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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


Biblical Blackwater: Sodom vs. the Mercenaries

December 12, 2009

3P-053 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 53rd episode, which begins our second year of Third Paradigm, Our title is Biblical Blackwater: Sodom vs. the Mercenaries. This week, I had the pleasure of co-interviewing Max Blumenthal, author of Republican Gomorrah. His book is a well-executed romp through the twisted psyche of fundamentalism, where the fevered pitch of condemnation seems to be a pretty good barometer for the likelihood of a steamy scandal in the closet. As much fun as it is to expose as the modern Gomorrah, we're going to tempt fate and turn back to look at the original Sodom and Gomorrah. I have a fetish for salt anyway, which, in the Gnostic scriptures, was the symbol for wisdom. And so we'll throw in our lot with Lot's wife, and refuse to look away.

If taken literally, the same god who disapproves of homosexuality approves of fathers offering their virgin teenage daughters to be gang-raped, and then impregnating them himself when no one in the crowd is man enough. If taken allegorically, these stories are about whole peoples who have been enslaved and oppressed, with the Bible's narrator gloating about it.

In my conversation with Max Blumenthal, I felt it was important to talk about what the Bible really says, both for those who take it literally and for those who take it metaphorically. Max differed, and thought it didn't matter what the truth was – only how people were using it. Before we get into that distinction, I'd like to dedicate our two poems to the daughters of Lot. Imagine, there you are in a cave in the wilderness with your sister and your crazy, drunken father. Even you don't know exactly what happened to your mother. Did she abandon you, or did something terrible befall her? Which would be harder to bear?

Already your father, stinking of sour wine, has forced himself on you like a sloppy, rutting ox. Your sister feigned sleep, but she knows he won't stop there. If only he had made good on his threat to send you both out to the mob. They were decent people who wouldn't have hurt you. You heard their shocked reaction to your father's offer of your virginity, like throwing out two coins to keep from being robbed.

And who were those men your father brought home? They were dressed like foreigners but finely-attired. Was the crowd right that they were spies? And what was your father up to? If one of the strangers hadn't thrown that exploding dust, sending them all home, coughing and eyes watering, who knows how it would have ended. But for you and your sister, certainly, it couldn't have ended worse. For your tender, romantic youth, now nipped in the bud, let's hear Beginners by Denise Levertov and Up by Margaret Atwood. The music is The Forgotten People by Thievery Corporation.


But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
– so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
– we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet–
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.  

~ Denise Levertov ~
From Candles in Babylon

* * * * * * * *


You wake up filled with dread.
There seems no reason for it.
Morning light sifts through the window,
there is birdsong,
you can't get out of bed.  

It's something about the crumpled sheets
hanging over the edge like jungle
foliage, the terry slippers gaping
their dark pink mouths for your feet,
the unseen breakfast--some of it
in the refrigerator you do not dare
to open--you do not dare to eat.

What prevents you? The future. The future tense,
immense as outer space.
You could get lost there.
No. Nothing so simple. The past, its destiny
and drowned events pressing you down,
like sea water, like gelatin
filling your lungs instead of air.
Forget that and let's get up.
Try moving your arm.
Try moving your head.
Pretend the house is on fire
and you must run or burn.
No, that one's useless.
It's never worked before.
Where is it coming from, this echo,
this huge No that surrounds you,
silent as the folds of the yellow
curtains, mute as the cheerful
Mexican bowl with its cargo
of mummified flowers?
(You chose the colours of the sun,
not the dried neutrals of shadow.
God knows you've tried.)
Now here's a good one:
You're lying on your deathbed.
You have one hour to live.
Who is it, exactly, you have needed
all these years to forgive?

~ Margaret Atwood ~
From Morning in the Burned House
The music was... The poems were Denise Levertov with Beginners and Margaret Atwood with Up, dedicated to the daughters of Lot and all the other women of the Bible not worth mentioning unless it's to blame them.

We're responding to Max Blumenthal about whether the power moguls he writes about, who uses the Bible as a means of global domination, are misinterpreting it, or are the only ones reading it right. Maybe the present is the key to understanding the past. People and places may change, but human nature remains the same. What's clearly illustrated in Republican Gomorrah is that the more vehemently someone condemns a particular action, the more attractive it seems to be to him. Perhaps this can be summed up as "what you loathe is what you are." Can we apply this formula to the Bible?

In the episode Nasty Noah and the Patriarchs, Noah cursed his grandson Canaan because Canaan's father Ham found Noah drunk and naked and talked about it. Noah says,

"Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers... may Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth... and may Canaan be his slave."
[Genesis 9:25-27]

In that episode, we postulated that Noah was venting his guilt at having been caught molesting his grandson. By the WYLIWYA formula – What You Loathe Is What You Are - that displaced guilt would come out as accusations of sexual misbehavior. And who are the descendents of Canaan? The Bible says,

"...the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, [and] Gomorrah,"
[Genesis 10:19]

292 years and nine generations after Noah's flood, Shem's line produces Abram and his brother Haran, whose son is Lot. After Haran dies, Abram and his nephew Lot leave their land, taking all of their possessions and many slaves, because the one who he calls "Lord" is going to give him his own nation. But there's one problem. As Genesis puts it:

"At that time, the Canaanites were in the land."
[Genesis 12:6-7]

As Abram puts it, "What are those people doing on my land?"

