Soup Of The Day: With Mythpunk Author Amy Kuivalainen

The Curious Adventures Of Messrs Smith And Skarry

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

Helping me this morning is author Amy Kuivalainen! Good morning Amy, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Can I take your parasol?

Absolutely, but do be careful…it bites. Lovely to be here with you today.

Oh! My goodness, what a disturbingly sentient promenadial accessory – although I imagine it comes in extremely useful! How was your journey here from your own dimension? I hope you were not waylaid by any skywaymen…

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Guide to the classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh

Guide to the classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh

Image 20170322 27966 yag6gc
Gilgamesh explores what it means to be human, and questions the meaning of life and love. Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article

Louise Pryke, Macquarie University

“Forget death and seek life!” With these encouraging words, Gilgamesh, the star of the eponymous 4000-year-old epic poem, coins the world’s first heroic catchphrase. The Conversation

At the same time, the young king encapsulates the considerations of mortality and humanity that lie at the heart of the world’s most ancient epic. While much has changed since, the epic’s themes are still remarkably relevant to modern readers.

Depending upon your point of view, Gilgamesh may be considered a myth-making biography of a legendary king, a love story, a comedy, a tragedy, a cracking adventure, or perhaps an anthology of origin stories.

All these elements are present in the narrative, and the diversity of the text is only matched by its literary sophistication. Perhaps surprisingly, given the extreme antiquity of the material, the epic is a masterful blending of complex existential queries, rich imagery and dynamic characters.

The narrative begins with Gilgamesh ruling over the city of Uruk as a tyrant. To keep him occupied, the Mesopotamian deities create a companion for him, the hairy wild man Enkidu.

Gilgamesh in his lion-strangling mode.
TangLung, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Gilgamesh sets about civilising Enkidu, a feat achieved through the novel means of a week of sex with the wise priestess, Shamhat (whose very name in Akkadian suggests both beauty and voluptuousness).

Gilgamesh and Enkidu become inseparable, and embark on a quest for lasting fame and glory. The heroes’ actions upset the gods, leading to Enkidu’s early death.

The death of Enkidu is a pivotal point in the narrative. The love between Gilgamesh and Enkidu transforms the royal protagonist, and Enkidu’s death leaves Gilgamesh bereft and terrified of his own mortality.

The hero dresses himself in the skin of a lion, and travels to find a long-lived great flood survivor, Utanapishtim (often compared with the biblical Noah). After a perilous journey over the waters of death, Gilgamesh finally meets Utanapishtim and asks for the secret to immortality.

In one of the earliest literary anti-climaxes, Utanapishtim tells him that he doesn’t have it. The story ends with Gilgamesh returning home to the city of Uruk.

Mesopotamian mindfulness

Gilgamesh and his adventures can only be described in superlative terms: during his legendary journeys, the hero battles deities and monsters, finds (and loses) the secret to eternal youth, travels to the very edge of the world — and beyond.

Despite the fantastical elements of the narrative and its protagonist, Gilgamesh remains a very human character, one who experiences the same heartbreaks, limitations and simple pleasures that shape the universal quality of the human condition.

Gilgamesh explores the nature and meaning of being human, and asks the questions that continue to be debated in the modern day: what is the meaning of life and love? What is life really — and am I doing it right? How do we cope with life’s brevity and uncertainty, and how do we deal with loss?

The text provides multiple answers, allowing the reader to wrestle with these ideas alongside the hero. Some of the clearest advice is provided by the beer deity, Siduri (yes, a goddess of beer), who suggests Gilgamesh set his mind less resolvedly on extending his life.

Instead, she urges him to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, such as the company of loved ones, good food and clean clothes — perhaps giving an example of a kind of Mesopotamian mindfulness.

The king-hero Gilgamesh battling the ‘Bull of Heaven’.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The epic also provides the reader with a useful case study in what not to do if one is in the exceptional circumstance of reigning over the ancient city of Uruk. In ancient Mesopotamia, the correct behaviour of the king was necessary for maintaining earthly and heavenly order.

Despite the gravity of this royal duty, Gilgamesh seems to do everything wrong. He kills the divinely-protected environmental guardian, Humbaba, and ransacks his precious Cedar Forest. He insults the beauteous goddess of love, Ishtar, and slays the mighty Bull of Heaven.

He finds the key to eternal youth, but then loses it just as quickly to a passing snake (in the process explaining the snake’s “renewal” after shedding its skin). Through these misadventures, Gilgamesh strives for fame and immortality, but instead finds love with his companion, Enkidu, and a deeper understanding of the limits of humanity and the importance of community.

Reception and recovery

The Epic of Gilgamesh was wildly famous in antiquity, with its impact traceable to the later literary worlds of the Homeric epics and the Hebrew Bible. Yet, in the modern day, even the most erudite readers of ancient literature might struggle to outline its plot, or name its protagonists.

