Friday, 28 September 2018

England in 2019 with apologies to Shelley and Wordsworth

England in 2019 with apologies to Shelley and Wordsworth

An old, mad, unkind, despised, and dying government;
Plutocrats , the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—hatred from a Brexit Spring;
The media who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their failing country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th' bitter field;
A DWP, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who feel;
kipperish and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Belief meaningless and useless —a book sealed;
A Brietbart , Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Boris may
Burst, to illumine our Brexitous day.

England in 1819
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th' untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

“England in 1819”
The speaker describes the state of England in 1819. The king is “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying.” The princes are “the dregs of their dull race,” and flow through public scorn like mud, unable to see, feel for, or know their people, clinging like leeches to their country until they “drop, blind in blood, without a blow.” The English populace are “starved and stabbed” in untilled fields; the army is corrupted by “liberticide and prey”; the laws “tempt and slay”; religion is Christless and Godless, “a book sealed”; and the English Senate is like “Time’s worst statute unrepealed.” Each of these things, the speaker says, is like a grave from which “a glorious Phantom” may burst to illuminate “our tempestuous day.”

“England in 1819” is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem metered in iambic pentameter. Like many of Shelley’s sonnets, it does not fit the rhyming patterns one might expect from a nineteenth-century sonnet; instead, the traditional Petrarchan division between the first eight lines and the final six lines is disregarded, so that certain rhymes appear in both sections: ABABABCDCDCCDD. In fact, the rhyme scheme of this sonnet turns an accepted Petrarchan form upside-down, as does the thematic structure, at least to a certain extent: the first six lines deal with England’s rulers, the king and the princes, and the final eight deal with everyone else. The sonnet’s structure is out of joint, just as the sonnet proclaims England to be.

For all his commitment to romantic ideals of love and beauty, Shelley was also concerned with the real world: he was a fierce denouncer of political power and a passionate advocate for liberty. The result of his political commitment was a series of angry political poems condemning the arrogance of power, including “Ozymandias” and “England in 1819.” Like Wordsworth’s “London, 1802,” “England in 1819” bitterly lists the flaws in England’s social fabric: in order, King George is “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying”; the nobility (“princes”) are insensible leeches draining their country dry; the people are oppressed, hungry, and hopeless, their fields untilled; the army is corrupt and dangerous to its own people; the laws are useless, religion has become morally degenerate, and Parliament (“A Senate”) is “Time’s worst statute unrepealed.” The furious, violent metaphors Shelley employs throughout this list (nobles as leeches in muddy water, the army as a two-edged sword, religion as a sealed book, Parliament as an unjust law) leave no doubt about his feelings on the state of his nation. Then, surprisingly, the final couplet concludes with a note of passionate Shelleyean optimism: from these “graves” a “glorious Phantom” may “burst to illumine our tempestuous day.” What this Phantom might be is not specified in the poem, but it seems to hint simultaneously at the Spirit of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and at the possibility of liberty won through revolution, as it was won in France. (It also recalls Wordsworth’s invocation of the spirit of John Milton to save England in the older poet’s poem, though that connection may be unintentional on Shelley’s part; both Wordsworth and Shelley long for an apocalyptic deus ex machina to save their country, but Shelley is certainly not summoning John Milton.)

England, 2018

Corbyn thou shouldst be PM at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us and win ,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul is like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hast a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So doest thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful socialism; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Thoughts on Patriarchy , power sexual violence and misogyny

As the Kavanaugh nomination stalls under the power of Dr Ford's testimony...we see the reality of misogyny and patriarchy in the political structure of the Republican Party. Conservative white men of wealth and ancestral power defend an arrogant frat boy conditioned to believe in his superiority of faith conservatism and control. Imagine if the woman testifying was not professional and if the same background of Kavanaugh. All women should be believed whoever they are...yet they are not. Kavanaugh speaks Trump, he hates the progressives and the left. His arrogance and anger reveals much rich speculations on how he would be as a frat boy and of his attitude to women. And now this inner adolescent frat boy turned middle aged conservative wants a different power over women's bodies he wants to destroy Roe versus Wade. Not content with the power of the conservatism over the vulnerable he now channels his "personal"relatioship with his God and Trump persona to control the women he both loathed and fears .

As Plaid prepares to announce it's next Leader we see another misogyny in form. The words aimed and directed at Leanne Wood from members of Plaid and from parts of a win Gwlad are loathsome. Though in no way like Kavanaugh in form and action they reveal an origin from the same point and that is psychological misogyny. Be it Neil McEvoy raging against domestic violence charities or strong women or Jac o' the North against "wimmin, lefties and greens" the root is the same however different their actual behavior We all know the truth here....misogyny is real and the acorn of all the above behavior and approach..

It has been seen as well in attacks on Diane Abbot and others like her. Black feminists are right that often when we talk of race relations we often ignore women of colour and when we talk of feminism we ignore black women. I work hard to challenge my own conditioning both on patriarchy and attitudes to other ethnicity. But it is incredibly hard to do so and deeply ingrained prejudices still leak out. It is one thing to recognize your own prejudices but it is another to deny that they exist. And from Kavanaugh to the patriarchs of the Welsh National Movement and of the Bluekippers the root is the same; denial, power and patriarchy. Engels realised this nearly 200 years ago...why do so many men still not see it?

  hear of Kavanaughs use of his family. He plays the family card. He brings his children his relatives, he invokes the church and his credentials. It's a show it's a subtext discourse to maximise the Conservative base as the mid term elections near yet as his anger and arrogance is revealed as his persona slips and the inner frat boy is revealed in all its aspects. Before he was a family man, before he was a Christian conservative we see the truth behind it. This is a show it's the ur fascism of the Republican right, it smells of Trump and of the locker room. This is the truth of Trumps's hypocritical and it's vile.
We see a bright professional woman dragged down by old white bigoted men of the Senate.. the arrogance flowing from Kavanaugh reveal who he was and is...behold the man ...

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Feminist Exegesis of the Old Testament: Some Critical Reflections


Feminist Exegesis of the Old Testament: Some Critical Reflections

by Paul Joyce
First published as Ch. 1, in After Eve,
edited by Janet Martin Soskice.
Collins Marshall Pickering 1990
Reproduced on our website with the necessary permissions