In my episode called Zeitgeist Continued, I talk about Abram and his wife Sarah going to Egypt because there's a famine. Abram tricks the Pharaoh into marrying Sarah by saying she's his sister. Abram lives large in the famine as the Pharaoh's brother-in-law, acquiring sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and servants. All he needs is a many-colored cloak and it could be the story of Joseph, prospering while his people starve. Or the story of Josephus, living in Caesar's palace while his fellow Judeans are auctioned off on the slave block. In Genesis, when the Pharaoh finds out that Sarah is Abram's wife, he's appalled, and sends him on his way, after he makes him

"very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold."
[Genesis 13:2]

But Lot also has flocks and herds and tents. And then there are the pesky Canaanites and Perizzites living as parasites in the land at that time. So Abram, ever generous, gives Lot his pick of those lands inhabited by other people. Lot chooses the whole plain of Jordan, where Sodom and Gomorrah are, and goes off. The one Abram calls Lord urges him to stretch his legs and walk about that land of Canaan that's soon to be his.

Sarah and the Pharoah, Wikipedia tells us, is only one of three sister-wife narratives in Genesis "all of which," it says, "are strikingly similar." The next one involves Sarah and a king named Abimelech. In Zeitgeist Continued, I talk about the, er, suspicious timing of Sarah's stay in the king's harem the year before she delivers Isaac. She would be pregnant during nine months of this year. Abimelech is only tipped off that something's amiss because none of his other wives or slaves are getting pregnant. How long would it take to notice this? Is 90-year-old Sarah already pregnant when she becomes his concubine, or do they move to Gerar, get noticed, go to the harem, and get kicked out in less than three months?

The third sister-wife story is told by Abraham's son, Isaac, about his wife Rebekah, also with a king named Abimelech. The Haggada, the third-century text that interprets Jewish scripture, says that the one Abimelech is the other's son. So let me get this straight – Abraham's son Isaac pulls the same ruse on Abimelech's son Abimelech and no one's the wiser? The name Abimelech means "son of the king," or even, "son of Moloch," who was a Canaanite deity. This would indicate a divine king. However, the kings in this story don't act like any kings known to history, much less gods. Abraham and Isaac each say they lied because they were afraid of being killed because of their wife's beauty. But when the ruse is discovered, why aren't they then killed? Instead, the kings are obsequious, shower them with gifts, and give them protection to live anywhere they want. Abimelech gives Abraham 1000 pieces of silver, saying, "May this one that will be thine have a covering on her eyes." Are we supposed to believe, as Torah scholars claim, that this was to buy her a veil?

Let's break for a song by DeVotchKa called Transliterator, which says with Abimelech, "Why don't you say what you mean, why don't you mean what you say?" A worthy question to ask the Bible.

[DeVotchKa – Transliterator]

That was DeVotchKa with a song called Transliterator. Transliteration is the mapping of one system of writing into another, word for word or even letter by letter. It preserves the form but often obscures the meaning. We're looking at the stories in the Bible as works of transliteration – intentional works of obfuscation where each story is a puzzle to be solved. The answer to each of the puzzles provides one more clue to the acrostic. But then you have to transpose the scrambled letters because they may not have happened in the order that they appear in.

According to the Da Vinci Code, you go through all this to find out the big secret: Jesus had a girlfriend. Whoopie! What does that change? It's like a Bill Clinton-Eliot Spitzer kind of scandal. But we're going for the 911/WMD kind of gusto: evidence that millions of people have been intentionally manipulated by a lie into committing acts of aggression against billions more. As Spitzer said on Democracy Now, "I just wish we had greater accountability on the substantive side." I know that land grabs aren't as sexy as a kiss on the ellipses, which is what the Da Vinci Code was based on, but someone needs to pay attention to boring stuff like enslavement and mass murder.

So we're working our way up to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah by looking at Lot's uncle, Abraham, and his son Isaac, who both passed wives off as their sisters to a king of Gerar called Abimelech. The parallels continue. Both Abimelechs come to visit Abraham and Isaac, separately, at a well that each one has newly named Beersheba. They both bring chief army captains named Philcol and, in the Isaac story, a personal advisor named Ahuzzah. This matches the three visitors who come to tell Abraham that his sister-wife will bear him a son and heir by the time they visit the next year. That this is Abimelech seems more likely than a God who stopped making house-calls 3500 years ago.

