The Book Of Tobit And Its Recensions

The book of Tobit is one of those books Catholics would call the Deuterocanonicals and non-Catholics would label the Apocrypha.

Basically, it’s about a pious old man from the tribe of Nephthali named Tobit exiled along with the other Israelites in Nineveh who goes blind after bird droppings fell on his eyes (!). One day Tobit decides to collect money he had once deposited to an acquaintance named Gabael in the land of Media and sends his son Tobias (aka Tobiah) to do so.

Along the way, Tobias is accompanied by a guy who passes himself off as a kinsman of his named Azariah, and a dog who doesn’t do anything in the story except to be mentioned briefly at the very beginning and the very end of the journey. Arriving in Media, Tobias gets the money from Gabael, and marries the latter’s daughter Sarah, who was tormented by a demon named Asmodeus, who had killed every man she married.

Tobias succeeds in driving Asmodeus out by burning, under Azariah’s advice, the liver and heart of a rabid fish he had encountered during the journey. Tobias, Sarah, and Azariah return to Nineveh, where Tobit was cured of his blindness by the gall of the same fish. ‘Azariah’ eventually reveals himself to be the angel Raphael, sent by God to cure Tobit and Sarah of the afflictions they had, and goes back to heaven.

Years pass, and Tobit finally dies, but not before warning his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy. After burying his father, Tobias and his family then go away and settle at Media, where the tale ends.

That’s the main gist of the story. But here’s the thing. Those of you who like to read from different translations of the Bible might have already noticed this, but if you compare the book of Tobit as it is in three different translations – the Douai-Rheims, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Bible – you’d notice that the text of each is radically different from one another.

I encountered some people from time to time who tried to follow the daily readings, only to find that the version they found in their Bible is totally unlike what’s read out in church.

This is much more evident if you read from the Douai-Rheims. The book begins like this in the NAB version: “This book tells the story of Tobit, son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, son of Raphael, son of Raguel, of the family of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali. During the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, he was taken captive from Thisbe, which is south of Kedesh Naphtali in upper Galilee, above and to the west of Asher, north of Phogor.”

The RSV version is pretty close, if shorter (for instance, it omits “son of Raphael, son of Raguel” and simply mentions Thisbe as being “to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher.”)

But if you pick up the DR, this is what you’ll find: “Tobias of the tribe and city of Nephtali, (which is in the upper parts of Galilee above Naasson, beyond the way that leadeth to the west, having on the right hand the city of Sephet,) when he was made captive in the days of Salmanasar king of the Assyrians, even in his captivity, forsook not the way of truth, but every day gave all he could get to his brethren his fellow captives, that were of his kindred. And when he was younger than any of the tribe of Nephtali, yet did he no childish thing in his work.”

Totally different, isn’t it? What’s going on here? The answer’s simple: all three translations use three different source texts.

The first thing to understand is that there’s no single, standard version of the book of Tobit. Instead what you really have is different versions of the same work circulating in different languages like Greek or Latin or Hebrew or Aramaic or even Ethiopian.

There are at least two or three versions of Tobit in Greek. The shorter one, found in virtually most surviving Greek manuscripts, is called Greek I (G1). The longer (containing 1,700 more words than G1) version found only almost fully in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, and partially in a couple other manuscripts, is Greek II (G2). Sinaiticus uniquely preserves most of G2 – albeit riddled with scribal errors – except for two lacunae (4:7-19b and 13:7-10b).

Fortunately, an 11th century manuscript (Mount Athos, MS 319, aka Vatopedi 913) gives the G2 text from 3:6 to 6:16 (while giving the G1 text for the rest of the book), thereby filling one of the two lacunae.

The third version, Greek III (G3) is fundamentally related to G2, but is not dependent on the version contained in Sinaiticus. G3 exists only partially (covering only 6:9-13:8) in three cursive manuscripts, which all reproduce G1 for the rest of the book.

As for Latin, there are two main versions of the book. To be more precise, one of the two is more like a family of different versions.

The various versions of Tobit made before St. Jerome translated biblical books into Latin are mainly related to G2, to the point that it can be used to understand and correct its text via comparison, although from time to time they do exhibit some differences from the text in Sinaiticus (more on these later). These so-called Vetus Latina (VL) versions are not all of one type, though.

As of now, there is still no critical edition of the VL version (or rather, versions).

The next best thing is an 18th century text assembled by French Benedictine monk Pierre Sabatier in the Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones antiquae, seu Vetus Italica (pp. 706-743), mainly based on two 9th century Latin manuscripts: Q (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 93, aka MS Regius 3564) and P (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11505, aka MS Sangermanensis 4) along with readings from G (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11503, aka Sangermanensis 15 or Sangermanensis 1), which contains the text up to 13:2, and W (Rome, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Regin. lat. 7, aka Codex Reginensis), which contains the text only as far as 6:12, the rest being a copy of the Vulgate version (see below).

Since then, two other manuscripts have been found and studied, which illustrate the lack of ‘one type’ of the text: the 10th century R (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 6, aka the Ripoll Bible), and the 9th-century X (Madrid, Biblioteca Univers. Cent. 31, aka Codex Complutensis I).

Both of these have been published by the Italian scholar Francesco Vattioni in the 1970s, who also published the readings of the Tobit text found in a work attributed to St. Augustine known as the Speculum de sacra scriptura (Mirror of Holy Scripture).

The text of Complutensis I is very paraphrastic, representing a much expanded form of the text found in Sabatier. Besides these, other important sources for the VL Tobit are quotations from early Church Fathers.

The text translated by Jerome and included in the Latin Vulgate, meanwhile, is interesting in itself, because it is a free translation of a translation.

This is how he explains the translation process in his preface to the book: “I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.”

Apparently, Jerome did not know ‘Chaldean’ (Aramaic) – although he does note that the language is similar to Hebrew (answer being that both are Semitic languages), which he is thought to have known – that he needed someone to translate the Aramaic version of Tobit he had acquired. The translation work was apparently very quick – according to Jerome’s words it only took him, his scribe, and his Aramaic-speaking translator “the work of one day.”

The Vulgate version (which is apparently of the same general family as Greek I, though not similar to it) was once the dominant version of the book in the West before more use was made of Greek manuscripts in biblical translations starting from the Renaissance onwards.

We don’t know for sure whether the Aramaic text used by Jerome is descended from a Semitic forebear or was based on the Greek. The Vulgate text’s relation to the Greek versions and even to the VL recensions is really problematic, since it exhibits some considerable differences from them (although some scholars suspect that Jerome was apparently at the same time dependent on the VL versions).

These differences might stem in part from the version Jerome and his bilingual acquaintance were translating from, but perhaps also in part due to Jerome’s possibly rather free translation method (he admitted that his translation of Judith, which was like Tobit also from an Aramaic version, was magis sensum e sensus quam ex verbo verbum “more sense for sense than word for word;” it could very well be the same case here).

The general impression one could get from Vulgate Tobit is that it is more moralistic and didactic compared to the more straightforward other versions – I’d even say quite preachy. Compare Raphael-as-Azariah’s advice to Tobias on their way to Media in the Vulgate to, say, the G2 version (NAB):

Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.

And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.”
(Douai-Rheims, Tobit 6:16-22)

Raphael said to him: “Do you not remember your father’s commands? He ordered you to marry a woman from your own ancestral family. Now listen to me, brother; do not worry about that demon. Take Sarah. I know that tonight she will be given to you as your wife! When you go into the bridal chamber, take some of the fish’s liver and the heart, and place them on the embers intended for incense, and an odor will be given off. As soon as the demon smells the odor, it will flee and never again show itself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse with her, both of you must first get up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven that mercy and protection be granted you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I assume that you will have children by her, and they will be like brothers for you. So do not worry.” (NAB-RE, Tobit 6:16-18)

For a long time, only G1 and the Vulgate text were the only ones readily available to translators: Sinaiticus was only found in the early 19th century and Oxyrhynchus (where a 6th century fragment containing the G2 version of Tobit 2:2-5, 8 was found – one of the three manuscripts containing G2) wasn’t excavated until 1896.

And even after Sinaiticus was discovered to have a different text of the book, scholars at the time still considered the its text to be secondary to G1’s. Reason being the adage (well-known in textual criticism) of lectio brevior lectio potior, “shorter reading is the better reading.”

That, and the fact that G1 enjoys more attestation than G2, which was – back then – only represented in a single manuscript. They assumed that G1 was the original version, while G2 was an expansion of it.

Aside from G1, Sinaiticus, and the Vulgate, people before the mid-20th century were aware of a number of other versions of the book in Hebrew (and one in Aramaic), although all of these were late, medieval texts that are deritative of the Greek or the Vulgate versions.

