “Water-Music.” He knew that only one man could have composed such music; so he sent for Handel, and sealed his pardon with a pension of two hundred pounds a year.

II.

Let us take a glance at the society in which the composer moved in the heyday of his youth. His greatness was to be perfected in after-years by bitter rivalries, persecution, alternate oscillations of poverty and affluence, and a multitude of bitter experiences. But at this time Handel’s life was a serene and delightful one. Rival factions had not been organized to crush him. Lord Burlington lived much at his mansion, which was then out of town, although the house is now in the heart of Piccadilly. The intimate friendship of this nobleman helped to bring the young musician into contact with many distinguished people.

It is odd to think of the people Handel met daily without knowing that their names and his would be in a century famous. The following picture sketches Handel and his friends in a sprightly fashion:

“Yonder heavy, ragged-looking youth standing at the corner of Regent Street, with a slight and rather more refined-looking companion, is the obscure Samuel Johnson, quite unknown to fame. He is walking with Richard Savage. As Signor Handel, ‘the composer of Italian music,’ passes by, Savage becomes excited, and nudges his friend, who takes only a languid interest in the foreigner. Johnson did not care for music; of many noises he considered it the least disagreeable.

“Toward Charing Cross comes, in shovel-hat and cassock, the renowned ecclesiastic Dean Swift. He has just nodded patronizingly to Bononcini in the Strand, and suddenly meets Handel, who cuts him dead. Nothing disconcerted, the dean moves on, muttering his famous epigram:

     'Some say that Signor Bononcini,
     Compared to Handel, is a ninny;
     While others vow that to him Handel
     Is hardly fit to hold a candle.
     Strange that such difference should be
     'Twixt tweedledum and tweedledee.'

“As Handel enters the ‘Turk’s Head’ at the corner of Regent Street, a noble coach and four drives up. It is the Duke of Chandos, who is inquiring for Mr. Pope. Presently a deformed little man, in an iron-gray suit, and with a face as keen as a razor, hobbles out, makes a low bow to the burly Handel, who, helping him into the chariot, gets in after him, and they drive off together to Cannons, the duke’s mansion at Edge-ware. There they meet Mr. Addison, the poet Gay, and the witty Arbuthnot, who have been asked to luncheon. The last number of the Spectator is on the table, and a brisk discussion soon arises between Pope and Addison concerning the merits of the Italian opera, in which Pope would have the better if he only knew a little more about music, and could keep his temper. Arbuthnot sides with Pope in favor of Mr. Handel’s operas; the duke endeavors to keep the peace. Handel probably uses his favorite exclamation, ‘Vat te tevil I care!’ and consumes the recherche wines and rare viands with undiminished gusto.

“The Magnificent, or the Grand Duke, as he was called, had built himself a palace for £230,000. He had a private chapel, and appointed Handel organist in the room of the celebrated Dr. Pepusch, who retired with excellent grace before one manifestly his superior. On week-days the duke and duchess entertained all the wits and grandees in town, and on Sundays the Edgeware Road was thronged with the gay equipages of those who went to worship at the ducal chapel and hear Mr. Handel play on the organ.

“The Edgeware Road was a pleasant country drive, but parts of it were so solitary that highwaymen were much to be feared. The duke was himself attacked on one occasion; and those who could afford it never traveled so far out of town without armed retainers. Cannons was the pride of the neighborhood, and the duke—of whom Pope wrote,

     'Thus gracious Chandos is beloved at sight'—

was as popular as he was wealthy. But his name is made still more illustrious by the Chandos anthems. They were all written at Cannons between 1718 and 1720, and number in all eleven overtures, thirty-two solos, six duets, a trio, quartet, and forty-seven choruses. Some of the above are real masterpieces; but, with the exception of ‘The waves of the sea rage horribly,’ and ‘Who is God but the Lord?’ few of them are ever heard now. And yet these anthems were most significant in the variety of the choruses and in the range of the accompaniments; and it was then, no doubt, that Handel was feeling his way toward the great and immortal sphere of his oratorio music. Indeed, his first oratorio, ‘Esther,’ was composed at Cannons, as also the English version of ‘Acis and Galatea.'”

But Handel had other associates, and we must now visit Thomas Britton, the musical coal-heaver. “There goes the famous small-coal man, a lover of learning, a musician, and a companion of gentlemen.” So the folks used to say as Thomas Britton, the coal-heaver of Clerkenwell Green, paced up and down the neighboring streets with his sack of small coal on his back, destined for one of his customers. Britton was great among the great. He was courted by the most fashionable folk of his day. He was a cultivated coal-heaver, who, besides his musical taste and ability, possessed an extensive knowledge of chemistry and the occult sciences.

Britton did more than this. He gave concerts in Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell, where this singular man had formed a dwelling-house, with a concert-room and a coal-store, out of what was originally a stable. On the ground-floor was the small-coal repository, and over that the concert-room—very long and narrow, badly lighted, and with a ceiling so low that a tall man could scarcely stand upright in it. The stairs to this room were far from pleasant to ascend, and the following facetious lines by Ward, the author of the “London Spy,” confirm this:

     "Upon Thursdays repair
     To my palace, and there
     Hobble up stair by stair
     But I pray ye take care
     That you break not your shins by a stumble;

     "And without e'er a souse
     Paid to me or my spouse,
     Sit as still as a mouse
     At the top of the house,
     And there you shall hear how we fumble."

Nevertheless beautiful duchesses and the best society in town flocked to Britton’s on Thursdays—not to order coals, but to sit out his concerts.

Let us follow the short, stout little man on a concert-day. The customers are all served, or as many as can be. The coal-shed is made tidy and swept up, and the coal-heaver awaits his company. There he stands at the door of his stable, dressed in his blue blouse, dustman’s hat, and maroon kerchief tightly fastened round his neck. The concert-room is almost full, and, pipe in hand, Britton awaits a new visitor—the beautiful Duchess of B———. She is somewhat late (the coachman, possibly, is not quite at home in the neighborhood).

Here comes a carriage, which stops at the coal-shop; and, laying down his pipe, the coal-heaver assists her grace to alight, and in the genteelest manner escorts her to the narrow staircase leading to the music-room. Forgetting Ward’s advice, she trips laughingly and carelessly up the stairs to the room, from which proceed faint sounds of music, increasing to quite an olla podri-da of sound as the apartment is reached—for the musicians are tuning up. The beautiful duchess is soon recognized, and as soon in deep gossip with her friends. But who is that gentlemanly man leaning over the chamber-organ? That is Sir Roger L’Estrange, an admirable performer on the violoncello, and a great lover of music. He is watching the subtile fingering of Mr. Handel, as his dimpled hands drift leisurely and marvelously over the keys of the instrument.

There, too, is Mr. Bannister with his fiddle—the first Englishman, by-the-by, who distinguished himself upon the violin; there is Mr. Woolaston, the painter, relating to Dr. Pepusch of how he had that morning thrown up his window upon hearing Britton crying “Small coal!” near his house in Warwick Lane, and, having beckoned him in, had made a sketch for a painting of him; there, too, is Mr. John Hughes, author of the “Siege of Damascus.” In the background also are Mr. Philip Hart, Mr. Henry Symonds, Mr. Obadiah Shuttleworth, Mr. Abiell Whichello; while in the extreme corner of the room is Robe, a justice of the peace, letting out to Henry Needier of the Excise Office the last bit of scandal that has come into his court. And now, just as the concert has commenced, in creeps “Soliman the Magnificent,” also known as Mr. Charles Jennens, of Great Ormond Street, who wrote many of Handel’s librettos, and arranged the words for the “Messiah.”

“Soliman the Magnificent” is evidently resolved to do justice to his title on this occasion with his carefully-powdered wig, frills, maroon-colored coat, and buckled shoes; and as he makes his progress up the room, the company draw aside for him to reach his favorite seat near Handel. A trio of Corelli’s is gone through; then Madame Cuzzoni sings Handel’s last new air; Dr. Pepusch takes his turn at the harpsichord; another trio of Hasse, or a solo on the violin by Bannister; a selection on the organ from Mr. Handel’s new oratorio; and then the day’s programme is over.

Dukes, duchesses, wits and philosophers, poets and musicians, make their way down the satirized stairs to go, some in carriages, some in chairs, some on foot, to their own palaces, houses, or lodgings.

III.

We do not now think of Handel in connection with the opera. To the modern mind he is so linked to the oratorio, of which he was the father and the consummate master, that his operas are curiosities but little known except to musical antiquaries. Yet some of the airs from the Handel operas are still cherished by singers as among the most beautiful songs known to the concert-stage.

