The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Slavery under the Sasanian shahs

I hadn't heard that Zoroastrianism was a particularly pro-slave religion (given that "Zoroastrianism" itself was a fluid concept until recently), and I realised I've been musing that some of the Zoroastrian Empire's provinces might have been "slave states" as of 600 AD. So I did some research. It was cursory by necessity.

Wikipedia and Infogalactic are pointing me to Touraj Daryaee's great opus (2008) and to Farhang Mehr, "Social Justice in Ancient Iran" ed. Social Justice in the Ancient World (Greenwood, 1995), 71f.; 87. These sources mention indentured servitude (usually to a fire-temple), and domestic servitude which would include sex-slavery. Wide-scale slavery - Mehr claims - in the Iranshahr wasn't a thing.

Mehr's system looks to me a lot like the slaveri(es) in the city of Rome in the television series of that name. Or like - more recently - the slaveries most prevalent in the American Tidewater states like Virginia, such as Nehemiah Adams documents in A South-Side View. At least Mehr is citing a Zoroastrian compilation: SJ Bulsara, The Laws of the Ancient Persians as found in the "Matikan E Hazar Datastan" or "The Digest of a Thousand Points of Law (1937, since reissued 1999).

I'm afraid I suspect this is humbug- not Bulsara, at least, but the Iranians who cooked up that guide and I'm afraid Dr Mehr hasn't been looking closely enough himself. Slaves could come from foreign wars - what if the winner captured a lot of them? There is a basic conflict-of-interest here: war makes slaves, work is found for them to do, now there is a demand for more .In just this way any historian of the South would laugh at you if you came to him with Nehemiah Adams. Sure there were places in the South where slavery was Not That Bad; even Harriet Beecher Stowe knew that much. There were worse places Down River, as the expression goes. But here's the problem - that's where the money was, so that's where the slaves went. It was similar in Rome: the Roman house slave had best stay good and loyal, or else he (or she) was going to be sold to a latifundium in Spain or (north) Africa. If it happens now... it happened then.

I suggest that in the last years of the Iranshahr, the Khuzistan formerly Elymais was - increasingly - where the money was.

posted by Zimri on 18:08 | link | 0 comments

Prohibitions which ain't

Dr Jonathan Rape Rape Brown isn't done with that chicken. He has posted a rebuttal: part apology, mostly whining about li'l ol' me and about all his other detractors on the "alt right". Herein, Rape Rape Brown floats, for an example, an eighteenth-century Muslim who "abolished" slavery. Ian Morris calls shenanigans. To that, Abd al-Qadir Kan prohibited the slave trade and freed any slave who could recite any part of the Quran, Dr Brown repeats. (h/t zeca.)

If Kan's slaves were reciting the Qur'an in his presence, of course, they'd have to answer how they learnt it. In Islam you only teach the Qur'an to prospective converts - it is, after all, a work mainly of rhetoric and argument. If they did not do shahada before or immediately after their exercise in tajwid, they'd almost certainly lose their heads. Otherwise it was back to the plantation with them, sporting some fresh new scars.

Oh, and you know who else "abolished the slave trade"? The slave states in the American South, that's who. They had an internal slave-trade going on, and those slavers didn't want the competition from the Portuguese et al.

When you're in the alt-right you get privy to super special secrets like this.

posted by Zimri on 17:20 | link | 0 comments

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Sasanian demand for slaves

Sugar cane grows in the tropics; and cutting the cane is hard, menial labour. As of the 'Abbasid regime, southern Iraq and Iran along the Gulf Coast supported vast plantations of the stuff. The people cutting it weren't exactly volunteers. They weren't exactly native to the area either. These so-called "zanj" staged a revolt or two I believe. Some revolts were quite serious.

I've already posted here about the implication of Watson's "Agricultural innovation in the early Islamic World". Sugar cane was brought there, sometime in the 400s or 500s AD. The Iranshahr's part of the lowlands got renamed Khuzistan "sugar land". I didn't mention who, exactly, was doing the work. But I believe we can venture a guess.

If the Persians (and Aramaeans) weren't doing it in the 800s CE, they sure as hell weren't about to do it when their own shahs ruled the place in the 500s. I mooted it reasonable that the landowners were buying the labour from further south. "Khuz" might not be Iranian but "istan" sure is. And "Zanj" to me looks like an Irani word too: many words in Arabic that end -j (pronounced -g in the old days), or in -q or -h or -kh, are Iranian in origin usually Farsi.

