A few years ago, I was helping our daughter with some research about the location of the Telefunken wireless station. This site played a key role in the US entry into WWI when it relayed Berlin’s attack orders to the German submarine fleet in the Atlantic to sink the Lusitania. Two years later, in 1917, the station transmitted the Zimmerman Telegram.
As we were browsing the archives, I fell upon an article from 1908 about a tragic death in a nearby town. The story revolved around James Nelson, a 24 year old Sag Harbor resident and his young bride, one Florence Howard. At the time of Nelson’s passing, the two were only married for about 10 months.
Image 1: The 1908 announcement of the untimely passing of James B. Nelson of Sag Harbor
As we continued to review the articles, I stumbled upon another announcement, this time regarding the untimely passing of William Holtz, another young man. Oddly, his wife was identified as Florence V. Nelson also the daughter of William G Howard from Sag Harbor. This union too was short lived. William Holtz died less than 4 months after the wedding.
Image 2: The 1911 announcement of the untimely passing of William F. Holtz of Sag Harbor
I remember thinking, what are the odds? Two Florence Vs from Sag Harbor, both burying two young husbands within the span of three years, with each marriage lasting less than 12 months and the cause of death in both cases having something to do with abdominal ailments?
The stories weren’t relevant to the project, so I just archived them. Recently however, I was doing some digital house cleaning and I found the old articles. I re-read them and got the idea, why not use technology to get some insight?
Traditionally, crime research is time consuming and tedious as it requires collecting, creating and reviewing forensic reports, intel sources, and witnesses which can be difficult if not impossible to locate a century later. In a criminal investigation, the first 48 hours can be crucial in solving a case. This is because the witnesses and evidence are fresh and the conditions are favorable to the detectives. Based on these factors, looking at a 110 year old potential crime without any physical evidence seemed like a losing proposition. However, despite these challenges, there could still be a way to shed some light on this story. Using AI based image analytics, linkage analysis, Big Data analytics and OSINT gathering techniques, could help tease out information from the sparse sources and help answer at least a few questions.
The Search Strategy Due to the scarce and obscure nature of the information I was looking for (all main actors and witness are long dead), my primary search focus was on period newspapers and census data. The approach was to:
Download all regional newspaper archives
Perform an AI based image enhancement and OCR on all of the pages
Perform face enrolment and face recognition and other types of image object classifications (like houses, cars, jewelry, etc.)
Run complex data and image queries to scrape names, events, addresses, aliases and related images
Create a timeline of people, places, and events
After the textual and visual information was harvested, I then constructed a dossier for each actor, their social and professional network, their theater of operations, and timeline of events. The final step was to look for anomalies such as inconsistent names and dates.
Image 3: Sample of scraped facial images used in building the individual dossiers
Image 4: Sample of face reconstruction used in POI searches
Image 5: Sample geospatial data used to establish linkages and conduct real-estate searches
The Plot William Garrett Howard was a local photographer in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY. By 1915, he had lived there for 34 years. He was described as having a “powerful physique” and was well known and active in the community. Howard lived with his daughter Florence Nelson, and was sometimes visited by his wife, Anna, who for some unknown reason had left the village and moved to Bridgeport Connecticut. In addition to this day job, William was a volunteer with the local fire department, sometimes acting as the treasurer and chief. He was known as a skirt-chaser and somewhat of a dandy. He also apparently had sticky fingers. At least on once occasion, he ‘borrowed’ $247 from the funds of the Sag Harbor Fire Department in order to pay his personal debts.
Image 6: 1900, William Howard, Sag Harbor photographer
In 1904, William’s daughter, Florence Howard (20), was to be married to one Henry Bescher, however, shortly after placing the marriage announcement in the local newspaper, her father halted the union.
Image 7: 1904, Marriage announcement was a practical joke
The notice retraction claims that the marriage announcement was a practical joke by some unknown people.
Image 8: 1904, marriage notice for Florence Howard and Henry Beshcher
Four years later, Florence married James B. Nelson.
Image 9: 1907 Florence Howard marries James Nelson
Image 10: 1908, James Nelson served as a mate on the steamers Nantasket and Manhasset
Nelson was described as a large man with an athletic build who worked as a mate on two steamer boats. In 1908, about seven months after their marriage, Nelson was stricken with severe stomach pains that became progressively worse and eventually caused his death.
Image 11: 1908, James Nelson, Florence’s first husband death announcement
Three years later, in 1911, Florence married her second husband William P. Holtz (36). This was Mr. Holtz’s second marriage (the first was to one Flossie Roberts). Holtz was described as a “strong built rugged man” who worked in the local watchcase factory and subsequently bought a carting business. Fifty eight days after their wedding, Mr. Holtz died. He too inexplicably started experiencing violent stomach pains before passing away.
Image 13: 1911 Death announcement of William Holtz, Florence’s second husband
After the death of her second husband, Florence moved back in with her father. She was described as a “tall woman of erect carriage” and “robust.” She had grown up in Sag Harbor, attended local schools, participated in the local theater, received decent grades, was active in church, and had several close female friends in the village. However, a few people referred to her as a “man-hater.”
Shorty after returning to her father’s home, she linked-up with one Isabelle Quackenbush. Isabelle was also a native resident of Sag Harbor and a widow. According to the newspaper, Quackenbush spent most of her time in the Howard home with Florence and the two became inseparable. At the time, Florence was working as an agent selling tea and coffee and supplemented her income by doing laundry for neighbors and friends.
In April of 1915, William Howard (Florence’s father), suddenly developed violent stomach cramps and his condition deteriorated quickly. He was taken to Southampton Hospital for treatment. During his stay there, his attending physicians received an anonymous warning letter. The letter was written in pencil and the script was described as being written by a “feminine hand.” It was composed by an educated person, sent from out of state (likely as a anonymizing precaution), and only signed with the initial “M.”
Part of the letter stated:
“I had information yesterday that compelled me to write you. If you want to cure him or save him a slow death, then you better have him taken away from home immediately. If necessary show him this. Do anything to save his life. This is no idle gossip or talk. That is all I can say.”
The doctor forwarded the letter to the Suffolk County District Attorney, Ralph C. Greene, who sprung into undercover action. Apparently, Greene also had been warned of the situation in the Howard household by other sources: Howard’s own brother Theodore (The Greenport chief of police) and father and Ms. Nelson’s grandfather, Garrett Howard Sr. of Greenport. Howard Sr. insisted that should his son William die, an autopsy be preformed under the suspicion of murder.
While in the hospital, William Howard was getting well. His stomach pains went away and thankfully, he recovered rapidly. He was then sent home with a recommendation to retain a private nurse that would care for him. Green, the district attorney, used this opportunity to hire a Brooklyn nurse to masquerade as “Miss Mattie Clark” unbeknownst to any of the family members. She was placed in the home of William Howard to watch over him and conduct surveillance for any suspicious activity.
It didn’t take long. As soon as Mr. Howard returned home, his stomach troubles mysteriously returned his face turned green and he died shortly thereafter. District Attorney Greene refused to reveal what his agent, Miss Clark, had reported to him. The newspapers stated that the death of Mr. Howard was being investigated as a potential poisoning.
The press made some references an empty box of “Rough on Rats”, a popular late 19th century rat poison which was found in the house. The product was composed of arsenic and was a a favorite of the suicide and murder crowds. Despite the hype, Green’s investigation failed to yield any charges. The DA couldn’t find any financial motives for murder. Howard wasn’t a wealthy man nor did he have a significant life insurance policy. Florence didn’t benefit financially from his death, nor from the death of either of her two husbands so foul play was ruled out.
Image 14: Rough on Rats
The media reported that there was possibly an alternate motive in the report that Miss Clark might have submitted to Greene however that apparently wasn’t enough for a criminal case. At the autopsy, the medical examiner failed to find arsenic in Mr. Howard’s stomach. He also tested for 26 other poisons but all tests came back negative.
According to the newspapers, Florence Nelson left Sag Harbor after the investigation ended and moved to Bridgeport to live with her mother Anna. That should have been the end of the story, but NO! This is where the plot thickens.
In 1920, five years after the death of her father, Florence started calling herself Florence “Holtz” instead of “Nelson” and was now living in Brooklyn with none other than Isabella Quackenbush and her two teenage sons. In the 1920 census, their relationship was described as “partners”.
The 1930 census report shows the two women still living together, however in the 10 years that had passed, the two were now described as sisters and Isabella Quackenbush had a new last name—Nischwihup. Conspicuously absent from the listing was Mr. Nischwihup. Mrs. Nischwihup (actually Isabella Quackenbush) was listed as “widowed”.
By 1939, Florence separated from Nischwihup/Quackenbush and was spending the summers in Three Mile Harbor with one Helen S. McAvoy (her niece). In 1945, she retired from her sales position with the Brooklyn Union Gas Company and permanently retired to the island. She died in 1949.
Image 15: Florence’s place of employment for 25 years: the showroom of the Brooklyn Union Gas Company
So, did Ms. Nelson get away with multiple murders? Were Florence and Isabella romantically involved and a duo of femme fatales? Both Florence and Isabella had engaged in various evasive maneuvers such as changing their ages and names. They also outright lied about the nature of their relationship as being “sisters” (It’s a federal crime to provide false information on the census).
