Cyrus II the Great and the Hebrews, from Flavius Josephus’ illuminated by Jean Fouquet c. 1470-1475. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
by Florence Leone
The reaction of Jewish leaders to “The Inheritance of Abraham,” casts in high relief distressing characteristics of Hebrew scripture and Zionist practice. In contrast, the history and culture of Iran are more in tune with the teaching and actions of Jesus that Christians profess to value, as well as of universal human values.
What is so special about Abraham? Why does the Church of Scotland feel bound to the so-called Abrahamic tradition?
Look at Abraham critically: his behavior is, shall we say, not very appealing. His earliest public act was to destroy the religious icons of other people’s beliefs. He was likely kicked out of Ur for some outrageous offense against a civilized and prosperous community. He impregnated Hagar, then abandoned her and her child, Ishmael. He prostituted his own wife. He was prepared to kill his own child to serve the voices in his head.
Abraham is not MY father. I want nothing to do with Abraham. But Jews want to have it both ways: they insist that Christians must be tethered to Hebrew scripture; they insist that a Christian interpretation of the promises to Abraham that view god’s promises to Abraham to be universal rather than exclusive to Jews, is “supercessionist.” Supercessionism is defined as an attempt by Christians to supercede the special privileges granted to Jews alone. Such claims are said to be antisemitic.
German scholars led by Walther Grundmann in the Weimar, Nazi and post-Nazi eras, sought to develop an understanding of Jesus separated from a Hebrew matrix. Susannah Heschel called this effort to find the “Aryan Jesus” anti-Semitic. The fact is, Germany is NOT Semitic. It IS “Aryan,” in terms of its linguistic and cultural values. So is Scotland and most of Europe, and the United States. Non-Semitic is not the same as Anti-Semitic. No doubt Heschel would tag Thomas Jefferson as an antisemite as well. Jefferson was sufficiently committed to a scholarly approach to religious concepts that he learned Hebrew in order to study the Old Testament. He concluded that the Hebrew concept of god was “morally deficient” and chose to define Christianity in terms of the “sublime morals of Jesus.”
Why should Aryans, like the Germans, and Jefferson, and most Europeans as well as Iranians, be forced to think of themselves as Semitic, as ‘children’ of the flawed character that is Abraham? And what are the real-world present-day consequences of this Elijah-like enforcement of religious belief?
In a June 1962 article in The Commentary Reader titled “Gentile Zionism and the Balfour Declaration,” R. H. S. Crossman wrote, “The sixty-seven words of the Balfour Declaration changed the course of history.” Crossman goes on to examine “what it was that made so many British politicians susceptible to Jewish pressure” that they would acquiesce to the Balfour Declaration. He describes three different “motives of Gentile Zionism” that Weizmann discerned in Lloyd George, A. J. Balfour, and Winston Churchill.
Of the three, Weizmann’s approach to A. J. Balfour offers insights into the ways that Jewish leaders such as Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, emulate the “maestro” Weizmann in “playing on these three species of Gentile Zionism.” Weizmann assessed that Balfour had “strong anti-Semitic tendencies.”
“[Weizmann’s] central doctrine [was] that anti-Semitism is endemic in the Gentile world and that the justification of Zionism lies precisely in this fact. It is because the Jews of the Diaspora must always, by definition, remain in danger of homelessness that a Jewish State is a necessity of Jewish survival.
“From this central doctrine Weizmann drew one important practical consequence. Instead of being shocked by the fact that many of the Gentiles he dealt with felt strong anti-Semitic prejudices, he assumed that the most reliable support for his cause would be drawn from those Gentiles who were ashamed of their hostility to the Jews . . . Balfour certainly worried about anti-Semitism.”
In other words, Weizmann played upon Balfour’s inner conflict between thinking that as a Christian he is a “child of Abraham” but who is, simultaneously, excluded from the privileges the Jewish children of Abraham claim for themselves alone. Balfour was not able to claim his own identity as a non-Semite, and Weizmann used that weakness to “change history.”
Crossman goes on to discuss the political situation that brought Weizmann and Balfour into contact. The short story is, Balfour needed the Jewish vote, and to get it, he needed the support of an influential Jew like Weizmann to “reduce Jewish hostility.” A conversation between Balfour and Weizmann took place in which “by playing on Balfour’s uneasy conscience, Weizmann converted him to Zionism . . . Feeling within himself the emotions from which the pogrom rises, Balfour dedicated himself to removing the cause of anti-Semitism by creating a Jewish state.”
In other words, Weizmann used a cheap trick, a form of spiritual and political blackmail, to give Balfour what he needed in exchange for what Weizmann wanted. Israeli ambassador Taub is working the same cheap trick.