The growing demand for the sugar crop meant a demand for new slaves, as well. This would have made a fine motive for the Persians to make war on the west - and on the south. So the Zangistan, as they called it then, is probably Africa.

posted by Zimri on 17:07 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Before you enlist in the social-justice war

The term "social justice warrior" was, I think, coined in sarcasm. However I have seen some supporters of "social justice" wonder how bad a thing it is to struggle in this holy cause. I'll take a, er, shot at this here.

The first question you as potential recruit to the "social justice" fight should ask is what the term even means. Wars should also, ideally, end - at least, for you. There's a lot of literature praising people who die fighting. Most of those causes, to outsiders, look misguided at best. And at any rate you'll not be there to enjoy it because you'll be dead. So you'll want to know what a victory might look like.

You will observe that "social justice" has an adjective attached to a noun. There is a root, "justice". Justice is easy enough to define at the most basic primate level: you do not lie or commit violence to your own tribe for personal gain. This scales up perhaps as far as the Roman and German systems of justice: impartial judges, protection of personal property (at least the most personal effects), stuff like that. Most cultures agree on the basic tenets. Arguably the best summary is CS Lewis's "Tao" or "Natural Law" as he set it in Abolition of Man.

When the adjective comes in, you are telling me you have a sort of Justice-Plus, like Atheism-Plus, not (yet!) available to those who do not share your social views. The problem here is that even other social-justice proponents cannot agree on what the -Plus is. Catholics have Social Teaching; Jews have the Noachide laws. Sayyid Qutb wrote a whole book translated Social Justice in Islam. The Jew and the Catholic do not agree with Qutb. I doubt you will agree with Qutb either.

Since you hold your views to be desiderata amongst all nations, you cannot coexist with the nativist Right (for a start). You disagree that, say, the King of England has the sovereign right to force universities in his part of the island to promote a royalist English worldview - at least, not if this conflicts with global social justice. If your Justice-Plus is secularist, you also cannot coexist with any religion beyond atheist philosophy-systems like Buddhism. Since you're an ideologue and not a nativist, you're not a natalist outside your sect; for you, homosexuality and sex-dysphoria are not problems.

I am not saying that your social views are wrong - at least, not right here in this post. I'm not even sure what your social views are. You might be a Qutbist or a Catholic for all I know.

I am saying that they are not to be confused with natural-law / Tao. They are not justice. At the very least you need to be making the case, narrowly, for whatever tenet you want to promote as justice.

The social-justice war, as such, implies you've already accepted your definition and think it so obvious that you aren't just arguing for it, you're in a war for it. You don't want to give the rest of us a Platform. You want us shut down: converts, enslaved, or dead, as is the end of all wars.

Here's the thing: the rest of us are increasingly figuring this out, not just reactionaries like me but also the Catholics and the Jews and the Muslims with their own, rival Justice-Plus'es. This should give you pause; it should spur you to consider if this is a war you want to fight. Or if it's even the right(eous) side.

Because I just see in "social justice" another pack self-righteous jockeying thugs, a secular ISIS, more interested in a fight than in an argument. I don't want to live in your world. And when the pack decides on a new definition of "social justice" - and history tells us it always does - you won't, either.

posted by Zimri on 14:23 | link | 0 comments

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The women of Late Antiquity

A decade and a half ago, Judith Koren and Prometheus Books finally sent Yehuda Nevo's Crossroads to Islam to the printers. This book mused that Constantinople - after ensuring the end of her rival empire, Iran - sabotaged her own empire. This morning I have read "Dystopic's" essay RadFems, Cenobites, and the Lament Configuration. In the course of blasting our wretched and decadent excuse for a civilisation, it suggests the Bayesian hypothesis that its precedessor Rome fell because someone solved the Lament Configuration - invited the Goths to the Romania. (Although Alaric is the wrong choice: we should be looking at Fritigern.) Dystopic hints strongly that the lucky puzzle-solver was female.

Suppose we bring these two suggestions of self-sabotage together, to the Eastern Roman Empire of the 10s / 630s. I admit, on the part of Koren and Nevo, their thesis did attract critics: some of them ad-hominem and stupid, but not all. But maybe their argument just wasn't complete - specifically, half complete.

