Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Author's Pride

I wondered what it would be like to walk into a bookstore and see your books neatly filed on a shelf with a little blurb beneath it, saying 'manager's choice' and a short synopsis of the book? Today I found out. Believe it or not, there is a similar feeling to when you hold your newborn baby in your arms for the first time. Far more intense when you look down into the eyes of your baby staring back up into yours, but similar I would say. You look upon the shelf with pride and a sense of accomplishment. You are tempted to stand beside the book and hope that someone in the store will pick it up and then you can say something like, "that's my book, you know." They'd probably be so shocked they'd replace the book and run from the store thinking you're some kind of nutcase but it would still feel good.
Above the rows of shelves was the sign 'New Releases' and they were given the premier wall where everyone first looks to see what's available. Local author writes terrifying horror novel 'Shadows of Trinity' the manager's blurb stated. It's a small start, a humble beginning but it's a moment that will always be remembered and cherished. With a sigh and a silent 'life is good' comment you turn and walk away. And suddenly you can smile the rest of the day knowing nothing will bring you down.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Explaining Karaite Teachings (A Short History)

Karaites are an oddity unto themselves. Whereas my adherance stems from the Karaite families located around the Black Sea, from Romania all the way into the Ukraine, you also had similar parcels of families in other locations such as the Baltic, Egypt, Turkey and Byelorussia. You would think being as small as we are, that there'd be uniformity in beliefs and customs, but that is hardly the case. In reading an interesting blog from a Latvian Karaite, I found that besides believing that her community was one of the last outposts of Karaim in the world, that her community had also adopted some Christian and Muslim teachings into their customs. I guess that this is to be expected considering the isolation of the communities and the fact that as a paternal hereditary society, the effects of intermarriage would be more pronounced.

During the nineteenth century, from the printing presses in Turkey there were printed a beautiful edition of the Karaite bible, consisting of the five Books of Moses or the Chumash. This edition was printed in Hebrew with a Turkish Tatar translation in parallel columns. It was arranged and paid for by the Karaite community in Ortakoi, a town near Constantinople, around 1835. To undertake such a project would indicate that barely 170 years ago, the Tatar influence on Karaite history would have been extremely strong. The reasons behind this will be touched upon briefly in my novel ZUTRA, a book that I hope to have released in the near future as soon as I find a new literary agent.
As Karaites, we also refer to ourselves as the B'nai Mikra (Children of Scripture), and as I had mentioned in previous blogs we attribute are beginnings to the imprison Exilarch, Anan ibn David (Kahana family) around 769 AD. The main differentiating point to Rabbinic Judaism is that the only authority accepted is that of the Bible but we reject the Talmudic rabbinic tradition. The major reason for this can also be viewed in some of my blogs but the overriding principle is that the Talmud is nothing but the contentions and impressions of men whom basically wished to enforce their beliefs of scriptural analysis above the direct word of God. Or put even in simpler terms, as soon as God needs an interpreter there's a problem. From its onset, Karaism constituted a serious challenge to traditional rabbinic Judaism, and as time went on Rabbinic Judaism felt it had to react in order to stem the flow and one of these was the slaughter of Karites instituted by Saadiah Gaon around 940AD which is touched upon in Shadows of Trinity . Following the dispersal of this catastrophic event, the numbers dwindled and were concentrated in a few centers. If the main body of Jews and the Karaites differed in matters of faith, they shared the persecutions and pogroms until the incorporation of the Crimea and Lithuania into the Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century, when the situation began to change. In 1795, the Empress Catherine 11 permitted the Karaites to purchase land and relieved them of the double taxation imposed upon rabbinic Jews. In 1827, Karaites were not only exempted from the military draft, which meant twenty-five years of military service but also permission to circulate freely in centres of Russian culture. This situation only furthered the animosity that existed between the two Jewish communities and it was only prudent that Karaites distanced themselves as far as possible from Rabbinic Judaism. Fortunately when it came to the Czarist government all you had to dow was emphasize that there were fundamental differences between us and the Rabbic Jews, not only in beliefs and in history, but also from the genetic makeup as well. There is some truth to this n that phenotypically, there are quite a few differences between Ashekenazi Jews of Europe and Karaite Jews with their origins from Mesopotamia. They argued that they were not Jews but "Russian Karaites of the Old Testament Faith," which became their official designation according to the Czarist government. In 1840 they were granted equality of status with the Muslims, and in 1863 with native Russians, a considerable achievement which led to the appointment in 1843 of my ancestor Jakob Goldenthal as the Principal of the Jewish Districts around the Black Sea and based in Kishinev. Unfortunately this appointment did not go over very well, since it meant not only was Jakob in charge of those districts with large Karaite populations but also those with rabbinic populations. What the Rabbinic Jews viewed as his cosmopolitan assimilated makeup, his bastardized Judaism, and his tendency to write commentaries that emphasized the univerasility of Jewish beleifs within a Christian world led to his departure to greener fields in 1846, when he took a position at the University of Vienna and private tutor to the Empress Elisabeth. A position he would not have gained if not for his Karaite beliefs.