  1. The Münster text (HM), first published in 1516 in Constantinople, then reprinted in Basel by Sebastian Münster in 1542. Said to be a 5th century version, this text is generally based on G2. This version was reproduced in the London Polyglot.
  2. The Fagius text (HF), said to date from the 12th century and first published in 1519 (reprinted by Paul Fagius in 1542). This version is also found in the 1657 London Polyglot. This text is usually judged to be a paraphrastic translation or a free recasting of a Greek text like G1 made by a medieval Jew from Western Europe. This version is noted for its introduction of OT phraseology into the text. The Haydock Commentary often alludes to this version along with the other ones named here.
  3. Gaster’s text (HG), another translation derived from from a 15th century Midrash on the Pentateuch that condenses and greatly abbreviates the narrative found in the medieval Aramaic text, with which it otherwise largely agrees. The narrative in 1:1-3:6 is again in the third person; much of the dialogue and the prayers are eliminated. The text lays a huge emphasis on tithing, a reason why it was introduced into the pentateuchal midrash.
  4. Cairo Genizah T-S A 45.25, 45.26 and 45.29 (Cambridge University Library): Fragmentary texts dating from the 13th-14th century. The earliest of these, 45.26 is of the same recension as the 1516 Constantinople text, while the latter two agree with Fagius’ version.

In the 19th century, Adolf Neubauer also discovered a 15th-century Aramaic text of Tobit in the Bodleian library at Oxford (Hebrew MS 2339).

The text, written in late Aramaic, seems to have been derived from G1. Some peculiar quirks of this version include: (1) agreement with the Vulgate in telling the story of Tobit in the third person in chapters 1-3; (2) omission of the dog, which is mentioned in most other versions; (3) abbreviation of chapter 12, omission of chapter 13 and most of 14 (the remaining part of which is highly condensed); and (4) a short epilogue in Hebrew.

At that time, Neubauer expressed his opinion that this text “Chaldee text in a more complete form was the original from which the translation of the Vulgate was made,” an opinion which was eventually critiqued as being unsubstantiated.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s, however, would change long-held assumptions. But that’s for next time.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father [Tobit],” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1860.

The Real Vikings

In these days where man is held to be homo economicus, we are told that all people are basically the same, and what they want, most of all, is ease and comfort. Real Vikings prove this false.

Instead, they reflect back to us a strange combination of very bad behavior and until-the-last-dog-dies virtue. Tom Shippey wants to talk about those real Vikings, not the sanitized ones who were supposedly much like us, just colder. If you read this book, therefore, you’ll get the Vikings in all their bloody, malicious glory.

Shippey (a professor of Old and Middle English literature, and one of the world’s leading authorities on J. R. R. Tolkien) tells what we know about the Vikings, primarily from their own stories about themselves, the sagas.

He combines this with other sources, including archaeology and the written histories of those with whom the Vikings came into contact, to create a vivid and compelling narrative. It may seem strange to treat the sagas as history, since fantasy elements, from dwarves to dragons to Valkyrie, are ubiquitous, and many were written down centuries after the events in them took place.

The author takes the position, apparently not uncontroversial, that the sagas can nonetheless be used as history, though with caution and only in some instances. Either way, the sagas show the Viking mentality, not so much through the plots of the stories, but through the actions of the people in them. Most of all, it is this Viking mindset that Shippey cares about; he calls it “a kind of death cult,” which does not seem an exaggeration.

Shippey is well-versed in the languages in which the sagas were written, including Old Norse; he does his own translations. Given the bowdlerization that is common in pre-modern translations, this is very helpful to the reader. The stories in the sagas are very complex, largely due to the tangled webs of kinship they portray.

These are not fairy tales, with a simple story and simple moral, but Shippey does an excellent job of exposition. He emphasizes that sagas aren’t meant to be beautiful or delicate; they aim instead to follow extremely strict rules of rhyme and meter, and are full of complex grammar and obscure allusions. The creation of excellent poetry was regarded as a high virtue and accomplishment for men in their off hours, when they weren’t killing other men.

Vikings are often incorrectly seen as synonymous with Scandinavians. In Old Norse, vikingr meant simply pirate or marauder. “It wasn’t an ethnic label, it was a job description.” Shippey rejects revisionist accounts that try to paint the Vikings as settlers, or traders, or nice people who just occasionally got caught up in fighting.

Plenty of Scandinavians were settlers, traders, and nice people—just not the Vikings. For three hundred years, they stole and murdered across much of northern Europe, especially England, and got as far as Constantinople and southern Spain.

“To the modern mind, it is amazing, almost incomprehensible, how so many thousands of men, over generations, took appalling risks in small boats and continuous hand-to-hand and face-to-face confrontations with edged weapons, for what do not seem to us to have been very great financial returns. Viking armies were often defeated, even exterminated, but there never seemed to be any difficulty recruiting another one.”

What made this possible was the Viking mentality.

Shippey’s book is both analysis and history. The history begins where Viking histories normally begin, with the sack of the monastery of Saint Cuthbert on Lindisfarne, in A.D. 793. It ends with Harold Godwinson’s defeat, in 1066 at Stamford Bridge, of the giant Norwegian king, Harold Hardrada (whose name Shippey translates, roughly, as “Hard-Line Harold”).

The actual causes of the eruption of the Vikings are not completely clear, because there are almost no written records from Scandinavia of the time, but they probably have to do with upheaval and a power vacuum in Scandinavia. Intertwined with history, Shippey offers his careful and detailed parsing of sagas, combining that with evidence from archaeology.

Much of this seems vaguely familiar to the reader, because Vikings have been staples of popular culture for two hundred years, but the more you read about real Vikings, the less familiar it seems (although a few works of modern fiction, such as Eric Rücker Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, do manage to capture a real Viking feel).

As he moves through history, Shippey itemizes core features of the Viking mindset; then illustrates and expands on them. The single overriding feature was an absolute need to be brave. Cowardice was utterly disgraceful. Part of that was never giving in.

Fighting to the last man was a baseline Viking expectation. We can understand that; it’s to some extent part of our own culture (or was, until we were pansified). Another feature, though, is harder for us to grasp—losing isn’t the same as being a loser.

Vikings lost all the time; there was no disgrace in that, as long as you kept the right attitude, which was not giving in. If you had to give in physically, not giving in mentally would do. And the best way to show that was to die laughing (hence the title of the book). That laughter wasn’t ironic or self-referential, though. It was malicious.

If you laughed as your enemies killed you, because you knew how they were going to die soon too and you’d get your vengeance, that was admirable. The goal wasn’t stoicism (which was often the goal of other martial societies, particularly the American Indians); it was getting one over on your enemies, and knowing it.

Or if you bided your time as a defeated slave, forming a plan to kill and mutilate your enemies, then chuckled over their bodies, that was admirable too. (It is, as Shippey says, no coincidence that our word “gloat” comes from Old Norse.) Waiting to get back at your enemies so as to do it well is high-class behavior; it’s low-class thralls that lose their tempers and strike back hastily.

And if you simply can’t get vengeance, you can make a dark joke, like the saga hero who, cut terribly across the face in hand-to-hand combat onboard a ship, grabs his gold, says “The Danish woman in Bornholm won’t think it so pleasant to kiss me now,” and jumps overboard to sink beneath the waves.

Being humorously nasty is also admirable, like the man who, as he is about to be decapitated after a battle, asks for one of his enemies to hold his hair back so it doesn’t get bloody—then, as the axe falls, jerks backward so the helper’s hands are cut off, and dances around, laughing and shouting “Whose hands are in my hair?!”

Being comfortable with losing continued even after death. Those warriors chosen for Valhalla were not promised eternal life or eternal happiness; they were promised a good time until Ragnarok, the final battle, whereupon all of them, and all the gods, were to lose and die permanently.

In the Viking ethos, this makes sense, because you can only show that you will never give in if you can be defeated. The goal isn’t to avoid defeat, certainly not by switching sides to gain advantage. It’s to show your worth, come what may. Many have pointed out that the gods in the Iliad are, in a sense, lesser than men because their immortality makes everything they do ultimately trivial. Not so for Vikings, or their gods.

Fighting was the number one Viking activity, of course. In all the sagas, there is a definite exaltation of strongly masculine behavior, mostly fighting but wine and women as well. Vikings had a general love of constant violence, including games intended to create violent disputes among friends out of nothing.

They also invariably reacted with a hair trigger to insults; and when they lost their lives, as they expected to someday, if not laughing ideally offered dying last words that were not self-pitying but were laconic, such as “bear to Silkisif and our sons my greeting; I won’t be coming.”

Self-control was extremely important—showing any weak-seeming emotion or offering any reaction (other than violence or laughter) was looked down on, even if severely injured or having lost a child or wife.

Vikings didn’t cry, ever. All this behavior was, collectively, drengskapr, basically a code of honor, the function of which Shippey analogizes to later European dueling, which served important functions tied to the core male need for validation and hierarchy.

Its opposite, naturally, was dishonorable behavior, such as killing the defenseless, cowardice, or breaking an oath; such actions meant either a loss of face or expulsion from the community.

Despite the inherently masculine nature of drengskapr, women appear often in this book. Shippey notes that in the sagas women are “not themselves Vikings by trade, but often the most determined instigators and proponents of the heroic mindset.” The “sagas of Icelanders especially are full of dominating and aggressive women.”

