Live Tweets from Ancient Egypt: Part 5

Great Courses, Bob Brier, tweets composed and sent while dog-walking. AI screwups corrected in brackets

For continuity, start with Part 1:

Lecture 9-10

Oh my. The individual tweets from Egypt are coming out pretty rough. AI does a number on them. I dress them up later for the blog post, but—should I spare followers these tweets? AI somehow managed to put a Starbucks in Ancient Egypt.

I am going to rename the Pharaohs on account of AI. Not only it screws up the names, but even one or two words on either side. Sometime I can’t decipher the sentence I have tweeted. So if you read about Richard the pyramid builder, don’t worry. I’ll make it right in the blog

Or put brackets to indicate the correction.

Now Bob is talking about the Great Pyramid. And he’s about to go into conspiracy theories. Let’s see what he has to say. Incidentally the builder of the Great Pyramid was Kenny [Khufu], son of Steven [Snefaru], who built the first one

Bob relayed some stories about the pyramid, it’s magical qualities, he doesn’t buy that I had never heard myself. 

Napoleon went inside the Great Pyramid as his men marched around it. He asked to be left alone for a time. When he emerged, he was Adam.[ashen—thanks, AI] People asked him why, he would not tell them. Even on. St. Helena . He almost told someone. And then didn’t.

The Great Pyramid was built with free men, paid.Not slaves. Very little slave labor in Egypt, Bob says. The time of the Exodus was much later.

90,000 men working in three shifts.

Howard [Herodotus] the Greek historian said a Gyptian’s [Egyptians, not ‘a Gyptians’] used machines. Did he mean levers? There is no written record of how the pyramids were built. Like a trade secret.

There is a helicopter hovering 200 yards away. With a guy perched on the runner. Are they setting him down atop the power tower? I think so. Let me get it from a different angle.


Yes. It is somehow servicing the tower. Didn’t Jehovah make flying things that are soundless? Lord, this thing is noisy!!

Oh, and in case anyone is confused, this helicopter I see while walking the dog and narrating the Egyptian tweets. I’m not saying the helicopter is in ancient Egypt.

No more than 2 inches variation of level over 2 acres. Precise, but no great need for mathematics, says Bob. Still, I am reminded of Smart Ancient Syndrome (SAS). Just once I would like to see archaeologist say, my God these people were stupid! But no, it is always about how smart they were.

Tourists enter the Great Pyramid by the robber’s entrance. It was chiseled in the ninth century. The actual entrance was unknown. Today it is known, but sealed up.

Here is a pup that just brought his ball to me on the end of a strap. Dropped it at my feet. He wants me to fling it! I do and he runs happily to fetch it. Uh oh. Now he is bringing it back.

They use core bald [“corbelling”] step ceilings to relieve the weight on pyramid ceilings. I have avoided this word because a, I wasn’t sure what it was, and B, I know full well that AI would mess it all up

It is how the upper portions of the interior rooms gradually come together in a series of step-like patterns to distribute the weight. If you were upside down, you could climb them from the top as though climbing stairs..

Two theories on how the mass of stones got so high. A long ramp. That would have been a quarter-mile. A huge undertaking in itself. Or corkscrewing around the structure as it is being erected. I think I have read massive objections to both simply

as a matter of moving that much mass. Don’t know if he will go there or not. At this point, it seems like he will breeze over them as to trivial appoint to consider.

Yes, he does not expand. But does say how you can’t get a sheet of paper between the blocks. A remarkable achievement, Bob says, and then moves on to the trick of coordinating so many people to do it. 

Oh OK. He attributes it to the power of a god-king, who can lean into people, make them do what he wants. That’s why he likes powerful kings so much. I’m not sure I buy that either. I mean, they can lean into him, but I’m still not sure with what result.

While all the other dogs run around the dog park, there are six now in total, but my old dog walks straight up to the people and stands by them. They always like him. One of them called him wise.

If I am right there Bob ignores the physical impossibility of certain feeds, or at least extreme improbability, then it is an example of how this system of things work. People become brilliant in their own fields, not worrying overmuch about how or if they link to other fields.

You really don’t get as much battery life as you think you should. No wonder they sell them by the dump truck load at Costco. The first time my batteries went dead, I didn’t recognize the problem. I had expected the narrative to slow down, as it would on a cassette tape.

Bob blows away the theories of some competing archaeologists. They’re wrong, he says. They probably are. Bob represents the majority view

Bob represents the majority view, and he has the platform for that reason, but so much of history is the victor writes the rules. How much of it is true here? He presents it all very well, but what of that verse that the rival comes through and says it all differently.

”The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” Proverbs 18:17

The Greek archaeologists of another lecture series stated, What if you found figurines and Arches? Are they gods and temples? Or are they Barbie dolls and McDonald’s?

No, Napoleons troops did not shoot off the nose of the spanks. [Sphinx]  Napoleon would not have allowed it.. He revered history. And a prior relief of the spanks shows its nose already shut off.

One portion of the Sphinxes beard is in the Egyptian museum. Another portion in the British Museum. Egypt would like it back. Bob thinks the British would like to give it back.

But they don’t give it back due to the president. [precedent]  Give the beard back, and next thing you know, they will want the Rosetta stone back.

Almost all Egyptian tombs were west of the Nile. They even said, he’s a westerner, just as people say, ‘He’s gone south.’ Why west?  Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Ra was the sun god.

Last king of the 6th dynasty—Pepi II, is the longest ruling king in history. Ruled from a boy till his death at 98.  Bob thinks maybe that’s why the old kingdom collapsed. He is a god-king, and thus cannot be supplanted. But he is too old to lead armies. Do I buy this?

Go to Part 6

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Live Tweets from Ancient Egypt: Part 2

Great Courses, Bob Brier, tweets composed and sent while dog-walking.

For continuity, start with Part 1:

Lecture 3:

One cute thing to get your head around is that upper Egypt is lower than lower Egypt. That’s because the Nile river flows MapWise uphill, but like all rivers flows from up to down

Egyptian gods that are female always have names ending in T. That does make things easier.

The professor mentions Isis, the Egyptian god, what the name is twice supplanted, once by the terrorist group, and once by Bob Dylan‘s cool song, best performed at Woodstock.


Isis also is a female guard. It is a T God. But we know what S form because the Greeks got a hold of it.

Bob reaches the point of saying, in his classroom, students are all ready to kill him after he says what he is about to say. So I pause here and tweet, before seeing just what it is he says. Will I want to kill him to?

I’m sure he doesn’t mind being called Bob, either. If he did, he would not be Bob briar. He would be Robert briar.

