31 March 2013

A Whiter Shade of Chill



“The Baby Boomers wonder why we aren’t interested in the counterculture that they invented, as if we didn’t see them disembowel their revolution for a pair of running shoes.”  from Winona Ryder’s valedictory speech in “Reality Bites”.

During my middle years at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) in the early 1980’s, I often spent lunch hours at the Newman Center (the Catholic student outreach) playing spades or Trivial Pursuit with Father Al, the secretary Janet, and a ROTC cadet named David.  We alternated between the two, and one afternoon I won Trivial Pursuit by answering the question, “Which song from the late 1960’s mentions ‘one of 16 Vestal Virgins’?”.

I didn’t even have to think.  Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” had been one of my favorite songs for quite a while.  My favorite line in the song, though, is “He said, ‘there is no reason and the truth is plain to see’.”

The song was featured in the 1985 film “The Falcon and the Snowman” as background for a mellow party where everyone was too stoned to disagree much less to fight with each other.  But I first heard it in what was for many years my all-time favorite movie, 1983’s “The Big Chill”.

The film is about a group of friends who attended the University of Michigan in the late 1960’s and considered themselves part of The Movement, against the war, for women’s liberation, for the war on poverty, against segregation, for civil rights, etc.  The action takes place a decade and a half later, after their ideals have withered, with the catalyst being the suicide of the one member of their clique, its central figure, in fact, who was still hanging on.

The movie was quite popular among the college crowd back then, especially the more socially-conscious of us who were unhappy with the Baby Boomers for turning into yuppies and betraying all the values of the Counterculture they had espoused in their younger years, talking the talk without really walking the walk during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.  Wynona Ryder’s speech in the opening scene of “Reality Bites” spoke not to the entire Generation X so much as it did to us in the cross-generational “Generation Jones”, the “Dazed and Confused” segment of the tail end of the Baby Boom (1947-1960) and the dawn of Generation X (1961-1981) born roughly between 1958 and 1965 too often lumped in with the Boomers.

For yuppies (young, soulless urban professionals who brought us Ronald Reagan, “greed is good”, and neoliberal supply-side/trickle-down/horse-and-sparrow economics as well as the current catastrophic state of the world’s economy and finances) themselves, on the other hand, the lesson was that having shallow, superficial values currently popular but easily discarded when inconvenient is okay.

The Baby Boomers have been a generation often characterized as an intense bright light for one brief shining moment featuring peace, love, and concern for fellow humans followed by a long period of darkness featuring narcissism, greed, and self-absorption.  A shallow, superficial lip-service Counterculture for Change (predecessor of today’s hipsters), which produced a New Left claiming the position of spokesperson for the proletariat yet had little but contempt for actual working people (the gauche caviar of the USA, known here as limousine liberals) turned Me Generation (as hipsters will in the future).   Maybe the light was just too bright to look at and they had to turn away, only able to bear their own shadows. 

Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” at least had better taste of location (Paris) to in which to search for themselves, and their art had soul even if their lives were dissolute.  And since they had just been through a bloody war (World War I), many either serving in the trenches, literally, or near the lines with the ambulance services, the Lost Generation had a bit more right to be pissed.

For all its faults from the point-of-view of us in Generation X, “The Big Chill”, even at its worst, came nowhere near the Baby Boomer self-congratulatory mutual masturbation fest that was 1994’s “Forrest Gump”, and its equally offensive reception of five of the eight major Oscars, none of which it deserved.  I say that even though I loved the film.

In a year which produced the movies “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The Quiz Show”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, and “Pulp Fiction”, there is no way in hell that “Forrest Gump” deserved Best Picture.  When he got the Oscar for Best Actor for Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks had the same look on his face that President Obama did when he got his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.  The most offensive award with which the film was gifted was for Best Adapted Screenplay, since the yuppie self-love flick that was the movie bears very little resemblance to the novel.

At least “The Big Chill” had a redeeming feature of the film both sets of folks liked: the obvious love, friendship, and mutual respect between the characters in spite and because of their varying conflicts.  A bit like the way Congress worked before Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America.

One of the many conversations my friends and I had about the movie figured in one of the more memorable series of events from my first round of collegiate endeavor, when I was studying political science at the UTC in the early '1980's.

One evening, I was being given a ride home late one afternoon by a female friend with whom I was having a date that next weekend.  I forget the reason exactly that I needed a ride, but it may have been after Sunday Mass at the Newman Center.

Mary, the girl driving, and I had both seen “The Big Chill”, her twice, me four times, and were discussing it.

As we passed out of the tunnel through Missionary Ridge from McCallie Avenue in downtown Chattanooga onto Brainerd Road, Mary half-turned to me and asked, “Who do you see yourself as?  Which one of the characters?”

“Hmmm...,” I replied. “I guess I'd have to say Nick.”  Nick, played by William Hurt, was the cynical drug-dealing anti-authoritarian former psychology student and war vet had who lost his genitalia, or at least the function thereof, in Viet Nam.

"Why?"

"He's so cynical, and so am I."

I was particularly that way at that time.  Haven't changed too much since then either.

"Well, you’re as cynical as Nick," she answered, "but that's not who I'd say."

"Oh, who do you see me as?"

Keeping one eye on the road, she looked at me sideways with a funny look in her eyes and said, “Alex.”

Alex? I thought. The dead guy??

“Alex?” I asked. “The dead guy?”

Kevin Costner's first role.  The original opening scene, later cut, had him in the bathtub, still alive, bleeding.  The opening in the release just showed his body, no face, as the mortician was dressing him, the last shot being that of his slit but now sewn up wrists. 

Alex was the true believer, the one person in the group who really believed the things he was saying, the principles they espoused.  And continued searching and believing long after he left the university and the others quit believing.

Mary did go on to point out that she was talking about all the things the other characters said about him, all their memories, all the ways he'd touched their lives.  So it wasn't a dead guy she was comparing me to, it was the memories of that dead guy.  She wasn’t casting me for Zombie Apocalypse, at least.

Oddly, this was around this same time that my Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brother Richard Smith (later known to Chattanooga’s radio audience as DJ Parker Smith) started calling me the “red-headed guru”.  Richard started doing that after the mortgage burning party at Lambda Chi Alpha when I learned to meditate from two of our chapter’s alumni from the ‘60’s at 3 0’clock in the morning.  You can guess what state all of us were in.

She added that Michael (the Jeff Goldblum character) also reminded her of me.  Michael was the talker and joker who tried to get into the pants of every female member of the group that weekend, just as he probably had at the university; she was comparing our sense of humor.  But Alex won out.

The Alex comparison was flattering as well as disconcerting.  Several years later, however, after the waterfall scene in the movie Robin Hood, my now ex-wife Grace leaned over and said, "Kevin Costner's got your ass," so maybe my friend's assessment was more accurate than she knew at the time, and in more ways than she could have known.

Speaking of my ex-, in Sunday school one morning in the ‘90’s when I was still going to church, our class was beginning the book What’s So Amazing About Grace?.  The class leader asked us what was the first thing that came to our minds when we heard the word “grace”.

