The missing Menorah

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On this day in AD 70 the siege of Jerusalem ended with the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, son of Vespasian, at the head of a Roman army.

According to the historian Josephus the Menorah of the temple was taken as spoils of war and brought back to Rome.  It was carried in the Triumphal Procession of Vespasian and Titus and is recorded on the Arch of Titus.

Using the spoils taken from Jerusalem Vespasian constructed the Templum Pacis, the temple of peace in the Forum of Vespasian.  The Menorah was stored in the temple for hundreds of years until the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455 AD.

The Vandals brought the Menorah back with them to their capital in Carthage, in the Roman African province, modern day Tunisia.

One hundred years later the Vandals had become soft from living on the fat of the land.  Their armies were no longer the terror of the western Mediterranean.  Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire sent his favourite general, Belisarius, to retake Africa for Rome.  In 533 AD Belisarius defeated the armies of King Gelimer and his brothers.

According to the historian Procopius the Menorah was found amongst the treasures of the Vandals and was taken to Constantinople.  It was displayed in the Ovation given by Justinian to his victorious general.  Gelimer was prostrated before the Emperor, and was allowed to live out his life on a Roman estate.

According to Procopius Justinian gave the Menorah back to the Jews in Jerusalem.  On the one hand it is hard to believe that such an ardent Christian emperor would have given this treasure to people he regarded as little short of heretics.  On the other hand he may have looked at the fate of the Second Temple, Rome and Carthage and wondered if he really wanted to keep the Menorah in his capital.

Whatever the truth this is the end of the tale for the Menorah.  It is never seen again.  Some say it is hidden in the Vatican City and the Vandals never found it.  Others say it was looted from Jerusalem when the Persians sacked the city in 614 AD.  Some think it was in a ship that sank in the Tibur when the Vandals were leaving Rome and that it lies at the bottom of the sea outside Ostia.  Others think it was still in Jerusalem during the Crusades and was taken by the Knights Templar.  Whatever the truth it is a tempting theme for a “Da Vinci Code” style adventure, or a new quest for Indiana Jones.

Psalm III : by Allen Ginsberg
To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.

 

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To poets: Learn to sail!

Good poet, bad sailor Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4th in 1792 and died a month short of his 30th birthday leaving a stunning legacy of poetry.  How much richer would the world have been had he practiced decent seamanship?

The Gulf of La Spezia is known locally as the Golfo dei poeti in commemoration of the disaster.

Rusticated is an obscure word used almost exclusively in Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It means to be expelled, or “sent down” from the college.  There is no higher accolade for a great artist, to break free of the bounds of established academia and be expelled for radicalism.  In Shelley’s case it was for publication of a pamphlet on Atheism.  If you look up a definition of the word “Rusticate” it almost invariably comes with an example which references the expulsion of Shelley.  In a sense he is responsible for the preservation of that meaning of the word.

From The Arabic, An Imitation :by Percy Bysshe Shelley

M.pngy faint spirit was sitting in the light
of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
for the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
bore thee far from me;
my heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
or the death they bear,
the heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
with the wings of care;
in the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
shall mine cling to thee,
nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
it may bring to thee.

 

Happy Birthday Maxine Kumin

Snowwhite

The true feminist knows that the fairy tale wedding is just a beginning.  In the aftermath of those tales how many of those tall, dark and handsome narcissists could you genuinely tolerate for more than a few years.  Dina Goldstein addresses the idea in her scathing set of “Fallen Princesses” photos.

Academic, feminist, horse breeder and mother of three Maxine Kumin was born Maxine Winokur on June 6th 1925.

The poem below is interesting as my daughter just told a joke on the same theme.  How do you drastically shorten a Shakespeare play?  “Oh Romeo, oh Romeo, hast thou found Jesus?”

 

Purgatory : by Maxine Kumin

And suppose the darlings get to Mantua,
suppose they cheat the crypt, what next? Begin
with him, unshaven. Though not, I grant you, a
displeasing cockerel, there’s egg yolk on his chin.
His seedy robe’s aflap, he’s got the rheum.
Poor dear, the cooking lard has smoked her eye.
Another Montague is in the womb
although the first babe’s bottom’s not yet dry.
She scrolls a weekly letter to her Nurse
who dares to send a smock through Balthasar,
and once a month, his father posts a purse.
News from Verona? Always news of war.
Such sour years it takes to right this wrong!
The fifth act runs unconscionably long.

Hectic Blood

Dancer

Around rolls the year and Countee Cullen lights another candle on his birthday cake before releasing a primal yawp and leaping about with hectic blood.

Fruit of the Flower; by Countee Cullen

My father is a quiet man
with sober, steady ways;
for simile, a folded fan;
his nights are like his days.
My mother’s life is puritan,
no hint of cavalier,
a pool so calm you’re sure it can
have little depth to fear.

And yet my father’s eyes can boast
how full his life has been;
there haunts them yet the languid ghost
of some still sacred sin.