Scanning for unusual marriage patterns in this time period and area, the analytics were able to flag several anomalies. One example was of a women who was married for 12 years to a man who after his sudden death (another possible poisoning) turned out to be a women.
Image 16: 1903, A “Widow” of a woman weds again
Florence’s and Isabelle’s evasiveness could be explained as an attempt to avoid the stigma that came out of DA Greene’s investigation, but it could also indicate a more nefarious reason. It’s hard to tell with certainty without exhumation and extensive toxicology tests, something that is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Image 17: 1896, Florence Howard’s school graduation notice
Image 18: 1897 William Howard Sag Harbor fire department business notice
Image 19: 1897 William Howard Sag Harbor fire department officer selection notice
Image 20: 1898, Isabella and William H Quackenbush marriage notice
Image 21: 1903, William Howard appointed treasurer of Phoenix Hook and Ladder company Sag Harbor
Image 22: 1914, William Howard got sick but is feeling better announcement
Image 23: 1914, William Howard elected as the Sag Harbor fire department treasurer
Image 24: 1915, William Howard’s death notice
Image 25: 1915, William Howard’s fatal illness being investigated by DA Greene
Image 26: 1915, DA Greene is seeking mystery letter writer – Source 1
Image 27: 1915, DA Greene is seeking mystery letter writer – Source 2
Image 28: 1915, William Howard dies as predicted
Image 29: 1915, DA Greene looking for the female informant
Image 30: 1915, Nasty letters being sent to Florence Holtz
Image 31: 1915, Did William Howard die from a heart problem or from poison?
Image 32: 1915, The vindicated Mrs. Holtz
Image 33: 1915, William Howard reported as having died from natural causes
Image 34: 1920 Isabella Quackenbush and Florence Holtz at a social event in Brooklyn, NY
Image 35: 1923, Florence Holtz and W.B. Quackenbush with friends
Image 36: 1949, Florence Holtz’ death notice
Image 37: 1949, Helen McAvoy’s notice regarding the passing of her aunt
Biographical Florence Valentine Howard AKA: Florence Valentine Howard, Florence Valentine Howard, Florence Valentine Nelson, and Florence Valentine Holtz Born: 9/16/1884 Died: 6/10/1949 (65) Mother: Anna Father: William Garret Howard Florence Family Events 1895 – Death of a sibling 1/3/1904 – Florence (20) to be married to Henry Bescher – event canceled and called a hoax 5/22/1907 – Florence (24) marries James Nelson (24) he dies 3/1/1908 COD – Cholecystitis 12/23/1910 – Florence (27) marries William Holtz (36) dies 2/27/1911 COD – Bleeding ulcers 12/23/19150 – William Howard (55) dies COD – dropsy heart failure
Perhaps I should not write all this in my situation, but I would ask for your pardon. I am seeking your understanding, since you know me better than others. I only lived to think, together with you, on how to improve our country, powerful and glorious, of course, within the limits of my abilities. For me to think otherwise is simply beyond comprehension. Of course, after what has happened, I should be called strongly to order, directed to my place, and dressed down so that I would remember it to the end of my life.
But dear comrades, you should understand that I am a faithful soldier of our Motherland, a loyal son of the party of Lenin and Stalin and your loyal friend and comrade. Send me wherever you wish, to any kind of work, [even] a most insignificant one. See me out, I will be able to work ten more years and I will work with all my soul and with complete energy. I am saying this from the bottom of my heart, it is not true that since I have held a big post I would not be able to perform in a small position.
This can be easily proven in any region or area, in a Soviet farm, in a collective farm, on a construction site of our glorious Motherland. And you will see that in 2 to 3 years I will improve my behavior strongly and will be still of some use to you. I am to my last breath faithful to our beloved party and our government.
John O. Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Alright, I confess, I modified this letter slightly. It was actually written in 1953 by Lavrentiy Beria, the deposed head of the NKVD while he was awaiting trial. He was begging for forgiveness from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Politburo.
I just substituted Beria’s name with John Brennan’s and voilà! The context fits perfectly: the job title, the communist party stooge role, the failed coup, the crocodile tears about the failure of the rule of law, the phony-baloney patriotic justification for his dirty deeds, and his willingness to take a ‘lesser’ job with CNN selling treason and pimping the Russian collusion narrative.
Tavorish Brennan, Beria would have been proud of you. The only question that I have for you comrade is: when your final moment comes, will you follow in the footsteps of Lavrentiy Beria and Nikolai Yezhov? Will you fall to your knees begging and sobbing or will you take Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata’s advice and for once in your life do the honorable thing?
Image 1: Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata’s advice
Image 1: 2019 John Brennan practicing the fine art of sedition and treason
The Predator (Sourced from Wikipedia) At Beria’s trial in 1953, it became known that he had committed numerous rapes during the years he was the NKVD chief. Simon Sebag-Montefiore, a biographer of Stalin, concluded the information “reveals a sexual predator who used his power to indulge himself in obsessive depravity.”
According to official testimony, in Soviet archives, of Colonel Rafael Semyonovich Sarkisov and Colonel Sardion Nikolaevich Nadaraia–two of Beria’s bodyguards–on warm nights during war II Beria was often driven around Moscow in his limousine. He would point out young women to be taken to his mansion, where wine and a feast awaited them. After dining, Beria would take the women into his soundproofed office and rape them. Beria’s bodyguards reported that their duties included handing each victim a flower bouquet as she left the house. Accepting it implied that the sex had been consensual; refusal would mean arrest. Sarkisov reported that after one woman rejected Beria’s advances and ran out of his office, Sarkisov mistakenly handed her the flowers anyway. The enraged Beria declared, “Now it’s not a bouquet, it’s a wreath! May it rot on your grave!” The NKVD arrested the woman the next day.
Women also submitted to Beria’s sexual advances in exchange for the promise of freedom for imprisoned relatives. In one case, Beria picked up Tatiana Okunevskaya, a well-known Soviet actress, under the pretense of bringing her to perform for the Politburo. Instead he took her to his dacha, where he offered to free her father and grandmother from prison if she submitted. He then raped her, telling her: “Scream or not, it doesn’t matter.” In fact Beria knew that Okunevskaya’s relatives had been executed months earlier. Okunevskaya was arrested shortly afterwards and sentenced to solitary confinement in the Gulag, which she survived.
Beria’s sexually predatory nature was well known to the Politburo, and though Stalin took an indulgent viewpoint (considering Beria’s wartime importance), he expressed distrust of Beria. In one instance, when Stalin learned his daughter Svetlana was alone with Beria at his house, he telephoned her and told her to leave immediately. When Beria complimented Alexander Poskrebyshev‘s daughter on her beauty, Poskrebyshev quickly pulled her aside and instructed her, “Don’t ever accept a lift from Beria.”After taking an interest in Marshal of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov‘s daughter-in-law during a party at their summer dacha, Beria shadowed their car closely all the way back to the Kremlin, terrifying Voroshilov’s wife.
Before and during the war, Beria directed Sarkisov to keep a list of the names and phone numbers of his sexual encounters. Eventually, he ordered Sarkisov to destroy the list as a security risk, but Sarkisov retained a secret copy. When Beria’s fall from power began, Sarkisov passed the list to Viktor Abakumov, the former wartime head of SMERSH and now chief of the MGB – the successor to the NKVD. Abakumov was already aggressively building a case against Beria. Stalin, who was also seeking to undermine Beria, was thrilled by the detailed records kept by Sarkisov, demanding: “Send me everything this asshole writes down!” Sarkisov reported that Beria had contracted syphilis during the war, for which he was secretly treated (a fact Beria later admitted during his interrogation).The Russian government acknowledged Sarkisov’s handwritten list of Beria’s victims in 2003; the victims’ names will be released in 2028.
Evidence suggests that Beria murdered some of these women. In the mid 1990s, the skeletal remains of several young women were discovered in the garden of his Moscow villa (now the Tunisian Embassy).According to Martin Sixsmith, in a BBC documentary, “Beria spent his nights having teenagers abducted from the streets and brought here for him to rape. Those who resisted were strangled and buried in his wife’s rose garden.”
The testimony of Sarkisov and Nadaraia has been partially corroborated by Edward Ellis Smith, an American who served in the U.S. embassy in Moscow after the war. According to historian Amy Knight, “Smith noted that Beria’s escapades were common knowledge among embassy personnel because his house was on the same street as a residence for Americans, and those who lived there saw girls brought to Beria’s house late at night in a limousine.”
Copyright 2020 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.
