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Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700) 
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Post Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
This thread is for discussing Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700). You can post within this framework or create your own threads.

Chris





Thu Dec 30, 2004 12:17 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
I just finished Ch. 1. My method, since I'm reading "The Battle for God" almost exclusively for the purposes of this conversation, has been to jot down notes on topics that I think warrant discussion. I'll attempt to render those topics into some semblance of order, but you'll have to excuse me if it doesn't play out according to an entirely rational scheme. The result is likely to be more expressionistic.

I should also give some forewarning. If you've read my comments concerning the introduction, you can probably anticipate my stance regarding the rest of the book. I make it a point of method to always look for what is useful and commendable in a book, but I have some serious misgivings about a few of the central ideas in Armstrong's work. As a result, most of my comments on Ch. 1 are likely to be rather critical. Whether or not the same is true for later chapters depends in great part on what Armstrong has written.

Well, let's get to it. First of all:
Concerning mythos and logos, I think Armstrong's continual assertion that premoderns held the two ideas at arm's length is a great deal misleading. That, in fact, is a philosophical position, one that finds its earliest expression in Plato but doesn't really find its stride until taken up by Enlightenment writers like Voltaire and Renan, which is to say, about 200 years after the beginning of Armstrong's narrative. As Paul Veyne points out in his book "Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?", mythos and logos were not conceived as opposites by classical authors, and the closest they had to a practice of opposing the two was the idea of "purifying mythos with logos", which is to say, getting to the more central facts of myth by sorting out the less rational elements. They were not, however, two distinct modes of living or understanding the world, and the idea that they were is of extremely limited utility in terms of understanding the role myth played in religion. Unfortunately, the idea that you can draw a dinstinction between the two seems to permeate Armstrong's historical inquiry, and is likely to distort her conclusions.

For example, in her examination of Lurianic Kabbalism, Armstrong emphasizes that the scheme of zimzum, shekinah and tikkun was conceived as a pure mythos, and that any logical application of the system was not only improper to its nature but contrary to the intentions of Luria himself (p. 14 and p.28) . She provides no evidence to support this inference, and indeed it would be difficult to do so given that Luria himself left no written records to explain his intentions. It seems highly unlikely to me that Luria had a specific stance on the notion of mythos v. logos, and given the lack of evidence one way or the other, we ought to feel impelled to ask why Armstrong feels qualified to conclude that this serves as an instance of her theme rather than merely an instance of a man whose ambitions were inherently impractical.

That example should suffice to illustrate my objection, and it leads us to a second concern.

Armstrong's method of historical discourse is an issue that seems worthy of scrutiny to me, and one of my foremost objections is one illustrated by her bibliography: namely that she uses very few primary sources. So far as I can tell, out of the two dozen or so sources cited for the first chapter, only two are primary sources, Spinoza and Ferdinan de Rojas' play "La Celestina". Now, her secondary sources are all likely top notch. I can personally vouch for Gershom Scholem, whom I highly recommend if you're interested in Jewish mysticism or mysticism in general. Bernard Lewis I've read, and can recommend with slight misgivings (as of late, in particular, he's been a bit inconsitent on his stance towards the Islamic nations). And several other of her sources I know by reputation. That said, as a matter of theory, a scholarly work should always make its first course of inquiry to the primary texts, using secondary texts and commentaries only in order to shape the authors views concerning the primary texts.

There are practical consequences, though. Take, for example, Armstrong's characterization of Isabella and Ferdinand's intentions and responses on page 7. She says that they were "alarmed" at the hostility of their subjects towards the Marranos and "disturbed" to hear of the relapse of converted Jews. She provides no textual support for this characterization, and the critical reader may well wonder how she came upon such insight or even why she is so interested in ascribing personalities to figures that have a largely juridicial role in her narrative.

