Hans-Hermann Hoppe And The History Of Man

Hans-Hermann Hoppe!, they cried. Hans-Hermann Hoppe! They told me that if I read his books, it would change my life. This is not the first time I have heard that promise; it has been made to me of many books, from Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

The promise has always failed me, but each fresh tomorrow brings the possibility that next time, it will not. Thus, I read this book, which aspires to give the history of man in one hundred and fifty pages, as an introduction to Hoppe’s thought. It was interesting enough, but I have gone away sad, for that looked-for tomorrow is not today.

Oh, as far as I can tell, I largely agree politically with Hoppe, who is alive and still writing, though he seems to have written less than I would have thought, given how often he is mentioned among circles on the Right. A professor at UNLV, he has been intermittently persecuted for speaking his opinionated mind, among other things for making the unexceptional and obvious point (also made by Niall Ferguson) that homosexuals have less investment in society than, and different perspectives from, normal people.

He is particularly known for attacking democracy as inferior to monarchy on economic (and therefore, to him, moral) grounds, a claim I first read of in George Hawley’s fantastic Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, and while he discusses that claim in this book, he has written another whole book on it, which I am planning to read.

My main reservation about Hoppe, which could be overcome, is that a strong smell of ideologue rises from everything Hoppe writes in this short collection of three essays.

I have often noticed ideology is a besetting sin of the hardcore libertarians. And hardcore libertarian is what Hoppe is. The Mises Institute published this book, and Lew Rockwell wrote the Foreword. Just in case we’re unclear, the subtitle is “An Austro-Libertarian Reconstruction.”

Very frequently, Hoppe acknowledges his tremendous debt to Ludwig von Mises or to Murray Rothbard (or both), and when he departs from their orthodoxy, he bows his head to them first, as heroes leaving the Last Redoubt of Men in William Hope Hodgson’s classic tale of the far future, The Night Land, submitted themselves to the Monstruwacans, to be cleansed before leaving their protection and confronting the horrors beyond.

All this is, in case we miss it, outlined with crystalline, lime-lit specificity up front in the Introduction, where Hoppe summarizes, “What distinguishes my studies is the fact that they explain and interpret the history of man from the conceptual vantage point of Austro-Libertarianism: with the background knowledge of praxeology (economics) and of libertarianism (ethics).” For the former, it is Mises; for the latter, it is Rothbard.

I have nothing against Mises or Rothbard. Frankly, I know little about them. Theirs are also on the list of books that I am told will change my life; I have copies already of Human Action and Ethics of Liberty, though so far they gather dust. I’m just always a little, or a lot, wary when informed that The Truth has been discovered by This Specific Modern Man, and I should sit still, open my mind, and get ready to receive.

Exacerbating my mistrust, like all libertarians, Hoppe’s primary frame of viewing human society is economic; gain and exchange, never transcendence, virtue, or valor. Unlike Phlebas the Phoenician, Hoppe does not forget the profit and the loss. In fact, so far as I have read, that’s most all he ever thinks about.

This book is exactly what it claims to be, a “short history of man.” It is divided into three chapters: “On the Origin of Private Property and the Family”; “From the Malthusian Trap to the Industrial Revolution”; and “From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy.”

In the first chapter, like Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens, Hoppe is much exercised by the so-called Cognitive Revolution, wherein homo sapiens, already homo sapiens, apparently suddenly developed the capacity for abstract thought and speech.

Fair enough, although my confidence was undermined by errors, such as Hoppe telling us incorrectly that the Flores Island “hobbits,” genetically identified as homo floresiensis, are homo erectus. He also relies heavily on Luigi Cavalli-Sforza’s claims about the movements of humans in pre-history, which as David Reich has recently shown, have been made obsolete by genetic research.

That said, these are not central items, and Hoppe has worthwhile points to make about hunter-gatherer societies. His focus, as befits his frame, is property. He observes that hunter-gatherers were probably quite egalitarian, in terms of sharing property, but that doesn’t mean that there was much individual autonomy.

To a modern leftist, those two things go hand-in-hand, but there is no reason they should, and in fact communitarianism, egalitarian or not, implies lack of individual autonomy, a point I intend to expand upon in a separate analysis.

Quickly Hoppe reaches his core point, which is that hunter-gatherers were necessarily parasites, mere consumers, not producers. The necessary result was small populations, kept low by warfare and migration. While within a group, of no more than around one hundred and fifty people, cooperation was possible based on division of labor, no cooperation between groups was possible, since cooperation is only possible if both groups are producers with something to trade (though Hoppe ignores the trade in women, common in many primitive societies).

Even intra-group cooperation was limited by the law of diminishing returns—exemplified here by the Malthusian Trap, that eventually more inputs to labor, in the form of more people, diminishes per capita return. So far, a fairly ordinary history, although Hoppe shows subtle notes of the obsession with the genetics of intelligence that later become more prominent. In any case, driven by these spurs and limitations, and reacting to changing climactic conditions, humanity spread around the globe.

The big change was the Agricultural Revolution, what Hoppe calls the Neolithic Revolution. This, no surprise, he views through the lens of who was deemed to own “ground land” when in human history, asserting that the key step in farming was the ownership of land, a change from the former mere parasitism of humans. Similarly, with animals. This alleviated the effects of diminishing returns to labor and allowed more people to exist. (I suspect that this analysis is meant as a response to other analyses, presumably Marxist ones, but I don’t know enough about it to say, and Hoppe does not say either.)

We then turn to social structure. According to Hoppe, the family had never existed before the reduction of land to ownership, because for hunter-gatherers, as he puts it, both the benefits and costs of additional offspring were socialized.

Thus, everybody had “group marriage,” like a permanent, smellier version of a 1970s key party. When agriculture arrived, though, it made sense for individuals to capture the benefits of more offspring (and pay the costs), since, no longer being mere parasites, they could expect a return on investment in creating more people.

Hoppe concludes that this new social organization was economically superior, encouraging production and preventing free-riding, and so it spread, displacing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Now, this claim that the family is of recent origin is highly controversial. It’s obviously nearly impossible to get archaeological information on what the social arrangements of hunter-gatherers were, and modern advocates of free love have for quite a long time been happy to believe laughable things about primitive societies if they fit preconceived notions (most famously in the case of Margaret Mead, hoodwinked by the Samoans).

Thus, you would think that Hoppe would offer strong evidence for this thesis, to reinforce his analysis. Nope. We are instead referred, extensively, to mainly one source—Friedrich Engels, writing in 1884. The mind boggles.

In fairness, Hoppe buttresses Engels with one other source—some guy named Lewis H. Morgan, writing in 1871. Hoppe even notes Engels’s conflict of interest, that he eagerly wanted to promote free love, but still buys what he’s selling, without saying why, or adverting to the century and a half that has passed since. OK, then. And that’s the end of the chapter.

In the next chapter, Hoppe turns to the creation of the modern world, something on which it is easier to deliver concrete evidence. He begins with a reiteration and expansion of his earlier discussion of the Malthusian Trap, citing among others Gregory Clark for the data showing that only in the Industrial Revolution did (part of) humanity escape.

The causes of this, the Great Divergence, are hotly debated, but Hoppe does not address various theories, merely noting that “the standard answer among economists,” by which he means Mises and Rothbard, is that private property rights had developed by the late eighteenth century enough to permit this takeoff. With due apologies to his mentors, Hoppe disagrees.

The core of his disagreement, that Mises and Rothbard are factually wrong, is pretty obviously correct. Property rights were, in most of Western Europe and particularly in England, quite firmly established by around A.D. 1200, or earlier—better, Hoppe claims, that today, which is probably true, though more variation existed in earlier times.

(Films like Braveheart and many others have given the average person a grossly false idea of the amount of chaos and lack of rule of law in European medieval times. It’s as if people in A.D. 2400 used Saving Private Ryan to judge the daily condition of Europe since 1800). Certainly, private property is necessary to the takeoff, but not sufficient.

Hoppe’s explanation is economic, of course, but with a gloss of science. It is that eventually some people got smarter, because “it takes time to breed intelligence,” and only then could they kick-start the Industrial Revolution. What led to the Industrial Revolution was technology invention, by intelligent people, and also that technology gave something for people to invest surpluses in, namely expansion.

No more detail is offered; Hoppe appears to think that intelligence self-evidently self-executes awesomeness. As to the origin of this purported increase in intelligence in some human populations, Hoppe offers a potted and unoriginal explanation, combining Toynbee’s observations that too-easy or too-hard climates produce little forward movement for humanity, with offerings from controversial modern scientists (notably Richard Lynn) who claim to find gradients in IQ, lowering from north to south.

His conclusion is that as a result of challenge-and-response some people, most of all Europeans, became smarter, and thereby, through some inevitable mechanism, escaped the Malthusian Trap.

Questions of intelligence across human populations don’t exercise me; I think that any society simply has to work with the different types of people that make up that society, or other societies.

But Hoppe’s reasoning is not remotely convincing. Narrowly focusing on Europe, there is exactly zero evidence that in earlier times Europeans were less intelligent than now, or than in 1750, and much reason to believe the contrary. Nor could there be evidence—people like Lynn purport to offer evidence about modern populations, but neither Stanford nor Binet was wandering around Europe in the Middle Ages.