The Hagaddah which is recited at the Seder on the first night of Passover retells the biblical story of the infliction of the ten plagues on Egypt and the exodus of the Israelites slaves. One four verse passage referencing chapter 12 in the book of Exodus stands out in the narrative because of the redundant emphasis on who was responsible for these acts:
“I will pass through the land of Egypt”, I and not an angel;
”And I will smite every first-born in the land of Egypt”, I and not a seraph;
”And I will carry out judgment against all the gods of Egypt”, I and not a messenger;
The context of the verses makes it clear that G-d alone inflicted the punitive measures and that they were executed directly by Him and not through other intermediaries like an angel, seraph, or messenger. Further support for this can be found in verse 12:12:
“For Iwill go through the land of Egypt on that night and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am G-d.“
But despite this clear and repetitive language regarding G-d’s direct responsibility, some Jewish and Christian scholars argue that the term “destroyer” used in verse 12:23 does not refer to G-d and should instead be read as the “angel of death”. They also postulate that G-d doesn’t act directly or get involved in the ‘hands-on’ day to day minutiae. Thus, he must have been using an agent of some sort to perform this work.
This textual dichotomy has been the source of endless arguments between theologians, translators and scholars. For example, the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum (translation) of Exodus 12 uses both the terms מַלְאָכָא מְחַבְּלָא (Aramaic for “destroying angel”) and מַלְאָךְ מוֹתָא, (Aramaic for the “angel of death”). Obviously, this interpretation suggests that besides G-d there is another entity—angelic or otherwise—with a certain degree of autonomy at work here.
From the contextual point of view, the arguments in favor of an angelic agent raise a number of questions about the role of this “destroyer” and the scope of his responsibility and autonomy. For example, can this destroyer exercise free judgment? Is he constrained by any boundaries?
The Hebrew bible emphasizes the idea that the entire universe falls under G-d’s jurisdiction and that all of nature falls under his control. He is the creator of light and darkness, good and evil. As Genesis 1:31 and Isaiah 45:7 state, He is the creator of all things:
“And G-d saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
The scripture also makes it clear that G-d is not dependent on his creation and the creation cannot exist independently of Him. Even Satan’s depiction in Job 1.7 illustrates that he is not a rival of G-d nor does he possess the ability to oppose him in any way, he is just one of many tools that G-d uses to maintain the world in working moral order. Job 1.21 further reinforces the idea that the life and death cycle entirely emanates from G-d:
“And he said; naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; G-d gave, and G-d hath taken away; blessed be the name of G-d.”
So if the scripture consistently states that G-d has complete and undisputed sovereignty, what then is the basis for the existence of an independent angelic agent who manages death, destruction, and the afterlife?
Broadly speaking, the source for this argument can be classified into these three categories of references:
Specific scriptural terminology such as: Abaddon, destroyer, messengers of death, angel that destroys, executioner, slayer, angel of G-d, Ashmedai, Satan, the harvester of souls, the angel that smites, serpent, adversary, captain of the host of G-d, leviathan the slant serpent, leviathan the tortuous serpent, and dragon
Allegorical Sources such as: Personification of death in the scripture, messengers of death, Day-Star, cherub that walks on stones of fire, and anointed cherub
Exodus 12:23 “For G-d will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, G-d will pass over the door and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.”
Joshua 3:13-14 And he said: ‘Nay, but I am captain of the host of G-d; I am now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said unto him: ‘What saith my lord unto his servant?’
Ezekiel 28:13-19 thou wast in Eden the garden of G-d; every precious stone was thy covering, the carnelian, the topaz, and the emerald, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the carbuncle, and the smaragd, and gold; the workmanship of thy settings and of thy sockets was in thee, in the day that thou wast created they were prepared.
Isaiah 37:36 And the angel of G-d went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
2 Samuel 24:16 ”And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, G-d repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of G-d was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
And G-d sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it; and as he was about to destroy, G-d beheld, and He repented Him of the evil, and said to the destroying angel: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of G-d was standing by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of G-d standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
II Kings 19:35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of G-d went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
Early Sources The argument advocating for the concept of an independent destroyer goes back to dawn of Egyptian and Canaanite religions. Egyptian texts that describe Osiris as the god of the dead and the lord of underworld date as early as 2500 BCE. According to passages in the book of the dead, after death, the deceased would face forty-two divine judges that evaluated If he lived in conformance with the guidelines of goddess Ma’at, who represented truth and rightness living. If they passed the test, they were welcomed into the heavenly kingdom of Osiris. If they failed, they did not share in eternal life and were taken by Ammit, the “devourer” and subjected to terrifying punishments and then thrown to the soul-eating demons in hell. Sort of Dante’s inferno, Egyptian style.
Ones in hell, the goddess Sekhmet inflicted further punishments on them in the place of “destruction”. The dead were thrown into lakes of fire kindled by flame spitting snakes, where demons fed on the victims entrails and drank their blood. The demons then butchered and hacked their victims to pieces and burned them with inextinguishable fire, in deep pits or in cauldrons, where they were scorched, cooked, and reduced to ashes.
Image 2: Egyptian view of hell
Not as detailed as the Egyptian book of the dead, the Canaanites developed similar concepts about their god of death and the underworld.
The Canaanite deity Mavet מָוֶת (who shares some traits with Osiris), played a central role in the The Baal Cycle written circa 1500 BCE. The hymn describes the god of death and the underworld as a predator with an unsatieted appetite for consuming the living by:
…Mavet (Death) would open His mouth wide. “A lip to earth, A lip to heaven, And a tounge to the stars, So that Baal may enter His inwards, Yea, descend into His mouth, As scorched is the olive, The produce of the Earth, And the fruit of the Trees.”
In addition to a detailed description of Mavet’s character and exploits, several other passages in the text detail the rivalry between Baal (the Canaanite equivalent of Zeus) and his brother Mavet (the Canaanite equivalent of Hades). In one example, goddess Anath informs El, the head of the gods about a battle she witnessed between the two deities:
Then Anath went to El, at the source of the rivers, in the middle of the bed of the two oceans. She bows at the feet of El, she bows and prosternates and pays him respects. She speaks and says: “the very mighty Baal is dead. The prince, lord of the earth, has died” (…) “They fight like heroes. Mavett wins, Baal wins. They bit each other like snakes. Mavett wins, Baal wins. They jump like horses. Mavett is scared. Baal sits on his throne”.
In the final part of the Baal cycle, Mavet informs Baal that he, “like a lion in the desert, hungers constantly for human flesh and blood”. Mavet threatens to cause the heavens to wilt and collapse and break Baal into pieces and eat him. Baal is also warned by Shapash, the sun-goddess, about Mavet’s superior power and advises that he submit to him:
Do not draw near the god Mavet, Lest He make You like a lamb in His mouth, Like a kid in His jaws Ye be crushed! The Torch of the gods, Shapash, burns; The heavens halt on account of El’s darling, Mavet. By the thousand acres, Yea the myriad hectares At the feet of Mavet bow and fall. Prostrate Yourselves and honor Him!
Image 3: Text from the goddess Anath epic referencing Baal’s rivals
The Hebrew Bible View of Death The Hebrew Bible rejected these polytheistic concepts of an independent god of death and the rivalry between deities. According to Isaiah 45:7, G-d is the only source of both good and evil and is the master of life and death.
Cassuto in his commentary on the Pentateuch argued that the bible was written in the language of the common man, and thus, the personification of death and the allusions to his other emissaries such as the leviathan the slant serpent, leviathan the tortuous serpent, and the dragon as described in Genesis 1:21 and Isaiah 23:1 were remnants of the ideological war that the Hebrew bible waged against the pervasive culture that was infused with these concepts. In opposition to the dominant beliefs of the time, the scripture emphasized the notion that no other entity but G-d possessed the power to create and return man to dust Job 10:9.
A careful reading of the roles of the “destroyer”, “the harvester of souls”, the “angel of the Lord” who “smites” and “destroys” human beings in the scripture shows that they are always temporary messengers with limited scope of operation and windows of opportunity of action. In the few instances where death is personified as in Psalms 49:15; 91:3; Job 18:14, and Proverbs 16:14; 17:11 it is clear that he does not possesses any permanent power nor has the ability to terminate life of his own volition.
The Formation of the Axis of Evil From a historical prospective, the western concept of an independent angel of death only emerged in the post-biblical period and can be attributed to the fusion of Egyptian, Canaanite, and Greek religions in the Hellenistic world.
This amalgam of deities the likes of Hades, Osiris, and Mavet formed the distinct figure of the angel of death who became associated with the terrifying demons and evil spirits commonly found in the ancient near east literature. By this time, this hybrid deity retained only a tangential association with the biblical concepts of the destroyer as a vehicle for delivering morally driven divine retribution.
This new manifestation of evil, death, cruelty, and wretchedness also incorporated the concept of the morally deficient, cunning, and deceitful snake from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-14) and after several additions and enhancements such as evil spirits, demons, and Liliths, it appeared in the literature and theology of 2nd century BCE-1st century CE as בְּלִיַעַל Belial. One example dated to the second Temple period found in a Dead Sea Scroll titled the “Songs of the Sage”, contains the following apotropaic prayer:
“And, I the Sage, declare the grandeur of his radiance in order to frighten and terri[fy] all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Liliths, owls”
In another Dead Sea scroll, a fragment entitled “Curses of Belial” contains a reference to Belial בְּלִיַעַל (wicked or worthless), “sons of Belial”, the “angel of the Pit” and a “spirit of destruction” and carries the following curses against him and his lot:
“The Community Council shall say together in unison, ‘Amen. Amen.’ Then [they] shall curse Belial and all his guilty lot, and they shall answer and say, ‘Cursed be [Be]lial in his devilish and damned be he in his guilty rule.”