I would suggest that her reason relates back to her conceptual distinction between mythos and logos, a distinction that she attempts to pass off as a historical continuity. Throughout the first chapter she has painted Ferdinand and Isabella as the custodians of modernity in the Spain of the New World, in contrast to the mythos-dominated Jews. These are ideas that I plan to revisit later on.

Another, less savory reason may be that Armstrong intends to color her story in a particular way, one that requires a certain amount of distance from her sources. Having read Gershom Scholem, for instance, I can say that his discription of the doctrines of Lurianic Kabbalah tend to differ in tone from those of Armstrong's summation on page 10. Take a look at the language used in Armstrong's passage: "ruthlessness", "inflicted", "violent", "primal explosions". Her introduction has already introduced the theme of violence, and without direct reference back to primary sources, the reader has no way of knowing whether or not such reiterations of that theme are consistent with the topics under discussion.

A second issue in terms of historical method is the structure of Armstrong's narrative. Having only finished the first chapter I'm in no position to question the entire pattern of her book, but I don't think this an inopportune time to ask the question of why she has chosen to tell her history in the way she has. For example, we might well ask why she has decided to divide her preliminary material by religion rather than strict chronology, or better yet, why she begins with the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain or with the Jewish crises of the Andalusian exile. Having made reference already to the preceding Crusades, we might ask why she did not begin with those as an expression of early Christian fundamentalism. On a surface level that would appear to make more sense, given that she has made very little attempt so far to connect the "new" forms of Judaism discussed in this chapter with modern notions of fundamentalism -- the Crusades would at least have the virtue of conforming with her earlier intimations of fundamentalism as "militant piety" and "faith perceiving crisis". I suspect that her starting point has far more to do with Columbus' discovery of the "new world" than she has so far discussed, a new world that serves as a symbol for the new world she believes to be at root in the development of modern fundamentalism. The problem with this (so far unstated) suggestion is that her discussion of the background information in Part I suggests that fundamentalism as we understand it has existed in other forms even prior to its recognized birth in the modern era. I hope that in later chapters she will find the time to justify her starting point and method.

A final note on method: it may be worth asking whether or not it's even possible to write a coherent "history" of fundamentalism. To do so suggests a measure of continuity between the various expressions of fundamentalims, a continuity that I suspect is not truly present. If, rather, fundamentalism is a recurrent phenomenon within forms of belief, it might have been both more practical and enlightening to have written a theory of fundamentalism, or a general discription based on a study of isolated instances. This is a question that I think we should revisit throughout the course of the discussion, as our answer should ultimately color our response to the reasoning behind Armstrong's project. For the moment, I'd like to get back to a discussion of the themes Armstrong has woven into her narrative.

Modernity is a term related in large part, I would say, to her previously expressed theme of the boundaries between mythos and logos. As of yet, however, she has not given a specific idea of what she means by modernity. We may assume from certain passages that she believes modernity to be dominated by reason as opposed to mythos, though she clearly expects us to take this for granted. Personally, I see no reason to do so.

Her early examples of the march of progress towards modernity are, to say the least, mixed. The conquest of Spain she characterizes as "a part of the advance guard of modernity," but why is not so clear. For most of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance the Muslim Empire made far more progress in mathematics and the physical sciences that nearly anyone in Christendom, so the expulsion of the Muslims from Europe in itself would not necessarily serve the end of progress. For that matter Armstrong herself shows how Christian Spain proved less tolerant that Muslim Andalusia, so much less so that we might be tempted to view the expulsion of Islam from Spain as a major victory for Christian fundamentalism. But Armstrong makes precious little comment on the ambiguity of a nation that could foster the discovery of her emblematic New World while simultaneously imposing the Inquisition on its own citizens at home. Perhaps she'll devote more space to this in Ch. 3 but even an ironic parenthesis would have been welcome here. Too often it seems as though she is attempting to contrast the Jewish decision between increased mythos and decreased faith against a background of progressive secularism. She speaks of Ferdinand and Isabella as "aggressive modernizers," but without a strict guideline for understanding what she means by modernity, we're left to question how the evidence supports that claim. It seems just as reasonable to me, if not more so, to say that the new Christian Spain was an attempt to destroy the progress that had been made during the Islamic conquest of Spain, a conquest that fostered three often incompatable religions simultaneously for well over 400 years.