Numerous sagas turn on the actions of women, seeking revenge for slights or harms to them or their families, or rejecting an ambitious warrior until he achieves more fame. Old Norse even has a special verb just for women taunting men as cowards.

Beyond the sagas, as with all the peoples descended from “Germanic” barbarians, women occupied significant roles in society. This is in sharp contrast to the East, where women were kept hidden and exercised influence purely behind the scenes. Women were out and about in Viking society (and in other Germanic societies, such as the Franks, causing scandal in Outremer among Muslims during the Crusades).

They ran businesses, owned property, signed contracts, and generally acted with a great degree of independence. Vikings had no harems—although Vikings made a lot of money supplying young women to Muslim harems (and some high-status Viking men kept concubines).

Slaves were the Vikings’ number one cash generator, and Muslims their number one market, since Christian Europe strongly disfavored slaves, even at this point, and Scandinavia itself didn’t have the money to buy a lot of slaves.

In other words, contrary to the modern propagandistic myth, there’s no indication women as women were oppressed in Viking society (which is true for most, if not all, Western societies throughout history).

As usual, relations between men and women were a constant negotiation where everyone was trying to muddle through together. In conflicts, women usually gave as good as they got, and exemplified similar courage as men.

Voluntarily choosing to die, “[Brynhild] regards Sigurd as her real husband, her frumverr or ‘first man’; she means to go with him. Of course, she also had him murdered, but that does not affect her real feelings or her sense of what’s right.”

Where women appear not a single time in this book, however, is as warriors, because Viking women warriors are a total myth. Last year widespread coverage was given to a claim that the grave of a Viking woman warrior had been uncovered. Fake news, which was quickly disproven, though that was not given any coverage at all in the popular media.

Viking women warriors simply didn’t exist. “Viking warrior” is a tautology; “Viking woman” is an oxymoron. Neither history nor saga mentions women as warriors. What about the famous “shieldmaidens,” you ask? A thirteenth-century Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, created that legend out of whole cloth in imitation of myths about the Amazons.

The sole mention in any actual saga of any woman warrior is in The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek, a thirteenth-century mashup of several earlier sagas, where part of the plot revolves around a woman, Hervor, who takes up arms after her father and brothers are killed (summoning her dead father, Angantyr, from his barrow grave to give her his sword, Tyrfing). (She was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Eowyn of Rohan, depicted, like Hervor, as golden haired in golden helmet).

This is all obviously just fantasy no different than that about dwarves and dragons. Such fantasies aren’t new; people have been projecting their fantasies onto Vikings for more than a thousand years. In the ninth century A.D. the Muslim ruler of Spain, Abd al Rahman II, sent an embassy to the Vikings, led by an ambassador, nicknamed al-Ghazal (“the gazelle,” for his good looks).

It’s not clear precisely where he went or whom he met, because in what he wrote he was less interested in writing useful detail, and more in telling us that the custom of the Vikings was “no woman refused any man,” and that the queen of the Vikings was infatuated with him. Al-Ghazal’s writings show, as Shippey says, “we are deep in Male Fantasy Land,” and the same is true of Hervor.

(Muslims, and the Byzantines, did interact quite a bit with the Vikings; more accurate than al-Ghazal was the record of the tenth-century Ahmad Ibd Fadlan’s mission to the Rus, which forms a large part of the backstory to the movie The Thirteenth Warrior and which Shippey discusses at length, mostly to show that the Vikings were fine with sex slavery, ritual murder, and gang rape.)

Along similar lines, you often hear that the Valkyries were women warriors, a trope that shows up, for example, in modern movies based on the Marvel comic books. Shippey makes clear that they were nothing of the sort (addressing the question directly never comes up for him, any more than discussing whether the Vikings carried iPhones or used machine guns).

The Valkyries were Odin’s servants, acting as harvesters, or rather recruiters, who picked which warriors would die in battle, and thus join Odin in the halls of Valhalla. They often picked the strongest men, who were brought low by seeming chance, but actually by the Valkyries or Odin himself—a way for the Vikings to explain the seeming randomness of death in battle. But the Valkyries weren’t warriors.

At all. They were more like the Greek Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos; and overlap with the Norns, the Norse rough equivalent of the Fates. Nor were they aspirational figures for women in Viking society.

Silly claims about female Vikings are part of a larger problem with the corruption of everything by ideology—news, science, history. A claim that a Viking woman has been found is useful.

It can be, and is, used to support idiot actions like allowing women into the military, and more generally to aid the ongoing massive propaganda campaign to pretend that not only are there no real differences between men and women, but that women can do anything that men can do, only better.

(We have seen this on display in recent weeks in the blanket coverage given to the Women’s World Cup, an unimportant event that very few Americans care about, and the winning of which is equivalent to being the world’s tallest midget).

Thus, such a “discovery” is feted around the world and the “discoverer” briefly becomes an international celebrity, before returning to a promotion and permanent job security. A claim that a male Viking burial has been found is boring and gets the claimant nothing.

Along similar lines, Shippey notes several attempts to feminize Viking history, such as when in 2014 the British Museum censored the translation of a runestone inscription to change phrases such as “They fared like bold men far for gold” to “They fared far for gold.” As Shippey says drily, the word men “is not favored academically.”

Fortunately, this book is not marred by any such distortions. It’s an uncut presentation of Viking behavior, straight up, no chaser. After you read it, you’ll probably be glad you weren’t around when and where the Vikings were.

Still, as you order some knickknack off Amazon to give you a brief rush of consumer enjoyment, briefly beating back your ennui, you’ll probably feel some tug toward the grandeur and glory of the Viking mindset, and wonder whether modern life, lacking any transcendence, is as hollow at its core as it seems.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Funeral of a Viking,” by Sir Frank Bernard Dicksee, painted in 1893.

Alfred The Great

In a new endeavor for the Postil, we will publish interesting works which have been passed over by the hurrying flow of years. We believe that such works still have the ability to teach and please, and thus deserve an afterlife. Our first offering is by John Henry Haaren (1855-1916), who a native of New York, a teacher, and president of the Brooklyn Institute. This brief biography of Alfred the Great was published in 1904.

I

The Danes were neighbors of the Norwegian Vikings, and like them were fond of the sea and piracy. They plundered the English coasts for more than a century; and most of northern and eastern England became for a time a Danish country with Danish kings.

What saved the rest of the country to the Saxons was the courage of the great Saxon king, Alfred.

Alfred was the son of Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. He had a loving mother who brought him up with great care. Up to the age of twelve, it is said, he was not able to read well, in spite of the efforts of his mother and others to teach him.

When Alfred was a boy there were no printed books. The wonderful art of printing was not invented until about the year 1440—nearly six hundred years later than Alfred’s time. Moreover, the art of making paper had not yet been invented. Consequently the few books in use in Alfred’s time were written by skillful penmen, who wrote generally on leaves of parchment, which was sheepskin carefully prepared so that it might retain ink.

One day Alfred’s mother showed him and his elder brothers a beautiful volume which contained a number of the best Saxon ballads. Some of the words in this book were written in brightly colored letters, and upon many of the leaves were painted pictures of gaily-dressed knights and ladies.

“Oh, what a lovely book!” exclaimed the boys.

“Yes, it is lovely,” replied the mother. “I will give it to whichever of you children can read it the best in a week.”

Alfred began at once to take lessons in reading, and studied hard day after day. His brothers passed their time in amusements and made fun of Alfred’s efforts. They thought he could not learn to read as well as they could, no matter how hard he should try.

At the end of the week the boys read the book to their mother, one after the other. Much to the surprise of his brothers, Alfred proved to be the best reader and his mother gave him the book.

While still very young Alfred was sent by his father to Rome to be anointed by His Holiness, the Pope. It was a long and tiresome journey, made mostly on horseback.

With imposing, solemn ceremony he was anointed by the Holy Father. Afterwards he spent a year in Rome receiving religious instruction.

II

In the year 871, when Alfred was twenty-two years old, the Danes invaded various parts of England. Some great battles were fought, and Alfred’s elder brother Ethelred, king of the West Saxons, was killed. Thus Alfred became king.

The Danes still continued to fight the Saxons, and defeated Alfred in a long and severe struggle. They took for themselves the northern and eastern parts of England.

Moreover, Danes from Denmark continued to cross the sea and ravage the coast of Saxon England. They kept the people in constant alarm. Alfred therefore determined to meet the pirates on their own element, the sea. So he built and equipped the first English navy, and in 875 gained the first naval victory ever won by the English.

A few years after this, however, great numbers of Danes from the northern part of England came pouring into the Saxon lands. Alfred himself was obliged to flee for his life.

For many months he wandered through forests and over hills to avoid being taken by the Danes. He sometimes made his home in caves and in the huts of shepherds and cowherds. Often he tended the cattle and sheep and was glad to get a part of the farmer’s dinner in pay for his services.

Once, when very hungry, he went into the house of a cowherd and asked for something to eat. The cowherd’s wife was baking cakes and she said she would give him some when they were done.

