Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Going "Postel": The Making of a "Judeo-Christian"

Guillaume Postel was a 16th century mathematician-philosopher, linguist-philologist, and "Chistian Kabbalist"-mystic (cf. M. L. Kuntz, Guillaume Postel, p. ix; & G.E.S., "Postel, Guillaume," Encyclopedia Judaica 13 (1972), p. 932).

He was apparently a language virtuoso, easily acquiring fluency in multiple languages, including, without limitation, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Chaldean, and Hebrew (cf., Ibid., p. 39, et. passim.). "His knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic was rare among his contemporaries, as was his study and use of the Rabbinical, Cabalistic and Islamic literature preserved in these languages." In fact, Postel "attempt[ed] to harmonize Christian, Jewish and Mohammedan thought..." (p. ix) and himself "had prepared a Latin translation of Genesis and of the Midrash on Ruth..." (G[ershom].Sch[olem]., "Zohar," Encyclopedia Judaica, 16 (1972), p. 1214). Moreover, the "book of Kabbalistic magic" (Michael Hoffman, Judaism Discovered, p. 769), "Sefer Yezirah was translated into Latin by...Postel and printed even before the Hebrew edition..." (Supra., "Yezirah, Sefer," p. 787). "In 1548 he published a kabbalistic commentary in Latin translation on the mystical significance of the menorah, and later a Hebrew edition as well. [Postel was among the] authors [who] had many connections in Jewish circles" (G[ershom].Sch[olem]., "Kabbalah," Encyclopedia Judaica, 10 (1972), p. 645).

The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that Postel designated himself "Ish Kefar Sekhanya u-Shemo Eliyyahu Kol-Maskalyah she-Nitgayyer le-Hibbato she Yisrael", that is, "A man of Kefar Sekania, named Elijah Kol- Maskalyah, who converted [to Judaism] out of love for Israel...", commenting that this "suggests that [Postel] had then become some kind of Judeo-Christian..." (op. cit., p. 933).

This mention of "Kefar Sekhanya" recalls a strange Talmudic passage concerning a figure Rabbis euphemistically designate "Jacob the Heretic" ("In several manuscripts his heresy is indicated as Christianity", Ibid.) We read in BT Abodah Zarah 27b: "...'No man should have any dealings [Conversational intercourse...]  with Minim [Christians], nor is it allowed to be healed by them even [in risking] an hour's life. It once happened to Ben Dama the son of R. Ishmael's sister that he was bitten by a serpent and Jacob, a native of Kefar Sekaniah,[A disciple of Jesus] came to heal him but R. Ishmael did not let him; whereupon Ben Dama said, 'My brother R. Ishmael, let him, so that I may be healed by him: I will even cite a verse from the Torah that he is to be permitted'; but he did not manage to complete his saying, when his soul departed and he died. ...  Whereupon R. Ishmael exclaimed, Happy art thou Ben Dama for thou wert pure in body and thy soul likewise left thee in purity; nor hast thou transgressed the words of thy colleagues, who said, He who breaketh through a fence, a serpent shall bite him'? [Eccl. X, 8, applied to those who break through 'legal fences' which serve to safeguard the Torah (V. Ab. I, 1). — ...the ... opinion of R. Johanan is contradicted by this incident which [evidences] that [even] in cases of extreme danger it is forbidden to be attended by a Min!]  — It is different with the teaching of Minim, for it draws, and one [having dealings with them] may be drawn after them. The Master said: 'Nor hast thou transgressed the words of thy colleagues who have said, He who breaketh through a fence, a serpent shall bite him'? But a serpent did indeed sting him! — The bite of the serpent [which is inflicted upon those transgressing the words] of the Rabbis is such as can never be cured.[The fate in the hereafter that meets him who transgresses the words of the wise is more grievous than the sting of a serpent on earth.] Now, what is it that he might have said? ...  — 'He shall live by them,[Lev, XVIII, 5, Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and mine ordinances, which if a man do he shall live by them. 'The Rabbis take these words to mean that God's commandments are to be a means of life and not of destruction to His children. With the exception of three prohibitions — public idolatry, murder, or adultery — all commandments of the Law are therefore in abeyance whenever life is endangered'. Lev. edited by the Chief Rabbi (Dr. J. H. Hertz), p. 175.]  but not die by them.' And R. Ishmael? — This is only meant when in private, but not in public; for it has been taught: R. Ishmael used to say: Whence can we deduce that if they say to one, 'Worship the idol and thou wilt not be killed,' that he may worship it so as not to be killed? because Scripture says, He shall live by them, but not die by them; you might take this to mean even in public, therefore Scripture says, And ye shall not profane my holy name.[Lev. XXII, 32 (Sanh. 74a).]"

