Category Archives: History

Research Fail: Dave Duncan Edition

Everybody who writes historical fiction, or any other book that needs research, will have a failure somewhere.

In Dave Duncan’s otherwise excellent medieval alt-history fantasy, Ironfoot, his failure comes in his description of Old English grammar. It’s hard to write about the future in Old English, he says, because it has no future tense.

Um. Dave. Neither does Modern English. Not the conjugation-within-the-verb kind. We have “compound tenses,” which use a helper verb like “will” or “shall.”

It’s also possible to talk about the future in English by using time markers.

“Tomorrow, we go to the Moon!”

“As soon as the rocket finishes refueling and fires up, we go to the Moon!”

I blame elementary school grammar classes. They don’t actually teach people the rules of English grammar; instead, they focus on an idealized version based on Latin.

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Young Judge Dee TV Show on Amazon Prime

Tsui Hark’s third Detective Dee movie (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings) is due for release in July 2018. So it’s not surprising that there’s a 2014 live action TV show on Amazon Prime about young Judge Dee and young Empress Wu, with lots of martial arts, magic, and detective deduction.

The catch is that it’s not called anything resembling “Judge Dee,” “Detective Dee,” or even “Magistrate Dee.”

Yup, it was uploaded by the production company as:

Clip: Young Sherlock.

(Also, whoever did the uploading has classified each of the series episodes as separate movies. And there are 40-some episodes in a season. My advice is to search for the show on your desktop, and then click each of them onto your watchlist in episode order.)

It turns out that the official English title really is Young Sherlock. Presumably this is using “sherlock” as a generic word for a sleuth.

Anyway, it’s a pretty typical Tang Dynasty detective/martial arts show.

(Heh, I just wanted to write that sentence.)

So there’s a hotblooded hero destined to make nonfictional history and become a Chinese god, Di Ren Jie. He is a gifted young scholar and martial artist, but his dad finds him unserious. It’s almost time for him to get married off and take the bureaucrat exams, but he just wants to have fun. He’s crazy for beautiful girls. But he doesn’t want to marry his cousin and childhood friend, a girl with a sharp tongue and a mean right whose nickname is “Tigress.” He also doesn’t want to marry the other leading candidate, a rich and well-educated government minister’s daughter he’s never met, because her nickname is “Ugly.” But on his way to visit the capital, he falls in love instantly (as one does) with a gorgeous young woman who doctors the poor while hiding her face (as one does).

He also has a faithful family servant/sidekick who spends his time being ordered around by both the future Judge Dee and the aforementioned Tigress. (Though they treat him with careless generosity as well, since they were all raised together.)

And Tigress is also destined to meet mysterious love interests, as well as dressing up like a guy. Because that’s what young female martial artists of good family do!

Anyway, the first episode sets up the show with a lot of info about palace intrigue and the Emperor’s troubles, as well as introducing us to a mysterious group of magical ninja terrorists, led by a guy wearing a Western-style helmet. Emperor Gaozong gave up hope of marrying his childhood friend and true love (Wu Mei, the future Empress Wu) upon taking the throne, for an important reason. She had been married off to the now-dead emperor as a concubine, so marrying her himself would count as incest. Further, an imperial consort who didn’t have kids by an emperor was supposed to remain celibate afterwards, to avoid succession confusion, and was to be booked off to be a nun. Therefore, she became the abbess of a Buddhist shrine to the dead emperor’s memory. But for various reasons, the gods don’t seem to think this is good enough, and the omens are bad. So the young emperor, depressed and lonely, contemplates going back on his decision… and of course, there are courtiers trying to get him what he wants!

But the second episode starts with mystery, as a theater accident turns out to be no accident, and Dee shows even the gentlemen of the court just how deadly serious he can be.

On the whole, I think it’s okay for mystery-reading kids… if they are okay with lots of subtitles, scary stuff and mystery murders, as well as pagan and Buddhist Chinese altars and temples. There’s some earthy humor too. (For instance, Tigress complains that, since they were little kids together, Dee has already seen her naked when they were in the bathtub together. Since she complains about this in public, the public misinterpret it!)