Further, Armstrong characterizes the formation of the Society of Jesus as a modernization of Catholicism. The passage on page 6 in which she argues this point warrants scrutiny, so far as I'm concerned. Again, a lack of textual support makes her characterization of Ignatius of Loyola as "determined to exploit the power of mythos practically" highly suspect, and her desciption of his "Spiritual Exercises" as "a crash-course in mysticism" is a dubious anachronism. She might have easily provided some counterpoint by hinting at the fact that the Jesuits were formed with an emphasis on public service and evangelism, which would more than account for their desire to minimize the tendency towards isolation and sabbatical in other religious orders, but she is again attempting to paint a picture of the permeation of some nebulous idea of modernity in 15th and 16th century Spain, and so leaves that aspect untouched.

A few loose ends worth examining: It is a bit of a disappointment that Armstrong didn't divert more of he attention towards the question of why the Sephardic Jews had the particular reaction they did. After all, this is a significant group, but one that stands in contrast to a number of other Jewish groups who had significantly different reactions to the exile.

Nor does she spend much time examining Messianic fervor as a sort of fundamentalist reaction, presumably because we are still dealing with a pre-modern era -- fundamentalism is apparantly a reaction to a modernity that has not, by this time, arrived. That said, the excesses of messianic zeal during the campaign of Sabbatai Zevi strike me as more in line with the notion of "militant piety" than her introductory examples of the Muslim Hajib and Jewish Orthodox practice of the Law. Incidentally, if you're interested in the reaction of 17th century Jews to Zevi, you might check out Issac Bashevis Singer's novel "Satan in Goray". For my part, Gershom Scholem's compendious study on Sabbatai Zevi has moved up onto my short list of books to read.

Meanwhile, Armstrong's suggestion that the example of Uriel da Costa demonstrates that there was "no secular alternative to the religious life" seems to me a potential hyperbole. Da Costa's example alone, even added to the example of Juan da Prado, is too isolated to be taken as definitive proof. I would say that there is equally enough evidence in both cases to suggest that the culprit in both instances was rather an inescapable social urge. Neither man could comfortably survive outside of their chosen communities, but it must also be noted that both were emigres. The religious communities were islands of familiarity in comparison to the rest of Amsterdam, which in both cases served as an adoptive home. Spinoza was, no doubt, possessed of an independent spirit and a particular genius, but his ability to survive without the shelter of a religious community might have had as much to do with the fact that he had been born in Amsterdam. Armstrong hints at this nuance, but does not, to my mind, give it sufficient emphasis.

And finally, I'd like to point to a missed opportunity towards the end of the chapter. So far, Armstrong has given every indication of treating fundamentalism as a strictly religious phenomenon. On pages 30 and 31, however, Armstrong gives a brief description of the career of Jacob Frank. She describes him as "radical secularist." But based on her characterization (and here, notably, we have one of the few instances of a direct quote from the subject), I would say that it's worthwhile discussing the possibility of Frank as an example of secular fundamentalism.

Edited by: MadArchitect at: 1/29/05 4:15 pm



Sat Jan 29, 2005 4:12 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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Concerning mythos and logos, I think Armstrong's continual assertion that premoderns held the two ideas at arm's length is a great deal misleading...They were not, however, two distinct modes of living or understanding the world, and the idea that they were is of extremely limited utility in terms of understanding the role myth played in religion. Unfortunately, the idea that you can draw a distinction between the two seems to permeate Armstrong's historical inquiry, and is likely to distort her conclusions.