The question of how we are to understand and interpret Scripture, in all its diversity, across a broad cultural divide is one of the central and perennial issues of theology. One area in which this is keenly felt in some contemporary Christian circles is that relating to women and the feminine. Feminist exegesis of the Bible, though having roots at least as early as the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the nineteenth century,(1) has been an increasingly significant feature of the theological scene in recent years. This form of criticism may seem rather alien to those accustomed to more traditional approaches, but its challenges and insights need to be taken seriously by all, not least because they often raise in sharp form many questions which are of importance to biblical interpretation as a whole, including those which relate to the authority of Scripture. In this short essay, we shall consider some of the key issues raised, in specific relation to the Old Testament.
There is, of course, much in the Old Testament which presents a decidedly 'negative' view of women. As an example we may cite the presentation of sinful Israel as a dissolute woman in Ezekiel chapter sixteen, or again the image of the harlot as the embodiment of folly in Proverbs chapter seven. There have been a number of different responses to such material. Throughout much of Christian tradition, the tendency has often been for 'negative' biblical themes concerning women to be given prominence - for example, the part played by the woman in the garden of Eden.(2) Such an emphasis has often both been informed by and in turn sanctioned the assumptions of Church and society regarding the place and role of women. Needless to say, traditional views of this kind have generally gone together with an assumption that a high degree of authority is to be attributed to the canon of Scripture.
At another extreme, we find the so-called post-Christian feminists such as Mary Daly or, in Britain, Daphne Harnpson.(3) Their position shares with most traditional interpretation the general supposition that the biblical witness with regard to women is essentially negative. Indeed, these critics have helped us see much more clearly the extent of the subordination of women in the biblical materials. But whereas much traditional interpretation sanctioned this picture, the response of the post-Christian feminist is to say that the biblical text must be rejected, as the irredeemable product of a 'patriarchal' culture, and with it any notion of scriptural authority in the traditional sense.
However, there is (in spite of all) much in the Old Testament that is more positive with regard to women than either most traditional exegesis or post-Christian feminism has generally acknowledged. Two examples can suffice here. One is the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman who leaves her homeland out of loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi and settles in Judah, where she becomes the ancestress of David. The other is the remarkable motif of the personification of the divine Wisdom as a woman in Proverbs chapter eight. Indeed, one of the major contributions of what we might call 'mainstream' feminist exegesis of the Bible has been to demonstrate this more positive side. A good example of the presentation of positive themes is Phyllis Trible's God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, in which texts ranging from Genesis chapter one to the Song of Songs are explored from a feminist perspective.(4) This position certainly acknowledges the so-called 'patriarchy' of much of the biblical witness, but it wrestles with the question of how this may be related to those parts of the text which are more positive about women. Because such 'mainstream' feminist writers attribute some distinctive authority to the Bible (unlike post-Christian feminists), they engage in an important way with issues of change and continuity within the Christian tradition and with questions relating to the authority of Scripture.(5)
Among the important questions of interpretation highlighted by the work of these feminist critics are the following: How are we to respond to the fact that both 'positive' and 'negative' themes concerning women are to be found side-by-side in the Bible? Should we give greater weight to one or the other, and, if so, on what grounds?
One response is the attempt to make the most of the 'positive' themes concerning women and the feminine in the biblical tradition, thereby counteracting the 'negative' bias of much traditional interpretation, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld identifies two aspects of such an approach. One involves giving renewed emphasis to texts in which women play a prominent, positive role; a notable example would be the stories about Deborah, the deliverer of Israel, recounted in Judges chapters four and five. The second aspect involves the positive reinterpretation of texts, finding 'positive' themes in material which has traditionally been thought to present a 'negative' view of women. An example of the latter would be the attempt of some critics to emphasise the co-responsibility of woman with man in the Eden narrative as a positive theme.(6)
This approach, which we might call 'maximising the positive', has many attractions; it is certainly illuminating to be helped to read with new eyes a narrative such as that of Moses' infancy in Exodus chapters one and two, where we discover the important role played by women as the agents of God's saving activity.(7)However, there are also reasons to be cautious here, two of which we shall briefly examine.
First, there is the danger of attempting to reclaim too much, trying to redeem the irredeemable. Occasionally, one feels that eisegesis rather than exegesis is at work; this criticism is certainly made by some of those who study the place of women in the biblical world from a more strictly historical viewpoint.(8) Moreover, one detects in some feminist exegesis a certain lack of clarity with regard to what is being claimed. At times, it is not quite clear whether the reader is being offered a historical-critical judgment about the original meaning of the text or a free reading for our own day, which does not necessarily claim to tally with the original meaning; indeed, some feminist critics appear to slide between the two.(9) We must beware of being simplistic in our criticism here, for the relationship between exegesis of an ancient text and its appropriation in a modern situation is, of course, always a complex one. Nevertheless, more consistent clarity about what is being claimed by feminist exegetes would undoubtedly help others weigh the value of their contribution.
Second, even when it is employed appropriately, the approach which we have dubbed 'maximising the positive' has obvious limitations. For there will inevitably remain texts for which no reinterpretation seems possible, a significant residue of what some have called 'irredeemably sexist material'. Integrity and honesty demand that such 'negative' texts be acknowledged for what they are. But how then are we to deal with them?
The approach of Phyllis Trible in her book Texts of Terror is a sophisticated attempt to grapple with this very question.(10) She reviews four particularly gruesome narratives. The first is the story of Hagar, the Egyptian maid who bears Abraham's son Ishmael but becomes the innocent victim of rejection (Genesis 16.1-16; 21.9-21). The next is the account of the rape of Tamar, princess Judah, by her brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13.1-22). Trible's third text is the harrowing tale of the betrayal, rape and dismemberment of an unnamed concubine from Bethlehem (Judges 19.1-30). And then, finally, there is the story of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter, in fulfilment of the father's foolish vow (Judges 11.29-40). Trible is not concerned to rehabilitate her 'texts of terror', in the sense of demonstrating that they are positive after all. On the contrary, she presents them in all their darkness, calling the reader to identify with biblical women both in their oppression and in their struggle for freedom. These four texts are themselves undeniably 'negative', and yet Trible enables an engagement with these biblical narratives which is both profound and challenging.
We have mentioned the attempt to discern and highlight more 'positive' themes. We have also seen that even 'negative' passages can, in a sense, be used positively. But given that both 'negative' and 'positive' themes are to be found, how are they to be related? Can we find any criteria which might help us to order these diverse biblical materials?
The approach of Rosemary Radford Ruether attempts to address this question by looking beyond those texts which speak explicitly of women. She claims to discern in the Bible a more general theological perspective which is the key to the whole. She finds this in what she calls 'Prophetic Principles'. These, she says, 'imply a rejection of... every use of God to justify social domination and subjection'.(11) Within the Old Testament, these principles are found in, for example, the Exodus tradition and the Classical Prophets. This strand of the biblical witness is given normative status - and all biblical 'sexism' (to use Ruether's word) is subordinated to its critique. Whilst many passages make no reference to the situation of women, they give a scriptural charter for the liberation of women in our own day. Consciousness of oppression is contextual, Ruether stresses, and the appropriate response in the modern context is to make explicit the critique of sexism which is implicit in the 'Prophetic Principles' of the Old Testament.
This approach is, in many ways, attractive. But why should we elevate these 'Prophetic Principles' to normative status? The Old Testament presents us with a very 'mixed bag' of materials on most issues of major concern, including those of power and justice. There are, of course, legitimate debates about what is central and what is marginal, but it is by no means clear on what grounds 'Prophetic Principles' could conclusively be shown to be normative in the Old Testament.(12) There are indeed many texts which might be used to support feminist concerns (and these might well include some which contain no explicit reference to women), but there are clearly also many other texts which point in a different direction. Some feminist critics weaken their case by failing adequately to address this question of the criteria upon which selection is to be made and emphasis given.(13)
This is ultimately, of course, an issue of authority. The Christian may wish at this point to bring in the New Testament and ask whether it can yield the key to our problem. We have, after all, been using the term Old Testament (rather than Hebrew Bible), which implies a Christian theological context. Cannot the New Testament show us what should be the normative, authoritative emphasis within the diverse materials of the Old? But here we face the difficulty that the diversity of the New Testament witness on the place of women and the feminine is comparably complex to that of the Old Testament. How, for example, are we to reconcile Jesus' apparently positive attitude towards women with the so-called subordinationist texts in Paul, both of course much debated? No more than the Old Testament does the New Testament, in its own right, give us unequivocal grounds for attributing greater authority to one emphasis rather than another.(14)
One way forward seems to lie in broadening the scope of our inquiry still further. Our principles of discrimination can be drawn only in part from within the Bible; we have to go outside Scripture too. Ruether is, in practice, quite evidently drawing on a whole range of extra-biblical considerations when she chooses to give primacy to her 'Prophetic Principles'.(15) And this is surely nothing new; throughout the centuries, whatever interpreters have claimed they were doing, they have in fact operated with their own 'canon' within the biblical canon, conditioned by their own theological, confessional and ideological perspectives.(16) Today we see the range of factors involved to be broad indeed (certainly including philosophical, sociological, political and psychological factors). Robert Morgan has reminded us recently just how multi-faceted is this task of biblical interpretation.(17) It is important that we should acknowledge that we are all engaged in a broadly-based theological endeavour such as this when we read Scripture. Such a recognition will compel us to reflect self-critically upon this task and upon the difficult question of how we can appropriately express the authority of the Bible within such a process. Moreover, we shall find ourselves forced to think hard about a host of closely-related questions, concerning revelation and natural theology, change and continuity within a religious tradition, the development of doctrine and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, issues of objectivity and subjectivity, committed reading and detachment, and the importance of the context of interpretation. In short, we shall be required to think theologically.
Feminist exegesis not only poses an important challenge to many of our assumptions about the Bible and about ourselves with regard to the place of women and the feminine; it also highlights, as we have seen, many issues which are central to all interpretation of the Bible. If we have raised several critical questions concerning the method of feminist exegesis, this is in the recognition that these issues are being addressed by a number of feminist critics themselves, and also that these methodological observations have a bearing upon most other forms of biblical interpretation too.
In closing, we shall summarise the main general issues of method which have been highlighted.
1. It is important to strive for clarity about what is being claimed in biblical interpretation. Above all, we should avoid any tendency to imply in a merely casual or covert way that our reading coincides with the original meaning. If historical-critical judgments are offered, they must be defended with exegetical rigour.
2. The diversity of Scripture on most important issues must be acknowledged; where the 'centre' of the biblical witness on any particular theme lies is rarely, if ever, self-evident; as we sift the biblical resources we must reflect self-critically on the criteria upon which selection is made and emphasis given.
3. It is to be acknowledged that, in practice, these criteria are usually drawn from a wide range and that interpretation is always influenced by many extra-biblical factors; that it is indeed shaped, to a significant degree, by the entire context of interpretation. We must strive to express our understanding of the authority of Scripture in such a way as to take seriously the fact that the Bible is but one factor (albeit of foundational importance) in the complex business of finding meaning and identity as Christians in a changing world.


