Archive for the ‘History’ Category

If D-Day Had Failed

June 9, 2014

I meant to write this on D-Day but with work and my own laziness, I procrastinated. Still, better late than never. There was an article which I read courtesy of Real Clear Politics, titled 5 Ways D-Day Could Have Been a Disaster written by Michael Peck  and published on D-Day in The National Interest. This article listed five ways in which things could have gone very wrong on that fateful June 6, 1944. Because the Allies did win World War 2, we are used to thinking that it was inevitable that they would win, but that is by no means certain. Launching an amphibious assault on the shores of Normandy was a terribly risky thing to do. Even under the best conditions sea-borne invasions are difficult and dangerous. The odds were against success No one knew that better than General Eisenhower. Before the battle he had written a brief statement to be released to the press in the event of failure. Eisenhower and his staff took extraordinary measures to keep the location of the invasion secret, even preparing a phantom army commanded by General Patton that seemed to be poised to land at Calais. If the Germans had discovered the location of the actual invasion and had troops ready to defend the beaches, the Normandy invasion would have been over almost before it began.

Reflection on D-Day

Reflection on D-Day (Photo credit: DVIDSHUB)

What would have happened if the Allied troops landing at Normandy had been defeated? The overall course of the war might not have changed all that much. Germany still would have lost. The destruction of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad the previous year ended any realistic hope of a German victory. The Soviet army would have continued to fight its way east. The British and Americans would have continued to fight in Italy. The invasion of southern France that took place in August might have gone ahead. Then again that invasion was successful because there had been a breakout from Normandy. Perhaps in the wake of a defeat it would have been deemed too risky.

There probably would have been another attempt to liberate France. The buildup for a second invasion would have taken time. It may be that the second attempt would not have been made until the following summer. World War 2 might have lasted for another year. If so the Soviets might have been able to move further west than they actually did. Maybe the meeting of the Allies would have taken place on the Rhine instead of the Elbe. Instead of a divided Germany, there would have been a united Communist Germany. That would have changed the balance of power in Europe in Russia’s favor. Maybe, with Soviet troops on their borders, the French and Italian Communists would have been more emboldened to seize power after the war. There is no way to know.

There are a couple of wild cards. Joseph Stalin was not a trusting man and he always suspected that the Allies were planning to fight Hitler to the last Russian.  This was why he agreed to the Ribbontrop-Molotov pact. He continually demanded that Roosevelt and Churchill open up a second front to relieve the Soviet Union. After a failure at Normandy, Stalin might have concluded that either the invasion was not really meant to succeed or that an invasion couldn’t succeed. Stalin might then have considered trying to negotiate an armistice with Hitler. Stalin wouldn’t have trusted Hitler, after Hitler had double crossed him by invading the Soviet Union and he certainly wouldn’t have forgiven him. Stalin, however, was patient and had often made strategic retreats in his rise to power in order to lull his enemies into complacency. Stalin might have decided to try for a separate peace until Hitler was engaged with the British and the Americans and then launched an attack.

I think this outcome unlikely, though. In 1944 the Red Army had the initiative and was steadily driving the Germans back. Stalin probably wouldn’t have wanted to slow or stop their momentum. Even if he had sued for an armistice, it is unlikely Hitler would have agreed. A Hitler who allowed the disaster at Stalingrad to take place and who ordered his army not to retreat one inch was not thinking very rationally.

Another wild card was the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb was detonated at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. By this time Germany had already surrendered. There was thus no question of using the bomb on the Germans. If the fighting was still going on, things would have been different. Since Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as much to deter the Soviets from post war aggression as to defeat Japan, the atomic bomb would have been used on Germany. Perhaps the first atomic bombs would have been dropped on Munich and Hamburg. I don’t think that Hitler would have surrendered, even then. By the end of the war, he had become nihilistic enough to prefer Germany destroyed rather than occupied. An atomic bombing of Germany might have sparked a coup among his top officials and generals.

If the first two atomic bombs had been dropped on Germany in August, 1945, what of Japan? We only had the three atomic bombs, so none would have been available to use on Japan. The Japanese were clearly defeated by then, but they had some hope that as long as an invasion of Japan itself was prevented there could be some sort of negotiated peace. Since the die-hard militarists did not surrender even when the first atomic bomb was used at Hiroshima in Japan, the use of the atomic bombs on Germany probably would not have convinced them. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, just as the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the war ended, so the Soviet Union did not have much influence on post war Japan. If the war had lasted longer, perhaps Russia and America would have invaded Japan  and the country would have been divided as Germany was. I don’t think the US would have attempted a landing on Japan after we realized that the atomic bomb was workable. I think that more bombs would have been rushed into production and the US would have intensified conventional bombing. I do not think that the Soviets had the capability to launch an amphibious assault on Japan.

