Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Ben Hur, the novel, part 17

So Book V of Ben Hur.

Chapter 7 has a list of 3 people as Judah’s servants. Wallace means slaves but he’s wrong. Esther could only have been bound to him if Ithamar had written up for her to be Judah’s wife, and that bond ended when she reached the age of 12 years and 1 day.

In chapter 8, the texts that Simonides reads to Judah are all the favorite choices of Christians – and his list could only have been made after Christianity adopted the Jewish Bible ostensibly as its own. It’s not clear why the Bible was adopted except for one thing. In the Roman Empire the recognized faiths were the Roman cult, the Greek cult, the Jewish and the Egyptian. The druids of Gallia were persecuted; those outside this magic circle were ignored. (Mithraism, a Mesopotamian faith, became popular with merchants and soldiers later.) To become respectable, Christianity had to associate to itself one of the recognized faiths.

And all of them were pagan except Judaism. Two of the oldest church fathers, Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr, show that Greek had been rejected. Justin (d. 165 CE) connected Christianity to Neo-Platonism as the pure root which the Greek philosophers corrupted. Clement (d. 215 CE) tried to attract Greek pagans to Christianity as a better moral guide, purified from the examples in Greek mythology. They did not cite to the Septuagint, nor would they have reason to because they were not talking to people familiar with the Septuagint. The Septuagint wouldn’t convince Greek pagans of anything. Neither one of them spoke of Judaism because neither one knew anything about it.

But in the 200s CE, Origen the Greek geek compiled all the Greek translations of the Jewish Bible that he could get, into the Hexapla, including the Septuagint and Aquila’s translation from about 100 CE. Supposedly Origen’s father taught him the Bible, as well as Greek literature, but this is not certain and the father has been labeled a pagan by some writers.

At any rate, Christians developed the habit or policy of separating themselves from pagans and also from criticism, by claiming Judaism as a basis. After that, church fathers went to work proving the relationship by interpreting Jewish scripture as references to Christianity, much as Clement related pagan myth to Christianity.

This is a strawman argument, a fallacy claiming that the words don’t mean what they say. It’s also cherry-picking, using bits that are convenient and ignoring the inconvenient truths. It could happen once Christianity decided it wasn’t going to follow Jewish law, even if its earliest members were Jews. This happened by the time of Mark’s book of Christian scripture. He was a second generation Christian and he already knows nothing about Judaism. Satan has become a crucial element in the Jesus story; so has the working of miracles as events contrary to nature.

In Judaism satan is a servant of Gd, not an equal and opposing power. The things in the Tannakh that seem to be miracles, are not important for being exceptions to the laws of nature; they were part of creation, according to Pirkey Avot. They were important for their influence on Jewish culture, not on individuals.

It is a sad truth that ancient literature may not be as ancient as people want to believe. I can well believe that The Embassy to Gaius was a true production of Philo of Alexandria. I can’t say the same for the twelve books ostensibly about Judaism, but containing outright errors that make them useful only as an exercise in reading Greek. The Fulvia and Paulina stories in Josephus’ Antiquities are known to be forgeries because of their language; so is a supposed reference to Jesus, which was copied from Jewish Wars where it is known to be a forgery.

The “eschatological” material in Mark’s work may seem to some like a reflection of a battle in his own lifetime that lead to destruction of the Second Temple, but it could also reflect the Hadrianic persecution, which included Christians as well as Jews. That provides about a century for the contents of Mark to develop from the original events before his birth. The Antonine persecution came later but included only Christians.

There was a Mark in Rome whose name was attached to the Christian book, but that’s no proof that he wrote it, only that Christians of a given time knew about him and thought the world of work attributed to him.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Ben Hur, the novel, part 16

We’re in Book IV of Ben Hur. I have said that there’s no benefit to either Arrius or Judah for the one to adopt the other; it was a plot device to make Judah rich because it takes a rich man to work the un-Jewish vengeance that Wallace wants Judah to wreak on Messala.

Skipping chapter 2 and going to chapter 3. When a Jew holding the exclusive services contract on another Jew dies, the contract expires. Even if Simonides signed on for the extra term, he is not Judah’s slave. If he had been a non-Jew when he signed the contract, he would have received cash for agreeing to circumcision, making him nominally Jewish. If Judah is asking whether Simonides is still his slave, then Ithamar did not leave a will that bequeathed Simonides to Judah, who would have known it from the will. So Judah can’t demand all that Simonides owns.

In chapter 4 Simonides misrepresents his own status. No Jew can be bound to serve forever.

The important thing in this chapter is that we learn Ithamar died 10 years before Judah’s arrest. A guardian for the estate would have been named in the will, to cover the 2 years until Judah became bar mitsvah. This guardian would have seen to Judah’s education in both business and culture – and Simonides not being bequeathed to Judah (etc.), he became free at that moment.