“My ex-wife,” I immediately answered.  Everyone laughed, but it is her name.

For mine and Mary’s date that weekend in 1983, we went to a Sicilian-owned restaurant in Brainerd Village, Mama Theresa’s, very intimate atmosphere, delicious food, great wine, then to a movie.  Typical dinner-and-a-movie date, but the conversation at dinner was fantastic, lively, and engaging.  All-in-all, one of the best "just-a-date" dates I had ever had to that point.

By the way, don’t go looking for Mama Theresa’s.  Caesar, who owned it along with the wonderful Pizza Caesar’s, moved back to Palermo.  Too bad for Chattanooga too, because all their food was superb.

Afterwards, I couldn't get Mary on the phone for the next three weeks after our dinner and movie, nor did she show up at the Newman Center for Mass.

When Mary finally did show up at the Newman Center for Sunday evening Mass after those three weeks, she came up to me and said, with no preamble, “I'm sorry, but things between us would never work out. I'm too conventional for you.”

(Conventional: 1. Following generally accepted principles, methods, and behavior. 2. Ordinary, commonplace. 3. Lacking originality or individuality. 4. Typical, stereotypical. 5. Conformist.)

I just stood there with my mouth open. What do you say to something like that?

After a time, Mary and I did get back to being pretty good friends again, but for a while it was pretty awkward.  She never explained nor gave me any hint of what had brought her to that conclusion after just one date, and it wasn’t exactly like we didn’t know each other. 

Mary graduated UTC and began teaching at Notre Dame, the local Catholic high school which was her alma mater.  She graduated a class ahead of my best friend at UTC, Chris Mahoney, who finished Notre Dame the year I finished Tyner, in 1981.  During our time at the university, I got to know so many of his classmates so well that a number of them got the idea that I’d graduated with them from there. 

A few months after she started working there, I got a call from her asking if I wanted to come to her wedding, and if so, she'd send me an invitation.

The 22-year old too-conventional-for-me Catholic girl was marrying a 38-year old divorcee who had 19-year old a daughter.


And she had called me unconventional.

(Unconventional: 1. Not adhering to accepted standards. 2. Out of the ordinary. 3. Dissident, unorthodox, heretical. 4. Atypical. 5. Nonconformist, maverick.)

(Irony: Contradiction between circumstances and expectations)

Sure, I replied, I’ll go. Why not?

The wedding was surreal. The only person whom I knew there was Mary, my friend and one-time, literally, date. I ended up slow dancing, very closely, with her new 19-year old step-daughter Darly, which her boyfriend, whom I hadn't known about, didn't seem to appreciate, though he took it out on her rather than me, by delivering her to her grandmother, me in tow.

What ensued was a lot of screaming and yelling and scolding.  In Cuban Spanish.  No one paid me any attention.

It turns out Darly was not happy about having a step-mother only two years her senior, but she wasn't pissed at Mary, she was pissed at her dad.  So she’d overindulged in some refreshments.

A couple of weeks later, “too-conventional-for-you” Mary was fired from Notre Dame High School for having married a divorcee on grounds of moral turpitude, by the same organization (the Catholic Church) that has provided so much aid, comfort, support, and shelter to the kiddie-fuckers in its ranks all over the world, with the cooperation of its highest echelons, including the head of the Inquisition.

Before that happened, though, two nights after the wedding, I called Darly, my friend Mary's new step-daughter, and the two of us wound up dating on-and-off for several months.


30 March 2013

A plethora of Jewish messiahs


Christians’ idea of a Jewish messiah, literally “anointed one”, is limited to their interpretation of prophecies which for the most part for Jews have never interpreted in that way or else have interpreted as foretelling a figure other than the Messiah ben David.

All the kings and priests of Samerina (Samaria) and Yehud (Judaea) were anointed, so they all could be called messiahs.  In the sense of “deliverer”, before the 2nd century BCE through 1st century CE era two figures outside either entity were considered “messiahs” of Yahweh:  Cyrus the Great of Iran, who by destroying the power of Babylon freed the Jews (and Samaritans) from its domination, and Alexander the Great of Macedon, who a little over two centuries later freed them from the chaos into which the Achaemenid Empire of Iran had fallen into after the coup d’etat by Bagoas, vizier to Shahanshah (“King of kings”) Artaxerxes III.

In this turn of the era period, mainstream Judaism taught that there were going to be not one but two apocalyptic figures with the title messiah.  This scheme is still the one taught by Rabbinic Judaism even now.  One was the Messiah ben David, an idea with which Christians are very familiar, and the other was the Messiah be Joseph.

Since its beginning, Christianity has identified with Jesus bar Joses passages such as Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and Psalm 22.  At the same time they believe him to be the Messiah ben David and have even fabricated two separate geneaologies for him from the mythical David figure, one having him descend from David through Solomon in 28 generations (Matthew 1), the other from David through Nathan in 42 generations (Luke 3).

There are two problems here.  First, these passages and others refer not to the Messiah ben David but to his predecessor, the Messiah ben Joseph.  Second, the geneaologies trace to or from Joseph, who according to Christian doctrine is not Jesus’ father, rendering these geneaologies meaningless even had they not been fabricated.

It is the Messiah ben Joseph who is sacrificed as an atonement for sins, but of the sins of Judah, or Yehud, as opposed to Ephraim or Samerinam not the sin of the whole world.  The Messiah ben Joseph is the Lamb of God, not the Messiah ben David, and he will be slain by Gog and Magog according to Jewish myth.

After the death of the Messiah ben Joseph, a time of trial will come for Israel, then the Messiah ben David will appear.  At the turn of the era, the belief of the this messiah’s role was that he would restore kingdom of David; gather the exiles; usher in world peace and knowledge of Yahweh; end death and disease; raise the dead to new life; and spread the Torah. 

Before this, however, the Messiah ben David would first defeat the last ruler of the fourth kingdom (in the schema in Daniel), interpreted as the empire of Rome, and have him brought before his throne in Jerusalem to be judged.  After this last emperor’s sins are enumerated, according to the belief, the Messiah ben David, Yahweh’s Anointed and Vicar on earth, will pronounce sentence and slay the Roman himself, with his own hands.

They don’t mention that part of the doctrine in the Gospels, which, if they even knew about it, would supply a reasonable explanation the reaction of the Romans and for the crucifixion of Jesus bar Joses between two rebels, dubbed bandits in the gospels though they probably called themselves freedom fighters.  Like the Taliban.

Of course, even within the Gospels themselves, their protagonist (Jesus) not only denies being “the Messiah”, but also that the Messiah is David’s son.  If you don’t believe me, just “ask” him:  Matthew 22:42-44:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David.  He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?

The Essenes, or at least those at Qumran, did not teach or believe in either of the two above-mentioned messiahs.  Their documents solely or preferentially speak of a priestly messiah.  The Damascus Document speaks of one Messiah of Aaron and Israel while the Manual of Discipline speaks of two, a Messiah of Aaron and a Messiah of Israel.

The pseudepigraphal Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs teaches of three messiahs: a Messiah ben Ephraim, a Messiah ben Judah, and a Messiah ben Levi, who will be first in authority.