From the 2nd century CE through the early middle ages, Belial became affiliated with the devil in gospel texts and assumed a central and permanent role of the ultimate evil that seeks to seduce, sabotage, harm, and fight mankind. He is described as a rebellious fallen angel who rose against G-d and challenged his sovereignty.
“And thou saidst in thy heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, above the stars of G-d will I exalt my throne, and I will sit upon the mount of meeting, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.”
Image 4: L-R Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Dionysius, John of Damascus, Origen
The absence of supporting scriptural provenance didn’t stop the widespread dissemination of these daemonic ideas. Now instead of using biblical exegesis, writers resorted to speculative fiction to describe in detail the devil’s nature, domain, powers, and attributes. For example, Cyprian in his Treatise 10.4 claimed that the reason for the fall of Satan was:
“When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and thus rebelled against God.
Where the biblical world experienced a rare and indirect interaction with a “destroyer”, the religious universe of late Roman period swarmed with pitched battles between angels and demons, with humanity caught in between. Even the most mundane matters including eating, marriage, and bearing children became a battleground between good the evil. Origen in his Commentary on Matthew and Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata discuss these prevailing contemporary views including one that the institute of marriage “is fornication” and that it was “introduced by the devil”.
By now, the previous narrative of the “destroyer” as mere messenger or the delivery mechanism for divine retribution regressed to the ancient idolatrous relationship between factions of warring deities reflected in the Enuma Elish. The new pantheon of the devil and his cohorts grow steadily and by the 6th century CE authors were dedicating entire treatises to the cataloging of the demonic and angelic realms. Early medieval writers such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite also produced an encyclopedic works such as the The Celestial Hierarchy that classified angels by function and utility and discussed in great details subjects such as:
“Which is the first Order of the Heavenly Beings? which the middle? and which the last? How many, and of what sort, are the Orders of the super-celestial Beings, and how the Hierarchies are classified amongst themselves”
Image 5: The Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
By the middle ages, Archangel Michael acquired an affiliation with certain functions of the angel of death who—among other responsibilities—was tasked with evaluating and carrying the souls of all the deceased to heaven and fighting Satan. Just like in the case of the Egyptian Anubis, Byzantine and Catholic liturgy and art assigned Michael the role of weighing the souls of the dead with his scales. Another popular depiction of him is being armed with a spear or sword and locked in mortal combat with Satan—In which for some unknown reason, he consistently fails to win adecisive victory.
Image 7: Depiction of Archangel Michael in medieval and renaissance art
Image 8: Anubis weighing the souls of the dead
From the late middle ages through the late renaissance, we find an increasing a number of books on demonic classification. These works progressively become more elaborate. They detail the nature of each demon, their MO, the category of sins which they impart to their human victims, the month in which their power is strongest, and the saints that are their adversaries. Some of the more notable classification works from this period are:
The 1410 Lantern of Light by John Wycliffe. A daemon classification system that was based on the Seven Deadly sins and the following association of sin and demon:
The 1459 Fortalitium Fidei by Alphonso de Spina. In the chapter on demons, Asphonso took daemon accounting to a new level or precision and stated that the total number of angels who sided with Lucifer’s revolt against G-d was 133,306,668. He also classified demons based on the following criteria:
The c. 1486 Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches). This most ‘thorough’ treatise on witchcraft and demons was written by two German Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger and came with an official papal bull. The book sold more copies than any other book except the Bible until 1678. It was single-handedly responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of innocent woman and young girls across Europe. According to the book, it has been proven that it is normal for many woman to embrace sorcery and “to perform filthy carnal acts with demons.”
The 1597 Daemonologie by King James (the same James who later sponsored the translation of the Bible to English better known as the “King James Bible”). A demon classification treatise in three volumes dedicated to the study of demonology and the methods demons used to inflict and torment mankind. The classification included:
Spectra – Used to describe spirits that trouble houses or solitary places
Oppression – Used to describe spirits that follow upon certain people to outwardly trouble them at various times of the day
Possession – Used to describe spirits that enter inwardly into a person to trouble them
Fairies – Used to describe spirits that prophesy, consort, and transport
The books also covered important topics such as werewolves and vampires. It was aimed at educating the ignored citizenry of England on the history, practices and implications of practicing sorcery and all things demonic.
Image 9: The Observer’s Book of Monsters by Claude Savagely
Image 10: A sampling of a few demonic classification books from the 14th-17the centuries
The Jewish View Some ancient and modern Jewish scholars, like Richard Friedman, also erroneously made the correlation between the “destroyer” and the angel of death. These errors were based on anecdotal evidence in the secondary literature and art. Friedman for example came to this conclusion based on a sword bearing figure in one of the illustrations on the Golden Haggadah whom he identified as the angel of death (top right corner of Image 11). This led him to conclude that the authors of the 14th century Haggadah must have also subscribed to the textual and theological interpretation that the “destroyer” was in fact the angel of death.
Image 11: Illustration from the Golden Haggadah (Note figure in top right corner)
Ironically, the same Golden Haggadah that is used as proof for the existence of the angel of death contains a hand written note, which is a combination of some biographical details and poetry. In line 6 of the note it reads:
״…בחוכמה בתבונה ובדעת, חי העולמים יושב המרומים ומשגיח התחתונים אחד ונעלם אלקי חיים ומלך עולם…״
“…In wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, the creator of the universe who sits on high and oversees the underworld (i.e. the dead), who is one and unseen, the king of the world…”
From the context it’s clear that the writer of the text (and likely the owner of the book) did not buy into the angel of death idea or his ability to challenge the sovereignty of G-d.
Image 12: The hand written note in cursive script in the Golden Haggadah and its in-line transliteration to block script
Why The Confusion? I think that the confusion about the meaning of the “destroyer” in the verses in Exodus can be attributed to the misreading of the text and failure to identify the wordplay and the variant usage of the root N-G-F נגפ. This root and its derivatives can be read as smite, obstacle, defeated, plague, blow, and strike. Depending on its usage and context, it can also be used as a noun such as in ‘bubonic plague’ and as a verb such as in ‘I’ve been plagued by ill health”. Keeping this in mind, we can try to reconcile the contextual problem by reading verses 12:12-29 as follows:
12–For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite [וְהִכֵּיתִי] all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am G-d.
13–And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague [נֶגֶף] be upon you to destroy [לְמַשְׁחִית] you, when I smite [בְּהַכֹּתִי] the land of Egypt.
22–Take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side-posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.
23–For G-d will pass through to smite [לִנְגֹּף] the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, G-d will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer [הַמַּשְׁחִית] to come in unto your houses to smite [לִנְגֹּף] you.
27–that ye shall say: It is the sacrifice of G-d’s Passover, for that He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote [בְּנָגְפּוֹ] the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.’ And the people bowed the head and worshipped.
29–And it came to pass at midnight, that G-d smote [הִכָּה] all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle.
Putting all of these elements together gives us: the destroyer [הַמַשְׁחִית] smites [לִנְגֹּף] using a plague [מגיפה] the first born in Egypt via “the destroyer’s plague” [ נֶגֶף לְמַשְׁחִית], with plague [נֶגֶף].
A similar word play in English would be along the lines of:
The striker (destroyer), stroke (inflicted), the stricken (victims), with a strike (affliction).
So, G-d Himself “passes through” (עָבַר) the land of Egypt and smites all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. This is accomplished via “the destroyer” which happens to be the plague, that plagues the firstborn of Egypt with a plague. In this context, the destroyer is G-d’s mechanism for delivering the destruction.
To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes: “This Exodus story stands flat-footed upon the ground and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No angel of death need apply.”
Considering this, I propose a practical alternative reading of the “destroyer” to be a software function that looks like the following:
Function Destroyer(Identity, DateTime, Agent, Cause, Delay, Reason, Place, Duration, Awareness, Terminate) Identity = Identity of the deceased (VictimID) DateTime = Date&Time of death (from the creation of the universe) Agent = Delivery Mechanism (e.g. Carbon monoxide) Cause = Actual cause of death (see CDC codes) Delay = In hours:minutes:seconds Reason = Triggering event Place = Location of victim in universal XYZ coordinates Duration = Timed (use ‘Delay’ as an offset) or Permanent Awareness = Premonition value 0-9 about the impending death Terminate = A real-time abort flag (True or False) End Function
DeceptionInvolved = Use cases like Egyptians using fake blood or paint on their door, hiding in an Israelite home, etc.