What we know of Constantinople the city is that the young men there were posturing as chariot-race hooligans, even wearing their hair like the Huns did. (Larry Gonick's second Cartoon History draws a picture.) Justinian I nearly lost his crown to the Green circus faction (Justinian himself was Team Blue). Maurice, later, did lose his crown, and his life with it. If you know men at all you'll know that they do very little out of the ordinary unless, instinctively, they know their women respond to it. Some Late Roman men did don the uniform of their own nation, and went to war for it, but it was always rare that the men of the cities would do it - the army found better pickings in the countryside. Too many city men would return to find their women with some other stupid hooligan. Country men stood a chance to returning to the arms of their loved ones.

Also I observe around Boulder that the women here don't care about theology for its own sake, like a man might. They do purge heretics, but only where their own status is at stake (heretics here bear the labels "racist" or "Republican", &c.). Mostly I see those COEXIST stickers. They're signalling that they're bored with those judgey boring hypocritical Christians DAD. If it happens now, it happened then...

Now, back then, women weren't fighting directly - although they could certainly fire some missiles during the odd riot. And they weren't setting policy, especially not under Heraclius whose main object of desire was, er, his own niece Martina. But women could signal to their men that it wasn't worth their while to go defend Syria and Egypt from those dashing desert rogues. In those provinces themselves, they could whisper in their churches that the Monothelete controversy wasn't their problem, we are all under one God and blahdiddy blah blah. And their men, next time the Blues and Greens met in the circus, would dress up like Arabs. After all... if it happened then, it will happen now.

posted by Zimri on 09:10 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, February 12, 2017

James Howard-Johnston on the Khoday Nameh

Now that we have Michael RJ Bonner's study on Dinawari, we can revisit James Howard-Johnston's Witnesses to a World Crisis. The book's Khoday Nameh section (he spells it Khwadaynamag) is pp. 341f. (I owe no thanks to the book's index here; I had to flip to the table of contents.)

Immediately I see that Howard-Johnston assumes a single text called "Khwadaynamag". This despite that he must report that the Arabs knew many texts of the name. There's also at least one blunder, in that Ibn Qutayba - for one - didn't actually credit the Khoday Nameh for his take on Irani history. Bonner tells us that Ibn Qutayba instead used the "books of the Iranians' biographies".

Howard-Johnston, writing about the seventh century, doesn't linger on the early Khoday Nameh tradition. Mazdaq is mentioned only as a source of turmoil - which won't offend Bonner. Howard-Johnston really starts with Hormizd IV (579-90). On this shah, Howard-Johnston and Bonner agree on the Khoday Nameh tradition's outline: the Sasanian court had little to say about him, except that he was a reformer, who didn't succeed. The modern scholars also seem to agree that the Sasanian tradition didn't touch Bahram Chobin, leaving his rebellion to other Persian books.

On Khusro II, Howard-Johnston naturally has more to say. Howard-Johnston looks into Pseudo-Sebeos's history of his reign, and attributes the Khwadaynamag as its main source. Bonner mainly agrees. Bonner, though, sees in Sebeos's quotes from the Persian archives a more-or-less sober account of his reign, (mostly) without the egregious propaganda he has had to debunk elsewhere. (EVen where Sebeos does preserve propaganda, it's often east-Christian - like the conversion of Khusro II - and not Sasanian.) So Bonner sees a distinction in the latest Persian material between "official" history, from the "bureaucracy"; and "propaganda", from the court.

Bonner takes the revolt of Bistam as a case-study. Here he finds that Pseudo-Sebeos mainly agrees with Dinawari, and concludes that this came from a Sasanian source. The only aspect of the event Bonner finds unlikely so (Sasanian) propaganda is that it took ten years of Khusro's reign (Howard-Johnson says eight).

Inasmuch as Howard-Johnson starts from 579 AD, his assumption of a single Khoday Nameh is innocuous. His trust in its take on events isn't a problem either. Perhaps Khusro II was so late in the game that the Sasanian propagandists never had much opportunity to lie about him.

posted by Zimri on 13:25 | link | 0 comments

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Who you are, and what you do

During the ongoing Dr Jonathan Rape Rape Brown fracas, I'm reminded of other guys in the public square with some controversial opinions, which have raised Red Flags amongst some. Like Samuel Delany.

