‘The explosion of Jewish dissent is a struggle against the assimilation of Jews to power’ — Ellis

Israel/Palestine
on 22 Comments
Marc Ellis

Marc Ellis

Marc Ellis has lately published an important new book, Future of the Prophetic: Israel’s Ancient Wisdom Re-presented. Some of the book appeared in our pages first. Micah’s Paradigm Shift lately ran a review of the book and an interview with the author by Robert Cohen. Cohen gave us permission to run his interview. You can read the review at that link.  –Ed. 

Micah’s Paradigm Shift: Marc, welcome to Micah’s Paradigm Shift. Seventy years on and the Holocaust remains the driving force in Jewish discourse. You write about how the Holocaust and Israel have: “overwhelmed the Jewish tradition”. Is it simply that we have learnt the wrong lessons, choosing empowerment at all costs rather than universalising the implications of our experience?

Marc H. Ellis: The importance of Holocaust discourse is diminishing now. Its shelf-life – about twenty years or so – is about up. Part of this is time and distance. The other part is Israel’s outrageously aggressive behaviour over many years. How can one raise the Holocaust issue when Palestinians are being permanently ghettoised? The point isn’t universalising the implications of the Holocaust but taking the Holocaust, as a particular experience, in a different direction. Using the Holocaust to justify the end of Palestine is a dead-end for Palestinians – and for Jews as well.

MPS: You’ve just returned from a lecture tour of Germany. What did your audiences make of your take on the Holocaust and how it has shaped the Jewish story since the end of World War II?

MHE: On the whole Germans take the experience of the Holocaust very seriously. They may be the last community where on the Left, Jewish particularity can be spoken about openly. Having said this, more and more Germans are aware that repentance for the Holocaust has led to another injustice, this time against the Palestinian people. For the most part, Germans are stuck in this predicament. They know what’s going on. They cannot find the words to speak. Even as they are stuck in this predicament, Germany continues to arm Israel. That is why I wrote an essay before I left for Germany with the title – “Repentant Enablers.”

MPS: What is the additional power that linking to the ancient prophetic brings to the situation? What wrong with simply championing a modern understanding of human rights as a gold standard of human behaviour?

MHE: Human rights are important but limited. Human rights can’t do much without political rights. Both have to be grounded somewhere. Though many find that grounding in the Enlightenment – which is fine – this, too, is limited. For Jews the grounding is the evolving Biblical prophetic, when it is affirmed as important and especially its importance is denied. I see the explosion of Jewish dissent, almost exclusively secular, as a struggle against the final assimilation of Jews to power. It’s about idolatry, Biblically defined. Jews of Conscience aren’t going the idolatry route.

MPS: There are many who will think you have ‘crossed a line’ by quoting Gilad Atzmon and taking his views seriously. Most people think he is ‘beyond the pale’, what makes you find him a compelling voice?

MHE: Crossed what line – a line more important than the permanent ghettoisation of the Palestinian people? Atzmon is interesting rather than compelling, a provocateur if there ever was one. But focusing on him is a red herring. It’s misplaced. The question should be thrown back to those who pursue him. Do they seek to deflect the truly outrageous violation of Jewish ethics visited upon another people by being outraged by a Jewish Israeli who takes delight in slapping them in the face? The Biblical prophets were one-off types, disturbing the peace on all sides and refusing to be team players. So what’s new? I’ve never met Atzmon and my analysis of him is limited and specific. I don’t agree with some of his positions – I don’t even know all his positions. I don’t argue with those who refuse to work with him politically. I understand why people don’t want to work with him politically. But that’s a different issue than the one I am raising in my book. Jewish Israelis who leave Israel because they can’t take the injustice they’re commanded to commit are a varied lot. They aren’t a pacific mannered bunch. Israel’s conquering of Palestine is driving the Jewish prophetic to the edge. Look for more of this in the future.

MPS: So, Atzmon can’t be off limits?

MHE: Atzmon might be an example of what I think of as prophetic insanity but if you want an edgier picture of prophetic insanity check out the Bible. When cornered, the prophets go scorched earth – from our vantage point they’re clearly irrational. Today they would be characterised as anti-Semitic. The prophets are relentless internal critics of Jewish hypocrisy. They aren’t folks you want at your local synagogue. Or, God forbid, at the Vatican prayer summit! This issue with Atzmon isn’t his politics or his hitting at the sacred in the Jewish community – Israel and the Holocaust. Atzmon is about the outer limits of Israeli abuses of power. Concentrate on injustice rather than the foibles of those who have become unhinged by that abuse. Eliminate discussion of Atzmon and you still have a conquered Palestine. So where should we focus?