Moreover, the idea that somehow people reached a step-function tipping point of intelligence in 1750 doesn’t make any sense. Why a step-function? If intelligence is normally distributed, and increasing over time, shouldn’t invention increase linearly over time? None of this makes any sense, really. I’m willing to believe that more intelligence, all other things being equal, leads to more progress over time, but Hoppe jumps from that to a set of totally unsupported premises and conclusions.

But Hoppe’s point in all this is not just history; it is to attack the institution of the State. He and Albert Jay Nock would get along well. (No doubt Hoppe has a tentacled voodoo doll in his office, labeled “The State,” which he sticks with pins when he’s bored).

His claim is that in a pre-Malthusian society, the state is merely a type of pest, self-limiting since there is only so much the host of a parasite can take. But in a post-Malthusian society, the state has no natural limit, for if per capita output keeps going up, the state can “continuously grow without lowering the per capita income and reducing the population number,” thereby becoming “a permanent drag on the economy and per capita incomes.”

Worse, the post-Malthusian state allows the stupid people to breed by removing the tie between getting money and intelligence, creating dysgenics, rather than Hoppe’s desired eugenics, and so the “population stock becomes increasingly worse.”

Finally, in the third chapter, we get the meat of Hoppe’s political claims, why democracy is a terrible system and what we should install instead. I can certainly get one hundred percent behind democracy being terrible.

On the other hand, the reader’s confidence in Hoppe’s analysis is eroded in the first paragraph, when we are instructed that all human conflicts result from only one cause, the “scarcity of goods.” This is self-evidently false; Hoppe ignores that man is not homo economicus. Did Achilles lack goods?

Hoppe then declaims that the modern state, arbiter of all things and judge in its own cause, is a contradiction, and only an insane person would submit to it, in the same way only an insane person would agree that someone with whom he has a conflict should assume all power over him.

This suggests that Hoppe adheres to some type of contractual theory of the origin of the state. But that’s not right; it’s much more organic that that, in Hoppe’s narration.

In Hoppe’s reconstruction, the natural human default is a system where what each person owns is clear and agreed-upon. If that were possible, permanent total peace and harmony would automatically result. Of course, it’s not possible, since disputes always arise about who own what.

To settle these disputes, someone has to decide somehow—that is, in Hoppe’s words, someone has to discover the law, a valid exercise, as opposed to make new law, an inherently illegitimate exercise. In Hoppe’s telling, the progression from earlier forms of government to the modern liberal democratic state (we will ignore here whether the modern Western state is actually either liberal or democratic) is a story of decay, not progress.

Hoppe even inverts the claim, most forcefully made by Steven Pinker, that progress is shown by us being richer. Rather, he says that we would be far richer if we had stayed with an earlier system, namely mixed government consisting of an aristocracy combined with elective monarchy. Such a system is best at discovering the law in a way that preserves everyone’s property.

Hoppe observes that to decide disputes outside of a government framework, people most often turn to other people (they could turn to violence, and sometimes do, but that’s expensive).

Not just random ones, though—to those with “intellectual ability and character,” whose decisions are more likely to be sound and more likely to be respected by everyone. Such people are the “natural aristocracy….Due to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, bravery, or a combination thereof, some individuals come to possess more authority than others and their opinion and judgment commands widespread respect.”

Such authority tends to accumulate in families, “because of selective mating and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance.” As a result, “It is the leaders of the noble families who generally act as judges and peacemakers, often free of charge, out of a sense of civic duty. In fact, this phenomenon can still be observed today, in every small community.”

Critically, these decision-makers, given authority to decide disputes, are still under the laws like everyone else. They can “only apply law, not make it.” This distinguishes them from the state. For more details, Hoppe refers us to another book of his, Democracy: The God That Failed.

In essence, though, he recommends that society be structured as an idealized version of early medieval Western Europe, where (an elected and removable) king and aristocracy ruled jointly, unable to tax without consent and unable to make new law, which was a contradiction in terms.

It’s not that Hoppe says this system was perfect; it was merely “a natural order,” unlike modern orders. Most importantly, the king maximized the value of the society, in the interests of benefiting himself in the long-term (as well as, potentially, his heirs). That is, in Hoppe’s terms, he has a “time preference” that weights the future.

This system went to hell, though, when “feudal and then constitutional kings” replaced the elective kings. These new kings made new law, arrogated to themselves the unilateral ability to tax, and in effect turned all private property into their own property.

Moreover, the kings increased violence, since in the past the costs of violence were generally borne by those who chose to engage in it, whereas the kings could externalize the costs onto “tax-payers and draftees.” And how did the kings manage to put themselves in this position, when other men of power in the society would naturally resist?

The king enlisted the benighted masses; he “aligned himself with the ‘people’ or the ‘common man.’ ” What he offered them was appeals to envy, freedom from contractual obligations, and an improved economic position that they did not earn.

At the same time, he defanged the aristocrats by offering them baubles in the form of court positions (which seems like a trade they would not accept), and flattered intellectuals, so they would “produce the necessary ideological support for the king’s position as absolute ruler.”

Such support took the form of falsely claiming the past was bad and imagining that the people had agreed to the king seizing property and making new laws. Here, as throughout the book, Hoppe is pithily nasty. “The demand for intellectual services is typically low, and intellectuals, almost congenitally, suffer from a greatly inflated self-image and hence are always prone to and become easily avid promoters of envy.”

Eventually absolute monarchy mutated into constitutional monarchy, which is even worse, since at least under an absolute monarchy some memory of the past system is retained, and the king has an incentive to maximize long-term societal value, but under a constitutional monarchy, it is forgotten, and the mass of people delusively believe that they have more freedom than under an absolute monarchy, when in practice they have far less. And, in turn, we were subjected to “an even greater folly,” democracy.

The egalitarian sentiments the kings had encouraged were turned against them. Democracy, though, is not a return to the natural law, but the creation of a system in which, in theory, every person can aspire to be an absolute monarch, seizing the property of others and making new law to his own benefit, enforcing his will with the power of the State.

So-called public officials, that is, agents of the government, are the recipients of this power. “Everyone can participate in theft and live off stolen loot if only he becomes a public official.” Rather than a natural aristocracy, those in power are universally “morally uninhibited demagogues,” supported by plutocrats who use the mechanisms of the state to enrich themselves by theft and thereby control the demagogues.

This leads directly to evil outcomes, and it also means that all of society becomes politicized, because people can aspire to live by handouts and favorable redistribution, whereas under aristocracy the vast majority of people got what they got from their own “value-productive efforts.”

Such redistribution is not only from the rich to the poor, it is just as, or more, often from the poor to the rich, since “After all, the rich are characteristically bright and industrious, and the poor typically dull, lazy or both. It is not very likely that dullards, even if they make up a majority, will systematically outsmart and enrich themselves at the expense of a minority of bright and energetic individuals.”

The result it that democracy is a value-destroying system, where unproductive behavior is encouraged and productive behavior discouraged. And not only in production; war is also more likely and more destructive (echoing Carl Schmitt’s point that when wars are conceived of as for human rights, they are far more brutal).

Moreover, the State then debases the money supply (it would not be a book of Austrian economics without a plug for gold). The end result is an ever-growing and ever-more-exploitative state, pushing war and offering circuses, until an inevitable economic crisis and the state’s collapse.

By this Hoppe explicitly means not just states in general, but the United States, which no longer protects life and property of its citizens, instead through its ruling class of politicians and plutocrats engaging in exploitation, oppression, and global war.

With any luck, Hoppe says, the current system, globally, will be replaced with government along his preferred lines, perhaps along the lines of Swiss cantons or the Hanseatic League.

This is dubious history but pretty good abstract analytics. I can get behind, for example, that we would probably all be richer under a restrained monarchy, not just in that we could keep more of our property, and use it to multiply our property, but that science and technology would advance more quickly (a double-edged sword, to be sure).

And certainly a natural aristocracy is exactly that. But Hoppe, at least in this book, offers a very narrow version of history. He does not explain the political development of states east of the Elbe, much less Ancient Egypt, or Ancient Greece, or Rome or other empires of the classical era (say, the Sassanids), and nothing is said about government in Asia or the Americas. How does the Pax Romana fit into Hoppe’s analysis, I’d like to know?

In fact, Hoppe doesn’t even begin to attempt the kind of historical analysis that others, such as Francis Fukuyama, have offered on the development of political systems. I suspect Hoppe’s narrow focus on Europe is because he wants to ascribe the success or failure of societies to mechanical effects, easy to delineate and possible to quantify.

Parsing history is messy, because history is messy. That would detract from Hoppe’s attempt to instruct us that he has found the formula for human success, and it is paint-by-numbers, if only we will listen.

But quantification is exactly not what human nature, and therefore human action, is subject to. I think that the exact same limited monarchical system that works ideally in one culture would be a disaster in another.

Many important variables affect culture, obviously, not only the history of a place, but the religion, the climate, the geography, and much, much more. Hoppe, like all ideologues, claims to have found the universally applicable perfect system, and even aside from any errors in his analysis, that is extremely unlikely.

I suspect I will be told I should give Hoppe more of a chance; that is the usual response from acolytes of ideologues when one attacks the Leader. I did watch a lengthy video of him. It was boring.