Oh yeah. He can live. He just says philosophical questions have answers, to contrast with some who think they don’t. As an example, he says is there life after death? It has an answer, even if it is unanswerable, in his opinion.

Whoops! My bad. He says they can be answered.

 His example is, does the universe have a beginning or not? Did it come into being, or has it always existed. So far, OK. But then he says if we can disapprove one, the alternative will stand. Not according to skeptic Michael Shermer‘s heads I win tails you lose rules.

that say just I am wrong (or can’t answer everything) , it doesn’t mean you are right. I think he is just trying to stack the deck.

The beginning of Lecture 4:

So Napoleon was an OK guy the professor says. I’m sure he doesn’t mean across-the-board. Or maybe he does. That’s how it is with academics. They’re blown away by other academics. And Napoleon had some culture to him.

Napoleon is the guy, who first came up with a scheme of odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the other. He got tired of not being able to find things

Ha! Now he mentions cabinet of curiosities that wealthy people used to have back then. I wrote about that, here.

Napoleon assembled a huge scientific retinal for his conquering trip to Egypt. In 1898. Very few of them knew where they were going. It was a secret. His political mission was to mess up the British, taking their colony. His personal reason was to see Egypt.

The fighting stopped for 10 minutes when Admiral Nelson blew up the French ship Lorient. Nobody could believe it. They were in shock. Nelson had navigated between the French ships and the shore, and blasted the French who had guns facing out.

After destroying the French fleet, Nelson sailed away, stranding Bonaparte. But Bonaparte took his 150 scientist and began an institute for studying Egypt.

Napoleon abandoned his army, set sail to eat to Paris, declared himself the conqueror of Egypt. The brothers know the truth, and ridiculed him. But he had started the beginnings of Egyptology. Next year next year his scientist at least the definitive volume on Egyptology.

OK, I didn’t know this, or much of anything else. The Rosetta Stone was found by Bonapartes expedition, some Egypt items went to Bretton part of the peace treaty, some were retained by the French. The French wanted to keep the result of stone that contains the key to...1/2

But the British insisted upon it. But the French had made a copy of it before hand. So they got the benefit from it too. This is the beginning of Egyptian antiquities being collected. A huge collection in Britain, and an equally huge collection in the Louvre


Go to Part 3


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Live Tweets from Ancient Egypt: Part 1

How much composition can you do walking the dog while listening to the Great Courses on CD? We will see. I know one thing, attempting this will improve my listening skills, which my wife will tell you are not stellar. It is enough to stop periodically and send a tweet via the phone. There is no way to rewind, and to play the entire track again is just too much—the dog will only tolerate so much inattention. So I have to catch it the first time.

This is why, in the tweets to follow, I don’t give the Egyptologist’s name. I missed it in the opening remarks. Now that I am home in my chair, I see on the CD jacket that it is Bob Brier. He is all enthused about his topic. The Great Courses professors are never duds. Only one got on my nerves a little bit, a history professor with such a passion for his subject that he seemed to present all characters within as though they were his children, some being naughty and some being nice. But once I adjusted, I was okay even with that. And you should hear the music fellow—alas, I forgot his name, but he has done several courses, showing off Beethoven! Whoa, is it ever contagious. You do come away thinking you know your Beethoven when he is done. (Granted, it didn’t take much, since I knew virtually nothing before.)

I have had to set aside Bleak House. It is 29 CDs and I was not done with it when the library wanted the set back, for someone else had put it on hold. So I reserved it for when that person was done with it, and it will just have to be a cliffhanger for now. I left off just after Bucket arrested George for the murder of the odious lawyer of whom you thought, it’s about time someone killed him. It might be George. It might be Lady Deadlock. Don’t tell me who it was. If you do, I am going to assume it was the other just to thwart you. Bleak House was another Great Courses suggestion, offered by a professor of literature, who seems to have a preference for —um— “complicated” characters, Bleak House being a “wholesome” exception to most offered fare. He says something about Esther being so nauseatingly nice that even Dickens must have wanted to kill her off a time or two.

They always spin of the credentials at Great Courses, and Bob’s is that he recently mummified a body in the Egyptian way. He has been on TV, so he probably is somewhat of a showman, and as such, he will have a Twitter account. If I find it, I will tag him once with it. Ah—here it is: #AskBobBrier—I was right. He is not one of those retiring types like the “philologicians” (his word) who love words and thus are whizzes with hieroglyphics. Nor is he a (he had a word for this but I forget) a museum type who loves to collect and study artifacts but has no interest in interacting or retrieving them.

He is probably like O’Donnell, the Professor of the Gilded Age series, who has shown on the History Channel, and who in real life (I wouldn’t know if this is true of Brier or not, at least, not yet) is intensely partisan and really hates Trump. I could be wrong, but I think historians generally do. I think the reason they do is that they get involved in their story of man ruling the earth—that’s mostly what history is, really—and they come to identify with human efforts, hoping for the noble in them, and highlighting whatever examples exist. The only way their earth will advance is if all nations “come together.” Thus, they like world bodies, they like things like the United Nations. They don’t like it when some figure says “America first,” or whatever his/her country may be. They see nothing but chaos along that road. Brier might not be one of them, for, come to think of it, he said in Lecture One that history is just a series of disasters. Therefore, he may not be so starry-eyed as are his History counterparts, so hopeful that humans will have the answers if you but give them unlimited room to try their stuff.

Probably Bob is like Ed Barnhart, who taught the Great Course on South American archeology. He was also a doer. He related how, as a boy, his mom had dropped him off to see the Indiana Jones movie, and upon seeing the caption “Somewhere in South America,” said to himself, “There’s a South America?” It began an interest in the continent, and he has discovered his very own ancient Mayan (yes, I know, Central America, but he was just getting started) city.

What a great gig to be a university professor. You get to talk about your passion all day to people who come to you and pay money for the privilege—you don’t have to go to them. And they have already acquiesced that your topic is interesting enough at least for them to be there. You don’t have to interact with poverty. You don’t see squalor. Unless you play your cards recklessly, money issues are non-existent. You get to hang out with cool people in the heady world of ideas. I like it.

The only thing that might be an issue is if you get infatuated with your students. Some of them are just awakening to to how sexuality might affect someone other than same-age, some are entirely unaware, and some know it full well and play it for all its worth. Of course, the responsibility for proper conduct will always fall on the older party, but if he is a piece of work himself, if his own life is trending towards trainwreck, and certainly if he is an opportunist, all sorts of things may happen that he will deeply come to regret in a MeToo age.