1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman's Bible (London, 1985; first published 1895); cf. Elizabeth Griffin, In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Oxford, 1984).
2. Of the wide range of examples which might be cited, we note: Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 22, 4; Tertullian, On the Dress of Women, I, 1, 1-2; Augustine, Literal Commentary on Genesis, XI, 42; Ambrose, On Paradise, XII, 56.
3. Mary Daly's influential contributions Include: Beyond God the Father (London, 1985; first published 1973); Gyn/Ecology (London, 1984; first published 1978). Cf. Daphne Hampson, 'The Challenge of Feminism to Christianity', in Theology September 1985, pp. 341-50; 'Is There a Place for Feminists in the Christian Church?', in New Blackfriars January 1987, pp. Iff.
4. Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia, 1978).
5. The focus of my concerns in this short essay is with change and development within the Christian tradition and its implications for hermeneutics and the authority of Scripture within that tradition. This is in no way to overlook important work being done in this area by those who stand within the Jewish tradition. See, for example, Judith Hauptman, 'Images of Women in the Talmud', in Rosemary Radford Ruether (ed.), Religion and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (New York, 1974), pp. 184-212.
6. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, 'Feminist Uses of Biblical Materials', in Letty M. Russell (ed.), Feminist Interpretation of the Bible (Oxford, 1985), pp. 55-64.
7. This feature of the narrative is attractively highlighted in Hans-Ruedi Weber, Experiments with Bible Study (Geneva, 1981), pp. 67-74.
8. I am grateful for the observations of Leonie Archer here. As an example of her written contribution in this area, see 'The Virgin and the Harlot in the Writings of Formative Judaism', History Workshop 24 (1987), pp. 1-16; cf. also Leonie Archer, Her Price is Beyond Rubies: The Jewish Woman in Graeco-Roman Palestine (Sheffield, 1990).
9. Such ambiguity is an occasional feature even of Trible's valuable treatment of Genesis chs 2-3: Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, pp. 72-143.
10. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia, 1984).
11. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Towards a Feminist Theology {London, 1983), p. 23; cf. 'Feminism and Patriarchal Religion: Principles of Ideological Critique of the Bible', in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 22 (1982), pp. 54-66.
12. Among valuable recent treatments of the diversity of the Old Testament, see: Paul D. Hanson, The Diversity of Scripture: A Theological Interpretation (Philadelphia, 1982); John Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987).
13. When Ruether asserts that the 'prophetic-liberating tradition of Biblical faith . . . can be fairly claimed, on the basis of generally accepted Biblical scholarship, to be the central tradition' she is surely underestimating the problematic nature of this question (Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk, pp. 23-4).
14. On the New Testament, see Robert Morgan's essay in the present volume.
15. Ruether's formulation of 'Prophetic Principles' would seem to reflect the influence of Marxism, Liberation Theology and secular Feminism, among other factors.
16. Cf. John H. Hayes and Frederick C. Prussner, Old Testament Theology: Its History and Development (London, 1985).
17. Robert Morgan (with John Barton), Biblical Interpretation (Oxford,

Judith: Apocrypha

Judith: Apocrypha

The Book of Judith (second or early first century b.c.e.) is an imaginative, highly fictionalized, romance that entertains as it edifies. From a literary perspective, the book is an artistic masterpiece, constructed in two parts (1:1–7:32, 8:1–16:25), with each internally ordered by a threefold chiastic pattern. Numerous correspondences between the two halves of the story provide elegant compositional symmetries. The Book of Judith is a story of balance and counter-balance that makes the point that God’s people have all they need to survive if they rely wholeheartedly on the covenant.
Judith, the character from whom the book takes its name, is not mentioned in the story’s first half (1:1–7:32). In the opening chapters, God’s divine sovereignty over Israel comes into direct conflict with Nebuchadnezzar’s political sovereignty over all the nations of the western world. Holofernes, commander-in-chief of the Assyrian armies of Nebuchadnezzar (which, of course, is impossible historically since Nebuchadnezzar is a Babylonian!), leads a massive force in a punitive campaign against the western vassal nations—including Israel—who refused to send auxiliary forces against the Medes. The people of Israel block his retaliatory advancement against all the nations of the west at their little town of Bethulia (related to Hebrew for “virgin”), which strategically guards his route of access to Jerusalem. Despite the warning of Achior the Ammonite that the Jews cannot be conquered unless they sin against their God, Holofernes lays siege to Bethulia, cutting off its water supply. After thirty-four days, the exhausted Bethulians are ready to surrender, even though it will mean worship of Nebuchadnezzar (3:8). Uzziah, their town magistrate, urges a compromise to give God five additional days to deliver them, temporarily postponing what seems inevitable apostasy, slavery, and destruction of the Jerusalem sanctuary.

In Part 2 (8:1–16:25), Judith, a pious widow in Bethulia, comes forward to challenge the five-day compromise that has imposed conditions on God’s sovereignty. Once she takes the stage, she surrenders it to no other character, figuring in every scene until the book’s end. She sends her maid to summon the town magistrates, Uzziah, Chabris, and Charmis to her house. Upbraiding them for putting themselves in the place of God (8:12), she argues that God is simply testing them, and has the power to help them at any time (8:15). She urges, “Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading” (8:16). Judith proposes that they wait for deliverance and together call upon God who will listen, if so disposed (8:17). She insists that God will not disdain Israel because they know no other god and that capture by the Assyrians will mean the desolation of the temple as well as their way of life. Judith counsels, “Let us set an example for our kindred” (8:24).

Uzziah responds that all she has said is true and that this is not the first time her wisdom has been shown (8:28–29). But, the people were thirsty; the magistrates made an oath; and she can best help by praying for rain. On her account, the Lord will fill the cisterns and the people will no longer faint from thirst (8:31). Thus he saves himself from losing face by rescinding his foolish vow to hand over the town to the Assyrians in five days if God does not act (7:30–31), blaming the people who forced him to this oath, victimizing the victims as Jephthah did his daughter (Judg 11:35).

Giving up the idea that she and the town officials can set an example together, Judith decides to act independently. Explaining that she will do something all the generations will remember, she tells them to meet her at the town gate that evening when she and her maid will go out. Before the five days of their compromise are gone, she pledges “the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand” (Jdt 8:33). She refuses to tell them exactly what she is about to do (8:33–34).

Once the magistrates leave, Judith prostrates herself and cries out to God, begging the strength to be like Simeon, who took vengeance against the Shechemites who violated his virgin sister, Dinah. She implores God to hear her widow’s prayer (9:4), crediting God with full knowledge of past, present, and future (9:5–6). Judith asks God to see the pride of the enemy, to send fury on their heads, to give her—a widow—a strong hand, to strike down the enemy “by the deceit” of her lips (9:10), and to “crush their arrogance by the hand of a woman” (9:10). In an androcentric setting, there is no greater dishonor for a male than to die at the hand of a female (see Judg 9:53–54; 2 Sam 11:21).
Judith is the only biblical woman who asks God to make her a good liar. In Jdt 9:10 and again in 9:13, she petitions God for “deceitful words” that will wound those who have planned cruelties against the Jerusalem Temple and their homeland. Judith is part of a larger company of women in the Bible who practice deceits that have positive national and personal consequences, including Rebekah who tricks her husband, Isaac, for the sake of their son Jacob (Genesis 27); Tamar who steals the next generation by tricking her father-in-law Judah into impregnating her (Genesis 38); the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who lie to the king of Egypt about why they have not killed the Hebrew males at birth (Exod 1:19); Moses’s sister who offers to call a nurse for the daughter of Pharaoh, but calls the baby’s own mother, (Exod 2:7–8); the daughter of the Pharaoh who adopts and names the child Moses, in direct violation of her father’s instruction (Exod 2:10); Rahab, who preserves the lives of Joshua’s spies by lying to the king of Jericho (Joshua 2); and Jael, a Kenite, who smashes the skull of the enemy general seeking the hospitality of her tent (Judges 4–5).

