Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Day #2 - Istanbul

Day #2 - the official tour did not begin until the afternoon so in the morning I toured alone and walked from the hotel to the Hagia Sofia, at the time it was built it was the largest church in all of Christendom. Later after the city fell in 1453 it was converted to a Mosque. Today it is a museum. I did not go in. That will be tomorrow. But I also saw the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, German Fountain, Suiliman’s Harem, and the Grand Bazaar. In the afternoon I met up with the tour and we took a boat ride on the Bosphorus. Istanbul is divided by the river. On one side is the new city (after 1453) in Asia and the other side is the old city of Byzantium in Europe. Dinner soon and then to bed. Tomorrow we go inside Hagia Sophia and then we fly to Antalya. Below is the Hagia Sophia - Holy Wisdom (behind this building is a smaller church/mosque name Hagia Eirene - Holy Peace)

For some reason this site won’t let me add captions so photo 4: On the river Bosphorus looking towards Hagia Sophia, Hagia Eirene is the tiny dome behind the larger Sophia (to left of it)
Photo 5: Our boat; Photo 6: the Grand Bazaar; Photo 7: On the river - a beautiful Mosque; Photo 8: the Palace which served as the residence and headquarters for the Ottoman Empire; Photo 9: On the river; Photo 10: The Guard structure guarding the entrance to the city - there is another smaller one on thE other side of the river.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain

The Roman Aquaduct

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Day #1 - Arrival

I have arrived. It was a long day. But despite the flight to Frankfurt being delayed which gave me only 30 minutes to catch the flight to Istanbul both me and my luggag arrived safely. I got to the hotel without trouble took a nap, hooked up with the tour leader and his wife for dinner and now I am ready for a nice sleep. Here are a couple photos.... More later...
Flying over the Rhein river looking for Rheinmaidens:

The remains of a Byzantine Victory gate built by Theodocius I:

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Adventure Begins

So, the adventure begins! I am at Lambert airport waiting for my flight to Toronto, which is the first leg of my trip to Istanbul. Once I arrive in Istanbul, Turkey I will join a tour led by the archeologist Dr Carl Rasmussen who is a specialist in geography of the ancient world. The tour will include Ephesus, Colossae, Corinth, Philippi, Delphi, Athens and lots of other places. I will try to post pictures regularly along with commentary!! But for today I am traveling.

Here is information about the leader of our tour:
Carl Rasmussen, PhD

5470 FreePhotosand Commentary
Twice WeeklyBlog
OccasionalTwitter: @go2Carl

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Old Testament as Opera

Below are a list of operas based on Old Testament stories (certainly not exhaustive) with some comments about the librettos and how they relate to the Biblical texts.  I will add pictures and links as I can.