So you say you cannot draw distinctions between myth and logic? I beg to differ. I accept Armstrong's offering of mythos and logos as driving forces behind pre-modern and modern society. Whether or not the two were viewed as separate by the people of the pre-modern world is not the point, for in order for Armstrong to present her case, she needed only to show that this was indeed the way things were. I took Armstrong's offering as just that, an observation of reality, not a thesis on how these pre-modern people saw themselves...but a study of the precursors of the modern fundamentalism she is presenting as we can now observe. And I did not think she tried to imply that pre-moderns 'held them at arms length' or that it was either/or.


She states on page xv:

       
Quote:
Both were essential; they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at truth, and each had its special area of competence.


and on page xvii:

Quote:
In the pre-modern world, both mythos and logos were regarded as indispensable. Each would be impoverished without the other. Yet the two were essentially distinct, and it was held to be dangerous to confuse mythical and rational discourse.Myth was not reasonable; its narratives were not supposed to be demonstrated empirically. It provided the context of meaning that made our practical activities worthwhile.


It seems to me that Armstrong is not guilty of totally separating myth and reason as two separate ways of thinking, but as two ways that co-existed. She goes on to say that myth was the primary paradigm of the era, whereas now reason and logic are. I can buy that. It is what I always believed. But to say that myth is gone from Western Civilization is wrong. We can see the resilience of myth in fundamentalism and religion in general. Most people need these myths to survive in an otherwise complicated world. Most cannot grasp the concepts of science and the more complex issues of our universe, so they delight in the simple answers of religion and myth. It is comforting and un-challenging, thus the easy way to feel good about life. I also think that many people yearn for the past because the future is just too uncertain and complicated. It is fear that also drives fundamentalists.

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Wed Feb 02, 2005 9:29 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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It seems highly unlikely to me that Luria had a specific stance on the notion of mythos v. logos, and given the lack of evidence one way or the other, we ought to feel impelled to ask why Armstrong feels qualified to conclude that this serves as an instance of her theme rather than merely an instance of a man whose ambitions were inherently impractical.

That example should suffice to illustrate my objection, and it leads us to a second concern.




I do not think this is sufficient to illustrate you point. Again, the story of Luria and his 'new mythos' was very appropriate and contained just enough for us to get the jist of HER findings in support of HER thesis.
There is nothing more she is required to do, save maybe direct us to more information regarding the topics and examples in support of her work, which the bibliography seems to do nicely. Were she to delve deeper into every instance of the history of the Jews, the effort to examine this work would exceed any interest I had in the subject at hand. I feel Armstrong presents her case well enough to promote her thesis.

Armstrong clearly expresses that Luria was a man who saw the plight of the Jews and was inspired with a new revelation that applied to the new situation they had been forced into. She explains that the continual expulsion of the Jews from various lands (listing on pg. 8 ) had left a "deep psychic wound" on the collective population. They felt their "very existence [had] been jeopardized" due to this "spiritual as well as physical dislocation". Thus, "Jews found that traditional Judaism did nothing for them". This makes sense to me, for when the world changes and hardship is the fare of the day, old priorities and comforts can be washed away and even seems silly in hindsight. That is when the paradigms shift and a new path is necessary.

In the pre-modern times, and still, people turned to religion for comfort. This was pretty much all the lay person could do. This is what gave meaning to life and what made the hardships of life bearable. So the Jews gravitated to messianism and end times delusions. Michael Shermer alludes to this phenomenon in "How We Belive". He uses examples of the American Indians and the Ghost Dance, Farrakhan and the Mother Ship, Heavens Gate and the Comet Hale-Bob...his point is that when a religion, race or any other group is marginalized to the point where they feel their existence is at stake, these end of days pipe dreams arise to help them through the tough times. This goes for millennium events as well.