Another eschatological figure for whom the Jews looked at the turn of the era was the “Prophet like Moses”, supposedly foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-16:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”  

Paradoxically, Christians, clearly not well-versed in Jewish doctrine, many even being proudly completely ignorant of it, also assign this role to Jesus bar Joses.

Among the Samaritans, the “Prophet like Moses” was, and still is, called the Taheb, and he is their only eschatological figure.


Further rabbinic doctrine from the turn of the era teaches that two witnesses will take an active role in events of the end times.  These two are Enoch and Elijah, the latter of whom has his own prophecy in Malachi (chapter 4:5-6 –  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse).  Lumped together with these two is Melchizedek, priest of El Elyon, who appears to Abram in Genesis after the battle of five kings.

Another pseudepigraphal book of interest is 1 Enoch.  This book, part of the canon of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church, introduces an eschatological figure it calls the “Son of man”, who is expected to preside over the final judgment of sinners and righteous and deliver the former over to angels for punishment.  The only other known turn-of-the-era instance of the phrase “Son of man” being used in this sense is in the Gospels, always when Jesus bar Joses is speaking.  Given this, one wonders why 1 Enoch was rejected by most Christians when so much other questionable material (such as the certainly pseudepigraphal 1 Timothy2 TimothyTitus2 ThessaloniansEphesiansColossianswas accepted into Christian canon.

28 March 2013

Haslam's Hassles


After reading this morning about Gov. Haslam’s total lack of humanity in his decision on TennCare, I had intended to write a lengthy piece about why his idea is such a disaster but then encountered this from Belen Fernandez, author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work and contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine, in her opinion column today on Al Jazeera Online: 

The neoliberal experiment in the US has helped mold a society disconnected from the human condition, where oppression of the individual has aimed to thwart popular solidarity that might threaten the experiment. What should be a universal right to health care, for example, is instead wielded punitively against the population, and, as acclaimed journalist and radio host Doug Henwood points out, “Obamacare” will presumably result in a situation in which “scores of millions are thrown onto the private individual insurance market and forced to pay $1,000 a month for crappy coverage”.

I find it nearly impossible to put it better.  TennCare, initiated by Democratic governor Ned McWherter, was intended as a show-piece of the Democratic Party’s program of pushing PPP’s, public-private partnerships.  These PPP’s were inflicted on the nation as a major facet of the agenda of the Clinton administration back in the 1990’s. 

Like every other neoliberal plan to destroy the gains of the New Deal and the Golden Age of Capitalism to which it led, TennCare has proven to be a miserable failure.  And now Gov. Haslam’s answer to its critics is to do more of the same.  In addition to this obvious assault on common sense from that perspective, this plan ignores the fact that these companies were major players in the various debacles which brought down the economy at the end of 2007 and gave us the STILL CONTINUING Great Recession.

But what else can we expect of a man who gave The Finger to one of our state’s chief employers and producers of wealth?  I refer, of course, to Haslam’s response to Volkswagen’s impending institution of a workers’ council and likely corresponding invitation to the United Auto Workers to form a local at the plant.  That is exactly the war Volkswagen handles its labor relations in Germany and Haslam & Co. have no business messing with VW’s business.

Of course, they already have done so with their law allowing workers to carry arsenals to their places of employment in their vehicles.  This in of the explicit testimony of numerous incidents of workplace multiple shootings and desires of companies such as VW to avoid those kinds of insanity which don’t happen  because (1) gun ownership is not as widespread both because of laws and differing temperaments, and (2) guns don’t kill people but Americans with guns kill a lot of people.

27 March 2013

Of water and legal actions

So, the State of Georgia wants to sue the State of Tennessee over a boundary issue settled in 1802 and are threatening to tie up our state’s badly needed funds in court action.  Sounds like extortion to me, especially when their suit is so obviously doomed to failure.  But futility didn’t stop Don Quixote from tilting at windmills. 

Maybe since the aquiferously spendthrift legislators and governor of the State of Georgia are so interested in plundering the natural inheritance of the State of Tennessee they will feel obligated to restore to the Cherokee they lands from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1838.  Plus pay for 175 years of back rent of not only the former Cherokee territory within the borders of the State of Georgia but also the lands with the borders of the States of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama. 

Which would be only reasonable since the State of Georgia was the main force with whip in hand to drive them out.  That would teach the state and its legislature a lesson about spending huge amounts of borrowed cash for the chimera of artificial snow fueled ski resorts in the Deep South that have turned into such a hungry black hole for both water and money.


25 March 2013

Chattanooga's Radical History

Historically, the “Chattanooga Country”, while often thought of as being socially and culturally conservative to the point of stagnation, has frequently proven very progressive, even standing at the vanguard of movements for reform, rebellion, even revolution.  During Herbert Hoover’s Great Depression, in fact, it became the center of activity for the efforts of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in the tri-state district (TN, GA, AL) and the whole South.  But there were other occasions that preceded it.



Pre-Chattanooga

The earliest recorded instance of this recessive feature among the area’s inhabitants comes from the 1560’s, chronicled by the historians of Miguel de Luna’s expedition from Mobile.  In this case, the local people in three towns or villages here were refusing to pay tribute to the regional power, the paramount chiefdom of Coosa, at Coosawattee in Murray County, Georgia. 

Called the Napochi by their enemies, these people were the ancestors of what came to be the Tuskegee tribe of later historical times, some of whom joined the Cherokee on the Little Tennessee River and the rest became a founding tribe of the Muscogee Confederacy.  At the time of the rebellion, they inhabited three settlements here: Opelika (Olitifar of the Spanish chronicles) at the archaeological site at Audobon Acres; Tasqui, on the archaeological site called Citico after the much more recent Cherokee town there, later owned by the Gardenhires; and the large chief town of Tasquiqui (Tuskegee) at the Hampton Place site on Moccasin Point.

The Tuskegee were probably relatively recent newcomers to the area.  The Citico site had once been the dominant chiefdom for centuries but at the time of the de Luna expedition was much deserted but for the cousins of the refugees from Opelika.

A little over two centuries later, the Chattanooga Country became home to the militant Cherokee who rebelled against their headmen and refused to make peace with (submit to) the frontier people from Virginia and North Carolina.  Living in eleven area towns in all between 1777 and 1782, they were called the Chickamauga Cherokee after the town where their leader, Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunsini) lived.  After 1782, they relocated west out of the local area.

Civil War Era

Some seventy-nine years later, local leaders from Hamilton County, especially the colonel of its militia, were at the forefront of the movement for the anti-slavery, pro-Union, anti-secession counties of Tennessee to secede from the state and form their own.  Col. William Clift was, in truth, one of the more radical and insistent in East Tennessee.  It was in Hamilton County that two of the three successful attempts in the East Tennessee Bridge Burning Conspiracy took place.

