Yes, we do bleed when you prick us

As I’ve mentioned before, I am so disgusted, angry, and hurt at how a lot of people have been showing some very ugly true colors since the latest terrorist attacks on Eretz Yisrael in May.

The horrifying story screencapped above is far from the only such incident of this nature since the explosion in worldwide antisemitism since May. Many politicians, organizations, businesses, schools, sports teams, etc., who issued statements against antisemitism and in support of the Jewish people have been dogpiled on social media. People are absolutely ranting about how one-sided, bigoted, politicized, and uneducated they are.

Shamefully, there sometimes followed retractions and apologies.

Just as all these “intersectional” clowns are trying to recast feminism as a feel-good social justice free-for-all where everyone but actual women are centred in our own liberation movement, so too have Israel-bashers tried to force-link condemnation of antisemitism with Islamophobia and anti-Arabism. God forbid we get a voice all our own!

If you don’t feel the need to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes without also mentioning prejudice and crimes against gays and lesbians, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Haitians, and the disabled, there’s zero reason for you to “All lives matter” antisemitism.

One, nice Ashkenazocentrism. About 80% of Jewish Israelis are Mizrachi, from the Middle East or North Africa, and therefore NOT white-presenting like Ashkenazim! Have you ever seen an Ethiopian Jew?

Two, nice job blatantly lying about the history of Israel. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land, and were there thousands of years before any Arab tribes arrived. You’re living in a fantasy land if you truly believe everyone lived in Kumbaya harmony until 1948. There were a number of pogroms committed by Arabs, like in Hebron in 1929.

The antisemitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was also buddies with Hitler, and his thugs convinced the British to severely limit Jewish immigration when they most desperately needed to escape Europe.

Arabs in Israel gladly sold their marshy, desert, unused, uninhabited lands to olim (immigrants), who proceeded to transform them into modern cities and fertile farmland. More Arabs began moving in when the land became habitable and desirable.

Many Shoah survivors were met with anger and violence when they returned home. Their houses and belongings were stolen by former friends and neighbors after they were deported. Some people were even murdered. Hence, why most survivors immigrated to Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., or Australia as soon as possible.

Every single war Israel has ever been involved in was started by the surrounding Arab nations. They even attacked and invaded the very day Israel declared her independence and the British Mandate finally ended! How dare you defend the firing of 4,500 rockets and say it doesn’t constitute a conflict!

All of these things, and many, many, MANY more, are well-known, easily-verified historical facts. They’re not hidden away in obscure folios only hardcore scholars know about.

And by the way, the “anti-Zionism” screed comes right from the USSR’s playbook. They knew damn well open antisemitism was no longer socially acceptable after the Shoah, and so reinvented it under the guise of just bashing our liberation and decolonization movement. In the Middle Ages, we were hated, persecuted, and murdered because we wouldn’t convert to Christianity, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries, we were hated because of our so-called race. (Judaism is actually an ethnoreligious group, or, as Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan called it, “an evolving religious civilization.”) Now that both religious- and racially-based hatred are out of favor, we’re hated because of our country.

Helpful tip: If you replace the word “Zionists” with “Jews” in what you’re saying or writing, and it sounds very obviously antisemitic, you know damn well you’re not just innocently criticizing specific policies of the Israeli government.

I never see these obsessed clowns even mentioning real human rights abuses in countries like Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Venezuela, China, Turkey, Russia, Libya, and Nigeria. Just the only democracy in the Middle East, the only Jewish-majority country that’s ever existed. And to make it even worse, they often use Holocaust inversion and soft Holocaust denial in their propaganda.

These people distort history, use doctored and decontextualized pictures and videos, and outright lie in their quest to pretend Israel is, as Bob Dylan sang in a song of the same name, a neighborhood bully for daring to defend herself against terrorism and repeated attempts at destruction.

Oh, and fringe tokens like Neturei Karta and JStreet do NOT represent the vast majority of the Jewish world.

Bottom line: I’m sick of non-Jews goysplaining what is and isn’t antisemitism, and the outright falsehoods, slanders, and threats. When you parrot Hamas talking points, you contribute to the international spike in hate crimes.

Get out of your damn woke bubble and talk to people who don’t share your groupthink!

Religious minorities in The Divine Comedy

Despite my love of The Divine Comedy after reading it for the first time at age 24, I nevertheless managed to come away with a rather shallow, surface reading of many things. I blame my translation, the speed at which I read, and my lack of supplementary study materials. There’s also the uncomfortable fact that my cognitive development wasn’t quite finished, and so I was incapable of thinking like a complete adult about certain things.

One of those things was non-Christians automatically going to Limbo.