There’s also a frequent repetition of a famous Chinese love poem about longing for the beloved so much that she confused green and red, which is written to a married Emperor. (Yes, maintenance of the imperial concubine system is a plot essential.) If your kids already know about King Solomon, there’s nothing shocking.

The main question, as ever, is why the evil Empress Wu has been rewritten as the purehearted Empress Wu in so many recent historical works. Obviously people really really want her to be a positive historical model for women, because many of her policies were beneficial; but that doesn’t mean she can’t also have been a model of dictatorship, cruelty, extravagance, and excess. Heck, that seems to be most Chinese rulers of note — a bunch of powercrazed weirdos, with good administrators doing all the work.

As the linked article above says, Young Sherlock was produced in Hong Kong under Communist Chinese control. Dee is played by Bosco Wong, and Empress Wu by Ruby Lin. Yuan Hong is the Emperor, Ma Tianyu is the sidekick (whose name is Wang Yuanfang), Cindy Sun Xiaoxiao is Tigress (Tong Mengyao is her actual name), and Stephy Qi is the mysterious doctor, Li Wanqing. The director is Lin Feng, and the show was produced for Hunan TV.

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When a PSA Lies

The CDC is running a PSA that is shockingly exploitative. I just saw it today on a cable channel.

The PSA is labeled “A Tip from an Ex-Smoker.” A young mother explains that she smoked during pregnancy, and that therefore her baby was born two months premature and had to live in an incubator. Her tip (given in a despairing, post-partum depression voice) is to speak through the incubator’s hand opening, so that the baby can hear you better.

The PSA then runs a screen acknowledging that smoking during pregnancy means “a chance” of premature birth and low birth weights; but the implication during the PSA is that smoking will definitely cause that, and that any pregnant woman who smokes is an evil monster!

Now, obviously it’s better not to smoke, so it’s obviously better not to smoke during pregnancy.

But seriously, what is that BS? I grew up when pretty much every pregnant woman smoked, and the chance of mothers having a preemie baby was just about the same as it is today. (Maybe it’s higher today, because preemie babies actually get born alive at younger ages, instead of being counted as miscarriages and stillbirths.)

My mother never smoked, and she had one of her kids be a preemie. Other women smoked like chimneys — big chain smokers — and had big full-term babies. For two generations, almost everyone born in America was the child of a woman who smoked several cigarettes a day.

(Let’s not even get into pregnant women drinking and having smart healthy kids. Because they also did that, all the time, for centuries. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to drink like a fish, but sheesh.)

So basically, the CDC can take their guilt trip for pregnant ladies, and insert it where they pulled this out of. Premature birth is a complicated medical issue that is caused by many factors and conditions, and there’s no telling who will get lucky and who will not. A lot of those factors are genetic, or are the baby’s own individual characteristics. Encouraging mothers to do healthy things is fine; lying to them and using BS threats is disgusting.

Most of all, I hope that if that mother on the commercial is a real person and not an actor, that somebody explains to her that her baby just had bad luck.

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Precious Blood Sisters Doing Stupid Stuff.

The Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood were once a thriving order, but now are dying — except in South America. Apparently Peru is far enough away to avoid stupid Sixties junk.

Back when there were plenty of Precious Blood sisters, mostly working as teachers for schools or housekeepers for Catholic institutions, some of the sisters wanted to follow their spiritual charism of keeping up a Perpetual Adoration schedule into becoming a full-fledged contemplative order. This wasn’t too strange, as one of the Missouri offshoots of the order does this; and then-Archbishop Alter thought it would be a good idea in the crazy modern world of 1956 Cincinnati. The contemplative nuns could pray for the active nuns, and any active nuns who got tired could go recharge with the contemplatives.

It didn’t work out. Most of the younger sisters in the main order got caught up in stupid Sixties craziness. They decided that the original work of the order, housekeeping, was not feminist enough; and that they were too smart to be schoolteachers. They should be principals of schools or administrators of Catholic institutions. They should stop wearing the habit or living in community. And of course they would have to destroy the contemplative offshoot group, because all the more conservative nuns were fleeing there for peace; and there were a lot more Baby Boomer votes in the active side of things.