Though many historians have hypothesized that the Irish workers who laid the tracks of the Western & Atlantic and East Tennessee & Virginia railroads left the area with the disappearance of Irish Hill neighborhood (Cherry, Lindsay, 8th, and 9th Sts ) in the war, I know not all of them did so because one was my great-great-great grandfather, John Horn.  In addition, there is no doubt that the area hosted a large chapter of the Irish republican Fenian Brotherhood, the members of which could not all have been veterans of the Union’s Army of the Cumberland.

The Fenian Brotherhood, founded in New York City by John O’Mahony in 1858, was the Irish-American counterpart to the Irish Republican Brotherhood founded by John Stephens the same year.  The Chattanooga area contributed a “regiment” to the Fenian Brotherhood’s Army of Irish Liberation (also called the Irish Republican Army) which invaded Canada on several occasions in 1866 through 1871.  Dispute over the raids led to the FB splitting into three factions and to the Irish Republican Brotherhood dropping its connection to the FB and recognizing the Clan na Gael as it American counterpart in 1867.

The Fenian Raids also led directly to the formation of the Confederation of Canada in 1867, and to the eventual collapse of the sponsoring organization in 1880.  The organization of which it was formerly the American counterpart, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, guided republicans through the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish War for Independence of 1919-1921, dissolved itself in 1924 on the grounds that the Free State met its goal of an Irish Republic, as did the Clan na Gael, or at least its wing under John Devoy.  The Joe McGarrity wing continued as the Clan na Gael in partnership with the Irish Republican Army, reorganized in 1923 as a clandestine organization, until disintegrating in the early 21st century.

Turn of the (19th/20th) Century

Partly due to the northern industrialists who made up most of the Quartermaster Corps of the Department of the Cumberland (commanded by John T. Wilder), Chattanooga did an abrupt about-face from its ante-bellum reactionary impulses and became one of the most progressive cities of the South.  It was so progressive in most aspects that visitors and newcomers often remarked that it seemed more like a Northern city than one in the former Confederacy.

As the manufacturing and other industries of the city began to grow into the “Dynamo of Dixie”, Chattanooga attracted outside attention from many quarters.  In 1889, the same year that the suburb of Highland Park was established, representatives of the Socialist Labor Party of America came here to organize.  The SLPA had an excellent socialist pedigree, having been formed in 1876 from the remnants of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ International Workingmen’s Association, whose headquarters were in New York City its last four years of existence.

As Dr. James Jones of the Tennessee Historical Commission has shown, the community reaction to strikes in 1899, 1911, 1916, and 1917 by the carmen (trolley drivers) of the city’s Local 115 of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America against Chattanooga Railway and Light demonstrated working class consciousness and solidarity of residents with the strikers.  Ultimately the carmen failed, and CRL went under in 1922 as modes of transportation changed.  And too bad, because Chattanooga once sported one of the finest local rail transport systems in the country.

In 1905, the black community of Chattanooga and its suburbs boycotted the trolley companies in protest against segregation of its cars.  The effort was spearheaded by Randolph Miller, editor of the nationally-syndicated The Chattanooga Blade, and longtime Alderman Hiram Tyree.  It included the operation of three “hack lines”, horse-drawn trolleys from predominantly or entirely black suburbs.  It only lasted about a month due to complete lack of support from black ministers and political leaders other than Tyree, but it was a precursor to the Montgomery bus boycott of the 1950’s.

The Great Depression

In its 1928 conference, the Comintern (Communist International) voted to support the formation of a “Negro Soviet Socialist Republic” within the Southern United States.  Saner minds within the actual borders of the U.S.A. prevailed, however.  Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, the CPUSA’s American Negro Labor Congress instead adopted a “Bill of Negro Rights” and changed its name to the League of Struggle for Negro Rights (LSNR), making poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes its national chairman.

Langston Hughes’ poetry, by the way, is what first inspired me to write poetry when I first encountered his work in Susan Ireland’s literature class when I was at Tyner Junior High School in the mid-1970’s.

Trade unions and labor in general had lagged in organizing and struggle since the nation entered the First World War and Wilson’s administration used the Smith act to prosecute socialists and syndicalists.  The troubles of the working class increased after the Wobblies (IWW, or Indsutrial Workers of the World) and Communist Party were gutted by the Palmer raids and ensuing prosecutions immediately after the war in the shadow of the Bolshevik Revolution spread of revolutionary sentiment across the globe.

The first break in this downward trend occurred, believe it or not, on this side of the Mason-Dixon line, in Gastonia, North Carolina, when workers of the Loray Mill organized. 

Partly in reaction to the strength of the Wobblies in New England, the traditional home of the mill industry since the First Industrial Revolution, owners seeking friendlier territory with more submissive workers and fewer protections for those workers’ right, relocated operations south.  What ensued were poor wages, hazardous conditions, and virtual slavery in company towns buying from company stores for the workers, and insane mega-profits for the owners.

One of the worst examples was at the Loray Mill in Gastonia.  In 1929, well before the stock market crash of October, conditions were so abusive there that they caught the attention of the head of the CPUSA’s National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), Fred Beal, in NYC.  After successfully organizing an NTWU local for themselves, the workers walked off the job on 1 April that year.  The strike lasted until 14 September that year.

In the literal sense and for the local workers, the strike failed, as none of their demands were achieved.  However, the action signaled a rise in trade union sentiment at a time just prior to that in which millions were going to be thrown out of work after the financial industries of the country wasted their substance in riotous living.

Just over a month-and-a-half after the Loray Mill Strike ended, the stock market crashed on 29 October 1929, bursting Herbert Hoover’s trickle-down balloon.

After the crash, the CPUSA’s efforts to organize the whole country and the South went into overdrive, especially given the Comintern’s focus.

The CPUSA’s first inroad into the city of Chattanooga came in 1930 via the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL).  The TUUL was the CPUSA’s arm for organizing labor at the time, setting up parallel organizations to and within existing trade unions as well as organizing the unorganized.  Its headquarters was at 2207 South Broad Street, a building which no longer exists due to US 27 (formerly I-124).  The local was staffed by Amy Shechter, Fred Totheroe, Red Hendrix, and an “unnamed Negro”.

The TUUL was the CPUSA’s component of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern), by the way.  Profintern had been founded in 1921.

The chapter’s existence was attacked by the mayor, condemned by the city’s black ministers (given its announcement that one of its main functions was to fight for black rights), and marched against by the local klavern of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Tom Johnson came to Chattanooga as chief organizer for the entire Southern region and as the Chairman of CPUSA’s District 17 (TN, GA, AL).  Regional and district headquarters were here.

Sherman Bell, already a resident of Chattanooga and major figure of the black community here, served as chairman of the local branch of the party’s League of Struggle for Negro Rights, founded the same year.

One of TUUL’s first organizing activities in the area created an Unemployed Council for the city’s many, many hard hit unemployed, the chairperson of which was Amy Licht.  Another was an anti-lynching conference in 1930.  The TUUL, and later the local party, also produced information forums, held conferences and conventions, organized demonstrations, and supported anti-eviction protests.

“James Allen” (aka James Bigelow, both pseudonyms for Solomon Auerbach) and “Helen Macy” (Isabelle Auerbach) came South in 1930 to begin publication of the party’s Southern Worker, a version of the national Daily Worker targeting issues in the South.  “In comparison with Deep South cities, Chattanooga appeared almost Northern,” Allen observed upon his arrival.