There is no evidence that Brown has committed crimes. But he keeps getting trolled into claiming that certain actions, which American law classes as crimes, weren't crimes in the first place. Likewise nobody has yet stepped forward about Delany, as far as I know. And yet... ol' Chip keeps defending his right to... do what he often writes about.

The Greek language claims a difference between paedophilia and paederasty. The former technically means you have that propensity, but doesn't imply you do anything about it. By that token, Delany is a paedophile - an outspoken one - but you can't arrest him for that. Dr Brown hasn't gone this far in airing his kinks out in public. In this narrow respect he's more like a NAMBLA apologist.

What we can say about Dr Brown is that the anti-consent parts of Islam are important to him, that he is passionate about advocating for consent to be taken out of consideration where it applies to the use of slaves. We have no evidence that Dr Brown is a rape-er.

But Dr Brown absolutely has been a rape-ist.

UPDATE 22:30 MST: It gets worse.

posted by Zimri on 15:25 | link | 0 comments

Ptolemy of Mendes

Ptolemaic-era Egypt was a vibrant land of diversity; peopled with Jews, Greeks, and Copts. I'm here offering a (slightly belated) platform to the Copts under the later Ptolemies.

The Copts were (are) the native population of Egypt, and up the Nile they dominated the food-supply. The Ptolemies now ruling Egypt were inbred Macedonians, basically to true Greeks what Ugarit was to Canaan. But they didn't trust Greeks, hence the inbreeding. They ruled with all the trappings of the Pharaohs, to the point of committing inscriptions in old hieroglyphic - like the Rosetta Stone, and maybe even the Throne of Adulis. Part of the "Cleopatra was African!!" controversy is because the latest Ptolemies might have quit inbreeding long enough to marry some influential Copts.

The Jews were the next nation over, and had a long history with Egypt. As of the Hasmonaean Rebellion, the Jews already had their Torah, available in Greek as well as in Hebrew and in Aramaic paraphrase called Targum. Furthermore (these are Jews after all) they were producing plays, in the Greek style in the Greek language. These are preserved in other Greek-speaking authors, usually Christian like Eusebius. Some of these plays - produced in Egypt! - dealt with Moses and the Exodus.

Also preserved in other sources is a Greek-language history of Egypt, or at least the tradition of one. This tradition claims the authorship of a certain priest Aramaicised and Hellenised as Manetho(n). In it, the Jews were a bunch of lepers and thieves righteously expelled from their land. From some admittedly cursory research, the name Ptolemy of Mendes keeps coming up. So it looks like this Ptolemy actually wrote the Greek text. Mendes had been Djedet, the capital of the 29th Dynasty; but was declining since then. It would be a tel (ruin) by the first century AD. Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty no self-respecting Greek would live there; it would have been Coptic.

Ptolemy of Mendes, based on his name and home town, represents the faction supporting the monarchy as the best deal on offer for the Copts. As I read his "History By Manetho", his subtext was: Rameses II and Merneptah are some fine examples of how a good king of Egypt may deal with uppity foreigners. More: the Jews are just the target named. Its Greek audience, imagining themselves cosmopolitan heirs to a legacy of power, would surely recall the legend of Busiris. Maybe a Heracles would protect them, perhaps a hero from Seleucia (depending on when "Manetho" was writing). But maybe not.

Our author's namesake Ptolemy VIII, the New Euergetes, acted on this example. "Manetho" belongs to this reign: either the book suggested the expulsion, or else Copts like its author suggested it verbally and then defended it in print after the fact.

posted by Zimri on 12:05 | link | 0 comments


So today I got this:

Hi - my name is Alonzo, and I work at Artsy. While researching Le Corbusier, I found your page:
I am reaching out to certain website and blog owners that publish content in line with our mission to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone. We hope to continue promoting arts education and accessibility with your help.
Our Le Corbusier page provides visitors with Corbusier's bio, over 50 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Corbusier exhibition listings. The page also includes related artists and categories, allowing viewers to discover art beyond our Corbusier page. We would love to be included as an additional resource for your visitors via a link on your page.
If you are able to add a link to our Corbusier page, please let me know, and thanks in advance for your consideration.

"Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep."
-Le Corbusier

Alonzo clearly hadn't read what I'd actually posted that week, which was a wish for a Modern Architect to rot in hell. That blogpost had linked Le Corbusier himself inasmuch as he was a primary influence on Zaha Hadid. He can go to the same hell.

As for Alonzo, I have already expressed by email my request he find honest work, instead of spamming bloggers who have already expressed in public no desire to spread arts education and accessibility about hideous art.

posted by Zimri on 11:23 | link | 0 comments

Islam is closed to dhimmis and other slaves

Within a post collecting Dr. Jonathan Brown's apologiae for, er, sex slavery at Georgetown University, Robert Spencer quotes this hadith, from Jabir (bin Abd Allah, d. 78 / 697 at the Madina):

There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah's Apostle on migration; he did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave.

First, observe that there are no names mentioned here except for the Prophet's own, and that this event does not affect the narrative of the Sira. There isn't even an appeal to the Qur'an. The hadith's sole purpose is to pass a judgement in fiqh, and to date this judgement to on migration which means Year One A.H.

The hadith's legal-case assumes that the lot of a slave under a Muslim master was an unpleasant one. We have already discussed here the case of Safiya, sex slave to Muhammad himself. If Islamic masters were so wonderful, Jabir would have had his Muhammad character accept their slaves' Islam, and the slave in this story would have returned with joy to his Muslim master and redoubled his efforts on his behalf.

Now, consider the situation under Abd al-Malik in the 70s / 690s. MANY dhimmis were converting to Islam, or pretending to, in order to get out of paying jizya. They were also fleeing the farm to get out of kharaj. (You will notice that they did not plead to be made formal slaves to a Muslim master.) When al-Hajjaj was appointed over the East, he forced the ex-dhimmi pretended "mawali" back to serfdom. This is not long after Jabir's death.

It is reasonable to suspect that in Jabir's lifetime slaves were escaping their plantations in the Dead Sea and Khuzistan to get out of the (horrible) conditions there, too. A runaway professing Islam could appeal to an Islamic court. Against that, Jabir's hadith floated a Prophetic precedent - reject the slave's Islam; and if he cannot be reunited with his master then the Islamic State will find two slaves to recompense him. No mere qadi may appeal the judgement of God's Prophet. As for whatever slaves ran away after this ruling took effect, which again is backdated to 1 A.H., the hadith revokes Islam from them, so they may be treated in the classical way you have seen on Game of Thrones.

This ruling assumes that slaves were cheap. This agrees best with the early years of the futuh conquests. Also after Sebastopolis in the 70s / 690s, the Mediterranean was reopened to piracy.

posted by Zimri on 09:52 | link | 0 comments

Friday, February 10, 2017

Kobad I, evangelist for the Manichees

I read Moshe Gil, “The Creed of Abu ‘Amir”, Israel Oriental Studies 12 ed. Joel Kraemer (Brill, 1992), 9-58 in Ibn Warraq’s reprint in Christmas in the Koran. This was a brief for Manichaean and Enochian influences upon the Hijaz as of Muhammad’s floruit. When I read that essay there I reviewed it as a “curate’s egg”, if only for confusing Mani’s doctrines with their sources in 1 Enoch. Among its assumptions was Tabari’s assessment of Kobad I’s reign and religion. Tabari had marked the shah as a “zindiq”, a mediaeval Islamic term for a Manichaean-leaning heretic; Gil sees the influence of the haeresiarch Mazdaq. Michael RJ Bonner now dismisses Tabari’s assessment as too reliant on the next shah Khusro I’s “propaganda machine”. Bonner’s stark revisionism – iconoclasm, some might call it – has rippled into every essay that deals with Kobad.

Although I haven’t supported the theses of Gil or for that matter of Khusro, I offer here a rearguard defence for both. After all, propaganda must deliver some truth, lest it be disbelieved and rejected, as we should disbelieve and reject American fake news. And Bonner hasn’t yet taken note of Gil as far as I know.