A statue of Gilgamesh at the University of Sydney.
Gwil5083, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

To what might we owe this modern-day cultural amnesia surrounding one of the world’s greatest works of ancient literature?

The answer lies in the history of the narrative’s reception. While many of the great literary works of ancient Greece and Rome were studied continuously throughout the development of Western culture, the Epic of Gilgamesh comes from a forgotten age.

The story originates in Mesopotamia, an area of the Ancient Near East thought to roughly correspond with modern-day Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Syria, Iran and Turkey, and frequently noted as “the cradle of civilisation” for its early agriculture and cities.

Gilgamesh was written in cuneiform script, the world’s oldest known form of writing. The earliest strands of Gilgamesh’s narrative can be found in five Sumerian poems, and other versions include those written in Elamite, Hittite and Hurrian. The best-known version is the Standard Babylonian Version, written in Akkadian (a language written in cuneiform that functioned as the language of diplomacy in the second millennium BCE).

The disappearance of the cuneiform writing system around the time of the 1st century CE accelerated Gilgamesh’s sharp slide into anonymity.

For almost two millennia, clay tablets containing stories of Gilgamesh and his companions lay lost and buried, alongside many tens of thousands of other cuneiform texts, beneath the remnants of the great Library of Ashurbanipal.

Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, Wikimedia Commons

The modern rediscovery of the epic was a watershed moment in the understanding of the Ancient Near East. The eleventh tablet of the Epic was first translated by self-taught cuneiform scholar George Smith of the British Museum in 1872. Smith discovered the presence of an ancient Babylonian flood narrative in the text with striking parallels to the biblical flood story of the Book of Genesis.

The story is often repeated (although it may be apocryphal) that when Smith began to decipher the tablet, he became so excited that he began to remove all his clothing. From these beginnings in the mid-19th century, the process of recovering the cuneiform literary catalogue continues today.

In 2015, the publication of a new fragment of Tablet V by Andrew George and Farouk Al-Rawi made international news. The fragment’s discovery coincided with increased global sensitivity to the destruction of antiquities in the Middle East in the same year. The Washington Post juxtaposed the “heart-warming story” of the find against the destruction and looting in Syria and Iraq.

Ancient ecology

The new section of Tablet V contains ecological aspects that resonate with modern day concerns over environmental destruction. Of course, there are potential anachronisms in projecting environmental concerns on an ancient text composed thousands of years prior to the industrial revolution.

Yet, the undeniable sensitivity in the epic’s presentation of the wilderness is illuminating, considering the long history of humanity’s interaction with our environment and its animal inhabitants.

A cedar forest in Turkey.
Zeynel Cebeci, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

In Gilgamesh, the wilderness is a place of beauty and purity, as well as home to a wild abundance. The splendour and grandeur of the Cedar Forest is described poetically in Tablet V:

They (Gilgamesh and Enkidu) stood marvelling at the forest,

Observing the height of the cedars …

They were gazing at the Cedar Mountain, the dwelling of the gods, the throne-dais of the goddesses …

Sweet was its shade, full of delight.

While the heroes pause to admire the forest’s beauty, their interest is not purely aesthetic. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are aware of the economic value of the cedars, and the text provides a clear picture of competing commercial and ecological interests.

Where to read Gilgamesh

Since Gilgamesh’s reappearance into popular awareness in the last hundred years, the Standard Babylonian Version of the epic has become accessible in numerous translations. This version was originally compiled by the priest, scribe and exorcist, Sin-leqi-uninni, around 1100 BCE.

The scholarly standard among modern translations is Andrew George’s The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (2003).

Despite its all-around excellence, the two-volume work is decidedly unwieldly, and the less muscle-bound reader would be well directed to The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation (1999), by the same author. Most readable among modern treatments is David Ferry’s Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse (1992), which gives a potent, poetic interpretation of the material.

Like the snake that steals Gilgamesh’s rejuvenation plant, the Epic of Gilgamesh has aged well. Its themes – exploring the tension between the natural and civilised worlds, the potency of true love, and the question of what makes a good life – are as relevant today as they were 4,000 years ago.

Note: Translations are sourced from Andrew R. George 2003. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Louise Pryke, Lecturer, Languages and Literature of Ancient Israel, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Eastern Gods on Kindle Scout!

Hey Everyone,

Apologies from being away from the blog for so many weeks. My life has been super crazy wrapping up projects and job hunting BUT exciting news!

Eastern Gods, book one of new YA Fantasy series Western Wars, is up on a Kindle Scout campaign for your view and vote! I’m crazy excited about this one. It would be really good for fans who enjoyed Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series or MTV’s Shannara Chronicles.

This series is the first lot of books I wrote as a teenager. I finished the whopping, originally titled,  Eastern Gods and Western Wars when I was about nineteen. It landed at 180k words. I believed in the story, I wanted it out there, and so it has been through a massive reworking and editing for the passed year. Its now split into two books, Eastern Gods and The Golden Queen and I can’t wait for you to read them.