So Luria, without thinking "hmmm...let me make up another mythos here to help us out" created a new story to help his people through these hard times. Simple. He did not do this with ulterior motives, but just felt the 'revelation' as so many other deluded people have done throughout the centuries. Armstrong states this as well:

Quote:
"We moderns would say that Luria created this myth; that he was so perfectly attuned to the unconscious desires and fears of his people that he was able to evolve an imaginative fiction that brought comfort and hope not only to the exiles in Safed but to Jews all over the world. But we would say this because we think primarily in rational terms and find it hard to enter into the premodern mythical world view. Luria's disciples did not perceive him as having "made up" his creation myth; instead, as they saw it, the myth had declared itself to him"


In the utter mythology of all revealed religion, he was simply another prophet...so his role was indeed to foster a better mental state for his people, not to provide a plan of action to reverse their plight. She goes on at the top of page ten why we should NOT try to interpret this in our logos mind set, for it is like comparing apples to oranges. To me, Armstrong has done very well in explaining her thesis without burdening us with minutiae.

But if you do not see that people 'back then' were more ruled by mythos and people of today are more ruled by logos, I guess this will not work. I do accept this. I have always thought this. Examples abound of how religious institutions had the upper hand until about the 15-16th century when science took over with discovery after discovery and innovation after innovation. Of course things did not change overnight and we STILL have some myth left in our world that many cling to, and I dont mean myth as in fiction, movies and such, but myth that is actually believed as true. Persecution, witch hunts and other embarrassments are a thing of the past...thankfully so. But 'homo' bashing, terrorism and Holy Wars have replaced them. These are the dangers of myth based mindset.


Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

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Wed Feb 02, 2005 10:28 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
misterpessimistic: So you say you cannot draw distinctions between myth and logic?

That's not quite my point. You obviously can draw distinctions, and since both words have approximately the same literal meaning in ancient Greek (word), it's fair to assume that the implied different connotations. (As far as I can tell, though, logos implied grammar and mythos implied narrative, which is not quite the same as their more extensive denotations in translation.) What I meant, rather, was that the strict definitions and dinstinctions drawn by Armstrong are philosophical in nature, first drawn by Plato but not terribly popular until the Renaissance rediscovery of Plato), and most pre-moderns were not philosophers. So while it may be useful for certain purposes to draw a heavier line between the two, it's not necessarily reasonable to assume that everyone in a given time, even the intelligentsia among them, observed that line. But Armstrong claims that they did, explicitly in the introduction, and from there she attempts to trace the modern blurring of the line as a fault of fundamentalism.

Well, it's one thing to claim that fundamentalism is a problem founded on the ignorance of the line properly drawn between mythos and logos -- that's an argument that I think we're compelled to address throughout our discussion of the book. But I think she's wrong in asserting that such an ignorance is a recent development. And if that confusion is the essential element in fundamentalism, then I think we're forced to re



Thu Feb 03, 2005 12:37 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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She provides no textual support for this characterization, and the critical reader may well wonder how she came upon such insight or even why she is so interested in ascribing personalities to figures that have a largely juridicial role in her narrative.


I think Armstrong is within her right to assert facts that she has found through her research. She lists the sources she used and we can delve further if we had that desire. I am glad that every assertion is not laden with distracting support within the text.

I did not take this section as Armstrong ascribing personality to Isabella and Ferdinand...I took it as her showing that the two were astounded and concerned that their plan to unify did not work as they had hoped...that disorder was increasing, not decreasing. This WOULD be a concern to Ferdinand & Isabella, would it not? After all, they sought to achieve unity and got the exact opposite.


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HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

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Thu Feb 03, 2005 7:41 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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Another, less savory reason may be that Armstrong intends to color her story in a particular way, one that requires a certain amount of distance from her sources. Having read Gershom Scholem, for instance, I can say that his discription of the doctrines of Lurianic Kabbalah tend to differ in tone from those of Armstrong's summation on page 10.