‘Test if everything is Kosher
If BloodFoundOnDoor = true DeceptionInvolved = false Then
‘Nothing to see here, move along…
‘Are they cheating? ElseIf DeceptionInvolved = True Then
‘Is there a first born inside? If FirstBornPresent and Terminate = False Then
‘Get’em! Destroyer(VictimID,4.54×109,Anthrax,Pneumonia-Cardiac Arrest,0,Disobedience10,30°0’47.001656” N 31° 12’31.870834” E 12.920,Permanent,0,False)
‘There is no blood on the door or we are in the open ElseIf BloodFoundOnDoor = False Then ‘Is there a first born present? If FirstBornPresent and Terminate = False Then Get’em! Destroyer(VictimID,4.54×109,Anthrax,Pneumonia-Cardiac Arrest,0,Disobedience10,30°0’47.001656” N 31° 12’31.870834” E 12.920,Permanent,0,False) EndIf
The ‘destroyer’ is no more good or bad than any other types of delivery system and has no more free will than an envelope delivering a letter. Thus, the destroyer is a mere mechanism that G-d uses to execute judgment upon Egypt, Israel, and others. it is not a separate entity. The same dual reference to G-d’s action and His ‘delivery mechanism’ can be seen in Samuel 15-16, where G-d sent a plague to punish Israel:
“So G-d sent a pestilenceupon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed; and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.”
”And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, G-d repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of G-d was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
Conclusion It is ironic, that the same pagan ideas that the scripture fought so hard to invalidate are even more popular today then they were 3500 years ago. The prevalence of psychic readers on every street corner, Satanism in movies, literature, and popular culture just show you that regardless of how clear the message is, there are always creative ways to misinterpret and change it.
Image 13: Satanic and demonic motifs in mainstream entertainment account for 5%-15% of movies
I have left the land of bondage with its earthly treasures I’ve journeyed to the place where there is love on every hand I’ve exchanged the land of heartaches for the land of pleasure I’m camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
Every day I’m camping (camping) in the land of Canaan (Canaan) And in rapture I survey its wondrous beauty grand (Oh, Glory) Glory, hallelujah (I have) found the land of promise (And I’m) camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
Out of Egypt I have traveled through the darkness dreary Far over hills and valleys and across the desert sands Thoughts of land that’s safe and homeward I shall not go weary I’m camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
Yes I’ve reached the land of promise with the saints of glory My journey ended in a place so lovely and so grand I’ve been led by Jesus to this blessed land of story I’m camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
(1) The Community Council shall say together in unison, ‘Amen. Amen.’ Then [they] shall curse Belial (2) and all his guilty lot, and they shall answer and say, ‘Cursed be [Be]lial in his devilish (Mastematic) scheme, (3) and damned be he in his guilty rule. Cursed be all the spir[its of] his Mot in their Evil scheme. (4) And may they be damned in the schemes of their [un]clean pollution. Surely [they are the to]t of Darkness. Their punishment (5) will be the eternal Pit. Amen. Amen. And cursed be the Evi One [in all] of his dominions, and damned be (6) all the sons of Bel[ial] in all their times of service until their consummation [forever. Amen. Amen.’] (7) And [they are to repeat and say, ‘Cursed be you, Angel of the Pit and Spir[it of Destruction in al the schemes of [your] gu[ilty] inclination, (8) [and in all the abominable [purposes] and counsel of [your] Wick[edness. And damned be you in [your] [sinful] d[omi]n[ion] (9) [and in your wicked and guilty rule,] together with all the abom[inations of She]ol and [the reproach of the P]it, (10) [and with the humiliations of destruction, with [no remnant and no forgiveness, in the fury of [God’s] wrath [for]ever [and ever.] Amen. A[men.] (11) [And cursed be al]1 who perform their [Evil schemes,] who establish your Evil purposes [in their hearts against] (12) Go[d’s Covenant,] so as to [reject the words of those who see] his [Tru]th, and exchange the Judge[ments of the Torah…]
Targum of Yonatan ben Uzziel (in Aramaic) Targum (translation) Jonathan is a western targum of the Torah (Pentateuch) from the land of Israel as opposed to the eastern Babylonian Targum Onkelos (which was written by the nephew of the Roman emperor Titus). Its correct title was originally Targum Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Targum), which is how it was known in medieval times. But because of a printer’s mistake it was later labeled Targum Jonathan, in reference to Jonathan ben Uzziel. Some editions of the Pentateuch continue to call it Targum Jonathan to this day.
Most scholars refer to the text as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. This targum also includes Aggadic material (non legal or narrative material, as parables, maxims, or anecdotes) collected from various sources as late as the Midrash Rabbah and the Talmud. It is a combination of a commentary and a translation. In the translation portions, it often agrees with the Targum Onkelos. The date of its composition is disputed. It cannot have been completed before the 633 CE Arabic conquest as it refers to Mohammad’s wife Fatimah, but might have been initially composed in the 4th Century CE. However, some scholars date it in the 14th Century (which would make this document contemporary with the Golden Haggadah).
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible. It was written circa 8th-7th century BCE and is the work of Isaiah ben Amoz. The book is a prophetic vision mixed with historical discussion about the destiny of the Jews, Jerusalem, and Judea prior, during, and after the Babylonian exile. Many of the book’s passages such 9:5 formed the foundation of messianism and eschatology in several Judeo-Christianmovements.
Outside of the Masoretic version of the Hebrew bible, there are several versions of the book of Isaiah. One of the more interesting ones is the Great Isaiah Scroll (pictured above). This document is one of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 near the ruins of Qumran, Masada, Wadi Murabba’at, Nahal Hever, and Nahal Tze’elim in the Judean desert in Israel. The scroll contains some minor variations from the Masoretic version, but Its 54 columns contain all of the 66 chapters of the version found in the Hebrew Bible. The Great Isaiah Scroll is dated to circa 125 BCE.
For many years, I’ve been reading Isaiah contextually, but have just recently started parsing it for structure. Here are a few interesting stylistic and literary devices that I found:
Epigraphs (a reference to another composition to help the reader understand the work).
Isaiah 11:15 (reference to splitting the sea Exodus 14:21) And G-d will utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with His scorching wind will He shake His hand over the River, and will smite it into seven streams, and cause men to march over dry-shod.
Isaiah 38:8 (cross reference to 2 Kings 20:8–11) Behold, I will cause the shadow of the dial, which is gone down on the sun-dial of Ahaz, to return backward ten degrees.’ So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
Similes(A figure of speech that directly compares two things)
Isaiah 55:10 For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, except it water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
Allusions (A figure of speech, in which an object or circumstance is referred to indirectly)
Isaiah 44:28 [the term “My shepherd” is alluding to Moses] That saith of Cyrus: ‘He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure’; even saying of Jerusalem: ‘She shall be built’; and to the temple: ‘My foundation shall be laid.
Isaiah 45:3 [alluding to Nebuchadnezzar’s stolen treasures from the the temple of Salomon] And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I am G-d who call thee by thy name, even the G-d of Israel.
Wordplay, Parables, and Puns(A didactic prose or verse that illustrates instructive principles)
Isaiah 5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah the plant of His delight; and He looked for justice, but behold violence; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
The Song of the Vineyard describes how G-d had done everything to make his vineyard “the nation of Israel … the people of Judah,” 5:7a) fruitful. He expected luscious, plump, juicy grapes at the time of harvest, but instead, the vineyard “brought forth wild grapes.” (5:2). So G-d pronounces judgment on his people (5:3–6). In this context, verse 5:7 uses the following wordplay: “And he looked for justice (משׁפט), but behold violence (משׂפח); for righteousness (צדקה) but heard a cry (צעקה)”. In addition to the wordplay, these words in Hebrew also sound similar.
Isaiah 2:3 And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of G-d, to the house of G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.
There are many passage that use double entendres. For example the passage: “for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.” can have multiple meanings and it depends on how we interpret the terms “Zion”, “Jerusalem”, the “law”, and the “word of G-d”.
If the reference to “Jerusalem”, “Zion” (City of David), “mountain of G-d” (Temple mount), and to the “house of G-d” (Solomon’s Temple), are just parallel forms, then the meaning of the whole passage is that the future word of G-d will once again emanate from this location.
On the other hand, if we read “Jerusalem”, “Zion”, “mountain of G-d”, and “house of the G-d” as distinctive locations with an ascending levels of holiness (which they had historically), then each one of these places has a unique messianic purpose, and in the future, the righteous will go through a sequence of: (1) pilgrimage to Jerusalem, (2) visit to the temple, (3) attendance of service, (4) and spread the law and the inspired word of G-d throughout the world.
Isaiah 7:4 Let us go up against Judah, and distress it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel.
This passage describes the scheming of Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, king of Israel (the united monarchy had split by that time to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel), who conspired against King Ahaz of Judah and plotted to replace him with the “son of Tabeel”.
Tabeel is an known biblical figure. But Tabeel, (spelled T-B-L without vowels) could be an encrypted name. Decrypting it using the “ALABM” cypher yields R-M-L- Remala (for Remaliah), a possible reference to Pekah’s father.
The ALABM (אלבם) cypher employs a substitution system in which the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet is split into two halves and lined up in two overlapping rows. In this way, the first letter of the first top row, Aleph (א), is substituted with the first letter of the second row, Lamed (ל), the second letter of the first row, Beth (ב), is substituted for the second letter of the second row, Mem (מ), and so on. The name of the “ALABM” cypher is derived from the first four letters of this arrangement; Aleph–Lamed & Beth–Mem.