When her prayer is finished (Jdt 9:14), Judith dresses beautifully, “to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her” (10:4). Taking ritually pure foods to eat (10:5), she and her maid go out that night to the camp of the enemy. She meets the Assyrian patrol and tells her first lie when she says, “I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured. I am on my way to see Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him a true report” (10:12–13). Her words and beauty greatly excite the soldiers who choose one hundred men from their ranks to assist her to the tent of Holofernes (10:14–17).
She prostrates herself before Holofernes, who tells her his first lie, saying he has never hurt anyone who chose to serve Nebuchadnezzar (11:2; conveniently forgetting how he destroyed the shrines and sacred places of seacoast peoples after they had surrendered in 3:1–8). Equal to the encounter, and playful with her use of the address “lord,” which Holofernes hears as deference to him, but Judith means as reference to God, Judith promises to tell him nothing false (11:5). She explains she will go out into the valley and pray to God each night and God will tell her when the Bethulians have sinned by eating sacrifices, so that Holofernes can safely attack Bethulia (11:16–19). Well-pleased, Holofernes praises her beauty and wise speech, pledging, “If: you do as you have said, your God shall be my God, and you shall live in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar” (11:23; compare Ruth 1:16).

Four uneventful days pass in the enemy camp before Holofernes sends his personal attendant Bagoas to invite Judith to a banquet in his tent (Jdt 12:10–12). Judith accepts the invitation and dresses in her best finery (12:14–15). Seeing her, Holofernes is ravished, “for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her” (12:16). She drinks and eats what her maid prepares (12:18–19). He drinks “much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born” (12:20).

Evening comes and all withdraw from the tent, save Judith and Holofernes who is stretched out, on his bed, dead drunk (13:2). Judith’s maid waits outside, as instructed. Judith prays twice for God’s help (13:4–5, 7), then taking Holofernes’ own sword, she strikes his neck twice and cuts off his head (13:8). She gives his head to her maid, who puts it in the food bag, and the two women go out of the camp, as was their nightly habit to pray, except this night they return to Bethulia (13:10).
The people run to welcome Judith and her maid, and Judith displays the head of Holofernes, telling how God protected her so that no sin was committed to defile or shame her (13:15–16). The people bless God (13:17), and Uzziah hails her as “blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth” (13:18). Judith then instructs the people to wait until daybreak and then attack the Assyrians (14:1–4). When Achior the Ammonite is brought to verify that the head belongs to Holofernes, he faints (see Add Esth 15:7), blesses Judith, believes firmly in God, and is circumcised (14:6–10).
The Israelites successfully rout the Assyrians and plunder their camp. Joakim, the high priest of Jerusalem, arrives to celebrate the victory. A triumphant procession of the women and the men, with Judith in the lead singing a hymn of praise like that of Miriam and Moses in Exodus 15, makes its way to Jerusalem where all worship God for three months (16:1–20).

In the end, Judith goes back to her estate in Bethulia. “Many desired to marry her, but she gave herself to no man all the days of her life after her husband Manasseh” (16:22). At one hundred five years of age, she frees her faithful maid and distributes her property to all those who were next of kin to her husband (compare Num 27:1–11; 36:1–11; Tob 6:11–13). This dispersal of her estate supports the unexpressed fact that Judith is a childless widow.

Judith is conventional in upholding inheritance and purity rights, in prayer and fasting, in her ideas about God’s providence. She is unconventional in upbraiding the male leaders of her town for what they have said about God, though she does this within the privacy of her own home. No other woman in the Bible has another woman in charge of her estate; no other childless woman refuses to marry. On her account, “No one ever again spread terror among the Israelites during the lifetime of Judith, or for a long time after her death” (16:25).

Craven, Toni. Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith. California: 1983.
Ibid. “Women Who Lied for the Faith.” In Justice and the Holy: Essays in Honor of Walter Harrelson, edited by Douglas A. Knight and Peter J. Paris, 35–49. Atlanta: 1989.
Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. “Judith.” Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 279–285. Kentucky: expanded edition, 1998.
Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: 2000.
Moore, Carey A. Judith: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City, NY: 1985.
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The Prophet Isaiah

Isaiah, Hebrew Yeshaʿyahu (“God Is Salvation”), (flourished 8th century bce, Jerusalem), prophet after whom the biblical Book of Isaiah is named (only some of the first 39 chapters are attributed to him), a significant contributor to Jewish and Christian traditions. His call to prophecy in about 742 bce coincided with the beginnings of the westward expansion of the Assyrian empire, which threatened Israel and which Isaiah proclaimed to be a warning from God to a godless people.
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Two-page spread from Johannes Gutenberg's 42-line Bible, c. 1450–55.
biblical literature: Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah, comprising 66 chapters, is one of the most profound theological and literarily expressive works in the Bible. Compiled over a period of about two centuries (the latter half of the 8th to the latter half of the 6th century bce),…

Isaiah’s vision

The earliest recorded event in his life is his call to prophecy as now found in the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah; this occurred about 742 bce. The vision (probably in the Jerusalem Temple) that made him a prophet is described in a first-person narrative. According to this account he “saw” God and was overwhelmed by his contact with the divine glory and holiness. He became agonizingly aware of God’s need for a messenger to the people of Israel, and, despite his own sense of inadequacy, he offered himself for God’s service: “Here am I! Send me.” He was thus commissioned to give voice to the divine word. It was no light undertaking; he was to condemn his own people and watch the nation crumble and perish. As he tells it, he was only too aware that, coming with such a message, he would experience bitter opposition, willful disbelief, and ridicule, to withstand which he would have to be inwardly fortified. All this came to him in the form of a vision and ended as a sudden, firm, and lifelong resolve.

Personal history

Presumably, Isaiah was already prepared to find meaning in the vision before the arrival of that decisive moment. Information about that period of his life is inconclusive, however, and consists mainly of inferences drawn from the biblical text.
At times the prophet’s private life shows through the record as an aspect of his public message. Once when he went to confront a king, he took with him, to reenforce his prophetic word, a son with the symbolic name Shear-yashuv (“A Remnant Shall Return”). Again, to memorialize a message, he sired a son on the “prophetess” (his wife) and saddled the child with his message as a name: Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“Speed-spoil-hasten-plunder”), referring to the imminent spoliations by the Assyrians. If the sons had not been wanted as walking witnesses to the prophet’s forebodings, posterity would not know of this wife or these sons.
Of Isaiah’s parental home it is known only that his father’s name was Amoz. Since he often spoke with kings, it is sometimes suggested that Isaiah was an aristocrat, possibly even of royal stock. The same reasoning, however, might apply to any number of prophets; from Nathan in David’s time onward, prophets had dealings with kings and were, like Isaiah, well informed about public affairs. Moreover, Isaiah’s sympathies were emphatically with the victimized poor, not with the courtiers and well-to-do. Also, it is sometimes argued that he was of a priestly family, but his knowledge of cultic matters and the fact that his commissioning seemingly occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem are slender evidence for his priestly descent as against his unreserved condemnation of the priests and their domain: “I am fed up with roasting rams and the grease of fattened beasts,” he has God proclaim in a famous passage in the first chapter.
One could argue with equal force that Isaiah is descended from a family of prophets (though his father, the otherwise unknown Amoz, is not to be confused with the prophet Amos). He is thoroughly schooled in the traditional forms and language of prophetic speech. It is an educated speech—strong, vivid, the finest of classical Hebrew. Isaiah is particularly well acquainted with the prophetic tradition known to his slightly older contemporary, Amos. Four eminent Hebrew prophets addressed themselves to the people of Israel and Judah in the latter half of the 8th pre-Christian century: Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. Strangely, no evidence suggests that any of these knew in person any of the others. Seemingly, they were apart and alone, yet Isaiah and Amos follow essentially the same lines of thought and differ significantly only in that Amos had addressed the northern kingdom (Israel) while Isaiah would emphatically include Judah and Jerusalem. The basic similarities in style and substance strongly suggest influence, direct or indirect, of the one on the other—and both invoke a recognizable Israelite tradition.