An author will tend to color their work based on their views and perceptions. I have heard arguments to the contrary, but it is human nature and unavoidable. Why would someone spend the time to write if not to impress a certain POV on the readers? But she has referred to Scholem's source, so we can easily see his take and compare and contrast.

I think the tone is very relevant to the information she is comparing. Is she not simply explicating the doctrines of Lurianic Kabbalah to show why she has concluded that this myth was created in the first place? Using the more emotionally charged words help us to see that the plight of the Jews at that time had created Luria's visions. If we cut through the semantics, both Armstrong and Scholem are explaining the same ideas. I have not read his take, so I cannot comment on that at this point.


Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Thu Feb 03, 2005 7:43 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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For example, we might well ask why she has decided to divide her preliminary material by religion rather than strict chronology, or better yet, why she begins with the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain or with the Jewish crises of the Andalusian exile.


Why not? She is comparing and contrasting fundamentalism in each religion. Why wouldn't she use this framework? Examine each separately, yet in relation to each other and in the old vs. the new world-views. She is using the same time period for each religion, yet examining each independently. Seems very appropriate to me. As for the Muslim expulsion, she really just mentions that on the first page along with other events of 1492. I took it as a simple introduction to the events of that time...how things were, how they were changing and how people's lives were being impacted by such change.

As for touching on the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews...well, she is trying to show why these events have lead to today's fundamentalist movements, so they seem appropriate to spend time on...or even start with. The information is what I like and need, not a specific order or preference of presentation. She is the author after all.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Thu Feb 03, 2005 7:45 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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the Crusades would at least have the virtue of conforming with her earlier intimations of fundamentalism as "militant piety" and "faith perceiving crisis". I suspect that her starting point has far more to do with Columbus' discovery of the "new world" than she has so far discussed, a new world that serves as a symbol for the new world she believes to be at root in the development of modern fundamentalism.


Armstrong choosing the discovery of the new world to show the differences between the old and new world-views is very appropriate. I just don't understand why you would take umbrage at an author's plan of attack in trying to present and support a thesis?

Again, I do not think Armstrong is as adamant in labeling all fundamentalists as physically and violently militant in the way you feel she does, Mad. In the Q&A section at the end of the book, she talks about her own experience in the convent as a fundamentalist experience for her. She says that the convent "was an embattled community at odds with the world outside" and that although "a lot of fundamentalists are angry and about to declare war on the world...we never got to that stage. We were in retreat from the world".

This reminds me of my comments on the Amish. It is aggressive and militant to withdraw. Another example of 'militant piety' in action with no outward physical aggression: The Christian Coalition. Pat Robertson is leading a war against secular America. He has said this in no uncertain terms. In Robertson's own words: "...reconstructionists wait for a dramatic change in history. But they are not merely waiting." If that is not militant I don't know what is...yet, there is no physical aggression from this group to wit. But rather than brandishing weapons, his plan called for a "bottom up approach". Robertson has "revealed how small numbers of committed Christians could literally take over school boards and city councils and control Republican precincts in many states" (see Kimball



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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But I think she's wrong in asserting that such an ignorance is a recent development. And if that confusion is the essential element in fundamentalism, then I think we're forced to re



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
Mad:

Picked up the Veyne book - "Did the Greeks Believe in Thier Myths". Thanks for the referral, seems very interesting.

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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
misterpessimistic:



Sat Feb 12, 2005 10:05 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
I have been mulling my previous post over from this thread for the last few weeks while I've been busy with other things. I didn't have it worded quite the way I wanted it to be worded, but I had gotten to the point where I was rereading several times without actually registering what I was reading, so I simply posted it. It was kind of me trying to organize in my head some of the ways she puts things, but I didn't finish organizing.

I agree with you that simply dividing everything into mythos or logos is not a great tool for getting the most accurate view of history, but I would not take a single book such as this and use it as my knowledge base anyway. I won't be taking Armstrong's entire perspective as my own, but I am using it as food for thought.