"David et Jonathas" - Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1688) – French
This opera by Charpentier begins with the Witch of Endor (Prologue) – I Samuel 28:3-25
Then the opera begins by moving back in time. The basic narrative is pieced together from chapter 14 of I Samuel until Jonathan and his father Saul are killed (I Samuel 31 and II Samuel chapter 1 for David’s reaction). The libretto picks and chooses. Also the libretto has turned the Commander Joab (Joadab) into the bad guy. In the text Joab is the go-to guy to get violent and nasty things done, but he is not the one who initiates many of these things. Mostly in the Biblical narrative he does David's dirty work. Also, in the Biblical text Saul is pronounced as a failure long before Jonathan is even introduced into the narrative. "La Somme le Roy" from 1290 CE.
"Juditha Triumphans" - Antonio Vivaldi (1716) – Latin
The story comes from the Old Testament Apocryphal book of “Judith.” These Apocryphal books were always considered important by the Roman Catholic Church and are still included in the “Catholic Bible.” Luther and the reformers excluded the Apocrypha. The story is embellished, of course, but it is pretty close to the basics of the narrative. There are some incredible paintings of Judith and Holofernes (or at least his head). This is one of my favorite Baroque operas and easily one of my favorites on this list. Below - the beheading of Holofernes by Caravaggio.
"Nabucco" - Giuseppe Verdi (1841) – Italian
Well, there is little about this libretto that is Biblical aside from the character of Nabucco (Nebuchadrezzar) himself. Nebuchadrezzar II was the King of Babylon and he became king just following the Babylonian defeat of the Assyrians and the destruction of their capital Nineveh. Possibly Neb participated in this action on behalf of his father, Nabopolassur. Upon becoming King he continued the expansionist, empire-building policies of his father. He also continued certain policies such as the resettling of loosing populations away from their homelands and the demand for vassals to pay tribute - both Judah and Egypt were vassal states to Babylon. Historically Neb had removed King Hezekiah of Judah around 589 BCE and had replaced him with King Zedekiah, who he thought would do his bidding. But Zedekiah betrayed Neb and sought to make a secret alliance with Egypt in order to break the yoke of the Babylonians. It was a fatal error. Neb found out about it and swiftly moved against Jerusalem, besieging the city and finally taking it in 587 BCE. He cruelly dispatched poor King Zedekiah and his family and took the aristocrats, priests, prophets, scribes and intellectuals into captivity in Babylon (her pretty much left the peasants). This begins the Babylonian exile – perhaps one of the most important events in the history of the Jewish people. So in the opera the fall of Jerusalem is depicted (sort of) in Act 1 – II Kings 25, and most of the first part of the prophet Jeremiah. The narrative in the libretto for the rest of the opera is all fantasy – no history at all. 
     The tradition that Neb went mad has no historical veracity and may well have actually been based on a different Babylonian King, Nabonidus, who wasn’t really mad, but did some off the wall things so some of his people (mostly his enemies of whom he had quite a few) thought he was mad. There was method in his madness, but unfortunately for him few got the point and history has not been kind to him (I kind of like him actually).  Also, the book of the prophet Daniel records several stories which have King Neb as a principal character and in these he is not quite sane and always ends up converting to Yahwehism. These are not historical. In fact much of the Book of Daniel was originally written in Aramaic (not Hebrew) because it was composed during the Greek period – which is after the rest of the OT was written and about the same time as the composition of the Apocrypha. The use of “Babylon” is actually a code for “Seleucid Greeks” under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Interestingly enough when the opera Nabucco was premiered the narrative was considered symbolic of the struggles for Italian independence with the Republicans identifying with the exiled Hebrews. This I think is the strongest parallel between the Biblical narrative and the opera.
There are lots of recordings of this opera on YouTube
"Samson et Dalila" - Camille Saint-Saëns (1877) – French
The story of the Judge Samson begins in Judges chapter13 and runs through 16. The plot of the opera covers only chapter 16. There is a lot of embellishing. It is a curious story (like most of those in the book of Judges) and reflects perhaps an underlying paganism in the beginnings of early Yahwehism (This faith does not really begin to resemble Judaism as we understand and experience it until after the return from the exile of the Judeans to the land of Judah.) There is little about Samson that makes him attractive as a spiritual hero. 
However, The conflict between the Yahweistic settlers into Canaan and the Sea Peoples (Philistines) was a real serious conflict which began about the time of the settlement and continued pretty much uninterrupted until the rise of the Assyrians, which begins during the reign of Solomon and comes to fruition with the invasion and destruction – actually complete annihilation – of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE. It is the during a battle with the Philistines that Saul and Jonathan are killed. Painting by Jose Salome Pina.
There are lots of recordings of this opera on YouTube
"Saul og David" - Carl Nielsen (1902) – Danish
This opera begins in I Samuel around chapter 13 and goes through until the end of I Samuel. It overlaps with the Charpentier above in a couple places (the Witch of Endor for example from chapter 28.) This narrative however includes a lot of additional material – eg. the introduction of David to soothe Saul with his singing and David vs Goliath in acts 1 and 2. Act 3 is really interesting. First the incident where David has the opportunity to kill Saul but doesn’t has been cleaned up (chapter 24 – Saul is actually relieving himself when David slips behind him and cuts off a piece of his garment). The anointing of David actually occurs way earlier (back in chapter 15). The last act follows the events of the end of the biblical narrative pretty closely, and parallel the Charpentier.
"Susannah" - Carlisle Floyd (1955) – English
Susannah is based on the OT Apocryphal book “Susannah and the Elders.” The opera is an updating – set in rural America during the 19th century. But if you read the story you can see that there are important points of convergence. The Rev. Olin Blitch is a creation of the composer who is also the librettist and come out of his own experience growing up in rural Georgia. For any of us who have ever experienced this kind of Evangelical Revival led by circuit preachers, a lot about this plot rings very true. This is one of my favorite 20th century operas. Painting - Susannah and the Elders by Peter Paul Rubens.
Sam Ramey singing the Revival Scene at the Tucker Gala with the Met Opera Orchestra and Chorus.  Opera is available on DVD in a performance from St. Petersburg Opera
"The Burning Fiery Furnace" - Benjamin Britten (1966) – English
This opera is based on the story of the three men who are throw into the Fiery Furnace from Daniel chapter 3. The King in the story is Nebuchadressar, but the story takes place during the Persian administration and control of the Levant. The writer of Daniel mixes up his empires constantly throughout the entire book of Daniel. But ultimately it is about the Greeks – Neb is a stand in for Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was guilty of the kinds of things described in many of the stories. The point of the story is to inspire those who are suffering to hold true to the faith despite the risk of death. It was during the Greek period that the risk of loosing Yahweist culture and religion was a serious danger. In many ways I think more so than during the Babylonian exile. The fact is that the temptation to adopt a Greek lifestyle and culture was exceptionally tempting. Art: 11th Century Mosaic.
"Adam's Passion" - Arvo Pärt (2009) - Church Slavonic
I do not know this piece at all. I assume it is somehow based on the Creation accounts from Genesis 2 through 4. Chapter 1 is the famous creation poem, but the 2nd creation account is where Adamah and Hava are introduced. The encounter with the serpent is in chapter 3. Cain and Abel are in chapter 4.
Available on DVD
"Mosé in Eggito" – Gioachino Rossini 
This opera covers the narrative from Exodus 5 through the crossing of the Red Sea in chapter 14. There is a lot of artistic license and creativity.
"Moses and Aron" – Arnold Schoenberg 
This opera is one of the most important in music history because of its use of Schoenberg’s 12 tone row. This also makes it hard to sit through. The opera begins with Exodus chapter 3 – Moses and the Burning Bush; but quickly shifts to the wanderings in the wilderness after the Exodus itself (Everything covered in the Rossini is skipped in this work). The bulk of this opera covers the wanderings and the challenges. Schoenberg is however making a theological point at the end of the opera, which is fine, but it is his own point – not one derived from the narrative itself. Like most of the operas above the biblical narrative is adapted and enhanced and altered to suit the composer. Painting by Elizabeth Wang.