On the other hand, maybe his book on democracy has more meat on the bones, and answers some of my questions. So, as I say, that’s up on the reading list, for the simple reason that whatever the details, I agree with Hoppe that democracy as practiced in the modern world is both stupid and doomed.

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, “Effigies of Crusaders in Round Table Church, London, after damage enemy action,” by Norma Bull, ca. 1940-1944.

How to Survive the Journey Ahead

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people.

They will find themselves overtaxed, burdened with excessive college debt, and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state. They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Worse, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern America. 

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

No, we haven’t done this generation any favors.

Based on the current political climate, things could very well get much worse before they ever take a turn for the better. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help those coming of age today survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Be an individual. For all of its claims to champion the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity which, as John F. Kennedy warned, is “the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” Worry less about fitting in with the rest of the world and instead, as Henry David Thoreau urged, become “a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

Learn your rights. We’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights before it’s too late.

Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We must learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Resist all things that numb you. Don’t measure your worth by what you own or earn. Likewise, don’t become mindless consumers unaware of the world around you. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. Those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions desire compliant subjects. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Don’t let technology turn you into zombies. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and have lost our humanity. We’ve become sleepwalkers. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens. 

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love and help one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. All the while, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police the rest of the world. This is an egregious affront to anyone who believes in freedom.

Cultivate spirituality, reject materialism and put people first. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics. Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Say no to war. Addressing the graduates at Binghampton Central High School in 1968, at a time when the country was waging war “on different fields, on different levels, and with different weapons,” Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling declared:

Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition. That men die for causes does not necessarily sanctify that cause. And that men are maimed and torn to pieces every fifteen and twenty years does not immortalize or deify the act of war… find another means that does not come with the killing of your fellow-man.

Finally, prepare yourselves for what lies ahead. The demons of our age—some of whom disguise themselves as politicians—delight in fomenting violence, sowing distrust and prejudice, and persuading the public to support tyranny disguised as patriotism. Overcoming the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism. It will require decency, morality, goodness, truth and toughness. As Serling concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:

Toughness is the singular quality most required of you… we have left you a world far more botched than the one that was left to us… Part of your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a minister… Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong. This is one of the challenges. Be prepared to seek out the middle ground … that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides. If you must swing left or you must swing right—respect the other side. Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate, rebut—but don’t close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition. In their eyes, you’re the opposition. And ultimately … ultimately—you end divisiveness by compromise. And so long as men walk and breathe—there must be compromise…

Are you tough enough to face one of the uglier stains upon the fabric of our democracy—prejudice? It’s the basic root of most evil. It’s a part of the sickness of man. And it’s a part of man’s admission, his constant sick admission, that to exist he must find a scapegoat. To explain away his own deficiencies—he must try to find someone who he believes more deficient… Make your judgment of your fellow-man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts. Be tough enough, please, to live with prejudice and give battle to it. It warps, it poisons, it distorts and it is self-destructive. It has fallout worse than a bomb … and worst of all it cheapens and demeans anyone who permits himself the luxury of hating.”

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for the American people to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter. 

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it.

Wake up, stand up, and make your activism count for something more than politics.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book is Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

The photo shows, “The Giving of the Seven Bowls of Wrath,” from the Ottheinrich Bible, ca. 1530-1532.

The 21 Martyrs

This book is, brought to the temporal sphere, Revelation 20:4. “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Martin Mosebach’s The 21 is an exploration and explanation of the twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers killed by Muslims in 2015 for refusing to apostatize from their Christian belief, a martyrdom made famous by the slickly produced video through which the killers broadcast their bloody work.

The 21 also embodies how, and under what circumstances, Muslims could be allies with Christians in the American wars to come, against a ruling class whose totalitarian doctrines they both oppose, concluding that while many obstacles exist, that was theoretically possible, and certainly desirable.

But this book shows that in what Muslims call Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam, those places where Islam has once been supreme, there can be no such cooperation, since there by definition there Islam must rule, and no observant Muslim would disagree, although what that exactly means is interpreted in different ways.

The martyrdom of the Twenty-One was a planned operation. The killers researched the names of the workers, who lived together as they gathered money before returning home. They took them, and held them for two months, before marching them out to a nearby Mediterranean beach and sawing their heads off with knives.

They then released the video, titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” By that nation, they do not mean America, as Americans probably assume (and Mosebach also seems to assume, at least in part), but explicitly “Rome.” That doesn’t mean Pope Francis, either, who is no threat at all to Islam.

Rather, it means, in this brand of Islam, Christians collectively, especially as represented by their national powers, since Islam’s main objection is not to Christian belief as such, incorrect as it supposedly is, but to Islam not ruling in the temporal sphere, a pattern of thought that non-Muslims find hard to understand.

Those who murdered the Twenty-One hold a mainstream, though not majority, view of what must be done to achieve and maintain the supremacy of Islam. In their minds, they are responding to the crimes of Christians.

Their video begins with footage of Barack Obama apologizing for those supposed crimes, and to them the killings are the blood price, for a simple apology is inadequate. (We can ignore that Obama should, objectively, never have apologized, for there is nothing that any part of Christendom or the West, America or other, has ever done as a collective entity that requires any form of apology to any Muslim, including, especially, the Crusades).

We should not focus on the killers, though; they do not appear except as bit players in this book. Rather, what The 21 explores extensively is primarily Egypt’s Coptic Christians, strangers to the West, and secondarily their relationship with Egyptian Muslims, who invaded and still occupy their lands.

The author, a German journalist (this book was originally written in German), set out to learn more about the martyrs, traveling to Egypt to talk to the great and the small among the Copts. He learned about their families, their religious and political milieu, and, most importantly, why they acted as they did.

Mosebach divides the book into twenty-one chapters, each headed by a picture of one of the martyrs, some taken from the video of their deaths, some from hagiographic iconography made after their deaths. The book packs a tremendous amount of information into relatively few pages—since Americans know almost nothing about Egypt, and even less about the Copts, and both are alien to American sensibilities, the reader learns a lot.

True, Mosebach shows cognitive dissonance. He shows empathy, sympathy, and admiration for the martyrs, and offers an informative view of the Coptic Church, but every single time he pulls back to examine the broader world, of Egypt, of Islam, or the entire globe, what he has to say is Merkel-ite nonsense. Fortunately, most of the book is narrowly focused on the Twenty-One, not the globe, so this is a relatively small defect.

The martyrs were mostly young men in their twenties or thirties who had gone to Libya to find work. Sixteen were from the small town of El-Aour, in Upper Egypt; the others came from other Egyptian towns, except for Matthew Ayariga, from Ghana. He was not Coptic; it is not even clear if he was originally Christian, but as with other saints throughout Christian history, he voluntarily joined, receiving, if no other baptism, the baptism of blood.

Ayariga is visually central to all depictions of the martyrs; with his black skin, he stood out, and both the killers and the iconographers put him in the center of all group depictions. Mosebach did not talk to his family, and little is known about his background, but as Mosebach notes, he was like Saint Adauctus, whose name means “added man” since his real name was unknown, who volunteered his Christianity when he saw Saint Felix being led to death during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, and was then also executed.

I’m familiar with the basics of Coptic theology and history, but how those things translate to the modern world I didn’t know. The Copts split from mainstream Christianity when their position, called Miaphytism, that Christ had only one nature, combining human and divine, rather than a separate human and a divine nature (unconfused and indivisible) was rejected at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

This division created the Oriental Orthodox, of whom there are about 100 million in the world, and whose liturgy and organization is very similar to the Eastern Orthodox, with whom they are not in communion, although to an outsider, they are nearly indistinguishable.

Mosebach does an exemplary job of trying to understand and get inside the Coptic mind, despite that he appears not be religious himself. Most of all, he correctly identifies the centrality of the Divine Liturgy. “From the very first moment, it is clear that the exclusive intention of the holy devotion is the realization of God’s presence, and everything that happens in this liturgy has to serve this extraordinary purpose. . . . Time and eternity are bound together as one, in a sphere where past, present, and future have always already happened, and at the same time are now happening again.”

The Orthodox believe that once a church is consecrated, an angel stands by the altar, forever in and out of time worshiping the Triune God, so that when we enter the church, we are not commencing a worship service, we are joining one already in progress. You cannot understand the Copts, or the Orthodox, without grasping the numinous nature of the Liturgy, where seraphim serve at the altar alongside the priest, uniting Heaven and Earth in an unbroken chain of timeless moments.

What unites all the Copts is steadfastness in faith. Since nobody paid much attention to the Twenty-One when they were alive, they are somewhat one-dimensional. Their families offer similar generalized characteristics: “He was quick to forgive.” “He was calm, obedient, and quick to confess.” “He gave alms even though he was poor.” “He was compassionate and strove to help others.”

But their deeds, both their refusal to apostatize and their calm demeanor when being led to execution, with only low cries to Christ as they died, exemplify that steadfastness, and their witness to Christ at the most basic and essential level. It is this steadfastness that seems to unite all the Copts, an eternal cord binding them together.

You could transport today’s Copts to the age of Nero, and nothing would be much different, neither daily life nor their resolve in the face of persecution.