Anyhow, here goes with the tweets. It is just things that catch my attention as I am dog-walking, and I must interrupt myself now and then to hurl someone’s misguided golf frisbee back over the fence. It will be sort of like taking notes, and I may do something with it later. I haven’t quite figured out a way to separate my asides from Bob’s own thoughts. Maybe later. Sometimes it is obvious, but sometimes not. Remember that these are dictated into the phone, and then I must quickly correct AI blunders (you should see what it did to Herodotus!) I don’t usually worry much about capitalization. Everything is a bit of a rush. Here goes:

“The goal of the archaeological writer is to make the dead come alive, not to put the living to sleep.” I love it!

That ubiquitous painting of Henry the eighth isn’t anatomically correct. The artist for the braggart deliberately skewed it so as to loom more impressively over anyone who would view it.

“The Egyptian’s reduced art to paint by numbers,” the great courses professor says. Art doesn’t change for 3000 years. It wasn’t supposed to change. It wasn’t supposed to be creative. It was to reflect the way things were.

Plato  wasn’t crazy about art, because his was a search for truth, and art distorted truth. But he had nothing bad to say about Egyptian art, for that part attempted to portray truth as it was, and not interpret that.

If you expect to be spending more time in an afterlife rather than the present one, you will put more energy there. Where have I heard similar thoughts? The Egyptian tombs would be engraved with scenes of whatever the deceased enjoyed doing in the present life.

If you’re taking a trip to a unfamiliar place. And you’re not just sure what you will need. You take everything that you can. So says the great courses Egypt professor. That’s why Egyptian tombs are so packed with day today possessions.

Ha! A completely speculative account for how the uneducated people probably screwed up the great Heroditus. An illiterate tour guide probably made a story up about onions being fed to the  workers who built the graat pyramid , and Herodotus recorded it.

Since the Egyptian’s were huge into war, loved to record their victories, live to fight, would they have recorded that Jehovah cleaned their clocks at the Red Sea? Already I smell a rat.

As was spun in the book Is the Bible really the word of God? national chroniclers (media) loved to create the attractive version even if it wasn’t entirely true. Emphasized what they want emphasized, deemphasize what they wanted deemphasized. It is exactly the same today.

The Bishop of Usher worked out the begets and traced down to the year of creation. Watch later a Russian bishop extended it to month,week, day, and time of day! Much later his Russian successor probably agreed & also banned Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Isaac newton worked out Egyptian chronology in his spare time. As an escape for him. He is the one who predicts the end in 2060. Is he right? Or might it come before?

Now the great courses professor is slobbering over Darwin as the be all and end all. Darwins OK, discovered some stuff, added to knowledge, but not to the point of being the be-all and end-all.

He says the Egyptian’s first arrived from the south in Africa. One of Michener’s books said the same, but I don’t remember the title. Michener’s books are grand sagas, following a given family name through centuries, even before they were families.

If you dressed Neanderthal man up, and put him on a subway, you would not notice him. He would fit right in. So says the Egypt professor, he was not a hulking brute, he did not live in a cave. Dumbing down is not a phenomenon Just of modern times, tho it probably has accelerated.

What will this Egypt teacher do when he comes to conspiracy views on pyramids? You know, how we today couldn’t build what they built thousands of years ago. Even today human technology is insufficient. How will he handle that?

And what will he do when he comes to Bible accounts? He will blow them away, of course, but will he do it with respect or ridicule? He seems like a nice guy. But sometimes peoples brains lose it when it comes to spiritual things.

To be continued:

See Ancient Tweets Part 2.

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They Teach Early Christianity Like Night and Day—Bart Ehrman vs Luke Timothy Johnson

Preaching Jesus was no picnic in the first century. “Are you speaking of that fellow that they executed?” someone would say. “He’s the savior of the world?” That’s just plain idiocy, thought the non-Jew. The Jews would think it beyond idiocy—they would think it blasphemy, for they would recall the Torah verse of how anyone hung on a stake was accursed by God. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

Luke Timothy Johnson tells how early Christians had to overcome their “cognitive dissonance” on that point. Paul, the apostle, tells how he approached Corinth “in weakness and in fear and with much trembling” because he knew they would regard him as a snake oil salesman. (1 Corinthians 2:3) But only Bart Ehrman, the Bible-thumper who became an anti-Bible thumper but you can still see the Bible thumper in the anti-Bible thumper, actually presents him as a snake-oil salesman—Paul the itinerant preacher competing with hundreds of other itinerant preachers, each trying to yank the narrative of Christ his own way per his own “theology”—each concerned primarily with saving his own rear end from fire in the hereafter.

When Bart takes up the challenge of presenting Jesus as Messiah to that world, he likens it to presenting David Koresh as messiah to the modern world. “David Koresh—the man who abused children and stockpiled weapons? He’s the messiah?” he anticipates modern reaction. Why does he make such a dumb comparison? I get it that either one is supposed to be shocking, but still...

When you tell an illustration, you’re supposed to make sure all aspects of it line up with the subject—otherwise someone will be sure to spot the discordant part and throw out the entire illustration in consequence. Here the discordant part is glaring. Did Jesus abuse children? Did Jesus stockpile weapons? His “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” is among the best-known adages on the planet.

There’s no way Bart can’t know this. How can one not conclude that he has so little regard for the subject that he just doesn’t care? Even Mark Twain, reputed atheist with some of the most scathing invectives ever uttered on religion, never had an unkind word for Jesus. The problem, according to Twain, was that nobody followed him. “There has only been one Christian,” he wrote. “They caught and killed him—early.” But trashing Christ is all in a day’s work for Bart.

Luke Timothy Johnson and Bart Ehrman both teach religion courses for the Great Courses lecture series. Their topics aren’t exactly the same but there’s plenty of overlap—they both cover the spread of Christianity in the first few centuries after his death. Comparing the two approaches reveals all the difference between a violin and a fiddle—the style is so different that it’s hard to believe the instrument is the same. Luke follows a traditional religious approach, Bart the historical critical approach. Luke examines his subject from within, Bart examines it from without. Luke looks for points of agreement. Bart looks for points of disharmony. Luke’s take is how early Christians complement. Bart’s take is on how they compete—just like organisms do in the survival-of-the-fittest evolutionary world.

Luke isn’t keen on the historical-critical approach as he acknowledges that it dominates religious study at the university level these days—send your child there so they can break down his or her faith (my words, not his). He cites David Strauss, an early advocate of that approach, who observes that “critical historiography can only deal with events in human times and space.”  Therefore, as Luke Johnson restates it, “the historian cannot take up anything having to do with the transcendent, or the supernatural, the historian cannot talk about the miraculous birth of Jesus, his miracles, his walking on the water, his transfiguration, his resurrection from the dead, and so forth.