I love this series. It helped me survive a really dark period in my life and taught me so much about storytelling, craft and helped create a safe place in my mind where I could hang out. I was reading a lot of fantasy as a teen; loads of Lord of the Rings, Stephen Lawhead and Ian Irvine’s View from the Mirror Quartet (please check it out – its so freaking great) and it is these writers and stories that shaped my passion for writing epic fantasy.

This series is a big one, twisted up with family, war, love, faith and magic. It’s a hero quest and a coming of age and the secrets that you discover about your family as you grow older. It’s about sacrifice and blood and forgiveness at it’s most brutal.

Please check it out here, there is a huge sample on the site for you to read too so bonus!

Eastern Gods

Description

Enter a world of forgotten magic, kings, gods and the woman who will dare to defy them.

Prince Haldirian’s safe world is shattered when he captures a spy from the silent and forgotten Eastlands. There is only one scholar of the East who could stop the fear of war spreading, Aláenor of Silandáe.

The first female heir in history, highly intelligent and carrying a warrior swagger Aláenor isn’t what Haldirian has learned to expect from royal princesses.

The eastern spy Hilkiah reveals that he was sent by Mordecai, Emperor of the East and powerful dark magician residing in the city of Rotech. The West has turned their back on magic for centuries and fearing that war is imminent, a spying party is sent back to the East to discover the truth.

Mordecai is burning for payback on the western king who destroyed his life. He needs Aláenor to fulfill his revenge, and he will have her…even if he has to kill the man she loves and destroy her soul to do it.

 

I am a Writer right?

Chuck Wendig, the bearded writer guru and gnarly writer, published a great blog over on his kick ass blog Terrible Minds called ‘A Reminder Of What Makes A Real Writer’.  In it he makes this very true point:

‘There exists no one way to write any one thing, and as long as your writing has a starting point and an ending point, I think whatever shenanigans go on in the middle serve you fine as a process as long as it gets you a finished book heavy with at least some small sense of satisfaction. If you’re not finishing your books, you need to re-examine your process. If you’re not at all satisfied with your work, then again: re-examine that process.

And that’s it.’

And it is..so why the hell writers struggle so much to own it? Why do we look to others to give it definition?

There’s a bit of heated conversation going on about whether having a degree gives you that tick of approval from society and peers, a magical That’ll do, little writer, that’ll do moment where you will suddenly be seen as the artist you are.

Yeah, sorry guys it’s not gonna happen.

A degree is great but when you graduate you still have to get a job and if you are lucky enough to get a job in say, publishing, (and these are few and far between, especially in Australia) you’re still going to be put on the same wage as someone working in retail. I recently saw a job for a publishing assistant where they wanted someone with a degree and minimum 2 years experience… for a wage I used to get in customer service. A degree might help you get a job but its not going to necessarily help give you writer validation.

My point is no one is ever going to give you the “I AM NOW A WRITER” moment and a degree, job in publishing, or a book out won’t always help either. I know this from experience. I’ve been writing full time for fifteen years and have written twelve books and it has only been in the past two months that I’ve been able to say ‘I am a writer’ when people ask what I do, not ‘I work as a contractor for the government…and I also write a bit.’ I had this moment not when any of my books came out, when I saw them on a shelf in a bookshop, not when people have been repeating it to me over and over again over the years. This moment came when I rang a recruiting company about a contract for content writing and the consultant I talked to said, “Your resume looks like an Administrator resume. You need to write it again and put all that experience you just told me about at the beginning.” And I had to sit down and really go through the process of spelling out all the experience I do have in black and white. At the end of it I was like, “Fuck me, I AM a writer.” I had been doing the job thing all wrong over the years believing I was an administrator and not a writer. I don’t think I am the only one out that does this to themselves.

I recently read a great book by indie powerhouse Joanna Penn called The Successful Author Mindset. In it she talks about having to use “I am a writer” as a kind of mantra until she believed it. She even starts the book straight up with self doubt and imposter syndrome because every author on earth feels it:

‘Embrace self doubt as part of the creative process. Be encouraged by the fact that virtually all other creatives, including your writing heroes, feel it too with every book they write.’

I personally don’t read a lot of self help for writers type books but I have huge respect for Joanna Penn and this book really helped me out to realign my brain in a time I needed it (Derek Murphy also gives really good advice for writers and his courses are fantastic and have helped me alot).

I still need to go back and read these chapters regularly because I’ve started writing a new book that scares the shit out of me. I’ve tackled some big ones before but this is next level for me. There is a lot of research involved and has the tingly potential to end up being the best thing I’ve ever written or a heaving pile of crap. Its terrifying and intimidating and its helping me grow and write in new ways. DO I think I have the talent to do it justice? Hell no. Am I going to do it anyway? Hell yes.  Because that’s what makes us writers right? We give up our social lives and our rec time and we work unsatisfying jobs to pay bills while we hustle words and try and write the ones that scare us and helps us grow and maybe makes us money.

