Nathan Bond's TART Remarks

Religion: Respect? Ridicule!

Exegesis; eisegesis

with 3 comments

My love affair with literature continues from that moment, a lifetime ago, when first I heard my grade 6 teacher read these words still etched in my mind:

Ek kry ‘n klein klein beiteltjie,
Ek tik hom en hy klink;

Toe slyp ek en ek slyp hom
Totdat hy klink en blink.

It was the sound of metal in the crisp, melodious voice of Ms Latti that hooked me. And when she explained about the mind and the development of the mind… I thought Afrikaans poet N. P. van Wyk Louw the most brilliant of men!

My favourite imaginary characters are Macbeth, Hamlet and Sherlock Holmes. And I have a soft spot for poor Romeo – if ever a well-laid plan miscarried…

Romeo and Juliet is a culmination of a long line of tragic romances. Shakespeare borrowed the plot from an Italian story which was translated into verse as Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1582. The bard did, however, develop certain characters, such as Mercutio and Paris, in order to give the play more substance – and more stage time. The original text, literary critics say, was poor and corrected in later editions to bring it in line with Shakespeare’s standard.

Is the text relevant today? Four hundred years on? Does Romeo and Juliet speak to the 21st century? The Internet Movie Database lists 34 titles since 1908 and 17 partial titles exploring this classic play. The story is alive!

I love Shakespeare! Let me elucidate. The Shakespearian canon contains, for instance, 1062 puns. This example of the intricate art of paronomasia comes from Romeo and Juliet: Seeing Romeo coming down the street, Mercutio observes that his friend is “without his roe.”[1] Roe refers to a female deer (dear?) indicating that Romeo is without his beloved. Roe also refers to fish eggs, signaling that Romeo is “gutted’ (gutless) as a fish is when its eggs are removed. The word Romeo, without the letters r, o and e, is mo, a whining sound of Shakespeare’s day and age – Mercutio is mocking his friend for whining about Rosaline not returning his love! Shakespeare combines roe and mo to make Romeo’s name – a rather brilliant pun![2]

I love Shakespeare!

But build my entire life around the canon? Get outa’ here!

What might be the ultimate meaning the bard intended to convey through his writing? I remember my first ever reading of Macbeth. Inspired to such lofty endeavour by a teacher who loved English and cared about each and every youngster in his class. Macbeth! A giant of fury and courage. I remember fondly my shock at Afrikaans stage director Marthinus Basson’s Macbeth. Sacrilegious! No, reverent!

For me, the gravest Shakespearean use of the pun, and probably the most sobering pun ever connived, is to be found in what I hold to be the greatest scene in all of the canon – that terrible moment after the murder of Duncan, when Macbeth chickens and his wife, like wives so often have to do, steels herself to conclude the (murderous) concord[3]:

MACBETH: I’ll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on’t again I dare not.

LADY MACBETH: Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures; t’is the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil. If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt.[4]

I love Shakespeare!

But build my entire life around the canon? Get outa’ here!

I love the Bible stories too! I do! The intrigue. The riddles. The regular Deus ex machina moments of I AM WHAT I AM. The murderous plots. Sexy, conniving wenches and women seducing the rich and the royal. Blood and gore battles. I had a friend at university who maintained that wars in which any button pushing featured were for babes and effeminates. He reckoned that a true warrior killed with an axe at arms length and paid the victim the indispensable courtesy of looking him in the eye as he cleaved the torso and received splatter in return. Black despair. Wanton hope and expectation. Gallantry. Winning against impossible odds. Consummate joy.

I love the Bible!

But build my entire life around the Canon? Get outa’ here!

But what about the “ethic of reciprocity”; the “Golden Rule”; the fundamental moral principle of the Bible – “treat others as you would like to be treated“? The most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights? What about that then?

Well, virtually all major religions and cultures feature this tenet. Arguably, the oldest reference to this rule is found in The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant (1970 – 1640s BCE, line B1 142 page 64 of The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems, tr. R.B. Parkinson OUP): “This is an ordinance: Act for the man who acts, to cause him to act. This is thanking him for what he does.”