Mosebach visits the local Coptic bishop, who embodies this steadfastness in faith and combines it with an untroubled feeling of superiority to Islam, a latecomer as far as he is concerned. Mosebach describes the bishop as “the absolute archetype of a pragmatic, forward-looking reactionary—a kind of leader utterly unknown in the West.” It does not bother them, quite the opposite, that theirs is the Church of the Martyrs.

This same attitude permeates all the Copts, including the families of the martyred. While they have the normal human sadness, it is greatly exceeded by their unalterable conviction that their beloved sons and brothers have received the crown of martyrdom, and they offer iconography in that vein. In most of their families’ houses, they also have and show the video of their killing, proud, rather than traumatized.

And they ascribe miracles to the Twenty-One, small ones, local ones, but all in the ancient tradition of martyrology. They embody, as one of the fathers says, King David’s behavior in II Samuel, who when his son died, did not mourn anymore, for “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” As Sarah Ruden notes in her excellent book on Biblical translation, The Face of Water, this verse in the original Hebrew conveys the meaning that the child will never return—but the father will keep moving toward the child. So with the families of the Twenty-One.

Beyond their cohesive religiosity, it is apparent that the Copts are, in the manner of many minorities in Muslim lands, both second-class citizens and more materially successful than the majority population. Mosebach says that Egyptian Muslims see all Copts as rich (while still having contempt for them), and although that’s obviously not true, since many are merely poor farmers like the Twenty-One, it is more true than not.

No doubt this is because the Copts are not bound by the inertia and fatalism, along with male laziness, that characterize Muslim societies. Plus corruption—according to Mosebach, even though (like all Muslim countries) Egypt makes it very hard to build new churches, still, new Coptic churches are springing up everywhere, because the Copts bribe the authorities to look the other way.

The Copts also run large related institutions, such as hospitals (including “the largest and most modern in Upper Egypt”). That is, the Copts are bound up with the world. Other than monastics (something that has revived in modern times), they do not retreat from, but rather engage, the world.

Can this ancient Coptic way of life can survive modernity? It is not a promising sign that within living memory Coptic villages have changed from their ancient form of order and cleanliness to ugly, trash-filled sprawls of half-finished concrete block buildings.

The old roles, where everyone had a place in an extended family, have faded. Atomization has increased, even if it is not anywhere near as bad as in the West. According to Mosebach, these changes are not the result of increased wealth, but flow from some other source, which he does not identify, although he implies the Aswan Dam had something to do with it.

My guess is television and increased ability to move from the place of one’s birth, but I don’t know. Most importantly, Mosebach does not address whether the Copts are having children, which is all that really matters. Yes, there seem to be many young Copts, and Mosebach relates how they are enthusiastically religious, like the Twenty-One, but if Egypt ever becomes wealthy, will the Copts fall away, leaving their faith and contracting like other societies around the globe? These seem to me to be the essential questions, and not ones the Copts are asking themselves.

Whatever happens, though, the Copts will still be oppressed by the Muslims. They have been oppressed for fourteen hundred years, ever since Islam conquered Egypt. Like many Middle Eastern Christians, when Islam arrived they unwisely did not perceive Islam as much of a threat, or even welcomed it, tired of taxation from the Roman Empire, then sited in Constantinople, and of being viewed as heretics by most of Christendom (not to mention that Islam itself was initially viewed by many as merely another Christian heresy, not all that different from other brands of Christian belief).

As always with Islam, which has no interest in proselytizing, only in the dominance of Islam, the treatment of the Copts varied over time, with the one constant that their subordination was always enforced. Mosebach mentions how all the mighty churches of the Copts were torn down and “the columns and Corinthian capitals of those venerable ruins have been visibly incorporated into Cairo’s most beautiful mosques.” He seems to think that should make the Copts feel better.

For the most part, though, the Muslims and Copts historically managed to co-exist. It is only in the modern world, with a newly militant resurgent Islam and the technology of global communication and new weapons, along with oil money, that the Copts, like all Middle Eastern Christians, are threatened with expulsion or extermination.

Mosebach says “violence isn’t an option, probably not even for fanatical Islamists, because there are too many Copts to simply drive them all out or murder them. In other words, the Turkish solution for Armenians and Greeks is no longer on the table.”

But he gives no reason why that’s true, and for large numbers of Muslims, though probably far from a majority in Egypt, that solution is very much on the table. And since it only would take one such successful campaign to wipe out the Coptic presence in Egypt (ask the Chaldean Christians—thanks, George W. Bush!), the Copts will always be at risk, whatever wishful thinking Mosebach wants to engage in.

How the Copts are to solve this problem is unclear to me. Fighting isn’t going to work—even if the Copts really are a quarter of the Egyptian population, as they claim, they don’t have the weapons, and aren’t going to. Mass conversion of Muslims to Christianity, transforming the Middle East, sure would be nice, but such a thing has never happened in human history—Islam is a strong religion highly resistant to the lure of conversion.

True, as Mosebach quotes Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” but there have been a vast number of Christian martyrs in Muslim lands over the past fourteen hundred years, and mass conversions haven’t started yet, though the martyrs doubtless do strengthen the Church.

Israel conquering the Middle East and converting all the Muslims to Judaism would be a good alternative, although that’s even less likely. Probably the best approach, if not solution, is to ensure that the Middle East isn’t infected with democracy, something that in Muslim countries leads at best to the unleashing of Muslim hatred against Christians in a stable system, and often to genocide against Christians when the political system collapses, as it always does in these societies for which democracy is not a good fit.

Instead, the Copts (and us) should support, or at least not oppose, strongmen such as the Assads, or the current Egyptian military dictatorship, because those men both maintain order, which benefits minorities, and tend to rely on Christians as a counterweight to Muslims who want a theocracy.

Thus, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi keeps the Muslim Brotherhood down, which is a service to the world in general and to Christians specifically, if you ever read Seyyid Qutb. Mohammed Morsi would, sooner or later, have turned to exterminating the Copts. And America would have ignored it, since the Left is fine with Christians being exterminated, and the Right, or at least Republicans, are too cowardly and weak to take any action that is seen as benefitting Christians specifically.

Mosebach’s proposed solutions to the “Coptic question,” that is, the oppression of the Egyptian Copts by the Egyptian Muslims, are equally stupid. He sounds like a clueless Eurocrat, peddling old and tired cant. “We shouldn’t resign ourselves to a permanent state of injustice and violence. . . .

After all, there are think tanks working hard to solve the world’s problems. These thinkers, of course, would know exactly what questions to ask: Isn’t there any way that the Coptic community and Islamic majority might eventually live in peace and harmony?

What kind of international peace conference, United Nations intervention, peace mission, transnational roundtable, or moderated conflict resolution might take care of the ‘Coptic question’?” Blurg. Mosebach’s “solutions” are so obviously dumb and ineffective as to be offensive. No such mechanism has ever solved a single problem in the Middle East, and none ever will.

Mosebach’s Pollyanna attitude toward Coptic survival is just one example of his general geopolitical blindness. Most of this stems from the same source—the author’s desperate desire to assign some share of blame to the United States, and to the West more generally, and to exonerate Islam from blame. Thus, Mosebach early on preaches “One must be careful not to view this massacre as one more chapter of an ongoing religious war—that would be false use of religion.”

Instead, Mosebach entertains the idea that the killers were “mercenaries who can be bought to commit all kinds of bloodshed, perhaps to benefit the Americans or the Russians, or maybe the Syrians or the Muslim Brotherhood.” Or maybe they were just “pawns on a board whose actual players and goals are unknown to them.”

This is a dumb fantasy; the killers were ISIS militants, part of a much larger group with coherent ideals and many other similar acts to their name, and both their actions and justifications are part of a long and coherent tradition within Islam. One more chapter of an ongoing religious war is exactly what this is. Reaching for tinfoil-hat theories to explain that obvious fact away makes Mosebach seem like a clown.

Such blinkered stupidity is on display more than once. The American prison at Guantanamo Bay, where a few hundred captured Muslim enemies were held (although by any other country, and in any other past war, they simply would have been summarily executed), in conditions of comfort where they are allowed to practice their religion and any disrespect to their religion is punished, is “where the United States has permanently ruined its reputation as nation that respects the rule of law.” No, Saint Joseph was not a “migrant worker.” No, the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia was not killed in a religious dispute. And so on.

Beyond the Copts, as to the core geopolitical problem the book details, Muslim mass murder of Christians (on display yesterday in Sri Lanka; tomorrow on display somewhere else), the correct solution is the one Donald Trump implemented and brought to a successful completion recently—kill in battle all Muslims who fight for ISIS or any similar brand of Islam.

True, that that would be less necessary if we had not destabilized so much of the Middle East, since the local Muslim rulers would have done it for us, but that’s water under the bridge. But as I say above, these are stopgap measures; in the modern world, there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence on equal terms between Islam and Christianity on at the level of the nation-state, so long as Islam’s adherents actually believe.

There never has been such coexistence, and there never will be. Any society with a large number of Muslims will face the problems inherent to and generated by Islam. This is unfortunate, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Certainly, it is equally true that on an individual level Muslims and Christians can get along fine, but to confuse personal relations with the relations of power that must characterize any human society is a basic mistake.

