Monthly Archives: March 2015

Sectarianism at the People of Israel

by Ciprian IVAS

Tintoretto - The Jews in the Desert

      There was undoubtedly a high degree of cohesion among the Jewish people throughout its history in the attitude towards their Jewish religion seen as a unified doctrine representing the essence specificity of this people. We can even say that the religion of Torah has always represented the identity of the Jewish people inclusively at the individual level, for each Jew, until nowadays. This doesn’t mean that throughout history practitioners of this religion had an uniform opinion on teaching and on religious practice. Judaism in certain periods of its history was a bunch of “official” sects with doctrines which sometimes differed clearly even to certain fundamental issues, going to challenge others. Historian Flavius ​​Joseph presents four main sections that are blatantly by the number of members and the active role played in Hebrew society.

      Of the four stands undoubtedly two, especially through their activism in social and even political: the Sadducees and Pharisees.

      The Sadducees were a group of priests. Their name came from one of Solomon’s Temple priests, Zadok. They were close by the great aristocratic families. Unlike the Pharisees they did not recognize the tradition and observed just the letter of the law. For this, some researchers call them the “literalistic sect”. The Sadducees did not recognize the concepts of immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body and the angelic hierarchy, the central ideas in the doctrine of the Pharisees.

       Instead, Pharisees were not priests. They were secular teachers of Torah. This sect found echo especially among the middle class in cities. Their name came from “separating” of what was declared immoral, impure, defiled. After the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, the Pharisees gained spiritual control over the Hebrew people and the rabbinical Judaism was born. Rabbinic form of Judaism requires each practitioner to become “like God” and the goal is awaiting the Coming of the Messiah at the “end of times”.

      The two main sects, the Sadducees and Pharisees formed a coalition “elders Council” called Gerousia, established by the Maccabean kings.

      The third on the scale of importance is the Essene sect. Most researchers attribute them the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch. The Essenes believed that they lived the end of times. This idea emerges from the writings already mentioned as well as others such as the Book of Baruch and Nehemiah. The Essenes were a group who lived apart from society, in unpopulated places. They lived an ascetic living in communities. The property was common and dealt with study, work and prayer together under a rigorous discipline. They practiced ritual bathing and eating together. A branch of the Essene practiced strict celibacy.

      Fourth sectarian group within the Jewish religion was represented by zealots or “revolutionaries”. They agreed with the doctrine of the Pharisees except unrecognized worldly leadership of the country. Their dictum was “King is God only.” They could be considered pioneers of modern doctrine of anarchy. They are also called “Sicari” because they always wore on them a specific form of a knife which did not hesitate to use it in attacks on the Roman occupiers.

* painting by Tintoretto, The Jews in the Desert.

The Hell from The Old Testament to Classical Art

             by Ciprian IVAS


            Searching for terms in classical languages we find the latin one being suggestive. The latin term is “infernum” coming from the phrase “inferum” which means “below”. Christian interpretation, especially popular perception of ordinary Christians over hell substantially differs from the early hebrew people. Hebrew cosmology speaks of so-called “Sheol”, “place down below” and designates the bottom of the Universe.

            The Old Testament says about hell that would be “the meeting place of all mortals” (Job 30, 23). So at first simply hell is the abode of the dead. The all dead. For hebrew, Sheol is part of the destiny of all people. It  is not an evil place. It is a place where everyone meets their ancestors after death.

            But with the passage of centuries, the conception of Sheol essentially altered. Instead the place of the dead becomes a place of punishment for sinful souls. King of Babylon is threatened by Isaiah: “In hell descended your glory in the song of your harps. Below you will lay maggots and worms are your covering ” (Is 14, 11).

            Images of the Jewish Sheol change consecutively with those of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by fire (Gen 19, 23) and the abyss of the Tophet Valley. It becomes a place of terror. The former abode of the dead becomes a place of eschatological punishment.

            Along comes the idea of ​​reward of the righteous and the promise of the Resurrection (2M 12, 43; Wis 3, 1-10). Later Christians took the terrifying images of Old Testament prophecy style.

            In classical art we have some reference representations:

            In the literature we have Raoul Houdenc and his “Dream of Hell” in the twelfth century. The famous first part of Dante Divine Comedy, entitled even Inferno. Agrippa d’Aubigné’s Chapter VII appointed “The Judgement” in “The Tragics” opera from 1616. The poet Baudelaire lies hell even in humans. Another great poet, Rimbaud and has made a mental hell in “A season in hell”. Dostoevsky in the  novel “The Brothers Karamazov” by the mouth of Elder Zosima sais that hell is “suffering of not being able to love.” Hell can also be an external reality. For Clément Marot, Renaissance poet, translator of the Psalms, hell is the Châtelet prison. Surrealist Luis Aragon says that hell is the modern city and Solzhenitsyn identifies hell with the Soviet prison system.

            In the field of sculpture Auguste Rodin fails to complete the work of Hell Gate.

            In painting we have a whole gallery of Judgement of great painters who took on mentioning here Michelangelo in the Sixtine Chapel, Fra Angelico, Rogier van der Weyden and Hieronymus Bosch.

