by Revilo P. Oliver
THE PRESS of the University of California has just published an elaborate edition of a noteworthy specimen of theological balderdash, composed by some anonymous holy man around 1310 and entitled Speculum humanae salvationis. It consists of a series of pictures joined to a text in simple prose, which explains how each of the depicted episodes in the “Old Testament” prefigured, as in a magic mirror or a crystal ball, some aspect or event of the Jesus story.
It was an illustrated book in an age in which such things were rare, and the mystical doctrine of “correspondences” appealed to rudimentary minds, so it became a Mediaeval “best seller” from the time it was invented until the middle of the seventeenth century. It was reproduced in manuscripts, some of them elaborately executed on the best parchment, with a painstaking calligraphic text, intricately illuminated initials, and miniatures drawn with great care and sometimes of some artistic value. After the invention of printing, the Speculum was produced in cheap editions, large for the time, its pictures reproduced in more or less crude woodcuts, and, for the benefit of the uneducated, the text was translated into German, Dutch, French, English, and doubtless quite a few other languages.
The new edition, which sells for a mere $190 (I did not buy a copy!), reproduces the miniatures and text from the better manuscripts and from typical printed editions. I mention it here because the Speculum has some interest as a measure of the mentality to which it appealed in the late Middle Ages and to which it could again appeal, if promoted by one of the buncombe-artists of the evangelical racket.
I shall notice one example. There is a motif that is common to many folk-tales and fairy stories. A person, usually a man, confronted by a task that is beyond his powers (e.g., building a large bridge, designing a great building, winning a battle, etc.), solicits the help of an evil or malicious demon, who agrees to do the work on the condition that the man will sacrifice to him the first living being that he meets after completion of the task or on his return home. The man, assuming that the victim will be a servant or even an animal, accepts the bargain, but the demon so arranges matters that the first being to meet the man is his son or daughter, who must accordingly be sacrificed to pay for supernatural assistance. In some versions of the tale, the man tries to swindle the demon by some trick, usually without success.
The Jews’ version of the tale in their story book is well known. There was a bandit chief named Jephtah (Hebrew YPTH, which was pronounced Iephtae in the first century B.C.). When the Jews were engaged in their favorite sport, which then as now was slaughtering Semites and grabbing more of Palestine, they encountered unexpected resistance from Semites who were so wicked they did not want to be butchered by Yahweh’s pets. The Jewish robber bargained to bring his band of outlaws to help his fellow Jews seize more land, if they would make him the chief of their predatory nation. Before one battle, Jephtah promises his tribal deity that if he is victorious, he will take “whatsoever comes forth” from the doors of his house on his return home and make a holocaust of it (i.e., burn all of the body on the altar without eating any part of it).
Ferocious old Yahweh accepts the deal. When Jephtah goes home, his daughter and only child rushes out of the house, banging cymbals to celebrate daddy’s glorious triumph. Thus Jephtah, who was fond of her, learned a lesson about bargaining with wily gods, and the daughter, as a good Jewess, was glad to be sacrificed for her people. In the “Old Testament,” Jephtah grants his daughter a delay of two months during which she and her companions wander over the mountains, bewailing her fate to die as a virgin before giving birth to little Jews. Then Jephtah burns her on an altar to old Yahweh, who, presumably, is glad to collect his fee.
All that seemed a needles complication to the pious author of the Speculum,whose picture of the scene shows Jephtah, accoutered as a Mediaeval knight and riding his charger drawing his sword to slice off the head of the young woman, who has just come from his residence, the Mediaeval castle shown in the background. This Jewish adaptation of a Near Eastern folk-tale has been generally embarrassing. It embarrassed even the Jews, for various Rabbis in the Talmud comment on the stupidity of Jephtah, who kept the bargain he had made instead of wriggling out of his obligation, as a good lawyer could have done.
Josephus in his Antiquitates, in which he recounts the stories of the Old Testament, treating them as history and dressing them up as best he can to impress the goyim, says (V. 266) that Jephtah was a stupid bloke, who misunderstood what God really wanted, and who should have known better than to do something that was bound to result in unfavorable publicity.(1)
(footnote 1. It should be remembered that during the Middle Ages learned men who believed in the historicity of the Old Testament did not try to straighten out for themselves the mass of incoherent and crude tales, but relied on Josephus, who had reduced them to a consistent narrative and embellished them with the details and literary developments that would have been part of a work by a Classical historian. Josephus’s Antiquitates were very widely read in the Latin translation, Historiae antiquitatis Iudiacae, probably made under the supervision of Cassiodorus and now preserved in a very large number of manuscripts. An excellent critical edition was begun by Franz Blatt in the series, Acta Jutlandica, of the University of Aarhus, published by Munksgaard in Copenhagen, but, so far as I know, that admirable edition has not gone beyond the first volume (Books I-V), which appeared in 1958. That is deplorable.