Isaiah’s experience bridges the classes and occupations. Whatever his family circumstances, still in his youth he came to know the face of poverty—and the debauchery of the rich. He was at home with the unprotected, the widowed and orphaned; with the dispossessed, homeless, landless; and with the resourceless victims of the moneyed man’s court. He was also acquainted with the rapacious authors of the prevailing misery: promulgators of discriminatory laws, venal judges, greedy landgrabbers, fancy women, thieving and carousing men of means, and irresponsible leaders, both civil and religious. In other words, he was intimately aware of the inequities and evils of human society—which may have been no worse in Israel in the 8th century before Christ than many critics believed they were almost everywhere in the 20th century after Christ.

Isaiah’s theology

It is in his theology that Isaiah leans most heavily on Israelite tradition and shows an acquaintance with the thoughts of Amos. Isaiah shared with him and with the people the long-standing tradition that a special bond united Israel and its God. Since patriarchal times there had been an agreement, a solemn “Covenant” between them: Israel was to be God’s people and he their God. He had chosen them and cared for them. His solicitude for their welfare had been clearly established. Such was the traditional message. Isaiah knew and honoured this ancient tradition, but, more significantly, he also shared the conviction of Amos that this arrangement was wholly conditional, contingent on the people’s conduct. Behaviour such as Amos saw about him in Samaria and Isaiah saw about him in Jerusalem could cancel that Covenant—had in fact done so; that is the meaning of the vineyard parable in the fifth chapter of Isaiah. There God is compared to the careful and industrious cultivator of a vineyard—Israel—who, angry at the “wild grapes” of injustice and violence that is his crop, threatens to take away his care and protection.
As Isaiah knew him, Israel’s God did not fit into the picture of utter injustice and consequent misery rampant in 8th-century Israel. To that people’s God, as Isaiah knew him, persons mattered. God was, in fact, more concerned about people than about how his subjects performed for him their oft-rehearsed rituals. A literal interpretation of the 13th verse of chapter 29 and verses 10 to 15 of chapter 1 would suggest that God finds the motions of worship repugnant, and this may well have been Isaiah’s meaning. He was overawed by the holiness—the otherness—of his God and must have thought that the customary gifts of meat, grain, and flattery were unseemly or, at the least, irrelevant. Although, like Amos, Isaiah appears most often to speak in absolutes, it is indeed possible to interpret these two passages less strictly (as some scholars do) and to say that he spoke in relative terms and that, in his scale of religious values, he merely ranked moral conduct above ritual conformity.
Isaiah’s theology included the sometimes comforting view that God shapes history, traditionally entering the human scene to rescue his people from national peril. But, according to Isaiah’s discomfiting surmise, God could intervene quite as properly to chastise his own aberrant nation, and he could employ a human agent (e.g., a conquering foe) to that end.

More readily than Amos, perhaps because a decade had passed, Isaiah could identify the agent: Assyria. Isaiah’s call to prophecy roughly coincides with the beginning—after a period of relative inactivity—of the westward expansion of the Assyrian empire under the victorious generalship of Tiglath-pileser III (reigned 745–727 bce). Current events did not escape the prophet’s attention. Isaiah appears to have read the omens, as Amos had done; he could clearly see in Assyria the instrument of God’s wrath: “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury! Against a godless nation I send him…” (10:5–6).

Prophetic mission

If, then, Isaiah was prepared by schooling in tradition and life for the vision that set him on his prophetic course, the preparation involved the mingling in his nature of such elements as those sketched above. In the year that King Uzziah died (742 bce), according to chapter 6, Isaiah was one of a crowd gathered for an occasion at the Jerusalem Temple when of a sudden it occurred—and he became a prophet: “Go, and say to this people….” The experiences that had gone into the shaping of his young life—his acquaintance with the arrogant rich and the suffering poor; his seeming knowledge of Amos and his heritage of tradition, ethnic and religious; his dismay at the threat of Assyria; above all, perhaps, a new and overwhelming sense of the majestic holiness of God—all merged, coalesced, and he knew that his God was sending him with words for his people and that, reluctant or not, he was compelled to go. From the start or retrospectively, he was aware of a frantic need—impossible to satisfy—to call his people back from the brink of peril. His vision was his moment of insight and resolve when, with complete clarity and instantaneously, he knew what he must do and say.

In its present sophisticated form the record of this experience is hardly contemporary with the event; he did not go home from the Temple and write down chapter 6. The record is the reflection not of a confident and eager youth but of a man buffeted by long experience, embittered and despairing. Three times in other chapters the prophet says of his people that they have “refused” to hear him; it was as though he, a messenger, had been ordered irrationally to “close their minds, plug their ears, veil their eyes,” as he says in chapter 6 of his errand to those to whom he was sent. The message that he had to deliver was bad news—unwelcome tidings. And when he spoke of it, as repeatedly he did, he chose such unambiguous language and spoke with so much moral certainty that, as men normally do, his hearers tuned him out; he was foredoomed to speak unheard. A great deal of anguished living intervened between the vision itself and the writing of it. His words “How long, O Lord?” are an expression of utter weariness.
If chapter 6 marks the beginning of his career as prophet, the judgment oracle about the conquest of Jerusalem in chapter 22 probably brings his grim story to a close. It is at any rate the latest Isaianic product that can be dated with any degree of certainty. The last recorded words of Isaiah, in chapter 22, do nothing to relieve the sombre tone of his message, but they do shed further light on his mood and personality. After he had exclaimed in the vision in chapter 6, “How long, O Lord?” he learned to his dismay that even a last remaining 10th of the populace must in turn succumb; just so here the oracle ends with assurance of total disaster: the nation’s guilt can be purged by nothing short of death—“Surely this iniquity will not be forgiven you until you die….” Chapters 6 and 22 set the tone of his message and the hue of his mood, and from the first to the last the gloom has not lifted.
This 22nd chapter contains the most personally revealing of all Isaiah’s words. Quite unexpectedly, the Assyrians have lifted the siege and departed, and the amazed defenders of Jerusalem, flushed and jubilant, give way to celebration; Isaiah cannot share the holiday spirit since for him there has been only a postponement. Nothing has changed, and in his “valley of vision” he sees the day of rout and confusion that God yet has in store for Zion. And so it is that he lays bare his private grief:
Look away from me, let me weep bitter tears; do not try to comfort me for the destruction of my beloved people.

Message to Israel

The historical allusions in the scattered chapters of Isaiah’s work agree with the title verse, according to which he was a contemporary of the Judaean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His prophetic call is precisely dated by him “in the year that King Uzziah died.” At least a part of chapter 7 refers to the event of the year 734 when Ephraim and Syria jointly threatened King Ahaz of Judah. In 732 Tiglath-pileser conquered Damascus, the fall of which Isaiah had anticipated. In 722 Samaria, the capital of Ephraim, fell to King Sargon of Assyria, which event Isaiah had also foreseen. By the end of the century (701) Sennacherib had laid siege to Jerusalem—and had subsequently withdrawn. Chapters 1:4–8; 10:27–34; 28:14–22; 30:1–7; and 31:1–4 point to those difficult days when Jerusalem was beleaguered and King Hezekiah feverishly sought help from Egypt. Isaiah brought sparse comfort to his kings—even when the siege was lifted, as noted in the passage cited from chapter 22.
It would be wrong to suppose that Isaiah came to Israel simply to announce the approaching disaster. Painfully sensitive to the rottenness of his society, Isaiah foresaw its consequent collapse. But he also knew and offered an alternative to tragedy: his people’s survival depended on their acceptance again of the ancient moral demands. By returning they might be saved. To obtain their return was his program. Or, differently and more properly stated, because he spoke for God and of God, his goal was to redirect his people into the ways acceptable to the God whom by their conduct they had alienated, and so to save them from catastrophe. He screamed dread warnings and pleaded for amendment. He gave way to despair only because his program had no success. His people seemed to him bent on self-destruction; that was the sickening course of their destiny as he saw it unfolding.
His impossible program comes through in the crisis of 701, during which he stands in violent opposition to the generals ready to go to Egypt for help against the Assyrians laying siege to Zion. Isaiah looked neither to allies nor to armaments for security. If it is God who decides the destiny of nations, security is for God to grant and for men to deserve. Isaiah held the daring view that the best defense is no defense—none other than the reconciling response to the moral demand. No men are secure when some are denied security. “This,” he said, “is rest [i.e., security]: give rest to the weary.”