In 1720 Handel was engaged by a party of noblemen, headed by his Grace of Chandos, to compose operas for the Royal Academy of Music at the Haymarket. An attempt had been made to put this institution on a firm foundation by a subscription of £50,000, and it was opened on May 2d with a full company of singers engaged by Handel. In the course of eight years twelve operas were produced in rapid succession: “Floridante,” December 9, 1721; “Ottone,” January 12, 1723; “Flavio” and “Giulio Cesare,” 1723; “Tamerlano,” 1724; “Rodelinda,” 1725; “Scipione,” 1726; “Alessandro,” 1726; “Admeto,” 727; “Siroe,” 1728; and “Tolommeo,” 1728. They made as great a furore among the musical public of that day as would an opera from Gounod or Verdi in the present. The principal airs were sung throughout the land, and published as harpsichord pieces; for in these halcyon days of our composers the whole atmosphere of the land was full of the flavor and color of Handel. Many of the melodies in these now forgotten operas have been worked up by modern composers, and so have passed into modern music unrecognized. It is a notorious fact that the celebrated song, “Where the Bee sucks,” by Dr. Arne, is taken from a movement in “Rinaldo.” Thus the new life of music is ever growing rich with the dead leaves of the past. The most celebrated of these operas was entitled “Otto.” It was a work composed of one long string of exquisite gems, like Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Gounod’s “Faust.” Dr. Pepusch, who had never quite forgiven Handel for superseding him as the best organist in England, remarked, of one of the airs, “That great bear must have been inspired when he wrote that air.” The celebrated Madame Cuzzoni made her début in it. On the second night the tickets rose to four guineas each, and Cuzzoni received two thousand pounds for the season.

The composer had already begun to be known for his irascible temper. It is refreshing to learn that operatic singers of the day, however whimsical and self-willed, were obliged to bend to the imperious genius of this man. In a spirit of ill-timed revolt Cuzzoni declined to sing an air. She had already given him trouble by her insolence and freaks, which at times were unbearable. Handel at last exploded. He flew at the wretched woman and shook her like a rat. “Ah! I always knew you were a fery tevil,” he cried, “and I shall now let you know that I am Beelzebub, the prince of de tevils!” and, dragging her to the open window, was just on the point of pitching her into the street when, in every sense of the word, she recanted. So, when Carestini, the celebrated tenor, sent back an air, Handel was furious. Rushing into the trembling Italian’s house, he said, in his four- or five-language style: “You tog! don’t I know better as yourself vaat it pest for you to sing? If you vill not sing all de song vaat I give you, I vill not pay you ein stiver.” Among the anecdotes told of Handel’s passion is one growing out of the composer’s peculiar sensitiveness to discords. The dissonance of the tuning-up period of an orchestra is disagreeable to the most patient. Handel, being peculiarly sensitive to this unfortunate necessity, always arranged that it should take place before the audience assembled, so as to prevent any sound of scraping or blowing. Unfortunately, on one occasion, some wag got access to the orchestra where the ready-tuned instruments were lying, and with diabolical dexterity put every string and crook out of tune. Handel enters. All the bows are raised together, and at the given beat all start off con spirito. The effect was startling in the extreme. The unhappy maestro rushes madly from his place, kicks to pieces the first double-bass he sees, and, seizing a kettle-drum, throws it violently at the leader of the band. The effort sends his wig flying, and, rushing bareheaded to the footlights, he stands a few moments amid the roars of the house, snorting with rage and choking with passion. Like Burleigh’s nod, Handel’s wig seemed to have been a sure guide to his temper. When things went well, it had a certain complacent vibration; but when he was out of humor, the wig indicated the fact in a very positive way. The Princess of Wales was wont to blame her ladies for talking instead of listening. “Hush, hush!” she would say. “Don’t you see Handel’s wig?”

For several years after the subscription of the nobility had been exhausted, our composer, having invested £10,000 of his own in the Haymarket, produced operas with remarkable affluence, some of them pasticcio works, composed of all sorts of airs, in which the singers could give their bravura songs. These were “Lotario,” 1729; “Partenope,” 1730; “Poro,” 1731; “Ezio,” 1732; “Sosarme,” 1732; “Orlando,” 1733; “Ariadne,” 1734; and also several minor works. Handel’s operatic career was not so much the outcome of his choice as dictated to him by the necessity of time and circumstance. As time went on, his operas lost public interest. The audiences dwindled, and the overflowing houses of his earlier experience were replaced by empty benches. This, however, made little difference with Handel’s royal patrons. The king and the Prince of Wales, with their respective households, made it an express point to show their deep interest in Handel’s success. In illustration of this, an amusing anecdote is told of the Earl of Chesterfield. During the performance of “Rinaldo” this nobleman, then an equerry of the king, was met quietly retiring from the theatre in the middle of the first act. Surprise being expressed by a gentleman who met the earl, the latter said: “I don’t wish to disturb his Majesty’s privacy.”

Handel paid his singers in those days what were regarded as enormous prices. Senisino and Carestini had each twelve hundred pounds, and Cuzzoni two thousand, for the season. Toward the end of what may be called the Handel season nearly all the singers and nobles forsook him, and supported Farinelli, the greatest singer living, at the rival house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

IV.

From the year 1729 the career of Handel was to be a protracted battle, in which he was sometimes victorious, sometimes defeated, but always undaunted and animated with a lofty sense of his own superior power. Let us take a view of some of the rival musicians with whom he came in contact. Of all these Bononcini was the most formidable. He came to England in 1720 with Ariosti, also a meritorious composer. Factions soon began to form themselves around Handel and Bononcini, and a bitter struggle ensued between these old foes. The same drama repeated itself, with new actors, about thirty years afterward, in Paris. Gluck was then the German hero, supported by Marie Antoinette, and Piccini fought for the Italian opera under the colors of the king’s mistress Du Barry, while all the litterateurs and nobles ranged themselves on either side in bitter contest. The battle between Handel and Bononcini, as the exponents of German and Italian music, was also repeated in after-years between Mozart and Salieri, Weber and Rossini, and to-day is seen in the acrimonious disputes going on between Wagner and the Italian school. Bononcini’s career in England came to an end very suddenly. It was discovered that a madrigal brought out by him was pirated from another Italian composer; whereupon Bononcini left England, humiliated to the dust, and finally died obscure and alone, the victim of a charlatan alchemist, who succeeded in obtaining all his savings.

Another powerful rival of Handel was Porpora, or, as Handel used to call him, “old Borbora.” Without Bononcini’s fire or Handel’s daring originality, he represented the dry contrapuntal school of Italian music. He was also a great singing-master, famous throughout Europe, and upon this his reputation had hitherto principally rested. He came to London in 1733, under the patronage of the Italian faction, especially to serve as a thorn in the side of Handel. His first opera, “Ariadne,” was a great success; but when he had the audacity to challenge the great German in the field of oratorio, his defeat was so overwhelming that he candidly admitted his rival’s superiority. But he believed that no operas in the world were equal to his own, and he composed fifty of them during his life, extending to the days of Haydn, whom he had the honor of teaching, while the father of the symphony, on the other hand, cleaned Por-pora’s boots and powdered his wig for him.

Another Italian opponent was Hasse, a man of true genius, who in his old age instructed some of the most splendid singers in the history of the lyric stage. He also married one of the most gifted and most beautiful divas of Europe, Faustina Bordoni. The following anecdote does equal credit to Hasse’s heart and penetration: In after-years, when he had left England, he was again sent for to take Handel’s place as conductor of opera and oratorio. Hasse inquired, “What! is Handel dead?” On being told no, he indignantly refused, saying he was not worthy to tie Handel’s shoe-latchets.

There are also Dr. Pepusch, the Anglicized Prussian, and Dr. Greene, both names well known in English music. Pepusch had had the leading place, before Handel’s arrival, as organist and conductor, and made a distinct place for himself even after the sun of Handel had obscured all of his contemporaries. He wrote the music of the “Beggar’s Opera,” which was the great sensation of the times, and which still keeps possession of the stage. Pepusch was chiefly notable for his skill in arranging the popular songs of the day, and probably did more than any other composer to give the English ballad its artistic form.

The name of Dr. Greene is best known in connection with choral compositions. His relations with Handel and Bononcini are hardly creditable to him. He seems to have flattered each in turn. He upheld Bononcini in the great madrigal controversy, and appears to have wearied Handel by his repeated visits. The great Saxon easily saw through the flatteries of a man who was in reality an ambitious rival, and joked about him, not always in the best taste. When he was told that Greene was giving concerts at the “Devil Tavern,” near Temple Bar, “Ah!” he exclaimed, “mein poor friend Toctor Greene—so he is gone to de Tevil!”

From 1732 to 1740 Handel’s life presents the suggestive and often-repeated experience in the lives of men of genius—a soul with a great creative mission, of which it is half unconscious, partly yielding to and partly struggling against the tendencies of the age, yet gradually crystallizing into its true form, and getting consecrated to its true work. In these eight years Handel presented to the public ten operas and five oratorios. It was in 1731 that the great significant fact, though unrecognized by himself and others, occurred, which stamped the true bent of his genius. This was the production of his first oratorio in England. He was already playing his operas to empty houses, the subject of incessant scandal and abuse on the part of his enemies, but holding his way with steady cheerfulness and courage. Twelve years before this he had composed the oratorio of “Esther,” but it was still in manuscript, uncared for and neglected. It was finally produced by a society called Philharmonic, under the direction of Bernard Gates, the royal chapel-master. Its fame spread wide, and we read these significant words in one of the old English newspapers: “‘Esther,’ an English oratorio, was performed six times, and very full.”

