Sunday, January 29, 2006

Scroll Patrol

As far as biblical parchments go, none have quite the cachet or mystique as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The name alone, so exotic and so exquisite - with its subtle hint of a drowning afterlife – is redolent of magic and mystery. Their history has also contributed to a glowing legend.

They were discovered in Qumran on the east bank of the Dead Sea in Jordan in 1947 and they were quick to capture the public imagination. This was heightened because of excessive secrecy involving the deciphering of the material and the length of time it took for them to enter the public domain.

The vacuum of time created a rich volume of conspiracy theories. Most notable of the works of the time was ‘The Dead Sea Scroll Deception' by Bagnent and Leigh (who also co-operated to conjure up the nonsense of the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in which the Scrolls also had a starring role) which claimed the Vatican was deliberately suppressing the scrolls.

Now that they have finally been released, most of the theories have been unmasked as nonsense – not least because the scrolls mostly deal with events BEFORE the life of Jesus. What they do tell us about are the origins of Jewish christianity and the impacts of Greece and Rome on the Near East.

The scrolls were found in a number of caves scattered along the inaccessible cliff-faces that dot the region. According to Stephen Hodge (who writes about them in the excellent and unbiased ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls: An Introductory Guide’) they can be divided into three sections. They are the Biblical works, the Sectarian works and the Non-Sectarian works. The Biblical works contain copies of the Penteteuch (the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers), the Psalms and also cover non standard books such as the book of Enoch which is not included in the Old Testament canon. It also contains the Book of Jubilees covering the existence of evil in the world and also various pieces of eschatological writing.

The so called Sectarian works are probably the works of the mysterious sect called the Essenes. Hodge is not one hundred percent certain that it is the work of the Essenes and prefers to simply call them ‘The Community’. It concerns their teachings and disciplines and what is called ‘Pesher’ which is the expounding and interpretation of prophecies.

The third part of the Scrolls are the Non Sectarian works. The main work in this category is the Temple Scroll concerning the building and use of a vast temple. There are also works related to a Hebrew calendar. The scrolls date from 380 BC (the testament of Qahar) to 60 AD (the Thanksgiving Hymns).

The scrolls are the only known surviving Biblical works that predate 100 AD.

Flavours of Vladimir
“I am the shadow of the waxwing slain
by the false azure of the window pane”
I got stuck after 2 lines of Pale Fire
Nabokov’s flame could shoot me no higher
wondering, waxwing, butterfly, right?
Powerful suicidal folly in a false glass night
Until the dictionary made me out a liar
Pointed it out as a feathered flier
This waxy wing wanes as passerine songbird
Cross-referenced to perching this other new word
So two lines blazed a trail of ignorance
Perhaps just put down to casual chance
But before I commit to flagging standard
Of stumbled-upon knowledge deliciously rendered
What life lessons can it possibly show
Will out of little corniness, great jokes grow?
Dismiss it absolutely with spluttering adorn
Call it mealy-mouthed, great cereal “Killer Corn”
A wrestling tag with its own finality
A great plant damned with banality
A trial trivialised by rampant sensation
Pronounced abundantly guilty by association
Found in the vicinity of a rustic deception
Accessory after the fact of gauche perception
saccharine sophisticates pour out sweet scorn
on folks unluckily not so urbane born
yokel attributes to plants compared
and mirrored back to paradox squared
absurdity chained to another corny atrocity
‘corn ball’ stupid in its cloying ferocity
enslaved in a deep southern dessert sleaze
honeychile, another ball a popcorn and molasses, pullease
it makes me want to reach for an emetic
rather than humour this sad diabetic
time to play my occasional bit part
a sticky passion for a tired rhubarb tart
windows overlooking almost everything
set in motion by a dead waxwing

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Are you the Mufti? Yassir, I am!

Mufti is an honorary Muslim title akin to lawgiver.

In pre-war Palestine, the Mufti was also the de facto head of state. The last Mufti of Jerusalem was an unpleasant character called Amin Al-Husseini (with two dictators in your name, it’s a bad start).

He was installed by the British at the end of the First World War and he pursued a radical anti-Zionist agenda. He was helped by anti-Semites in the British Foreign Office and they beefed up his title to "Grand Mufti".

But he went too far when he tried to kill the top British policeman in Palestine and was expelled to Jordan in 1937. From there he went to Berlin and spent the war as a special guest of Hitler.

Here he got involved in the Final Solution plans, gave anti-Jewish addresses on the radio and visited Dachau on a number of occasion.

At the end of the war he fled to Egypt where he was treated as an Arab hero. Because of this, he was never tried as a war criminal.

