Tag Archive | Benjamin

Counting the Omer 5779/2019 #7

Counting the Omer is keeping the commandment to count 50 days (seven Sabbaths plus one day) between the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (often called First Fruits) until the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) (Leviticus 23:15-21). This year The Barking Fox is counting the omer with modern pictures of people named in the Bible.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2019.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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Resurrection of the Leprous Prodigal

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy  (Wikimedia Commons)

Those who have leprosy might as well be dead.  Never mind that the disease we call leprosy today may or may not be one of the skin diseases meant by the Hebrew word tzara’at (צָרַעַת).  The fact is, whoever had it was cut off from the community:

Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, “Unclean!  Unclean!”  He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.  (Leviticus 13:45-46 NKJV)

Think about that for a moment.  Lepers could not go home.  They could not have any kind of normal relationship with their family members, friends, business associates, or anyone else with whom they interacted before the cursed condition fell upon them.  It did not matter what station of life the leper occupied; whether peasant or king, the disease cut them off from the life of the nation.  Even mighty King Uzziah of Judah learned that.  Although he reigned for 52 years in Jerusalem, the leprosy he contracted in the midst of his reign meant that he was king in name only:

King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death.  He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord.  Then Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.  (II Chronicles 26:21 NKJV)

How can a person shepherd the people of God when he is cut off from the House of God?  Is there any hope for him, or for the people he is anointed to lead?

Yes, there is hope.  That is why the Torah portion Metzora (The Leper; Leviticus 14:1-15:33) provides elaborate detail on the procedures for cleansing lepers.  Once healed, the priests help them through this process to restore them to their place in society.  In a certain sense, this is a resurrection from a type of death, and thus it is a symbol of what Messiah will do. 

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The Dilemma of the Ger, Part 3: Dealing with the Kinslaying

This is the third part of a dialogue with Dr. Rivkah Adler of Breaking Israel News on the question of whether the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, could be considered as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews.  It began with Rivkah’s article, “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, followed by my commentary, “The Dilemma of the Ger, and her observations in “A Jewish Response to the Dilemma of the Ger.

Dealing with the Kinslaying

Albert J. McCarn
April 16,2017

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë, by Ted Nasmith. Used by permission.

A motif running through J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction works is the exile of the Elves from Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world.  Those who read The Lord of the Rings first encounter the exiles as the High Elves who aid Frodo and his companions in their flight from the Shire.  Readers who venture into The Silmarillion learn that the High Elves are the Noldor, one of three Elven clans who answered the Valar’s invitation to leave Middle Earth and live in Valinor.  The Vanyar and Teleri – the other two clans – remained in Valinor, but the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and returned to Middle Earth to fight against Morgoth, Tolkien’s equivalent of Satan.

The Noldor had justification for their actions.  Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils, the matchless jewels fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen, and had killed Finwë, Fëanor’s father and king of the Noldor.  Nevertheless, their rebellion under Fëanor’s leadership incurred a sentence of exile and separation from any help the Valar could offer.  Over the next several centuries the Noldor and their allies among the Elves and Men of Middle Earth proved unable to defeat Morgoth, and they suffered a long defeat.  At the end of their strength, the humbled remnant repented and begged help from the Valar.  When help came, Morgoth was defeated and the Valar granted clemency for the Noldor to return to the Blessed Realm, bringing with them the remaining Elves of Middle Earth who had never seen Valinor.

This is the unseen backdrop for the Elves appearing in Tolkien’s later and more popular works.  Those who pick up the story with The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings meet wise Elrond, stern yet kindly Thranduil, and gentle Galadriel, but they have no understanding of their history.  Galadriel, for example, was Fëanor’s niece, and along with his sons and her brothers led the Noldor in rebellion.  Upon passing the test of refusing the Ring of Power when Frodo offers it to her, she proves that she, the only surviving rebel leader, is indeed ready to return home as a humble penitent.

In Galadriel’s story we see the stunning panorama flowing through the body of Tolkien’s works.  Yet there is one missing detail:  he never tells us what happens when the exiles return.  It is a significant omission.  We can imagine the scenes of reconciliation as the Noldor made amends with the eternal Valar, but we do not know what happens when they encountered the brethren they had wronged.  At the beginning of their flight from Valinor, the Noldor demanded of their kin, the Teleri, use of their ships.  The Teleri refused, resulting in a terrible battle known thereafter as the Kinslaying.  As Tolkien describes it, “Thus at last the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in Alqualondë were wickedly slain.”  If that were not enough, when they arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, Fëanor gave orders to burn the wondrous Telerian ships, craft of great beauty the like of which could never be made again.

