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Groundhog Day in Nietzsche and Hadith

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — food for thought, not an endorsement of film, philosopher or hadith ]

This pair of quotes came together in my recent reading:

SPEC DQ format




  • Ferdinando Buscema, Use playing cards to remind yourself that you are going to die
  • Sahih Bukhari, Jihad in the Hadith
  • Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

    Thursday, May 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]

    Marcy Wheeler at Salon reports of the ODNI’s Bin Laden’s Bookshelf (expanded form, .pdf) that “the categorization imposed by ODNI” consists “largely of overlapping categories of English-language materials worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

    Categories include:


    The Borges “short story” referenced here isn’t in fact a short story but an essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which includes a classification system “which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'”. Borges’ spurious taxonomy divides the animal kingdom into the following categories:

    (a) belonging to the emperor,
    (b) embalmed,
    (c) tame,
    (d) sucking pigs,
    (e) sirens,
    (f) fabulous,
    (g) stray dogs,
    (h) included in the present classification,
    (i) frenzied,
    (j) innumerable,
    (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
    (l) et cetera,
    (m) having just broken the water pitcher,
    (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

    Nicely observed, Marcy.


    Of particular personal note considering my interest in games:

    Under the heading “Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents” we find listed:

  • Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide
  • Game Spot Videogame Guide
  • One wonders (idly) whether ODNI cannot believe OBL would play such games, or whether that classification was arrived at on the basis of the location in the compound where these materials were found.

    And given my interest in religion:

    Under the heading “Think Tank & Other Studies”:

  • Program for the Study of International Organizations (PSIO), “Hizb ut-Tahrir: The Next Al-Qaeda, Really?” by Jean-Francois Mayer (2004)
  • And under the heading “Other religious documents”:

    a treatise on Christianity by one Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar PhD, titled Was Jesus crucified for our atonement? — which opens with the following (presumably post-doctoral) statement of scholarship-to-date:

    Praise to Allah (S.W) , the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon all of His messengers. In our previous parts of this series “True guidance and light series”, we have concluded and confirmed a plain truth, which is that the Holy Bible, as we have seen, is man work, and not the word of Allah (S.W) in any way. Thus, Christians cannot present it as evidence for any of their creeds or events, including the crucifixion and the Atonement.

    FWIW, reading this treatise will likely not have helped OBL in his quest for interfaith understanding.

    A parallel between New Testament and Qur’an noted

    Saturday, May 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — picking up on a point in conversation with Itamar Marcus ]

    There’s a Qur’anic passage that is often quoted by opponents of Islam to suggest the Prophet acted lecherously and composed certain Qur’anic verses to grant himself divine authorization for sleeping with those with whom he would not otherwise have had the right to sleep. I don‘t presume to sit in judgment of the Prophet here, nor intend to get into the discussion of cross-cultural sexual morality. I take scriptures as scriptures with respect, and my interest is solely in the wording by which Allah instructs the Prophet, in the Qur’an, at 66.1 – here quoted in the upper panel in AJ Arberry’s translation:

    SPEC DQ Peter and Muhammad

    The lower panel – and again, I don’t intend to get into the spirituality of Jewish dietary restrictions – comes from a passage in the New Testament book of Acts (10. 9-16), in which Peter in a vision refuses to eat food he considers unclean, and is reproved by God for considering ritually impure what God is declaring pure.

    What interests me here is that in each case we see a divine “loosening” of a previously “tight” behavioral injunction.

    It is probably wise, too, to remember that dietary morality in Judaism in the time of the Acts of the Apostles may well have been taken as seriously as sexual morality in the time of the Sunna and Companions of the Prophet: different cultures in different centuries weigh such things very differently from the secular (and sometimes puritanical / salacious) western mind of today.


    Let us look at the context of the remark made by God to Peter in a vision, taking that context in two stages. The immediate story of Peter, God and the pure / impure food is found in verses 9-16 of Acts, chapter 10:

    Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

    There are various translations of the verse I highlighted in the DoubleQuote, verse 15, as you might expect — and they could probably be graded from “easily digestible” to “venerable and archaic” with varying degrees of nuance in between. Thus The Living Bible (TLB, a paraphrase) has:

    The voice spoke again, “Don’t contradict God! If he says something is kosher, then it is.”

    which at least tells us it’s kashrut the passage is talking about. But for utter simplicity it’s hard to beat The Message:

    The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

    So. Peter felt himself unauthorized to kill and eat something “unclean” and God rebukes him for imposing on himself a restriction God himself claims he is free from, telling him that the visionary food is in fact pure.

    The Orthodox Jewish Bible translates the verse (Gevurot 10.15):

    And the bat kol came to Kefa again for a second time, “What Hashem made tahor (clean), you should no longer regard as tameh (unclean).”

    — noting a reference to Bereshis (ie Genesis) 9.3.


