An Introduction To Jewish Folklore.

Since we have been looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls and the various manuscripts in the Nag Hammadi Collection, I thought I would lighten things up a bit with some fun facts about basic jewish folklore, the myths and terms that developed as Jewish people scattered out into the world after the destruction of the their Second Temple in 66 CE by Roman troops, during the time of Emperor Nero. These legends and terms are not “official” Jewish theology like the Torah or the other books of the Tanakh. But they did play a part an important part in the daily life of various Jewish communities over the last 2000 years. Many of them are not well known outside of Judaism, so I hope you will find them interesting.

Shokelin: This is the Yiddish word for the swaying that Jews do when they pray, most famously at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The philosopher Judah Halevi was of the opinion that it came from the fact that religious texts were scarce in the post-Second Temple scattering and thus people had to sway so others could peek past them at the open Torah scroll, etc. The Talmud states that shokelin is the expression of ecstasy that Psalm 35:10 refers to (“All my bones shall say, ‘who is like you, oh Lord’…”).

Ziz: a giant legendary bird who is so massive that when standing on the ground its body and head reach all the way up to heaven where it sings songs to God. When some travellers once saw a ziz standing in a lake only up to its ankles they thought the water was shallow enough to bathe in, so they dropped in an axe to see just how deep it would go… it took seven years for the axe to reach the bottom. When the Messiah returns the flesh of the Ziz will be served to the righteous at the resultant celebratory banquet.

A – T – Ba – Sh: A Biblical code in which the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet replaces the last letter and so on. The name is actually the key to the code: Aleph (first letter), Tav (last letter), Bet (second letter), and Shin (second last letter). This system allows for words to be transposed into other words, creating chains of word association for interpretation for both common scripture and mystical literature like the Zohar. 

Al Tikrei: A Hebrew phrase meaning “do not read” (i.e. do not read just in the regular way, but other ways as well), al tikrei is a method of using another pronunciation or spelling to give a scripture another layer of meaning while not negating the common reading. This technique was inspired by a segment of Psalm 62:11 – “God has spoken once, and I have heard it twice…”. For example, if (hypothetically) the letters AABA were the Hebrew word for salt and AACA was the word for guitar, a scripture could be then interpreted as “their sins will be like how bitter salt is a terrible choice for lunch”, or “their sins will be as if they had eaten a guitar, a really terrible idea.”. 

Agrat Bat Mahalat: Queen of the Demons who wanders around fucking things up along with a cohort of her underlings. Not only is she the concubine of Samael (the king of the demons) but also the granddaughter of Ismael, Abraham’s first son. The sage Chanina Ben Dosa though had the power to banish her from the world forever, so she pleaded with him to allow her to get up to at least a few shenanigans on Tuesdays and Fridays. Thus the Talmud recommends no one go out at night alone on these days. 

Pidyon ha-ben: “The redemption of the son”, a ceremony that takes place thirty days after the birth of a first born son. If the family is not from the priestly or Levite class, the rabbi asks the father to choose between handing over five pieces of silver or handing over the child. Naturally, the father pays the money, and the priest waves his hands over the kid, “redeeming” him from just being a regular person. If the son is not the first born, preceded by a sister or miscarriage, or born via C-section, they don’t have the ceremony.

Sitra Achra: An Aramaic word from the Talmud for “the other side”, the opposite of the divine realm, being the realm of demonic powers. This realm of evil power and demons influences mankind, except on the Sabbath when the demons are forced to slither back into the abyss until their power is restored by the arrival of the first day of the week.

Lamed vavnick: “one of the thirty-six”, one of a group of 36 men (in every generation) hiding amongst the general population, men whose righteousness keeps the world from descending into total chaos. If a generation finally arrives that is worthy, one of these 36 will rise up to be the Messiah. Though they can pop out of the woodwork to save and uplift others every once in a while, they must go right back into obscurity, as they are forbidden by God to reveal themselves, upon pain of death. The founder of the conservative Ukrainian Hasidic branch of Judaism (Baal Shem Tov) was said to have known who all 36 of these men were, and helped them out financially. 

Chelm: a Polish town whose citizens were used in folklore as the basis of silly stories and jokes, most often local “wise” men who came up with stupidly simple solutions to complex problems. For example, one day the citizens come to a rabbi and say, “how shall we overcome our poverty?’ and the rabbi says, “Easy, it shall now be that the poor will have cream and the rich will have to make do with milk”. The people said, “How will this occur?”, and the rabbi said, “Simple… we’ll call cream ‘milk’ and milk, ‘cream’!”. The Chelmians though are usually kind, compassionate people. Once, when the elderly local deacon responsible for wandering the village and waking everyone up for prayers got too frail for the job, the people of Chelm felt compassion and concern for him. So rather than fire him, they gathered up all the shutters from their windows and installed them in his living room so he could knock on them without having to leave the house!

Olam Haba: the “World To Come”, basically referring to Earth rebuilt back into an Eden-like paradise after the arrival of the Jewish Messiah, though there is differing opinion about whether it is a physical or divine realm. Though it is considered too amazing to be imagined by ordinary humans, the metaphor used to understand it is as if our world now is a narrow hallway in which mankind prepares itself for entrance into the grand banquet hall that is Olam Haba. This new earth is basically the Jewish conception of paradise, rather than a ‘Heaven’ far off in space, as humans remain here for eternity. Every good Jew and even righteous non-Jews would be able to live in this world, as well as anyone who had walked even a few feet in the Holy Land (modern day Israel), But you would lose your place in Olam Haba if you: publicly shamed someone, said the Tetragrammaton (a mystical, ultra-holy name of God) in public, read heretical Jewish books that were not part of or related to the Tanakh, became a scribe or doctor, were not very enthusiastic about observing Jewish customs, or were a man that walked behind a woman. Saying the Tetragrammaton was completely forbidden, as it contained such spiritual power one could use it to perform God-like feats of healing, creation, traveling great distances within seconds, and so on. It is also considered to have been written on the rod that Moses used to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16). In Jewish mythology, Adam’s first wife Lilith used the name of God to fly away when she was not given equal status with Adam. 

Lilith: Adam’s first wife who was also the demon Queen of the Night. When she requested equality with Adam and God refused she flew away in rage to the Red Sea. Adam complained to God, so He sent three angels to bring her back. They failed but made her promise to not make too much trouble for humanity. Lilith eventually became the wife of Samael, the Prince of Demons and leader of the evil forces in Sitra Achra (the one who also sent the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve). Lilith is known to fly around and attempt to create children by sleeping with men while they are having a wet dream. She also eats children but cannot harm any child with the names of the three angels sent to her at the Red Sea written on its birth-room doorpost. In the Middle Ages it was considered dangerous to drink water at the solstices and equinoxes because during these moments Lilith’s menstrual blood would drip down and poison it. 

Shabbos goi: a non-Jew (Gentile) hired to do certain types of work for Jews on the Sabbath, their holy day of rest in which they cannot do many activities in and out of the home, most often lighting oven fires for cooking and such. Technically, Jews are not allowed to ask Gentiles to do things they themselves cannot do… but a Jew could indirectly infer that such a thing needed to be done, and the Gentile could offer to do it to help out. The Russian writer Maxim Gorky worked as a shabbos goi when he was young. 