Shortly after this Handel himself conducted “Esther” at the Haymarket by royal command. His success encouraged him to write “Deborah,” another attempt in the same field, and it met a warm reception from the public, March 17, 1733.

For about fifteen years Handel had struggled heroically in the composition of Italian operas. With these he had at first succeeded; but his popularity waned more and more, and he became finally the continued target for satire, scorn, and malevolence. In obedience to the drift of opinion, all the great singers, who had supported him at the outset, joined the rival ranks or left England. In fact it may be almost said that the English public were becoming dissatisfied with the whole system and method of Italian music. Colley Cibber, the actor and dramatist, explains why Italian opera could never satisfy the requirement of Handel, or be anything more than an artificial luxury in England: “The truth is, this kind of entertainment is entirely sensational.” Still both Handel and his friends and his foes, all the exponents of musical opinion in England, persevered obstinately in warming this foreign exotic into a new lease of life.

The quarrel between the great Saxon composer and his opponents raged incessantly both in public and private. The newspaper and the drawing-room rang alike with venomous diatribes. Handel was called a swindler, a drunkard, and a blasphemer, to whom Scripture even was not sacred. The idea of setting Holy Writ to music scandalized the Pharisees, who reveled in the licentious operas and love-songs of the Italian school. All the small wits of the time showered on Handel epigram and satire unceasingly. The greatest of all the wits, however, Alexander Pope, was his firm friend and admirer; and in the “Dunciad,” wherein the wittiest of poets impaled so many of the small fry of the age with his pungent and vindictive shaft, he also slew some of the most malevolent of Handel’s foes.

Fielding, in “Tom Jones,” has an amusing hit at the taste of the period: “It was Mr. Western’s custom every afternoon, as soon as he was drunk, to hear his daughter play on the harpsichord; for he was a great lover of music, and perhaps, had he lived in town, might have passed as a connoisseur, for he always excepted against the finest compositions of Mr. Handel.”

So much had it become the fashion to criticise Handel’s new effects in vocal and instrumental composition, that some years later Mr. Sheridan makes one of his characters fire a pistol simply to shock the audience, and makes him say in a stage whisper to the gallery, “This hint, gentlemen, I took from Handel.”

The composer’s Oxford experience was rather amusing and suggestive. We find it recorded that in July, 1733, “one Handell, a foreigner, was desired to come to Oxford to perform in music.” Again the same writer says: “Handell with his lousy crew, a great number of foreign fiddlers, had a performance for his own benefit at the theatre.” One of the dons writes of the performance as follows: “This is an innovation; but every one paid his five shillings to try how a little fiddling would sit upon him. And, notwithstanding the barbarous and inhuman combination of such a parcel of unconscionable scamps, he [Handel] disposed of the most of his tickets.”

“Handel and his lousy crew,” however, left Oxford with the prestige of a magnificent victory. His third oratorio, “Athaliah,” was received with vast applause by a great audience. Some of his university admirers, who appreciated academic honors more than the musician did, urged him to accept the degree of Doctor of Music, for which he would have to pay a small fee. The characteristic reply was a Parthian arrow: “Vat te tevil I trow my money away for dat vich the blockhead vish’? I no vant!”

V.

In 1738 Handel was obliged to close the theatre and suspend payment. He had made and spent during his operatic career the sum of £10,000 sterling, besides dissipating the sum of £50,000 subscribed by his noble patrons. The rival house lasted but a few months longer, and the Duchess of Marlborough and her friends, who ruled the opposition clique and imported Bononcini, paid £12,000 for the pleasure of ruining Handel. His failure as an operatic composer is due in part to the same causes which constituted his success in oratorio and cantata. It is a little significant to notice that, alike by the progress of his own genius and by the force of conditions, he was forced out of the operatic field at the very time when he strove to tighten his grip on it.

His free introduction of choral and instrumental music, his creation of new forms and remodeling of old ones, his entire subordination of the words in the story to a pure musical purpose, offended the singers and retarded the action of the drama in the eyes of the audience; yet it was by virtue of these unpopular characteristics that the public mind was being moulded to understand and love the form of the oratorio.

From 1734 to 1738 Handel composed and produced a number of operatic works, the principal ones of which were “Alcina,” 1735; “Arminio,” 1737; and “Berenice,” 1737. He also during these years wrote the magnificent music to Dryden’s “Alexander’s Feast,” and the great funeral anthem on the occasion of Queen Caroline’s death in the latter part of the year 1737.

We can hardly solve the tenacity of purpose with which Handel persevered in the composition of operatic music after it had ruined him; but it was still some time before he fully appreciated the true turn of his genius, which could not be trifled with or ignored. In his adversity he had some consolation. His creditors were patient, believing in his integrity. The royal family were his firm friends.

Southey tells us that Handel, having asked the youthful Prince of Wales, then a child, and afterward George the Third, if he loved music, answered, when the prince expressed his pleasure: “A good boy, a good boy! You shall protect my fame when I am dead.” Afterward, when the half-imbecile George was crazed with family and public misfortunes, he found his chief solace in the Waverley novels and Handel’s music.

It is also an interesting fact that the poets and thinkers of the age were Handel’s firm admirers. Such men as Gay, Arbuthnot, Hughes, Colley Cibber, Pope, Fielding, Hogarth, and Smollett, who recognized the deep, struggling tendencies of the times, measured Handel truly. They defended him in print, and never failed to attend his performances, and at his benefit concerts their enthusiastic support always insured him an overflowing house.

The popular instinct was also true to him. The aristocratic classes sneered at his oratorios and complained at his innovations. His music was found to be good bait for the popular gardens and the holiday-makers of the period. Jonathan Tyers was one of the most liberal managers of this class. He was proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens, and Handel (incognito) supplied him with nearly all his music. The composer did much the same sort of thing for Marylebone Gardens, furbishing up old and writing new strains with an ease that well became the urgency of the circumstances.

“My grandfather,” says the Rev. J. Fountagne, “as I have been told, was an enthusiast in music, and cultivated most of all the friendship of musical men, especially of Handel, who visited him often, and had a great predilection for his society. This leads me to relate an anecdote which I have on the best authority. While Marylebone Gardens were flourishing, the enchanting music of Handel, and probably of Arne, was often heard from the orchestra there. One evening, as my grandfather and Handel were walking together and alone, a new piece was struck up by the band. ‘Come, Mr. Fountagne,’ said Handel, ‘let us sit down and listen to this piece; I want to know your opinion about it.’ Down they sat, and after some time the old parson, turning to his companion, said, ‘It is not worth listening to; it’s very poor stuff.’ ‘You are right, Mr. Fountagne,’ said Handel, ‘it is very poor stuff; I thought so myself when I had finished it.’ The old gentleman, being taken by surprise, was beginning to apologize; but Handel assured him there was no necessity, that the music was really bad, having been composed hastily, and his time for the production limited; and that the opinion given was as correct as it was honest.”

VI.

The period of Handel’s highest development had now arrived. For seven years his genius had been slowly but surely maturing, in obedience to the inner law of his being. He had struggled long in the bonds of operatic composition, but even here his innovations showed conclusively how he was reaching out toward the form with which his name was to be associated through all time. The year 1739 was one of prodigious activity. The oratorio of “Saul” was produced, of which the “Dead March” is still recognized as one of the great musical compositions of all time, being one of the few intensely solemn symphonies written in a major key. Several works now forgotten were composed, and the great “Israel in Egypt” was written in the incredibly short space of twenty-seven days. Of this work a distinguished writer on music says: Handel was now fifty-five years old, and had entered, after many a long and weary contest, upon his last and greatest creative period. His genius culminates in the ‘Israel.’ Elsewhere he has produced longer recitatives and more pathetic arias; nowhere has he written finer tenor songs than ‘The enemy said,’ or finer duets than ‘The Lord is a man of war;’ and there is not in the history of music an example of choruses piled up like so many Ossas on Pelions in such majestic strength, and hurled in open defiance at a public whose ears were itching for Italian love-lays and English ballads. In these twenty-eight colossal choruses we perceive at once a reaction against and a triumph over the tastes of the age. The wonder is, not that the ‘Israel’ was unpopular, but that it should have been tolerated; but Handel, while he appears to have been for years driven by the public, had been, in reality, driving them. His earliest oratorio, ‘Il Trionfo del Tempo’ (composed in Italy), had but two choruses; into his operas more and more were introduced, with disastrous consequences; but when, at the zenith of his strength, he produced a work which consisted almost entirely of these unpopular peculiarities, the public treated him with respect, and actually sat out three performances in one season! In addition to these two great oratorios, our composer produced the beautiful music to Dryden’s “St. Cæcilia Ode,” and Milton’s “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso.” Henceforth neither praise nor blame could turn Handel from his appointed course. He was not yet popular with the musical dilettanti, but we find no more catering to an absurd taste, no more writing of silly operatic froth.

