Saturday, July 02, 2022

Josephus, The Jewish War


Opening Passage:

The war of the Jews against the Romans was the greatest of our time; greater too, perhaps, than any recorded struggle whether between cities or nations. Yet persons with no first-hand knowledge, accepting baseless and inconsistent stories on hearsay, have written garbled accounts of it, while those of eyewitnesses have been falsified either to flatter the Romans or to vilify the Jews, eulogy or abuse has been substituted for factual record. So for the benefit of the Emperor's subjects I have decided to translate into Greek the books which I wrote some time ago in my native language for circulation among non-Greek speakers inland. I myself, Josephus, son of Matthias, am a Hebrew by race, and a priest from Jerusalem; in the early stages I fought against the Romans, and of the later events I was an unwilling witness. (p. 27)

Summary: The Jewish War is divided into seven books. In Books I and II, Josephus goes through the historical background that forms the context of the war between the Romans and the Jewish nation. The rest of the books follow the war through to its conclusion. In AD 66, a series of anti-taxation protests began to spiral out of control and touched off a major revolt in Judea, Galilee, and Idumea. Significant Jewish victories in early days led to the formation of a provisional government in Jerusalem; a provisional governor was appointed for each of Galilee and Idumea. Josephus was the one who was appointed to be governor of Galilee. The Emperor Nero, unsurprisingly displeased at the course things had taken, assigned the general Vespasian to be the commander of the invasion of the region. Vespasian and his son Titus then systematically seized the rebel strongholds in Galilee.

One of these strongholds was Jodapata (Yodfat), and played the central role Josephus's last attempt to hold off the Romans. According to his own account, he had been opposed to war with the Romans, but now committed, was resolved to give them a serious fight, and he did so with great ingenuity. It is, of course, Josephus telling us how clever Josephus was, but as he is writing the book for Vespasian and Titus, who defeated him, we can perhaps expect that he is never outright lying, although we also perhaps cannot rule out that he might exaggerate whenever it would also reflect well on Vespasian and Titus and their ability to overcome such a military genius. Josephus's numbers, for instance, are almost always wrong, but they tend to be wrong in the same direction -- that is, his number estimates never make things smaller and less impressive.

In any case, Josephus came up with several stratagems to foil both the early siege machines and the attempts to take advantage of the city's limited war supply, forcing the Romans into the dangers of direct assault. Perhaps the cleverest was when Vespasian brought a battering ram against the walls of the city, and Josephus had bags of chaff lowered in front of it to absorb the blows. The Romans cut these down, of course, but it gave Josephus time to throw large rocks down on the ram to try to break it. When the Romans eventually did make a small breakthrough, Josephus had the defenders pour boiling oil on them. Vespasian in response decided to go over the wall, so built large siege towers that kept the defenders busy while his engineers built up the siege ramp until it was scalable. At this point a deserter escaped to the Romans and informed them that the defenders were stretched were very thinly, so there was a period during the night when there were few if any people on watch. Then Titus and a number of others scaled the wall at night, killed the guards, and opened the gates. The Romans slaughtered almost everyone; Josephus escaped and hid in a cave with a number of supporters, prepared to wait out the Romans, but he was eventually discovered and only survived because of the boldness with which he leveraged his status as a Jewish priest in predicting that Vespasian and Titus would be emperors.

Having captured Galilee, they turned their attention to Judea, although most of this will be under Titus, since the Roman succession crisis by this point leads Vespasian's army to declare Vespasian emperor. Titus's portrayal is interesting; Josephus always depicts him in laudatory terms, but looking at his actions alone, it is always difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is a rather reckless commander and lacks Vespasian's cleverness. In any case, the fight in Judea, and especially the siege of Jerusalem, is given in great detail. Josephus depicts it as a war between Roman discipline and inexorability and Jewish ingenuity and love of freedom. He treats it as an almost equal match. But the Jews have the disadvantage of not being a unified group. Over and over again, Jewish infighting hampers the Jewish resistance, and Josephus himself seems to attribute the loss of Jerusalem (whose importance was always that it was naturally well fortified, and easily could be built up with additional artificial fortifications) to the willingness of the Zealots to kill other Jews who stood in their way even in the Temple area. This sacrilegious fraternal murder also lets the Romans claim the moral high ground (they would never desecrate a temple like that, at least deliberately) and gives them an excuse to stop being careful not to harm the Temple (because the Jews themselves in their impiety already desecrated it).