This English translation of The 21 was sponsored by, and the book published here by, Plough, the publishing house of the Bruderhof. The Bruderhof are practitioners of radical Christianity, “they renounce private property and share everything in common in a life of nonviolence, justice, and service to neighbors near and far.” In other words, they live the life of the very earliest Christians.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if all Christians lived that life. Would they simply be exterminated by their enemies, as would seem to be the logical and inevitable result, especially in the modern world? Or would their example change the world to be something different, and better, than it is?

I worry, sometimes, too, that I err by advocating meeting, and preparing to meet, the enemies, rather than adopting the simple Christian life. But, like the scorpion, it is in my nature, and the Christian tradition of armed defense has nearly as long a pedigree as pacifism.

If I am wrong, at least I am in good company, and this book suggests I am not wrong, even if the Twenty-One took another path.

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, “The Twenty-One Martyrs” by Wael Mories, a Coptic painter.

The Myth Of “Islamic” Spain

I have just finished reading a volume that should be a required text for anyone enthusing about how enlightened and tolerant Spain was under Islamic rule in medieval times, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise by Dario Fernandez-Morera.

The enthusiasm for the glories of tolerant Islam is suffused throughout modern scholarship, to the point of embarrassment. It is difficult not to conclude, after one looks at the actual historical facts that the scholars ignore and suppress, that their enthusiasm for Islam finds its roots in their distaste for Christianity. It is certainly not rooted in the historical evidence itself.

In this vision of Islamic Spain (renamed by the Muslim conquerors as “al-Andalus”), all three monotheistic faiths got along famously and all three enjoyed cultural flowering and prosperity under the watchful eye of a tolerant Islam.

In this version of history, the Christians of Spain were a benighted, primitive, and ignorant lot, who fortunately for them, ended up under Islam, which then offered them previously undreamt of opportunities to learn tolerance and culture. In this paradise Jews, Christians, and Muslims coexisted in a happy sunlit land, enjoying the benefits of convivencia—at least until the horrible Christians spoiled it all at the Spanish Reconquista, which recovered the land for Christendom and brought again the blight of intolerance and darkness to their land.

A few quotes will suffice to give the outlines of this vision. From David Lewis, two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe: “[In the Middle Ages there emerged] two Europes—one [Muslim Europe] secure in its defenses, religiously tolerant, and maturing in cultural and scientific sophistication; the other [Christian Europe] an arena of unceasing warfare in which superstition passed for religion and the flame of knowledge sputtered weakly.”

Or from an article in The Economist from November 2001, just a few months after the attacks of 9-11: “Muslim rulers of the past were far more tolerant of people of other faiths than were Christian ones. For example, al-Andalus’s multi-cultural, multi-religious states ruled by Muslims gave way to a Christian regime that was grossly intolerant even of dissident Christians”. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

In this Islamic paradise, Christian dhimmis, (literally, “protected ones”) were content with their subordinate lot under their Muslim lords, happily paying the jizya tax required of all dhimmis or conquered peoples living under Muslim domination, finding the good life under Islamic “protection”. (Paying money for “protection” is usually always a bad sign, as victims of the Mafia can attest).

Nonetheless, the picture proffered by the proponents of Islamic tolerance is one wherein the protected dhimmis had no reason to complain, and were justly grateful for the security and the opportunities they enjoyed. I can almost hear the strains of the music with which Gone With The Wind opens, and see the words coming up on the screen: “There was a land of cavaliers and culture called al-Andalus. Here in this pretty world, gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Muslim knights and their ladies fair, of master and of slave…Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind…”

Ah, al-Andalus, now gone with the wind: those happy dhimmis, contented and protected under their gallant masters! How sad that such gallantry is no more than a dream remembered! How sad that it is now gone with the wind!

Or…maybe not.

Maybe the slaves were not all that contented and happy under their gallant masters’ protection, just as the happy land of cavaliers and cotton fields fondly remembered as “the Old South” existed only in the minds of those able to select among the facts and ignore the hard reality that obtained among those working the cotton fields. Maybe it all looked rather differently to the slaves themselves. And maybe the vision of a tolerant al-Andalus is no more accurate than the vision of a tolerant and gallant Old South.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Thus we are told that women in Islamic Spain “were doctors and lawyers and professors” (thus John Jackson, The Empire of the Moors, 1991). One would never guess from this that free, respectable, and married Muslim women were required to be domestically cloistered, and veiled whenever they left the house, and that they could not be seen by anyone but their families. They were also routinely circumcised.

The women who were “doctors and lawyers and professors” were the sexual slaves of rich men, for whom the restrictions binding free respectable married women did not apply. As the Arabist Maria Luisa Avila points out, the slave girls engaged in these activities not out of their free will, but as a reflection of their condition as slaves and as a result of the specialized training to which they submitted. Free women were not really free when it came to learning.

Moreover, those who attended the talks of a woman transmitting hadiths or stories about Muhammad found themselves listening to them speaking behind a curtain, since respectable Muslim women could not mix with men. And it is likely that the women “doctors” were those responsible for providing female circumcision, since no man was allowed to see the genitals of a woman who was outside his family.

As far as tolerance for other faiths was concerned, the Maliki school of law which governed al-Andalus was among the strictest. Under it, as in the rest of the Islamic world, the Christian dhimmis were relegated to the very bottom of a heavily stratified social ladder.

At the top stood the Arabs, then the Berbers, then freed white Muslim slaves who converted to Islam, and then former Christians who converted to Islam. The dhimmis occupied the bottom rung, and they were never allowed to forget it. They had to pay the jizya tax for their protection, and were subject to a multitude of laws enforcing their fifth-rate status.

Thus, for example, a Muslim who raped a Christian woman would be lashed, while a Christian who raped a Muslim woman would be killed. A Muslim was entitled to blood money (i.e. compensation for injury or death), while a Christian was entitled to only half. The legal testimony of a Christian against a Muslim was not acceptable in court.

A Muslim could not initiate a greeting when meeting a Christian, but rather a Christian must greet a Muslim first. Only Muslims could celebrate their religion publicly and outdoors. Christians could not walk through Muslim cemeteries because this would defile the Muslim graves. Water, food, garments, and utensils touched by a Christian became polluted and could not be used by Muslims. Christians were rarely allowed to build or even repair their churches.

They could not display crosses upon their persons or on the outside of their churches. They must stand up in the presence of Muslims. They could not carry weapons. They must not ride horses in Muslim areas, and had to ride donkeys side-saddle so that they could readily dismount and genuflect before Muslims. And of course Christians could convert to Islam, but any Muslim converting to Christianity (or Judaism) would be killed.

Not surprisingly, there were sometimes riots among the populace, and sometimes martyrdoms. Occasionally Christians rebelled, publicly denounced Muhammad as a false prophet, and proclaimed Jesus as divine, with the result that they were put to death (such as the famous martyrs of Cordoba).

Most Christians were prepared to tolerate their fifth-rate status and not rock the boat. But there should be no doubt that the boat in which they uneasily sat was not one which promoted tolerance or represented a happy garden in which everyone mixed and worked together as equals.

The academics who praise medieval Islamic Spain as a pretty world where convivencia and gallantry took their last bow are not telling the whole story. To learn the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say), we need to hear other voices as well. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is a good place to start.

Father Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “The Slave Market,” by Otto Pliny, painted in 1910.

Bad Theology And Atheism

I have been slowly reading my way through John Gray’s book, Seven Types of Atheism. It is not an argument with Atheism so much as a study of its underpinnings, strengths and weaknesses (Gray himself is an atheist). Apparently, what someone does not believe in is just as important as what someone does believe in. Not all atheisms are equal.

I was particularly struck by this note regarding the non-belief of John Stuart Mill: “Mill never claimed to have formulated a unified view of the human world. Even so, he founded an orthodoxy – the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

It will sound quite odd to many readers, but good Christian theology has much in common with good atheist thought. Indeed, some feeble attempts at atheism are often the first genuine efforts of theological discipline taken up by many people.

An inadequate God inherited either from poor teaching or mere cultural assimilation is fertile ground for unbelief. The nakedness of such a thing (“it’s just me and the universe”) can also provide a fertile ground for serious thought.

The general dividing line within atheism seems to be between versions that represent little more than godless examples of bad Judaeo-Christian thought and versions that take seriously the absence of meaning implied by the rejection of a God-story.

These latter accounts seem to fall out with either a semi-oriental mysticism in which the universe itself plays the role of God (think Carl Sagan in his last years) or true nihilists whose world is perhaps the least comprehensible of all (and the rarest).

Human beings seem to be created with a longing for meaning. We not only experience the world, but want to make sense of it as well. That sense-making is a thread of continuity that joins every religious tradition in history.

The scope of the story may vary from place to place, but the existence of “story” is ubiquitous. Meaninglessness is not a condition that is easily embraced – indeed, it could be viewed as a form of mental suicide, with or without the dying.

Stanley Hauerwas famously defines modernity in terms of story: “The modern project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.”

This is another way of describing the “unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

The 19th century was marked by a number of key figures whom the philosopher Paul Riceour dubbed the “Masters of Suspicion.” He specifically named Freud, Marx and Nietzsche. I would add a number of other 19th century names as well.