Said C.S. Lewis, “The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to teach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right.”

Who is to say what the text says? Penn & Teller’s Macbeth opens in January 2008 in the Two Rivers Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. They think that Macbeth is Shakespeare’s supernatural horror story, and should be done as violently and amazingly as a modern supernatural horror movie.

“We will put the audience exactly into Macbeth’s place: they will see the phantoms and share the hallucinations and be baffled. We’re trying to get the great percussionist from ‘Frank’s Wild Years’, to perform a live horror soundtrack, and we’re unrelentingly spicing the poetry with ‘cat scares’ smoke, lightning, bursts of blood, and corpses.”

O, and they have “a shocking new idea for Lady Macbeth. Shocking. It will make the whole second half of the play make a kind of clear sense that I’ve certainly never seen before.”

What does the story mean? What does Shakespeare want to say? Was my English teacher right? Marthinus Basson? Might Penn & Teller “get it”, finally? Might I have been “right” all along?

Believers… lovers of literature that simply take an admittedly great art form just too damn seriously.

[1] Romeo and Juliet, 2.iv.3[2] Bond, Nathan. 2007. Pun Intended. PreciseMedia ePublications. Oudtshoorn. 8
[3] Macbeth, 2.ii.50-57.[4] 2007. 9

Written by Nathan Bond

November 5, 2007 at 09:49

3 Responses

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  1. Hello

    What is the Truth?
    Is there then any truth in this term, “Judeo-Christian”? Is Christianity derived from Judaism? Does Christianity have anything in common with Judaism?

    Reviewing the last two thousand years of Western Christian history there is really no evidence of a Judeo-Christian tradition and this has not escaped the attention of honest Christian and Jewish commentators.

    The Jewish scholar Dr. Joseph Klausner in his book Jesus of Nazareth expressed the Judaic viewpoint that “there was something contrary to the world outlook of Israel” in Christ’s teachings, “a new teaching so irreconcilable with the spirit of Judaism, ” containing “within it the germs from which there could and must develop in course of time a non-Jewish and even anti-Jewish teaching.”

    Dr. Klausner quotes the outstanding Christian theologian, Adolf Harnack, who in his last work rejected the hypothesis of the Jewish origin of Christ’s doctrine: “Virtually every word He taught is made to be of permanent and universal humanitarian interest. The Messianic features are abolished entirely, and virtually no importance is attached to Judaism in its capacity of Jesus’ environment.”

    Gershon Mamlak, an award-winning Jewish Zionist intellectual, recently claimed that the “Jesus tradition” is essentially the ultimate extension of ancient Greek Hellenism and is in direct conflict to Judaism’s “role as the Chosen people”.

    Dr. Mamlak, writing in the Theodor Herzl Foundation’s magazine of Jewish thought, Midstream, maintains that the prevailing theory that Christianity originated in the spiritual realm of Judaism “is anchored in a twofold misconception: 1) the uniqueness of Judaism is confined to its monotheistic God-concept; 2) the ‘parting of the ways’ between the Jesus coterie and Judaism is seen as the result of the former’s adaptation of the doctrines of Christology.”

    The first misconception means: “When the affinity of the Jesus coterie with Judaism is evaluated by common faith in the One, severed from the believer’s duty to execute the Law of the One and to acknowledge the Chosen Nation of Israel as His instrument-faith in the One becomes anti-Judaism par excellence!”

    In Gershon Mamlak’s view, “The conflict between Judaism and the Jesus tradition goes beyond the confines of theology. [The Jesus tradition] was the cosmopolitan renunciation of the national phenomenon in general and extreme hostility to Israel’s idea of a Chosen Nation as the divine instrument for the perfection of the world.”

    Evidently the concept of a common Judeo-Christian tradition has more to do with post 1945 politics and a certain amount of ‘public relations’ than it does with historical and Biblical reality. Never the less a number of modern Christian polemicists have managed to rest certain New Testament verses in the drive to give a Scriptural basis to their argument.