So what if were are anxious and insecure and feel like we are walking down the street naked every time we release words into the world that will judge us..we are writers its how we operate.

I am not going to be around too much in the next few weeks, I am going crazy full editor mode to get Eastern Gods, my new YA Fantasy book, all ready to pitch to Kindle Scout. The thought of releasing this one soon is pretty exciting as it was the first book I ever wrote that I was really proud of. It’s taken a lot of work to get it up to scratch and I’m stoked how it has come together. I’ll tell you guys more about it when I get closer to knowing dates and have a cover to share.

In other Amy book world news, Wylt is going well so check it out if you dig gothic romance, and Cry of the Firebird is on a price drop for those who want grittier, urban fantasy with lots of Gods and monsters.

Also, if you want something short, steampunky and based in an alternative Australia check out my new short story a Women in Men’s Waistcoats.  It’s a lot of random fun.

Keep writing you crazy beautiful writers,

A xo

 

 

 

Christianity, Qumran and a relationship of Assimilation- An Essay

Note: This is an essay I recently completed for my university unit on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was a fascinating subject and highly recommend it if you enjoy Ancient History.

Since Solomon Schechter first discovered The Damascus Document in a genizah in Cairo, scholars and enthusiasts have sought to connect Christianity with Qumran. The later texts found at the Dead Sea in 1947 spoke of a Teacher of Righteousness and a Wicked Priest, apocryphal visions of battles in the Heavenly realms, and detailed a shared Community life with a focus on purity and Law. The Scrolls have fired scholarly imaginations with theories and possibilities, ranging from Lawrence Schiffman’s hypothesis that Qumran had Sadducean roots, to Barbara Thiering’s extreme belief that John the Baptist was the Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus of Nazareth was the Wicked Priest.

Dated from the Second Temple period, a time of political and religious upheaval, the Scrolls provide another insight into the birth of Christianity, various Jewish sects, and ‘the common ground from which they all sprang.’[1]

The purpose of this essay is to explore the similarities of teachings, esoteric practices, and historical similarities between the Qumran sect and Christianity, revealing that even while they share many common elements there isn’t enough evidence to support a definitive relationship between the two.

To begin with, the most obvious questions regarding Christianity and Qumran is about Jesus himself as an Essene, a Teacher of Righteousness or a Wicked Priest depending which scholar you read, and whether New Testament documents found at the site.

Jesus of Nazareth was a charismatic rebel whose teaching ‘stands out invested with religious individuality and actuality’[2] but ultimately ‘nowhere in any of the scrolls is Jesus mentioned’[3] and the Greek fragments found in Cave 7 were not copies of New Testament writings.

Despite this there are numerous parallels in Jesus’ teachings with those practiced by the Qumran sect such as his emphasis on the kingdom, messianic self-understandings, and the similarities drawn from the beatitudes in Matthew 5:8 and 4Q525 such as, ‘ [Blessed is]…with a pure heart and does not slander with his tongue.’[4] Other comparisons in their teachings are their stance on divorce law, blasphemy and Jesus’ use of calling God ‘Abba’ or ‘Father ‘ is matched with three prayers found in Qumran using the related  phrasing ‘my Father, My God.’

This connection between Jesus and Qumran is often also linked with John the Baptist due to the proximity of his ministry to Qumran and his focus on ‘divine judgement, repentance and ritual washing.’[5] Barbara Thiering controversially argues not only for a direct connection, but that ‘The Teacher of Righteousness is an exact counterpart for John the Baptist’[6] and that his adversary The Wicked Priest ‘did almost everything Jesus was accused of by his enemies.’[7] A more plausible theory is that it is possible Jesus met Essenes during his ministry with some scholars like Riesner suggesting that Jesus stayed near their quarter in Jerusalem, and ‘the house used for the Last Supper was probably owned by an Essene.’[8]

Despite these similarities Jesus taught inclusivity and ate with those deemed unclean and marginalised not only by the Pharisaic Jews but the Essenes ‘were among those most ready to maintain purity through rigid rules of exclusion.’[9] On a theological standpoint, one of  focal points of Jesus’ teaching was ‘Forgive and you will be forgiven’[10] as well as other  provocative acts such as healing on the Sabbath, that Pharisaic Jews saw as a direct violation of the Mosaic Law. The latter is the strongest argument against Jesus being Essene (even a disgraced one as Thiering suggests) as the strict adherence of the Law was intrinsic to every aspect of Essene life including ‘sexual relations or the keeping of the Sabbath, meal practice or business dealings.’[11]

Despite the similarities in some areas of theology, The Teacher of Righteousness in Qumran, focused on the deep teachings and obligations of the Law and he was without the ‘genius of Jesus the Jew who succeeded in uncovering the essence of religion as an existential relationship between man and man and man and God.’ [12] The Scrolls themselves lack evidence of a direct relationship between Jesus and Qumran, but what they successfully do is provide another insight into Palestinian Judaism at the time of his teachings and reinforces the Jewishness of Jesus by reconstructing the world in which he had his ministry.