MPS: You were unimpressed by Pope Francis and his pray-in at the Vatican with Peres and Abbas. I agree it had little political significance but what made that moment such a sham for you?

MHE: Awful. Everyone looked totally bored. Perhaps they resented being used for something that meant so little. When prayers become platitudes – in the face of great suffering – then it’s time to call these religious leaders to account. In my mind they become culpable enablers of injustice. Talk about the silence of God! I happen to be religious but such empty ceremonies confirm everything negative about religiosity. To have the global stage and fail so miserably, you have to shake your head – in disbelief. If Pope Francis was really interested in justice for Palestinians, if he really cared about the Jewish people, during his visit to Palestine he would have stayed in the Palestinian refugee camp he visited and refused to leave until justice was done. Or he could have prayed at the Apartheid Wall and stayed there. Anyone who wanted to pray with him – within that decision and embodiment – then I would listen to those prayers. Talk about the international spotlight! Pray if you like but for God’s sake make it meaningful. Prayer as a sacrifice for justice. Prayer embodied. In the ghettos and refugee camps of our world. Not the Vatican garden.

MPS: Are there aspects of the ancient prophetic tradition that we now have to abandon in order to keep the prophetic itself alive and relevant in our own time? I’m thinking about the way in which the Hebrew prophets never question the original conquest of the Promised Land. It was not given, it was taken. Does that allow present day ideas of Jewish exceptionalism and the hierarchy of suffering to continue at the expense of the Palestinian people? This is the Gilad Atzmon position again.

MHE: The Jewish critique of exceptionalism – is exceptionally Jewish. Like Sholmo Sand’s deconstruction of Jewish history and identity. It’s so Jewish! For thousands of years, Jews have thought themselves exceptional. Exceptionalism, or, as I prefer, a sense of Jewish destiny, isn’t going away. Nor should it. What is important is the direction that the sense of exceptionalism/destiny takes. Why give up on a source of meaning in the world? Besides, if you diminish Jewish destiny, you give up the prophetic. But the Jewish prophetic is a great gift now shared around the world. The world can’t be better off without the Jewish prophetic. Rather the Jewish prophetic should be nurtured as the primal root of the global prophetic. In my book, I explore a number of figures who have radical positions on Zionism. Like Yakov Rabkin who, as an Orthodox anti-Zionist Jew, believes that the Holocaust was punishment for Jewish sins and that the state of Israel, in and of itself, is tempting God to unleash another catastrophe upon the Jewish people. His book has been translated into a number of languages and he tours the world to communicate his message. I find his theology wrong-headed. Nonetheless, he is right to claim that he is within the Jewish tradition. Why read him or others out of the tradition when they clearly are within it? Meanwhile, the oppression of the Palestinians continues unabated with many honors going to those who perpetrate that oppression. So honors for Shimon Peres and reading the riot act to others? Then there is the radical Palestinian, Joseph Massad. I spend many pages on his provocative analysis of the Palestinian Authority as akin to the Jewish Councils that presided over the Jewish ghettos in Nazi Europe. I would pay more attention to Massad than Atzmon or Rabkin. But each has his say.

MPS: Okay, let’s leave Gilad Atzmon for the moment. You say in the book that if we want to jettison the Biblical colonialism involved in taking the Promised Land, then we also risk losing the Exodus paradigm of liberation that is so central to the development of Jewish ethics? We are caught in a bind. Is there a way through this? Or do our sacred texts forever inhabit both Empire and moral consciousness?

MHE: Sorry to say but it’s both. My favourite part of the book is my take on the Biblical inheritance. Of course, I know much of the scholarly literature on the Bible and enjoy reading it. However, the Bible is an essential part of Jewish identity and deconstructing it for scholarly effect doesn’t leave us much at the end of the day. I want to know and embrace what it means to be Jewish and make my statement on it. In the Bible, the land is promised to Israel but the prophetic takes precedence. The prophetic – not the land – is the indigenous of the people Israel. It is the essential element of Jewishness and worth fighting for. Having said that, there is no license for taking Palestinian land and Jews of Conscience today are intervening in the prophetic tradition – decolonizing it if you will. Whether consciously or not, the Biblical promise is being reinterpreted from the vantage point of the prophetic in what amounts to a Biblical re-do in the creation of the state of Israel. That’s why the modern day Jewish prophetic is so relentless.