Tabari portrays Kobad as a full Manichaean, so a pacifist. Clearly Kobad was no such thing; he raided the Romania in the early 500s. Gil himself notes that Tabari’s full account is incoherent – it has the Yemeni prince Shamir murder Kobad in Rayy, which Gil mocks (“certainly untrue”). Bonner more reasonably has identified Kobad as a Persian neo-conservative, a liberal reformer as far as a shah may ever be one, but also warlike against ideological enemies. Elsewhere coinage finds tell us that the Hephthali Huns to the east had become ideological allies to the Zoroastrian project, if only against the Turks. Christian Rome at the other extreme could never accept the Avesta. Kobad, turning his energies westward, likely considered himself a warrior for orthodox Zoroastrianism.

But that doesn’t mean that Kobad imagined he could preach Zarathustra unto all the world – at least, not right away. Gil provides other sources on what Kobad sent westward in the meantime, to Aniran.

One source Gil brings is Ibn Sa‘id’s Nashwat al-tarab. This claimed that Kobad had ordered Harith al-Kindi king of the Hira to evangelise “zindiqism” across Arabia, from Najd to the Tihama. Gil backs this up from Ibn Rusteh apud Kister, Arabica 15 (1968), 144f, that some Quraysh had accepted “the zandaq”. In Yathrib the Banu ‘Amr b ‘Awf at the city gate named their headquarters “Kobad” (it later became “Quba’”). We have no evidence that the Arabs had received the Aryo-Turanian Scripture, even in the syncretic form Elisha had received in the quasi-Iranian Armenia. It is reasonable to concede that the next best thing – for a Sasanian seeking to unite the Semites against Christianity – was the gospel of Mani. Its pacifism was a problem but at least pacifists wouldn’t get in the shah’s way.

So Tabari might carry a real memory of Arab tradition: that the Arabian hinterlands circa 500 AD suffered a Manichaean phase, and that Kobad had sponsored this. If so then Khusro and the Greeks independently noticed the Manichaean revival in the Semitic territories along their frontier. They further agreed in disliking Kobad’s policies (differing over which policies perhaps). For their independent purposes, each side agreed to denounce the late shah as an apostate and/or heretic, himself.

As for Harith in the Hira, his zandaq didn’t survive Kobad. His daughter Hind married Mundhir of the Lakhm and endowed a nunnery. This Dayr Hind sported an inscription that declares Hind as a daughter of God’s “servants” (plural!) and itself as aligned with Mar Ephraim the Nestorian bishop. If there was going to be a pan-Arab religious movement against Byzantine Christendom, such would have to wait.

posted by Zimri on 17:36 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Ptolemy VIII denies philosophers a platform

Ol' Mencius is back to trolling comment-threads with knowledge. The difference between now, and ten years ago when he was trolling the Blowhards, is that his opponents are now saying no-platform him - because "hate", of course. Fortunately for us, their host didn't delete the "Boldmug" posts. Which means we may still read this:

Lucio Russo wrote an interesting, if perhaps a little overstated, book, on the Hellenistic (300-150BC, not to be confused with the Hellenic era proper) golden age of science. We really have no way of knowing how close to a scientific revolution the Alexandrians came. But it was political failure, not scientific failure, that destroyed their world. The ratchet of progress was inside a ratchet of decay.


Russo, for instance, pins the intellectual death of Alexandria on Ptolemy VIII, of whom it was written: “He expelled all intellectuals: philologists, philosophers, professors of geometry, musicians, painters, schoolteachers, physicians and others.”

This is someone in 120BC writing about 145 BC. Sounds a lot like the evil Drumpf, doesn’t it? Ptolemy VIII ceded his kingdom to Rome. The Museum basically gathered dust for another half millennium and then was burned either by the Christians or the Muslims, or possibly both.

No one has come down to explain to us how, exactly, before Ptolemy VIII the Alexandrian intellectuals were shitting all over the Alexandrian non-intellectuals. But I’m sure it was something.

Here is raised an instance of Right no-platforming.

I always suspect It-Was-Written quotes from the Interweb, so I chased this one down. Don't look to La rivoluzione dimenticata, although Russo did know the source. This quote comes from (probably) Wikipedia, from Christian Habicht, based on the Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Brill has this much online... if you pay for it. Elsewhere the isnad goes further to Athenaios' Deipnosophistae 4.83.184b-c. You can read this in English right now if you wanna, thanks to Loeb letting the copyrights slip. Athenaios was citing Menecles of Barca alongside Andron of Alexandria. At least Menecles was a contemporary of Ptolemy the second "Euergetes". Here is Athenaios, as Heinrich von Staden translates more fully:

A rejuvenation of all paideia was again brought about in the reign of the seventh (sic) Ptolemy who ruled Egypt, the one appropriately named Kakergetes by the Alexandrians. For he slaughtered many of the Alexandrians and exiled not a few who had grown up with his brother [Philometor], thereby causing the islands and cities to be jammed with philologists, philosophers, mathematicians, musicians, painters, physical educators, as well as physicians and many other professionals (tekhnîtai). On account of their poverty they taught what they knew and instructed many distinguished men.