Chapter 5 is a throw-away. In chapter 6 we get another misrepresentation. Being born in Jerusalem did not mean you were a Jew. You could be a Roman, a Greek, a Syrian, an Egyptian, an Arab, or any other nationality by parentage and they would raise you in their culture.

Chapters 7 through 17 bring together the characters Wallace needs for the rest of the book and now we are up to Book V.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

head's up -- Twitter

An announcement has been made that Twitter will start charging everybody including content creators for Twitter.

If you are government or business you may be able to pay for your Twitter account but the people who need to use it won't be there because of how many of them will refuse to pay for it.

I will not use it either and so there will be no more notices on Twitter of new content on this blog.

Bookmark this site now for future use.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Ben Hur, the novel, part 15

I’m ignoring chapter 7 of Book II and that means we’re up to Book III. Chapters 1 and 2 have an error. Quintus Arrius is called a tribune while he is in command of a military ship. The rank of tribune went out before the Republic ended. The commander of a ship was a centurion because ships had a hundred rowers, and he had a co-officer of unknown function called a trierarchus.

Skipping chapters 3-5, wherein Wallace invents the rescue of Arrius by Judah, we get to Book IV. Chapter 1 has Judah being raised for 5 years by Arrius and driving his horses in the circus. Arrius supposedly adopts Judah and bequeaths all his property to him.

While adoptions in the Roman Empire were as close as possible to an actual parental relationship, I believe this is another fiction. It benefits Judah by giving him riches and contacts in government, but it doesn’t do much for Arrius. The emperor could set aside a will if it did not follow the rules of piety: the heir had to owe a duty to the testator to offer to his manes upon his death. Jews don’t do that. Tiberius, who was always hard up for money (or greedy) would have set Arrius’ will aside in a heartbeat and surely some wise friend of Arrius would have told him so.

All the more so as Tiberius cleared Rome in 19 CE of Jews. Finding a Jew named as Arrius’ sole heir would have invited scrutiny.

Is it because there were no Jews in Rome that Judah let Arrius adopt him? Hardly. The book claims that the battle was in 24 CE. Tiberius’ expulsion included officials of Isis worship. Here’s what was going on.

Some Roman priesthoods required that the priests be born from the strictest form of Roman marriage, the confarreatio. Women had to enter this form of marriage if the paterfamilias ordered it. But there were two problems: Augustus noted and passed laws about a habit of marrying girls who were not old enough to give birth. Then the man left her to the care of the paterfamilias and went on his merry way. At any point, he could get the paterfamilias to agree to a divorce and then be free to marry the woman he really wanted. If the family had already eaten up the first wife’s dowry, and the new woman was rich, it was a no-brainer.

Jewish and Egyptian women were not eligible for confarreatio. They were not subject to a paterfamilias; they had more civil and physical freedom than Roman women, including the right to earn and keep money in their own name. Isis was a powerful, popular goddess with handsome rites, and anybody could understand why Roman women would join her cult.

But misconceptions about Judaism make it hard for Gentiles to understand why Roman women would convert to Judaism. Jews had businesses and farmed; they had legions in the Roman army. They could not serve in the government, which required oaths to pagan gods, but they did just about every other job you can think of, some of which were low-paying and others nasty, like leather-working which was smelly. Roman women would not be attracted by rich Jews, who would have been married by age 18; nor could they gain social glamor by marrying a Jew.

So why convert? Maybe stability. A Jewish marriage requires the man to settle a ketubbah on his wife for her benefit after his death, and he can also, as I said, make her a deed of gift. A Jewish divorce requires a finding of ervah or, in the man, impotence. A Jewish marriage requires that the man support his wife. A Jewish wife can say “not tonight, dear” and not have to complain of headache. A Jewish family does not have a paterfamilias who can push through a divorce or who has the right of life and death over those in his manus.

There might have been Roman men who converted. This would get them out from under the cult. Roman men who did not serve in the military could not achieve high government rank. But they were expected to serve in government and that was an expensive proposition; officials paid for religious ceremonies and public works and celebrations like games. If you had a business or property with good income, you could avoid all that if you were a Jew, and maybe even if you were part of the Isis cult.

Nobody is sure why Tiberius pushed Jews and Isis worshippers out of Rome, but it only means they left the city proper. The larger part of the Jews were settled in Trastevere (Cross-Tiber) where a Jewish graveyard has been found. It remained a Jewish quarter into medieval times. So there were Jews in Italy, close to Rome, for Judah to live with, find work, maybe find a wife. He might eventually move back to the Holy Land but, with his family and property there destroyed, it would take either economic disaster in Italy or a strong religious bent to draw him back.

