Unicorns love peace.
Many thanks to John Haas for sending me this from Israeli journalist Sahar Vardi in The Times of Israel:
It’s dual pain, dual heartbreak, care, love. It is to hold everyone’s humanity. And it’s hard. It’s so hard to have humanity here. It’s exhausting, and it feels like time after time the world is just asking you to let go. It’s so much easier to “choose a side” – it almost doesn’t matter which side, just choose, and stick to it, and at least reduce the amount of pain you hold. At least feel part of a group and less alone in all this.
As if that’s really an option. As if we don’t understand that our pains are intertwined.
Speaking of pains that are intertwined, my essay at Providence Magazine, “What has Israel to Do with Ukraine?” explains another mournful connection rooted in history. A taste:
While many American evangelicals are rightfully outraged at recent attacks on Israel, the continuing violence against Ukraine is becoming an increasingly peripheral concern. And yet, I contend, any evangelical now claiming to feel sorrow for the Jewish nation should feel just as much mercy and compassion for Ukraine, the history of which is inextricably linked with Israel.
Speaking of Ukraine, John Haas’s essay “Ukraine Will Be a Long War” this week at Current may be one of THE best essays we’ve ever published, the editors agree. If you missed it, you should remedy that.
Shifting gears to the realm of museums and archaeology, art historian Erin Thompson has what she has described as the most explosive essay of her career in Hyperallergic: “A New York Museum’s House of Bones: The American Museum of Natural History Holds 12,000 Bodies—but they don’t want you to know whose.” A taste:
Felix Kaaya, a member of the Meru people of Tanzania, spent decades searching for his grandfather’s bones. Mangi (“Chief”) Lobulu was among the 19 Indigenous leaders hanged from a single tree on March 2, 1900, during Germany’s brutal suppression of the Meru’s resistance to colonization of East Africa. After that, his body disappeared.
Kaaya, who is now in his early 70s, suspected that Lobulu was one of the many dead African individuals whose remains were shipped to German universities and museums for study and experimentation. Konradin Kunze, a German performer and director, met Kaaya while preparing an exhibition advocating for the return of these remains. Kunze promised to help Kaaya find Lobulu. His research in German archives revealed that Lobulu’s skeleton had indeed been sent to the Berlin anthropologist Felix von Luschan and that Lobulu’s bones were among the 200 skeletons and 5,000 skulls the American Museum of Natural History purchased from von Luschan’s widow in 1924. Lobulu’s remains have spent a century on the Upper West Side…
Ironically, we know so much about Copper Man partly because the museum has largely ignored Chile’s request that he be taken off display. It is much harder to know the identity of the other individuals whose remains are in storage. The catalog of the human remains in AMNH’s biological anthropology collection is not available to the public, and the museum declined my request for access. Fortunately, there are other sources of information, including the annual reports in which the museum once boasted about additions to their collection.
The circus impresario P.T. Barnum gave the first donation I could find, contributing an iguana, two snakes, and “1 Human Hand” on May 31, 1872. In 1920, the widow of a eugenicist doctor donated “tanned human skins, male and female.” The most recent donation I found came in 1996, when the journalist Robert Lipsyte dropped off “Timmy,” as he had nicknamed the shrunken head of a child purchased by his father-in-law in Ecuador in the late 1940s.
Many of the remains in the museum came from graves dug up during AMNH expeditions.
On another archaeologists-behaving-badly note, Hannah Grace Long’s essay, “Indiana Jones and the Weight of Glory” in Plough is officially brilliant. A taste:
The Judeo-Christian relics in the series demonstrate a dramatically dissimilar representation of supernatural power. In Last Crusade – which was a script largely rewritten by an uncredited Sir Tom Stoppard – the characters’ will to power is foiled by the nature of the puzzles leading to the Grail. While there’s no thematic inevitability to manmade booby traps, they’re built in such a way that comprehending them demonstrates knowledge of reality. This is not technical knowledge that might be divorced from the posture of the heart, but rather humble assent. In Hebrew, the word for wisdom means something more like applied knowledge. When Indy stands on the edge of the chasm, hesitant, he has knowledge. When he jumps, he shows wisdom.