The next recognizable Christian figure that scholars like to associate with Qumran is the similarity in the seven letters of Paul and writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

According to Kuhn’s research there are over four hundred parallels between Paul’s teachings and those practiced at Qumran that focus on the ‘dualism of light and darkness within an ethical and eschatological framework,’[13] the concept of Community being a temple of God living under a new covenant, and the emphasis with which they concentrated on ‘God’s justice and man’s sinfulness, especially on justification by grace alone.’[14]

The core differences between Paul and Qumran once again is in theology especially with Paul’s faith in Christ and his different interpretation of the Torah. Before his conversion to Christianity Paul was a Pharisee and could have come into contact with Qumranian ideals during this time. He travelled extensively so it is also possible that he would have met Essenes on his journeys, much like Jesus of Nazareth did, or when he went to preach in Damascus, Antioch or his home town Tarsus.

Despite their strong conflicting views on Law and purity, Qumran and Christian theology do find more common ground in many of their esoteric beliefs, especially in the areas of healing and exorcism, Heavenly visions as well as reverence for the enigmatic character of Melchizedek.

In the New Testament Jesus and his disciples are recorded to have performed multiple healings through a laying on of hands (specifically Mark 6:5, Luke 4:40, Luke 13:13 and Acts 28:8), a practice that is not found in the Old Testament, nor in rabbinical literature. The Genesis Apocryphon found at Qumran recounts the story of how Abram’s wife Sarai was taken by the Pharaoh of Egypt and how the Most High God ‘sent a spirit to scourge him, an evil spirit to all of his household.’[15] The Pharaoh is released from this evil spirit when Abram places his hands on his head and prays for him. These passages, composed before Jesus’ time, reveals that this way of healing was ‘not only practiced by Jesus and his first disciples, but other circles as well.’[16]

Exorcism was widely performed by Jesus and his followers, and fragments of The Apocryphal Psalms found in Cave 11 have sections devoted to songs or psalms with ‘the repeated use of the  term ‘demons’ and ‘healing’’ [17]suggesting that exorcisms were also performed at Qumran. While exorcism wasn’t an unknown practice amongst the Jews there was often a traditional minyan (witnesses) needed, with other ritual elements such as washing required beforehand, where Jesus and his followers performed them sporadically with only commands.

The War Scroll found at Qumran details a final devastating but ultimately victorious war between the gentiles and the demonic forces of Belial or Satan, and the Sons of Light with angelic armies commanded by The Prince of Light, the Archangel Michael. According to XVII:5 after the defeat of Belial and his armies God will ‘send eternal succour to the company of His redeemed by the might of the princely Angel of the kingdom of Michael.’ With vivid descriptions on battle formations, priestly duties and thanksgiving ceremonies, the composer makes reference to the Book of Daniel, where Michael is also mentioned extensively as doing battle against the forces of darkness. This theme is also found in the New Testament in Revelations 12:7 where Michael and his angels throw the dragon, or Satan, down to earth in a heavenly war. Like The War Scroll, Revelations is heavy with symbolic imagery and also ends with a victory and praises of thanksgiving as the New Jerusalem is established.

While these visionary books are obviously influenced by other apocryphal writings such as The Book of Daniel, The Book of Enoch and Isaiah, the core messaging in their end of days’ battle and the fundamentals of their eschatology is different. For the Qumranian’s the one that ‘shoots forth from the stump of Jesse,’[18]  the triumphant Davidic Messiah, is to put his adversary, the king of Kittim to death, while for the Christian’s Jesus, the ‘Root and the Offspring of David’[19] will come again, establishing a new Heaven and new Earth.

Striking in both the Qumran and Christian writings is the mysterious figure of Melchizedek. In the Hebrew Bible his first appearance in Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek is described as the king of Salem and a priest of the God Most High, who enigmatically blesses Abram, gives him ‘a tenth of all’[20] and abruptly disappears from the narrative, resurfacing in Psalm 110 where the Lord says to David, ‘Thou art a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.’ The New Testament writings of Hebrews speaks extensively on Melchizedek, his unique Yahwistic priesthood ‘made not by virtue of a Torah requirement of physical descent but by the virtue of indestructible life’[21] and Jesus being the High Priest. In The Heavenly Prince Melchizedek found at Qumran, Melchizedek is the heavenly deliverer Archangel Michael who presides over ‘the final Judgement and condemnation of his demonic counterpart Belial’[22] and with neither his birth or death recorded ‘it is easy to imagine him as eternal and therefore that this priest should be present in the heavens.’[23]

Both Qumran and Christianity could agree that Melchizedek was an immortal figure with a priesthood assigned to him, but the conflict arises not only in Melchizedek being the Archangel Michael but also the author of Hebrew’s views of the priesthood’s ‘superiority over the levitical priesthood’[24] and their comments on the requirement of bloodlines being ‘set aside because of its weakness and ineffectiveness – for Torah make nothing perfect’[25] which is a direct violation of the Qumranian view of the Law.