He was instrumental in starting the 1948 war against newly established Israel. The Jordanians didn't want him back in Palestine so he orchestrated the assassination of King Abdullah in 1951.

He never made it back to Jerusalem and died in exile in 1974. His successor as leader of the Palestinian Arabs was his nephew Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Husseini. That was a bit of a mouthful so he changed it to plain old Yassir Arafat.


Where goest thou, fair traveller?
Aberystwyth, mein oberherr,
Aber dien?
Nein Wales, nicht Schottland.
le pay baas aber naturlich!
Aber warum?
I’m sorry this poem is an aberration

Monday, January 23, 2006


Between the 6th century BC and the first century of the common era (according to Yeshua, the fulcrum of the calendar) lived a people called Nabateans. They flourished in the south and east of Palestine from Petra in the north in modern Jordan to Hajaz in the south in modern Saudi Arabia. Petra was their capital and they had a sophisticated pantheon of Gods including Al-Azzi, the female deity. It was suggested and suspected that they were leaning towards a single deity towards the end of their power. They spoke Aramaic and would have been a profound influence on Judean culture in Maccabean times. The last remnant of post Alexandrian power was waning across the region and the new Roman masters were to destroy the power of Jew and Nabatean alike. Only Yeshua and his supporters were to flourish from this crossroads of history, politics and power.

I don’t complain I’ve lived simply
but styleless find me guilty
lacking in quintessential arts
Barry’s constant is not in
the formula of cloths to appearance
squeezing out goodness at the chapel of being
I’m a spinster spider
the web in which I lead
my life in others

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A to Abalone

My Collins English Dictionary is old and cranky: some 1791 pages, a 1992 vintage, weather beaten and shorn of its cover from a decade and more of constant use. Page 1 takes me from A to Abalone. I think of this as I read The Meaning of Everything the story of the 68 year making of the original Oxford English Dictionary, the last part of which was published in 1928. Simon Winchester’s tale entertainingly talks about the major contributors James Murray, Henry Bradley, Chevenix Trench, Herbert Coleridge, Frederick Furnivell and others. They all contributed to this colossal encyclopaedic compendium of the history of the English language. In my own slimline CED page 1 we see several ‘a’s (roads, musical notes, area, chemical mass numbers & blood types among others) onto the ‘aa’ which is a Hawaiian volcanic rock. The aardvark and aardwolf are wonderfully present as they were in the OED despite the wolfish howls of protest from editors who thought the words weren’t English. The abacus traces back to the Hebrew word for dust (‘abhaj’) and unto dust it will surely return. We have cities in Switzerland, Denmark and Iran (Aarau, Aarhus and Abidan), we have bibles and devils (Aaron and Abaddon) and the abalone is also called an ear shell and is an 19th century word of unknown American Spanish origin.

Fair Game
Why are crystal balls so dirty?
They get so little business
in their shabby tents
there’s no future in it
there’s no furniture in it
in this land of magical ikeas

Monday, January 16, 2006

Falstaffian Nye

Joseph S Nye is the Dean of the Kennedy school of government at Harvard University. He was chair of the National Intelligence Council and assistant secretary of defence in the Clinton administration.

Oxford University Press published his book ‘The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go it Alone’ in 2002. Like just about everything published in the wake of 9/11 it takes its terms of reference from that event. It charts American military and economic superiority and it documents the likely challengers: China, Japan, India, Russia and the EU.

Its main thread is that of ‘soft power’ the cultural and mnemonic indicators that keep America in everyone’s lives. In a similar manner to Chomsky, he speaks about the rise of Non Government Organisations, trans-national companies (some 60% of which are based in the US) and the role of the Internet as an information filter. He fears that the worse outcome would be for America to become isolationist again.

The US's ‘soft power’ (freedom of speech, Hollywood, freedom of information and entrenched democracy) are the key points for its continued success in the 21st century.

So what’s so good about Fridays
said the heckler in the head
I’ll indulge that argument
founded in belief
now that it’s on my mind
with my heart just a beat behind
its the crossover from the week to the strong
getting a feeling for where you belong
Friday is the escape hatch
the finger on the latch
gripped for a brief change

Ah said the brainroom brawler
what if you get everything you want
make every moment soar
in constant accelerating roar
the need underpinning it all
would disappear to never-never-fear
wouldn’t you be happy in all ways
yes I say agreeing but unconvinced
but I’d still want my Fridays

my beliefs unbonded and restless
if change is everywhere will I get sick of it?
interrupted once more the conscious critic
Never! you shoot free from time
cannon off the universe
21 gun simultaneous salutes
question all your trivial pursuits

ever so addicted to change
not addiction but profound desire
crooned the mindtown crier
and from the desperate speaker
signals are weaker

Can I move on from now?
Truly, slick soul replies
ask me how

show me the one line you know

Sunday, January 15, 2006


They are a Northern Irish football club and a New Zealand provincial rugby team but most notably they are military expeditionists who went off in search of Christian glory in a series of invasions of the Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

They went there to capture or re-capture Jerusalem from the Muslims (not the ‘Moslems’ a wrong, bad word.) The word crusade itself is derived from the French ‘crossade’ from old French ‘crois’ (cross) from Latin ‘crux’ and influenced by Spanish crusada from the verb ‘crucer’ to take up the cross.