A case can be made for a theory that Isaiah drew back at the brink, incapable of conceiving a world wholly emptied of his people. What supports this view is a paradox: the observation that, irrationally, he entrusted his rejected message to his disciples and preserved it in a book for the instruction of the survivors of a people doomed to leave no survivors.
There is no consensus as concerns the precise limits of the words of the 8th-century Isaiah or the degree of consistency with which he sustained his tragic monotone. Certainly in his book as it has come down, his nature is elusive—both stern and tender. Magnificently hopeful passages constantly mingle with the prevailing atmosphere of doom. Probably his son’s name, Shear-yashuv, means something like “a mere fragment will survive,” but possibly it has a hopeful ring: no total disaster—some shall survive. Possibly the name Immanuel (God Is with Us), prophesied for the child who shall be a sign from God that Judah will not be overcome by Israel and Syria, expresses the confidence that God will never forsake his people. And possibly other such assurances are in fact words of Isaiah himself, compelled by his love to palliate the blow.
But there is an alternative solution. Although Isaiah was far from popular in his day, he does appear to have attracted some followers: “Seal the teaching among my disciples.” These may have been the circle that kept alive his name and his words—in writing or learned “by heart”—the nucleus of what was to become, through a developing tradition, the biblical Book of Isaiah. And quite possibly successive generations of such Isaiah-men, piously keeping his words alive through radically changing times, added the sustaining messages of hope, well designed to seize the fancy of suffering humanity down the centuries.

Later interpretations of Isaiah’s message

Ironically, perhaps, the Book of Isaiah is most widely known and loved just for those comforting words—which may not be his. A passage in the Babylonian Talmud (one of the two Talmud compilations, the other being Palestinian) can say that from beginning to end the book is consolation. The presence of Isaiah scrolls in the archives of the Qumrān (Dead Sea) community is not surprising. By that time (c. 1st century bce) it had become the fashion to assume that prophets spoke not to their times only but of things to come, and in times of stress men studied prophetic texts intent on learning when redemption was to come.
The Greek translation of Isaiah by Jewish scholars (the Septuagint), accomplished before the Christian Era, reflects a developing tradition of interpretation; it renders the Hebrew ʿalma (“young woman”) as parthenos (“virgin”) in the verse (7:14) about Immanuel, thus drawing Isaiah further into the messianic ring. Now it is a virgin who “shall conceive and bear a son.” The promise of a more than ordinary king, a “messiah,” was enticing. According to the New Testament accounts, when Jesus entered a synagogue in Nazareth and got up to read, they handed him a scroll of Isaiah. He read the beginning of chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…,” and he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.”
The Gospels lean more heavily on the Book of Isaiah than on any other prophetic text. Beyond any denominational differences is the utopian dream, the “swords-into-plowshares” passage in Isaiah 2. These and many gleaming words from the expanded Book of Isaiah live on in the present day and today’s culture. The word “prophetic” has now become a value-term, closely associated with the primacy of the moral demand and the bearing of justice on the stability of nations, quite in accord with the emphasis of the early Isaiah.

Fear stalks the right..the world has changed........

It unravels now...the change is coming...I felt it at lunchtime. The critical moment begins whether it takes 3 months or 3 years.. the Labour Party stands on the edge of a historic victory .1945 begins again....a reforming government is around the corner . The understanding between the Corbynista Left and the five main trade unions on the NEC understand what must be done. There will be no repeat of the 1980s...Brexit will be determined by fate but the necessity of a Labour government exceeds other possibilities.. and concerns. As the Lib Dems flail in political erotic impotency and Plaid prepare a drift to the centre with Rhun or Adam...they contemplate alliance with the Conservative Party that has done Wales to death.. 

As Trump creates a fantasy of Chinese intervention into mid term American elections while not mentioning Russian. The laughter rings out this is a farce the tragedy has already happened. Trump becomes an illustration of classic Freudian defence mechanism for dummies. The world is changing and with it the basis of its political assumptions and philosophy. All that was solid melts into air....the right fades and becomes more desperate.. there will be one more furious assault on Corbyn.. and then the right will fall...first they ignore you, than they laugh at you. Then they attack you and then you win...

 Fear stalks the right wing press. They know .. reading between the lines of a grudging review of Corbyn's speech. They know...and they are afraid...the world turns and there arises in Egypt a leader who knows not neo liberalism and the worship of the " free market" be afraid be very afraid you bluekippers..

On the edge of left wing transformation.. ...The paradigm moves on. When former Tory ministers celebrate new possibilities.. when John Macdonnel looks like a Chancellor in waiting and when the Full Moon nears completion we know change nears...

We stand on the edge of the most Left Wing government yet. There is a mighty judgement coming. I cannot remember a time like this when new words are written on new tablets . I have not heard words like this since I was 16 and now I am 60. The most unlikely people complement and soften towards Corbyn and Macdonnel. We see the outline of plans that solve the problems of those who work and do not own and puts a challenge to those who own but do not work.....

Not since the Minor report in Sweden in the 70s have we seen such possibilities. The coming Labour government will be more radical than 1945. And now just as the trade unions where defeated one by one by the Tories now the banks and the large financial institutions will face the same as we experience the return of the repressed . The only issue left will be how the right of the party will behave once power is achieved.. despite the bleats of Margaret Hodge and the ambitious, sarcastic comments of the young Kinnock and the repeated attacks by the right wing media Labour leads in the polls. Over a third of the electorate will vote for a corbynesque agenda in the four weeks of an election period Labour will gain at least another 7 to 8 % this will take Labour to 46 or 47 percentage points. We stand on the edge of a generational shift of power.. and a left paradigm. The next election could well have the following result Labour 46% Tories 32% Lib Dems 10% UKIP 8% others 4%...there is a mighty judgement coming...i am glad to be living in such a time. Everywhere the left wing bloggers pour out criticism of the right.. Navara Media and other groups critique, suggest and describe how another outlook and approach can be and will be applied. Another world is no longer possible but likely.. move over bluekippers its time for you to visit the dustbin of history..this is not class war waged by Socialism this is resistance to those who do..

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


Epicureanism, in a strict sense, the philosophy taught by Epicurus (341–270 bce). In a broad sense, it is a system of ethics embracing every conception or form of life that can be traced to the principles of his philosophy. In ancient polemics, as often since, the term was employed with an even more generic (and clearly erroneous) meaning as the equivalent of hedonism, the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the chief good. In popular parlance, Epicureanism thus means devotion to pleasure, comfort, and high living, with a certain nicety of style.
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Plutarch, circa ad 100.
Western philosophy: Epicureanism
The thought of Zeno’s contemporary Epicurus (341–270 bc) also constituted a philosophy of defense in a troubled world. Nevertheless, it has been considered—in many respects justly—the opposite of Zeno’s thought. Whereas Zeno proclaimed that the wise person tries to learn from everybody and always…

The nature of Epicureanism

Several fundamental concepts characterize the philosophy of Epicurus. In physics, these are atomism, a mechanical conception of causality, limited, however, by the idea of a spontaneous motion, or “swerve,” of the atoms, which interrupts the necessary effect of a cause; the infinity of the universe and the equilibrium of all forces that circularly enclose its phenomena; and the existence of gods conceived as beatified and immortal natures completely extraneous to happenings in the world. In ethics, the basic concepts are the identification of good with pleasure and of the supreme good and ultimate end with the absence of pain from the body and the soul—a limit beyond which pleasure does not grow but changes; the reduction of every human relation to the principle of utility, which finds its highest expression in friendship, in which it is at the same time surmounted; and, in accordance with this end, the limitation of all desire and the practice of the virtues, from which pleasure is inseparable, and a withdrawn and quiet life.
In principle, Epicurus’s ethic of pleasure is the exact opposite of the Stoic’s ethic of duty. The consequences, however, are the same: in the end, the Epicurean is forced to live with the same temperance and justice as the Stoic. Of utmost importance, however, is one point of divergence: the walls of the Stoic’s city are those of the world, and its law is that of reason; the limits of the Epicurean’s city are those of a garden, and the law is that of friendship. Though this garden can also reach the boundaries of earth, its centre is always an individual.

History of Epicureanism

Epicurus’s predecessors were in physics Leucippus and Democritus and in ethics Antiphon Sophista, Aristippus of Cyrene, and Eudoxus of Cnidus, a geometer and astronomer. Epicurus differed from all of these in his systematic spirit and in the unity that he tried to give to every part of philosophy. In this respect, he was greatly influenced by the philosophy and teachings of Aristotle—taking over the essentials of his doctrines and pursuing the problems that he posed.