The equivalent English would be the first letter of the first top row A, substitutes for the first letter of the second row N, the second letter of the first top row B, substitutes for the second letter of the second half row O, and so on
Encoding the message: “DEATH IS NOT THE WORST OF EVILS” with the English version of ALABM would yield the code: ”DEAGH IF ABG GHE JBEFG BF EIILF”. Palindromes(A sequence of characters which read the same backward as forward)
Isaiah 11:10 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that stand for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 40:4 (a perfect palindrome if we substitute: ”וְהָרְכָסִים” which is a Hapax legomenon with “וְרוְשׁים”) Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain;
Interestingly, the great Isaiah scroll has alternate spelling for several words in verse 40:4 (see grayed out section). The word “גֶּיא” (valley) for example, is spelled without the Alef as “גֶּי” and the word “וְהָרְכָסִים” (rough places or mountain tops) is spelled with an extra Vav between the letters Resh and Kaf “וְהָרְוְכָסִים” (the word is located in the dotted rectangle in image above).
Isaiah 33:1 Woe to you that spoilest, and thou was not spoiled; and deals treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with you! When you hast ceased to spoil, you shalt be spoiled; and when your are weary with dealing treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with you.
Symmetry and Mirroring(Sentences of similar parts and meaning that face each other) A number of passages retain their meaning even if read in different directions. From right to left, left to right, or from the center outwards to either right and left. In other passages the meaning on left and the right side of the sentences balances.
Isaiah 11:2 And the spirit of G-d shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of G-d.
Isaiah 22:22 (chapter and paragraph numbers are mirrored) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
Note on language Isaiah is a mix of poetry and prose. In general, translated poetry tends to loses more of its meaning than prose. If you don’t read Hebrew, you may miss some nuances such as rhyming, letter geometry, word play, and diction. To help capture these nuances, I’ve included several recordings of the Hebrew passages in the rhyming section. To those of you who would like to pronounce the Hebrew text there is an alphabet and vocalization chart at the end of the post.
We were going over some Indiana Jones trivia during dinner recently and one of the questions that came up had to do with the length of an item that appeared in the Raiders of the Lost Ark called the “Head of the Staff of Ra”. The discussion must have triggered some long lost memory because I suddenly remembered that in the movie, that object—which is a sort of a medallion—had an inscription on it.
Hoping that there was a quick way to figure out the math, I searched online for the phrase “head of the staff of Ra” and got an image of the original prop used in the movie. Sure enough, both sides had a clear and legible engraving in none other than ancient Hebrew script (also known as Paleo-Hebrew).
Transliterations and translations of the inscriptions are as follows:
vamh aht mel kds kbd yhvh vhmskn
tt amh qmtw
ואמה אחת מעל קדש כבוד ה’ והמישכן
תת אמה קומתו
And one amah above holy to honor G-d and the Tabernacle
TT amah is its height
As soon as I translated the text, I realized that it had some glaring stylistic and contextual problems. First, the writer chose the word for “add” to be מעל which usually means ‘above’ or from’ as in Kings 1:20:41:
וַיְמַהֵר–וַיָּסַר אֶת-הָאֲפֵר,מעל עֵינָיו; וַיַּכֵּר אֹתוֹ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי מֵהַנְּבִיאִים הוּא And he hastened, and took the headband away FROM his eyes; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.
The proper form should have been a word based on the root יסף. Second, the form of קדש כבוד is never used together in reference to holy offerings. The form should have been קדש ל’ה as in Exodus28:36:
And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE G-D.
Also, from the paleography its clear that the author mixed several glyph styles when creating the inscription. As can be seen from the table below, the word “TT amah” uses letters that are a mixture of 9th and 10th century BCE glyph styles. It should have been written using the 6th century BCE style. The reason for this is that the Temple of Salomon where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was built between 950-850 BCE and was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. If the medallion is a record of the secret location of the Ark, it should have been written in an alphabet style from the period of the temple destruction not its construction.
Paleo Hebrew alphabet styles from the 13th century BCE to 6th century BCE
Beyond the script issues, the inscription itself has contextual and artistic problems. For example, the candelabra (Menorah) at the top of the medallion has only six branches, instead of the seven stipulated in Exodus 25:31-40 and shown on a slew of ancient Menorah depictions on coins, lamps, jewelry, mosaics, tombstones, monuments, and inscriptions:
It is conceivable that the artistic team deliberately avoided the accurate portrayal of the menorah and the correct sentence structure and vocabulary on the inscription because of the prohibition in Exodus 20:7“You shalt not take the name of the Lord thy G-d in vain” and Exodus 20:19-21 (see Avodah Zarah 43a reference at bottom of this post) to reproduce the actual menorah, but this could also have been just an oversight.
The other obvious problems with the inscription’s content are:
Problem 1 – The movie script doesn’t jibe with the text in terms of translation Problem 2 – The staff height measurement units used are inconsistent Problem 3 – The seared imprint on Major Toht’s right hand is the obverse side of the inscription
Problem 1 When Imam translates the text for Indy (see script below), he says: “This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant”, yet that warning doesn’t exist in the inscription. It’s also a puzzle why Indy can’t translate it himself considering that he is a professor of archeology who graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in linguistics. Also, contrary to Imam’s claim that Indy should “…take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew G-d whose Ark this is”, the obverse inscription clearly calls for exactly the opposite: to ADD one amah to the base value.
Problem 2 Imam further states that the base height of the staff is six kadam and according the Salah’s calculation, this is about 72” (it’s actually 69”). The problem with this calculation is that we don’t know where Imam is getting the 6 kadam figure from. The inscription uses the term amah on both sides of the medallion. Interestingly, Egypt abandoned the use of the kadam in favor of the metric system in 1891, 45 years before the timeframe of the scene in the movie. Technically, then, Imam should not even be using the term.
Assuming that the reverse side of the medallion is the form found in Kings 1:6:2 and it is following the formula ‘amount x cubit’:
וְהַבַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה לַ’ה–שִׁשִּׁים-אַמָּה אָרְכּוֹ, וְעֶשְׂרִים רָחְבּוֹ; וּשְׁלֹשִׁים אַמָּה, קוֹמָתוֹ ”And the house which king Solomon built for G-d, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.”
than the height for the staff should be indicated in the first two letters of the word (Hebrew is read from right to left). In Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet has an associated numeric value and the value of X (or ת value in post sixth century BCE Hebrew typography) is 400. So XX could be read as 400+400=800 amah or 472 feet. Even if we read the first two letters XX as the spelling of the letter Teth which equals 9, it would make the staff about 13 feet. This doesn’t make any sense as we can see clearly from the movie that the staff is about 7 foot tall.
Length Measurements Used Amah [aka cubit) = 48 cm. (18 in.) Kadam = 29 cm. (11.5 in.)
So in the case of problem 2, either there is a special way to read the XX value as 69” or the value in the inscription is wrong and should have been written as , i.e. 4 amah.
Problem 3 The seared imprint on Major Toht’s right hand is actually the obverse side of the inscription. This means that contrary to Indy’s statement, Belloq had no way of getting the base staff height because the reference is located on the reverse side. On the other hand, if Belloq managed to get the base height somehow, he than had all of the missing information to construct the right height staff and in fact his staff was not too long.
So how long is the staff or Ra? It’s impossible to tell using the inscription. One thing is for sure, just like in anything else in life, G-d is in the details. Creating a plausible fiction that relies on an actual ancient language, epigraphy, biblical scholarship, historical facts, and math, and then wrapping the whole thing up in a dramatic screenplay seems to be just too complex of an undertaking. To paraphrase Mark Twain “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense”.
Movie Script Imam: Come, come, look. Look here… look. Sit down. Come, sit down. Indy: What is it? Imam: This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant. Indy: What about the height of the staff, though? Did Belloq get it off of here? Imam: Yes. It is here. This was the old way, this mean six kadam high. Sallah:About 72 inches. Imam: Wait! And take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God whose Ark this is. Indy: You said their headpiece only had markings on one side. Are you absolutely sure? Indy: Belloq’s staff is too long. They’re digging in the wrong place. Indy and Sallah: They’re digging in the wrong place!!
Sources and References Avodah Zarah 43a
כדתניא לא יעשה אדם בית תבנית היכל אכסדרה תבנית אולם חצר תבנית עזרה שולחן תבנית שולחן מנורה תבנית מנורה אבל הוא עושה של ה’ ושל ו’ ושל ח’ ושל ז’ לא יעשה אפילו של שאר מיני מתכות
As it is taught in a baraita: A person may not construct a house in the exact image of the Sanctuary, nor a portico in the exact image of the Entrance Hall of the Sanctuary, nor a courtyard corresponding to the Temple courtyard, nor a table corresponding to the Table in the Temple, nor a candelabrum corresponding to the Candelabrum in the Temple. But one may fashion a candelabrum of five or of six or of eight lamps. And one may not fashion a candelabrum of seven lamps even if he constructs it from other kinds of metal rather than gold, as in extenuating circumstances the Candelabrum in the Temple may be fashioned from other metals.