Of course, there is no way to know what would have happened if D-Day had failed and maybe my speculations are not very realistic. I think it is obvious, however, that things could have gone very badly. World War 2 could have lasted longer and more men might have died. We all owe the brave men who fought at Normandy a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.

D-Day 65th Anniversary

D-Day 65th Anniversary (Photo credit: The U.S. Army)

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The Minstrel Show

June 5, 2014

I would have thought that the job of a history teacher at a middle school was to actually teach history, that is the various events that happened in the past. For example, a teacher might wish to mention racist practices that were accepted in the past, such as slavery or minstrel shows, that now are unacceptable because attitudes have changed for the better. However, according to this story at Yahoo News, teaching about past racism is now considered racist.

A middle school history teacher in small-town southeastern Michigan has been placed on paid administrative leave because he informed students that white entertainers used to paint their faces black to imitate black people and showed kids a video about it.

The teacher is Alan Barron, reports the Monroe News. The 59-year-old teacher has taught in the local school district for well over three decades and is retiring in just two weeks.

The suspension occurred after an assistant principal observed Barron teaching an eighth-grade class. Barron’s topic for the day was racial segregation laws during the Jim Crow era. The lesson included a video which showed how white actors commonly used theatrical makeup known as blackface — a practice which began in the nineteenth century and lasted over 100 years.

The unidentified assistant principal concluded that Barron’s lesson about how entertainers used to be racist was itself racist, according to the local paper. The assistant principal also apparently ordered that Barron stop the video as it was being played.

Parents with kids at the school have overwhelmingly opposed the suspension.

One parent, Adrienne Aaron, who has a daughter in the class, spoke with the Monroe News.

“It had nothing to do with racism,” Aaron (whose husband is black) said. “History is history. We need to educate our kids to see how far we’ve come in America. How is that racism?”

“He’s one of the best teachers we’ve had,” Aaron added. “We can’t believe that this is happening.”

Other parents have taken to social media. In a missive on Facebook, a frustrated parent called Barron a “great” teacher who “has changed many children’s lives.”

A school district spokesman, Bobb Vergiels, refused to say that Barron was suspended. Instead, Vergiels said, Barron is “on leave.”

“Mr. Barron has been on leave for about a week while we look into a reported situation in his classroom,” a school district statement obtained by the Monroe News reads. “Because this is a personnel matter that is going through the teacher-contract required steps, we cannot comment any further.”

As a result of the suspension, Barron cannot attend any school functions including an annual banquet during which he and other retiring teachers will be honored.

I really do not understand what the problem is here. Should Mr. Barron not teach the truth about the history of race relations in the US? Should his students not learn about aspects of American culture that may not be acceptable now, nevertheless did play an important role in our cultural development? The minstrel shows were terribly racist but they were very popular in their time and influenced White perceptions of African-American culture and contributed to the development of other forms of popular entertainment.

In a way it is a shame that the minstrel shows are so toxically politically incorrect by today’s standards. The minstrel shows were a uniquely American art form and the earliest American contribution to the theater. Although White actors blackened their faces to portray Blacks at least since the early 1600′s, the minstrel shows, featuring supposed slave on plantations began around 1830-1840. While most of the actors were Whites, there were minstrel shows featuring troupes of Black entertainers, in black face,  particularly after the Civil War. These all-Black troupes claimed that that their acts were more authentic representations of Black culture. They could be popular, but Whites often resented them if they became too successful.

Minstrel PosterBillyVanWare

Minstrel PosterBillyVanWare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shows themselves usually consisted of three acts. The first act was a song and dance number as the troupe of entertainers came on stage and introduced themselves to the audience. There was an interlocutor who acted as a sort of master of ceremonies and was the straight man for the jokes. The second act had a structure somewhat like a variety show with music or acrobatics. Often there was a stump speech or oration given in Black dialect for humorous effect. This speech could be nonsense or perhaps something like a stand up routine, or it could be about a social issue, done in the guise of an ill-educated Black man making a fool out of himself. The third act was often a skit set on a Southern plantation. Sometimes the actors played parodies of serious drama, such as Shakespeare. Just before and during the Civil War, skits based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin became popular.

The actors generally portrayed stock characters such as the Old Uncle, the head of the slave family, the simple-minded, happy-go-lucky slave, the Dandy or Black man who imitated Whites and thought himself their equal, and during the Civil War, the Black soldier, more accustomed to retreat than fight. Female characters, usually portrayed by men or boys in drag included the Mammy and the Wench. Blacks were, of course, always shown as being dim-witted, lazy, and generally content to be slaves. They always spoke in Black dialect, and the Dandy trying to speak in standard English was a source of humor.