Epicurus’s teachings

In 306 bce, Epicurus established his school at Athens in his garden, from which it came to be known as The Garden.

His works

In accordance with the goal that he assigned to philosophy, Epicurus’s teaching had a dogmatic character, in substance if not in form. He called his treatises dialogismoi, or “conversations.” Since the utility of the doctrines lay in their application, he summarized them in stoicheia, or “elementary propositions,” to be memorized. In this respect, Epicurus was the inventor of the catechetical method. The number of works produced by Epicurus and his disciples reveals an impressive theoretical activity. But no less important was the practical action in living by the virtues taught by him and in honouring the obligations of reciprocal help in the name of friendship. In these endeavours, continuous assistance was rendered by Epicurus himself, who, even when old and ill, was occupied in writing letters of admonishment, guidance, and comfort—everywhere announcing his gospel of peace and, under the name of pleasure, inviting to love.

Doctrine of Epicurus

Philosophy was, for Epicurus, the art of living, and it aimed at the same time both to assure happiness and to supply means to achieve it. As for science, Epicurus was concerned only with the practical end in view. If possible, he would have done without it. “If we were not troubled by our suspicions of the phenomena of the sky and about death,” he wrote, “and also by our failure to grasp the limits of pain and desires, we should have no need of natural science.” But this science requires a principle that guarantees its possibilities and its certainty and a method of constructing it. This principle and this method are the object of the On the Criterion, or Canon. Since he made the Canon an integral introduction to the Physics, however, his philosophy falls into two parts, the Physics and the Ethics.
The Canon held that all sensations and representations are true and serve as criteria. The same holds for pleasure and pain, the basic feelings to which all others can be traced. Also true, and included among the criteria, are what may be called concepts (prolēpsis), which consist of “a recollection of what has often been presented from without …” Therefore, one must always cling to that “which was originally thought” in relation to every single “term” and which constitutes its background. Since the truth attested by each of the criteria is reflected in the phainomena, one must cling to these, employing them as “signs,” and must “conjecture” whatever “does not appear.” With the use of signs and conjecture, however, the level of judgment is reached, and thought is well advanced into that sphere in which error is possible, a state that begins as soon as single terms are tied into a proposition. Error, which consists of what “our judgment adds” to the evidence, can be of two types, one relative to what is not an object of experience, the other relative to what is such an object but for which the evidence is dubious. Each type has its own method of proof. Following the principles and methods of the Canon, Epicurus arrived at an atomism that, like that of the ancient naturalist Democritus, taught that the atoms, the void space in which they move, and the worlds are all infinite. But in contrast to Democritus, who had followed the deductive route of the intellect, considering the knowledge of the senses to be spurious, Epicurus, following an inductive route, assigned truth to sensation and reduced the intellect to it. On the basis of the totality of problems as Aristotle posed them in his Physics, Epicurus modified entirely the mechanical theory of causes and of motion found in Democritus and added the concept of a natural necessity, which he called nature, and that of free causality, which alone could explain the freedom of motion of humans and animals. For this purpose he distinguished three forms of motion in the atoms: a natural one of falling in a straight line, owing to their weight; a forced one due to impacts; and a free motion of declination, or swerving from a straight line. Secondly, he made finite the number of forms of the atoms in order to limit the number of sensible qualities, since each form begets a distinctive quality, and he taught a mathematical as well as a physical atomism. Lest an infinity of sensible qualities be generated, however, by an infinity of aggregations (if not of atomic kinds), Epicurus developed, from just this concept of infinity, the law of universal equilibrium of all the forces, or “isonomy.” Upon it, enclosing the events in a circle, he founded a theory of cyclic returns.
As part of his Physics, Epicurus’s psychology held that the soul must be a body. It is made of very thin atoms of four different species—motile, quiescent, igneous, and ethereal—the last, thinnest and the most mobile of all, serving to explain sensitivity and thought. Thus constituted, the soul is, from another perspective, bipartite: in part distributed throughout the entire body and in part collected in the chest. The first part is the locus of sensations and of the physical affects of pain and pleasure; the second (entirely dissociated from the first) is the psychē par excellence—the seat of thought, emotions, and will. Thought is due not to the transmission of sense motion but to the perception of images constituted by films that continuously issue from all bodies and, retaining their form, arrive at the psychē through the pores. The full autonomy and freedom of the psychē is assured, as, with an act of apprehension, it seizes at every moment the images it needs, meanwhile remaining master of its own feelings.
The object of ethics is to determine the end and the means necessary to reach it. Taking his cue from experience, Epicurus looked to the animal kingdom for his answer. He concluded that the chief end is pleasure. He distinguished two kinds—a “kinetic” pleasure of sense and a “static” pleasure, consisting in the absence of pain—and taught that the pleasure of sense is good, though it is not good merely as motion but rather as a motion favourable to the nature of the receiving sense organ. In essence, pleasure is the equilibrium of the being with itself, existing wherever there is no pain.
Epicurus concluded that “freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind” is the ultimate aim of a happy life. The damages and the advantages following the realization of any desire must be measured in a calculus in which even pain must be faced with courage if the consequent pleasure will be of longer duration.
Having thus given order to his life, however, the wise person must also provide himself with security. This he achieves in two ways—by reducing his needs to a minimum and withdrawing, far from human competition and from the noise of the world, to “live hidden”; and by adding the private compact of friendship to the public compact from which laws arise. To be sure, friendship stems from utility; but, once born, it is desirable in itself. Epicurus then added that “for love of friendship one has even to put in jeopardy love itself”; for every existence, being alone, needs the other. “To eat and drink without a friend,” he wrote, “is to devour like the lion and the wolf.” Thus, the utility sublimates itself and changes into love. But as every love is intrepid, the wise person, “if his friend is put to torture, suffers as if he himself were there” and, if necessary, “will die for his friend.” Thus, into the bloody world of his time, Epicurus could launch the cry: “Friendship runs dancing through the world bringing to us all the summons to wake and sing its praises.”
If human unhappiness stemmed only from vain desires and worldly dangers, this wisdom, founded upon prudence alone, would suffice. But besides these sources of unhappiness there are two great fears, fear of death and fear of the gods. If science, however, is effective in revealing the bounds of desire and (as already seen) in quelling the fear of the gods, it can also allay the fear of death. Regarding the soul as a body within another body, science envisions it as dissolving when the body dissolves. Death, then, “is nothing to us, so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist.” But death is feared not only for what may be waiting in the beyond but also for itself. “I am not afraid of being dead,” said the comic Epicharmus of Cos; “I just do not want to die.” The very idea of not existing instills a fear that Epicurus considered to be the cause of all the passions that pain the soul and disorder human lives. Against it Epicurus argued that if pleasure is perfect within each instant and “infinite time contains no greater pleasure than limited time, if one measures by reason the limits of pleasure,” then all desire of immortality is vain. Thus, Epicurus’s most distinguished pupil, Metrodorus of Lampsacus, could exclaim, “bebiōtai” (“I have lived”), and this would be quite enough. He who has conquered the fear of death can also despise pain, which “if it is long lasting is light, and if it is intense is short” and brings death nearer. The wise person has only to replace the image of pain present in the flesh with that of blessings enjoyed, and he can be happy even “inside the bull of Phalaris.” The most beautiful example was set by Epicurus at the moment of his death:
A happy day is this on which I write to you. …The pains which I feel…could not be greater. But all of this is opposed by the happiness which the soul experiences, remembering our conversations of a bygone time.
The ultimate concentration of all his wisdom is the Tetrapharmacon, preserved by Philodemus: “The gods are not to be feared. Death is not a thing that one must fear. Good is easy to obtain. Evil is easy to tolerate.”