Before all this really started rolling, there was one Precious Blood sister who was really attached to contemplation, and had been one of the reasons the contemplative group was created. Mildred Dumezil, known in the order as Sr. Mary Ephrem, had a deep spiritual life. She began to have visions of Mary as Our Lady of America, as well as of various saints and of Christ. The archdiocese ended up investigating this informally, and was generally positive about it, although nothing too definite was done. (The title was officially approved for those seeking healing. Eventually, bishops in the Philippines got a lot more enthusiastic about the title; there are churches there using it.)

So yeah, you’ve got a lady of Middle Eastern heritage in the midst of German-Americans. That hadn’t been a source of friction before, but now it became one. You’ve got conservative contemplatives surprised with something new, and liberal actives who suddenly find something really edgy going on — that’s not them.

A lot of stuff happened, and most of it was shameful. Women can be very crued to other women, and a nun gone wrong is very nasty indeed.

In the midst of all this, the famously liberal political radio priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin, died. He had been used and thrown away by the FDR liberals, and most of his political work was forgotten. What survived was the beautiful Detroit shrine he built to St. Therese of Lisieux. He had been planning to set up some kind of religious center out in the middle of nowhere, and he had bought land there. Since the contemplative sisters lived nearby at New Riegel, Ohio, he had gotten to know them. He left the property to them, asking for their prayers to continue in perpetuity as they used the land to live on.

Over the course of the next few years, as the active sisters dismantled the contemplative offshoot and kicked them out, the active sisters also grabbed this land. (Of course they did.)

The stunning part is this: they sold the land to The Way International. That’s not a Catholic group. It’s not a mainstream Christian group. It’s a group that has even been called a cult, and which teaches that Jesus is not God. Its founder also claimed to have had visions (of Christ), but the whole group’s history was nothing but wall-to-wall scandals with money and sex, obsessive control of members’ lives, and credible accusations of abuse and cultism. This was not a secret, even back when the Precious Blood Sisters sold the land to them. They helped The Way International build their creepy heretical, sinful management headquarters on the land that was supposed to be a home for contemplative nuns.

So yeah, that’s not petty behavior anymore. That’s just disgusting.

This is no reflection on the other orders in the Precious Blood “family,” mind you. And of course a lot of the active nuns had nothing to do with this crap; there was a lot of tyranny of numbers going on, with Baby Boomers forcing their will on everyone else. (And then, for the most part, they left the order after they could do no more harm. The outvoted are sitting around in the order’s nursing home, insisting on wearing their habits.)

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True Crime in Regency Ireland: The Colleen Bawn

This one has everything.

Ellen Hanley was born in 1803, at Bruree, County Limerick. When her mother died while she was still a little girl, she was fostered out to her maternal uncle John Connery (a shoemaker) and his wife, who lived at Ballycahane, Croom (also in County Limerick). They loved her as their own and took good care of her, and she grew up a gentle, kindly, lively young girl whom all the neighborhood thought well of. Her local nickname was “An Cailin Bhan” (the Fair Young Woman). The Anglicized spelling is “the Colleen Bawn.”

But since everybody she knew loved her, she assumed that nobody would do her harm.

In May 1819, when she was still only 15 years old, she met up with a member of the gentry, one John Fitzgibbon Scanlan or Scanlon, who had come to live at Ballykehan or Ballycahane House in Bruff, also in County Limerick. (As seen by the house name, he was a neighbor, not a stranger; but his people lived at Loghill or Loughill, also in County Limerick, but on the banks of the River Shannon.) He was the eldest son and heir. He had actually been a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, but had left or been dismissed after Waterloo.

John apparently persuaded Ellen that he loved her, that the differences in social status didn’t matter, and that they should marry and live happily ever after. She went with him.