What happens when the prodigal Noldor return home is a tale we do not know.  We hope they are reconciled with their brethren, but achieving reconciliation requires conscious effort to overcome the debt of blood between them.  Until that debt is paid or forgiven, the bliss of the Blessed Realm remains unbearably diminished.

Tolkien’s epic thus becomes a parable for us, the returning exiles of the House of Yosef (Joseph).  Like the Noldor, we are guilty not only of rebellion against our God and the king He had anointed, but also of an endless Kinslaying of our brethren of Judah.

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When Brothers Don’t Get Along

On December 4, 2015, the B’Ney Yosef Region 35 Conference convened at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, for the purpose of bringing together people in the central part of the United States to seek YHVH’s direction about His Kingdom work at this time.  The initial concept was to continue in the spirit of the First B’Ney Yosef National Congress in the interest of building Ephraimite (Israelite) identity among believers in Messiah Yeshua.  The Holy Spirit quickly expanded that concept into a call for repentance within the Hebrew Roots/Two House movement and reconciliation with other parts of the body of Messiah, particularly with our Christian brethren.  That was the motivation for this address which opened the conference.

BFB151204 MNF-IThe best boss I ever had was the man under whose supervision I served the last time I was in Iraq.  He was also the most profane man I have ever met.  The name of Jesus Christ was for him but one weapon in a formidable arsenal of expletives.  Not a single day passed that some outrage did not fall from his lips, causing my ears to burn and my heart to wonder how long I would have to endure such offense.  And yet I continued in his service, not merely because I had no choice (both of us, after all, were soldiers assigned to serve together), but because God gave me grace to look beyond the offense to see and benefit from the substantial qualities he possessed.  Those qualities included an encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence functions and procedures based on decades of hard experience.  He possessed as well a dogged determination to persevere through all opposition and achieve success in whatever goal he or his superiors established.  That determination sprang from his undying loyalty to the United States of America, and to his belief in the ultimate good of our mission in Iraq.  Yet none of that would have mattered in the least had this man lacked the greatest quality of all:  he regarded every person as having intrinsic value, and as a potential ally in achieving the goals set before him.  He may have spoken roughly, and even in private moments vented his frustration and anger, but he never diminished the value of the human beings in his charge, nor of those under whom he served.

We had occasion to work with military and civilian officials from a number of services and agencies.  Whether they were Army like us, or Marines, Air Force, or Navy, they were all “great Americans” in my boss’s opinion – if for no other reason than because they had volunteered to wear the uniform and be deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone.  He could not call our British, Australian, and German colleagues “great Americans”, but he did hold them in high esteem – while at the same time recognizing that the highest priorities for each of them were the interests of their own nations, not those of the United States.  The true professionals among us, regardless of nationality, recognized this.  We knew that at times there would be questions we could not ask and answers we could not give, but whenever and wherever possible we helped one another.

That “great American” description did extend to the civilian intelligence professionals we encountered.  Those men and women represented nearly all of the 16 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  The ones you would expect were all there:  each of the agencies of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department.  Our office dealt mostly with the CIA, whom my boss lovingly called, “Klingons”.  Like our foreign counterparts, they, and all the other intelligence agencies, had their own priorities which were not necessarily the same as ours in the Department of Defense.  Their vision of how to support the national interests of the United States sometimes clashed with ours, and the means and resources at their disposal often put them at an advantage over us.  We had much reason to distrust them, but we had even more reason to work with them – just as the Start Trek heroes found reason to cooperate with the Klingons to defeat their common enemies.

We laugh at the description of the CIA as Klingons, but long before I arrived in Iraq I understood exactly what my boss meant.  Early in my tenure in Washington, DC, I had occasion to work with the CIA on a joint project.  Most of the people with whom I worked were intelligence analysts, people not very different from myself.  They were well educated, often from privileged backgrounds, highly academic (a reflection of the CIA culture), and professionally courteous.  As part of our project we had to consult with a different type of CIA employee.  This person was not an analyst.  Intelligence analysts look at information from various sources and put it together in different ways to understand what it means.  They are the friendly face of the CIA.  There is another face, however, and it is not very friendly.  That face belongs to the operators, the men and women who go about the difficult business of collecting the information.  They are consummate professionals, very good at what they do, but they are not the kind of people you would want in your social circle.  Quite often the name by which they introduce themselves is not the name their parents gave them at birth.  In the course of their duties they will have to do some questionable things, and perhaps even some very unpleasant things, to acquire information their agency has commissioned them to gain.

