Sunday, March 27, 2011

Father Abraham and his two sons: a cautionary tale

Abraham lived some 6,000 years ago and the story of his life and how he treated his two sons lives on in the religious foundations of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  And though there are variations in the stories, the main lines are remarkably consistent through all those years.

Here are the stories, relevant, in more ways than one, to the preset day.


Sarah was 80 and Abraham was 86, and he had no heir.  If he died, all his cattle and goods would pass to a male in his household (he had hundreds), but not an heir of his body.  Not to be abided by.  And Sarah would be left with nothing.What to do . . . what to do . . . .

Well, it turned out that Sarah has a good looking Egyptian slave, Hagar, and as luck would have it, the Law of Abraham (now most fiercely enforced by the Taliban) provided that if the head of a household bore a son by his wife's slave, it was just as if his wife had carried the child herself.  Beautiful Hagar, of child-bearing age, was the solution

But things never work out as they should.  No sooner was Hagar pregnant than she got uppity, since sh e would bear the heir.  Sarah was beside herself and demanded that Hagar be sent away.  A voice that no one else could hear told Abraham to obey Sarah, and Hagar was banished to the wilderness.

As luck would have it, God found Hagar in the wilderness (or rather, an angel did), before she died of thirst, and told her that she would bear Ishmael.  The angel ordered Hagar back home, to take her beatings.

Then, 10 years later, after Ishmael had been the son and heir, lording it over all and pampered as no other youth ever was, God decided that Sarah would bear a child.  The actual mechanics of conception are unclear, but God is, by implication, involved in some way.  Perhaps his DNA made up for the parents' rusty and age-damaged DNA.

In any event, Hagar was not not only superfluous, her child would inherit everything, and she would be subject to the whims of her uppity slave!  It Was Intolerable~  Sarah demanded that Hagar be banished and Abraham, obeying a voice that only he could hear, agreed.

High Reconnaissance and Baroque painters were much taken with this banishment, and many great and beautiful paintings depict the sad event.  A main propose of this blog is to show you some of them.  I'm pleased to say that google has made them all clickable.

Here you can see Sarah gloating in the background.

Banishment to the dessert was a sentence of death.

and Hagar and Ishmael did almost die.

Their water bottle lay empty at their sides, and thurst was upon them.

When suddenly, at the laast moment, an angel appeared.

Baroque paainters liked angels.

The angel pointed to a spring of water just over  rise!

The rest is history; actually, it is our current affairs.


For Ismael went on to become a famous archer, marry an Egyptian, have many sons, and found many tribes -- now the many tribes of the Arabs, whose Sharia, or Laws, is largely based on the Laws of Abraham, and each of whom carries Abraham's genes.

One can make the argument that the Arabs are warlike and chauvinistic because their ancestor, Ismael, was so badly treated by his father, Abraham.  Indeed, their are a number of books on that very subject.

I don't make quite that argument.  Bu I do think that for a religion such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to hold Abraham up as a positive role model tells us something damaging to the religions.


God promised Hagar many descendants, and she had many.  He made that same promise to Abraham, but Abraham wasn't satisfied with many sons by Ismael, he wanted many sons from Sarah, although both of them were way to old to have healthy children.   After Sarah gave birth to Isaac and saw to the banishment of his only rival, life looked good to them.  They had another boy to dote on and inheritance was secure.

Then disaster struck.

Abraham heard a voice that no one else heard, ordering him to take Isaac up the mountain, bind him, place him on the sacrificial alter slit his throat, and burn his carcass, making an odor pleasing to God's nostrils.


Isaac meekly carried the fagots up the mountain.

 There are many paintings, done in careful detail, of Isaac's binding.  Jesus' binding is also done with great attention to detail, as are the bonds of the many  martyrs that Baroque painters liked to paint.

I kinda like it myself.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Revolution on Oman and Hawaii, compared

In the 60s and 70s, the Revolutionary Communist Party attempted a foothold in Hawaii. A generation before, the soldiers of the 442nd, Japanese Americans whose parents were in concentration camps and whose land was stolen by other Americans, returned from WWII heros.

They joined up with the ILWU, then branded by the witch hunters in Washington as a Communist front organization, and took control of the Territory of Hawaii. The heroic veterans, many of them, became rich.

Their children, born into a revolutionary tradition and finding themselves on the side of the fat cats, recoiled.

Land was the issue. Development was the enemy. Overthrowing government and replacing it with a communist model was the solution for some.

I came to Hawaii -- innocent, dewy-eyed -- in the middle of this battle. I immersed myself in the Hawaiian culture, and was warmly welcomed by many Hawaiians.

For the Hawaiians and many other rural people, the struggle was not to overturn government but to preserve the style of living they had enjoyed for generations, and which could not survive the congestion and land cost that development would -- and did -- bring.

We used a gradualist, cooperative approach; my Communist friends a more aggressive approach. Some of the revolutionaries are still at work elsewhere to overturn an economic system that should be overturned, and the struggle still appears fruitless; and some of those who tried to achieve justice and parity in America I dearly loved, and still do.

The Arab world is in turmoil. Some in the Arab world are trying a gradualist approach; others an aggressive one. Some Arab governments, like our own government in Hawaii, understand that by buying off the leaders of a movement, change is forestalled. Others, like Gaddifi, prefer a brutal way. It interests me to see how the different approaches play out in a different context.

Oman is a prime example of a gradualist approach.

These pics show the mot violence I could find depicted in Oman.


Oman is Hawaii with oil.

This might be the old federal building.

Below is a citation to a New York Times editorial written by an Omani. The author doesn’t mention the history of bloody revolt; that the present Sultan took the throne from his father, whom he sent into exile;

and differences between the rural and tribal uplands and the cosmopolitan cities are ignored — but never mind.

I think the 50,000 new jobs and the guaranteed minimum wage which the Sultan just created in response to protests are pocket change for him, ad I don’t expect any assist in the revolution that is staking place elsewhere.

Oman is a moderate Muslim country, neither Shia nor Sunni. The Sultan maintains friendly relations with the dictators of Iran and with the Saudi king.

Oman is 35 miles from Iran, across the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of the world’s oil passes each day. It is, I suppose, in our national to keep the passage open. China’s, too.

A lot of smuggling of goods and people takes place a cross the strait, and always has.

Women are said to have equal rights in Oman, but I don’t know what that means for family integrity, or, indeed, for women. Women are allowed to attend world football games (yes, it's as popular in Oman as in the rest of the world -- Texas excepted).

And there is a woman's football league, all to the good, though not, in my view, good enough.

I don’t expect much help from Oman for the democracy revolutions.


Incidentally, the Bahrain Shia do not hold allegiance to the ayatollah in Iran, preferring their own ayatollah. I do not think the Saudis will allow the ruling Sunni family to fall. Arabs are planning to buy the Shia off, I’m told. See here.


Here is the New York Tomes editorial, written by an Omani, It is sensitive, moving, and -- I think -- inadvertently proves my point.


Yemen, much more difficult, next.