The Dead Sea Scrolls has also provided scholars with an abundance of new material regarding scriptural interpretation and given a wider understanding to the practice of pesher. The sect at Qumran believed that scripture had two levels; a literal version for ordinary readers and a second level that only readers of a higher knowledge could interpret the mysteries hidden by God. Christian writers have engaged in a similar interpretive process with Hebrew prophetic writings having been decoded for foretelling’s of Jesus, such as Isaiah 53.

The writers of the Scrolls and the New Testament literature both ‘recognized the authority of the five books of the Law of Moses, held prophetic literature in high regard,’[26] and sought to find greater meanings within them. The main similarity between both practices of prophetic interpretation is what Brooke describes as the process of ‘This is That,’[27] meaning that one or more of the items within in the text is compared to another.

There is a prominent difference between the two forms of interpretation, even if on the surface New Testament interpretations seem like pesher, the process at Qumran was the ‘primary or base scriptural text always precedes the interpretation’[28] while the Christians focused on proving fulfilment by having the scriptural text recounted after the event in which they are writing.

Moving away from the esoteric to religious history, the Near East saw multiple cultural and religious changes through the Persian, Hellenistic, Maccabean and Roman periods and this impacted on the Jewish belief systems of the times. This period saw the birth of Christianity and the evolution of Rabbinical Judaism, but it also meant that ‘many Judaisms did not survive – the Essenes and the Sadducees among them.’[29] Boccacini claims that Rabbinical Judaism and Christian do not have a ‘parent-child’ relationship but one of fraternal twins birthed at the same time. The discovery of the Scolls at Qumran supports the reality that many forms of Judaism existed at the time of Jesus with their own communities, interpretations of Law and eschatological and prophetic visions of the future.

The spread of Christianity ‘turned Judaism into a multinational religion’[30] with the Rabbi’s reinforcing the concept of Judaism as the religion of the Jewish people, so one could argue that the true historical relationship  between Qumran and Christianity is one that forced assimilation.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a fascinating insight into the Second Temple Period and are a valuable study in understanding early Christianity and Judaism as well as revealing a pious and vividly literate people that valued their Law and mysteries above religious and social pressures.

The Essenes and Christianity are often curiously similar in their beliefs and practices with parallels being drawn between prominent teachings of figures like Jesus and Paul, their views and practices of healing, visions of Heavenly wars and redemption, and their reverence of figures such as Isaiah, Daniel and Melchizedek. They both held the Temple in Jerusalem with undisguised contempt and believed in a Messianic promise.

The centre of their belief systems they are so starkly different that a definitive relationship between the two can only seriously be drawn at them both being religious products of the time. Christianity with its inclusive ideals and resurrected Messiah flourished, while the Essenes strict and exclusive community could not survive, as it ‘lacked the pliant strength and elasticity of thought and depth of spiritual vision’[31] that allowed Rabbinical Judaism to endure as the dominant Jewish religion.

Note: All images used in this post were Public Domain

Bibliography

Vermès, G. 2011. The complete Dead Sea scrolls in English. 4th ed. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Allen Lane/Penguin Press.

Brooke, G.J 2005. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Fortress Press.

Thiering, B 2005. Jesus the Man. Random House.

Kuhn, H.W 1992 The Impact of the Qumran Scrolls on the Understanding of Paul. The Magnes Press.

Flusser, D 1957 Healing through the Laying-on of Hands in a Dead Sea Scroll. Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, pg. 107-108

Delcour, M 1971 Melchizedek from Genesis to the Qumran Texts and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period, Vol. 2, pg 115-135

Boccaccini, G 1995 Multiple Judaisms, Bible Review (Feb 1995) 38-41.

Schiffman, L 1990 The Significance of the Scrolls. Bible Review Vol VI, pg 19-28

Messianic Jewish Shared Heritage Bible. (2012). 1st ed. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.