“Watch the cakes and do not let them burn, while I go across the field to look after the cows,” said the woman, as she hurried away. Alfred took his seat on the chimney-corner to do as he was told. But soon his thoughts turned to his troubles and he forgot about the cakes.

When the woman came back she cried out with vexation, for the cakes were burned and spoiled. “You lazy, good-for-nothing man!” she said, “I warrant you can eat cakes fast enough; but you are too lazy to help me bake them.”

With that she drove the poor hungry Alfred out of her house. In his ragged dress he certainly did not look like a king, and she had no idea that he was anything but a poor beggar.

III

Some of Alfred’s friends discovered where he was hiding and joined him. In a little time a body of soldiers came to him and a strong fort was built by them. From this fort Alfred and his men went out now and then and gave battle to small parties of the Danes. Alfred was successful and his army grew larger and larger.

One day he disguised himself as a wandering minstrel and went into the camp of the Danes. He strolled here and there, playing on a harp and singing Saxon ballads. At last, Guthrum (Guth’-rum), the commander of the Danes, ordered the minstrel to be brought to his tent.

Alfred went. “Sing to me some of your charming songs,” said Guthrum. “I never heard more beautiful music.” So the kingly harper played and sang for the Dane, and went away with handsome presents. But better than that, he had gained information that was of the greatest value.

In a week he attacked the Danish forces and defeated them with great slaughter in a battle which lasted all day and far into the night. Guthrum was taken prisoner and brought before Alfred.

Taking his harp in his hands, Alfred played and sang one of the ballads with which he had entertained Guthrum in the camp. The Dane started in amazement and exclaimed:

“You, then, King Alfred, were the wandering minstrel?”

“Yes,” replied Alfred, “I was the musician whom you received so kindly. Your life is now in my hands; but I will give you your liberty if you will become a Christian and never again make war on my people.”

“King Alfred,” said Guthrum, “I will become a Christian, and so will all my men if you will grant liberty to them as to me; and henceforth, we will be your friends.”

Alfred then released the Danes, and they were baptized as Christians.

An old road running across England from London to Chester was then agreed upon as the boundary between the Danish and Saxon kingdoms; and the Danes settled in East Anglia, as the eastern part of England was called.

Years of peace and prosperity followed for Alfred’s kingdom. During these years the king rebuilt the towns that had been destroyed by the Danes, erected new forts, and greatly strengthened his army and navy.

He also encouraged trade; and he founded a school like that established by Charlemagne. He himself translated a number of Latin books into Saxon, and probably did more for the cause of education than any other king that ever wore the English crown.

The photo shows King Alfred, from a 14th-century roll chronicle.

Nahum The Carpenter: The Sixteenth Epistle

The boys were happy their parents were considering moving from just outside Jerusalem into the country.

The raids by the Romans on the Jews in Jerusalem were escalating, with some people predicting a complete devastation of Jerusalem if the new Roman emperor had his way. People were very scared and helpless against the powerful Roman army.

Interestingly, the new Jesus people, Christians, were not bothered as much by the Romans, but unfortunately some Jewish followers were angry at the Christians for believing in this man Jesus and forgetting their Jewish beliefs. Some Jews were hunting, persecuting, torturing and killing the Christians.

Jesus had taught his new followers this was going to happen: You suffer because of me if you follow me.

One of Jesus apostles wrote this: You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

So they were mentally prepared to suffer for their beliefs, but like any human being they preferred to live happy safe lives so it made sense to try and avoid trouble as much as possible.

Ruth and Nahum did not know it yet, but they were in for another surprise!

Hannah, who liked to joke and tease Ezekiel, told him she wanted to furnish the spare bedroom. He asked why, were they going to have company?? She replied, yes in about five months. He said how do you know that far in advance who is coming, and how many?? She said as far as I know only one, but you never know? He was just on the verge of getting upset with her when she went over, put her arms around him and said we are having a baby!

Ezekiel was overcome with emotions and had to sit down. Hannah said to him you better be stronger than this when our baby arrives, you will have lots of work to do!!!

The boys had been looking for a place for their parents to move to, but so far had no success.

Back at home Ruth and Nahum had put a small sign on their front lawn HOUSE FOR SALE. They didn’t expect to get many responses considering the Jewish people were living under constant fear of raids by the Romans.

After two months of absolutely no action they decided they would board the home up and move away.

Nahum visited The Banker next day and got his approval to put the Banker on the For Sale sign as contact. He would expect a fee, of course. Nahum agreed.

The couple then started packing and getting rid of years of accumulation. They donated many items to local charities and some friends who could use some of their household items.

Meanwhile, back at The Medical Centre just as she closed the clinic, Hannah was surprised to see her father, Jonah, jump down from his horse, she was afraid something was wrong. No, on the contrary, I would like to chat with you for few minutes, can I follow you home and you can make me tea? of course his daughter said anytime for you Daddy.

Once settled, Jonah started to tell his daughter why he was there. He said, Hannah as you know your mother and I are now alone in our home, you, your sister and brother have all moved out and we have three bedrooms collecting dust. Hannah wondered where this was going? He said your mother mentioned the other day that Ruth and Nahum want to move closer to their two boys and the businesses and she wondered if they might be interested in staying with us until they sell their home and find another one? Hannah, oh Daddy, I am so pleasantly surprised at your offer. We never would have thought to ask you, but it makes to much sense.

They discussed the idea a bit more, Jonah explained that they would make an opening between two of the bedrooms, providing a dining area and a separate sitting room. The third room would be the bedroom.

The one problem would be the kitchen, Ruth would have to share it with Abigail. Jonah went on to explain that Ruth and Abigail had been friends for years, and while they were both similar in personalities, both very confident and independent, they were also loving and caring. They thought these last two attributes would allow the two ladies to work together in the kitchen. The couples could decide to eat together or separately and probably a bit of both.

Hannah was so excited and hugged her dad, big time. She said I can’t wait for Zeke to get home to tell him.

Her dad returned the hug and with a kiss said good bye and mounted his horse.

When Ezekiel arrived home a short while later, Hannah, who was in a very good mood, met him at the door and greeted him more warmly than usual! Ezekiel was well aware of his wife’s expressive nature and said, ok, what is going on here now??? Hannah, in her teasing manner said, oh Zeke why would you ask that? He replied because you have that devilish twinkle in your eyes!

She then told him of her father’s visit and offer. Ezekiel said, I can see now why you are so happy, now I am too. Would you mind delaying dinner for a few minutes, I just have to go and tell Ezzie, I won’t be long.

He returned and told Hannah they were going to go visit her parents’ tomorrow and then if everything looked good, they would ride to his parents and tell them the good news.

It was a happy night for both Ezzie and Zeke and their ladies!

The photo shows, “The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70,” by David Roberts, painted in 1850.

Nahum The Carpenter: The Event

The day had arrived, the boys and their families were very excited, but also very apprehensive. They had heard of more attacks by Jewish factions on the new Jesus people as well as the Romans attacking Jews and in some isolated cases the new Jesus people too.

They had prayed continuously and because of the indomitable faith were certain it would be a grand event. Time will tell!

Saturday morning arrived with a beautiful bright sunrise and a light breeze. About sixty people arrived at Ezra’s farm just after day break and the set up began. Some of the work had been done in the days before. Abraham and friends had dug a pit, brought in dried wood and Simon had built a large spit to hold the calf over the fire. The wine had been delivered and tables had been set up under some shade trees. Water, hay and some oats were stored in the shed near the field where the horses would be kept.

As arranged Joshua and Zilpah picked up Ruth and Nahum telling them they were going to spend the day with Ezra and Elizabeth.

They arrived about 10:00 am to be welcomed by over 300 guests. Ruth and Nahum were numb with the shock at seeing so many of their friends and family there and could not speak for a few minutes. Elizabeth and Hannah then took the couple to two large comfortable chairs under a sycamore tree, brought them some food and wine and set them up to receive their friends over the next eight hours.

Once they were settled Ezekiel gave a very short welcome and an even shorter blessing of the day being sure to include some Jewish blessings in his speech. The throng then settled in for a wonderful day of celebration.

This gathering was rather unique in that there were New Christians, Jews, and some non-believers who were friends and/or customers. Maybe because of the high-quality wine, or more likely because of the relationship with Nahum and family everybody seemed to each other’s company. The great food helped too!

When the children were fed, occupied and tended to by the teachers, the adults started feasting and chatting with Ruth and Nahum. Zeke and his band started playing rather robust music. Many people old and young joined in and some even danced.  Ruth and Nahum were busy chatting “one by one” of all their guests and they were already smiling more than they had for months.

The children were rounded up and brought back to their parents and Market Man’s huge fruit offering was placed strategically for everyone to partake, they were asked to take it to a comfortable spot in front of a makeshift stage.

Hannah and Elizabeth then introduced their friend Demetra and her brother. Some people had even heard of the young songstress, since some of the guests travelled to other countries for business or to visit family and friends.

The next two hours seemed to fly by, the crowd was entranced by the magical music the young couple provided. The crowd was very expressive too, as they clapped and applauded after each number. Three times Demetra said this is our final song, three times the crowd cheered them back for one more!!!