Josephus is much more comfortable when he polishes up another tale, the legend about Abraham, a Sheeny who came from Ur in Sumeria, probably with mortgages on half the real estate in Ur in his pocket, since his race’s god had singled him out for special favors. Josephus (Antiq., I.227-236) dilates complacently on the episode in which old Abraham gets ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to Yahweh. Josephus supplies us with graphic details and edifying conversation, including a speech by Isaac, who is twenty-five and is tickled pink by the news that he is going to become a holocaust. Yahweh, of course, intervenes in the nick o’time, and, since he has got to have some blood and a burnt offering, supplies a ram as a surrogate for Isaac, who is to be preserved to engender a horde of Jews for their patron in the clouds. The tale is doubtless a very late adaptation of a Sumerian myth that is now lost, but attested by the impressive gold and lapis lazuli effigy of a ram (or is it a goat?) caught in a thicket to which he was fastened by a silver chain about his fetlocks. A good picture of this impressive specimen of Sumerian art may be inspected in Plate 9 of Sir Leonard Woolley’s Ur, a small volume in the Penguin series, first published in 1946.)
Jephtah has been especially embarrassing to Christian theologians. To the Semitic mind, incinerating one’s children was a sure-fire way of attracting a god’s attention and pleasing him (2), but Aryans instinctively recoil from such use of their offspring and from gods that demand it. The writer of one of the letters that were circulated under the name of Paul (Ep. ad Heb.., 11.32) thought Jephtah’s use of his daughter as a holocaust an edifying example of god-fearing righteousness, but it would have been poor salesmanship to insist on that point when vending the religion to our race. One way of covering up its obvious implications would have been to follow the lead of the great apologist for his race, Philo Judaeus, and claim that the story was just an allegorical fiction, intended to convey some occult truth to persons clever enough to guess the meaning. But the Fathers of the Church, unlike most of our contemporary shamans, were shrewd enough to see that if they abandoned for any part of their holy book a claim that it was “inerrant” and described what had actually happened, the game was lost. One such admission would be like a hole in the hull of a ship and would sink the whole equipage, sooner or later. The best they could think of was a gambit popularized by Augustine. The Old Testament truthfully reports events that actually happened, but the omniscient god contrived them to “prefigure” prophetically what he was going to do much later, when he was going to send a piece of himself down to earth to be killed by his Jewish pets to give him a reason for changing his mind about them and letting the lowly heathen in on a good deal for eternal life.
(footnote 2. One remembers, of course, the dramatic scene portrayed in Flaubert’s exquisite prose in his Salammbo. When the novel was published, horrified humanitarians squawked, of course, but archaeological excavations have now proved that such sacrifices of children were not at all uncommon.)
Augustine’s tawdry sophistry was followed by the author of the Speculum. The episode about Jephtah was Yahweh’s way of letting clever fellows know that in the then distant future Mary’s virginity would be reserved for him. That somehow made it all right for a loving daughter to be reduced to a heap of calcined bones in a holocaust.
Now, before you dismiss that nonsense with a laugh and wonder why I have wasted space on it, consider one of the most crucial historical and psychological problems before us. Our ancestors evidently believed in the Norse gods, Odin, Thor, and the others, but were free to accept or reject any or all of the various and often fantastic myths about them and to form their own opinions about those gods, while the fairly numerous men who thought the whole religion a vapid superstition did not hesitate to affirm that they were atheists (gotlauss).
And Norse society took the attitude that Augustus took at Rome: if the gods were offended by a theological error, it was up to them to take whatever action they deemed appropriate. But after our ancestors were inveigled into Christianity by holy men who practiced on their ignorance, they found themselves in a society in which enormous pressures were exerted to crush men who refused to believe in the myths as expounded by the gang of theologians then in power and also had too much self-respect to resort to the slavish hypocrisy of pretending they believed what they privately thought absurd. The shamans insisted that it was the duty of society to extirpate all Aryans who wickedly refused assent to the dogmas currently in vogue, and that a society that failed in discharging that foul duty would suffer atrocious reprisal from a ferocious and ruthless god. In other words, for fifteen centuries our race was subjected to selective breeding to eliminate individuals who were not either gullible or hypocritical.
What has been the genetic effect on our race of that prolonged and terrible aberration?
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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, September 1985