Historically, Limbo was seen as a holding-pen for the righteous people of the Bible until Jesus scooped them up during the Harrowing of Hell and took them to Paradise. Thereafter, it was designated for unbaptized babies.

Yet in Dante’s vision, we only find adults. Not a single baby or child appears, though he later affirms his belief in this second purpose of Limbo.

In Limbo reside all the lights of Antiquity, like Homer, Euclid, Julius Caesar, Lucan, Ovid, Horace, Diogenes, Galen, Ptolemy, Aristotle, and Hippocrates. There are also three Muslims, Sultan Saladin (who was renowned for his righteousness and magnanimity of character), Avicenna, and Averroës. Dante learnt about the latter two from his dear mentor Brunetto Latini, who got translations of their books while he was exiled in Spain.

Though as of 1300, the year the Commedia is set, Dante had only published one book, he’s nevertheless invited to join the noble school of Homer, Ovid, Horace, Lucan, and Virgil, and warmly welcomed as one of their own. The inclusion of Homer is particularly poignant, since Dante couldn’t read Greek. His love and respect of Homer was based on his reputation and partial Latin translations.

Dante also builds a beautiful castle for the souls in Limbo, and doesn’t subject them to any torments. They’re also the only people in Hell who wear clothes.

Through the entire poem, Dante struggles with the then-mainstream teaching that only baptized Christians can attain Paradise, no matter how righteous they were, even if they lived in a place where no one has ever heard of that religion, or if they lived before Jesus. He’s particularly upset about this because that means his belovèd Virgil will never leave Limbo.

He also says, in Paradiso, that it’s better to be an observant, committed Jew than an insincere, unrighteous Christian, and asks why Jesus’s death needs to be avenged (i.e., in the form of Church-sponsored antisemitism) when Christian doctrine teaches the Crucifixion was necessary.

This is one of those places where having supplementary study material is so important, since I didn’t interpret those passages that way at all in 2004. All I saw were a few comments that seemed like antisemitic jibes, and the deicide accusation really made me angry, since that’s the core of 2,000+ years of antisemitism and ultimately culminated in the Shoah.

BUT!

Dante also believed other things we now know to be completely false, like the Donation of Constantine, that Cleopatra was a promiscuous harlot and not a serious ruler, that Pope Anastasius II was a heretic, and that Prophet Mohammad was originally a Christian and therefore a schismatic. That didn’t make him ignorant or bigoted, just a product of the Middle Ages. He had no reason to doubt the inaccurate history he was taught, since there were no counterexamples.

Dante diverges from popular antisemitic tropes and propaganda of his era by making all his usurers Christians. His own father was a moneylender, and so were many of his friends and acquaintances. In fact, there are no Jews in Hell at all except Judas and Caiaphas. Everyone else Dante encounters are Christians, so-called pagans, and a few Muslims.

Given how almost all popular depictions of Hell into the modern era featured grotesquely stereotyped Jews, it’s remarkable how Dante refrained from that.

Immanuel ben Solomon of Rome, a contemporary of Dante who was also possibly his friend, was so inspired by the Commedia, he wrote a Hebrew poem patterned on it.

Dante was greatly influenced by Classical Antiquity, and constantly blends it with Christian theology and his own imagination in Inferno. There are many “pagans” who show up outside of Limbo, and they’re all punished for their respective sins instead of condemned merely for not being Christians. E.g., Tiresias is with the soothsayers; Achilles is with the lustful; Ulysses/Odysseus (seen above in the William Blake painting) is punished for leading his men on an impossible voyage; and Capaneus (seen below) is punished with the blasphemers because he said Zeus couldn’t stop him from invading Thebes.

Dante also makes Cato the guardian of Purgatory, despite not being Christian (and a suicide to boot), and saves three other “pagans,” Statius, Trajan, and Ripheus the Trojan. Statius, his second-favorite writer, joins him and Virgil as they’re leaving the Fifth Terrace of Purgatory and accompanies them until the Earthly Paradise.

Ripheus and Trajan appear as lights in the eyebrow of a beautiful eagle composed of souls in Paradise. They were made Christians through God’s Divine grace.

Given the prevailing attitudes in Medieval Europe, Dante could’ve done a lot worse than making a beautiful castle for righteous non-Christians, saving a few of his favorites, and protesting the teaching that only Christians can attain Paradise.

Hell

Warning: Contains some images with artistic nudity.

The Hell depicted in The Divine Comedy is very complex and structured. Each circle contains a certain type of perceived sinners, and the lowest circles have multiple rings, for different manifestations of those sins. Canto III of Inferno famously opens:

Through me is the way to the City of Woe:
Through me the way into the eternal pain;
Through me the way among the lost below.
Righteousness did my maker on high constrain.
Me did divine Authority uprear;
Me supreme Wisdom and primal Love sustain.
Before I was, no things created were
Save the eternal, and I eternal abide.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Outside the gates of Hell are the souls of people who took no sides in life, only caring about themselves and their own interests instead of taking a moral stand, or even supporting evil and coming up with their own reasons for why they took such a stance.