This was the kind of person with whom we met in that office on the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia long ago.  He was an impressive man, and one whom I admired for his courage and devotion to his country.  I could tell without asking that he had suffered much personal loss in service to the nation, and that my own poor service paled in comparison to his.  Yet we could not be friends, and we would have difficulty working together as colleagues.  His world was one I could not enter, and my world was one he would not find comfortable.  Nevertheless, my work could not continue without him, and without me his work would have no meaning.  That is why I have never forgotten the man, although our paths have never crossed since that day.

BFB151204 US Intelligence CommunityWhat would happen if this vast intelligence community in the service of the United States of America ceased to function as designed?  What if the various individuals and organizations within it forgot that they were all Americans, and instead placed their own personal agendas, or the name and reputation of their own agencies and services, above the interests of the country?  That is not a rhetorical question; I can tell you what would happen.  I have seen it.  What happens is a fragmentation of the national intelligence establishment. 

For the most part that establishment consists of good, honest people trying to do the best they can with limited resources and time.  They have a tendency to focus exclusively on the work right in front of them, whether it is office administration, counterterrorism analysis, national technical means of information collection, the number of tanks in the Russian Far Eastern Military District, or poppy production in Afghanistan.  They forget that there is a wider world out there, and that their work is but one small piece in a very, very big puzzle.  It does not take much to convince them that their piece is the most important.  Once convinced, it is but a small step toward competing with others to gain a greater share of attention and resources.  Having entered that arena, it is nothing to begin pushing others aside in ever more aggressive ways, taking resources and people away from them so that one’s own piece of the puzzle grows in size and importance, and the competitors’ pieces shrink, or disappear altogether.  In time the picture that emerges is distorted at best, magnifying certain things to the extreme, diminishing others, and ignoring important bits that would otherwise tie together the seemingly contradictory reports from various sources.  That is the picture which goes before high level decision makers like the commanders of our forces in the Middle East, and even the President himself.  Is it any wonder, therefore, that we have national disasters such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

My lesson from this should be clear.  National defense is a team effort.  I know my part of the effort, and my job is to do it to the best of my ability.  I do not know most of the millions of others involved in the effort, nor do I understand what they do.  I could not do what most of them do, nor could most of them do what I do.  Very few of them could be considered my friends, and most of them would probably never want to associate with me anyway.  Nevertheless, we need each other:  every warrior, every clerk, every mechanic, every technician, every lawyer, every cook, every aviator, every logistician, every sanitation worker.  If we do not find a way to cooperate, then this living, breathing organism we call the National Defense Establishment will fail, and with its failure the United States of America fails.

Is this any different from the living, breathing organism known as the Body of Messiah?

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Fox Byte 5775 #54: V’Zot Habrachah (This is the blessing)

וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה

BFB151003 Five Chinese BrothersEven superheroes have their weaknesses.  If it were not so, the stories about them would be over very quickly and would not be quite so interesting.  This is perhaps a reflection of our human condition.  No individual is complete within himself or herself.  We need one another to do things we cannot do for ourselves and to watch out for dangers hidden in our blind spots.  Together we survive and thrive, but separately we grow weak and perish.

Hopefully we learn this lesson in childhood.  Good children’s literature certainly upholds this principle, whether it is The Cat in the Hat helping bored children amuse themselves and then clean up the mess, or The Ugly Duckling finding unexpected help to teach him who he is.  So it is with The Five Chinese Brothers, a classic modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story.  In her 1938 version of the tale, Claire Huchet Bishop tells of five remarkable brothers who live with their mother near the sea.  Although they are identical, each brother has a unique ability.  One can swallow the sea, and thus is a highly successful fisherman.  The second brother has a neck as hard as iron, the third can stretch his legs to any length, the fourth is immune to fire, and the fifth can hold his breath as long as he desires.