During the first decades of the nineteenth century, Russian Karaites increased in The Tatar translation of this Chumash was obviously for a select population of Karaites only. The group of Karaite scholars who edited the text and prepared the translation was headed by Abraham Firkowitz (1786-1874), an antiquarian scholar and bibliographer who as a leader of the separation campaign wrote messages to the Czarist government and collected documents to bolster the Karaite position.
It is rumoured that on occasion Firkowitz doctored the written record to support the Karaite claims of being a distinct ethnic group. So in retrospect the printing of this Chumash was a message being sent to the Czarist authorities that would have proclaimed, "We are very different from the Jews, even having our own veresion of the Bible which is a completely different language." For the intent and purpose of relieving the persecutions suffered by Jewish communities you can hopefully appreciate the motivation behind such an act.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Trial of Jesus: Toldoth Jeshua

You're probably wondering what am I talking about this time. Well, it's pretty simple. I'm going to talk about another book I happen to have in my collection. You guessed it, it's called “Toldoth Jeshua". But what's it mean. Translated, it means the Generations of Jesus. Odd title you'd think since according to the New Testament, Jesus didn't have any generations to speak of. But this book that was written in about the 14th century and based on material from the second century had a lot of interesting things to say. I came into possession of this document after I wrote and published Caiaphas Letters, so its quite amazing that it confirms many of the statements I make as fact in my book.
One of the most serious libels made against the Jews was the blame for killing Jesus. Pope John Paul II fortunately condemned this libel and expunged it from the Roman Catholic teachings, and this should be appreciated, but it was long in coming and over the last two thousand years the number of Jews that died because of this libel was astronomical, especially when one considers it as a premise to the Nazi holocaust.
Now this may sound a little controversial coming from me but what if I was to say that it wasn’t really all the Church’s fault for fostering this belief in the first place? What if I was to say that the great sages of Judaism in the second century,the Tannim or these Rabbis of reverence that put together the Talmud were responsible for the libel themselves! That in an effort to show the world how strict they were as enforcers of God’s will, they were willing to spread a lie that either because their brains were too addled with age, or as a Karaite I beleive they were only interested in hearing the sounds of their own voices and were more than too happy to tell everyone a lie.”
What most people don't realize is that these so called paragons of virtue and Judaism actually wrote a section into the Talmud concerning their role in Jesus’ death! Let me tell you quickly what it said:
“It is taught that for all others liable for the death penalty, except for the enticer to idolatry, we do not hide witnesses. They light a lamp for him in the inner chamber and place a witness in the outer chamber so that they can see and hear him while he cannot see or hear them. One says to him,” Tell me again what you said to me in private.” If the prisoner repents, then good, but if he says, ‘This is our obligation and what we must do,’ then he is to be brought into the courtroom and stoned. And then they hung him on the eve of Passover.”