Other OT operas worth checking out - "Ruth" by Lennox Berkeley based on the book of Ruth.
"The Queen of Sheba" by Karl Goldmark - Fantasy based on the relationship between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba from I Kings.
"Le Legende de Joseph en Egypte" by Etienne Nicholas Méhul - Based on the Joseph story from the end of Genesis.
"le Mort d'Adam" by Jean-François le Seur - Based loosely on Genesis
"Noye's Flud" by Benjamin Britten - a terrific work with a large cast, also requiring many children
"Il Diluvio Universal" by Gaetano Donizetti - The Noah story from Genesis
"David" by Darius Milhaud
Numerous Oratorio/Operas by Georg Friderick Handel - "Deborah," Jephtah," "Israel in Epypt," "Saul," "Judas Maccabeaus"
I will stop before starting on Oratorios, because the list will never end!
Simon de Myle c. 1570

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

“Moral Compass”

“Moral Compass”
About two weeks ago a meme crossed my path on Facebook that I felt was virulently hateful towards LGBT people. I (thankfully) cannot remember all the particulars except it had to do with refusing to bake wedding cakes for gay couples. It described such refusal, along with any other refusals, including refusing medical care for LGBT individuals as being “god-honoring.” (the choice of the lower case “g” is my choice, not the memes.)  I find this attitude to be disgusting and reprehensible, and consider it hateful and distinctly not “god-honoring” in any way shape or form.

While wedding cakes may not seem to be all that important, this denial of services sets a dangerous precedent. If you are conducting business in a public marketplace then you have no right to refuse service for these reasons. And not only that, but it is a slippery slope: the denial of medical care is not only being talked about but is actually occurring in some places. Any medical professional who refuses to care for someone of the basis of sexual orientation, race or religion should have their license revoked. For a professional to refuse services – whether they be medical services or baking a cake – is simply despicable. I stated this in my response to that meme.

My comment on this homophobic meme quickly garnered some responses. Most were kind of ridiculous, to tell the truth, and made little to no sense. I won’t waste time with them here. But I want to reflect on just a couple of particular responses and the overall flow of the thread:

The first comment that appeared asked a simple question: “Would you be willing to allow those people to babysit your children?” The answer to the question is absolutely! No problem! In fact, I would much prefer a responsible LGBT adult as a babysitter than any of these hateful and judgmental religious types (like the commenter), but this question is beside the point. The issue at hand is not my parenting, or my choice of a babysitter. The issue at hand is hateful behavior towards another human being.