Dante and Virgil then encounter a ferry across the river Acheron, piloted by Charon. Since Dante is a living person, Charon doesn’t want to let him aboard. Virgil forcefully tells Charon he has to let this mortal on the ferry, since Dante is on a Divinely-ordered journey.

This preview of Hell is so horrific, Dante faints and doesn’t come to till he’s crossed Acheron.

Charon’s Boat, Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1808

The First Circle, Limbo, is for righteous non-Christians and babies who died unbaptised (which is no longer part of mainstream Catholic doctrine). Here reside all the lights of Antiquity and a few from the Golden Age of Islam—Julius Caesar, Cicero, Sultan Saladin, Plato, Socrates, Ptolemy, Euclid, Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, and many more. Given how many schools no longer teach classical history, the average modern reader will need to read all the explanatory footnotes to know who most of these people are.

The Second Circle is for the lustful, constantly blown around by an eternal windstorm. Dante judges them the least offensive of all sinners, since they didn’t really hurt anyone by their mutually consensual relationships. Their punishment is also the lightest.

Here Dante encounters the famous Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo Malatesta, who were murdered by Francesca’s husband and Paolo’s brother Giovanni when he discovered their affair. Other occupants include Dido, Cleopatra, Achilles, and Helen of Troy.

The Third Circle is for gluttons. Three-headed dog Cerberus guards these souls, who are stuck in freezing muck and mire kept fresh by endless icy, foul rain. To get past Cerberus, Virgil stuffs his mouths with mud.

Dante talks with Ciacco, a glutton who also appears in The Decameron, and has his exile from Florence foretold.

Cerberus, by William Blake

In the Fourth Circle are misers, hoarders, spendthrifts, and the greedy. Plutus, Greek god of wealth, guards this circle. The meaning of his lines at the start of Canto VII, Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!,” has always been uncertain. Many theories have been proposed, but there’s no consensus.

These sinners are punished with huge weights strapped to their chests.

The Fifth Circle is for the wrathful. Actively wrathful souls fight in the slimy River Styx, and passively wrathful souls are beneath the water. Phlegyas (mythological King of the Lapiths) reluctantly agrees to ferry Dante and Virgil across the river. During their journey, the soul of Filippo Argenti arises from the waters, quarrels with Dante, and tries to upturn the boat.

Filippo is set upon by other souls, and the boat continues on to the marsh-encircled City of Dis, the Sixth Circle. The three Furies violently threaten Dante outside the gates until an angel comes to the rescue.

Heretics are in flaming tombs in the Sixth Circle. This is the final region of Upper Hell. As Dante and Virgil descend into Lower Hell, it’s about 4:00 AM on Holy Saturday 1300.

The Seventh Circle contains the violent in three rings, for those who were violent against neighbours, self, and God, Nature, and art. Given the attitudes of the era, these rings unfortunately include suicides and gay men. So-called blasphemers are also here.

A waterfall cascades over a cliff leading down to the Eighth Circle. Dante and Virgil are transported on the back of Geryon, a giant monster with mostly human features.

Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1808

Malebolge (Evil Ditches), the Eighth Circle, contains ten circular trenches for, in order, seducers and panderers, flatterers, simoniacs (i.e., selling Church positions and indulgences), sorcerers, barrators (i.e., corrupt politicians), hypocrites, thieves, counsellors of fraud, sowers of discord (i.e., schismatics), and falsifiers.

Due to a Medieval misunderstanding of history and theology, Prophet Mohammad is included among the schismatics.

The Ninth Circle is for betrayers. Ring One, Caïna, punishes betrayers of kin; Ring Two, Antenora, punishes treason; Ring Three, Ptolomaea, punishes betrayers of guests; and Ring Four, Giudecca, punishes those who betrayed their masters. Giudecca, named for Judas, is eerily silent, as all the souls are trapped in ice.

In the centre of Hell resides Satan, a three-faced monster eternally chewing on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. Dante and Virgil have to climb down his fearsome body to exit Hell.

Empyrean

Empyrean, the highest part of Paradise, which Dante ascends to at the very end of The Divine Comedy, has been written and speculated about since Antiquity. Its name derives from the Ancient Greek word empyrios (burning, fiery). In Medieval Catholic theology, it was believed to be the place where God’s physical presence and angels dwell.