If you're trying to follow the connection let me explain that these Rabbis were trying to recall a very special meeting of the Sanhedrin that happened a couple of hundred years earlier. I'll point out some of their controversial comments. It was a night meeting, hence the need for the lamp. The courts of the Sanhedrin were held in buildings that relied on natural light, therefore it was prohibited to meet at night unless it was an emergency. In this case it obviously was one. But they got it wrong. The witnesses placed outside were there to come in and defend the accused. They already had their numbers to make up the tribunal inside. They were the judges, not the witnesses. As we know from the stories about that night, Jesus's witness refused to enter into the chamber and three times Peter denied not knowing him. Without his second witness, (it took two to prove you innocent of the charges), Jesus was condemned. Now the rabbis in this particular paragraph never refer to Jesus, only to an idolator, so the question should be how do I know they’re not talking about another case? Because they refer back in the Toldoth Jeshua to this section of the Talmud as being the trial of Ben Stada. Now I probably have you completely confused. It would have been more correct to refer to what is a Ben Stada in order to understand their play on words. The Rabbis loved to do that back then. They thought they were quite funny. They did it with the next messiah too, Simon Bar Kochba. As soon as he lost the war, they referred to him as Simon Bar Kosiba, or ’the son of lies’. Somehow they forgot that it was one of their own that proclaimed him as the messiah in the first place. So they did the same thing to Jesus as well. He would have been referred to as Jesus Ha Stadlan. The intercessor by his followers. Because that’s what he did. He was the intercessor for people to reach God. Remember that he said everyone seeking God must come through him.
So, now that you have an appreciation for their sense of humor, these rabbis don’t refer to him as an intercessor for God but instead call him Ben Stota or Stada in an alternate dialect; the ‘son of absolute utter nonsense’ or as we would say today, the son of bullshit.”
Also remember that in the Talmud is says that he was taken out and stoned and then hung from a tree on the eve of Passover.”
There are three important things you should notice right there. Firstly, if he was stoned to death, why were they bothering to hang him on a crucifix? Couldn’t kill him twice. And then secondly there’s the matter that the Roman authorities only let the Sanhedrin stone people, they didn’t have the authority to crucify a prisoner. And lastly, notice how it was the eve of the Passover. Just as I described it in Caiaphas Letters. The Gospels all say the crucifixion happened on the Passover. So this passage from the Talmud is in harmony with what I've written.
In another passage of Toldoth Jeshua it is written: ‘On the eve of the Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that Yeshu is to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him. But no one came forward in his defense and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Yeshu was different because he was close to government.’ So now you have the Toldoth Jeshua in harmony with that passage from the Talmud and both confirming it was the eve of the Passvoer and that this individual was named Jeshua or Jesus.
Once again the Toldoth Jehsua is providing some interesting aspects that other than in Caiaphas Letters, no one else has ever mentioned. For almost a month and a half there’s this attempt to try and create a case so that he can’t be touched. The emphasis in Toldoth Jeshua was they they tried to prove him innocent asking people to come forward to clear and exonerate him. Very different from the condemning version in the Talmud. But when it came to the night of the trial, those that were supposed to exonerate him never came through. In other words, Peter didn’t do his part of the plan. The writer of the Toldoth Jeshua tries to explain this special treatment of trying to save him was due to the fact that he was close to government. Well, they might as well have said because he was related to the High Priest because the only Jewish government at the time was the High Priest, and to be close was another way of implying a familial relationship. It also says that he was being helped by the High Priest at the time who just happened to be Caiaphas. Again this confirms the High Priest family connection I described in Caiaphas Letters.

