Saturday, December 12, 2009


The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus: Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656

David Brooks write a short summary of the Hannukah story in the New York Times. Mostly he just recounts stuff that is in the books of Maccabees I and II (which are not part of the canonical Hebrew Bible but they were included as part of the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint). This stuff is partly historically true but written from the point of view of the victors and the accounts clash a bit. Brooks puts spin on various aspects of the story but I'm not sure what Brooks' point really is. It really doesn't seem very controversial to me. What is interesting are the comments on his article and that Facebook users were banned from linking to the article due to some users complaining of "abusive content". Many of the commenters say that they had no idea that this was the story of Hannukah. Some of those commenters are not Jewish but many seem to be Jewish. At the other extreme are those who say he hasn't taken historical scholarship on the story into enough account. And then there are others who say he spoiled the holiday for them, for example:

New York
December 11th, 2009
11:31 am
What an inappropriate article-- which quotes history while fully distorting the facts-- and attempts to take the joy out of a beautiful holiday with a tradition of hope and renewal. In spite of your "faux" intellectualism, this will be a beautiful night of family gatherings, of embracing our friends, our children and grandchildren while focusing on the tender feelings of love life can bring. "

Many religious people base what they believe on what scriptures and religious scholarship actually say. But many people hold very strong beliefs about stuff they just invented themselves. From a secular viewpoint both may be equally unsubstantiated beliefs. But at least the first group think that they have some evidence to base their opinion on. And in contemporary science and policy debates many people hold very strong beliefs based on stuff they just made up themselves without any evidence to support it. It's strange how humans have a capacity for doing this.

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