“Well, fair enough. The historian can’t talk about those things, but that methodological restraint of Strauss very quickly becomes implicitly an epistemological denial, that is ‘the historian cannot talk about these things, therefore they are not real.’”

Exactly! It is as though a mechanic approaches an ailing car with a toolbox equipped only with wrenches. Finding a screwdriver is needed, he does not  reproach himself for not bringing one. Rather, he declares the problem unsolvable. Helpful as science is, there are times when it wouldn’t know a fact if it choked on one.

Back to Luke: “And so...the narrative of Jesus and the biblical story simply gets eliminated, [with] each item looked at through the political agenda of the writer—what was [this or that writer] trying to accomplish, rather than, ‘How is God speaking to us?’” Sure enough, when Bart tackles subjects as Jesus’ miraculous birth, his miracles, and his resurrection, he concludes that they cannot be proven scientifically. Duh.

The mother of all obtuseness appears when Bart examines the reason behind Christian persecution in the first century. Rome burned, the populace suspected Nero of setting the fire (to clear the way for urban renewal) and to deflect blame from himself, he redirected it to the Christians, who were hunted down and killed in the most heinous ways. Bart’s conclusion: “So Christians weren’t persecution for being Christian—they were persecuted for arson!”

Bart leaves untouched the 800-pound question behind the arson charge: “What was it about Christians that made them such perfect scapegoats?” It doesn’t occur to him to go there, though it would anyone else. Why didn’t Nero blame the Mafia, the spies from Egypt, the fortune tellers, the crazies, or a host of more likely suspects?

His obtuseness is heightened by the fact that Tacitus tells him the answer—and it doesn’t strike him as significant enough to mention. According to that Roman historian, Christians were “convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of hating the human race.” How can Bart possibly miss that?

It’s not as though are so many sources that this one fell through the cracks. There are only four contemporary historians that even mention Christianity—Tacitus, Pliny the younger, Philo, and Josephus—and none of them write more than a paragraph or so. Christianity was a movement of the lower classes, and then, as now, the doings of such people are beneath the notice of the chroniclers.

No, Bart is just obtuse to the spiritual nature of his subject. His obsession with historical and scientific facts causes him to overlook the only FACT that matters—early Christians were regarded as radicals—yes, call them ‘extremists’—who were “hating the human race.” That is the absurdity that bears looking into, not the technicalities of the arson charge. Why in the world would Jesus followers—the ones who heeded his command to not take to the sword—be thought haters of the human race? The answer is very close to the reason Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted today in Russia, and are targets of general disapproval in most other lands.

Of course, their pacifism means non-participation in war efforts, and neutrality bumps it up a notch to not supporting in any way the war effort. That will always put you on the black list of a nationalistic world that demands everyone stay on the same page—“when we say ‘It’s war, that means you applaud!” But the distaste is for reasons more basic than that.

Luke Timothy Johnson observes how Christians “would not even perform the minimal political gesture of offering a pinch of incense to the gods.” This is because the gesture was religious to them. To everyone else, it was “political”—not a big deal. Why could they not grasp the Christian point of view?

The polytheistic world back then had no problem with Christians bringing in another god—not in itself. There was always room at the table for another god—pull up a chair. The problem was that once Jehovah was seated at the table, he ordered all the other gods away. None of the other gods were so possessive. All took it for granted that you worshipped many, and even when some human (such as the empiror) claimed divine status, it was not a problem for anyone other than the Christians (and Jews).

That situation isn’t exactly analogous to JWs and the flag salute? Anyone else will do it. Outright scoundrels and traitors will do it with fingers crossed behind their backs. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses read a violation of the Ten Commandments into it. “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (Exodus 20:4-5) Though the U. S. Supreme Court has acquiesced to Witness interpretation, that does nothing to garner them acceptance in the popular mind.

“I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion,” says the verse. “There you go again,” said Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, calling him on an attitude out of sync with the changing times and winning the election partly on the strength of that line. When the popular mood favors inclusiveness, it does not help to follow a God who requires “exclusive devotion.” It caused Christians to sit out events of life that others followed as a matter of routine, and that dependably annoys people.

Bart points out that Christians were reproached for dividing families—just as Jehovah’s Witnesses are today, and just as Jesus counseled would be the case. “Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I came to bring, not peace, but a sword,” he says. “For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” As a practical matter, Christianity that strives to stay true to Jesus’ words will do that.

The “haters of the human race” charge becomes easier to envision in view of Jesus’ words above. Sitting out routine events in life based on “exclusive devotion” simply gets people’s dander up. Kicking back at such charges, the same as Jehovah’s Witnesses must do today, Paul points out, “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.” (2 Corinthians 7:2) The same undercurrent of “victimhood” so popular today finds its counterpart back then. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Christians stood so apart from routine areas of life, choosing the company of each other instead unless it was to spread their faith, that they were thought to throw sand in the gears of community life.

Why doesn’t Bart, who enmeshes himself in the gears of “science,” see that? He describes the executions of early Christian martyrs. In many cases, Roman officials gave them every chance to recant, pleaded with them to recant, patiently tried to persuade them that offering a pinch of incense to the emperor was too tiny a gesture to be concerned about, and—incredibly (considering his evangelical background), Bart sides with the Romans and expresses amazement that the martyrs could be so stubborn. “Why, when they had so much to offer this world, would they be so eager to leave it?” is the gist of one of his review questions.

Should you want to read up on how the Bible canon was assembled, either of these two writers and lecturers will get the job done. However, Bart with his atheistic point of view, is relentlessly annoying, and Luke, with his devotional point of view, is unobjectionable. Ditto if you want to read up on the early church “fathers” and apologists. Watchtower publications are light on those topics. The canon is explored in places as the Scriptures Inspired book the Insight book, but Bart or Luke expands it into much greater detail. And Watchtower articles on the early apologists are downright sparse, and tend to focus on what they got wrong.

I rather like how Luke Johnson puts it: “I think there is perhaps no greater evidence of Christianity’s success as a religion, that is, as a movement quite apart from imperial sponsorship and the politics of empire than these ancient versions from lands extending from present day Iran, Central Asia, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey, up into Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe. Something in the Bible must have spoken to all of these far-flung people and touched them in some fashion, not only to the dukes and the nobles and the bishops, but also the ordinary people who seemed eagerly to receive the word in their own languages. Indeed it may be an oblique but very real compliment to the energy and the power of Christianity in the first millenium of its existence that so many peoples in so many lands found these odd stories from ancient Palestine and the Greco-Mediterranean world of the first century to be both compelling and convincing.”