The question one has to answer is why, if as in the Toldoth Jeshua there is recorded a definite attempt by the officials in Judea to save Jesus, and this book was based on original documentation from much earlier times, why would a group of supposedly educated men, paragons of virtue write such a stupid and inaccurate thing in the Talmud that actually suggests the Sanhedrin wanted to kill Jesus. The answer is simple; they couldn’t stop themselves. The whole idea behind the Talmud was to write as much down as they could remember because there was no central stores or archives left following the destruction of the Temple. Then they would analyze and embellish what they had written. But in a lot of the cases, this embellishment was merely the addition of hearsay and innuendo. Their memories of events may have been poor, but their imaginations certainly were not. They were in overdrive. They didn’t even try to be accurate. By the time the Talmud was being written, Christianity was already becoming the new power and Jews were already being persecuted by this new religion. So why not tell a very disparaging story and gloat about the death of the Christian messiah. Human nature has remained a constant throughout history. And this was one way of saying, “in your face, buddy! Stupid, yes, but then these supposedly intelligent men never thought the Talmud would be read by anyone that wasn't Jewish.
In their minds they were disproving the claims of Christianity by saying they were responsible for the death of Jesus. After all, how could he be the son of God, or for that matter, even the messiah, if they could kill him? So this invented story of theirs became our own undoing. We suffered because they gloated. But worst of all, they gloated over an entirely false and ludicrous story that they created for their own personal egos.”
Now one might point out that as a Karaite, I have no fondness for the Rabbis of old, I certainly don't give any credence to the Talmud and therefore I view them in a negative light. True, I admit it. We suffered for two thousand years because of their misguided beliefs. Had they only stayed to the facts, I think they would have found that most educated people would have understood what occurred in the framework of the time and circumstances. I'm not naive and saying that the early Church would not have pursued its policy of deicide if they hadn’t written the inaccurate story of Jesus into the Talmud but I don’t believe the persecutions would have been conducted as vehemently as they were. What you have in the Gospels is the story of Caiaphas sending Jesus to Antipas, and then to Pilate. Pilate pronounced sentence and Roman soldiers performed the execution. You actually have evidence of the Jewish authorities abdicating their responsibility and handing it over to these other powers. Therefore the role of the Jewish authorities is minimalized.
When you read about the confrontation between the Maharal, Rabbi Judah Loew, and the Nasi, Yakov Kahana in Shadows of Trinity, you are seeing the two worlds of Karaism and Judaism clash. The former regarding the Talmud as the work of foolish men and the latter that deemed themselves worthy of interpreting Gods words, convinced that there were hidden meanings, detailed instructions, and numerous restrictions behind every word. But as the above story has pointed out, words can be very dangerous when they used improperly. Less would have definitely been better!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fighting Windmills

Why should we bother to challenge the accepted historical beliefs if it only means that we in turn become the target of those offended that we 'dared' to confront the established truths? Why is it that in order to protect the established historical beliefs, threats and prejudice are perfectly acceptable? Is it that accepted history is built on so fragile a platform that those dedicated to preserving it know that at any given moment it could crumble to dust?
Those familiar with my writing, blogs and books know that I am classified as an alternative historian. It doesn't mean that my material is any less factual, it only indicates that I'm constantly challenging the norm. And why not? I'm the one in possession of the facts,the dates, the material that demonstrates what they classify as alternative history is in most probability actual history and that which is being taught in many respects is the glorified hype of those that held the reigns of power to make their version the standard. It happens every day. In Japan, you will never hear of the atrocities committed by their army in World War II, though you can read of what occurred on my friend Patrick's blogspot to read of some ot these horrible deeds. In Germany one year my friend Hans Hildebrand gave me a completely different version of the holocaust in much of it was laid at the feet of the Poles as their doing, and even now as I speak, the Arab world and Russia are busily rewriting their national histories in order "educate" their populations in the truth. It's common practice. History is a political tool and always has been.
So when I write from a Karaite perspective of events in Jewish history, I expect to feel the backlash. A minority within a minority has no real authority at all. In fact,how little it registers was made perfectly clear in a conversation with an Israeli girl that I had yesterday. She was down here in New Zealand marketing a product and was surprised when I began to speak a little Hebrew to her. It was the limit of my vocabulary so even describing it as a little Hebrew may be too generous It was the first she heard from anyone in this country and wanted to know where I had picked it up. When I explained that I was Karaim, her eyes lit up and she told me how she once dated an Egyptian Jew. In her mind, all Egyptian Jews were Karaites and that was the definition of the word. And then she commented that I didn't look Egyptian.