As is usual with hadith, the exact words go off a bit over the transmission. But it's not that bad here; it's just an interpretation - which Moldbug is already conceding is "overstated" - of an already-hostile source, namely Athenaios. Athenaios for his part is probably doing not-badly with Menecles and Andron. Between them they all, literally, offload kaka upon Ptolemy's good name.

Moldbug doesn't answer what the Alexandrines did to deserve all this; he is asking. He invokes "Bayes" which is, I think, the principle of "if it happens now it also happened then". He might be marking, to serve as his "later" base, the Christian-era Alexandria between Cyril and Hypatia. For that era we have an impressive documentary record of what each side said about one another - including the "Ptolemaic" side. Moldbug thinks it at least askable that what happened to Hypatia in the early 400s AD also might have happened to Menecles' chums in the mid 100s BC.

Back to Hellenistic Egypt, I happen to hold a degree in this general field of "ancient Mediterranean civilizations". So I will take a crack at this Spirited Debates In Alexandria trope, under Ptolemy Kakergetes-Physcon. Spoiler: people got killed there.

Menecles himself traced his ancestry from Cyrene, so identified most with the Greeks; although (like me!) he might have had some Semite and Berber in him. Barca at this time was a province of Alexandria, home of Andron. Alexandria was a nexus of three cultures: Greek, Jewish, and Coptic. The Ptolemies were inbred Macedonians, only quasi-Greek, and presented themselves less as Alexander's heirs than as Coptic Pharaohs.

I haven't studied the so-called Alexandrian School, except that I gather it was mainly Hellenistic in focus, barely even addressing Egyptian concerns. I have a better handle on the Jews and Copts of Lower Egypt. They were arguing the Exodus - and the Copt writing as "Manetho", for his part, was claiming it proudly as the Shortest-Way With The Foreigners. For all the flamewars between the Coptic and Jewish ghettoes, the Ptolemies didn't give much of a damn. But if you think "Manetho" was just an anti-Semite and would have been fine with the Greeks, you don't know nativists very well. (UPDATE 2/11/2017: On "Manetho".)

Let's now consider those Greeks, with whom the Ptolemies shared a language and (once) a culture. The Greeks also were the mainstay of the army by which Alexander had conquered the Two Lands in the first place. And there was another Greek army just across the Sinai (now) - the Seleucids. The Ptolemies knew all about that lot; they'd lost Judaea to them. Lately Demetrius I Soter had been campaigning around that border. True, his successors (usurpers actually) Alexander Balas and Demetrius II Nicator weren't up to par, but in the early 140s BC Ptolemy couldn't know that. The Greeks, by the way, knew how to write plays too. A couple of Panhellenic Power demos in the streets of Barca, in those days, and let word of them spread around Alexandria and you're dealing with a hot leaking keg of olive-oil under a dry Egyptian sun. Near a torch.

So I am calling some major shenanigans on Menecles' and Andron's complaint, that Ptolemy just upped and decided to rid himself of his best engineers and physicians, because who needs 'em. This whole screed reeks of Dyndu Nuffin, with a balancing scent of #Fakehistory. I bet the musicians and painters were putting up a lot of pro-Seleucid chauvinism and threatening Ptolemaic rule, not to mention risking a massacre of Copts and oh wait, probably Jews as well. The other "intellectuals" were assuredly going along with the tribe, as university suckups always do, and I'll hazard that these weren't the highest echelon of Alexandrine brainpower either. If it happens now that indifferent scholars get into politics instead, it happened then. Ptolemy had to remove their platform, before they removed his.

I mean, just look at Menecles. He was a hack if I've ever read one. And I live in America. I've read many.

posted by Zimri on 21:01 | link | 0 comments

Monday, February 06, 2017

West-Semitic min

I was re-reading my Ugaritic Primer last weekend, to see if I might make more of it now (having Hebrew and Safaitic) than I made in 2009 (having MSA only). I did a lot better this time, to the point I threw up a review.