Our composer had always been very fond of the Irish, and, at the invitation of the lord-lieutenant and prominent Dublin amateurs, he crossed the channel in 1741. He was received with the greatest enthusiasm, and his house became the resort of all the musical people in the city of Dublin. One after another his principal works were produced before admiring audiences in the new Music Hall in Fishamble Street. The crush to hear the “Allegro” and “Penseroso” at the opening performances was so great that the doors had to be closed. The papers declared there never had been seen such a scene before in Dublin.

Handel gave twelve performances at very short intervals, comprising all of his finest works. In these concerts the “Acis and Galatea” and “Alexander’s Feast” were the most admired; but the enthusiasm culminated in the rendition of the “Messiah,” produced for the first time on April 13, 1742. The performance was a beneficiary one in aid of poor and distressed prisoners for debt in the Marshalsea in Dublin. So, by a remarkable coincidence, the first performance of the “Messiah” literally meant deliverance to the captives. The principal singers were Mrs. Cibber (daughter-in-law of Colley Cibber, and afterward one of the greatest actresses of her time), Mrs. Avoglio, and Mr. Dubourg. The town was wild with excitement. Critics, poets, fine ladies, and men of fashion tore rhetoric to tatters in their admiration. A clergyman so far forgot his Bible in his rapture as to exclaim to Mrs. Cibber, at the close of one of her airs, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee.” The penny-a-liners wrote that “words were wanting to express the exquisite delight,” etc. And—supreme compliment of all, for Handel was a cynical bachelor—the fine ladies consented to leave their hoops at home for the second performance, that a couple of hundred or so extra listeners might be accommodated. This event was the grand triumph of Handel’s life. Years of misconception, neglect, and rivalry were swept out of mind in the intoxicating delight of that night’s success.

VII.

Handel returned to London, and composed a new oratorio, “Samson,” for the following Lenten season. This, together with the “Messiah,” heard for the first time in London, made the stock of twelve performances. The fashionable world ignored him altogether; the newspapers kept a contemptuous silence; comic singers were hired to parody his noblest airs at the great houses; and impudent Horace Walpole had the audacity to say that he “had hired all the goddesses from farces and singers of roast-beef, from between the acts of both theatres, with a man with one note in his voice, and a girl with never a one; and so they sang and made brave hallelujahs.”

The new field into which Handel had entered inspired his genius to its greatest energy. His new works for the season of 1744 were the “Det-tingen Te Deum,” “Semele,” and “Joseph and his Brethren;” for the next year (he had again rented the Haymarket Theatre), “Hercules,” “Belshazzar,” and a revival of “Deborah.” All these works were produced in a style of then uncommon completeness, and the great expense he incurred, combined with the active hostility of the fashionable world, forced him to close his doors and suspend payment. From this time forward Handel gave concerts whenever he chose, and depended on the people, who so supported him by their gradually growing appreciation, that in two years he had paid off all his debts, and in ten years had accumulated a fortune of £10,000. The works produced during these latter years were “Judas Maccabæus,” 1747; “Alexander,” 1748; “Joshua,” 1748; “Susannah,” 1749; “Solomon,” 1749; “Theodora,” 1750; “Choice of Hercules,” 1751; “Jephthah,” 1752, closing with this a stupendous series of dramatic oratorios. While at work on the last, his eyes suffered an attack which finally resulted in blindness.

Like Milton in the case of “Paradise Lost,” Handel preferred one of his least popular oratorios, “Theodora.” It was a great favorite with him, and he used to say that the chorus, “He saw the lovely youth,” was finer than anything in the “Messiah.” The public were not of this opinion, and he was glad to give away tickets to any professors who applied for them. When the “Messiah” was again produced, two of these gentlemen who had neglected “Theodora” applied for admission. “Oh! your sarvant, meine Herren!” exclaimed the indignant composer. “You are tamnable dainty! You would not go to ‘Theodora’—dere was room enough to dance dere when dat was perform.” When Handel heard that an enthusiast had offered to make himself responsible for all the boxes the next time the despised oratorio should be given—”He is a fool,” said he; “the Jews will not come to it as to ‘Judas Maccabæus,’ because it is a Christian story; and the ladies will not come, because it is a virtuous one.”

Handel’s triumph was now about to culminate in a serene and acknowledged preeminence. The people had recognized his greatness, and the reaction at last conquered all classes. Publishers vied with each other in producing his works, and their performance was greeted with great audiences and enthusiastic applause. His last ten years were a peaceful and beautiful ending of a stormy career.

VIII.

Thought lingers pleasantly over this sunset period. Handel throughout life was so wedded to his art, that he cared nothing for the delights of woman’s love. His recreations were simple—rowing, walking, visiting his friends, and playing on the organ. He would sometimes try to play the people out at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and hold them indefinitely. He would resort at night to his favorite tavern, the “Queen’s Head,” where he would smoke and drink beer with his chosen friends. Here he would indulge in roaring conviviality and fun, and delight his friends with sparkling satire and pungent humor, of which he was a great master, helped by his amusing compound of English, Italian, and German. Often he would visit the picture galleries, of which he was passionately fond. His clumsy but noble figure could be seen almost any morning rolling through Charing Cross; and every one who met old Father Handel treated him with the deepest reverence.

The following graphic narrative, taken from the “Somerset House Gazette,” offers a vivid portraiture. Schoelcher, in his “Life of Handel,” says that “its author had a relative, Zachary Hardcastle, a retired merchant, who was intimately acquainted with all the most distinguished men of his time, artists, poets, musicians, and physicians.” This old gentleman, who lived at Paper Buildings, was accustomed to take his morning walk in the garden of Somerset House, where he happened to meet with another old man, Colley Cibber, and proposed to him to go and hear a competition which was to take place at midday for the post of organist to the Temple, and he invited him to breakfast, telling him at the same time that Dr. Pepusch and Dr. Arne were to be with him at nine o’clock. They go in; Pepusch arrives punctually at the stroke of nine; presently there is a knock, the door is opened, and Handel unexpectedly presents himself. Then follows the scene:

“Handel: ‘Vat! mein dear friend Hardgasdle—vat! you are merry py dimes! Vat! and Misder Golley Cibbers too! ay, and Togder Peepbush as veil! Vell, dat is gomigal. Veil, mein friendts, andt how vags the vorldt wid you, mein tdears? Bray, bray, do let me sit town a momend.’

“Pepusch took the great man’s hat, Colley Cibber took his stick, and my great-uncle wheeled round his reading-chair, which was somewhat about the dimensions of that in which our kings and queens are crowned; and then the great man sat him down.

“‘Vell, I thank you, gentlemen; now I am at mein ease vonce more. Upon mein vord, dat is a picture of a ham. It is very pold of me to gome to preak my fastd wid you uninvided; and I have brought along wid me a nodable abbetite; for the wader of old Fader Dems is it not a fine pracer of the stomach?’

“‘You do me great honor, Mr. Handel,’ said my great-uncle. ‘I take this early visit as a great kindness.’

“‘A delightful morning for the water,’ said Colley Cibber.

“‘Pray, did you come with oars or scullers, Mr. Handel?’ said Pepusch.

“‘Now, how gan you demand of me dat zilly question, you who are a musician and a man of science, Togder Peepbush? Vat gan it concern you whether I have one votdermans or two votd-ermans—whether I bull out mine burce for to pay von shilling or two? Diavolo! I gannot go here, or I gannot go dere, but some one shall send it to some newsbaber, as how Misder Chorge Vreder-ick Handel did go somedimes last week in a votderman’s wherry, to preak his fastd wid Misder Zac. Hardgasdle; but it shall be all the fault wid himself, if it shall be but in print, whether I was rowed by one votdermans or by two votdermans. So, Togder Peepbush, you will blease to excuse me from dat.’

“Poor Dr. Pepusch was for a moment disconcerted, but it was soon forgotten in the first dish of coffee.

“‘Well, gentlemen,’ said my great-uncle Zachary, looking at his tompion, ‘it is ten minutes past nine. Shall we wait more for Dr. Arne?”

“‘Let us give him another five minutes’ chance, Master Hardcastle,’ said Colley Cibber; ‘he is too great a genius to keep time.’

“‘Let us put it to the vote,’ said Dr. Pepusch, smiling. ‘Who holds up hands?’

“‘I will segond your motion wid all mine heardt,’ said Handel. ‘I will hold up mine feeble hands for mine oldt friendt Custos (Arne’s name was Augustine), for I know not who I wouldt waidt for, over andt above mine oldt rival, Master Dom (meaning Pepusch). Only by your bermission, I vill dake a snag of your ham, andt a slice of French roll, or a modicum of chicken; for to dell you the honest fagd, I am all pote famished, for I laid me down on mine billow in bed the lastd nightd widout mine supper, at the instance of mine physician, for which I am not altogeddere inglined to extend mine fastd no longer.’ Then, laughing: ‘Berhaps, Mister Golley Cibbers, you may like to pote this to the vote? But I shall not segond the motion, nor shall I holdt up mine hand, as I will, by bermission, embloy it some dime in a better office. So, if you blease, do me the kindness for to gut me a small slice of ham.’