The shop which actually printed the publication was in Rossville, GA.  Harry Wicks took over in 1931 when Allen became CPUSA’s emissary to the newly-organized Partidio Komunist ng Pilipinas (PKP; “Communist Party of the Philippines”), and Elisabeth Lawson (real name Elsa Block) replaced him in 1933, serving until the paper’s end in 1937.

On 6 March 1931, the first demonstration of the Unemployed Council, to support the Lundeen Bill for relief, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, was aborted because the city police, on orders of the mayor, arrested Shechter and the other speakers on charges of sedition.

Licht later noted that in no other location across the country were the designated speakers arrested for sedition, least of all before they had even had a chance to commit it

In 1931, recently arrived from his time training in Moscow, Mack Coad, a black CPUSA leader, ran for city judge.  He did not win.  He did, however, remain in the city to help organize the working class, especially after what happened a few weeks later.

On 25 March 1931, a freight train left Chattanooga bound for Memphis, carrying a number of hoboes which included nine young black men, a roughly equal number of young white men, and two female mill workers who had on occasion worked as prostitutes.  At the Stevenson, AL, station, a dispute broke out along racial lines, and the blacks disembarked.

The black men soon found themselves arrested for rape of the two white women, but they escaped being lynched by the angry mob because they were fiercely protected by the sheriff to whose jail they were brought.  Tried by an all-white jury in the seat of Jackson County at Scottsboro (thus, the “Scottsboro Boys”), they were all convicted.  With the exception of the 13-year old defendant, all were sentenced on 9 April to be electrocuted on 10 July that same year.

Licht read of their plight while she was in jail awaiting trial.  That lasted three days, ending in freedom for the defendants.  After that was finished, Licht related the whole story to the lawyer who defended them in court for the International Labor Defense, the party’s legal arm, Joe Brodsky.  They went to see the two mothers of three of the defendents, she explained her experience from a defendant’s point-of-view.

That was how the ILD rather than some other entity or attorney ended up as defender of the Scottsboro Nine for their appeals, which eventually reached the Supreme Court.  Brodsky was assisted by fellow ILD lawyers Irving Schwab and Allen Taub, and their base was here in Chattanooga, where from where most of the defendants came.  Though ILD later brought in sympathetic local attorneys to actually fight the case in court, it maintained control over the legal strategy.  In fact, it was the ILD and Southern Worker which made the case a national and international issue.

Taub left the Scottsboro case to take up defense of striking mine workers in Harlan and Bell Counties in Kentucky in 1931.  Taub and the ILD ended up heavily involved in events in and after the “Harlan County War”, especially after the CPUSA’s National Miners Union became involved.  The United Mine Workers had tried to organize earlier and were unsuccessful due to in part to armed opposition from the mine owners.  The “Harlan County War” lasted 1931-1932, earning the county the nickname “Bloody Harlan”.

Another venture of District 17, one which had effects that lasted into the 1960’s, was the Share Croppers Union.  Originally based in Birmingham, it headquarters had to strategically redeploy to Chattanooga sometime after its founding in 1931.  The SCU gathered under one roof both black and white sharecroppers, though more of the latter.  Mack Coad was its main liaison with the party, but brothers Ralph and Tommy Gray were the founding officers.  Later leaders included Eula Gray, Al Murphy, and Clyde Johnson, plus several others.

As one can imagine, the SCU did not organize without being faced with a great deal of violence, and members went armed to meetings.  And needed those arms on several occasions.  In 1937, the SCU merged into the Congress of Industrial Organization’s United Cannery Agricultural Packers and Allied Workers of America.  When Stokely Carmichael came to the area to help register black voters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  in the mid-1960’s, he freaked out when those he invited to the meetings came heavily armed.  Veterans of the SCU, they wanted to be prepared.

Though it was not in Chattanooga, the Highlander Folk School in Summerfield, Grundy County (halfway between Monteagle, Marion County and Tracy City, Grundy County) had a significant impact on the local area.  Its founders in 1932, Myles Horton, Don West, and Jim Dombrowski, were not from CPUSA but Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party of America.  Many of the labor organizers who helped put together unions or supported strikes in Chattanooga were trained there.

In 1934, the Great Textile Strike took place when over 400,000 workers in mills in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the South walked out in wildcat strikes not organized by any socialist party or any trade union but by “flying columns” of mill workers going from mill to mill.  Georgia governor Herman Talmadge declared martial law in his state, using the National Guard to round up flying columns and strikers and send them to concentration camps in Fort Oglethorpe which had previously housed captured German soldiers in the First World War.

In 1935, the CPUSA planned its first Southern regional convention (with delegates from all Southern states, not just the tri-state District 17), to be held in Chattanooga.  After the local Knights of the KKK marched, with arms, down Market Street threatening violence, the convention was relocated to Highlander Folk School.

Two years later in 1937, the atmosphere had changed dramatically and the party held its regional convention and forum at the city’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Auditorium.  The convention had the CPUSA’s general secretary Earl Browder as its keynote speaker.  Not a single one of the city’s three newspapers—Chattanooga TimesChattanooga Free PressChattanooga News—reported on the convention, not even on its taking place.

With a change in its marching orders from the Comintern shifting from “Third Period” tactics that were more confrontational to the “Popular Front” tactics of resisting fascism, the militancy of the CPUSA declined and so did its local support. 

The Southern Worker (always published from Chattanooga regardless of what its banner said) ceased publication after its September 1937 issue. 

Several of its most experienced cadre left as volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the XV International Brigade fighting Francisco Franco’s fascist Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, including Harold George Forsha and at least four other Chattanoogans in addition to one-time local resident Mack Coad.

The TUUL had closed its doors in 1935 when the party supported the new Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  Prointern, its parent international organization, fell to the Popular Front in 1937.

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in August 1939 served as the coup de grace for many of the CPUSA’s organizations and activities in the USA, including all of those based in Chattanooga.

Post-Depression

During the Second World War, Fort Oglethorpe not only served once again as prisoner-of-war camp and detention center for German resident aliens, it was also home to the main training center for the Women’s Army Corps (WACS), both white and black recruits.  The black recruits refused to acknowledge Georgia’s segregation laws and local customs and ate, entertained, and did business wherever they chose.  No one tried to stop them.  After the war, many of these vets became frontline leaders in the civil rights movements.

Partly due to the Great Red Scare of the 1950’s and partly due to the astounding growth in material prosperity of the “Golden Age of Capitalism” (the latter fueled by the New Deal and widespread organization of workers into trade unions), open political activism by communists and socialists declined greatly.  Ironically, those same two things led to the New Left, the women’s liberation movement, the civil rights movement, the counter-culture movement, and other progressive trends like environmentalism.

Highlander Folk School became a significant center for the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and very early ‘60’s.  For example, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott was planned there.  The school closed in 1961 to relocate to Knoxville as the Highlander Research and Education Center, moving again in 1971 to New Market in Jefferson County where it remains today.