רבי יוסי בר יהודה אומר אף של עץ לא יעשה כדרך שעשו בית חשמונאי
The baraita continues: Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda says: One may not fashion a candelabrum of wood either, in the manner that the kings of the Hasmonean monarchy fashioned it. When they first purified the Temple they had to fashion the Candelabrum out of wood as no other material was available. Since a wooden candelabrum is fit for the Temple, it is prohibited to fashion one of this kind for oneself.
*** [Update March 7, 2018] *** I got a question from a reader about the possibility that part of the language of the inscription describing the height was in Ugaritic and that the tt amh qmtw should be read as a cardinal 6. This is a problematic explanation because:
There would be no apparent reason to mix Ugaritic with Hebrew. By the sixth century when this inscription was supposedly written the Ugaritic alphabet (which resembles proto Canaanite) was out of circulation for almost 700 years. Ugaritic also had a designation for numerals and fractions and tt was not one of them.
Even if we somehow manage to read tt amh qmtw as 6 and add one Amah (18 in.) or one Kadam (11.5 in.) to it, we are still left with a staff height of less than the apparent 7’-3 to 7’-6”.
After much procrastination, I’ve finally taken the plunge and digitized our CD collection. It was a colossal, multi-month project but now, hundreds of hours of streaming music later, I got the opportunity to reevaluate Bach and Handel, two of my favorite composers.
Bach and Handel share some interesting history. They were born only 4 weeks apart (Bach 31 March 1685 – Handel 23 February 1685), grew up 60 miles from each other, used the same snake oil salesman eye surgeon (John Taylor), and even passed on the opportunity to marry Buxtehude’s daughter Anna Margareta. Despite their parallel lives, each eventually developed a distinctive musical style and while both had strong religious convictions, Bach raised a large family (20 children), Handel remained a bachelor.
For me, Bach’s music is a pure intellectual experience. I find his work to have an almost algorithmic quality. With a few descending organ notes in the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Bach rips the universe wide open revealing G-d’s mathematical handiwork everywhere.
Handel, on the other hand, mounts a direct assault on your emotions. He first floats the theme, and then in repeating iterations he drives it in (almost all of his oratorios follow this MO). Never verbose, he creates the ultimate expression of the human kinship and longing for the divine through minimalist orchestration.
As for artistic evolution, Bach’s style remained more or less constant throughout his career and he showed little or no interest in new musical innovations (he rejected the piano forte because it sounded too mellow and was limited in its expressiveness as compared to the harpsichord). Handel, on the other hand, was a great experimenter and his style evolved throughout his career. He wrote Esther almost a decade before it was performed, but then shelved it because he realized that the audience wasn’t ready for it. It is noteworthy that in the end, it was Handel—the undisputed master of the Italian opera—who eventually did away with this pompous and pretentious genre and replaced it with clean and concise style of the oratorio.
One example of how Handel uses simple orchestration and words as an effective substitute to the contemporary Broadway mega operas can be found in the closing part of Esther. Handel, dedicates over eleven minutes to a choral tour de force discussing the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This finale is only made-up of 8 lines of text with trumpet accompaniment, a simple chorus line, and dueling basses, but the effect is breathtaking.
Chorus For ever bless’d be thy holy name, Let Heav’n and earth his praise proclaim.
The Lord his people shall restore, And we in Salem shall adore.
Mount Lebanon his firs resigns, Descend, ye Cedars, haste ye Pines To build the temple of the Lord, For G-d his people has restor’d.
No siree! They don’t write music like that anymore.
On February 20, 1939, over 20,000 American supporters of the Nazi party packed Madison Square Garden in New York City. They anxiously awaited the appearance of Fritz Julius Kuhn, the newly anointed Führer of the German−American Bund. The event took place two days before George Washington’s birthday and a 30−foot-portrait of the first president (who was described by Kuhn as the first fascist) hung behind the podium along with Nazi flags and swastikas.
The 30 foot poster of GW and the American Führer Fritz Julius Kuhn
Kuhn entered the arena together with thousands of uniformed Nazi guards. During the rally he and his fiery fellow orators held back no punches, calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Franklin Rosenfeld,” and referring to his New Deal as a “Jew Deal.”
Being a creature of the night, Kuhn loved nightclubs, drinking, and the company of women (among them his two mistresses, Virginia Cogswell AKA “The Marrying Georgia Peach−on account of her previous seven husbands”, Florence Camp, Frau Hedwig Munx, and others). Just like many petty dictators, he was pompous and didn’t understand his own limitations.
Once during a testimony before the Dies Committee, he was asked by Congressman Starnes if the reason why 23 of 71 Bund units concentrated in and around New York City was because the aircraft and naval manufacturing facilities were handy for sabotage. He replied: “That’s the same thing Lipshitz said. You know who Lipshitz is? That’s Walter Winchell [referring to Winston Churchill]. Lipshitz is his real name.” No one was amused.
It’s interesting to note that during the mass Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden, the NYPD provided the event security and protected the Nazi leadership and participants. An attempt by a former New York magistrate to serve a summons for the arrest of Fritz Kuhn in relation to a criminal libel suit filed earlier was stopped by the NYPD. As the event went on, outside protests broke out and the following peaceful demonstrators were beaten, arrested, and charged with disorderly conduct:
John Doe (Fred Ryde) – disorderly conduct – $2 fine
Lawerence Paladri – disorderly conduct – $2 fine
Peter Saunders (34) – disorderly conduct/cruelty to animals (got close to a mounted officer)
George Mason (19) – yelled ‘keep the Nazi’s out of New York’ – $10 fine
Stephen Carmalt (20) – disorderly conduct – suspended sentence
Robert Lee (39) – disorderly conduct – $10 fine
J Walter Flynn (32) – $10 fine
Michael Naradich (26) – disorderly conduct
Peter Shopes (22) – disorderly conduct
Lionel Sheppard (26) – disorderly conduct
Abe Dollinger (27) – disorderly conduct
Enfrim Lidew (50) – disorderly conduct
Shortly after his rock concert−like appearance in Madison Square Garden, New York city’s mayor, La Guardia, who was fed up with the constant anti−Semitic and anti−American agitation, started an Al Capone−style financial investigation of the Bund’s taxes.
When asked about his relationship to Florence Camp during his trial, Kuhn denied that he had asked her to marry him and noted that Mrs. Camp was too much of a lady to accept a proposal after just a few days’ acquaintance. Herman McCarthy (the prosecutor) whipped out a Kuhn letter and read it aloud:
“Florence : I am terrible in love with you. I beg you to become my beloved wife. I will always be true to you. . . .”
In another letter to Florence he said that he loved her with his “whole soul and body and was about to have [his] teeth fixed.”
Virginia Cogswell AKA “The Marrying Georgia Peach” and a case related telegraph
In the course of the trial, it was established that Kuhn had pilfered $14,548 from his organization ($717.02 of it having been spent on moving expenses for Mrs. Camp). Kuhn was swiftly convicted on charges of embezzlement, grand larceny, and forgery and was first sent to Sing Sing Prison. After the war, he was deported to Germany, where he managed to get into trouble again.
In 1949 when he again stood trial in front of a Munich court this time on charges of escaping from jail and being a major Nazi organizer, he claimed that the Bund was strictly “an American patriotic organization,” that he had used the swastika only because it was “an old American Indian design,” and that he had patterned the Bund’s uniforms after the US National Guard, not the SS. As for his 1944 meeting with Hitler he said:
“It was purely a social call. If I went to England today, I would naturally like to call on King George.”
When the US. entered the war, whatever was left of the German−American Bund organization quickly disintegrated, however, that didn’t spell the end of Nazi activity in America. Another high profile organization waiting in the wings was the Steuben Society. In comparison to the Bund which was composed of common National Socialist riff raff, the Steuben Society represented the cream of the crop to the US Nazi aristocracy.
Although Steuben Society members avoided public Nazi displays such as hailing Hitler, the differences between the two organizations were only skin deep. When it came to hard core issues such Nazi ideology, they were indistinguishable.
While visiting the reception room of the Steuben Society in New York, John Roy Carlson observed:
“One could find a large American flag standing in one corner. On the walls were pictures of Von Steuben, Washington, and Lincoln, The Pledge to the Flag and the Bill of Rights hung framed between them. There was also no lack of red−white−and−blue. Patriotism oozed from every crevice in the room.”
True to its nature, the Society published “The Steuben News” a newspaper for Patriotic Americans which described itself as:
“. . . a patriotic, civic and educational political society endeavoring to awaken in the hearts and minds of American citizens of German extraction the necessity for taking a more active part and interest in the political affairs of our great country.”
Its program demanded “strict discipline” on the part of its members, and rejected “persons who are shifters and trimmers, or who are known to possess no race pride.” The Steuben Society strongly emphasized Racial (Aryan) consciousness and political objectives.
