[ by Charles Cameron — some quick recommendations, under pressure of time ]
Baghdadi is dead, and as the dust settles we can re commend some readings.
Our friend Tim Furnish has provided his WikiStrat entry, moving from the news otself (1) via apocalyptic fervor (2) to the eschatological implicationos of ISIS’ future (3), the latter reading:
ISIS remains, however, an eschatological movement dedicated to preparing the way for the coming of the (Sunni) Mahdi. It’s thus enamored with “hotwiring the apocalypse,” and this fervent belief will not end with the death of the Caliph.
Hotwiring the apocalypse is a concept the late Israeli analyst Reuven Paz offered up in a 2006 piece titled Hotwiring the Apocalypse: Jihadi Salafi Attitude towards Hizballah and Iran. A dozen years have passed since Paz wrote his piece, and the journey from “Hazbollah and Iran” to ISIS in the wake of its Caliph’s death is a long and winding one, but Dr Paz’ phrase continues to cover the possibility that an end-times oriented jihadism may seek to bring about the final sequence of events by threatening, inciting or unleashing sufficiently impressive violence. As Dr Furnish has pointed out with respect to Iranian (Shi’ite) eschatology, the great disadvantage of unleashing violence of sufficient potency is that it would leave the earth, or at least its holiest lands, devastated just as the Mahdi arrives to begin his rule over it.
Graeme Wood is one of the most perceptive writers on ISIS and its religious impetus, author of What ISIS Really Wants, the article which first revealed ISIS’ apocalyptic driver to a wide audience. His Atlantic piece yesterday, Baghdadi’s Final Humiliation. Most striking of Wood‘s insights as I read him:
For Baghdadi to seek refuge among people who want to kill him probably means that the places where he had more support, such as within his home country of Iraq or near its border with Syria, could no longer provide him with any measure of safety. Finding him in HTS territory is like finding Derek Jeter hiding out in South Boston, or Martin Bormann living quietly by a synagogue on the Upper East Side.
Graeme Wood is a gifted writer, working here in a field of rubble and human destruction, and it is always a pleasure to read him.
The great Rukmini Callimachi spent, she says, months working on the obituary of Baghdadi. Other writers find themselves confronted with a newly urgent topic to cover with Baghdadi‘s death. Callimachi, who also discovered and reported with AP an amazing cache of Al Qaida documents in 2013 Timbuktu — a cache which included “corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division” — has somehow found time along with her grueling travel and reporting schedule, to prepare an extensive obit for Baghdadi — ready for publication now that news of his death can be dropped in:
The son of a pious Sunni family from the Iraqi district of Samarra, al-Baghdadi parlayed religious fervor, hatred of nonbelievers and the power of the internet into the path that catapulted him onto the global stage. He commanded an organization that, at its peak, controlled a territory the size of Britain from which it directed and inspired acts of terror in more than three dozen countries.
Al-Baghdadi was the world’s most-wanted terrorist chieftain, the target of a $25 million bounty from the American government. His death followed a yearslong, international manhunt that consumed the intelligence services of multiple countries and spanned two American presidential administrations.
Callumachi and and Falih Hassan cover a lot of ground in few words. Here, for instance, is the brief overview of Baghdadi‘s attempt at a caliphate:
Although Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, had dreamed of restoring the caliphate, he was reluctant to declare one, perhaps fearing the overwhelming military response that eventually cost al-Baghdadi his territory.
Yet it took five years before troops seized in March the last acre of land under al-Baghdadi’s rule. And in the interim, the promise of a physical caliphate electrified tens of thousands of followers who flocked to Syria to serve his imagined state.
Part of the caliphate’s excitement, attraction and repulsion came form its sheer brutality — some of it scripturally sanctioned, some definitely and indeed defiantly not:
Women accused of adultery were stoned to death, thieves had their hands hacked off, and men who had defied the militants were beheaded.
While some of those medieval punishments are also meted out in places like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State shocked people around the world by televising its executions. It also offended Muslims by inventing horrific punishments that are not mentioned in Islamic scripture.
A Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a scene filmed by overhead drones. Men accused of being spies were drowned in cages, as underwater cameras captured their last tortured gasp. Others were crushed under the treads of a T-55 tank, or strung up by their feet inside a slaughterhouse and butchered like animals.
With the destruction of the geographical caliphate, the internet’s role becomes increasingly significant:
The militants harnessed the internet to connect with thousands of followers around the globe, making them feel as if they were virtual citizens of the caliphate.
The message of these new jihadists was clear, and many of those on whose ears it fell found it emboldening: Anyone, anywhere, could act in the group’s name. That allowed ISIS to multiply its lethality by remotely inspiring attacks, carried out by men who never set foot in a training camp.
In this fashion, ISIS was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people around the world. A shooting at an office party in San Bernardino, Calif. An attack on a Christmas market in Germany. A truck attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day. Suicide bombings at churches on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
Baghdadi‘s death will do little more than cause a pause in this virtual empire of jihad-enthusiasts — the story goes on..
For a whole other strand of Rukmini‘s commentary, see her unrolled Twitter-thread from today’s feed:
Richard Engel for MSNBC is another journalist with in-field expertise, and his story of the informant who assisted US troops in the eventual raid on Baghdadi‘s compound is stunning —
General Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces said his intelligence service had a source deep in Baghdadi’s inner circle who described a room-by-room layout of the terrorist’s compound on the Turkish border, including the number of guards, floor plan and tunnels.
Kurdish intelligence operatives who managed the source passed that information to American forces, giving U.S. Special Ops a better understanding of Baghdadi’s safe house before striking it, according to Abdi.
Abdi, who is also known as Mazlum Kobane, said the unidentified source was on location during the raid and left with the attacking U.S. forces.
Well, that’s about all I van manage today. I think you’ll find a mine or two of valuable information here, if you read deep in.
I’ve a medical appointment after lunch which will wipe me out for the day, and hope to pick up with a piece on the issue of Baghdadi‘s possible successor(s), the Mahdi and the Day of Judgment tomorrow.
[ by Charles Cameron –a quick round ’em up, rawhide of news and views — read the first one, even if you skip the rest — some of which are frankly hilarious, and darkly sad too — and towards the end, there’s one mind-blower with gospel reference! ]
There was a point in the middle of the debate when South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) had an impassioned debate about whether the United States should be in Syria. Gabbard was the most noninterventionist candidate on the stage, while Buttigieg said Syria was perhaps the one place in the Middle East where we continue to need a presence. That disagreement aside, this was two millennial veterans of Middle East wars — the only two combat veterans among the leading candidates — having that debate on a presidential stage. That’s quite the moment.
That’s a debate within the debate, and the criterion for being on that stage is a lot stiffer than for the stage-of-twelve.
Giuliani’s growing headaches are political as well as legal. Yesterday Trump’s former top adviser on Russia and Europe, Fiona Hill, reportedly told congressional investigators that her boss, former national security adviser John Bolton, labeled Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up” by meddling in Ukraine…
That’s six, just from my first scan — seven would be enough for me to close this and post!
Oh well, as you may know, my degree is in Theology from Christ Church, Oxford, and I’ve continued my interest in New Testament scholarship while broadening it to include Gnostic, Buddhist, shamanic and other sources..
Since the Swine do not actually appear to have any overlap with the adjacent story of the possessed man, the story of the Swine appears to be another intercalation or at least addition. It seems like “Mark” had a collection of unconnected stories that he pasted together to create a single narrative. His literary techniques with intercalations and framing stories (i.e. putting some of his stores inside other stories instead of pasting them one after another) give us an idea of how freely he worked with his material.
What’s really interesting about the fragment of a letter from Saint Clement containing a previously unknown section of Mark’s gospel is that it suggests that Jesus taught some form of initiation into :
And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there. And coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and said to him, ?Son of David, have mercy on me.‘ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth came to him, wearing a linen cloth over [his] naked [body.] And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.
