Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Heaven and Hell


    Difficult to get away from Jeremiah when attempting to understand what it is a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew means by heaven or by hell.  I read recently from a reputable, if rather elitist and very pompous source, that basically anyone who might have "graduated from a secular college" is unlikely to hold the view that Heaven and Hell are real places. An infuriating assumption, for which he presents no evidence whatsoever. Kind of like me, in many respects.  But the correspondent also suggested that if Christians or Muslims believe something, then odds are secular Jews are apt not to.  The more diligent reader of scripture however, will find an idea of heaven and hell in the Old Testament Book of Daniel.  Essentially it has to do with dying for the cause under circumstances where the cause appears hopeless, so dying for it could be no more than a pointless act of stubbornness, or an heroic moment that becomes the light of the world, or righteousness.  And around this dilemma, for Jewish people, arose the festival of Hanukkah.   The battle celebrated was between traditionalist Jews and Hellenized remnants of Alexander's Empire who in attempting to secure their newly acquired territory as a bulwark against the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt, had joined the long list who for some reason decide to take Judah out of Judea by messing with who did what in the Jewish Temple, thus riling the Fundamentalists and creating a moment of decision for Secular Jews.

   Despite being greatly outnumbered, the traditionalists recaptured their Temple, and they produced the miracle of a lamp that apparently stayed lit despite its shortage of oil, which was certainly a sign from God that the traditionalists were on the correct path.  Also they produced, from a passage in the Book of Daniel (12:2), an idea that martyrs to the cause of retaking and protecting The Temple, would awake to everlasting life, where they would become like stars in the dark night, and lead many to righteousness. Those who preferred not to risk such a fate, just because cloven hoofed creatures were being sacrificed in a Temple that Jewish people had built for their own precious moments, would probably not gain everlasting life as a lead star, and instead would gain everlasting life as something less savory.  In my reading, heaven and hell were descriptions of legacy, rather than actual places.  But it was Jeremiah, who like Daniel, lived his life some four or five hundred  years before The Maccabean revolt against Hellenist thoughtlessness, who asked the "why me?" question. And he came away with the mostly paranoid answer, "because the universe knows my name, my address and my thoughts, even though I have done absolutely nothing to attract his, her or its attention."

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