An Enormous Present Gifted on the Fifteenth Day of Ramadan; A Review of the Big Revel by Adam Gopnick Brought to Us by the Internet, Jezebel Plays a Significant Role, Shiksa Defined; An Amazing Poem Thunder Perfect Mind; Photographs of Religious Figures From the Louvre

Awoke very early to chimes. I am not in (nor near a church) but my Apple iPhone has an alarm system of choice –  I chose chimes. Groggily got dressed, hurried down to Costa Coffee in this hotel for breakfast before sunrise. This will become a new habit of mine during the remaining days of Ramadan. Back to my room for morning prayers, then back to bed for some brain enhancing sleep, about three hours of same. Woke up, switched on my computer, went to Mail. The first email, the results of my yesterday’s pcr – which was negative. The second was an article written by one of my favorite authors Adam Gopnik written on a topic that I was going to discuss during the remaining days of Ramadan.

Weeks ago, observing the world around me, decided that the Apocalypse must be on its way. Wondered what the Qur’an’s teachings were on the subject, asked some preliminary questions of a woman on Instagram purporting to be an expert on the Qur’an. She proved to be, shall we say, less than helpful. So researched the subject on my own, planning to address the subject in blogs written during Ramadan. Had somewhat decided that today was the day and then poof, along came this. Poof is an interesting word. It is an exclamation that used to convey the suddenness with which someone or something disappears. Used in a sentence: Once you’ve used it, poof – it’s gone. It is also a noun used in Britain meaning an effeminate or gay man. Obviously I am using the former, not the later, definition. I do find it most amusing, hope you do too.

The New Yorker article is entitled The Big Reveal: Why Does the Bible End That Way. This is how it begins: The Bible, as every Sunday-school student learns, has a Hollywood ending. Not a happy ending, certainly, but one where all the dramatic plot points left open earlier, to the whispered uncertainty of the audience (“I don’t get it—when did he say he was coming back?”), are resolved in a rush, and a final, climactic confrontation between the stern-lipped action hero and the really bad guys takes place. That ending—the Book of Revelation—has every element that Michael Bay could want: dragons, seven-headed sea beasts, double-horned land beasts, huge C.G.I.-style battles involving hundreds of thousands of angels and demons, and even, in Jezebel the temptress, a part for Megan Fox. (“And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.”) Although Revelation got into the canonical Bible only by the skin of its teeth—it did poorly in previews, and was buried by the Apostolic suits until one key exec favored its release—it has always been a pop hit. Everybody reads Revelation; everybody gets excited about it; and generations of readers have insisted that it might even be telling the truth about what’s coming for Christmas.”

The article is actually a book review, reviewing a recent book by Elaine Pagels. Back to the book review. “ Elaine Pagels sets out gently to bring their portents back to earth. She accepts that Revelation was probably written, toward the end of the first century C.E., by a refugee mystic named John on the little island of Patmos, just off the coast of modern Turkey. (Though this John was not, she insists, the disciple John of Zebedee, whom Jesus loved, or the author of the Gospel that bears the same name.) She neatly synopsizes the spectacular action. John, finding himself before the Throne of God, sees a lamb, an image of Christ, who receives a scroll sealed by seven seals. The seals are broken in order, each revealing a mystical vision: a hundred and forty-four thousand “firstfruits” eventually are saved as servants of God—the famous “rapture.” Seven trumpets then sound, signalling various catastrophes—stars fall, the sun darkens, mountains explode, those beasts appear. At the sound of the sixth trumpet, two hundred million horsemen annihilate a third of mankind. This all leads to the millennium—not the end of all things but the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth—which, in turn, finally leads to Satan’s end in a lake of fire and the true climax. The Heaven and Earth we know are destroyed, and replaced by better ones. (There are many subsidiary incidents along the way, involving strange bowls and that Whore of Babylon, but they can be saved, so to speak, for the director’s cut on the DVD.)

For such an extremely serious subject, the article is most amusing. Humor’s power comes from the fact that it is disarming. Your opponent is laughing in delight and then you give him either a knee in the groin or a punch in the stomach. It works every time. During my tenure as a lawyer used my humor constantly – did a verbal see in the groin, of course. I would have been arrested for the real thing and there were always bailiffs in the court room.

Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the “Left Behind” books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look. “When John says that ‘the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth,’ he revises Daniel’s vision to picture Rome as the worst empire of all,” Pagels writes. “When he says that the beast’s seven heads are ‘seven kings,’ John probably means the Roman emperors who ruled from the time of Augustus until his own time.” As for the creepy 666, the “number of the beast,” the original text adds, helpfully, “Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person.” This almost certainly refers—by way of Gematria, the Jewish numerological system—to the contemporary Emperor Nero. Even John’s vision of a great mountain exploding is a topical reference to the recent eruption of Vesuvius, in C.E. 79. Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.”

This gets even more interesting and this knowledge I have never heard before, despite a life long immersion in religious and biblical history.  “What’s more original to Pagels’s book is the view that Revelation is essentially an anti-Christian polemic. That is, it was written by an expatriate follower of Jesus who wanted the movement to remain within an entirely Jewish context, as opposed to the “Christianity” just then being invented by St. Paul, who welcomed uncircumcised and trayf-eating Gentiles into the sect. At a time when no one quite called himself “Christian,” in the modern sense, John is prophesying what would happen if people did. That’s the forward-looking worry in the book. “In retrospect, we can see that John stood on the cusp of an enormous change—one that eventually would transform the entire movement from a Jewish messianic sect into ‘Christianity,’ a new religion flooded with Gentiles,” Pagels writes.

There is definite humor yet again when a Jezebel is introduced.  “Jezebel, in particular—the name that John assigns her is that of an infamous Canaanite queen, but she’s seen preaching in the nearby town of Thyatira—suggests the women evangelists who were central to Paul’s version of the movement and anathema to a pious Jew like John. She is the original shiksa goddess. (“When John accuses ‘Balaam’ and ‘Jezebel’ of inducing people to ‘eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication,’ he might have in mind anything from tolerating people who engage in incest to Jews who become sexually involved with Gentiles or, worse, who marry them,” Pagels notes.) The scarlet whores and mad beasts in Revelation are the Gentile followers of Paul—and so, in a neat irony, the spiritual ancestors of today’s Protestant evangelicals.”

Do not you love that? Jezebel seen as the original shiksa goddess and the scarlet whores are the spiritual ancestors of today’s Protestant evangelicals.  By the way, shiksa is a noun, often used in a derogatory fashion by Jewish people to describe a gentle girl of woman. Used in a sentence: He’s got a big blonde  on his arm – a shiksa no less.
Pagels has written earlier books dealing with the Gnostic Gospels. She shows that revelations of that period were not limited to John’s Militant one, and mystic visions pore provocative and many-sided were widespread in the early Jesus movement.

“As an alternative revelation to John’s, she focusses on what must be the single most astonishing text of its time, the long feminist poem found at Nag Hammadi in 1945 and called “Thunder, Perfect Mind”—a poem so contemporary in feeling that one would swear it had been written by Ntozake Shange in a feminist collective in the nineteen-seventies, and then adapted as a Helen Reddy song. In a series of riddling antitheses, a divine feminine principle is celebrated as transcending all principles (the divine woman is both whore and sibyl) and opening the way toward a true revelation of the hidden, embracing goddess of perfect being who lies behind all things:

I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom . . .
Why, you who hate me, do you love me,
and hate those who love me?
You who deny me, confess me,
and you who confess me, deny me.
You who tell the truth about me, lie about me,
and you who have lied about me, tell the truth about me.”

Is not that evocative? Evocative is an adjective which describes the bringing strong images, memories, or feelings to mind. Evocative of has the following synonyms: redolent; resonant with, vivid,, powerful, haunting, moving, poignant; expressive.

The entire Gopnick review can be found at.

There will be more to come about this subject in subsequent blogs. It is rather amazing how this is all fitting together. Dr, Azeems knowledgable book about Islamic women in the Fatih, noting Eve’s pivotal role and now this with Thunder, Perfect Mind.

The photographs accompanying this blog were taken at the Abu Dhabi Louvre – Christian religious figures.

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