These shows were undoubtedly racist and offensive to African-Americans but they could also be subversive. The fool making the stump speech could make social criticism that might have ended with him being run off the stage if he had played it straight. The black face enabled audiences to accept such criticism since it was only an ignorant Black who was speaking. The minstrel shows introduced Whites to Black culture, though an introduction filtered by prejudice. It is not certain to what extent the song and dance numbers were authentically Black in origin, but the minstrel shows had a powerful influence on the development of American popular music, even among Blacks.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the minstrel shows were eclipsed in popularity by the development of vaudeville. Even so, new trends in theater and the emerging film industry often incorporated themes from the minstrel shows, especially with Black actors who often found themselves restricted to minstrel show type roles in the early years of the movies.

As I said, it is a shame that such a uniquely American and influential form of entertainment should also be so racist and politically incorrect. Perhaps the fact that these shows were so popular in their day doesn’t say much that is good about the history of race relations in America. Then again, perhaps these shows made Whites somewhat more sympathetic to Blacks than they otherwise might have been. In any case, it is surely a sign of progress that such blatantly racist entertainment is not tolerated today.

 

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Black Confederate Soldiers

June 2, 2014

Yes, they did really exist, even though dailykos states that they were a myth concocted by right wing “wingnuts”. There were never very many Black Confederate soldiers and I very much doubt any of them ever saw combat, but they did exist. Actually the story of the Confederate Blacks is an interesting one about men willing to fight for their country, and not being allowed to until it was too late.

The problem that the Confederate States of America had throughout the Civil War was that almost in everything needed to conduct a war, the North had more than the South. The Union had the greater population with 20 million against the Rebel’s 9 million. In fact the ratio of men of military age was much worse for the South, 4,070,000 to 1,140,000, because around 3,500,000 of the South’s population were Black slaves who weren’t expected to fight.  In fact, slavery may have been the South’s greatest disadvantage. Slaves have to be watched or they may try to escape or slack off on their work. The Confederacy did have some advantage with geography and they didn’t have to invade and conquer the North to win. They could fight a defensive war. Conquering and occupying a country is harder and more expensive than defending against an invader. Unfortunately for the South, the North had a great enough advantage to make it possible, albeit with much bloodshed.

One logical way to offset at least some of the Confederate disadvantage in population would have been to enlist at least some of the  Black men to fight, in segregated units with White officers, of course. You might wonder why any slave would want to fight for his masters and whether they could be trusted. Well, not all the Black population in the South were slaves. According to the 1860 census, there were 3,653,870 Blacks in the states that seceded from the Union the following year, 3,521,110 were slaves but 132,760, or around 4% were free Blacks. Many Blacks who were emancipated moved North but many stayed in the South, because it was their home or they had relatives still in bondage. Although there was a lot of discrimination against them, some of these free Blacks managed to prosper and there was even a handful of Black slave owners. Some of these free Blacks were willing to fight, either out of patriotism or the hope of some improvement in their circumstances. Even slaves might be induced to fight with the promise of emancipation.

Needless to say, Southern Whites were not enthusiastic about the idea of Blacks, free or slave fighting for the Confederacy. The slave-owning planter class was especially against the idea. Part of this was simple racism. No one believed that Africans had the necessary skills or qualities needed to make good soldiers. Also, it didn’t seem to be prudent to arm slaves, or former slaves and teach them to fight. Aside from the possibility of a slave insurrection, the sight of Black soldiers marching off to war might encourage insolence among the slaves, making it harder to maintain control. Actually, quite a few slave owners thought that the mere existence of free Blacks set a bad example. Over time, the southern states made it more difficult for a slave owner to emancipate his slaves.

At the beginning of the Civil War, some of the free Blacks of New Orleans formed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. This militia unit of 1135 men was organised on May 2, 1861. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard was actually the first unit in America to have Black officers, although Louisiana governor Thomas Overton Moore appointed White officers to command the unit. The Confederate government did not have any use for the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. It did not provide the men with uniforms or weapons.

1st Louisiana Native Guard

1st Louisiana Native Guard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The men were able to obtain their own weapons and uniforms at their own expense and marched in a parade in New Orleans on January 8, 1861. They were not given any duties, even as non-combatants and were disbanded by the Louisiana state legislature on February 15, 1862.

Although there are unconfirmed reports of Blacks fighting for the South, there were no Black units officially organized, nor was the idea of enlisting Blacks given any consideration. Slave labor was used in various support roles, as teamsters, hospital attendants, and slaves were increasingly used to replace to labor of the White men who were absent to fight in the war. It seems most likely that any Blacks who were seen fighting were servants obliged to pick up a rifle to protect themselves and their masters. As the war went on and the South began to lose, a few people began to consider the unthinkable. In 1864, Major-General Pat Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee called a meeting of the leading officers to propose freeing the slaves and enlisting them to fight. In this way, he argued, the South’s disadvantage of slavery could be turned into its advantage. This proposal was not well received by his fellow officers and his commander, Joseph E. Johnston, advised him not to press the matter any further. Word of Cleburne’s radical proposal leaked out, however, and although he was one of the South’s better generals, he was not considered for promotion again before he died later that year.