In his 1943 investigative book Under Cover, Carlson wrote:
“…The Steuben News reprinted articles from the pro−Fascist Italian daily, Il Progress Halo−Americana. It recommended books by the notorious Ausland Institute and ran many articles by Nazi agents. The Steuben News praised as “extraordinary and valuable” the book Scarlet Fingers published by Flanders Hall, the propaganda mill financed by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck. The Steuben News followed the accepted party line of pro−Nazi isolationists. It headlined the speeches of Lindbergh. It championed the late senator Ernest Lundeen−some of whose speeches were written by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck−and on one occasion devoted eleven columns to one of his defeatist speeches. It reprinted from Social Justice and The Herald, American Fascist weekly. It ran large advertisements for the America First Committee, reprinted its bulletins and urged its members to support it financially. The Steuben Society fought desperately all measures to arm those European Democracies which resisted Hitler’s brutality. And it also quoted liberally from the New York Enquirer, published by William Griffin, who was later shown to have associated with Viereck.”
Now, you’re probably thinking: “This is a fascinating piece of history, but what’s the relevance of all of this 1939 Nazi stuff to our current 21st century jet−set life style?” Well, wonder no more.
This past Sunday morning on our way out of our local diner, I caught sight of the newspaper stand in the entrance vestibule. I usually don’t read printed media, but the name of the paper and the motto “A Newspaper for Americans” caught my attention. Curious about how the Steuben Society’s defines “American,” I picked up my free copy and read on.
At the top of the cover page on each side of the title “The Steuben News” were the mission statements: (1) United for Common Interests and Common Needs” and (2) DUTY, JUSTICE, TOLERANCE, CHARITY.
I flipped through and read some of the articles. There was an announcement of a presidential proclamation regarding the German−American Day, a story about the treaty between German settlers of Texas and the native Comanche Indians. My first impression was that it all seemed rather banal. Then I got the last page. Under the calendar of events, I ran into some terminologies like “event sponsored by Unit #998” and “contact Brother Erick or Sister Hildegard.” That seemed a bit cryptic and militant. At the bottom of the page I saw the membership form which prompted an unexpected double−take.
The membership form, unlike any other application I have ever seen, had questions about the nationality of the applicant’s father and mother, political affiliation, and—most surprising of all—about naturalization. For some reason, the Steuben Society (acting in the capacity of a quasi−government organization?) will only issue membership cards after careful evaluation of the applicant’s naturalization certificate, which includes scrutiny of the certificate number and place of origin. (I’m kind of curious to know who at the INS helps them validate these applications.)
From what I can tell, this membership application has remained consistent over the years. After conducting a quick search on−line for similar historical documents, I found one for the Silver Shirts, and as you can see from the contents, not much has changed in terms of drilling down to pedigree and other über eugenics.
When, I checked out the Steuben Society’s website for the name and location of the chapter nearest me, I discovered that they are all named after some distinguished German figure. I was hoping to find a chapter honoring the likes of von Stauffenberg, but alas, no such luck.
I am not sure what to make of all this. I hold German culture, ingenuity, work ethics, and organization in the highest esteem. I’m an avid admirer of Handel’s music and Nietzsche’s, Kant’s, Goethe’s, and Leibniz’s writings. My family originated from Germany and in my travels there I have found most German people to be kind, polite, friendly, and exceedingly intelligent.
On one hand, it’s laughable that anyone would be willing to complete an application detailing his mother’s nationality or his naturalization number in order to join a civic organization. On the other hand it’s really disturbing that in 2010—the age of the internet—a nationwide fraternity that draws its philosophy from one of humankind’s darkest moments, continues to operate in the mainstream with apparently unrestricted access to leading politicians and public figures.
If you are considering joining an organization such as this, take a breather and dedicate some time to learning the German language, literature, philosophy, and music instead. You will discover that the richness of Germanic culture has a lot to do with individuality and little with purity of race and blood.
A few years ago, I read a series of articles about the Vatican’s plan to reconcile the Galileo affair. The decision to reach this important milestone was by no means a hasty one; it was concluded after the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (the church’s leading scientific minds) deliberated every aspect of the case for almost 13 years. To the average person, pondering a question for 13 years may seem a bit excessive, but when dealing with a 400 year old grudge, you can’t hurry love, you just have to wait. Net-net, I was delighted to witness the curtain descending on this, the final act of one of the saddest episodes in the history of science.
In a follow-up article I read that the Vatican was even prepared to go one step further. In a gesture that could only be described as brotherly love, they were planning to immortalize the father of modern science by erecting his statue near the apartment where, in 1633, he was incarcerated while awaiting his inquisition trial. This was getting better and better.
So, on a recent trip to Rome I decided to seize the opportunity and drop by the Vatican to pay my homage to Mr. Galilei. Not being familiar with the neighborhood, I consulted one of the Swiss Guards for guidance. The soldier, in a somewhat disinterested voice, informed me that there was no statue of Galileo in the Vatican. Here, I thought to myself, was an opportunity to one-up the Swiss mercenary guard. “Haven’t you heard about the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the decision to erect the statue?” “Oohh, that?” he replied, “that project was canceled“.
I have to admit that at first I suspected my guard friend was out of the loop, but after performing a quick internet search on my phone I confirmed that indeed, the Holy See had decided that the funds originally allocated to the project were re-appropriated instead to an African educational program aimed at teaching about the interdependency of science and religion. Clearly the hand that gives can easily take away; but why? Why would the Vatican go through all the trouble of 13 years of meetings, making news announcements, and publicly committing to erect a statue no less just to renege at the last moment?
Last week, as I was rummaging through some magazines I fell upon an article written by Father Jose Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory. In the article, Father Funes theorized that if aliens existed, they were absolved from redemption because, contrary to us sinful humans, they were already in “full friendship with the creator”. After rubbing my eyes and rereading the article a few more times, (it read like something Father Ghido Saraduci might have written), the answer to the whole Galileo affair finally came into focus.
The explanation for the church’s apparent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality disorder had nothing to do with Galileo being right or wrong or the validity of any specific theory. At the core of the issue were the Pandora box that Galileo unlocked and the resulting devastation the scientific reasoning unleashed on the church’s authority. Where before the scientific revolution, natural disasters, war, disease, and poverty could easily be explained as by-products of sin and demonic forces, now these explanations were no longer believable.
The statement that theology and science share a common interest in questions such as the origin of the universe could be true, but there ends the commonality. Legitimate scientific discoveries are driven by strong individual curiosity and doubt. The church’s scientheological research is driven by orchestrated attempts to harmonize dogma. Where true scientific research is concerned with tangible results and the generation of derivative value such as useful technology, the Vatican’s scientific examination produces explanations to questionable theological concepts such as the redemption of aliens.
For a scientific theory to flourish, everything must be open to examination; the observer must constantly reevaluate the universe and construct models that better fit his observations. This almost cannibalistic process results in the wholesale destruction of old theories (most serious scientists no longer advocate explanations that are based on theories such as the aether or the four elements). But for the church, this constant construction and deconstruction of ideas makes it impossible to maintain a consistent position on any subject. Being fully aware of the pending doom, they fought tooth and nail to preserve the status quo by enforcing models like the Ptolemaic system.
From the historical prospective, it is interesting to note that Galileo’s scientific revolution coincided with several critical events in the 30 year war. The Vatican quickly realized that the opening floodgates of scientific reasoning coupled with significant changes in the European political map would pose major threats to its hegemony—a fear which within 50 years (starting with the treaty of Westphalia) became a reality upon the birth of the sovereignnation-state and the rise of the secular society where science and free speech would thrive. Not having an effective antidote, the Vatican concluded that the Counter-Reformation did not work and the only cure to halting the pandemic spread of scientific thought was the re-mobilization of the Inquisition, the Jesuits, and a new edition of the Index of Forbidden Books containing writing by such troublemakers as Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler.
Having a monopoly on truth and its interpretation goes a long way towards building one of the best selling product brands in history. Being the oldest, largest, and most successful multinational corporation made the church perfectly adept at playing the public relations game and mastering of the art of simultaneously speaking from both sides of its mouth. Now, I know, some would argue that this is a cynical simplification of the church’s attitude toward science and that the Holy See would never utilize such tactics. If you are one of the skeptics, I invite you to read the following completely contradictory papal statements regarding Galileo:
Loves Me Pope Pius XII, in his speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described Galileo as being among the “most audacious heroes of research … not afraid of the stumbling blocks and the risks on the way, nor fearful of the funereal monuments”.
Pope John Paul II admitted the Church had made a “tragic mistake” in rejecting Galileo’s views and offered Galileo a sincere apology.
Loves Me Not Joseph Ratzinger, (at the time still yet to become Pope Benedict XVI), described the Galileo affair as “a symptomatic case that permits us to see how deep the self-doubt of the modern age of science and technology goes today.” He then quoted Paul Feyerabend, saying “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.” Cardinal Ratzinger further commented about Galileo’s trial and concluded that it was “fair and reasonable”.
I encourage you to reconcile these statements. If you do, please drop me a line and I will do my part to ensure that in the future, your statue too gets erected in the Vatican. Where specifically, you ask? Why, right next Galileo’s.