Flavin’s Corner

The Holy

But how, in heathen chains and lands unknown, 
Shall Israel's sons a song of Zion raise?
O hapless Salem, God's terrestrial throne,
Thou land of glory, sacred mount of praise.
From Psalm 87, trans. by Joel Barlow.

The recent election in Israel is a matter of concern, though the lapsed-Catholic in me remains troubled by St. Valentine’s Day with its customary attendant pressures.  Palestinians seem to be frequently referring to Jerusalem as al Qods, or “The Holy,” short for “The Holy City,” and argue Israel should freely give up its claim to the city because they’ve asked nicely.  A few days ago I told my girlfriend to take a hike, as I was beginning an extended vacation from her.  Okay, what’s more important here?  A metaphorical hole in my heart or lots of real holes in the hearts of Palestinians and Israelis?  I guess it’s how we use the word 'holy'.

Other than Jerusalem and al Qods, there are the attested names of Ursalim, U-ru-sa-lim, and Ur-sa-li-im-mu, from the Tel el Amarna (Akhetaten) letters, c. 1400 BCE.  This was a period shortly after the collapse of Ugarit and an overall Canaanite regrouping, when the Jebusites (a Canaanite people) ruled the city and perhaps called it Jebus.  Later, when a Canaanite Yah cult emerged as the “Hebrews,” the city became Yerushalayim, a continuation of its earlier name, which the vulgar Latins passed on to us as Jerusalem.  Hadrian renamed the city ∆lia Capitolina in 136 CE, an awkward tag which endured until the mid-seventh century Muslim takeover.  Thereafter, the city was referred to in Arabic as Ur Salem (said to be derived from Dar al Salaam or "The Home of Peace," also Beit al Maqdes (“House of Holiness”), Ayelah, Urshaleem, and Yabous (the “Jebusites City”).  A strong case could be made al Qods is merely blatant Islamic propaganda, but then the Islamic claim to Jerusalem is largely regarded as political, as the Prophet’s “Night Journey” is usually understood as allegorical and the “furthest mosque” refers to distance and not to Jerusalem.

February 14th, the Feast Day of St. Valentine, is popularly celebrated with an exchange of cards and gifts between lovers.  It’s a time for the heart to beat faster and could be dangerous for those, like me, with high blood pressure.  February 14th is also the Feast Day of St. Cyril, the inventor of the way passť glagolitic script designed for Old Slavonic, and perhaps the equally bizarre Cyrillic script, named after him, which is still used for Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and other languages.  Yeah, it’s a day for alphabetologists, abecedarians, and other letter-geeks to pick up a pen, kick back, and compose a short reminder suggesting next year could be more fun by celebrating February 14th with someone, rather than writing about it.

Known to friends and family as a habitual condiment abuser, with a dilettantish curiosity in sauces and gravies, I was recently tickled to discover Heinz prominently advertizing lycopene on their ketchup.  Interesting; all these years of drowning certain foods in ketchup constitutes a dedicated regimen of antioxidant therapy!  Our common tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum, belongs to the Solanaceae family (the so-called “Nightshades”), the source of many ingredients in ancient and medieval witch ointments and werewolf pastes.  Lycopersicon translates from the Latin as “wolf peach,” and demonstrates the tomato’s kinship with other plants containing the toxic chemicals atropine and scopolamine.  The often told tale of Col. Robert Gibbon Johnson eating a bushel of tomatoes on the Salem, NJ courthouse steps in 1820, to prove they were edible, is now regarded as consumer folklore.  The vines and the leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous, but not its fruit (though ruled by the US Supreme Court to be a “vegetable” for taxing purposes in 1893).  A werewolf howling at the moon, ketchup bottle in hand; “Would you like fries with that sandwich?”  The heart usually answers with a roar as unhealthy as it is unwise.  Taking a break from my girlfriend was necessary because she’s annoying and, so it was reasoned, bad for my blood pressure.  Sooner or later we all confront matters of the heart.

Are we to believe the Prophet physically journeyed from Mecca to the “furthest mosque”?  One of Muhammad’s confidants and the first Umayyad caliph, Muawiya (d. 680), believed the tale was allegorical.  Later, the Sahih al-Bukhari describes what happened to Muhammad before the “journey” began: “While I was lying in Al-Hatim or Al-Hijr, suddenly someone came to me and cut my body open from here to here [across the chest].  He then took out my heart.  Then a gold tray full of Belief was brought to me and my heart was washed and was filled (with Belief) and then returned to its original place.”  Is this a description of open-heart surgery or allegory?  Does it assist us to remember that modern science now locates the seat of intellect and emotion in the brain and not the heart?  No, I suppose it doesn’t matter.  I can’t testify to my heart ever “soaring” from joy, but I can admit to some discomfort when things go wrong.  Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Iraqi supervillian Saddam Hussein claims the raising of six and a half million volunteers to “liberate Jerusalem” from the Jews.  Syria has reacted to the election of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by saying the result is a “declaration of war.”  Jordan’s King Abdullah II (Hussein) is understandably pissed after Sharon mouthed off this week and suggested if PLO Chairman Arafat wanted a separate Palestinian state badly enough he could always topple the government of Jordan.  Other Arab leaders are respectfully staying out of the fray and allowing the Israelis and Palestinians to get back to the bargaining table.  My column a few weeks ago (1-12-01 “Sons”) suggested a possible financial solution based on reparation, and nothing has substantially developed to effect the viability of that previous suggestion.  Peace could be bought in the Mideast.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, and money can’t buy you love and all of that.  One could almost safely conclude that life is worth living only when things don’t go smoothly.  Almost.

It’s a pity other religions frown upon the Catholic Feast Day of St. Valentine.  A day set aside for love and lovers seems a good idea.  I’ve been fortunate (read: cursed) in that I’ve transferred my allegiance from a comic-book God to whatever relationship I’m in at the time.  Family and friends are sacred to me.  Holy?  That I worship love (sometimes in ways that are judiciously actionable, depending on local customs), is a personal choice, and I can only hope those who apply the term ‘holy’ to other concepts and things keep a sense of humor about them.  That comment about my girlfriend being annoying?  Is that laughter I hear or something else?

Thinking of writing “Bitchcraft In Salem” and becoming wealthy,

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