Yes, it is wordy. Yes, you half expect him to say, “All roads lead to heaven.” Yes, he may grumble when he finds out you don’t do the trinity, and discard your claim to Christianity on that account. Yes, when he says it was dangerous to be a Bible translator in the Middle Ages, he never says why—in his own way he is just as prone to ignore the 800 lb gorilla as is Bart—but since he does speak appreciatively of spiritual things we’ll let it slide. At any rate, I’ll take him in a heartbeat over Bart. The latter irritates me, though possibly not on purpose.

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The Power of a Joke—Soviet Times and Now

Russians under communism used to blow off steam with jokes—thousands of jokes against the regime, against the shortage of goods, against the secret police—says Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, narrating his History of Eastern Europe course for the Great Courses teaching company.

“A man stops by the office of the secret police for help in locating his parrot. They chase him away—they have more important things to do—but as the man leaves he lays great stress on how if the parrot is found, they must not think that its political opinions are his.”


Decades later, Paul Goble keeps up with current jokes: A man formally applies to the government for a position in the Inquisition. He is told he is either 1000 years too late or 3 years too early”—this is a joke that will resonate with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are officially classified as “extremist”—a designation shared only with ISIS.

Some of the old Russian jokes (the Russian term is ‘anekdoti’) are timeless:

What’s the difference between capitalism and communism? Capitalism is man’s exploitation of man but communism is the exact opposite!

The joke is versatile enough that it can be applied to any contrasting forms of government, much as Betty McClure was able to redeem a (possible) ethnic jokes simply by applying it to her circuit overseer husband:

Dave comes from a town so backward that it’s greatest tragedy was the time the town library burned to the ground. Both books were destroyed! One wasn’t even colored in yet!

Versatility is a good thing. Maybe the Russian joke itself from Ecclesiastes 8:9, the verse of how “man has dominated man to his harm.” It is attribute of human rule itself, and can be fit to any specific type, recalculating only the new winners and losers. All human governments drop the ball. Usually it is a bowling ball. As people contemplate the vulnerability of their right and left toes, thus is decided their politics.

Professor Liulevicius goes on to state: “Scholars are still debating whether such jokes undermined the whole system by mocking it or whether on the contrary they stabilized the system by allowing people to vent some of their frustrations without ever openly challenging the regime. There’s no consensus on this,” and then he goes on to explore “the power of a joke.”

I’d say the power of a joke is that of a double-edged sword. Almost like the Word itself, it “is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts.” (Hebrews 4:12)

A concluding chapter of Tom Irregardless and Me reads thus: “If we have poked some fun at Tom Irregardless, Oscar Oxgoad, and Tom Pearlsandswine, it is to establish the greater picture that God uses people like them to accomplish feats that their higher-ups, though they have far more education, can only dream of. There’s not much that God can do with independent people, and proud ones stop him dead in his tracks. With humble ones, conscious of their spiritual need, he can do a lot.

How can you not write this in view of Jesus’ words that the high-brow do not get the sense of the scriptures because their own vanity gets in the way? At that time Jesus said in response: ‘I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children.” That’s who responds in the main to the Christian message: “young children.” If you present them as though Rhodes Scholars, people visit the Kingdom Hall and discover in no time at all that they’re not—so why not present them with all the foibles that young children have as well as all that is appealing?

Then, too, regarding the power of a joke, there is the Alfred P Doolittle factor: “They’re always throwing goodness at you, but with a little bit of luck a man can duck.” Humor lets you duck when you have to. Let’s face it—in any organized arrangement there will be things that don’t go your way. “Why on earth don’t they do it this way?” you’ll say, as they do it that way to thunderous applause—and use of judicious humor bails you out as a relief valve.

Of course, you can also use humor to savage things, and this I do, too—with the blade pointed the proper way, of course. Vic Vomodog—watch out! Once you laugh at something, will you ever look at it again in the same way? “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one,” wrote Voltaire. “Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”


For years, a man has been saving up in order to buy a new car. One day the party official summons him to say that his patience, hard work, and loyalty have been rewarded—he has worked his way up the list and he can now expect his car in but 10 years time. The man asks the party official if he knows on what day 10 years out his car will arrive, to which the official consults his records and tells him. The man then asks if it will come in the morning or afternoon, and at that the official frowns. “What kind of a question is that?” he demands.

“It’s just that I hope it arrives in the afternoon,” the man says, “because the plumber is coming that morning.”


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Just Who is Saved Come Armageddon?

Back in 1967, the year of the KM School for Elders held in Pittsburgh, were you to ask an elder “Will only JWs be saved at Armageddon?” he would most likely answer Yes, “but in a way that doesn’t make us look unreasonable.”

This is because Jehovah’s Witnesses are a “one true religion” faith. There are a lot of those around—not everyone maintains that “all roads lead to heaven”—and one firebrand of the Russian Orthodox Church—isn’t it Audrey Kuraev?—regrets that such a profession should be labeled extremist hate speech because there are factions in his Church that would like to say the same and now don’t dare. Extremist? If you say you are the one true Church and are wrong, just who is hurt? All that happens is you are left with egg on your face. And if you are right, you’ve provided a healthy heads-up.

Can it really be done—to answer yes “but in a way that doesn’t make us look unreasonable?” I am told (without evidence, as the phrase goes) that Jewish tradition holds as as the ark was lifting off the water and those treading it hollered, “Is it only you and your family that will be saved?” Noah was instructed to answer Yes, “but in a way that doesn’t make us look unreasonable.”

It is dicey topic, Armageddon is. It’s hard to put a smiley face on it, even if it does come with the caveat that “distress will not rise up a second time.” You should hear Vic Vomodog rail about how it means those of his old religion gleefully contemplate the slaughter of billions of human beings! Well—now that you put it that way...

But if you are a Bible believer, what are you going to do? There it is in numerous texts, not just in Revelation, but in such places as 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, about how “you who suffer tribulation will be given relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels  in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” It cannot be dismissed euphemistically as “tough love.”

Still, it is nowhere near as nasty as what churches have historically embraced down through the centuries—the doctrine of hellfire, which holds that for a few decades of wrongdoing a person will be punished forever! I’ll take a quick death at Armageddon any day over that gruesome fate. One knockout punch and you sleep forever.