In 1960, sit-ins at downtown lunch counters led by students from Howard High School led to their desegregation in the summer of that year.  A year after the beginning of the sit-in movement, protestors conducted “stand-ins” attempting to buy tickets to venues to which blacks were not allowed, specifically targeting movie theaters downtown.  By the summer of 1963 when I was born, most theaters, hotels/motels, and restaurants had ended official segregation.  Other private venues took more time.

Of course, success here spawned reaction, and the city became national headquarters for the Conservative Citizens Council of the 1960’s which were dubbed the white-collar KKK.  At the end of the decade, a new anti-integration movement called the Tea Party sprang up here.

The CPUSA made its first inroad into Chattanooga since the Great Depression when enough citizens signed the petition to allow Gus Hall, chairman of the party, to be placed on the ballot for U.S. President in 1972.  The local press responded by printing the names and addresses of the signatories.

In the early 1980’s at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, students organized the Myles Horton Club as an umbrella group to coordinate different groups for mutual support.  Among its known actions are the first (and maybe only) anti-apartheid protest in Chattanooga at the first of February in 1986 and one of the largest anti-Reagan demonstrations of his presidency.  Most amazingly, the group included among its membership (at least at first) Iranian students from both pro- and anti-Khomeini factions.


In the 1990’s, a small group met at Wally’s Restaurant on McCallie Avenue to form the Chattanooga Communist Club, the CPUSA’s first official continuing presence in the area since the Great Depression era.  Now moribund, its members participated in nearly every progressive action here in the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, including the movement to prevent the building of the amphitheater on Moccasin Point, several anti-police brutality actions, the national demonstration against burnings of black churches in the 1990’s that took place on the Hamilton County Courthouse steps, the 10th anniversary of Chernobyl demonstration at Watts Bar Nuclear Facility, and every protest against the Iraq War.  The club also published a monthly newsletter for a time.  I should know, because I was club chairman.

Progressive organizations now existing in the area that I know of include a revived Concerned Citizens for Justice, Chattanoogans Organized for Action, and Chattanooga for Workers.  And we can’t forget that Chattanooga had one of the longest camp-ins of the world-wide Occupy movement.

Anyone interested in what the CPUSA’s publication Southern Worker was about can find it online at: http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/southernworker/index.htm

23 March 2013

Israelites in the 1st century

(Revised 2 April 2013 and 9 May 2014)


Most people in America are familiar with the religious sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees which populate the New Testament, yet few have very much idea of what those mean.  In reality, there were several Hebrew sects across the ancient world and in Palestine, with the Pharisees themselves divided into two often hostile branches.

Landscape, demographic and geographic

In the 1st centuries BCE/CE, Hebrews, Jews (from Judea) and Samaritans (from Samaria), were spread throughout the Mediterranean and across Southwest Asia.  They lived in Palestine, of course; in Egypt, centered in Alexandria; in Syria, centered in Damascus and in Antioch; in Cyrenaica; in Cyprus; in Anatolia; in Greece; in Thrace; in Italy; in Babylonia; in Iran; in southern Arabia. 

Little discussed yet major communities of Jews lived across the south of the Arabian Peninsula, from west to east in Yemen, Habban, Hadramaut, Aden, and Oman, the last of which is thought to be where Job, the subject of the Biblical book, lived.  Collectively, these groups which share customs, ritual, and linguistic characteristics unique to themselves among Jews, are referred to as the Temanim, “Teman” in Hebrew signifying “South).

From 15 CE to 116 CE, the officially Jewish kingdom of Adiabene, a former province of Assyria centered on Arbela (Arbil in modern Iraq), existed as an independent kingdom that was officially Jewish in religion.

Sometime after the Macedonian conquest, the Jews departed from their Samaritan cousins on the question of descent, the Sanhedrin declaring that “Jewishness” came through the mother along rather than through either or both parents.  This made Jews matrilineal as opposed to their original partilineality.  A reading between the lines of Josephus on the matter leads one to the conclusion that the Samaritans had as high priest the heir male of the senior line of Zadok and the change in law was to disinherit him because he had forsaken Jerusalem for Shechem.

In 110 BCE, John Hyrcanus had forced the Idumaeans to convert to Judaism, later destroying Samaria and the temple atop Mt. Gerizim, which was rebuilt by Herod.  In 81 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus annexed Galilee and began to populate it with transplanted Jews; after the Roman conquest and the rise of Herod the Great, Samaritans too began to migrate there.

In this period, there were three temples to Yahweh, the deity all these sects worshipped.  One, the one most Americans are familiar with, was that built by Herod the Great for the Jews on Mount Zion (or Moriah) in Jerusalem in Judea.  The Samaritans had another on Mount Gerizim, next to Shechem in Samaria, which had been rebuilt by Herod.  The third was the one built in the mid-2nd century BCE by Onias IV, final claimant to the Jerusalem high priesthood from the Oniad dynasty (which preceded the Hasmoneans), in Leontopolis in Egypt. 

One feature all Hebrews shared, except or possibly some of the minor sects, was that they worshipped primarily in synagogues.  With synagogue being a Greek word, it is most likely that synagogues originated in the Hellenistic diaspora.

Different Hebrew sects

The largest group of Jews was Hellenistic Jews, roughly corresponding in proportion to the size of Ashkenazim among the modern Jewish population, or nearly 80%.  Though there were adherents in Palestine itself, Hellenistic Judaism’s two chief centers were in Alexandria, Egypt, and Antioch, Syria.  Others were Tarsus in Cilicia and Alexandretta.  Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek primarily, were more assimilationist than their Palestinian cousins (though not as much as the Samaritans), and generally more relaxed about certain ritual observances. 

Hellenistic Jews used the Greek-language Septuagint version of the Tanakh (Scriptures) , what Christians call the Old Testament, produced in Alexandria and developed philosophy mixing Jewish religion with Greek schools of thought.  The Septuagint was the predominant version of the Tanakh among Jews world-wide.  For example, all the quotes from the Tanakh in the Christian New Testament come from the Septuagint, which contains all the books currently recognized by Jews plus the additional books sometimes called the Apocrypha.

Flavius Philo Judaeus wrote about the aspects of the divine he called Logos and Sophia, not as simple aspects but separate persons, the latter of which he equated with Judaism’s Ruach ha-Kodesh, or Holy Spirit (aka the Shekhinah, or The Presence), which was feminine.  The Logos he equated with the idea of an esoteric twist on the Word of God.  He also either introduced or at the very least popularized the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and of resurrection.

Orpheus is depicted in a number of synagogues, often comparing him with David, even in Judea itself.  Such an identification was later made with Jesus bar Joses.

The Therapeutae, written about by premier Jewish philosopher of the period Flavius Philo Judaeas, lived communally in the desert near Alexandria in ascetic conditions which foreshadowed the Desert Fathers of later Christianity.  But according to Philo, they were also widespread across the Mediterranean world.  They used the Torah, the Nevi’im, the Psalms, and some writings unique to themselves.  They assembled weekly for worship and sermons in synagogues divided by sex, and every seven weeks held communal meals serving each other.