The first crusade was formed as a direct result of the perceived threat to the Byzantine empire by the Seljuk Turks. The emperor in Constantinople asked Pope Urban II in 1095 for a contingent of mercenaries to retake Anatolia with the suggestion they could then move on to liberate Jerusalem. A Christian jihad was authorised. Four armies came together, one each from Lorraine, Normandy, Apulia and Flanders. They took Jerusalem in 1099. They proceeded to defend their newly conquered territory with new Frankish states defended by castles, Knights Templar and Hospitalers. The Krak des Chevaliers near Tripoli, Lebanon (the castle is across the border in Syria) is the best preserved of the Crusader castles.

Because of sustained attacks by Muslims, a second crusade was called for in 1147. They crashed to defeat in Anatolia. Salah al-Din (1137-1193) united the Islamists and overran Jerusalem.

The armies of the third crusade 1189-91 included the Kings of France and England and they took Acre, Tyre and Jaffa but were unable to retake Jerusalem. The fourth crusade (1202-1204) was a shambles as Christians fought Christians. The Doge of Venice forced them to divert to attack Zara on the Adriatic.

The fifth Crusade (1218-1221) also failed but the new Holy Roman emperor Frederick II acquired Jerusalem by a political settlement. He also instigated the sixth Crusade (1228-1229) and negotiated a ten year truce restoring Jerusalem to the Franks. He crowned himself King of Jerusalem in 1229 but it fell again to the Turks after a row between the Templars and the Hospitalers.

The seventh crusade 1248-1250 and the eight crusade in 1270 were the last hurrahs. The Turks retook all Eastern possessions and left the lasting legacy of a final split between Latin and Orthodox Christianity.

Behaviour at the Edge of Time
I want to be your action stunt double
you can be yourself right up to the edge of conversation
then as it all turns nasty and mad
I jump out of the telephone jackboot
throw away my disguise
I look you in the eyes and say
“I’ll do it from here”

You stare, pull your head back and laugh
Jackanape, put back on your false eyes
I’ve seen your double visions and
I’ve met your credit cards
How can you imitate my madness
when you are too often safely sane
Avoiding it from here

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Seoul Searching

Icy greetings from freezing Seoul. Today was quite mild as the temperatures rose to a balmy three degrees. Unlike Friday when it rose from a low of minus -8 to a sizzling -3 as those damn Siberian winds kicked in again. No snow, just a bitterly cold Russky breeze blowing in from the North.

Seoul is the most inaptly named city in the world. It is a soulless place. It changed hands five times in the Korean war and was destroyed many times over in the process. As a result the whole city was rebuilt and it looks like how the Gold Coast would look if you dropped the temps by 30 degrees and dragged it away from the sea. The city is gridlocked with a rushhour that really is a rushday starting at 7am and continuing to 10pm. Thats the despite having a terrific subway system which I have been using to get around quite easily.

Not much English spoken here despite the strong American influence, with about 50,000 US troops stationed here. I saw quite a few of them when we took a tour to the DMZ on Saturday. The demilitarised zone was the ceasefire line at the end of the Korean war in 1953 and is now awash with soldiers, weapons, barbed wire, landmines, and of course, a Viking longboat. The Viking longboat is like something you'd see at Dreamworld except it is in the middle of a warzone. I guess you need something to keep the kids occupied when you are staring past a forbidding looking South Korean soldier into the famine-ravished North. The South Koreans built the largest flag pole in the world at the border so the North Koreans had to build a bigger one. It is so big that they have to take it down as soon as it rains as the flagpole can't support it when it gets wet.

Haven't found any restaurants serving dog yet but I saw this delicious looking repast on a cafe menu near the hotel:
"Nolboo's Soondae Kukbob is being made by putting the tripe, the horsehair's cap of badger, the womb and soondae in the thick broth from soupbone. It is good for your health especially by getting rid of its peculiar smell. Its taste is light and refreshing".

Call me a wimp if you like, but so far, I have passed on Nolboo's Soondae Kukbob even the horsehair's cap of badger, the womb and soondae don't do it for me.