President Jefferson Davis also began to realize that it might be necessary to enlist Blacks. He realized that any mention of such a proposal would be extremely controversial, so he put off suggesting such a course of action until there was no alternative. By the start of 1865, it seemed that that time had come. On January 11, 1865, General Robert E. Lee wrote to the Confederate Congress urging them to enlist Black slaves to fight in exchange for freedom. The Confederate Congress debated the legislation for two months, finally passing a bill on March 13, by a very slim margin. President Davis signed the bill the next day and made it military policy to allow slaves to fight, with the permission of their masters, in exchange for manumission. Even then, most southern Whites resented the idea of allowing Blacks to fight. When the first Black recruits marched through Richmond in their new, gray uniforms, Whites threw mud at them. It was too late, in any case. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered to  General Grant at Appomattox Court House. By the end of May the war was over.

Would it have made a difference if the Blacks in the South had been allowed to fight? Probably not. Even with the  additional manpower, the North still had a considerable advantage in numbers over the South, not to mention its other advantages. Then again, I think the greatest advantage the Union had over the Confederacy was in the quality of the leadership of the two sides. Jefferson Davis was capable enough, but he didn’t have Lincoln’s skill at placating critics or getting rivals to work together. Confederate diplomacy was amateurish. The governors of some of the southern states worked against the policies of the central government.  General Lee didn’t really understand the war on the continental scale to the extent that Grant and Sherman did. A Confederate government that was flexible and open minded enough to be willing to consider having the Blacks fight before the last month of the war might have been able to use the resources of the South to win. Of course, a Southern leadership that was open minded and flexible might have realized that slavery was an institution that was quickly becoming  discredited in the modern world and have adopted some plan of emancipation, thus avoiding the need for the war.

 

 

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A Bug or a Feature?

May 24, 2014

Some recent events in Africa, the death sentence for a young woman from Sudan for being a Christian, and Boko Haram‘s kidnapping of more than two hundred schoolgirls has elicited condemnations from people around the world, including some in the West who believe that any criticism of Islam counts as islamophobia. I suppose that would be too much to hope that these people will finally make the connection and realize that we, the civilized world, really do have a problem with Islam. No doubt they will mouth the usual platitudes about Islam being a religion of peace and explain that these detestable deeds are the actions of ‘extremists’ such that are found in any religion. Well, people of virtually every religion have committed atrocious deed in the name of their gods, yet somehow these days, this seems to happen far more often among the practitioners of one particular religion, Islam. The question that needs to be answered is whether violence , terrorism and intolerance are bugs, problems with misunderstanding the teachings of religion, or features, understanding the teachings of the religion all too well.

Before going any further, I would like to deal with a particular idea that I have seen in various places, the idea that Islam is where Christianity was several centuries ago. This notion has more to do with vague ideas about moral progress than with any serious study of the comparative histories of the two faiths. The idea seems to be that there is a definite direction to history in continuing moral improvement. This seems true enough. We no longer have slavery or burn witches. Still, I am not convinced that there has been any real change in human nature. We do not have slaves because we have machines. If our machines were to fail us, slavery, or some form of unfree labor would make a swift comeback. The history of the doctrines of every religions alternate between periods of comparative laxity and rigor. The more rigorous periods do not necessarily coincide with violence and intolerance. It is difficult to imagine a religious revival among the Jains or the Quakers producing suicide bombers. The idea that Islam is somehow behind Christianity and less morally developed is condescending and doesn’t really explain why Islamic rigor is more associated with violence than Buddhist or Christian rigor.

This idea also ignores the very real differences in the teachings of the two faiths. Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Mohammed agreed and added that dying by the sword in the cause of Allah was the greatest fate any man could hope for. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Mohammed was a political and military leader as well as a prophet. A Christian who commits an act of terror is acting against the teachings of his Savior. A Muslim who commits an act of terrorism is following the instructions of his prophet.

I don’t recommend that you take my word for this. Consider that Sudanese woman. She has been sentenced to death for apostasy, leaving Islam. Almost everyone in the West finds any punishment at all for apostasy to be an infringement of religious liberty. In the Middle East, the death penalty for apostasy enjoys wide support.  Here is a defense of the death penalty for apostasy from what seems to be a fairly reasonably religious authority. Read the Koran. It is full of incitements to violence, especially Sura 9.

Consider these stories about Mohammed and his companions.

The apostle said, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.”  Thereupon Muhayyisa leapt upon Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant with whom they had social and business relations, and killed him.  Huwayyisa was not a Muslim at the time, though he was the elder brother.  When Muhayyisa killed [the Jew] Huwayyisa began to beat him, saying, “You enemy of God, did you kill him when much of the fat on your belly comes from his wealth?”  Muhayyisa answered, “Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you I would have cut your head off.”  This was the beginning of Huwayyisa’s acceptance of Islam… [Huwayyisa] replied exclaimed, “By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvelous!” and he became a Muslim. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 554)

When he asked who I was I told him that I was one of the [Muslims].  Then he laid down beside me and lifting up his voice began to sing: “I won’t be a Muslim as long as I live, nor heed to their religion give.”