But… she wasn’t all good. In the sort of thing that happens in other murder ballads, but is glossed over in most retellings of this tale, our Ellen apparently decided that she would take along a hundred pounds as her dowry. (And since her uncle was reasonably well-off for a shoemaker, it’s possible that the hundred pounds was her legit dowry. But running off without telling her uncle and aunt was definitely not legit.) Scanlon was apparently all for it, because he needed the money.

She thought they had married, but it turned out at the trial that there were no marriage records. So it would seem that he had hired a fake clergyman, in order to have his fun without ties. In any case, Ellen was under the age of consent, so there could be no legal marriage without the consent of her parents or guardians. He also didn’t inform his parents, which should have been a red flag for Ellen.

So they lived together for five or six weeks, with her fake wedding ring on her finger, and with her skeevy husband living off his teenage squeeze’s money. Then John Scanlan’s mother summoned him with letters, informing him that she’d arranged him a good marriage with a nice fat dowry. But Scanlan had apparently found out that his sweet bride was not a pushover, because he didn’t just up and leave her, or drop her off somewhere. (Which he legally could have done, because they weren’t married by the laws of church or state; but it would have made a stink for him.)

No, he decided that she had to be got rid of.

But he didn’t intend to do it. No, that was going to be a job for Stephen Sullivan, his manservant. So in July, the couple traveled to Glin, a village on the banks of the River Shannon. He sent Ellen out to cross the River Shannon in a boat, with Sullivan to row and dump the body.

But Sullivan couldn’t do it. He rowed on back, with the charming Ellen still alive.

So on July 15, Scanlan got his servant lit on whiskey, and sent them out on the river another day. And this time, she didn’t come back. Sullivan had shot her with his musket, stripped off the ring and her dress (which might identify her), weighted down her body with rocks, and dumped her in the deepest part of the river. And since the Shannon is deep, wide, and leads to the sea, they would never have to worry about her ever again. Then Scanlan went to Cork and enlisted again.

But on September 6, 1819, Ellen’s shift-clad body washed up at Moneypoint, near Kilrush, County Clare, on the tiny bit of land owned by a farmer named Patrick O’Connell. His brother, Peter O’Connell, was a well-known poet, linguist, and schoolmaster in the neighborhood. The musket shot was very evident, and apparently the girl was still recognizable. An investigation began, as well as a good deal of indignation toward the murderer. The more people found out, the angrier they got. Scanlan deserted his new regiment and fled, but there was a massive manhunt. Both John Scanlan and Stephen Sullivan were eventually apprehended and put on trial.

Scanlan’s family hired Daniel O’Connell, one of the all-time great defense lawyers and orators. Even he couldn’t get the scum off. Scanlan was sentenced to be hanged at Gallows Green in County Clare, but the horses shied at the bridge and wouldn’t take him across. He ended up having to walk to the gallows, and he died in disgrace on March 16, 1820.

Scanlan died still claiming his innocence, and saying that the murder was all his servant’s idea. His claim was that his plan had been to have Sullivan dump Ellen on an immigrant ship, unable to get off until she got to America. (This may seem farfetched, but it had actually happened to a local girl, Judith Lynch, who was impregnated by a married man of wealth. When she got to America and protested, the government sent her back and there was a trial.)

Daniel O’Connell is quoted as having written to his wife on March 15, 1820:

“I had a client convicted yesterday for which I fought a hard battle, and yet I do not feel any the most slight regret at his conviction. It is very unusual with me to be so satisfied, but he is a horrid villain….”

Peter O’Connell had compiled the most complete dictionary of the Irish language up to that time, and took the opportunity to approach his clansman for help in getting it published. Daniel O’Connell apparently didn’t feel interested or equal to doing it. The dictionary never was published, although it did survive its lexicographer. There are copies at Trinity College, the British Museum, and the Royal Irish Academy. His dictionary entries have been used by later lexicographers as a source.

Scanlan’s manservant, Stephen Sullivan, had managed to elude the law for four months longer than his master. But after being caught he had a separate trial. Sullivan was also hanged, but he gave a full confession first with details that hadn’t come up at the trial.