This response is a typical gas-lighting response. A gas-lighting response is a response that doesn’t address the issue at hand, deflecting you away from the main issue in order to try to distract you into questioning yourself, your priorities and your experience of reality. It is a favorite approach for radical right-wing haters and for sexist men. Often a gas-lighting response will take the form of a “yeah, but…” response. For example: “Yeah, but what about Hillary’s emails!” “Yeah, but if those immigrants had just stayed home they wouldn’t have their children taken away!” or “Yeah, but would you really allow someone like that to babysit your children?” And the next thing you know, the gas-lighters have succeeded in redefining the discussion and you are now on the defensive. I do not respond to comments that are trying to gaslight me. In fact, I block gas-lighters, no matter who they are. And I blocked this commenter, too.

As you might imagine, that Facebook comment thread went downhill from there. Soon, the discussion had turned away from hate towards LGBT people and onto the historical reliability of the Bible. So, you see, exactly as the homophobic commenters intended the gas-lighting worked as the focus of the thread slowly turned away from the rights and well-being of LGBT people and soon, after only a few comments, we were well into a discussion of Biblical literalism. Comments were posted both rejecting and defending Biblical literalism. Some of the commenters who took (supposedly) “my side” of the debate started posting some comments, which I also found thoroughly unhelpful and useless. One of these went on at length about how the story of Noah and the Flood was nonsense and ahistorical. This pushed the thread off the rails. The historical veracity of the Bible is not the point. And more importantly, the central problem with this line of response is that it concedes the point to the hateful crowd that, “yes, the bible says that,” and then has to go to great and at times absurd lengths to prove that the Bible is not reliable so it doesn’t matter.

But here is the thing - I am not willing to concede this 2nd point. The Bible does not condemn homosexuality, and to suggest it does is to misrepresent and misinterpret the text. What is clearer still is that the Gospels, which supposedly are the foundation of faith and moral behavior for Christians, clearly do not allow the exclusion, violence or any hateful behavior against Gay, Lesbian, Bi or Trans or Queer or any “alternative” sexualities and genders. There are plenty of in depth discussions that are much more thoughtful and brilliant than anything I might write which discuss the few (and I mean few) passages that could even be construed to condemn homosexuality. But in a nutshell, an understanding of sexual orientation was unknown to the ancient world and the world of the Bible. What is condemned is any and all (both homosexual and heterosexual) sexual behavior that is exploitative, abusive, coercive and violent.
For example, the story of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-19:1ff) is not about homosexuality no matter how badly folks want it to be. It is about sexual violence. And it is certainly the height of ignorance and idiocy that “evangelical” protesters have been chanting “remember Sodom” at Pete Buttigieg rallies. Because if you get below the surface of the story, it directly condemns any number of republicans (including the one in the white house, a certain supreme court justice and a number of others) who seem to think they can engage in exploitative, abusive, coercive and violent sexual behavior with impunity (or so they believe – history has a long memory!). Turning to the New Testament, the favorite “clobber passage” is in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 1:26-27. This passage is similarly about sexual violence, coercion, abuse and exploitation. Paul is addressing a dark dimension of Roman culture that allowed those who owned slaves to use their slaves however they wanted – including sexually. To interpret these verses as a condemnation of homosexuality is to read into it 21st century American cultural biases.

The final comment on the meme in the comment thread was the one that provided me with the title of this essay. “It is obvious you have no moral compass,” wrote the commenter. If you define “moral compass” as being hateful to others, whether they are gay, or of a different race and gender, or a different religion or are immigrants or refugees; if it is ok for you to lock up children in cages underneath a highway; if it is ok for you to support supreme court judges and others who feel that they have a right to be abusive, exploitative and sexually violent towards women (“boys will be boys” after all); if it is ok with you that gay folks are treated contemptuously and possibly refused medical care and other services – if this is your definition of “moral compass” then, you are right, I do not share your moral compass.

My moral compass is rooted the Gospels where Jesus is rather unequivocal in his words and actions: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Love your enemy.” “Do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek.” The Gospels are full of these words of Jesus. And not only that, the Gospel is full of Jesus’ acting out this radical love and acceptance as well.

Finally, I would turn back to the Apostle Paul. He had founded the church in the great city of Corinth, but he quickly had his hands full with conflicts and difficulties with the members of these new church communities. They were exclusive, petty, unwelcoming and selfish. Paul takes the time to address each and every one of their issues in turn, including issues of sexual responsibility. But finally, after reworking the popular rhetorical device of using the metaphor of the body to reflect the community (chapter 12), Paul says in no uncertain terms that all of this stuff, all of these issues you think are so important are nothing but a “sounding gong” or a “clanging cymbal” in comparison to love (chapter 13). Love is first and most essential. We do not judge, we do not reject, we open our arms in love.

And that is the bottom line.

That is our moral compass!