MPS: You talk about the actions of Jews of Conscience being a “last-gasp fling with Jewish identity”. Is that the fate of those, like yourself, who find their solidarity with Palestinians the strongest articulation of their Jewish identity?

MHE: We are down to the basics. The Holocaust stripped us of the last vestiges of Rabbinic Judaism. Though horrible beyond words, the Holocaust presented Jews with the essence of what it means to be Jewish. Some take the empowerment over others route – I call them Constantinian Jews. Others take the prophetic route – I call them Jews of Conscience. Deep in exile, Jews of Conscience grapple with the difficult embrace of the prophetic. In fact, they embody it. After that embodiment, what’s left? That’s anyone’s guess but there will always be those on the other side of power who need the prophetic voice. Of all the issues in the world, Jews of Conscience galvanising around the question of Israel-Palestine tells us something. Behind the political secular veneer what is at stake is the entirety of Jewish history. Jews of Conscience aren’t about to let Jewish history go down the drain.

MPS: What is it about the ‘Jewish condition’ that makes for this prophetic disposition? Why does it keep breaking through? Is it just another reaction to a history of persecution? In fact, the flip side to the reaction that leads to the idolatry of empowerment? And if our secure comfortable lives (in the UK or USA) have brought an end to that suffering, does the prophetic end too?

MHE: The indigenous of Jewish is the prophetic. No matter how much others want the Jewish prophetic to die and no matter how much the Jewish establishment wants it to die, the Jewish prophetic is here to stay. The Jewish prophetic will never die. I think of this as persistence of the prophetic and no matter how many qualifiers one throws in – how many contextual variations that “explain” the Jewish prophetic – such explanations don’t exhaust that persistence. Jews have always been on both sides of the empire divide and will continue to be. Empire is the Jewish hope for normalization but it is consistently undermined by the prophetic. As it turns out the instability of Jewish life – which comes from the prophetic – is our stability. Of course, it is also true that the God of Israel is unstable. Jews and God are quite a pair.

MPS: Labels like ‘Jews of Conscience’ and ‘Empire Jews’ feel like they are loaded with self-righteousness. Even though I may want to align myself to the Jews of Conscience camp it doesn’t feel entirely comfortable. It shuts down the potential for dialogue and caricatures both sides. In fact are most Jews in neither camp?

MHE: The dialogue is false, manipulated, corrupt. That includes dealing with Progressive Jews who have held back dealing with the real issues for decades. In terms of self-righteousness, I find much of the Left superficial as well. Norman Finkelstein’s charge that BDS is a cult only means the cult he cultivated is leaving his side. Like International Law, BDS has its place. Both are part of the mix and limited. Neither deals with Jewish or Palestinian particularity at a deep level. As well, outsiders who take up the Jewish or Palestinian cause should check their anger at the border. They often come from cultures, religions and political entities that are knee-deep in Jewish and Palestinian blood. Cheerleading is fine at a football game but when it comes to thought we need thinkers who call it as they see it. There aren’t any enforcers who demand that you listen to me or others. If you don’t want to think along these lines, don’t. But when people are suffering like the Palestinians are and Jewish history is on the line, niceties, often construed as being constructive, have to be jettisoned.

MPS: You take a pretty hard line Marc

MHE: Jews who exercise their conscience are Jews of Conscience. Those who feast upon and enable empire are Constantinian Jews. It’s a civil war out there and in the war of words and institutional power, Constantinian Jews wield a more powerful platform. Constantinian Jews, along with their allies in the Christian establishment – they’re brutal – and wrong. They persecute Jews of Conscience, bring them up on trumped-up charges, payoff witnesses and defame the character of those who seek justice in the world. It’s a slander machine but then most of the persecutors are bagman. They take their bribes in dollars and empty tributes.

MPS: For a theologian you do not leave much room for God in your writing. You see Him as silent yet you remain convinced that the Jewish covenant breaks through even when it is voiced by those who would describe themselves as thoroughly secular. How do you see that working?

MHE: It’s more complicated than that. The silence of God in the Holocaust is one thing – that’s theology stumped. That silence, however, is trumped by the prophetic: The prophet embodies the possibility of God – and meaning – in the world. Neither are assured. In a world where God is silent – a premise I take to be self-evident – and where there is no rescue from ourselves – another self-evident reality – we are faced with the prospect of nothingness. At the end of the day, though, that’s a superficial rendering of the human condition. When we come to face to face with the prophet and the prophetic, we are called to a deeper encounter with history, our world and ourselves. That encounter raises the question of God.

