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Quantity and Quality: angelic hosts at Badr and / or Armageddon

[ by Charles Cameron — on a mostly overlooked possible asymmetry ]

Michael Peck posted a piece at the game site Kotaku yesterday, titled The Immense Pleasure of Huge War Games, and his opening quote startled me – it’s not one I’d heard before. Here’s Peck’s first para:

“Quantity has a quality all its own,” said Josef Stalin, as he relentlessly flung waves of Soviet tanks and troops against Hitler’s elite but outnumbered panzers. Comrade Stalin might not have believed in a deity, but even a Communist warlord would surely have agreed with Napoleon’s dictum that God is on the side of the bigger battalions.

That interests me deeply, because I regard the relationship between quantity and quality as one phrasing of the knot at the heart of consciousness — the “hard problem” as science terms it — equivalent to the question of how our subjectivity and objective reality mutually arise.


And so to Napoleon’s dictum that God is on the side of the bigger battalions — I imagine he means real, flesh and blood battalions — which “even a Communist warlord would surely have agreed with”.

Not so the Qur’an, which reminded the Prophet of the battle of Badr (Quran 8.9-10):

Remember ye implored the assistance of your Lord, and He answered you: “I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks.” Allah made it but a message of hope, and an assurance to your hearts: (in any case) there is no help except from Allah: and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.

Durer‘s angels of the Apocalypse, likewise, are militant angels, though like ourselves (Ephesians 6.12) they:

wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high (celestial) places.


And so I would ask you: is there even the possibility of a higher asymmetry at work here — or are we speaking only of a matter of brute force versus high morale?

7 Responses to “Quantity and Quality: angelic hosts at Badr and / or Armageddon”

  1. Scott Says:

    Charles, don’t forget that in the Bible the Lord tells Israel not to depend on foreign alliances for protection but rather on him.  And then there is the siege of Jerusalem where it turns out that an army of angels is encamped around the enemy besieging the city…

  2. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Charles,
    This is an interesting post. In the realm of the metaphysical, I would submit the “ultimate” asymmetry would be at play.
    As an aside, Stalin’s quote has been bantered about in naval circles for the last few years as the US Navy’s roster of available ships continues to dwindle—even as prices for new ships are extraordinarily expensive. Through this lens, “quantity” at sea means having real hulls available to insure our interests on the high seas.  
    On final note, I picked up a copy of Sherrington’s Man on his Nature—great used copy…very interesting. 

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    As in II Kings 19.32-35 and the siege of Sennacherib? 

    Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

  4. Scott Says:


    I was thinking –

    2 Kings 6:15-17
    15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
    16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
     17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    So — if I may..
    The “modern” view is that such passages in scriptures — of whatever faith — are not to be taken as historical records.  Hence the Counterinsurgency Manual, FM 3-24 [link is to .pdf] makes no mention of angels.  The “literalist” view — again, in whatever faith — is that they are just that — historical records with the additional benefit of divine authorship.  Hence Brigadier Malik’s Qur’anic Concept of War does mention them.
    I am a poet, and as such I am interested in the question: what does a symbolic reading tell us?
    In Judaism, the concept of PaRDeS is used to illustrate a four-fold reading of texts, in Christendom, Dante’s Letter to Can Grande does the same, as in Islam does Ja’far al-Sadiq’s tafsir on the Qur’an.
    It occurs to me that there’s a significant blog post to be made here…

  6. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Thanks for the links to Pardes—a useful reference. Looking forward to the post… 

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    You’re welcome, Scott.


    There’s a Vedic version, too.  And William Blake’s fourfold vision…  Plenty to talk about!

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