The Encyclopedia Judaica calls "Jacob of Kefar Sakhnayya" a "Judeo-Christian disciple of Jesus" (9 (1972), p. 1233). This "Judeo-Christian disciple" is represented as telling the Tannaitic ("repeater" - a "Sage...whose opinions form the Mishnah" - Encyclopedia Talmudica 1 (1969), p. 762) Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus that Jesus claimed that Micah 1:7 taught that it was alright to use money paid to a prostitute for the purpose of building a toilet for a high priest ("...if the hire of a harlot had been consecrated it could be applied to the erection of a privy for the high priest...", Ibid.).

In a sort of reversal of God's judgment on humans after the Tower of Babel, Postel seemed to hold that, in language, was something of a key for "unifying mankind" (p. 35). Moreover, Postel believed "that the Hebrew language [was] the source or parent of all languages." (p. 37). Postel seems to suggest that perhaps Chaldean was more ancient, however, "...he always considered [Hebrew to be the most] sacred and most important of all languages..." (p. 9). "Postel believed that language was a divine gift to Adam, since language enables man to think and to speak and thus distinguishes him from all other animals. ... Since speech is dependent upon hearing and since there was no other man with whom Adam could speak, God in His Wisdom, according to Postel, infused the names of things, as with an inner voice, into Adam's mind. ... Language as an innate idea is a significant aspect of Postel's linguistic theories." (Ibid., pp. 38-39).

Postel espoused a variation of the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis (a "change-in-soul" that is usually construed as a sort of transmigration of a soul from one body to another; reincarnation or "palingenesis," i.e., "to be generated again"), and in this way prefigured the contemporary scene in which people routinely make use of non-Christian concepts such as "karma" and "reincarnation" (see, e.g., Lisa Miller, "We are All Hindus Now"). Postel's concept of reincarnation was modified by his understanding of the Kabbalistic concept of the "Shechinah" (p. 105), which he believed (at least at some point in his life) was embodied in an old mystic woman he called "Mother Johanna" (cf. p. 106, sed etiam passim.). "A marked kabbalistic influence...appears in the career of the humanist Guillaume Postel, who, acclaimed at the court of France for his philological researches in Jerusalem, urged the transfer of the papacy to that city and finally declared himself to be the Shekhinah" (H.N., "Jerusalem: In Other Religions: In Christianity," Encyclopedia Judaica, 9 (1972), p. 1573). Postel also frequently employed the Alchemical language of the "chemical marriage of the Sun and Moon" such that Kuntz classes Postel together with other exponents of "the Gnostic and nature-mystical traditions, such as Reuchlin, Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, Symphorien Champier, John Dee, Robert Fludd, Giordano Bruno, and subsequently, Jacob Boehme, Henry More, F. N. Van Helmont, Emanuel Swedenborg, and William Blake, whose themes resemble those of the Rosicrucians" (Kuntz, p. 106).

Frances Yates has a reference to "...the Abbot Joachim, St. Brigid, Lichtenberg, Paracelsus, Postel, and other illuminati" (The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, p. 48). Curiously: "Stories abound concerning his longevity. Antoine Du Verdier, a contemporary of Postel, states that Postel lived more than one hundred and ten years without any signs of aging. He also states that after one of Postel's voyages, Postel's long grey beard had turned black, even to the roots" (Kuntz, p. 5).

Postel was "...[imprisoned] by the Inquisition at Ripetta (1555-59)..." (Op. cit., 13 (1972), p. 933) and was adjudged "non malus, sed amens" that is, "not guilty, but insane" (Kuntz, p. 3). The Encyclopedia Judaica comments that even though he was "[l]ong derided as a heretic or madman, Postel has emerged as one of the impressive and influential personalities of the Renaissance" (13 (1972), p. 933). This revealing statement seems to imply that the current stream of "Judeo-Christianity" had, as its standard bearer in Century 16, a man whose contemporaries considered to be insane. Perhaps many contemporary "Judeo-Christians" are, like their pioneer, non malus, sed amens: not evil, but crazy.

For further, related information see, especially, Michael Hoffman's:

"Magic and Paganism in the Reign of Elizabeth I" & "The Catholic Church and the Talmud in the Renaissance" (Audio CDs)

Judaism Discovered (From Its Own Texts)

Truth about the Talmud (Weblog)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Opposing abortion as the liberal thing to do [Draft 1]

Think about a slave-holding. Why not hold slaves?

One reason may be that we think there are these entities, call them "persons." And these persons have certain minimal rights - let's just take two commonly mentioned examples: the right to life and liberty.

Now if we think that there are persons and that persons do have the minimal rights to life and liberty, then we can straightforwardly answer the question "why not hold slaves?" And the answer would then be: One should not hold slaves because slavery plausibly violates the minimal rights of persons (in this case, slaves).

But let's consider a recalcitrant slave-holder. That is, let's consider the slave-holder, call him "Caligula," who maintains that his slaves simply are not persons. They are, he says, his property. Therefore, says Caligula, since his slaves are non-persons, he violates no rights in holding them as slaves and he can do what he likes with them.