MPS: How hopeful are you that the prophetic tradition can ever overcome the forces of empire and empowerment’ ‘Constantinian Judaism’? The ancient prophets didn’t seem to have much luck on this score themselves.

MHE: All is lost – that’s where we need to begin. In the darkness where is light? That’s the next step. The prophet gathers light in the darkness. What remains after the constant shattering is what we have. Why not admit it and get on with life? We are at the end of Jewish history as we have known and inherited it. Full stop. But then aren’t Christians at their end? Muslims? The believers in the world’s most powerful faith, modernity? At the end is our beginning. The end is exile and the beginning is the recognition that we aren’t returning to our birth communities and that the diverse and growing world of exiles is our community. I call this exile community the New Diaspora.

MPS: I want to finish by asking about your Facebook posts. Apart from sharing links to your Mondoweiss pieces, you often post your photographs of Florida sunrises and sunsets taken on morning and evening strolls near your home. Does the sheer beauty of creation continue to root you in some form of belief?

MHE: Yes I am being identified as “that guy who does the sunrise photos” and I am now working with a web whiz who wants to partner with me in publishing my photos with my commentary. In this harsh civil war that I have been involved in since 1987 people classify you in ways that don’t fit the reality. It’s like an out-of-body experience. They use my name but I cannot identify myself in their speech about me. I conclude that they must be speaking about someone else with the same name I have. I have been writing poetry since I was child and I love the beauty of the world. Your question of belief doesn’t fit here since again the only reason to be Jewish is to embody the prophetic. Embodying the prophetic is Jewish belief. The two hours or so I spend in and around the beach each morning isn’t about belief or unbelief. It’s about the beauty, sounds and silence of the world and our inner being connected to the world. I also sit on a cushion in the morning, Zen-like, to clear the junk from my mind and get to a still point where I can hear my heart beat. Inside the prophetic is an internal life – little has been written about it. My sense is that justice is only the outer shell of the prophetic. I am trying to explore this inner world and photograph aspects of it. As has been said, the rest is commentary. In exile, I have time to explore the heartbeat of the prophetic. Why not?

MPS: Marc, thank you. Good luck with the new book and with the website project.

About Robert Cohen

Cohen is a British writer. He blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift. http://micahsparadigmshift.blogspot.co.uk/

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22 Responses

  1. seafoid
    June 18, 2014, 11:21 am

    Judaism is a total mess

    The Israel project is responsible.
    There were very good reasons why old time rabbis back in the day forbade their people to go back to Palestine. It is just far too complicated for a small religion to digest and stay sane.

  2. DaBakr
    June 18, 2014, 11:30 am

    Maybe when in the midst of your own support base, otherwise, “explosion” seems more then exaggerated. There have been voices of dissent from within and without the Jewish community from long before the rebirth of modern Israel. The emphasis now may be a bit different then it was back in say, the US circa 30s but still-the same tone ala ezekial, chicken little and what not. In the end all the prophesies of doom don’t really amount to much since any reasoned reading of Jewish history through the eons would reveal that no matter what warnings or prophets there were to inform the Jews they would not likely have saved them from any of their trials and persecutions.
    Also-the divide between those that see modern Israel as the strongest position the Jews have been in since biblical times and those that see Zionism as the Jews downfall is so pronounced and bitter that the minority of the latter is very likely going to remain a vocal but weak minority for the foreseeable future.

  3. W.Jones
    June 18, 2014, 11:39 am

    On the whole Germans take the experience of the Holocaust very seriously. They may be the last community where on the Left, Jewish particularity can be spoken about openly.

    In the USSR, after the Leftist revolution, in which some Jews were notable among the revolutionaries, Jewish particularity was not a topic that was encouraged. Nor was “particularity” encouraged as a topic by the Soviets, or for that matter the Socialist East European Left after the war. Why not? Because they wanted to see all people as equal instead of singling out groups? Perhaps one may question then how really progressive it is to focus on particularity, and if so, how to do this?

    For example, 3 million Poles were genocided by the Nazis, and there were many Roma people too. They all shared in common a view by the Nazis that they were inferior, but there were also ways in which each was particular. So, alternately, I don’t see why it is bad to talk about those particularities, and I expect that Germany is not the only place today where one can talk to a leftist audience about each of the particular situations of each group in the Holocaust. I don’t think that Ellis is fully wrong in his statement.