Bart Ehrman, the Bible thumper who became the anti-Bible-thumper, but you can still see the Bible thumper in the anti-Bible thumper—comes from this “theology,” so that you can see why he might consider escaping it as having opened his eyes. If fact, in one of his lectures for the Great Courses (what were they thinking when they chose him?) he explains the really bizarre resurrection-of-the-dead notion that prevails among his former co-religionists—that the ungodly are raised so that God can rub their noses in the condemned course that they chose, after which they will be cast into hell forever and ever! How did it escape him (then or now) that “he who has died has been acquitted for their sin?” (Romans 6:7) God doesn’t do a “double jeopardy” on them. It is the course they choose upon their resurection that matters, not what they did in their prior life. Ronald Curzan of the JW organization explains it here:

As for Great Courses, they wouldn’t know a scripture if one bit them in the rear end. They just scan the roster of university professors, pick an esteemed one, and figure he must know what he is talking about. It is not their fault if it turns out that he doesn’t. Or rather, he does, but only according to the inadequate method of biblical examination he has chosen—that of historical scientific analysis. He is like a mechanic come to the job, his toolbox stuffed only with wrenches, when what is needed is a screwdriver. Rather than regret he doesn’t have the correct tools, he declares that if a wrench can’t fix it it is not a problem. To be sure, Great Courses somewhat redeems itself by selecting Luke Timothy Johnson for their series ‘The Story of the Bible,’ who examines it from a traditional approach and does not adopt the default position that it is human myth making.

The current answer to “Will only Jehovah’s Witnesses be saved?” is no longer ‘Yes—but to be explained so that it doesn’t make us look unreasonable.” It is “No,” followed by how to say such would be presumptuous, since only Jehovah can judge those who might be mentally disabled, children too young to make up their minds, etc. This is essentially the same answer, isn’t it, with caveats that can be greatly expanded. Last I heard, one out of everything three Americans are on some form of antidepressants or other psych medicine. Research has come to light that a child’s brain formation is incomplete even into their early 20’s. I remember how Ray Hartman the circuit overseer would come up on the platform with a stack of material to choose from, and toward the end of whatever talk he was giving he would comment on various items, seemingly choosing them as he went, and that this business of brain development into the 20’s was among them, or maybe he just told it to me in private, but it does come from him.

Well, the Witness organization can’t wiggle much, can it? What can it do but abide to the “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5? Don’t other faiths baptize? Yes, they do, but the ones who aren’t raising the ungodly dead just to say “Told ya so!” before tossing them into hellfire, Bart Ehrman’s former cohorts, are blasting infants with squirt guns these days on account of Covid-19. (as seen  on

My daughter answers that question with: “Well—I’m not Jesus and I don’t know.” I suppose she picked up the spirit from me, but not the exact words. I recall saying in one talk: “Just how far removed can one be? A certain distance or not one millimeter?” adding that I did not know but I would operate myself according to the principle of James 4:17 that if one knew what was right and did not do it, it was a sin for him.

Probably a lot of brothers take solace that, as Jehovah spared Nineveh at the last minute with: “Wow—look how stupid there are! They don’t know their right from their left!” he will somehow cut many some slack in ways we can’t foresee. (Jonah 4:11) But the Watchtower can hardly say this, for that would be clearly speculative. What can they say other than “One faith, One Lord, One baptism?” So that is what they say, in the main.

I don’t lose sleep over it. It is enough for me to be occupied with holding up my end. I don’t concern myself with God holding up his. What happens happens—and of course, I will adjust to it. As Anthony Morris said when he was trying to sell a house—it was critically important for him to quickly have the cash for some reason I forget—and the deal came at virtually the last second, and he related how he would look up in prayer and say “Um—it’s getting a little tight here,” but then qualify his duress with “He’s God—He can do what he wants.” 

The spirit of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, because Jehovah anointed me to declare good news to the meek. He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the wide opening of the eyes to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of Jehovah’s goodwill and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn...  (Isaiah 61:1-3)


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Voltaire Hacking Through the Weeds - Part 1

Listening up on Voltaire via the Great Courses Lecture series, I get the same sense that I did with Mark Twain, and even to an extent, with Charles Darwin—that if they had had any sense of the overall coherence of the Bible writings, their output would have been much different.

Darwin at one point toyed with becoming a clergyman—a respectable profession for a man of letters who couldn’t otherwise figure out what he wanted to do with his life. The historical novel ‘The Origen,’ by Irving Stone, vividly tells of and probably exaggerates Darwin’s brief stint as a priest, and how he infuriated his superiors. Not only did he refuse to shake down his peasant-class parishioners for money, but he committed the unforgivable sin of joining them in their toil and day to day lives. (It was a long time ago I read this—I really should re-read it.***)

[Edit: Whoa! It’s a good thing I did. I got him mixed up with Vincent Van Gogh. Irving Stone wrote a book on him, too. That, too, I read long ago.

Yeah—it wasn’t Darwin at all. He did toy with going into the clergy, though. That is for sure. But he never actually did it, not even as a trial gig

Sigh...That’s what one gets for relying on memory. I knew something didn’t quite jive—like how Charles could end up in France.]

Mark Twain savaged religion, and Christianity in particular. He is widely thought to have been atheist, and yet—he never had an unkind word for Jesus. His constant complaint was that those who claimed to follow him did not. “There has only been one Christian,” he would write. “They caught and crucified him—early.” Imagine what might have been if he had found a people who follow the Christ.

He did not find one because the weeds were proliferating, and they had choked out the wheat. “Do you want us to pull the weeds out?” the slaves asked the master, and the reply is to hold off until the harvest. The harvest begins after Twain’s time, and Darwin’s, and Voltaire’s. It hardly seems fair to them, but “the devil” who planted the weeds while “men were sleeping” must be given full reign to prove his claim that humans need not heed God’s right to rule. (Matthew 23:24-30, 36-39). The wheat was completely overrun by our trio’s time. One result was that a coherent explanation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures was nowhere to be found, and not one of the three greats could figure it out on their own.

It makes a difference. You will fight a lot harder to save your home than you will to save your dumpster. Voltaire and Twain readily condemned the travesties of religion—they were principled men, offended at injustice, so why would they not?—and in the process nearly threw the baby out with the bath water. Their successors would later do just that.

Voltaire’s brashness caused him trouble in France, so he fled to England, where he remained for a decade or so. Whereas France allowed only Catholicism to be practiced, England had many faiths and they all at the time, more or less got along with one another. He wrote ‘Letters on England’ and remarked on how others besides Catholics can appeal to verse to buttress their point of view—to frothing clerical disapproval back home. He sets himself up as a devoted and rigid (and naive), Catholic himself, aghast to find Quakers appealing to verse “wrongly”—as his narrative demonstrates that they are not doing it wrongly at all.