* painting by Giotto, Inferno, 1306

Sodom. What do we know.

      by  Ciprian  IVAS


      Sodom and Gomorrah. The combination of the names of these two cities reached phrase in all languages. Their fame has become legendary among all nations of the earth. This expression has come to symbolize the extreme sin and the ultimate divine punishment in almost all the modern cultures. The mark of this phrase in the consciousness of people  is so strong that questions concerning the origins of it occur very rare. The image is preferable terrifying enough. But not for scholars of the Bible or history. Much less for theologians. What were actually Sodom and Gomorrah? What is the historical and biblical that existed?
     Archaeological discoveries have made today a source of authority like Encyclopedia Britannica to give the definite location of the two cities on the southeast end of the Dead Sea, covered by shallow waters of the seas in the area. We have also a good approximation of temporal localization, around 1900 BC.
      We also know with certainty that the area was significantly different from the current image. It was a fertile network of rivers that flow into the Dead Sea allowing intensive agriculture that put the base of the abundance of city dwellers in the area. There is an extensive network of irrigation channels and all the plain of Jordan was like the land of Egypt watered by the Nile. Jordan River, which flows from Mount Hermon and flows into the Dead Sea was longer than 80 km from the actual length of about 250: “And Lot lifting up his eyes beheld all the plain of Jordan where, before the Lord break Sodom and Gomorrah all unto Zoar was wetted by water, as the land of Egypt. ” (Fac. 13, 10). Large flocks of sheep showed prosperity of local residents. We have about it a biblical record that tells us the nephew of the first patriarch Abraham, Lot came here with flocks. The most fertile portion of the current region of the Holy Land was the Valley of Siddim, Dead Sea valley, an area where flourished a group of five cities. Apart from the two already mentioned there were another three, called Admah, Zeboim and Zoar. These five cities were allied cities and historians and archaeologists designate this group by name Pentapolis. It is believed that the ancestors of the inhabitants of these cities were proto-Semites coming from Arabian Peninsula, where fertile oases could not face the demographic growth.
       The first arrived in the area were the Amorites, who apparently built the walled city. Then came the canaanites, called Phoenicians by the Greeks. Both nations appear abundantly in the Hebrew Scripture in relationship to people who found them here coming from Egypt. Canaanite civilization became known especially after the sensational archaeological finds from the Mediterranean coast, especially the city-state of Ugarit. Canaanite religion was a cruel one considering Christian moral standards. Requires human sacrifices, the first born male being killed.
      The laws of hospitality to canaanites are actually the point where it all started, laws contrary to divine rules that drew divine punishment on them. The text of the Pentateuch reveals a collective forced violation of the foreigners: “… all the people of all ages, from young to old” imperative asked guests to get out of the house because the citizens of Sodom wanted “to know” them (Gen. 19, 4-5) .
      It is difficult to give an explanation for this behavior. Especially in the light of Christian standards but not only, the standards of contemporary society also considering such an attitude unacceptable and absurd. It seems that before the advent of the patriarch Abraham and Lot, human society was governed by laws that belonged to a different value system. We, people of our times,  can only make assumptions about the reasons, like the fear of foreigners that could generate such a code of conduct. This fear of foreigners was commonn to almost all ancient peoples. There were people who were killing everyone went their borders, as Herodotus tells us about the “tauris” on the banks of the Black Sea. In Latin there is also the saying “hospes hostis”, “visitor is enemy” which apparently is very old, from early history of Rome.
    About the inhabitants of Sodom, there are other legends, especially hebrew. It is said that every stranger passing by Sodom and was stealed something by every inhabitant but an amount so small that no one could be blamed. There is also the gold ingot legend, foreigners receiving this golden gift when arrived in Sodom but instead did not receive any food. In order not to starve had to pay food with the gold brick. All these details show us Sodom as a very rich and powerful city with people who intentionally were inhospitable to strangers tempted to sit in their city. Also very tempting wealth of Sodom generated wars that the great powers of the time in the region have started against Sodom. It is about Sumer, Elam, and Gutta. All these great powers are at considerable distances from Sodom, over 1000 km, indicating that potential trophy after a victory was worth such an effort.
      Then we come to the end of the Pentapolis and final question of great interest: God punished Sodom and three allied cities (not Zoar), but how to actually manifest this punishment? Was earthquake, volcanic eruption, have been rain hail? This question has preoccupied people since antiquity. The first hypothesis was tried by Greek philosopher Eratosthenes in the III-rd century BC who promoted the idea of ​​an earthquake accompanied by volcanic eruption. This hypothesis has joined two centuries later Strabo, the great geographer of antiquity. Also was considered the hypothesis of a landslide but clear specification Bible on a “fire and brimstone” (Gen. 19, 24) removed it quickly. Eratosthenes and Strabo hypothesis is the most accurate, especially since Abraham saw “rising from the smoldering earth, as the smoke of a furnace” (Gen. 19, 28). Of course modern theories include many other explanations such as a meteorite, a nuclear explosion or impact of a spaceship.
      The difficulty of the archaeological research to answer has multiple causes, the most important of them being very high salinity waters of the Dead Sea. Today the most widely accepted explanation remains the now 23 centuries Eratosthenes, especially since Jordan with Dead Sea are above one of the most famous tectonic faults, tectonic fault Ghor, asphalt floating on the sea surface harvested and used since ancient times comes from oil shale beneath the seabed, which are always accompanied by shale gas bags, causing explosions in case of earthquakes. Earthquakes, explosions of the gas bags and a massive volcanic eruption (attested by sulfur on the sea coast) are mtost likely the basic explanation of the four cities disappearance and of the appearance of the Dead Sea.

* painting by John Martin, Sodoma and Gomorrah, 1852.