One thing I noticed in Ugaritic is the lack of a word dedicated to "from". It overloads li-, confusingly; I'm used to li- for "for". The Qur'an uses min or sometimes mina. If before ("what"), the suras usually conjoin the twain to mimmâ, "whence"; but even here Q. 4:25 and 63:10 are exceptions. Hebrew conjoins min a lot. It's often a prefix in that language, dropping the "n" and doubling the first consonant of the next word.

And then there's Safaitic. Al-Jallad believes that this is a dialect-cloud of mutually-intelligible Ancient North Arabian, including the ancestor to Qur'anic Arabic; so deserves to be called an earlier stage of Arabic. Worth note here is that Safaitic, like Hebrew and not like classical Arabic, treats min like a prefix (p. 51). Again, with exceptions.

The min-as-prefix looks like a shared Iron-Age feature of proto-Arabic and the still-living Hebrew of Biblical Judah. For min as a (usually) standalone word, this is sounds like the more-careful speech of a rhetor not necessarily native to the South-Syrian Semites. Either way I'll add it to the isogloss list.

posted by Zimri on 17:53 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Conan the Prophet

I am avoiding OMGTRUMP as best I can, before I lose whatever friends I still have. I also like to sleep at nights, which TRUMPOMG is making difficult. To that effect I have been carrying off Robert Howard "Conan" books okay, I'll admit it - the Marvel comic adaptations. Over January I got through 230(!) comics in the mainline (give or take those issues I'm missing); and I switched to Savage Sword, this month. So last night I read "A Witch Shall Be Born", as redone by Roy Thomas.

The Eternal Salome takes over a kingdom. Conan, playing the part of Prophet, rejects her authority and gets crucified. Stylistically the narrative is delivered mainly from the viewpoint of other characters; this evokes certain scenes in the Gospels, the book of Job, and the Hadith. Robert Howard's theme here - if you could not tell - is that Conan is not Jesus. Conan has no interest in being Muhammad either.

I am told Howard rushed the manuscript. Some peeks around the 'net show me that its second-hand narrative has distracted most readers, like TVTropes and Howard Andrew Jones, who call foul on "Show Don't Tell". And they are right: especially Astreas (another nod to Bibliophiles) doesn't tell a story, he delivers exposition. Marvel's artists, as artists, are at least able to illustrate Astreas' epistle. So I can report, in this one case, that if you are looking for entertainment, which is why we read Conan in the first place, you are better off reading Marvel. Robert Howard himself would likely prefer you did.

Earlier in the Savage Sword series I'd read "Night of the Dark God". This retconned Conan's past to give him a first love, "Mara". When Conan Goes Home Again, some vikings are forcing a priest of "Mitra" to marry "Mara" to their chief. "Mara" will have none of it and just as Conan arrives, she kills herself. This didn't look like the Conan I know, even less like the Mitra I know. So I looked around and, sure enough, "The Dark Man" features Turlogh Dubh trying to rescue Moira, and the cowardly priest is a Christian. Here I think Howard would have disapproved Marvel's hack job.

I sense a general antipathy from the twenty-something Howard, living in the early 1930s, against the Christian myth. It's not that the religion is "Judgey" or "Hypocrites!" or "Boring" or whatever else they whine about in Boulder. Howard tells you all you need to know when he starts "The Dark Man" by quoting the Christian elegist Chesterton. The story calls shenanigans upon King Alfred's whole project. Howard's problem is Gibbon's: Christianity is weak. Howard, with Gibbon, sees the world as a savage place wherein only manly virtue and honour can protect the weak. For Howard's Uebermenschen generally, the Oglaf parody cuts close to home.

Howard isn't impressed with Lovecraft's Terrors From Beyond, either. It's Howard's thought that if some Elder God manifests itself on Earth, its avatar will be like a squid on dry land and thus vulnerable to a good sword and a strong arm. Although Howard has enough respect for Lovecraft's thesis that at least he doesn't parody it.

Howard might not know what society he wants instead. But he is young. While he figures it out he'll have his itinerant heroes Turlogh and Conan tear apart whatever humbug they encounter.

posted by Zimri on 10:00 | link | 0 comments

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