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This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Biblical horror story

I have been always a dull and boring person - just ask my sons! When they were teenagers and wanted to go to some juicy horror movie I would not go. Understand, in the Czech Republic for certain movies, parents were required to accompany minors, so when I did not go, it meant they did not go also. Adding insult to injury, I told them, “Read the Bible instead!” And I meant it and I still do! If you desire vivid nightmares you don't need any horror movies, read the Bible! The Fourth Book of Moses, the book of Numbers, for instance, has an ample supply of such material. One such story, etched into my mind, is the story of the Korahite rebellion (Numbers 16).
    The final version of this story, as preserved in the Bible, is clearly a result of several editorial stages. The core of the nightmare is the oldest part, in which Dathan and Abiram challenged Moses’ leadership. Moses “piously” prayed for a divine sign and it immediately followed: Earth (in the story she is personified) opened her mouth and swallowed the rebels with their families and with all their possessions; they descended alive to Hell (Scheol) and Earth closed its mouth over them. (Thankfully, we are spared details how she burped afterwards!) I do not know about you, but being swallowed alive by (Mother) Earth can wake me up in the middle of night screaming, kicking and covered in cold sweat. After all, aren’t nightmares and dark myths made of the same subconscious stuff Mr. Jung?
    Every good myth and any real nightmare must contain at least some kernel of reality. Almost on the opposite side of Earth from the biblical Middle East I came across a surprisingly similar story. Early in the historic times (the end of the XVIII century), shortly after the first contact with Europeans, King Kamehameha I unified the entire Hawaiian archipelago. It did not happen peacefully. On Big Island one local chief named Keōua presented substantial resistance.
Non-violent eruption at the summit of Kilauea Volcano.

In 1790 after yet another indecisive battle near Hilo, Keōua was returning to his home base on the other side of the island. He took his warriors and their families (Hawaiians, just like Israelites, were moving with their families) by way of the Kilauea Volcano. They camped at the summit caldera and since the volcano seemed restless, they wanted to appease the goddess Pele, Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, by presenting some gifts. It did not seem to help; the volcano was getting more and more active and thus they decided to continue their journey home.
    Keōua divided his people into three groups. The first group left the summit under a dark volcanic cloud. The second group left the summit while the situation was getting progressively worse. The third group was still at the summit when Kilauea exploded in the largest explosive eruption for many centuries. The third group left in haste. Soon they came across the second group, which appeared to be resting by the road, but when they came closer, they realized that every single member of the second group was dead.

Ka 'u Desert covered with sharp-edged A'a lava
and volcanic ash from 1790 eruption.

The first and third groups survived, but the middle group, at least 400 people, was hit by a pyroclastic surge: hurricane force winds of superheated steam, ash and suffocating gasses. Although the third group was closer to the explosion, the second group was in the path of the surge, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Soon rain fell on the layers of volcanic ash changing them into thick mud. It preserved the footprints of surviving ancient Hawaiians. Those footprints are still visible in Ka‘u desert. Keōua took the catastrophe for a divine sign. His district was covered in volcanic ash and hit by crop failure. He lost spirit and the willingness to fight. Next year he gave himself up and was executed, sacrificed in Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, a temple which Kamehameha just finished.

I find these two stories of Dathan and Abiram on one hand and Keōua on the other hand surprisingly similar. Both stories clearly originate in some underlying natural disasters, most likely of a similar, volcanic nature. But there are also substantial and worrisome differences. And the Biblical tradition is not coming out of this comparison well. Keōua did not blame his second column for being despicable sinners deserving death. Keōua did not blame the victims, but took blame on himself. The Biblical tradition, on the other hand put the blame unequivocally on the victims - they deserved the harshest punishment. And as if it was not enough, postexilic textual editors used this ugly story for their own second temple ideological ends - political and religious propaganda. They added and mixed in another storyline about the Korihites and their priestly challenge to the Levites’ leadership. Thus centuries later they re-used the story for the setting of scores between two priestly groups of Korahites and Aaronites/Levites - just guess who were the Second Temple winners.

    This is for me the greatest nightmare, this is for me the greatest horror of this biblical story - transforming the LORD into a killing monster while blaming the victims; and the Bible does not only that, it takes it one step further, it uses a natural disaster and the tragedy of its original victims for self-serving political and ideological ends. As I have told you, if you want nightmares, read the Bible!
    But not everything is completely dark. By writing what I have just written, by reading what you have just read, by recognizing and acknowledging this problematic, nightmarish nature of some biblical passages we have taken the first steps towards healing. We are being liberated from the idolizing of the Bible; we set ourselves free from dangerous fundamentalism. Simultaneously we learn to recognize similar inhuman arguments in and among ourselves and in our society. Furthermore, we train ourselves to respond to disasters differently, not by finger-pointing and assigning the blame, but by reaching out with compassion and helping hands. Sometimes even nasty horror stories can have a real positive outcome.

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