One day the First Brother goes fishing in the company of a lad who had begged to go with him.  When the brother swallows the sea, the boy runs out to collect the treasures exposed on the now dry ground.  Before long the Brother grows tired and signals to the lad to return, but he ignores the signals and continues wandering along the seabed.  When the Brother must release the sea from his mouth, the waters cover the wayward boy.  In sadness the Brother returns home, where he is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading.

Happily for the family, the execution never succeeds.  The First Brother has opportunity to go home and say farewell to his mother, but it is the Second Brother who returns.  His neck of iron turns the executioner’s blade, leading to a revised sentence of death by drowning.  The sequence repeats, with each Brother coming in to overcome successive sentences – the Third Brother’s long legs prevent drowning in the sea; the Fourth Brother’s resistance to fire defeats the flames of the execution stake; and the Fifth Brother survives an airless night in a sealed oven.  Having failed to execute the offender, and not realizing that his Brothers have taken his place each time, the judge proclaims him innocent.

How simple and how profound is the lesson from this children’s tale.  Brothers need one another, each contributing of his abilities to do his essential part in bringing peace and long life to the family and to the nation.  That is just as King David said:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.  (Psalm 133:1-3 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #36: Beha’alotcha (In Your Going Up)

בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by  Danacea on Flickr.com via via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by Danacea on Flickr.com via Wikimedia Commons)

In a response to a reader’s question about his works, author Stephen R. Donaldson provided this enlightening comment about the motivation behind his writing:

I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist.  As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through.  (Stephen R. Donaldson Official Website, February 23, 2004)

Donaldson’s best known writings might be categorized as postmodern American science fiction and fantasy literature.  The worlds he creates are not the pristine, archetypical fantasy worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but darker realms that mirror our present ambiguous reality.  Donaldson explores human nature in a secular, relativistic world detached from the moral underpinnings of Christian civilization.  Good and evil manifest in the worlds he creates, but they are often uncomfortably intertwined so as to be nearly indistinguishable.  Such is the case with his most famous protagonist, the anti-hero Thomas Covenant.  In ten novels published over the span of 36 years, Donaldson follows Covenant through three epic quests in The Land, the world of his creation where magic and Earthpower shape the lives of mortals.  Covenant is one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of literature:  a leper living in present-day America who is magically transported to The Land to save it from destruction by Lord Foul the Despiser.  He wears a wedding band of white gold, the source of Wild Magic, which is the greatest power ever known in The Land.  He does not know how to wield this power, nor does he desire to do so, yet the dire circumstances of The Land compel him to find a way.  Each victory comes at a cost.  Ultimately it is Covenant himself who pays the greatest price, and thus he earns not only sympathy, but redemption.

We learn much about power in White Gold Wielder, the last novel of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  The Elohim, supernatural beings who keep watch over the Earth, “silence” Covenant, placing him in a catatonic state so he will not use his ring unwisely and risk destruction of the world.  After Covenant is revived by his companion Linden Avery, Findail of the Elohim explains their actions to her:

The ring-wielder we silenced, not to harm him, but to spare the Earth the ill of power without sight . . . Thus the choice would have fallen to you in the end.  His ring you might have taken unto yourself, thereby healing the breach between sight and power.  Or perhaps you might have ceded the ring to me, empowering the Elohim to save the Earth after their fashion.  Then would we have had no need to fear ourselves, for a power given is altogether different than one wrested away.

Findail’s declaration, “a power given is altogether different than one wrested away,” is a restatement of something taught long ago by One Who understood power:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #34: Bamidbar (In the Wilderness)

בְּמִדְבַּר

In Surrender of Santa Anna, artist William Huddle portrays the dramatic end of the Texas Revolution with a wounded Sam Houston accepting the surrender of Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna.  Houston is remembered for his role in establishing modern Texas, but few remember his identity as a Cherokee.

In Surrender of Santa Anna, artist William Huddle portrays the dramatic end of the Texas Revolution with a wounded Sam Houston accepting the surrender of Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna. Houston is remembered for his role in establishing modern Texas, but few remember his identity as a Cherokee.

Was Sam Houston a Cherokee?  It is a fair question.  The man who won independence for the Republic of Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto had spent many years with the Cherokee nation.  His first contact with the tribe occurred in his youth, when his family moved from their home in Virginia to Tennessee.  He learned their ways and their language, was adopted by a chief of the tribe, and in time represented the Cherokee people to the United States government.  Houston even took a Cherokee wife:  Tiana Rodgers, daughter of a Scottish trader who had married into a prominent Cherokee family.  Houston’s marriage with Tiana was never recognized in white society, but they were legally married under Cherokee law.  Even after he had returned to white society, Houston never remarried until after Tiana’s death.