Their critique (suspicion) was turned towards various aspects of life that were often taken for granted. Freud “unmasked” the commonly accepted figure of God (at least as found among 19th-century Austrian Jews) and saw it as nothing more than a projection of the “super-ego.” Marx unmasked the dark drive of history as a story of exploitation. Nietszche reduced the world to the story of the raw will to power.

These “giants” have had many followers, both intentional and unintentional. What they created can best be seen in their “suspicion.” Is what we perceive in fact the case, or do we live in a world of self-deception? When we suspect the actual process of thought and understanding itself, every answer has a way of being unsatisfying.

The latest iteration of modern suspicion has been directed towards traditional perceptions or understandings of gender/sex (I’m never sure which is the right word anymore). A traditional “binary” approach is now deconstructed as a false world-view, imposed from above. In truth, the “technique” of questioning and replacement has been going on for nearly two centuries now, and shows no sign of abating.

The Masters of Suspicion were not entirely wrong. Much of what passed for Christian belief deserved questioning. An inadequate account of God should be as problematic for Christians as it was for Freud.

The glib certitude of the wealthy deserved to be unmasked. A proper Christian understanding of justice had been set aside and left the world “upside-down.” Marx forced a conversation. Nietzsche is another matter, one that I am not well able to articulate. For me, he seems to unmask the naked forces of dominance that claim to be otherwise.

There is, however, a conundrum within these suspicions. When everything is suspect, even the suspicion is suspect. We can be left with a paralyzing agnosticism, that doubts even its own agnosticism.

Nevertheless, many Christians themselves continue with an “inadequate” God. Gray points out that the notion of improvement, held by “unthinking people with no religion,” is a belief learned from Christians who had begun to secularize their faith. Improvement (“better world,” “progress”) is bad Christian theology that serves little purpose other than to underwrite the modern nation-state and consumer capitalism. It is certainly not the story of Jesus Christ.

A very deep strain of Orthodox theology is described as “apophaticism,” or the “via negativa.” It describes a knowing by “not knowing.” It is, if you will, a denial of everything God is not, in order to know who God is. As such, it is constantly deconstructing the many efforts of humanity that seek to create false gods.

Conversations that seek to unravel the circular reasoning of suspicion often end in frustration. Everything can be questioned, including the questioning. However, the Christian faith rises and falls with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Everything flows from that moment. All Christian thought is, properly, a commentary on Pascha. It is not, at its heart, an argument from reason. Reason and its various theories, whether of meaning, or human nature, or social existence, science, etc., did not create the resurrection of Christ. It comes like an event that inserts itself into the futility of our existence.

I take comfort in the thought that the Scriptures bear witness to the lack of understanding that greeted Christ’s resurrection. The disciples did not get it. His resurrection is not an answer to a question they were asking. It seems, at first, to have confounded them.

Nevertheless, He rose from the dead. The life of repentance is a constant embracing of Christ’s Pascha. It is a giving of ourselves to what has been given to us. It is the rejection of every pretense that would erect life on some other basis (as though there were another basis).

That single event of Pascha is the beginning of Christian thought. The best of Christian thought (in my estimation) continues to allow the resurrection of Christ to unmask its every attempt to build a world (or a faith) on any other basis.

The resurrection of Christ is the judgment of this world. Its judgment is truly kind. It is truth demolishing the falsehoods that imprison us, freeing us even from ourselves.

Christ is the Master of Truth, the Master of Life and Death, the Master of Love and Forgiveness. He even forgives our suspicions.

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, “Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889,” painted in 1889.

Granny Was A Spy

Nobody among the residents of Bexleyheath, south-east London, could ever have imagined that their nice neighbor – the charming old lady Melita Norwood – was in fact one of the most important Soviet spies in Great Britain.

Courtesy of Melita Norwood, Stalin was better informed about the construction of the British nuclear bomb than most members of the UK Cabinet.

For almost 35 years, Mrs Norwood copied and transferred to the Soviet Union hundreds of secret documents on the British nuclear program.
Due to her socialism-oriented parents, Melita Sirnis (after marriage – Norwood) was a devoted Communist since childhood. In the 1930s she secretly joined the British Communist Party.

At the same time, she was hired as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, which was developing Britain’s nuclear technology.

The British overlooked the Communist among their ranks, but the Soviets saw a great opportunity. In 1937 Melita was recruited by Soviet intelligence and started to work for “the cause of the World Revolution.”

“I did what I did not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had at great cost given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, good education and a health service,” recalled Melita many years later.

Norwood had direct access to all the details of the British nuclear program, codenamed “Tube Alloys.” Her boss, G. L. Bailey, was a member of its advisory committee. Completely trusted, Melita had access to Bailey’s two safes: one at the office, the other at his London home.

Top secret correspondence, scientific reports, analyses, etc. were photographed by Norwood and handed over to the Soviets. This information significantly helped them in developing their own nuclear technologies.

Melita Norwood, known as “Agent Hola,” was highly praised in the Soviet Union, even more than the more famous Kim Philby. She was characterized as a “disciplined and devoted agent, who does everything that she can to help Soviet intelligence.”

Twice, in 1945 and 1965, MI5 counterintelligence service raised suspicions about Norwood’s true identity, but both times they did not have enough proof. So it was that in 1972 she quietly retired from her job at Non-Ferrous Metals, and hence from the Soviet secret service.

Disclosure came only 20 years later, when former KGB officer Vasili Mitrokhin defected to Britain and exposed a huge number of files on Soviet agents, including Melita Norwood.

However, due to her old age “Agent Hola” was neither arrested, nor interrogated. The British government decided nothing was to be gained from sending the “granny spy” to prison, and Mrs Norwood was left in peace at her home in Bexleyheath.

Until her death in 2005, Melita Norwood never regretted what she had done. Working for the Soviet Union was a matter of principle for her. She even declined a secret lifelong pension from the Soviets, but gladly received the prestigious Order of the Red Banner.

“I did not want money. It was not that side I was interested in. I wanted Russia to be on equal footing with the West,” Mrs Norwood used to say.

The photo shows a famous poster of “Agent Fifi,” from World War Two.

Edvard Munch And Dostoevsky

Ever get the impression that the somber pictures of Munch are ready-made illustrations for the equally somber works of Dostoevsky? We do, and it turns out there’s more to this hunch than meets the eye.

In April, Russia’s first ever major exhibition of one of Norway’s most famous sons, Edvard Munch, opens at the Tretyakov Gallery after several years of negotiations with the Munch Museum in Oslo. Although relatively few of his paintings are known in Russia, Munch’s work has a greater connection with Russia than one might imagine. His idol and inspiration was Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the artist’s most famous piece The Scream looks as if it is possessed by one of Dostoevsky’s demons.

The director of the Tretyakov Gallery, Zelfira Tregulova, noted that Munch essentially did for art what Dostoevsky did for literature: “He turned the human soul inside out and peered into the abyss and the vortex of passions that rip people apart, revealing the complexity of human nature.”

The bohemian atmosphere of 1880s Oslo, of which the young Munch was part, consisted of creative anarchists who fed on the works of Dostoevsky, freshly translated into Norwegian.

“Will anyone ever be able to describe those times?” We need Dostoevsky, or at least a mixture of Krogh [an artist, Munch’s mentor], Jeager [a scandalous anarchist writer], and perhaps myself to describe the wretched existence in Christiania [the old name for Oslo] as convincingly as Dostoevsky’s depiction of a Siberian town—not only then, but now as well,” wrote Munch.

A little-known work of Dostoevsky (or at least overshadowed by the later novels), A Gentle Creature had a profound influence on Munch. It tells the story of the suicide of an unhappy girl who, out of poverty, marries a moneylender she despises.

Experts believe that one of Munch’s most famous self-portraits Between the Clock and the Bed, which shows a nude female figure, might easily be an illustration for A Gentle Creature.

Munch and Dostoevsky shared an artistic weakness for sick, poverty-stricken wenches. Another of Munch’s most famous paintings, The Sick Child, which prompted a hail of indignation from critics for its “incompleteness,” was a reflection of the artist’s grief over the death of his beloved sister from tuberculosis.

“I am not entirely sure why I became attached to her, perhaps because she was always ill… If she had been lame or hunchbacked as well, I think I would have loved her even more…” says Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.

Munch biographer Rolf Stenersen describes how the idiosyncratic artist considered his paintings to be his own children and showed tough love to those that didn’t turn out quite right. Such pictures he exhibited outside in rain, wind, and snow, and returned them indoors only after some time. It is known for a fact that this happened to the painting Separation, which suffered greatly as a consequence. Stains, smudges, and traces of bird droppings became part of the picture.

This strange method Munch called hestekur (translated as “horse treatment”). Experts believe it to be a reference to Raskolnikov’s dream, in which the protagonist, transported back to childhood, witnesses a peasant beating an old nag just because it is “mine.” Soon the crowd joins in with chants of “Flog it to death!”

Munch created what might these days be described as fan art—artwork created by fans of a particular work. In one of his numerous self-portraits, Munch depicts himself with a skeleton hand. This work is said to have been inspired by a portrait of Dostoevsky made using a similar technique by Swiss artist Felix Vallotton.