The three sects which dominated Jews in Palestine, with representatives in some areas of the diaspora, were the Sadduccees, Pharisees, and Essenes. 

Jewish males in Palestine all wore tefillin (phylacteries) on their heads and hands (or upper arms) and prayer shawls with tzitzit (fringe) on their ends as part of their ordinary daily wear, not merely at prayer like modern Jews.  They also used mezuzot.

Tefillin are boxes with verses of scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21 ; Exodus 13:1-10; Exodus 13:11-16) written on parchment inside them.  Wearing them is held to be commanded in verses of the afore-mentioned passages.  Tzitzit are specifically prescribed in Number 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12, and were worn by all Jews, including the Bene Sedeq, and Samaritans.  Mezuzot are little boxes with parchments of scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21) attached to doorposts and gates.

Strange that no movie of the life and times of Jesus bar Joses has shown him or any male around him wearing tefillin and tzitzit, nor a mezuzah on any Jewish door.

In more conservative Palestine, Hebrew translations of the Tanakh were usually used, with an Aramaic targum, or translation into the common language of the people, since the Canaanite language of Hebrew had long been a dead language.  At the time only the Torah (Law) and the Nevi’im (Prophets) were in Hebrew standardized, while canon of the Ketuvim (Writings) still being collated and in flux.  However, even there the Septuagint was used also.

The Sadduccees, sometimes called Boethusians, accepted only the Torah, the first five books of the Tanakh, as scripture, and were literal in their interpretation of its stories and provisions, not giving any leeway in application of its laws.  They rejected belief in an afterlife.  They were the more aristocratic of the sects in Palestine and more inclined to be Hellenistic.  As a group, they had originated politically as opponents of the Hasmoneans in the First Judean Civil War.  Their power centered around the Temple of Jerusalem.

The Pharisees originated as supporters of the Hasmoneans, but split with them when they took the throne of high priest for themselves.  They accepted all three levels of the Tanakh, Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim.  In addition to the written Tanakh, the Pharisees (and only the Pharisees) followed the Mishna, or Oral Law, which had not yet been codified and written down.  The Mishna began as an effort to liberalize and modernize provisions of the Torah, but soon bogged down in endless interpretations of meaning. 

At the turn of the era, the Pharisees themselves were split into two often opposed schools: the House of Shammai, who advocated stricter interpretation of the Mishna and less lenient application, and the House of Hillel, who were opposite and more humanistic.  Both schools are probably represented in the New Testament, though not under those names.  Those Pharisees portrayed as opponents are more like to have been Shammaites while those more sympathically portrayed (such as Gamaliel) are probably Hillelites.

The Essenes were probably a faction of the Pharisees who split off from the main group over support of the former for Herod the Great.  The New Testament calls them Herodians.  They lived communally in cities scattered across Judea and Galilee.  The Essenes accepted all three levels of the Tanakh and were especially strict about the Sabbath. 

If their identification with the sect at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) is correct, they also had religious texts of their own, such as the Manual of Discipline, the Damascus Document, and the War of the Sons of Light and Sons of Darkness, as well as kept a highly developed angelology.  The scrolls also demonstrate their use of Hellenistic astrology and therefore cosmology.

A small Jewish sect called the Bene Sedeq were the forerunners of today’s Karayim or Karaite Jews.  They accepted the whole Tanakh but rejected the Mishna.  The males wore tzitzit but rejected tefillin and mezuzot because they held that the passages supposedly prescribing them meant for believers to do so only symbolically.  The Bene Sedeq were unique among the Jews of this time in that they remained patrilineal, as their descendants, the Karaites, still are.  It was Karaite scholars called Masoretes who transcribed, edited, and redacted the current text of the Tanakh now universally used by Jews in the 7th through 11th centuries.

The Zealots, of course, were the militant nationalists among the Jews, centered mostly in Palestine.  Many of their tenets were inherently religious and they became “uber-Jews”, adhering strictly especially to Judaism’s outward symbols, much in the manner of Khomeinists during the Iranian Revolution or the later Taliban.  They often allied with Shammaites.

The Sicarii were true fanatics in both the religious and nationalist sense.

The Mandeans developed out of one of the baptismal sects, called “daily-bathers”, which may have had its origin with Joannes bar Zacarias (John the Baptist), though the Samaritan teacher Dositheos is also said to be one of its founders.  At the time their clergy were called (according to Encyclopedia Britannica) Nasoreans.  They migrated from Judea to Iran in the late 1st century under pressure from more orthodox Jews.

Many tiny little sects of Judaism existed during the 200 BCE-100 CE period, and there were many, often wandering, prophets and teachers, such as Hanina ben Dosa and Honi the Circledrawer.  Jesus bar Joses and Joannes bar Zacarias were hardly unique.

The apocalyptic, of which the Daniel is a prime example, and pseudepigraphic, of which Daniel is also a prime example, literature of this period provides additional insight into the true ideas of the religion of the Jews at the time.  Some of the more prominent examples include the Assumption of Moses, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, Jubilees, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Martyrdom of Isaiah.  These books were widely popular at the time, some quoted directly or referenced implicitly in the New Testament as well as being found at Qumran.

Through the 1st century CE, the Jews (and likely the Samaritans) avidly sought converts to their religion, called proselytes in Greek.  In Palestine itself, proselytes were of two types: the “righteous” proselyte (ger tzedek) and the “resident” proselyte (ger toshav).  The former was a full convert, with males being circumcised and all following the Torah.  The latter was a Gentiles who lived among the Jews in Palestine and worshipped Yahweh but remained uncircumcised and followed only the seven Noahide Laws.  Within Palestine, the Pharisees were especially avid at seeking out converts.

Hellenistic Jews proselytized even more than Palestinian Pharisees.  Outside of Palestine, a ger tzedek was referred to by the Greek word “proselyte” while a ger toshav, or Gentile follower of the Noahide Laws, was called a theophobes, ('God-fearer').  Huge communities of God-fearers lived among or around every diaspora community of Jews.  Other names for them were theoseibes ('God-reverers'), sebomenoi ton theon ('worshippers of God'), and phobuomenoi ton theon ('fearers of God').

Galileans mostly accepted the same Scriptures and followed the same practices as the Pharisees, but were particularly resentful of the Temple cult.

In this period, there were about two million Samaritans in total, half a million in the homeland of Samaria/Samerina and the rest in the diaspora, the main centers outside being Damascus and Alexandria.  They made up about one-third of the population of Caesarea, capital of the Roman Empire’s sub-province of Iudaea.

The Samaritans, like the Sadducees, recognize only the Torah, of which they have their own version that differs slightly from that of the Jews but largely agrees with the Septuagint and samples from Qumran.  In the 2nd century BCE through 1st century CE, they also used the Septuagint version of the Torah, especially in their diaspora communities.

In their synagogues, of which examples have been found not only in Samaria but also Galilee and all around the Mediterranean basin, the Samaritans freely employed not only images of cherubim and menorot forbidden to Jews, but images of humans, animals, and, in some places, of pagan deities and the zodiac.  The Jews, by contrast, of all sects employed only mosaics for decorations in their synagogues.