The contrast between acts of Abraham and Weizmannian politics, and the acts of Cyrus, the core values of Iranian culture and the politics of key Iranian leaders, is stark.
On the flight home from three weeks in Iran, I tried to figure out what made Iranians qualitatively different from the American/western culture that I am part of. I concluded that, at their core, Iranians are not and have never been “Abrahamic.” At their core, Iranians are Zoroastrian; Karen Armstrong calls Zoroaster the “prototype” of the ethical principles that Hebrews, Greeks, Buddhists, and Confucians arrived at in the so-called Axial Age, some 300 years AFTER Zoroaster. The Zoroastrian trinity is “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.” Zoroaster’s innovation in intellectual history was the notion that the acts of a person in this world determine his status in the afterlife: good vs. bad behavior has eternal consequences.
In “The Great Transformation,” Armstrong describes the earliest value system of Aryans:
The Aryans took the spoken word very seriously. Like all other phenomena, speech was a god. . . Aryan religion was not very visual. . . . Instead, they found that the act of listening brought them close to the sacred. Quite apart from its meaning, the very sound of a chant was holy; even a single syllable could encapsulate the divine. Similarly, a vow, once uttered, was eternally binding, and a lie was absolutely evil because it perverted the holy power inherent in the spoken word. The Aryans would never lose this passion for absolute truthfulness.” Armstrong, p. 4-5.
At a conference in New York City recently, Giandomenico Picco was a member of the audience. Picco negotiated the accord that ended the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war that cost millions of lives. Picco also negotiated the release of hostages in Lebanon. In that role, he was blindfolded, placed in the back seat of a car and taken to the negotiating site, “not a strategy I would recommend,” Picco observed. “But,” he said, “the negotiation was successful because first I had talked with Hashemi Rafsanjani . . . Rafsanjani’s experience is as a merchant . . . and Rafsanjani kept his word.” Compare Rafsanjani’s behavior to the behavior of Israel’s leaders in the “peace process” over the past 40 years.
The Cyrus Cylinder was on display at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, recently, as part of an exhibit titled, “A New Beginning.” As several books of the Old Testament document, Cyrus, king of Persia, liberated Hebrews from Nebuchadnezzar in ~537 BC. On the Cyrus Cylinder Cyrus wrote:
I am Cyrus, King of the globe, great king, mighty king, King of Babylon, king of the land of Sumer and Akad, King of ……, king of the four quarters of Earth, son of Cambysis (Kambujiye), great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus (Kurosh), great king, king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes (Chaish Pish), great king, king of Anshan, progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule, The Gods, Bel and Nabu cherish, whose kingship they desire for their hearts’ and pleasures.
When I well disposed, entered Babylon, I had established the seat of government in the royal palace of the ruler, amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk the great god, induced the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon to love me, and I sought daily to worship him when my numerous soldiers in great numbers peacefully entered Babylon and moved about undisturbed in the midst of the Babylon, I did not allow anyone to terrorize the people of the lands of Sumer and Akad and ……
I kept in view, the needs of the people and all their sanctuaries to promote their well being.
I strove for peace in Babylon and in all his other sacred cities.
As to the inhabitants of Babylon who against the will of the gods were enslaved, I abolished the corvee which was against their social standing, I freed all slaves.
I brought relief to their dilapidated housing, putting thus an end to their misfortunes and slavery.
Marduk, the great lord, was well pleased with my deeds, rejoiced and to me, Cyrus, the king who worshipped him, and to Cambysis, my son, the offspring of my loins, and to all my troops he graciously gave his blessing, and in good sprit, before him we stood peacefully and praised him joyously.”
To my mind, Cyrus beats the tar out of anything Abraham offered the world.
We have to stop being afraid of Jews. That’s not the same as expressing hatred of Jews, though that is surely how it will be cast.
We must empower ourselves to affirm our own identity, whether as Christians who seek to emulate the “sublime morals of Jesus,” or as Muslims, or as universalists like Cyrus or ethicists like Zoroaster. We must empower ourselves to treat Jews just as we would any other person or group with whom we live, negotiate, or have a conflict.
I hope the Scottish clergy are willing and able to take a principled stand that says, “We will not be bullied by your appeals to “antisemitic guilt,” or holocaustiana. That’s over.
I hope the Scottish clergy take an affirmative, not defensive, posture, and refuse to be browbeaten by Taub and those who think and act as he does.
The Church of Scotland has a unique opportunity to take a “new beginning” for the Christian church, and to “pivot” toward their original first cousins, the sons and daughters of Zoroaster, the Aryan people, the people, culture, and values of Cyrus and Iran.