On display at the exhibition, there is a small volume that belonged to the artist. It is called Djasvlene, the Norwegian title of Dostoevsky’s novel, Demons. It was this book that Munch had on his bedside table on being found dead at his country estate, not far from Oslo, in 1944.

Alexandra Guzeva writes for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows, “Evening on Karl Johan Street,” painted in 1892.

Crucifixion, Part 2

Blood loss from the scourging helped determine the time the victim survived. In any case, victims suffered a long time (at most, days) before falling into prolonged unconsciousness and death. Soldiers typically did not hasten things along because a long and painful death was the point of the execution method. Usually the victim was left on the cross until birds and wild beasts consumed the body.

Death could result from a variety of causes, including blood loss and hypovolemic shock, or infection and sepsis, caused by the scourging that preceded the crucifixion or by the nailing itself, and eventual dehydration. A theory attributed to French surgeon Dr. Pierre Barbet (author of A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon) holds that, when the whole body weight was supported by the stretched arms, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation. He conjectured that the condemned would have severe difficulty inhaling, due to hyper-expansion of the chest muscles and lungs.

The condemned would therefore have to draw himself up by his arms, leading to exhaustion, or have his feet supported by tying or by a wood block. Indeed, the executioners were sometimes asked that the legs of the victim were broken or shattered, an act called crucifragium which was also frequently applied without crucifixion to slaves.

This act speeded up the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing offenses. Once deprived of support and unable to lift himself, the victim would die within a few minutes.

Experiments by Dr. Frederick Zugibe, former chief medical examiner of Rockland County, New York have revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death.

Zugibe claims that the breaking of the crucified condemned’s legs to hasten death was administered as a coup de grâce, causing severe traumatic shock or hastening death by fat embolism. Crucifixion on a single pole with no transom, with hands affixed over one’s head, would precipitate rapid asphyxiation if no block was provided to stand on, or once the legs were broken.

It is possible to survive crucifixion, if not prolonged, and there are records of people who did. The historian Josephus, a Judean who defected to the Roman side during the Jewish uprising of 66-72 AD, describes finding two of his friends crucified. He begged for and was granted their reprieve; one died, while the other recovered. Josephus gives no details of the method or duration of their crucifixion before their reprieve.

It is still a matter of debate whether victims were crucified in the nude or with their loincloths left on. There is no doubt that many (if not most) crucifixion victims were stripped naked, either with or without a loincloth, as it would have humiliated the victim further. This is one of the elements which made crucifixion notorious: due to the physical, mental and emotional pain it caused.

While traditionally Jesus and the two criminals are depicted as having a sort of loincloth for modesty (in a few depictions, Jesus even wears a full-length robe, called a colobium), a few very early depictions depict the victim as either being stark naked on the cross or with some loincloth on (also see illustration at left and below right, one of which is a graffito found in Puzzuoli, with the other being a gem found in Syria, dating from the late 2nd-3rd century). As a general rule of thumb, most of these early representations are not depictions made by Christians, who still didn’t depict the Crucifixion overtly during this time period, but were usually created by non-Christians and/or Gnostics.

While some take the position that Jesus was not spared even a loincloth when He was crucified, some believe that due to Jewish sensibilities, loincloths were left on or provided (it would be fitting to remind here that many people in ancient times did not even wear loincloths; for them, their tunics served as their undergarment). So, before we could have any conclusive evidence, it would seem that the best answer here for the moment is that it depended on the situation and the location.

The gibbet on which crucifixion was carried out could be of many shapes. Josephus records multiple tortures and positions of crucifixion during the Siege of Jerusalem as Titus crucified the rebels; and the Roman historian Seneca the Younger recounts (To Marcia, On Consolation, 6.20.3): “Video istic cruces non unius quidem generis sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas: capite quidam conversos in terram suspendere, alii per obscena stipitem egerunt, alii brachia patibulo explicuerunt. Video fidiculas, video verbera, et membris singulis articulis singula docuerunt machinamenta: sed video et mortem…” [I see there crosses, not merely of one kind but fashioned differently by others: a certain one suspends with head down towards the ground, others drive stakes through their private parts; others stretch the arms out on the gibbet; I see cords, I see whips, and contraptions designed to torture every joint and limb, but I see death as well…]

At times the gibbet was only one vertical stake, called in Latin crux simplex or palus. This was the simplest available construction for torturing and killing the criminals. Frequently, however, there was a cross-piece attached either at the top to give the shape of a T (crux commissa) or just below the top, as in the form most familiar in Christian symbolism (crux immissa). Other forms were in the shape of the letters X and Y.

While the view that Jesus died on a stake has thus been propounded by writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century (and is still popular among Jehovah’s Witnesses), second-century writers, such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who were much closer to the event, speak of him only as dying on a two-beam cross.

In the same century, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas and Clement of Alexandria saw a two-beam shape of the cross of Jesus as foreshadowed in a numerological interpretation of Genesis 4:14, and the first of these, as well as Justin Martyr, saw the same shape prefigured in Moses keeping his arms stretched out in prayer in the battle against Amalek. At the end of the same century, Tertullian speaks of Christians as accustomed to mark themselves repeatedly with the sign of the cross, and the phrase “the Lord’s sign” (τὸ κυριακὸν σημεῖον, to Kyriakon simeion) was used with reference to a cross composed of an upright and a crossbeam. Crosses of † or Τ shape were in use, even in Palestine, at the time of Jesus.

See here for more in-depth discussion on the shape of Jesus’ cross.

In popular depictions of crucifixion, the condemned is shown with nails in the palm of their hands. Although historical documents refer to the nails being in the hands, the word usually translated as hand, “χείρ” (cheir) in Greek, referred to arm and hand together, so that, words are added to denote the hand as distinct from the arm, as “ἄκρην οὔτασε χεῖρα” (Akrin outase cheira, “he wounded the end of the ‘cheir'”, i.e. he wounded her hand).

A possibility that does not require tying is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm (the radius and the ulna). The nails could also be driven through the wrist, in a space between four carpal bones. The word χείρ, translated as “hand”, can include everything below the mid-forearm: Acts 12:7 uses this word to report chains falling off from Peter’s ‘hands’, although the chains would be around what we would call wrists. This shows that the semantic range of χείρ is wider than the English hand, and can be used of nails through the wrist.

An experiment that was the subject of National Geographic Channel’s documentary entitled, Quest For Truth: The Crucifixion, showed that a person can be suspended by the palm of their hand. Nailing the feet (or the ankles) to the side of the cross relieves strain on the wrists by placing most of the weight on the lower body.

Another possibility, suggested by Frederick Zugibe, is that the nails may have been driven in at an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.

A footrest attached to the cross, perhaps for the purpose of taking the man’s weight off the wrists, is sometimes included in representations of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is not mentioned in ancient sources. These, however, do mention the sedile (a small piece or block of wood attached to the front of the cross, about halfway down, where the victim could rest) which could have served that purpose.

The question has long been debated whether Jesus was crucified with three or with four nails.

The treatment of the Crucifixion in art during the earlier Middle Ages strongly supports the tradition of four nails, and the language of certain historical writers (none, however, earlier than Gregory of Tours, “De Gloria Martyrum”, vi), favors the same view. The earliest depictions of the subject might also favor this view, as they generally depict the feet of the victim as being separate from each other.

On the other hand, in the thirteenth century, most of Western art (with a few exceptions; see the image to the right, painted by Diego Velázquez in 1632) began to represent the feet of Jesus as placed one over the other and pierced with a single nail. This accords with the language of Nonnus and Socrates and with the poem “Christus Patiens” attributed to St. Gregory Nazianzus, which speaks of three nails.

This depiction of three nails had actually caused some controversy when it was first introduced. For example, in the latter part of the 13th century the bishop of Tuy in Iberia wrote in horror about the ‘heretics’ who carve ‘ill-shapen’ images of the crucified Jesus ‘with one foot laid over the other, so that both are pierced by a single nail, thus striving to annul or render doubtful men’s faith in the Holy Cross and the traditions of the sainted Fathers.’

Archaeological criticism has pointed out however not only that two of the earliest representations of the Crucifixion (the Palatine graffito does not here come into account), viz., the carved door of the Santa Sabina in Rome, and the ivory panel of the British Museum, show no signs of nails in the feet, but that St. Ambrose (“De obitu Theodosii” in P.L., XVI, 1402) and other early writers distinctly imply that there were only two nails. However, this does not answer why in Luke 24:39-40 Jesus is said to have shown ‘his hands and his feet’ to his disciples, unless there was some distinguishing mark located there.

St. Ambrose informs us that Empress Helena had one nail converted into a bridle for Constantine’s horse (early commentators quote Zechariah 14:20, in this connection), and that an imperial diadem was made out of the other nail. Gregory of Tours speaks of a nail being thrown (deponi), or possibly dipped into the Adriatic Sea to calm a storm. It is impossible to discuss these problems adequately in brief space, but the information derivable from the general archaeology of the punishment of crucifixion as known to the Romans does not in any way contradict the early Christian tradition of four nails.

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 the “Crucifixion Fresco” from the fifth century Ancient Church of Saint Mary (the Santa Maria Antiqua). The fresco dates from ca. 741 to 752 AD.

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.

