Saturday, August 14, 2021

Cao Xueqin and Gao E, A Dream of Red Mansions


Opening Passage: It is a feature of the novel that it blurs the main narrative with the metanarrative, so the actual story begins with what in other novels would often be preface material, in which we get a discussion of the 'author' -- but it's deliberately left entirely unclear whether this author being discussed is the actual author or a narrative persona or one of the characters through whose hands the supposed manuscript has passed, or all of them simultaneously. The name Zhen Shiyin could be read as 'true facts concealed' and the name Jia Yucun as 'fiction in rustic language'.

This is the opening chapter of the novel. In writing this story of the Stone the author wanted to record certain of his past dreams and illusions, but he tried to hide the true facts of his experience using the allegory of the jade of "Spiritual Understanding." Hence his recourse to names like Zhen Shiyin. But what are the events recorded in this book, and who are the characters? About this he said:

"In this busy, dusty world, having accomplished nothing, I suddenly recalled all the girls I had known, considering each in turn, and it dawned on me that all of them surpassed me in behaviour and understanding; that I, shameful to say, for all my masculine dignity, fell short of the gentler sex. But since this could never be remedied, it was no use regretting it. There was really nothing to be done.

"I decided then to make known to all how I, though dressed in silks and delicately nurtured thanks to the Imperial favour and my ancestors' virtue, had nevertheless ignored the kindly guidance of my elders as well as the good advice of teachers and friends, with the result that I had wasted half my life and not acquired a single skill. But no matter how unforgiveable my crimes, I must not let all the lovely girls I have  known pass into oblivion through my wickedness or my desire to hide my shortcomings.

"Though my home is now a thatched cottage with matting windows, earthen stove and rope-bed, this shall not stop me from laying bare my heart. Indeed, the morning breeze, the dew of night, the willows by my steps and the flowers in my courtyard inspire me to wield my brush. Though I have little learning or literary talent, what does it matter if I tell a tale in rustic language to leave a record of all those lovely girls. This should divert readers too and help distract them from their cares. That is why I use the other name Jia Yucun." (pp. 1-2)

Summary: The goddess Nu Wa once had to repair the sky, so she melted down fine rocks to do so, making thirty-six thousand five hundred and one blocks. The repair, however, required thirty-six thousand five hundred, so the goddess threw the leftover stone down at the base of Blue Ridge Peak in the Great Waste Mountains. Because it had been tempered by a goddess, however, the stone was sentient, and it was greatly distressed and shamed that it had been made for the sky, but had turned out to be useless and discarded. One day as it lamented its face, the Buddhist Monk of Infinite Space and the Taoist Priest of Boundless Time passed by, and, taking the little stone in hand, offer to engrave characters on it so that people will know it is special and to take it to a civilized realm. They took it away, no one knows exactly where.

Eons later, a Taoist Immortal named Reverend Void came upon a large stone at the base of Blue Ridge Peak, engraved with the story of the Stone. He then gets into an argument with the Stone as to whether the story is worth telling, but the Stone convinces him that it is. Changing his name to The Passionate Monk, he copied it but changed its name from "The Story of the Stone" to "Record of the Passionate Monk". Later another person suggests the name "Precious Mirror of Love". Later, a man named Cao Xueqin, re-reading the book many times over ten years and rewriting it five times, called it "The Twelve Beauties of Jinling." After all of these different beginnings of the story, I really like the next sentence, "Now that the origin of the story is clear, let us see what was recorded on the Stone" (p.7), particularly as we just get another beginning of the story, and indirect one, at that.

Zhen Shiyin happens to have a dream in which he overhears a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest arguing about a Stone. The Buddhist monk tells the tale of a Vermilion Pearl Plant that was watered everyday by the attendant Shen Ying in the Palace of the Red Jade. The Vermilion Pearl Plant eventually takes human form, but she is unhappy that she has not been able to repay Shen Ying for his care. Meanwhile, Shen Ying decides he wants to be reincarnated in the realm of men, so he asks a favor from the Goddess of Disenchantment, who saw that this was a chance for the Vermilion Pearl Plant to pay her debt. Many others of amorous nature went with them to atone for various sins, and this is the source of the story. The Buddhist monk and Taoist priest, meanwhile, see this as a chance to save these people from their sins and follies, but they need to take the "stupid object" to the Goddess of Disenchantment. He greets them and asks what they are talking about, and they mostly refuse to tell him, but they do tell him that he is destined to meet the "stupid object", which is a piece of translucent jade engraved with the words, "Precious Jade of Spiritual Understanding", and another set of smaller lines Zhen Shiyin does not have time to read. The monk and the priest pass through an archway with the inscription, "Illusory Land of Great Void". Zhen Shiyin wakes up. A Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest, both scab-covered and gibbering like crazy people, pass by and try to take his three-year-old girl Yinglian. Zhen Shiyin, of course, refuses and tries to leave, but as he is going, he hears the Taoist say to the Buddhist that they will be parting now but will meet up again in three eons to go to the Land of Illusion, and then they both vanish. When they are gone, Zhen Shiyin is met by a poor scholar named Jia Yucun, whom he convinces to take the Metropolitan Examinations. Shortly after, Zhen Shiyin loses his daughter in a crowd and his house burns down and he has to move. He meets a crazy Taoist priest who is singing a song, "All Good Things Must End", and simply leaves his family to become a Taoist priest.

