Archive for May, 2010
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Benito Mussolini” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
At the close of his life, a still proud Benito Mussolini made the following prediction to one of his last interviewers: “After the defeat I will be covered furiously in spit but then they will come to clean me with veneration.” Ultimately, the man once referred to as, “Il Duce” was only half right.
The Fascist Party he founded in 1921, which held sway over Italy for just over two decades, failed to permanently transform his fellow countrymen (much less the entire world). The so-called “third way” that he foisted on Italy- an inchoate mix of militarism, hyper-nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and collectivism- ultimately took toll its toll on the country and engendered fanatical hatred and resentment towards the fascist dictator amongst many Italians. In fact, one need only look to the gruesome events surrounding his execution on April 29, 1945 to get a sense of the collective rage felt by the Italian people towards their fallen authoritarian leader.
Knowing his time was up during the last days of the war in Italy, Mussolini attempted to escape the advancing Allied Army by hiding in a German convoy headed toward the Alps. However, the dictator was discovered after a stop and search and immediately arrested, and was soon joined by his mistress, Clara Petacci. The council of partisan leaders, led by the Communists, secretly decided to execute Mussolini and his fifteen most powerful political followers.
On April 28, Colonel Valerio broke into the room where Mussolini and Clara were being held and told them that he had come to rescue them. They hurried to the awaiting car and were escorted about a mile away before being stopped near gate to the Villa Belmonte. Ordered to get out of the car and stand next to the stone wall, they were both summarily executed by a firing squad armed with machine guns. A guard was placed over their bodies, while Valero rounded up the remainder of the 15 prisoners selected for execution. They were hurriedly brought out to the square and given 3 minutes for the ministrations of a priest before joining their fallen leader’s fate.
However, Mussolini’s execution had not quelled the rage of the blood thirsty mob, and Mussolini’s executioners were more than willing to oblige…His dead body was dragged into the town square (as well as that of his mistress and sixteen other Fascists), and was subjected to a gruesome parade of terribles that shocked the world with its brutality. True to their mama bear reputation, a handful of vengeful Italian mothers were responsible for starting the orgy of violence against Ill Duce’s body. One mother produced a revolver and fired five shots into Mussolini’s head to “avenge my five dead sons”; another woman tore off a strip of his shirt, set fire to it and threw it in his face.
Whipped into a frenzy, the crowd surged forward and began beating Mussolini’s body into a bloody pulp- his skull was cracked and one of his eyes fell out of its socket. One woman squatted down, raised her skirt and urinated on his face. Others covered his face in spit (thus fulfilling his prediction). One man creatively attempted to put a dead mouse in Mussolini’s mouth, while cackling, “Make a speech now, make a speech.” The corpses of the executed fascists were dragged through the streets, hung on meat hooks, and displayed to the crazed crowd. When the mob became too frenzied, the police had to use water hoses to control the situation. Finally, the Allies ordered the bodies removed for burial.
When Adolf Hitler heard how Mussolini was executed and put on public display, he vowed he would not let this happen to him. A few days later, Hitler shot his mistress and new wife, Eva Braunn, swallowed some cyanide, he shot himself in the mouth for good measure. Following Hitler’s orders, their bodies were placed in a shell hole outside of his Berlin bunker and burned. Only his teeth were later discovered.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Joseph Stalin” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
While the exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, it is estimated that the various terror campaigns launched by Joseph Stalin claimed no fewer than 15 million Russian lives. Unsurprisingly, Stalin’s sadism knew no exceptions, even with respect to his family: His son Yakov (whom he fathered with his first wife Ekaterina Svanidze) first attempted suicide as a young man, in an attempt to escape from his father’s unrelenting scorn and cruelty. Sadly, when Stalin learned that his son had survived his self-inflicted injury, he responded with his characteristic cruelty, reportedly jeering “he can’t even shoot straight.”
Still pathetically committed to winning his father’s approval, Yakov subsequently served in the Red Army during World War II, and was eventually captured by the Germans. Stalin was offered the opportunity to exchange Yakov for Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, who was captured by the Russians after surrendering at Stalingrad. True to form, Stalin turned the offer down without a moment’s hesitation, stating “You have in your hands not only my son Yakov but millions of my sons. Either you free them all or my son will share their fate.” It is believed that Yakov was so crushed by his father’s indifference to his plight that he ran into the electric fence that encircled his prison camp, killing him immediately.