Crucifixion Part 1

This is the first in a 3-part examination of the history of Roman crucifixion.

I. INTRODUCTION

Crucifixion (from Latin crucifixio, perfect passive participle crucifixus, fixed to a cross, from prefix cruci-, cross, + verb ficere, fix or do, variant form of facere, do or make ) is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.

German scholar of religion Martin Hengel, the author of the work entitled Crucifixion (full title Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross), originally published in 1977, writes that while authors commonly regard the origins of crucifixion as coming from Persia due to the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, the practice of impaling or nailing someone to a post or something similar to it, was also found among the Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, Taurians, Celts, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Britanni, Numidians and Carthaginians. The Carthaginians is commonly thought to have passed the knowledge to Romans, who then perfected the method.


II. HISTORY

While the origins of this method of execution are quite obscure, it is clear that the form of capital punishment lasted for over nearly 900 years, starting with the Persian king Darius’ (reigned 550-485 BC) crucifixion of 3000 Babylonian slaves in 519 BC and ending with Constantine in 337 AD; thus tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals have been subjected to this cruel and humiliating form of punishment. There are records of mass executions in which hundreds of thousands of persons have died due to this practice.

It is common belief that crucifixion was only reserved for criminals, as a result of Plutarch’s passage that “each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back”, however literature clearly shows that this class were not the only individuals who were subjected to crucifixion. For example, Alexander the Great crucified 2000 survivors from the siege of Tyre on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.

The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour.

Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called “supplicium servile” by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station (‘humiles’). The citizen class of Roman society were almost never subject to capital punishments; instead, they were fined or exiled. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus mentions Jews of high rank who were crucified, but this was to point out that their status had been taken away from them.

Control of one’s own body was vital in the ancient world. Capital punishment took away control over one’s own body, thereby implying a loss of status and honor. The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to hasten death and usually (with a few known exceptions) forbade burial.

III. METHODS OF CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion was literally a death that was ‘excruciating’ (from the Latin word ‘ex cruces’, “out of crucifying”), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it), and public (hence the expression “to nail to the cross”), using whatever means expedient for that goal. The methods varied considerably with location and with time period.

The Greek and Latin words corresponding to “crucifixion” covered a wide range of meaning, from impaling on a stake to affixing on a tree, to a mere upright pole (a ‘crux simplex’) or to a combination of an upright stake (‘stipes’ in Latin) and a crossbeam (‘patibulum’).

If a crossbeam is used, the victim was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which would have been torn open by a brutal scourging, to the place of execution. The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion.

A. SCOURGING

Scourging the victim was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in eases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (known as a flagellum or flagrum, seen at right) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron or lead balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals.

For scourging, the man was first stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post.

The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar as to be stretched out.

The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two Roman officials known as lictors (from the Latin verb ligare, which means “to bind”, said to refer to the fasces that they carried) or by one who alternated positions (some reports even indicate scourgings with four or six lictores). The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictores and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.

There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted — this was left to the lictores to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Josephus also states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem at 70 AD (Jewish War 5.11), Jews who were captured by Titus’ forces “were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. “

Flagellation was so severe that it was referred to as “half death” by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter (some survivors were even reported to have gone mad due to the intensity of the scourging). Cicero reports in In Verrem (II.5), “pro mortuo sublatus, perbrevi postea est mortuus” (“taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead”). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

As Pontius Pilate was only the Prefect/Equestrian Procurator of Iudeaea Region (from 26-36 A.D.), he might have had no true lictor of his own, hence regular soldiers might have administered the scourging in place of lictores.

After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim. In Jesus’ situation, this took the form of plaiting thorns (several prickly or thorny shrubs found in Palestine, especially the Paliurus aculeatus, Zizyphus Spina-Christi, and Zizyphus vulgaris may have served for the purpose) into a sort of ‘crown’ (the Gospels use the Greek word stephanon, which usually implies a wreath or garland of some sort; however some think that it is likely that the crown was a sort of ‘cap’ that covered the whole head, as in the illustration at right), dressing him in a purple (so say Mark and John) or scarlet (Matthew) cloak (Matthew and Mark used the Greek word chlamys, which was originally a sort of cloak worn by Greek soldiers made from a rectangle of woollen material about the size of a blanket, typically bordered, and was usually pinned at the right shoulder while John used the word himation, which was a type of cloak worn over the tunic or chiton), in order to mock him as King of the Jews. In addition, he was also provided a reed (kalamos) for a sceptre, which was later used to beat him (Matt. 27:30). However, once the soldiers got tired of this sport, they took off the robe, “dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.”

B. TO THE PLACE OF EXECUTION

It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 pounds (136 kilograms), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75-125 pounds (35-60 kg). was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar.

The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by execution teams composed of four soldiers, headed by a centurion, with the condemned man placed in the middle of the hollow square of the four soldiers.

A herald carried a sign (titulus, epigraphe) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed; alternatively, it would have been hung around the victim’s neck. The board was said to be whitened with gypsum while the lettering was in black; alternatively, the lettering was done with gypsum. The description of guilt written thereon was usually made to be as brief and as concise as possible; the Gospel’s record that Jesus’ titulus merely contained his name and his crime (“the King of the Jews”). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.1) recorded a Christian martyr named Attalus who was led to the ampitheatre to be killed, with a placard being carried before him which said simply: “This is Attalus the Christian.”

At the site of execution, the victim stripped of his clothing (if any) and, at least in Palestine, was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic to help deaden the pain. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. Any article of clothing belonging to the victim became the property of the party of soldiers in charge of the execution, as per the law; thus, the soldiers drew lots for Jesus’ clothes.

There was no ‘set’ posture for someone being crucified; soldiers usually crucified victims in various postures and positions (Josephus mentions that during the Siege of Jerusalem, soldiers crucified those they caught “one after one way, and another after another” to amuse themselves).

Upright posts would have presumably been erected and fixed permanently in such places, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank serving as a crude seat (known as a sedile or sedulum), was often attached midway down the stipes.

C. TYING OR NAILING TO THE CROSS?

The condemned man may sometimes have been attached to the cross by tying him securely there (some scholars have, in fact, argued that crucifixion was actually a bloodless form of death and that tying the victim was the rule), but nails are mentioned by Josephus, who states that, again during the Siege of Jerusalem, “the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”

Therefore, other scholars such as Hengel, who here takes along with Hewitt (1932) have argued that nailing the victim by his hands and feet was the rule and tying him to the cross was the exception.

In Roman times iron was expensive; thus, nails from a crucifixion were usually removed from the dead body and reused over and over to cut the costs. Also, objects used in the execution of criminals, such as nails or ropes from a crucifixion were frequently sought as amulets by many people, and was thus removed from the victim following their death.

This is attested to by a passage in the Mishna (Tractate Sabbath 6.10) which states that both Jews and Amorites (a sort of ‘codeword’ for non-Jews) may carry a nail from a crucifixion, a tooth from a jackal and an egg from a locust as a means of healing:

MISHNA IX: It is permitted to go out with eggs of grasshoppers or with the tooth of a fox or a nail from the gallows where a man was hanged, as medical remedies. Such is the decision of R. Meir, but the sages prohibit the using of these things even on week days, for fear of imitating the Amorites.

GEMARA: The eggs of grasshoppers as a remedy for toothache; the tooth of a fox as a remedy for sleep, viz., the tooth of a live fox to prevent sleep and of a dead one to cause sleep; the nail from the gallows where a man was hanged as a remedy for swelling.

“As medical remedies,” such is the decision of R. Meir. Abayi and Rabha both said: “Anything (intended) for a medical remedy, there is no apprehension of imitating the Amorites; hence, if not intended as a remedy there is apprehension of imitating the Amorites? But were we not taught that a tree which throws off its fruit, it is permitted to paint it and lay stones around it? It is right only to lay stones around it in order to weaken its strength, but what remedy is painting it? Is it not imitating the Amorites? (Nay) it is only that people may see it and pray for mercy. We have learned in a Boraitha: It is written: “Unclean, unclean, shall he call out [Leviticus, 13:45].” (To what purpose?) That one must make his troubles known to his fellow-men, that they may pray for his relief.”

As this Mishnaic passage mentions both Jews and non-Jews carrying these objects one can infer the power of these amulets and their scarcity in the archaeological record. Not only Jewish sources attest to the power of these objects; Pliny in Naturalis Historia (28.11) wrote that:

…So, too, in cases of quartan fever, they take a fragment of a nail from a cross, or else a piece of a halter that has been used for crucifixion, and, after wrapping it in wool, attach it to the patient’s neck; taking care, the moment he has recovered, to conceal it in some hole to which the light of the sun cannot penetrate…

Perhaps, however, the number of the individuals crucified may determine the manner in which the execution took form. For example, during the Third Servile War (led by the slave Spartacus), which happened in 73-71 BC, 6600 prisoners of war were crucified along the Via Appia between the cities of Rome and Capua, it would seem plausible that the most quick and efficient manner of death was employed; namely, to simply tie the victim to the tree or cross with his hands suspended directly over his head, causing death within a few minutes, or perhaps an hour if the victims’ feet were not nailed or tied down.

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, “The Crucifixion,” by Jacopo Tintoretto, painted in 1565.