We are now on page 24 of 2549. But the frame story is much more important to the character of the story than many commentators seem to credit it, and in a story that is mostly told in a very realistic way, it is one of several ways that the work indicates that its realism is not reality. We will meet the Buddhist of Infinite Space and the Taoist of Boundless Time several times; we will meet the Goddess of Disenchantment; we will meet Shen Ying and the Vermilion Pearl Plant in a human reincarnation; and the whole long tale about the various mundane interrelations of a great family in decline is nonetheless at all times the Story of the Stone. The book is sometimes read as a sort of cultural encyclopedia of its day, but it itself resists such a reading, with its bewildering and sometimes indistinct layers, its explicit refusal to locate the events of the story at any particular time, and its repeated indications that the Jia family is in some ways highly atypical and, indeed, perhaps wholly a fantasy. And it is also important, I think, to take at face value that, whatever else it may be, and however it may superficially seem, the story is in great measure a story about a bunch of delightful young women.

The Jia clan is a very large clan, and the tale focuses on two closely related branches who live on great estates practically next door to each other, the Jia of Ningguo and the Jia of Rongguo. The main character of most of the tale is Jia Baoyu, the oldest heir of the second oldest heir (Jia Zheng) of the Rongguo branch. There is something special about him; he is born with an engraved jade stone in his mouth. This gives him his name, Baoyu, which means 'Precious Jade'. He is very strange throughout his life, and one of his peculiarities growing up is that he only likes the companionship of girls. Among his cousins are two of particular note. One is Lin Daiyu, a beautiful, melancholy girl who is more or less constantly ill. It is strongly hinted through most of the story that she is Vermilion Pearl Plant, repaying her watering with tears, and that she is both a perfect match for Baoyu and fated to die early. She is tutored early on by a disgraced scholar by the name of Jia Yucun, who may or may not be a distant relation on her mother's side. Lin Daiyu comes to Rongguo House because she is summoned by her grandmother, the Lady Dowager of the Jia clan, who likes to be around young people, and who, in a culture that respects age and parenthood, pretty much gets whatever she wants. Another, on his mother's side, is Xue Baochai, also beautiful and intelligent, less outspoken and more practical than Lin Daiyu. It is not an accident that the name of each shares a character with Baoyu's name; Baoyu, Daiyu, and Baochai form a sort implied love triangle, although for most of the story it is merely implied, with none of the three actually in love. It is strongly implied through much of the story that she and Baoyu will marry.

Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai make up two of the twelve main female characters of the book, the Twelve Beauties of Jinling. Shi Xiangyun is a second cousin, good-natured, cheerful, and mischievous. Then there is the 'quartet of Spring', all girls with an element in their name that means 'Spring', Jia Yuanchun, Jia Tanchun, Jia Yingchn, and Jia Xichun. Jia Yuanchun ("First Spring") is Baoyu's elder sister and an Imperial Consort; she doesn't like it much, but her family's fortunes are more tied to her, and the present Imperial connection she brings, than anyone realizes, so that when she dies the family's decline accelerates. Jia Tanchun ("Seeking Spring") is Baoyu's younger half-sister, by the shrewish Concubine Zhao; she is bold, daring, and capable. Jia Yingchun ("Welcoming Spring") is Baoyu's first cousin, by his father's older brother; she is very mild and inclined to avoid conflict, and, while undistinguished in terms of talents, is extremely kind. Jia Xichun ("Treasuring Spring"), a cousin from the Ningguo House, is artistically talented and develops a strong Buddhist devotion. Jia Qiaojie, the youngest, is Yingchun's niece; she is a child for most of the work, and the work often implies that she's destined for a very simple and somewhat rustic but very happy life. Wang Xifeng, one of my favorite characters, is he niece of Baoyu's mother and also his cousin-in-law, being married to his unreliable cousin Jia Lian; she is also Yingchun's sister-in-law and Qiaojie's mother. Xifeng's parents wanted to have a boy, and they more or less raised her as if she were; her name, Xifeng ("Phoenix"), was usually a boy's name. She is a beautiful, intelligent, immensely competent, utterly ruthless, deviously cunning schemer; her great talent is her capacity to maneuver other people. In practice, she controls much of the budget of Rongguo House, and while both Jia families are by now living beyond their means, her being so has slowed their decline. Many of her problems stem from the fact that her husband Lian is a promiscuous womanizer. Li Wan is Baoyu's sister-in-law, the young widow of his deceased older brother, strictly proper and devoted to the future of her young son, Jia Lan; the story occasionally implies that her adherence to propriety continually prevents her from reaching her full potential. Qin Keqing is married to Xichun's nephew, Jia Rong; she is famously the most puzzling of the Beauties, because she is portrayed as both highly sensual -- she is, not to put to fine a point on it, almost certainly having an affair with her father-in-law -- and very mysterious; she dies relatively early on, and although we don't learn much about the death itself, it is strongly implied that she hanged herself, perhaps due to something related to her affair. Miaoyu is a young, beautiful Buddhist nun, who became a nun because she was often sick and is associated with the family in a not-entirely-clear way. In addition, there are a number of young maids who are to some extent treated as members of the family: Xiren and Qingwen, Baoyu's maids; Ping'er, the hypercompetent maid of Xifeng; Ruhua, Xichun's maid; Siqi, Yingchun's maid; Daishu, Tanchun's maid; Yinger, Baochai's maid; and Zijuan and Xueyan, Daiyu's maids.