Luz: “almond nut”, a small, nearly indestructible bone at the base of the spine from which God will fashion a new body for righteous resurrected people in Olam Haba. In folklore is is said that the Biblical Flood was so strong that Adam’s luz was dissolved. This bone can only be sustained and fortified in life by regularly eating the final Sabbath supper each week, and bowing to God in prayer is thought to guarantee a strong resurrection body due to the stimulation the luz receives from this act. Luz is also the name of a legendary city situated on the edge of the Holy Land at a site anointed with divine oil by the Biblical patriarch Jacob, whose grandfather was Abraham. Luz was indestructible, and its inhabitants were protected from the Angel of Death. It is hidden from sight and can only be approached through an entrance hollowed out of an almond tree that is also hidden from human sight. 

Shlemiel: an inept person, as typified by the citizens and rabbis of Chelm. It is said that when a shlemiel falls on his back he breaks his nose. No matter what the circumstances, the shlemiel will find a way to mess it up. It is said that when the angel that hands out souls was wandering the earth he tripped and all the foolish shlemiel souls fell into Chelm. This is similar to the nebich (“poor thing”), except the nebich is a born loser thanks to his ineptitude, e.g.  leaves a winning lottery ticket in his pants and then washes them, or is resurrected into Olam Haba and requests only a piece of toast as his eternal reward. 

These are but a few of the many hundreds of terms and legends from Jewish folklore, but I hope you have enjoyed learning about them.

A Brief Introduction To The Dead Sea Scrolls

Since I recently blogged about the Nag Hammadi Collection I thought I would continue our little adventure in ancient texts with an introductory look at another amazing collection, also from the Middle East.

Sometime between November 1946 and February 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib and his friends Jum’a Muhammed and Khalil Musa came across some ancient storage jars in a cave near the Ein Feshka springs, close to the ancient town of Qumran near the Dead Sea. They thought that there might be someone interested in buying these old “books” so they brought some back with them, and soon found a buyer willing to take them “off their hands”. As they found more they sold them and soon the word got out that some Bedouin kids were selling ancient documents for waayyy less than they were probably worth, considering the growing interest. In the following years archeologists and treasure hunters would discover more scrolls and hundreds of fragments in the area, thus the findings would come to be known as the Qumran Cave Scrolls, and eventually the Dead Sea Scrolls.

These jars contained fragments and texts which were later revealed to be books of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh, except for the Book of Esther), plus rules for community life, commentaries, proverbs, fragments of the “lost” Book of Enoch, the secret teachings of Elijah, lists of false prophets, visions, and even a “treasure map” (the location of hidden caches of silver and gold). As most of these texts were either tattered or decayed, it is thought that the jars were genizot: storage vessels for worn out sacred texts prior to their burial (as it was forbidden to throw texts containing the name of God in the garbage). But whose genizot were they?

Though there is much debate, and no conclusive proof for or against any particular theory, it seems likely that they were genizot of the Essene sect, a branch of Judaism that stood apart from the Jewish groups of the day: the secular-minded (Hellenized) upper class Sadducees (no afterlife), the strict lower class Pharisees, the armed, Rome-hating resistance fighters called the Zealots, and a small group of Messianic Jews that was gathering behind a relatively unknown guy from Nazareth named Jesus. Little is known about the Essenes but what can be inferred from archeological study posits that they were apocalyptic (End Times fixated), communal, and tended to live outside of major centers as often as within them. The most compelling “evidence” so far may come from the fact that the Community Rule scroll (which outlines the laws of the sect) and Roman historian Josephus’ account of the Essenes shows similarities. Modern evidence also suggests that the Essenes might have been former Temple priests who rebelled and exiled themselves after the various Jewish kings took over the role of high priest, thus the organized and ritualistic nature of the various scrolls.

The first document we will look at is 1QS, also discovered in 4Q253-264a, and 5Q1. What does that mean? This work was found in the first Qumran cave, on the first scroll discovered (1-Q-S). The same text was also found in the fourth Qumran cave (4Q) on manuscripts 253 – 264a, and the first manuscript found in the fifth Qumran cave (5Q1). Since there are many Qumran and surrounding discoveries, fragments, scrolls, and such, I will make sure all the numbers and letters are clear.

1QS, the Charter of a Jewish Sectarian Association, is also known as the Community Rule, a set of instructions and rules for community life. Since the English word community is not an exact equivalent, it is most accurate (and useful) to use the terminology from the text itself, Yahad (“unity”), instead. Thus these were not rules for a community (singular) but basically a charter one could use in any community or chapter wishing to establish authority, and the rights of those under that authority. The community would understand their various rights and roles, and there would be unity amongst the people, i.e. a comm(unity) if you will. This didn’t always mean that each yahad was strictly religious. The text in the Community Rule also implies a yahad could be more philosophical if they were not an organized group living out in the desert, waiting for the Messiah for example. Once again, like the other manuscripts found in and around Qumran, missing text, as yet understood ergo untranslatable ancient words, allegory, and metaphor often make the various Dead Sea manuscripts and fragments hard to make factual statements about, based on clear evidence. But here is what can be said with certainty.

The group at Qumran, as the Community Rule manuscript describes, was an association of priests, a secondary order of priests (Levites), the community (“Israel”), and Gentile proselytes. Other Jews and Gentiles outside of the community “walk(ed) in the wicked way” and thus are “Men of Perversity”. But if such a person repented of sin, and went through a two year conversion process, they would be assigned a rank in the yahad and thus could advance themselves through maase ha-torah, “works of the Law”. The group considered themselves as having entered a new covenant with God, which fulfilled the old Mosaic covenant.This new covenant was called the Covenant of Mercy, or the Covenant of The Eternal Yahad.

On 1QS alone though is a small, two column appendix that is kind of amazing when seen in light of the rise of Christianity. The Community Rule is for a decidedly Jewish sect…yet this appendix (The Charter for Israel in The Last Days) seems to reference God fathering the Messiah of Israel, the Jewish war leader who would rise up from the line of David and lead the people in battle against evil in order to establish the New Jerusalem! The text is damaged and hard to read, and there are arguments for and against such an interpretation. But the idea of a divinely fathered Messiah showing up in the holy writings of ex-Second Temple Jews? They are not Christian, they are not classical Jews… pretty amazing stuff.

The Yahad was serious about maintaining law and order in each other’s presence, and any spoken mention of the name of God equaled immediate and permanent banishment (even in prayer!). The Common Rule also lays out the prescribed punishment (the rationing of food) for more mundane violations:

1). Anyone who speaks foolishness: three months (of rationing).
2). Anyone whose clothing is so ratty you can see his genitals through it: 30 days.
3). Anyone who draws out his left hand to gesture during conversation: 10 days.
4). Anyone who breaks into foolish horse-laughter: 30 days.
5). Anyone who accidentally participates in fraud: 3 months.

As we continue on with our series on the Dead Sea Scrolls let’s review some basic terms from “regular” Jewish culture. As Judaism became a highly literary religion after passing down its traditions orally for hundreds of years, certain terms became necessary for outsiders to learn if they were to understand the relationship between core and subsidiary writings. Basically, Jewish sacred literature is divided into these categories:

1). The Tanakh is the set of writings Christians call the ‘Old Testament’, organized into three sections: Torah (The Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus…), Nevi’im (The Prophets: Samuel, Isaiah…), and Kethuvim (The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job…).