I said (to myself) ‘you will soon know’ and as soon as the badu was asleep and snoring I got up and killed him in a more horrible way than any man has been killed.  I put the end of my bow in his sound eye, then I bore down on it until I it out at the back of his neck. (al-Tabari 1440)

When he [Muhammad] asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr bin al-Awwam, “Torture him until you extract what he has.” So he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad bin Maslama and he struck off his head.” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 764)

Allah’s Apostle said, “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” The Prophet said, “Yes,” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka’b). “The Prophet said, “You may say it.” (Bukhari 59:369)

There are man, many more. These stories are from the hadiths, anecdotes about Mohammed’s sayings and deeds. These stories were transmitted orally for over a hundred years before Muslim scholars began to write them down. There is no way to know if any one of these anecdotes is a true account, if the story has become corrupt after numerous retellings, or if it has simply been fabricated. The scholars who collected these hadiths were aware of this problem and rejected many that they believed to be spurious. Even the ones that they collected were felt to have varying degrees of reliability. It doesn’t matter, though. The important point here is that these were actions that the first generations of Muslims believed to be worthy of approval and imitation. Violence in the name of Islam was something approved of and even part of the attraction of the faith. Read that first story again. Huwayyisa was so impressed by the willingness of his brother to kill a family friend that he immediately converted. (Either that or he was afraid his brother would kill him if he didn’t convert.) To the early Muslims, fighting was a way to get plunder in this life and paradise in the hereafter. Mohammed approved of violence and since he is considered to be the ideal for every Muslim to emulate, his followers ought also to approve of violence.

To answer the question then, violence and intolerance are features of Islam, not bugs.

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The Pale of Settlement

May 19, 2014

A little while back, I wrote about the English Pale, the system of English fortifications in Ireland which gave rise to the expression, “beyond the pale”. That word, pale, as been used in several other historical contexts, one notable example being the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe. The Pale of Settlement was not any sort of fortification of defense system, but it was a policy of the Russian Empire designed to keep an undesirable people, the Jews, out. Since Vladimir the Great, Prince of Kiev, converted to Christianity along with his entire kingdom, the Russians have been proud of their Orthodox Christian heritage. After the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 and went on to conquer most of Orthodox Eastern Europe, Russia stood strong as the last remaining bastion of the true Christian faith. (The Catholics of Western Europe didn’t count since they were vile heretics hardly better than the heathen Turks.)

Naturally the Czars of Russia did not want the sacred soil of  Mother Russia to be polluted by the footsteps of the Christ-killing Jews, so they made sure to keep the Jews out of the Empire. The problem was that beginning in the seventeenth and and eighteenth centuries, Russia started to expand westwards into Eastern Europe, mostly taking territories from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which formerly ruled over much of what is now western Russia, Belorussian, and the Ukraine. These territories, especially Poland had large numbers of Jews because earlier Polish kings had encouraged them to emigrate to Poland  in order to alleviate a shortage of skilled labor and merchants in the kingdom. Now,  most advanced, modern nations faced with a large population of undesirables would simply exterminate them. Russia, however, was somewhat backward and primitive so the Czars decided to simply exclude the detestable Jews from Russia proper while still permitting them to live in the conquered lands. It was Catherine the Great who first created the Pale of Settlement in 1791. In 1793, Poland was partitioned among Russia, Austria, and Prussia, bringing more Jews into the Pale.

English: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772

English: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within the Pale, Jews were excluded from small agricultural settlements and villages, while their access to major cities was also limited. Most Jews lived in shtetls, Jewish communities in small towns. There were rare exceptions in which privileged Jews, mostly those with needed skills or large amounts of money were permitted to live outside the Pale, sometimes even in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Such permission was always conditional and could be revoked at any time. The boundaries of the Pale of Settlement could also be changed without warning and without consulting the Jews. The Russian government could also change the locations where Jews could reside within the Pale, again without warning or consultation. Life in the shtetls, then was precarious and impoverished. The Jews were subject to relocations and pogroms were not uncommon. There were quotas limiting the number of Jews who could attend Russian universities. Before 1827, Jews could not serve in the Russian army but were subject to double taxation to compensate. They were forbidden to hire Christian servants and often could not own land. The Czars often encouraged the persecution of the Jews to distract attention away from their own oppressive rule.

English: Map showing the percentage of Jews in...