Feigning shock that the Quaker is not baptized—after all, Jesus was baptized—he wonders how the Quaker can call himself Christian. The Quaker asks him if he is circumcised—since Jesus was. He replies that he “has not had that honor.” “So—I am a Christian without having been baptized and you are one without having been circumcised,” is the reply. Voltaire lets that stand as having proved the point that all religions can successfully argue scripture.

What is amazing is that he has no concept that scripture might be grasped as a coherent whole. It is perfectly fine with him to cherry-pick verse, and the reason that it is perfectly fine is that no one has ever demonstrated any other way. When in the skirts of ‘Babylon the Great’ is found the blood of ... all those who have been slaughtered on the earth” (Revelation 18:24) it is not so much for her acts of commission as it is for her acts of omission; it should have been teaching the complete Word of God, but it neglected that task, and thus Voltaire quite naturally assumed that it was not possible to teach it—so far as he knows, no one has ever done it.

We Witnesses may not be ones for exalting humans, but by this standard, C.T. Russell becomes one of the most innovative humans of all time. You would think his approach to unlocking the Bible would be the most common-sense thing in the world, but it appears to be revolutionary: Toss out a verse for discussion, and do not move on until every other verse on that same topic is discussed. In that way, get a grasp on what the scriptures teach as a whole. The basic Bible teachings that Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for, so different from what may be found in any of the churches, have been in place for well over a hundred years.

It gets much heavier than this, and the blood of Babylon gets much thicker. More to come—























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Things Voltaire Didn’t Say

Here is still another “Everything you thought you knew about such-and-such is wrong” revelation. Voltaire DID NOT say, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He never said it! 

In fact, it is a double “everything you thought you knew is wrong” revelation for me because I had somehow got it into my head that Patrick Henry was the one who said it. He who said “Give me liberty of give me death!” must surely have said the latter phrase as well—if you would say one, surely you would say the other—throw it on the stack! and somewhere in popular folklore someone did just that. But he didn’t say it. When I went to verify it on the internet, I was re-directed to Voltaire as the true source.

Now I find out that he didn’t say it either! He said a lot of “enlightened” things, and so, here again, some revisionist thought: What is more enlightened than dying for free speech? Throw it on the stack! If he said other enlightened things, who’s not going to believe he said this one as well. He didn’t

The Great Courses professor, (I am on a Great Courses kick these days) says it is the bane of Voltaire schlolars—everyone thinks he said it—it is practically the defining declaration of his to many—and he didn’t. 

This is pretty common—to append statements to famous others whose backgrounds suggest they might have said it because they have said other things like it. Any acerbic, pretension-deflating statement about human nature you can attribute to Mark Twain, for example, since he said a lot of stuff like that. One of my favorites, on how he would relate that when he was 16 his father was so ignorant he could barely stand to have around, but was amazed at 21 on how much the old man had picked up in those few short years—he never said it! Or at least there is no record of him saying it. This a great hazard for me, because I love to quote Mark Twain. Check before you quote.

It is similar to how David Splane said the Watchtower decided to no quote the Mahatma Gandhi line, supposedly made to British Viceroy to India Lord Irwin, that “when your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.” It’s a great quote, says Brother Splane—we love it. But we can’t use it because there is no record that the two ever met.

There’s a danger in attributing your lofty thoughts to someone else because you may find that they are not quite lofty enough to think that themselves. Alan Kors, the Great Courses professor, says Voltaire would never say something like that. He’s not going to fight to the death so someone else can say something stupid because he savored his life too much. It’s a pretentious statement—just a little too showy. I’ve always distrusted it. Who’s really going to do that? Let the merits of the fellow’s own argument cause him to rise or sink without dragging others down with him. Now—if you had a heads-up that what was going to be said was truly brilliant it might be another matter. But...

Well, if he didn’t say it, who did? His biographer. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym S. G Tallentyre. She wrote that line herself in ‘The Friends of Voltaire’ (1906) and served it up as an example of what Voltaire would have stood for. She’s drinking too much of her own Kool-Aid, apparently—no way would Voltaire have risked his neck to sponsor the cacaphonous mayhem of Twitter.

The professor does not mention Sturgeon’s Law—that is me who mentions it—but it fits in nicely. “People who say that 90 percent of science fiction is crap are correct, but then 90 percent of anything is crap,” Theodore Sturgeon said. This has been truncated into: “Ninety percent of anything is crap,” but the original quote included a reference to his own profession—that of writing science fiction. I know this, because he was the guest speaker on campus once upon a time, and I heard him say it.

Voltaire should throw his life away for 90 percent crap? I don’t think so. If a dolt can’t get his dopey message out, that’s his problem. I may not say: “Look, throw the idiot off the forum, won’t you?” but that’s a far cry from being willing to die so that the world may hear more 90 percent idiocy—there’s enough of it to go around as it is.

Does not the Word celebrate the right of anyone to be heard? Alas, at times the it celebrates shutting people up. “It is necessary to shut their mouths,” Paul says of some, who “keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they should not for the sake of dishonest gain.” Sure. “They want to be teachers of law, but they do not understand either the things they are saying or the things they insist on so strongly,” he says of others. (Titus 1:11, 1 Timothy 1:7)

Those 90 percent people cause a lot of trouble.



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Henry VIII—“What of His Character”? “Ah”

The three magnificent ships of Henry VIII land ashore and Henry leaps out of the most magnificent in a single bound. He splats in the mud. He landed on his feet, to be sure, but it was his not exactly the grand entrance he had envisioned. It was more like that Far Side cartoon in which the head alien trips and tumbles down the gangway, landing with his nose to earth, and the ones still aboard the ship say, “So much for impressing them with awe and grandeur.”

Deathly silence prevailed among all on show and yet afloat—that’s how ‘A Man for all Seasons’ presents the landing scene. Would Henry erupt in fury at his crew for “botching” the landing? Would he turn his wrath upon the household of Thomas Moore, whose castle he had come to visit? You did not want to cross the king! For seconds that seemed like hours all held their breath.

“Ha Ha!” Henry bellowed out at last, savoring the fine joke that nature had played upon him, and everyone knew it was safe to breath.

He loved it that way—everyone holding their breath awaiting his next move! Bold and larger than life—this portrayal is so much like Henry. At any rate, I instantly assume that the movie has it right. It squares perfectly with the image built up by Dale Hoak, the professor conducting ‘The Age of Henry VIII’ Great Courses series.