The mystery of the kingdom of God?
Some second form of baptism? In the spirit? With an entheogen, as (arguably) in other “mysteries” such as that of Eleusis? A sexual, tantric mystery (the young man is instructed to be naked)? Or an initiation into meditation techniques? Who knows. All we can say is that according to this fragment, Jesus seems to have had some deeper teaching that he revealed after seven days to the young man..
There, number seven, and it’s a humdinger! — and every one of them featuring some sort of formal interest!
Hobby Lobby and a Bible fragment controversy
I ran across this while searching for a link to Morton Smith‘s book — or was it the other way around? Anyway, this is about a different Mark gospel fragment, indeed possibly the earliest New Testament manuscript of all:
An Oxford University professor has been accused of selling ancient Bible fragments to a controversial US company that has been involved in several high-profile scandals related to its aggressive purchases of biblical artefacts.
Dirk Obbink, one of the world’s most celebrated classics professors, has been named after an investigation by staff associated with Oxford’s Oxyrhynchus Papyri project.
He is accused of selling without permission a number of ancient fragments to the US arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby. Its owners, the Green family, are prominent Christian evangelicals and, under the guidance of the Hobby Lobby president, Steve Green, were behind the founding of Washington’s $400m Museum of the Bible in 2017. [ .. ]
The lecturer in papyrology and Greek literature has previously denied some of the allegations, telling the Daily Beast in 2018 that the claim he sold a fragment of the first chapter of the gospel of Mark to Hobby Lobby was not true.
It was reported yesterday that a three-dozen member team of scientists and scholars—apparently including the well-respected New Testament historian Craig Evans—is working on a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark, discovered as part of an ancient Egyptian funeral mask.
Due to the expense of securing clean papyri sheets in the ancient world, the papier-mâché of these masks was made from recycled papyri that already contained writing. Evans explains, “We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters.”
Amazing, eh? Metacognitive reading: think about it, what’s hidden in our masks?
The Egypt Exploration Society has recently published a Greek papyrus that is likely the earliest fragment of the Gospel of Mark, dating it from between A.D. 150–250. One might expect happiness at such a publication, but this important fragment actually disappointed many observers. The reason stems from the unusual way that this manuscript became famous before it became available.
I’m afraid that’s the story of its questionable sale..
Oh dammit, Professor Obbink is a tutor at Christ Church — my own college.
[ by Charles Cameron — reading my daily dose of 3QD again after a health-induced lapse, and glad I’m back ]
One of the more interesting comments about, well, religion, comes from a review by Robert Fay in 3QD of Chinese science fiction master Liu Cixin‘s novel, the first in a trilogy and the one President Obama so praised, The Three Body Problem, reading it in a wide world context:
Sacrifice used to be part-and-parcel of the western self-identity. Jesus on the cross at Calvary was the central spiritual truth of Christendom. The west, of course, left much of this behind during the Enlightenment. The French Revolution further asserted the rights of individuals. If anything, the consumption of consumer goods is the true religion of the west now, and it demands we all act immediately on our impulses, cravings and desires.
This hasn’t worked out well for the planet.
Yes, sacrifice, and it’s dual, martyrdom, have all but disappeared, although, well, the Marines understand sacrifice, and the jihadists understand martyrdom.
To take you into the audacity of sacrifice or the self-surrender of martyrdom is beyond me here. Let me just note that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and the death of Joan of Arc a martyrdom. Arguably, the two ideas are parallel, and meet at infinity, as in the Cure D’Ars observation:
If we knew what a Mass is, we should die of it.
Thus, theologically speaking, the Eucharist (present) cyclically repeats Christ‘s sacrifice on the cross (past), in a transcendent manner which makes of it a foretaste of the Wedding Feast (future) envisioned in the book of Revelation.