English: Map showing the percentage of Jews in the and , c. 1905. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the restrictions and discrimination, a rich cultural life flourished in the shtetls of the Pale. The Jews lived separately from their Gentile neighbors, speaking their own language, Yiddish, observing their own customs and largely governing themselves. The Jews formed social welfare organizations to help the more impoverished members of their community, especially students of the Yeshivas or religious schools. The Rabbis of the Pale of Settlement created new theological systems, particularly Hasidic Judaism. A literature in the Yiddish language flourished. One notable author was the humorist Sholem Aleichem, whose stories of shtetl life formed the basis for the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire was beginning to change and life in the Pale was also changing. Many young Jews were no longer content to live in a world apart. They began to speak the Russian language and adopt Russian customs. Many Jews, frustrated by the limitations of Czarist Russia emigrated to the Holy Land or to the United States. Those that remained behind tended to join radical groups such as the Bolsheviks and Jews played a prominent role in both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions. World War I was the beginning of the end of the Pale of Settlement. Many Jews fled from the Pale into Russian proper in order to escape the fighting. Under the stresses of a losing war, the Czar’s government could no longer maintain any control over its subjects and the old restrictions on the Jews were increasingly ignored. Antisemitism also increased dramatically and throughout the World War and the Russian Civil War that followed, Jews were repeatedly massacred by those who blamed them for the disorders. The Provisional Government abolished the Pale of Settlement after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, while Poland became an independent nation once more. The Jews, and the other minorities of the Russian Empire were granted equality with the Russians.

It is something of a sad irony that the end of the Czars who oppressed the Jews also meant the end of the distinctive culture of Russian Judaism. Many Jews had joined the various organizations that were devoted to ending the rule of the Czars. Jews were over represented in such radical groups as the Bolsheviks, yet the militant atheist Communist government proved to be more cruelly oppressive than the worst of the Czars. With the horrors of the Civil War, the hatred of the Communists toward any religious expression and the destruction of the Jews throughout Europe, little now remains of the formerly vibrant communities. Those Jews who remain in Russia are mostly secular and assimilated. Their numbers are shrinking rather than growing. The Yiddish language is rarely used today.  Yet, a remnant of this culture remains in the Russian Jewish communities of Israel and the United States. So, the glory of the world becomes less than it was.

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The Election of 1812

May 15, 2014

The election of 1812 was America’s first wartime election. James Madison was a man of peace and hadn’t wanted a war. Unfortunately the continuing refusal of Britain and France to respect the United States’ neutrality made war necessary. The British were the worst offenders since they were in the habit of impressing American sailors into the Royal Navy. The War Hawks in Congress, Especially Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun demanded war to protect the national honor against such egregious abuses. They also hoped that it would be possible for the United States to conquer Canada and seize Florida from Spain.  In June of 1812, Congress declared war at President Madison‘s request and the War of 1812 began.

The United States was not ready for war. The American army was small and better prepared to defend against Indian raids than fight against a professional European army. The state militias were poorly disciplined and often refused to serve outside their states. The charter for the First Bank of the United States had not been renewed because of the Jeffersonians’ hostility to the idea of a national bank and so the United States found it difficult to pay the expenses of a war. The war was not popular in New England. New England had been most harmed by British and French interference with trade, but the New Englanders feared that war would destroy their economy altogether.The US Navy was also small, but the United States had been expanding the number of ships and, backed by privateers, was actually able to hold its own against the largest navy in the world.

The army didn’t do so well. The invasion of Canada was a disaster. The British counter attack into Chesapeake Bay resulted in the capture of Washington and the burning of the White House. Only the fact that the British were preoccupied with defeating Napoleon prevented America from outright defeat in the first years of the war. Eventually, the Americans were able to learn from their mistakes and as the war progressed were able to win victories against the British and their Native American allies. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the causes for disputes between the United Kingdom and the United States ended and, in 1815, the two countries made peace, based on the pre-war status quo.

But, all this was in the future. Just a month before the War of 1812 began,  the Democratic-Republican members of Congress met in a caucus and nominated James Madison for another term as president. Since Madison’s vice president died of a heart attack that April, the caucus selected Elbridge Gerry of  Massachusetts  for vice president. Not everybody was happy with this slate and the Democratic-Republicans in the New York legislature decided to support DeWitt Clinton, the mayor of New York City and George Clinton’s nephew.

Since their strength was in New England, the Federalists opposed the War of 1812. There was some support for Chief Justice John Marshall, but ultimately the Federalists decided in their caucus in September to support DeWitt Clinton in the hope that he would deliver New York for them. A caucus in Pennsylvania nominated Jared Ingersoll,  the state’s attorney general for vice president. Clinton agreed to support Ingersoll in order to win Pennsylvania. A few Federalists supported Rufus King.

Clinton and his supporters ran a two sided campaign. In New England, he was a man who wanted peace and deplored the damage the war caused to New England’s economy. In the South and West, he supported a vigorous prosecution of the war. It didn’t work. Madison won reelection without too much trouble. Clinton had gotten more votes than any Federalist candidate since Adams but it wasn’t enough. The final results in the popular vote were 140,431 or 50.4% for Madison and 132,781 or 47.6% for Clinton, although only nine of the eighteen states chose their electors by popular vote. In the electoral college Clinton won 89 votes. He won New England, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. Madison won the west and south along with Vermont, giving him 128 electoral votes. It was a closer election for Madison than his first one, but he got a second term.