As for Ellen Hanley? The poet Peter O’Connell had just bought himself a plot in Burrane Cemetery when his brother Patrick discovered her remains. He saw this as a sign, and offered his grave as her resting place. After the famous trial, some admirer paid for her to have a fancy Celtic cross gravestone. Unfortunately, souvenir hunters eventually chipped it to pieces.

And when Peter O’Connell died seven years later, in 1826, they laid him to rest in the grave of the Colleen Bawn.

And this is the privilege of a poet: to sleep on the same bed as his lord.

The story of the murdered Cailin Ban is sometimes confused with the story of the “Polly Vaughn” song, about the girl accidentally killed by her sweetheart “who took her to be some swan.” In that story, Polly’s ghost appears in court to clear her true love’s name. Obviously, none of this happened to the Colleen Bawn!

However, she does have her own opera, The Lily of Killarney. She also has three novels and a play by Dion Boucicault, “The Colleen Bawn,” which (like the opera) is based upon Gerald Griffin’s three-volume novel, The Collegians, that used a Killarney adaptation of her story. Boucicault’s play featured a character called “Myles na Copaleen.” (This name was later taken as a pseudonym by Brian O’Nolan, also aka Flann O’Brien.) There was also an Irish silent movie of “The Colleen Bawn.” (The actress’ hairstyle is scary, though.)

The huge amount of fictionalization was apparently also done to avoid Scanlan’s family putting the kibosh on things, and partly because a lot of the writers knew the families involved and wanted to draw a veil over it. However, this didn’t spare Griffin a lot of criticism for causing people pain with his book!

There’s a very good modern ballad, “The Colleen Bawn,” that was written by the Wolfetones.

A short 1974 news story from RTE about the Colleen Bawn, showing her uncle’s house where she lived.

There’s a true crime book about the case called The Poor Man’s Daughter: A Return to the Colleen Bawn, with an introduction by Janet Murphy and Eileen Chamberlain, which points out that news coverage at the time (and afterward!) avoided pointing out John Scanlon’s exalted antecedents, even though the locals knew all about it. It’s embarrassing to have a murderer in the family. On the other hand, it is possible that Scanlan was convicted of murder on very little evidence, because there was fear of popular resentment if one of the gentry appeared to have gotten away with murder. Most of the info in this post comes from this book, which otherwise reprints a period account of the case by a local clergyman.

Ballycahane House was inherited by Scanlan’s brother, a sea captain. It was destroyed by fire in 1822, and rebuilt on a much smaller scale.

Bruree = Brugh Righ. (Modern spelling: Bru Ri.) “Fort of the king.” A village on the River Maigue.

Croom = Cromadh. “Riverbend.” Another village on the River Maigue.

Bruff = An Brugh. (Pronounced a different way, but the same word for “fort.”)

Moneypoint: Now the site of a hydroelectric power station.

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Recycling Old Fake News

This example is from The New York Times. In a late-breaking news story, they allowed an essay pointing out the Times’ refusal to report things like the Communist-made Holodomor famine in the Ukraine.

At the bottom, however, they linked to “The Lost Children of Tuam.”

Accompanied by moody black and white photos (including a cheesy animated GIF of trees blowing in the wind), the Times reporter proceeded to rehash Ireland’s best Victorian era, private religious order, funded on a shoestring, try at providing a home for unwed mothers and their kids — who’d been dropped by their families and had nowhere else to go. The story admits that the kids went to the same public schools as other kids, and that the doors of the homes were never locked.

It has been proved that, although there were abuses typical of large charitable organizations, most of the homes were safe and healthy, and many of the surviving denizens look back with affection at their time with the nuns. It was careless and stupid to lose track of one of the home-associated cemeteries. But it happened a bunch in England with Victorian stuff, and you don’t hear fantasies about serial-killer bureaucrats slaughtering entire secret cemeteries full of kids.

(If you want to have nightmares, though, the English “baby farms” will do it.)