There’s a fine alternative vision of the three body problem in Bill Benzon‘s Time Travelers We Are, Each And All, his account of brain, mind and Beethoven, which, like Robert Fay‘s account of Liu Cixin‘s novel of that name, arrived in today’s edition of 3QD. Benzon is quoting the literary critic Wayne Booth describing a performance of Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 as constituting unities out of a string quartet, Booth himself and his nwife, and, somehow, both of those and Beethoven — three bodies as one:
There is Beethoven, one hundred and forty-three years ago … writing away at the marvelous theme and variations in the fourth movement. … Here is the four-players doing the best it can to make the revolutionary welding possible. And here we am, doing the best we can to turn our “self” totally into it: all of us impersonally slogging away (these tears about my son’s death? ignore them, irrelevant) to turn ourselves into that deathless quartet.
That unity of three bodies is found, and can be joined, in Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131:
Reading Benzon‘s piece, we can benefit also from his presentation of neurons, their connections and internal workings:
We have no way of directly counting the neurons in the nervous systems, but estimates put the number at roughly 86 billion with an average of 10,000 synapses per neuron.
To specify the brain’s state at a given moment in clock time we need to know the state of each unit component, such as a neuron. One convenient way to do this is to say that a neuron is either firing or it is not. So it can have two states. Neurons are complicated things; each is a living cell with the full complement of machinery that that requires. There’s a lot more to a neuron that whether or not it’s firing.
This description of neurons is in service to a discussion of clock-time and brain states, which is itself in service to a wider discussion of time itself, as our wrist-watches understand it, and as our experience of Beethoven might cause us to discover it.
Following the musical branch of this discussion, we find Benzon quoting Bernstein on ego-loss:
I don’t know whether any of you have experienced that but it’s what everyone in the world is always searching for. When it happens in conducting, it happens because you identify so completely with the composer, you’ve studied him so intently, that it’s as though you’ve written the piece yourself. You completely forget who you are or where you are and you write the piece right there. You just make it up as though you never heard it before. Because you become that composer.
Benzon‘s three into one is Bernstein‘s two into one, and all paths lead to reliving a keynote segment of the life of Beethoven — Beethoven as a musical Everest, with Bernstein and the quartet as sherpas, Booth and his wife and Benzon and you and I as climbers, some at base-camp listening to the great Chuck Berry, some on the final ascent, some planting flags at the peak..
Peak Beethoven is phenomenological unity. Across time, time travel.
Oh, the numbers games one can play — Sixteen into forty into one in Tallis’ forty-part motet, Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui — where the very title speaks to the union – I Have Hope in None Other:
Oh and is not religion at the heart of this unity, this unity at the very heart of religion? And is not this braiding of voices, this polyphony, a working of this unity?
My early mentor and friend, Herbert Warner Allen, wrote of his own time with Beethoven. As I wrote elsewhere:
Herbert Warner Allen, a classical scholar, sometime newspaper editor and noted authority on wines, experienced a timeless moment between two beats during a performance of one of the Beethoven symphonies. Not knowing quite what had hit him, he went on to research the mystical tradition and wrote three mostly forgotten books [of which the first was aptly named The Timeless Moment] situating his experience within intellectual tradition without nailing it to any particular dogmatic structure. TS Eliot, who published the books, inscribed a book of his own poetry to Warner Allen with the words “from the Srotaapanna to the Arhat, TS Eliot”, with a footnote to explain “Srotaapanna: he who has dipped one toe in the river of the wqaters of enlightenment; Arhat: he who has arrived at the further shore”.
Here’s the almost anonymous A.T. writing to The Times, 19th January 1968:
In your obituary notice of the late Mr. Warner Allen you do not mention the books he wrote describing his “journey on the Mystic Way”. The best known of these books was The Timeless Moment in which he gave some account of a visionary experience that for him “flashed up lightning-wise during a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Queen’s Hall “. In this split second of time he received (as no one reading his books can doubt) a flash of absolute reality that broke through the normal barriers of the conscious mind and left a trail of illumination in its wake. Mr. Allen never claimed to be an advanced mystic or profound philosopher. He described himself as an ordinary man of the world. He spent years unravelling the implications of his strange experience. The resulting volumes were and are of extraordinary interest.
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