Given the Medieval conception of the world, Empyrean was part of the geocentric universe model which was overwhelmingly accepted as factual throughout the world. Since the time of Aristotle, people had believed the Earth, not the Sun, was the centre of the Universe. In turn, Earth was surrounded by eight concentric spheres (i.e., the heavens).

The first sphere contained the Moon, and the next six contained Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The stars were in the last sphere. Obviously, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto hadn’t yet been discovered in the Middle Ages (and I will regard Pluto as a planet till my final breath).

In the second century CE, Ptolemy proposed a ninth sphere, Primum Mobile, the outermost corner of the Universe. Primum Mobile was conceived of as an engine providing movement to all the other spheres, powered by God. This astronomical model was believed until the Renaissance, when Copernicus proved the Universe is heliocentric.

Giusto de ‘Menabuoi fresco in the Baptistery of Padua Cathedral, featuring the nine spheres, Copyright Custeped at WikiCommons

Empyrean, then, was above all the other spheres but not a ninth sphere. Since God resided there, its size wasn’t limited, and it wasn’t even made of true physical matter. Empyrean is a place beyond time and space, similar to the Akashic Records. You can journey there in dreams, visions, meditation, and self-hypnosis, but it doesn’t exist in this dimension.

Empyrean was also believed to be motionless, though it set the eight spheres below it in motion.

Dante and Beatrice arrive in Empyrean in Canto XXX of Paradiso. The experience is so intense, Dante can no longer find words to describe Beatrice’s beauty. He’s wrapped in intense light which temporarily blinds him, followed by his sight returning stronger than ever.

A river of light flows between two banks full of flowers, and a swelling of sparks are exchanged between the flowers and river. Beatrice tells Dante to keep his eyes upon the river, which soon transmogrifies into a huge lake of light. The flowers reveal themselves as souls in petals, and the sparks are angels.

Engraving by Gustave Doré, 1868

After Dante surveys Empyrean to his great delight, he turns to ask Beatrice a question, and finds her replaced by an old man. The stranger says Beatrice asked him to lead Dante to his final goal, and points to Beatrice on the highest tier of the heavenly rose they’re in the middle of. Dante gives thanks to Beatrice for everything she’s done for him, and prays that he’ll one day return to her as pure as he is now.

The old man reveals himself as St. Bernard, and tells Dante to look at the Virgin Mary. Angel Gabriel hails her, and all the souls burst into song. St. Bernard then shows Dante all the great souls in the rose, and tells him to look at God and pray that Mary provides the necessary Grace to finish this amazing otherworldly journey.

Illustration by Giovanni di Paolo, 1440s

Dante sees the physical world bound together as one through the power of Love, followed by three rings, each a different colour, representing the Trinity. Dante’s mortal sight, even in such a heightened spiritual state, can only perceive so much, but he does see Divine light.

With his inner eyes, in a brilliant flash, Dante suddenly perceives the perfect union of all realities and the understanding of everything in this world and the next. In his final moments in Empyrean, he understands Love is the mechanism behind God, the Universe, life, and everything else in existence.

“To the high force imagination now failed,
“But like to a wheel whose circling nothing jars,
“Already on my desire and will prevailed
“The Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.”

WeWriWa—Discussing religion

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, now entitled Movements in the Symphony of 1939. It was released in e-book format on March second, with a paperback edition to follow within a few months. The paperback edition will have a different cover.

Best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine) have been forced to take new houseguest Samantha to their friend Quintina’s birthday party, despite Sam’s out of place clothes and lack of a present. During their short walk there, Sam revealed a fear of her mother and mentioned her parents have different religions. Now Sam starts revealing her commitment to fundamentalism.

“Your parents are different religions? What is your dad, Catholic or something? I don’t think he’s Jewish, given how upset you and your mom got when you found out Sparky’s family’s Jewish.”

“We’re all Methodists, but my dad is a regular Methodist who only had one baptism. My mother and I are fundamentalist Methodists with three baptisms. We go to a regular Methodist church, but we have our own beliefs and practices to set us apart. Maybe someday my father will see the light and join us in the one true church.”

“What did you need three baptisms for? I didn’t think you needed to get rebaptized if you joined a different church. The original baptism counts for all Christian churches, so long as it’s a real church.”

The ten lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.

“That’s a long story. Our minister in D.C. explained how our first baptism was invalid, since it wasn’t in a fundamentalist church. He had to baptize us twice more each.”

Cinni shifted her weight to her other foot. “So you both used to be normal, and weren’t always super-religious?”

“We used to be more like other people, yes. You probably guessed my mother was really young when I was born. She wasn’t married either, but at least she eventually was able to marry my father. Their parents disapproved of their relationship. I think my mother became so overly religious to try to atone for how sinful she was before. Now it’s hard to imagine living any other way, though our salvation only happened a few years ago.”