  4. seafoid
    June 18, 2014, 11:59 am

    Israel has now decided to sedate Palestinian hungerstriking prisoners whom it wishes to force feed.
    And Judaism is similarly sedated while forcefed hasbara.

    It was never supposed to be like this.

    • just
      June 18, 2014, 12:06 pm

      “The IMA has consistently viewed force-feeding as unethical. In a letter sent to emergency and internal medicine wards over the weekend, IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman wrote: “Every day, the number of hunger-striking prisoners sent from the prisons to the hospitals is growing. Treating them presents a special challenge that doctors have hitherto not encountered on such a scale.” Dr. Eidelman stresses that force-feeding poses a real risk to the health of the prisoners, runs counter to the Hippocratic principles of “Do no harm” and maintaining patient autonomy, and to the medical code of ethics.

      The guide presents a treatment model based on four principles: The prisoner shall make his own decision about what is right for him, having been given a detailed explanation by the doctor about his condition and the available options; every medical action taken for the patient’s sake shall be in accordance with his worldview; no medical actions shall be taken that, in the patient’s view, could harm him, including force-feeding; and the prisoners should be fairly distributed among the country’s hospitals, so as not to adversely impact the hospitals’ ability to function. ”

      http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.599217

      I’m thinking that involuntary sedation is also battery……..torture. More lipstick on that omnipotent and omnipresent pig.

      • seafoid
        June 18, 2014, 12:18 pm

        Hippocratic oath vs Jewish exceptionalism

        I wonder which will win. Every police state needs doctors who can serve the torturers.

  5. W.Jones
    June 18, 2014, 12:14 pm

    Having said this, more and more Germans are aware that repentance for the Holocaust has led to another injustice, this time against the Palestinian people. For the most part, Germans are stuck in this predicament. They know what’s going on. They cannot find the words to speak.

    Good point, M.Ellis.

    MPS: There are many who will think you have ‘crossed a line’ by quoting Gilad Atzmon and taking his views seriously.
    MHE: Crossed what line – a line more important than the permanent ghettoisation of the Palestinian people?

    This is a good point. The Israeli system intends for Palestinians to be permanently under a system of segregation and treated as second class, with half of them as refugees. Atzmon on the other hand exaggerates cultural criticisms and is to some extent a provocateur as M.Ellis says. I think Ellis made a good analysis about Atzmon. The prophet Isaiah walked naked around the city, so “insanity”, or perhaps mental illness, is an issue.

    Or he could have prayed at the Apartheid Wall and stayed there. Anyone who wanted to pray with him – within that decision and embodiment – then I would listen to those prayers. Talk about the international spotlight! Pray if you like but for God’s sake make it meaningful.

    I am not fully disagreeing with Ellis, but the Pope actually went off schedule by going to the Separation Wall, I believe. It was a kind of dissident act.

    Statistically, Catholics are less Zionist ideologically than even liberal Protestants. However the Catholic Church is less engaged I think than PCUSA.

    The prophetic – not the land – is the indigenous of the people Israel. It is the essential element of Jewishness and worth fighting for.

    Perhaps Ellis is not wrong about this. If Christians can have “the prophetic”, since Ellis says that the “prophetic” is global, then it means that they have the essential element of Jewishness. Meanwhile, Israeli militarists who lack “the prophetic” are missing its essential element.

    What is the conclusion then? That those Christians are Jewish in their essence? Paul says something very similar.

  6. ritzl
    June 18, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Will the American Medical Association initiate a movement to boycott/shun Israeli physicians who violate the Hippocratic Oath to participate in this version of torture?

    Did the MDs who did this in Guantanamo suffer any professional sanctions or consequences, officially or unofficially? Is there precedent for sanctions?

  7. W.Jones
    June 18, 2014, 12:36 pm

    ‘The explosion of Jewish dissent is a struggle against the assimilation of Jews to power’
    Some take the empowerment over others route – I call them Constantinian Jews… Those who feast upon and enable empire are Constantinian Jews. It’s a civil war out there and in the war of words and institutional power, Constantinian Jews wield a more powerful platform. Constantinian Jews, along with their allies in the Christian establishment – they’re brutal – and wrong.

    “Constantinian” is a very misleading label.

    The interviewer asked good questions about whether the conquest of the Land by Moses created a strain of thought in favor of conquest.