Baoyu's importance is not that he is a major driver of the events of the story but that he is the primary connecting node for this entire network of young women. Doted upon by the Lady Dowager, he is allowed mostly to do what he wants, which is spend his time with the girls. The Lady Dowager has brought most of the young people in the family together. On a visit from Yuanchun, the Ringguo House converts a significant part of its estate into an elaborately landscaped garden, the Grand View Garden. After she leaves, instead of repurposing the land, they decide to keep it, and Baoyu, his unmarried cousins, and their maids live in the pavilions in the garden. There they spend their days forming poetry clubs, having literary contests, and the like. Much of the charm of the story is its leisurely following of the lives of these young people with very different personalities, happily thrown together under ideal circumstances in their halcyon days; most are around twelve when Grand View Garden is built, and we follow their teenage years as they play and squabble and grow. But, of course, there is a tinge of sorrow to it all. Life in the Grand View Garden by its nature cannot last. Every year brings an ending closer. We see, in the married Beauties, the difficulties that await the young unmarried women when they leave the Garden. And even if none of this were so, the Jia family is in decline. They are extremely wealthy -- but their rents are declining and their expenses keep rising, so by the beginning of the work they are surviving on inadequate rents and pawning family possessions. Their inadequate rents are still quite extensive, and they have plenty of very nice family possessions that they can pawn for high price. But it is all flowing out more quickly than it flows in. They are extremely well-connected -- but they were better connected in the past, and most of them, instead of achieving new distinctions and recognitions, are frittering away their lives. Yuanchun is Imperial Consort, and that is their highest connection at this point. Jia She, the oldest of the sons of the Dowager, does very little beyond abuse both his wealth and connections. Jia Zheng, a devoted Confucian and the best male of his generation in the family, has very little practical administrative ability. Jia Zhen, the heir of the Ningguo House, and the de facto head of the Jia clan, is only slightly better than Jia She. Occasionally they are given important tasks by the Emperor, and none of them ever perform them particularly well. It's all doomed. Their wealth is mostly illusion; their prestige is mostly illusion; Grand View Garden is mostly built on these illusions. They are beautiful illusions, without doubt, but such illusions always burst like bubbles.

Cao Xueqin's text as we have it ends at Chapter 80. By this point we have reached the Lady Dowager's eightieth birthday, an extravagant event that accidentally increases the tensions between the two Houses. We have discovered that Jia Baoyou has a double, Zhen Baoyu, whose life has a number of similarities to his own but who made a different choice at a crucial moment. ('Zhen' can be read as 'Real' or 'True', highlighting the fact that the Jia live a kind of fantasy-life.) Xifeng, partly perhaps due to stress caused by her husband's infidelities, has grown ill and is slowly losing her ability to keep on top of the budget and control the servants because of it. Multiple attempts have been made to tighten the budget, but all of them increase unrest and rebelliousness among the servants, and all attempts to restore order make things worse in unexpected ways. We have lost a number of maids, some to dismissal, some to marriage, some to suicide. Rumors, sometimes false but always scandalous, have been building up about goings-on in the Grand View Garden. Baochai has had to move out of the Garden to assist her family, and her brother, Xue Pan, keeps digging himself into worse and worse troubles. Yingchun is married off; it has become clear that it is a very bad match and abusive good-for-nothing, and the Jia family, struggling as they slowly collapse, no longer have the power and influence to do anything about it. The whole dream represented by the Garden is unraveling as a crude and crass world keeps intruding upon it.

The last forty chapters in the versions we have, possibly by Gao E, although he may just be a redactor of an earlier addition, attempt to tie up everything that has happened to this point. It is often noted that it is definitely different in character from Cao Xueqin's chapters, and this is true. The ending forty chapters have an atmosphere that I can only characterize as fanfictiony. To be sure, they are very well done, but they have the kinds of features we associate with fan fiction. They are written by someone who certainly has read the first eighty chapters closely; a very great number of things that are foreshadowed or hinted at, sometimes very subtly, in those chapters come to fruition in these last forty. Nonetheless, there are many differences. The events are much more erratic and sensationalistic. You do find sensationalistic notes in the earlier chapters, such as when Xifeng's jealousies lead to two suicides, but it is all very slowly and carefully built. The sensationalism of the last chapters is always more abrupt, and as a result the character's reactions are sometimes off. We've always known that Daiyu was destined to die in the course of the story, but her very melodramatic death is hard to square with her rather clear-eyed, if sorrowful, character throughout the book. We've always known that Baoyu and Baochai were destined to marry, but the plot machinery that actually yields this result is clunky and implausible. In addition, some of the sensationalistic things that happen seem to have no other function than to move a character to the side or even off the board. Xifeng's illness doesn't just hamper her; it practically breaks her. Baoyu loses his jade and begins to go crazy. Most absurdly, Miaoyu is kidnapped by brigands and never heard of again.