But the fact is that Sam Houston did return to white society.  In 1832 he moved to the Mexican territory of Texas, and within four years had secured independence for Texas, forever linking his name with that great state.  Today, over 150 years since his death, Houston is remembered as a military hero and statesman, serving the Republic of Texas as its general and elected president, and the State of Texas as its senator and governor.  Houston is also the only man ever to have served as governor of both Tennessee and Texas.  These are the things that might come to mind when one thinks of Sam Houston, but what does not come to mind is his identity as a Cherokee.

Houston’s identity in history is the result of his own choice.  Had he remained with his adopted people, he would have been remembered as one of many non-Indian white and black people who became members of various Native American tribes.  Yet he chose otherwise, and therefore his Cherokee identity is merely a footnote of history.

It was the other way with our ancient Israelite ancestors.  Once they chose to become united with the tribes of Jacob’s sons, their previous identities became footnotes, lost forever in the sands of time.

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Fox Byte 5775 #13: Shemot (Names)

שְׁמוֹת

Map of the realms of Middle Earth.  Tolkien fans are familiar with the kingdom of Gondor, in the south opposite Mordor.  Less familiar, but no less important, is the kingdom of Arnor, which at one time incorporated most of the region of Eriador.  (Source:  The HD Wall)

Map of the realms of Middle Earth. Tolkien fans are familiar with the kingdom of Gondor, in the south opposite Mordor. Less familiar, but no less important, is the kingdom of Arnor, which at one time incorporated most of the region of Eriador. (Source: The HD Wall)

No one remembers the kings of Arnor.  Why should they?  After all, they existed only in the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Yet if they had never existed there, the world would never have become acquainted with Aragorn, or with the Hobbits who helped him reestablish his kingdom.  The great drama of Middle Earth is now etched in popular culture thanks to the cinematic artistry of Peter Jackson.  It is a great credit to Jackson and his team that they drew from the deep wells of Tolkien’s works to portray the indispensable back-story of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but that story probably escaped the notice of most of the audience.

In Tolkien’s world, the noblest people among the Men of Middle Earth were the Númenóreans, a people whose kingdom in the midst of the sea was destroyed by a great flood like that which inundated the legendary Atlantis.  Under the leadership of Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion, the survivors of Númenor established a new kingdom in the western part of Middle Earth.  Elendil divided his realm, placing Anárion on the throne of the Southern Kingdom of Gondor, and retaining for himself the title of High King as he ruled over the Northern Kingdom, Arnor.  When Elendil died, Isildur took his place as High King, ruling from Arnor.  Over time Arnor declined and failed, but the line of Isildur continued through the Dúnedain, or Men of the West, a diminished and scattered people known more popularly as Rangers.  Gondor continued on in great strength, but the line of kings descended from Anárion ceased when the last king, Eärnur, died childless.  Tolkien thus created a great irony in his literary world:  a king with no kingdom, and a kingdom with no king.

This is the setting for The Lord of the Rings.  Those who have seen the movies know that Aragorn the Ranger eventually became king of Gondor, but few realize that his coronation was the culmination of the long-awaited rebirth of the Númenorean realm and reunification of the Northern and Southern kingdoms.  Those events could never have happened if the Dúnedain had ceased to exist.  According to Tolkien’s work, they remained few in number after the destruction of Arnor, but their vigilant watch ensured a measure of peace in the lands of the North.  Although all but forgotten by the people of Gondor, the Dúnedain worked quietly behind the scenes to strengthen the Southern Kingdom’s stand against the growing evil of Sauron.  Then, when all hope seemed lost, the heir of Elendil appeared in the greatest hour of need, bringing new life to long-dead hopes and dreams.

A major component of Tolkien’s works is identity:  as long as the Dúnedain and the people of Gondor remember who they are, no enemy can defeat them.  They may be overwhelmed and diminished, but a remnant will remain and will in time prosper anew.  And whether Professor Tolkien realized it or not, his literary works depict something very real in the works of God:  the identity, redemption, and restoration of all Israel.