“At this instant a hasty footstep was heard on the stairs, accompanied by the humming of an air, all as gay as the morning, which was beautiful and bright. It was the month of May.

“‘Bresto! be quick,’ said Handel; he knew it was Arne; ‘fifteen minutes of dime is butty well for an ad libitum.’

“‘Mr. Arne,’ said my great-uncle’s man.

“A chair was placed, and the social party commenced their déjeuner.

“‘Well, and how do you find yourself, my dear sir?’ inquired Arne, with friendly warmth.

“‘Why, by the mercy of Heaven, and the waders of Aix-la-Chapelle, andt the addentions of mine togders andt physicians, and oggulists, of lade years, under Providence, I am surbrizingly pedder—thank you kindly, Misder Custos. Andt you have also been doing well of lade, as I am bleased to hear. You see, sir,’ pointing to his plate, ‘you see, sir, dat I am in the way for to regruit mine flesh wid the good viands of Misder Zachary Hardgasdle.’

“‘So, sir, I presume you are come to witness the trial of skill at the old round church? I understand the amateurs expect a pretty sharp contest,’ said Arne.

“‘Gondest,’ echoed Handel, laying down his knife and fork. ‘Yes, no doubt; your amadeurs have a bassion for gondest. Not vot it vos in our remembrance. Hey, mine friendt? Ha, ha, ha!’

“‘No, sir, I am happy to say those days of envy and bickering, and party feeling, are gone and past. To be sure we had enough of such disgraceful warfare: it lasted too long.’

“‘Why, yes; it tid last too long, it bereft me of mine poor limbs: it tid bereave of that vot is the most blessed gift of Him vot made us, andt not wee ourselves. And for vot? Vy, for nod-ing in the vorldt pode the bleasure and bastime of them who, having no widt, nor no want, set at loggerheads such men as live by their widts, to worry and destroy one andt anodere as wild beasts in the Golloseum in the dimes of the Romans.’

“Poor Dr. Pepusch during this conversation, as my great-uncle observed, was sitting on thorns; he was in the confederacy professionally only.

“‘I hope, sir,’ observed the doctor, ‘you do not include me among those who did injustice to your talents?’

“‘Nod at all, nod at all, God forbid! I am a great admirer of the airs of the ‘Peggar’s Obéra,’ andt every professional gendtleman must do his best for to live.’

“This mild return, couched under an apparent compliment, was well received; but Handel, who had a talent for sarcastic drolling, added:

“‘Pute why blay the Peggar yourself, togder, andt adapt oldt pallad humsdrum, ven, as a man of science, you could gombose original airs of your own? Here is mine friendt, Custos Arne, who has made a road for himself, for to drive along his own genius to the demple of fame.’ Then, turning to our illustrious Arne, he continued, ‘Min friendt Custos, you and I must meed togeder some dimes before it is long, and hold a têde-à-têde of old days vat is gone; ha, ha! Oh! it is gomigal now dat id is all gone by. Custos, to nod you remember as it was almost only of yesterday dat she-devil Guzzoni, andt dat other brecious taugh-ter of iniquity, Pelzebub’s spoiled child, the bretty-f aced Faustina? Oh! the mad rage vot I have to answer for, vot with one and the oder of these fine latdies’ airs andt graces. Again, to you nod remember dat ubstardt buppy Senesino, and the goxgomb Farinelli? Next, again, mine some-dimes nodtable rival Bononcini, and old Borbora? Ha, ha, ha! all at war wid me, andt all at war wid themselves. Such a gonfusion of rivalshibs, andt double-facedness, andt hybocrisy, and malice, vot would make a gomigal subject for a boem in rhymes, or a biece for the stage, as I hopes to be saved.'”

IX.

We now turn from the man to his music. In his daily life with the world we get a spectacle of a quick, passionate temper, incased in a great burly frame, and raging into whirlwinds of excitement at small provocation; a gourmand devoted to the pleasure of the table, sometimes indeed gratifying his appetite in no seemly fashion, resembling his friend Dr. Samuel Johnson in many notable ways. Handel as a man was of the earth, earthy, in the extreme, and marked by many whimsical and disagreeable faults. But in his art we recognize a genius so colossal, massive, and self-poised as to raise admiration to its superlative of awe. When Handel had disencumbered himself of tradition, convention, the trappings of time and circumstance, he attained a place in musical creation, solitary and unique. His genius found expression in forms large and austere, disdaining the luxuriant and trivial. He embodied the spirit of Protestantism in music; and a recognition of this fact is probably the key of the admiration felt for him by the Anglo-Saxon races.

Handel possessed an inexhaustible fund of melody of the noblest order; an almost unequaled command of musical expression; perfect power over all the resources of his science; the faculty of wielding huge masses of tone with perfect ease and felicity; and he was without rival in the sublimity of ideas. The problem which he so successfully solved in the oratorio was that of giving such dramatic force to the music, in which he clothed the sacred texts, as to be able to dispense with all scenic and stage effects. One of the finest operatic composers of the time, the rival of Bach as an instrumental composer, and performer on the harpsichord or organ, the unanimous verdict of the musical world is that no one has ever equaled him in completeness, range of effect, elevation and variety of conception, and sublimity in the treatment of sacred music. We can readily appreciate Handel’s own words when describing his own sensations in writing the “Messiah:” “I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God himself.”

The great man died on Good Friday night, 1759, aged seventy-five years. He had often wished “he might breathe his last on Good Friday, in hope,” he said, “of meeting his good God, his sweet Lord and Saviour, on the day of his resurrection.” The old blind musician had his wish.

1891.


Featured: The Chandos Portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel, by unknown; painted ca. 1720.


The Stones Cry Out—Voices of the Palestinian Christians

This film, by Yasmine Perni, was made in 2013 and is a strong testimony to the brutality undertaken by Zionists to create Israel. The film is unique because it focuses on the suffering of Palestinian Christians, from 1948 to today, whose plight is largely unknown, and by extention it is a chronicle of the suffering of all Palesitinians who have been rendered faceless so that their agony may be the more easily ignored.

The attitude of American Protestants is also worth noting in this context, who are happy to excuse all atrocity because of their heretical notion of God’s “chosen people.”


Gaza, A Reflection

On Dissent

Why is it so difficult, even impossible, to accommodate Palestinians in the Jewish understanding of history? Why is there so little perceived need to question our own history and the one we have given others, preferring instead to embrace beliefs and sentiments that remain unchanged?

Why is it virtually mandatory among Jewish intellectuals to oppose racism, repression, and injustice almost anywhere in the world, but unacceptable—indeed, for some heretical—to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor?…

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…I tried to remember my first real encounter with the occupation. One of the earliest was a scene I witnessed standing on a street with some Palestinian friends. An elderly man was walking along leading his donkey. A small child of no more than three or four, clearly his grandson, was with him. All of a sudden some nearby Israeli soldiers approached the old man and stopped him. One of them went over to the donkey and pried open its mouth. “Old man,” he asked, “why are your donkey’s teeth so yellow? Don’t you brush your donkey’s teeth?” The old Palestinian was mortified, the little boy visibly upset.

The soldier repeated his question, yelling this time, while the other soldiers laughed. The child began to cry and the old man just stood there silently, humiliated. As the scene continued a crowd gathered. The soldier then ordered the old man to stand behind the donkey and demanded that he kiss the animal’s behind. At first, the old man refused but as the soldier screamed at him and his grandson became hysterical, he bent down and did it. The soldiers laughed and walked away. We allstood there in silence, ashamed to look at each other, the only sound the sobs of the little boy. The old man, demeaned and destroyed, did not move for what seemed a very long time.

I stood in stunned disbelief. I immediately thought of the stories my parents had told me of how Jews had been treated by the Nazis in the 1930s, before the ghettos and death camps, of how Jews would be forced to clean sidewalks with toothbrushes and have their beards cut off in public. What happened to the Palestinian grandfather was equivalent in principle, intent, and impact: to humiliate and dehumanize. In this critical respect, my first encounter with the occupation was the same as my first encounter with the Holocaust, with the number on my father’s arm. It spoke the same message: the denial of one’s humanity.

****

…the Holocaust and the Palestinian issues in a sense are related. Among the many realities that frame contemporary Jewish life are the birth of Israel, remembrance of the Holocaust, and Jewish power and sovereignty. And it cannot be denied that the latter has a critical corollary: the displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people. For Jewish identity is linked, willingly or not, to Palestinian suffering and this suffering is now an irrevocable part of our collective memory and an intimate part of our experience, together with the Holocaust and Israel. Thisis a linkage that informsthe core of Ellis’s work.1 How, he asks, are we to celebrate our Jewishness while others are being oppressed? Isthe Jewish covenant with God present or absent in the face of Jewish oppression of Palestinians? Isthe Jewish ethical tradition still available to us? Isthe promise of holiness—so central to Jewish existence—now beyond our ability to reclaim? For the answers, at least in part, I look to Gaza.