When they finally finished Samuel came on to the stage and asked everybody to please sit still for a few more minutes and to look to the field to the west.

As if on cue a team of small horses could be seen approaching, as it drew closer it was obvious that they were pulling a small carriage. The crowd was silent for a few moments as the horses and carriage approached NO ONE knew what was going on, except for the Shop Boys.

As it drew close to Ruth and Nahum, one could see the driver was Simon and then Nathan and Bart jumped out of the two doors and they walked towards Ruth and Nahum and said Happy Anniversary from your shop team. 

Nahum was so overcome he had to be helped from his chair to the men. He eyes were leaking like an overflowing dam. Both he and Ruth hugged the boys and, of course since it was a surprise to them too, Ezra and Zeke came over and said now I see what you had covered up all the time in the back of the shop. They shared a big laugh.

The carriage was a work of art. It was complete with bright red leather seats, glass windows, ertra handles and steps to make entry and exit easy. Ezra, was bothered by one thing, where did you get the horses. Samuel said, oh your friends looked after that for us, no problem. Ezra just smiled some more and shook his head.

This was the model the boys copied, but they added several features to it and made it more ornate.

This was the culmination of perhaps the most enjoyable day in the lives of Ruth and Nahum.

The only sad thing was the fact they were both so overcome with love, appreciation and emotion that they had trouble enjoying so much attention. They were shocked!

As the sun was starting its decent in the western sky, horses and wagons were brought from their resting places for the guest, it was like a Valet Service! The ladies were busy cleaning up and the men started to take down the stage, chairs and tables etc. Meanwhile Nahum and Samuel took his new carriage for a ride around the field and once again Nahum was smiling.

They returned and Samuel said I will park your carriage and let the horses out in the field we will collect them in the morning for you. Go and rest now!.

Ruth and Nahum were so tired they could hardly stand, but the excitement and pleasure they got from The Event kept them going as they helped put Paul and Mirame to bed, each of them giving a bed time story to the happy kids.

Finally, Ruth, Nahum, Ezra, Elizbeth, Ezekiel, Hannah, the Shop Men, and some other close relatives came together in Elizabeth’s home and reminisced about the surprise day they enjoyed. There was much happiness and joy at that gathering and Ezra prayed it would help in his father’s recovery.

Ezra was jokingly kidding his men for their ability to hide the carriage from him for the past two months. They enjoyed some laughs and said there were several times when he came to the shop when they were working at night that they thought he might see it, but we were able to combine it with other carriages we were working on and you never noticed. He again wanted to know more about the team of horses too, how could his buddies hide that from him.

They explained that when his horse trainers were busy with young horses and/or with customers horses, one of his friends had purchased two colts and put them into the mix and you never noticed. They received great training and are a very dependable and reliable little team. Ezra just shook his head, I guess I better start paying more attention! They all laughed.

It was a wonderful day, it turned out even better than the boys and their wives thought it would. And, with NO problems from any outsiders.

Later that evening Ezekiel led them all in a very emotional prayer of thankfulness.

They all went to bed very happy, and Nahum had trouble falling asleep as he thought of all the blessings that had been bestowed upon him during his lifetime.

One of the happiest days in the lives of Nahum the Carpenter.

The photo shows, “A Jewish Festival” by Alfred Dehodencq, painted in 1865.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Fourteenth Epistle

While Ezra and Ezekiel are hard at work secretly planning The Event, some interesting situations are making for some stories about Nahum’s and Ezekiel’s lives.

Nahum and Ruth often give thanks for having both of their sons home and healthy. Ruth still has nightmares when she thinks of the condition Ezekiel was in when he arrived home in that large industrial caravan. Seeing him in a coma with an extremely high fever caused both her and Nahum to think he may die.

Because of the professional loving care of Elizabeth and Hannah he is alive and well today.

Nahum continues to search for answers to situations that occur and result in such good fortune for his family. He reflects on Ruth coming to his father’s shop to see him when he was thirteen, how Elizabeth found Ezra in a pile of mud after falling off his horse, how Yohanin and Miriamme sold them their beautiful property, at how Jonathon came along and bought his old property, and now this! His son comes home almost dead and he falls in love with his nurse. I truly believe God has his hand in our lives and I am so glad we get to worship his son Jesus now.

Over three months have passed since that troubling day Ezekiel was brought home by the large caravan. He is almost his old self again and working closely along side Isaac. However, his memory still plays tricks on him.

Every day, it seems, he remembers something new from his past. It often troubles him because the memory is incomplete. He would like to know more about his recovery, but knows if he asks anyone it will only bring back bad memories for them too. He is very close to asking Hannah, because he knows she is strong and will be able to handle the situation. He has to find the right time.

One night, Ezekiel and Hannah were chatting and discussing their future. Ezekiel was in a reflective mood and seemed to be day dreaming a bit. Finally, Hannah said is there anything wrong? He replied nothing is wrong, but I sometimes get this feeling that my life was spared and you and Elizabeth and my family were part of that saving event.

I have only brief glimpses of my condition and remember little things about my healing, but I cannot help but wonder why I was so fortunate to have made a complete recovery. Hannah pointed out to him that there is a place in the bible that says there is a time to live and a time to die. It is your time to live.

He again reiterated that he is so thankful to God and his family for saving him, but wonders what really happened to him.

Hannah, using all her nursing and “patient” patient training said, ok, let me tell you what happened. He was all ears!

She said that when I first saw you I knew you were very ill, but I knew in my heart you would recover.

He asked if she would tell him about his time at the clinic and what had taken place there. She told him that she and Elizabeth were waiting for him. You had a very high fever and  basically in a deep sleep or coma and was unaware of your surroundings.

She told him she started treating him with a new herb she heard about from Dioscorides  called Yarrow. We bathed you, put you in a clean robe, gave you lots of water to drink and let you rest, along with big dosages of the new herb.

She also confided to him that she considered him a different and special patient. I did not know what the difference was, but I found some kind of connection with you. She put it down to the fact it was Ezra’s brother, but she was not sure? With that, he squeezed her hand and said simply I am so glad you did!!!

She continued. Elizabeth had arranged for the family to take turns sitting and monitoring you. We needed to continue with our duties at the clinic. The clinic was busy and we were concerned over your slow recovery, we were getting tired and worried. Elizabeth decided to ask her younger sister, to come and help at the clinic. This was a brilliant move as the young girl possessed the same qualities as her older sister and was a big help.

One morning you really scared us! You sat up in bed, calling out names and places that made no sense. You were very delirious.

Six days after you arrived with the fever, you were still in a coma. We were now getting very worried.  It is common knowledge that if it exceeds ten days the patient will likely die. I was convinced that it is a serious fever but not malaria. I had treated malaria patients before and your symptoms were different.

The following night on your mom’s watch this time, you had another delirium attack, worse than the others. Everyone is extremely concerned now. Nahum sent Simon to fetch Isaac.

All the family is awake late into the night. Isaac has arrived and he is preparing to have a prayer service for you. Your family, Miriamme and I gather around your bed and Isaac leads us in prayer.

He speaks to God as though he was speaking to a friend, asking for a favour. He is very careful to continually tell God that “we” all want Ezekiel to get well and to live. If it is God’s will to take his life, please God give us the strength and wisdom to understand and accept it.

Your poor mom was in tears and hugs Isaac for his prayer and for thanking God for the life Ezekiel has lived to this point.

Next morning.  Miramme brought you some  porridge, which you ate with haste, a good sign. She then asked if she could make a suggestion. She was very careful to ensure she was not interfering with our treatment, we asked her to continue.

She said that many years ago her grandmother had been given her some tea, she thought it was from India. We have kept it all these years sealed in a waxed jar. We only opened it when someone was really sick or had a fever. I used it on Yohanan some years ago and he got better. I resealed it and put it away. I just thought of it today. I asked her to mix a potion for you and she gave it to you.

We are all very tired now. It is about 3:00 am. We decided to try and sleep and leave Isaac to watch over you for a few hours.  We went to sleep with heavy hearts and prayers on our lips.

It was just before dawn when Isaac crept quietly out of your room and came to my bedroom and woke me.   He asked me to wake up the others as he thought you were coming to. 

They stayed in the back ground as Isaac gently helped you to sit up. In thinking about it now, it was kind of funny as you sat up as though nothing had happened, you rubbed your eyes, stretched your arms and said, where am I? what is going on?

 Now I am embarrassed to tell what happened next! Ezekiel said what do you mean? was I rude or something? No. she said you looked around and asked where the angel went?

We assumed you were still delirious, but you said you remember seeing a beautiful girl here patting you with cool cloths, and giving you cool water, she looked like an angel.  Where is she? The family all looked at me and I was so overcome with a feeling I have never experienced before that I ran out of the room.

Ezra went over to you and very quickly told you what happened, your trip home via a caravan, your stay at the clinic and your very serious high fever. He then said you have a nurse by the name of Hannah, I think that is who you mean.