There are other fanfictiony aspects. All of the characters act in ways that are just a bit exaggerated, their leading characteristics a little too obviously intensified. We also get some weakly motivated returns of characters who are probably there mostly because they are reader favorites, like Granny Liu, who is a rustic farmwoman who might-possibly-maybe-conceivably be a distant relative, or at least there's no proof she's not. In some of the most hilarious and enjoyable chapters of the book, she had originally come to try to resolve a minor problem, and, having charmed some of the ladies of the house with her good-natured rusticity, was invited for a stay. The highly well-bred and delicate Jia ladies and maidens have an immense amount of fun at her expense, although they also pretty clear enjoy having her and seeing her astonishment at how they live. Granny Liu, besides being an enjoyable character in her own right, serves to show just how infinitely far and ethereally removed the Jia family is from the people on whom their revenues ultimately depend, as well as how extraordinarily and mind-bogglingly expensive their lifestyle is. She gets a return in the last forty chapters, although not, I think, one that does much justice to her, since she doesn't get to do much more than serve as a plot device for marrying of Qiaojie, and it's unclear why she's even there beyond just having her back again for old time's sake, in the way fan fiction often brings back characters. We also get cases where characters get happy endings, or at least promises of happy endings, for what seems very little reason.

What is most notable is that it's clear that whoever wrote the last forty chapters we have was less interested in the story of the young women than in the decline of the Jia family; we get a lot more focus on Baoyu's father and uncle, for instance, and more court politics. This is, I think, the largest and most detrimental shift in the last forty chapters.

The last three paragraphs might make it sound like I didn't like the ending, but this is not true. They are very flawed in comparison to what led up to them, and they seem to fall short of what Cao Xueqin had been intending in a number of ways. But they are enjoyable. The depictions of how Imperial bureaucracy guarantees corruption even against the best intentions of those involved were fascinating. So were the narratives of how badly things could go if you fell out of the favor of the Emperor -- not having become his enemy but simply no longer being in his favor: protections start dissolving, friends start being scarce, things that had previously been easy to navigate become very complicated and technical, bare suspicions become serious weights around the neck.

And the last chapter makes a valiant attempt to give good, appropriate closure to the frame narrative, which I think deserves a lot of credit. The frame narrative has been kept alive all along by the Buddhist of Infinite Space and the Taoist of Boundless Time here and there crossing paths of some of the characters, by Baoyu's jade, and by dreams of the Goddess of Disenchantment or of the afterlife. In the last chapter, we return to Jia Yucun, who has shown up here and there, and who has now settled, after his disgrace and an eventual amnesty, into life as a common citizen rather than an Imperial official. He is heading home when he happens to stop by the Ford of Awakening in the Stream of Rapid Reversal when he sees a priest who is none other than his old acquaintance Zhen Shiyin, who has become a wise Taoist hermit. They turn to talking about Baoyu, who has vanished under mysterious circumstances, having apparently run away with a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest, and Zhen Shiyin explains some of the allegorical features of the frame narrative for the reader obtuse enough to have missed it in 120 chapters. (That part is a little fanfictiony, although it's charmingly done.) Jia Yucun has no idea what he's talking about, but Zhen Shiyin predicts that the fortunes of the Jia families will slowly be restored. Zhen Shiyin can't talk long, however, because he is on his way to aid his daughter, who had been lost so young but had eventually received the name Xiangling and become the concubine of Xue Pan, Baochai's brother. She is dying in chidbirth, and Zhen Shiyin goes to guide her spirit. As Zhen Shiyin leaves, he sees a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest, and has asked if they have severed all the entanglements yet; they reply that they are still working on it, but they are returning the "stupid object" to its place and will record its story, which they do. Jia Yucun falls asleep in Zhen Shiyin's little temple.

In the meantime, Reverend Void happens to visit Blue Ridge Peak again, and, when he sees the record of the Stone's story, he realizes that someone has added a new section (i.e., the last forty chapters). He transcribes it again "to show the illusory nature of marvels, mundane matters, truth and falsehood" (p. 2547). He looks for someone to circulate the story, but fails -- everyone is just absorbed in a lurid pursuit of gain. He happens, however, to come across a little Taoist temple by the Ford of Awakening in the Stream of Rapid Reversal, and there he finds a man sleeping, and concludes here, at last, is someone with the leisure to circulate the manuscript who is not simply out to get what's his. He wakes the man, who is of course Jia Yucun, and after leafing through the manuscript and noting that he knows this story, he refers Reverend Void to someone he knows will do well in circulating it, a man by the name of Cao Xueqin. Cao Xueqin accepts the manuscript in order to circulate it, and when asked by Reverend Void why he's willing to do so, Cao Xueqin dismisses the question: it's a fictitious rustic tale that will entertain and while away the hours with friends or alleviate a lonely night, so it doesn't require any justification at all.