[1] Vermès 2011 pg 25

[2] Vermès 2011 pg25

[3] Brooke 2005 Pg19

[4] 4Q525 Beatitudes pg455

[5] Brooke 2005 pg24

[6] Thiering 2005 Pg19

[7] Thiering 2005 pg19

[8] Brooke 2005 pg24

[9] Brooke 2005 pg 25

[10] Luke 6:37

[11] Brooke 2005 pg38

[12] Vermès 2011 pg25

[13] Kuhn,1992 Pg 334

[14] Kuhn, 1992 pg 335

[15] IQapGen,IQ20 XX:15

[16] Flusser 1957 pg108

[17] Vermès 2011 pg 316

[18] The Book of War 4Q285, fr.7

[19] Revelations 22:16

[20] Genesis 14:18

[21] Hebrews 7:16

[22] Vermés 2011 pg532

[23] Delcor 1971 pg125

[24] Delcor 1971 pg125

[25] Hebrews 7:18-20

[26] Brooke 2005 pg 53

[27] Brooke 2005 pg 60

[28] Brooke 2005 pg 60

[29] Boccacini 1995 pg41

[30] Boccacini 1995 41

[31] Vermés 2011 pg25

Guide to the classics: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Original article from the Conversation by Joy McEntree, a look at Hunter S Thompson and his Gonzo work. He’s a favourite writer of mine and I can’t help but wonder what he would be writing about at the moment with the current political climate… 

American journalist Hunter S Thompson is a mythical figure, partly by his own design, and partly, perversely, against his wishes. Norman Mailer called him “a legend in successful self-abuse.” Biographer E. Jean Carroll reported Thompson’s daily working regime, which allegedly started at 3pm.

While writing he consumed: Chivas Regal, Dunhills, cocaine, orange juice, marijuana, Heineken, huge helpings of food, LSD, Chartreuse, clove cigarettes, gin and pornographic movies. He then spent some time in the hot tub with champagne and Dove Bars.

Compare this with the drug collection of Raoul Duke, the first person narrator of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971):

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw either and two dozen amyls … The only thing that really worried me was the ether.

The parallels between the Duke persona and Thompson’s own life have led to a conflation of the two. This arises in part from the approach which Thompson made famous: Gonzo journalism.

Hunter S Thompson in 1997. REUTERS/Christian Thompson

Gonzo journalism

Far from being an objective observer of the action, the Gonzo journalist becomes a participant in it and reports on it subjectively. Thompson went further: he was often a provocateur. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a fictionalised account of two trips Thompson made with his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta from LA to Las Vegas.

It was published by Rolling Stone magazine in 1971 under the byline of Raoul Duke, but Thompson’s name does appear. Presented with a photo of himself, Duke identifies it as Thompson: a “vicious, crazy kind of person”.

Rather than effacing himself as a chronicler of the scene, Thompson injects himself, via his Duke persona, as a character. Acquaintance Peter Flanders observed:

Hunter was a theatre. He was a roving kind of theatre. He was not just a writer … he was an actor. He was creating his own subject matter.

The aim of Gonzo journalism and other kinds of New Journalism was to write factual reporting that read like fiction. In Thompson’s case, the truth was outrageous, and then it was outrageously embellished by means of fantasy and hallucination.

What is the book about?

“It was time,” says Duke, “for an Agonizing Reappraisal of the whole scene.” The novel confronts “the brutish realities of this foul Year of Our Lord, 1971,” when the “whole scene” consisted of the state of America as a nation, the squandered promise of the 1960s counter-culture, and the inadequacies of traditional journalism to cope with the chaos that confronted it.

Cover of the 1998 edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Vintage Books

As a reading experience, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a wild torpedo ride through some of the strangest scenes in American fact, or American fiction. Or whatever bizarre hybrid of fact and fiction this book represents.

In terms of its plot, the book falls into two halves. In the first, Duke, a journalist, and Doctor Gonzo, his attorney, travel at high speed in a red convertible from LA to Las Vegas so Duke can cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. He fails conspicuously to do so, and they wander in a drug-addled state among the various sensory intensities of Vegas. They behave despicably, “burning the locals, abusing the tourists and terrifying the help.”

They thoroughly trash the hotel room and run up a stupendous room service tab. They destroy the car. They flee before there is a reckoning. Duke, however, encounters a highway patrol officer who interferes with his plans, so he turns back to cover the National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He feels it is his obligation to represent the drug culture.

The conference only serves to demonstrate how out of touch law enforcement is. The second half of the book follows much the same trajectory as the first, with the pair compounding their felonies of (statutory) rape, fraud and larceny.

Duke and Doctor Gonzo must be admired for their sheer bravado, if condemned for the political unsoundness of their behaviour. The novel alternates hilarious scenes of madcap knavery with elegiac essays on the lost promise of the 1960s, but it does not become bogged down. This is because of its gleeful, manic energy.

Tom Robbins says:

It lifts you out of your seat when you’re reading it. It’s out of control … in an exhilarating, hallucinatory way.

Anthony Bourdain has said:

Thomson’s wild, hyperbolic prose … showed me not only a whole new way to see and think about things … a whole new way to live. I embraced the doctor wholeheartedly, developing a lifelong love for melodrama, overstatement, lurid imagery and damaged romanticism.

Christopher Lehman-Haupt described the novel’s “mad, corrosive poetry.”