Titus at this point leaves to join his father, bringing with him the triumph at Jerusalem as a sort of stamp or seal on Vespasian's reign (and also, not to be forgotten, a source of an immense amount of wealth for the Flavian government). There is still some mopping up, and the Roman legion takes some of the last Jewish holdouts, ending with the siege of Masada in 74.

Favorite Passage:

During this period one of the Jews called Jonathan, a man of small stature and nothing much to look at, whose birth and attainments were negligible, stepped forward opposite the tomb of John the High Priest, heaped contempt and abuse on the heads of the Romans, and challenged the bravest of them to single combat. Of the Romans lined up at that point the majority treated him with contempt; some in all probability were frightened, while a few were struck by the very reasonable though that a man who was looking for death was not one to be engaged at close quarters: those who despaired of their lives might well have uncontrollable passions and the willing help of the Almighty; and to risk everything in a duel with one whose defeat would be nothing to boast of, and whose victory would be disgraceful as well as dangerous, was an act not of courage but of recklessness. For a long time no one came forward and the Jew hurled a volley of gibes at their cowardice, for he had a great admiration for himself and contempt for the Romans. But at last one Pudens, a member of a cavalry squadron, sickened by his arrogant vapourings and no doubt foolishly over-confident because of his small stature, ran out, joined battle, and was getting the better of it when fortune left him in the lurch: he fell, and Jonathan ran up and dispatched him. Then standing on the body he brandished his dripping sword and with his left hand waved his shield, shouting vociferously at the troops, crowing over the fallen man, and mocking the Romans as they watched. At length, while he still jumped about and played the fool, Priscus, a centurion, shot an arrow which pierced him through; at this shouts went up from Jews and Romans -- very different in character. Jonathan, spinning round in his agony, fell down on the body of his foe, clear proof that in war undeserved success instantly brings on itself the vengeance of heaven. (pp. 350-351)

Recommendation:  Recommended. It's a bit uneven as a read, but some parts of it -- like the siege of Jodapata, the siege of Jerusalem, and the siege of Masade, are fascinating. Josephus is also extraordinarily good at description, so one has a very vivid sense of the terrain.


Josephus, The Jewish War, Williamson, tr., Smallwood, ed., Penguin (New York: 1981).

Friday, July 01, 2022

Music on My Mind


Gazi 'Dusty' Simelane, "Home". Country music (including the whole country music culture, like line dancing) is hugely popular in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has consistently been so for about fifty years, but African Country is difficult to find outside of Africa, despite often being of extremely high quality. Perhaps this age of streaming will begin changing that. In any case, this is on my mind because there has been some discussion of African Country floating about.

Dashed Off XVI

 "The intelligible is the soul of the sensible as the body of the intelligible is the sensible." St. Maximus

All knowing is through some likening.

Sacred Tradition perfects tradition as grace perfects nature.

The 'post-truth age' has existed since the Fall.

"Reciprocity preserves cities." Aristotle (Politics 1261a32)
"Friendship is the pursuit of a common social life." 1280b38-39

"Even the gods love play." Plato (Cratylus)
"Speech (logos) signifies all things (to pan) and keeps them circulating and always going about."

Hades as sophist vs Hades as philosopher (Cratylus 403a1-404b4)

Cratylus 407b shows that allegorical reading of Homer was common even in Plato's day.

Van Til's predication argument: "on the presupposition of human autonomy human predication cannot even get under way"
"The final point of reference in all predication must ultimately rest in some mind, divine or human. It is either the self-contained God of Christianity or the would-be autonomous man that must be and is presupposed as the final reference point in every sentence that any man utters."