Stalin’s cruelty towards his “loved” ones did not end with his son. His second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva also was driven to suicide by the anti-Christlike cruelty of her husband. On November 9, 1932, after enduring an impressive thirteen years of marriage to evil incarnate, Nadezhda was found dead in her bedroom, a revolver by her side. Allegedly, her spirit was broken for the last time after suffering a humiliating public spat with her husband the night before, where he reportedly belittled his wife mercilessly while throwing orange peels at her. Of course, the official announcement claimed that she died of appendicitis. Two doctors who refused to sign a certificate stating false conclusions about the cause of her death were later convicted during the Trial of the Twenty-One and executed.
Some people believe that Stalin killed her himself, and that he covered up the murder by making it look like a suicide. However, this seems unlikely in light of his modus operandi, which seem to suggest that he ultimately enjoyed humiliating and terrorizing her too much to do away with her. Accounts of contemporaries and Stalin’s letters to his “friends” indicate that he was deeply disturbed by his wife’s suicide. In fact, many histories of Stalin even claimed that he retreated into all-male society after her death. However, the truth is far less flattering; soon after Nadezhda’s suicide, Stalin actually struck up a torrid affair with….. her sister!
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Ivar the Boneless” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
Ivarr Ragnarsson, nicknamed Ivar the Boneless, was a Danish or Swedish Viking chieftain and by reputation also a berserker (Norse warriors who reportedly fought in a nearly uncontrollable, possibly drug induced, trance-like fury). Unsurprisingly, every Viking historian worth his or her salt has a theory about the origins of Ivar’s unusual nickname. Some have suggested “boneless” was a euphemism for impotence (doubtful) or even a snake metaphor (he had a brother named Snake-Eye). However, it seems unlikely that the famous Ivar earned his epithet from his less illustrious brother, thank you very much. Still others have opined that his moniker might have referred his impressive physical flexibility, and that his “limberness” might have given rise to the popular notion that he was “boneless.”
A few historians have enlivened this debate with their convincing theory that the signs and symptoms of Ivar’s condition, as described in the Scandinavian sagas, are consistent with the etiology of osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). More commonly known as “brittle bone disease,” osteogenesis imperfecta is a dominant congenital disorder that causes extremely fragile bones, and is most frequently caused by defect in the gene that produces type 1 collagen, an important building block of bone. Thus, people with OI are extremely susceptible to fractures.
In 1949, the Dane Knud Seedorf published “Osteogenesis imperfecta: A study of clinical features and heredity based on 55 Danish families,” where he wrote:
“Of historical personages the author knows of only one of whom we have a vague suspicion that he suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta, namely Ivar Benløs, eldest son of the Danish legendary king Regnar Lodbrog. He is reported to have had legs as soft as cartilage (‘he lacked bones’), so that he was unable to walk and had to be carried about on a shield.”
In 2003 Nabil Shaban, a disability rights advocate with osteogenesis imperfecta, made the documentary “The Strangest Viking” for British television, in which he explored the possibility that Ivar the Boneless may have had the same condition as himself. It also demonstrated that someone with the condition was quite capable of using a longbow, and so could have taken part in battle, a prerequisite for a leader in the notoriously bellicose Viking society.
As fascinating as the osteogenesis imperfecta theory is, one glaring question still remains unanswered; how did Ivar achieve such widespread fame as a warrior in Viking society if he could not even walk unassisted?
Even if he possessed a rare talent for the crossbow, the fierce Viking people valued prowess on the battlefield above all else, and it seems highly unlikely that they would allow a physically disabled person to act as chieftain. Thus, a simpler explanation for Ivar’s sobriquet seems more likely. It has been plausibly suggested that the origin of Ivar’s nickname comes from the English word “bone,” which is cognate with the German word “Bein”, meaning “leg”. The Scandinavian sagas mention that Ivar the Boneless was carried off the battlefield on a shield by his warriors, a common practice in those days. Thus, Ivar may earned the nicknamed “boneless” simply because he was frequently observed being carried off the battlefield after his many victories.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Sabbatai Zevi” draws from the “Preachers and Prophets” section of the Biographies edition.
“I, Abraham, was confined in a cave for forty years, and I wondered greatly that the time of miracles did not arrive. Then was heard a voice proclaiming, ‘A son will be born in the Hebrew year 5386 [English calendar year 1626] to Mordecai Zevi; and he will be called Shabbethai. He will humble the great dragon; … he, the true Messiah, will sit upon My throne.”- Sabbatai Zevi, as quoted by Abraham ha-Yakini in “The Great Wisdom of Solomon.”