2). Midrash is a word that means “Biblical interpretation”, the actual method of interpreting the Tanakh, and a collection of commentaries on the Tanakh. 

3). The Torah is the first five books of the Tanakh, believed to be written by Moses while dictated by God himself. It was also believed that Moses also gave laws and commands to the Jews that were not written down, and thus a general ‘Oral Torah’ (The Talmud) was also handed down from generation to generation, alongside the official histories and laws in the original, written Torah. After the Jewish (Second) Temple was sacked by the Romans (during the reign of Nero in 66 CE), this oral tradition was written down so the scattering Jews could hold to a central belief system as they spread out across the world, and added their own updated material to it when their spiritual teachers (rabbis) needed to adapt to new cultural and spiritual situations. Thus we see the birth of what is known as Rabbinical Judaism, what you might call the core, basic form of the Judaism we see today. 

4). The Talmud: Jewish Law, which includes a). the Mishnah, brief explanations of various scriptures in the Torah and b). the Gemara, auxiliary commentaries on the Mishnah.  

5). The Zohar is a 13th century Spanish manuscript used by the various mystical branches of Judaism known as Kabbalah. It is filled with various mishnah, gemara and midrash as well as text on related subjects. It is not part of mainstream Judaism, but various Kabbalistic sects still exist, some even being Christian or Hermetic. Some even read it as a kind of mystical self-help book, like one might read the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu for daily wisdom, or businessmen read the Art of War by Sun Tzu for success strategies.

But as the Dead Sea Scrolls were being categorized and translated, a new set of writings began to emerge, a type of scriptural interpretation known as a pesher. The pesher writings (pesherim) dealt with either a specific subject or provided a running commentary on specific scriptures, one after the other, explained in turn. These running pesherim were usually found in the Nevi’im (Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc), though there is a pesher on Psalms, which at Qumran was considered a prophetic manuscript. The reason pesherim focused on such writings is that it often meant the “interpretation of dreams”, like Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue with feet of iron and clay. So a pesher had the quality of ‘mystery-solving’ through divine understanding. We see this occurring in a pesher (p) on Habbakuk (Hab) found in the first cave at Qumran (1Q).

1QpHab, a Pesher on Habbakuk, is the attempt by its author to figure out the secret truth(s) in Habbakuk the same way Daniel did for Nebchanezzar, through divine inspiration. Here is a verse (from my own copy of the Tanakh) that the writer “peshers” upon (Habbakuk 1:6): For lo, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce, impetuous nation. In 1QpHab the author writes the following: “For I am now about to raise up the Chaldeans, that brutal and reckless people”. This refers to the Kittim (the enemy, i.e. the Romans), who are swift and mighty in war, annihilating many people, and have no faith in the laws of God”. The author then goes on to link many verses to the Romans and their various crimes against humanity, even getting in a few good licks on idolatry: “Woe to those who say to mere wood, ‘Be alert!’, or ‘Wake up!’ to some dumb stone. Can it enlighten you?”.

Also found amongst the various scrolls was one made of copper (3Q15: the 15th manuscript found in the 3rd cave at Qumran), inscribed upon which was a list of various caches of treasure (written in a unique form of Hebrew). The sites are scattered throughout what would have been Judea, but mostly concentrated in and around the Temple Mount, Jericho, and Qumran. At first it was believed the scroll was Essene but the work of a single individual; a private list rather than one the community would have known about (possibly a folktale written down like a legend of pirate gold). But since it is not a religious text, but rather a list (common to antiquity) some think it was a real inventory of some kind, like how Greek temples kept inventories of the various votive objects or gifts brought to them (such as coins, jugs, earrings, and so on). Thus the Scroll is kind of like a business document, since copper was also the medium of choice for Roman documents considered important for posterity: public documents, military discharges, and such.

One of the early editors of the scrolls, John Allegro, even mounted a search for the treasure but found nothing, especially when the Israeli government refused to let him dig under the esplanade of the Dome of The Rock(!). But the treasure may have been already looted by the Romans like how they looted the hidden treasures of Dacian king Decebalus, whose territory they conquered (part of what is now known as Romania). Decebalus diverted a river, buried treasure, then made the river resume its normal course. The Romans found and tortured a Dacian informant, and thus they got what they were looking for. It is thought that the Romans also did this to someone who knew about the Temple Mount treasure, and/or all the others, or possibly found another copy of the Copper Scroll. According to Roman-Jewish historian Josephus’ book WAR, the Roman looting of treasure in that region was so extenisve that the value of gold in nearby Syria fell by 50%! So where do all these Copper Scroll treasures supposedly rest? Let’s look at the actual manuscript:

1). “In the ruin that is in the Valley of Achor, under the steps, with the entrance at the east at a distance of forty cubits: a strong box of silver and its vessels — seventeen talents by weight. KEN“. Letters like the ones at the end (K-E-N) appear in other manuscripts, and editors have not figured out what they are supposed to mean. It is also not known what the precise modern value of talents (and other monetary units) would be, but they would collectively be worth many millions of dollars.

2). “In the dam of the Secacah Valley, dig down three cubits: twelve talents of silver coins, “in the fissure that is in Secacah, to the east of the Pool of Solomon: vessels of votive offering, along with their inventory list”, “at the head of the aqueduct of the Secacah Valley, on the north, under the big stone, dig down three cubits: seven talents of silver coins”, and “in the grave that is in the Wadi Ha-Kepah at the point of entry as you go from Jericho to Secacah, dig down seven cubits: thirty-two talents of silver coins”. I am combining four different cache listings into one because they are all at Secacah, which is actually mentioned in the Old Testament part of the Bible (Joshua 15:61) as one of the villages which the tribes of Judah inherit. Also, the grave at Wadi Ha-Kepah (the twenty-seventh cache) is the clearest geographical reference on the Scroll, as a path to and from a major city would have been well known. (Note: wadi is an Arabic word for a small valley or dry river bed). 

3). “At the grave of the common people — it is ritually pure — in it: fourteen votive vessels, and their inventory list is next to them”. The Qidron Valley was the traditional site for the burial of common people… though personally I find it odd that the Scroll would call the grave of the common people “ritually pure” considering it is where the ashes of the burnt pole of the Asherah idol was dumped (as stated in the Bible, 2nd Kings 23:6).

This is only a very basic introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I am going to add a little more in the days ahead once I scrounge through my old research notes, but hopefully it will whet your appetite for more information. I got all of this from reading The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, with all translations and commentary by Michael Wise, Martin Aregg Jr., and Edward Cook (2005). It is the book I got my old research notes from, and thus everything you have read is their intellectual property. If you want to get way more of the really great stuff from this book, go out and buy it. It is very inexpensive considering its size (662 pages) and a fabulous resource.









A Brief Introduction To The Nag Hammadi Texts.

nag-hammadi-codices

During this time of COVID-19 and social isolation, I have been going through my library and re-reading the ancient classics of mythology and religion. There are so many great things to read and think about, and the Nag Hammadi Collection should definitely be on every amateur (and professional) theologian’s or archeologist’s ‘must read’ list. The following is my very brief summary of the collection and its contents, so I am leaving out a lot to make it more accessible.

