Fox Byte 5775 #37: Sh’lach L’cha (Send For Yourself)

שְׁלַח־לְךָ

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas Sir Nicholas Dance-Holland
The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas
Sir Nicholas Dance-Holland

About the time that Gideon of Manasseh delivered Israel from oppression of the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:1-8:35), a war of (literally) epic proportions took place on the northwest coast of what is now Turkey.  The Trojan War really did happen, but the conflict was already wrapped in myth and legend when a Greek poet known only as Homer published The Iliad sometime around 750 BCE, four centuries after the war’s generally accepted dates of 1194-1184 BCE.  Homer’s epic inspired a number of classical works telling the tales of the Greeks and Trojans, including a sequel published in Latin seven hundred years later.  When the Roman poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid, he probably had a political agenda in mind.  His story is that of Aeneas, a Trojan hero of the royal family who escaped the destruction of the city and led a band of refugees in a journey that eventually resulted in their settlement at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy.  There they became part of the story of Rome, a city which began as a colony of Alba Longa, the capital of the new kingdom Aeneas and his descendants founded.  Thus Rome could trace its origins at least in part to Troy.  More importantly, the family of Julius Caesar traced its genealogy to Aeneas, giving it a claim to royalty that helped Caesar’s nephew Octavian consolidate his power as Caesar Augustus.  Whether true or not, Virgil’s epic, written early in Augustus’ long reign, cemented the link of the Caesars with Aeneas and Troy in the minds of Romans, making it one of the most successful pieces of literary propaganda ever published.

Even if the Caesar’s claims were falsified, and even if Aeneas never existed outside of classical literature, his tale is an illustration of the remnant:  those who remain.  Whether it is Ishmael surviving to tell the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, or Job’s servants fleeing disaster to report to him (Job 1:13-22), fact and fiction throughout the human experience have featured a fortunate few who escape.  The remnant has the task of carrying the memory of those who went before, of rebuilding what they lost, and of achieving their ultimate destiny.  These remnant tales would have little impact on us if they were not a common feature in reality.  The remnant is a continuous reminder in Scripture that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy in the expectation that a people will at last be able to step into the fullness of the promises YHVH has spoken from beginning of time.

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Fox Byte 5775 #6: Toldot (Generations)

תּוֹלְדֹת

Lenard Nimoy portrayed a famous Evil Twin in his dual role as Mr. Spock and his alter-ego in "Mirror Mirror", one of the most memorable episodes of Star Trek, The Original Series.
A recent presentation of the Evil Twin motif occurred in “Mirror Mirror”, one of the most memorable episodes of Star Trek, The Original Series.  In that episode, Leonard Nimoy portrayed both Mr. Spock and his evil alter-ego.

Who invented the concept of the “Evil Twin”?  This is not just a literary device.  It is a byword, a running gag, a recurring theme in everyday life.  When someone does something ridiculous, for example, they say, “That wasn’t me; it was my evil twin.”  The motif of the twin, or double, stepping into the role of someone else provides endless possibilities for comedy or tragedy based on mistaken identity.  But where did this idea get started?  Perhaps, like so many other things, the answer is in the Bible:

And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”  Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  (Romans 9:10-13 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #5: Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah)

חַיֵּי שָׂרָה

By remaining faithful to the true king, Faramir son of Denethor completed the centuries-long task of the Stewards of Gondor.  The king rewarded him with the title Prince of Ithilien.  (David Wenham as Faramir in the 2002 New Line Cinema production of The Lord of The Rings:  The Two Towers.  Accessed on lotr.wikia.com)
By remaining faithful to the true king, Faramir son of Denethor completed the centuries-long task of the Stewards of Gondor. The king rewarded him with the title Prince of Ithilien. (David Wenham as Faramir in the 2002 New Line Cinema production of The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s works had secured for him a lasting place among the giants of English literature long before Peter Jackson ever brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen.  Middle Earth, with its Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Wizards, serves as the backdrop for a profound tale about our humanness – what it means, and what we would like it to mean.  We would like to see ourselves, for example, as high and noble, like the Elves or the Men of Gondor.  Tolkien expresses this nobility in many subplots, not the least being the saga of the Stewards of Gondor.  We learn about them from Faramir, son of Denethor, the current Steward:

We of my house are not of the line of [King] Elendil, though the blood of Númenor is in us.  For we reckon back our line to Mardil, the good steward, who ruled in the king’s stead when he went away to war.  And that was King Eärnur, last of the line of Anárion, and childless, and he came never back.  And the stewards have governed the city since that day, though it was many generations of Men ago.  (The Two Towers, Book IV, “The Window On the West”)

Faramir relates how his older brother, Boromir, could not understand why his father had not claimed the throne.  He had asked, “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?”  To this his father replied, “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty . . . In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”

It is here that we must question Tolkien’s grasp on reality.  He describes a degree of nobility and selfless honor that transcends generations.  It is remarkable for one person to lay aside his or her own interests to guard a place of higher power, wealth, and prestige for someone else.  How could such selflessness be passed down from one generation to the next, knowing that at some point the supreme authority would have to be handed over to someone else?

And yet that is exactly what our God expects His people to do.

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Fox Byte 5775 #3: Lech Lecha (Get Yourself)

לֶךְ־לְךָ

The Man in the Iron Mask (l'illustration Européenne 1872, no.15 page 116, via Wikimedia Commons.)
The Man in the Iron Mask (l’illustration Européenne 1872, no.15 page 116, via Wikimedia Commons)

It is quite possible that the greatest literary accomplishment of the year 1844 was the publication of The Three Musketeers.  The swashbuckling adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan penned by Alexandre Dumas have delighted readers and audiences ever since, inspiring dozens of stage and film adaptations.  Not quite so popular is the trilogy Dumas published as a sequel, which concluded with The Man In The Iron Mask.  The story has been told in film, with such notables as Richard Chamberlain and Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, but it does not come close in popularity to its predecessor.  Perhaps the subject matter is the cause.  The tale concerns a man sentenced to life in prison behind a mask so that no one may know his identity.  Dumas based his novel on an intriguing footnote of French history, but with much literary license.  The mysterious man in Dumas’ story was Philippe, twin brother of King Louis XIV of France.  As the king’s identical twin his very existence posed a threat to Louis.  Therefore he was doomed by royal decree to live out his life anonymously behind a mask.  This Baroque version of identity theft constitutes a fate worse than death.  Not only is the man denied his rights as a member of the royal house, his very personhood is stripped from him, so that in time even he forgets who he is.  No wonder The Man In The Iron Mask is so disturbing; this prince of the royal house suffers a fate none of us would ever wish to share.

And yet most Christians and Jews labor under precisely such an identity disability.  We have all forgotten who we really are.

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When Empires Die: Thoughts on the Centennial of World War I

When Empires Die was originally published June 28-July 28, 2014, as a six-part series.  The original six part format is accessible here.

I.  THE ROAD TO SARAJEVO

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie with their three children in 1910
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie with their three children in 1910

The world took a giant step toward death on June 28, 1914.  On that day a young atheist shot and killed a prominent Catholic and his wife in an obscure Southeast European city.  Within five years, four world empires were dismembered and two new ones arose in their place.  Within 40 years, three more global empires breathed their last as the new world system spawned in 1914 grew to maturity.  Today, one hundred years later, that world system wheezes with its own death rattle, soon to expire in the process of giving birth to yet another global system which may be the last – and worst – of its kind.

As a historian, a political scientist, a soldier, and an intelligence professional, I cannot let the centennial of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination pass without pausing to remember what his life and death meant to the world.  The circumstances that brought the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, to Sarajevo, Bosnia, are not difficult to explain, but to understand the significance of their deaths, both in their day and in ours, requires a detailed explanation.  If that explanation seems too focused on Europe, the simple reason is that Europe in 1914 ruled the entire world.  No nation outside Europe – neither ancient India, nor populous China, nor even the rising powers of America and Japan – was immune to events that shook the state system of the Continent.  If we are to know why the world went to war in 1914, we must look at the major players of that state system.  Only then can we begin to discern what happened to the world in the summer of 1914, and what is happening to the world now in the summer of 2014.

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