Favorite Passage: From the first eighty chapters by Cao Xueqin. When Granny Liu visits, they play a drinking game in the garden; tiles are drawn and described, and you have to respond with an associated classical allusion, adage, or proverb that rhymes with the tile name. Granny, of course, gives horrible rhymes and all of her answers are rustically bawdy:

"We country folk sometimes get together and play this when we've nothing better to do," the old woman said. "Mind you, our answers aren't so fine-sounding as yours. Still, I suppose I must try."

"It's easy," they assured her. "Just go ahead, it doesn't matter."

Smiling, Yuanyang announced, "On the left, 'four and four' make a man."

Granny Liu thought this over, then suggested, "A farmer?"

The company roared with laughter.

"Good," the Lady Dowager encouraged her. "That's the style."

"We country people can only talk about the things we know," said Granny Liu, laughing herself. "You mustn't make fun of men."

Yuanyang continued, "'Three and four,' green and red, in the centre."

"A big fire burns the hairy caterpillar."

The others chortled, "That's right. Go on in your own way."

Yuanyang said, "On the right a really fine 'double ace.'"

"A turnip and head of garlic in one place."

Giggles broke out again.

Yuanyang went on, "They make up 'flowers' in all."

Gesturing with both hands Granny Liu responded, "And a huge pumpkin forms when the flowers fall."

The others were shaking with laughter when they heard a commotion outside. What had happened will be told in the next chapter. (pp. 816-817)

From the last forty chapters, by Gao E (or whomever):

When this tale later came to be read, someone wrote four lines of verse to elucidate the author's meaning, as follows:

A tale of grief is told,
Fantasy most melancholy.
Since all live in a dream,
Why laugh at others' folly? (p. 2549)

Recommendation: Highly recommended, but you'll need to leave yourself some time to read through the 120 chapters.


Cao Xueqin and Gao E, A Dream of Red Mansions, Volumes I-IV, Yang and Yang, trs., Foreign Languages Press (Beijing: 2019).

Friday, August 13, 2021

Jewish Temples

 When we speak of 'the Temple', we usually mean one of two buildings, both in Jerusalem:

(1) The Temple of Solomon, or the First Temple. King David, seeing that the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a decaying tent while he lived in a palace, conceived of building a palace for God in Jerusalem. He did a number of things in this direction -- reorganized the priesthood, picked out a site on Mount Moriah, and so forth -- but none of his attempts ever completed because, we are told, he had shed much blood. The actual Temple was built by his son Solomon, who consolidate David's conquests and alliances into a minor trading empire, beginning it in about the fourth year of his reign and finishing it in about the eleventh year. When it was finished, the Ark was placed in its inmost room, the Holy of Holies, and "the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kg. 8:10). It apparently needed some extensive maintenance in the reign of King Josiah, but the Temple would last until the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The Kingdom of Judah had been (like most of the little kingdoms in the area) had been allied with Babylon as a form of protection against Egypt. When Nebuchadnezzar attempted a grand invasion of Egypt that failed spectacularly, a number of these little kingdoms, including Judah, began to think that they had backed the wrong horse; they stopped paying tribute to Babylon and started courting Egypt. Furious, Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in 598; King Jehoiakim died during the siege, so Nebuchadnezzar took the young heir Jeconiah, as well as a large number of artisans and skilled workers, to Babylon as war prisoners, installing Jeconiah's uncle, Zedekiah, as a vassal king. Zedekiah broke his obligations of vassalage, however, and also began courting Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar responding by laying siege to the city again, in about 587, and this time did not merely plunder the Temple but raze it to the ground. This is the first event that is commemorated in the Jewish holy day of Tisha B'Av.

(2) The Second Temple. When Cyrus allowed the return of Jewish exiles, as part of his general policy of consolidating his empire by providing support to those oppressed by nations he conquered, one of the major concerns was to re-build the Temple. It was a slow and rocky building; everything needed to be rebuilt and there were plenty of obstacles, so it took about twenty years. It was consecrated in 516 BC. It was desecrated by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Greek Syria who, after quashing a rebellion in the province in 167 BC, outlawed Jewish religious practices and put a statue of Zeus in the Temple. During the Maccabean revolt, it was recaptured by the Maccabees and re-dedicated in 164, which is the event commemorated during Hanukkah. The Maccabees, successful in throwing off Syrian rule, established the Hasmonean dynasty, and seem to have done considerable maintenance and expansion work on it. The Temple had to be rededicated again in 63 BC when the Romans under Pompey accidentally desecrated it after taking Jerusalem; the Temple was not plundered, and Pompey gave his full support to re-establishing the Temple services. Bad relations between the Romans and the Hasmoneans, however, led to the Romans ending the Hasmonean dynasty and installing the Herod the Great as a client king to keep order among the Judeans. A distrusted foreigner, Herod seems to have tried every possible means of consolidating his rule, one of which was a massive expansion and enrichment of the Temple. This was so massive that it really could count as a rebuilding, and is sometimes called Herod's Temple; the reason it is usually counted as still the Second Temple is that Herod organized it so that the Temple services were not interrupted. After the Jewish Revolt against Rome, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, then plundered and destroyed the Temple in AD 70. This is the event commemorated on the Arch of Titus in Rome, and is the second event remembered by the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av (which is probably celebrated when it is because of a rabbinical tradition that the Second Temple was destroyed on the ninth day of the month of  Av).