    But there’s a context to that context, too, and it’s fascinating in part because it indicates that Peter’s vision contains not a literal but a metaphorical meaning and morality. Peter himself is confused once he returns to his senses. And then all becomes clear…

    The whole event takes place while a Roman centurion’s messengers are approaching Peter, who then accompanies them at their request to the centurion’s house, where Peter says (verse 28):

    Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

    So the understanding of ritual purity in respect of food is, in the vision, a metaphor for a parallel understanding of ritual purity in respect of tribe and humanity.

    It is only then, for the first time, the Christian gospel or kerygma is preached to one who is not a Jew, and Christianity becomes universal (“catholic”) whereas previously it had preached solely within a Jewish context, ie as a school within Judaism.

    Unsurprisingly, for Christianity this is a radical point of departure and redefinition.

    And it is notably accomplished by vision and metaphor — not by text or literal interpretation.

    A dozen or so books on Islamic apocalyptic

    Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — since this topic is at last swinging into focus ]

    It is my impression that Islamic apocalyptic has finally surfaced as a significant contributor to those interested in questions of contemporary national security — first, through CJC Martin Dempsey‘s 2014 comment that IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”, second, through Graeme Wood‘s article What ISIS Really Wants in the Atlantic, third, through the publication of Stern & Berger‘s ISIS: the State of Terror, and fourth (as yet upcoming), Will McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.

    While we’re reading Stern & Berger and waiting for McCants book, though, I thought it might be useful to compile a couple of lists of relevant books, first (here) on Islamic apocalyptic, and second (soon) on the complex relationship between apocalypticism (of whatever stripe) and violence (soon).

    Here’s my list, with comments, of books on Islamic apocalyptic:


    First choice:

  • Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • My Jihadology review gets into some detail, but the book is superb. From the concluding pages:

    For the moment, only the Iraqi militia known as the Supporters of the Imam Mahdi has actively sought to translate the rise of eschatological anxiety into political action. Yet one day a larger and more resourceful group, eager (like Abu Musab al-Suri) to tap the energy of the “masses” as a way of achieving superiority over rival formations, may be strongly tempted to resort to the messianic gambit. An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.



  • Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth
  • Heather Selma Gregg, The Path to Salvation
  • Landes’ book gives an impressive, nay encyclopedic, tour of apocalyptic movements across time and space, excluding Judaic and Christian versions to make space for his expansive survey across time and space (featuring, eg, the Xhosa cattle-slaying of the 1850s), and concludimng with a chapter on contemporary Islamist apocalyptic. Gregg’s slimmer olume is an information-packed tour of “religious violence from the Crusades to Jihad” and from Jerusalem to Ayodhya.


    Varieties of Islamic apocalyptic:

  • David Cook, Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • David Cook’s high-level scholarship explores ancient and contemporary Islamic apocalyptic texts in detail. It was David who introduced me to the topic in the late ’90s at a Center for Millennial Studies conference, not unlike the one David, JM Berger, Will Mcants, Tim Furnish, myself and others will speak at on IS and apocalyptic in early April.


    For specific angles on the issue:

  • Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden
  • Anne-Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyr’s Square
  • Thomas Hegghammer & Stephane Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion
  • Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days
  • A Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign
  • Joel Richardson, The Mideast Beast
  • Furnish discusses the history of Mahdist movements; Oliver and Steinberg write a passionately engaging narrative of life in Gaza, with special focus on suicide bombers and Hamas street propaganda; Hegghammer and Lacroix cover the Mahdist revolt that kicked off the new Islamic century in Mecca, getting into theological details that resonate to this day; and Gorenberg covers the three competing apocalypticisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with respect to the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, which he terms “the most hotly contested piece of real estate on earth”. Azfar Moin’s book gives an account of the quasi-Mahdism of Safavid Iranian and Mughal Indian kingship, in which sufi notions of sanctity and courtly notions of royalty mix and mingle — simply mind-boggling. And Joel Richardson views Islamic apocalyptic through Christian apocalyptic eyes.


    For Shi’ite eschatology:

  • Abdulaziz Sachedina, Islamic Messianism
  • cf Sachedina’s translation of Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini‘s Al-Imam al-Mahdi, The Just Leader of Humanity
  • Abbas Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism
  • **

    Reading Islamic scriptures in and out of context:

  • Jonathan Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy
  • It is all too easy to cherry pick quotes to show that Islam is peaceful, warlike or whatr have you: Dr Brown shows us how variously the texts can be interpreted, tus opening the door to a more cautious, context-driven and historically aware of what we read in opposing contemporary polemics. Brilliant.


    In a following post, I shall list books predominantly from the religious studies area, as various authors examines violence in new religious movements, many of which are millenarian / apocalyptic in orientation.

    What’s next for the moon?

    Monday, April 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Christian eschatology and an Islamic proof of the Quran and Prophet ]

    SPEC DQ prophetic moons

    One wonders, what’s next for the moon?


    Anwar al-Awlaki reported that the moon split in two at the Prophet’s request —

    — but that was more than a millennium ago.

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