In the 3rd century BCE, a temple was built to the Hellenistic gods Serapis and Isis, imported from Egypt, in the midst of Samaria.  The temple was rededicated to Demeter and Persephone (Kore) in the early 2nd century CE.  Both were instances of the Mystery Cults common during this time throughout the Mediterranean and Southwest Asia.

The Hypsistarians were a group of strict monotheists who lived and practiced across Anatolia and the southern shores of the Black Sea from 200 BCE to 400 CE.  They called the deity they worshipped Hypsistos, a term found for the Hebrew deity in the Septuagint, and their beliefs may have originated from the conflation of Zeus Sabazios with Yahweh Tzevaot.  They did not follow the Torah, much less the Mishna.  According to Gregory of Nazianus and Gregory of Nyssa, their autonym was Theoseibes ('God reverers'), a name shared with the half-converts.

The Gnostics were a widely eclectic group of speculative believers, the Late Ancient equivalent of today’s New Agers, who developed into an actual (and very diverse) movement in the 2nd century CE.   There is an abundance of Gnostic writings referenced in the Early Fathers and/or found in the mother lode cache at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.  These clearly show that the ultimate origin of Gnosticism lies in the Yahwist religion of the Levant.  Many Early Christian Fathers posited that the Samaritan prophet and alleged magician Simon Magus, of The Acts of the Apostles infamy, founded Gnosticism.  Testimony from numerous sources shows that the Gnostics met in synagogues for discussion and worship.

The Christians, of course, have their origin in Judaism, perhaps with some influence from Gnosticism and Samaritanism.  Lately, though, more and more scholars have begun to suspect that rather than having a Palestinian origin, the religion of Christianity has its origins in Egypt, specifically in Alexandra.

The roots of the Kabbalah go back to this period also.  There is ample evidence that the mysticism of the Merkava had its beginnings in the 1st century BCE.  The writings of Paul of Tarsus, for example, show signs that he was a Merkava initiate.  The Merkava is the esoteric teaching surrounding Ezekial’s chariot and the non-Biblical hekhalot texts.

The pagans philosopher Plutarch and historian Tacitus, both of whom lived from the mid-1st century thru the first quarter of the 2nd century, both reported that the Jews in Alexandria and elsewhere worshipped in the Dionysan Mysteries.

Finally, for further insight into the religions of the Hebrews, particularly in Egypt, at the turn of the era, read this letter from Imperator Publius Aelius Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus to one of the consuls, Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus, written around 134 CE:

The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis.  There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer.  Even the [Christian] Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ…Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore.

Turning point and decline

After the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73 CE (in which the Samaritans took part), the landscape of Judaism and Samaritanism changed drastically.  Jerusalem was completely destroyed, it’s walls torn down, it’s temple burned with the ashes scattered, its temple mound leveled.  Sebaste, the principal city of Samaria, was likewise destroyed as was the Samaritan temple atop Mount Gerizim and the city of Shechem next to it.  Even the Temple of Onias in Leontopolis was demolished, though the Egyptian Jews took no part nor supported the revolt, lest it become a center of sedition.  Also destroyed was the community at Qumran.

On the ruins of Shechem, Vespasian built the city of Flavia Neapolis, now called Nablus, which he populated with veterans and other colonists from outside.

Jewish defenders of Jerusalem who survived the siege and other surrenderees or captives not crucified or enslaved were deported to western North Africa, where they became the foundation for the Jewish ethnic group known as the Maghrebim.

After this, the Sadduccees and the Essenes, their sources of power and unity gone, disappeared from history.  The Sanhedrin relocated to Javneh.  The Pharisees withdrew into themselves and drastically slowed, then halted, their proselytization.

After the Kitos War of 115-117 CE, in which Jews of Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Roman Mesopotamia rose up in revolt, the Jewish communities in Cyrenaica and Cyprus were eradicated, both by slaughter and deportation. 

In the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba War of 132-135 CE, when Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva rebelled against Hadrian’s plans for a pagan Roman city on the ruins of Jerusalem, Jews were forbidden from the entire sub-province of Judea.  For the Samaritans, who had not taken part as they had in the Great Jewish Revolt, Hadrian rebuilt Sebaste and their temple on top of Mount Gerizim.

Hadrian also merged all the provinces in the area as Syria-Palestina and finished the building of Aelia Capitolina.  The new city included a freshly rebuilt Temple Mount with a wall around it and temples to Jupiter and to Juno and Minerva atop it.  Nearby was a grotto and shrine to Venus, a shrine to Asclepius, and a temple of Mercury.

During the later visit of Helena Augusta, mother of Constantine the Great, to the area, the temple of Jupiter was claimed to be the site of the temple of Herod, while that to Juno and Minerva his royal stoa.  The grotto of Venus became the Holy Sepulchre, the shrine to Asclepius the pool of Bethesda, and the temple of Mercury the Upper Room.  Meanwhile in nearby Bethlehem, the cave previously claimed as the place of birth of the god Mithras became the site of the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

The deported Jews migrated partly to Galilee, where the Sanhedrin relocated, though some went to other parts of the empire.  A large number left Roman territory entirely, traversing the Roman province of Arabia erected on the former kingdom of the Nabateans to arrive in the western Arabian region of Hejaz on the coast of the Red Sea.  There, they eventually became the tribes of Banu Nadir, Banu Qainuqa, Banu Qurayza, Banu Awf, Banu Harith, Banu Jusham, Banu Alfageer, Banu Najjar, Banu Sa’ida, and Banu Shutayba.

In 484 CE, in reaction to rumors that the Christians of Neapolis where going to relocate the bones of Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithmar and grandson Phinehas, the Samaritans rose up and destroyed the Christian cathedral at Neapolis after slaughtering the congregation and severing all the fingers of the local bishop.  They then proceeded to Caesarea, where they elected a man named Justa as their king.  After personally putting down the rebellion, Imperator Caesar Flavius Zeno Augustus destroyed the temple that had been rebuilt after the Bar Kokhba War.

The Samaritans rose again in 495 CE under Julianus ben Sabar with the intent of creating their own independent state.  Imperator Caesar Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinius Augustus put down this revolt with the help of the Ghassanids (Christianized Arabs), in the process killing from 20,000 to 100,000 of them.  Afterwards, Justinian outlawed the Samaritan religion throughout the Roman Empire.

Another revolt in 556 CE, led by the Samaritans but joined by the Jews, resulted in the slaughter of another 100-120,000 Samaritans.  After this, Samaritans throughout the empire and other parts rapidly disappear from history.  Many likely became Christians, some Jews, while nearly all those remaining in Palestine became Muslims after the Arab conquest in 638 CE.  Only about 800 ethnic Samaritans remain today, half in Nablus, Palestine, and half in Holon, Israel.


The final revolt of the Jews in Palestine against the Roman Empire took place in 614 as allies of the Sassanid Empire.  They remained an autonomous commonwealth of that empire until being reconquered in 629.  In 637, Palestine and Syria were conquered by the Caliphate and remained part of it, excluding the years of the Crusader States (1099-1192), until after World War I.