And this wisdom Indy has learned because, following the fifth commandment, he has begun to honor his father. Understanding why “only the penitent man shall pass” is the result of years of patient study and faith – more the effort of Henry Jones Sr., than of Indy himself, and (the camerawork implies) communicated between them through an almost supernatural father-son connection. Indy proves himself the sort of person who perceives what manner of cup a humble carpenter would possess, largely because he has reconciled with the father who can teach him that lesson.
I thoroughly enjoyed Philip Jenkins’ essay at the Anxious Bench this week: “How an Ancient Library of Suppressed Sacred Books Survived through the Middle Ages.” A taste:
Around the eleventh century, in the Byzantine-ruled Balkans, some Christian school or church had a library. On its shelves stood a dazzling array of authentic ancient texts, mainly Jewish in origin, and some dating back to the time of the Second Temple. All those books were wildly heretical by the standards of pretty much any Christian church of the time, east or west, but also of contemporary Judaism. Had they attracted wider attention, bishops and rabbis would have had to toss a coin to decide who got to light the pyre on which they should be destroyed. Yet somebody in authority preserved those texts, and translated them to ensure their wider distribution. Were it not for those translations, every trace of those works would have been lost, to the point that we would never have suspected that any of them ever existed. This is one of the best examples I know of the overwhelming power of sheer chance in determining which books survived from antiquity.
In the nineteenth century, scholars reading medieval Slavonic texts were startled to find that those arcane works had included or adapted much older and more precious materials. Just to take one example, Russian scholars were researching a medieval judicial codex called the Just Balance (Merilo Pravednoe), which was mainly a collection of historical laws and commentaries. It was not surprising that a legal work compiled in the fourteenth century should include abundant religious and Biblical-sounding material, but much of it sounded bizarre. The manuscript proved to contain an important pseudo-Biblical book, 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, with its vertiginous accounts of heavenly visions and angelic encounters. Different versions of the work survive in twenty Slavonic manuscripts.
Although its dating is controversial, 2 Enoch was probably written in Greek in the first century AD. It was then translated into other languages, including Coptic, but the vast majority of what we know comes from those Slavonic texts. The book offers a fine illustration of how manuscripts evolve over time. In Slavonic, it survives in both longer and shorter versions, and the longer has clearly been adapted for Christian purposes. The shorter version is much older and closer to the Jewish original, lacking references to a Messiah or the resurrection of the dead. This form may take us back to a work written by an Alexandrian Jew somewhere around the first century AD.
Why this matters so much is that the discovery takes us back to a transformational era in the making of Judaism and early Christianity.
Last but not least, Lane Scott’s essay in The American Mind is a thoughtful exploration of the challenges of homemaking for many mothers. Here is what is probably my favorite bit:
The reason most women flee the home is because homemaking actually is the most difficult job in the world. It is the job of making oneself and one’s children self-governing.
Because of this, it is also potentially the most rewarding. If one is self-governing, one is free. If you want to succeed and thrive, and particularly if you want to rise above the most basic slavish jobs and low-expectation relationships, you must learn to make yourself do things you don’t want to do. Self-governance is the reason we can have nice things. It allows us to live outside of constant supervision and conformity. People who can manage and motivate themselves are capable of reaching the heights of financial, educational, and personal achievement.
Of course, self-governing men and women exist in all sectors of the economy, and the successful stay-at-home mother is not unique in her achievement of liberating herself from the need to be supervised and motivated by someone else. But our American political system, our culture, and our educational system are now unmistakably tailored to the service of those currently incapable of self-governance. This development has far-reaching consequences. Insofar as we can no longer trust ourselves to police our behavior internally, then society must build more external controls to ensure compliance and order.
A self-governing people is free and therefore capable of maintaining a republican form of government.