    You say in the book that if we want to jettison the Biblical colonialism involved in taking the Promised Land, then we also risk losing the Exodus paradigm of liberation that is so central to the development of Jewish ethics?

    Ellis provided an answer to this question by saying that the important thing is divine inspiration (“the prophetic”), not the land. But you don’t reject this strain of thought.

    Why does Ellis not think that this strain of thought has continued, latently, in the religious tradition, with attempts to retake the land by Bar Kochba, by an alliance with the Persians in the 7th century, the Balfour Declaration, etc?

    Instead, Ellis labels pro-Israeli militarism as “Constantinian”, as if Constantine’s ideas and actions are a good summary of Israeli nationalism. In fact, Constantine was not so much a nationalist as he was an innovative, strong ruler- making a capitol in Byzantium instead of Rome’s founding city (Rome). He also changed the law to make Christianity one of several new religions. Ellis however sets up a paradigm of the “indigenous” prophetic vs. “assimilated” “Constantinianism”.

    In reality, one may worry that by praising exceptionalism (as he has done) and blaming Constantine, the basic premises of religious nationalism that led to the situation of systemic equality that M.Ellis criticizes are in fact tragically reinforced.

    One way to get out of this conundrum could simply be to recognize that the problem is not really Constantine, and that since “the prophetic” has become global, it is unnecessary to think in terms of walls. I am not demanding people assimilate, but pointing out that what we are seeing doesn’t have so much to do with a 4th century emperor who legalized Christianity, and that the search for causes and explanations should continue.

    • Donald
      June 19, 2014, 10:36 am

      He’s using Constantine’s name the way a lot of Christians have, though I have no cites offhand. But Constantine is the one who took Christianity from being the subversive religion of slaves and others who refused to worship the cult of Empire and were persecuted for it and made it into the official cult of the Empire. Soon thereafter (not due to Constantine himself), it was Christians persecuting non-Christians and other Christians seen as heretics. I’m oversimplifying the history, but when people talk about Constantine as a symbol of how Christianity became corrupted by power, that’s what they mean. They’re referring to the process by which Christians went from being persecuted to becoming persecutors. That’s the sense in which Ellis uses the term, except of course he is applying it to Judaism.

      • W.Jones
        June 19, 2014, 11:37 am

        You are right about how he is using Constantine’s name, Donald, but it’s a mislabel that misses the real causes. Firstly, doesn’t this misportray Constantine’s rule? He did not seriously persecute Judaism, did he? Nor was he nationalist, but rather adopted a universalist religion.

        More importantly, Israeli nationalists don’t take Constantine for their historical leader. There is a historical tradition of desiring to rule the land going back to Moses, through Bar Kochba and the 7th century Persian Empire up to the Balfour Declaration. By making “assimilated” “Constantinianism” the enemy and making the “indigenous” the hero, don’t M.Ellis’ labels actually reinforce the underlying premises behind nationalism and the desire to rule the land?

        An “indigenous” people is one that is native to a certain land. Israeli nationalists propose that they are the indigenous ones, not the “Arabs”, and they oppose “assimilation”. Doesn’t putting the blame on Constantine avoid the problems of nationalism in religious tradition that make up the actual causes of conflict in the Holy Land today?

        I am not saying that nationalism did not have a positive role in the religious development of ancient Israel, or that the nationalism of an exploited people is the same as the nationalism of a stronger conqueror. But blaming Constantine, a Christian universalist “outsider”, unfortunately is not only incorrect but misses the problems of religious nationalism that are driving the conflict today.

        Why not use a label that reflects an actual European nationalist whose thinking matches the development of Israeli nationalism (Both nationalisms developed in 19th century Europe and were interrelated), or another title associated with the history of Israeli nationalism. Since Saul was the first king, and I have heard that progressive scholars of Judaism see his rule as a first, problematic step in terms of state rule, while not use the term “Saulist” instead?

      • Donald
        June 19, 2014, 5:26 pm

        I think he uses Constantinian religion for the reason I already explained–it’s well understood by everyone that Christianity started out as a religion of the powerless, persecuted by the Empire, and a few centuries later became the official religion of the Empire, and soon thereafter Christians started persecuting each other, pagans, and yes, also Jews. That Constantine himself didn’t do all this isn’t the point–it’s a label commonly used for the corruption that occurs when the church and state unify. I believe there was a later Byzantine Emperor who actually started persecuting other religions, but I’d have to look him up. Christians certainly got into the persecuting business fairly quickly once they/we (since I’m one) acquired state power.