"a combination of means conspiring to a particular end implies intelligence." Dugald Stewart

"Belief in the personality of man, and belief in the personality of God, stand or fall together." George Fisher
"Self-consciousness can only be referred to self-consciousness as its author and source. It can have is ground in nothing that is itself void of consciousness. Only a personal Power above Nature can account for self-consciousness in man."
"Unconditioned being is the silent presupposition of all our knowing."
"The Greek Philosophy was a preparation for Christianity in a threefold way. It dissipated, or tended to dissipate, the superstition of polytheism; it awakened a sense of need which philosophy of itself failed to meet; and it so educated the intellect and conscience as to render the gospel apprehensible, and in many ways, congenial to the mind."
"As the Gospels were for the Church, so they were from the Church."
"The personality of God gives to man his true place. Man is a person, and religion, instead of being a mystic absorption of the individual, is the communion of person with person."

NB that Spinoza explicitly links repentance and free will

Something like sacred Scripture has to be organically grown in a community, not imposed (this distinguishes it from some other kinds of revelation).

the Bible as symbolic Kingdom of God, with the real Kingdom of God its object

Goldwin Smith: virtue, knowledge, and industry as the most general topics of history

'the age of unsettled opinion' (McCosh)

As one goes higher, the relation between idea, as a universal abstract rule, and ideal, as case under the rule, becomes more intimate, converging to God, who is both idea and ideal.

In political disputes, always look to see what you are being forced *not* to defend, due to the need for resources to fight over a topic du jour.

One of the hardest things to learn is not to fight the decoy battle.

physical cause : influence :: moral cause : imputation

Church Militant : Power :: Church Patient : Wisdom :: Church Triumphant : Goodness

occasionalism of sacramental life

Induction is inherently teleological. Suppose a simple enumeration, in which I find that cases 1, 2, 3, etc. have such-and-such feature F. This could be a real pattern, or it could be an accident. What is the difference between a real pattern and an accidental pattern? In the former, what we find is that to which things really tend. The induction principle is not 'the future is like the past' so much as 'in the kind of thing we have experienced there is a tendency to F that will yield F unless some cause intervenes'. (Cp. James Clerk Maxwell on 'The same causes produce the same effects.')

"If the world might have had a cause, then it must have had a cause." Nathaniel Emmons

sex principia as categories for experimental components

A hypothesis requires both accommodation of prior evidence (retrodiction) and prediction because (1) accommodation establishes that the data are not manipulated to fit the hypothesis and (2) prediction establishes the hypothesis is not manipulated to fit the data.

equations as at-least-contingent identities

assumption Box, projection Diamond

The modern world consistently confuses knowing oneself with constructing an authentic brand.

The problem with 'social construction' as actually used is that it is regularly applied to things for which 'construction' is the wrong metaphor.

socially grown vs socially constructed

making up ways to pretend to be righteous

regularity -> disposition -> intelligence

Teleological arguments are not generally based on probability and improbability.

Individual facts cannot be recognized as facts except insofar as they imply laws.

evidence, coherence, endurance, and beauty

Inference to the best explanation is always in light of an end.

"Science both does, and must, make the permanent metaphysical presupposition that the world is non-aberrant." Nicholas Maxwell

Newton's Rule III clearly sets aside intensive qualities because the extensive equalities raise no specter of total diminution even in principle (because they don't admit of intension and remission).
Rule IV is a rule of theory progress.

's Gravesande's pragmatic axiom: "We must look upon as true, whatever being deny'd would destroy civil Society, and deprive us of the Means of living." (He takes this to imply Newton's Rule II and Rule III.)

The problem of induction is usually formulated on the assumption that principles can only be justified deductively or inductively, but the problem with the assumption is that these options are usually too narrowly conceived (in fact there are several kinds of both) and do not include counterfactual suppositions, convergence arguments, pragmatic vindications, or coherence arguments. [Even Carnap notes that past experience is a third and, although in principle he rejects it, synthetic a priori is a fourth.]

deontic justifications of induction

Induction in the abstract requires one principle: that there are universals, not just particulars and groups of particulars.