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Fox Byte 5775 #11: VaYigash (And He Drew Near)

וַיִּגַּשׁ

Billy Bowlegs and Chiefs of the Seminole Indians Gleason's Pictorial, Boston, Saturday, October 23, 1852 (Source:  "Billy Bowlegs and Suite", Seminole Nation, I.T.)

Billy Bowlegs and Chiefs of the Seminole Indians
Gleason’s Pictorial, Boston, Saturday, October 23, 1852 (Source: “Billy Bowlegs and Suite”, Seminole Nation, I.T.)

It has been more than 500 years since Christopher Columbus mistakenly identified the indigenous peoples of the Americas as “Indians”, and yet that name has remained the popular collective label for the many hundreds of nations more accurately identified by their own names, such as Arawak, Pequot, Lakota, Yaqui, Quechua, and Navajo.  Many of these nations have ceased to exist, the victims of disease, war, enslavement, and cultural genocide.  Others have come into existence as dispersed and diminished peoples have merged to make new nations.  Still others have persisted in their identity to this day, enduring beyond hope as distinct peoples.  All of those things describe the Seminole Nation, which now resides in the states of Oklahoma and Florida.  The Seminoles did not become a distinct people until late in the 18th century, when remnants of the Muskogee (Creek) and other peoples of Florida and what is now Georgia and Alabama combined to form a new nation.  The Spanish called them cimarrones, meaning runaways, or free people.  This term referred to the fact that the tribe included many escaped slaves, both African and Native American, who had joined with others from broken, scattered tribes.  In the Muskogee tongue, cimarrones became semulon-e, and eventually Seminole.

This people who originally were not a people soon developed a strong sense of national identity which compelled them to resist all efforts to conquer them.  They fought against the Spanish, the English, the Creeks, and, inevitably, the Americans.  Three bitter wars from 1817 to 1858 left the Seminole Nation broken and divided, but still unconquered.  Most of the surviving Seminoles were removed by the United States government to Oklahoma, but a remnant remained in the swamps of southwestern Florida, where they remain to this day.  The Florida Seminoles are unique among Native American peoples in that they alone have never signed a treaty of peace with the United States.  Those who were removed to Oklahoma may have agreed to peace with the U.S., but they maintained a fierce independence in their new land.  Efforts to integrate them into the Creek Nation of Oklahoma met with determined resistance.  In time the Seminole remnant in Oklahoma reestablished their tribal identity, and today exist as a separate and distinct nation.[1]

It may come as a surprise, but the greatest story in the Bible is about a nation created from a people who were not a people.  The tale begins with the account of Joseph and his brothers, but the story as yet has no ending.

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Fox Byte 5775 #10: Miketz (At The End Of)

מִקֵּץ

Christopher Walken as Nick in the climactic Russian Roulette in The Deer Hunter (Source:  K-Stalker Kino Cinema Movie Blog.)

Christopher Walken as Nick in the climactic Russian Roulette scene from The Deer Hunter (Source: K-Stalker Movie Blog.)

There are occasions when a story so compelling meets with a portrayal so moving and produces an effect so profound that it leaves the audience forever changed.  Such is the case with The Deer Hunter, the 1978 drama of three young men from Pennsylvania who go to war in Vietnam.  Under the direction of Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter won several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and nominations for Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep as Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.  For me, though, the most deserved award was for Christopher Walken as Best Supporting Actor in his role as Nick.  As the story unfolds, Nick and his two friends Michael (De Niro) and Steven (John Savage) are captured by the North Vietnamese.  They manage to escape, but only Michael returns home relatively unscathed.  Steven survives, but loses his legs and his sanity.  Nick never returns and is presumed dead.  Yet someone is sending money anonymously to Steven, and Michael suspects it is Nick.  He returns to Vietnam looking for his friend, but when he finds him Nick is almost unrecognizable.  He has become a star attraction in a Saigon establishment that features nightly contests of Russian Roulette.  As “The American” with considerable good luck, Nick piles up gambling profits for his employers, who give him his fair share and keep him supplied with drugs and other “necessities” so he will remain in their care.  The only way Michael can reach Nick is by engaging him in a game of Russian Roulette, hoping that as they face death across the table from one another he can help Nick remember his identity and persuade him to come home.  As might be expected, the contest ends badly.

In some ways the story of Joseph and his exile to Egypt resembles Nick’s tragic exile in Vietnam.  Both men suffer loss of identity and separation from their homeland, and both are forgotten by their family and friends.  Happily, though, Joseph’s story comes to a much better ending.

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