(Note: this information is taken from my old research notes using the 2007 book The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts, edited by Marvin Meyer. It is not at all meant to be taken as my own original work, and anything of value is the sole intellectual property of the various contributors). 

In 1945, while digging around at the base of a cliff near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, a farmer named Muhammed al-Samman found a large sealed jar containing 13 leather bound collections of 52 different Coptic language texts from the early Christian and Gnostic traditions. Many were only known to scholars through commentary by early Church writers in the 2nd century CE (AD), so to find these varied, mostly complete 3rd to 4th century texts was an almost unbelievable boon for archeologists, anthropologists, and the like. The collection itself contains secret teachings, poems, testimonies, and gnomologies (collections of wise sayings) that were around during and after the life of Jesus Christ himself, so it is a really wild mix of theology and mythic religious cosmology. Major finds include a Gospel of Mary, and the controversial Gospel of Judas, who is “revealed” to have been on a sacred mission as a kind of holy martyr for the greater cause, tasked to him by Jesus Christ himself.  The Nag Hammadi Collection is especially valuable for what it adds to our understanding of Gnostic thought during the tome of the formation of the earliest Christian church(es).

Gnosticism (Greek: gnostikos, “to have knowledge”) is a type of religion based on an eclectic mix of Christian, Jewish, and Greek beliefs from the 1st century CE which claims that personal spiritual knowledge and revelation from the divine world is the ‘real’ truth, rather than official proclamations from religious authorities or official teachings. Many Christian Gnostic sects for example claimed that Jesus preached his Gospel to the masses, but the real teachings were given secretly to only a select disciple or two. Thus, the various Gnostic texts either explain to whom these secret teachings were given, or what their meanings were. For example, a theme that pops up in various sects is that the material world we know is highly flawed and ruled over by the Jewish supreme god YAHWEH, a malevolent deity who is actually not the Supreme God, but rather a lower deity under a greater beneficent God/essence knowable through spiritual illumination. The cosmogonies (models of the Universe) may vary from group to group, but Gnostics essentially all held that complex structures of Light, Being, and Deities were the great Truth that was hidden or obscured by the more standard scriptures of 1st century CE. Judaism and Christianity.

For example, “Sethian” Gnosticism was a syncretic mix of Jewish and Christian theology which claimed that Adam and Eve’s third son Seth was a divine figure who came back as the Messiah in the form of Jesus Christ. Seth was part of a Trinity which included The Great Invisible Spirit (the Father), “Barbelo” (a Mother), and The Self Created One (a Son, Seth), all ruling from a Divine Realm called the “Pleroma”. The Father breathed Life into Adam, the Mother manifested as Eve, and Seth was the Logos/Christ, the fundamental principle(s) of Being that manifested in humanity. In standard Greek language, logos means “the creative principle(s) governing a thing”, thus we get English words such as anthropology, “the organizing principle(s) governing humans”, or biology, “the organizing principle(s) that govern Life”.

In the 2nd century CE, the Greek bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (known for expanding Christianity into the area that would eventually become southern France) wrote a treatise called Against Heresies, which was basically an angry refutation of the Gnostic cult centered around the teachings of Valentinus, a Roman priest who started his own group after being passed over for promotion to bishop, thus beginning the sect of Valentinian Gnosticism. The basis of his belief system was as follows: people of a “spiritual nature” could receive secret knowledge that helped them return to the divine plane of existence (the ‘Pleroma’, as mentioned in Sethian Gnosticism). People with a “psychic” nature (commoners) were only capable of entering lesser states of divinity, while people of a “material nature” (the lazy, sinful, etc) went off and died. Though this is the core theme of Valentinian Gnosticism, the theology itself becomes increasingly more complex in its exegesis. Valentinus, claiming to have received his secret knowledge from Apostle Paul, explained his cosmogony in the following way:

The source of Everything is a singular ‘First Principle’ (“The Father”/ “The Depth”). He is inconceivable and indescribable, but wishes to know Himself. His self-knowledge produces a Son, who is a ‘Mind’. The Father/Son are both Two and One simultaneously, which creates the situation in which multiple beings generate: an unfolding of the self-reflective divine essence of the Father but also individual Entities as well. These spiritual entities are called “Members of The All” or Aeons, who collectively make up the spiritual essence of the Pleroma, “The Fullness”.

But there is a tension between Oneness and Plurality in the process of generation, which leads to a crisis in the last Aeon, a female divinity named Sophia. She attempts to grasp the Fullness of the Father but fails, and as a result splits in two. Her perfect spiritual half returns to the Fullness, while her imperfect half is cut off, and a Boundary is set up to keep it from returning. “Outer Sophia” becomes stale, unfulfilled, and irrational. From this state arises the Material World. Inner Sophia sees this and asks for help from her fellow Pleroma dwelling Aeons. Her repentance and piety thus produces the divine essence that makes up human souls. All the Aeons/Pleroma unite to help and produce a Saviour. As she continues in her work, her emotions produce all the types of matter in the world, thus what we know as reality is a manifestation of Sophia’s various emotional states.

As the solar system is created, each planet is ruled over by an archon, a demon beholden to a chief archon called the Demiurge (a kind of Gnostic “Satan”). He thinks he is a master but he is only a tool in the hands of Sophia/The Saviour to create the solar system. Sophia now lives with her spiritual children in a Middle Region (“The Ogdoad”)  between the local cosmos and the Pleroma (Note: Sophia’s “children” are the various lesser spiritual entities she “bore” while contemplating the Saviour and his angels). The Demiurge is tasked with making humans, but Sophia secretly gives Adam spiritual essence, hidden and passed on to subsequent mankind. This “Inner man” is bullied by the demons and is in need of saving by the Saviour. Thus, the rest of Valentinian Gnosticism concerns sayings, incantations, and rites that reunite the brethren with the Saviour, Sophia and the Pleroma once again.

A Gnostic style of Christianity also arose based on the life and purported teachings of Judas Thomas aka Thomas Didymos, purported to be Jesus’ twin brother (Greek: didymos, “twin”). This branch of Gnostic themed Christianity is known as “Thomas Christianity”.  

This sect began as a branch of Christianity in Syria, “Thomas” being the central figure’s nickname (Aramaic/Syrian: thomas, ”twin”). He is most notable for being the focus of an East Indian branch of Christianity that traces their “true” lineage back to him (the ‘rock’ upon which the Church was built; not Peter, similar to Coptic Christians tracing their heritage back to Jesus’ disciple Mark, their own “rock”, who legend has it was a Jew of African descent). Thomas is believed by some to have been martyred in India and thus there are still Thomas Christians today who worship in that tradition as well as make holy connections between Thomas, Jesus, and the more ancient Hindu traditions (note: the first Trinity concept(s) come out of the Vedic cosmology, arguably the oldest ‘organized’ religion in the world).

Thomas’ role as Jesus’ twin is part of a central allegory of the relationship between a physical man and his divine alter ego, when not directly used as a brotherly metaphor. Like other Gnostic-style texts, the Gospel of Thomas is the record of secret teachings that, when understood properly, mean the reader/hearer will gain immortality. The kingdom is as much within a person as it is “up in the sky” or “down in the underworld”. Since it has some similarities with Valentinian Gnosticism, some scholars believe Valentinus himself may have been influenced by some of its passages. The similarly titled Book of Thomas (The Contender Writing To The Perfect) is a dialogue between Jesus and Thomas (written down by a man named Matthias while walking with and listening to the two of them). This text especially dwells on themes found in the writings of Plato, while also discussing the fires of Hell waiting for sinners.