With that he called me back into the room. As i approached you, your face lit up and you almost shouted, that’s her, she saved my life. I went over and said Hi, I am Hannah and I gave you a kiss on the forehead. You tried to hug me but you were too weak, you just said thank you.

 Ezra went to the back of the clinic and came back with the roller chair. A few months ago, Elizabeth went into the shop and told Simon and Bart she had a request!

She asked them if they could put wheels on the back legs of this heavy wooden chair, and handles on the back, this way she could transport patients without having to tote them or make them walk slowly. The boys smiled and obliged her with the roller chair.

Ezra gently placed his brother in the chair and wheeled him out to the latrine and then to the little pond behind the shop. Ezekiel was able to wash his hair, beard and body which made him feel like a new man. He toweled off and Ezra wheeled him back to his bed, which had been made up with clean sheets and pillows. You went back to sleep and we all met in a big circle and Isaac again led us in a prayer of thanksgiving for returning you to us. It was so emotional; we were all crying with joy.

The next day Miriamme said she would make you some hearty soup and that I should enjoy it with you, so we had our first meal together!!!

When we finished eating and were chatting you surprised and embarrassed me a little when you said: I suppose since you are my nurse you know all about me. I said, yes, I think so. You replied, OK, but I know nothing of you, tell me about yourself. So I proceeded to tell you all the things you now know. You were very pleased and we seemed to grow closer the more we got to know each other.

You stayed in the clinic two more days and on the last day Miriamme asked you to dinner, she would make one of your favourites, dumplings. She said she would make them at Elizabeth’s as she had the larger rooms. Again, she asked me to join them.

We enjoyed our feast and later enjoyed a quiet evening chatting and talking about what we might like to do in the future, I really enjoyed it. I had never spent quiet alone time with a man before.

About nine o’clock there was a knock on the door and Ezra came in. He sat and chatted and helped us finish the wine. He then said he would see to his horses and return and take you to the latrine. I said, thank you, I will leave in a few minutes.

Do you remember what happened next? She asked playfully! Now it was Ezekiel’s turn to blush! Yes, I sure do, it was my first time kissing a girl on the lips and it felt so good.

When they had composed themselves and Ezekiel was happy to find out the truth he told her some more good news.

Ezekiel said he had been asked by Isaac during one of his visits home, if he would consider taking over Isaac’s work as he was getting old and the travelling was making him very tired. I am considering his offer, but I do not feel capable of filling Isaac’s shoes.

Isaac has been very patient and kind with me, he has pointed out that it is not a case of me filling his shoes, but rather an opportunity for me to continue teaching about Jesus, but doing it my way.

When he put it like that, I felt I would try it and see how I make out. Over a year has passed and I feel the people are believing in my teachings and willing to follow me in their worship of this man Jesus. It is very satisfying, and people have been very kind and generous to me by giving me food, gifts and gold. I think I am ready for a wife!

One night after dinner at Hannah’s home, Ezekiel asked her parents if he could speak with them alone. Hannah knew what was coming! Unlike his older brother and father who both had difficulty with words, Ezekiel was quite confident and spoke very eloquently with her parents.

At the conclusion, they called Hannah back into the room and they agreed on a wedding date and of course, the young couple already have a home to move into.

The wedding took a few months later, Ezra and Elizabeth arranged for the wedding celebrations and due to the on going threats to Christians it was a low-key event.

It took place at Hannah’s parents farm and again many of Ezra’s “horse friends” served as custodians of the guests’ horses and wagon, as guards around the perimeter of the farm and some helped with the grilling of the meat.

It was a truly exciting and dramatic day for all concerned. Considering it was just over a year since Ezekiel almost died, reliving the tragic death of Isaac, remembering so many Christian friends who had been murdered recently and most importantly recognizing the contributions these two young people were making to their country and to their fellow man.

Both Hannah, for her work at The Clinic, and Ezekiel for his preaching and his work spreading Jesus’ word to so many people they were truly loved by so many, and it was with great satisfaction they were able to say a small thank you at their wedding.

Similar to Elizabeth and Ezra a few years earlier, the young couple borrowed two of Ezra’s horses and rode to a beach resort a few hours away for a few days of wedding celebration.

The photo shows, “The Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain,” by Wilhelm Kotarbiński, painted in 1879.

The Demons

In 1872, Dostoevsky published his novel, The Demons [Бесы]. It demonstrated in a microcosm, the insanity that lay within the revolutionary movements of 19th century Russia. That insanity broke upon the world in 1917 and has remained present with us, in one form or another, ever since.

The madness that he describes takes place in a small town, away from the great capitals of Russia. It involves a relatively small cast of characters (at least for a Russian novel and revolution). There is love and intrigue. But mostly there is murder and mayhem. For the only revolutionary who succeeds is the one who fears nothing himself but creates and feeds on the fear of others.

It is interesting that great theories of economics and social justice do not form a part of this novel. Dostoevsky was no stranger to Russia’s radical movements and their political and economic theories: he spent a number of years in prison under the Tsar for having participated in one such group.

But he does not make the theory out to be of much importance. He rightly recognized that the spirit of revolution is not about a struggle for a glorious future. Revolution is about the destruction of the present and the will to power. Hitler’s rise to power and Lenin’s rise to power both belong to differing ideologies. What they share in common are lies and murder.

Dostoevsky’s revolutionary sees the world as teetering on chaos. The old order is a roadblock, an encumbrance that stands in the way of progress and the forces of renewal. Every convention, every custom and practice of tradition is the enemy. The revolutionary has to be prepared to sweep everything aside for the sake of his cause.

In Dostoevsky’s Russia, the Church was a primary conserving force. Its Orthodox practice was a shrine to Tradition and custom. Every aspect of life moved in obedience to the seasons of the Church. It is thus not surprising that the Church, God and the Christian view of the world were the primary targets of his drama.

But the title of Dostoevsky’s novel is even more to the point. Though he does not say so, the actors in the small “revolution” in the provinces, are only pawns. There is a larger game afoot, and that game is revealed in the title of the novel.

The work of the demons is not an ancient conspiracy, a carefully-planned work that ultimately results in the enthronement of the anti-Christ. Demons do not seem to be driven towards the construction of great empires – that activity is particularly human.

The work of the demons (both in the novel and in the real world) is the work of destruction. Existence is the gift of God. All that we know as existing is His gift. Its order, laws, even “reasonableness,” are all reflective of God’s creative work. Non-existence, non-being is the drive of the wicked ones.

Non-existence is not something that can be achieved by created beings, for existence is the gift of God and He alone sustains all things. Thus, the work of those in rebellion is to move things “towards” non-being. Lies, murder, destruction, disarray, deception, and the like are hallmarks of their work.

The demons are not the builders of civilizations, even civilizations that seem to have evil purposes. They corrupt and distort. The farcical “opera” that was the Nazi regime was a demonic attempt at civilization, a mimicry of the true thing.

Its delusional aspects seem so obvious now that people can only wonder how anyone ever took seriously its grand productions and Wagnerian pretensions (the delusions of our own time should be considered as well). The destructive character of that regime began to manifest itself quite early. In almost every effort, its constructions were distortions, an anti-civilization.

Where do the demons lurk in our own time? Look to the places of chaos and destruction, where order is slipping away and violence triumphs. Take note of despair and mayhem, any place where the drive towards non-existence has taken hold. Occasionally these forces manifest themselves in larger eruptions.

The bizarre extremism within radical Islam has all of the hallmarks of the demonic. It is a form of madness, of chaos, unleashed. Other extremes seem bent on the destruction of traditional ideas and norms that have existed for millennia.

The Orthodox resistance to iconoclasm recognizes the true nature of this urge to destruction. For the discussion about icons has never been limited to quiet theological thoughts about the nature of images. Iconoclasm is not a theological position, it is what its Greek name says, “Smashing.”

The smashers in the modern world have multiplied. The revolution of 1917 initially swelled their ranks. Films of icon burnings and Church explosions were only the most visible expressions. The smashing of human beings, images of God, were among the most brutal in all of history.

We see as well the sad cases of individual iconoclasm. The mass murders in schools, theaters, shopping malls (which sometimes seem to occur on a weekly basis) represent the demonic collapse within a single person. The wanton destruction of strangers, murder for the sake of murder, reveals a frightening drive towards non-existence. Of course, such events involve mental illness and other social problems, all of which are exploited by the demons of our time.

But more to the point for readers of this article is the unraveling of existence within our own lives and souls. Solzhenitsyn famously said: “…the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

In the existential/spiritual terms that I’ve used here, we must recognize that the forces of disintegration and entropy war within us with the forces of order and true being. And we must recognize that true being only occurs in relationship – for it is the gift of God and has its existence in its giftedness and in its self-offering in return.

This life of receiving and offering extends not only to God but to all persons and things around us. It is nothing other than love. The Scriptures tell us that God is love. We must also understand that love is the only true existence – all else is a distraction and a distortion, a movement towards non-being.

For the individual who can walk through an elementary school and blithely shoot teachers and children, the heart has grown cold – on the order of demonic coldness. But by the same token, we ourselves can walk through any number of crowded places, our hearts filled with judgment and envy, or worse still, nothing at all. The former is only a demonic sacrament of the latter.