Sabbatai Zevi (August 1, 1626 – September 17, 1676) was a rabbi, mystic and kabbalist from present-day Turkey who claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Referred to by the abbreviated title of Amirah by his followers, Zevi adopted the mysticism of Isaac ben Solomon Luria as a young man, and began leading an ascetic life. An avid student of the Kabalah, he was granted the rabbinical title of hakham (“wise” or “sage”) when he was still an adolescent. However, according to some modern scholars, Zevi began to show symptoms of manic-depressive disorder in his late teens, when he began behaving erratically and suffering from intermittent delusions of grandeur (hence the whole Messiah thing). He was subsequently expelled from Smyrna around 1651-54 for his sacrilege and flagrant violations of religious law.
After he was expelled from his homeland, Zevi wandered throughout Greece, Palestine and Egypt. In 1665 Zevi had a fortuitous encounter with the charismatic Nathan of Gaza, who persuaded him that he was indeed the Messiah. Then only twenty-two year old, Zevi subsequently announced that he was the Messiah of the Jewish people, declared 1666 as the millennium, and soon gained an enthusiastic following in Palestine and the Diaspora (to the dismay of the religious authorities). In Cairo he married a girl named Sarah who had survived the Chmielnicki massacre; he attributed a mystical value to his marriage, basing it as much on his wife’s survival as on her .
Zevi was eventually captured and imprisoned by the Turkish authorities in 1666. He converted to Islam during his incarceration, supposedly to escape execution by the Turkish authorities. Zevi’s conversion was devastating to many of his followers, and most of them abandoned him as their leader. However, Nathan and his most ardent followers interpreted Zevi’s conversion differently, believing that their prophet’s apostasy actually represented his descent into the klippotic realm in order to reclaim the lost sparks of light (don’t ask), and was all a part of his Messianic plan. Thus, many of Zevi’s followers dutifully converted to Islam.
In fact, although rather little is known about them, various groups called Dönmeh (Turkish for “convert”) continue to follow the teachings of Zevi to this day. Estimates of the numbers of Dönmeh living in present-day Turkey vary anywhere from slightly less than 100,000 to several hundred thousand. According to one source:
“Although outwardly Muslims and, to a lesser extent, Christians, the Dönmeh secretly continue to observe Jewish rituals (such as circumcision, but at the age of three rather than eight days), pray in Hebrew as well as Aramaic and Ladino, and have clandestine festivals and fast days that are Jewish survivals. Karakash-Honiosos group also practice unique Sabbatian rites, probably instituted by Reb Berechia after Sabbatai’s death, such as The Darkening of the Light.”
Not bad for a guy who claimed to be the son of God and started his own religion, only to repudiate said religion because of fear for his life…
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Hadrian” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
Publius Aelius Hadrianus (76 –138), also known as Hadrian, was the third of the so-called Five Good Emperors (along with Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus), and the fourteenth Emperor of Rome. A foreign policy kinda guy, Hadrian spent an impressive eleven years touring his Empire, in an effort to implement reforms and consolidate all of the Roman provinces. Mementos of Hadrian’s far-flung travels endure today in a number of ambitious building projects he undertook during his reign. Hadrian ordered the construction of his most famous building project-aptly called “Hadrian’s Wall”- while traveling through the undefended no-man’s-land of northern England. Alarmed at the vulnerability of his troops, Hadrian decided to erect a defensive barrier between the Solway Firth in the West and the River Tyne in the east for the express purpose of separating “Romans from Barbarians.”
Built between AD 122 and 128, the wall stretched from the North Sea to the Irish Sea (from the Tyne to the Solway), was 80 Roman miles (about 73 modern miles) long, 8-10 feet wide and 15 feet high. In addition to the wall, the Romans built a system of small forts called milecastles (housing garrisons of up to 60 men) every Roman mile along its entire length, with towers every 1/3 mile. Sixteen larger forts holding from 500 to 1000 troops were built into the wall, with large gates on the north face. To the south of the wall the Romans dug a wide ditch, (vallum), with six foot high earth banks.