And though my mother chants of God,
and of the mystic river,
I’ve seen a bit of checkered sod
set all her flesh aquiver.

Why should he deem it pure mischance
a son of his is fain
to do a naked tribal dance
each time he hears the rain?

Why should she think it devil’s art
that all my songs should be
of love and lovers, broken heart,
and wild sweet agony?

Who plants a seed begets a bud,
extract of that same root;
why marvel at the hectic blood
that flushes this wild fruit?

Happy Birthday Julia Ward Howe

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Julia Ward Howe was born May 27th 1819.  Abolitionist, advocate for social justice in general and womens’ suffrage in particular.  Best remembered as the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which are lyrics she penned to the already popular song  “John Brown’s Body”.

The John Brown song was a collection of often bawdy verses cobbled together by Union soldiers.  John Brown is the famous abolitionist who was captured at Harpers Ferry in his attempt to raise the slaves of Virginia to rebellion.  He was hanged for treason.  On the day of his hanging he wrote prophetically:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”

Folk history holds that there was also a Union sergeant by the name of John Brown, and you can guess what kind of verses are assigned to a sergeant by troopers.  So the market was rife for a cleaned up version of an already popular song.

John Browns Body actually began life as a hymn.  In the Christian meeting of the 19th and 19th century “Call and Response” hymns were popular games, and the faithful could add their own verses to a framework.  “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” remained the heart of this song.  It began life as “Oh Brothers will you meet me, on Canaan’s happy shore.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, Glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

they have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His day is marching on.

 

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Since God is marching on.

 

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Our God is marching on.

 

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

While God is marching on.

Now for Rónán Mullen

Yes

 

I voted against the 8th referendum in 1983.  I was in the minority and it passed.  I was 20 years old and I felt out of touch with my own country.  I could not understand how the holy Joe brigade won on that day.

I clearly remember them handing out lapel badges with tiny feet on them, to represent the feet of foetuses.  I remember the praying women, bearing their crosses and their rosary beads, marching up and down the central reservation in O’Connell Street, saying the rosary.

I remember the convents being cleared out on the polling day to make sure that nuns who had not been outside their walls in decades were engaged to cast their votes.

Thirty years on the climate has changed in Ireland.  The winds from Rome have weakened considerably.  They iron hard grip of the church on society has slackened.  The hand of the church is liver spotted, wrinkled, veined and atrophied.  The church has failed to move with the times and faces dissolution.  It is losing control of its two strongest bastions, education and health.  Ireland is well on its way to becoming a fully secular nation.

I am not anti-christian.  I actually think the Christian church was in its day the greatest force for positive change on the planet.  The preaching of a message of peace and love was a giant leap forward from some truly awful religions.  The breaking of bread and the drinking of wine as votive rites are much more civilised than chaining virgin girls to rocks, stoning sinners to death or slitting the throats of sheep and goats.

My issue is not so much with Christianity as it is with organised religion.  My position is summed up by a speech from the film “Kingdom of Heaven” where the Hospitaller knight says to Balian:

 I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.

In summary:  Regardless of your intentions, we are what we do.

In the Repeal the 8th campaign we saw, yet again, what the Religions Right actually do.  They lie.  They cheat.  They bully.

These are people who hold themselves up as the model of morality in our society.  Their intentions are all good.  But their actions are a disgrace.  They intentionally distort facts to make their point.  Sometimes they lie through omission and they have been caught in outright overt lies.  When they are called to account on their lies they employ the tactics of “Deny, Delay, Defend”.

Uniquely in this campaign the social media giants like Facebook and Google decided they would not accept political campaign postings in the lead up to the vote.  OK this is anecdotal but I did notice a fall off in “Repeal” material on my social network feeds.  On the eve of the election I was still seeing “Vote NO” material.  The no campaign exploited every loophole they could find to keep their campaign going.  I classify this as cheating.

The bullying was overt throughout the campaign.  Removal of Repeal posters.  Attacking campaigners in the streets.  Toppling their tables.  Throwing their leaflets to the ground.  Shouting down debaters in public discussion.  It was all ugly behaviour and none of it was reflective of what I think of as the Christian ethos.

These are people who took the lesson of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, and use it as a model for how to wage every campaign.  They weaponize religion.

They lost this campaign.  They lost the same sex marriage referendum.  They lost the right to travel referendum.  They lost the divorce referendum.  But every loss makes them smaller, tighter, closer and more and more fanatical.

Rónán Mullen is the tip of this spear.  Elected by my own Seanad constituency.  Who, who, who is voting for this Smeagol, this Gollum, this hobgoblin.  Out, out, out I say.  This must not stand.

 

Queen & Michael Jackson

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No, not Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury

Stop, not that Michael Jackson.  Today is the birthday of the other Michael Jackson, you know, the Northern Ireland Bishop who was born on this day in 1956, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.

And here he is meeting the queen, Elizabeth II Queen of England.  By the way Michael Jackson is the guy in the middle of the three on the right.

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