Let's imagine how it goes. Abimelech tells Abraham he's going to attack Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham tries to dissuade him for the sake of his nephew Lot. But Abimelech says he'll send his general, Philcol, and advisor, Ahuzzah, so they can see what's what – who's loyal and who's plotting against him. As the men go their separate ways, Abraham sends a swift messenger to Lot, telling him to watch for two plainly-dressed strangers. Had they arrived discreetly and slept in the square, like any other traveler, chances are their reconnaissance mission wouldn't have aroused suspicion. But no, Lot, pompous oaf that he is, is there bowing down and making a big fuss over getting them to go to his house. No wonder word galloped through the town like Paul Revere. No wonder every man gathered outside Lot's house, demanding that he send out the king's spies. Virgin daughters? What would they want with virgin daughters? What kind of perverts does Lot think they are? The king's men escape, but they warn Lot that they'll return with the archers to rain sulpher and pitch down on this rebellious colony.

Now let's go backwards from Genesis 19 to Genesis 14. For twelve years, Sodom, Gomorrah, and three other cities had been subject to King Kedorlaomer. But in the thirteenth year, they joined forces in the Valley of Siddim, the Salt Sea, and fought for their independence. Although it was five kings against four, they lost the battle. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah fell into tar pits, or fled to the hills. The four kings carried off all of their possessions and food, including Lot and his household. But one escaped and told the Hebrew Abram. So Abram comes to Lot's rescue with his 318 "trained men." He defeats Kedorlaomer, and recovers Lot, the possessions, the women, and the people, in that order.

Now wait a minute. The kingdoms of five cities have joined in an alliance of salt to fight for their lives. They outnumber the enemy 5 to 4 and they have everything to lose. Yet they're defeated. But then Abram comes in with his boys from the hood, and all of the sudden Kedorloamer and the kings allied with him are whupped and give up, running home with their tails between their legs? This just doesn't add up.

I think that Kedorloamer is Abimelech, who visited Abram in his tent that night. What he proposed was that Abram and his army of mercenaries even out the odds for him. Abram hesitated because his boy Lot was working that side of the plain. So they struck a deal: Abram helps him teach the insurgents a lesson, they capture his kinsman for show, and Abram can "rescue" him back.

So after the battle, Abram and Kederloamer meet in the King's Valley. He first gives the king of Jerusalem, who wasn't even part of this fight, a tenth of everything. Then Kederloamer tells him to keep the goods but give him the cities. Abram tells him he's sworn an oath that he wouldn't take so much as a sandal thong from the likes of him, so it can never be said that he made him rich. Instead, he gives the spoils to three of his warlords. And Abram, perhaps, keeps the cities.

A footnote in my NIV study bible says that Abram is the first Biblical character to be referred to as a Hebrew, which is called Habiru in the Amarna letters. Wikipedia says these are 350 diplomatic letters written to the pharaohs on clay tablets during the 14th century BCE. These letters describe the Habiru as nomadic raiders, outlaws, and mercenary armies.

Abdu-Heba of Jerusalem writes: The Hapiru sack the territories of the king. If there are archers this year, all the territories of the king will remain; but if there are no archers, the territories of the king, my Lord, will be lost! All the territories of the king, my Lord, are lost.
Yapahu of Gezer writes: Let the king, my lord, be aware that my younger brother, has rebelled against me and... has given over his two hands [4] to the leader of the 'Apiru [5].
Rib-Addi of Byblos writes: ...the war of the 'Apiru [6] against me is severe... all the 'Apiru [6] have turned their face against me at the instigation of Abdi-Ashirta [8]. ... if there are no archers, then all the lands will unite with the 'Apiru... Two cities remain with me, and they are also attempting to take them from the king's hand... if the king is not able to rescue me from the hand of his enemy, then all lands will unite with Abdi-Ashirta. What is he, the dog, that he takes the king's lands for himself?

The pictograph for Abdi-Ashirta is a jackal. Who could this leader of the Habiru be but Abram, with his 318 trained men? Rather than just twisted and tragic stories of sister-wives and daughter-wives, these women represent subjugated nations – Sarah is Canaan and Lot's daughters are Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram is not content to borrow Egypt's concubine, represented as Hagar. He hires his army out to fight for Pharaoh's vassal-king, Kederloamer. But instead of then giving the cities back to the Pharaoh, as he was paid to do, he refuses the money and makes himself the king. In his delusion of grandeur, even the Pharaoh becomes obsequious to him. Sarai becomes Sarah, which means princess. The pharaohs were considered sons of the sun god, Ra. The chief city of Kederloamer's land east of the Jordan was Ham. Abdi-Ashirta becomes Ab-Ra-Ham. Can't you just hear the jackal howling?

For Third Paradigm, this has been Tereza Coraggio. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for sound production, and for the Wild Turkey that got my voice through this broadcast. Thanks to Mike Scirocco for web embellishment. Thanks to Max Blumenthal and to Janea for the interview which can be found on the website with this episode. Thanks also to Andre Dollinger for the all-things-Egyptian website, where I found the translations of the Amarna letters. The website is named for his town in Israel. We go out with the Bangles and Abraham's theme song, Walk Like an Egyptian.

[The Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian]

Max Blumenthal Interview

This is Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm presenting an interview with Max Blumenthal.

Max Blumenthal is a Nation Institute Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow and the Nation Books author of Republican Gomorrah, which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. His recent TomDispatch essay was also published in the Los Angeles Times.

Listen to the Interview

Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

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