Kids and moms who died at the homes died of the same things that killed kids living on farms or in towns: tuberculosis, influenza, measles, diphtheria, and so on. But everywhere in the world, including the US, kids died at a higher rate in charitable establishments. Why? Because they were full of kids whose moms weren’t healthy, spreading germs to each other; and because the more kids you have in one place, the less care each one is going to receive. (Need I mention American daycare, where the ratios and numbers are lower, but the illness incubation and dirt is endemic?) You also had a situation where the more you followed progressive medical ideas, the more likely you were to do harm inadvertently. (It was dangerous to be warm in the winter, don’t you know?)

Now, all that said… there is actually something behind all this that was worth being upset about. It turned out that there were over 300 swaddled bodies of babies and toddlers that had been buried in a repurposed septic tank out back of the Tuam home. It is not clear whether the septic tank had been properly consecrated as a tomb, or whether the children received proper funeral Masses. If everything was carried out properly, it was done in a hole-and-corner way without proper records and markers. (Or the records were destroyed, in an excess of bureaucratic discretion.) Forgetting about them and building around them was definitely wrong.

However, it does appear that proper death records were kept for these kids, and the local government properly notified. So if they weren’t keeping tabs on the kids’ burials, they bear a good chunk of the blame. My county does better than that, with all the pioneer cemeteries that require tending and protection.

But it’s easier to shift blame to the dead, or to ignore your own sins.

PS — There is a nice picture of olden days Irish First Communion kids. No, the girls aren’t wearing veils. Instead, they are wearing fitted frilled bonnets, with little strings tied in a bow.

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Michael Heiser Books

[Previously posted, in somewhat different format, as a comment over at Crossover Queen.]

Michael Heiser is a pretty solid Bible scholar. His POV is that he is trying to understand the Bible solely based on the text while ignoring theological tradition. (Hence the title of his podcast, The Naked Bible Podcast.) Of course, you can’t necessarily do that, so he spends most of his career trying to understand the Bible via archaeological, cultural, and historical info. As for his religious POV, I think he’s some flavor of evangelical.

I really enjoyed his podcast series on the Book of Ezekiel. It gave a very nice explication of the literal sense of the text, along with a lot of secondary cultural material that greatly helped. He also had pictures and articles to download from his site, such as pictures of various archaeological discoveries of “chariot thrones” with angel and wheel supporters, found in countries around Israel.

Anyway, the guy has a couple of books out on supernatural angel-related stuff in the Bible, and comparing it to various Phoenician, Sumerian, etc. materials about the same thing. The Unseen Realms is the first one, and it’s available for free on Kindle Unlimited. Reversing Hermon is his more recent one. I read Unseen Realms too fast and missed some of his more startling/iffy bits, until he quoted them in Reversing Hermon.

The downfall of drawing your own conclusions is that you can be led into things like “Hit the button on the astro software, and decide what must be the Star of Bethlehem!” My older brother is an astronomer, so I’ve seen huge numbers of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. I was not impressed by his “Rosh Hashanah must be the real Christmas!” theory, mostly because I’ve seen a lot of the same astronomical material used as an interesting coincidence with the Virgin Mary’s traditional (East and West agree) birthday in September. His theory is a much better grade of “just suppose,” but interesting and academic doesn’t mean closer to reality.

The basic deal with Reversing Hermon is that a lot of Near/Middle East cultures had this idea that they got civilization skills from seven minor deity/angelic sages (who came from heaven or from the ocean). The sages taught humanity all sorts of things, married human women, and had kids who were human on the outside but minor deities/angels/spirits on the inside. And the same thing was true of their grandkids and so on. All the divine-descended people were taller than regular mortals, stronger, great warriors and sorcerors, etc., and had all the awesome skills that the sages taught. Various folks like Enkidu and Gilgamesh had this background.

But they didn’t live forever, and if you killed them their deity/angel/spirit half took over and became a vengeful spirit, punishing humans and haunting various spooky places. They also had their own realm, “the Great Land,” which was underground under various sacred mountains, the Dead Sea, etc. The Canaanites were very big into this, and very big into appeasing them or getting a specific Baal “Lord of the Dead” to keep them under control, because the giant dead running back and forth from their Great Land were a lot more dangerous than normal human dead people in Sheol.