A Thomasene text that is not in the Nag Hammadi collection is The Acts of Thomas, which is a heroic tale about Thomas’ various adventures trying to gain converts in India. Included in the verse is a poem known as The Hymn of The Pearl, which Thomas supposedly “performed” in prison. Considered by some to be an allegory for Adam and his expulsion from the Garden and possible redemption, the poem concerns a prince who goes to Egypt to steal a pearl guarded by a snake. While in Egypt he eats some great food and soon forgets his mission. But a letter (manifested as an eagle) from his parents “wakes” him from his forgetfulness and he gets the pearl, returns home, everyone is happy, the end. The Acts of Thomas and The Gospel of Thomas were also influences on Manichaeism, a type of Persian Gnosticism that posited a holy man named Mani as the final prophet after Zoroaster, the Buddha, and Jesus. Manichaeism was the religion that the Catholic saint Augustine left to become a Christian… though he converted 5 years after Roman Emperor Theodosius the First decreed death to all Manichaean monks (382 CE) and Chrsitianity the only legitimate religion of the Empire (391 CE).

A really fascinating inclusion in the Nag Hammadi collection are texts that have similarities to Gnosticism but come from what is known as “Hermetic” religion. Gnostic religions focus on finding the ultimate origin of Being and gaining special knowledge as the core of Redemption. So too with the various Hermetic religions: sects that sprung from theology built around the Greek god Hermes (god of language and crossing the boundaries between Heaven and Earth as messenger of the gods) and/or Thoth (ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, science and art; inventor of language and hieroglyphics). 

Upon contact with Egyptian culture, the Greeks identified Thoth with Hermes. In Egypt Thoth was tagged with the superlative adjective phrase “great, great, very great” which the Greeks translated as megas, megas, megistos, which was eventually abbreviated into Trismegistos, “Thrice Greatest”. Since many Greeks did not know the origin, meaning, or application of this phrase they thought of Trismegistos as a distinct being; the son of Hermes, a Being who had discovered the Supreme God was a Tripartite ‘great power’, or a third incarnation of Hermes (not unlike the various divine in-dwellings (avatars) of the Hindu gods such as Vishnu appearing on Earth as Krishna, etc). Thus, the various religions based on or around the Hermes/Thoth connection came to be known as “Hermetic” religions. Followers of Hermetic sects basically took ancient Egyptian rites and added various sacred initiation ceremonies, meals, magic words and syllables, ritual objects, texts on alchemy, etc. This “Greek-ifying” of another culture is known as interpretatio graeca, the use of Greek mythology to explain the structure(s) of other religions and philosophies.

Now that you are aware of these four general ‘schools’ of theology contained in the Nag Hammadi collection, let’s look at a few texts themselves. Since we started off looking at the Sethian branch of Gnosticism, let’s look at a Sethian text titled The Nature of The Rulers. It is essentially a Christian text, though it stems from Hellenistic (Greek influenced) Judaism i.e. Adam’s son Seth is the Jewish Messiah, manifested in Jesus as Christ and sent from the divine realm (the Pleroma, also the name of Plato’s realm of “ideal forms”).

The Nature of The Rulers concerns the chief archon of the solar system (a great demon known as the Demiurge) and his lesser archons, who are real, but defeatable when opposed by Sethian Gnsotics, the “children of the Light”. It is basically a retelling of the Biblical creation story (Genesis) from a Gnostic perspective: the Demiurge (Samael: the “blind God”) cries out that it is he who is the Most High God, and those of the Light find this utterance arrogant and blasphemous. The lesser archons, androgynous (or possibly hermaphroditic) beings with animal faces, then try to sexually violate Spiritual Eve. She turns into a tree, so they have forcible sex her remaining physical aspect, the human being version of Eve. Spiritual Eve then shows up as the Serpent and teaches Adam and Eve. Later on Physical Eve has a daughter named Norea (some translations: Orea) who wants to get on the Ark with Noah. He denies her passage and she burns down the Ark in anger, so he has to spend years building another one. The archons later try to violate Norea and she gets help from an angel to repel them. The story goes on in basically this fashion, showing that the Demiurge and the archons can be repelled if one identifies with the Light.

As we continue on through the Nag Hammadi collection, let’s look at the Gospel of Philip, a Coptic text translated from a lost Greek original. This Gospel is essentially a collection of sayings and short paragraphs on a variety of themes: truth, words and names, certain spiritual ‘forces’, Mary’s conception, etc, all from what seems to be a Valentinian perspective.

Among other things it makes the claims that Jesus “invented” bread, had two fathers, was resurrected then died, and being anointed is better than being baptised (dunked in a river). It also uses a word you may not have heard before, “chrism”, which is another name for the anointing oil mixed with balsam and myrrh that was offered to Jesus as a gift by the Three Wise Men. Though the anointing oil was sometimes called “myrrh”, myrrh itself is actually a kind of sap from a thorny tree that is mixed with the balsam in oil, and some in the ancient world would mix myrrh with wine for medicinal (or recreational) purposes thanks to its pain killing effect. Here are some samples from the actual work itself:

“Before Christ came there was no bread in the world, just as paradise, where Adam lived, had many trees for animal food but no wheat for human food, and people ate like animals. But when Christ, the perfect human, came, he brought bread from heaven, that humans might be fed with human food”.

“The master would not have said,’ My Father, who is in Heaven’ if he did not also have another father. He simply would have said, “My Father”. 

“Those who say that the Master first died then arose are wrong, for he first arose and then died. If someone is not resurrected first, wouldn’t that person die? As God lives, that one would die”.

“Chrism is superior to baptism. We are called ‘Christians’ from the word “chrism,” not from the word baptism. Christ also has his name from the word “chrism”, for the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us”.

The Secret Book of John aka the “Apocryphon” of John is the most well known of the various Sethian Gnostic texts contained in the Nag Hammadi collection. It contains what is considered (post-resurrection) secret teachings from Jesus to John, the son of Zebedee. After the fall of Sophia, her ill-begotten son Yaldabaoth (the jewish god YAHWEH) and his minions create Adam by contributing a feature of their own: Goodness created a “soul of bone”, Forethought created a “soul of sinew, Kingdom created a soul of blood, and so on. The angels then create the actual parts of Adam with these ‘souls”: the angel Raphao creates his head, Abron the skull, Bissoum the left ear, Ibikan the molars, Eilo the testicles, etc. Other angels then “activate” the various parts: Bathinoth the genitals,  Yammeax the neck, Aol the right ankle, etc. Another group of angels are over the senses: Oumma is over imagination, Deithanathas over perception, and so on.

Another fascinating text is The Second Discourse of The Great Seth, in which the Messiah literally moves into Jesus’ body, evicting his human soul in the process:

“I approached a bodily dwelling and evicted the previous occupant, and I went in. The whole multitude of archons was upset, and all the material stuff of the rulers and the powers born of earth began to tremble at the sight of the figure with a composite image. I was in it and I did not look like the previous occupant. He was a worldly person, but I, I am from above the heavens…”.