There is no problem with having an inductive justification of induction or a deductive justification of deduction, as long as these things are taken to be dialectical, not demonstrative. If there were no such things, then we should worry.

Rejection of certain kinds of inductions entails contradictions.

pluralism of rights & pluralism of societies

Human beings can only understand a demonstration by placing it within an appropriate ecology of dialectical reasoning.

experiments as designed changes in designed composites

three aspects of image of God in humanity: dominion, dignity, microcosm
the Jewish prohibitions of murder, adultery, and idolatry as protecting three aspects of human dignity

immediate/intrinsic ends
extrinsic ends or functions: system ends
extrinsic ends or functions: population ends
finables (usefulness for an end)
as-it-were ends

A perpetual problem with experimental study of 'intuitions' is that if you ask a person a question, you get their intuition about *what would answer a question like that*. This is often different from what one wishes to study.

essentially ordered vs accidentally ordered composition

Newton's Third Law as giving a property of 'force' (it is an interactive causing)

mass as acceleration-resistance, as strength of gravitational flux, as strength of interaction with gravitational field, as energy reserve, as source of spacetime curvature, as difference between quantum frequency and wave number
-- Newton's Third implies that active and passive gravitational mass are always proportional; Einstein's general relativity assumes in the equivalence principle that inertial and passive gravitational masses are the same.

the Beatific Vision as the core of filiality

"There is nothing that human malice cannot abuse, since it abuses even God's goodness." Aquinas

purposiveness in the effects -> understanding in the cause

legal tender as a centralizing device

As it is necessary for contingent things either to exist or not to exist, and some contingent things do, some necessary beings must have contingent effects.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

In Marble-Fountained Closes

To One Reading the Morte d'Arthur
by Madison Cawein

O daughter of our Southern sun,
Sweet sister of each flower,
Dost dream in terraced Avalon
A shadow-haunted hour?
Or stand with Guinevere upon
Some ivied Camelot tower? 

Or, in the wind, dost breathe the musk
That blows Tintagel's sea on?
Or 'mid the lists by castled Usk
Hear some wild tourney's glee on?
Or 'neath the Merlin moons of dusk
Dost muse in old Caerleon? 

Or now of Launcelot, and then
Of Arthur, 'mid the roses,
Dost speak with wily Vivien?
Or, where the shade reposes,
Dost walk with stately, armored men
In marble-fountained closes? 

So speak the dreams within thy gaze,
The dreams thy spirit cages,
Would that Romance – which on thee lays
The spell of bygone ages –
Held me! A memory of those days,
A portion of those pages.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Linkable Notabilia

 * The "Tea with Tolkien" blog is beginning its Silmarillion Summer

* Mateusz Strozynski, The Joys of Latin and Christmas Feasts: J. R. R. Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham

* Brendan Hodge, After Dobbs: Abortion in America by the numbers, at "The Pillar"

* Philip Woodward, Technological Innovation and Natural Law (PDF)

* William Vallicella, Fetal Rights and the Death Penalty: Consistent or Inconsistent?

* After an extensive period of analysis, NASA has determined the proportion of total organic carbon in Mars soil samples from the Curiosity mission. The result is interesting, although not very conclusive; the total organic carbon is roughly on par with the most barren places on earth, a little more than might be expected, but still within the range of what can result from purely inorganic processes.

* Gregory Sadler, A Personalist Aspect of St. Anselm's Platonist Metaphysics (PDF)

* Ruth Boeker, Character Development in Shaftesbury's and Hume's Approaches to Self (PDF)

* Allen Habib, Promises, at the SEP

* John D. Norton, How Analogy Helped Create the New Science of Thermodynamics (PDF)

* Simon Parkin, Who Owns Einstein? The battle for the world's most famous face, at The Guardian.