****

… Gaza is a place, Israel argues, where innocent civilians do not exist. The presence of such civilians in Gaza is suspect, they say, because Palestinians elected a terrorist organization to represent them. Retired Israeli Major General Giora Eiland stated, “[T]hey [Gazans] are to blame for this situation just like Germany’s residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so.” The goal is to use “disproportionate force,” said another official, thereby “inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes.” According to this logic there is no such thing as a civilian home, school, hospital, mosque, church, or playground in Gaza; all these places are therefore legitimate targets of Israeli bombs since every home is a non-home; every kindergarten a nonkindergarten; and every hospital a non-hospital.

During Operation Cast Lead (OCL), Israel’s 2008–09 offensive against Gaza, Reserve Major Amiran Levin similarly stated, “What we have to do is act systematically with the aim of punishing all the organizationsthat are firing the rockets and mortars as well as the civilians who are enabling them to fire and hide,” while the IDF spokesperson Major Avital Leibowitz argued that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.” Not surprisingly the UNcommissioned Goldstone Report whose mandate it wasto investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that might have been committed during OCL found that the “humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population” were Israeli policy objectivesin its assault on Gaza, an assault that was nothing less than “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

That the area being bombed was urban, with over 20,000 human beings per square kilometer, does not weigh on the majority of Jewish people. That my friends and their children were among those being bombed, people who have always welcomed me as a Jew into their homesin Gaza, is of no consequence. “22 members of my family huddled under the stairwell,” describes Hani, who lived in the heart of Shejaiyeh, one of the areas that witnessed the greatest destruction that summer.

For General Eiland, Majors Levin and Leibowitz, and too many others, there are no parents in Gaza, there are no children or sisters or brothers; there are no deaths to mourn. Rather, Gaza is where the grass grows wild and must be mowed from time to time. The desolation inflicted on Gaza is powerfully seen in the almost complete destruction of Khuza’a, a village once known as Gaza’s orchard.

This begs the question, can Jews as a people be ordinary, an essential part of our rebirth after the Holocaust? Is it possible to be normal when we seek remedy and comfort in the dispossession and destruction of another people, “[o]bserving the windows of [their] houses through the sites of rifles,” to borrow from the Israeli poet, Almog Behar?

How can we create when we consent so willingly and with such complacence to the demolition of homes, construction of barriers, denial of sustenance, and ruin of innocents? How can we be merciful when speaking out against the wanton murder of children, of whole families and of entire neighborhoods is considered an act of disloyalty and betrayal rather than a legitimate act of dissent, and where dissent isso ineffective and reviled? How can we be humane when, to use Jacqueline Rose’s words, we seek “omnipotence as the answer to historical pain?”

Instead we condone the cruelty, even celebrating the murder of Palestinians while remaining the abused, “creating situations where our victimization is assured and ourinnocence affirmed” as seen in the words of General Eiland: “Because we want to be compassionate towards those cruel people [in Gaza], we are committing to act cruelly towards the really compassionate people – the residents of the State of Israel.” In this way, Gaza speaks to the unnaturalness of our own condition as Jews.

Will we one day be able to live withoutthe walls we are constantly asked to build? When will we be obliged to acknowledge our limits?


Sara Roy is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. She is also a leading authority on Gaza and Hamas. This is an excerpt from Prophetic Voices on Middle East Peace.


The Bible and Archaeology

Why does Israel need to exist? This question may seem startling and unfair, but it is one that is frequently asked and hotly debated. The various answers and arguments given fall under two categories. First is the political and somewhat historical answer, which argues that the Levant is the Ur-Heimat of the Jews and thus for Jews to settle there is not only natural, but an unquestionable (God-given) right, as it is simply reclamation of legitimately owned property, and it is the Palestinians who are recent interlopers. Here it is important to note that the vast majority of the land itself inn Israel is owned by the state, and thus reserved for Jews, which means an exclusion of Palestinians. The second answer expands on this approach and seeks to bolster it by veering into the mystical and the messianic: Israel must exist because it is the necessary condition for housing the Third Temple, which in turn will bring the messiah and his “golden age.” This second answer brings together the aspirations of Protestant and Jewish Zionists. Both answers, sadly, also inform much of the anti-Arab sentiment that pervades the powers that be in Israeli society: the land does not really belong to Palestinians; the Jews, as God’s chosen people, must do what God needs them to do: build the Third Temple so that the age of the messiah can begin.

The Misuse of History

Turning briefly to the first answer—can we really locate the ancient Hebrews in Palestine? With the Bible within easy reach, this question may come off as impertinent. But it is a very important question—one which scholars have long fought over, from the 17th century down to our own time, and one which has not yet provided a real answer. A related question is just as important—is the Bible a book of history or a book of faith? Or to put it more clearly, is the Bible the ancient history of modern-day Jews?

It is also often said that the Bible is our best guide to the ancient Judaic past, but when we come to write such a history how do we distinguish between literary commentary on, and literary convention in, the various books of the Bible and the historical process itself, that is, a historical reconstruction of what precisely took place thousands of years ago? The Protestant sola scriptura habit of mind is at play here, in that everything found in the Old Testament can be located in the Levant; it is only a matter of finding it; there is never any need for subtlety or nuance (the quadriga), for theology is a mirror of politics and the Bible can only mean what an immediate reading yields. It was American Protestants who began archaeology in the Holy Land in earnest, in the 19th century, to counter the rising arguments of skeptics, and the role of American Protestants has not diminished.

More importantly, all this is not to say that the Bible is therefore fiction—but rather to point out that we are dealing with faith-based commentary of various historical events. Understanding those events—and events that have been left out—entails historical fact, to which we have limited access, and to which faith commentary is of limited use. The Bible is not a history textbook, although it contains actual history. By this we mean that history recounts the deeds of the men and women of the past and their ensuing consequences, while the Bible selects events to show cosmic significance. In other words, history sees a text as artifact, while the Bible seeks to show the ways of God to man. Thus, archaeology in the Holy Land continues to show a divergence rather than a coalescence, which means that the Bible is a product of ancient Judaean life rather than a guidebook to it.

Because archaeology and the study of ancient history are highly contentious disciplines in Israel, the field has long adopted two categories to immediately label scholars: there are the “maximalists” and the “minimalists.” The former seek to find an exact replica of the Bible in the dust of centuries and in extra-Biblical written sources. The latter fail to see such a replica in what is found in the ground and what is written in ancient texts. Needless to say that these are effective policing strategies fo scholarship, whereby the maximalists have the the megaphone (funding, media coverage, the American Protestant audience), while the minimalists are simply ignored because they raise questions that are not so easily answered. In the popular American Protestant mind (the true power base of Israel), the “Word of God” is a grand code-book that needs constant reconfiguring in order to learn what will happen in the future (the End Times), and thus faith simply means participating in this deciphering process. History is just another tool for this prodigious decoding, in which minimalists are “atheists” or secularists.

The Curse Tablet

As can be imagined a lot of deceit, or trickery, is involved in the maximalist camp. A recent example comes from Marcg 2022, when a dramatic announcement was made that a small curse tablet had been found in the Palestine territory (on Mount Ebal). The archaeology was done by Associates for Biblical Research, a Protestant ministry, which seeks to bring the Bible alive and which therefore publishes a magazine called, Bible & Spade.

The tablet measures just one square inch, and it was found under very suspicious circumstances—in the left-over rubble from a previous excavation, done in the 1980s, and during a supposed archaeological expedition that did not have any of the proper authorization from the Department of Antiquities of the Palestinian Authority, and the Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration, which controls this area, referred to it simply as “private activity”—hardly a scientific expedition. This means that first there is no way to date the tablet (since it has no context in which it was found), and second it is an illegal find since it was taken away without authorization. Two huge red flags.

Then, came the huger claims by the two discoverers.

Scott Stripling declared: “One can no longer argue with a straight face that the biblical text was not written until the Persian period or the Hellenistic period, as many higher critics have done, when we clearly do have the ability to write the entire text [of the Bible] at a much, much earlier date.”

Then, the needed affirmation by Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa: “The scribe that wrote this ancient text, believe me, he could write every chapter in the Bible.” Galil is known for finding dubious artifacts.

Why is it that the Bible needs the work of very amateurish (at best) “scholars” to “prove” its truth?

And the claims continued to grow in their wild-eyed exuberance. The tablet “proved” the “truth” of a ritual curse ceremony on Mount Ebal described in Deuteronomy 27:9-26 and Joshua 8:30-35. Plus, given the “fact” that the writing on the tablets is Hebrew script, therefore, the books of the Bible were written much earlier (the date of the tablet, which is claimed to be 1300 BC).

