conversion in times of neither jewish nor goyish reconsid

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Fri, 12 Apr 1996 00:08:30 CDT


I've thought the problem over, and have this time decided to consider it
from the standpoint of *instability*, which is one of the more wonderfully
denied aspects of the Eternality of Tradition and the Unshakability of Absolute
Truth. At the time Ruth allegedly lived, early iron age, circa 1150 BCish,
nobody was Jewish. The Moabites, as previously noted, weren't goyish, either.
This wasn't to be decided till 840 BC, when one Mesha seized power in Qiryat
Moab, proclaimed himself king, and marked the solemnity of the occasion by
sacrificing his son. Not that human sacrifice made you unJewish, as nobody
was to be clearly Jewish till the institution of official monotheism by King
Josiah, whose death in battle, at Mt Megiddo (="Armageddon," because it was
a great place for a battlefield for many centuries), was just what he deserved
as well as indicative of insanity. As noted, peasants find the celebration of
fertility in the guise of supernatural beings essential to their livelihood,
at least they're convinced of it; so it's both politically and economically
irrational for the urban elite to annoy them over this issue. This insanity
is exactly what Josiah indulged. Casualties were heavy; destruction of places
of worhip of female deities was conspicuous (eg, groves of Asherah, wife or
consort of El, whose analogue, Allat, was Allah's mate and focus of similar
contenetion later). The Kingdom of Judah was ripe for Babylonian plucking.
Maybe, even, nobody was Jewish till the post-Exilic period. Were I a Biblical
Scholar, I'd tell you more; alas, I lacked all talent for the clergy.

Say that Ruth was a composite. Her character development is just right for
a fictitious character; that line, "thy people shall be my people, thy gods my
gods" is good writing. Singular or plural no matter, as monotheism was far in
the future. As a bride in a patrilineal system with virilocal residence, she
was obliged, by her change in residence and incorporation into her husband's
lineage and tribe, to participate in worship of the gods of the place. When
and where peoples and subunits of peoples were defined by places and their
density of settlement in those places, the local god(s) would be adopted by
incomers and paid respects by visitors. This was both polite and prudent. And
hostile takeovers of territories by M&Aing empires was paralleled by abduction
of deities. The latter might, under certain conditions, migrate, ie, gain
entrance into pantheons outside their original provenance. In Egypt, for
example, certain gods attained national significance; but the cult of the
nome's local god might persist for thousands of years. That the conception of
relgious practice, rites, beings, whatever, changed is certain; it's not always
easy to tell when. Change in mental life is the condition of its reproduction
in anything like familiar guise; the forms of high-cultural representation are
likelier to be frozen.

Someone claimed tonight that all Jews believe in the Exodus having occurred.
Yet, it didn't. Whether the precondition for there being a necessity for a
belief in the historicity of the Exodus was the Jewish religion, or whether
the necessity for the Exodus story to furnish a setting for the proumulgation
of legislation purportedly of eternal validity (notwithstanding traces of time-
period specificity in successive versions of the Law in various places) gave
risee to Judaism is an interesting question, but someone else has the answer.
One parallel to this is the development of the Chan Buddhist Patriarchs' wisdom
and teaching, in all of its classical simplicity, and temporally sited in the
sixth-seventh-eighth centuries, by intellectually highly complex religious
thinkers of the Song Dynasty, in the twelfth century and later. The fantasy or
distillation which gives you the ideal of simplicity presupposes highly complex
mental creations for delineation of that simplicity.

Those who find it easiest of all to innovate are Fundamentalists.

Any Tradition may have generated from itself content antithetical to what
had previously been Traditional, without in the least impugning the Traditional
character of the result. The very learned Said Amir Arjomand, of SUNY Stony
Brook, tells us (The Shadow Of God and the Hidden Imam) that the Iranian
Shi'a Islam of a thousand years ago encouraged *ghulww* (Keep Your Nose Clean -
Don't Make Trouble) and *taqiyya* (Dissimulation). The masses of Tehran, who
made the Iranian Revolution, may not have been informed; they certainly would
not have cared had they been. In another work, The Turban For The Crown, the
same Professor Arjomand, on the basis of his own theological learning,
declares that Ayatollah Khomeini's most original contribution, the doctrine
of *velayat-e-faqih*, "rule of the rightly guided jurist," which has been
the legitimating principle of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the
Revolution, is damnable heresy. Which to me is uninteresting. Suppose,
say, the late Imam had come to class one day and forgotten his lecture notes,
with the effect that the *talabeh*s (Persian for *yeshiva bokher*s) not merely
learned it, did better than expected on the test, and unexpectedly gone into
the slums to preach the new doctrine voluntarily, ie, that the doctrine was
an accident rather than an intentionally fostered invention with a distinctly
identifiable author, the sociological result would have been the same. The
question one asks when it is asserted that a certain doctrine is True is, I
believe, for whom and for how long and wherein is it emotionally compelling.

Most things which are valid, or empirically verifiable, or known fact, are
rather boring. A True belief, so cherished by that name that it extends to the
name of the People itself, as the Russians were, centuries ago, called *pravo-
slavniye*, has got emotional zing. Or at one time did. "This is my body, this
is my blood." Or try to imagine the reaction of the Hussite Revolutionaries of
the 1420s and 1430s, fighting with the Chalice, their battle standard, in one
hand and the Blade in the other, being told by Riane Eisler that these symbols,
in an emotionally compelling sense, are self-evidently antithetical.

Who today recalls when "secularization" was one of those Thingies which,
forever, would continue tending in the same direction, along with industriali-
zation, modernization, rationalization, bureaucatization, and universalism
(ie vanquishing particularism). Who now remembers the long-gone epoch when
anything distracting attention from class and the struggles thereof represen-
ted False Consciousness? Then, any mention of Class in wellmeaning political
circles was archaic dogmatism of vanguard parties, no longer relevant to the
"ongoing struggles"? Then, only last week, The Progressive, an execrably-
written periodical which I (therefore) don't have with me, bemoaned the
apparent resuscitation of class hatreds by the Right, "How could we have
allowed the Right to steal our thunder?" For the same reason that you, good
Progressives of the magazine of that name, probably memorized in childhood
that secularization goes on forever.

The emotionally compelling peak for any idea, doctrine, theory, or folk-
superstition (say, ringing the Bell Curve), never coincides with period in
history when it is most valid. That reminds me, I have spent thirty years
trying to guess the possible guises or self-representations of social upheavals
for, maybe, the nineties which would have been as unlike the sixties as the
sixties were unlike the thirties; nothing I guessed happened; something I
failed to guess may be happening; or nothing at all occurred, will occur, and
can occur, so the situation is hopeless, which is because I Sinned or everyone
did or all the above. Those questing for Salvation never rigorously separate
the twistedness of the organism as utterly orthogonal to that of the society.
Gee, I forgot what I was doing, goodnight.

Daniel A. Foss