What I have been trying to bend my mind around is literal interpretation of the Bible. I used to be a Christian, and I have come to realize recently that I was a fundamentalist. The idea of not interpreting the Bible literally is a very new idea to me. While I am not taking this book to be an absolute authority on the things presented, it has triggered for me thoughts on why I interpreted the Bible the way I did. I probably sounded like I am buying into the idea that people used to use mythos more and now use logos more and I am not. I have been wondering about my own personal lack of mythos when it came to reading the Bible. I still would not be able interpret the entire Bible not literally. I could do it with certain parts, like much of Revelations but I still don't understand how one would go about doing it for most of it. In my above post I was thinking on examples other than interpreting religion for differences in logos and mythos. Part of my problem is I'm not exactly sure how she is defining them. I think I may have had the wrong idea of how she is using them.

I am somewhere in Chapter 7 and not sure if I like the way it is divided anymore. I would have summarized her structure of the book as divided into A-Jewish F., B-Christian F., and C-2 types of Muslim F. done in 3 separate chunks of time so it would be:
Oldest time covered:
        ABC
Middle time covered:
        ABC
Most recent time covered:
        ABC
But now I feel like it went ABC and now is going ACBCABCACBACBACBBCCCACBACB. I am enjoying parts of it, but am getting horribly bored by other parts of it so it has been slow going for me. I haven't commented on the other chapters yet because I am finding the mythos logos thing to be the only thing that has really caught my attention. Anything else I would have to say would probably just be a reiteration of the sentiment that Armstrong is applying her own god-shaped whole onto the whole world.




Fri Feb 25, 2005 8:43 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Jews: The Precursors (1492-1700)
scrumfish: I agree with you that simply dividing everything into mythos or logos is not a great tool for getting the most accurate view of history, but I would not take a single book such as this and use it as my knowledge base anyway.

That's fine. I'm not arguing that there's any particular danger that people are going to accept Armstrong's scheme wholesale. I'm just pointing out how it falls short of the needs to which it is being applied.

I still would not be able interpret the entire Bible not literally. I could do it with certain parts, like much of Revelations but I still don't understand how one would go about doing it for most of it.

As someone interested both in religion and cultural modes like literature, mythology and folklore, that's a subject that interests me a lot. If you're interested in getting further into the subject I could direct you to some sources. As Armstrong notes, the historical event that prompted the modern rift between literal interpretation and Biblical criticism begins more or less with the project that asserted and described the multiple authorship of the Old Testament, so that's a good place to start. And if you want to throw out any particular part of the Bible that gives you trouble, we can discuss it. That's probably a discussion best started in the religion forum than carried out here, so you might think about starting a new thread.

Part of my problem is I'm not exactly sure how she is defining them. I think I may have had the wrong idea of how she is using them.

That's a problem that I think is inherent in the text, and ultimately the only way to get a full picture of what she means by each is to look at how she uses them throughout. The project is made even more problematic by the possibility that she is using the terms inconsistently, ie. that sometimes she means mythos to include or exclude things that she will later use the same time to imply or dismiss.

I haven't commented on the other chapters yet because I am finding the mythos logos thing to be the only thing that has really caught my attention.

There are other, minor things that have interested me along and along, but I concur about the mythos/logos dichotomy serving as the main point of interest, largely because I regard it as a point of controversy. But as my impressions of her use of that dichotomy solidify, I find myself turning to other sources in hopes of a less probably biased perview of history. I recently bought a book on the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th century, and I'm currently finishing up George Steiner's "In Bluebeard's Castle", which you'll find in Armstrong's bibliography. It's far more speculative in tone -- which in small part confirms my suspicion regarding Armstrong's use of interpretive rather than strictly documentary sources; she all but cribs the first chapter in her discussion of Victorian Europe -- and likely more controversial, but it makes for far more compelling reading.




Sat Feb 26, 2005 4:04 pm
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