The setting of Las Vegas is exploited for the surreal images it offers, and because the protagonists’ enormities are accepted. As Raoul Duke says: “the mentality of Las Vegas is so grossly atavistic that a really massive crime often slips by unrecognized.”

Raoul Duke chases the American Dream in a red convertible. Chad Horwedel/Flickr

This might not be as disturbing as it is if the trip to Vegas were not also a quest for the American Dream.

The American Dream

Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s trip is “a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country.” Their ostensible mission is covering the Mint 400, but their actual goal is ill defined:

What was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.

Alger was a 19th-century author who typically wrote rags to riches stories; in Vegas, his relevance is about greed as a distinctively American quality. In fact, Duke eventually finds the “main nerve” of the American Dream in the Circus-Circus casino. The owner, who dreamt of running away to join the circus as a child, now has his own circus, and a licence to steal. He, it is said, is the model for the American Dream. If this seems cynical, so it should.

Other references to the contemporary condition of America include discussions of Nixon’s perfidy about the Vietnam War. Of Thompson, the anti-war Democrat Senator George McGovern once said:

Hunter was a patriot… [but] he was not a jingoist. He hated that war in Vietnam with a passion. He hated the hypocrisy of the establishment. Basically, I think he wanted to see this country live up to his ideals. And he wanted us to do better.

The Kent State University protests against the Vietnam War, in which four students were killed when the National Guard opened fire, occurred a year before Thompson published Fear and Loathing. May 4 Collection/Kent State University Libraries/Special Collections and Archives/Handout via REUTERS

The 1960s

One of the things Thompson wanted America to do better was fulfil the promise of the 1960s. Some of the novel’s most trenchant criticisms are levelled at counter-cultural gurus like Timothy Leary who, it seems to Duke, set up new regimes of authoritarianism to replace the old. One of the novel’s most famous passages reveals its bitter nostalgia:

San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. … It seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time … There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. … that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. …. Our energy would simply prevail. … We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. … So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Journalism

Finally, the novel addresses a contemporary crisis in journalism. Duke starts out full of his professional obligation to “cover the story,” but quickly abandons all pretence. Throughout the narrative, there are traumatic encounters with traditional news coverage, from mendacious TV broadcasts about the war in Laos and Vietnam to newspaper reports on police killing anti-war protesters, to grotesque stories about the consequences of drug taking. “Against this heinous background,” says Duke, “my crimes were pale and meaningless.”

This culminates in a cynical statement at the end:

Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer? …The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits.

Thompson might proudly have self-identified as a misfit, but he was also a journalist, so this seems a strangely self-castigating statement, until you consider what it was that he did for journalism, which was to redefine it. This is his contribution to the American canon.

Contemporary resonance

Pondering all this in the age of Donald Trump, another of Thompson’s books comes to mind: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72, in which he covered the campaign of the Democratic Party’s nominee McGovern (the Presidential race was eventually won by Richard Nixon). Profoundly critical of the relationship between political processes and the media, this collection of articles again attacks both America and journalism at the same time.

Perhaps it is now, more than ever, that we need Gonzo journalism to help us understand the bizarre nature of US national politics today.

Free Fantasy Book Promos on Instafreebie

Hello Everyone

I just want to drop a quick line to let you know that I have two Instafreebie promotions running over Christmas. As a writer, I highly recommend Instafreebie for promotions, they are easy to use and a lovely company to work with. As a reader I’m up to my  eyeballs in amazing new books thanks to them.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00050]

Cry of the Firebird

A firebird hatches in the far corners of Russia, where gods still walk and magic slumbers, sparking a supernatural war that will tear the worlds apart.

Inspired by Finnish and Russian Mythology, ‘Cry of the Firebird’ is a noir paranormal series that brings to life the bloody fairy tales of the North in a new modern setting.

Born on the crossroads between worlds, Anya’s magic is buried under grief until one fateful night it causes a firebird to hatch on her farm. Through a twist of dark magic it is sharing its body with Yvan, an ancient prince from legend.

With Yvan’s dark magician brother Vasilli and other powerful enemies closing in around them, Anya has no choice but to sober up, follow Yvan into Skazki, the land of monsters and magic.

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The Eagle Key

In the spirit of “The Princess Bride,” “Stardust” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” comes a story of adventure, redemption, magic and the ever perilous True Love.

After a hasty wish on the Evening Star, pensioner Martha Brown finds a key with the power to open the heart of all that it touches. When the Eagle Key opens a door to Faerie Martha is spurred to action. Fuelled by her anger at growing old without any adventures at all, Martha packs her bags and heads into Faerie determined to find one.

Saved from a carnivorous rose bush by Greyfeather, a wanted criminal, blatant flirt and scoundrel, Martha agrees to give him the use of the Eagle Key in exchange for helping her navigate her way through the pitfalls of Faerie.

Find it here:
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Thanks

Amy xo