And that would put his conversion back to the arrival of Paul in Rome, about 50 CE. That’s not the story Wallace wants to tell.

Hang loose

My computer tried to do an update last night and now it won't start so no post this week. Have a happy New Year and I'll get back to the Ben Hur posts when I can.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Ben Hur, the novel, part 14

We are up to Book II chapter 5 of Ben Hur and Wallace throws in a cheap bit of Victorian bigotry saying that Arabs and Egyptians are stupid. The Nabatean Arabs were Jews at this time, converted under the Hasmonean kings. The Egyptians had been allies of Judea through the Seleucid persecution down to Herod’s time.

Tirzah did not have an amulet inherited from a grandmother.

Amulets were little bags containing either written material or healing herbs. Now remember that at this time Jews did not use Biblical Hebrew as a living language. They spoke Aramaic. They had an Aramaic version of Torah, or at least in synagogue somebody would get up and translate the reading from the Torah scroll as it was read. Persians speak an Indo-Iranian language, not a Semitic language. It is highly unlikely that a Persian could write a kosher amulet.

Amulets were primarily used against epilepsy. If a person was healed three times, the amulet was defined as “effective”. If the maker took it back when the first person got well, and gave it to at least two other people who were healed of other illnesses, he was defined as “expert”. (Mishnah Shabbat 6:2, one of those without a name in it, so a standard Sanhedrin decision, and the gemara on Talmud Shabbat 61/62.) So Tirzah should not have an amulet; the maker should have taken it back.

And now about not being P’rushim. If the family were not P’rushim, they would not value the teachings of Hillel and his sons. These were the cream of the P’rushi ranks, and they argued against Ts’duki teachings.

There’s only one reason Wallace would pretend that the family were not P’rushim and yet think that they followed the School of Hillel. Ignorance.

And then another bit of ignorance. Judah could not train in a Roman camp. The Roman legions worshipped their eagles. This was prohibited to Jews. There were Jewish legions in the Roman army at the time. Judah could train with one of those, have kosher food, have rest on Shabbat, and so on. They were disbanded by Theodosius II in the 400s CE when he decreed other disabling legislation against Jews. You can say all you want that only assimilated Jews would have been in the Roman army, but they were there before Titus destroyed the Second Temple and they were there after the Hadrianic persecutions.

But Wallace being ignorant or careless made another mistake.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Ben Hur,, the novel, part 13

We are up to Book II chapter 5 of Ben Hur and you stayed with me!

I’m skipping chapter 5 because you would be better off spending your time reading your Bible and reading real history, not Wallace’s faked hash, and going to chapter 6 we meet a new character, Tirzah, the daughter of the house. 

And her clothing is all wrong. Jewish women did not expose their bodies, even at home. Her arms should be covered at least from shoulder to elbow.  And you should be going “say what?”

I just said a couple of posts ago that when a man dies and leaves a widow, sons and daughters, the mother and sons can join to marry off an underage daughter. They can’t do this for a grown daughter, but she must be supported from the income of the man’s property. The son gets a job or goes begging to have an income.


Judah’s father could have written a deed of gift to Judah either before his death or while on his deathbed. The deed was valid in either case, except that on his deathbed the father had to reserve some of the property to himself. Then if he recovered he had an income.

A prudent man should write three deeds of gift: one for his widow; one for his daughter(s); and one for his son, with the reservation of property in this last. All three should say “after my death” or “from now and after my death”. In this second case, they all have an income and it’s not tied up into a will, which only takes effect after death. But stuff happens.

If Ithamar wrote a deed of gift, Judah isn’t running a business for the benefit of his mother and sister; he’s running it so he has his own income. He may be managing the property covered by the other two deeds, or a relative is managing it.

But the real issue in this chapter is, both Tirzah and Judah should be married. In a world without scientific medication, where doctors functioned on anecdotal evidence, few infants reached the age of 5 and another tranche didn’t reach the age of 15. If Judah’s father was alive when Tirzah was 13, he would at least have started the search for a husband and written a deed to cover her dowry. Judah would have been 15 to 18 at the time, and Mishnah Pirkey Avot 5:21 says marriage happens at 18. Judah is 21. He should have a wife and at least one child, or one on the way.

Tirzah would be living with her husband, even if she’s 16 and just married.

The mother would be living in a dower house on the property covered by her deed of gift.

So again, Wallace is committing the fallacy of Presentism. He’s writing the classic Victorian melodrama where the widow and her children stay together. And it wasn’t so. Not in those times; not in Judea; not in Rome, so Messala should also not be a bachelor at this point. Oh, sure, he probably left his wife home with the paterfamilias, especially if there were children already. But his wife, like Agrippina, might follow the drum and bring the children along.