The basic premise of the text is that the Messiah has come down from the Heavenly realm (The Great Majesty of The Spirit) into this realm, ruled over by the chief Archon Yaldabaoth, and has “requisitioned” a human body as his “residence”. Having come down, Yaldabaoth and the lesser archons (the Gnostic equivalent of demons) are confused and upset by this strange new presence, save for Adonaios, a relatively benign archon who takes a liking to Jesus. Jesus laughs at those who think that the Crucifixion of his physical body can stop his holy mission. He also laughs at those who think water baptism is effective, since “true” baptism is the unity of Christ in the believer and the believer in the knowledge of Christ.The text itself was translated from greek into Coptic and happens to contain many peculiar and obscure words and phrases, making its translation not seem like a unified work. It bears features of both Sethian and Valentinian Gnosticism, but either way is a fascinating inclusion into the collection.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of an amazing treasure trove of ancient writings. The ancient religions of the world are indeed fascinating!

 

 

 

An Extra Note on “Whiteness”…

Hello again.

 

In the last post I present you all with some criticisms of “whiteness” and its manifestation in academia and society.  Before reading this post I suggest you read that post for some context. So, in this post I am going to present to you my concerns about some other views on whiteness that when misapplied, will negate the efforts to solve any problems whiteness may cause.

Recently author Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book “White Fragility” has become a popular read. In it she describes what she has learned as an anti-racism educator who gives clinics and corporate seminars on racial issues, primarily the concept of “white fragility”, the defensive nature of white responses to being challenged on potential racial biases. It is worth reading to know exactly what it is she is saying, love it or hate it. Don’t take my word for it: read the book yourself, and come to your own conclusions. It is very educational, warts and all. 

I am critical of the book in one major way. Though she can certainly speak with authority on the knowledge and experiences gathered from her work, the amount and type of research in the book did not convince me that “implicit bias” in white people was an established fact, though they may be defensive about being racially challenged.  There is much philosophy quoted, but relatively few studies. To assume fact (when there is no wealth of confirmed and independently confirmed evidence from unbiased testing) is not social science, it is philosophy, opinion, and/or something like ideology. In social science this desire to believe something contrary to fact or without evidence is called confirmation bias: the idea that one’s feelings or “common sense” are the same as fact. White people may be employing it when they deny DiAngelo’s point, but DiAngelo too may be seeing white “fragility” or implicit bias where there is none, or at least much less than she imagines. 

What confirmation does is automatically negate, cancel, or invalidate any view contrary to one’s own, no matter if it is true (“white people are fragile if they defend themselves against being called a racist”). Though usually ascribed to religious zealots, any group of humans can develop such intense confirmation biases that even the most altruistic and well-intended movement of any sort can evolve to become authoritarian or fascistic, sometimes fairly rapidly.

Confirmation bias leads one to imagine their theories or ideas are unfalsifiable, constructed in such a way that they cannot be proven false in any way at all, no matter what evidence is presented, no matter what is true or not. By deciding that implicit white bias is automatic, white people’s every response is proof of white fragility, bias, bigotry, or outright racism… case closed before it has even been opened (*see blue colored quotes below).The hallmarks of such turns are conformity and an ill-defined enemy. Anyone not in the group is an enemy, and any idea that does not emanate from the group is a wrong idea. I see this ideological turn potentially happening in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

The ideas that, historically, black lives have not mattered as much as other lives, and that we need to remind people they do with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” are wonderful ideas to contemplate towards an understanding and elimination of racism. The slogan itself represents an ideal we can and should all get behind. What becomes the organization of people around the BLM movement though can be corrupted by “bad actors”, those who would co-opt the message for anarchistic ends; tearing down anything that “gets in the way” of the mob. Thus, if someone clearly associated with the BLM movement commits a criminal act, a critique of that very act becomes “racist”,  as if it is a critique of the moral quest for black worth. We occasionally see a form of this in campus protests where students gather and make so much noise that lectures and guest speeches are drowned out, exercising their free speech to literally deny others’ free speech by not allowing it to be heard (weaponized free speech). Students will also sometimes exercise their right to stand in in a public square on campus in such a manner that no one can enter an event they are protesting. They are certainly free to stand in a public place, but their freedom is weaponized towards denying others their own freedom. This is fascistic, no matter how correct the social cause being fought for, no matter how conservative or liberal the movement, as “justice” can only occur when rights are hindered and/or stripped from others. 

Thus, it can also get dangerous when questioning the ethicality or morality of activities of movements like Black Lives Matter. How so? If a white culture commentator simply critiques the ethics or even the morality, of an act committed by a Black Lives Matter member, they potentially are called a “racist”. This is dangerous not because the BLM is using their freedom of speech or has an opinion we may disagree with, but rather that morality and civility are tacitly seen as white things, thus bad. Thus if a black culture commentator calls out the same act or behaviour, they are somehow ideologically compromised by whiteness, even if they are speaking from their own religious beliefs. In that instance they may be considered the “servant” of a white value system, betrayers of their race, an “Uncle Tom”. Whiteness is thus not a desired attribute, and neither are “white” moral ideals, even if they are are kindness, goodness, following the criminal code, tolerance, and so on.

It is here that DiAngelo’s book takes a very serious turn towards untruth. She states in her book that “there is a curious satisfaction in the punishment of black people: the smiling faces of the white crowd picnicking at lynchings in the past, and satisfied approval of white people observing mass incarceration and execution in the present” (p. 94). This breathtaking assumption, backed by zero evidence (no studies or documentation of white satisfaction over black incarceration and execution provided), is even more shocking when considered in light of the opening sentence of the previous paragraph which reads, Anti-blackness is rooted in misinformation, fables, perversions, projections, and lies. What about the perversion of inventing a “fact” about white people en masse being satisfied by the modern execution of black people, what about that misinformation and projection?

Confirmation bias hates facts, and even the most undeniable rudimentary facts are enemies of weaponized emotion. If I raise a valid moral issue with the ideology or behaviour of BLM activists and I am automatically “wrong” because I am white… god help the BLM movement because they will have metastasized into a movement seeking to institutionalize as much racism and fascism as possible while they decry racism and fascism. 

I am using a Black social movement as an example, but I absoluteIy don’t attribute any of this to blackness like DiAngelo does to my whiteness. I attribute this to human error and the relative youth of both white and black activists within BLM or any other social justice movement. Even the adults get things mixed up in this regard, but BLM and the like are filled with active, eager teenagers and young adults who really want justice and change. The “Right” gets this aspect wrong about the “Left”. To want better HealthCare is not to be a young “communist”; to want wage equality is not to be a lazy Millennial or Gen Z-er who wants “free stuff” and “to live off of the government and others’ taxes”. A woman should absolutely have the right to decide exactly what will or won’t be done with her own body…not a bunch of old white men sitting around in a dusty office. Imagine if the government elected a council of ladies to decide what all men can or can’t do with their testicles… and that is THE LAW. The bullets would start flying in about three seconds! Men would go literally insane with rage… and fear! 