But then reality hit. When the team finally published the supposed Hebrew writing, it was from inside the tablet (it is a piece of lead, folded in half); they say that there is also writing on the outside which is easier to read. The photos shown just show a few indentations, which the duo have “read” as the entirety of the Hebrew alphabet. Professor Christopher Rollston, an expert in Northwest Semitic languages, at George Washington University, gave the funeral oration: “The published images reveal some striations in the lead and some indentations (lead is, of course, quite soft and so such things are understandable), but there are no actual discernible letters.”

In other words, more pareidolia.

The most amusing example of such efforts is the discovery earlier (March 2023), which again was announced in the media with great excitement. It seemed that Eylon Levy, international media adviser to President Isaac Herzog, while out for a hike, had found something unique: direct evidence of the Persian King Darius inside Israel. The text scratched on to a potsherd was rather cleanly written in Aramaic, and read, “Year 24 of Darius.” More proof of what the Bible says, etc.

Then, it came out that it was simply a piece of broken pottery on which a professor had written this brief text, to show to her students how and why ancient ostracon were created. After the demonstration, she just tossed aside the piece of pottery, not thinking that it would be found and “read” a certain way. The scholarly world did some quick damage control.

Because reports of such “discoveries” have only grown in number, serious Israeli scholars were finally forced to issue a public statement, a request to tone down the claims and let real scholariship do its job.

The Bible and Nationality

Thus, is it really historically feasible to use the Bible to justify national interests in the here-and-now; to say that the Jews of today are the direct descendants of the Hebrews mentioned in the Bible? People like Stripling and Galil and their Zionist Protestant supporters would say, absolutely!—which can only be matter of personal belief rather than an affirmation based on data (and when such data does come up, it is sketchy at best). This sort of encounter with history too stems from the sola scriptura habit of mind which is accustomed to approach the Bible out of context—an amateur’s eisegesis, as if the Bible were a book being read by students in a high school English class.

However, putting aside the Bible, we only have sporadic archaeological attestation for Judaism, as such, in ancient Palestine: the harder we look for the acient Hebrews of the Old Testament, the more quickly they vanish in the actual historical record—which renders the historical claims of ownership of the Holy Land very problematic, more so when we throw into the mix notions of race—that modern-day Jews are direct descendants of the people inhabiting the Old and New Testaments. Thus, writing the history of the ancient Hebrews as Israel and Judaea (for there were two kingdoms) comes out more often than not as the history of ancient Palestine, in which Canaanite and Hebraic elements are impossible to distinguish.

This is not to say that Canaanite and Hebraic people did not live in the region; rather, how does the life of these ancient people become that of the people in the Bible?

Dome of the Rock

The second answer brings into focus the Al-Aqsa compound, which now is also called “the Temple Mount” by the Israelis. The entire complex, known as Haram Al-Sharif (the Sacred Enclosure) covers some 35 acres (a sixth of Old Jerusalem) and includes other mosques, prayer halls, and various Islamic religious structures. The compound also contains one of the holiest cemeteries in Islam, the Bab al-Rahmah (Mercy Gate), where many Muslim notables lie buried. The term “Temple Mount” is a revival of a term used in the Middle Ages by the crusaders who called this area, “templum Domini” (Temple of the Lord), but they were likely seeing a church built by Saint Helena.

The Dome of the Rock itself, as a building with its distinctive golden dome, is somewhat mysterious in its origins, as it only became associated with Muhammad’s Night Journey to Jerusalem sometime in the 11th century, and only became a mosque proper in the 13th century. The original distinct structure, which now has a golden dome, was likely built late in the 7th century (694 AD, according to the inscription inside), although what we see today is largely 20th century renovation.

We also know that Saint Helena built a domed church in the area (dedicated to Saint Stephen), which is visible in the Madaba Map (6th century). Thus, the Dome of the Rock likely began life as a Christiano-Arabic church, in the Syro-Byzantine style, for it is extremely similar to other churches of that era, both nearby and further afield, namely, the Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem, the Mary Theotokos Church at Mount Gerizim near Nablus, the Church of the Seat of Saint Mary (which also encloses a rock). And the Dome of the Rock is also akin to the Little Hagia Sophia (church of Saints Sergios and Bacchus) in Istanbul, the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, the Palatine Chapel of Aachen, built by Charlemagne, and the church of Las Vegas de San Antonio, in Pueblanueva, Spain.

The key feature of all these Byzantine churches (which includes the Dome of the Rock) is their octagonal shape. The number eight in Christian eschatology signifies the first day after Christ’s Resurrection, that is, after the Sabbath (the seventh). Thus, in Christian tradition, the number eight signifies completion, wherein the faithful were made complete by being resurrected into Glory with Christ.

All this also takes us back to the early history of Islam itself, which has been thoroughly explored and clarified by the scholars at Inarah. In brief, Islam is best understood as a distinct anti-Trinitarian Christology. There were several such Christianities current in the East before the 11th century, all of which eventually came to be codified into what we now call “Islam.”

Thus, in effect, the Dome of the Rock has a precise and distinct Christian and Islamic history. What it does not have, however, is a clear and precise Jewish history. There were likely buildings here from the time of Herod the Great, such as the Esplanade, which is thought to be the encircling wall of Herod’s renovation of the Second Temple, but no clear written history exists that pins down this association with Herod’s renovation of Solomon’s original temple; nor are there any remains at the Al-Aqsa complex (thus far) that might offer evidence of an ancient Hebrew ritual presence . Attempts to align the Temple Mount with what Josephus describes are unconvincing and precarious at best and often a matter of personal opinion of the historian. The archaeological work done in the area has yielded Christian and later Islamic artifacts and buildings (what is known as the “Umayyad palace”). The only thing that is said to be from the time of Herod are the many cut stones, but are they from the Second temple? There are also other artifacts which have been found elsewhere in Jerusalem, such as the two Temple Warning inscriptions. Again, to link these exactly to the Temple Mount is difficult to sustain. As well, there is big problem with forgeries.

As is often the case, when doing archaeology with Bible in hand, the yield is always disappointing. The ancient Hebrews of the Old Testament simply vanish in the dust of Palestine and are impossible to trace. History is very precarious work in Israel, because it is so highly political, for its goal is often nationalist: to prove that Palestine was always Jewish, so the further back in time we go, the more evidence there must be of a persistent and obvious Hebrew presence. That has not happened.

The Wailing Wall and the Second Temple

As for the Western (or Wailing) Wall, it is difficult to say that it is definitely a remnant of Herod’s Second Temple. More than likely it is a wall from the Antonia Fortress of the Romans. It is only assumption that links the Western Wall to the Second Temple. The many points of evidence presented are “readings” of artifacts, readings preconditioned by politics: there can be no neutral, impartial history in Israel when it comes to the issue of the location of the Second Temple. Only the bottom stones, it is said are Herodian and therefore from the Temple; the top part is later Islamic.

The tradition of praying at the Wall is also very late (16th century). For example, the very detailed account of the Temple site, written in 1267, by Nahmanides (in a letter to his son, Nahman), makes no mention of the Wall at all. In the 14th century, Ishtori Haparchi also seems unaware of it, and we further find no mention made in the various accounts from the 15th century, such as, by Obadiah of Bertinoro. It is only with the coming of the Zionists in the 19th century that the Wall became closely associated with the Second Temple and became a holy site. In fact, Baron Rothschild offered to buy the entire Al-Aqsa area; his plan was to demolish all the buildings on it and build the Third Temple. For various reasons, the plan never came to fruition.

There is also the problem of water, since the only source for it in ancient times was the Spring of Gihon, which is nowhere near the Al-Aqsa compound, and the Temple would have needed a lot of it for various ritual purposes. The compound instead has remains of Roman water cisterns (37 in all) and pools, which are “read” as mikvehs to substantiate the existence of the Temple.

There is also the textual consideration. We are told about the Roman destruction by Josephus who was an eyewitness to it and who tells us that nothing was left standing. All of Jerusalem was completed razed to the ground. Why would the Romans leave the wall of the Second Temple standing when they knew that said Temple was the very heart of Judaism, because of which the Judaeans had fought two bitter wars with them? To leave standing any remains of such an important culti center would only be inviting more trouble. But the Romans would also not destroy their own fortress.

In short, wherever the Second Temple might have been in Jerusalem (likely on Mount Ophel), it could not have been on what is now called “Temple Mount.” Only 19th and 20th century custom has established such a connection, which archaeology and history now seek to confirm. Some even say that the city of David could not have been located on the Mount, which again calls into question the Temple’s location.

If one questions the veracity of the Wall today, one will called a “Temple denier,” which is akin to “Holocaust denial,” and to question the narrative of Al-Aqsa as the location of the Second Temple is to be a Palestinian apologist. In this way scholarly conformity is assured, since the official task of the historian in Israel is to confirm the eternal possession of the Levant by the present-day Jews, and the erasure of any other memory (Christian and Muslim).

Some scholars even doubt that ancient Jerusalem truly has a Hebraic identity further back from the Roman period. But he who “controls the present controls the past.” Antiquity is a source of great power in Israel.


Featured: Samson carrying the gates of Gaza; Huqoq synagogue, 5th-century.