The demons in Dostoevsky’s novel ended their melee in an orgy of violence – a short spree that came to nothing. He wrote of other such eruptions of madness. The student Raskolnikov murdered an old woman in the name of a bizarre Nietzschean will to power. Dmitri Karamazov was convicted of murdering his father, though he was only guilty of wanting to. But in both of these latter cases, the outcome was not destruction, but repentance – in prison. Imprisonment for these Dostoevskian heroes is the place of rebirth, just as it was for the author himself.

Repentance, in prison or not, is the only way forward from the nightmare of our present demons. It is love that has grown cold. What we see in our present world is not the result of mistaken political decisions or failures of diplomacy. It is as Solzhenitsyn said – a battle within the heart of every human being. It is there that the demons must be defeated.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “The Demon Fallen,” by Mikhail Vrubel, painted in 1902.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Thirteenth Epistle

NIt has been almost three years since the tragic death of Isaac. Ruth and Nahum are still struggling with his death. It has affected them deeply to the point of depression. Ezra and Ezekiel have tried to console and help their parents but nothing they have done has made them feel any less remorseful.

Another contributing factor to their stress and poor health are the daily reports of mass murders of Christians in nearby towns and cities. Both the Jews, who resent the new Christian believers and the Romans who are angry that the Christians continue to state their belief in Jesus and his preachings ahead of the Roman Leaders.

Now a new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non-threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.

The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

It is fifty years since Nahum took over his fathers carpentry and leather shop. The boys believe a celebration should be held in honour of this accomplishment.

The boys have been secretly planning an event that they hope will help bring some closure to the death of Isaac and the hundreds of his followers. They also hope it will bring some happiness back into the lives of their parents.

It is a large event they are planning,  a huge amount of work and planning and even some fear of the Roman soldiers and the  Jewish rebels.  After all, Nahum was one of the mob who joined together and shouted CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! and some of those people have remained faithful to the Jewish faith but are still customers today.

After three months of talking, checking, enquiring (secretly) and praying about their plan, they have decided to tell their wives on Saturday night of the plan.

Following dinner, Ezra asked the two ladies to join them in the sitting room where the boys presented their plan. The ladies were awe struck and for some time did not reply. After a while, Hannah looked at Elizabeth and said do you think the ladies from the Guild would be willing to help with the food. There were about fifty women in the Guild, she replied,  I am sure they would.

With that Hannah said, ok, lets do it! They all agreed they should keep it a secret from Ruth and Nahum, but should discuss it with the larger family before undertaking such a big event. They made a plan for each of them to reach out to various family members and get their approval. They are to meet again in two weeks.

Two weeks later the two couples met and exchanged the results of their respective visits. The visits all went well, and many of the visits resulted in offers to assist. Joshua said he had four large barrels of fine wine he would bring! That was an important aspect that they all smiled about.

The most important and dangerous part of the plan was the fact the event would be open for both the new Jesus people; Christians, and the Jewish community. They would also have to get the approval from Claudius and the Roman soldiers. Was this too dangerous a mix? Only time would tell.

The Christian community around this part of Jerusalem was not being persecuted by either the Jews or the Romans, however, only a few miles away there were horror stories of mass killings, tortures and persecution of the Christians. Would this Event be noticed by these factions who could easily slaughter hundreds of unarmed, innocent people.

Ezra and Ezekiel decided on a plan that would give them some assurance of a safe and danger free event. They would consult with  various people to get their reaction to the idea.

When the boys reconvened the next week, they were pleased with the responses they got from their contacts.  Ezra has spoken with some of his Jewish friends and leaders while Ezekiel visited Claudius.

They were assured from both fronts that there was no danger if they agreed to two rules.  That there be no religious activities, and no political involvement or participation. Both boys agreed this could be attained, although they were very disappointed they could not talk about their new friend Jesus, but realized the danger that could come to them if they aggravated the Romans or the Jews.  They decided to ask God for forgeiveness and forged ahead with their plans

Now it was time to get to work, and there was a lot of work for everyone. They decided they would have a meeting during one afternoon when they knew Nahum would be at home. Also, there would be no suspicions about a secret meeting held during the day.

On Thursday, fourteen people arrived at the shop. Ezekiel took the lead and presented the plans. He was supported by Ezra, Elizabeth and Hannah.

The Event would be a celebration of fifty years of Nahum The Carpenter. There would be an open invitiation to anyone and everyone. There would be food, wine, childrens games, music, horse and wagon valet service, and Ruth and Nahum would be comfortably seated where all the guests could stop by and say hello.

This brief synopsis begged many questions! Who would do the cooking? Abraham had volunteered to cook a large steer on an open pit; Elizabeth and Hannah had spoken to two local Ladies Guilds and over forty ladies would look after the remaining food. Market Man had offered to bring large baskets of fresh fruit, and of course Joshua was bringing the wine.

Who was looking after the children: Hannah and Sara had reached out to three teacher friends and they agreed to assist along with several teen agers from the local schools. What about  the horses and wagons. Here, Ezra was so proud of his “horse friends”, many had volunteered to meet the wagons and after unloading the passengers would drive the wagons to near by fields where there would be shade, water and hay for the animals. There were enough volunteers that they could take turns and still enjoy some of the festivities too.

 What about the music? This proved to be another proud moment for the two boys. First of all Ezekiel had played in a band with some of his friends. They enjoyed sacred music as well as some of the present day modern music. They would play in an area where people could listen, dance and sing as they chose. Then, the big suprise came from Sara and Hannah. They had met a young  girl, Demetra,   while at medical school in Athens. As well as training in the medical field she was also an aspiring entertainer. She followed the music of Sappho and her brother accompained her on the Lyre.  Both Hannah and Sara had attended several of her concerts while training in Athens. Although her music was primarily Greek, her beautiful voice and amazing poetry of Sappho made for wonderful musical entertainment.

When contacted by Sara  she  agreed to come if she and her brother could be given some travel expense money and a place to stay.  Hannah explained that the Medical Centre had saved enough to assist with travel expenses and Elizabeth had offered the new home that had been Miriamme and Yohanan’s apartment as a place to stay.

The participants were all nodding their approval as the couple explained their plans. Two final questions were asked: how many people did they expect, and who was  going to pay for all this? Again, the boys explained they had done some research and came up a number of 300 guests! since much of the labour was being donated, most of the costs would be assisting in paying for the food.

 The boys had prepared a budget for the purchase of the foods and to  reimburse the ladies for the purchase of vegetables etc. This would not be an issue.

On Monday Ezra and Ezekiel retraced their steps of a few weeks ago and revisited the leaders to advise them the Event was a go. Now it is time to get to work.

The photo shows, “The Widow’s Mite” by James Tissot, painted ca. 1886 to 1894.

Mystery Bouffe And The Start Of Soviet Censorship

Despite being a revolutionary and futuristic masterpiece by Mayakovsky, Meyerhold and Malevich, Mystery Bouffe was the first victim of Soviet censorship.

On a warm day one hundred years ago a small group of friends heard the first-ever play by a Soviet dramatist. Poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was reading Mystery Bouffe to a group that included the Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatoly Lunacharsky, and the famous theater director, Vsevolod Meyerhold.

The play was an aggressive piece of Bolshevik propaganda, opening at the Petrograd Conservatoire in 1918 for three performances, with stage decorations and costumes designed by Kazimir Malevich. This first piece of Soviet theater seemed to be pure brilliance, with three giant radical artists celebrating the Revolution’s first anniversary. But it didn’t turn out well.

The creative process was all but sabotaged, and the audiences indifferent. Lenin called it “hooligan communism.” But why such hostility to a show that seemed so in line with the times?

Things started ominously. A few days after the October Revolution, Lunacharsky as the Commissar of Enlightenment convened a meeting to discuss revolutionary approaches to art in the new era. Hundreds of artists were invited, but only five showed up, among which were Mayakovsky and Meyerhold.

Why such a low turn out? These were still deeply uncertain times, and even though all theaters were under Lunacharsky’s control, many artists were not sure about throwing their lot in with the Bolsheviks. But these five did. Meyerhold’s biographer, Edward Braun, called this “a hazardous act of faith.”

Mystery Bouffe is by any standards a strange play, written in Mayakovsky’s trademark energetic and tumbling verse. The story is the Biblical parable of Noah’s ark transplanted into the industrial age. The flood is the Revolution, cleansing the world of the bourgeoisie. The ‘new common man’ leads the proletariat to a mechanized paradise, where tools and even food obey humans.

The play’s cast was huge, with over 70 characters acting in a declaratory and rhetorical style. The conservative Actor’s Union labeled it “futuristic,” which according to Mayakovsky’s biographers Ann and Samuel Charters, is the “word they gave to everything they didn’t understand.”

We are certainly very far away from the living rooms of Chekhov, Mayakovsky says as much in the Prologue. Other theater gives you:

“Uncle Vanya
And Auntie Manya
Parked on a sofa as they chatter

But we don’t care
About uncles or aunts:
you can find them at home – or anywhere!”