* Allen Porter, Exercising the Virtues, on the role of physical fitness in the moral life

* Savannah Pearlman, In Tension: Effective Altruism and Mutual Aid, at "The Blog of the APA". One major point that is relevant here is that Effective Altruism is not (as it is often presented by its exponents in popular venues) directly concerned with doing the most good or finding the best way of doing things, but finding the way of doing things that is best according to the best available numbers. Mutual Aid, on the other hand, is concerned with finding many different ways of doing things that are good in many different ways and that are within the practical ability of ordinary people, and its standards are social, not quantitative.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Two Poem Drafts


The stars may walk on paths of light, but I
on dusty roads must take my journey's way;
the winds may run unbound in fields of sky,
no chance have I with zephyrs sweet to play.
The world may have no bars but, strong as steel,
its bonds are forged with endless subtle bands;
the ropes are tight and strong, though none can feel
the tangle of their knots with human hands.
Yet still the heart may higher freedom find;
my thought may soar beyond the shifting air,
my words may touch horizons pure and clear,
and by these gifts all ropes I may unwind.
The world may box me in with loss and care,
but never may it hold my spirit here.


Bright are the flights of feeling.
With unfurled wings faith soars high,
with fire and force it leaps up,
flitting fearlessly in airs.

Casting away all care,
it keeps to its courses;
no one can catch its wings,
no cage may encompass
cries of freedom it calls.

Filled with flame and with hope,
in fierce and fearless joy,
the world falls, with force drops,
and wings now find true flight.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ransom and Redemption

 Words related to the practice of ransoming are often found in discussions of Christian redemption ('redemption' being such a word). People seem somewhat skittish about it, however; you find critics, for instance, of 'the ransom theory of atonement'. There is no 'ransom theory of atonement', just a common tendency, rooted in the Scripture and the Fathers, to talk about redemption in terms of ransoming, but it's interesting that people would have such a problem, given that it is easily one of the best-founded ways of talking. We have Jesus, for instance:

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mk 10:45 NRSV)

Or St. Paul:

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all. (1 Tim. 2:5-6 NRSV)

To take just two obvious ones.

There are also several features of ransoming as a practice that make sense of redemption.

(1) Ransom is an exchange in which there is no right to demand or duty to pay. In ordinary commercial exchanges, I have a commodity or can offer a service by right, then I give you this commodity or service, which creates a duty to pay in you, which gives me a right to demand from you. Ransoming a captive is not a commercial exchange in this way. The captor has no particular right to the person in question; nor does he have a right to offer a person as a commodity; nor does he have the right to offer delivery of the person as a paid service.  If the prisoner were to get away somehow, the captor's rights would not have been harmed by the prisoner. All the captor has, is physical possession. Likewise, the ransomer has no duty to pay the captor. There might be situations where he has a duty to ransom that springs from something else entirely, but it's never going to be a duty to the captor.

(2) Thus the ransoming is grounded not in a duty to pay but in a mercy; there is a reason why ransoming captives is a traditional act of mercy or almsdeed. What grounds the mercy to pay is in fact just the need of the captive. Ransoming is not an act of justice to captors; it is an act of mercy to captives.

(3) However, this does not mean that justice is not relevant here. When the ransomer pays, they do get the right to demand the release of the captive; if a captor receives the ransom payment and refuses to release the captive, this is a further injustice beyond any that may have been committed up to that point. Thus, once the ransom has been given, the captor has a duty to deliver arising from the ransomer's right to receive.

(4) Having been ransomed, the ransomed captive incurs a duty of gratitude to the ransomer as benefactor.

Points at least closely related to all of these are all essential to the Christian doctrine of redemption. God has no duty to redeem us; He acts out of mercy. What He redeems is redeemed, and nothing has a right to interfere with that. And the redeemed have duties of gratitude to their Redeemer.

Perhaps one of the reasons people are skittish with it is the question of the captor. As the Catholic Encyclopedia article has it:

When a captive is ransomed the price is naturally paid to the conqueror by whom he is held in bondage. Hence, if this figure were taken and interpreted literally in all its details, it would seem that the price of man's ransom must be paid to Satan. The notion is certainly startling, if not revolting. Even if brave reasons pointed in this direction, we might well shrink from drawing the conclusion. And this is in fact so far from being the case that it seems hard to find any rational explanation of such a payment, or any right on which it could be founded.
We can already be clear on one point -- there is no right on which it is founded. Captors have no right to either the captive or the payment; they just have the captive.