When I listen to CDs such as this, I become what they said about Paul at Acts 17:18–that he was a “chatterer.” (babbler—NIV, KJV, know-it-all—CEV, pseudo-intellectual—HCSB, word-sower—Douay, blabbermouth (!)—ISV, ignorant show-off (!!)—CSB) The word literally means “seed-picker,” denoting a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there. Only ‘Young’s Literal Translation’ renders it just that way—as seed picker. Accordingly, I drop something in conversation, and people assume that I am as smart as Dale Hoak. They do not realize that I have just said everything I know. Press Dale Hoak for details and he will regale you for hours. Press me for details and I will change the subject to Gilligan’s Island.

The bold portrait of Henry VIII striking a defiant pose that everyone will recall, and if not they will know it when they see it, is not anatomically correct. Body proportions are altered by the artist (Hans Holbein) to heighten the sense of majesty. What was Henry’s purpose on earth? Pretty much to enjoy himself—Professor Hoak infers this but does not outright assert it. His reign over England? Kings of that age ran their domains pretty much as a business. His foreign policy? Whatever made him look good and contributed to his glory—that Professor does assert repeatedly.

Does he not remind me of a certain customer of mine from long ago, a doctor, a fellow I used to describe as a man who expected that the world revolve around him? Upon hearing that description, friends would sympathize with me for how unpleasant it must have been to deal with him. Not at all, I would tell them. As long as the world did revolve around him, he was very pleasant, so I—I was in business, after all—tried to ensure that it did, until one day that it just got to be more trouble than it was worth, and I let a certain hour of decision blow whichever way it would.

Henry was like that—jovial and pleasant as long as the world revolved around him—but the moment it didn’t.... Now, this doctor wasn’t imposing like Henry at all. He was a petty stickler impressed with personalities whose staff poked fun at him behind his back. Spying through the blinds the young couple touring the manor for sale next door, he exclaimed to his wife, “They can’t afford that house! They’re just a bunch of grungy hippies!” However, it turned out that the grungy hippie was a rock star. Afterwards, the doc would tell everyone how he live right next to so-and-so and they were on the chumminess of terms.

But back to Henry:

At first, you almost feel sorry for Dale the Professor having to cover such a lout—it’s like being a celebrity reporter for Inside Edition, only to discover that many celebrities that look so shiny on the outside are in reality not so hot. At first, it really does seem that if you know the Herman’s Hermits song, you know all you need to know about Henry VIII. But sometimes the pivotal moments of history are steered by overbearing louts—they just are. One must get used to it.

Henry’s reign is pivotal because it marks a break from the Church—severing a connection of only 1500 years (!) to found what became known as the Anglican Church. He made the break, popular opinion says, because he wanted a divorce from his first wife and the Pope wouldn’t give him one. Professor Hoak doesn’t declare this nothing—it is a factor, he says, but he advances a greater reason: Henry needed the Church’s money. The Church was fabulously rich, and he had squandered every penny that had come his way. Not just in wartime did he squander it—that was to be expected—but even in peacetime his expenditures bore no restraint. With 50 palaces around the country, all them hosting gala bashes constantly to impress whatever dignitaries might come around, and certainly the one he occupied at the moment—like the Jurassic Park guy who “spared no expense” on anything, he needed the dough. Badly.

Doesn’t it remind one of what Samual told the people in Bible times when they demanded a king?

“Samuel told the people who were asking him for a king all the words of Jehovah.  He said: “This is what the king who rules over you will have the right to demand: He will take your sons and put them in his chariots and make them his horsemen, and some will have to run before his chariots.  And he will appoint for himself chiefs over thousands and chiefs over fifties, and some will do his plowing, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be ointment mixers, cooks, and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and he will give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grainfields and your vineyards, and he will give it to his court officials and his servants. And he will take your male and female servants, your best herds, and your donkeys, and he will use them for his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you will become his servants. The day will come when you will cry out because of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but Jehovah will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:10-18)

Yeah. That’s pretty much what Henry did—drained the country dry. You wouldn’t think it possible for one man to cause such cash flow chaos—but there it is. He broke with Rome and dissolved the monasteries. All that was theirs became his.

‘Retrospect’ is the title of Professor Hoak’s last lecture, and here he turns pontifical. Maybe you have to do this if you’re an historian—you just can’t say, “the guy’s a jerk.” What was Henry like? “By what criteria, whose criteria should we judge him: yours, mine, his subjects, those who knew him, himself?”—the professor sets the stage for consideration, and first starts out with what he considers the good: He was a “brilliant player of the game of princes, of intelligence taste, training, of record for princely pursuits. A man for the renaissance.” Great.

A short list of his attainments. He cherished music, his compositions are really good, his playing might not have landed him a philharmonic spot, but it was surely good enough “for the Boston Pops.” He was a great athlete, first rate with bow and arrow, tops at tennis, wresting, horseback, feats of arms. He was a great dancer! a master of the “art of conversation!” he could write in several languages. He had fantastic artistic tastes! his tapestry collection “the greatest ever assembled!”

He “understood the requirements of princely magnificence!” He “set a very high standard of princely high conduct! And his war-making! The professor quotes some author who describe renaissance monarchies as “machines for the battlefield,” and in this Henry excelled!*

Got it. He knew how to play the game. Is it only me who wishes to be remembered for things more meaningful than this?

“But what of his character?” the professor says.  “Ah.”

“We must admit that the character of any person ultimately remains unknowable, even enigmatic. But I think it is possible to draw a few tentative generalizations based on what we clearly know of the king’s behavior.”... and with that Dale goes on to mention “the executions of two wives, a cardinal of the Church, a bishop (John Fisher) lord chancellor (that’s Thomas More) a duke, a marquis, two earls, a viscount, a viscountess, four barons, and hundreds of subjects, commoners who resisted his authority.” Well, yes—that might give a clue as to his “character.”

Look, the professor is an historian. He has to do it. His job is not to judge history—it is to relate it. But I kind of miss the Bible accounts that sum up this or that king by saying he was a real rotter. “He did on a grand scale what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes, to offend him,” we read of one. And as to what a person might hope to be remembered for, who can beat the prayer of Nehemiah: “Remember me, O Jehovah, for good”?


*Henry is also listed as renowned for his “theology.” Professor Hoak mentions his interchange with the Pope, and I wish he had explored it more thoroughly, but he didn’t. There were other factors involved, but the Pope annulled marriages all the time. If Henry had just asked him to override scripture, he might have done it—he was the Pope, after all. But instead Henry sought to debate scripture (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21—his first marriage was never valid because it violated these two passages) with the Pope—as though he was equally qualified—and you just KNOW that will arise the ire of the latter.

Oh, and Thomas More, the “man for all seasons” from the first paragraph? He lost his head. It was chopped off. Literally. He was supposed to cheerlead for Henry’s break from Rome and he just couldn’t do it.



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