What I am interested in is what we might say to Caligula.

For sure, several avenues seem open to us. For example, if we have genetic theory at our disposal, we might appeal to a chromosome analysis. One option might be that we simply count the chromosomes looking for a particular number which number (we have decided in advance) marks out "persons" in the relevant sense - say, just to pick a random number: 46. We then might say that any entity that has the requisite number counts as a person. This lead to to troublesome cases - for example, where genetic disorders are present in entities that we might otherwise want to consider persons. But we could perhaps go the genetic route. Before we do so, though, let us explore another option.

We might instead appeal to some axiom - whether religious or philosophical. And here (as the reader might now expect), we could immediately go a "religious" direction. But I want to resist such a direction (at least for the moment) and try an alternative approach (say as a sort of thought experiment).

And it seems to me that there is an obvious alternative candidate. Let me call this candidate "the liberal axiom." And here I mean to trade on a sense of "liberal" whereby the word designates generosity.

So here's the axiom:

The Liberal Axiom: If there is a genuine question as to whether something is a person, let's be generous and say that it is a person.

I think that this axiom has several things going for it. Firstly, I think that it yields the results that we want in slave cases. That is, it turns out that slaves will be counted as persons, simply because there is a genuine question about person-hood in the slave cases. That is, Caligula asserts that his slaves are not persons. But as many rational people have raised doubts about his assertions, there is a genuine question as to whether his slaves are persons. Of course Caligula will assert that he can do what he wants with his own property. But although we might agree that if something really is Caligula's property, then he really could do what he wanted with it. This consideration only applies to a slave if a slave is the sort of thing can that be property. And if a slave really is a person, then we will say that since a person is not the sort of thing that can (justly) be property, Caligula cannot do want he wants with "slaves" because he doesn't (justly) have any claim over them. His assertions to the contrary hardly count as any sort of demonstration - let alone a satisfying demonstration. We could say that, in effect, we put the burden on Caligula to demonstrate that his slaves are not persons. Unless or until he does this, we're justified (besides being generous) in assuming that they are persons.

Additionally, "The Liberal Axiom" makes it "easy" for us to respond to Caligula.By "easy" I mean that we don't have to get bogged down in genetic testing or any technical discussion. I think that genetics route is not altogether hopeless. On the contrary, I think that it has great potential. But, it is, despite it's potential, very sterile, mechanical, and reactive (like we're trying to label a test tube correctly). On the other hand, our axiom seems very organic, social, and proactive (like we're trying to make friends, in other words).

Furthermore, I think that (what I am calling) "The Liberal Axiom" comports fairly closely with other closely associated postures of generosity that we normally associate with "progressive" or "politically liberal"-leaning people. For example, consider the question of whether to give money to a particular person who appears to be homeless. As a first pass, one might think that a (species of) non-liberal position would be to say something like that, "Well, the person who appears to be homeless might be shamming. Or, even if the person is genuinely homeless, he might use our money to buy booze instead of food", or something. And it seems to me that a more liberal approach (in my sense and in something more like the "usual" sense) would be to say, "You know, it's better that we do give the money and it turn out that the person did not need it than that we do not give the money and it turn out that the person did need it. So, let's be generous, and give it."

So, now, let's think about abortion. Why not abort?

One reason may be that we think there are these entities, call them "persons." And these persons have certain minimal rights - let's just take two commonly mentioned examples: the right to life and liberty.

This should sound familiar. Earlier we considered the very same things with respect to slaves. In this case, if we think that there are persons and that persons do have the minimal rights to life and liberty, then we can straightforwardly answer the question "why not abort?" by giving a similar answer: One should not abort because abortion violates the minimal rights of persons (in this case, unborn babies - "fetuses").

But let's consider a recalcitrant mother (pregnant woman). That is, let's consider a mother, call her "Herodias," who maintains that her unborn baby ("fetus") simply is not a person. She may say, similar to what Caligula said about his slaves, that the thing in her womb is her property. Therefore, says Herodias, since her baby is a non-person (her property), she violates no rights in aborting.

As before, let's forego (for the present) traveling down the paths of genetics or religion (as promising as those roads may well be). And let us instead appeal right away to "The Liberal Axiom."

There is a question as to whether the entity in her womb is a person. So, let's be generous and say that it is a person. Or, to put it another way: Let's be liberal about our assumptions of person-hood.

But if we do so, then we must say, just as we said to Caligula: If the entity in question is a person, then it is not the sort of thing that can be another person's property. Rather, it's the sort of thing that should enjoy the basic rights of life and liberty.

And this it seems to me is one of the core values that people who call themselves "liberals" usually prize: Standing up for the basic rights of persons (whoever they may be) - especially those who are voiceless. But, what I think is prior to this, is that we stand up more fundamentally for the recognition of the voiceless (whoever they may be) as persons in the first place. And that's why it seems to me that it is really opposition to abortion that is the truly liberal thing to do.