These are the only temples recognized as licit by the Jewish rabbis. However, there were others.

(3) The Temple of Leontopolis. Sometime around Antiochus's desecration of the Second Temple, the High Priest Onias III, or more probably his son Onias IV, fled with a number of others to Egypt, under the rule of Ptolemy IV, Antiochus's major enemy. Ptolemy was quite generous with the exiles, and gave them a rich area of the Nile delta that became known as the Land of Onias, and included a compound called Leontopolis, where he helped them build their own temple, a smaller and simpler copy of the one in Jerusalem. They had the same Temple services, however. When the Temple was rededicated in Jerusalem, it became common for the Egyptian Jews to make pilgrimages to it, but they continued sacrificing their own temple as well. Despite this, it was probably still less important in the overall life of Egyptian Jewry than the synagogue in Alexandria, as it seems to have been primarily a way for them to fulfill certain occasional obligations whenever they couldn't actually manage to get to Jerusalem. The Temple at Leontopolis was destroyed by the Romans in AD 93, in response to ongoing Jewish revolts against the Romans. 

The later rabbinical tradition has a somewhat ambiguous view of the Leontopolis Temple; it's consistently evident that the rabbis don't like its existence as a matter of ritual law, but the priests of Onias were allowed to officiate in the Jerusalem Temple, and there is no indication that there was anything idolatrous ever done there. The other Jewish temples were much less acceptable.

(4) The Temple on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans accept the Torah, although there are textual difference between their Torah and those accepted by the Jews of Jerusalem, one of which is that the Samaritan version of the Torah requires that the temple be built on Mount Gerizim in Samaria (currently in the West Bank), not far from Shechem, rather than on Mount Moriah in Judea. They split off from the main trunk of the religion sometime after the destruction by Assyria of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in about 720 BC, and their tradition is that they are descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh rather than the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. (And according to the same traditions, of course, they are the main trunk of the religion, the Judean branch being an aberration arising from Eli's attempt to seize the High Priesthood from Shechem and bring it to Shiloh, some decades before the rise of David and Solomon, when the Shilonite cultus was transferred to Jerusalem.) We don't know when the temple at Gerizim was built, but the evidence we have suggests the fifth century BC. The Samaritans were able to get recognition under Antiochus of being different from the Judean Jews, which probably saved a great many of them, but were required to designate their temple a temple of Zeus Hellenios (according to Josephus) or Zeus Xenios (according to 2 Maccabees 6:2). The Hasmonean dynasty under John Hyrcanus destroyed the temple at Gerizim in 113 BC. The difference between Samaritan and Judean forms of worship comes up in the discussion of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well; Jesus comes down very strongly on the Judean side, but says the time is coming when worshipers will worship neither on Gerizim nor in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth. After the Bar Kochba revolt in AD 132, the Romans, who had received assistance from the Samaritans, had the Samaritan temple rebuilt; this temple was destroyed around 484 by the Emperor Zeno; it's unclear whether Zeno first destroyed the temple and then put down the resulting Samaritan revolts, or whether the Samaritans revolted and Zeno destroyed the temple in retaliation, but Byzantines and Samaritans did not get along well, so either is possible.

Another Jewish temple is known to have existed very early on..

(4) The Temple at Elephantine. Elephantine is an island in the Nile, and was of considerable strategic importance, being at the border of Egypt and Nubia. It was dedicated to the Egyptian ram-headed god, Khnum, and his consorts Satis and Anuket. Khnum was god of the source of the Nile, but later became a kind of quasi-creator figure, said to be the divine potter who formed gods and men. The compound at Elephantine had a number of temples to a number of deities, and one of them was clearly established and maintained by a local colony of Aramaic-speaking Jews, probably an already existing merchant-colony that received a large number of exiles after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. That the Elephantine Jews saw themselves as having a clear connection to those of Jerusalem can be seen in that we have a surviving document in which, after a destruction of their temple, they requested assistance from the Jews of Jerusalem in rebuilding, and we know that they observed Passover. However, the practices of the Elephantine temple were in some ways radically different from what we would think of as Jewish -- the fact that the Lord, whom they called Yahou, was being worshipped in a temple-complex dedicated to other gods is already a significant deviation, but the Elephantine Jews were henotheists, not monotheists. That is, they seem to have held that Yahou had at least a divine consort, Anat-Yahou, who were also worshipped, and may have held that there were other gods, as well. The Elephantine temple was flourishing in the fifth century BC, but it vanishes completely in the next century; probably it was  pushed out by the priests of Khnum, who massively expanded their own temple at about the same time.