The Epicurean school

Epicurus’s successor in the direction of the Garden was Hermarchus of Mitylene, and he was succeeded in turn by Polystratus, who was the last survivor to have heard Epicurus. Superior to both, however, were Metrodorus and Colotes, against whom a small work by Plutarch was directed. Among the Epicureans of the 2nd century bce, mention must be made of Demetrius of Lacon, of whose works some fragments remain, and Apollodorus, who wrote more than 400 books. Much was also written by his disciple Zeno of Sidon, who was heard by Cicero in 79 bce in Athens. After Zeno, there were Phaedrus, also a teacher of Cicero, who was in Rome in 90 bce, and Patro, the head of the school until 51 bce. Already famous as an epigram writer was Philodemus of Gadara (born 110 bce). In the papyri of Herculaneum, comprising the effects of Philodemus’s library, there are sizable remains of almost all of his numerous works. Epicureanism had already been introduced in Rome, in the 2nd century bce. The first person to spread its doctrines in Latin prose was a certain Amafinius. At the time of Cicero, Epicureanism was in fact the philosophy in vogue; and the number of Romans subscribing to it was, according to Cicero, very large. Among the greatest was Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 95–55 bce), who, in the poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), left an almost complete and amazingly precise exposition of Epicurus’s Physics. The extent to which Epicurus was still popular in the 1st century after Jesus is demonstrated by Seneca, who cited and defended him. To the 2nd century ce belongs Diogenes of Oenoanda, who carved Epicurus’s works on a portico wall. In the same century should perhaps be mentioned Diogenianus, fragments of whose polemic against the Stoic Chrysippus are found in the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea. Also Epicurean, between the 4th and 5th centuries, was the epigrammatist Palladas.
On account of its dogmatic character and its practical end, the philosophy of Epicurus was not subject to development, except in the polemic and in its application to themes that Epicurus either had treated briefly or had never dealt with at all. To be aware of this, it is sufficient to run through what remains of the representatives of his school and particularly of the works of Philodemus of Gadara. Epicurus’s philosophy remained essentially unchanged. Once truth has been found, it requires no more discussion, particularly when it completely satisfies the end toward which human nature tends. The main thing is to see this end; all of the rest comes by itself, and there is no longer anything to do but follow Epicurus, “liberator” and “saviour,” and to memorize his “oracular words.”

Epicureanism and egoism in modern philosophy

In the Middle Ages Epicurus was known through Cicero and the polemics of the Church Fathers. To be an Epicurean at the time of Dante meant to be one who denied providence and the immortality of the soul. In the 15th century, the notable humanist Lorenzo Valla—following brief hints by Petrarch—wrote, in the dialogue De voluptate (1431; On Pleasure), the first modern defense of the ethics of Epicurus, maintaining that the true good is pleasure and not virtue but concluding that the supreme pleasure is that which awaits humans in heaven, which even the Bible calls paradisum voluptatis. In the 16th century, in terms of attitude and direction of thought, the first two great Epicureans were Michel de Montaigne in France and Francesco Guicciardini in Italy. Epicurean in everything, as human being and as poet, was the early 16th-century classicist Ludovico Ariosto. But not until the 17th-century Provençal abbot Pierre Gassendi was the system of Epicurus to rise again in its entirety—this time, however, by approaching truth through faith. Gassendi in 1649 wrote a commentary on a book by the 3rd-century-ce biographer Diogenes Laërtius. This comment, called the Syntagma philosophiae Epicuri (Treatise on Epicurean Philosophy), was issued posthumously at The Hague 10 years later. At the same time, in England, Thomas Hobbes, a friend of Gassendi, took up again the theory of pleasure and interpreted it in a dynamic sense, which was therefore closer to the doctrine of the ancient Cyrenaics. Starting from the premise that, in the natural state, “man is a wolf to man,” he concluded that peace, without which there is no happiness, cannot be guaranteed by anything but force, and that this force must be relinquished, by common agreement, to the power of only one.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the European nation in which Epicureanism was most active was France, where its representatives were called libertines, among them moralists such as François, duc de La Rochefoucauld, and Charles de Saint-Évremonde; scientists such as Julien de La Mettrie, who believed that humans could be explained as machines, Claude-Adrien Helvétius, who reduced the ethic of the useful to a form of experimental science but who put public above private well-being, and Paul Henri Dietrich, baron d’Holbach, who gave particular importance to the physics of the atoms. The purely sensate conception of knowledge had its most thoroughgoing theoretician in Étienne Bonnot de Condillac. In England, Adam Smith, developing the ethical concepts of David Hume (founded on sympathy), surmounted the egoism that is the basis of every act by using the principle of the impartial observer invoked to sympathize with one or another of the antagonists. After him, the jurist Jeremy Bentham, eliminating sympathy, reduced ethics to the pure calculus of the useful, which—in an entirely Epicurean formula—he defined as a “moral arithmetic.” In the Epicurean stream lay also the utilitarianism of the 19th century, of which the greatest representative was John Stuart Mill.

Epicureanism in later philosophy

In the 19th century, the interpretation of pleasure as a psychic principle of action was initiated by Gustav Theodor Fechner, the founder of psychophysics, and developed toward the end of the century by Sigmund Freud on the psychoanalytic level of the unconscious. Epicureanism and egocentric hedonism had few faithful representatives among 20th-century philosophers, though the viewpoint remained as a residue in some strains of popular thinking.

Criticism and evaluation

In the first half of the 17th century, at a time when Gassendi was reviving atomistic Epicureanism, René Descartes, often called the founder of modern philosophy, offered arguments that tended to undercut atomism. Reality is a plenum, he held, a complete fullness; there can be no such thing as a vacuous region, or the void of atomism. Since matter is nothing but spatial extension, its only true properties are geometrical and dynamic. Because extension is everywhere, motion occurs not as a passage through emptiness, as Epicurus supposed, but as vortices, or “whirlpools,” in which every motion sets up a broad area of movement extending indefinitely around itself.
Close to the heart of Epicureanism is the principle, which occurred also in Democritus, that denies that something can come from or be rooted in nothing. In a poem composed by an ancient monist, Parmenides of Elea (born c. 515 bce), this principle had been expressed in the two formulas: “Being cannot be Non-Being,” and “Non-Being must be Non-Being.” Though Epicurus had faithfully adhered to this principle almost throughout his system, he has been criticized for abandoning it at one point—in the swerves that he attributed to occasional atoms that take them aside from their normal paths. Epicurus abandoned the principle at this point in order to avoid espousing a physics that was inconsistent with the autonomy that he observed in the physical behaviour of humans and animals. But to his Stoic critics, the swerves of the atoms were a scandal, since they implied that an event can occur without a cause. It has seldom been noted, however, that the swerve is merely a special case—a transposition into atomistic terms—of Aristotle’s theory of accidents (i.e., of properties that are not essential to the substances in which they occur), inasmuch as an accident, too, as Aristotle himself had stated (Metaphysics I 3), is without a cause. Moreover, a similar view was seriously advanced in the 19th century under the name of tychism by Charles Sanders Peirce, a logician and philosopher of science.
To the Stoic charge that Epicurus lacked a doctrine of providence (since he viewed the gods as being lazy), Epicurus answered that “mythical gods are preferable to the fate” posited by the Stoics. It has been suggested that he might equally well have added that the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle’s theology was hardly less lazy than Epicurus’s gods.
The effort of Epicurus to reduce the good to pleasure reflects the only criterion to which he would entrust himself, the “evidence of those passions immediately present,” which give humans the word of nature. In the argument of psychological hedonism, here implied, the Epicurean holds that human beings as a matter of fact do take satisfaction in pleasure and decry pain, and he argues then to an egoistic ethical hedonism that identifies the (objective) good with pleasure. Most moralists, however, have felt that a thoroughgoing psychological hedonism cannot be defended; that desire is often, as a matter of fact, directed toward an object with no thought at all about the pleasure that it will bring; that a mother’s impulse to save her young from danger is more fundamental than any pleasure involved (which usually comes only afterward); that the tendency of a child to imitate his parents can be, in fact, quite painful; and that, as 19th-century utilitarian Henry Sidgwick argued in what he called the “hedonistic paradox,” one of the most ineffective ways to achieve pleasure is to deliberately seek it out.
Some scholars have even argued that an Epicurean egoistic hedonism, however foresighted it may be, must logically be self-defeating. If the view is universalized, the egoist must advocate the maximization of his enemy’s pleasure as well as of his own, which can lead to actions painful to himself. In consequence, the entire branch of ethics that covers the advising or judging of other agents is banned from consideration, and it may be questioned whether such a view can comprise an ethic at all.
On the other hand, it has been argued that humans are subject to antinomies, or contradictions, that no system can escape; there are dimensions in human nature that transcend the rational level. Thus, whatever its rational credentials may be, Epicureanism, as an attitude toward life that was theorized in its purest form by Epicurus, nonetheless remains one of the important forms that human behaviour has often assumed; and, at its best, it has achieved a type of asceticism that, even in retirement and solitude, does not negate company but welcomes it, finding the purest joys of life in the unique richness of human encounters.