He did not want the play to imitate observable reality. This was also Malevich’s approach to the design, as he said: “I saw my task not as the creation of associations with the reality existing beyond the stage, but as the creation of a new reality.”

The play opened with actors coming onstage and ripping up posters of popular performances of that time. It was a declaration of war on Imperial-era theater.

The Petrograd Conservatoire was less than cooperative, and they refused to sell copies of the script. The doors to rehearsal rooms were boarded shut. Nails for the set were kept under lock and key. Actors were very suspicious of the project, and most refused to be involved. An advertisement was put in the paper: “Comrades! It is your duty to celebrate the great day of the Revolution with a revolutionary show.” In the end they had to use students, and Mayakovsky had to play several key roles himself.

Tellingly, most critics did not think the play worthy to be reviewed. Later, however, theater director Vladimir Solovyov wrote that, “it didn’t get across to the audience. The witty satirical passages…[were greeted] with stony silence.”

An outdoor performance was canceled, and the Futurists were banned from participating in forthcoming May Day celebrations. Bolsheviks worried that this style would put off the proletariat.

In retrospect, the experience suffered by this show anticipated the subsequent careers of Mayakovsky, Malevich and Meyerhold. Within 12 years of Mystery Bouffe they’d all be dead, and not from old age. Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930 was no doubt largely due to mental health issues and his complicated relationship with Lilya Brick. But his constant struggles with the authorities had a huge impact on his inability to live and create.

Malevich’s artwork was banned and confiscated for being abstract and “bourgeois,” and he was imprisoned in 1930 where he developed cancer. He dabbled in figurative art in the early 1930s, but then died in 1935.

Meyerhold suffered the most: his performances were banned, his theater was closed, he was tortured, murdered and rewritten out of history. What began with the locked rehearsal rooms of 1918, ended in the inner chamber of Lubyanka prison in 1940.

Indeed, the optimism of the Revolution gave way to paranoia, censorship and murder in the 1930s. This is mostly attributed to Stalin’s personality and his insistence on promoting the stifling official ideology of Soviet Realism. This certainly played a huge role, but perhaps the truth is more subversive. The immediate reaction to Mystery Bouffe in 1918 was not unlike later arguments against the Avant-garde art in the purges; that it would not be immediately accessible to the common man and was therefore on the side of the bourgeoisie.

As Lunacharsky said of Mystery Bouffe, it was “incomprehensible to the new world.” The history of the play shows that Bolshevism and art had a troubled relationship from the very beginning. Even when they seemed to be toeing the ideological line, these artists were too independent and radical even in the supposedly experimental and revolutionary atmosphere of a hundred years ago.

Oliver Bennett contributes regularly to Russia Beyond. Courtesy of Russia Beyond.

The photo shows a sketch for Mayakovsky’s Mystery-Bouffe at the Rustaveli Theatre, 1924, by Irakli Gamrekeli.

Bruno Manz – Strange Portrait

There are numerous autobiographical testimonies about World War II and the Third Reich. The memoirs of former generals or soldiers engaged in telling their hardships and feats from a heroic perspective abounded for a time in German language.

Many of these authors were perfectly willing to accept that Hitler was a tyrant who dragged Germany to disaster, but not to give up pride in their exploits during the war, which they considered legitimate. Giving up their pride would have meant accepting the terrible absurdity of the adversities they had passed through. Is it not too high a price for those who had left the best youth in the battlefield? After all, our psyche requires us to be able to give meaning to our suffering, even if this meaning has to be fabricated.

With the advent of May 1968, the European mentality experienced a turning point that ended this attitude. Thereafter, the former heroic testimonies could only be self-published or appear in small publishing houses with a more than questionable political affiliation.

The heroic discourse was gradually becoming a stale and reactionary attitude, which was inappropriate in the new times. In return, the victims’ testimonies, a genuine literary genre with its own rules which had been formerly unnoticed, proliferated and spread more than ever. A new desire to be a victim, which was replacing the old pride of being a hero, began to emerge: in some extreme cases impostors appeared describing in great detail stories of survival in the concentration camps which they had never experienced. I may return to this in a future entry.

But the kind of testimony that has always shone eloquently for its absence is the unrepentant Nazi, despite the fact that a high percentage of the German population of 1945 consisted of them. The reasons for this absence are in and of themselves and are undoubtedly related to an unacknowledged feeling of shame.

However, we can barely count with direct testimonies of someone who recognizes himself as being deeply convinced of the truth of the Nazi worldview. It amazes me all the more that one of the most valuable testimonies of this type rarely appears in the endless bibliographies about Nazism and still does not even have a German translation. I’m referring to A Mind in Prison, the extraordinary memoirs of the German-born physicist Bruno Manz, published in 2000.

As the title suggests, Manz’s mind was imprisoned by the ideological and propaganda machine of the Third Reich, but also by the strong convictions held in his home. His father had always been an assured Nazi, and the deep love that the child felt for him facilitated inoculation of his ideological venom. It was easy for the Hitler Youth to do the rest. Later, the handsome soldier Manz ended up becoming an enthusiastic teacher who was responsible for, among other things, the indoctrination of Wehrmacht soldiers in Nazi ideology.

Apparently, Manz was lucky not to be directly involved in violent crimes; however, he was undoubtedly an ideological criminal, a truth about himself that he finally accepted with all its bitterness. The book also describes with unusual honesty the disturbing ideological liberation process he had to face after 1945.

Among other things, and though it took him several months, he ended up being forced to accept that the death camps were not a mere invention of Allied propaganda. Finally freed from his mental prison, in 1957 Manz emigrated to The United States and settled in the country of the former enemy, taking American citizenship. Ironically, he worked as a physicist in the missile development program of his new country.

Manz said that, as in many other German homes, in the entrance of his house in Dortmund there was a kind of domestic altar. Set in the middle was the Nazi flag; on top, a portrait of Hitler, and on either side pictures of Goebbels and Göring. Is there any better proof of how the National Socialism was a political religion?

Well, now let’s have a look at the valuable testimony of Manz:

The picture that represented the Führer was a technically inferior photograph of his profile that my father had bought at Nazi headquarters. From the very beginning my father was unhappy with this picture, but he put up with it for want of a better one. The stumbling block was the Führer’s shaggy hair, which was dotted with mysterious spots that looked quite unnatural and created the impression that the photograph had been tampered with. […] Apparently the Goebbels propaganda was also unhappy with the Hitler photograph, for it suddenly ordered the picture to be withdrawn from all shops and showcases. But no explanation was given, and that’s when the rumors started. The Stürmer, we heard by the grapevine, had launched an investigation, yet its findings were so sensitive that they could not be printed. They could only be transmitted by word of mouth, and then only to the most trustworthy. In this way, we eventually learned the “truth”. The pathetic photograph of Hitler was a sinister fabrication of the Jews. With great technical skill, they had woven all sorts of Jewish faces into Hitler’s shaggy hair, thus putting him on notice that they were still calling the shots. Now our eyes had been “opened.” Turning the picture around and viewing it from all angles, we “saw” a whole array of Jewish faces laughing and scoffing at us.

I was stunned. I am not sure whether my father took the affair as seriously as I did, but it was he who dug even deeper into the sinister plot. As the commotion was already cooling down, he surprised us at the dinner table with a view that tingled my spine. Turning Hitler’s profile upside down, he showed that his ear became a Jewish nose, his lower jaw turned into a bald forehead, a strand of hair was transformed into puffy lips, and so on. Now I was really frightened. If the Jews could penetrate the inner sanctuary of the National Socialist Party, was there anything they could not to?

The sudden withdrawal of Hitler’s photograph, which had a strong impact on the German population, was with no doubt due to image control measures of the Ministry of Propaganda. Trade with Führer portraits had become a big business, so images of poor quality proliferated. This was to be avoided at all costs. Moreover, Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had exclusive photographic rights to the dictator. Any of these reasons amply explains the confiscation of the image referred to by Manz, without resorting to a conspiracy theory.

But in modern western civilization, conspiracy theories always had a big success. The extraordinary effectiveness of their argumentative mechanism has always fascinated me. By constructing false causal links, a conspiracy theory allows us to mark as true something that is nothing but a prejudice, a fear, an irrational hatred or mere suspicion.

There is always a conspiracy theory that will allow us to claim a rational attitude and a logical scrutiny to cover feelings that would embarrass us if we showed them in all their naked irrationality and primitivism. Conspiracy theories even allow us to be proud of our superior intelligence. After all, it was us who knew how to see Jewish faces in the image, where other ignorant mortals only see mere spots formed by chance.

Rare and valuable testimonies like these, though anecdotal, allow us to come closer to the mental mechanisms of horror. What matters is not so much to be aware of the tragic consequences of barbarism, but the simple and effective cognitive mechanisms that, at any given time, can make us a barbarian. In this sense, Manz has given us a priceless testimony.

Rosa Sala Rose lives in Spain.

The photo shows, “Das Wilde Jahd,” by Franz von Stuck, painted in 1889.