        As for why Ellis uses this term rather than “Saulist”, it’s probably because if he used the term “Saulist” no one would know what he was talking about. I immediately understood the term “Constantinian Jew”–he means Jews who have allied themselves with the powerful and forgotten the prophetic tradition.

      • lysias
        June 19, 2014, 5:42 pm

        There was sporadic persecution of paganism (and of Christian views regarded as heretical by orthodox Christians) starting with Constantine himself, with ineffective prohibitions of sacrifices and the closing of some pagan temples. However, the emperor who effectively suppressed paganism was Theodosius I. The last traces of paganism were obliterated by Justinian.

      • W.Jones
        June 19, 2014, 7:52 pm

        Lysias,

        Thanks for looking that up. I think that if all that happened to Palestinians was the closing of some mosques and churches they would be a lot happier, even though it would still be wrong. There have been how many villages and worship places effectively “closed” in Palestine? A thousand?

        It is better to question important underlying assumptions, in my opinion about the longstanding ideological forces at work.

      • W.Jones
        June 19, 2014, 8:43 pm

        That Constantine himself didn’t do all this isn’t the point–it’s a label commonly used for the corruption that occurs when the church and state unify.
        Donald, my point is that if Constantine did not do this, then it is a mislabel. It’s like saying that Marxism means running GULAGs, when Marx did not do this or advocate it.

        Constantine’s real, main action was to legalize Christianity and take it out of persecution. By setting Constantine up to take the blame, it reinterprets the acceptance of Christianity by society as a negative act. Likewise, if one equates Marxism with GULAGs, then it redefines his actual ideas to fit major abuses that he did not advocate, leading to a misportrayal of his system.

        As for why Ellis uses this term rather than “Saulist”, it’s probably because if he used the term “Saulist” no one would know what he was talking about.

        Donald,
        Ellis has enough creative license that he could use “Saulist” if he explains what it means. Saul was the leader who established a unified state system over the people. He could use the term “Mamilla”, which would serve the useful purpose of having people remember the enormous tragedy.
        There are plenty of other, easily recognizable labels that M.Ellis could use to describe “imperial”, “dominating”, “ethnic-focused” nationalists.

        Unfortunately, “Constantinian” is not only a mislabel, but it also redirects blame away from the nationalism onto an empire’s acceptance of Christianity. If we were advocating for Native Americans’ rights in the 19th century, would it be right to label brutal US army leaders with the name of a famous Indian?

        Unfortunately, “Constantinian” is a problematic label when the goal is to criticize the nationalist movement’s claim to what it sees as its land. Using Constantine, a figurehead of the social acceptance of the targeted religion, as a mislabel against politicians goes along with the nationalists’ premises. It suggests that if the nationalists were to act more in line with their own tradition, rather than the foreign emperor Constantine, that they would be more moral.

      • W.Jones
        June 19, 2014, 9:00 pm

        1. “Constantinian” is a misnomer because his essential act was to make Christianity an accepted religion, and did not crush others with it.
        2. Even if it were an acceptable label, imperial “Constantinianism”, based on a universal religion, does not correlate to dominant, nationalist-based rule.
        3. Constantine is a major saint in the Palestinians’ churches who stands for their religion’s acceptance. In the context of speaking for their rights when they are discriminated against, it is counterproductive to use his name as the primary negative label.
        4. A correct label for militant nationalists would be one that actually correlates to their past leaders or history in order to give the reader a better understanding. Using a figure that does not correspond their thinking does the opposite.
        5. By making the main negative label a leader from the “outside”, targeted culture, it reinforces the underlying premises of nationalism.

        Thus, “Constantinian” is both a mislabel and a counterproductive term.