    Confusion over the origin of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is the root of the Judeo-Christian myth.

    Biblical scholars Robert and Mary Coote clearly show in their book Power, Politics and the Making of the Bible that neither is Christianity a patched up Judaism, nor is Rabbinic Judaism automatically synonymous with the religion of Moses and the old Hebrews.

    The Cootes’ illustrate the religious climate in Judea two millennia ago: “The cults, practices, and scriptures of both groups, rabbis and bishops, differed from those of the temple; thus we reserve the terms Jew, Jewish, and Judaism for the rabbis and those under their rule and use Judean, contrary to custom, for the common source of Judaism and Christianity….”

    “Despite the ostensible merging of Judean and Jew even in certain New Testament passages and by the rabbis who became rulers of Palestine in the third century and continued to use Hebrew and Aramaic more than Greek, the roots of Christianity were not Jewish. Christianity did not derive from the Judaism of the pharisees, but emerged like Judaism from the wider Judean milieu of the first century. Both Christians and Jews stemmed from pre-70 Judean-ism as heirs of groups that were to take on the role of primary guardians or interpreters of scripture as they developed on parallel tracks in relation to each other.” (Power, Politics, and the Making of the Bible).

    The few New Testament ‘proof texts’ utilised by Christian Zionists and secular proponents of the modern Judeo-Christian myth are the product of poor translation. Messianic Jewish writer Malcolm Lowe in his paper “Who Are the Ioudaioi?” concludes, like Robert and Mary Coote, that the Greek word “Ioudaioi” in the New Testament should be translated as “Judeans”, rather than the more usual “Jews”. The Israeli scholar David Stern also came to the same conclusion when translating the Jewish New Testament.

    Few Christians are aware that the translators of Scripture often mistranslated the word “Jew” from such words as “Ioudaioi” (meaning from, or being of: as a geographic area, Judean). The word Judean, mistranslated as “Jew” in the New Testament, never possessed a valid religious connotation, but was simply used to identify members of the native population of the geographic area known as Judea.

    Also it is important to understand that in the Scriptures, the terms “Israel”, “Judah” and “Jew” are not synonymous, nor is the House of Israel synonymous with the House of Judah. The course of history is widely divergent for the peoples properly classified under each of these titles. Accordingly, the authoritative 1980 Jewish Almanac says, “Strictly speaking it is incorrect to call an ancient Israelite a Jew or to call a contemporary Jew an Israelite or a Hebrew.”

    A writer for The Dearborn Independent, published in Michigan back in 1922, summarised the problem thus: “The pulpit has also the mission of liberating the Church from the error that Judah and Israel are synonymous. The reading of the Scriptures which confuse the tribe of Judah with Israel, and which interpret every mention of Israel as signifying the Jews, is at the root of more than one-half the confusion and division traceable in Christian doctrinal statements.”

    Spirits of darkness, we summon the swarming nightfall to hold back the horizon of time, invert the symbols of obedience, dethrone the Elect and enact vast bloodshed upon the human species… This collection of scriptum diaboli casts the concept of philosophical evil over the blinded human tribe. Judeo-Christianity has controlled public discourse on spirituality in the West for over 2,000 years. The usurper eschews “good” and “evil” but promotes the so-called “evil spiritualism” of an elder god.

    The question is, who is causing all the trouble? Why is our economy collapsing? Why are we fighting so many wars? Who are the REAL terrorists? Who’s behind the abortion slaughter? Who’s behind the nationalizing of American business? Who owns the federal reserve Bank (it is a privet bank)? Why do we pay interest on our own money?

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    July 7, 2009 at 03:43

  2. ‘n “Ex” is verlede tyd en daarom kyk ek nie na die Exegesis nie. Met die Heilige Gees, kry ek die boodskap wat heden van toepassing is en twyfel nie oor wat die skrywer vandag vir my sê.

    Hans Matthysen

    May 1, 2008 at 21:38

  3. […] Maar, nou ja… hoe kan ‘n mens óóit weet presies wát ‘n skrywer nou eintlik sê? […]

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