A somewhat stronger argument is given by St. Gregory Nazianzen (Oration 45.xxii):

We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause? If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether.

But any shame would be on the part of the captor, not on the part of the ransomer or the ransomed. St. Gregory of Nyssa in his own discussions of ransom, argues that the fact that we are voluntarily complicit in our own oppression means that justice prevents us from being simply torn away by force; thus God instead takes a different route (Catechetical Oration c. 22):

[N]ow that we had voluntarily bartered away our freedom, it was requisite that no arbitrary method of recovery, but the one consonant with justice should be devised by Him Who in His goodness had undertaken our rescue. Now this method is in a measure this; to make over to the master of the slave whatever ransom he may agree to accept for the person in his possession.
We might put the point a little more broadly than this, by noting that even though the captor has no right to demand payment, there can still be reasons why ransom would be better than forcible liberation, and one of those reasons is that it might be better for the captive. And just as the police might pay a ransom in order simultaneously to free a captive and catch the captor in a legal bind, so, St. Gregory of Nyssa thinks, God has done in our case (Catechetical Oration 23):

The Enemy, therefore, beholding in Him such power, saw also in Him an opportunity for an advance, in the exchange, upon the value of what he held. For this reason he chooses Him as a ransom for those who were shut up in the prison of death. But it was out of his power to look on the unclouded aspect of God; he must see in Him some portion of that fleshly nature which through sin he had so long held in bondage. Therefore it was that the Deity was invested with the flesh, in order, that is, to secure that he, by looking upon something congenial and kindred to himself, might have no fears in approaching that supereminent power; and might yet by perceiving that power, showing as it did, yet only gradually, more and more splendour in the miracles, deem what was seen an object of desire rather than of fear. Thus, you see how goodness was conjoined with justice, and how wisdom was not divorced from them.

This is sometimes called "the fishhook" because St. Gregory later goes on to compare this to God baiting a hook and catching the devil with it. He makes clear that this is in a sense a kind of turnabout: the devil caught us by baiting a trap, the semblance of good baiting the hook of evil, so God catches the devil with another baited hook, taking advantage of the devil's greed for more. God gives the devil a taste of his own medicine (and, in fact, St. Gregory uses exactly this imagery, noting that both a doctor and a poisoner may use the same drug because what matters is the use to which it is put).  The imagery, of course, comes from Job 41:1, in a rhetorical question contrasting what a man can do and what God can do: "Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook?" The imagery was quite popular among the Fathers.

Essentially the same account, however, can be found without the fishhook in St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 5.1.1):

And since the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and, though we were by nature the property of the omnipotent God, alienated us contrary to nature, rendering us its own disciples, the Word of God, powerful in all things, and not defective with regard to His own justice, did righteously turn against that apostasy, and redeem from it His own property, not by violent means, as the [apostasy] had obtained dominion over us at the beginning, when it insatiably snatched away what was not its own, but by means of persuasion, as became a God of counsel, who does not use violent means to obtain what He desires; so that neither should justice be infringed upon, nor the ancient handiwork of God go to destruction.

What happens if you accept God as payment in order to release something to which you had no particular right? You now have an infinite debt, and the one who paid has an infinite right to demand, one about which you have no right at all to complain.

This is, of course, in no way a complete account; it's just sufficient to make sense of why we can talk about Christian redemption in terms of ransom. It's often said that St. Anselm rejects the 'ransom theory' in Cur Deus Homo, but in fact the character who raises the objection in that work (which is essentially the one raised by Catholic Encyclopedia) is not Anselm but Boso, and it's clear in Anselm's response that St. Anselm takes his discussion of satisfaction to fill the gaps in talking about the redemption in terms of ransom, rather than replacing such talk altogether. And so it would be with any other account.