 

The Election of 1812

The Election of 1812

 

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Moloch

May 8, 2014

In ancient times, one of the practices that distinguished the Jews, and later the Christians, from their pagan neighbors was that they did not expose infants. This practice, which was accepted among the Greeks and the Romans, was the placing of a deformed, sickly, or simply unwanted infant in a deserted place so that it would die of hunger or exposure. The most common deformity which required getting rid of a baby was the lack of a penis, and girls were exposed far more often than boys.  The people that practiced infant exposure were not monsters. They believed that exposing infants was a sad necessity in a world in which you could not be sure there would be enough food to go around. In times of hunger, it was better to discard another hungry mouth than have the baby’s older siblings starve. The parents who exposed their baby could at least take some solace in the idea that their child might be found by a shepherd or goat herder and go on to live a happier life.

The ancient Canaanites and Carthaginians were said to sacrifice children to their gods, particularly the god Moloch. There is some question whether this was true or simply Hebrew and Roman propaganda, but child sacrifice has been attested in many cultures. Again, the people who performed such sacrifices were not necessarily monsters. They doubtless loved their children as much as anyone, but they believed their gods demanded sacrifices, and the ultimate sacrifice was the thing they loved most. I imagine that such sacrifices were normally performed in times of great trouble.

We would like to think that we are more civilized than the people who lived centuries ago. Surely, we have made a lot of progress. We have abolished slavery. We no longer burn witches or heretics at the stake. We believe in equality and justice for all. Surely, we are a lot more civilized than the barbarians of long ago who murdered their own children.  Maybe. Maybe not.

In the news lately, is the story of an abortion councilor who decided to film her own abortion in order to show that having an abortion is not at all a negative experience. The story is all over the place but here is an account in the Washington Times.

Emily Letts, an abortion counselor in New Jersey, said she wasn’t ready to have a baby, even though she was pregnant, and decided that the best solution for her would be to have an abortion — and film it.

“I found out I am pregnant,” the 25-year-old said in the video she uploaded onto YouTube. “I’m not ready to have children.”

So why the video of the procedure?

“[I want to] show women that there is such thing as a positive abortion story,” The Blaze reported.

The video does show her going through the procedure, but minus the graphic details. The camera predominately focuses on her face, The Blaze reported.

Her conclusion at the end of the video: “I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life. I knew what I was going to do was right, because it was right for me and no one else. I just want to tell my story.”

The video is titled “Emily’s Abortion Video.” In a followup story published on Cosmopolitan.com, Ms. Letts writes: “We talk about abortion so much and yet no one really knows what it actually looks like. A first trimester abortion takes three to five minutes. It is safer than giving birth.”

It wasn’t safer for the baby nor was it likely to find being killed a positive experience.

Consider the reason this woman decided to have an abortion. She wasn’t ready for a baby. She lives in the most  prosperous nation in history. No matter what her financial situation might be, there is virtually no chance that that child would have starved nor would any other child have to do without food because of it. The poor souls in ancient Greece and Rome had to make decisions about life and death that most people in the developed world never will. They could be said to have a good reason to kill an infant in order for there to be enough for others. She cannot say that.

I do not know what this woman’s religious beliefs are, but I am certain that she is not a worshiper of Moloch. The people who sacrificed their children believed that they were doing a good thing that pleased the gods. If the sacrifice of a child was what it took to turn away their god’s wrath in a national emergency, then the sacrifice of the child saved the lives of everyone else in the kingdom. She was only having the abortion because she didn’t happen to want a baby.  To her, this baby was no more than an old tissue to be thrown away. It was not a human being to her. It wasn’t even alive to her. I doubt very much if she would kill an animal so casually.

No, we are not more civilized than the people who lived in ancient times. I think that most of the people who felt they had to expose or sacrifice their children would have preferred for those children to be alive. If the people who lived centuries ago could see how prosperous the our lives are in the twenty-first century and could learn how we have defeated most of the diseases which killed their children, they would wonder that we didn’t value our children more highly. They wouldn’t understand why we would want to kill any of our children. I doubt even the Romans, who enjoyed their gory gladiatorial contests would want to film a baby being murdered for the amusement of viewers.

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Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2014
Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of...

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth or May. Contrary to what is commonly believed, (including myself), Cinco de Mayo is actually more of an American, or at least a Mexican-American, holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated regionally in Mexico, Primarily in the state of Puebla and Vera Cruz. Schools are closed on this day, but it is not an official national holiday in Mexico.