I could have taken the time to explain that the roots of the Karaim were in Mesopotamia. That the Egyptian population was only one little segment. I could have explaiined the migration history of how we were slowly pushed further and further from centres like Baghdad and Mahoza after Anan ibn David established the tenents of Karaite Judaism in 769 and how in 940 we were attacked and driven from our homes by Saadiah Gaon to the North West to take up residence in the lands around the Black Sea. I even could have spoken of how the Crimean Peninsula became one of the larger population centres of Karaites to be seconded by Bessarabia and Romania. I even could have spoken of how the Rabbinate forbade marriages between rabbinate Jews and Karaite Jews unless the latter abandoned its beliefs and declared them to be false. During World War II, there were recorded findings by the Nazis as they invaded Romania of their enounter with the Karaite population and a request from Berlin to send orders as to whether they should be treated no differently from the rabbinate Jewish populations. You see, the Karaites presented a problem. As the Nazi's were ingrained with their stereotypical version of what Jews should look like, they were not prepared to find a subpopulation that were six feet tall, some with blonde hair and more eastern features. Berlin's final decision was to not include them in it's persecution as it had determined they were actually Tartars and not Jews at all. How ironic that Hitler's final solution would never have been final at all. As Karaites we would have survived.
But, there wasn't the time to try and explain this, and considering that her entire exposure to Karaite history was that she had an Egyptian Jewish boyfriend and that was the only defining point made me realize that even in Israel there is a failure to provide the 'alternative history'. There is no intention to highlight the differences; the goal being that you melt and blend everyone and everything into a singualar pot.
So in answer to my initial questions of why do we do it? Why do we challenge the windmills only to know that we will be beaten back again and again? We do it because it is right or should I say 'write'. Even Don Quixote had his moments of victory.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vampires, Monsters and a Sadistic Pope

There are times I really have to wonder what was actually transpiring in that latter part of the 16th century. For those that have had the opportunity to read Shadows of Trinity you're already aware of the situation in Prague and have a good insight into the personality of Pope Sixtus V, whom was already recongised as a butcher by the time the story took place. But it would appear that he was not alone in his desire to shed blood in the most horrific fashions. In fact, there were those performing acts that defy imagination and yet they were in positions of power and social esteem that renders the atrocities inconceivable. Whatever the Golem did, as explained in the novel, paled in comparison to these paragons of Church and Society.
One such paragon was the Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614. Residing in her castle in Slovakia,even though she was referred to as being Hungarian, she was not to distant from the events taking place in Shadows of Trinity. With her inherited wealth, she was one of Hungary's wealthiest women and I wouldn't be surprised if she visited Prague on a regular basis. Like many of the aristocracy in Europe, the inbreeding of families left a genetic imprint that disable young Elizabeth from time to time. From the age of four and a half she began suffering from epileptic fits. Despite being arrogant and spoiled, she was still regarded as intelligent and a suitable prize in marriage.
Therefore it was no surprise when Count Fernencz Nadasdy came knocking on the castle door to ask for the then fifteen year old Elizabeth's hand in marriage. They wed and took up residence in Csjethe Castle in Transylvania. Never one to stay at home, Fernencz left Elizabeth on her own frequently but made certain that he was home long enough to father several children. His long absences drove his wife though to the bring of madness.
In the early 1580's, Elizabeth could no longer deal with the loneliness and the boredom and sought entertainment by torturing her servants. Not just any servants. She exhibited a predilection for young teenage females. The level of the torture which I'm about to describe exceeds even what we would consider sadistic. By all accounts, her tastes were monstrous. She enjoyed playing with fire and this translated into placing combustible wads between the toes of the girls and then setting them alight. As the wads burned, the Countess watched the girls do their frantic dance in an attempt to dislodge them. If she was really bored, Elizabeth would just set the girls on fire and burn them alive. Applying red-hot pincers to various body parts was also a common passtime. Not one to keep the entertainment all to herself, the Countess would force the girls to perform their household duties in full view of male guests that she would invite to her castle. Even her husband would participate in the torture of the girls whenever he returned from his travels.