(Note: It is important not to forget that BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors openly describes herself as a “trained Marxist” and the BLM website states as of this post that they are for “radical social intervention” and are dedicated to “disrupting” the Western-prescribed the nuclear family requirement”. She was also mentored in community organizing by Eric Mann, a member of a domestic terror organization The Weathermen, who bombed government buildings in the late 20th century. Mann was sentenced to prison for his role in the activities of The Weathermen, who believed that all white babies were “tainted with the original sin of skin privilege”, and that “all white babies are pigs”. At this point it is important to ask yourself, “what does disrupting the nuclear family and radical social intervention have to do with the worth of black life, and is it possible to question Cullors’ Marxism without being called a racist?”, even though her mentor called white babies pigs? A key component of Marxism is Collectivism, the individual is subsumed for the benefit of the group. As the group grows larger, the problem is that those in the out-group are not allowed to remain individuals or in the out-group, their subsumption is by force or by complete elimination. Thus, you can’t oppose the group, you must be erased, eradicated, or destroyed by it in the worst case scenarios. Questioning the collective is a sure way to discover if the in-group allows questioning itself. If it doesn’t, you have authoritarianism, fascism, and such. Marxism has been the seed ideology of the world’s greatest evil collectives: Mao’s China, and Stalin’s Soviet Union. I am absolutely NOT saying Cullors shares the socio-political urges of Stalin, but she was shaped in her views by a convicted racial terrorist.)

Once again to be really clear… this is not a defense of whiteness or a critique of blackness, but an observation of humanity metastasizing into inhumanity; how moral causes become the same authoritarian thing they began opposing. One can become an evil fascist while fighting another fascist, like Godzilla fighting King Kong: both ending up destroying Tokyo even if one is fighting for the “good” side. Where all this ends up is social movements THREATENING anyone who questions them. That is the hallmark of evil, threatening people for merely asking why, how, where, when, who, and what.

We must be REALLY DAMN SURE what we are fighting for is the actual TRUTH, not the “truth” we like to hear. Then: If truth is a threat to white men… something is wrong. If truth is a threat to Patrisse Cullors and BLM, something is wrong. If truth is a threat to the police, something is wrong. If truth is a threat to anyone or anything, something is wrong. The truth is Robin DiAngelo’s book is not based on a large irrefutable stack of verifiable social science research. The truth is FOX, CNN, MSNBC, and other news outlets often do not provide the full context of various stories: thus, in an offhand way, they are often very slightly, kinda, sorta, a little bit “fake”. When a senior curator at a major art museum  (Gary Garrels at SFMoMA) is forced to resign when he assures staff that white artists will continue to be collected so as not to engage in reverse discrimination (true story), something is going wrong.

The truth is Black Lives Matter is currently in danger of being steered off a course of deserved, much needed racial justice to socio-political authoritarianism intended to destroy rather than build, threatening anyone who dare question any aspect of any part of their work. We as a society are in SERIOUS trouble when our skin colour automatically makes us an enemy; when individuality and objectivity are considered irredeemably evil. 

That is a fact.

And being my being white has NOTHING to do with it…

 

 

 

 

A Brief Note on ‘Whiteness’…

 I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions.” – James Baldwin

Hi.

I usually don’t talk about social issues, but recent events in neighboring America have led me to think about what my being “white” means in the greater scheme of things.  I have a few thoughts to share with all of you (though my focus today will be talking to my white readers), so I hope you find them at least interesting, if not educational. Note: I use curse words in the following essay. If you don’t like swearing then do not read further… you won’t fucking like what you see. 

***This is my talk with white folks. I encourage everyone else to read along, and if any of you sees something you want to take me to task on, I encourage you to comment (politely!). I ask that you help me learn and grow if you think I have missed anything. It is not your job, but I would appreciate it. Also, I will tolerate ZERO racist language and ideology in the comment section, and either delete it or report it to WordPress if warranted.***

Before we begin consider this secular invocation: in the womb all fetuses begin their formation as female until a gene on the Y Chromosome changes it into a male fetus. Thus we are all female at one point. Also, every single human on the planet right now can be genetically traced back to a single female ancestor named ‘Mitochondrial Eve’, an early human woman who lived somewhere in East Africa between 100,000 to 250,000 years ago. That means that, in a sense, we are all African women! We are all female in the womb, and we are all African in our past. That idea should bring us joy, and bring us all together. Let’s make our ‘mother’ proud and honor her legacy by treating each other like the brothers and sisters we are…like the children she deserves.

First of all, as a PhD wielding anthropologist I think I can safely say I have put some objective thought into ‘whiteness’, as much as I have personal opinions on ‘being white’ and have existed as a white male for all of my life. I am neither proud of being white nor ashamed of it. I feel no guilt over being white, yet at the same time can acknowledge that being white is advantageous in Canadian society.  I don’t think I am a racist… BUT… one can be a good person and not racist, and still participate in society in a way that doesn’t really help end racism. In this way I believe I can always do better work as a white ally of non-white people. Think of it this way: if I see a man robbing another man, it doesn’t mean I myself am a criminal. But if I do nothing to help, then I am not really as anti-crime as I might think I am. Even a tiny amount of assistance is better than just standing there, within earshot of others, boasting about how anti-crime I am! It’s called aiding and abetting, and one can do it in a passively racial way as well. 

Thus, though I am convinced I am not a racist, my potential inaction may certainly make me look like one, at the very least. How would a person know the difference if they saw me in a social setting, so passively ‘not being racist‘ that I am practically indistinguishable from passive racists? I am not advocating for the “white saviour” phenomenon, but we live in an age where white action in the appropriate areas will really help out our non-white friends. It is not my job to run around imagining others need me to save them. It is CERTAINLY not their job to have to become my teacher and explain shit to me every ten seconds because I didn’t do my racial homework. Trust me, you’ll never hear a black guy say to a white guy, “Quit advocating for racial justice or I’ll call the police!”

Also, I feel I must come out and just say this: being a white man who dates non-white women does NOT fucking automatically make you not a racist!! It also does not automatically make you a fetishist, though unfortunately I’ve met a lot of white men in Japan who fetishize Asian women. It is possible to date all sorts of people in Japan, but these guys go waaayyyy out of their way to find as many Asian partners as possible. We used to call them “Rice Kings”, and believe me it was no honour to be tagged as one. They were also easy targets for women who knew they were fake and saw a chance to rid them of their money. Thankfully, more and more people these days are inter-culturally dating and marrying, so my views on the subject may be old fashioned and irrelevant. I may be only talking to older white men on this issue, but I think it needs to be said. If you are a white man who has been challenged on his racism, and you have defended yourself with your dating record, sorry to say but you lost that round. You can have a black girlfriend and dislike black men, in theory or in Reality. 

I also think the phrase “I don’t see colour” should be long dead, as seeing color is not problematic. If I don’t see colour, then I am openly ignoring and denying what another is, which doesn’t sound very enlightened to me. If you are white, imagine if your white girlfriend or boyfriend told you they don’t see you as white! You’d laugh your fucking ass off! I have also noticed that those who say things like “I don’t see colour” tend not to have lives that include a lot of colour to begin with. They don’t see colour because deep down they don’t want to see it. I have never ever heard a black guy, or an Asian woman, or anyone tell me they don’t see me as white. Why is it that we white folks are always wandering around not seeing all these other people? You have to see it to tell people you don’t see it! “I don’t see you as… what I can see of you!”. No wonder so many non-white folks think we are crazy.