      • MHughes976
        June 20, 2014, 9:18 am

        As often, using the reply button that is available. I certainly find Marc’s rather anti-Christian sentiments somewhat misleading and somewhat disturbing, but then I suppose we’re here in part to get our comfortable mentalities disturbed. All ancient societies had some kind of religious basis – that was a situation which Constantine found rather than created. His act in declaring Christianity a permitted religion extended rather than reduced religious liberty. He and his main successor Constantius hoped to use Christianity as a unifying force and tried to keep the more intolerant leaders, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, in check. But the intellectual circle around him began to produce an increasingly angry portrait of the pagan empire as ‘persecuting’, even though Christianity had flourished at many times in many places under pagan Roman rule and a proper analysis of ‘persecution’ or ‘the Neronian institution’ has yet to be achieved. This story began to ‘justify’ Christian persecution, particularly now that bishops in Council were organising opinion and hurling anathemas and that monks, young men quite ready to use violence – sometimes they remind me of the WB settlers on a grander scale – were able to enforce what their bishops wanted. Lysias mentions Theodosius, who reorganised the Roman armies with some success. It was indeed under his rule that the battle for tolerance was essentially lost, mainly because Theo could not, in respect either of Jews or of heretics, always resist the terrifying St. (saint?) Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
        I read the history of the fourth century with intense regret, but hardly because I blame Constantine for making Christianity legal, how could I? It’s not state influence on religion, which at worst produces bad theology, that is the real problem but religious control of the state, which is sometimes productive of outward and inward fear and oppression.

  8. Keith
    June 18, 2014, 7:36 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “When prayers become platitudes – in the face of great suffering – then it’s time to call these religious leaders to account. In my mind they become culpable enablers of injustice.”

    When has organized religion ever represented the downtrodden except, perhaps, rhetorically? While there have been exceptions, by and large, organized religion provides an ideological underpinning and justification for the status quo. What empire has not had the support of its religious leaders? When will American religious leaders oppose empire and neoliberalism? The essence of organized religion is social control.

    • W.Jones
      June 19, 2014, 12:29 am

      Keith,

      You asked a good question:

      When has organized religion ever represented the downtrodden except, perhaps, rhetorically?

      The ArchBishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero.

      A quarter century after his death, Romero’s spirit is more alive than ever among those working at home and abroad to alleviate the violence, including ending U.S. military intervention in Central America. Ignoring Romero, the Carter administration — but more cynically, the Reagan and Bush administrations — made every citizen of the U.S. complicit in the deaths of seventy thousand people in El Salvador. Those murdered included citizens of the U.S., such as Sisters Maura Clarke, M.M., Ita Ford, M.M., Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., and Jean Donovan, who were murdered eight months after Romero. Not until six Jesuit priests and two women were murdered, similarly, in 1989 did the U.S. government seriously reconsider its massive aid to the Salvadoran military, then second only to U.S. aid to Israel.

      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:alun2kjwvWYJ:www.lokashakti.org/encyclopedia/bios/587-oscar-romero+&cd=21&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a#sthash.AeEkXF0A.dpuf

      • Keith
        June 19, 2014, 10:33 am

        W JONES- “The ArchBishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero.”

        As I noted, “While there have been exceptions….” Liberation theology was an anomaly, the exception which proves the rule. And please note what the consequences were as the US and its proxies used extreme violence to destroy those religious folk who took their moralistic mythology seriously. Religion which does not align with power is dealt with harshly. Unless I am mistaken, today El Salvador is much the way it was before liberation theology, with the Catholic Church hierarchy complicit in its demise.

      • W.Jones
        June 19, 2014, 3:24 pm

        Keith,

        The organization of religion will often reflect the social arrangement of its adherents, and the state can sometimes play a role in rearranging the leadership of an official religious organization as it likes.

        However, one can also have a religious organization that is in dissent from the official, pro-Establishment religious organization. John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth had religious organizations that were in dissent from the official, appointed organizations.

        In situations where the religious organization reflects a society that has been crushed or is favoring the oppressed, naturally it will take the side of the oppressed. Church leaders and its organization supported the resistance against the Mongols and against the Turks in Russia and Greece. In the North, organized religion in some cases played a role of supporting Abolition. If organized religion were only about helping the Establishment, we would not be talking about Presbyterian Divestment. And yet in the South, you had organized white churches supporting slavery, and black ministers sympathizing with the oppressed or even playing a leading role in helping them.

        Different conditions and different religious alignments in society can produce different religious outcomes. There are lots of areas for abuse and cruelty by organized religion, but there are some chances for mercy, protection, and help too.

    • Ron Edwards
      June 19, 2014, 10:13 am

      I agree that it’s an important question. Without disagreeing one bit about the history of power and injustice, I also think about networks of organized resistance. Two examples from recent history include the Lutheran churches across the DDR (Deutsche Democratische Republik) and their integration with the larger organizations, during the 1980s; and the Shi’a mosques and schools across Iran and integrated with others in Iraq and Lebanon, during the 1970s. Neither case is a simplistic Hollywood story, and each includes a thousands ifs-and-buts to quibble about, but I suggest that each was also a meaningful part of successful resistance+overthrow against the regime.

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