There are a few others about which we know considerably less. At Tel Arad, archeologists discovered a building with incense altars that was built roughly on the same general model as the First Temple at Jerusalem, which seems to have been in use in the ninth and eight centuries BC, and may have been decommissioned in the reign of Josiah, or maybe Hezekiah. While some have suggested that both the Lord and a divine consort were worshipped there, there's remarkably little evidence of this. The ostraca from the Tel given no indication and simply call the temple 'the House of the Lord'. More recently, archeologists about a decade ago discovered another temple at Tel Motza, just a bit outside Jerusalem. It was also functioning in the ninth century, but there is still a lot we don't know about it.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Patroness of Forgotten People

 Jeanne-Françoise Frémyot was born in 1572 to an important political family in Burgundy. She married Christophe II de Rabutin, Baron de Chantal, in 1592, and really came into her own. The Baron de Chantal's estates were in considerable disarray, in part because the Baron had business with royal court that regularly called him away; Jeanne-Françoise took it all in hand and soon had everything in good working order. As it happened, although she had seemed a quite ordinary Burgundian girl, she had an immense talent for practical organization. Her organizational talents were employed not merely toward making the estate run but toward charitable work, as well, and they saved quite a few lives when the region was hit with a severe famine.

The marriage between the Baron and Baroness was quite good; they had six children, although two died in infancy. The Baron, however, died in 1601 in a hunting accident. As she mourned her husband, she made a vow that she would remain celibate for the rest of her life, and, after her children were grown, devote herself to helping others.

In 1604, this general resolution began to take a serious shape. Visiting her father in Dijon, Jeanne-Françoise happened to hear St. François de Sales (who was bishop of Geneva, but due to a Calvinist resurgence had been forced to flee) preach a number of sermons, and they immediately became good friends. It was a fruitful friendship. Several of St. Francis's most enduring works, including An Introduction to the Devout Life, grew out of it.

As her children entered adolescence, Jeanne-Françoise began to place them in various positions in which they could gain what they needed in life and, with the advice and help of St. Francis, founded the Congregation of the Visitation in 1610, which had as its purpose active ministry in the world for the sick, elderly, and disabled, and which as a matter of principle accepted even those who could not join other religious orders and societies due to sickness or age. The timing, unfortunately, was not particularly good for it; the bishops of the time were (rightly and reasonably) cracking down on unruly religious orders and societies, and unfortunately, as imagination has never been a prerequisite for episcopal office, the episcopal solution to the problem was to require religious orders and societies all to conform to exactly the same set of templates, and an uncloistered women's order devoted entirely to active ministry in the world was not one of the templates. St. Jane-Frances and St. Francis, having appealed all the way up to the Pope, who came down against them, were forced to change the structure of their order into a more ordinary cloistered order.

The forced cloistering, however, may have contributed to Visitationist success in the long run, since it possibly allowed Madame de Chantal much more influence than she would otherwise have had. The order caught the attention of a number of aristocratic families looking to support religious activities, and they soon became aware of just how valuable Jeanne-Françoise was as a source of advice about practical finances and moral issues in everyday life. Her correspondence massively expanded. And unlike the bishops, she had enough imagination and ingenuity to figure out how to do something like what she had hoped to do within the strictures imposed upon her. While she had intended to use her skills to do immediate practical good by means of her order, she was able to do much more good through interaction with donors and supporters, and yet more good still from the correspondence, which, although not fully surviving, continues to be read with benefit today.

St. Francis de Sales died in 1622, and St. Vincent de Paul became her new spiritual director; they got along well, but it was nothing like the close friendship she had had with François. She herself died in 1641, was beatified in 1751, and was canonized in 1767. Her feast has moved around a lot, but is currently today in the US calendar.

From a letter to the Countess de Toulonjon, 1625:

...You are too much attached to the things of this life and take them too much to heart. What have you to fear? Is it that the fact of having so many children deprives you of the means of providing for and educating them according to their birth and your ambition? Have no such apprehensions, I beg of you, for in this you wrong the Providence of Him who gives them to you, and who is good enough and rich enough to nourish them and provide for them as is expedient to His glory and their salvation. That is all that we should desire for our children, and not look for worldly prosperity in this miserable and mortal life.

Now my dearest daughter, lovingly look upon all these little creatures as entrusted to you by God, who has given them to you; care for them, cherish them tenderly, and bring them up not in vanity, but faithfully in the fear of God. So doing, and trustfully leaving all these anxieties of yours to divine Providence, you will see how sweetly and tenderly it will provide for all, so that you will have good reason to bless and rely wholly upon it. Take my advice, dearest daughter, and cast yourself into these safe arms: serve God, cast aside vanity, live in perfect harmony with him whom God has given you, interest yourself in the good government of your household, be active and diligent in applying yourself to that work, and begin from this time forth to live after the manners and customs of a true mother. If I had not had the courage to do this from the beginning in my married life we should not have had the means of livelihood, for we had a smaller income than you have and were fifteen thousand crowns in debt. Be brave then, dearest daughter; employ your time and your mind not in worrying and being anxious about the future, but in serving God and your household, for such is the divine will. Act thus, and you will see how blessings will attend your undertakings....