Heiser shows that a lot of the stuff in the Bible about giants is from the POV of Israel putting a different spin on their neighbors’ stories. The sages were really evil rebel angels. The skills taught by the “sages” included a lot of things that Jewish people saw as inimical to good life and civilization, not foundational to it. Giants were mostly not good guys in life, either; they are people possessed by evil spirits or allowing themselves to be used. God was in the process of defeating the rebel angels, their evil descendants, and the evil Rephaim spirits. Heiser also theorizes in Reversing Hermon that a lot of Jesus’ actions, and His Incarnation, were part of showing humans the truth about the ultimate defeat of said rebel angels, giants, and evil spirits.

I thought the thesis was pretty interesting, and the gathering of sources was, too. Obviously Jesus did have a fair number of agendas going on, and spiritual warfare was clearly one of them. What I objected to was the conclusions and uses he made from the material. There was a lot of stuff that had me rolling my eyes and looking dubious, including the Rosh Hashanah Christmas thing.

And then, when you work your whole book up to “And Catholics totally don’t understand the rock/gates of Hell speech, but my theory won’t give satisfaction as to why Peter gets called Rock,” you are going to make us Catholics start looking like an eye slot machine. (Because there’s always another theory about how we’re wrong, and they’re all different except about how we’re wrong this time.)

Also, a lot of his pointing out that various “mighty men” references could also be giant references (based on some good Septuagint translation weirdness), led up to an assertion that the “gebirah” (great woman) stuff in the history chronicles, and the “valiant woman” stuff in Ruth and Proverbs, was not about Israel and Judah’s kings having their moms act as queen mother councilors or about smart ladies doing cool things, but about giantesses with wicked skills. (Okay, he didn’t come right out and say that, but that’s what I was seeing.) Possibly this was on purpose, possibly it was a consequence of his thesis. But either way, it ended up as an indirect swipe at recent Bible scholarship (mostly by Catholics) about how queen mother gebirah imagery relates to the Virgin Mary, among other Bible ladies. I have read a lot of gebirah research stuff, and other scholars have found that there is tons to relate it to similar stuff in neighboring cultures. It is the sort of thing that Heiser would normally like, or at least want to integrate with the giant interpretation thing. I could think of several ways to do that, on my way to the refrigerator.

So yeah, several places strike me as him having a minor Catholic allergy that is getting in the way of his thinking. Disappointing, but maybe he’ll get over it and come up with some fun stuff in a few years. He does make good use of Catholic scholars like Bergsma, Pitre, Hahn, etc., so he’s not suffering from anything serious.

My real problem is that, by separating Bible studies from doctrine or interpretation, he is basically creating an interpretation that is at odds with Christianity. Pagan ideas about the nature of things like the seven (or nine, or twelve) sages are not just morally wrong; they are factually incorrect. So just because Bob and Tanith Canaanite may have believed in vengeful rephaim ghosts, and some Biblical times Jews may have also believed in them, isn’t it somewhat important to point out that demons are full of BS, and stories about them also tend to be factually incorrect? Doesn’t it seem more like Jesus was striking against the BS, rather than worrying about descendants of giants roaming the earth? The fact that all this kind of lore has become very minor and forgotten would tend to argue that the Church didn’t really want to focus people’s attention on this stuff.

I was also not happy about his podcast interviewing some people going out and doing various kinds of “deliverance ministry” and spiritual warfare based on his books. I mean, you can like a scholar’s work pretty well without being willing to trust your life or your soul to his conclusions! He’s not trying to be a cult leader and I don’t find anything creepy in his work, per se; but there are some kinds of materials that just attract… overly enthusiastic… responses. I don’t know that he’s really taking that into account enough. (To be fair, however, he’s starting some kind of anti-Bible-conspiracy-theories video series soon, so maybe he is thinking about this stuff.)

But as a sourcebook for Near/Middle East mythos material and fiction ideas, The Unseen Realms is good and so is Reversing Hermon. And it is Bible fun, which is always fun to consider. Just don’t take it as Gospel.

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