Many people assume that the wall was built by slaves, but it was actually built by the hapless Roman soldiers who had the misfortune of being stationed in this backwater province. The most heavily fortified border under Roman guard, it was considered the northernmost boundary of the empire until early in the fifth century. In addition to its role as a military fortification, it is thought that many of the gates through the wall may have served as customs posts to facilitate trade and levy taxation.
A significant portion of the wall still exists, particularly the mid-section, and for much of its length the wall can be followed on foot by Hadrian’s Wall Path. However, many of the stones have long since been carted away for use in more modest building projects.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Richard Wagner” draws from the “Authors and Artists” section of the Biographies edition.
“Wherever one goes these days one is pestered with the question: what do you think of Wagner?”- Karl Marx
Even though controversial German composer and essayist Richard Wagner lived decades before the birth of Nazism, the influence of his music and essays on Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist movement is well-documented. Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of Wagner, and the composer’s music was blasted at Nazi rallies. Best known for his grand-scale operas – “The Ring Cycle,” “Tristan and Isolde” and “Lohengrin,” to name a few- Wagner also wrote many virulently anti-Semitic political essays. In “Das Judenthum in der Musik,” first published in 1850 under a pseudonym, Wagner finds a way to blame Judaism for most of the evils of the world, including but not limited to the ills of decadent modernity and the precipitous artistic decline in Europe. Never one to stop short of overkill, Wagner also asserted that Jewish music was bereft of all expression and characterized by coldness, triviality and nonsense. Moreover, he issued dire warnings about the “subversive power” of Jewry on the noble and pure German psyche.
In November 2000, Holocaust survivor and conductor Mendi Rodan broke a long-standing taboo in Israel when he led the Rishon LeZion Symphony Orchestra through a performance of Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” in 2000. Due to his rather unpopular views, the works of Wagner have been unofficially boycotted in the Jewish state since 1948. In fact, prior to Rodan’s performance of “Siegfried,” any attempt to stage a performance in of the much-maligned composer’s music was shelved due to the public outcry. In 1991, a planned performance of a Wagner piece by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was cancelled after subscribers protested. An aborted attempt in 1981 by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under Zubin Mehta, attempted to present a prelude from Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde,” as an encore. At the first cry of the bombastic German’s score, there were calls of “shame” from the audience; even an usher got into the act, leaping on the stage to exhibit his Nazi-inflicted scars to the angry crowd.
Rodan’s performance in 2000 was interrupted by an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor in the audience stood up before the performance, swinging a Purim grogger in protest, the performance of the “Siegfried Idyll” went on. Rodan, who is a Holocaust survivor himself, ignored the noise and continued with the performance. Finally an usher took the Purim noisemaker from the survivor, who left, telling the audience, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” However, Rodan kept his cool and kept on playing.
Whatever one’s feelings about Wagner and his music, one thing is for certain: he is not responsible for the Holocaust, regardless of the scope of his influence. That being said, I cannot say I am surprised to discover than “Tristan and Isolde” is yet to crack the pop charts in Israel…..
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “John the Baptist” draws from the “Prophets and Preachers” section of the Biographies edition.
John the Baptist was described as having sparse food and uncomfortable clothing, including the wearing of hairshirts. The description of John the Baptist has played an important role in the development of Christian monasticism, with John viewed as a model ascetic. However, Calvin wholly rejected this interpretation, seeing this description simply as an accurate portrait of anyone that was forced to live in the wilderness, and instead seeing John’s holiness and popularity not because of his asceticism but despite it. Albright and Mann state that the description of John the Baptist’s clothing is clearly meant to echo the similar description of Elijah in Kings.
John the Baptist’s diet, which the Bible indicates was locusts and honey, has been the centre of much discussion. For many years it was traditional to interpret locust not as referring to the insect, but rather to the seed pods of the carob tree. Albright and Mann believe that this attempt to portray John the Baptist as eating seed pods was a combination of concern for having such a revered figure eating insects, and also a belief that a true ascetic should be completely vegetarian. In Greek the two words are very similar. Most scholars today conclude that this passage is referring to the insects, particularly since the other 22 times the word is used in the Bible it quite clearly refers to insects. Locusts are still commonly eaten in Arabia, and like many insects are quite nutritious. While most insects were considered unclean, Leviticus permits locusts. What is meant by “honey” is also a subject of some dispute. Aside from the obvious product of bees, scholars such as Jones believe that it refers to gum from the tamarisk tree, a tasteless but nutritional type of liquid.
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