Let’s also look at the idea of ‘white privilege’. There are white people who are as poor and as disenfranchised as black people, and so on. The word “privilege” is then seen as irrelevant. I personally think a more educational word might be “advantage”. If we white folks have never had our basic rights and freedoms messed with, we call that “just” and “normal”. But there are many who have their most basic of rights trampled on constantly, thus whites are seen as having an “advantage,” like we get extra stuff. Our “advantage” is being treated fairly according to the law… which is an advantage when others are being impeded by a lack of basic fair treatment.  Think about this:

Why were Japanese Canadians put into Internment Camps in massive numbers (90% of Canada’s Japanese population!) during World War Two, while German Canadians were interred in relative small numbers? Surely someone as dangerous and wicked as Adolf Hitler and the vast wave of hideous Nazis he commanded would frighten the Canadian government into rounding up everyone with a German last name. Some of the Germans interred were brought from Europe as prisoners of war, many others were just required to register with local authorities. So why was it the Japanese who were torn away from their homes and lives? The result was that most German Canadians never had to deal with rebuilding their businesses after the war, they had less catching up to do, though they might have been looked upon with the same amount of suspicion and scorn. That is a definite “privilege”. While German Canadians were trying to become as prosperous as they were before the war, Japanese Canadians were struggling just to survive, thanks to clear and unrestrained institutional racism by the war-time government. 

I will never be ashamed of what I or my very German Canadian family has achieved, because it was us (not our “whiteness”) that achieved it. But it is also fair to say no one hindered us in the way that darker skinned minorities often get hindered, and thus we certainly had that white advantage. So it is not problematic at all to say that I have benefitted from whiteness, somewhere, at some time. Call it privilege, call it advantage, whiteness absolutely has worked for you if you are white, even if you don’t know when or how. Only an idiot would feel guilty about it, only an asshole would deny it, and only some kind of racist would not care. To be white is, in many ways, to have a better time of things in Life. That is borne out by quality social science research.

Whiteness has REALLY worked in the intellectual industry associated with black victimhood, the lily white racism of academic privilege. Let’s say as I stand there witnessing that man robbing another man (named Steve), I take notes, turn them into a book about how Steve was robbed, and then makes hundreds of thousands of dollars off of it, get hired at a prestigious university to teach a course on Steve Robberies, get paid more money to hold corporate events, give speeches at academic conferences about ‘The Nature of Steve-centric Crimes’, go on a book tour, start an institute to research the issues surrounding Steve, and so on. Notice how Steve is excluded from something that he should have more say and participation in.  Thanks to Neoliberal university policies (education as a business) we have well established and growing fields of Steve Studies established for profit, not enlightenment, systems that continue to marginalize and ignore Steve’s own opinions, and often exclude his participation.

Not all but too many universities are making great money off of superficial engagements with actual Steves while white academics build prestigious careers and fat bank accounts off of Steve’s suffering. Now replace “Steve” with any/all marginalized group of humans and you get the point. White academics can do quality unbiased research on Steve even if their own name is Allen, but when a vast sea of almost exclusively white Steve researchers flourish and prosper while Steve himself is left behind, something is amiss. Many universities these days are promoting themselves as progressive, when in actual fact they are merely trying their hardest to make as much money from that image as possible while spending juuuust enough money to maintain the look. If your white professor/department head of Steve Studies is driving a Lamborghini, ask yourself why victimhood sure seems like great business for those who were never the victim…

Another problem is that one can, or at least in my day, could go through school from kindergarten to grade 12, and from undergraduate to graduate school without a single discussion of racism. Not black history, or the medieval literature of Japan… but about racism itself. I spent 26 (!) total years in formal schools, and not once did I ever have a in-class discussion about racism, let alone hear a single fact about black Americans apart from one jazz history class at college. The rich tapestry of black achievement in all  aspects of society was something that I learned in personal and professional engagements as a jazz saxophonist and jazz drummer out in the real world. How can that be? Black history in America is ipso facto American history; even a single mention or two does not “force” diversity down white throats, does not “disrupt” anything. I am not even talking about a separate African Studies course or a full chapter of black American history in a general history text book… I encountered ZERO information about black anything from kindergarten to grade 12, and saw no classes offered on black anything for most of my university life, apart from the occasional African dance ensemble open to all students.

If this is the case going forward, it does not provide the opportunity for white children, teens, and adults to get actual quality, guided training in the study of non-white cultures. I am not just talking about black culture(s) either. The first time I “officially” learned a single thing about Japan was in my undergraduate days, on the first day of class in my university’s karate club. I lost a grand opportunity to go from kindergarten to university thinking about Japanese Canadian Internment along the way, and learning more about it, forming opinions, trying to defend those opinions, maybe changing those opinions… building and refining an understanding of other Canadians whose families got set back socio-economically by just being a certain color and having a certain set of eyes. 

It works both ways. The black author James Baldwin once said on the Dick Cavett Show, “I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions”. The first time I heard that it floored me. If we white folks learn nothing of “other” histories in our school, all the non-white folks sure learn a lot about us white folks. For example, in Canada (under the Indian Act of 1876), it was illegal for coastal Indigenous people to hold “potlatches”, large gatherings where they celebrated weddings, danced, sang, passed down oral histories, gave gifts, celebrate the passing of titles and responsibilities, and other activities that created and reaffirmed the cultural life of the group. Thus (from 1884 to 1951) the government deemed potlatches criminal because they were “anti-Christian”, “reckless”, and “wasteful”. To celebrate the potlatch was a misdemeanor punishable by prison time, and thus were rarely held (only in secret) until they ceased to be illegal. That meant for 75 years, young and old Indigenous people alike lost the opportunity to celebrate and maintain their heritage, which means they lost so many intangible cultural artifacts that they were practical “cleansed” of it in the process of being “civilized”. Also, it was only possible for an Indigenous person to vote if they renounced their Indigenous status, and even lost their status if they didn’t marry a fellow Indigenous person. 

You know when I learned that information? Yesterday (!!), after buying and beginning to read the book, 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act. I learned it yesterday… though I grew up close to three different reservations. Many people don’t even know that North American Indians are not even “India-ns” as Christopher Columbus mistaken called them, assuming he had landed on the shores of India as per his mission. The fact that a whole generation of coastal Indigenous people never got the chance to openly celebrate their unique heritage means traditions and languages were lost, the process of cultural genocide. No social and cultural glue = no identity or past, a “blank slate” upon which colonial culture is forcibly written upon.

By looking at the examples above I have been building towards the point I want to make which is this: at the VERY LEAST… the prioritizing of white academics in fields involving ethnic issues, the almost complete lack of inclusion of “non-white information” in most schooling, and the moments in our family histories where we whites were less impeded than others by our local government organizations (we white folks could have all the “white” potlatches we wanted from the beginning of time to now)… shows us white people that there is maybe just a teeny tiny bit of an *institutional* problem in regards to Race, that an institution that is not officially or unofficially racist can still function in a manner that tacitly allows racial ignorance to remain, thus it is institutionally racist to some degree by default? I was never taught to be racist… but I was never taught to think about the subtleties and complexities of the lives of the various Black, Asian, Indigenous, Inuit, and Indian peoples in Canada. That is institutional by default. Think about it.

I am not trying to preach or change your mind, folks. I am just encouraging you to think about why I, a white man, learned anything of significance about non-whiteness outside of where I should have learned at least some of it.

 

That is all…