Israel, the Red Heifer, and the Messiah

Zionists and Zionism

One of the core projects of present-day Zionists is to build the Third Temple on the area that is also very sacred for Muslims, and where their third holiest mosque stands (Dome of the Rock).

But first, we must properly understand what we mean by “Zionism.” As Peter J. Miano has rightly pointed out, the drive to return Jews to the Levant as their proper homeland is a very old Protestant project (going back to the 17th century), for Protestants largely believe that the Jews are the chosen people of God and must be treated with deference; and that as Christians are simply “add-ons” to this Godly race. This also means that God needs the Jews to do what He wants on earth; without them God is handicapped. Thus, it is the job of “Christians” to help Jews fulfill the will of God by assisting them in every way possible.

In other words, Zionism is not a Jewish “invention”—rather, it is a Protestant undertaking which the founders of Israel successfully harnessed to achieve their end of establishing a Jewish state. The vast majority of these Protestant Zionists live in the United States, and thus the power-base of Zionism is America—it is not Israel. Protestantism has always been about “Judaizing” Christianity; that is its logic. This is why Martin Luther, for instance, severely edited the Bible to make it more like the Torah, which he believed preceded the Christian Bible, so that the current Jews are therefore regarded as the very same ones as ones in the Old Testament. This notion of priority is what gives Protestant Zionism its justification: God made a promise with the Jews and God does not break His promise. This radically alters traditional Christianity (Catholic and Orthodox) and the New Testament in which Christians are now God’s Chosen People.

Historically as well, modern-day Judaism is best understood as a hostile “younger sister” of Christianity, in that it was fashioned as a reaction and counter to Christian teaching. Just as there are all kinds of Jews today, so we really have no idea what the ancient Hebrew faith was all about. We only have a hint of the various sects that might have existed from Josephus, and even that is very unclear. But the common mistake in the popular Protestant mind is to imagine that Judaism is a unified and cohesive block, which is the “root” of Christianity. History does not allow such a conclusion. In fact, in antiquity, it is helpful to speak of Judaisms rather than Judaism.

Since Protestant Zionism imagines itself to be the helpmate of the Jews so they can accomplish God’s will in the here-and-now, the nation of Israel is thus a deeply Christian project, whereby geography has been given an eschatological destiny—the sole purpose of Israel existing is to bring the messiah so he can start his reign over all the earth. (He come for the Jews the first time, for these Protestants a second time). And it is the job of Zionism to clear the way for the messiah—and this is why God needs the Jews: He needs them to build the Third Temple, the precondition for the messiah. On a more mundane level, the two sides of the Zionist coin are using each other: the Zionists among Jews want a return to the “glory days” of a Greater Israel while the Zionists among Protestants are hoping that when the messiah returns, the Jews will convert and be saved. Within this sorry mix of ambitions are the Palestinians who are like grit in the eye of Zionism.

Before this Third Temple can be built, the area must first come under Jewish control, and the Dome of the Rock demolished. The familiar mosque with the golden dome is the third holiest place in Islam; destroying it will mean war with all of Islam. Can Israel handle such a war?

Next, the priests that will carry out the sacrifices and rituals will have to be made pure with “sin water”—which consists of the ashes of an immolated red heifer (a cow that has never calved), mixed with water. Without sin water no priest will be able to enter the temple. This ritual cleansing is taken from the book of Numbers:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: This is the observance of the victim, which the Lord hath ordained. Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee a red cow of full age, in which there is no blemish, and which hath not carried the yoke: And you shall deliver her to Eleazar the priest, who shall bring her forth without the camp, and shall immolate her in the sight of all: And dipping his finger in her blood, shall sprinkle it over against the door of the tabernacle seven times, And shall burn her in the sight of all, delivering up to the fire her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, and her dung. The priest shall also take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet twice dyed, and cast it into the flame, with which the cow is consumed. And then after washing his garments, and body, he shall enter into the camp, and shall be unclean until the evening. He also that hath burned her, shall wash his garments, and his body, and shall be unclean until the evening. And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the cow, and shall pour them forth without the camp in a most clean place, that they may be reserved for the multitude of the children of Israel, and for a water of aspersion: because the cow was burnt for sin. And when he that carried the ashes of the cow, hath washed his garments, he shall be unclean until the evening. The children of Israel, and the strangers that dwell among them, shall observe this for a holy thing by a perpetual ordinance (Numbers 19: 1-10).

The move to build the Third Temple gathered steam, with the establishment of the Temple Institute in 1984, which is a vast umbrella organization that has schools, college prep courses, a publishing house, a museum and manufacturing facilities for the vessels needed in the Temple. Since the Institute’s schools are recognized by the Israeli Department of Education, a large number of students come for further education, as well as thousands of soldiers in the IDF who come for seminars. The work of the Institute is supported by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (the supreme spiritual leaders of the Jewish people in Israel). The Institute is also a regular haunt for American Protestant Zionists.

There are other affiliated groups working to build the Third Temple, namely, the Temple Mount Administration, the Temple Mount Faithful, the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, and the Chai Vekayam movement, led by Yehuda Etzion who has been deeply influenced by the teachings of Shabtai Ben-Dov, who advocated that the purpose of the Jewish state is to carry out conquest, no matter how merciless, of the Arabs, and that Israel can only be a theocracy rather than a democracy. Ben-Dov also advocated the building of the Third Temple, which would bring the messiah, and the entire world will then be ruled according to Jewish law and values, overseen by a Sanhedrin.

The commonly held belief is that the Third Temple is to built exactly where the Second Temple once stood, which in turn was built where the First Temple was located. the potential for great violence is obvious.

But there are two preparatory steps that must be secured: the Jewish possession of the Al-Aqsa compound (the Temple Mount), and the breeding of the red heifer, without either the Third Temple cannot be built. And so it is on these two possibilities that most of the effort of the Institute is focused—and it is this agenda that archaeologists and historians also willingly promote when they declare once and for all that the Dome of the Rock is the location of the Second Temple.

To that end, the Chief Rabbinate now permits Jews to go and pray at the Temple Mount which has meant several violent incursions into Muslim holy ground by Third Temple activists; the most recent by Israeli police.

The Red Heifer

The job of breeding the perfect red heifer has been the responsibility of Boneh Israel, run by both Jews and Protestants. Its mission, in its own words: “Boneh Israel (literally: ‘Building Israel’) is a nonprofit organization focused on building up and reviving important Biblical sites, bringing the Bible to life, educating the nations about the past, present and future of Israel, and actively bringing the redemption closer.” In fact, this effort began in the 1990s.

Archaeology has long been used in Israel to set up “markers” which say that “we Jews were always here,” and which also has entirely erased the Palestinians from any such history, for it is ultimately a Kulturkampf.

The point of “actively bringing the redemption closer” is the key project, however, which has meant that Boneh Israel has been active in breeding the perfect, unblemished red heifer. And last year, they delivered five such heifers to Israel, which were bred in Texas by a rancher named Byron Stinson who is the founder of Boneh Israel: “The Bible says to bring a red cow to purify Israel, and I may not understand it, but I am just doing what the Bible said.” If the heifers are thoroughly red and without blemish by the time they mature, then they will be burned to make sin water.

In the meantime, other things necessary for the Third Temple are underway: the ritual vessels, the musical instruments, the cloths and vestments, and the priests, five hundred of whom have been selected as being “direct descendants” of Levites from the time of the Second Temple.

The point of all this preparation is the strange belief that by doing everything right, the messiah will be forced to show up: it is the ancient notion of a god being contractually bound to do what you want him to do, because once humans do what they are supposed to do, then the god must also do what he is supposed to do. It is a type of deceit, trickery. We are very far from any notion of holiness and the dignity of sanctity. There is only a grim cosmic legalism.

A Future?

Israel is caught in a curious dilemma. It justifies itself by promoting the narrative of rightful possession of land given to the Jews by God. But it also seeks to show itself as a democracy. The two cancel each other out: if Israel truly believes that the Jews of today must pick up where the Jews two thousand years ago left off (when the Romans banished all Jews from the Holy Land and built a Roman city where Jerusalem of old once stood), then the likes of the Temple Institute alone can provide meaning for why Israel must exist, for then the nation must be a theocracy and fully participate in doing all that it can to bring the messiah so that he can reign over all the earth, with the Third Temple as the navel of such a world. Or, if Israel a democracy, then it cannot erase the Palestinians and continue treating them as unwanted menials, for democracy demands equality for all.

For example, Old Jerusalem is being transformed into a “historical park,” where all sorts of reminders of a Jewish presence in the past are being created; and all these “reminders” point to the necessity of building the Third Temple.

Thus far, Israel has not been able to solve this dilemma—it does not still know what it really is—a process for the coming of the messiah, or simply a country, like all the rest in this world. But it will be hard for Israel to give up its special status the Land of God’ Chosen, for this status has given it a lot of benefits from the USA. If it cannot resolve this dilemma, it will descend further into violence and disintegration—for it is a nation deeply divided by a messianic urge and the lure of democracy. Both cannot sustain each other.