 John Conley has a nice discussion of St. Jane-Frances's moral philosophy at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Vermigli on Platonic Ideas

 In Book I, Chapter 6 of Peter Martyr Vermigli's Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, there is a discussion of the Platonic theory of Ideas that gives an interesting look at how Plato and Aristotle were approached in Protestant universities in the sixteenth century (Strasbourg in 1553, to be exact). Interestingly, Vermigli's interpretation of Plato himself is heavily influenced by the Dionysian corpus, which unsurprisingly gives his account of the Ideas a tinge of Christian Neoplatonism:

At the outset we should deal with the term itself: the word ta eide, or "idea" comes from the verb eidein or idein, which means "To notice" or "to comprehend." And it is possible to comprehend something either before it is revealed or after. If it is comprehended before it is revealed, principally on the basis of its efficient cause, it is called "idea"; and therefore, they have said that it arises before the actual creation since it precedes the individual realizations that are then produced. These realizations would have never been produced unless there existed a kind of form and of universal notion in the mind of the creator, unless he were thought to be unaware of what he was doing. Therefore they are properly called "prefigurations," and whatever thus occurs is related to its universal notion according to which pattern it was created. (p. 138)

He recognizes that there are forms of Platonism in which the Ideas are not in the divine mind but have reality in some other way; he does not regard them as particularly relevant for understanding the theory.

In any case, Vermigli makes a standard moderate-realist distinction between the nature as understood prior to things (nature taken as a pattern), in which it is in the mind of the Creator, the nature as found in things (nature taken as a composite whole), and the nature as belonging solely to human reasoning (nature taken as a sum of constituents). We can talk about the first kind, Ideas in the divine mind, in three ways: (1) "as something that is contained in the divine essence and so is one and uniform"; (2) "as a practical object of the divine mind, in which case it would also be one and uniform"; and (3) "as a  Form and pattern", in which case we have to say that there are many Ideas (p. 143). Vermigli takes it to be unclear whether Plato holds that Ideas are the divine nature as understood by God and insofar as it is the source of other things or whether he holds that they are distinct from the divine nature and known from eternity as models or practical objects for creation; if taken in the first sense, following Augustine, Vermigli regards Plato's account to be unexceptionable, while, if taken in the second way, he regards it as vulnerable to Aristotle's criticisms.

The first Aristotelian criticism is that accidents, being produced and knowable, would have associated Ideas, which would therefore be accidents without substance. (Vermigli, ever the Protestant theologian, notes that this is parallel to arguments against transubstantiation.) In addition, the reasons for positing Ideas would seem also to be reasons for positing an Idea of Ideas, since Ideas are similar and have at least some kind of common nature, which Plato uses Ideas to explain. Moreover, Ideas are so different from what they are intended to explain in generable things that they seem quite isolated from them. Because of arguments like these, Vermigli agrees with Aristotle's position that the Platonic Ideas are not particularly relevant to ethical life, even though there is one interpretation (in which they are distanced from the craftsman's-model metaphor) that he thinks metaphysically reasonable.


Peter Martyr Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Campi & McLelland, eds., Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, Volume 73, Truman State University Press (Kirksville, MO: 2006).

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Highly Exceptional Phenomenon

 Among other regular facts that have to be explained is Law or regularity itself. We enormously exaggerate the part that law plays in the universe. It is by means of regularities that we understand what little we do understand of the world, and thus there is a sort of mental perspective which brings regular phenomena to the foreground. We say that every event is determined by causes according to law. But apart from the fact that this must not be regarded as absolutely true, it does not mean so much as it seems to do. We do not mean, for example, that if a man and his antipode both sneeze at the same instant, that that event comes under any general law. That is merely what we call a coincidence. But what we mean is there was a cause for the first man's sneezing, and another cause for the second man's sneezing; and the aggregate of these two events make up the first event about which we began by inquiring. The doctrine is that the events of the physical universe are merely motions of matter, and that these obey the laws of dynamics. But this only amounts to saying that among the countless systems of relationship existing among things we have found one that is universal and at the same time is subject to law. There is nothing except this singular character which makes this particular system of relationship any more important than the others. From this point of view, uniformity is seen to be really a highly exceptional phenomenon. But we pay no attention to irregular relationships, as having no interest for us.

C. S. Peirce, "A Guess at the Riddle".

Monday, August 09, 2021

The Spiritual Wanderer's Frame of Mind

 Today is the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, Martyr, also known as St. Edith Stein, who died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz on or around August 9, 1942.

From one of her letters, to fellow philosopher Walter Warnach, who had sent her some poems:

Your verses require no apology for being either too harsh or too gloomy. It is probably a sign of your great sensibility that you yourself consider them that way. Of course, they are not easily accessible. I can't say that even I can understand every word. But I believe I can understand something of the spiritual wanderer's frame of mind out of which they were composed. And I believe the closer he comes to the summit the better able he will be to make himself understood. In places, he is already managing it. Perfect poetry is--I believe--like perfect wisdom and sanctity, unpretentious and transparently clear.
[Edith Stein, Self-Portrait in Letters 1916-1942, Letter #267, Koeppel, tr. ICS Publications (Washington DC: 1993) p. 279.]