Fortunately for their son and two daughters they were never involved in witnessing the tortures and their nannies made certain to keep them far enough away from their mother that they were never the victims either.
Some will say that as the Countess's sadistic tastes grew wilder and more extreme, not even her husband could stomach them any longer and his absences grew more frequent. By the time the events of Shadows of Trinity were taking place, Elizabeth already had a string of young men that satisfied her sexual needs but like a black widow spider they never had the opportunity to brag about their conquests of the Countess in the castle. Oddly, even though these crimes were quite evident, as young girls and men disappeared from the countryside, this never became a concern for the Pope that summoned the three heroes to stop the Golem's rampage without even a thought of what was happening nearby. Perhaps this was because the Countess never turned her attentions to the clergy and unlike the Golem wasn't responsible for the death of his nephew.
With the continuous absences of her husband the Countess grew steadily convinced that perhas it was because she was no longer young enough or pretty enough to keep him interested. Her victims of her tortures became as a result girls that were younger and whom she considered prettier. The vanity of the stepmother/witch of Snow White couldn't hold a candle to Elizbeth as she invented new forms of torture in which to delight. One day while having her hair combed, he maidservant accidentally pulled her hair and Elizabeth slapped the girl hard across the face cutting her lip. A few droplets of blood had splashed on to the back of her hand and the Countess became convinced that where it had contacted her skin it was now smoother and softer. At that point she consulted with Ana Darvulia, a local witch that provided potions to the Countess for various ailments and Darvulia explained that the blood of virgins had magical properties one of which was the restoration of youth. No sooner did Elizabeth hear that when she ordered the handmaid's throat cut and her blood drained into her bath. Thus began the end for many a young girl in the community as hundreds were kidnapped and used to fill the bath with blood. Rumour had it that Elizabeth would bite their necks and drink the blood that flowed from the puncture marks she made.
Elizabeth continued her sadistic ritual unabated for years. By the time it ended the number tallied over 600, confirmed by the record book that the Countess kept in her writing desk. The bodies had been burned, buried beneath the castle floors, or tossed into the forests to be devoured by wolves.
Not a word was said and especially not by the clergy who's Pope had a tally of closer to thirty thousand victims of his "so called" freeing the highways of bandits campaign. It wasn't until Elizabeth turned her attentions to young noble girls that the cries of murderer were actually made. Desperate to seek new blood, the Countess stablished a boarding school for girls of noble birth. In this case finishing school meant exactly what it claimed.
Emperor Matthias sent Count Thurzo, to conduct a raid of the castle. What he found horrified them all. One dead girl in the central foyer, one whose body had been pierced with holes barely alive. Several more hanging from the basement rafters their blood draining into the Countess's vat.
In 1610, the Countess and her accomplices were placed on trial. Her husband had been dead for six years already thus escaping justice. They were all found guilty and executed except for the Countess whom was ordered to be imprisoned in a small room of her castle until she died.
This real life Dracula finally died in 1614. Her legancy remains in our legends of Vampires and the haunting of Transylvania. Since my ancestors resided in Peatra Neamt for several generations, the stories of Transylvania were quite well known to them. But what is most remarkable is that for a period of fifty years, some of the most horrific evils were being perpretrated under the reign of Emperor Rudolf II. By comparion, the Golem of Prague, later to become Mary Shelly's Frankenstein monster was not even worth considering to be a monster when standing along side Countess Elizabeth Bathory. But the fact that these two distinct and separate episodes occurred almost simultaneously points to the comments made by Pope Sixus V when he summoned the three, Caesar de Nostradame, Giordano Bruno and Yakov Kahana to stop the murders in Prague, that Armegeddon was upon them. And there is no reason to doubt that in the span of years from 1580 to 1600 there was every reason to believe that Pope Sixtus, a monster in his own right was correct.

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