 

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of  Puebla on May 5, 1862. In 1861, the Mexican government was bankrupt and President Benito Juarez suspended payments on Mexico’s foreign debt. In response Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to occupy the city of Vera Cruz and demand payment on the debts Mexico owed them. Juarez managed to come to an arraignment with Britain and Spain, but the French, ruled by Emperor Napoleon III had other ideas.

 

Louis Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon I Bonaparte. He had somehow managed to get himself elected as president of the Second Republic of  France in 1848, but he decided that president was not a grand enough title for a Bonaparte and in 1851 he seized dictatorial power in France and named himself Emperor. In spite of being the nephew of Napoleon I, Napoleon III was not a particularly aggressive Emperor and was mostly content to have France at peace with other European powers. With the crisis in Mexico, however, Napoleon III saw an opportunity for France to gain an empire in Latin America. The United States was involved in the Civil War and was in no position to try to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In fact, an additional benefit to French occupation of Mexico would be to give France a base with which to send aid to the Confederate States, keeping the nation divided and unable to resist the French conquest.

 

The French army invaded Mexico with 8000 men under the command of General Charles de Lorencez late in 1861. This army marched from Vera Cruz in April of 1862 and defeated Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin on April 28. Seguin retreated to the city of Puebla where the Mexicans had two forts. Seguin had only 4500 badly armed and trained men to defend the city. It seemed likely that the French would crush the Mexicans and march on to Mexico City without and further resistance.

 

On May 5, Lorencez attacked the forts with 6500 men. Against all odds the Mexicans successfully defended the forts against three assaults. By the third assault, the French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the infantry had to attack without artillery support. They were driven back and the French had to fall back. Then, Seguin attacked with his cavalry while the Mexican infantry outflanked the French on both sides of their positions. The French were routed with 462 men killed, while the Mexicans only suffered 83 dead. This unlikely victory has been an inspiration for Mexican patriots ever since.

 

The victory was a short-lived one. Napoleon III sent reinforcements to Mexico and the French were able to conquer the country. Napoleon III placed the Austrian Hapsburg Maximilian as the first Emperor of the Mexican Empire. He was also the last Emperor, since as soon as the United States was finished with the Civil War, the U S government made it clear to Napoleon III that it would not tolerate a French colony on the southern border. Since Napoleon III did not want to fight a war against battle hardened Civil War veterans, he removed the French troops. Maximilian, despite the fact that he sincerely tried to govern Mexico well, was quickly overthrown and executed.

 

Although Benito Juarez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated by Mexicans in the American Southwest, the territories the US gained in the Mexican War. The former Mexicans began to celebrate Cinco de Mayo both as a way to express their Mexican identity and to show their support for the North in the Civil War. It may seem odd that these unwilling Americans would care about a war half a continent away, but the Mexicans were against slavery and Hispanics insisted that California enter the United States as a free state. Cinco de Mayo gained in popularity in the 1960s with the rise of Latino activism and still more in the 1980s when beer companies realized that the celebratory nature of the holiday would be a good marketing tool to sell more beer.

 

So happy Cinco de Mayo, or should I say feliz Cinco de Mayo!

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday

April 18, 2014

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

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Holy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Easter Sunday is approaching and the Easter weekend begins today with Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. This day commemorates Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. In the Roman Catholic church, they hold a chrism mass in each diocese in which the bishop consecrates the oils used in anointing of the sick, baptisms, etc.

The story of the last supper is found in all four Gospels with variations in detail. John has an extended discourse by Jesus in which he gives his final instructions to his disciples. John omits the introduction of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist which is described in the other three Gospels. I am going to quote from Mark since it is the shortest and fastest paced Gospel.

12On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:12-26)

Various Christian denominations celebrate the Lord’s Supper in various ways. Many celebrate it every Sunday, others less often. The eucharist is a major source of controversy between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics take Jesus’s words literally and believe that the eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Christ while Protestants believe it to be symbolic. This is the point of Catholic doctrine that Richard Dawkins was mocking at the Reason Rally.

27“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’[d]

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice[e] you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)

Despite their bluster, the disciples ran like scared rabbits when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Peter even denied knowing Jesus three times.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.[g]

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.[h] Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice[i] you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (Mark 14:66-72)

After the last supper Jesus and the disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42)

The betrayer is Judas, of course. They needed him to identify Jesus, since they wouldn’t want to arrest the wrong man. You might wonder why the Jewish leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus. It would  take another post to explain the historical and political background of first century Judea, but suffice it to say that they had good reason to fear anyone who might raise an insurrection against the Romans, since the Roman response would be devastating. The Jewish War, just forty years later showed their fears were justified.

43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:43-51)

The young man is not mentioned in any other Gospel and there is a tradition that he was Mark himself, who couldn’t resist mentioning himself. John identifies the disciple who attacked the guard as Peter.

10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:10-11)

Luke mentions that Jesus healed the guard.

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

Tomorrow the story continues with Good Friday.

 

 


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